The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 20, 2004

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan Speaks to Reporters
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Manchester, New Hampshire

1:06 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: The President had his usual briefings this morning. At the "Ask President Bush," he'll highlight how small businesses and families have benefitted from his pro-growth economic policies. He'll talk about his 21st century jobs plan to prepare workers for the jobs of the -- in a changing economy. And he'll talk about association health plans. So there will be a small business owner, a tax family, a job -- someone who has participated in job retraining, and a small business owner who supports associated health plans that will be participating in the "Ask President Bush."

And let's see, then we've got remarks this evening to the Victory 2004 event in New York. And we're overnighting in New York for UNGA tomorrow. And that's what I've got for right now.

Q Is there an agreement on debates?

MR. McCLELLAN: That will all come from the campaign. There could be more on that later today, but you need to check with the campaign.

Q There could what?

MR. McCLELLAN: There could be more on that later today, but you need to check with the campaign on that.

Q Why are you leaving that announcement to them, rather than -- I mean --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a campaign announcement, and James Baker has been involved in leading that effort. So it will come from the campaign, Terry.

Q Could you tell us the forum? How does it happen?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said, you can talk to the campaign about those details.

Q Has the President done any debate preparation yet?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And as I said the other day, you can expect that he will continue to do some debate prep between now and the debates. But I'm not getting into reading those out.

Q Judd Gregg?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm just not getting into reading all those out.

Q Are you -- do you have a response to Senator Kerry's speech about Iraq today accusing the President of incompetence, basically?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and actually you probably want to listen to some of the President's remarks, because I expect him to talk some about Iraq and some of the latest contradictions from Senator Kerry. But Senator Kerry, today, continued his pattern of twisting in the wind with new contradictions and more confusion on one of the most critical issues we face. Specifically, somehow, now he has decided that the removal of Saddam Hussein has made us less secure -- "less secure" is quoting him. But during the primaries, he said to those who don't believe that the removal of Saddam Hussein made us better off and safer, they "don't have the judgment to be President or the credibility to be elected President." And I think you'll hear more from the President in his remarks in New Hampshire, so I think you'll want to pay attention to those remarks.

Q How do you respond to some Republican lawmakers, like Senator Hagel, who are starting to have some doubts about the direction of -- the way things are going there?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Prime Minister Allawi, as you're aware, is coming to the United States. The President will be meeting with him. And the Iraqi people, the coalition and the American people I think recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. The stakes are very high in Iraq. It's important that we show strength and resolve and not show weakness or waver in the face of the terrorists and Saddam loyalists who seek to derail the transition to democracy.

Prime Minister Allawi is moving forward on a plan to build a free, democratic and peaceful Iraq for the Iraqi people. We're there to support him in that critical mission. It's important that we complete the mission and it's important that we don't send mixed signals, because mixed signals are the wrong signals to send to our troops, to our allies, to the Iraqi people and to the enemy. We will defeat the enemy in Iraq.

Q Scott, are you saying, then, that we shouldn't send mixed signals? Are you saying, then to Senators Lugar and Hagel they shouldn't be saying what they're saying in their criticism?

MR. MCCLELLAN: -- Senator Kerry's comments today and over the course of the last year or --

Q But what about the Republican criticism, itself, then?

MR. MCCLELLAN: -- or two years. That's what I was pointing to Prime Minister Allawi's plan for building a democratic and peaceful Iraq. And we're making significant progress on the five-point plan that the President outlined for success in Iraq. You have a sovereign government, you have an interim leader in Prime Minister Allawi who is strong and determined to complete the mission in Iraq. He is coming to the United States to talk about the progress that has been made.

But it is hard work transitioning from a brutal dictatorship to a democratic Iraq. There are ongoing security challenges that we face and Prime Minister Allawi is determined to address those ongoing security threats. And we're there to partner with him in those efforts. We're beefing up Iraqi security forces. Prime Minister Allawi has made important progress in Najaf and Kufa and Samaraa. There are some other areas where he is working to address those, as well. And you heard from him this weekend, talking about that.

Q Hey, Scott, do you have a problem with Kerry's timing on this, criticizing the President just as he's about to address the General Assembly? And what about Kofi Annan's comments that the war is illegal?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said -- you know, that's why I talked about mixed signals are the wrong signals not only to send to our troops and the enemy, but to our allies and the coalition that is helping in Iraq and making sacrifices in Iraq, but also to the Iraqi people and their leaders. Prime Minister Allawi is going to be here in the United States this week and we must let the Iraqi people know that we will be there with them to complete the mission and put them on a path to democracy and stability.

Q Well, do you think that Hagel and Lugar are sending mixed signals, McCain, when they criticize the President, talk about incompetence?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that was directed to some of the reconstruction money. And Secretary Powell directed a review of that reconstruction money so that we would make sure that those resources are being used in the most effective way and at the right time for the right projects. And that's why he asked for some of those resources to be shifted to certain areas.

Q But does that come under your heading of "mixed signals"?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I think Senator Kerry is the one who has sent mixed signals repeatedly over the course of his campaign.

Q So that's "no," then?

Q Hey, Scott, CBS is putting out a statement now saying that it cannot authenticate the documents, that its source lied and they should not have aired them. Should CBS apologize to the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I haven't had a chance to really look at the full statement. I just got word of that as we were in the air. So maybe I'll have more to say on it a little bit later. But CBS is now, for the first time, publicly acknowledging that the documents were likely forged and they came from a discredited source. There are a number of serious questions that remain unanswered and they need to be answered. Bill Burkett, who CBS now says is their source, in fact, is not an unimpeachable source, as was previously claimed. Bill Burkett is a source who has been discredited in the past. So this raises a lot of questions. There were media reports about Mr. Burkett speaking with senior -- or having senior-level contacts with the Kerry campaign. That raises questions. What were those contacts and what was discussed with Bill Burkett? Who was the original source of these documents and who was responsible for forging these documents?

So it raises a number of serious questions. And I understand CBS called them serious and disturbing questions, and that they were launching an independent investigation.

Q Does the President know about this?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's been working on his remarks right now. I just got this right before I came back here, so I've not had a chance to talk to him about it, but I will be.

Q When is he going to take questions from us?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he takes questions on a regular basis. He's got -- he's got press availabilities coming up, and so you all will be around to cover him.

Q Today?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I do not expect he'll be taking questions today. He's got speeches today.

Q I'm talking about at the U.N.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you all will be there to cover him and he'll be taking -- he'll continue to take questions, as he has.

Q Thanks.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.

END 1:15 P.M. EDT

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