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Bush and Pelosi pledge to find common ground

President Bush made nice on Thursday with House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi after her Democratic Party gave his Republicans a trouncing in this week's elections - but not before telling Congress to complete a hefty list of assignments while Republicans are still in charge. [!]
/ Source: The Associated Press

President Bush made nice on Thursday with House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi after her Democratic Party gave his Republicans a trouncing in this week's elections - but not before telling Congress to complete a hefty list of assignments while Republicans are still in charge.

"It is our responsibility to put the elections behind us and work together on the great issues facing America," Bush said after meeting with his Cabinet and Republican leaders from the House and Senate. "Some of these issues need to be addressed before the current Congress finishes its legislative session, and that means the next few weeks are going to be busy ones."

On the president's to-do list for the current Congress before January's changeover in power: 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 suspected terrorists; energy legislation; and congressional approval for a landmark civilian nuclear cooperation agreement with India and for normalizing trade relations with Vietnam.

Reconciliation luncheon
Bush cast such objectives as a way for both parties to "rise above partisan differences." But with Democrats skeptical of many of these items, Bush's plea for Capitol Hill to do things his way - which came just a half-hour before his makeup luncheon with Pelosi - could complicate the reconcilation effort.

That effort started within hours of the election that will put Democrats in charge of the House and the Senate for the final two years of Bush's presidency. After what both Bush and Pelosi described as a gracious phone call early Wednesday, they pair had lunch at the White House on Thursday.

What's on the menu? "For the president, it's probably a little bit of crow," presidential counselor Dan Bartlett told CBS' "Early Show."

Bush and Pelosi pledged to find common ground in a turned-upside-down Washington.

"The people have spoken, and now it's time for us to move on," Bush told reporters in the East Room on Wednesday.

Said Pelosi: "Democrats are not about getting even. Democrats are about helping the American people to get ahead."

This after some seriously sharp rhetoric.

He mocked her as "a secret admirer" of tax cuts and an opponent of measures crucial to keeping Americans safe, warning that "terrorists win and America loses" if her Democrats prevailed on Election Day.

She called him dangerous and in denial, an "emperor with no clothes" who has misled the country about Iraq and presided over an economy that still fails many.

The president dismissed the bitter language as nothing more than campaign-trail heat. "I understand when campaigns end, and I know when governing begins," he said.

Much at stake for both sides
The last two years of a presidency are difficult times for any Oval Office occupant. In the twilight of power, they must fight lame-duck status to get anything done.

But Bush is heading into that perilous period after an Election Day that pried his party's grip from Capitol Hill, in voting widely seen as a rebuke of him and his leadership, particularly on Iraq.

That makes his domestic wish list - such as adding private accounts to Social Security and permanently extending all tax cuts passed during his administration - not much more than a fantasy, especially for a president who largely has ignored the same Democrats who now will control the legislative agenda.

Add to that the prospect of Democratic investigations into missteps in the war, treatment of terrorism detainees and Bush's expansion of executive power, and his next two years could be a headache.

Bipartisian concerns
Democrats, too, have much to lose. If seen as unproductive or too obstructionist, they risk losing their majority - a very slim one in the Senate - in two years. How they govern also could impact the party's chances in the wide-open race for the White House in 2008.

Hence all the happy talk about bipartisanship.

Pelosi, for instance, put any suggestion of impeachment proceedings against Bush "off the table." She welcomed the president's move to capitulate to critics and accept the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Bush signaled readiness to consider Democratic priorities such as a federal minimum-wage increase and to find compromise on renewing the No Child Left Behind education law, overhauling immigration policy and overhauling budget-busting entitlement programs.

Iraq factor
The two sides remain bitterly divided over Iraq.

"`Full speed ahead' - I don't think so," Pelosi said on CNN, mocking Vice President Dick Cheney's contention that the administration would continue its war strategy unbowed.

Bush countered that leaving Iraq before the mission is complete is a nonstarter. "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.

And Pelosi indicated Democrats will pursue an agenda that has been resisted by Bush, while the president indicated that his patience with compromise would go only so far.

"She's not going to abandon her principles and I'm not going to abandon mine," he said.