The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 11, 2006

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Louisville, Kentucky

11:42 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things that you will be interested in. First of all, the President had his usual briefings this morning, and a meeting with the Secretary of State. Then he signed the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement in the Oval Office, as you all are aware. In Louisville, as we said, this -- the President is going to participate in a discussion, and as I indicated yesterday, he will be visiting with the people of Kentucky at this stop. And this will be a follow-on to yesterday's remarks. This is part of the continuing dialogue that he is having with the American people about our strategy for victory in Iraq.

And the President -- well, first of all, let me back up. The event is being hosted by the Greater Louisville Inc., which is the Chamber of Commerce for Louisville, and I think that --

Q Greater Louisville Inc.?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that's the title; it's the Greater Louisville Chamber of Commerce, and I believe the Southern Indiana Chamber of Commerce. And those organizations, as well as the a couple congressional offices that are right there in that area distributed tickets to community leaders and business leaders, and minority business owners, and women-owned businesses and other citizens in the area for this event. I expect there will be a little over 400 people at the event.

But the President will make some remarks at the beginning and talk about much of what he said yesterday. And then he's going to take questions from those who are in the audience. And he looks forward to hearing what's on their mind and answering their questions.

So I wanted to let you all know that that.

Q Are those questions pre-screened, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, they can ask whatever -- the people at this event can ask whatever they want.

Then following that, the President is going to be meeting with one family of a fallen soldier. This is a family of a soldier who just recently made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq. It's an Army sergeant who was killed on December 31st of 2005. Then following that, we'll return back to Washington.

The President -- all right, a couple of things. On Ask the White House at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, we have our Senior Advisor in the U.S. Embassy to the Ministry of Justice in Iraq who will be talking about the training and capabilities of the Iraqi police forces. And that's at 1:00 p.m. I know State Department has got a briefing at 12:30 p.m. And then, of course, the Alito hearings are continuing today.

And I think the American people are seeing that Judge Alito is someone who approaches the law in a thoughtful, fair and open-minded way. And I think that's the kind of judge that the American people want on our nation's High Court, someone that will interpret the law and not try to legislate from the bench. He is someone who has a 15-year experience on the Court -- 15 years of experience on the Court of Appeals, and he has shown that he is someone who listens to the arguments carefully, looks at the facts, and then applies the law.

And the American people are now having the opportunity to hear that directly from him in these hearings. And I think he summed up his judicial philosophy very clearly the other day when he said that no one is above the law and no one is beneath the law.

And the President, as I indicated yesterday, caught some of the coverage. This morning he's been in a number of meetings, as I indicated to you earlier, so he hasn't caught any of the coverage today. But he's been kept up to date on it.

And with that, I'll be glad to go to whatever questions you have.

Q So far does he feel that Alito has been given the kind of fair hearing that -- and dignified hearing that he wanted?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think yesterday the hearing was largely dignified. I think there were, however, a number of instances where some Democrat senators engaged in dishonest attacks and misrepresentations. I know that there was some information put out documenting more than 30 misrepresentations of his record as a judge. And I think the RNC put that information out, so you all have that.

But it has been largely dignified. This morning, I've noticed that there have been some Democratic senators that have continued to engage in some misrepresentations. It appears some are now grasping for straws.

Q Scott, would one of those misrepresentations be enrollment and his membership in CAP? And did the White House know about that membership before he went up to the Hill?

MR. McCLELLAN: He talked about that yesterday. I think some of the misrepresentations that I'm referring to include talking about when he decided a case that some said that showed that he was against regulating machine guns, when in fact he was basing his decision based on Supreme Court precedent, and actually laying out a roadmap for how Congress could go about regulating machine guns. There are others that tried to question his integrity and he is someone who is widely respected for his integrity and his judicial temperament and his experience by people on both sides -- sides of the aisle.

There were other instances. They were all documented by the RNC that has been following -- following these issues as they take place. But we hope the hearing will -- the hearings will continue forward in a dignified way. I think that dishonest attacks and misrepresentations really have no place in hearings for our nation's highest court.

Q What's the game plan for filibuster if, as you say, the Democrats are grasping at straws?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard anybody talking about that. I think it's clear -- becoming very clear to the American people that he is someone who is eminently well-qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. That's why the American Bar Association gave him their highest rating, what the Democrats have referred to as the "gold standard."

Q Is it too early to be declaring victory, though? I mean, we have today's hearings, you have tomorrow's, we have Friday's.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's important to -- I think the American people want to see a vigorous and honest debate in these hearings, and that's important. Senators can ask whatever questions they want. But I think the American people also expect that it be conducted in a civil and dignified way.

Q Are you confident he'll be confirmed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we are confident, because he is someone who is so exceptionally well-qualified to serve on the nation's highest court. The American people are seeing that he is someone that we can all be proud of, and someone that will do an outstanding job on the Supreme Court. He has shown his absolute mastery of constitutional law and American jurisprudence through these hearings.

Q On Iran, Tony Blair says we have to decide what measures to take, and we obviously don't rule out any measures at all. What's -- do you agree with that statement?

MR. McCLELLAN: I actually talked about that yesterday and said something very similar. There is deep concern within the international community about the Iranian regime's behavior and intentions. I think that the Iranian regime has made another serious miscalculation by their latest actions. And we are engaged in some intensive diplomacy right now. We are talking with our European friends and others about how to move ahead. And those discussions continue.

But I think I made very clear yesterday that the International Atomic Energy Agency board has already stated that Iran was in violation of its safeguard obligations and called for referral to the Security Council. But I think the international community wanted to give Iran a chance to finally come clean and negotiate in good faith. Yet Iran is showing yet again that they are going to ignore the demands of the international community. And I think that's a serious miscalculation.

