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Inside Politics

Bush vows to work with Democrats

'I'm genuine about working toward some of these important issues'

President Bush speaks to reporters Thursday, at his first news conference after his re-election.
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George W. Bush
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush gave a preview of his second term on Thursday, telling reporters that, having cut his "political eye teeth," he was eager to work with Democrats to begin carrying out the changes he has been promising.

"I will meet with both Republican and Democratic leaders," he said at a news conference. "They will see I'm genuine about working toward some of these important issues."

Bush said that, at the end of his first term, he was "now more seasoned to Washington."

"I've cut my political eye teeth. I'm aware of what can happen in this town. Nevertheless, having said that, I'm fully prepared to work with both Republican, Democratic leadership to advance an agenda that I think makes a big difference to the country," Bush said.

Bush said that agenda includes a plan to "defeat the terrorists," improve education, change medical malpractice laws, continue his tax cuts and streamline the "complicated and outdated tax code."

He cited his plans to change the nation's Social Security program as particularly difficult.

"Otherwise, it would have already been done. But it's necessary to confront it. I'm looking forward to working with Democrats on it. I'm not sure we can get it done without Democratic participation."

Speaking after a particularly divisive, bitterly fought campaign, Bush said, "I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals," and added that he was "eager to start the work ahead."

Asked whether he would select a consensus candidate if there is an opening on the Supreme Court, Bush made no mention of Chief Justice William Rehnquist's ill health and speculation that he may soon leave the court. "There is no vacancy on the Supreme Court. I'll deal with a vacancy when there is one."

He reiterated that, whenever an opening does come, he would select someone "who knows the difference between personal opinion and strict interpretation of the law."

He urged the questioner to look at his record of appointments, saying it shows he selects "well-qualified people who know the law, who represent a judicial temperament that I agree with and who are qualified to hold the bench." (Court appointees likely for Bush)

Bush defended his decision to invade Iraq, and predicted 125,000 Iraqi troops would be trained by elections that are scheduled for January.

He vowed to work closely with Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to overcome insurgents in strongholds in cities such as Falluja.

"I think there's a recognition that some of these people must be defeated," Bush said.

Asked whether the support he received during the campaign from religious groups could alienate those who do not share his faith, Bush said that he had no plans to move America toward a theocracy.

"I'll be your president, regardless of your faith," he said. "No president should try to impose religion on our society."

He added, "If you're a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, you're equally American. That's such a wonderful aspect of our society."

Bush said his decisive victory -- as opposed to the narrow win he eked out four years ago -- would not necessarily free him from constraints. "I don't think you'll let me be too free," he told the journalists. "There's accountability and there's constraints on the presidency, as there should be."

Still, Bush said he would move ahead forcefully to carry out his agenda.

"When you win, there's a feeling that the people have spoken, and embraced your point of view, and that's what I intend to tell the Congress."

The Harvard Business School graduate likened his win to having money in the bank. "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it. It's my style."

Bush defended his tax cuts that favor the wealthy, contending that they have helped boost the economy for everyone. "As the economy grows, there will be more revenues coming in to the Treasury," he said. (CNN/Money: Bush touches on plans for economy)

A number of economists have said Bush's tax cuts simply push the nation further into debt, do little or nothing to boost economic growth and make it more difficult for lawmakers to to pay for social programs.

But Bush said that, as a result of his policy, revenues are exceeding projections. "My point is, with good economic policy that encourages economic growth, the revenue streams begin to increase."

Despite its record deficits, the United States will also continue its efforts to help alleviate poverty and disease, he said.

During the news conference, Bush appeared at ease, joking occasionally with members of the press corps, and calling them by name or nicknames he has given to a number of them. In response to a question, he spoke openly about his relationship during the election with his father, the former president whose own quest for a second term 12 years ago failed.

Bush said his father had been sitting upstairs in the White House on Election Night, which dragged on into the next morning. At 3:30 a.m. Wednesday, "I finally said, 'Go to bed,'" Bush recalled.

Later in the morning, with the outcome still uncertain, the two men met in the Oval Office "and we had a good talk." The elder Bush then departed for Houston.

"I never got to see him face-to-face, to watch his, I guess, pride in his tired eyes as his son got a second term," Bush said.

Though not in person, the two did talk after Bush's victory was announced. "He was relieved. I told him to take a nap. I was worried about him staying up so late."

Bush said his father's 1992 loss to Bill Clinton had been "a disappointment," but one that taught him a lesson: "Life moves on. Life is bigger than just politics."

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