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Bush to Visit Inland Empire

Politics: President is expected to hold a town hall meeting in Ontario, officials say. Security-conscious White House declines to confirm the event.

January 03, 2002|SCOTT GOLD and EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

President Bush is poised to make his third trip to California since his election, appearing this weekend in Ontario for a town hall-style meeting, officials said Wednesday.

The event has not been officially announced. Since the terrorist attacks, the White House has been tight-lipped about the president's travel schedule and releases details at the last minute only. White House spokeswoman Lani Miller said the event was not on the president's schedule as of Wednesday evening.

But several officials in San Bernardino County and elsewhere said Bush is scheduled to hold the meeting Saturday morning at the Ontario Convention Center.

The president has been at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, since Dec. 26 and plans to return to the White House on Monday. He will apparently travel to California from Austin, Texas, where he will be on Friday. From Ontario, he will fly to Portland, Ore., where he will tour a job center and speak at a high school, said White House aides.

David Aldana of the Ontario Convention Center said local officials were told to expect between 3,500 and 5,000 people for the event. Ontario Police Department officials were meeting with the Secret Service late Wednesday to coordinate security.

"We offer all the services of our department to the Secret Service for the protection of our president," said Ontario Police Det. Mike Macias.

Bush has held several town hall meetings in recent months, typically sitting before a hand-picked and adoring audience.

In November, he used the format to trade accolades with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin. In December, he used it to reaffirm his resolve to end global terrorism and to defend the use of secret military tribunals to prosecute people implicated in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Bush's scheduled appearance in Ontario is also part of his administration's efforts to refocus on his domestic agenda, especially the economy, even while pursuing the counter-terrorism campaign. Bush's father lost a bid for reelection despite a surge in popularity from the Persian Gulf War--largely because he was accused of ignoring domestic affairs and the impact of an economic downturn.

The younger Bush's last trip to California was in October, when he stopped briefly in Sacramento en route to China.

The president's first visit came in May. Critics pointed out that he had already visited 29 states before setting foot in the nation's most populous--which he lost to Democrat Al Gore by more than 1 million votes in the 2000 election.

The May trip featured several visits before friendly audiences, but a private meeting with Gov. Gray Davis generated the most interest.

The two leaders clashed over energy policy. Davis charged that Bush offered little assistance to California as the state faced what was, at the time, a harrowing energy crisis. Some were also irked when Bush declined to meet with a group of "real Californians" whom Davis had chosen to illustrate the impact of rising electric bills.

For his part, in an apparent dig at the Davis administration, Bush said energy policy "requires action" and that "blame-shifting is not action, it's a distraction."

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Gold reported from Los Angeles and Chen from Crawford.

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