Following are excerpts of President Bush's news conference yesterday as transcribed by eMedia Millworks Inc.:
This week the voters of America set the direction of our nation for the next four years. I'm honored by the support of my fellow citizens, and I'm ready for the job.
We are fighting a continuing war on terror. And every American has a stake in the outcome of this war: Republicans, Democrats and independents all over our country. And together we'll protect the American people.
We'll persevere until the enemy is defeated. We'll stay strong and resolute.
We have a duty, a solemn duty, to protect the American people, and we will.
Every civilized country also has a stake in the outcome of this war.
Whatever our past disagreements, we share a common enemy. And we have common duties: to protect our peoples, to confront disease and hunger and poverty in troubled regions of the world.
I'll continue to reach out to our friends and allies, our partners in the E.U. and NATO, to promote development and progress, to defeat the terrorists, and to encourage freedom and democracy as alternatives to tyranny and terror.
I also look forward to working with the present Congress and the new Congress that will arrive in January. . . .
To accelerate the momentum of this economy and to keep creating jobs, we must take practical measures to help our job creators, the entrepreneurs and the small-business owners. . . .
We must continue the work of education reform to bring high standards and accountability not just to our elementary and secondary schools but to our high schools as well.
We must reform our complicated and outdated tax code. We need to get rid of the needless paperwork . . . that is a drag on our economy, to make sure our economy is the most competitive in the world. . . .
With the campaign over, Americans are expecting a bipartisan effort and results. I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals. And I'm eager to start the work ahead. . . .
Question: As you look at your second term, how much is the war in Iraq going to cost? Do you intend to send more troops or bring troops home? And in the Middle East more broadly, do you agree with [British Prime Minister] Tony Blair that revitalizing the Middle East peace process is the single most pressing political issue facing the world? . . .
Bush: I agree with him that the Middle East peace is a very important part of a peaceful world. I have been working on Middle Eastern peace ever since I've been the president. I laid down a very hopeful strategy in June of 2002, and my hope is that we'll make good progress. . . .
Q: How will you go about bringing people together? Will you seek a consensus candidate for the Supreme Court if there's an opening? Will you bring some Democrats into your Cabinet?
Bush: . . . First of all, there's no vacancy for the Supreme Court, and I will deal with a vacancy when there is one.
I told the people on the campaign trail that I'll pick somebody who knows the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law. . . .
Q: On foreign policy . . . do you believe that America has an image problem in the world right now because of your efforts in response to the 9/11 attacks?
And . . . talk about what you'll do to build on those alliances and to deal with these image problems, particularly in the Islamic world.
Bush: . . . Listen, I made some very hard decisions, decisions to protect ourselves . . . and I understand that in certain capitals in certain countries, those decisions were not popular.
You know, you asked me to put that in the context of the response on September the 11th. Our first response, of course, was chasing down the terror networks, which we will continue to do. . . .
I laid out a doctrine . . . that said if you harbor terrorists, you're as equally as guilty as the terrorists, and that doctrine was ignored by the Taliban, and we removed the Taliban.
And I fully understand some people didn't agree with that decision. But I believe that when the American president speaks, he better mean what he says in order to keep the world peaceful.
And I believe we have a solemn duty -- whether or not some people agree with it or not -- to protect the American people. . . .
Then the Iraq issue is one that people disagreed with.
And I don't need to rehash my case, but . . . I made the decision I made in order to protect our country first and foremost.
I will continue to do that as the president. But as I do so, I will reach out to others and explain why I make the decisions I make.
There is a certain attitude in the world by some that says that, you know, it's a waste of time to try to promote free societies in parts of the world. . . .
I just strongly disagree with those who do not see the wisdom of trying to promote free societies around the world.
If we are interested in protecting our country for the long term, the best way to do so is to promote freedom and democracy. . . .
Q: Now that the political volatility is off the issue, because the election is over, I'd like to ask you about troop levels in Iraq in the next couple of months leading up to elections. The Pentagon already has a plan to extend tours of duty for some 6,500 U.S. troops. How many more will be needed to provide security in Iraq for elections, seeing as how the Iraqi troops that you're trying to train up are pretty slow coming online?
Bush: First of all, we are making good progress in training the Iraqi troops. There will be 125,000 of them trained by election time.
Secondly . . . I have not sat down with our secretary of defense talking about troop levels. . . .
Q: Mr. President, your victory at the polls came about in part because of strong support from people of faith, in particular Christian evangelicals and Pentecostals and others. And Senator Kerry drew some of his strongest support from those who do not attend religious services.
What do you make of this religious divide, it seems, becoming a political divide in this country?
And what do you say to those who are concerned about the role of a faith they do not share in public life and in your policies?
Bush: . . . I will be your president regardless of your faith, and I don't expect you to agree with me, necessarily, on religion. As a matter of fact, no president should ever try to impose religion on our society.
Q: Mr. President, you talked once again this morning about private accounts and Social Security. During the campaign, you were accused of planning to privatize the entire system. It has been something you've discussed for some time. You've lost some of the key Democratic proponents, such as [the late New York senator] Pat Moynihan and [former Nebraska senator] Bob Kerrey in the Congress.
How will you proceed now with one of the key problems, which is the transition cost, which some say is as much as $2 trillion? How will you proceed on that? And how soon?
Bush: Well, first, I made Social Security an issue. . . . And we must lead on Social Security, because the system is not going to be whole for our children and our grandchildren. . . .
