The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 28, 2004

White House Press Secretary Speaks with Reporters on Tuesday
Crawford Filing Center
Crawford, Texas

12:37 P.M. CDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon, everybody. Let me give you a couple of updates. The President today did participate in some informal debate preparations. He also received his usual intelligence briefings this morning. I know he's been out riding on the mountain bike and did some fishing, as well. And that's what I have on his schedule at this point for today.

In terms of the schedule for tomorrow, we should be able to give you final plans later this afternoon. We're still finalizing plans on the ground. But the President will be going to Florida and making a stop to tour some of the area that has been devastated by Hurricane Jeanne. And we will get you those details later this afternoon. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the people of Florida during this difficult time, and the other areas that have also been impacted by the hurricanes, including Hurricane Jeanne.

The President, as you're aware, on Sunday, issued another emergency declaration for Florida , and late yesterday he sent an emergency supplemental request to Congress, asking them to quickly pass an additional $7.1 billion in funding to help the areas that have been affected by Hurricanes Ivan and Jeanne respond and recover from those storms.

And that's all I've got. I will be glad to go to your questions.

Q What have we got for Thursday-Friday? Thursday --

MR. McCLELLAN: No updates beyond what I've given you already at this point.

Q Scott, the two female Italian aid workers taken hostage in Iraq have been released. Do you have a reaction to that? Does the President have any plans to call Prime Minister Berlusconi?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's no update on the President's phone calls. Obviously, it's good news to hear anytime hostages are released and in the safe custody of authorities.

Q Karen was saying on some of the talk shows this morning, that it's clear to her that Kerry would be able to bring troops home . What's her thinking? What evidence does she have on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Senator Kerry has spoken to that himself, and talked about pulling troops out beginning next year. And that's --

Q -- four years --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and then over the course of what would be his term in office. It is the wrong message to send to our allies and to the Iraqi people, and, most importantly, to the enemy. All the enemy would have to do is wait until we would withdraw troops and then the next day they could continue their efforts to disrupt what is going on in Iraq -- which is our efforts to build a free and peaceful country for the Iraqi people, which will help make America more secure. This is about transforming the Middle East , which has been a very dangerous region of the world. We can no longer afford, in a post-September 11th world, to ignore the realities on the ground in the Middle East that have led to terrorists hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, are there any politics behind either the financial assistance or the decision by the President to visit Florida ? We've seen Mark Racicot appealing for Red Cross blood donations and things like that, or this simply the Commander-in-Chief --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think everybody expresses their empathy for the people of Florida who have been affected by the hurricanes. This is the fourth hurricane that has hit Florida ; there's only one other state that that's happened to in our history, and many areas of Florida have been devastated by all these hurricanes. This is a time for all of us to come together and support the people of Florida during these difficult times. That's what this is about. It's about helping them respond and recover from the damage of these storms.

Q What do you think the President going there does, though -- how does that help this effort?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's important for the President to go to Florida and see firsthand how the response and recovery efforts are going on the ground. He has previously toured some of the damaged areas from the previous storms and previous hurricanes. He will be there again, with FEMA Director Mike Brown and Governor Bush and local and state emergency management directors, to hear from them and make sure that the federal government is doing everything it can to assist with the ongoing response and recovery efforts on the ground. And that's what this is about, and also to let the people of Florida know that the federal government is here to help in every way that we can as they recover from these hurricanes.

Go ahead.

Q In terms of the debates and the agreements , memorandum of understanding, the Commission has said they're not going to sign this agreement, and there are still some points of contention, including who will be at the town hall meeting and how the timing will be displayed to the public. At this point, is there anything that could happen, basically from your sense of the Commission's agreement to fulfill the agreement without signing it -- is there anything that could happen that would cause you guys to pull out of the other debates?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't see that happening. I mean, I've heard some questions about that, but the campaign responded yesterday, I believe. They indicated that the Commission did sign off on the agreement that was reached by the campaigns and that they appreciated that, and I fully expect the debates to go forward. The President is looking forward very much to participating in these debates and discussing the differences on the big issues facing the American people.

