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 Home > News & Policies > December 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 6, 2004

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

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1:03 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon to everybody. The President had very productive meetings this morning with President Ghazi al-Yawer and King Abdullah.

This afternoon, the President looks forward to turning his attention to the domestic front. The President will be meeting with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders to talk about the importance of moving forward on strengthening Social Security for future generations. Today's system is unsustainable; younger workers are facing massive tax increases or massive benefit cuts if we don't act. And the President believes very strongly that we need to move forward now and not pass this problem on to future generations. He also looks forward to hearing from members of Congress about some of their ideas about how we can work together to get this done.

And with that I will be glad to go straight to your questions.

Q Is he willing to compromise on the privatization accounts , the idea of his?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes very strongly that personal savings accounts must be part of the solution. Personal savings accounts will allow younger workers to realize a greater rate of return on their retirement savings, and that's why he believes so strongly in it. Again, right now, Social Security is headed in a direction that is not sustainable, and the President believes this is a problem that needs to be fixed and strengthened so that younger workers -- our children and grandchildren -- will be able to realize these greater rates of return.

Q How do you plan to proceed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Terry. I'll come to you.

Q How do you plan to pay for it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there will be some -- first of all, under the current system, the cost of doing nothing is $10 trillion over the long haul --

Q That doesn't tell me how you're going to pay for it.

MR. McCLELLAN: Understood, let me finish, let me finish. I'm coming to your answer.

The President at this point has not endorsed a specific plan, but he's laid out some very clear principles and he's very firmly committed to working closely with congressional leaders to get this done -- that's why he's meeting with them this morning. There will be some up-front transition financing that will be needed to move toward a better system that will allow younger workers to invest a small portion of their own money into personal savings accounts. But it will be a savings over the current system. The current system is simply unsustainable. And like I said, it will lead to either massive tax increases or massive benefit cuts for younger workers.

Now, the President has made it very clear that there will be no changes for those at or near retirement.

Q Up-front transition financing -- does that mean borrowing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what you're looking at doing as part of the transition to a better Social Security system.

Q Scott, but that does pass those costs on to future generations by just borrowing them?

MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, the cost to future generations right now is unsustainable. It is actually a savings. That's what I was trying to emphasize. If you look at the two options that are available, doing nothing -- which is a $10 trillion cost over the long haul -- or acting and reducing that cost, as well as making sure that the retirement savings are there for our children and grandchildren to build a nest egg for their future.

Q But, Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. We're not going to have a shouting contest today. I'll keep going and we'll get back. Rosiland, go ahead.

Q There are some independent estimates saying that the transition cost could be $1 trillion to $2 trillion. Is that a ballpark figure the administration is working from?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, let's look at the cost. The cost is $10 trillion if we do nothing. So what you're talking about would be a significant savings over those costs. The Social Security system is unsustainable. It needs to be fixed. That's why the President supports strengthening Social Security for younger workers so that they don't face massive tax cuts -- or massive tax increases, or massive benefit cuts.

Q But is that the range that the administration is working from, or is it prepared to maybe raise the amount of the amount --

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the President has not endorsed a specific plan at this point. We're continuing to work closely with members of Congress. He outlined some very clear principles about how we move forward to strengthen Social Security for future generations. And those principles are the basis upon which he will work with members of Congress to move forward to get this done. The one thing that this President is firmly committed to doing is not passing this problem on to future generations, because we know the problem only gets worse with time, and we know that it is wrong to saddle future generations with this system. It simply is unaffordable and unsustainable.

Q One more. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina last week proposed possibly paying for the private accounts by raising payroll taxes on higher-income workers. Is that on the table, is that something worth --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think you should go back and look at the President's principles. The President's principles are very clear.

Q But is he willing to --

MR. McCLELLAN: He remains firmly committed to those principles. And one of those principles is not increasing taxes. So that's something that he remains very committed to, as well as making sure that there are no changes for those at or near retirement.

Q So he wouldn't debate that point with Senator Graham?

MR. McCLELLAN: We want to continue to work closely with Senator Graham and other members of Congress to get this done. And we look forward to talking to them more about their ideas. The President's principles have been spelled out publicly, members know what those principles are, and that's the basis upon which he has committed to moving forward on.

