Bush Prepping for GOP Congress

January 6, 2003
Posted at: 9:49 a.m. CDT

WASHINGTON - President Bush is gathering his Cabinet for a pep talk on advancing his 2003 agenda amid a new landscape in Washington: Republicans taking over the Senate after 19 months of Democratic control.

Aides to Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said they expected him to attend Monday's Cabinet meeting, even though he has been hospitalized for most of the last three weeks with back trouble.

The White House anticipates the GOP takeover when the 108th Congress convenes Tuesday will help Bush's initiatives on Capitol Hill, where they often died at the hands of the Democratic-led Senate. The House remains under Republican control.

But Republicans hold the slimmest of edges in the Senate, and presidential politics are sure to increase the tension. A half-dozen Democratic lawmakers want to challenge Bush in 2004.

The president, just back in Washington from two weeks at Camp David, Md., and his Texas ranch, plans to offer an economic growth package Tuesday that aides say could total $600 billion over a decade. Democrats already are attacking it as skewed to the rich and unlikely to spur the economy.

On Wednesday, Bush marks the one-year anniversary of his signing of sweeping education reforms with a White House speech.

But hanging over those domestically focused events will be the prospect of war with Iraq and growing tensions over North Korea's resumption of a nuclear weapons program.

South Korea was sending diplomats to Washington to present a compromise solution to the United States and Japan on Monday and Tuesday.

Diplomatic efforts were continuing later in the week, as Seoul planned to send a presidential envoy to the United States and Japan for more talks and senior U.S. officials planned to fly to South Korea. Later in January, additional top U.S. diplomats were heading to Tokyo, Seoul and Beijing.

Meanwhile, the White House was awaiting the first official report from U.N. weapons inspectors, expected on Jan. 27, on their search for banned chemical, biological and nuclear weapons in Iraq.

Shortly thereafter, Bush is expected to decide whether force is required to ensure Saddam Hussein's compliance with a resolution requiring disarmament.

Another concern is continuing violence in the Middle East, where two suicide bombers killed 23 people and injured more than 100 in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Sunday.

Bush received news of the attacks while en route from Texas and condemned them "in the strongest possible terms," spokeswoman Claire Buchan said.

Along with other chores, the president will be looking ahead to his Jan. 28 State of the Union address and annual budget request to Congress in early February.

The administration has already started rolling out what is likely to be a series of announcements previewing its budget priorities. Bush used his Saturday radio address to propose a $1 billion increase in education funding directed at poor children.