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Bush cites progress, 'unfinished business'
( 2004-01-21 11:20) (Agencies)

Ten months before facing voters, U.S. President Bush delivered an upbeat State of the Union address Tuesday night that defended his stewardship of the nation at home and abroad, as he called on Americans to stay the course.

Addressing a joint session of the U.S. Congress in the House chamber, Bush cited progress in the war on terrorism and in turning the U.S. economy around. But much work remained, he said.

U.S. President George Bush addresses the nation during his State of the Union address from Capitol Hill in Washington January 20, 2004. Vice President Dick Cheney (L) and House Speaker Dennis Hastert are behind Bush. [AP Photo]

"We have not come all this way through tragedy and trial and war only to falter and leave our work unfinished," Bush said. "Americans are rising to the tasks of history and they expect the same of us."

The president mixed an impassioned defense of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq -- the subject of some criticism on the campaign trail -- with a challenge to Congress to support his domestic agenda. He called on lawmakers to:

** Make permanent some recently enacted tax cuts.

** Set limits on malpractice lawsuits.

** Codify into law an executive order that allows religious institutions to use tax dollars to deliver various social services.

** Renew provisions of the Patriot Act, the law passed in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks that granted law enforcement agencies new powers.

** Change the law so that a portion of Social Security payroll taxes can be invested into personal retirement accounts.

** Support his temporary guest worker program under which millions of illegal immigrants could get temporary legal status in the United States. 

Several of those initiatives drew more vigorous applause from Republicans than Democrats.

Appeal to conservatives

Bush also touched on some issues sure to get the attention of conservatives -- a key component of the president's political base.

He called for a doubling of federal funding to promote abstinence programs in schools. And he voiced anew his support for recognizing marriage solely as "the union of a man and a woman."

Bush stopped short of an outright call for a constitutional amendment to do that, as many conservatives have urged following a Massachusetts court decision in November that opened the door to a recognition of same-sex marriages. 

Members of Congress and invited guests applaud U.S. President George W. Bush as he delivers his State of the Union address in the House Chamber of the U.S. Capitol in Washington January 20, 2004. Bush made a defiant defense of the Iraq war on Tuesday and urged Americans to stick with his leadership in an election-year State of the Union address that offered a point-by-point rebuttal of his Democratic challengers. [Reuters]

Bush warned that a "constitutional process" might be necessary if what he called "activist judges" allowed same-sex marriages.

The unfolding presidential race provided a backdrop for the speech. It was delivered one day after Iowa Democrats boosted the candidacy of Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, sending him onto the New Hampshire primary with a strong first-place finish in the state caucuses.

Without ever explicitly referring to the unfolding race, Bush began his speech by noting that Americans "face a choice" and he warned against turning back to "old policies and old divisions."

Bush's speech came at a time when Americans, as indicated by polls, remain worried about the economy and the war in Iraq.

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released January 20 found that 53 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with how things are going in the United States, compared with 46 percent who said they are satisfied. The poll had a sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The speech, delivered under extraordinary security and interrupted numerous times with lopsided partisan applause, lasted about 54 minutes.

Four members of Congress -- two Democrats and two Republicans -- did not attend the president's address, following the wishes of congressional leaders who said they had to consider the possibility of a catastrophic attack on the Capitol.

The president routinely keeps one member of his Cabinet from entering the House chamber for the speech, a practice followed by Congress since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

On the international front, Bush turned to the controversy of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. None have been found -- despite warnings of them before the war -- and U.S. troops continue to be killed there.

Bush referred to program "activities" and said the United States was right to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who is now in U.S. custody.

"Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day," Bush declared.

And Bush said the United States faces a real threat of another terrorist attack.

"Twenty-eight months have passed since September 11, 2001," Bush said. "Over two years without an attack on American soil, and it is tempting to believe that the danger is behind us. That hope is understandable, comforting -- and false."

Iraqi Governing Council President Adnan Pachachi was one of Bush's guests in the House chamber. Pachachi was in New York earlier in the day for meetings at the United Nations.

(Courtesy of Cnn.com)

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