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President Bush Enters Final Year in Office


With fewer than 400 days left in office, President Bush says he is sprinting to the finish line. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns looks ahead to the president's final year.

President Bush opened his second term vowing to spend political capital on reforming the federal retirement system and U.S. immigration law. But White House influence failed to deliver either, and frustration over the war in Iraq helped opposition Democrats win control of Congress two years later.

Mr. Bush now enters the final year of his presidency without major legislation passed in his second term. He still hopes to revive Middle East peace talks and build on signs of progress in Iraq, all the while resisting suggestions that he is increasingly irrelevant.

"Quite the contrary. I've never felt more engaged and more capable of helping people recognize - American people recognize that there's a lot of unfinished business," said Mr. Bush.

Brandice Canes-Wrone is a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School.

"No president is going to stand up and say, 'I'm a lame duck. I have no influence,'" she said.

She says a year of record-low public approval ratings makes it harder for the president to influence legislators by appealing directly to their constituents.

"In Bush's case, his ability to rally people around his proposals is clearly diminished by the fact that he is so disliked by such a large portion of the public," she added. "And so his threats of making public appeals are just not the same as let's say Ronald Reagan's or Bill Clinton's were later in their term."

Attorney and online columnist Glen Greenwald is the author of an examination of the Bush presidency titled A Tragic Legacy. He told the Libertarian Cato Institute that one of the few things the president's supporters and detractors agree on is the depth of his impact on the nation.

"Whatever else you think about this presidency, it is going to be one of the most consequential presidencies in American history," he said. "The Bush legacy that he will leave when he leaves office in 2009 will be the legacy of the United States for many, many years to come, probably at least an entire generation."

That legacy will include the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the long-lasting insurgency there. On the domestic side, the U.S. government's budget has grown astronomically and is now recording huge annual deficits.

President Bush says he is not concerned about history.

"I know, look, everybody is trying to write the history of this administration even before it's over. I'm reading about George Washington still. My attitude is, if they're still analyzing number 1, 43 ought not to worry about it and just do what he thinks is right," noted Mr. Bush.

Making those choices may be more difficult with the past year's departure of long-time advisors Karen Hughes, Dan Bartlett and Karl Rove.

Rove told Fox News Channel that President Bush will finish his term with enthusiasm.

"He is a bold leader who is going to be milking every single moment that he has got in this office," he said. "He knows the powers of the office. He knows the levers that he has got. He didn't come here simply to occupy it. He came here to do things. And he is going to keep doing things right up to the moment that he leaves January 20, 2009."

But Ken Walsh, an author on the presidency and White House correspondent for US News & World Report, says the president is limited in what he can do.

"He can prevent bad things from happening, in his mind, but he can't implement what he would consider good things and push them through because Congress will not go for them," he said.

Walsh says the president is moving to small initiatives he can implement through executive order or administration action.

"President Bush sort of derided that sort of notion as 'small ball,' but it worked for Bill Clinton and it can work for President Bush," he added. "It's just not a big historic, sweeping series of changes which President Bush wanted to be known for."

Walsh says Mr. Bush, like many presidents, is turning to foreign affairs in his final year where he has more latitude to act without Congress.

"Even if he doesn't get a lot of particular agreements out of these trips, at least it provides a sense that there is some movement, and he is not giving up. And that is what presidents want to do in their last year," he explained. "They want to show that they can still get things done or at least show that they are still trying."

The first of what may be as many as seven trips in the coming year will be a visit to the Middle East in January.

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