WASHINGTON – Vice President Dick Cheney, Cabinet members and a squad of sympathetic lawmakers are scattering across the nation to drum up support for the Bush administration's energy strategy.
The House and Senate are beginning to consider many of the recommendations President Bush outlined when he released the plan in May, and administration officials view this as a critical moment to take their case directly to voters.
Rather than argue for their plan from Washington, Cheney and the others were employing a forum favored by former President Clinton: the town hall meeting.
Cheney was moderating such a gathering on energy in Monroeville, Pa., east of Pittsburgh, on Monday evening, after addressing a convention of county officials in Philadelphia. In tow were three Republican lawmakers from Pennsylvania, Sens. Rick Santorum and Arlen Specter, and Rep. Melissa Hart.
Tickets to the event were distributed by another Republican, Gov. Tom Ridge. But aides to the governor and to the vice president said a broad array of interest groups would be on hand to question Cheney.
Bush has visited Pennsylvania, a key electoral state, four times in his six months as president.
Five Cabinet members were also convening town hall meetings for Bush's plan, which calls for a blend of new coal and oil production; increased reliance on nuclear power; increased energy conservation; and research into such renewable power sources as wind and solar.
Interior Secretary Gale Norton was heading Monday to Sioux Falls, S.D., with Rep. John Thune, R-S.D., to promote the plan.
Commerce Secretary Don Evans was flying to Monroe, N.C., with GOP Reps. Robin Hayes and Sue Myrick, R-N.C.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman was going to Old Lyme, Conn. with Rep. Rob Simmons, R-Conn.
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham was traveling to Argonne, Ill., with Rep. Judy Biggert, R-Ill.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta was appearing in Euclid, Ohio.
Notably absent from the administration's target list was California, where an electricity crisis has threatened to cripple the most populous state and where gasoline prices have surged in recent months. Bush visited California in late May to discuss energy with Democratic Gov. Gray Davis.
"The districts we're going to were planned where Congress members believe that a drop-by by a Cabinet official or the vice president would provide a great deal of information about the plan," said Juleanna Glover Weiss, a spokeswoman for Cheney. "The belief is the more people know about this, the more they like it."
Anticipating the town hall meetings, the Natural Resources Defense Council renewed its criticism of the Bush plan, contending it would "increase pollution, despoil the environment, threaten public health and accelerate global warming."
"Moreover, it would have no impact on energy prices, and no practical effect on U.S. dependence on foreign sources of oil," the environmental group said.