SANTA CLARA, Calif. - President Bush used new unemployment figures on Friday to promote his plan for at least $550 billion in tax cuts over 10 years at United Defense Industries in the recession-plagued Silicon Valley.
"That 6 percent (jobless rate) should say loud and clear to both political parties of the United States Congress that we need robust tax relief so our citizens can find a job," the president said.
"When I get back to Washington, D.C., I want to see a bill on my desk that recognizes -" Bush said, cutting himself off in mid-sentence. "That may be a little fast, how 'bout a couple weeks after I get back to Washington?"
The Silicon Valley has been among the hardest-hit by recession, a fact Bush used to pitch his tax cuts.
"I know there's people hurting here in Silicon Valley," he said. "This incredibly vibrant part of the American economy over the last couple years has not been meeting its full potential. ... The plan I just outlined is one that will boost the economy in Silicon Valley."
Bush also took the simulated controls of a future fighting vehicle at the facility, which supplied Bradley Fighting Vehicles to the war and other conflicts. The company also made the Hercules tank recovery vehicle that pulled the statue of Saddam Hussein down in Baghdad.
"The guy with the sledgehammer on the statue needed a little help," Bush told about 1,800 people at the firm's development plant here.
The facility is on the fringe of the San Francisco bay area - politically hostile territory for Bush, and a hotbed of anti-war protests. Hundreds of demonstrators marched under the watchful eye of riot-equipped police outside the plant as Bush spoke.
But the hall was filled with a friendly audience of military personnel, United Defense staff and Republicans hand-picked by the California GOP. Bush took the controls of the simulated fighting vehicle a day after he helped pilot a Viking jet onto the USS Abraham Lincoln off San Diego.
As soon as he touched the controls Friday, explosions thundered through the room housing the simulator. Bush then took the controls and, with the help of a United Defense engineer, began firing at "enemy" tanks.
He destroyed at least one, and stared at the smoldering wreck on his screen.
From there, Bush inspected hardware closer to production, including a Future Combat System-Wheeled, 35 tons of rolling ceramic and titanium. "This would roll over a Hummer," said Mike Childers, who sat in the driver's seat and shook Bush's hand as he peered inside.
U.S. military personnel "deserve the finest equipment we can provide," Bush said to applause.
"The new technologies of war helped to protect our soldiers, and as importantly, they helped protect innocent life," Bush said. "New technologies allow us to redefine war on our terms, which makes it more likely the world will be more peaceful and more free."
Bush used his appearance aboard the aircraft carrier to declare the Iraq war's heaviest combat over.
He had breakfast with officers on the USS Abraham Lincoln just off San Diego on Friday morning, then traveled to Northern California.
Bush rose early and walked to the carrier's deck at 5:55 a.m. PDT. "He looked around and took in the scene," said spokesman Ari Fleischer. After his breakfast with the officers, Bush flew by helicopter to Naval Air Station North Island, where he walked in a line of well-wishers and shook hands with members of the military and their families.
The carrier glided into port as he shook hands.
The visit followed a formula the president has developed in the period following the war and the run-up to his re-election campaign: He uses a defense contractor as the setting for a speech that bridges the seemingly disparate themes of the economy and national security.
Last month he did the same thing at a Boeing plant in St. Louis and at a tank manufacturer in Lima, Ohio.
Some of Bush's fellow Republicans have said Bush is shifting gears to focus more intensely on rehabilitating the economy. But Fleischer dismissed talk of such a "pivot," saying both issues are top priorities for Bush.
Bush was picking up Australian Prime Minister John Howard in Northern California and ferrying him back to the president's central Texas ranch for a weekend summit. It was a highly visible thank-you gesture to a faithful ally in the Iraq war. In contrast, Bush scrubbed a visit planned for Monday with Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien, who questioned Bush's path on Iraq.
Instead of meeting with Chretien, Bush was making a quick pass Monday through Arkansas, a state he only narrowly won in the 2000 election.