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Bush describes 'cordial' visit with Democrats


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Anger remains from presidential race

Democrats discuss tax cuts, growth

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FARMINGTON, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- President Bush described "a very cordial" meeting with Democrats Sunday after dropping in on a retreat for opposition lawmakers and pitching his tax-cut proposal.

"It was great, very professional," Bush told reporters after the meeting, which lasted slightly more than an hour. "I'm sure they didn't like some of the answers, but they were very cordial. These are professionals who want to serve their nation."

Going into the meeting at the Nemacolin Woodlands resort, Bush said he wanted to emphasize adopting "a civil tone in our discourse." He added that he would focus on his agenda, including education reform and tax cuts.

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Asked if he won over any Democrats, Bush said, "I have no idea until the votes come."

Republicans and members of the Bush team fanned out on the airwaves Sunday, attempting to drum up support for the president's 10-year, $1.6 trillion tax cut.

"The American people need a tax cut. Now is the time to give it to them," said Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer."

Anger remains from presidential race

Rep. Martin Frost, D-Texas, the chairman of the Democratic Caucus and organizer of the weekend's events, said Bush was invited to attend only after a member of his staff heard that someone from the Secret Service had been checking out the resort's security to see if the president could make a quick visit.

"We said, 'We understand you're interested in coming. So, sure, come,'" Frost said.

In the question-and-answer session with the president, lawmakers indicated that some anger lingered over the outcome of the presidential race, according to Democrats at the meeting, which was closed to the media. Bush won the White House after an unprecedented post-election battle in Florida, where he and rival Al Gore clashed over the count of thousands of disputed presidential ballots.

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Texas, the head of the Congressional Black Caucus, pressed Bush on whether he would include money for electoral reform in his budget. The president said he would, according to Democrats.

Some of the 150 Democrats gathered at the retreat in southwestern Pennsylvania said they were disappointed that the House leadership allowed Bush to come for the visit.

"We're hurting," said a House Democrat who asked not to be identified. He said Democrats -- and particularly members of the Congressional Black and Hispanic caucuses -- feel "robbed" by the election.

"All the headlines will be about how Bush charmed us and built bipartisan ties," the congressman said, adding that he wanted cameras inside the meeting to show the emotion and anger on people's faces.

Other Democrats agreed that Bush's visit came at an awkward time; the House Democratic retreat is typically a time when Democrats unify and prepare for legislative battle with Republicans.

Democrats discuss tax cuts, growth

During the question-and-answer session, Rep. John Dingell, D-Michigan, asked whether Bush could help Democrats have a greater voice in the House. Bush said that was a House matter, not one for the executive branch.

House Democrats want a power-sharing arrangement similar to what their counterparts have in the Senate. In the House, many committees are heavily weighted toward the Republicans, even though the GOP has only a slim majority.

The presidential visit occupied just a brief part of the day for Democrats. They spent much of the second day at the retreat talking about how to win back the majority in 2002 and how to sell a Democratic tax cut proposal to the American people.

Lawmakers also spent the day discussing smart growth, diversity and how to organize U.S. workers. Other speakers included AFL-CIO President John Sweeny and head of the National Education Association Bob Chase.

The point of the three-day retreat is for Democrats to get to know each other, unify their message and share ideas. "We don't have enough time to talk with each other," said Rep. Calvin Dooley, D-California. "We're always running around, heading back to the district. So that's the idea."

CNN Congressional Correspondent Kate Snow contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Some Democrats wary of another Bush visit
February 3, 2001
In unusual move, Bush speaks to Republican, Democratic retreats
February 2, 2001
Senate Democrats welcome Bush appearance at retreat
February 2, 2001
Congress' add-ons could force Bush tax cut above $2 trillion
February 1, 2001
Looking at economic 'bottom line,' White House pushes tax-cut plan
January 30, 2001
Bill Schneider: The Bush Agenda
January 29, 2001

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 • President George W. Bush

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