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Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release
March 30, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Cedar Rapids, Iowa

10:40 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. The President had his usual briefings before departing the White House. Upon arrival, we will go to the Spring House Family Restaurant in Cedar Rapids, and the President will participate in an interview with WHO Newsradio. It's the Mickelson in the Morning show. This is an opportunity for the President to talk about our efforts to strengthen Social Security. Senator Grassley will be there, as well. I think he'll start off the program when we get there, and then the President will join in on the interview. The pool will be there to cover it, as well. I think we'll let the TVs get some footage of it upfront, and then ask the TVs to kind of step back, but you all will be in there to listen to the interview as it takes place, it will be a live interview on the radio show.

Then following that we go to the community college, Kirkwood Community College, where the President will participate in a conversation on strengthening Social Security, including a Social Security expert, a nurse, two retired seniors, a student from the community college and the owner of a farm from Iowa. And, Warren, I know you asked if any congressional people traveling with us today -- Congressman Leach will be coming back with us to D.C. when we return this afternoon.

That's what I've got on the schedule, so I'm here for whatever questions you have.

Q Scott, do you know who is dispensing tickets to this event?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was given to -- Senator Grassley's office had a lot of the tickets and was distributing those tickets. I imagine some of the tickets were given to the community college, as well.

Q Has the White House provided the Congressman, or anyone else, with guidance on who the tickets should go to?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that when we give -- I mean, we tend to give tickets to any congressional office that asks or requests tickets to come to the event. Like I said, in Memphis, for instance, Congressman Ford wanted to come to the event and he got 40 or 50 tickets. And these are tickets for them to distribute as they see fit. I think Senator Grassley -- you might want to talk to his office about who all they distributed it to, but I imagine that they distributed it to a number of people.

Q Did the White House condone the --

MR. McCLELLAN: People with different views, I should say.

Q Did the White House condone the decision of somebody in Denver to evict some people because of a bumper sticker they had?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple things. One -- well, let me back up, to finish. Typically, when we go into areas, I mean, tickets are given to congressional office so they can distribute them. They tend to be given to local community organizations, as well, maybe chambers of commerce. Like when we went to Notre Dame University, some tickets were given to the University, as well, for them to distribute, as they saw fit, as well. So that's kind of the general process for the ticket distribution.

In terms of the events, themselves, I do want to make clear that we welcome a diversity of views at the events. These are conversations that are aimed at educating the American people about the problems facing Social Security. And they're also aimed at talking to seniors and reassuring them that, for them, nothing changes. There are a lot of scare tactics, as you have seen, out there, aimed at seniors. And the President -- part of this is about reassuring seniors.

Now, in terms of -- coming back to your question on Denver, I did look into that a little bit more yesterday, a few of you all called my office to talk about it. My understanding is that it was a volunteer involved in that matter. My sense is that the volunteer thought that these individuals, these three individuals were coming to the event to disrupt it. And those individuals -- I think if you look at some of the early news reports even said something to that effect. Now, we welcome a diversity of views at events, but if people are coming to the event to disrupt it, that's another matter. If they want to disrupt the event, then I think that, obviously, they're going to be asked to leave the event. There is plenty of opportunity for them to express their views outside of events; there are protest areas.

I think that, to a large extent, this is more of a few individuals trying to divert attention from the real issue here. And the real issue here is how do we fix Social Security. And this is a priority for the President. The American people recognize more and more that there are serious challenges facing Social Security, and that's where our focus is, continuing to talk about how we work together in a bipartisan way to get something done.

Q Senator Grassley has been traveling around Iowa in the last week having his own town hall meetings. And he said on Friday, I think on public radio in Iowa, that he put at less than 50 percent, the chance of the President's plan passing, and he said he hasn't found anyone who really -- there's no groundswell of sentiment that Social Security needs to be fixed. What do you think of what the Senator has found?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, let me point back to surveys. Survey after survey shows that the American people, in overwhelming numbers, recognize that there are serious problems facing Social Security. The surveys also show a majority of Americans support the idea of personal accounts for younger workers, so that they can realize a greater rate of return on their own retirement savings and so that they can own a piece of their own retirement savings.

