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 Home > News & Policies > December 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 3, 2004

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

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12:43 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, to JD and everybody else. It's Friday, so let's just go straight to questions.

Q Do you have any reaction to the Ukraine Supreme Court's decision to invalidate the election?

MR. McCLELLAN: The court's decision is an important step in moving toward a peaceful, democratic resolution that reflects the will of the people. It's important that the will of the people prevail, and the court's decision is part of the political and legal process for meeting that objective.

Q Do you have any reaction to the decision of the Ukrainian parliament today calling on the President to withdraw the troops from Iraq ? They called on the current president, but we know also that both the major candidates also indicated their desire to withdraw the troops.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we appreciate the contributions from the international community to helping the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful future, including the contributions from Ukraine . Obviously, every country makes their own decisions about those matters. There are other countries that have extended their tours, and we'll continue working with the international community and all those countries who want to help move forward toward a free and peaceful Iraq for the Iraqi people.

Q Have you been informed of Tommy Thompson's resignation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I believe Secretary Thompson has a news conference at 2:00 p.m. this afternoon. And I think out of respect for the announcement that he will be having at that time, I will defer on all questions for now.

Q How many more? (Laughter.)

Q The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has now signed off on the intelligence bill . Is the President now confident with that he can get an intel bill through next week?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to urge members of Congress to move forward on getting this intelligence reform passed. We have taken a number of steps that were recommended by the 9/11 Commission -- 36 of 41 of their recommendations we have acted on, in one way or another, to better protect the American people and make sure that we have the best possible intelligence to protect the homeland. This intelligence reform legislation builds upon those steps we have already taken.

And the President expressed earlier this week in Canada that he hopes we can get it done next week. We continue to be in very close contact with congressional leaders -- both the President, as well as the Vice President and members of the senior staff to get this legislation moving forward. I've seen a number of comments from congressional leaders saying that they are hopeful that it can get done next week, as well. We're continuing to work through some of the remaining issues. But I think the President's views are very clear. And Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers have expressed their support for moving forward on this, as well.

Q When will his letter go up to the Hill? And what will he say?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to get ahead of the letter at this point, but I think the President's views are very clear. And he'll talk a little bit more about some of those remaining issues that are being discussed as we move forward. I think the President will continue to talk about the importance of getting this down now. Congress has made a lot of progress, and now is the time to get this legislation passed. I think he will talk about the importance of preserving the chain of command in departments and agencies. That's something that's very important to the President.

And that would include the Department of Defense. We want to make sure that our war fighters have everything they need to complete their mission and do their job. And we want to make sure that there is not unnecessary interference with the chain of command.

Q Scott, can I follow that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q I'm hearing from folks involved with this that Myers, in fact, answered very narrowly about budgetary authority, and that he and others have concerns about preserving the chain of command in the intelligence bill as written. Does the President -- since the bill, as I understand it, stipulates that the President has four months, or something like that to delineate the chain of command, does the President have concerns about the bill not guaranteeing, for example, the military -- the ability to position satellite imagery as they would want, as it's written now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President wants to make sure that the chain of command is preserved. He's made that clear before, and he will continue to make that clear. That is important as we move forward on these reforms. And discussions are ongoing with members of Congress. I'm not going to try to get into trying to negotiate or resolve this matter from this podium. It's best to have -- let those discussions continue, so that we can keep this legislation moving forward. Congress made a lot of progress. We are at the final step now toward getting it passed. And the President is working very closely with congressional leaders to move it forward and make it a reality.

Q But it's not a done deal, as the wording is now; am I correct on that? The President still has reservations; negotiations must continue?

MR. McCLELLAN: Negotiations on what?

Q On this bill, itself. The language is not final.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are discussions -- there are some concerns that some members have raised. We're trying to work through those issues and resolve those remaining differences. The President has made his views very clear on this legislation. First and foremost, he said it's important that we get this legislation passed now. That's why he wants Congress to move forward on it next week. This builds upon all the steps we've already taken to improve the sharing and gathering of intelligence information, and the steps we've taken to create the Department of Homeland Security and the other steps that we have taken to make sure that we're getting the best possible intelligence, so that we can prevail in the war on terrorism.

