Nevada lawmakers offer differing views of Bush speech

WASHINGTON -- To the Democrats in Nevada's congressional delegation, President Bush laid out a weak case Tuesday for fixing the ailing U.S. economy, but made a somewhat stronger effort on dealing with Iraq.

Nevada's Republicans, including those in the state capital, not surprisingly gave uniformly positive reviews to Bush's speech.

Sen. Harry Reid, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, said Bush's annual message to Congress lacked specificity on the domestic front.

"It didn't mention a single thing as far as creating jobs," Reid said. "He didn't mention the tremendous burden we have with deficits."

Rep. Shelley Berkley said the president failed his own rhetoric when he talked about not passing on current problems to future generations.

"I'm afraid his economic proposal does exactly that," Berkley said.

Yet on Iraq, Reid said, Bush spoke forcefully about the prospect of war. The senator urged the administration to make a public presentation of the U.S. case against Saddam when Secretary of State Colin Powell goes to the United Nations on Feb. 5.

Sen. John Ensign praised the president's "serious, somber tone."

"Normally, it's a rah-rah, almost a football game type of speech. Not tonight and that was right to prepare a country most likely going to war," Ensign said.

The president's call for medical liability reform also resonated in Nevada, Ensign said.

"That's very important in terms of making health care more affordable," he said.

Reid, however, noted that the issue is more complicated than "beating up on the lawyers."

Rep. Jim Gibbons, who serves on the House intelligence committee, said Bush effectively outlined the threat posed by Iraq.

"He talked about Saddam Hussein's reckless and historically evil leadership in Iraq," Gibbons said. "He talked about Iraq's possession of chemical and biological weapons that could wipe away entire populations. And he talked about how America and the world can't ignore this problem."

Gibbons said he was not surprised that Bush, who trumpeted the apprehension or deaths of senior al Qaida leaders, did not mention Osama bin Laden, who apparently remains alive and at large.

"He is not the principal focus of this war," Gibbons said. "Our war is against terrorism."

Reid, on the other hand, said he was struck by the absence of bin Laden, "the man who started all this."

Newly elected Rep. Jon Porter, watching his first State of the Union in person, could offer nothing but praise for Bush.

"It was a powerful, powerful presentation, the freshman congressman said. "The president showed decisive leadership at a time we needed it most."

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn said the president covered a gamut of issues in an impressive way.

"He was very clear on what he wants to do with the economy, with education and job creation, and ... other areas that are so important to us, such as the rising cost of health care," the Republican governor said.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Raggio, R-Reno, said Bush delivered a strong speech.

"Some of those concepts were extremely important, and his case for tax relief is emphatic," Raggio said. "If people want to ignore that, they just don't understand the economy."

"I think he met the challenge," Raggio said. "I thought he built a lot of confidence, restored confidence that had been waning, and his details of the breaches by Saddam were very effective."

Guinn said a war against Iraq would have an impact on Nevada, which depends so heavily on tourists who might curtail their spending.

"It would certainly mean sacrifices for a state like Nevada," he said.

"I almost felt as if he was preparing me to be prepared for what's going to happen in the very near future if Iraq doesn't disarm," Guinn said. ------

Associated Press Writer Brendan Riley contributed to this report.


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