Bush Press Conference from Southwestern Ohio Campaign Visit
President Bush was in my neck of the woods back on Tuesday. I wasn’t smart enough to take off from work and go see the President on a pretty day, alas. But we’ll run a bit of a recap.
First, compare this to a typical White House press conference. Note how much more thoughtful and open-ended the local reporters’ questions are. (Transcript via the Dayton Daily News.)
The following is the transcript, provided by the office of the White House press secretary, of President Bush’s interview with Dayton Daily News reporter Jim Bebbington and five other Ohio newspaper journalists. It was conducted on the Bush campaign bus during his Tuesday, May 4, swing through southwest Ohio.
Bush: How do you want to do this, kind of rotate around? Go ahead.
Question. You know, you’ve talked a lot about … in your speech about the economy and everything. Can you tell us, you know, you made your promise when you were running four years ago that you would not raise taxes … you said it again today … is that something we can bank on? And what’s it doing for the economy in Ohio?
Bush: I think that cutting taxes has helped a lot. Cutting taxes helped make the recession shallow. Cutting taxes … and economic historians will tell you this is one of the most shallow recessions ever. The second and third tax relief package, in my judgment, provided fuel for the economic growth that’s going on.
The challenge for America is … obviously, look, we need short-term growth; but the real fundamental question is how do we remain a competitive nation for the long run? That requires good tax policy, and you heard the whole litany … good legal policy, good energy policy. The point I make is that rather than lapsing into economic isolationism, which is kind of the alternative to creating an environment which is kind of pro-growth, pro-market policy, is to put policies in place that will literally keep us on the forefront of change. And that’s what I explained to the people today.
I believe we ought to make the tax relief permanent. All the tax relief we pass ought to be permanent. I will continue to battle for permanency in the tax code. The best way for me, however, to describe that is the realities of what happens if it’s not permanent. It means there will be tax increases. And that’s what people have got to understand. And that’s why I hold up these examples of people, like today, earlier in Dayton ? the family that will pay $900 additional taxes, if just the smaller aspects … I shouldn’t say “smaller” ? if the initial aspects of the tax code are not made permanent. That’s what you’re seeing right now in the budget process in Washington: permanency on the child credit, and the 10 percent bracket on the marriage penalty. But I believe all aspects of it ought to be permanent.
Mr. President, you made very strong statements condemning the abuse of Iraqi prisoners…
Bush: I did.
…but do you think it would be appropriate for you to apologize to the Iraqi people on behalf of the American people for that?
Bush: Well, I think the best thing I can do is explain as clearly as I can to the American people, it’s abhorrent practices, abhorrent; that we will fully investigate, we will find out the facts. There could be criminal charges filed, so, therefore, I don’t want to go beyond what I’ve said up until now.
But I’m appalled like you’re appalled. I mean, every American is appalled that saw that on TV. It doesn’t represent what we believe. It does not represent our country. And we’ve got a lot of work to do in the Arab world to explain that to people, because the people are seeing a different picture.
Mr. President, ever since Ronald Reagan posed it in …
Bush: Let me say one other thing. Look, I talked to Rumsfeld, Secretary Rumsfeld, yesterday, and he is bringing up … he will brief me tomorrow, as well, about where we are on these different investigations. I was told that shortly after the discovery was made, they began investigating. I didn’t really appreciate what they said … evidently there’s a report out that was talked about, and, yet, high officials in the Pentagon hadn’t seen it yet. Therefore, there are some questions that will be asked and he, himself, is asking those questions. So we’ll find out more of the facts.
And then let’s find out, it all, and then I’ll take the appropriate response after that.
Mr. President, ever since Ronald Reagan posed it in his 1980 debate with Jimmy Carter in Cleveland, one of the central questions in any presidential race is, can you honestly say your life is better today than it was four years ago?
Given that Ohio has lost more than a quarter of a million jobs, Iraq, gas prices and other issues, why would you believe Ohioans should answer that question in the affirmative?