Q Could you refresh my memory about those principles. Does he support raising the retirement age or cutting benefits? And when you say, "at or near retirement there will be no change," what do you mean? Could you specify, "at or near retirement"?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and that's getting into discussions with members of Congress, because, again, the President has not come out and endorsed a specific proposal. But on the benefits, the President wants to add a new benefit. It's called personal savings accounts. He wants to provide younger workers with a greater rate of return on their investments, because right now they're not going to realize very much at all under the current Social Security system. The President wants to give them some ownership into the system, and allow them to invest a small portion in those personal retirement accounts. It'll help them realize a greater rate of return than they are getting now on their retirement savings. This is about strengthening it for future generations.

Q I wasn't clear on the benefit -- is he going to -- are benefits going to be reduced for people who have been paying into Social Security?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what benefits are there today, Terry? Those at or near retirement, there will be no changes for those at or near retirement. And because the system is unsustainable and because of the way it is currently, those younger workers -- and our children and grandchildren -- are going to realize very, very little on their rate of return. We want them to realize a greater rate of return on their investment. That's what the President is committed to doing. That's why he's put forward the plan that he did, because taxes being collected now won't be enough to pay for all the benefits being promised to today's younger workers.

Q Can I just clarify the financing, to make sure we're all clear on this. But you're saying that the $1 trillion is not in addition to the current liability of Social Security --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not saying there's any -- I'm not committing to any cost estimate at this point, because that's based on the plan that the President endorses --

Q Whatever -- all transitional costs. What you're saying is that they're not in addition to all of the liabilities the Social Security system now has, that they are, essentially, moving forward some of the liabilities --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you bring that point up, because it's something the President has talked about at length recently. He's talked about the importance of addressing our deficits. One, the short-term deficit, the President has a plan to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. And then the long-term deficit, which is based on these unfunded liabilities. Social Security is one of those unfunded liabilities. That's why he believes we need to address it now before it gets worse, because it is completely unsustainable the way it is headed today.

Q The other question is, how do you plan to proceed on this? Is the President going to actually embrace a particular bill, either on the Hill now or one that is written by the White House? Or is he going to continue to sort of sit on the side lines and lay out principles and wait for members of Congress to come up with some sort --

MR. McCLELLAN: I understand you want to kind of jump ahead of where the game is right now, but --

Q No, I'm trying to figure out if you've got a plan for the game.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we do. And that's -- part of that is to discuss it with congressional leaders about what is the best way to proceed forward. There are a number of members of Congress who share our commitment to strengthening Social Security for younger workers. We are reaching out across partisan lines. Today's meeting is one example of that outreach effort to focus on how we proceed forward to get this done. The President is working to bring people together to strengthen Social Security, and we will discuss these matters with members of Congress. The second term doesn't begin until January 20th. This is one of the top priorities for his second term. The President wants to move quickly on this priority.

Q So one of the questions you're trying to answer is whether or not it would be better for you to write your own bill --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to get into some of the transition --

Q No, I'm --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, let me finish. You're asking me to try to get into some of the policy transition to a second term. We are discussing a lot of issues right now about the best way to proceed forward. That's why we're reaching out to members of Congress to get their input, as well, about how we proceed forward together to get this done.

Q I'm just saying, one of the questions you're asking them is would it be better if the White House wrote a bill, or would it be better for us not to have a big target --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think there are a number of issues we discuss with them, and that's one of them.

Q We understand from some Republicans on the Hill that there is actually now a framework for language that will assuage some of Duncan Hunter's concerns about the chain of command on the intelligence bill . Can you tell us what the status of that is? Is the President now prepared to send a letter, and is that what the agreement is?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, protecting the American people is the President's number one priority, and that is why he is firmly committed to getting this intelligence reform legislation passed. It builds upon the many steps we have already taken since September 11th to better protect the American people and improve our intelligence-gathering. We have been in very close contact with congressional leaders over the last few weeks to get this legislation moving forward and get it passed. We remain in close contact with congressional leaders, and we feel very hopeful that this legislation will get passed this week. Those discussions continue. It's not my place to get into announcing things for Congress. Those are matters for Congress to announce.

Q Okay, but in terms of -- there's an understanding that the President is going to send a letter, and that is going to be what is going to provide, sort of, the framework for that agreement. What's the status of that? Is that coming?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect it will be going very soon. The President has clearly spoken to the concerns that some members of Congress had about this legislation. The President remains firmly committed to making sure that we preserve the chain of command, to making sure that our men and women in uniform who are in harm's way have everything they need in a very timely manner. And those are some of the concerns that have been discussed. And you heard the President earlier today talk about how he believes many of the concerns that have come up have been addressed. And we're continuing to talk with members. And we believe we can get it passed this week.

