President Bush, asked by members of Congress and some administration officials to more directly describe to the American people his plans and goals in the Persian Gulf, will address a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.
The White House announced the speech yesterday after Bush discussed it with House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) over lunch and in a telephone conversation with Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine). The announcement did not cite the subject of the address, but officials said it would be the situation in the gulf.
A senior official said Bush, who is uncomfortable with nationally televised speeches from the Oval Office that his predecessor, Ronald Reagan, liked, preferred to make his case in the congressional forum. One official said the decision was made after it became clear this week that Bush has broad support for his policies in the gulf and would get both a forum he finds more comfortable but also "applause every four minutes. . . . The public will see not only a broad rationale and call for patience, but a leader getting bipartisan support. That is the calculation."
Bush met yesterday with about three dozen members of Congress who have been to the gulf over the August recess to discuss their views.
While some of the group made suggestions, virtually all expressed support for Bush's policies, according to administration officials who attended the session and members who spoke to reporters after the meeting.
In a similar vein, Secretary of State James A. Baker III, in two days of testimony on Capitol Hill, has heard a continuous string of praise and little objection to the administration policy.
According to a senior official, House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) cautioned Bush at the session yesterday that to maintain the high public and political support he now enjoys for the massive U.S. troop buildup in the Middle East, the president will have to speak directly to the American people on the subject not once but repeatedly as the troops remain in place.
One official said Bush has been told he will need to make his case in significant forums nearly weekly.
The 9 p.m. speech also is expected to include a report on Bush's meeting Sunday in Helsinki with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.
An administration official said Bush had no bombshell proposals or major announcements to make but plans to use the 30-minute address to stress what he sees as the international stakes in the gulf crisis and to prepare the nation for a situation that could last many months and will cost taxpayers at least $6 billion by the end of this year.