Transcript: Press Briefing by Counselor to the President Dan Bartlett on The State of The Union Address

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The White House Office of the Press Secretary
Wednesday, February 1, 2006; 8:33 AM

PRESS BRIEFING BY COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT DAN BARTLETT ON THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS Room 450 Eisenhower Executive Office Building 2:30 P.M. EST

MR. BARTLETT: I don't know if we usually do a transcript of this, or not, but -- we do. This will be on the record, embargoed until the speech is delivered, because I'll be talking about specific elements of the speech to give you an opportunity to actually get ahead of the game as far as studying up and doing some homework so you can write eloquent, smart, interesting, accurate stories.

I'll start by just kind of -- make some broad observations about the speech, and then we can talk a little bit about specifics in the speech. I think the best way to describe this from a broad sense is that there's been a lot of reporting and speculation about this being more of a visionary speech, a philosophical speech, a directional speech, and I think those are all accurate descriptions. But to give it a little more specificity, there have been interesting developments, obviously, in the last few years with the conduct of the war, of the challenges we face overseas, also with a dynamic economy not only here in our country, but also vis-a-vis competition in the world, and it's this type of fast-paced change and difficult moments in the war that has, in some instances, left the American people with certain fears and anxieties, which is, I think -- can be described as natural when you look at the brutality of the enemy, when you see the types of tactics, brutal tactics being used on the battlefield, whether it be in Iraq or in Afghanistan or elsewhere -- when we see the likes of a bin Laden or a Zawahiri -- that it is a stark reminder that we're a country that still is under threat, that we are a nation at war.

It's also unsettling for the American people to grapple with the rising cost of energy, the rising cost of health care. The dynamic aspect of our economy where jobs are constantly being created and lost -- announcements from GM -- the rising competition of global players on the economic scene, such as China and India, all give a level of angst. And really what it comes down to is a question of what does America do about it? What is our position in the world? What is our position here at home? And the President has firmly rooted our cause both at home and abroad in aggressive American leadership in the world and here at home, in order to help protect the American people, and extend and expand our economic prosperity.

But there's been an interesting debate, and the debate has happened in our country at times before. There have been isolationist tendencies and there's been protectionist tendencies. That was acutely aware, if you think about it, on the economic scene this past summer with the debate about CAFTA. Here was an issue in which there was every reason for both to have a large margin of victory in the United States Congress because of not only the economic benefits to our country for CAFTA, but also the strategic foreign policy benefits of this. Yet, it only passed by one vote.

What I'm saying is, is that there are some currents that go on in our country from time to time, whether it be the tendencies of protectionism or isolationism, this debate whether we are stirring up problems overseas, if we were just to retract from the battlefield, if we weren't always provoking them, we would be safer. And that's a fundamental debate that's happening in our country. And the President has been talking about this, at least privately, with not only members of his staff, but other world leaders. And the question is whether -- he decided that he wanted to use this State of the Union as an opportunity to discuss this, and in a very extensive way. So in some respects, this State of the Union will be a bit different than past State of the Unions because it will discuss this kind of philosophical, directional debate underway.

Sometimes it's the underlying debate; it's not sometimes the explicit debate that's being had of isolationism or protectionism. But what the President will do is going to directly discuss this issue, confront it and make the case in the strongest terms possible as to why it's in the United States' interest to be actively engaged in the world, to continue to fight this war on offense, but not only in the context of the war, that we can't retreat from within our borders when it comes to other duties and responsibilities we have, like fighting HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa, or malaria -- that we have a duty and responsibility and it's in our country's own interest to do so.

We also have a duty and a responsibility on the economic stage of America -- of the world to continue to maintain America's economic preeminence. And the only way to do that is to be robust in our agenda and -- as well as in our directional purpose, to maintain America's economic leadership in the world.

So he's going to talk specifically about these issues, about the war on terror. He'll begin the speech -- the speech is basically broke down into three major sections. The first section, talking about foreign policy, talking about the war on terror, talking about our country's history of advancing freedom and democracy. Some of it will sound familiar to you who follow him all the time. I promise there will be no Koizumi reference in the speech. (Laughter.) But beside that, it will sound very familiar in that respect, because it is a central aspect of America's foreign policy for good reason.

Q Why is he snubbing the Japanese? (Laughter.)

MR. BARTLETT: We're making all the bilateral contacts right now, to make sure to assuage them from any misinterpretation of an omission. (Laughter.) No. But like I said, it will be a robust defense of, and articulation of why our foreign policy and the security of the American people relies upon our government taking a very aggressive stand against the terrorists, but also a very principled stand for freedom and democracy.

And he will talk specifically. He will repeat what he said in the inauguration last year, of ending tyranny in the world. This is a very noble goal. Some have said it to be too idealistic. He will specifically address that issue as to why it's practical and it's in our interests.


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