President Bush Announces Agenda for Second Term
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JIM LEHRER: At the president’s news conference this morning, Mr. Bush made a short opening statement and then took questions for 45 minutes. It happened in the old Executive Office Building next door to the White House. Here are extended excerpts:
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: This week the voters of America set the direction of our nation for the next four years. I’m honored by the support of my fellow citizens, and I’m ready for the job.
We are fighting a continuing war on terror, and every American has a stake in the outcome of this war– Republicans, Democrats, independents, all of our country.
DAVID GREGORY, NBC News: Do you believe that America has an image problem in the world right now because of your efforts in response to the 9/11 attacks? And as you talk down the stretch about building alliances, talk about what you’ll do to build on those alliances and to deal with these image problems, particularly in the Islamic world.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I appreciate that. Listen, I’ve made some very hard decisions, decisions to protect ourselves, decisions to spread peace and freedom; and I understand that in certain capitals and certain countries, those decisions were not popular.
You know, you said… you asked me to put that in the context of the response on Sept. 11. I laid out a doctrine, David, that said if you harbor a terrorist, you’re equally as guilty as the terrorist, and that doctrine was ignored by the Taliban, and we removed the Taliban, and I fully understand some people didn’t agree with that decision.
But I believe that when the American president speaks, he’d better mean what he says in order to keep the world peaceful. And, of course, and the Iraq issue is one that people disagreed with. And I… there’s no need to rehash my case, but I… I did so, I made the decision I made in order to protect our country, first and foremost.
I will continue to do that as the president, but as I do so, I will reach out to others and explain why I make the decisions I make. There is a certain attitude in the world by some that says that, you know, it’s a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world. I’ve heard that criticism. I remember I went to London to talk about our vision of spreading freedom throughout the greater Middle East.
And I fully understand that that might rankle some and be viewed by some as folly. I… I just strongly disagree with those who do not see the wisdom of trying to promote free societies around the world. If we are interested in protecting our country for the long term, the best way to do so is to promote freedom and democracy.
And I… I simply do not agree with those who either say overtly or believe that certain societies cannot be free. It’s just not a part of my thinking.
TERRY MORAN, ABC News: Mr. President, your victory at the polls came about in part because of strong support from people of faith, in particular Christian evangelicals and Pentecostals and others.
And Sen. Kerry drew some of his strongest support from those who do not attend religious services. What do you make of this religious divide, it seems, becoming a political divide in this country? And what do you say to those who are concerned about the role of a faith they do not share in public life and in your policies?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. My answer to people is I will be your president regardless of your faith, and I don’t expect you to agree with me, necessarily, on religion.
As a matter of fact, no president should ever try to impose religion on our society. The great… the great tradition of America is one where people can worship the way they want to worship.
And if they choose not to worship, you’re just as patriotic as your neighbor. That is an essential part of why we are a great nation. And I am glad people of faith voted in this election. I’m glad… I appreciate all people who voted.
And I don’t think you ought to read anything into the politics, the moment, about whether or not this nation will become a divided nation over religion. I think the great thing that unites us is the fact you can worship freely if you choose, and if you… you don’t have to worship.
And if you’re a Jew or a Christian or a Muslim, you’re equally American. That is… that is such a wonderful aspect of our society, and it is strong today and it will be strong tomorrow. Jim.
JIM ANGLE, Fox News: Mr. President, you talked once again this morning about private accounts in Social Security. During the campaign, you were accused of planning to privatize the entire system. It has been something you’ve discussed for some time.
You’ve lost some of the key Democratic proponents, such as Pat Moynihan and Bob Kerrey in the Congress. How will you proceed now with one of the key problems, which is the transition cost, which some say is as much as $2 trillion? How will you proceed on that, and how soon?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: We’ll start on Social Security now. We’ll start bringing together those in Congress who agree with my assessment that we need to work together. We’ve got a good blueprint, a good go-by. You mentioned Sen. Moynihan. I had asked him prior to his passing to chair a committee of notable Americans to come up with some ideas on Social Security, and they did so.
And it’s a good place for members of Congress to start. The president must have the will to take on the issue, not only in the campaign, but now that I’m elected. And this will… reforming Social Security will be a priority of my administration.
Obviously there’s… if it were easy, it would have already been done. And this is going to be hard work to bring people together and to make… to convince the Congress to move forward. And there are going to be costs. But the cost of doing nothing is insignificant to… is much greater than the cost of reforming the system today.
