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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 14, 2003

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

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1:36 P.M. EST

  • Judicial nominees
  • Energy
  • Medicare
  • 9/11 commission
  • India
  • Canada
  • Iraq

    MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I'd like to start with a statement by the President, and then make some brief remarks on a couple other topics. First, the statement by the President.

    "Today's partisan action to block up-or-down votes on Justice Priscilla Owen, Judge Carolyn Kuhl and Justice Janice Rogers Brown is inconsistent with the Senate's constitutional responsibility and is just plain wrong.

    "Once again, a partisan minority of senators has thwarted the will of the majority and stood in the way of voting on superb judicial nominees. These obstructionist tactics are shameful, unfair and have become all too common. At a time when the American people have important issues backlogged in the courts, partisan senators are playing politics with the judicial process at the expense of timely justice for the American people.

    "I commend Senate Republicans, especially Leader Frist, Chairman Hatch and Senator Santorum for their leadership and commitment to the Constitution and basic fairness. During their 40-hour debate, these senators have focused on the damaging vacancies that exist on the federal courts of appeals, the highly qualified individuals I have nominated to serve, and the Senate's obligation to vote on every judicial nominee.

    "No matter who is President, or which party controls the Senate, the American people deserve a well functioning, independent judiciary, and a commitment by all senators to live up to their constitutional obligation."

    That's the statement by the President.

    I'd like to make some remarks also on some important progress that has been made in Congress on two very high priorities. Congress is making real progress on energy and Medicare legislation, two of the President's highest priorities. We are pleased that the House and Senate have reached an agreement on a national energy policy, one of the President's top domestic priorities.

    The energy bill is a key part of the President's six-point economic plan to create the conditions for robust job growth and a sustained recovery. By making America more energy independent, we make our nation more secure. We look forward to seeing this bill in its final form.

    On Medicare, the President is encouraged by the progress that has been made, and he continues to urge Congress to finish work on this legislation that is critical to the health of our nation's seniors. Seniors have waited too long for help with rising prescription drug bills, and it's time to deliver the needed legislation.

    And with that, I'll be glad to go to questions.

    Q On the judges, what's your strategy now? Are you going to withdraw these nominees?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We will continue to urge action and continue to urge the Senate to meet its constitutional responsibility and allow for up-or-down votes on these highly qualified nominees. There are a number of vacancies in our courts of appeals, and the Senate has a responsibility to give these individuals an up-or-down vote. This is an unprecedented type of partisanship and politics being played by a minority of Senate Democrats, not even allowing an up or-down-vote on these nominees.

    Q On energy, the House and Senate don't seem to have quite reached agreement.

    MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

    Q I said, on energy the House and Senate don't seem to have quite reached agreement.

    MR. McCLELLAN: They're talking about the agreement that they have reached just moments ago, or as we speak. So we're pleased that that progress is being made.

    Q Does that take into account whatever objections the other side has had in this, or --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're pleased that an agreement has been reached. Obviously, now we need to move forward on the votes, and pass this legislation before members leave. We are coming on the final days here, and it's time for Congress to act. This is one of the nation's highest priorities domestically, and it's important not only to our economic security, but our energy security, as well.

    Q Can you explain the rationale for the agreement the White House has made with the September 11th commission?

    MR. McCLELLAN: The rationale? Well, the rationale is that the President has directed the White House to cooperate closely and fully with the commission, so that they can be successful in completing their work. It's important that we learn everything we can to try to prevent a September 11th from ever happening again, to try to prevent terrorist attacks on our own soil.

    And their work is very important. We have been working with them to make sure that they have the information they need to do their job. And we have resolved the remaining issues that they have put before us, and we are giving them the information that they requested. And we're pleased to do that, because we want to continue working closely with them and help them complete their work and do within the time line that was established by Congress.

    Q What I meant was, the rationale for the arrangement that was made, where you have four people, as I understand, who can come in and look at the President's daily brief, but parts of the daily brief will not be included. Can you describe --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Everything that they requested is being provided to the commission. All the information that they requested is being provided to them, so that they can have the information they need. These are discussions that we've had with the commission, and I think that it's best that those discussions be left where they were. But we are pleased that we have reached an agreement on those remaining issues that they were requesting.

    Q They're going to get everything they want?

    MR. McCLELLAN: They have already stated that, Helen. The commission has already stated that they are satisfied with the cooperation and information that they are getting, that they are getting what they requested from the White House.

