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 Home > News & Policies > November 2003

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 13, 2003

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route to Orlando, Florida

10:15 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. Let me run through the President's day. He had his usual briefings this morning, then he met with some of his judicial nominees and you have his remarks - or you will have his remarks and Q&A from that, as well.

The President a short time ago called Prime Minister Berlusconi from the plane to express his condolences on behalf of the American people to the families of the brave Italians who were killed trying to help the Iraqi people build a better future. The Prime Minister thanked the President for his words of condolences and said that he would let the people of Italy know about the call.

Just one other. The Vice President, last night, expressed condolences to President Ciampi who arrived in Washington, yesterday. Getting back to the call, though, the two leaders reaffirmed their strong commitment to stay the course in Iraq. They noted that while difficulties and dangers remain, that important progress is being made. The President talked a little bit about the great job Ambassador Bremer is doing, and that Ambassador Bremer would be returning to Iraq to let the Governing Council know that we are committed to working with them to transfer more responsibility to the Iraqi people as quickly as possible.

Prime Minister Berlusconi also praised the President for the speech he gave last week on the importance of advancing freedom and democracy. And the President also talked about his upcoming trip to the United Kingdom and the importance of the United States and Europe working together to address the common challenges that we face.

When we land in Orlando, the Freedom Corps greeter is Matilda -- she goes by Tillie -- Walther. She's a volunteer with the Retired and Seniors Volunteer Program -- RSVP -- which is part of Senior Corps. And she's also a volunteer of the American Heart Association. Then the President will make remarks at a Bush-Cheney 2004 luncheon in Buena Vista, Florida.

Following that, we will go back to Orlando, where the President will participate in a roundtable meeting with seniors on Medicare. And then he will make remarks on Medicare. If you'll recall, yesterday I pointed out that this would be simulcast via satellite to five cities across the nation where other seniors are gathered. The President will continue to urge Congress to move forward and act this year to pass legislation that strengthens and modernizes Medicare for America's seniors. We are on the verge of finally getting this done, after years of deadlock. Seniors deserve to have the prescription drug coverage that they have waited on for too long now, and deserve to have the same kinds of choices and benefits that members of Congress now have. And so the President will continue to urge action on that front.

Then after that, we will go to -- we depart Orlando and go to Fort Myers. The Freedom Corps greeter there is Dr. Mark Asperilla, who formed a group of 35 physicians -- this in the aftermath of September 11th -- formed a group of 35 physicians to inform and educate communities in Florida about how to prepare for and respond to bioterrorist attacks. He's also a volunteer with the Medical Reserve Corps, which is part of our Citizen Corps efforts to -- he helps volunteers here in emergency situations.

Then the President makes remarks at a residence in Fort Myers at a Bush-Cheney reception. And then we return to Washington this evening.

Q What are those five cities, the simulcast --

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't bring them with me. As I recall -- I gave them out yesterday. We'll get that to you if you need it. But I gave them out yesterday.

Q Since you guys are talking about more quickly transitioning power to the Iraqis, wouldn't that have been a smarter thing to do back when you were going before the U.N. and trying to get more support? That's exactly what a lot of the other countries were saying needed to happen in order for them to be more supportive.

MR. McCLELLAN: We have always talked about moving as quickly as possible to transfer more and more responsibility to the Iraqi people, as they are ready to assume that responsibility. And --

Q -- going more quickly than you were talking about before.

MR. McCLELLAN: And Ambassador Bremer is going back to continue discussions with the Governing Council. These are decisions that the Governing Council will ultimately make. But we remain committed to moving as quickly as possible and transferring more responsibility to the Iraqi people. That's an important part of our efforts to build a peaceful and free Iraq for the Iraqi people.

Q So, Scott, are you saying that nothing has changed either in terms of the posture or the speed with which the U.S. government wants to transfer power directly to the Iraqi people?

