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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

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

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

Play Video  Video (Real)

  • Supreme Court Nomination
  • Bolton Appointment
  • Abortion
  • Stem Cell Research
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Sudan
  • 12:18 P.M. EDT

    MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to give you a couple of updates. First, on the Supreme Court confirmation process, Judge Roberts, over the last couple of weeks met with 43 senators. Some of those he met with twice. He also talked to additional senators by phone. He met with 23 Democrats in that overall number, and he also met with all 18 members of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He has additional meetings that are already scheduled during August, and he looks forward to continuing to pay those courtesy visits and consult with senators as they move forward on the confirmation process.

    We also appreciate Chairman Specter reaching an agreement with the Judiciary Committee that will enable the committee and the Senate to move forward in a timely manner to have an up or down vote on Judge Roberts by the end of September, so that he can be in place come October, when the Court comes back into session.

    Secondly, on Ambassador Bolton. Ambassador Bolton is planning on taking the oath of office today and he is also planning on going to New York today to get about doing the important work at the United Nations. The President began thinking about the -- a nomination, a recess appointment of Ambassador Bolton after it became clear that a handful of Democrats were going to continue engaging in partisan delaying tactics and prevent him from having a fair up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. This was despite the fact that he had a clear majority of support from the United States Senate. On two occasions, as Chairman Lugar noted in his statement, the Senate showed a clear majority was in support of his nomination to the United Nations.

    And the President, after it became clear that the Senate was -- that the Democrats were going to continue playing politics and blocking the nomination from receiving an up or down vote, the President began thinking seriously about recessing him, and he came to a final decision after the Senate had recessed over the weekend.

    Q When did he begin thinking about it?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you go back and look at the votes, there was a vote on, I believe, May 26th, and then a follow-on vote June 20th, and then it was becoming clear that Senate Democrats -- well, even after that time period, I think there was a lot of outreach by Republican senators and Republican leaders in the Senate to find a middle ground to move forward on providing him with a fair up or down vote. But it became increasingly clear during that time that Senate Democrats were simply interested in playing politics and not allowing his vote to go to the floor for an up or down vote, where he would have been approved.

    Q Setting aside the question of the merits, or demerits of Ambassador Bolton, just that aside, the reality now is he goes up there without Senate confirmation. Does the President regret this in a sense, and does he feel that Bolton's efficiency up there, his effectiveness is going to be damaged by not having confirmation?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Not at all. In fact, he has the full and complete confidence of the President of the United States and Secretary of State Rice. He has their full and complete confidence to get about doing the important work of reform at the United Nations and making sure that the United Nations is a strong and effective organization. Ambassador Bolton is someone who has a long record of working to get things done and bringing people together to move forward on important priorities, and he will take that record of accomplishment to the United Nations with the full confidence of the President of the United States and Secretary of State.

    Q So Senate confirmation really makes no difference in how he carries out his job?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's clear to everybody that he had the majority support of the United States Senate. But, unfortunately, a handful of Senate Democrats were intent on using partisan tactics to delay the nomination from receiving an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate.

    Q How do you square that, Scott, with the opposition from folks like George Voinovich?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going on the first row, and then I'll come back to you, Carl.

    Terry, you had something.

    Q A lot of people say that he was very sharp with subordinates and that he was tough and too hard on them. Does he intend to moderate his behavior in this new job?

    MR. McCLELLAN: A lot of people that have worked very closely with Ambassador Bolton recognize that he is someone who brings a results-oriented approach to the position. If you go back and look at people who know him well -- like former Secretary of State Baker, former Ambassador to the United Nations Jeanne Kirkpatrick -- they recognize that he will be a strong advocate for the priorities that we want to see at the United Nations.

    The American people want to see comprehensive reform at the United Nations. The American -- we spend some $2 billion-plus a year, I think that we send to the United Nations. They want to make sure that those resources are getting real results, and that the United Nations is an effective and strong multilateral organization. And John Bolton is -- shares the President -- John Bolton shares the President's commitment to making sure that the United Nations is a strong and effective multilateral organization.

    Q In fact, Scott, what a lot of people accuse Bolton of is being a hard-charging guy, abrasive, abusive. I mean, some of his critics have used all of these words. Even Kofi Annan, Secretary General, saying essentially, hey, take it easy up here; it's good to push, but you've got to work with other ambassadors. Is in fact -- is that, in fact, exactly what the President is looking for?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Secretary General actually said he looked forward to working closely with Ambassador Bolton. He put out a statement a short time ago.

