For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 24, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Janesville, Wisconsin
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
12:38 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: The President had his usual briefings this morning. He participated in the swearing-in ceremony for our new CIA Director, Porter Goss. Andy Card actually was the one who swore in Porter Goss, and the President congratulated him after being sworn in, in the Oval Office. Director Goss's family was there, as well, as well as some friends and staff members.
Then, following that, the President prior -- well, he taped his radio address and I think he'll reiterate some of what you heard in his remarks yesterday in the Rose Garden with Prime Minister Allawi in his radio address. He also met with the Ambassador of Russia and the head of the American Red Cross and some students and teachers here locally, who are in D.C. locally, who have been helping the Russian people following the barbaric terrorist attack in Beslan. And you have remarks from the President following that. The President talked about the great compassion America is showing for the people of Russia, and highlighted some of those efforts to assist the children in Russia who suffered from that attack.
Then we go -- we're landing in Wisconsin, where he's got a "Focus on Education" event first, and then remarks at a Victory 2004 rally, and then we'll be headed to Crawford for some debate preparation and other business.
Q Can you give us a little sense about the debate prep, who's going to be there, how it's going to work?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I say, I'm not going to get too much into reading out all the debate prep. I do expect him to participate in some debate preparation over the weekend. You know, obviously, this is an opportunity for him to get away from Washington, D.C. and all the -- get away from Washington, D.C. and really clear his head and focus on the debate. He's also the President of the United States, so he has to continue to attend to his official duties, as well. But I think this will be an opportunity for him to crystallize his thoughts prior to the first debate. You obviously only have a limited amount of time to get your points across.
Q Is Judd Gregg going to be --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I expect him to be there.
Q Will he practice both Saturday --
MR. McCLELLAN: There will be other senior staff there, as well, from the campaign and White House.
Q -- Saturday and Sunday practice, a little bit each day?
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll try to get you more. I do expect tomorrow; I'm not so sure about Sunday at this point.
Q -- actually practicing, a question and answer? And, if so, who plays Kerry?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said -- I've said previously I wasn't going to get into reading out too much of the debate prep, but I'll see what we can do for you while we're here.
Q It'll be at the ranch, right, the practice?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q There's no room at Baylor, for example?
Q Scott, John Kerry had a speech this morning where he said that the President let bin Laden slip away, underfunded homeland security, and initially opposed the 9/11 Commission -- basically saying the President hasn't done enough to keep America safe.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, what Senator Kerry is now proposing are actions that the President is already taking. So at the same time Senator Kerry was attacking the President, he was copying the very proposals the President is pursuing in the war on terrorism. I remind you that Senator Kerry has repeatedly talked about Iraq and Saddam Hussein as being part of the war on terrorism.
In terms of some of your first comments there, General Franks has already previously rebutted such ridiculous assertions.
Q Is the President at all worried -- is he worried at all about the legitimacy of the election that's going to be held in January in Iraq?
MR. MCCLELLAN: You heard from Prime Minister Allawi yesterday, that Prime Minister Allawi talked about how most of the country could hold elections today. There are still some ongoing security challenges that present some real difficulties for the interim government and for our coalition forces. The Prime Minister talked about his -- he came here yesterday to thank America and talk about his strategy for defeating the terrorists and defeating the Saddam loyalists who are trying to derail that transition and trying to stop the election from happening. That's the most -- as the President pointed out yesterday, the most important part of the five-point plan that we're pursuing. There's been steady progress made, but there are difficulties that remain. But Prime Minister Allawi has said he is fully committed to holding free and fair elections by the end of January.
Q That doesn't completely answer the question. The question is, is the President concerned at all about the legitimacy of the results of a January election?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, everybody is confident that Iraq will hold free and fair elections by the end of January. The Iraqi people, every step of the way, have risen to the challenges and met the timetables that have been set out for them. With a sovereign government, with the national conference --
Q I'm not asking whether they're going to be held or not -- I'm not asking whether they're going to be held or not.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said there are going to be free and fair elections, I answered your question.
Q The question is the result --
MR. McCLELLAN: It will be free and fair elections, yes.
Q Is there any question -- is there any question that the President has about the legitimacy of the result of that election?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he is confident that they will have free and fair elections by the end of January.
