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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 15, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:54 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I want to begin with one announcement. The President today is announcing the designation of a presidential delegation to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. Former President Bush will lead the delegation. Members of the delegation include Mrs. Barbara Bush, the Honorable Thomas Miller, the United States Ambassador to Greece, Miss Barbara Bush, Miss Jenna Bush, tennis great Chris Evert, and Mr. Alex Spanos, the owner of the San Diego Chargers, and his wife, Mrs. Faye Spanos. That is the delegation for the Olympic Games. And with that, I will be glad to take your questions.
Q Has there been any damage to U.S.-Philippine relations by their withdrawal from Iraq? Has this hurt relations at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Steve, there are a lot of issues that we work closely with the Philippines on, and we will continue to work together on our shared priorities. We certainly have worked together in the war on terrorism in a number of areas. I think it is disappointing to see a decision to withdraw these 51 troops from Iraq ahead of schedule because it does send the wrong signal to the terrorists. There is no negotiation with terrorists. There is no separate peace with terrorists. We have seen the barbaric nature of the terrorists in Iraq. They have no regard for innocent civilians. And I think that the international community, by and large, recognizes the importance of confronting and defeating these terrorists. And they recognize that you cannot have a separate peace with those terrorists.
Q But there's no repercussions in U.S.-Philippine relations.
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to work together on shared priorities. I think it's, again, just disappointing that they came to this decision.
Q Can I follow on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Connie, if you want to follow on that.
Q There are other countries that say they're going to pull out troops. Will there be any penalty, even psychological penalty --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to look at some of those issues relate to planned rotations or planned withdrawals that were -- that are on schedule. But I think you also have to look at the broader international community. The international community has expressed their full support for the efforts going on in Iraq and their full support for the interim government and the Iraqi people as they work to build a free and peaceful future. The United Nations passed a unanimous resolution in the Security Council expressing their support for the Iraqi people. NATO just recently made a strong commitment to help Iraqi security forces in their training.
And that is what is most important as Iraq moves forward on holding elections and building a democratic and peaceful future. We need to continue to work to strengthen the Iraqi security forces and expand the Iraqi security forces. And NATO has made a strong commitment there. Australia has just recently made a commitment to expand the number of troops that they have in Iraq. You have a commitment from El Salvador to move forward on a proposal that would extend their troop presence there for up to another year. And then, certainly, Prime Minister Allawi has been in contact with other countries requesting their help -- other countries in the region and elsewhere.
Go ahead, Terry.
Q Scott, this morning you had some pretty strong words about the leadership of the NAACP. Did the President decline the NAACP's invitation because of some kind of scheduling problem, or because he doesn't like them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he certainly has had some scheduling commitments this week, as you are aware. He's been traveling, and everything. But, no, I would not characterize it the way you did because, as a matter of fact, the President has great respect for the NAACP and its long and proud history of championing civil rights. The President has many friends who are members of the NAACP. This President has been an inclusive leader who has set a positive tone for this country. And he has a proven record of working to improve the quality of life for all Americans, and a proven record of reaching out to all Americans.
I think it really is disappointing to see the current leadership continue to repeat the hostile rhetoric that they have used, which really shows that they're not interested in a constructive dialogue. Nevertheless, the President is committed to continuing to reaching out to the African American community, and committed to continuing reaching out to NAACP members. And he will do that based on his record and based on his vision. It's a record of results that has improved the quality of life for all Americans.
Q If I can just follow on that, if it's a scheduling problem and not his displeasure, as you've just echoed, with the NAACP's leadership and their comments, Senator Kerry made the point, he's the President of the United States, if he wants to rearrange his schedule, he can, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a lot of political talk. I urge you to look at the action that this President has taken. Let's look at the record and look at the results because this President has a record of reaching out to all Americans, including the African American community. And he has a record of improving the quality of life for all Americans. This President has worked to expand opportunity for all Americans, and protect the rights of all Americans.
One of the first things he did when he came into office was work to pass historic and sweeping education reforms. This is what the President often refers to in his remarks as the new civil right, what he has referred to as having -- he said that he refuses to accept the soft bigotry of low expectations. The President believes every child can learn and succeed, and that every child should receive a first rate education. And these reforms will help improve public schools and close the achievement gap for Americans.
