Contact: White House, Office of the Press Secretary, 202-456-2580
The East Room
1:00 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. I say, why all the glum faces?
Yesterday, the people went to the polls and they cast their vote for a new direction in the House of Representatives. And while the ballots are still being counted in the Senate, it is clear the Democrat Party had a good night last night, and I congratulate them on their victories.
This morning I spoke with Republican and Democrat leadership in the House and Senate. I spoke with Republican leaders, Senator Frist and Senator McConnell and Speaker Hastert, and John Boehner and Roy Blunt. I thanked them for their hard-fought contests. I appreciate the efforts they put in for our candidates.
I'm obviously disappointed with the outcome of the election, and as the head of the Republican Party, I share a large part of the responsibility. I told my party's leaders that it is now our duty to put the elections behind us and work together with the Democrats and independents on the great issues facing this country.
This morning I also spoke with the Democrats. I spoke with Senators Reid and Durbin. I congratulated them on running a strong campaign in the Senate, and I told them that, regardless of the final outcome, we can work together over the next two years. I also congratulated Congresswoman Pelosi and Congressman Hoyer. They ran a disciplined campaign. Their candidates were well-organized and did a superb job of turning out their votes.
I told Congresswoman Pelosi that I look forward to working with her and her colleagues to find common ground in the next two years. As the majority party in the House of Representatives, they recognize that in their new role they now have greater responsibilities. And in my first act of bipartisan outreach since the election, I shared with her the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the new drapes in her new offices. (Laughter.)
I believe that the leaders of both political parties must try to work through our differences. And I believe we will be able to work through differences. I reassured the House and Senate leaders that I intend to work with the new Congress in a bipartisan way to address issues confronting this country. I invited them to come to the White House in the coming days to discuss the important work remaining this year and to begin conversations about the agenda for next year.
The message yesterday was clear: The American people want their leaders in
We live in historic times. The challenges and opportunities are plain for all to see: Will this country continue to strengthen our economy today and over the long run? Will we provide a first-class education for our children? And will we be prepared for the global challenges of the 21st century? Will we build upon the recent progress we've made in addressing our energy dependence by aggressively pursuing new technologies to break our addiction to foreign sources of energy? And most importantly, will this generation of leaders meet our obligation to protect the American people?
I know there's a lot of speculation on what the election means for the battle we're waging in
In the coming days and weeks, I and members of my national security team will meet with the members of both parties to brief them on latest developments and listen to their views about the way forward. We'll also provide briefings to the new members of Congress so they can be fully informed as they prepare for their new responsibilities.
As we work with the new leaders in Congress, I'm also looking forward to hearing the views of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by Secretary James Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton. This group is assessing the situation in
The election has changed many things in
Our military has experienced an enormous amount of change and reform during the last five years while fighting the war on terror, one of the most consequential wars in our nation's history. Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change. Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war. Don Rumsfeld is a patriot who served our country with honor and distinction. He's a trusted advisor and a friend, and I'm deeply grateful to his service to our country.
I've asked Bob Gates to serve as the Secretary of Defense. Bob is a former director of the CIA and current president of
I will have more to say about Secretary Rumsfeld and Bob Gates later today here at the White House.
Amid this time of change, I have a message for those on the front lines. To our enemies: Do not be joyful. Do not confuse the workings of our democracy with a lack of will. Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice.
To the people of
To our brave men and women in uniform: Don't be doubtful.
When I first came to
I appreciate your interest. Now, I'll answer some questions. Terry.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Does the departure of Don Rumsfeld signal a new direction in
THE PRESIDENT: Terry, I'd like our troops to come home, too, but I want them to come home with victory, and that is a country that can govern itself, sustain itself and defend itself. And I can understand Americans saying, come home. But I don't know if they said come home and leave behind an
Now, first part about --
Q A new direction.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, new direction. Well, there's certainly going to be new leadership at the Pentagon. And as I mentioned in my comments, that Secretary Rumsfeld and I agree that sometimes it's necessary to have a fresh perspective, and Bob Gates will bring a fresh perspective. He'll also bring great managerial experience.
And he is -- I had a good talk with him on Sunday in Crawford. I hadn't -- it took me a while to be able to sit down and visit with him, and I did, and I found him to be of like mind. He understands we're in a global war against these terrorists. He understands that defeat is not an option in
Q Thank you, Mr. President. Last week you told us that Secretary Rumsfeld will be staying on. Why is the timing right now for this, and how much does it have to do with the election results?
THE PRESIDENT: Right. No, you and Hunt and Keil came in the Oval Office, and Hunt asked me the question one week before the campaign, and basically it was, are you going to do something about Rumsfeld and the Vice President? And my answer was, they're going to stay on. And the reason why is I didn't want to inject a major decision about this war in the final days of a campaign. And so the only way to answer that question and to get you on to another question was to give you that answer.
