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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 14, 2006
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:18 P.M. EST
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I'd like to begin with a little preview of tomorrow's remarks in Ohio. The President will be traveling to Dublin, Ohio tomorrow to deliver remarks on his health care agenda. The President has outlined a comprehensive plan to make health care more affordable and available for all Americans. It is focused on expanding choice, lowering cost, and improving quality of care through common-sense, innovative reforms.
Americans are concerned about rising health care costs, and I expect the President will talk about that in his remarks. There are really two goals that we are working to meet. First, government has a responsibility and obligation to make sure that we take care of the elderly and the poor. And we're doing that through programs such as Medicare and Medicaid and working to expand community health centers.
The second goal is to make sure health care is more affordable and available for families. And the President will really talk about his five-part plan for doing that. The President will focus in his remarks on expanding health savings accounts. That is the foundation really of making the health care system more consumer- or patient-driven. And he will expand on some of what you have already heard him talk about in the State of the Union, and he'll talk about some of the new proposals that he has, as well, on health savings accounts.
Over the last 10 months we've seen an expansion of people in health savings accounts go from one million people to three million people, and we want to continue to expand that proposal.
And the other parts of his plan that he'll touch on tomorrow are -- the second part is transparency. The President wants to make sure that consumers are informed, because that will help make health care more affordable and accessible. He wants patients to have information on prices and quality of care. And he has called on health care and insurance industries to make that information available to consumers.
He'll also talk about information technology. The President, in 2004, called for making sure most Americans have electronic health records within 10 years. And he also will talk about making it easier for small businesses to afford health insurance for their employees. Many small businesses are struggling to provide them health insurance, and one way of expanding that is through associated health plans, where small businesses can pool together and provide coverage for their employees.
And finally, he'll talk about the importance of confronting lawsuit abuse, lawsuit abuse that is driving good doctors out of business and driving up cost for consumers. One area in particular is the OB/GYN profession, where many counties across America are now without an OB/GYN physician. And the President wants to see Congress get medical liability reform to him this year.
And that's a preview of tomorrow's remarks, and with that I will be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, I just have two questions to follow up on the accidental shooting by the Vice President. Does the President think that the Vice President should address this publicly, personally, speak to the American people in any fashion to explain what happened and why it took so long to disclose it publicly?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think what happened has been explained. The Vice President's Office has talked about it; I've talked about it. And I represent the President and speak for him. The Vice President's spokeswoman speaks for him, as well. So that information has been provided. We went through this pretty thoroughly yesterday.
Q So the President doesn't think that the Vice President should actually think about it himself, not through intermediaries?
MR. McCLELLAN: You talk to the Vice President on a fairly frequent basis in the past, and I'm sure you will in the future, as well.
Q But he shouldn't really have to address specifically, in your view --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he has, through his office.
Q Okay, let me ask you this -- is the President concerned that the Vice President made decisions about the public disclosure of this incident that are clearly at odds with how you and others advising the President disclose personal information about the President's activities?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just say this, since there's some follow-up questions that you all have. First of all, I think we went through this pretty thoroughly yesterday and I worked to answer the questions to the best of my ability and in a forthright manner, based on the facts that I knew. There were some very legitimate questions that were asked. As I indicated, I always believe that you can look back and work to do better. I indicated that yesterday. I think today what we're focusing our efforts is on what are the most pressing priorities before the American people. And that's where we're focusing. I understand you still have some --
Q That's fine, and that's appropriate.
MR. McCLELLAN: If you want to continue to spend time on that, that's fine. We're moving on to the priorities of the American people. That's where our focus is.
Q That's fair, and that's your prerogative, and I've got my job to do, which is, try to get you to answer that question. Does the President think it's appropriate for the Vice President to essentially make decisions at odds with the public disclosure process of this White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that I've expressed my views, and we went through this yesterday.
Q But that's a non-answer.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what I was trying to indicate to you --
Q Does the President have a view about how the Vice President has conducted himself?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's what I -- I indicated to you yesterday what our views were.
Q No, I don't recall you sharing the President's view.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but can I finish responding? I'm glad to answer your questions.
Q You didn't answer that question. It was very respectful --
MR. McCLELLAN: I was very respectful and responsive to you all --
Q The Vice President basically decided on his own to not disclose this, which is at odds with how you do business and how the President does business, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't want to make this about anything other than what it is. It is what it is, David. I was very respectful and responsive to your questions yesterday. I provided you the information I knew based on the facts that were available, and we've been through this pretty thoroughly.
