[Continued from part 1] And yet, the Iraqis continue to recruit for their army and their police force. I thought it was interesting that the Sunni speaker of the house, the day that the council chambers were bombed, said, we're going to meet. These folks have gone through unbelievable horrors, they really have, and yet they continue to show courage in the face of this kind of violence.
Secondly, there is -- there are nations who are concerned about whether or not a Shia government in
And so one of the reasons we were working with the Iraqis on this neighborhood conference is for people to hear firsthand that the Iraqi government is, first and foremost, Iraqi. They're not interested in being anybody else's surrogate.
We've got a lot of work to do there, and it's an interesting question you asked. I was pleased, and I thank His Majesty that 80 percent of the debt in Saudi -- I'll get you in a minute -- 80 percent of the Saudi debt in
I'm very worried about a nuclear arms race in the
We have no beef with the Iranian people, which is really important for the people of
Isn't it interesting that it's the democracies of the
And so that's a -- there will be meetings. The Iraq Compact group will be meeting, as well as an
Q Mr. President, to kind of switch directions a little bit, illegal aliens in this country apparently are putting a lot of pressure on our social services. Could you comment on what the plans are in the future to take care of that?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir. They are not apparently putting pressure on the social services, they are putting pressure on the social services.
I believe it's in the interest of the United States to have a comprehensive immigration plan that meets certain objectives: one, helps us better secure our border; two, recognizes that people are doing work here that Americans are not doing; three, that recognizes that we are a nation of immigrants, and we ought to uphold that tradition in a way that honors the rule of law; four, that it's in the interest of the country that people who are here be assimilated in a way that -- with our traditions and history. In other words, those who eventually become citizens be assimilated. In other words, one of the great things about
Four, that we do not grant amnesty. I am very worried about automatic citizenship being granted to people who have been here illegally. I think that undermines rule of law -- (applause) -- I think it undermines the rule of law, I also think it would create a condition, or send the signal that it's okay for another X-millions of people to come.
Five, you can't kick people out. You may think you can kick people out, but you can't. It's not going to work. It's impractical to think that you can find 10 million people who have been here for a long period of time and boot them out of the country.
Six, if you hire somebody who is an illegal alien, you ought to be held to account. Now, those are the -- (applause) -- wait a minute. Those are the principles. And we're working in Congress. The first step was to make it clear to the American people that we would change our border policy. This is a subject I'm real familiar with. As you might recall, I was the governor of the great state of
A lot of Americans did not believe that this country was intent upon enforcing our border. And a couple of years ago, working with John and other members of Congress, we began a border modernization program. That meant, for example, more Border Patrol agents, and we will have doubled them -- I can't remember, I don't want to throw out facts, I may get them wrong, but we're doubling the number of Border Patrol agents by 2008.
It means some barriers, whether they be vehicle barriers, or fencing, different roads to make our enforcement folks be able to travel easier on the border; UAVs -- unmanned aerial vehicles -- infrared detection devices. In other words, this border is becoming modernized.
It's interesting, I went down to Yuma, Arizona, right after Easter, and when I first went down there, there was a fence next to Mexico, and that was it; kind of a rickety fence, it looked like. And one of the tactics -- one of the tactics was for people to storm over the fence and rush the neighborhood on the other side. And the Border Patrol may pick up two or three of them, and however many else got in. Now there is double fencing in this area, with a wide area in between that our Border Patrol are able to travel on. In other words, we're beginning to get a modernization program that's pretty effective. As a matter of fact, the number of arrests are down.
Another problem we had -- it's a long answer because it's a really important topic. Another problem we had was catch and release; we would -- the Border Patrol would catch somebody, say, from Mexico, they'd send them right back, but, say, from -- a lot of folks are coming from Central America. By the way, the reason why is because they want to put food on the table, and there are jobs Americans aren't doing. You know what I'm talking about. Some of you -- if you're running a nursery, you know what I'm talking about. If you've got a chicken factory, a chicken-plucking factory, or whatever you call them, you know what I'm talking about. People have got starving families and they want to come and work.
