- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 15, 2007

President Bush, standing in front of a banner that read “Rebuilding Our Republican Majority” and flanked by two giant puzzle pieces, last night pledged to House Republicans that the GOP will retake both congressional chambers and “hold the White House in 2008.”

Attending the first National Republican Congressional Committee dinner in Washington since the party lost control of the House and the Senate in November, the president fed hundreds of Republican lawmakers red meat, lambasted Democrats for trying to “micromanage” the war in Iraq and vowed to continue to appoint conservative judges.

“We’ve got a strong record to run on,” Mr. Bush said as members of Congress dined on beef tenderloin and jumbo shrimp. “The key is to learn from every election and to come back stronger. And with your help, that’s exactly what we’re going to do in 2008.”

Looking fresh after a five-country trip south of the border, the president reviewed Republican accomplishments during his administration: the largest tax cuts since Ronald Reagan, a booming economy that has created 7.5 million jobs in less than four years, and a newly revamped education system in which “minority students are beginning to close the achievement gap.”

“Ours is an optimistic agenda and ours is a realistic agenda. And by pushing good ideas and standing strong for what’s right, I believe that we can retake the Senate and the House and hold the White House in 2008,” Mr. Bush said to cheers from the party faithful.

More than 1,200 people attended the annual Washington Hilton dinner, which raised more than $6.2 million for congressional candidates. The president was greeted by a lengthy and hearty applause, a far cry from what he got in South America and Mexico.

The stage featured two giant white puzzle pieces at both ends, which one lawmaker who asked not to be named said signify exactly what the party must struggle with for the next two years. “We put those pieces together and we’re golden,” said the House member.

Mr. Bush, speaking only from notes, delivered a 25-minute speech that read like one of his 2004 stump stemwinders, espousing the urgent need to revamp Social Security and pressing his case to lawmakers to continue the war in Iraq until victory is achieved.

“Many of those members know what I know: that if American forces were to step back from Baghdad now, before the capital city is more secure, the scale and scope of attacks would increase and intensify. … If we were to leave Iraq before the job is done, the enemy would follow us to the United States of America — and we’re not going to let it happen,” he said, drawing the biggest cheer of the night.

Mr. Bush repeatedly assured lawmakers that there is a bright side to last year’s Republican losses.

“I’m optimistic about this country. You’ve got to know something about your president: I am some kind of optimistic about where we’re headed,” he said.

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