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Bush reportedly ready to end NAACP boycott

WASHINGTON -- President Bush is apparently ready to end his boycott of the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the United States, with a possible speech Thursday before the group's national convention.

Bush's appearance at the Washington gathering would underscore the GOP's continued efforts to recruit black voters. It would also come as some congressional Republicans have voiced divisions over renewing Civil Rights-era voter protection laws -- and almost a year after his administration was criticized for failing to aid the largely black residents of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.

Negotiations, which have been under way for days, have involved the NAACP's president, Bruce S. Gordon, who has pursued warmer relations with Bush, and White House aides, including his top political strategist, Karl Rove.

By yesterday, it seemed appeared that Bush would attend, although the White House had not confirmed it with the group. The talks end tomorrow.

``We would welcome him," said John White, an NAACP spokesman.

It would also be a signal that he values the importance of black voters, ``since we represent about 300,000 people," White added. ``And the Republicans said they're interested in our votes."

Bush addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People as a candidate in 2000, promising that civil rights enforcement would be a ``cornerstone" of his presidency.

But Bush rejected invitations to each of the NAACP conventions since he took office, becoming the first president in decades to not address the organization.

Aides blamed Bush's absence on searing attacks by the group's longtime chairman, Julian Bond, whose speech attacking the president in 2004 sparked a federal inquiry into whether it had violated tax laws requiring nonprofits to refrain from politics.

Bond continued his rhetorical assaults Sunday in his address opening this year's convention, assailing the Iraq war and conservatives' opposition to certain parts of the Voting Rights Act. But noting the location of the 2006 event, Bond added, ``This year the convention has come to the president -- and the president, we hope, is coming to it."

The Voting Rights Act offers common ground for Bush and the NAACP. The president has lobbied Congress to renew the law, and White House aides tried to persuade conservatives to drop their opposition. The aides hope that Bush can use an appearance before the convention to talk up his party's votes -- last week in the House and potentially this week in the Senate -- to renew the law for another 25 years.

Gordon, a former executive with Verizon Communications, has taken a conciliatory approach to relations with the White House.

While Bush has avoided the potential confrontation of an NAACP speech, he has not shied away from some hostile audiences. In February, he sat on stage for the funeral of Coretta Scott King -- even as much of the service turned into an attack on GOP policies.

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