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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 14, 2004
Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Las Vegas, Nevada
12:00 P.M. MDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, let me go through the President's day. The President had his usual briefings this morning before we departed for the first speech in Colorado. He received an update on Hurricane Ivan, as well. And he, as you're aware, signed the emergency supplemental request to Congress for $3.1 billion, in additional assistance for Hurricanes Frances and Charley. And now we're on our way to Las Vegas where he'll make remarks to the 126th General Conference of the National Guard Association of the United States.
And you'll have the remarks as prepared for delivery. We'll get those out on the ground to the traveling press corps as soon as we can.
Q What did he announce? I'm sorry, Scott.
And one quick note. The Freedom Corps greeter, Theresa Bunker, will meet the President in Las Vegas. She'll be accompanied by her son, Josh, who is a National Guardsman who returned in May from a 14-month deployment in Iraq, and will soon be redeploying to Iraq. And she began volunteering with the Las Vegas National Guard Family Support Center when her son's National Guard unit deployed to Iraq in March '03.
Q Scott, the supplemental for Florida, is it $1.3 billion in addition to the $2 billion already --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's $3.1 billion -- yes, this is in addition. The $2 billion was for the urgent needs to make sure there's no disruption in the supplies. It's all in the letter.
MR. McCLELLAN: I can speak to our view, the White House view. I mean, obviously, she was -- Mrs. Bush was expressing her view, and there have been, as you're aware, a number of continuing questions raised about those documents. And media organizations are continuing to investigate it further. And we look forward to seeing what the results of those investigations are. And those are serious issues --
Q Have you looked --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we're not doing our own investigation to look into the authenticity. There are serious questions that have been raised and they should be looked into.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, media organizations are already doing -- I'd say most media organizations are already -- or many media organizations are already investigating the questions that have been raised about these documents' authenticity.
Q But you're only calling for an investigation -- when you say you want it looked into, you only want it looked into by the media. You're not suggesting some type of --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think I said the same thing the last few days, that it ought to be looked into.
MR. McCLELLAN: Any -- well, I think I responded to it last week. That was -- Fortunate Son was the name of a book written in the 2000 campaign by an ex-convict who was widely discredited. And I think it just shows the Democrats and the Kerry campaign are determined to throw the kitchen sink at us because they can't win when the discussion is focused on the issues and the future. The President believes that this race ought to be about the future, and they are resorting to recycled attacks that have come up every time the President runs for election.
Q Kerry is discussing one issue today, apparently, which is the increase -- the big increase in Medicare, Part B payments, and the whole issue of Medicare in general, rising health care. He's blaming the President for that. Can you respond?
MR. McCLELLAN: On Medicare? Well, I think that the campaign has already responded. I think they've already put out a statement pointing out how Senator Kerry voted five times to increase Medicare premiums under the formula set by Congress. And so I think the campaign has already responded to that attack. His own record refutes his latest attacks.
Q Scott, in the past, the President and you, when asked about -- questions about his National Guard service, have said that people should not be so quick to denigrate service in the National Guard. Does the President see a distinction between what he was called on to do in the '70s and what people who serve in the Guard today have to do?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are certainly many significant challenges that the men and women in our Guard are helping to address today. Our men and -- and the President will talk about this in his remarks. He'll talk about how our men and women in the Guard, in addition to the reserves and active forces out there, are serving and sacrificing for an important cause. We are engaged in a global war on terrorism, and the men and women in the Guard are playing an important role in the war.
And I don't think anyone is making the same comparison or saying -- drawing the same distinction. Right now you have a number of men and women in our Guard who are serving abroad in this global war on terrorism.
Q Scott, if I read it right, all the President says in his speech about his service is that he's proud of it. He doesn't answer a lot of the questions that have been raised by the same reporters that you're looking to look into the documents, such as, why did he not take the physical, why did he -- was there any reasons that he left the Guard other than his own volition. Are you going to answer those questions?
MR. McCLELLAN: Why he has not addressed it, is that what you're saying?
