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Press Conference by President Bush ?Part 2 of 2

Contact: White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 202-456-2580  


WASHINGTON, Nov. 8 /Standard Newswire/ -- The following text is of remarks by President Bush at a press conference:


Yes, sir, Fletcher.


Q    Thank you, sir.  There's a bill that could come before the lame-duck session of Congress, that would extend voting rights to the District of Columbia, in Congress, and also give an extra seat to Utah.  You've been passionate about democracy in Iraq.  Why not here in D.C., and would you support this bill?


THE PRESIDENT:  I haven't -- it's the first I've heard of it.  I didn't know that's going to come up from the lame duck.


Q    -- Congressman Davis's bill.


THE PRESIDENT:  Yes, well, it may or may not come up.  I'm trying to get the Indian deal done, the Vietnam deal done, and the budgets done.  But I'll take a look at it.  It's the first I've heard of it.  Thanks.


Let's see here.  Yes, sir.


Q    Mr. President, you mentioned the prospect that your successor would be dealing with the war.  You'll be making your first trip to Vietnam in roughly a week.  Some people are still  -- are looking at the war as another Vietnam War.  Are they wrong to do so?  And if so, why?


THE PRESIDENT:  I think they are.  I think they are.  First of all, Iraq, after the overthrow of the tyrant, voted on a constitution that is intended to unite the whole country.  And then they had elections under that constitution where nearly 12 million people voted for this unity government.  Secondly -- which is different from Vietnam.


Secondly, in terms of our troops, this is a volunteer army.  Vietnam wasn't a volunteer army, as you know.  And in this volunteer army, the troops understand the consequences of Iraq and the global war on terror.  That's why re-enlistment rates are up, and that's why enlistment is high.


Thirdly, the support for our troops is strong here in the United States, and it wasn't during the Vietnam era.  So I see differences, I really do.  And you hear all the time, well, this may be a civil war.  Well, I don't believe it is, and the Maliki government doesn't believe it is.  Zal, our Ambassador, doesn't believe it is.  But we've got to make sure it isn't by implementing a strategy which helps -- a politics strategy which helps unify the country, and a security strategy that makes sure that the Iraqis are better capable of fighting off the extremists and the radicals that want to stop progress in Iraq. 


So I don't think it is a parallel. 




Q    Thank you, sir.  During this campaign season some religious conservatives expressed support and appreciation for the work you've done.  But some also expressed that they felt like they expended a lot of effort on your behalf without a lot of results.  I wonder if you could tell us what parts of their agenda are still on your radar screen, and if you think they're right to be frustrated?  And also, Mr. President, may I ask you if you have any metrics you'd be willing to share about your reading contest with Mr. Rove. 


THE PRESIDENT:  I'm losing.  I obviously was working harder in the campaign than he was.  (Laughter.)


AUDIENCE:  Oooooh!


THE PRESIDENT:  He's a faster reader.  You know, Michael, I must confess I cannot catalogue for you in detail the different criticisms.  In this line of work you get criticized from all sides.  And that's okay, it's just part of the job.  And so I'm not exactly sure what you're talking about, but I can tell you that I believe the faith-based and community-based -- the faith- and community-based initiative is a vital part of helping solve intractable problems here in America.  And I would hope that I could work with Congress to make sure this program, which has been invigorated, remains invigorated. 


And the reason why I believe in it so much is that there are just some problems that require something other than government help, and it requires people who have heard a call to help somebody in need.  And I believe we ought to open up grants to competitive bidding for these types of organizations, and we have done that.  And it's very important that that program stay strong.


But, you know, Michael, you're probably following all these -- the different lists of concerns people have with my presidency, and I respect that.  I just -- frankly, I'm not sure exactly what you're talking about in this question.  I'm sure there are some people who aren't perfectly content, but there are some people that aren't perfectly content from different parties and different philosophies.  All I know to do is to make decisions based upon principles that I believe are important, and now work with Democrat leaders in the Congress because they control the committees and they control the flow of bills.  And I'm going to do that for the good of the country. 


Let's see here -- yes, McKinnon.


Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  If you had any do-overs to do --


THE PRESIDENT:  You don't get to do them.  (Laughter.) 


Q    Or if Mr. Rove had any do-overs to do in this --


THE PRESIDENT:  You don't get do-overs.  Anyway, go ahead.