Q Specifically on the town hall debate for next week -- the Commission wants there to be undecided voters as opposed to soft supporters. If the commission were to actually go ahead and put undecided voters in the --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into hypothetical situations. I mean, obviously, those questions are best directed to the campaign, itself. The campaigns got together, they discussed all these issues, they worked it out. I think everybody feels that these -- the agreement that was reached between the campaigns is the best way to have a very productive discussion of the issues facing the American people, rather than turning these debates into something that would be viewed as political grandstanding. And I think that they can cover a lot of ground.

Q So you are assuring that the President will show up for three debates?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard anything to the contrary. We fully expect the debates to go forward.

Q We can take that to the bank, that's a guarantee?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the campaign has indicated the same thing. We fully expect the debates to go forward, Terry. I have no reason to believe otherwise.

Q Scott, what do you say about the President's hometown newspaper here in Crawford endorsing Senator Kerry ?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen that, but I feel pretty confident about the people of Crawford and the state of Texas in this election and where they stand.

Q The NSC report in January of '03 that warned the presence of Baathists might form an insurgence in Iraq , to create what could turn out to be a bad situation there, a true situation. These are the same people that warned the President in July about -- a rather pessimistic view of what might happen in Iraq , which he originally dismissed as guess work. Is this report from July being reevaluated at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Is what being --

Q Is the intelligence he received from July being reevaluated, given the track record of this group?

MR. McCLELLAN: The intelligence received in July? Are you talking about the National Intelligence Estimate?

Q Yes --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I'm not going to get into discussing classified intelligence matters or classified intelligence reports. But let me back up to the report that you brought up, because I think you need to go back and look at what the President has said often, as we moved toward making a decision of whether or not to go and remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The President was very well aware of the challenges that we faced if the decision was made to go and remove Saddam Hussein from power. He's also very well aware of the consequences of not acting to remove Saddam Hussein's regime and hold them accountable in a post-September 11th world. And the President's remarks to the American Enterprise Institute -- let me just read these to you -- he said, "Much is asked of America in this year, 2003" -- and this is back in February of 2003 -- "the work ahead is demanding. It will be difficult to help freedom take hold in a country that has known three decades of dictatorship, secret police, internal divisions, and war. It will be difficult to cultivate liberty and peace in the Middle East after so many generations of strife. Yet, the security of our nation and the hope of millions depend on us, and Americans do not turn away from duties because they are hard. We have met great tests in other times, and we will meet the test of our time."

And then he goes on to talk about how we trust in the power of human freedom to change lives and change nations. And the policy decisions that we made and that we have continued to make reflect our awareness of the challenges that we face in Iraq going forward.

Q The Vice President, at that time, I don't have the quote in front of me, but gave a much rosier scenario of what they expected to find in Iraq, and this is after they received this intelligence estimate.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I agree with -- I mean, I just read to you from February 26th, 2003 , the President's remarks, himself. We have always talked about the difficulties that we face with a decision like this. We have always talked about how it is hard to transition from a brutal dictatorship to democracy. But what we are working to achieve is -- will make America more secure.

For too long, the Middle East was ignored. We looked the other way, and it became a breeding ground for terrorists, a breeding ground for terrorists who hijacked planes and flew them into buildings and took some 3,000 innocent lives. And this is part of the winning the war on terrorism. The President talks about his two-pronged strategy: We need to stay on the offensive to defeat the terrorists. We also need to work to spread freedom so that we defeat the ideology of hatred that gives rise to terrorists.

Anything interesting in the paper, Bob? Go ahead.

Q Speaking of the paper, The Washington Post does a line-by-line juxtaposition of the President's comments on Iraq and Prime Minister Allawi's comments on Iraq . Can you tell us, today, whether any U.S. officials had a hand in crafting either the --

MR. McCLELLAN: None that I know of.

