Transcript: President Bush on 'FOX News Sunday'

Published February 11, 2008

| FoxNews.com

The following is a partial transcript of the Feb. 10. 2008, edition of "FOX News Sunday With Chris Wallace":

"FOX NEWS SUNDAY" HOST CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. President, I know you're not ready to endorse yet in the presidential race, so I am going to ask you a non-endorsement question. This last week you talked to the CPAC conference and you said soon you will have a nominee who will carry a conservative banner.

Question: Is John McCain a true conservative?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Absolutely. I know him well. I know his convictions. I know the principles that drive him and no doubt in my mind he is a true conservative. Now I do want to make sure that you don't rope me into getting into this primary before it ends because we have another conservative candidate in Mike Huckabee still running.

WALLACE: I understand that. I'm not asking for an endorsement. I — but let me ask you to continue on McCain. Rush Limbaugh says that McCain's nomination would destroy the Republican Party. Ann Coulter says she would vote for Hillary Clinton because she's more of a conservative than McCain is.

What do you think of that kind of talk?

BUSH: I think that if John is the nominee, he has got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative and I'll be glad to help him if he is the nominee ...

WALLACE: Why do you ...

BUSH: But he is a conservative. Look, he is very strong on national defense. He is tough fiscally. He believes the tax cuts ought to be permanent. He is pro-life. His principles are sound and solid as far as I'm concerned.

WALLACE: Why do you think there is — you talk about convincing to do — why do you think there is such personal animosity towards Senator McCain among some elements of the conservative (inaudible) ...

BUSH: Probably some personal animosity toward me. You can't please all the people all the time. But part of a campaign is for the nominee of the party to rally the party and to rally the folks that are going to end up being the base from which he operates and I had to do that. Every nominee has had to do that and whoever our nominee is going to have to do it.

It's just the process. Primaries tend to divide up the parties and there is a period of time in which the candidate who is in the process of becoming the leader of a party, must work to bring as much of the party together as possible. That's just the normal course of primary politics.

WALLACE: Let's talk about some of the issues that give conservatives heartburn with McCain and quite frankly issues where he broke with you. He was one of only two Republicans — I don't have to remind you — who voted against your tax cuts. The first time, he said because he said they tilted too far towards the rich.

BUSH: He is for making the tax cuts permanent.

WALLACE: And what he did in 2001 and 2003 doesn't bother you?

BUSH: No. He absolutely has said that and he's the kind of fellow who says something, he'll do it and he said, these tax cuts ought to be made permanent. See, you're trying to get me in the trap again of getting involved in this primary and it's not even over yet.

WALLACE: I'm not ...

BUSH: You're doing a fairly effective job of it, Chris. I congratulate you on that.

WALLACE: Well, let me just ask you ...

BUSH: Another question on McCain?

WALLACE: I will. He also disagreed with you on campaign finance reform. And on limits in the interrogation of terror detainees.

BUSH: Look, you can find — in the course of any senators career a place where they may have different with the president. The question I asked myself and I hope voters ask, what are the principles by which this person will be making decisions? That's the most important thing to me.

And we have got two conservative candidates running for office, our party will soon decide who that — who are banner carriers will be and our candidate will be certainly more conservative than the other.

WALLACE: I'm going to ask you about the choice in a moment. Let me ask you about Mike Huckabee to give equal time.

Mike Huckabee, you say, a good conservative, accused your foreign policy of displaying an arrogant bunker mentality.

BUSH: I think he has tried to walk back that position. I haven't spoke to Mike about that but again, in the course of a primary, in the course of a campaign, people are going to say things that people try to blow up into major crises. I've known Mike a long time. I was the governor of Texas. He was the governor of Arkansas.

He is a solid conservative person and the thing — I remember Mike when he weighed a lot and I'll never forget getting off at the airplane and there he was at the foot of Air Force One and I couldn't recognize him.

And the reason I bring that up is he's disciplined. He sets a goal and he takes care of business.

I'm sure that you can find quotes from people running for office that sound like they're at odds with me. But the point — what really matters in a campaign what are the basic beliefs. What is one's view of the role of the federal government? We believe government ought to be empowering people. We ought to trust people. The other side tends to want to empower government.