Q One last thing -- to follow up on this. What has the President been personally doing on this in the last several days? We understand that others have been heavily involved. But how has he been involved? Has he been on the phone over the weekend? Has he been making calls today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Working on his letter. No. (Laughter.)

The President was in touch with Speaker Hastert and Leader Frist last week and talked about the importance of continuing to move forward on this. Both those leaders are committed to continuing to move it forward and work this issue through to a completion.

Q Maybe today?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, there's no update today. Obviously, today he had several meetings -- or a couple of meetings with world leaders. He has another one coming up here very shortly. And this afternoon, I'll keep you posted if there are any additional updates.

Go ahead, Connie.

Q Two questions. The President talked again today about a Palestinian state . Will that be the centerpiece of his administration, the establishment of a Palestinian state?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, moving forward on advancing freedom and democracy in the Middle East is one of the cornerstones of his second term agenda. We are moving forward to hold free and fair elections in Iraq at the end of January. We are also working to do whatever we can to help the Palestinian people hold elections on January 9th. And we want to make sure that those are free and fair elections, and we're there to assist them as they choose new leaders.

We also are working to put in place a strategy for -- to move forward on the institutions necessary for a viable Palestinian state to emerge. The President talked about this at length with Prime Minister Blair when he was here. You were there to cover the news conference. And they talked about how we can seize this opportunity. In fact, in his meeting today with King Abdullah, the two leaders talked about the importance of seizing this opportunity that's before us and helping the Palestinian people as they move forward to build a viable state.

Q And one more on the Ukraine . Has the President spoken to President Putin in the last few days, since Putin's complaints?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he has not. This is a matter for the people of Ukraine to decide. We want the will of the people of Ukraine to be reflected in the final outcome. We welcome the decision by the supreme court. We hope that the process will continue to move forward quickly, and it will be a peaceful, democratic solution that reflects the will of the people.

Q Scott, two questions. One, according to an AP story, Osama bin Laden is still ready to attack the U.S. during Christmas, especially with the HIV/AIDS (inaudible) women from around the world here in the U.S. And when General Musharraf was here in the White House with President Bush, if President had any warning message or advice for General Musharraf, as far as Osama bin Laden and fighting against terrorism, because millions of Americans voted for the President on this issue, that he would continue fight against terrorism and bring Osama bin Laden --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the war on terrorism is much broader than any one person. But you mentioned Osama bin Laden . We've been dismantling and disrupting his network for quite some time. President Musharraf and President Bush did discuss the importance of going after al Qaeda planners and plotters in the Afghan-Pakistan border region where some of them have tried to hide. But those al Qaeda members are finding out that they cannot hide. They're being brought to justice. The Pakistani troops are doing a tremendous job to go after those al Qaeda members, and they continue to pursue them. They are pursuing them all along that border region. We appreciate the sacrifices that have been made by Pakistani troops, and we are continuing to work very closely with President Musharraf and the Pakistani leadership to go after these terrorists.

Q Second, if President is worried about Mr. Putin's visit to India . There's a triangle there, which Mr. Putin spoke about China , Russia and India . And he said that these three, the triangle should strengthen. And now there's another triangle here, India , U.S. and Pakistan . So where -- what do you think -- because at the same time China is growing militarily, testing new ballistic missiles --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure exactly what you're referring to, but we have very good relationships with Pakistan and India . We have -- they're not exclusive of each other. We work very closely with both countries, and we will continue to do so. He had a good meeting with President Musharraf, and he has good meetings with India 's leadership, as well. And he looks forward to continuing to talk to Prime Minister Singh about our relations and about how we can all work together on our common priorities.

Q Scott, a highly reliable source tells me that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is displeased that the fact that he's staying on was announced by a "senior administration official," and that he would like the President to announce it formally. Does the President plan to do so?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is not making any change. The President asked Secretary Rumsfeld to continue to serve in the administration last week, during their regular weekly meeting. The President is pleased that Secretary Rumsfeld agreed to stay on in that position. Secretary Rumsfeld is someone who is providing very strong leadership during a time of war. We remain a nation at war, as Goyal brought up, and the President appreciates the fact that he's agreed to serve as a member of his team and looks forward to continuing to work with him to make the world a safer and better place.