Q But the President's letter is not going to say, pass that particular bill, or whatever is sitting on the --

MR. McCLELLAN: You will be able to see what the letter says when he sends that letter to members of the Hill, and see for yourself at that point.

Q Scott, this transition process has been described to us as an orderly process overseen by the Chief of Staff. But with half or more now of the Cabinet secretaries having announced their resignations, and certainly more to come, are we about to -- have we reached the point where this becomes less of an orderly process and more of a stampede that's going to impinge on the transition process?

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. There is a process that was put in place to move into a second term. Some of that work started before the election was even over. And then the President went to Camp David and started thinking about it, himself, and making decisions about his second-term team. There are a number of members of the Cabinet who have been serving for quite some time, longer than most secretaries served in previous -- have served in previous administrations. And we have put in place a process that will lead to a smooth transition. I think it's -- we're in a lot better position coming into this time than we were in 2000 to move into the next term.

And members of the Cabinet, by and large, have said that -- those that are leaving have said that they're going to remain in place until their successor is confirmed by the Senate. I think everybody is committed to working together to make this process a smooth transition to a second term. And we appreciate the great work the Cabinet has been doing in the first term, and the President looks forward to working with his Cabinet in the second term to accomplish many great things.

Q Scott, a follow-up. Why does the President want this change and --

MR. McCLELLAN: I was going to Elaine, I'll come back there.

Q Back on the intel report , has Speaker Hastert agreed to pull the bill and put it on the floor for a vote? And is that something the administration specifically asked in the discussions yesterday?

MR. McCLELLAN: Speaker Hastert has continued to work on this issue. He's continuing to talk with members --

Q -- specifically to --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- with his own members of Congress, as well. In terms of speaking for him, I don't do that from this podium; you can direct those questions to his office. The President has been working very closely with Speaker Hastert and Leader Frist on these efforts and to get this legislation moving forward. And the Speaker indicated a couple of weeks ago that he was committed to keeping this process moving forward. He indicated that when they recessed -- they didn't adjourn, and members of the House are scheduled to come back next week.

Q Has the President asked Speaker Hastert to -- in their discussions, did he ask that question?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've heard directly from the President. He has spoken publicly and said that he hopes to get this legislation passed next week, and he remains committed to doing that. We want it to get passed as quickly as possible. We've made a lot of progress from where we were just a few weeks ago.

Go ahead Goyal.

Q Scott, could you give us a little more about tomorrow's meeting between President Bush and President Musharraf from Pakistan , because this is a very rare and unique visit, because last time, as far as I remember, weekend is concerned, any leader visiting White House was in 1999, former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Nawaz Sharif and President Clinton were here in White House. Why he is coming over the weekend and because it's a holiday, people are with their families and celebrating holidays and --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll double-check this, but I believe President Musharraf was already visiting Latin America and so this was a convenient time for them to visit again. They've met on a number of occasions. We certainly work very closely with Pakistan in the global war on terrorism and addressing some of the issues along the border region there. So it will be an opportunity to continue to talk about our shared commitment to winning the global war on terrorism. It will be an opportunity to talk about our bilateral relationship, as well, and to talk about regional issues, like the situation between India and Pakistan . And so the President looks forward to welcoming President Musharraf to the White House and discussing some of these issues with him tomorrow.

Q Second, on the Burma , you have -- I see a statement from you. This poor lady, a Nobel prize winner, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi still in detention or in house arrest. And the military in Burma has extended another year, according to the statement from you. What are we doing? Because this is really strange that -- not only freedom, but this poor lady is still in jail year after year after year? When she will be out, and when do we have -- or people in Burma will have real freedom?

MR. McCLELLAN: We remain deeply concerned about the situation, and we have called on the release of all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally. And that remains our view. And you do have the statement that was put out from me yesterday on that matter.

Q Scott, do you have anything on a meeting Monday between Democratic and Republican leaders on Social Security reform that supposedly will be here? And, if so, what areas do you plan on dealing with at the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything to update at this point, but we are talking with congressional leaders about this important priority. Strengthening Social Security is one of the President's top priorities for his second term. And he is committed to moving forward on it as quickly as we can. So there are conversations that are ongoing with members of Congress about how we can move forward together to get this done.

