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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
May 13, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

Play Video  Video (Real)

12:18 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I have nothing to begin with today, I will be glad to go to your questions.

Q We now have protests in Gaza, following protests in Afghanistan and Pakistan, of these allegations that U.S. military personnel desecrated the Koran, including flushing one down a toilet. White House response to these protests? What would you say to these people who have taken to the streets?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Secretary Rice spoke to this issue yesterday and I think made our views very clear. One of the values that we hold most dearly here in the United States is religious freedom and the ability of people to be able to worship freely. As Secretary Rice made clear yesterday, disrespect for the holy Koran is something that the United States will never tolerate.

Now, in terms of the allegation that was made, that's something we take very seriously, too. And the Department of Defense is looking into it. I would also point out, though, that for these detainees at Guantanamo Bay, they are provided the opportunity to worship freely, including being given copies of the Koran so that they may worship freely.

And we want Muslims around the world to know that we share and understand the concerns that they have. We are also saddened about the loss of life because of these demonstrations turning violent. And we would call on all our friends, as Secretary Rice did yesterday, to reject the incitement to violence by those who would mischaracterize the views and the values of the United States of America, because freedom of religion is one of the values we hold very dearly in this country.

Q Has the President been told about these protests? Is he aware of them?

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, and he's spoken with Secretary Rice about them, as well. And you heard from Secretary Rice yesterday -- she was speaking on behalf of the administration.

Q Scott, as you know, the Pentagon has announced that it's closing 33 military bases, realigning 29. There are a lot of people who have come forward and said it's going to be very difficult on their communities economically. What is the White House providing in terms of assistance? And does the President have any particular message to those who are really feeling a hardship --

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. Well, first of all, today's announcement is another step in the process -- the process that was set up by Congress, in law. And I think you heard the Department of Defense brief on this issue earlier today, and they talked about the importance of moving forward on this process, because we must transform our military to meet the threats of the 21st century. We're going through a global posture review, as well, where many troops will be returning home. And we want to make sure that our troops, particularly those in combat, have all the resources they need to do their job, that they continue to have all the resources they need to do the job.

So this process is important to making sure we continue to have the best-trained, best-equipped and best military in the world to address the threats that we face in this day and age.

In terms of the communities, that is something that is a high priority for the administration in this process. And we have a lot of federal assistance that is available to the communities. There is job training assistance available from the Department of Labor, there is local economic adjustment assistance available through the Department of Defense's Economic Adjustment office. And we want to do everything we can to support the communities that might ultimately be affected by this as they transition away from a military base into other reuse or economic opportunities. The Department of Commerce has assistance that they can provide to help with economic recovery.

So the people that are affected in the communities are a high priority for this administration, and that's why we want to make sure that they understand all the resources that are available at the federal level.

Look, I'm from a town -- Austin, Texas -- that has gone through a base closing, and it was Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin. I had some friends that were part of the Air Force and worked at Bergstrom. And Austin was able to take advantage of federal assistance and transition that base into its international airport. And so they have made the adjustment. There are many cities that have been able to adjust and are doing quite well from an economic perspective, since the transition -- and Austin is one of those.

Q Scott, I'd like to ask you about Bolton. Does the President believe he will be approved at this point? Are the votes there?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are confident that John Bolton will be confirmed by the United States Senate. We believe there is a majority of the Senate that agrees with the President, that John Bolton is exactly the person we need at the United Nations during this critical time of reform.

Q Does he, the President, consider it a defeat, however, that after his own personal lobbying of Senator Voinovich and the White House efforts with even other Republicans, that such a rare step was taken to vote him out of committee without recommendation -- I think the third time in 22 years -- does he not see that as a defeat, one? And, two, what does it say about the President's relationship with Congress right now? A Republican-controlled Congress.

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I think the President has a good relationship with Congress. We've made a lot of progress in just over a hundred days. We've seen the Congress move forward and pass a budget resolution, or adopt a budget resolution that reflects the priorities that we outlined and keeps us on track to cut the deficit in half. We've seen the Congress move forward and pass common sense bankruptcy reform. They've moved forward and passed class action reform, lawsuit reform. That was an important part of our efforts to stop lawsuit abuse. And one piece of legislation that was a priority for this administration. They moved forward and passed the supplemental, so that we can make sure that our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq have the resources they need to do the job and to make sure that we're able to continue to accelerate the training and equipping of Iraqi and Afghan forces to take over. So Congress has accomplished many things in just a short amount of time of this Congress.

