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Press Secretary Briefings
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 9, 2001
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
Crawford Elementary School
9:25 A.M. CDT
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. I want to remind you of what I said earlier in the week: This is a working vacation. And I think now you have a better appreciation of what I meant by that. I want to make a few remarks and then I'll take some questions.
The White House, as you are aware, earlier this morning contacted the television networks to request time for the President to address the nation this evening, at 8:00 p.m. Central, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. The President has reached a decision on the issue of stem cell research.
This is a serious, difficult issue that the President has approached in a deliberate and thoughtful manner over the course of the last several weeks and since the beginning of this administration. The President has carefully considered all the scientific and ethical issues involved, and he wants to share his decision directly with the American people in why he reached the decision that he reached.
This is a decision that will have far-reaching implications for our nation 20 to 30 years from now and beyond. It's an important decision for the entire country. Decisions like this, as I mentioned, involve science, involve ethics and involve life, and they are far-reaching and they are profound.
I want to also make an announcement that the President's counselor, Karen Hughes, will be doing a briefing tomorrow for the press corps at 11:00 a.m., where she will also be providing a tick-tock of how the President reached this decision and talking in more detail about that decision.
With that, I'm happy to take some questions and talk about this a little bit further.
Q During the transition you said, the President-elect's position is clear; he opposes federal funds for research that involves destroying living human embryos. Did the President seek a compromise during his deliberations here?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, Scott, that's getting into the decision that the President wants to share directly with the American people. He believes it's appropriate to talk to the American people directly about this decision. And I'm not going to speculate about this decision right now. That will be something the President will talk more about tonight.
But I would say that this is an issue that many people, many Americans find the more they learn about it, the more complex it is. And stem cell research in many ways is the leading edge of the new frontier of science. And as we explore the science, we need to make sure that we do so in a way that adheres to the highest ethical standards.
Q -- as the President studied this and learned about this, he, himself felt it became more complex?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Absolutely. Just like the American people sitting at their dinner tables at home are discussing this issue, they realize the more they talk about it, the more complex it is.
Q So knew more -- he knows more now, finds it more complex now than he did when he came out unequivocally against federal funding for research in the campaign?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think it's fair, after consulting with dozens of people, that the President, like the American people, realized this is a very complex issue and a complex decision.
Q Scott, can you give us some insight into the difficulty that the President had in reaching his decision?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, the President has -- let be back up for a second, and come back to that. But the President has met with or talked directly to dozens of people. He has consulted with members of Congress. He has visited with Secretary Thompson on a number of occasions; bioethicists; other Cabinet members; friends' people afflicted with disease; pro-life Americans. He met with the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. He met with the National Right to Life. He met with Doctor Mendelsohn at the MDA Cancer Center and talked about this issue. Last week he talked with some NIH scientists about this issue.
This is something he's been consulting closely with people on up until about the last couple of weeks.
Q Well, was it a decision he agonized over?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think he has expressed that this -- you've heard his own words, this is a very difficult decision. This is a decision -- and I, personally, have been in meetings with the President where he was visiting with people on other issues, and the President brought this matter up and asked what their opinion was, as well as told them that he realized the seriousness of this issue and how this issue is going to have far-reaching implications 20 to 30 years down the road.
Q Scott, during the campaign, starting way back in the primaries and right through the general campaign, the President was very clear, no embryonic stem cell research. Can you tell us to what extent he has considered the ramifications of any modification, the political costs of modifying that stance at all? I know that --
MR. MCCLELLAN: You're asking the political cost?
Q He's talked a lot about, in his own words, about the morality and the science. But give us some readout, if you can, on the extent to which potential political costs or benefits have been part of --
MR. MCCLELLAN: That's not the way the President approaches decisions. That's not the way he approached this decision. This is a decision he has made based on what he believes is in the best interest of the American people and the best interest of this nation.
The President does not make decisions by polls. The President makes decisions based on what he believes is right for America. And his focus was on the scientific issues involved, the ethical issues involved, the issues of life. And that will continue to be his focus as we move forward.
Q Scott, when exactly did he reach the decision and what's he going to do today preparing for the speech; where is he going to deliver the speech?
MR. MCCLELLAN: The President reached a final decision yesterday and he decided to move forward with that decision yesterday. He was presented with some options on how to make this announcement, and the President strongly felt that the most appropriate way was to share it directly with the American people in a national address on network television.
The President, yesterday, was in a meeting that began about 3:30 p.m., it went until about 6:00 p.m. yesterday. He then went to his exercise room, worked out with weights. He had dinner with Mrs. Bush. And then the President continued -- went back to this issue, where he reviewed his speech until about -- and worked on his remarks until about 10:00 p.m. last night.
You asked where he will be making this announcement from. The Governor's House, which is the old ranch house at the ranch. He will be sitting in a chair in front of a window that will show some of the landscape of the ranch. This is keeping with what I said a minute ago, that the American people are discussing this issue at their dinner tables. This is a decision that they're discussing in the heartland, and the President believes that there is no more appropriate place to do this than at his ranch, where he is in the heartland.
Q Was the meeting on the ranch yesterday on stem cell?
MR. MCCLELLAN: That's right.
