For Immediate Release
March 16, 2005
Press Conference by the President
James S. Brady Briefing Room
10:15 A.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you for giving me a chance to come by and say
hello. I'm preparing for my trip out of town for Easter -- the Easter
week, and I thought I'd share some thoughts with you and answer some
I am looking forward to continuing my dialogue with the people on
Social Security. It's important for the American people to understand
that I believe the Social Security system has worked well, that
Franklin Roosevelt did a positive thing when he created the Social
Security system, but that I am deeply concerned about the Social
Security system for younger Americans. And I believe we're making
progress on convincing the American people of two things: One, nothing
will change for seniors, those who have retired or near retirement; and
secondly, that we must work together to make sure the system works for
a younger generation of Americans. That's progress.
As I said -- I think I told you all earlier that one of my missions
in the Social Security debate was to set that issue before the people
so the people fully understand why I was addressing it, in other words,
why -- I fully understand some in Washington are saying, why would the
President bring this up, it's a difficult issue, it may cause us to
have to make a tough vote. I'm making that case to the people, and
will continue to do so -- in Florida on Friday, and then we'll head out
West from Crawford and then back to Crawford for my meetings with Prime
Minister Martin and President Fox.
I urge the members to go out and, when they go home, to talk to
their constituents not only about the problem, but about solutions. I
urge members to start talking about how we're going to permanently fix
Social Security. Members, I hope, would not talk about a Band-Aid
solution, but I think it's important for them to talk about a permanent
fix, something that will last forever. I think the voters will
appreciate people who come up with constructive suggestions, not
statements merely in opposition of some ideas.
And so this is -- part of what I wanted to share with you is that
I'm -- I'm actually enjoying myself on these trips. I hope you're
enjoying traveling with me. It's -- I like to get out of Washington, I
like to discuss big issues, I like to remind people that my job is to
confront problems, and I will continue to talk about Social Security
for the next period of time.
Iraq had a meeting today of its transitional national assembly.
It's a bright moment in what is a process toward the writing of a
constitution, the ratification of the constitution, and elections. And
I want to congratulate the Iraqis for their assembly. And it's --
we've always said this is a process, and today was a step in that
process. And it's a hopeful moment, I thought.
I am looking forward to seeing you down there in Crawford, those of
you lucky enough to be able to travel with me. I wish you all a happy
Easter. And I'll be glad to answer some questions.
Q Mr. President, the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq once had 38
countries contributing troops. And now that number has fallen to 24.
And yesterday, Italy said that it was going to start pulling out some
forces in September. How can you keep the coalition from crumbling?
And is it time to think about a timetable for pulling out some U.S.
troops, given that the Iraqi parliament was seated today, and you're
making progress in training some forces?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, actually I called Silvio Berlusconi on
another matter, which may or may not come up during this press
conference. It's -- I'll give you a hint. I called him about the
World Bank, and -- (laughter) -- and discussed my nominee, and -- but
he brought up the issue of Italian troops in Iraq and said, first of
all, he wanted me to know that there was no change in his policy, that,
in fact, any withdrawals would be done in consultation with allies and
would be done depending upon the ability of Iraqis to defend
themselves. And I said, are you sure I can say this to the press corps
that will be wanting to know what took place in our conversation? He
So I think what you're going to find is that countries will be
willing -- anxious to get out when Iraqis have got the capacity to
defend themselves. And that's the position of the United States. Our
troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself. And
that's generally what I find to be the case, Terry, when I've talked to
other allies on this issue.
And we're making progress. I've talked to General Casey quite
frequently. And he keeps us abreast of the progress being made. One
of the things -- one of the issues in terms of Iraqi troops being able
to defend their country is the ability to stand up chains of command.
I think I've shared this with you before, and it's still an issue that
they're working on. There's officer training schools, plus the ability
for a command to go from a civilian government to a military chain of
command, down to the lower ranks of troops. And there's positive signs
that have taken place in the development of the Iraqi security forces,
and there's still work to be done. Our allies understand that.
But I say "anxious to come home," every -- nobody -- people want
their troops home, but they don't want their troops home if it affects
the mission. We've gone -- we've made a lot of progress. It's amazing
how much progress has been made, thanks in large part to the courage of
the Iraqi people. And when I talk to people, most understand we need
to complete the mission. And completing the mission means making sure
the Iraqis can defend themselves.
Q So you don't think it's crumbling, the coalition?
