This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 8, 2005, that was edited for clarity.
NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: Mr. President, welcome to FOX. It's great to have you.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Neil.
CAVUTO: We were thinking of you, Mr. President, we knew you had won the election and now we have heard that you had better grades than your opponent too in college.
CAVUTO: What did you think with the release of those transcripts?
BUSH: I didn't think much about it. You know, I've always tried to lower expectations, and I feel like if people say, well, you know, maybe, you know, I don't think you handle the tough job, and when you do, it impresses people even more. But my view is the campaign is over.
CAVUTO: Yes. He was billed as the intellectual, though, and you had better grades in college.
BUSH: Yes. Well, as I said, I like to lower expectations.
CAVUTO: On a more serious note, Mr. President, this morning we got word of an Al Qaeda-linked cell potentially broken up in California. One of the participants in that cell supposedly was taking target practice off a picture of you. What did you think when you heard it?
BUSH: I think that our FBI and Homeland Security people are working hand-in-glove to protect America on a daily basis. I was briefed on some of the particulars about the matter you just described. I can assure the America people that we're following every lead, that we're doing everything we can to keep us protected.
The best way to protect America is to keep on the offense and bust up these terrorist networks overseas by doing two things: one, committing our troops and intelligence services to the task, and also spreading freedom.
The way to defeat hatred and hopelessness in the long term is to lay foundations for peace by spreading freedom. So we've got a dual strategy that requires a lot of effort, a lot of sacrifice, but it's working.
CAVUTO: Do you suspect there are other such cells still operating in this country?
BUSH: You know, I don't know. I really don't know. The one thing I do know is that a lot of people are looking for them and that we're running down every possible lead, that we're doing a better job of sharing intelligence now between the CIA and the FBI as a result of the Patriot Act. That within the FBI, there is better intelligence-sharing. That there's a lot of really good people who are spending a lot of time on potential terror cells.
Today Mike Chertoff, who's the secretary for Homeland Security, and Director Mueller were in the Oval Office, briefing me about this group of folks in California.
I was very impressed by the use of intelligence and the follow-up. And that's what the American need to know, that when we find any hint about any possible wrongdoing or a possible cell, that we'll follow up — by the way, honoring the civil liberties of those to whom we follow up. In other words, we're just not going to pick up the telephone and listen to somebody without a proper court order. That's protecting the civil liberties of Americans.
CAVUTO: Speaking of civil liberties, one of your predecessors, Jimmy Carter, was very critical of our operations at Guantanamo Bay, saying they should be shut down, that abuses there, if proven true, are dragging our name through the mud globally. What do you make of that?
BUSH: Well, I first of all want to assure the American people that these prisoners are being treated in accordance with the Geneva Convention. I say in accordance with because these weren't normal, you know, military-type fighters. They had no uniforms. They had no, you know, government structure. These were terrorists, swept up off the battlefield in a place like Afghanistan, for example.
And it's in our nation's interest that we learn a lot about those people that are still in detention, because we're still trying to find out how to better protect our country.
Secondly, that anytime there's an allegation of abuse, we investigate. That's what transparent societies do. We've got a press corps that's constantly asking tough questions about prisoner treatment, for example. You just asked one. And that's what open societies do, they answer the questions by saying...
CAVUTO: But now President Carter has said, sir, shut it down. Joe Biden said shut it down. Do you think it should be shut down?
BUSH: Well, you know, we're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America. What we don't want to do is let somebody out that comes back and harms us.
And so we're looking at all alternatives and have been. And when there have been questions of abuse and allegations like the Koran, the Pentagon went through a full investigation and then released the data for everybody to see.
And I will tell you that we treat these prisoners in accordance with international standards. And that's what the American people expect. When somebody put out that Amnesty International report, they asked me about it. I said it's just absurd to equate Gitmo and Guantanamo with a Soviet gulag. It's just not even close.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you about the economy, sir. Almost any objective read tells you that we're still doing very, very well. Productivity is very high. Had a strong GDP report. Retail sales are very, very strong. The unemployment rate, at 5.1 percent, used to be considered full employment when Hubert Humphrey was alive. Do you think you get a bum rap in the media on the economy?
BUSH: No, I don't think so. I think that when the numbers are good, the media puts it out there. Housing starts are strong. Unemployment's down to 5.1 percent.
I do think there are some troubling signs in the economy. One is the fact that we haven't passed an energy bill in four years, and we're dependent on foreign sources of energy, and therefore, gasoline prices are up. I think that troubles the American people.
