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Bush Takes Message On Road

President Bush speaks on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry House in Nashville, Tenn. on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2006. The address by Bush followed his State of the Union speech.
AP Photo
President Bush took his State of the Union message to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry on Wednesday, seeking to allay concerns about the situation in Iraq and the war on terrorism.

"I understand there's an anxiety about the time of war," Mr. Bush said. "That's natural, seems like to me, even though this economy is roaring. It is strong, when you recognize we've overcome a lot."

Looking to build political momentum for his agenda at home and abroad, Mr. Bush also hits the road Thursday and Friday, spotlighting his strategy to boost U.S. competitiveness, CBS News White House correspondent Mark Knoller reports.

Mr. Bush tried to pre-empt objections from Democrats, who are looking to regain control of the House and Senate in midterm elections this year. The Democrats are looking for advantage in Mr. Bush's weak poll numbers and burgeoning scandals in GOP congressional ranks.

"Our economy is the envy of the world," the president said. "And yet people are changing jobs a lot and there is competition from India and China, which creates some uncertainty. My worry is that people see that uncertainty and decide to adopt isolated policies, or protectionist policies."

Mr. Bush has been beset by criticism that his optimistic messages of recent years haven't squared with the worries many Americans feel over high energy and health care costs, the costly and deadly Iraq war and continuing terrorist threats. Democrats said his words could not overcome those problems.

"It just wasn't credible to hear him talk about making America more secure and honoring our troops or making America energy independent or making health care more affordable without hearing him explain why he's done just the opposite for the last five years," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Mr. Bush spoke Wednesday from the stage of the jam packed Grand Ole Opry House. Country music stars including Barbara Mandrell, Larry Gatlin, Lee Greenwood, Lorrie Morgan and the Oak Ridge Boys warmed up the crowd under a sign that said "Americans Win When America Leads."

Mr. Bush joked to the enthusiastic crowd that he should have given the State of the Union there. "How cool would it have been to give a State of the Union speech in a Porter Wagoner outfit?" he said, referring to the flashy country music star.

Outside, more than 100 protesters held up their own signs that said "No Confidence" and "No warrant, no wiretap, no W." That was a reference to Mr. Bush's much-debated secret program of eavesdropping on phone calls and e-mails in an attempt to sniff out terrorist plots, which he vigorously defended in his State of the Union address.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Bush made freeing America from its oil dependency the centerpiece of his State of the Union address.

CBS News senior White House correspondent Bill Plante reports the president, as expected, also talked about the war in Iraq and the threat of nuclear weapons from Iran. But the headline was that the former oil man in the Oval Office said he believes that the United States needs to develop different sources of energy.

"We have a serious problem. America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world," he said.

To break the addiction, Mr. Bush announced new research into clean energy, including pollution-free autos and a push to make ethanol

"Breakthroughs on this and other new technologies will help us reach another great goal: to replace more than 75 percent of our oil imports from the Middle East by 2025," Mr. Bush told a joint session of Congress and a national prime-time television audience.

After a tumultuous political year dotted with scandals swirling around his administration and dismal approval ratings, Mr. Bush sought to show Congress and the nation he could still lead forcefully. Seeking to quell the rancorous tone in Washington, Mr. Bush asked legislators to conduct debate in a "civil tone."

Democrats were skeptical. "I hope it's genuine," said Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del. "He says that all the time and then his administration comes out through the vice president, the secretary of defense and others, and says anyone who criticizes the war, they imply they are not patriotic.

"I hope we're beyond that," Biden told CBS News' The Early Show. I think the president is in enough trouble politically that he understands it's time to reach out."

About half the speech was devoted to the president's arguments for the war in Iraq and his vision of the nation's place in the world.

Mr. Bush rejected calls for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, saying, "There is no peace in retreat.'' He also slapped at those who complain he took the country to war on the erroneous grounds that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.

"Hindsight alone is not wisdom," Mr. Bush said. "And second-guessing is not a strategy."

A CBS News poll found that viewers liked what the president had to say. Of those who watched, 77 percent said they approved of the proposals that the president laid out.

But most do not have faith that the president can get the job done.
Just 32 percent believe that he'll be able to accomplish all the goals set out in his speech.