President Bush said Pope John Paul II created
a “clear and excellent” legacy of peace and
compassion, and “a strong legacy of setting a clear
Thousands of mourners attend funeral mass Friday, April 8, 2005, inside Rome's St. Peter's Square for Pope John Paul II, who died April 2 at the age of 84. (White House photo by Eric Draper)
President George W. Bush and Laura Bush stand amidst mourners at funeral services Friday, April 8, 2005, for the late Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Square. The funeral is being called the largest of its kind in modern history. (White House
photo by Eric Draper)
An American flag flies high above the throng
of mourners inside St. Peter's square Friday,
April 8, 2005, as thousands attend funeral mass
for Pope John Paul II. "The Pope held a special affection for America.
During his many visits to our country, he spoke
of our providential Constitution, the self-evident
truths about human dignity enshrined in our
Declaration, and the blessings of liberty that
followed from them", said Bush during his weekly radio address on April 9, 2005.
(White House photo
by Eric Draper)
President Bush looks on as President Chirac greets Secretary Rice. To his right, former President Clinton; to his left, first lady Laura Bush; behind him, Kofi Annan and Minister Qureia; in front, Spain's King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia. (AP photo by Andrew Medichini)
April 9, 2005
THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This
week I have been in Rome to attend
the funeral mass of Pope John Paul
II. The ceremonies were a powerful
and moving reminder of the profound
impact this Pope had on our world.
And on behalf of America, Laura
and I were honored to pay tribute
to this good and holy man.
During nearly three decades on the Chair of
St. Peter, this Pope brought the gospel's message
of hope and love and freedom to the far corners
of the Earth. And over this past week, millions
of people across the world returned the Pope's
gift with a tremendous outpouring of affection
that transcended differences of nationality,
language and religion.
The call to freedom that defined his papacy was
forged in the experiences of Pope John Paul's
own life. He came to manhood during the Nazi occupation
of his beloved Poland, when he eluded the Gestapo
to attend an underground seminary. Later, when
he was named Poland's youngest bishop, he came
face to face with the other great totalitarianism
of the 20th century: Communism. And soon he taught
the communist rulers in Warsaw and Moscow that
moral truth had legions of its own and a force
greater than their armies and secret police.
That moral conviction gave the man from Krakow
a confidence that inspired millions. In 1978,
when he looked out at the crowd in front of
St. Peter's as their new Pope, the square rang
with his words "Be Not Afraid."
Everywhere he went, the Pope preached that
the call of freedom is for every member of the
human family because the Author of Life wrote
it into our common human nature.
Many in the West underestimated the Pope's
influence. But those behind the Iron Curtain
knew better, and ultimately even the Berlin
Wall could not withstand the gale force of this
The Pope held a special affection for America.
During his many visits to our country, he spoke
of our providential Constitution, the self-evident
truths about human dignity enshrined in our
Declaration, and the blessings of liberty that
followed from them. It is these timeless truths
about man, enshrined in our founding, the Pope
said, that have led freedom-loving people around
the world to look to America with hope and respect.
And he challenged America always to live up
to its lofty calling. The Pope taught us that
the foundation for human freedom is a universal
respect for human dignity. On all his travels,
John Paul preached that even the least among
us bears the image of our Creator, so we must
work for a society where the most vulnerable
among us have the greatest claim on our protection.
And by his own courageous example in the face
of illness and suffering, he showed us the path
to a culture of life where the dignity of every
human person is respected, and human life at
all its stages is revered and treasured.
As the Pope grew physically weaker, his spiritual
bond with young people grew stronger. They flocked
to him in his final moments, gathering outside
his window to pray and sing hymns and light
candles. With them, we honor this son of Poland
who became the Bishop of Rome, and a hero for
Thank you for listening.
Speaking to the press April 8 aboard Air Force One after
attending the pontiff’s funeral in Rome, Bush said,
“I would define Pope John Paul II as a clear thinker
who was like a rock. And tides of moral relativism kind
of washed around him, but he stood strong as a rock. And
that's … one of the reasons why millions came to admire
and love him.”
The president said his relationship with the pope and the
pope’s example would strengthen his own religious
faith and belief, and said he will look back on his attendance
at the pope’s funeral as “one of the highlights
of my presidency.”
Turning to the Middle East, Bush called upon the international
community to focus its attention upon helping the Palestinians
build institutions and to encourage economic vitality in
Gaza ahead of Israel’s planned withdrawal, “so
that a government which does emerge in Gaza will be able
to better speak to the hopes of those who live in the Gaza.