    Q Right, and what I said is also what he said.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Now, Ambassador Bolton is someone who has sometimes used a blunt style, but he is someone who brings passion and experience and a results-oriented approach to the position. That's exactly the kind of person we need at the United Nations during this time of war and time of reform. And that's why the President nominated him to be the ambassador.

    Q And the President is a pretty plain-spoken guy, as well, so why don't we be -- why don't you be a little bit more blunt here. (Laughter.) Does, in fact --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I try to be diplomatic with you all.

    Q Yes. But the rap here is the President has chosen somebody who is quite undiplomatic for a diplomatic post.

    MR. McCLELLAN: No.

    Q Is that what he wants?

    MR. McCLELLAN: He is a strong and proven diplomat who gets things done. And that's the kind of person we need at the United Nations. That's why a majority of the United Sates Senate supported him. He is the right person for this position at this critical time of war and critical time of reform at the United Nations. He is someone who, like the President, wants to make sure that the United Nations is a strong and effective multilateral organization. And if you look at his record, he has worked to get things done whether it's stopping the spread of weapons of mass destruction, or working to repeal a resolution that tried to equate Zionism with racism. John Bolton has a record of getting things done.

    Q He's the finger in the eye of Democrats?

    Q Scott, some of the Democrats are saying this is abuse of power, and if you'd given over some of the information that you had, he would have gotten a vote. How do you respond to that?

    MR. McCLELLAN: It was the -- well, first of all, there was a thorough confirmation process, and Ambassador Bolton spent more than eight hours before the committee answering their questions. He provided a number of additional responses in writing, when they came forward with additional questions. If you'll remember, Senator Roberts and other leaders in the Senate, I think Senator McCain tried to reach out to these Senate Democrats who claimed that they wanted more documents. It wasn't more documents that they wanted; they just wanted to play politics with this position.

    And the President believed all along that he deserved a fair up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. I think the American people expect the Senate to do their duty and give people a fair up or down vote. It was Senate Democrats that chose to play politics and prevent him from being confirmed, which he would have been if it had gone to the floor of the Senate.

    Q Scott, does the President envision Bolton being in this job for four years? And, if so, would he re-recess appoint him?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to speculate about things down the road. He has been nominated to -- or been recessed appointed to this position, and he will continue to serve through that recess period. And beyond that, I wouldn't want to speculate, but he is someone --

    Q But one of the knocks --

    MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President believes in strongly.

    Q Right, but one of the knocks on doing a recess appointment is you send someone in with a relatively short time period to actually implement the reforms that he would want. Does he think that you can do it in that short of time frame, or does he envision this being basically a --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you remember, first of all, the United Nations is coming back into session in September, so this is an important time for our ambassador to get in place after months of partisan delay tactics by Senate Democrats. And we want to move forward on major reforms this year. We've outlined a comprehensive reform agenda that includes management reform. It includes the establishment of a peace-building commission. It includes reform of the human rights commission. It includes the establishment of a democracy fund and the adoption of a comprehensive convention on counterterrorism. Those are important priorities.

    And we want to move forward this year on major reforms. And that's why it's important to have him in place, in addition to the fact that we remain at war, we remain engaged in a global war on terrorism up against an ideology of hatred.

    Q Scott, on Bolton's aggressive and abrasive managerial style, what does this send to --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Is that your characterization?

    Q Well, no, that's not -- I didn't work for him, but others are saying this, others who testified against him. Scott, basically, what does this send to corporate America, that the President hires someone or appoints someone who has this kind of style -- as you say, results-oriented -- but definitely there were workers who were upset, many workers who were upset. And they feel that he is not qualified to run anything because of his style. What does this send to --

    MR. McCLELLAN: The United States Senate confirmed him on four occasions prior to this time. They would have confirmed him again, had not a handful of Democrats used partisan delay tactics to prevent him from receiving a fair up or down vote. And the President makes decisions based on what is right for the American people. The American people want to see reform at the United Nations. John Bolton is committed to reform at the United Nations and committed to making the United Nations a strong organization that is effective in getting real results, based on what its charter establishes.

    Q Well, following up on what you just said, you're basically saying that a handful of senators, Democrats, are holding you up. What do you think about Senator Ed Kennedy talking about Bolton misled Congress by denying he had interviewed in the State Department CIA investigation of faulty pre-war intelligence on Iraq?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think the State Department addressed that last week --

    Q No, but you're saying that it's a delaying tactic.

