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Bush vows to keep fighting, despite congressional resistance

WASHINGTON—Alternating between confidence and frustration, President Bush Tuesday acknowledged that his Social Security plan and other top agenda items are moving slowly, but vowed to fight for them and insisted that his presidency isn't inching toward lame duck status.

During a nearly hourlong White House news conference, Bush also dismissed a human rights group's criticism of America's treatment of detainees in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

"I'm aware of the Amnesty International report and it's absurd—it's an absurd allegation," the president said of Amnesty secretary general Irene Khan's suggestion that the Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba is "the gulag of our times," a reference to the Soviet Union's prison camps for political dissidents.

"It seemed to me they based some of their decisions on the word of—and the allegations—by people who were held in detention, people who hate America, people that had been trained in some instances to disassemble—that means not tell the truth," Bush said.

"What is `absurd' is President Bush's attempt to deny the policies of his administration, which has detained individuals without charge or trial in prisons at Guantanamo Bay, Bagram Air Base and other locations," responded William F. Schulz, the executive director of Amnesty International, in a statement. "What is absurd and indeed outrageous is the Bush administration's failure to undertake a full independent investigation."

The president also sought to counter doubts about progress in Iraq, where more than 760 people have been killed since a new government was announced in April and 77 American service members have died in May.

Bush said the fledgling Iraqi government is "plenty capable of dealing with" insurgents, whom he called "a group of frustrated and desperate people who kill innocent life."

"I'm pleased with the progress," Bush said. "I am pleased that in less than a year's time, there's a democratically elected government in Iraq; there are thousands of Iraqi soldiers trained and better equipped to fight for their country; that our strategy is very clear in that we will work to get them ready to fight, and when they're ready, we'll come home."

The president also accused Senate Democrats of stalling on his nomination of John Bolton to become United Nations ambassador and said his administration wouldn't turn over documents they've requested concerning Bolton.

"I view it as another stall tactic, another way to delay, another way to not allow Bolton to get an up or down vote," Bush said. "Just give him a simple up or down vote."

Standing in the sunshine of the Rose Garden, Bush spent most of the news conference avoiding the word "stalled" when it came to his major proposals—from Social Security to the Central American and Dominican Republic free trade agreement—that are meeting strong resistance in a Republican-controlled Congress.

He said what's happening is more an expected "push back" from a Congress that's weighing the political impact of some of his proposals than an assessment of the power of his presidency.

He urged lawmakers to finish work on an energy bill and have it on his desk before the August recess. The president, scheduled to address the Organization of American States in Florida next week, repeated his call for Congress to ratify the Central American free trade treaty soon.

Asked whether he was worried that his presidency was losing steam, Bush shot back: "I don't worry about anything here in Washington, D.C. I feel comfortable in my role as the president, and my role as the president is to push for reform."

Bush spoke Tuesday as his approval ratings in polls have dropped to the low-to-mid 40 percent range, the lowest of his presidency.

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A transcript of the president's press conference is available at:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/05/20050531.html

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTOS (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): BUSH

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