- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 16, 2006

President Bush, dropping in the polls as Republicans begin to question his commitment to conservative principles, last night addressed about 2,000 GOP donors at a Washington fundraiser and talked tough on his strongest issue, national security.

Making an evening speech at the National Republican Congressional Committee dinner, the president was greeted by polite but tepid applause. He proceeded to deliver a “laundry-list”-style speech highlighting his administration’s accomplishments, sounding more like a candidate on the campaign trail in 2004 than the party leader addressing his conservative base.

“We got a lot of work to do to lay the foundations for peace, and we got a lot of work to do to make sure this country remains a prosperous country so that every single citizen can realize the great promise of America,” Mr. Bush said.

He won the loudest cheers when he thanked the dozens of lawmakers in attendance — both Democrats and Republicans — for supporting U.S. troops. But the audience offered only stifled applause when Mr. Bush walked through U.S. military achievements stretching back to 2002, and invoked the lessons he learned after the terrorist attacks of September 11.

“When I told the Taliban, ‘Cough up al Qaeda or we will hold you — bring you to justice,’ I meant what I said. Thanks to the United States military, Afghanistan is now free and America is better off for it.”

Although the dinner included a program that said “House Republicans United to Victory — Honoring President George W. Bush,” Capitol Hill Republicans have been in revolt against the Bush administration for several months.

Mr. Bush has angered his base with such moves as nominating his longtime friend Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and his endorsment of a deal that would have put control of operations at six U.S. ports in the hands of an Arab-owned company.

The president’s missteps — especially the ports deal, which gave Democrats a leg up on the national security issue that Mr. Bush has dominated since the September 11 attacks — have prompted pollsters to begin to speculate that his slump could be deep enough to cost Republican majorities in the Senate and House. His recent approval-poll numbers show him hovering in the mid- to low-30s.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Republicans are continuing to distance themselves from Mr. Bush’s budget plans. House Republicans openly oppose the president’s “guest-worker” program, calling it an amnesty for some 12 million illegal aliens now in the United States. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, frustrated by the sluggish debate over immigration at the committee level, yesterday said he would introduce a bill that deals solely with border security and does not include a guest-worker provision.

But House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert last night offered support for the embattled president at the fundraising event, which pulled in $8 million.

“We are blessed to have the right leader in George W. Bush in the White House. And I look forward to working closely with this president in the next weeks, months and years ahead,” the speaker said.

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