For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 18, 2006
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. The President looks forward to going to Parkland Magnet School in Rockville, Maryland, here. He'll be leaving momentarily. This is a school that offers students a strong curriculum in math and science classes. It is a school that is setting a strong example for others to follow. Students there are learning skills that they can use to become engineers, researchers and scientists.
We have a strong and growing economy, more than 5.1 million new jobs created in the last two-and-a-half years, an unemployment rate that is down to 4.7 percent, productivity is high -- and productivity is a measure of our competitiveness. It leads to -- high productivity leads to higher incomes and better standards of living. The President wants to make sure that America remains the most competitive and innovative economy in the world, and that is why he will be talking about his American Competitiveness Initiative today, as well as tomorrow. We need to make sure with have an educated workforce with the skills needed to fill the high-paying, high-growth jobs of the 21st century.
The American Competitiveness Initiative is an initiative that has good bipartisan support. The President has met with a number of congressional leaders of both parties to talk about how we can move forward on getting this done. This is an important priority that the President believes we can work together on to get something done for the American people. And he looks forward to talking about that here shortly.
And with that, I'm glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, in filling the jobs in his administration, the President is turning to pretty familiar faces, people who are already in the administration, well-known. Does he think that this satisfies the demand for revitalizing and reenergizing the administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, today was two announcements. It was to fill one vacancy that was created when Josh took over as Chief of Staff, and then it was to fill the vacancy created when he named Ambassador Portman to become the new Director of the Office of Management and Budget. So I would encourage you not to read more into it than what it is. These are the two announcements that were made today. The President, throughout his administration, has looked to the most experienced people he can find to fill key positions. The President believes in putting the best people in the positions in his administration. He's had a great team that has worked very closely with him to advance a positive agenda for the American people, and we want to continue to build upon our record of accomplishment.
Q Well, you talked yesterday about the revitalization and reenergizing the administration. Is this part of that effort?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure -- well, is this part of that effort, today's announcement?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when you have a new Chief of Staff coming on, the Chief of Staff, as I talked about yesterday, in the senior staff meeting talked about this is a time to refresh ourselves and reenergize the team. And so the President has given him the authority to do what he needs to do when it comes to looking at the White House structure and looking at personnel and looking at all our Cabinet departments and so forth.
Q So should we think that he's just going to look within a pretty tight circle for --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think you're making that comment. I'm not suggesting that --
Q No, I'm asking the question --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not suggesting that at all. We'll keep you posted as we move forward, but I don't have anything else to announce today, if that's what you're getting at.
Q The President talked a little bit about gas prices this morning. I think Exxon had profits of $36 billion last year. The President talked about price gouging. Does he think that the oil companies have engaged in price gouging, and are you looking at that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what he said was that the government has a responsibility to make sure that we are watching carefully and that we investigate any possible price gouging that could be going on.
I think after the hurricanes last year, there was concern that maybe there was some price gouging. And the Department of Energy worked with states, and I think there were a few bad actors that they found, but most people they found were acting responsibly when it came to gas prices and addressing the problems caused by the damage of the hurricanes.
But the President is concerned about the impact high gas prices have on families and workers and small businesses. And that's what he was talking about today. It is like another tax on families, and it is a drag on our strong economy. And so the President has outlined an initiative to break our addiction to oil. We have to address the root causes of high energy prices. And to do that, we have to wean ourselves off foreign crude. And the President has talked about that repeatedly. That's why he's laid out a plan to transform the way we power our cars and our trucks and our homes and our businesses, and to look to alternative sources of energy and develop new technologies to address these issues going forward.
There's some steps that people can take in the short-term to address these issues, but the President is concerned about this issue and we urge -- rising prices at the pump should create even greater urgency within the Congress to act on the plan that the President outlined in his State of the Union address.
Q As a short-term measure, are you urging OPEC nations -- oil-producing nations to increase output, or do anything to relieve the short-term --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President talked about how we have a tight supply problem, because demand is up in countries like China and India. There's increase in demand. So the President talked about that in his remarks earlier today. And that's why he outlined kind of the three reasons why we have high gas prices, and the need to act to address these issues. And you have to go and address the root causes. This is not something we got into overnight; this has been an issue and problem that has been building for years. And it's because of our dependence on foreign crude. We need to break that dependence and become more energy self-sufficient. And the President has outlined a very bold initiative to really transform the way we power our cars and our businesses and homes.
Q Scott, before my question, just a quick follow here. The President seemed to be very clear to stay very far away from the word "rationing." Are you concerned that that's where --
MR. McCLELLAN: Your colleague was trying to jump into that. The President was talking about the steps we are taking. We passed a comprehensive energy plan last year. There's more that we need to do. That's why the President outlined an energy initiative that would look at new technology -- developing new technologies and expanding research into new technologies, so that we can look at alternative sources of energy.
Q How concerned are you about rationing as an eventuality?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President talked about what his views were in the Rose Garden. What's your next question?
