President Bush Holds First News Conference of Second Term

1-26-05 - WASHINGTON - President Bush (news - web sites) urged Iraqis to defy terrorists and vote in Sunday's election and sought patience from anxious Americans as a Marine helicopter crash pushed the U.S. death toll above 1,400.

"The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people," Bush said on the deadliest day for U.S. forces since the Iraq war began. "I understand that. It is the long-term objective that is vital —that is to spread freedom."

To the Iraqis who face daily attacks from insurgents, he said: "Clearly, there are some who are intimidated. I urge people to vote. I urge people to defy these terrorists."

Conducting the 18th full-blown news conference of his presidency, the first of his second term, Bush touched on a wide spectrum of topics, including his proposal to overhaul Social Security, the budget deficit, shaky U.S. relations with allies and Democratic complaints about his top Cabinet picks.

Bush said he was looking forward to "leading the Congress" on Social Security, where he has called for legislation that will extend the program's financial stability while including an option for personal accounts for younger workers.

Bush acknowledged that some Republicans are nervous about dealing with the issue, long known as the third rail of American politics. But, he said, "our job is to confront issues and not pass them on." Without explanation, he likened his efforts to those once undertaken by former President Clinton a Democrat.

He renewed his pledge to oppose any increase in payroll taxes, which fund the Social Security program.

Half a world away, news from Iraq dominated the day. Bush said he did not know the cause of the deadly helicopter crash. In addition, insurgents killed four American troops in an ambush and carried out a flurry of attacks on sites linked to this weekend's elections.

A suicide car bomber attacked an office of a major Kurdish party, killing or injuring at least 20 people three miles southwest of Mosul.

Despite the unrelenting violence, Bush said: "We anticipate a lot of Iraqis will vote."

Less than a week after his inaugural address, the president reiterated his pledge to wipe tyranny from the globe but seemed to scale back on expectations.

"This will involve the commitment of generations, but we're seeing much progress in our time," the president said.

Bush spoke as the Senate prepared to confirm his nomination of Secretary of State-designate Condoleezza Rice, one of the architects of Bush's Iraq policy. "She is going to make a wonderful secretary of state," he said.

It was the deadliest day for U.S. forces since March 2003, when Bush led a fragile coalition against Saddam Hussein in search of weapons of mass destruction. No weapons were found, and now Bush is making the spread of freedom the cause of U.S. troops.

The previous single deadliest incident for U.S. troops was also a helicopter crash: a November 2004 collision of two Black Hawk helicopters that were trying to avoid ground fire, killing 17 servicemembers. Earlier that month, a Chinook transport helicopter was shot down by shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile near Fallujah, killing 16 U.S. soldiers and wounding 26.

Bush was asked if he would condemn a human rights abuse by the Jordanian government, a U.S. ally, which arrested a man and charged him with slander after he delivered a lecture called "Why We Boycott America." Bush said he was unaware of the case, but urged King Abdullah II to "make sure that democracy continues to advance in Jordan."

"As I said in my speech, not every nation is going to immediately adopt America's vision of democracy and I fully understand that," Bush said, referring to his inaugural address last Thursday. "But we expect nations to adopt the values inherent in a democracy, which is human rights and human dignity, that every person ought to have a voice. And his majesty is making progress toward that goal."