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President Defends Terrorism Policies in Speech


This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News, with Renee Montagne in New Orleans, I'm Linda Wertheimer. President Bush used his State of the Union address last night to pledge that his administration would continue to lead in the fight against terrorism. The president called on members of Congress to set aside divisiveness but he also took the fight directly to his critics especially on his policies in Iraq.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA reporting:

President Bush's fifth State of the Union speech comes at a time when his approval ratings are down and public doubts about his handling of his job are up. He began by paying tribute to Coretta Scott King the widow of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. She passed away yesterday morning.

Then after declaring the State of the Union to be strong the president described a series of critical choices.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: We will choose to act confidently in pursuing the enemies of freedom or retreat from our duties in the hope of an easier life.

GONYEA: He described those choices in stark black and white terms.

President BUSH: We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy or shut ourselves off from trade and opportunity. In a complex and challenging time the road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting. Yet it ends in danger and decline.

GONYEA: In Iraq, the president said retreat is not an option.

President BUSH: By leading an assaulted world to fend for itself we would signal to all that we no longer believe in our won ideals or even in our own courage. But our enemies and our friends can be certain the United States will not retreat from the world and we will never surrender to evil.

GONYEA: The president also spoke of Iraq's neighbor Iran saying it must not be allowed to have nuclear weapons and he touched on the on recent victory of the militant group Hamas in Palestinian elections saying it must reject terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist.

The president called on Congress to renew the Patriot Act provisions of which have raised concerns about civil liberties protections. He also defended the National Security Agency's spying without warrants on phone calls between Americans and people over seas suspected of terrorism.

President BUSH: Appropriate members of Congress have been kept informed. The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America. If there are people inside our country who are talking with al-Qaeda we want to know about it because we will not sit back and wait to be hit again.

GONYEA: On domestic issues the president noted the failure of his big initiative in last year's State of the Union address revamping social security. This year the president simply proposed a bipartisan Congressional commission to study the impact of retiring baby boomers on social security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Perhaps the night's most memorable line came when Mr. Bush, a former Texas oil man, spoke bluntly of the need for affordable energy.

President BUSH: And here we have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology.

GONYEA: The president then called for an expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. and for more research in developing ethanol, hybrid, and hydrogen power automobiles. He also mentioned the Gulf Coast recovery effort briefly near the end of his speech citing the $85 billion that the federal government has committed to clean up and rebuilding there. He did not address criticisms of the U.S. response to Hurricane Katrina. That damage was a theme in the Democratic response to the president delivered by Virginia's new governor, Tim Cain.

Governor TIM KAINE (Democrat, Virginia): Our federal government should serve the American people, but that mission is frustrated by this administration's poor choices and bad management. Families in the Gulf Coast see that as they wait to rebuild their lives. Americans who lose their jobs see that as they look to rebuild their careers. And our soldiers in Iraq see that as they try to rebuild a nation.

GONYEA: Today, President Bush travels to Nashville where he'll deliver the first of a series of speeches expanding on themes and proposals he laid out last night.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.