For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 20, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:14 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me begin with a couple of announcements. The President will meet with President Flores* of El Salvador at the White House on May 27th. The President looks forward to discussing bilateral and regional issues with President Flores*, including the war on terrorism, promoting and defending democracy in the hemisphere and beyond, and expanding free trade and economic opportunity in the region. The President values the strong, cooperative relationship between El Salvador and the United States.
The President will host Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen for a meeting and lunch at the White House on May 28th. Denmark is a close NATO ally of the United States, a key contributor to the international effort to bring peace and democracy to Iraq and a strong proponent of transatlantic relations. The President looks forward to discussions with Prime Minister Rasmussen on the war on terrorism, Iraq and non-proliferation, as well as efforts to achieve a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and support to call -- to calls for democracy and reform throughout the greater Middle East region.
And finally, one statement by the President. On behalf of the people of the United States, I send greetings to all people of Cuban heritage who celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Cuba. We stand firmly with the 11 million Cubans who still suffer under the repressive Castro dictatorship and who dream of a prosperous and free future. The United States is working for the day when a free Cuba will rejoin the community of democracies in America. We will vigorously implement the recommendations of the Commission For Assistance to a Free Cuba, so that Cuba will reflect the vision of the great Cuban patriot, Jose Marti: Con todos y para el bien de todos -- With all the people, and for the good of all the people. May God bless the Cuban people.
Q You speak Spanish.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. Gracias.
Q Oh my goodness.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just -- a couple of more things. The President was pleased to welcome Prime Minister Karamanlis to the White House. This was an opportunity to deepen our partnership and pursuit of democracy, prosperity and peace in Southeastern Europe and the greater Middle East. You heard from the two leaders when they talked about the Olympics after their Oval Office meeting.
In the Oval they also discussed the war on terrorism and the importance of staying on the offensive and taking the fight to the enemy. They discussed -- the President thanked Prime Minister Karamanlis for their work in Afghanistan. The President discussed the situation in Iraq and talked about our strategy going forward. The President talked about the efforts being made by Mr. Brahimi to name an interim government, which we expect will happen within the next couple of weeks. The President also talked about the importance of moving forward on a United Nations Security Council resolution that would legitimize the new interim government in Iraq, as well as encourage even broader international participation in our efforts. And the President talked about the security situation, as well, and the training of Iraqi security forces. And in the Oval, they also discussed the Middle East peace process and our efforts to get the parties back to moving forward on the road map and achieving the President's two-state vision. I did not attend the lunch, so I could come out here with you all, so I don't have an update from the remainder of the issues that they discussed during lunch. But we will get you that information later. And I believe Prime Minister Karamanlis is going to be going to the stakeout here shortly.
Just a couple other things. This afternoon, the President at 2:25 p.m. will be doing a roundtable with some broadcast economic reporters -- I think it's five or six individuals. And then this afternoon, the President looks forward to meeting with the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Combatant Commander of the U.S. Central Command, General Abizaid, here in the Oval Office. And he'll receive an update on the current situation in Iraq, and then he will meet with the Secretary of Defense following that meeting, as well.
And with that I will be glad to go to your questions. Steve.
Q The raid on Chalabi's home, does the President feel betrayed by Chalabi, misled by the intelligence that he gave?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, in terms of the raid in Iraq, I think that the Coalition Provisional Authority briefed on that matter earlier, and they talked about how this was an Iraqi-led investigation, and an Iraqi-led raid. And it was the result of some arrest warrants issued by Iraqi officials. And they also pointed out that Mr. Chalabi was not someone that they were pursuing. So that's what I know about this incident.
Q But what about the prewar intelligence he gave?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, in terms of all the prewar intelligence, that's a matter that the commission -- the independent commission the President appointed -- will be looking into. But I would remind you of what the President talks about repeatedly, that the intelligence that we had was intelligence that was shared by the United Nations, it was shared by countries around the world, and it was shared by members of Congress, as well.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, John.
Q How much was the President's trip to the Hill this morning based upon a broadening and deepening concern among many members of his own party that the situation in Iraq is not going well, and in fact is keeping many of the key issues that they'd like to get to this year off the radar screen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I don't look at it that way at all, John. There was great enthusiasm and energy in that room. The President tends to go to the Hill from time to time and meet with Republican members of Congress. He did this last year at this time. Remember, they're getting ready to go on recess. Some -- I think the House will be going on recess later today, and the Senate will follow suit shortly. And so this was an opportunity for the President to go to the Capitol and thank them for all their hard work before they head off to recess. And they talked about a number of important priorities that we're pursuing. They talked about our shared agenda, and the President thanked them for all that we have worked together to accomplish on behalf of the American people.