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying Senator Kennedy's views are well known.

    Q No, but tell me -- no, but you made a statement; respond to this. You're saying that it's delaying tactics --

    MR. McCLELLAN: It's already been responded to.

    Q No, you're saying it's a delaying tactic. This is concrete information that Senator Kennedy is throwing out, and that's not delaying tactics, that's something that needs to be addressed.

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, I heard your question. It was addressed last week.

    Go ahead, Bob.

    Q He goes to New York today into an organization where delicacy is oftentimes the watchword. John Bolton has a reputation to live down, as evidenced by the questions you're still getting. What is he going to do to do that?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but look at the facts. Look at his record of bringing people together to get things done. Look at his record of resolving the payment issues to the United Nations. Look at his record of rallying the coalition for the Persian Gulf war. Look at his record of getting people to come together within the United Nations and repealing a resolution that tried to equate Zionism with racism. Look at his record of building a coalition of 60-plus nations to stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction, one of the gravest threats we face, if not the gravest threat we face in this day and age.

    Q So you're saying that he's going to operate up there as he has before?

    MR. McCLELLAN: He's going to continue to focus on getting things done, and addressing the important priorities that we face in the 21st century.

    Q Well, if I could belabor it just a little bit, his --

    MR. McCLELLAN: You bet he's someone that is committed to getting things done.

    Q But do you expect him to -- he is very, very proud of his hard-charging style. Do you anticipate that he's going to continue to operate that way in the United Nations environment?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, he's someone who cares passionately about these issues that are of concern to all Americans. And he's someone who brings a lot of experience and expertise to the position, having served for some two decades in various positions within government. And sometimes a blunt style is needed in order to get things done, and he has definitely gotten things done.

    Q Scott, some Democrats are saying that this appointment will complicate the confirmation process for Judge Roberts. Did the President consider that? And does he have any strategy for trying to convince Democrats that they should abandon partisanship --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen any comments to that effect and I really haven't heard much about that from the Senate. I think the Senate -- the Judiciary Committee, as I just pointed out at the beginning, reached an agreement to move forward on the confirmation process in a timely manner. And that's what the President has called for. All indications are that the Senate is committed to moving forward in heeding what the President's call was, which was to move forward in a way that will give him a fair confirmation process in a timely manner so that he can be in place by the time the court comes into session in October.

    Q Scott, when was the last time the President spoke to George Voinovich about the nomination of Mr. Bolton? And to what extent do you square the criticism of Democratic stalling and partisanship with the idea that there was some Republican misgivings, led not least by Mr. Voinovich?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, he had a clear and strong majority support of the United States Senate. If you go back and look at the votes previously, on May 26th and June 20th, I think his views were expressed, well known. And in terms of the last time the President talked to him, I think it was the last time I informed you all -- I don't recall the specific date. I know our legislative staff reached out to let him know this morning, as well.

    Q Scott, has President met with John Bolton, the concern he will be representing the United States at the United Nations during a critical time of reform and the 60th anniversary of the United Nations? As far as the Security Council membership for India is concerned, the Prime Minister (inaudible) with President Bush here at the White House --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

    Q -- where is the Ambassador John Bolton going to stand on the membership of the United Nations --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we haven't made any decisions beyond supporting Japan for being a member of the Security Council at this point. We believe that Security Council reform ought to be criteria-based, that there ought to be some clear criteria for who should be a member of the Security Council. And we believe that Security Council reform ought to be undertaken in the context of broader reform at the United Nations, and that's how we're proceeding.

    We have had good discussions with others who have expressed interest, but that's why we believe it's important to outline some criteria and make sure that it is in the context of broader reform at the United Nations.

    Connie, go ahead.

    Q Thank you. Would it be the President's preference, if he could, to overturn Roe versus Wade? And, also, does he think that embryonic stem cell research should be made illegal?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think that -- two things. One, on the issue of abortion, the President has made it very clear that there are ways -- common sense, practical ways that we can work together to reduce the number of abortions in America. And he has worked to do that, if you look at what we have done, by placing a ban on partial birth abortion, by supporting efforts to increase adoption. The President is strongly committed to finding ways we can work together to reduce the number of abortions in America. He is someone who is pro-life.

