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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 3, 2006

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room

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12:39 P.M. EST

MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon everyone, and welcome back; Happy New Year. I want to begin with just an update on the situation in Upshur County, West Virginia, and the coal miners who have been trapped there.

The President continues to be kept informed about the situation. He was briefed this morning. He has reached out to the governor, as well. We are praying and hoping for the best. The miners and their families are in our thoughts and prayers. The federal government is actively helping in the rescue. The Mine Safety and Health Administration has rescue and safety specialists who are on site working with the rescue teams. They have an emergency operations mobile command center on site. There is a robot that they have on site that has been helping with the rescue efforts. They continue to monitor gas samples to determine the safety of sending in the rescue teams to help. And we continue to keep the miners and their families in our thoughts and prayers.

Secondly, I'd like to just update on the President's schedule today. The President this afternoon looks forward to meeting with around 20 U.S. Attorneys from across the United States. He will be hearing from these U.S. Attorneys about how they have successfully used the vital tools in the Patriot Act to help disrupt plots and break up terrorist cells. These U.S. Attorneys have used these vital tools to help stop the terrorists here at home. And the President looks forward to hearing from them and talking about the importance of getting this reauthorized and renewed.

A majority of the House and Senate support reauthorization of the Patriot Act. These are vital tools in the war on terrorism here at home. They help us to connect the dots and prevent attacks from happening. We know that the terrorists are sophisticated and determined. They want to strike us again and inflict even greater damage than they did on September 11th, and it's important that Congress get this Patriot Act reauthorized. The President will continue working with members to see that that happens.

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

Q Scott, I'd like to begin on the ongoing debate over the surveillance. James Comey, who was then Acting Attorney General, reportedly opposed the continuation of the eavesdropping program in 2004, because he felt that it needed a kind of audit after it had been in place for a couple of years. And one of the criticisms leveled at the President is that whatever powers he deemed necessary to employ after 9/11, that after a couple of years since the attacks, he never felt it was appropriate to reexamine some of these issues, bring Congress into the debate at all.

Do you think that's a fair criticism, that whatever presidential powers he may believe existed after 9/11, that it's appropriate as time moves on to reexamine the tactics employed by the administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: They are. They are carefully reviewed on a regular basis by the highest officials within the Department of Justice, by the White House Counsel's Office, by the National Security Agency. And Congress has been briefed on the intelligence activities that we're engaged in under this authorization. This is a vital tool in our efforts to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. It is very limited in nature. We are a nation that is at war. The President is the Commander-in-Chief, and after the attacks of September 11th, he made a very firm commitment to the American people that he was going to do everything within his power to prevent attacks from happening and save lives. And that's exactly what we have been doing.

Q First of all, all of those checks that you mentioned are not checks; it's all within the executive branch. There's no check from another part of the government.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's in the legislative branch, as well.

Q Well, but you say you briefed members of Congress. What you did is you pulled them into a room and said, this is what's happening, now thanks and don't tell anybody. I mean, that's not --

MR. McCLELLAN: More than a dozen times on the activities conducted under this authorization.

Q But wait a minute. Even if they said it's a bad idea, what were you going to do, say, okay, well, we'll take that under advisement.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that, clearly, the American people strongly support the efforts that we're undertaking to save their lives.

Q But you don't know that, and I'm not asserting whether that's the case or not.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there actually was a poll last week that showed more than the 60 percent of the American people support --

Q Oh, now you embrace polls. Okay, I'll tell -- I'll note that for the record. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: -- more than 60 percent of the American people support --

Q You may be right, but --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just finish, and then I'll come to you -- support the actions that the President is taking to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. That's what this President is committed to doing. This is about saving lives. We face a dangerous and determined enemy, an enemy that wants to inflict even greater damage than they did on September 11th here at home. And we've got to use every lawful tool at our disposal to help save lives. Now, the President --

Q But the question of legality is an issue here, though.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President talked about that the other day. He has clear authority under our Constitution. We provided the legal analysis to members of Congress, and that's available to you all, as well. The Justice Department has talked about the legal analysis that justifies the use of this tool to help us and --

Q Well, perhaps the judicial branch will make a determination about that.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish, because this is about detecting and preventing attacks. It's very limited in nature.

