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President Bush on Iraq, Katrina, the economy

“NBC Nightly News” Anchor and Managing Editor Brian Williams spent the day Monday with President George W. Bush. This is a complete transcript of their conversations.

Our day started early this morning, when we greeted President George W. Bush in the Oval Office. It was the first stop we made on a vigorous schedule. From there it was onto Air Force One and a trip to Philadelphia, where the President met with members of the World Affairs Council and gave the latest speech in a series of them on the Iraq war.

But we begin with our first encounter with the early-rising chief executive.

Brian Williams: Mr. President, good morning. You're very kind to have us. Thank you very much. So we're off to Philadelphia today. And you are fresh from the situation room.

President George W. Bush: I am, thanks.

Williams: What kind of things do you go over in that morning brief?

President Bush: Well, some of the things I can tell you and some of them I can't. I will tell you that today we discussed the bombing in Beirut. And I wanted to know as much that we knew so that when I put out a statement it's got some fact behind it. The statement today will basically say that we expect Syria and any Syrian agents to allow the Lebanese democracy to function without interference. Now, we don't have direct evidence of who did the bombing, but we do know that the person bombed was anti-Syrians, pro-democracy. We discussed Iraq of course. We discussed some other issues.

Williams: And so the intelligence in the war on terror that comes in overnight, the chatter you've become used to, a new aspect of this job since 9/11, that is obviously a part of your brief?

President Bush: It is. You know if our people hear anything or read anything or know anything they of course inform me. I then ask the questions to those who are on the front line of defending America. What are we doing about it? Where are you in finding this person or where are you in intercepting this cargo? So that we can assure the American people we're doing our most important job. Listen, there's an enemy that wants to attack us. And I vowed after September 11th that I wouldn't rest. The enemy made clear their intentions and they still want to do it. And we have an awesome responsibility to take every threat seriously and act on it. And that's what we're doing.

Williams: Now, how do you wake up on a Monday morning? I brought some visual aids. I have Newsweek and Time. Cover of Newsweek, look what they've done to you. "Bush's World: The isolated president, can he change?" And inside Time, it says "Bush's search for his new groove." Time magazine says you're out there talking to people. Newsweek says you're in here not talking to people. So what is truth, Mr. President?

President Bush: Well, I'm talking to you. You're a person.

Williams: This says you're in a bubble. You have a very small circle of advisors now. Is that true? Do you feel in a bubble?

President Bush: No, I don't feel in a bubble. I mean, you feel in a bubble in the sense that I can't go walking out the front gate and, you know, go shopping, like I'd love to do for my wife. Although I may, I'm not going to tell you what I'm going to buy her. Look, I feel like I'm getting really good advice from very capable people and that people from all walks of life have informed me and informed those who advise me. And I feel very comfortable that I'm very aware of what's going on.

I just talked to the president-elect of Honduras. A lot of my job is foreign policy. and I spend an enormous amount of time with leaders from other countries. And they come right here in the Oval Office and tell me what's on their mind and I tell them what's on my mind. This is the first time I'm seeing this magazine.

Williams: Do you read this kind of stuff?

President Bush: No.

Williams: You don't read the news weeklies?

President Bush: I really don't. I'm interested in the news. I'm not all that interested in the opinions.

Williams: So where are they getting this? Some writers said the circle around you is too small and other writers says the president is expanding his circle to get more advice. Now where does that come from?

President Bush: You better ask the writers. All I know, there is a fascination about the presidency and the president. It's just part of the job. People are constantly wondering about the decision-making process and who's up and who's down. My job is to set an agenda, a strategy, and to pursue it.

