President Bush made his first post-State of the Union stop in Tennessee on Wednesday, where he recapped priorities laid out the night before for his 2006 agenda, argued for freedom around the world and explained his "path to victory."
"It's one thing to give the speech, it's another thing to come to Nashville" and explain why he said what he did during the State of the Union, Bush said Wednesday, also trying to put aside some Americans' uncertainty about the future.
"I understand there's an anxiety in a time of war, that's natural, it seems to me," Bush said. "I clearly see the threats to America. My job is to worry about those threats, that's not your job. We've got a lot of people in government worrying about those threats so you can go on with your life."
America must not become isolationist in nature and must work to stay competitive in a global economy and to spread democracy abroad to maintain peace and security here at home, the president told his audience at the Grand Ole Opry. A key factor in keeping America safe, he added, is bringing stability to Iraq, Afghanistan and other regions he says may breed terrorists.
"We're at war. A lot of my thinking in the speech I gave last night and speeches I have given is based upon my understanding that we're at war," Bush said. "I recognize in a free society like ours there can be and should be debate on the matter and I welcome debate but as I said last night to Congress, whether you agree or disagree with the decision, this country has one option: and that's victory in Iraq."
He added: "Our strategy is to never give in."
The president noted that "freedom's march" is taking place in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon as people go to the polls to elect new leaders and reform their governments. Even though he hailed Palestininans for going to the polls and ousting a government they thought was corrupt and not working for them, he said the militant group Hamas that is now in charge needs to change its ways.
"Hamas, by the way, now has a choice to make: If they want to work with the United States of America, they must renounce their desire for the destruction of Israel," Bush said.
Focus on Iran
The commander-in-chief also repeated how he will deal with Iran.
Highlighting what many believe is the most severe threat emerging in the global community, Bush on Tuesday night said Iran needs to stop sponsoring terrorists and give up its nuclear ambitions; he said the United States will continue to rally the world to the threat. Iran is "a nation now held hostage by a small clerical elite that is isolating and repressing its people," he said.
While he said Iran needs to get rid of its nuclear ambitions, Bush assured the Iranian people in both speeches that the United States will stand by them if they establish a democratic government.
"I believe that everybody desires to be free and I just wanted to assure them that someday, they'll be able to have a choice in their government and the United States looks forward to a friendship with a free and democratic Iran," he said Wednesday.
On Thursday, Mohammed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is issuing an update on Iran. This comes after an initial report was obtained by FOX News on Tuesday that shows Iran has been misleading the IAEA about its nuclear weapons pursuits.
The five members of the U.N. Security Council agreed on Monday that Iran's nuclear efforts are subject to scrutiny, though no action is expected to be taken until March.
But former Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said he's not sure if taking Iran to the Security Council will have any impact.
"The president was pretty clear on a couple of points that presidents aren't always clear on, one is that we will defend Israel, and two is Iran cannot have nuclear weapons," Eagleburger said. "This is a long road, hopefully the Iranians will back down … the only hope we have is if there's a generation of young Iranians" who can wield enough influence to put a less radical government in place.
Former U.N. ambassador Bill Richardson said Bush was right in striking a conciliatory tone in regards to Iran by telling the government to reform but by vowing to stick by the Iranian people.
"On Iran, I thought he was quite good and positive … I think our policy toward Iran makes sense, it includes the Europeans, the International Atomic Energy Agency, it includes diplomacy, the right to say we're going to defend Israel," Richardson said. "I was pleased to see it wasn't mixed up in some of that 'axis of evil' stuff he sometimes says."
'Protectionism Doesn't Work'
Bush's appearance in Nashville reinforced the many goals he stated in a one-hour speech that focused on overcoming America's dependence on Mideast oil, nuclear pursuits in Iran, conditions in Iraq, and domestic concerns like health care, education and the economy. He laid out a series of plans for this year that include calling on Congress to ban human cloning, make his tax cuts permanent and pass comprehensive Social Security reform, among other things.
One overarching theme Bush repeated Wednesday was the need to keep America competitive in the global economy by better teaching subjects like math and science so companies will hire homegrown engineers and other professionals instead of sending work abroad. The United States also needs to find better alternative energy sources to reduce its dependence on Mideast oil, he said. But to do all these things, Bush stressed the United States needs to stay involved in world affairs to defeat tyranny and encourage democracy as well as to promote its ideals.