THE PRESIDENT: No, quite -- quite to the contrary, I think the
coalition is -- has been buoyed by the courage of the Iraqi people. I
think they've been pleased and heartened by the fact that the Iraqis
went to the polls and voted and they're now putting together a
government, and they see progress is being made. And I share that
sense of enthusiasm about what's taking place in Iraq.
Q Yes, sir. The Iranians have dismissed the European incentive
as insignificant. Should more incentives be offered? How long do they
have until you take their case to the Security Council?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- first of all, I want to thank our
European friends for taking the lead on this issue, telling the
Iranians that they should permanently abandon any enrichment or
reprocessing to make sure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon.
Let me review the bidding on this, if I might, just kind of the
history, right quick. Iran has concealed its
-- a nuclear program. That became discovered, not because of their
compliance with the IAEA or NPT, but because a dissident group pointed
it out to the world, and -- which raised suspicions about the
intentions of the program. You can understand why. It's a
non-transparent regime, they're run by a handful of people. And so
suspicions were raised. And as a result of those suspicions, we came
together with friends and allies to seek a guarantee that they wouldn't
use any nuclear program to make weapons. A lot of people understand
that if they did have a weapon, it would create incredible instability;
it wouldn't be good for world peace.
And so the best way to do that -- and this is where we are in the
talks -- was to say to the Iranians that they must permanently abandon
enrichment and reprocessing. And the EU 3 meant it. And now we're
waiting for an Iranian response.
Q So how long do you -- how long do you wait? When do you go to
the Security Council?
THE PRESIDENT: The understanding is we go to the Security Council
if they reject the offer. And I hope they don't. I hope they realize
the world is clear about making sure that they don't end up with a
Q Mr. President, you say you're making progress in the Social
Security debate. Yet private accounts, as the centerpiece of that
plan, something you first campaigned on five years ago and laid before
the American people, remains, according to every measure we have, poll
after poll, unpopular with a majority of Americans. So the question
is, do you feel that this is a point in the debate where it's incumbent
upon you, and nobody else, to lay out a plan to the American people for
how you actually keep Social Security solvent for the long-term?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, Dave, let me, if I might correct you,
be so bold as to correct you, I have not laid out a plan yet,
intentionally. I have laid out principles, I've talked about putting
all options on the table, because I fully understand the administration
must work with the Congress to permanently solve Social Security. So
one aspect of the debate is, will we be willing to work together to
permanently solve the issue.
Personal accounts do not solve the issue. But personal accounts
will make sure that individual workers get a better deal with whatever
emerges as a Social Security solution.
And the reason why is because a personal account would enable a
worker to, voluntarily, by the way -- this is a voluntary program, you
can choose to join or choose not to join. The government is not making
you do that, it's your option, and you can decide whether or not you
want to put some of your own money aside in a conservative mix of
stocks and bonds to earn a better rate of return than that which you
would earn -- your money would earn inside the Social Security system.
And over time, that compounds, it grows, and you would end up with a
nest egg you could call your own.
And so I think it's an interesting idea, and one that people ought
to discuss to make sure the system works better for an individual
worker. But it's very important for people to understand that the
permanent solution will require Congress and the administration working
together on a variety of different possibilities.
Q But, sir, but Democrats have made it pretty clear that they're
not interested in that. They want you to lay it out. And so, what I'm
asking is, don't --
THE PRESIDENT: I'm sure they do. The first bill on the Hill
always is dead on arrival. I'm interested in coming up with a
permanent solution. I'm not interested in playing political games.
(Laughter.) I'm interested in working with members of both political
Q Would you say if you're specifically supportive of an income
test for the slowing of future benefits? Could that get some kind of
bipartisan consensus going?
THE PRESIDENT: David, there's some interesting ideas out there.
One of the interesting ideas was by the fellow -- by a Democrat
economist name of Posen. He came to visit the White House -- he didn't
see me, but came and tossed some interesting ideas out, talking about
making sure the system was progressive. We're open for ideas. And I
-- look, I can understand why people say, make -- force the President
to either negotiate with himself, or lay out his own bill. I want to
work with members of both political parties.
And I stood up in front of the Congress and said, bring your ideas
forward. And I'm looking forward to people bringing ideas forward.
That's how the process works. I'm confident we'll get something done.