Q There's a sentiment among some people who were in the room that when you talk about the President on occasion goes up to Capitol Hill, that it's far too infrequently, that he should have gone up there much earlier, it shouldn't be on an annual basis that he goes to talk to these people --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I disagree with that.
Q -- and he's at least six weeks late in allaying their fears on what's going on in Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is always reaching out to members of Congress, both Republicans and Democrat. And he meets frequently with members of Congress here at the White House, and he has done that throughout --
Q No, but I mean up on the Hill.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- throughout his tenure. And he went and met with the Republican members of Congress during their retreats back in, I think it was late January, early February time period.
Q I'm talking about up on the Hill.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and he just -- he went there today.
Q What about --
MR. McCLELLAN: But he's constantly reaching out to members of Congress, and we're working together on our shared agenda.
Q But what about the sense amongst some Republicans that he's probably six weeks late on addressing this issue with them?
MR. McCLELLAN: On which issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is going to -- in fact, he spent a good portion of his time discussing our strategy going forward in Iraq. And the President is going to continue. He has been talking about Iraq, he's going to continue to talk about Iraq. He talked about how we are at a critical stage as we move forward to transfer sovereignty. And he is going to continue talking to the American people and the world about the strategy we have going forward.
The President updated them on the United Nations envoy, Brahimi's efforts to name an interim representative government to govern Iraq once we transition from -- transition sovereignty back to the Iraqi people. The President laid out the strategy for this interim government. He talked about how there will be a president and two deputy presidents; he talked about how there will be a prime minister that will oversee and run the government; and he talked about the council of ministers that will report to that prime minister and oversee different ministries.
I would remind you that we've already transferred some 11 ministries to the Iraqi people, and we're in the process of transferring additional ministries to the Iraqi people. And he also talked about the importance of moving forward on a United Nations Security Council resolution that would recognize the new interim government and encourage broader international participation in Iraq. We have a strong coalition in Iraq.
The President talked about the stakes that are involved in Iraq, and the continuing security threats that we are working to eliminate. The enemies of freedom certainly are seeking to derail the transition. And while we are making important progress, they are going to continue to become more desperate. We have difficult and tough times ahead, but the terrorists and thugs are becoming more desperate because a free and peaceful Iraq is taking hold. It is not an easy task, and we've only been at this for a year, John. They will be defeated, though. Those terrorists and thugs will be defeated.
Our resolve is firm, and the President made this very clear to members of Congress, and there was great support for what he told members of Congress. And he talked about our efforts to, also, equip and train the Iraqi security forces to address and eliminate these security threats going forward.
Q Scott, on Chalabi -- you can't wiggle out of this that easily. I mean, you make it seem like the Iraqis have no coordination with the Americans. We still run the place, and they're conducting raids. So, the question is, is this figure, -- who is extremely close to this administration, is a driving force behind the ultimate goal of toppling Saddam Hussein -- in the President's mind, is he still a credible figure of Iraq's government? And does he have a role, in the President's estimation, in Iraq's future?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's a member of the Iraqi Governing Council. He has been working with the coalition in the past. In terms of -- in terms of -- in terms of going forward, it's going to be up to the Iraqi people to determine who it is that represents their country.
Q I want to know what the President thinks about this man's credibility. This man --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's what the Iraqi people think going forward, in terms of who is going to be overseeing their efforts.
Q Nobody buys that. Nobody buys that it's just up to the Iraqi people. Does the President of United States --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's the fact.
Q -- who has relied heavily, as have others who have served him, on the counsel of Ahmed Chalabi, believe his credibility is intact?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's up the Iraqi people to make determinations about who they want leading their country going forward and who they want involved -- who they want involved in the government.
Q This man, who the United States taxpayers funded his movement, who delivered intelligence to the United States that was not borne out, in fact. You're saying that it's up to the Iraqi people, and the President has no opinion about whether he retains his credibility?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's not the President's place to weigh in on who's going to be the future -- future leaders of -- of Iraq.