By the way, if I were a leader of a country where people were willing to take risks like these people were, I'd be worried that I'd be losing an incredibly good part of my work force -- hard-working people.
Anyway, they're coming across, and from
And so we've ended that practice by increasing the number of beds now on the border. So when we get somebody from other than
However, I think it's very important -- I'm getting to the meat here -- very important for us to have a temporary worker program if you really want to enforce the border. Our border is long. It is hard to enforce to begin with. It seems like to me that it's in our national interest to let people come on a temporary basis to do jobs Americans are not doing, on a temporary, verifiable basis, with a tamper-proof card, to let people come and do jobs Americans aren't doing, and let them go home after that so that they don't have to sneak across the border.
In other words, if there's a way for people to come in an orderly way, they won't have to try to get in the bottom of the 18-wheeler and pay a person thousands of dollars to smuggle them into the
And so these guys don't know what they're getting -- some card, it looks legal, sure, let's go. You can work in my nursery, or go pick my -- help me pick my lettuce. And they don't know whether they're looking at somebody legal or illegal. We need a tamper-proof card that will enable an employer to verify whether or not this person is here legally or not. Otherwise, it's unfair to hold somebody to account. In other words, if we're enforcing the law, saying you're employing somebody here illegally, we better make sure that that employer is able to verify with certainty whether the person is here legal or not.
Finally, the fundamental question is, what do you do with the -- right there, everybody nervous up front -- the question is, what about the 10 to 12 million people who are already here? It's a tough issue. As I've told you, my position is, not legal automatically. I'm also realistic enough to know that you're just -- it may sound attractive in the political sound byte world, just kick them out. It is not going to work. It's just not going to work.
And so we're working with the Senate and the House to devise a plan that in essence says that you have broken the law, and that you have an obligation to pay a fine for having broken the law if you want to stay in the United States, that there is a line for citizenship -- there's a lot of people in that line right now -- and that after paying a penalty for breaking the law, that you can get at the back of the line, not the front of the line; that if you want to become a citizen, you've got to prove that you can speak the language, that you can assimilate, that you have paid your taxes, that you haven't broken the law -- (applause) -- that you haven't broken the law, and then, if you choose, you have an opportunity to apply for citizenship. But you don't get to jump ahead of people who have played by the rules.
And this is a tough debate, and I appreciate John's leadership on this issue. It's an emotional debate. I just ask our fellow citizens not to forget that we are a nation of law, but we are also a humane country that breaks our heart when we see people being abused and mistreated, and that I believe that -- I know we need to have a civil debate on the subject. We're immigrants. We're a nation of immigrants. And I happen to personally believe, as well, that there's nothing better for society than to have it renewed. When newcomers who come here legally realize the great benefits that one can achieve through hard work, it renews our spirit, and renews our soul, when people are given a chance to realize the great blessings of the
And so we're working on it. Thank you for bringing it up. It's going to be an interesting, interesting legislative issue. I'm -- there's a lot of good people in the Senate working hard to reach accord. And we're right in the middle of them, trying to help them. And then if we can get a bill out of the Senate, we'll take it to the House and see where we go. Good question.
Q Thank you, Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: About time you asked a question. (Laughter.)
Q This is truly an honor. Thank you for coming today. My question is about the
THE PRESIDENT: This isn't like one of these self-interest questions, is it? (Laughter.)
Q No, no, no. Here's my -- I'll get right to it. There's -- currently the law is that only 50 percent of the military components have to be U.S.-made. When we went into
THE PRESIDENT: Right. My answer is I'm really not sure what you're talking about and I'll look into it. (Laughter and applause.) But I can tell you we're going to spend a lot of money on this military because we're worried about whether or not this military will have the supplies necessary, the equipment necessary, after multiple rotations.
I want to assure parents whose loved one may be in the military, we're not going to put your son or daughter over there unless they're ready. And no question, multiple rotations have been hard on our families. And as you know, recently Secretary Gates recommended to me, and I accepted, saying with certainty to our troops, your tours will be up to 15 months and you'll be home for a guaranteed 12 months. And the reason why he did that is that we had some people deployed for what they thought might be 12 months, and were asked to stay in theater. And what's the most important thing we can do for this volunteer army is to provide certainty for our families.