See, the American people want something done. They don't like partisan
politics; they don't like people saying, I'm not going to accept
so-and-so's idea because it happens to come from a particular political
party. What they want is people coming together to solve this
Q Mr. President, the price of oil is at record levels, well
above the $28 price point that you would prefer. The price of gasoline
is projected to go above $2.50 this spring. How concerned are you that
this could start to affect the American economy? Is there more you
could do to talk with oil-producing nations to get the price at the
wellhead down? And is there more you could do, since part of the
problem is refining capacity, to encourage oil companies who haven't
built a new refinery in 20 years to start increasing their capacity
THE PRESIDENT: No, I am concerned about the price of energy. I'm
concerned about what it means to the average American family when they
see the price of gasoline going up. I'm concerned what it means to
small businesses. I'm worried about the price of natural gas,
particularly given the sense that because a lot of utilities now rely
upon natural gas to provide electricity for their consumers. And I
have been worried about this since 2001, when I first showed up in
I'm concerned about the relationship between the demand for oil --
our growing economy's demand for oil, but more particularly, the demand
for oil from -- or energy, in general, from countries like China,
fast-growing countries that are consuming a lot of raw materials and
natural resources. And it is of concern, John. And that's why I went
to the Congress and asked them to join in a comprehensive energy plan,
which they have yet to do. I would hope that when members go back to
their districts and hear the complaints of people about the rising
price of gasoline, or complaints from small business owners about the
cost of energy, that they will come back and, in the spirit of -- in a
proper spirit, get a bill to my desk that encourages conservation and
continue to find alternative sources of energy.
The -- and by the way, the modernization of the electricity grid is
an important part of the energy bill. I, frankly, don't think we need
a lot of incentives for energy companies in the energy bill. The
incentive is price. That's plenty of incentive for people to go out
and find additional resources. I hope Congress passes ANWR. There's a
way to get some additional reserves here at home on the books.
In terms of world supply, I think if you look at all the
statistics, demand is outracing supply, and supplies are getting
tight. And that's why you're seeing the price reflected. And
hopefully, there will be more conservation around the world, better
conservation around the world, as well as additional supplies of
One thing is for certain; we've got to use our technology to, over
time, evolve away from reliance upon oil and gas, and at the same time
use our technologies to make sure we can use our plentiful resources
like coal in an environmentally friendly way. I went to Columbus, Ohio
the other day and talked to the person responsible for the FutureGen
plant, which is an innovative use of technology for there to be
emissions-free coal-burning plants. That would not only be helpful to
the United States, it would be helpful for the world -- developing
nations to be able to use this technology.
This is going to be a subject, by the way -- was a subject of
interest in my trip to Europe. In the councils of the EU, we talked
about how we can work together on technological developments to change
habits and change supply of the energy mix for the world. And this
will be a topic of -- at the G8, as well.
Q Mr. President, could I follow up? Everybody else has had a
chance to follow up.
THE PRESIDENT: I know, I'm trying to break the habit. (Laughter.)
Sorry, it's not you, Roberts. Don't take it personally. (Laughter.)
Q I never do, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: That's good. Neither do I.
Q Mr. President, can you explain why you've approved of and
expanded the practice of what's called rendition, of transferring
individuals out of U.S. custody to countries where human rights groups
and your own State Department say torture is common for people under
THE PRESIDENT: The post-9/11 world, the United States must make
sure we protect our people and our friends from attack. That was the
charge we have been given. And one way to do so is to arrest people
and send them back to their country of origin with the promise that
they won't be tortured. That's the promise we receive. This country
does not believe in torture. We do believe in protecting ourselves.
We don't believe in torture. And --
Q As Commander-in-Chief --
THE PRESIDENT: Sorry, what -- make Roberts feel terrible.
Q That's all right.
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, you shouldn't make --
Q It doesn't bother me at all. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Elisabeth.
Q As Commander-in-Chief, what is it that Uzbekistan can do in
interrogating an individual that the United States can't?
THE PRESIDENT: We seek assurances that nobody will be tortured
when we render a person back to their home country.
Q Paul Wolfowitz, who was the -- a chief architect of one of the
most unpopular wars in our history --
THE PRESIDENT: (Laughter.) That's an interesting start.
Q -- is your choice to be the President of the World Bank. What
kind of signal does that send to the rest of the world?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I think people -- I appreciate the
world leaders taking my phone calls as I explained to them why I think
Paul will be a strong President of the World Bank. I've said he's a
man of good experiences. He helped manage a large organization. The
World Bank is a large organization; the Pentagon is a large
organization -- he's been involved in the management of that
organization. He's a skilled diplomat, worked at the State Department
in high positions. He was Ambassador to Indonesia where he did a very
good job representing our country. And Paul is committed to
development. He's a compassionate, decent man who will do a fine job
in the World Bank. And that's why I called leaders of countries and
that's why I put him up.
