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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 12, 2003
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I'd like to start off with touching on tomorrow a little bit. The President, tomorrow in Florida, will visit the Englewood Neighborhood Center. It's a multipurpose community center in Orlando. And he will begin the event by participating in a roundtable meeting with Governor Bush and seniors on Medicare.
The President will continue to urge Congress to act to strengthen and modernize Medicare for America's seniors. We have a historic opportunity before us to get this passed this year, and improve Medicare for America's seniors. There are some 10 million seniors today who have no coverage for prescription drugs. These seniors are now bearing the full impact of rising drug costs, and many are being forced to decide between paying their bills or purchasing the needed medicines that they need. And that's wrong. We have a historic opportunity before us to create a new prescription drug benefit under Medicare that will enable our seniors without drug coverage to essentially cut their drug bills by about half. It will also provide more choices and better benefits under Medicare, similar to what members of Congress enjoy today, and will provide even greater savings to our low-income seniors. And it will give all seniors savings through a Medicare discount drug card.
One item to note of significance here is that this speech will be simulcast via satellite to five events occurring around the country. Those events are taking place in Phoenix, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, and Philadelphia. And they're being sponsored by either the AARP or the Coalition for Medicare Choices. The speakers at those events include CMS Administrator Scully, CDC Director Gerberding, Surgeon General Carmona, NIH Director Zerhouni, and that guy over at the FDA. (Laughter.)
And with that I will be glad to go into questions.
Q Scott, what did these meetings with Ambassador Bremer yield, if anything? Any decisions? What message does Bremer take back to Iraq now?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you heard Ambassador Bremer address some of this earlier today. He will -- well, one, we have -- Ambassador Bremer has been having some very positive and constructive discussions with the Governing Council and Iraqis generally on the way forward. And that's what we're talking about here, is how best to move forward on transferring sovereignty as quickly as possible to the Iraqi people, making sure that it is done the right way. We have set out a course; we will stay that course. And we will move as quickly as possible to work with the Governing Council and the Iraqi people to achieve a free, peaceful, and democratic future.
Q Can you give us any glimpse into what the President thinks or the options that Bremer presented to him, and where this is going?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that it -- that Ambassador Bremer will be going back to Iraq to discuss some of what took place here in these discussions, and talk with them and listen to -- continue to listen to their ideas, and other leaders in Iraq, as well. But one thing that he will continue to make clear to the Governing Council and the Iraqi people is that the United States remains steadfast in our commitment to prevailing and defeating the Baathist holdouts and the foreign fighters. And we remain firmly committed to moving as quickly as possible toward transferring sovereignty and realizing a peaceful, free, and sovereign Iraq for the Iraqi people.
Q But, Scott, the reality is that this December 15th deadline kind of makes all this talk cheap. I mean, this is an intense period. That's what Ambassador Bremer said. So obviously you're not going to get in on the record what he's going to go back and tell them, but will you at least confirm that there is a new idea, a new direction that this administration is taking back to the IGC to speed up a transfer of power?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we've talked about how we're working to accelerate our efforts on all fronts, and that includes the political front, in addition to the security front and the reconstruction and economic front. It's important that we continue to accelerate our efforts. And as the Iraqi people and the Governing Council are ready to assume more and more responsibility, we continue to turn that authority over --
Q But is that yes or no --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to the Governing Council and the Iraqi people. We are, as you mentioned, in an intense period of discussions with the Governing Council, with the Iraqi people and within the administration, as well. This is an important phase. You have a number of important things that have happened recently. There is a lot of activity going on. You had Congress act to pass the wartime supplemental, which included some significant resources on the reconstruction front to help the Iraqi people move forward on the reconstruction and economic front -- which is also important to the security front, as well, because as we move forward on that front, it helps improve security.
You had the donors conference, where the international community made a significant commitment to the Iraqi people because they realize how high the stakes are in Iraq. Then you have this United Nations deadline of December 15th for the Governing Council to provide a time line for the drafting of the constitution and the conducting of elections. And we are working closely with the -- Ambassador Bremer, specifically, is working closely with the Governing Council to meet that deadline.