Q    Well, what would they be?  I mean, are there any tactical -- (laughter.)


THE PRESIDENT:  Look -- yes, well -- I, frankly, haven't analyzed the election nearly as much as some of you have.  You know, again, I think when you really look close at the results -- first of all, there's a lot of close elections.  No question Iraq had an impact.  But it's hard to win an election when you're trying to win a write-off -- a write-in campaign in our state of Texas.  I mean, you could have the greatest positions in the world on issues and be the most articulate person on an issue, but to try to get -- to win on a write-in is really hard to do.


We had the race in Florida, the Foley seat.  That's a hard race to win in a Republican district because people couldn't vote directly for the Republican candidate.  And all I'm telling you, John, is that there's a -- when you dig into the races, there's a -- look, I had to go down to Houston, in Sugar Land, and act as the Secretary of State:  Take your pencil into the box and then write it in.  And my only -- the reason I bring that up is, I'm not sure Iraq had much to do with the outcome of that election. 


Now, it certainly did in other places.  One of the interesting observations I had from last night was that if you take a look at New York State, Senator Clinton ran a very strong race, but she ran a race that appeared to me to be on -- just a Senate race.  She wanted to show people she had the capacity to help others win.  And the same thing happened in Pennsylvania with Governor Rendell.  He ran a very strong race, as did Senator-elect Casey.  And my only point to you is, is that I'm sure Iraq had something to do with the voters' mind, but so did a very strong turnout mechanism in those two important states. 


So they're just going to have to analyze all the different results.  As far as do-overs, talk to them.




Q    Americans have heard it before, there's going to be cooperation, we're going to get along.  What can you do to show Americans that there -- that you'll stop and avoid any gridlock? Because they've seen it come anyway.


THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we had some pretty good success early on in this administration.  We got the No Child Left Behind Act passed, which was an important part of bipartisan legislation.  We got some tax cuts passed with Democrat votes. 


Let me --


Q    -- partisan --


THE PRESIDENT:  I know you're anxious, but -- but so we've just now got to show people we're capable of doing it.  You're right, people are skeptical.  And the way you defeat skepticism is perform.  And I was very pleased with my conversation with Congresswoman Pelosi.  It was a very gracious conversation, and -- albeit a little early in the morning, I must confess, but nevertheless, it was a good one.  And my fault as I was the person who initiated the call.


But I do believe we can get some things done.  I think we can set an agenda -- I hope so.  I hope so.  I didn't come to Washington just to occupy the office.  I came to get some positive things done on behalf of the country.  And there are some big issues we got to deal with.  No Child Left Behind is one.  Entitlements, that's going to be an interesting issue to try to deal with.  And it's going to be very important in entitlements for people to feel comfortable about bringing ideas to the table -- people being Republicans and Democrats.  If we do not have Republicans and Democrats at the table for entitlements, nothing is going to happen.


And, therefore, I instructed Secretary Paulson to reach out to folks on the Hill to see if we can't at least get a dialogue started that will enable us, hopefully, to move forward on a very important issue that will affect this country for a long time if we don't solve it, and that is the unfunded liabilities inherent in these entitlement programs.


We need to continue to talk about energy.  Dependency upon foreign oil is a national security and economic security problem, and it's a problem that requires bipartisan cooperation.  I know the Democrats are concerned about this issue, as am I.


So, in other words, there's areas where I believe we can get some important things done.  And to answer your question, though, how do we convince Americans that we're able to do it?  Do it.  That's how you do it.  You get something done.  You actually sit down, work together, and I sign legislation that we all agree on.  And my pledge today is I'll work hard to try to see if we can't get that done.




Q    I wanted to ask you about the thumpin' you took at yesterday's rodeo.  You said you were disappointed, you were surprised --


THE PRESIDENT:  There you go.  Rutenberg, you notice that?  Taking one --


Q    And that was thumpin' without a "g," correct?  I just want to make sure we have it right for the transcript.  (Laughter.)  You said you were surprised, you didn't see it coming, you were disappointed in the outcome.  Does that indicate that after six years in the Oval Office, you're out of touch with America for something like this kind of wave to come and you not expect it?  And on a somewhat related note, does Nancy Pelosi look much like Bob Bullock to you?