Q The President's not accountable for somebody that we funded?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's for the Iraqi people -- that's for the Iraqi people to decide.
Q Hundreds of millions of dollars on an annual basis.
MR. McCLELLAN: He is someone that has been a member of the government --
Q You're going to dodge that. Your President is not going to weigh in on whether or not he thinks his credibility is intact?
MR. McCLELLAN: I pointed out that he has been someone that has served on the Iraqi Governing Council. That Governing Council is going to be coming to an end as we transfer sovereignty here, in a few weeks. That's where the focus is now. And Mr. Brahimi is working to name the members of that interim representative government. Then we will move forward to free elections, beginning next January, as the President talked about -- as the President talked about with members of Congress.
Q Do you think that's good enough for people, including Republicans, who have doubts about this war in Iraq --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the future of Iraq --
Q -- to point out he's part of the Governing Council?
MR. McCLELLAN: The future of Iraq is in the hands of the Iraqi people, and the President talked to members of Congress about this is -- we're now at a point where Iraqi leaders will be emerging and being able to take hold of their future.
Q You have no opinion on this man that the U.S. hitched its wagon to?
MR. McCLELLAN: I've addressed your question. Go ahead.
Q Scott, when Mr. Brahimi presents -- comes up with the names for an interim government, what happens then? Are the names that he presents, are those going to be the people who are going to govern Iraq? Or does the President have any say in who the leaders will be?
MR. McCLELLAN: They -- I expect that they will be the caretaker government. Mr. Brahimi is leading this effort. He has been consulting closely with the Coalition Provisional Authority and Ambassador Bremer, and he has been consulting closely with Iraqis to name these interim leaders. And that's where it stands right now. He will be coming forward with names soon, as the President said; we expect probably within the next couple of weeks. So we're moving forward on the strategy for transferring sovereignty.
Q But we don't pass judgment on those names? If he comes up, whatever names he comes up with --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been involved in consultations with Mr. Brahimi throughout this process. He's been very -- been consulting very closely with Iraqi officials, as well. So that's the process --
Q But what happens --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, that's what I'm saying, is that it's been a consultative process. He's been getting the views and opinions of Iraqis; he's been consulting with the coalition. And the people that he puts forward, we believe, will be good representatives of an interim caretaker government until such time the Iraqis can hold free, fair and open elections.
Q Is the President weighing in on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: On?
Q The caretaker --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's consulting with the coalition -- Mr. Brahimi is consulting with the Coalition Provisional Authority and we're well aware of those discussions back here at the White House, as well.
Q The reason I ask is because it was the President, as you pointed out, who said, in about two weeks. He kind of broke the news that Brahimi's caretaker government will be named in about two weeks. That --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Mr. Brahimi had previously talked about how he hoped to, during the month of May, get those people in place.
Q So is the President playing a role in the personnel who will be president, vice president, prime minister --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's something -- Mr. Brahimi is working very closely with our officials on the ground, Ambassador Bremer and others, and we have been in close contact with them. So it's a consultative process. So I would say the Coalition Provisional Authority is working very closely with Mr. Brahimi; the President is well aware of those conversations and the White House is --
Q So he may well be weighing in?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's -- Mr. Brahimi is going to make the determinations, ultimately, in terms of who the members of that interim government are going to be. I want to be very clear on that.
Q One of the things Brahimi originally said was that he thought that caretaker government should be primarily technocrats, that the people who really want to assume power from elections should go out and run for office, and that the interim government should be technocrats. Is that the President's opinion as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you might want to talk to Mr. Brahimi about where he stands I terms of that process. But remember, there's going to be the prime minister that will run the government, the day-to-day operations, with the council of ministers. But there also is going to be a president and two deputy presidents. And so I expect you'll see a mixture of individuals.
Q What does the President think about the technocrat versus --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're consulting -- the Coalition Provisional Authority is consulting with Mr. Brahimi, and Mr. Brahimi has been working very closely with Iraqi officials. And I think we need to let those consultations continue. But Mr. Brahimi will be the one making the determinations on who that interim government is.
Q Last question -- does the President believe elections should be moved forward into the fall, moved ahead into the fall, as many people who supported the war believe, that January is too far away, it should be moved closer?
MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, we would -- I think anyone would like to see elections as soon as possible. But you want to make sure those are free and fair and open elections. And I would point out to you that the United Nations election team that is in Iraq has essentially said that they're looking at the January timetable, and I think that the woman overseeing that effort has come back and said we have to begin now to get to January. But, obviously, we would welcome any opportunity to have those elections sooner, but I think you have to be realistic. And so it's looking at the January timetable right now as to when those elections will be held. And we need to make sure that they're legitimate elections and that we get that national assembly in place, they can draft the constitution and select the transitional government at that point, before there are free and open elections by the entire Iraqi people.
Q To clarify on Brahimi, would we be correct in assuming that Brahimi will not make any announcements of the interim government until the CPA has signed off on --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't look at it that way at all, John. It's a consultative process. You can look at it that way if you want, but I think it would be wrong to look at it that way. Mr. Brahimi is the one who is overseeing and leading this effort and he will make those determinations in consultation with Iraqis and in consultation with the Coalition Provisional Authority.
Q One more clarification on that before I ask you a different question, and that is that Prime Minister Berlusconi said yesterday -- told the Italian Parliament after meeting with President Bush that Mr. Brahimi has a first and second choice to lead the new interim government. Apparently, either Mr. Brahimi informed President Bush and Prime Minister Berlusconi, or they informed each other, so I gather the President does know who the top two picks are to lead the new --
MR. McCLELLAN: I will let Mr. Brahimi talk more about who those people will be. I'm not going to get into preempting him or talking about who any of those individuals may be.
Q Well, I'm not asking you who they are; I'm just saying Prime Minister Berlusconi says that he now knows. And I assume, since he said --
MR. McCLELLAN: If you want to direct questions to Mr. Brahimi and ask him those questions, you're welcome to. He's the one leading this effort. I'm not going to do that from this podium.
Q I'm just asking if the President has been told.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the President is very well aware of the consultations that have been going on.
Q So he knows as much as Berlusconi then, it would be fair to say.
MR. McCLELLAN: I would just say that he's very well aware of where it stands in the process and the consultations that are going on.
Q Okay. If I may --
MR. McCLELLAN: When Mr. Brahimi is ready, he will name that interim government.
Q Okay. If I may, Nancy Pelosi had some comments to the San Francisco newspaper, and then did essentially the same thing in her dugout today, and said that the President is incompetent, shallow, doesn't have the capacity or judgment to lead in Iraq or to manage the transition.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't even think it's worth dignifying with a response, to tell you the truth, Jim.
Q Well, plenty of Republicans on the Hill had a response. You have nothing to say --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and I will let them speak to it, as well. This President is providing strong and steady and decisive leadership to build a stronger, safer, and better America. And I just don't think that such comments are worth dignifying with any response from this podium.
Q Scott, in the wake of contradictory or conflicting statements this week -- first, the President's statements to AIPAC, then your very strong statement last night on Gaza -- do you have any further messages for either Muslim American or Jewish American voters? And are you coming down on one side or the other on this Mideast issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President's views are very clear in terms of where things stand in the Middle East. Our focus is on getting the parties to seize opportunities to move forward on peace, to move forward on the road map, so that we can get to the two-state vision that the President has outlined. That's the President's views.
Q Without playing favorites, one way or the other?
MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean playing favorites?
Q Catering to one group of --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's view is very clear. He wants to see the two-state solution of the state of Palestinian and Israel living side-by-side in peace and security. He's on the side of the Palestinian people, he's on the side of the Israeli people.
Q Some, like Joe Lieberman, today say that he supported President Bush going into Iraq, but at the same time, you can't just leave the troops there. He says, okay, he's asking for money, we may need to fund it. But he doesn't want to fund a blank check. When will the President finally itemize what this money is going to and where?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it will be similar to as we did last year when we passed the wartime supplemental for Iraq and Afghanistan, where we provided the funding for the reconstruction cost moving forward, and we provided the funding and resources and equipment that our troops need to do their job. And we said at that point that we would come forward with a supplemental when we had a more precise estimate of the cost. Now those costs are carrying us through this time period. We are going to know more as we move forward in terms of the precise cost. But at the same time, the President felt it was important to pursue a contingency reserve fund to make sure that there is no disruption in the funding of resources for our troops.
Q Not just Democrats, but Republicans are also calling for an itemization now.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you have to look to the commanders on the ground, and those on the ground in terms of what resources are needed, and what troop levels are needed. And it depends on the security situation on the ground going forward. So it greatly depends on the circumstances on the ground. We have the funding necessary at this time so that our troops have everything they need to do their job, and they're doing an outstanding job in helping to build a free and peaceful Iraq.