The truth of the matter is, as well -- I mean, that's one reason I gave the answer, but the other reason why is I hadn't had a chance to visit with Bob Gates yet, and I hadn't had my final conversation with Don Rumsfeld yet at that point.
I had been talking with Don Rumsfeld over a period of time about fresh perspective. He likes to call it fresh eyes. He, himself, understands that
And so he and I both agreed in our meeting yesterday that it was appropriate that I accept his resignation. And so the decision was made -- actually, I thought we were going to do fine yesterday. Shows what I know. But I thought we were going to be fine in the election. My point to you is, is that, win or lose, Bob Gates was going to become the nominee.
Let's see here. Bret.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You said you're interested in changing the tone, and committed to changing the tone in
THE PRESIDENT: What's changed today is the election is over, and the Democrats won. And now we're going to work together for two years to accomplish big objectives for the country. And secondly, the Democrats are going to have to make up their mind about how they're going to conduct their affairs. And I haven't had a chance to talk with the leadership yet about these issues, but we'll begin consultations with the Democrat leadership starting Thursday and Friday.
Q Mr. President, thank you. You acknowledged that this is a message election on the war in
THE PRESIDENT: David, I believe
We will work with members of Congress; we will work with the Baker-Hamilton Commission. My point is, is that while we have been adjusting, we will continue to adjust to achieve the objective. And I believe that's what the American people want.
Somehow it seeped in their conscious that my attitude was just simply "stay the course." "Stay the course" means, let's get the job done, but it doesn't mean staying stuck on a strategy or tactics that may not be working. So perhaps I need to do a better job of explaining that we're constantly adjusting. And so there's fresh perspective -- so what the American people hear today is we're constantly looking for fresh perspective.
But what's also important for the American people to understand is that if we were to leave before the job is done, the country becomes more at risk. That's what the Vice President was saying -- he said, if the job is not complete, al Qaeda will have safe haven from which to launch attacks. These radicals and extremists have made it clear, they want to topple moderate governments to spread their ideology. They believe that it's just a matter of time before we leave so they can implement their strategies. We're just not going to let them do that. We're going to help this government become a government that can defend, govern, and sustain itself, and an ally in the war on terror.
Q The message today is not full speed ahead? Is that right, that it's not --
THE PRESIDENT: We've got another man with the mic, David, please.
Q Mr. President, thank you. Can I just start by asking you to clarify, sir, if, in your meeting with Steve and Terry and Dick, did you know at that point --
THE PRESIDENT: I did not.
Q -- you would be making a change on Secretary Rumsfeld?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I did not. And the reason I didn't know is because I hadn't visited with his replacement -- potential replacement.
Q But you knew he would be leaving, just not who would replace him?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I didn't know that at the time.
Q Okay. May I ask you about Nancy Pelosi --
THE PRESIDENT: The other thing I did know, as well, is that that kind of question, a wise question by a seasoned reporter, is the kind of thing that causes one to either inject major military decisions at the end of a campaign, or not. And I have made the decision that I wasn't going to be talking about hypothetical troop levels or changes in command structure coming down the stretch.
And I'll tell you why I made that decision. I made that decision because I think it sends a bad signal to our troops if they think the Commander-in-Chief is constantly adjusting tactics and decisions based upon politics. And I think it's important in a time of war that, to the extent possible, we leave politics out of the major decisions being made. And it was the right decision to make, by the way.
And secondly, I hadn't visited with Bob Gates. I told you I visited with him last Sunday in Crawford. You can't replace somebody until you know you got somebody to replace him with. And finally, I hadn't had my last conversation with Secretary Rumsfeld, which I had yesterday.
Q Mr. President, I'd like to ask you, Nancy Pelosi has been quite clear about her agenda for the first 100 hours. She mentions things like raising minimum wage, cutting interest rates on student loans, broadening stem cell research, and rolling back tax cuts. Which of those can you support, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I knew you'd probably try to get me to start negotiating with myself. I haven't even visited with Congresswoman Pelosi yet. She's coming to the Oval Office later this week; I'm going to sit down and talk with her. I believe on a lot of issues we can find common ground. And there's a significant difference between common ground and abandoning principle. She's not going to abandon her principles and I'm not going to abandon mine. But I do believe we have an opportunity to find some common ground to move forward on.
In that very same interview you quoted, one of these three characters asked me about minimum wage. I said, there's an area where I believe we can make some -- find common ground. And as we do, I'll be, of course, making sure that our small businesses are -- there's compensation for the small businesses in the bill.
Q What about tax cuts?
THE PRESIDENT: Keil.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. In our discussion with you last week, which you've referenced here several times -
THE PRESIDENT: Are you bringing this up so everybody else gets kind of jealous? (Laughter.)
Q Certainly. Certainly.
THE PRESIDENT: Like Gregory, for example -- he wishes he were there. (Laughter.)
Q This is a very competitive environment. No, but we asked you about the fate of Secretary Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. Vice President Cheney, of course, has made -- takes many of the same positions that Secretary Rumsfeld did on the war. Does he still have your complete confidence?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he does.