Q Getting back to staff changes. I thought the President spoke most forcefully today about somebody who appears not to be going anywhere, which was Secretary Rumsfeld. Can you just sort of explain to me -- the President's tone, I think, was a strong one, about his strong feelings about Secretary Rumsfeld. Why did he feel the need today to address that so strongly and so specifically?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he addressed it the other day, and it's an issue that's been getting much attention. And that's why the President made it very clear where he stood. He reiterated his strong and full support for Secretary Rumsfeld.
Q Do you think if Secretary Rumsfeld left the job it would invite more criticism because if the chief architect, or one of the chief architects, of the war plan goes, the obvious school of thought is that there must have been some -- it must have been a faulty plan?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's quite a hypothetical question, given the comments that have been made over the last few days, both by the President and Secretary Rumsfeld and generals who have worked closely with Secretary Rumsfeld and fully support his leadership.
Q Is that why the President has to be so strong in his defense of him?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President wanted to reiterate, when he was asked a question, his full support for Secretary Rumsfeld. The question was specifically asked about the Cabinet.
Kelly, go ahead.
Q Going back to the gas prices briefly. The President brought up gas prices sort of unprompted today. And looking at that in sort of the political context, do you think the President is in any way hurt by perceptions the American public has about the consequences at the pump for them? You talked about it as a drag on the economy. Very often you try to tout the favorable things in the economy. Has that hurt the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, this is an issue we've been talking about for some time, and we've been acting on. As a reminder, we passed a comprehensive energy plan just last August. That was a significant step by Congress. It was something the President had called on Congress to act on for -- since the beginning of his administration. And there's more that we need to do to build upon that. The President is concerned about high gas prices. This is not something that is new. This is something he's been talking about for some time. And there's more that we need to act on.
That's why the President proposed some new initiatives in his State of the Union address. This is a plan that will help break our addiction to oil, as the President has talked about. And we need -- and Congress needs to continue to move forward and address these issues. We have a very strong economy, but there are concerns that the President shares with the American people -- that is, the rapidly rising health care costs and rising prices at the pump. And that's why the President is working to address those priorities and calling on Congress to act. And I think that's what we'll continue to emphasize to the American people. And the American people can see that we are proactively addressing this issue and working to get something done.
Q Would he encourage any more conservation this summer?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yes, in fact, there's conservation in our energy plan. I know it's something that didn't necessarily get all the attention. But we need to -- we need to continue to diversify away from foreign oil. The President talked about that in his remarks. We need to continue to expand conservation. There are a number of important initiatives in the energy plan that was passed. And you bet we'll talk about the importance of conservation.
Q Scott, back to Rumsfeld again. This morning, the President, for the second time in four days, had to express his support for the Defense Secretary. And he said that -- he expressed some frustration that he had to mention it last week and that all of the speculation essentially raises questions about people's reputations. He said, people's reputations are at stake here. So does the President, does the administration feel as though this sort of drip, drip of criticism that's come from retired generals weakens Donald Rumsfeld efficacy --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there are a number of retired generals who have said otherwise from which -- the sources that you are citing. And there are a lot of people that work very closely with Secretary Rumsfeld that have spoken out, like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Pace.
Q I understand, but this is the question: When the President references specifically that people's reputations are at stake, in the context of the Defense Secretary's necessity as both a military-civilian commander, as well as a politician in the Bush administration and this city, is he -- by the sheer quantity of the criticism -- subject to having his position weakened?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has made it very clear that he has his full support and deepest appreciation. The President has assigned Secretary Rumsfeld some difficult tasks. The President talked about that. And when you are a military that is going through a transformation so that you're better prepared to meet the threats of the 21st century, and engaged in an ongoing global war on terrorism, that tends to generate a lot of discussion and a lot of debate. I talked about that last week. The President referenced some of that in his remarks on Friday, when we put out the statement expressing his full support for Secretary Rumsfeld. So I think you have to look at it in those contexts.
And you talk about the quantity, again, there are a number of generals that work with him today and that have worked with him previously and that are now retired that fully support his leadership, and they have said so.
Q When the retired generals -- it's not common that there has been this level of outspoken criticism from retired officials in the military in the past. Does this Commander-in-Chief see that as, at a time of war, as being debilitating to his efficacy?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll leave it to other experts to talk about that, people that have been involved in the military.
Q Scott, on Thursday the President of China will be here at the White House to meet with President Bush. Last year, I remember when -- met with the President in the Oval Office, with folded hands, requesting him, pleading him to help and let his people free from the -- China. And now Taiwan -- and millions of others in China. Now, in the past, U.S. has helped to free and liberate millions of people from dictators and also from -- Where do we stand as far as liberty and freedom in China is concerned? Is the President going to have what he did in other countries?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we had a briefing for you all yesterday in this room, and our briefers talked about the importance of religious freedom. This is an issue that the President has talked about with President Hu; it's an issue that he will continue to talk with President Hu about when he comes here later this week.
Q The President -- one more time on Rumsfeld, but a different look at it -- basically, the President said he had to deal with the speculation, wanted to tamp down the speculation about Secretary Rumsfeld, defend his reputation, as you noted. But Secretary Snow has faced similar speculation. What about his reputation? Why does the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President said he has strong he has strong confidence in his Cabinet, in each member of his Cabinet.
