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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 14, 2005
Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Jacksonville, Florida
11:32 A.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, the President had a phone call with President Yawar this morning. They talked about President Yawar's current trip to Europe, as well as the preparations for the upcoming elections. And both leaders reaffirmed their commitment to moving forward on the January 30th date for the election.
Then he taped his radio address. He had his usual briefings.
Q And the topic on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Social Security. And when we land, there will be -- we'll go to a community college, the Florida Community College in Jacksonville, where the President will participate in a conversation on higher education and job training. And we'll get you a fact sheet here very shortly, but the President today will be talking about his plan to expand the Pell Grant program through reforms to the student loan program. And this expansion of the Pell Grant program will provide more assistance to low-income students to receive higher education and enter the work force with the skills they need to succeed, and fill the jobs of the 21st century. And so that will be a specific part of his conversation remarks today. And we'll get you the fact sheet on that.
And one personnel announcement, and then remind me about the week ahead when you're done with your questions. Heidi Smith, who has been our Director of Personnel -- Presidential Correspondence, will now be Special Assistance to the President for Cabinet Liaison. So she'll be the Cabinet Liaison going into the second term.
Q -- the Cabinet Secretary?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the -- the Secretary of Cabinet Affairs?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that will -- we've restructured that office a little bit, and she will be the Cabinet Liaison. Brian Montgomery announced previously that he was going to be looking at other opportunities. And the President appreciates the great job that Brian Montgomery has done coordinating our Cabinet efforts, and he has a tremendous amount of trust in Heidi to fill this important role as the Cabinet Liaison.
Q There's a report out that Iraq could become an important breeding ground for terrorism. Is the President concerned about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the report talks a lot more -- about a lot more than that. We welcome the report. I think the report confirms that our strategy of staying on the offensive and spreading freedom to win the war on terrorism is the right approach. We are in a struggle of epic proportions and the stakes are high, and the President believes it's important to continue to advance freedom in a dangerous region of the world because it will make the world a more peaceful place, and make America more secure. And so I think that's the -- this report is a speculative report about things that could happen in the world, but we welcome the report and --
Q To what extent is he concerned that Iraq has become, or is becoming a breeding ground for terrorism --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we talked about this before -- the terrorists recognize how high the stakes are. We're fighting them abroad so that we don't have to fight them here at home. And the way to win the war on terrorism is to stay on the offensive and work with the international community to bring to justice those who seek to do us harm, and to work together to advance freedom, particularly in the broader Middle East region. And that's how we ultimately defeat the ideology of hatred that terrorists espouse.
Q But has the war -- did the war create a vacuum that has made it more conducive for terrorists to use Iraq as a base?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President talked about that during the campaign. I mean, that's just a misunderstanding of the war on terrorism.
Q -- the President to talk about this, as a central front of the war on terrorism, when essentially, what the report is suggesting is that it is a central front created by and essentially helping terrorism.
MR. McCLELLAN: Did the report say that?
Q -- insinuating that it's a place where it's a breeding ground for --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the report, like I said, confirms that we have the right strategy for winning the war on terrorism, which is to stay on the offensive and go after the terrorists, and to work to spread freedom and hope to regions of the world that have only known tyranny and oppression. And the war on terrorism is won by staying on the offensive and spreading freedom.
We are staying on the offensive to defeat the terrorists, and to suggest otherwise is just a misunderstanding. We are fighting them abroad so that we don't have to fight them at home. The terrorists recognize how high the stakes are. The elections coming up in Iraq are a significant achievement for the Iraqi people, and it's another step forward on the path to democracy in Iraq. And when we achieve peace and democracy in Iraq, it will be a significant blow to the ambitions of the terrorists and their ideology of hatred and oppression that they espouse.
Q Does the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's the stakes that are involved. This is a struggle of ideologies. It is an epic struggle, and the stakes are high.
Q Does the President disagree with the report's conclusion that the war and the uncertainty on the ground has created a breeding ground for terrorism?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we just answered this question. We just went through it, so I would go back to what I just said, and those are, I think, the points to make.
Q I mean, the reason that we keep asking the question again is that it's just confusing to me how you can say it confirms your strategy is the right approach when there is terrorism in Iraq now, a terrorist breeding ground in Iraq now and growing there, and wasn't there before. So how does that confirm your approach?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's assuming that terrorists would just be sitting around doing nothing if we weren't staying on the offensive in the war on terrorism. I mean, by going on the offensive we've been able to liberate two countries, the people of two countries -- in Afghanistan and Iraq. And now we must continue to do everything we can to support efforts to build democratic futures for the people of the region. And that's exactly what we'll continue to do.
