THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Excerpts of President Bush’s interview yesterday in the Oval Office with editors and reporters of The Washington Times.
President Bush: A couple of things. One, I’m really looking forward to the second term. I worked really hard to get here, and I said some things to the American people that I intend to follow through on.
I assured them that I will remain firm and committed to fighting and winning the war on terror. We will deploy assets to defeat people before they come and hurt us. I believe that we are in a global war against an ism that can be defeated, and must be defeated. One way you defeat them is to find them and bring them to justice. That’s why we need good intelligence, the capacity to move quickly, a military that understands the stakes and is preparing the troops to meet the challenges. The other way is to spread freedom. And I believe that — I know — that free societies will be peaceful societies. And I believe the American president must use the great influence of our country to convince others to work to spread freedom in parts of the world that have been denied freedom. And that’s what you’re seeing.
It’s been a remarkable three months in the history of mankind. Elections in Afghanistan, elections in the Palestinian territory and elections to be in Iraq. And I am excited about helping spread freedom and helping say to reformers, “We hear your call and you’ve got a friend,” and helping to say to the critics and the cynics, people from all walks of life, all religions, have got the capacity to self-govern.
In the course of the campaign, I said this a couple of times, that “Laura and I live on the east side of the mountain, the sunrise side, not the sunset side. It’s the side to see the day that is coming, not to see the day that is gone.” I said that because I wanted people — to convey a sense of my great optimism about what we stand for and what America believes.
The quote isn’t complete, though, because the president also has got to be able to see the day that is gone in order to deal with — predict the day that is coming, as I make big decisions. The day that is gone tells me a lot about what is going to happen, in my judgment. And I talked a lot about Japan on the campaign trail, about how [Prime Minister Junichiro] Koizumi is one of my close friends. The guy is a lot of fun to be with, by the way, an interesting character. And yet, my dad fought them, mortal enemies … and they killed a lot of people and attacked our country. But because we believe that freedom can change societies and convert enemies to allies — Harry Truman and others believed that — Japan is now a strong ally and the world is more peaceful as a result of it.
And so I’ll work on what I just told you about. We can talk about specific countries and their regions, if you like.
At home, I’ve got some fantastic opportunities to promote the ownership society. I love it when people own their home for the first time. I think it is — I get inspired when I talk to first-generation Americans who own their own business.
Today, I talked about Social Security. We have a problem in Social Security. And it’s pretty easy when you understand the math; there’s not enough payers for the recipients. And in 2018, it goes in the red; in 2040, it goes broke, flat bust. And so there is a lot of talk, you hear politicians talk, I want to leave a better America for the generations to come. OK, fine. Let’s do something on Social Security, because if we don’t, there won’t be a better America for generations to come.
Today, I talked about the need for a Social Security system to say to the seniors: “Look, you’re fine, nothing changes, but younger workers ought to be able to take some of their own money as a part of a solution, to set aside in a personal account.” I believe it’s necessary to get a better rate of return so that at least the promises of Social Security are more nearly met to future generations. But I also love the idea of people opening up on a regular basis an account that says, “Here’s how you’re doing in the stock market or the bond market or the mutual fund market. And by the way, policies can affect how you’re doing.” In other words, you got a stake in the future of the country if you own something.
Health care accounts will be expanded in my term because I believe the more people who have got decision-making — are involved with the decision-making process in health care the more likely it is we’ll be able to wring excess costs out of the system.
So I look forward to taking on Social Security. Look, I fully understand there are people saying, “Can’t America deal with these twin deficits?” It’s an issue which we’re concerned about as we go into the second term. And you’ll see us submit a tough budget and call upon Congress to enact it.
I’ve had a good record, by the way, of getting Congress to pass the budgets we’ve submitted. And we’re going to fund the war. I mean, we get soldiers in harm’s way, they’re going to have what they need. And we’ll protect this homeland. But the nondefense discretionary spending and nonhomeland discretionary spending is tough; it’s going to be tough again. It was less than 1 percent last time. I’m not going to give you a number yet; we need to get the process right. But it will be — it will be tough.
And in terms of whether or not you can deal with the other twin part of the deficit, which is the current account deficit, the answer to that is, is that America must be the best place in the world to do business.