Q I know that. I mean, you're asserting something that's lawful that you're not in a position to --

MR. McCLELLAN: But it's also -- you asked your question, let me respond. This is important.

Q I know, but you're --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's important, because what we're talking about is looking at international calls involving known al Qaeda members or affiliated organizations. That's what we're talking about here. And you bet the American people, I think, want us to know what those calls are about, because those calls go directly to protecting their lives.

Q A number of members of Congress do not agree that the President has the authority to do what he did in that case.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, previous administrations have cited similar authority.

Q And they want to have hearings, and those hearings are supported by many on both sides, including the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, because they don't believe that this is within the scope of the President's authority.

MR. McCLELLAN: And what's your question?

Q And my question is, does the White House take this into account, will it try to talk to them, will it participate in the hearings?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, and the President has said we've briefed members of Congress on more than a dozen occasions.

Q But that's not what they're talking about.

MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of discussions about this, the President talked about this at his end-of-the-year news conference. We shouldn't be talking about intelligence activities, particularly in a time of war, in a public way. This is a highly classified authorization --

Q Not anymore. I mean, it's public now.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it still is. It still is highly classified. The President has talked in a very limited way about the nature of this authorization and what it's designed to do, and how it's limited. And so we will continue to talk with members of Congress --

Q Will you cooperate with a congressional hearing?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the Attorney General has been talking to additional members of Congress about this authorization, so that they do understand why this tool is so vital in our efforts to prevail in the global war on terrorism.

Q But will you cooperate with a hearing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to get into talking about ruling things in or out from this podium. We'll talk with members of Congress and make sure that they're briefed and kept informed, as we have been.

Q Has the President signed any other orders that affect the daily lives of Americans, intruding on their privacy, and so forth, that are still secret?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes we must act in a way that protects our liberties and save lives, and that's what we are committed to doing.

Q Does he believe in following the law --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Patriot Act is a law that meets both those commitments and it is --

Q Has he signed any other executive orders that intrude on the lives of Americans?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you're asking me talk about classified programs, I can't do that; you know that I'm prohibited from doing that. But --

Q But not yet leaked.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President will do everything within his lawful power to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. And that's what we're doing under this NSA authorization.

Q Within the law?

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.

Q Scott, Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff has pleaded guilty to fraud and corruption and tax evasion here in the federal court in Washington. Already the DNC has put out a statement essentially saying that this is another example of what they are calling the "culture of corruption and abuse of power" that has been the hallmarks of the Bush administration. Any response?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I've seen press reports that indicate that he has -- he and his clients have given to both Democrats and Republicans. So that's the first thing that I would say.

Secondly, I'm not sure if he's actually entered a plea at this point, but the wrongdoing that he apparently now is acknowledging he was involved in is outrageous. And if he broke laws, he needs to be held to account and he needs to be punished. And beyond that, I think we'd just be speculating about things at this point, and I'm not going to engage in speculation.

Go ahead, April.

Q Scott, back on the Patriot Act, and on --

MR. McCLELLAN: She wore University of Texas colors in order to get called on. (Laughter.)

Q I get called on anyway. (Laughter.) Anyway, going back to the surveillance and the Patriot Act issue, people are concerned about their civil liberties. And we've heard the President say that he is doing everything he can in his power to protect civil liberties of the average Americans who could wind up coming into play under surveillance in the NSA program, as well as the Patriot Act. Can you detail how the civil liberties are being protected of average Americans?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think people are concerned about America being attacked again by a deadly and dangerous enemy. We saw what happened on September 11th, and this President is going to do everything within his power to help us connect the dots and disrupt plots and break up terrorist cells. The Patriot Act has helped us in a number of instances break up terrorist cells. Just to mention a few: the Portland Seven, the Lackawanna Six, the Virginia Jihad. Those are three specific examples where people have been brought to justice and prosecuted and sentenced to prison time. These were terrorists that were seeking to do harm to the American people.