But I disagree with the characterization of the report, because I think the report confirms that we have the right strategy to win the war on terrorism, because of what I said a minute ago. So I would disagree with that. And this is -- the report looks at much more than just that. It's a speculative report that looks at a number of areas in the world, and we welcome the report. It's important to look at what the report has to say. And I don't think we've had time to look at the whole report, and I would encourage each of you to look at the whole report, as well, and maybe -- because I think some of the characterization is off the mark.
Q Can we turn to North Korea?
Q Excuse me just -- are you talking about our characterization, or the characterization in the report?
MR. McCLELLAN: Some of the characterization of the questions this morning -- in the gaggle this morning, not the report.
Q Can we turn to North Korea? You probably saw that they're willing to return to the table, as long as the administration doesn't slander their internal system or meddle with their internal system. What do you make of what they said?
MR. McCLELLAN: As long as the administration doesn't what?
Q Doesn't slander their internal system or meddle with their internal affairs.
MR. McCLELLAN: We put forward a practical proposal at the last round of six-party talks. It's a proposal that we believe addresses the concerns of all parties. The six-party talks are the way forward to achieving the goal of all the countries in the region, which is a non-nuclear peninsula. And it is time to move forward on the six-party talks, and so we would hope that they are willing to come back to the six-party talks so we can talk about how we can move forward on the proposal that we outlined at the last round of talks.
Q You don't sound hopeful or welcoming of the statement they made.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll see -- we'll see by their action how serious they are. I think all parties in the region have made it very clear that they want to see a non-nuclear peninsula, and they're all saying the same thing to North Korea. And we want to work through a peaceful, diplomatic process that involves all six parties. That's what we're committed to doing. We have a number of practical steps that address the concerns of all parties that we think is the way forward, and we look forward to the next round of talks. We hope that those can occur soon and that we can talk about how to move forward on the proposal. We have not set any preconditions for the next round of talks.
Q On today's event, the President has fallen short from his 2000 commitments on Pell Grants. Why should we take today's commitment seriously?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's come congressional action I think that is -- because of action by Congress has led to a shortfall, in terms of funding the Pell Grant awards, and that's what the President will be talking about in his conversation, and we'll have for you in the fact sheets so you might want to look at that. But the President has always been a strong supporter of Pell Grants to help low-income students receive higher education and get the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century work force. We live in a changing economy, and Pell Grants are key to making sure more low-income Americans are able to pursue and realize their dreams.
And so he'll talk about the way we're reforming these programs, and focusing in on results, because the President is interested in achieving results. Pell Grants have been a great success, and now we want to make it -- we want to make more low-income Americans eligible for those Pell Grants. That's why he's committed to expanding the program.
Q Scott, there's been some criticism of the inaugural costs, $40 million being spent on the inauguration at a time when people are dying in Iraq and the tsunami disaster has created a sobering mood. Does the President feel that it's appropriate to have a lavish celebration like that at such a time?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we talked about this earlier in the week, and I think the Inaugural Committee has talked about it, as well. But the inaugural is a great American tradition, and this is a time not only to celebrate freedom, but to pay tribute to our men and women in uniform. And these are private contributions from people all across America who are enthusiastic about this great celebration that will be going on next week in Washington, D.C.
Q But it's --
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on -- and it enables -- those private contributes enable more everyday Americans to enjoy this unique and grand American celebration. And so the President is appreciative of all those people who have helped provide support for our inaugural.
Q How is the speech going? I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q What about scaling it back, though, just making it --
Q Is he at all uncomfortable with the scale or the lavishness of what we're going to see next week?
MR. McCLELLAN: The inaugural is a celebration of our democracy. It's an opportunity for all Americans to come together around a great tradition. And it's an opportunity to show the world the democratic values that America stands for. And so I think it's an important moment and a great tradition.
Q Are there any members of Congress on board?
MR. McCLELLAN: Congressman Crenshaw. He's with the President right now.
Q Is his brother going to be there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Governor Bush will be there. And Senator Martinez.
Q What are you -- what are the themes of the speech going to be?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's going to be talking about the Pell Grant program.
Q No, no, I'm talking about the inaugural speech.
MR. McCLELLAN: I know, I'm kidding. (Laughter.) It's Friday, so I -- well, I don't want to --
Q Press Secretary humor. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: It's Friday, you know. I don't want to get too far ahead of the President at this point because you still have about a week to go before the remarks. But the President, he's still working on it and he did some speech preparation -- participated in some speech preparation yesterday. But the President -- he'll talk about the importance of advancing freedom to achieving peace. And he looks forward to giving the speech. I think it's a -- I'll leave it at that for now.
Q All right.
