Facebook Twitter

Bush will address Congress with both polls and perils high

SHARE Bush will address Congress with both polls and perils high

WASHINGTON — President Bush will stand before Congress on Tuesday with his popularity at heroically high levels, his performance as a wartime commander in chief softening Americans' concerns about the weak economy.

But his advisers fear the grace period won't last — that voters will eventually grow impatient with Bush — unless he builds on his success in Afghanistan with a State of the Union address that offers a bold blueprint for the next stage of his presidency.

They say Bush will use Tuesday's prime-time address to:

Outline the post-Afghanistan phase of the war against terrorism. Warning that America's enemies infest every corner of the globe, he will promise to do "whatever it takes" to win the war, according to a summary of the address given to key Republicans.

Reassure the public that Washington is doing everything possible to prevent a terrorist strike.

Promise more jobs and a fattened domestic agenda. With the Enron bankruptcy becoming a political problem, Bush intends to promote pension protections and more financial disclosures by companies. Aides debated whether the Enron scandal also merited a presidential slap at corporate irresponsibility.

Unveil plans to tap the burst of community spirit inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks. He is expected to propose more money for the national service program started by President Clinton and seek an expansion of neighborhood watch programs.

"We'll work to create jobs and renew the strength of our economy. We'll protect our people in every way necessary, and we will carry on the campaign against global terror until we achieve our goal: The peace that comes from victory," Bush said in his weekly radio address, which previewed Tuesday's speech.

Aides are lining up VIPs to sit in the State of the Union audience as symbols of Bush's desire to make national security the overarching theme of his administration. The guests could include new Afghan leader Hamid Karzai, U.S. soldiers and emergency service workers, aides said.

"We're going to have a rah-rah America-at-war speech, as we should. He's done a brilliant job of handling the war," said Dane Strother, a Democratic strategist in Washington. "But he's going to have to address the economy and other concerns or people are going to start asking the question, 'Am I better off today than I was two years ago?' "

Bush does not want to repeat the mistake of his father, whose popularity as America's 41st president plummeted after he failed to follow the Persian Gulf War with aggressive economic and domestic policies.

On the terrorism war, Bush intends to tell the public that the Afghanistan-based al-Qaida network trained tens of thousands of terrorists for evil duty across the globe — each one a potential enemy of America.

"Our fight against terrorism began in Afghanistan, but it will not end there," Bush said Saturday.

The United States is sending 600 U.S. troops to the Philippines to train its soldiers to fight the Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim group holding two U.S. hostages and linked to Osama bin Laden's terror network. That mission may take the Americans to combat zones on Basilan Island.

Bush has promised to send U.S. troops to any country that needs help uprooting terrorists, a pledge that could put American soldiers in places such as Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia.

He has warned that any country harboring terrorists will face America's wrath, a threat aimed at Iraq's Saddam Hussein and a handful of other rogue nations. Some Bush advisers are pushing him to sever ties with Yasser Arafat over terrorist attacks in Israel.

Administration officials debated this weekend whether Bush should mention specific countries in his address. The talks were expected to continue Monday.

On homeland defense, Bush announced this week that he wants Congress to double the budgets for intelligence, border security and other anti-terrorism activities.

The cornerstone of Bush's economic plan is a tax-cutting package approved by the House but stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate. The president has traveled the country urging its passage, but aides were split on whether he should directly confront Democratic lawmakers over the issue Tuesday.

Bush will argue that education, prescription drug coverage, secure retirement, energy policy and open trade are the keys to new jobs.