I was pleased to see that Jim Wolfensohn, earlier today, made a
very strong comment about Paul's candidacy. Jim Wolfensohn has done a
fine job in leading the World Bank. He's represented the World Bank
with a lot of class and a lot of dignity, and I think his comments are
very important comments for -- for people to get to know Paul better
before the -- before the vote is taken.
Q Tom DeLay, the House Majority Leader, has been admonished
three times by the House Ethics Committee, is currently embroiled in
several controversies involving a lobbyist who happened to be a pretty
big fundraiser for your two campaigns. Do you have the full confidence
in Tom DeLay, his tactics and his leadership role in the Republican
THE PRESIDENT: I have confidence in Tom DeLay's leadership, and I
have confidence in Tom DeLay. And I am -- we've worked closely with
Tom DeLay and the leaders in the House to get a lot done during the
last four years, and I'm looking forward to working with him to get a
lot done during the next four years. We've got a big agenda. We've
got to get an energy bill out of the House; we've got to get more legal
reform out of the House; we've got to get a Social Security reform
package out of the House; got to get a budget out of the House.
There's a lot going on. And Speaker Hastert and Leader DeLay and Whip
Blunt are close allies and people with whom we're working to get a lot
Q Mr. President, you have spoken out about the need for owners,
coaches and players in all sports to stop steroid use. And you've also
voiced reservations about government getting too involved in that. And
as you know, Congress is issuing subpoenas to Major League baseball
players during spring training. Do you think that that's an abuse of
power, or is it appropriate, in your view?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, Congress generally has an independent mind of
its own. I spoke out and was pleased to see that baseball responded,
and they've got a testing policy in place for the first time ever -- a
firm testing policy in place. And it's very important that baseball
then follow through and implement the testing and, obviously, deal with
those who get caught cheating in the system.
And the hearings will go forward, I guess. I guess that's the
current status. But I'm wise enough not to second-guess the intentions
of the United States Congress. I do appreciate the public concern
about the use of steroids in sports, whether it be baseball or anywhere
else, because I understand that when a professional athlete uses
steroids, it sends terrible signals to youngsters. There's -- we've
had some stories in my own state, one of the newspapers there pointed
out that they thought there was steroid use in high schools as a result
of -- in order to make sure these kids, at least in the kid's mind,
could be a better athlete. It's a bad signal. It's not right. And so
I appreciate the fact that baseball is addressing this, and I
appreciate the fact that the Congress is paying attention to the
issue. This first started, of course, with Senator McCain, who
basically said, get your house in order. And baseball responded, and
my hope is the system will work.
Q You have no problem with the subpoenas?
THE PRESIDENT: No.
Q Mr. President, your judicial nominees continue to run into
problems on Capitol Hill. Republicans are discussing the possibility
of ending the current Democratic filibuster practice against it. And
Democrats yesterday, led by Minority Leader Harry Reid, went to the
steps of the Capitol to say that if that goes forward, they will halt
your agenda straight out. What does that say about your judicial
nominees, the tone on Capitol Hill? And which is more important,
judges or your agenda?
THE PRESIDENT: Both. I believe that I have a obligation to put
forth good, honorable people to serve on the bench, and have done so.
And I expect them to get a up or down vote on the floor of the Senate.
This isn't a new position for me, or the -- I've been saying this for
the last several years. And they ought to get a vote. They're getting
voted out of committee, but they're not getting a vote on the floor.
And I don't think it's fair to the candidates, and I don't think it's
fair to the administration for this policy to go forward. And so,
hopefully, the Senate will be able to conduct business and also get my
nominees a vote -- an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate.
Yes, sir. John.
Q Sir, on Social Security, what is the time line that you want
to see for action by Congress on a bill? When do you start to get
worried about not getting something done this year? And also, if I can
add, would you be willing to drop personal accounts in order to get a
THE PRESIDENT: Personal accounts are very important for the
individuals. It's a -- you know, it's interesting -- David quoted some
poll -- there's all kinds of polls. For every poll you quote, I'll
quote another one. It's kind of the way Washington works these days.
They poll everything. The one I read the other day said people like
the idea of personal accounts.
I think people like the idea of being able to take some of their
own money -- in other words, government says, you can decide, as
opposed to, we'll decide for you, you get to decide if this is in your
interest. And you get to decide whether you want to set some of your
money aside in an account that will earn a better rate of return than
that which will be earned in the Social Security system. That's an
important part of making sure the system works for the individual.