Q Yes or no, is there a new direction, a new idea that he is taking back?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're staying the course to realize our same goal. I think we're having some serious discussions about the best way to move forward. And those discussions include discussions with the Governing Council. They have a lot of ideas. The cabinet ministers are playing an important role. There's a lot of important progress being made on a number of fronts. Obviously, there are difficulties that remain, there are dangers that remain. But it's important that we continue moving forward as quickly as we can on all these fronts.
Q Can I just follow up? What evidence is there, specific evidence, that the Iraqis are prepared to take over political control of their country on an expedited schedule?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, that's why I emphasized that we're working closely with the Governing Council, with the ministers that were appointed by the Governing Council, and moving as quickly as we can to transfer that responsibility as they are ready to assume more and more responsibility. They continue to assume more and more responsibility. I think you see that the Governing Council is working to become more effective. The Iraqi ministers are taking control over their ministries and making more decisions on a daily basis. The rebuilding of the infrastructure is moving forward, and Iraqis also are moving to assume more and more responsibility in the security forces, as well.
That's why I talk about the progress being made. They're already assuming more and more responsibility and we want to continue working with them. This is -- yes, there will be tough days ahead, there will be difficulties ahead. It's not easy transitioning after 30 years of being under a brutal, oppressive regime that had no concern for the people of that nation. It's not easy to transition to democracy. But the Iraqi people deserve a better future, and that's what we're working with our coalition to help them realize.
Q Scott, do you believe or not believe that Iraqis are losing confidence in the occupation?
MR. McCLELLAN: I believe that the Iraqi people want the coalition and the international community to stay the course and finish the job. And that's exactly what we will do. There are those holdouts of the former regime and foreign fighters in the country that seek to spread fear and chaos. They seek to intimidate America. They seek to intimidate the coalition and they seek to spread fear and chaos among the Iraqi people. They will not prevail. We will stay the course. We will prevail. This is a very important cause. The stakes are very high. Everybody realizes that, including those that are the enemies of the Iraqi people and that do not want to see a brighter future for the Iraqi people -- a free and peaceful and democratic future.
Q But do you acknowledge that the Iraqis from time to time may get frustrated or disillusioned with the occupation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, you can understand some of the concerns of the Iraqi people that they express. But the Iraqi people see a better day coming and appreciate, I think, the efforts that are being made to help them achieve a free, peaceful, and sovereign future as quickly as possible. But it's important to, as we move forward quickly, to make sure that it's done right. And that's why we continue to have serious consultations, not only within the administration, but on a daily basis with the Governing Council and leaders in Iraq.
Q Scott, today the President not only acknowledged, but went out of his way to talk about the deaths of those Italians in a bombing this morning in Iraq. He offered his condolences; he offered some words of support to Mr. Berlusconi. Why does he go out of his way to do that when it's Italians who died, and last week there was no mention, specifically, by the President of the two helicopters that went down killing Americans?
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with the whole premise of the way you phrased that question. The President talks on a regular basis about how we mourn the loss of every one of our men and women in the military who paid the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of freedom and the defense of making America more secure for generations to come. They are involved in a very important cause. And we are forever grateful for the service and sacrifice of every one of our men and women in the military who are serving in Iraq.
We also mourn the loss of life when members of the coalition forces pay the ultimate sacrifice. And the President talks often about that. But the cause is important, and what we are trying to achieve is not only a safer world, but a better world and a more secure America. Our men and women in the military understand their mission and understand the stakes involved here. and they are carrying it out in an exemplary way, and they will succeed in their objectives.
Q Why would he not have referenced the two helicopters that went down in such a specific way, as he did today reference the bombing?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we were in -- I guess it was California, last week -- I've lost track with all the travel -- but the President actually did talk about those who lost their life in that helicopter downing.
Q Not a specific way, though.
