For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 10, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:26 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I want to begin with one announcement. The President and all of us here at the White House today extend our birthday wishes to the United States Marine Corps. Today marks the 229th birthday of the Corps of Marines that was established by the second Continental Congress on November 10, 1775.
Tomorrow the President looks forward to making remarks on Veterans Day at Arlington National Cemetery to honor all of those, all of our men and women who have served and sacrificed to defend America. Tomorrow is a day to honor every soldier, sailor, airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman who have served and sacrificed to defend our freedoms. And the President will also be hosting a reception here tomorrow on the State Floor, tomorrow morning, where he will have some veterans and leaders of various veterans organizations, as well as some Medal of Honor recipients here at the White House.
And that's all I've got. With that, I will be glad to go.
Q Coverage of the morning event?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's a private reception that he tends to have, I think, every year.
Q Scott, has the President decided to name White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to replace Attorney General Ashcroft? Will he make that decision today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I know you would never ask me to speculate or preempt the President from this podium. I would not rule out an announcement today. We will certainly keep you posted if there is an announcement to be made by the President.
Q You say "an announcement," are you talking singular announcement, nothing more than perhaps one?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would not expect more than one today.
Q What does he think about Alberto Gonzales?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Steve, I think you're trying to ask me to get into all the media reports that I've seen on the wires out there, and on the airwaves, and I'm just not going to do that from this podium. It's not my place to preempt any announcement of the President.
Q Scott, more generally, has the President considered perhaps reexamining some aspect of the Patriot Act, considering that it has been so controversial, in his second term with a new Attorney General?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think if you've listened to the President throughout the campaign, he's talked about how important the Patriot Act is to providing law enforcement officials with the tools they need to prevent and disrupt terrorist attacks from happening. It's a very important package that was passed by Congress, and the President believes very strongly in continuing all those measures that were put in place. That was an issue that was discussed at length during the campaign, and I think his views are very clear on that issue.
Q There are many people who say that the Patriot Act, in particular, has rolled back some of those civil liberties, that it's a difficult balancing act, protecting the American people and civil rights.
MR. McCLELLAN: And we disagree. I think if you look at the facts, I think we have done it in a way that protects the rights of Americans, so we disagree with that assessment.
Go ahead, April.
Q Scott, the President says he wants to reach across the aisle and bring back unity in Washington, if there ever was any. But the point of the matter is, is the President reaching out to those on the other side to talk to them, consult with them about these new possible appointments or nominations that he's going to make?
MR. McCLELLAN: Obviously, that's part of the process. Any time you have a Cabinet position, it requires Senate confirmation. And so part of the process involves reaching out to those who will be voting on that decision by the President. And I would point out that this President from day one has worked to reach out across partisan lines.
It has been -- it's very tough to try to change the tone here in this city. He's found that out. Certainly, he came from Texas, where we were able to reach across partisan lines and get a lot of things accomplished. And I think you've seen that he's worked across partisan lines to get some big priorities accomplished on issues like education reform and tax cuts. And he will -- he intends to continue to reach out during his second term. It also requires reaching back by others, as well. The American people spoke very clearly about the agenda that they support just last week.
Q So we know, officially, there are two resignations.
What groups from the other side of the aisle has he talked with to discuss his potential nominations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he hasn't made any announcement at this time. If he makes an announcement, then we can talk further about it at that time. But the White House stays in contact with lots of people across the political spectrum.
Q So you're saying that the White House has asked other groups, maybe to include the Congressional Black Caucus, about what they think who should be the next head of the Justice Department?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it clear that he will reach out across partisan lines on areas where we can work together.
And we are hopeful that others will want to reach back and work together so we can address the big challenges that we have.
Go ahead, Deb.
Q Scott, you took a question this morning about whether Prime Minister Zapatero has been trying to call the President and the President has declined to take the call.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that may be the case, that he has tried to reach out. Calls are scheduled at times that are mutually convenient. Some calls are able to be scheduled quicker than others.
Go ahead, Deb.
Q Scott, an entirely different question. There are now reports out of Fallujah that Iraqi troops have found slaughterhouses for hostages. Has the President been informed of that, and what was his reaction?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that he's been updated fully on that. I saw that those reports were just coming out of the theater in Fallujah. He did have a National Security Council meeting, where they talked about Iraq and they talked about Fallujah. We continue to work closely with the interim government. Our forces and coalition forces continue to work closely with Iraqi forces to bring about a secure environment throughout Iraq so that elections can be held in January.
Prime Minister Allawi has been moving forward on an integrated political and military solution to defeat the terrorists and the insurgents who want to derail that transition, and Fallujah is one part of that. We continue to, as our military pointed out, make progress in Fallujah, working side-by-side to help the Iraqis as they move forward on building a brighter future.