Torts and taxes
Tort reform matters. And if you notice, I’ve already taken on the tort issue early on in the administration in three major areas: class action, asbestos reform and medical-liability reform. Hopefully, we can get something done quickly in the Congress to say that at least we’re addressing this part of our competitive disadvantage in the global economy.
We’re going to keep taxes low. I mean, that’s one way to make sure America is the best place in the world to do business. I hope to get a reasonable energy policy out of Congress. I told some people the other day, I know the oil and gas business pretty well, and I don’t think we need tax incentives to encourage exploration when you got price driving exploration. But I do know we need to get reliability when it comes to the electricity grid. I do think we need to expand nuclear energy and make it more certain that capital can get spent without the endless delays and litigation. I know we need to continue to advance our technological research so we can kind of leapfrog the old command- and-control debate.
There’s some practical things we can do to make sure this is a great place to risk capital, so people can find work and this economic recovery continues.
Finally, I’ll continue to work on the compassionate agenda. Had a meeting today with our faith-based people, [Jim] Towey [director of the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives] and these guys, whose responsibility is to make sure that the faith community understands that this government, at least this administration, is not going to discriminate against their right, in my judgment, to apply for grants, to help save lives.
I think, for those who don’t believe that the government ought to — for those who believe we shouldn’t be using taxpayers’ money to proselytize, I agree, completely, 100 percent. For those who say there ought to be separation of church and state, I agree, 100 percent. However, I think it’s very important for people to — let’s focus on the results of faith-based groups. Let’s say that if you’re capable of helping an addict … we ought to let you access funds specifically designed for addiction relief.
And so we’ll continue the faith initiative, community-based initiative. I think it’s — I think [Alexis] de Tocqueville talked about it so eloquently, I believe it was 1832 — show up my literary side — but he recognized that the great strength of America really came in these community and civic groups, all bound to help the individual recognize serving something greater than yourself is an important part of life. And that’s still true for America today. And I think we’ll look back and say, “Gosh, the Bush administration, after eight years, recognized it and invigorated this important aspect of our society in helping people who feel like, perhaps, maybe society has gone beyond them and that they’re lost and empty and lonely.”
‘Enthusiasm is high’
So that’s what’s on my mind. My enthusiasm is high for the job and looking forward to it. Put a good team together. This office is the kind of place where you sit here, people stand out there, and they say, “I’m going to tell him what-for,” and they walk in here and they get just overwhelmed by the Oval Office and the whole atmosphere and the great beauty of this place, and they say, “Man, you’re looking good, Mr. President.” [Laughter.] So I need people walking in here saying, “You’re not looking so good.” And I put a good team together in the first four years; I’ve got a good team this second four years, and ready to lead.
Wesley Pruden, editor in chief: Well, Mr. President, your point there about faith and how we look at it — many Christians today think that faith is kind of under attack in America, and they’re even talking about whether you should use the Bible to take the oath of office. What would you say — what do you think is the proper role of your personal faith in the public arena?
Mr. Bush: First of all, I will have my hand on the Bible. I read the article today, and I don’t — it’s interesting, I don’t think faith is under attack. I think there are some who worry about a president who is faith-based, a person who openly admits that I accept the prayers of the people, trying to impose my will on others. I fully understand that the job of the president is and must always be protecting the great right of people to worship or not worship as they see fit.
That’s what distinguishes us from the Taliban. The greatest freedom we have — or one of the greatest freedoms — is the right to worship the way you see fit. And on the other hand, I don’t see how you can be president — at least from my perspective, how you can be president, without a — without a relationship with the Lord.
I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you’re not equally as patriotic if you’re not a religious person. I’ve never said that. I’ve never acted like that. I think that’s just the way it is. On the other hand, I think more and more people … understand the importance of faith in their life.
America is a remarkable place when it comes to religion and faith. We had people come to our rallies who were there specifically to say, “I’m here to pray for you, let you know I’m praying for you.” And I was very grateful about that.
Mr. Bush: The great thing about our country is somebody can stand up and say, “We should try to take ‘under God’ out of the Pledge of Allegiance.” On the other hand, the backlash was pretty darn significant. This is a country that is a value-based country. Whether they voted for you or not, there’s a lot of values in this country for which I’m real proud.
