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Emanuel Strafes Bush Record

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (Ill.) took his turn in front of cameras and reporters on Wednesday to attack President Bush’s record, the first and likely the most forceful assault Democratic leaders will issue heading into next week’s State of the Union address.

Sources on both sides of the Capitol indicated that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not focus much on Bush and the remaining year of his presidency in their “pre-buttal” speeches Friday. Instead, they will deliver more forward-looking messages that strike a softer, more conciliatory tone than in recent years.

But on Wednesday, Emanuel embraced the role of attack dog and took aim directly at Bush’s tenure, asserting that the economy, Americans’ quality of life and how the country is viewed overseas have all suffered under his administration.

“Every president is judged by the country they inherit and the country they left behind,” Emanuel said. “By any measure, America is worse off today, and over the last seven years, than was the country that George Bush inherited and ran for in November of 2000.”

But that is largely not the message that Reid and Pelosi will deliver on Friday. They will get out in front of Bush’s final State of the Union address by outlining the Democrats’ ideas for the next year, while laying out a broader vision for the country that sources say will be less of a rebuke of Bush and more of a vision for the country.

Pelosi, who will focus on domestic issues, will talk about the long-term challenges facing the country and make the case for why Congress must now begin to assemble the building blocks to address those issues in the future. The working title of Pelosi’s speech is “A New Direction to Reinvigorate the American Economy and Restore Our Leadership in the World.”

Democratic sources said that neither leader will give Bush a pass for his stewardship of the country over the past seven years, but that Pelosi and Reid will strike a decidedly milder tone on both the domestic and foreign policy fronts. In keeping with that idea, the leaders are calling Friday’s speech at the National Press Club an address rather than the annual “pre-buttal” to the president’s speech.

“We won’t be bashing him,” a House Democratic leadership aide said. “It will be more about working with him for what we want to do.”

The aide said Pelosi and Reid will lay out “what we are doing and what we’ve done to make the contrast with what has gone on under the administration over the last seven years.”

Reid, for his part, has rarely kept his sentiments about Bush under wraps, especially when it comes to the war in Iraq. Less than a year ago, Reid declared the war “lost” — a remark that set off a firestorm of criticism, especially from Republican lawmakers.

But Reid too is expected to use the State of the Union as a chance to set a new tone for the final year of the 110th Congress. A Senate leadership aide said Reid will deliver a “sober assessment” of U.S. foreign policy but acknowledged, “there will be a milder tone in this year’s address.”

“We’re not going to get into a partisan fight,” the aide said. “We are going to look at where we are, how we got there and how we are going to fix it. We are neither going to sugar-coat the facts or exploit them for partisan gain.”

The Democratic leaders’ posture comes on the heels of intense bipartisan talks over how to stimulate the nation’s flagging economy, an effort they hope will translate into law within the next month. Democrats also are keenly aware of public opinion polls that show an electorate that is ever unhappy with Congress’ inability to get things done.

“The American people are frustrated and we understand that the American people are frustrated,” the Senate leadership source said. “We are going to work every day to deliver the change to the American people that they have asked for.”

Emanuel also stressed the desperation-for-change message, with a partisan bent.

“The change that people want in 2008 is a change from George Bush’s policies,” he said.

Asked why he was holding a press conference to denounce the president’s leadership at the same time Congressional leaders are trying to negotiate a bipartisan stimulus package with Bush, Emanuel said he felt confident that it wouldn’t get in the way of moving an economic program forward.

“I’d be surprised if the president of the United States would say, ‘I’m not working on the stimulus because of Rahm Emanuel’s press conference,’” he said.

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