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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 18, 2004

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

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12:36 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. We have a big turnout today. I will go straight to questions. Steve.

Q Do you see any need for a U.N. peacekeeping force in Haiti, or any sort of international assistance to help them through this process?

MR. McCLELLAN: Steve, we are continuing to work with countries in the Caribbean and the Organization of American States to bring about a peaceful political resolution to the situation in Haiti. Obviously, we are concerned about the humanitarian situation in Haiti, and we continue to work on efforts to make sure people have the aid that they need there. Secretary Powell has been in close contact with his counterparts in the region, and that's where things are now.

Q To follow up, Scott, on that --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come to you in a minute.

Go ahead, Helen.

Q I want to revisit a question I asked you last week and you didn't have the answer -- you may have it now. Did the President ever do community service while he was in the National Guard?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, you had said that this was relating to a rumor that you heard, and I think there's a difference between rumor-mongering and journalism. And so I'm just not going to dignify those kind of rumors from this podium. I think the records have been released and you have -- all the information is available to you publicly.

Q So you don't really know?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said this was relating to some trashy rumors that are circulating out there, and I'm just not going to dignify them from this podium.

Q It's a very simple question.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, John.

Q Was there any discussion today about the Democratic victory in the Kentucky special election, at the White House? And why did the President not even cut a commercial for the Republican candidate, the way he did for Congressman Shuster in the last Pennsylvania --

MR. McCLELLAN: He expressed his support for -- in that election. And obviously, there's elections that occur all over the country, and the President does what he can to support candidates who share his compassionate conservative philosophy.

Q Did you think the result was a setback at all for the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't look at it that way at all. Obviously, individual races are decided by the candidates, themselves.

Q Scott, does the White House stand behind its report issued just nine days ago, the Economic Report, there will be 2.6 million new jobs created this year?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we went through a little bit of this earlier today. I think that people can debate the numbers all they want; the President is focused on acting on policies to create as robust an environment for job creation as possible so that we can help those who are hurting because they are looking for work and cannot find a job.

The President is encouraged by the direction the economy is moving. It is growing strong -- or growing stronger, I should say -- it is strong and growing stronger. There have been more than 366,000 new jobs created in the last five months. The unemployment rate continues to decline. It is now the lowest point -- at the lowest point it has been in two years, and it is below the average of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Certainly, productivity continues to be high, and people's disposable incomes are up. There are a lot of good indications about the direction the economy is moving.

But there is more to do. And the President is focused on acting to create as robust an environment as possible. That means acting on his six-point plan for strengthening our economy even more. We live in a changing economy right now, John, and the President has put forward a plan that will help create as robust an environment for job creation as possible. It will help retrain workers who have lost their jobs to meet the jobs of the 21st century -- these jobs that are high-paid, high-skill jobs. And so that's where the President's focus is on.

Q Well, you say this is a changing economy, and you also said earlier that this report was based on economic data that is now three months old. So would it be wrong for the Democrats, later this year -- if you don't meet this 2.6 million forecast of jobs -- would it be wrong for them to beat you on the head about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: It would be wrong for people to raise taxes at this point in our economy. And there are some -- (laughter) -- well, there are some that are advocating letting the tax cuts that the President worked to pass expire. And what that would be doing is raising taxes on small businesses. Small businesses are the economic engine for our economy and they're at the foundation of creating a strong and growing economy. It would raise taxes, if they let these tax cuts expire, on moms and dads who are trying to raise a family. It would raise taxes on married couples by restoring the marriage penalty.

Q When you dismissed the premise of John's question by saying, people can debate the numbers, let's be realistic here, the debate is going on between your Council of Economic Advisors and Treasury Secretary John Snow. Are there people here in this White House who never believed that forecast?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, John, I think that the Council of Economic Advisors puts out an annual report on the economy; it's the President's Economic Report. And they do that every year. They've been doing it for some 20 years now. That's based on economic modeling and the data that is available at that point in time. The President is interested in the actual number of jobs being created, and the President is interested in making sure that everybody who is looking for a job can find one. That's where the President's focus is.

That's why I say people can debate the numbers all they want, but the President is going to be looking at the actual numbers of jobs being created. And the number of jobs being created is growing. The number is up. New jobs are being created. The economy is certainly moving in the right direction. And my point to John was that the last thing we need to do right now is raise taxes. And we need to focus on the policy decisions that are being made here in Washington, D.C. to create as robust an environment for job creation as possible. And that's where the debate ought to be focused.

