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Bush: Time to put elections behind us

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday discussed the midterm elections and the news that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was stepping down in a White House news conference. The following is a partial transcript of his remarks:

BUSH: Say, why all the glum faces?

Yesterday, the people went to the polls and they cast their vote for a new direction in the House of Representatives. And while the ballots are still being counted in the Senate, it's clear the Democrat Party had a good night last night. And I congratulate them on their victories.

This morning I spoke with the Republican and Democrat leadership in the House and the Senate. I spoke with Republican leaders, Senator [Bill] Frist and Senator [Mitch] McConnell and Speaker [Dennis] Hastert and John Boehner and Roy Blunt. I thanked them for their hard-fought contest. I appreciated the efforts they put in for our candidates.

I'm obviously disappointed with the outcome of the election and, as the head of the Republican Party, I share a large part of the responsibility.

I told my party's leaders that it is now our duty to put the elections behind us and work together with the Democrats and independents on the great issues facing this country.

This morning I also spoke with the Democrats. I spoke with Senators [Harry] Reid and [Richard] Durbin. I congratulated them on running a strong campaign in the Senate. And I told them that, regardless of the final outcome, we can work together over the next two years.

I also congratulated Congresswoman [Nancy] Pelosi and Congressman [Steny] Hoyer. They ran a disciplined campaign. Their candidates were well organized and did a superb job of turning out their votes.

I told Congresswoman Pelosi that I looked forward to working with her and her colleagues to find common ground in the next two years.

As the majority party in the House of Representatives, they recognize that in their new role they now have greater responsibilities.

And in my first act of bipartisan outreach since the election, I shared with her the names of some Republican interior decorators who can help her pick out the new drapes in her new offices.

I believe that the leaders of both political parties must try to work through our differences. And I believe we will be able to work through differences.

I've reassured the House and Senate leaders that I intend to work with the new Congress in a bipartisan way to address issues confronting this country. I invited them to come to the White House in the coming days to discuss the important work remaining this year and to begin conversations about the agenda for next year.

Voters' message clear

The message yesterday was clear: The American people want their leaders in Washington to set aside partisan differences, conduct ourselves in an ethical manner and work together to address the challenges facing our nation.

We live in historic times. The challenges and opportunities are plain for all to see.

Will this country continue to strengthen our economy today and over the long run? Will we provide a first-class education for our children? And will we be prepared for the global challenges of the 21st century?

Will we build upon the recent progress we've made in addressing our energy dependence by aggressively pursuing new technologies to break our addiction to foreign sources of energy?

And, most importantly: Will this generation of leaders meet our obligation to protect the American people?

I know there's a lot of speculation on what the election means for the battle we're waging in Iraq. I recognize that many Americans voted last night to register their displeasure with the lack of progress being made there.

Yet, I also believe most Americans and leaders here in Washington from both political parties understand we cannot accept defeat.

In the coming days and weeks, I and members of my national security team will meet with the members of both parties to brief them on latest developments and listen to their views about the way forward.

We'll also provide briefings to the new members of Congress so they can be fully informed as they prepare for their new responsibilities.

As we work with the new leaders in Congress, I'm also looking forward to hearing the views of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by Secretary James Baker and Congressman Lee Hamilton.

This group is assessing the situation in Iraq and are expected to provide -- and the group is expected to provide recommendations on a way forward.

And I'm going to meet with them, I think, early next week.

The election has changed many things in Washington, but it has not changed my fundamental responsibility, and that is to protect the American people from attack.

Replacing Rumsfeld

As the commander in chief, I take these responsibilities seriously. And so does the man who served this nation honorably for almost six years as our secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld.

Now, after a series of thoughtful conversations, Secretary Rumsfeld and I agreed that the timing is right for new leadership at the Pentagon.

Our military has experienced an enormous amount of change and reform during the last five years while fighting the war on terror; one of the most consequential wars in our nation's history.

Don Rumsfeld has been a superb leader during a time of change. Yet he also appreciates the value of bringing in a fresh perspective during a critical period in this war.

Don Rumsfeld's a patriot who's served our country with honor and distinction. He is a trusted adviser and a friend, and I'm deeply grateful to his service to our country.

I've asked Bob Gates to serve as the secretary of defense. Bob is the former director of the CIA and current president of Texas A&M University.

If confirmed by the Senate, Bob will bring more than 25 years of national security experience and a stellar reputation as an effective leader with sound judgment.

He's served six presidents, from both political parties, and rose from an entry-level employee in the CIA to become the director of central intelligence.

During his service at the CIA and at the National Security Council, Bob Gates gained firsthand knowledge that will help him meet the challenges and opportunities that our country faces during the next two years.

He is serving as a member of the Baker-Hamilton commission. He is a steady, solid leader who can help make the necessary adjustments in our approach to meet our current challenges.

I will have more to say about Secretary Rumsfeld and Bob Gates later today here at the White House.

Message for the front lines

Amid this time of change, I have a message for those on the front lines: To our enemies, do not be joyful. Do not confuse the workings of our democracy with a lack of will. Our nation is committed to bringing you to justice. Liberty and democracy are the source of America's strength, and liberty and democracy will lift up the hopes and desires of those you are trying to destroy.

To the people of Iraq: Do not be fearful. As you take the difficult steps toward democracy and peace, America's going to stand with you. We know you want a better way of life, and now is the time to seize it.

To our brave men and women in uniform: Don't be doubtful. America will always support you.

Our nation is blessed to have men and women who volunteer to serve and are willing to risk their own lives for the safety of our fellow citizens.

When I first came to Washington nearly six years ago, I was hopeful I could help change the tone here in the capital. As governor of Texas, I had successfully worked with both Democrats and Republicans to find common-sense solutions to the problems facing our state.

While we made some progress on changing the tone, I'm disappointed we haven't made more. I'm confident that we can work together. I'm confident that we can overcome the temptation to divide this country between red and blue.

The issues before us are bigger than that and we are bigger than that.

By putting this election and partisanship behind us, we can launch a new era of cooperation and make these next two years productive ones for the American people.

I appreciate your interest. Now I'll answer some questions.

Click here to read the question-and-answer session.


President Bush speaks to reporters Wednesday at the White House.

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