We believe taxes ought to be low. They want to raise taxes. We believe we ought to be on the offense against an enemy. That this isn't — this War on Terror is not just a simple law enforcement matter. It requires all assets, all hands on deck to protect the American people. We believe in the transformative power of freedom. In other words, there's certain principles, and that's what I look for in these candidates.

WALLACE: So what do you say to those conservatives, those Republicans who have questions about both of these candidates? As you know, the Club for Growth, some of the anti-tax and spending groups have problems with Huckabee as well. What do you say to them when they're running their litmus tests on McCain or Huckabee.

BUSH: I say if you're seeking — looking for perfection, you'll never find that person. I certainly wasn't a perfect candidate for a lot of folks. You're not going to find perfection.

But what you ought to look at is look at the person's heart, look at the principles. And determine what's the best course for the nation and the best course for the nation is to have our candidate become president of the United States.

WALLACE: One last question on the Republicans. Some people say that this is a generational election. An election about change. At a time when Democrats are arguing whether or not to usher out us baby boomers for someone younger, are you concerned at all about the Republicans perhaps turning to somebody who is even older than us?

BUSH: Again, I — you're presuming that Senator McCain is going to be the nominee and should he become the nominee, one of the reasons why is because people understand this is a dangerous world and that we're going to need steady, strong leadership in the Oval Office to deal with the dangers of this world. And if Senator McCain is the nominee, he will have brought those credential to the White House. And that's going to be very important. It's going to be a very important election issue, too, Chris.

And that is, which candidate understands the complexities and dangers and who will have the best plan on dealing with it? And I confident that the nominee will be the person who is capable of assuring the American people, one, the reality, I see the reality. And secondly, I've got a plan to deal with it.

WALLACE: Let's turn to the Democrats. Some months ago you went on the record, perhaps to your regret, and said Hillary Clinton was going to be the Democratic nominee. After the events of Super Tuesday and the news that she had to loan her own campaign $5 million of her own money, are you sticking with that prediction?

BUSH: This same year, I was asked who I thought was going to win the American League and I said the Detroit Tigers. I guess I don't know who's going to win the Democratic nominee. I predicted Senator Clinton because I knew that she understands the klieg lights and understands the pressures and that (INAUDIBLE) for me, but I've never voted in a Democratic primary in my life. I'm not exactly sure I'm not the proper person to be opining about how the Democrats are going to conduct themselves from this point forward.

WALLACE: There's been a lot of talk about former President Clinton crossing the line in some of his attacks against Barack Obama. Your father certainly never did any of that against your opponents back in 2000.

BUSH: Right.

WALLACE: Do you feel that he's acted inappropriately as the former president?

BUSH: First of all, my father's wife was not running.

WALLACE: His son was.

BUSH: (INAUDIBLE) There's a bit of a difference between father and son and father and wife and secondly, I can understand why President Clinton wants to campaign hard for his wife. And yeah, those accusations that Bill Clinton's a racist I think has been wrong. I just don't agree with it.

WALLACE: You've been and I suspect you're aware something of a pinata for the Democrats during their campaign. I'm sure you've heard Senator Clinton said in the last debate it did take a Clinton to clean up after the first Bush and I think it might take another one to clean up after the second Bush.

BUSH: It's a clever sound bite. My attitude is so long as they're talking about me, we have a better chance of winning because our candidate will. What's going to matter is not the past, but the future when it comes to campaigns and if the Democrat party feels like they can win an election by focusing on me, I think they'll be making a huge tactical mistake. But I hope they do get them (ph), because our candidate will be able to talk about the future, what this person intends to do for the country.

WALLACE: Do you think there's a rush to judgment about Barack Obama. Do you think voters know enough about him?

BUSH: I certainly don't know what he believes in. The only foreign policy thing I remember he said was he's going to attack Pakistan and break the Mani Mijad (ph). I think (INAUDIBLE) that in a press conference.

WALLACE: I hope not. But so you don't think that we know enough about him or what he stands...

