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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 18, 2005

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

Play Video  Video (Real)

1:06 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me give you an update on the President's day. The President had a good visit with Quartet Envoy for Gaza, Jim -- James Wolfenson, this morning. They had a good discussion about the situation in Gaza. Envoy Wolfenson updated the President on his most recent visit to the region, and he talked about items on his agenda, including the Rafah crossing, and other issues relating to reviving the Palestinian economy.

As you all are aware, the President will be welcoming President Abbas to the White House later this week. The President looks forward to seeing President Abbas again to talk about ways we can continue to support the Palestinian leadership as they move forward on holding elections. It's also an opportunity to talk to the Palestinian President about ways we can continue to support their efforts to implement law and order, and good governance in Gaza, and to move forward on putting in place the institutions necessary for a democratic state to emerge. We all remain committed to the two-state vision, so this morning's meeting was a good chance to hear about some of the progress that's been made from the Special Envoy appointed by the Quartet.

Then, following that, the President had a good discussion with President Barroso of the European Commission. As you heard from the President, the President very much values our relationship with Europe and wants to make sure that the European Union succeeds. They had a good opportunity to talk about the freedom agenda and how we can work together on spreading freedom and prosperity and peace. The President talked to President Barroso about transatlantic relations, as well, and how we can continue to strengthen that relationship. And then they had a good discussion about expanding trade, and our shared goal of moving forward on the Doha Round and successfully concluding the Doha Round.

The President, as you've heard him say, believes strongly that trade is the best way to lift people out of poverty, and by moving forward on Doha, we can help eliminate poverty. He's put forward a bold proposal -- and our Ambassador Portman was here for the meeting today; he's returning to Geneva to talk further with Europeans -- the President has put forward a bold proposal that he talked about at the U.N., and we're looking forward to the Europeans hopefully responding with a bold proposal, as well, so that we can move forward on opening market access for all.

And then, this afternoon the President looks forward to signing the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations bill. The President, in his remarks, will focus on our efforts to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. That means strengthening our border, that means enforcing our laws, and also meeting an important economic need through the temporary worker program that he has announced. And I think today he will use this as an opportunity to highlight the steps we've taken to enforce our borders, and talk about how illegal immigration is a threat to our security.

And the American people want to make sure that they have a government that secures our borders, and when they find illegal immigrants, that they return them to the countries -- to their home countries when they are caught. And we've been stepping up our efforts to strengthen our borders, but the President knows that there is more that needs to be done. He's not satisfied. We need to continue to build upon the progress we've made. And he'll highlight some of the things that are in the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, from the funding that's provided to increase the number of Border Patrol agents along the border to 1,000 new agents, and funding that's included in there to add a hundred new enforcement agents at the Immigration and Customs Agency, as well.

So that's what he will focus on in his remarks this afternoon. He looks forward to welcoming bipartisan members of Congress to the White House for that bill signing.

And with that, I will be glad to go to questions.

Q Scott, the material that the White House sent to the Senate today about Harriet Miers' nomination included a 1989 questionnaire that said that she supported a constitutional amendment to ban abortion except to -- when the life of a mother is at stake. Do you take that 1989 statement to be a conclusive statement of her position on abortion?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we take that to be is a candidate expressing her views during the course of a campaign. The role of a judge is very different from the role of a candidate or a political office holder. And what she was doing in that questionnaire was expressing her views during the course of a campaign. The role of a judge is to apply the law in a fair and open-minded way. That means looking at the facts, and then applying the law.

Q So are you saying that what her -- what she registered there might not be how she might vote as a judge?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think, a couple of things. One, the President looks at someone's qualifications and experience and judicial temperament when he's appointing people to the bench. He has a long record of appointing -- or nominating people to the bench that have a conservative judicial philosophy. He believes very strongly that we should have strict constructionists on the Court, people who will strictly interpret our Constitution and our laws, and not try to make law from the bench.