As we engage in this war on terrorism, we must also be mindful of protecting people's civil liberties. And that's why the Congress, as they took up discussion of the Patriot Act and went to conference committee, they took into consideration these issues. And they looked at the Patriot Act. They looked at ways that it can be strengthened and improved, and they took steps to do that. Then what we saw at the end of the last session was that you had the Minority Leader, the Senate Democratic Minority Leader boast to political supporters about killing the Patriot Act. They were engaging in obstructionist tactics to try to kill the Patriot Act, as they said in their own words. He boasted to political supporters that Senate Democrats had killed the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is something that the American people recognize helps us to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. I think they understand the importance of the actions that we're taking.

And in that Act, it provides important safeguards and oversight to address these civil liberty issues. And it took steps to improve upon that in the agreement that was reached, and now Democrats are obstructing and holding that up from being approved.

Q But, Scott, again, the people who are against the surveillance, as well as the Patriot Act are citing --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think people, if they're not talking to people overseas that are al Qaeda members or related to terrorist organizations, they have to worry. And I think the American people understand that.

Q Because again, the Patriot Act, you could just be an innocent person and have a conversation on the street with someone --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember the inspector general more than six times at the Department of Justice has looked into this and found no abuse under the Patriot Act.

Q Scott, first of all, happy New Year to you and the President and the First Lady, and my colleagues here in the White House.

My question is that ever since this immigration bill in the Congress, which President supported --- I'm not talking about the illegal immigrants, I'm talking about legal immigrants in this country -- victims of greedy lawyers, that they are still waiting and hoping that New Year will bring some new rights for them as far as President and the Congress is concerned. Where those bills are now, as far as immigrants? They are stuck in legal --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a priority for the President. The House has moved forward on some legislation. The Senate is committed to moving forward on comprehensive immigration reform. The President believes we need to continue to build upon the steps we've taken to strengthen our borders and to improve interior enforcement of immigration laws, as well as move forward on a temporary worker program. That's the way that we will help fix our immigration system. It's a broken system, and the President has outlined a very clear set of principles for moving forward. And we look forward to working with Congress and getting this done.

Martha, go ahead.

Q Scott, do you believe the President has the legal authority and the power to tap into phone calls or email communications between two Americans on United States soil without a warrant?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the program that we're talking about here in the NSA authorization is relating to one party being outside of the United States. So one component of that has to be international --

Q I understand that. But you say, will do anything in his power to protect Americans.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- in nature. And I haven't talked to lawyers about that specific issue. There is authorizations --

Q So you're not sure whether he has the legal authority to do that, or could?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- under the Patriot Act that the President can take, and we are making use of those authorities to help break up cells and save lives. And we will continue to do so. The President will continue to do everything within his lawful power to protect the American people. I just don't have any more --

Q So you're not sure whether he has the power to do that or would use that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard any discussion of that.

Q Can we go on to Iran? Iran said today that they're resuming research and development into nuclear fuel production. Do you know anything more about that? Does that concern you?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've expressed our views on the matter very clearly. And we continue to support the European 3's efforts to resolve this in a peaceful and diplomatic way. We've made our views very clear, that Iran needs to abide by the Paris agreement and its international obligations. They need to come clean and cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Q Does this announcement increase your concern?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen the latest announcement that they've made. I haven't looked into that specific matter. But --

Q They just say they're resuming research into nuclear fuel production.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- they made some agreements and they need to abide by those agreements and act in a good faith way in the negotiations.

Q Scott, last year in the State of the Union, the President mentioned tax reform and Social Security reform as his top two priorities. This morning you mentioned responding to Katrina and keeping the economy strong, but notably absent was any mention of either Social Security, tax reform. And I just wondered, does the administration in all likelihood expect either of these not to be addressed until --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, tax reform remains a priority. We have not received the report from the Secretary of the Treasury yet, in terms of the recommendations that he will be making to the President. In terms of the President's 2006 agenda, the President has made it very clear that he's going to continue working to build lasting peace abroad and extend prosperity at home. The President wants to continue working to lay the foundations of peace for generations to come. And he also wants to continue acting to keep our economy strong here at home. And that means making the tax relief permanent. It means moving forward to make sure that workers have the skills they need to fill the jobs of the 21st century. It means continuing to move forward and open markets so that American products and producers can compete overseas and have more opportunity to sell their products abroad. That's the way we keep our economy growing strong. And in terms of Social Security, the President made it very clear he's never going to quit trying to save and strengthen Social Security. It's important, and he's talked about the reasons why.