Q Who was there?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Karen Hughes, Jay Lefkowitz, who has been a policy person that has worked on this issue closely.
Q And it was at the end of this 6:00 p.m. meeting that he reached a decision?
MR. MCCLELLAN: We'll get into the exact timing of that tick-tocking, but it was yesterday that he reached a final decision and decided to move forward.
MR. MCCLELLAN: The President strongly deplores this act of terror. The President expresses his sympathies to the families of the victims. I think it once again shows the need to break the cycle of violence and the need for the parties to come together and begin implementing the Mitchell Report. We intend to issue a statement from the President, himself, here shortly, and we'll get that to you as quickly as possible.
Q A quick follow-up on that. Does the United States want the Palestinian Authority to do more to stop this kind of incident?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, he deplores this act of terror. And I think you'll see more once the statement is issued, and then we can talk more about it at that point.
Q Scott, back on stem cells. We know that the President has consulted widely. To what extent can we be assured that he sought out fairly balanced points of view, for and against? Because we were told that he met with the panel of ethicists --
MR. MCCLELLAN: That's right.
Q -- and to the best that we've been able to discern, the only two ethicists that are known to have met with him in the Oval Office are both opposed to stem cell research.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, you're getting into some of -- I want the President to be able to make his announcement first, before we start tick-tocking every detail leading up to this decision. But, again, I go back to what I said a minute ago. The President has met with dozens of people on this issue -- like I said, members of Congress, Cabinet members -- Secretary Thompson, particularly -- bioethicists, as you noted; people afflicted with disease. And we'll hopefully have some more for you on that tomorrow, when Karen tick-tocks.
Q Will we get names of the people --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'll talk to Karen about that and we'll do what we can to get you all that information.
Q To follow on his question, is it your representation that he has met with people from all sides of this issue, and listened to and considered viewpoints of people who are in favor of it --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, could you speak up just a little bit? I can't --
Q Has he listened to people and consulted with people who are in favor of embryonic stem cell research, as well as those who are opposed to it?
MR. MCCLELLAN: He's heard from all sides, from all sides on this issue. Like I said, I have personally been in meetings with the President where he raised the issue and asked for the opinions of others. He has been listening carefully to a diverse -- to diverse views on this issue. And he is ready to share the conclusion that he has come to with the American people tonight.
Q You mentioned that Karen Hughes and Jay Lefkowitz were in this meeting. Were Andy and anyone else -- Karl conferenced in?
MR. MCCLELLAN: He's been consulting closely with the senior staff. A small handful of people are aware of the decision at this point, and we're continuing to brief others as appropriate. I'm not going to get into each particular name, but --
Q -- the Vice President and Tommy Thompson?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, we'll tick-tock this more tomorrow, but people are -- the senior staff members and senior members of this administration, a small handful of them right now are aware of his decision. And I noted that he has been talking closely with those people you just mentioned throughout this process.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, he intends to spend the day at ranch. He intends to run, and I imagine that he will also go fishing, as he said he would do on a daily basis while he is here. And he will continue to review his remarks and prepare for his announcement this evening. And as I get more information on his activities today I'll be glad to share those with you as I can.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think the First Lady is very well aware of his decision, and as you heard her last week, she has talked to him about this decision.
Q Did the networks say they will broadcast the speech live?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I don't believe we've heard back yet. I checked right before I came out here and I don't believe we've heard back from them yet. I'm sure they need to consult internally, and as we hear back from them, I will share that information with you, as well.
Q -- guests at the speech tonight?
MR. MCCLELLAN: This will be -- if there are additional people that may be there, I'll share that with you later, but this would be the President in this room in the Governor's House, talking directly to the nation. It will be the President in that room.
Q Scott, does the President, himself, with the senior staff, plan to inform anybody else about his decision and the announcement?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, people will be briefed as appropriate. But as I said, the President believes strongly that the first people that should really hear about this decision are the American people. And that's why he wants to talk to them tonight in their homes from his home.
Q So he's not planning on calling any members of Congress or leaders of disease organizations?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I'll keep you apprised as appropriate. But again, this is a small handful of people that are aware of the decision, and I believe that the first people he really wants to share this with are the American people.
Q The Argentina government is apparently seeking additional loans --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me refer you to Treasury on that matter.
Let me take a couple more questions, and then I've got to go over to the ranch.
Q Is he writing the remarks himself?
MR. MCCLELLAN: He has been very involved in the writing of these remarks, as I noted earlier.
Q Will the President be attending any services for Maureen Reagan? And has she been -- the President --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of. As you know, the President issued a statement yesterday. He also wrote a letter to her husband, Dennis, and the President and Mrs. Bush are deeply saddened at her death.
One last one -- Larry.
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think you've seen over the last couple of months more and more people referring to Crawford and the ranch as the Western White House, including the media. In media reports it's been popping up. And I think it's natural, it really fits with where we are. And the President liked the idea, and this is a place that is his home and that he will continue to come to and continue to work from. He is the President 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and he is spending, as you are finding out, a good portion of the time here at his home working.
Thank you very much.
Q Hey, Scott, do you know what the decision is and, if so, will you share it with us now?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Thank you. (Laughter.)
END 9:41 A.M. CDT