BUSH: It doesn't seem like it to me, but this campaign is plenty of time for candidates to get defined. He has yet (ph) his party's nominee.

WALLACE: So why do you think he's gotten this far if people don't know what he stands for?

BUSH: You're the pundit. I'm just a simple president.

WALLACE: And you've done this a little bit, let's project ahead to November, the Republican nominee whoever it ends up being is going to have to carry along and deal with a faltering economy.

BUSH: How do you know that?

WALLACE: Well it is as of this moment.

BUSH: You said November.

WALLACE: All right, you can see that we will -- it won't, but at this point, he would be weighed down by a faltering economy, an unpopular war, at least according to the polls and forgive me running (INAUDIBLE) unpopular president. How does he overcome all of that and...

BUSH: Because there's two big issues. One is, who's going to keep your taxes low? Most Americans feel overtaxed and I promise you the Democrat party is going to field a candidate who says I'm going to raise your tax.

If they're going to say, oh, we're only going to tax the rich people, but most people in America understand that the rich people hire good accountants and figure out how not to necessarily pay all the taxes and the middle class gets stuck.

We've had -- we've been through this drill before. We're only going to tax the rich and all you have to do is look at the history of that kind of language and see who gets stuck with the bill.

And the other one, this is a dangerous world and Americans understand it's dangerous. They understand we're under threat of attack and whoever our nominee is is going to have to convince them that we will take whatever measures are necessary to protect us.

WALLACE: And why should they believe after the events of the last seven years that it's the Republicans, rather than the Democrats who's the person that can...

BUSH: ... because there had been an attack and because we're on the offense. We didn't wait for international approval to make our decisions. We certainly put an alliance together, but there is some kind of an attitude that says well, you know, let's wait and hold back and hope that we'll all hold hands and head out together.

America's got to be in the lead if you want to deal with these threats and we've had a lot of friends with us. And I'm confident our candidate will say, we're going to lead to protect the American people. It's a fundamental difference. Look at the FISA debate.

We believe that our intelligence officers ought to have all the tools they need to protect the American people. And yet it's -- and I think we're going to get a good bipartisan bill and so I applaud those Democrats. I'm not going after those Democrats. But there is a big part of the Democrat Party that is against giving our intelligence officers the tools necessary to protect America.

I'm confident there's going to be plenty of issues for which we can draw distinctions and you know, all the polls and the stuff you quote, they don't matter right now about -- because the world -- no telling what the world is going to look like in November. If I listened to the polls in 2004, I'd have been in a political fetal position.

As you might recall, I wasn't do all that well in the polls, but when it came time to get out on the campaign, I said this is what I believe in and this is what this person believes in. And but then it became clear to the American people and had a clear choice to make, our philosophy won and it's going to win again.

WALLACE: Mr. President we need to take a quick break here, but when we come back, we'll talk about the economy, the war in Iraq and the war on terror. All that coming up from Camp David.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: And we're back now inside Hickory Lodge at Camp David with President Bush. The economy continues to show signs of a slowdown. In January, we lost jobs for the first time in more than four years. An index of activity in the service sector has dropped to its lowest level in six years. Mr. President, what are the chances that we're either in a recession or headed toward one?

BUSH: I think the experts would tell you we are not in recession. And they would tell you that there is a lot of uncertainty. And therefore the question is, what do you do about it? And I worked with Congress, members of both parties, to pass a robust pro-growth package.

And it was — you know, it was a sign that we can work together. I applaud the speaker and the leader. And of course, our folks, Senator McConnell and Leader Boehner, for their attitude, their ability — willingness to address a problem in a way that was constructive.

And so I will be signing this bill Wednesday that — and the whole purpose of the bill is to get money in the hands of consumers and to provide incentives for businesses to invest. And the reason why is, is that, you know, obviously the housing market is creating deep concern. And one of the real problems could be that if people, as a result of their — value of their homes going down, kind of pull in their horns.

It is what they call the "wealth effect." And that could cause further deepening of economic woes, and so that it is an insurance policy. You know, I will let the economic forecasters tell you, you know, but — about whether or not what is going to happen over the next couple of months.

