Bush vows to keep pushing for Social Security revamp


Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 31, 2005 at 11:20 p.m.
WASHINGTON - President Bush, faced with a string of setbacks on Capitol Hill, shrugged off questions about his political clout and promised Tuesday to keep pushing the Republican-led Congress for a Social Security overhaul.
Looking ahead, the president also acknowledged he was thinking about a Supreme Court vacancy, widely expected this year. That was a departure from the White House's usual refusal to publicly discuss how Bush would approach filling a job that, while not now empty, has groups across the political spectrum already gearing up for battle.
He pledged to consult senators at ''an appropriate time,'' though he didn't say how early in the process those talks would come or whether he would seek input from Democrats as well as Republicans. He suggested that a recent compromise ending a Senate showdown over judicial nominees wouldn't necessarily lead him to lean to a more centrist pick for the high court.
''I told the American people I would find people of a certain temperament that would serve on the bench, and I intend to do that,'' Bush said in his seventh news conference in the seven months since his election to a second term.
Answering questions for 51 minutes in the Rose Garden, Bush said his policies in Iraq, Iran and North Korea were working. He denounced as ''absurd'' a report by the human rights group Amnesty International that compared the U.S. treatment of terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to a Soviet-era gulag. Saying that Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky seemed to have been ''adjudged guilty prior to having a fair trial,'' Bush promised to watch how the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin handled the expected appeal in a case regarded as politically motivated.
The president held firm to his domestic policy agenda even though Congress - including some Republicans - has balked at much of it. Bush is facing fights over his plan to partially privatize Social Security, his nomination of John Bolton as U.N. ambassador, a free-trade pact with Central America, an immigration guest worker program and his opposition to legislation to expand embryonic stem-cell research.
Bush professed no worries that he's depleted most of the political capital he said in November that he earned with his re-election. Eager to dispel any notion that he is a lame-duck president with little leverage, Bush used the word ''push'' three times and ''lead'' four and showed no intention of giving up. ''I've been around here long enough now to tell you, and tell the people listening, things just don't happen overnight. It takes a while,'' the president said. ''And one thing is for certain, it takes a president willing to push people to do hard things.'' He indirectly criticized GOP Senate leaders for the delay in Bolton's confirmation vote, which Democrats united to force.
''I was disappointed that once again the leadership there in the Senate didn't give him an up-or-down vote,'' Bush said.
On Social Security, Bush derided those who oppose his call for action as taking an ''easy path.'' He predicted success for his drive to create private accounts within the retirement program. ''It's like water cutting through a rock. It's just a matter of time,'' he said. ''In the meantime, the

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