For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 1, 2006
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:18 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right. Good afternoon, everybody. Let me begin with a couple of comments on some more economic news that came out today. Personal income and personal consumption is up, according to today's latest releases. Our economy is strong and continuing to really surge ahead. Coupled with the 4.8 percent growth we saw in the first quarter, we are seeing that our economy continues to move forward and grow strongly.
We're growing faster than any industrialized nation in the world. We've seen 18 straight months -- or straight quarters of growth, more than 5.1 million new jobs created since August of 2003, an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent. Real disposable income is up; productivity is high. More people are owning their home than ever before.
But the President today will be talking about one specific area we need to act on to keep our economy strong and keep it competitive, and he'll be outlining his comprehensive strategy to make health care more affordable and available for all Americans. The President believes we need to build a health care system that provides Americans with good, quality care at affordable prices.
Rising health care costs are a drag on the economy and a burden for many families. Many Americans worry about being able to afford the medical care that they need. And today the President will talk about how there is really a clear choice about how to make a health care system work for all Americans. And that choice is between two philosophies -- one that trusts government to make the best decisions about your health care system; or one that trusts you and your doctor to make those decisions. And the President will specifically outline his five key policies for making health care more affordable and available for all Americans. He will be speaking here shortly to the American Hospital Association.
And that is all I have to begin with. So I'll be delighted to go to your questions at this point.
Q Scott, three years ago, the President said that major combat was over. At this point, how far does the administration think they are, or how close do they think they are to victory, what you would call victory in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, we're making real progress on our plan for victory. The President has outlined a clear plan for achieving victory in Iraq, and we should do everything we can to support our troops while they move forward on that plan for victory.
We have seen in just the last couple of weeks the formation of a new unity government that represents all Iraqis and all of Iraq's communities. That is an important development and really helps to lay the foundation for progress going forward. And we must continue to support that new government and the Iraqi people as they move forward.
So we've seen real progress made over the last year, two years, and even three years, from where we were to where we are today. And the Iraqi people have shown time and time again that they want to chart their own future. We've seen them go to the polls three times; each time the number of Iraqis participating has increased. Most recently, nearly 12 million Iraqis went to the polls to elect a constitutional government, and now that government is in place. The new leaders are working to put in place a competent and good set of ministers to oversee the day-to-day operations of that government. And we must continue to stand with them.
This is a real turning point for the Iraqi people and it begins, as the President said earlier today, a new chapter in our involvement in Iraq. And we'll continue to adjust and adapt our tactics as we move forward, working with that new Iraqi government.
Q Can you characterize, though, sort of where you are in terms of achieving victory -- near, far, halfway? I mean, just to get some idea of where --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that our leaders -- our military leaders have talked about it; the President has talked about it. We are on the path to victory. We are winning in Iraq. But there is more work to do. There are difficult days that lie ahead. We have seen over the course of the past 60 days or so that there were some tough days in the aftermath of the bombing of the Golden Mosque. But then we saw Iraqi leaders come together and form a national unity government that represents all Iraqis.
And that's an important development. And that's a development that we should all pay attention to and we should all, in the international community, do everything we can to support the Iraqi leaders and the Iraqi people as they move forward. They are showing that they want to chart their own future.
Q Scott, let me ask you a question about gas prices. Consumption doesn't really appear to have fallen off, despite the high prices. The President has outlined how this is only going to get worse. Does the President think it's time for consumers in this country to consume less gas, particularly over the summer months? Would he like to see that happen? Does he call on Americans to do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's one way to address high gas prices in the short run. There are a number of steps --
Q I understand, but does he think that Americans should consume less gas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Department of Energy has put out a number of steps that consumers can take to address this issue. But people will make their own choices about how much gas they consume. What we need to do, though, is address the root cause of high gas prices. And that's what this President has done with an initiative that will really wean us off our dependence on foreign sources of oil.
