By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 19, 2006; A05
After six years in office, President Bush has agreed to address the NAACP at its annual national convention in Washington, the White House announced yesterday.
White House spokesman Tony Snow said the president will appear before the nation's oldest and largest civil rights group tomorrow after years of trading rhetorical jabs with its leadership.
"I think the president wants to make the argument that he has had a career that reflects a strong commitment to civil rights," Snow said at a news conference.
With the appearance, Bush will avoid becoming the first president since Warren G. Harding to snub the predominantly black organization throughout his term.
The president's change of heart followed a change in the NAACP's leadership. Bruce Gordon, the new president, is a former telecommunications executive who is more moderate than his predecessors.
"Yes, they have political disagreements," Snow said, but "Bruce Gordon . . . and the president have good relations."
The NAACP was among the organizations that strongly challenged the results of the Florida balloting in the 2000 election that was ultimately decided in Bush's favor.
A few years later, NAACP Chairman Julian Bond referred to far-right members of the Republican Party as "the Taliban wing." Former NAACP president and chief executive Kweisi Mfume routinely criticized the administration's policies.
When Bush declined the group's invitation to speak at its 2004 convention, he explained the snub, saying, "You've heard the rhetoric and the names they've called me."
That same year, during the buildup to Bush's reelection in November, the Internal Revenue Service threatened to revoke the NAACP's nonpartisan, tax-exempt status because Bond "condemned the administration policies of George W. Bush" in a speech, according to documents provided by the NAACP's lawyers.
The NAACP, founded in 1909, has had sufficient influence in black America to draw every president after Harding to its conventions, even as the group has been critical of some, including Republicans Richard M. Nixon and Ronald Reagan and Democrats Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton.