Transcript: Presidential Adviser Dan Bartlett on 'FNS'

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: With the inauguration days away here in Washington, and with elections in Iraq just two weeks from today, we thought this was a good time to check in with one of the president's closest advisers, Dan Bartlett, counselor to the president.

Mr. Bartlett, welcome. Good to see you again.


WALLACE: There was an article by an historian the other day that noted that second inaugural addresses tend to be longer, more detailed about government programs, and a lot less memorable.


Is President Bush going to follow that trend this week?

BARTLETT: I hope not.

President Bush, first and foremost, is looking forward to the opportunity to be sworn in as president for the next four years. And he looks forward to the opportunity this speech provides to give what I would call an historical marker as to where our country stands today, our government, the philosophy and agenda that he intends to pursue.

We have incredible challenges, as you know, Chris, in our country and in the world today. We also have a lot of opportunities on which we can seize.

And what President Bush is going to do is to speak directly to not only the American people but also the world about how we can lead this country and this world to peace through liberty and how we can help Americans here at home get a bigger stake in America's society through ownership by reforming some of the institutions that reflect some of the key priorities of our country, whether it be our retirement system, our tax code, health care, et cetera.

But I think you could describe this speech as one which lays out the philosophical framework and the guiding principles which President Bush and this government will follow for the next four years.

WALLACE: Are those the major themes — pushing democracy overseas and pushing ownership, private savings accounts, private health accounts, here at home?

BARTLETT: Well, it really is a liberty speech — how we promote liberty overseas, which is in our direct interest for security here at home, as well as liberty here at home. And that means giving people more control over their lives, giving them a stake in the future of America by giving them more control and more power to make decisions on their own behalf.

And that's a key philosophical underpinning of President Bush's philosophy and agenda, and that's what he'll speak to this week.

As you know, following that will be the State of the Union address is about 10 days or so. And there, President Bush will give more of a detailed, more traditional blueprint for how do you enact that philosophical agenda.

WALLACE: There have been, as you know, some memorable phrases in inaugural addresses: Lincoln's "with malice toward none," Jack Kennedy's "Ask not." Is there a phrase in this speech that you think might stand the test of time?

BARTLETT: I believe there are a couple good phrases. This is a very powerful speech. It's one that President Bush believes in deep in his bones. And I think that's the first key test: Does the person giving the speech believe in what they're saying? And I think this is a very important speech and one which the president is very excited about giving.

WALLACE: Let's turn to Iraq. And we were talking about what the president said in his interview that's published today in The Washington Post, this so-called "accountability moment." He basically said that he saw the election as a ratification of his policies and that there's no need to hold officials accountable for any misjudgments or mistakes.

Does he really believe that the election wipes the slate clean on everything that's happened up to this point?

BARTLETT: Well, I think what President Bush was pointing out was that there was two very different, competing versions or visions or what was happening in Iraq, why we were there, and what the outcome of that was going to be, between himself and Senator John Kerry.

And what President Bush was saying was that there was a debate about the approach, the decision, the rationale, and what we believe will be the long-term results of it, and he believes that the American people agreed with his assessment.

That's not to say that, as he went on to say in the interview, that there were not different things that we look at of things we expected to happen or things that didn't happen. And this administration is taking steps in that regard.

As you know, there is a commission that he formed to look into the fact of why we didn't find WMD, what was wrong with the intelligence. The Silverman-Robb Commission is what it's called. They're due back with their report early this year. And I think there we will find some structural reforms, if need be, beyond the ones that have already been taken.

So I think it's a two-fold answer. And what he focused on there was, there was a case made that the course taken by this administration was the wrong course when it came to Iraq. It was heard by the American people, and they embraced President Bush's vision.

WALLACE: I want to follow up on this question of accountability because in another part of the interview with The Washington Post, the president said that he is not going to push a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages because so many senators feel that the Defense of Marriage Act, which is already on the books, is sufficient.

If the election was an "accountability moment," as he said, isn't he breaking a campaign promise that he made to all those social conservatives, that he was going to push an amendment?

BARTLETT: Absolutely not, because President Bush is going to continue to articulate why he thinks it's important that we have an amendment.

What he was speaking to was his legislative realities in the United States Senate in which 67 votes are required. That is a huge hurdle to overcome. And he was just pointing to the legislative realities.

That doesn't mean he's not willing to spend political capital. He is. He will. And he'll continue to talk about why he thinks it's important that we have an amendment.

WALLACE: But he's not going to push an amendment, at least until he sees — it seemed to be whether or not the Defense of Marriage Act is ruled unconstitutional.

BARTLETT: He was saying that the DOMA situation, the Defense of Marriage Act, might be the changing force in the United States Senate. But that's not going to change his views or change his desire to help persuade people to make that decision today.

So he will continue to talk about it and support it. And I think that is very consistent with what he campaigned on.

WALLACE: But what do you say to those social conservatives? It was a big issue in this campaign.

BARTLETT: Absolutely.

WALLACE: It was on the ballot, I believe, in, what, nine states, 11 states, and it passed in all of them. What do you say to social conservatives who say, "Hey, he talked about pushing the amendment. Now, suddenly, he's not going to push it"?

BARTLETT: No, he's going to. That's what I'm saying, is that he's going to continue to talk about the amendment. He's going to continue to talk about why he thinks it's necessary that we move forward because of the actions of judges in certain states that are going to overturn what has been — what we believe very successful institutions that have been in place for centuries, and that is: marriage be between a man and a woman. And he's going to continue to make that case.

What he was talking about is the very specific legislative reality in the United States Senate, that he believed that the reason why more senators didn't support it because first they wanted to see the Defense of Marriage Act tested to see if it was going to be overturned.

That's not inconsistent. And I think he would say to all Americans who supported his view on that that he'll continue to make that view known.

WALLACE: But at least at this point, he doesn't see a useful purpose in putting it in the legislative hopper and voting on it, even if it is going to go down?

BARTLETT: Well, I think that's up to the United States senators to whether they're going to put it in the legislative hopper. He's going to continue to make the case why he thinks that they should.

He's saying that the math as far as 67 votes in the United States Senate is more contingent upon what happens to DOMA.

WALLACE: OK. Let's turn if we can to another big issue, maybe the top of your legislative agenda on the domestic front: Social Security.

The president keeps saying that there is a crisis, that if there is no change the system will go broke by 2042. Let's look.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want you to think about a Social Security system that will be flat bust, bankrupt, unless the United States Congress has got the willingness to act now.


WALLACE: As a simple fact, isn't that wrong?

BARTLETT: Absolutely not. And the bottom line is — the fact of the matter is that when you take the Social Security system as it is, this is a mathematical issue, not an ideological issue.

In 1950, there were about 16 workers...

WALLACE: Let me just interrupt, because I know the fact that there were 14 workers for every person when it was first — the fact is that in 2042, if you did absolutely nothing to the system, it wouldn't be broke. It wouldn't be bankrupt. In fact, there would be a problem, but you would be able to still pay about three-quarters of everybody's guaranteed benefits.

BARTLETT: But what you're talking about — in 2018 we go into the red. 2042, you start actually bankrupting the system, which you're having to get funds elsewhere.

You're right, the payroll taxes at that moment could pay about 70 percent of the benefits.

WALLACE: But that isn't bankrupt.

BARTLETT: Well, it's absolutely bankrupt, because you're absolutely in the red, and you're having to take dollars from elsewhere. And that problem only continues to get worse.

People want to take snapshots of this problem, when, in fact, if you look at it, the revenue line coming in continues to grow away from the benefits that are provided going out. And that problem only continues to get worse.

And the bottom line, or the reason why it's a crisis, is that if we do not tackle this issue now, the problem gets worse each year by a tune of about $600 billion. That's the type of problems we shouldn't be kicking down the road.

