At Event for President, a Critic Speaks Out

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President Bush often faces criticism for only speaking to carefully selected groups and not taking the tough questions. But, not today. While speaking before the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, a man who identified himself as Harry Taylor confronted the President.

NEAL CONAN, host:

First, a bit of unscripted spontaneity. President Bush often faces criticism for speaking to carefully selected audiences and for not taking tough questions. Not today. Speaking before the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, a man who identified himself as Harry Taylor confronted the president. Here is the full exchange.

Mr. HARRY TAYLOR (Audience Member): You never stop talking about freedom, and I appreciate that. But while I listen to you talk about freedom, I see you assert your right to tap my telephone, to arrest me and hold me without charges…

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah.

Mr. HARRY TAYLOR:…to try to preclude me from breathing clean air and drinking clean water and eating safe food. If I were a woman, you'd like to restrict my opportunity to make a choice and decision about whether I can abort a pregnancy on my own behalf. You are um…

President BUSH: I'm not your favorite guy. Go ahead.

(Applause)

President BUSH: Go on, what's your question?

Mr. TAYLOR: I don't have a question. What I want to say to you is in my lifetime, I have never felt more ashamed of, nor more frightened by, my leadership in Washington, including the presidency or the Senate…

(Soundbite of crowd booing)

President BUSH: Let him speak.

Mr. TAYLOR: And I would hope--I feel like, despite your rhetoric, that compassion and common sense have been left far behind during your administration. And I would hope from time to time that you have the humility and the grace to be ashamed of yourself inside yourself. And I also want to say that I really appreciate the courtesy of allowing me to speak what I'm saying to you right now. That is part of what this country is about…

President Bush: It is.

Mr. TAYLOR:…and I know that this hasn't come welcomed to most of the people in this room. But I do appreciate that. I don't have a question, but I just wanted to make that comment to you.

President BUSH: I appreciate it. Thank you. Let me—they, uh--let me…

Unidentified Audience Member: Can I ask a question?

President BUSH: I'm going to start off with what you first said, if you don't mind. You said that I tap your phones. I think that's what you said. You tapped your phones--I tapped your phones.

Mr. HARRY TAYLOR: (Unintelligible)

President BUSH: No, that's all right. No, let me finish. Um, I'd like to describe that, uh, decision I made about protecting, uh, this country. You can come to whatever conclusion you want. The conclusion is I'm not going to apologize for what I did on the Terrorist Surveillance Program, and I'll tell you why.

Uh, we were accused in Washington, D.C. of not connecting the dots, that we didn't do everything that we could to protect you or others from the attack. And so I called in, uh, the people responsible for helping to protect the American people in the homeland. I said, is there anything more we could do? And there--out of this national--NSA came the recommendation that it would, uh, make sense for us to listen to a call outside the country, inside the country from al-Qaida or suspected al-Qaida in order to have real-time information from which to possibly prevent an attack.

I thought that made sense, so long as it was constitutional. Now, you may not agree with the constitutional assessment given to me by lawyers. And we've got plenty of them in Washington. But they made this assessment that it was constitutional for me to make that decision. I then, sir, took that decision to members of the United State Congress, from both political parties, and briefed them on the decision that was made in order to protect the American people.

They uh--And so members of both parties, both chambers were fully aware of a program intended to know whether or not al-Qaida was calling in or calling out of the country. It seems like to make sense if we're at war we ought to be using tools necessary within the Constitution, on a very limited basis, a program that's reviewed constantly to protect us.

Now, you and I have a difference of agreement on what is needed to be protected. But you said would I apologize for that? The answer is absolutely not.

CONAN: President Bush in an exchange with an audience member at the World Affairs Council in Charlotte earlier today. We apologize for the technical quality of the audio feed.

Coming up next, the Senate reaches a compromise in the debate over immigration.

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