Thursday, April 28, 2005; 8:30 PM
For the first time in over a year, President Bush held a primetime press conference Thursday evening at 8 p.m. ET. On the agenda: Energy policy, the continuing war in Iraq and Social Security.
Washington Post Associate Editor Robert G. Kaiser was online Thursday, April 28 to answer your questions and provide instant analysis immediately following the President's press conference.
The transcript follows below.
Robert G. Kaiser: Good evening. We'got quite a few questions already, and will spend the next 45 minutes or so discussing this press conference. I'll be curious how you reacted to Bush tonight. Were all those confident grins reassuring, or troubling? Probably both, depending on how you feel about the president. Anyhow, share your views and please ask questions.
Arlington, Va.: Well, at least Bush had a press conference. About energy and gas prices in the short term, the president said his strategy was to get oil producing countries to produce more. Can they? I thought the report out of the meeting with Crown Prince Abdullah was that they could not produce any more in the short term -- many think they can't produce more in any term. So who exactly is going to produce more?
Robert G. Kaiser: yes, I agree that we should be grateful to the president for exposing himself to questions, including what I thought were some pretty good ones tonight.
And you are right, as far as we know, no producing country has the capacity to increase production in the short term so substantially that it would bring down prices this summer. That is not in the cards.
The president, like many of our politicians, insists that government policies can make us "less dependent" on foreign oil. "It's just going to take us a while to be less dependent," Bush said tonight. Yes it is; it is going to take us approximately forever. Unless we find substitutes for oil that allow us to radically reduce consumption, or unless we find ways to live without the comforts that a high level of fossil fuel consumption gives us, we are stuck with dependence on foreign sources of energy for the very long term. Forever.
Des Moines, Iowa: Mr. Kaiser,
The President stuck with some of the same talking point lines he has for the last 60 days on Social Security. Does the White House believe people just haven't heard them yet?
Robert G. Kaiser: Good question. I had the same reaction exactly. I'd guess that the president likes those lines he keeps using. He may be baffled about why they haven't worked yet, but he obviously isn't prepared to give them up yet.
Our polls keep showing that support for his position not only isn't growing, it is steadily declining. This pitch is not working.
That said, the president's not-entirely-clear revisions of his position tonight will at least alter the discussion for a while. But my conversations with politicians here in Washington have convinced me that there is simply no chance that a reform such as Bush has been pushing will be adopted in this congress.
Des Moines, Iowa: Mr. Kaiser,
What are the political consequences the President will reap by distancing himself from Sen. Frist and the Religious Right's judge campaign?
Robert G. Kaiser: Can't say. But his forthright answers on religion tonight don't coincide with the caricature of George W. Bush that is offered by some on the left who want to depict hims as some kind of Christian zealot or nut. As he has before, he went out of his way to say the "American way" is to leave religion to individuals, and that any Moslem, Jew or christian is entitled to the same respect and the same privacy in regard to his or her religious practice.
Shelburne, Vt.: Did he finish by saying "Thank you for your answers, God bless this country" or was it my imagination?
Robert G. Kaiser: Did he say ansswers? I was already starting to think about the need to begin my discussion, and didn't pay close attention.
Anonymous: Are you cutting and pasting your responses from the democrats post-press-conference talking points or are you typing them?
Robert G. Kaiser: sure, we always cut and paste what the democrats send us. Why'd you have to ask? You knew that already.
Washington, D.C.: Did you notice a more aggressive press corps than in the past? Do they "smell blood in hte water?" And did the president seem to be intimidating them in the way he called their names? He strikes me as a bit of a bully; are the journalists less cowed today than in the past?
Robert G. Kaiser: It's hard for me to make comparisons to past performances, but I thought the reporters did a good job tonight.
And yes, I think the mood has changed. David Broder's column this morning was a powerful indicator of that. I'll give you a link to it in a moment, in case you missed it. David is the dean of commentators in Washington, and when he writes a column like this, it makes a big difference.
Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: Did David Broder's column today force the President to hold a news conference tonight?
washingtonpost.com: Paying a Price for Overreaching , ( Post, April 28 )
Robert G. Kaiser: Here's the link to Broder. No, I don't think he made them hold a press conference, but I do think the same factors that led him to write the column led the White House to hold the news conference. Karl Rove et al are smart; they know they are in trouble now across the board. How serious is the trouble? Stay tuned.
Arlington, Va.: I am surprised that the president back-tracked on the religious issue by calling it "private affair." Any insights on what this might mean -- for both the religious right and the left?
Robert G. Kaiser: This is consistently his position, despite what others often say about him.
Boulder, Colo.: Mr. Kaiser, I have always appreciated your honest and articulate analysis.
President Bush took the opportunity tonight to seemingly distance himself from Frist and the Christian conservatives who have criticized those opposing his judicial nominees as being "against people of faith." Do you think his comments were within the range of expected responses, or could they be interpreted as a rebuke to those who are attempting to bring religion more strongly into the political realm?
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. Is this my cousin in Boulder? Hope not.