And he has certainly worked very closely with African American leaders on those education reforms. And it also provides parents with options so that they can make decisions about how best to educate their children. Right here in the District of Columbia, we are implementing a pilot program -- where you certainly have a large African American population here in the District -- and now parents will be able to choose what school to send their children to if those children are in failing public schools.
And you look at other areas when it comes to expanding home ownership, the President has worked to close the minority home ownership gap. We now have 1.5 million new minority homeowners since he announced this initiative. And he has a goal of increasing that to 5.5 million new minority homeowners. He has worked to expand economic opportunity through his pro-growth policies, and cutting tax rates for -- and expanding the child tax credit, and providing marriage penalty relief, and cutting taxes for small business owners. So look at the President's record of results for all Americans. And look at what this administration has done -- the first administration to ban racial profiling.
Q But I asked about the schedule -- (laughter) -- and I'm wondering if the schedule that the President couldn't get out of is really more of an excuse because he didn't want to go to this group. Because he is the President and he can manage his own schedule.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's going -- as a matter of fact, Terry, next week he is going to -- yes, that's all part of the politics. Again, look at --
Q No, I'm interested in the facts.
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking what Senator Kerry said. Put aside the talk, the political talk during an election year --
Q I'm interested in the facts. Is it the schedule, or is it that he doesn't like the way the NAACP leadership talks -- because if it's the schedule, he's the President, why can't he rearrange his schedule?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can look at the political talk during an election year, but let's look at the action during people's terms in office. And the record reflects the President's commitment to improving the quality of life for all Americans.
I might point out to you that the person you mentioned who made these comments is someone who voted against marriage penalty relief, who voted against expanding the child tax credit, who has called for raising taxes on small business owners, many of whom are minority small business owners, and someone who has said that he opposes leveling the playing field for faith-based organizations that have a proven record of helping people in need -- many people in low-income neighborhoods who need that help.
The President, on each of the areas I've mentioned, from education to the economy, to home ownership, to faith-based organizations, to AIDS -- to fighting AIDS at home and abroad, has worked very closely with African American leaders to improve the quality of life for all Americans.
Q Scott, the White House chose not to use the NAACP today as filter to get its message out to African Americans. But beyond housing issues, beyond education, many African Americans say the real civil rights issues, the teeth of civil rights issues is injustice in the Justice Department. Where has the Bush administration been with the Justice Department in helping the African American community?
MR. McCLELLAN: Leading the way. As I pointed out, this administration was the first to ban racial profiling in federal law enforcement. This administration has worked to vigorously enforce our civil rights laws. We have a strong record of enforcing our civil rights laws. You mentioned just a couple of issues. I also pointed out the faith-based initiative that this President has worked on. He's worked very closely with African American leaders in communities across the nation to level the playing field so that faith-based organizations, who are about helping people in need, can compete on a level playing field with other organizations.
This is about saving lives and improving lives for those who suffer. He has also provided unprecedented leadership when it comes to fighting AIDS at home and abroad. This President has made a strong commitment to combating this pandemic.
Q Scott, since you say it's disappointing because of this rhetoric from the NAACP -- the President has lost his chance to talk to African America -- well, black America --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I disagree. He talks to the American people all the time about the priorities that we share.
Q Okay, well, can you give that message today, I guess, as Kerry gave his message, can you tell us what that message would be if he were, hypothetically, to have spoken to the group?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President reaches out to African Americans all the time, as he does to all Americans. And all you have to do is go and look at the speeches he has given and the events that he has participated in and the record that he has implemented here in Washington, D.C.
The President believes it's important to have a constructive dialogue that brings Americans together around shared priorities. Unfortunately, the current leadership has just shown that they are not interested in having a constructive dialogue by continuing to engage in harsh political rhetoric.
Q But they -- constructive dialogue --
MR. McCLELLAN: But this President welcomes those with differing views. This President believes that differing views are important to our national discourse. But it's important to be able to have a constructive dialogue about how we can work together on our common goals and our shared priorities.