Suzanne Fields, columnist: I was interested in you bringing up the faith-based initiative, and it was very controversial and it’s been under the radar, so to speak, I think. And last term, you didn’t get the legislation you wanted. You wound up giving most of the grants through unilateral institutions. … What are you going to do this time? What’s going on?
Mr. Bush: Well, actually, what I did — I did a couple of things. One, I signed an executive order saying that faith-based programs have the right to access grant money through the competitive bid process. I kind of like that, you know? But … we’ve got the ability now to move — I think they told me we’ve spent about a $1.2 billion of social service money in the faith community today. I think it’s what he said. We need to get that number exactly.
Mrs. Fields: It’s about right.
Mr. Bush: Yes. Towey came in and actually briefed me today on — precisely asked — I asked him the question, what are we going to do the second term … is to make sure that the new Cabinet secretaries understand my firm desire to make sure that the grant money is available for faith communities to bid on; is to make sure these faith-based offices are staffed and open, that are not only communicating within their departments, but outside their departments with state and local government; is to work with governors and mayors to continue to … [encourage] them to set up faith-based institutions, because a lot of the money that comes from the federal government goes directly to the state, and they’re the decision-makers as to whether or not faith programs can access tax money.
Mrs. Fields: Are you going to get the legislation you want?
Mr. Bush: Well, I’m not so sure. The main part of legislation … was the tax deductibility, and I doubt we’ll get it. But the key thing is, is that we do have the capacity to allow faith programs to access enormous sums of social service money, which I think is important. I think … some of our programs I asked for got funded, the Capital Fund got funded, which is … a way to enhance social entrepreneurism.
‘A rigorous agenda’
Mr. Bush: The mentoring program for … the children of prisoners — by the way, we’ve now got vouchers going out on — to the addiction programs for the first time. That’s another one of our initiatives, to expand the use of vouchers in the faith community program so that people actually can — and social service programs — so they can access faith community if that’s what they choose to do — their choice. It becomes a consumer-oriented program, demand-driven, as opposed to supply driven, I guess, to put it in economic terms. So we’ve got — still got a rigorous agenda.
Fran Coombs, managing editor: Not exactly a year ago, you announced your principles for immigration reform. And we’re obviously aware of those. Will you push legislation to implement those principles this year?
Mr. Bush: Yes. Yes, I will.
Mr. Coombs: This year?
Mr. Bush: Yes, I think it’s very important we do so. As an aside, off the record, I understand we may not be in total agreement on this issue, but nevertheless — [Laughter.]
Mr. Coombs: But the difference is, you’re president, though, and we’re not. [Laughter.]
Mr. Bush: That’s right — a pretty good size stick. [Laughter.] Anyway, yes, I will. Let me — first of all, we have a world in which a lot of good, decent U.S. employers can’t find work — laying tar in September in Texas, or August. And they’re looking for workers and can’t find them. And this country is obviously bordering a country where there are people who are willing to do the work. And they’re here doing it. And a lot of them are here doing it illegally, which means they’re here illegally and the employers are illegal.
And they’re willing … to take great risks to come to our country. They’re willing to get stuffed in the back of a semi-trailer truck, paying a coyote to smuggle them over. They’re willing to walk across the desert. Many die, by the way, in the Texas and Arizona deserts.
They’re coming because, in most cases, they’re a good, honest person who wants to do their duty as a mother and a father. And that put a huge strain on our border. I think a rational policy would be to have a combination of better and more border enforcement — we’ve done a lot down there, we need to do more — and to say, “If you’re a person coming to work, you’ve got to show proof, you’ve got to show us a card. You’ve got to register and basically legalize work for a period of time.”
‘Need to get in line’
Mr. Bush: This is not a citizenship. I strongly oppose instant citizenship. I think all that would do is cause the problem to occur again. I believe that if they want to be a citizen, they need to get in line like the other people have done. And if Congress is worried about logjams for certain countries’ becoming citizens, they need to change that part of the law.
Mr. Coombs: So you’re not worried about a bureaucratic nightmare? We’ve already had a —
Mr. Bush: We’ve got a bureaucratic nightmare. … And we’ve got people living in the shadows of our society, and we’ve got a Border Patrol that’s over-stressed because we’ve got people streaming across — most of the people coming here are doing work — coming to work. And I think it’s possible, very possible to use our technologies to develop a system where willing worker matches willing employer. And I definitely think we need to enforce the law. I think at that point in time — the system has broken down. I mean, it just has. And … it’s not working. And I think by legalizing work, we take a lot of pressure off our borders, enabling our Border Patrol and our money to go farther in terms of stopping the illegal trafficking of drugs and/or terrorists, and/or arms — either way, by the way.