Q You don't have an answer to this question. All right, one final question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Wait, wait, I'm just not going to go back through it again. I'd appreciate it if you'd let me respond fully before you jump in.
Q All right, but -- well, hold on one second. I've got one final question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Other people in this room have questions, and we've got an event coming up.
Q I understand that, but I'm not getting answers here, Scott, and I'm trying to be forthright with you, but don't tell me that you're giving us complete answers when you're not actually answering the question, because everybody knows what is an answer and what is not an answer.
MR. McCLELLAN: David, now you want to make this about you, and it's not about you, it's about what happened. And that's what I'm trying to --
Q I'm sorry that you feel that way, but that's not what I'm trying to do.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I'm trying to provide answers to the questions.
Q I have one final question, since that one wasn't answered. Is it appropriate for the Vice President to have waited 14 hours after the incident before he spoke with local law enforcement officials? And do you think that an average citizen would have been accorded that same amount of time before having to answer questions about a shooting incident?
MR. McCLELLAN: That was what was arranged with the local law enforcement authorities. You ought to ask them that question.
Suzanne, go ahead.
Q Is the President satisfied that he learned of the details about the shooting through Karl Rove and Andy Card, and not directly from the Vice President?
MR. McCLELLAN: He was informed about it, and there are lots of different ways to keep the President informed about events, and that was the way it happened in this instance.
Q Is he satisfied that he didn't hear directly from Cheney regarding --
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, Suzanne, if you all want to continue to focus on this, you all can spend your time on it. We're going to keep focusing on the pressing priorities of the American people, like talking about how to make health care more affordable and accessible. We've got important work to do for the American people, and that's where we're going to keep our focus. You're welcome to continue to focus on these issues. I'm moving on.
Q Two time line questions on this that I don't think was fully addressed yesterday. Could you tell us who it was in the Vice President's party who first informed the Situation Room? And could you tell us how it was that Mr. Rove learned of this and got involved enough, then, to call --
MR. McCLELLAN: I did answer that question yesterday. Karl spoke with Mrs. Armstrong.
Q But who informed -- I'm trying to understand the chain of custody of the information prior to that. In other words, who from the Vice President's party first informed the Situation Room? You told us the Situation Room --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he has an entourage that travels with him. I'm not going to get into -- he has an entourage that travels with him, from a military aide to Secret Service personnel. I'm not going to get into discussing specific people. I don't think that's -- I don't think it's necessary.
Q Can you tell us if it was a military aide or if it was a Secret Service person --
MR. McCLELLAN: David, I think I just answered your question. I'm just not going to get into naming specific people.
Q You're not going to tell us who informed the Situation Room?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was from the Vice President's traveling team.
Q We're asking, will you tell us who informed the Situation Room?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you.
Q Okay. And now, the second question, can you tell us who, then, informed Mr. Card? Was it Andy Card -- sorry, who informed Mr. Rove? Was it Andy Card, was it somebody else?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know where he first heard it. He may have heard it from the Situation Room. I know Andy spoke to him pretty quick after he heard about it.
Q Okay. And then the third issue related to this is, we know and established yesterday through you that the President heard about it on Saturday evening. Could you explain to us why it is this piece of information was important enough for the President to hear about relatively quickly, within three hours of the event --
MR. McCLELLAN: David, as I --
Q -- but in your view, it was not important enough --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- as I indicated, there are some pressing priorities before the American people and they want us to spend our time on that, and that's where we're going to keep our focus today.
Q It's our briefing, we get to ask the questions.
MR. McCLELLAN: You do, but I've indicated to you where I am today, and that's where I'm going to continue to focus.
Q Can you talk about, when the Vice President travels, does he bring with him any special medical group, given his heart condition, anything above and beyond what Vice Presidents typically bring?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can check with his office for specifics, because I don't travel with him, but he does have a medical team that travels with him, similar to what the President does.
Q And could you provide cost estimates when the President [sic] takes these hunting trips -- like what it costs the taxpayers --
MR. McCLELLAN: Check with his office, Jim.
Q -- to bring both his staff and medical staff?
MR. McCLELLAN: Check with his office. I travel with the President.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Two questions. One, lately the former two President George Bush and President Clinton both getting along well and they have been traveling together and also have done a lot of humanitarian work --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's go to the question.
Q The question is, recently President Bush said that, I have a third brother, President Bill Clinton. What he meant by that? Is he getting some advice from him --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, what comment?
