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 Home > News & Policies > May 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 15, 2003

Press Briefing with Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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1:08 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me start by going back through the President's day. The President participated in the Second Annual National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast this morning and made remarks. Then the President had his usual intelligence briefings upon returning to the White House. And as all of you just saw, the President participated in the Annual Peace Officers Memorial Service, where he made remarks and, on behalf of a grateful nation, paid tribute to our peace officers, our men and women who have fallen in the line of duty.

This afternoon the President -- well, right now he's on his way back to the White House, where he'll participate in some policy briefings and tend to other official business.

A couple of issues I want to bring up before getting into questions. Earlier today, African ambassadors and the African Diplomatic Corps participated in a news conference with Senator Frist, and I would like to read some portions of the letter that all of these ambassadors in the Diplomatic Corps signed. It's regarding the President's emergency HIV-AIDS plan.

"The African ambassadors and the entire African Diplomatic Corps on the United States are united in their efforts to highlight the urgency for action against the impending menace of HIV-AIDS. More than 30 million people have died from AIDS in the last two decades, nearly as many as the entire population of South Africa. And additional 40 million people are infected with the virus, mostly in Africa and the Caribbean."

It goes on to say, "We need the help of the American people and the international community to turn back this disease. President Bush's proposed emergency plan for AIDS relief is an important, aggressive step forward in this effort. We hope that the Senate will take up and pass the House bill, and stop the spiral of this killer. We, the ambassadors of Africa, hope that the U.S. Senate will soon give President Bush the authority and the funding to put his plan fully into effect. Every day another 14,000 people are infected, and another 8,500 die. Time is of the essence. America must send a signal to the rest of the world that action by all countries is needed in the war against AIDS."

The President is very appreciative of the statement by the African ambassadors. The fight against AIDS is a moral imperative that America and countries across the world must confront decisively and boldly. And we hope that the Senate will move forward quickly on the President's emergency plan for AIDS relief, so that we can provide treatment, care -- treatment and care for millions of people suffering from AIDS, and improving prevention programs for millions who are at risk.

One other item on the legislative agenda today, the Senate is moving forward on the President's jobs and growth tax act -- or on the jobs and growth tax act, I should say that the President has outlined a number of initiatives that, all of which elements are contained in this plan. We are pleased that they are working quickly to get it passed, so that it can get to the conference committee and differences can be resolved quickly.

I think we have seen over the last few months a greater urgency on the need to enact the President's plan for creating jobs and economic growth, and we hope Congress will continue to act as quickly as possible to pass as robust a plan as possible, so that we can create as many jobs as possible.

And with that, I will be happy to take your questions. Helen.

Q Is that the tax cut you're talking about?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Yes, this is about --

Q -- you called it jobs and growth?

MR. MCCLELLAN: It's about job creation and economic growth. That's what this is about.

Q Oh, not about a tax cut? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCLELLAN: As the President has noted, Helen -- (laughter) -- that by the end of next year, under his plan, more than a million jobs will be created.

Q Does he have any figures that show that tax cuts really do promote growth?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think our last tax relief package came at just at the right time, when we were in the middle of a recession that he inherited. And those tax cuts came just at the right time to get our economy growing again. It's not growing as fast as we want and the President is not satisfied because there are too many people out of work. And that's all the more reason people need to act on what he outlined. He outlined a specific plan to create more jobs and get our economy growing. And Congress is moving quickly and we hope they will continue to do so.

Q Has the White House put any stock in France's claim that there may be an orchestrated American media campaign of misinformation directed at that country?

MR. MCCLELLAN: John, I don't think there's any basis in fact to it. I think Secretary Powell stated it well recently when he talked about how the United States and France have been in marriage counseling for the last 200 years. France is an ally. They are still friends of ours, despite our differences. And we will continue to work with France on areas of common interest.

Q But this letter that Ambassador Levitte is going to send to the administration and to Congress, you think it's much ado about nothing?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I'm not aware, one, that we have received a letter. I saw the news reports that you did, which indicated that some organized campaign. And there's just no basis in fact in that.

