For Immediate Release
September 8, 2004
Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route West Palm Beach, Florida
11:50 A.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning. Let me go through the President's day first. First, the President, as you are aware, signed the emergency $2 billion supplemental for the urgent needs associated with Hurricanes Charley and Frances. Following that, the President had a brief meeting with Secretary Baker this morning. This was an initial meeting to discuss the upcoming debates. And after that, the President participated in his usual briefings. The President was pleased to welcome bipartisan congressional leaders to the White House this morning to discuss intelligence reform. It was a good discussion about the importance of working together in a bipartisan way to act quickly and responsibly on the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission.
You heard remarks from the President at the beginning of that where he talked about how a national intelligence director will have full budget authority, and he talked about the importance of making sure that the executive branch and Congress are getting the best possible intelligence.
We should be having -- we should be putting out a fact sheet very soon here that will spell out more detail of the President's plan for creating a national intelligence director and some of the other intelligence --
Q -- (inaudible) --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we'll be putting that out shortly.
Q Here on the airplane?
MR. McCLELLAN: Probably on the ground. It's just being finalized.
Q Was Baker at the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And when we land the President will first see some of the ongoing relief efforts before we go to the Hurricane Center in Miami. While he's at the Hurricane Center he's going to receive a briefing on Hurricane Frances and the response effort, and also receive an update on Hurricane Ivan. And then he'll tour the Hurricane Center and he'll make a statement to Floridians who were affected by Hurricane Frances. That will be a live video feed to counties across the state of Florida. Then we return back to the White House this evening. And you all will be there to cover everything.
Q Before I get to my question, has the President spoken to any reporters or taken a question since this plane a week ago with Columbus?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you've been around -- since a week ago Columbus? No, I don't think so.
Q Can you advocate to put him in front of us?
MR. McCLELLAN: He takes questions on a regular basis. He did a number of interviews before the convention. You know that he takes questions on a regular basis.
Q I'd be grateful if we could talk to him today. There's a lot of news going on.
MR. McCLELLAN: Your request is heard. I'll take it under consideration. At this point, I think the plan is to be touring these areas and then speaking to the Floridians.
Q Just a five-minute detour to the press. I'd really appreciate it.
What did he and Baker talk about in terms of his opening position, three debates?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the President looks forward to the debates. I'm not going to get into discussion of the logistics and the details of the debates. That's something that Secretary Baker is leading the team for the Bush campaign, and they'll be having discussions with the Kerry campaign about all those matters.
Q I'm not asking about --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President looks forward to the debates.
Q The question is whether he would do the standard three debates. Is he willing to do the standard three debates?
MR. McCLELLAN: You ought to direct those questions to the campaign, and Secretary Baker is going to be talking about all the debate preparations with the Kerry campaign.
Q While they were in there, did Secretary Baker talk to him about the other mission he's been doing for the President, which has been debt relief for Iraq? We never really heard how much he got.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me find out. That actually is an ongoing effort, and you see countries continuing to move to significantly reduce the debt burden on the Iraqis. But I'll check. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the upcoming debates, and it was a brief meeting.
Q Scott, does the President agree with the Vice President that if John Kerry and John Edwards are elected we'll get hit again by terrorists?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Norah, I think if you look at what the Vice President was talking about, he was talking about the clear choices we face. There are differences in how the two candidates approach the war on terrorism, and that's what the Vice President was talking about in his remarks, how do we have an effective strategy to win the war on terrorism. The President has outlined a clear strategy for winning the war on terrorism and defeating the ideologies of hatred. And that's what the Vice President was talking about.
Q I understand, the President is clear about that. But what Cheney said yesterday was very specific. He said the danger is that we'll get hit again, suggesting also --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should look at his whole remarks, Norah, what he said. Look at the whole context of his remarks. And I think he made it clear whoever is in office is going to face the threat of terrorist attack. This President has a clear strategy for defeating the terrorists and prevailing in the war on terrorism. And there are fundamental differences in how we approach this war on terrorism. Senator Kerry has talked about how the actions we have taken by going on the offensive have helped recruit more terrorists, and that's just a fundamental misunderstanding of the war on terrorism. We're on the offensive because the terrorists have attacked, and we're on the offensive to defeat the terrorists and bring them to justice before they can carry out their attacks here at home.
Q Can I just press you on that? Because implicit in what Cheney said yesterday is that if Bush were elected, Bush and Cheney were elected, America would not be hit again --
MR. McCLELLAN: The decision --
Q -- by a terrorist attack.
MR. McCLELLAN: That was not what he -- no, I disagree. The fact is, in fact, his spokesman, or spokeswoman, spoke very clearly about it afterwards, so that's not what he said.
Q So he is not saying that if Bush and Cheney were elected, America will not be hit again?
MR. McCLELLAN: As he has said, whoever is -- the most solemn duty of the President is to protect the American people. And the number one priority of this President is to win the war on terrorism, and we do that through a two-pronged strategy: by taking the fight to the enemy, fighting them abroad, so we don't have to -- so we can prevent attacks at home; by spreading freedom to defeat the ideologies of hatred and the ideologies of tyranny. And the Vice President was talking about the different approaches in this race for winning the war on terrorism.
