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Bush outlines challenges facing U.S.

'Our resolve is firm'

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush walks up to the podium in the House on Tuesday evening to address the joint session of Congress.
President Bush walks up to the podium in the House on Tuesday evening to address the joint session of Congress.

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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.

"Crucial hours may lie ahead," he said, speaking to U.S. armed forces assembling in the Middle East. "In these hours, the success of our cause will depend on you."

In the roughly hour-long State of the Union address, Bush sought to strike a balance between his commitment to addressing challenges at home and a vow to disarm Saddam by force if necessary.

"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 speech, delivered under extraordinary security to a joint session of Congress.

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 priorities 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. (Domestic issues: economy, health care)

The forcefully delivered 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.

Bush outlined the threat the administration sees from Saddam and cast him in the context of the broader war against terrorism. Bush said Saddam "aids and protects terrorists, including members of al Qaeda." (International issues: 'outlaw regimes')

Bush appeared to directly address those lawmakers and international leaders who say he has not done enough to justify a possible military strike against Iraq.

"Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent," Bush said. "Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?"

The president said the world has waited "12 years for Iraq to disarm," and added that the United States would ask the U.N. Security Council to convene on Feb. 5 to discuss Baghdad's "ongoing defiance of the world."

Bush was interrupted several times by robust applause and cheers, but many Democrats did not join in when Bush talked about the prospect of military action in Iraq.

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. (Blix welcomes U.S. offer of Iraq evidence)

After Bush's speech, Russian and French officials indicated they were still wary of military action against Iraq, saying weapons inspectors in Iraq should be given more time. (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 held a rally near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday evening prior to the State of the Union.
Antiwar protesters held a rally near the U.S. Capitol on Tuesday evening prior to the State of the Union.

Washington Gov. Gary Locke delivered the Democrats' response to Bush's speech Tuesday night. Locke faulted the president for "missing the opportunity" to strengthen the country.(Democrats' response)

The president called for the formation of a "Terrorist Threat Integration Center" to collect and analyze foreign and domestic intelligence information. The FBI and CIA were widely criticized for not cooperating and communicating before the September 11, 2001 attacks. 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 included 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 was 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."

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

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