But I will tell you that the signs are troubling enough that we all came together and got a robust package out. And I think these checks will be in people's hands by May.

WALLACE: I want to ask you about your determination on this issue. The stock market has continued to drop, despite what the Fed has done, despite the apparent and now final passage of the stimulus package. If the stock market drops, if consumer activity doesn't pick up, are you prepared to offer more short-term stimulus to the economy?

BUSH: You know, we just have to play by ear, Chris. I mean, obviously I do want to work with members of Congress. What I don't want to do, however, is to overreact and leave behind regulations that would hurt future economic growth.

And one of the dangers of Congress and working on these issues is, is that they leave behind permanent, permanent problems. So in other words, if the economy becomes less flexible or capital markets become more constrained.

And so we have got to be very careful about the prescriptions in trying to help this economy, you know, stay on track. That is why I was so supportive of this current package because it is a temporary — it is a one-time cash infusion and one-time incentive for businesses to invest.

WALLACE: In Iraq, you have announced a plan, "Return on Success," to draw down the number of U.S. troops to 15 brigades by this summer, which would basically bring us down to pre-surge levels. The question is, what happens then?

Some in the Pentagon are saying that they would like to see it drop to 10 brigades, 100,000 troops by the end of the year. General Petraeus reportedly would like to see a pause this summer to assess whether or not he is able to maintain the same security with fewer troops.

Where do you come down on that?

BUSH: You know, I met with General Petraeus when I was in Kuwait on my trip to the Middle East. And my message to the general was, success is paramount. And therefore, whatever you recommend, make it based upon the need to succeed.

And so it was, what is "succeed?" What does succeed mean? It means there is enough security and stability for this reconciliation to continue to take place, and for democracy to take hold.

And so to answer your question, I'm not sure what his recommendation will be, nor am I sure what the recommendation will be out of the Pentagon. But there will be a — you know, a group of people who are — David and his commanders, the Pentagon, others, will be coming forth with recommendations on how to proceed.

They may be all the same, they may not be all the same. But I will listen, give them careful consideration and make up my mind. But it is going to based upon whether or not we can succeed or not.

WALLACE: You are also in the process of negotiating a long-term relationship with Iraq. And critics have asked a series of questions, which I would like to ask you. One, will you commit the U.S. to defend Iraq? Two, are you going to seek permanent based in Iraq?

And how do you respond to Hillary Clinton who says you are trying bind — to tie the hands of future presidents to your failed strategy?

BUSH: First of all, we have had status of forces agreements with a lot of countries, including Afghanistan during my presidency. And people ought to look at those types of arrangements to determine what I'm talking about.

Secondly, we will be there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. Thirdly, any president can make the decisions of how many troops we need there. I mean, I could have increased troops or decreased troops in Korea, and we had a long-term security agreement.

And we won't have permanent bases. I do believe it is in our interests, and the interests of the Iraqi people that we do enter into an agreement on how we are going to conduct ourselves over the next years.

But remember, we are there at the invitation of a sovereign government, elected under a modern constitution. And so I — some of these arguments, I view, are — they just need to be — the people making these arguments need to think through exactly what they are saying.

WALLACE: And what about the idea of having to bring a treaty to the Senate?

BUSH: Well, you know, we work with the Senate and the House on that, but we didn't bring a treaty to the Senate for Afghanistan.

WALLACE: There seem to be some mixed signals from your administration about the interrogation of terror detainees. And I hope you would clear it up for us. The CIA, with your approval, confirmed this week that you — the CIA, conducted waterboarding on three Al Qaeda prisoners back in 2002 and 2003.

And a White House spokesman said that you can still approve that practice depending circumstances. On the other hand, CIA Director Hayden said this week that he is not sure whether or not it is legal anymore to conduct waterboarding.

So, to set the record straight, do you think it is legal and are you prepared to authorize it if you believe it is necessary to protect the nation?

BUSH: First of all, whatever we have done was legal, and whatever decision I will make will be reviewed by the Justice Department to determine whether or not the legality is there. And the reason why there is a difference between what happened in the past and today, there is a new law.

