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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 15, 2004

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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12:40 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: I want to begin with one announcement. The President will ask the Republican National Committee to elect Bush-Cheney '04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman as its next chairman at the winter meeting in Washington, D.C., January 18th through 19th of next year. Ken has served the Republican Party and the administration with honor and distinction. He was instrumental in overseeing our 2004 historic election night gains. More importantly, Ken has a clear vision for making our gains long-lasting by continuing to reach out to all Americans with our hopeful and positive vision. Ken certainly has boundless energy and a solid commitment to continue growing Republican majorities. He will do a great job at the RNC as he builds upon the outstanding work of Ed Gillespie.

Also you should have by now the four letters from members of the Cabinet who have resigned. These are all very distinguished individuals who have served their nation with honor and distinction. They all have been valuable members of the President's team, and all have played a vital role in helping the President implement his agenda. The President greatly appreciates their service and leadership and he looks forward to continuing to work with them as they work to continue their jobs until their replacements are confirmed by the Senate.

And with that, I'll be glad to take your questions Deb.

Q Did President Bush try to persuade Secretary Powell to stay?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you saw from Secretary Powell's letter that this is a discussion that they've had for some months now, or over recent months at least. And Secretary Powell made a decision for his own reasons that this was now the time to leave. And I think if you want further explanation, you can direct those questions to him. But this is a discussion they've had for some time and I think was known.

Q Did Powell offer to stay on for a while?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, John, these were discussions that were ongoing for some period of time. Secretary Powell is doing an outstanding job over at the State Department. He has helped us accomplish many great things to make the world stronger and safer. And we appreciate his service. He will continue to work in that capacity, I expect, until his replacement is confirmed by the Senate. And he's got a busy travel schedule coming up I know, as well.

But I'm not going to get into all the discussions the President has with all his various members of the Cabinet, but each of these individuals came to a decision for different reasons. And I think that's to be expected. And if you look back over history, this is a pattern that is probably similar to other administrations who have moved into a second term, as well.

Q But there was some suggestion that the Secretary of State did offer to stay on for a while in a second term, and that his offer was declined.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you have the letter from Secretary Powell. This was a decision that he came to, and you have his letter explaining how he came to that decision over a period of the last few months.

Q Did he offer to stay on at all? Did he offer to stay on, and was he turned down?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, he came to a decision -- it was his decision to resign and he made that decision. So I'm not going to get into private discussions that the President has, but I don't think anyone would describe it that way.

Q He had been saying that he wanted to stay on.

Q Do you see him staying on at least until January 20th?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect all of these individuals will continue to serve in their current capacity until their replacement is confirmed by the Senate. That is the intention -- it is my understanding that is the intention of each and every one of these individuals that announced their resignations today.

Q What is the earliest that could happen, the confirmation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the first step is for the President to announce a replacement for these individuals.

Q How quickly does the President want to move on the Secretary of State vacancy? And what's he looking for in a new Secretary of State?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect on each of these, he's going to move as quickly as possible. I'm not going to speculate about what exactly he may be looking for in a new Secretary of State, but we'll have more to say once he does that. But he certainly wants someone that will continue to build upon the great work that Secretary Powell has done over the course of the last four years. If you look at Secretary Powell's record, it has been one based on building and strengthening our alliances abroad so that we can win the war on terrorism. It has been working to address conflicts across the world, whether they are in Afghanistan and Iraq or elsewhere. We've liberated some 50 million people under his leadership at the Department of State. He's also worked -- be instrumental in working to advance the Broader Middle East Initiative. And as I said, he's been working to resolve regional conflicts, such as in India and Liberia and Haiti and other places, as well. So we want someone that's going to build upon the strong record of accomplishment he has achieved at the Department of State.

Q Scott, when on Friday did Secretary Powell give his resignation letter to the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the exact tick-tock, but the President accepted these resignations on Friday. That would be the way to describe it.

