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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 15, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Cleveland, Ohio

10:57 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. Let me kind of go through the President's day to begin with. He had a meeting with the Secretary of Defense this morning, one of his regular meetings with him. And he received -- he also was able to receive an update on his recent trip. And then he had his usual briefings. He had his usual briefing, and then the President met with Prime Minister Junker of Luxembourg, and that was an opportunity to talk about the upcoming EU -- or U.S.-EU summit, and to also reiterate our commitment to working together with the European Union to address common challenges and advance the -- support the advance of freedom in the world.

And following that, the President met with President Kagame of Rwanda, and they had a good visit. The President expressed our appreciation for President Kagame's leadership and Rwanda's participation in the African Union's peacekeeping role in Sudan. And they also talked about some regional issues. The President expressed our continued support for Rwanda as it continues to strengthen its democracy and economy. And they also discussed Rwanda's efforts to move forward on its -- move forward from its past and heal old wounds and divisions. And the President reiterated his commitment to Africa and our continued support -- or our continued focus on Africa.

And, let's see, then when we arrive in Ohio, the first event will be a coffee with some small business owners. This will be an opportunity for the President to mark tax day. The pool -- you all will be there for the entire time he is there, to cover it. As families and small businesses and other Americans all across the country are filing their tax returns, this is an opportunity to highlight the importance of tax relief. And every American who is paying federal income taxes is receiving tax relief because of the actions that we have taken. And the economy is seeing strong and sustained growth because of the action that we took, as well. And that's the purpose of that event.

Then following that, the President will participate in a roundtable briefing on Social Security. This is a little bit different from the conversations that he has participated in. The President will receive a briefing from Ohio officials about their public employee retirement programs. They really have two systems and he'll hear more about that. And there are a number of state -- or millions of state and local employees around the country who have opted out of the Social Security system and are participating in alternative programs. And one thing that I think the President -- well, the President will talk about the importance -- I expect, talk about, emphasize the importance of permanently fixing Social Security. But this is an opportunity also to talk about providing younger workers with choices and giving them more ownership.

And some of the things that he'll hear about that are going on in the Ohio programs meet some of the same principles that he believes ought to be part of any plan to strengthen Social Security. And one of those is voluntary personal retirement accounts. We want to give younger workers the option of investing a portion of their own retirement savings in personal accounts. And this gives -- what he'll highlight here, I suspect, is that Ohio employees have had the option of investing in personal accounts and realizing a greater rate of return on their retirement savings. And that's one of the -- that's why the President feels so strongly about personal accounts, that it's a voluntary option, and it gives younger workers the ability to realize a greater rate of return on their retirement savings, and to build a nest egg that is theirs to keep that the government can't touch. And so that's the focus.

Now, we'll have a fact sheet out on that shortly, hopefully by the time we arrive. And, let's see, we'll get you the conversation participants and all, as well. And then after that, the President heads to Camp David for the weekend. And I've got the week ahead whenever you all want it.

Q Did the President and the Luxembourg Prime Minister discuss Iran? And does the President think the EU initiatives that he backed are having any effect?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, their visit was only a brief visit. I'll check and see if it came up. I was in the later meeting, but I wasn't in that one. It was a brief, I think, about 15-, 20-minute visit. The real purpose of it was how I described it. I'll see if there's anything to add to that.

But I think in terms of our views on Iran, I mean, they are well known. And our support for the European efforts are well known, as well. So, I don't know, do you have a specific question?

Q Do you think they're getting -- they're making any progress?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to support the efforts of the Europeans to make sure that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon. Those discussions continue, and we believe it's important that Iran -- that the focus needs to be on Iran, because Iran's the one who has to make the decision to fully comply with its international obligations. And that's where the focus is -- Iran needs to change its behavior. And we are continuing to support those efforts.

Q Scott, how serious is this idea that the economic advisor mentioned in this breakfast with reporters about making the retirement accounts an add-on --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think -- you're talking about Al Hubbard, and by the way, he'll be on the -- be a participant in the roundtable briefing, as well. But I don't think he said anything really differently from what we've said before. The President made it clear that we're not going to get into ruling things in or out. We have put forward ideas that ought to guide us as we move forward on strengthening Social Security. We believe that the personal retirement accounts are an important part of strengthening Social Security. They're an important part of any solution, for the reasons I stated a minute ago.