Q When is he going to have this --
MR. McCLELLAN: And that's what -- and that's what this President has always worked to do --
Q When is he going to have constructive dialogue and debate?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's worked to elevate the discourse and set a positive tone for this country. And that's what he'll continue to do. And in fact next week, he is going to speak to another civil rights organization -- the National Urban League. And he looks forward to going to Detroit and speaking to them at their annual convention.
Q Scott, can I --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Wendell.
Q Is the President -- two questions, first of all -- support all the words of Education Secretary Rod Paige in his op-ed today in The Wall Street Journal?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if I've seen every single word. We appreciate Secretary Paige's work, and we appreciate his comments he made in The Wall Street Journal. That was something he did on his own.
Q So the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: You can direct questions to him, but he talked about some of the very issues I talked about -- about the importance of the education reforms that we passed, and the importance of --
Q He also talked about the leadership of the NAACP, and he did not mince his words. Does the President agree with his characterization of Kweisi Mfume and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has characterized it himself. He's talked about the current leadership. And he was asked about Kweisi Mfume last week. And he expressed his view there, as well, in an interview.
Q And what is it about the Urban League that makes it a more preferable forum for the President than the NAACP?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I think the leadership of the Urban League has certainly worked closely with the President on important priorities and shared priorities and they have welcomed the President coming and speaking to their organization and having a constructive dialogue on the important issues that I highlighted at the beginning of this briefing when Terry brought up the question.
Q So his schedule is okay next week?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Ed.
Q The last -- the previous Republican presidential candidate in 1996, Bob Dole, had the same problem with the NAACP's invitation. He rejected it, said, they're trying to set me up. Does the Republican Party have a problem when it comes to running for the White House and its relations with the African American community?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I talked about how, if you look at this President's record, it's one of inclusiveness, it's one of offering a hopeful agenda that brings America together around shared priorities. And look at the results of what we've achieved on behalf of all Americans, including the African American community. Traditionally, we recognize where the African American community has been when it comes to supporting Republican candidates, and that's why, if you look back at the President's record and look back at his -- what happened in Texas, as well, he has always worked to reach out and expand those outreach efforts, because the agenda that he has put forward is a compassionate conservative agenda that is inclusive. And he will continue reaching out to all Americans, and he will continue reaching out to the African American community, based on his vision and his agenda and his record of results.
Q So no problem.
MR. McCLELLAN: No. I guess that's all part of the "Inside the Beltway" rumor mill that goes on during a campaign season. I think the President made his views very clear when, even before he had made a decision -- or announcement, at least -- that he was going to run for reelection, that if he did, the Vice President would be part of that team.
Q So you can state unequivocally he will -- Vice President Dick Cheney will remain on the ticket?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just said no, and I think the President has made it very clear, as well. And, look, this is a campaign season. There's going to be a lot of "Inside the Beltway" rumor-mongering going on, and that's all this is.
Q Could I go back to race for a minute?
MR. McCLELLAN: To what?
Q To race.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q The President won something like 9 percent of the African American vote in 2000. You've described the attitude of the leadership of the NAACP, arguably the preeminent civil rights organization in the country, as hostile to the President. What does that say about his opportunity to improve that performance in the vote this fall?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you look at when he was reelected governor, those numbers improved significantly, because he has always governed as someone who is inclusive and does reach out to all people, including the African American community. And that's why I said it's important to look at the record and look at the results. I mean, a lot of people are going to say things during an election year, but let's look at the records. And this President is proud of his record of working to improve the quality of life for all Americans, including the African American community, and working to expand opportunity for all Americans.
Q So is that a prediction, that his share of the vote will increase?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's going to work hard to reach out to all Americans, and he's going to work hard to reach out to the African American community. I think next week, when he goes to the National Urban League, that demonstrates that he is committed to reaching out to the African American community, as well.
Q One of the things that Senator Kerry said this morning was that he will always go and speak to groups that disagree with him. Why did the President choose not to go and take this rift between him and the leadership directly head on?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I spoke to that issue when Terry first brought it up. It's been unfortunate and disappointing that the current leadership has not been interested in having a constructive dialogue. They've been more interested in engaging in partisan and harsh rhetoric. And I think that's what you need to -- you need to take that into consideration.
