The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 28, 2004

Press Gaggle by Trent Duffy
Crawford Middle School
Crawford, Texas

     listen Audio

12:30 P.M. CST

MR. DUFFY: Good afternoon. A quick update to the President's schedule. The President received his morning intelligence briefings, as he always does, and then he received a special update on the disaster, as well as the relief and the recovery effort underway. The news reports continue to be very grim and the President, on behalf of the American people, wants to again extend our thoughts and prayers to all those who are suffering in the region and throughout the world as we confront this tragedy.

As I indicated yesterday, the President has authorized and directed the United States to play a leading role in the rescue, relief and recovery effort which is underway. And I would just say, of course, that the United States and the American people are the single largest contributors to international aid efforts across the globe. We have been for the past few years and I have every expectation that that will continue. Those contributions take the form of official government assistance, as well as individual charitable contributions to the Red Cross and to other international and non-governmental organizations.

I think the State Department has briefed recently about some of the efforts underway. I'll quickly summarize them. There has been an initial commitment of $15 million to support the relief efforts. USAID has just recently added $20 million to that, for the earthquake relief. Included in that is $2 million for Sri Lanka, $1 million for Indonesia, $100,000 each for India, the Maldives and Thailand; as well, an additional $4 million has been sent to the International Red Cross to support their efforts.

The United States military is also playing a role. The Thailand government has offered the United States a base to use as a regional support center in the recovery effort, and we welcome that. There are a dozen C-130s from the Pacific Command that are hauling in relief supplies as we speak, including food, water, blankets, emergency shelter -- you name it, it's on its way and those relief supplies will continue to flow.

So that's what I have, and with that I will take your questions.

Q Trent, do you know where the money comes from? Is there money set aside for international disasters like this?

MR. DUFFY: There is money set aside. I suspect that there may be additional funds necessary, but I would refer you to the State Department for what exact pot of money. But the USAID has an annual pot of money that's used for emergency response.

Q Trent, we've heard your statements about -- for two or three days about the President's sentiments, but we haven't actually seen him, and, more importantly, the people in Sri Lanka or Indonesia or the other locations have not seen him step out, as he did so often after, say, September 11 and some other tragedies. Can you tell us why?

MR. DUFFY: The President has already sent letters of condolences to the leaders in the seven countries. He has directed the United States to play a leading role in the recovery effort and we will continue to do that. The President is doing what is needed most, which is to authorize the U.S. government to play a leading role in the relief and recovery effort. And so he has extended his condolences -- I have, on his behalf -- and he continues to express his condolences.

Q Trent, I'm not questioning his -- the actual question is whether the people of Asia and those who are suffering from all of this, whether there would be any benefit from seeing and hearing from him directly.

MR. DUFFY: I think the people of the region and around the world know that the President of the United States is saddened and has extended his condolences for this terrible tragedy.

Q Was the President as upset as Colin Powell was about U.N. humanitarian officials saying that some rich nations are being stingy with aid?

MR. DUFFY: I'd encourage you to look at his (Jan Egeland, Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations) remarks, his recent remarks. I think he's said as much, that he's been misquoted and sort of misinterpreted. As I said, the United States is the single largest contributor to international aid in the world. We outmatch the contributions of other nations combined, and we'll continue to be. So I would encourage you to look at his remarks and maybe contact his office, because I think some of those were taken out of context.

Q As the relief efforts recedes, will the President be making any requests of Congress to free up more funds for this?

MR. DUFFY: I have nothing to announce at this time. Obviously, as we just try to grasp what the scope of this tragedy and the response effort that's needed, we'll continue to assess the needs going forward. So I don't have anything to announce at this point, but should there be a need for additional resources I have every expectation that the President would seek those.

Q So you do not anticipate seeing the President at all this week --

MR. DUFFY: I don't have anything to announce on the President's schedule.

Q A follow up on David's question. Does the President not see any utility as to him taking a personal or a very public leadership role at a time like this worldwide?