We have an obligation to commit ourselves, this generation of leaders, to the next generation, our children and grandchildren, who deserve to have a Social Security system that is there.

Now, those who want to say that there is not a problem, I think that they will be judged more harshly by the American people than those who are willing to put solutions on the table and talk about real ways that we can fix the Social Security system.

WALLACE: The president is now talking about Congress approving his plan by June 1st. Do you really think you can get this big a reform through Congress in basically a little over four months?

BARTLETT: Well, you're referring to The Washington Post story he talked — or from some stories...

WALLACE: Stories this week.

BARTLETT: ... this week talking about a five-month calendar. And what he believes is, in this first five months, we can make some serious legislative progress in the case.

Now, whether there will be an actual bill signing by the end of five months, I think he would say that might not be the case. But he believes that both the House and the Senate can take major action in the course of this spring, in the next five months or so. We will continue to push this process.

He believes through his consultations with the leadership that they see, they recognize that we need a Social Security system that fits this century's needs, not last century's needs. And that's something that will be an important debate for the American people to hear.

And the first part of this debate is one we're having here, and that is whether there is an issue in the first place, whether there is a challenge to the Social Security system and whether it needs to be fixed. President Bush believes it does. There are people, there are opponents to reform, there are opponents to action.

And we believe that's the first part of this debate, but we do believe that the United States Senate and the United States House of Representatives should move forward in a very vigorous way through the course of this spring. We think we can make a lot of progress.

WALLACE: Finally, I want to ask you about the investigation into the CBS News report about the president's service in the Texas Air National Gaurd.

When the infamous memos couldn't be authenticated, Dan Rather apologized for the story. But the independent panel says that Rather told them — and here it is, you can take a look at it — he still believes that the content of the documents is accurate.

What do you make of that, Mr. Bartlett?

BARTLETT: That's something that Mr. Rather's going to have to speak to. I think this was a pretty vigorous report that was done. I think it shows the problems in the reporting that took place.

I've been dealing with this issue of the National Guard for the president for many years now. There's been a lot of conspiracy theories that have been...

WALLACE: No, but I'm going to try to hold you to the point. What do you make of the fact that Dan Rather says he still thinks, despite his apology, he basically still stands by the story?

BARTLETT: Well, again, I think that's a total mischaracterization of the facts, and I think that the independent panel demonstrated that his position is wrong.

WALLACE: It's obviously CBS's call, but what do you think of the fact that after he steps down as anchor, he's going to stay on as a correspondent on the very same broadcast, "60 Minutes Wednesday," that did the report that he still stands by?

BARTLETT: Well, that's a decision for CBS to make. We believe it was important that all the facts be shown to the American people, and what we saw was that this was not a report that lived up to what CBS calls their own journalistic standards.

WALLACE: There was a report, and I want to ask you about it. Did the president of CBS News, Andrew Hayward, meet with you in the last month or so to discuss this whole issue?

BARTLETT: I meet with members of news organizations all the time. I have met with Mr. Hayward. This was a brief conversation. It was talking more about the relationship between CBS and the White House for the next four years, in which we are going to constructively work with all news organizations, including CBS.

WALLACE: Did he try to reassure you that CBS News coverage will be fair and balanced?


BARTLETT: He didn't use that formulation precisely, but he did talk about a need and a desire to want to make sure that they get the stories accurate as possible and that we have a relationship in which we can be constructive on behalf of the American people.

WALLACE: And are there any hard feelings on the part of the White House?

BARTLETT: No, no. I think an important...

WALLACE: And if not, why not?

BARTLETT: Because I think the facts came out, and I think that this investigation shows that people are being held account. The facts are there for the American people to see for themselves.

I am glad, and I'm sure the president is, that he's no longer going to be on the ballot, so there's no more elections for President Bush, so this may be the last time we have to deal with the Guard issue.

WALLACE: Mr. Bartlett, thank you. Thanks for coming in. Always a pleasure.

BARTLETT: Thank you.