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President Bush Interviewed by CNN

Aired April 25, 2001 - 11:33   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are still waiting for President Bush to come into the White House and sit down with our John King. That should happen any minute now. We're running just a tad bit late.

As we said, our senior White House correspondent John King is going to be having a live, one-on-one interview with President Bush, here at the White House, in just a moment.

But in the meantime, let's bring in CNN's senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, who's in Washington, and our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield, who's in New York. They're sitting by with us, waiting for this interview to begin.

Good to see both of you folks.

I'd like to ask you first, Candy, what you expect to hear this morning.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I expect we'll hear that he thinks he had a pretty good 100 days. He has the polls that, at least on the surface, show that most people are supporting, despite his unusual entrance into the office.

I think we'll hear a defense of what he'd like to do in Taiwan and what he did do vis-a-vis the espionage plane in China.

Basically, what we're going to hear from him, I think, probably depends on John's questions. I suspect some of those questions will be about those issues.

HARRIS: No doubt.

Jeff, I'm guessing as well that this China issue, and Taiwan, specifically, are going to be the big topics because Mr. Bush has come out and made a significant change in U.S. policy there.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SENIOR ANALYST: But I think that he's going to be at pains to tell us that he is trying very hard to improve the tone in Washington. I think, based on what he told "The Washington Post" this morning, and others, he's going to talk about the fact that he's trying to be low key; he's trying to set a different tone from his predecessor, in not being as hands-on; and that he's actually also fighting very hard for his agenda, despite the circumstances of the election. There was a lot of prediction back in October and November that he'd have to come in compromising. He has not. He has chosen to speak to the conservative base. He is trying to put pressure on Democratic senators from conservative states. And I think you'll hear a sense that he intends to accomplish as much of his agenda as he possibly can, because that's been the theme, literally from day one of his presidency.

HARRIS: Candy, a month ago, would you have guessed that he would be making this much of a fuss about this first 100 days, because all indications that I had heard were that the White House was really trying to push the 100 days idea out of the press' heads and go for a different time -- say, sometime this summer -- to mark a point where they would stop and evaluate this administration.

CROWLEY: If you can't beat them, join them. Of 100 days, we certainly can argue that there's no magic to that figure, but 1-0-0 has this sort of mythical thing for giving the first scores for a president. So there was no way to talk the media out of it, and the administration kind of went with them.

It sort of reminds me of the debate negotiations, when they said only do this, this and this, until they found out that that wasn't what the Gore campaign was going to do. So they changed their minds.

So here they are: They're putting him out there; they might as well use the time as best they can.

HARRIS: Jeff, you were shaking your head.

GREENFIELD: I was just thinking that if cable news had been around at the Creation, we'd be on the air saying, day three, how's God doing -- how come there are no people yet? This is a Tourette's syndrome that journalists do.

And I think Candy's got it exactly right. They said, look, we may have our fights with the press, but not on this. Let's give in: We'll claim credit for doing things, we'll talk about what a good job he's done, and we'll have all the members of Congress in. This is "the beast must be fed," and we are the beast. And asking us to ignore the first 100 days is like saying "go into a room and don't think of word 'elephant'": It's impossible.

HARRIS: I think my mom might mind you identifying us as "the beast."

But let me ask you quickly, if I can, Candy, moments ago, you mentioned the polls. Does this White House really care about what the polls say?

CROWLEY: Every White House cares about what the polls say. They'll tell that that's not how they make policy, but they definitely care.

HARRIS: All right, folks, we are ready now -- let's go to our John King, who is standing by at the White House -- John King, our senior White House correspondent.

John, take it away.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Thank you, Leon. We're here in the Map Room. It's in the basement, in the residence of the White House. This was the situation room during World War II. We're lucky to be joined by the 43rd president of the United States, George W. Bush.

A lot of ground to cover, let's get right to it. You're raising eyebrows around town and around the world by your comments recently on Taiwan, saying that the United States is prepared, whatever it takes, whatever it took -- your words -- to defend Taiwan if it is attacked by China.

That's a dramatic break. For about 20 years, U.S. presidents have been deliberately ambiguous on that subject.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think that the Chinese must hear that ours is an administration, like other administrations, that is willing to uphold the spirit of the Taiwan relations law, Taiwan Relations Act. And I'll do so.

However, I think it's important for people to also note that mine is an administration that strongly supports the one-China policy; that we expect any dispute to be resolved peacefully, and that's the message I really want people to hear.

