Protesters greet Bush in Bellevue
On a day when his top law enforcement officer resigned, and flanked by soon-departing adviser Karl Rove, President Bush made his first foray...
Seattle Times staff reporters
On a day when his top law enforcement officer resigned, and flanked by soon-departing adviser Karl Rove, President Bush made his first foray into the Puget Sound region in a year today to headline a fundraiser for Republican Congressman Dave Reichert in Bellevue.
Bush touched down at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport at 3:15 p.m. He greeted supporters, including Reichert, and presented a medal recognizing Bernie Krane, 74, a Kirkland man who volunteers for the Bellevue Police Department.
Within minutes, his motorcade headed to Bellevue, where about 400 anti-war demonstrators toting "Impeach Bush" signs had gathered to protest his arrival.
"Enough is enough. We want our government back, and we will not tolerate the war-criminal-in-chief here to pollute our city," Linda Boyd, director of Washington for Impeachment, announced to the crowd.
Bush was on his way back to the airport by 5:30 p.m.
Protesters anticipated that this morning's announcement of Alberto Gonzales stepping down as the nation's attorney general would add extra energy to the demonstration. But some were disappointed with the turnout.
"I would be satisfied if Bellevue was shut down," said Linda Newton of Bothell. "We can do better."
Outside the Hyatt Regency Bellevue, three Inglemoor High School students dressed up like beauty queens and wore sashes that said "I Miss America."
"We miss the America the major powers used to look up to, the diplomacy, the democracy," said 17-year-old Katherine Wilcox.
Last summer, about 90 people came to protest along the president's motorcade route when he visited Medina.
But people's feelings have become even stronger since then, according to Boyd.
"In the last six months, public sentiment has really turned," Boyd said. "People are angry with Congress. People are angry with Bush."
The latest Gallup Poll has Bush's approval rating at 32 percent. According to protest organizers, the firing of several U.S. attorneys and the government's views on civil rights are among the divisive issues.
Federal and local officials did not disclose the president's route for security reasons, but Bellevue police said Interstate 405 would likely be affected. Wherever Bush's motorcade goes, traffic will be cleared and rush-hour commuters will have to wait until he passes.
At the hotel, Bush posed for photos with a group of supporters who have paid $10,000 for the privilege, and then spoke to a much-larger crowd, most of whom paid $1,000 to get in.
Last year's fundraising event attracted about 400 people and raised $800,000 for Reichert's campaign and the state party, but this year's reception is not expected to be nearly as lucrative.
"August in an off year is certainly not the best time," said former state Republican Party Chairman Chris Vance.
But Even Reichert's opponents were capitalizing on today's presidential visit.
Reichert challenger Darcy Burner spent the afternoon in Bellevue, hosting an online forum with former military leaders and others opposed to the war in Iraq — which she took pains to link to Reichert.
"Even as the constituents of this district and the country at large are saying it's time to bring this war to a responsible close, Congressman Reichert favors being there indefinitely, with no plans to leave," Burner said.
Reichert has been a strong backer of Bush on the war, but has said that a change of course may prove necessary in the future. He has said he will withhold judgment until next month, when General David Petraeus, who is overseeing the war effort in Iraq, gives a much-anticipated progress report on the troop surge.
Burner also used Bush's visit to host her own online fundraiser, urging voters to "send a message" to Bush and Reichert by contributing to her campaign. By the time Bush arrived, the Burner campaign said it had raised more than $105,000 from 2,700 contributors.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, who will challenge Burner in the Democratic primary, said given Bush's low voter-approval ratings, even in a swing district like the 8th, Reichert might ultimately hurt himself.
"It kind of surprises me that Reichert would so visibly associate himself with President Bush," Tom said. "I was like, 'go Dave go.' Everyone knows his voting record is closely tied to helping Bush, especially on the war in Iraq."
Tom spent the afternoon with protesters on the streets, who jammed all four corners of Bellevue Way and NE 8th Street.
As the president's motorcade reached the Hyatt just before 4 p.m., angry protesters shouted "Bush out now! Bush out now!" Six teenagers with handkerchiefs over their mouths and "smash the state" T-shirts carried signs that read "Welcome to Bellevue, Mr. President," prompting a nearby construction worker to chuckle, "Oh yeah, that's going to be popular."
Keeping a watchful eye on the crowd were several dozen King County sheriff deputies in helmets and riot gear. They were joined by police from Bellevue and Seattle.
But the crowd, while loud, and at times discordant — complete with drummers and "lame duck" puppets — only occasional seemed unruly.
When a group showed up carrying American flags and pro-Reichert signs, some verbal sparring ensued.
"This 'Impeach Bush' talk is wasting our time and they're dividing our country," said Nadine Gulit, of Issaquah, with Operation Support Our Troops. She said she was particularly offended by anti-Bush protesters who carried a replica of a flag-draped coffin.
But many interactions were more genial, such as the man in a Nixon masked who asked the officers to join the protest when their shifts ended.
"I think they'd protest with us," said Tom Wegner, of Bellevue. "They're just doing their jobs."
Bush landed at Sea-Tac after attending a similar fundraiser for Sen. Pete Domenici in New Mexico. There, a 40-year-old police officer in the president's motorcade crashed his motorcycle and died. Less than a year after a crash in Hawaii killed another motorcycle officer accompanying the president.
Today is the fourth time in four years that Bush has visited the Eastside. Perry Cooper, spokesman for Seattle Tacoma International Airport, said it was the first time in at least 15 years that a sitting president had landed there.
Last year, Bush arrived at Boeing Field.
When planning the visit, officials were taking into account closures on Interstate 5 for a construction project, which was completed Saturday, five days ahead of schedule.
Seattle Times staff reporters Christina Siderius, Amy Roe and Craig Welch contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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