Bush promises 'a flood of help'

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG and MARIA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 21, 2007 - 11:23 PM

The president, who was in the Twin Cities to raise money for Sen. Norm Coleman, got briefed on Minnesota's two recent disasters.

President Bush used a three-hour stop Tuesday in Minnesota to squeeze in a briefing about Minnesota's back-to-back bridge and flooding disasters before heading off to a big-dollar fundraiser in Eden Prairie for U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

"We're here to talk about two disasters," Bush said after a 15-minute briefing from seven members of the state's congressional delegation, Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

In the case of replacing the Interstate 35W bridge that collapsed Aug. 1, Bush pledged that the work, aided by the federal government, would proceed quickly. In the case of the flooding that has devastated southeastern Minnesota, he said residents can count on getting the aid they need.

"The floods came suddenly and people woke up to find their lives turned upside down," Bush said. The floodwaters "wrecked the infrastructure, but they can't wreck the spirit," he said.

He pledged "a flood of help" for flood victims, specifically to aid small-business owners and residents who need housing.

Regarding the bridge collapse, Bush praised members of the delegation, who helped push through a $250 million aid package. "Our job now is to cut through the bureaucracy as fast as possible and get the people down here a new bridge," he said.

Obliquely, he waded into the dispute whether the new bridge will be able to accommodate light-rail transit. "I believe the answer to that question is yes," Bush said.

Bush also praised the U.S. Navy divers who worked at the bridge site.

The divers completed the task Monday of recovering the last of the missing victims. On Tuesday, the president met with about 20 of them.

After speaking to reporters for about five minutes and taking no questions, Bush headed off to Coleman's fundraiser, where he lingered for nearly two hours at the Eden Prairie home of Bill and Tani Austin, two well-known local philanthropists who have recently come into their own as major Republican fundraisers.

An expected 300 contributors, who forked over anything from $1,000 a person to $14,600 a couple gathered in the front yard of a mini-mansion that had been adorned with topiaries in the shapes of elephants, a giraffe and "2008."

The fundraiser raised an undisclosed amount of money for Coleman's campaign, although the Republican National Committee told one news organization party officials hoped to raise $1.2 million.

Protest picnic

Democrats continued their verbal drumbeat trying to lash Coleman to an unpopular president.

"While the Republican Party has been trying to run away from President Bush, Senator Coleman has voted with President Bush 90 percent of the time," said DFL Chair Brian Melendez, who has spent months trying to paint Coleman as a Bush loyalist.

"When you have the poster boy show up and make your case, we love it," he said.

A pair of protests timed to coincide with Bush's appearance felt more like a summer picnic -- despite the seriousness of its purpose. Kites in rainbow colors -- painted with antiwar messages -- lay scattered on the grass on the north side of Bryant Lake, just across the water from the Austins' home. A musician plucked at a sitar. A picnic table was spread with cool drinks and sweets.

Rick Hanson of Minnetonka wore a photograph of his Marine son, Eric, 21, clipped to his shirt like a badge. He had received a cell phone call, unexpectedly, from Iraq just a few minutes before he was set to speak to the 50 or so people gathered on the north bank of the lake. Eric has encouraged his father's activism.

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