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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 28, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
3:02 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I'd like to begin with a statement by the President.
"One year ago today, I signed into law the Jobs and Growth Tax Relief package to jump-start economic recovery and create jobs for American workers. With our economy growing at the fastest pace in nearly 20 years, and more than 1.1 million more Americans working since last August, it is clear the tax relief is working.
"Take-home pay for workers is up and disposable income for families is increased to record levels. The incentives in our plan for small businesses are producing results as more manufacturers have been reporting increased activity and new orders than at any time in 20 years. I'm encouraged to see that the unemployment rate has fallen in 47 of 50 states, because we want everyone who wants to work to be able to find a job.
"There is more to do. We must continue to build on this success by expanding growth and increasing prosperity for all Americans. I'll look forward to working with Congress to pass my six-point plan for economic growth, including making the tax cuts permanent, and to ensure our workers have the skills to compete in the changing world."
Also, this weekend, the President looks forward to participating in the dedication of the World War II Memorial honors the 16 million people who served in the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II, the more than 400,000 who made the ultimate sacrifice, and the millions of Americans who supported the war effort from home. The memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation, and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world. The memorial will stand as an important symbol of America's national unity.
I expect in his remarks, the President will pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who fought and served, and all Americans who stood united in World War II. The President will talk about their important contributions to defending the ideals of freedom and peace. He will also talk about how Pearl Harbor changed America's view that we could live in isolation from the plots of aggressive powers, and the importance of opposing them.
He will express the gratitude of this nation for all who sacrificed for freedom and liberty. And the dedication ceremony tomorrow will mark the official presentation of the memorial to the nation. And the President looks forward to accepting that presentation on behalf of all Americans.
I would also point out that as we move into this Memorial Day weekend, this President has a strong record of achievement when it comes to making sure our nation is honoring our commitment to our veterans. And he will continue working to meet this high priority. The President has fought to significantly increase funding for veterans' health care. The President has worked to cut the backlog for veterans with disability claims. And we are on track to eliminate the long waiting list for medical care. We, as a nation, are forever indebted and forever grateful to all of our veterans. And the President is committed to honoring our commitment to all those veterans.
Q Is it your understanding that Iyad Allawi is the Prime Minister-designate of Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, Steve, I think you all are seeing that the process for naming the interim Iraqi government and having them in place so that we can transfer sovereignty by June 30th is moving forward. We are seeing important progress made, but I want to be respectful of that process and let Mr. Brahimi make those announcements when he is ready to do so.
I think we have all seen the news reports on Mr. Allawi, and he is certainly a fine and capable leader who appears to have broad support among the Iraqi people. But I want to be respectful of that process, and we'll wait until we hear more from Mr. Brahimi.
Q Scott, an administration official said just a few minutes ago that Brahimi and the United Nations isn't making the pick of Allawi, or whoever is going to be prime minister, president or whatever, that the choice is endorsed by the Governing Council, and that the Coalition Provisional Authority is the sovereign authority involved, but actually the question of who picks him is a legal issue. So if the U.N. is just recommending, the Governing Council is endorsing and the CPA is a sovereign authority involved, who's actually choosing these people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Mr. Brahimi is the one who is working to put in place the people who will serve on the Iraqi interim government. Mr. Brahimi has been consulting widely with Iraqis throughout the country. He has talked to hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraqis during this process, and he has received a lot of ideas on who those people will be, and he is the one that is leading the effort and will put people in place. I don't know all the legalities, but there is a process in place. And he will be talking back to the Secretary General, as well, and making the announcement on who those individuals will be. But this will be a representative, interim government that we will be transferring sovereignty to by June 30th.
Q But if this administration official says that Brahimi actually doesn't make the pick, he just recommends, the Governing Council endorses, but it's a legal issue, I'm just trying to find out who eventually says, "Yes, these are the people"?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, the process that was put in place -- let me help you understand the process. Mr. Brahimi has been consulting widely with a number of Iraqis and receiving recommendations. He has been consulting with the CPA, as well. So he is the one who has been leading this process, he is the one who his overseeing this effort, and he is the one who will be naming these people after he has finished all of his consultations and he has everybody in place and he is ready to make those announcements.
He will do so on his time frame, and we fully expect -- because of the way the process was set up -- that those individuals will be the one who will be the Iraqi interim government.