And there are going to be costs.
But the cost of doing nothing . . . is much greater than the cost of reforming the system today. . . .
Q: Mr. President, you were disappointed, even angry, 12 years ago when the voters denied your father a second term. I'm interested in your thoughts and the conversations with him yesterday as you were walking to the Oval Office, and also whether you feel more free to do any one thing in a second term that perhaps you were politically constrained from doing in a first.
Bush: At 3:30 in the morning on, I guess it was the day after the election, he was sitting upstairs. And I finally said, Go to bed. . . .
So I asked him the next morning, when he got up, I said, "Come by the Oval Office and visit." And he came by and we had a good talk. . . .
There was some uncertainty about that morning as to when the election would actually end. And it wasn't clear at that point in time, so I never got to see him face-to-face to watch his, I guess, pride in his tired eyes as his son got a second term.
I did talk to him and he was relieved. . . .
So I haven't had a chance to really visit and, you know, embrace.
And you're right, '92 was a disappointment, but he taught me a really good lesson: that life moves on. And it's very important for those of us in the political arena, win or lose, to recognize that life is bigger than just politics. And that's one of the really good lessons he taught me. . . .
Oh, in terms of feeling free, well, . . . I feel it is necessary to move an agenda that I told the American people I would move.
There is something refreshing about coming off an election -- even more refreshing since we all got some sleep last night -- but you go out and you make your case, and you tell the people, "This is what I intend to do." . . .
Q: Do you plan to reshape your Cabinet for the second term, or will any changes come at the instigation of individuals? And as part of the same question, I'm going to ask you what you've learned about Cabinet government, what works, what doesn't work. And do you mind also addressing the same question about the White House staff? . . .
Bush: Let me talk about the people that have worked with me. I had a Cabinet meeting today, and I thanked them for their service to the country and reminded them we've got a job to do, and I expected them to do the job.
I have made no decisions on my Cabinet and/or White House staff. . . .
Obviously, in terms of those who want to stay on and who want to stay on, I've got to make sure that it's right for their families and that they're comfortable. Because when they come to work here in the White House, I expect them to work as hard as they possibly can on behalf of the American people.
In the Cabinet, there will be some changes. I don't know who they will be. It's inevitable there will be changes. It happens in every administration. . . .
And I fully understand we're about to head into the period of intense speculation as to who is going to stay and who's not going to stay. . . .
But let me just help you out with the speculation right now: I haven't thought about it. . . .
Learn and not learn about the Cabinet? . . .
Well, first, I've learned that I put together a really good Cabinet. I'm very proud of the people that have served this government. And they, to a man and woman, worked their hearts out for the American people.
And I've learned that you've got to continue to surround yourself with good people.
This is a job that requires crisp decision-making, and therefore, in order for me to make decisions, I've got to have people who bring, you know, their point of view into the Oval Office and are willing to say it. . . .
Therefore, you need people to walk in on those days when you're not looking so good and saying, "You're not looking so good, Mr. President."
And I've got -- those are the kind of people that served our country.
Q: Sir, given your commitment to reaching out across party lines and to all Americans, I wonder if you could expand on your definition of bipartisanship and whether it means simply picking off a few Democrats on a case-by-case basis to pass the bills you want to pass or whether you would commit to working regularly with the Democratic leadership on solutions that can win broad support across party lines?
Bush: Do you remember the No Child Left Behind Act?
I think that's the model I'd look at if I were you.
I laid out an agenda for reforming our public schools. I worked with both Republicans and Democrats to get that bill passed.
Q: Mr. President, as you look at your second-term domestic priorities, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how you see the sequence of action on issues beyond Social Security: tax reform, education.
And if you could expand a little bit for us on the principles that you want to underpin your tax reform proposal. Do you want it to be revenue-neutral? What kinds of things do you want to accomplish through that process?
Bush: . . . What is the first thing you're going to do when it comes to legislation? It just doesn't work that way, particularly when you've laid out a comprehensive agenda. And part of that comprehensive agenda is a tax simplification.
First of all, a principle would be revenue-neutral.
If I'm going to, you know, if there was a need to raise taxes, I'd say, "Let's have a tax bill that raises taxes," as opposed to "Let's simplify the tax code and sneak a tax increase on the people."
It's just not my style.
I don't believe we need to raise taxes.
Now, secondly, that, obviously, that it rewards risk and doesn't -- it doesn't have unnecessary penalties in it.
The main thing is that it would be viewed as fair . . . that it wouldn't be complicated, that there's a -- you know, a kind of -- that loopholes wouldn't be there for special interests, that the code itself be viewed and deemed as a very fair way to encourage people to invest and save and achieve certain fiscal objectives in our country as well. . . .
On an issue like tax reform, tax simplification, it's going to take a lot of legwork to get something ready for a legislative package. . . .
Social Security reform will require some additional legwork, although the Moynihan commission has laid the groundwork for what I think is a very good place to start the debate.
The education issue is one that could move pretty quickly because there has been a lot of discussion about education. . . .
Q: Mr. President, American forces are gearing up for what appears to be a major offensive in Fallujah over the next several days. I'm wondering if you could tell us what the objective is, what the stakes are there for the United States, for the Iraqi people, and the Iraqi elections coming up in January?
Bush: In order for Iraq to be a free country, those who are trying to stop the elections and stop a free society from emerging must be defeated.