For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 6, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:33 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Hope everybody had a good July 4th weekend. And with that, I will go straight to your questions today. Helen.
Q Does the President feel that he had enough information about weapons to take this nation to war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you heard directly from the President earlier today in the Oval Office, following his meeting with Prime Minister Oddsson. The President talked about how Saddam Hussein was a threat. It was a threat that was real --
Q -- was a threat how?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have learned since going into Iraq and removing that regime from power that the regime certainly had the intent and capability when it comes to weapons of mass destruction --
Q What do you mean by intent?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Iraq Survey Group, that was previously headed by David Kay and is now headed by Charles Duelfer, has looked into the issues and showed that Saddam Hussein was in serious and clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441. That resolution, you'll recall, called for serious consequences if Saddam Hussein --
Q It didn't call for war.
MR. McCLELLAN: It gave him one final opportunity to comply, or face serious consequences if he continued to defy the international community. And the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power.
Q Do you know how vague you sound on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: And you heard that directly from the President of the United States earlier today.
Go ahead, John.
Q With -- and I'm not sure about this, but while there are some rules and a commission to govern presidential debates, it's not so clear about the vice presidential debate. In 1980, the elder George Bush and Vice President Mondale did not have a televised debate, for example. Is Vice President Cheney committed to debate Senator Edwards?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think those are all part of the discussions that are going on now with the Presidential Commission on Debates, and those discussions are underway. Obviously, you probably want to direct those questions to the campaign and they can probably update you further. If I recall, in 2000 there was a vice presidential debate between Vice President Cheney and Senator Lieberman. And as you heard earlier today, the President said he looks forward to a spirited and honest debate on the issues. And the Vice President, as well, looks forward to a spirited discussion of the issues, and he called Senator Edwards earlier this morning and welcomed him to the race, congratulated him on being selected. And the Vice President indicated that he looked forward to the debate and a spirited campaign.
Q Scott, on that point, the President has talked about changing the tone in Washington, to making the debate more civil. But the Republican National Committee put out this statement on Edwards, calling him "disingenuous and unaccomplished." The Bush-Cheney campaign put out talking points saying that Senator Edwards "delivers his pessimism with a southern drawl and a smile." Is that helpful?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, is there something in there you're disputing? (Laughter.) I think it's perfectly reasonable to talk about the differences on the issues and to talk about the record. And I think that's what you're seeing being discussed here by the campaign and by the RNC. The President believes that we should focus on the policy differences and focus on the leadership styles, and that's what he will continue to do as we move forward on this campaign.
Q So you're agreeing with those statements then, that he is disingenuous and unaccomplished?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, it's perfectly legitimate to talk about the issues and the differences on those issues, as well as to discuss the record. There are individuals in this race who have records, and those records are a reflection of how they would lead in office.
Q You don't seen this as personal attacks, you see this as policy --
MR. McCLELLAN: Suzanne, there are clear choices in this election, and the President wants the discussion to focus on the issues and the differences on those issues. There are clear choices and there are clear philosophical differences for the voters, come November. And the President will keep this focused on the issues and talking about his positive vision for the way forward for our country.
Q So you don't have a problem with the language and the tone?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, it's perfectly legitimate to talk about the issues and the differences and to talk about the record.
Q Can I follow in that vein? Has the President ever had a word with the Vice President about his use of profanity in the United States Senate?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ed, I've previously discussed this issue. This issue came up while we were, I believe, in Ireland, and I addressed it at that point. And that's where it stands.
Q So the answer is, no, the President has not --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has regular conversations with the Vice President.
Q But about that issue?
Q Scott, why is the President going to Edwards' home state tomorrow?
MR. McCLELLAN: He is going there to -- two things. One, he will be going there to meet with some of his judicial nominees in North Carolina. And then he will go to Michigan later in the day to meet with some of his judicial nominees whose confirmation hearings and votes have been blocked by a small number of Democrats in the United States Senate.
There are nine nominees that he will meet with tomorrow altogether, in North Carolina and Michigan -- there are three, I believe, in North Carolina and nine in Michigan. Six of the nine seats in those two states have been declared judicial emergencies. And eight of the nine seats in North Carolina and Michigan have been open for more than 100 days because there are some Senate Democrats who continue to use obstructionist tactics and delay an up or down vote on these nominees. These nominees are well-qualified and the President believes that they should have an up or down vote in the Senate. That is the responsibility of the Senate, to give these nominees an up or down vote. So he will be talking about this important priority. He will also be going there to attend some Victory 2004 receptions.
