President Bush is changing his schedule to return to the White House on Sunday to be in place to sign emergency legislation that would shift the case of a brain-damaged Florida woman to federal courts, the White House said Saturday.
“Everyone recognizes that time is important here,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. “This is about defending life.”
After Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube was removed on Friday, members of Congress worked out a deal to pass legislation to allow federal courts to decide the 41-year-old woman’s fate and – in the hopes of supporters of the woman’s parents – restore the tube that was keeping her alive.
The House and Senate hoped to act on the legislation Sunday, so Bush decided he needed to be in Washington so he could immediately sign the bill, McClellan said.
“The president intends to sign legislation as quickly as possible once it is passed,” McClellan said.
During previous travels, Bush has had legislation flown to him overnight by military plane for his signature. But in this case, McClellan said that the fact that a woman’s life is at stake made it necessary for him to travel to the bill.
“Terri Schiavo’s feeding tube has been removed and we stand with … all those who are working to defend her life,” he said.
Bush was spending the weekend at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, arriving there Friday night after a day traveling in Florida to pitch his plans to overhaul Social Security.
On Monday, he was to leave from Texas for a two-day trip in the West to continue pitching his Social Security proposals. Now, McClellan said, he would likely keep his Social Security appearances but depart for them from Washington instead.
On Wednesday, Bush is due to host Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin at his ranch, and there was no indication that would change.
He was then to spend the rest of the Easter week before returning to Washington March 28.
McClellan said that Bush had not talked with any members of Congress Saturday about the case, but was kept apprised by his staff. He dismissed any suggestion that there were any political considerations at work, either in the quick and aggressive congressional action or the president’s hurried return to the White House.
The Senate convened briefly Saturday evening to give formal permission for the House to meet Sunday, when it otherwise would be adjourned for the Easter recess.
The plan is for the House to act on the two-page bill Sunday or just after midnight Monday morning. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said the Senate then would act on the House legislation, assuming it passes the House as envisioned.