We're also making progress on the energy legislation. The House passed comprehensive energy legislation --

Q Sounds a little bit like a filibuster, Scott. What about the --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think you asked me a question about the relationship with --

Q But you know what I'm asking about. Does he consider this a defeat? This is a rare step that a Republican-controlled committee voted out. A defeat or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm coming to that question, but you asked me a three-part question --

Q No, I asked you a two-part --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and I want to address your question about relations with Congress. And the President has great relations with the congressional leadership and we appreciate the progress they've made in a short amount of time and we look forward to continuing to work with them to meet our nation's highest priorities, such as Social Security reform and passing the comprehensive energy bill.

In terms of the question of the Bolton nomination, look, the President had a good conversation with the Senator the other day. We respect his decision, but there are many others who agree that the President appointed exactly the kind of person that we need up at the United Nations during this time when they're moving forward on reform. John Bolton is a strong voice for reform at a time when reform is needed at the United Nations.

There are many who have worked very closely with him, who are highly respected, and give him very high marks -- those range from Secretary Baker, to Secretary Eagleburger, to former Attorney General Meese, to former United Nations Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick. There are many who know John Bolton well and know that he will do a great job at the United Nations.

Q Does the President agree with his Secretary of State when Secretary Rice said that Bolton, if approved, would need to be supervised at the U.N.?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things on that. One, you ought to direct that question to the Department of State, because I'm not sure that they would characterize that exactly the way it was characterized by others. So I think you ought to ask the Department of State about it. But Secretary Rice --

Q But this is the White House, you could set us straight here.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought that up. Secretary Rice is another person who believes strongly that John Bolton is the right person at the right time to be at the United Nations. And, again, I'm not going to work off media reports, but in terms of --

Q Did she not say that? I mean, I assume the White House knows whether she said it or not.

MR. McCLELLAN: You can talk to Department of State about that. They're briefing here very shortly, and I'm sure they'd be glad to respond to it.

Q Does the President believe he needs to be supervised?

MR. McCLELLAN: But anytime --

Q Just answer that question for us.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- you have ambassadors, ambassadors report to the President through the Secretary of State. That's just the process that's set up. And when you have an ambassador at the United Nations, I think it's long worked that way, that the ambassador reports through the Secretary of State to the President of the United States.

Q But does this guy, with his temperamental history, does he need to be supervised?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't agree that that's an accurate characterization, in the first place.

Q You're not saying, "no"?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you ought to talk to Department of State, and I'm sure they'd be glad to respond to that. So I don't think you should take --

Q He's the President's pick.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think you should take it as that.

Q I don't think foisting it upon the Department of State is what you --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, if you want to keep trying to jump in here, that's fine, but I'm going to keep moving on to other questions, David.

Go ahead.

Q Well, we're staying on Bolton for a while. California Senator Barbara Boxer has put a hold on Mr. Bolton's nomination, saying she wants to see the classified documents from State and the NSA relative to the intercepts regarding Syria and Cuba. Any willingness on the administration's behalf to comply with her demand for documents --

MR. McCLELLAN: The administration has been very responsive to the needs of the Senate to make sure that they have the information they need to do their job. I think that this is more just a delaying tactic just to try to draw this out. The Senate needs to move forward on this nomination so that he can get in there and start getting about the important work that needs to be done. And I would hope the Democrats wouldn't try to play politics with this nomination.

Q So you'll deny her request for those classified documents?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we've been very responsive to make sure that Congress has the information they need to do their job. And we have done that throughout this process.

Q If I could follow up, then. You said a minute ago that you respect Senator Voinovich's decision --

MR. McCLELLAN: I pointed out a couple weeks ago, too, that there's a difference between information they need to do their job and people just going on fishing expeditions. But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee had the information they needed to do their job.

Q A moment ago you said that the administration respects the decision of Senator Voinovich to vote as he did yesterday. But Senator Voinovich went beyond just voting to send the nomination to the floor, he then attacked Mr. Bolton pretty vociferously, offering up what some would say is a good example of Republican criticism and turn up in Democratic ads not too far from now. Do you respect what he said, then, and the criticism that he offered as part of the Republican caucus?

