The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 13, 2004

Press Gaggle with Dan Bartlett
Royal Palms Hotel and Spa
Phoenix, Arizona

11:42 A.M. MST

MR. BARTLETT: Well, obviously, first to start with saying that President Bush is excited about tonight. It gives him an opportunity to spend a lot more time, obviously, than the first debate -- and even the second debate -- to talk about some of the clear differences between he and Senator Kerry on important domestic issues facing the American people, and which the President will be addressing the next four years.

There's a clear difference in this campaign. President Bush has a record of results in which he's done in office what he said he would do. He's taken on tough challenges. Our country has taken on tough challenges: a recession, an attack on our economy, which cost our country 1 million jobs in the three months just after 9/11. But we responded and, based on that response, we now have a growing economy, creating 1.9 million jobs, that he's going to talk about. There is as clear, philosophical contrast between he and Senator Kerry on these big issues.

The President believes and trusts the American people. Senator Kerry's positions and record demonstrates that he trusts government, and that's a clear difference in this election and it's one I imagine will be a centerpiece of the debate on many of the issues facing us. And, like I said, the President has a record of results. Senator Kerry has 20 years in the Senate, in which he hasn't accomplished much, but what he has earned is the ranking as the most liberal member of the United States Senate, and he's done that by casting votes for more taxes, more regulation, and less control of individuals' lives. So it's a clear difference.

As far as preparation, the President has spent a lot of time -- starting, obviously, in Crawford, when he was down in Crawford Sunday night, we had a session. We've been taking advantage of motorcade rides -- and I remember coming back from -- what was it, Red Face or Red Stone?

Q Red Rocks.

MR. BARTLETT: Red Rocks, we used that as an opportunity; on the plane rides yesterday, we had a formal session. We flew in Senator Judd Gregg last night, had a full dress -- I say "dress," but he didn't wear a suit -- rehearsal.

Q Who won? (Laughter.)

MR. BARTLETT: Both sides represented themselves well. (Laughter.) The President was a clear victor. (Laughter.)

But did a full session last night, and then even did, you know, after that, later in the evening, before he went to dinner with Senator McCain, we did another session with aides going through some things. This morning, first thing, we're back on the job and going over some final points he wants to make.

So he's been paying a lot of attention to this. There's some points he, as I said, that he wants to talk about what he wants to do for the next four years, the goals and his vision for improving the economy, building on education reform and also talk about the clear differences in this campaign.

So he's excited. He got a little exercise, as well, this morning, and is going to relax this afternoon and just clear his mind for the last debate.

Q Does the format put him at a disadvantage?

MR. BARTLETT: I don't think so. Obviously, he's a person who warms to audiences, as he showed last Friday. But he's done this before. He obviously did it at the first debate. I don't think that will be an issue.

Q The polls show that Senator Kerry was the clear winner, according to voters. Does the President have to come out as the clear victor in this debate?

MR. BARTLETT: I do believe the President will win this debate, because his positions and his values are closer to where the American people's are. Senator Kerry is a fine debater, and I'm sure he'll win on technicality and on points, and I'm sure he'll rehearse a lot of lines that may sound good, but when you look at the details they don't come across just as well. And I think in each debate, if you look at the substantive arguments we've had afterwards, he's been the one who talks about, incredulously, that there's no government involvement in his health care plan, for example. He's the one who talks about a global test.

I mean, if you look at the real missteps and mistakes being made in these debates on a substantive matter, it's been Senator Kerry. And President Bush will, I believe, take advantage of those again tonight, and point them out.

So I'm clearly confident that the President will win this debate on the substance, and that's where the public is on this. And when people are asked, you know, who was technically this or that, I mean, he was a debate team captain who literally has been preparing for this all his life. But I think at the end of the day what's going to matter is where they stand on the issues. And I think in that regard, President Bush is going to be the clear victor.

Q Dan, everyone is saying that as of today, everything is back to square one, as far as the campaign is concerned. Is that how you're viewing this? Is this the ground zero, and from here on in it's a whole new ball game?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, we've said even before the debate season started, that the election is going to narrow. You've all covered the fact that -- you know, a close electorate. We do have confidence down the stretch that President Bush is going to be victorious because he has the right message, he has the right ground organization; his support is strong and energetic and responsive to his message. So I think it will be close right down to the wire, but at the end of the day I think the President's message and visions are going to prevail.

Q Kerry is going to be hammering the 800,000 job loss net in the first term, four years. Isn't that a problem that you basically cannot get around?

MR. BARTLETT: No, because it's taking that statistic in a vacuum, in which no one in America has done. The American people know what has happened over the last four years. They understand the cards that the entire country was dealt. The attacks of September 11th wasn't just an attack on our country, it was an attack on our economy, in the heart of the financial district, to the World Trade Center. Wall Street was shut down for a week. A million jobs lost in the three months just after 9/11. These aren't excuses; this is the reality in which all of Americans faced and overcame.