Q Well, he's got the bully pulpit -- and you've talked about that -- but he's got the bully pulpit, doesn't he, to stand up, and say, look, we've got a real problem here; let's all come together and not use so much gas this year. Will he push for actual conservation, or does he think that's the wrong approach?
MR. McCLELLAN: We will continue to talk about the importance of conservation. We've done that throughout this administration. In fact, the energy plan that we passed last year included some important conservation measures in it. It was a comprehensive strategy, but there's more that we need to do. And that's why the President outlined a plan that will go to the root cause of high energy prices. It will make us less dependent on oil. We're addicted to oil. And the President wants to move to a society that is less dependent on hydrocarbons. And he's talked about that in his plan. And that's what we need to develop new technologies.
Q Does pushing for conservation infringe on Americans' way of life? Is that his view?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, people will make their own decisions when it comes to those issues. But we want to provide them with the ability to make those choices for themselves. And that's why we've outlined a number of ways, in the short run, that Americans can help take steps to relieve the pressure at the pump.
Go ahead, John.
Q Thank you, Scott.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hold on, let me go to Toby, she had something.
Q I wanted to find out whether President Putin gave President Bush any assurances on how to move forward on Iran in their conversation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that would be for Russia to talk about. It's up to President Putin to talk about their views. But we are united in our determination to work together to prevent the regime in Iran from developing a nuclear weapon or a nuclear weapon capability.
Q Did President Bush specifically ask for anything from President Putin?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they talked about the importance of continuing to work together. I think that in terms of the details, let me update you in terms of where we are. Our Under Secretary, Nick Burns, is on his way to Paris. There will be a meeting in Paris tomorrow between the Permanent 5 members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany to continue to have discussions about how do we move forward to meet our shared goal of preventing the regime from developing a nuclear weapons capability or the know how or a nuclear weapon.
And I think that you've seen that the international community is united in that goal. That's an important goal. And so we will all continue to work together. Those are discussions to talk about how we move forward and to continue strategizing about how we address this issue at the Security Council. And there will be additional discussions, I think, next week in New York between those same entities, high-level members of those entities as well.
Q Moscow is saying that the call was initiated by President Bush.
MR. McCLELLAN: It was. I said that earlier today.
Q So, you know --
MR. McCLELLAN: This is an important shared -- this is an important shared priority, and we are reaching out to all our friends and partners and allies in this effort to address it.
Q That seems to suggest, though, that President Bush had something specific on his agenda --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President did want to talk about Iran. They also talked about some other matters. But the President did want to talk about the important priority of making sure that we continue to work together to prevent that regime from developing nuclear weapons, or even having the know how to develop nuclear weapons.
Now, we have talked about how we are looking to press ahead on a Chapter 7 Resolution at the United Nations Security Council. And that's what we're in discussions with other members of the Security Council about, as well as Germany. The President is going to be meeting with Chancellor Merkel later this week, and they will, I'm sure, have a good discussion about this priority, as well.
John, I'm sorry, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Scott. A follow-up question -- this week, our publication features an interview with Reza Pahlavi, the young Shah of Iran, the heir to the late Shah, who suggests that any talk of an attack or a bombing raid on Iran is counterproductive, that the way to bring down the current regime would be to support a general strike, not unlike that that's being held in Nepal. Are these options that are ever discussed, and is the administration in regular touch with responsible opposition leaders from Iran, such as Reza Pahlavi?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our policy is to stand with the people of Iran as they seek greater freedom, and that's what we will continue to do. That policy has not changed. And we continue to support the people of Iran in a number of different ways.
Q So are you in touch with opposition leaders?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Secretary Rice outlined some of the funding that we are providing to groups and organizations that support greater freedom for the Iranian people. I'll leave it there. I don't have anything to add to what she has already outlined.
