WASHINGTON -- President Bush said Wednesday that he intends to finish his presidency with his ''head held high'' and expects to hand the keys to the White House to John McCain, the GOP nominee-in-waiting.
''I'm optimistic about this year because I know John McCain. I've know him for many years. I've seen his character and leadership up close,'' Bush said at a fundraiser for the National Republican Congressional Committee. ''I've campaigned with him and I've campaigned against him and I can tell you this: He's a tough competitor.''
Bush said McCain is running on a ''clear, consistent and conservative agenda'' _ a nudge to the GOP's conservative base, which has long viewed McCain skeptically for working with Democrats on issues it detests.
''He's ready to lead this country,'' Bush said. ''I'm proud to be his friend. I'm proud to be his supporter, and on Inauguration Day, I'll be proud to say to John McCain, 'Congratulations, Mr. President.'''
About 2,000 people, including members of the Republican House leadership and Republican conference, attended the dinner, which raised $8.6 million to help Republican House candidates win in the fall. A nod to the fact that Congress is controlled by Democrats, a patriotic backdrop in the ballroom of the Washington hotel read, ''Earning Back the Majority.''
Bush urged members of the National Republican Congressional Committee to redouble efforts to re-elect Republicans in November. All members of the House are up for re-election, as well as one-third of the Senate. Republicans in the Senate must defend nearly twice as many seats in next year's elections as Democrats. And the challenge is a steep climb for Republicans because a number of GOP lawmakers in the House and Senate are retiring.
The president said the biggest issue in the races would be taxation. He said Republicans in Congress need to battle efforts to let the tax cuts he orchestrated expire, a move he said would equate to a tax increase.
''Milk expires. Taxes increase,'' he said.
The president said he was excited by this year's election and predicted that McCain, as president, would be the keynote speaker at the dinner in 2009. Reflecting on his dwindling months in office, Bush said, ''I intend to finish with my head held high.''
After dinner, Bush stopped at the residence of the ambassador of Kuwait to attend a dinner recognizing the partnership between the Kuwait-America Foundation and Malaria No More, which is committed to the fight against the deadly disease.
The foundation, established in 1991 in Washington, is a charitable organization inspired by Kuwait's liberation by allied coalition forces in the Gulf War. The group focuses its resources on education, cultural exchange and programs for youth and disadvantaged persons.
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