In his first prime-time interview since Election Day, George W. Bush talks with CBS News Correspondent Scott Pelley about the latest turn of events in the courts, his opponent Al Gore, and his plans for the presidency.
Scott Pelley: Are you the president-elect?
Bush: You know, Scott, I've - I asked my staff to call me governor. It's a very extraordinary period in American history. We haven't had an election like this in a long time. And - until it's over, I'll be governor. I think I'm going to be the president-elect. But until it's official, until it's final, I'd prefer that people call me Gov. Bush, or George W., as the case may be.
Pelley: But, come on Governor, you have 271 electoral votes, certified officially by all 50 states.
Pelley: As we are sitting here right now, you are the president-elect.
Bush: Well, I - I feel like I have won the election. I feel like I've actually won it two or three times but my opponent has made a - a decision to continue to contesting and I understand that. I - and - I - I can understand his anguish, I can understand the emotions involved, but he's pressing on and until the election is final, I would hope the people would call me Governor Bush.
Pelley: Vice President Gore lost a big case in Florida court, decisively lost it, yesterday.
Bush: Uh hmm (Affirmative).
Pelley: He has decided to go ahead and appeal. Is he a sore loser?
Bush: Not at all. I mean, listen I - he and I share something, we both put our heart and soul into the campaign. And he gave it his all and I darn sure gave it my all. And however it comes out, I'm confident that he will do the right thing for the country and I know I will as well. But I - I don't think it's time for me to be labeling anybody any - any names. I - I - because I do understand what it means to have put your all into a campaign and - and hope that it comes out the way you want it come out. But I - I don't think so. I think he's doing what he thinks is right.
Pelley: You said that both you and Vice President Gore would do what's right for the country?
Bush: Uh Hmm (Affirmative).
Pelley: What's right?
Bush: Well, what's going to be right for the country, Scott, is once this is over, for both of us to work to heal whatever wounds may exist, particularly amongst the partisans, and to remind the people of this country that our nation is much more important than politics. Politics is important to select a president, but there are some issues and some matters and some attitudes that - that - that are incredibly important for us to have a hopeful 21st century.
At one point during the - the - the last month, the Vice President said he - he would hope to meet with me. And I would hope to meet with him as well. I - I would accept that invitation, once the elecion is over.
Pelley: If Al Gore was sitting in this chair instead of me-
Pelley: What would you say to him?
Bush: Well, we've already had three debates. I would say that, you know, "I respect the race you ran, you ran a good race. You're a tough competitor. And I - I wish the election weren't quite as close. I wish it were easier for people to see the - the results, but it is a close election and therefore - it's taken a while for us to determine who the winner is."
Pelley: Would you say, "Mr. Vice President, it's time to stop? And move on?"
Bush: No, I - I wouldn't until - I - I - I believe each of us needs to make our own mind up. And I think he's plenty capable of doing that. You know, it's - it's hard for people to understand what it's like to have run the hard race - to expect, you know, have great expectations about the outcome, and then be here a month later without the - without finality. And I - I can - I can appreciate what must be going through his mind.
Pelley: And you must be lying awake at night?
Bush: Not - not really, Scott.
Pelley: Oh, come on, this has got to be - tough.
Bush: As my friend John McCain said, "I'm sleeping like a baby." You know, I'm - I'm -
Pelley: Up every two hours-
Bush: Wake up every two hours and cry. So I - I feel it's - no, it's not - I'm - I'm - I'm much more patient. It's been an interesting lesson. First of all, I think things happen for a reason in life and - part of it is to - part of this exercise has got to be to make me a more patient person. And I am patient.
I - I - I put a lot of emotion, a lot of energy into the campaign. And obviously election night and the immediate aftermath were - were incredible. I am - but I'm a patient man, and I believe that when it's all said and done, I will prevail and Dick Cheney will be the vice president.
And I am waiting for the results, waiting for finality. In the meantime, though, there's stuff I've - we've got to transition to run, and a White House to staff, and a Cabinet to pick. So there's plenty to do, as - as we wait for the final voting.