CAVUTO: So you think the fact that we're dealing with these high gas prices is wiping out whatever benefits we're seeing in other areas?
BUSH: You know, I think polls are polls. I mean, they're just kind of snapshots of the moment. And to the extent that some say, well, I'm unsettled about the future of our economy, they're basically, I think, reflecting the fact that gasoline prices have risen quite dramatically. And I'm concerned about that, too, because I understand a gasoline price rise is like a tax. It's a tax on families. It's a tax on small businesses.
And I understand why gasoline prices are going up, and that is because we're dependent upon foreign sources of energy. And the price of crude oil is going up, which is the main price driver for gasoline.
CAVUTO: But you've been warning about this, Mr. President. Four years ago, you said this. But you've had a Republican Congress to push these things through, and nothing.
BUSH: Well, listen, I share your frustration. We haven't had a national energy plan for years. And as a result, we're dependent. And so four years ago, I called upon my administration to come up with a strategy and then to go to the Congress for that part of the strategy that required law. And you're right, it's been stuck in the Congress for four years.
CAVUTO: Do you ever get mad at of your fellow Republicans?
BUSH: Well, no. Part of the problem is that, in a certain body in Congress, a minority can block anything. But I do believe we'll get an energy bill. The House passed a good bill. And by the way, the House passed a bill more than one time.
CAVUTO: That's right.
BUSH: And the Senate passed a bill out of committee. They'll get it on the Senate floor. I'm confident we can resolve the differences. And we'll get us a good energy bill.
Now, an energy bill is not going to immediately solve the problem. What the energy bill will do is put America on the course of using technology to diversify away from the hydrocarbon world in which we live.
You know, for example, I went out to a facility that refines soybeans. Twenty years ago, that was a pipedream. Today, it's reality. It can work. Soy diesel works. There's got to obviously be more market development for that type of product, more diesel engines that can use a soybean extract. But nevertheless, it's coming. Bio-diesel will be a reality, which would mean we're diversifying away from foreign sources of oil.
We need to have more clean nuclear power, safe nuclear power. We need clean coal technology to continue to be developed. I mean, we're doing a lot of things in this administration that will help say, we're going to use technology to change our habits, change our way of life for the good of the environment, for the good of national security and for the good of economic security.
CAVUTO: Speaking of economic security, you have staked your reputation, maybe much of your second term, Mr. President, on Social Security reform. You've argued that it is broken, does need fixing. But it doesn't seem to be getting much traction with the American people. Why?
BUSH: Well, first of all, I think what is getting traction with the American people is the fact that they are now understanding there is a problem. In other words, you can't get anything through Congress unless the people are willing to say to members of Congress, we've got a problem.
CAVUTO: But few of them are.
BUSH: A few of Congress is reacting so far? Well, I can understand this. This is a hard issue for them.
CAVUTO: Do you regret that you made this your focal point in the second term?
CAVUTO: That maybe if you had done, maybe, tax reform ahead of it.
BUSH: First of all I have got more than one focal point. I mean, I've got a tough budget I sent up that got passed. I got legal reform I'm trying to get done to make sure that this economy continues to grow. I want them to get that energy bill out. In other words, I'm pretty confident I can say to you with certainty that I can do more than one thing at one time.
Now Social Security is a difficult issue for members of Congress, because they think, well, it may be a tough vote. In other words, Social Security has been used as a political club for years. My attitude is this: Once the people realize there is a problem — and there is a huge problem. And the problem exists because Baby Boomers like me are getting ready to retire, and we're going to live longer than our predecessors, that we have been promised more benefits than our predecessors, and there's fewer people paying into the system. And so you've got a system literally headed toward bankruptcy. And that's not fair to the younger generations of America, by the way, not to deal with the problem now.
CAVUTO: Well, do you think wealthier folks like you, when you retire, and maybe TV anchors too, should not get Social Security, or should have their benefits pared?
BUSH: No, I think you ought to get Social Security, because you paid into the system. But I don't think your benefits ought to rise faster than the rate of inflation. And I do think poorer citizens ought to have their benefits rise at the rate of wages, which would enable us to say two things. One, no one should retire in poverty. In other words, if you worked all your life in a tough job and you contributed to the Social Security system, when you retire, you ought not to retire into poverty.
And secondly, such a plan, called progressive indexing, will go a long way towards solving the Social Security problem permanently.
CAVUTO: You know, a lot of economists agree with that, Mr. President. Do you think, though, that the public in this country has been distracted by other events? Even Representative Conyers, a Democrat, not exactly a fan of yours, has said that the media is fixated on things like Michael Jackson. Do you think that's true?
