For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 19, 2004
Press Gaggle by
Crawford Middle School
12:55 P.M. CDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, good afternoon, and welcome back to Crawford, Texas. The President had his usual briefings this morning. He's been staying in touch with staff on various matters, and he's been having a little bit of downtime after a busy schedule the last few weeks. I know he just completed a bike ride a short time ago, too. And with that I'm here for your questions. So I'll go straight to those.
Q Scott, is the President changing his position on these drug imports from Canada and other countries? It sounded like he was quite open to the idea, with the caveat that it has to be safe.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's been a task force -- it was part of the Medicare legislation -- there's a task force that has been looking into this issue, and looking at how -- what we would need in order to be able to import these drugs safely. Right now we cannot assure the safety of these drugs that would be imported in the United States. It's a safety matter. The public health of the American people always must be a top priority, and so that task force has been assigned to look at whether or not -- and what it would take to import those drugs in a safe manner. But his position remains the same at this point.
We have taken a number of steps to bring down the cost of prescription drugs at the same time, while speeding the access to generic drugs and the approval of those generic drugs, as well as passing the Medicare legislation to provide seniors with the prescription drugs coverage that they have waited on for far too long.
Q He doesn't worry about the criticism that importing those drugs that would create real economic problems for pharmaceutical companies, et cetera?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's always been a safety issue, from our standpoint. Like I said, that when you start having these drugs that are imported without any checks on whether or not they are safe and effective, then public health is put at risk. And the President believes that the safety of the American people must be the top priority when you're looking at this matter. And so there was a task force that has been assigned with looking at how we could go about and do this in a safe manner, what resources would be needed. The FDA does not have the adequate resources to ensure the safety of these drugs at this point. But the President will continue working to build upon his record for reducing prescription drug costs through the steps that he's already taken.
Q Is there a timetable for the task force to report back?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there was a timetable spelled out in the legislation, but I'd have to double check that. They might have been given like a year to go and look at the issue and come back and report on it. But I'd have to double check that. And you might check with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Q On the Swift Boat ad, Kerry is saying that the President is relying on front groups to challenge Kerry's war record. Why won't the President denounce this particular ad? McCain asked the President to do so, and every day that you don't condemn it, it just leaves the door open for the issue to continue.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, Pete, I think there's a little bit of a mischaracterization there. Senator Kerry knows that his latest attack is false and baseless. The President has condemned all of the ads by the shadowy groups. We have called on Senator Kerry to join us in calling for an end to all the unregulated soft money activity that is going on in this campaign. And the President has stayed focused on the issues and the choices that the voters face. That's what this ought to be about. There are some clear choices that the voters face for the future. This should not be about the past, and we've made that very clear.
Q But don't you think you could put this matter to rest if you would just condemn this particular ad? That's what Kerry is asking.
MR. McCLELLAN: And the President has condemned all of the ads and condemned all of the soft money -- unregulated soft money that is going on. Senator Kerry should join us in calling for an end to all of this soft money -- unregulated soft money activity. Senator Kerry has declined to do so. The President has been on the receiving end of more than $62 million in negative, false attacks from these shadowy groups that exist. The President thought that we got rid of all of this kind of soft money activity when he signed the campaign finance reforms into law. Apparently Senator Kerry was against this soft money activity previously, too. Now he appears to be for it, as long as it benefits his campaign.
Q There are the ads, and then there's the charge within the ads. Last week at one of the "Ask President Bush" events, a voter stood up and repeated the charge that Senator Kerry had self-inflicted wounds in Vietnam. The President didn't say anything. What does the President think about the charge?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, the President thinks that we should get rid of all of this unregulated soft money activity by these shadowy groups. It's not known who is contributing to these groups. The President believes that there ought to be full disclosure and rapid disclosure of contributions. He's called for that previously. He has set an example by doing that himself.
This campaign has focused on the future, not the past. We have focused on debating the issues and debating the candidates' visions. The President has talked about the clear choices we face on the important priorities, such as the war on terrorism. And there are some clear differences there. There are clear differences on how we go about supporting our troops while they wage the war on terrorism. Senator Kerry has voted against supporting our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, when last year he voted against the $87 billion appropriation. So there are some real differences on the issues, where this campaign ought to be focused. And that's what the President will continue to do.
Q Well, the charge, though, has been made not just in advertisements, but it has now been made directly to the President.
MR. McCLELLAN: And there have been a lot of false, negative charges made against the President by these shadowy groups. So if he would join us, we could get rid of all of this unregulated soft money activity.
Q Let me ask it this way: The President has said and believes that John Kerry served honorably in Vietnam, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he's made that very clear. We've made it very clear that we will not make his -- will never raise questions about his service. We haven't, and we won't.