MR. McCLELLAN: I talked about this yesterday, Carl. Maybe you missed the briefing, but we believe that these are issues that have been addressed by John Bolton during the confirmation process. And John Bolton is someone who has the unique experience and the passion, and sometimes a little bluntness, that is needed to get things done at the United Nations.

The President is interested in results. John Bolton is a results-oriented kind of guy. Just look at his record. He was our primary point person when it came to the President's Proliferation Security Initiative. He worked to build a coalition of more than 60 nations coming together to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction. That is -- there is no higher priority than stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction. He was the chief negotiator for the Moscow Treaty that is leading to the reduction of nuclear arsenals, a significant reduction in our nuclear arsenals. He was involved in getting Libya to get rid of its weapons of mass destruction. He is someone who stood up and fought anti-Semitism around the world --

Q I understand that. I guess the question really comes down to whether or not his vote enjoys the same -- the equal amount of respect as his commentary yesterday about the President's nominee.

MR. McCLELLAN: We appreciate that he's allowing John Bolton to receive a vote on the floor of the United States Senate. That was one thing he indicated to the President in the phone call.

Q Scott, two questions.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q One, recently I witnessed the meetings between India and Pakistan in Delhi. While in Moscow, did President meet with the Prime Minister for India, or if Prime Minister did brief him about the India-Pakistan outcome in Delhi?

MR. McCLELLAN: They did get a chance to visit during the lunch and they had a very good visit. And the President -- the President looks forward to continuing to work closely with them as we move forward to build upon what is a good relationship.

Q Second question, on the base closings. Like President said many times, and also you said from this podium that we are a nation at war against terrorism. Now, as far as terrorism is concerned, is going to affect it from these base closings? And also, moving personnel from one place to another, and also if overseas bases are going to be affected from these base closings, and moving personnel?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Department of Defense briefed on this earlier, so you probably want to look at their briefing. In terms of what the recommendations were, we were aware of this process, but this is a Department of Defense process. We did not see the list before it was announced.

Q But as far as the White House, is the President concerned is going to affect as far as war against terrorism is concerned?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q War against terrorism is concerned?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's exactly one of the points I made at the beginning, I think the Department of Defense made, that we are in the process of transforming our military to meet the threats of the 21st century. And this is part of making sure that we are doing our best to confront the threats that we face in this day and age and to make sure that our troops who are going into combat have what they need to carry out their job and complete their mission.

Sarah.

Q Yes, thank you. My question is related to Suzanne's and Goyal. I take it, from what you just said, that the President has seen the whole BRAC list.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he did not -- like I said, the President had not seen the list before it being announced.

Q Oh, he has not seen the list? Okay.

MR. McCLELLAN: He was aware of the process and briefed on the general process, but he had not seen the list.

Q So -- okay. When he does, will he support the Pentagon's desire to close the military bases?

MR. McCLELLAN: There is a -- we support the process that is going on. The President, I think, has indicated that previously. Now there is a process where the recommendations come first from the Department of Defense, then they go to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. They will get public input, look at this. They may make some changes to it. And then they will make the recommendation to the President. The President will have the opportunity to accept or reject those recommendations. If he were to reject them, then they would go back and look at this again and report back to him. And then, ultimately, it will go on to Congress, and Congress will have the opportunity to accept or reject the list as a whole.

So this is a process. This is one step in the process today that the Department -- that fulfilled the Department of Defense's role in that process.

Go ahead, Connie. Happy birthday.

Q Thank you. How did you know that? (Laughter.)

Q I didn't get a happy birthday.

Q Where's my happy birthday? (Laughter.)

Q I've got cookies for you all afterward.

On the U.N., is the specific agenda to reduce dues in the U.N.? And do we -- do the U.S. -- does the U.S. have an agenda which can carry on with or without Bolton?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, does the U.S. have an agenda that can --

Q Right, for reform in --

MR. McCLELLAN: We believe John Bolton is the person that we need at the United Nations to move forward on our efforts to reform the United Nations. The United Nations is moving forward on some reforms. And so this is a very important period. We want to make sure that the United Nations is as effective as possible. And John Bolton shares the President's commitment to making sure that it is. And so that's why it's so important to have him there. And that's why we appreciate the committee moving forward and sending his nomination to the floor. And we look forward to the Senate moving forward, hopefully quickly, on his nomination and getting him confirmed so that he can get about doing his work.

