Published January 31, 2006
WASHINGTON – President Bush prepared to speak to millions of Americans in a joint session of Congress Tuesday night in his fifth State of the Union address amid debate over a terrorist surveillance program, international issues and the War on Terror.
The president is expected to address nuclear pursuits in Iran and the election of the extremist group Hamas to lead the Palestinian people, as well as domestic concerns like health care, energy, education and the economy.
Tuesday's speech comes less than a week before Bush will send his budget request for 2007 to Congress, and will be followed by national travel in which he will outline initiatives from his address. The president plans to deliver four major policy speeches in Maplewood, Minn., Nashville, Tenn., Albuquerque, N.M., and Dallas.
• Watch full coverage of President Bush's State of the Union address live on FOX News Channel at 9 p.m. ET.
The speech is set to run about 38 minutes, though it will likely extend to an hour as members of the joint session of the House and Senate, the Supreme Court justices, the Cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Washington's diplomatic corps applaud their favorite proposals and rhetorical flourishes. There will have been about 30 drafts of the speech by late Tuesday.
Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president, said Bush will begin his speech with comments on the War on Terror and the nation's efforts to secure peace.
"He'll talk about our mission in Iraq and the critical importance for to us win there. The stakes are high there. He's going to call on members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrats, to come together, because the stakes are high," Bartlett told FOX News.
The president will also address domestic issues such as the economy and health care, Bartlett said.
"President Bush will outline not only an agenda for America, but, obviously, an agenda for his own party to provide an optimistic forward-looking set of proposals that will not only continue to secure the peace and security of our country but also expand the prosperity of our country," Bartlett said.
Tucker Eskew, a Republican strategist, said Bush will outline an optimistic agenda that is stronger than the position of Democrats.
“This president’s got a vision and a plan; he’ll illustrate it tonight. It’s bold, it’s optimistic, it’s very different from what we’re hearing from Democrats,” Eskew said.
Steve Murphy, a Democratic strategist, said Democrats have alternatives to Bush’s policies like national security.
“We absolutely have an alternative. We want to turn over the fighting in Iraq to the Iraqis and we want to deal with the War on Terror as our number one national security priority,” Murphy said.
White House aides are aware the president's on the defensive. His party is nervous about re-election prospects in November, but Bartlett said that doesn't mean the president will take the politically-cautious route during his address, particularly as he is able show off two new Supreme Court justices and a new Federal Reserve chairman.
"Small ball is not in this president's DNA," Bartlett said.
Meanwhile, the White House continued a tradition before the address by hosting television anchors and reporters at an off-the-record lunch with the president.
After holding a Cabinet meeting at the White House Monday, Bush said the Palestinian government led by Hamas and the Islamic Republic of Iran's attempt to gain nuclear technology are two international policy issues that the United States can not afford to ignore.
"The Hamas Party has made it clear that they do not support the right of Israel," Bush said after meeting with his Cabinet. "And I have made it clear that so long as that's their policy, that we will not support a Palestinian government made up of Hamas."
Bush also said the U.S. would work with its allies to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear technology.
"We're going to continue to work with our friends and allies to present a united front to the Iranians," Bush said. "And the message is: Give up your nuclear weapons ambitions. The good news is: Most of the world recognizes that Iran being the nontransparent society that it is ... cannot be trusted with technology that could enable it to develop a nuclear weapon."
As part of the president's attempt to reach out to foreign circles and describe the U.S. point of view, the State Department announced on Monday that it will use the World Wide Web to audio stream the president's address in multiple languages. The live simultaneous translations will be offered in several languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Bahasa Indonesian, Spanish, French and Russian.
About three hours after the president's speech, audio files will be available in Portuguese, Swahili and Turkish and later in Hausa, a language native to the Muslim population in northern Nigeria and neighboring Niger.
“I'm looking forward to speaking to the country, we have a lot to be proud of, we have a lot of work to do,” Bush told reporters Monday. "I can't tell you how upbeat I am about our future so long as we're willing to lead. ... We recognize that we can't just sit back and hope for the best, we’ve got to lead."
Aside from diplomatic tensions, Bush is also expected to discuss moving America away from its dependence on foreign energy sources and remaining competitive in the global economy.
Bush also will discuss domestic issues including the ballooning federal deficit, health care costs and health saving accounts, the high-deductible health care plan that allows Americans to contribute money tax-free to 401(k)-like health savings plans, as well as greater tax deductions for out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Bush's address follows the most difficult year of his presidency, punctuated by poll numbers in the low 40s, a lobbying scandal in Congress, a terrorism surveillance program revealed at the National Security Agency and the ongoing war in Iraq.
“I'll do my best to elevate the tone here in Washington, D.C., so we can work together to achieve big things for the American people,” Bush said.
But Democrats say the president does not have enough credibility to enter into the discussion.
"The biggest problem we have with the president and the State of the Union address is his credibility," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said on Monday. "The president must come clean with the American people and really talk about what the State of the Union is, not some fluffy thing that doesn't exist. He needs to talk about the economy he has developed, staggering deficits. When he took office there were surpluses as far as the eye could see. Now there are deficits as far as the eye could see.
"He holds every record possible for the largest yearly deficit, and he's now asking us to increase the debt ceiling from $8.2 trillion to over $9 trillion. We have during his tenure in office, the uninsured have gone up a million people every year, 5 million more people uninsured than when he took office. Health care is in really bad shape in this country, and this is across the board, whether you are a child or whether you're a senior citizen. His Medicare program is disastrous for the American people and we have to certainly take a look at that honestly," Reid said.
Separately, the chairmen of the Democratic campaign committees — New York Sen. Charles Schumer and Illinois Rep. Rahm Emanuel — dismissed the idea of health savings accounts and Bush's expected talk of bipartisanship.
"Each year he talks about bipartisanship and he is the most partisan president we've had," said Schumer, arguing that President Reagan worked with Democrats and President Clinton did the same with Republicans.
"He may say it, but the rhetoric will never match with the reality," Emanuel said.
On health savings accounts, Schumer said: "We believe that health savings accounts don't solve any of the health care problems. The uninsured are not going to be helped."
He vowed to fight the president's proposal.
Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine was chosen to deliver the State of the Union response for Democrats. Previewing his remarks, he told The Associated Press, "I want to contrast what I consider to be an administration that is super partisan and not really able to deliver results with a different model, a better way, which is what we've been doing in Virginia and other states."
FOXNews.com's Sharon Kehnemui Liss and The Associated Press contributed to this report.