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CNN Today

Bush Attends Congressional Retreat of Opposing Party

Aired February 2, 2001 - 2:08 p.m. ET

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

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: In the early days of his presidency, George W. Bush seems to be focusing on one campaign promise: the offer to work closely with Democrats, as well as Republicans.

This morning, he dropped in on a closed-door retreat of members of the opposition. That's a presidential first. Now, he's with fellow Republicans at their retreat.

Also there, our white House correspondent Kelly Wallace -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, that's exactly right.

And not surprisingly, President Bush received a very warm reception here in Williamsburg.

He wrapped up his remarks to House and Senate Republicans a little more than a half hour ago. One of his messages: He told the lawmakers that he is deadly earnest about changing the tone in the nation's capital.

Now, when the president arrived at this resort, he was greeted by the House and Senate Republican leadership. It is an interesting time for Republicans. The party controls the White House as well as the two chambers of the U.S. Congress, although Republicans do only hold a slim majority. So their agenda needs bipartisan support to go anywhere on Capitol Hill.

Preaching to the choir, Mr. Bush used his speech to make the case for his $1.6 trillion across-the-board tax cut. He said this is good not only to simulate a sagging economy, but to help families make ends meet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: A family of four making $40,000, $50,000 a year, under my plan, your taxes go from $4,000 to $2,000. That's 2,000 extra dollars. That's a lot for somebody struggling. That's a lot for somebody who's on the margin. And we must hear those voices on the margin.

So tax relief is not only a good economic policy; it's a good people policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: And earlier on this day, Mr. Bush tried to make his case to the Democrats. He made an unprecedented move, apparently the first U.S. president in modern history to attend the Congressional retreat of the opposing party. He met behind closed door for about 40 minutes with Senate Democrats. He plans to meet with House Democrats on Sunday in Pennsylvania.

The president, as he left here in Williamsburg, told reporters that he had a good session with the Democrats, and he looks forward to his meeting Sunday.

White House aides say this is an example of the president trying to work -- committed to work in a bipartisan way. He has met at the White House with some 76 Democrats so far. Those meetings will continue.

But, Joie, the challenges for the president will be coming in the days ahead, because he is expected to unveil the $1 trillion-plus tax- cut package.

Democrats believe that tax cut, combined with all the spending the president is proposing when it comes to health care, education and Medicare, would take the country back to the deficits of the Reagan years.

So tougher days may be to come for the president -- Joie.

CHEN: Kelly, given that and given his little private meeting with Democrats today, what's the strategy for offering up -- an opposition with -- how did he handle the opposition on the tax-cut plan?

WALLACE: Well, we are going to see the president each day try to make the case about his plan.

Monday, he's going to take some families, families that would benefit from a lower tax bracket.

Tuesday, he's going to go to a small business and talk about how his plan would stimulate job growth.

Wednesday, he's going to take more families.

Again, the message the White House and Republican aides say is to get away from the big number, the $ 1.6 trillion, and to make the case about how this would impact individual families around the country.

So look for that in the days ahead -- Joie.

CHEN: Kelly Wallace, reporting to us from Williamsburg, Virginia.

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