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Bush visits Ellis on first N.Y. trip as president

SHARE Bush visits Ellis on first N.Y. trip as president

NEW YORK — Nearly six months into his term, President Bush went to New York state Tuesday for the first time since his inauguration, welcoming newly sworn-in citizens and paying respects to the late Cardinal John O'Connor.

Bush was greeted by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. George Pataki, both Republicans. New York Sens. Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, both Democrats, descended the steps of Air Force One behind the president, boarding helicopters that swooped over the Hudson River to a landing zone just off Wall Street. Bush then took a National Park Service ferry to Ellis Island.

Aboard Air Force One, Bush had what appeared to be an animated discussion with Schumer, Clinton and Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y. The ride on Air Force One was the first trip aboard the presidential aircraft for Clinton since her husband left office in January.

Also traveling with Bush were Attorney General John Ashcroft and Nick Calio, Bush's top lobbyist on Capitol Hill, as well as Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Mel Martinez — both of whom immigrated to the United States.

Bush was attending a naturalization ceremony on Ellis Island, just off the southern tip of Manhattan. The administration announced Tuesday that Bush would dedicate $500 million over five years to speed up processing of all immigrant applications to within a six-month timetable. According to the administration, these applications sometimes take more than four years.

Then he was heading to St. Patrick's Cathedral to present the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously to O'Connor.

The medal is the highest honor awarded by Congress to individuals, institutions or events. Lawmakers and then-President Clinton approved the recognition for O'Connor last year. O'Connor died in May 2000.

Bush has assiduously courted Catholics, a vital bloc in his electoral win last year, ever since taking office, meeting with top church leaders in Philadelphia, Miami, St. Louis and Washington.

Bush has visited 34 states since he took the oath of office in January, but until Tuesday stayed clear of the third-largest, which Al Gore won 59 to 34 percent last year.

Democrat Al Gore buried Bush in the presidential race in New York last November, 59 percent to 34.5 percent, and the state has a 5-3 Democratic voter registration advantage.

"This is just another one of the foreign countries he has to visit," quipped Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y.

"President Bush has neglected New York completely," complained Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

Bush was straying from the three issues he has implored Congress to take up before its August recess: plans for student testing, new rights for managed-care patients and government funding for religious community groups.

White House spokesman Tucker Eskew said Bush's appearances "are presidential events about issues larger than any legislative agenda."

"Immigration, the American success story, the leadership of a man of faith like Cardinal O'Connor — these are quintessentially New York and quintessentially American stories, and therefore ideal for a presidential visit," Eskew said.