Q Only when he was asked --
Q Some members of the Governing Council are talking about establishing a provisional government. Is that an attractive possibility to you?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, this is kind of getting into a discussion of options. That's why Ambassador Bremer is now -- I mean, he's been having discussions with the Governing Council. Now, as you heard him say, at the direction of the President, he will be going back to Iraq and continuing to have some serious conversations with the Governing Council about how -- what is the best way to move forward, what is the best way to move forward on the political front, and what is the best way to achieve our shared goal of a free, peaceful and democratic Iraq.
Q Did the President today make a decision on the best way to move forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm not going to get into speculating about any timing or any decisions. I think that Ambassador Bremer will go back and talk with the Governing Council about some of the discussions that were had here in Washington. He brought here to Washington some of the views from the Governing Council and the Iraqi people, themselves. And so now he can go back and talk with the Governing Council. That's the best way to approach this, because we're working hand-in-hand with the Iraqi people to achieve our shared goal.
Q Why can't we know if he made a decision?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come back to you later.
Q Scott, you keep talking about the Governing Council, going back to them as if this is entirely their decision. We are the occupying authority under international law. So, separate and apart from whatever would be the right course, if the President determined that we're on the wrong course, the Governing Council is on the wrong course, is it your understanding that as a matter of law he would have the right, or through Ambassador Bremer, the right to impose a different way, a different method of doing elections, a different way of appointing an executive? I'm not asking you about what the options are; I'm asking you what your understanding is of the legal authority vested --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we believe we are on the right course and that what we are working to achieve in Iraq will bring about a safer and better world and a more secure America. So we are on the right course. There are difficulties any time you are trying to transition to democracy. Our own country faced those difficulties and went through a period of years to transition to a democracy.
And so we will continue working with the Governing Council and leaders in Iraq as we move forward. That's what we are doing. That's what we have been doing. You're asking me to speculate beyond some of those discussions that have yet to occur.
Q I'm not asking you to speculate about it. I'm asking you what your legal authority is.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not in a position -- I'm not a lawyer -- to talk about what all the legal authorities are. But I know the course that we are taking is the right course, and it's for the right reasons. And we will stay that course, and we will finish the job that we are undertaking.
Q So the answer to the question is, the White House does not know what its legal authorities are --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying I don't know -- I don't know all the legal authorities.
Q Can you take the question and come back to us with the answer?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'll see what I can do.
Q I have a follow on that, and then another question, too. Maybe you just answered that. But the President kept saying that we are in war, we're at war. It's my understanding, though, that there hasn't been a declared state of war since World War II. Have we declared war?
MR. McCLELLAN: War was declared on America on September 11, 2001, when some 3,000 people lost their lives here in America. And this is the war on terrorism. The President has made that very clear. And this war continues. This war will be a long war, but we will see it through and we will prevail until we rid the world of those who seek to spread fear and chaos, and seek to take the lives of innocent people, and seek to attack the civilized world.
Q Sorry to sound like a lawyer, but for legal and diplomatic reasons, then, we are in a declared state of war?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are at war on terrorism. The President has made --
Q Okay, one more --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President made that very clear. Let me keep moving.
Q Let me try this this way, then a quick follow-up. Coming into these meetings with Ambassador Bremer, the President's position was for the new Iraqi government to be viewed as legitimate. He wanted to have a constitution drafted, and then have free and fair and democratic elections. Understanding that you say the final decision has to be made in conjunction with the Governing Council, has the President now authorized and embraced a change in that system that could see an interim constitution and an interim appointed Iraqi administrator?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the way we are approaching this is working closely with the Governing Council and Iraqi leaders. And so Ambassador Bremer will go and continue to have some discussions with the Governing Council. That's what he is doing. He came here and briefed the President on some of the ideas from discussions that he had with Iraqis and with the Governing Council about moving forward. This is all part of consultations about how -- what is the best way to move forward. And that's --
Q But as he said, he was going back with a message from the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: I know, and you're asking --
Q -- and others have said the President has made decisions. The American people are being asked, and Congress has approved, $66 billion in spending next year in Iraq, including $20 billion in outright grants, for the reconstruction of a country that has the world's second largest oil reserves. Do the American people have no right to any insight into the President's decisions about -- your answering a question about whether he has made a fundamental change in the administration's approach?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, keep in mind, we regularly provide people to brief the American people and take questions from you all in the press corps. We do that on a regular basis and we're very up-front about what we are doing. And you're asking me to get into speculation about certain options or ways forward --
Q I'm not asking you to speculate. I'm asking you what the President told Ambassador Bremer to go tell the Council.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, you're asking me to talk about possible options about the best way forward. I think those are discussions that are best had talking with the Governing Council. They have ideas -- talking with them about the best way forward. That's what we're doing. That's the best way to approach this.
