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Inside Politics

George W. Bush Discusses the Challenges Facing His Presidency

Aired January 18, 2001 - 5:49 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: You might say Washington never looked so pretty. Well, as you've just been hearing and you've been seeing, the president-elect has been at the Lincoln Memorial. He arrived here in Washington last night. He has just wrapped up his part in a gala kick-off in his inauguration coming on Saturday.

Earlier today, he sat down for an interview with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley. And Candy is joining us.

Candy, tell us about.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Judy, we sat down at Blair House which, as you know, is right across the street from the White House where President-elect Bush will take up office on Saturday. He was calm. He was relaxed. He was looking forward to the festivities.

We talked about a wide range of matters, but we spent much of the time talking about race relations and what he might do to improve his standing in the African-American community.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, first, I want to make sure that people understand that Al Gore ran a very good campaign in the African-American community, and there was a lot of folks who voted in the community.

In the state of Florida, for example, I understand that the percentage of African-American is roughly 12 percent, yet 16 percent of the total turnout was African-American. So, the participation was strong, to his credit. I wish they had turned out to vote for me, but they didn't.

Secondly, I do believe there are some in our society who don't think this criminal justice system is fair; that don't believe the American experience is really meant for everybody. They hear Republicans like me talk about prosperity and then they say, well, he doesn't really mean it for me, and that concerns me.

Anybody who does not feel a part of the American experience -- somebody feels left out is of concern of me and I'm going to address that in my inaugural speech, interestingly, enough. And so step one about what I can do is to make sure the election process is fair. Step two is to address a problem, and a problem is some don't think America's meant for them. And three, to the extent there is bigotry and prejudice in our society, enforce laws that prevent that -- supposedly prevent that from happening.

And fourthly, is make sure everybody gets educated. See, I think that education is the great equalizer; is the -- is the place where people can really understand their potential to realize and take advantage of America.

CROWLEY: Let me talk some specifics that are...

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: Sure.

CROWLEY: ... of particular concern, and you brought up one of them -- the criminal justice system. Everything from the disparity in sentencing for powder cocaine versus crack to the number of -- or the percentage of African-Americans or minorities on death row are of great concern in the African-American community.

Is there something as president -- do you share that concern, first of all? And is there something, as president, that you want to do to try to rectify, if not the reality -- if you don't think that this is a real -- that this actually reflects reality, the very real concern and frustration within the African-American community about that?

BUSH: Well, first, it's real and if a lot of people believe it's real. That, in itself, is reality. In other words, if people feel like our criminal justice system is unfair, then we better look at the reasons why, the underlying concerns.

You mentioned drug-users. One of the things that we have got to make sure of in our society is that our drug-prevention programs are effective. And I think a lot of people are coming to the realization that maybe long minimum sentences for the first-time users may not be the best way to occupy jail space and/or heal people from their disease. And I'm willing to look at that.

I understand the concern on the death penalty. I am obviously from the death-penalty state. And I suspect that my upholding the laws of Texas affected some people's attitudes towards me. I -- in my state of Texas, I have asked two questions, as you know. Is the person innocent or guilty of the crime and did they get full representation in the courts? And I felt like every case that came to my desk, that it was answered affirmatively. Those two questions were answered affirmatively.

But I understand. I can hear the concerns. And to the extent the law is unfair, then I think we need to analyze the unfairness.

CROWLEY: Are there places that you think it's unfair. I bring up again the disparity in the sentencing. As you know, powder cocaine is seen as sort of an affluent, white drug.

BUSH: Yes.

CROWLEY: ... as opposed to crack cocaine. And the penalties are harsher.

BUSH: Well, I mean, that's -- that ought to be addressed by making sure the powder-cocaine and the crack-cocaine penalties are the same. I don't believe we ought to be discriminatory. I mean, I think we ought to be sending a clear signal. But my point to you on the drug use is that one of the things we've got to do a better job of in our society is helping people cure themselves of an illness.

Addiction to alcohol or addiction to drugs is an illness. And we haven't not done a very good job, thus far, of curing people from that illness. And it's one of the reasons why I believe so strongly in faith-based programs to help people first change their lives, which would then change their habits.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about what's referred to as driving- while-black -- actually, the profiling.

BUSH: Yes.

CROWLEY: It's one of the things -- I am sure know -- that President Clinton sent up to the Hill, and said that: We need to stop racial profiling in law enforcement. What do you think about racial profiling? Do you think that it should be stopped? And can it be stopped at a federal...