And one of the qualities that you look for in someone who is going to serve on the bench, particularly our -- the highest court in the land, is are they someone who is fair and open-minded, and that will looks at the facts of a case and then apply the law. Harriet Miers, just like Chief Justice Roberts, recognizes that personal views and ideology and religion have no role to play when it comes to making decisions on the bench. Your role as a judge is to look at all the facts and then look at the law and apply the law to that case.

Q And you separate the questionnaire as a --

MR. McCLELLAN: I would also -- I think Senator Schumer indicated to you all yesterday that Harriet Miers said that no one knows how she would view on any particular case.

Q So then we should regard this -- or the Senate should regard this just as a personal view, not as an indication of her judicial philosophy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, her judicial philosophy is how I just described it. And she'll be talking more about it as she moves forward on the confirmation process. She's already visited with some 18 senators before today as part of the courtesy visits. She's visiting with an additional two senators today. And she will continue those visits in the coming weeks -- through the remainder of this week, and in the coming weeks as they move forward toward the confirmation hearings. And then at the confirmation hearings, senators will have an opportunity to visit with her and ask her questions about her views and her experience and her judicial philosophy. And she looks forward to the opportunity to answer those questions at that time.

Q Was that document a part of the vetting process and the package of materials that the President reviewed prior to selecting Harriet Miers?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the President, they did not discuss this particular issue -- I think we've already indicated that -- or any other issue that may be viewed as controversial. The President doesn't have a litmus test, and that -- what we said before still stands. The President appoints people to the bench based on their qualifications and their experience and their judicial temperament. And that's what he makes the decision on.

Now, in terms of the vetting process, there's a very thorough process that goes on for people to the President Supreme Court and people to other judicial vacancies, and it was a thorough vetting process.

Q Would that have included providing that kind of documentation to the President? Whether there was discussion, he could have simply read the --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see if there's more information on that. But, no, the President, as we have indicated, doesn't have a litmus test, so those are not questions he discusses with his nominees. And I'll see if there's any additional --

Q But did he read it, is what I'm asking. Was he aware of it prior to --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what I said -- I'll see if there's any additional information to add.

Q Is it the expectation of the White House, though, that a document such as this will send a message to people who care about the issue that that is something she believes and, therefore, it might reasonably --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the expectation is that it's Harriet Miers responding -- it's Harriet Miers responding to a questionnaire from the Senate Judiciary Committee so that they can look at her background and her record and her experience. She is someone who is uniquely qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. And the decision and the standard should be based on qualifications. And that's what we have always emphasized. That's the precedent that has been set over many years. It should be based on is this person qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. She is extremely well-qualified to serve on our nation's highest court.

Q So including that in the information packet that you sent up, you would deny that you're trying to send any kind of message?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's part of providing the Senate Judiciary Committee information that they have requested.

Q Dispatches from Iraq said that yesterday we killed 70 people in Iraq, near Ramadi, including 18 children. I want to know what the President thinks of that.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think you need to talk to the military, because the military --

Q No, I'm talking here.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and as I'm responding to you, the military has said otherwise at this point. Now, the military has review mechanisms in place and when there are questions raised, they look into those matters, and so that's something that, obviously, they will look into. But, beyond that, you'd have to talk to the military about where that stands. Now --

Q Eighteen children --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- in terms of our United States military, our military goes out of the way not to target --

Q Why were 18 children killed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Our military goes out of the way not to target innocent civilians.

Q I'm not saying they were targeted --

MR. McCLELLAN: Our military goes out of the way to target the enemy, and to --

Q Why did they say 18 children?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- bring to justice the terrorists and those who are seeking to prevent democracy from taking hold, through violent means, to justice. And that's what our military does. And they do --

Q Seventy people were killed by an air strike.

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, please let me respond, because I think it's important to point this out when you're bringing up a question like this. We fully support our men and women in uniform. They're doing an outstanding job to defend our freedoms and to help the Iraqi people move forward on a free --

Q I'm not saying -- I'm saying why did they kill 70 people?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- to move forward on a free and peaceful future. I think everybody in this room would like me to have the opportunity to be able to talk to you about this question. And you're assuming things that people have different recollections about right now, or have characterized very differently. And that's why I said the military has review mechanisms in place, when situations like this arise, and they look into those matters. That's why you need to talk to the military, to see where that stands.

