WASHINGTON - With a campaign of high-profile national security events set for the next three days, following Karl Rove's blistering speech to Republicans on Friday, the White House has effectively declared that it views its controversial secret surveillance program not as a political liability but as an asset, a way to attack Democrats and re-establish President Bush's standing after a difficult year.
Whether the White House can succeed depends very much, members of both parties say, on its success in framing a complicated debate when the country is torn between its historic aversion to governmental intrusion and its recent fear of terrorist attacks at home.
Polls suggest that Americans are divided over whether Mr. Bush, left, has the authority to order the searches without warrants that critics say violate the law and that the president says are legal and critical to the nation's security.
But as the White House and Democrats are well aware, the issue can draw very different reactions depending on how it is presented. These next few days could prove critical, as both Mr. Bush and Congressional Democrats move aggressively to define what is at stake.