Pelley: Can you imagine a scenario today in which you lose?
Bush: Not really. But until - until there's finality - call me governor.
Pelley: And what do you call finality? At what point would it be appropriate for one candidate or the other to say I'm throwing in the towel?
Bush: Well, obviously that-each of us is going to have to make up our own mind. But finality for me would be if I got a phone call from my opponent and he said, "We've-we've run the string. We've done all we can do." Or when the electors get voted on.
Pelley: What is your plan for the first hundred days in office?
Bush: Well, I-I ran on an agenda, that-I think is very important for the country. Let me first tell you, don't think I'd be sitting here had it not been for the agenda. It-it was a series of ideas on important issues that confront America. And so step one is to work with both parties to enact the agenda.
And the agenda as you may recall, is Social Security reform and Medicare reform, including prescription drugs, education reform, strengthen the military to keep the peace, and tax relief. Inherent in those areas are just powerful issues that will help the country. And - and so, step one is to - is to go to Washington, reminding people why I'm there. And then call upon members of the legislative branch to - to come together to do the people's business, to get-get it done, to put partisanship aside and to focus on making sure this country is as hopeful as it can be.
Pelley: The hallmark of your campaign was an across-the-board tax cut. Isn't that idea dead-on-arrival now, with the House and the Senate so evenly split, it seems impossible to-to pull that off?
Bush: Oh, I think there's some common ground there, I do, Scott, for a lot of reasons. One, you may remember that part of my tax relief package was the death tax - getting rid of the tax death and doing something about the marriage penalty, both those bills had passed Congress. There are some warning signs on the horizon about the economy, both Secretary Cheney and I have spoken about that publicly.
One of the reasons I fought so strongly for tax relief was to serve as an insurance policy against a potential economic downturn. I think the-the-the evidence makes my tax plan even more compelling. And remember part of the tax relief plan did address some serious unfairness in the tax code. The code is unfair is to people at the bottom end of the economic ladder and we must do something about it.
So, I think we've got a very good chance of convincing people on the merit, not on the politics, but on the merits of tax relief.
Pelley: I wonder if I hear you re-trenching?
Bush: No, not at all. I'm more than ever-I'm-I am-I am more than adamant about what I said earlier, and you need to hear this. I believe strongly the reason I sit here, the reason I was able to run the race I ran against a sitting vice president, with what had been and now hopefully will be a good economy and the world basically at peace - is because of the ideas that I talked about, including a tax relief plan that allows us to provide tax relief for folks and at the same time balance the budget.
Pelley: But in the campaign, we were talking about a broad based tax cut, for all Americans.
Bush: You bet. I still am saying that.
Pelley: Now that the election's over I hear you saying, well, marriage penalty tax, death tax-
Pelley: Are you backing off?
Bush: No, not at all. And I still believe we need to have a rate reduction for everybody who pays taxes. I-I-I-what I said was, was that a tax relieplan for everybody serves as an insurance policy against a potential economic downturn. I still strongly believe that.
Secondly, the code is unfair and we've got to make sure the code is more fair. And thirdly, it's an opportunity to simplify the tax code. And quite the contrary, as a matter of fact when I was-on the ranch talking to Leader Lott and Speaker Hastert I-I told them that I feel strongly about tax relief. And I believe there is money to be able to provide not only tax relief, but to meet our priorities as well.
Pelley: Your running mate, Dick Cheney-
Pelley: said this week that we are on the front edge of a recession. (Laughter) Do you believe that?
Bush: I-I believe there are some warning signs that we need to take seriously. And the role of the Chief Executive of the country, the president, is to anticipate - we need to make sure that the dollar's stable. We need to make sure that we have an energy policy. We need to make sure that there's a-incentive for savings.
One of the reasons I'm so strong about personal savings accounts for Social Security is to help for capital accumulation in the private markets. And we need to make sure people have got some-money-some of this surplus back in their pockets, to serve as a-as a-you know, insurance policy against an economic downturn, and we need to be a nation of free traders. And so I-I-people, if they listen to what I proposed, I think will find that, no matter if you're Republican or Democrat, that-that-the policies that we've outlined are policies that will help, should the economy take a downturn.
