SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – President Bush tried to drown out political anxieties about war and sex Wednesday by sounding alarm bells on national security and urging people to "vote Republican for the safety" of the country.
This week has put the Republicans' bid to keep control of Congress in further jeopardy and brought even more bad news for the president. Republicans on Capitol Hill have been damaged by one member's online sexual advances against teenage boys, while military commanders in Iraq are grappling with a rash of troop casualties and allegations of police corruption.
New polls show Americans are increasingly unhappy with Bush's leadership and the war in Iraq. And even after months of campaigning on immigration reform, he had to sign a bill Wednesday with only a fraction of the changes he wanted.
Still, Bush persisted with the strategy that has brought Republican victory in the last two elections — campaigning on national security with some tax talk thrown in. With Republicans down, he tried to bring Democrats down even farther.
"If the other bunch gets elected, they're going to raise your taxes," Bush charged during a breakfast fundraiser for Rep. Rick Renzi at the posh Camelback Inn near Phoenix.
Worse yet, Bush said, some Democrats are putting national security at risk by voting against bills that would allow secret eavesdropping on phone calls and tough measures to interrogate prisoners to try to detect terror plots.
"If you want to make sure those on the front line of protecting you have the tools necessary to do so, you vote Republican for the safety of the United States of America," Bush said to applause from the donors who together gave $450,000 to see him speak and support Renzi.
Democrats said Bush was just trying to distract from his failed management of the war on terror.
"Instead of making baseless claims, the President should focus on the facts and discuss what he's doing to improve the situation on the ground in Iraq," said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, head of the Democratic effort to win seats in the Senate.
After his remarks, Bush stepped outside on a patio with a view of Camelback Mountain to sign a $34.8 billion bill to fund homeland security. The bill includes $1.2 billion for fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, along with vehicle barriers, lighting and infrared cameras to help catch people sneaking across.
But Bush has been saying for months that the country's immigration problems cannot be solved just by tightening border security. U.S. employers need cheap foreign labor, and immigrants will continue to sneak in to take the jobs, Bush said, so Congress should authorize temporary work permits to match those workers with low-paying jobs that other Americans don't want. He also wanted to give citizenship to millions of illegal immigrants already in the United States.
But Republicans in Congress took a tougher stance against immigration and have refused to give Bush the more comprehensive legislation he wanted.
"We'll continue to work with Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform that secures this border, upholds the laws, and honors our nation's proud heritage as a land of immigrants," Bush said just before putting his pen to the bill's paper.
Later, Bush flew to Colorado to raise $550,000 for Rep. Bob Beauprez, who is running for governor. Then he was heading back to Washington after a three-day swing through four Western states that brought more than $3.6 million to GOP coffers.