Bush Extends an Olive Branch

WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush began mending fences on Thursday with a Democratic Party suddenly resurrected after six years of Republican dominance.

Bush planned White House meetings with Democratic leaders, following reports that the party had won enough seats to take the U.S. Senate and would control both houses of Congress for the first time in 12 years. Democrats easily won control of the House of Representatives in Tuesday's elections, which were seen as an expression of public dissatisfaction over the Iraq war.

In the last Senate race to be decided, James Webb, a former Republican secretary of the Navy, beat Virginia Senator George Allen to give Democrats their 51st seat in the 100-seat Senate, according to projections by television networks NBC and CBS and The Associated Press.

Allen has not conceded.

Bush planned a White House lunch with the new Democratic House leadership about the final two years of his term, with Iraq expected to be the main focus. He invited Representative Nancy Pelosi, presumed to become the next House Speaker, and House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.

"The Democrats had a good night on Tuesday night," presidential counselor Dan Bartlett said on Fox News. "The president has been in politics long enough to understand when an election is had and the voters' views are being heard loud and clear that you have to move forward, and that's exactly what he's going to do."

Reflecting a reshaped political landscape, Bush announced Wednesday the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the first victim of the Republicans' heavy losses in the congressional elections.

A longtime Bush loyalist, Rumsfeld had become a lightning rod for Iraq-war critics.

Trying to salvage the rest of his presidency, Bush promised a new tone of bipartisanship after years of rancor between the two parties.

Democrats have long complained of being shut out of policymaking by the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress, while the Republicans accused their rivals of obstructionism.

Bush insisted the voters' message was clear.

"The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in an ethical manner, and work together to address the challenges facing our nation," he said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Still wary, Democrats called for a fresh start, including a bipartisan summit on Iraq.