But as people have seen, that I'm willing to help Taiwan defend herself, and that nothing has really changed in policy, as far as I'm concerned. This is what other presidents have said, and I will continue to say so.

KING: Other presidents have relayed that message privately, though. There's some consternation around town that you did this in a television interview, not a speech to the American people. We don't have a treaty with Taiwan, certainly.

BUSH: Well, I also said this during the course of the campaign, John. I mean, I've been very clear about my position. And that when pressed further, I said that's what -- the Chinese need to hear the message. And I think it's an important message to send.

I also want to send the message that this can be resolved peacefully. We've got a very important relationship with China. Obviously, it was tested recently. And one of the pieces of good news is that we were able to resolve an incident that could've turned out to be a breach of relations.

I've got some very tough decisions to make coming up about trade. I still think we ought to trade with China, because I think trade will not only help our economy and help people in our economy -- like farmers, for example -- I also know that by spreading trade in the marketplace, it will enhance freedom.

But I've got difficulties with some of the decisions China has made recently, such as the imprisonment of a Catholic bishop and other members of the Catholic faith in China, or how they're dealing with different citizens, and I will make those displeasures very clear.

KING: I want to ask you more about that, but I want to follow up a little bit more on the Taiwan issue. You have said publicly the U.S. would commit military forces if China attacked Taiwan. What if Taiwan declared independence first?

BUSH: First, I have said that I will do what it takes to help Taiwan defend herself, and the Chinese must understand that. Secondly, I certainly hope Taiwan adheres to the one-China policy. And a declaration of independence is not the one-China policy, and we will work with Taiwan to make sure that that doesn't happen. We need a peaceful resolution of this issue.

KING: But it sounded in your remarks, though, that you were being much more candid, much more open about the idea that the United States was prepared to militarily defend Taiwan. Would you consult with the Japanese or the South Koreans before saying this publicly?

BUSH: I am candid in my support of the Taiwan Relations Act. And I have said this during the course of the campaign appearance and I'll say it right now: That our nation will help Taiwan defend herself, at the same time that we support the one-China policy, where we expect and hope and believe there will be peaceful resolution to any differences of opinion.

KING: Let's get back to the broader relationship. Can we have a productive relationship with China so long as that plane sits on the tarmac on Hainan Island?

BUSH: Yes, we can. And I'm confident we'll get the plane back. I'm concerned about the plane. I was much more concerned about the people, and it was obviously a tense 11 days.

I did take some comfort when I talked to the general, who told me that he said that our people were in navy barracks that were as good as a barrack -- as good as they could find, and that there was some concern on the Hainan Island amongst the Chinese enlisted personnel that the Americans were being treated better than they were.

I was comforted by the fact that he said the folks' spirits were high. In other words, our people were treated well.

But, yes, I think we can -- I mean, this is a difficult relationship. It's a complex relationship, but it's one that my administration takes very seriously. We'll find areas where we can agree. And we'll find areas where we don't agree, but we will do so in a respectful way. And there's going to be some times where we're going to have to draw some lines, and I'll be willing to do so.

KING: Some tough talk on this issue, as the Congress returns.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: Let me ask you two questions. One, if Congress voted to suspend the trade relationship, to deny what we call permanent normal trading relations or normal trading relations with China, if Congress voted to do that, would you veto that bill?

BUSH: Well, you know, listen, I reserve the right to veto or approve anything, but I would hope Congress would not do that. I would hope Congress would realize the benefits of trade with China. It's in our nation's interest, but it's also in our nation's interest to promote an open market so that there's more freedom in China.

We've had this debate in America a long period of time. Remember, during the course of the primaries, for example, there was a lot of people in my party didn't think that logic made sense. I thought it made sense then -- I think it makes sense now -- that open markets create more opportunity for freedom and a more open society, a more transparent society. And that is in our nation's interests, not only economically, but it's in our nation's interest to promote a more free society in China.

KING: One more on this issue. I want to get to your domestic agenda, but in the recent approval of the weapons package to Taiwan, you deferred a decision on the Aegis radar system. Now, many viewers may not know what that is, but it's state-of-the-art, would help -- Taiwan thinks it needs it to track incoming missiles in the case of a Chinese attack -- seem to be a carrot-and-stick approach. You're saying, I'm not going to do this now, but I reserve the right to do it in the future if China continues to build up its missiles across the Taiwan Straits. What is the threshold?

BUSH: I made a decision based upon what I thought was necessary to help Taiwan defend herself. You bring up the missile issue, and it's an issue that my administration is going to take very seriously, and that is the development of anti-ballistic missile systems that will make our world a safer world.

