President Bush canceled an appearance Friday in St. Louis that aides decided could offend House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt.
The president, who was flying to the Democratic leader's hometown to visit a tenant-run housing project, also had planned to speak on behalf of a U.S.-Mexican free-trade arrangement in a meeting with local Hispanic business executives.But the visit comes as Bush is courting Gephardt's support for the so-called fast-track authority the administration claims is crucial to negotiating the pact with Mexico.
So, as Bush was praising Gephardt's leadership at a meeting with agricultural leaders Thursday, the White House announced the business meeting was off.
"We didn't want to do anything that might be construed as putting pressure on him (Gephardt)," presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
The president's schedule called for him to make a midday visit to a tenant-managed housing project.
Bush and his housing secretary, Jack Kemp, were to meet with tenants and the management staff at Cochran Gardens, and the president was to give a speech pushing his proposals for private ownership of such projects.
Officials in St. Louis say tenant managers are making good progress combatting drugs and crime at a project once seen as "the worst place in the world to live."
"It was terrible back in the early 1970s," said Walter Jones, executive manager of Cochran Gardens. "Drugs were sold openly, and there were killings on the street. You wouldn't be safe walking down the street."
Fitzwater said Cochran Gardens "offers a good example of tenant management that has worked."
Bush has asked Congress to approve spending $855 million to prepare 62,000 residents in 250 public housing communities nationwide for home ownership by the end of next year.
As to Bush's other scheduled stop, White House officials acknowledged the meeting with Hispanic businessmen was called off solely because they did not want to risk alienating Gephardt.
Bush is seeking Gephardt's support on a vote later this month to renew the administration's expiring fast-track authority to negotiate trade agreements.