For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 2, 2004
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:27 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to begin with two announcements. First, on December 15th and 16th, the White House will host an economic conference here in Washington, D.C. The conference will be an opportunity to discuss what we must do to keep our economy growing and to make sure America remains the most competitive economy in the world.
The two-day conference will feature four to six panels on a variety of issues, aimed at making sure America is the best place in the world to do business and how we secure our economic future for our children and grandchildren in this time of change. Key issues to be discussed will include topics such as the state of the economy, tax reform, lawsuit reform, strengthening and saving Social Security, budget discipline, health care and education.
The details are still being worked out, but I anticipate the panels will be moderated by administration officials and include outside experts. The President and the Vice President and various members of the Cabinet will be participating in the conference.
Secondly, I would like to announce the designation of the presidential delegation to the inauguration of the President of Afghanistan on December 7th, 2004. You already have a statement from the Office of the Vice President. The following individuals will be members of the delegation, representing the President at the inauguration of President-elect Karzai: Vice President and Mrs. Cheney; the Honorable Donald Rumsfeld, the Secretary of Defense; the Honorable Zalmay Khalizad, Ambassador and Special Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan; the Honorable Christina Rocca, Assistant Secretary for South Asian Affairs, Department of State; and Mrs. Karen Hughes, Former Counselor to the President.
And that is all I have to begin with. I will be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, can you explain the thinking at the White House and in the administration why the President is so insistent that the Iraqi elections go forward in January when it is clearly dangerous to do so?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know it's just the President. The Iraqi Election Commission, which is an independent commission in Iraq, said that the elections should be held on January 30th. And in terms of the security situation, there has been tremendous progress made to defeat the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists who are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy. They will not succeed. They are being defeated as we speak. We have seen the progress that has been made in places like Fallujah and other areas of Iraq. And our military, as well as coalition forces, are continuing to partner closely with Iraqi security forces to make sure that the transition to democracy moves forward. As we move forward on elections, that will be another significant moment that will signal that the insurgents are headed toward defeat. It will be an important milestone in the future of Iraq and the future of a Middle East that is based on freedom.
Q It would be that milestone whether it goes forward in January or February or March or some other date. So why -- and even if the President is agreeing with others when he makes this call, why is it important to him that these elections go forward then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a transitional administrative law that set out the framework for moving forward in Iraq. And elections are key to bringing about a stable and peaceful and democratic Iraq. And the Iraqi people want to move forward on holding these elections as the Iraqi Election Commission has stated, and we are there to partner with them and support them in their efforts to realize a brighter future. As you heard the President talk about, this will be an important milestone as they move away from their past of tyranny and oppression and brutality. And so we look forward to continuing to work closely with the Iraqi people as they conduct free and fair and open elections.
Q Scott, you seem to be suggesting that holding fast to this date is as much symbolism as anything to send a message that the insurgents will not derail the process. Would it be a defeat for the democratic process if you were to postpone those elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking me to speculate. The election has been set for January 30th by the independent Iraqi Election Commission, and we support that date for holding elections. I wouldn't call it symbolism at all; I would call it part of our overall efforts to help the Iraqi people realize a brighter future. And we are going to continue partnering closely with them to help them build that democratic future.
This is an important first step in their future. And certainly, the security situation is an issue that we continue to address. There are challenges that remain, but the terrorists and the Saddam loyalists are being defeated and they will be defeated in the end. They're growing more desperate because we're getting closer and closer to a free and democratic Iraq.
Q And how much of this calculation is to facilitate an as early exit as possible for American troops?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard what the President said earlier today, that we are there to help the Iraqi people build their own security forces so that they can provide for their own security in the future. The training is progressing. General Petreaus is helping oversee those efforts. We have seen in some of the recent weeks that Iraqi security forces are standing and fighting in places to help bring about that stable environment for the Iraqi people.
There is more to do. We are continuing to work to improve the quality of that training, which also enhances their ability to fight for their country and to fight against those terrorists and Saddam loyalists who want to turn back to the past.
Q And an unrelated question -- are you sending the letter on the intel bill up to the Hill today, or will that be tomorrow?
MR. McCLELLAN: We will keep you posted. As I said earlier this week, the President will be sending a letter to members of -- to congressional leaders clearly stating what his views are in intelligence reform. This is a high priority -- intelligence reform is a high priority for the President and he wants Congress to get this done as soon as possible. You heard him say in Canada, he hopes to get this done next week when members of the House return from their recess.
And I also expect he will be in touch with Speaker Hastert and Leader Frist in the very near future, and we'll keep you posted on that, as well. He's been in close contact with members on this issue. These intelligence reforms build upon the many steps we have already taken to better protect the American people since September the 11th.
