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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 1, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

12:54 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. The President had a good visit with President Mbeki in the Oval Office. They are continuing to visit over a working lunch in the residence right now. You heard from the two leaders at their press avail.

This afternoon, the President looks forward to welcoming the NATO Secretary General, de Hoop Scheffer, back to the White House to talk about ways that the United States and Europe can continue to strengthen our strategic partnership to address the common challenges that we face in the 21st century.

And with that, I'll be glad to go directly to your questions for the day.

Q Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Les.

Q Thank you, Scott. Thank you very much.

MR. McCLELLAN: Front row is still coming in. (Laughter.)

Q Two parts. At Thursday's press avail --

MR. McCLELLAN: Can you keep the question short?

Q Yes. At Thursday's press availability --

MR. McCLELLAN: You have another press avail coming up soon.

Q -- with Mahmoud Abbas, the transcript quotes the President as saying "Hamas is a terrorist group, it's on a terrorist list for a reason. As the elections go forward, of course, we want everybody to participate in the vote." And my first question: Why is this not an expressed presidential hope that Hamas terrorists will vote?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think that what the President was referring to is that the way forward for the Palestinian people is a democratic state. The President has outlined a two-state vision of Palestine and Israel living side by side in peace and security. We want to continue to support the Palestinian people as they move forward. Our views, in terms of Hamas, are well known. We think when people are given the opportunity to choose, as the President pointed out, they choose people that are committed to peace and their well-being and improving their quality of life.

And that's what the President talked about in his remarks. And I think you forgot to kind of mention that one. But, obviously, in elections, we want people in society to participate in those elections, and we want to see as broad a participation as possible in those elections.

Q Since the President is scheduled to attend a Republican fundraiser on June the 14th, which will also be attended by California gubernatorial candidate and porn star Mary Carey, what guarantee does the White House have that she will do nothing pornographic at this event? What will be done if she does?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I haven't looked that far ahead on the President's schedule.

Q But it's important -- it's only two weeks from now. You must have some plan --

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, that's another one -- that's another one I'm just not going to get into dignifying.

Q In the photo op just now, the President said --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad I started with you. (Laughter.)

Q -- regarding Egypt, he'd like to see elections as free and fair as possible in Egypt. Is that something less than free and fair? Is that a recognition that you --

MR. McCLELLAN: Is what less than free and fair?

Q As free and fair as possible.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think he's just reiterating what we've said before. We want to see free and fair elections take place. President Mubarak has taken an important step by committing to multi-candidate competitive presidential elections in Egypt. The President thinks that Egypt can lead the way in the Middle East when it comes to free and fair elections and promoting democracy. And the President had a good discussion with President Mubarak in their phone conversation this morning. That was an issue that they discussed, and President Mubarak expressed that he is committed to free and fair elections. And free and fair elections means, as the President said, that candidates can campaign fully, that there is freedom of assembly, that opposition has the ability to freely express themselves, and that there are multi-party candidates in the election.

So that's something that we'll continue to watch as they move forward, and we appreciate the commitment from President Mubarak to move forward on free and fair elections.

Q Does the White House believe that Syria has been helping Zarqawi, believing -- in fact, the Defense Department believes that he's been wounded, that they may have given him aid. And the Secretary of Defense said any country that does that has blood on its hands, implying Syria.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I saw the Secretary's comments. I know he briefed a short time ago. I was in a meeting with -- in the Oval Office, but I just had an opportunity to look at his comments. And he's -- I think he said the assumption was that he was still in Iraq, is what the Secretary said. Obviously, it would be a concern if someone is harboring a known terrorist.

Q He said the assumption was he's in Iraq, but he was also pointing out that he may not have been in Iraq, that he may have received medical help elsewhere, directly pointing at Syria. So does the White House believe that Syria has been helping Zarqawi?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have anything beyond -- I don't have anything to share beyond what Secretary Rumsfeld said at his briefing. We have expressed our concerns when it comes to some of Iraq's neighbors, namely Syria and Iran, and the need for those countries to play a constructive role in helping Iran move forward on a brighter future. They've -- they're countries that have committed to doing that on numerous occasions. We continue to have concerns when it comes to Syria, and Syria allowing its territory to be used by those who seek to carry out attacks inside Iraq. We've expressed those concerns.

