President Bush got a tour of Border Patrol efforts in his home state — a “look-see,” as he called it — before settling down on his ranch Thursday for a 10-day summer vacation.
With violence boiling in the Middle East and his party’s control of Congress up for grabs in elections this fall, Bush is forgoing his typical monthlong break from the White House. Instead, he planned to spend 10 days in Crawford, Texas, before returning to work in Washington — his shortest summer vacation since taking office.
The White House was taking pains to make sure it didn’t appear that the president was tuned out from the world’s problems, even temporarily. Bush’s national security adviser and secretary of state were to arrive at the ranch Saturday to discuss a diplomatic resolution to the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah militants in Lebanon.
Bush also planned a brief interruption to his stay Aug. 10, when he was to fly to Wisconsin to tout his economic record and campaign for Republican congressional candidate John Gard. In another effort to help the party in this critical election year, he planned to attend an Aug. 11 barbecue at a neighboring ranch for donors who have raised at least $15,000 for the Republican National Committee.
On the way to Texas from Washington on Thursday, Bush detoured briefly to the U.S.-Mexico border to push his immigration plan, emphasizing the tough enforcement measures that conservatives support. He got an up close look at several tools the Border Patrol uses to catch people sneaking across — helicopters, a boat and a small plane — and he stopped to pet some horses that are used on old-fashioned patrols.
New border technology
In a speech on the banks of the Rio Grande River, he spoke of using motion and heat sensors, infrared detection equipment and other high-tech devices to catch illegal immigrants. But he also said those who have been working in the United States long-term should be given a way to pay a fine and become citizens — an idea that is unpopular with his conservative base and has been stalled in Congress.
“We have an obligation to secure our border and we have an obligation to treat people with decency and respect,” the president said after his tour.
Bush said he had fulfilled his promise in May to put 6,000 members of the National Guard into the fight against illegal immigration by Aug. 1. The Guard said Monday that while more than 6,000 guard troops had been assigned to Southwestern border states by the government’s Aug. 1 deadline, only about half were actually on duty along the border and many were still in training.
The president plans to return to his ranch near the end of the month for a few days. But that trip is scheduled to be interrupted with other travel away from Texas, including a visit to the Gulf Coast to mark the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
Bush has faced criticism every year for the time he spends at his ranch, but never as much as last year. Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast while Bush was away and eventually prompted him to cut his vacation short. And anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan and thousands of her sympathizers camped outside the ranch to draw attention to the mounting deaths in Iraq.
Sheehan intends to return this summer — this time to a five-acre lot that she bought seven miles away from the ranch. The site is a few yards from a sign picturing the president giving a thumbs-up sign that welcomes visitors to Crawford.