So we'll -- the step we're in right now is to talk with our European friends and others about how to move forward. And we believe that if the negotiations have run their course and Iran is not going to negotiate in good faith, then there's no other option but to refer the matter to the Security Council. If that happens, then we would talk about what action needs to be taken at that time.

Q Should the E3 process -- have they now run their course? Is it time to break off those talks --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've heard -- I think you've heard a number of countries express their deep concern about Iran's latest action. A number of countries have expressed their concern about the statements and the comments being made by some of the regime leaders, too, over -- in recent weeks. And we have continued to support the Europeans' efforts, and we're talking with the Europeans and others about how to move ahead.

Q How much did the congressional race down here in Kentucky play in your decision to go here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Congressional race? This was a decision made as part of our continuing efforts to engage the American people in a dialogue about our strategy for victory in Iraq. I haven't heard any -- I haven't heard any discussion about that. I mean, he's here to talk -- today to talk to people in Kentucky about the situation in Iraq and the way ahead in 2006 and what to expect --

Q Why Kentucky?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and the progress we're making. Well, he travels all over the country. And like I said, this is an opportunity to talk to the people in Kentucky about our strategy that we have in place for winning in Iraq. And this is part of a continuing dialogue. He's going to continue talking about the war on terrorism and how Iraq is central to prevailing in that war on terrorism.

Q Is this going to be similar to the --

MR. McCLELLAN: And he also wants to hear from some real people out in America about what's on their minds and any questions they may have about our strategy for victory --

Q So it's very similar to a town meeting --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that -- I think that's a fair way to describe it, I mean, kind of engage in a town hall-type discussion with people in the audience.

Q Are you going to have more of these?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Are we going to see more --

MR. McCLELLAN: He talks to the American people in a variety of ways.

Q Scott, China's trade report showed that its trade surplus tripled to a record $102 billion last year. Are tensions growing between the U.S. and China over its monetary policy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I'd probably leave it to Ambassador Portman to talk more about any latest developments. I think when it comes to the trade deficit, we certainly made clear what our views are and why that is. I mean, our -- the United States economy is growing faster than others in the industrialized world. Our economy is the envy of the world. And so I think that's a reason contributing to that deficit.

In terms of -- but the President is firmly committed to continuing to move forward on our trade agenda and opening markets to American workers and services and products. That's important because that's important to creating jobs -- continuing to create jobs here at home. We've added 4.6 million jobs since May of 2003, and we need to continue to work to expand trade, but also make sure that there's a level playing field. And that's what we'll continue to push forward on.

Q Two unrelated questions. One, the Army sergeant who was killed last month, is he from Fort Campbell? Do you have any more information about him?

MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding, he is from Kentucky. I'll try to get you some more information. I didn't bring it with me. I don't know if he was out of Fort Campbell or not. I think he was -- I think he was with 101st Airborne, if I recall.

Q Okay. And what is the situation with Prime Minister Sharon and the election status on both sides -- do you have any updates on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and I think the State Department may be talking a little bit more about the Palestinian elections coming up. I think we've made our views clear. And Israel has indicated they're looking at making some arrangements similar to what they have done in the past in terms of allowing Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote. And that's what we've encouraged.

We've certainly stayed in touch with the parties about the upcoming elections and we've stated that we believe that similar arrangements can be made that have been made in the past, that meet the important balance. We understand Israel's concerns about security. But I think that -- arrangements can be made to find a balance that will address those concerns and also allow Palestinians to participate freely in the elections.

In terms of Prime Minister Sharon, we continue to pray for his recovery. His doctors have talked about some positive steps that -- or positive improvements that have been made. But he remains in our thoughts and prayers. And we also -- Secretary Rice has been in contact with the acting Prime Minister to talk about shared priorities and continuing to move forward on those priorities.

Q Are you guys tracking Kim Jong-Il's visit to China or have any idea what he's up to?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any additional information on it, other than what's been reported in the news.

Anything else?

Q What about the Post outcome on the National Security Agency's spying program? Americans seem to be split either 50-50 or 30-30-30 on whether the program is legal?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry, I'm not sure exactly -- I saw ABC-Washington Post say 51-47, and Rasmussen a couple of weeks ago, some 64 percent of Americans expressed their support for it.

I think what's clear is that the American people want the President to do everything within his lawful power to prevent terrorist attacks from happening, and that's exactly what the President is doing.

I think when you're talking about any of these surveys, I think it's important to look at the question that was asked; is it clearly representing what this authorization is about? It is an authorization that is limited in nature. One party to the communication must be outside the United States. One party to the communication is a -- the communications that are designed -- I mean, well, what we're trying to do is detect and prevent attacks from happening. That's the purpose of this authorization.

And as I said, it's very limited in nature. And it has to be a known al Qaeda member or suspected related terrorist organization that is one party to the communication. And I think clearly the American people, if you look at -- if you want to look at surveys, have said that they want the President to do everything within his lawful power to prevent an attack from happening.

And the President is going to continue acting to do everything within his lawful power to disrupt plots and prevent attacks from happening. We've been fortunate not to have been attacked since the attacks -- since September 11th, 2001. And that's in no small part because of the actions that we're taking and because of the great work of our men and women on the front lines of law enforcement and the intelligence community.

Q Scott, this fellow who has been labeled a whistle-blower has now been -- a former NSC official, employee -- has now been appearing publicly in the media, including on ABC. Is the government concerned about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to talk to the National Security Agency about that. I don't have anything to add.

Okay? Thanks.

END 12:00 P.M. EST

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