And success in the Gaza will make success on the West Bank
Asked if he will raise the issue of Israel’s recent
decision to expand a settlement near Jerusalem with Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon during their upcoming meeting, scheduled
for April 11 in Crawford, Texas, the president replied,
“You bet. What I say publicly, I say privately. And
that is the road map has clear obligations on settlements,
and that we expect the Prime Minister to adhere to those
road map obligations.”
Bush said the United States will continue to encourage
democracy and political reform throughout the region, which
he said is “the ultimate strategy to defeat the terrorists.”
The president said an American-style of democracy should
not be imposed on others. “We'll work with you to
develop a democracy which adapts to your own cultures and
your own religions and your own habits.” He also acknowledged
that the United States’ own road to democracy “was
a little bumpy.”
While encouraging nations to implement democratic reforms,
Bush said “all nations are not starting at the same
spot in order to achieve democracy.”
“[T]here's got to be a certain realism about how
fast things can possibly happen, given where different nations
have started from,” he said.
Bush said he had again expressed his regret over the March
4 shooting of Italian intelligence officer Nicola Calipari
in Iraq by U.S. forces during his April 7 dinner with Italian
Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The president said he assured the Italian leader that the
U.S. investigation into the incident “would be conducted
in an aboveboard, transparent way.”
Berlusconi reaffirmed his commitment to completing the
mission in Iraq, Bush said. “He knows what I know:
that the sooner that gets done, the sooner our troops will
be able to come home.”
“[W]e'll work to complete the training mission of
the Iraqis. And it's important we do it, and get it right,”
the president said, adding that in spite of some difficulties
and tragedies, “there is a democracy emerging in this
country. And it was really kicked off by the huge vote of
over 8 million people.”
President Bush was also asked about his time with former
presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who accompanied
the president as part of the U.S. delegation to the pope’s
funeral. The two sat in on policy briefings and discussions,
and the president said, “It's interesting to get their
points of view about their experiences in particular countries.”
“[W]e share war stories, … a lot of interesting
experiences about different world leaders that we may all
have met -- or all three of us met. Just different experiences
that, you know, my dad might have had or President Clinton
might have had,” Bush said, adding that he was “honored
Following is the transcript of President Bush’s remarks
to the travel pool aboard Air Force One:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
April 8, 2005
INTERVIEW OF THE PRESIDENT
BY THE TRAVEL POOL
Aboard Air Force One
En route Waco, Texas
8:29 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Listen, were you there in person?
THE PRESS: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: One, I'm really glad I came. There was never
any question I would come. Last night we hosted a reception
at the embassy for many of the leaders of the Catholic Church
at home, and they were very grateful that I came, and Laura
came, and Dad came, and President Clinton came, and Condi
came, as well as others. And I told them, to a person, that
it's such an honor to represent our country at a ceremony
honoring a truly great man who is and will always be a great
I knew the ceremony today would be majestic, but I didn't
realize how moved I would be by the service, itself; by
the beautiful music. I was struck -- as an aside -- struck
by the fact that the sound was so clear in this huge facility.
It was as if we were inside the cathedral listening; and
the voices were so pure. I thought the homily was really
good. We were given an English version, fortunately -- if
you haven't read it, maybe you've seen it? Yes. Beautiful.
Beautiful. Beautifully done.
I was struck by the response of the crowd. And I think
it's interesting to note the moments where the crowd responded.
One in particular is when His Eminence spoke to His Holiness's
relationship to the young of the world, and there was a
great outpouring of enthusiasm for that line. And then I
think the thing that struck all our delegation most intensely
was the final scene of the plain-looking casket -- one of
three, by the way; lead, wood and wood -- being carried
and held up for the seal to be seen, and then the sun pouring
out. This will be one of the highlights of my presidency,
to have been at this great ceremony.
So off we go to home, now.
Q: Your predecessor suggested that the Pope would leave
a mixed legacy, even though he was a great man. Since you
differed with him on the war to such a great degree, do
you also think it will be a mixed legacy?
THE PRESIDENT: I think Pope John Paul II will have a clear
legacy of peace, compassion, and a strong legacy of setting
a clear moral tone.
Q: You're going to see Prime Minister Sharon soon. There's
been some talk in Israel that maybe you're not going to
raise this issue of this latest settlement expansion. Are
you going to do that?
THE PRESIDENT: I've raised the issue of settlement expansions
publicly. I mean, it was upon the prompting of your question.
You bet. What I say publicly, I say privately. And that
is the road map has clear obligations on settlements, and
that we expect the Prime Minister to adhere to those road
map obligations. And the road map has got obligations for
the Palestinians. We have a great opportunity -- "we,"
the world, has a great opportunity to help a democracy grow
-- begin and grow, starting in the Gaza.
