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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 9, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to begin with a statement that we'll be putting out shortly, from me. On November 8th, the Millennium Challenge Corporation selected its Millennium Challenge Account eligible countries for fiscal year 2005. This decision marks another step forward in implementing the President's vision of an ever-widening circle of development, and his groundbreaking Millennium Challenge Account initiative. The Millennium Challenge Account is a bold new compact for global development that rewards countries that govern justly, invest in their people, and encourage economic freedom. The implementation of MCC programs in selected countries will accelerate economic growth and poverty reduction. And we'll have the list of countries for you in that statement.
In addition, the Millennium Challenge Corporation designates six new countries as eligible for its 2005 Threshold Program, enabling them to apply for grants designed to help them qualify for the Millennium Challenge Account. This was a major innovation that the President initiated to change the way we conduct our foreign assistance. And we will get you that statement here shortly.
And that's all I've got. Terry.
Q Scott, there's a new round of rumors that Arafat has died. What does the White House know?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any other information for you. We continue to monitor the situation. That's what I can tell you at this point.
Q Scott, can you be more specific about monitoring? Who is in contact with whom?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're always in close contact with the parties. We're in close contact with European friends. I'm not going to get into all those staff-level discussions, though.
Q I mean, is Condi in touch with the Palestinian leadership? Is it --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to get into reading out all the staff-level discussions, but we remain in close contact with people on this matter.
Q Don't you know whether he has died, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, again, we continue to monitor the situation. I don't have anything further for you --
Q You don't know anything more?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything further for you on it at this time.
Q There have been a number of published reports -- Forbes and others -- claiming that Arafat and his wife have taken between $3 billion to $6 billion from the Palestinian people. A lot of that money was contributed by Americans or by the United States, or by organizations from the United States. Is the U.S. trying to help the Palestinian people regain their money?
MR. McCLELLAN: Connie, I don't think now is the appropriate time to comment on issues of that nature.
Q After he dies, will you comment on it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just don't think now is the appropriate time to get into commenting on those matters.
Q Will you take it for later?
MR. McCLELLAN: Next question. Terry, go ahead. Helen.
Q Did you ever find out when the President made his last major speech on Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's all publicly available on our website. I think you can go there and find that for yourselves.
Q Do you know?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he had a press conference with Prime Minister Allawi back in late September, where they talked about Iraq.
Q Back on Arafat. There are obviously preparations being made for any eventuality. Is the United States asking Israel to allow Arafat to be buried in Ramullah?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think those are discussions that the parties are having. And I know it's a sensitive matter at this time, and so we'll let those discussions continue. I think if there's more to say on that, it will be after the parties talk about it further.
Q Well, the United States would clearly have a role in those discussions. What is the position of the government of this country on that question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think that given the current situation, it's a sensitive matter at this point; there are discussions that are going on between the parties. We'll let those discussions go on. And it's something maybe we'll talk about later.
Q Most of the Indian American community and doctors supported a second term to the President's reelection. Also the news in India that Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, who met President Bush at the U.N., he was pleased of the outcome and he's -- and they announced that India will send the troops in Iraq. What can India and the Indian American community expect from the second Bush term?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you can expect that we will work closely together. We've been -- we've, I think, had a continuing relationship that has been strengthening under this administration with India, and I think it will continue to be that way with the new leadership in India. And the President, I know, had a phone call just the other day, a congratulatory call.
Q And doctors are expecting that many doctors may go out of business because of high cost of drugs and also lawsuits against them and all that. And at the same time, what they are saying is that immigration issues are important here.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, making health care more affordable and accessible is something the President put at the top of his priorities during the campaign. It's something he's made a top priority during his term in office. And certainly, we work to make prescription drugs more affordable by speeding up access to generic drugs and getting them on the market quicker. We've also pushed to reform our medical liability laws so that doctors aren't forced out of business needlessly. So that's something the President will be pursuing with Congress in this second term, and hopefully we can get it done. I think that the American people spoke clearly on those issues.
Q On immigration?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, on immigration? Well, the President has put forward a temporary worker program that he has had some discussions with members of Congress on, and he will continue to discuss with members of Congress and work to move forward on that initiative. It is a priority where he believes it's something that will help meet our -- an economic need, as well as provide a more humane treatment of those workers who are coming into the United States.
Go ahead, Wendell.
Q Has the White House received emails and phone calls about Senator Specter's comments about a Supreme Court appointment and the difficulty of confirming an anti-abortion jurist? Is it a large number? And does the President still retain confidence in the Senator's committee chair?
MR. McCLELLAN: We certainly receive comments on a lot of subjects. I've not checked on that specific subject. I will be glad to look into that for you and see what I can get you on that. But in terms of the issue of who will be chairman of the Judiciary Committee, that's a matter for the Senate to decide. And it's something that the White House does not have a role in. Senators will make that decision. I think we've spoken about Senator Specter's comments -- Karl Rove talked about it just the other day -- and he has certainly assured us that he is committed to making sure that the President's judicial nominees receive up or down votes, and that appellate nominees get to the floor of the Senate, where they will be given up or down votes.
