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Transcript: Bush's Remarks to Unity

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And, the inside joke, a 1991 graduate of Texas A&M University.

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Mr. President, before I ask the question, I hope you'll give our governor, Rick Perry, a call. You spend a lot of time in D.C., Mr. President, but they're trying to cap the top 10 percent in Texas, so that may have an impact on those students going to college.


BUSH: Yes. But I appreciate you recognizing that it's working in the first place.

MARTIN: It is. But, actually, the percentage of white students increased as well. But I understand.

BUSH: See, sometimes they talk, sometimes they deliver.

MARTIN: I understand. It's OK. I'm working with the A&M president on that.

I also hope that you will take a send round of questions from Texan to Texan, so we can ask a second question, if you would do me that favor.

BUSH: All right, just ask your two questions.

MARTIN: Mr. President, in your remarks, you said that 8 million people in Afghanistan registered to vote and, as you said, exercised their God-given right to vote.

BUSH: Right.

MARTIN: That may be a right from God, but it's not guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution. In 2000, an estimated 2 million people, half African-American, had their votes discounted from Florida to Cook County, Illinois, to other cities.


Come on, that cuts into other questions.

Are you going to order Attorney General John Ashcroft to send federal election monitors to Florida and other Southern states?

And in this age of new constitutional amendments, will you endorse a constitutional amendment guaranteeing every American the right to vote in federal elections?


BUSH: First of all, look, I can understand why African- Americans, in particular, you know, are worried about being able to vote, since the vote had been denied for so long, in the South in particular. I understand that.

And this administration wants everybody to vote.

BUSH: Now, I -- the best thing we did was to pass the Helping America Vote Act, with over, I think it's $3 billion of help to states and local governments, to make sure the voting process is fair.

And, you know, it's not just the South, by the way. The voting process needs help all over the country to make sure that everybody's vote counts and everybody's vote matters. I understand that. And that's why I was happy to work with Congress to achieve this important piece of legislation.

Just don't focus on Florida. I've talked to the governor down there to make sure it works.


But it's the whole country that needs -- voter registration files need to be updated. Machines need to work. And that's why there's $3 billion in the budget to help, Roland.

And obviously everybody ought to have a vote.

And what was your other question?

MARTIN: Should we put it...

BUSH: Constitutional amendment?

MARTIN: Should we guarantee it in the Constitution?

BUSH: I'll consider it. I'll consider it.

Now, what's your second question?

MARTIN: Well, but you say that it should be guaranteed in Iraq. Why not America?

BUSH: Well, it's not guaranteed in Iraq. People have got to show up to vote in the first place. I mean, this is -- the thing about democracy is people need to step up and decide to participate in the first place. There's no guarantees people are going to vote. They should be allowed to vote. But the problem we have in our society is too many people choose not to vote.

And we have a duty in the political process...


... and you have a duty as journalists to encourage people to register to vote, to do their duty.

I'm not saying -- I'm saying, people are choosing. It's not guaranteed they're going to. That's part of the problem we have in America, not enough people do vote.

And you have a duty, on your radio stations, on your TV stations, to encourage people to register to vote. I have a duty to call them out to vote.

Of course, I'm going to try to call them out to vote for me.


Second round.

CHEN: All right. We'll come back around, sir.

Early in your administration you talked a good deal about immigration reforms and the possibilities there. I have not heard you talk to that issue so much recently.

I wonder what you still think is possible, given the circumstances that we find ourselves in today. What is doable, particularly in the short term?

BUSH: Actually, I have talked about it lately. I talked about it this winter, because I think it's necessary that we reform our immigration laws.

I believe where there's a willing worker and a willing employer, and they can't find work here in America, that people ought to be allowed to be here legally to work. That's what I believe.

BUSH: And I believe there ought to be a process that allows a person to work here legally and go home and come back without fear of being arrested. I think there needs to be a...


I think there needs to be a -- first of all, this will help bring people out of the shadows of our society. This will help, kind of, legalize a system that takes place every day, without employers feeling like they have got to be subjected, or employees feeling like they're going to be arrested, subjected to fines or arrested.

And so, we need to reform our immigration laws.

Now, the issue there is whether or not people automatically get to step in the front of the line when it comes to citizenship. I don't think they should. I think those who have been waiting in line to be a citizen ought to be allowed to keep that priority in line.

I think people ought to, in this process, ought to be allowed to apply for citizenship, but I don't think they ought to be treated specially in relation to those who have been in line for quite a while.

And in order to solve the logjam for citizenship, Congress has got to raise the quotas on who can become a citizen. And I support raising the quotas on certain population groups, like the Mexican nationals, on who can become a citizen.


The long-run solution, particularly to Mexican immigration, is going to be help Mexico develop a middle class.


That's why free trade is so important between our countries. That's why we better be careful about rhetoric that begins to unwind a free-trade agreement that is making an enormous difference in the lifestyles of people in Mexico.

See, trade, to me, is the great hope for developing nations. That's why I was a strong supporter of AGOA, the African Growth and Opportunity Act. It gives people a chance to have a job that's a meaningful job because of the trade between the world's largest market and their countries.

NAFTA has made a big difference in lifting lives of people. It has improved the living standard in Mexico.

Listen, people are coming to the United States to work from Mexico because they want to make a living for their families. And if they can't make a living for their families at home, they'll come here to work. And therefore, we must work with Mexico to develop a middle class in the long run, so people can do their duty as a parent at home. That's what they want.

And we need to change our immigration laws. Will it get done? Probably not this year. This is an election year. Not much gets done, except for a lot of yelling and elbowing. But I would like to see reasonable immigration reform come out of the Congress.

TRAHANT: A few minutes ago, you mentioned every American received a tax cut, that's working. The most onerous tax for many Americans, particularly on the low end of the scale, is the payroll tax. What can be done about payroll taxes?

BUSH: Well, obviously I chose to provide tax relief by income tax cuts, not by payroll taxes. And the reason why is, payroll tax relief will affect the solvency of Social Security. So I chose not to deal with the payroll tax.

SUAREZ: Mr. President, this week General Tommy Franks, your former CENTCOM commander, has been on tour, talking about his book, talking about his Iraqi experience.

And he conservatively estimated two to four more years of a large-scale American presence in Iraq.

This morning, there's fresh fighting in Najaf, Nasiriyah, Samarra.

What is the mission, at this point, for 140,000 American forces? And how will we know when they're done?

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