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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 3, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Dallas, Texas
11:11 A.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, let me go through the day. The President had his usual briefings before we departed. He also, as you are aware, made remarks in the Rose Garden and signed the United States-Australia Free Trade Agreement.
When we arrive, the Freedom Corps greeter is Larry Hawkins, who has been a volunteer with Ronald McDonald House in Dallas for the past four years. Following that, the President will make remarks at a Victory 2004 luncheon in Dallas. It's at a private residence.
And then following that, he will deliver remarks at the 122nd Knights of Columbus Convention. As you all are aware, the Knights of Columbus is the world's largest Catholic family fraternal service organization that is dedicated to helping those in need. And today the President -- we just handed you a fact sheet -- will be announcing -- well, talking, one, about his faith-based initiative, but also announcing some grants that will be going to help those in need, particularly focused on mentoring children of prisoners and helping to provide effective programs to those who have drug abuse problems.
And then following that, we go to Crawford, where the President will be for the evening before departing in the morning. And that's what I've got on the schedule. I'm here for your questions.
Q Are these grants new grants, or are they -- have they been announced before?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he's announcing this grant money now, today. And it's detailed -- it's all in the fact sheet. You've got it right in front of you.
Q What are the President's hopes for the Catholic vote in this election? Does he think he can win the catholic vote?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you might want to talk to the campaign about that. But, I mean, the President believes it's important to reach out to people from all backgrounds and welcome people of faith into the political process. And he will be reaching out to people from all different backgrounds and all faiths throughout the campaign, including those in the Catholic community. And he will be running on his record and his agenda. And it's an agenda, I think, that many in the Catholic community strongly support, because of our shared values on the important issues.
Q What about the alerts, the terror alerts that have been coming out. Has there anything been, in the past, this specific before? Is this the most specific information? Is that why it was released?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think, one -- let me comment on some of the reports today, too, that I saw. I think it's wrong and plain irresponsible to suggest that it was based on old information. Anyone who looks at the detail and specificity of this information, which was updated -- some of which was updated as recently as this year, and couple that with what we know about al Qaeda's sophistication and history, and the continuing stream of intelligence we have been receiving about al Qaeda's desire to attack us during this summer or fall time period, would not make such an irresponsible suggestion.
This is detailed, specific information -- intelligence information that has recently been uncovered. And I think you have to keep in mind al Qaeda's history. Al Qaeda has a history of planning attacks well in advance and then updating those plans just before attacking. And you also need to look at the -- like I said, the continuing stream of intelligence we've been receiving. So we've seen, when it comes to the embassy bombings, when it comes to the attack on the USS Cole, and when it comes to the September 11th attacks, that these were attacks that were planned well in advance and updated before the attacks were carried out.
And I think that the 9/11 Commission talked about in their report how -- the al Qaeda is an enemy that is sophisticated, disciplined, patient, and lethal. Those are their words, from the 9/11 Commission report. They also talked about some of the history there, with people like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed who provided a menu of options to bin Laden for attacks as far back as 1996. And so I think that you can look at this intelligence that has recently come to our attention, and that we're still analyzing, and learning more about, as really a menu of options for al Qaeda to pursue.
Q Is this, though, the most specific it has been, and is that why it was --
MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Ridge spoke to that the other day, and talked about how detailed and specific this information was. The detail and specificity of this information is chilling. It is real, and it is serious.
Q Is that why it was then -- the alert was then raised, because --
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, you have to look at all those reasons of why the decision was made to share this information publicly, as well as to raise the alert for the financial sectors in those cities.
Q Scott, is the administration willing to reconsider its position on budget authority and hiring and firing authority for the new terrorism --
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you trying to define what our position is? Our position is that the National Intelligence Director, as Secretary Card said yesterday, is going to have an awful lot of authority when it comes to the budget and personnel matters. And the President talked about how he wanted to make sure that this National Intelligence Director was involved in the coordination of those activities. And I think you should look at this -- this person will make sure that there is an integrated intelligence budget that is presented to the President through the OMB process. As we move forward with Congress, we'll be talking in more detail about the authority that this person will have. But this -- the National Intelligence Director will have the authority he or she needs to do the job.
