Bush on Charm Offensive at Democratic Retreat

ByABC News
February 2, 2001, 12:33 PM

W A S H I N G T O N, Feb. 2 -- What is a Republican president doing meeting behind closed doors with 50 Democratic senators? It's only the latest maneuver in George W. Bush's "charm offensive."

This morning, Bush became the first president to attend a private policy retreat of the opposing party, mingling for half an hour with Senate Democrats as they gathered at the Library of Congress for their ritual strategy session.

Boy, He's Really Good

One Democratic source present at the meeting described Bush as "charming" and "funny" as he shook hands and engaged in lighthearted banter with the group. In brief remarks, Bush said he "loved" being president and was "honored" to have been elected, conceding that he did not win the contest in a landslide. He also spoke about his close friendship and working relationship as Texas governor with Bob Bullock, the late Democratic lieutenant governor.

"Boy, he's really good," the source said.

Bush struck a similarly bipartisan tone in his address to a joint GOP House and Senate retreat in Williamsburg, Va., this afternoon. The president told his fellow Republicans he was "deadly earnest" about using his position "to say to America that we'll have our disagreements, we'll fight over principle and we'll argue over detail, but we'll do so in a way that respects one another."

"It's so important for us as leaders to understand that the way the process is conducted can send a good or bad tone for America," Bush said.

Just a day earlier, 42 of the attendees of the Democratic get-together had delivered what one senator called "a shot across the bow" of the new administration by voting against the president's nominee for attorney general, conservative former Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo.

But only hours after the Senate voted to confirm Ashcroft, capping weeks of bitterly partisan debate over his nomination, Bush had Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. the keeper of the liberal flame and Ashcroft's most vocal critic over to the White House for dinner and a screening of Thirteen Days, the film adaptation of the late Robert F. Kennedy's book chronicling the Cuban missile crisis.