Q Scott, this doesn't seem to have been done on Mr. Brahimi's time frame. This seems to have been done by the Iraqi Governing Council and Ambassador Bremer, who came out and said, we endorse Mr. Allawi. This --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think someone put some words in Mr. Bremer's mouth, or Ambassador Bremer's mouth. I don't know that he actually has said anything on this in the time frame or at this time. But, certainly, his spokesman has addressed the issue earlier today, so I would look back to those comments.
Q So this is not being foisted on Mr. Brahimi? Because that is the way it looks in one respect, that Ambassador Bremer goes to a meeting with the Governing Council, he says whatever he says, the Governing Council comes out and says "it's a done deal," Mr. Allawi is going to be the next prime minister.
MR. McCLELLAN: I would look at it as that this process is moving forward and the Iraqis are stepping forward and looking to their future. And they are working with Mr. Brahimi to help put in place the individuals who will serve on this interim government. That's the way I would look at it. You're seeing that we're making important progress toward naming the interim government and transferring sovereignty. That's what's unfolding here.
Q What role did the President have in names that may have been floated up by Mr. Brahimi, by the Governing Council, by the coalition? What role did the President have?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Iraqis are the ones who have had the lead role in this, consulting with Mr. Brahimi. Mr. Brahimi is overseeing this effort and he has been talking to a number of Iraqis and he has been consulting with the Coalition Provisional Authority, as well. We've been well aware of the process as it has moved forward. We think that he will be coming forward soon with names, and I want to respect that process and let him make those decisions and announcements on his time frame.
Q Scott, this morning you were saying that he was just one of many names and that he was -- there was just one of many groups who were putting him forward, the Iraqi Governing Council. It sounds like you've changed, you're not as dismissive of it right now.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, what I am saying is that I'm going to let Mr. Brahimi be the one to make the announcement.
Q But he's no longer just one of many people, I take it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a number of people that have been recommended to Mr. Brahimi that could be involved in the Iraqi interim government. Keep in mind that you're going to have a president, two deputy presidents, a prime minister, a council of ministers; there will be an advisory council put in place shortly, as well. So that's the makeup of the interim Iraqi government.
And Mr. Brahimi has been spearheading the effort to make sure we get that interim government in place so that we will be able to transfer sovereignty on the time table that we set out. And he's been looking to the Iraqi people to get input on who would be good, strong and credible people that could represent them during this transition period.
Q But we were talking about Allawi as one of -- this morning, as a candidate for prime minister. And that's when you were saying he's just one of many people --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right. And this process has been moving forward. We're coming to a point where Mr. Brahimi will soon be able to announce the names of that interim government. And so I think that's what you're seeing unfold here, and there's going to continue to be a lot of activity as he moves forward on making those announcements.
Q So is he no longer one of many people who are candidates for the prime minister --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, James.
Q You keep saying that you're waiting for Mr. Brahimi make his views known. But he already has today, through a spokesman, endorsed the selection of Allawi.
MR. McCLELLAN: And we'll wait until we hear from Mr. Brahimi, and when he makes an announcement, then we can say more at that point.
Q And did the President bring up Mr. Allawi in his discussions today with Prime Minister Rasmussen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I recall. Not that I recall. They talked about Iraq at length, and they talked about how they're moving forward. I'll try to go back and double-check.
Q And can I ask on a different subject, please? Christopher Cox, the Republican Chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, has said that the absence of Secretary Ridge from yesterday's news conference -- his words: "The conflicting public messages that the separate public appearances deliver to the nation suggest that the close interagency consultation we expect, and which the law requires, did not take place in this case." Is there some kind of problem with the way that the Justice and Homeland Security Departments are interacting? Obviously, Christopher Cox thinks so.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, actually the President talked with all the principals involved here over the last few weeks about the threats that we face. And they were all in agreement in the steps that you have seen taken over the last few days.
Q But Congressman Cox is saying that the close interagency consultation we expect was not -- did not take place in this case, as evidenced by conflicting public messages. Is he wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I pointed out, the Attorney General, the FBI Director, and Secretary Ridge all have met with the President on more than one occasion. And they've talked about these issues, and they were all aware and in agreement on the strategy that we put in place.
Q So there's no turf war?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q Scott, two questions. One, General Musharraf said that the killers of Daniel Perle tried to kill him and -- including also members of his military. What do you think the U.S. is planning to protect him, or getting some kind of protection? Or what do you think about his remarks he made?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I don't know all the facts behind the individuals, I guess, that have been apprehended. But the Pakistani government has obviously addressed that matter. And they were -- obviously, the security of the President is a high priority in any country, and he has a security team in place that provides for his security. And we're certainly glad that he was not harmed in those attempts on his life.
