Friday, November 10, 2006
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
WASHINGTON - After demonizing each other on the campaign trail, President Bush and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi met over plates of pasta at the White House on Thursday and agreed to seek common ground on Iraq and other national problems.
President Bush meets with Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Vice President Dick Cheney in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, Thursday, November 9, 2006 after their meeting. (Chuck Kennedy/MCT) The bipartisan pledges of cooperation generated considerable skepticism in Washington, a city accustomed to partisan warfare. But Bush has reached effectively across party lines before, both as governor of Texas and early in his presidency.
"We won't agree on every issue," Bush told reporters after the peacemaking lunch. "But we do agree that we love America equally, that we're concerned about the future of this country and that we will do our very best to address big problems."
Pelosi, a California liberal who's in line to become speaker of the House of Representatives, said she would use her leadership role to represent "all of the House, not just the Democrats."
Bush also reached out to Senate Democrats, who took control of their chamber Thursday when Sen. George Allen, R-Va., conceded defeat to Democrat James Webb. Bush placed a congratulatory phone call to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and invited him to the White House on Friday.
Some Democrats who have worked with Bush in the past said Tuesday's elections brought out a side of him that's been missing in recent years.
Former Texas state Rep. Paul Sadler, a Democrat who considers Bush a friend, said he was puzzled by the style the president adopted when he moved to Washington in 2000. "It's almost like he was hijacked," Sadler said.
In Texas, Bush worked closely with Sadler and other Democrats on a host of issues, including an unsuccessful effort to overhaul the state's tax system. The late Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the state's leading Democrat at the time, became so fond of Bush that he supported his re-election as governor.
As a presidential candidate, Bush pledged to bring that spirit to Washington, saying he wanted to be "a uniter, not a divider." He started out that way, at least on some issues. During his first year in office, Bush joined forces with Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., to pass his No Child Left Behind education law.
"The folks at the Crawford Coffee Shop would be somewhat shocked when I told them I actually like the fellow. He is a fabulous United States senator," Bush said when he signed the legislation in January 2002 with Kennedy at his side. "When he's against you, it's tough. When he's with you, it is a great experience."
Sadler said he got a call from one of Kennedy's aides as the bill was working its way through Congress. The aide wanted to know if Bush could be trusted to follow through on his commitment to dramatically increase education funding.
"I said, absolutely," Sadler said. "I had no question at all in telling them that he could be trusted, but the fact is that Senator Kennedy and the Democrats think he broke his promise."
The fracture in bipartisan cooperation widened during the 2002 election, when Bush cast Democrats as soft on terrorism. It became a chasm with the bitterness over the Iraq war.
Bruce Buchanan, a political science professor at the University of Texas, said Bush switched strategies and became far more combative after his first year in Washington.
"That increased the toxicity. Democrats stopped returning their calls," he said.
Kennedy vented his anger in a 2004 speech that likened Bush to Richard Nixon.
"Mislead. Deceive. Make up the needed facts. Smear the character of any critic," Kennedy said.
Former Texas State Rep. Mark Stiles, another Democrat who worked with Bush, blamed party politics for Bush's transition from uniter to divider. Stiles, who quit politics and is now a political independent, said he has been surprised by the harshness of Bush's campaign attacks.
"That's not the George Bush that I know. He can work with anybody," Stiles said. "When you get up there, things change. Maybe the system's changed him."
Both Sadler and Stiles speculated that political adviser Karl Rove pushed the president to become more partisan. Rove, who's known for hardball politics, is one of the few presidential advisers who came with Bush from Texas and remains on the job. He's considered Bush's closest adviser, eclipsed only by the president's wife.
To be sure, Democrats also have played a big role in escalating partisan warfare. But on Thursday, both Bush and Pelosi tried to distance themselves from their previous attacks on each other.
"The elections are now behind us," Bush said. "But the challenges still remain."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.