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HOUSE, SENATE UNITED IN APPROVAL

President Bush's speech to a joint meeting of the House and Senate was greeted with roars of bipartisan approval in the packed House chamber.

Democrats chose to scrap the official minority rebuttal, a shopworn staple of such presidential addresses.

Instead, Bush basked in the adulatory harmony of Senate Majority Leader Thomas A. Daschle, D-S.D., and Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss.

"Tonight the president asked for our unity. He asked for our support. He asked for our patience. We want President Bush to know, we want the world to know, that he can depend on us. We will take up the president's initiatives with speed," Daschle said.

"No one who heard the president this evening can doubt our resolve, and no one in the ranks of terror should doubt our ability to follow through," Lott said.

Both sides of the aisle rated the speech a success.

"It was a 10," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. "He put forward a battle plan, he inspired Americans, he brought us all together."

Republicans were ecstatic. "Tonight, George W. Bush gave the speech of his life and maybe the greatest speech ever given by any president," said Sen. John Warner, R-Va.

The enormity of the task ahead prompted a few notes of caution.

"The terms of resolve -- his language -- I'm not particularly comfortable with, but it probably resonated with the American people," said Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "He has to succeed. His success is our success."

Daschle emphasized today that no budget issue is more important.

Asked on CBS' "The Early Show" if he is prepared to spend the entire Social Security surplus to battle terrorism, Daschle replied, "We have to put our nation's security before we put any other questions to the Congress or to the American people."

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., also praised Bush's leadership in bringing together the American people.

"In the last nine days, we've seen America come together in an unprecedented way to help each other through this time of difficulty," he said. "Tonight, President Bush brought Americans together again, uniting them in a common goal to eradicate terrorism from this Earth and to make America a more secure place to live."

Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., described the speech as "exactly what the nation needed: a message of determination and hope, of strength and compassion."

"Congress and the nation will respond effectively to defeat the terrorists, and we will do so in a way that preserves our ideals and protects the fundamental rights and liberties of the American people," he added.

"I thought the speech was stirring. The president really rose to the occasion," said Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, D-Conn.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., expressed hope that the specific, non-negotiable demands Bush laid out can be met.

"I certainly hope it's a description of what not only is being demanded, but what is likely to happen," she said.

Bush set a staggeringly high bar by which to judge him, including the threat to topple the Taliban if it does not hand over Osama bin Laden and his network.

By specifically citing those who must be brought to heel, and saying that he would not rest until every terrorist of global reach was caught, he left himself little wiggle room in assessing his performance.

"He gave a magnificent speech, united the nation and made a real emotional connection. But he has also made clear how he should be judged," said Meryl Black, an Emory University political scientist.

"It was the best speech of his presidency," concurred Ross Baker, a Rutgers University political scientist. "He laid out an agenda for the rest of his presidency. This is now the background against which all of the other political pageants will play."

Bush never had sounded so confident, with nary an awkward physical movement or verbal miscue of the sort that can mark his public oratory. Bush was clearly in sync with this most public of forums, a joint session of Congress, as he rhetorically rallied a nation blindsided after a decade of historic prosperity.

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