WASHINGTON – President Bush turned the heat up on Congress yet again Thursday, bluntly calling on lawmakers to confirm his pick for attorney general as well as approve necessary programs and money to fight terrorists and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"This is no time for Congress to weaken the Department of Justice by denying it a strong and effective leader. This is no time for Congress to weaken our ability to gather vital intelligence from captured terrorists. This is no time for Congress to weaken our ability to intercept information from terrorists about potential attacks on the United States of America," Bush told an audience at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
"And this is no time for Congress to hold back vital funding for our troops as they fight Al Qaeda terrorists and radicals in Afghanistan and Iraq," Bush said.
In calling on Congress to move on the confirmation of his attorney general pick, retired federal Judge Michael Mukasey, Bush said delaying the vote hurts this country's ability to protect itself.
"In a time of war, it is vital for the president to have a full national security team in place. And a key member of that team is the attorney general," Bush said.
The president also bemoaned delays in passing an update to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, though he earlier credited the Senate Intelligence Committee for moving on the bill, calling it a "very good start."
He said Congress must get a new bill to his desk so no "intelligence gap" emerges. The existing bill, which House Democrats have sought to revise to include stricter rules on obtaining warrants to eavesdrop, expires in February.
The emergency legislation passed in August, but Democrats set the sunset provisions on the in an attempt to remove certain provisions that they believed give the president too much leeway in granting wiretaps without proper judicial authority.
Bush said Congress must continue to uphold the current administration interrogation policy, which doesn't subject CIA to the same rules as the military. He said doing otherwise could hurt the United States' ability to gather timely information in an emergency.
The president said he wants Congress to give his administration the tools it needs to protect the United States, and says Americans must keep in mind the ongoing risks from radicals.
Top Democrats chafed at Bush's remarks.
"It is precisely because of President Bush's flawed strategy in Iraq that those threats have escalated, and it is because of the Administration's mismanagement of the war that we stand unready for the next attack," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.
"Far from keeping Usama bin Laden on the run, President Bush has distracted us from tracking down a resurgent Al Qaeda," added Reid, D-Nev.
Mukasey Nomination in Jeopardy
Bush accused congressional Democrats — primarily in the Senate Judiciary Committee, which first must move the nomination to the full Senate — of trying to force Mukasey to respond to questions he cannot possibly answer without having access to classified information. A committee vote is scheduled next Tuesday, but it has been more than a month since Bush announced his pick.
Reid said that the president is off-base on his criticism of the Senate's handling of the Mukasey nomination -- particularly questions over torture -- saying, "Ambiguity on this question endangers our soldiers abroad and is counterproductive to winning the war on terror."
Bush also defended Mukasey's decision not to give an opinion on whether he opposes waterboarding — an interrogation form barred by the Army Field Manual, and believed by many to be a form of torture.
"If the Senate Judiciary Committee were to block Judge Mukasey on these grounds, they would send a new standard for confirmation that could not be met by any responsible nominee for attorney general. And that would guarantee that America would have no attorney general during this time of war.
"By any measure, Judge Mukasey is eminently qualified to be the next attorney general," Bush said. "Senate leaders must move this nomination out of committee, bring it to the Senate floor and confirm this good man."
Speaking with reporters before his remarks, Bush added that he is concerned that the American people know terror investigators are working within the law.
"There is an enemy out there, I don't want them to understand, to be able to adjust one way or another" to U.S. interrogation techniques, he said. "The American people have to understand the program is important and the techniques we use are within the law and the members of the House and Senate know what I'm talking about, they've been briefed."
Several Democrats have said they were uncomfortable with Mukasey's responses on waterboarding during his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee two weeks ago, and those concerns apparently were not remedied with 172 pages of answers Mukasey sent in response to 495 written questions from committee Democrats.
Since Mukasey's reply on Tuesday, four key Democrats on the Judiciary Committee have said they will not recommend his confirmation. Democrats outnumber Republicans on the committee 10-9.
On Thursday, Sen. Edward Kennedy was the latest to announce his opposition, just this week returning from neck surgery. He joined three other fellow committee Democrats, Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse, Dick Durbin and Joe Biden in their opposition.
And Mukasey's best chance of Democratic support — New York Sen. Chuck Schumer — remains publicly noncommittal on how he will vote. Schumer recommended Mukasey to Bush, and in introducing Mukasey to the committee said he believed Mukasey is well-qualified.
But Thursday, Schumer only told reporters he had not made up his mind.
"I'm weighing it very carefully. I'm going to weigh both sides," he said.
Bush also leveled harsh words for the Democratic-led Congress about spending and taxes, accusing lawmakers of delaying votes on needed spending bills, even as Democrats prepared a set of legislation aimed at trying to overcome a presidential veto while keeping some of their goals.
Both the emergency war spending bill seeking money specifically for Iraq and Afghanistan and the annual defense spending bill remain to be passed, Bush said, "And Congress should not go home for the holidays while our men and women in uniform are waiting for the funds they need."
Bush reiterated his promise to veto a "three-bill pileup" that would sandwich the defense bill with the spending bill for the Veterans Affairs and the Labor, Health and Human Services bills.
On Thursday, congressional Democrats indicated they would back away from a spending showdown with Bush that they had planned to mount by tying the Pentagon budget to a labor and education measure that Bush has vowed to veto.
"What that means in dollars is that we would have gone 88 percent of the way toward the preference of our Republican friends," Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said at the start of a House-Senate meeting on the spending bills. "I hope they can come our way to the tune of 12 percent or so."
Bush criticized Congress for taking its eye off the ball in Iraq.
"When it comes to funding our troops, some in Washington should spend more time responding to the warnings of terrorists like Usama bin Laden and the requests of our commanders on the ground and less time responding to the demands of MoveOn.org bloggers and Code Pink protesters," Bush said, receiving loud applause from the conservative audience.
Bush also called on Americans to do their best not to forget the lessons from the Sept. 11, 2001, attack, saying that the country must listen to its enemies like Usama Bin Laden, who continually promises to attack the United States. He compared Bin Laden to Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin, saying the world paid "a terrible price" for ignoring plans they announced.
"Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them. And the question is, will we listen? America and our coalition partners are listening. We have made our choice. We take the words of the enemy seriously," Bush said.
He also defended his use of the phrase "War on Terror," taking on critics who say it's "an attempt to scare people into votes."
"Given the nature of the enemy and the words of its leaders, politicians who deny that we are at war are either being disingenuous or naive. Either way, it is dangerous for our country. We are at war. And we cannot win this war by wishing it away or pretending it does not exist," Bush said.
Bush concluded his remarks at The Heritage Foundation by saying that the enemy can only recruit people who are feeling hopeless.
"We're standing with those who yearn for liberty in the Middle East because we know that when free societies take root in that part of the world they will yield the peace we all desire. The only way the terrorists can recruit operatives and suicide bombers is by feeding on the hopelessness of societies mired in despair, and by bringing freedom to these societies, we replace hatred with hope," Bush said.
Those comments seemed to mirror a 2004 memo by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld that was revealed in The Washington Post on Thursday.
The Post quoted the "snowflake" memo, in which Rumsfeld said Arab wealth as a result of oil revenues has divorced the region's inhabitants "from the reality of the work, effort and investment that leads to wealth for the rest of the world. Too often Muslims are against physical labor, so they bring in Koreans and Pakistanis while their young people remain unemployed," he wrote. "An unemployed population is easy to recruit to radicalism."
FOX News' Mike Emanuel, Anne McGinn and Trish Turner contributed to this report.