WASHINGTON - US President Bush said Wednesday he wants Defense Secretary Donald
Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney to remain with him until the end of his
presidency, extending a job guarantee to two of the most-vilified members of his
"Both those men are doing fantastic jobs and I strongly support them," Bush
said in an interview with The Associated Press and others.
President Bush meets with wire service reporters in the Oval
Office of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, November 1, 2006.
On the war in Iraq, Bush said the military has not asked for an increase in
US forces beyond the 144,000 already there. He said US generals have told him
"that the troop level they got right now is what they can live with."
On another international issue, Bush said he was determined that sanctions
imposed against North Korea must be applied even though Pyongyang has agreed to
return to six-nation nuclear disarmament talks.
The president spoke in the Oval Office, seated in a wing chair in front of a
table with a bowl of roses. Six days before midterm elections, he steered away
from political questions beyond saying he was confident that Republicans would
defy the polls and hold control of the House and Senate. "I understand the
pundits have got the race over. But I don't believe it's over until everybody
votes," Bush said.
He refused to say whether he could work effectively with House Minority
Leader Nancy Pelosi or Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid if Democrats won either
the House or Senate, or both.
Bush did take the opportunity to take another poke at Sen. John Kerry, in
political hot water for a remark that the White House has characterized as a
slam on US troops in Iraq. Kerry has said he was making a joke critical of Bush,
not the troops.
"It didn't sound like a joke to me," the president said.
Democrats and Republicans alike have called for Rumsfeld's resignation,
arguing he has mishandled the war in Iraq where more than 2,800 members of the
US military have died since the US-led invasion in March 2003. Cheney has faced
sharp criticism for his hardline views. In recent polling, less than 40 percent
of respondents had a favorable view of Cheney and about a third had a favorable
view of Rumsfeld.
Bush said he valued Cheney's advice and judgment.
"The good thing about Vice President Cheney's advice is, you don't read about
it in the newspaper after he gives it," the president said. While Cheney was
re-elected with Bush for four years, there has been recurring speculation that
he might step down, perhaps for health reasons. As a practical matter, Bush
could ask the vice president to leave if he wanted.
Bush credited Rumsfeld with overseeing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while
overhauling the military. "I'm pleased with the progress we're making," the
president said. He replied in the affirmative when asked if he wanted Rumsfeld
and Cheney to stay with him until the end.