Q You don't deny a friction, though, do you between the two countries, in view of the U.N. --

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, in fact, I think I just mentioned that with my comments a minute ago that we have had some differences. But we are looking forward to areas where we can continue to work together. They're a friend and an ally despite the differences we have had.

Q So if I could just finish that up, so the White House sees no need to monitor the U.S. media for any campaign of misinformation against France?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I would never monitor the actions of the U.S. media, John.

Q You monitor them all the time, but it's usually just collecting information.

MR. MCCLELLAN: Look, that's an issue for -- that's a freedom-of-the-press issue. And again, there's just no basis for the claim.

Q What kind of access does President Bush expect the FBI assessment team to get on the ground in Riyadh? Have they gotten that access? And what about the American request that some of these, particularly civilian communities need more protection? Have they started getting that since Monday -- or since Tuesday?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me take the first part of your question, and come to the second part of your question. We expect full cooperation in the investigation, and I think all indications are from the FBI assessment team that Saudi Arabia is cooperating. I think Saudi Arabia officials, high-level officials have acknowledged and recognized that terrorism has hit their soil, and that not only American lives were lost, but Saudi lives were lost, as well as other countries, and that they need to face up to these threats and take action. Saudi Arabia has provided good cooperation with us on the war on terrorism, but there is more that can be done.

In response to your second question about security measures that are currently being taken, I think that that's a question you really need to direct to officials on the ground in Saudi Arabia. Our people are on the ground. They can brief you, as well as Saudi officials. But that's happening thousand miles away from here, and I think they're the best ones in position to brief you on that.

Q So is your answer that, yes, the FBI assessment team has been given the access it wants to the site?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, that's part of the investigation. That's part of what's going on, as I said, thousands of miles away from this podium. They're in much better position to address those issues, those specific issues, there on the ground than I am here at this podium.

Q And the White House hasn't asked about this --

MR. MCCLELLAN: But we expect full cooperation. The indications are from the FBI that we are getting good cooperation from Saudi officials in the initial stages of this investigation.

I want to remind everybody that our immediate focus and our immediate priority is to assist the victims of the attack and their families. This was a despicable attack, and we mourn the loss of American lives. We mourn the lives that were lost of innocent people from other countries, as well, including Saudi Arabia. And the State Department has been leading our effort in this regard, to help assist victims and their families.

Q Secretary Powell is saying the U.S. will consider suspending the U.N. sanctions on Iraq. Is this something you'd like to see happen?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think if you look at the full context of Secretary Powell's remarks, one, he was responding to a specific question. But our position is very clear. The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone; the sanctions are no longer needed. This is about helping the Iraqi people, helping the Iraqi people realize a better future. And they have suffered through 30 years of a brutal, ruthless regime. With the regime gone, there is no reason to do anything other than lift the sanctions, so that the Iraqi people can become fully integrated into the global economy.

We believe the sanctions should be lifted as soon as possible, and we intend to pursue a vote at the Security Council as early as next week, as Ambassador Negroponte indicated yesterday. But I believe the Secretary was very clear in saying that we want the sanctions lifted, and lifted as soon as possible.

Q If you suspend them, would it help get the resolution through the Security Council?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, we believe the sanctions should be lifted. And the atmosphere in New York, the atmosphere in capitals around the globe has been very positive. And we will continue to press forward to lift those sanctions. There's no reason for these sanctions to stay in place. We're talking about the economic well-being of the Iraqi people. We're talking about a brighter future for the Iraqi people, and beginning that future now by helping them and opening up their markets to trade to the global economy. And it's important that we get -- that we assist the Iraqi people as quickly as possible, and lift these sanctions.

Q Without going through U.N., you mean, you could do it unilaterally?

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, we're pursuing this through the U.N., Helen, that's what we're doing. And we will seek to pursue a vote on this as early as next week.

Q Ari? I mean, excuse me. (Laughter.)

Q You've been called worse. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'll take that as a compliment.

Q I have a two-part question, and one half -- additional, because we so rarely have the pleasure of your briefing leading. First, what is the President doing about -- doing at this point about finding Lt. Commander Scott Speicher, who was shot down over Iraq during Gulf War one and is believed by many to be still alive inside the country?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Les, I think that's a question you need to direct to Central Command or the Pentagon. That's a matter you need to address them.

