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The distance between the Bush White House and the Democratic Congress is growing this week. Conflicts include the children's health care program known as SCHIP, funding for the Defense Department and the nominee for attorney general, Judge Michael Mukasey. And President Bush is taking an increasingly hard line on all of those points. For the second day in a row, the president used his speech before a friendly audience in Washington to attack Congress. He accused Democrats of failing to recognize that the U.S. still faces terrorist threats.
NPR's Don Gonyea reports from the White House.
DON GONYEA: Speaking this afternoon to the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington, President Bush gave no indication that he's a lame duck leader with low approval ratings.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I'm looking forward to working with you for the next 14 months, but you better put on your running shoes because my spirits are high, my energy level is good, and I'm sprinting to the finish line.
(Soundbite of applause)
GONYEA: The president spoke of the terror of 9/11 and said the fact that there's been no attack on the U.S. in the six years since has led some to think that the threats have diminished. He spoke of those who ignored the threat posed by the rise of Adolf Hitler in pre-World War II Germany, and of the formation of the Soviet Union - all of that as a way to set up his condemnation of today's Democratic Congress for not giving him the tools he says he needs as President.
Pres. BUSH: I know that when I discuss the war on terror, some here in Washington, D.C. dismiss it as political rhetoric, an attempt to scare people into votes. Given the nature of the enemy and the words of its leaders, politicians who deny that we are at war are either being disingenuous or naive.
GONYEA: From there, the president launched into specifics on the unexpected fight over his nomination of Michael Mukasey to be attorney general. He went after those who have insisted that the nominee answer questions about interrogation techniques used on terror suspects. Democrats are troubled by Mukasey's refusal to say whether the practice of waterboarding amounts to illegal torture. The president called on the Senate to confirm his nominee, saying the questions Mukasey is facing are unfair.
Pres. BUSH: The job of the attorney general is essential to the security of America. The attorney general is the highest ranking official responsible for our law enforcement community's efforts to detect and prevent terrorist attacks here at home.
GONYEA: But as the president spoke, another key member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Edward Kennedy, was announcing that he would oppose Mukasey's nomination because of that refusal to answer questions about waterboarding. Kennedy is the latest Democrat on the committee, on record, as saying they'll vote no on the nomination.
Democrats also reacted to Mr. Bush's attacks regarding the threat of terrorism. Senate leader Harry Reid said the president is the one playing politics with national security.
Senator HARRY REID (Democrat, Nevada; Senate Majority Leader): He can give all the speeches he wanted. It doesn't take away from - we have a failed presence, and that's what it's about. Never has anyone been so unwilling to negotiate on anything, nothing is he willing to deal with us. It's either his way or the highway.
GONYEA: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi responded as well.
Representative NANCY PELOSI (Democrat, California; Speaker of the House of Representatives): If the president wants to talk about priorities, let's talk about what is really important to the American people. I'd rather have a war on cancer than fiddle away many more dollars in Iraq.
GONYEA: But the White House calculation these days seems to be that by using the bully pulpit, the president can still win such battles.
Don Gonyea, NPR News, the White House.
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