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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 1, 2006
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Nashville, Tennessee
11:54 A.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning. Let me go over the President's day first, and then I'll take whatever questions you have. First of all, the President had two world leader calls this morning. The President spoke with President Putin. They discussed the Iranian nuclear issue and they both agreed that it was important to stay in close contact as we move forward to address this issue. I think both leaders have a shared concern about Iran developing a nuclear weapon under the guise of a civilian program. The President reiterated his appreciation for President Putin's initiative when it comes to offering to enrich uranium for Iran and then providing it to the regime for peaceful nuclear energy, and then taking that fuel back once it has been used.
Then following that, the President spoke with President Morales of Bolivia. The President called to congratulate President Morales on his election and inauguration. The President also commended the Bolivian people for their strong commitment to the democratic process. The President expressed our commitment to helping the Bolivian people realize their aspirations for a better life. And President Morales outlined his agenda for social and economic change in Bolivia. Both leaders reiterated their interest in a constructive U.S.-Bolivian relationship and dialogue.
Those were the two calls from this morning. Then the President had his usual briefings. He participated in the signing for the proclamation in honor of American Heart Month. And here shortly the President looks forward to speaking to people in Nashville. I think this will be somewhat of a recap of last night's remarks. You all will be there to cover it. It's not a formal remarks.
And then following that, we return back to the White House this afternoon, and the President will participate in the ceremonial swearing-in ceremony for Justice Alito. As you know, he was actually sworn in yesterday at the Supreme Court by Chief Justice Roberts. And this afternoon we'll have the ceremonial swearing-in in the East Room. It will be very similar to the one for Chief Justice Roberts.
Q Who initiated the Putin call?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President called him.
Q The President.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's set up at a mutually beneficial time.
Anything else? Read all about in the wires?
Q Give us a recap of what he told them. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me mention that one thing the President is focused on, and I think he may reiterate today when he goes to Nashville, is the importance of elevating the tone in Washington and working together to get things done. I think the President believes that most members of Congress are committed to doing so. And as he said, he's going to do his part, but he really believes strongly that there are some areas where we can work together in a bipartisan way to achieve important priorities for the American people.
And one of those is on Iraq. As he said last night, no matter where you stood before, we all -- all of us have a responsibility to help make sure that we succeed in Iraq. And the President believes that we can work together to support our troops and make sure that we win. And as he said last night, we are winning.
The President also talked about addressing the problems with our entitlement programs -- Social Security and Medicare and Medicaid. With the baby boom generation getting ready to retire, it's going to put a lot of strain on those programs. And those are problems that are not going to go away. We need to address them. And that's why the President reached out last night, and said -- he recognized these are difficult issues to address, but they are issues that are only going to get worse with time. And that's why the President reached out last night, and emphasized that he wanted to see a truly bipartisan commission come together and look for solutions to address these issues.
We're already beginning to reach out to Congress and seek their ideas for how we put that commission together. As the President indicated, if Congress wants to have some current members, Democrats and Republicans on that commission, then we should have that.
The President stressed two important domestic priorities last night, reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. He talked about how we're on the verge of important breakthroughs, technological breakthroughs. And that's an important area where we can work together to advance technology and address the issue of our reliance on hydrocarbons.
Then also on the competitiveness issue, the President talked at length about how it is important that we need to -- important in the dynamic economy that we're in to keep America competitive. And the way we do that is by continuing to invest in research and development and support the physical sciences and support math and science education, and make sure that workers have the skills they need to fill the jobs that are being created, the high-paying jobs. And so those are areas where the President really believes that we can work together in a bipartisan way to get a lot of things done for the American people.
Q What about health care, which Americans are increasingly concerned about? There was some talk about that last night. Are we going to hear more about that today, or more about that in the coming days?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, you will. And in fact, remember, I talked about how now that the State of the Union is behind us, the President is going to be going out across the country, talking in greater detail about the initiatives he outlined last night. And one of those areas is addressing the issue of rising health care costs. Americans are concerned about high health care costs. They're concerned about high energy costs. And that's reason one why the President laid out some bold initiatives to address the root causes of those issues. And that's another area where we need to continue to work together. The President called for expanding health saving accounts, and making sure that Americans who participate in health saving accounts have the same sort of advantages that big businesses have. And the small businesses can have those kind of tax advantages, as well.
He talked about the importance of information technology, that can help us reduce costs, and advancing health information technology, and making sure that consumers have information on pricing and quality of health care. And then, of course, medical liability reform is a very important area that needs to be addressed, particularly when it comes to the OB/GYN profession.
