Gregory Raises Nixon-Like Approval with Bush, Pushes Him to Adopt 'Centrist' Policies

All the networks got a few minutes Thursday afternoon with President Bush at an outdoor setting along the Arizona-Mexico border, and while ABC's Martha Raddatz, CBS's Bill Plante, CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and FNC's Carl Cameron all stuck, as least as aired, to immigration questions, NBC's David Gregory compared Bush's approval to Nixon's, suggested the public has reached a “final judgment of disapproval” and pressed Bush to name more “centrist” policies he'll adopt. And when Bush named tax cuts, Gregory made clear he didn't consider that centrist.

MSNBC's Hardball carried the entire interview while viewers of the NBC Nightly News and MSNBC's Countdown only saw a few excerpts. In the NBC Nightly News/Countdown piece, David Gregory reported: "The President brushed off the fact that his poll ratings are now similar to Richard Nixon's when he resigned the presidency." Gregory featured this question he had posed: "Do you think it's possible that, like Nixon and Watergate, that the American people have rendered a final judgment of disapproval on you and your war in Iraq?" Those watching the 5 and 7pm EDT Hardball heard all that, as well as how Gregory proposed: “You've said and have said in this immigration debate that you want to find 'rational middle ground' on this issue. What other areas can the American people expect you to urge a more centrist approach to policy?" Bush replied that “cutting people's taxes is rational.” To which Gregory retorted: "But is that middle ground?" (Transcripts follow)

Video clip (1:20): Real (2.4 MB) or Windows Media (2.7 MB), plus MP3 audio (487 KB)

As of 8:30pm EDT, CBSNews.com's home page had up video of Plante's entire session with Bush and MSNBC.com has posted video and a transcript of Gregory's interview (my Hardball transcript below has corrected errors in it), but I can't find video or a transcript of the ABC, CNN or FNC interviews so I only know that the portions which aired on World News Tonight, The Situation Room and Special Report with Brit Hume (and Hannity & Colmes which appeared to run the entire interview) all stuck to issues surrounding the immigration debate.

NBC Nightly News, May 18. David Gregory checked in from near Yuma and highlighted Bush's comments on immigration, before moving on to other topics:
“On his political standing, the President brushed off the fact that his poll ratings are now similar to Richard Nixon's when he resigned the presidency.”

Gregory, to Bush: “You're laughing.”

President Bush, who had begun laughing when in his question Gregory had raised Nixon: “I'm not laughing, I just-”

Gregory: “Why do you think that is?”

Bush: “Because we're at war. And war unsettles people.”

Gregory: “Do you think it's possible that, like Nixon and Watergate, that the American people have rendered a final judgment of disapproval on you and your war in Iraq?”

Bush: “Of course not. The enemy's got a powerful tool, that is to get on your TV screen by killing innocent people. And my job is to continue to remind the people it's worth it. We're not going to retreat hastily.”

Gregory: “What's the momentum changer in your mind for your presidency to turn it around?”

Bush: “You know, I guess, Iraq. I mean, that's what colors everybody's vision it seems like.”


MSNBC's Hardball. The full text of the interview, picking up after the immigration questions, as Bush and Gregory sat outdoors in director's chairs:
Gregory: “Let me ask you about your leadership. In the most recent survey, your disapproval rating is now one point lower than Richard Nixon’s before he resigned the presidency. You’re laughing-”

President Bush: “I’m not laughing, it's just-”

Gregory: “Why do you think that is?”

President Bush: “Because we’re at war. And war unsettles people. Listen, we got a great economy. We’ve added 5.2 million jobs in the last two-and-a-half years, but people are unsettled. They don’t look at the economy and say, 'life is good.' They know we’re at war. And I’m not surprised that people are unsettled because of war. The enemy’s got a powerful tool -- that is to get on your TV screen by killing innocent people. And my job is to continue to remind the people it’s worth it. We’re not going to retreat hastily. You know, we’re not going to pull out of there before the job’s done and we’ve got a plan for victory.”

Gregory: “But they’re not just unsettled, sir. They disapprove of the job you’re doing.”

President Bush: “That’s unsettled.”

Gregory: “That’s how you see it?”

President Bush: “Yeah, I do. I see it as the war has, the war is, the war is difficult. And I understand that. I understand why people wonder whether we can win the war or not. But there’s a big difference between some of us who believe that we’re doing the right thing and moving forward and a group of people who want to pull out before the jobs is done.”

Gregory: “Do you think it's possible that, like Nixon and Watergate, that the American people have rendered a final judgment of disapproval on you and your war in Iraq?”

President Bush: “Of course not. I’ve got two-and-a-half years left to be President of the United States and I intend to get a lot done, including immigration reform. Yesterday, I signed the extension of tax relief. We’re making good progress on cutting this deficit in half. I’ve got a lot to do and I’m going to work with the Congress to get things done on behalf of the American people. We’ve got a positive agenda that is making a difference in people’s lives. I’m also not going to retreat in the face of adverse polls. I’m going to do what I think is right and complete the mission in Iraq. And I believe a free Iraq is going to make the world a better place.”

Gregory: “Let me ask you a little something about your style. You've said and have said in this immigration debate that you want to find 'rational middle ground' on this issue. What other areas can the American people expect you to urge a more centrist approach to policy?”

President Bush: “Well, you know, I think cutting people's taxes is rational. Particularly since it's worked; it's caused the economy to grow.”

Gregory: “But is that middle ground?”

President Bush: “I think it is. But you know you're the people who put labels on people, I don't. I said 'rational.' And I think rational, cutting taxes is rational. I think keeping taxes low is rational because it's working. I think the Medicare bill was rational middle ground. We said to seniors, 'the system wasn't working, we're going to reform it.' You've now got a prescription drug benefit that helps low-income seniors in particular. No longer do seniors have to choose between food and medicine. To me, another way to look at, it's just common sense policies.”

Gregory: “You mentioned two-and-a-half years. What's the momentum changer, in your mind, for your presidency, to turn it around?”

President Bush: “You know, well, I guess Iraq. I mean, that’s what colors everybody’s vision, it seems like. People are worried about Iraq. People see progress in Iraq, they'll realize that we can win. You see, most Americans want us to win. They want us to do well in Iraq. They don't want to retreat. Unity government will help in Iraq. The fact that more Iraqis are in the fight will help.”

Gregory: “Will the finished product be as you envisioned it there?”

President Bush: “In Iraq? Yeah, it will. A nation that can sustain itself, govern itself, defend itself, and be a strong ally in the war on terror. And will deny safe haven to al-Qaida.”

Gregory: “Thank you, Mr. President.”

President Bush: “David, thank you.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center