Q Scott, what about Don Rumsfeld? Does the President agree with Rumsfeld's assertion that even if you only had elections in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country it would be better than no elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, one, Secretary Rumsfeld talked about that yesterday and he talked about it and he said it's a hypothetical. Today he talked -- continued to talk about the elections and he said that the new government is determined to defeat the terrorists and to hold elections and that every Iraqi deserves the right to vote. And he said that -- something along the lines of how the United States and the coalition and the Iraqi government intend to make sure that those elections are held on time, and that every Iraqi has the right to vote. So he has reiterated what we've all said, which is that everybody is committed to free and fair elections for the Iraqi people.
Q So you don't agree that elections that were in only three-quarters or four-fifths of the country --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's point out what Prime Minister Allawi said yesterday. I believe it was 15 of 18 provinces, he said, could hold elections today. And there continues to be steady progress in places like Najaf, in Kufa, in Samaraa, to bring stability to those areas. And he's working to address those other areas so there can be free and fair elections.
Q But let me try this again, though. Do you agree with Rumsfeld that if it were only in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country it would still be better than no elections at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: He said yesterday he was talking about a hypothetical situation. We're confident that there will be free and fair elections for the Iraqi people. And that goes back to Deb's question --
Q But you're not confident they'll be free, fair and universal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, Secretary Rumsfeld said today that -- talked about how -- the importance of every Iraqi have the right to vote. So --
Q You're saying the right to vote --
Q The question is not --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a hypothetical, and you know I don't do that.
Q The question is not whether they have the right to vote, Scott, the question is whether they're afraid to go to the polls or not, and if the vote at the end reflects only --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not the question you asked. The question you asked -- that's not the question you asked. That's why I said that there has been steady progress to address the ongoing security challenges. Najaf now has been addressed. Kufa has been addressed. Samaraa has made -- they've made great progress in Samaraa. Fallujah, and some of the other areas there, in that area, are being addressed, too. Prime Minister Allawi talked about his strategy for addressing the security threats and for reaching out to leaders in those areas to bring about a resolution to the situation. So everybody is talking about the importance of holding free and fair elections, so that all the Iraqis have the right to vote by the end of January.
Q But are all Iraqis going to vote in January?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're confident that there will be free and fair elections. That's what --
Q All Iraqis, everywhere?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what Secretary Rumsfeld talked about today, as well.
Q No, he's talking about -- it's a difference between a right to vote and the ability to vote. Are you saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: Free and fair elections, meaning -- is referring to that very topic you're bringing up. Everybody said there will be free and fair elections. That's what Prime Minister Allawi talked about yesterday.
Q In the whole of the country, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what Prime Minister Allawi talked about yesterday.
Q Scott, the RNC sent out letters to voters in two states saying that liberals want to ban the Bible. Does that include John Kerry, in President Bush's view?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know -- I haven't seen what they sent out, so you might want to talk to the RNC.
Q It's all over the wires and in the paper.
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen what they sent out. I like to know more about what it says than just going by what's in the news accounts.
Q You haven't seen the stories?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I saw the stories, but I don't know what it says.
Q But does he think that John Kerry wants to ban the Bible?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to address questions to the RNC about the flyers that they put out. I don't know what they put out.
Q But on principle, does the President think John Kerry wants --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's an end around to try to talk about what the RNC put out. I don't know exactly what they put out.
Q Could we ask you about that later in the day, after you've had a chance to look at it?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- refer those questions to the RNC. You know what the President's views are. He stated them very clearly.
Q Does the President think Democrats want to ban the Bible?
MR. McCLELLAN: That was an end around to talk about this RNC -- what the RNC put out.
Q It's a direct question.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you're asking in the context of what the RNC put out.
Q The question --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen what the RNC put out. And the President has never made such an assertion, so you know that that's not something he has made an assertion about. You know what the President's view are.
Q In his remarks yesterday, the President said that about 100,000 Iraqi security forces had been fully trained.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q Can you define "fully trained," because according to --
MR. McCLELLAN: They've graduated from their training, they've completed their training, and they are now active security forces in helping to provide for the security of their --
Q According to the Pentagon's estimates that they provided to the Appropriations Committee, only a fraction of them have actually completed the eight week, required training course.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think they're probably referring to others. My understanding is that there are some 600 to 800 that are graduating from training a week, Iraqi security forces, that is. But I think you can check with the Pentagon, where the number came from. There are nearly 100,000 Iraqi security forces -- that includes the armed forces and national guard and police and border patrol --
Q That have been fully trained?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that have been trained. Yes, they've completed their training.
