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Bush Post-Election Priority is Homeland Security - 2002-11-07


After fighting hard for Republican candidates in Tuesday's U.S. election, President Bush is pushing bipartisan cooperation in Congress. At his first post-election news conference, the president said creation of a cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security is his number one priority.

President Bush says it is time for members of both parties to get things done. He says that is the message sent out by the voters on election day.

"I think the way to look at this election is to say the people want something done," he said. "I think they see the risks are high, the risks of being able to find a job or the risk of keeping the homeland secure."

He says the election may be over, but the threat of terrorism is still real. "The single most important item of unfinished business on Capitol Hill is to create a unified Department of Homeland Security," he said.

Members of the old congress will return to work next week for a brief post-election session, before the new legislature takes office in January. Mr. Bush says he wants the so-called "lame duck congress" to remove the roadblocks that have prevented a homeland security bill from clearing the Senate most of them dealing with the labor rights of Department employees.

In the long term, he wants legislation on tax cuts, energy, and medical costs for senior citizens all issues that could be very important to a possible Bush re-election campaign.

Mr. Bush, who won by the narrowest of margins in 2000, denies that his goal in the 2002 campaign was to validate his victory and get a mandate from the people. And he downplays the notion that he was responsible for the strong Republican showing on Tuesday.

"I think candidates win elections because they are good candidates, not because they may happen to have the president as a friend, or a foe for that matter. The races that were won were won because people were able to convince the voters they could trust their judgement," he said.

Mr. Bush says he does not want to even think about the 2004 election right now, that he wants to recover from the just-ended frantic 2002 campaign. But unofficially, his bid for a second term is already underway.

As he campaigned for candidates for the House, Senate and state governorships, the president was laying the groundwork for a re-election bid strengthening allies and support networks in key states. He has already given thought to the selection of a running mate telling reporters that should he run for one more term, Vice President Dick Cheney will be at his side.

"He has done an excellent job. I appreciate his advice. I appreciate his counsel. I appreciate his friendship. He is a superb vice president," he said.

Mr. Cheney has a history of heart problems, and has shown no interest in one day succeeding President Bush in office.

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