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Democrats Plotting for Bush Visit

As the Democratic Caucus prepares to meet privately with President Bush at its annual retreat next week, the question of how sharply to engage the chief executive remains under discussion, House leaders said Tuesday.

According to Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), the new House majority will be allowed five questions when Bush meets with lawmakers Feb. 3 at their annual retreat in Williamsburg, Va. The president, who last attended a Democratic retreat in 2001, is expected to address the Caucus before the question-and-answer session.

Emanuel said Wednesday that leadership had not yet determined whether Members will be pre-selected to raise specific issues, and if so which lawmakers would be involved.

Caucus Vice Chairman John Larson (Conn.) added in a separate interview that discussions with the White House are ongoing over the event’s logistics, but he added that he does not expect the meeting to be an “open-mic” session with the 233 Democratic House Members.

“It’s a good olive branch in terms of our Caucus,” Larson added.

The commander in chief also is scheduled to attend the House Republican Conference retreat in Cambridge, Md., this weekend. While the GOP-sponsored event will be open to the press during Bush’s speech — although not for the slated question-and-answer session — Democrats have not determined whether they will provide the same access.

Rank-and-file Democratic lawmakers, who said House leaders had not issued guidelines to them for the event, expect Bush to address a range of issues including his most recent strategic initiative for the Iraq War, a proposal to increase the number of troops deployed to that country.

“We’re all very concerned about this war and … the president has to answer some very important questions as to what does he see as the end result of this,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.).

Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), who serves as Assistant to the Speaker, said the Caucus also would be interested in hearing from Bush on immigration, energy and education policies.

“We hope he continues to reach out,” Becerra said. “We’re probably going to try to focus on those areas where we really think we can get somewhere.”

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joe Baca (Calif.) said he has approached House leaders about the retreat and will seek to steer attention to an immigration reform plan. Baca said he also raised the issue with Bush on Tuesday evening as the president entered the House chamber.

“We want to make sure he truly supports comprehensive reform,” Baca said.

Rep. Jim Moran (Va.) said that he anticipates the president will reiterate portions of his State of the Union address but said the Caucus will demand more detailed information.

“To effect any legislative movement, he needs to be much more specific.” Moran said.

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