BUSH completes physical, heads to Texas

Saturday, August 4th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) _ President Bush endured a six-hour physical examination, his first since taking office, before departing Saturday for his summer vacation in Texas.

``I feel pretty good. I think you'll find I'm in pretty good shape,'' Bush told reporters as he emerged, waving and smiling, from Bethesda Naval Hospital. He boarded a helicopter for Andrews Air Force Base, where Air Force One waited.

Bush was wearing sunglasses because his pupils were dilated from eye drops.

A statement about his health was expected to be released during the flight to Texas. No details about his exam were released at the hospital.

In response to a question, Bush said that before Congress returns in September, he intends to decide whether the government will finance embryonic stem cell research.

The president arrived at the hospital just before 8 a.m. He said he was not nervous about the battery of tests awaiting him.

The president expected nothing but high marks, spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday. He noted that the 55-year-old Bush is an avid runner looking forward to go jogging in the nearly 100-degree heat at his dusty, central Texas ranch.

``The president feels in excellent physical health. As you know, he is an athlete,'' Fleischer told reporters. At his last medical exam, in September 1999 during the presidential campaign, the 6-foot-tall Bush weighed in at 192 1/2 pounds and was found to have excellent cardiovascular fitness.

He and first lady Laura Bush are vacationing at the remote ranch through Labor Day, with several outings planned _ in Colorado, Wisconsin, New Mexico and Pennsylvania _ to keep the president and his agenda in the public eye.

By the time he returns to the White House, Bush will have spent nearly two months of his presidency at his 1,600-acre spread in Crawford, Texas, plus 14 weekends at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland. As such, White House advisers are sensitive to suggestions that Bush might be loafing and have dubbed this his ``Home to the Heartland Tour,'' emphasizing it is a working vacation.

Before leaving the gated White House for the open spaces he craves in Texas, Bush went to the Rose Garden on Friday and promised to return in September with new ideas for improving community life and promoting family values nationwide.

Adoption, teen pregnancy, school safety, truancy and affordable housing are among the issues Bush may discuss, aides said.

It is part of a fall campaign to showcase the president's moral leadership on initiatives with dual appeal: They do not require cooperation from a deeply partisan Congress and they speak to moderate voters _ particularly the women that Republicans will need in the 2002 midterm elections.

White House aides said they are exploring dozens of ideas, including proposals to give parents more time with their families, to add citizenship to school curriculums and to facilitate e-mail between grandparents and grandchildren.

Vice President Dick Cheney is also taking most of August off at his home in Jackson Hole, Wyo. Like Bush, he has a sprinkling of political business on his vacation planner, including an appearance at the Utah Republican Party's organizing convention and a meeting with wildfire officials in Idaho