Q But it would appear, though, that people very high up in this administration didn't have a whole lot of faith in the forecast of the report that went up to Congress just a week ago in terms of the job creation numbers.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, it's an annual economic report that is put out by the administration based on the economic modeling and the data that's available at that point in time.

Q Can you answer the specific question, though? Was this report -- was the prediction of this many jobs, 2.6 million jobs, vetted prior to publication by the entire economic team?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an annual report, David. It goes through the usual -- it goes through the usual --

Q That's not the question. Was it or was it not vetted by the entire economic team?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an annual report. It goes through the usual --

Q So you don't know, or it was, or it wasn't?

MR. McCLELLAN: Can I get -- can I finish that sentence?

Q When you answer the question. Let's hear it. What's the answer?

MR. McCLELLAN: The answer was, it is an annual economic report and it goes through the normal vetting process. And if you would let me get to that, I would answer your question.

Q -- the full economic team vetted the prediction --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an annual economic report. It's the President's Economic Report. But again, the President --

Q Just say yes or no --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- it goes through the normal -- it goes through the normal vetting process.

Q So the answer is, yes. I'm not done yet, I've got another one.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.

Q Why -- if you're suggesting that people will debate the numbers, that's kind of a backhanded way to say, oh, who cares about the numbers. Well, apparently, the President's top economic advisors do, because that's why they wrote a very large report and sent it to Congress. So why was the prediction made in the first place, if the President and you and his Treasury Secretary were going to just back away from it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I disagree with the premise of the way you stated that. This is the annual Economic Report of the President and the economic modeling is done this way every year. It's been done this way for 20-some years.

Q So why not -- why aren't you standing behind it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think what the President stands behind is the policies that he is implementing, the policies that he is advocating. That's what's important.

Q That's not in dispute. The number is the question.

MR. McCLELLAN: I know, but the President's concern is on the number of jobs being created --

Q My question is, why was the prediction made --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and the President's focus is on making sure that people who are hurting because they cannot find work have a job. That's where the President's focus is.

Q Then why predict a number? Why was the number predicted? Why was the number predicted? You can't get away with not -- just answer the question. Why was that number predicted?

MR. McCLELLAN: I've been asked this, and I've asked -- I've been asked, and I've answered.

Q No, you have not answered. And everybody watching knows you haven't answered.

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree.

Go ahead.

Q This nuclear -- put in all of these stories are still making headlines all over the globe. Now the story is that, one, is President Bush is concerned about this -- and is he considering any sanctions. Because the story -- this technology is now going beyond Pakistan because Iran is now saying that they will sell the fuel, and also, his daughter, Mr. Khan's daughter fled with all the sensitive documents from Pakistan to England, and she said, my father is -- and I will go to public if something happened to him. Now he had a heart attack and they --

MR. McCLELLAN: I understand. You heard the President talk about the importance of confronting the threat from the spread of weapons of mass destruction just last week. He has made it an important priority of this administration from day one. It is -- the most dangerous threat that we face is from the spread of weapons of mass destruction and the possibility of those weapons getting in the hands of terrorists who seek to do harm to America and our friends and allies.

And that's why the President is acting decisively to confront this threat and make the world a safer place. And certainly the network that has been broken up by the government of Pakistan is an important step in stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. This is a shadowy network that exists. The investigation continues, there is still more that we are learning. But we are acting to break up this network once and for all.

Go ahead, Jim.

Q Are you talking about Khan --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. Go ahead.

Q The President has said he is closely following what's happening in San Francisco and repeated his statements about being troubled and so forth. I still don't understand, what is it that has to happen for the President to do something other than express his displeasure?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we've talked about from the very beginning when this issue arose, because some activist judges were seeking to redefine marriage, that this is a serious matter. The President believes very strongly in protecting and defending the sanctity of marriage. He has made it very clear that he is committed to doing what is legally necessary to protect and defend the sanctity of marriage. He believes very strongly that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and woman. And he recognizes that people may disagree on this issue, and he certainly believes it's important to respect individuals and -- in that process.