Q The President is concerned, isn't he?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Absolutely. We've stated our --

Q And the second part is, Amy Waters Yarsinske, who was a former Naval Reserve Intelligence Officer, says in her book on the Speicher incident that the Clinton administration basically abandoned Speicher by ignoring evidence of his survival and failure to take action to rescue him. Does the President support Senator Pat Roberts' and Senator Bill Nelson's efforts to have an independent investigation into how the government failed Scott Speicher and was involved?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Les, this is a matter we're still pursuing. I think the specific questions are best directed to the Pentagon or Central Command about our efforts. Our thoughts are obviously with his family, as well.

Let me go on to Dana.

Q Scott, back on the French issue. What the French are saying is that the reason why they're putting this letter out there and this list of eight complaints is because they have an image problem that has the potential to spill over and do more than just image problem, but economic problem, boycotts and so forth. What is the administration's position on that, and specifically on the boycotts that have been going on just by American people, the American people not buying French products? What we see on Capitol Hill, "freedom fries," and so forth -- and also, they're worried that there's some legislation moving through Congress that could hurt the French. What is the White House position?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Our position is that we're looking forward. We have had some past differences, and we want to look forward. This is -- France is a friend, they are an ally, and we have a longstanding relationship there. There are many areas of common interest where we can work together, and we're moving forward. That's our -- that's where we are.

Q But if American citizens have decided, based on these reports that they've read, not to buy French products, what does the White House think about that?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think the American people make their own decisions about what they buy or what they don't buy.

Q So the White House isn't discouraging that?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, the White House -- I can tell you, I can speak for the White House. The American people make their own decisions, but the White House is focused on the future and focused on how we can work together in the future, and move beyond some of these past disagreements.

Q Scott, Russia said today, they called for a greater, more stringent IAEA control over nuclear facilities in Iran. Would that be adequate to answer the administration's concerns about the nuclear reactor at Bushehr and other Iranian nuclear facilities?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, IAEA is in the middle of -- they're still finishing up their report about Iran and its nuclear weapon program. And we're looking forward to seeing that report and assessing it. But the fact that Iran is pursuing -- or has a nuclear weapons program that they're pursuing is a concern to us. And it has been a concern. It's one of many concerns we have about the Iranian government.

Q The Russians didn't say that they were going to stop their cooperation with Iran. So is more stringent IAEA control adequate to address the administration's concerns about the program?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I think, first, Iran has openly admitted that it is pursuing a complete nuclear fuel cycle. And we've rejected their past claims that they're doing this for peaceful purposes. They admitted that they are constructing a secret uranium enrichment plant and a heavy water plant only after it had no choice because they had been made public by an Iranian opposition group.

There is no economic justification for a state rich in oil and gas like Iran to build hugely expensive nuclear fuel cycle facilities. And we have made clear to the IAEA to other governments and to the public that we strongly support a rigorous IAEA examination of Iran's nuclear activities. They've been looking at this. They're supposed to bring a report forward soon, and we look forward to assessing it at that point.

Q You don't have an assessment at this point. You'll wait until the IAEA --

MR. MCCLELLAN: We went to see the report, and we have some serious concerns about Iran's nuclear weapons program.

Q Scott, it looks like in the debate on the tax plan on Capitol Hill that the only way to get -- that in order to get more benefits on the dividend tax cut side, they may have to shave benefits for married couples and businesses. There are a number of other trade-offs, as well, including some tax increases. What is the White House telling its allies on Capitol Hill about its preferences when it comes to necessary trade-offs here?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, marriage penalty relief, the President believes we ought to be encouraging marriage. And I've personally heeded that message. (Laughter.) In terms of specifics about action in Congress, right now the Senate is debating the economic growth and jobs act that they have put forward. It contains many elements -- it contains all the elements of what the President outlined. But we are continuing to push for what the President outlined, which is the complete elimination of dividends. And we will continue to push that. It's an unfair double-taxation and it needs to be eliminated. As you mentioned, we are also pursuing the rate reductions and marriage penalty relief and increase in the child tax credit.

