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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 6, 2004

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

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1:00 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Happy New Year to you all, as well. The President today, on behalf of our nation, called to congratulate NASA Administrator Sean O'Keefe and the jet propulsion laboratory team on the successful landing of the Rover Spirit on Mars. The President thanked the NASA team for their hard work and ingenuity, and for reaffirming the great spirit of American exploration. The President shares in the excitement of all Americans as we see the dramatic images from Spirit's new home and we know that it is only a glimpse of the things to come as Spirit begins its historic trek across the Mars landscape.

The President is strongly committed to the exploration of space, and thanks to the great work of those at NASA, America continues to be on the leading edge of exploration and discovery. I think the Rover embodies the best of American ingenuity, technical know-how and can-do spirit.

And with that, I will be glad to go into your questions.

Q Speaking of the President being strongly committed to the exploration of space, since you're on that, is there anything that the President is going to say about -- does he have any new ideas about space, any new goals to set?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's no update to what the President has previously said and what I have previously said, that, as you are aware, in the aftermath of the tragic Columbia accident, the President asked -- or directed his administration to review our space policy, and that is where it stands.

Q Have any recommendations come to him, or do you know where that stands, where that process is?

MR. McCLELLAN: The review has been moving forward, and I have no additional update at this time.

Q Will the President present outlines or legislation when he talks about immigration tomorrow?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I think you need to wait for the speech. But the President has been working on this plan for a good while. As you have heard the President say, the President believes America should be a welcoming society. We are a nation of immigrants and we are better and stronger for the contribution immigrants have made to our nation. And we have been looking at meeting an important economic need. Immigration laws should meet our economic needs. And if employers are offering jobs to Americans that Americans are not willing to fill, then we ought to welcome to our country those who will fill that job. And so the President will talk more tomorrow about his plans for matching willing workers with willing employers.

I would point out that this discussion originally began back in February 2001 with President Fox when the President visited Mexico. And it was part of our efforts to bring about a more orderly, more humane, safe and legal migration policy. And that's where this comes from.

Q But many members of Congress oppose anything that they would see as an amnesty for a job that went to workers already in the country illegally.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made it very clear that he is opposed to any blanket amnesty. He said that as recently as his last news conference before we had the holiday break.

Q But he's going to allow workers to be hired if they're in the country, right, as long as it's all legal?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, he's going to have more to say about this tomorrow. At the same time we've been moving forward on this policy, we previously have taken extraordinary steps to improve our border security and to strengthen our border security. We have worked to improve our immigration infrastructure, and now we are at a point where the President will be talking more about how we move forward on his efforts to match willing workers with willing employers. And that's what this is about.

Q Scott, there isn't a blank slate here. This has been complex for a while. And in September of 2001, the President said just that -- this is a really difficult, complex issue for his own party, because even then he acknowledged the fact that conservatives believe that even a sort of guest worker program has the effect of rewarding illegal immigration, perhaps being unfair to those who have followed the rules, followed the law, and earned their citizenship after a period of time. So what's the President prepared to do now to overcome that opposition, and what makes him think --

MR. McCLELLAN: You will hear from him tomorrow, and he will talk about that. But I made it very clear a minute ago, as the President has previously made clear, that he is not talking about a blanket amnesty here. He's talking about it meeting an economic need. There is an economic need here in this country and this is about matching willing workers with willing employers. That's what this is about.

Q But you still haven't answered the question --

MR. McCLELLAN: And making sure immigration laws are fair and make sure that they are meeting our economic needs.

Q But the American people, when they hear the President lay out a policy, it's one thing to say, here are some principles, go to it, and if you make it, I tried -- you know, if you don't make, at least I tried -- versus coming up with a specific proposal. So what's it going to be? Does he have a specific plan to say to Congress, get it done?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you will hear about his plan tomorrow. He will be talking specifically about his plan for matching willing workers with willing employers tomorrow. I think it is a detailed approach to addressing this issue.