Q Scott, Iraqi elections follow-up? Apart from the insurgents --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're going out of order here. Go ahead.
Q Apart from the insurgents, what is the President's message to the 17 Sunni clerics who call for a boycott of those elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Prime Minister Allawi is reaching out to all people throughout the political spectrum in Iraq. He is reaching out to Sunni leaders to talk about moving forward on these elections. Prime Minister Allawi and the President of Iraq have both reaffirmed the commitment of the Iraqi people to move forward on that date. There are a number of other organizations who have reaffirmed their commitment to holding those elections as scheduled by the Independent Iraqi Election Commission, and we're supportive of those efforts. Q So is it the idea that President Allawi is going to be able to bring some of these 17 Sunni clerics on board between now and then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, maybe we should go -- step back for a second and look at what's been going on there and we should talk about that. There has been a military and political strategy that Prime Minister Allawi has been pursuing. We've been working closely with the interim Iraqi government on those efforts. They're not exclusive of each other. As we move forward on the political front it helps on the security front. And for those who continue to try to derail the transition to democracy, those terrorists and those Saddam loyalists, they will be pursued with military action, and they will be defeated. Prime Minister Allawi, though, is also reaching out to a broad spectrum of Iraqi leaders as he moves forward on building a democratic -- helping to build a democratic future for the Iraqi people.
Q Scott, a number of outsiders, such as Senator Reid in the Arms Services Committee and the Iraqi Interior Minister, have talked about the need for a substantial U.S. presence in Iraq, going out five or ten years. Should the American people be braced now for having a substantial troop commitment to Iraq that's going out perhaps even as long as --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has talked directly to the American people about our commitment to Iraq and about the international community's commitment. The international community has come together to say with one voice, we are there to help the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful and democratic future. You have strong statements of support from the European Union. You have a strong statement of support coming out of Sharm el-Sheikh last week expressing some of that international support; strong support from the United Nations signaling their support for helping the Iraqi people.
The President again said today, we will stay as long as necessary, and then our troops will return home with honor, because building a free and peaceful Iraq is critical to America's own security. It will help transform the Middle East. The terrorists and the Saddam holdouts understand how high the stakes are. That's why they have been desperately trying to derail the transition to democracy. They realize that they are being defeated. They realize this is a central front in the war on terrorism, and when we achieve a free and democratic Iraq, it will be a significant defeat for the ambitions of the terrorists.
Q I understand that response and it's all well and good, but should the American people understand that response --
MR. McCLELLAN: See you later, J.D. (Laughter.)
Q Should the American people interpret that response to mean as long as five, as long as 10 years, having 100,000 troops there? I mean, that's --
MR. McCLELLAN: It should be as long as necessary to complete the mission. That's the way the President has always framed it.
Q So 10 years is fine?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, as long as necessary to complete the mission, and not a day longer. We are increasing the capability of the Iraqi security forces every day, as the President has pointed out. I believe it is 125,000 will be trained and equipped by the end of January, and then up to 200,000, 225,000 by the end of 2005. And we have NATO support for that training mission. The Iraqi security forces are the ones who are going to ultimately provide for the defense of their country, both from external and internal threats. And when they are ready to provide for their security our troops will be able to return home with honor.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q I have a two-part U.N. question, as far as permanent U.N. Security seat is concerned. Congressman Crowley and Pallone both are supporting India's stand in the House resolution, that they are saying that how come in the 21st century the world body can run fighting against terrorism and other problems without the world's largest democracy's interpretation? So where does President Bush stand as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned? Does he support India's stand in the U.N. Security Council, permanent seat?
MR. McCLELLAN: Support India's stand in being a member?
Q Member of the Permanent U.N. --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that there -- well, one, you refer to a report that is being released today -- I don't know if it's already been released, or not, about United Nations reform. And there are a number of recommendations in that. We're going to be looking very closely at those recommendations. One area that they talk about is reform of the United Nations Security Council. We want to make sure that any recommendations that we support improve the overall effectiveness of the United Nations. We want it to be a results-oriented, multilateral organization that means what it says, as the President said earlier today.
And we've talked about security reform in the past, and we're willing to look at options that would enhance the effectiveness of the Security Council. And I think that there are a number of countries that would aspire to be a member of the Security Council, or be one of the permanent seats, and we'll be looking at that.
