President Bush spent a third consecutive day out of sight today as he celebrated Easter weekend with his parents, then will return to Washington on Monday to confront a sluggish economy and a balky Congress.
Bush struck a spiritual tone in his weekly radio address, which he recorded before he left Washington, noting the holy season of Easter and Passover as a reminder of "the power of a love stronger than death."
"As a nation, we continue to pray for all who serve in our military and those who remain in harm's way," Bush said. "America mourns those who have been called home, and we pray that their families will find God's comfort and God's grace."
Democrats, in their response, provided a reminder of the tough domestic issues facing the president when he returns. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said Republicans are sending the message that "cutting taxes that disproportionately benefit wealthy Americans is more important than educating our children or assuring that all American children have health insurance."
Democrats and a few moderate Republicans have vowed to cut Bush's proposed tax cut by as much as half, and Bush later this week will embark on the first of string of day trips designed to energize supporters in friendly states. White House officials are continuing their policy, begun when the war started, of announcing Bush's schedule only 48 hours in advance. "This is what we're being told that the security dictates," spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.
A variety of friends and relatives have joined Bush at the ranch. The only ones who were announced were his parents, who arrived today, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice, who traveled here with Bush after a stop in St. Louis on Wednesday. The only official business that has been announced is Bush's daily intelligence briefings, and a call he made to Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar on Thursday.
The president and first lady Laura Bush, breaking with their pattern of attending an Easter sunrise service near their ranch, plan to fly to nearby Fort Hood on Sunday to worship with the troops. Bush will meet privately with the two Apache helicopter pilots who were taken prisoner in Iraq and returned to Texas tonight.
Bush does not plan to reach Washington until Monday afternoon, so the annual Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn will be presided over by Lynne V. Cheney, wife of Vice President Cheney. The White House announced earlier this month that the event would be closed to the public for security reasons and that only military families would be allowed. About 12,000 are expected.