    Now, in terms of the question you bring up, I think this is trying to bring it up in the context of does the President have a litmus test for the Supreme Court -- no, he does not. And the President has made that very clear. He is not the one who has a litmus test. He believes that a judge ought to interpret our Constitution and our laws and not try to legislate from the bench. A judge is someone who ought to look at the facts and look at the law and look at our Constitution and apply the law. And that's what the President has consistently said.

    In terms of -- what was the second part of your question?

    Q The legality or illegality of embryonic stem cell research.

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President felt that taxpayer dollars should not be going to fund research where human life is created for the sole purpose of destroying it. Now, he believes strongly in advancing medical research, but we also must work to maintain the highest ethical standards. And that's why he came to the policy that he did. It doesn't place any prohibition on the private sector and research done in the private sector. He drew the line at taxpayer dollars because he is President of all the people.

    And I think people do appreciate the need to move forward aggressively to advance science, but also look at those ethical considerations that really have far-reaching consequences into the future.

    Q Scott, is the White House concerned about the latest moves by Iran to return to some of its nuclear research?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Europeans who have been working to negotiate a resolution, diplomatic resolution, to Iran's nuclear programs has expressed their concerns. I just -- yesterday I think they put out a statement saying that they would seek further clarification, but that it would be an unnecessary and damaging step by Iran. Iran made an agreement, the Paris agreement -- they agreed to abide by the Paris agreement, which called for Iran to suspend their uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities while the negotiations were ongoing. The Europeans, along with the United States, believe that Iran should adhere to the Paris agreement and continue to work with the Europeans to resolve this issue.

    We've made clear that if Iran is going to violate its agreement and restart uranium reprocessing enrichment activities, then we would have to look to the next step and we would be talking with our European friends about that next step.

    Q What would be the next step?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've repeatedly said that if they're not going to abide by their agreements and obligations, then we would have to look to the Security Council. And I think the Europeans have expressed that. But right now the Europeans are seeking clarification about what Iran's intentions are.

    Q Do you have anything on the -- oh, I'm sorry.

    Q Scott, two things. One, is there -- in January 2007, do you expect the Senate to give Bolton and up and down vote? And, also, is there any update to the delegation going to King Fahd's funeral?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to speculate about things down the road. In terms of the delegation, hopefully, we'll have more for you a little bit later today for the King's funeral. And in terms of -- the President will have a couple of statements out later today regarding the passing of King Fahd, as well as the ascension of King Abdullah to the throne.

    Q Thank you, Scott. I have two questions. First -- and by the way, in answer to Carl's question earlier, that was my question to you about when the President spoke to Voinovich. And if you go back to your transcript --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I thought you were going to give me the answer to that question.

    Q Yes, it was the night before the vote on the foreign relations --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Right.

    Q -- you should check the date. The CIA reported last week in a story that did not get much attention in the newspapers that the President-elect of Iran was not a hostage-taker, and not the person in the photographs. Does the administration consider the matter closed?

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, as I said, we were still looking into whether or not he was explicitly one of the hostage-takers. And what we know, and I think you heard some comments out of Iran, too, that he was a leader of the student organization that oversaw the takeover and the taking of hostages. What we don't know is whether he was explicitly one of the hostage-takers.

    Q Well, the CIA --

    MR. McCLELLAN: So that's something we continue to look into. Now, in terms of -- you're referring to pictures. I think they were talking -- the intelligence community was talking about their analysis of some of the pictures that we have seen from that time period.

    Q So the matter is not closed then?

    MR. McCLELLAN: No.

    Q Scott, there are some U.N. members, including Security Council members, who are suggesting that Bolton begins as a lame duck, and they would have preferred to have someone, you know, who came with Senate approval. Is this something that the administration had to take into account --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen any such comments out of any Security Council member. And, secondly, he did have the support of the majority of the United States Senate; most importantly, he has the complete confidence of the President and the Secretary of State. That's what he needs to be able to do his work at the United Nations.

    Q And just to go back to April's question, aside from what came out of the State Department last week --

    MR. McCLELLAN: And I don't think you've seen any indication out of anyone at the United Nations, other than they look forward to working with him.

    Q I think the people are speaking otherwise, quite frankly, but getting back to April's --

    MR. McCLELLAN: I'd look at Secretary General Annan's remarks.

    Q Getting back to April's question, aside from what came out of the State Department last week, did the President have to -- was there any questions for Mr. Bolton regarding his filling out of that form after -- as the President made the decision this weekend?