Q Scott, Senator Biden has got an op/ed out and he's going to make some remarks in Philadelphia in a short time from now, advocating the possible partitionment of Iraq -- Sunni, Shia and Kurd. What is the administration's view of that suggestion now in terms of how it impacts the process, and in general?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. First of all, it's a question that really ought to be directed to the Iraqi leaders. They are the ones to make the decisions about the future of Iraq. The United States remains firmly committed to the vision for the future of Iraq that was outlined in the United Nations Security Council resolution 1546, which called for a federal, democratic, pluralist and unified Iraq in which there is full respect for political and human rights. And the constitution that the Iraqi people adopted gives Iraqis the flexibility to work out how to divide authority between the central government, provincial governments, and regional governments. The newly established unity government will give Iraqis an opportunity to really address those issues in a way that is acceptable to all of Iraq's communities.
We will continue to work with them as they move forward on that, but a partitioned government with regional security forces and a weak central government is something that no Iraqi leader has proposed, and that the Iraqi people have not supported.
Q But does the White House believe it would be counterproductive?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't think we should short-circuit the democratic process. Iraq, for the first time in history, has elected leaders from all parts of the country, representing all of Iraq's communities coming together to chart a common path forward. They're negotiating, they're compromising. They will set in place the foundation for progress and peace going forward. And we shouldn't short-circuit that democratic process.
Goyal, then Ed.
Q Scott, before my question, I just want to say that Saturday night WHCA dinner was the great and funniest one I have seen in my many, many years of attending this dinner.
MR. McCLELLAN: Glad you enjoyed it.
Q But also WHCA must treat its members fairly and in a better way. My question is that according to the --
MR. McCLELLAN: You can take it up with outgoing president or the incoming president. (Laughter.)
Q According to the --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's okay, Mark, I'm outgoing, too. So pass it on to the next guy, right? (Laughter.)
Q But he did a wonderful job, as far as this function was concerned. Mark Smith did a wonderful job.
MR. McCLELLAN: I agree.
Q My question is that according to The Washington Post, the Iranian President said that no one can stop our nuclear weapons program, no one. And today's Washington Time is saying that Iran is much closer than ever before as far as getting to the nuclear weapons program. So where do we stand --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what you're referring to is comment --
Q Ambassador Bolton also spoke at the U.N. --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what you're referring to is comments from the regime that they have the right to civilian nuclear power. No one has said that they don't. In fact, there has been a way provided to the regime and the Iraqi [sic] people to realize peaceful nuclear energy that also restores the confidence of the international community and that they are not developing nuclear weapons under the cover of that program. Russia has provided a proposal.
But this is a regime that has not come clean, a regime that refuses to abide by its international obligations. It's not an issue of whether or not they have the right to civilian nuclear power. It's an issue of trust. Can they be trusted? For two decades, they hid their activities from the international community. And their latest steps that they have taken only further increase the concern of the international community that they are developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program.
That's why the international community has come together in united way to say that they should not have the ability to develop nuclear weapons. And so we're working together to address that issue, which is now before the Security Council, and we'll continue working with other friends and allies, as well. This is a threat that all of us must deal with. It is a real threat to the region and to the international community.
Q Do you think sanctions will work, because it has not worked --
MR. McCLELLAN: The first step -- this is a step-by-step process, and the step that we are in now is to look at a Chapter 7 Resolution. And then we can discuss steps after we move forward on that resolution.
As the President said the other day, so far, the Security Council, all you have is a presidential statement urging them -- the regime, that is, -- to come into compliance with their international obligations and to abide by the agreement they made to suspend all their enrichment and uranium reprocessing activities. And this is a regime that continues to further isolate itself from the world by moving in the opposite direction of what the demands of the international community are. And I think it's important for the Security Council to have credibility for it to mean what it says, and if it's going to mean what it says, then it needs to address Iran's continued defiance.