And one of the things you'll see us doing here in the course of -- in due time -- is to begin consultations with others around the world as to what we mean by missile defense. I'm not prepared to do that yet, but we'll do that.

And I had said during the course of the campaign, and I'm going to say it in the administration, it is important for us to use our resources and technologies to develop such a system so as to make threats to people around the world that, you know, as obsolete as possible, as irrelevant as possible. And that threat's not only in the Far East, but in the Middle East, as well, and to our own homeland.

KING: We'll take a quick break here, but when we come back, we'll get the president's assessment of the status of his domestic agenda and what it feels like to live here in the White House as he approaches the 100-day mark.


KING: We're back in the Map Room of the White House with the President of the United States, George W. Bush. Let's focus a bit now on domestic issues. I want to talk to you in a minute about tax cuts and spending.

I want to start first with an issue you talked quite a bit about during the campaign. You were very critical of the prior administration when gasoline prices were going up. You said the administration should do more to help consumers. You said the administration didn't have a long-term energy policy. Twenty-four cents -- the average price of gasoline has gone up 24 cents in the last four weeks. And yet, if you pick up the business pages, Mobil Exxon, Conoco, reporting record profits, increasing their profits both by more than 50 percent.

Is something awry here?

BUSH: Well, we don't want price gouging, and I think we need to make sure that that doesn't occur. But I haven't changed my opinion about the need for an energy policy in America. We need one. And we need to do two things. We need to increase supply of product and we need to do a better job of conservation.

Let me talk about supply. There have been no refineries built in America in the last 10 years. And therefore, when you have increasing demand and limited supply, price is going to go up. We've got to figure out how to bring more product into the marketplace.

Secondly, in terms of power plants and the California issue, much of it is driven by the fact that we're running out of energy supplies. We need more energy supplies, that's why we need to have an environmentally-friendly exploration program around the country.

And we also need to conserve more, and conservation comes as a result of new technologies. And we've got to do a better job of developing new technologies, you know, more mileage for cars, etcetera. But this is an issue that's going to require a long-term solution, just like I said in the course of the campaign.

KING: But not much hope then for anybody thinking about spring and summer vacations this year?

BUSH: Well, I think people who are thinking about spring and summer, hopefully, the price of product will decrease. And to the extent -- if anybody is gouging anybody, we'll find out about it. But the solution is going to require more refined product.

KING: Let's move on to taxes and spending. The second 100 days will probably be much more instructive than the first 100 days as to the fate of your agenda. And of course, the signature issue: tax cuts. You had dinner last night with Senator Breaux.

BUSH: I did.

KING: Many Democrats -- I saw Max Baucus, ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee coming in here this morning. You are in the middle of negotiations. The House says 1.6 trillion over 10 years. The Senate says 1.2 trillion over 10 years. Where are we going to end up? Will you accept 1.4? And I think more importantly, where will you end up on spending? You have said the growth in discretionary spending should be no more than 4 percent. The Senate says, 8 percent.

BUSH: Eight, yes.

KING: Are you willing to split the difference there, like you are on taxes?

BUSH: Well, John, let me first say, I think the first 100 days have been pretty instructive. I want to take you back to when you covered me in the campaign. A lot of folks were saying, there's never going to be tax relief. He's just talking. He has no intention of getting anything done. The people don't want tax relief.

In the first 100 days, we got one bill out of the House at 1.6 trillion and one out of the Senate at 1.2, so at least the parameters have been defined. And I think we're going to get meaningful tax relief.

My answer is, let's get as much as possible for the American people. I think it is necessary to have a tax relief package that not only sends a clear signal that the tax relief is real, it's substantive, it exists for a while, but also get money in people's pockets as quickly as possible.

In terms of spending, you bet I'm concerned about the increase of discretionary spending, and the idea of an 8 percent increase that came out of the Senate is just not acceptable. It's too high a number.

I think many senators realize that now. They went home and took a look and heard from their constituents and realized 8 percent is too significant.

And we'll work with the Senate and the House to bring a responsible budget to the floor and one that provides meaningful tax relief.

KING: Is a 6 percent increase responsible? Would you accept that?

BUSH: I am keeping all options open.

KING: But people are leaving these meetings that you appear ready to embrace a compromise?

BUSH: I appear ready to get something done. It's time now we -- the House has made a statement. The Senate has made its statement. And now it's time for the White House to help bring the parties together to get real, meaningful, substantive tax relief done.

KING: We have the same debate on education. You've been working closely with the Democrats on this one.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: Senator Kennedy is saying very favorable things about you. He's not known as a compassionate conservative around the country.


