Bush defends Iraq plan, asks for chance

By Steve Holland and Tabassum Zakaria
Wednesday, January 24, 2007; 4:10 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush urged a rebellious Congress on Tuesday to give his new Iraq war plan a chance and insisted in his State of the Union speech it is not too late to shape the outcome.

Facing skeptical lawmakers and some of the weakest approval ratings of his six years in office, Bush said the best chance for success is to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq.

"On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of the battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory," Bush said.

He did not back down even as Democrats and his own Republicans work on nonbinding congressional resolutions expressing opposition to the plan he announced two weeks ago.

"Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq -- and I ask you to give it a chance to work," Bush told the joint session of the U.S. Congress, the first time since he took office that he has faced a House of Representatives and Senate both controlled by Democrats.

With a Washington-Post/ABC News poll giving Bush a 33 percent approval rating, he faces a tough road ahead focusing America's attention on domestic issues with Iraq dominating the debate.

He sought to push an agenda at home against a heavy tide of criticism over Iraq, calling climate change a "serious challenge" that he would address by reducing U.S. gasoline consumption by 20 percent over 10 years and increasing use of alternative fuels.

He also called for expanding health care for Americans, and creating a guest-worker program for illegal immigrants that could represent the best chance for a bipartisan agreement.

"Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people," Bush said.

In the audience of lawmakers, Cabinet officials, diplomats and Supreme Court justices were as many as 10 potential successors of both political parties jockeying for position to replace him.

A silence fell over the crowd as Bush reviewed the 2006 setbacks in Iraq. Some of the Iraq lines in his speech netted ovations only from Republicans.

Watching over his shoulder with a tight set to her jaw was the first woman speaker of the House, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who refused to stand and applaud during some sections of Bush's Iraq remarks.

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