Q Scott, just to take a half-step back, in seems incontrovertible that a number of senior officials' schedules had to be rejuggled to make these meetings happen the last couple of days. Who called this meeting? And can you sort of give us a tick-tock on how it came to be?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think those are discussions that are had between senior administration officials, including Ambassador Bremer in the region. We have those discussions about -- recognizing that this is an important period that we're in right now, that there's a lot of activity going on. And I think those discussions were had with all those concerned and the decision was made that it was best to have some further in-depth discussions about what we are working on as we move forward.
Q Did the President say, let's have this meeting, let's bring Bremer back?
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, again, I think that those are discussions that are agreed to amongst a group of people, that it was important to come back and sit down and have some intense discussions about the way forward. That's what this was about.
Q -- at the U.N. in September, officials vigorously argued that we could not have an Iraqi government until after a new constitution was written and after elections were held. Is that still U.S. policy?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that -- again, that would be going into possible decisions that may be made --
Q No, no, I'm asking you if --
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, it would. Sure, it would.
Q -- the policy that was articulated and argued at the U.N. in September is still U.S. policy.
MR. McCLELLAN: The goal remains the same, moving as quickly as possible, and doing it right, to realize a free, peaceful and sovereign Iraq for the Iraqi people.
Q Does the policy remain the same?
MR. McCLELLAN: And just like you have to adapt and adjust on the security front to meet the enemy, you need to be willing to adjust and adapt to circumstances on the ground, in terms of reconstruction and in terms of the political front. So it's important to keep that in mind. No one ever said that it was going to be an easy task, after 30 years of tyranny and oppression, to transition to a democratic future.
Q I think we all understand that you don't want to get into too much detail until Ambassador Bremer has had a chance to talk to the Iraqi Governing Council --
MR. McCLELLAN: Right.
Q I mean, that's clear. But on the other hand, the U.S. has --
MR. McCLELLAN: Because this is about their future and they are very involved in discussions moving forward.
Q But, on the other hand, when the discussions happen at the U.N. where that deadline was set, the U.S. was quite clear and drew a line saying it could not move toward any sort of appointed government because it would be inappropriate before a constitution was written and elections were held. So I'm only asking you, does that policy still stand?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're having some serious discussions, both within the administration and with the Governing Council and Iraqi leaders about the best way to move forward. I think to get too far into a discussion about what that may look like moving forward would be getting into speculation at this point.
Q So is everything on the table, then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's -- well, we're having discussions with the Governing Council.
Q Does the U.S. still have positions that -- things it will not accept?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm trying to think the best way to address that is to say that we're continuing to have some intense discussions, and we're having those discussions with the Governing Council and the leaders in Iraq. I think that's the best way to approach, is to let those discussions move forward. And then at some point, I think there will be more to say. But the immediate focus is on this December 15th United Nations deadline and working with the Governing Council to meet that deadline, which calls on the Governing Council to set a timetable for drafting a constitution and holding elections.
Q -- headline today is you won't stand by the policy --
Q -- they're going to make the December 15th --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Any indication they're going to make that deadline?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we already came to you, David. I'll come back to you later if you'd like. But let's keep moving. Go ahead.
Q Any indication they're going to make that deadline?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? We are working with them to make sure they do, and we believe that -- we believe they will.
Q I have two questions. One, you seem to have renamed the Sunni Triangle the Baathist Triangle. The President used that expression yesterday; you used it this morning. Have you done that for strategic reasons because you want to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think others have used that term, and I think that's an appropriate way to phrase it. There are -- the Baathists were part of the brutal regime that was in power under Saddam Hussein, and I think that's an appropriate way to phrase that area that we're talking about where dangerous people are and a lot of dangers remain.