BUSH: He's a compassionate man, however, and very open-minded, for which I'm grateful.

KING: Yet he has said that he's prepared to move your way on the issues like accountability, teacher testing, the standards, but he says you are woefully short in terms of money, and they want as much as $10 billion more in the budget for education.

BUSH: I think we're making good progress on the budget negotiations as well. I appreciate so very much the spirit that Senator Kennedy has approached this issue.

We are making great progress on the education reform issue, and I believe we're going to get a good bill. And I believe we're going to come up with a budget number. I truly do, John. This is an issue where people have realized that the kind of finger pointing and name calling has really created a spirit that's just not right for America.

And Senator Kennedy and others have bent over backwards to work with us, and I'm very grateful, and I believe we're going to get a very good bill.

KING: You've offered about $2 billion more, we're told. Is that your bottom line, are you willing to go...

BUSH: John, we're going to get a good bill. I mean, one of the things I've learned is not to try to negotiate with you or me on national TV.

KING: We asked the senator to watch.

BUSH: Well, thank you, Senator, for all your hard work.

KING: I want to talk a little bit about your style as president. Very marked contrast with your predecessor. I covered this White House in the Clinton days, and it is impossible to imagine that when we had the unrest in Cincinnati, racial tensions in the streets, that he would not have spoken out. Very hard to imagine when those 24 crew members came home that we all not would have traveled to Washington state to welcome them back at the base. Why do you take a different approach?

BUSH: Well, those are two incidents that, I mean, I made my mind not to go to Washington, because I wanted their mothers and dads and loved ones to be with their family members who just came off Hainan Island without the president creating a scene.

And in terms of Cincinnati, I felt like the mayor was doing a fine job. I had talked to John Ashcroft to make sure that our administration was engaged in helping calm the situation. He assured me we were.

And secondly, there are some times when a president shows up that can make a situation worse. And I just got to make the judgment call on each incident or each moment as to whether or not I'm going to show up or not. And, you know, I'm adverse to a camera. On the other hand, I think the president can either help or not help a situation, and I'll just have to make a judgment call each time.

KING: On the broader issue of race relations and the politics of race, if you will. I know you were very disappointed that you were beat 9-to-1 among African-Americans in the election.

BUSH: That's an understatement.

KING: That's a political question. On a policy question, you've instructed your attorney general to move to end the practice of racial profiling. Some in the Black Caucus in the Congress say, you know, "Where are you, Mr. President? We're here if you really want to talk to us." What's the status of your political outreach?

And on the policy front, given the tensions in Cincinnati, is that reminder to a president to say, "Mr. Ashcroft, let's hustle up and get this racial profiling...?"

BUSH: Well, I think we got to address racial profiling, and John Ashcroft will. And I think he's making good progress along those lines.

Secondly, good policy makes good politics, John. I'm not the kind of person that sits around here in the White House saying, "Well, gosh, I wonder how I can enhance my political standing?"

I believe tax relief is good for all Americans. I know that good education policy is good for all Americans. Listen, I am working as hard as I can to explain to Americans that if you didn't vote for me, I'm still your president and I care about you.

And a peaceful world is good for all Americans. And there are some people I'm just not going to be able to persuade that I'm, you know, the kind of person they ought to support, like the people you mentioned, some of the Congress, they're just totally dug in, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to listen to them or bring them over to the White House, like I've done. And we'll find areas where we can work together, and I look forward to doing so.

KING: Couple of more quick questions. One is, I saw you used the term, "pretty darn good." That's how you think you're doing as you approach the 100-day mark. Expand on that a little bit. And if you would, as you do so, one lesson you appear to have learned from your father's administration, is that he had a lot of tensions from the beginning with the Republican Party base. The conservatives thought that after he was elected, he forgot that they had worked so hard for him.

BUSH: Well, I'd say pretty darn good. I mean, I'm enthusiastic about the job. I really love what I'm doing. I put together a great team of fine Americans that are working together on behalf of the American people. Some of the agenda that I talked about in the campaign that people thought would be dead on arrival seems to be doing quite well, one of which is tax relief, another is education reform.

The faith-based initiative, I'm proud to report, has gotten bipartisan support. For example, Senator Lieberman has worked closely with my office to make sure that the faith-based initiative achieves its objectives, so we're making good progress. But pretty darn good is kind of a Texas phrase. I mean, I really like what I'm doing.

