TOPICS > Politics

State of the Union

January 21, 2004 at 12:00 AM EDT


KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush spent the first 30 minutes of his state of the union address talking about the ongoing war on terrorism and the successful military mission against Iraq. The president defended his decision to go to war, and again cited the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, which, to date, still haven’t been found.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Some in this chamber and in our country did not support the liberation of Iraq. Objections to war often come from principled motives. But let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam Hussein in power. We are seeking all the facts. Already, the Kay report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day.

KWAME HOLMAN: Some Democrats in the chamber appeared stunned that the president even bothered to broach the subject of weapons of mass destruction; New Jersey’s Robert Menendez among them.

REP. ROBERT MENENDEZ: I really couldn’t believe the president still trying to create linkages to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Having misstated to the Congress in the last state of the union speech, to once again allude to weapons of mass destruction is to stretch credibility beyond belief.

KWAME HOLMAN: Republicans, on the other hand, readily accepted the president’s defense. Florida’s Mark Foley:

MARK FOLEY: We’re still searching for weapons of mass destruction. All of us want to see those silos and those missiles and that devastating equipment. We know he had them at one point. They could be anywhere. But we still recognize that freeing Iraqi people is as important as finding any weaponry in the future.

KWAME HOLMAN: In fact, there appeared to be widespread agreement in the chamber last night on that very point.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: For all who love freedom and peace, the world without Saddam Hussein’s regime is a better and safer place. ( Applause )

KWAME HOLMAN: But the president again drew mixed reaction when he called on Congress to reauthorize what he called the key tool to combating terrorism, the U.S.A. Patriot Act.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Which allows federal law enforcement to better share information, to track terrorists, to disrupt their cells, and to seize their assets. For years, we have used similar provisions to catch embezzlers and drug traffickers. If these methods are good for hunting criminals, they are even more important for hunting terrorists. ( Applause ) Key provisions of the Patriot Act are set to expire next year. The terrorist threat will not expire on that schedule. (Applause)

KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold is a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. When the president said the Patriot Act is due to expire, some Democrats —

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: (Laughs) We didn’t know that the president was going to say, point out that some of the provisions of the Patriot Act were going to expire. And yes, some of us cheered. It was a very striking moment. Apparently, the president is out of touch with the enormous opposition to the extreme provisions of that law that don’t have to do with terrorism.

KWAME HOLMAN: And the responses became increasingly partisan as the president began to outline ideas for his domestic agenda; in particular, the billions of dollars in tax cuts he successfully pushed through Congress.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Congress has some unfinished business on the issue of taxes. The tax reductions you passed are set to expire. Unless you act, the unfair tax on marriage will go back up. Unless you act, millions of families will be charged $300 more in federal taxes for every child. Unless you act, small businesses will pay higher taxes. Unless you act, the death tax will eventually come back to life. Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase. (Applause) What Congress has given, the Congress should not take away. For the sake of job growth, the tax cuts you passed should be permanent.

KWAME HOLMAN: Most Republicans, Ohio’s Deborah Pryce included, support the tax cuts.

REP. DEBORAH PRYCE: He called for the continuation of tax cuts. That is something that will continue to spur the economy on and all that goes into jobs, jobs, jobs. People might be a little bit impatient, but things could be a lot worse, and I think that we’re going to be fine.

KWAME HOLMAN: On the other hand, Democrats listened with skepticism as the president outlined plans to promote job growth.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I propose larger Pell grants for students preparing for college with demanding classes in high school. I propose increasing our support for America’s fine community colleges. I do so, so they can train workers for the industries that are creating the most new jobs. By all these actions, we will help more and more Americans to join in the growing prosperity of our country.

KWAME HOLMAN: South Carolina Democrat Jim Clyburn:

REP. JAMES CLYBURN: I do believe you have to admit that job training is probably a compassionate thing to do, except that job creation has to come first. And I saw nothing in this speech that indicated anything about creating jobs when we’ve lost so many in the last three years, over three million jobs lost. What are we going to do with our economy that will grow this economy, that would create jobs, and that would make us a more productive society? A lot of rhetoric, but very little substance.

KWAME HOLMAN: The president also described several smaller programs designed to promote his economic and social agenda, and then talked about reducing overall spending in Congress. Budget hawk Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican, admitted he was concerned.

REP. MIKE PENCE: The Congress responds to the leadership from the White House. And on the one hand, we heard the president call for spending limits, but on the other hand, we heard at least a half a dozen new programs or the doubling of existing programs, and those kinds of mixed messages usually result in Congress spending more and not less.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: May God continue to bless America.

KWAME HOLMAN: For the most part, Republicans gave President Bush high marks for what could have been billed as the first speech of his re-election campaign. Idaho Senator Larry Craig:

SEN. LARRY CRAIG: What we heard tonight was a very strong statement of leadership for our country, not only in foreign policy and international affairs and the war against terrorism, but leadership right here at home: A very humane speech, talking about children or elderly or health care, even talking about prisoners who serve their time in institutions and come out. And he says, “let’s help them get back into society and go back to work.” I think that’s the statement of not only a strong leader, but a phenomenally compassionate president. This president clearly showed his stuff tonight, and it’s the stuff of national leadership.

KWAME HOLMAN: And even though democrats applauded the president for a speech well- delivered, many said it lacked content.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Frankly, I thought the whole speech indicated a president and an administration that is out of touch with what is going on in America. The president didn’t even mention the loss of manufacturing jobs, which is the number-one issue in my part of the country. We lost 84,000 manufacturing jobs in Wisconsin alone. He doesn’t talk about it.

Then the president started talking about “No Child Left Behind” bill, every school person… administrator or teacher in Wisconsin thinks this bill is a disaster. So frankly, in 12 years of going to state of the union addresses, this was the most divisive and the least response from the audience that I’ve ever seen, because the policies of this administration are extreme, and I think in most cases they’re not working.