Bush: Well, because the economy, which got hard in 2001 because of recession, the stock market started to decline in March of 2000, we’ve been through war, we’ve been through emergency, we’ve been through corporate scandals … and things are better. Things are improving … they’re not as good as they will be, but as we sit here in May of 2004, I can say that the life of the Ohio citizen is improving. The fundamental question is, who will put policies in place to make sure it continues to improve beyond the election cycle?
And, you know, Iraq is, no question, it’s tough right now. On the other hand, I look forward to making the case that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein and America is more secure and safe. And I will continue to make the case about the historic nature of what we’re doing. We have a chance to literally change the world as a result of actions we’re taking, that are taking place.
Look what’s happened: Afghanistan is free, Libya is now disarmed, Iraq is becoming a free country in the heart of the Middle East. Remember, policy up until this point in time was, you know, let us contain, you know, stability. And there was no policy of freedom. And look where it got us. So I believe that their children will be living in a freer world.
By the way, just some other statistics, to complete your question, “are you better off.” Disposable income is up for citizens … that’s across the board in America. Home ownership rates are up. Minority home ownership … and not only up, the highest ever. Minority homeownership is the highest ever. I mean, there are a lot of statistics that I think will make my case that the people of Ohio are better off.
Mr. President, The Blade published a series of articles last year detailing war crimes by U.S. soldiers during Vietnam, and now these reports about the mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq. What is it about this problem, and why does it continue to recur?
BUSH: Again, I’m not going to comment about these particular charges. There are charges being filed and I really am not going to go beyond what I’ve already said, because I think it’s very important for the system to work and for these reports to be completed.
The thing that I was pleased to hear from the secretary is that there is an investigation, beyond just this particular case, as to whether there’s any systemic problems. And we need to know that and the country needs to know that. It’s just … it’s early for me to predict the outcome of the report until I see it.
Mr. President …
Bush: We’ll cycle back and give you another question.
Do you … I guess, and let me stay on point on that, does this incident lead you to reconsider how the Army is using the private contractors?
Bush: Again, we just need to get the facts. You’re jumping out ahead. These are, by the way, legitimate questions, but you’re just trying to get me ahead of the full look. And as I said, there is an investigation to look at these specific charges on this incident that we saw in the pictures. But there is also a look at whether or not there is something more systemic going on. And that’s what your question refers to, and I just need to wait and see the full report.
Mr. President, why do you think your support in Ohio has dropped since you took office? And what do you want voters to consider when ….
Bush: Well, I’m not so sure it has. I’m not a poll-watcher, but I’m told we’re doing pretty well here. You know, 2000 was a close race, as I recall.
Three point six percent.
That’s close. (Laughter.) A little bigger than some other states, but nevertheless, it was close. (Laughter.)
I’ve got solid support here. Any time you look at a campaign, you wonder, how strong is the base? Is the base solid? And, if solid, is the base enthused? I will tell you I think it is. Of course, you may think otherwise, but then we’ll only find out once the election occurs. But I feel very good about the party and the party’s ability to reach out to others.
But, look, this is going to be a tough race. I mean, I readily concede it’s going to be a tough race, and I look forward to the race. One of the things I’m trying to say on my bus trip is that I welcome the contest. I welcome the contest of ideas. I welcome the contest to get out and speak to the people. I like going to downtown Lebanon, or I like that … I particularly like those events where I’m able to talk to people and kind of interchange, interface with people and laugh and joke and lay out my points. I like doing that.
The complicating factor this time, as compared to last time, is I’ve also got another job to do. I had a job to do as governor, but we weren’t in session. Well, it turns out a president is not only in session all the time, there’s another dimension to the job, which wasn’t the case for governor, which is foreign policy. So I’ll be meeting with foreign leaders … I’ll be meeting with the prime minister of Singapore tomorrow, the king of Jordan this week … then I’m going to head back out on the trail.
But coming here to Ohio was a way to say, this is a state that we’ll contest in, and we’ll contest in a way that gets me in front as many people as I can be in front of and talk about what I believe is right. You’re going to see a variety of campaign events here. Tonight you’ll see … in front of a big crowd, I think, as least as big as it was in Detroit … you’ll see an on-text type speech. The others were more ad lib, particularly the one with the conversation. And I like doing those and we’ve been doing a lot. We’ve done those in Toledo, for example, before, I think it was a community college event up there.