And you know, the American people will make the decisions as to how a president does or doesn't do. The only thing I know to do is just to give it my all, put my whole heart and soul into the job, make decisions based upon what's best for all Americans, not based upon what's best for a political party or me, personally, and to ask people to judge me, based upon results and my administration, based upon results. And so, I really like what I'm doing and so I'm feeling pretty darn good.

KING: One more policy question and then I want your personal thoughts about the first 100 days. I'm not saying the tax cut debate is easy or the education and the budget debate is easy, but most would agree that the ticking time bombs, the much more difficult issues out there, because of the budget constraints, because of the aging of America, are the structural reforms to Medicare and Social Security. You're learning about what it's like to govern in this 50-50 environment. The House pretty evenly divided...

BUSH: Right.

KING: ... the Senate 50-50. What can you say about your level of optimism or pessimism that you can actually get those issues dealt with in a reasonable way with the 2002 elections?

BUSH: You know what this sounds like? It sounds like the guys that used to ask me about the tax relief plan six months ago. Seriously.

They said, you're going to go to Washington -- nobody wants tax relief. And all of a sudden looks like we're going to have a tax relief plan that makes sense for the American people.

My answer to the skeptics is, let's work together. We've got to. We don't have any choice on Social Security. Now is the time for people to come together to figure out how to make the system secure for young workers.

We made it secure for older workers, because we've set aside all the Social Security surplus for only one thing, and that's Social Security. We've got to figure out how to make it secure for younger workers.

And there's some really interesting ideas on the table. I put a commission together that's going to forward those ideas. It's going to take political will for people to move forward, but I'm a living example of a person that took on the issue and benefited from it. I think the candidates, the congressmen and senators who are willing to tackle this tough issue, and to be willing to think differently for the future, are going to benefit. I think the American people are going to say, thanks for willing to think differently on such an important issue.

So I'm very optimistic we can get some things done.

KING: Two quick questions, personal reflections. You're from Texas. You have a ranch. You like open space.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: You like to run. You like to get out and run. And you like to get out and meet and greet people.

You now live in a building surrounded by armed security forces and cast-iron gates. Are you talking to the portraits yet? I mean, what it is like? Do...

BUSH: Exactly.



KING: ... you feel isolated?

BUSH: No ghosts.

No, I really don't feel isolated. I work so hard all day long that when I finally get to -- get upstairs, I'm ready to hit the sack or just settle in and read.

But -- Well, you just described the reason why Laura and I like to go to Camp David or go to our ranch, because I do like to get outside.

And I like to be around my friends, and there's no place better to visit with friends and family than either Camp David or the ranch.

People have said, "Well, you don't seem to like it here in Washington, because you tend to leave on the weekends when you can."

And the answer is, I like both. I like to be here in the White House. I like to go to the Oval Office. It is such an honor, John, to come down, walk through the Rose Garden and go in the Oval Office every morning. Early in the morning when I get there, it is just inspiring. And it will be inspiring on the last day that I'm here, by the way.

But you bet, and nor do I feel burdened or captured or any of the words that people like to use for the president. I feel free. I'm relaxed. I feel comfortable. Perhaps, that's because, you know, I'm on bended knee every morning, asking for guidance and for comfort. Whatever the reasons, I'm enjoying myself.

KING: One last one, and as we approach the 100-day mark, I'd like to ask you about a moment on day one. You came into the Oval Office. You sit at the desk for the first time. There's a picture outside your press secretary's office. Apparently, after you were in there for a few minutes, your father came in.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: Quite a scene, the 41st and the 43rd presidents of the United States.

BUSH: Yes.

KING: What was that moment like?

BUSH: Well, he's going to have to speak for himself. But I was, obviously, a proud son and very emotional. As you know, I'm not very poetic as I try to describe things to people. But I was -- it was just -- suffice it to say, it was a meaningful moment, when a son and dad were able to bond in the most unique way.

And it's hard to describe to people who haven't been in the Oval Office, what it's like. It's a shrine. It is a powerful feeling. And it's not a feeling of power, it's a powerful feeling. It's such a wonderful example of the best of America.

And to have my dad there the day I was sworn into the presidency is a moment I'll never forget, enhanced, by the way, by walking by the press secretary's office, looking at the picture -- when I look at the picture.

KING: We have to leave it there because of your time. We know you have a lunch and then off to Louisiana to continue to push your tax agenda. We'll hope you'll join us again as we get beyond the 100- day mark.

And we thank the president for his time.

Thank you very much.

And now back to you -- Leon.

HARRIS: Thanks much -- our John King, our senior White House correspondent -- great job.



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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