The Prime Minister of Israel has decided to pull out of
Gaza. As you know, I applauded that decision at the White
House, with him standing by my side. And I think now is
the time to focus the world's attention on what is possible.
And we've already started that process of realizing the
possible by having General Ward work with the Palestinians
to streamline and coordinate Palestinian security forces
so that upon the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza,
there is a security presence that will protect people.
We've got to do more. We've got to make sure that an economy
can flourish there.
Q: So you're going to try to talk him out of this latest
settlement expansion he's talking about?
THE PRESIDENT: My position is clear, and I will -- I stated,
obviously, now the second time in a brief period of time
and I will say so privately, as well.
I think you need to know what the successful strategy will
be. And that is there is more than just security in Gaza.
We need to have institution-building, and there needs to
be an international effort that encourages and fosters economic
vitality so that a government which does emerge in Gaza
will be able to better speak to the hopes of those who live
in the Gaza. And success in the Gaza will make success on
the West Bank easier. And so one of our -- I will be talking
to the Prime Minister about the need to work with the Palestinian
government, President Abbas, to facilitate success, to enhance
Let me make sure I go back to the first answer on His Holiness.
I said -- I think my answer was, is that -- what did I say?
Q: I asked if you thought it was a mixed message, and you
said, "I think John Paul II will have a clear legacy
of peace" --
THE PRESIDENT: A clear and excellent legacy, if you don't
mind adding the word "excellent."
Q: Clear and excellent.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. In other words, a strong legacy. I
wanted to make sure there was a proper adjective to the
legacy I thought he left behind. It was more than just "clear."
MR. McCLELLAN: You said "strong," too, in that
THE PRESIDENT: Okay.
Q: Yes, you said, "strong legacy of setting a clear
THE PRESIDENT: Fine. Okay, good.
Q: Getting back to the Middle East for a moment. There
have been hopeful signs in the region lately. But some in
the region think that some of our allies there -- particularly
Saudi Arabia and Egypt -- still are not doing enough to
help foster democracy in their own countries. Do you think
they're doing enough, or are you encouraging them to --
THE PRESIDENT: We will continue to encourage democracy.
But I also have said many times that it is important for
those of us who live in a democratic society to remember
two things: One, our own road to democracy was a little
bumpy; we have a Constitution and a Declaration of Independence,
but, nevertheless, had slavery for a long period of time,
for example. And, secondly, that we shouldn't expect others
to adapt that which we think -- we shouldn't try to impose
our democracy on other nations. What we should say is, we'll
work with you to develop a democracy which adapts to your
own cultures and your own religions and your own habits.
I'm fully aware that there is work to be done. But I think
it's also our job to encourage those nations and, at the
same time, recognize that all nations are not starting at
the same spot in order to achieve democracy. I mean, Iraq,
it's very important for us in Iraq to recognize that we
-- we transferred sovereignty 10 months ago. Remember we
all traveled to NATO? To the NATO summit? And it may seem
like an eternity to you all -- (laughter) -- but 10 months
in the greater scheme of things is a short period of time.
And, nevertheless, during that short period of time, the
Iraqis have voted and today they've announced their Prime
Minister; the government will be up and running, the government
assembly there, to write a constitution. In other words,
things are happening quite rapidly, which is positive.
But, nevertheless, there is a certain -- there's got to
be a certain realism about how fast things can possibly
happen, given where different nations have started from.
Now, I will continue to press forward on encouraging democracy
and reform in every nation, because I believe that is the
ultimate strategy to defeat the terrorists. In the short
run, we'll continue to find them and work with nations to
find them and share intelligence to find them, bring them
to justice. In the long term, the spread of freedom and
democracy -- democracies reflecting the nature of the people
and the history of those countries will mean that generations
will more likely grow up in peace.
Q: When you sat there surrounded by that incredibly array
of world leaders and looked forward to the kind of spread
of democracy you're talking about, is there something about
just that assemblage there? Who did you talk to? Who did
you see? And did it strike you that this was a remarkable
ability to pull together such disparate people?
THE PRESIDENT: I was most attentive to the ceremony, itself.
And was amazed by the size of the crowd. We came walking
out of the grand stairway and it was a very inspiring sight.
Q: And the flags.
THE PRESIDENT: And the flags and the statues and just --
yes, the bishops and the archbishops and different leaders
of the churches right across the way from me. Of course,
the cardinals -- you know, a handful of whom I know, have
gotten to know quite well and admire greatly, by the way.
So that was pretty well my focus there.