Q No additional training --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what he said. That's exactly what we got from the Pentagon.
Q The Pentagon has given different numbers to people on the Hill.
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to check with the Pentagon.
Q Let me try this one more time. Is the President confident that the people of Iraqi will view the election in January as a legitimate election?
MR. McCLELLAN: Deb, yes. I said -- I don't know how many times I can answer your question. You've asked it five times. You said, does he think that they -- what was your first time, and I said no, and I said he believes there will be free and fair elections. Yes, he believes there will be -- he's confident that there will be free and fair elections. I answered it, like, five times for you.
Q But is a partial election a legitimate election?
Q That's the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not -- no, it will be --
Q That's my question.
MR. McCLELLAN: But that's not what anybody is talking about. They're talking about free and fair elections for the Iraqi people.
Q But three provinces short of a full deck is still three provinces short of a full deck.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, you're getting into hypotheticals now. That's not what Prime Minister Allawi said. He said that, already today, that many provinces could hold elections; most of Iraq could hold elections today. He talked about his strategy for continuing to address the other areas where they need to improve the security situation so that there could be free and fair elections for all the Iraqi people.
Q Let me ask you about something else. Does the President have any concerns about Mr. Allawi vis--vis the way that he's been acting since the interim government has been in place? The New York Times reporting today that some American officials are very uncomfortable with the way that he's acting, that he's too high-handed.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure what you're specifically referring to. He is a strong leader who is bravely risking his life to bring freedom to Iraq. And I did find it interesting -- in fact you may hear more from the President on this -- yesterday that Senator Kerry criticized Prime Minister Allawi as he came here to America to thank America for the sacrifices we have made to spread freedom to the people of Iraq.
Q How did he criticize Kerry -- how did he criticize Allawi? He said that he --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're talking about reading the papers, Anne, and you might want to read the papers this morning. They all characterized it as criticizing. He said that he contradicted himself -- Senator Kerry questioned Prime Minister Allawi's integrity, a brave leader who is risking his life to bring freedom to the Iraqi people. This is part of a pattern by Senator Kerry of showing contempt for our closest friends and allies. This is not the first time he's said -- he's talked about how -- the coalition of the coerced and bribed. He's talked about how they are window dressing. And this on a day that Prime Minister Allawi was in the United States to thank our troops, to thank America, to thank the families of the troops for the sacrifices they have made for the Iraqi people.
Q Does Bush think that Kerry should apologize?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Does the President think Kerry should apologize?
MR. McCLELLAN: He doesn't think that that's a way -- denigrating our allies is an interesting way to build coalitions. Denigrating our allies is not the way to strengthen our coalition to fight the war on terrorism.
Q Has Allawi endorsed Bush for President, or expressed his desire for Bush to win the election?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard him get involved in the election at all, Anne. I think he talked about that this morning. Questions came up, and he said, I'm not going to get involved in the American political system.
Q Do you have a week ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: Week ahead.
Monday the President will participate in a "Focus on Education with President Bush" in Springfield, Ohio.
Q Do you have a time on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: You know we put all that out later in the day. No, I don't have a time on that. Then he'll make remarks at a Butler County, Ohio Victory 2004 Rally. We'll be back at the ranch that night. Then on Tuesday no public events. On Wednesday, to be announced events, and we'll overnight in Miami. Then on Thursday -- I think everybody knows what's on Thursday --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we'll overnight in Miami.
Q Judd Gregg -- (laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Then on Friday, the 1st, the President will make remarks at a Fort Meyers, Florida rally, Victory 2004 Rally, then a St. Petersburg Victory 2004 Rally. We'll be back in D.C. that night. On Saturday, the 2nd, he will be in -- make remarks to the National Association of Home Builders in Columbus, Ohio, participate in a Focus Event with President Bush in Mansfield, Ohio, and then make remarks at an Akron, Ohio, Victory 2004 Rally. And then we overnight -- we're back in D.C. that night. Matt's getting a little seasick here. (Laughter.)
END 12:53 P.M. EDT