Q Are you trying to divide, are you trying to say that the insurgency --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just trying to accurately reflect -- accurately reflect what we're talking about.
Q Okay, second question. Does the President believe that the Iraqi Governing Council is moving quickly enough, rapidly enough, expeditiously enough, to write a new constitution, to meet the deadline, the December 15th deadline?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just answered that, didn't I? I think I just answered that we're working -- Ambassador Bremer is working closely with them to meet that deadline. And we believe they will meet that deadline.
Q Do you believe that the Council is taking advantage of all its responsibilities and opportunities to --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're continuing to work with the Governing Council, and they're continuing to become more effective. You have the Cabinet ministers that were put in place by the Governing Council. They've assumed responsibility over their respective areas, and they're overseeing the daily responsibilities they have in those areas. And so we're continuing to work with them and transfer more and more responsibility as they are ready to assume that responsibility. So we are pleased with the progress that is being made by Iraqis in moving toward assuming more and more responsibility and authority.
Q Scott, on the Medicare bill, is it true that the administration is softening its position on insisting that there be private choice in the seniors' plan?
MR. McCLELLAN: We want seniors to have options, more options to choose from, to have better benefits to choose from. That's what we're pushing for. That's what we're talking about when we talk about modernizing and strengthening Medicare, bringing it up to date to give seniors access to today's health care. There's a lot of technology that has advanced since Medicare was first created. And that's why we're working to bring it up to date and give them more choices. They can stay -- under the approach we're taking, they can obviously stay in their traditional plan if they so choose, but we want them to have the option to choose from other plans, as well. And that's where you're talking about bringing some competition in, which will help give seniors more choices to choose from and better benefits, and keep those choices affordable.
Q So you're not softening your position on the choice part of the bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to remain very committed to bringing competition into Medicare.
Q Alabama's Attorney General Bill Pryor has asked that Chief Justice Roy Moore be removed from office because he opposed a federal judge's order to remove the Ten Commandments monument from the state's judicial building. And my question -- I have a two-part -- since the U.S. Supreme Court Building has Ten Commandments monuments, and they open every one of their sessions with a prayer, does the President support Attorney General Pryor's demand for Chief Justice Moore's ouster since the President, as I understand it, nominated Pryor for a federal judgeship?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's an attorney general in the state of Alabama, and that's an internal state matter.
Q He's appointed this guy at --
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, that is an internal state matter that is going on there, so we'll leave it to the state.
Q The Boston Globe and other newspapers report that on Sunday, in a New Hampshire Episcopal church there was both violence, as well as an assault lawsuit filed over the consecration of a sodomist bishop and the Episcopal blessing of same-sex unions. And my question: Is the President grateful that the bishops of the far larger Roman Catholic church now meeting in Washington have issued a statement defining marriage as "a lifelong union between a man and a woman"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, once again you seem to tie a lot of things into one question. The President's --
Q -- want to give all sides --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's views are very well-known when it comes to the sanctity of marriage, and they remain the same.
Q So he agrees with Catholic bishops? He's glad for that, isn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: You know his views very well on the sanctity of marriage.
Q Scott, what's the evidence that they will be able to meet the December 15th deadline?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been working closely with them and that's what our folks in the region believe; that's what Ambassador Bremer believes, as well.
Q Mr. Bremer assured the President of that today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Mr. Bremer assured the President of that?
MR. McCLELLAN: He believes that -- again, I'm not going to get into specific conversations or discussions about National Security Council meetings. But he believes that, as well.
Q Scott, can I just switch to the December 15th deadline, to another December 15th deadline? The World Trade Organization, as you know, ruled against the U.S. on Monday. And I've heard you say that you're going to review it carefully, but I haven't heard you say that you're going to comply with the decision, and I'm a little bit unclear as to what your thinking is. If there is no compliance, you're still hoping to avoid the sanctions, or you'll just live with the sanctions?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, actually, I addressed it the other day in the gaggle. We are reviewing that decision; we will study it, we will look at its implications and we will assess all our options.