Q And, Scott, on another issue real quick, in the wake of the Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal has anyone thought about possibly checking in on the condition of Saddam Hussein, someone who -- from the White House or Pentagon? Has anyone sent a memo saying, what's going on with him? And I guess, a listing of whether -- beyond keeping him up all night long, what else is going on for him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Red Cross has visited him, and we work very closely with the Red Cross on those issues.
Q But if they're concerned -- to be real about this, when he was caught --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of, April. You can direct that question to --
Q When he was caught, many people --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to our military over in --
Q -- were kind of snickering and saying, I wonder what's going to happen to him.
MR. McCLELLAN: Over in Iraq. Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you. Both Jerry Bremer and Secretary of State Powell now say that if the new interim government of Iraq wants us to leave, we will. Is that a trial balloon, or is it the President's exit strategy for Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, we fully expect that we will continue to be in Iraq after the transfer of sovereignty because there are ongoing security threats. We're working to eliminate those security threats, and we fully expect that the Iraqis will want us to continue working side-by-side in partner with Iraqi security forces to help provide for their security going forward. There are terrorists and thugs who are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to a free and peaceful Iraq. We cannot let them prevail. And we have a responsibility to the Iraqi people after the transfer of sovereignty. And so we fully expect that we will be there after that time period. But we are providing full sovereignty to that interim government, come June 30th.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, two questions. One, as far as the economy is concerned, it's a brilliant choice by India this week, Dr. Manmohan Singh, the former finance minister will be the Prime Minister of India. And how does this news President taking, as far as economy, and he also -- he indicated that the reforms by the previous government will continue under his government because he was also, as quitted here, and the World Bank -- how will --
MR. McCLELLAN: We warmly welcome the news that Dr. Singh will lead India's new government. And we look forward to working with him and his team to further strengthen the United States-India partnership, which is based on our common democratic values and our shared interests. So we look forward -- we look forward to working with him.
Q The President has spoken with him or anybody in India?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not at this time.
Q Second question, how -- what comments do you have -- China is supposed to be a member of the U.N. Security Council, a -- that they should follow the rules and regulations. But according to a report that, if you can confirm, Libyan leader, President -- Mr. Ghadafi, when he turn over blueprints to the U.S, one of the papers warns that China is behind the proliferation to Pakistan and there's a triangle with Libya, China, and Pakistan. How are we going to believe -- address China, which should be responsible --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not in position to talk about -- I'm not in position to talk about that report.
Q Yes, two questions, please. From your statement at the podium, that Mr. Brahimi --
MR. McCLELLAN: Is the Spanish okay? (Laughter.)
Q We can do it in Spanish.
Q Yes, we could ask the question in Spanish.
Q Quien es mas macho, Jorge Bush, o Scott McClellan? (Laughter.)
Q Now we know. Now we know.
Q You said that Mr. Brahimi --
MR. McCLELLAN: With a little Texas twang.
Q -- Mr. Brahimi will select members of the new government.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q And you people -- the United States will have no voice, no vetting, no veto power, whatever he says, goes?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's been consulting with the Coalition Provisional Authority, as I pointed out. But he's working very closely with Iraqi -- with the Iraqi people in the formation of that interim government.
Q But whatever he says will be the --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's going to make those determinations of the new interim government, as the President has, I think, made clear in his remarks over the recent few days.
Q Okay, and second question, when is Ambassador Negroponte going to Baghdad, before the transfer of sovereignty, or --
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to check either with his office at the U.N. or check with the State Department. In terms of the exact timing on that, we'll try to keep you posted going forward, as well. I don't know if that's been set.
Q Scott, just to follow on April's question, are you saying that there's going to be no delineation of the spending that would occur under the $25 billion reserve fund from the White House, that you're not going to send that to the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, the $25 billion, if that is necessary
to use, would come out of the supplemental going forward later.
Q So within that, there would be some delineation of what the money is for?
MR. McCLELLAN: Keep in mind, it's as I described it yesterday, an insurance policy in case it is needed.
