Sat, Nov 06, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Bush looks forward to a break, and no follow-ups, please

AFP , WASHINGTON

US President George W. Bush was yesterday mulling changes to his Cabinet at the presidential retreat of Camp David, Maryland, after claiming a broad popular mandate and vowing to stick to his political agenda in his first, post-election press conference.

"Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," he told reporters on Thursday at the start of his second, four-year term.

With global and US public opinion polarized over the war in Iraq, Bush vowed to reach out to "those who share our goals" and pointed to the war on terrorism he declared after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks as a unifying force.

"Whatever our past disagreements, we share a common enemy," Bush said. "And I don't need to rehash my case [for invading Iraq], but I made the decision I made in order to protect our country first and foremost.

"I'll continue to reach out to our friends and allies, our part-ners in the EU and NATO, to promote development and progress, to defeat the terrorists and to encourage freedom and democracy as alternatives to tyranny and terror," he said.

But Bush flatly refused to change course on foreign policy and declined to say whether he would draw from opposition Democrats for his Cabinet or seek a consensus nominee for any vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Democrats, aside from losing the presidential race by 3.5 million votes, also saw Bush's Republican party tighten its grip on both chambers of Congress.

Bush also did not fully endorse British Prime Minister Tony Blair's stated view that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was "the single most pressing" issue in world affairs or signal any shift in US efforts there.

"I agree with him that the Middle East peace is a very important part of a peaceful world," Bush said, adding he hoped to "make good progress" towards the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Bush said he had not yet decided on whether to boost US troop levels in Iraq ahead of elections scheduled for January or how much more money was needed for the war effort there, calling reports of planned increases "pure speculation."

"We're on the path to stability," he said. "These elections are important, and we will respond to the requests of our commanders on the ground. And I've yet to hear from our commanders on the ground that they need more troops."

Bush, who has held fewer solo press conferences than any recent president, cut off reporters trying to ask follow-up questions, quipping he could do so "now that I've got the will of the people at my back."

Bush also vowed to press ahead with tax cuts, curb lawsuits on healthcare issues, pursue education reforms, overhaul the US tax code and partially privatize the government-run social security pension system.

"We must reform our complicated and outdated tax code. We need to get rid of the needless paperwork that is a drag on our economy to make sure our economy is the most competitive in the world," he said.

As to a possible Cabinet reshuffle, Bush said: "There will be some changes. I don't know who they will be. It's inevitable ... It happens in every administration ... But let me just help you out with the speculation right now. I haven't thought about it."

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