Peoria Journa Star

May 21, 2004

LaHood: Bush is 'hanging tough'

of Copley News Service

WASHINGTON, D.C. - President Bush went to Capitol Hill on Thursday to give a pep talk to Republican lawmakers before they head home for the weeklong Memorial Day recess.

"I think it was a good morale-booster," said Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, who said he suggested the president's meeting with Republicans to counter the recent spate of negative news concerning the war in Iraq and the president's sagging poll numbers.

"It gives us a boost from (the) leader of our party to go back home and say that the president is hanging tough, that he's not being dissuaded by any poll numbers, that he's not dissuaded by the criticism that's being leveled by any editorial writers, that he's moving ahead with his agenda," he said. "We ought to be able to talk about it, too."

LaHood and other GOP lawmakers in the closed-door session said Bush told them he was determined to stick with his plan to hand over partial governing authority to Iraqis by June 30.

The Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal "has been a disaster," acknowledged LaHood, adding that he voted for an amendment to destroy the prison.

He lamented that "the good work that's gone on has been diminished by a handful of people and those are the stories that are on the front page. I think people don't realize that there haven't been large numbers of casualties in Fallujah in the last two weeks. But that didn't get any news because of the prison."

Bush also talked about domestic issues including the economy, education and energy policy, LaHood said.

"We're all going back home and we're going to be facing constituents concerned about high gasoline prices " he said.

Bush made it clear that he's not going to accede to calls by some members of the Senate to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an effort to stabilize rising gasoline prices, LaHood said.

The president told lawmakers "to go back home and talk about getting the Senate to pass an energy bill so we can rely on alternatives like ethanol and biodiesel and put some things in place that will help us relieve our dependence on Middle East oil," the congressman said.

LaHood said Bush was "enthusiastic and energetic."

Meanwhile, Democrats on Capitol Hill stepped up the criticism of the Bush administration.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Republicans in Congress are nervous about the weak economy and the dangerous situation in Iraq.

"This was an attempt by the White House to rally support at a very dark time," Durbin said.