Q What about the question of reducing U.S. dues to the U.N.? Is that a viable option?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think actually something that John Bolton has worked on in the past is one of those issues -- one of the issues to make sure that that was addressed. And I don't think that's something we've changed from any past positions that we've had. So I haven't heard any different update on it, Connie. You might want to talk to the Department of State. That's probably a question better related to them.

Q Scott, how well does the President actually personally know John Bolton? I mean, have they met frequently before this, or is it just basically, you know, on a recommendation from other people in this administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he's met with him before in the past, and he knows him. And he has a lot of respect for the job that he has done in the past. And that's why he picked him, because he thought he would be the best person for this position.

Q Does he brief him on a regular basis on North Korea and all those issues?

MR. McCLELLAN: On a regular basis? His National Security Advisor and Secretary of State brief him on a regular basis.

Q I have a question on something else. On Uzbekistan, do you have any reaction to what is going on over there, on the crisis? And have there been any high-level contacts since this erupted?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I know that the Department of State has been in touch with our embassy there, and so they probably will be talking more about this at their briefing, as well. We have had concerns about human rights in Uzbekistan, but we are concerned about the outbreak of violence, particularly by some members of a terrorist organization that were freed from prison. And we urge both the government and the demonstrators to exercise restraint at this time. The people of Uzbekistan want to see a more representative and democratic government, but that should come through peaceful means, not through violence. And that's what our message is.

Q Scott, Senator John Kyl, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Homeland Security, has expressed his concern about the threat of an electromagnetic pulse attack on the U.S. And my first question: What is the administration's assessment of that threat?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, in terms of intelligence matters, I'm not going to get into that, but we take all threats very seriously. And that's why we've taken significant steps since September 11th to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the American people from possible attacks. And the President will continue to do so. We have -- we've moved forward and we're already addressing many of the recommendations that the September 11th Commission put out before their report was even final. They had some additional recommendations that we've moved forward on, as well, and we will continue to do that.

Q In regard to your statement earlier in the briefing, supporting the ability of people to worship freely as being very important, the national headquarters of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights has received a news release from a homosexual organization called Rainbow Sash which announces their intention to go to Catholic masses and churches all over the country, this Sunday's feast of Pentecost, to demonstrate while trying to receive the sacrament after they have denounced Pope Benedict as a liar and a homophobe. And my question: Surely, the White House will speak out against this worship disruptive extremism, won't you, Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I don't know anything about this matter, but you have just had the opportunity to talk about it and express yourself freely. We believe all people should be able to worship freely and worship as they choose, and that's --

Q In other words, you would oppose this interruption of masses on Pentecost Sunday, wouldn't you?

MR. McCLELLAN: We want to see all people have the opportunity to worship freely and as --

Q Without being disturbed.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- they choose. And that's our position.

Q Scott, just one thing on the over-flight the other day.

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on. I'll come back to you.

Q I have two questions on Bolton. The first one is in terms of the Senate getting the information that they say they needed in order to finish their investigations. You talked about possible fishing expeditions. One of the senators made the point yesterday that they don't work for the President; he said that they're a separate, equal branch of government. Couldn't the administration trust and regard these senators as responsible enough to look at the information they're requesting, make a determination as to whether it's needed, and if it's not needed to not use it?

MR. McCLELLAN: One of these senators who -- which senator made that remark?

Q Senator Biden.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, thank you. So someone who is opposed to this nomination.

Q But who was making the point that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Senate, itself, is separate from the executive branch and should be treated as a co-equal.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and there are oversight committees relating to intelligence matters, and those oversight members are kept apprised of intelligence matters. And there are ways to provide information as needed to those respective members who would have the responsibility for those matters.

Q I think their feeling was that intelligence had been shown some of this information, as had Mr. Bolton, but that no one from Foreign Relations had been shown this information.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, there are some members that want to play politics with this nomination. We've pointed that out in the past. They are standing in the way of reform at the United Nations. We've got important work to do at the United Nations. This is a very important time for the United Nations, as they are moving forward on reform. And we need someone up there who is a results-oriented person, who has a proven record of getting things done, and who will represent our interest well. John Bolton is that person.

Q So that would lead me to my second question, which was on reform.

MR. McCLELLAN: Third question.

Q Well, it was a follow-up. (Laughter.) In terms of efforts to reform the United Nations, one of the senators -- don't remember who -- made the point that they haven't seen anything, in terms of a plan, what the administration would like to see done specifically with regard to the reforms they would like to see Mr. Bolton bring about. Can you tell us something about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you're aware, Secretary Annan has put out a report on reforms that they want to move forward on. We've been reviewing those reforms. We've been talking with the United Nations about some of those ideas, and we will continue to do so. This is a process that is in the works right now. That's why it's so important to get him there so that he can get about doing that important work.