Pelley: What are these economic warning signs that worry you?
Bush: Well, the markets, for starters. The Nasdaq is-has been on the decline. There's some warning signs out of the automobile industry. High energy prices should be of concern. I-those are three examples.
Pelley: Some people believe that with the markets in the condition they're in, for Dick Cheney to go out and say we're on the front edge of a recession was irresponsible.
Bush: Well, I think it's-what is responsible is for leaders to anticipate. And-Dick Cheney and I do not want this nation to be in a recession. We want anybody who can find work to be able to find work. But it's responsible to be looking down the road, and if we do see warning signs, is to anticipate and-and do something about them. That's-that's-that's what the president's supposed to do, and that's what-what I will do, should I-when finality arrives.
Pelley: When President Clinton first entered office, he embraced Alan Greenspan and his view of the economy. Will you do the same?
Bush: Well, I thought the President made the right decision embracing Alan Greenspan. I think he's been a-a very steady and-positive influence for the economy. As you know, the President re-appointed Alan Greenspan and-I-I-I supported that r-appointment. And I look forward to working with Alan Greenspan.
Pelley: You'd be inclined to re-appoint him yourself?
Bush: Well, that's down the road. And-it's going to be up to Alan Greenspan, I suspect as to whether or not he even wants to be considered.
Pelley: If in that first meeting, with Mr. Greenspan, the Chairman of the Fed, he say to you, "Mr. President, I think an across-the-board tax cut is probably bad for the economy."
Pelley: Will you listen?
Bush: Of course I'll listen. It doesn't mean I have to agree with him, because I happen to believe that an across-the-board tax cut will be good for the economy. I think it's important that we give consumers some of the surplus. And I suspect Chairman Greenspan would say - rather than increasing the size of government, to share some of the surplus with the people who pay the bills makes sense. But I don't want to put words in his mouth.
Pelley: You would become the first president in more than a hundred years to win the electoral vote and lose the popular vote.
Bush: That's right.
Pelley: Frankly, more people voted for your opponent.
Pelley: Does that make a Bush presidency somehow less legitimate?
Bush: Not at all. As a matter of fact, the fact that-I am able to take on a sitting vice president with the economy in pretty good shape and-the world at peace, with a-an agenda that talked about Social Security reform, and Medicare reform, and tax relief, and-and win by the rules at the time I think will help me a lot. Let me-let me say something about the popular vote.
You know, I-I-had this been an election on who got the most popular votes I suspect we might have had a little different strategy. For example, I might have spent more time in my own home state of maximizing the vote here. One of the reasons why the Electoral College is in place, is it forces candidates like me to go and spend time in some of the smaller states that candidates might ignore. And so I-I-you know, I understand the results. But my whole strategy was based on securing enough electoral votes to become the president.
Pelley: Just - if I may for a moment.
Bush: You bet.
Pelley: If the legal case in Florida threatens to push finality, as you call it, past the deadline for the Electoral College which comes just a week from tonight, would you in court - would you encourage the Florida legislature to name its own electors?
Bush: You know, Scott, I think - that is such a hypothetical situation, particularly given the - outcome yesterday, that I don't anticipate that happening. But as I said yesterday, in a little press (unintel) I think it's important for us to take each-take this step-election one step at a time. And-you're going to have to ask me that question if the courts-don't uphold the-the lower court's findigs.
Pelley: Well, the legislature's out of ahead of you on this. They've already talked about electing their own electors. You're not telling them to stop.
Bush: Well, I - as I said, I think we ought to go one step at a time. And you know, hopefully this will be resolved quickly in the courts of law in Florida.
Pelley: That would be the least appealing outcome for you, if the legislature had to step in? And your brother-
Bush: Oh I think-
Pelley: sign the bill-
Bush: I think this is an election that -that it's going to be decided in the courts. For-certainly feels like right now. That-that-one have-soon all the legal wrangling will end and this country will have a president.
Pelley: And you don't think it's going to go to the Florida legislature?
