President George W. Bush on Sunday will visit the site where New York’s twin towers once stood, as he marks the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks amid an intensifying election-year debate over whether his policies have made America safer or more vulnerable.
Bush’s approval ratings soared and his presidency was reshaped after he stood in the ruins of the World Trade Center days after the 2001 attacks and sought to rally the country by shouting into a bullhorn.
But the unity that arose as Americans grieved the nearly 3,000 people killed in the hijacked airplane attacks has long since given way to sharp divisions over the Iraq war and the Bush administration’s tactics in the war on terrorism.
The rift has widened with the approach of the November 7 elections, in which Democrats hope to overturn Republican dominance of Congress.
In a two-day tour of all three crash sites — the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where United Flight 93 crashed — Bush will strive to put aside partisan acrimony, if only temporarily.
He has no prepared remarks for the visits, according to White House spokesman Tony Snow. Bush will attend a Sunday evening prayer service in New York and visit firefighters on Monday morning.
He will save his formal remarks for a televised Oval Office speech on Monday night. Snow said Bush will reflect on the anniversary and discuss the war on terrorism.
On Saturday, political wrangling continued as Bush and Democrats pressed opposing approaches to fighting terrorism.
In his weekly radio address, the president urged Congress to pass legislation setting up military tribunals to try detainees at Guantanamo Bay. He also defended a CIA detention program to interrogate terrorism suspects.
Bush administration officials have sought to paint Democrats as weak on terrorism.
Democrats focused on the increasingly unpopular Iraq war. They contend it has drained resources from the effort to hunt down al Qaeda militants and shore up security at U.S. ports and other potential targets.
In their own radio address, Democrats said the country must end its “open-ended commitment in Iraq” and redirect its efforts toward fighting al Qaeda.
© 2006 Reuters