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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 30, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Appleton, Wisconsin
9:54 A.M. CST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. Let me get started. The President had his usual briefings this morning. The Freedom Corps greeter, upon our arrival, will be Gloria Grandone. Since 1999, she's been an active volunteer with the Doug and Carla Salmon Foundation, which provides scholarships and financial assistance to college students attending higher education institutions in Wisconsin.
Following that, the President looks forward to making remarks on the economy. The audience will include small business owners, community leaders, state and local officials. I expect the President, in his remarks, to talk about how our economy is strong and growing stronger, productivity is high, the unemployment rate has been coming down -- including in Wisconsin -- disposable income is up. But there is more we need to do to continue making sure the economy is moving in the right direction. And I think he will focus some on the importance of opening markets and expanding trade, so that we -- because that's important to creating jobs here at home. And I expect he will talk about the importance of continuing to make sure that America remains the best place to do business in the world, and the steps that we need to take there, as well.
And I think that's all I've got.
Q Scott why did the -- why did the President reverse himself on Dr. Rice's testimony? It seemed so important last week that she not testify publicly under oath, and now all of a sudden there's this reversal.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. Let me back up for a second. We have worked closely and cooperatively with the commission from the very beginning to make sure they have all the information they need to do their job. We have provided the commission unprecedented access to information, including our most sensitive national security documents. The commission has itself stated that we have provided access to everything that they have requested.
Now I think a couple of things here. We have provided -- we have been provided written assurance from the commission and from -- and we have been provided assurance from congressional leaders that this testimony by Dr. Rice will in no way set a precedent; they will continue to uphold an important principle, which is the separation of powers issue.
But I think also, we have to keep in mind that in recent days and weeks there has tended to be more focus on the process, rather than the substance. And the President believes it's important for the focus to be on the substance. The work of the 9/11 Commission is very important. And we want to continue to do everything we can to make sure that they have all the information they need to do their job. And I would remind you that -- what I've said previously. It's important that if the commission has additional recommendations -- beyond everything that we're already doing since September 11th -- to prevent another attack from happening, that we have those recommendations as soon as possible.
Q In your letter to the commission, you say that -- one of the conditions you set is that the commission not ask for any more material. Why is that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, wait a second. First of all -- let me -- what I was hitting on. We have provided the commission with more than 2.3 million pages of documents, more than 100 briefings -- including at the head of agency level, more than 780 interviews and meetings with administration officials, more than 900 audio tapes of meetings and other materials, more than 60 compact disk of radar, flight and other information. As the letter points out, we have provided more than 20 officials from the executive office of the President to meet with the commission in private.
This is all about making sure that the commission has all the information they need to do their job. And that's what we have done from the beginning. The commission has stated publicly that we have provided access to everything that they have requested.
Q That's after months of delay.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, wrong, wrong. No, the commission has said from very early on that we have provided access to everything that they have requested. Obviously there is always discussion when you're talking about sensitive national security documents. There's always going to be discussion about how that information is provided to the commission. But they have had access to every single thing --
Q There hasn't been a delay, there hasn't been a delay in providing this access?
MR. McCLELLAN: We have worked very closely and cooperatively with the commission to make sure that they can complete their work in a timely manner. And the commission chairman and vice-chairman have repeatedly stated -- and in fact, in their statement they released today stated that we have provided unprecedented cooperation with a congressionally mandated commission.
Q Did Dr. Rice ask the President if she could testify, or did the President come to her, and say --
MR. McCLELLAN: This was something that the President essentially -- well, one, I think that our White House Counsel's Office is always in close contact with the commission and in close contact with the chairman and vice-chairman to talk about ways we can meet their needs. And they have remained close -- the Counsel's Office has remained in close contact with the chairman and vice-chairman.
I think the President, essentially, over the weekend decided that we should pursue this with the commission, pursue the possibility of Dr. Rice testifying publicly under oath, provided that we can uphold this important principle. It's important to protect the principle of separation of powers between the executive and legislative branch. It's a very important principle. Certainly I think that it's important to protect for future Presidents, to make sure that they can continue to receive the kind of advice and information they need from their staff to protect the American people. So that's important.
