WASHINGTON – America's pilots are bombing at will from the skies over Afghanistan, while back home Congress squabbles over domestic defenses needed for what President Bush calls a "unique type of war" against terrorism.
"These are extraordinary times," the president said Tuesday as he followed the progress of third day of military operations, reassured the public about steps taken to thwart future attacks on American soil and bluntly accused lawmakers of leaking classified information to the press.
"I'm having breakfast in the morning with members of Congress," he added. "I will be glad to bring up this subject."
There were other issues to discuss at what has become a weekly breakfast meeting involving Bush and the four senior leaders of the House and Senate.
The administration's legislation to strengthen the hand of investigators in pursuit of suspected terrorists was pending in the House and the Senate, where Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., blocked passage Tuesday night, saying he wanted more time to propose changes.
A companion measure to enhance airline security was hung up in the House, where Republicans were dug in against a proposal to federalize the employees who currently screen baggage at the nation's airports.
Economic stimulus legislation, an urgent priority since the Sept. 11 attacks in New York and Washington, also has sparked disagreement. Bush and Republicans have proposed that Congress cut taxes and Democrats want any measure to be a blend of government spending and tax relief.
Bush also arranged to visit the Justice Department during the day and to host Lord Robertson, the NATO secretary-general, at the White House.
Officials have said previously the alliance would be sending some of its sophisticated AWACS aircraft for defensive use over the United States. That would free U.S. planes for redeployment in the air campaign against terrorists overseas.
"I think the American people are beginning to realize that this is a unique type of war," the president said Tuesday.
Defense Department officials labeled the bombing campaign a success thus far.
"I think essentially we have air supremacy over Afghanistan," said Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And for the first time since the operation began on Sunday, American planes were dropping their bombs in daylight.
Other officials said the U.S.-led assault has rained bombs and missiles on the meager military forces of the Taliban, rulers of Afghanistan. The result has been to disable all but one of their air bases, blind their air defenses and pound a pocket of ground troops and several suspected terrorist training camps of the Al Qaeda network and Usama bin Laden, they said.
At the same time, neither Myers nor Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld would provide information on what the follow-up battle plan would be.
The next phase of U.S. strikes likely would include special forces operations, such as raids by small groups of soldiers ferried in by low-flying helicopters to root out terrorist or Taliban leaders, military analysts say. Other special operations forces specialize in training rebel forces and could urge Afghans to support U.S. operations.
Myers declined to rule out providing close air support for an offensive by the northern alliance forces fighting the Taliban regime. But he declined to say it would be forthcoming either.
Rumsfeld, who said earlier that bombs and missiles alone would not knock the Taliban on its heels, would not discuss the possible use of ground forces, either Americans or troops from other countries.
"I have been careful not to rule out anything," he said, but added, "this is a different situation ... from things that we are all used to from the past." Officials have discouraged speculation about the deployment of a large ground force such as was used in the Persian Gulf War a decade ago. The Pentagon already has had special forces operating inside Afghanistan.
In Congress, the anti-terrorism bill seemed poised for passage on Tuesday night before Feingold stepped in.
He wants to eliminate a provision in the bill that would allow police to search suspects' home secretly, narrow a provision that allows federal officials to wiretap telephones, keep the FBI from being able to access Americans' personal records and clarify the federal government's ability to wiretap computers.
"It is crucial that civil liberties in this country be preserved, otherwise the terrorists will win the battle against American values without firing another shot," he said.
At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, Bush spoke with unusual firmness about members of Congress and the leaking of classified information.
"It is unacceptable behavior to leak classified information when we have troops at risk," he said, adding that some lawmakers have failed to accept responsibility for protecting information that has been shared with them.
His words — and an earlier order restricting the distribution of sensitive information — prompted a rebuttal from some lawmakers.
Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., showed Bush a copy of the law that requires the State Department to inform one House committee of certain developments.
"This will all work out," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer predicted.