Bush sketches term-two agenda
Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – A minority president no more, President Bush sketched a second-term agenda Thursday that includes fighting the worldwide war on terror while seeking tax and Social Security reform.
“I earned capital in the campaign – political capital – and now I intend to spend it,” he said at a news conference 24 hours after securing his second term.
Bush also pledged to pursue the foreign policy that was a flashpoint in the presidential campaign and has sparked criticism by some American allies in Europe.
“There is a certain attitude in the world by some that says that it’s a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world,” he said, a reference to Iraq in particular. “I’ve heard that criticism.”
“Remember, I went to London to talk about our vision of spreading freedom throughout the greater Middle East and I fully understand that that might rankle some and be viewed by some as folly.”
Told by a reporter that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had died, Bush said he intended to “continue to work for a free Palestinian state that’s at peace with Israel.” Later reports said that Arafat, in a coma in Paris, was still alive.
Bush sidestepped questions about changes in his Cabinet and potential vacancies in the Supreme Court, where Chief Justice William Rehnquist recently disclosed he was undergoing treatment for thyroid cancer.
“I haven’t made any decisions on the Cabinet yet,” Bush said. Nor about his top staff, he added. Changes are widely expected in both, and senior aides said Attorney General John Ashcroft was likely to submit his resignation before Bush’s inauguration for a second term on Jan. 20.
As for the nation’s highest court, Bush said, “There’s no vacancy for the Supreme Court and I will deal with a vacancy when there is one.”
The president seemed relaxed as he took questions, the uncertainty of a hardfought campaign behind him. He joked with reporters at several points and asked for a show of hands on how many of them would stay in their jobs while he remained in his.
Bush fielded questions after securing re-election in a campaign framed by the war in Iraq and economic issues at home. Nearly complete returns gave him 51 percent of the popular vote – a contrast to 2000, when he lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College.
For the second straight day, he pledged to reach out to those who opposed his re-election.
“The campaign over, Americans are expecting a bipartisan effort and results. I will reach out to every one who shares our goals,” he said.
“Democrats want a free and peaceful world,” he said at one point.
He opened his first postelection news conference by prodding the lame duck Congress that meets later this month to send him an overdue spending bill while keeping deficit concerns in mind. He also called for approval of legislation to overhaul the nation’s intelligence apparatus to help protect against another attack.
He sidestepped a question about the cost of the war in Iraq, saying his administration would present Congress with a “realistic assessment” of the funding that is needed. Congressional aides have said the administration is likely to ask lawmakers for an additional $75 billion to pay for military costs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Turning his attention to the new Congress, where Republicans gained seats in Tuesday’s elections, he said he wants legislation to fundamentally reorder Social Security and the tax system.
Bush has long advocated changes in Social Security to permit workers to invest a portion of their own payroll taxes in individual retirement accounts. The proposal is opposed by many Democrats who argue it would undermine the finances of a system originally established to provide pensions to retirees.
“I earned capital in the campaign and now I intend to spend it,” Bush said. “And I’m going to spend it for what I told the people I would spend it on.”
His comments about earning political capital reflected the reality of an election in which he won a second term and his party gained seats in both the House and Senate.
At the same time, the Democratic minority has enough seats in the Senate to block legislation by filibuster, and it will be up to the Democrats to decide how often to use that power.
The president began his day by meeting with his Cabinet. After the news conference, he looked ahead to a weekend trip to Camp David, where he said he would consider personnel changes for the second term.
“It’s inevitable there will be changes,” he said, adding that speculation about switches was a “great Washington sport.”
Earlier, Bush took congratulatory calls from the presidents of Iraq, Afghanistan, Poland and Russia and the prime ministers of Israel and Italy, and he told his Cabinet, “We’ve still got work to do.”
“We’re here for a reason,” the president said. “It is a privilege to sit around this table.”
Bush also invited campaign workers to the White House for a thank-you celebration.
His second term secured, Bush asked the 55 million people who voted to oust him from office to get behind him.
In a victory speech late Wednesday, Bush said reaching his goals “will require the broad support of Americans.” He asked Kerry’s disappointed supporters to back him – even though many of his proposals are anathema to those who opposed his re-election.