Q Do you think that if you don't comply with it, you can still avoid the sanctions somehow?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there are still steps that have to be taken, the decision that was announced in the WTO report and there is still the adoption of those procedures that has to take place. But, again, it's something that we will carefully review and we'll look at the implications and we'll assess all our options.
Q And a follow-up to Connie's question, when she asked you about whether at a state of war, you mentioned that war was declared on September 11th. Are you now revisiting the link between September 11th, after the President came out and said there was no link?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know exactly what you're referring to and what I said. I've always said that September -- and the President has always said that September 11th taught us of the importance of confronting the new dangerous threats that we face. And that's exactly what this President is doing, because it's about protecting the American people. It's also about making the world a safer and better place. Not only are we confronting the terrorists, but we're also working on the other side to make the world a better place and improve conditions that lead to hatred,
and the conditions that create terrorism. And so we're moving --I'm sorry?
Q Her question was about Iraq, and the answer was September 11th.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. We've made it very clear that the most dangerous threat we face in this century is the nexus between terrorist organizations and outlaw regimes with weapons of mass destruction, and that it's important to confront those threats.
David, go ahead. I'll come to you.
Q Yes, two points on this. From what Jim was asking about, it seems clear that if the position at the United Nations from the United States was that this administration will not recognize an Iraqi government until there is a constitution drafted and elections held, by your answers today we can only conclude that that's not necessarily policy anymore --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't read anything into what I said, or anything in or out of what I said.
Q Well, we're going to, we're going to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand.
Q -- because what you're saying is that there are serious discussions --
Q -- stop us --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm just telling -- but I'm just telling you --
Q Tell us why we can't do that.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm just telling you I'm not going to get into speculation about the --
Q We're asking you to repeat existing policy.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- about the options -- about the options or discussions that are there.
Q You either stand by that policy or you say they're in serious discussions which says to us, it may not be policy.
MR. McCLELLAN: There are serious discussions going on about the best way forward. And --
Q -- you say you're willing to adapt and adjust.
MR. McCLELLAN: And we remain -- we remain committed to -- I think, again, when you're transitioning to democracy, there always has to be some flexibility in there as you move forward. And we set up the Coalition Provisional Authority to work closely with leaders in Iraq. And that's what the Coalition Provisional Authority is doing, as we move forward and transfer more and more responsibility as the Iraqi people are ready to assume those responsibilities.
Q Here's the second point, and I think the American people have about $150 billion riding on this point, and that is, who decides at the end of the day what political course is followed? Will it be the President of the United States, who now occupies Iraq? Or will it be the Iraqi Governing Council?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, we're on the right course, and we're staying down the course that we're moving to --
Q You can't answer that question?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to achieve our shared goal with the Iraqi people, with the international community, with others, of a free, peaceful and sovereign Iraq. And these decisions moving forward are made in consultation with the Governing Council and leaders in Iraq, with the Iraqi people.
Q The United States decides?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is something that we share, so we're having those discussions together. And that's the way --
Q But the United States decides?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's the way that I would characterize it.
Q The United States decides, isn't that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you're talking about decisions that are made in close consultation with the Iraqi people.
Q Beginning at 6:00 p.m. tonight, the Republican majority in the Senate is staging a 30-hour filibuster buster, marathon debate on judicial nominees. Does the President have any words of encouragement for the senators who have to stay up all night?
MR. McCLELLAN: What the President continues to emphasize is that the Senate needs to move forward and give the -- his nominees an up-or-down vote. The President has -- that's the responsibility of the United States Senate, to give those individuals who are highly qualified an up-or-down vote. And it's unfortunate that some Senate Democrats have chosen to play politics with our nation's judiciary. There are positions that need to be filled. And the President has met his responsibility and put forward highly-qualified nominees, individuals who are committed to interpreting the law, not making law from the bench. And there, unfortunately, are some Senate Democrats that continue to play politics and try to hold those nominees up from having an up-or-down vote when we know full -- well and full that those nominees enjoy a majority support of the United States Senate. And what is suffering is our nation's judicial system, and those -- and the American people who deserve to have those judges in place.