Q Can you say the same thing about Treasury Secretary John Snow?

Q Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said yesterday that he wanted the President to submit a list of potential Supreme Court nominees to be considered when a vacancy occurs. This seems to suggest the Democrats feel they have a mandate to continue obstruction of judges, since they only lost four Senate seats instead of the nine that would constitute a filibuster-proof minority -- majority, I'm sorry. Is the President likely to pre-approve Court nominees with the minority Democrats in the Senate?

MR. McCLELLAN: We look forward to working with the Democratic leadership in the Senate to move forward on the President's judicial nominees. The President has put forward a number of well qualified people. There are some that are -- have still not been voted on and we want to see action on. It is something that is a priority for this President. There are some vacancies that need to be filled that have not been filled. In terms of the Supreme Court, there are no vacancies at this point, so it's not appropriate for me to even get into discussing it.

But we hope that as we move forward on a second term, that everybody will work in a spirit of bipartisan cooperation to get things done. The President was elected with a very strong vote, and certainly judicial nominees was one of the issues that was brought up during the campaign.

Q Reid also said that Clarence Thomas was an embarrassment to the Court. Would you comment on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I totally disagree. I think he's been a good member of the Court, as the President has spoken about, someone who does not believe in making the law up from the bench, but believes in upholding the Constitution and interpreting law.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, on the personal savings investment accounts , some are still calling this risky -- to play the stock market is risky. What are the safeguards for young people as it relates to putting their money into the stock market, so if there is a problem like there was a couple years ago that they would have, as you say, a greater return for the time --

MR. McCLELLAN: I would encourage you to look at the Social Security Commission that the President appointed and look at how they addressed some of those issues, because what we're talking about is that they would have safe investments to choose from. There would be protections put in place against risk. That's one of the priorities as we move forward on this. We want people to realize a greater rate of return. And I think the Social Security Commission addressed some of those issues.

Q So you're saying that they have options to choose from. But what if they choose not to go with the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Options from safe investments. And these are voluntary personal savings accounts. It would be up to them if they wanted to use a small portion of their retirement funds -- these are their own retirement funds -- and invest that in safe investments.

Q And then, lastly, tomorrow the President goes to California. He's going to be at Camp Pendleton , and Arnold Schwarzenegger is said to be in Sacramento working on the budget. Why are the two not meeting? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Governor Schwarzenegger and the President are good friends. The President certainly appreciates his support during the election. He's someone that the President works very closely with on priorities that we both share. And I don't think I would look at -- read in -- I don't know why he's not coming. I wouldn't read anything into that at all.

Q Are they not upset with each other?

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q It's about stem cell research?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, in fact, they get along very well.

Q Going back to Terry's question a while ago, the definition of " near retirement ," is that age 55?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, those are issues we'll be discussing with members of Congress and discussing as we move forward on legislation --

Q So at the moment, there is not a number attached to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct, the President has not endorsed a specific plan at this point. He's defined it as -- the principle as at or near retirement, and that there will be no changes for those at or near retirement.

Q Can you tell us who's coming today?

MR. McCLELLAN: We can get you that list, once we confirm who all is going to be here. But it's the bipartisan leadership, as well as some of the bipartisan conference and caucus leaders. And we'll get you -- we can get you that list.

Q A couple questions -- it wasn't quite clear -- understood the answers. Were you saying that the assumption is we will borrow the money for the transition --

MR. McCLELLAN: I said there will be some up front transition financing to move toward personal savings accounts and in a strengthened Social Security system. And, yes, that's something you're talking about when you look at the transition financing, but it's a savings over the long-term and it makes sure that Social Security does not run the massive deficit that it's going to be facing over the long haul.

Q Scott, Congressman Conyers has asked the GAO to conduct an investigation of possible voter suppression during the election in Ohio . The most egregious example of it was, of course, these lines that were at certain voting places, many of them in minority districts where people had to wait eight or nine hours to vote. And of course, many people --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that may be your opinion on the most egregious example. I heard a lot of other examples that were very egregious.

Q This was reported. And of course, people who have jobs -- I mean, we saw the lines, and people who have jobs who couldn't stay there eight or nine hours obviously had to go to work instead of sacrificing their job in order to vote. There were also instances of voter registration forms which had been given the okay at a late date by the Secretary of State; the message did not get out to some counties, so many of the then accurate voter registration papers were not submitted, thereby depriving these people of a right to vote. If there is an indication of voter suppression --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we're getting a very one-sided view of the election right now. Let's get to the question.