But the President is closely looking at these events as they unfold. You have the events unfolding in Massachusetts, with the activist judges seeking to redefine marriage. You have events he talked about earlier today going in San Francisco, where licenses are being issued despite -- or without regard for the law in California. There are some that ignoring the law by taking actions in California. And so the President is troubled by these events, and he is concerned about the direction some of these events are headed.

Q When you keep saying he's troubled and you say he wants to defend it, it's not quite clear at what point the President thinks his intervention is necessary. What combination of events requires his intervention?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is an issue where he believes it's important to stand on principle. He has always believed that marriage is a fundamental, enduring institution of our society, and that marriage is between a man and a woman. And while he believes it's important to treat everybody with dignity and respect, he also believes it's important to do what is necessary to protect the sanctity of marriage. And so we are continuing to look at these events very closely. Obviously, if the President comes to any further decision on this, then he will have more to say at that point.

Q No, I understand the decision hasn't been made yet. But I'm just trying to figure out -- you say the President is determined to defend the sanctity, and that he thinks it's a very serious issue. I'm just trying to figure out what it is that would require presidential intervention. You've got bills in the Congress, you've got judges working on it. What would the President -- what could he do?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what he said -- well, he said -- he has said that if necessary he would be prepared to look to the constitutional process, because that may be the only -- or that would be the only alternative available if activist judges continue to redefine marriage.

Q But what makes that necessary? Does this have to go up through the court system? Is that what he's waiting for?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're continuing to monitor events. You've got a legislature in Massachusetts that has been looking at this issue. You've got officials in California speaking out against what is going on in one particular city there.

Q Can I go back to the jobs issue for a moment?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.

Q We've been talking about whether or not the CEA forecast of adding 2.6 million jobs is correct. But actually what CEA forecast was that the average number of jobs in 2004 would be 2.6 million higher than in 2003, which for reasons I won't bore everyone with implies a rate of growth in jobs well beyond the, roughly, 200,000 a month that would be implied by a 2.6 million rise in jobs. The bottom line here is that the CEA is forecasting, at a minimum, about 300,000 jobs a month will be created. Do you stand by that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Economists do economic modeling. That's the Economic Report of the President. Let me be very clear here, though. This President is focused on what we are doing to create as robust an environment as possible for job creation -- not in crunching numbers. He's looking at the actual numbers that are coming in, the actual numbers that are being created, and looking to make sure we're doing everything we can to keep our economy moving in the right direction and create more jobs.

I mean, this is an important debate going on in this nation, and there's a clear choice. Some people -- some people want to turn back and take actions that would raise taxes on people, at a time when our economy is really starting to grow strong.

Q Okay, well, on that point, the President's advisors have, at various times, made very specific predictions about the number of jobs that would be created by the very policies that you are continuing to advocate right now, specifically the tax cuts. Those projections have not come to pass.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're talking about some original proposals that were proposed, and then you have to look at what was actually passed.

Q They were changed only minimally from what was originally proposed. Why should we believe that these projections are any better, or reflecting better the impact of these policies, than your previous projections?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think when you say what should you believe, I think you should focus on what policy decisions the President is making to create more jobs in this country. It's important that we continue to act to create as many jobs as possible in this country, and that means creating a robust environment for job creation. That's where the President's focus is on. Like I said, we can debate the numbers all you want here, or we can look at the number crunchers. Economists do economic modeling, them make forecasts. There are blue-chips out there, there are a number of different economists out there with different interpretations. And it's based on assumptions --

Q The question is, why --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- it's based on assumptions at that point in time.

Q -- how can you sell these policies as creating jobs when, in fact, they haven't?

MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree --

Q Or at least not to the degree that you previously projected.

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, no, disagree. Well, one, let's have a discussion about that, because you have to look at the fact that we are in a changing economy right now. I talked about that when John rose this issue. You have productivity growth at very high levels these days. And that's a good thing, because it means increased living standards; it means more -- it means higher pay for workers, so they have more money at their disposal.

And in this changing economy, we have an economy that is strong and growing stronger. But because productivity growth is so high, you're not seeing the same kind of job numbers that you would expect at this level of GDP. And so that's why --

Q But that's not what --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's why the President put forward a six-point plan to create an even more robust environment for job creation. That's why he's called on Congress to pass comprehensive energy legislation. That's why he's called on Congress to address the rising cost of health care. That's why he's called on Congress to pass medical liability reform. That's why he's called on Congress to continue to act to promote free trade with a level playing field.