JOHN KING, CNN: Mr. President, you were disappointed, even angry, 12 years ago when the voters denied your father a second term.
I’m interested in your thoughts and the conversation with him yesterday as you were walking to the Oval Office, and also, whether you feel more free to do any one thing in a second term that perhaps you were politically constrained from doing in a first.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: At 3:30 in the morning, on, I guess it was the day after the election, he was sitting upstairs, and I finally said, "Go to bed." He was awaiting the outcome and was hopeful that we would go over and be able to talk to our supporters, and it just didn’t happen that way.
So, I asked him the next morning when he got up, said, "come by the Oval Office and visit." And he came by and we had a good talk. And you’re right, ’92 is a disappointment, but he taught me a really good lesson that life moves on.
And it’s very important for those of us in the political arena, win or lose, to recognize that… that life is bigger than just politics, and that’s just one of the really good lessons he taught me.
REPORTER: Do you feel more free?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Oh, in terms of feeling free, well, I don’t think you’ll let me be too free. There’s… there’s accountability and there are constraints on the presidency, as there should be in any system. I feel… I feel… I feel it is necessary to move an agenda that I told the American people I would move.
Something refreshing about coming off an election, even more refreshing since we all got some sleep last night. But there’s… you… you… you go out and you make your case, and you tell the people, "this is what I intend to do." And after hundreds of speeches and three debates and interviews and the whole process, where you keep basically saying the same thing over and over again, that when… when that… when you win, there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view.
And that’s what I intend to tell the Congress, that I made it clear what I intend to do as the president; "now let’s work…" and the people made it clear what they wanted. "Now let’s work together."
And it’s one of the wonderful… it’s one of the… it’s like earning capital. You ask, "Do I feel free?" Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It is my style.
That’s what happened in… after the 2000 election. I earned some capital. I’ve earned capital in this election, and I’m going to spend it for… for what… what I told the people I’d spend it on, which is– you’ve heard the agenda– Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.
RICARHD STEVENSON, The New York Times: Sir, given your commitment to reaching out across party lines and to all Americans, I wonder if you could expand on your definition of bipartisanship and whether it means simply picking off a few Democrats on a case- by-case basis to pass the bills you want to pass, or whether you would commit to working regularly with the Democratic leadership on solutions that can win broad support across party lines.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: There’s a certain practicality to life here in Washington. And that is, when we get a bill moving, it is important to get the votes. And if politics starts to get in the way of getting good legislation through, well, that’s just part of life here.
But I’m also focused on results. My goal is to work on the ideal and to reach out and to continue to work and find common ground on issues. On the other hand, I’ve been wisened to the ways of Washington. I watched what can happen during certain parts of the cycle, where politics gets in the way of good policy.
And at that point in time I’ll continue… you know, I’ll try to get this done, try to get our bills passed in a way, because results really do matter, as far as I’m concerned. I really didn’t come here to hold the office, just to say, "Gosh, it was fun to serve." I came here to get some things done, and we’re doing it. Yeah?
KEN HERMAN, Cox News Service: Clearly you believe you have reached out and will continue to reach out. Do you believe that Democrats have made a sincere and sufficient effort to meet you somewhere halfway? And do you think now there’s more reason for them to do that in light of the election results?
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: I think that Democrats agree that we have an obligation to serve our country. I believe there will be goodwill, now that this election is over, to work together. I found that to be the case when I first arrived here in Washington.
And working with the Democrats and fellow Republicans, we got a lot done. It’s going to be… there… it’s not easy. You know, these are… I readily concede I’ve laid out some very difficult issues for people to deal with. Washington is different from Austin, no question about it.
Washington, one of the disappointments of being here in Washington is how bitter this town can become and how divisive. I’m not blaming one party or the other. It’s just the reality of Washington, D.C. — sometimes exacerbated by… by you, because it’s great sport. It’s really… it’s entertaining for some. It also makes it difficult to govern at times.
But nevertheless, my commitment is there. I fully… I’m more seasoned to Washington. I have cut my political eye teeth, at least the ones I’ve recently grown here in Washington, and so I’m aware of what can happen in this town.
But nevertheless, having said that, I am fully prepared to work with both Republican, Democrat leadership to advance an agenda that I think makes a big difference for the country.
Thank you all.