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Bush holds open house, eager to get to work

Bush holds open house, eager to get to work

President George W. Bush threw open the White House to the public on Sunday, saying he slept "pretty well" on his first night and looked forward to getting down to work on his top priority of education reform.

Bush and his wife Laura greeted dozens of citizens from around the country and accompanied some of them on a tour of the 132-room mansion on a clear, cold day with Washington dusted white by an overnight snowfall.

The newly inaugurated president said he had not done much work on Sunday but was eager to get going, with his $47.6 billion education plan to hold failing schools accountable, give local officials more control and teach all children to read by the third grade at the top of his list.

Asked how his first night at the White House had gone, Bush was low key and joked about being tired out from his reluctant dancing at Saturday night's nine inaugural balls: "It was OK. I mean, I'm exhausted from dancing so much last night."

"It's great, you know, it's an honor," he added, saying he woke early to have coffee with his parents and spent the early part of the day greeting college friends, campaign workers and supporters. "I slept pretty well."

Bush and his wife then lined up to greet some of the 2,700 people who got tickets on a first-come, first-served basis to tour the executive mansion, which was occupied by his father, former president George Bush, from 1989 to 1993.

"It's such an honor to live here," the president said. "We want to remind everybody that this is not our house. It is the people's house."

"IGNITE THE SOUL OF AMERICA"

Surrounded by his family, Bush began the first full day of his presidency at a prayer service where he heard an appeal to "ignite the soul of America" from Franklin Graham, the son of his family's longtime spiritual adviser the Rev. Billy Graham.

In his sermon at Washington's gothic National Cathedral, Graham said despite America's prosperity there remains a "sense of hopelessness" among some people and that "we still face great social, political and spiritual problems."

If the new administration works for equal justice, peace and economic prosperity, Graham added, "you all will have the opportunity to once again ignite the soul of America."

At his inauguration on Saturday, Bush pledged to work for "a single nation of justice and opportunity" after he defeated Democratic former Vice President Al Gore in one of most contentious elections in U.S. history.

The election gave Republicans the White House and control of both Houses of Congress for the first time in 48 years.

"I am really looking forward to getting to work," Bush told reporters on Sunday, saying education reform would be the first piece of legislation he will send to the Congress and vowing to work with both parties on Capitol Hill.

For all the talk of unity, Bush planned to make his first order of business this week putting forward what one aide called "a statement of principles" about his education program, which includes the divisive issue of school vouchers.

Bush has proposed giving $1,500 vouchers to the parents of students in troubled public schools allowing them to send their children to private schools - an idea resisted by Democrats who fear it would siphon money from the public school system.

Bush's chief of staff, Andrew Card, appeared on Sunday to hint at some flexibility on vouchers, saying they were not the new president's top priority.

"Vouchers won't be the top priority of this administration, but they may be a tool that is used to help educate a child who is not getting an education in the school," Card told CNN's "Late Edition" program.

NO DISAGREEMENT ON TAXES

Meanwhile, Bush senior adviser Karl Rove tried to tamp down speculation that there was discord among the president's team on another contentious issue: Bush's plan for a 10-year, $1.3 trillion tax cut.

Bush's new Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill suggested in his Senate confirmation hearing last week that the tax cut would not necessarily give a boost to the faltering economy.

"Well, look, there's no daylight between President Bush and Secretary O'Neill on this issue," Rove told Fox News Sunday. "They're both supportive of the president's program of a bold tax cut."

Rove also assured Democrats that "all of the executive orders" issued during Bill Clinton's final days as president would get a careful review rather than just being tossed out.

"We're going to look at them in a reasonable measure, temperate way, to see which ones are good, which ones present some difficulty from a policy perspective," Rove said. "There's no rush to judgment on these. We've got time to look at them in a careful and considerate fashion, which we will."


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