In his first State of the Union, President Bush said the war on terror is not over, and named North Korea, Iran and Iraq as members of an "axis of evil."
Bush told a joint session of Congress and a national television audience Tuesday night that fighting terror internationally is only part of the challenge. Ensuring domestic security and battling the recession are also priorities, Bush said.
But it was the war that provoked the strongest comments. "What we have found in Afghanistan confirms that — far from ending there — our war against terror is only beginning," Bush said, delivering a direct warning to nations that threaten the security of the United States.
"I will not wait on events while dangers gather," Bush said. "I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons."
Bush said terror training camps still exist in at least a dozen countries. He said documents seized from terrorist facilities in Afghanistan included diagrams of nuclear power plants and water facilities as well as surveillance information on U.S. cities and landmarks.
Singling out the capital cities of the "axis of evil" — Pyongyang, Tehran and Baghdad — Bush said "We know their true nature" despite their relative silence since Sept. 11.
He said North Korea was developing weapons of mass destruction while starving its people, that Iran was exporting terror while repressing freedom at home and Iraq "continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror," and has pursued chemical and biological weapons.
"Steadfast in our purpose, we now press on. We have known freedom's price. We have shown freedom's power. And in this great conflict, my fellow Americans, we will see freedom's victory," Bush said.
In the Democratic response, House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri thanked the military, and told the nation's enemies "We're going to hunt you down and make you pay."
Interrupted by frequent applause, the president detailed the accomplishments in the war on terror, from the end of the Taliban regime to the destruction of terrorist training camps.
Bush began his speech at about 9:15 p.m. ET, telling assembled lawmakers, administration officials, Supreme Court justices and selected guests that the state of the union "has never been stronger," despite the continued terrorist threat and economic recession.
To help prevent terror at home, Bush called for federal funding for homeland security to double, focusing on four areas: bioterrorism, emergency response, airport and border security, and improved intelligence.
"Homeland security will make America not only stronger but in many ways better. Knowledge gained from bioterrorism research will improve public health. Stronger police and fire departments will mean safer neighborhoods. Stricter border enforcement will help combat illegal drugs," Bush said.
‘One Word: Jobs’
Bush also said he intends to make job creation his top domestic priority.
"When America works, America prospers, so my economic security plan can be summed up in one word: jobs," Bush said.
Along with job creation, the president touched on welfare, education, and environmental initiatives — but offered no details on any. He is expected to announce a number of programs in the coming days, as he embarks on a campaign-style trip to promote his agenda.
Bush said the challenges facing the nation should unite both political parties.
"I am a proud member of my party," Bush said. "Yet, as we act to win the war, protect our people, and create jobs in America, we must act first and foremost not as Republicans, not as Democrats, but as Americans."
Bush called on Congress to approach domestic issues in "the same spirit of cooperation we have applied to our war on terrorism."
Embracing a New Ethic
Bush said the horrifying events of Sept. 11 forced the nation to look into a mirror, and better itself.
"We were reminded that we are citizens, with obligations to each other, to our country and to history. We began to think less of the goods we can accumulate, and more about the good we can do," he said.
"For too long our culture has said, 'If it feels good, do it.' Now America is embracing a new ethic and a new creed: 'Let's roll,'" Bush added, calling to mind the words used by Todd Beamer, a passenger who apparently led the revolt against the terrorist hijackers — ultimately bringing the plane down in rural Pennsylvania.
Officials believe hijackers intended to smash the plane into a Washington, D.C., target, perhaps the Capitol.
Bush said Americans should embrace that new ethic by committing two years — 4,000 hours over a lifetime — to public service, and launched a new umbrella organization for volunteerism, called "USA Freedom Corps." The program would incorporate the existing AmeriCorps and Senior Corps programs.
Bush did not mention Enron, the giant energy trading company that holds the dubious honor of being the largest bankruptcy in American corporate history. Enron has been a big political contributor to Bush as well as to most members of Congress from both parties.
But the president did say Washington needs to protect 401(k)s and pension plans of American workers. Many of Enron's workers lost their retirement savings when the company declared bankruptcy.
"Employees who have worked hard and saved all their lives should not have to risk losing everything if their company fails," Bush said, adding that stricter accounting standards were also needed to help keep corporate America more accountable. Enron's auditor, Arthur Andersen, is under scrutiny for shredding a number of documents.
In his response, Gephardt echoed the president's call to cast aside partisanship to solve the nation's problems, and did mention Enron by name. He emphasized the need for a universal pension program to protect employees from another Enron-type failure.
Gephardt proposed an "economic growth summit" at the White House next month for leaders of both parties to discuss the creation of jobs and simplification of the tax code.
Karzai, Hoffa in Audience
The address lasted 48 minutes, with numerous breaks for applause and ovations.
Among the honored guests attending the speech were Afghan interim Prime Minister Hamid Karzai and Teamsters President James P. Hoffa. Hoffa's union supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a component of Bush's energy plan.
Bush also thanked the flight attendants who helped thwart would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid.
Framed by the events of Sept. 11, expectations ran high for a strong performance by the president. This was his third speech to Congress — and his first State of the Union address.