Mr. President, Matt Maupin, PFC Matt Maupin is held hostage, as far as we know, somewhere in the war zone over there. Do you have any message for his parents, who live just in Batavia, just outside of Cincinnati?
Bush: My message is, is that there’s a lot of people praying for the son and praying for them. This has got to be an incredibly trying period of time for them. And the other message is, is that of course any time there’s a soldier that’s missing, we’re doing everything we can to find that person. And I am prayerful, as well, that there will be a joyous day in their life when their loved one is found.
Mr. President, when Senator Kerry was in Toledo last week, he challenged you to come to Ohio and look in the eyes of the unemployed workers who ? some of whom have lost pensions and don’t have health care, and, beyond tax cuts, tell them what you’re going to do for them to make their lot better. What would you say to that?
I’ve given three speeches on that subject already today, which is to provide opportunity for displaced workers to get re-educated, so they can be employed in the jobs that now exist in the state of Ohio… and whether it be Pell Grants or displaced workers programs or trade adjustment assistance, for workers to be able to get the help they need to become employable.
And I’ve supported the extension of the unemployment insurance. But the best thing that a president can do is put pro-growth policies in place, is to grow this economy, and to fight off an economic isolationism that can creep into the conscience of the American political process. We must not become isolated from the world. We must compete.
And as I explained to the people in these events today, that the tendency for other presidents, including myself, is to … we welcome goods and services from overseas. It’s good for the consumers to be able to have that choice. The more product that comes into the country for … the more the consumers have to choose, the more likely it is they’re going to get better quality at better price. That’s a fact of economic life. And, therefore, the role of the president, rather than wall-off America from the world … which in my judgment hurts workers, it certainly hurts Honda workers here in the heartland of Ohio … is to open up markets overseas.
And that’s what we’re spending time doing. We’re spending a lot of time with the Chinese, getting them to understand that pegged currencies is not … modern economies don’t peg their currencies. We’re making some progress there. We’re spending time … we filed suit in the WTO against China. I believe it was an intellectual property matter … or semi-conductor matter, if I’m not mistaken.
The farmers of Ohio, by the way, are benefitting from us … from this administration working to open up markets. The farm community is in good shape. It wasn’t all that long ago that they weren’t in good shape. They’re doing well because of trade. In other words, I would tell the worker that, I can’t make you want to retrain, but I can help you retrain if you choose to. And I will put pro-growth policies in place that enable this economy to grow, so you can find a job.
Now, it may not be in the line of work they had before, I recognize that. But like that lady said today, which I thought was a very poignant story … I don’t know if you know the lady I’m talking about, the single mother of three who was a sales representative … she went back to the community college. She now makes double the amount of money she was making before, because she gained a new skill that was applicable to the jobs which are being created.
I bet if you go around the state of Ohio you’ll find that certainly some of the older industries hurt, and I fully recognize that. But there are new industries springing up. There are new health care opportunities. And the question is, for that worker … and I look them right in the eye, and say, here’s your opportunity, and here’s your help to get there.
This is perhaps a little off the radar screen, but it’s an issue of regional importance in southern Ohio and Kentucky, the …
Bush: Football. (Laughter.)
What can you do about the Reds’ bullpen? (Laughter.)
The tobacco industry is clearly an industry in transition. Do you think there’s a need for any further government regulation? Are we doing enough to discourage the young from smoking? And how do you balance the interests of longtime tobacco farmers against those other concerns?
Bush: Well, they’ve got the quota system in place, the allotment system. And I don’t think that needs to be changed. I do think we need to continue to educate younger smokers about the evils of smoking. And to me, that’s where the emphasis ought to be, particularly targeting teens. It’s an overall part of, kind of demand reduction for things that will hurt kids. And it’s not just cigarettes, it’s drugs and alcohol, as well. And, actually, we’re making some pretty good progress. I don’t know what the tobacco statistics are, but I do know that there has been a reduction in drug use amongst teenagers, which is a very positive development.
