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Bush to Deliver State of the Union Amid Partisan Division


President Bush delivers his State of the Union address Tuesday to outline his policy objectives for the year ahead. But at the moment, there appears to be a great deal of disunity between Republicans and Democrats over issues like national security, congressional corruption and the Supreme Court.

Over the past week, President Bush has mounted a vigorous defense of a domestic surveillance program being conducted by the National Security Agency that he says targets communications with suspected terrorists.

"The program is legal, it is designed to protect civil liberties and it is necessary," said Mr. Bush.

Democrats complain that the president may have broken the law when he bypassed a 1978 statute that requires a court warrant before the government can engage in domestic spying.

"This is a very serious discussion of the balance between liberty and security," said Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi of California, the leader of Democrats in the House of Representatives. "Our founding fathers understood it very well. They wrote it into the Constitution. We take an oath to uphold that Constitution."

Several recent public opinion polls suggest the president may have the upper hand in the political debate over domestic eavesdropping.

For example, a New York Times/CBS News poll found 68 percent of those surveyed support eavesdropping without a court warrant of people considered suspicious by the government. But only 28 percent support the monitoring of phone calls and emails that is aimed at ordinary Americans.

Republicans believe most Americans will support the president's efforts to monitor suspected terrorists while many Democrats contend Mr. Bush has begun to infringe on civil liberties.

Another issue that could figure prominently in this year's midterm congressional elections is the budding corruption scandal involving former high-powered Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

Abramoff has admitted trying to bribe a member of Congress, and there is growing concern that the scandal could involve several other lawmakers who accepted political donations and favors either from Abramoff or his clients.

Recent polls suggest a growing number of Americans have a negative view of Congress because of the scandal, and Democrats believe voters could hold Republicans accountable in November, perhaps jeopardizing Republican control of the Senate and House of Representatives.

"In his speech, the president needs to tell the American people what he is going to do to end the culture of corruption and lay out solutions that will make America stronger," said Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader.

Republicans point out that some of the donations in question went to Democratic lawmakers and the Abramoff scandal really points out the need for lobbying reform in Washington.

Lawmakers from both parties have put forward reform proposals that would limit gifts and travel paid for by lobbyists.

"We clearly have seen very, very great problems and the present laws have been violated and we know that there needs to be a way to address the concerns that have been raised all the way across the spectrum," said Republican Congressman David Dreier of California.

University of Virginia political expert Larry Sabato says there will be more pressure on congressional Republicans to enact reform since they are the party of power in Washington.

"So that the Republicans can say, you see, we have taken care of this problem ourselves, you do not have to vote for our opponents, the Democrats, in order to clean up the mess," he explained. "If they do not take that action, I think they are handing the Democrats an enormous stick with which to beat them over the head during the general election campaign."

The other example of the political divide at the moment is the confirmation battle over President Bush's choice for the Supreme Court, federal appeals Judge Samuel Alito.

Judge Alito appears on track to be confirmed with only a handful of Democratic votes in the Senate.

Historically, Supreme Court nominees who were considered qualified could usually count on bipartisan support but that seems increasingly unlikely in an age of sharp and at times rancorous political divisions.

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