Q Are the figures wrong in all the newspapers?

MR. McCLELLAN: The military is looking into the matter, Helen. I don't have any more information at this point.

Q If I could follow on Helen's question, though. Whatever the facts of this particular situation are, war is an inexact business, and children do get killed. And what I think she's asking is for a response from the President about children who may have been killed as a result of American action.

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I don't want to assume, because this is an incident that's being looked into.

Q I'm not assuming. I'm not assuming.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I want to also make the point -- and I think you can go back and look at this -- yes, war is always the last resort. It's not something that's pleasant. But it is a decision that sometimes the Commander-in-Chief has to make in order to protect the American people. And he made the decision that we were going to go on the offensive in this global war on terrorism that we're engaged in, and that's exactly what we're doing, and that we're going to work to spread freedom and democracy in a part of the world that is in need of hope. And you have to recognize the struggle that we're engaged in.

And there are people in Iraq, terrorists, who recognized how high the stakes are, and they're seeking to do everything they can to stop the democratic process from advancing. And there are attacks carried out on some of our troops. And when those attacks are carried out on our troops, you have others that respond to that. And we appreciate all that our men and women in uniform are doing when it comes to defending our freedoms abroad.

Now, in terms of any innocent people being killed, we mourn the loss of any innocent life that is lost. We have seen that the terrorists have no regard for innocent human life. That's the difference between the enemy and between those in the civilized world who are committed to spreading freedom and peace. We target the enemy; they target innocent civilians. And there's a stark contrast in how we go about waging this war on terrorism. They carry out cowardly acts against innocent civilians. We go after those who seek to do harm to those innocent civilians.

Q One question on Harriet Miers. So your position is that her support of a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in every instance except when the life of the mother is provably at risk -- in other words, a woman who might be rendered infertile by being forced to carry to term a child would not, under Harriet Miers' political views, have access to have an abortion. That has nothing to do, and will have nothing to do, with how she judges cases?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think she's indicated to members of the Senate that she's visited with that no one knows how she would vote on any particular cases that may come before the Court, because the role of a judge is not to prejudge the outcome of those cases. The role of a judge is to stand back and to hear the facts, to look at those facts, and then apply the law. She is someone who, anyone you talk to that knows her will say, is very fair-minded. I've known her well for the last few years. She is someone who is very fair and open-minded. And that's an important qualification you need when you're a judge.

She's also someone that is firmly committed to strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws, not trying to make law from the bench. That's what the American people want on the bench. Now, we all have personal views and certain ideological backgrounds that we come from, and some of us have religious backgrounds, as well. But all those issues have no role to play when you're a judge making a decision based on the Constitution and our laws.

Q Why is it that most judges who have the personal view that abortion ought to be legal end up finding in the law that it should be legal, and most judges who have personal views, religious or otherwise, that it's wrong, and shouldn't be legal, end up finding in the law that it's illegal?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know which specific instance you're referring to. I mean, I haven't done that kind of analysis myself. But I know what the American people want. The American people want judges that are going to interpret our Constitution and our laws and not make law from the bench. That's what the role of a judge is. The role of a judge is to look at the facts and look at the law and then apply the law. And Harriet Miers is someone who recognizes that ideology and religion have no role to play when you're making decisions on the bench. That's what the American people expect in a Supreme Court nominee or any judicial nominee.

Q Scott, the President's tax advisory committee -- commission had its final hearing today. And in last year's State of the Union address, the President promised tax simplification. By the time of his next State of the Union will --

MR. McCLELLAN: We've taken some steps already to simplify the tax code, by some of the tax cuts we've passed.