You know, like in the war in Iraq, not everything has gone the way we had hoped. On the other hand, we are making progress. We get all kinds of opinions about how to proceed. And the president's job is to listen and then decide. And I hope when it's all said and done, people will say that George Bush knew how to make a decision and to stick by it. You know, not let the polls or the focus groups determine the course of history, but he made decisions based upon principles and things I firmly believed in. I'll tell you one thing I firmly believe in: I think I believe liberty is universal. freedom is the deep desire of every human being and that a country with influence like ours ought to do things to free people. And there's all kinds of ways to do so. I meant what I said in my inaugural address, we ought to end tyranny in this century. And so long as I'm the president I'm going to follow through on what I said I would do.

Williams: Now, so many occupants of this office, sir, like you, have studied former presidents. You and I have discussed earlier your fascination with Teddy Roosevelt, among other presidents. What do you like about TR?

President Bush: He used American influence to shape history and to lay what I call the foundations for peace. I spend a lot of time thinking about Abraham Lincoln. His picture's there on the wall. That's a generally a spot where a president would put the most influential president. I can't imagine what it would have been like to be the president during a Civil War, where brother was killing brother. And yet Lincoln had this great inner strength and a vision for an America that was united. And he worked to achieve that vision as best as he possibly could in the midst of a bloody fight.

I do think about other presidents here in the Oval Office and I think about how important it is to honor the presidency as an institution. Presidents come and go, but not the presidency.

Williams: And how about the fact that during the Lincoln presidency, there were people throughout the White House, office seekers, there wasn't an Oval Office. He used to call it his public daily bath that he was surrounded by. You could run into a member of the public in the hallway. That has changed and, of course, post-9/11 your security needs are entirely different.

President Bush: Well, it's changed to a certain extent. On the other hand, I've got Air Force One, which he didn't have. In other words, I'm able to reach out. He wasn't able to reach out as much as a modern president can do. You know, for example, I meet with families who've lost a loved one in Iraq. And I meet with them all around the country. And it gives me a chance to commiserate, cry, listen, explain, hug the loved ones of a lost soul. And let them know we're praying for them. And I hear all kinds of opinions about the war and what they think we ought to be doing. And I try to be patient and absorb the anguish of a family that's just mourning. I'm sure Abraham Lincoln was able to do that, but I don't think he was able to do it in cities all around the United States which I have been able to do.

Williams: Other than sending men and women into battle, is that the toughest part of the presidency for you?

President Bush: By far. Well, they go hand in hand. I remember the day we committed the troops, or I committed the troops, there's no "we" to it. I committed the troops to combat in Iraq. And I left here, walked out that door, walked around that South Lawn there with my trusty dog Spot, just thinking about the consequences, anticipating, you know, what could go right and what could go wrong, knowing full well that my decision put kids in harm's way. And so therefore, when I meet with the loved ones, I'm very aware of the fact that it was my decision that put their loved one in combat. And it's by far the toughest decision the president can make.

Williams: And I know you have a crucifix in your study that's kind of a talisman for you. You're surrounded by symbols of the fact that, as we speak, our men and women are on the battlefield.

President Bush: No, I'm very aware. I understand the consequences of war. I also understand the long term effects of victory. And I take great comfort in knowing that a lot of the families understand that when we succeed, that we will be able to look back and say a brave generation of Americans have made the world a better place for future Americans, future generations. And they understand that. Now, some don't. Some have said get out of there. What are you doing in there? Most of them tell me that their loved one knew exactly what they were there for, that they made a conscious decision to volunteer and to join in this war against terror. They understand that we've got to defeat the enemy there so we don't have to face them here at home. It doesn't take away the pain or anguish for the loved ones, or for me. By the way, it's not about me, the meeting with these families. It's about them. Although I will tell you, after nearly all the meetings, I leave a better person for having spent time with a mom or a dad or a wife who are showing such incredible courage.

Williams: Your people are getting anxious that our time is probably up here in the Oval Office. Preview Philadelphia. We're next going to see you on the aircraft.

