WASHINGTON – Coming home an hour and 20 minutes ahead of schedule after a whirlwind tour of inaugural balls Thursday night, President Bush (search) may have been preparing to get started immediately on an ambitious second-term agenda. Or he may wait until Monday.
The president heads to a National Cathedral (search) inauguration prayer service on
Friday morning, but otherwise has not laden his schedule with activities after an exhausting week of inaugural receptions, meals, balls and, of course, an oath to uphold the office of the president.
Even without a hefty public schedule, however, the president rarely sits back and relaxes. Frequently, unplanned events come up when nothing is on the agenda. Most recently, several surprise announcements of Cabinet nominations for his second term in office.
On Thursday, Bush told congressional members, the Diplomatic Corps (search), Supreme Court justices and others attending his post-swearing in luncheon that he was ready to get started on a wide array of objectives for his second term.
"We have a solemn duty to protect our people and to win the War on Terror, and we will. We've other vital duties, and we will strive to achieve results on behalf of the people. I'm eager for the work. I'm looking forward to it, and I hope you are, as well," he said.
The Senate got off to a good start in that direction on Thursday, confirming two of Bush's Cabinet nominees: Mike Johanns, who is now the agriculture
secretary, and Margaret Spellings, the new secretary of education.
But with Congress out until Monday, it won't get to the laborious work ahead in any speedy fashion. Even when it does return, several competing goals will be fighting for floor space. First up is likely to be the confirmation of two key positions in the Bush Cabinet: attorney general and secretary of state.
Alberto Gonzales, who served as the president's counsel in his first term, wasexpected to be confirmed as attorney general in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., held up the vote for a week after he expressed dissatisfaction with Gonzales' written responses to several questions posed to him during his confirmation hearing two weeks ago.
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was expected to be confirmed by the Senate Thursday afternoon for the secretary of state post, but
Democrats requested that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist reschedule so they could have time to review her remarks from two days of hearings this week. Rice's nomination passed out of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by a 16-2 vote on Wednesday.
When they are confirmed, as they are both expected to be, they will face extreme pressures relating to the War on Terror. Gonzales will be responsible for creating a consistent and durable policy on the treatment of captured terror suspects. Rice will go about strengthening the relations established by her predecessor Colin Powell. She will also face the task of bringing new allies into the U.S. sphere of influence.
Elsewhere, the president said he wants to encourage Americans to become less dependent on government programs and thereby freer and more prosperous.
"To give every American a stake in the promise and future of our country, we will bring the highest standards to our schools, and build an ownership society. We will widen the ownership of homes and businesses, retirement savings and health insurance — preparing our people for the challenges of life in a free society," he said during his inauguration speech on Thursday.
"The president stated that he will 'bring the highest standards to our schools and build an ownership society.' I encourage the president to do all he can to uphold that promise," Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said.
But Cummings, former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, and many other Democrats have differing views from Bush on how to solve domestic matters, including raising American wages and improving performance at schools.
The president has said he wants to increase testing among high school students and improve education at vocational establishments. Cummings and others have demanded more federal money to institute fully the programs proposed in the No Child Left Behind Law, which was signed into law in 2002. Both sides agree better education will lead to better incomes.
Bush has also put Social Security reform at the top of his lists of objectives, saying he wants to update the retirement system to ensure that young workers today will have benefits in the future. But his system of allowing young workers to take a portion of their contributions and invest it in the stock market has set off alarm bells among Democrats.
"I don't think Social Security is as much of a crisis as the president makes it out to be in light of tax reform and education and health care, not to
mention Iraq and national security," Rep. Harry Ford, D-Tenn., told FOX
Ford proposed options to extending the program's solvency such as raising the ceiling on payroll taxes or raising the retirement age for workers under 50.
The congressman added that Bush must remember he will be a lame duck in two years after midterm elections and will have to reach out to Democrats to get his objectives met.
Waiting a Day to Free the World
In his inauguration speech Thursday, Bush also identified the fight against tyranny and lack of freedoms in many nations as a key threat to U.S. security. He proposed a determined effort to expand liberty worldwide by encouraging and spreading freedom, and redefined American policy as one that won't sit back and watch allies or strategically-located tyrants get away with mistreating their populations.
"America's belief in human dignity will guide our policies, yet rights must
be more than the grudging concessions of dictators; they are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty," he said.
Bush said his vision is not one to be accomplished primarily through military force, but by embracing those abroad who seek democratic reforms in their societies.
"The United States will not ignore your oppression, or excuse your oppressors. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you," he told an international audience.
But after his inauguration and the parade that followed, Bush wasn't standing; He was dancing. Taking the evening off from saving the world, the president and first lady Laura Bush took a few hours to skip around among 12 officially sanctioned inaugural balls.
In what appeared to be a race against Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne to be the first couple home, Bush and the first lady left the White House for the first ball at 7:13 p.m. and arrived back there at 9:59 p.m. EST., making brief comments and expressing thanks to the 55,000 guests who attended the various galas. Bush repeatedly danced with his wife to "I Could Have Danced All Night" before dashing out to the next function.
When the Cheneys departed just before 10:00 p.m. following a brief stop at the Constitution Ball at the Washington Hilton, an exodus followed them.
Hundreds of people who apparently had their fill of pasta and caesar salad simultaneously stormed the coat check.
Security was tight in Washington for the president's inaugural. Access to the area around the presidential inauguration and parade route was very difficult. More than 100 city blocks were close, manhole covers welded shut, and concrete barriers and security fences were erected to restrict pedestrians. Protesters were still given space along on the parade route on Fourth Street and Pennsylvania Avenue to make their views known. The 1.7-mile inaugural parade featuring 11,000 people, floats, vehicles and horses was late in beginning, as the luncheon took longer than the time budgeted for it.
FOX News' Jim Angle contributed to this report.