When I first got there -- when Laura and I first got there,
we shook hands with the folks around us. Obviously, Jacques
and Madam Chirac were right next door; I spent some time
visiting with them. But everybody there was - there wasn't
much chitchat. There was intense focus on the ceremony.
Q: But what it represented, to have that many people --
THE PRESIDENT: No, I understand. I believe that is part
of the power of Pope John Paul II. And he was such a believer
in freedom. I saw Lech Walesa, for example. I was struck
by the number of Polish flags that were in the crowd.
You know, what was really interesting, there were some
signs urging that His Holiness be made a saint.
THE PRESIDENT: "Now," yes -- "subito."
You know, I really didn't reflect that much on the politics
of the moment during the ceremony. I was more -- I thought
a lot about Pope John Paul II. I mean, here's a person who
has shown that a single individual can make a big difference
in history and that, in my judgment, he received his great
power and strength from the Almighty.
Q: Just to follow up on that, Mr. President, a couple questions
about the Pope. One, I noticed at one point you had your
glasses on and you were following along -- I'm not sure
if you were looking at the homily at that point or maybe,
did you have one of those guides that --
THE PRESIDENT: I did. It's hard to follow -- my Spanish
is not very good -- (laughter) -- nevertheless, it is decent
enough to pick up sounds that then can help me follow the
Q: Had you ever been to a Latin mass before; I imagine
you've been to an English mass?
THE PRESIDENT: No, never been to a Latin mass.
Q: The other question was, we never had a chance to --
you talked about a lot about what struck you from this ceremony.
We never got a chance to talk to you about, by contrast,
how you were struck by the wake, if you will, when you went
through the other night. How do the two ceremonies -- you
know, different kinds of emotions in the two?
THE PRESIDENT: I felt -- I mean, obviously, we were surrounded
by a crowd at the wake, but I felt -- when I was kneeling
there, I felt -- I'm trying to think of the right word
-- "alone" isn't the right word, because I was
aware of people, but felt much more in touch with a spirit.
I really did. I was very much -- felt at peace there, and
was prayerful. And at the other ceremony, it was probably
just because of all the sights and sounds and majesty and
colors that, you know, I felt more like a spectator than
a participant, but more of a spectator.
Q: You knew him personally, I mean, to kneel there and
see his body after you've met with him so many times and
had -- I mean, that must have been quite powerful and --
THE PRESIDENT: My relationship with Pope John Paul II was
a very good relationship. He was such a gentle man and at
the end of his life he made his points to me with his eyes.
The last visit, as you know, he was pretty physically --
he was struggling; and, yet, his eyes twinkled, just real
clear. Much of the communications was done by paperwork,
Q: Did he speak English?
THE PRESIDENT: Some, but it was hard to really understand
him, because he was struggling. That's why it's really interesting
for people to note that there was a lot of testimony --
and in my remarks I tried to witness that, as well -- that
his struggle at the end of his life and the dignity with
which he struggled was a clear example of Christ's influence
in his life.
I was honored to see that firsthand. He's one of the great
vigorous leaders -- mountain climber, educator, instructor
-- who then had to struggle using the very tools that enabled
him to be a vigorous teacher, outdoorsman, freedom fighter,
and, yet, nevertheless, he still could communicate clearly
through eyes which were, you know, crystal clear. And I
remember the Castel Gandolfo, when Laura and I went to visit
him. And he took us out on the balcony -- the Castel overlooks
this fantastic lake, it's a spectacular lake -- and he was
much more conversant then. I think it might have been my
Q: It was 2001.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. Right before or after Genoa, the G8
in Genoa. And he had a sparkle, he really wanted to show
us this beautiful setting. I would define Pope John Paul
II as a clear thinker who was like a rock. And tides of
moral relativism kind of washed around him, but he stood
strong as a rock. And that's why millions -- one of the
reasons why millions came to admire and love him.
I was asked by some of the leadership of the Church, was
I surprised at the turnout? I said, not at all -- because
millions, from all religions -- millions of Catholics and
millions of others admired his strength and his purpose
and his moral clarity.
Q: How did the Pope struggle with his health at the end
of his life and his example throughout his life strengthen
your own faith?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, it is as clear example of
Christ's influence in a person's life that he maintained
such a kind of hopeful, optimistic, clear point of view
amidst struggles -- in his case, physical struggles. And
that's -- a lot of Christians gain great strength and confidence
from seeing His Holiness in the last stages of life.
Q: Do you think that will help you in the months and years
ahead, in your own life?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think all of us get touched in different
ways if you're on a faith journey -- we're all affected
differently. But, yes, I think my relationship with -- and
Pope John Paul II's example will serve -- will be a moment
in my life that will strengthen my faith and my belief.