Q And second, first day in the government of Mr. Manmohan Singh -- Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, over 33 innocent people were killed in Kashmir. Now, five-minute phone call took between President Bush and Mr. Manmohan Singh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. What do you think the President think of this Prime Minister? He can get along with him? Or they can get along, like, they have cordial relations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, we expect that. We have strong relations with India, and the President expects that going forward, working with Prime Minister Singh, we will continue to build upon those strong relations. And it's also important that India and Pakistan continue to have a dialogue to move forward on reducing tensions in the region. And the President expressed that in his phone conversation with Prime Minister Singh.
Q Is President going to invite him to the White House?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me keep going. Go ahead.
Q You talked about the President's support for veterans. You know about the budget memo that's going around -- you called it guidance, routine guidance. But it suggests there will be cuts to Veterans Affairs. Can you reassure veterans that their benefits won't be cut moving forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, let me go to the budget guidance that you reference -- because that is exactly what it is, it is routine budget guidance.
I would point out to you that the fiscal year 2005 budget request is only four months old at this point and it has yet to be finished by this Congress. And I think it's really foolish at this point to start speculating about the 2006 budget. There are absolutely zero proposed cuts or proposed increases in the 2006 budget at this point, because those decisions have not been made and they won't be made for quite some time. We are focusing right now on getting the 2005 budget passed and put in place.
But I will point out to you that you should go and look at the President's record, in terms of his commitment to meeting our nation's highest priorities. This President has worked to triple the funding for Homeland Security. He has worked to boost defense spending by more than 35 percent. And he has worked to increase funding for elementary and secondary education by some 49 percent over the course of his four years. And we are working to increase health care funding for our nation's veterans by more than 40 percent since he took office.
So look at the President's record and you will see his commitment to our nation's veterans. Our nation's veterans have served and sacrificed to defend the freedoms that we enjoy today. And this President will work to make sure our nation always honors our commitment to our nation's veterans.
Q If I can ask you -- take you back just for a second on Brahimi. If he puts forward any names that the U.S. isn't pleased with, is there any mechanism by which you can object? Or what happens then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't think you can look at it from that standpoint because this has been a consultative process throughout. Mr. Brahimi has consulted widely with Iraqis, and he's also talked with the Coalition Provisional Authority. And we believe he's moving forward on naming individuals who will be able to represent their country well over the next few months as they move to a transitional government, and ultimately elections shortly after that.
Q Scott, two questions, please. Will the President's father, the first President Bush, and a World War II veteran, be with the President at tomorrow's dedication of the World War II Memorial?
MR. McCLELLAN: Former President Bush is scheduled to be present tomorrow, and the President looks forward to his attendance.
Q Second question. Retired Major General Jay Garner, the first U.S. administrator in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad, says the June 30th hand-over date is too soon, that the Iraqis are not ready to run their country. Would the President consider delaying the turn-over until the Iraqis --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this was an agreement reached with Iraqis. The Iraqi people wanted the sovereignty to be transferred by June 30th, and we are fully committed to meeting that timetable. And we're making important progress to meet it, and we fully expect that we will transfer sovereignty by June 30th to the Iraqi people. And I think you're seeing that Iraqis, more and more, are stepping forward to assume the responsibilities to lead their country in the future. And we'll be there to support them every step of the way, even after the transfer of sovereignty.
Q A question on the U.N. resolution. Since the President has called President Chirac and President Putin, is he going to call the Chinese President to consult on the resolution, too? And would you take some of the Chinese suggestions made in the resolution?
MR. McCLELLAN: I expect he will continue to talk to some leaders going forward. As you pointed out, he has talked to a few leaders already about this resolution. I think that there is a lot of support for passing this resolution which would recognize the interim Iraqi government, and it would also encourage even broader international participation in our efforts in Iraq. It would also support the election process that has been put in place. We will keep you posted on the phone conversations that the President has.
But, certainly, we are -- we have been consulting with leaders to introducing the draft resolution. We're continuing to consult with other countries in a number of different ways, whether it's at the Secretary of State level, or the presidential level, or at the U.N. level. And we will continue to do so. And we welcome comments from others, and we will look to take into account their concerns as we move forward. We fully expect that there will be some refinements to that resolution as we move forward. But we're pleased with the strong indications of support for it.