    Q Well, not everyone is satisfied with that, including some families, including at least two members of the commission. But to be --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me stop you right there. I think you should talk to the commission, because we are providing them the information that they requested, and we're pleased to because we want to help them complete their work. So you might want to direct that question to the commission. What they have requested of us, we are providing them access to that information.

    Q I understand. What I'm trying to figure out is exactly what was the rationale behind part of the arrangement, which I gather is that you don't want them to look at, obviously, things that are not germane, that have nothing to do with September 11th, because there's a lot of sensitive information in the President's daily brief.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're saying "we" don't want them to. We are giving them what they requested, the information that they requested.

    Q Right. But only --

    MR. McCLELLAN: So I think you should talk to them. But I don't want to get into discussions that are best had with the commission. If the commission wants to discuss issues, that is their prerogative. But these discussions that we have had with them have been very constructive and very productive. And they've led to the commission getting the information that they requested.

    Q I'm trying to offer you an opportunity to respond to complaints from the families who say -- who suggest that the White House is trying to keep something hidden that it should not. Now, everyone understands you don't want intelligence on other matters to be shown to people.

    MR. McCLELLAN: And that's why I wanted to drive home the point that we are giving them access to all the information that they requested, that the commission requested. So if there are concerns about that, maybe those questions are best directed to the commission, itself, because we are working closely with them to make sure that they have the information that they have requested. And they have said that they are satisfied with that.

    Q I understand the part of only showing them what they asked for. What is the rationale for having the White House review the notes they take on the materials that you have pulled out for them to see before they can --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I've seen some of the discussion that has been in the news. And I reiterate to you that those are discussions that have been very productive that we've had with the commission. And they were best held in discussions with the commission, not through media channels. And that's what we've been -- that's what we've been working with them on.

    The accurate way to portray it is that they are getting all the information they requested. Obviously, we always work in a way to make sure that we don't do anything that would weaken the war on terrorism, harm our nation's security, compromise important national security information.

    Q You said all that.

    Q Scott, on the same subject, just to follow on what Jim is asking, so who would make the decision about what is provided to the commission? Because, clearly, someone at the White House will have to go through and decide what's relevant and what's not, right?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go back to what I said a minute ago. Everything that the commission has requested to be provided by us is being provided to the commission so that they can complete their work.

    Q So they've requested that you go through and redact some of it?

    MR. McCLELLAN: They are getting all the -- they are getting all the information that they requested. And I think that they've stated such through the media, as well.

    Q Well, but there are, as Jim said, two members of the commission who have been very vocal that they are not happy with this at all Senator Max Cleland --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and they're --

    Q -- and Representative Tim Roemer.

    MR. McCLELLAN: And there are also some members of the commission that have not come to look at any information that we have offered them access to, as well. And so you just need to keep that in mind.

    Q But they -- those two haven't been involved --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not -- I'm not naming names. I'm just saying that there are three or four individuals that are on the commission that have yet to even come to look at any of the information that we have provided to them.

    I think you need to keep in context their comments and why those comments are made. But you should go back to them and ask them if we have provided all the information that has been requested by the commission, and the answer is, we have. And we are pleased to.

    Q Scott, back on the judicial nominations, concerning the vote this morning, would the President urge Republicans to go this sort of talk-a-thon thing again?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the Senate leadership and Senate Republicans highlighted a very important issue, an important priority for the President of the United States. And we understand the reasoning for it. Our judicial system is being held hostage by Senate -- a minority of Senate Democrats who have decided to play politics. It's our judicial system that is being harmed by this current process. The President put forward a plan that would move this process forward and allow for timely up-or-down votes on all nominees.

    I think everybody knows full well that a majority of the United States Senate would confirm these nominees. And it's unfortunate that some have chosen to take this unprecedented step and prevent those individuals from receiving an up-or-down vote. There are some 11 percent of the federal appeals court seats that are vacant -- 12 of which have been classified as judicial emergencies. We need to get these judges in place. The President has fulfilled his obligation and nominated highly qualified individuals. Now it's the time for the Senate to allow for an up or a down vote and fulfill their responsibility.

    Q Scott, back to the energy bill. What's the President's reaction to the fact that the Republicans, who did all the negotiating here, gave up on ANWR, there will be no drilling in the Alaskan Arctic?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, we look forward to seeing the bill in its final form, that's what I said. A lot of this has just happened, but we continue to believe that the plan the President put forward was a comprehensive solution to our nation's energy situation and that it would not only reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, but it will also modernize our electricity delivery system, which is much needed, as well.