Q This is to help me write a story. (Laughter.) What's the timetable? When will the President have a plan to present to the American people?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. Tax reform is a high priority for the President of the United States. He strongly believes that we need a tax code that is simpler and fairer and more conducive to economic growth. That's why he appointed a bipartisan advisory panel to take a close look at our tax code, and look at ways we can reform it to make it simpler and fairer. And we appreciate the work of the bipartisan advisory panel. They were holding their last meeting today. They've been doing their work for several months now and they will be sending a report to the Secretary of Treasury by November 1st. And then the Secretary of Treasury will review the recommendations that the panel makes and send his recommendation on to the President, so the President can consider that. The President, I can assure you, will look very closely at the recommendations that are made and give them careful consideration, as we move forward to work with Congress to pass meaningful reform of our tax code.

Q Well, two things. First, the panel had two recommendations, and one of them, frankly, was so complex --

MR. McCLELLAN: They put out their report today?

Q Well, no, no, they voted on what will go into the report. One of the recommendations was so complicated I don't think anybody will ever understand it. So, essentially, this one recommendation to reform the current tax system -- I'm editorializing a bit here --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q Will Treasury have the option of sending the President their own recommendations and rejecting the advisory panel? Or will they send just the advisory panel? What will go --

MR. McCLELLAN: The recommendations will go to the Treasury Secretary; he'll review them and then he'll send recommendations on to the President. So he'll --

Q His recommendations --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- take a close look at it. I don't want to speculate about it. I mean, obviously, we're going to take into account all the work that they have done and the recommendations that they are making. We greatly appreciate the work that they're doing, and we share a common goal of reforming our tax code to make it simpler and fairer.

Q But next year is the 20th anniversary of the Reagan tax reform, so is there -- do you have a plan for, like, we want to get this done on the 20th anniversary?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the first step is to go the Treasury Secretary, and then to the President. Now, Congress is trying to adjourn by Thanksgiving, so I think that -- in terms of any congressional time line, I mean, you're looking into next year before moving forward on some of these recommendations just because of the time line that is in place. But this is a high priority for the President. We got a number of legislative priorities we're trying to accomplish right now and get done before Congress leaves, including getting Harriet Miers confirmed to the United States Supreme Court. But this is a priority that we continue to work on, and we look forward to receiving the recommendations from Secretary Snow.

Q Just one final thing.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.

Q When they worked on this tax recommendation, Social Security payroll tax was out. They didn't touch it because they realized that none of them could agree on Social Security reform. And John Breaux recommended that the President, when he does tax reform, keep it separate from Social Security. Is that the President's intention? Or would he try to --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President's intention is to look at the recommendations that are sent to him and review those closely, and then move forward with Congress to pass meaningful reform. And I don't really want to speculate beyond that at this point until we get those recommendations.

Carl.

Q A question about the Texans United for Life pamphlet. Was the White House -- did the White House come across that as part of the vetting process for Harriet Miers?

MR. McCLELLAN: She was just asked that question, and I'll double-check it. We did a thorough vetting process as we do with any nominee, but I'll double-check that.

Q Is that a yes or a no, or I'm not sure?

MR. McCLELLAN: That is I'll look into to find out. I don't know every single document that went through the vetting process.

Q Scott, the President today, in two hours, signs the terrorism --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll tell you what I'll do for everybody is I'll post a response for you later today.

Q When Ms. Miers was put on the short list, who was it -- who was it who sort of ran the vetting of her, since she'd been involved in the selection process prior to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of people involved in the vetting process because like I said, it was a thorough vetting process that we do for judicial nominees. Bill Kelley was very involved in overseeing that, and Andy Card was well aware of it, as well.