Q Scott, I frequently communicate with soldiers stationed in Iraq. And many of them ask me why only the bad news about Iraq is reported in the American media. More than one has told me how demoralizing it is to hear so much about the Abu Ghraib pictures, and so little about the murder and annihilation of American contractors and the beheading of Nicholas Berg. Can I get you to comment on the negative impact our reporting is having on morale of our troops?
MR. McCLELLAN: One, I always try to avoid being a media critic from this podium. I'm here to address your questions.
But let me point out that the President is solidly behind the outstanding jobs that our troops are doing in Iraq. Our troops are performing brilliantly as they work to provide for a secure, democratic and free Iraq for the Iraqi people. And they're doing an outstanding job, and we should always express our gratitude to those who are serving and sacrificing to make the world a better and safer place and to make America more secure.
Q Okay. But is it time to take the filter off again? Is it time to go around the filter? Because, you know -- because there are men and women that we have sent to defend our country that are hearing nothing but bad news in the press.
MR. McCLELLAN: Your point is well taken. There is important progress that is being made in Iraq. The President talked about some of that progress the other night in his remarks at the Army War College. There are also tough days and difficulties that remain.
There are those who are enemies of freedom who want to derail the transition to democracy, and we shouldn't lose sight of what we have accomplished in Iraq to this point. We removed a brutal regime from power, a regime that, when its economy started going down, went and found seven merchants and tried to blame that on those merchants and had their hands cut off and Xs put on their head. That was the kind of brutal, oppressive regime that has been removed from power. And thanks to the gratitude of some Americans, those individuals came to the United States and received prosthetic hands. And they met with the President the other day. And it's a clear reminder of what we have worked to accomplish in Iraq, and there's more to accomplish as we go forth.
Q They met with the President, right, Scott. They met with the President in the Oval Office and not one question was asked to those gentlemen about their torture in Abu Ghraib. The first question was about whether General Sanchez was being rotated out of Iraq because of the scandal.
MR. McCLELLAN: I would say the President was pleased to have them come to the White House and he was pleased to visit with them. They certainly had some powerful stories that were an example of the kind of atrocities committed by the former regime.
Q If I could go back to the speculation on cuts into veterans' benefits. I'm confused on how the President can still deliver on his promise to cut the deficit in half in five years and also make the tax cuts permanent and also continue to fund troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and not make cuts to veterans benefits.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what you put a budget proposal together for. You do that so you can make sure that you're funding your priorities while looking at other areas and holding the line on spending. That's what this President has worked to do. He has worked to make sure we fund our priorities, like winning the war on terrorism, protecting the homeland and strengthening our economy, and honoring our commitment to our veterans, and improving education for all our children while working to restrain spending elsewhere in the budget. That's why he put forward a detailed budget.
This President has put forward a detailed budget for 2005. In that 2005 budget, when it passes, we will have increased funding for veterans' health care by more than 40 percent. But at the same time, it's not just about increasing the funding; we're also taking strong steps to reduce the disability backlog for our veterans and we're also on track to meet our commitment to eliminate the lengthy waiting list for our nation's veterans.
Q -- an election year and a budget proposal submitted by the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: And everybody should put forward a detailed budget about how they're going to pay for their priorities. There are some who have put forward proposals for massive increases in spending and it appears the only way you can get there is to dramatically increase taxes. And that's exactly the wrong thing to do right now.
But this President has put forward a plan that will cut our deficit in half over the next five years. And he has put forward a detailed budget that outlines the way forward to meeting that commitment while funding our priorities, like veterans' health care.
Q But won't that plan be thrown off with more -- more spending in an election year and more funding for troops in Iraq? I mean, isn't he going to have to revise that plan?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're always looking at the budget and making sure that you're working within that budget. That's why we have the Office of Management and Budget in place. And those issues have been taken into account when we put forward our budget proposals. That's why we come forward every year.
Right now, Congress has said that we operate on annual budgets and we are in the middle of the 2005 budget process. It's foolhardy to begin looking at the 2006 budget process.
Q One more follow-up on that. The present -- the OMB numbers that were sent out to agency heads, they still stand, right? They haven't been rescinded, correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: Mark, every administration goes through the routine budget process. And often those numbers have no reflection of what the final policy decisions are. And that's just the way it works. The President hasn't made any decisions and he won't be making any decisions on the '06 budget for months.
Q But he's still asking agency heads to stick by these numbers, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's budget guidance. It's normal budget guidelines that are sent out to agencies. But it doesn't mean it reflects what the reality of the policy decisions are going to be -- and far from it, I might point out, if you look back at history. If you look back at previous administrations and if you look back at this administration.
