The Real West Wing

On the eve of the State of the Union Address by President Bush, Dan Bartlett, Director of Communications for the White House, chats with about the state of the union and the administration’s hopes for the year ahead. Mr. Bartlett took chatters’ questions over the phone. His answers were relayed to the chat room by a typist conferenced in on the phone call transcribed below. Chat producer Will Femia moderates.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Our guest today is White House Director of Communications, Dan Bartlett, here to talk to us about the state of the union and the State of the Union Address to be given by President Bush tomorrow.

Welcome Mr. Bartlett.

Question from tara: What is your background? How did you land such an incredible job?

Dan Bartlett: I am, ironically, the longest continuous serving staff member to the President of the United States. I went to work for President Bush in October of 1993 in preparation for his first run for governor of Texas. I got into politics in Texas by working for Karl Rove who was a political consultant and is now a senior advisor to the President. It was while I was completing my school at the University of Texas at Austin and it’s been downhill ever since. (laughing)

Question from SGT Follett, U S Army: Thank you for the military pay increase...BUT…the surrounding community (in the states and overseas) takes full advantage of the pay raise and increases rates of rent, utilities, etc. commensurate to the pay raise. This is a “bummer” for that young Private First Class with two children that gets a pay raise but it disappears with everything else that increases. To top it off, his wife actually believes that the pay raise is “free and clear” of what that family used to make and heads out on a shopping extravaganza. The issue is not the pay raise, it is the raising of prices of all parties concerned... My question is, is there any way to ACTUALLY get a pay raise and stop the surrounding “vultures” from swallowing it all up?

MSNBC-Will Femia: Obviously we don’t expect the president to solve the problems this man has with his wife’s love for shopping, but let’s use this one as a springboard to talk about the President’s ideas for improving the military.

Dan Bartlett: President Bush believes it’s critical, particularly in times of war, to provide the necessary resources to the men and women who wear our uniform. In this year’s budget the President will announce a $38 billion dollar increase to win the war on terrorism and provide for the men and women who wear our uniform. This will include an additional pay raise of about close to 5% as well as improved housing and living conditions. Defense spending will be a clear budget priority in addition to the homeland fighting the recession.

Question from Richard Poore: I read that the President wants more money in the budget to go for the war effort. My question is that since 9-11 was mainly due to an intelligence failure, how much does Bush want to put into the military and how much does he want to put into intelligence gathering like the CIA?

Dan Bartlett: After the attack of September 11th, our country must provide unprecedented funding to protecting the homeland. This will include increases in our law enforcement capabilities as well as our intelligence capabilities. The President is gratified to hear reports of young Americans wanting to serve our country in the intelligence community. Another important aspect of improving our intelligence capabilities is to upgrade our technological capabilities and the president’s budget will make key investments in new technology.

MSNBC-Will Femia: We had a few questions about Mexico. Let’s try this one.

Question from Jennifer Barber: Just before September 11, President Bush was doing a lot of meeting with President Fox of Mexico. Will he return to that relationship now that the first phase of the war on terror is wrapping up?

Dan Bartlett: America’s relationship with Mexico is very important and President Bush appreciates the relationship our country has with President Fox. President Bush will be traveling to Monterrey later this year to continue our dialogue on increasing opportunities for America as well as continuing to reform our borders to ensure a better, more efficient immigration policy.

Question from jasper: I don’t understand how the president mixes increased military spending with continued tax rebates. I’m not saying I want higher or more taxes, but wouldn’t it be better to put the give-backs on hold until the country is back on its feet and there’s a surplus again?

Dan Bartlett: President Bush believes the one way to guarantee budget surpluses is to create economic growth in America. Economic growth will lead to larger surpluses in the years to come. President Bush believes the tax relief passed by Congress last year will help spur economic growth and create jobs in America and create the surpluses he refers to.

Question from Chris Donohoe: I would like more than anything to see President Bush take Tom Daschle head on. He has obstructed long enough. Will he get tough with Democrats? Also what do you think about campaign finance. It seems to be a no win situation for Republicans as we cant keep up with the liberal bias that exists in the mainstream media. Mary Matalin had a poll that had 80% of journalists as declared liberals that vote Democrat. Why should we expect them to be fair during elections with equal coverage?