But in terms of the 2006 agenda, I think you're going to hear the President talking more about it in the coming weeks leading up to the State of the Union and after the State of the Union, when he talks more about the agenda for 2006. We've got some important priorities that we need to get done. We recognize it's an election year, but we were elected to get things done, and the President is going to continue pushing to act on those priorities that he cares most about.

Q Would immigration reform trump Social Security and tax reform now --

MR. McCLELLAN: Immigration reform is a priority. The President would like to see it get done this year.

Q Scott, welcome back, hope you missed us. Two international ones, North Korea and Iraq. First of all, what's going on with North Korea? Their statements are increasingly irrational and militant. Do you really think diplomacy can work with such an irrational regime?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there was an agreement that was reached, an agreement on a set of principles, at the last round of talks. We want to see progress made on moving forward on the principles that were agreed to. All five parties to the talks have made it very clear to North Korea that they need to abandon their nuclear weapons ambitions, and dismantle their programs. So we're continuing to work through the six-party talks to make that happen.

Q They want the U.S. to lift sanctions against them. Any thoughts on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think they're talking about some sanctions that were imposed by the Treasury Department, if I recall correctly. And that is a matter of protecting our national interest and combating their illicit activities that they are engaged in, the regime in North Korea. It is not a subject to negotiation. We are going to continue to take action to stop them from engaging in illicit activities. We've made very clear what the concerns are when it comes to those activities, whether it's counterfeiting U.S. money, engaging in drugs or proliferation of weapons technology.

And in terms of the six-party talks, I think that this latest statement by the regime in North Korea is yet another in a long list of pretext for delay. The other parties to the talks have made clear to North Korea that they expect North Korea to make good on the agreed to statement, and to give up its nuclear weapons and programs promptly and verifiably.

Q Also on Iraqi reconstruction, can you confirm the United States is not going to ask for any more funds to reconstruct --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the budget process is ongoing at this point. We are firmly committed to continuing to help the Iraqi people build a lasting democracy and help them with reconstruction. The international community has important responsibilities to meet, as well. We have provided a significant amount to help them move forward on the reconstruction. There's progress that's being made on that. We've seen that the Iraqi people are determined to build a lasting democracy with the successful elections that took place just last month. And we will continue to stand with them, and the international community needs to, as well. And we are moving forward on the budget process at this point. We'll have more to say once that process is complete.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Scott, I have a two-part. World New Daily reports that Navy Chaplain Gordon Klingenschmitt has now gone without food for two weeks in his protest of the Navy's ordering him not to mention Jesus in public prayer, and he's hoping very much for an executive order from the President. My question, how in the world can the President, as a devout Christian, allow the Navy, of which he is Commander-in-Chief, to engage in this suppression of the First Amendment's guarantee of the free exercise of religion?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, someone brought this question up earlier. I haven't had a chance to check into it fully. I will check into fully, so let me take your question. But I think this is a matter probably best addressed to the Department of Defense. But let me take a look into this specific matter.

Q In a full-page ad in The New York Times, the ACLU quotes the President on April the 20th of 2004 as saying, "When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so." And my question: Did the President say that, on that date? And what is your reaction to the ACLU charging that the President, "lied to the American people and broke the law"?

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. I addressed this question previously. The President addressed this question again just the other day. That speech was on the Patriot Act, and the President was talking about roving wire taps in the context of the Patriot Act, so we've already addressed that.

The ACLU -- this is one of the special interest groups that Democrats in the Senate are trying to appease because they want to weaken and undermine the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act is vital to saving lives, and the President is going to hear about how the Patriot Act has helped save lives. It has also met an important commitment to protect people's civil liberties.

Q Does he --

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's why it's important that it be re-authorized. And Democrats need to set aside politics -- they're putting politics above our nation's security and they need to move forward in the Senate and let it be re-authorized.

Q Doesn't he think the ACLU is very irresponsible?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think some of the statements that they make -- that they are making sure are.

