Mr. Universe Goes To Washington

California Governor-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger smiles as he wraps up a press conference between meetings with lawmakers on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2003. Schwarzenegger was appealing to the Congressional leadership and the California delegation to get federal funds to assist with the wildfires and economic problems in his state. He is flanked by Speaker of the House of Representatives Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., at left, and Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., right.
AP
It was supposed to be a victory lap of sorts around Washington, but California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger is instead doing the rounds on Capital Hill hoping to get money for his fire-ravaged state.

"I'm here basically to get more money for California," Schwarzenegger told reporters following a Wednesday morning meeting with House Republicans.

Schwarzenegger used his first visit since his Oct. 7 election to plead for additional federal resources to fight what authorities are calling the worst fire emergency in the state in more than a decade.

"We are right now in the middle of the disaster so ... we don't know how long this fire will continue. The most important thing now is that we all work together," the governor-elect said in a Capitol Hill corridor with House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., and other GOP lawmakers nearby.

The governor-elect began his day on Capitol Hill, meeting with Michael Brown, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. He then had a private session with the California Republican congressional delegation.

"He's much more impressive in person than in pictures," Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Calif., chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said of the celluloid action hero.

Schwarzenegger also was to meet with members of the House and Senate leadership, Cabinet secretaries and leading members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over how federal funds are allocated.

"The governor-elect is going to Washington to establish relationships and to build on existing relationships," said spokesman Rob Stutzman. "But given the devastation that is taking place, he is also looking for aid for the rebuilding."

It's a promise he has already made back home, reports CBS News Correspondent Aleen Sirgany. After getting a first hand look at the devastation, Schwarzenegger told residents there he would be back – with federal assistance from Washington, politics aside.

"I don t think that the fire victims right now care about Democrats or Republicans. We all need to work together," he said.

Although he was not scheduled to meet with President Bush on this trip — they met in California two weeks ago — Schwarzenegger comes representing a state that Mr. Bush already has made a major part of his re-election campaign. It is the prime target of any candidate, offering a fifth of the electoral votes necessary for victory.

Schwarzenegger's two-day Washington swing had been planned more than a week before the fires began scorching homes and hundreds of thousands of acres of parched brush and trees, leaving more than a dozen dead and dozens more injured. Earlier this week, Mr. Bush declared a state of emergency in four California counties, clearing the way for victims to receive federal disaster assistance.

Former California Rep. Leon Panetta said Schwarzenegger's visit will be an important measure of his leadership skills and ability to lean on the federal government to deliver on its promises.

"This is an area in which Washington can respond — they have the resources to help people in disasters," Panetta said. "And it's a crisis in which the people of California will determine whether he can do the job, and whether he can make government work on behalf of the people which is what he campaigned on."