For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 27, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott Mcclellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Nashville, Tennessee
12:28 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon. Let me run through the President's day. He began with his usual briefings. Then the President welcomed his good friend, President Flores, to the White House. The two leaders had a very good discussion. The President thanked President Flores for his strong leadership, and wished him well as he leaves office. The President expressed his appreciation for El Salvador's strong support for our efforts in Iraq. They had a good discussion about the President's five-step plan for success in Iraq, and the way forward to a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq. They also discussed hemispheric and bilateral issues. And the President said he looked forward to building upon our strong relationship with El Salvador with President Flores' successor.
Upon landing here in Nashville, the Freedom Corps greeter is Phuong Le, who for the past six years has been a volunteer with the Siloam Family Health Center in Nashville. She volunteers every Saturday morning, and after school two nights a week, by staffing the front desk, organizing charts and patient flow and serving as an interpreter for patients with limited proficiency in English.
Then following that, the President will go to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. The President will participate in a tour of the Children's Hospital and he will receive a briefing there, as well, about the way they are applying health information technology at the children's hospital. Then he looks forward to participating in a conversation on the benefits of health information technology. The people involved in that conversation will be the National Health Information Technology Coordinator, Vanderbilt's Assistant Chief Medical Officer, an Emergency Medicine Physician from Indianapolis and a Vanderbilt University Medical Center patient and the mother of a patient at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. And you all have the fact sheet on that.
Following that, the President will participate in a Victory 2004 reception in Nashville at a private residence. And I think that's all I've got.
Q Is the President going to support an across-the-board cut in domestic spending in his next budget?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, any speculation at this point about the 2006 budget really has no basis in fact, because no decisions have been made, and they won't be made for months. This President will continue to work to make sure we fund our highest priorities, while restraining spending elsewhere in the budget. And he will continue to work to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. But any such speculation, like we've seen in some media reports about the 2006 budget, simply has no basis in fact at this point.
Q So there was no memo, because that story is based off of a memo.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, and that's all part of the normal, routine budget process that goes on in every administration.
Q So there was a memo, then.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. But it --
Q And it accurately quoted --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- but the suggestion that Dick was bringing up, about possible cuts in the 2006 budget, that's what I was referring to. That kind of speculation has no basis in fact, because the policy decisions have yet to be made, and they won't be made for months.
Q But why, then, does the memo instruct the budget planners to assume that there will be cuts?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think -- and you're certainly one who has an understanding, Dick, of the budget process. Anyone who understands the budget process knows that there is routine guidance like this sent out in every administration to agencies, but it does not represent any policy decisions, because those policy decisions won't be made for months.
Q The President has, over the past couple of years, talked about restraining spending to roughly the level of what household budgets increase by. Is that still an operative framework for what he is looking for in terms of spending increases?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, right now, right now, we're continuing to work on the 2005 budget and we're pleased the Congress is moving forward on a budget that funds our priorities and restrains spending elsewhere in the budget, as the President has proposed. The House has passed the budget framework. We'll continue to urge the Senate to act on this 2005 budget. But the President, as he has in past budgets, will continue to work to fund our priorities and hold the line on spending elsewhere in the budget, as he has done.
Q The Kerry campaign is saying that the President's speech on Monday and the warning on Wednesday is an attempt to change the subject and is politically motivated --
MR. McCLELLAN: The speech on Monday is what?
Q And the terror warning on Wednesday -- the timing of it is politically motivated to change the subject.
MR. McCLELLAN: We are waging a global war on terrorism to make the world safer and make America more secure. This President knows that his highest responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. And there are terrorists who hate freedom, who continue to want to harm Americans. We are continuing to dismantle and disrupt the al Qaeda network and the al Qaeda is desperate to try and attack America. I mean, we've seen public comments from al Qaeda that they have made that they want to attack America. They have said that they are 90 percent complete in their preparations to strike America. And, you know, this President will continue to act at home and abroad to protect the American people.
Q But the timing is not -- you're saying the timing --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well -- in terms of the Homeland Security announcement. I mean, the people who the Attorney General and the FBI Director reissued bulletins for yesterday are real people who represent a real danger to America. And that's why I said this President will continue to act at home and abroad to protect the America people.
And -- well, go ahead. Do you have a follow-up, or --
Q All of the men and the one woman who are in there, have been long sought, according to news reports, except for this one guy from southern California. Do you know anything more about him and why he was recently added, why he's the -- become a recent --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think they put out information about those people yesterday and the FBI Director spoke about it as well. So that's what -- and what they put out is what I know of as well.
Q Senator Kerry's going to --
MR. McCLELLAN: As they pointed out, these are people associated with al Qaeda that pose a danger.
Q Senator Kerry is calling again today for NATO to make Iraq part of its mission. Can you talk a little bit about the President's thinking about NATO's role in Iraq, as he prepares to go to the NATO summit next month?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yeah, we are actually -- well, those are discussions that have just really gotten underway, in terms of NATO's role in the future of Iraq. There are 15 or so NATO countries who are already participating in our efforts in Iraq and helping provide for the security of the Iraqi people. And we appreciate that, those countries being involved in helping to build a free and peaceful and democratic Iraq. And we will continue to have discussions with NATO members going forward, as we head into the summit in Turkey. And we'll have further discussions at that summit. But those discussions are just in the early stages and they'll have further discussions at NATO, at the NATO summit.
