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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Bush Speaks at Pentagon

Aired March 25, 2003 - 10:29   ET

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

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: The president at the Pentagon. Let's pick things up there now and talk about the supplemental plan put forward on how to pay for things right now in Iraq.
Here is the president at the Pentagon.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. Thanks for coming.

I just met with our leaders here at the Pentagon who are monitoring the course of our battle to free Iraq and rid that country of weapons of mass destruction. Our coalition is on a steady advance. We're making good progress. We're fighting an enemy that knows no rules of law, that will wear civilian uniforms, that are willing to kill in order to continue the reign of fear of Saddam Hussein, but we're fighting them with bravery and courage.

We cannot know the duration of this war; yet, we know it's outcome. We will prevail. The Iraqi regime will be disarmed. The Iraqi regime will be ended. The Iraqi people will be free. And our world will be more secure and peaceful.

The people of our military and their families are showing great courage, and some have suffered great loss. America is grateful to all those who have sacrificed in our cause.

Our coalition is strong. It's bound together by the principle of protecting not only this nation, but all nations from a brutal regime that is armed with weapons that could kill thousands of innocent people. America has more than 200,000 men and women engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Our troops also continue to fight bravely in other fronts of this war on terror.

In Afghanistan last week, coalition forces launched Operation Valiant Strike against terrorists and their allies in the southern mountains of Afghanistan. Of course, we have troops standing watch in other parts of the world to protect and maintain the peace. All the members of the military abroad, at home or here in this important building are bound together by a great cause to defend the American people and advance the universal hope of freedom.

America has accepted this responsibility. We also accept the cost of supporting our military and the missions we give it. Today, I'm sending the Congress a wartime supplemental appropriations request of $74.7 billion to fund needs directly arising from the Iraqi conflict and our global war against terror. My request to Congress will pay for the massive task of transporting a fully-equipped military force, both active duty and reserve, to a region halfway around the world. This money will cover the current cost of fueling our ships and aircraft and tanks and of airlifting tons of supplies into the theater of operations. The supplemental will also allow us to replace the high-tech munitions we are now directing against Saddam Hussein's regime.

My request includes funds for relief and reconstruction in a free Iraq. This nation and our coalition partners are committed to making sure that the Iraqi citizens who have suffered under a brutal tyrant have got the food and medicine needed as soon as possible. Tommy Franks briefed us this morning about coalition efforts to demine the harbor to make sure that our humanitarian relief can be delivered safely to the Iraqi people. Coalition forces are working hard to make sure that when the food and medicine begins to move, it does so in a safe way. And soon, the Iraqi people will see the great compassion of not only the United States, but other nations around the world who care deeply about the human condition inside that country.

Our campaign in Iraq involves assistance of coalition partners and friends in the Middle East. The funding request to Congress will help reduce the economic burdens these countries have experienced in supporting our efforts. Also included are funds essential to waging and helping our partners wage the broader war on terror which continues in Afghanistan, in the Philippines and elsewhere.

We continue to fight the war on terror by protecting our homeland. At the federal level, I'm requesting more resources for the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to deal with this period of uncertainty. We will provide resources for patrolling and safeguarding our borders, funds to help the FBI investigate domestic threats in this time of war, additional funding for the Coast Guard for port security in the United States and in the Middle East. In this time of heightened security, we are expecting states and communities to take on greater responsibilities to protect critical infrastructure, and so I'm seeking additional resources to help states and cities make these preparations for the protection of our citizens.

Yesterday I informed the leaders of Congress of these spending requests. The situation in any war is fluid, I reminded them of that fact, so I'm asking Congress for flexibility in how these funds can be allocated. They heard that message. They also heard the message that the need is urgent. The wartime supplemental is directly related to winning this war and to securing the peace that will follow this war. I ask Congress to act quickly and responsibly.

One thing is for certain, business as usual on Capitol Hill can't go on during this time of war, and by that I mean this supplemental should not be viewed as an opportunity to add spending that is unrelated, unwise and unnecessary. Every dollar we spend must serve the interest of our nation, and the interest of our nation in this supplemental is to win this war and to be able to keep the peace.

Eighteen months ago, this building came under attack. From that day to this we have been engaged in a new kind of war, and we are winning. We will not leave our future to be decided by terrorist groups or terrorist regimes. At every turn in this conflict, Americans can be confident in the people who wear our nation's uniform. We support them. We are thankful for their service in places of great danger, in this hour of great need.

May God continue to look out after those who defend the peace and freedom. And may God continue to bless America.

Thank you.

HEMMER: For those in Washington asking repeatedly now for weeks on end how much the White House expects to pay and spend for this battle right now on Iraq, we have the official answer now, at least in the early stages, as the president calls it, a $75 billion request from Congress to pay for the early stages, some describe this as the first 30 days of the war in Iraq.

Let's get the White House and CNN's John King on the Front Lawn to tell us more about this.

And, John, depending on the outcome of this depending on how long it goes, to use the president's words, we can not know the duration of this conflict. It's quite possible the White House is going to have to come out again some time in the next several weeks, depending on what happens in the battlefield.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, the administration insists this is enough money, just shy of $75 billion, to pay for the war for six months, that's through the end of the current fiscal year, as Congress debates what to spend in fiscal 2004, Washington budget talk, it will have to decide to put a lot more money in here, not only for peacekeeping troops but also possibly for reconstruction.

This is the president's estimate of what it will take, Bill, to stay in Iraq for about six months. It is based on an estimate by the Pentagon that it believe the most intense combat phase will run about 30 days. Emphasis on that being a rough guesstimate, as they would describe it at the Pentagon.

The president in those brief remarks speaking to a number of audiences, saying he believes the troops are making steady advances, saluting the bravery of those soldiers killed and captured in the war so far.

Mr. Bush also promising the Iraqi people, that, yes, there have been some hang ups because of mining and other issues, but the humanitarian aid will soon be on its way.

And the president trying to convince the Congress not only to pass this quickly , but not to add too much money to the final price tag. Mr. Bush is asking for $75 billion, you can bet that the final bill he gets will be a higher total than that, still a dispute in the Congress over whether airlines, for example, should get new assistance because their business is down; whether there is enough money in this bill for homeland security. But, Bill, the bottom line from the president in that visit to the Pentagon, trying to make the case as we talked about the skirmishes and as you prepare to go back to our correspondents in the field, a lot of talk that troops are meeting stiffer resistance than they might have predicted, the president trying to say the war is going quite well from his perspective, and trying to get the Congress to within a matter of just two to three weeks, send him the money to help pay for it.

Bill?

HEMMER: John, think this number, this dollar sign is going to surprise anyone on Capitol Hill?

KING: No, the administration, after being reluctant for a great deal of time, to say - tell us in the media, tell members of Congress what it thought the price tag would be, over the past 48 to 72 hours has reached out to key lawmakers. Mr. Bush had a bunch here at the White House yesterday.

The surprise on Capital Hill is some Democrats say there is not enough money here, either for homeland security at home, or that Mr. Bush is underestimating the cost of the peacekeeping and the reconstruction. Some Republicans say this number is about right. We know the Pentagon wanted a little bit more.

The administration here at the White House deliberately tried to make this as small a figure as possible in part because the administration's been criticized for deficit spending and in part because they know here at the White House, when they send this $75 billion figure up to Congress, it is all but certain to grow.

Bill?

HEMMER: John, thanks. John King at the White House.

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