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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 19, 2005
Press Gaggle by Trent Duffy
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Milwaukee, Wisconsin
10:42 A.M. EDT
MR. DUFFY: Good morning. A quick run-through of the President's schedule. He had his normal daily briefings, and then he just recently conducted an interview with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel on Air Force One. We, obviously, will not release a transcript of that, as we don't.
He'll be arriving here in Milwaukee, have a meeting with young workers -- pool at the top -- and then have a conversation on strengthening Social Security which you all will cover, and then return to the White House and has some other meetings this afternoon. This is the President's, by our count, 32nd event on Social Security, and his 26th state, including D.C.
Q Is this the first with a group of young workers?
MR. DUFFY: No.
Q It's not?
MR. DUFFY: No. The President met with young workers in Northern Virginia directly following his press conference, I think it was a day after. But I think the audience here is mostly workers under the age of 30 -- workers like Caren and you.
Q Right, right, there you go. (Laughter.) What's the drift or purpose of that? Why are you focusing on younger workers now?
MR. DUFFY: I think the President will get into that in his remarks. The reason the President feels it's important to focus on younger workers is because for today's retirees, the system is sound. What we need to do is take steps now to modernize Social Security, so that younger workers have the kind of retirement security that older retirees currently do. So he's going to focus on why it's important to move forward for this generation, so they have an opportunity for a better retirement through a voluntary personal account and through the kinds of things that the President has talked about doing.
But this -- as the President has said repeatedly, this is not about today's retirees, who are safe; there will be no change for them. But unless we do something for tomorrow's retirees, they face some very severe benefit cuts or severe tax increases that could really impair their economic vitality.
Q Can you talk about the stem cell issue pending in Congress right now? Are you all developing any kind of response to the Castle legislation?
MR. DUFFY: The President's stem cell research policy is very clear. He was the first President to authorize embryonic stem cell research in 2001, under a principle that human life should not be created for the purpose of destroying it. And he continues to stand firmly behind that principle. And I would note that there has been tens of millions of dollars spent on embryonic stem cell research at the federal government under this President and under his policy. So that's where he stands on that, and he continues to stand behind his policy.
Q Trent, on the grenade, can you say who decided to go ahead with the speech after it was known that the mags had been overwhelmed and there were lots of people in the crowd who hadn't gone through the detectors?
MR. DUFFY: I decline to comment on any types of discussions involving the events running up to the President's events. Those are just --
Q Was it the President, himself, who decided to go ahead and do it?
MR. DUFFY: I decline to comment on those kinds of discussions. As you can imagine, the Secret Service is taking steps, real time, minute by minute, second by second, assessing the threat and making decisions as to protect the security of the President. That's what took place here, and I don't have anything beyond that.
Q But it's not a security question, it's a question of why or who in the White House decided to go ahead with the event. It's not asking what measures are being taken to do anything differently to protect him.
MR. DUFFY: Those are private discussions, and that's the way they'll remain.
Q Did the President know before the event that the mags had been overwhelmed?
MR. DUFFY: I don't have anything further for you on that.
Q Has the President gotten any more briefings on the status of the investigation?
MR. DUFFY: No, the last one he received was yesterday morning, which Scott indicated. I did check on that.
Q Can you talk about the report of the meeting in New York between U.S. officials and North Korean officials?
MR. DUFFY: Sure, let me read that out for you. I can confirm that there were working-level contacts between the United States and North Korean officials last Friday, May 13th, in New York City -- from New York City, rather. The last such meeting through this channel was in December of last year. As in the past, this channel has been used to convey messages to North Korea, messages of U.S. policy, not to negotiate, and that was the motivation and the use of this channel this time.
This channel was used to reiterate the message, directly, that the North Koreans need to return to the six-party talks without conditions, so we can pursue a policy of a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. Obviously, the President has been delivering this message publicly and directly in the recent weeks and days, and the decision was made to use this channel to communicate directly with North Korean officials.
Q Why do that now?
MR. DUFFY: It's the decision that was made. The President has been making the case publicly and directly. So this decision was made to send this message directly to the North Korean officials through this means.
Q Was there any response from the North Koreans?
MR. DUFFY: Not to my knowledge, at this point.
Q What was the exact level of the communication there? In other words, who were the participants in the talk?