Thinking long-term on the war on terror, how are we going to know it’s over?
And will it ever be over?
Bush: It becomes less over … or more over when you demolish al Qaeda. It will never be fully over, because there will be pockets of resentment and hatred. It will be less dangerous, however, as we spread freedom. And that’s an important part of this message that I’m telling our fellow citizens. And it’s an important part of my foreign policy, and that is, we reject this notion about … I repeat, this notion about, OK, all we care for is stability in the Middle East. It hasn’t worked. The Middle East is a breeding ground of terrorism because there’s a lot of hatred, frustration and violence.
I believe it’s because there’s not enough freedom in the Middle East. And, therefore, the long-term way to dent terrorist activities is to provide hope. I believe there will be a Palestinian state that is democratic and hopeful. I know it’s in Israel’s interests that there be a Palestinian state, and I know it’s in the Palestinian people’s interest. The Palestinian people need to have leadership that understands that.
Obviously, this is a very difficult subject for some to swallow … not here in this country, but the Middle East. But a Palestinian state is the only hope for there to be peace in the Middle East, for there to be peace in the Israeli-Palestinian issue, because it is a peaceful democracy that will help rout out the terror that could prevent progress from being made. So that’s the long-term issue.
I’m sure … listen, we have terrorists in our own country. Remember the guy in Oklahoma City? Terrorists … but systemic terrorism, where it’s going to … terrorism is bold enough to organize in vast cells can be greatly diminished by tough action and the spread of freedom.
In your Trotwood speech, you said the best way to secure the homeland is to chase these killers down, one at a time. In hindsight, do you think … considering the work still ahead in Iraq and the work still under way in Afghanistan, would you have wanted to stick with Afghanistan longer as the sole focus?
No, the war on terror is waged on many fronts. It’s not a single-front war. It’s waged on the financial front. We estimate we’ve cut off about $200 million so far. There’s more to do. It requires incredible cooperation between governments to chase their money down. And the war is fought on the use of troops and special forces. The war is fought by sharing intelligence, and finding these people. The war is fought on the diplomatic front, by getting Pakistan to be friendly, for example … al Qaeda helped, when they tried to kill Musharraf twice. But, nevertheless, they’re now an ally in this war. This is a war on multiple fronts.
And we’ve got about … over 10,000 troops in Afghanistan hunting for al Qaeda remnants. All it takes is good intelligence. We don’t need 10,000. We need to have precise location of their targets. Quite the contrary, it was necessary to do what we did when we did in order to make sure we have a better chance of winning the war on terror.
Mr. President, what should Ohio voters consider about you when they go to cast their vote in November?
A vision for the future, that I know where I want to continue to lead the country; that I see clearly what needs to be done to keep us competitive, keep us the best place for people to be able to find work. I know what needs to be done to win the war on terror. I look forward to debating my record on the war on terror, and I look forward to explaining how we need to continue to win the war on terror.
I’ll remind people that Afghanistan is now free, Iraq is becoming free, that Libya has disarmed, that we’ve uncovered a major arms dealer with A.Q. Khan; that we’ve got good relations in the Far East, we’ve got a six-nation coalition that’s dealing with Kim Jong-il, who is a dangerous tyrant; that there’s enormous pressure on Iran now not to develop a nuclear weapon; that in parts of the world where there was not hope, there is, because of our generosity when it comes to HIV/AIDS; we’re the largest food donor in the world. I mean, I look forward to making the case that the world is better off as a result of my presidency, and will be better off if I have four more years.
I look forward to the campaign. When I get on a bus and start moving around your state, it should be an indication that the same guy you saw four years ago who wanted to win then, wants to win now. And that’s an important question for the people of Ohio: Does he have the energy and the drive and the vision to get out there and compete for their vote? And the answer is, absolutely. I want to be the president, because I know where I want to continue to lead the country.
It’s good to see you all.
Thank you, Mr. President.