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Inside Politics

Is Bush already a lame duck?

Story Highlights

• President Bush's ability to move his agenda is questioned
• White House believes it can be effective during the president's last two years
• CNN/Opinion Research Poll has Bush approval at 34 percent
• Congressional Republicans starting to distance themselves from Bush
By Candy Crowley and Sasha Johnson
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President George W. Bush is set to go before Congress Tuesday night and deliver his sixth State of the Union address against a backdrop of mounting U.S. casualties in Iraq and approval ratings in the low 30s.

The war is not likely to dominate the prime-time address, but the list of domestic issues he plans to discuss promises to be lengthy.

With an empowered Democratic majority and a wary Republican Party looking toward the 2008 elections, many are wondering whether the president has the support or the political capital left to push his agenda through Congress or whether he has become a lame duck.

"A lame duck president is someone who in our recent history is in his second term. ... He doesn't have the clout to influence the Congress, to assert himself that effectively, even in the conduct of foreign policy, because people know he is only going to be there another two years," said presidential historian and author Robert Dallek. (Watch what domestic issues the president will address during his speech Video)

A new CNN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll released Monday shows 63 percent of Americans disapprove of the way President Bush is handling his job, and 34 percent approve -- his lowest job rating on the eve of a State of the Union address. (Bush's approval numbers -- PDF)

The poll was conducted Friday through Sunday and was based on telephone interviews with 1,008 adult Americans. It has a sampling error of plus-or-minus 3 points.

Supporters of Bush disagree with the notion that he will be sidelined for his remaining two years in office. "The president is saying he is going to sprint to the finish line," said former Bush administration adviser Mary Matalin. "The country cannot tolerate and will not tolerate two years of getting nothing done."

In a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll taken earlier this month, almost 70 percent disapproved of the war in Iraq. That strong disapproval dominated the 2006 election season and has thus far overshadowed the Democratic and Republican domestic agendas.

"There is an old saying in American history, that war kills reform. War generally undermines the president's ability to get anything done in domestic affairs," said Dallek.

Republicans break from Bush

Republicans weighing the lessons of 2006 and eyeing re-election in 2008 are carefully calibrating their position on the president's call to send more troops to Iraq.

A group of senators led by Virginia Republican John Warner came forward Monday with a resolution "to express the genuine ... concerns of a number of senators from both parties about the president's plan." (Full story)

House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, wants to establish "strategic benchmarks to hold the Bush administration and the Iraqi government accountable ... to determine whether sufficient progress is being made in Iraq on stabilizing the Iraq democracy."

Some supporters the president could once count on are beginning to put some distance between themselves and the commander in chief.

"I've supported the president on a number of issues," Senator Sam Brownback, R-Kansas, told CNN shortly before he announced his bid for the presidency on Saturday. "But I think we've got to go further, and I think we've got to get more bipartisan."

"More and more you are going to see him [Bush] on the margins of influence because you have 21 Republican seats up for grabs and several Republicans in the Senate and Democrats planning to run for the presidency," said Dallek.

Strange bedfellows

However, in an interesting case of politics makes strange bedfellows, it is the Democrats that could become Bush's greatest allies in rescuing him from the "margins" in the twilight of his presidency.

"The Democrats can't afford to do nothing for two years," said Matalin. "This last midterm election was not about being in a free fall or a stall for two years."

According to some political observers, the fact that the president has run his last campaign could become his greatest advantage.

"I really think as bad as the polls are, George Bush has a huge opportunity to surprise the country in the State of the Union by going back to the old George Bush," said former Clinton aide Lanny Davis.

"He now has two years left where he is not worried about the right wing of his party and throwing red meat. ... I do believe it is authentic for George Bush to govern this country for the center."

President Bush has an aggressive agenda for the last two years of his presidency, but will Congress and the American people listen to him?




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