President Bush sat down Thursday with NBC Chief White House Correspondent David Gregory during his visit to the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona. What follows is a complete transcript of their conversation.
David Gregory: Mr. President, on your immigration plan, Republican critics have been outspoken. The California governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, called the deployment of National Guard troops “a mere Band-Aid.” And House Republicans, who are key to this debate have also been outspoken. This is what Charlie Norwood said, of Georgia: “The people of my district are ready to throw anybody and everybody out of office that won’t bring this nightmare to a stop. The plan the president proposed,” he said, “is not what the American people want.” Why are conservative Republican critics wrong?
President George W. Bush: I get criticized from the right and the left, David. There are some who said you should be for amnesty, which I think is a mistake. There are some, I guess they’re for deportation, which I don’t think will work. What I’m for is a comprehensive border plan that recognizes that we can, we need to, increase the border patrol. And until we get 6,000 additional agents set up, there needs to be National Guard here to help the people who are doing the job down here. And we need fencing along parts of the border. We need infra-red, we need motion detectors, UAV — aimed to help us secure this border. But you can not secure the border, in my judgment, without a temporary worker plan. ’Cause we got people coming here to work. They’re doing jobs that American’s aren’t doing. They’re sneaking across the border. It seems like, if we're trying to enforce the border, it makes sense to let them come here on a temporary basis, to do jobs that Americans aren’t doing, provided they can pass a criminal background check.
Gregory: So, what do you do to get House Republicans on board?
President Bush: Well, first thing is to get a bill out of the Senate. You’re talking about the House Republicans — they’ve got a bill out that’s in conference. Let’s get it out of the Senate first. First things first. A lot of people didn’t think there’d be a bill coming out of the Senate. And now it looks like they’re going to get a comprehensive bill out of the Senate. Then we’ll get it in conference and continue to work the issue.
Gregory: Let me ask you about your leadership. In the most recent survey, your disapproval rating is now one point lower than Richard Nixon’s before he resigned the presidency. You’re laughing...
President Bush: I’m not laughing.
Gregory: Why do you think that is?
President Bush: Because we’re at war. And war unsettles people. Listen, we’ve got a great economy. We’ve added 5.2 million jobs in the last two-and-a-half years, but people are unsettled. They don’t look at the economy and say, 'life is good.' They know we’re at war. And I’m not surprised that people are unsettled because of war. The enemy’s got a powerful tool — that is to get on your TV screen by killing innocent people. And my job is to continue to remind the people it’s worth it. We’re not going to retreat hastily. We’re not going to pull out of there before the job’s done and we’ve got a plan for victory.
Gregory: They’re not just unsettled, sir. They disapprove of the job you’re doing.
President Bush: That’s unsettled.
Gregory: That’s how you see it?
President Bush: Yeah, I do. I see it as the war has… the war is… the war is difficult. And I understand that. I understand why people wonder whether we can win the war or not. But there’s a big difference between some of us who believe we’re doing the right thing and moving forward and a group of people who want to pull out before the jobs is done.
Gregory: Do you think it's possible that, like Nixon and Watergate, the American people have rendered a final judgment of disapproval on you and your war in Iraq?
President Bush: Of course not. I’ve got two-and-a-half years left to be President of the United States and I intend to get a lot done, including immigration reform. Yesterday, I signed the extension of tax relief. We’re making good progress on cutting this deficit in half. I’ve got a lot to do and I’m going to work with the Congress and get things done on behalf of the American people. We’ve got a positive agenda that is making a difference in people’s lives. I’m also not going to retreat in the face of adverse polls. I’m going to do what I think is right and complete the mission in Iraq. And I believe a free Iraq is going to make the world a better place.
Gregory: Let me ask you a little something about your style. You've said in this immigration debate that you want to find "rational middle ground" on this issue. What other areas can the American people expect you to urge a more centrist approach to policy?
President Bush: I think cutting people's taxes is rational. Particularly since it's worked; it's caused the economy to grow.
Gregory: Is that middle ground?
President Bush: I think it is. You're the people who put labels on people, I don't. I said "rational." Cutting taxes is rational. I think keeping taxes low is rational because it's working. I think the Medicare bill was rational middle ground. We said to seniors, "The system wasn't working, we're going to reform it." You've now got a prescription drug benefit that helps low-income seniors in particular. No longer do seniors have to choose between food and medicine. To me, another way to look at, is just common sense policies.
Gregory: You mentioned two-and-a-half years. What's the momentum changer, in your mind, for your presidency, to turn it around.
President Bush: Well, I guess Iraq. I mean, that’s what colors everybody’s vision, it seems like. People are worried about Iraq. People see progress in Iraq, they'll realize that we can win. You see, most Americans want us to win. They want us to do well in Iraq. They don't want to retreat. Unity government will help in Iraq. The fact that more Iraqis are in the fight will help.
Gregory: Will the finished product be as you envisioned it, though?
President Bush: In Iraq? Yeah, it will. A nation that can sustain itself, govern itself, defend itself, and be a strong ally in the war on terror. And will deny safe haven to al-Qaida.
Gregory: Thank you, Mr. President.
President Bush: David, thank you.