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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 31, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
2:43 P.M. EST
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to update you on the President's schedule, first of all. The President is meeting right about now with Burmese activist Charm Tong, a 23-year-old woman who has dedicated her life to helping those who suffer under the military rule in Rangoon, and to exposing the regime's abuses, particularly against women. The President is pleased to welcome such a courageous and compassionate woman to the White House, and I know he's been looking forward to that meeting since it was scheduled earlier this morning.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q The spelling?
MR. McCLELLAN: Charm, just like it sounds. And then Tong, T-o-n-g.
The President was pleased to announce Judge Alito to be his nominee to our nation's highest court. Judge Alito has a distinguished record of service. He is one of the nation's most respected and accomplished judges.
Judge Alito has extensive experience. He served 15 years on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. He has more prior judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in the past 70 years. He has served 29 years as a public servant, including as a U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. He was unanimously confirmed to that position. He has served as an Assistant Solicitor General at the Department of Justice, where he argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court and dozens more before the federal court of appeals.
He is someone who has provided constitutional advice to the President and executive branch as an attorney in the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel. And early in his career he served as a federal prosecutor, where he tried criminal and civil cases. He is someone who has a judicial philosophy that is based on strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws, and not legislating from the bench. He has a deep commitment to the rule of law.
People have described him as someone who is thoughtful and fair-minded. He is someone who looks at the merits carefully and then applies the law. Judge Alito also understands that the proper role of the judicial branch is limited. The Supreme Court has a vital, but limited, role to play in our constitutional system. The President urges the Senate to move forward in a prompt manner to give him an up or down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. We believe this can be done by the end of the year, given his extensive public record and his 15 years on the bench for the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals.
And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.
Q Some Democrats say that the President should apologize for the role of some administration officials in the unmasking of the name of a CIA undercover operative. What's the White House reaction to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, there is a legal proceeding that continues right now, and under our legal system, there is a presumption of innocence. We need to let that legal process continue. If people want to try and politicize this process, that's their business.
Q Well, I think that the role of some administration officials in this, in the leaking of the person's name has been established.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're presuming things in that question, and I don't think while this investigation and this legal proceeding is ongoing, that we should make such presumptions. We should let that process continue.
Q Another part of that is, some of the same Democrats are saying that the President should fire Karl Rove. What's your reaction to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there is an ongoing investigation; we need to let that investigation continue. We need to let the legal process work. As I indicated to you all on Friday, our Counsel's Office has directed us not to discuss this matter while it continues, and that means me not responding to questions about it from this podium. This is a process that we need to let continue. There is, as I said, a presumption of innocence in our legal system, and we don't want to do anything from here that could prejudice the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial trial. I think that's the basis of our legal system.
And in terms of comments that people are making, again, I think they're presuming things and trying to politicize the process. But that's their business. We're going to let the legal process work.
Q Let me just follow up on an aspect of this and try it again here. On October 7, 2003, you were asked about a couple of the key players here, Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, as well as another administration official who has not figured in the investigation, so far as we know. And you said the following, "There are unsubstantiated accusations that are made, and that's exactly what happened in the case of these three individuals," including Rove and Libby. "They're good individuals, they're important members of our White House team, and that's why I spoke with them, so that I could come back to you and say that they were not involved." You were wrong then, weren't you?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, it's not a question of whether or not I'd like to talk more about this. I think I've indicated to you all that I'd be glad to talk about this once this process is complete, and I look forward to that opportunity. But, again, we have been directed by the White House Counsel's Office not to discuss this matter or respond to questions about it.
Q That was a public representation that was made to the American people.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. We can have this conversation, but let me respond.
Q No, no, no, because it's such an artful dodge. Whether there's a question of legality --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree with you.
Q Whether there's a question of legality, we know for a fact that there was involvement. We know that Karl Rove, based on what he and his lawyer have said, did have a conversation about somebody who Patrick Fitzgerald said was a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. We know that Scooter Libby also had conversations.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's accurate.