Q Second point, on the corruption. As far as President concerned, how much faith the President has in Secretary Annan running the U.N.? And second, U.S. stand or U.S. interest in the U.N. -- in whole -- where do we stand, as far as corruption at the highest level --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's been a lot of discussion lately about the oil-for-food program. There are a couple of investigations that are ongoing and they're moving forward, one headed by Paul Volcker at the United Nations, and the other being pursued by our Congress. And this is a very serious matter. We believe it should be investigated fully and in an open manner. And you heard the President talk about it earlier. It's important for all the facts -- all the facts -- to be known, and that we get to the bottom of this matter. We want the United Nations to cooperate closely and fully with congressional authorities, as well, so that all the facts may become known. And that's the discussion that we've been having recently on this matter. And the President was asked about this earlier in the Oval Office with President Obasanjo.
Let me keep going, got a lot of hands.
Q On Ukraine, the President has stated clearly he wants to see an election free of any interference by foreign governments, and yet there has been continued interference from President Putin. How does that complicate the relationship between the U.S. and Russia?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have -- I think President Putin, earlier this week, talked about the very same thing, that there should be a democratic way forward and that there should not be internal or external pressures, I think is what -- his words that he referred to.
Look, we have a good relationship with Russia. There are going to be differences from time to time. Our position on the Ukraine and the way forward is very clear: We want there to be a peaceful, democratic solution that reflects the will of the people. There are discussions that continue with President Kwasniewski, the President of Lithuania and the European Union and the parties in Ukraine about how to proceed forward. We're waiting to see what the Supreme Court in Ukraine says about elections. There are a number of ideas being put forward for new elections. And our position will be to support a peaceful way forward to resolve this situation.
Q I have two questions. First of all, thank Mrs. Bush for the excellent tour of the White House. It was lovely. And she mentioned that she and the President are praying for the servicemen and their families. In addition to prayers and gratitude, is the White House doing anything specifically for the families whose loved ones will be in Afghanistan or Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: We want to do everything we can to support the families. The President just hosted a young teenager who has started an organization to thank our troops for all that they do. The President visits frequently with families of members of the armed forces, and the President always talks about our gratitude to our men and women in uniform who are serving to defend freedom and make the world a safer and better place. We will continue to do so.
They are on -- they are the ones who are on the front line in the defense of freedom, and the front lines of winning the war on terrorism, and we're forever grateful for their service and sacrifice. You bet, we'll do everything we can to support them.
Q One more, on AIDS, which was a topic with the leader of Nigeria. Is the AIDS money from the United States, the $15 billion, actually flowing? And is research and aid for other diseases, such as cancer, suffering because of all the money going to AIDS?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think so. We're both making an unprecedented commitment abroad, as well as at home, to combat AIDS. Yesterday was World AIDS Day. It's the number one health crisis facing the world. And the United States has been the leader when it comes to combating AIDS, and we will continue to do so. The President put forward a very bold program to focus our efforts where people are most in need, and where the disease has spread most rapidly, those countries that need it the most. And certainly at home, too, we have made a strong commitment to advancing the research to find new antiretrovirals and other possible cures for the AIDS virus, and we will continue to lead the way when it comes to doing that.
Q The President didn't directly answer the question as to whether Annan should resign. What is the administration's stance on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: This question came up a second ago. I expressed --
Q You didn't directly answer it, either.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I expressed our views, the President expressed our views. This is all being brought up in the context of the oil-for-food program and the investigation going on there. That's a very serious matter. It needs to be fully investigated. The facts need to be fully known. We look forward to learning what the facts are; that's what's important. Also what is important is that we continue to work with the international community to make sure that the United Nations is an effective organization and that focuses on results, and results to make the world a safer and better place.
Q Scott, how are we going to get an effective investigation, when you have a conflict of interest between the Secretary General and his son; you have Paul Volcker, who has no subpoena power; even the Congress cannot subpoena members of foreign delegations to testify in this matter. How do we guarantee that there's going to be the thorough investigation that's necessary?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when the investigations are complete, maybe we can discuss that further. We've made our views very clear; Congress has made their concerns very clear. We share the concerns that members of Congress have and we believe it's important for this to be fully investigated and for the facts to be known to all. And that's what we want to see happen.
Go ahead, Wendell.
Q And it's your -- I presume, your belief that it can be fully
investigated under the current situation, with Annan remaining not only in his office, but having certain powers with regard to the investigation, itself?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. This is another way to come back to the same question that was being asked earlier --
Q I'm not trying to talk about his resignation. I'm wondering if you need -- if you feel there needs to be some way to shield Annan from the investigation, from involvement in the investigation.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are two investigations going on right now. We look forward to seeing what the facts are and we hope that all the facts will come out so everybody will be able to see. It's important that this be transparent, open for all to see and for all to know what went on here with the oil-for-food program.
