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Bush Holds News Conference on Social Security, Energy

George Bush at news conference
President Bush held a news conference Thursday to discuss proposals for changing the U.S. federal pension plan known as social security, and ways to control skyrocketing energy costs.

It was President Bush's first prime-time televised news conference since he was re-elected last November.

In an opening statement, he said energy and social security are two vital priorities for Americans.

The President said he understands Americans are becoming increasingly frustrated with the high cost of gasoline.

He says his energy proposals will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and boost energy production in the United States.

Mr. Bush says his energy plan will encourage new technology for improved conservation, and will encourage innovative ways of making the most of existing energy sources, such as oil and nuclear power.

In addition, he says new sources of energy must be explored, and the U.S. must cooperate with foreign partners on the issue.

He urged Congress to pass a new energy bill in the next few months.

President says Progress Being Made Domestically, in Iraq

The President was asked if he is discouraged that recent opinion polls indicate that a majority of Americans disapprove of his social security and energy policies.

Mr. Bush answered that he is asking for changes that, in his words, "have not been made in a long time." He says he believes progress is being made, and he expressed confidence his policies will gain support among American people.

Another reporter asked the president why the Iraqi insurgency seems to be as strong today as it was one year ago.

Mr. Bush said some people in Iraq are still unhappy with democracy. But he said progress is being made, that Iraq's new government is taking hold, and new Iraqi security forces are being trained.

He added that he telephoned the Iraqi prime minister Thursday to congratulate him on selecting a cabinet.

Bush Calls for Vote on Judicial Nominees

On another controversial issue in U.S. domestic politics, President Bush criticized judges he said "legislate from the bench."

Mr. Bush called also for an end to the political standoff over seven of his judicial nominees, saying the nominees deserve to be voted on in Congress.

Democrats say they consider the seven too conservative to receive lifetime appointments to the courts.

Republicans have threatened to alter Senate rules and ban the use of filibusters on judicial nominations unless Democrats allow the votes to take place.

Democrats have said if Republicans change the rules, they will block action on the Republican agenda.

Bush Discusses Terrorism, Democracy

President Bush was asked about a recent U.S. report that found significant terrorist attacks around the world have increased dramatically over the past year, even as the Bush administration says it is winning the war on terror.

Mr. Bush said the United States is fighting the terrorists abroad so they do not have to be fought at home.

He vowed that the United States will stay on the offense against terrorists, and he says al-Qaida is being defeated.

But, he says the only way to "really defeat" terrorism is by spreading freedom and democracy around the world.

President Bush also said his administration is working closely with Russian President Vladimir Putin about his country's recent military and technology deals with Syria and Iran.

Bush Reiterates Support for Bolton

The President reiterated his support for John Bolton, his nominee to become the United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Mr. Bush called Mr. Bolton a seasoned diplomat who has been confirmed by the Senate for four positions in the past. The nomination to the U.N. post has been held up by opposition in a Senate committee.

The President said Mr. Bolton has already answered tough questions regarding his treatment of subordinates, and should be confirmed.

Mr. Bush acknowledged the former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control is -- in the president's words -- "a blunt guy." But he also said Mr. Bolton is capable of pushing for reform at the United Nations, and that his blunt manner would be an asset.

President Bush told reporters Mr. Bolton understands the importance of the world body, and is dedicated to seeking reform.

Answering more questions about Iraq, President Bush said U.S. generals are "upbeat" about the training of Iraq's military.

Mr. Bush said he has been told that recruitment is high, the command structure is taking hold and military equipment is flowing into Iraq.

Asked if the U.S. military capabilities have been limited in other parts of the world in order to maintain current troop levels in Iraq, Mr. Bush said his top generals tell him that is not the case.

Mr. Bush also used the news conference to speak about North Korea, where he called Kim Jong-il a "dangerous person."

He said the best way to deal with the stand-off over North Korea's nuclear weapons program is through diplomatic means.

The president said he remains dedicated to reviving six-nation talks on the issue that include countries in the region.

Bush Defends Rendition of Detainees

President Bush defended the United States' practice of rendition, or sending detainees to other countries for interrogation.

Mr. Bush said the United States has pledged not to torture detainees, and only sends them to countries who say they will not be tortured.

Mr. Bush said the United States is still at war, and that his administration will continue to do everything it can to protect Americans.

He said U.S. forces will continue to detain people who plan to harm Americans, and will continue to ask other countries to do the same.

Bush Discusses Tax Reform, Education

On other U.S. domestic issues, President Bush said he is committed to tax reform and making the system more fair.

He was also asked about his administration's education plan, "No Child Left Behind. A U.S. teacher's union has recently filed a lawsuit against the program, saying it is drastically under-funded.

Mr. Bush did not directly address the lawsuit, but said he thinks the program is improving education in the United States by testing the progress of students. He said U.S. states should "control the destiny of the schools", but he said federal money is being spent to move the program ahead.

He wrapped up the news conference after about an hour of answering questions.