But I don't have anything, in terms of Zarqawi, beyond what the Secretary said in his briefing.

Q Scott, the President took a question at his meeting about Mark Felt. And he seems to describe some of these things in a rather superficial way, talking about Watergate as a sort of big story. I'm sure he -- I'm sure he agrees it's more than just a big story. And I just wonder what he thinks, as President of the United States, what the legacy of Watergate is for an administration, for people in high office.

And, secondly, when he said that -- he was asked if he was a hero, if he thought he shouldn't have acted the way he acted -- he said, well, I'd be interested to learn more about him and circumstances. It sounds like he's reserving judgment on whether he thought Mark Felt did the right thing. Did he do the right thing in the President's view?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think so. I think what -- in the President's views, it's not his place to judge, as he said, and we'll leave the analysis to historians and to the media. There's going to be plenty of that. We're already seeing some of that in the media now that it is known who Deep Throat is.

And in terms of the President, he was just talking about it from his own perspective, about what it was like at this time when he was younger and many in his generation were looking upon this whole situation with great interest, and it was a mystery of who Deep Throat was, and now that mystery has been solved. So I think he was just reflecting on it from his standpoint. I wouldn't take it as any more than that.

Q What does he think the legacy of Watergate is?

MR. McCLELLAN: We haven't discussed that in the last 24 hours, if that's what you're asking. But I think he's expressed his view in terms of this latest development and what was known.

Q Scott, can you describe the administration's thoughts on the EU constitution's apparent demise, and what that means in terms of economic partnership, economic competition with Europe as a trading bloc, and what should be done next?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. In terms of the European Union constitution, I think that that's a matter for the voters of Europe to decide, and we've expressed that. In terms of Europe, the President has made it very clear that we want to continue working in close partnership with Europe to address common challenges that we face. We're working on a number of areas together: We're working to advance freedom and democracy in the world. We are working to support efforts in the broader Middle East to advance democracy. We're working together to address the challenges faced by the global war on terrorism. We're working together to move forward on combating proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, which is a high priority. So there are many areas where we will continue working together in partnership. And that's what the President committed to doing.

In terms of the European Union and the European Project, as it's often referred to, the President has talked about how we've been following that with great interest. But the United States is committed to a Europe that is united and strong, and one that works in partnership with us to address our common challenges. We've done that in the past, and we want to do that as we move forward in the future.

Q So to the extent that some would argue the EU and a unified European marketplace creates a growing economy and a bigger demand for U.S. goods, is the collapse of the constitution potentially damage to a trading partner?

MR. McCLELLAN: See, this is asking us to weigh in on the European Union and the European Union constitution. That's a matter for the people of Europe to decide. But we believe in a strong and united Europe as a partner to work closely with us on common challenges.

Q Has William Donaldson, SEC Chairman, notified the White House that he's going to resign?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that there will be more to say on that later today from Mr. Donaldson. And I'll let him speak first, and then we can talk about it at that point.

Q Are you anticipating doing that?

MR. McCLELLAN: We can talk more about it at that point. But I think that they have an announcement coming up a little bit later today, and he has been in touch with us.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, a question on India-U.S. relations. One, how does President put India-U.S. relations today? And the Prime Minister is about to visit on July 18th at the White House, if you can confirm it? And second, there have been or are so many ups and down visits between India and the U.S. And now a big conference is going on at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, many India -- high, top business and government officials are here. And many other -- things are happening now. This is something we can call a new turning point from strategic partnership to beyond?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've been working to strengthen our relationship with India since early on this administration. And it has been a good relationship. The President has spoken with Prime Minister Singh on a number of occasions. He looks forward to seeing him again soon -- in the future. And we look forward to continuing to build upon our good relationship and discussing issues of shared concern. And that's what we will continue to do. I don't have any update to announce right now in terms of the President's schedule beyond that.