Q Do you think their actions using the filibuster to require super majority for -- to bring a vote on these people is unconstitutional?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that they're bringing attention to a very important priority for the President of the United States, and that is filling these posts with qualified individuals, and making sure that the Senate gives them a up-or-down vote.
Q I was just wondering why this President is unable, working with a Republican leadership in Congress, to be more effective in holding down domestic spending, or discretionary spending?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think you need to keep a few things in mind here. We are a nation at war, as we discussed earlier. And the President will do everything it takes to win the war on terror and protect the American people. Those -- that is the highest of priorities, our nation's security. He will also take the action needed to create the conditions for robust job growth and strengthen our economy even more. So we will spend what is necessary to win the war and protect the American -- the lives of Americans here at home.
But when you look beyond the increase in military spending to address these threats that we face and win the war on terrorism, and you look beyond the increase in spending for homeland security, I think you will look that the President has slowed the growth in spending to 6 percent in 2002, 5 percent in 2003, and between 2 and 3 percent for '04.* That's the discretionary spending when you take out the increases for defense and homeland security. But the President has an important responsibility to do everything we can to protect the American people, and we are meeting that commitment.
Q I had a follow-up. So when he said, 4 percent, he only meant 4 percent outside of defense and homeland security? He didn't mean the 4 percent that he talked about --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's the way we've always talked about it. I don't know what specifically you're referring to when he said --
Q He spoke of 4 percent cap on discretionary spending, and has excoriated Congress when he thought --
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about future budgets, or -- I don't know which --
Q The budget that he has been talking about since he took office. He has talked about 4 percent --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I pointed out, that when you --
Q He didn't put any asterisks there, Scott.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, we talked about discretionary spending not related to military and homeland security, that we slowed the growth in spending to, again, 6 percent in 2002, 5 percent in '03, and between 2 and 3 percent in '04. So the growth in spending is being cut by this President when it comes to those items that don't directly address the security of the American people during a time of war.
Q A quick question about next week. There are reportedly 100,000 people that are going to take to the streets in London and protest against the President. I'm just wondering how concerned is the White House about the President's security there? There's some talk that perhaps al Qaeda will take advantage of that kind of a moment, if there were that many people on the streets, to use it as cover to --
MR. McCLELLAN: The security concerns are always addressed in a very able manner by those who oversee our security. But people, obviously, have the right to express their views. That's the strength of a democratic system. And it's certainly their right to assemble and express their views in a peaceful way.
Q Scott, has the President been in contact with Tony Blair about any potential change in American-Iraqi policy?
MR. McCLELLAN: In American-Iraqi policy? He's in regular consultation, I think, with the Prime Minister, particularly in areas such as Iraq that are high priority areas. So he's in regular consultation. I don't have anything that I'm in position to share with you at this point. But they're in regular consultations on issues such as that.
Q Scott, I would like to walk out of here 100 percent clear. Can you tell us, yes or no, whether the President has decided to change course in Iraq? Has he instructed Bremer to change course?
MR. McCLELLAN: The course is clear. You have to have flexibility within that course as you move forward. And what we are doing is having some serious discussions about the best way forward. And those discussions are being had within the administration, and they're being had with the Governing Council and leaders in Iraq, as well. And so that's what we're doing.
Q Has he made a decision about whether to change course on the transfer of power?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Ambassador Bremer made it pretty clear that he'll go back and talk to the Governing Council about some of these discussions. And then we will go forward from there.
END 1:47 P.M. EST
* In the 2001 budget, the last before President Bush took office, spending outside of defense and homeland security grew by nearly 15 percent. The President cut spending growth in this area (non-defense, non-homeland) to 6 percent in 2002, 5 percent in 2003, and between 2 and 3 percent for 2004.
The President's budget proposal holds the base of discretionary government spending growth to 4 percent because government spending should not grow faster than family incomes.