Interview with George W. Bush and Michael Allen
Q Good morning, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Michael, welcome.
Q Thank you for having us into this amazing place.
THE PRESIDENT: Glad you're here.
Q Congratulations, father of the bride.
THE PRESIDENT: I am the father of the bride, and was real pleased with the way the wedding went. It was an amazing experience, Mike, to see a little girl I dearly love be so happy. It was — I think the wedding went exactly the way she hoped it would go.
Q When you took her arm, Mr. President, what were you thinking?
THE PRESIDENT: I was thinking this is one beautiful bride, and Henry is a lucky man. It was — you know, you can imagine, the setting was beautiful by our lake.
Q A sunset.
THE PRESIDENT: The sun set, came down around about the time of the vows.
Q Ninety-two degrees?
THE PRESIDENT: It cooled off a little bit. But it didn't matter how hot it was.
Q Mr. President, what was your toast?
THE PRESIDENT: The toast was to the families and friends that were there; the toast was to the Hagers in raising a good man in Henry; the toast was to my beautiful girl.
Q Mr. President, we understand you had a little homework assignment, you watched Steve Martin's "Father of the Bride."
THE PRESIDENT: I did. (Laughter.)
Q Did you pick up any tips there?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, which is to write the check and be happy.
Q Mr. President, the one thing we don't see in here is a computer, and we know that you went cold turkey off email for security reasons. What are you looking forward to when you finally get your computer back?
THE PRESIDENT: Emailing to my buddies. I can remember as governor I stayed in touch with all kinds of people around the country, firing off emails at all times of the day to stay in touch with my pals. One of the things that I will have ended my public service time with is a group of friends, a lot of friends. And I want to stay in touch with them and there's no better way to communicate with them than through email.
Q Mr. President, we know you're a man of intense faith. And I wonder, what was a moment in this room over the past eight years when you needed that most?
THE PRESIDENT: Michael, I'd say daily. I mean, part of the faith walk is to understand your weaknesses and is to constantly try to embetter yourself and get closer to the Lord. And that's a daily occurrence. Obviously there's been some tough moments in here. When you know that somebody lost their loved one as a result of a decision that I made, that's a tough moment. If you're a faithful person you try to empathize with the suffering that that person is going through. On the other hand, there is a knowledge that the good Lord can comfort during these moments of grief. And that's what I ask for in my prayer.
The Oval Office is a place where there's been, obviously, a lot of amazing experiences over a seven-and-a-half year period. My presidency is one where I've had to make some very tough decisions. I guess some presidencies are kind of — were real smooth, there were no real big issues. Well, that's not the way mine is.
Q Consequential. That's what you want —
THE PRESIDENT: Consequential — if that's how it turns out to be, that's a good word, because I didn't want to come to Washington, D.C. and just hold the office for the sake of holding it. I wanted to come to Washington, D.C. and help be a transformative President. And I think history, when they look back, will say this is a fellow who knew how to make decisions, and made some tough ones, stood by them, wasn't driven by the latest opinion poll, but was driven by some core principles from which he would not deviate.
Q This is the last question, Mr. President. You talked about some tough decisions -- what was the happiest moment you've had in this amazing room?
THE PRESIDENT: You know, Michael, that's a good question. One of the most interesting moments, of course, was right after the inauguration. And my dad was upstairs at the White House preparing for the inaugural balls. And I said to him, let's go on over to the Oval Office -- I hadn't been in the Oval Office as President yet. And so I came over here before he got here, and he walked through that door right there and it was a happy moment to see my dad come in the Oval Office. I love him dearly.
Here I put -- this is where I put the President, the most influential President. And I tell people that a natural choice for the most influential President would be my dad, because I wouldn't be standing here without his unconditional love, so I say it -- his portrait hangs in my heart, and Abraham Lincoln hangs on the wall as the most influential, substantial, transformative President. He was a great President.
Q Do you think the first President Bush is proud of you?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes, no question he is. And I'm proud of him. Look, I tell people -- and this is an interesting thing -- it's harder to be the son of a President than to be the President. In other words, when people get after Dad it would cause all kinds of emotions, none of them very good, in my being. I didn't like the unfair criticism. I thought at times he wasn't treated well. And when that happened, I didn't react positively because I loved him a lot. And now the roles are reversed.
Q You know the feeling.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, he's sitting there complaining about this editorial or that -- I said, man, I don't even pay attention to it, because I don't. But, yes, he's very proud of me, you can imagine -- and proud of Jeb and he's proud of all his children for different reasons.
