WASHINGTON – In his first formal press conference in nearly four months, President Bush said that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein would be gone during his administration.
"Yes," Bush said when asked whether his goal was to get rid of the dictator and long-term nemesis of the United States. "It is the stated policy of this government to have a regime change (in Iraq). People shouldn't speculate about a regime change."
Speaking in his first unlimited question-and-answer session with the White House press since March, Bush repeated that he doesn't know if terrorist leader Usama bin Laden is dead or alive, but the war against terror is more than just one man.
The president urged Congress to pass spending measures to help the military fight the war against terror, and said that he would outline measures to create greater corporate responsibility during a speech Tuesday.
"Further delays are intolerable. Congress must act," Bush told reporters in a press room conference at the White House. "I know this is an election year and Republicans and Democrats will focus on politics ... but we must not be distracted from the important work we share."
Bush asked Congress to get up to speed on other key issues, including giving him enhanced ability to make global trade deals, creating a Department of Homeland Security and enacting welfare reform.
He also urged the Senate to protect employee pensions by passing reform legislation that has already been approved by the House.
The president will deliver an address on Wall Street Tuesday outlining efforts to make companies more responsible for their accounting practices. He said he wants to provide more money and investigators for the Securities and Exchange Commission and increase criminal penalties on those who participate in corporate fraud.
He spoke as former top executives of WorldCom invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination at a House Financial Services Committee hearing on a $3.9 billion loss cover-up.
WorldCom's problems are the latest in a line of questionable stock deals by chief executives as well as admissions of unresolvable debt from Enron energy company, GlobalCrossing telecommunications, ImClone medical research company, and defense, energy and telecommunications conglomerate Tyco.
But, the president said, the successive chain of failures should not indicate that all companies are bad.
"It is the few that have created the stains that we must deal with," Bush said. "We have a duty to every worker, shareholder in America to punish the guilty."
Both the president and Vice President Dick Cheney are former business executives and have been touched personally by the controversy over corporate ethics.
Cheney served as chairman and chief executive officer of Halliburton Co. before becoming vice president. The Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into accounting methods the oil field services giant adopted in 1998 for reporting cost overruns on construction jobs.
The president defended his record after a report came out last week questioning his moral authority on corporate responsibility because of his own stock dealings with Harken Energy in 1992. Bush made nearly $900,000 off a stock sale when the company was suffering a bad patch. The company rebounded, and the Securities and Exchange Commission said the president's failure to get the company to inform the SEC of his stock sale was not a significant infringement.
"The SEC fully looked into the matter, they looked at every aspect of it ... and the people who looked into it said they have no case," Bush said.
The president added that he has full faith in SEC chairman Harvey Pitt, who has been accused of moving too slowly to punish the company executives and to institute new reforms to accounting practices.
"This is an amazing town in which he barely got his uniform on, barely got a chance to perform, and they're ready for him to move on," Bush said of congressional calls to get rid of Pitt, who has been on the job for less than a year. "And since I am the decision maker, I am going to give him a chance to perform."
On another issue, the president said he hasn't yet made a decision on how widely the government should administer smallpox vaccinations to guard against any outbreak of the disease.
"I worry about calling for a national vaccination" because of the health risk it could pose to a limited number of people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.