Q He said that I have a third brother, which is President Bill Clinton --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was in a lighthearted way referring to President Clinton's relationship with his father.
Q Back to the Saturday activities, understanding that the Vice President and his entourage's primary concern was Mr. Whittington's health, and remains so, last night the late-night comics went to town; this morning you joked about orange and the Longhorns being here. To what extent is there a certain degree of relief that Mr. Whittington seems to be fine, but a bit of, perhaps, humor involved --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Mr. Whittington remains in our thoughts and prayers. We all want to make sure that he's okay and that he gets home and he recovers fully. And that's where our focus is and that's where it will continue to be. And I think people have to make their own judgments in terms of how they go about that.
Q Scott, on page one of this morning's Washington Times reports, "Army silences chaplain after prayer criticism," for which Republican Congressman Walter Jones is demanding an investigation into whether Chaplain Jonathan Stertzbach was illegally forbidden to preach in Iraq. And my question: How long will the spokesman of a devout Christian like President Bush go on dodging the question of why the Commander-in-Chief is allowing Christian chaplains to be ordered not to mention Christ?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I think you need to check with the military to get the specific facts. They're the ones who implement these rules --
Q They did, The Washington Times did.
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, let me answer your question. The President believes very much that our men and women in uniform ought to be able to freely express their religious views. The President also very much appreciates the role military chaplains play and the contributions they make to help our men and women in uniform do so. That's what our view is. In terms of specific issues and policies and rules, I think you ought to direct those questions to the Department of Defense.
Q There are Canadian news reports that the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has contended that one of the sexual orientations is sadomasochism, while in Ottawa, the Justice Department has called for the legalizing of polygamy. And my question: Does the President recognize these developments as logical progression from the current demand for same-sex marriage by the sodomy lobby?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about Canada? (Laughter.)
Q Canada, yes.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, direct your questions to Canada.
Q No, no, no, I wanted to know what does the President think about this.
Q So you'd rather go back to Saturday? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad to answer your questions, but I think we went through it thoroughly yesterday. It is what it is, and I think it's time to move on for the American people.
Q But, Scott, one of the reasons you said you delayed telling people about this is because you wanted to get all the information and some more information perhaps was gathered. So can you go back to your role again? You first heard about it Saturday evening, then didn't hear that the Vice President was involved until Sunday morning. Were you asking questions? What were your concerns about a hunting accident, the Vice President was there --
MR. McCLELLAN: I went through this yesterday. I'm not going to --
Q I know we went through it already, but we didn't get that answer. Why didn't you know and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Martha, I think that if you have additional questions relating to this matter, that you should direct them to the Vice President's Office. I've responded to you pretty fully in terms of my view, I've responded to those questions. I did so yesterday.
Q But, Scott, you didn't answer that particular question. You never answered why it took so long to inform you, who has a responsibility to inform the public.
MR. McCLELLAN: We went through that yesterday. I laid out the facts and what the facts were, and that's all I can do.
Q You said you didn't know until Sunday morning. Why not?
Q Did the President direct Cheney or his office to handle things differently in a case like this, if it happens again -- if something like this happens again?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can keep asking those questions; you're welcome to cover this issue. I expressed our views.
Q Has the President directed -- given any direction to the Vice President's Office about how things like this should be handled in the future?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you that you can always look at these issues and find a way to do a better job in the future. I'm not going to get into private conversations between the President and Vice President.
Sarah, go ahead.
Q Thank you. If you remember, I asked last week if the President is considering canceling his visit to Pakistan because of the violent demonstrations there because of the cartoons. The violence continues and even escalates. Is it wise for the President to possibly put himself in harm's way by going to Pakistan?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we have full confidence in the President's security detail and the job that they do. The President's trip remains on schedule, and the President looks forward to going to both India and to Pakistan in a few weeks here.
In terms of the cartoons and the controversy there, I think we've expressed what our views are. And the President has made it clear that all governments need to act to prevent violence. There have been some peaceful demonstrations. Peaceful demonstrations are one thing, but there's no justification for engaging in violence.
I think we all need to work together, and we can all look to the Olympics to see an example of the kind of events that promote better understanding of people of all backgrounds and all races and all religions, and we ought to keep that in mind during this time, as well.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Scott, was it Karl Rove's idea that Katharine Armstrong contacted the local press? I know that they spoke on the phone.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think Mrs. Armstrong has said how that idea came about.
Q So did they discuss it while they were on the phone?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I know of, no.