Now, in terms of Senator Grassley, I mean, you focused on a select portion of his remarks. Senator Grassley has made it clear that he intends to move forward in his committee on legislation to strengthen Social Security. And he has also made it clear that it's important that we have a bipartisan solution. We agree, the President has said repeatedly that this is a serious challenge facing our children and grandchildren, that's why we need to act now, it only gets worse over time. And we must work in a bipartisan way to get something done.

Unfortunately, some Democratic leaders have been more interested in simply saying what they're against than talking about what they're for. We have opened the door and said all ideas ought to be on the table and let's work together to get something done. So we would hope the Democratic leaders would start coming to the table and talking about ideas and what they're for and how we can work together to get something done. That's what the American people expect.

Q Congress is back next week. Will the administration begin actually talking about specifics with the various committee chairmen, like Senator Grassley?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have and we will continue to do so. The President has had a number of meetings with congressional leaders. He talks to leaders in private, as well. And our staff has been in close contact with members of Congress, as well. So we continue to talk about ideas and about ways we can move forward to come up with a bipartisan piece of legislation that can get passed this year, that will strengthen Social Security and make it permanently sound and strengthen it for -- make it a better deal for our younger workers, as the President often talks about.

Q The AARP is turning out a lot of people at these town hall meetings that Grassley has gone to, and others. Is there something that the White House would like to see the AARP do to sort of bring -- you know, bring some of the opponents of your plan together?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, first of all, there are many seniors across the country who understand the importance of fixing Social Security for our children and grandchildren. They have children and grandchildren and they want to make sure that that safety net is there for them. And the safety net has a big hole in it right now for future generations, as the President likes to talk about.

The facts are clear. The facts point to a system that is on an unsustainable course and it must be fixed. And the President believes leadership is about addressing problems and not passing them on to future generations. So that's why -- we welcome all those who are putting forward ideas for finding a solution. We would welcome ideas from the AARP, as well, for finding a solution. That's where the President's focus is: on getting something done for the American people.

Q Do you think they're unfairly trying to scare senior citizens in this debate?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, then again, I think seniors are recognizing that there is no foundation to the scare tactics that some have chosen to use. I'm not talking about the AARP, I'm talking about some groups that have simply sought to try to stop something from happening. That's not what the American people expect. The American people expect solutions to problems. And seniors are not going to be affected by this in any way. Social Security is working fine for those who are now receiving benefits. The focus is on future generations.

Q Scott, can you talk a little bit about the extent of the consultations --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me point out, too, we continue to have some good discussions with representatives of the AARP, and we welcome those discussions.

Q That's what I was going to ask you about.

MR. McCLELLAN: Pre-emptive. (Laughter.)

Q Can you elaborate a little bit on the extent of the consultations that the White House has had with Novelli and the AARP? The Post today is reporting that he met with Rove and Hubbard, both of whom happen to be on this plane today. Can you talk a little bit about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: There have been some good discussions. And like I said, we welcome all those who want to put forward ideas for finding a bipartisan solution to the problem facing Social Security. Al Hubbard has met with them and we've reached out to them and had some good discussions. Hopefully, we will continue to do so.

Q Are we hearing any new language today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's conversation, so it's not formal, prepared remarks, per se.

Q It's not scripted? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the attacks are. (Laughter.) The purpose of today -- well, you have the interview, as well, the radio interview before that. But the purpose of today is to continue our outreach efforts to educate the American people about the problems and to continue reassuring seniors across the country that nothing changes, as far as they are concerned.

Q Is this the 20th state?

MR. McCLELLAN: Twentieth state.

Q How many more will he go to?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are going to continue -- the President is going to continue using the bully pulpit in leading, because he recognizes that this is one of our biggest priorities and we need to act now to find a solution. And I'm not going to try to put any time frame on it. He's committed to getting something done this year, and we're confident that something will get done this year.