Q Do you expect him to stay --
THE PRESIDENT: The campaign is over. Yes, he does.
Q And he'll be here for the remainder of your term?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he will. Thank you.
Q Thank you, Mr. President. With all due respect, Nancy Pelosi has called you incompetent, a liar, the emperor with no clothes, and as recently as yesterday, dangerous. How will you work with someone who has such little respect for your leadership and who is third in line to the presidency?
THE PRESIDENT: Suzanne, I've been around politics a long time; I understand when campaigns end, and I know when governing begins. And I am going to work with people of both parties.
Look, people say unfortunate things at times. But if you hold grudges in this line of work, you're never going to get anything done. And my intention is to get some things done. And as I said, I'm going to start visiting with her on Friday, with the idea of coming together.
Look, this was a close election. If you look at race by race, it was close. The cumulative effect, however, was not too close. It was a thumping. But nevertheless, the people expect us to work together. That's what they expect. And as I said in my opening comments, there comes responsibility with victory. And that's what Nancy Pelosi told me this morning. She said in the phone call she wants to work together. And so do I. And so that's how you deal with it.
This isn't -- this isn't my first rodeo. In other words, I haven't -- this is not the first time I've been in a campaign where people have expressed themselves, and in different kinds of ways. But I have learned that if you focus on the big picture, which, in this case, is our nation and issues we need to work together on, you can get stuff done. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act is going to come up for reauthorization. There's an area where we must work together for the sake of our children and for the sake of a competitive
Q Thank you, Mr. President. You just described the election results as a "thumping."
THE PRESIDENT: I said the cumulative -- make sure -- who do you write for?
Q The New York Times, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes, that's right. (Laughter.) Let's make sure we get it -- the facts. I said that the elections were close; the cumulative effect --
Q Is a thumping.
THE PRESIDENT: -- thumping. (Laughter.)
Q But the results --
THE PRESIDENT: A polite way of saying -- anyway, go ahead. (Laughter.)
Q But the results are being interpreted as a repudiation of your leadership style in some quarters. I wonder what your reaction is to that. And do you -- should we expect a very different White House? Should we expect a very different leadership style from you in these last two years, given that you have a whole new set of partners?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, I really haven't -- I'm still going to try to speak plainly about what I think are the important priorities of the country, and winning this war on terror is, by far, the most important priority. And making sure this economy continues to grow is an important priority. And making sure our children have a good education is an important priority.
Obviously, there's a shift in the Congress and, therefore, in order to get legislation passed, we've got to work with the Democrats. They're the ones who will control the committees; they're the ones who will decide how the bills flow. And so you'll see a lot of meetings with Democrats, and a lot of discussion with Democrats.
And in terms of the election, no question
And so, Jim, look, I understand people don't agree -- didn't agree with some of my decisions. I'm going to continue making decisions based upon what I think is right for the country. I've never been one to try to fashion the principles I believe or the decisions I make based upon trying to -- kind of short-term popularity. I do understand where the people -- the heart of the people. I understand they're frustrated. I am, too, as I said the other day. I wish this had gone faster. So does Secretary Rumsfeld. But the reality is, is that it's a tough fight, and we're going to win the fight. And I truly believe the only way we won't win is if we leave before the job is done.
Q May I follow, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I know, terrible principle. I'm sorry.
Q Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: You think I'm nuts? (Laughter.) You think -- you think my sensibility has left me as a result of working hard on the campaign trail, Gregory? (Laughter.)
Q But to follow, we were speaking about the war, and during the campaign, two very different viewpoints of the war came out. You spoke a lot, as Bret mentioned, about what you saw as the Democratic approach to the war, which you were greatly concerned about. Are you worried that you won't be able to work with the Democrats, or do you feel like you have to prevail upon them your viewpoint?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think we're going to have to work with them, but -- just like I think we're going to have to work with the Baker-Hamilton Commission. It's very important that the people understand the consequences of failure. And I have vowed to the country that we're not going to fail. We're not going to leave before the job is done. And obviously, we've got a lot of work to do with some members of Congress. I don't know how many members of Congress said, get out right now -- I mean, the candidates running for Congress in the Senate. I haven't seen that chart. Some of the comments I read where they said, well, look, we just need a different approach to make sure we succeed; well, you can find common ground there.
See, if the goal is success, then we can work together. If the goal is, get out now regardless, then that's going to be hard to work together. But I believe the Democrats want to work together to win this aspect of the war on terror.
I'm also looking forward to working with them to make sure that we institutionalize to the extent possible steps necessary to make sure future Presidents are capable of waging this war. Because
And I look forward to working with them. And I truly believe that Congresswoman Pelosi and Harry Reid care just about as much -- they care about the security of this country, like I do. They see -- no leader in
Just like I talked about the troops. I meant what I said. Look, the people that's -- are going to be looking at this election -- the enemy is going to say, well, it must mean
[Continued, see part 2 of 2]