President Bush: I am going up there to give the third of a series of speeches about victory in Iraq. One of the things that's very important is for the president to not only lay out the strategy but to report on progress for achieving that strategy. One of the things I'll tell the people up there is that we've had milestones for the Iraqi people when it comes to the development of democracy: The transfer of sovereignty, the election of a transitional government, the ratification of a constitution and elections that will take place this Thursday. And every milestone has been achieved, which says that the Iraqis are courageous and determined to develop a democracy. And it's important for the American citizens to realize that a democracy is part of how you defeat the terrorists and how we do our duty to what, I keep saying this word because I believe it, lay the foundations for peace.

You know. I spend a lot of time with (Japanese) Prime Minister Koizumi. Interesting fellow. And he's a very close friend. And it amazes me every time that I visit with him that my dad fought them, the Japanese. As did a lot of other baby boomers' relatives.

Williams: [They] shot at your father.

President Bush: Shot at him. And knocked his airplane down. And killed two of the people on his airplane. And yet Prime Minister Koizumi and I sit down and talk about North Korea or Iraq and democracy. We talk about keeping the peace. Something happened between when George H.W. Bush, better known as "41," was a young guy, and "43," his son, was the president. And what happened was Japan adapted a Japanese-style democracy which helped convert an enemy into an ally. And that's what's taking place in Iraq today. And so my job is to continue to remind people the stakes in the war on terror and the great historical opportunity to help change Iraq into a democracy, which will have an enormous effect on the broader Middle East, which in turn will lay the foundation for peace.

Williams: And how is that World War II veteran?

President Bush: Thanks for asking. He's good. He's a little nervous, he watches your newscast, it makes him anxious.

Williams: Oh, he need not be anxious.

President Bush: But he's great. His health is good. He's one of the most active guys.

Williams: Yes, he is.

President Bush: Still married to mom.

Williams: That's good. Glad to hear it, because we were worried that it wouldn't work out.

President Bush: Good thing about mom is, like you said, if I'm in a bubble, well if there is such thing as a bubble, she's the one who can penetrate it.

Williams: I'll tell the guys at Newsweek.

President Bush: Yeah, she's great. Is that who put the bubble story?

Williams: Yeah, that's the bubble.

President Bush: Well, that's the way it goes.

Williams: All right, we'll let them know. Thank you, we'll see you on the aircraft. They're going to drive us out there very quickly.

President Bush: Hustle.

Williams: Thank you, will do.

President Bush: You don't want to make the president wait.

Williams: We won't. See you in Philadelphia, Mr. President.

President Bush: Yes, sir.

Katrina, of course, and the federal response to the storm, was on our list of topics to discuss with the President today. That conversation took place during the flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Philadelphia. We sat down in the President's office in the front section of Air Force One.

Williams: Mr. President, thank you again for having us up here. I know that Senator Specter and Senator Santorum are on board. Have you had any substantive words exchanged with Senator Specter? I know you have a big nomination before his committee.

President Bush: Well, I see them quite often. And of course, I'm talking to him about Judge Alito's confirmation. And I suspect that on the way back to Washington, if he's on the plane, that we'll have a good chance to visit. But I also talked to him about the renewal of the Patriot Act. He is involved in conferencing the bill. I told him we want it passed and most Americans want it passed and it needs to be passed in order to help protect the homeland.

Williams: Mr. President, this is the first chance we've had to talk to you since Katrina. And I want to go back to that first weekend. It was said that a lot of — it was a holiday weekend — a lot of your staff were scattered about different places. There was a wedding in Europe. Did you have the people around you that you needed? Along with everyone else it took time to realize the scale of the disaster.

President Bush: You're talking about before the storm hit? Yeah, we anticipated a big storm. I don’t think anybody anticipated a category 5 initially. It came across the Gulf and started to pick up speed. But, you bet, we started pre-positioning equipment. I was on the phone to Governor Blanco, Governor Barbour, Governor Riley, asking them if they had all they needed.

I urged at one point in time, as I recall, over the weekend, I urged that there be an evacuation of New Orleans at the recommendation of Secretary Chertoff.