Q Scott, is the President pleased with the performance of Iraqi troops in Fallujah?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the general -- our generals have spoken to that. There are some areas where they have certainly performed well and there are other areas where they can do more, I think. But I would leave it to our generals on the ground, our commanders on the ground to describe the latest developments there. They're the ones who are in the best position to do that. I don't -- I try not to, from this podium, to get into ongoing operations.
Q And is the President encouraged by what -- not just the Iraqi troops, but in general, with the entire offensive in Fallujah?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's an operation that is ongoing as we speak. General Metz spoke yesterday to the progress that is being made, that is being made ahead of schedule. He pointed out that he expects tough fighting over the next several days, and so that's where it stands. They're the ones who are in the best position to describe the latest developments on the ground. And certainly our thoughts and prayers during this time are with our men and women who are in harm's way.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Les.
Q Since the last illegal aliens amnesty plan produced so many more illegal aliens, why is the President considering what Republican leader Tom DeLay and others oppose as another amnesty, and Republican Congressman Tom Tancredo calls, in his words, "the same pig with lipstick"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, it is not an amnesty. The President does not support a blanket amnesty. The plan that he outlined was aimed at matching willing workers with willing employers and giving them temporary legal status as part of a temporary worker program. It is a program he views that will help strengthen our controls on the border, as well as help provide more humane treatment for those workers who are here illegally now and don't have protections. It will help meet an important economic need here, as well. And that's why the President believes that's an important priority that we should move forward on.
Q Since the President presumably supports the Federal Communications Commission's prohibiting obscene language on the air, doesn't he think that the often lying exit polls and unsubstantiated projections should also be banned from the air on Election Day?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that that's something that people are going to continue to look at in this election and analyze. I don't think the President, nor myself, tend to get into an analysis of the media, or critiquing the exit polls. But I think others are looking at those issues. There is a problem with some of those exit polls getting out ahead of time, and I'm sure people will continue to look at the issue.
Q And he hopes they will --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure people will continue to look at it. Go ahead, Connie.
Q Thank you. On the meeting with Prime Minister Blair tomorrow, will the President ask the British Prime Minister to actually take more of a leadership role in pressing for the road map for peace? And will the U.S. continue with that --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Prime Minister?
Q Yes --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President and the Prime Minister have both taken leadership roles when it comes to the Middle East.
Both have been actively engaged in the Middle East. And I'm sure that they will talk, about that among other issues.
Q There's been some talk in Great Britain that Prime
Minister Blair wants to take the dominate role in pressing for this, that he needs it for the sake of his reelection.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know which specific reports you're referring, but the President and Prime Minister are very close friends and they are committed to working together on a number of important priorities. You mentioned one of them. I'm sure they'll discuss the war on terrorism, and discuss the situation in Iraq. I'm sure they'll talk about the efforts in the broader Middle East, as well, to advance progress there. And I'm sure they'll talk about Afghanistan, as well.
Q Will the United States go ahead with the road map, regardless of who becomes the next Palestinian leader?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President remains firmly committed to the two-state vision that he outlined. And the road map is the way to get there. Go ahead, Heidi.
Q Scott, you said the President expects tough fighting over the next several days. What about the next --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what our generals have described on the ground.
Q Okay, well what about the next several weeks and months?
Does the President expect the violence to increase or decrease after the elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there has been great progress made in a number of areas like Najaf and Samarra, and there's progress we're seeing being made in Fallujah. That's something that continues.
There are other areas where some security challenges remain.
What we're doing is working closely -- our forces are working closely with Iraqi forces to bring about a secure environment throughout the country so that they can move forward by the end of January on free and fair elections. That's the goal that we're working to accomplish. And we remain firmly committed to helping the interim government meet that timetable. And we will continue working with them on the political and military strategy that has been outlined. Prime Minister Allawi has been reaching out to all groups in Iraq to bring them into the political process. He put out a statement today talking about the great response he has received from groups across the spectrum in Iraq.
Q What's the expectation for violence after the elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, again, the commanders on the ground are the best -- are in the best position to talk about the current security situation. And we're there, along with the other coalition forces, to help the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful future. And that's what we will continue to do. There are some other areas that -- where security challenges remain.
Q Scott, when President Bush and Indian Prime Minister met in New York at the U.N. last month, when both came out, it was like love at first sight. Now, my question is if President is going to invite the Prime Minister to the White House, because this will be his visit. And, also, at the Indian-American community fundraising center -- the President made a commitment that in his second term he will visit India.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure he would love to do both -- welcome the Prime Minister here, as well as go there. There's nothing, though, to announce on his schedule at this time. Obviously, there are a lot of demands on the President and there are many places he would like to go. But we have a great relationship with India that we're continuing to work to strengthen.