Let me go back here.

Q Scott, at the press conference yesterday, approximately 25 percent of the journalists were women, and the President went to 2 percent of the journalists. And back in April, again, it was about 25 percent, and the President took only one question from a woman reporter. Can you explain this pattern?

MR. McCLELLAN: That might be a reflection on the media. That's not -- I don't think that's a reflection on who the President calls on.

Q Their hands were up, picked the female hands --

MR. McCLELLAN: You pointed out that there is a smaller percentage of women at the event. I think that's a question you may want to address to the media, if it's a question of diversity in the media.

Q If 25 percent of the journalists are women, I would think more than 2 percent of questions -- or, in fact, it was one question -- would perhaps be directed to the women.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President looks forward to taking questions from a wide variety of people, and I don't think that's a reflection on the President. I think that's a reflection on maybe the media and the diversity within the media. So I think that's a question you ought to direct to the media, not us.

Q Can you assure us that he will take note next time to count --

MR. McCLELLAN: He was pleased to call on women journalists yesterday --

Q He called on one. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, there are a number of major media organizations that were represented there. The President believes it's important to get to those major media outlets and start the news conference that way. And if it's a question of diversity within those organizations, I think it's a question to direct to those organizations, not us.

Q Scott, I guess, sort of a follow-up to that -- what does the President think he accomplished yesterday in terms of getting out his message, in terms of making sure that he is viewed as relevant and all those kinds of things, that a lot of the speculation was leading into this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President made it very clear that he's going to continue to lead aggressively and pursue big goals, and he's going to continue to focus on the big priorities of this country. He is someone who is committed to leading and committed to getting things done. And there's a lot of focus in this town on the politics and process. The President is focused on the results. And we've made some important progress in this Congress already. There is much to be done. And the President looks forward to continuing to work with Congress to get things done. He's confident that Congress will, in the end, put aside partisanship and focus on the priorities of the American people so that we can get things done.

Q Is there a problem with his own party?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sarah.

Q I have another question, but she asked it -- asked that question.

MR. McCLELLAN: She asked your question, okay.

Q She asked, but I have another one. I have another one.

Q Well, ask the same one, because he didn't answer. Go ahead.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come back to you.

Q Oh, no, no, no. I'll ask another one. Vice President Cheney suggests that perhaps First Lady Laura Bush should run for President in 2008. If so, who would she choose as her running mate? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Mrs. Bush is a tremendous asset to this administration, and we appreciate all that she does. She just had a great, successful trip to the Middle East, and I think that the President and Mrs. Bush have made it pretty clear that once his term is up, they intend to go back to Texas and get about doing other things.

Q Scott, has the President looked at details of the recent legislation introduced by Senators Kennedy and McCain on immigration reform? And is he ready to take a look at that? Does he support the idea of a temporary worker program with possible ways to the restoration of the human rights --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we've spelled out our principles, and one of our principles is that those individuals would need to get in line just like everybody else, that they wouldn't be given any special access in that line to get -- or to get on the path to citizenship. The President appreciates members of Congress coming forward with ideas for moving forward to address these immigration problems that we face. The President is strongly committed to his approach for a temporary worker program that would meet an important economic need that would show a more humane migration system for America and that would help us better address the problems along the border and people coming into this country illegally.

And so we're going to continue working closely with congressional leaders on those efforts. But I think the President has kind of outlined his principles and there's no change in terms of his principles.

Q I have another question. Is the United States government considering or trying to consider any way Luis Posada Carriles as a terrorist, or not? Because there are people in this country called terrorists without any proof, and this guy has FBI documents already released, mentioned him in a meeting in the Caribbean, talking about the attack to the plane Cubana -- so is he considered a terrorist by this government, or not?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a matter that's being handled by the immigration and law enforcement authorities. We expect them to follow the procedures that are in place, and that's exactly what they are doing. And I don't think I have anything else to add to it at this point.