No, we were in touch and thought we were pretty well prepared for the storm. But as your broadcast accurately noted, the federal government and other levels of the government fell down on the job. I — like you and like the pictures you showed — I was appalled that a nation as wealthy as ours was not able to respond as effectively as we should have and took blame for it.

I mean, to the extent that the federal government was ineffective, I'm responsible. And I understand that. And now the question is how do we learn lessons from the response and how do we effectively help the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans and the rest of Louisiana rebuild?

Williams: Were you watching the coverage? Were you seeing the same pictures that Americans were seeing?

President Bush: I was. I was. I was disturbed by the fact that there's, I guess my reaction was, "Where's the communications?" I mean, we had news people able to really be the fact witness on the ground when, in fact, it should have been government officials at all levels gathering the information, sending it back to headquarters so there could be an appropriate response. I was amazed that our communication system was basically down to a certain extent. And the reason why it's troubling not only for the people on the ground affected by the storm, but imagine an attack or a pandemic of avian flu. And those are the lessons that we need to learn from Katrina and better prepare this nation.

Williams: We have three out of four people in the area out of their homes, 100,000 uninhabitable structures. It's a mess down in the region. You said when you were there you can't imagine America without New Orleans. A newspaper headline though yesterday said, "Death of American City, We're About to Lose New Orleans." Could that ever happen on your watch, Mr. President?

President Bush: I certainly hope not. I meant what I said. New Orleans is a great city. It needs to be helped so it can rise.

Part of the strategy's got to be to do something with these levees. Look, New Orleans isn't coming back unless people are assured that any investment or risk taken will be mitigated as best as possible by a modern day levee system. And one of the things we've learned about the levees, Brian, is that they call the levees a certain category, but they weren't up to standards. And so we're now in the process of working with local folks to get the standards of the levees up to where they should have been prior to the storm and even better. And hopefully we'll have the capacity to announce that relatively quickly.

That'll start to change the mindset of people for New Orleans. It's that, look, "Now, I feel comfortable about rebuilding my home." Or, "Now, I feel comfortable about making an investment that will create jobs."

Secondly, we've got to deal with housing. New Orleans is different from the Gulf Coast and Mississippi. Gulf Coast and Mississippi's got lands and the trailers are being moved in at the request of the Governor and local officials. People are beginning to resettle there. New Orleans doesn't have as much land, as you know from your travels. And so we're in the process of making sure people do not get booted out of hotel rooms but are given the information necessary about the money available for relocation expenses.

Williams: After the tragedy, I heard someone ask rhetorically, "What if this had been Nantucket, Massachusetts, or Inner Harbor, Baltimore or Chicago or Houston?" Are you convinced the response would have been the same? Was there any social or class or race aspect to the response?

President Bush: Somebody I heard — you know, a couple of people said — you know, said, "Bush didn't respond because of race, because he's a racist." That is absolutely wrong. And I reject that. Frankly, that's the kind of thing that — you can call me anything you want — but do not call me a racist. Secondly, this storm hit all up and down. It hit New Orleans. It hit down in Mississippi too. And people should not forget the damage done in Mississippi.

Williams: Biloxi was hit terribly hard.

President Bush: Absolutely, and Pascagoula and Waveland. You know it. You saw it first hand what it's like. We had people from all walks of life affected by that storm.

I remember saying that, when I thanked those chopper drivers from the Coast Guard who performed brilliantly, they didn't lower those booms to pick up people saying, "What color skin do you have?" They said, "A fellow American's in jeopardy. And I'm going to do my best to rescue that person."

Williams: What about this widely held perception in New Orleans that the federal government somehow played a role in the blowing of the levees? So many people believe that now. Does that break your heart that that exists?

President Bush: Yeah, I've heard that. And when I went to one of the shelters, I remember one of the ladies saying to me and Governor Blanco, "You know, why did the federal government, or why did government, blow this up?" And I said, "Ma'am, I really can assure you it didn't happen." But yet there's a perception, particularly in the Ninth Ward, that that's the case.