Q And do you think that will create more jobs this year?

MR. McCLELLAN: It will create an even more robust environment for job creation when Congress acts on those measures. Absolutely. But let me dispute -- you said jobs weren't being created. Jobs are being created. There's 366,000 new jobs over the last five months that have been created.

Q What I said was that jobs aren't being created at the level that you were projecting when you were advocating the passage of these policies.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, what was originally proposed versus what actually passed.

Q Scott, just a quick follow-up on that. As Dick mentioned, it does project basically at least 300,000 jobs a month. You, yourself, just mentioned that there are a lot of economists out there who have projections; the blue-chip forecasters is one that is often cited. They're averaging 166,000 a month. The top ten of the blue-chip forecasters are averaging 225,000 a month. What does the White House know to project over 300,000 -- a minimum of 300,000 --

MR. McCLELLAN: We had a briefing on the Economic Report when that was put out, with our economists there to answer your questions --

Q Why are you so much more optimistic?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and I think they answered the questions at that time.

Q Why are you so much more optimistic, Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: I've already addressed this question.

Go ahead.

Q Just to go back to this number. This is a report that not only was put out by the President's economists, but it was signed by the President of the United States, this report. So, obviously, he supported the concept of projecting 2.6 million jobs over the next year. You're not -- you still have not said that the President stands by that.

MR. McCLELLAN: I said it was the Economic Report of the President, and that the modeling that is done in those reports is done by our economists over in the Council of Economic Advisors. They do this every year. They've done it for some 20 years, in every administration before us over those 20 years.

Q So, looking back -- let's say we get to October and November on this past year, 2004, and if that projection is not fulfilled, how would that not be a failure of this administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: What we are going to do is continue to focus on the policy decisions that are being made here in Washington, D.C. and the policies the President is putting forward. This President has acted decisively to get our economy out of a recession, that he inherited, and get it growing strong. And it's growing stronger at this point. It is moving in the right direction. This is where the debate needs to be, is on the policy decisions that are being made here in Washington, D.C., and do we continue to act to strengthen this growth even more, so that we can see more new jobs being created, or do we turn back and see our economy slow down.

There are some that would advocate letting those tax cuts expire, which means taxes would be raised on working moms and dads trying to raise a family, that taxes would be raised on small business. That's where the debate should be.

Q Given the environment that we're in, the political environment, given the importance of this jobs issue this election year, was it a mistake to make that prediction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's something that's done every year in the annual Economic Report. I mean, you're trying to get in here to get me to answer questions that are trying to trap me into certain things. That's not the way --

Q I'm just asking a question --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think there are some that are looking for headlines here --

Q No, we're looking for answers, not headlines.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President is focused on what is happening -- go ahead.

Q Scott, there is a simple question, very important question that will face voters this fall. The President repeatedly speaks to the fact that when he says something you can take it to the bank. If the President signs a report making a prediction, shouldn't voters hold him responsible and accountable for that prediction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, those are forecasts made by our economists at a specific point in time, based on the data at that point. Productivity growth can affect those assumptions that are put into those economic forecasts. So different economists have different forecasts on the productivity growth. Some think it's going to be lower; some think it's going to be higher. But productivity growth --

Q Okay, but shouldn't he be held responsible --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- it's important -- it's important for -- it's a good thing that productivity growth is high. But we also need to continue to strengthen the economy even more.

Q My question was about his prediction and whether he should be held responsible --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've been through this issue.

Q Scott, when you talk about the unemployment -- or the jobs being created, is that based on the payroll survey, or the household survey? Because there's -- because of the tax cuts, there's been a tremendous increase in the number of entrepreneurs that have started their own businesses, and those numbers aren't reflected in the payroll survey.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct, yes. The household survey is different from the payroll survey. And the household survey showed that some -- an increase of 496,000 jobs in January alone. So there are different numbers that you're talking about there. And we can look at both. But, again, you're getting into -- you're getting into the numbers here. The numbers that the President is interested in is the actual numbers of jobs being created and the policies that we are taking to create an even more robust environment for job creation.

Q Can I ask one more question?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, go ahead.