Q Mr. President, thank you for sharing the people's house with us.
(Interview moves to Roosevelt Room)
THE PRESIDENT: Mike, glad you're here.
Q Mr. President, thank you very much for having us into the Roosevelt Room for the first online interview. In the spirit of the Internet, I wonder if we could ask a question from one of our users, Steve Bailey, of New York, who says: With oil at $126 a barrel, pushing up the price of everything -- even food -- what can your administration do to help people right now?
THE PRESIDENT: I appreciate Steven's concerns. With the price of gasoline going up, it's like a tax. I wish I could give Steven a quick answer. In other words, it took us a while to get to where we are -- very dependent on oil, and in a world in which demand is greater than oil. So my answer to Steven is that the best thing we can do is to increase supply, and to drill for oil and gas in environmentally friendly ways at home, and build more refineries. Steven probably doesn't know this, but we haven't built a new refinery since 1976, and if we're truly interested in relieving the pressure on our consumers, then we ought to have a very active domestic policy now.
Q Mr. President, as you know, as a possible solution, Senator McCain, Senator Clinton have talked about suspending the federal gasoline tax this summer. You never said an absolute "no" to that. Is it something you would consider or do you think it's a bad idea to consider?
THE PRESIDENT: I'll consider it. And there's all kinds of ideas -- they're trying to pass a deal to stop filling the Strategic Petroleum Reserve; we'll look at that.
The truth of the matter is that in order for there to be a substantial change either consumers have to change their habits -- which we're encouraging through alternative tax of automobiles -- or there has to be an increase of supply. And both of them have to go hand in hand in order to achieve less dependence on this very unsettled oil market.
Q Mr. President, I wonder if in your eight years in office what the changes have been, in your view, of climate change?
THE PRESIDENT: I think it's been more clearly defined as a problem. But what hasn't changed is the realistic notion that new technologies are going to be the solution, and the fundamental question is how do you grow the economy at the same time, and at the same time encourage new technologies. And my administration has done more for the new technologies necessary to change our lifestyles without sacrificing wealth than any other administration.
Q Mr. President, for the record, is global warming real?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it is real, sure is. But the solutions -- having said that, the solutions have got to be measured and realistic -- you can't have a solution to global warming unless China and India are part of any international pact. It's one of the reasons I didn't accept what's called the Kyoto Protocol, and therefore was labeled as anti-environment. I'm a realistic guy. If the major emitters of greenhouse gases are not a part of a solution, then those who are part of a solution are acting in a way that's simply not going to -- it will affect their own economies, but it won't affect the overall global warming issue.
So, yes, I put forth a very realistic, straightforward program that makes sense.
Q Mr. President, acknowledging those constraints, you're an oil man -- some people say that climate change, global warming could have been your Nixon-to-China. Do you wish you'd done more?
THE PRESIDENT: I did what I think is necessary to actually work, Michael. I mean, I could have signed a -- I could have supported a lousy treaty and everybody would have went, "Oh, man, what a wonderful sounding fellow he is." But it just wouldn't have worked. I don't think you want your President trying to be the cool guy and not end up with policies that actually make a difference.
So the policies I've outlined are policies that will actually make a difference: nuclear power for generating electricity; battery driven cars; ethanol. There's a variety of initiatives -- clean coal technology -- all of which will help us sustain our economic vitality and at the same time be better stewards of the environment.
Q Mr. President, turning to the biggest issue of all, Iraq. I wonder if you -- various people and various candidates talk about pulling out next year. If we were to pull out of Iraq next year, what's the worst that could happen, what's the doomsday scenario?
THE PRESIDENT: Doomsday scenario of course is that extremists throughout the Middle East would be emboldened, which would eventually lead to another attack on the United States.
The biggest issue we face is -- it's bigger than Iraq -- it's this ideological struggle against cold-blooded killers who will kill people to achieve their political objectives. Iraq just happens to be a part of this global war. Iraq is the place where al Qaeda and other extremists have made their stand -- and they will be defeated. They'll be defeated through military action, but they'll also be defeated as this young democracy takes hold. They can't stand to live in a free society, that's why they try to fight free societies.
The United States pulling out of Iraq or pulling out of the Middle East or not maintaining a forward presence would send all kinds of signals throughout the Middle East. And it would shake everybody's nerves, and it would embolden the very same people that we're trying to defeat.