Q One other issue on North Korea. The Secretary of State came out today and said that the response from North Koreans has been extremely positive of late. What does the President believe about this topic, and does he think that the six-party talks really move things appreciably forward?

MR. McCLELLAN: We have made some progress. We had the initial round of six-party talks. Our focus continues to be on the six-party talks, the multilateral approach that we are pursuing when it comes to our shared goal of getting North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program in a verifiable and irreversible way, once and for all. And I would say that we look forward to hearing from North Korea in the context of the six-party talks, specifically about how they intend to go about ending its nuclear weapons program in that way. And so we look forward to attending a new round of talks at an early time, and without any precondition.

Q On that point, if I may, what is your understanding of what it is the North Koreans are now offering?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I said we look forward to hearing what they have to say about how they are going to go about ending their nuclear weapons program in an irreversible and verifiable way, in the context of the six-party talks. And that's why we have been working to have another round of talks. That's where it stands. But we have been seeking a peaceful resolution to this situation. And I think it would be positive for North Korea to return to those six-party talks, so we can discuss how they go about ending their nuclear weapons program.

Q Well, the Secretary of State found something more positive in there and seemed to suggest there was more to it than what we said here. He said, it was an interesting statement, a positive statement; they, in effect, said they won't test and they implied that they would give up all aspects of their nuclear program, not just their weapons program. So they seem to be proposing or offering something specific.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are multilateral discussions that we look forward to having, as I said, at an early date and without precondition. We look forward to hearing more from North Korea in the context of those six-party talks. This is a multilateral approach. We all have a shared goal. There are five countries that have a shared goal of ending North Korea's -- or making sure that we have a nuclear-free peninsula.

Q Did what they have said today strike you as a --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that those are discussions that are best had in the next round of talks.

Q Right, but the Secretary of State obviously --

MR. McCLELLAN: And I would point out that we are interested in action and we are interested in continuing to have the next round of talks.

Q Does it strike the White House that what they've said today is something new and something positive?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I described it already.

Q No, you didn't. You described your long-standing policy, which we perfectly understand. You want to go back to the six-party talks, you want them to end it in a verifiable way. They seem to have offered some new wrinkle today, and it's not clear to me if it's like the first phase that they would do and some sort of step down --

MR. McCLELLAN: Jim, I think that it's best that we approach this in the multilateral setting in the next round of talks; not from this podium between me and you. That's what I was making the point, is that we look forward to the next round of talks, so that we can discuss with North Korea in the multilateral forum how they're going to go about ending their nuclear weapons program, in an irreversible and verifiable way. So that's what we look forward to.

Q Powell is sounding more hopeful about all of this. I mean, his statement and yours are different.

MR. McCLELLAN: I said it would be positive if North Korea returned to the next round of talks.

Q Scott, North Korea is saying not only do we want to return to the talks, but we're willing to freeze our nuclear program in order to facilitate an earlier --

MR. McCLELLAN: And our shared goal is a nuclear-free peninsula. Our shared goal is for North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program in an irreversible and verifiable way. That's what we've always made very clear, and that's what we are seeking a resolution to in a peaceful way, in a multilateral forum.

Q But that's not, obviously, a prelude to the talks, themselves. And I'm just wondering -- you want early talks, North Korea says they want early talks -- what is now the impediment standing in the way of resumption of --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the Chinese have been very helpful in working to set up the next round of talks, and I think there have been indications expressed by the Chinese that they look forward to having those talks, or hosting those talks in the future. So we're working to move forward at an early date on those talks.

Q On the same topic, do you have a date, and would Secretary of State Powell lead the U.S. delegation --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q -- lead the U.S. delegation and do you have a date yet?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, no, there's not a date for the next round of talks yet. I said, an early date. We look forward to -- and early time, we look forward to the next round of talks. And then when that is scheduled then we can talk more about the delegation at that point.

Anything else on this subject? Go ahead, Dana.