Q And you're comfortable that the investigations can be --
MR. McCLELLAN: And the President talked about it, certainly, from the standpoint of the American people want to have assurances from their standpoint, with the taxpayer dollars that go to support a multi-lateral organization like the United Nations. So that's why it's important that these investigations proceed forward and that these issues are looked at fully and openly.
Q And you're comfortable that that can be done under the current procedure?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, those investigations are proceeding forward. We will see where those investigations lead. And we remain hopeful that all the facts will be known.
Q Scott, the tax and reform panel you said is expected to be announced by the end of the year; Senate Finance Committee Chairman Grassley has indicated that if you really expect to get a bill through this year, you'd need a bill out there by March. Is there any plan for the administration to set, like, a 60- or 90-day deadline for this panel, in terms of recommendations, so you have something by the early spring?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, we'll be talking more about it as we move forward to appoint that panel and announce the panel and lay out the size and scope of it, as well. I mean, I think the general scope has been outlined, in terms of the President's principles and philosophy when it comes to reforming our tax code. He wants to make it fairer and simpler, and he wants to make sure that our tax code encourages economic growth. So that's the broad mandate for the bipartisan advisory panel.
We want to move forward as quickly as we can, but it's important that we do so in a deliberate manner. And this bipartisan advisory panel, once it's appointed, will look at all these issues, make some recommendations to the Secretary of Treasury, who in turn will report back to the President. And we will be -- we will continue talking closely with members of Congress about this. The Republican members just had a retreat -- I think from the House side it's still going on -- and we were talking about the importance of moving forward on this priority.
This President laid out a very bold agenda for the second term. He's firmly committed to it. We're going to work very closely with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle who want to reform the tax code and get this done. And we look forward to doing so. I think it's too early right now to start getting into timetables, specific timetables.
Q Also, one of the principles the President set forth on this is that any recommendations be revenue neutral.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q And I just was wondering why with the Social Security private investment accounts he hasn't also required that be --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to -- it's not going to be neutral, we're going to save money when we strengthen Social Security, because right now it's headed for a train wreck and the costs are unsustainable over the long-term. And the President is very firmly committed --
Q In the short-term --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is some transition financing in the short-term, but --
Q Close to $2 trillion.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but let's define this precisely and accurately for those people who are watching here today. The transition financing will actually be a saving in the overall costs in the long haul for Social Security. It's unsustainable the way it's going right now. We're headed for a fiscal train wreck with Social Security. It needs to be strengthened for future generations to enjoy.
Q Thank you. Scott, two questions, please. Is the President in favor of a national ID card for all Americans? And, if so, does he feel such a card would be constitutional?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't think that's something that we've come out to support. The Department of Homeland Security has talked about those issues, and I don't have any further update from what they've said on that previously.
Q Second question, please. As a former baseball team owner, is the President in favor of Washington's attempt to get the Montreal Expos here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they are coming here and the President looks forward to seeing baseball in Washington. He thinks that's great.
Q In terms of this economic summit on December 15th and 16th, these outside experts, are there going to be CEOs of companies? And, also, is there going to be, ultimately, a resolution on these issues --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you would expect business leaders from different sectors of our economy. I think you can expect that they will be some of the small business sector, as well as others. We're still working out all the details; the formal invitations have not gone out at this point, so those are all details we're still working through at this point.
Q And the recommendation at the end? I mean, will there be a group of recommendations they'll present to the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're still working through all the specifics of the conference. But you heard what the focus is. I think the President has made very clear what his policies are for moving forward, and we'll be discussing all those policies and ideas and the challenges that our economy faces in these times of change for our economy.
Q Two brief questions on Capitol Hill, if I might.
MR. McCLELLAN: Brief I like. (Laughter.)
Q Okay. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, are you listening?
Q I'm listening very carefully. Intently. (Laughter.)
Q It's taken for granted on Capitol Hill that Chairman Hunter and Chairman Sensenbrenner in the House were the premier obstacles to the enactment of the intelligence package that the President says he favors. What, if anything, has he been doing since the previous defeat of the measure to lobby both of those key committee chairmen --
MR. McCLELLAN: What has the President done?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, there are a couple of things. You heard from the President the other day when he again made it very clear publicly he wants to get this done, and get it done now. And he is going to continue talking to members. He said he had spoken with Congressman Hunter, as well as Congressman Sensenbrenner about some of their concerns. Our White House staff is working very closely with Republican members in the House. They are completing their retreat. We had members of the senior staff there discussing some of these matters with the Republican leadership. The Vice President has been -- has met with Chairman Kean and Co-Chairman Hamilton on some of these matters, and he's talked with the leadership, as well.