Q Yes, but the White House has long since given up on the whole package. The President has already said $550 billion -- at least $550 billion. But clearly, the biggest plan you're going to get is $550 billion. There's not a chance in the world you're going to get more than that. So obviously, you're going to have to give up something. And in the Senate today, push is coming to shove on what you have to give up, where they're only going for $350 billion. So are you willing, for instance, to accept tax increases on workers overseas if that's what it takes to get more benefits on the dividend tax cut?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Yes, that's getting into questions of offsets that are being proposed in the Senate. Again, I'm not going to stand up here and negotiate from the podium. The President's budget had some offsets of $11 billion in it, as well, that was focused on closing some tax loopholes --

Q So you're not --

MR. MCCLELLAN: But what we're going to do is continue to fight for as robust a plan as possible, because it means as many jobs as possible that can be created. And that's what we're going to continue to fight for. We're fighting for the plan that the President outlined. We're working closely with Congress. Obviously, there is give-and-take during the process. This is going to be headed -- this will be headed to conference committee soon. There will be some competing plans. And we hope that those differences will be resolved quickly, and that they pass as robust a plan as possible, and pass all elements of the President's plan for tax relief, because it means more jobs.

Q So the White House has no preference whatsoever on the outcome of the Senate, which is obviously engaged in trade-offs?

MR. MCCLELLAN: We want as robust a plan as possible. And we are working closely with the Senate on all these issues, as it's moving through the process. Then it's going to move to conference committee and we'll continue to work closely with members of Congress to pass as robust a plan as possible.

Q But the most robust plan the Senate has been able to come up has in it a proposal for a tax increase on workers overseas. The White House is neutral on a tax increase on workers overseas in order to give a dividend tax cut here at home?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, that's getting into questions -- that's offsets, so you can reduce taxes. That's something that is typically brought up when you're talking about cutting taxes. There are offsets that are pushed and there are offsets being pushed. But I'm not going to stand up here and get into all the legislative minutia that's going on on the Hill right now. We're working closely with them and we're fighting for the plan that the President outlined.

Q To change the subject, what is the White House's response to reports that Tom DeLay used resources at Homeland Security to find those wayward Democrats in Texas?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not aware of those reports. I don't have anything on that.

Q You're not aware of them?

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, I'm not.

Q Can you get back to us on that?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'll see what I can find out.

Q And secondly, the President said while he was in Missouri that he wasn't paying much attention to the Texas redistricting dispute. But Tom DeLay says that the President -- he told the President about it and the President encouraged him. Which is it?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, there are a lot of private conversations that the President has with members of Congress, but I think the President addressed it the other day when he was asked, and he expressed his confidence in the leadership of the governor and the state of Texas.

Q Do you think that the resources of the Homeland Security Department should be used in a dispute like this?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, now you're trying to get into speculative reports about a member of Congress, and --

Q But it was --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I'm not aware of that. You're bringing it up in the context of his question. And I don't think -- without any information, that I can comment on it from this podium.

Q But do you think, in general, that is an appropriate use of the homeland security resources?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, this is getting into a speculative question regarding a member of Congress.

Q It's a principled question.

MR. MCCLELLAN: But this is tying it to that. And what's your specific question on it?

Q Should the resources of the Homeland Security -- the federal Homeland Security Department be used to end a political dispute in a state?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I have no knowledge that that's happening, so I don't -- let me go to Mark.

Q Let me follow that up. Specifically, Tom DeLay has said that he has consulted an attorney in his office to determine if FBI agents and U.S. marshals can be used to round up these stray Democrats.

MR. MCCLELLAN: Mark, I don't think anything changes from what I've told Jeanne.

Q I realize that, but there is a broad policy issue at stake here that the White House certainly must have a view on. Should any federal resources, any federal law enforcement resources or the Homeland Security Department be used to round up stray legislators?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, Mark, I'll look into this and I'll see what else we have on it. I just -- I don't have any information on this, and it's getting into a question regarding a specific member of Congress that I just don't have any information on.

Q Actually, can we stay on that that --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me go to Goyle, and I'll come back to you. I'll come back to you in a minute.