Q Scott, the President is making another speech on the economy later this week, and yet, the bond market is showing some signals now that a recession is on the horizon. Is the market just wrong in this case?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think -- you know, most independent economists would say that they expect continued strong economic growth. Our economy continues to grow very strongly. We have had more -- nearly 4.5 million jobs created since May of 2003. The unemployment rate is down to 5 percent, well below the averages of the '70s, '80s and '90s. We're seeing home ownership at record levels. Consumer confidence -- just last week, the latest December numbers came out, consumer confidence is up. The economy continues to grow strong because of the policies that we put in place. But we must continue to act and move forward on pro-growth policies that will keep our economy growing strong.

It's because of the actions that we have taken, and because of the innovation and ingenuity of American workers that our economy is the envy of the world. And we must continue to build upon that great progress that we've made. And I think if you look at any of the forecasts, they all show continued growth in the year ahead.

Q Scott, tomorrow's Iraq briefing and remarks, what's -- anything in particular that we should be looking for?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, let me give you a little bit of a preview of that. The President will be participating in a briefing at the Pentagon tomorrow with Secretary Rumsfeld and General Pace and others. This will be an opportunity for the President to get an operational update on Iraq and Afghanistan, and the broader war on terrorism. I expect they'll discuss the work ahead in 2006. There's much progress that we have made in 2005, but there is much work to get done in the year ahead. And I expect they'll talk about the progress we're making in our plan for victory in Iraq.

And there's still going to be tests and sacrifices ahead, but we are making important progress. The successful elections were an example of the progress being made. I expect they'll talk about the progress that's been made in Afghanistan, as well. NATO has been taking on a larger role, and the capability of the Afghan forces there is growing, as well. And so that allows us to reduce our force levels and focus more on counterterrorist operations within Afghanistan and along the border region, as well. So I expect that those -- operational update is the way I would describe it.

Q Is he going to talk about troop levels in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there was an announcement made just before the holidays about some of the troop levels being reduced, and as the President has made it clear that those decisions will be made based on the recommendations of our commanders on the ground, specifically General Casey. He will have everything he needs to complete the mission, and the decisions on troop levels will be based on the conditions on the ground.

Q Is this going to be like others, where Casey and some of the others come in by video conference?

MR. McCLELLAN: I do expect General Casey and probably General Abizaid and some others will be on via video conference.

Q Scott, you said that the President will continue to do everything within his lawful power. What does the President view is the extent or the limit to that lawful power? I mean, for example, would he consider it within his lawful power --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to play lawyer from this podium. I think --

Q Neither am I.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I'll leave it to the legal experts to talk about that. But the President is committed to doing everything within our Constitution and our laws to prevent attacks from happening and save lives. That's what he has made very clear, and he will continue to do that. We are fortunate that we have not been attacked again since September 11th here at home. We know that the enemy wants to strike us again. And that's why we must continue to stay on the offensive abroad; that's why we must continue to seek to gather important intelligence so that we can connect the dots and disrupt their efforts. And that's what we have done, and that's what we will continue to do.

It's because of the actions of our law enforcement and intelligence community, because of the tools we have in place, that we are stopping them from attacking us again. And we must continue to act. We know that they changed tactics. They are sophisticated, they're deadly. When they see our play book on page one, we know that they take that into account and they adapt and change, and we must be mindful of that. When our intelligence activities are talked about openly and publicly, particularly in a time of war, it is harmful to our nation's security. You don't see al Qaeda talking about their tactics and activities in public.

Q Scott, may I follow up on that for a moment?

MR. McCLELLAN: You've had your question, let me go to the back. I'll try to come --

Q I want to follow up --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'll try to -- I'll try to come back to you, Paula.

Q I have a follow-up, Scott.

MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, Victoria has a follow up. Let's have some order. Sometimes David gets the room out of order. That's okay.

Q May I ask why so many people in the front row have so many follow ups?

Q You specified --

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead. You may, when I come to you.

Q You specified a couple of minutes ago that the warrant-less wiretaps involved international calls. So would the President view it, then, within his lawful power to give permission for warrant-less wiretaps for domestic calls between Americans --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- anything like that discussed. That question was asked earlier.

Go ahead.

There are authorities under the Patriot Act. Go ahead.

Q A moment ago you said that opponents of certain sections of the Patriot Act --

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, why they got follow ups? Because they were important questions, that's why they got follow ups. Now you have an important question, so go ahead.