Q There is an investigation ongoing. There is indication that there was suppression of the vote. This is a violation of the Voting Rights Act. And if it is shown that there is a systematic voter suppression in the case of Ohio , doesn't this cast a pallor on the great victory celebrations that you had after the election?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the American people spoke very clearly on November 2nd. It was a clear victory for the President of the United States. Now is the time for us to all look forward in how we can work together to get things done. I think you gave a very one-sided view of things there, and I do not agree with it.

Q But does the President support an investigation into what, if anything, might have gone wrong in the system in Ohio?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the election was viewed as very free and fair, and we hope that there will be free and fair elections in places like Iraq and the Palestinian Territories, as well.

Q Scott, the New York Times reported today that a firm decision has been made to replace Secretary Snow . Is this true? And I have a follow-up.

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate your question. I know that this is all part of the continuing Washington, D.C. speculation game. It's a game that I'm not going to get into playing, as I've told you from this podium. We appreciate the great job that Secretary Snow is doing. He's an outstanding member of this team.

Q The thing I don't understand, though, is that administration officials were able to say on Friday night that the President asked Secretary Rumsfeld to stay. So why won't the White House say the same thing about Secretary Snow?

MR. McCLELLAN: And I have told you that we will keep you posted when we have things to announce.

Q Is there anything in particular the President wants to say to the troops at Pendleton tomorrow?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, yes, I haven't looked at the latest remarks. But the President, first and foremost, will thank the members of our military, men and women, who have served and sacrificed to make the world a safer and better place. He will also thank their families for the tremendous sacrifices that they make. The President looks forward to going to Camp Pendleton and having lunch with the troops, as well as speaking to them. And that's --

Q Is it a holiday visit, a pre-holiday visit?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's just part of his continuing visit to military bases to thank our men and women in uniform who are doing a great job.

Q Scott, The Washington Post, The Washington Times and The New York Times have all reported that the Baltimore Sun has filed a lawsuit in Baltimore's federal court charging that the federal constitution has been violated because Maryland's Republican governor has refused and directed his administration's press officers to refuse to talk to two Sun writers whom the governor charges with inaccuracies and bias. And my question, since The Sun, in reporting its own lawsuit noted, "President Bush boasts of not reading newspapers and has held the fewest news conferences of any modern President," my question, does the President support this Republican governor or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President absolutely supports Governor Ehrlich. I'm not getting into any individual, specific issues. I think the question regarding The Baltimore Sun and Governor Ehrlich are best addressed at Governor Ehrlich's press briefings.

Q I saw the President's very enthusiastic presence, which delighted everyone at the Army-Navy game. But at the more historic game, two weeks before, between his two alma matters, Yale and Harvard --

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I thought you were going to say Texas and A&M.

Q No, no, Yale and Harvard -- he was absent. And my question, is this absence due in any part to the fact that while Yale honors all of its alumni who are dead, including Confederates, like Texans, Harvard refuses to honor 60 Confederate alumni, including doctors who treated the wounded for both sides, while they honor German alumni dead in World Wars I and II that they mark enemy. Was that the reason or not? Are you going to dodge that? Is this an evasion?

MR. McCLELLAN: It sounded more like a statement than a question, so I'm going to keep moving. Go ahead, Bob.

Q Thanks, Scott. I just want to be clear on the Social Security principles. Will the up-front financing be dealing with all of the transition costs, or just a portion of them?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you're getting into a specific plan. The President has not endorsed a specific plan at this point. When he does, rest assured, we will keep you apprised of that.

Q So the principle is that at least some of the transition costs will be financed --

MR. McCLELLAN: We keep talking about cost. It's a savings, because the cost is $10 trillion of doing nothing, and this will actually be a savings from that cost of doing nothing.

Q The borrowed money will have to be paid back. It's not imaginary, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: And it will be a savings over the overall costs under the current system.

Q That's your belief, but for now, the money will be borrowed and will have to be paid back.

MR. McCLELLAN: It will be a savings over the long-term.

Q What about the short-term, right now --

Q And what is the basis for $10 trillion?

MR. McCLELLAN: Bob has the floor. April, you've had your question, Mark, you've had your question. Bob, it's your question. I'll come back to you if I can.