Q So aside from the question of legality here, you were wrong, weren't you?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, David, if I were to get into commenting from this podium while this legal proceeding continues, I might be prejudicing the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial trial. And I'm just not going to do that. I know very --
Q You speak for the President. Your credibility and his credibility is not on criminal trial. But it may very well be on trial with the American public, don't you agree?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm very confident in the relationship that we have in this room, and the trust that has been established between us. This relationship --
Q See those cameras? It's not about us. It's about what the American people --
MR. McCLELLAN: This relationship is built on trust, and you know very well that I have worked hard to earn the trust of the people in this room, and I think I've earned it --
Q Is the President -- let me just follow up on one more thing.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and I think I've earned it with the American people.
Q Does the President think that Karl Rove did anything wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it would be good for you to allow me the opportunity to respond to your questions without jumping in. I'm glad to do that. I look forward to the opportunity --
Q I haven't heard a response.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I have been responding to you, David, and there's no need -- you're a good reporter, there's no need to be rude or disrespectful. We can have a conversation and respond to these questions, if you'll just give me the opportunity to respond. I'm glad to do that.
We need to let this legal process continue. The special counsel indicated the other day that it is ongoing. And that's what we're going to do from this White House. That's the policy that we have set for quite some time now.
Q In the year 2000, the President said the following: "In my administration, we will ask not only what is legal, but what is right; not just what the lawyers allow, but what the public deserves." Doesn't the American public deserve some answers from this President about the role of his Vice President in this story and what he knew and when he knew it, and how he feels about the conduct of his administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: The American people deserve a White House that is committed to doing their work. We are focused on the priorities of the American people. As the President indicated Friday, we've got a job to do, and we're going to do it. We're going to continue to focus on our efforts to protect the American people and to spread prosperity here at home. We're going to move forward on the Supreme Court nomination.
People in this White House fully understand what's expected of them. We are expected to focus on the people's business, first and foremost, and that's what we always do. We're also expected to adhere to the highest ethical standards. People understand that in this White House. That's what the President expects, and that's what the American people expect. And we've got a great team here, and we'll continue to adhere to those standards.
Q Scott, on the subject of rude, my apologies for my unfortunate choice of words this morning to you, but I think the question bears asking again, and that is that the President said repeatedly when he nominated Harriet Miers that she is the best person for the job. Does that in any way indicate that while Sam Alito may be well-qualified for the Supreme Court, he is not, as was described of Harriet Miers, the best person?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's extremely well-qualified. When the President selected Harriet Miers, he was taking into consideration what members of the Senate had said, that he should look outside the court. But we recognize now that in the culture of today's confirmation process, it is very difficult to nominate someone who comes from outside the court and has little public record on constitutional issues to be confirmed. That's something we recognize.
The President looked at someone who -- to fill this vacancy at this time, and he believes Judge Alito is the best person to fill this vacancy at this time, based on his extensive experience and his judicial temperament.
Q The other thing is that the President, when announcing --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I would just point out, he's someone that is very well versed in constitutional law and has a very public record for people to look at.
Q The other thing is, when announcing Harriet Miers and in supporting her nomination, the President repeatedly made a virtue of her lack of judicial experience, made a virtue of the idea that she was someone outside the judicial monastery. Now, when we hear you talk about Sam Alito, all we hear about is the virtue of experience. So which is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Harriet Miers -- we felt Harriet Miers was very well-qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. But I think I just answered your question in the previous response I gave you.
Q Scott, let me follow up on what David was asking. You say we know you -- and we do -- but we can't vouch for you; that's not our job. And I wonder, do you really think after --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, wait a second. Let me just interject there. I think there are many people in this room I see expressing their own commentary on TV all the time -- not just reporting. You do a job to report the news, as well, but many people in this room also go on the air and express their views and their commentary. And I've worked with many of you for quite some time now.
Q I didn't follow that. I can't go on TV and say, "America believes Scott McClellan." That's not my role.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you go on TV, though, and engage in commentary about views and things that are expressed here at the White House.
Q Right. But what I can't do is carry your water for you. And I wonder --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not asking you to.
Q Well, there -- yes you are.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm just asking you to speak to who I am. And you know who I am.
Q There's been a wound to your credibility here. A falsehood, wittingly or unwittingly, was told from this podium. And do you really believe that the American people should wait until the conclusion of all of this process and just take on trust everything that comes from that podium now, without the explanation and the answer that you say you want to get --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of facts that still are not known in this investigation and in this legal proceeding that is ongoing. We also have to work under the presumption of innocence in our legal system. And, again, the reason I can't comment further is because if we were to get into that, we could be prejudicing the opportunity for there to be a fair and impartial hearing.
