WASHINGTON (Nov. 7) -- President Bush, outlining a legislative agenda after his party captured both the House and the Senate in midterm elections, said Thursday his top priority was legislation to create a new Department of Homeland Security. He said he wanted it this year.
The president also said that Vice President Dick Cheney would be his running mate should he decide to seek a second term in 2004. ''There's no reason for me to change,'' he said.
In his first public appearance since the election, Bush said, ''The election may be over, but the terrorist threat is still real,'' Bush said in his first public appearance since Republicans swept the elections.
Asked to sum up his reaction to the election, Bush said it showed that ''people want something done.'' He said Congress should not wait until next year, but should take up the homeland security bill in the postelection ''lame duck'' session that begins next week.
''I want it done. It is a priority,'' Bush said.
He spoke with reporters on the eve of a U.N. Security Council vote on a U.S.-backed compromise resolution demanding that Iraq disarm under the threat of force.
Earlier Thursday, Bush talked by phone with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Jacques Chirac to discuss the resolution. Both have been cool to the hardline U.S. efforts to confront Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
''It's now time for the world to come together to disarm him,'' Bush said. He said that Saddam ''must be cooperative in the disarmament.''
Asked why the United States was prepared to use force to disarm Iraq, but not to move militarily against North Korea, which has admitted to having a nuclear weapons program, Bush said: ''I do care about North Korea...(but) we'll deal with each threat differently.''
''With North Korea, we're taking a different strategy initially. We're going to talk to countries in the neighborhood to convince North Korea it is not in the world's interest that they develop'' nuclear weapons.
In Tuesday's midterm elections, Republicans recaptured the Senate and increased their margin of control in the House. Republicans leaders were optimistic that the victories would help them win passage of Bush administration proposals that had been stalled in the Senate by the Democrats who had controlled the chamber.
''There's going to be a complete laundry list of things people want to get done,'' Bush cautioned, when asked whether he would push for controversial issues such as his plan to allow younger workers to funnel some of their Social Security payroll taxes into stocks and other private investments.
Bush said the Social Security debate was important and ''I still think the way to achieve security for... younger workers is to give them the option of managing their own account.''
Bush was asked about a possible shakeup of his economic team after the Election Day resignation of Harvey Pitt, the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
''My economic team came in during very difficult times. There was a recession, terrorist attack, corporate scandals,'' he said. ''We have done a lot to return confidence and to provide stimulus through tax cuts...We have made good progress on the economy, there is still work to do.''
He said that Pitt, who resigned under pressure, ''did some very good things,'' including reopening the stock markets after the terrorist attacks and enforcing corporate responsibility.
Bush said that Pitt resigned because ''he thought he couldn't be as effective as he wanted.''
Bush also praised William Webster, named by Pitt's SEC to head a new accounting oversight panel. Webster's appointment drew criticism after it was learned that he headed an auditing committee of a company under SEC scrutiny.
Bush noted that the SEC was conducting an investigation of the matter and said, ''We'll see what they say.''
''He served the country well,'' Bush said of Webster, a former FBI and CIA director. ''I know he can do the job.''
Asked whether Cheney would be on a second Bush ticket, the president said, ''We've got plenty of time to deal with these issues.'' But then he immediately added, ''If I should decide to run, Vice President Cheney will be my running mate.''
Bush said he was confident that Cheney, who has a history of heart trouble, would agree to serve another term.
Cheney has had four heart attacks, none as vice president, and had a high-tech pacemaker implanted in 2001 to monitor his heart and adjust its rhythm, if necessary.
Bush hailed Cheney's contribution to the Republican sweep in Tuesday's elections, pointing out the long hours the vice president spent - often quietly - on the campaign trail.
Bush and Cheney both campaigned almost nonstop for GOP Senate and House candidates in the closing days of the campaign. ''These candidates deserve all the credit,'' Bush said when asked about his own role in the GOP sweep.
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