    So it was important to go at it from a comprehensive way. Not only did we call for increased exploration and production at home, in an environmentally sensitive way, we called for expanding energy efficiency and for expanding conservation efforts. It was a very comprehensive plan. We believe that that was important to improving our national security, by reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. So that's why that was put forward.

    Obviously, we continue to work closely with members of Congress. We're pleased that they are moving forward on this priority, and they will hope they will get this bill passed and finished.

    Q Alaskan drilling, are you going to come back again and try on this again? Or are you just --

    MR. McCLELLAN: It's an important part of a comprehensive energy plan, and we continue to believe it should be part of a comprehensive energy plan. We recognize that there is always give and take in the legislative process and that's why we continue to work with members in a bipartisan way to get as much of that legislation passed as possible.

    Goyal, welcome back.

    Q Thank you. First of all, the Indian American community in the U.S. really very thankful to you, the President and Mr. Karl Rove for celebrating the Festival of Lights at the White House, and also listening to my request and India -- the White House.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Pleased to do so.

    Q We hope in the future it will be on larger scale and President will attend. My question is also that President has now nominated Ambassador to India, one Mr. David Mulford. Why it took so long for the President to have an ambassador to India that --

    MR. McCLELLAN: We move as quickly as we can, but it's important that we find the best individual for the job. He replaces, or will replace someone -- once she is confirmed, replaces a very highly qualified individual who did an outstanding job, in Ambassador Blackwell. And so we look forward to the Senate moving quickly to confirm him, as well.

    Q Did Ambassador Blackwell recommended him, or how President got nomination -- did Ambassador Blackwell recommend him --

    MR. McCLELLAN: We certainly always take advice from those who have expertise in that area. And the President was pleased to put forward the new Ambassador, and looks forward to him starting in his position.

    Q Are you saying he will be confirmed by the Senate?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep moving, because the President is going to be speaking here shortly, so I want to try to keep getting around.

    Q Back on judicial nominees. Is the White House considering or would it support a court challenge for the Senate rules that, in effect, violate the constitutional requirement that only a simple majority is necessary for confirmation of judicial nominees?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, would we --

    Q Would you support a court challenge to the Senate rules that, in effect, are unconstitutional?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the best way to approach this -- well, one, a great way to approach this and put aside all the politics of the past would be to implement the plan that the President put forward more than a year ago for considering this in a timely fashion. And what we want to continue to emphasize is, there is a majority of the Senate that supports these nominees. It's unconscionable that the action that has been taken by Senate Democrats has happened. And it's wrong. And so we will continue to urge them to conduct an up or down vote. Regardless of what happens, they should at least have an up or down vote.

    Q Recess appointments, is that now more likely?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Now you're getting into speculation. We're going to continue to urge action. That's what we'll do.

    Q I just wanted to ask you, what is the administration reaction to Paul Martin's promise to strengthen Canada-U.S. relations? Paul Martin is poised to take the leadership.

    MR. McCLELLAN: We wish him well in his new role as Prime Minister, and the President looks forward to working with him, and we look forward to strengthening our relationships with our Canadian friends.

    Q Doug Feith said, last night in a speech, that stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons may not be found in Iraq. Does the President concur with that assessment?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think that that work is still underway by David Kay and his team. If you look back at what has already been learned, we know that Saddam Hussein's regime was in breach of U.N. resolutions. And the last U.N. resolution that was passed gave him a final opportunity to comply. He clearly was not complying. He was in material breach of that resolution, and a number of other resolutions.

    And the action that the President took was to make American more secure and make the world a safer and better place, and it is with his regime being removed. But it's important to let David Kay continue to do his work. He has said that they still have work to complete, and we look forward to seeing the final report. But make no mistake that he was in material breach. And the United Nations Security Council resolution called for serious consequences, and the President followed through on that.

    Go ahead, April.

    Q What are your comments on critics saying that the White House is just being vague -- you were vague early this morning, President Bush was just vague in the Oval Office -- about a definition that ends this engagement in Iraq? They're saying part of the reasons why you're doing this is to keep expectations low for the American public so they don't expect you to find Saddam Hussein before this is "ended"?

    MR. McCLELLAN: We will find Saddam Hussein. Let me remind you that he has been removed from power. He no longer can create these mass graves or carry out his tortures and his torture chambers or these rape rooms that he had. And the Iraqi people are better off with him being removed from power. America is certainly more secure for him being removed from power. And the world is a safer and better place. He is not coming back.

