|Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 11, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:30 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I'd like to start with giving you a little preview of the President's speech this afternoon. He looks forward to returning to National Defense University to make remarks on the dangers we face from weapons of mass destruction.
As you all will recall, in May 2001, the President gave a speech at National Defense University in which he talked about the dangers posed by the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the high priority he would place on confronting this threat. Today the President will talk to the American people about some of our successes in confronting that threat, and additional steps we're calling on our friends, allies, and others around the world to take to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction.
He will talk about why September 11th underscored the need to confront this threat. During the Cold War, we lived under the threat of large armies, and the hope that weapons of mass destruction would be used only as a last resort. We can no longer count on such hope, and we must now confront an enemy that might use weapons of mass destruction as a weapon of first resort.
One source of these weapons is secretive regimes that attempt to build such weapons away from the eyes of the world -- regimes such as those found in North Korea, Iran, and formerly, in Iraq. In each case, the regimes posed different challenges that required different strategies. And I expect the President to talk about that.
The other potential source for materials and know-how to build the worst of these weapons is the shadowy nuclear underground of weapons of mass destruction entrepreneurs -- people like A.Q. Khan. And the President will discuss our ongoing efforts to put his network out of business. He will also talk about the intelligence successes that ultimately played a role in Libya deciding to give up its weapons of mass destruction programs. The President will also outline his proposals for the world to work more closely together to address what is truly a global issue that requires a global solution.
And with that, I will be glad to go to questions. Okay, thanks. (Laughter.)
Q -- after yesterday, we're spent. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q To follow up on the initiative -- to follow up on what you just said, a follow-up. Is the President, in his speech, going to get tough with Pakistan and President Musharraf? Since you singled out the nuclear scientist Khan, is there going to be any attempt to force Musharraf to take positive action to get rid of the weapons of mass destruction on the black market?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Pakistan is continuing to investigate the activity that they undertook -- that A.Q. Khan undertook previously. So Pakistan is continuing their ongoing investigation. We appreciate the efforts by Pakistan to break this network up. They have disrupted a network of weapons of mass destruction. And they are a strong partner in the global war on terrorism, and we will continue to work closely with them on a number of fronts.
But President Musharraf has given us assurances that he is committed to continuing to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. And the results, I think, speak clearly to his commitment.
Q Scott, on the issue of gay marriage, is the President prepared to issue a declaration of support in favor of a constitutional amendment on gay marriage?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, the President is continuing to look closely at this issue. There are some ongoing events in Massachusetts, certainly. We continue to monitor those events in Massachusetts. The President does find the recent court ruling in Massachusetts very troubling. The President believes very strongly that marriage is a sacred institution, and that we should do what is needed to protect and defend the sanctity of marriage. He has made it very clear, going back most recently to his State of the Union address that activist judges are seeking to redefine marriage, and if they continue to seek to redefine marriage without regard for the voice of the people, then the only alternative would be the constitutional process.
Q What's the political benefit to him of supporting the constitutional process?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a principled issue. That's the way the President looks at it. This is an issue of principle. In fact, he talked about that in his State of the Union address. The President believes very strongly that everybody should be treated with dignity and respect. And I think his record reflects that. But this is about an enduring institution in America, and in order to have a strong America, we should work to make sure that that institution continues to endure.
Q It's difficult to ignore the potential implications of a head-to-head race between a person who supports a constitutional amendment on gay marriage and a person who voted against the Defense of Marriage Act.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, this is a view that the President has always held. That is the view that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. He believes very strongly that we should protect and defend the sanctity of marriage. And it's an issue of principle in his view. The President makes decisions and takes stands on principle, and based on a clear philosophy. He does what he says he's going to do, and he's always said that he will work to protect and defend the sanctity of marriage.
Q Are you saying the President hasn't decided yet what he is going to do on this?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's -- what I'm saying is that we continue to look very closely at it, yes.
Q But he's made no decision about the need for a constitutional amendment, whether he should intervene, whether he should make a public statement? You're saying that he has not yet reached that point?
MR. McCLELLAN: What he has said is that, if necessary, he will do what is legally needed to protect the sanctity of marriage. He has indicated that the legislation by Congresswoman Musgrave reflects the principles that he could support. And that's what he has said.
Q But he's not prepared at this point to go beyond what he has said previously?
MR. McCLELLAN: At this point, we continue to look very closely at this issue. And obviously, we'll keep you updated if there are any new developments. But it's an issue of great significance. He talked about that in his State of the Union.
Q The country already has a Defense of Marriage Act that's on the books.
MR. McCLELLAN: That relates to federal law.
