“Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it,” he said on Thursday.
With global and US public opinion polarised over the war in Iraq, Bush vowed to reach out to “those who share our goals” and pointed to the war on terrorism he declared after the 11 September attacks as a unifying force.
“Whatever our past disagreements, we share a common enemy,” the president said. “And I don’t need to rehash my case [for invading Iraq], but I made the decision I made in order to protect our country first and foremost.
“I’ll continue to reach out to our friends and allies, our partners in the EU and Nato, to promote development and progress, to defeat the terrorists and to encourage freedom and democracy as alternatives to tyranny and terror,” he said.
At odds with Blair
But Bush flatly refused to change course on foreign policy and declined to say whether he would draw from opposition Democrats for his cabinet or seek a consensus nominee for any vacancy on the US Supreme Court.
Bush disagreed with Blair’s view
Bush also did not fully endorse British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s stated view that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “the single most pressing” issue in world affairs or signal any shift in US efforts there.
“I agree with [Blair] that the Middle East peace is a very important part of a peaceful world,” Bush said, adding he hoped to “make good progress” towards the creation of an independent Palestinian state at peace with Israel.
Bush said he had not yet decided on whether to boost US troop levels in Iraq ahead of elections scheduled for January or how much more money was needed for the war effort there, calling reports of planned increases “pure speculation”.
“We’re on the path to stability,” he said. “These elections are important, and we will respond to the requests of our commanders on the ground. And I’ve yet to hear from our commanders on the ground that they need more troops.”
Bush, who has held fewer solo press conferences than any recent president, frequently cut off reporters trying to ask follow-up questions, quipping he could do so “now that I’ve got the will of the people at my back”.
Bush will bank on what he calls
On the home front, the president vowed to press ahead with tax cuts, curbing lawsuits on health care issues, pursue education reforms, overhaul the US tax code, and partially privatise the government-run social security pension system.
“We must reform our complicated and outdated tax code. We need to get rid of the needless paperwork that is a drag on our economy to make sure our economy is the most competitive in the world,” he said.
As to a possible cabinet reshuffle, Bush said: “There will be some changes. I don’t know who they will be. It’s inevitable. It happens in every administration. But let me just help you out with the speculation right now. I haven’t thought about it.
“I’m going to start thinking about it” this weekend at the presidential retreat of Camp David, he added.
Attorney General John Ashcroft, Secretary of State Colin Powell, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge appear unlikely to serve out a new term.
Reports say Condoleezza Rice (L)
Asked whether he would be able to rally Democrats behind his agenda, Bush replied: “I believe there will be goodwill, now that this election is over, to work together.
“It’s not easy, you know. I readily concede, I’ve laid out some very difficult issues for people to deal with,” he said.
Bush did not issue a call for Congress to make his nearly 1.9 trillion dollars in tax cuts permanent, a request he had repeated in speeches during the election campaign.
Earlier, after meeting with his cabinet, Bush made a passing reference to his often bitterly personal electoral battle with Democrat John Kerry, saying: “I made it clear to them I was glad the election was over.”