Dan Bartlett: President Bush is gratified to have bipartisan support in prosecuting the war on terrorism. He will call on Congress tomorrow night to provide the same type of bipartisanship in tackling domestic issues here at home. Last year, the Senate failed to act on important measures including assistance for the unemployed, comprehensive energy policy and increased trade opportunities. But he’s confident Senator Daschle will understand the importance of acting on these issues early this year.

With regards to campaign finance reform, the President supports reforms that will improve the system without unfairly punishing the vast majority of America’s workers who want to contribute to the political process.

Question from Cheryl O’Connell: Has the Enron scandal made the president want to re-prioritize campaign finance higher on his list of issues to deal with? or what else does the President see as something that needs to change to prevent another Enron type prevent another Enron type situation? Thanks, Cheryl

MSNBC-Will Femia: What’s the lesson from Enron?

Dan Bartlett: The President is outraged over the Enron financial scandal. Tomorrow he will outline and call on Congress to embark on necessary reforms to protect America’s pensions. This administration will also conduct a wide investigation to hold those accountable for the actions at Enron. He will continue to focus on ways to make sure future bankruptcies don’t have the same negative impact on thousands of employees and investors.

Question from Mike Lambert: Will the president continue to call for the repeal of the Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax, after revelations that the repeal would have given Enron over $250 million?

Dan Bartlett: The President supports tax relief and tax rebates for America’s workers and does not believe we should tax companies while their profits decline because that would hurt the workers who work for those companies. I’m not sure of the specific numbers Mike has used but the President’s policies are aimed at helping all of America’s workers not just a few.

Question from Donna Melencort: I know this chat is about the state of the US and not the world, but since the state of the world is an inescapable factor in the state of US (as demonstrated by 9/11 and the war on terror), is there still such thing as exclusively domestic issues and agendas? It almost seems like President Bush should give a state of the world address.

Dan Bartlett: That’s interesting. Our war on terrorism is joined by a strong international coalition. Our goal is to root out global terrorism so Donna is correct in saying we must address issues that face the world during this time of war. The President tomorrow night will discuss our war aims and how we can unite around the world in fighting against the evil-doers.

Question from Jay Kline: Given how much has changed in the world and the US since George Bush took office a year ago, how much have his priorities or ideas for the country changed? Obviously the Homeland security issues are bigger, but what about other stuff, economy, etc???

Dan Bartlett: That’s correct, the President’s focus is on winning the war on terrorism and protecting the homeland. But our nation also is in recession which started in March of last year. The President will continue to focus on policies to create jobs in America and spend as much time as necessary to get our economy growing again.

Question from Rene Theriault: How much of the State of the Union did you write? On the show the president only signs off on it at the very end after the staff writes it. Is that true? How much of it will President Bush “wing it” and how much is scripted?

Dan Bartlett: The President has been very involved in the drafting of this speech and you never wing it in front of 60 million Americans. (laughing)

He’s proud of the speech and believes it will speak to the issues that are most important to the American people.

Question from Eric Tuccerino: Hello, can you explain more about the decision to dump the 80 mpg car research and move to hydrogen cell research? Is that a hint of future policies to come? Is it a reflection on environmental policy? energy policy? economic policy?

Dan Bartlett: The administration believes we have the capabilities to develop new technologies that will result in more efficient cars as well as cars that may be operated on hydrogen in the future. We should not limit ourselves to one goal over the other, we believe we can shoot for both.

Question from Claudia Niebanck: With rising concern over nuclear armament, will Star Wars program be an optional defense for U.S.?

MSNBC-Will Femia: Is that part of the defense spending increase he’s looking for?

Dan Bartlett: A part of the request for increased spending on defense will include building our national missile defense system to protect against rogue attacks on America or our allies. Over the last year we’ve made great progress in developing a consensus on a need for a national defense system. The President is committed to doing everything we can to protect against rogue attacks.

Question from Dan Bundt: What is the one thing that the president has not been able to work on because of the 9-11 attacks? How close are we to being “done” with that and what will be the main priority then? Keep up the good work, Dan

Dan Bartlett: Unfortunately, our war against terrorism will not end soon. Our work has just begun. The terrorist organization that was responsible for the attacks of September 11th still have active cells in more than 60 countries. This war will require the patience of the American people and this president is committed to seeing it through.