The long-term solution to the border issue is for Mexico to develop a middle class. That’s why I’m such a huge advocate of [the North American Free Trade Agreement]. I’ve seen what’s happened with our border region of Texas. I mean, it has changed appreciatively since I’ve been in government, a significant change because of trade and capital moving back and forth. And Mexico has still got a long way to go, but at least that part of the border has become a more modern place where there is the development of a middle class. I would tell you that I think most Mexicans would like to stay home and work close to home and raise their kids in Mexico.
And so, yes, I will move an agenda. It’s going to be hard. But you know something? I’m asking people to do new things. I understand that.
Mr. Coombs: Let me ask you one more follow-up on that line. Obviously, you’re going to invest the bulk of your capital, I would think, in Social Security this year, and tax reform. So where does this kind of fit in the list of things that President Bush wants to push this year?
Mr. Bush: I think … it’s high. I think it’s a big issue — by the way, capital is not — you can accumulate more capital as time goes on. It’s not like —
Mr. Coombs: Spend it all, it’s gone.
‘Something more rational’
Mr. Bush: Yes. You spend it to earn it. And — or you earn it by spending it. And so I don’t subscribe to the theory that I have got only a limited amount, and then when I spend it, I go home. [Laughter.]
It’s a big issue. … Whether or not you agree with the solution or not, we have a problem in America when you’ve got 8 million undocumented workers here. Just the word, undocumented, itself points up to the problem. And a solution is not instantaneous citizenship.
The solution is something more rational than that, that recognizes — I can’t tell you the number of small-business owners during the course of the campaign that I saw — a lot of them in agriculture, admittedly — but saying. … When I was at the ranch, a woman came by. And she grows seedlings, live oak seedlings, and she is really worried about breaking the law by hiring illegals.
There’s a whole industry aimed at forged documents and to give employers enough comfort so that they would be willing to hire these people. And yet, there is no certainty about the legality of the people there. She’s living on the edge of the law. The person who is here doesn’t dare go home for fear of not being able to come back. The system isn’t working.
And the question, I think, that people like yourselves who are concerned about public policy must answer is, is it worth the effort to try to fix it. And if so, let’s help come up with a constructive solution that’s realistic and common-sensical. And I think my plan is. And I’m looking forward to working with it.
Joseph Curl, White House correspondent: How are you going to persuade critics in Congress that your plan is —
Mr. Bush: Well, I guess — remember the tax debate?
Mr. Curl: Yes.
Mr. Bush: It seems like history tends to repeat itself — at least beginning of every administration. In ‘01, it was like, you’ll never get the taxes done. No chance. And initially out of the box, some people said “over my dead body” would they pass tax relief. And so we worked and worked and called people in and made it clear — actually went around the country, and on a lot of these issues, you hear people early on in the process say, “He can’t get it done.” If I listened to all that, I’d just quit, you know, and kind of, maybe, try to get some itty bitty initiative done, and claim victory. But that’s not the way I think. I believe the president has got to set big agenda items and solve big problems.
And so, obviously, we’re going to have to work on it, just like Social Security. This will require the expenditure of capital. And started — well, actually, I started right after the elections. I called members of Congress in, both parties, I said, “Look, I’m coming after this issue, because it’s a problem.”
And today, we started the education of the American people as to the extent of the problem. And there will be a debate: Is it a problem or not a problem? We already had that debate once, in the 2004 presidential campaign. My opponent said, “We can grow the economy and the problem will take care of itself.” That’s what he said. I’m not putting words in his mouth. I said, no, the demographics have shifted, people are living longer, more women in the workplace, fewer people paying into the system per worker, and it’s going to go broke. Therefore, I’m going to try to think of something different.
‘As quickly as possible’
Mr. Bush: And so we’ll have a debate. I will work hard to make it clear to the American people — and look forward to doing it, I might add — that we have a problem with Social Security. I believe people run a political risk if the American people say there is a problem, and people aren’t willing to address it. There is a risk. There is a problem with immigration; there is a problem with the tax code. It is a complicated mess, as I said. You’re probably sitting there saying, “Has the guy bit off more than he can chew?” The answer is, we will work as hard as we can to get as much as we can get done, as quickly as possible.