Williams: What do you do about that?

President Bush: You just try to tell the truth. You know, it was really interesting. If you read the book about the great flood in the late '20s, the levees were breached in order to save New Orleans. And so maybe that's part of why people are thinking that way. It just didn't happen. And I'm so sorry people feel that way, because one of the things that's important is for people to trust, you know, the government. And if they thought that the government had helped destroy their lives, then obviously there would be no trust.

Williams: It's been two months since your last visit to the region. Was there any notion of making it a domestic Marshall Plan of your administration, of saying, "Let's get together and rebuild this area?"

President Bush: Well, we're doing that. We've got $62 billion dollars on the table. That's a significant amount to begin with. And the key thing is to make sure that we fulfill these milestones that we've laid out.

Step one — particularly in Mississippi and eventually in New Orleans — is get rid of all the debris. You cannot rebuild with stacks and piles of debris. And so they're in the process of removing thousands of tons of debris.

And secondly, is to pass proper law that will encourage people to make investments and encourage small businesses to invest.

And thirdly, is to get the SBA loan process more streamlined. And one thing we're working on is to have the local banks be the lead lender with the SBA as a backup and not vice versa.

The initial response was to make sure people got cash in hand to help them adjust to these terrible circumstances they found themselves in. So, you can call it what you want to call it. But there's a massive operation underway. And Brian, as you know, the devastation is so big it's going to take a while to rebuild. And what people need to know down there is that there is a commitment at all levels of the government to help.

Williams: Any regret where Michael Brown is concerned?

President Bush: You know, Michael, resigned. And I, you know, I had worked with him during the four hurricanes that hit Florida. He got pretty good marks. And in this case, for whatever reason, the system overwhelmed the whole process. And Michael said, "I'm responsible." And he left.

Williams: Do you see the blame as being shared? Governor, Mayor, that kind of thing?

President Bush: I hope we're beyond that. As I said, I'll take the blame for the federal response. And I genuinely mean that. But think it's very important for people to not focus on politics, but focus on how we work together to achieve what we all want, which is a Louisiana that's vibrant and a New Orleans that's a shining light down there and a Gulf Coast of Mississippi that's been rebuilt and is vibrant and thriving.

Next, it was on to Philadelphia. For the President, that meant the short flight from Marine One to Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland, then onto Air Force One. After landing in Philadelphia, the President traveled by motorcade to a downtown hotel, and another in his recent series of speeches on the war in Iraq, this one to the World Affairs Council. After the speech, he sat down with us to talk about the war in Iraq.

Brian Williams: Well, I know this is number one on the list of things to do, Mr. President.

President George W. Bush: No, I'm glad to do it, thank you.

Williams: Let's start off with a fun topic. And then we'll get into the topic you were just addressing. Let's talk about the news media.

Once and for all — and I know you've had some fun with members of the press on this subject — how much television news do you watch? How much do you read the morning papers, news magazines? How much do you see in an average week?

President Bush: I don'I see a lot of the news. Every morning I look at the newspaper. I can't say I've read every single article in the newspaper. But I definitely know what's in the news. Occasionally, I watch television. t want to hurt your feelings, but it's occasionally. I'm working at that point, as are you. But I'm very aware of what's in the news. I'm aware because I see clips. I see summaries. I have people on my staff that walk in every morning and say, "This is what's — this is how I see it. This is what's brewing today," on both the domestic and international side. Frankly, it is probably part of my own fault for needling people, but it's a myth to think I don't know what's going on. And it's a myth to think that I'm not aware that there is opinions that don't agree with mine. Because I'm fully aware of that.

Williams: But you, yourself, said to a reporter, I think it was Brit Hume, that you'd prefer to get the news orally from your aids?

President Bush: Well, that's one way to look at it. I mean, I read the newspaper. I mean, I can tell you what the headlines are. I must confess, if I think the story is, like, not a fair appraisal, I'll move on. But I know what the story's about.