BUSH: Here's what I think. I think my job is to lead. I think the people in this country want the president of the United States to take on the tough problems if he sees one. And I see one. I really do not worry about the second-guessing and the focus groups and all that.
CAVUTO: So when you see these polls that show your popularity ebbing a bit, it doesn't frustrate you?
BUSH: No, not at all.
BUSH: Polls go up, and polls go down. But I also know my job. See, I could not be here in Washington, D.C., and take on an issue like Social Security and live with myself. In other words, if I didn't take this on, I'd have said, "What did you go to Washington for in the first place?"
I also believe we'll get something done. I truly believe it. I believe it because what the people are beginning to realize is, we've got a problem and seniors are beginning to understand, nothing changes for them when it comes to them getting a check. And that's an important dynamic, because it means we're shifting the debate from an older set of Americans who rely upon the system today — and when they realize they're going to get it, they're going to start saying, how about doing something for my grandkids?
And it takes work, Neil. It takes work to get over this hump. It takes a lot of effort to convince people that they got to take the hard decision in life. You got to take the hard path sometimes in politics.
CAVUTO: But in the meantime, the news channels then hear what you're saying, and then later on, we have this Michael Jackson update. I mean, his trial and his ongoing saga has gripped the nation for the past four-and-a-half, five months as you've been on this campaign.
CAVUTO: I know this is a little outlandish, Mr. President…
BUSH: No, that's all right, Neil.
CAVUTO: Do you think that the focus on Michael Jackson has hurt you?
BUSH: I have no idea. I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out, you know, the viewing patterns of American TV audiences. I do know what my job is, and there's a serious problem with Social Security. I mean, we've got a bunch of young kids getting ready to pay minimum 12.4 percent payroll tax into a system that's going bust. I just don't think it's fair to a young generation to say, "Work hard. Contribute to a system," and know that unless we do something today, the system will be bankrupt for them. It is not right, and it's not fair.
Look, I fully understand some in Washington say, I wish he hadn't brought it up. You know, how come he's making us do this?
And the answer is, because those of us have been elected have a duty, have an obligation to solve problems. And I would tell people when I campaign, I'd say, "Elect me. I will confront problems and not pass them on to future presidents." Which is sometimes the tendency in the political world, just kind of shuffle it along.
Well, it's not going to be the case for the Bush administration. You ask about standing. I think the American people, when it's all said and done, appreciate Republicans or Democrats or whoever who are willing to take on the tough issues.
CAVUTO: You don't think this costs your party next year?
BUSH: No. I think it will cost our party if we don't deal with Social Security. I think the American people expect people to solve problems. And there may be distractions. They may not stay nearly as focused on this issue as I do. But my job is to stay focused on the issue, because I've got to convince people about the reality of the problem and the certainty that you're going to get your check if you're born prior to 1950.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you, if you don't mind, Mr. President, switching gears a little bit to China.
CAVUTO: We have sort of this maybe, I don't know, love-hate relationship with the Chinese. They're a booming economy, a great market. They see us as a great market. But invariably, we fight over the value of their currency. Without getting arcane, do you find it odd that this country, who your own Defense secretary has said is not really threatened by anyone, is putting so much money into its military, by some reports, close to 3 percent of its GDP?
BUSH: Let me step back and characterize the relationship with China this way: It is a complex relationship. It is complex because we deal with each other on a variety of fronts. One front, of course, is our defense posture.
CAVUTO: Well, do you trust them?
BUSH: Trust on defense matters?
CAVUTO: China, period.
BUSH: Well, that's a broad question. So far, I do. We'll see. I mean, we're getting indications out of the government, for example, that they understand they've got to do something with their currency. Time will tell.
CAVUTO: Do we still stand by an agreement, Mr. President, that if Taiwan is ever invaded, we will defense Taiwan?
BUSH: Yes, we do. It's called the Taiwan Relations Act. The policy of the U.S. government is this: We're for a One China policy based upon what they call the Three Communiqués, and that we adhere to the Taiwan Relations Act, which means this: Neither side will unilaterally change the status quo. In other words, neither side will make a decision that steps outside the bounds of that statement I just made to you. If China were to invade unilaterally, we would rise up in the spirit of Taiwan Relations Act. If Taiwan were to declare independence unilaterally, it would be a unilateral decision that would then change the U.S. equation.
My attitude is, is that time will heal this issue. And therefore we're trying to make sure that neither side provokes the other through unilateral action.
CAVUTO: North Korea has said that it would be maybe interested in multi-party talks again. Are you considering, since they've talked back and forth on this issue, Mr. President, U.N. sanctions?
