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 Home > News & Policies > September 2004

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 29, 2004

Press Gaggle by Scott Mcclellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Macdill Air Force Base, Florida

2:00 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, a couple of things. First of all, the President had his usual briefings this morning before we departed. When we get there, he'll be touring the orange groves at the farm of Marty and Pat McKenna. They are orange growers in Polk County.

Q Marty --

MR. McCLELLAN: McKenna, or Polk or Bush?

Q McKenna.


Q What was their first name?

MR. McCLELLAN: Marty and Pat. And they have lost almost half their crop as a result of the hurricane. They have been hard hit by three of the four hurricanes: Charley, Frances and Jeanne.

Q What city is that in?

MR. McCLELLAN: Lake Wells, or just outside Lake Wells.

Q How big is their farm?

MR. McCLELLAN: They can probably get that information for you. But after touring the orange groves, then he'll make remarks to the pool. And I think he'll thank all the people in Florida who are showing their compassion for their neighbors in need, as well as some relief workers. And he'll talk about the federal response efforts, as well, and the response by FEMA. And then we go to Miami, where he'll be for the evening.

And tomorrow -- I want to update the schedule -- we will -- tomorrow we will visit some of the relief efforts in the Martin County area. This is around Stuart, Florida.

Q Martin?

MR. McCLELLAN: Martin County, yes.

Q Near what city?

MR. McCLELLAN: Stuart, Florida. We'll be choppering there in the morning, and I expect he'll be back around 12:00 p.m. tomorrow. I'll try to get you the exact location.

Q --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's closer than that.

That's what I've got.

Q Do you know what Stuart is near, what other big city?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't. I'll go get you the map.

Q Lake Wales, is it in Central Florida, or do you even have any idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll try to -- Lake Wales, yes, Central Florida, 55 miles east of Tampa. Polk County is the 8th most populous county in Florida.

Q Are we going to Melbourne today, also?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, just Polk County.

Q Can I respectfully ask that on days like this we get a real schedule? I know you have a policy, but it really hurts us not to know when and where we're going.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, some of this -- no, I understand that, we try to do that. But some of this is because the hurricanes have just hit. We have people on the ground. They're still finalizing up all the plans. And so we try to give you as best we can, but I hear you.

Q I could use a --

MR. McCLELLAN: For tomorrow, we're still finalizing up plans for the visit, the morning.

Q Does that mean we won't get a schedule, like today?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll do what we can.

Q I'd really appreciate a mini on a day like today or tomorrow.

Q Is the President ready for the debate?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's looking forward to it. This is an opportunity to talk to the American people about the clear choices they face on how we lead in the war on terrorism. And the President has continued to do some very informal preparations. The formal preparation is really -- was completed over the weekend. At this point, it's just informal conversations.

Q What does that mean?

MR. McCLELLAN: Just more -- just conversations of some of the points he'll be making tomorrow night in the debates. I think you heard from Karen earlier. It's continued to be difficult to prepare, with Senator Kerry continuing to shift his positions, even up to the last minute here today on Good Morning America today.

Q Why did you change gears on Friday and scrap the Florida trip?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Why did you scrap the Friday trips to Florida?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll update the schedule on Friday. He will be participating in campaign events. But I don't know that anything was ever final.

Q Week ahead had him in St. Petersburg and some place else.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's probably just related to all the hurricane events that -- the events that -- that was prior to Hurricane Jeanne hitting, so I think it probably --

Q So he's putting in time today and tomorrow in Florida, then you move on Friday --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, related to touring some of the damage from Hurricane Jeanne.

Q The President's campaign advisors have basically said that this is Kerry's sort of last chance to turn the race around. Does he agree with that assessment?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think -- what we believe is that -- what we've always said is, that it's going to be a close election, all the way up until the end. But there are clear differences on the biggest priorities facing the American people, first and foremost on the war on terrorism. We are a nation that is still at war, and it's important that the President speak with clarity and show resolve. And that's what this President has done. He will talk about his optimistic vision and his resolve and his clear strategy for success. And that stands in stark contrast to Senator Kerry, who has offered pessimism and uncertainty and defeatism during a time of war. And he is -- his mixed signals are sending the wrong message.

Even up to today, he offered his latest contradiction and yet another new position on Iraq. And so I think, obviously, Senator Kerry has his work cut out for him trying to bring some clarity to his shifting positions and his uncertainty in the time of war.

Q Tony Blair has apologized for the evidence that brought the country into war against Iraq, apologizing since apparently some of it was wrong. Do you think the President will also apologize?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has already talked about what Prime Minister Blair said. The President said we all thought we were going to find the stockpiles, and we're surprised that we did not. But also look at what Prime Minister Blair said and what the President has said: It was the right decision to go in and remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power; he was a threat that we could no longer afford to ignore and let -- and let him continue to deceive the world.

Q Was it appropriate to apologize?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has already spoken to that issue, John. So he's already said that --

Q Did he apologize?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's already said that, I thought we would have found the stockpiles.

Q That's not an apology.

Q Is that an apology?