Q Scott, as the President in two hours signs a terrorist-related bill in the Oval Office, according to the intelligence and terrorist experts and analysts, they are saying that al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden will strike the U.S. again before or by the end of the year. Is the President aware of this, and what kind of steps he is taking, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure what report you're citing, but we take all threats very seriously. And the best way that we can win this war on terrorism that we're engaged in is to stay on the offensive, and bring to justice those who seek to do us harm before they can carry out their attacks. There are ruthless killers who are intent on spreading fear and chaos and death and destruction throughout the civilized world. We've seen that time and time again, in places across our globe. And we're engaged in a global war on terrorism, with many partners, and we're fighting it on many fronts. The way to ultimately defeat the enemy that we're up against is to spread freedom and democracy, because free societies are peaceful societies. And this is an enemy, as we've seen in the Zawahiri letter to Zarqawi, that is determined, that is patient, and that has no regard for innocent human life. They seek to impose their hateful ideology and their oppression on the broader Middle East, and even beyond. It is an ideological struggle that we're engaged in, and we will win it. But it's one that continues.

And this bill that he's signing today is important for our efforts to better protect the American people here at home, and it provides a significant increase in resources so that we can do that, to make sure that our borders are secure, to make sure that our ports are secure, and to make sure that we're providing law enforcement with the tools and resources that they need.

Q Is the President confident that Cheney did not leak Valerie Plame's identity?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I appreciate any question on this, but as you know, Suzanne, our policy is not to comment on an investigation while it's ongoing. And that means any question relating to it. And I'm just not going to comment on an investigation while it's ongoing. The President has directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. I would encourage you not to prejudge the outcome of the investigation and not to speculate about it. What we have done is to make sure that we're cooperating fully with the special prosecutor. We want him to come to a successful conclusion, and he continues to do his work.

Q You said that you were going to check to see if President Bush or either Cheney had been asked, once again, to go before the special prosecutor and answer questions after their initial hearing.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President has not. I provided you information when he was interviewed previously. And my understanding is the same applies to the Vice President.

Q Yes, Scott, you said that the President has directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. So can you tell us whether Harriet Miers, in her connection with the White House, has been involved in any way with the leak investigation, or whether she's testified before the Fitzgerald grand jury?

MR. McCLELLAN: She has been -- carried out the direction of the President, just like the rest of us here, to cooperate fully with the special prosecutor. She has been White House Counsel during part of the time that this investigation has been ongoing. I'm not going to comment on the investigation, though, beyond that.

Go ahead, Richard.

Q Yes, Scott, in the terms of the vetting process for Harriet Miers, the documents that were released to the Hill suggest that she was not interviewed as extensively here in the White House by as many people as John Roberts was when he was up for consideration. Is there any reason why she didn't get --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure what specifically you're referring to. If you want to bring them to my attention, I'll be glad to look at those issues. But it was a very thorough vetting process.

Go ahead, Les.

Q I was grateful for your gracious recognition yesterday. You have your job to do, and we have ours, which is to ask questions, like this question: Can you rule out any possibility that the President is considering possible replacement nominees, should the Senate reject Harriet Miers?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're confident that Harriet Miers will be confirmed to our nation's highest court, Les. The President made that very clear last week. And no one that knows her would make any such suggestion because they know that she is uniquely well-qualified to serve on the nation's highest court. If you look at her record and experience and compare that to previous justices who have been confirmed, I would submit to you that her qualifications and experience exceed -- either the same as, or exceed many of those.

Q Scott, do you find it surprising that when both I-95 Baltimore tunnels were closed this morning, with no explanation, and, therefore, possibly terrorist threats, there have been no questions about this in this briefing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually some of the people in this room have asked me about it prior to this briefing. And the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security put out a joint statement about this threat. And in terms of information beyond that, I think that the state of Maryland and/or the Mayor of Baltimore are talking about that more maybe as we speak.

Q Scott, what did Harriet Miers tell Arlen Specter yesterday about the right to privacy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they had a lengthy discussion yesterday. This was the second time that she sat down and visited with Senator Specter in person about her nomination. And as a general rule, just like Chief Justice Roberts, Harriet does not get into talking about specific cases, if that's what you're asking. But these are --

Q I'm asking more about the generalized constitutional right to privacy.

