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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 20, 2004
Press Gaggle by Scott Mcclellan
Crawford Middle School
12:45 P.M. CDT
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon. The President participated in his usual briefings this morning. Following that, he spoke with Secretary Rumsfeld. They discussed Iraq, including the latest developments on the ground in Najaf, and they also talked about Monday's defense meeting here in Crawford.
The President also spoke with Mike Brown, our FEMA Director, this morning, and received an update about our response and recovery efforts to Hurricane Charley. They talked about the power situation in the hard-hit areas, as well as the ongoing cooperation between the federal, state, and local officials to help the people of Florida who have been impacted by Hurricane Charley.
Let me just give you a quick update on Monday's meeting. This is the fourth annual meeting on defense priorities that we've had down here in Crawford. I expect that they will discuss a number of topics, including Iraq and the war on terrorism. This is a chance for the President and Secretary Rumsfeld and other military leaders to get outside of Washington, D.C. and have a good, detailed discussion about key defense priorities.
In attendance will be the President, Dr. Rice, Secretary Rumsfeld, General Myers, and other military leaders. And participating by video conference, I expect General Abizaid and General Casey to be participating in the meeting.
And that's what I've got, so I'm here for your questions.
Q Vice President?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't expect a -- well, let me check to see if he's going to be on by video conference.* *(Secretary Andy Card and the Vice President will both be at the meeting.)
Q Does the White House have anybody particularly designated to be a liaison for the White House in the hurricane cleanup down in Florida?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have White House officials that -- sure, that stay in close contact. Our Deputy Chief of Staff and -- our Deputy Chief of Staff and others stay in close contact and regular contact with Mike Brown and other officials regarding the hurricane, as well as state officials.
Q Scott, subject once again, the Swift Boat ads, et cetera. You've seen the New York Times article this morning which gets into quite a lot of detail, and they allege that there's a web of connections to the Bush family and high-profile Texas figures and Karl Rove. So how can the White House say that there's no connection whatsoever between the campaign and White House and --
MR. McCLELLAN: We've already said we weren't involved in any way in these ads. We've made that clear. I do think that Senator Kerry losing his cool should not be an excuse for him to lash out at the President with false and baseless attacks. I mean, where has the Kerry been -- Kerry campaign been for the last year while more than $62 million in funding through these shadowy groups has been used to negatively attack the President. The Kerry campaign has been noticeably silent, and in many instances, they have actually fueled these kinds of attacks by these shadowy groups that are funded by unregulated soft money.
Q In what way?
Q What do you mean, fueled?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, just last week, the campaign held a news conference where General Clarke was repeating some of the same attacks used by some of these 527 groups.
Go ahead, Pete.
Q On the Swift Boat ads, can you tell us what the relationship is between Bob Perry and the President? Have the two known each other over the years?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you can check with the campaign. I think he's been a supporter.
Q And Karl Rove --
MR. McCLELLAN: But again, I mean, you're trying to draw -- draw us into this, and we've made it very clear, the President has made it very clear that we're not going to question Senator Kerry's service. The President has made it very clear that he feels his service was noble. He said that just last week. I mean, all -- all that information is public record if you want to look at supporters.
Q And the relationship between Bob Perry and Karl Rove?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know -- they know each other, I know that. But that still shouldn't be used to draw any connection there because we have not been involved in this ad, whatsoever. And Senator Kerry appears to have lost his cool, and now he's just launching into false and baseless attacks against the President. The Kerry campaign has fueled these very kinds of attacks against the President.
Q Did the White House think of any -- did the White House make any move to stop the ad once they realized it was underway?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, see, this ad is another example of the problem with these shadowy groups that are funded by unregulated soft money. And that's why the President has spoken out against this kind of advertising. We need to put an end to this kind of unregulated soft money activity that is going on. The President thought he did that when he signed the bipartisan campaign finance reforms into law.
And that's why we've called on the Kerry campaign to join us and call for an end to all of these ads. The President condemned all of these ads and activity that are going on by these shadowy groups. So that's why I pointed out that over the last year, the Kerry campaign has been noticeably silent on these shadowy groups, while at the same time fueling some of the very attacks that these groups have launched. We can put an end to it all if Senator Kerry would come out and join the President and say, let's stop this kind of unregulated soft money activity.
Go ahead, Jill.
Q Scott, do you know when the White House first heard about those ads? Did they -- in other words, did you hear about them before they appeared?
