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Bush Address Receives Praise, Criticism

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In the view of Republicans, the speech couldn't have been better.

Speaking in the ornate Statuary Hall after the speech, Senator George Allen of Virginia said Mr. Bush spoke eloquently about issues of freedom as well as domestic reform. "The whole view is the advancement of freedom," he said. "We are in the midst of a war on terror, but we are seeing progress."

Republican Senator John McCain said he was surprised at the extent to which the President emphasized the need for democratic change in Saudi Arabia and Egypt as part of a section devoted to the Middle East.

"If there was something that surprised me a little, it's how specific he was about Saudi Arabia, Egypt in particular, since they are allies of ours," said Senator McCain. "He basically extended his inaugural speech to two of our allies in the Middle East."

Senator McCain added President Bush obviously sent a message to the people of Iran, without making any threats.

Democrats, in their formal response to the president, said he failed to spell out a plan for Iraq's future, although many lawmakers acknowledged they didn't expect Mr. Bush to announce any timetable for drawing down U.S. forces.

Democrats were universally skeptical about the president's remarks on Social Security reform, which took up perhaps the largest portion of the speech.

Congressman Robert Menendez says transition costs of Social Security reform will end up being paid by future generations. "I think the President is pitting generation against generation," said Congressman Menendez. "He is pitting grandchildren against their grandparents, children against their parents, and the President is conducting a shell game [trying to deceive people]."

Republicans and Democrats alike were touched by two of the most emotional moments, when the president pointed to the visitors' gallery and parents of a U.S. soldier killed in Iraq and an Iraqi woman whose father was killed during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

"The ability to pour out to them the love and affection on behalf of the American people and allow us as members of Congress to show them that kind of respect I think was an appropriate moment for tonight," stated Texas Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee.

Congressman Bobby Rush praised Mr. Bush for a number of domestic initiatives dealing with AIDS and education, and indicates the president appeared to have taken note of some of the views he and other African-American lawmakers conveyed in a recent White House meeting: "At the conclusion of his speech, as he was leaving, he leaned over to me and said that was a good meeting the Congressional Black Caucus had with me the other day, and I told you I was going to include some of your concerns in the speech tonight, which frankly, he did, he listened."

But Mr. Rush and other Democrats are preparing to do battle on the president's main domestic agenda item, Social Security.

A Capitol Hill news conference Thursday by Democratic congressional leaders focusing on the Social Security debate will coincide with the start of the President's trip around the country to build support for his domestic agenda.

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