MR. McCLELLAN: These are courtesy visits that she's having with members of the United States Senate. As I said, she's -- by the end of the day will have visited with some 18 to 20 members of the United States Senate. She will be having confirmation hearings in a few weeks. I know people in this room would like to get on with those confirmation hearings, but this is a process that is moving along. And there will be many issues that come up during the time of the confirmation hearing --

Q It would be helpful to us in writing a story, actually, if we could get a clearer understanding of what, exactly, it was she said. Arlen Specter said, "She believes there is a right to privacy in the Constitution." Dan Coats was quoted in The Washington Post saying that she cited the liberty clause as implying the right to privacy in the Constitution. And White House spokesman Jim Dyke, who was briefed about this meeting, said that she was asked about privacy and she cited the Constitution's liberty clause.

So we have two White House people saying that she spoke to the liberty clause with respect to privacy. We have a senator, the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, saying that she thought there was a right to privacy. What did she say?

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, Bill, let me respond to your question, because I was coming to the answer to that question. I appreciate that you want to write stories and there will be plenty of opportunity to write stories about Harriet Miers' views and her experience and her judicial philosophy as the confirmation process moves forward. These are courtesy visits. As I said, as a general rule, Harriet has not gotten into discussing specific cases. Now, there will be confirmation hearings that will be taking place. These are issues that I fully expect will come up during the course of those confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Harriet looks forward to answering the questions that they bring up and talking about these matters, and let's let those confirmation hearings take place.

Q Scott, two Middle East questions. Tomorrow the trial of Saddam Hussein begins. Does President Bush favor the death penalty if he is found guilty of atrocities and murder?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, it's up to the Iraqi people to decide through their special tribunal. They have established a special tribunal. The tribunal has put in place basic international standards when it comes to the legal process. And we look to them to move forward and meet those international standards that everybody expects should be there in a legal case, particularly one of this nature. That means the right to -- that means to have a trial be represented by counsel, to have due process, and to have the right to appeal, among other things.

But this is an Iraqi process. And the Iraqi people will make the decision about how they hold Saddam Hussein to account for his crimes against humanity and his brutalities against the Iraqi people. And they are moving forward on that process tomorrow. My understanding is, it is more of a procedural hearing to begin the trial process, and then it will be a few weeks before they move forward on some of the additional steps in that trial. That's my understanding. But, again, it's an Iraqi-led process, and it will be the Iraqi people that judge him for the atrocities he has committed against them.

Q And one more, on Mahmoud Abbas. Does the administration believe he's doing all he can to fight terrorists, or is he trying to appease them and bring them into the government?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President looks forward to sitting down with President Abbas and talking to him about these issues. There is more that the Palestinian leadership can do to end violence and dismantle terrorist organizations. It is important that the Palestinian leadership continue to take steps to put in place law and order in Gaza. It is -- Prime Minister Sharon moved forward on a bold proposal and disengaged from Gaza. Now the Palestinian leadership has the opportunity to move forward on putting in place the institutions necessary for a democratic state to emerge. For a democratic state to emerge, you have to make sure that there is law and order, and that terrorist organizations are dismantled.

And we have been working with the Palestinian leadership to put in place a unified security force. General Ward has been very involved in that effort. His time is coming to an end, but we will continue to support -- just his tour of duty, in that respect -- but we're continuing to support the Palestinian leadership as they move forward to put the institutions in place, and as they -- for a democracy to emerge, and as they move forward to address the terrorist attacks that take place, and to prevent those from happening. There's more that can be done.

Q Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead. No, going to the next row. We'll come back to you if we can.

Q You said the White House is hopeful that Patrick Fitzgerald reaches a successful conclusion. Can you just clarify what you mean by that?

MR. McCLELLAN: That he's able to come to a successful completion to the investigation, and determine the facts and then outline those facts for the American people.