Kenneth Hanner, national editor: Mr. President, some of your staunchest conservative supporters are disappointed with the rate of increase in the domestic-spending programs in your first term. Which federal agencies or programs would you be willing to just cut from the budget?
Mr. Bush: Yes, I think it’s — let’s review the budget, just to make sure people understand the facts. When we came in, discretionary spending, which are the programs over which we’ve got more control, increased by 15 percent the last year of [President] Clinton. And … the discretionary spending has dropped appreciably under my leadership, even though we’re at war. And as I told you, we’re not going to put our troops out there without funding them. And the big increases in the discretionary side of our budget have come because of defense spending, and homeland security, to a certain extent, but mainly defense.
Readily so. And, therefore, I would take on the critics by saying, “You’ve got the wrong guy if you think we’re going to commit our troops to defend the United States of America and not fund our troops.” So I would ask people to segregate parts of the budget — the difference between defense spending and discretionary spending. Now, we’ve got an argument over the [agriculture] bill I signed. The [agriculture] bill is WTO-compliant and more market-driven than any [agriculture] bill we have ever done.
Medicare — I believe that in the long run the Medicare modernization bill I signed will have not only benefits for people — I mean, will be beneficial to people, but will have an effect on the costs that the federal government paid out, because I believe there is a substitution effect. In other words, we pay for a heart surgery of $100,000, but not a dime for the prescription drugs that would prevent the heart surgery from happening in the first place. It made no sense to me.
Secondly, in the system we worked for market mechanisms that give people more choices, which is all part of an overall strategy to control the costs of health care. I don’t think you can really get a grip on the costs of health care so long as there is kind of a third-party payer system, in other words, the consumer is not directly involved in the pricing of a product. I think there are other practical ways to deal with it, by the way. Medical liability reform is one.
This IT program, information technology program that the experts tell me, electronic medical records — with ample security — will help wring out errors and cost inefficiencies — they say it could save as much as 25 percent on the health care costs in America. Speeding generic drugs to the market … [White House spokesman] Scott [McClellan’s] brother [Mark McClellan] was at the [Food and Drug Administration], and we came up with a new plan to make sure generics got to the market quicker, without undermining the capacity of the pharmaceuticals to continue the research and development, which this administration — is vital.
‘The right decisions’
Mr. Bush: I know I’m not answering your — I’m defending the decisions I made, but they are right decisions. In terms of the new budget we’ll submit, you’ll see. I mean, we recognize there needs to be some entitlement — further entitlement reform. And in terms of the discretionary budget, it will be a tough budget. I’m not going to tell you what’s in it yet.
Mr. Hanner: It’s so easy to add a program in Washington, but it’s almost impossible to get rid of one. There’s nothing in this entire federal government we just could ax out and get rid of?
Mr. Bush: Yes, we’ve zeroed out quite a few in our budgets. I need to get you a list of them. … Let me give you a situation here, my thinking on negotiating with Congress. I don’t have a line-item veto. I need a line-item veto. And therefore — you’re Congress, you come in. I say, “Mr. Speaker, we’ve worked with your budget guys, and we want the discretionary spending to grow to no more than 4 percent.” I think it was 4 percent last year. And the Defense Department ought to be about here and — and they hit our numbers. … The size of the pie is in good shape. We may not like, necessarily, individual pieces. So if I veto the appropriations bills, how are negotiations going to go the next year?
They say, “Mr. President, we hit your numbers; you said you wanted homeland — nondefense, nonhomeland discretionary spending at less than 1 percent. It came in at, I think, at 0.8 percent.” And so they hit our numbers — a veto, all that would do would make the next budget negotiating session impossible. As a matter of fact, there wouldn’t be one. They’ll just say, “We’ll bring you what we feel like.” That’s not my style. I like to be involved with the budgets. We have an obligation to submit a budget. Therefore, I want to be involved with the implementation of the budget. And so we — anyway, we’re making pretty good progress in bringing budgets under control.
