WASHINGTON -- President Bush canceled plans last night for a two-week tour of the Far East under mounting economic pressure to speed the end of the recession and political pressure to demonstrate his concern about domestic issues.
Marlin Fitzwater, a White House spokesman, issued a written statement that expressed the president's regrets and cited "uncertainty over the congressional calendar" as the reason for the cancellation.
But the move seemed motivated as much by the sudden shift in political focus from Mr. Bush's achievements overseas to his problems at home and his own acknowledgment that economics and not the "new world order" is now defining the political debate for his re-election bid.
Moreover, although Mr. Fitzwater referred to the congressional calendar as a reason for the cancellation, most members of Congress have long been expecting to adjourn by Thanksgiving, Nov. 28. Mr. Bush's trip was to have started on Thanksgiving or the day before and was to have ended on Dec. 7 in Honolulu.
Mr. Fitzwater issued the statement announcing that the trip was off after it was reported earlier last night on NBC News.
The decision to cancel the trip was coupled with an announcement that Mr. Bush, who seems increasingly at a loss over how to respond to Democratic charges that he pays too much attention to foreign policy, was summoning reporters to the White House at dawn today for a statement on yesterday's elections and other domestic questions.
Immediately afterward, Mr. Bush planned to leave for Rome for a two-day conference of the leaders of NATO. Just a year ago, such a trip would have given the president a welcome platform for his diplomatic prowess. But NATO's mission to defend Europe against a Soviet threat has been virtually eliminated.
With public opinion polls showing that many Americans say Mr. Bush should travel less abroad, Democrats in Congress seized on the trip to Rome as a way of keeping the political pressure on the president as the struggle between the Republican White House and the Democratic Congress increasingly takes on the tones of a political campaign.
The Democratic National Committee distributed T-shirts lampooning Mr. Bush's globe-trotting presidency, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee issued a news release with 11 cities in the United States named Rome and the unemployment rate for each.
"With the president off to Rome, Italy, this week, a safe bet would be that he has never visited the nearly dozen Rome, U.S.A.'s, there are around this country," Representative Vic Fazio, the California Democrat who heads the campaign group, said in a written statement.
The statement went on, "Unemployed workers in Rome, Miss., where the unemployment rate stands at over 11 percent, would be better served by a president who spent his time at home finding them jobs, instead of globe-trotting for his image-makers."
Meanwhile, in the hope of avoiding the first override of a veto in his presidency, Mr. Bush sent Congress a letter late yesterdaythat he said clarified his position on abortion counseling in federally financed clinics.
But Sen. John H. Chafee, R-R.I., who has urged Mr. Bush to compromise on the counseling rule, said the letter was "regrettably unacceptable" as a way to resolve the issue.
Mr. Bush's action came on the eve of votes in the House and the Senate on appropriations measures, both of which include provisions designed to overturn the rule forbidding the mention of abortion at clinics that receive federal money.
The president's letter said that while the current rules prohibit doctors and other counselors from talking to women about abortion during counseling sessions in family planning clinics, they do not forbid doctors from giving complete medical information, including the advice to get medical care that is likely to end in abortion.