Bush Relaxes Ahead of a Predicted Tough 2006

President Bush headed to his ranch in Crawford, Texas, Monday after the first family spent Christmas at Camp David, Md. The president will remain at his Prairie Chapel Ranch until the new year.

Before leaving Washington for Texas, the president — along with other dignitaries around the world — offered videotaped remarks to survivors of the Indian Ocean tsunami disaster, which took the lives of more than 200,000 people exactly one year ago.

"A year later, we remember those days of sorrow, and we also recall the acts of courage and kindness that made us proud. America's government and its citizens mobilized to bring vital supplies to people in the affected areas and the world united behind this urgent cause," Bush said in his recorded statement.

The president is also urging Americans to give their time and talent to help those in need this holiday season, in particular the thousands still struggling in the aftermath of the year's natural disasters.

Officials estimate that in Southeast Asia, more than 400,000 people remain displaced from their homes after the tsunami. In the United States, 38,000 families are still in government-funded hotel rooms as a result of Hurricane Katrina.

For the president, 2005 had several highs and lows but Bush closes out a tough political year with improving approval ratings. The president's job approval standings hit an all-time low in the fall over issues ranging from Iraq to the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

But the tide began to turn before Christmas after Bush started promoting the robust economy, admitted to some missteps in Iraq and defended his decision to stay the course in that country.

When the new year comes, the administration will turn to helping Bush Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito get confirmed, whose Senate hearing begins Jan. 9, and to preparing for the annual State of the Union address.

Given the president's difficulties in getting through some of his 2005 initiatives, such as Social Security reform, political analysts predict a much more modest agenda in the coming year.

"Frankly, the Bush administration has bitten off more than they can chew in some areas and I think they need to focus," Las Vegas radio talk show host Heidi Harris told FOX News. "The Alito nomination is one of the first things coming up and [Bush] has got to focus on that and get him [confirmed] and that will set the tone for 2006."

And according to James Warren, deputy managing editor of The Chicago Tribune, "What you're seeing now is kind of incipient signs of inevitable lame-duckdom, whether you are a Republican or Democrat in your second term. But that is clearly now, I think, exacerbated by a bunch of problems which we all know about."

Warren said one of Bush's challenges comes from more and more moderate Republicans who are speaking out because they see the president as weak and want to capitalize on it.

Republican Sens. Trent Lott, Arlen Specter and Lincoln Chafee have shown or are expected to flex their independence from the administration this year, and the group could grow even larger, Warren said, especially because all 535 members of Congress have a "lot of big egos" and think they could position themselves as possible presidential candidates.

"I think this lack of party discipline that you're seeing has to be awfully frustrating for the president, and so on with ANWR, Arctic drilling, and so on with the Patriot Act," Warren said.

Said Harris: "The moderate Republicans are emboldened when they think the president is weak so approval ratings always matter ... and every time the president comes out and speaks to the American people, his ratings go up so he should do that."

One issue that shouldn't bother the president, however, is the uncovering of warrantless electronic surveillance by the National Security Agency, said Weekly Standard Editor Fred Barnes. Barnes said once it's understood that the NSA was monitoring phone calls in which one of the two parties talking was overseas, the public will accept the president's argument that he is protecting the nation.

"There are going to be things in January, I think, that will overshadow this intelligence-gathering issue," Barnes said, pointing to Alito, the State of the Union address and Iraq. "I really think the spying issue will not be one of the major issues in 2006."

Barnes said that in 2006, the sixth year of the Bush presidency, new issues will have to be developed and a new agenda offered; many of whose items could be introduced in the State of the Union address.

"He's going to have to deal with issues he hasn't dealt with quite as much. One of those is health care, something that is a major issue," Barnes said. "He's going to have to really project a new vision. ... I have one rule in writing about politics and that is the future is never a straight-line projection of the present, so things will happen that we have no idea about now."

FOX News' Megyn Kendall and Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.