Q President Bush yesterday met with Sumate leader from Venezuela. What did they talk about? Did they share common point of view with -- on the Venezuelan political situation?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President was pleased to meet with her yesterday. They had a very good discussion. I think she went to the stakeout after and talked to -- talked about it, as well. She is the executive director of Sumate, which is the leading independent democratic civil society group in Venezuela. And I think the President, as much as anything, wanted to listen to her concerns and hear about what is going on in Venezuela, and that meeting was an opportunity for him to do just that.

We frequently meet with leading pro-democracy activists from around the world and offer our support and encouragement to those individuals. They discussed Sumate's important work in defense of constitutional rights in Venezuela, and especially it's efforts to safeguard the integrity and transparency of Venezuela's electoral process. That's something that this organization has been very focused on and working to ensure. And the President talked about the importance of a independent and vibrant civil society and how important that is to the well-being of democracies. And I think the President expressed his concerns, as well, about efforts to harass and intimidate Sumate and its leadership. And that's about the extent of the readout I have from it.

Q There will be any change in the policy on Venezuela?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we -- I think we've expressed our views. And I think there's a broader issue here when it comes to the continent, itself. We want to make sure we're doing all we can, working with others in the Americas, to advance democracy and strengthen democratic institutions, and make sure the people are continuing to move forward on democratic principles. And so we always have concerns when people move away from those principles and weaken those democratic institutions. And I think that countries throughout the Americas want to see democracy continue to advance in our own hemisphere.

And the President talked about the continent of Africa, and Zimbabwe as an example of a country that's moving away from democratic principles. We want to do all we can to continue to support the advance of democracy, and it's important to do that here in our own hemisphere, as well, because there are so many younger democracies within our own hemisphere.

Q Is the President frustrated that many members of his own party are putting up roadblocks to what you called those big issues on which saying he's leading, Social Security and so on?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that that's the case. I mean, first of all, on energy legislation, the House moved forward and passed comprehensive energy legislation. The Senate moved forward in the Energy Committee and overwhelmingly, or nearly unanimously, passed a comprehensive piece of energy legislation. So that's a very important priority that we need to get done. We've waited four years, and now is the time to get it done. There seems to be a commitment to moving forward on that priority.

And in terms of Social Security, there are hearings that are now taking place. We look forward to continuing to work with Congress as they move forward to address this issue. This is not a town, as the President said yesterday, where you're always going to see instant results. Sometimes it takes time to get these things done. These are difficult issues. But the President is going to continue leading and continue reaching out to the American people, and urging Congress to act.

We're also going to continue having discussions with members of Congress. He's had members of Congress down here on numerous occasions to talk about these big priorities. And certainly four key priorities he highlighted yesterday -- the energy legislation, moving forward and passing the CAFTA free trade agreement, and moving forward on Social Security, and moving forward on a responsible budget that keeps us on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. That's important to our economic security and continuing to keep our economy growing stronger.

So there has been some progress made in this Congress, significant progress. The Congress adopted a budget resolution that meets the priorities that we outlined, and holds the line on spending elsewhere in the budget so that we do stay on track to cut the deficit in half. They've also moved forward on an important piece of lawsuit reform, something that they were not able to get done in previous years.

Q But isn't this classic lame duck, when you're looking at Social Security? You can talk as much as you want, but it doesn't --

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think that issue -- that issue --

Q -- he only has a few more -- doesn't have much time.

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of Social Security?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a difficult issue. If it were easy, it would already have been solved. It is facing serious problems. The President has made some important progress by reaching out to the American people. The American people recognize that there are serious problems facing Social Security. That was step one. Step two is working with Congress to move forward to address that problem that faces Social Security. So I think most people kind of reject any such characterization that you made at the beginning.

Q Thank you.

END 1:15 P.M. EDT