- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

President Bush and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the likely speaker of the House, yesterday buried the hatchet — gently — as the two sat down for an Oval Office lunch after a vitriolic campaign that put Democrats in control of Congress for the first time in 12 years.

“Both of us recognize … that when you win, you have a responsibility to do the best you can for the country,” the president said. “The elections are now behind us, and the congresswoman’s party won. … Therefore, we’re going to work together to address those challenges in a constructive way. We won’t agree on every issue, but … we will do our very best to address big problems.”

On a day when Republicans conceded the last two contested Senate seats and made official the Democratic sweep of Congress, Mrs. Pelosi agreed that the leaders at the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue wouldn’t agree always — or even often — but offered her own olive branch after the bruising campaign.

“I look forward to working in a confidence-building way with the president, recognizing that we have our differences and we will debate them, and that is what our founders intended. But we will do so in a way that gets results for the American people,” she said. “We’ve made history. Now we have to make progress. And I look forward to working with the president to do just that.”

Yesterday, Republican Sens. George Allen of Virginia and Conrad Burns of Montana formally acknowledged defeat in their re-election bids, giving the Democrats 49 seats in the chamber. Along with two Democrat-leaning independents, that will make Democratic Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada the next majority leader.

“It’s time for results,” Mr. Reid said at a raucous celebratory rally yesterday afternoon outside the Capitol.

But the campaign left a bitter trail between Mr. Bush and Mrs. Pelosi. She called him “incompetent,” “oblivious, in denial, dangerous” and “shallow,” and often implied that he was stupid, a man with “no judgment, no experience and no knowledge.”

He mocked her as a liar who talked tax cuts but must be a “secret admirer” and warned that if she took the helm, “terrorists win and America loses.”

When asked about yesterday’s lunch menu, presidential counselor Dan Bartlett joked that “for the president, it’s probably a little bit of crow.”

Since the president suffered what he called a “thumping” in Tuesday’s elections, he has already acquiesced twice to the San Francisco liberal’s demands. On Wednesday, he accepted Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld’s resignation, and yesterday, he offered an olive branch by saying he is “open to any idea or suggestion” on how to prosecute the war against terror and “and ensuring that Iraq’s democratic government succeeds.”

The new conciliatory stance is a far cry from what the president said repeatedly on the campaign trail.

“This debate on Iraq — if you listen carefully for a Democrat plan for success, they don’t have one,” he said at one rally. “However they put it, the Democrat approach in Iraq comes down to this: The terrorists win and America loses. … The Democrat goal is to get out of Iraq. The Republican goal is to win in Iraq.”

But Mr. Bush, humbled by losing Republican control of both the House and the Senate, struck a new tone of bipartisanship yesterday after a morning meeting with his Cabinet. “It is our responsibility to put the elections behind us and work together on the great issues facing America. … The American people expect us to rise above partisan differences, and my administration will do its part.”

In the end, Mr. Bush, who has spent much of his time in office irking Democrats by going it alone, vowed with Mrs. Pelosi at his side that their luncheon was “the beginning of a series of meetings we’ll have over the next couple of years, all aimed at solving problems and leading the country.”

The president’s priorities include the passage of spending bills funding government’s continued operation “with strong fiscal discipline and without diminishing our capacity to fight the war on terror”; legislation retroactively authorizing his warrantless domestic surveillance of terror suspects; energy legislation; and congressional approval for a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India and for normalizing trade relations with Vietnam.

The president hopes to be able to convince Democrats that those issues “rise above partisan difference.” But Democrats have opposed many of his proposals in the past, and because they hold gavels in both chambers of Congress, they will be in the position to scrub his legislation.

With Democrats holding only the thinnest edge in the Senate, that chamber’s Republicans can use all manner of procedural rules to have a major say in what happens.

“With 49 Republican senators, we still have the ability to shape and, when necessary, to block legislation,” Sen. John Cornyn of Texas said on Fox.

For her part, Mrs. Pelosi has vowed not to seek Mr. Bush’s impeachment or to tie up the House with punitive investigations of the executive branch, and yesterday repeated that pledge.

“Democrats are not about getting even. Democrats are about helping the American people to get ahead,” she said.

At the Capitol Hill rally, Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York, who led Senate Democrats’ re-election team, sounded a similar note.

“Our joy today will vanish if we can’t produce for the American people,” he said.

Still, Democrats fired plenty of warning shots on a variety of issues yesterday, including judicial nominations and the terrorist-surveillance bill.

“My message to the president would be: Send us moderate judicial candidates,” said Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the Democratic whip. “Don’t send us extreme candidates, because I think the president will run into trouble if he does.”

The two sides also remain divided over Iraq.

” ‘Full speed ahead’? I don’t think so,” Mrs. Pelosi said on CNN, mocking Vice President Dick Cheney’s assertion that the administration would continue its war strategy without change.

But Mr. Bush dug in his heels as well, saying that he will not consider pulling U.S. troops from Iraq before victory is achieved.

“If the goal is success, then we can work together. If the goal is get out now regardless, then that’s going to be hard to work together,” he said.

The president did acknowledge that although both sides can move away from their rhetoric, neither party will compromise their core values.

Mrs. Pelosi is “not going to abandon her principles and I’m not going to abandon mine,” he said.

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