WASHINGTON — George W. Bush proclaimed himself ready on Friday to accept “with pride” and “with honor” the job of commander in chief. He also made plans to quickly begin pushing his agenda once he takes the oath as the nation’s 43rd president.
Even a forecast of rain turning to sleet for Saturday’s ceremonies did little to dampen Bush’s spirits as he moved buoyantly from one celebratory event to another and prepared to hit the dance floor with wife, Laura, at an evening “Black Tie and Boots” ball honoring Texans.
Aides said Bush would waste little time in beginning to exercise his presidential powers.
He may act as early as Saturday to issue an executive order to block or delay a variety of President Clinton’s executive orders and last-minute rules, transition aides said.
Among his first official acts: formally submitting the nominations of his Cabinet to the Senate.
Bush set aside much of the first week of his presidency to focus on education, including a Tuesday ceremony at the White House to submit his educational package to Congress.
For most of Friday, Bush accepted second billing – first at an event honoring American writers hosted by Laura Bush and later at a preinaugural celebration for veterans presided over by Vice President-elect Dick Cheney.
At the writers’ event, Bush said of his wife, a former librarian and school teacher: “Her love for books is real, her love for children is real and my love for her is real.”
Acknowledging his parents sitting in the front row, Bush said: “Mr. President. It’s got kind of a nice ring to it.”
Later at the salute to veterans, Cheney, who was secretary of defense during the Persian Gulf War, said that of all the duties he will assume when he is sworn in Saturday, “none is greater than preparing our military for the challenges and dangers to come.”
Bush, in brief remarks to the same group, pledged, “We will make sure our soldiers are well-paid and well-housed.”
Looking forward to Saturday’s ceremony, Bush said he was ready to “to become the commander in chief of the greatest nation. ... I accept that honor with pride, I accept that honor with purpose.”
In an early evening appearance at a youth concert with retired Gen. Colin Powell, his choice for secretary of state, Bush proclaimed that he and Powell would “work hard to make sure that the world is more peaceful. But we’re also going to work hard to make sure the great potential and promise of America reaches through every neighborhood and every state all across this great land.”
Bush also planned to get in a final round of practice on his inaugural address.
In the address, “he’s going to talk about the unity of America,” said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. While not referring to his narrow margin of victory, Bush will make a fresh appeal for unity, Fleischer said. “It’s the same speech he would be giving whether he won with a landslide or a narrow vote.”
Asked whether Bush would stay in his limousine for the inaugural parade or walk part of the route, Fleischer said, “That could depend somewhat on the weather.”
The National Weather Service’s forecast for Saturday called for a nearly 100 percent chance of precipitation. With that forecast for a wintry mix of rain, sleet and snow, inaugural officials considered moving the swearing-in ceremony inside the Capitol. But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., chairman of the congressional inaugural committee, said it seemed likely the ceremony would be held outdoors.
Aides said Bush was poised to begin signing executive orders, some of them dealing with housekeeping issues but others aimed at a rash of eleventh-hour rules and regulations issued by Clinton.
All of these Clinton orders, ranging from new environmental regulations to new guidelines for managed care programs, are under scrutiny.
Rather than trying to pick them off one at a time, Bush is likely to issue a moratorium that would block for now any new regulations from being printed in the Federal Register, advisers said.
That would essentially freeze in place the most recent of Clinton’s executive orders since most rules can’t take effect until they’ve appeared in the Federal Register for a certain period of time.
Fleischer, Bush’s spokesman, said such a moratorium “is under review and it very well may happen,” possibly as soon as Saturday. Other Bush aides cautioned against expecting any major assaults on Clinton’s policies on a day on which Bush hopes to emphasize national unity.
Then-President Ronald Reagan used a similar technique in 1981 to block scores of last-minute executive orders by his predecessor, Democrat Jimmy Carter.
When he took office in 1993, Clinton moved quickly to block several orders that Bush’s father, George Bush, had put in place in the closing days of his administration.
Some Bush advisers suggested that the younger Bush might gleefully move to reimpose some of those blocked orders — including one that would have required federal contractors to inform nonunion members of their rights, including refunds of any dues withheld from their paychecks.
Meanwhile, a new dispute flared over abortion issues after Laura Bush said Friday that while she thinks more can be done to limit the number of abortions, she does not believe the landmark Roe v. Wade pro-abortion rights ruling should be undone.
“No, I don’t think it should be overturned,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show.
Her husband has said he believes the ruling was wrong. During the campaign, he suggested he would like to see it overturned — but also indicted he would not take the lead in such an effort.
Fleischer declined to comment on Laura Bush’s remarks, saying they were her “personal views.” As for the president-elect, Fleischer said, “he’s made it clear throughout the campaign: he’s pro life.” Fleischer reiterated, as he has before, that Bush favored a number of initiatives “that can make abortion more rare.” Overturning Roe v. Wade is not on the list.