Q So -- and it wouldn't get spent, then, until a supplemental was passed, is that correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, like I said, when we announced, or when the President announced that he was moving forward on establishing a contingency reserve fund with members of Congress, we said that we have to continue to look at circumstances on the ground, and there are increased demands and needs on our troops right now in Iraq. The security situation has required more from our troops, and a higher level of troops for a little bit longer period of time.
And so you have to take that into account. And we wanted to make sure that we were taking prudent steps to ensure that there was no disruption in resources going to our troops, because the President is fully committed to making sure they have everything they need to do their job when they need it.
Q Okay, so I just want to make sure I understand you. So it is possible that some, or all that money could be spent before the White House has -- without approval from Congress of the specific spending --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're still working on the contingency reserve fund and how that would be set up. But it is there as an insurance policy and to use if the troops need it. I don't want to speculate about what may or may not occur. We'll see going forward.
Q Okay, and also, what's the President going to do to get the budget past the Senate? Is he going to lobby for that?
MR. McCLELLAN: You saw the statement from the President earlier today congratulating and commending the House for passing the budget resolution. This is a responsible budget framework that will keep tax relief flowing to married couples and families with children and America's workers by preventing any tax increase this year. And it also shows spending restraint in that framework. It holds spending to the level that the President set, which will enable us to cut the budget deficit in half over the next five years. But it fully funds our priorities, starting with the President's highest priorities of defense and homeland security for fiscal year 2005.
And it meets other important priorities, as well. It will help us continue to strengthen our economy. It will help us continue to make improvements in education, and make sure that there is ample funding for our health care needs, as well -- just to mention a few.
Q Is he going to lobby for that, with the Senate?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are going to urge -- as he did in his statement -- urge the Senate to pass that budget because it will make sure that we don't raise taxes, and that we do meet our nation's priorities. And so we will continue to work closely with Congress. But we urge the Senate to pass it.
Q Scott, after the President spoke to Republicans on the Hill, Congressman David Hobson, of Ohio, came out and told reporters that the President talked about a commitment on oil production. What did the President mean when he referred to a commitment on oil production?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure exactly what he said -- in terms of the Congressman. But the President did talk about the current state of gas prices and how he believed that they are too high. And that's why we need to pass a comprehensive energy plan. The President outlined a comprehensive energy plan some three years ago, and we have seen years of inaction by Washington to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The President put forward a comprehensive energy plan that reduces our dependence on foreign sources of energy. It expands conservation. It increases energy efficiency, and it encourages more domestic exploration and production by -- and diversifying our supply of energy so that we can do that.
Q What Mr. Hobson --
MR. McCLELLAN: So he talked about the importance, as well, of making sure that we have the necessary reserves in our Strategic Petroleum Reserve because that is for a national -- for national security purposes. It was set up in the event that we needed those resources in an emergency. And unfortunately, there are people who are playing politics at the pump instead of passing the President's plan. And the Senate Democrats have continued to block the President's energy plan.
Q Mr. Hobson is a Republican from Ohio. I suspect he's not playing politics, but he did say that, quote --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wasn't talking about him. I'm not -- I haven't seen his remarks, so --
Q He said, they've had a commitment for some time -- they meaning, presumably the administration. Now, is he referring to Saudi Arabia? Is he referring to OPEC?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of what we can do short-term --
Q Commitment, commitment.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. In terms -- I'm sorry?
Q Commitment -- they've had a commitment.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, obviously, we're going to continue talking with producers around the world, but one of the most important things we can do short-term is pass a comprehensive energy plan because that will send the right message to our energy markets who right now are speculating that Congress will never act on this. It is Senate Democrats who have been blocking this legislation. And they need to act. They need to put aside the politics and act to pass this comprehensive energy plan that would prevent us from going into this situation year after year.
Q Does the administration have a commitment with OPEC for Saudi Arabia or some other --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what you're referring to is probably remarks made by Saudi Arabia recently, and Prince Bandar here at the White House after he met with White House officials. And he made a commitment that he wanted to see it in the range of $22 to $28 per barrel.
Q Is that what the President was referring to?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think that's what he was probably referring to, in the President's remarks.
Q Scott, the LSU speech tomorrow, Scott, what does the President want to talk about?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's a commencement address. The President looks forward to going to LSU and congratulating the students on their graduation. I think that, generally speaking, the President will touch on important lessons learned as they complete their college careers, and talk about responsibility and service and the differences between right and wrong, going forward. But I expect -- this is a commencement address; I expect it will be somewhat light-hearted and focus on important issues of responsibility and service and some of the lessons that those students have learned during their years in college.