I repeat, personal accounts do not permanently fix the solution.
They make the solution more attractive for the individual worker. And
that's important for people for understand, John, and that's why it's
very important for Congress to discuss this issue.
In terms of timetables, as quickly as possible -- whatever that
means. No, I am going to -- one of the things that I think is very
important for people to understand is that I believe that we have a
duty to work on big problems in Washington, D.C., and so I'm going to
continue working on this. And it's, I guess -- I'm not going to go
away on the issue, because the issue is not going to go away. The
longer we wait, the more difficult it is to solve the problem.
And, listen, I fully understand it's a difficult issue; otherwise
it would have been solved a long time ago. And I understand some
members don't -- view this as a tough vote. In other words, why did
you bring it up, it's a tough vote? And -- but that's just not the way
I think, John. I think we have a duty. I truly do. This is -- now is
the time to get this solved. I remember 1983, we've got a 75-year
solution. It wasn't a 75-year solution that they came up with. It was
a -- I like the spirit of people coming together from both parties to
sit down and see if they couldn't solve the immediate problem, but it
wasn't a 75-year solution because we're talking about it now. And in
2018, the situation starts to get worse because more money is coming
into the system -- I mean, more money is going out of the system than
You know, one thing about Social Security -- I'm sorry to blow on
here, but now that you asked -- a lot of people in America think there
is a trust: your money goes in, the government holds it, and then the
government gives your money back when you retire. That's just not the
way it works. And it's important for the American citizens to
understand. It's a pay-as-you-go system. And right now, we're paying
for a lot of programs other than Social Security with the payroll tax
coming in, thereby leaving a pile of IOUs. And part of why I think a
personal account is an attractive option for a younger worker is that
there will be real assets in the system at this point in time.
I also will continue reminding people, when it comes to personal
accounts, that the system oftentimes doesn't work for a widow. You
know, if a wage-earner dies prior to 62, there are no spousal benefits
available until 62. If the spouse -- both spouses work, the spouse
that survives will get the higher of his or her Social Security
benefits, or the death benefits, but not both. In other words,
somebody's contribution to the system just goes away. And a personal
account will enable somebody to leave behind an asset base to whomever
he or she chooses. And that's an important concept for people to
Q Mr. President, your administration recently called on the
Texas courts to review some death -- some death penalty cases down
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q And during your State of the Union you talked about the
importance of DNA evidence, and you talked about the possibility that
maybe there were inequities in the system and the lawyers that
represent death row inmates. I'm wondering if this represents a change
in your feelings about the death penalty since you were governor of
Texas. And if there are the possibilities -- the possibilities exist
of problems, why not call on -- for a moratorium?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I still support the death penalty, and I think
it's a deterrent to crime. But I want to make sure, obviously, that
those subject to the death penalty are truly guilty. And that's why I
talked about what I talked about, and why I made the decision I made.
I think, regardless of your position on the issue, one of the things we
got to make sure is that we use, in this case, technology, DNA
technology, to make sure that we're absolutely certain about the
innocence or guilt of a person accused.
Q Mr. President, are you trying to send a message to the IRA by
not inviting Gerry Adams and the other Northern Ireland politicians
THE PRESIDENT: I talked to Bertie Ahern about this and -- at the
EU, and he just asked who was coming to the events, which -- I said,
you are, for certain. And we wanted to make sure that we honored those
in civil society in Ireland who are contributing positively to the
peace process. And that's what we'll be doing on this particular
It's very important that people understand that the parties must
renounce violence. There's a -- the Good Friday Agreement laid out the
way forward for peace in Northern Ireland, and this administration and
our government strongly supports those steps. But tomorrow's message
will be, we want to thank those in civil society who are working hard
to achieve a peaceful resolution.
