VICTORVILLE, Calif. – President Bush began a six-day break from Washington on Wednesday, starting with an effort to boost the morale of troops heading to war.
Bush planned to visit soldiers at Fort Irwin, home of the U.S. Army's premier desert training center for combat units. Created during the Cold War era of tank warfare, the National Training Center has been redesigned to teach the counterinsurgency work of detecting homemade bombs.
Later Wednesday, Bush was to leave the Mojave Desert for the upscale Brentwood section of Los Angeles. There, at the home of friend Brad Freeman, Bush hoped to raise $2.2 million for the Republican National Committee before flying to his family ranch in Crawford, Texas.
His spring break comes at a time of stalemate for Bush and the Democratic-run Congress.
He left town after calling Democrats irresponsible for ordering the drawdown of U.S. troops in Iraq in their war spending bills. He chided the House and Senate for passing legislation they knew he would veto, and for taking Easter vacation with the matter unfinished.
The White House is eager to show urgency even as Bush takes a vacation of his own.
"The president can sign a bill anywhere, anytime," said spokesman Gordon Johndroe.
His schedule calls mostly for quiet time in Crawford through the weekend. He is expected to promote his immigration policies in Arizona and return to Washington on Monday.
To keep pressure on Democrats, Bush and his aides are literally counting the days — 58 so far — since the president sent his war-spending request to Congress. Democrats say they have the public on their side and will not budge on ordering timelines for troop withdrawals.
Bush was expected to nudge Congress again Wednesday, albeit it less bluntly. The intense political rhetoric is typically stripped when presidents speak at military installations.
Fort Irwin is where combat troops go through high-intensity mission rehearsals. Isolated between Las Vegas and Los Angeles, the post is outfitted to simulate conditions in Iraq.
Bush planned to view a demonstration of how soldiers counter homemade bombs called Improvised Explosive Devices, or IEDs. He then planned to eat lunch with soldiers, publicly thank them for their service, and meet privately with families of troops killed in action.
Over the last three years, the Fort Irwin center has trained 30 Army brigades, three Marine Corps battalions, hundreds of Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps aviation personnel, two Army Special Forces Battalions, and four Navy SEAL Teams deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan.