WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush reiterated his belief that all judicial nominees deserve a vote on the Senate floor when he addressed the nation during his first prime-time news conference in a year April 28.
“I certainly hope my nominees get an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate,” he said from the East Room of the White House. “They deserve an up or down vote. I think for the sake of fairness, these good people I’ve nominated should get a vote, and I’m hoping that will be the case as time goes on.”
The president was responding to a question by NBC’s David Gregory about whether he agrees with Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, that judicial filibusters are an attack against people of faith.
The question came days after Perkins and other pro-family leaders held a “Justice Sunday” rally at a church in Louisville, Ky., to call for an end to judicial filibusters, saying Democrats have targeted specific nominees for their conservative Christian beliefs.
“I think people are opposing my nominees because they don’t like the judicial philosophy of the people I’ve nominated,” Bush said. “Some would like to see judges legislate from the bench. That’s not my view of the proper role of a judge.”
Gregory further questioned the president about his general opinion of the role that faith is playing in current political debates, and Bush responded by repeating his belief that religion is a personal matter.
“I think a person ought to be judged on how he or she lives his life, or lives her life,” he said. “That’s how I’ve tried to live my life, through example. Faith is an important part of my life, individually, but I don’t ascribe a person’s opposing my nominations to an issue of faith.”
Bush explained that a person who holds a political office must not project the idea that a particular person is not equally American if he or she does not hold the same religious view as the elected official.
“As I said, I think faith is a personal issue, and I get great strength from my faith. But I don’t condemn somebody in the political process because they may not agree with me on religion,” the president said, adding that the great thing about America “is that you should be allowed to worship any way you want, and if you choose not to worship, you’re equally as patriotic as somebody who does worship.”
“And if you choose to worship, you’re equally American if you’re a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. That’s the wonderful thing about our country, and that’s the way it should be.”
Bush began his hour-long news conference by discussing what he called two vital priorities for the American people — gasoline prices and Social Security.
“We must address the root causes that are driving up gas prices. Over the past decade, America’s energy consumption has been growing about 40 times faster than our energy production. That means we’re relying more on energy produced abroad,” he said.
In order to reduce America’s dependence on foreign sources of energy, Bush laid out four key steps: become better conservers of energy, make the most of existing energy sources, develop promising new sources of energy, and help growing energy consumers overseas use energy more efficiently in order to reduce global demand.
The president again called on Congress to address the challenges facing Social Security, reminding Americans that as people live longer and receive greater benefits once they retire and as fewer workers pay into the system, Social Security will be bankrupt in 2041.
As Congress works on a solution, they must be guided by three goals, Bush said: future generations must receive benefits equal to or greater than the benefits today’s seniors receive, benefits for low-income workers must grow faster than benefits for people who are better off, and younger workers must be given the option of placing a portion of their payroll taxes in a voluntary personal retirement account.
Bush answered questions about Iraq, saying that although the insurgency is strong, freedom is marching forward.
“I believe we’re making really good progress in Iraq because the Iraqi people are beginning to see the benefits of a free society. They saw a government formed today,” he said, referring to Iraq’s National Assembly approving a list of cabinet members as planned.
The Iraqi military is performing “much better than in the past,” Bush said, and “a lot of courageous people” are making a big difference in Iraq.
Several questions referred to North Korea, and the president discussed his intentions to continue six-party talks to persuade President Kim Jong-il to abandon his nuclear weapon ambitions.
Another reporter referred to what he termed the “poisonous partisan atmosphere here in Washington” and asked whether the president takes responsibility for the deep division on so many current political issues.
“I’ve been disappointed. I felt that people could work together in good faith,” Bush said. “It’s just a lot of politics in the town. It’s kind of a zero-sum attitude. ‘We can’t cooperate with so-and-so because it may make their party look good,’ and vice versa.”
But the president said he would continue to do his best to elevate the dialogue above name-calling tactics so that issues that concern the American people the most can be resolved sooner.
Some media representatives said the president’s nationally televised news conference was meant to bolster public support at a time when his approval rating is hovering below 50 percent, but Bush said he doesn’t place much importance on polls.
“If a president tries to govern based upon polls, you’re kind of like a dog chasing your tail,” he said. “I don’t think you can make good, sound decisions based upon polls, and I don’t think the American people want a president who relies upon polls and focus groups to make decisions for the American people.”