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, as I said, the State Department addressed that last week, and Ambassador Bolton was the one who addressed that last week, too.

    Go ahead, Les.

    Q Scott, a two-part. In his 18-minute speech to the Boy Scout National Jamboree last night, the President said not one word about Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist's Support Our Scouts Act of 2005. And my first question: What if Senator Frist decides to say not one word in support of President Bush's nominee to the U.S. Supreme Court?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think that he has said a lot of words about the President's nominee to the United States Supreme Court. And we appreciate -- and we appreciate his commitment to move forward on a floor vote as soon as the Judiciary Committee votes on his nomination.

    Q But why didn't he say anything --

    MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the Boy Scouts, the President has always been a strong supporter of the Boy Scouts of America, and he was pleased to go to their Jamboree last night in Virginia.

    Go ahead.

    Q Today -- wait a minute.

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, I've got to keep going. Go ahead.

    Q Wait a minute, just two.

    MR. McCLELLAN: I've got some interviews I've got to get to.

    Q Today 19 members of Congress --

    MR. McCLELLAN: Les, one question today. Sorry, go ahead.

    Q Okay, thank you, Scott. Do you have anything up to date on the six-party talks?

    MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have any further update other than what you've heard from Ambassador Hill out of the region. They continue to move forward and have discussions about moving forward on a set of principles. And those -- the meetings continue. As Ambassador Hill said last week, this is going to take some time. But we are committed to seeing real progress. The parties are having good discussions, businesslike discussions. And we are committed to working with all the other parties on the goal of a de-nuclearized peninsula. And we want to see progress toward that goal from these talks.

    Q Scott, the oil-for-food scandal happened under Kofi Annan's watch, and he is under investigation for possible involvement in that scandal. Is John Bolton going up to New York to say, hey, the party is over, and possibly, this Secretary General should resign?

    MR. McCLELLAN: There are people that are looking into all the allegations in the oil-for-food program. And Paul Volcker has been leading the investigation from the -- independently, from the United Nations standpoint. Congress has been looking into these matters. We want to know what the facts are, and that's something that they continue to look into at this point.

    Q What's Bolton's position?

    MR. McCLELLAN: His position is that we need to reform the United Nations. In terms of that, people are looking into those matters, and we want to see what the facts are. It's important that it be a transparent and open process, so that we can see what the facts are and get to the bottom of it.

    In back, go ahead.

    Q According -- is the White House concerned about the growing drug violence in the border with Mexico, and that force already to the temporary closure of the U.S. consulate in Nuevo Laredo?

    MR. McCLELLAN: I think the State Department can probably provide you with the latest update. I think you're talking about the Nuevo Laredo region, and the violence there. Certainly, that is something that has been a concern of ours. And it has been something we've had discussions with the government of Mexico about. In terms of specifics, I think the State Department can provide you with additional details.

    In the back.

    Q Is the President concerned about the disappearance or death of John Garang, the Sudanese Vice President?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we are deeply saddened to learn about the death of Vice President and Chairman of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, Dr. John Garang. He is someone who will be remembered as a visionary leader and true peacemaker, who was instrumental in ending a 22-year civil war. His legacy of peace and democracy for all the people of Sudan survives in the comprehensive peace agreement. He was someone who was committed to moving forward on the peace process and implementing the agreement. And a way to honor him is to continue to move forward on the comprehensive peace agreement.

    The United States remains strongly committed to the peace process in Sudan, and assisting in the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement, and also working to resolve the situation in Darfur, as well. Secretary Rice, as you're aware, was just out there. But we are deeply saddened to learn of his passing, and we extend our condolences to his family and to the people of Sudan.

    Go ahead.

    Q Scott, Major League Baseball has just suspended Rafael Palmeiro 10 games for steroid use. He's a friend of the President's, and the President has spoken out about steroids. What is his message to Palmeiro, and what does that do to his friendship with him?

    MR. McCLELLAN: This must be breaking news, first I've heard about it.

    Q And does the President --

    MR. McCLELLAN: So you're asking me his views. I haven't had a chance to talk to him about it, or see the reports. But, obviously, that is an issue that the President took head on and called on Major League Baseball to address. They are taking steps to address it. It is a serious matter, and we appreciate the efforts by Major League Baseball and the representatives of the players to move forward and address it with stronger enforcement and stronger penalties.

    Q What does that do to the President's friendship with a player like that?

    MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I just heard about this.

    Thank you.

    END 12:45 P.M. EDT