A confident President Bush yesterday displayed the power he gained from the Republican midterm election triumph, demanding international action against Iraq's Saddam Hussein and congressional action on administration priorities that had been delayed by partisan discord.
The president insisted on immediate action from the current Congress on legislation creating a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. Floating an array of policy ideas from tax cuts early next year to the partial privatization of Social Security, he also urged the Senate to reconsider previously rejected judicial nominees.
"If there is a mandate in any election -- at least in this one -- it's that people want something to get done," the president said at a news conference, his first public appearance since Tuesday's elections. Emphasizing the point, he repeated: "I think the way to look at this election is to say that people want something done."
In addition, Bush made clear for the first time that Vice President Cheney would be on the 2004 ticket with him. "Should I decide to run, Vice President Cheney will be my running mate," Bush said. "He is a superb vice president, and there's no reason for me to change."
Cheney has heart disease, but has said he would serve if his doctors and the president permit. "I'm confident that he will serve another term," Bush said, apparently ending widespread speculation about possible vice presidential replacements.
In a 47-minute session in a theater in the White House complex, Bush said he would not be dissuaded by hostile international opinion from taking action against Hussein. "I don't spend a lot of time taking polls around the world to tell me what I think is the right way to act," Bush said. "I just got to know how I feel."
The president was categorical in demanding Senate action on a Homeland Security Department in the "lame duck" session of Congress that begins next week.
"It's imperative that the Congress send me a bill that I can sign before the 107th Congress ends," Bush said, calling the legislation "the most important thing to get done" even while acknowledging that it may take some time.
He also said Congress should take "immediate" action on terrorism insurance legislation, in addition to the necessary spending bills.
The homeland security and terrorism insurance measures were set aside last month because of partisan stalemate. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott (Miss.) said yesterday he will make a "huge effort" to win Senate approval of the Homeland Security Department bill if he is majority leader during the post-election session, but said it would be a "big leap."
Lott will be majority leader in the new Congress, but could get the job earlier if independent Dean Barkley, the new interim senator from Minnesota, sides with him.
Bush was more vague about plans for next year. He confirmed that he plans "new growth and jobs packages early next year" -- measures likely to include a variety of tax cuts. He also mentioned the need for action on energy legislation, a Medicare prescription drug plan and a plan for partial privatization of Social Security.
"I still strongly believe that the best way to achieve security in Social Security for younger workers is to give them the option of managing their own money through a personal savings account," the president said. Though not committing to legislation on the subject, he called it "an important issue as well."
In another challenge to the Senate, of which Democrats lost control on Tuesday, Bush said he wanted new consideration of two judicial nominees, Charles W. Pickering and Priscilla Owens, who had been rejected by the Democrat-controlled Judiciary Committee because of their conservative views.
"I hope the Judiciary Committee will let their names out and they get a fair hearing," he said.
The president, wearing a royal blue tie and standing casually behind the lectern on one leg at times, spoke modestly about his role in the unexpected Republican gains on Tuesday.
"Thank you for trying to give it to me, but they [the candidates] deserve the credit," Bush said. "I was proud to help some of them the best I could."
Still, Bush spoke with confidence as he interpreted the election results. "Here at home, our citizens have voted in an election that I believe will strengthen our ability to make progress for all the American people," he said. Asked about whether he would favor centrists over conservatives, he said: "I don't take cues from anybody."
In high spirits, the president teased a reporter for requesting a follow-up question. "If the elections had gone a different way, I might not be so generous," he said. He jokingly urged reporters to send gifts to White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who is getting married this weekend, and when a particularly tall correspondent asked a question, the president replied: "Thank you for not standing up -- you block the cameras."
Though avoiding comment on whether he would replace members of his economic team, Bush had polite words for his Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, Harvey L. Pitt, who resigned during the election returns Tuesday night after growing criticism of his conduct.
"He made the decision himself that he thought that he couldn't be as effective as he needed to be," Bush said, adding that he would replace Pitt "as soon as possible."
As for William H. Webster, the former CIA director tapped by Pitt to head an accounting oversight board, Bush called him "a decent, honorable public servant" but did not commit to keeping him. Webster is under investigation for his role on the audit committee of an Internet company that went bankrupt. "We'll see what that says," Bush said.
Staff writer Helen Dewar contributed to this report.