President George W. Bush abandoned his post-election promise to “reach out and mend fences” Tuesday, unleashing his harshest criticism yet on Democrats for what he called thwarting his second-term agenda.
Bush demanded Democrats put forward ideas of their own or “step aside” and his combative rhetoric signals a more aggressive administration strategy of attack while blaming others for his woes.
With approval ratings the lowest of his presidency and critics suggesting he is already losing political clout, Bush blamed “do-nothing” Democrats for holding up an overhaul of Social Security and delaying votes on his nominees to the federal bench and the United Nations.
The assault highlighted administration frustrations over Democratic tactics, and offered a preview of Republican strategy in the run-up to the 2006 mid-term elections.
“On issue after issue, they (the Democrats) stand for nothing except obstruction,” Bush said at the annual President’s Dinner, a $23 million fund-raiser attended by Republican leaders, party donors, and a blond porn star and former California gubernatorial candidate named Mary Carey.
Bush accused Democratic leaders of trying to “delay solutions” and “obstruct progress.”
The speech marked a combative turn for the president, who declared two days after winning re-election last November that he had earned “political capital, and now I intend to spend it.”
Much of Bush’s legislative agenda has run into opposition, and critics point to the administration’s recent troubles keeping fellow Republicans on board as a sign Bush may soon become a lame duck.
In recent weeks, Republicans in the House of Representatives voted for legislation on embryonic stem cell research over Bush’s objections.
He has made little progress pushing through his top legislative priority — adding private accounts to the Social Security retirement program — in part because some Republicans fear a backlash at the polls in 2006.
Senate Democrats, with the help of as many as two Republicans, delayed a vote on John Bolton, Bush’s choice to become U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
And some Republicans are joining calls for a deadline to withdraw troops from Iraq, breaking with Bush, whose approval ratings have fallen to the mid-40 percent range, the lowest of his presidency.
Bush made no mention of these defections as he sought to present the Republican Party as driven and focused on finding solutions.
‘AGENDA OF THE ROAD BLOCK’
Bush said the Democrats, in contrast, were employing a “philosophy of the stop sign” and an “agenda of the road block,” and warned: “Political parties that choose the path of obstruction will not gain the trust of the American people.”
He issued a challenge to the Democrats: “If leaders of the other party have innovative ideas, let’s hear them. But if they have no ideas or policies except obstruction, they should step aside and let others lead.”
Bush’s line of attack was echoed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, an Illinois Republican who accused “half” of the Senate of being “determined to keep anything from being accomplished.”
Senate Republican leader Bill Frist of Tennessee took aim at Democratic Party boss Howard Dean, saying he was “helping us expand our Republican majority.”
Republicans have stepped up attacks on the Democratic National Committee chairman after he said Republicans “never made an honest living in their lives” and were “pretty much a white, Christian party.”
Brian Nick, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said the total raised for the President’s Dinner was $23 million — $14 million from House members and $9 million from senators.
The Democratic National Committee pointed to Carey’s attendance of as evidence of an “anything goes” policy by Republicans.
Earlier on Tuesday, Bush attended a fund-raiser for Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican who is up for re-election next year but has lagged behind his likely Democratic challenger in public opinion polls. That fund-raiser brought in an estimated $1.5 million.