President Bush set forth on an ambitious second-term agenda of reshaping Social Security and sparking democracy in the Middle East after wrapping up his inauguration Friday with moments of prayer and reflection.
His Republican allies said they were eager to begin, as well, while Democrats vowed to resume their fight against “extreme” Republican policies.
Four days of celebrations surrounding Bush’s inauguration culminated with a National Prayer Service, following a tradition set by the nation’s first chief executive, George Washington.
The hourlong service brought together 3,200 invited family and Cabinet members, top White House aides and others in the majestic Gothic-style sanctuary of the National Cathedral.
Instrumental and choral music filled the church, and an interfaith lineup of Christian and Jewish clergy helped celebrate through prayer the events of the day before — Bush’s swearing-in at the Capitol. A Muslim cleric who was scheduled to participate did not attend. No reason was given for his absence.
Offering one prayer, evangelist Billy Graham said he believed God had a hand in Bush’s re-election.
“Their next four years are hidden from us, but they are not hidden from you,” said Graham, 86, whom Bush credits with inspiring him to reaffirm his faith and give up drinking at age 40. “You know the challenges and opportunities they will face. Give them a clear mind, a warm heart, calmness in the midst of turmoil, reassurance in times of discouragement and your presence always.”
List of priorities
On Thursday the president was on the go all day, from an early-morning church appearance to hours in the cold watching the traditional parade down Pennsylvania Avenue to a late-night dash through 10 black-tie inaugural balls. The only thing on the president’s public schedule for the first day of his second term was the prayer service.
But there will be little time for him to rest, with all the tasks he has named as priorities for himself and the nation:
- Win a war on terrorism against shadowy, deadly networks.
- Establish stability and democracy in Iraq, a deeply divided country where the U.S. casualty rate has even fellow Republicans urging Bush to say more about how he will get the United States out.
- Add private investment accounts to Social Security, through an as-yet-undefined plan that has many deeply skeptical.
- Simplify a tax code bloated by thousands of provisions that special-interest patrons will be loath to relinquish.
- Limit medical malpractice and class-action jury awards.
- Push a “guest worker” immigration plan that conservatives in his own party oppose.
For the immediate future, Bush’s list of most pressing duties includes naming someone to the powerful new post of director of national intelligence, watching the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq and mending frayed relations with Europe during his first overseas trip of his second term.
“I’m looking forward to putting my heart and soul into this job for four more years,” he said, making no mention of the legislative battles ahead over taxes, expanding immigration laws, Social Security, the burgeoning budget deficit, judges and more.
Senate went to work Thursday
Eager to begin, the Republican-controlled Senate convened at midafternoon Thursday and confirmed Mike Johanns as agriculture secretary and Margaret Spellings as education secretary, the first of Bush’s nine new second-term Cabinet officers to win approval.
Senate Democrats are delaying the confirmation of Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, originally expected Thursday, until next week. The inauguration, they said, was only a brief respite in their battle against the Republican majority.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, told supporters in a fund-raising e-mail message that “when the inauguration bands stop playing and Congress comes back into session, we Democrats will be on guard and ready to fight against the Republicans’ extreme policies once again.”
Bush’s inaugural address was light on specifics and heavy on high-minded symbolism. He pledged to reform “great institutions to serve the needs of our time.”
He talked of the spread of freedom and liberty as the oldest ideals of America, and said, “Now it is the urgent requirement of our nation’s security and the calling of our time.”
Freedom and liberty cited often
Bush promised that U.S. relations with other countries would turn on how decently they treated their own people. He used the word “tyranny” five times, as well as “liberty” 15 and “freedom” 27.
“We are led, by events and common sense, to one conclusion,” Bush said. “The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.”
The only reference to Iraq was indirect. “Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill and would be dishonorable to abandon,” he said, mindful of impatience on Capitol Hill and in the public.
Instead, he left it to his State of the Union address, which is scheduled for delivery to the nation in less than two weeks, and his new federal budget, which is due to Congress on Feb. 7, to flesh out in more detail his second-term goals and how he intends to achieve them.