The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 26, 2004

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Albuquerque, New Mexico

11:27 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. The President taped his radio address before we left. It will be on homeownership. Upon arrival, the Freedom Corps greeter in Albuquerque is Irving Hall, who for the past seven years has volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in several different capacities. Every weekend he spends part of a -- he volunteers as part of a build team, working with other volunteers to assist with all phases of construction.

Following that, the President will meet with some Pueblo governors, to listen to some issues of concern that they have, as well as talk about what we're doing in terms of increasing funding for Tribal schools, construction.

Q What's type of governors?

MR. McCLELLAN: Governors of Pueblos. It's somewhat similar to reservations for Native Americans. He met with some of them previously in New Mexico, and they requested that he come back, and when he comes back, that he meets with all 19 of them. So that's what part of this. Although all 19 were invited, some of them had scheduling conflicts.

Q There were 19 throughout the state?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right. And so he'll be meeting with some of them today.

Q What's the number? Do you know the number?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll try to get you more on that. I think we're going to have a photo release from that meeting.

And following that, the President will make remarks at the 24th Annual Homebuilders and Remodelers Showcase. It's sponsored by the Homebuilders Association of Central New Mexico, and it's the largest trade show in the Southwest. It has over 180 local exhibitors, and they also host free seminars and demonstrations at which experts provide various home improvement demonstrations. And this is the opening day for the showcase.

Q I'm sorry, it's the largest trade show of any kind in the Southwest or just this --

MR. McCLELLAN: The largest home trade show in the Southwest.

And after that event we go to Phoenix, and the President, upon arrival, will visit with Barbara Lockwood, who is the Freedom Corps greeter. She is a volunteer with Keep Phoenix Beautiful, a nonprofit that provides educational outreach programs to encourage citizens to help beautify and improve their neighborhoods, with the goal of creating healthy and safe communities.

And then, following that, the President will tour Phoenix Carpenters Training Center, before participating in a conversation on homeownership. The conversation will include a first-time homeowner, a home buyer who received down payment assistance, a local mortgage banker, a carpenter, and the President of the Carpenter's Union, Doug McCarron.

Just so you know, on the training center, the Southwest Regional Council of Carpenters opened this training facility in Phoenix in February. And the mission is to increase productivity, quality and safety for the Arizona construction industry by training apprentices and journey-level carpenters or fully-trained carpenters.

And as I said, following that he participates in a conversation on homeownership. And then we will go to Crawford for the rest of the weekend. And remind me toward the end of this, and I'll give you an update on the week ahead.

I think that's all I've got.

Q When does he sign the bill outlawing harm to a fetus?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll keep you posted, but he looks forward to signing it soon.

Q Have you received it yet, or is that still --

MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I know of. Obviously, it just passed last night, so not that I know of. But we'll keep you posted on that schedule.

Q Have you heard from the commission on when they intend to interview Dr. Rice again?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any updates from here. Obviously, there are people back in D.C. that are in close contact with the commission, and I think have been in contact with the commission today. But I don't have any further update on that at this point. She wants to sit down and visit with the commission again and looks forward to it.

Q There's going to be no re-thinking of the decision not to have her testify in public, under oath?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the judge spoke to that yesterday and spoke to that in his letter that he sent to the commission, and corrected the record on some of the past history related to that, as well. But the judge also talked about the important principle behind this separation of powers issue.

Q Scott, there's no way for her to testify, not under oath, but in public? Is that the issue, there's no -- if it's public, she has to be under oath?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what necessarily the difference is. She's going to tell it exactly how it happened.

Q If the American people want to hear her testimony, there's no way that it's a conversation with the commissioners? There's no wiggle room wherein she would leave a public record with the American people?

MR. McCLELLAN: Where she would what?

Q Where she would leave a public record for the American people to hear her --

MR. McCLELLAN: There's going to be a report from the commission. And the commissioners will provide a report to the public about what they are learning and have learned through this process. Their work is very important. And obviously, we have worked very closely with them to make sure they have all the information to do their job. And we will continue to make sure they have unprecedented access to all the information they need to do their job, including our nation's most sensitive national security documents, I might point out.

