Bush's message: War on terrorism 'only beginning'
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Even as he rides high approval ratings due in large part to his success in fighting the war in Afghanistan, President Bush will tell the American people in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night that the war against terrorism is just starting, his advisers said.
"What the president will talk about tonight is the fact that what we've learned in Afghanistan has made it clear that, far from ending there, our war against terrorism is only beginning," Karen Hughes, counselor to the president, told CNN on Tuesday.
The war, Hughes said, has shown that -- though the September 11 terrorist attacks were carried out by 19 terrorists -- up to 100,000 terrorists have been trained in Afghanistan and now are spread throughout the world.
"The president will talk about the fact that what we've learned there has only shown us the broad scope of the war against terror. And we cannot stop short, because if we did, our feeling of greater security would only be false, as he says, and temporary. And that's the case he will make to the American people tonight."
Fighting terrorism and protecting the United States from further terrorist attacks will be key features of Bush's address at 9 p.m. EST, advisers have said. CNN's John King reports that Bush will name Iran, Iraq and North Korea as nations that have armed and aligned themselves with terrorist groups around the world.
The president also will focus on domestic issues, particularly the nation's struggling economy.
On Tuesday morning, congressional leaders leaving a White House breakfast meeting with Bush said they will try to work together to accomplish mutual items of interest, including helping to lift the economy out of recession.
"The president was very candid as he laid out what he expects to talk about tonight," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-South Dakota, after the meeting. "And I think it's fair to say that there is a great deal of mutuality in our agendas."
House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt, D-Missouri, who also attended the meeting, will deliver the Democratic response to Bush's address. Speaking Tuesday morning, Gephardt said he will stress that Democrats have supported Bush's leadership on the war front.
"I'm also going to bring up the economic issues, which we believe are very important," Gephardt said. "Real security means keeping the economy going strong. It means creating good jobs.
"Real security means keeping Medicare and Social Security strong and getting a Medicare prescription drug program. So those are some of the things that I'm going to talk about."
Republican sources said the administration is trying to keep the speech to about 40 to 45 minutes. Bush began his first full rehearsal of the speech -- of which there have been at least 25 drafts -- around 3:30 p.m. Monday, the sources said.
Cheney to attend address
The speech from the House of Representatives chamber will be held amid tight security.
Vice President Dick Cheney will attend the address, CNN has learned. Cheney has made few public appearances following September 11 -- security precautions aimed at ensuring presidential succession in the event of an attack. The vice president usually sits with the House speaker behind the president during the State of the Union address.
Among Bush's guests will be James P. Hoffa, president of the Teamsters Union, and Afghan interim leader Hamid Karzai, who is in Washington to appeal for aid to his country, sources said. The president is due to make reference to Hoffa as someone who has worked across party lines for the benefit of the economy, the sources said.
Bush to lay out 'three great goals'
Hughes said Bush would focus on "his three great goals for America" -- winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland and conquering the recession.
"He talks about three great goals, and I think we can accomplish all three of them," Hughes said. "That's what this speech is about."
On domestic issues, the president will urge Congress to "act to stimulate jobs for America," Hughes said.
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 for the president, especially with the widening political divide on the nation's economy and unemployment.
Midterm elections at stake this year
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.
U.S. 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 said they 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," said U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-California, the House minority whip. "We need to hear something different from the president on Tuesday night."
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