Q Is the $2 billion going to be enough for Florida? The $2 billion -- what we've seen so far?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. The President said in his letter to Congress that we would be requesting additional funds for hurricanes in the coming days. And we're continuing to assess what those needs are. But the purpose of this $2 billion was to make sure that there was no disruption in the federal assistance going to those in the affected areas.
Q Will the Commander-in-Chief insist that his Pentagon get to the bottom, find every last document of the National Guard service?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's what the President directed back in February.
Q Are you frustrated, or is he, that more documents are surfacing?
MR. McCLELLAN: All the personnel, payroll, and medical records have been made public, and the President directed back in February that the Department of Defense do a comprehensive search and make all the documents available, and we had assurances that they had done that and, unfortunately, we have since found out that it was not as comprehensive as we thought. So they've continued to go and look for additional documents.
Q Is the President frustrated, irritated by this?
MR. McCLELLAN: See, that's why I pointed out that all the personnel, payroll and medical records have been released.
Q How do you know that?
MR. McCLELLAN: They've assured us that all those records are out, and in fact, you have those records.
Q The assault weapons ban expires in just a few days. Can you list for us the many things the President might be doing to encourage Congress to send him the bill that he said he would sign?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's views have been made very clear, and the best way we can reduce crimes committed with guns is to strictly enforce our laws. And prosecutions under this administration are up. I think it's -- well, it's more than 60 percent -- I think 68 percent over the previous administration. That's the best way to crack down on crimes committed with guns. That's an important issue here in terms of the assault weapons ban. He's made his views very well-known.
Q And his view is he'll sign it if --
MR. McCLELLAN: He's made his views known as recently as this week.
Q His view is he'll sign it if it comes to him. Is he doing anything to make sure he --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President supports the reauthorization of current law.
Q What is he doing to actively make sure -- is he doing anything to make sure he --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President doesn't set the congressional timetable.
Q No, but he can lobby for it.
MR. McCLELLAN: Congress sets the timetable. And the President's views are very clear.
Q Has he made any calls or anything to encourage this to happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we've continued to do -- because this issue does go to the issue of crimes committed with guns, as well -- and what we've continued to do is step up our efforts to prosecute crimes committed with guns and strictly enforce our laws. And that's the best way we can deter violence committed with guns.
Q But he did something this week?
Q But he's not doing anything to make sure this doesn't lapse on the 13th?
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to make our views known.
Q You said he had done something this week.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I said we've continued to make our views known. This week, as well.
Q To who?
MR. McCLELLAN: Publicly.
Q Did he speak about it publicly?
MR. McCLELLAN: We have, the White House has.
Q Back to the National Guard. The Boston Globe has a story analyzing the records that are out. It says that the President didn't fulfill a commitment to check in for duty in the Boston area. Could I get your response to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: If the President had not fulfilled his commitment he would not have been honorably discharged. He was honorably discharged in October of '73. The President is proud of his service in the National Guard.
Q Are you saying the story is wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think if you look --
Q Bartlett already said that he misspoke, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, if you look at the Boston Globe story, the Boston Globe has bought into the line of attack by the Kerry campaign. The paper turned to a Kerry supporter for its analysis, a guy who works for a Democratic front group that backs the Kerry campaign.
Q This is Colonel Lechliter?
MR. McCLELLAN: Lawrence Korb.
MR. McCLELLAN: Lawrence Korb works for the Center for American Progress.
Q So are you saying their analysis is wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: The analysis is based on a supporter of John Kerry. And that's why I said that if the President had not fulfilled his commitment, he would not have been honorably discharged.
Q Do you have any reason to dispute the new CBO figures?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we put out our estimates, as well. The OMB put out their estimates. I think it shows that the projections from earlier -- the deficit is continuing to come down because of the economic policies this President has adopted. We're seeing more revenue coming in. It's also important, as pointed out by our own estimate and the CBO, it's important to continue to restrain spending. This President has led when it comes to slowing the growth of government spending.
Q Two quick follow-ups. The CBO Director says you can't grow your way out of this.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we are on track to -- no, that's why I said that two-pronged approach -- I mean, one, we have to -- because of the policies the President has taken, we're seeing more revenues coming in because of economic growth and it's also important to continue to restrain spending. And that's what this President has outlined in his budget priorities. And our budget is on track to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.
Q That was my other question -- you're sticking by that pledge, despite some projections you can't do it?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, our estimates are based on conservative projections.
Q I'm sorry, just for clarification because I couldn't hear you -- who is the person who is the front for the Kerry campaign?
MR. McCLELLAN: Lawrence Korb, Center for American Progress, the 527 that backs Kerry.
Q My understanding is that the article, reading it right in front of me, in fact, it quotes someone else, an Army Colonel who said he broke his contract with the U.S. government without any adverse consequences, because, in 1968 and 1973, he signed these documents that said he would show up and didn't ever show up in Boston. We understand that he was honorably discharged, but is it fair to say that he did not fulfill his commitment?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. As I said -- absolutely not. If he had not fulfilled his commitments, he would not have been honorably discharged.
Q if he was supposed to show up in Boston, or he transferred to Boston, and he didn't --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President met his commitments in Texas. He met his commitments in Alabama. He met his commitments when he returned to Texas in 1973.
Q Did he meet his commitments in Boston?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, Caren, if he had not fulfilled his commitments, he would not have been honorably discharged.
END 12:05 P.M. EDT