Q By inviting the widow -- the sisters, rather, of this man who
was killed --
THE PRESIDENT: That's part of the statement -- a very strong part
of the statement. And I'm looking forward to meeting these very brave
souls. They've committed themselves to a peaceful solution. And
hopefully, their loved one will not have died in vain. I mean, out of
the -- hopefully, some good will come out of the evil perpetuated on
Q Mr. President, yesterday you said that Hezbollah could prove
it is not a terrorist organization by laying down arms and supporting
peace. How willing and flexible, and under what conditions are you
able to, as you promote democracy in the Middle East, encourage parties
like Hezbollah to discontinue the use of terrorism as a tactic?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I think -- let me make sure that you put my
answer into full context. I first said that Hezbollah is on the
terrorist list for a reason: because they have killed Americans in the
past, and they -- they're a violent organization. And the question was
about Lebanon, and let me take a step back, if I might, on this
question, because it's important for the American people to understand
Our policy is this: We want there to be a thriving democracy in
Lebanon. We believe that there will be a thriving democracy, but only
if -- but only if -- Syria withdraws not only her troops completely out
of Lebanon, but also her secret service organizations, intelligence
organizations -- not secret service, intelligence organizations. I am
concerned, and the world should be concerned that the intelligence
organizations are embedded in a lot of government functions in Lebanon,
and there needs to be a complete withdrawal of those services in order
for there to be a free election. And we will -- this government will
work with a -- elected leaders of a free, truly free Lebanon, and
looking forward to it.
I like the idea of people running for office. There's a positive
effect when you run for office. Maybe some will run for office and
say, vote for me, I look forward to blowing up America. I don't know,
I don't know if that will be their platform or not. But it's -- I
don't think so. I think people who generally run for office say, vote
for me, I'm looking forward to fixing your potholes, or making sure you
got bread on the table. And so -- but Hezbollah is on the terrorist
list for a reason, and remain on the terrorist list for a reason. Our
position has not changed on Hezbollah.
Q President Bush, a court ruling in California this week has
revived debate over same-sex marriage. You support a constitutional
amendment to ban such marriages. But it's not something you talk about
nearly as often as Social Security and many other issues. Will you put
some muscle behind that effort this year? Or is it something you'd
prefer not to deal with?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I haven't changed my position. And as a matter
of fact, the court rulings are verifying why I took the position I
took, and that is I don't believe judges ought to be deciding this
issue. I believe this is an issue of particular importance to the
American people and should be decided by the people. And I think the
best way to do so is through the constitutional process. I haven't
changed my mind at all. As a matter of fact, court rulings such as
this strengthen my position it seems like to me. People now understand
why I laid out the position I did.
Q What can you do to promote action on that amendment?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I -- the courts are going to promote a lot of
the action by their very rulings. People will understand that -- the
logic behind the decision I made. And no matter what your position is
on the issue, this is an issue that should be decided by the people,
not by judges. And the more that judges start deciding the issue, I'm
confident the more the people will want to be involved in the issue.
This is a very important issue for the country and one that obviously
needs to be conducted with a great deal of sensitivity and concern
about other people's feelings. But this is -- it's an issue I feel
Q Mr. President, you faced a lot of skepticism in the run-up to
the Iraq war, and a lot of criticism for miscalculating some of the
challenges of postwar Iraq. Now that the Iraq elections seem to be
triggering signs of democratization throughout the broader Middle East,
do you feel any sense of vindication?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I fully understand that as long as
I'm the President I will face criticism. It's like part of the job.
Frankly, you wouldn't be doing your job if you didn't occasionally lay
out the gentle criticism. I welcome constructive ideas as to how we
might do our job better. So that doesn't bother me. And, therefore,
since it doesn't bother me and I expect it, I don't then seek
Look, history -- shall I give you my talk on history and
presidencies? Okay, thank you. I don't -- what's interesting is
George Washington is now getting a second, or third, or fifth, or tenth
look in history. I read the Ellis book, which is a really interesting
book, and -- "His Excellency," it's called. And McCullough is writing
a book on George Washington, as well. People are constantly evaluating
somebody's standing in history, a President's standing in history,
based upon events that took place during the presidency, based upon
things that happened after the presidency, based upon -- like in my
case, hopefully, the march of freedom continues way after my
presidency. And so I just don't worry about vindication or standing.
The other thing, it turns out, in this job you've got a lot on your
plate on a regular basis, you don't have much time to sit around and
wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits,
how do you think my standing will be? (Laughter.) I've got a lot to
do. And I like to make decisions, and I make a lot of them.
But, you know, look, the people who deserve the credit in Iraq are
the Iraqi citizens that defied the terrorists. Imagine what it would
be like to try to go vote thinking that there could be a suicide bomber
standing next to you in line, or somebody would lob a shell or a mortar
at you. The courage of the Iraqi citizens was just overwhelming, I
thought. It's easy for us to vote. The question is, what it would be
like to vote if you were fearful for your life. Parts of the country
people were getting messages that said, if you vote we'll find somebody
you love and take care of them. And yet they defied these terrorists.
It was a powerful moment in the history of freedom. People in the
world got to see what it means to -- for a group of people that have
been downtrodden to rise up and say, I want to be free.
