After exchanging bitter gibes, Bush and House Democratic leader try to reconcile

Thursday, November 9th 2006, 8:43 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ He mocked her as ``a secret admirer'' of tax cuts and an opponent of measures crucial to keeping Americans safe, warning that ``terrorists win and America loses'' if her Democrats prevailed on Election Day.

She called him dangerous and in denial, an ``emperor with no clothes'' who has misled the country about Iraq and presided over an economy that still fails many.

Now, President Bush and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are making nice.

Within hours of an election that puts Democrats in charge of the House and the Senate for the final two years of Bush's presidency, the president and the woman all but certain to be House speaker proclaimed reconciliation.

It started with what both described as a gracious phone call early Wednesday and, at Bush's invitation, continues over lunch on Thursday.

What's on the menu? ``For the president, it's probably a little bit of crow,'' presidential counselor Dan Bartlett told CBS' ``Early Show'' Thursday.

Before lunching with Pelosi, the president was having breakfast with House and Senate Republican leaders and meeting with his Cabinet.

Bush and Pelosi pledged to find common ground in a turned-upside-down Washington.

``The people have spoken, and now it's time for us to move on,'' Bush told reporters in the East Room on Wednesday.

Said Pelosi in her own news conference at the Capitol: ``Democrats are not about getting even. Democrats are about helping the American people to get ahead.''

This after some seriously sharp rhetoric.

Pelosi's criticism of Bush occasionally veered into the personal. ``Oblivious, in denial, dangerous,'' she said of him in early September, referring to his administration's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. The president ``is an incompetent leader _ in fact he's not a leader,'' Pelosi said in 2004, referring to his Iraq policies.

```Stay the course' is not a strategy, it's a slogan, and we need more than that,'' she said in June in a jab at how Bush once described his approach to the war.

Bush rarely referred to Pelosi by name. But in speeches during the campaign he made ``the person who wants to be speaker of the House'' _ an idea that had him once snapping that ``that's not going to happen'' to an interviewer _ the poster child for all he saw wrong with Democrats.

Noting that she voted against renewing the USA Patriot Act, creating a Homeland Security Department, authorizing a warrantless wiretapping program and questioning terrorists in the way he had proposed, the president said, ``Given the record of Democrats on our nation's security, I understand why they want to change the subject.''

Because of Democratic calls for an Iraq exit strategy, Bush accused them of believing ``the best way to protect the American people is wait until we're attacked again.''

Wednesday, the president dismissed the bitter language as nothing more than campaign-trail heat.

``I understand when campaigns end, and I know when governing begins,'' he said.

Both sides have much at stake.

The last two years of a presidency are difficult times for any Oval Office occupant. In the twilight of power, they must fight lame-duck status to get anything done.

But Bush is heading into that perilous period after an Election Day that pried his party's grip from Capitol Hill, in voting widely seen as a rebuke of him and his leadership, particularly on Iraq.

That makes his domestic wish list _ such as adding private accounts to Social Security and permanently extending all tax cuts passed during his administration _ not much more than a fantasy, especially for a president who largely has ignored the same Democrats who now will control the legislative agenda.

Add to that the prospect of Democratic investigations into missteps in the war, treatment of terrorism detainees and Bush's expansion of executive power, and his next two years could be a headache.

Democrats, too, have much to lose. If seen as unproductive or too obstructionist, they risk losing their majority _ a very slim one in the Senate _ in two years. How they govern also could impact the party's chances in the wide-open race for the White House in 2008.

Hence all the happy talk about bipartisanship.

Pelosi, for instance, put any suggestion of impeachment proceedings against Bush ``off the table.'' She welcomed the president's move to capitulate to critics and accept the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

Bush promised ``a lot of meetings with Democrats and a lot of discussion with Democrats.'' He signaled readiness to consider Democratic priorities such as a federal minimum-wage increase and to find compromise on renewing the No Child Left Behind education law, overhauling immigration policy and overhauling budget-busting entitlement programs.

Asked why his pledge of bipartisanship should be believed when so many others have been broken, he said simply: ``Do it. That's how you do it.''

Yet the two sides remain bitterly divided over Iraq.

```Full speed ahead' _ I don't think so,'' Pelosi said on CNN, mocking Vice President Dick Cheney's contention that the administration would continue its war strategy unbowed.

Bush countered that leaving Iraq before the mission is complete is a nonstarter. ``If the goal is success, then we can work together. If the goal is, get out now regardless, then that's going to be hard to work together,'' he said.

Pelosi also said Democrats will pursue an agenda that has been resisted by Bush, including cutting student loan interest rates, funding embryonic stem cell research, authorizing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare patients and imposing a national cap on industrial carbon dioxide emissions.

Bush indicated his patience with compromise would go only so far. He said he wanted to move ahead with strengthening presidential powers, an area where Democrats think Bush already has stretched too far.

``She's not going to abandon her principles and I'm not going to abandon mine,'' he said.