Q None that you know of?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. No one -- no one at the White House.

Q No one at the White House?


Q No one at the White House?


Q The embassy in Baghdad --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q The embassy in Baghdad , was the speech run through the embassy in Baghdad ?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know. You can direct those questions to them. I mean, those were, obviously, Prime Minister Allawi's words when he was talking about -- and he talked about the progress that is being made, but he also talked about the ongoing security challenges.

Q You do note the similarities, though, line by line recitations that are almost word for word the same thing.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, what's your question?

Q The question is whether any U.S. officials had any --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, in fact, I have not -- it wasn't in the clips I received this morning -- not seen that exact article. But, again, in Iraq , the President has been very clear about where things stand. We continue to make steady progress on the ground to help the Iraqi people build a nation that is self-governing and that has the capacity to defend itself from internal and external threats. And that's what we're working to help the Iraqi people achieve, so that our troops can then return home once we have put them on that path.

Q On that point, the Post had, several days ago, security reports indicating that instability is in fact wider and broader than --

MR. McCLELLAN: Speak up a little bit.

Q -- a good deal wider and broader, instability is a good deal wider and broader than Allawi represented in his remarks, based on very recent, up-to-the-minute intelligence estimates . Is the President aware of those reports? Does he get stuff like that? Does he agree with --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, which reports are you referring to? I can't hear you very well from -- in this room.

Q The security -- security outfit working on behalf of --

MR. McCLELLAN: We have long said, Dick, that as we move closer to free and fair elections for the Iraqi people, that we expect there to be an increase in violence because the terrorists and Saddam loyalists will become more desperate. And I think that is what you are seeing. They know that we are approaching a decisive moment in the form of elections, and that that will be a critical moment for what we're working to achieve in Iraq . And once we achieve a free and peaceful Iraq , it will be a devastating blow to the terrorists and their ambitions. And the terrorists recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq ; so do we. And that's why we must continue to work with our allies and the Iraqi people and stand with the Iraqi people as we work to complete that mission.

Q One of those allies, King Abdullah of Jordan , who, admittedly, has never held an election, himself, nevertheless is a U.S. ally and knows the region, says that elections in Iraq are a bad idea right now because of the chaos. And he says that they would only strengthen the hand of fanatics and extremists. Is he wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen exactly what he said, Terry, but we believe that it's important to continue to move forward on the political front, as well as work to address the ongoing security threats that the Iraqi people face, and that that will help defeat -- moving forward on both tracks will help us prevail over the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists who are enemies of freedom.

Q But no response to Abdullah?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen exactly what he said, so --

Q I can read it out to you.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure you can. I'll be glad to take a look at it.

Go ahead.

Q Going back to --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think our position is very clear, that we support Prime Minister Allawi and the leaders in Iraq and the Iraqi people who want to move forward on elections by the end of January. We are confident that we will be able to hold free and fair elections throughout Iraq by the end of January, as long as we continue to partner with the Iraqi leaders to address the continuing challenges that they face.

Q On oil prices reaching $50 a barrel, Senator Edwards today blamed this on mismanagement in Iraq and pointed to your own administration report that predicted that prices would be around $27 by now. And, obviously, it's almost twice that. Are they wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's Senate Democrats, including Senators Kerry and Edwards, who have blocked efforts to pass a comprehensive national energy plan. The President put forward a comprehensive national energy plan that would help make America energy self-sufficient. We need to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. This President has made this a top priority of his administration, and it's unfortunate that Senate Democrats, like Senators Kerry and Edwards, have continued to block efforts to put that plan in place so that we can reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Q So you don't think the situation in Iraq and the administration's handling of the situation in Iraq has anything to do with the prices going this high?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the hurricanes have had an impact. There are other issues relating to some of the comments made in Nigeria that have had an impact on some of this. But what -- what happens here is that we go through this year after year because we manage through patchwork crisis management instead of passing comprehensive solutions. And that's why this President led from very early on in his administration, developed a comprehensive national energy plan and called on Congress to get it passed. It would be passed if a minority of Senate Democrats weren't blocking that plan. And that would help us to address this problem that comes up year after year.