There is more work to be done. Social Security reform is part of dealing with the long-term, unfunded liabilities of the country. Medicaid reform is part of that issue. Medicare reform, which we’ve started — this is four more years to continue to work on issues. And I fully understand that the country, the markets are watching very carefully whether or not we’ll deal with the twin deficits, the current account deficit and the budget deficits. I happen to believe that there is — a lot of people are watching very carefully as to whether or not we’re willing to deal on the entitlement side, and that’s why the Social Security debate is such an important debate. It’s a commitment to dealing with a $10.4 trillion unfunded liability.
Tony Blankley, editor of the editorial page: Mr. President, I’m puzzled by one thing only.
Mr. Bush: What is that?
Mr. Blankley: Every expert I talk to about the size of the active military forces, particularly Army — every expert I talk to, other than senior members of your administration, who support yours and Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld’s position … they all tell me — I’m not an expert — that we need to expand our total active forces by a measurable amount.
Mr. Bush: In Iraq?
Mr. Blankley: No, no, not in Iraq; overall. Separate from Iraq. Overall. And what puzzles me is, what are they all missing? Well, I miss a lot of stuff, but what are the experts missing?
Mr. Bush: Well, no, no, no, look, look, I think what they were talking about is a need to expand the Army, relative to other branches.
Mr. Blankley: No —
Mr. Bush: Well … without getting into a debate about all the people on the sidelines who are saying things — which is a great thing about democracy, people are allowed to express themselves — our military policy, for example, the troop size in Iraq, is not driven here in the White House. It is driven by the decisions and … the recommendations of [Gen.] John Abizaid and Gen. George Casey. And it’s really important that that’s how a war be fought, that — and I would hope it brings great comfort to you as a concerned citizen — the commander in chief makes the military decisions based upon the recommendations from the field.
As far as the overall force structure and the relationship between the active-duty unit and the [National] Guard and Reserve, for example, that’s part of the transformation of our military. In other words, transforming our military to meet a whole new set of threats. And the debate I hear is not overall size, necessarily, but the relationship between the Army to the Air Force and the Navy. And that is being addressed by [Gen.] Pete Schoomaker’s … plan to increase the Army … by, I think, 30,000 troops. And that’s what we’re doing. …
Mr. Coombs: We have a report in the last couple of days about some behind-the-scenes maneuvering at the Pentagon that are moving women soldiers closer to combat. Do you see a combat military role for women, and have you conveyed that message to the Pentagon?
Mr. Bush: No, I haven’t. First of all, I have followed that issue very closely. As far as I know, there’s no — there’s no change of policy as far as I’m concerned.
Mr. Coombs: And your policy is?
Mr. Bush: No women in combat. … Having said that — let me say, we got to make sure we define combat properly. We got women flying choppers and women flying fighters, which I’m perfectly content with. I think you’re talking about ground?
Mr. Coombs: Yes … ground combat.
Mr. Blankley: How is Barney reacting to the new puppy in the house?
Mr. Bush: I’m glad you asked. The world’s greatest dog is out there somewhere.
Mr. Pruden: The world’s greatest living dog.
Mr. Bush: Thank you.
Mr. Pruden: My late dog was the world’s greatest dog. [Laughter.]
Mr. Bush: Since you’ve got the pen, I agree with you. [Laughter.]
‘The simple pleasures’
Mr. Bush: Barney has been - Barney, it’s an interesting adjustment. The person who brought the dog Beazley over said that it’s going to be very soon the female Scottie will dominate the male Scottie. I didn’t realize that was going to be the case. Barney hasn’t realized it either. [Laughter.] So the little one so far has - we’ve seen some tendency as to domination.
Barney actually is quite cute, monitoring the little person and making sure that she doesn’t go wandering off. And he doesn’t know what he’s in store for, according to the handler. It’s going to be a great joy. You learn to accept the simple pleasures of life here as the president. And very few things can break into the cocoon that have lasting permanence and lasting effect, and Beazley is going to be one of them.
James Lakely, White House correspondent: Mr. President, you’ve re-nominated several men and women for key judicial slots that were filibustered in the first term. Your rhetoric concerning how important it is to get these people on the bench has consistently been strong, but I think many conservatives feel that this isn’t going far enough, and, frankly, I think a lot are frustrated with how [Senate Majority] Leader [Bill] Frist and now [Judiciary Committee] Chairman [Arlen] Specter may handle this. How hard are you willing to fight to get your judicial picks on the bench, especially with important Supreme Court nominees coming up in the future?