Q I understand that.
MR. McCLELLAN: And we don't want to do that from this podium. No matter how much I may want to talk about this issue -- and I think you know that I would like to talk further about it -- but I have enough confidence in my relationship with you all, and you all report the news to the American people, to know that we have a good relationship that is built on a foundation of trust. And I have worked hard to earn that trust and I think I've earned that trust with you all. And it's your job to duly report to the American people, and I'm confident that you all will when you look at the facts and look at everything that's been said and where we are today. And at some point, I look forward to talking more about it.
But let me step back for a second, too, because part of my job is to be an advocate for the President, and I'm going to vigorously defend his decisions and his policies, and help him to advance his agenda. But I've another important responsibility, as well -- it's something that we all, I think and hope, share in this room -- that is to make sure that the American people get an accurate account of what's going on here in Washington, D.C. And I work hard to meet both those responsibilities.
Q But don't you think, Scott, that that second part of your job has been damaged, your credibility has been damaged by this?
MR. McCLELLAN: For me to even respond to that question would force me to talk about an ongoing investigation and legal proceeding, and we've been directed not to do that. Whether or not that puts me in a difficult position is another matter. But I have enough confidence in the relationship that we've built over the last few years to be able to move forward, and for you all to know that what I'm saying from this podium is based on the facts and based on me working to provide an accurate account of what's going on here in Washington, D.C.
Q Is Karl Rove back at work --
MR. McCLELLAN: And -- let me finish -- in other words, Terry, you can't answer that question without it being viewed in the context of an ongoing investigation, an ongoing legal proceeding, and that's why I can't go further than that at this point.
Q But doesn't, then, that make it impossible for you to do your job with as much credibility as that podium demands?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, not at all, because of the relationship that we've built between me and the press corps, and I think I've earned with the American people, too. I've tried hard to earn that trust and I think I've done my part to maintain that trust.
Q Could you just update us on Rove's status? Is he back at work? What issues is he --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q -- working on?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's the Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President, and he continues to do his duties.
Q The President has confidence in him?
MR. McCLELLAN: People who work here at the White House have the confidence of the President.
Q Scott, can you rule out the possibility that the President would consider pardoning Mr. Libby, either preemptively, or if there were a conviction or a guilty plea?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not even going to try to speculate about things because that assumes certain things at this point. Let's let that legal process continue.
Q Well, no, it doesn't presume anything. He's been charged, the President could pardon him preemptively --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to speculate about things. Let's see how things go, and then --
Q -- it's on the table.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm just saying that I'm not going to speculate about things like that.
Q Scott, on the Alito nomination today, can you talk about what you see happening in the Senate, what would happen if, in fact, there is a filibuster? Are you daring Senate Democrats to come out and fight --
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I haven't even heard any discussion of a filibuster, as you said. I haven't heard anyone say that that would happen. We certainly hope that there wouldn't be, but that's up to members of the Senate whether or not there will be. The President wants to see a civil and dignified process, and there's no reason why there shouldn't be. This is someone who has been confirmed twice by the United States Senate, and unanimously confirmed in both instances.
So we think that the Senate can move forward in a very prompt manner because he has such an extensive public record. It will be easy for the Senate to look at the public record, to look at his judicial temperament, because he has 15 years of service on the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. And if you look back in the early '90s, when Justice Ginsburg was going through her confirmation hearings, she is someone who had 13 years of experience on the bench and the Senate gave her a confirmation hearing within a month, and then confirmed her shortly thereafter because they recognized that her qualifications and experience met the standard to be able to serve on our nation's highest court.
And that's what this should be based about -- qualifications and experience and judicial temperament, and that's what we'll continue to push.
Q Do you have an agreement -- did you get an agreement from Senate leaders to try to get this through by the end of the year? They'd like to leave town --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Senator Frist expressed that he wanted to see the confirmation hearings move forward promptly, last week I think he made such comments. I haven't heard the comments today. I'll be glad to check to see if there's any additional information. Obviously, it's the Senate prerogative, but we think there's no reason why they cannot move quickly on this confirmation.
