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KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush chose an engine factory in Missouri to highlight his economic program today, telling workers there that the U.S. economy is on the upswing.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’re growing. The growth is good. New jobs are being created.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president’s trip to Missouri, a state he won only narrowly in 2000, coincided with the release of a White House economic report predicting substantial job growth this year. Mr. Bush cited his tax cuts as a major reason.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: A lot of it had to do with the fact that we cut your taxes, a lot of the reasons why this economy is growing. Make no mistake about it, the main reason the economy is growing because the entrepreneurial spirit of America is strong and we’ve got the greatest workers in the world.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president cautioned the audience to be wary when the Democratic presidential candidates call for suspending his tax cuts.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Listen to the rhetoric carefully, when they say “we’re going to repeal Bush’s tax cuts,” that means they’re going to raise your taxes, and that’s wrong. And that’s bad economics.
KWAME HOLMAN: Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has pledged to roll back most of the president’s tax cuts. He told an audience in Roanoke, Va., today that the White House economic forecast cannot be taken seriously.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: In this new report they say they’re going to create 2.5 million jobs over the course of the next year. Well, I got a feeling this report was prepared by the same people who brought us the intelligence on Iraq because this president, this president has the worst jobs record of the last 11 presidents combined. He has lost over 3 million jobs; 2,300 jobs were lost right here in Virginia last month.
KWAME HOLMAN: Throughout the campaign, all the Democratic candidates have blamed the president for the high unemployment numbers.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: We know that this president is at war with working people.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: He set us back. Three million lost jobs.
HOWARD DEAN: People are working two jobs, longer hours.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president used a rare Oval Office appearance, held by Meet the Press yesterday to counter the Democratic critics.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I’ve got a vision for what I want to do for the country, I know exactly where I want to lead. I want to lead this world toward more peace and freedom, I want to lead this great country to work with others to change the world in positive ways, particularly as we fight the war on terror. We’ve got changing times here in America too.
KWAME HOLMAN: Tim Russert also pressed Mr. Bush on his tour of duty in the national guard during the Vietnam War.
TIM RUSSERT: The chairman of the Democratic National Committee, Terrence McAuliffe said this last week: “I look forward to that debate when John Kerry, a war hero with a vest full of medals, is standing next to George Bush, a man who was AWOL in the Alabama National Guard. He didn’t show up when he should have showed up.” How do you respond?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Political season is here. I was — served in the National Guard, flew F-102 aircraft, I got an honorable discharge. I’ve heard this, I’ve heard this ever since I started running for office, and I put in my time, proudly so.
TIM RUSSERT: The Boston Globe and Associated Press have gone through some of the records and said there’s no evidence you reported for duty in Alabama during the summer and fall of 1972.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: It’s just wrong. There may be no evidence, but I did report. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been honorably discharged. You don’t just say I did something without there being verification. Military doesn’t work that way. I got an honorable discharge, and I did show up in Alabama.
KWAME HOLMAN: Kerry, a Vietnam combat veteran, reacted to the president’s remarks yesterday.
SEN. JOHN KERRY: I’ve said since the day I came back from Vietnam that it was not an issue to me if somebody chose to go to Canada or to go to jail, or to be a conscientious objector or to serve in the National Guard or elsewhere. I honor that service. But that’s not the issue here. The issue here, as I have heard it raised is was he present and active on duty in Alabama at the times he was supposed to be? I don’t have the answer to that question. And just because you get an honorable discharge does not in fact answer that question.
KWAME HOLMAN: Kerry spoke after picking up an endorsement from Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, his state and Tennessee both hold primaries tomorrow. Kerry has won ten of the 12 contests thus far, including three this weekend — Washington state, Michigan and Maine. North Carolina Sen. John Edwards kept his focus on the Southern primaries, addressing a community college audience in Norfolk, Va.
SEN. JOHN EDWARDS: I came here today to ask you to go to the polls, to vote for John Edwards, to get your friends, your neighbors, your family to the polls. I wish we could go right now. You know, I need you. I can’t change this country by myself. We can do it together.
KWAME HOLMAN: Retired Gen. Wesley Clark took a break from his campaign push in the South, speaking about Iraq at a rally in Wisconsin on Sunday.
GEN. WESLEY CLARK: George W. Bush must be held accountable for taking us to a war we did not have to fight.
KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin voters go to the polls Feb. 17. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, also in Wisconsin, earlier had said his entire campaign rode on winning there. Today he vowed to go on regardless. After failing to win any of this weekend’s contests, he urged Wisconsin voters to change the next outcome.
HOWARD DEAN: So Wisconsin we have eight days to go. You have the power to keep this debate alive, you have the power to choose the strongest candidate to represent the Democratic Party. Next Tuesday you have the power to make America work again for ordinary working people.
KWAME HOLMAN: Today Dean lost the endorsement of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. That was the second union to desert Dean in less than a week. Congressman Dennis Kucinich and the Rev. Al Sharpton both campaigned in Virginia today.