In other words, you sign -- you volunteer to be in the military and you're deployed; we want to make sure there's certainty so that families can prepare. The worst thing that can happen, according to our military experts there, is for somebody's hopes to be dashed, that there's not clarity about what's expected of our troops. And so we did that.
There is -- the term of art is called "reset" -- that is to make sure that we reset our military. And there is an area where there is good common ground with members of Congress -- the Democrat leadership understands that reset is an important part of keeping this military ready and active.
Let me say one thing I forgot to tell you before. I don't know if you remember the Baker-Hamilton report. James A. Baker, the Secretary of State; Lee Hamilton; two distinguished people, real good people. The kind of Americans that have served with distinction and are still serving. They proposed an interesting idea, which was for the United States to be postured at some point in time with the following force posture: one, embedded with Iraqi troops, not only as a training mission, but to help them understand chain of command issues and the issues of a modern military; that our troops be stationed in an over-the-horizon position, so we could respond to a particular situation, so it didn't get out of control; that we helped defend the territorial integrity of Iraq, and that we chase down al Qaeda.
It's an interesting force posture to be in. Frankly, I was hopeful, as I mentioned to you, that we could be in that kind of force posture a year ago. I really thought we were going to be there until the sectarian violence got out of control. They also said that the
I'm watching our military very carefully. I love our military, for starters. And I want to make sure that during these difficult times, that we help them on their needs. One of my concerns is that the health care not be as good as it can possibly be.
I will tell you that we had a bureaucracy problem at Walter Reed. What we didn't have is a compassion problem at Walter Reed. We've got some unbelievably good docs and nurses, who work around the clock to help the trooper, troops and their families. But our bureaucracy, that sometimes can be large and cumbersome at the federal level, didn't respond. And I appreciate the way Secretary Gates got control of the situation.
Just so you know, I am concerned that a soldier getting out of -- or a Marine getting out of uniform and stays in the defense -- is transferred seamlessly from the Defense health system to the Veterans health system. In other words, one of my concerns is that there is a gap. And we owe it to these families, and these soldiers and Marines to make sure that that service is seamless. And that's why I asked Bob Dole and Donna Shalala to make sure that those two bureaucracies don't create the conditions where somebody isn't getting the help they need.
I know that's on people's minds. One of the areas where we do agree is that we got to make sure our veterans are treated as good as we can possibly treat them. We've asked a lot of these troops, and we will do our best to make sure the Veterans Administration and the defense health systems work well.
Q Mr. President, I admire your stay-to-it-iveness -- (inaudible) -- not using polls and focus groups. But I have to ask you personally, with respect to economics, with respect to the war, with respect to the war on terror and Iraq, and immigration, when you go to bed at night and you see these polls -- everybody and their brother does a poll now -- how does it make you feel?
THE PRESIDENT: That's an interesting question. You know, I'm -- I've been in politics long enough to know that polls just go poof at times. I mean, they're a moment; that they are -- let me put it to you this way: When it's all said and done, when Laura and I head back home -- which at this moment will be Crawford, Texas -- I will get there and look in the mirror, and I will say, I came with a set of principles and I didn't try to change my principles to make me popular. You can't make good decisions -- (applause.)
As I mentioned to you, this is a decision-making experience, and you cannot make good decisions if you're not making decisions on a consistent set of principles. It's impossible. Oh, you can make decisions, all right, but they're inconsistent. What I think is important is consistency during difficult and troubled times, so that people -- they may not agree, but they know where I'm coming from.
And I'll share some of the principles. You've heard one -- I believe freedom is universal. I believe that. Let me put it another way: I believe there's an Almighty, and I believe a gift from the Almighty to every man and woman and child on this Earth is freedom. That's what I believe.
Secondly, I believe you can spend your money better than the government can spend your money. (Applause.) Oh, I know that sounds like a sound bite, but it's a principle by which you set budgets. For example, I believe that cutting taxes helped this country overcome a recession and a war. And the reason why is, is that markets flourish when people have more money. Employers, small businesses do better when you have more money. When your treasury is more likely to have money, you're more likely to take risk. And that's what tax cuts do.