Q In the last few weeks, the rate of bankruptcy filings increased dramatically, in anticipation of the stricter rules of the new bankruptcy bill that went into effect yesterday. But in light of the economic devastation caused by the recent hurricanes, does the administration support amendments to the new law currently being proposed in Congress that would make it easier for hurricane victims to recover financial --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are some common-sense reforms that were passed that needed to be addressed, and we supported the legislation. That's why the President signed it into law. Now, in terms of people who have been affected by the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region, we are going to make sure we do all we can to meet their needs, and to address issues like this. I can double-check with you and get you additional information in terms of steps that we're taking that might be related to this. I don't have that on me right now.

Go ahead, Ken.

Q Two things relating to the Miers submission. She mentioned in there that she lost her ability to practice law here in D.C., I guess briefly earlier this year, for non-payment of dues. How did that happen?

MR. McCLELLAN: It was briefly. She quickly resolved it.

Q How -- do we know how long?

MR. McCLELLAN: As soon as it came to her attention, she quickly resolved it.

Q And how does that slip her attention without her being notified about it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see what additional information I can get you, Ken. It was a matter that was resolved very quickly.

Q In her lengthy recitation of her legal background, she does mention very limited experience in trials that went to verdict or judges. She notes, by the nature of her practice, many things get settled. I think the number may have been as few as four or five cases actually tried to verdict. Is that a hole in the resumé of a Supreme Court nominee?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about that, Ken. I'd have to double-check that, but she has litigated many cases in state and federal courts, and appellate courts, as well. And if you look at her legal experience, it is diverse legal experience. She has litigated cases to verdict and represented a broad range of clients in antitrust, securities, intellectual property and product liability cases, among others. Two examples, as you're aware, the cases she handled for Microsoft and Disney.

She is a highly respected attorney. That's why she was elected by her peers to serve as the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association. That's why she was chosen by her peers through the National Law Journal as one of the top 50 women attorneys in the United States. That is the kind of experience that the President was looking for -- and someone who has clerked for a federal judge, as well, and someone who has served as the highest levels of our government addressing constitutional issues on a daily basis. She brings a lot of diverse experience to the bench, and a diverse perspective to the bench that will be important, as well, because she has real-life experience trying cases, litigating cases, and serving in public positions, as well.

Q And one brief follow-up. In the answer to the question about constitutional experience, she cites her experience here. How much documentation was submitted in conjunction with that question?

MR. McCLELLAN: The questionnaire?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's available publicly for you all so you can go and look at that. It's all available to you publicly.

Q Scott, can you tell us how the recent job approval ratings have any impact on the President or his agenda?

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about poll numbers? I think we've addressed that issue. The President is focused on moving forward on our agenda. He doesn't get caught up in the weekly poll numbers. That's something Washington gets caught up in. The American people expect us to move forward on the priorities that they care most about. And that's what we're doing. We're moving forward on the priorities that they care about, such as making sure that we succeed in Iraq so that our troops can return home, and making sure that we're addressing high energy prices.

Now, gas prices are starting to come down a little bit, but energy prices are too high and that's a drag on our economy. We have moved forward to create a strong -- or to get our economy growing strongly and creating jobs, but there is more that we need to do. And that's something that affects Americans, families, and small businesses and their pocketbooks. And it's a concern for the President that we're working to address. And we're working to move forward on winning the war on terrorism to make sure that the American people are safe and secure for generations to come.

Q I was just asking -- in recent days you've often cited the American people and what they want, and I was just wondering if you look at these poll numbers at all, and if it affects the President one way or the other --

MR. McCLELLAN: We read papers and reports just like you do, but we don't get caught up in those. No, he doesn't in terms of affecting him, if that's what you're asking.

Q Scott, how personally interested is President Bush in Saddam Hussein's trial?

MR. McCLELLAN: And let me finish up on Greg and then I'll come to you, Bill.

When you're a leader, you can't be driven by polls. You have to be driven by doing what is right for the American people. This President has taken on big challenges. He recognizes that we were elected to come here to solve problems and not to pass them on to future generations. That's what the American people expect. So we're going to continue tackling the big priorities for the American people.

Anyway -- Saddam Hussein?

Q Yes, how personally interested is he in the trial?