"Protectionism doesn't work — protectionism would default to other countries in the world," the president said. "That's not the American way, America must be confident and lead and do what it takes to keep America competitive."
The president again defended the controversial NSA wiretapping program, which he authorized soon after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Called the "terrorist surveillance program" by the administration, it allows warrantless wiretaps to be used on some people inside the United States when communicating with suspected Al Qaeda members or terrorist affiliates overseas. It does not include domestic-to-domestic calls.
Some have questioned whether Bush overstepped his legal authority with his "terrorist surveillance program."
But Bush and other administration officials have repeatedly said the president's actions are legal and that Congress and the Constitution give him the authority, which also has been used by previous presidents. The White House has blasted Democratic critics of the program who claim the president didn't brief enough members of the Congress on the program and those who made their concerns known only after details of the NSA program was leaked to the press.
"If I was trying to pull a fast one on the American people, why'd I brief Congress?" Bush asked, adding that Americans' civil liberties are being protected and that the program is under constant review. He also said federal courts have ruled that presidents have the constitutional authority to use foreign surveillance against its enemies.
"Let me put it to you in Texan: If Al Qaeda is calling the United States, we wanna know," Bush said.
To reinforce his authority, Bush called on Congress to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
The House on Wednesday was voting to extend parts of the act for six more weeks. The first extension will expire on Friday; that gave lawmakers a chance to come up with a compromise while preventing the four-year-old legislation from expiring altogether on Dec. 31.
"The Patriot Act act is set to expire, the war against terrorists is not expiring," Bush said Wednesday. "These people need to have the tools necessary to do their job, it's essential that Congress reauthorize the Patriot Act."
In Wednesday's address, Bush also said:
— Congress needs to make permanent his tax cuts, which he said left $880 billion in the hands of American families and entrepreneurs since they were first enacted during his term;
— "This economy is doing just fine," with after-tax income up 7 percent since 2001 and home ownership at an all-time high, particularly among minorities;
— American troops must be well equipped;
— The federal deficit needs to be cut in half by 2009;
— The Social Security system needs to be reformed, since "[baby boomers] have been promised too much and there's too little being put into the system;"
— Congress needs to pas comprehensive immigration reform that gives workers temporary guest worker status and cuts down on crimes such as document forgery and human trafficking. "I can't stand a system where people are stuffed in 18 wheelers and they're driving across the desert," Bush said.
— Congress needs to pass medical malpractice reform. "It's time for those senators who are blocking that bill, those senators that are representing the trial lawyers of America, to understand the damage they're doing to health care in this country."
Although the president said Tuesday night he wanted to work with Congress to stop the partisan bickering that has plagued Washington in recent months in an effort to make inroads on this agenda, after the president's speech, Democrats said they have a better way to deal with America's problems.
Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, giving the Democrats' official response, accused the administration of "poor choices and bad management" and said people struggling after Hurricane Katrina, jobless workers, and American troops all are aware of Bush's impact. Kaine also said supporting the War on Terror should not come at the cost of sacrificing personal liberties in the process.
"The president's speech tonight used lofty yet recycled rhetoric to paint a picture of a country that has prospered and become stronger in this new century," added Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. "Unfortunately, that's not the America his policies have created for too many families."
Bush told Americans in his fifth annual address to a joint session of Congress that the future and character of the United States will be largely determined in the next year by getting over a longtime dependency on foreign oil, progress in Iraq, the growing threat from Iran and concerted efforts to take care of America's own.
"We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life. We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy — or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity," the president said.
"In a complex and challenging time, the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline. The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership."
Bush will detail the new programs he proposed to make America more competitive and self-reliant while expanding its global economic reach in a series of speeches this month, the first of which he will give Thursday in Maplewood, Minn. He will also travel in coming weeks to Albuquerque, N.M., and Dallas as the administration prepares to send the president's budget request for 2007 to Congress.
Later Wednesday, after returning to the White House, Bush will participate in a celebratory swearing-in ceremony for Supreme Court Associate Justice Samuel Alito.