She was more than happy to sit down with the commission for more than four hours previously. Obviously, this week there were some assertions that were made that were wrong, and some misstatements about issues she had talked about previously. And it's important to -- it's important for her to sit down with the commission and make sure that they have the correct information.

Q Now, would it be misstatements on her behalf, as well? I mean, there seems to be some discrepancy about whether there were military options in the plan before September 11th --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think there were some assertions that were made that were flat-out wrong and I think that that -- that we have addressed those issues.

Q What do you consider the most -- what's the most damaging --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked about some of them yesterday. I mean, I talked about some of the statements that have been made relating to some of the pre-September 11th actions that we were taking and the development of our comprehensive plan to eliminate al Qaeda. There's some assertions made that the discussion centered on essentially eroding al Qaeda, and that's not the case, it was on eliminating al Qaeda from the very first draft that was circulated, all the way up until the plan was approved. And there were some other assertions made about briefings that the CIA provided to the President after the President had requested more information about what might be -- what the concerns might be at home, when all the information was pointing to threats overseas.

And I think the judge addressed some of these issues in his letter.

Q Given, Scott, the tone of Judge Gonzales' letter, and it's very thorough rebuttal to some of the assertions of Commissioner Ben Veniste, does it seem to you as though that particular commissioner is trying to play politics with Dr. Rice's testimony?

MR. McCLELLAN: Those are questions you can address to him. The work of the commission is very important. We want to make sure all members of the commission have all the information they need to do their job. And I think the judge, in his letter, was setting the record straight in some comments that were made that really misrepresented -- misrepresented the facts.

Q Okay, but why do you think that Comissioner Ben Veniste misrepresented the facts? It's a public forum. He's obviously a smart guy --

MR. McCLELLAN: Those are questions you all can direct to the commission. Our focus is on helping the commission get their work done and do so in a timely manner. And we appreciate the work that all the commissioners are doing to make sure we learn everything we can about what happened leading up to the attacks of September 11th.

Q But if those comments were as misleading as you suggest they are, is it your fear that some of the commissioners may be trying to play politics with Dr. Rice's refusal to testify?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the last thing we want to see happen is to see this -- the commission become politicized. They have been working very hard, and we appreciate the work of every member of the commission to learn all that they can about the threats -- the threat from terrorism, leading up to the attacks of September the 11th.

Q Do you think the commission has already become politicized?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not making that suggestion at all. I think that they're doing a very good job to find out what they can that might be able to help us, in addition to all the steps that the President has already taken to make sure something like September 11th never happens again. Those are questions you all are asking, and you're welcome to address those questions to the commission. But I would not make that suggestion at all.

Q Has a date been set for the President and Vice President to testify privately?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Has a date been set for the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think, again -- I've kind of been asked this question a few times this week -- that the commission's focus this week has really been on getting through the public testimony. And so we'll continue to discuss with them. The President looks forward to sitting down with the commission.

Q The President's remarks yesterday in Nashua with regard to claims that he could have done more pre-9/11 about this threat were pretty strong. Does he feel as though he has been betrayed by Dick Clarke? Is he increasingly angry about Mr. Clarke's statements and assertions about his handling of the threat pre-9/11?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I think Dick Clarke acknowledged that there's nothing that he knows of that could of -- or that he has suggested that would have prevented the September 11th attacks. He's acknowledged that in some of his testimony. I think in terms of Dick Clarke, with every new assertion he makes and with every revision of his past comments, he only further undermines his credibility.

I think the point the President was making yesterday was what we have said previously. One, he talked about the action that we have taken since September 11th to make sure we are doing everything we can to prevent something like that from ever happening again. We have made -- we have taken significant steps to win the war on terrorism and protect the homeland. The best way to prevent something like that, something like September 11th from happening again is to take the offensive and bring those terrorists to justice before they can carry out their attacks.

Q I'm curious --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and the other -- no, no, but -- hang on, hang on, hang on, let me finish. And the other aspect of this is that we need to make sure that we're securing the homeland and that's -- and we need to make sure that law enforcement has the kind of tools, like the Patriot Act, to better protect the American people at home. And that's why we created the Department of Homeland Security, too, to make sure that the primary mission of those 22 agencies is on protecting the American people.