Q Was it before the press conference with Tony Blair, or after?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was later in the day when the President accepted these resignations.

Q Six resignations out of 15 positions -- is there any concern from the President when you have this kind of turnover that there's a lack of continuity, that it will be less effective in a second administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, look, all these individuals are committed to making sure that this is a smooth transition and that the change in who is heading that department will come about in as smooth a fashion as possible. These individuals are going to continue to do their job until their replacement is in place. So I think that -- again, if you look back over history, it's a similar pattern to what has occurred in previous administrations.

Q Scott, can you say this is the last of the resignations?

MR. McCLELLAN: The process continues, and we continue to move forward on that process. The process continues at this point, is the way I would describe it. And I wouldn't speculate beyond that.

Q What process is that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President indicated to you all back at his press conference, right after the election, that he would begin thinking about the Cabinet when he went to Camp David. And he began that process that weekend at Camp David, and that process continues. So he's continuing to look at the Cabinet and make decisions about the second term.

Q Scott, has he asked anyone in particular -- I'm not asking for the name, but has the President asked any officials in his Cabinet to offer a letter of resignation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'll tell you -- I'll speak to the ones that have submitted their letters so far. These are -- all these individuals have come to their own decision about why they decided to submit a letter of resignation. And they each have, I think, different reasons, and you can see in their letters of resignation, some of those letters [sic]. And if you have other questions about that you can talk to those individuals.

Q My question is more general. My question was, here, as we begin a second term, has the President gone to his Cabinet, has he asked anyone or everyone to submit a letter of resignation? Has he taken the initiative in any of these cases?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the way I would describe it is, and as you saw in Secretary Powell's letter, some of these discussions have been going on for some period of time. And the President has discussions with members of his Cabinet. Those are private discussions. But the individuals who have submitted their letters of resignations came to this decision and made a decision that they thought this was the right time to resign.

Q So you're saying if the President did ask someone to resign, it wasn't any of these four?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Jim, I'm not going to get into private conversations the President has with members of his Cabinet. But these were all --

Q Well, I wasn't asking you about private conversations. I was just asking you, in general, if the President asked anyone to submit a letter of resignation.

MR. McCLELLAN: And as I stated, these were decisions that each of these individuals came to, and that's the way I would describe it.

Q Obviously, he didn't ask him to stay on --

Q Okay. So we should see this, then, as a major personnel overhaul for the second term?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that -- like I said, look back over history and look at the way this has happened in previous administrations. I think that this is probably similar to the way it's happened in previous administrations. And each of these individuals who are currently in place still have a job to do. They're all focused on their job at hand, and they will remain committed to completing the work that they have left.

Q Scott, can you describe the process the President is using to consider replacements?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I don't want to go into too much detail on that because that gets into speculating about different --

Q -- spit out some names --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I spoke previously to how we had some individuals focused on the personnel side of the transition to a second term. Certainly, Andy Card is very involved in these efforts, as well. He has reached out to the Cabinet and spoken with the chief of staffs at the various agencies, as well. I might point out, too, that you've got a number of people throughout this administration who are serving in each of these Cabinet departments. They're doing great work. We appreciate all their hard work, and it's important that they continue to focus on their work at hand.

Go ahead, Goyal.

Q Scott, before I go to my question, you remember last year, from this podium, right here, during these days in -- celebrating -- crystal lights in the White House, which was celebrated last year. This year, President did not appear on Wednesday when, in the evening, the Muslim celebrations were here in the White House, but it was kind of briefing by the outgoing of Ambassador Blackwill. And many Indian Americans across the country who attended the first one -- who did not are very angry. And also, when I called the Public Liaison Office --

MR. McCLELLAN: What's the question, Goyal?

