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

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route El Dorado, Arkansas

9:58 A.M. CDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's get started. Upon arrival in El Dorado, the Freedom Corps greeter is Joe McFadden. He is an active volunteer in various organizations in the El Dorado area, including the El Dorado Junior Chamber of Commerce, or the JCS, which promotes -- an organization which promotes that community involvement, fosters fellowship among members through leadership training for individuals between the ages of 21 to 39. He's also a volunteer with Main Street El Dorado, a group dedicated to revitalizing downtown El Dorado.

Then the President will participate in a conversation on job training and the economy. The participants there include the President of South Arkansas Community College, which is where we will be; it includes two students from the community college, a coordinator for Arkansas State Scholars, which is a program the President will talk about in his remarks; and the superintendent of the El Dorado Public Schools, and a local small business employer.

And you all have the fact sheet for today. The President will talk about -- continue to talk about what we are doing to make sure we have an educated work force for the 21st century. And he'll talk about -- specifically today -- about how better education means better, high-paying jobs for America's workers, and particularly in those high-growth sectors of the economy, which are the technical fields, the health care industry, and jobs in computers and math-related areas. And the President will emphasize the importance of making sure that young Americans have the skills needed to fill these high-paying, high-growth jobs of the future.

And I'll skip over the fact sheet and go straight to questions.

Q I've got a few questions about this fact sheet. You want to redirect a billion dollars away from the Perkins. Does that threat now undermine the Perkins? And what's its budget a year? What are you taking out of it?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's actually to make sure that you have a rigorous curriculum as part of the program, to encourage students to take rigorous course work so that they are learning the skills they need to fill these jobs, these high-paying jobs of the 21st century --

Q A million dollars out of Perkins -- how do you back-fill that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's going into the secondary and technical education program, and it's making sure that, as it says, that we're better serving the needs of workers for the 21st century.

Q I'm asking whether a billion-dollar hole in Perkins hurts the Perkins --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on one second.

Q Also, a hundred-million-dollar public/private partnership moving 20,000 low-income students --

MR. McCLELLAN: I've got a background briefer here for -- on the Perkins money, the money that's being redirected to the tech --

Q You're taking a billion dollars out of it, you're redirecting it. How do you refill that billion dollars? Does that hurt the Perkins --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, essentially, what this is doing is restyling the Perkins Vocational Act as Perkins Secondary and Technical Education Act.

Q You're taking the whole thing over?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- urging those students to take rigorous course work so that they have the skills that they need.

Q The other thing is, a hundred-million-dollar public/private partnership, 20,000 low-income students, $5,000 each -- starting when?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, as soon as we can get Congress to pass it.

Q Congress would have to approve this? And what would the private sector kick in?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We envision this as a one-to-one match --

Q Then 50 percent-50 percent? All right, thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Any other questions on today?

Q How much of this was in the President's budget proposal?

MR. McCLELLAN: On the fact sheet it has, for '05, what the budget proposals are. And he's also building on those proposals with the three areas mentioned at the end of the fact sheet.

Q What's the total on any new money?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you have the '05 budget, and then the rest of it, you wouldn't require additional funding.

Q What's the possibility of sending more troops to Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, as we've always said, those are decisions that the President leaves to military leaders to make. And the President always wants to make sure that our military has all the resources they need to do their job. But in terms of decisions about troop levels, those are decisions he leaves to the military leaders who are in the best position to make those decisions.

Q Have they made a request of that nature?

MR. McCLELLAN: You need to direct those questions to the military. I've seen a lot of different reports on that today.

Q Has the President expressed any concern to defend Secretary Rumsfeld or to any of the military commanders that perhaps the drawdown was premature?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking about troop level support; those are questions to direct to the military --

Q I'm asking about the President's view of this.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President -- and I'm telling you the President's view. Those are decisions he believes should be left to our military leaders who are in the field and in the best position to make those decisions. And our -- the President's role is to make sure that our troops have all the resources to do their job.

