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The Nation

Bush's New Domestic Priority: Chew Slowly

Health: The president emerges with his face bruised but his humor intact after choking on a pretzel and fainting.

January 15, 2002|EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

AURORA, Mo. — With one quip after another, President Bush on Monday made light of the fainting spell he suffered while watching football on television in the White House the day before.

"My mother always said, 'When you're eating pretzels, chew before you swallow.' Listen to your mother," the president joked as he left the White House on a two-day trip to the Midwest and the South to promote trade.

"I feel great, looking forward to a good trip," Bush said.

The president was in his third-floor bedroom, with only his two dogs for company, when a pretzel he ate evidently did not go down quite right, according to White House physician Richard Tubb.

Bush briefly lost consciousness, apparently striking his head on a coffee table as he fell from the couch. The frame of his glasses was bent when he regained consciousness.

On Monday, Bush had a half-dollar-sized bruise on his left cheek that was noticeable even under makeup.

"I was--I hit the deck, and woke up and there was Barney and Spot showing a lot of concern," Bush said when asked what had happened. "I didn't realize what happened till I looked in the mirror; my glasses cut my side of my face."

He added: "I feel great, had good blood pressure last night, good blood pressure this morning."

Tubb reexamined the president at the White House early Monday morning and declared that his vital signs "all checked out normal," said Ari Fleischer, the president's press secretary.

Tubb told reporters Sunday night that Bush had been experiencing a head cold for a couple of days.

Fleischer said Monday that Bush was "still a little under the weather," suffering from a runny nose, but the president told employees of John Deere Harvester Works in East Moline, Ill., that he was "feeling great."

Earlier, aboard Air Force One as it left Washington, reporters in the back of the plane received a gigantic bag of bite-size pretzels with a scribbled note: "From POTUS--chew slowly." (POTUS is the acronym for President of the United States.)

Before leaving East Moline, Bush met privately with supporters from Illinois and neighboring Iowa. Then he flew to Springfield, Mo., where he addressed residents at the airport, followed by a visit with farmers at the Missouri Farmers Assn. Feed Mill in nearby Aurora.

To emphasize the importance of free trade and the global economy, Bush is tracing the route of farm products from the heartland to New Orleans, where they are shipped overseas.

In his wide-ranging remarks, the president broke no new ground on either foreign or domestic policy. He reiterated the rationale for the war against terrorism and urged Americans to be patient. Bush also forcefully restated his determination to see through the 10-year, $1.35-trillion tax cut, which some Democrats want to scale back in light of the fast-rising budget deficit.

In addition, he called on Congress to enact an economic stimulus bill, saying: "That will give a little extra oomph to an economic recovery that I hope is beginning to happen."

The president's first stop was at the John Deere Harvester Works. Its parent company, Deere & Co., makes farm equipment, does business in 160 nations and employs about 40,000 people around the world.

From here, Bush went on to New Orleans, where he is scheduled to visit the Port of New Orleans today.

The trip is part of a White House plan to showcase the president's domestic priorities in the weeks before Bush's Jan. 29 State of the Union address.

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