WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Colin Powell will meet with U.N. Security Council members next Wednesday to reveal new evidence of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction programs, President Bush said Tuesday night in his State of the Union address.
"Secretary of State Powell will present information and intelligence about Iraq's illegal weapons programs; its attempts to hide those weapons from inspectors; and its links to terrorist groups," Bush told the House chamber full of lawmakers, administration officials, Supreme Court justices, Washington's diplomatic corps as well as millions watching the president's second State of the Union speech on television.
Bush said the Iraqi dictator has a relationship with Al Qaeda and could easily provide them with weapons or the resources to make them, and asked Americans to visualize what would happen if those terrorists were able to enter the United States.
The president did not present explosive new evidence of Iraq's chemical and biological weapons, but outlined previously stated intelligence that "thousands of Iraqi security personnel are at work hiding documents and materials from the U.N. inspectors, sanitizing inspection sites and monitoring the inspectors themselves."
He also listed the materials Saddam is said to possess but has not declared to the United Nations, including thousands of liters of chemical weapons and tens of thousands of munitions.
Powell headed to Capitol Hill on Wednesday for a closed-door meeting with lawmakers to go over some of those materials. He was to be joined by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Powell told European newspaper reporters Sunday that the administration does not have "concrete things" as evidence they can show people, but that they are "seeing what they can do" in that regard.
Bush said that the state of the union is strong despite the many challenges it faces both domestically and from threats abroad.
"In all these days of promise and days of reckoning, we can be confident. In a whirlwind of change, and hope, and peril, our faith is sure, our resolve is firm, and our union is strong," the president said in the address delivered in the chamber of the House of Representatives.
Divvying up the address between domestic and international priorities, Bush focused on several initiatives at home that he has stressed for weeks, including an economic stimulus plan and a prescription drug benefit.
But the president also spent considerable time discussing the threats to the nation from outside its borders.
Foremost, Bush said that Saddam is not disarming, but rather deceiving the international community that is seeking the elimination of Iraq's nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
"Twelve years ago, Saddam Hussein faced the prospect of being the last casualty in a war he had started and lost. To spare himself, he agreed to disarm of all weapons of mass destruction. For the next 12 years, he systematically violated that agreement. Almost three months ago, the United Nations Security Council gave Saddam Hussein his final chance to disarm. He has shown instead his utter contempt for the United Nations, and for the opinion of the world," Bush said.
While explaining the Iraqi regime's defiance to the world and the U.S. obligation to hold him to account, the president did not make a declaration of war.
He did say that it is Iraq's responsibility to prove that it is disarming, not the role of the 108 U.N. weapons inspectors in the country.
"It is up to Iraq to show exactly where it is hiding its banned weapons, lay those weapons out for the world to see and destroy them as directed. Nothing like this has happened," he said.
Bush said that he hopes to avoid war with Iraq, but if it comes down to it, he will put American forces in harm's way, fully aware of the jeopardy they face, but knowing they will prevail and do the work they did in Afghanistan, bringing the Iraqi people "food and medicines, and supplies and freedom."
"Tonight I have a message for the brave and oppressed people of Iraq: Your enemy is not surrounding your country -- your enemy is ruling your country. And the day he and his regime are removed from power will be the day of your liberation," he said.
Bush also acknowledged the seriousness of his role as commander-in-chief.
"Sending Americans into battle is the most profound decision a president can make. The technologies of war have changed. The risks and suffering of war have not. For the brave Americans who bear the risk, no victory is free from sorrow. This nation fights reluctantly, because we know the cost, and we dread the days of mourning that always come," Bush said.
Bush did not refer to Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the "axis of evil," a term made famous in last year's State of the Union speech, but he did say that those three countries threaten not only peace internationally, but their leaders are threats to their own people. The president offered no solution for Iran, but said that he will continue to pursue the path of diplomatic pressure from North Korea's neighbors, including South Korea, Russia, Japan and China, though he refuses to be blackmailed by North Korea's threats of nuclear weapons development.
At home, Bush said he wants Congress to add an additional $6 billion to prevent bioterror attacks, and credited the homeland security forces, including 50,000 newly trained federal airport screeners and a new early warning network for attacks, with making the country a safer place.
"As we fight this war, we will remember where it began -- here, in our own country," he said. "In the ruins of two towers, at the western wall of the Pentagon, on a field in Pennsylvania, this nation made a pledge, and we renew that pledge tonight: Whatever the duration of this struggle, and whatever the difficulties, we will not permit the triumph of violence in the affairs of men -- free people will set the course of history."
Bush also proposed a new interagency task force to deal with analyzing terroristic threats that will come under the control of CIA Director George Tenet.
The president said that the Terrorist Threat Integration Center will determine the daily threat matrix. The agency, which will be created by executive order, will be analysis only and will combine the work of the CIA, FBI, Defense Department and new Homeland Security Department.
"Our government must have the very best information possible, and we will use it to make sure the right people are in the right places to protect our citizens," he said.
The president did not say whether the agency will be a streamlining of existing bureaucracies or an add-on to existing institutions, but he said the decision was made in the wake of the ongoing threat of terror.
While starting off his speech by recognizing the many challenges confronting America during a time of possible war and an idling economy, the president moved quickly to say that the first priority of his administration at home is to create jobs.
"Our first goal is clear: We must have an economy that grows fast enough to employ every man and woman who seeks a job," Bush said. "After recession, terrorist attacks, corporate scandals, and stock market declines, our economy is recovering -- yet it is not growing fast enough, or strongly enough. With unemployment rising, our nation needs more small businesses to open, more companies to invest and expand, more employers to put up the sign that says, 'Help Wanted.'"