Yes, I do think it was something of a rebuke. It will be interesting to see how James Dobson, among others, reacts to what he said.
Lima, Ohio: I thought this was the best the President has been in a forum like this -- skillfully maneuvering among the questions to spin his particular agenda.
What question was NOT asked tonight that you would like to have had the President address?
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment. I wished there had been a little more about John Bolton. The question that was asked was not carefully enough worded to force the president to say whether or not he thought the sort of bullying tactics we now know Bolton used inside the State Department are appropriate for an ambaassador to the U.N. Of course there are scores of questions that might hav ebeen asked but were not.
West Hartford, Conn.: No-one came close to asking about the alleged skewing of intelligence by Bolton as a issue surrounding his nomination. Is there a reason why this was skirted?
Robert G. Kaiser: As I just said, the Bolton question wasn't well stated. I agree that a chance was missed.
Rockville, Md.: The president said he "wouldn't be one of those presidents who's caught up in polls." Aren't polls a valuable, although obviously not perfect, source of the American people's opinions? In a democracy, shouldn't public opinion polls be a concern for the president?
Robert G. Kaiser: You know, every time a politician gives his or her version of that now-familiar homily, I grin. I admit it! Bush hears about polls every week of his life, and of course he pays attention. That's one reason, I'd bet, that he held a news conference tonight.
I'm sorry no one asked him about how he thought his stock of "political capital" stands now. Remember how he bragged that his reelection victory had given him a lot of poltical capital to draw on? In fact, as the polls now make clear, as does the reaction to Bush initiatives in Congress, the cupboard is already, after just four months, quite bare. If that capital existed, it has been spent.
Chapel Hill, N.C.: Bush got cut off by NBC, CBS and FOX for Trump and Paris Hilton. Is that the comment we should take away?
Robert G. Kaiser: I was appalled that CBS cut off the president for Survivor, or whatever that [stuff] was. I felt very sorry for Bob Schieffer, who seemed to be pretending that the news conference had ended, when in fact two or three more questions were asked.
The networks forced Bush to move the news conference fo 8 p.m., which meant 5 p.m. in Califonria, of course, guaranteeing a small audience on the West coast. To me this is simply outrageous. But those of you who have taken part in these dicussions in the past already know that.
Seattle, Wash.: He did say "Thank you for your answers," but it's his non-answers that trouble me. Do you really feel he answered a single question posed to him in any depth which went beyond the sound bites that we all have heard before? Tyrants are terrible people, spreading democracy is good, eveil is bad. Are our expectation so low by now that unless he totally blows it the media is ready to declare him to be "in great form," as Chris Matthews just did on MSNBC? As to his comment about faith -- watch not what he says but what he does behind the scenes through his surrogates, like Frist, Delay and Rove. Your response to that one really floored me.
Robert G. Kaiser: I am not allowed to take what he says about religion at face value? Whose rules?
But i do agree with you about the use of sound bites to avoid dealing with hard questions. My favorite moment, i think, was when the pesident said he hoped Congress would pass an asbestos reform bill to stimulate economic growth. How's that again?
This president has found formulas to talk about difficult subjects that often seem to avoid actually confronting the problem realistically. For example, he talks about the Social Security program "going broke." But the program never goes broke as long as the underlying law is in force. It just has to be funded with new revenue that neither this president nor this Congress shows any willigness to provide.
Des Moines, Iowa: On the issue of Bolton: does the press avoid the questions because of a perception (true or not) that most people don't know who Bolton is or don't care?
Robert G. Kaiser: no
San Jose, Calif.: To me, the immediate number one priority is the economy and not Social Security. He didn't talk a lot about the economy. The jobs unemployment rate is masking the real numbers. Add to that higher oil prices, which have been going on since last year, and a president who is reactive rather than proactive, and what you have is sagging polls.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the comment.
As we have pointed out in The Post many times now, the Social Security problem is actually MUCH smaller than the Medicare/Medicaid problem, but that is never discussed. Our children and grandchildren will not forgive this generation of politicians for pretending that the problem isn't there. Just today Congressional Republicans agreed ona new budget that cuts Medicaid again, as thought cutting its costs will have any positive effect on the health care for poor people.
Politicians are now largely incapable of speaking truthfully and frankly about the big problems the country faces. Not a great situation to be in.
Reston, Va.: perhaps I just didn't understand, but I think the President's point about Social Security being unfair to someone who dies young was both confusing and kind of sophomoric. Isn't it more the case that with a Private Savings Account, a person who dies young will not have had sufficient time to build up anything for his surviving children, whereas currently there are survivor's benefits?
Robert G. Kaiser: good point.
Boston, Mass.: Brian Williams said "NBC was providng complete coverage tonight." Should he retract the statement on the "Nightly" tomorrow?
Robert G. Kaiser: Of course. But I confidently predict that he will not.
Albany, N.Y.: At what point does the President's continuing unwillingness to set a "timetable" for withdrawal from Iraq become a major political liability? Recent polls suggested that most Americans think the invasion a mistake. When do the body bags begin to outweigh the reluctance to lose face during a withdrawal under fire?