And now is the time to be welcoming all those who are talking about ways to come up with a bipartisan solution. And unfortunately, we have too many Democratic leaders who are trying to -- who are simply saying what they're against and ruling things out. Now is not the time to be getting into ruling things in or out. Now is the time to be discussing about how we can move forward in a bipartisan way to permanently fix Social Security, and also make it a better deal for our children and grandchildren. And that's why personal accounts are so important.

And you heard the President state very early on in this discussion that he welcomes all ideas. We've been talking about what we're for, and that's what we're going to continue to do. But we're also going to say we welcome other ideas, as well. And that doesn't mean we're ruling them in, it doesn't mean we're ruling them out. We're saying that in order to get to a bipartisan solution, we ought to be talking about what we're for and putting ideas on the table, not getting into ruling things out.

And we would hope that Democratic leaders would start talking about what they're for instead of what they're against, and not playing the game of ruling things out. It appears they're more interested in trying to block a bipartisan solution than they are in solving this problem.

Q Scott, on this developing fight over the filibuster rule, how does the White House feel about making this a debate on whether people are hostile to people of faith if they take a different stand than the Republican leadership on this?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes -- I mean, in terms of --

Q Is this a faith issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the issue that you brought up, that's a matter for the Senate to address. We don't get involved in procedural matters in the Congress.

The President's view is very clear. He believes that all judicial nominees should have an up or down vote. There are some Senate Democrats that are playing politics and trying to block some nominees from having an up or down vote on the floor. These are nominees that are highly qualified and that have the support of the majority of the Senate, and Senate Democrats have taken the unprecedented step of blocking these nominees from receiving an up or down -- from receiving an up or down vote.

The President believes that judicial -- that nominees to the bench ought to be people that strictly interpret the constitution, and that's the kind of nominees that he's -- that's the kind of nominees that he's sent forward to the United States Senate. The Senate has a responsibility, a constitutional responsibility, to give those nominees an up or down vote, and --

Q But is this -- is there a danger in making this a faith issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know -- I don't know what you're referring to that we've done. The President's views --

Q Well, no, I mean --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President's views --

Q -- it's going to be made a faith issue this weekend.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the issue here is that Democrats are not giving these nominees an up or down vote. They're blocking up or down votes on the nominees. That's what the issue is here, and some want to take attention away, try to divert attention away from that. The issue here is that Senate Democrats need to stop playing politics and allow these nominees to have an up or down vote.

Q Want to do the week ahead quickly?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's the President's view.

Q Week ahead?

Q Is he actually going to talk about how many states have that option on Social Security?

MR. McCLELLAN: We can get you more information, but I think it gets into -- it gives a general overview of that. We can get you information on that.

Q Thanks.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's see. On Monday, the President will go to Columbia, South Carolina, where he'll make remarks on strengthening Social Security. On Tuesday, the President will go to Springfield, Illinois, where he will tour the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and then make remarks at the dedication of the library and museum. And also on Tuesday, the Vice President will deliver the keynote address at the Oklahoma City National Memorial ceremony to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building there.

And on Wednesday, the President makes remarks to the 2005 National and State Teachers of the Year in the Rose Garden. And then he'll make remarks at the U.S.-Hispanic Chambers of Commerce Legislative Conference. Those remarks will be on energy, as I mentioned. And the President will then present the Commander-in-Chief's Trophy to the United States Naval Academy football team in the East Room.

On Thursday, he'll make remarks on strengthening Social Security to the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America in Washington. He'll also make remarks at the President's Environmental Youth Awards in the East Garden.

And on Friday the 22nd, the President will participate in a service project. As you're aware, we put out a proclamation the other day commemorating Volunteer Week. And then he'll make remarks on Earth Day. And both those events are in Townsend, Tennessee. Then he goes on to the ranch in Crawford, where he'll remain for the weekend.

On Monday, as you all are aware, he'll meet with Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia at the ranch. And then on Tuesday, we will go to Galveston to participate in a roundtable on strengthening Social Security. This was the event that had been postponed because of the Pope's funeral.

Q When is he signing the bankruptcy bill?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll keep you posted on that -- soon. I mean, he does intend to sign it. I'll get your more information on that once it's final. We're working all that out with members, too.

Q Any members on board, or in attendance?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, Congressman --

MS. GODFREY: LaTourette. Steven LaTourette.

MR. McCLELLAN: Congressman LaTourette.

END 11:10 A.M. EDT

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