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Inside Politics

Bush warns of 'work unfinished'

Making the case for a second term

By Sean Loughlin
CNN Washington Bureau

Bush: "Terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States, and war is what they got."

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George W. Bush
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Ten months before facing voters, President Bush used an upbeat State of the Union address Tuesday night to promote his stewardship of the nation at home and abroad and to call on Americans to stay the course.

Addressing a joint session of Congress in the House chamber, Bush cited progress in the war on terrorism and in turning the U.S. economy around. But work remained, he said.

"We have not come all this way through tragedy and trial and war only to falter and leave our work unfinished," Bush said. "Americans are rising to the tasks of history and they expect the same of us."

The president mixed an impassioned defense of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, the subject of some criticism on the campaign trail, with a challenge to Congress to support his domestic agenda.

In remarks that often drew a lopsided partisan reaction -- with far more vigorous applause from Republicans than Democrats -- he called on lawmakers to:

• Make permanent some recently enacted tax cuts.

• Set limits on malpractice lawsuits.

• Codify into law an executive order that allows religious institutions to use tax dollars to deliver various social services.

• Renew provisions of the Patriot Act, the law passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks that granted law enforcement agencies new powers.

• Change the law so that a portion of Social Security payroll taxes can be invested into personal retirement accounts. (Full story)

• Support his temporary guest worker program under which millions of illegal immigrants could get temporary legal status in the United States. (Full story)

He has proposed several of the initiatives before, only to see them stall in Congress, particularly in the Senate.

Appeal to conservatives

Bush also touched on some issues sure to get the attention of conservatives -- a key component of the president's political base.

He called for a doubling of federal funding to promote abstinence programs in schools. And he voiced anew his support for recognizing marriage solely as "the union of a man and a woman." (Full story)

Bush stopped short of an outright call for a constitutional amendment to do that, as many conservatives have urged following a Massachusetts court decision in November that opened the door to a recognition of same-sex marriages.

Bush warned that a "constitutional process" might be necessary if what he called "activist judges" allowed same-sex marriages.

The unfolding presidential race provided a backdrop for the speech.

It was delivered one day after Iowa Democrats boosted the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, sending him onto the New Hampshire primary with a strong first-place finish in the state caucuses. (Dem candidates question Bush speech, Dems criticize 'go-it-alone' foreign policy)

Without explicitly referring to the race, Bush began his speech by noting that Americans "face a choice."

"We can press on with economic growth, and reforms in education and Medicare -- or we can turn back to old policies and old divisions," he said. (Analysts see 'shot across the bow' of Dem foes)

Bush's speech came at a time when Americans, as indicated by polls, remain worried about the economy and the war in Iraq.

For example, a Gallup poll released January 20 -- but conducted before the speech -- found that 53 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with how things are going in the United States, compared with 46 percent who said they are satisfied. The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The speech, delivered under extraordinary security and before a congressional audience with clear, partisan differences, lasted about 54 minutes. It was interrupted by applause 67 times.

The Bush speech was interrupted by applause 67 times.
The Bush speech was interrupted by applause 67 times.

The address drew, not surprisingly, a partisan reaction. Republicans praised the president as steadfast and strong, but Democrats asserted the president's policies had alienated allies abroad and rewarded the wealthy at home. (Political reaction)

Four members of Congress -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- did not attend the president's address, following the wishes of congressional leaders who said they had to consider the possibility of a catastrophic attack on the Capitol.

The president routinely keeps one member of his Cabinet from entering the House chamber for the speech, a practice that congressional leaders decided to also follow following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

On the international front, Bush stood by his actions in Iraq, saying the United States was right to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is now in U.S. custody. (In quotes: Bush looks abroad)

"Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day," Bush declared. He did not talk about specific weapons, but cited WMD "program activities."

Bush acknowledged that some in Congress and in the country objected to what he called "the liberation of Iraq." But he forcefully defended his decision with this comment: "For all who love peace and freedom, the world without Saddam Hussein's regime is a better and safer place."

Despite the progress he cited, Bush said the United States faces a real threat of another terrorist attack.

"Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11, 2001," Bush said. "Over two years without an attack on American soil, and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting -- and false."

Iraqi Governing Council President Adnan Pachachi was one of Bush's guests in the House chamber. Pachachi was in New York earlier in the day for meetings at the United Nations. (Full story)

The three American soldiers on the cover of Time magazine's Person of the Year issue attended as guests of House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

CNN's Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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