Q So the President is willing to negotiate with Congress about specific --
MR. McCLELLAN: We talked about how the person will have significant authority and the authority that person needs to do the job that he or she will be tasked with.
Q But is he open to negotiation on that, or is he set on his way?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a legislative process you have to go through on this -- on creating the National Intelligence Director, because it is a Senate-confirmed position. And when it comes to budget authority issues like that, that requires congressional action. We'll be working closely with them and talking in more detail about that authority as we move forward.
Q Most of the people on the Hill --
MR. McCLELLAN: These recommendations -- let's go back -- were just made by the 9/11 Commission just over one week ago. And these are serious issues that you have to give careful consideration, and you have to look at all these issues carefully as you move forward on them. And that's what we will be doing. But this person will have significant budget authority and significant power and authority over personnel matters.
Q Most of the people on the Hill yesterday that we talked to said that they were waiting to see more details about what he's proposing. Is the White House going to come out with more details?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's talk about some -- you're talking about the recommendations in general? I mean, we said in the coming days the President will be issuing presidential directives on things that we can do without congressional action.
Q No, I'm talking about the National Director of Intelligence, you know, what his powers would be --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said that we will be talking in more detail as we move forward on this. But the President believes that this is an important position that should be created, and it will be a person that is his principal intelligence advisor. And in order to be in this position, this person needs the authority and power to effectively carry out the tasks of that job.
Q Is it a suggestion, that they're suggesting that he have full budgetary authority, hiring and firing authority?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, and let's talk about -- what do you mean by, full budgetary authority? What do you mean by, full budgetary authority?
Q He has control over --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- review process, where everybody goes through the OMB process, and then the President makes the final decisions, and then it's presented to Congress, and we work with Congress on those budget issues. And that's why I said, we'll be talking --
Q So in your mind, the President's proposal does give him --
MR. McCLELLAN: What I said is that -- I mean, look back at what we said yesterday. That still stands. And as we move forward, we'll be talking in more detail about the authority this position will have.
Q So is it that the Hill doesn't understand?
Q We're just trying to figure out if you're saying you're open to negotiations with the Congress on this, or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: What I'm saying is, that the President made the decision to move forward on these recommendations, because he felt they are important recommendations that should be adopted. And I would point out to you that when you look at the 41 recommendations that the commission has made, we have already acted on or are acting on, in one form or fashion, 36 of those recommendations. Two of those recommendations, beyond that, require action by -- are related to congressional oversight, and require Congress to address. And then there are a few others that we're still looking at. But we've made significant steps, in terms of moving forward on their recommendations, already, and now we're continuing to build upon those recommendations.
Now in terms of -- let me be clear on the budget authority, and issues like that. That's why I said, the President made it clear that he strongly supports the creation of a National Intelligence Director that would have the same rank as a Cabinet member. It would not be a Cabinet position, but it would be separate from the White House. And I think he made it very clear in his remarks that this person would have the authority and power he or she needs to do the job. And the task force just completed its review of these recommendations. We're going to continue moving forward and talking in more detail about that authority as we move forward and as we work with Congress. So that's where we are right now.
But that's why I just wanted to make sure that --
Q Do you think that the Democrats on the Hill --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that, that it's characterized in that fashion.
Q Do you think there are some people on the Hill who don't understand what the President is proposing then?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've been talking with Congress, just in the last couple of days, really briefing them on what the President supports and what the President wants to see Congress act upon. And we will continue talking with Congress as this process moves forward.
Q How soon will we see more from the President on these other initiatives?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he said in the coming days -- in terms of presidential directives?
MR. McCLELLAN: He said in the coming days we would be issuing presidential directives, and that's where it stands at this point.
Q Can you tell us if the selection process is already underway, in terms of vetting candidates for the job?
MR. McCLELLAN: For the NID?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't --
Q Is that going to happen after legislation is passed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I never get into personnel details like that. Right now we just announced the President's support for the creation of a National Intelligence Director, and it's important that the Congress move forward quickly and responsible -- responsibly to act on that recommendation. As President, you have to carefully consider the consequences of all these actions that you take, particularly during a time of war. And that's what we are doing, as we move forward.
Q When do you expect the first presidential directive?