Bush: I-I don't think so. I really don't. But if it were - if it - if it goes beyond, come back and ask my opinion then.
Pelley: How do you view your Cabinet with the country so evenly divided, the Congress so evenly divided, should your Cabinet be divided between Republicans and Democrats?
Bush: Well, I'm-I'm going to reach out to Democrats. I think it's important for the president to do that and I-I will-not only reach out to Congressional Democrats, but hopefully find people to serve in our government, ask people to join. I don't-haven't picked anybody yet, of course, I'm waiting until the election is final. But I think-I think it would be wise for me to reach out and-to try to convince some to join us.
Pelley: Colin Powell will be secretary of state?
Bush: Well, he certainly - you know, he's certainly a good friend and a good man and I - as I've said publicly I hope to be able to convince him to serve. He is - he's an extraordinary American and would make a great addition to anybody's administration.
Pelley: You're going to ask?
Bush: Well, if I-if I am, I'm certainly not going to tell him over the TV set, I'd like to tell him personally. But obviously, he's a friend, he's-came down to the ranch the other day, we had a really good discussion about a lot of things and-including foreign policy and national security matters and-
Pelley: And when you ask, you're going to expect him to accept?
Bush:(Laughs) Well, I-I think the president-elect, any time he would ask somebody he would hope that people would-would put their country ahead of-of-ahead of personal matters. Particularly now, this is an extraordinary time. And it's going to require extraordinary Americans to step forward and serve their country. And-you know, I hope people give me a positive response if I were to ask them.
Pelley: Are you giving any thought to making your brother attorney general? John Kennedy did it for Bobby Kennedy.
Bush: Yes, I've given it thought, I spent about two second on it, the answer is no.
Pelley: NoAny role for Jeb Bush?
Bush: Well, first of all, he didn't go to law school, and secondly he is a fine man. But he needs to be in Florida doing the Governor-the job of Governor of Florida. No he-he's not going to be asked, and he doesn't expect to be asked. And-so, no.
Pelley: There's no cabinet role for your brother?
Pelley: Sound pretty decisive. (laughter) You're not sore about Florida, are you?
Bush: I'm a decisive person, we're going to win Florida. Of course, I'm thrilled that we won Florida. But-no, it's not the right thing for me or Jeb and he knows that, and I appreciate you asking. He'll be happy to hear his name mentioned on national TV.
Pelley: How much concern do you have that the Democrats in Congress are going to try to thwart your every initiative with the idea of winning back the House and the Senate in 2002?
Bush: Well, you know, Scott I think that-first of all, I haven't had a chance to visit with the leadership, and I'm going to. Democrats want to do what's right for America as well. Democrats want prescription drugs for seniors. Democrats want a-I noticed the other day that Mr. Gephardt, Congressman Gephardt said in-he said, "There will be a tax cut, it may not be what-you know-George Bush wants, but there'll be a tax cut." I thought that was a pretty good start. A pretty good start of finding common ground.
I-I-am-I believe that-when-if we can change the attitude in Washington, which I'm-confi-I strongly feel like this administration can do, that everybody will realize there's political benefits by working together. That a new attitude will set-well, you know, the best way to capture seats is to show positive results on issues that matter for Americans, and I think that's going to happen. I-I just-this election has happened for a reason, I think.
And I think the reason is to show people that divisiveness is not best for America. That we ought to come together. And so I feel - I'm very optimistic about our chances to do what's right for the country.
Pelley: How does a man who has won the presidency -- apparently by 537 votes -- (laughter) pull the House and Senate together? It would be a monumental job for a president who had a sweeping mandate and frankly, sir, you don't have that.
Bush: Well, first of all, I want to repeat what I told you, that-I believe that I'm sitting here because I campaigned on some ideas that people heard. And-secondly, I believe strongly Scott that people care more about America than they do about personal ambition. I think-I think-I think it's so important to understand that people serve the country for the right reason, whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, at least that's the spirit I'm-I'm going to take to Washington D.C.
And I understand we have differences, but a close election and a divided country has got to say loud and clear to the eadership in Washington, it-it's important to show that we're-we can rise above partisanship and gridlock and finger-pointing and name-calling. I think there's a great opportunity for that to happen.
