Second Thoughts About 'Bring 'em On'
By Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, 14 Jan 2005
Calling it "a confession, a regret, something," President Bush acknowledged in a round-table interview with regional newspapers yesterday that he has had second thoughts about two of his more swaggering comments from the first term, including his notorious utterance: "Bring 'em on."
There is no official text of the session, but here's how Tom Webb of the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press transcribed the president:
It was in a July 2, 2003, exchange with reporters, just as the insurgency was starting to inflict serious casualties on American troops, that Bush said: "There are some who feel like -- that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring 'em on. We've got the force necessary to deal with the security situation." Here's that text.
Critics described it as an irresponsible taunt that invited more attacks on U.S. soldiers. Since then, more than 1,100 U.S. servicemen have died in Iraq.
And it was on Sept. 17, 2001, during a short exchange with reporters at the Pentagon, that Bush was asked if he wanted al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden dead. "I want justice. There's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive,'" Bush said. Here's that text.
Bin Laden, of course, has still not been captured.
Up until now, Bush has been notably averse to expressing anything remotely like regret about any of his actions. At his last prime-time press conference, almost nine months ago, Bush was famously flummoxed when asked to describe his biggest mistake, post-9/11. "You know, I just -- I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn't yet," he said.
Just yesterday, even as the White House acknowledged that the search for weapons of mass destruction was over in Iraq, Bush seemed unfazed by the definitive demise of his initial pretext for the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq, saying it was worth it anyway.
And even in yesterday's nearly hour-long session with more than a dozen reporters, Bush ducked the regret question the first time around.
Chris Mondics of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes that when first asked, Bush replied:
Bill Adair writes in the St. Petersburg Times: "At the conclusion of the 50-minute interview, a reporter returned to the 'biggest regret' question. Had he thought of one?
" 'Yeah,' he shot back, 'that the tax cuts aren't permanent.'
"He paused and said he wanted to give a different answer."
That's when he talked about "bring 'em on" and "dead or alive."
Social SecurityThe group interview was the latest part of Bush's energetic media campaign to win support for his second-term agenda, most notably his plan to introduce private accounts to the Social Security system.
While still refusing to provide details, Bush for the first time yesterday set a deadline.
Paul Barton writes in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette: "President Bush said Thursday that he wants Congress to approve changes in Social Security funding before the end of May and that convincing doubters of the urgency of the issue remains a challenge. 'I would like to get it done in the first five months of this year, and that's what we're aiming for,' he said in a 45-minute White House question-and-answer session with reporters from regional newspapers."
Matt Stearns writes in the Kansas City Star: "Bush wants to allow Americans to put part of their Social Security funds in private accounts, which he said would provide a better rate of return.
Tamara Lytle writes in the Orlando Sentinel: "Bush said he is committed to pushing for Social Security changes quickly because, if the popular retirement program continues on its current course, it will run short of money when baby boomers start retiring in large numbers.
It would appear that no reporter asked Bush why his representation of Social Security's long-term financial situation is at odds with the experts. The program's trustees estimate that with no changes, the plan would no longer be able to pay full benefits beginning in 2042 but would still provide significant payments.
And in their reports today, I didn't see reporters clearing this up for their readers, either -- they just quoted the president and left it at that.
More CoverageDavid Lightman writes in the Hartford Courant: "President Bush is eager. He's a buoyant leader armed with an ambitious agenda fit for someone with the kind of overwhelming mandate he may not have.
"But that has not stopped him in these first days of 2005 from conducting the equivalent of a non-election year political campaign, pitching to constituents and media all over the country as he tries to sell his ideas on Social Security, the war on terror, legal reform and a long list of other items.
" 'We can get more than one thing done,' he chuckled Thursday as he launched his latest drive, a one-hour White House meeting with reporters from The Courant and a dozen other regional newspapers.
Frank Davies writes in the Miami Herald: "He defended his policy on the treatment and interrogation of prisoners in the war on terrorism, saying reports of abuse 'will be investigated.' He said he was 'adamant' in opposing any use of torture.
"But he did not say if he agreed with his White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, who said at his congressional hearing last week to become attorney general that the president had the wartime power to override laws and order harsh interrogation, possibly even torture, in the name of national security.
" 'I'll have to talk to Al about that and make sure where he's coming from,' Bush said."
Adair writes in the St. Petersburg Times that Bush was asked whether it was appropriate to hold a lavish inauguration when people are suffering from the tsunami.
On another topic: "Bush said he was unaware that conservative commentator Armstrong Williams had received $240,000 to promote Bush's No Child Left Behind program until the news media recently reported the payment.
" 'Armstrong Williams has been very clear about the fact that he made a mistake,' Bush said. 'There wasn't transparency and there should have been transparency. I appreciate him being forthcoming about the fact that he thought he was wrong to take the money and do what he did.'