We know that doing nothing is not a solution, because the system is unsustainable as it currently stands. So we need to act to strengthen Social Security, so that younger workers will be able to build a nest egg for their future. And the President remains committed to moving as quickly as he can on this priority.

Q Part of my question has been answered already, but did the President convince General Myers to drop his opposition to the intelligence reform bill and go along with the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: General Myers made his comments yesterday on his own. You heard directly from him on this matter. There were a lot of issues that we looked at as this legislation was moving through the process. The President has stated his views in a number of different ways, both publicly and through correspondence with members of Congress. And he continues to work very closely with those leaders.

Q As I drove in -- this is on behalf of my friend, Goyal. As I drove in, I noticed a number of anti-Bhopal demonstrations. This is the 20th anniversary of the gas spill. From the White House podium, do you have anything to say to the people who are still suffering as a result of that gas spilled 20 years ago?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me see if I can get you more, see if we've put any more out on this.

Go ahead, Paula.

Q On the Social Security issue, as far as transition costs go, one of the outstanding issues, of course, was how to address the short-term transition costs of upwards of $2 trillion. And one suggestion has been to devise an off-budget device, similar to what was done during the S&L bailout, because technically, if you do that, then it isn't considered deficit spending. And I'm wondering if the administration is considering devising an off-budget mechanism --

MR. McCLELLAN: Is that something you're wanting us to consider or look at? Do you have some ideas for us?

The President hasn't endorsed a specific plan at this point. He's laid out some very clear principles. As I said, the Social Security system, as it stands now, is unsustainable. We want younger workers to be able to realize a greater rate of return on their investments, because right now, under the current system, they're facing either massive tax increases or massive benefit cuts. The system needs to be fixed, and that is why the President strongly supports strengthening Social Security with personal accounts so that younger workers can realize a better rate of return on their retirement savings.

Q But the question is that, at least among some critics of this idea, is that it's basically a budget gimmick, and as you know, one of the issues you're planning to discuss in this economic summit is budget discipline. So will budget -- will funding Social Security in the short-term be part of that discussion on budgetary discipline?

MR. McCLELLAN: You've heard the President talk recently about the importance of addressing the deficits, both the short-term and long-term deficits. He has a plan that he's put forward to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. He also is committed to addressing the unfunded liabilities that we have. And the President has made Social Security a priority. It was something that was debated during the campaign. And the President believes it's important to solve this problem, and not pass it on to future generations. The matter only gets worse over time. And there are two options we have: we can do nothing, and let it continue to get worse; or

we can act now to make sure that our children and grandchildren can build a nest egg for their future because right now they're not going to have their retirement savings if we continue under the current system.

Go ahead.

Q On the Cabinet shuffling, I'm wondering why the President wants these big, sweeping changes to his Cabinet.

MR. McCLELLAN: Why the President wants -- I'm sorry?

Q So many changes to his Cabinet.

(Telephone rings.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe that's the answer there on the phone. (Laughter.)

I think if you look back over history, Presidents who have moved into a second term have always looked at their Cabinet and made decisions about what team they want in place to move forward on that second-term agenda. There are a number of members of the Cabinet who have indicated -- there's an announcement coming later today, and some members of the Cabinet have indicated previously that they were looking at simply serving for the remainder of this term. And then they were going to return to the private sector or go to the private sector for other reasons. But I think you're looking at it in the wrong context.

This Cabinet has been in place longer than most in previous administrations. I think you can look at that and see how long some members of this Cabinet have served. A number of them have served a full four years now, and that's a long time for anyone to serve in a position like that. It is also good to have some fresh new faces in place from time to time. And so the President is looking at all this. He's visited with members of his Cabinet to talk to them about these issues, and the process continues to move forward.

Q Hey, Scott, can I follow-up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Bob.