And so to answer your question, whatever we will do would be legal. The American people have got to know that what we did in the past gained information that prevented an attack. And for those who criticize what we did in the past, I ask them, which attack would they rather have not permitted — stopped?.

Which attack on America did they — would they have said, well, you know, maybe it wasn't all that important that we stop those attacks. And I will do what is necessary to protect American within the law. That is what you have got to understand.

WALLACE: I want to follow up on that. Whether it is interrogation of terror prisoners or the intercepting of surveillance among al Qaeda members, are you ever puzzled by all of the concern in this country about protecting of rights of people who want to kill us?

BUSH: That is an interesting way to put it. I wouldn't necessarily define some of the critics of my policy that way. I would say that they want to be very careful that we don't overstep our bounds from protecting the civil liberties of Americans.

And I understand that, a lot. I do think that some of the programs we have put in place on the — like listening to people calling into America, that some of the claims about what we are doing have been exaggerated. And I don't think we ought to extend the same protections to terrorists overseas who want to kill us that we provide our own citizens when it comes to surveillance matters.

It's been a difficult issue for me because I am — listen, I no more want to trample the civil liberties of the American people than anybody else does. On the other hand, I understand the nature of these people. And I understand the complexities of trying to protect the American people and I think we found a fine balance. I truly do.

WALLACE: One last area I want to get in with you in this section and that's Iran. Where the conventional wisdom is that following the National Intelligence Estimate, that Iran gave up its nuclear weapons program back in 2003, that you've lost all your leverage to get more economic sanctions or to threaten the use of force against Iran.

Here is what John Bolton, your former ambassador to the UN said recently. "It's clear that now President George Bush can't do anything on this matter before the end of his term in another year. If John Bolton says you're powerless, how are going to be able to persuade or to pressure the mullahs to give up their uranium enrichment program?

BUSH: In my trip to the Middle East I made it abundantly clear to nervous nations that Iran is a threat. And that's what the NIE said if you read it carefully.

I'm sure they had a weapons program, secret military weapons program but that doesn't mean they can't have another secret weapons military program and the key to have a weapons program is the ability to enrich uranium. Now they will say we are just doing this for civilian purposes but the knowledge is transferable.

I think I made some pretty good headway in the Middle East, making it clear that regardless of the impression of the NIE, Iran is a threat. Condi just came back from Europe briefing me on the progress they are making on getting another UN Security Council resolution out. So, yeah, the NIE sends mixed signals.

I feel pretty good about making sure that we keep the pressure on Iran. To pressure them so that they understand they're isolated. To pressure them to affect their economy. To pressure them to the point where we hope somebody rational shows up and says, OK, it's not worth it anymore.

And there are some indications we're making progress. The economy isn't doing as well as Ahmadinejad promised it would and at the same time I continue to speak to the Iranian people which I will do again right now.

We have no problems with their history, their tradition. We respect you as a people but it's your government that has made the decisions that are causing you the economic pain that you're now having inside your country.

WALLACE: Mr. President, we have to take one final time out, but when we come back, we'll take a look back at President Bush's seven years in office and what comes next, back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL)

WALLACE: And we're back now at the presidential compound at Camp David with President Bush.

Mr. President, as your time in office winds down, you're getting some harsh assessments, even from some loyal Republicans. I'd like to read you one if I might.

Reagan speechwriter Peggy Noonan wrote, "George W. Bush destroyed the Republican Party, by which I mean he sundered it, broke its constituent pieces apart and set them against each other. He did this on spending, the size of government, war, the ability to prosecute war, immigration and other issues."

How do you respond?

BUSH: I respectfully disagree with my friend Peggy Noonan.

History will be the judge of an administration and I — when you make tough decisions like I have had to make, you obviously ruffle some feathers and I can understand why people would disagree with some of the decisions I made.

On the other hand, when you really think about it, we haven't had an attack on America. We have inherited a recession and had 52 months of uninterrupted job growth which is a record.

Wages up, productivity up. Look, I feel good about my record. But look, it's impossible for short term historians to objectively analyze it. I know that.

WALLACE: Let me ...