Q When I spoke with -- of the Public Liaison -- she was less than kind, and I offered to return as a member of the public -- member of the American -- Indian American community, and she refused. My question is that I hope President will take this into account that how much support he got from the American Indian community that next year, I hope it will change. The question I have is about this resignation of Secretary Powell is concerned. He was less popular in India, and he was praised in Pakistan. As now and new replacements, or what in the future of the U.S., India, and Pakistan, the triangle relationship in the future and if there are any policy changes are coming --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the agenda is set by the President of the United States, and he's the one who sets the policy, and the Cabinet is there to help the President implement the agenda and the policy decisions that he makes. And we certainly have a strong relationship with India. We'll continue to build upon that relationship with Prime Minister Singh as we move forward. And certainly, Secretary Powell has been instrumental in helping to address the situation between India, Pakistan and the Kashmir region. And we'll continue to work on those efforts and encourage dialogue between the parties. There has been some good progress made in that respect.

Q Scott, critics are coming out against this resignation by Colin Powell saying things like this signifies a Rumsfeld/Cheney win, hardliners over pragmatists, and basically saying that this administration is not happy with dissenting voices and Powell was one of those. What are your thoughts about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: What are my thoughts about that? I think that that's the typical D.C. speculation game that people like to engage in, no matter how wrong it is. That is not the way I would look at it at all. Secretary Powell has been a very valuable member of this team. He came to a decision that now is the time for him to resign and move on with other things in life. He has been a tireless and dedicated public servant throughout his life. He is someone who has an outstanding service -- has performed an outstanding -- as an outstanding public servant both in the military and in a civilian capacity. He made a commitment to serve the President for his first term and we appreciate all that he has done.

Q With all that said, we're not hearing a word about moving Rumsfeld, as he's the man of war, and Powell is supposed to be the man of diplomacy. Why, at this time, when the President sees an opening for peace between the Israeli and Palestinians, why when you're dealing with situations in Iran, why when you're dealing with situations with Iraq, move Powell --

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, this was a decision that Secretary Powell came to, for the reasons, I think, that he has outlined in his letter of resignation. That's the way you should look at it. Secretary Powell has certainly laid the groundwork for even greater accomplishments in the second term. He's someone who will continue to remain engaged in the Middle East peace process before he departs.

Q But at a crucial time when he -- in the first administration. In the second administration, foreign policy is at the forefront, you're willing to let him go, and bring someone else --

MR. McCLELLAN: April, changes happen from a first term to a second term. Look back over history, and that has happened over the course of time. We will make sure that that transition period is smooth. The individuals in place are committed to making sure that the transition is smooth. And the replacements that are going to be in place will certainly build upon the efforts of those individuals who are currently there. There has been some great work accomplished by Secretary Powell, but serving in this administration for four years is a long time for anybody. And I think if you look back over the course of history, that this Cabinet has been in place for much longer than previous Cabinets.

Q Scott, what's the White House response to Iran's latest offer on the handling of its nuclear material?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are staying in touch with our European friends, the British and French and Germans, who have worked on this agreement. I expect we'll have more to say once we have the opportunity to learn more about the specific details. I think our position, though, is very well-known. But, again, it's something we will be discussing with our European friends.

Q Let me follow up on that. You've known for some days, if not weeks, what's in this agreement. Isn't it at least a step in the right direction, even if you're not ready to --

MR. McCLELLAN: We don't know the specific details of the agreement. I'm not even sure that the Europeans have gone out and spoken about the agreement. I've seen some comment from Iran and from the IAEA. We always stay in close contact with them, and now we are in the process of trying to find out more specific details about this agreement. I think it's very clear what our views are. Iran needs to fully comply with its obligation; Iran needs to suspend all its enrichment and reprocessing activities; Iran needs to adhere to the additional protocol and Iran needs to fully comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency. And I think these are discussions that the Europeans were having with Iran, and they've had quite some time to comply.

Q I guess I'm a little puzzled, though, because you've been telling us that we're working closely with the Germans and the others in the EU who have taken the lead on this, but yet we don't know enough to say whether it's even a step in the right direction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we like to have the full details before us before we go out and make comments about it. And we're continuing to find out the specific details of the agreement. You haven't even heard from the Europeans at this point, Mark, so I'm not sure why you're confused about it.

