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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration Officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Scott McClellan
November 18, 2003

Scott McClellan
Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you on Ask the White House today. Ask the White House is a great way for the administration to talk about the President's agenda and listen to the concerns of the American people. I'm glad to take your questions.

Robert, from Texas writes:
If given a choice between a landslide re-election of the President - or Texas finally being able to beat OU in the Red River Shoot-OUt - which do you pick?

Scott McClellan
Robert, that is a very good question. As a graduate of the University of Texas, I am an avid Texas football fan. Sometimes as Press Secretary you have to respond to some tough questions........ Sports are a great way for people to escape and clear their minds. Certainly the work that we are doing here in Washington, DC is much more important and I strongly believe in the President's agenda and I hope he is in office for several years to come so we can continue to work on implementing that agenda.

As spokesman for the White House, I must also point out that Oklahoma certainly has a great football team. The Press Secretary must always put aside his or her personal views and speak for the President. Hook 'em.

William, from Tucson writes:
President Bush and his advisers tell the American people that progress is being made in Iraq.

My question has two parts. The first part is: What is considered progress in the specific instance of Iraq?

The second part is: What evidence exists that progress has occured in Iraq?

Scott McClellan
I'm glad you asked that question. There is a lot of important progress being made in Iraq. Certainly there are difficulties and dangers that remain. And that is why our military is doing an outstanding job continuing to take the fight to the enemy and bring them to justice. There will be good days and bad days ahead but even on the bad days, good things happen.

For the first time in 35 years, the Iraqi people are beginning to enjoy the same kind of freedoms we tend to take for granted. Schools are open, hospitals are open, the electricity is above pre-war levels, oil production is now above 2 million barrels per day.

The infrastructure that was neglected by the previous regime is improving on a daily basis. Iraqis are also assuming more and more responsibility for their future. Cabinet ministers appointed by an Iraqi governing council are overseeing day to day operations of the country from the electricity system to the health system to education system. Important progress is being made and their is difficult work still to do.

A free and peaceful Iraq will help transform the Middle East, a region which has been a breeding ground for terrorism. It will help make the world a safer and better place and America more secure.

Richard, from Barnsley, United Kingdom writes:
I'd like to welcome POTUS and his staff to the UK, my question is a simple one - as an avid British viewer of The West Wing, how closely does this resemble real life in the White House?

Scott McClellan
I've only been able to watch the TV show a couple of times. One thing I notice that stuck out was the large number of people running around the west wing. There are a relatively small number of maybe 50 - 70 people that work in the west wing and you don't see people running around the hall ways all the time.

The offices and rooms on the show appear to be quite large -- while the west wing is in the center of activity -- the offices and rooms are somewhat small.

Certainly, I think that the TV show is about drama -- while we certainly have our moments of excitement here at the White House , I don't think it is quite as dramatic as the activity that you see on the show.

Rick, from Rocky Mount, NC writes:
who is your favorite press secretary of all time?

Keep on truckin'

Scott McClellan
Rick, that is a good question. I've been fortunate enough to get to know some of my predecessors. Only a small number of men and women have had the privilege of serving the American people as White House Press Secretary. It is a real honor and it is an important responsibility.

The Press Secretary shares a responsibility with the press corps to help keep the American people informed about the decisions being made here in Washington DC. Marlin Fitzwater and Mike McCurry were two very capable Press Secretaries. Ari Fleischer is someone I learned a lot from and I think he did an outstanding job.

George Christian who was one of LBJ's Press Secretaries is someone I got to know well in Austin where I grew up. George was a very straight forward, honest and hard-working Press Secretary who was widely respected.

I hope I will get to spend time with some of my other predecessors who I have yet to meet.

Roy, from Duluth, MN writes:
Why doesn't President Bush eliminate the steel tariffs and instead provide the steel industry equivalent tax breaks such as accelerated depreciation, etc.? He then abides by the WTO decision, even if he disagrees with it, but still provides relief for the steel industry.

Scott McClellan
Thanks for your question, Roy. The President believes free trade is an important engine of economic growth. He is a strong supporter of free trade but he is also a strong believer in a level playing field.

It is important to enforce trade laws to ensure that America's workers can compete on a level playing field. The President imposed temporary safeguards to give our domestic steel industry the opportunity to restructure and consolidate in order to adjust to import competition.

Under this action, the ITC was required to review these measures at the midpoint. They have submitted a report to the President, it is under review, we continue to listen to all interested parties including producers, consumers and members of Congress so that we can have a full understanding of the issue.

The President has not made a decision at this point, but will in due course.

Imran, from England writes:
Hi Scott, thanks for taking questions. I just wanted to know, how much time do you actually get to spend with the President, and how important is this, if at all, to your work?

Scott McClellan
Imran, appreciate the question. It is important for any Press Secretary to be effective; you have to have direct access to the President of the United States. I have had the privilege of working for the President for nearly five years so I think I start with a good understanding of his thinking and of course his core set of principles from which he governs.

That helps me serve as his spokesman. Often times, I will begin my morning at the White House by walking over to the Oval Office to visit with the President about the days news. I also see him throughout the day in policy briefings and meetings with world leaders or whenever I just need to stick my head in the Oval and ask him for his thoughts.