MR. McCLELLAN: When they -- no, when they became public, Jill. We've already talked about this, too.
Go ahead, Mark.
Q Explain why the President doesn't think that even shadowy groups have first amendment rights?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Mark, the President believes that -- and he's always -- he's long talked about this, about full and rapid disclosure of contributors to political organizations and to political campaigns. And he's lead by example when it comes to that. There were campaign finance reforms that were passed that the President viewed improved the system. And they were intended to level the playing field for parties and campaigns. And the President believes there should be a level playing field for parties and campaigns in politics.
And these groups have gone around the law and used this unregulated soft money as -- in the instance of the President, they've been Democratic front groups to attack the President of the United States. We talk about individuals that may support these groups. I would encourage you to look at the individuals that have supported the number of groups that have been out there launching negative attacks against the President of the United States.
But I can repeat to you up here that we have not been involved in any way, whatsoever, in the ads that you brought up at the beginning of this briefing.
Q Two questions, also about the Swift Boats. You said that Wesley Clark last week was doing -- was repeating some of these attacks on the President. Did you feel that these were false and baseless attacks that Wesley Clark was repeating, or that it was saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: We already referred to it as such, last week.
Q What were these attacks, specifically?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can go back and look, last week. I don't think I need to stand up here and repeat all these kind of negative attacks. I appreciate you asking me to, but we addressed it last week.
Q And then, also, in this Times article from this morning, they named a Texas pioneer who had funded some of the Swift Boats for Truth campaign.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's one of the -- one of the problems with these shadowy groups is that, at this point, we don't know the kind of funding that is going into these groups and from all the sources. And that's why I point out that this kind of ad and activity is just another example of the problem you have with these 527 groups that are funded by these -- by soft money that is unregulated.
Q Would you say that the President discourages people who give to him to give to these 527 groups?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has called for an end to all of this kind of activity. That's what he has done. And we call on the Kerry campaign to join us.
Q Does he discourage giving to those groups?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Senator Kerry could help put an end to this all right now if he would come out and join us and say, let's stop all these 527 groups from advertising and from their activity, because that was what the campaign finance reform was supposed to do. It appears that the Kerry -- Senator Kerry and his campaign want to have it both ways. Let's look at what's going on here, though. When you look at the facts, I mean, millions and millions of dollars have been spent by these shadowy groups to negatively attack the President.
Q Scott, it would seem that all of this would just go away if you were to denounce the specific content of this one ad. Why not --
MR. McCLELLAN: All the -- all the soft money advertising would go away?
Q The specific message from this ad, which has also been --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, where has the Kerry campaign been for the last year, Dana, when all these ads have been going on against the President.
Q But he condemned that specific ad done by MoveOn. I think that's what's fueling this here.
MR. McCLELLAN: Who did?
Q Kerry denounced the specific ad by MoveOn, questioning the President's --
MR. McCLELLAN: All of a sudden, when it's to benefit his own campaign, he comes out and does that. But where was he with all these other ads and negative attacks that have been going on through these same kind of groups?
Q Well, that may be. I'm just wondering why not just put this whole thing to rest.
MR. McCLELLAN: We could, if Senator Kerry would join us and call for an end to this kind of activity.
Q Scott, why the ad hominem attack, or the really personal nature of saying that Senator Kerry lost his cool? Would you be more specific why you think he lost his cool --
MR. McCLELLAN: You know, I had seen some of his comments yesterday before I briefed, and then, when I saw him last night on TV, he just appeared to be angry and lose his cool, and then he used that to launch into false and baseless attacks against the President. I said that that shouldn't be -- his losing his cool shouldn't be an excuse to falsely attack the President. And this -- these kind of groups have been out there for the last year participating in similar attacks against the President. And the Kerry campaign has just been silent on it.
Q Scott, oil is now creeping up to $50 a barrel. And people are saying that it could threaten recession, et cetera, a very serious problem. I know you keep talking about the energy bill, but the energy bill doesn't appear to be going anywhere at this point, and the problem is really very serious. What's the administration going to do?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, we called for passage of a comprehensive energy plan more than three years ago. The President remains concerned about rising energy prices and the impact those prices have on families and workers.
