President Bush today gave a bow toward bipartisanship, but said his election victory had given him political muscle that he intended to exercise in a second term focusing on the war on terror and overhauls of Social Security and education.
"When you win there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view, and that's what I intend to tell the Congress," the president said at a news conference two days after Americans gave him a majority of their votes.
"I've earned capital in this election, and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on, which is Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror," Bush said.
"I feel it is necessary to move an agenda" that he said throughout the campaign would make up his second-term goals. He made it clear that one of the top matters would be the government's primary retirement security program — almost certain to run into sharp differences over whether government retirement accounts should be shifted to private investment under the control of workers.
Bush said: "Reforming Social Security will be a priority of my administration."
He also cited expanding his education legislation of the first term to impose tougher standards on secondary schools, and an end to "frivolous" lawsuits that he said were driving up the cost of medical care.
In his opening statement, the president said he looked forward to working with Congress, where Republicans have marginally increased their membership: "I will join with new friends and old friends to make progress for all Americans."
But he indicated there were limits: "I'll reach out to everyone who shares our goals."
In the approximately 45-minute session, he said he did not know the additional costs of fighting the Iraq war. Nor did he directly address a question about how long U.S. troops would be engaged there.
And amid reports that he would begin a shake-up of his Cabinet and White House staff, he said he was not prepared to make any announcements. But he made it clear that some changes would be coming, acknowledging that some in Washington suffer "burnout."
The president spoke in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the White House. Among those smiling in the front row of the small auditorium was Karl Rove, the senior political aide whom Bush has called "the architect" of the reelection drive.
In his statement, the president said the voters had "set the direction" for the next four years. At the top of the list was continuing what he called "the war on terrorism."
"Every American has a stake in this war," he said, adding: "We'll persevere until the enemy is defeated. We'll stay strong and resolute."
At the same time, he acknowledged, both in his statement and in response to subsequent questioning, that the historic allies of the United States have not seen eye to eye with him during the course he has followed against terrorism — a campaign he regularly ties to the war in Iraq, where the greatest differences have occurred.
"Whatever our past disagreements" have been, he said, "every civilized country has a stake in the outcome of this war" against terrorism.
The president said he would work with the Office of Management and Budget and the Defense Department to present Congress with a "realistic" estimate of the future costs of the war in Iraq, where he said the United States would continue to work with the interim government to train Iraqi security forces.
"I have yet to hear from our commanders on the ground that they need more troops," he said.
Bush also talked overall about the Middle East.
"Middle East peace is a very important part of a peaceful world," he said. "I laid down a very hopeful strategy in June 2002" for Israel and a Palestinian state.
He gave no ground when asked whether the United States' image has suffered in the world.
He defended decisions "to protect ourselves," but acknowledged that "in certain capitals and certain countries those decisions were not popular." Those countries have included much of western Europe and the broad swath of the Islamic world from North Africa to southeast Asia.
On the question of the role of faith in American political life, the president, who speaks often of the role of prayer in his life and decision-making, said: "I will be your president regardless of your faith, and I don't expect you to agree with me, necessarily, on religion. As a matter of fact, no president should ever try to impose religion on our society."
Bush said the media ought not to read much into the role religion played in this election.
"If you choose not to worship, you are just as patriotic as your neighbor," the president said. "I am glad people of faith voted. I am glad all people voted. If you are a Jew or Christian or Muslim, you are equally an American."
The president described his father, the 41st president, as "relieved" that his son had won a second term. But because the winner was not declared until Wednesday morning and the senior Bush had already returned to Houston, "I never got to see him face to face to watch his, I guess, pride in his tired eyes as his son got a second term."
A catch in his voice, he said that from his father he learned that there would still be life after the White House.
"He taught me a really good lesson — life moves on. Life is bigger than just politics, and that was one of the really good lessons he taught me," the president said.
Times Staff Writer Mary MacVean contributed to this story.