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Bush Says Election Ratified Iraq Policy

"I am pleased about the hunt, and I am pleased he's isolated," Bush said. "I will be more pleased when he's brought to justice, and I think he will be."

Bush acknowledged that the United States' standing has diminished in some parts of the world and said he has asked Condoleezza Rice, his nominee to replace Powell at the State Department, to embark on a public diplomacy campaign that "explains our motives and explains our intentions."


On the domestic front, President Bush says he will not cut Social Security disability or survivor benefits. (Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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Transcript of Bush Interview
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Bush acknowledged that "some of the decisions I've made up to now have affected our standing in parts of the world," but predicted that most Muslims will eventually see America as a beacon of freedom and democracy.

"There's no question we've got to continue to do a better job of explaining what America is all about," he said.

On the domestic front, Bush said he would not lobby the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.

While seeking reelection, Bush voiced strong support for such a ban, and many political analysts credit this position for inspiring record turnout among evangelical Christians, who are fighting same-sex marriage at every juncture. Groups such as the Family Research Council have made the marriage amendment their top priority for the next four years.

The president said there is no reason to press for the amendment because so many senators are convinced that the Defense of Marriage Act -- which says states that outlaw same-sex unions do not have to recognize such marriages conducted outside their borders -- is sufficient. "Senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen. I'd take their admonition seriously. . . . Until that changes, nothing will happen in the Senate."

Bush's position is likely to infuriate some of his socially conservative supporters, but congressional officials say it will be impossible to secure the 67 votes needed to pass the amendment in the Senate.

Yesterday morning, the day after the interview, White House spokesman Scott McClellan called to say the president wished to clarify his position, saying Bush was "willing to spend political capital" but believes it will be virtually impossible to overcome Senate resistance until the courts render a verdict on DOMA.

On the subject of revamping Social Security, Bush said he has no intention of making changes that would affect the approximately 40 percent of Social Security recipients who receive disability or survivor benefits. The Bush administration has privately told Republicans that the White House plan to restructure Social Security will include a reduction in benefits for future retirees. The interview marked the first time Bush strongly suggested disability and survivor benefits would be shielded.

"Frankly, our discussions in terms of reform have not centered on the survivor-disability aspect of Social Security," Bush said. "We're talking about the retirement system of Social Security."

Bush has put an overhaul of Social Security at the top of his domestic priorities. He has revealed few details of his reform proposal, except to say he wants to enable young workers to voluntarily divert a portion of their taxes to private accounts. Program participants could then pass the accounts to their heirs.

Bush said it is imperative that the White House and Congress deal with the "baby boomer bulge" that is threatening the long-term solvency of Medicare as well. Medicare faces the same demographic crunch imperiling Social Security in coming decades, as the population grows older and more money is taken out of the system to pay benefits than is put in by younger Americans funding it. Many lawmakers and policy experts say Medicare is in much bigger trouble than Social Security because of skyrocketing health care costs and the added expense of the prescription drug benefit signed into law by Bush in his first term.

"The difference, of course, is that in Medicare, we began a reform system [in the first term] that hopefully will take some of the pressures off" the system by preventing illnesses and streamlining the program, he said. Social Security and Medicare trustees estimate that the cost of Bush's prescription drug plan will top $8 trillion by 2075 -- more than twice the projected shortfall in Social Security.

On the election Bush said he was puzzled that he received only about 11 percent of the black vote, according to exit polls, about a 2 percentage point increase over his 2000 total.

"I did my best to reach out, and I will continue to do so as the president," Bush said. "It's important for people to know that I'm the president of everybody."


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