Go ahead, Richard.
Q Scott, how long will it be before we can -- we'll see a bill from the administration go up to the Hill in regards to Social Security reform?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a little premature to speculate right now. Obviously, the President has laid out some very clear principles to guide us as we move forward on strengthening Social Security for future generations, for our children and grandchildren. He will be having discussions with leaders. We have some new members coming into Congress, as well. We are already working away at the White House to move forward on the President's efforts, and this is something we'll continue to talk about as we move into the second term. It's a high priority for the President.
I know it's an issue that some view as a difficult task to try to get accomplished, but the President has never shied away from the tough challenges that we face. We were able to get through the tax cuts that got our economy growing again. We were able to pass historic education reforms. And we were able to pass Medicare reform for the first time since it was created, under this President in his first term. So he will move forward quickly and deliberately on these priorities. You heard him last week saying that we will move forward now on strengthening Social Security.
Q Will it be in terms of a bill, or will it be various parts of a bill or principles that he'll just throw out --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a little premature to get into that kind of speculation. But the President will be talking with leaders about this and working to move forward on it.
Q On that issue, you kind of skirted the issue this morning of what --
MR. McCLELLAN: I never skirt. (Laughter.)
Q -- increase in the retirement age may be necessary in order to make the system solvent. But you're not just disputing the basic principle of the President's plan would be to create private accounts in exchange for a reduction in government -- guaranteed government benefits for retirees. I mean, that's the whole idea, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the idea is to help younger workers get as much or more in benefits and returns on their Social Security retirement. That's the -- that's what we're working to do. But they can realize more by -- and, again, this is voluntary. It's voluntary. People do not have to participate in that if they do not want to. They can stay in the current system if they want to, under the President's approach. That's something that he outlined.
Q But if they do participate, the portion that is guaranteed from the government goes down. That's just a basic principle --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but if you look at the history of the stock market, too, over the course of a couple of decades, then you see that the benefits -- the return on those benefits will help them exceed what they are receiving today.
Go ahead, Jacobo.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: How are you?
Q Fine, how are you?
MR. McCLELLAN: Good.
Q Is the President going to move forward on his immigration plan that he proposed almost at the beginning of the year and didn't go anywhere, the three-year plan of legal work and then extend it for another period?
MR. McCLELLAN: He remains committed to that proposal. It's something we started discussions with members of Congress on previously. And it's something that he intends to work with members on to get moving again in the second term. It's something he believes very strongly in. America has always been a welcoming society, and this is a program that will match willing workers with willing employers. It will promote compassion for workers who right now have no protection, and it will protect the homeland by helping to control our borders better. And it also provides incentives for those temporary workers to eventually return home to their country of origin.
Q Is there any special plan being worked out with the government of Mexico? There seems to be rumblings or noises coming from south of the border, in the sense that they expect a special relationship on immigration.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's something that we always are in close contact with our friends in Mexico on. Secretary Powell is there now. In fact, I think he's having a press availability here shortly from Mexico. So he might be able to talk to you more about some of the latest discussions that are going on there -- that will go on there while he's there.
Q Just a quick follow-up on the Middle East. You talked about discussions between the parties. What role is the U.S. taking in that? Is the administration being a facilitator or a broker in any way? A go-between?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think right now -- obviously, we're always in close contact with the parties in the region, but I think that's a discussion that you should view as going on between the parties right now. And I think that, eventually, they might have more to say on it, and then we can talk about it at that point --
Q Who are the parties?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think now -- I don't think now is the time to get into that, because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Q Just to clarify, is that -- are the talks going on between the parties with or without U.S. involvement?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I will leave it where I did, Peter, for now, because of the sensitivity of the matter. The parties are discussing -- all parties, I think, are discussing this matter. And I'll leave it there.
Go ahead. Yes, up here, and then I'll come to Paula.
Q Will the President's next budget reflect any of the costs that might be associated with the kind of Social Security reform he has in mind?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, as you are probably aware, the President has not endorsed a specific proposal. He's put forward his principles and he's talked about what he wants to make sure is included in that legislation, that younger workers have the option to invest a small portion of their funds in personal retirement accounts, and things of that nature. He wants to provide more ownership for people in their retirement funds. But the budget -- I mean, the President always outlines a very clear and detailed budget. But again, we don't have a specific proposal that has been endorsed at this point on Social Security.