Q Can we get back to the Pell Grants --
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll have the week ahead in a minute.
Q Certainly. Just humor me here. The expansion that he's going to be talking about today I presume is one area of budget increases that he's going to be proposing for the next fiscal year. But there have been lots of reports out there about budget cuts in housing programs -- you saw the report about HUD today -- Veterans Affairs programs, those kinds of things. Can you talk about the priorities that he's looking at, in terms of cuts?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. And I think that it's important to remind everyone that the budget will be released on February 7th, and that's a time when we'll have the opportunity to look at the entire budget and see how we're addressing the nation's priorities, because if you look back over the past four years, we've proposed budgets that meet our nation's highest priorities, and also changed the way we look at budgeting. We've worked to put in place performance-based budgeting that focuses on results, that focuses on making sure programs are working to achieve the results that they were intended to in the first place.
And so we are -- and the President wants -- the President is firmly committed to making sure we're using taxpayer dollars, spending taxpayers wisely. He's committed to being a good steward of the taxpayer dollars, and he's also committed to meeting his commitment to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.
So this will be a responsible budget that funds our highest priorities and focuses on making programs work better and achieve meaningful results for the American people. And you mentioned one story today, and one of the President's priorities is to make sure that we are supporting economic development in America. And he is strongly committed to helping those in need, but he wants to make sure that the programs are working to achieve that result.
And so, we're looking at programs that maybe are duplicative; we're looking at programs that are -- to see if they're achieving their intended results. I think the American people recognize we can do much more with a little less, and so that's the way we're approaching the budget.
Q So is the moving around of those HUD community development programs, is that going to result in a cut?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into specific areas of the budget. The budget will be released on February 7th. But that's why I was making the point that the President is strongly committed to economic development and strongly committed to making sure we're meeting the needs of lower-income Americans who are struggling. And I think that will be reflected in how we approach the budget.
Q How do you respond to the argument that programs for poor Americans are being cut, and there's a lot of austerity --
MR. McCLELLAN: Have you seen the budget?
Q I've seen a lot of reports about what --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's -- the points I just made -- I mean, one, let's wait until the budget comes out and then we can talk about the President's priorities and his commitments and how that's reflected in the budget. But we have an obligation to make sure we're meeting our highest -- funding our highest priorities and meeting other priorities, and also being a good steward of the taxpayers' dollars. And part of doing that is making sure we have performance-based budgeting, that we're looking at programs. I think that when you have a budget that's well over $2 trillion and discretionary spending of over $800 billion, that most Americans look at that and recognize that we can improve results by looking at all the programs, and save money at the same time on some of those efforts.
Q But even without seeing the budget, officials in the administration made clear that domestic spending is going to be kept within very tight limits.
MR. McCLELLAN: Anonymous officials have talked about it. The President has made clear that we're going to have a responsible budget that exercises spending restraint and that meets our commitment to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. And we look forward to talking more about that budget. We look forward to talking about the priorities that the President is working to meet and how we're working to meet those priorities.
Q Week ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's a lengthy one.
Q Is he doing anything Thursday of next week?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we're going to be in D.C. that day.
MR. McCLELLAN: No travel on Thursday. (Laughter.) No. And Mrs. Bush will be participating with the President with all these events that I'm going to go through for next week.
On Monday, the President will make remarks at Georgetown University's "Let Freedom Ring" celebration, honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. That will be at the John F. Kennedy Center.
Q Do you have a time on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, but we'll get it to you later today.
On Tuesday, the President will make remarks at "Saluting Those Who Serve." It's at the MCI Center. He'll make remarks at "America's Future Rocks Today, A Call to Service." That is a youth event at the D.C. Armory.
And then, on Wednesday, the President will make remarks at a Celebration of Freedom Inaugural Concert; that's on the Ellipse. And then he'll attend three candlelight dinners -- at Union Station, the National Building Museum and Washington Hilton Hotel. Then he'll attend the Black Tie and Boots Ball at the Marriott.
On Thursday, Inauguration Day, the President will attend a prayer service at St. John's. Then he will participate in the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol, which he looks forward to. Then he will attend an Inaugural Day Luncheon at the Capitol. Then he will participate in the Presidential Inaugural Parade. And then he will attend the Salute to Heroes Veterans Inaugural Ball, honoring Medal of Honor recipients. And he will attend nine inaugural balls. You can probably get all of those from the Inaugural Committee.
And on Friday, he will attend the National Prayer Service at the National Cathedral. And then on Saturday, he looks forward to the Alfalfa Club Dinner at the Capital Hilton. And that's the week ahead.
Thank you all.
Q Camp David this weekend?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
END 11:52 A.M. EST