Q But, I mean, based on your experience with France and Germany, in particular, is it realistic of Senator Kerry to expect NATO to take this on as a full-fledged military mission?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think he needs to do a better job of explaining his own contradictions. But, you know, that --
Q On what?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when it comes to Iraq. Because he's someone who's been on all sides of the issue when it comes to Iraq. But, you know, this President has worked to build a strong coalition in Iraq and has long called for the United Nations to play a vital role going forward, and we are continuing to move forward as part of the President's five-step plan for success in Iraq to broaden the international support for the efforts that are going on there.
Q But is it realistic and proper for NATO to consider Iraq --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I understand. I'm not, you know, I'm not going to try to speculate about it at this point, speculate about what future role NATO may or may not play, because those discussions are really just getting underway. We need to let those discussions proceed. But that's why I pointed out that you already have many NATO countries involved in our efforts in Iraq.
Q Any reaction of the President on the arrest of Abu Hamza in Great Britain?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, any --
Q Any reaction from the President on this? It sounds like it's been a year in the works, lengthy negotiations to try to get the Brits to arrest this man and they finally have done so?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yeah, we have, obviously, you have comments from the Attorney General earlier today, but this, you know, we continue to be at war on terrorism, and this administration is waging this war on many different fronts. This is a global war that we are fighting in close cooperation with many nations, and we will continue to do so. While it's fought on many fronts, the war on terrorism is won on the offensive, and going after those who seek to do us harm and bringing them to justice before they can carry out their attacks. And that's what -- and this is part of the continuing war on terrorism.
Q Forgive me if you're already responded to this, but there was a report out by the British Institute a couple days ago saying that the war has spawned thousands -- is it like 18,000 or something like that -- new terrorists, as a result of the war. Did you have any response to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't see -- I haven't seen the report. I don't know exactly --
Q The British Institute for Strategy, or something like that.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- what it said, but, you know, terrorists, there are terrorists out there who hate freedom and the only way to defeat the terrorists is to take the fight to them and bring them to justice before they can attack. This is a global war on terrorism. We are at war and if the terrorists weren't carrying out their evil in one place, they'd be carrying it out somewhere else. I just reject that idea.
Q Any reaction to Gore's speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think everyone is entitled to their opinions even when they are wrong.
Q Is he going to mention Iraq at all today?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's a conversation focusing on health information technology. But you'll get -- it's not a formal speech, per se. But you'll be there to cover it.
Q Is the administration going to be okay if the names Brahimi puts forward are all in the expert category, the technocrat category?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, Mr. Brahimi has been in close contact with Iraqis as he's worked to form the interim Iraqi government. He's also been in close consultation with Ambassador Bremer and others in the region. So we are very well aware of the process as it moves forward. And we look forward to his announcement on who those members of the interim government will be.
Q -- more about when that might be?
Q Is it going to be this week, as the President said?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's -- I think you've heard from Secretary General Annan. Earlier this week he had expressed hope that it would be this week. And we know that Mr. Brahimi is continuing to make progress and move forward on the names. And we expect he'll be coming back soon with an announcement.
Q This weekend, maybe, still?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll let him to refer to more of a specific date, but we expect it will be soon.
Q Is there any concern that Shahristani has taken himself out of the running to become Prime Minister?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think you ought to look back to what -- I don't know if it was Mr. Brahimi or a spokesman for him said on that matter, but it's still my understanding that he has not made any final recommendations on exactly who will make up the interim government.
Q Does the administration have any feeling about the idea about having a U.N. high commissioner after this interim government is named?
MR. McCLELLAN: A high commissioner for?
Q An international high commissioner.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think right now where our focus is, is on moving forward on getting an interim government in place and transferring sovereignty and moving forward on a new resolution at the United Nations that would recognize that interim government and encourage even broader international support, and a resolution that would also support the electoral process that is ongoing right now in Iraq. So that's where our focus is right now. And we'll continue to --
All right, thanks.
Q Scott, is there -- is there any concern the administration is sending out mixed signals yesterday by, one hand, the AG and the FBI Director putting out the list of seven Iraqis we're looking for, and at the same time, Governor Ridge, going on a lot of the shows yesterday and sort of downplaying the threat and making the point we haven't raised the threat level. What should we make of these conflicting --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- agree with your term "downplaying." Secretary Ridge has been out there talking about the current threat period that we are in prior to yesterday. And he's been talking about how these high profile events we come -- we have coming up over the summer and fall time period certainly present an attractive target that terrorists might want to strike. And that's one of the reasons he's out there talking about the importance of people being on a heightened state of awareness and being vigilant as we enter this serious threat period.
And I think from the law enforcement stand point, you're seeing the law enforcement officials talking about their role in protecting the homeland and the steps that they are taking to find and apprehend the individuals they mentioned yesterday. So I think that what you're seeing is that these officials are talking about it from their own positions of responsibility.
All right, thanks.
END 12:43 P.M. EDT