- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 3, 2007

WILLIAMSBURG — President Bush and House Democrats got off to a good start in finding common ground yesterday at the Democrats’ annual retreat — with Mr. Bush saying they even share a bond in having been shot in the back by Republicans on immigration.

“You are not the only one with arrows in your back,” the president said during a closed-door question-and-answer session with the House Democratic Caucus, according to two individuals who were in the room.

He was responding to Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Illinois Democrat, who said Republicans had been merciless during last year’s elections in attacking Democrats on border security. He asked Mr. Bush to win more Republican support for the Democrats’ preferred bill.

To a round of applause, the president said he will fight for a bill that does not deport illegal aliens. Mr. Bush said it would be a mistake to miss the opportunity for reform this year and let the issue enter the 2008 election campaign, when he worried it would become too political.

Immigration is one issue on which Mr. Bush may fare better with Democrats in control than with his own party. But, dependent on Democrats for his final two years, the president has made overtures on a host of other issues during the past month that he hopes can come to fruition under the new regime.

Yesterday, Democratic leaders said he convinced them he wants to work with them on some issues.

Rep. Rahm Emanuel, Illinois Democrat, said Mr. Bush’s acknowledgment of global warming in his State of the Union address and of growing “income inequality” in a speech on Wall Street last week both bode well, as did his admission that the Iraq war isn’t going well and his early steps to increase education spending.

“We had plenty of common ground, which the president was willing to acknowledge,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said after the session.

During her introduction, she invoked Lincoln’s second inaugural address calling for reconciliation between the North and South “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”

She said Democrats can work with Mr. Bush on what she called the “three i’s” — immigration, energy independence and innovation for the economy.

The president broke the ice with Democrats by explaining his use of the term “Democrat Party” during his State of the Union address last month. The phrase had angered some lawmakers, who consider it a slur.

“Look, my diction isn’t all that good,” Mr. Bush explained, drawing chuckles. “I have been accused of occasionally mangling the English language, and so, I appreciate you inviting the head of the Republic Party.”

The president assured Democrats he doesn’t question their patriotism for disagreeing with his Iraq policy.

“You can get that thought out of your mind, if that’s what some believe,” he said, to a smattering of applause.

That’s a change from the past, when Mr. Bush has wondered whether his political opponents would “forget the lessons of September 11th.” And it’s a sharp departure from the midterm campaign last year, when Republicans accused Democrats of favoring a “cut-and-run” strategy.

The president drew the biggest applause when he talked about spending on AIDS in Africa and keeping pressure on Sudan to find a solution to the mass killing and displacement in the Darfur region of that northeast African nation.

He faced six questions during the closed portion, including why his new Iraq plan would succeed when past troop surges have failed, what he plans to do about the size of the national debt, and whether he would agree to mandatory caps on carbon emissions to curb global warming.

Mr. Bush didn’t outright reject caps, but said his focus on technology is a smarter approach. He also said Kyoto treaty-style caps, such as ones that Europeans have adopted, have failed and said fast-growing Asian countries won’t participate in that solution, anyway, leaving technology as the only path.

Mr. Bush also was asked why he didn’t mention Hurricane Katrina or veterans during his State of the Union address. He compared those issues to the national park system, saying he didn’t talk about it either, but still considers it important.

One person in the room said Mr. Bush “sounded very defensive” on Katrina.

It was the first time since 2001 that the president addressed one of the Democratic caucus’ annual retreats. He spoke to both House and Senate Democrats that year.

Mr. Bush was so warmly received yesterday that he stayed in the room to shake hands for a half-hour after he was done answering questions.

Protesters weren’t allowed at the King’s Mill resort, where the gathering took place, but they congregated on a corner just outside the complex.

“Stop funding; start impeaching; mandate peace” read the painted slogan on the back of one panel truck driving the streets nearby.

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