BUSH: Well, I think what the federal government can do is work with states and local jurisdictions to help gather data to make sure that racial profiling is not occurring, and if it is, encourage local folks to address the situation. I am absolutely opposed to racial profiling. I think most Americans are opposed to racial profiling. And I think the best way to get at the root of if there is racial profiling is to first understand if it exists. So the federal government can help collect the date necessary to make the right choice.

CROWLEY: Now, there are, as you know, some law enforcement officials in various states -- along the East Coast are the ones I know about -- that say there is racial profiling. But you don't see a need for a federal law that would ban racial profiling?

BUSH: I think -- my attitude is we ought to ban racial profiling. And I'm convinced that every mayor in America wants to ban racial profiling. I don't think people want racial profiling in America. I don't believe that.

I, to the extent that the federal government can help, understand the depth of an issue in a particular community; we need to do that. We can pass a law; the fundamental question is: How do we enforce it? And the way to enforce it is to work with states and local jurisdictions to say, here is the data, you've got racial -- what appears to be racial profiling; correct it.

CROWLEY: What about federal hate crimes legislation? I know you talked about this a lot in the campaign and your feeling that the penalties were already there for people -- that all crimes are hate crimes. But this has becoming something that's very important to, particularly the minority community -- that it becomes symbolic.

You talked about the Education Department and how Republicans always wanted to get rid of the Education Department. And everybody thought, oh, they -- it just means they don't like education. Is there a point when something like a federal hate crimes legislation becomes important as a symbol of reaching out? Is it something you could see yourself supporting?

BUSH: Well, I think -- there was a couple of laws that were proposed, one of which I could support, by Senator Orrin Hatch -- I could support that. I was concerned about the law that Senator Kennedy proposed which would undermine the criminal justice systems at the state level.

And I think the signal we need to send in our society is that we're going to prosecute hate; that somebody who commits a crime against somebody has generally got hate in the their heart and we're going to prosecute them. But the most effective criminal justice system is one in which -- where there's vibrancy at the state level, and I don't want to undermine the state's ability to enforce their law. I don't want federal law to -- I don't want to, you know, federalize criminal law. I think that would be a mistake.

There are federal laws that need to be enforced, but the states need to enforce laws on the books as well. And my state -- I heard all the noise during the course of the campaign; I kept stressing, we have a hate crimes law on the books and we also enforce the law. And that should send a chilling signal to those who feel like they can harm somebody.

CROWLEY: What is -- if, you know, we're on the eve of your inauguration where you say you're going to become president of all the people...

BUSH: Yes.

CROWLEY: ... what is the most -- you know what the African- American community and some of the leaders have been saying in terms of, you know, we don't think this was a legitimate election. You know, we don't think that he cares about -- how can somebody who came from such a privileged background understand, you know, what's going on in some of these communities?

What's the most reassuring thing you can say to people of color, to minority communities, about your tenure as president and how you...

BUSH: Well, the most reassuring things is that I've been a governor of a diverse state and that, the first time I ran I didn't get a lot of votes in the African-American community, but I assured my fellow Texans from all walks of life that I'd be their governor; that I'd work to promote a more civil society; that I would promote values that made -- that stood the test of times; work on education; and criminal justice matters in a fair way. And I did that; and as a result, gained the confidence of people who didn't have confidence in me the first time around. I'm -- you know, I'm not the type -- I wish I had done better in certain communities and in certain states around the country.

That's not going to prevent me from being their president. And I'm going to be fair and even-handed. I hope people have taken notice that, in my national security apparatus, for example, the -- two of the key players are African-Americans. They're there not because they're African-Americans. They're there because they're going to be fantastic at the job.

You know, when people get to my know heart and understand the goals I've set for America pertain to everybody, I believe that people will come around. And I hope they do. And if they don't, that is just -- that is democracy. I understand that.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a couple of quick questions about some things that are out there: California electricity. They have had, you know, half-a-million people in the sort of rolling blackouts. Is there something that the federal government ought to be looking at in the short term in terms of helping California? Is that purely a state problem? What is your current take on that?

BUSH: Well, to the extent that we can help California maximize power production at its plants, we need to do so. In other words, if there is any environmental regulations, for example, that's preventing California from having 100 percent max output at their plants -- like I understand there may be -- then we need to relax those regulations.

California has a faulty law on its books. And it needs to correct it. Secondly, the situation in California underlies what I was saying in the course of the campaign. We have an energy problem. And although we need to promote conservation, the best way to make sure we have energy independence is to encourage more exploration. And we need to do so in places that -- where there is oil and gas. And we need to do so in places that can stand, you know, industry.