Q Could you find out for us?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said I don't believe so.
Q And one other quick one, on Michael Chertoff. Have there been discussions between Mr. Chertoff and Mr. Bush about whether Chertoff should, in fact, resign over Katrina?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. In fact, Secretary Chertoff is doing a great job at the Homeland Security Department. The President appreciates his strong leadership. He is someone who is committed to doing everything he can to protect the American people and to continue to take steps to make sure we are better prepared to respond to the threats that we face, whether those threats are natural disasters or those threats are from terrorism or other incidents.
Q Scott, do you think that there is a -- do you think that this continuing questioning about the events of Saturday indicate some kind of White House press corps not getting it and sticking -- continue to stick to something long past a reasonable discussion of it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, two things --
Q Or do you think it reflects a feeling in the country that this just doesn't pass the sniff test?
MR. McCLELLAN: Two things. One, as I indicated at the beginning, I think you all had some very legitimate questions. And we went through this is a very thorough manner yesterday. And I continued to provide additional information to reports in the afternoon. I work to be very responsive to your needs, and I thought that the issues that were raised were legitimate ones.
At the same time, I think the American people want this White House to do what we have always done, and what we were doing yesterday and what we're doing today, which is focusing on the priorities they care most about. That's what we're doing. The President is spending his time focusing on the threats that we face and how do we confront those threats and better protect the American people, and how do we continue to keep the economy competitive and growing.
We've got a great economy. The retail sales numbers came out today; they were significantly higher than what was expected. We're seeing a lot of job creation going on. But there's a lot of anxiety out there about issues like the economy, and people changing jobs, and people losing health care coverage because they change jobs, or rising health care costs. And those are the priorities that I think the American people want us to spend our time on.
Now, you all have to make decisions about what to report and, as I indicated, if you all want to continue spending time on this, that's fine. But this administration is focused on doing what the American people want us to do -- and that's to address the biggest priorities facing this country.
Q One on Hamas, and one on oil royalties. Is there a formal or informal plan to starve Hamas financially?
MR. McCLELLAN: I saw the news reports earlier today about some sort of plan that was talking about forcing Hamas from power so that there could be new elections. There is no plot, there is no plan. I talked about this a little bit earlier with some of you. Israel has said that there is no plan. We have always been very clear and consistent in our views when it comes to Hamas. The conversations that we have with Israel are the same kind of conversations we have with European governments, Arab governments and others.
Hamas is the one who has a choice to make. If Hamas wants relations with the international community, then it must renounce terror, recognize Israel, and disarm -- as the Quartet has called for. The Quartet spelled out what needs to be done and it's a choice that Hamas now has to make. We want a partner for peace. But you cannot be a partner for peace if you advocate the destruction of Israel and if you engage in terrorism. So there is a choice facing Hamas right now and we'll see what they do.
Q And on oil company royalties? Is this a done deal? Does the White House support a plan to allow --
MR. McCLELLAN: Is what a done deal?
Q There's a report that the oil companies plan to drill in federal lands --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's kind of differentiate here what we are talking about. First of all, the President has made very clear what his view is. Oil companies should not be receiving incentives when the price of oil is where it is. The President has spoken out very clearly about that for some time. When the price of oil is as high as it is, he doesn't think we need to be providing additional incentives to oil companies.
Secondly, we --when we came into office, we limited and imposed triggers at the beginning of the administration to cut off relief once oil and gas prices reached a certain point. Secretary Norton and the Department of Interior undertook that initiative.
And finally, the article that you're bringing up is really focusing on royalty relief that was started back in 1996 under the Clinton administration. Now, the President opposed additional incentives for oil companies with the price of oil where it is. The President is focused on making sure that we are expanding alternative sources of energy from renewables like hydrogen and nuclear power. And the President has worked with Congress to pass a comprehensive energy plan for America. He recently announced in his State of the Union a new initiative, the Advanced Energy Initiative, that will help change the way we power our cars and we heat our homes and our businesses. And that's where the President's focus is, so that we can end our dependence on Middle East oil.
Go ahead, Paula.
Q On the tax reconciliation bill, the administration has said it supports both a temporary AMT patch, as well as extending capital gains and dividend cuts. If you can't do both within the tax reconciliation bill, would you support having the AMT patch handled in a separate bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to continue working with Congress on these issues. Congress is moving forward on this. We've made very clear that it's important to make the tax cuts permanent, because that will keep our economy strong and keep it growing. Tax relief has allowed American families and workers to have more money to save, invest and spend. And it has helped create a strong foundation for growth. We've seen nearly 4.8 million jobs created since the summer of 2003, and the unemployment rate is now down to 4.7 percent, below the averages of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. And we're going to continue working with Congress on these issues to meet the objectives that were outlined in our budget.