Not just me, more significantly, millions of people whose
life he touched. I think we might have witnessed -- I don't
know -- perhaps the largest funeral in the history of mankind.
I'm not sure if that's true or not, somebody said that might
But there's a reason why the largest crowd ever to come
and pay homage to a human happened, and it's because of
the man's character, his views, his positions, his leadership
capacity, his ability to relate to all people; his deep
compassion, his love of peace. There's a reason why. Again,
I repeat, I was honored to be one of many there, and I know
you all were, as well.
Besides the pomp and the majesty and the colors, there
was a spirit that was an integral part of the ceremony.
For me, the spirit was also at the wake, but more personal
at the wake, that was a personal moment.
Q: If there was ever a moment where you ever had any doubts
in your own faith, what out of the past public things would
strengthen your resolve and firm up your relationship with
THE PRESIDENT: I think a walk in faith constantly confronts
doubt, as faith becomes more mature. And you constantly
confront, you know, questions. My faith is strong. The Bible
talks about, you've got to constantly stay in touch with
the Word of God in order to help you on the walk. But the
Lord works in mysterious ways, and during all our life's
journeys we're enabled to see the Lord at work if our eyes
are open and our hearts are open. And today -- you can analyze
and you can look at the coffin being held, with the sun
shining on it, anyway you want. I happen to feel it was
a special moment that was part of a special ceremony for
a special person. And it helped strengthen my faith. And
you can have your faith strengthened on -- you can have
your faith strengthened when you stand up at a faith-based
initiative and see someone standing up and testify to what
their love has done to help a child, or how a child's life
has been helped.
My faith gets strengthened when I went to the school the
other day and saw the mentoring relationship between a young
professional woman and a young kid who's going to go to
the seed school where there's a 95 percent chance that kid
is going to go to college. And that helps strengthen my
faith. So there's, you know, ways -- whether the moment
be majestical or whether the moment be a part of just an
average -- your average moment in life, you can find ways
to strengthen your faith. And it's necessary to do so, in
my judgment. There is a -- it's called a "walk,"
it's not called a "moment" or a "respite,"
it's a walk. It's a constant maturing of an understanding
of a -- and today's ceremony, I bet you, for millions of
people was a reaffirmation for many and a way to make sure
doubts don't seep into your soul.
Q: Given that, how difficult do you think that it will
be finding a successor to fill his shoes?
THE PRESIDENT: Look, I'm interested in working with whoever
the successor is. And I think that, as Cardinal McCarrick
said at the ceremony on Saturday, the day His Holiness died,
asked for prayers as he began his journey as one of the
electors, as a cardinal. You know, I'm not going to pre-judge
the selection process.
Q: Are there any qualities that you're specifically looking
THE PRESIDENT: I'm not a part of the selection process.
I will be a President representing a great nation in dealing
with a great institution with which we have diplomatic relations.
Q: It's got to be a tough act to follow, though.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your dinner with
Prime Minister Berlusconi? Did you talk, particularly, on
Iraq? Did the subject come up, in terms of the intelligence
officer who was killed by Americans?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it did come up and I expressed my regret
once again, and assured him that the investigation would
be conducted in an aboveboard, transparent way.
Q: Did he say it had been a problem for him in keeping
the support that there is in Italy for having troops in
THE PRESIDENT: No, he reaffirmed his commitment to -- which
he has given in the past -- that we've got to make sure
we complete the mission, that we help Iraqis to fight off
the few. He knows what I know: that the sooner that gets
done, the sooner our troops will be able to come home.
But he's also aware that what we don't want to do is leave
prematurely, so that we don't complete our job. And the
new government is just about to be stood up; we look forward
to working with the new government on a lot of things and
a lot of fronts. But on the security front, it's to make
sure we're in sync with our training schedules; make sure
that the chain of command within the military and between
the civilian government and the military are strong and
capable and will endure.
We've been waiting for this new government so that we can
then strategize. And as soon as the government is sworn
in, the appropriate folks, we can get Zal confirmed quickly,
get him out there -- of course, we have a good, strong deputy
chief of mission there now, upon swearing in -- of course,
I will be in contact with the Prime Minister, I've already
spoke to the President. And General Casey, as well as the
chargé, I mean, the deputy chief of mission will
be in touch with, Condi will be touch with her counterpart,
Secretary Rumsfeld will be in touch with his counterpart
as we strategize as to how to move forward.
As we strategize on tactics, on how to implement the strategy
-- which is clear -- which is, we want to train you and
make you as efficient as possible, as quickly as possible,
so that all of us can begin to, you know, as I say, bring
our troops home with the honor they've earned.