Q Are there any more letters on the President's desk, or has the President been notified of any other Cabinet members --

MR. McCLELLAN: You know, as I say, that we'll keep you posted at the appropriate time. I think out of respect for the process, it's important that we keep all that in mind. I want to be respectful of the process. I want to be respectful of the wishes of members of the Cabinet, as well. But the process continues to move forward at this point.

Mark, you had a question.

Q Scott, let me just follow up on the Musharraf visit again tomorrow. Is the President satisfied with everything that Musharraf and his government are doing in the hunt for al Qaeda and, specifically, Osama bin Laden?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there's always more that can be done, Mark; we've said that. But we've had good close cooperation with Pakistan in going after some of the remnants of the Taliban and al Qaeda members. And we're going to continue working closely with them. We have good intelligence cooperation, and this is something that's a priority for both our nations.

Q Okay. Can I also ask, does the President think at all about some of the things he's said in speeches about not trading security help for dealing with unelected regimes when he meets with General Musharraf?

MR. McCLELLAN: We make our views very clear publicly and privately when it comes for our support for democracy and moving in that direction. And there are some steps that Pakistan has taken, and we continue to talk to them about those issues.

Q He doesn't think he's violating his own rubric?

MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, I think our views are very clear when it comes to our support for freedom and democracy and other issues.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, on the same lines, there are reports in the Pakistani press that with the reelection of President Bush, the U.S. might be closer to giving F-16s to Pakistan in return for -- in recognition for the work in the war on terror. Is that on the agenda for this weekend? And is the U.S. --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't want to get ahead of the meeting. Let's let the meeting take place, but I don't expect any such announcements on matters like that at this time.

Q Scott, The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that the Pentagon deliberately misled CNN about the invasion of Fallujah. Specifically, on October 14th, a Pentagon spokesman had told CNN, troops crossed the line of departure. It's going to be a long night. In fact, the invasion of Fallujah didn't start for another three weeks. The Times says this was part of an elaborate psychological operation to dupe insurgents. Two questions on this: Does the President believe that the U.S. should deliberately mislead reporters to gain an advantage over the enemy? And have you ever deliberately misled reporters to gain an advantage over the enemy?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, on the second part. And on the first part, you need to direct that question to the Department of Defense because they've talked about that matter.

Go ahead, Jeff.

Q Well, the question was about the President. Does the President believe --

MR. McCLELLAN: You need to direct -- the Department of Defense has responded to that article and you need to get their view on this matter. I don't know all the details about it.

Go ahead.

Q Mary Frances Berry, the Chairwoman of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, said recently that she won't step down when her term expires on December 5th. Has the White House named a replacement for her, and what steps will you take to see that that person is seated? If you'll recall, in the year 2001, she said that the President would have to send U.S. marshals to seat one of his nominees on the commission.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are set terms for this commission and we move forward on naming those replacements, knowing when those terms expire. There's nothing I have to announce at this point on it, though.

Q Scott, as you know, much was made of Senator Kennedy appearing with President Bush back when he passed the No Child Left Behind Act, only to see the Senator come back later and criticize the President for not implementing it, in his words, properly or funding it properly. Here we are again with another education bill signing with President Kennedy -- or with Senator Kennedy standing next to President Bush. And I'm just wondering if you have any confidence that over the long haul he will be any more supportive than he was the first time.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me talk from our perspective. The President has made it very clear that he's going to continue reaching out to members of Congress on both sides of the aisles to focus on areas where we have common goals, and focus on things where we can get -- focus on getting things done. That is how the President approaches this. He wants to get things done on the big priorities that we face.

We were able to have strong bipartisan support for the No Child Left Behind Act. It implemented historic reforms that are bringing accountability and results to our schools, and making sure that we're not just shuffling kids through the system.

Now with the passage and signing of the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, we are also making sure that those standards are brought to our children with disabilities, so that they're learning and that they are able to realize their dreams. The President was pleased to have Senator Kennedy and other members from both sides of the aisle here today to participate in that bill signing. The President will continue to reach out, and it's important for other people to reach back, as well, so that we can focus on what's best for the American people. And that's the spirit in which he will continue to work going forward.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. Have a good weekend. See those who have to cover tomorrow, tomorrow.

END 1:06 P.M. EST