Question from Ray Clinite from Texas: Mr. Bartlett do you think in the near future that there will be any good bills introduced for help on perscription drugs for the people that are on medicare? The cost is terrible and people on fixed incomes just cant afford their medicine. I think this country should help the older people more on this thanks Ray

Question from Garnette Bane, Only child, Durable Power/Attorney: As a volunteer for older citizens’ physical and financial concerns (as well as a caregiver for my 93-year-old mother who has been in an assisted living facility 13 years), I would like to know what this administration plans to do regarding medications (for those who must choose between meds and meals) and if there could be tax incentives for adult children who are the primary caregivers for parents who have long ago have long ago depleted their resources.

MSNBC-Will Femia: This question goes on to detail this person’s specific situation, but I wonder if you could speak generally to the issue of the growing number of elderly and planning for their care.

Dan Bartlett: Actually, that’s an interesting point because, ironically, today the President met with a bipartisan group of lawmakers to discuss Medicare reform that will provide prescription drugs for America’s seniors. The President will propose in his new budget for next year $190 billion dollars in additional spending to strengthen Medicare for America’s seniors. He has also, during his campaign for president, proposed a tax credit for younger Americans who are caring for their elderly parents. So he will continue to work on ways to make health care more affordable and accessible for America’s seniors.

Question from Wesley_Snyder: President Bush announced today that the United States would help Afghanistan set up and train its own military. Any clue as to how long we will keep people over there?

Question from Mark Feng: I think a lot of Americans feel like we’ve been paying so much attention to other countries that our own country is slipping down hill. What is the president’s plan for getting the country back on track and reassuring the people that the overseas stuff is in hand and now we’re going to work on sorting ourselves out?

Dan Bartlett: Today President Bush made a long term commitment to the rebuilding of Afghanistan.

In order to prevent another situation where Osama bin Laden can take over a country, it’s important the United States and our allies provide the leadership and assistance to rebuild Afghanistan. While we rebuild Afghanistan it’s also important we rebuild parts of things here at home. That’s why the president is committed to enacting programs to create jobs in America, to extend economic security to every American. Both are big priorities for the president in this coming year.

Question from Msjournalist: Will the president speak about airline security. Experts all say we are not close to being safe

Question from Robert Dow: What has the beefed up airport security done to detect identity theft, fake IDs passports etc? and why is there so much made of new hi tech security when the recent hijackers were lo tech? Comment: Failure to arm pilots takes away a deterrent, and the advantages far outweigh the risks

Dan Bartlett: Our airports are safer than ever before. But we will continue to commit the necessary resources to make them even more safe. The President and Congress created a new airport security agency, committed resources to increase Sky Marshals on our airplanes and on a temporary basis provided National Guardsmen to guard our airports during the holiday season. We will continue to work to improve technology and our monitoring systems to help deter future terrorist attacks.

Question from regina m. halloran: Mr. Bartlett, As the media focuses and harps on “recession” since 9/11, I hope the president takes a more positive and reassuring comeback tomorrow evening. It was without question the airlines and tourism that would suffer greatly after that tragedy. It doesn’t mean that all business and growth should be at a standstill. The message should be to all: live life to its fullest. We should be on our guard and watchful, but when we come to a standstill and allow fear to take over, terrorists or terrorism wins.

Dan Bartlett: No question. America faces a unique moment in history and he will commit our nation to achieving three great goals. To win the war on terrorism, strengthen protection of our homeland and create jobs in America. His speech tomorrow night will be very optimistic because he’s confident the American people can rise to the challenge. I appreciate those comments.

Question from D_Via: Who is cuter, you or Toby Zeigler?

Dan Bartlett: (laughing) Oh Man! Hands down, I am, I’ve still got all my hair! :

MSNBC-Will Femia: LOL! And it’s on the top of your head!

Dan Bartlett: That’s right.

MSNBC-Will Femia: Thanks very much Mr. Bartlett, I really appreciate you taking this time with us today.

DanBartlett: All right. No problem.

MSNBC-Will Femia: And thanks chatters for your questions.