MR. DUFFY: The President is taking a personal, public leadership role in this. He is -- as I said, he's been involved and he's authorized the U.S. government to play a leading role in the relief and recovery efforts, and that's what's needed most, is to speed the relief and the recovery, the manpower, the materiel, the supplies to the region and to help with the recovery effort. And that's what's most important right now.

Q Is the United States doing anything to encourage the loser of the Ukrainian election to concede? Are we sending any signals?

MR. DUFFY: Well, the official outcome, I don't believe, has been announced at this point. As I said yesterday, the Ukraine election appeared to go forward in an open and transparent fashion. We support that election. It appears to meet international standards and we await the official outcome.

Q But the guy is not conceding, so --

MR. DUFFY: I think the people of Ukraine are showing that they have dealt with this entire election through the institutions that support their country, and they'll continue to do that. And it's been positive, because it's been a non-violent exercise.

Q There are some groups in Europe that are encouraging him to concede. We haven't done that thus far, we're waiting --

MR. DUFFY: Not to my knowledge, no.

Q Has the President decided to move his goal of overhauling the tax code to a lower priority from -- you know, after he handles Social Security and the deficit?

MR. DUFFY: No, the President is committed to reforming our tax code. The tax code is outdated, it is a drag on our economy, it is a drag on small businesses and our ability to create jobs in this country. I mean, Americans spend too much time sitting at the dinner table doing their taxes.

So the first step is to create a bipartisan advisory panel. The President said he wants to do that by the end of the year. We still have a few days left in that year. So that will be the first step. They'll report back with some recommendations, and we'll move forward. But the President campaigned on it, you've heard him say many, many times that he believes that when you campaign on an issue you should deliver it to the American people, and he's intent on doing that.

Q Some Republicans are saying that the President should just go for more modest proposals; that with everything else going on -- you have Social Security and the deficit pledges -- that now is really more of a time just to do some modest tax changes, rather than a sweeping overhaul. Does he agree with that?

MR. DUFFY: Well, again, that's why the bipartisan advisory panel will play such a principal role as we move forward. Their charge will be to explore and determine ways in which the tax code could be reformed to help our economy, to help efficiency, to help job creation -- all those principles that the President outlined. And that's the first step. Of course we'll work with the Congress on that going forward.

Q Besides getting his morning briefing, what else is the President doing?

MR. DUFFY: The President is continuing to think about the Inauguration and the State of the Union speech; he's clearing some brush this morning; I think he has some friends coming in either today or tomorrow that he enjoys hosting; he's doing some biking and exercising as he normally does, taking walks with the First Lady; and thinking about what he wants to accomplish in the second term.

Q This is a follow up on Holly's question about tax reform. Is it fair to say the President is open to a range of ideas, including a major overhaul, like a shift to a flat tax, ranging from that to tweaking the code and making smaller changes?

MR. DUFFY: I think the President has been quite clear on this. He wants to reform the tax code. And he's not going to prejudge any outcome. That's what the bipartisan advisory panel will, you know, sort of explore. So, no, no options are off the table or on. That's what the panel is going to explore and try to determine.

Q Do you have any response to the remarks of the former inspector general of Department of Homeland Security who said that the department is dysfunctional, it's a mess, it's not doing its job, it's spending -- it's wasting money?

MR. DUFFY: Well, the Department of Homeland Security is doing an exceptional job protecting the American people. Obviously, there are organizational challenges when you undertake the biggest government reform since the Pentagon was created. And we're working on that.

But there's no question that the American people are much safer today than they were before the DHS was created, and they'll be safer tomorrow. Every day there's hundreds of thousands of hard-working government officials from the Customs service to the Immigration officials to border protection that are working hard and continuing to protect the American people. That's how I would respond to that.

Q Can you say who briefed the President on the South Asia situation?

MR. DUFFY: National Security Council officials.

Q At the ranch?

MR. DUFFY: At the ranch, yes.

Q Who is out there?

MR. DUFFY: Greg Schulte.

Anything further? Thank you.

END 12:39 P.M. CST

* One additional announcement: The President will return to Washington on Sunday, January 2, 2005.

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