BUSH: I saw in CPAC the other day something interesting. That I read three books on Washington in the last couple years and they're still analyzing the first guy. What do I have to worry about?

It's going to take a long time to figure it out and so this is all — I could give you a whole, I could give you reams of books about criticisms of my administration. I understand this. It comes with the territory.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about one specific area, following up.

And the idea is that the principles you advanced were in at least some cases undermined by the way they were executed.

Cory Shockey (ph), who was a professor at West Point and served on your National Security Council, wrote this. "I fear that the biggest foreign policy legacy of the Bush administration will be that it delegitimized its own strategy. Whether you're talking about the democratization agenda, or the idea of preventive war and regime change. He says that, in other words, after Iraq, that the country would not permit another preventive war even if we should have one.

BUSH: Well, I don't know whether this person — sorry, I don't know who that person is. She may have worked for me but I don't think she ever worked in the Oval Office.

Secondly, I don't know where she was on the Iraq decision to remove Saddam Hussein but I strongly believe it's the right decision. It was the right decision then and it's the right decision today to have removed Saddam Hussein.

And secondly I believe the Iraq democracy is going to take hold and — it's very hard to write the future history of America before the current history hasn't been fully written.

WALLACE: You and I are members of very different levels of a special fraternity ...

BUSH: Yes.

WALLACE: Which is the children of famous fathers and the difference is that everyone psychoanalyzes you. They don't psychoanalyze me.

BUSH: I wouldn't go that far. How do you know ...

WALLACE: Well, do you sit around the Oval Office wondering about Chris Wallace? OK.

Well, but I wonder what you make of all the talk and you've read it, you've heard it, that you're either trying to pass your father or you're trying to copy him, that you went into Iraq to finish the job because he didn't or that you organized your first term to try to win the reelection, he didn't.

What do you — set the record straight on that.

BUSH: It's shallow. Shallow psychobabble. You asked me what I think. It's ...

WALLACE: Well ...

BUSH: A bunch of people obviously got too much time on their hands.

WALLACE: I think it is fair to say, and maybe I'm only projecting my own experience though, that when you have a famous father, you do work and feel the need to carve out your own identity.

BUSH: Yes, I mean, I used to stay in Texas. You know, I had my mother's — I had my daddy's eyes and my mother's mouth. I mean, you know, I'm product of two parents, not one. I am who I am.

I will tell you, I wouldn't be sitting here, however, as president, without the unconditional love of my father. You know, when you put yourself out there in the political arena, it — there is a certain amount of risk that goes with it.

A lot of flattery and a lot of criticism, a lot of ridicule, and you know, one could shy away from that risk. But I'm not a risk-adverse person and the reason and the reason why I'm not risk-adverse is because he gave me the great gift of all gifts, which is unconditional love.

As far as all of the rest of the stuff, Chris, I — you know, you have got to understand, you may read it, you may study it, I don't. I make decisions on what I think is right for the United States based upon principles. I frankly don't give a damn about the polls. And I darn sure don't, you know, call a group of people together in a focus group and say, well, tell me what to think.

This world is too complex, the decisions are too important to be trying to, you know, chase your — chase popularity. And as far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don't know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach.

And there is no such thing as short-term history. There just isn't — objective history. I don't know how many books that have written about my administration, probably more than any other president, which actually says I'm doing something.

But you know, they — to assume that historians can figure out the effect of the Bush administration before the Bush administration has ended is just — in my mind, it is not an accurate reflection upon how history works.

WALLACE: Presidents sometimes leave a note for their successor in the desk in the Oval Office on Inauguration Day. If you had to write yours now, for your successor, what would you say?

BUSH: "Dear Republican President..."

(LAUGHTER)

WALLACE: "Dear John McCain..."

(LAUGHTER)

BUSH: Yes. I would say that occupying the White House is a huge honor. Savor every minute. Stay focused on your beliefs. Rely upon a higher power to help you through the day.

WALLACE: And that will get you through it?

BUSH: That gets you through.

WALLACE: Mr. President, it is an honor to talk to you, sir.

BUSH: Thank you, sir.

WALLACE: Thank you so much.

BUSH: You bet.

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