Q That's federal law. So why is a constitutional amendment necessary? Why does the President believe it would be necessary, if he ultimately decides to do that, as opposed to leaving it to the states?
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand. For the reasons he discussed in the State of the Union. You have some activist judges that are seeking to redefine marriage, and if -- this issue is about protecting the sanctity of marriage. The President believes very strongly that we should protect and defend it. It is a sacred institution. And when you have activist judges seeking to redefine that institution, the issue of marriage, then the only alternative may be the constitutional process, because they're not taking into account the voice of the people when they make these decisions.
Q When you say you're watching developments closely, it suggests you're watching what's going on in Massachusetts. If Massachusetts successfully passes an amendment that would overturn what you describe as an activist judge's decision, would that suffice? Would that then clear it up for the President, that a constitutional amendment to the federal Constitution is no longer necessary?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's one area where we're, obviously, looking at closely. I mean, there are other court decisions that have been out there, but we will continue to look at this issue in terms of the nation.
Q But if the principle here is that it's got to be up to the people, so if the people of Massachusetts take action here, would that obviate the need for the administration --
MR. McCLELLAN: What we said is it's important for the voice of the people to be heard. I think that the American people support the President's view that marriage is a sacred institution and that we should work to protect it.
Q But what I'm asking, do you need to do anything if Massachusetts changes this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I can't get into saying that one particular issue will necessarily drive that decision. This is an issue --
Q But you're saying, before he makes up his mind --
MR. McCLELLAN: But Massachusetts is -- Massachusetts is something we are looking at closely in the overall context of this issue. We continue to look closely at this issue because it's a very important matter, and it's an important debate, as the President said in the State of the Union.
Q Some conservative leaders say that they've gotten an iron-clad pledge from the White House that the President will, in fact, support a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Are you saying that they have misinterpreted or somebody went too far, there's a misunderstanding?
MR. McCLELLAN: I can't speak for those groups. I don't know what individual gave them that assurance. The President has stated his position very clearly, publicly. And his position remains what I just outlined to you.
Q One account that I saw identified the senior official as Karl Rove, said that he was the one who delivered a pledge.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the White House has said what the President has said, which is that, if necessary, he would be prepared to support a constitutional amendment that would protect the sanctity of marriage.
Q But the "if necessary" trigger has not been met yet?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, if the President has something further to say on this, then we will let you know at that point.
Q You said that the President supports the proposed language of an amendment that Congresswomen Musgrave has introduced. That language seems to leave open the possibility that states could allow for these civil unions, to provide equal rights to benefits and other things for homosexuals.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has previously said that states certainly have the right to enter into contractual -- legal contractual arrangements on issues such as visitations and insurance benefits. But this issue is about the sanctity of marriage, and the President believes that we should protect the sanctity of marriage.
Q It's also about the Constitution. And my understanding of one of the reasons that opponents of gay marriage think a constitutional amendment is necessary is because the Constitution requires states to recognize the contractual arrangements of other states. Just as states have to recognize divorces in Nevada as legitimate in North Carolina, so, too, would they have to recognize, under that full faith and credit clause, civil unions in Vermont or Massachusetts? Is he okay with that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Defense of Marriage gets into some of those issues. What he's focused on is the issue of marriage and that marriage should be protected, because he believes strongly that it is a sacred institution, it is an enduring institution in this country.
Q If I could just press you once more, that there are a lot of people who think that the Defense of Marriage Act is constitutionally vulnerable because of that full faith and credit clause, that Congress can't amend the Constitution that way. Would the President be opposed to civil unions in Vermont or Massachusetts being recognized through court action in Ohio, or Missouri, or elsewhere? Would that be a problem for him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think the issue that is before the country is the issue of the sanctity of marriage, and should we protect that institution, the institution of marriage. The President -- he went back -- if you go back to during the campaign, he said he would not have supported it for the state of Texas. And I think the Defense of Marriage Act gets into defining for federal law that marriage is between a man and a woman. And then it goes on to say that states don't have to recognize other states' laws on that issue.
Q Scott, you used some pretty tough language this morning about those who are saying that the President has not answered all of the questions about the National Guard. You accused them of gutter politics and trolling for trash. As you know, back in the '92 campaign, then Governor Clinton's Vietnam-era history came up. And near the end of the campaign, then President Bush, this President's father, in a speech used the words "Slick Willie," talking about Governor Clinton then, and talked about the controversy, that the Governor had promised to release all his draft records, but had not. And he said, "He ought to level with the American people on the draft." He referred again to the records controversy, and he said, "He ought to level on these kinds of things." Is that trolling for trash?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, we released documents showing that the President fulfilled his duties. Some people are calling on us to release documents. The documents spell out that the President fulfilled his duties. I think that you expect the garbage can to be thrown at you in the 11th hour of a campaign, but not nine months before election day. And I certainly hope that this level of discourse is not a reflection of what the American people can expect from the Democratic Party over the duration of the campaign.