Q Scott, when asked earlier this morning about Secretary Bodman's comments on high gas prices, you said that high gas prices are a crisis for families trying to make ends meet. But that's not exactly what he was saying. He was issuing a broader sense of the current energy situation in the country, and the suggestion that there's a "energy crisis in America" is something that can alarm people across the country. Can you clarify exactly, does the President agree with his Energy Secretary that there is an energy crisis?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it is, for families that are trying to live within a budget and facing higher gas prices. The problem is that this is an issue that has been building for decades. This is a problem that we didn't get into overnight, and we're not going to get out of overnight. We are dependent on foreign oil, and that's why the President has outlined policies to wean us off our dependence on oil. But for many families trying to live within a budget and make ends meet, it is a crisis. And I think that's the way I would describe it.
Thankfully though, as I mentioned at the beginning of this briefing, thankfully our economy is strong and is continuing to really surge ahead. We have seen that our economy has shown remarkable resilience in the face of high gas prices. But we must continue to address the real problem, which is supply and demand. We need to continue to work to increase supply and reduce demand. And that's what the President is doing through the initiative that he outlined to address this root cause of high gas prices.
Q I'm just confused about one point. If in fact there's a crisis, isn't it for the whole country? Are you suggesting that rich people don't -- it's not a crisis for them, so they don't have to conserve, or they don't have to -- why is there a difference -- it's only a crisis for families living on a budget?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, because of the reasons that I stated. We have a very strong economy, and an economy that is continuing to grow. We saw, in the first quarter of this year, 4.8 percent growth. That is a remarkable statistic. That shows that our economy is really surging ahead. But we must continue to look at some of those indicators that can really be a drag on our economy, and that's what we're doing by addressing rising gas prices, by addressing rapidly rising health care costs.
The President has a plan to solve these problems, and when he came into office, he said, I'm going to work to solve the problems facing this country, and these are two important problems that are a burden on working families and the American people. And that's why the President outlined a plan to break us of this vicious cycle that comes around year after year. And it's because for decades we have become more dependent on foreign sources of oil. So you really have to look at the root cause.
Now there are short-term measures that the President has taken that will help relieve some of the pressure at the pump. But if we're going to solve this problem, you have to address the root cause of it.
Q Thank you. I have two questions, please. The President and the House seem to be far apart when it comes to immigration reform. Why doesn't the President use the power of his office to try and get an immigration bill acceptable to him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, well, we are. In fact, just last week the President met with a bipartisan group of senators to urge them to move ahead on comprehensive reform. There is great substantive agreement within the Senate among bipartisan members when it comes to comprehensive reform. Now, we all share the view that we need to continue to strengthen our borders, and we need to continue to enforce our laws when it comes to interior enforcement. The President believes that if we're going to fix this system, then we've got to address it in a comprehensive way. And that means having a temporary guest worker program which will help relieve pressure off the border, as the President has talked about repeatedly.
This is a difficult and emotional issue. And the President has called on all of us to really elevate the tone and elevate debate and conduct it in a civil way. We are a society that has been welcoming of immigrants. We are also a nation of laws. And we need to keep that in mind as we move forward on this important debate.
But the President thinks we have a real opportunity to move ahead on comprehensive reform. The House has already passed legislation; now it's before the Senate. And he continues to urge Senate leaders to work together to resolve their procedural differences and get comprehensive reform passed so that we can get into conference committee and the President can work with congressional leaders to iron out some of those details, so that we can pass a comprehensive piece of legislation.
Q I have one more question.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, go ahead.
Q The President says our National Anthem should be sung in English. But Condi Rice says it doesn't matter what language is used. Is there a major disagreement --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's what she said yesterday. I'd go back and look at the transcript. But the President did say he believes that the National Anthem ought to be sung in English. He was very clear about that the other day. The President believes if you're an immigrant coming to this country, that you ought to learn English, you ought to learn English in order to be able to read and write.
As governor, you might recall that the President had always advocated an English-plus approach. That approach means that you learn English in order to read and write, but we should also recognize people's heritage, and if there are bilingual programs in place that are helping people to learn English, then we ought to welcome that. He focused on results when he was governor of Texas. That philosophy hasn't changed. But he does believe very strongly that the National Anthem of our country ought to be sung in English.