Q So does that mean that he then has the same feelings for Secretary Snow as he does for Secretary Rumsfeld --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've expressed on behalf of the President his deep appreciation for the job that Secretary Snow is doing.
Q Scott, I have a two-part. Israel's government-run Army Radio has reported that the Jewish state will propose to the Bush administration that the U.S. release Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in exchange for Israel releasing terrorist Marwan Barghouti founder of the al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. And my question: Is the President considering striking such a prisoner exchange deal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think we've spoken to that issue before and there's nothing that's changed in our view.
Q The Weekly Standard's editor, William Kristol, recalls that the President has said, "Iran's development of a nuclear development is unacceptable; Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world." And my question: This means that if Iran proceeds to the point of being on the immediate threshold of a nuclear weapon, we will launch a nuclear attack, rather than allow Iranian ICBMs to devastate Tel Aviv, New York and Washington, doesn't it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, we're pursuing a diplomatic solution by working with the international community. This is a threat that the international community recognizes needs to be addressed. That's why we are working at the Security Council, that's why we're working with Germany and other friends and allies, to send a clear and united message to the regime that we will not allow it to develop nuclear weapons capabilities, or a -- nuclear weapons.
Q How will we not allow it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Our Under Secretary of State, Nicholas Burns, has been in Moscow, continuing to have meetings with his counterparts of a number of countries that I have touched on. And those discussions continue. We are making it very clear that there needs to be meaningful steps taken at the Security Council to address the threat posed by the regime's continued defiance. This is a regime that continues to isolate itself and its people from the rest of the world by its defiant actions and its defiant statements. And it's time for the Security Council --
Q How will we not allow it?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to act and take additional steps on the diplomatic front.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Scott, at what point, if at all, would the President or Secretary Rumsfeld say, look, these generals are honorable men, they served, they fought, let's sit down with them and talk about what their concerns are -- rather than sending a whole bunch of other generals out with talking points --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think people, as he said, people are very well-aware of their views and they have the right to express their opinions. There are others that have a different view.
Q What about engaging with them?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that their views have been expressed.
Go ahead, John.
Q Thank you, Scott. I've noticed in the bulletins that you send out on personnel that there's been an unusually large number of people who are withdrawing their nominations previously sent up for confirmation -- Judge Saad of Michigan, who we discussed; David Sanborn to head the Federal Maritime Administration; Mike Duncan to be on the Legal Services Corporation. Is this a trend that we should look for in personnel in the coming weeks?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are thousands and thousands of nominations that are made. I'm not sure I agree with your assessment that it's a large number.
Q But it's a number to be noticed, certainly.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you mentioned three people, so I'm not sure that that's a large number in the overall scheme of the announcements we have made.
Q And the other thing is just on -- and I know you don't comment on personnel, but can you say why Mr. Sanborn requested that his nomination not be sent?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we said something at the time. I'd have to go back and look. That was recently, but I just don't recall off the top of my head. I'd have to go back and check.
Ken, go ahead.
Q Speaking of withdrawals, in December of '03, Susan Schwab's nomination to be Deputy Treasury Secretary was withdrawn amid concerns about her tax filings. Has that issue been revisited in advance of today's announcement?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's an issue that was resolved. In fact, she was later confirmed by the Senate to the post of Deputy U.S. Trade Representative.
Q Scott, you talk about the views of these retired generals being well-known, and yet it seemed like the President immediately discounted those views by coming out with his statement, even though these are commanders on the ground. And every time we bring up those retired generals and the views they had about Secretary Rumsfeld, you talk about the generals who didn't have those views. Does the President just simply discount these views? It appeared he did.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, in fact, I think he expressed otherwise in his comments. I don't know how you're drawing that conclusion.
Q Because he immediately came out and said he supported Donald Rumsfeld, even though these generals had questions about Donald Rumsfeld and, in fact, had called for his --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but I think I would go back and look at what he said in the Rose Garden a short time ago because I did not read anything into that that you are.
Q And you can't read into the fact that on Friday, immediately he came out, after there were six generals who came forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: He felt it was important to make a strong statement reiterating his full support for the Secretary of Defense. And that's why he issued the statement.
Q But he had no interest, as Victoria said --
MR. McCLELLAN: And the President called the Secretary of Defense that morning, around 10:00 a.m., to let him know.
Q And you don't think that's immediately saying, you guys are wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're drawing too broad of an interpretation from the comments that he made, and I think that the comments he made actually said otherwise. He said, people are expressing their views, he hears those views, he listens to those views, but he made very clear --
Q -- an immediate statement saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- but he made very clear where he stood. Well, he thought it was important to do so, Martha, for the reasons that we stated in that statement, as well as the ones that I mentioned prior to that statement going out last week.
Q I guess -- how are we to look at that and say that he's not listening to the advice he wants to hear, or the people, the voices he wants to hear that back up his position, and not commanders on the ground who seem to have a different one?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there you go, over-interpreting things and drawing the wrong conclusions from what he has said. That's not at all what he was saying.
All right, thank you.
END 1:11 P.M. EDT