Q Do you still consider this the early stage of the process?

MR. McCLELLAN: It is still fairly early in the process. It's still in the stage of educating people about the problems facing Social Security. And in that respect, I think we've seen some tremendous progress, because the American people recognize that there are serious problems. I've seen, I think it was a Galllup survey showing now that Social Security was at the top of the list in terms of the priorities that need to be addressed.

Q The President's numbers have been falling. Do you attribute that to the Social Security debate?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I would point out in one of the recent polls I saw, from one week to the next, there was a 5 percent increase in Democrats and a 3 percent decrease in Republicans. I mean, it's just something to note. First of all, we don't get caught up in the week by week polling that goes on. The President is going to continue leading and acting on the big priorities for the American people, and those priorities are working to spread freedom abroad, to make the world a more peaceful place, and working to expand freedom at home through efforts like strengthening Social Security and giving people more ownership over their own retirement savings.

Q Is this Peter Watkins' last trip today?

MR. WATKINS: Yes, it is.

MR. McCLELLAN: I guess we should make the announcement official, since it is. Yes, we will, I know, all miss Peter and wish him well in his new endeavor, where he has an exciting new challenge ahead of him: he is going to be Mrs. Bush's deputy press secretary, joining Susan Whitson in the press shop there. We all wish him well. He, I know, will do a fantastic job for her, just like he's done a fantastic job for us.

MR. WATKINS: Thank you. Thanks.

Q Scott, with the new deputy press secretary here -- perhaps you still want to answer this question -- has the President spoken with Mrs. Bush since she's arrived in Afghanistan? Have they talked a little bit about --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me ask him. I actually didn't ask him that this morning. I know that they are on their way back now. They left earlier this morning, so they're on their way home.

Q I'm curious about any reaction.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, looking at the news coverage from it, that it's been a great trip and a great opportunity to highlight the advances for women and to talk about the importance of education in any free society. Education is an important part of building a free society that respects the rights of all people, men and women. I'll ask him if he's spoken to her.

Q Do you have any further information about their living will that Mrs. Bush mentioned?

MR. McCLELLAN: I talked to the President about that last week. They do have living wills. I don't think they expect to get into any more detail about those living wills, but they do have them. If that changes, I'll get back to you guys.

Q Can I just clarify something from your comments about people who are invited to these events. People who come to these events who plan to -- you know, who -- there's been a couple of instances where people come, stand up and, you know, kind of heckle -- they're called "hecklers." But people who come to these events, who challenge the President on this issue, are they disrupting the event? Are they --

MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean by "challenge" the President on this issue?

Q Say, well, you know, why would you take away Social Security or, you know --

MR. McCLELLAN: If they're standing up and disrupting an event, like I said, they're going to be asked to leave.

Q So anyone who speaks out, out of turn, is disrupting and they're going to be asked to leave; is that how you --

MR. McCLELLAN: These are conversations. And the conversations are the participants on the stage, talking with the President. Like I said, I think that what we're talking about here is a few individuals who are intent on diverting attention away from the real issue before the American people, and that is how do we fix Social Security. We welcome a diversity of views coming to the event. But if it gets to the question of crossing that line into disrupting the event, that's another matter.

Q Did the three people in Denver fall into that category?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Did the three people in Denver fall into the category that you just described?

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I don't know the full circumstances of it. There are different sides to the story, I recognize that. But those individuals, themselves, said that their intent of coming to the event originally was to disrupt it.

Q Thanks.


MR. McCLELLAN: All right, gaggle part two. I just talked to the President and he said that Mrs. Bush did call him this morning when she got to the plane and when they were getting ready to leave. She updated him on the trip and expressed to him that it had been a very well received trip by the people of Afghanistan. They were very appreciative and she thought it was a good trip. So she arrives back early morning tonight, and I know the President looks forward to her return?

Q Early morning tonight?

MR. McCLELLAN: Two a.m., so it's kind of nighttime, Thursday morning. All right, thanks, everybody.

END 11:09 A.M. EST

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