And the question mark on all these issues -- whether it be on jobs, on health care, or even on national security issues going forward -- is the American people want to know who has the right plans going forward. And we believe that this argument comes down to President Bush's pro-growth economic policies and Senator Kerry's policies of more taxes and more government spending, we'll win every time.

Q I guess the question is, how would you characterize job growth in the last several months? I mean, clearly, it hasn't been good.

MR. BARTLETT: Well, any way you slice it, 1.9 million new jobs over the last year is good, strong growth. You ask any economist the same -- look, the recovery we are in is a good recovery. And we're having anywhere from 3 to 4 percent GDP, and it fluctuates from quarter to quarter, and that is despite the fact that we're still a nation under threat. We're a nation still at war, a nation still having soldiers fighting in harm's way.

I think it's a remarkable achievement that despite all the uncertainties of war, despite all the challenges we've had to face as a country, that we are a growing economy. Our economy is growing faster than Germany, France and Great Britain combined, as far as job creation and GDP growth. I mean, those are remarkable figures for a country that was dealt the twin shocks of a recession and a terrorist attack.

Q Is that the line the President will take tonight, that it's an economic recovery that's occurring during a state of war and that it was September 11 which removed a million jobs from the economy?

MR. BARTLETT: He's made that point before, and I assume he will make it -- since it is a key reason why we had the type of job loss of the last three-and-a-half years, four years. So it's a key fact. It's a reality. And it's one that the public readily accepts -- they remember; they remember the stock market being down for a week, they remember the airplanes not flying for days, they remember what happened to our economy. And the whole northeastern -- it grinded to a halt, and that had a severe impact.

So it's a reality. President Bush didn't use excuses -- he acted. And we've taken decisive action -- we believe, obviously, the right action -- and that's why this economy is growing. We had dozens of major economic -- economists today, including the most recent Nobel laureate, come out and endorse President Bush's economic policies, demonstrated that he has put the right prescription for our economy in place.

Q Dan, analysts are saying that this debate could break the election deadlock in favor of either candidate, it could go either way. Are these the stakes that -- is this the way that you see it?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, analysts and media always try to make the event the moment of the day, the one, the biggest and the most dramatic. Every day is important. The debate tonight is important because it gives an opportunity for President Bush to demonstrate he has a vision for the next four years, as well as a better approach to governing our country.

But when you have a close race, every day matters. It matters when Senator Kerry says he believes that he just wants to reduce terrorism to a nuisance. I mean, each time these things are said, each time candidates take positions, it matters in a close race. So I think each day is going to matter. This is a big night, one the President is looking forward to and expects to do well.

Q Once the debates are over and you start the new campaign, the rest of the campaign, how will it look different to us than before?

MR. BARTLETT: You'll get less sleep, if you can imagine that. (Laughter.) We'll cover a lot of territory. But when you close the deal on an election, you put forward your vision, you put forward where you want to take the country, and clearly articulate why you believe your policies and your positions and your record demonstrate you're better than the other guy. And that's closing the deal in an election, and is something that this President has done before and --

Q Will he campaign every, single day, from now until the end?

MR. BARTLETT: Just about. Just about. It'll feel like it, if it's not.

Q Can you give us a reaction on the NRA endorsement?

MR. BARTLETT: I wasn't aware of it. They've supported the President in the past. The President believes that it is getting support from organization from all walks of life. The NRA recognizes that President Bush understands that law abiding citizens have a right to own firearms, as well as to keep the focus of our anti-crime policies on those who commit crimes with guns. So we've had their support in the past, and glad we have their support today.

Q Is that an issue that the President can make some inroads on tonight?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, I think anybody who looks at their two records, where President Bush has had a strong record -- anti-crime record in protecting the rights of the American people. And Senator Kerry, while during the last days of the campaign, does a lot of photo ops, if you look at his record and you look at his policies, it's one in which he doesn't commit to a strong anti-crime policy. We believe that violent criminals ought to receive the death penalty, for example. He doesn't. We believe that we ought to have strong mandatory sentencing. Senator Kerry, in the past, has voted against it. And we believe that we ought to protect the rights of citizens to keep and bear arms, but -- and then to focus our policies on those who commit crimes with guns.

Q Can I digress for a second to foreign policy?

MR. BARTLETT: On a day of domestic issues? (Laughter.)

Q Well, this is something that's come up in what the President said about Kerry and foreign policy. He said that, in many ways, what Kerry is recommending for Iraq is what we're already doing in trying -- in terms of trying to get foreign allies in there and whatnot. Then he's also said that Kerry's strategy is one of retreat and failure. So how do you reconcile those two?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, and many of the items in which he criticizes us, as far as reconstruction projects, as far as elections, and as far as training Iraqi security forces. Those are things that we are doing. And that's why he is mimicking. But in some key areas, Senator Kerry is signaling a policy of retreat and defeat, mainly is he's setting out there artificial timeframes of troop withdrawals, which we believe sends the wrong signal to the Iraqi people, sends the wrong signal to our coalition, and most importantly, it sends the wrong signal to the enemy.

