“I’m the C student, and just look at who’s the president”

George W. Bush holds a press conference.

Topics: George W. Bush, War Room,

The president held a news conference this morning with Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt to complain about the way in which Democrats are dealing with the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

When he was done with that, the president said reporters looked “a little concerned as to whether or not I’d answer any questions,” then assured them that he’d be “happy to take any questions you have.”

Is there a difference between “answering” questions and “taking” them? Well, you decide.

Reporter: Mr. President, economists say that the nation is at increasing risk of recession. What do you say?

Bush: I say that the fundamentals of our nation’s economy are strong. Inflation is down. Job markets are steady and strong. The national unemployment rate is 4.6 percent. Corporate profits appear to be strong. Exports are up …

Reporter: Do you think there’s a risk of a recession? How do you rate that?

Bush: You know, you need to talk to economists. I think I got a B in Econ 101. I got an A, however, in keeping taxes low and being fiscally responsible with the people’s money …

Reporter: Sir, Israeli opposition leader Netanyahu has now spoken openly about Israel’s bombing raid on a target in Syria earlier in the month. I wonder if you could tell us what the target was, whether you supported this bombing raid? And what do you think it does to change the dynamic in an already hot region, in terms of Syria and Iran and the dispute with Israel, and whether the U.S. could be drawn into any of this?

Bush: I’m not going to comment on the matter. Would you like another question?

Reporter: Did you support it?

Bush: I’m not going to comment on the matter.

Reporter: Can you comment about your concerns that come out of it at all, for the region?

Bush: No. Saying “I’m not going to comment on the matter” means I’m not going to comment on the matter. You’re welcome to ask another question if you’d like to … on a different subject.

Reporter: I’ll ask you about Iraq … How is [the political dynamic] changing your level of frustration with the lack of political progress? And how long can Americans reasonably expect you to wait before you take some kind of action that really forces the Iraqi government’s hand to reach the goals of reconciliation that you’ve set for them?

Bush: In my speech, I made it clear that there has to be a change in security for there to be reconciliation. And I also said that progress will yield fewer troops. In other words, return on success is what I said.

There are two types of reconciliation. One is the reconciliation that — very visible reconciliation that happens with the passage of law. In other words, it’s reconciliation that shows the Iraqi people that people from different backgrounds can get along and at the same time that government can function.

Clearly, there needs to be work there. In other words, there needs to be the passage of law …

Reporter: Your defense secretary, Robert Gates, was recently asked by New York Times columnist David Brooks if, knowing what he knows now, invading Iraq was a good idea. And I believe your defense secretary answered, “I don’t know.” Does that represent daylight with you? Is that second-guessing? Have you spoken to the defense secretary? And has that changed your mind at all?

Bush: I think he made it pretty clear the removal of Saddam — I don’t know about this column, but I know in previous statements he said getting rid of Saddam Hussein was the right decision. But I haven’t talked to him about the column. If I had to ask everybody in my government to respond to columns and news stories, that’s all I’d be doing is talking to people in my government …

Reporter: You won’t comment on what the Israelis may or may not have done …

Bush: That’s an accurate statement. I hope you got that. That’s my answer. Of course, now [NBC's David] Gregory’s worried I’m actually going to comment, see?

Reporter: That’s what I’m hoping.

Bush: Well, I’m not going to, so you might want to go to another subject.

Reporter: I know you won’t comment on that, but let’s talk about whether or not you believe that North Korea is aiding Syria with a nuclear program.

Bush: We have made it clear, and we’ll continue to make it clear to the North Koreans, through the six-party talks, that we expect them to honor their commitment to give up weapons and weapons programs, and to the extent that they are proliferating, we expect them to stop their proliferation if they want the six-party talks to be successful. In other words, whether it be the exportation of information and/or materials is an important part. It doesn’t matter to us whether they do, in terms of the six-party talks, because they’re both equally important, I guess is the best way to say it. In other words, we want — it doesn’t matter — let me rephrase that — it matters whether they are. But the concept of proliferation is equally important as getting rid of programs and weapons …

Reporter: Mr. President, back to the economy for a moment: The Fed took its half-point rate cut the other day. Do you think that was enough to stave off recession? And if not, are there other steps you’re prepared to do to make sure?

Bush: I do not comment on the decisions made by the Fed. I will comment on Ben Bernanke. I think he’s doing a fine job …

Reporter: What do you say to those who criticize you for not speaking out on the situation in Louisiana, particularly given your passionate remarks after Hurricane Katrina about (inaudible)?

Bush: As you know, this is an ongoing trial. There’s litigation taking place. I feel strongly that there ought to be fair justice. And I just spoke out on it.

Reporter: Mr. President, former Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was recently asked if he missed you. He said no.

Bush: Oh, wait a minute. I miss him.

Reporter: Alan Greenspan has come out with a book — a recent book criticizing you for being fiscally irresponsible. And they’re not the first former government officials to come out and be critical of you. And I’m wondering two things. First, do you feel you’re betrayed by some of these people who have served you and then have come out and criticized you? And then, more particularly, can you respond to Greenspan’s criticism?

Bush:My feelings are not hurt. You might have been a little selective in quoting Donald Rumsfeld, which I know you didn’t mean to be, you know.

I respect Secretary Rumsfeld. I believe he did a fine job.

And I respect Alan Greenspan. I respectfully disagree with Alan Greenspan when it comes to saying that this administration didn’t handle the fiscal — fiscal issues we faced in a good fashion. As a matter of fact, we did …

Herman, have you got a question?

Reporter: Yes, sir. Thank you.

Bush: You’re welcome.

Reporter: Mr. President, for Republicans seeking election next year are you an asset or a liability?

Bush: Strong asset.

Reporter: Can I follow?

Bush: No. I knew I made a mistake calling on you in the first place.

Look, candidates who go out and say that the United States is vulnerable to attack and we’re going to make sure our professionals have the tools necessary to protect us are going to do well. Candidates who go out and say that helping these Iraqis realize the benefits of democracy are going to do well. Candidates who go out and say that it’s very important for the United States to have clear principles when it comes to foreign policy, they’ll do well. Candidates who say we’re not going to raise your taxes will do well.

Reporter: Quick follow-up on that?

Bush: Ann?

Reporter: Quick follow if I may, Mr. President?

Bush: No, you may not …

Reporter: Mr. President, back to your grade-point average on holding the line on taxes.

Bush: I thought you were going to talk about the actual grade-point average. I remind people that, like, when I’m with Condi, I say she’s the Ph.D. and I’m the C student and just look at who’s the president and who’s the advisor. But go ahead …

Reporter: Mr. President …

Bush: Big Stretch. He’s back.

Reporter: What is your reaction to the MoveOn.org ad that mocked Gen. Petraeus as “General Betray Us,” and said that he cooked the books on Iraq? And secondly, would you like to see Democrats, including presidential candidates, repudiate that ad?

Bush: I thought that the ad was disgusting. I felt like the ad was an attack, not only on Gen. Petraeus but on the U.S. military. And I was disappointed that not more leaders in the Democrat Party spoke out strongly against that kind of ad.

That leads me to come to this conclusion: that most Democrats are afraid of irritating a left-wing group like MoveOn.org — are more afraid of irritating them than they are of irritating the United States military.

That was a sorry deal. And it’s one thing to attack me. It’s another thing to attack somebody like Gen. Petraeus.

All right. Leavitt is going to answer some questions, if you have any for him. Make sure they’re — tone them down a little bit. It’s his first time in here.

Martha, you and Gregory be polite on him.

Thank you for your time.

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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