Q Second, what do you expect tonight from the President dinner to the Muslim American communities on this Iftaar and -- which Secretary Powell also had last week at the State Department -- something to do with the Patriot Act, or the Muslim community's anger because of some of the profiling and all that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, tonight is really a time to honor all Muslims. Certainly the Muslim community makes America stronger and more hopeful because of their contributions. And the President will have ambassadors here, as well as Muslim American leaders here at the White House, and I think he'll talk more about the time period that we're in now with Ramadan and how we honor the traditions of this great faith by hosting the Iftaar dinner here at the White House.
That's what I expect the President to talk about in his remarks. This is a time of -- Ramadan is a time of reflection and fasting and charity, and the President will talk about that tonight in his remarks.
Q Scott, the fighting in Fallujah takes care of -- or will take care of one particular aspect about the terror insurgency within Iraq, but what is the administration doing in regards to the Syrian -- the Syrian border to keep more Sunni Muslim terrorists from coming across?
MR. McCLELLAN: We remain in contact with Syria about our concerns about the border. I think there are steps that have been taken. I don't have the latest update there. There are some steps that I think that have been taken by Syria, but we have continuing concerns about that border area, as well as other concerns when it comes to Syria. And that's certainly been something that's been a priority of, I know, Iraqi forces and coalition forces in the country, to try to stop any terrorist from entering the country.
Q Have we been fairly blunt with Damascus on --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think they know very clearly where we stand and what we believe needs to happen. So they know very clearly.
Q Scott --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Paula. I'll come back to you.
Q During the debates, the President indicated that he thought a decision on drug importation would be made by December, as far as importing from Canada. Is there a set deadline in December --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was referring to when the task force would complete their work and come back with what they find.
Obviously, the top priority there is the safety in the public health of American citizens. We want to make sure that drugs that would be coming in would be safe and not be a public health threat. And that's something that the task force has been looking at. It was a task force created under the Medicare legislation and they'll look if there's a way that it can be done safely.
Q And also, on a different subject, Senator Domenici now believes that there will likely be enough votes to support ANWR drilling next year because of the change in the number of Senate -- Republican senators. Does the administration believe that that will happen next year, Congress will support --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we hope that Congress will act on the comprehensive energy plan that the President outlined, of which allowing for a small portion of ANWR to be open for environmentally-responsible exploration and production. That's an important part of an overall comprehensive energy plan that the President outlined very early on in this administration. And it will help address some of these recurring problems we see every year with high gas prices and our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
The President is committed to promoting more energy self-sufficiency here at home, and that's why he outlined a very comprehensive energy plan that included environmentally-responsible exploration and production here at home, included expanding conservation, and including -- included increasing fuel efficiency.
And that's one part of it. So we hope Congress will move on a comprehensive approach to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Q Scott, the Ivory Coast and Fallujah -- first the Ivory Coast. What is the White House doing about the situation in the Ivory Coast? And also, on Fallujah, 82 days out from the elections there, is it realistic to think that the violence and the fighting there will be stopped to have credible elections in January?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Iraqi people want to move forward on elections. I think we've seen that they want to move forward as quickly as they can to hold free and fair elections. And we remain committed to helping them accomplish that goal, and that they have set a time line for doing it by the end of January. We believe we are on schedule. Obviously, the security challenges need to be fully addressed. That's what we're working to do.
In terms of the actual election, people are already registering to vote. The Election Commission, the United Nations election representative talked last week about the centers that have been set up around the country, as well as the thousands of people who are helping register people to vote, so there's progress already being made toward that.
Q And the Ivory Coast?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, Ivory Coast. I actually spoke about it yesterday, and President Mbeki is working that effort right now. We talked about some of the recent attacks there yesterday, and I expressed our condemnation of some of those air strikes. And Prime Minister Mbeki continues to work through this issue now to try to get all sides to agree to move forward on some of the accords that they agreed to back in July. And if they fail to get there, then the United Nations Security Council may consider some additional action.
Go ahead, Jim.
Q I see Senator McCain met with the President in the Oval Office yesterday -- the other day to talk about immigration reform. I wonder if you can characterize some of those discussions for us. And I know that Senator McCain's ideas on immigration go beyond some of the ideas that the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they did meet yesterday. It was a private discussion that they -- where they talked about a number of priorities. It was not just immigration, but immigration was one topic that came out -- came up during those conversations. It's part of our continuing efforts to talk with members of Congress about how we can move forward on the priority that the President outlined.
Q The Senator's bill on immigration goes a lot farther than the President had indicated himself. Does that mean he's coming around to perhaps what --
MR. McCLELLAN: I would not try to characterize -- oh, you're talking about the President?
Q The President. Does it mean he's coming around to what the Senator --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President remains committed to the plan that he outlined to create a temporary worker program.
Q So does he want to introduce his own --
MR. McCLELLAN: And we're going to continue working closely with Congress on this issue as we move forward.
Q Does he plan on introducing his own bill to Congress to deal with it --
MR. McCLELLAN: We will certainly keep you posted of conversations that we have as we can.
Thank you all. Thanks.
END 12:45 P.M. EST