WASHINGTON - The extraordinary aura of bipartisan cooperation that settled on the Capitol immediately after the nation came under attack was on full display last night when President Bush appeared before Congress to outline his plans for striking back.
Gone were the groans, the boos, and the pointed silences that have often greeted presidents when they outline their proposals before the assembled lawmakers.
Instead, the assembled lawmakers, Supreme Court justices and diplomats sat arrayed before Bush in rapt silence - except when they were leaping to their feet in thunderous applause.
"They say sometimes people grow into a job, I think Bush took a giant step tonight toward really becoming the president, and that's saying a lot coming from me," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat and not previously a Bush fan. "People sitting around me, and they were all Democrats, say he hit the ball out of the park."
Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich, a Baltimore County Republican, exclaimed simply: "Wow. Wow. Wow. Wow. It was definitional. It was preparatory. It was compassionate, and it was tough. He made clear we've got a challenge that we've got to meet."
Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives praised the president for both his tone and his message, with many saying they particularly appreciated his efforts to distinguish the terrorists from Muslims and Arabs in this country and throughout the world who would never condone their actions.
"That came across as really heartfelt," Rep. Steny H. Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said of Bush's pleas to Americans not to take out their anger at the attacks on New York and the Pentagon on innocent Arab-Americans. "I'm sure he feels very strongly about that."
In contrast to the carefully staged appearances presidents typically make when they present their annual State of the Union addresses, Bush spoke last night in an atmosphere of great tension, uncertainty and unease.
Like many of their constituents, the lawmakers were eager to be comforted by a commander-in-chief who seemed to have a clear vision of how to respond to a disaster that may not yet have been revealed in its full proportions.
"It's like we've gone through the looking glass," said Rep. Peter A. DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat. "Everything is backwards. But I think the president did what we needed him to do."
Eastern Shore Republican Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest called Bush's speech "magnificent." He said his favorite part was that it "offered Americans solace for their hurt and it left no doubt whatsoever of what our goals are."
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Washington, D. C., Democrat, said she believed the president was clearly trying to prepare the nation for an imminent military attack.
"This was obviously aimed for internal consumption," she said. "This is not the sort of diplomatic language that [Secretary of State] Colin Powell is using in his talks with other countries.
Democratic leaders were so determined to strike a note of unity they didn't even make use of the opportunity granted by television networks to the opposition party to deliver a brief rebuttal.
"We want America to speak with one voice tonight and we want enemies and the whole world and all of our citizens to know that America speaks tonight with one voice," said House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt, who is sometimes mentioned as a potential challenger to Bush's re-election.
Of the president's still-sketchy plans for a military response, the Democratic leader said: "We have faith in him and his colleagues in the executive branch to do this in the right way."
In another sharp deviation from tradition, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and his counterpart, Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott, appeared together after the president's address to respond jointly.
"Tonight there is no opposition party," Lott said. "We stand here united, not as Republicans and Democrats, not as Southerners or Westerners or Midwesterners or Easterners, but as Americans. I guess there those in the world that thought this would pull us apart."
Said Daschle: "We want President Bush to know - we want the world to know - that he can depend on us."
Despite the cooperative tone that many in the once-bitterly divided Congress continue to marvel at, the lawmakers are not going to give Bush everything he wants.
Of particular concern are proposals to expand the government's wiretapping authority and give authorities new access to private information such as credit card numbers, tax returns and school records.
"We cannot, and must not, allow our constitutional freedoms to become victims of these violent attacks," said Rep. Bob Barr, a conservative Georgia