Williams: OK, as we drove up to the hotel in Philadelphia today, there were protesters outside. And they were yelling shame. Do you see them and hear them from your limousine?

President Bush: Sure.

Williams: Does it matter to you? Does it register?

President Bush: I think after awhile you kind of get used to it. It's part of the job. It is — you know, it's — part of living in a democracy. They're frankly smaller than they used to be, but that doesn't mean there's not intensity out there. I've made some very difficult positions. I fully understand people not liking war. I fully understand people wanting, you know, feeling that, you know, that I'm making progress. I mean, I can see that. And, on the other hand, I know we're making progress. We're winning. And it's my job to continue to try to reassure them that we are winning and the stakes are worth it. But yes, I'm fully aware of the discontent and the protests.

Williams: We believe this is the first time in a long time we've heard you use the number of Iraqi civilian dead. It's one of the estimates out there. And Ambassador Bremer's name came up. Why was that? Any reason behind that?

President Bush: No, just — I mean, it was a factual point. What I was trying to say — or what I did say — was that there was a vacuum. We moved into it with the CPA. My point is we're constantly readjusting our strategy and the tactic — not the strategy, the strategy is clear — but the tactics to achieve a free Iraq. And that Bremer was the head of the CPA. And it was factual. So, people will remember.

Williams: A lot of people have seen in this series of speeches you're giving on Iraq, a movement in your position. They call it an acknowledgement that perhaps the mission has not gone as it was originally planned — three points: That the U.S. would be welcomed as liberators, that General Shinsecki, when he said this would take hundreds of thousands of troops in his farewell speech, might have been right. And third, that it wasn't a self-sustaining war in terms of the oil revenue. Do you concede those three points might not have gone as planned?

President Bush: Review them with me again.

Williams: Number one — that we'd be welcomed as liberators?

President Bush: I think we are welcomed. But it was not a peaceful welcome. There were some in society, rejectionists and the Saddamists and the terrorists that have moved in to stir them up that said, "We're going to prevent a democracy from emerging." But I think a lot of people are glad, I know a lot of people are glad we're there. And they're glad we're helping them train their troops so they can take the fight.

Williams: Was the force in Iraq, looking back, too small for the job?

President Bush: I remember the debate at the time. I remember John McCain, for example, saying, "You needed more troops." But I relied upon the judgment of General Tommy Franks. I felt then and I felt now that we had the troop levels that we needed. History will make that determination.

Williams: And how about the oil revenues?

President Bush: You mean on the Iraqi side?

Williams: Yes.

President Bush: Yes, they're not as great as we thought they'd be. Yet they're substantial. And the Iraqis are beginning to develop a budget, with the help of the IMF, that's a sustaining budget.

Williams: Do you believe this war was an elective on your part? Or did this have to come out of 9/11?

President Bush: Hmm, interesting question. Well, first of all, troops don't move unless I give the order. So, from that sense it was elective. I mean, I could have said, "No, we'll try to, you know, hope for the best with Saddam Hussein."

Remember at the time we didn't know the facts on the ground. We — everybody thought the guy had weapons of mass destruction. Everybody knew that he'd used weapons of mass destruction and had provided safe haven for terrorists. I mean, those were facts. Whether or not it had to happen is — it didn't have to happen since a human being made the decision. Whether or not it needed to happen, I'm still convinced it needed to happen.

Williams: You said again today if you had to do it all over again you'd do...

President Bush: I would. Remember what Dolpher found, the inspectors that went in there. They came back and said, "No, we didn't find the weapons that we all thought would be there. But we did know that he had the capacity to reconstitute a weapons program." And that he was a dangerous man. It would be even more dangerous had he survived, you know, yet another U.N. resolution.

Williams: One of the Sunday commentators who you like to watch so much said that you and your administration were in the process of defining victory down, true or false?

President Bush: You know, I don't think so. I think that's an unfair characterization. We believe that Iraq will be a democracy and know that Iraq as a democracy will be a strong ally in the war on terror. One of the things that we will do is make sure that Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorist plotting. That's been pretty much the stated objective all along.