Pelley: You know the leadership in the Congress, the Republican leadership in the Congress, Senator Lott, Congressman Armey, Congressman DeLay, they're not your kind of Republicans. (laughter) And-you're not their kind of Republicans.
Bush: Well, first of all, we're all Americans. And-you mentioned three men who I know and I consider friends. And-we may not agree a hundred percent of the time, but we're going to agree to do what's right for America and I think these leaders, regardless of their party, have realized that there's a unique opportunity to say to the country and to future generations, we proved the skeptics wrong, that we can work together. That there is a spirit of-of cooperation-poss-that it's possible to have a spirit of cooperation in Washington D.C.
I'm going to do everything I can to foster that spirit of cooperation, Scott. I-I go with an attitude that says let's do what's right for the country. And-and I'm going to work hard. And I-listen, I understand the challenge. But I look forward to it. There's-it's-such a wonderful opportunity to prove people wrong, to erase cynicism, and to set this country straight as we head into the 21st century.
Pelley: What is the first bill you'd like to see introduced in the House of Representatives? What's your first priority?
Bush: A public education reform bill that'll-that'll-that'll incorporate the principles of local control of schools, and strong accountability. That will trust the local people to make the right decisions for children, but says, you know, we expect results for all children. We-we don't want people to just simply shuffle through the system, that there must be accountability with responsibility when it comes to public education.
Pelley: The Clinton administration provided you with a national security briefing this morning.
Bush: Yes, they did.
Pelley: You spoke with your national security advisor today as well.
Bush: I did.
Pelley: What is the principal threat facing the security of the United States?
Bush: The principal threat facing America is isolationism. That this nation must not retreat within our borders. That we've got a build our alliances, we've got to work with our friends. I like to tell you-I used to tell people in the campaign, I said, "We're going to work with our friends when we don't need each other, so that when we do need each other, there's a strong alliance to-to fight terrorism or extremism." The biggest threat facing the country is that if this nation didn't understand our responsibility to make the world more peaceful, more prosperous, more democratic.
Pelley: You make that statement only weeks after the USS Cole?
Bush: Yes I do-
Pelley: response -
Bush: Well, that's the reason to make it, because-there are some people that would say rather than confronting terrorism, rather than rooting out the fundamentalism that drives some people to-to want to destroy freedom and fight against freedom, that their response that would be let's retreat, let's not expose ourselves in the world. I-it's so important for us not to listen to that point of view.
But the-world-America can't go it alone, and there's-I think it's important to understand the difference about being-being a nation that's humble, willing to build alliances-and set priorities, a priority of ours has got to be-be-free trading world. A priority of ours, has got to work with-countries like Russia to stop the spread of-weapons of mass destruction and to make sure the world is more safe from a nuclear-nuclear perspective.
There need to be priorities, Scott, don't get me wrong. And I have said during the course of the campaign, what I-will be our-my priorities. And my priorities will be our own neighborhood and Europe and the Far East and of course the Middle East.
Pelley: Are you saying that terrorism is the threat that concerns you most, say over China and the Taiwan strait, North Korea's missile programs - It's Osama bin Laden -
Pelley: that you're concerned about?
Bush: Well, I'm concerned about 'em all. I don't think-I don't think-I don't think there's a single issue that stands out that-that you know-let me put it this way, there's not a single flashpoint that concerns me, relative to others.
I mean, for example, Saddam Hussein is still an issue, particularly when you couple it with the energy situation. His-his-his ability perhaps to influence markets-he took some oil of the market recently, that should be troubling to people.
You know, but there's a lot of issues around the world that are of great concern and I-my administration will deal with all the issues in a straightforward, strong way. And it starts with having a military that's responsive, military of high morale, and alliances that are strong and steady. The presence in the world by the United States is not an arrogant presence, but a humble presence, yet a consistent presence-of consistent message that we-when we say something, we mean it, and we're going to back up our word. We have great opportunities to help make the world more peaceful, but we can't do so if we become isolationists.