Q Scott, when you nominated Harriet Miers, on the talking points that you put out part of what you said about her is that she was a trailblazer as a woman. James Dobson says that Karl Rove -- when he called to pitch Harriet Miers, he said the President's first priority was to pick a woman, that's why he picked Harriet Miers. Why wasn't his --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about that characterization. I do know that everything that the President said and that I said from this podium was focused on her qualifications and experience and her judicial philosophy, and that's why he selected her. Now, the President anytime he considers people for the bench, he looks at a diverse group of potential nominees. And that's what he's always done. He certainly, in the last few instances when there have been vacancies, has carefully considered women that might serve on those vacancies, too. But he appointed the person who he felt was the best person to fill this vacancy at this time.
Q And to Laura Bush, or even Sandra Day O'Connor, who have made it very clear publicly -- particularly Sandra Day O'Connor -- saying that she really had hoped a woman would fill her seat --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand that. And the President considered a diverse group of potential nominees.
Q Scott, can you address the message that was sent today by the Vice President, who in the midst of this indictment, appoints to replace Scooter Libby somebody who, himself, was mentioned in the indictment, and is very much in the mold of Scooter Libby, and who has been a --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what your suggestion is, if you're presuming something or not.
Q Well, there was an announcement --
MR. McCLELLAN: These are two individuals that have served the Vice President very well since 2001. And the Vice President selected them because he values their judgment and their insight, and looks to their experience as people that could fill these two positions.
Q But what does that say to the people who -- in both parties, who have said that this indictment and other issues that have arisen show the need for a change, and maybe some fresh faces here in the White House, and here is somebody who --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Vice President is the one who tapped these two individuals to serve in his positions. I don't know if you're asking a broader question about staff change. The President -- it's always the President's prerogative to have a team in place that will help him meet his needs and his goals and carry out his agenda.
Now with that said, there's no discussion of staff changes beyond the usual vacancies that occur, or beyond filling the vacancy that the Vice President did, as well. But it's always the President's prerogative to choose the team that best meets his needs for advancing his agenda.
Q Are you saying that Mr. Addington was not in the indictment?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Was Mr. Addington not one of the players mentioned in the indictment?
MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to ask the special counsel those questions.
Q Scott, when you talk about your relationship with the press, we've never been formally introduced. I'm Jim McTague from Barrons.
MR. McCLELLAN: I know Jim. Thank you.
Q Okay. So I could ask Terry's question, and get a different answer. (Laughter.) But, anyway, could you tell me the exact day and time that the President picked Alito? Did he pick him on Thursday or Friday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, after Harriet Miers withdrew her name from consideration on Thursday, the President very much had in mind Judge Alito as someone that would be a very capable and distinguished person who could fill this vacancy. And so the President was very much focused on him.
He spoke with Judge Alito Friday after returning from Norfolk. The President called him and had a conversation with him. And then the two met this morning, at about 7:00 a.m. in the Oval Office for about 20 minutes, before Judge Alito's family joined them. The President formally offered the nomination to him in the Oval Office. But he very much had him in mind over the last few days.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Scott, Secretary of State Rice says the United States takes very seriously the threat, Iran's threat against Israel. Does this threat and the one with Syria mean more trouble for the U.S.?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're concerned about the actions of both those regimes. Those regimes are out of step with the rest of the Middle East. Their behavior is something that is of concern not only to the United States, but many in the international community. And we would like to see both regimes change their behavior. Both have shown support for terrorism, both have been destabilizing forces in the region. We encourage both to be good neighbors to other countries in the region, particularly Iraq, as the people of Iraq are working to build a lasting democracy.
In terms of the United Nations Security Council, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution on Friday strongly condemning the remarks by the President of Iran last week. Many leaders in the international community have spoken out about the comments that were made. And today, the Security Council unanimously passed a resolution to hold Syria to account, and to demand that Syria, once and for all, fully cooperate with the investigation into the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri of Lebanon.
Go ahead, Richard.