Fundamentally, though, the critical difference between President Bush and Senator Kerry is that the American people want to know who can be successful in Iraq, and how can you win a fight that you don't believe in? And Senator Kerry doesn't believe in this fight, if you look at all the comments that he has made. You can't have a Commander-in-Chief who doesn't believe in the mission in which we are undertaking, and sacrificing lives if you don't believe in it. And President Bush not only believes in it, he thinks it's the right thing to do, at the right time, and the right place.

Q Does the President expect to bring up Iraq frequently this evening?

MR. BARTLETT: It's up to the moderator. We know the rules of this is domestic issues. I wouldn't be surprised if Senator Kerry tries again to take a crack at explaining his own position. He hasn't gotten it right yet, so I wouldn't doubt if he did it. And President Bush, if attacked on it, will obviously point out why we're -- what we're doing is right. And, ultimately, if we want to have good health care in America, if we want to have good education in America, if we want to have a strong economy in America, we've got to win the war. And that's a point that I think most Americans accept, and I think they accept that President Bush is a better person to prevail.

Q And if the President's policies are right for America, then why is the electorate so sharply split?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, I think the party differences that were evident in 2000 is still evident today. And that's part of where our electorate is today. But we believe that a majority of Americans are going to support President Bush. And he's made difficult decisions as President.

Q A large majority?

MR. BARTLETT: I'm not going to predict numbers. (Laughter.) I'm going to predict a victory. But I -- you know, President Bush has had to make some difficult decisions. Our country is faced with historic times and it's required decisions that some Americans, and many Americans in some cases, didn't support. And that's -- and a lot of people don't like war. And President Bush doesn't like war. But he understands that some people aren't going to agree with it, but he did what he felt was right, as Commander-in-Chief, to protect our country. And there might be some people who just fundamentally don't agree with that position and they're not going to support him. And he recognizes that.

Q Immigration is obviously a pretty powerful issue here in Arizona. And as voters here consider Proposition 200, the Protect Arizona Now Initiative, obviously this would be a big change in immigration policy, in terms of new penalties for federal government employees if they gave voter registration cards or welfare benefits. What is the President's position on that proposition?

MR. BARTLETT: Well, President Bush has made a habit not to get involved in local ballot initiatives, and he believes the people of Arizona can come to -- cast their vote and make up their minds on this. President Bush has, however, given his view of how we ought to approach immigration, both as governor of Texas and as President, and that's to say we're going to be tough on our borders, we're going to use our manpower and our technology to do everything we can to keep those people out who are not supposed to be here, but that he also wants to have a more humane system of treating illegal immigrants who are here.

We all recognize the reality in America is that there are many jobs in America that us Americans don't want to do, but people who want to provide for themselves in Mexico come here to do. And we should not have the shadowy underground economy. We ought to bring it forward, have a registration program that is fair, that is not amnesty, that is -- that recognizes that we need to have a more humane system in which we can track the people who are here, and who want to go home. In that way, it'll help our border enforcement officials do a more effective job of keeping the bad guys out.

So it's something that he is keenly aware, as a former border state governor. He's got a strong record when it comes to immigration in compassionate ways, as well as being tough on making sure that we protect our border.

Q How many hours of preparation has the President logged in over the past couple of days?

MR. BARTLETT: It's hard for me to put a -- I'm not with him 24 hours a day. It's constantly on his mind, so I can say that, but we've had --

Q Say today and yesterday.

MR. BARTLETT: Like I said, we had a formal session yesterday afternoon, like I said, a full rehearsal, which was -- you know, we were there for 90 minutes and did the whole thing, and then we did follow-up sessions. We're doing an hour here, hour there. We're almost taking every waking moment that we can, as far as, like I said, in motorcade rides and on the plane and other aspects. And I'm sure for him, personally, it's on his mind 24/7.

Q So it was a mock debate to the extent that it was -- that it was 90 minutes exactly?

MR. BARTLETT: Oh, sure. It might have been just shy, but it was pretty -- it was fairly close, but it was definitely time limits and the whole thing. It was very much a rehearsal.

Q Where was this?

MR. BARTLETT: About 100 feet from here, in a room right off of here. (Laughter.) Sorry.

Q Why weren't we invited?

MR. BARTLETT: You were. You didn't get -- Claire, you didn't give them the invitation? (Laughter.)

Q What sort of exercise this morning?

MR. BARTLETT: Precor. You know, the -- isn't that what it's called.

Q Elliptical?

MR. BARTLETT: Elliptical, sorry. What's Precor? I thought it was the same thing.

Q That's the brand, I think.

MR. BARTLETT: Ah, elliptical.

Q Did the President catch any of the game last night, the -- was he able to catch the Yankees --

MR. BARTLETT: I'm sure he watched the end when he got home, but I didn't get a chance to ask him. I'm sure he had it on, though.

Q Thank you.

MR. BARTLETT: All right? Thanks.

END 11:59 A.M. MST

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