Q Scott, how many total nominees are outstanding?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the exact number, Bob. I'm still working on gathering that information for you. But there are a number that are still pending that have been designated a judicial emergency. And, certainly, you are seeing an increase in the number of court cases in the federal courts. And it's important that these nominees that the President has selected receive an up or down vote, and that the Senate stop playing politics with those nominees.
Q Speaking of your nominees, one of them is coming up for vote today. Jay Leon Holmes is up for a federal district bench seat in Arkansas. It's very unusual for nominees to the federal district court to be contested, and, yet, this one is. And, in fact, there's word that some Republican senators are lobbying against this nominee, including Kay Bailey Hutchison. How does the President feel that his fellow Texan and fellow Republican is lobbying against his nominee?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, let me point out that Leon Holmes is a highly-qualified and highly-respected nominee who would be an outstanding addition to the district court in the Eastern District of Arkansas. The American Bar Association has given him a well-qualified rating. Both Senators from the state of Arkansas, who are Democrats, have expressed their strong support for his nomination. And so we will continue to reach out to all members of the Senate. They are expected to vote on him this week, and we are hopeful that they will confirm his nomination. The President believes he is well-qualified to be in this position.
Q Is it your understanding that there are some Republicans lobbying against the President's nominee?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if there are, we'll continue to have discussions with those members and talk to them about the importance of giving -- of confirming this highly-qualified nominee.
Q And is there -- just to follow on Norah's question, is there any timing issue in connection with tomorrow's visit to North Carolina? Is that completely coincidence in --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Like I said earlier today -- I think someone asked me -- I said, we get credit for a lot of things, but that's not one that I think you should give us credit for. (Laughter.) We didn't see that well in advance.
Terry, go ahead.
Q You said that you don't take -- you don't have any objection to the RNC's characterization of Senator Edwards. What kind of -- what do you consider out of bounds?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think what I said was that it's perfectly legitimate to talk about the differences on the issues and it's perfectly legitimate to talk about the record. And the President will continue to focus on the issues and talk about his vision for where he wants to lead America, and his vision for building upon our efforts to make the world a safer and better place and make America more secure.
Q I guess it's the way you describe the differences. And my question is, what would be out of bounds? What do you consider out of bounds?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, that's kind of a speculative question, Terry. I think that it's -- like I said, I would describe it as, if you're talking about issues and the record, those are perfectly legitimate things to discuss. Voters deserve to know what the choices and the differences are in an election. That's what elections are about. And there are clear choices and clear philosophical differences in this election. The President, as you heard earlier today, said he welcomes Senator Edwards to the race and he looks forward to having a spirited discussion on the issues.
Q Well, what kind of a -- how does the President intend to run against the Kerry/Edwards ticket? Does this -- does Edwards make it easier, harder?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, one, we'll let all the political pundits and political analysts pontificate about those issues. The President is going to stay focused on talking about where he wants to lead America going forward, and how we need to continue to provide strong leadership in the world when it comes to protecting the American people and making the world a safer and better place, and spreading our compassion. And he will continue talking about our efforts to strengthen the economy at home and building upon the progress that we have made in the last few years to get the economy growing stronger.
Q So he'll talk about his own record, but he won't be talking about the Edwards/Kerry record?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think that you will see us continue to point out the differences and the choices that the voters face this November.
Q Scott, a lot of those political watchers are saying that John Edwards, one thing that he has is the ability to connect with people, to communicate, he's got charisma, he's good on camera, he's young, he's vibrant. Compare that to Vice President Cheney, who's, obviously, a bit older and been around a lot longer. Is the White House concerned that when you pair those two up it's going to be a win for Edwards?
MR. McCLELLAN: Kate, we look forward to discussing the differences and discussing the records. The President and the Vice President both look forward to a spirited discussion of the issues. The Vice President is someone who brings tremendous experience and expertise to the White House. And the President is pleased to have someone of his capability in that position, someone who he knows is fully capable of assuming the responsibilities of the Office of the President if needed.
Q Is that an insinuation that Edwards may be not capable?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just stating -- I'm just pointing out a fact.