Q Judie Brown, the President of the American Life League, stated on November the 4th, "The President needs to learn that all abortions are bad, not just partial birth abortions. He could learn there is no reason to excuse abortions in alleged cases of rape, incest, threat to the mother's life or fetal deformity."

MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have a question?

Q My question: Does the President agree with this extraordinary statement, and ever having supported the overturning of Roe v. Wade, and if so --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, no matter where you stand on the issue of abortion, the President believes that we can all work together to take practical steps to reduce abortion in America. And that's why he's worked to pass a ban on partial-birth abortions. That's why he's --

Q But not on over -- he does not want to --

MR. McCLELLAN: May I finish, please?

Q -- overturn Roe v. Wade, does he?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why he's worked to streamline the adoption process, and that's why he supports parental notification laws. So there are a number of practical steps that we can take to reduce the number of abortions, and that's what the President is focused on doing.

Q But my question was, has he ever urged or supported the overturning of Roe v. Wade?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's commented on that previously, and he's talked about that, and he's talked about what we can do now to work together to reduce the number of abortions in America. But he's made his position very well-known on that, as well.

Q Does he want it overturned?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's made his position very well-known about --

Q Why don't you answer the question? It's very valid.

MR. McCLELLAN: He's made his position known.

Q What is the position?

MR. McCLELLAN: Currently, there's not enough support in Congress to --

Q Okay, so he's not.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- get it done at this point, has been the President's view, but that we should work toward that goal. And in the meantime -- because he supports -- in the meantime, we can work to reduce the number of abortions through a number of practical steps, of which he has pursued.

Q One follow-up. Robert Novak notes, no sooner had Specter been nominated then he turned leftward in declaring his independence from Bush, refusing to help two GOP congressional challengers in Pennsylvania who had a chance to win but went down. And my question: Since President Bush helped Specter win his very close renomination fight, and since Specter voted against both Judge Bork and against U.S. Senator Sessions who is on the committee, why does the President believe Specter would be a good Judiciary chairman?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Les, you're asking me to comment about a matter that is decided by his fellow colleagues on the United States Senate. That is a matter that they will --

Q How does he stand?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, that is a matter that they will decide.

Q Does the President have a goal of finishing the resignations and replacements by, say, the end of the year --

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q Can you give us any indication of how --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think the indication is to look back over history at the way it's done -- it's been done previously. But I know of no specific timetable. We continue to move forward on the process. There continue to be discussions with members of the Cabinet, and that's where it stand at this point.

Q Could there be more this week, or within --

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll keep you posted. If there's anything to announce, we will do so at the appropriate time.

Q A quick follow-up on another thing -- 527s. The President, when he was campaigning with Mr. McCain during the fall, opposed them. What are his plans for 527s as far as legislation in the next Congress?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as he said -- and I don't know the latest update in terms of where it is from a legal standpoint, I'll need to check and to find out where it is from a legal standpoint, but if we didn't accomplish that through the legal course of action that was available to us, then he would work with Senator McCain on legislation. But at this point, right now Congress is coming back into session for a very short period of time, and our focus is on getting the remaining appropriations bills passed and making sure that we pass intelligence reform, which is before the Congress.

Q -- work on legislation to do what --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, you're talking about -- I mean, it's unregulated soft money that we're talking about banning, not necessarily banning groups, but banning the unregulated soft money from the process, which we thought we accomplished when the President signed the bipartisan campaign finance reforms into law. That's where the President believes -- but I don't have the latest update on things.

Q On December 11th, there will be legislative elections in Taiwan. And the Chinese press and the American press -- in particular, have suggested that a victory by pro-democracy parties in Taiwan in the legislature could bring the island closer to a military confrontation with China. I'm wondering if the administration shares that sense and, if so, what is now going on in the administration, given the turnover at State and everything, to assure --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we keep saying turnover; we make it sound like people are picking up and leaving today. That's not the case. Again, this will be a smooth process to get their replacements in position before these people leave. So I do want to clarify that.