MR. McCLELLAN: The trial of Saddam Hussein?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I haven't heard him really discuss it recently. We've been focused on a lot of other issues. And he's confident that due process will be served, and that the Iraqi people will hold him accountable for the crimes that he has committed.

Q Given what the President has been through to depose him, you would think he had a particular interest in maybe the details of the trial. Any sign --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, nothing to add -- I really don't have anything to add beyond what he said. There are other priorities that we've been focused on here, as well. Certainly, we're following developments in Iraq. The United States provided legal experts to help provide technical assistance for the special tribunal to get set up, and make sure they're putting in place standards that conform to international legal standards. And beyond that, this is a matter that the Iraqi people will decide through that special tribunal.

Go ahead, Paula.

Q On tax reform, I wonder if you'd clarify your answer before. Are you saying that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Did I say something I shouldn't have?

Q Because of the congressional calendar, are you saying that it's a possibility that these recommendations might not go to Congress until 2006?

And secondly, the answer about the actual proposal for Treasury, are they limited to whatever the tax reform panel sends to Snow, or is it possible that there could be additional recommendations --

MR. McCLELLAN: I already addressed that when it came up earlier. But in terms of the congressional time line, that will be something we'll work with Congress on. But the first step is for the recommendations in the report to go to the Treasury Secretary. Then he will have an opportunity to look at that and send his recommendations on to the President. And I'm sure his recommendations will be based, in large part, on recommendations that they are making, but I don't want to prejudge that at this point. He will take a close look at that, send his recommendations on to the President. The President will review those recommendations, and then I expect we'll be talking more about it when he's ready to move forward on initiatives to reform our tax code. And we'll work with Congress, in terms of a time line, for moving forward on some of those initiatives.

Q But one of the things the President said is that he believes a mortgage deduction should be preserved, but he's never specifically said he would object to any limitation on it. And a couple of proposals out there that the panel might recommend would include limiting mortgage deduction, as well as the employer health insurance deduction. Are those two off limits?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes that our tax code should encourage home ownership and encourage charitable giving. You've heard him talk about that previously. Now, you're asking me to speculate about things before a report has even been submitted to the Treasury Secretary, much less to the President of the United States. I don't want to jump ahead of where the process is right now. Let's let that move forward. We look forward to seeing what the recommendations are and then moving forward to address this priority for the American people.

Thank you.

END 1:44 P.M. EDT

 

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Response to a Question from the Briefing:

Q Was that document a part of the vetting process and the package of materials that the President reviewed prior to selecting Harriet Miers?

Q Would that have included providing that kind of documentation to the President?

A: Those involved in our vetting process were aware of the questionnaire and the general nature of the responses, but they had not seen it until just recently when Harriet went to Texas to pull together various documents in response to the Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire.

During the vetting process, the President was informed of the views she had expressed as a candidate for public office back in the late ‘80s. He did not discuss with her or anyone else whether or not those were still her views because he believes there should be no litmus test, and that the views of a nominee on such a topic should not play a role in how he or she would decide a case as a judge.

The President does not discuss with a potential nominee his or her views on specific issues that could come before the court. He does make sure they are committed to strictly interpreting our Constitution and laws, not imposing their personal views or legislating from the bench.

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Response to a Question from the Briefing:

Q In the last few weeks, the rate of bankruptcy filings increased dramatically, in anticipation of the stricter rules of the new bankruptcy bill that went into effect yesterday. But in light of the economic devastation caused by the recent hurricanes, does the administration support amendments to the new law currently being proposed in Congress that would make it easier for hurricane victims to recover financial --

A: The Bankruptcy Reform Law included provisions to provide relief in certain hardship cases, and the Administration is working within the law to provide that relief. On October 5th, the Justice Department issued action items to take into account the hardships that may be encountered by victims of recent hurricanes in the Gulf Coast region, including credit counseling requirements, means tests, documentation, small business duties and deadlines, and other action items. I would refer you to the Justice Department for more information on the actions the Administration is taking in this area.