Q Scott, Senator Schumer released a statement today saying that when the Justice Department asks the White House for emails, phone records about the leaks investigation, the Counsel's Office sent a memo to everybody saying you must comply. And in the statement, a letter he wrote to Andy Card, he asked why is the same reaction not been seen on the waivers for confidentiality with reporters. Can you respond to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. This is an investigation being conducted by career officials at the Department of Justice. And it would be unfortunate if anyone seeks to politicize a serious matter for partisan gain. The White House has done everything it has been asked to do. The President made it very clear that he wants the White House to cooperate fully in this investigation. And as I have said before, and as the President has been very clear about, if anyone has information relating to the investigation, they should provide that information to the officials in charge of the investigation.

Q So do you see a fundamental difference in the request for emails and phone records, and the request for --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you're making certain assumptions, Dana, about what requests may or may not have been made. And that's why I said on specific matters, you've got to direct those questions to the career officials at the Department of Justice because we want to do everything we can to help the career officials get to the bottom of this as soon as possible. This is an ongoing investigation. No one wants to know the truth more than the President of the United States. No one wants to get to the bottom of this more than the President of the United States. That's why he directed the White House to cooperate fully with the career officials who are leading the investigation. And that's exactly what we have been doing.

Q -- necessarily making an assumption that we've pretty much all been told that these letters have gone to many of the White House officials that have been interviewed.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if there are specific requests being made of individuals, as I have said before, we would not necessarily know what those requests are.

Q Schumer is trying to politicize this -- that's what you're saying.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Schumer is trying to politicize it --

MR. McCLELLAN: I said it would be unfortunate if people are seeking to politicize a serious matter, like leaking classified information, for partisan gain. The career officials at the Department of Justice are conducting this investigation. The White House, at the direction of the President, is fully cooperating with those career officials.

Q Schumer is the one you have in mind when you make the statement.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed it. I was asked about a specific statement.

Q Can we go back to the immigration speech tomorrow? This is the same week in which the U.S. government is now starting to fingerprint people coming into the country. Obviously, there's great concern, the terror alert is still raised right now. So what will the President say to Americans tomorrow about opening the doors to immigration at a time when there's great concern --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should wait for his speech and hear specifically what he is going to say. I would point out that we have taken significant steps to improve and strengthen our border security in the aftermath of September 11th. One of the latest announcements was the launching of the U.S. visit program that you just mentioned to make sure that our doors are open to those who come here for the right reasons, but it's closed to those who come here seeking to carry out terrorist activity. That's what that is about.

And we've gone to extraordinary steps to strengthen our border security. We've gone to -- we've made significant strides in improving our immigration infrastructure. And at the same time, while we are making sure our borders are secure, it's important to make sure that our borders are open for those who come here for the right reasons. And so that's what we're talking about here. America, remember, is a nation of immigrants. And we are much better for the contributions that immigrants have made to this nation. We are much stronger for the contributions made by immigrants. And so we should continue to be a welcoming society. And that's what we're talking about here. The President has specifically talked about matching willing workers with willing employers to meet an economic need.

Q Just one follow-up. Will the President be trying to build on existing legislation? This does seem like something that's going to be difficult, expanding the worker program. It will be difficult to pass through Congress.

MR. McCLELLAN: There is some legislation that members of Congress have put forward. The President is going to talk about his plan tomorrow about how we move forward on an immigration policy that meets an important economic need.

Q Can you talk a little bit about the State of the Union speech coming up? How much planning has been going into that?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President continues to work on it. In fact, I think I was asked earlier some of what the President might be working on. He continues to work on the State of the Union, as well as tomorrow's speech. But I think you can expect that the --

Q Might it be dominated by Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, we're not at the point where we're previewing the State of the Union. But the President, every year, puts forward bold proposals for the American people. And I think you can expect the same this year.

Q Scott, is it working to the United States' detriment of being this welcoming society, as we've seen situations like 9/11 happen and possibly another imminent terrorist attack. Some critics are saying that it is.

MR. McCLELLAN: Some critics are saying what?