Q Why not go and --
MR. McCLELLAN: This President has reached out to people with different views and has reached out to the African American community throughout his time in office. And he will continue to do so during his time in office. And look at -- look at meetings -- he certainly had meetings, sometimes, with Congressional black leaders. They don't always necessarily agree, but he's worked to find areas where they can work together, like when it came to Haiti, on important priorities.
Q Well, Scott, just to follow on that -- on that statement --
Q -- meeting, they stormed the White House to get a meeting.
Q -- has the President met at the White House, during his term, with any African American civil rights leaders?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they've come to events. Certainly, he just marked the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. And you had civil rights leaders there. You've had civil rights leaders from the African American community come to the White House and talk to the President about other important priorities, as well.
Go ahead, Jocobo.
Q Scott, it's been 17 days since the United States transferred sovereignty to the new interim government in Iraq. Attacks continue against Iraqis and American troops and civilians. Does the White House feel that the interim government is doing a good job on security matters?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, one, look at the statements from the leadership of the interim government. They have made a firm commitment to go after the terrorists and go after those who are a continuing security threat to the Iraqi people. They are determined to improve the security situation and bring about a free, democratic, and peaceful country for all the Iraqi people. And they're working on that regard. There's certainly been some positive signs in terms of the Iraqi security forces addressing these ongoing security threats. You have the police force going after and rounding up some of those who seek to derail the transition to democracy, so you can look at their actions to see that this is a government and country that is determined to rout out the terrorists and rid itself of those former Saddam loyalists who continue to seek to derail the transition to democracy. And we're going to be there to work with them along the way and partner with them to address these security threats.
Q Can I follow up? Excuse me. The terrorist groups there, their militant elements continue to kidnap people, not just selective countries, but also -- not only trying to get troops retired, or withdrawn, but also -- it seems -- to try to get people who are working there, or companies there out of the country. What can be done to keep that from happening?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what terrorists do. They try to spread fear and chaos. And they try to shake our will. They try to shake the will of the Iraqi people. But they will not succeed. We will prevail, and we will defeat the terrorists and defeat those Saddam loyalists who continue to attack the Iraqi people and try to derail the transition to a brighter future in Iraq.
Q Does the United States harbor secret detainees who are not available --
MR. McCLELLAN: Holly, go ahead. I'll come back to you, Helen. I'll come back to you. Go ahead, Holly.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually if you look back over history, I think 15 of the last 25 have actually not necessarily been on that timetable that has been set out. We will be ready to announce that once everything is ready. And we will do so at that time.
Q But I guess what I'm wondering is why isn't it ready? Despite what has happened in previous years --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Office of Management and Budget is continuing to pull everything together and make sure that they have an accurate report, and then when it's ready, they will be talking about it more at that time. But like I said -- you pointed out that traditionally it has been at this time. And I want to point back to the fact that 15 of the last 25 have actually been after that timetable or deadline that has been set.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Les.
Q A two-part. Today, The Washington Post had a page 1 Style section report on the attempts by homosexual militants to "out staffers and members of Congress." But the Post did not mention what The Washington Times reported as their attempt to out Senator Mikulski, of Maryland, whose press secretary called this "garbage," and Senator Brownback added that this borders on blackmail. And surely, the President doesn't disagree with Senator Brownback?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think you've heard the President and you've heard me talking about in this briefing how this President is committed to elevating the discourse in this country and committed to being an inclusive leader, and he has been very clear in saying no matter where you stand on this issue that we should be civil in this discussion and civil in this debate. And that's what --
Q So he agrees with Senator Brownback?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what he remains committed to doing. And that's what the President will continue to do. What is your second question?
Q The President's strong support for the marriage amendment was publicly opposed by the Vice President's wife. And my question, does the White House know of any other instance in U.S. history where a Vice President's wife has publicly and openly opposed what the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I would encourage you to go and look at exactly what she said. But the President's views are --
Q Are you saying that she was in favor of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's views are very well-known on this issue. The President believes, as do most Americans, that marriage is an enduring institution that should be protected and defending -- and defended. And that's what this President has worked to do. Unfortunately, you have some activist judges and some local officials in different communities in the country who are seeking to redefine marriage on their own terms. And that's why the President felt that the constitutional process was the only alternative available --
Q I agree, I agree, but what about --
MR. McCLELLAN: Jeff, Jeff. You've had your two questions. You've had your two questions.