But back to the point from yesterday. It's important for the American people to know that we did everything that we could, based on the information that we had at the time, and based on the tools and the resources that were available to us, to prevent something from happening. Now, it's very well-documented that all the threat information was pointing to something that might happen overseas. But at the same time, this President acted to make sure we were buttoning up our defenses at home, as well

Q How is the President getting his information about the book at this point? I know you addressed this earlier in the week, but it's a few days later -- is he getting summaries? Does he have the book, itself?

MR. McCLELLAN: The tools and the resources that were available to us to prevent something from happening.

Now, it's very well documented that all the threat information was pointing to something that might happen overseas. But at the same time, this President acted to make sure we were buttoning up our defenses at home, as well.

Q Is the President -- how's the President getting his information about the book at this point? I know you've addressed this earlier in the week, but it's a few days later, about is he getting summaries, does he -- has he even -- does he have the book itself?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's very well-aware of some of the news coverage. I mean, that's --

Q From reading it, himself, or is he getting summaries?

MR. McCLELLAN: Getting summaries of --

Q Of the -- say, the day's testimony and what Clarke said.

MR. McCLELLAN: He gets the papers just like most people do. And he also visits with his -- visits with his staff, as well.

Q Scott, but I think my question was -- I'm sorry to belabor this --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, go ahead.

Q -- but I'm really curious about what the President's reaction to Dick Clarke, in light of the fact that, as you say, he keeps changing his statements. But his fundamental assertion is that the President should have done more to prevent 9/11. Does this anger the President? Is he disappointed in the man he once trusted as betraying him this way? I'm sort of looking for more of a visceral, personal reaction from him.


Q To Dick Clarke and his assertions.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think any time someone takes a serious issue like this and revises history, it's disappointing. But -- and it's important to make sure that the record is set straight.

Q What about the combination, to follow up on his question about DiIulio, O'Neill, and now Clarke? Has he said anything about the string of people leaving his administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is someone who's forward-looking and he's got a lot of priorities on his plate that he needs to focus on. And that's kind of where he keeps his focus.

Q Is Rice going back into "set the record straight" in your words, following Clark's assertion and all his testimony, or is she merely exceeding to the commission's request for more information? Or is it a combination?

MR. McCLELLAN: She wants -- this is a request that we made to the commission. Dr. Rice wants very much to sit down again with the commission and, as she did before, answer whatever questions they have.

Q To set the record straight?

MR. McCLELLAN: There were clearly some statements and assertions that were made that were wrong. And it's important to make sure, as I said, that the commission has all the information they need to do their job.

Q What is he doing to refresh his memory as to the particulars of that time?


Q The President.

MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean?

Q Is he doing anything, I guess, to -- it's been a couple years now. Is he going back over logs, or re-reading --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what he's doing is making sure that we're doing everything we can to prevent something like this from ever happening again.

Q But he's not reviewing --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you follow his schedule on a pretty much daily basis. There will be plenty of time to look at the meeting when that is scheduled.

Q Is he doing interview prep? Is that your question?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of anything that's been done at this point.

Q Can I ask you about a Kerry proposal that he's --

MR. McCLELLAN: But again, remember that that meeting hasn't been actually scheduled at this point.

Q Kerry is going to propose today to eliminate a big tax break on profits American companies earn overseas to finance a broad corporate tax cut. One, what do you make of that? Two, is it going to create 10 million jobs?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. What we need to do is act to make sure that America is the best place to do business. And that's exactly what this President has -- is working to do. He has put forward a plan that will help create as robust an environment as possible for economic growth and job creation. It's important that we have certainty in the tax code, and that means making the tax cuts permanent. It's important that we have common-sense regulatory policy. That means getting rid of unnecessary regulations on small business owners and entrepreneurs. We need less lawsuit abuse. That means we need to reform our liability system, particularly our medical liability laws. We need to have affordable health care. We need to have open markets around the world, so that our -- for American goods and products.

And I think reshuffling of the tax code, while increasing taxes on small businesses and entrepreneurs, does nothing to create an environment for sustained economic growth and job creation.

Q You don't have any faith it would create 10 million jobs, obviously, then?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, even his own advisors acknowledged in some of the media reports that this tax shell game won't really do anything to address the issue of jobs going overseas. This political shell game also won't erase the fact that he's voted to increase taxes 350 times.