Q She did say something else, though. I mean --
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think she specifically talked about the National Anthem, is what I was referring to.
Q Would anybody who wanted to be Americans -- expressing themselves as wanting to be Americans is a good thing.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. That's not talking about the National Anthem.
Q Well, I think it is.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've had your opportunity to ask your questions. Now I'm going to April.
Q I just thought I'd help -- you might answer it.
Q Thank you very much.
Q On the issue of oil and Iraq, what is the progress on the flow and the sale of oil out of Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: What is the progress?
Q Yes, what is the progress on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we can get you those statistics. We provide regular updates to members of Congress and there are weekly reports that are released, as well, I think by the Department of Defense and Department of State, and quarterly reports. So we can get you that information. I didn't bring those statistics out with me.
Q Okay, well, let me ask you this on another issue. Since you're saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the last statistics I saw was that it was coming back up to where it was pre-war.
Q Okay, well, if that is the case, indeed. If you're saying supply and demand -- what is this government doing as it relates to the Iraqi government to help break this crisis, this $3.00-plus in this country for the Americans?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's oil there for the Iraqi people. That's their revenues and it's their oil. I think we've made that very clear. But what we're doing to address the situation is to move forward on a comprehensive strategy for reducing our dependence on foreign sources of oil. That's the root cause problem. It's not that we want to increase our dependence on foreign oil, we want to decrease it. So I think that's the context in which you have to look at it. That's the way the President is approaching it.
Q But if, indeed, oil is flowing at pre-war standards again --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's not quite there. It's a little bit below that, but it's coming back up.
Q Okay, but if it's a little below there, doesn't it make sense that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it was around 2 million a day, pre-war, and maybe it's around 1.7 million or something now.
Q If that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to go check those statistics.
Q If that is the case, is there a chance that now the U.S. government and the Iraqi government can work together and formulate some kind of supply for the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has outlined his approach for addressing this issue in the short run, April. But what we're trying to do is wean us off our dependence on oil. That's what the President talked about, and that's why he outlined a plan to develop new technologies, such as plug-in hybrid cars, the use of ethanol to really transform the way we power our cars and trucks.
Q That's a long-term fix for your 12-step program.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but there is only so much you can do to help in the short run, and the President believes every little bit helps. That's why he outlined the approach that he did. But I think you're looking at it in the wrong context.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Yes, Scott. Some Americans are saying that the plan to give them $100 checks to help with the current oil hardship is more of an attempt to buy them off and a bit of an insult. What's the President's reaction to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think you should look at what the President has proposed. The President is concerned about high gas prices and the impact it is having on families across America. It's like an additional tax on families. And that's why the President outlined some short-term steps we can take to help address high gas prices. But this is a problem that we see recur year after year because we're dependent on foreign oil, and it's been building for decades. The President wants to break that cycle. And that means going to the root cause problem, and that's why he outlined both short-term solutions and then a long-term plan for breaking our addiction to oil.
Q But does he not support this Republican --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think -- there are a number of steps that we can take in the short run, and we'll continue to look at options that are out there. We appreciate -- we appreciate the congressional leadership for their actions that they are taking, and we'll continue to review and consider proposals as they come forward.
Mark, go ahead.
Q Could we go back to Iraq? In the last three years, should -- don't the American people -- shouldn't they be somewhat skeptical when they hear a word like, turning point? Hasn't -- haven't other things been portrayed as turning points?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's look at the facts, Mark. The facts are that more than 250,000 Iraqi security forces are now trained and equipped. They're taking more control of the battle space. There are more -- they're taking more and more of the lead in the fight. So that's an important measurement to look at the progress that's being made.
In terms of the political process, let's take a look at where things have gone from the last year. You've had three elections take place. Most recently, more than 12 million Iraqis showed up to vote for a democratically-elected government that is based on a constitution they approved. Now you have a unity government in place, a government that has the support of the Iraqi people. And that national unity government is moving forward to put a cabinet in place, and moving forward to advance the political process.
