Expect subdued State of the Union
President Bush gets what may be his final chance to steer the public debate Monday night in his last State of the Union address. With his aides privately...
WhyThe Constitution requires the president to send an annual message to Congress assessing the country and laying out priorities for the coming year. George Washington issued the first State of the Union in 1790.
Gannett News Service
CalendarToday: Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Monday: President Bush's annual State of the Union address.
Tuesday: Florida presidential primary.
Wednesday: Tentative continuation of White House-led meetings in Honolulu on the climate, through Thursday; Republican presidential debate in Simi Valley, Calif.
Thursday: U.S. and Canadian citizens 19 and older will be asked to present a government-issued photo ID and other proof of citizenship when entering the United States at land or sea ports of entry; Democratic presidential debate in Hollywood, Calif.
Friday: Maine GOP caucuses.
Saturday: Groundhog Day.
Source: The Associated Press
What: President Bush's final State of the Union speech.
When: 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday.
To watch: The major broadcast and cable-news channels and KCTS, Channel 9, will broadcast the speech live.
WASHINGTON — President Bush gets what may be his final chance to steer the public debate Monday night in his last State of the Union address.
With his aides privately acknowledging the moments Bush can be relevant are dwindling, the president is expected to press for a shortened list of proposals. With his legacy in mind, he'll urge Congress to extend some key initiatives of his tenure: tax cuts, the No Child Left Behind law, the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq.
Bush will be speaking under circumstances different from before, however, with economic fears roiling the country and the war in Iraq and terrorism concerns in the background, at least temporarily.
The president is expected to urge swift passage of a $150 billion economic-stimulus package of tax rebates and other measures, which House leaders and the White House — but not the Senate — have agreed to, according to White House officials and others.
He'll also press for the extension of a law that allows expanded electronic eavesdropping, including on communications that transit U.S. territory. The law is scheduled to expire Friday. On foreign policy, the president is expected to argue that the buildup of nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops in Iraq improved that country's security. He'll tout his administration's commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace and its efforts against AIDS and hunger in the developing world, particularly in Africa.
Absent will be the sweeping proclamations of the past, when Bush designated U.S. adversaries an "axis of evil" and called for changes in Social Security and immigration law.
"It is unrealistic to expect that this Congress is going to take on such big problems this year," White House press secretary Dana Perino said. Bush, she said, will focus on "new policy proposals with realistic chances of enactment."
Any president in his eighth year has difficulty commanding the country's attention.
But Bush, who Monday will have 357 days left in office, carries additional burdens, presidential scholars said.
He's the author of a widely unpopular war. The Democrats control the Congress. His approval ratings have been stuck below 40 percent for almost two years.
A Gallup Poll analysis released in mid-January found that Bush's average approval rating in 2007 — 33.3 percent — was the fourth-lowest annual rating for a post-World War II president. Only Richard Nixon in 1974 and Harry Truman in 1951 and 1952 fared worse.
The biggest competition for Bush's message may be the nominating contests in both parties for the presidential election, a race in which Bush has no clear heir.
"He's got a problem. No one's really listening anymore," said Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution, a center-left policy-research organization.
"The overriding reality is he's mired in very low approval ratings," and there's a "very exciting contest to see who succeeds him," Mann said.
Bush, never shy about using his executive powers, has promised a "sprint to the finish" in his final year in office.
"The speech is focused on the future. It is not a review of the first seven years of his time as president," Perino said Friday.
Some political analysts also said it's too early to write Bush off, given his aggressive use of presidential powers and his track record of facing down Congress on issues such as troop withdrawals from Iraq.
Bush is "a brilliant politician in being able to do that kind of stuff," said James Pfiffner, a professor of public policy at Virginia's George Mason University.
For the next 12 months, Bush will be able to block Congress on occasion, use his powers as commander in chief and exert authority via executive orders, Pfiffner said.
"I wouldn't put anything past him. He's a very effective executive ... in getting what he wants," Pfiffner said.
Perino said Friday that Bush will highlight several policies he believes he can implement "without congressional involvement." Those include revisions of the Federal Housing Administration that Bush asked for in April 2006, she said.
|Tracking a slump|
|President Bush delivered an economic address to a joint session of Congress in February 2001 and in subsequent years presented his annual State of the Union address. A look at his standing in the Gallup Poll about the time of each speech.|
|The Associated Press|
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