Q The principle is that those at or near retirement age will not see an adjustment in their premiums, but the rest -- premium adjustment is still on the table for the rest.

(Phone ringing.)

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, repeat that, I got distracted by the phone call. (Laughter.)

Q The principle is that for those at or near retirement age, however that is defined, there will be no adjustment in premiums, but for the rest, a premium adjustment remains on the table, remains part of the --

MR. McCLELLAN: There will be no changes for those at or near retirement. In terms of younger workers, we want to help them with a new benefit realize a greater rate of return. That's what the President is committed to doing.

Q And that could be associated with --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's go over here.

Q The New York Times reports that eight soldiers plan to sue the Army over its stop-loss policy . They say that it's unfair because they've kept their part of the deal, but the Army isn't keeping up its part of the deal. Is this a fair policy? And on the other hand, is it wrong for these soldiers to sue during a time of war?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, people sign up voluntarily to be members of the military. We appreciate the job that they do. They do a tremendous job serving to make the world a better place, and to make the world a safer place, and to make America more secure.

In terms of the Department of Defense's policies, these are issues they look at very carefully. We are a nation that remains at war. We're at war against terrorism. It's important that we win this war. We appreciate the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform. And these are difficult issues sometimes that the Department of Defense has to work to address. But those are issues that I would defer to the Department of Defense to address with more specificity.

Q Is it wrong for them to sue during a time of war?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think these are questions you need to address to the Department of Defense. I'm not familiar with any individual cases out there.

Q Scott, on Social Security , it's obviously a complex issue. You said the President hasn't endorsed any specific principles. Can you say --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he's endorsed principles.

Q Any specific --

MR. McCLELLAN: Plan.

Q -- plans. Can you say with a hundred percent confidence that Secretary Snow is his Cabinet member to lead through these complex --

MR. McCLELLAN: I've already addressed this question.

Yes, back in back and then Russell.

Q The leader of the insurgents in Iraq, Zarqawi, is Jordanian. Did King Abdullah offer any intelligence support or advice to the President to help neutralize Zarqawi's operations in Iraq ?

MR. McCLELLAN: We work very closely with Jordan in the global war on terrorism. And King Abdullah is someone who we greatly appreciate for the work he has done to move ahead in the war on terrorism. In terms of -- Zarqawi did not come up in their meeting, or their discussions. The importance of addressing the security situation in Iraq and moving forward on elections came up in the discussions.

Q But he is Jordanian, and that's a bit of an oddity that he's doing all this. He's sort of the Osama bin Laden right now in Iraq. Why wouldn't that come up in --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are terrorists like Zarqawi who have come into Iraq. They were there before we went in. They remain there. And they have other people entering the country through some of the borders. They are working to derail the transition to democracy. There are some Saddam Hussein loyalists who are working to derail the transition to democracy.

The President and President Ghazi al-Yawer discussed the security situation earlier this morning. President Ghazi al-Yawer reiterated the commitment of the Iraqi people to move forward on elections on schedule. He said the Iraqi people want to vote because this will give them a chance to have an investment in their own future. It's an important milestone in moving toward a democratic state. This will be for the transitional national assembly. An election commission has set the date, and moving forward on those elections will help defeat the ambitions of people like Zarqawi and his network.

His network has -- we have gone after his network. We have brought to justice some of his top lieutenants. We are continuing to pursue that network. The Iraqi people realize that people like Zarqawi are enemies of -- they are enemies. They're the enemies of the Iraqi people. They're enemies of a brighter future for all the Iraqi people. And the Iraqi people want to see them defeated. And we are there to partner with the Iraqi security forces to make that happen.

Q Scott, on the Middle East , many evangelical Christians are supporting right-wing Jews in Israel who want to rebuild the temple on Temple Mount in Jerusalem . They believe this is a prerequisite for Christ's return to Earth. They believe when Christ returns to Earth -- they call this "the Rapture" -- he will take back with Him the true believers, and the rest, the non--believers, Jews and Muslims, will be left behind to face a violent death here on Earth. My question is, as a born-again Christian, does the President support efforts to rebuild a temple on the Temple Mount ?

MR. McCLELLAN: Russ, we can sit here and talk about religious issues, but I'm not -- I will be glad to take your question and if there's more, I will get back to you on it.

Q Is he a born-again Christian?

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:36 P.M. EST