Q Forgive me. What I wanted to ask was about next week, the faith-based conference that's on Tuesday. Can you describe what that's about?
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll try to get you more information as we get closer to it. But the President -- one of his highest domestic priorities is reaching out to faith-based groups who have a proven record of helping people in need.
The President believes -- we're talking about the budget here. The President believes that it's important that we focus our resources and money on programs that work to help people in need. He insists on results for that funding that is going out. And, certainly, there are faith-based programs that have a long and proven track record of reaching out to people and helping them move forward and improve their quality of life.
And we have had a number of regional faith-based conferences around the United States through our Office of Faith Based and Community initiatives. Jim Towey has been very involved in those efforts, Cabinet members have been participating in it. Our Cabinet departments have been working to implement the President's directives to make sure that faith-based groups can compete on a level playing field, that they're not discriminated against. And we'll have more details on the specifics about the conference, but this is -- this will be the first national conference focusing on the President's efforts to rally the armies of compassion and reach out to faith-based groups.
Q Scott, a two-part. In Chicago --
MR. McCLELLAN: Is it ever one-part? (Laughter.)
Q No. I'm only -- I'm allowed two.
In Chicago, a militant homosexual group called Rainbow Sash, which has demonstrated during mass of Catholic bishops here in Washington, they're planning to demonstrate during masses in Chicago on Pentecost. So that Archbishop Frances Cardinal George has ordered his clergy to deny them communion.
And my question: Since the First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, of which these demonstrations are a disruption, the President has no criticism of Cardinal George, does he?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I'm not familiar at all with the specifics of what you're bringing up. But, obviously, those are issues -- those are issues that our religious leaders will address.
Q Okay. Since the White House Press Office has undoubtedly learned what Al Gore said and shouted at length in New York, you may also be aware that columnist John Podhoretz has written and the New York Post has published the statement, and I quote, "It is now clear that Al Gore is insane." (Laughter.)
And my question, does the White House, with a lofty "no comment," want to let that statement stand unchallenged, or how can you disagree with Podhoretz?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I've already addressed this issue of his speech the other night and I'll leave it where I said it.
Q Scott, I'm still a little unclear why the terror threat alert level is unchanged. From the podium on Wednesday, you encouraged Americans to be at a heightened state of alert beginning this weekend, yet the terror level remains unchanged. Why is that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, you have to keep in mind that when it comes to our terror threat, it is something we are always looking at on a daily basis -- and not necessarily just one time a day. We are always looking at the intelligence that we are receiving, looking at the credibility of that intelligence, looking at the sourcing of that information, and trying to make determinations upon the steps that we need to take to protect the homeland. And you also have to take into account the specific nature of those threats. Around Christmastime, we did raise the threat level because we had some more specific information that had come to light that led us to that conclusion. It's an interagency process that goes on. There's a lot of input put into this process. And it's something we're always evaluating.
But we have continued to receive a stream of credible intelligence over the last few weeks, or last couple of months, that leads us to believe the summer and fall time period represent a serious threat period. But just because the threat level hasn't been raised at this point, doesn't mean we aren't acting in a number of different ways to make sure that we are doing everything we can to prevent and disrupt attacks from happening in the first place.
Our homeland security officials and law enforcement officials are working 24/7 to make sure that we are sharing intelligence, that we are analyzing that intelligence, looking back at previous intelligence, and trying to determine to the best of our ability what the intentions of those who seek to do us harm are.
Q By issuing these warnings and not raising the alert level, is
there any risk of confusing the American public on how they should respond?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that's why you have a Homeland Security Secretary in place to talk to the American people about what they should be doing, and continually going out there and reminding them of the steps that they can take to helps prevent and disrupt attacks. And it's also why you have our law enforcement officials going out there and talking about individuals who pose a danger to the United States, like they did the other day. It's important that we are sharing information appropriately.
And we do that in a number of different ways. We do it with local law enforcement officials, like the individuals that were announced the other day as people to be on the lookout for. Most of those individuals had previously been announced to local and state law enforcement officials through BOLOs -- what are "be on the lookout" -- for these individuals.
And they thought it was an appropriate time to go out there and remind people that they can also help us find and apprehend these individuals. We don't know exactly where they are. But we know that they pose a danger to the United States, and it's a reminder that we are at war on terrorism. And the best way to win the war on terrorism is to stay on the offensive and bring to justice those terrorists who would try to attack America before they can carry out their acts.
END 3:34 P.M. EDT