Q On the Social Security principles the President outlined, one thing he repeatedly says is that he does not intend to reduce benefits for retirees, for those near retirement. My question is, first of all, what is the age you're talking about when you say near retirement? Are you talking about 62, 55? And secondly, in terms of paying, the President himself has said that there will be costs to this. If there are costs to this and younger workers are living longer, healthier lives, why would not the administration consider upping their retirement age and reducing their --
MR. McCLELLAN: Paula, this is something we're going to be working on with members of Congress to get done. The President is someone who believes that we need to tackle these big challenges that we face and not pass them on to future generations. That's exactly what he has done on other issues; that's exactly what he'll do on this issue.
What he has defined, he has said that at -- those at or near retirement. We'll be talking with members about that and defining that. But the cost of doing nothing is estimated to be some $10 trillion. And the cost of doing nothing will lead to massive increases and taxes for people or massive cuts in benefits. What we are trying to do is make sure that Social Security is there for today's retirees, and then make sure it's strengthened for tomorrow's retirees, for our children and grandchildren, so that they have a nest egg that they can rely on that will be there when they retire.
Q By qualifying whose benefits would not be reduced, are you not tacitly saying that it will be reduced for --
MR. McCLELLAN: We want them to realize more in benefits. That's the President's approach, and that's the way he's proceeding on this important effort.
Q Can you clarify the status of negotiations with Iran to curtail their nuclear energy program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, there's -- as far as I know at this point, I'm not aware of any formal agreement that has been reached. We will see what happens. Those discussions I think are ongoing between our European friends and Iran. What we have made clear is that Iran needs to fully comply with its international commitments. They made commitments and they need to fully comply. If they do not comply, we think that is a matter that needs to be taken up at the next meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency later this month and referred to the Security Council.
Q What's the White House position on the military action taken by our "old Europe" ally, France, and the Ivory Coast?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well -- and I think that we've spoken to this through our State Department -- the United Nations has also spoken to this matter. But our view is that we strongly condemn the attacks, the air strikes that took place by the Ivorian military that killed an American citizen and aid worker. The United States continues to call on the Ivorian president to immediately end all government-authorized forms of violence against the citizens of Cote d'Ivore and the peacekeepers assigned to the United Nations operations there.
South African President Mbeki is working on some efforts now. We welcome those efforts by President Mbeki. And if those discussions fail to produce the desired result, then the Security Council may consider additional action.
Go ahead. Russ, welcome back. It's been a while. How was the Nader campaign?
Q It was wild. (Laughter.) Johns Hopkins, in its public health -- last month estimated that the war in Iraq resulted in 100,000 Iraqi deaths. The administration has said in the past that it doesn't do body counts, but do you consider 100,000 to be in the ballpark of the number of Iraqis killed as a result of the war?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know of any specific estimates on the civilians. I know that the United States military goes out of its way to minimize the loss of civilian life. And what we are working to achieve in Iraq is an important cause that will make America more secure. And we're working side-by-side with the Iraqi --
Q So you're killing Iraqis to make America more secure?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- with the Iraqi people to move forward on free elections, because a free Iraq will help transform a dangerous region of the world and make America more secure. And our men and women in the military are doing an outstanding job; they are serving and sacrificing in a very important cause.
Q If I could follow up on that, did the President have an estimate before him on the number of Iraqis killed --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any precise estimate or estimate of that nature.
Q Scott, what is the prime reason for Tony Blair's visit? And will he be here on time Thursday to go to Arlington with the President? And would he be welcome?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he is arriving early evening, so I think it will be after the President's visit to Arlington National Cemetery to honor our veterans. But, obviously, the President looks forward to welcoming Prime Minister Blair back to the White House. I think you can expect that they will discuss a range of important priorities. I expect they will be talking about how we move forward to win the war on terrorism; how we move forward to make sure Iraq has free and fair elections come the end of January. I expect they'll talk about the situation in the Middle East and talk about the broader Middle East initiative, as well as talk about transatlantic relations and how we can continue to build upon our relationship to work together to address common challenges that we face.
Q Scott, almost a year ago the President outlined plans for expanded space exploration. Yet, that was a subject that rarely came up, if ever, on the campaign trail. I'm wondering -- and it hasn't been --
MR. McCLELLAN: I believe he just talked about it a few weeks ago; we had an astronaut traveling with us one day.
Q Well, it hasn't been one of the priorities for the coming year. I'm just curious where those plans stand. Are they on the back burner?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's reflected in our budget and I think it will be reflected in our upcoming budget, as well. Remember, this is a long-term vision that the President outlined for NASA, that made sure that they were focused on a very clearly-defined mission that is based on 10, 20, 30, 40 years down the road. So he remains committed to it.
Q Scott, is the President giving any medals, did you find out?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't believe so. He's visiting a lot of wounded soldiers today and he wants to see as many as possible -- upwards of 50. But I'll get you a better estimate when we're there.
Q -- talk to the pool?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you all will be there to cover him. I expect he may stop on our way out.
END 12:18 P.M. EST