And so the democratic process is moving forward in Iraq. The security front is moving forward in Iraq. There are still difficulties that remain. There's still violence going on, but there is real progress being made in spite of that violence.
Q But is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and I think you have to look -- you also have to step back and look at what we're engaged in in Iraq. This is a central front in the war on terrorism. It is vital that we prevail in Iraq. And we are winning. But there is more work to do, and we must continue to support the Iraqi people as they build a democratic and peaceful future.
Q There's no danger that a phrase like that oversells the progress?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it reflects the reality on the ground, that this was an important milestone that has been achieved by the Iraqi people. And it's a significant development. It's a real hopeful moment for democracy in Iraq.
And democracy in Iraq will help really transform the broader Middle East, and that's what we're talking about here. We're talking about changing the status quo in a troubled region of the world. For too long, our foreign policy was based on achieving stability in the Middle East at the expense of democracy. Well, we didn't get stability. And this President made a determination that this is a comprehensive war we're engaged in, and that if we're going to win this war, we must also work to transform this troubled region of the world.
Go ahead, Les.
Q A two part. What was the President's reaction to the strongly Democrat vote of the California State Senate to support today's boycott of schools and stores, which they call "The Great American Boycott 2006"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President expressed his views last Friday in a news conference out in the Rose Garden. The President is not a fan of boycotts. People have the right to peacefully express their views, but the President wants to see comprehensive reform pass the Congress so that he can sign it into law. And he thinks we have a real opportunity to get it done, and that's where he's going to keep his focus.
Q Does the President agree with Israel's Ehud Olmert and his description of Iran's Ahmadinejad as "a psychopath of the worst kind, an anti-Semite who speaks today like Hitler?" And if he does not agree, why not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a leader of a regime that is moving in the wrong direction from the rest of the Middle East. We've been talking about the Middle East, and talking about Iraq. This is a regime that we have a lot of concerns with. And its President has made a number of outrageous and concerning statements, and we've expressed how that only further underscores our concern that we have about this regime having the know-how to develop nuclear weapons.
And that's why this issue is an important priority we're working to resolve diplomatically with our friends and partners in the international community.
Q So he agrees that this guy is a psychopath, right? Doesn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: He is a leader who has made some outrageous comments.
MR. McCLELLAN: And that should only serve to further underscore the concerns about this regime having nuclear weapons.
Q Thank you, Scott. When President Bush meeting with North Korean defectors and Japanese family members of abductees by North Korea last Friday, did the President have any commitments to them about the North Korea human rights?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President cares deeply about the plight of the people in North Korea. He believes that the international community all ought to be focusing attention on the great suffering that the people of North Korea are under with this regime in power. The President has been very passionate in speaking out about addressing this issue. It is a real concern that he has, and we would hope that more people in the international community would come together to draw attention to it.
The President had a very good discussion with the family members of a Japanese woman who was abducted by the regime. The President also met with three defectors from North Korea. And it was a very moving discussion. He was able to listen to what they had to say about the suffering in North Korea; the defectors talked about how people had been randomly killed by this regime for no reason at all, and how people were being starved to death by this regime. This is an important priority for the President. Human dignity has always been a priority for this President, and the President believes that all people ought to have the right to live in freedom, and that's an important principle that guides his views on these issues.
Q The war in Iraq has cost U.S. taxpayers hundreds of billions of dollars. What is wrong with asking Iraq to give the United States $200 billion or $300 billion in free oil to repay us for their liberation, and to help our prices?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, let's look at the way the President is approaching this, and the reason the President made the decision to go in and remove the regime from power.
This was a brutal regime that was a threat to the region and to the world, and that's why the President made the decision to go in there and remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. It goes to laying the foundation of peace for generations to come.
So I look at it in terms of the peace and security of the American people for generations. And that's the way the President is approaching it. I haven't looked at it in the way you're looking at it.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q Thank you, Scott. Two questions. In addition to what you said about boycotts, does the President think the demonstrations on Darfur and on immigration change any policies? Are the demonstrations a good idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: On Darfur? And immigration?