Q U.S. companies have 640 -- $639 billion in unremitted earnings overseas, according to the Congressional Research Service. Does the President not believe that if they were given an incentive to bring that money back to the United States or otherwise forced --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm trying to point out what the President -- the President's proposals and --

Q Does he think that that would -- if they brought the money back and invested in the United States, that that wouldn't create jobs?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is nothing but a reshuffling of the tax code and a political shell game, and it can't erase the fact that John Kerry's record is one of voting for raising taxes some 350 times over his Senate career.

Q That's not the issue here. The issue has to do --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is the issue. We're talking about proposals to create -- and the issue is about creating a robust environment for small business owners and entrepreneurs to thrive, and for sustained economic growth. That's the issue here. And we need to make sure that America has the best environment possible for people to do business. And that's why the President has put forward his six-point plan.

Q So the President is not interested in trying to convince U.S. companies to bring back that $640 billion that could be invested in the United States?

MR. McCLELLAN: I reject the premise of your question. I mean, look at what the President has outlined, and look what he's doing. The President's focus is on creating jobs here at home, and that's exactly what his -- what he has done through his actions to reduce taxes, and what he is proposing through this six-point plan to create jobs.

Q Does the President think bringing $640 billion back from offshore would create jobs at home?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think I've addressed this issue. You can ask it as many times as you want, and I've already answered it.

Q Scott, the Zawahiri tape and threats to Musharraf. Is the President -- first of all, can you get me updated on the authenticity of the tape? But number two, is the President concerned about Musharraf's safety, given this tape?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our intelligence folks have looked at it, and they have confirmed that it is likely his voice.

Q Likely?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and that's typical -- typically the way they look at it, that it is likely that it is his voice. They have looked at it. I think this is another reminder that there is a global war on terrorism. And we all must work together to go after the terrorists and take the offensive. And I think Pakistan is certainly an ally in the war on terrorism, and they're working to go after the terrorists before they can carry out their attacks.

Q Has he spoken to Musharraf?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. I'll keep you posted if there are any conversations.

Q Who is on -- we saw Domenici is here. Who is on the flight with you?

MR. McCLELLAN: Senator Domenici. Who else did I have -- Congresswoman Wilson, Congressman Pearce and HUD Secretary Jackson.

Q Is that Steve Pearce?

Q Pelosi is on board? You said Nancy Pelosi?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. I don't know what you heard.

Q What did you say?

MR. McCLELLAN: Congressman Pearce and Congreswoman Wilson.

Q Steve Pearce?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Week ahead?

Q Week ahead.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's see. Some of this I think we've already announced. On Monday we will return to D.C., and the President will make remarks at a ceremony with the Prime Ministers of nations exceeding to NATO on the South Lawn.

Q Added to NATO?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that's right. And on Tuesday -- I announced this yesterday, I believe -- the President will make remarks on the economy in Appelton, Wisconsin. On Wednesday, the President participates in a luncheon with members of the Baseball Hall of Fame in the State Dining Room. Then he attends a Bush-Cheney 2004 dinner in Washington that evening. On Thursday, he'll participate in a celebration of Greek Independence Day. And he attends, that evening, the National Republican Congressional Committee Dinner. On Friday the President will participate in a conversation on job training in Huntington, West Virginia. He will then attend a Bush-Cheney reception in Greensboro, Georgia. And then he attends a Bush-Cheney 2004 reception in Greensboro, Georgia.

Q Where in Georgia?

MR. McCLELLAN: Are these both -- this was two --

MS. GODFREY: Yes, there's two fundraisers.

MR. McCLELLAN: Two in Greensboro.

Q Bush-Cheney?

MR. McCLELLAN: And both in Greensboro?


Q For Bush-Cheney?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And then on Tuesday, April 6th, the President will travel to his home in Crawford for the Easter holiday period. And we will return on Monday the 12th after he meets with President Mubarak of Egypt.

Q Is there travel the 5th?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll keep you posted when we get closer to next week, get you a week-ahead. We will probably have a couple of other announcements on world leader meetings later today, just so you all know.

Q Anything happening this weekend? Will we see him at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll keep you posted if there is. There's nothing scheduled in terms of anything public at this point.


END 11:51 A.M. EST

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