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Bush to call for unity during first NAACP speech

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President Bush has a good relationship with the NAACP's new leader, a White House spokesman says.

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George W. Bush

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will address the NAACP's annual convention this week, the White House said Tuesday, making an appeal for unity in what will be the president's first appearance before the nation's oldest civil rights group since coming to office.

During his 5 1/2 years in the Oval Office, Bush has had a tense relationship with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. NAACP leaders have criticized his social, economic and foreign policies as well as his failure to meet with the organization since assuming office.

Bush appeared before the NAACP in 2000 during his first run for the presidency.

But White House spokesman Tony Snow said Bush has a good relationship with the group's new president, Bruce Gordon, and sees "an opportunity to have a conversation."

"He has an important role to play not only in making the case for civil rights, but maybe more importantly, the case for unity," Snow said. "Because as long as we have a nation that in any way is divided along racial lines or where politics become a source of division rather than one of simple debate and trying to perfect democracy, that's a problem."

The NAACP is holding its 97th annual convention Thursday in Washington.

There was no immediate response from the group to the White House announcement.

Criticism to Katrina response

Civil rights leaders also have criticized Bush for his administration's response to Hurricane Katrina. In a speech from New Orleans, Louisiana, two weeks after the hurricane left much of the city flooded, Bush linked the storm's disproportionate impact on African-Americans to widespread poverty that stemmed from "a history of racial discrimination."

Facing opposition from some Southern GOP lawmakers, the president recently backed the renewal of the Voting Rights Act. Those Republicans wanted to drop or modify provisions that require Southern states to submit changes to election rules to the Justice Department.

Bush received about 9 percent of the African-American vote in 2000.

That figure improved slightly in 2004, to 10 percent, according to exit polls. A CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll taken in Katrina's wake found that 14 percent of African-Americans approved of Bush's job performance, and 72 percent agreed with the view that the president did not care about black people.

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