Bush: McCain must work to convince conservatives
WASHINGTON -- John McCain is a "true conservative," President Bush says, although the likely Republican presidential nominee may have to work harder to convince other conservatives that he is one of their own.
McCain "is very strong on national defense," Bush said in an interview taped for airing on "Fox News Sunday." "He is tough fiscally. He believes the tax cuts ought to be permanent. He is pro-life. His principles are sound and solid as far as I'm concerned."
But when asked about criticism of McCain by conservative commentators Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, the president said, "I think that if John is the nominee, he has got some convincing to do to convince people that he is a solid conservative and I'll be glad to help him if he is the nominee."
Bush said some of the criticism of the Arizona senator was the result of "probably, some personal animosity toward me. You can't please all the people all the time."
Asked during the interview about GOP candidate Mike Huckabee's criticism of his foreign policy, Bush said: "I'm sure that you can find quotes from people running for office that sound like they're at odds with me. But the point - what really matters in a campaign what are the basic beliefs."
Regarding attacks on his performance from Democrats Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Bush said, "If the Democrat party feels like they can win an election by focusing on me, I think they'll be making a huge tactical mistake."
Of Obama, the president said, "I certainly don't know what he believes in." In response, an Obama campaign spokesman, Bill Burton, said: "Of course President Bush would attack the one candidate in this race who opposed his disastrous war in Iraq from the start. But Barack Obama doesn't need any foreign policy advice from the architect of the worst foreign policy decision in a generation."
Bush said he disagrees with those who have accused former President Clinton of racism for his attacks on Obama and said he can understand why his predecessor "wants to campaign hard for his wife."
The president dealt with a number of other topics during his conversation with moderator Chris Wallace. The interview was taped Saturday at the Camp David presidential retreat and Fox released a transcript in advance of the broadcast.
-On the economy: "I think the experts would tell you we are not in recession. ... But I will tell you that the signs are troubling enough that we all came together and got a robust (economic stimulus) package out." Bush is scheduled to sign the legislation Wednesday.
Beyond that, he said, "We just have to play it by ear."
-On the legality of waterboarding and other techniques used to interrogate suspected terrorists: "Whatever we have done was legal, and whatever decision I will make will be reviewed by the Justice Department to determine whether or not the legality is there."
-On the long-term U.S. relationship with Iraq: "We will be there at the invitation of the Iraqi government. ... We won't have permanent bases. I do believe it is in our interests and the interests of the Iraqi people that we do enter into an agreement on how we are going to conduct ourselves over the next years."
-On Iran: "I feel pretty good about making sure that we keep the pressure on Iran. To pressure them so that they understand they're isolated. To pressure them to affect their economy. To pressure them to the point where we hope somebody rational shows up and says, OK, it's not worth it anymore." phone calls and e-mails of people inside the U.S.: "It's been a difficult issue for me because I am - listen, I no more want to trample the civil liberties of the American people than anybody else does. On the other hand, I understand the nature of these people. And I understand the complexities of trying to protect the American people."
-On speculation about his relationship with his father, the first President Bush, and its possible impact on his own presidency: "It's shallow. Shallow psychobabble. ... A bunch of people obviously got too much time on their hands."
- On his legacy: "As far as history goes and all of these quotes about people trying to guess what the history of the Bush administration is going to be, you know, I take great comfort in knowing that they don't know what they are talking about, because history takes a long time for us to reach."
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