MR. McCLELLAN: We talked about how we've been working to accelerate our efforts in that regard and --

Q Well, why accelerate --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- well, we are in an important period. I talked a little bit about this yesterday. I think Ambassador Bremer hit on it, as well. This is an important period that we are in. You have the December 15th U.N. deadline coming up for the Governing Council to come up with a timetable on drafting a constitution and holding elections. And so we've been having some intense discussions with the Governing Council. And Ambassador Bremer reported back here in Washington about those discussions, and the Governing Council has a number of ideas and options that they're talking about. And we are working with them to give them more and more responsibility that they are willing to assume.

Q Why are people wrong, though, Europeans particularly, who say the United States is just now getting the point that they've been trying to make for many months about the pace and the transfer of power, that now the horse is out of the barn it's too late?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the Iraqi people have been assuming more responsibility. You had a Governing Council established; you had the Governing Council put ministers in place. The ministers are the ones who are running the day-to-day operations of Iraq in their respective areas. They are the ones who are overseeing those different areas -- from the electricity system to the oil revenues, and so forth, health and education. So they are -- they have been assuming more and more responsibility, and we want to continue to accelerate those efforts and work with them. They'll make -- it's their future, and they will be the ones making those decisions about their future.

Q Is this right, is this right that you'd like to try to hold elections in the first half of next year?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go back to what I just said a minute ago, what was said yesterday, as well, that these are decisions that are ultimately made by the Governing Council and the Iraqi people. And so Ambassador Bremer is going back to talk with the Governing Council, and have some further discussions with them. But those that -- I think it would be premature to assume decisions that will be ultimately made by the Governing Council.

Q -- proposals that are in the papers today, are the -- is the New York Times wrong, the Washington Post wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said yesterday, I'm not going to get into, nor would Ambassador Bremer get into discussions that were had in Washington, D.C. He reported back about some of the ideas and options that the Governing Council had talked about. He will go back and talk to the Governing Council, and the Governing Council will be the one that ultimately makes decisions about the best way forward in assuming more and more responsibility and authority.

Q I have two questions. First, can you give us a readout on the President's private meeting with Bremer, that I'm told lasted 20 minutes, half an hour -- is that right -- after the other sets of meetings? And why the private meeting between the two of them? And anything you can give us in terms of a readout?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's unusual. They had a very good meeting. The President believes that Ambassador Bremer is doing a great job heading up the Coalition Provisional Authority and moving forward to a free and peaceful Iraq. The President greatly appreciates his work and his insights into our efforts in Iraq.

Q I'm sorry, just one more. And also -- what about the acceleration -- given this sudden shift and need to accelerate the process, is it because the President is facing reelection himself, and does not want this hanging over him as he faces voters?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, of course not. This is about what we've said, that as the Iraqi people are ready to assume more and more responsibility, we want to transfer it to them as quickly as possible. That is what this is about. The President is --

Q Did the President say that? Has he told these advisors in meetings --


Q He did?

MR. McCLELLAN: He said it this morning, about transferring more responsibility to the Iraqi people.

Q About, I don't want the timetable in Iraq to be decided by my own political timetable here at home.

MR. McCLELLAN: The media focused on that. The President is always focused on doing what is right in Iraq, and that is how best to move forward toward a peaceful, free and democratic Iraq, as quickly as possible, but it's important to do it right. It's not based on any time lines in America, it's based on time lines that are best for the Iraqi people.

Q Back to Steve's question, just for a minute. You're saying that you don't want to talk about options, and that the decisions will be made by the Iraqi Governing Council and by the Iraqi people. Understood. But Washington and the United States is running Iraq right now, so obviously it would be irresponsible for the United States --

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree a little bit. The cabinet ministers are running the day-to-day operations --

Q It's an occupation. It would be irresponsible for Washington and for this administration not to have opinions, not to lay out options that they think are good, and go and talk to them about it. So why can't you tell us what some of those are?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- had serious discussions in Washington over the last couple of days. And there continue to be serious and intense discussions with the Governing Council.

Q In the course of those --

MR. McCLELLAN: Why I can't tell you what they are is because those are best addressed with the Governing Council, because they are the ones who will ultimately make the decisions.