Q You also mentioned this morning that the Pentagon had requested the full personnel file, and that you expected it to be shared by the White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: By the way, on that time period, there are -- a lot of people said things that are one way and certainly saying other things these days.
Q I understand that to be the case, and I assume that will all come up in the campaign, as well. When you get the President's full file, what will be the standard for deciding whether additional information will be released?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we would have to see if there is any new information in that. Like I said yesterday, we thought we had all the information that was relevant to this issue. So we haven't even seen that information at this point.
Q Again, when this controversy came up 10 years ago, the then Bush-Quayle campaign, on October 15, 1992, put out a press release saying that because of the controversy and the questions, that Governor Clinton should release all documents relating to his draft status, and went on to list letters to the Selective Service system, to the Reserve Officer Training Corps, the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, the Marines, the Coast Guard, the Departments of State and Justice, any foreign embassy or consulate. Was that a fair standard?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is 2004, I would remind you. But let me point out to you that the issue that was before us was whether or not the President had served. There had been some who made an outrageous accusation that the President was AWOL, or that he was a deserter. Just outrageous and baseless accusations. And there was a call for more documents to be released, specifically payroll records. We didn't know that they previously existed still. But we found out that they did, and we provided that documentation. That documentation clearly shows that the President fulfilled his duties.
I think what you're seeing now is that some are not interested in the facts. Some are more interested in trolling for trash for political gain. And that's just unfortunate that we're seeing that this early in an election year. This is nothing but gutter politics. The American people deserve better. We are facing great challenges in this nation, and the President is focused on acting decisively to meet those challenges.
Instead of talking about the choices we face in addressing our highest priorities, some are simply trolling for trash for political gain. The American people deserve better. The American people deserve an honest debate about the choices we face. The American people deserve an honest discussion about the type of leadership their Commander-in-Chief is providing in a time of war, at a time when we are confronting dangerous new threats.
I began this briefing by talking about the importance of confronting the spread of weapons of mass destruction, about the importance of stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This President, from very early on in his administration, has made it a high priority to confront the dangerous new threats we face in this day and age. These are threats that did not come to us overnight. But September 11th taught us that we must confront these threats. Let's have an honest discussion about the type of leadership people are providing to confront those threats. That's what the American people deserve.
Q On "Meet the Press," the President was asked, "When allegations were made about John McCain or Wesley Clark on their military records, they opened up their entire files. Would you agree to do that?" And the President replied, "Yeah." Is that still your position?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President -- the specific question was about service, whether or not he had served in the military, if you go back to look at the context of the discussion. And the President said, if we have them, we'll release them, relating to that issue. We have released what additional documents came to our attention.
Q Scott, today it was made public -- the International Commission on Human Rights and the Organization of American States said that the United States was in violation of international law. It said that, "No other federal state in the Western Hemisphere denies the residents of their federal capital the right to vote for representatives in the national legislature." It also went on to say that, "The U.S. had violated provisions of the American Declaration, the Rights and Duties of Man, which the United States is a signer." The President has steadfastly been for democracy in Iraq, but not democracy for the residents of the District of Columbia. Has he changed his position on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you know why: Washington, D.C. was set up as a district, as it is. And the President's views -- he has already previously addressed this issue -- they remain the same.
Q Congressman Davis -- hold on just one second. Congressman Davis is offering a bill to provide representation in the House of Representatives. Would the President be for that bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand. The President's position has previously been stated and it remains the same.
Q Thank you. Let me follow on John's question. Since we're quoting people --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're quoting John?
Q No, no. Following up on his question, since we're quoting people. In 1992, John Kerry stood on the Senate floor and said, "I am saddened by the fact that Vietnam has yet again been inserting into the campaign and that it has been inserted in what I feel to be the worst possible way." And he went on to say later on, "We do not need to divide America over who served and how." Are you going -- is this White House and this candidate, President Bush, going to hold him to those remarks and put an end to this now?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, this President is focused on our nation's priorities. He is focused on confronting the threats that we face, as I spoke about earlier. And he's going to be talking more about that this afternoon. Obviously, there continues to be a Democratic primary going on, and the Democrats will select their nominee. And I think the American people, right now, want this White House to continue to do what it is doing, which is focusing on their priorities. Like I said, we are some nine months out from election day. There's going to be plenty of time to -- plenty of time --
Q Don't you regard his statements from his --
MR. McCLELLAN: Hold on. There's going to be plenty of time to talk about --
Q -- likely challenger to be the end of this all?
