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GOP leader skips Bush meeting over Crusader

Watts, right, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, says he received
Watts, right, the fourth-ranking Republican in the House of Representatives, says he received "indecent" treatment from the White House.  

From Ted Barrett
CNN Washington

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. J.C. Watts, R-Oklahoma, described as "very upset" over the administration's handling of its decision last week to kill the Crusader

artillery system, refused to attend a Capitol Hill meeting with President Bush Wednesday, two GOP aides said.

Shortly before Bush arrived for the meeting with House Republicans, Watts told colleagues that the White House's handling of the matter was "indecent," the aides said.

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"They gave me no heads up about this," one aide quoted Watts as saying. "I had to read developments in the paper."

Watts, the fourth-ranking House Republican, and other members from Oklahoma have fought hard to save the $11 billion weapon, which is manufactured in their state and has long been championed by the Army.

He stood in front of the crowded room and pointed his finger at individual members, cautioning them about their future dealings with the White House.

"This could be you or this could be you, " he warned.

Watts went on to explain he thinks the White House is overstepping its bounds by trying to control the purse strings and dictate to Congress what it should do.

While that sort of institutional criticism is not unusual to hear from members of Congress, it is unusual to hear it from a member of the same party as the president, much less a party leader.

As GOP Conference chairman, Watts spearheads his party's "message" operation.

"I've said we have to be decent with each other, we have to be a team." Watts reportedly told the conference. "The way they've treated me, the way they've handled this was indecent. This is the thanks I get."

Officially, Watt's office said he didn't attend the meeting because he had to return to his office to deal with the district issues arising from the proposed Crusader cancellation.

"We are not characterizing this as a boycott," one GOP aide said.

It was not known if Bush was aware of Watt's protest.

In his remarks to the conference, which dealt largely with the war on terrorism and legislative issues such as welfare reform, Bush thanked House leaders for their work, including Watts, whom he looked around to acknowledge when he mentioned his name.

He made reference to the occasional policy differences between the Republican executive branch and the GOP-controlled House.

"There's nothing wrong with a little gnashing of teeth when it comes to serious policy," Bush said.




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