Q Don't the American people deserve to know which direction our government --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think when the Governing Council makes those decisions, that they will be ready to talk more about them.

Q A lot of the Iraqi leaders themselves are in support of a provisional government. Is that an attractive idea to you?

MR. McCLELLAN: As Ambassador Bremer said, he has been consulting closely with the Governing Council. He's going back to continue to consult closely with them. What's important is what is the view of the Governing Council and the Iraqi people. That's what's important. And we're there to work closely with them, and transfer responsibility as quickly as we can. We have been transferring responsibility and we will continue to transfer more and more, as they are ready to assume it. And there's a great willingness on the Iraqi people to assume full responsibility over their country.

Q Is this new desire to further accelerate the transfer of power being driven by the President's increasing frustration with the situation there? Can you at least talk to us a little bit about how he's growing less patient with things over there?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would think the President views it as what I -- I kind of mentioned some of this in the phone call with Prime Minister Berlusconi. That's the thing that I can point to that just occurred. The President believes that there is important progress being made, while fully recognizing that there are difficulties and dangers that remain. And it's important to continue moving forward as quickly as we can on all fronts. And that's exactly what we are doing -- on the security front, on the political front, and on the reconstruction front.

But it's important that we stay the course and finish the job -- and that's what the President has continued to say -- and let the Iraqi people know that we are going to stay the course, we will be there to finish the job, and we will not stay a day longer than necessary.

Q I don't know if I quite got that. Are you acknowledging for us at least some degree of frustration on the President's part with the progress to date?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I described it -- I think the way I would characterize his view of the progress is that he believes that there is good progress being made, there is important and there is important progress that we achieved. There is more to do. There is certainly still difficulties ahead. It's always a difficult task transitioning from a brutal dictatorship over the last 30 some years to a democracy.

The President believes, as he has talked about repeatedly, freedom is a universal value, that all people across the world seek freedom. And the importance of what we are doing is also about making the world a safer and better place, because free nations are peaceful nations.

Q What are Bremer's marching orders, specifically, as he goes back, short-term marching orders from the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he talked a little bit about that yesterday. I think we touched on some of it. The President directed Ambassador Bremer to go back and let the Governing Council know that we want to transfer more responsibility to him as soon as we can. And we're committed -- we remain committed to working with them on those efforts. Ambassador Bremer also said he would be taking back the message that we remain steadfast in our efforts to defeat the terrorists who are trying to deny the Iraqi people a better future. And we remain steadfast in our resolve to transfer responsibility as soon as we can.

Q -- as soon as we can. So that means that would great if elections took place in the next six months?

MR. McCLELLAN: Now you're trying to get back into options that the Governing Council make --

Q How can you say that that's your goal and not provide any specifics about how you plan to carry out that goal?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is something we're working closely with the Governing Council and the Iraqi people on. And there continue to be discussions with the Governing Council and Iraqi people about the best way forward. And after they have come to some decisions -- the Governing Council and the Iraqi people -- about the best way forward, I'm sure there will be more to say at that point. That's why.

Q Just to follow on Jennifer's question, do you think there's a responsibility of the President to explain to the American people, given that Congress has just approved $18 billion for reconstruction that will be handled, presumably being handled by Bremer, and then would be -- to the IGC or whatever authority is put in place -- there's a responsibility of the President to explain to the American people how that's going to work, who's going to be in charge of $18 billion?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we have, repeatedly. I think a number of administration officials, from Ambassador Bremer to members of -- to Pentagon officials, the Secretary of Defense, to General Myers, and others, have briefed members of Congress and others throughout this process, and they will continue to do so. They've been very straightforward and up front about the process moving forward on those efforts.

Q Can I ask you some things? First, I would like to compliment you on your tie and shirt ensemble. Two number questions.

MR. McCLELLAN: Two number questions?

Q One, the President described the Baathist Triangle as 200 square miles. Did he misspeak, or is he talking about a smaller area? Because I understand it's at least 5,000 square miles?

