White House Pledges to Adjust to New Senate

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President Bush meets with the new leaders of the Senate, Democrats Harry Reid of Nevada and Richard Durbin of Illinois, who benefited from their party's strong showing in Senate races this week. The new Senate and House mean President Bush will need new strategies for his final two years in office.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

For the second day in a row, President Bush met at the White House with newly empowered Democrats to talk about working together. Yesterday it was the top two Democrats in the new Democratic House. Today it was their counterparts in the new Democratic Senate. But even as the president talks of cooperation with the incoming regime in Congress, he's using the intervening time to press hard on issues that drive the parties apart.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.

DON GONYEA: It looked almost like a chummy living room meeting of old friends. Side by side in arm chairs were President Bush and Senator Harry Reid of Nevada. Reid will become Senate majority leader in January. Making themselves comfortable on the couches were Vice President Cheney and Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, who will be the number two Senate Democrat. All the body language was friendly, the comments to reporters even more so. Mr. Bush spoke first.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: My attitude about this is that there is a great opportunity for us to show the country that Republicans and Democrats are equally as patriotic and equally concerned about the future and that we can work together.

GONYEA: As for the years of fierce, often bitter political battling between the president and Senator Reid, no sign of that today.

President BUSH: I'm from West Texas, he's from Nevada, and we tend to speak the same language. Pretty plain spoken people, which should bode well for our relationship.

Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada): Mr. President, thank you for having us here. This has been an excellent discussion to talk about issues that are important to our country. The election's over. The only way to move forward is by bipartisanship and openness and to get some results. And we've made a commitment, the four of us here today. That's what we're going to do.

GONYEA: Shouted questions from reporters in the room were ignored. The pledges of bipartisanship would stand as the official message of the day.

But at the same time, the White House is moving full speed ahead with a pair of issues over which it has clashed with Democrats. Just yesterday the president sent to the Senate, which is still controlled by Republicans until next year, a renomination for John Bolton to be ambassador to the United Nations.

Just over a year ago, Democrats used a filibuster to block Bolton's first nomination to the U.N. job. They said Bolton had misused intelligence reports while at the State Department, that he'd bullied employees and that he'd often argued that the U.N. was not a credible institution.

To bypass the Senate process then, the president gave Bolton what's called a recess appointment, allowing him to serve until the end of the current Congress, a date now approaching.

But a vote count today shows Bolton still lacks the votes he'd need to get his nomination out of committee. Regardless, the White House is pressing ahead. Spokesman Tony Snow.

Mr. TONY SNOW (Spokesman, White House): You know, I keep hearing all this talk that people want to just sort of have fresh starts, and we think it's worth the public having a look at John Bolton's record. This is a guy who's been a terrific U.N. ambassador. He deserves an opportunity to stay.

GONYEA: Then there's the issue of domestic spying by the National Security Agency, the NSA. The president says the government needs to be able to listen in on the U.S. end of phone calls involving suspected terrorists. Many Democrats have argued such wiretaps must go through an existing special court set up to approve them, including retroactively in cases of emergency.

But none of that was discussed in front of reporters in the Oval Office today. On this day, instead of partisanship you got moments like this from Senator Durbin, who's known to be as fierce an advocate for blue state Democratic issues as there is.

Senator RICHARD DURBIN (Democrat, Illinois): I do want to say thanks personally to the president and vice president for their conciliatory gesture by wearing blue ties today. From our side, we think that is a symbolic indication, and we're off to a good start.

President BUSH: I hoped you would notice, Senator. Thank you all.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.

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