Q Turning to the President's speech tomorrow on avian flu, is he going to unveil a national preparedness plan for that speech, or is he going to get into some real detail for a program on --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you will see some detail to the remarks, and we'll probably have additional information for you after the remarks, as well. The President will be discussing his national strategy for a pandemic flu. This strategy is based on three fundamental principles: first, finding a flu outbreak as soon as it appears, then containing and treating it to the best extent possible; second, developing strong protections like vaccines and antivirals -- Tamiflu, for instance, is one that can be used to treat it; and responding quickly to save lives. This builds upon what we've already done as a country that is leading the way when it comes to addressing the threat from a pandemic flu outbreak.
We have already been acting to create a vaccine and stockpile protective medicines, such as antivirals. We are accelerating efforts to develop the next generation of vaccine technology. That means using cell-based techniques versus the egg-based, because we believe that if we can move to the cell-based technique, we have the manufacturing capacity to be able to develop or mass produce that vaccine quickly. And that's going to be important. We don't know -- well, we do know from history that there have been outbreaks from the bird flu. We don't know what strain of virus might eventually lead to a possible outbreak, but it's something we need to take seriously. And that's why the President has been leading the way.
We've expanded our stockpile of antivirals, to over 4 million courses by the end of 2005. We're enhancing domestic preparedness. Remember, we've provided over $5 billion to states and localities for public health and medical preparedness since 2001. We've requested some $70 million in the '06 budget for mobile hospital surge capacity, emergency medical personnel, and we've added influenza viruses with pandemic potential to the list of quarantine-able diseases. That was done back on April 1st of this year.
We've also been working to advance the international efforts to contain the outbreak. We announced the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza at the United Nations back on September 14th. More than 80 nations have joined that effort. We have an ongoing engagement with the international community on these issues. In fact, just today, when the President met with Prime Minister Berlusconi over lunch, they discussed the importance of working together, the European Union and the United States, to address this threat, and the importance of, if there is a human-to-human transmission, that we are able to quickly move and try to contain that possible outbreak.
Go ahead. John, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Scott. On the morning that Harriet Miers was named to the vacancy on the Supreme Court, you said that 15 people, including the four finalists in the process that led to John Roberts, were considered; six of them were women. At a subsequent briefing, you said that a number of them -- and you confirmed what James Dobson said -- had asked their names be taken out of consideration --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think a couple.
Q A couple -- including several women?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I don't think I necessarily defined it by the number that you're -- the overall number that you're referring to, but I'll double-check that.
Q Okay. And you said a number of them were women, correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I just said a couple had asked that they not be considered.
Q Can you tell me how many of those who asked that their names not be considered for this were women?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not going to get into the nomination process, just out of respect for individuals that may have been under consideration.
Go ahead, Bill.
Q Scott, on the Supreme Court nomination, there's been some commentary from Democrats in the Senate that the White House succumbed to pressure from the extreme right wing. The ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Leahy of Vermont, has called this nomination "needlessly provocative." Based on those comments, do you expect to have a fight with the Senate Democrats --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I answered that question earlier. We certainly hope not. Judge Alito is someone who has been confirmed by unanimous consent previously. He's someone that the entire United States Senate approved when he was nominated to the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals. There's no reason why the Senate should not move forward in a civil and dignified way to give him a fair up or down vote. He is someone who is widely respected by Democrats and Republicans alike, who know him. His colleagues know that he is someone who has a brilliant mind and someone who is of the highest integrity, and someone who is very thoughtful and deliberate in how he approaches cases.
This is an individual who looks at the facts and the merits of the case, and then he looks at the law and he carefully weighs the pros and cons of the position he is going to take, and then he makes a decision based on the law. He has a record of looking to Supreme Court precedent when he comes to those decisions, as well. And I think if you look at his record and the rulings he has issued as a member of the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals, you will see that type of jurist.
Q But as you know, the Senate treats the Supreme Court nominees differently than the circuit court nominees. Would you -- would the White House or the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's a question of are they going to change the standard this time around, compared to the precedence that's been set in previous confirmation hearings. Because if you look at the precedent that's been set, there's no reason why they shouldn't move forward in a civil and dignified way. They did that with Justices Ginsburg and Breyer. They were people who many in the Senate may have disagreed with from a philosophical standpoint, but they recognized they were qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. And they moved forward quickly on those nominations.
