WASHINGTON – President Bush, facing a new, Democratic Congress deeply skeptical of his policies, will meet with his Cabinet on Wednesday about domestic priorities and court key lawmakers at a social reception.
Bush also is under pressure to announce a new Iraq strategy, but officials say he is still making decisions and will not reveal any changes this week. When he makes his announcement, Bush is expected to say he is sending additional U.S. troops to Iraq.
Wednesday's schedule represents Bush's official return to work after a Christmas vacation at his Texas ranch. Bush spoke at the funeral of President Ford on Tuesday but remained out of sight the remainder of the day.
In a seismic shift of power, Democrats will claim control of both the House and Senate on Thursday for the first time in 12 years. Eager for their turn at power, Democrats have complained that Bush has kept them at arms length and has not consulted on key decisions. Even a senior Republican, Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, said on Sunday that Bush has been inclined "to not take Congress very seriously" on Iraq policy.
With two more years in office and Republicans losing control of Congress, Bush has little alternative but to reach out to Democrats. The president will have an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday pledging to work cooperatively with Congress on shared priorities.
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Bush invited about a dozen members of Congress — Democrats and Republicans alike — to a reception, along with their spouses, Wednesday evening. Officials said it was a social gathering — not what Bush was talking about last week when he said he planned more consultations with Congress before announcing a new Iraq plan. The consultations will take place later, officials said.
Bush will begin the day Wednesday by meeting with his Cabinet, and he'll make a statement afterward in the Rose Garden.
White House deputy press secretary Scott Stanzel said the focus of the Cabinet meeting would be working with the new Congress and the administration's domestic agenda.
In recent weeks, Bush has signaled a willingness to go along with a Democratic priority for raising the minimum wage, if it is accompanied by tax and regulatory relief for small businesses. Bush also has suggested that progress could be made on an immigration policy overhaul, including a way for some illegal workers to move toward citizenship. That was stymied this year primarily by conservative Republicans who favored a get-tough-only approach.