WASHINGTON – Arnold Schwarzenegger made an appearance on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, and the Hollywood actor and former California governor was uncharacteristically disciplined.
Reporters tried to get Schwarzenegger to go off script, to tear into the rigid partisanship on Capitol Hill, but he wouldn’t take the bait.
Standing alongside two of the Senate’s most liberal Democrats – Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and Barbara Boxer of California – Schwarzenegger demurred when asked his thoughts about Republican lawmakers who have sought to hinder action on climate change, one of his signature issues.
Schwarzenegger said his trip to Washington was intended to rally lawmakers against proposed cuts in federal spending for after-school programs, and that is all he would talk about. The former governor has long crusaded for after-school activities. He entered California politics with his campaign for Proposition 49 in 2002, a ballot measure that set aside money in the state budget for the programs.
“I learned a long time ago from sports … keep your eye on the ball,” he said. “The ball is after-school programs.”
Schwarzenegger said reporters were welcome to ask him about anything: the environment, his movies, Republicans, but “I will only talk about after-school programs.”
And talk about after-school programs he did.
“They thought they were going to get away with it and no one would notice,” he said. “It is very important we protect what we have.”
Schwarzenegger and senators were talking specifically about waivers that schools are requesting from the Obama administration. The waivers would allow them to divert funds allocated for after-school activities to other programs. The former governor and his allies are seeking to block legislation in the Senate that could do the same.
In a brief interview after the news conference, Schwarzenegger said it was a repeat performance for him.
“Ten years ago, when the Bush administration tried to take half a billion dollars from after-school programs, I came in here and lobbied,” he said. This time around, he had the ear of Reid after he agreed to speak at the senator’s environmental conference in Las Vegas.
“Harry Reid called me to have me come to Las Vegas,” Schwarzenegger said. “I said, ‘Can I talk to you about something else I am passionate about?’ He said, ‘Weight lifting? No problem.’”
The former governor, whose distaste for partisanship is well known, played polite. He resisted ripping into the dysfunction that has gripped Washington, which resembles the legislative dysfunction that undermined his agenda in Sacramento.
Asked whether he saw more trips to Washington in his future, Schwarzenegger, who created a think tank in USC that has the stated mission of “advancing post-partisanship,” was quick to respond.
“No,” he said.