And it is for this reason, now, that the President, on day one of this administration, has been working to pass a comprehensive energy plan. The President continues to call on Congress to pass his comprehensive energy plan that will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. We need comprehensive solutions, not patchwork crisis management. And this is something we go through every year, because Congress has not acted on the President's plan, and because the Senate -- certain members of the Senate, including the President's opponent, have blocked passing the comprehensive energy legislation.
Q But if that is the fact, and if it's been going on for three years, then isn't that beating a dead horse? Maybe there's another approach. Would you, for instance, consider opening the strategic reserves, as Kerry has been proposing, and others?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Senator Kerry could change his position and join the President and call on the Senate to get it passed and get it to the President's desk. And then we wouldn't be going through this situation every year. But the President does keep an eye on the energy prices. We've seen gas prices come down, but oil prices have been going up. And we've made our position very clear when it comes to the strategic petroleum reserve. It's not there to manipulate prices for political purposes, it is there for national emergencies or in the event of a severe disruption of supply, in order to protect consumers and our economy. And if that -- in such circumstances, it should not be doubted that we would act. But the strategic petroleum reserve is vital to our national security, and filling it helps protect American consumers and protect our economy against a severe disruption in the supply of oil.
Q But, Scott, are you saying that Senator Kerry is contributing to high oil prices? I mean, isn't that what you're suggesting with your comment about the energy --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying that if we passed a comprehensive energy plan, it would reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. Senator Kerry has been out there talking recently about the importance of expanding conservation and clean coal technologies and looking at alternative sources of energy. Well, we welcome him talking about the very things the President has outlined in his comprehensive energy plan. Now he needs to get on board and call for the Senate to vote on this and get it to the President's desk. We keep going through these problems every year, and people look for patchwork solutions. We need long-term, comprehensive solutions, so that we don't go through it every year.
Q Let me go back to the Reserve. Why don't you just stop filling it -- I mean, not using it, but just stop filling it? Don't you think that would send to the market a --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, because of how important it is to our national security. We still are dependent on foreign sources of energy. And that helps protect us and strengthen our national security, in the event that there is a severe disruption in supply. And I think people have pointed out that filling it really has a negligible impact, just like tapping it would -- in the past has had a negligible impact.
Q In terms of signal, don't you think it would send to the market the right signal, saying we just stop filling it for the time being and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember -- remember, we're a nation at war. And tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve solely for political purposes to lower prices would reduce our protection and weaken -- and weaken us while we're at war.
Q I'm not saying, tapping, I'm saying, stop filling it.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand. But that's why I said, the importance of doing so helps strengthen us and strengthen our national security in the event that there is a severe disruption.
Q But how does the energy bill help with a factor like China --
MR. McCLELLAN: By the way, Bob, remind me about the week ahead at the end, while I'm thinking about it. Go ahead, sorry.
Q What does that -- the energy bill -- do to deal with the pressure of China, that is taking more and more oil, because it's growing? How does -- what's the connection?
MR. McCLELLAN: The connection of what?
Q The energy bill. How would that solve the problem --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are -- no, there are demand and supply issues. Those are things that we always -- that we always look at. But if you look at our comprehensive energy plan -- and much of it we've already implemented by executive branch action. There are some 100 -- I think, 105 recommendations, and more than 90 of them, we've been able to implement administratively. But what the comprehensive energy plan will do is exactly what I was talking about a minute ago, will diversify our supply of energy here at home, it'll expand our conservation efforts, it'll increase fuel efficiency, and it'll put us in a position where we're less dependent on foreign sources of energy and help us meet the demand here at home.
Q Scott, following up on that, since there is a log-jam in Congress right now on the energy bill, and when Congress does come back, there will be focus primarily on the 9/11 Commission recommendations and the budget, is the President contemplating any other measures that he can take, or the Energy Department can take to bring down the price of oil, with the exception of SPR?
MR. McCLELLAN: The administration is always looking at -- looking at ways to address these issues. Absolutely. And we need to -- and we will continue to do so.
Q Can you give us an idea of what --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and most importantly, what needs to happen is Congress needs to act and pass a comprehensive energy plan, because it's a recurring problem every year that we run into. We also need a comprehensive energy plan to modernize our electricity grid. So --
Q But short of getting that --
MR. McCLELLAN: But -- but people keep looking for patchwork crisis management solutions. We need comprehensive, permanent solutions.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Richard.