Now Condi has made it very clear, I've made it very clear on her behalf as well, that she very much wanted to talk to the commission publicly. And she looks forward to talking to the commission publicly.
Q Did she, though, personally ask the President, can you look -- can we find a way to make this happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: This was -- well, I think her views are very well known. This was a decision that the President came to. The President directed the administration, from the very beginning, to cooperate fully with the 9/11 Commission. And that's exactly what we have done all along. And the commission itself has stated -- made such statements.
Q Why have the President and the Vice President appear together before the members of the commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, keep in mind a couple of things. One, the commission very much appreciates that commitment to meet with the entire commission. They have stated so in their public statement that we just provided to you all. But remember -- go back to what I said about all the information that the commission already has. They already have all the information. This is about making sure the commission has all the information they need to do their job, and do it in the best way possible. And so now the commission will, after having received all this information and talked to all these officials, will be able to sit down with the President and the Vice President and ask any questions that they want, and move forward on their important work.
Q But isn't it kind of unusual that the two of them would sit down together?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a way to make sure that they continue to receive all the information they need, and that we continue to move forward in a timely manner for the commission to conclude its work. This has been -- the commission welcomes that decision, as they say in their statement.
Q This decision, though, obviously comes after a week of pretty strong criticism from people within the Republican Party and Democratic Party about allowing Rice to testify. So are you saying that that didn't factor at all into the --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, like I said, there's been a -- over the course of recent days and recent weeks, there has been more focus on the process, rather than the substance. And the President believes the focus ought to be on the substance, because the work of the 9/11 Commission is very important. Remember, this is about the war on terrorism, this is about -- and the 9/11 Commission has an important role to play in helping us move forward in the war on terrorism. Like I said, if there are recommendations that they can provide, beyond what we're already doing, to prevent another attack from happening, we want to have those recommendations, and the sooner the better.
Q But if it's so important, why not just have Rice testify from the beginning? Why --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I talked about the -- what we said, there's an important principle involved here, involving the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branch. We've now received assurances that this will not affect that principle, that that principle will continue to be upheld and protected for future Presidents, so that they can receive the kind of advice, counsel and information they need to protect the American people.
Q You have this provision that says, "The commission must agree in writing that it will not request additional public testimony from any White House official, including Dr. Rice." Why are you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, remember, they've already received --
Q No, I understand that --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- received access to everything that they have requested.
Q But suppose Dr. Rice says something that triggers a line of inquiry that they want to pursue.
MR. McCLELLAN: And remember that Dr. Rice has already met privately with them for more than four hours. So she's provided them with what I believe is all the information they need. But it's also important for the American people to have all these facts, as well.
Q But if you're saying, no more information, this is it --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go to what the letter says, about how she's in a unique position to provide them with the kind of information that they need to do their job.
Q It they have any follow-up questions, they can't come back to anybody, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q They can't follow up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we've already provided access to hundreds of officials, either in briefings or interviews, within the administration, so that they have all the information they need to do the job. The commission itself said that they were very pleased with this arrangement, and they think that this continues to show that we are fully committed to providing them all the information that they need.
Q How is this going to help clear up some of the -- what Gonzales said -- mischaracterizations that took place last week? Do you specifically see this as a chance for Rice to rebut all these accusations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, they're going to be able to ask her, just like they did in the private meeting, whatever questions that they may have. And Condi looks forward to answering all the questions that they have. As I said, it's important for the American people to have the facts. And Condi did meet previously with the commission in private for more than -- some four hours. And we had great confidence that that would be able to provide the commission with the information that they needed to provide the American people with a full report. But we were pleased to work with the commission. And the President decided that as long as we could protect this important principle that it was important for Condi to testify publicly.
Q Is there -- any arrangement been made yet as to when and where she would testify?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of. I think that those discussions are probably the next step in this process.
