Bush Promises He Will Work With Senate Democrats

By Michael A. Fletcher and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, November 11, 2006

President Bush met with the Senate's top two Democrats at the White House yesterday and repeated his pledge to search for bipartisan cooperation as he sought to adjust his governing style to Washington's new balance of power.

Democratic leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.) and Richard J. Durbin (Ill.) talked with Bush and Vice President Cheney in the Oval Office for about 45 minutes. Both sides said the session was aimed at muting the partisan divisiveness that has characterized much of the president's tenure.

"My attitude about this is that there is a great opportunity for us to show the country that Republicans and Democrats are equally as patriotic and equally concerned about the future and that we can work together," Bush said after the meeting, which followed a similar White House session with the top two House Democrats on Thursday.

Reid said, "The only way to move forward is with bipartisanship and openness and to get some results."

With Democrats poised to assume control of both chambers of Congress in January, Bush has replaced his highly charged campaign rhetoric with repeated promises to cooperate in hopes of retaining legislative influence during the final two years of his presidency. The incoming congressional leaders, meanwhile, have been no less vocal in promising to change their highly partisan ways, saying voters want to see their leaders working together to solve problems.

But amid the promises of comity, major differences remain. Although Bush for the first time will be contending with a Congress completely controlled by Democrats, he has asked for passage of legislation that authorizes wiretapping phone calls of suspected terrorists. He has also sought the confirmation of John R. Bolton as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Many Democrats have opposed the eavesdropping program, and some have promised to investigate it once they assume power in Congress in January. Meanwhile, Democrats have blocked the confirmation of Bolton, whose recess appointment will expire in January.

During the White House meeting, Reid made a pitch for the president to convene a bipartisan summit to discuss the Iraq Study Group's report and to devise a new policy for bringing stability to that country. The president listened but did not commit to such a summit, said Jim Manley, a Reid spokesman.

Reid wants the president to invite the bipartisan leadership from the House and Senate together "so they can receive and review the findings of the Baker-Hamilton commission and consult regarding a way forward," Manley said.

Reid made his case to Bush as a new member was added to the bipartisan Iraq panel, which is chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton (D), a former congressman from Indiana.

Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who succeeded Baker at State, was named to replace Defense Secretary-designate Robert M. Gates on the commission, the U.S. Institute of Peace announced. Eagleburger, a career diplomat, served at the end of George H.W. Bush's administration. Eagleburger is yet another official from the senior Bush's administration being tapped to help find solutions to problems in that of the son.

Eagleburger serves as chairman of the International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims. He enters the process near the end, but Baker and Hamilton said in a joint statement that his experience in international affairs will make him an "integral voice in our deliberations" as the members enter the decision-making phase.

Bush and his national security team, including Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and outgoing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, are to meet Monday with members of the study group.

At the White House yesterday, Reid also pressed for an increase in the minimum wage and for an "energy security plan." Manley said the energy bill would provide incentives to "wean our country off of its dependence on foreign oil." These would include extra funds to develop alternative sources of energy.

"There were pledges from both sides to get beyond the partisan and to work in a bipartisan fashion," Manley said. "There were also pledges to find common ground on the big challenges facing our nation."

In brief remarks to reporters after the meeting, Durbin noted the color of the ties that Bush and Cheney wore to the session.

"I do want to say thanks personally to the president and vice president for their conciliatory gesture by wearing blue ties today," he said. "From our side, we think that is a symbolic indication we're off to a good start."

"I was hoping you would notice, Senator," Bush responded.

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