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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 4, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Des Moines, Iowa
11:29 A.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, let's see. Let me begin with the President's day. The President spoke with Prime Minister Berlusconi this morning. The President called Prime Minister Berlusconi to congratulate him on the birth of his second grandson and to extend birthday greetings to him. His grandson was born last week, and his birthday was last week, as well. The President told Prime Minister Berlusconi that we welcomed the release of the Italian hostages in Iraq.
And then following that call, the President had his usual briefings. Upon arrival, the Freedom Corps greeter is Tony Salem -- S-a-l-e-m, who, for the past six years, has been a volunteer at Children and Family Urban Ministries, which helps meet the needs of low-income school-age children and their families, on the north side of Des Moines.
And then you have the fact sheet for the event where the President will participate in the signing of the Working Families Tax -- Tax Relief Act of 2004, and then make remarks.
Then following that, we have the "Ask President Bush" event in Clive, Iowa. There will be a small business owner who supports associated health plans as one of the participants. And he also is a strong supporter of job training programs. There will be a farmer on the -- as one of the conversation participants who opposes the death tax. There will also be a small business owner that is an S-corporation who has benefited from the tax cuts that we've passed. And then there will be a tax family with three children who have also benefited from the tax cuts, particularly the child tax credit.
One scheduling update, on Wednesday, the President -- we announced that he was going to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. That event was scheduled for a focus on medical liability with President Bush. That has been postponed, but we will still be going to Wilkes-Barre. The President will give a significant speech on our nation's two highest priorities: the war on terrorism and the economy. The President will talk about the clear choices and real differences facing the American people on these big issues.
And I think that's all I've got.
Q So why are you diverting from the plan on Wednesday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think -- well, one, anytime, at this stage in the campaign, you always have a little flexibility. And there are some big differences facing the American people, and the President wants to highlight those differences on the -- how we lead in the war on -- war on terrorism and how we prevail in the war on terrorism and how we continue to keep the economy moving -- moving forward. There has been an attempt by the President's opponent to launch false attacks and mislead the American people on these big priorities. And this race is about the clear substantive differences on our nation's biggest priorities.
Q So he's feeling the need to explain himself?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't -- it's continuing to talk about what he has highlighted throughout this campaign. And, like I said, anytime you're at this stage in the campaign, you always have a little flexibility built into your schedule. And so that's what this is.
Q Where's the speech going to be?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's still in -- still in Pennsylvania.
Q In Wilkes-Barre?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q Are you worried about what we've seen in some of the close debate polls coming out. It seems like Kerry now has the momentum in this race.
MR. McCLELLAN: Whether we were down or up, we have always said we expect the race to tighten. We have said from the get-go that this would be a close election. And there are clear choices and real differences on our -- on the nation's highest priorities: the war on terrorism and the economy. And the President will continue to highlight those differences.
Q Did the President and Berlusconi talk about the anti-war messages of those newly-freed hostages?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't -- it was a brief conversation. It was about five minutes long. They didn't have time to get into any discussion like that.
Q Has the President seen some of these new polls that have come out? Has he talked to his advisors about the new polls?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're very well aware of those -- of the polls. But it's what I said a second ago. We always said from the get-go that this would be a close election. And when we were down, we said we expected the race to tighten. And when we were up, we said we expected the race to tighten. We've said that all along.
Q Has the President done anything to prepare for Friday's debate -- or Friday's town hall?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's continued to participate in debate preparation. He had a session yesterday. He will continue to participate in some further debate preparation this week as we get closer to -- to the second debate.
Q How much would you say the change in the schedule for Wednesday has to do with the poll numbers that just came in? Is there any connection there between those?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, it's what I told him, in response to Ron. At this stage in the campaign, you always want to have some flexibility in your schedule. And that's what we will continue to do so -- do. We will continue to have flexibility in the schedule as we move forward on these final 29 days of the election.
Q Scott, in today's event, Kerry's folks say he supports the bill that the President is about to sign. Does that muddy your message --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he opposed these tax cuts in 2001. First of all, the event -- the first event where the President is signing the legislation, that is an official event. I don't expect that the President will be talking about the campaign. Senator Grassley, obviously, is someone who was instrumental in helping to get these tax cuts passed. The President will talk about how these tax cuts are working to get -- to keep our economy moving forward and working to get our economy growing stronger. And he also talked about how middle-class families have benefited significantly from the tax cuts that we passed. And you have that in the fact sheet.
Now, obviously, the second event is a campaign event. That's where the President will participate in the conversation. I expect he will talk about some of those differences you bring up because there -- there are some clear differences. And it's another example where Senator Kerry has changed his position when it suits him politically.
Q Has there been any effort to toughen up the questions at these "Ask President Bush" events to better prep the President for the town hall that will happen --
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw some coverage where it said these were pre-screened questions, and that's just not the case. These are questions from people at the event. They can ask whatever they want when they come to these events. And the President enjoys participating in those question-and-answer type sessions. They're informal settings where the President can visit with the person asking the questions and listen to their views, as well as to answer their questions that they have on their mind.
Q Usually about half of them aren't questions. They're things like, you're candle is burning brightly.
