Interview of the President by Mort Kondracke

Thursday, January 31, 2008; 4:15 PM

Oval Office, Jan. 29, 2008, 9:37 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Thanks for doing this. Let me talk about the State of the Union. First of all, I found the atmosphere in the hall to be very amenable. I didn't feel any tension in there, like we had in the past, which is an interesting feeling. And I ascribe some of that to the notion that there are common -- there's just a common call now, there's a need to work together to deal with the economic uncertainties. And frankly, I hadn't found that before.

Secondly, Iraq has improved to the point, it felt like to me, that there was a lot of tension out of the air.

I did call on Congress to do some pretty substantial things, if you think about it. One, of course, fund the troops, stay in the fight in the liberty agenda. I did, from a foreign policy perspective, still talked about peace in the Holy Land. I was pleased to see both sides of the chamber rise on that. I, of course, talked about Iran. And I talked about the compassion agenda and the need for us to spend $30 billion on HIV/AIDS and continue our malaria initiative. Those are programs and projects which, if Congress thinks about it, are big ideas because it will affect the peace of the country.

At home the stimulus package response was interesting. There was this notion that, on some, that we got to get it done now, and the agreement reached would be effective. I was watching pretty carefully; I noticed some felt like they may want to have a hand in designing the bill. We'll see. My concern is -- and I said this in the speech -- is that time is of the essence -- I didn't put it this way -- but time is of the essence, don't derail it by loading the bill up.

Q Does it look to you as though they are, or the Senate is?

THE PRESIDENT: It's hard to tell at this point in time. There's no question a lot of different ideas being floated. And our attitude has been -- as is the attitude of the leaders in the House -- let's get it out of the House and get it to the Senate and just get them to up or down it. Whether or not that happens or not, we'll see. But if this gets delayed -- in other words, if there's a lot of posturing and different ideas here and the procedures in the Senate begin to delay a bill -- the longer it delays, the less timely the checks will be; and the less timely the checks will be, the more anxious those who are observing the economy could become.

Q Is there a deadline beyond which it's not useful anymore?

THE PRESIDENT: Henry Paulson has not given me that deadline, but his -- the deadline we're operating on is get it done now so that checks get out in the spring.

The other issue that was interesting to observe was FISA. On the one hand, the members were more than anxious to praise those on the front lines of fighting terror, and I appreciated their response. And then I went on to say: but give them the tools. So we'll watch this issue play out here. Our attitude, of course, is that there's been ample time for debate; everybody knew what was coming down the pike. Most members fully understand that there has to be a FISA plan in place that is effective -- effective means proper tools, as well as giving liability to people that are alleged to have helped us. The reason that's important is that obviously there has to be a sense of trust with the private sector when it comes to helping protect America, otherwise people are going to be reluctant to help if they think they're going to get sued for billions of dollars.

Q You're going to have to accept some extension, because the House is about to go out of town. So is there a possibility that they're going to -- you don't want a 30-day extension, but that they'll do one extension after another?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, we'll see, Mort. We were talking about that this morning; that's still very much in play right now. Maybe this will be one of those issues that unfolds as the day goes along. We just want a bill. And we want a bill in a timely manner. If you noticed in my speech, I said, as soon as possible -- but I meant as soon as possible. A 30-day delay is really not as soon as possible.

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