David, you had a question.

Q I did. There was -- there's some new information about the fly-over the other day that came to light, that, in fact, the plane had gotten closer, within a couple of miles of the White House. Is that an update that you've received, as well?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know which report you're referring to. I'll be glad to look at it. I mean, I said within three miles, and that was the report that I got. I haven't received any additional report.

Q Could I do a follow-up on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.

Q Now that the dust has settled from that incident David is talking about, has the President weighed in any more on this, regarding the controversy of whether he should have been notified or not? Has he looked over this and said, well, maybe I should have known about this? I mean, are there any second thoughts now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Nothing has changed from what I said yesterday. It all remains the same.

Go ahead, David.

Q Scott, I wondered if I could return to the FDA's decision last year to reject an advisory committee recommendation to make the Plan B emergency contraceptive more widely available. There are reports this week that an evangelical doctor, David Hager, wrote a memo to the FDA that played a role in that decision. And he has said that he was told by the White House -- asked by the White House to serve on the FDA -- an FDA panel on reproductive drugs. He says he was called by the White House and the White House said that, we feel there are some issues coming up that are very critical and we want you to serve on this panel. I'm wondering, did the White House play any role in him getting onto this -- getting this appointment, and if so, why?

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw that report. A couple of things. First of all, that decision is a matter for the FDA. And in terms of the advisory panel that you're referring to, those are appointments made by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Secretary is one who appoints people to that advisory panel. And in terms of the reports, I did an initial look into it, and I know no one in personnel, from my understanding, had talked to him about it. And I'll continue to look into it, see if there's any additional information.

Q So as far as you know, he's wrong and was not contacted by anyone at the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just said that I was able to do an initial check with some of our personnel team, and they had not spoken to him. But this is an appointment by the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Q Scott, when you say that some members are playing politics and want to stand in the way of U.N. reform, you're not talking about a half-a-dozen moderates led by George Voinovich and the Republican conference, are you?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I was referring to some of the Democratic members.

Q Scott, would the administration like communities and energy companies to take an aggressive look at using the soon-to-be former military bases as refinery sites?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President did propose that as an option for military bases that have closed, and he thinks that that could be a good use for some of the bases that have already been closed.

Q Would he like communities to look at that as a top potential option?

MR. McCLELLAN: He thinks they should look at it as a possibility. It's part of his overall comprehensive plan to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy, something that's at the top of the President's agenda for continuing to build upon the great progress we have made to get our economy growing stronger.

Q Does he have a ballpark figure on how many more refineries would be good for us? Is it just the more the merrier, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: He put forward the proposal and we're going to continue to move forward on it and look for opportunities to address these important needs. And this is one need that could address an economic need in some communities, as well as address a need for improving our energy security. So it's a good option that should be considered.

Q Some communities might have concerns about the environmental impact of refineries. Is it possible to put refineries in communities --

MR. McCLELLAN: And we would work closely with those communities on those matters.

Q I want to follow up on the incident in Guantanamo. Do you believe that the statement by Secretary Rice is enough, considering the widespread demonstrations, the slogans have been used like "death to America," in sensitive time, you're trying to win hearts and minds of Muslims and the Arab world? Do you believe that the President should come out and address directly the Muslim world and promise a serious investigation into the incident, so you contain it before it becomes another Abu Ghraib?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Department of Defense has made clear that they are investigating it or looking into the allegation to see if there's any truth to it. They take such allegations very seriously, so that's why they're looking into it.

In terms of the United States, we are a nation of values that we hold very dear, and one of those values is the ability to worship freely and religious freedom. And that's why Secretary Rice reached out to people in the Muslim world, and reached out to our friends across the world and said, we ask you to help us make clear to people that they should not resort to violence because of the people who are inciting it that are misrepresenting the values of the United States of America.

The detainees at this base are treated humanely. They are provided with their needs: their clothing and food and meals and medical care. They are provided with their needs when it comes to being able to practice their religion, they are able to worship freely. And they are provided with the Koran. The United States believes very strongly in these values, and we will not tolerate any disrespect for the holy Koran.

Thank you. Have a good weekend, everybody.