Q This morning, in a conference call with Senator Schumer, on behalf of the Kerry campaign, accused the President of doing nothing to solve the energy problem. Is the administration doing things like diplomatically or anything being done right now --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're very well aware that we are, and we've kept you -- kept you apprised you of contacts that we have with producers around the world, both OPEC members and non-OPEC members, to make sure that there are adequate supplies of energy. So that's important to our growing global economy.
Q Scott, do you have any information on that American journalist who's being held in Iraq? There are some stories that he might be released.
MR. McCLELLAN: Even if I did, I wouldn't get into a discussion of it. Obviously, any time there is an American that is hostage, it's a high priority for the administration. This is another example of those who are the enemies of freedom seeking to shake the will of the multinational force. And they cannot. They will be defeated.
Q On Iraq, the President of Iran has called on Muslim nations to get together and discuss what he's calling a spiritual and human catastrophe that's existing right now.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President of?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q And I was wondering, does the President think there's any truth to this characterization at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen the exact comments. Is this something recent?
Q Well, today.
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen his exact comments. But what Iran needs to do is work to help -- be helpful to the interim government in Iraq and helpful to the Iraqi people as they move to build a free and peaceful future, and not take steps that would be harmful in that respect. And I think we've made that clear. But Iran also needs to take action to end its pursuit of nuclear weapons. And so I think the Iranian government says a lot of things from time to time, but I haven't seen those specific comments.
All right. Bob.
Q Week ahead.
Q How is the speech going?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's coming.
Let's see, on the week ahead. I already talked to you about Monday's meeting here with Secretary Rumsfeld and defense leaders.
On Thursday, August 26th, we will leave here and go to Las Cruces, New Mexico for a rally. Following that, the President will make remarks at a -- at Farmington -- at a Farmington, New Mexico rally, then remarks at an Albuquerque, New Mexico rally. We'll overnight back in Washington.
On Friday, the 27th, the President will make remarks at a Miami, Florida rally.
And then on Saturday, August 28th -- I know everybody is anxious to get back on the bus -- the President will make remarks at a Troy, Ohio rally. Then he will participate in an "Ask President Bush" event in Lima, Ohio. And then he will make remarks at a Toledo-Maumee, Ohio rally.
On Sunday, the 29th, the President will make remarks at a Wheeling, West Virginia rally.
And then, one update on the schedule the following week. The President, on Tuesday, the 31st, will make remarks at the American Legion National Convention in Nashville.
Q What about Monday the 30th?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no update on the rest of the schedule that week. I'm going to try to get you more of an update early next week on all the activity leading into the convention.
Q Is he overnighting on the road starting Friday?
MR. McCLELLAN: What's that?
Q Is he overnighting on the road starting Friday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Friday -- you mean, Friday the 27th?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I believe we're back in D.C. Yes, all those are back in D.C. Those are back in D.C.
Q They're all day trips, Friday, Saturday --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, those are day trips.
Q Is he back in D.C. on Sunday the 29th?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, back to D.C. Those are all day trips.
Q Is he there on Monday, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said, next -- I'm trying to, like, maybe Monday or Tuesday of next week, get you an update on his schedule leading into the convention. And that would be leading into convention that Monday.
Q American Legion is also a day trip?
MR. McCLELLAN: What's that?
Q The American Legion, that's also a day trip, the Tuesday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'll update you on the rest of the schedule that week next week and let you know for sure on all that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Last question, okay. Yes, the President has been following the Olympics, and pulling for all of our American athletes. He is proud of all of our Olympians. They are performing with great skill and determination, and it is inspiring to watch. He has been keeping a close eye on Team USA and watching it when he can, is the way I would describe it.
Q Hey, Scott, was the President surprised, as I was, to learn --
MR. McCLELLAN: Next to last question.
Q -- Puerto Rico has its own teams? (Laughter.) Against the United States? Can you explain that?
MR. McCLELLAN: That was new to you?
Q Yes, it was.
MR. McCLELLAN: When you found out the basketball game, huh?
Q Who was he cheering for, the U.S. or Puerto Rico? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: There's no question on that one. But no, I mean, look, all the swimmers, Michael Phelps and Aaron Peirsol and Amanda Beard, and the gymnasts -- you know, Paul Hamm and Carly Patterson -- I mean, that's all been very inspiring to watch.
Q Any sport --
MR. McCLELLAN: What's that?
Q Is there a particular sport he's drawn to?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll try to find out more. But like I said, he's been keeping an eye on it and watching it when he can. So, thanks.
END 1:09 P.M. CDT
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