Bush: Trust McCain's judgment

When voters "look closely at the judgment, the experience, and the policies of the candidates," they will choose John McCain for the White House, President Bush told the Republican National Convention on Tuesday.

Bush, in a short speech via a live video feed from the White House, saluted McCain's "independence and character" and said the soon-to-be Republican presidential nominee had the "kind of courage and vision we need in our next commander-in-chief."

The address was not the going-away salute Republicans had in mind for Bush, whose second term ends in January. He had been scheduled to speak in person at the convention's opening night Monday, but Hurricane Gustav's strike on the Gulf Coast caused the party to curtail most of Monday's session. Bush and Vice President Cheney canceled their scheduled appearances; the president is scheduled to travel to the affected area Wednesday.

Tuesday's session, while lower-key in tone than originally planned, looked and felt more like a party convention than Monday's short, somber session.

"We live in a dangerous world, and we need a president who understands the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001 — that to protect America, we must stay on the offense, stop attacks before they happen, and not wait to be hit again. The man we need is John McCain," Bush said.

He saluted McCain's stance on the Gulf War — particularly the buildup of U.S. troops over parts of the last two years to help stabilize Iraq.

"In the face of calls for retreat, I ordered a surge of forces into Iraq," Bush said. "Many in Congress said it had no chance of working. Yet one senator above all had faith in our troops and the importance of their mission, and that was John McCain."

"Some told him that his early and consistent call for more troops would put his presidential campaign at risk. He told them he would rather lose an election than see his country lose a war," Bush said.

He also offered some strongly partisan praise.

"If the Hanoi Hilton could not break John McCain's resolve to do what is best for his country, you can be assured the angry Left never will," Bush said, in references to McCain's years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Bush was introduced by his wife, Laura, who said the president was "using his influence to lift up lives around the world" and "had kept the American people safe."

The speeches from Bush and other Republican leaders came as Republicans continue to scramble to readjust their nominating party in the wake of Gustav. McCain campaign manager Rick Davis told reporters Tuesday morning that recovery from Gustav, a Category 2 hurricane, has become a "central theme" in the convention and raising money to assist those hurt by the storm will continue.

Much of Tuesday's session is focused on public service. Typical of the addresses was a speech from Shanna Hanson, a captain in the Minneapolis Fire Department, who talked about the public reaction to the collapse of a major highway bridge in the city more than a year ago.

There were tense moments outside the arena. At least three people were arrested in downtown St. Paul after a long march to protest homelessness, and police used flash grenades and smoke bombs to disperse the crowd.

Davis said vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will deliver her speech to delegates later week despite the "swirling" reports surrounding her. The vice presidential pick usually speaks on Wednesday, the third day of the convention.

Palin and her husband, Todd, disclosed on Monday that their 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is pregnant and will marry the father of her child. The disclosure has sparked questions about the vetting process used to select the Alaska governor as McCain's running mate.

"The vetting process was completely thorough and I'm grateful for the results," McCain told reporters in Philadelphia Tuesday morning.

Later in the day at a firehouse in suburban Cleveland, McCain said: "I just want to repeat again how excited I am to have Sarah Palin, the great Governor of Alaska, as my running mate. America's excited and they're going to be even more excited once they see her tomorrow night. I'm very, very proud of the impression she's made on all of America and looking forward to serving with her."

Davis did not say whether Palin would address some of the questions surrounding her tenure as Alaska governor, including her role in dismissing the state's public safety commissioner. The Alaska Legislature disclosed Monday that a private lawyer was hired to represent Palin in a state investigation on the matter.

"It's a chance for her to actually get out and tell her story," Davis said.

House Minority Leader John Boehner told USA TODAY Tuesday that Palin was a "marvelous" pick who shares McCain's willingness to buck the GOP establishment. He called her the "lady next door" who can help secure the middle-class, hard-working, independent-thinking voters whose support Democratic nominee Barack Obama struggled to get in his party's primary race.

"When you look at the voters that Hillary (Rodham) Clinton had in her contest with Barack Obama, the ones that Obama can't quite get his arms around, she can," Boehner said. "That's why she's on the ticket."

After Bush delivers his speech, the headliners for the day will be Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Tennessee senator Fred Thompson.

Lieberman, the Connecticut senator who was Democrat Al Gore's running mate in 2000 and is now an independent, is scheduled to give a speech Tuesday night titled "The Original Maverick: John McCain." Lieberman is a frequent traveling companion of McCain, and endorsed the Arizona senator last year.

"I'm here to support John McCain because country matters more than party. I'm here tonight because John McCain is the best choice to bring our country together and lead our country forward. I'm here because John McCain?s whole life testifies to a great truth: being a Democrat or a Republican is important, but it is not more important than being an American," Lieberman will say, according to an advance text of his speech.

Thompson, an actor and former rival of McCain in the GOP primaries, will give a speech focusing on the "courage and service" of McCain. Thompson is best known to TV viewers as District Attorney Arthur Branch from Law & Order.

"My role is to help remind you of the man behind the vision, because tonight our country is calling to all of us to step up, stand up, and put country first with John McCain. Tonight we are being called upon to do what is right for our country," Thompson said.

Davis said GOP officials had been meeting since 5 a.m. Tuesday to determine whether the situation in New Orleans had improved enough to get their convention back on a regular track. He said after consulting with FEMA and monitoring reports from the city, they determined that the convention could return to normal.

"Obviously, we lost a lot of opportunities to communicate some messages last night," Davis said.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani was scheduled to deliver the keynote address Tuesday, but his speech will now be pushed back in the week, possibly to Wednesday, Davis said. Giuliani is also a former McCain rival for the GOP nomination, but dropped out after a poor showing in the Florida primary. Giuliani, who was leading national polls for the nomination for much of 2007, never won a state or a delegate.

Contributing: David Jackson; Associated Press.