WASHINGTON—Sounding more like a motivational speaker than a politician, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Monday urged Democrats and Republicans in Washington to put aside their partisan differences and get to work for the good of the country.
The Republican governor told an audience at the National Press Club that Congress and the White House should follow the example of California, where Democrats and Republicans have worked together recently on environmental legislation and infrastructure issues.
Schwarzenegger urged President Bush and Congress to move toward the political center. He also said they should just try to be friendly.
"How come Democrats and Republicans out here don't schmooze with each other?" he asked.
The Austria-born governor is constitutionally barred from running for president. But that hasn't stopped him from claiming a piece of the national spotlight during a presidential campaign season. He's planning to give speeches nationwide this year, preaching an approach to politics that he calls "post-partisanship." And he's using a visit to Washington this week for the National Governors Association conference as a national platform.
"Post-partisanship," he said, "is the new concept of Republicans and Democrats giving birth to new ideas together."
Schwarzenegger also urged federal lawmakers to move toward the political center on the issue of illegal immigration, calling for enhanced security at the borders and a guest worker program.
"What about being realistic and just actually solving the problem?" he told the Press Club audience.
As a governor, Schwarzenegger has limited power over some of the issues he talks about, such as the war in Iraq. But his movie-star fame gives him a unique ability to draw attention. At a signing ceremony Monday for the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative—a regional agreement by California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their states—a huddle of media descended on Schwarzenegger. Meanwhile, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, who's seeking the Democratic nomination for the presidency, waited in the background.
Schwarzenegger, citing his failed 2005 campaign to pass several Republican-leaning ballot initiatives, said he doesn't think he's perfect. "I contributed to the polarization," he said.
But he took a chiding tone with Washington lawmakers.
"All of this energy is being spent on bitterness; all of this energy is being spent on maneuvering," he said. "Imagine if that same energy were put into working together to build a consensus."
The key to his success, he said, was his focus on building relationships.
"In the courtyard of the state Capitol, I have a politically incorrect smoking tent," he said. "People come in, Democrats and Republicans, and they take off their jackets and they take off their ties, they smoke a stogie and they schmooze."
He had advice for everyone: Democrats should stop "running down" the president. Republicans, he said, should stop questioning the motives of Democrats who oppose the war in Iraq.
"To the president," he said, "I say get yourself a smoking tent."
(Benson reports for the Sacramento Bee.)
(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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