Q: Italy is going to pull out 3,000 troops, I think, by
the fall. Will you be able to absorb that?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know why you say that. I'm not sure
why you said what you just said.
Q: I thought that was the number of troops Italy had in
Iraq, and I --
THE PRESIDENT: They've got 3,300 now, and you said they're
going to pull 3,000 out by the fall?
Q: Well, I guess -- I don't --
THE PRESIDENT: Okay. What I did hear was is that the Prime
Minister wants to work to make sure we complete the mission.
But I'm not sure where that came from.
Q: Do you think he'll leave troops in if, in fact, enough
haven't been trained?
THE PRESIDENT: I think we'll work to complete the training
mission of the Iraqis. And it's important we do it, and
get it right. The amazing thing is, is that if you really
think about what's happened in the 10-month period, in spite
of some very difficult days and in spite of some tragedy,
loss of life, this country is -- there is a democracy emerging
in this country. And it was really kicked off by the huge
vote of over 8 million people.
But, no, we'll work with all our coalition, continue to
make sure we stay in touch with all our -- I had breakfast
with Tony Blair this morning, speaking about coalition.
You know, I stay in regular contact with the Prime Minister.
Q: Can I ask you about Tom Delay, the statement he made
in the wake of the Shiva case, that judges were out of control
and should be held accountable. What did you think about
THE PRESIDENT: I believe in an independent judiciary. I
believe in proper checks and balances. And we'll continue
to put judges on the bench who strictly and faithfully interpret
Q: Mr. President, I know you're not -- you've said -- you've
often said you're not consumed by polls, but a fair amount
has been written lately about your approval ratings, which
in some polls are at sort of a low point. Some polls --
THE PRESIDENT: Some of them were going up the other day.
Q: Okay. Well, some say that --
THE PRESIDENT: You can find them going up and you can find
them going down. (Laughter.)
Q: In general, what --
THE PRESIDENT: You can pretty much find out what you want
in polls, is my point. (Laughter.)
Q: What about the theory that your presidency is moving
from one dominated by foreign policy to one of domestic
policy? Ironically, now that some of things are settling
down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and you're facing tough issues
like Social Security, it's a little tougher road to hoe.
What are your thoughts?
THE PRESIDENT: My thoughts are the President has always
got to balance foreign policy and domestic policy and I
will -- I did so in the first term. As might remember, we
were confronted with a recession and I felt we needed to
reform schools and, at the same time, I had to fight the
war on terror; we're continuing to fight the war on terror,
the war on terror goes on and that's the important thing
for me to continue to remind our fellow citizens. By the
way, we will work to defeat the enemy by, you know, making
sure our troops are well framed up, prepared, ready to move
quickly. It's part of the transformation process that the
Secretary is leading. And to make sure our intelligence
services mesh and work closely together. I'm looking forward
to getting John Negroponte confirmed as quickly as possible,
so we can deal with this crucial aspect.
But there's also, obviously, a domestic component. There
was a domestic component in the first term. There is a domestic
component in the second term. I might remind you that at
points during the tax debate I can remember people had declared
that tax relief was dead on arrival. Occasionally, somebody
would say something that was not very positive about the
process and people would all of a sudden assume that nothing
was going to get done. So I'm accustomed to, you know, the
process of getting a piece of legislation out. And I'm very
optimistic that when it's all said and done, the legislators
will understand that the American people recognize there's
a problem in Social Security and expect something to be
done. And I look forward to being a part of that.
I had laid out a time table to make it clear to the American
people my views about the problems inherent in Social Security.
And I think we're making progress. I think slowly but surely,
the American people are coming to realize there is a serious
problem with Social Security -- not if you've retired. And
that's the other aspect of making sure we succeed in the
Social Security debate, is to make sure seniors know they're
going to get their checks. And we've got work to do on that.
Q: Still think it will pass this year?
THE PRESIDENT: I certainly hope so, because now is the
time to fix the problem. Every year we wait costs billions
of dollars more. And I fully realize some people would rather
me not be discussing this issue. The job of the President
is to set an agenda that deals with problems. And sometimes
-- sometimes the legislature doesn't want to deal with the
But I'm going to continue to remind all of us in government
that when we see a problem, we have an obligation to do
something about it -- no matter what some may think are
the short term political consequences. I happen to believe
that not dealing with the problem will create political
consequences when the public realizes how serious the problem
is. If you don't deal with the problem, or you go home and
say, "I'm not dealing with the problem," there
will be a political consequence.