Q Do you expect sooner rather than later, like this week?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about this week, but I would expect it would be soon. That part depends on the commission, to a large extent.
Q Is there an agreement on the President and the Vice President, or is that still under discussion?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's -- in fact, in the statement I just gave you from the commission, they say that they welcome that decision.
Q Different topic? Can I go to a different topic?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q The Kerry folks are saying that the President hasn't done enough to jawbone OPEC on oil output and prices. What can you tell us about the administration's message to OPEC --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me say, in terms of the comments the Kerry campaign is making, I think the campaign has already put out some comments related to that, so you ought to take a look at what the campaign is saying in response to some of his assertions. But let me just talk about it, because this is an important issue.
What we need are comprehensive solutions, not patchwork crisis-management, when it comes to the issue of rising gas prices and related issues. We wouldn't be in this situation right now if Congress had acted on what the President proposed some three years ago to pass a comprehensive energy policy. We had a unique opportunity to do it last year, after the blackouts that occurred in the Northeast and parts of the Midwest. It's important that Congress move forward as quickly as possible to pass a comprehensive energy strategy. And we will continue to work to make sure they do that.
Q That's not doing anything for today.
MR. McCLELLAN: We wouldn't be in this situation if they had already done that.
Q That's fine, but since you're in --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to engage in ongoing discussions with major producers around the world about the importance of letting the market determine the prices. But again, what needs to happen is Congress needs to pass a comprehensive energy strategy.
In terms of the comments that Senator Kerry is making, the campaign has already put out some information that I would encourage you to look at. They'll be glad to respond to those assertions.
Q Secretary Card said last week that the administration was sending OPEC a message that it wanted it to postpone or cancel the production cutbacks that are scheduled to go into effect at the beginning of next month. Is that still the White House's position, and are you --
MR. McCLELLAN: We stay in close contact with major producers around the world.
Q Is Bush concerned about it? Is there --
MR. McCLELLAN: Markets ought to determine the prices.
Q Is Bush concerned about this, and is there anything short-term that you can do, besides ongoing discussions with major producers?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think most Americans share the President's concern about rising gas prices, absolutely. And that's why we will continue to act. And again, we wouldn't be in this situation if Congress had acted three years ago when the President proposed the comprehensive national energy policy to address these situations. We continue to go through this every year, or every so many months, on issues of this nature because Congress has not passed a comprehensive national energy policy. And I think the President will talk about in his remarks how some have advocated higher gas taxes, and that's the wrong approach for going forward. The President remains firmly opposed to increasing gas taxes to address this situation.
Q But Mankiw advocated a gas-tax increase in 1999. Was he wrong then?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that's already been addressed. That's something that the Kerry campaign has put out, and I think the campaign has responded to it.
Q Does the President rule out halting purchases for the SPRO for the spring and summer?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, in terms of that, I think you should -- Senator Kerry I understand is making some remarks on that, and the campaign has also addressed that issue. You might want to look at those remarks.
Q But putting aside what Kerry is saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand, Dick, you started with Senator Kerry and his remarks, so I think it's important to point out the other side of that, and that's why I would direct you to the campaign there.
But, yes, I'll put that aside. In terms of the SPRO, it's important that we have the necessary resources in the event of a severe disruption of supply.
Q So I take that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Our position is well stated on that. And I think others have talked to that issue, as well, in the past. I think you go back and look at some of the analysts, independent analysts out there, they've talked about how the -- doing anything there would have a negligible impact. That's from independent analysts. And recent history kind of confirms that, as well.
Q You don't see any need for any short-term proposals to address the spike in gas prices?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are always acting to address those issues. But like I said, we wouldn't be in this situation --
Q So what specifically are you recommending, short-term?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- if Congress had already acted. We continue to remain in discussion with major producers around the world about our views, in terms of markets determining prices. And we continue to act to make sure that we're doing everything we can to address issues that might contribute to rising gas prices. I think Secretary Abraham has talked to some of these issues, as well.
Q That's it.
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, go write. Thanks.
END 10:13 A.M. CST