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Transcript of Bush Interview

The Post: [Post staff writer Michael A.] Fletcher is the one who does that. (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT: Yes, of course. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's make this the last question.

THE PRESIDENT: We want you to spend time focusing on the community college initiative.

The Post: That was my focus on today -- that's right here.

THE PRESIDENT: It's a big deal, actually. We've got an interesting initiative on Pell grants, that we want to reform the student loan program, and save a fairly substantial amount of money -- not number of loans, but how it is administered. And that money, the savings, will be placed into Pell grants, increasing the grant over a five-year period of time, as well as enhancing Pell grants for people who take rigorous course loads in high school.

MR. McCLELLAN: Last one over here.

The Post: Oh, this is the last question, okay. Oh, my goodness, okay. Can we get one more after that? We have two we have to have.

THE PRESIDENT: You can do it like the pros do it -- you ask three at once.

The Post: Three at once, okay.

THE PRESIDENT: Go ahead, I'm listening.

The Post: Nearly 90 percent of African Americans voted against you in the past election.


The Post: Nearly 90 percent, and that was an improvement over 2000. You got 11 percent of the black vote in the exit polls I saw. What could you have done to change that, first of all? And, secondly, how do you plan to win those people over to your policies in your second term?

THE PRESIDENT: Listen, I am -- when we worked on the No Child Left Behind law, part of what motivated me on that law, and part of what motivated me as governor to insist upon accountability is I fully understand that oftentimes it was the inner-city black child who just got moved through, and the system just quit on him or her. When we worked to get the reading programs in place, reading programs based upon what actually works, not what might sound good, I kept in mind my -- the one time -- I remember the time when an African American stood up and said, reading is the new civil right. And there's no doubt in my mind that No Child Left Behind Act, when fully implemented, and if not weakened -- and it won't be weakened when I'm the president -- will end up helping young black kids realize their dreams.

And, you know, the answer to your question is, people will see the results of this law, and some point in time realize that George W. Bush cared deeply about failure and mediocrity and did something about it. I did my best to reach out, and I will continue to do so as the president. It's important for people to know that I'm the president of everybody, and that I don't sit down in the White House and say, these people voted for me, therefore I'm going to focus policy this way.

There's been some amazing statistics during my time as president. More minorities own homes than ever before, which is -- I'll continue to promote an ownership society. I believe the more somebody owns something, the more likely it is that they'll be independent from government and have a prosperous life. The Social Security issue is an interesting issue when it comes to African Americans. After all, the life expectancy of African American males is a lot less than other groups and, therefore, if you really think about that, you have people putting money in the system that aren't -- families won't benefit from the system. And, therefore, it seems to me to make sense, if I were a part of a group of people that were being disadvantaged by the Social Security system, that I'd at least like to have the opportunity to have some of the money I put in the system passable to my family.

And so my point to you is, the policies that we have put forth in this administration are, I think, beneficial to all. And as to why that message hasn't made it through, I don't know, I'm not a pundit. Ask pros like [Post staff writer Jim] VandeHei, who follows all this stuff.

The Post: You've said many times that Washington is a far more polarized place than you imagined, even becoming president.

THE PRESIDENT: One of my regrets.

The Post: What lessons do you draw from that, and how are you going to operate differently to try to break those barriers down?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I appreciate you asking that question, because it is tough. It's different from Austin. And the only thing you can do is set out policy and say to people, we want to work together on it. The first year and a half was a period of time when we did work together -- tax cuts and No Child Left Behind and the trade initiative. I think that happened in the first year and a half, the trade initiative. Anyway, there was a spirit of cooperation, people were working together.

Then what happens in Washington is elections start coming up, and that tends to change the dynamic. And, you know, coming into the '04 elections, the mood changed. And I've done my best to try to -- when it came to policy and working with others, to share credit and to give people a chance to participate. And I don't know whether you'll ever be able to break the -- kind of that cycle of a period of relative quiet, and then elections affecting the mood in Congress.

I do know that I am never going to run for office again and, so, therefore, in working with people in Congress, that no longer will there be an excuse if we work with him on this issue, it will make him look good politically -- me, personally, politically. Part of Washington, on both sides, is kind of the zero-sum attitude, it seems like to me -- if we work this way, it helps so and so; if we work that way, it helps so and so. And so what ends up -- what's happening, it's kind of a clash of will.

But I'm mindful of my rhetoric when it comes to the Democrats. I've really checked back. And I'm not talking about the campaign. That was more of a survival mode. (Laughter.) But I wasn't personal. I didn't feel like my rhetoric was harsh. But as president, I have been -- if you go back and look, I think you will find that I've never really personally called anybody out, never tried to vilify because people didn't agree with my position. So, in other words, I think all of us, all of us have got to work to set the right kind of tone. I will continue to do so.

And the inaugural address is a good place to start, which I know you all are looking forward to hearing.

The Post: Very much so. Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT: Enjoyed it.

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