I've learned that lesson, as a governor and President,
that the people expect and respect people for setting agenda
items and staying focused on achieving a solution to the
problem. And I've set an agenda. I set an agenda on energy.
We need an energy bill. You know, we've been talking about
energy for four years. Now, I fully realize an energy bill
reflects a longer-term strategy. But we need to -- we need
to do a lot of things.
Eventually what we're going to have to do is change our
habits. Change the types of automobiles we drive. I believe
we will have a zero-emission coal-fired electricity plant.
I saw the -- when we went to Cleveland -- or Columbus, we
saw the technology involved with that. But Congress needs
to get me an energy bill. And it seems like to me with the
price of gasoline where it is, that ought to be enough this
time to cause people to get moving on the bill. But I'll
continue to push it.
We need to get a budget. We passed -- I put a pretty good
budget, a real good budget. It helps cut the budget in half
-- the deficit in half over a five-year period of time.
Now they need to get their differences worked out and get
it to my desk. I'll be a part of that process, as well.
And then, eventually, we're going to have this tax relief
commission come forward. In other words, I have an obligation
to set agenda items. And when I set one, I will continue
to work it and remind people that we have a duty to deal
with these problems.
I like the debate, by the way, as an aside. I'm enjoying
this. I'm enjoying --
Q: Even if a lot of --
THE PRESIDENT: -- because I feel I got elected for a reason.
My nature is such that if I came to Washington and saw a
problem and didn't deal with it, I wouldn't feel very good
about myself. I want it to be said that George W. Bush got
elected and did what he said he was going to do, for starters.
You covered my campaigns -- every speech, I talked about
Social Security. And I started talking about Social Security
in the year 2000, because I recognized a problem coming
down the road. And it is a serious problem, particularly
if you're a younger American. You have no problem if you're
receiving a Social Security check. I do not care -- and
I'm going to say it like you've heard me say it -- it doesn't
matter what the propagandists say, people are going to get
their checks. You might remember the ads that they ran against
me when I was running for office, that said, if George W.
gets elected you're not going to get your check. I'm sure
you guys analyzed those and realized that upon election,
people got their checks -- which might say something about
those who ran the ads, right? Well, they're saying it again.
They're trying to frighten seniors in order to stop people
from coming together.
Now, in 2001, something that has lost a little bit of the
focus of those covering this issue, I called together the
Moynihan Commission, and I think it might be wise for people
who analyze this issue to refresh their memory about the
Moynihan Commission, because the Moynihan Commission --
made up of equally Democrats and Republicans -- came up
with some interesting ideas to solve this problem.
Q: How deeply have you had to draw down on that political
credit that you felt you had?
THE PRESIDENT: I think you get -- I think you earn capital,
you know? I think --
Q: Are you spending any?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm spending a lot -- every time I go out.
(Laughter.) But you earn capital by spending capital, that's
what the people expect. We've got trips -- I'll be keeping,
going out, reminding people that there is a problem.
And one of these days we'll be able to look back and say,
you know, we were successful convincing the American people
there was a problem, and we were successful reminding seniors
that you're not going to have your check taken away from
you. And then all of a sudden, it becomes a true generational
issue, because the grandparents receiving the checks, they're
going to start asking, now that I'm secure, what are you
going to do for my grandkid? Because the grandchildren are
going to pay an enormous price. You heard those experts
sit up there and say that if nothing happens it is likely
younger workers are going to have to pay an 18 percent payroll
Now, I was born prior to 1950. But if I were my daughter
hearing somebody predict that at some point in time she's
paying an 18 percent payroll tax, I'd be suggesting to the
old man -- me -- that I get something done. And that's what
we're doing. We're working hard to get it done.
Q: Are you surprised that it's taken this much work, this
THE PRESIDENT: No.
Q: -- to make progress on this, because, you know --
THE PRESIDENT: No. And this is a difficult issue. I've
heard members say -- I'm not going to tell you who they
are, nor what party they're from; I wish you hadn't have
brought this up. We hear the talk out of Capitol Hill saying,
oh, darn, I wish the President had just focused only on
the budget, or maybe the energy bill. There are a lot of
people who would rather not talk about this issue. I understand
that. Again, I don't think that's part of my job description:
avoid issues because it may be politically difficult. I
think my job description is: if you see a problem, talk
about it and work with members of both political parties
to come up with a solution.
And there's beginning to be some talk on Capitol Hill.
But I'm not the least bit surprised, because it is a tough
issue for members, for people who've got, you know, a relatively
short-term horizon, two-year horizon. They're worried about
-- some of them are worried about elections. Some of them
in both the House and the Senate -- from both parties, by
the way -- are thinking longer-term. And they're beginning
to talk some ideas. And that's constructive.