But in terms of our policy on China and Taiwan, it remains unchanged. And there's nothing really to update beyond that at this point.

Q When Powell writes, "as we have discussed in recent months," what was it that was discussed? Did they discuss the possibility of his staying, or did Powell indicate specifically to the President months ago that --

MR. McCLELLAN: This question was asked and answered at the beginning of the briefing. I said I'm not going to get into private discussions that the President has with members of his Cabinet. Those are private discussions. This was a decision that Secretary Powell made, and he stated reasons why he was ready to move on at this point. The President greatly appreciates his service to the nation.

Q But this is an on-the-record quote. Why can't you tell us -- this is written here. Why can't you tell us what it was that was discussed? It's nebulous, it's unclear what he's referring to.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's best that if the individual Cabinet member wants to share with you additional information, that it comes from that person. That's out of respect for those individuals. I think Secretary Powell has made it very clear and it's been well-known that he was looking at this for some time.

Q Scott, it says here, Secretary Powell wants to return to private life. Are we to read this as ruling out special envoy to the Middle East, or any other particular assignment from the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it where the Secretary stated it. I don't know of any new envoy positions that have been announced at this point.

Q Scott, does the nomination of Judge Gonzales to be Attorney General rule out appointing an Hispanic to the Supreme Court if a vacancy occurs?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it doesn't rule anything in or out. I mean, it rules in that Judge Gonzales has been appointed to be the successor to General Ashcroft. The President will -- if a vacancy should occur on the Supreme Court -- will make a decision at that time. But there is no vacancy on the Supreme Court at this time.

Q Are we going to get letters --

MR. McCLELLAN: Paula. I've already put out the letters for today. You'll have statements by the President on these individuals later today.

Q In his letter of resignation, Energy Secretary Abraham said that one of the accomplishments achieved by the administration was implementing 90 percent of the President's energy plan --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct. I think it was more than -- slightly more than 90 percent. There's been a lot that we can accomplish administratively without congressional action. But there's also initiatives that we put forward that require congressional approval. We can do a number of things on our own and we have taken the steps to lead in that effort, because we want to do everything we can to make America energy self-sufficient.

Q Well, one of the areas he pointed out as an accomplishment was in the energy technologies area, like the Future Gen project. And my understanding is that might be one of the areas on the chopping block because of the administration's efforts to maintain all the spending caps in all the appropriations bills.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that our priorities are outlined in the President's budget. In terms of the appropriations bill, we do want to see Congress act in a fiscally responsible way and show spending restraint. It's important that they do that. It's important that they do that so we can continue to meet the President's commitment to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. And there are other areas where we are working to hold the line on spending, as well.

But the President outlined his priorities in a way that we can meet -- fully fund those priorities and hold the line on spending elsewhere to accomplish our other objectives.

Q You opened the briefing on Wednesday by offering the President's best wishes to the U.S. Marine Corps on its 229th birthday. Are you familiar with the life of Major General --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, not off the top of my head.

Q He was probably the most decorated Marine Corps major general. He was given two congressional Medals of Honor. In 1935 he wrote a book, which is unusual for a guy who has been around the world, on the Marine Corps, titled, "War is a Racket," in which he argued that, war is a racket and it's always -- always has been. And he said that in his 30 years with the Marines, he was a high-class muscleman for big business, for Wall Street and for bankers -- "In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism." Now, this is a guy who had a decorated career as a Marine Corps major general, and I'm wondering if you agree with him, generally, that war is a racket and always has been.

MR. McCLELLAN: I just -- I think I addressed it when I said I'm not familiar with this specific individual or his situation. I would say that we should always view war as a last resort. And that's what this President does. We should always make sure that that's a last resort, it's not something that the President goes into making a decision about lightly. But at the same time, he is committed to doing everything he can to protect the American people and make America more secure from the threats we face in this day and age. And there are some very dangerous threats that we face. That's the President's view.