Q Well, yes, any reason --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, as you see in the article today -- there's an article today in USA Today -- most of those in the National Guard, like most Americans, want the candidates to focus on the future. And the President has been, and will continue to focus on the future. The President is talking about how we confront today's war and how we lead in the global war on terrorism. And I think that's what most Americans, including those in the Guard that he's talking to today, want to hear from the candidates -- not what happened 35 years ago.
Q I'm asking you what happened 35 years ago. Is there any reason why you can't tell me --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's all been -- I think it all has been addressed, Ron. The President met his obligations and was honorably discharged from the Guard. And it's supported by the facts. It's -- this is more of the same old, recycled attacks by the Kerry campaign and Democrats. And that's -- they can't defend his out-of-the-mainstream record, they can't defend his lack of a vision for the country going forward.
Q Did he receive preferential treatment in the National Guard?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's already been addressed, and that's more of the same, recycled attacks from the Democrats that they keep asking. And he's already addressed that matter, every single campaign he's been in. It's been asked and answered numerous times.
Q So the answer to my question is, he's not going to answer those specific questions, because the public is more concerned about the future than the past.
MR. McCLELLAN: What specific questions? They've been answered, Ron.
Q Why did the President not take a physical?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's been answered in reports, as has been answered before. He was going to Alabama to perform equivalent duty in a non-flying status. And he talked to his commanders every step of the way, and received permission to do so.
Q Why did he not take the physical?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because he was going to Alabama and he was not going to be in a flying -- he was serving in a non-flying status in Alabama.
Q Was he excused --
MR. McCLELLAN: Asked and answered every campaign.
Q Did he leave the Guard on his own volition, or was there other reasons for him to leave?
MR. McCLELLAN: He met his obligations, and he was honorably discharged. So I think you should look at the facts, and the facts are clear, versus old, recycled attacks from the Democrats. This race -- there are too many critical issues facing this nation for us to continue to engage in these old, recycled attacks. That's what the Democrats want, because they can't win on the issues, they can't win on a discussion of the future.
Q The security climate in Iraq seems to have deteriorated just overnight. In fact there was apparently another suicide bombing, in which dozens of people were killed. Is this -- does this undermine the President's stated confidence that things are moving in the right direction in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we have a clear plan that we've outlined for success in Iraq. And the interim government in Iraq is continuing to move forward to hold elections. Prime Minister Allawi, just today, reaffirmed his commitment to holding elections on the January timetable. We've always said that as you move forward on the transition to democracy in Iraq, that the enemies of freedom, the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists will seek to derail that transition. They will not succeed. Prime Minister Allawi and the interim government have made it clear that they will be defeated. And that's why it's important to continue to move forward on the political front, as well as supporting the Iraqi forces as they move forward on the military front to address the ongoing security threats.
Q How is it realistically possible to hold national elections if the security environment doesn't improve between now and January?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why we're partnering with Iraqi security forces to address those ongoing security threats.
Q That's not what's happening, though.
MR. McCLELLAN: What you're seeing -- well, I disagree with that assessment. They have worked to resolve the situation with Sadr and his militia. And Prime Minister Allawi has talked to the importance of addressing some of the other security threats that remain. The Iraqi people want a free and peaceful future. And we are there to support them in their efforts to realize that brighter future.
Q Will you be able to hold elections in Fallujah and places like that in the Sunni triangle?
MR. McCLELLAN: I point you back to what Prime Minister Allawi said. Again, today, he reaffirmed his commitment to holding elections on the January timetable. And so those are --
Q -- all over the country, everywhere and every --
MR. McCLELLAN: Those are some ongoing security threats. There's great progress being made in many parts of Iraq. There are some parts where there are ongoing security threats because you have terrorists and regime loyalists who want to derail the transition to democracy. But we're there, partnering with the interim government, to help them address those issues and address those ongoing security threats. And we believe elections will go forward in January, as Prime Minister Allawi reaffirmed today.
Q I don't mean to belabor the point, but how can you hold elections in a place like Fallujah if you don't control it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you just asked a question several times, Ken, and I think I just answered it. That's why not only -- moving forward on the political front, as I said, yesterday, too, helps you, also, address some of these ongoing issues that remain a problem. So you've got to move forward on the political front, you need to move forward on the security front by beefing up Iraqi security forces and addressing those ongoing security threats. And they are doing that. You've seen them address the situation in Najaf, and Prime Minister Allawi has talked about how they will work to address some of the other areas where security remains a high priority.