Q This advertisement raises questions about his service, and in fact concludes that he served dishonorably. So the President thinks this ad is false, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the issue here is these unregulated soft money groups that exist. The campaign finance reforms were passed in order to get rid of this kind of activity. Yet there is a loophole in the law, and the FEC has refused to address it. We think that all of this activity should be stopped.
Q Could I follow on that? Because what Terry seems to be getting at, what's clear from this event that Bush had last week --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's not be selective here. Let's look at the overall activity that's going on by all of these shadowy groups. I think we're being a little selective right now. And Senator Kerry is being -- is trying to have it all ways, yet again. He says one thing, while his campaign goes out there and does another thing.
Q Well, even given your belief that it's selective, the President on the one hand will say --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, is it not? I mean, the President has been on the receiving end of --
Q I'm asking the questions right now. The point is that the President has let stand these charges, even made by a voter at one his events, as Terry says, doesn't say a word about it when he quotes these charges, just lets it go. It seems like the President, while he has certainly called his service noble in the Vietnam War, is happy to let all the rest of the charges sort of fester.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, actually I disagree fully with you, David. Senator Kerry is the one who has given his tacit approval to this kind of unregulated soft money activity by shadowy groups. He can join us in condemning all of this activity and calling for an end to it, and then we can move on to really focus on what this campaign should be about, which is about the differences on the key issues, the differences on the war on terrorism, the differences on how we go about strengthening our economy, and the differences on how we go about supporting our troops when they're at war.
Q You just don't want to get into the business of making a judgment about one ad, is your point.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that it's important that we recognize that there is a loop hole that groups are exploiting. And we should end all this activity. That was one of the purposes of the campaign finance reform.
Q Do you and the President agree that John Kerry served dishonorably in Vietnam?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've already said that. The President has already said that, we've already said that, we've made that clear, that -- the President said that he served nobly.
Q Do you believe it's fair game for allies of the President to be charging that John Kerry served dishonrably?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, ultimately in any campaign the voters are going to make the ultimate decision on all the issues. But this goes to the issue of shadowy groups that are funded by unregulated soft money. That's what this issue is about.
Q By not condemning this ad, you are leaving the impression that you support the contention that John Kerry served dishonorably.
MR. McCLELLAN: We condemned all the ads, Dana. We condemned all the ads. The President condemned all the ads. You heard from him just recently. Why won't -- why won't Senator Kerry join us in calling for an end to of this activity, when we've been on the receiving end of substantial amounts of money of this kind of activity.
Q Forget about the ads. Why won't you disassociate yourself from the charge that John Kerry served dishonorably in Vietnam?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've never questioned his service, and we never will. So I think we've made that very clear.
Q So he earned those medals?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're not going to question his service. We have not, and we will not.
Q Scott, yesterday, you said that the President is using this time to work on his acceptance speech. Where does that stand? Is it written? Is he polishing? Is he working with Karen Hughes?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's continuing to go through the speech process. The President continues to work on it. There's not really much of a further update to give at this time. He's staying in touch. In fact, one of the things he'll stay in touch with staff about over the next few days is the convention speech. But I think you can expect that it will -- while, of course, he'll talk about the clear differences that voters face, it'll very much be a forward-looking speech talking about his agenda for America that builds upon his record of results.
Q Are you ready to tell us yet how much time the President will spend in New York?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, not ready to update you on the schedule. It's still a couple of weeks out. We're still -- that's all still being finalized.
Q Kerry today also talked about the problems the rising expense of health care and how it has brought down wages, and how companies -- it's limiting job creation in the U.S. Do you have any response to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the campaign has already put out a response to that. Senator Frist has talked about it and pointed out that Senator Kerry has stood in the way of medical liability reform on a number of occasions. Reforming our medical liability laws would help reduce rising health care costs. This President has a strong record of reducing rising health care costs.
We have worked to speed the approval process for generic drugs, which are -- which will provide consumers with low -- access to lower cost drugs. We passed Medicare legislation in order to provide seniors with prescription drug coverage. Right now, seniors are able to receive significant discounts on their prescription drug coverage.
And so this President has a strong record of working to make health care more affordable. And unfortunately, there are a few in the Senate that have stood in the way of passing medical liability reform. And we see that health care costs continue to rise and doctors continue to be forced out of business because of our current medical liability laws. So he could make -- take an important step by reversing his past record and join us and support medical liability reform, to start with.
But I would point out, too, that one of the President's key priorities for strengthening our economy even more is to make health care more affordable and reduce the -- and reduce rising health care costs. That's why he's called for medical liability reforms, that's why he's called for allowing small businesses to pool their resources so that they can provide health care coverage to their employees. That's why he's worked to greatly expand community health centers so people have access to the care. And that's why he's also worked to pass health savings accounts.