Bryan, from Drexel Hill, PA writes:
Mr. McClellan -- How stressful is it to be the White House Press Secretary? Does Helen Thomas give you a hard time? What is the atmosphere in the Press Room?

Scott McClellan
Great question, Bryan. I think the atmosphere depends on the news of the day. Certainly being Press Secretary can be a challenging job but there are a number of people across America that have challenging jobs.

When you put in into proper context, it is nothing compared to the challenges facing our men and women in the military. It is nothing compared to a single mom who is working to support her family.

Helen Thomas has certainly been a mainstay of the White House press corps for more than 40 years. I think she gives everybody a hard time. She is just doing her job.

I think there has to be a high level of trust between the Press Secretary and the press corps. The relationship is built on respect and honesty. The White House press corps is made up of some of the best and brightest professionals who have very demanding and challenging jobs. I have great respect for the jobs they do and while there is a natural tension at times, we are all here for the same purpose -- to serve the American people.

Charles, from Mobile, AL writes:
Mr. McClellan, As a native Southerner, I enjoy hearing your Southern accent when you are addressing the media. Where are you from originally?

Scott McClellan
I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. I have a great family that instilled in me the importance of public service and doing what you can to make a positive difference in people's lives. Austin is a wonderful city and I hope to return their someday. Hopefully, I am always saying the same thing as the President and sometimes some of the words sound the same -- given that we are both from Texas.

Vanessa, from Washington, DC writes:
What does the new timeline adopted by the Iraqi Governing Council mean for U.S. and coalition troops in Iraq? Will they be coming home or wil the U.S. stay in Iraq for a longer period of time?

Scott McClellan
Last week's announcement by the Governing Council was an important step towards achieving a free and peaceful Iraq. Iraqis continue to assume more and more responsibility for their future. They are learning the wonders of freedom. After 35 years of living under a repressive and brutal regime, Iraqis are learning to take on new responsibilities themselves.

The decision by the Governing Council means that at the end of May when sovereignty is transferred to the Iraqi people, the job of the Coalition Provisional Authority will be successfully completed.

Ambassador Bremer's job will be over and the CPA will cease to exist.

I think everyone recognizes that security is one of the highest priorities for the Iraqi people. We still have an obligation to stay the course and help the Iraqi people build a secure and prosperous future. There will still be security issues that will require the help of the U.S. and the international community.

We will continue to consult with the new interim government as we move forward.

Jason, from Fort Hood, Texas writes:
Hi, Mr. McClellan. I wanted to congratulate you on replacing Ari Fleischer as the White House Press Secty. I am currently serving in the U.S. Army here in Texas but was curious about having a job such as yours. What would be a good preparation one would need to become either a political speech writer or press secty?

Scott McClellan
Thanks for the question, Jason. People often ask me that question. One of the things I suggest is to get involved in politics through volunteering. If there is a candidate or cause you believe in offer to volunteer your help early in the process.

It is a great way to get your foot in the door and show your commitment to helping. I, myself, volunteered on a campaign back in 1989 and was offered a full time job in the press office. That's how my professional career began.

Joseph, from Port Huron, Michigan writes:
What kind of preparations do you go through before a press conference begins?

Scott McClellan
Joseph, fortunately the President has put together an outstanding White House team. While I may be the face or voice of the Administration, I rely on the staff of the White House and the administration to help me make sure I have the information I need to do my job.

My day typically begins at about 5 in the morning when I start looking through some of the national newspapers. The night before I try to stay on top of the nightly network news. I typically come into the office between 6:45 and 7 in the morning where I have a meeting with some of my team to discuss the news of the day before heading to the senior staff meeting where we discuss some of those issues.

Part of my job is playing reporter within the White House -- when I don't need to get something directly from the President it is important for me to be able to know where to go to get the information I need to speak on behalf of the White House and the administration. That is where the White House staff comes into play and I'm proud to be one member of that team.

Christopher, from Maine writes:
Have you ever not known the answer to a question posed by a reporter? Or have you ever lost your train of thought? I think being Press Secretary would be a tough job

Scott McClellan
Yes. Now what was your question?

Tyler, from El Dorado Springs, MO writes:
Do you get to watch the Turkey Pardoning?

Scott McClellan
I have in the past but this year I'm going to have to miss it because I will be on my honeymoon. I will be getting married this weekend and I'm very much looking foward to it.

But I hope you will either tune into your news outlet of choice or the White House web site to catch the annual turkey pardoning live.

And if you haven't sent in your suggestion for the name of the turkey that will be pardoned, you can do that by clicking here.

Kenny, from Montgomery, AL writes:
Scott, you're doing a good job, especially considering how tough it is. Have you ever said something you wish you hadn't said and has the President gotten upset at you yet?

Scott McClellan
Kenn, thanks for your kind words. Yes, I have but fortunately my fiancee is very understanding and she is still going to marry me. I'm sure there are things that I've said that I could have probably phrased better in a briefing . As for whether or not the President has ever gotten upset at me . . . I've always believed it is important to keep conversations between the President and the senior staff private.

Seriously, the President is a plain spoken and straight forward person. I don't recall him ever getting upset with me, but we have a great relationship that allows us to have open and candid discussions.

Scott McClellan
I've really enjoyed answering your questions today. I hope to come back soon. Thanks everyone.

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