That Surprise Press Conference, Part II

From Holden:

<a href="Your preznit answered a few questions this morning, let’s get back to the fun.

On to the Social Security dance!

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You’ve made Social Security reform the top of your domestic agenda for a second term. You’ve been talking extensively about the benefits of private accounts. But by most estimations, private accounts may leave something for young workers at the end, but wouldn’t do much to solve the overall financial problem with Social Security.

And I’m just wondering, as you’re promoting these private accounts, why aren’t you talking about some of the tough measures that may have to be taken to preserve the solvency of Social Security, such as increasing the retirement age, cutting benefits, or means testing for Social Security?

His short answer after a long-winded recitation of his second-term goals:

Don’t bother to ask me. Or you can ask me. I shouldn’t — I can’t tell you what to ask. It’s not the holiday spirit. (Laughter.) It is all part of trying to get me to set the parameters apart from the Congress, which is not a good way to get substantive reform done.

But the reporter wants some details:

Q Can I ask a follow up?

THE PRESIDENT: No. (Laughter.) Otherwise, it will make everybody else jealous, and I don’t want that to happen.

Another reporter tries a different angle:

Q Thank you, sir. Mr. President, on that point, there is already a lot of opposition to the idea of personal accounts, some of it fairly entrenched among the Democrats. I wonder what your strategy is to try to convince them to your view? And, specifically, they say that personal accounts would destroy Social Security. You argue that it would help save the system. Can you explain how?

THE PRESIDENT: I will try to explain how without negotiating with myself. It’s a very tricky way to get me to play my cards.

Nope, he’s not gonna give you any specifics on Social Security, it’s not as if the public has a right to know or anything.

Ditto on a date when we will pull our troops out of Iraq, ’cause you might hold him accountable.

Q Mr. President, it’s — 140,000 Americans are spending this Christmas in Iraq, as you know, some of them their second Christmas there. Now, you outlined your vision for Iraq, both in your statement and in response to David Gregory. My question is, how long do you think it will take that vision to be realized and how long will those troops be there?

THE PRESIDENT: No, it’s a very legitimate question, Carl, and I get asked that by family members I meet with — and people say, how long do you think it will take. And my answer is — you know, we would like to achieve our objective as quickly as possible. It is our commander — again — I can — the best people that reflect the answer to that question are people like Abizaid and Casey, who are right there on the ground. And they are optimistic and positive about the gains we’re making.

Again, I repeat, we’re under no illusions that this Iraqi force is not ready to fight. They’re — in toto, there are units that are, and that they believe they’ll have a command structure stood up pretty quickly; that the training is intense; that the recruitment is good; the equipping of troops is taking place. So they’re optimistic that as soon as possible it can be achieved. But it’s — I’m also wise enough not to give you a specific moment in time because, sure enough, if we don’t achieve it, I’ll spend the next press conference I have with you answering why we didn’t achieve this specific moment.

Is our preznit learning? Asked where he stood on regime change in North Korea he said:

I think it’s an important lesson for this administration to learn, and that the best way to convince him to disarm is to get others to weigh-in.

Maybe he is learning, he did admit that he blew the budget:

Q Thank you, Mr. President. You talked earlier about the importance of spending discipline in the federal budget, but you went your entire first term without vetoing a single spending bill, even though you had a lot of tough talk on that issue in your first term. And I’m wondering, this time around, what are you going to do to convince Congress you really are serious about cutting federal spending? Will you veto spending bills this time?

THE PRESIDENT: Here’s — here’s what happened. I submitted a budget and Congress hit our number, which is a tribute to Senator Hastert and — I mean, Senator Frist and Speaker Hastert’s leadership. In other words, we worked together, we came up with a budget, like we’re doing now, we went through the process of asking our agencies, can you live with this, and, if you don’t like it, counter-propose.

And then we came up with a budget that we thought was necessary, and we took it to the leadership and they accepted the budget. And they passed bills that met our budget targets. And so how could you veto a series of appropriations bills if the Congress has done what you’ve asked them to do?

Then again, he seems incapable of learning. On the damage done to America’s reputation by torture at GITMO:

Look, we are a nation of laws and to the extent that people say, well, America is no longer a nation of laws — that does hurt our reputation. But I think it’s an unfair criticism. As you might remember, our courts have made a ruling, they looked at the jurisdiction, the right of people in Guantanamo to have habeas review, and so we’re now complying with the court’s decisions. We want to fully vet the court decision, because I believe I have the right to set up military tribunals. And so the law is working to determine what Presidential powers are available and what’s not available. We’re reviewing the status of the people in Guantanamo on a regular basis. I think 200 and some-odd have been released. But you’ve got to understand the dilemma we’re in, these are people that got scooped up off a battlefield, attempting to kill U.S. troops. I want to make sure before they’re released that they don’t come back to kill again.

Nope, he hasn’t learned a thing, other than to dodge hard questions about one of his incompetent pets.

Q Thank you. (Laughter.) You talked about the big picture elements of the Secretary’s job, but did you find it offensive that he didn’t take the time to personally sign condolence letters to the families of troops killed in Iraq? And, if so, why is that an offense that you’re willing to overlook?

THE PRESIDENT: Listen, I know how — I know Secretary Rumsfeld’s heart. I know how much he cares for the troops. He and his wife go out to Walter Reed in Bethesda all the time to provide comfort and solace. I have seen the anguish in his — or heard the anguish in his voice and seen his eyes when we talk about the danger in Iraq, and the fact that youngsters are over there in harm’s way. And he is — he’s a good, decent man. He’s a caring fellow. Sometimes perhaps is demeanor is rough and gruff, but beneath that rough and gruff, no-nonsense demeanor is a good human being who cares deeply about the military, and deeply about the grief that war causes.