Q Sorry to follow up, but does the President then agree with Kerry that the rising cost of health care is what's causing sluggish job creation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we've taken significant steps to get out economy moving forward. New jobs are being created. We've seen 1.5 million new jobs created since last August. We've seen unemployment drop to 5.5 percent, well below the averages of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. And after-tax income is up 10 percent. And that's an important thing to look at, too.
But the President is far from satisfied. There is more that we need to do to strengthen our economy. And that's why he has a six-point plan to strengthen it even more. And one key aspect of that plan is to make health care more affordable and more accessible to more Americans.
Q Scott, there was a time when you and other White House -- the President's spokespeople in the White House referred all questions about the campaign to the campaign organization. That's no longer the case. I'm just wondering, has an affirmative decision been made that, basically, the White House and the campaign are now one in the same? Have we reached that point, or maybe we've turned a corner?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, we've always defended the President's record and set the record straight when needed, and we will continue to do that. But in terms of any defining moment, no, I wouldn't look at it that way, and I don't know that everything has always been referred to the campaign. Certainly the campaign can provide you with some additional information when there are political attacks launched.
Q Can you talk a little bit about how the President is juggling his two roles now, as a candidate and as the President, his day job and also being out so much campaigning?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, wherever the President is, he is always focused on his official duties. He is President of the United States 24-7. Obviously there is a -- this is a campaign season, as well. And so he -- and we have the White House staff, and then you have the campaign staff. And he's certainly involved in some of the campaign strategizing and planning, and he is certainly spending some time focusing on the upcoming Republican Convention in New York. So he's working on his remarks and he's going to continue to focus more and more on his agenda going forward for the American people.
Q I have a question, and then a calendar question. The Iranian defense minister today, he said that the generals, other officials are getting nervous about the U.S. troop presence in Iraq, that the doctrine of preemption is not solely an American doctrine. I wonder what your reaction to that is?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Iranians say a lot of things. But what the Iranian government needs to do is end its pursuit of nuclear weapons. That's what our priority is when it comes to Iran. We've made that very clear. Germany, France and the British are making it very clear to the Iranians, as well. They need to fully comply with their international obligations and abide by what they said they would do. That's where our focus is, when it comes to Iran.
Q And then a calendar question. Can you tell us a little bit more about the Monday meeting with Rumsfeld?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll try to give you more on that tomorrow. But he has met on an annual basis down here in Crawford with Secretary Rumsfeld and military leaders to talk about our efforts to transform the military to better protect the American people. Obviously, he made a significant announcement this week, that as part of our efforts to transform the military by realigning our force structure. And so I think you can expect that the meeting will focus a good bit on transformation. I imagine they'll talk about Iraq, as well, and the war on terrorism.
Q The American Legion speech is when?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we haven't updated the schedule on that, but we'll get you that information later.
Q Can you tell us what kind of concerns the President has about the latest showdown in Najaf?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, the latest -- you said, his latest what?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, it's a problem that the Iraqi government is working to solve. They are the ones that are in charge of resolving this situation in Najaf. The multinational force there is there to assist with addressing the security situation. I think you've seen, from his past comments, that Sadr is someone that you cannot take at his word. We need to see his actions. And the Iraqi government has made it very clear that he cannot have a separate law for himself. The Iraqi government has made it clear that he needs to leave the Shrine of Ali, that he needs to disarm and disband the militia. And so they're working to bring a resolution to this situation. And the multinational forces, including the United States, is there to support the efforts of the interim government.
Q Does the administration think this is just the latest game of chicken, so to speak, or do you think that this is a very serious situation right there now, and that a blood bath is possible?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a serious security problem that the Iraqi government is working to address. And they are taking a very firm and tough stand with Sadr and his militia. And they've made very clear what their demands are, and what he needs to do. And we've seen a lot of comments coming out of his spokespeople. We need to see action by him to follow through on those demands.
Q Scott, with the platform hearings coming up in New York City next week, a number of Republican associated groups, such as Republicans for Choice, and the Log Cabin Republicans, and a number of others, are talking about trying to get their own changes into the platform with regard to certain issues like same-sex marriage and abortion and so forth. Is the President concerned that these groups will upset the unity of the convention?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think questions about the platform are best addressed to the Republican National Committee or to the convention staff. They can update you on where that process stands. But the President has always been someone who is an inclusive leader, who believes that the party should reach out to all people. And we welcome a diversity of views within our party. We always have.
