- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 29, 2005

President Bush, back at the White House after an Easter break at his Texas ranch, is planning to plunge into his agenda this week by pushing to reform Social Security and the Middle East.

Mr. Bush will begin with foreign policy, delivering a Rose Garden speech today on freedom and democracy. The president does not want to lose momentum in the Middle East, which has shown signs of democratization in recent weeks.

Tomorrow, Mr. Bush shifts to domestic policy by calling for Social Security reform during a trip to a community college in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Then, he and first lady Laura Bush will discuss the dangers of gangs during a visit to a junior high school in the District on Friday.

But all of these events could be overshadowed by political fallout from the case of Terri Schiavo, the brain-damaged Florida woman whose feeding tube was removed last week in a bitter family dispute. Mr. Bush and his brother, Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, have come under fire from advocates on both sides of the debate.

“I was criticized for pushing as far as I could; now, I’m criticized for not doing enough,” the governor told reporters in Miami yesterday. “That probably is a good sign that I was in the right place.”

Like the president, who signed a bill aimed at saving Mrs. Schiavo’s life, the governor has used his executive powers in several failed attempts to get the feeding tube reinserted. Both Bushes have made clear they will not intervene further.

“There are no means by which we can get involved beyond what we’ve already done, and I can’t see that changing,” the governor said. “I have a duty to follow the law.”

He added: “But from a personal perspective, it just breaks my heart that we’ve not erred on the side of life.”

The president also has called for erring “on the side of life,” although some conservatives said he should do more. Pat Buchanan, a former Republican presidential candidate, has said Mr. Bush should send federal marshals to rescue Mrs. Schiavo.

Yesterday, pro-lifers gathered in the rain in front of the White House to demand further intervention in the Schiavo case. But Mr. Bush, who arrived back in the afternoon, refrained from commenting on such demands.

The president wrapped up his Easter vacation as Gallup reported that his approval rating had sunk to 45 percent, the lowest of his presidency. That’s exactly half the 90 percent approval he garnered in the immediate aftermath of September 11, which was the highest level recorded since Gallup began conducting such polls in 1938.

Most analysts blame the president’s drooping poll numbers on the rising cost of gasoline and not the Schiavo case. They cite a 63 percent approval rating for Jeb Bush, who has been more vocal than his brother about Mrs. Schiavo.

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