MR. McCLELLAN: I believe the area is larger, and that that was some initial -- that had been cleared during the speech process, and it actually is larger.

Q Okay. Another number. The Democrats say 168 judges approved, four judges blocked.

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, the President got asked that question in his pool spray. So you might just want to look back at that. There are actually --

Q We value your answers --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure you'll use mine over his. (Laughter.) But I would point out, in addition to what he said -- because these are people that have been nominated to the courts of appeals, and I believe there are some -- I'll check my math on this -- but some 46 vacancies on the courts of appeals, and that have been -- or 46 nominees that have been made to the courts of appeals, and only 29 have had an up or down vote. It's important, as the President has repeatedly said, for these nominees to receive a timely up or down vote.

A majority of senators support these nominees. And it's unfortunate that a smaller minority of Senate Democrats continue to play partisan politics and hold these nominees up from receiving an up or down vote, which is the responsibility of the Senate to do.

Q One final numbers question. How many days left in your bachelorhood?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are off the record now -- no. Not many.

Q Two questions on Europe real quick. What does the President think the effect of the bombing on the Italians will have on Europe's desire to help out in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the best way to look at that is to look at what Prime Minister Burlesconi said yesterday and reiterated in the phone call today. The Prime Minister made it very clear that it's important to stay the course and not be intimidated. There are terrorists -- this includes the Baathist holdouts and the foreign fighters who have come into the country -- who seek to spread fear and chaos and intimidate. That's the way terrorists operate. And the terrorists are finding out that we cannot be intimidated. We will stay the course, we will prevail, and they will be defeated.

They are seeing our stepped-up efforts to bring them to justice. We are stepping up our efforts with more patrols, with more raids, with more targeted strikes based on the intelligence we are receiving from the Iraqi people. We're also stepping up our efforts with the Iraqi people assuming more and more responsibility for their security and being more involved in their security.

Q But aside from what we're doing, doesn't the President think this makes it harder to get European support outside of the countries that are already supporting what we're trying to do there?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, one, again, you heard from Prime Minister Burlesconi. There's a European leader right there. And you've heard from others, as well. But the President -- well, I think that the international community has recognized the importance of what we're trying to achieve in Iraq with their commitments they have made already, with some 30-plus nations that are already in Iraq helping the coalition with troop support, and from the donors conference where the international community made a strong commitment to help the Iraqi people build a better future.

This is about helping the Iraqi people achieve a free and peaceful future. It's also about helping make the world a safer and better place. And so the stakes are high. The terrorists recognize that; so does the international community. And that's why it's important to continue to stay the course and prevail. And we will.

Q -- Medicaid quickly -- I mean, Medicare, sorry.

MR. McCLELLAN: Or Medicaid.

Q Whichever. This sort of scaled-back competition proposal that the leadership put forward, what does the White House think about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well -- (laughter.) One, there are -- we believe there is important progress being made to get this passed this year. We continue to work closely with congressional leaders. I think that -- well -- and that's why the President is continuing to urge Congress not to miss this opportunity to finally get it passed. We are on the verge of making some historic improvements to Medicare for America's seniors. And this is a real opportunity, where we're continuing to work closely with members of Congress and we're pleased with the progress that's being made. But --

Q -- is that a yes?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't get into what's going on in terms of ongoing negotiations in Congress. But we're pleased with the progress that's being made. And the President will continue to urge Congress to seize this opportunity to improve Medicare for America's seniors, to give them the prescription drug coverage that they deserve, and to give them the expanded choices and benefits that others have and they do not.

Q Did the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: What is this, a two-hour gaggle?

Q Did the President stay up all night in solidarity with those senators? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: He was in solidarity with the senators in, I'm sure, in his sleep --

Q Dreams?

MR. McCLELLAN: In his dreams, yes. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you, very much.

Q Do we have a dollar figure on the fundraisers today, or you don't know?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll get that to you.


10:37 A.M. EST