MR. McCLELLAN: There's going to be plenty of time to talk about the choices we face and the statements people have made. The President certainly is someone who does what he says he is going to do and someone who means what he says. And I think that's reflected in the actions he takes.
Q Is he offended by the accusations and insinuations from people who have never served in the military? And especially from leaders of a party who nominated a candidate in 1992 and 1996 that avoided military service altogether?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would just say, again, that it is sad to see some stoop to this level, to say anything or try to do anything for political gain. The American people deserve better.
Q Two questions, please. The first one has to do with Haiti. The situation there is deteriorating rapidly, a civil war is going on. A lot of people have been killed already. How concerned is the White House about the situation there?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are extremely concerned about the wave of violence spreading through Haiti and we certainly deeply regret the loss of life. We call on the government to respect the rights, especially human rights of the citizens and residents of Haiti.
Q My next question is more on the economic side. You know that poultry flu that has hit some poultry farms in the United States has caused a lot of other countries to stop importing American poultry products -- chickens -- and that is going to be a devastating blow to the economy if this continues. What is the White House doing, or the government doing to try to stop this -- try to contain this disease and to get their exports going again?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that -- one, I can get you some more facts from the Department of Agriculture on some of the actions that we are taking. But I think in terms of the economy, it has been very clear the steps that we're taking to strengthen our economy even more here at home. But that specific one, I can get you more information on that, probably, from the Department of Agriculture.
Q You've spoken today about the threat that this country faces. Last month, in referring to the threat posed by Iraq, you said, "I think some in the media have chosen to use the word, 'imminent.' Those were not words we used."
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.
Q When, in fact, a year ago, you said, in referring to the threat posed by Iraq, "This is about imminent threat." So which is it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Russell, did you not read that transcript?
Q I actually have it in front of me.
MR. McCLELLAN: What does it refer to?
Q Well, here we go. You were talking about Turkey requesting aid from NATO.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q And you were talking about the threat --
MR. McCLELLAN: In the lead-up to a decision that -- in the immediate lead up to a decision that was made to go to war.
Q Well, I'm just reading --
MR. McCLELLAN: It wasn't talking about the threat posed by Iraq to the world and to the international community overall. We said it was a grave and gathering threat.
Q You said -- we have the transcript, I have it. Can I read it?
MR. McCLELLAN: You may. Go ahead, read the whole thing.
Q "And I think it's important," -- this is about the threat Iraq poses to Turkey -- "And I think it's important to note that the request from a country --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's about a NATO request. Let's just sum this up right now. It wasn't relating to --
Q No, it's about --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you're trying to take things out of context now. I appreciate it --
Q No, this is exactly the transcript.. It's not out of context, it's the transcript. You're talking about the threat Iraq posed to Turkey -- isn't that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: In the immediate lead-up to the war in Iraq.
Q And you said, "imminent threat."
MR. McCLELLAN: And you're taking everything out of context here. I think everybody in this room has seen that transcript.
Q Two quick questions. One, before the President speaks this afternoon on this issue of nuclear technology -- India is starting a thoroughly investigating report on the -- one that the scientists in Pakistan have been made scapegoat by the military government in order that they will not be blamed. And, two, the story --
MR. McCLELLAN: What's your question here, Goyal?
Q The question -- and number two, that many -- in Pakistan and in India and the U.S. believe that when President said that in Iraq there were weapons of mass destruction, we believe the U.S. President was right, but those weapons were moved by Khan to Pakistan. They are now in Pakistan, according to the investigative report. What does the President have to say about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about that. The President said over the weekend that there were a lot of theories that exist about what happened to the weapons of mass destruction, and we'll find out. We'll find out.
Q Coming back to John's question real briefly. One of the questions that remain after the release of the documents yesterday involves the President's physical in 1972. Are you guys talking about what happened there and why he didn't take --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think this was all addressed previously. I think that, again, this goes to show that some are not interested in the facts of whether or not he served; they're interested in trolling for trash and using this issue for partisan political gain.
Q What was the answer previous to this?
MR. McCLELLAN: What's the question?
Q On the question of --
MR. McCLELLAN: See, I mean, there are some that want us to engage in gutter politics. I'm not going to engage in gutter politics. I'm going to focus on what we're doing --
Q But you were suggesting you'd answered the question previously.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to address the priorities for the American people. We went through this in 1994, I believe again in '98, 2000. Now some are trying to bring it up again in 2004.