Q It's a different subject. The Welfare Reform Act comes up this year for renewal. Is the President supporting efforts to insert meaningful work requirements into the bill, where today there is none?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've been advocating passage of the Welfare Reauthorization bill for quite some time now. Congress needs to act to strengthen those work requirements even more and build upon the successes of the original legislation that was passed in the mid-90s.

Q This President has had a number of issues come up over the last couple of weeks in which his credibility has been questioned -- Medicare costs, the budget, Iraq -- even from within your own party. So now you've put out a number that says you -- that your tax plan, your policies will erase all job losses, 2.6 -- it will create 2.6 million jobs. You erase all the losses from his first term by November. And now you say, well, maybe it will, maybe it won't. What are we --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think -- I don't think that's what I said, Bob. You're putting words in my mouth. I don't think that's what I said. I said that this is our annual Economic Report that is based on the economic modeling done by our economists. And it's based on that snapshot at that point in time, based on the data that is available at that point.

Q But your point is that you don't stand behind that number, that number --

MR. McCLELLAN: Some people are putting those words in my mouth. I said that this was -- this was the President's Economic Report that is put out every year. So I made that very clear. But let's talk about -- you brought up an important issue. Let me remind you that this President does exactly what he says he is going to do. This President said he was going to take steps to strengthen our economy and get it out of a recession. And he advocated the passage of tax cuts, and those tax cuts are working. He is doing exactly what he said he would do. And now he's calling on Congress to take even more steps to create an even more robust environment for job creation. And that's where the focus ought to be. And that's where his focus is.

Q Scott, with the political situation changing constantly in Iraq, what is going to happen now? Will Paul Bremer leave after June the 30th, and what happens to the administration there at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, his job ends at that point, when sovereignty is transferred.

Q And the whole American administration? We know that the military stays in, but what happens to --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, there's -- well, the Coalition Provisional Authority ceases to exist at that point in time.

Q And then if there's nobody to turn it over to, then what happens?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q If they're not organized --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we'll be transferring sovereignty to a transitional government at that point.

Q Scott, two questions real quick. On Haiti, one; and then the other on gay marriage. First, on Haiti, Jean-Bertrand Aristide believes that the White House is blaming him for the problems that are happening there now, and that's some of the reason why the administration is kind of cool to the fact of going in to help with the problems there.

And also on gay marriage, has the President discussed with the Vice President his feelings about gay marriage, especially since the Vice President has a family member who is gay?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he very much knows the President's views.

Q But I mean -- yes, he knows the President views. But have they -- this is a major issue. This is --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, April, they discuss important issues like that.

Q They have. Well, could you tell us to what length and what have they said?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't get into the President's private conversations.

Q No, no, but, seriously, Scott, this is a politically divisive issue. And the Vice President has a family member who is gay; the President defines marriage as man and women. Have they come together and tried to -- has the Vice President tried to discuss with him the issue of seeing it his way, or his family member's way?

MR. McCLELLAN: April -- April, the President has always said it's important to treat all people with dignity and respect. But this is an issue of principle. This is an issue that he feels very strongly about. And it's taking a principled stand to protect and defend the sanctity of marriage. That's what this is about. Marriage is a fundamental, enduring institution of this country. And the President is committed to protecting it.

Q And now on Haiti, what about --

MR. McCLELLAN: What was your question?

Q The question was the fact that Jean-Bertrand Aristide says that the administration is blaming him for the problems there, and is this some of the reason why the administration is not going to --

MR. McCLELLAN: We're actually working very closely with other

nations in the region to bring about a peaceful resolution. We're working to end the violence and bring about a political dialogue that focuses on negotiation and compromise. There's some steps that were spelled out by the Caribbean community in a joint statement, I think that was released last Friday, steps that they called on Haiti to take to make some changes in the way it's governed, and to make some changes in the security situation in Haiti.

Q What do you say to Aristide when he says that the U.S. is blaming him for the problems there? Is that true?

MR. McCLELLAN: What we are trying to do is resolve this issue through a political dialogue --

Q But are you blaming him -- trying to resolve --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and end the violence.

Q Are you blaming him?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, April, our focus is on bringing this to a peaceful, political resolution --

Q But are you blaming him? We understand that. Are you blaming him?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and there are steps that the government of Haiti can take that will help in the long-term, as well.