Williams: Can we talk about torture for a moment? The United States right now is locked in talks. And they're going on in Washington. Why can't the United States be definitively against torture, the current definition they're talking about?

President Bush: Yeah, we will be. We are and we will be at home and abroad. And we're working through this issue with members of the House and the Senate. There's a reconciliation process going, or a, you know, coming together of minds, I guess is the best way to put it. And we want to see it happened. And we're working with both Senator McCain and Congressman Duncan Hunter.

Williams: Can you meet John McCain at his definition?

President Bush: Yes, I'm confident we can. On the other hand, we want to make sure that we're in a position to be able to interrogate without torture. These are people that still want to hurt us, Brian. And the American people expect us to do that which we can do within international law and our own declaration of supporting the premises of international law is what I really meant to say -- to protect us. I mean, if they know something, we need to know it. And we think we can find it without torturing people.

Williams: There is talk in Washington, as you may know, that because of acts that may have already taken place, you need to retain the power to pardon. Because certain interrogations may have violated the wording that may be agreed to, already, preexisting, things that have happened in the past. Can you confirm or deny that?

President Bush: In other words, your question is, will I have the power to pardon?

Williams: Right, but in the pursuit of the war on terror, that perhaps U.S. agents or agents acting in the name of the United States have violated the definition of torture.

President Bush: People who've violated the definition of torture will be held to account if that's what you're asking. Now, what we want to make sure of is that a person will be able to understand the rules, that's all, that there be clarity of the rules. Because we've got to be able to interrogate. I mean, I'm confident the American people expect us to do that without torturing. You would. If you found somebody that had information about an attack on America, you'd want to know as best as we can to find out what the facts are. And we have a duty and a responsibility to do that.

Williams: Have you ever entertained the thought, Mr. President, that Iraq's natural state may be three separate pieces, three separate nations?

President Bush: No, I haven't. I think — I know it will be united based upon, you know, kind of universal principles, the ones I outlined in the speech, freedom to worship, rule of law, private property, marketplace, all bound by a constitution which the Iraqis approved, and which the Iraqis will improve upon. And, you know, we improved on our own Constitution. In other words, it's a living document. And no, that would be a disaster, by the way, if it were three separate nations.

Williams: What effect did John Murtha's statement on this war have on you?

President Bush: On me?

Williams: Yes.

President Bush: Well, John Murtha's a fine guy. And he's, you know, he served our nation admirably. I just think he's wrong. I think the idea of having a, you know, a timetable for withdrawal, does three things that would be bad.

One, it emboldens the enemy. That's precisely what they want. They want us to withdraw. And — and oh, by the way, here, we're telling them when and how. And they will adjust accordingly.

Secondly, it sends a bad message to the Iraqis. We've said to the Iraqis, "We'll help train you. We'll stand with you. And we'll get you on your feet so you can take the fight to the enemy." And if our commanders on the ground say we're not ready to, you know, stand down — a timetable would dispirit the Iraqis.

Finally, it'll dispirit our troops. Because our troops know the mission hasn't been completed. But strategy and my plans are these. I will listen to the commanders. I understand war is objective-based, not timetable-based. And we will complete this mission for the good of the country.

Williams: In a publication out today, Congressman Murtha was interviewed. And he complains that — he compares it to his last frame of reference, your father's administration. He says your Dad used to come down to the House gymnasium once a week and talk to members. And that your father's administration consulted more with members like him. Will there be more of that in your second term?

President Bush: I have consulted with members of both parties throughout my presidency. And I can remember the run up to the Iraqi war which was the most important decision point and talking about the resolution. And we have members — I stood with members of both parties in the Rose Garden as we collectively decided that this was worth the effort of the United States. And — no, I continually reach out to members of Congress.

Williams: Let's talk about the economy, a subject I know you're anxious to talk about.