Q What about my question? You never answered my question. Has any other Vice President's wife ever publicly opposed a President's --
MR. McCLELLAN: Two question a day. Go ahead, Jeff.
Q Thank you.
Q Calhoun. (Laughter.)
Q Forgive me if my colleague -- forgive me if my colleagues have already touched on this subject, but last Friday, the Senate --
MR. McCLELLAN: Three, if we don't shout over each other and we have a civil discourse.
Q I have a question.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm coming to you, Helen.
Q Last Friday, the Senate Intelligence Committee released a report that shows that Ambassador Joe Wilson lied when he said his wife didn't put him up for the mission to Niger. The British inquiry into their own prewar intelligence yesterday concluded that the President's 16 words were "well-founded." Doesn't Joe Wilson owe the President and America an apology for his deception and his own intelligence failure?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, let me point out that I think those reports speak for themselves on that issue. And I think if you have questions about that, you can direct that to Mr. Wilson.
Q Well, we spent so many weeks here dissecting the 16 words that are now absolutely true. Don't you think --
Q How do you know that?
Q Excuse me, Helen. Don't you think that America deserves the opportunity to have this information brought forward, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I noticed the media reports on this very issue over the weekend.
Q There were very few of them.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I certainly recognize that it was getting a lot of attention previously. But I think the reports speak for themselves on it.
MR. McCLELLAN: And then I'm coming to Helen.
Q The Chinese Central Military Commission had a meeting and reportedly has decided to resolve the Taiwan question by the year 2020. Do you have any reaction on that? And do you support the idea to set a deadline to resolve the Taiwan question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, certainly peace and stability in the Cross Straits is an important priority for this administration, and it's important that there continue to be dialogue on these issues.
In terms of our policy and our position, it remains what it has been. We continue to support the one China policy, we continue to support the three communiques, and we continue to support the Taiwan Relations Act. We have said that we do not support an independence for Taiwan, and our position remains the same on these issues.
Q But in the three communiques, there is one in 1992 saying you're going to reduce the arm sales to Taiwan gradually, but it has not happened.
MR. McCLELLAN: The Taiwan Relations Act, as well, and we've -- our views remain the same on this very issue.
Go ahead. Oh, I'm sorry, Helen. Go ahead.
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, this is an issue that came up earlier in the week and I talked about it at that point. When it comes to the International Committee for the Red Cross, we work very closely with them on detainee issues, and we --
Q I have a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay -- we stay in close and regular contact with the Red Cross on all the issues related to detainees. And they do, from time to time, raise issues and we work to address those issues directly --
Q Why don't you answer the question? Do we have secret detainees and is it possible that they could be subjected to the same treatment as in Baghdad prisons?
MR. McCLELLAN: We work to address these issues that the Red Cross raises directly with the Red Cross. And any issues that they have, we respond directly to the --
Q That's not the answer to the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- Red Cross. We meet with them on a regular basis at a variety of levels, and we stay in close and constant contact with them. And I really don't have anything else to add to this issue.
Q You don't know whether we have secret detainees --
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, Helen, I don't have anything else to add to this issue.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q Scott, I have two questions. The President's critics and John Kerry really leaned on Joe Wilson's contentions to say that the President lied getting us into war, and that he wasn't going to reconstitute his nuclear program. This certainly pointed to Dick Cheney's appearance on Meet The Press where he made that contention -- they would point to Joe Wilson and say, that's nonsense. Are you saying that the President doesn't at all feel vindicated by the CIA report and the Butler report in Britain that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I said I think the reports speak for themselves on this issue.
Q George Tenet came out and said those 16 words shouldn't have been in the State of the Union address. It's been proven by those two
reports that those words were valid. Why did Tenet say that then, and does the President -- do you still stand by the fact that those words should never have been in there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's see -- if I recall, it was a year ago today when I first stepped up to this podium as Press Secretary, and we went through this issue back then. And all those questions were addressed at that time. (Applause.) Oh, thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.
END 1:23 P.M. EDT