|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
February 4, 2005
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Little Rock, Arkansas
11:08 P.M. CST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. Let me begin with updating you from last night. The President spoke with Prime Minister Howard last night. They talked about the successful election in Iraq and the way forward in Iraq. They also talked about the close cooperation on the tsunami relief efforts. And they discussed a range of other issues on the bilateral agenda. And they talked about the importance of continuing to work together to strengthen our great relationship.
Then the President this morning had his usual briefings. He taped his radio address, which will highlight some of the key themes he talked about in the State of the Union address. And you were there for the conversation on Social Security.
Just a short time ago, he spoke to President Basescu of Romania. And following that he spoke with Prime Minister Saxe-Coburg Gotha of Bulgaria. And both these calls were to discuss the successful election in Iraq and the way forward in Iraq. The leaders talked about the importance of continuing to support the Iraqi people as they put the institutions in place for democracy to fully emerge in Iraq.
Q Scott, could you spell the Romanian leader and the Bulgarian leader?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Romania is B-a-s-e-s-c-u, Basescu. And the Prime Minister of Bulgaria is S-a-x-e - C-o-b-u-r-g, and then Gotha, G-o-t-h-a.
And shortly here we'll be arriving in Arkansas, where the President will participate in another conversation on Social Security. And then when we get to Florida this evening, he will participate in a conversation in a town hall-type format, similar to the event last night. And I think that's all I've got for now.
Q The week ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's coming. My able assistant press secretary is working on that right now, so we will get it to you as soon as it's ready.
Q By the end of the day, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Hopefully, in just a few minutes.
Q Any lawmakers on the plane?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. No.
Q Scott, did he speak with Senator Nelson today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Did the President speak with Senator Nelson today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know any update on the conversation with him, if that's what you're asking at this point.
Q They did chat, though, before the event -- or after?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just double-check. Before the event he was visiting with the conversation participants, so I don't know if they had the opportunity to visit at any great length or not afterwards; I'll double-check.
Q Will he speak with Florida's Nelson?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry?
Q Will he speak with Florida's Nelson?
MR. McCLELLAN: You mean if he's there? I don't know -- I'd have to check, I don't know that he's going to be at the event. But, look, the President has made it very clear that Social Security faces a serious problem for our children and grandchildren, that he intends to work in a way -- in a bipartisan way to find a solution. This is an important priority and the President is energized by going out and speaking to the American people. Leadership is about reaching out to the American people and enlisting their help to solve serious problems. And that's what the President is doing.
(Off record briefly, while plane lands.)
Q -- the end of my last question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I'll continue. I was finishing up, talking about these events. The President is going to continue reaching out to the American people and he's going to want to continue to reach out to members of Congress who recognize that this is a serious problem and that we need to work together to find a solution. The President has put forward ideas, but he's made it very clear that he's open to all ideas for fixing Social Security for our children and grandchildren.
Q Did the number of Republicans expressing concern about, or wariness about the proposals -- do you think this is a tougher sell for the President than he expected?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know that I'd necessarily view it the way you described it. I mean, I think you see that there are Republican leaders that are talking about ideas for solving this problem, and that's an important part of advancing a bipartisan solution -- which the President is continuing to focus on doing.
Q Some of them are saying that they're not sure that it can be done this year.
MR. McCLELLAN: Who?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are many leaders on both sides of the aisle -- I think there are leaders on both sides of the aisle that recognize that now is the time to act, because the problem only gets worse over time. And that's one of the things you're hearing the President talk about. I know that there are some Democrats who are using scare tactics because they don't want to acknowledge the problem. The American people expect us to solve problems, and some would prefer to divert attention away from the problem and engage in partisan politics. The President is saying this is a serious problem, it only gets worse over time, you have fewer workers paying for a growing number of retirees and a growing amount of benefits -- and by 2018 we're going to see shortfalls. And that's why the President believes now is the time to act, and that's what he's going to continue emphasizing to the American people and emphasizing to members of Congress and reaching out to say, let's work together to solve it now.
Q Is it a tougher sell than he thought?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that you have seen in the first term that there are -- you know, this is early in the process, first of all, so posturing is to be expected this early in the process. I think you've seen time and again that this President has been willing to take on big issues and to find solutions -- and time and again we have been able to get things done, whether it was the tax cuts or historic education reforms or modernizing Medicare, passing trade promotion authority. We've accomplished big things. The President believes that we should act this year to solve the problems facing Social Security because it only gets worse over time.
Q On these scare tactics that you were talking about, the Democrats -- are you referring to the $2 trillion thing again?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the comments are -- you've seen them on the news last night and you've seen them in the paper today, some of the comments the Democrats are using.
The fact is that there is a serious problem facing Social Security, and people can look the other way and ignore the problem, or we can work together and find a solution. And that's what the President is continuing to talk about.
Q Do you have the week ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. On Monday, the President will meet with his Cabinet, the new Cabinet. And then he will participate in a photo opportunity with the NASCAR 2004 Nextel Cup Champion. And on Tuesday, he makes remarks at the Detroit Economic Club, as we already mentioned. And then he'll make remarks to the Council and Scholarly Committee of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, in the East Room.
On Wednesday, he'll meet with the President of Poland, in the Oval. And then he will participate in a conversation on class action reform at the Department of Commerce. Thursday, we'll try to update you as soon as we've got that finalized. And on Friday, he'll participate in the swearing-in ceremony for Secretary Leavitt at HHS. And then he will make remarks at the White House performance of "Lincoln, Seen and Heard," in the East Room.
Q Is there travel --
MR. McCLELLAN: Thursday, I do expect travel, but we're just finalizing things and we'll get you that information later.
Q The class action conversation, that's Wednesday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q And that's in Washington?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, at the Department of Commerce.
END 11:17 A.M. CST