Q Scott, many Republicans have expressed concern that your policy of trying to get away from the Libby indictment by continuing business as usual is causing a lot of problems for them because of the cloud of suspicion which is still hanging over the White House, especially over the Office of the Vice President, who seemed to be central -- a central focus of the whole Valerie Plame issue -- is going to cause them problems as we go into 2006 and on into 2008. And don't you have a responsibility also with regard to the party that this has to be gotten out of the way, that some measures have to be taken, either in terms of a change in personnel, or some kind of statements made to indicate that you're working along a --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think your question presumes a lot of things at this point. Again, there are facts that are not known at this point as this legal proceeding continues and as this investigation continues. So let's let that occur. We have a responsibility to the American people to get things done that will help improve their lives and make their -- make the world safer, and make America more prosperous. That's what we have a responsibility to do. We have a responsibility to focus on their work. And that's what we will continue to do. That's what we can do things about.
We will also continue to cooperate with the special counsel as he moves forward on the legal proceeding. That is something we have done from the beginning, and that is something we will continue to do.
Q Scott, Senator Gregg last Friday said he plans to introduce a windfall profit tax proposal and link the revenue to helping to fund the LIHEAP -- Low-Income Housing Assistance Program, given -- I know the President is opposed to raising the taxes, but if revenues could be used to help poor people pay for their home heating bills, would the administration consider supporting that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you just answered your question. I haven't heard any discussion of any possible tax increase. This President is committed to cutting taxes to keep our economy growing, and that's exactly what we have done.
In terms of LIHEAP, we are very committed to working with Congress to increase the amount of money available for low-income housing -- or heating assistance.
Q And also, last week, the Department of Labor, somewhat quietly, announced that it plans to reinstate Davis-Bacon. And we were told from the White House end that the reason that was done is because it had served its purpose. My understanding is that Andy Card met with several congressmen who complained that some of these out of state workers were going there, not being paid the prevailing wage, and that people that lived in the area were complaining that people from out of state were willing to pay -- were willing to work for way below prevailing wages. So was it the administration's concern that some contractors were awarding -- being awarded jobs, awarded contracts, and not paying fair wages, not being held accountable for --
MR. McCLELLAN: Whoever told you that it had served its purpose was right on. It was a temporary waiver; that's what it was always meant to be, much like after Hurricane Andrew, when it was waived for a temporary period of time.
Q Yes, but the purpose wasn't -- wasn't to award contracts quickly, to get the cleanup effort done, and, also, not be held accountable to paying below prevailing wage --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't look at it that way. It was to open up opportunity, opening up opportunities to more people and people in the region, and to be able to move forward quickly on those contracts.
I'll come right back to you. Let me go to Ann.
Q Why did the President give up on diversity on the Court? He used to say that was important. Is he satisfied with the diversity --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look at the people he has appointed to the bench over the course of his time. You can go back to his days as governor of Texas; he has always looked to people from all walks of life to serve on the bench. And he has a strong record, not only on the bench, but within his administration of appointing people from all walks of life.
Q So he would be satisfied that this new court, if Judge Alito is confirmed, is adequately diverse?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the decision should be based on who you believe is the best person to serve in that position. Certainly the President has always taken into account a diversity of potential nominees. He feels that's important. We are a country that is diverse, and that's one of our -- diversity is one of our strengths in America.
Q On October 7, 2003, the President said about the CIA leak investigation, "I want to know the truth. That's why I've instructed the staff of mine to cooperate fully with the investigators." Last Friday the special prosecutor said that he has been unable to find out the truth because of Lewis Libby's obstruction of the investigation. Does the President wish that Mr. Libby tell the truth?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, that is making a presumption. Under our legal system --
Q But does the President wish that Libby tell the truth?
MR. McCLELLAN: Under -- the President directed everybody in the White House to cooperate fully with the special counsel. That's what he expects. The White House has been cooperating fully with the special counsel, and we will continue to do so. In terms of the individual you bring up, there is a presumption of innocence. And we're going to work under that presumption. We want there to be a fair and impartial hearing; I'm sure others do, as well. Maybe some don't, but that's the way that our legal system is set up. And so we need to let that legal process continue.