Q Scott, can I ask, in 2004, just again, why did the President miss his physical?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Why did the President miss his physical?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about when he -- whether or not he -- I put out a response to that question yesterday, about whether or not he was rated by his commanders as a pilot.
Q Can I just ask you today, in 2004 --
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q -- why he missed his physical?
MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, there are some that -- again, this is a question of whether or not he served. That question has been answered through the documents that were released yesterday, and released previously.
Q I just want to hear from the White House Press Secretary --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not -- no, there are some -- Elisabeth, we've already addressed this issue. I'm not going to engage in gutter politics. I'm going to focus on what we're doing to make the world safer, to make the world a better place, and to make America more prosperous. If others want to engage in gutter politics, that's their choice. But I think that --
Q How is asking that question engaging in gutter politics?
MR. McCLELLAN: But I think the American people -- I think the American people deserve better.
Q Scott, how does that engage in gutter politics if I ask that question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been through these issues. I wasn't accusing you. I'm accusing some -- (Laughter.) But, you see, we went through --
Q -- the answer to that question today?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we went through these -- no, we went -- we've already addressed this issue. We went through it previously. We went through it four years ago, for sure.
Q Scott, may I ask on another topic. We haven't talked about Israel or the Palestinians for a while. Two questions. Are you -- is the U.S. investigating Yasser Arafat's money? Apparently he's got a bank account of $11.5 million. Do you know if any of that money came from U.S. funds to the Palestinian --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry. Say the first part of your question again, Connie?
Q Is the U.S. joining with the French investigation of Yasser Arafat's $11.5 million in bank accounts?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would have to get an update to see if there's anything there on that.
Q While you're at it, do you have any thoughts now on the situation with Israel's security fence? And are you going to meet with Prime Minister Sharon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's no update on the President's schedule to announce at this time. Of course, we've made our views very well-known when it comes to the fence.
Q Have they changed, or have things changed?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've previously expressed our views. We continue to discuss those issues with the government of Israel. And our views are the same as they've always been.
Q If you can, get us an update on Arafat, please?
Q Scott, two questions. In his speech this afternoon, is the President looking to get beyond the Iraq intelligence matter by bringing up nuclear proliferation? Is he looking to move on? And -- smooth segue here -- speaking of Move On and Win Without War, yesterday they had a full-page ad in The Washington Post calling for the censure of the President over the Iraq intelligence matter. I'm wondering if you have any reaction to that.
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, what the President is looking to do is to continue to confront a very dangerous threat to the world and to America. And that's what he'll be talking about later today. This is an
issue that we have been working to address through the Proliferation Security Initiative, and through other efforts where we've been working with countries to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. That's what the President is doing. And, look, no, I'm not going to engage in all the politics that's going on right now.
Q Scott, in the President's remarks today and possibly later, is he going to name some of the countries involved in manufacturing certain devices that were used in this nuclear black market?
MR. McCLELLAN: Stay tuned. He's going to talk about this network that A.Q. Kahn was involved in, and we're going to have a fact sheet to release later today, as well.
Q Is the administration going to push other countries to actually prosecute these organizations?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're working with a lot of countries to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction and to go after those shadowy networks that exist that are seeking to spread these types of weapons.
Q A follow-up on the Haitian question. Besides to be extremely concerned of this situation, is the U.S. government planning to do something to help the government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, as President Clinton did in 1994?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we do -- I think I addressed this a little bit previously; let me go back to some of what our concerns are and address that issue. One, we fully support the efforts of the Caribbean countries and the Organization of American States to promote a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Haiti. So that's what we're doing. We do remain extremely concerned about the violence that is spreading in Haiti, and so we'll continue to support the efforts of the Caribbean community, as well as the Organization of American States to help bring about a peaceful resolution.
Q But it seems that the President Aristide doesn't put any attention to the OAS court or the Caribbean countries trying to help the situation with his political enemies. Do you think Aristide has been in government after a corrupt election supported by --
MR. McCLELLAN: You heard, going back to Mexico, where the President talked about the need to fight corruption and the need for all countries to take actions to fight corruption and promote the rule of law, promote democracy. And that's the President's view on those issues.
Q But do you consider Aristide's government a corrupted one?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, right now our focus is on supporting the efforts going on in the region to help bring about a peaceful resolution to the situation. Any time there is corruption anywhere, we are concerned. And that's why we have taken action to work with countries to fight corruption and to promote rule of law.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:02 P.M. EST