We're going to continue talking with leaders to get this thing moving forward and get it done now.
Q All right. Another question on Capitol Hill, and it will be brief.
MR. McCLELLAN: You see you get rewarded if you're brief. (Laughter.)
Q I'll hope to be rewarded.
Q Congressman DeLay's problems have been the subject of widespread reporting, and the change of the House rules has been the subject of reporting, as well as editorial criticism. Has the President discussed with the leadership the situation that the Majority Leader is in, in the House and expressed any opinion on it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Those are internal matters for members of Congress to decide.
Q So he has no --
MR. McCLELLAN: So their rules and procedures, those are internal matters. We've always stated that on issues --
Q He's got --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- of that nature.
Q -- none that you know of?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Steve Gardner, who was one of the two crew members of Lieutenant Kerry's swift boat who refused repeated requests for him to campaign with Kerry at the Democratic National Convention and elsewhere has been fired from his job after warnings from John Hurley and Douglas Brinkley. My question, the first of two: What will the President do to help this combat veteran who is now broke?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not familiar with all the details there, Les. I'll be glad to look into it.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Reuters, on page 1, The Washington Times, report from Atlanta that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just reported a new rise in HIV/AIDS and syphilis among homosexual men, who account for a majority of the more than 850,000 who have HIV. And my question, as Commander-in-Chief of our armed forces, the President recognizes this as all the more reason to keep active, self-identified homosexual men out of the armed forces, doesn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President supports the current policy at the Department of Defense.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Peter.
Q Earlier, you acknowledged the remaining security challenges, obvious security challenges in Iraq. Do you think that -- is it the administration's assessment that violence is going to continue to increase, especially against U.S. troops as the January 30th --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it to the assessment of the commanders on the ground to best explain it, but we've said for quite some time now that as we get closer to holding elections and moving forward on a constitution, and then ultimately electing the leaders of the country, the terrorists and Saddam hold-outs will become more desperate.
And that's why it's important to continue moving forward on all fronts and support Prime Minister Allawi and the interim government in their efforts. They're moving forward on that political front which helps defeat the ambitions of those who want to return to the past of Saddam Hussein and his brutality, as well as move forward on the security front to bring about stability throughout the country so that all Iraqis who want to are eligible to participate in those elections. And I think Ambassador Negroponte talked the other day about how, I think, in 15 of 18 provinces, they would be ready to go now. There are some remaining areas that we're working to secure, though.
Q Would it be accurate to say that the 135 or so men who died -- men and women who died over the past month, died to assure the President's goal of a January 30th election date?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, say -- repeat your question.
Q Would it be accurate to say that the 130 or more troops who died over the past month died to help assure the President's goal of elections on January 30th?
MR. McCLELLAN: They have sacrificed to make the world a safer and better place. And by -- well, by moving forward on a democratic and peaceful Iraq, we are going to help transform a very dangerous region of the world. Remember, the Middle East for some two decades was ignored as it became a breeding ground for terrorism. And we're determined not to let that happen again because we don't want people having the desires to go and hijack planes and fly them into buildings and kill innocent civilians. September 11th changed the equation completely. And what we're working to accomplish in the Middle East will be an enormously positive change for the world and make the world a more secure place. And our men and women in the military are serving and sacrificing to make the reality of a safer and better world come true.
Q Just one more.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q When you consider the casualties, the high number of casualties over the past month, is it still accurate to say that major hostilities are over?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, for those who are involved in combat, I don't think you can say that. And certainly, we saw the recent activity in Fallujah. And we can go back to the aftermath of that time period, and General Franks was someone who asked the President to make that statement, as he pointed out several weeks ago. But we had a lot of Saddam loyalists that just fled from the battlefield when we would have expected some of them to stand and fight. And they are now being defeated. -- those that continue to take up arms against the Iraqi people and their future that is based on freedom.
Ron and then --
Q Does it matter to the President whether that intelligence overhaul has broad Republican support in the House? Or would he be just as happy to have it pass, thanks to the votes of Democrats?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're working to build as broad as support as possible to get this done. I guess, the conference committee report came out, and it was addressed in the Senate. And the House said, we need to wait. We have some concerns that we want to address. We're working to move beyond those concerns and get everybody together. The President is working to try to bring everybody together so that we can move forward and get this intelligence reform passed. It is something that he is working very hard on, and we will continue to do so in hopes of getting it passed next week.
END 12:57 P.M. EST