Q He talked about civility, changing the tone a little bit. Ten days ago, Karl Rove gave a very pointed and sharp speech. Many see it as a preview of the election strategy forward, drawing some clear distinctions between Republicans and Democrats and also taking a lot of shots at Democrats. Is the President going to discourage Rove or Ken Melhman or any other surrogates from making those kinds of speeches going forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that those individuals said a lot more than just that, first of all. But the President is -- believes it's his obligation to call on all of us -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- who are in elected office to do our part and focus on the priorities of the American people. We've been talking about some of the important priorities that the American people are most concerned about. They're concerned about high energy prices, they're concerned about high -- rising health care costs, they're concerned about the situation in Iraq. And we need to come together and address those issues in a bipartisan way.
And that's why I went through the four areas where the President believes there's a great opportunity for us to do so, and get some things done. You know, we recognize it's an election year, and there will be plenty of time for people to talk about the differences between the parties, but we should do so in a respectful way.
And the President is going to continue focusing on the priorities of the American people. There will be plenty of time to talk about the differences on the issues later in the election year.
Q Can I just -- on that -- just on the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q Will the President agree that there was a shared responsibility for the tone having gotten to the point where it is now?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. All of us -- first of all, this is something that has been building for years, well before his presidency. And the President saw what it was like when he was the governor of Texas. People were able to put aside election-year politicking and come together and get things done in a bipartisan way. And one -- he said one of his biggest disappointments is that we haven't been able to do more to change the tone in Washington. But that's a two-way street. The President has always worked to elevate the tone. I think you've seen that in what he has said, and he's always worked to reach out. When he came into office, we were able to reach out and get some important things done on historic education reforms.
And the President -- the President was the first to go out there and share the credit. The President believes very important -- believes very strongly in sharing credit when we work together to get things done. And that's what -- that's what -- he has a history of doing that.
But yes, all of us -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- have a responsibility to work together to elevate the tone and focus on getting things done for the American people.
Q On the --
MR. McCLELLAN: That sums up Terry Hunt's interview right there. I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q On the issue of immigration, some of your critics have said they would like to see some sort of bill or more formal language coming out of the White House, to define what they really want. Will there be any sort of language like that? And if not, how will you all try to promote a guest worker program in the Senate after it's already --
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I think the President has outlined a very comprehensive -- the President has outlined a comprehensive approach to fixing our immigration system. It is a broken system. What we did -- spent much of last year doing was engaging congressional leaders -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- and consulting with them about how to move forward to get this done. The House began moving forward on immigration; the Senate began moving forward on immigration toward the end of last year.
And we think that there's a real opportunity to get something done on immigration reform this year. We've taken steps to strengthen our borders. We need to do more to enforce laws inside the U.S. when it comes to immigration laws. But we also need to move forward on a -- as the President said last night -- a humane temporary worker program that addresses really two needs: an economic need and humane treatment of people who are coming to this country simply to seek a better quality of life for their families back home.
And so this is very much a priority for this President. It's something we need to address to keep us competitive as we move forward. The economy is strong, with 4.6 million new jobs being created and the unemployment rate down to 4.9 percent over the -- since the last couple of years, in terms of job creation. And as the President said, those who are coming here are filling an important economic need. He talked about that in his remarks last night.
So we look forward to continuing to work with Congress in a bipartisan way and trying to get something done. I think there's a lot of interest in doing so within Congress. And so the President will continue to lead to push them to get something done and continue working with them in a bipartisan way.
Q On the Social Security Commission, any idea of what you would want them to report back? You talked about how things -- as you get closer to election, obviously, you know, the political cycle -- when you would want that report, the commission report?
MR. McCLELLAN: Right now, we're just in the early stages of engaging Congress on it. The President announced it last night, so we're talking with members of Congress to get their feedback and get their thoughts on how we can move forward on this in a bipartisan way. That's why the President stressed he wants Republicans and Democrats on this commission, including members of Congress if they feel that that's the best thing to do.
So we'll work on flushing out all these details as we move forward. But we've already started moving forward on it.
Q How does the Fran -- Fran Townsend's review of Katrina -- when can we expect a report on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's very near completion and I expect we'll have more to say on it soon.
Q Any more on Minnesota, Albuquerque, Dallas -- what he'll be talking about at each?
MR. McCLELLAN: On competitiveness. Tomorrow, the President -- the remainder of this week will really focus on the American Competitiveness Initiative he outlined last night. Tomorrow, when we go to Maplewood, Minnesota, the President will be visiting the 3M plant there, and certainly they -- 3M has been a leader in innovation. And so the President will give remarks on his competitiveness agenda and talk about it in greater detail.
And then on Friday -- we'll be overnighting in Albuquerque. And then in the morning, he's going to be participating in a panel on competitiveness with some experts and others, and then we'll go on to Dallas from there. And the President will visit a school -- advanced placement school in Dallas that focuses on math and science education, and what he announced there in terms of training 70,000 more teachers for advanced placement, math and science.
END 12:10 P.M. EST