WASHINGTON -- President Bush will address the NAACP's national convention tomorrow for the first time since he took office, the White House announced yesterday.
Bush's decision to speak to the Baltimore-based group's annual meeting - a tradition for presidents that he has eschewed amid his tense relations with the civil rights organization - came as his party is working to boost its appeal to African-Americans in an election year.
It follows a bitter internal fight among congressional Republicans over re-authorizing the Voting Rights Act. Bush supports the measure, but some Republicans from southern states have balked at parts of it - a stance that party strategists worry will further alienate black voters.
Bush sees "a moment of opportunity," given his "good relations" with NAACP President Bruce S. Gordon, to address the group, said Tony Snow, the White House spokesman.
The president "has an important role to play not only in making the case for civil rights, but maybe more importantly, the case for unity. Because as long as we have a nation that, in any way, is divided along racial lines, or where politics become a source of division rather than one of simple debate and trying to perfect the democracy, that's a problem," Snow said.
Tension between Bush and the NAACP began during his first campaign and continued in 2004, when he told Pennsylvania newspapers his relationship with the group's leaders was "basically nonexistent" and complained about "the rhetoric and the names they've called me."