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Kelly Wallace: Bush's trip to China and Cheney's visit to ground zero



Kelly Wallace is a CNN White House correspondent. She joined the CNN.com chat room from Washington, D.C.

CNN: The president left for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Shanghai. What does he hope to accomplish there?

WALLACE: There was some discussion within the White House about whether it was appropriate for the president to travel overseas at a time when there is a military campaign underway in Afghanistan and mounting concerns about anthrax in the U.S. The president, in an interview, even acknowledged that he was "leaving at a difficult time," but he said he decided to go to not only focus on the global economy -- it is an economic summit he is attending -- but also to strengthen the international coalition against terrorism. That will really be his focus.

He will have meetings with eight leaders, including the presidents of China and Russia, two countries, which can provide important intelligence information. He'll also press countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to do what they can to target terrorism in their countries, with many al Qaeda operatives believed to have connections to terrorists in these countries.

Finally, he'll be looking to get a communiqué from the 21 leaders of APEC condemning the September 11 attacks and pledging to do more to combat money laundering. The leaders are not likely to mention the air campaign against Afghanistan in the communiqué, which is a sign of how some countries, especially Muslim nations like Indonesia, are uncomfortable about the military action.

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CHAT PARTICIPANT: How big is this overseas trip for Bush as far as a 'return to normalcy' is concerned?

WALLACE: You bring up a good point because part of the reason the president wanted to continue with this previously scheduled trip, aides say, is to lead by example. He is encouraging Americans to return to some sort of normalcy and by taking this trip, aides say, he is doing just that. But it won't be business as usual. The trip was dramatically scaled back with stops in Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing cancelled. The president will spend roughly three days in Shanghai and then make his way back to Washington, and security is unbelievably tight, with the U.S. Air Force getting approval to enter Chinese air space to escort Air Force One. So things have definitely changed, but the White House feels by continuing with this trip, the president is sending a strong message to Americans to try and get on with their lives.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Are there any anti-war protests greeting Bush in China?

WALLACE: Another good question. This one is hard for me to answer because I am here in Washington. Unfortunately, I am not on this trip to Shanghai (my colleague and I take turns travelling on international trips). But according to my colleagues, who are with the president, it does not appear that there were any demonstrations during the president's arrival earlier Thursday morning ET (6 p.m. Shanghai time). Now security is so tight that the streets have pretty much been cleared, so it's not clear if people wanted to do some protesting and they couldn't get near the president's motorcade route. We'll have to see what happens over the next few days, but the strong security combined with what could be a strong Chinese police presence will most likely make any demonstrations quite unlikely.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How often is Bush in contact with U.S. leaders while he is away? Who is in charge of keeping him updated?

WALLACE: The president is travelling with his national security adviser, Dr. Condoleezza Rice, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, and one of his top advisers, Karen Hughes, as well as others. But the three advisers I mentioned are the ones who will really be keeping the president informed on all domestic and international matters. I should mention Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Shanghai also, and the president is expected to continue to have his usual briefings with his national Security Council. These will just be done over a secure phone line. We would expect the president to stay in regular contact with the vice president, and to talk to members of the U.S. Congress if necessary. Aides were peppered with questions about how could the president leave the country at this time, and his aides all said he is only a phone call away.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Kelly, why has it taken Cheney so long to visit ground zero?

WALLACE: Well, as you know, for some time, the vice president has been in what the White House calls a "secure, undisclosed location." The reason is that due to security concerns, the Secret Service decided to keep the president and the vice president in separate places. So for some time after the September 11 attacks, and then for a few days after the military campaign began, we did not see the vice president. Another reason though is that the vice president has really played a behind the scenes role, something he has done for most of the administration. He is definitely one of the president's top advisers, but also you get the sense he and his aides don't want to try to take center stage. Visiting ground zero and comforting the families of loved ones was an important role for the president, aides say, not necessarily the role for the vice president. Still, it is interesting that we see the vice president up in New York now. It does appear the administration was a bit sensitive to all these stories questioning where the vice president was, and questioning how the country could return to normal when the vice president has to be kept hidden away. My sense is that we will see more of Cheney in the days ahead.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: How is the vice-president's health lately?

WALLACE: I believe it's been okay, but I don't really know for sure. I do know there were stories with people suggesting the vice president was ill and that was why he was kept out of sight. His top aides say that is absolutely not true. All I know is that Saturday Night Live did a skit, poking fun at how the vice president has been in an undisclosed location, and also talking about how the vice president got a bionic heart. I did not see the skit but I believe it led to a lot of laughs in Cheney's office.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Can you describe what the general feeling in the Senate is concerning the House closing early due to anthrax fears?

WALLACE: Well, as you probably saw, Wednesday was a very confusing day on Capitol Hill. The sense we are getting is that senators believed the House members were over-reacting by recessing until Tuesday, while the House members seem to suggest that they thought there was a deal, that both houses were going to recess and that's why they announced the House would be out of session. All I know is that House members were not too happy to see the New York Post this morning, with this headline under House Speaker Dennis Hastert and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt -- "Wimps." It seems some senators got a chuckle out of that one. And so there seem to be some hard feelings on the hill and a sense that the two bodies are not coordinating, but both sides seem to say they are going to put this behind them and move forward. We'll have to see if that happens.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is the House doing much teleconferencing at this time, since they aren't meeting in person?

WALLACE: You know I am not sure of that. I believe there were some meetings done Thursday in other locations, and that many members stayed in town to deal with other business such as talking to colleagues about various issues. I believe that starting Thursday evening, however, the House is in true recess, meaning that most members will be in their districts until next week. The Senate will also be in recess until next week so in a sense, not much of the congressional work was affected by the anthrax scare.

CNN: Do you have any closing comments to share with us?

WALLACE: Keep an eye on the president over the next few days. This is an interesting time, having had his first face to face meeting with Chinese President Jiang Zemin and his meeting with a man he now calls a friend, Russian President Vladimir Putin. Watch to see how much is accomplished during these meetings and how much leaders such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines say about this campaign against terrorism, since those countries are viewed as likely targets for a broader anti-terrorism campaign. Also keep an eye on the anthrax investigation. Each day seems to bring another unbelievable development with this story and I am sure the days ahead will be no different.

CNN: Thank you for joining us today.

WALLACE: Great to be with you again. Sorry I couldn't share any sights and sounds from Shanghai, but I'll be sure to do that during my next international trip!

Kelly Wallace joined the CNN.com chat room by telephone and typed for herself. This is an edited transcript of the chat, which took place on Friday, October 19, 2001.



 
 
 
 



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