Q Scott, both you and Judge Alito today spoke of the limited role of the judiciary. And in my limited educational experience, it was my impression that the executive, the legislative and the judicial branches were all equal. Is it your contention that the system is out of balance now, and the judiciary has grown too powerful and needs to be scaled back? Is that what you're saying?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I've not heard the President talk about it in that context. What I have heard the President express is that we should not have activist judges trying to make law from the bench. And that's what he means. I mean, Judge Alito recognizes that, yes, there are three branches of the government, and they all have a vital role to play under our Constitution. But the judicial branch has a somewhat limited role. It is a role that should be looking at our Constitution and looking at our laws and applying the law, not trying to make law from the bench. And that's what we mean, when we're talking about it.
Q It's the phrase -- it's the word "limited" that I -- "limited" does not seem to mean --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know that you should look at it that way. Again, when you talk about limited, you're talking about not trying to legislate from the bench; that their role as a judge is to look at the law and look at the Constitution, and then apply it in a fairly -- in a fair and impartial manner.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q Thank you. Scott, congratulations on your very calm and unflappable demeanor. I'm just wondering, are you happy in what you do -- you look happy -- do you feel pressured?
MR. McCLELLAN: Most days. No, I'm just --
Q Have you ever considered resigning, stepping back from the hot --
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I serve at the pleasure of the President, just like everybody else in this White House, and I'm just doing my part as one member of this team to help him advance an agenda that is optimistic and hopeful.
Q How are you feeling, for example, today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I feel pretty good.
Q Then we aren't doing our job. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, what's harder, serving at the pleasure of the President, or your mother? Which is it? (Laughter.) Seriously, on the judicial ticket --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's an easy answer.
Q -- why did the President think John Roberts and Harriet Miers were better choices than Judge Alito to replace Justice O'Connor?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think you can look at it that way. Judge Alito is someone that the President interviewed when Justice O'Connor announced that she was going to be retiring. He is someone they interviewed, he met with at length. The President has always been very impressed by Judge Alito because of what he said in his remarks about him today. And the President was pleased to nominate him to the bench.
Q He determined twice that there were people better than him. What --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think you have to -- well, look back at what we said. Again, when he selected Harriet Miers, look at what he was looking for. And he felt that she was the best one to fill that vacancy based on what he thought was important to have on the Court at that time. But we all recognize now, very well, the culture of today's confirmation process. And --
Q -- choice for this?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and Judge Alito is someone who is highly qualified. We encourage people to look at his distinguished record of service and to look at his -- the depth and breadth of his experience.
Q Thanks, Scott. The United States (inaudible) under North Korean nuclear issue is the CVID. However, at a recent Washington meeting, North Korean Deputy Ambassador to the U.N., Han Song-Ryol, has (inaudible) rejected the U.S. (inaudible) . What is the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, could you repeat that? I didn't quite follow your question.
Q Recently, Washington meeting, North Korean Deputy Ambassador to U.N., Han Song-Ryol, has flatly rejected U.N. idea. What is --
MR. McCLELLAN: U.S. -- you mean, the agreement that we reached at the last round of talks?
Q No, no, no. CVID, the nuclear --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, all I can say is that there was an agreement on principles at the last round of talks, the fourth round of talks. We are continuing to move forward with our partners in the region on a peaceful and diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue. It is a process that has made some important progress. We look forward to the next round of talks so that we can move forward in a substantive way on the agreement that was reached. It's very clear to all the parties what was agreed to and the sequencing that was put in place for acting on that. And President Hu has been visiting North Korea over the weekend and talking to Kim Jong-il about the importance of the six-party talks.
Q Scott, the -- you were saying earlier that the culture of today's confirmation process is difficult to have somebody without judicial experience get confirmed. Yet, the President was saying that he was responding to that very suggestion of getting somebody without judicial experience. Does the President believe he was misled by Democrats who gave him that idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: Harriet Miers made a decision to withdraw from consideration because of the reasons we stated last week, as largely based on the demands that were being placed on her to talk about issues that previous Supreme Court nominees were not required to do so, and to provide documents that would have violated a very important principle.
I think we all recognize during this confirmation process the difficulty that the modern confirmation process places on individuals who don't come from the court and who don't have a lot of public constitutional experience. And --
Q So what's the current suggestion by Democrats?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I mean, you'll have to ask them that question. The President is pleased to move -- that the Senate is going to move forward on Judge Alito's confirmation hearing, and he hopes that they will do so promptly.
Thank you all.
END 3:21 P.M. EST
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