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Democrats claim Bush confused about executive order

FARMINGTON, Pennsylvania (CNN) -- Several House Democrats who attended a private retreat at which President George W. Bush spoke Sunday said the president appeared confused about one of the first executive orders he signed after taking office. The White House, in turn, called it a simple disagreement over policy.

According to Democrats in the room, Bush stumbled as he answered the last of a series of nine questions by House Democrats.

"He was boxed into a corner," said Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Florida. Others said the president seemed uncomfortable, with one noting, "He turned bright red."

The question came from Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, who asked Bush about an executive order banning U.S. funding for international aid groups that provide abortions or abortion counseling, even if the U.S. funds are not directly used for the abortion work. Bush signed the executive order January 22.

Pelosi asked the president if it was a "double standard" to prohibit that funding because the administration opposes the groups' abortion activities, but allow funding to faith-based charities which conduct religious activities using private funds.

Bush's response, Democrats said, implied he thought his executive order had outlawed only the direct financing of abortions.

Pelosi, according to Democrats in the room, corrected the president. Aides to Pelosi say she explained existing law and how the president's order changed it.

But the White House rejected any suggestion the president was confused or unaware of what is banned under the executive order, describing the encounter with Pelosi as a "disagreement over this issue."

"The president has made it clear that federal funds should not go to international organizations that provide abortion services or promote abortion" abroad, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan told CNN. "There's just a disagreement over this policy."

McClellan said Bush fielded questions from House Democrats for 35 to 40 minutes, and that there were some questions where he and the lawmakers disagreed.

"This was one where there is just a disagreement on policy," he added.



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