Q I wanted to follow up on Helen's question. Charles Duelfer, the head of the Iraqi weapons inspection team, recently reported the discovery of a small quantity of chemical weapons containing mustard gas and sarin. Polish forces also found weapons containing sarin. These are undoubtedly weapons of mass destruction and certainly would be seen as such if they were to be detonated, say, inside the New York subway system. So why isn't the administration saying that WMDs have been found in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think those questions may be best directed to the Iraq Survey Group and to Charles Duelfer. He has commented on those. As he pointed out in the interview recently, he said they were continuing to do their work and continuing to pursue other locations where there have been reports of weapons. And they're continuing to look into the question of what happened to the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, because we know that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction because he had used them on his own people, as well as on a neighboring country. And so those are issues that the Iraq Survey Group continues to look at and uncover. They're working to find out the truth and determine what happened to those weapons of mass destruction.
Q What's the magic number for proclaiming that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think it's important to let them continue to do their work and continue to find out what the truth is.
Q Scott, today, responding to the RNC's comments, the Kerry campaign said that Edwards has more foreign policy experience than George W. Bush did when he entered office. Would you agree with that characterization?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the campaign has put out a statement regarding the announcement today. They talked forward -- they talked about how we welcome Senator Edwards to the race, and they also pointed out some of the clear differences in this race. I think those are questions that the campaign would be glad to talk to you further about.
Q Scott, does the White House have any comment about the incident between Mexican army soldiers and Marines during the burial ceremony of Juan Lopez, who was killed in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that Ambassador Garza made some remarks, put out a statement regarding that incident, and he talked about how the family had requested that he be buried in his town of birth with full military honors. And I would leave it where Ambassador Garza stated it.
Q And you have nothing to add?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's the Ambassador for us in Mexico, and he has commented on that very matter.
Q Do you think this will affect the relation between Mexico and the U.S.?
MR. McCLELLAN: We have good relations with Mexico, and the President certainly views President Fox as a friend. But this particular incident, I would refer you to Ambassador Garza over the weekend.
Q Scott, how did the President find out this morning that Edwards was Kerry's choice?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this morning, one, he got into work pretty early, a little bit before 7:00 a.m., and he's been tending to official business most of the morning, attending -- going to his usual intelligence briefings in the morning, as well as meeting with Prime Minister Oddsson.
I don't know specifically who was the first to inform him. I know that staff at some point during some of those meetings, or prior to some of those meetings, informed him of the announcement. And you heard directly from the President. He welcomes Senator Edwards to the race.
Q Was he surprised? Is that who he thought it would be?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if I'd look at it that way. Those are decisions that were made by the other ticket and by Senator Kerry. So the President welcomes him to the race. And there are some clear choices going forward.
Q So let me see if I've got this straight. The President will continue to talk about the issues and the record. And the RNC and the campaign will continue to put out statements about Kerry's disingenuousness and liberal tendencies?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that --
Q You'll have sort of a two-track thing going here, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't -- I don't think I agree with your characterization. I think that it's, like I said, perfectly legitimate to point out the differences and to discuss the record. And that's what campaigns are about. The voters deserve to know what the choices are, and they deserve to have an honest discussion of the differences and an honest discussion of the records.
Q What about the rhetoric? What about the rhetoric and the changing of the tone?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just don't agree with the way you characterized -- the way you characterize it.
Q But the moment you called a person disingenuous, Scott, you're no longer talking about the record. You're talking about their personality, aren't you, when you call him, disingenuous?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said --
Q That's a personal --
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, James, we've been through this issue. I think I've addressed it. The President is going to continue to focus on the issues and the differences and the choices that voters face. And he'll continue to talk about his vision and his leadership for the future of America.
Q Scott, one last thing, in all of your pronouncements about the campaign and the way it's shaping up, implicit has been the suggestion that President Bush and Vice President Cheney will win the campaign. A, are you willing to make that explicit? Do you say that they will win?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's a decision that the American people will make. The President believes he has articulated a clear vision for the country going forward and has a solid record of accomplishment on the most important priorities that we face, from winning the war on terrorism to strengthening our economy. And the American people will make that decision in November. The President is proud of his record and believes he has a clear vision for the direction this country should head. And that stands in stark contrast to the ticket that we are running against.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 12:48 P.M. EDT