Robert G. Kaiser: I have no better answer to this question than you do. But we can be quite certain that Iraq will grow as a political problem for Bush in the months ahead, I think.
Little Rock, Ark.: Why does the President continually refer to President Putin as "Vladimir"? I have never heard him refer to "Tony" or "Jacques" or "Helmut"! I think this is weird.
Robert G. Kaiser: It does seem a little weird, though it seems to me we may have heard him call Blair "Tony" in the past. I was surprised that after the White House effort to distance Bush a little from Putin earlier this year, he gave him another bear hug tonight. Or so it seemed to me.
Ohio: Please! This idea that David Broder "wisdom" should set the agenda of how we question and answer problems is a real joke and it shows you journalist elitist attitude. I'm have my own questions and opinions on matters and somehow Broder's opinions, and not facts, disturbs me. Have we ever look back and analyse Broder's predictions and opinions and see how much he spits out is correct or just absolutely wrong ? I assure you its 50/50 just like all of our opinions in general... so please do not bring out "dean of journalist" opinion and attempt to influence the mass.
Robert G. Kaiser: Please! Read Broder. Then tell me that what you just wrote about him is accurate. (P.S., it isn't.)
Zero Shame At All: He just did it again! They are "file cabinets of IOUs" unless they are needed to dodge risk concerns, whereupon the become "Treasury Bonds, protected by the full faith and credit..."
Why is no one calling him on this? It's blatant self-contradictory lying! Obvious.
Where are the actual journalists?
Robert G. Kaiser: We have lots of real journalists hard at work, but you are right, the treatment of Treasury Bills was remarkable. For those who didn't catch this, Bush tonight offered, as a new wrinkle, the idea that personal Social Security accounts coule be invested in T-Bills. But that's just what the Social Security Trust Fund is invested in today.
Washington, D.C.: Am I wrong in interpreting Bush's answer to the question about the increase in terrorism around the world as him basically saying, "I don't care about terrorist attacks in other countries so long as America is safe?"
Robert G. Kaiser: good question.
Washington, D.C.: Does the President's plan for private accounts mean that employers will no longer be required to match the employee's 6.2 percent contribution to the SS trust Fund? I don't believe this has ever been discussed in the media. If this is correct, isn't this really another tax cut for the business class?
Robert G. Kaiser: This has never been proposed by Bush. He has always assumed that worker and employer contributions would continue as before.
Jessup, Md.: For years the soundest rationale for Social Security was that it was not styled as a "welfare program." Isn't Bush's proposal to boost the poor and cut the more well off the trojan horse designed in the long run to tear the heart out of Social Security and erode widespread social support for the program? He's making it a zero sum game. Shame on him!
Robert G. Kaiser: thanks for posting.
San Francisco, Calif.: I'm disappointed that no one asked Bush why, in the face of record gas prices, oil companies are posting record profits. Considering that he's made vague promises about the government being on the lookout for price gouging, wouldn't this have been a great opportunity to pin him down on what, exactly, he's doing about the problem?
Robert G. Kaiser: Don't kid yourself about oil companies being to blame for high prices. They BENEFIT from the high prices, especially the ones that control reserves, but the cost is bid up by the burgeoning international demand for oil, not by a conspiracy of oil companies.
Des Moines, Iowa: The President actually concluded by saying "Thank you for your interest" I believe. Benefit of rewind.
But that leads to an interesting question. The President was pretty blunt about the behind-the-scenes workings of a Presidential press conference, especially about TV. Does the President's "coy" style hurt him during the press confrences? Is that why there's not a lot of them?
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks. I can't answer about the effect of his personal style. i know from the campaign trail last fall that some Americans found him smug and infuriating, and others just love the stuffing out of the guy. I do think we know that Bush isn't comfortable being caught out in public. We saw that in the debates with Kerry, no? And the White House puts him in front of carefully selected audiences only for a reason, I think.
But there's no sign I've seen that Bush is hurt by news conferences. I think he's more hurt by negative reactions to his initiatives.
Albany, N.Y.: Will Bush pay a political price for throwing the "filibusters are anti-Christian" crowd under the bus tonight?
washingtonpost.com: Filibuster Rule Change Opposed , ( Post, April 26 )
Robert G. Kaiser: On the contrary, as this recent Post poll makes clear, the country doesn't want to change the Senate rules to get more Bush judges approved. This is a startling poll. The margin is 2:1. I recommend it to everyone.
Robert G. Kaiser: Thanks for the lively discussion. One closing note: I wish someone had asked Bush about Terry Schaivo tonight. I have a hunch that that episode is going to linger in our politics. I don't think people who were upset by it are going to forget it soon. It was an unusual example of a case when the politicians in Washington were completely caught out by the overwhelming public reaction that government intervention in the Schaivo case was inappropriate. Democrats were, with a few exceptions, as embarrassed as Republicans. I'd have loved to have asked Bush for his own post-mortem on that episode and what he learned from it.
But I didn't get the chance. Thanks again to all. Good night.
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