Q Scott, two quick questions. One, even before 9/11 took place, Saudi money and Pakistan training took place as far as terrorism is concerned. And that was proven by 9/11. And that practice is still going on, and that's why the Americans and people around the world, they have no faith in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. So now -- what's going on now in Saudi Arabia, as far as the investigation is concerned, but future attacks when the President said so many times that we will make sure nothing will happen now in the future, as far as terrorism is concerned, and we will not live in fear. But now we are living under fear, and terrorism is still alive, Osama bin is still alive.

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, you bring up a very good point. I think the attacks on Monday are a vivid and tragic reminder that the war on terrorism continues. It continues across the world. This is a global war that requires a global response. And that's what we've been waging since the attacks of September 11th. And everybody needs to participate to the fullest extent possible. We will -- the best way to win the war on terrorism is to go after the killers where they are, find them and bring them to justice. And we are doing that, and we are doing that with the support of a very broad coalition all across the world.

Q Let me follow just a bit?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me -- one more.

Q Last week, Mr. Brajesh Mishra, national security advisor to the Prime Minister of India, was here at the White House. He had a private conversation with the President in the Oval Office for over 15 minutes. And at the same time, Deputy Secretary Armitage was in the area in the Indian subcontinent. So any idea what they discussed or what's going --

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, I don't have a readout on that. I think Dr. Rice had a briefing yesterday at the foreign policy center and touched on that subject. Obviously, we're pleased with some of the steps going in the region in terms of improved dialogue, increased dialogue and efforts to reduce tensions in the region. And that's important, and we welcome those steps.

Q Getting back to the topic we were on a minute ago, the Department of Homeland Security, broadly speaking, was created to deal with domestic terrorist threats --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Right.

Q -- within the continental U.S. Without getting into a page-by-page inspection of that law for any loopholes, is it the White House's general understanding that its purpose would be to combat all sources of terrorism within the United States? And if the answer to that question is yes --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, the department was created because its top priority is to protect the American people, protect the homeland.

Q Right. And so --

MR. MCCLELLAN: But there are other priorities at the Department of Homeland Security, as well.

Q Right. Would those priorities include potentially rounding up people --

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, I understand. We're trying to go back to these reports that I have no information on. I think those questions are best addressed to the Congressman's office. I have no information on those reports, whatsoever.

Q -- he was right or wrong, Scott.

Q And you all run Homeland Security.

Q And it's your department.

Q It's your department.

MR. MCCLELLAN: Yes, and the priority of the --

Q And so you all need to answer whether you think --

MR. MCCLELLAN: The priority of the Homeland Security Department is --

Q -- federal tax dollars should be used for this.

MR. MCCLELLAN: -- to protect the American people. Let's go on.

Q Okay, I actually have a second unrelated question. Which was last year, particularly in the weeks before the election, the President went around the country talking about the need to make the tax cuts permanent, how a Republican majority on Congress would help him do that. His message on that was very clear. One of the things now being talked about up on the Hill is making dividend tax cuts temporary. Isn't that a contradiction? Or is that an agreement the White House is willing to make? Is he willing to go back on what he was saying last year in order to get a tax cut --

MR. MCCLELLAN: There are efforts on the Hill to eliminate the double-taxation of dividends. And that's important. And there's some progress being made on that front, and we'll continue to work with members on that. The President believes that we ought to eliminate the double-taxation on dividends. It's unfair to tax people after the corporate profits have been taxed. And we believe that that tax should be completely done away with. We've made that very clear.

Q If part of the compromise is to make temporary, will he come back later, perhaps even later this year, in an effort to take another bite out of the apple, make it permanent?

MR. MCCLELLAN: That's speculating about future activities. It's still working its way through Congress. It would be premature to draw conclusions at this point. We're fighting for what the President outlined.

Q If I could just actually tap your acute Lone Star State expertise. (Laughter.) Can you think of times, either when you were growing up, or perhaps when you were working for the state of Texas, where the federal marshals or any federal agents were called in to deal with a political matter, not a natural disaster or the Mexican-American War? Anything along those lines? (Laughter.)

Q He's not that old.

Q He doesn't remember that. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCLELLAN: Look, this is a matter that is being addressed in the state of Texas. This is a matter before the Texas legislature. The President has responded to questions about this and said he has confidence in the governor and his leadership.

