Bush tells governors that states' rights, education will be priorities
CRAWFORD, Texas -- President-elect George W. Bush hosted 18 Republican governors at his ranch Saturday, thanked them for their support, and pledged to make education and respect for states' rights priorities in his administration.
Bush and the governors posed for photographers outside the "Western White House," where they talked about the president-elect's education reform package and other issues.
Bush was looking to the governors to help him implement his school reform proposals, which aides have said will be his first legislative priority after inauguration.
Bush reiterated his view that the nation's schools should be controlled locally. He vowed to work with governors to pass a public-school reform program granting more flexibility to states in respect to federal funds and conferring more authority on local school districts -- while raising accountability for student performance.
'The vast potential of this country'
Along similar lines, Bush called for the federal government to grant more power to the states.
"While I believe there's a role for the federal government, it's not to impose its will on states and local communities," Bush said. "It's to empower states and people and local communities to be able to realize the vast potential of this country."
On another front, Bush said the Clinton administration had a failed energy policy, and he pledged to work to change that. Some western lands, he said, should be opened to oil drilling.
He reiterated that he was considering accelerating his $1.3 trillion tax-cut proposal, but would decide how to proceed on that after his inauguration on January 20.
Asked about protests during the joint session of Congress on Saturday in which he was officially declared the winner of the presidential election, Bush said he had never expected 100 percent support.
During the session, members of the Congressional Black Caucus and several House colleagues walked out as each state's electoral votes were counted. They were protesting alleged voting irregularities during the presidential election.
Referring to the official declaration of his victory, Bush said: "I'm honored. I guess I better go write an inaugural speech."
Asked whether the federal government should intervene to ease the California electricity crisis, which has raised fears of spreading to financial institutions, Bush said that remained for the Clinton administration to decide.
Bush also indicated he was considering whether to downgrade the Cabinet-level rank of the office of the U.S. trade representative (USTR), but he said it would remain a key position during his presidency.
"The USTR position is going to be a really important position in my administration," he said. "Whether or not the person is called Cabinet or not, it will not in one way or another diminish the importance of the position.
"I haven't decided how large the Cabinet is going to be yet or how small it's going to be," Bush said.
Neither Bush nor his aides would comment on a New York Times report that the current deputy trade representative, Richard Fischer, was the front-runner for the USTR post. One aide said the decision was close and may be made next week.
Former State Department official Robert Zoellick is also a possible choice for the trade post.
The president-elect completed naming of his Cabinet this week, but still has to name his choices for USTR, CIA director and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
Sitting under a sun tent with the governors, Bush was flanked by Michigan Gov. John Engler and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. Bush's brother Jeb, the governor of Florida, was not scheduled to attend.
Reuters contributed to this report.