    In terms of where he is, I mean, right now, he's out there in a survival mode. And we will find him and we will bring him to justice.

    Q Why won't you put Saddam Hussein in that definition of peace and a free democratic Iraq to end this engagement?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, that -- you brought up what the goal is. The goal is a free, peaceful and sovereign Iraq for the Iraqi people. And that's what we are working towards. That is the mission that we are in now. And we will see that through to the end. We will finish the job. We will stay there as long as necessary, not a day longer.

    But, look, you're asking me to predict things down the road in terms of sovereignty, in terms of Saddam Hussein. We're going to continue on the issues, and as they move forward on the institutions for democracy in Iraq, including a constitution and including elections, we're going to continue to consult closely with the Governing Council and work with them on all these issues about how -- you know, troop deployments and things like that.

    Q Is he part of the equation?

    MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear that we will find him and we will bring him to justice.

    Q So when we find him, what does the President plan to do with Saddam Hussein?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first, we will find him. It's a matter of time before he's found. And now you're asking me to speculate about what might happen when and how we find him. But we have people that are continuing to pursue him. He continues to be in a survival mode, and we will bring him to justice.

    Q Scott, will you find Saddam Hussein if the country -- if the Iraqi government says, get out of our country, we don't want you around anymore?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that they have said that. First of all, I think that the Iraqi people have indicated that they want us to stay and finish the job. They are realizing freedom, and freedom is a powerful and beautiful way of life, as the President put it.

    Q Well, would it be --

    MR. McCLELLAN: And so -- let me finish. That's the mission at hand, is continuing to work towards a free, peaceful and sovereign Iraq. And that's why we're accelerating our efforts on the political front. We're also accelerating our efforts on the security front. Our military is doing an outstanding job taking the offensive and going after the enemy. They're stepping up raids. They're stepping up patrols. And we're also bringing more Iraqis into that process, as they become more and more involved in their security.

    So we're accelerating all these efforts. But you're asking me to predict things as this moves forward. What we'll do is that we will continue to work the Iraqis, work with the Governing Council as this evolves over time. That's what we're going to do.

    Q Scott, the Iraqis have power, and they say, we don't want you in our country. But you haven't found Saddam Hussein. It creates a dilemma for the administration.

    MR. McCLELLAN: See, now, you're asking me to predict things. We will continue working closely with the Governing Council.

    Go ahead.

    Q Thank you, Scott. Does the White House favor reducing or taking out all American troops in South Korea? And also do you have any comment on the cap that the South Koreans --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think Secretary Rumsfeld is in the region. And he's talked about how we've been looking at for quite some time now transforming our military and our troops deployments and everything else. And we're now at a stage where we can begin consultations. But decisions haven't been made, because we have to have consultations with our friends and allies across the world.

    Q But there are reports, though, that the U.S. is considering taking out all 37,000 troops.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you can't look at this as final decisions being made. You have to look at this in context that the consultations are now beginning. Or we're at the stage where consultations can now begin with our friends and allies about how we move forward and how we deploy our troops to meet the threats of this century.

    Q Scott, WorldNet Daily reports that just after the President proclaimed marriage to be "a union between a man and a woman," the Metropolitan Community Churches, which perform 6,000 same-sex nuptial ceremonies a year, received a letter from the President congratulating them for "encouraging the celebration of faith and sharing of God's love". And my question: Since both this church, as well as the American Family Association have deplored this presidential inconsistency, can you tell us, who wrote this letter to the homosexual church? And did the President ever see it before it was mailed?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Now, let me be very clear on the President's view --

    Q No, I know --

    MR. McCLELLAN: The President has always been a strong supporter -- a strong believer that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. And he is a strong supporter of defending and protecting the sanctity of marriage.

    Q But why won't he --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Now, what you're asking -- well, what you're asking about now are I think greetings --

    Q It's a letter that went out at the same time.

    MR. McCLELLAN: -- are greetings. When requests are sent in, and churches all across the country send in requests for greetings, and I think that it was a standard greeting that was sent out, that's been sent out to, I think, more than a thousand churches since the President has been in office and some over 300 --

    Q So he hasn't -- he hasn't seen them?

    MR. McCLELLAN: -- in the last year. But the President's views are very well known on the issue of the sanctity of marriage, and they've always been clear and consistent.

    And with that, the President is about to begin. Thank you very much. Have a good weekend.

    END 2:00 P.M. EST