| President Bush shakes hands with Speaker Nancy Pelosi after his speech. (AP)
Washington, Jan 23 (Reuters): President George W. Bush urged a rebellious Congress yesterday to give his new Iraq war plan a chance and insisted in his State of the Union speech it is not too late to shape the outcome.
Facing sceptical lawmakers and some of the weakest approval ratings of his six years in office, Bush said the best chance for success is to send 21,500 more US troops to Iraq. “On this day, at this hour, it is still within our power to shape the outcome of the battle. Let us find our resolve, and turn events toward victory,” Bush said.
He did not back down even as Democrats and his own Republicans work on non-binding congressional resolutions expressing opposition to the plan he announced two weeks ago.
“Our country is pursuing a new strategy in Iraq — and I ask you to give it a chance to work,” Bush told the joint session of the US Congress, the first time since he took office that he has faced a House of Representatives and Senate both controlled by Democrats.
With a Washington-Post/ABC News poll giving Bush a 33 per cent approval rating, he faces a tough road ahead focusing America’s attention on domestic issues with Iraq dominating the debate.
He sought to push an agenda at home against a heavy tide of criticism over Iraq, calling climate change a “serious challenge” that he would address by reducing US fuel consumption by 20 per cent over 10 years and increasing use of alternative fuels.
He also called for expanding health care for Americans, and creating a guest-worker programme for illegal immigrants that could represent the best chance for a bipartisan agreement.
“Like many before us, we can work through our differences, and achieve big things for the American people,” Bush said.
In the audience of lawmakers, cabinet officials, diplomats and supreme court justices were as many as 10 potential successors of both political parties jockeying for position to replace him. A silence fell over the crowd as Bush reviewed the 2006 setbacks in Iraq.
Watching over his shoulder with a tight set to her jaw was the first woman speaker of the House, California Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who refused to stand and applaud during some sections of Bush’s Iraq remarks.
“Unfortunately, tonight the President demonstrated he has not listened to Americans’ single greatest concern: the war in Iraq,” she said in a joint statement with Senate majority leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat.
Massachusetts Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy said two of the best words he heard in Bush’s speech were “Madame Speaker.”
Bush rejected Democratic arguments for pulling American troops out of Baghdad. He said Iraq would be victim of an epic battle between Shia and Sunni extremists and Iraq’s government would be overrun if US forces step back before Baghdad is secure.
“This is not the fight we entered in Iraq, but it is the fight we are in,” he said.