Q So this is not part of this series of speeches that the President is apparently planning to make the case about the details --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't look at it that way. The President -- I mean, we are getting closer to the time when we'll be transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people. We are pursuing a clear strategy for the way forward in Iraq, and the President, as I said earlier, is going to continue to keep the American people informed about the steps that we're taking to build a free and peaceful Iraq. A free and peaceful Iraq is in our nation's interest; it's critical to winning the war on terrorism; and it will help transform a dangerous region in the world. And so we're at a critical stage in our efforts to build a free and peaceful Iraq, and I expect the President to continue talking about it over the next several weeks.
As you pointed out, he will be talking about it Monday at the Army War College in Pennsylvania.
Q Scott, a two-part. What is the President's reaction to Senator Kerry's varied position on gasoline prices and his criticism of the President on that subject?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we were just talking about the issue of gas prices and the President's view. You heard very clearly from the President yesterday in terms of how people are playing politics with this issue. And I think the campaign has put out some comments in terms of Senator Kerry's past record on these issues.
Q Okay. The Boston Globe reports that the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association will picket the Fleet Center when construction begins for the Democratic Convention in three weeks, because, in their words, "We're going into our third year without a contract. The values of the Democratic Party are not being adhered to in the city of Boston." And 30 of Boston's 32 labor unions are working without contracts. And my question: Does our certainly not anti-labor union President believe that Senator Kerry's home city should stop denying contracts to its police union and so many other labor unions?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what the city is doing in terms of that issue. I haven't seen those specifics, Les. But the President is --
Q The patrolmen are going to picket that.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- pleased to have strong support from firefighters and police officers and working Americans all across the country.
Q So he sympathizes with the patrolmen, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ken, do you have a question?
Q Yes. There was a fairly nasty public spat yesterday between two prominent congressional Republicans, Denny Hastert and John McCain. Does the President have a view or a reaction to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Speaker Hastert is a friend; Senator McCain is a friend. I certainly --
Q They say it was --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I certainly wouldn't want to get between someone who has a history in wrestling and someone who has a history in combat. (Laughter.)
Q This is -- wait, I have a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q This was one of a number of public spats between Republicans on the Hill that have occurred recently. Did the President, while he was up there today, urge the Republican caucuses to cut that out and to unite behind a common --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President, in his remarks -- I talked a little bit about what he talked about in terms of Iraq -- the President talked about -- and let me just kind of go over some of the things he touched on while he was there, so maybe that will be helpful to you. But, one, the President talked about how he is optimistic and confident in the direction that we are headed, and the policies that we are pursuing; we are leading and acting. The President talked about the strong record of accomplishment we have achieved and the big challenges that we are decisively acting to confront -- the war on terrorism, homeland security, the strong economic recovery underway, our efforts to build a free and peaceful Iraq, which I already touched on.
The President talked about key domestic priorities, starting with the actions we have taken to provide American families and workers with meaningful tax relief, and how that has led to a strong economic recovery; more than 1.1 million new jobs created since last August; an economy that over the last three quarters has grown at the fastest rate in 20 years.
He also talked about other key domestic priorities. He talked about our successful efforts to make sure every child can learn and succeed. He talked about the historic and sweeping education reforms that we are implementing, that insist on results, that is based on high expectations and real accountability, while making sure that local districts have unprecedented flexibility. So he talked about that strong record of accomplishment.
He talked about how we're working to close the minority home ownership gap in America and how we've made great progress. He talked about the Medicare legislation that we passed. After years of inaction, seniors now finally have the choices and benefits in prescription drug coverage that they deserve. And here in just a couple weeks they're going to be receiving some real discounts on their prescription drug coverage through the discount drug card.
Q But did he also talk about the need for party unity, for Republicans to close ranks behind --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think the party is very united behind a shared agenda that will build a safer, stronger, and better America.
The President touched on the clear choices that our nation faces during these challenging times and he talked about how the actions that we are taking are the right policies for the American people. The stakes are high for our country going forward, and the President talked about that. We face many big challenges, but we must continue to work together to build a safer and stronger and better America.
That room was full of energy and enthusiasm and a lot of support for the initiatives and policies that we're pursuing for the American people.
END 1:51 P.M. EDT