Bush said that his $674 billion economic stimulus package that focuses primarily on tax cuts could be the catalyst for increasing jobs because when Americans have more money they spend more. The president said that if the provisions of his plan are enacted, including moving up tax cuts scheduled for 2004 and 2006, then 92 million Americans will get an average $1,100 cut this year.
"Under my plan, as soon as I have signed the bill, this extra money will start showing up in workers' paychecks," he said.
The president also called for an immediate reduction in the marriage penalty and increasing the child tax credit to $1,000.
"You, the Congress, have already passed all these reductions, and promised them for future years. If this tax relief is good for Americans three, or five, or seven years from now, it is even better for Americans today," the president told the members assembled.
Per tradition, one congressional member remains outside of the meeting as does one member of the president's Cabinet. Missing Tuesday night was Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was said to be watching the speech from an undisclosed location, and Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the House Majority Whip.
Even before the president gave the details of his speech, criticism came from Democratic quarters.
"It is clear that tax cuts continue to be the president's all-purpose solution to our precarious economic situation. I believe there is a time and place for tax cuts directed to those who need them. Unfortunately, tax cuts targeted to those who need it the least at a time of such profound uncertainty are shortsighted and misguided," said Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., who is running for the Democratic nomination to be on the 2004 presidential ticket.
Gephardt said the president's rhetoric on improving access to quality health care, strengthening our homeland security, improving education and reducing dependence on foreign oil by developing environmentally smart energy solutions were undermined by his talk of tax cuts.
However, Democrats and Republicans applauded the president at several moments when Bush offered solutions for health care problems, particularly a prescription drug benefit.
The president's plan would cost $400 billion over the next decade and its goal is to strengthen Medicare by allowing seniors to keep their coverage the way it is or having private plans subsidized with government assistance.
"For many people, medical care costs too much -- and many have no coverage at all. These problems will not be solved with a nationalized health care system that dictates coverage and rations care. Instead, we must work toward a system in which all Americans have a good insurance policy, choose their own doctors, and seniors and low-income Americans receive the help they need," he said.
He also asked Congress to help small businesses band together to buy health insurance for their employees. That initiative faces opposition from consumer groups and governors because it would be largely exempt from state regulation.
Not so popular among Democrats was the president's call for limits on medical malpractice awards to make doctors' insurance more affordable.
The president spent considerable time speaking to the "compassionate" elements of his agenda. Bush asked Congress to direct drug treatment dollars to religious organizations. His plan would give addicts treatment vouchers that would allow them to seek help at any center, including those with religious approaches.
He also asked for $450 million to expand mentoring programs for prisoners' children and for middle-school students from low-income families. Speaking to non-funded mandates, the president asked Congress to pass two laws, banning late-term abortions and human cloning.
The president proposed a significant increase in spending on research of hydrogen fuel-cell cars, receiving a rousing round of applause from Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christine Todd Whitman, who nudged her colleague Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels to clap along with her. Daniels, however, appeared distracted as the president called for Congress to pass several environmental initiatives to reduce air pollution and limit the spread of forest fires through local authority over national park lands.
Washington Gov. Gary Locke, whose state is facing its worst budget crisis ever, delivered the Democratic response to the president's speech, saying that economic recovery would not happen until states and cities receive help from Washington -- something missing from Bush's economic proposals.
"People are clearly worried about terrorism and Iraq but those concerns should not overshadow the pressing needs of the people here at home," Locke said.
Locke did say that Democrats "support the president in the course he has followed so far" in terms of Iraq, including working with the United Nations, but any future course should have a strong coalition of allies.
"We need allies today, in 2003, just as much as we needed them in Desert Storm and just as we needed them on D-Day in 1944," Locke said.
Democrats emerging from the chamber after the speech also said they are not satisfied with the president's health care proposals, though Senate Majority Leader Bill First, R-Tenn., said that Bush's desire to give Americans a choice of health care plans matches what lawmakers get.
Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the Democratic criticisms ahead of the president's speech show that they have learned the wrong lesson from the last election, and that they should be spending more time listening to what the other side has to say.
A new Fox News Opinion Dynamics poll shows the president's job approval rating is still above 60 percent. That is as high as it ever got before the Sept. 11 attacks and it's as low as it has been since the attacks.
Aides said that the suggestions that the president's approval ratings are taking a dip are the hype of an over-stimulated media. The president's approval ratings are just three points lower than they were after the November election. The president generally gets a boost out of the speech.
As the first lady sat in her customary box in the gallery above the House floor, she was joined by several guests, including Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, of Uganda, one of the leaders in the battle to combat the global AIDS crisis. Mugyenyi is the director of the Joint Clinical Research Center in Uganda, which has pioneered advanced anti-retroviral treatment for HIV/AIDS in Africa.
The seating was an opportunity to look to Mugyenyi as the president proposed spending $15 billion over the next five years for treating millions of people suffering from AIDS in the most afflicted nations of Africa and the Caribbean.
"Anti-retroviral drugs can extend life for many years. And the cost of those drugs has dropped from $12,000 a year to under $300 a year -- which places a tremendous possibility within our grasp," Bush said.
Behind the first lady also sat one empty chair that the White House said was left empty to symbolize "the empty place many Americans will always have at their tables and in their lives because of the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001."
Fox News' Jim Angle, Catherine Herridge, Teri Schultz and The Associated Press contributed to this report.