Q During the 2000 hearings, President Bush had Tommy Thompson act as his guy there to make sure the process moved along the road the President wanted it to, or then, the Governor of Texas wanted it to. How -- does the President have somebody there that he is --
MR. McCLELLAN: You can talk to the -- talk to the convention and RNC staff about all those platform issues. So I think it best to address those questions -- best to address those questions to them. But, obviously -- yes, obviously, we've got people working on those issues.
Go ahead, Jill.
Q Scott, there is a case of a Chechyan -- I'll try to keep it brief, but there is a case of a Chechyan who --
MR. McCLELLAN: Does anybody want a brief gaggle?
Q I'll try to be brief, but it's interesting thing. He's the so-called Foreign Minister for the breakaway republic of Chechya. And he came to the United States, and he recently was granted asylum. I don't know if you're familiar with this case.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think the State Department was talking about some of this recently.
Q Could you explain to us, because what the Russians, obviously, are very angry about this. And they say it's a double standard, that if you're in the war on terror against terrorism together --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the State Department talked about this recently. I really haven't checked on the latest update on it. But you can look back at what they've said, and they'd probably be in a good position to talk to you about those issues.
Q Has the President, or Condi, or anybody like that spoken with the Russians?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see -- with the Russians? Well, we stay in close contact with the Russians on number -- on a number of issues. I'll see what else I can find out on this.
Q Has the White House been briefed on a new Army investigative report about Abu Graib? The report talks about how --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen the news reports. Obviously, there are a number of investigations that continue. This is not something that has, to my knowledge, been released publicly. I think that we need to let the Department of Defense continue to do their work. The President has made it very clear that those who are responsible for these appalling acts need to be held accountable and brought to justice. Secretary Rumsfeld has made it very clear that he's committed to holding people accountable and bringing people to justice that were responsible for these appalling acts. And not that I'm -- not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Do you have a timetable of you -- when you expect the subsequent 9/11 Commission reports to be declassified? There were some subsequent reports that Card's office is working on that's still need to be declassified. Do you have any timetable on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard any recent update. I mean, obviously, there's a declassification process that is followed when it comes to issues like that. But, no, I don't have an update on it.
Q Just one last on the timetable.
Q What's holding up release of the executive orders following up on the 9/11 Commission report?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I'd look at it and characterize it in those terms. We're -- the recommendations were just completed and announced a few weeks ago. We continue to move forward in a deliberate and serious manner. The President is -- and keep in mind that we've already implemented or are implementing, in one way or another, 36 of 41 of the recommendations that were made. The President is strongly committed to continue to build upon the progress we have already made to make -- put to -- to reform our intelligence community and to better protect the American people.
And we continue to move forward on those -- there are details that we're working through. Those continue to be -- in terms of the presidential directives, I think, is what you're referring to -- the President said that he would be coming forward with some in the coming days. And that's where it stands. We're still working through those.
Q So you have a time line for us about when you expect those?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm not going to -- I mean it's -- we'll be talking more about those presidential directives soon, but I wouldn't put more of a time line on it than that.
Q Is it just presidential directives that you're working on, or are you actually working on legislation that you might submit --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the National Intelligence Director, that's something that will require legislation. And we continue to work through the details on the budget authority and the personnel authority. The President is strongly committed to creating a National Intelligence Director that has all the authority he or she needs to do the job. And those discussions are ongoing, and we'll be talking more about that as we move forward, as well.
Q Are you working with someone on the Hill on that, on your version of it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we stay in close contact with Congress on these issues, and congressional leaders on these issues. But there's nothing more to announce, really, in terms of how we're moving forward on that.
Q Any particular lawmaker up on the Hill that you're working with?
MR. McCLELLAN: We stay in touch with a number of congressional leaders on this. But, again, I said there's nothing else to announce on it at this point. We continue to work through the details of the authority that the National Intelligence Director would have.
Q One other thing, can you tell us who is going to be here on Monday besides Rumsfeld?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll check. I'll get you all that information. We'll try to get it to you tomorrow, if not sooner.
Q Scott, back to the Swift Boat ad, just a quick question. Senator Kerry leveled the charge that the group that produced the ad is just a front for the Bush-Cheney campaign. Can you assure us there is no connection between those two?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've already assured you of that.
All right. Last one, thanks.
Q National missile defense, the President has been talking about it. We know that the missile has been put into the silo, I think was last month. When did that come online? When is it actually put into action?
MR. McCLELLAN: Talk to the Department of Defense about the -- about the timing on all that. But the President is strongly committed to moving forward on missile defense because it will put us in a better position to protect the American people against the dangerous threats we face in the 21st century. But that's best, in terms of the timing and all of that, to talk to the Department of Defense.
END 1:20 P.M. CDT