White House officials meet anti-war protesters

By Steve Holland

CRAWFORD, Texas (Reuters) – About 70 anti-war protesters
shouted “bring the troops home” from Iraq near President Bush’s
ranch on Saturday, prompting two White House officials to come
out to meet with mothers who lost children in combat in Iraq.

National Security Adviser Steven Hadley and Deputy White
House chief of staff Joe Hagin listened to the concerns of
Cindy Sheehan and five or six other mothers in a meeting that
lasted about 45 minutes, White House spokesman Trent Duffy
said. Duffy said Sheehan told the two officials she appreciated
the meeting.

“I want to ask the president, why did you kill my son? What
did my son die for?” Sheehan, 48, Vacaville, California, told
reporters before meeting with Hadley and Hagin. Sheehan blames
Bush for the death of her son, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan,
24, killed on April 4, 2004, in Sadr City, Baghdad.

The protest coincided with release of a Newsweek poll that
said 61 percent of Americans disapproved of the way Bush was
handling the situation in Iraq. The poll came after more than
two dozen Americans were killed in the past week in Iraq.

Newsweek said it was Bush’s lowest rating on Iraq and the
first time it had dropped below 40 percent in its poll.
Pentagon officials have said maintaining public support for the
war is key to the troops’ morale.

The group of protesters, including U.S. veterans from the
Iraq and Vietnam wars, were loud yet peaceful and McLennan
County sheriff’s deputies, trying to avoid arrests, stopped
them on a road about 5 miles from Bush’s ranch on a hot August

“W. killed her son! W. killed her son!” the crowd shouted.
They also shouted “Bring the troops home now” and held up signs
with slogans such as “Impeach the Chicken-Hawk-in-Chief.”

The protesters, many who came from a peace rally in Dallas,
first drove toward the ranch in a school bus painted red, white
and blue. It was stopped at a police checkpoint and the
protesters got out and walked.

Police allowed the group to walk on the side of the road
for about a half mile but then stopped them when some in the
group walked on the street itself.

After some protesters left, a small group led by Sheehan
vowed to stage a vigil on the side of the road until someone
representing the White House came out to talk.

White House officials were aware of the protest and Duffy
said before the meeting, “We mourn the loss of every life and
Americans deeply appreciate those who have made the supreme
sacrifice. The way to honor that sacrifice is to complete the
mission so that their lives were not lost in vain.”


As Americans question his Iraq policy, Bush crowed about
the strength of the U.S. economy on Saturday and credited his
hotly debated tax cuts for the growth.

Bush was upbeat in his weekly radio address a day after the
Labor Department reported the U.S. economy added 207,000 jobs
last month, a stronger-than-expected gain.

“Recent economic reports show that our economy is growing
faster than any other major industrialized nation,” he said
from his ranch.

Bush renewed his call for making permanent the tax cuts he
pushed through Congress in his first term. Democrats believe
the tax cuts have done little more than drain the U.S. budget
and even some Republicans doubt the wisdom of extending them.

“The tax relief stimulated economic vitality and growth and
it has helped increase revenues to the Treasury,” Bush said,
adding later, “We need to make the tax relief permanent.”

Bush spoke at the end of the first week of his 33-day
working vacation.