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Bush and Kennedy, a political odd couple

BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- President Bush's tour through three states Tuesday didn't only promote the new education law, though that was the main event.

The president also promoted his call for a Washington not beholden by the usual political squabbling. He even brought along an unusual traveling partner to drive that point home.

Bush's spirit of bipartisanship was such on Tuesday that he spent much of it lavishing praise on Sen. Edward Kennedy, the liberal Democrat who has long been anathema to many Washington Republicans. The tour even wrapped up in Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts.

The pairing of a Republican president with the Democratic stalwart made for such a political odd couple that even Bush kidded that his neighbors in Crawford, Texas, would be dumbstruck.

"The folks at the Crawford coffee shop would be somewhat in shock when I told them I actually like the fellow," Bush said to big laughs from a crowd in Hamilton, Ohio, his first stop of the day. Laughing along right behind him was Kennedy.

Bush signs education reform law 

Then Bush got serious. "He is a fabulous United States senator," Bush said. "When he's against you, it's tough. When he's with you, it is a great experience."

The senior senator from Massachusetts was equally gracious. "I've enjoyed working with the president," Kennedy said in an interview on CNN. "I might say I might use those same words with regard to him, respectfully."

Kennedy was one of four Capitol Hill lawmakers who joined Bush on his state-hopping tour, during which he signed and promoted a landmark education law that sets in place strict new accountability measures for the nation's schools. As the chairman of the Senate's Education Committee, Kennedy played a key role in crafting the compromise that became law.

Bush signed the new law at a school in the Ohio district represented Rep. John Boehner, the Republican House education chairman, who also accompanied the president on the trip. So, too, did GOP Sen. Judd Gregg, whose home state of New Hampshire was Bush's second stop on the tour. Rep. George Miller, a California Democrat, also joined the president.

Bush campaigned for president as a candidate not beholden to Washington's usual partisan politics, someone who had sought to build alliances between Democrats and Republicans while he was Texas governor.

On Tuesday, he held up the new education law as an example of the fruits of working together in Washington.

"You're seeing government at its best with this piece of legislation," Bush said in Boston. "On this important piece of legislation, we figured out how to put our parties aside and focus on what's right for the American children."

"Hopefully, we've seen what can be achieved and accomplished when we work together," said Kennedy.

Yet neither party recently has worked so smoothly with the other. Bush and other Republicans have sparred with Democrats in the past few weeks over a legislative package to help revive the struggling economy.

The economy, in particular, could be a key issue in 2002, a key election year in which control of Congress is up for grabs.




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