Bush's address to focus on war, economy
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Riding high approval ratings, President Bush will seek to transfer the popularity gained from the war on terrorism to domestic issues -- chiefly restoring the economy -- during his first State of the Union address Tuesday, according to his advisers.
Karen Hughes, counselor to the president, said Bush would focus on "his three great goals for America" -- winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland and conquering the current recession.
"He talks about three great goals, and I think we can accomplish all three of them," Hughes told CNN's "Inside Politics." "That's what this speech is about."
Republican sources said the administration was trying to keep the speech to about 40-45 minutes.
Bush began his first full rehearsal of the speech -- of which there have been at least 25 drafts -- Monday around 3:30 p.m., the sources said.
The speech from the House chamber will be held amid extremely tight security.
Vice President Dick Cheney told CNN Monday he wants to attend the address, but for security purposes he refused to say whether he would be present.
The vice president usually sits with the speaker of the House behind the president during the State of the Union address.
Hughes called the speech a "unique State of the Union" that would not be the "typical laundry list" of an administration's agenda.
"He sees this as a time of great opportunity -- not only in America to preserve the good that has emerged out in the aftermath of the evil of September 11, but also a time of great opportunity throughout the world," Hughes said.
While the United States has made great gains in its fight against terror, Hughes said, the president would remind Americans that only 19 hijackers carried out the September 11 attack, yet "100,000 terrorists trained in the training camps of Afghanistan."
"We have a lot more to do," she said of Bush's message on the war against terror.
On domestic issues, the president would urge the Senate and Congress to "act to stimulate jobs for America."
The House passed an economic stimulus package in the fall, but the Senate has yet to follow suit. Hughes said during that time 800,000 Americans have lost their jobs.
"His economic security plan for America can be summed up in one word: jobs," Hughes said. "He knows it is very important that we act now to stimulate our economy, to get a good energy policy, to expand free trade -- all those policies that help create jobs for American workers."
The war against terrorism and the way Bush has steered the country since September 11 helped transform his presidency and sent his approval ratings to high levels, where they have remained.
Recent polls, however, have shown that voters consider the economy a bigger concern than the threat of further terrorist attacks.
In recent weeks, Bush has focused on domestic issues and defense of his tax cuts -- the big item on his agenda when he pushed tax relief in his first speech before Congress in February 2001.
"The really skillful president is a two-ball juggler. He's got to keep both those balls in the air at the same time -- and be able to catch them," said Steven Hess with the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
The State of the Union address presents both a major moment and major challenge to the president, especially with the widening political divide on the nation's economy and unemployment.
The stakes are even higher because it is an election year, and the economy and the return of deficit spending will dominate domestic policy debate.
Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Nebraska, said he does not remember a time -- "certainly not in modern political history" -- when a president "has to deal with as much as what the president and Congress will deal with this year."
"The Democrats, it seems to me, have to be careful not to overreach, not to be too partisan, not to push too far or blame Bush or the Republicans for every ill that we have to deal with in this country," Hagel said.
Democrats believe they have the upper hand on the domestic front and are hoping the president will deliver a new economic message Tuesday.
"It is clear to me the economic policies of the Bush administration have not gotten the economy going. We need to hear something different from the president on Tuesday night," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the House minority whip.
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