WASHINGTON – Emboldened by a clear win and focused on President Bush's second term in the White House, Christian conservatives had something to party about Wednesday night at a gala that was part celebration, part policy-planning session.
Unlike other balls planned around Bush's inauguration, guests spent a portion of the evening discussing prospective policies, like introducing a new constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage and ensuring that the president's judicial nominees get confirmed.
"Now we've got a big job ahead of us — that is to take the agenda we talked about in the campaign and make it a reality,” Karl Rove (search), Bush's senior adviser, told those attending the Christian Inaugural Eve Gala (search) in Washington. “We also have to be patient because not everything is going to be done overnight.”
Newly-elected Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman (search) also attended the event and thanked all those who helped re-elect the president. Bush is “a man who shares our values, a man who will always do the right thing ... you truly know his heart,” he said.
Immediately after Bush won the presidential election in November, political observers proclaimed that the far right and Bush's evangelical Christian base combined with his “moral values” platform had propelled the 43rd president to victory.
The Christian conservative movement “has been slowly rising. It has reached a clear tidewater point,” Rev. Louis Sheldon of the Traditional Values Coalition (search), sponsor of the event, told FOXNews.com. “Where we go from here remains to be seen in terms of the issues we're able to address.”
The president appealed to this base, in large part, because it was receptive to his views on limiting embryonic stem-cell research (search), enacting a constitutional amendment specifying that marriage is between a man and a woman, promoting his faith-based initiatives and asserting his faith while serving in the Oval Office.
Heading into another four years, Sheldon said Christians hope to see more of that commitment, and are invigorated for the fight.
Although the president has denied using a “litmus test” to nominate candidates for the judicial bench, many Democrats and others are concerned that the president's nominees will be too conservative and could lead to the overturning of landmark rulings like the 1973 Roe v. Wade (search) Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.
“The way the courts are headed, chances are good” for a constitutional amendment to be passed banning gay marriage, Sheldon said. However, the courts still could overturn the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (search). Sheldon said his group wants to go further than DOMA and call for a measure also banning civil unions.
South Dakota Sen. John Thune, who beat former Democratic Senate Leader Tom Daschle in November, told FOXNews.com that such an amendment may not be out of the question, particularly given the shift toward red, pro-Bush states among the American electorate.
“We've got some heavy lifting ahead of us, but I think more and more of these, perhaps, senators that represented red states in this last election realize they can't afford to get too out of step with their constituents, especially when it comes to some of these cultural issues,” Thune said.
“I think we're going to continue to consistently see progress in time in winning people over on that issue. It's not going to happen overnight, but we have to keep raising it and fighting to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect and defend traditional marriage and not allow the courts to define it for us.”
Thune said he hopes other issues that were stalled during the last Congress will resurface and face action soon, including passing a comprehensive energy policy and enacting tort reform.
“I'm anxious to get to work. We've got a big agenda ahead of us,” he said.
Outgoing Attorney General John Ashcroft, the main speaker of the event, said the nation's prayers and the president's faith have helped Bush make strong decisions, despite harsh criticisms that have come his way.
When recently applauding the president for his strong resolve and determination, Ashcroft said Bush's response was: "John, I know what I believe in and in whom I believe."
During his remarks, a light-hearted Ashcroft poked fun at the press' tendency to pick him apart for various decisions he's made, particularly those concerning civil liberties in a post-Sept. 11 world. But on a more serious note, he said he would not have been able to lead the nation's law enforcement community the way he has since the terror attacks had it not been for his own faith.
Ashcroft said Bush told him shortly after Sept. 11, "Don't ever let this happen again."
“Quite frankly,” the attorney general said, “we felt that was a charge that would be very hard to keep,” adding that help from above was needed while “we heeded the president's call to stay on the offensive.”