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Bush transcript, part 2: How Rumsfeld move was made

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush answered questions from reporters on Wednesday after discussing the midterm elections and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's resignation. The following is a partial transcript of the question-and-answer session at the White House:

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Does the departure of Don Rumsfeld signal a new direction in Iraq? A solid majority of Americans said yesterday that they wanted some American troops, if not all, withdrawn from Iraq. Did you hear that call? And will you heed it?

BUSH: I'd like our troops to come home, too, but I want them to come home with victory. And that is a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself.

I mean, I can understand Americans saying, "Come home." But I don't know if they said: "Come home and leave behind an Iraq that could end up being a safe haven for al Qaeda." I don't believe they said that.

And so I'm committed to victory. I'm committed to helping this country so that we can come home.

BUSH: Now, the first part about...

QUESTION: New direction...

BUSH: Oh, new direction. Well, there's certainly going to be new leadership at the Pentagon. And, as I mentioned in my comments, that Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that, sometimes, it's necessary to have a fresh perspective.

And Bob Gates will bring a fresh perspective. He'll also bring great managerial experience.

And he is -- I had a good talk with him on Sunday in Crawford [Texas]. I hadn't -- it took me a while to be able to sit down and visit with him. And I did. And I found him to be of like mind. He understands we're in a global war against these terrorists. He understands that defeat is not an option in Iraq.

And I believe it's important that there be a fresh perspective, and so does Secretary Rumsfeld.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

Last week you told us that Secretary Rumsfeld would be staying on. Why is the timing right now for this? And how much does it have to do with the election results?

BUSH: Right.

No, you and [wire service reporters Terence] Hunt and Kyle came in the Oval Office and you asked -- Hunt asked me the question one week before the campaign, and basically it was: You going to do something about Rumsfeld and the vice president? And my answer was, you know, they're going to stay on.

And the reason why is I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign.

And so the only way to answer that question and to get you onto another question was to give you that answer.

The truth of the matter is, as well -- I mean, that's one reason I gave the answer. But the other reason why is I hadn't had a chance to visit with Bob Gates yet, and I hadn't had my final conversation with Don Rumsfeld yet, at that point.

I have been talking with Don Rumsfeld over a period of time about fresh perspective. He likes to call it "fresh eyes." He, himself, understands that Iraq is not working well enough, fast enough.

And he and I are constantly assessing, and I'm assessing, as well, all the time, by myself, about: Do we have the right people in the right place with the right strategy? As you know, we're constantly changing tactics. And that requires constant assessment.

And so he and I both agreed in our meeting yesterday that it was appropriate that I accept his resignation. And so, the decision was made -- actually, I thought we were going to do fine yesterday. Shows what I know. But I thought we were going to be fine in the election.

My point to you is that, win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

You said you're interested in changing the tone and committed to changing the tone in Washington.

Just a few days before this election, in Texas, you said that Democrats, no matter how they put it, their approach to Iraq comes down to: Terrorists win, America loses.

What has changed today, No. 1? No. 2, is this administration prepared to deal with the level of oversight and investigation that is possibly going to come from one chamber or two in Congress?

BUSH: What's changed today is the election's over. And the Democrats won. And now we've going to work together for two years to accomplish big objectives for the country.

And, secondly, the Democrats are going to have to make up their mind about how they're going to conduct their affairs. And I haven't had a chance to talk with the leadership yet about these issues.

But we'll begin consultations with the Democrat leadership starting Thursday and Friday.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you.

You acknowledged that this is a message election on the war in Iraq. And so the American public today, having voted, will want to know what you mean in terms of course correction on Iraq, and particularly in light of this fact that last week the vice president pointed out that you and he aren't running for anything anymore and that it's, quote, "Full speed ahead on Iraq."

So which is it? Are you listening to the voters or are you listening to the vice president? And what does that mean?

BUSH: I believe Iraq had a lot to do with the election, but I believe there's other factors as well.

People want their Congress -- congressmen to be honest and ethical. So in some races, that was the primary factor.

There were different factors that determined the outcome of different races, but no question, Iraq was on people's minds.

And, as you have just learned, I am making a change at the secretary of defense to bring a fresh perspective as to how to achieve something I think most Americans wants, which is a victory.

We will work with members of Congress. We will work with the Baker-Hamilton commission.

My point is is that, while we have been adjusting, we will continue to adjust to achieve the objective. And I believe that's what the American people want.

Somehow it's seeped in their conscience that, you know, my attitude was just simply: "Stay the course."

"Stay the course" means let's get the job done, but it doesn't mean staying stuck on a strategy or tactics that may not be working. So perhaps I need to do a better job of explaining that we're constantly adjusting.

And so the fresh perspective on what the American people here today is we're constantly looking for fresh perspective.

What is also important for the American people to understand is that if we were to leave before the job is done, the country becomes more at risk. That's what the vice president is saying. He said, if the job is not complete, al Qaeda will have safe haven from which to launch attacks.

These radicals and extremists have made it clear they want to topple moderate governments to spread their ideology. They believe that it's just a matter of time before we leave so they can implement their strategies.

We're just not going to let them do that. We're going to help this government become a government that can defend, govern and sustain itself and an ally in the war on terror.

QUESTION: Your message today is not full speed ahead? Is that right ...

BUSH: We got another man with the mike, David. Please.

QUESTION: Mr. President, thank you.

Can I just start by asking you to clarify, sir, if in your meeting with Steve and Terry and Dick, did you know at that point ...

BUSH: I did not.

QUESTION: ... you would be making a change on Secretary Rumsfeld?

BUSH: No, I did not. And the reason I didn't know is because I hadn't visited with his replacement -- potential replacement.

QUESTION: But you knew he would be leaving, just not who would replace him?

BUSH: No, I didn't know that, at the time.

QUESTION: OK. May I ask you about Nancy Pelosi ...

BUSH: The other thing I did know, as well, is that that kind of question, a wise question by a seasoned reporter is the kind of thing that causes one to either inject major military decisions at the end of a campaign or not.

And I had made the decision that I wasn't going to be talking about hypothetical troops levels or changes in command structure coming down the stretch. And I'll tell you why I made that decision.

I made that decision because I think it sends a bad signal to our troops if they think the commander in chief is constantly adjusting tactics and decisions based upon politics. And I think it's important in a time of war that, to the extent possible, we leave politics out of the major decisions being made. And it was the right decision to make, by the way.

And secondly, I hadn't visited with Bob Gates. I told you, I visited with him last Sunday in Crawford. You can't replace somebody until you know you've got somebody to replace him with.

And, finally, I hadn't had my last conversation with Secretary Rumsfeld, which I had yesterday.


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