You know, I remember I was telling President Clinton, I
remember watching one of his town hall meetings in Albuquerque,
New Mexico, on this very subject. And I thought it was a
very impressive presentation. By the way, a lot of the language
happens to be pretty close to some of the town hall meetings
But, no, I'm not surprised people want to avoid this issue.
Q: What has it been like spending time with the former
Presidents for three days? That's the longest time --
THE PRESIDENT: It's fun. Oh, it's great. You know, we share
war stories, you know, a lot of talking, a lot of interesting
experiences about different world leaders that we may all
have met -- or all three of us met. Just different experiences
that, you know, my dad might have had or President Clinton
might have had.
There is a lot of interest, obviously, with former Presidents
about, you know, policy, so I had them sit in on our policy
briefings this morning with Condi and Steve and the CIA
fellow traveling with us -- not this morning, yesterday
and the day before, on Air Force One. And then yesterday
at the embassy I wanted to include them in. And, you know,
we had a -- these CIA briefings a lot of time prompt policy
discussions, you know, how is this process going, Steve
-- and Condi, now that she's here, both of them were able
to bring dad and President Clinton up to date on our strategy
in dealing with a particular issue. It's interesting to
get their points of view about their experiences in particular
countries. It was fun. It was really a lot of fun. I was
honored they came.
Q: Are you worried about them spending so much time together,
those two? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you heard my Grid Iron speech. (Laughter.)
Listen, thank you all. Hope you enjoyed the experience
as much as I did. Absolutely fascinating.
By the way, I think when you discuss religion -- on doubt
--there is no doubt in my mind there is a living God. And
no doubt in my mind that the Lord, Christ, was sent by the
Almighty. No doubt in my mind about that. When I'm talking
about doubts, I'm talking about the doubts that an individual
struggles with in his or her life. That's important for
you to make sure you get that part of the dialogue correct,
if you don't mind.
Q: Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Got it? Everybody got it correct? All right.
Q: Thank you.
Q: What are your plans this weekend?
THE PRESIDENT: Like Stretch, I'm on the injured reserve
list from running, so I'll be mountain biking. I think Cat
McKinnon is going come up from Austin. Oh, yes. And I'll
be fishing. I'll be finishing my book, "Peter the Great,"
by Robert K. Massey. Some of you old-timers have probably
already read it, I'm just now -- have you read it?
Q: Getting ready for the next Russia trip.
THE PRESIDENT: Have you read it?
Q: I like when you said "old-timer" and you looked
at Steve -- (laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: He probably had read it -- and I wasn't
going to look at Ann, of course, I'm too polite. (Laughter.)
We'll have briefings, Condi is coming to spend the night,
Hadley will be spending a night there. We'll start briefing
the Sharon visit Sunday night. And then we'll obviously
greet the Prime Minister and then head off to Fort Hood
on Tuesday morning, and work on that speech probably Monday
Looking forward to getting back down there again. I may
do a little cedar work, depends on how sleepy the crew is.
Q: I'll be fishing, just down the Bosque River.
THE PRESIDENT: Really?
Q: Yes. I'm sleeping at the Side Oats Ranch tonight.
THE PRESIDENT: Tell them "hi." Middle Fork has
got some water in it.
Q: They do.
THE PRESIDENT: The Middle Fork comes down to my place.
Q: Does it come down to you from his, or goes the other
THE PRESIDENT: I think it comes down, doesn't it? Yes,
I think he's west of me, so it's coming down toward Waco.
The Middle Fork feeds into the Brazos.
Consider yourself lucky you get to go down to Texas.
Q: I'm delighted.
THE PRESIDENT: You're not grousing about it, are you?
Q: Oh, no, no, no. I'm sorry I missed Easter, I was at
home for that.
THE PRESIDENT: It may be -- I hope, I haven't heard, but
it may be that the wild flowers, are they out yet? They
say there is going to be a spectacular blue bonnet season
this year, I mean, spectacular.
Q: Is that in honor of the Baylor women's basketball team?
THE PRESIDENT: I called, as a matter of fact, on the airplane
flying to Rome, I called the coach, Kim Mulkey-Roberts.
A fine person. I had met her before when she brought --
you all saw her, at least if you were on the pool, right,
let's see -- anyway, she was with the Midway girls softball
team when they came out, the national champs softball team.
Her daughter is a player on it, and so she came out with
the parents. But she was one excited lady. And she did a
heck of a job.
Q: Blew them out.
THE PRESIDENT: They've got a great team. I'm looking forward
to welcoming them to the White House.
END 9:16 A.M. EDT