Bush to Offer 'Optimistic' State of the Union
WASHINGTON – President Bush is preparing to deliver his annual State of the Union address to millions of Americans Tuesday in which he will lay out an "optimistic" agenda for his sixth year in office and try to boost support for the ongoing war in Iraq.
As is typical for State of the Union addresses, the president will discuss a wide array of issues and is likely to focus on the economy and national security, among other topics.
"I'm going to remind people we live in historic times. And that we have a chance to make decisions today that will help shape the direction of events for years to come," Bush said in an impromptu presidential press conference Thursday.
• Watch full coverage of the address live on FOX News Channel at 9 p.m. EST Tuesday.
"I'm going to continue to talk about an optimistic agenda that will keep — that will remind folks we've got a responsibility to lead. We've got a responsibility to lead to promote freedom and a responsibility to continue to put policies in place that will let us be a leader when it comes to the economy and the world," the president said.
According to a FOX News-Opinion Dynamics poll released Thursday, Bush goes into Tuesday's speech with a 41 percent approval rating. Fifty-one percent of the 900 registered voters polled said they disapprove of Bush. From late November through mid-January the president's approval rating has been 42 percent and disapproval has ranged between 48 percent and 51 percent. The latest poll was taken Jan. 24-25.
"It is the president's chance to take the offensive, to have an agenda," John Samples, a policy analyst for the libertarian Cato Institute, told FOXNews.com. "His big challenge will be to set an appropriate political and electoral context for thinking about the issue of domestic spying and executive power."
Bush will take the podium in the House of Representatives chamber Tuesday night before a joint session of Congress. Compared to past addresses, a laundry list of proposed programs is unlikely, analysts told FOXNews.com. The FOX News poll released Thursday found that Americans most want to hear Bush talk about Iraq, the economy and terrorism.
A new health care agenda, Social Security reform and immigration are also possible issues in the address. The likely strategy of the Bush administration will be to reignite some programs and promote other key issues such as mine safety, Social Security and health care and "add it all up to look like there is more than what is actually there," said Stephen Hess, a professor at George Washington University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Hess said he predicted Bush's address may reflect a Clinton-esque tone with proposals without big price tags since the president doesn't have an endless money pot to pull funding from with lurking big budget issues such as rebuilding the Gulf Coast and the war in Iraq.
But with thousands of troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush has a lot on his plate.
"It has more than the usual quotient of political weight with an election coming up. The fate of his administration is so closely linked to what happens on the ground in Iraq," Hess said.
The president's appearance on Capitol Hill comes as Republicans try to regroup after losing their majority leader, debate continues on troop levels in Iraq and critics assail a controversial National Security Agency terrorist surveillance program approved by Bush after Sept. 11, 2001.
A majority of Americans approve of giving the president the power to authorize eavesdropping on domestic phone calls without a warrant, but many cited concerns about civil liberties, according to a Jan. 12 FOX News-Opinion Dynamics poll of 900 registered voters. By 58 percent to 36 percent, Americans said the president should have the power while six in 10 said they are personally supportive of the NSA monitoring their international phone calls.
The president will focus on the bigger picture — protecting U.S. residents from foreign threats — to underscore the necessity of the NSA program, Samples predicted.
In response to a question about Congress possibly modifying existing laws or proposing new measures to address the NSA's electronic eavesdropping program, Bush on Thursday defended the program as legal and necessary.
"The terrorist surveillance program is necessary to protect America from attack," Bush said. "I'm going to continue to do everything within my authority to protect the American people."
With 10 months left until the midterm elections, Republicans are also looking to the president to help wash away scandal from lawmakers' dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other problems that Democrats have used to levy the charge that a "culture of corruption" pervades GOP-run Washington.
"In his speech, the president needs to tell the American people what he is going to do to end the culture of corruption and lay out solutions that will make America strong," Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. and Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., followed Reid's comments on Thursday by saying national security needs to be strengthened, health care reform is a mess and Bush's tax policy is unfair.
"It's time for the president to change directions. It's time for the president to work with both parties in Congress to meet America's real security challenges — at home and around the world," Durbin said.
"Democrats hear the American people and we have answers, which are designed to meet the challenges of the present and the future," Pelosi said, referring to the Innovation Agenda, the Democrats' answer to the 1994 Republican Contract With America. "We have laid out a series of specific goals, proposals and timelines that, taken together, chart a clear path to a new era of American security and prosperity."
The president said Thursday that lawmakers need to look past partisanship in an election year to focus on important legislation such as the anti-terrorism Patriot Act and hurricane recovery.
"I think we can set aside the partisanship that inevitably will come with an election year and get some stuff done. And that's what I'm going to call Congress to do," Bush said.
Newly elected Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine will give the Democratic response to the president's address Tuesday night, Democrats announced last week.
"It does give him an opportunity to point out to a national audience how well things are going in Virginia thanks to bipartisanship and a focus on issues that bring people together instead of dividing them," Kaine spokesman Kevin Hall said.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa will follow Kaine to give the Democrats' Spanish-language response. Villaraigosa was elected as the first Hispanic mayor of Los Angeles in 133 years.
Americans watching Tuesday's address will find out which special guests get the coveted balcony seats next to first lady Laura Bush. The president frequently points out the people in those spots during his speech. Last year, Safia Taleb al-Suhail, leader of the Iraqi Women's Political Council, symbolized progress in Iraq and a successful election there while Janet and William Norwood of Pflugerville, Texas, were recognized when Bush quoted their son, who was killed in Iraq in 2004.
Even with rapt attention on the speech, analysts say they don't expect many of the issues addressed Tuesday night to capture the spotlight.
"[The speech] is sandwiched between a big fight on Republican leadership in the House and the Supreme Court fight in the Senate," Hess said, referring to the vote scheduled earlier that day on Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito.
"It would be hard pressed to say that the State of the Union is as crucial as it is often said it is," added Samples.