"Was it appropriate for the government to pay Williams to promote the education program?
" 'I think there needs to be transparency and a clear line between people who profess to be a reporter and advocacy,' Bush said. 'Obviously there wasn't in this case. And I think we're going to have to look and make sure it doesn't happen again.' "
Billy House writes in the Arizona Republic that Bush spoke at some length about his proposal for a guest-worker program. Here are his quotes from the interview:
Tom Webb writes in the St. Paul Pioneer-Press: "In light of the state of Minnesota's efforts to ease the purchase of prescription drugs from Canada, Bush was asked, 'Would you and your administration like to see these Canadian drug purchases shut down, or continued?'
"Bush said that his duty is to ensure products are safe, 'and products such as prescription drugs really must be safe. My concern all along is that well-meaning Minnesota citizens won't have adequate protection when it comes to buying drugs' from foreign sources."
Katherine M. Skiba writes in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that Bush was asked not just about regrets, but about hope.
"As for his hope, the president who declared a global war on terrorism after the Sept. 11. 2001, attacks and led the nation into two wars said: 'Peace.'
" 'Not only short-term peace, but long-term peace,' he said. 'I would hope that it would be said that the seeds of democracy that are being sown around the world will yield long-term peace.' "
The SceneLightman writes in the Hartford Courant: "If there's any agonizing soul-searching going on at the Bush residence, it wasn't apparent Thursday. While he was in a serious mood, he offered some of his usual quips and had no notes or briefing papers in front of him. A legal pad in front of him stayed almost blank, he only picked up his black Sharpie once, and he never drank from the 12-ounce glass of water on his right."
Stearns writes in the Kansas City Star: "In the session Thursday, Bush seemed almost disinterested and tired at first, but he appeared to enjoy himself more as the often free-wheeling session continued. . . .
"He was most animated in defending his effort to revamp Social Security."
Adair writes in the St. Petersburg Times: "Bush wore a blue business suit, a blue dress shirt and a gold striped tie. He was animated during the interview, gesturing and challenging reporters as they asked questions.
"When a reporter began a question by saying Bush had cited weapons of mass destruction as his reason to remove Saddam Hussein from power but that the weapons 'didn't exist,' Bush kept interrupting with 'Oooop!'
"Bush said Hussein 'had the capacity to make weapons, the desire to make weapons and he hated America.'
"After several interruptions, the reporter smiled and told the president, 'You've really broken my mojo with this question.' "
The USA Today InterviewBush also sat down yesterday, separately, with Judy Keen and Richard Benedetto of USA Today, who write: "President Bush says future retirees won't necessarily see smaller Social Security checks if Congress approves his plan to allow younger workers to invest part of their payroll taxes.
Here's the transcript.
Keen and Benedetto chose to concentrate on the politics and logistics of the Social Security plan, rather than try to delve for details or resolve contradictions.
More With Barbara WaltersABC News's The Note doles out a few more excerpts from tonight's broadcast of 20/20. Barbara Walters interviewed the president and first lady on Wednesday.
On the tsunami:
On his legacy:
Bush: "Well, one piece, I hope that 50 years from now people will look back and say, 'Thank goodness old George W. stuck to his beliefs that freedom is . . . is an agent for change, to make the world more peaceful, and that all people deserve to be free. At home I . . . two legacies. One would be a country in which our education system is the best in the world, and secondly that this concept of civic participation, the great compassion of the country has been re-energized, so that neighbor loves neighbor just like they liked to be loved themselves."
On Florida Gov. Jeb Bush:
Bush: "He's a wonderful guy. I don't think he wants to run for President. . . . Because I know he's loved being the Governor of Florida. But I don't think he's interested in running."
The Social Security Campaign to ComeMike Allen and Jim VandeHei write in The Washington Post: "President Bush plans to reactivate his reelection campaign's network of donors and activists to build pressure on lawmakers to allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market, according to Republican strategists.
"White House allies are launching a market-research project to figure out how to sell the plan in the most comprehensible and appealing way, and Republican marketing and public-relations gurus are building teams of consultants to promote it, the strategists said.
"The campaign will use Bush's campaign-honed techniques of mass repetition, never deviating from the script and using the politics of fear to build support -- contending that a Social Security financial crisis is imminent when even Republican figures show it is decades away. . . .
"The same architects of Bush's political victories will be masterminding the new campaign, led by political strategists Karl Rove at the White House and Ken Mehlman at the Republican National Committee."
The Washington PostHoward Kurtz writes in his washingtonpost.com Media Notes blog writes today about the "awful" appearance of The Washington Post Co.'s $100,000 contribution to the Bush inauguration.
And he notes: "By the way, The Washington Post just got an interview with the president for publication this weekend."
The Backfire in IraqDana Priest writes in The Washington Post about the conclusions of a report released yesterday by the National Intelligence Council, the CIA director's think tank.