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Bush practices inaugural address as hometown prepares sendoff

President-elect confident Senate will confirm Ashcroft

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President-elect George W. Bush spent Tuesday practicing his inaugural address as his nominee for attorney general faced a contentious confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill.

Bush transition spokesman Ari Fleischer, who will serve as press secretary in the incoming administration, said Bush has finished drafting the 10-12 minute speech, which Fleischer said will stress unity and healing. Bush is scheduled to take office Saturday at noon EST.

The speech practice came as former Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft, Bush's controversial nominee for attorney general, faced his old colleagues in confirmation hearings Tuesday afternoon. As the hearings were poised to open, Bush spokesman Mindy Tucker said the hearings would allow "an opportunity for the facts ... to be brought to light" about the nomination.

Ashcroft, a staunch religious conservative, is expected to survive the confirmation process. But many Democrats and a broad coalition of liberal activists oppose him, arguing that Ashcroft's record on civil rights and abortion raise questions about whether he could fairly enforce the laws.

"There is a lot of misinformation out there," Tucker said, calling the hearings as "a real opportunity for us."

Ashcroft, she said, can make his case directly, rather than letting the public learn about his record "through the prism of special interest groups."

Fleischer added that those groups are distorting Ashcroft's record.

"President-elect Bush is fully confident that a good man, one of the most qualified people in recent memory to serve as attorney general, will have a good hearing, a fair hearing, a strong hearing which will be followed by the confirmation of the United States Senate in a bipartisan fashion," he said.

Bush had no public events scheduled Tuesday. Wednesday, he planned to attend a send-off for him in his boyhood hometown of Midland, Texas, in the heart of the West Texas oil patch. It will be his last stop before heading to Washington for the inauguration.

Bush lived in Midland as a boy and met his wife, Laura, there after going east to attend Yale and Harvard Business School. He tried to make a living at the oil business and made his first bid for public office there, in an unsuccessful 1978 congressional race.

"In his autobiography, he wrote about Midland's slogan that 'The sky's the limit' and that he grew up with a great sense of optimism and possibility -- that if you were willing to work hard, you could achieve your dreams," said Karen Hughes, Bush's longtime aide and advisor.

More than 10,000 people were expected to attend the rally, Fleischer said.

CNN Producer Sue Kroll and Reuters contributed to this report.


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Tuesday, January 16, 2001


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