President Bush: Thank you.

Williams: Are you frustrated that more of the good economic news isn't front and center these days?

President Bush: A little bit, but I also think it's important to understand why people don't see or don't feel the improved economy. We do have a strong economy. It's third quarter growth was great.

We've added 4.5 million new jobs since April of 2003. Home ownership's at an all-time high. Small businesses are flourishing. I mean, this economy is good. And it's strong.

And yet some feel disconnected. Partially, it really does speak to the need for us to make sure our education system is such that people are continually — have the opportunity to get the skills necessary to fill the higher paying, better jobs that are emerging in our economy. But I'm pleased with it.

And the question is how do we keep growth going? One is to be fiscally sound with the people's money. Secondly, it's not to raise the taxes on the people. Thirdly, is to continue to press for legal reform and regulatory reform. Fourthly, is to continue to work with Congress to come up with rationale policy for energy.

I mean, the Katrina and Rita storms were a wakeup call for energy. Gas prices spiked. They're down now because I was able to take off some regulations off gasoline that enabled us to be able to import European gasoline to help make up the difference for the down refineries. But we got just a wakeup call. And we've got to be rational. And I think we can — I know we can do so in a way that protects our environment.

Williams: There's one estimate that 6 million Americans may request financial assistance just to stay warm...

President Bush: Heat? Yeah, we'll work with Congress on that, there certainly is. 

Williams: Can we afford that? Can we afford to help those people?

President Bush: Well, we'll have to see what the — yeah, I mean, we're going to have help them. If they can't afford energy — I mean, to heat their homes, we'll do the best we can to work with Congress to help them.

Williams: How would you sum up — I've been given the signal — How would you sum up your reception here in Philadelphia today? And will you keep doing this, having these conversations?

President Bush: I will. I'll keep taking my message to the people in a variety of formats. It's one way for me to be able to communicate directly with people. And, I unfortunately don't get to edit what's on your newscast.

On the other hand, I do know that by giving a speech that's broadcast say, n some of these channels that broadcast speeches, more and more people will be able to hear my side of the story, which is very important for the president to be able to do. And I enjoy it. I enjoy getting out and being with — I know — listen, in the audience, I realize everybody didn't agree with me. But that's — I'm confident in my message. And I am anxious to be able to talk to those that, you know, are willing to listen. I thought the reception was warm. And I appreciated it.

Williams: And finally about your life, we joked about this earlier. But you, because 9/11 happened on your watch, you are living with the tightest security around any president in American history. How have you learned to live with that with so few freedoms to go out and, as you said this morning, to Christmas shop and things like that?

President Bush: I think everything is relative. Well, I know everything is relative. And so therefore when I'm able to get on my mountain bike and ride after church at Quantico, it was — it just meant a lot to me.

The other thing is I take great comfort in my life from my family and my friends. And I've got a lot of great buddies. I got a lot of friends I grew up with in Texas and a lot of friends I went to college with. And when they come to Washington D.C., which they do quite frequently, it's — you know, it's fun to hang around and to shoot the breeze.

They don't have agendas. If they think something's wrong they'll tell me. It's very relaxing. And it's a way for me to, you know, keep my feet on the ground.

Williams: So, you don't worry about a shortage of people willing to speak truth to power?

President Bush: No, not at all — particularly these people, I mean, some of whom you know are quite straightforward. But on the other hand, they also understand that they can play a great role, you know, in helping me — allowing me to maintain a perspective. Listen, friends are just a vital part of my life.

And there's nothing neater than showing, or sharing, the White House experience with people you're comfortable with. And it's a fantastic experience by the way. I like to make decisions. As you know, I'm willing to stand by my decisions. Some don't like that aspect about my presidency. But nevertheless, that's just the way I am.

And it's an honor to represent the country. We are a fabulous nation, with great principles and wonderful people. And it's unbelievably exciting to represent America around the world and to call upon the compassion here at home.

Williams: Thank you, Mr. President.