Q Mr. President, I'm going to surprise you -- there's a question from a user, Bruce Becker, and he asks: Do you feel that you were misled on Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: I feel like -- I felt like there were weapons of mass destruction. You know, "mislead" is a strong word, it almost connotes some kind of intentional -- I don't think so, I think there was a -- not only our intelligence community, but intelligence communities all across the world shared the same assessment. And so I was disappointed to see how flawed our intelligence was.
Q And so you feel that you didn't have all the information you should have or the right spin on that information?
THE PRESIDENT: No, no, I was told by people that they had weapons of mass destruction -- as were members of Congress, who voted for the resolution to get rid of Saddam Hussein. And of course, the political heat gets on and they start to run and try to hide from their votes. But intelligence communities all across the world felt the same thing. This was kind of a common assessment.
So "mislead" means, do I think somebody lied to me? No, I don't. I think it was just, you know, they analyzed the situation and came up with the wrong conclusion.
Q Mr. President, you haven't been golfing in recent years. Is that related to Iraq?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, it really is. I don't want some mom whose son may have recently died to see the Commander-in-Chief playing golf. I feel I owe it to the families to be as -- to be in solidarity as best as I can with them. And I think playing golf during a war just sends the wrong signal.
Q Mr. President, was there a particular moment or incident that brought you to that decision, or how did you come to that?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I remember when de Mello, who was at the U.N., got killed in Baghdad as a result of these murderers taking this good man's life. And I was playing golf -- I think I was in central Texas -- and they pulled me off the golf course and I said, it's just not worth it anymore to do.
Q Mr. President, you're headed later today to the Middle East. The prospects for brokering peace between Israelis and Palestinians look bleak. I wonder what the best is you can hope for, and why should Americans back home care about your efforts over there?
THE PRESIDENT: It's a great question. Americans at home ought to care for the advance of free societies throughout the Middle East, after all, this is the center of anti-Americanism and hatred. In other words, the people that attacked us on 9/11 came from this part of the world. By far the vast majority of people aren't haters, and by far the vast majority of people don't hate America. But there are enough to be able to recruit if forms of government repress people. In other words, if there's hopelessness -- there's nothing more hopeless, by the way, than becoming a suicide bomber. And yet, these ideologues require hopeless situations.
So it's the advance of freedom throughout the Middle East which ought to be interesting -- which ought to say to the American people it's the best way to keep us secure.
No, we have seen -- we've witnessed this type of history before, Michael. In Europe it was the advance of freedom that now makes Europe whole, free and at peace. But that wasn't the case throughout the 1900s. In Japan, democracy came along and that enemy of ours is now an ally. In other words, freedom is transformative. And the big challenge in the 21st century is to advance freedom in the Middle East, for our security.
And you said about the Israeli-Palestinian issue? It's been tough for a long time. But I do believe we've got -- we're on the right track to defining a Palestinian state, what it looks like, so that the moderate people, the reasonable people in the region have something to be for.
Q Mr. President, I know you're going to hate this, but I'm hoping that we may twist your arm and talk about baseball for just a moment. (Laughter.) Mr. President, you're a Major League Baseball team owner again. Everyone is a free agent. You have a Yankees-like wallet. Who is your first position player? Who's your pitcher?
THE PRESIDENT: That's a great question. I like Ottley from the Philadelphia Phillies. He's a middle infielder, which is always -- you know, they say you have strength up the middle -- there's nothing better than having a good person up the middle that can hit. And Roy Halladay from the Toronto Blue Jays is a great pitcher. He's a steady guy, he burns up innings. And I'm sure I'm leaving some other good ones out, but those --
Q We thought you were going to go A-Rod, Josh Beckett.
THE PRESIDENT: Josh Beckett is good, yes, he's real good, too. I mean, look, that's a tough question to answer on the fly like this, Michael.
Q Now, Mr. President, I wonder if you think that Major League Baseball is doing enough to combat steroids use, and specifically, would you favor a blood test to check for human growth hormone. As you know the players union says it's an unwarranted --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, look, I think what they need to do is to come to an agreement and to assure fans like me that the sport is clean. I mean, I --
Q But what would that take?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I haven't studied all the particulars and all the testing. But I do know they need to get this era behind them quickly. Baseball is a fabulous sport. I used to say it's a sport played by normal-sized people. It turns out some of these normal-sized people are obviously very strong and very quick, but nevertheless, normal-size -- you don't have to be a huge guy to play baseball. And it's a great family sport, and it needs to be cleaned up.