Q -- I wondered if the administration is considering revisiting the proposal to eliminate the program that provides defibrilators to rural areas and train personnel how to use them.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me mention a couple of things, because I think you have to take a look at the whole budget when you're looking at issues, in terms of the funding that's being provided and the priorities that are outlined in that budget.
First of all, overall health care spending at HHS has gone up in the President's budget, both in discretionary and the mandatory side. Discretionary spending goes from $68 billion to more than $70 billion. And mandatory goes from $571 billion to $627 billion. So the President's proposal continues -- budget continues to invest and support health programs.
And in terms of rural health care, the issue you bring up, the budget maintains strong support for health care in rural areas. Medicare, through a program it has, provides payments that improve the profitability of many rural hospitals and ensure that beneficiaries can continue to find a provider of Medicare wherever and whenever they need care. The budget also proposes $2 billion, a $181-million increase, for community health centers. This is something the President will touch on tomorrow. Community health centers have been expanding under this President. We want to continue to expand community health centers so that rural Americans are getting the kind of care that they need. And there are a number of other initiatives that we're pursuing, as well, under that.
Q Al Gore made several provocative statements before a Saudi audience. Does the White House have a position on anything he said?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we'll leave the political comments to the RNC to respond to. I think the Democrats need to first come up with what their ideas are before they start getting into attacking others.
Q On Iran and its confirmation today that it's restarting its enrichment program -- what's the administration's position? I guess the Iranians are saying, look, this isn't about our atomic energy program, it's about our independence, and the United States is invested in Iran not being an independent actor on the world stage. I'm just wondering what the position is and what your thoughts are --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's not a problem with the United States, it's a problem with the international community that they have, and it's an issue of trust. The regime in Iran has shown that it cannot be trusted. For two decades it hid its activities from the international community. It did not follow its safeguard obligations. And the International Atomic Energy Agency board spelled out very clearly what Iran needs to do. It also referred the matter the United Nations Security Council.
Now, Iran has an opportunity to respond to what was passed by the Board of Governors. It spelled out that the regime needs to return to the Paris agreement, suspending all enrichment and enrichment-related activities. It needs to cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency and it needs to return to negotiations in good faith with the Europeans. And that's what our position is. It was the position of a vast majority of the Board of Governors at the International Atomic Energy Agency. I think there are conflicting statements that keep coming out of the regime in Iran. This is not a time to play games with the international community. This is a time to cooperate and work in good faith with the international community.
So far, I think what we're seeing is a regime that is more determined to defy and confront the international community than it is to work with us so that they can realize the benefits of peaceful nuclear energy. There is a proposal on the table by the Russians, and that offer remains on the table. We have supported that proposal. And it's not about the right to nuclear energy, it's a matter of trust -- and Iran has to show the world that they can be trusted, the regime in Iran. And the way they build better confidence with the world is to move forward on what the Board passed in the meeting in Vienna recently.
Q And the fact that they're now resuming its enrichment program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, I think there's -- that's one official from the regime said that; another official said they weren't. But it spells out very clearly what they need to do. If they continue in that direction, the regime would only further isolate Iran from the rest of the international community, and undermine the aspirations of the Iranian people. We support the right of the Iranian people to chart their own future and to win their freedom. We stand with them. We have great respect for the Iranian people. This is about a regime that seems more interested in defying and confronting the international community than being a part of it.
Q By your own account yesterday, information flowing from Texas to Washington on Saturday evening and Sunday morning took a while, you said, to get all of the information of what transpired in Texas. When the Vice President goes on these private trips, does he have inadequate staff and support with him to communicate quickly in case of an emergency?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are communications with the Vice President and with the President, and they stay in touch through a variety of means. This was a weekend hunting trip. There wasn't a press entourage with him, there wasn't a broader staff with him that he might normally have.
Q You said you found out, like 6:00 a.m. the next morning. Are you suggesting that he had plenty of ability to contact Washington and didn't use it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm suggesting that it's time to focus on the priorities of the American people, and that's what we're going to do. You're welcome to continue focusing on that.
Thank you. Go see the Longhorns.
END 12:45 P.M. EST