Mr. Bush: Well, look, I was very disappointed in the first four years that they filibustered - I can’t remember the number - but a lot, as far as I was concerned, of good people. Priscilla Owen, my great friend from Texas, ran twice; won 80 percent of the vote once; supported by both Republicans and Democrats, a really fine person. And we indicated that we’re not going to accept it by renominating a lot who wanted to be renominated.
In terms of how the Senate handles their rules, we will work with Frist. That’s - I’m mindful of the separation of power here. I told Bill I’d like to see my nominees on the court and want to work with him. But rules changes and how he’s going to handle filibustering is really up to him. And the relationship with the Senate is an important relationship and is one that is best preserved and nurtured by working with the leadership and having close relations with the leadership. But the truth of the matter is he’s going to have to figure out how to get the judges off the floor.
Mr. Lakely: So do you feel essentially powerless in this situation?
Mr. Bush: No, I’ve got two powers that make me feel confident that we’ll prevail in the long-run: one, the ability to keep sending names up there and willingness to show that I’m a person who sticks to my guns, and I pick people who I believe are the right people to serve on the bench; and the other is the bully pulpit, which I use and like using, frankly.
Mr. Lakely: Another tool you may have is maybe a little bit of political hardball and some real arm-twisting. The bully pulpit you worked a lot in the first term and didn’t seem to get very far, especially with people like Priscilla Owen.
Mr. Bush: I think if you look at the record, we got quite a few through. Yes, I mean the problem is, is that when they use the tool of the filibuster, it makes arm-twisting very difficult because it only requires a handful of people to stop the process. Therefore, the ultimate arm-twist would be made by the leadership in deciding that the rules of the Senate need to be - they need to review the rules of the Senate to make sure people at least are able to - at some point in time, in a reasonable period of time, get an up or down vote.
Mr. Bush: I proposed some constructive changes to expedite judicial nominees - background checks, and then expedite hearing and expedite vote. And once a person gets to the floor, we’ll work it hard. It’s just when it takes 40 members of the Senate to stop a judicial nominee, it makes it awfully hard. The use of the filibuster was an unfortunate tool used by the Democrats. And hopefully, Leader Frist will convince them not to do it this session. That’s why we put those names up early.
Mr. Pruden: Mr. President, thank you very much.
Mr. Bush: If you want a glimpse of how I think about foreign policy read Natan Sharansky’s book “The Case for Democracy.” Anybody read it? Read it. It’s a great book. And I think it will help - it will help explain a lot of the decisions that you’ll see being made - you’ve seen made and will continue to see made. And it will help explain what’s going to happen in the Palestinian territories as far as we’re concerned. For government, particularly [-] for opinion makers, I would put it on your recommended reading list. It’s short and it’s good. This guy is an heroic figure, as you know. It’s a great book.
[Speaking about one of the paintings in the Oval Office:] This is western. This is by W.H.D Koerner. My friend [Joe] O’Neill from Midland, Texas, who introduced me and Laura in his back yard in 1977 in July; we were married in November - he came to my first inaugural service as governor, and we sang “A Charge To Keep I Have,” by John Wesley. If you’re a Methodist, those Wesley boys are important. [Laughter.]
Mr. Pruden: You don’t have to be Methodist.
Mr. Bush: No. And so he said, “Look, I’ve got a painting based upon the hymn, do you want to use it?” I said, yes, I’d love to. And so it’s been on the wall ever since I’ve been the governor and president. And I love it. He’s a determined horseman, a very difficult trail. And you know at least two people are following him, and maybe a thousand. And the hymn talks about serving the Almighty. So it speaks to me personally.
I told you the president’s job is not to pick religion. The president’s job is not to say you’ve got to be religious. The president’s job is to say each is free to choose it. And it’s really important that that be clear today, given the world in which we live. And if you’re a Sikh or Muslim or - a Methodist or anybody else for that matter, it’s an important message.
Having said that, I cannot tell you how inspired and sustained and comforted I am by the fact that millions of people, many of whom I will never see, are praying for me. It’s one of the most unique aspects of the presidency. I don’t know any other world leaders who can say that about the people of their own country, which speaks volumes about America. Yes, it does.
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