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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Bush Address Met With Skepticism, Frustration

WASHINGTON -- In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, U.S. President George W. Bush implored lawmakers and the country to give him one more chance to win the war in Iraq and avoid the "nightmare scenario" of defeat while presenting a domestic agenda intended to find common cause with the new Democratic Congress on issues such as energy and immigration.

Politically wounded but rhetorically unbowed, Bush gave no ground on his decision to dispatch 21,500 more troops to Iraq despite a bipartisan cascade of criticism. Addressing for the first time a Congress controlled by the other party, Bush challenged Democrats to "show our enemies abroad that we are united in the goal of victory" and warned that the consequences of failure in Iraq "would be grievous and far reaching."

While Bush has traditionally used these speeches to present a hopeful vision of Iraq's future, he could not do so Tuesday. His own nominee to take over the command of U.S. forces in Iraq, Lieutenant General David Petraeus, told the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier in the day that "the situation in Iraq in dire."

With new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sitting behind him in a vivid sign of the power shift on Capitol Hill, Bush congratulated Democrats on their victory in the November elections and paid tribute to the first woman to serve in the nation's third-highest office.

The president further reached out to Democrats with ideas to expand health care coverage, overhaul immigration laws and improve education performance, ideas that he framed as efforts to provide "hope and opportunity." In his most ambitious new proposal, he laid out a plan to reduce projected gasoline consumption in the United States by 20 percent over the next 10 years.

Bush also highlighted the United States' strategic partnerships, specifically the so-called quartet -- the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- working to promote a solution to the long-standing Israel-Palestinian conflict.

He added that the United States and its allies would "continue to speak out for the cause of freedom in places like Cuba, Belarus, and Burma."

Yet his approach contrasted with the last two presidents to address an opposition Congress after their parties lost midterm elections. Ronald Reagan conceded "serious mistakes" in 1987, as did Bill Clinton in 1995. Clinton moved to the middle so conspicuously that the opposition leader who gave the official response noted that he "sounded pretty Republican." Although Bush acknowledged two weeks ago that "mistakes have been made" in Iraq, he appeared unchastened last night and took no responsibility for his party's defeat.

Before Bush arrived in the House chamber to deliver his remarks, Democratic leaders and allied interest groups rushed out statements blasting his domestic proposals as rehashed ideas, empty rhetoric or flawed concepts that would create other problems. But the divide between president and Congress was most inflamed by his leadership of a war that will soon enter its fifth year.

"The president took us into this war recklessly," said freshman Senator James Webb, a former Marine whose son is currently serving in Iraq. Accusing Bush of disregarding warnings by national security experts before invading Iraq, Webb added: "We are now, as a nation, held hostage to the predictable -- and predicted -- disarray that has followed."

In a joint statement released after the speech, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid chided Bush's Iraq troop increase and vowed to hold nonbinding votes on it. "While the president continues to ignore the will of the country, Congress will not ignore this president's failed policy," they said.

(WP, NYT, MT)