WASHINGTON – As his 100th day in office approaches, President Bush has invited all 535 Democrats and Republicans in Congress to share in the spotlight as he spends time this week with teachers, students and environmentalists.
Invitations to lunch at the White House went out Sunday to every member of the House and Senate. Aides said the massive luncheon on April 30, which will include Cabinet officials, is unprecedented and a symbol of Bush's commitment to bipartisanship.
The household staff, meanwhile, faced the challenge of squeezing so many tables and chairs into limited space.
"A lot of different rooms -- they'll be spread out in the East Room, the foyer, the State Dining Room," said presidential counselor Karen Hughes.
"We think it's a sign that the president is continuing what he did when he started, which was sit down with Democrats and Republicans and say, 'We can work together.' The president also views this as an opportunity to share credit for what's being accomplished."
Sunday will mark Bush's first 100 days in the White House, the traditional checkpoint of a new president's performance dating to Franklin Roosevelt's first term.
Top White House political strategist Karl Rove dismissed any benchmark significance to the 100th day. "A completely artificial date made up by the news media," he said.
Still, aides labored to script Bush's first report card themselves, recognizing that how he plays the public relations game now will determine the political capital he carries into the future. President Lyndon Johnson once said, "You've got to give it all you can that first year. You've got just one year when they treat you right."
The White House has assembled a schedule for this countdown week that allows Bush to highlight his priorities - education changes, tax cuts - and patch potential problem areas.
Bush on Monday afternoon presided over the National Teacher of the Year awards, where he was highlighting progress on most of the education reforms that were at the center of his election campaign. Teachers inspire students and inspire imaginations, and encourage students to explore the possibilities of life," Bush said.
The president tipped off his morning by welcoming the championship basketball teams from Duke and Notre Dame universities, who won the collegiate tournaments in the men's and women's divisions, respectively. In keeping with his emphasis on educational values, the president praised both schools for establishing strong educational as well as athletic programs.
"Championships bring an awesome responsibility," Bush said to the two teams. "Champions can send positive signals to people about how they lead their lives."
Meanwhile, Bush will also try anew to burnish his environmental record, following earlier rollbacks of some regulations, in a Rose Garden speech Tuesday to winners of the Environmental Youth Award.
Democrats smelled a stunt. "The jury is still out whether this is a real new commitment to the environment or if it's just a greening of the president, if you will, for public relations purposes," John Podesta, chief of staff under former President Clinton, said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."
Rove countered that Americans will get to know "over time" that Bush is an outdoorsman committed to clean air and water.
In a visit to New Orleans on Wednesday, the president will trumpet how far he has come in securing the tax cuts he championed in the campaign.
The House voted for a budget that endorsed Bush's 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut. The Senate trimmed the tax break to $1.2 trillion and allowed for more spending than he wants. A vote on a compromise could come by week's end.
Bipartisanship and Bush's charm are what aides hope will echo from his participation in Friday's dedication of a new Texas State History Museum named for the late Bob Bullock, the Democratic lieutenant governor with whom Bush, as Texas governor, had forged a friendship.
Behind the scenes last week, Rove, Hughes and Mary Matalin, a communications adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney, gave "talking points" to about 100 prominent Republicans -- such as former GOP chairman Haley Barbour and Reagan-era White House spokeswoman Sheila Tate -- who could be expected to talk to reporters about Bush's performance so far.
Bush and Cheney already are looking well past even the next 100 days to the first performance review that counts: the 2002 congressional elections.
On Wednesday, Bush attends his first fund-raiser as president, traveling to Little Rock, Ark., for GOP Sen. Tim Hutchinson's re-election campaign.
Last week, Cheney asked Republican Tim Pawlenty to bow out of the Senate race in Minnesota to avoid a potentially bruising primary against Bush's favored candidate, St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman. The White House would not rule out such intervention in other crucial midterm races.