Q Both --
MR. McCLELLAN: Does it do what?
Q Do they change any policies? What does he think --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of Darfur, that has been a high priority for the President. In fact, Deputy Secretary Zoellick will be traveling to Abuja to hopefully help the parties move ahead on the peace process. That's what we've been urging. We've been urging the parties to come together and get a comprehensive peace agreement in place. That's the way to find a long-term solution to the deteriorating situation in Darfur.
The President met with a number of organizations that are advocates for the people in Darfur. They were people that were here to participate in some of the demonstrations that were taking place over the weekend. Our Assistant Secretary of State, Jendayi Frazer, spoke at the event, as well. So this is a high priority for the President. And he certainly hopes that by drawing attention to this issue, it helps to have a positive impact within the international community and on the peace process.
Now, in terms of immigration, the President has expressed his views on a boycott. I'm not sure what kind of impact it has on the discussion in Congress. But the President is focused on continuing to work with senators to get a comprehensive bill off the floor of the United States Senate and into conference committee. As I've mentioned, this is a complicated issue. This is an emotional issue. But we have a broken immigration system, and we have some 12 million undocumented people in this country. And the President believes if we're going to solve this problem and fix the system, then we need to address all aspects of it and come up with a rational way to approach it.
Q Scott, given the current situation in Iraq, what the President described today as "havoc" --
MR. McCLELLAN: As what?
Q Havoc, he used the word havoc today, could he, would he possibly stand under a sign that says "Mission Accomplished" today as he did three years ago?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Peter, I think that there are some Democrats that refuse to recognize the important milestone achieved by the formation of a national unity government. And there is an effort simply to distract attention away from the real progress that is being made by misrepresenting and distorting the past. And that really does nothing to help advance our goal of achieving victory in Iraq.
Q Scott, simple yes or no question, could the President stand under a sign that says --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, see, this is -- this is a way that --
Q It has nothing to do with Democrats.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure it does.
Q I'm asking you, based on a reporter's curiosity, could he stand under a sign again that says, "Mission Accomplished"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, Peter, Democrats have tried to raise this issue, and, like I said, misrepresenting and distorting the past --
Q This is not --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- which is what they're doing, does nothing to advance the goal of victory in Iraq.
Q I mean, it's a historical fact that we're all taking notice of --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the focus ought to be on achieving victory in Iraq and the progress that's being made, and that's where it is. And you know exactly the Democrats are trying to distort the past.
Q Let me ask it another way: Has the mission been accomplished?
MR. McCLELLAN: Next question.
Q Has the mission been accomplished?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're on the way to accomplishing the mission and achieving victory.
Q Scott, during the planning for the war in Iraq, did Secretary Powell express any reservations about the troop strength or strategy?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, on the --
Q During the planning for the war, did then-Secretary Powell express any concerns about the plans for troop strength?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Secretary Powell talked about the views that he expressed. The President, when he was making the decision, looked to his team to provide advice, and he welcomed all advice that his team provided, and there was a lot of advice provided during that time.
Now, Secretary Powell talked about how the President looked to his military commanders who were the ones coming up with the plan to make those decisions. In fact, the President, when it came time to make a decision, sat at the table with his military commanders and asked those commanders, do you have everything you need, and do you agree with the plan that is in place? And the military commanders all said that they do.
Q Did Secretary Powell ever express any reservations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he talked about that yesterday. I can't go back all the way to that time and relive all the advice that was given. The there was a lot of advice given, and he talked about the advice that he provided, but he also talked about how it was the military commanders that the President was looking to to make such determinations. He said that the President's military advisors felt that the size of the force was adequate -- this was Secretary Powell's comments over the weekend -- and at the time, the President was listening to those who were supposed to be providing him with military advice. That would be his military commanders. And General Franks was the one who developed the plan.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 12:58 P.M. EDT