CLARKSTON, Mich. – President Bush has delayed a summit with the Big Three automakers until after the November elections, but he called a Ford Motor Co. executive as he flew here Friday for a fundraiser for a Republican facing a tough Senate race.
The call from Air Force One was aimed at easing tensions in a state where economic concerns are a key issue in the upcoming congressional elections. Democrats — and Dick DeVos, the Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan — say the delay in scheduling the meeting shows Bush is not taking seriously the concerns of a major manufacturing sector and its employees.
"This isn't about phone calls to friends, it's about President Bush sitting down with the heads of a crucial American industry and figuring out how to provide the support they need," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. "President Bush insists on showing a lack of urgency as good paying American jobs are shipped overseas," she said.
Along the motorcade route, a half-dozen protesters, standing with their backs to Bush, held a sign that read "Mr. President, you've let us down" and urged him to meet with the automakers.
White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said Bush telephoned Bill Ford Jr., who quit as chief executive of Ford Motor Co. this week after struggling for five years to steer it toward financial stability. The company was founded by his great-grandfather.
"They are friends, and the president wanted to check in with him especially after Ford's news this week about the changes at the company," Perino said. "The Big Three meeting with the president will happen after the election since the idea of a meeting had gotten mired in politics."
On Tuesday, Ford introduced Alan Mulally, executive vice president of Boeing aerospace company, as the new president and chief executive officer of the nation's No. 2 automaker.
Bush was in Michigan for a luncheon fundraiser for Mike Bouchard, the sheriff of Oakland County in suburban Detroit, who is running against Stabenow.
The luncheon fundraiser raised $1.5 million for the Michigan Republican Party and Bouchard, who greeted Bush at the airport and rode in the motorcade to a 220-acre wooded lot that has horses and two private lakes. It is the home of Pam and David V. Johnson, an entrepreneur and luxury community developer who is chairman of Victor International Corp. and Bay Harbor Co.
Later, Bush was traveling to Kansas City, Mo., to raise money at another private event for Sen. Jim Talent, who is facing a difficult re-election challenge from Democratic state Auditor Claire McCaskill.
The White House says events at supporters' homes routinely are closed to the public. Democrats said the events were private because GOP candidates do not like being seen campaigning in public with Bush because of his low approval ratings.