Bush has near 'tractor accident' in visit to Illinois factory

Michael Roston
Published: Wednesday January 31, 2007
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Update: Another media account indicates that key White House adviser Karl Rove asked if the president could drive the tractor, warning that the president doesn't drive often. More details are below.

The White House announced its visit to a Caterpillar factory in East Peoria, Illinois, yesterday, where President George W. Bush advanced his case for expanding free trade negotiations. But it didn't detail the President's clumsy driving of a giant D-10 tractor that sent the White House press corps and presidential staff scrambling, as reported at a Newsweek blog.

At "The Gaggle," Newsweek reporter Holly Bailey writes that the president clambered into the driver's seat of Caterpillar's giant D10 tractor. "I would suggest moving back...I'm about to crank this sucker up," she reports him saying.

But as White House staff started to move the press corps back, the situation became more chaotic. Bailey writes that "the tractor lurched forward" and White House staff "too were forced to scramble for safety. "Get out of the way!" a news photographer yelled. "I think he might run us over!""

Bush chuckled about the incident, and referenced driving the tractor during his speech, saying "I'm impressed by a culture of excellence and accomplishment that is the spirit of Caterpillar. I also appreciate the chance to drive a D10. If you've never driven a D10 -- (laughter) -- it's a cool experience. (Laughter)," according to the White House website.

Bailey looked less fondly upon Bush's test drive of the D-10. "Yeah, almost as much fun as seeing your life flash before your eyes," she wrote in response to the president's remark about his "cool experience."

Update: A Copley News Service report in the Register-Mail, a paper in Galesburg, IL, indicates that White House adviser Karl Rove asked Caterpillar executives to give the president a photo opportunity in the tractor. "Rove chatted briefly with Caterpillar executives about whether Bush would drive one of the tractors," writes Copley's Molly Parker. "Rove reminded them Bush doesn't do much driving on his own these days and asked if Caterpillar's insurance was up to date," she added.

The full blog post can be accessed at Newsweek's politics blog The Gaggle.