BUSH: Well, that is option down the road.
CAVUTO: Not now?
BUSH: Well, it's option. It's on the table. And what North Korea must understand is that the United States is serious about working with four other countries to convince them to get rid of their weapons systems and their plans and their actual equipment that develops nuclear weaponry, including what we may think is a plutonium-type device.
The change of strategy, the change of U.S. policy occurred when I decided to make sure that China had a seat at the table with us, that in other words, it wasn't just a bilateral relationship between North Korea and the United States. It was a multilateral relationship between partners in peace and North Korea on the theory that more than one voice that has different interests in the region speaking to Kim Jong-Il will have a better effect on him.
And so you asked whether or not I trust China. China has been at the table. Can they do more at a different time frame than we're interested in? Perhaps. But the relationship is such that I'm able to explain to Hu Jintao, my counterpart, that, you know, keep the pressure on.
Or the other day when Kim Jong-Il announced he had a weapon, I said to Hu Jintao, remember our common policy is no nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula. Now we have got to move.
In other words, they're at the table, and that's been constructive.
CAVUTO: Let me ask you about the real estate bubble people talk about in this country. Do you think there is one?
BUSH: You know, I'm not a very good economic prognosticator, but I do know that there are a lot of first-time house-buyers or homebuyers entering into the market. And the reason I know that is, for example, more minority families own a home today than ever before. And a lot of that has to be one, good policy. For example, we're helping poor families with down payments. A lot of it has to do with interest rates. But, you know, I'll let the experts determine whether or not there's a housing bubble or not.
CAVUTO: When you have regions like Florida and Silicon Valley going at 30, 40 percent a year, even Alan Greenspan worries that we might have pockets of bubbles. Do you?
BUSH: You know, if Alan Greenspan worries about it, I should worry about it, because he's done a heck of a good job, and he's a smart guy.
CAVUTO: Is he gone next year? Does he leave next year?
BUSH: Let me just finish on the housing market right quick.
BUSH: One thing is for certain is that people have got more money in their, more after-tax disposable income, and interest rates are such that people are now enjoying homeownership, which is a really important part of America.
Let me just talk about ownership real quick. First of all, Alan Greenspan has indicated that he is going to finish his term. And then we'll find a suitable replacement, hopefully somebody as good as Alan Greenspan, although that will be hard to do...
CAVUTO: A Democrat? Would you consider a Democrat?
BUSH: I would consider somebody who can do the job.
CAVUTO: Robert Rubin?
BUSH: Here you are trying to get me to, right on your TV show, make news by naming different people, which I refuse to do. Let me talk about ownership for a minute.
CAVUTO: Go ahead.
BUSH: If you look at a lot of our policy, we encourage ownership, and the reason why is because an ownership society is an optimistic society. It's a society in which the individual has got such a vital stake in the future of our country.
So when somebody owns their own home, you know, that's their home. It provides security of a home. It is an asset that they call their own.
When you have your own health savings account, it's something you can carry with you. It means you're in charge of your health care decisions, not a, you know, somebody far away in an office complex that you'll never visit.
When you have a personal savings account, a voluntary personal savings account as a part of a retirement system, it's your asset. You look at it on a quarterly basis to see whether or not you're getting a compound rate of interest that is suitable to your needs.
Ownership really is a vital part of the American experience. And we want more people owning something. We just don't want ownership to be confined to a certain segment of society. We want everybody, every single person, to be able to say, "This is my asset. And I intend to pass it on to whomever I choose."
And the more people own homes, the more homeowners there are, the better off America is. I'm not an economic forecaster, but I know something about America and American experience and American life. And the fact that more people are owning homes says we've got a more hopeful country.
CAVUTO: One more question, sir.
CAVUTO: You know, your vice president was saying that Laura Bush would be an excellent presidential candidate.
BUSH: Well, he's a diplomat. He's a smart man.
CAVUTO: Do you think she would?
BUSH: If I were the vice president, I'd be touting my wife, too. I don't think she's going to run for office. It's an unusual city here where she gets a couple of good cracks off on her husband at one of these events, and then all of a sudden they've got her running for president.
But listen, she's a fabulous woman and a great first lady. And she and I are both looking forward to the time when we've given it our all here in Washington and we head back to Texas.
CAVUTO: So she's totally not interested in it?
BUSH: She's not going to run for president. But I'll let her say that to you, not me.
CAVUTO: Mr. President, thank you very much.
BUSH: You bet. Thanks for your time.
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