Immediately after landing at the Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport Tuesday afternoon, President Bush met with more than a dozen politicians and other officials for an update on the I-35W bridge collapse and on the flooding in southeastern Minnesota.
The briefing was closed to the press, but afterward Bush spoke with reporters. He first talked about efforts to build a new bridge.
"The question now is, how fast can we get the bridge built?" he said. "Members of the Minnesota senatorial and congressional delegation did really good work at the end of the session -- passed authorization for a significant chunk of money that would go to get this bridge up and running."
"So our job now is to cut through the bureaucracy," Bush added, "and get the people down here a new bridge. And that's what we've been discussing."
Bush said he thinks the new bridge can be built in such a way that it could accommodate what he referred to as future forms of transportation. He did not specifically mention light rail transit.
On the floods, Bush noted that the high water turned people's lives upside down. He said the job of the federal government is to get help moving as quickly as possible. Bush said he spoke with Gov. Tim Pawlenty during the briefing about flood assistance.
“Sometimes people in rural America wonder whether or not the people in the cities think about them...I want those folks to understand the president thinks about it.”President George W. Bush
"I understand rural America pretty well," Bush said. "Sometimes people in rural America wonder whether or not the people in the cities think about them. I appreciate you coming to brief me, because I want those folks to understand the president thinks about it. The senators and the governor have heard about it, and they care about it."
Bush said help will be available for small businesses and to provide shelter for people. He concluded his brief remarks by saying he's confident when he returns for the I-35W bridge opening, the communities devastated by the flooding will be up and running.
The main reason for the president's visit was to raise money for U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who is up for re-election next year.
Following the briefing at the air base, Bush's motorcade whisked him to Eden Prairie for the Coleman fundraiser, at the home of William and Tani Austin. Bush was at the event for nearly two hours.
Earlier in the day, about three dozen Bush opponents gathered in a park near the site of the fundraiser. They were underscoring Coleman's close ties to the president, who's been struggling in public opinion polls.
The demonstrators were trying to make the case that Bush was in Minnesota to raise money for Coleman to reward Coleman for his loyality.
The demonstration focused mostly on the war in Iraq. Rick Hanson spoke at the gathering. His son Eric is currently serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.
Rick Hanson said he doesn't think President Bush is listening to him or any other military families. Still, he said he hopes public opposition to the war will pressure President Bush and Coleman to end it.
"It is simply the right thing to do," Hanson said. "Mr. Bush is not listening to anybody. Why would he listen to me or anybody else? He won't listen to his advisers or his generals, so he gets rid of them and brings in another one. I wouldn't expect him to listen to me."
"He doesn't have kids in it. And until you do, you don't know what that is," Hanson added. "There just isn't any connection that you can make when that is your son over there."
The Bush White House urged Coleman to run for Senate against DFLer Paul Wellstone more than seven years ago. Since then, Democrats have criticized Coleman as being too close to President Bush.
But some Democrats were also hoping for a boost from the president's visit.
The two most well-known DFLers vying to run against Coleman -- Al Franken and Mike Ciresi -- put together media campaigns. Ciresi released two radio ads ripping Coleman and Bush on Iraq. Franken put out a fundraising appeal on the Internet.