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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 27, 2005

Press Gaggle by Trent Duffy
Crawford Middle School
Crawford, Texas

11:45 A.M. CST

MR. DUFFY: Good morning. Let me update you on the President's schedule. Yesterday, after arriving, he went out and did some cutting and clearing brush, and then was at his home on the ranch. And this morning he had his normal intelligence briefings, and he was out this morning clearing some brush and is right now -- or has just recently concluded a bicycle ride and he'll be spending the rest of the day at home with his wife and mother-in-law.

I've got a couple of books that the President brought with him to read over the holiday. One is, "When Trumpets Call, Theodore Roosevelt After The White House," by Patricia O'Toole, recommended to him by Brian Williams. The other is, "Imperial Grunt, The American Military On The Ground," written by Robert Kaplan.

And that's what I have on his schedule.

Q Will there be any bill signings?

MR. DUFFY: Bill signings? There's nothing to report at this point, Deb. As the Congress was late to adjourn, we have several days here before he needs to sign some things. But I'll let you know. I've been keeping close contact on any bill signings.

Q To follow up on last week, you know that New York Times story that talked about the NSA, and how the government was doing much broader surveillance than the White House has acknowledged. Are you familiar with that story?

MR. DUFFY: Yes, I saw the story. We'll be declining to comment on any specific operational details. The program -- I think the President said in his press conference and the Attorney General briefed very heavily about, the President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people, and he will continue to do that. He has the authority granted to the President by the Constitution and it's in line with protecting the civil liberties of all Americans. But we'll decline to --

Q Does the White House still stand by the claim that the order that he issued only allows eavesdropping on a limited number of people with al Qaeda links?

MR. DUFFY: This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings, and churches. And the President believes that he has the authority -- and he does -- under the Constitution to do this limited program. The Congress has been briefed. It is fully in line with the Constitution and also with protecting American civil liberties.

Q One more thing. Did the telecommunications companies that were helping out, did they know what they were helping out with? Were they briefed about the program?

MR. DUFFY: Again, I'm going to decline to comment on any specific aspects of the program.


Q If I could just follow up on that for a second. In the briefing we had at the White House last -- a week ago, Monday, I think it was General Hayden who said at that time that the technology of the program was such that you could only pick up international calls. And he seemed to suggest at the time that a broader program would not have been technologically possible, even if authorized. Your unwillingness to go repeat that, and not discuss the operational details after the story might be interpreted as suggesting that General Hayden's comment no longer stands. Would that be reasonable?

MR. DUFFY: I don't think so. I pointed back to the briefing on Friday by General Gonzales and also by General Hayden. I have nothing more to add to it. I mean, his comments stand. I'm declining to go into any specific operational aspects of the program because General Hayden and General Gonzales briefed on it and I don't have anything more to say. That's all.


Q Was the President accurate in the news conference when he said that the eavesdropping program only focuses narrowly on people with al Qaeda ties or affiliates?

MR. DUFFY: Yes, the President was accurate.

Q And one more question. UPI is reporting that the reason why -- let me find it real quick. That the reason -- that the U.S. decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps because the court was challenging President Bush at an unprecedented rate.

MR. DUFFY: I'm sorry, can you say that again, Jessica?

Q That the reason U.S. President George Bush decided to skip seeking warrants for international wiretaps was because the court was challenging him at an unprecedented rate.

MR. DUFFY: The President has already addressed how this program was done within the law, and I don't have anything more to add to that.

Q So no comment on the specific of -- was the President being challenged at an unprecedented rate?

MR. DUFFY: I'll leave it where the President left it in his news conference.

Yes, Dana.

Q When the President said that -- described this program the way he did in his news conference, did he mean to suggest that it is only limited to eavesdropping on ongoing phone calls, or did he not mean to sort of limit it to just that? I mean, the impression that he left was that the program is just about eavesdropping on conversations as they happen.

MR. DUFFY: I'll have to get back to you on that question, Dana. I'll take that.

Q The administration has made an attempt to stress that this only involves people with ties to al Qaeda. Might it also include others who would have intentions to harm the U.S. who are not explicitly tied to that organization?

MR. DUFFY: I'll leave it to where the President and the General and General Hayden said; it's people with ties to al Qaeda and terrorist activity.

Q Trent, will the announcement by Bulgaria and Poland and Ukraine about troop withdrawals from Iraq affect America's ability to begin withdrawing its troops next year?

MR. DUFFY: I'll decline to speculate about U.S. troop deployments. Those are questions that the President has always left to his military commanders in the field. The President has said repeatedly that as the Iraqi forces are stepping up and are trained and are capable of protecting the Iraqi people and doing the security mission, that U.S. forces will step down. International countries' obligations or commitments to Iraq are those countries' decisions to make -- decisions to be made by those countries.

Q Was the White House aware of the troop withdrawals that they announced earlier today? Or was there any communication between the White House and --

MR. DUFFY: I don't know. I can check on that, Warren. But, typically, it's as we've said all along -- a country's decision on whether, or what level to support the mission in Iraq, either with troops or with money, or with other resources, is the country's decision to make on its own. And we respect those decisions.


Q Trent, is the President or his senior staff doing much work on setting and planning for the agenda for the New Year?

MR. DUFFY: I think the President will begin the new year very much in the way he left -- or he will end 2005, which is to discuss the country's two top priorities, being keeping our economy strong and growing stronger and creating jobs, and also winning the war on terrorism. And that specific front in the war on terrorism is the conflict in Iraq. So he finished the year discussing those two top priorities and he will begin next year continuing to talk about those two top priorities. And he is in the process, as he always is at this time of the year, reflecting on 2005 and looking forward to 2006 and what he wants to accomplish for the American people.