MR. McCLELLAN: Dick, he's already addressed this issue. It's the same -- Prime Minister Blair said what he's been saying, too. We all expected to find the stockpiles, but the decision to remove Saddam Hussein, as Prime Minister Blair reiterated again yesterday, was the right decision, because he was a threat and the world is better off with Saddam Hussein removed from power. And that's --

Q Can you say that's more an explanation or an apology? I don't think the statements are --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President said this quite some time ago, he spoke to this very issue quite some time ago. He said the same thing -- Prime Minister Blair said we all thought we were going to find the stockpiles. We all thought we were going to find the stockpiles. But it was the right decision to remove Saddam Hussein --

Q Where is the word sorry?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- from power, and that we're better off -- and we're better off because of it.

Q -- into a place where you use words like --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd be glad to show you where he said that we all expected to.

Q It's the contrition --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's already said --

Q There's no apology.

MR. McCLELLAN: He's already talked to this very issue, Jodi.

Q John Walker Lindh asked for his sentence to be reduced, asked that of the President. Is the President going to consider that?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's a process in place for reviewing petitions of that nature. And the first thing that happens is it goes to the Department of Justice, and they review the matter before making any recommendations. And so that's where it is in the process.

Q Too early to say whether he'd be inclined --

MR. McCLELLAN: There's a procedure set up in the Department of Justice, and it goes to the Department of Justice, they review it, and then they make recommendations after they've reviewed it.

Q Scott, the President has asked for, I think, $12 billion in aid to Florida for the four hurricanes, which I think is more than would go towards the reconstruction of Iraq for a year. Is it -- this seems like a blatantly political thing, coming at this time, and obviously the President did his third hurricane visit, tomorrow will be his fourth. How do you think this is going to affect the election in Florida?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know how you can look at it that way. Florida is the first state in 120 years to be hit by four hurricanes. And there are areas that have been devastated, whether it's neighborhoods or farms or inner-city areas, they have --

Q Is it more devastated than Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: The people of Florida have been hit hard by these hurricanes, and it's important that the federal government do everything it can to assist and recover in those efforts. And that's exactly what we are doing. And that's why the President has asked for some $12 billion in assistance from the federal level to help people recover from these natural disasters.

Q Is this $7 billion today? Where are we at on the supplemental?

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of -- let me double check. Let me double check.

Q Do you know whether there is one --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know --

Q Is there one remaining to be signed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's one -- we're still asking Congress to -- you're talking the $7 billion that he just requested?

Q Seven point one billion dollars.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what he's urging Congress to pass quickly, I'm sorry. The previous money had already been acted on by Congress. But it's an additional $7 billion in funding that we just requested on Monday for Congress to act on, and he'll continue to urge Congress to move quickly on this emergency supplemental funding. This is a time where we all need to come together and support the people of Florida.

Q No signings pending today, then.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q No signings pending today, then.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, because it needs to be passed first.

Q Four hurricanes in what may be the most important state in this election. How is it going to affect the race in Florida?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, I guess I just don't look at it that way. This is -- I don't think that's the way it should be viewed. This is a time to help -- to make sure we're doing everything we can to help in the response and recovery. I mean, you all will look at it in that context, and I'll leave it to you all to make those determinations.

But the President has a responsibility to make sure that the federal government is assisting in every way possible. And that's what he's here to do. He also has a responsibility as the President of the United States to thank all our relief workers and first responders who have been working overtime to help the people of Florida, and also to help those faith-based groups, like the Salvation Army and the Red Cross, who have shown tremendous compassion in their outreach efforts.

Q If this were happening in Vermont, would it have the same response from the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean, would we have the same response? I don't think Vermont is going to hit this hard by a hurricane, because it's not -- it's land locked.

Q You know what I'm saying, a deep blue, deep red state, not a swing state, the response would be the same?

MR. McCLELLAN: We just went to Georgia, as well. They were hit hard, as well. We went there too.

Q Alabama.

Q What would you say to people who are saying this is pandering for votes, and buying votes with federal money?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen a lot of people say that. I think I've seen people rally behind the people of Florida during this difficult time that they've been through, with four hurricanes hitting their state.

Q Scott, the President seems to be having a sort of relaxed attitude about the debates. I mean, he did his prep sessions over the weekend, and now he seems -- he's focused on presidential duties, as you said, today. Is he -- what should we take from the sort of, kind of --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I agree with your -- I mean, he's looking forward to the debate, but he also recognizes he's up against a very skilled debater. And the one thing that we know for sure is that tomorrow night, at the end of the debate, the people are going to know where the President stands on the big issues and what he believes. We can't say the same about Senator Kerry. Again today he continued to offer another round of contradictions and shifting positions on a very important issue. He recognizes that Senator Kerry is a tough and skilled debater.

Q But he doesn't feel the need to cram, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's been through some of these -- he's been through these types of debates before, and he looks at it as an opportunity to talk about the big issues facing the American people. And so he's looking forward to it.

Q Emotions, we want emotion.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's ready and looking forward to it. That's the way I would describe it.

Q Talking about it all the time, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's in great spirits. This is an opportunity to talk to the American people directly about what his vision is for leading the country forward in the war on terrorism over the next four years and to talk about the great success that we have achieved in the war on terrorism.

Q Is he running lines up there? Is he walking around the ranch reciting Kerry's different positions on Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: He got in a bike ride and some fishing this morning.

Q This morning?


Q While he's fishing, he's thinking of these zingers, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's ready and looking forward to it.

All right, thanks.

END 2:16 P.M. EDT