Now, there's a lot of work to be done, and I'm sure there will be
some opinions about what takes place during the next nine months, as
the constitution is written, and whether or not the elections move
forward as smoothly as some think they should. Obviously, there's
concern now I read about -- occasionally reading, I want you to know,
in the second term -- that -- your stories, that is -- that they
haven't formed a government yet. But I take a different look. First
of all, obviously, there will be a government formed, but I think it is
interesting and -- to watch the process of people negotiating and
worrying about this and worrying about that, and people seeking out
positions as to their stands on issues that will be relevant to the
future of Iraq. It's a wholesome process. And it's being done in a
transparent way. I mean, you've got the press corps all over them,
watching every move, which is a positive example for others in the
And that's important. It's important for people in that region to
see what is possible in a free society. And I firmly believe that the
examples of Iraq and Afghanistan -- I believe there will be a
Palestinian state; I believe we'll be able to convince Syria to fully
withdraw, or else she'll be isolated -- fully withdraw from Lebanon, or
else she'll be isolated -- I believe those examples will serve as
examples for others over time. And that will lead to more peace. And
that's what we want.
Q Mr. President, do you also think it will lead to America's
reputation being restored? Earlier this week you brought Karen Hughes
back at ambassador rank to address the question of antipathy to America
around the world --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q -- particularly the Muslim world. What does that entail?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it entails a couple of things, Carl. It
entails people understanding why we do things we do. You know, for
example, there was -- I think we had the image of wanting to fight
Muslims -- the United States stood squarely against a religion, as
opposed to a society which welcomes all religions. And, in fact, we're
fighting a handful of people relative to the Muslim population that
wanted to -- I used to say -- hijack the religion.
People need to understand we're a compassionate nation and we care
deeply about suffering, regardless of where people live. And the --
you know, President Clinton and President Bush 41 did a fine job of
helping the world see the great compassion of America when they went on
the -- went on their trips in the areas ravaged by the tsunamis.
It is very important for us to have a message that counteracts some
of the messages coming out of some of the Arab media -- some of it
coming out, partly, because of our strong and unwavering friendship
with Israel. You know, Israel is an easy target for some of the media
in the Middle East, and if you're a friend of Israel, you become a
target. And since we're not going to abandon our alliance with Israel,
there's a -- there was some churning in the press, and there was some
unhelpful things being said. And so part of that is to make sure
people understand the truth. And that is, in this particular issue,
you bet we're going to stand by Israel. But we also believe the
Palestinians have the capability of self-governance in a truly
democratic state that will live side-by-side with the Israelis in
And so Karen is going -- one, I want to thank her for coming back
from Austin. It's very hard, if you're a Texan, to abandon Austin for
anywhere else, and -- or Texas for anywhere else. Secondly, I applaud
Secretary Rice's decision to include Karen in the process. I thought
that was very wise of her to call upon Karen's talents. And Dina
Powell, from my office, an Egyptian American, is also going over,
leaving the White House compound to work with Karen, because she
believes deeply in the American experience, in American values, and
wants to share those values with people around the world.
And, you know, I think when people also see, Carl, that we do what
we say we're going to do -- for example, that we helped feed the hungry
and that we believe all folks should be free and that women should have
an equal say in society. I think when people see we actually mean
that, and then when it comes to fruition, it will help people around
the world better understand our good hearts and good nature.
Q Mr. President, earlier this year, you told us you wanted your
administration to cease and desist on payments to journalists to
promote your agenda. You cited the need for ethical concerns and the
need for bright line between the press and the government. Your
administration continue to make the use of video news releases, which
is prepackaged news stories sent to television stations, fully aware
that some -- or many of these stations will air them without any
disclaimer that they are produced by the government. The Comptroller
General of the United States, this week, said that raises ethical
Does it raise ethical questions about the use of government money
to produce stories about the government that wind up being aired with
no disclosure that they were produced by the government?
THE PRESIDENT: There is a Justice Department opinion that says
these -- these pieces are within the law, so long as they're based upon
facts, not advocacy. And I expect our agencies to adhere to that
ruling, to that Justice Department opinion. This has been a
longstanding practice of the federal government to use these types of
videos. The Agricultural Department, as I understand it, has been
using these videos for a long period of time. The Defense Department,
other departments have been doing so. It's important that they be
based on the guidelines set out by the Justice Department.
Now, I also -- I think it would be helpful if local stations then
disclosed to their viewers that that's -- that this was based upon a
factual report, and they chose to use it. But evidently, in some
cases, that's not the case. So, anyway.
