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Bush seeks to rally Americans in speech

Stronger economy cited as 'first goal'

President Bush:
President Bush: "Our union is strong."

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CNN's special team coverage of the State of the Union address continues after the address Tuesday evening. 

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Promising "focus and clarity and courage," President Bush sought to assure Americans Tuesday night that his administration could revitalize the economy and improve health care, even as it tackles what he described as a grave threat from Iraq's Saddam Hussein -- one that, he said, could lead to war.

"We will work for a prosperity that is broadly shared and we will answer every danger and every enemy that threatens the American people," Bush said in his second State of the Union address, delivered under extraordinary security to a joint session of Congress.(Full story)

Declared Bush: "Our faith is sure, our resolve is firm, and our union is strong."

Bush identified strengthening the economy as his "first goal." Other domestic goals cited by Bush included: improving health care for all Americans and crafting a prescription drug benefit for seniors; providing greater energy independence, while protecting the environment; and "applying the compassion of America" to its deepest problems.

The speech comes at a delicate time for the president, one that he described as a "whirlwind of change and hope and peril." Polls show a growing concern among the public over Bush's handling of the economy and a general wariness about the prospect of war with Iraq.

On the international front, Bush outlined the threat the administration sees from Saddam and cast him in the context of the broader war against terrorism.

"Today, the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing America and the world is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons," Bush said. "These regimes could use such weapons for blackmail, terror and mass murder. They could also give or sell those weapons to their terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation."

In spelling out the threat from Saddam, Bush cited a link between Iraq and al Qaeda. (Full story)

The address comes as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say Bush must do more to convince the American public that a military strike against Iraq is justified and necessary.

In a long-standing practice, one Cabinet member did not attend the president's speech in the event that something catastrophic happens at the Capitol. This year, it was Attorney General John Ashcroft. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, a onetime Democratic congressman from California, also was absent, but he was recovering from back surgery.

The address comes one day after chief U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix told the U.N. Security Council that Iraq has yet to reach a "genuine acceptance" of its obligation to disarm, and U.S. officials announced they soon would declassify intelligence they say proves Iraq has been hiding weapons and evidence of its weapons programs. (Full story)

Pushes tax cuts

The president once again pitched his 10-year, roughly $674 billion economic plan, which has played to mixed reviews on Capitol Hill.

While some Republicans have praised the president's plan -- which includes a call to eliminate the tax on stock dividends -- as just the right tonic for a lackluster economy, others have been less than enthusiastic about the package, and Democrats have derided it as a giveaway to the wealthy.

Antiwar protesters demonstrate outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday prior to the State of the Union.
Antiwar protesters demonstrate outside the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday prior to the State of the Union.

Washington Gov. Gary Locke will give the Democrats' response to Bush's speech Tuesday night. In a prepared text of that speech, Locke faulted the president for "missing the opportunity" to strengthen the country.(Full story)

The president, according to a prepared text of his speech, called for the formation of a new intelligence office to collect and analyze foreign and domestic intelligence information.

The office will be based at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, with CIA Director George Tenet in charge, administration officials said.

A number of special guests joined first lady Laura Bush for the president's address. They include small business owners, representatives of faith-based groups that work with children and families, doctors who have either relocated or stopped practicing because of high medical insurance liability costs, and representatives of the military.

A seat two rows behind the first lady will be left empty. The White House said the seat "symbolizes the empty place many Americans will always have at their tables and in their lives because of the attacks on September 11, 2001."

CNN White House correspondents Dana Bash and Suzanne Malveaux and White House producer Christine Brennan contributed to this report

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