Q Secretary Powell is considered in Europe as the only moderate voice in this Cabinet. What does President plan -- to replace Powell with someone who can repair the relations with Europe, especially with France?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard from the President that one of the President's highest priorities when it comes to foreign policy is continuing to strengthen our relations with Europe. The transatlantic relationship is very important to making sure that we continue to address the common challenges that we face. And the President announced last week that his first trip after the inaugural, his first foreign trip, would be to the European Union. He wants to work very closely -- continue to work very closely with NATO and with the European Union to tackle the big challenges that we face. And that's what we will continue to do. There are lots of ways we can work together, and we are working together, from winning the war on terrorism, to helping in Afghanistan and Iraq, to fighting AIDS and fighting disease in the world, and alleviating poverty. And that's what this President is committed to doing.

Q Scott, could I ask you -- could I ask you one more question about the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on, hang on. I'll come back.

Q Scott, on a different issue, when is the President expecting to present his formal plan to Congress on the immigration reform?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he continues to be in discussion with members of Congress about it. We continue to talk to members of Congress about it. It remains a high priority for the President, and we will continue to talk to Congress about the way forward and how we can move forward on that legislation. I think he's laid out some very clear principles that should

guide the legislation, but in terms of how we proceed forward, those are matters that we'll discuss with Congress about how best to do that and to accomplish what he wants to get done.

Q Scott, is the -- back on the Cabinet change. Is the President driving this process, or is he simply responding to individual decisions by Cabinet Secretaries?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, one, the President has the right to make decisions about who makes up his team for a second term. And I think that this is a time when members of the Cabinet are reflecting, as well. And a number of them have been thinking about this for quite some time. Like I said, many of these individuals have served for quite a long period of time, longer than most members of the Cabinet in previous administrations I would imagine. And so these are -- there's a process in place for looking at this. I don't think it's my place to get into speculating about any discussions, or getting into any private discussions that go on, other than to describe it the way I did to you earlier today.

Q Right. It's just that you mentioned, as the President did to us, that he was going to Camp David to contemplate Cabinet changes and the second term Cabinet, suggesting that he had some notion in mind of who he wanted and who he didn't want, or what changes he thought --

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, he said he hadn't even had a chance to think about it during the election, so he was thinking -- he was going to begin thinking about at Camp David. And certainly, those are issues that he's -- he will look at. But that's getting into speculation about the process, and --

Q I would never ask you to speculate, because I know you wouldn't engage in that, but all I was asking was to get a sense of -- to the extent to which the President is shaping his Cabinet of his own volition, taking the direction in the initiative here, or whether he is just responding to people who are tired and want to go home?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I described it the way I did a second ago for you. Obviously, any President who is in office has the right to make decisions about his team and about his Cabinet. At the same time, this is a natural period when members of the Cabinet are reflecting on their own positions and their futures, as well. But these are discussions that the President has with members of the Cabinet, and I don't think it's my place to get into describing those discussions.

Q No, but you're suggesting, clearly, that he is exercising --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we're on the same page here, Jim. No, I think we're on the same page. I think I'd leave it where I did.

Connie, go ahead.

Q Thank you. To follow on to my friend, Sarah, on the Supreme Court, is it time for the President to -- suggest that Judge Rehnquist retire, and there isn't some suggestion that Colin Powell might want to go to the Supreme Court.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's time for us to continue to wish Judge Rehnquist a speedy recovery, and that's what we continue to wish him.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, is it your expectation that the Gonzales nomination will be taken up in the lame duck Congress, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't necessarily say that. We'd like it, obviously, to be taken up as soon as possible, but it just happened last week, so we're in discussion with members of Congress about how to proceed on that. And again, we'd like to see it -- see Congress move as quickly as possible.

Thank you.

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