Q And there haven't been enough normal-sized people.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there's -- yes, there are a lot of normal-sized people. I mean, there's a lot of little dudes who can play the game and play it well.
Q Now, Mr. President, you and the First Lady appeared on American Idol's charity show, "Idol Gives Back." And I wonder who do you think is going to win? Syesha, David Cook, or David Archuleta?
THE PRESIDENT: Michael, I can't tell you. I'll be frank with you, I'm usually asleep by that time of night. We did appear on it because we wanted to thank the "Idol" show for supporting causes such as Malaria No More, which is a real passion of mine and Laura's, which is to help eradicate malaria, or at least reduce the infection rate in half in 15 major countries -- or affected countries in Africa. And we're making some good progress….
…Q All right. Mr. President, who does the better impression, Will Ferrell of you, or Dana Carvey of your father?
THE PRESIDENT: Dana Carvey.
Q And speaking of impressions, our friend, Robert Draper, author of "Dead Certain," said you do a great impression of Dr. Evil from "Austin Powers". (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: That's awfully -- you mean this -- yes. That was a really good movie, too, the first one.
Q Mr. President, I know you're not going to believe this transition, but the Congress and Democrats now have been in charge for the Capitol for 18 months. I wonder if you care to give them a grade.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, one thing is for certain, Michael, that I've laid out a very aggressive agenda: a trade agreement with Colombia to help our economy continue to grow; making sure we got the tools necessary to protect our country from attack; supporting our troops in harm's way. And there hasn't been much action. And we got a housing crisis, and I proposed a reasonable set of reforms. And so I would call them stalled. I would call them, so far, good at verbiage and not so good at results.
Q Now, Mr. President, President Carter recently told Charlie Rose the next President could change America's image in 10 minutes. Here's what he said: "I think the next President could change the image of this country around the world in 10 minutes by making an inaugural speech that would start off and say, 'As long as I'm President we will never torture another prisoner, as long as I'm President we will never attack or invade another country unless our own security is directly threatened.'"
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, well, what he ought to be saying is, is that America doesn't torture. If the implication there is that we do now, then he's wrong. And you bet we're going to protect ourselves by the use of military force. What he really is implying is -- or some imply -- you can be popular; if you want to be popular in the Middle East just go blame Israel for every problem. That will make you popular. Or if you want to be popular in Europe, say you're going to join the International Criminal Court.
Popularity is fleeting, Michael. Principles are forever.
Q Mr. President, I'm getting the hook here. If I can ask you one quick political question. You have a clear eye. I wonder if at this point you feel sorry for Senator Clinton.
THE PRESIDENT: I feel like this primary has been a long, hard campaign. I remember what it was like in 2000, and I was exhausted. And my primary ended pretty quickly, compared to this one. And so I -- both those candidates have got to be just worn out. They haven't had time to get their feet on the ground or rest. So I know how they feel -- kind of.
Q Mr. President, looking ahead, are you worried that through no fault of the candidates, that America may be in for a kind of ugly conversation about race this fall?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm not. I think most Americans are open-minded people, and they're going to pick the President who can keep America safe and keep taxes low. And so I think -- my own judgment is, is that race will only enter in if it's provoked by the press.
Q Mr. President, as a final question -- and thank you so much for taking this time with us -- the scale of the disasters in China and Burma is amazing. I wonder how the United States can go about getting aid into those closed regimes.
THE PRESIDENT: I talked to Hu Jintao and if he -- I told him if he needs aid he's got it. Thus -- we'd get him some money, but thus far, he feels like he's in pretty good shape. And the relief -- and they've got a pretty good infrastructure in dealing with problems.
The place that really needs help is Burma. And Admiral Keating is there now. I told President Hu Jintao today, of China, if you get -- if you're in touch with the Burmese, tell them that we're genuine in our efforts to want to help. We've got some ships off the coast of Burma now, and so we'll see if Keating and Henrietta Fore, who runs AID, will get a better response from the government than we have gotten so far. We just want to make sure that the aid we give is given to the people -- that it's not squandered, not hoarded, but it actually gets to the suffering people.
We've been disappointed by the response. It's taken these people too long to move. It's almost as if they're in a state of denial. But we'll see. We're beginning to make some progress there in terms of getting our aid in.
Q Mr. President, thank you very much for your time. Good luck on your trip.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, sir. Thank you.
Q Thank you, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: It's been a pleasure.