Q Has he met with speechwriters to start laying the groundwork for the State of the Union?

MR. DUFFY: Not at this point.

Q Is the State of the Union tentatively scheduled for January 31?

MR. DUFFY: As you all know, the Congress makes the specific invitation on the State of the Union, and we'll await their announcement.

Q Speaking about the economy, early surveys show that the retail spending is up, but not as much as analysts hoped it would be. How does that fit in with the administration's feeling that the economy is growing strong?

MR. DUFFY: I'm sorry, I can't -- retail sales --

Q Retail sales -- spending was up over the holidays, but analysts say it's not as much as they expected. Can you talk more about how it fits in line with the administration's claim?

MR. DUFFY: Obviously, the reports are still coming in. The retail sales, at least we know appear to be up, projections are. But one of the things that we do know is it takes quite a while really before all the data is in. But the fact is the retail sales are up, and that's in line with all the very good, strong data that we've seen in the past several months, which are increased job creation, lower gas prices, increased business and personal investment. So all the signs are pointing to a very healthy and strong economic outlook for the near-term.


Q As you know, members of Congress, especially many Democrats, are gearing up for the hearings on the spy issue, and on the limits of presidential power. There's a lot of political tension around this issue. Has the President, himself, reached out to any Democrats in the Senate to discuss this with them personally?

MR. DUFFY: I'll check on the President's specific involvement. The White House has briefed the leaders in Congress, as the President indicated, repeatedly, over a dozen times, as has been noted. And we continue to do that. This is a war on terror that requires different thinking and a desire to connect the dots ahead of time. That's what the 9/11 Commission showed; that was the collective view of people in and out of government after the 9/11 attacks. So the President is doing all he can to make sure that the U.S. government doesn't fail the American people again.

Q Can you confirm the report in today's Washington Times that says the U.S. is putting sanctions on several Chinese firms for selling arms materials to Iran?

MR. DUFFY: I'll have to check on that, Caren.

Q Did the President bring any guests with him on this trip, and/or does he plan to have any particular people come while he's here?

MR. DUFFY: The President's mother-in-law, Mrs. Welch, was on the plane yesterday. I'll check on any further guests.

Q Are the daughters here?


Q Who is staffing him, senior staff?

MR. DUFFY: Mr. Hagin; Mr. Lago, from the National Security Council -- Phil Lago; Bill Burck, and yours truly -- along with the honorable Blake Gottesman.

Q Trent, should we read anything into the fact that he's got three years left and he's already reading a book about what it's like to be out of office?

MR. DUFFY: The President is a history buff -- you know that as well as anybody. He does read a lot of books based on recommendations, and Brian Williams recommended it to him, so he picked it up and he's reading it. He is an avid reader. And the President knows full-well that he's got a lot of time left in this second term and he's going to accomplish big things, as he has talked about repeatedly.

Q Why "Imperial Grunt"? Kaplan is pretty critical of Iraq. Do you have any idea why he picked that book?

MR. DUFFY: The President is an avid reader. He reads books of all kinds and stripe and persuasion. And he decided to read it.

Q Should we hold open the possibility -- and visit in town or anything? Is that a possibility?

MR. DUFFY: You have to forgive me -- can you repeat that?

Q I know you don't preview his movements, but is it likely at all that he might consider coming off the ranch and visiting town, or anything like that?

MR. DUFFY: We'll keep you updated on the schedule.

Q On the Patriot Act, how are you guys going to go forward on that? How is the White House going to go forward on getting what they want on the Patriot Act?

MR. DUFFY: The White House is going to continue to push for what the President said. He wants a permanent extension of the Patriot Act and those 16 provisions. The Patriot Act is a vital tool in combating terrorism.

Q No new strategy there? Same strategy going forward?

MR. DUFFY: The new strategy is the same as the old: Give law enforcement the tools to defeat terrorism.

Q Is he contacting any of the Republicans directly during this week?

MR. DUFFY: During this week? I'll update you if there's any calls we want to let you know about. He's determined to see the Patriot Act renewed. It's a key tool for fighting terrorism.

Anything further?

Q How far along is the budget planning? And do you have a date yet for the release of the budget?

MR. DUFFY: The budget is in production, I guess is the way to put it. It is typically released the first or second week of February, and that process is underway. I think one note about the budget, before we look forward too much to next year's budget, is to celebrate what happened in this year's budgeting process, in which we had an actual freeze on non-defense and non-homeland security spending, and we also had some significant reductions in growth in entitlement spending for the first time since 1997, which are both key to helping cut the deficit in half by 2009, as long as they are coupled with strong economic growth.

So one of the key principles in next year's budget will be to fund our key priorities like winning the war, and domestic priorities like education and health care, but also continuing to keep the budget on a path that will result in cutting the deficit by 2009.

Q Trent, to follow up on that. Has the President issued any marching orders about reducing the budget for fiscal '07 to, say, below the rate of inflation in some areas? Any kind of marching orders at all?

MR. DUFFY: I think the marching orders are what I just described, which are fund our nation's priorities, win the war on terror, keep the economy strong, keep job creation growing, fund education and health care, and those important priorities; but in other areas, slow the growth so that we can continue to stay on the path to cut the deficit in half by 2009.

Let's not overlook the fact that an important part of cutting the deficit is strong economic growth, and the strong economic growth that we've seen in 2005 has led to increased revenues in the treasury, some $100 billion just this year alone. So it's those two priorities of keeping spending in check while also keeping a strong economy that are going to bring us toward our deficit reduction goals.


END 12:00 P.M. CST

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