In other words, there are some places where we don't need -- shouldn't explore. But there are a lot of places where some think we shouldn't explore what we should, because I am convinced we can do so in an environmentally friendly way.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about the legacy question -- a lot of talk this week, as you know, about Bill Clinton's legacy. On the positive side, if you had to write that paragraph in history for what Bill Clinton's legacy is, what would it be? What do you see as his positive...

BUSH: Well, first, let me give you a -- my view of history, if you don't mind, as a way to dodge your question. There is no -- it's hard to determine any living president's legacy because all short-term history is so subjective. The true legacies of any president won't really emerge until years after we have passed.

I would say he was a deft politician. He gave -- and I look at it from a different perspective. I look at what lessons can I take from the Clinton presidency. And one of the lessons I can take is he did a pretty good darn job of understanding the end game with Congress, and that's relevant because there's always a struggle between the executive branch and the legislative branch, regardless of who's in power. It's just -- it's just a part of the history of our democracy. And President Clinton was -- was -- was very good at the politics of dealing with the Congress.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you about two other personalities...

BUSH: Sure.

CROWLEY: ... one of them your brother, Jeb.

BUSH: Yes. Fine man.

CROWLEY: A lot has been written so far that, in fact, he may have spent all of his political capital in Florida...

BUSH: Yes.

CROWLEY: ... that we have seen the end of the Jeb Bush tenure in Florida. Has he been damaged by what went on in Florida? Do you feel, you know, brotherly guilt about it? What do you -- give me your political assessment and your personal assessment?

BUSH: My political assessment is that Jeb is going to be very difficult to beat because the voters of Florida will judge him based upon what he has done as the governor of the state of Florida. I know a lot of the national punditry would hope that my election would spill over and affect him in a negative way. But that's not going to happen.

Jeb Bush has been a good steward of the budget of Florida. He's been really good on education. He has got a solid vision of a clean Florida. I mean, this is a man who's led, and woe to any Democrat who takes him on. In terms of how he's feeling, I guess good. I haven't spent a lot of time chatting with the boy.

CROWLEY: Saddam Hussein -- we're just going to go from one personality to the other.

BUSH: No parallel there, is there?

CROWLEY: Ten years since the Gulf War.

BUSH: Yes.

CROWLEY: Lots of talk this week about, you know, should they have taken him out? Lots of talk about how the sanctions are extremely leaky; lots of Western goods that make their way into Iraq.

Do you foresee a Bush administration in any way, shape, or form dealing with Saddam Hussein?

BUSH: We're going to deal with him. It is very important for people to understand that this is a man who appears to be bent upon developing weapons of mass destruction -- I say "appears" -- and that would be very damaging to our nation's interests. It would be damaging to our -- it could be damaging to our friends, the Israelis. And his ability to threaten countries in the Persian Gulf would be damaging to our friends the Saudis or the Kuwaitis.

And we will deal with him. I am concerned that the sanctions -- sanction regime is -- appears to be unraveling. I think I referred to it the other day, kind of like Swiss cheese. But that's not going to prevent my administration from working to rebuild alliances necessary to keep the pressure on Saddam Hussein not to develop weapons of mass destruction.

CROWLEY: But when you say dealing with him, you're talking about freezing him out? You're not talking about opening up diplomatic relations with him? You say, dealing with him, you mean...

BUSH: Dealing with him means making it clear to the best of our abilities that we're not going to tolerate his developing of weapons of mass destruction. That doesn't mean, you know, walking down arm- in-arm with the man. It's the opposite. It says that we're going to watch you very carefully and we're going to completely -- we'll assess all policy, of course. And this is one area that requires a lot of reassessment.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: President-elect George W. Bush, two days short of taking the oath of office. We asked him whether or not he was nervous. He said no, he's not nervous. Well, is he excited? He said he was getting there -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: Candy, you were just telling me before we aired this interview that this was the first time you'd seen the president-elect since December, just after the Florida recount was finished and we knew who was going to be the next president.

Did he seem any different to you?

CROWLEY: You know, you notice, Judy -- and you've seen enough presidents go from candidate to president -- there's always an involvement. And, yes, I do see it in President-elect Bush. And I saw it, really, over the course of the year-and-a-half that he ran, but even more so once it was settled and we knew that he would, indeed, become the 43rd president.

They kind of rise to the occasion; they become more presidential. I think you can see it in his manner; I think you could see it at the opening ceremonies tonight. I saw the same thing happen with former Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton. I saw the same thing happen, indeed, even with Vice President Bush, when he became President Bush.

They tend to become presidentialized, and you can see that happening with the soon-to-be 43rd president.

WOODRUFF: A new verb: "presidentialized." Candy Crowley, thanks very much; appreciate it, we'll see you later.

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