Washington President Bush, who won the White House in a fiercely fought recount of Florida ballots, cautiously endorsed an election-reform report that seeks to make Election Day a federal holiday, restore voting rights to felons and curb the media's rush to project winners.
Bush embraced only the general principles of the 105-page study headed by former Presidents Ford and Carter. His press secretary, casting the president as a reformer, voiced support for several but not all of the panel's recommendations.
"Our democracy is really an inspiration to the world. Yet, the work of improving it is never finished," Bush said Tuesday in a Rose Garden ceremony, a beaming Carter at his side.
Neither man mentioned Carter's recent criticism of the president.
With some Democrats still questioning his tactics in the 36-day recount campaign, Bush has viewed the Carter-Ford report as an opportunity to show voters that he is committed to fair elections and reform. At the same time, senior Republicans privately fret that some of the changes would help increase turnout of traditionally Democratic voters.
Democrats questioned his commitment.
"As President Bush receives the commission's report, we hope he will finally provide real leadership and support for comprehensive election reform legislation," said Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert applauded the commission and Bush for providing Congress "commonsense principles regarding election reform."
The 19-member commission asked Congress to make Election Day a federal holiday, perhaps by combining it with Veterans Day, and to adopt legislation simplifying absentee voting from overseas. Lawyers for Bush and Democrat Al Gore had wrangled over ballots from U.S. troops stationed abroad.
Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said the panel made a good argument for the national holiday but the president wanted to consult first with veterans.
Indeed, the proposal sparked immediate protests from veterans groups and some members of Congress.
"Election Day is Election Day. Veterans Day is Veterans Day," said Rep. Chris Smith, a New Jersey Republican who chairs the House Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Privately, GOP strategists say an Election Day holiday would benefit Democrats in some states by giving union members more time to turn out voters. Bush's strategists have cited an Election Day holiday given to autoworkers in Michigan as one reason for Gore's victory in the battleground state.