And by the way, it's another issue that we're facing. In all due respect to the Democrats, if you look at their budget, they want to raise your taxes. I believe Congress needs to keep your taxes low. I believe, by the way -- (applause.) Thank you. I'm not trying to rally, I'm just trying to explain.
I believe we have proven that the best way to balance the budget -- and I know many of you are concerned about a balanced budget -- is to grow the economy through low taxes, which means enhanced revenues, and be wise about spending your money. In other words, pro-growth economic policies have proven to work. And it turns out that when the economy grows, taxes increase. And therefore, the corollary is to make sure we don't over-spend.
The temptation in
I believe, for example, that the government ought to trust people to make decisions. And so how does that -- like health care; that's a big issue for all of us. One of the ways I think -- was that your question? Good, okay. I'll ask it for you -- what are you going to do on health care? Anyway -- (laughter.) The tax code discriminates against an individual on health care decisions. And I believe that we ought to change the tax code so an employee of a corporation is treated equally as somebody who is self-employed. In other words, the tax treatment ought to be the same, all aimed at encouraging individual decision-making in the marketplace. I'm a big believer in health savings accounts, because health savings accounts means you are the decision-maker, along with your doc.
Health care -- like Medicare, we changed Medicare for the better. Medicare -- I remind people, Medicare had changed -- medicine had changed, Medicare hadn't. Prescription drugs became an integral part of medicine, and yet, the senior was not covered with prescription drugs in Medicare. It didn't make any sense to me to pay thousands for an ulcer operation, but not a dime for the prescription drugs that could have prevented the ulcer from happening in the first place.
And so we modernized Medicare with the prescription drug benefit, but we also did something unique when it came to government programs. We gave seniors choices. In other words, we created more of a marketplace. It's amazing what happens when people demand something: people provide for it in the marketplace. Competition helps keep price low. It was estimated that we would spend some $600 billion additional money through Medicare, and yet the cost to the government, and you, more particularly, is substantially lower because of competition. That's a principle.
When it comes to pension plans, I think you ought to be managing your money. I don't think you ought to be relying upon government to tell you what your benefit is. I think you ought to be in a position to take your own money and manage it on a tax advantage basis.
My point is, the principle is that we ought to trust people to make decisions. To whom much is given, much is required. I'm glad you asked this question, thank you. (Laughter.) Listen -- Laura says, you love to hear yourself talk, don't you?
I want to share this story with you, though, because I believe an important principle is, to whom much is given, much is required. The
When I first came into office, I was deeply concerned about the pandemic of HIV/AIDS, particularly on the continent of
I went to Congress, I went to you. I asked for a substantial sum of money to help fund a campaign to save lives on the most 19 affected nations on Earth. I asked a former CEO of Eli Lilly, Randy Tobias, to run the program. As a result of your generosity based upon the principle, to whom much is given, much is required, over 850,000 people receive anti-retroviral drugs today. That's up from 50,000 three years ago.
Is it in our nation's interest to do that? I believe it is. If what happens overseas matters here at home, then I do think it's important to help address issues like starvation and disease. But I also think it's in the interest of the soul of the nation to adhere to an important principle. And I think we're adding to a glorious chapter in our history to say that the people of the
And so those are some of the principles. And you asked a question, what do I think? I think it's important to stand on principle. I think it's important to make decisions based upon a core set of beliefs; that's what I think. And politics comes and goes, but your principles don't. And everybody wants to be loved -- not everybody, but -- you run for office, I guess you do. (Laughter.) You never heard anybody say, I want to be despised, I'm running for office. (Laughter.) But I believe, sir, in my soul, that I have made the right decisions for this country when it comes to prosperity and peace. That's what I believe.
I want to share something with you about history. I'm reading a lot of history, I mentioned to you, I read three histories on George Washington last year. The year 2006, I read three histories about our first President. My attitude is, if they're still writing about one, 43 doesn't need to worry about it. (Laughter and applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead. Go ahead. Let's get the mic there.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks.
