White House officials meet anti-war protesters
Sat Aug 6, 2005 6:38 PM ET


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 day.

"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.

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