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Bush Pledges to Implement Goals Set Forth In Campaign

By Richard W. Stevenson

The New York Times -- WASHINGTON

A confident, lighthearted President Bush vowed on Thursday to move quickly and vigorously to enact the ambitious agenda he set out during the campaign, saying “the people made it clear what they wanted.”

In a 40-minute news conference a day after he declared his election victory over Sen. John Kerry, Bush said he would begin work immediately on his proposal to overhaul Social Security, one of the biggest goals in his second-term agenda. He called for Congress to move speedily to limit lawsuit awards against doctors, said he would push for tougher educational standards for high schools and signaled that he had settled on broad principles for rewriting the tax code.

“Let me put it to you this way: I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it,” Bush said, asserting the power he holds after a decisive win and reclaiming the national stage as his own after sharing it for months with Kerry.

Bush said repeatedly that he wants to reach out across party lines after a campaign that emphasized ideological divisions and produced raw feelings on both sides. But he left unclear how much, if at all, he would compromise, especially after an election that give him a clear majority of the popular vote, strengthened conservative Republicans in Congress and left Democrats weaker.

“My goal is to work on the ideal and to reach out and to continue to work and find common ground on issues,” he said at one point.

But at another, he suggested that his idea of common ground would be very close to the platform he ran on. After a long campaign, he said, “there is a feeling that the people have spoken and embraced your point of view, and that’s what I intend to tell the Congress.”

Asked about the likelihood that he would soon have to make a nomination to the Supreme Court, given that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist has thyroid cancer, he said there was no vacancy at the moment and that, when there was, he would choose “somebody who knows the difference between personal opinion and the strict interpretation of the law.”

Asked whether the strong support he received from conservative evangelical Christians raised concerns about the nation becoming divided politically between people for whom religion is important and those for whom it is not, Bush said, “I will be your president regardless of your faith, and I don’t expect you to agree with me necessarily on religion.”

The president was jocular and a bit cocky at times during the session with reporters, held in an auditorium on the Eisenhower Executive Office Building before he left for a long weekend at Camp David to recover from the last grueling legs of the campaign.

He said he would spend time there thinking about changes to his Cabinet and the White House staff, noting that departures were inevitable but adding that he had made no decisions.

With rumors already swirling about who will stay and who will go, his aides said that he intended to move quickly on personnel issues to minimize the speculation and assure that he has his new team in place for a fast start. The aides said he had not asked for any resignations, but had told Cabinet members at a meeting on Thursday morning that if they planned to leave, they should inform Andrew H. Card Jr., the White House chief of staff.