Q It's working towards the United States' detriment in being this welcoming society, because we're still too open. What's the White House comment?

MR. McCLELLAN: My response is what I said a minute ago. We have to remember that we are a nation of immigrants and that we should continue to be a welcoming society. The President has long been committed to making sure that we are a welcoming society that welcomes people who seek to come here for the right reasons. At the same time, we do live in a post-September 11th world, and it's important that we continue to do everything we can to protect the American people. And that's exactly what we have been doing. We've gone to extraordinary steps to make our border more secure.

Q Can I follow up on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q Some members of Congress, especially Democrats, are saying that the President will use the President of Mexico on Monday, at their meeting in Monterrey, to continue talking about the reform of immigrations, with the only purpose to attract the Hispanic vote for his re-election. Can you respond to those criticisms by --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you need to look at the President's record, one, going back to his days as Governor of Texas, and two, the fact that he has been talking about this for quite some time. The President makes decisions based on what is the right policy for the American people. And this policy is talking about addressing an economic need.

Q What should be the main topic on immigration with the President of Mexico to discuss? I mean, in September 2001, President Fox made the announcement that he wants a big immigration accord with the United States. And then the President broke his promises because of September 11th --

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, no, I wouldn't look at it that way. Obviously, September 11th happened and there were immediate needs that needed to be addressed, and that's exactly what we have been doing. I think that, one, you start with the Department of Homeland Security, the largest reorganization in some 50 years of the United States government. That was done in order to make sure that our number one priority is the protection of the American people, and making sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent attacks from happening in the first place.

At the same time, we are a free society. We are a society that was built on people coming to this country to seek a better life. And we must continue to be a welcoming society, a society that is open to those who seek to come here for the right reasons, while we are, at the same time, doing everything we can to prevent those who seek to come here to carry out terrorist activity. And that's exactly what we have been doing.

Q Scott, would you classify, though, what he's going to propose tomorrow as reform, or is it minor twisting? Because reform obviously implies -- from Congress.

MR. McCLELLAN: You've heard him talk about some sort of temporary worker program that would match willing workers with willing employers. I think I've given you the broad approach that the President has talked about. We are going to be providing you more detailed briefing information at some point, as we get closer to the speech. And I'm not going to sit here at this podium today and preempt the President's announcement tomorrow. I think it's an important speech and I think you should let the President make his remarks tomorrow.

Q -- demand for this. Where? What area?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have other temporary worker programs, Helen, that are already in place, because there are employers who are seeking to fill jobs that Americans, for whatever reason, are not willing to take. But there are people that are willing to come to this country and fill those needs. I think you can probably talk to the immigration folks over at the Department of Homeland Security about some of those specific jobs. And you can look back at other programs, like the H2A visa program and the H1B visa programs that are about temporary workers.

Q The President, on Christmas Eve, greeted those who celebrate Kwanzaa, which the Washington Post two days later reported "was created by a California educator and activist in 1966." But The Post failed to report that five years after Ron Karenga invented Kwanzaa, he was sent to prison for torturing two black women while his gang killed two Black Panthers. And my question, first of two --

MR. McCLELLAN: Is it a question or a statement, Les?

Q No, no, it's a question. Why did the President, who opposes terrorism, salute anything invented by such a criminal as Karenga?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think for the reason stated in the proclamation, as he did with other religions -- with other religions.

Q Scott, does the President fault Israel for the attack on the USS Liberty?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think this has come up before, and it's been addressed previously by this administration. Go ahead.

Q When did they address it? What did they say, Scott? Can you clarify?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, we've been through this before.

Q Does the President believe there's an important distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration? And if so, how is that consistent with a proposal that appeared to have at least some kind of amnesty involved in his proposal --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, no. Again, I think the President has made it very clear that we are not talking about blanket amnesty. What we are talking about is meeting an economic need. And I think Governor Ridge -- or Secretary Ridge has spoken about this recently, as well, that there are a number of people that are in this country illegally, and we need to look at addressing this issue in a way that meets our economic needs.