Q No Iraqi thoughts on this at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q John Walker Lindh has applied with the Office of Pardons at the White House and Justice. Have you heard that already? He's applied -- his lawyers have applied for a pardon.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry, I can't hear you with all the --

Q John Walker Lindh, his lawyers have applied to the Office of Pardon at the White House and Justice.

Q The American Taliban wants a pardon.

Q The American Taliban, John Walker Lindh, wants a pardon. He's applied to the White House and Justice for it. Have you heard that?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I haven't. It's the first I heard of it.

Go ahead.

Q Back to the Iraq for a minute. You said that you were confident that elections could be held across the country.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.

Q Yet, General Abizaid, on Sunday, said that the goal was to -- for elections to be held in the vast majority of the country. What is the deal here, because --

MR. McCLELLAN: Prime Minister Allawi stated over the weekend that he was committed to having elections for all of Iraq so that all Iraqis could participate in those elections. And that's what we're working with the leadership in Iraq to accomplish.

Q Well, when the head of Central Command basically says that when we look for perfection in a combat zone we're going to sorely disappointed --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's talking about that there -- there are ongoing security challenges that we face, that you're going to continue to see terrorists and Saddam loyalists try to disrupt the election process, particularly as we move closer to it. And we've got to continue to partner with the Iraqi people to address those security challenges. Iraq has worked, with the help of the coalition forces, to address the situations in places like Najaf and Kufa, and to make progress in places like Samaraa. There are other places, like Fallujah, where there remains an ongoing security challenge that must be addressed. Prime Minister Allawi has talked about that. He's working to address it, both by reaching out to leaders in those areas that can help bring about a resolution, as well as to increase their own security forces and partner with coalition forces to defeat the terrorists and defeat the Saddam loyalists.

Q Scott, both of the new ads that the President approved for release today make the specific point of calling John Kerry -- or linking him to the liberals in Congress. What do you see as the reason for that and the potency of that word --

MR. McCLELLAN: He has a long record in the Senate. I think all you have to do is go and look at his record of supporting cuts in intelligence and cuts in weapons systems to see where he stands on defense issues. The war on terrorism is -- well, the safety and security of the American people is the number one priority of the President, and how we lead in the war on terrorism is one of the most critical issues facing the American people in this election.

And John Kerry's record is one of supporting cuts in intelligence, some $6 billion in intelligence cuts that he supported in the aftermath of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. He has a long record of supporting cuts in weapons systems, as well. And that's all documented by the campaign in the materials that they put out.

Q But the intelligence cut that you refer to, that's been widely discounted as something that even Republican leaders agreed with, and the weapons cuts are things that he has argued even Vice President Cheney supported at the time.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go back and look at his record of what he supported during the Cold War and what he supported during the -- and what his positions were in terms of cuts in defense during the Cold War and cuts in defense as the threats were building from global terrorism over the course of the '90s.

Q Do you have a broader statement on the oil crisis, beyond the energy plan? Are you concerned about the impact of the oil prices on the economy?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's like I said -- like I said yesterday, it's something we always keep a close eye on. The economy is moving forward and growing. And, certainly, you want to keep an eye on things that could create more of a headwind as the economy moves forward -- like rising oil prices and that's something that we are always monitoring.

Q Can you say whether or not unrest in Iraq is having an impact on the oil prices?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I mean, I think others can probably talk to you better than I could about -- from the economic perspective --

Q But you're willing to say hurricanes and Nigeria and Senate Democrats.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's been -- that's been publicly stated by others, that it has had an impact. And, certainly, when you have attacks on pipelines and things of that nature, sure, it has an impact.

Okay. Thanks.

END 12:57 P.M. CDT

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