WASHINGTON -- President Bush is stepping back into political fund raising for the first time since before Sept. 11, and his spokesman argued Wednesday that doing so will advance his agenda, democracy and the national interest.
Bush was headlining a fund-raiser for brother Jeb's re-election as governor of Florida, an event that was expected to raise tens of thousands of dollars.
Bush steered clear of fund-raising appearances late last year, fearing overt political activity would look insensitive in the early days of the war against terrorism. Spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush plans this year to help fellow Republicans get elected by raising money for them.
"He remains a president who has an agenda, both on the foreign front and on the domestic front," Fleischer said. "That depends on having like-minded people in office who will help carry out that agenda." Getting those people elected will help ensure that "his ideas as president and commander in chief can be carried out into law."
Bush came into the presidency promising to "change the tone" in Washington after years of bitter partisan fighting during the Clinton years. Fleischer said a resumption of fund raising did not contradict that pledge.
Bush also promoted another favorite cause Wednesday -- education legislation he signed into law a day earlier. Continuing a victory lap that took him to three states on Tuesday, Bush addressed some 3,000 educators and elected officials from around the nation on implementing the far-reaching law.
"Now we have to turn our principles into progress and progress into excellence," he said.
Choice of events
Bush backers had their choice of back-to-back events: a $500-per-person cocktail reception with the money going to Jeb Bush's re-election campaign, or a $5,000-a-head dinner with the proceeds earmarked for the Florida Republican Party. A White House spokeswoman said she did not know what the total take would be.
Bush last raised GOP money in August, attending gatherings for congressional candidates, and has observed an unofficial moratorium on such events since the terrorist attacks. Wednesday's event had been scheduled for Nov. 28, but Jeb Bush said after the attacks he would not raise money until 2002.
Bush sent Vice President Dick Cheney to speak in his place at a Republican governors' fund raiser in October.
Despite the moratorium, the president has attended at least two recent "donor maintenance" gatherings in which he thanked or cultivated GOP contributors.
The first was for Jeb Bush, when the brothers met with supporters in Orlando on Dec. 4. The other was on Tuesday, when the president greeted donors and volunteers in New Hampshire.
The news media and public were barred from both sessions. But journalists were to be admitted to the fund-raisers Wednesday evening.
Bush's re-emergence as Republican fund-raiser in chief comes at the start of an election year in which control of Congress and three dozen statehouses are at stake. Also, partisan battles are escalating in Washington over the economy and other issues.
Yet Bush has never seemed to relish fund-raising the way former President Clinton did. Bush usually puts in quick appearances and leaves without mingling much. Wednesday, he was not expected to stay for dinner, an aide said.
The president summoned local and state officials, members of Congress and educators from across the country Wednesday for a session on how to make the complex education law reality.
The bill Bush signed Tuesday requires new reading and math tests for students in grades three through eight, seeks to close the education gap between rich and poor students and to raise teacher standards.