Q So just to be clear, your expectation is that elections will be held everywhere in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what Prime Minister Allawi has reaffirmed, Ken.
Q More on Iraq. Scott, the administration has started to reprogram billions of dollars in aid from Iraq from long-term projects to security. Is that -- does that signal, perhaps, a mistake in strategy up to this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's important that you look at circumstances on the ground. And this was stated quite some time ago, I think, by Secretary Powell. Secretary Powell asked Ambassador Negroponte to go in and conduct a review, work with the interim government and other experts on the ground to look at the circumstances on the ground and what the needs were. It's important that you have some flexibility to address circumstances as they are on the ground. And circumstances are certainly not the same as they were a year ago on the ground. And so that's why you need that flexibility to -- for those resources.
And so what they -- what Ambassador Negroponte has concluded is that some of those resources should be redirected to more pressing needs, based on the circumstances on the ground, and that includes the security situation and the ongoing security threats that we've talked about; that includes moving some of those funds more to some of the economic needs and job creation efforts, and moving some of those funds to the transition to democracy. It's important that you continue moving forward on all fronts, and that's exactly what the interim government is doing. And we're there supporting those efforts.
A free and peaceful Iraq will make America more secure and make the world a safer place. And that's what we're working to achieve there. It's a very important mission. Our men and women in the National Guard are serving in that effort and doing an outstanding job. And the President will talk about that, as you see, in his remarks.
Q In terms of Medicare, there was a report today out saying that -- released by Representative Stark, I believe, that said that Social Security pensions will be eaten up by as much as 50 percent by 2021 by Medicare costs. Is there a -- and that the administration lied about it.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's just an inaccurate picture of things. And first of all, it's not -- it's a Trustees report. There's the Medicare Trustees. It's an annual report that they do. And the article about it gave readers a very inaccurate picture of things. I mean, seniors will realize significant savings on their health care. Seniors will see their costs substantially reduced for new benefits that were previously uncovered by Medicare.
Already seniors are seeing significant reductions for their prescription drugs through the discount cards. You're going to have low-income seniors who will be covered -- whose costs -- whose benefits, new benefits will be covered by the government. So those will be subsidized. And seniors will have better and more affordable health care because of the improvements we made to Medicare.
And you only have to look at the report itself, where it points out that -- those very things in the report. It says that the introduction of the prescription drug benefit increases beneficiaries costs for S&I premiums and cost sharing, but reduces their cost for previously uncovered services by substantially more. So because of the improvements we have made to Medicare, seniors will be realizing significant savings in their health care cost.
Q Why did the administration alter the form of the report so that the table that was referred to wasn't in it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, first of all, the White House isn't involved. This is the Medicare Trustees. So we're not involved in those annual reports in any way. It's done by the Trustees and the Medicare Actuaries. And the Medicare Actuary, I think pointed out in the article that it's important to look at the new benefits you're getting at the same time. But going back 30 years, they talked about how these -- let me refer to the report itself, because I'll just point it out. The report shows the Medicare premiums rising as a percentage of Social Security benefits as they have for more than three decades.
But it goes on to talk about how Medicare benefits are also rising faster than Social Security benefits, and that the value of those benefits are projected to exceed that of Social Security by the middle of the century. So you have to look at both those aspects of it. So I don't think -- it's inaccurate to describe it that way.
Q When is the next time we get to ask President Bush?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you all want to do an "Ask President Bush"?
Q Well, Senator Kerry said he's going to take questions from reporters very soon. Do we have a "very soon"?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President takes questions on a regular basis.
Q It's been a while though, since we had an extended opportunity.
Q It was August 23rd, or something like that.
MR. McCLELLAN: He spoke at the convention, and he did interviews before that. And he had some questions prior to that period. But I hear you, and I'll take it under advisement.
Q All right, thank you very much.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.
END 12:15 P.M. MDT