Q This is in regards to the Virginia Tech tragedy. Being a high school student, I was wondering what's being done to ensure safety in schools?
THE PRESIDENT: I think that -- first of all, I don't know your principal very well -- I met him. I will tell you, though, that his biggest concern, besides you learning to read, write, add, and subtract and be a student who can contribute to society, is your safety.
One of the lessons of these tragedies is to make sure that when people see somebody, or know somebody who is exhibiting abnormal behavior, to do something about it, to suggest that somebody take a look; that if you are a parent and your child is doing strange things on the Internet, pay attention to it, and not be afraid to ask for help, and not be afraid to say, I am concerned about what I'm seeing.
I think there's a tendency at times for people -- and I fully understand this -- is to respect somebody's privacy, you know, and not share concerns. But some of the lessons of the shootings have been that it is -- and I don't know about this case -- and by the way, they're still digging out the facts, so I think it's very important for us not to comment until it's all said and done -- but that other cases, there have been warning signals, that if an adult, for example, had taken those signals seriously, perhaps tragedy could have been avoided.
And so the lesson is, is that -- and I know you're -- the lesson is, is that the principals and teachers and adults of this school must be on alert, and I know they are.
And as I -- I repeat to you, you're lucky -- all of us -- a lot of these high schools are really lucky to have people who care about you. Unfortunately, in a complex society, the teacher's job, and the principal's job is more than just teaching; it is safety. And yet, that is a vital concern I know to the folks who run this school.
Okay, yes, ma'am.
THE PRESIDENT: Sure, go ahead. Wait, I want this question recorded. A little hustle there. (Laughter and applause.) Thank you.
Q I believe there's a big misconception that scaling back in Iraq will cost less in the long run than to go in and get the job done. How do you get that message across to
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I appreciate that. Her concern is that a scale-back will either save money, or save lives, or save headache, and how do you get the message out? Coming here is part of getting the message out. The President has got to be educator-in-chief, and I've just got to keep talking about it. I've spent a lot of time on this subject. This is a subject that has concerned a lot of our fellow citizens. They are deeply worried about whether or not it is possible for us to succeed, and that there needs to be an explanation of the violence.
And my answer is, is that the -- there is a political process that's ongoing, an economic process that's ongoing, a rebuilding process that's ongoing, and a security process that's ongoing, and that you can't have the former unless you have security. And therefore, it's in the interest -- if a failed state creates violence and chaos that eventually could come and hurt us, it's in our interest to help succeed.
And therefore, the troop levels need to be commensurate with the capacity of that society to protect itself. The objective is to have the Iraqis take over their own security. It's just that they weren't ready to do so. And I appreciate your question.
It's very important -- I think some really are -- I know a lot of people are tired of it. People get pretty tired of war, and I understand that. It's really important as we -- that we have a sober discussion and understand what will be the consequences of failure.
As I've told you, on the rug -- the reason I brought up the rug was to not only kind of break the ice, but also to talk about strategic thought. The President's job is to think not only about today, but tomorrow. The President's job is not only think about the short-term security of the
And I appreciate your question because I will continue to work hard to explain the consequences of this world in which we live; that what happens overseas matters here at home in the 21st century, and that we are in the beginning of a long struggle that will have, hopefully, not a lot of military action, would be my hope for future Presidents. But it is a struggle akin to other struggles we have been through.
The ideological struggle of the Cold War is a potential parallel. It's freedom versus communism. This is a -- this is a struggle with freedom versus extreme radicalism. There have been -- how do you allow a society, or how do you encourage societies to evolve after struggle, after conflict? There are other historical parallels. My job is to continue to explain the consequences -- consequences of success, which I believe will be peace; the consequences of failure, which I believe will be creating a more dangerous situation here in the
Boehner is a busy man. He is busy representing the people of this district; he is now giving me the signal -- (laughter.) I'm feeling his vibes. (Laughter.) I'm going to fly him back to
I'm honored that you gave me a chance to come and visit with you. I ask for God's blessings on our troops and their families, on the people of Virginia Tech, and on the people of the
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