Q But is there some sort of -- you used the word, blanket amnesty.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, this is not a preview of the speech for tomorrow. We're going to let the President have -- make his remarks on his approach, and we're going to have more to say about this as we get closer to that speech, and we'll talk about some of those very issues.

Q What does the President want to accomplish at the Summit next week?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and again, on Mexico, the trip to Mexico, we're going to be briefing on that later this week, and I think we'll have more to say about it at that point.

Q Can you give us a quick sketch --

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll have more to say as we get closer to the trip next week.

Q When will the briefing be?

MR. McCLELLAN: Probably Friday, but we haven't announced anything at this point.

Q On immigration, Scott, are we talking about temporary visas or permanent visas?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, wait for his remarks tomorrow.

Q Scott, can I ask on the same subject? There's a pool of illegal immigrants in this country, and there are people outside the country who would also like to participate in a temporary working program. Is this what this plan will entail without getting into details?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's now getting into details of the plan.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, while we work on immigration reform where it changes the immigration law, that's fine and dandy, but what pressure are we putting on Mexico to actually seal up its borders while we patrol our side of the border, as well?

MR. McCLELLAN: We have been working closely with Mexico on, what I said earlier, on a more humane, safe, orderly and legal migration policy. Now, this is something the President -- the President was working with Mexico on these issues when he was governor of Texas.

Q Are we seeing any positive steps by Mexico that they're actually doing anything?

MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to work on those issues. I don't have specifics to talk to you about here today from this podium, but those are issues we've been working very closely on with Mexico.

Q Going back to the leak investigation. What will the President do if members of his staff are reluctant or refuse to sign waiver forms?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking a specific question about an ongoing investigation. If you have specific questions, you should direct that to the career officials at the Department of Justice. The President has made it very clear that he wants the White House to cooperate fully. I don't think he can be any clearer than that, when he says, I want the White House to cooperate fully with the career officials because I want to get to the bottom of this, I want to know the truth.

Q The President also said fairly early on that he thought it was unlikely that we would find out who the leaker was. Does he still feel that way?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we need to let the investigation continue. And, as the President said, as well, he said anyone who has information that can help the investigators get to the bottom of this should provide that information to the career officials at the Department of Justice. The President feels that it would be great if we could get to the bottom of this, because leaking classified information is a serious matter. That's what the President feels.

Q Scott, the Labor Department is apparently offering advice on how to cut costs of low income -- newly eligible low income workers into the work force, and that includes overtime pay. Some are saying that as clearly -- just abusing these low income workers and taking their overtime pay. What does the White House --

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I think you're talking about an economic analysis that's required under the rulemaking process, what you're specifically referring to there. And, remember, this is a proposed rule -- the proposed rule by the Department of Labor would restore overtime protections that have eroded over five decades to millions of white-collar workers who deserve overtime protection today and are not protected by the current rules. And this proposal would guarantee overtime to 1.3 million more low wage workers.

It would help simplify the rules and make them more relevant to our modern work force. It will enable the Department of Labor to be better equipped to enforce the law to protect more workers. It will enable the Department of Labor to make sure that workers better understand their rights under the law, and that employers understand their obligations and pay their employees properly.

Q So let me get this right. If you work beyond your required hours, it's okay for the employer to take away --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, this is relating to white-collar workers. Let me be very clear on that. The proposed overtime --

Q -- white-collar or blue-collar --

MR. McCLELLAN: The proposed overtime rule does not impact hourly workers or blue-collar workers, and that would include police and firefighters, nor would it impact the status of nurses or first responders.

Q But, Scott, just because it's white-collar, it's still taking away overtime. It doesn't matter if it's white-collar, blue-collar --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, I just pointed out that these overtime protections would guarantee overtime to 1.3 million more low-wage workers. I think the specific question you asked about in the beginning was just an economic analysis that's required under the law to provide employers with options to comply with that law.

Thank you.

END 1:28 P.M. EST