Q The administration could guarantee that's happening by
including that language in the pre-packaged report.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, I don't -- oh, you mean a disclosure, "I'm
George W. Bush, and I" --
Q Well, some way to make sure it couldn't air without the
disclosure that you believe is so vital.
THE PRESIDENT: You know, Ken, there's a procedure that we're going
to follow, and the local stations ought to -- if there's a deep concern
about that, ought to tell their viewers what they're watching.
Q Mr. President, do you think there should be regime change in
Iran? And if so, what are you prepared to do to see that happen?
THE PRESIDENT: Richard, I believe that the Iranian people ought to
be allowed to freely discuss opinions, read a free press, have free
votes, be able to choose amongst political parties. I believe Iran
should adopt democracy; that's what I believe.
Q Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, ma'am.
Q Thank you, sir. Do you believe that nativity scenes and the
Ten Commandments should continue to be displayed on federal property or
THE PRESIDENT: We had a display of the Ten Commandments on the
statehouse grounds in Texas, and I supported that display.
Q Mr. President, back to Social Security, if I may.
You said right at the top today that you urged members of Congress
to go out and talk about the problem with their constituents.
THE PRESIDENT: About solutions to the problem.
Q But also to talk about solutions. It's that part of it I want
to ask about. Aren't you asking them to do something that you really
haven't been willing to do yet?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm interested in -- first of all, I have laid
out, in the State of the Union address -- I haven't looked at all
previous State of the Union addresses, but I think I'm the first
President ever to say, all options are on the table, and named a series
of options. I think. Now, maybe somebody could go back and find out
-- if you've got some idle time on your hand, you might want to go read
previous State of the Union addresses and see if that's true.
I don't believe members should go write a bill, but I do believe a
member should start discussing ideas with constituencies about how to
solve the problem, as opposed to blocking ideas -- to say, here are
some ideas, and come back and present them. That's what's happening,
by the way. There's a lot of members are talking about different
concepts. I've called a lot of them into the White House compound,
I've listened to them. There's a variety of ideas. And that's
positive. I view that as a positive sign that members of Congress,
one, take the problem seriously -- I thought it was helpful yesterday
when the United States Senate said that Social Security is a serious
problem that requires a permanent solution.
And now it's time for people, when they get back from Easter,
having talked to different constituency groups, to come back and sit
down and start sharing ideas about how to move the process forward.
And my pledge is that I will not take somebody's idea and use it as a
political weapon against them. That's what's changed in this debate.
In other words, the Social Security -- they used to call it the third
rail of American politics, because when you talked about it, you got
singed, at the minimum. And it's now time to talk about it in a
serious way, to come up with a permanent solution.
Q Mr. President, you talked earlier about going --
THE PRESIDENT: I can't call on Herman and not on Jackson.
Q Thank you. You talked about going to the Security Council if
Iran turns down this EU 3 deal. Iran says they're not making nuclear
weapons. Are we looking at a potential military confrontation with
THE PRESIDENT: No, we've got a lot of diplomacy, you know.
There's a lot of diplomacy on this issue. And that's why I was so
pleased to be able to participate with our friends, France and Great
Britain and Germany, to say to the Iranians, we speak with a common
voice, and we share suspicions because of your past behavior. And the
best way to ensure that you do not develop a nuclear weapon is for you
to have no enrichment of plutonium -- of -- have no highly enriched
uranium program or plutonium program that could lead to a weapon.
That's what we've said.
And we just started the process -- we just had the discussion. How
long ago was I in Europe? Maybe 10 days, or so? Two weeks? About two
weeks? I mean, it takes a while for things to happen in the world,
David. I mean, I know there's a certain impatience with a never-ending
news cycle. But things don't happen on -- necessarily overnight the
way some would like them, you know, solve this issue and we go to the
next issue. There's a certain patience required in order to achieve a
diplomatic objective. And our diplomatic objective is to continue
working with our friends to make it clear to Iran we speak with a
Listen, whoever thought about modernizing this room deserves a lot
of credit. (Laughter.) Like, there's very little oxygen in here
anymore. (Laughter.) And so, for the sake of a health press corps and
a healthy President, I'm going to end the press conference. But I want
to thank you for giving me a chance to come by and visit. I wish you
all -- genuinely wish you all a happy Easter holiday with you and your
Q Can I get that follow-up now?
THE PRESIDENT: What?
Q Can I get that follow-up now? (Laughter.)
END 11:03 A.M. EST