Q So can you cite an example --

MR. MCCLELLAN: I mean, you're trying to draw me into a Texas legislative battle. We're focused on the priorities that are happening here.

Q We're not drawing you into a Texas battle. We're trying to find out if the President doesn't want to see homeland security resources drained to deal with something totally unrelated for what that department --

MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me make it clear, there should never ben inappropriate use of any federal resources. Let me make that very clear.

Q Scott, two questions. The first one has to do, -- are revealing that six agents of the FBI have either arrived or arriving in Saudi Arabia --

MR. MCCLELLAN: They have arrived there, the assessment team.

Q It seems to be a very small number of people as to not make it look like they're taking over the investigation. Do you feel you will get full cooperation from the Saudis? Because you didn't get that during the Kobar Towers investigation.

MR. MCCLELLAN: I indicated that earlier in response to Ann's question, that we expect full cooperation in the investigation. And the indications are we are getting good cooperation in the initial stages of this investigation. It's, obviously, just getting underway, three days after these tragic attacks.

Q The second question has to do with Argentina. On Sunday, the

Argentineans were going to go to the second and final round; however, one of the two remaining candidates -- has resigned, or he will not participate anymore. That means the Governor -- would be the next President of Argentina, and will be sworn in on the 25th of May. Any comments --

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think we'll have more to say on that in the near future, at the appropriate time. So I would look for that.

Q Two questions. One, to clarify something you said in response to Jeanne's question. She asked you about Majority Leader DeLay's account of the conversation he had with the President today, and your response was the President has private conversations with a lot of -- members. In saying that, are you confirming that the President and Representative DeLay did have a private conversation about this issue?

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, I am not. I just pointed out that he does have private conversations all the time with legislators, before or after meetings, sometimes during meetings. I think the President made his views known when he was asked the question about what's going on in Texas.

Q Did he have a private conversation with DeLay?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Oh, I think he has private conversations with him often.

Q Did they discuss the Texas legislature?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I mean, there are regular leadership meetings that happen here. But I'm not going to get into private discussions from the podium.

Q Second question, about Iran, following on -- there's an Iranian opposition group based in Iraq, which is now accusing Iran of running a very active biological weapons warfare program. Do we believe those accusations are true? If so, what are we doing about it?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, like I said, we have a number of concerns with regard to Iran. I cannot get into comment specifically on the news reports. I saw those news reports. But we have long made clear our deep concern about their biological weapons program, which is in violation of its obligations under the Biological Weapons Convention.

Our intelligence community has reported publicly that Iran probably maintains an offensive biological weapons program. They have a growing bio-technology industry, significant pharmaceutical experience and the infrastructure to support its program. Iran is actively procuring dual-use bio-technical materials and expertise. Some of those materials may have legitimate uses, but we are concerned that they're seeking them for a biological weapons program. So that is a concern, and we're working with other governments to strengthen controls on dual-use biological materials that could be used in biological programs either in Iran or in other rogue states.

Q Is the uranium program at a point where it can still be choked off from the outside? Or is it sufficiently advanced that they're passed that?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I think this is something we're working with other governments to better control. But it is a concern.

Q Scott, as a Texan, is the President furious over those illegal aliens trapped inside a truck in Texas? What more can he do to stop a tragedy like this from happening again?

MR. MCCLELLAN: That is a horrible tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families. And we are -- we have a good, close relationship with Mexico, and these are issues that we do work on with Mexico. We have taken a number of steps to improve our border security, to improve our border infrastructure. And this is just a horrible tragedy.

Q I have one more question, if I may. Going back to France, the French have denied selling arms to Iraq and issuing passports to Syria to fleeing Iraqi officials. Are those charges valid? And will the President try and improve relations with France next month?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that those are questions you can address to France.

Q On that point, Scott, do you have any information that the French did, in fact, issue passports to people so that --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think -- no, I think that's a question you need to address to France.

Q Well, no, it's information the U.S. claims to have.

MR. MCCLELLAN: I don't have anything for you.