Q Thank you.

Q Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, Paula is going.

Q A moment ago you said that opponents of certain sections of the Patriot Act are putting politics over national security. But my understanding is that those that are opposed to certain sections, and possibly the amendment of this Act, are concerned about unchecked invasions of privacy, because certain warrant-less surveillances were done without having any contact whatsoever within 72 hours of the secret court that was established by law. And that is what my understanding is --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think they're just engaging in politics.

Q My understanding is, they're concern is that the administration did not abide by existing law by not contacting this secret court within 72 hours as required by law.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is oversight in place. And as I pointed out, the Inspector General has looked into this and has found nothing to substantiate any allegations of abuse.

Q The issue is not oversight, it's abiding by the law, which requires this administration to contact the Supreme Court within 72 hours of a warrant-less surveillance. And I would like to know --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's one of the issues that's been addressed in the negotiations and in the discussion as the conference committee was moving forward. So I reject your characterization.

Q I would like to know why you're depicting this as politics --

MR. McCLELLAN: Because that's what it is. Because we heard the Senate Democratic leader boast to his political supporters that Senate Democrats had "killed" the Patriot Act. Those were his words, not my words. Those were his words, because they're beholden to special interests. They want to undermine and weaken the Patriot Act. And the Patriot Act has been a vital tool to saving lives. And that's why the President looks forward to meeting with these U.S. Attorneys and hearing about how they have used the tools within the Patriot Act to disrupt plots and break up terrorist cells. And I cited three specific examples.

Q What special interests?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the ACLU was one that was mentioned earlier.

Q The Democrats are beholden to the ACLU and opposition --

MR. McCLELLAN: Some.

Q The concerns about the Patriot Act, you say -- you would say, then, are -- the four major concerns which have received bipartisan support are all --

MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, wait, wait, what's received bipartisan support is the agreement that was reached by the conference committee -- strong, overwhelming bipartisan support in the House, where 44 Democrats voted for it. And it enjoys majority, bipartisan support in the United States Senate, as well. So it's clear that what Senate Democrats have done is engaged in obstructionist tactics based on the wishes of certain special interests.

Q There were also Republicans who declined to vote cloture. So the concerns about the Patriot Act do have small bipartisan support. Those concerns, you say, are an attempt to --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's Senate Democrats that have been obstructing --

Q -- to appease the ACLU?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's the Senate Democrats that have been obstructing it.

Q As Iraq moves forward, does the United States feel that naming Ahmed Chalabi as the oil minister is the right person for that job, given his credibility problems? His offices were raided --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not up to the United States; it's up to the Iraqi people to make those decisions, and it's up to their government that is elected by the Iraqi people to make those decisions.

Q Is the White House pleased with that announcement that he will be the oil minister?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're pleased that Iraq is moving forward on democracy and building the foundations of peace for generations to come. It's vital to our national security interests that we succeed in Iraq, because it will help transform a dangerous region of the world.

Q One very quickly. Did the President support the construction of a fence on the Mexican border or not? And second question, has the White House any worries that the new President-elect of Bolivia is still in alliance with Venezuela and Cuba? And some Latin American politicians say this is true because the U.S. President is losing ground and influence in Latin America.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I actually talked about the elections in Bolivia prior to the holidays. You might want to look back at what I said, but I think, essentially, I said that we congratulate the people of Bolivia for moving forward on a democratic election. We look forward to working with the new government. Our relationship will be based on their commitment to democracy and the principles that we hold dear in this hemisphere, not only the United States, but many other countries. And so we will see how that relationship proceeds forward based on their commitment to democracy and other important principles.

Q What about the fence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of immigration, the President believes that our immigration system is broken, that it needs to be fixed. That's why he's pushing a comprehensive plan for reform. There are different methods that have been used in different areas of the United States to help address the problems. I think one area you're talking about is in the San Diego area, and different needs -- where there are different needs in different areas that we have been using to help stop the flow of illegal immigrants into the United States. But what we need to do is look at the larger picture and how we need to move forward on comprehensive reform, and that means addressing all three aspects that I mentioned earlier today.

Thank you all. The President will see you shortly.

END 1:12 P.M. EST