Q How does work on the NID influence the timetable for getting a new CIA director? Why would you pick somebody for that agency when you might get somebody who would be, in effect, his boss?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is continuing to move forward on -- has continued to move forward on this -- the selection of a CIA director. I'm not going to speculate about it any more at this point. I said yesterday that I expect he will have more to say on it soon, and that's where it stands.
Q When can we expect the first presidential directive?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'd just leave it where he left it yesterday in his remarks. Obviously, we'll keep you posted, but he said, in the coming days, in his remarks.
Q Is it the President's desire that the NID have budgetary authority over -- who has the final say on the defense part?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said that, look, when it comes to -- you have 15 different intelligence agencies. And so that's why you need an integrated budget approach, and that's what this person will be responsible for making sure happens. And that's -- and secondly, let me repeat to you, because I want everybody to hear it again -- we will be talking in more detail about that authority as we move forward. And so I think you can expect that we'll be having more to say on that authority as we move forward -- that's where it stands -- and on issues that you're bringing up now.
Q You sound undecided.
MR. McCLELLAN: Deb, you have to carefully consider these issues as you move forward, and you have to look at -- and again, that's why I said these recommendations were just made just over a week ago. So you want to carefully consider all of these issues as you move forward. But this person will have significant budget authority.
Q What about hiring and firing? Is that on the table?
MR. McCLELLAN: Significant authority involving personnel issues, as well. And again, on both those issues, we'll be providing more detail as we move forward.
Q So maybe people were jumping the gun by saying, oh, this is just a shell position that won't have any clout or any --
MR. McCLELLAN: I would dissuade you from trying to characterize it in those terms, because I just totally disagree with that characterization.
Q It's your understanding that he wants a powerful NID.
MR. McCLELLAN: We made that clear yesterday, I think.
Q I just want to make sure I understand. You're saying you're going to be talking about it in the future. That basically means that it's going to be a give-and-take with Congress as to what the final decision is on the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I would describe it the way I did, that we'll be providing more detail as we move forward on this. Obviously, when you're talking about something that requires congressional action, you're going to work closely with Congress on those matters. But the President made very clear his commitment to making sure that we had a National Intelligence Director that has the authority and power he or she needs to do the job.
Q On another issue. On Kerry, -- sorry, Kerry did some interviews on Sunday, I don't think you were asked about it -- said that he wanted to -- he planned to substantially reduce the number of U.S. troops in Iraq by the end of his first term, within his first term, if he's elected. What do you think of him making suggestions about troop --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that -- and this goes back to what I said last week, and I think it also goes back to what he has been saying for quite some time. The Senator is a walking contradiction. I think that he had a very clever speech last week at the convention. But I think the American people, frankly, expected that he would have been more straightforward about his positions, particularly on Iraq. And the American people know the President's positions.
And it's important that people are clear about their positions, particularly in a time of war. The President doesn't have any secret plans. The American people know what his plans are. He has a plan for success in Iraq that is based on expanding and strengthening the Iraqi security forces, and based on broadening international support, which we have seen important progress in that respect, and moving forward on elections, so that the Iraqi people will be in a position to assume ultimate responsibility for their future, and that includes the security situation.
And so the American people know where the President stands on Iraq. And I think it's interesting that Senator Kerry has still not answered a basic question, which is, based on what he knows now, does he believe it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power.
Q Senator Kerry has thrown back a word that your campaign has used against him a lot, which is, flip-flopping. He says that President Bush was originally against the National Intelligence Director and now he's for it. How do you answer that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President addressed that issue yesterday, and I'll let the campaign talk more about some of those political attacks that he's making. Those are just more political attacks from someone who has -- had a lot of trouble explaining his position on Iraq and continues to refuse to defend his record over the nearly 20 years he spent in the United States Senate. So there are clear choices and clear differences here. But the campaign, I think, has already responded to that particular charge.
Q One last random question. And that is about the schedule. Why were we supposed to overnight and then not overnight?
MR. McCLELLAN: Apparently that was worked out. And the networks and others had wanted it that way. So those are logistical details that were worked out with our staff. And that was something that you all had decided upon. We don't make those final determinations. We consult with you guys. But I'm sure someone in the Association, maybe, that's in this group, can talk to you more about it, too.
END 11:32 A.M. EDT