Q The President is supporting a blanket lawsuit immunity bill for the gun industry. This would throw out lawsuits brought by the victims of the Washington area sniper against the gun dealer in the state of Washington which sold to the people who were shooting. Why would the President support such a bill? And would he support blanket immunity bills for other industries, like the auto industry or the chemical industry?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Are you talking about the liability bill? We do --

Q The lawsuit immunity bill.

MR. MCCLELLAN: We do strongly support that legislation. The President looks at it as a matter of stopping lawsuit abuse, of stopping frivolous lawsuits. We do not believe a manufacturer of a legal product ought to be held accountable for the criminal misuse of that product.

Q But this is with the gun dealer, too, who illegally sold to a felon.

MR. MCCLELLAN: This is an issue regarding frivolous lawsuits and abusive lawsuits. And that's the way the President views it.

Q If I could follow up, but would he support blanket immunity for other industries like the auto industry or the chemical industry? Just a blanket lawsuit in --

MR. MCCLELLAN: He does not believe that the manufacturer of a legal product should be held criminally liable -- held liable for the criminal misuse of that product. That's a principled stand. I can't get into hypothetical questions about other pieces of the legislation.

Q Scott, back on this rounding up of the Democrats. When then George W. Bush campaigning for the Oval Office, he said that -- he cited as an example the bridge that he built between the Republicans and the Democrats in Texas, and he cited that as an example of how he wanted to deal in Washington. When did the blood just go bad? What happened for this situation to occur?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I appreciate the opportunity to interject ourselves into state matters, state political matters, but we could do that across 50 states, and if you would ask me those questions elsewhere, I'm just not going to do that. I'm going to talk about what we are focused on and what priorities we're trying to accomplish for the American people.

Q But apparently the President is focused on that.

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Apparently the President is focused on this --

MR. MCCLELLAN: No, I think he got asked about it the other day, and he responded to a question about it and said that he had confidence in the governor and the leadership in Texas.

Q But can you understand why many people -- detractors of this homeland security situation are having problems with it? Like the Mayor of Baltimore says the security just isn't there yet, you know, for first responders; and other people like the Congressional Black Caucus just saying that it's not right, because it seems like the focus is on other issues than what is supposed to be.

MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, that's getting into some reports that I am just not familiar with. So I can't get into the specific response to your question for that very reason. I just don't have any information about that, and those questions need to be addressed elsewhere.

Q But you still stand by the statement that it's inappropriate to use federal resources for what they should not be used for.

MR. MCCLELLAN: I said, federal resources should never be used inappropriately. I made that clear.

Q Two on Saudi Arabia. Does the President believe the Saudi government and people are unified in their professed determination to find and punish terrorists?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, repeat the first part?

Q Does the President believe the Saudi government and the people are unified in their professed determination to find and punish terrorists?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I think some very high-level Saudi officials have indicated that, that these attacks have only made them more united in their resolve to work to track down these killers and bring them to justice, work with us in that pursuit.

Q Do you think the majority of the Saudi people --

MR. MCCLELLAN: I mean, their own comments have indicated that.

Q Do you think the Saudi people -- the majority of the Saudi people agree with that?

MR. MCCLELLAN: I can't speak for the Saudi people. Those questions would have to be addressed there.

Q One last one. Does the President want to see a slowdown in the planned withdrawal of American troops from Saudi Arabia?

MR. MCCLELLAN: Again, those are issues best addressed to the Pentagon, decisions made by our military leaders, in consultation with others.

Q Thank you.

MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me finish -- Jeff. Go ahead.

Q Just two quick ones. Legislation now in Congress to index the gas tax to inflation would essentially raise gas prices over five cents a gallon. Does the White House have a position on this?

MR. MCCLELLAN: To -- what's the piece of legislation?

Q The legislation is to index the gas tax to inflation, which would raise the price of gas by over five cents a gallon.

MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me take a look at it. I'll see if we can post something on it.

Q And one more. Russia's lower house of Parliament approved a nuclear arms reduction treaty Wednesday. While this is a welcome event, are we pursuing a similar agreement with China?

MR. MCCLELLAN: That is a welcome event. That was a historic treaty that was ratified in Russia. It was previously ratified by the U.S. Senate, and we're pleased with that move. But we want to work to address proliferation issues on weapons of mass destruction across the globe.

Thanks.

END 1:47 P.M. EDT