THE PRESIDENT:  (Laughter.)  That's an inside joke, I'm not commenting on it.


Secondly, I'm an optimistic person, is what I am.  And I knew we were going to lose seats, I just didn't know how many.


Q    How could you not know that and not be out of touch?


THE PRESIDENT:  You didn't know it, either.


Q    A lot of polls showed it.


THE PRESIDENT:  Well, there was a -- I read those same polls, and I believe that -- I thought when it was all said and done, the American people would understand the importance of taxes and the importance of security.  But the people have spoken, and now it's time for us to move on.




Q    Mr. President, you mentioned entitlements, and one of the big hot-button issues for the Democratic Party is Social Security and the idea of partial privatization, which you have talked about.  And I wonder if there's anything in your agenda in that way that you're willing to adjust in the spirit of bipartisanship or back off from, given how important that is to the core of the Democratic Party?


THE PRESIDENT:  I told -- Ken, I told Hank Paulson to tell the members that we'd sit down and we'd listen to everybody's ideas.  I put out my ideas, as you recall, I think in the State of the Union last time.  And we want to hear their ideas.  And hopefully out of this concept of folks sitting around a table sharing ways forward, that we will come up with a commonality; that we are able to then say to the American people, we've helped solve this problem. 


But this is a tough issue.  Look, I fully understand how hard it is.  Social Security -- people are generally risk-adverse when it comes time to Social Security.  My problem with that is, is that the longer you wait, the more difficult the issue is going to become.  And some will keep pushing it.  And hopefully we can get something done.




Q    A little earlier you said that you truly believe that the Democratic leaders care about the security of this country as much as you do.  Yet just about at every campaign stop you expressed pretty much the opposite.  You talked about them having a different mind-set --




Q    -- about having a different philosophy, about waiting  -- about being happy that America gets attacked before responding.


THE PRESIDENT:  What did you just say, "happy"? 


Q    You said they will be satisfied to see America --


THE PRESIDENT:  No, I didn't say, "happy."  Let's make sure.


Q    You left that impression, forgive me. 


THE PRESIDENT:  With you.  Go ahead. 


Q    Well, I'm wondering, looking back at the campaign, and previous campaigns, do you think that it's been harder to pull the country together after the election by making such partisan attacks about national security?


THE PRESIDENT:  Richard, I do believe they care about the security.  I don't -- I thought they were wrong not making sure our professionals had the tools, and I still believe that.  I don't see how you can protect the country unless you give these professionals tools.  They just have a different point of view.  That doesn't mean they don't want America to get attacked [sic].  That's why I said what I said.


Yes, Jackson.


Q    Thank you, Mr. President.  On immigration, many Democrats had more positive things to say about your comprehensive proposal than many Republicans did.  Do you think a Democratic Congress gives you a better shot at comprehensive immigration reform?


THE PRESIDENT:  You know, I should have brought this up.  I do.  I think we have a good chance.  Thank you.  It's an important issue and I hope we can get something done on it.  I meant to put that in my list of things that we need to get done.


I would hope Republicans have recognized that we've taken very strong security measures to address one aspect of comprehensive immigration reform.  And I was talking to Secretary Chertoff today; he thinks that these measures we're taking are beginning to have measurable effects, and that catch and release has virtually been ended over the past couple of months.  And that's positive. 


And that's what some members were concerned about prior to advancing a comprehensive bill.  In other words, they said, show me progress on the border, and then we'd be interested in talking about other aspects.  Well, there's progress being made on the border in terms of security, and I would hope we can get something done.  It's a vital issue.  It's an issue that -- there's an issue where I believe we can find some common ground with the Democrats.


Q    What are the odds for a guest worker provision?


THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that's got to be an integral part of a comprehensive plan.  When you're talking comprehensive immigration reform, one part of it is a guest worker program, where people can come on a temporary basis to do jobs Americans are not doing.  I've always felt like that would be an important aspect of securing the border.  In other words, if somebody is not trying to sneak in in the first place, it makes -- decreases the work load on our Border Patrol, and lets the Border Patrol focused on drugs and guns and terrorists.  But that's a -- I appreciate you bringing that up.  I should have remembered it.


Listen, thank you all very much for your time.  I appreciate your interest.


END   1:44 P.M. EST