Q But even with the deployment of troops for the operation in Fallujah, we lost more Marines today. What is the President's concern about the situation? Is it, in fact, a rebellion, and not just the actions of 0--

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think I would look at it that way at all. I think that, again, this is what the President talked a little bit about -- has talked about this recently a good bit. This is a time of testing. There are those who are opposed to democracy and freedom in Iraq. They represent a small minority. The vast majority of the Iraqi people want democracy and freedom. They want a better future, a future that moves away from the past of an oppressive regime that was built around torture chambers and mass graves and rape rooms. So this is a time when there are thugs and terrorists in Iraq who are trying to shake our will. And the President is firmly committed to showing resolve and strength during this time of testing. They cannot shake our will.

Q Ambassador Bremer tried to characterize this not just as a sectarian problem between Shiites and Sunnis and the coalitions that are there, but rather 10 percent of the people don't want to see a transition to democracy. Why this change in characterization?

MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean change in characterization? I disagree that's a change in characterization.

Q But what is it?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've always talked about the thugs and terrorists in Iraq who want to derail the democratic process, who want to derail -- or who want to undermine freedom and democracy for the Iraqi people. The vast majority of the Iraq people are committed to freedom and democracy. And we are working closely with the Iraqi people and the coalition to move forward on democracy and freedom as quickly as possible for the Iraqi people.

Q Will the Iraqis themselves be capable of taking a far bigger role in handling this, starting July 1st? Are they ready?

MR. McCLELLAN: As you know, that the President made it very clear that he is firmly committed to transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people at the end of June. And there will be an interim government that will be in place for a short amount of time before elections are conducted early next year.

Q Does he still believe, in light of all the events the last couple of weeks, does he still believe that they're ready for that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that we -- Iraqis are more and more -- more and more Iraqis -- or more and more, the Iraqi people are assuming responsibility for their future. Whether it's in the area of security, or in the area of education and health care, or other sectors of the economy, the Iraqi people are assuming more and more responsibility for their future. We are working very closely with leaders in Iraq to move forward on the transfer of sovereignty at the end of June. We are in constant and close discussions with Iraqi leaders about the shape and form of the interim government that will serve as they transition to a elected government.

Q Scott, is Prime Minister Blair coming to visit the President next week? And with Brahimi on the ground this week, do you think by the time of that visit, if it happens, there will be discussions or better able to discuss the exact form of this interim government that's been undefined as of yet?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me just answer that by saying this -- we have not made any announcement about any meeting in the future with Prime Minister Blair. Obviously, the President and Prime Minister meet on a fairly frequent basis and they're always in constant contact with one another. And we will keep you posted on the schedule.

Q Next week in Washington?

MR. McCLELLAN: We will keep you posted on the schedule. Nothing to announce today.

Q -- the second part of the question -- with Brahimi on the ground, do you expect, in the near future, any greater clarity about the nature of this interim government since the President is sticking to June 30th as the transfer date?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Ambassador Bremer talked earlier today about how we are in close discussion with Iraqi leaders about the form and shape of the interim government and what it will -- and we want to make sure that there is a representative government in place by the end of June to assume responsibility in that interim period between -- before elections are held early next year. And we remain in close discussion with the Iraqi leaders. Certainly we believe the United Nations has a vital role to play in all these efforts. And so we welcome their efforts.

Q -- a representative government, does that mean that there could be some sort of role for Sistani or his choice for this potential government, perhaps, to quell some of this violence that's been going on?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think if you're talking -- you're now combining different leaders together, I think, in that question. So I wouldn't necessarily --

Q Well, given that he has more credibility --

MR. McCLELLAN: The premise of your question, if you're talking about Sadr, who is one individual, and some of his followers who are seeking to derail the democratic process in Iraq.

Q Given that Sistani is the respected elder among --

MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, I'm not going to speculate from here. The Coalition Provisional Authority is working closely with Iraqi leaders and others as we move forward on the transfer of sovereignty and what the representative government will look like.

Q Scott, you made it clear that the President leaves troop level discussions or decisions to the military planners. But can you tell us if he's been involved in discussions with his military planners about the current level of troops and whether they're satisfactory to meet the mission right now?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll say that he is always in close contact with his military leaders and he meets with Secretary Rumsfeld on a regular basis, he talks with commanders on a regular basis, as well. But I'm not going -- I'm not going to get into those discussions. His focus in those discussions is to make sure they have all the resources they need to do their job.

