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Obama heading to Texas for Bush museum dedication, fundraising

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks next to Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thaniat (not pictured) in the Oval Office of the White Hou
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks next to Qatar Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thaniat (not pictured) in the Oval Office of the White Hou

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama is headed to Texas to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with former President George W. Bush in what could serve as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggle against terrorism in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Obama is due to attend the dedication on Thursday of Bush's presidential library at Southern Methodist University, along with former presidents Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter and hundreds of Bush administration alumni.

While Democrat Obama and Republican Bush have deep political differences, they share a common belief that the United States must defend itself against violent extremism.

The September 11 attacks defined Bush's eight years in the White House and last week's Boston Marathon bombing handed Obama another challenge to homeland security.

"They failed because, as Americans, we refused to be terrorized," Obama said last week, referring to those who set off bombs near the marathon finish line. "They failed because we will not waver from the character and the compassion and the values that define us as a country."

Bush used similar language to rally Americans.

Certain issues require a common response regardless of political party, said David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Center at the University of Southern Illinois.

"They may get to the office as a conservative or a liberal but there are real forces that move them to the pragmatic center on a variety of issues and national security is one of them," Simon said.

Obama is expected to begin his trip by headlining a $10,000-a-plate fundraising dinner on Wednesday evening for the Democratic National Committee at the Dallas home of major Democratic donor Naomi Aberly.

Obama has hosted a number of such fundraisers to help raise money for his party in the hope that Democrats can wrestle control of the House of Representatives from Republicans and add to the Democrats' Senate majority in 2014 midterm elections.

Without adding Democratic seats, Obama may find it difficult to overcome Republican opposition to many of the priorities of his second term, such as closing tax loopholes enjoyed mostly by the wealthy and stricter gun control.

Thursday's dedication of Bush's library and museum has put the 43rd U.S. president back in the limelight he has largely avoided since leaving office in January 2009.

At the time, the United States was laboring under the burden of two wars and a collapsed economy. Bush's approval rating at the time was 33 percent. A Washington Post-ABC poll this week put his approval rating at 47 percent, basically equal to Obama's.

The museum exhibits cover major points of Bush's presidency and offer visitors an opportunity to decide how they would have responded to those challenges.

A central features of the museum concerns the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Obama has found himself pursuing some of the same policies that Bush began, such using drones on military targets and trying to overhaul U.S. immigration laws.

Obama is expected to speak at the dedication along with the former presidents.

"Regardless of the times when they served and their political and policy differences, there is a commonality of experience that the president believes binds them together," said White House spokesman Jay Carney.

After visiting Bush in Dallas on Thursday, Obama is scheduled to attend a memorial service at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, for the 14 people killed when a fertilizer plant exploded last week in West, Texas.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Karey Van Hall, Toni Reinhold)

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