President Bush welcomed members of the U.S. Congress to the White House Wednesday and praised their solidarity in combating terrorism. The annual congressional picnic has become a White House tradition in recent years - a chance for the president to mingle informally with members of the legislature.
Last year, it was scheduled for September 11, the day terrorists hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
The picnic, of course, was cancelled. It was finally held nine months later on an evening in June. As he welcomed lawmakers to the White House, the president spoke of the ongoing anti-terror campaign. "We have come together here in Washington and around the nation for a great and noble cause, and that is to defend freedom," he said.
He said the defense of freedom is a cause that unites all Americans and all political parties. "It is much easier to be the commander-in-chief, when people are pulling in the same direction. And they are pulling in the same direction, much to the chagrin of the enemy."
Mr. Bush made no mention of other foreign policy matters as he addressed the crowd, but it was clear that the situation in the Middle East was very much on his mind.
As the event was getting underway, word reached Washington that Israel was retaliating for a suicide bombing by moving troops into the West Bank City of Ramallah. The president's face was grim as he left the stage and conferred briefly with Vice-President Dick Cheney. A few minutes later, he was seen leaving the event on the White House south lawn and heading for the Oval Office in the company of his chief of staff and other top aides.