Q Does the President regret not arresting Sadr months ago when the warrant came out and, perhaps, they had a clear shot of getting him?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think those are questions best directed to people in the field. I can't speculate from here whether or not what you said is even true, the premise of your question. But --

Q -- knowledge that it's true, that the warrant went out months ago.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yes, but whether or not they had a shot to get him -- that was part of your question -- I couldn't tell you whether if that's accurate or not. So I think you need to direct that question to the Coalition Provisional Authority. But, look, they made the statement yesterday in regards to the arrest warrant, and the coalition will follow through on --

MR. McCLELLAN: We had a story out today that al Qaeda was not mentioned in the final Clinton report and bin Laden was mentioned only four times in the 45,000-page report. Does that undercut Clarke's claim that the Clinton administration was more focused than the Bush administration on al Qaeda?

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw the story today. Again, right now the 9/11 Commission continues to do its work. Our focus is on making sure the 9/11 Commission has access to all the information that they have requested and that they need to do their job. And that's exactly what we have been doing.

Obviously, a lot of these are issues that the 9/11 Commission is looking at now, as they work to complete their report. And they're looking back not only at the eight months when this administration was in office prior to September 11th, but the eight years prior to that, as well, when these threats were building and emerging.

Q Is Sadr being supported by Iran? Do you know?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any information on that.

Q Would you like to see Sistani exert some influence over Sadr?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to speak to -- for leaders in Iraq. I'll just speak from our standpoint. But again, that is one individual and a relatively small number of followers who are seeking to derail democracy and freedom for the Iraqi people. And we will not let that happen. The Iraqi people will not let that happen.

Q Are you suggesting that Sadr is acting independently? Are you suggesting that he doesn't have any foreign assistance or support in this current situation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any information to share with you on that.

Q Does the President see this stage right now in Iraq as being particularly crucial? Is he worried that this could be a watershed date in terms of which way Iraq goes?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think I'd look at it that way. You heard him yesterday talk about the closer we get to transferring sovereignty, the more these thugs and terrorists and remnants of the former regime will try to shake our will. But they cannot shake our will. Our resolve and strength are firm. This is about helping the Iraqi people realize a brighter future. This is about advancing democracy and freedom in a very dangerous region of the world. And this is critical to moving forward and winning the war on terrorism, because it will help bring about greater stability in a dangerous part of the world.

Q One last question. Senator Kerry said yesterday that he found it troubling to him that the lack of Arab -- other Arab countries supporting U.S. efforts in Iraq, and that it's important for the entire Arab world that there be a free and stable Iraq. Can you talk at all about sort of -- does the President wish that there was greater Arab support, perhaps public support for what the United States is doing in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Without getting into -- I think the campaign would be glad to talk to you more about some of the comments made in the course of the political campaign. But I think that the international community recognizes that regardless of where you were prior to the war, that this is about helping the Iraqi people realize a better and brighter future. This is about helping the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful and prosperous future. And so we -- there is a strong coalition of nations working to support the Iraqi people's efforts to realize freedom and democracy. And we are always in close contact with Arab nations, as well. In fact, the President has got a meeting next week with President Mubarak here in -- back in Crawford.

Q You said the U.N. has a vital role to play. Are they playing that role?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that, one, they were playing that role previously. They have been playing an important role recently, as well. And we look forward to continuing to work with the U.N. so that they can continue to play a vital role. They certainly have a lot of expertise to offer in the areas of elections and the drafting of a constitution, and so forth. So, yes, we believe that they have a vital role to play and that they are playing more and more of a vital role to help the Iraqi people.

Q Has a date been for the testimony yet -- meeting, has a date been set for the meeting yet?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything to announce on that.

Q But has a date been set? Forget announcing the date. Has a date been set?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the chairman and vice-chairman addressed that on some of the Sunday shows on Sunday. But there's nothing to announce on that at this point.

Q But a date has been set, you just can't announce it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just not going to get into announcing a date or anything at this point. But the President looks forward to the meetings.

Q Scott, we're trying not to look like idiots in front of our editors with this New York Times story on Blair. Can you tell us, on background, if everyone agrees, whether Blair is coming next week?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's nothing to announce at this point. Obviously, when there are meetings with world leaders, such as ones you're asking about, those announcements are typically arranged in a way that is mutually agreed to, so that both countries can announce those at the same time. And I'm just not in a position to announce anything at this point.

END 10:17 A.M. CDT

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