Q Two questions. One, both Japanese and Iranian officials have said that Japan will sign a $2-billion oil field development deal in Iran. In the past, the United States has tried to curtail investment in Iran's oil industry, and apparently the U.S. did ask Japan not to go ahead with this deal. Do you have any reaction to the news that Japan is going to go ahead and invest in the Iranian oil industry?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just now hearing about this report. I'll be glad to look into it and get you more information.

Q And the second question, the energy bill -- there's some talk up on Capitol Hill it may hit $14 billion in costs as it's scored. Is that too high? Because I think previously you had said $8 billion was your limit.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we put forward our budget, and we have previously called on -- you're correct -- the $8 billion range in the energy legislation. We are continuing to work closely with congressional leaders to pass a comprehensive energy plan that will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. So we're working very closely with Congress on that.

It's also important to look at this in the context of the President's overall budget framework. He put forward a budget that meets our priorities and holds the line on spending elsewhere. So it's important that we make sure that we're looking at it in that context. I talked about the highway legislation last week, and obviously, there are some that are talking about coming more in line with what the President had originally proposed on the energy legislation. And we're continuing to work with them on those issues.

Q Will themselves $14 billion trigger a veto?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to continue to work closely with Congress to get this passed.

Q The Tunisian government has been cooperating with the administration in the war on terror. It's also a government that has jailed reporters and restricts a political process. The government has talked about the need to bring democracy to the Middle East. Is the President willing to give some countries a pass on democracy and human rights in return for cooperation in the war on terror?

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't look at it that way at all. In fact, we'll have more for you on a readout from the meeting later today. But the President -- I think you heard the President talk about this very issue in the Oval Office -- this President is strongly committed to advancing freedom and democracy, particularly in the Middle East.

And Tunisia has made some important progress when it comes to economic and social reform. They have certainly recognized the importance of women's rights. And that's important progress, but there is more to do. And this President makes it clear in meetings he has with world leaders that we are strongly committed to seeing continued progress on those areas, including on democracy. I think the President talked about making sure that there is an open political system. He talked about the importance of -- I expect he will talk about the importance of human rights and human dignity, rule of law, and freedom of press, one of the issues you just mentioned.

Q So the President has talked to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Those are principles that we believe in very strongly.

Q So these are points that the President has or intended to make today --

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll have more of a readout, but, absolutely, he raises those issues all of the time in meetings with world leaders because he believes very strongly in them.

Go ahead, Jacobo.

Q Two questions, please. The Democratic candidates for the nomination have stopped attacking themselves and have been attacking --

MR. McCLELLAN: People are attacking themselves? (Laughter.)

Q It's a jungle out there --

MR. McCLELLAN: I wish you would attack yourselves instead of me. (Laughter.)

Q We love ourselves.

MR. McCLELLAN: Now they're focusing all of their attacks on the policies of President Bush. When is he going to start answering back?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, the President is going to remain focused on the important priorities before this country. There will be plenty of time to talk about the differences down the road. I think the American people will have plenty of time to focus on the election as we get closer to November. But they want us to remain focused on the important priorities we've been discussing in this room, from the economy to the war on terror, and so forth.

Q -- second question, please. The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has been accusing the United States of intervening in the Venezuela political process, which he says should be an internal affair. What does the White House --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, repeat that first part.

Q The President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, has been accusing the United States of intervening in the Venezuelan political process, saying it should be an internal affair.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've talked about the importance of supporting democratic reforms, and that's the President's -- that's the President's views.

Q Scott, a group of prominent scientists, including some university presidents and Nobel laureates, signed a letter today complaining that the White House has systematically skewed science to fit its policy agendas. In particular, they accuse the administration of stacking federal advisory panels and suppressing EPA studies that don't agree with policy objectives. Have you seen the letter, and can you respond --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I haven't, but I can assure you that this is an administration that makes decisions based on the best available science. And I would point to what we are doing in terms of the President's Clear Skies initiative as a prime example. We've seen the success from the acid rain program of this market-based approach. And the President has put forward a Clear Skies initiative to cut power plant emissions by 70 percent. And that's an initiative that is based on the best available science. And that's what we do with all our policies in this realm.

And I would point out to you that as an example of how strongly we believe in making decisions based on the best available science, this administration has worked on an independent peer review process to look at how science is used in regulatory decisions. That is something our Office of Management and Budget has been working on, so that we can make sure that those decisions are being made based on the best available science.

Thank you.

END 1:08 P.M. EST