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand there are some -- there is some of that. I understand. But these participants or these attendees to these events are able to ask whatever question they want. The President enjoys that format.
Q So you see this "Ask the White House" as a good prep for the debate? Is that the way you see this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I see it as an opportunity for the President to talk to the American people about the important priorities facing this nation and to answer questions that are on their minds. And that's what he's done throughout those "Ask President Bush" --
Q But you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Now this one today is a -- like I said, it's a conversation.* So he'll be visiting with the four participants on the stage and hearing from them what their views are and how the -- on how these tax cuts have benefited the economy and benefited them, as well.
Q Scott, what does the President hope the Vice President will accomplish tomorrow night?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yes, I know the Vice President looks forward to the debate. It's an opportunity to continue to talk about the clear differences facing the American people on the priorities that I mentioned a minute ago. Senator Edwards is -- well, Senator Edwards was a powerful personal injury lawyer who mastered his debating skills in the courtroom. He pocketed millions of dollars by successfully arguing his cases before juries. And the reason Senator Kerry -- the primary reason Senator Kerry chose Senator Edwards was because he is a master litigator. He's someone who can help him in the election, not someone who had lots of experience. Go ahead.
Q The President's message going into the first debate was clearly wrong war, wrong time, wrong place. Is, just -- is Vice President Cheney going to have a message going into this debate and, if so --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yes, his office might be able to talk to you more about -- about anything else. I think the message he'll focus on is that there are real choices facing the American people on the biggest priorities. You saw some clear differences in the presidential debate last week. Senator Kerry is someone who is constantly shifting his positions when it suits him politically, and someone who has a fundamental misunderstanding of the war on terrorism. He has a pre-9/11 mind set. The President recognizes the world changed on September 11th and that we must confront threats before it's too late, and that's -- and that this is a broad war on terrorism that we're waging on -- on many fronts.
Q Has he spoken personally with the Vice President about the debate?
MR. McCLELLAN: He talks to the Vice President all the time.
Q About the debate?
MR. McCLELLAN: They talk -- look, they talk all the time on issues.
Q Back to the Italian hostages. So the President congratulated Berlusconi on the release of the hostages. Was there any --
MR. McCLELLAN: He said, we welcomed -- we welcome the release of the Italian hostages.
Q There were some reports that there was a ransom paid -- a million dollars.
MR. McCLELLAN: The Italian government, at the highest levels has said that was not the case. We have no reason to believe otherwise.
Q The U.S. believes that there's no ransom that was paid.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right. I said we have no reason to believe otherwise, from what the Italian government has said at their very highest levels.
Q Congress today, looking at the corporate tax bill, does the -- what does the President want to see come out of those discussions?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard our position on that from the beginning, is that we want to make sure we get the legislation passed as soon as possible so that we comply with the WTO ruling.
Q But, clearly, the other four tax bills that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President -- the President -- what the President put forward are the tax cuts that were passed in this legislation. And I think that -- my understanding is that -- well, the conferees are just -- they're meeting today. They're going to be talking about this legislation. And we want to make sure that they pass legislation that helps us comply with WTO rulings and that is -- maintains our competitiveness.
Q But the other four tax bills, the administration really put a lot more pressure on those than this one that doesn't seem to be a priority.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've made our -- I think we've made our views pretty clear on this issue. We've been working to try to get it passed quickly.
Q What do you say about the campaign now turning to domestic issues, at least in these upcoming debates?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that that's necessarily the case. The debate Friday will have -- will have real Americans asking questions of the candidates. And they'll be -- I'm sure that they'll be asking a range of -- they'll be asking questions based on a range of issues. So we'll see what those questions are.
But the President's most important responsibility is the safety and security of the American people. And I think the American people trust the President to continue to lead decisively as we move forward in the war on terrorism and to make sure that we prevail in the war on terrorism. They also -- but we look forward to talking about the domestic priorities, as well -- most importantly, the economy.
The President has worked to get the economy moving forward and growing. And it's growing stronger. We went through a recession. We had the attacks of September 11th. And the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th, those three months after it, we lost some one million jobs. But over the last year, we've seen 1.7 million jobs created because of the pro-growth policies this President advocated and passed. And so the President will continue to talk -- and that's why I said, on the speech on Wednesday, we'll talk about the two highest priorities facing this country: the war on terrorism and the economy. And we look forward to discussing the real differences that are there on those issues.
Q Economists have said that the jobs reports on Friday might be -- you know, not so good, depressed by the hurricane. Is that a worry?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, the -- four hurricanes are going to have an impact from an economic standpoint. But we -- it's another challenge that we face. But we face -- we've overcome challenges that I -- like the ones I just mentioned: the recession and the attacks of September the 11th, to name two. And this President -- that's why it's important to continue moving forward on the President's pro-growth policies that have our economy moving forward and growing stronger. And that's what we will -- we will continue to -- there is more to do. And the President, I expect, will talk about this today. There is more to do to keep our economy moving forward. And the last thing we need to do is raise taxes. That would bring our economy to a screeching halt.
END 11:43 A.M. EDT
* It is an "Ask President Bush" event.