MR. DUFFY: I don't have names at this point. I'll see what else I can get, throughout the course of the day, and come back and see if I can get that for you.
Q What about the meetings this afternoon that the President is having at the White House? Do you know anything further about who -- you know, what those meetings are later today?
MR. DUFFY: Let me see what's on his public schedule. I think he might be meeting with some members of Congress, but I don't know if that's --
Q Social Security?
MR. DUFFY: Not clear. Let me get that for you.
Q I'm sorry, I didn't hear you, some meetings on what?
MR. DUFFY: John was asking what kind of meetings this afternoon. I think he might be meeting with some members of Congress. And I said I would get some more information about that and get back to you on it.
Q Senator Roberts has some legislation to expand the Patriot Act, a lot of talk about being able to seize records and whatnot without actually going to a grand jury or going to a judge. Does the administration support that legislation, and what do you think about it? There are civil liberties concerns being raised.
MR. DUFFY: The President strongly supports the extension of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is one of the front-line tools that law enforcement uses in the domestic war on terror, and to protect the American people. The President's most solemn obligation is to protect the security of the American people. So he strongly supports the extension of the Patriot Act.
As to the specific proposal that was mentioned in some news reports, I don't have anything for you on that at this point. I think that's something that the White House will have to study and reach out to the Senator's office about the specifics of what he may be discussing. But in general, the Attorney General, as well as the Justice Department, has made quite clear the kinds of things we want to see extended, and the President fully backs that.
Q How concerned is the President that the showdown in Congress over judicial nominees will affect his push for Social Security and other domestic legislation?
MR. DUFFY: The President feels that the nominees that he has selected for the federal bench deserve an up or down vote. But he also strongly believes that Congress can do other things in the meantime; that the Senate needs to pass an energy bill, that we have activity on Social Security and that the rest of this country's agenda and the business of the country needs to move forward. So he's confident that it can move forward.
Q Is he annoyed by what's going on up there right now? Does it irritate him and annoy him that they're caught up in this kind of debate over process?
MR. DUFFY: I think the President is confident that the Congress is going to keep working on the business of the country and it can continue to do both. He does feel strongly that his judges deserve an up or down vote in the Senate. And as far as the proceedings in the House and the Senate, those are determined by the leaders in both houses.
Q Who is on the plane with him today?
MR. DUFFY: I think Congressman Ryan from Wisconsin, who is a proud member of the House Ways and Means Committee.
Q Is he going to be on stage with him?
MR. DUFFY: I don't think so, Caren. Typically, the members are in the audience. So I don't think so.
Q What about -- the House voted to end this color-coded system for the Department of Homeland Security. What does the White House think about that? Do they want to eliminate that system or improve it?
MR. DUFFY: Let me get back to you on that, Ed. I think that's something that's under constant review and that Secretary Chertoff has discussed recently. I don't think I have anything further than what he said about that. But if there is anything further, I'll let you know.
Q One other. The House Armed Services Committee also voted, some people think, to end -- potentially end women being in combat. A lot of concern about that, as well. What does the White House think about that?
MR. DUFFY: I don't think our views on that have changed. Let me get those. I didn't bring them back with me.*
Q Trent, just back quickly on the filibuster. Your comments were that the President is confident that Congress can go ahead, and that's a little bit different message than we've been hearing in recent days. It sounds like you're saying you want this to be dealt with quickly, so that Congress can move on. Am I right in detecting a bit of a different message on that from the White House?
MR. DUFFY: No, I don't think so. I think the question was, can Congress go about the business of the country, and the President is confident that it can. I said later that the proceedings in the House and the Senate are determined by those leaders, and I don't think that's a different message.
Q I guess previously what we've been hearing from the White House is just that, just, you know, we leave it to the leaders to decide what to do, and there's sort of no suggestion or hint from -- publicly from the White House that they might want to think about doing it quickly or not doing it at all, and it seems like you're stepping a bit in that direction.
MR. DUFFY: Didn't mean to.
Q Just clarifying.
MR. DUFFY: Thank you for clarifying. No, I didn't mean to do that at all.
Anything further? All right.
* Women are doing a tremendous job serving in our military in many capacities. We are grateful for their service and for their sacrifice. Current administration policy is to allow women to serve in a variety of capacities while balancing this nation's concerns about women in direct ground combat units.
END 10:53 A.M. EDT