Bush and House Democratic leader Pelosi try to reconcile

He mocked her as "a secret admirer" of tax cuts; she called him dangerous and in denial, an "emperor with no clothes."

pelosi 88 (photo credit: AP)
pelosi 88
(photo credit: AP)
He mocked her as "a secret admirer" of tax cuts and an opponent of measures crucial to keeping Americans safe, warning that "terrorists win and America loses" if her Democrats prevailed on Election Day. She called him dangerous and in denial, an "emperor with no clothes" who has misled the country about Iraq and presided over an economy that still fails many. Now, President George W. Bush and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are making nice. Within hours of an election that puts Democrats in charge of the House of Representatives and the Senate for the final two years of Bush's presidency, the president and the woman all but certain to be House speaker proclaimed reconciliation. It started with what both described as a gracious phone call early Wednesday and, at Bush's invitation, continues over lunch on Thursday. What's on the menu? "For the president, it's probably a little bit of crow," presidential counselor Dan Bartlett told CBS' "Early Show" Thursday. Before that, the president was having breakfast with House and Senate Republican leaders and meeting with his Cabinet. Bush and Pelosi pledged to find common ground in a turned-upside-down Washington. "The people have spoken, and now it's time for us to move on," Bush told reporters in the East Room on Wednesday. Pelosi, in her own news conference at the Capitol, said: "Democrats are not about getting even. Democrats are about helping the American people to get ahead." This after some seriously sharp rhetoric. Pelosi's criticism of Bush occasionally veered into the personal. "Oblivious, in denial, dangerous," she said of him in early September, referring to his administration's bungled response to Hurricane Katrina. The president "is an incompetent leader _ in fact he's not a leader," Pelosi said in 2004, referring to his Iraq policies. "'Stay the course' is not a strategy, it's a slogan, and we need more than that," she said in June in a jab at how Bush once described his approach to the war. Bush rarely referred to Pelosi by name. But in speeches during the campaign he made "the person who wants to be speaker of the House" the poster child for all he saw wrong with Democrats. Noting that she voted against renewing the anti-terrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act, creating a Homeland Security Department, authorizing a warrantless wiretapping program and questioning terrorists in the way he had proposed, the president said, "Given the record of Democrats on our nation's security, I understand why they want to change the subject." Because of Democratic calls for an Iraq exit strategy, Bush accused them of believing "the best way to protect the American people is wait until we're attacked again." Wednesday, the president dismissed the bitter language as nothing more than campaign-trail heat. "I understand when campaigns end, and I know when governing begins," he said. Both sides have much at stake. The last two years of a presidency are difficult times for any Oval Office occupant. In the twilight of power, they must fight lame-duck status to get anything done. But Bush is heading into that perilous period after an election that pried his party's grip from Capitol Hill, in voting widely seen as a rebuke of him and his leadership, particularly on Iraq. That makes his domestic wish list, such as permanently extending all tax cuts passed during his administration, not much more than a fantasy. Add to that the prospect of Democratic investigations into missteps in the war, treatment of terrorism detainees and Bush's expansion of executive power, and his next two years could be a headache. Democrats, too, have much to lose. If seen as unproductive or too obstructionist, they risk losing their majority - a very slim one in the Senate - in two years. How they govern also could impact the party's chances in the wide-open race for the White House in 2008.