The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 28, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia

11:40 A.M. EST

MR. MCCLELLAN: The President this morning taped his radio address. It will be on the Iraqi election. Then he had his usual briefings. He went to the State Department for the swearing-in ceremony of Secretary Rice.

And when we get to West Virginia, the President looks forward to attending the Congress of tomorrow luncheon. The President will be talking about the agenda for the coming year and the second term. I expect the President will talk about the importance of working together to move forward on our shared priorities. He'll talk about working to win the war on terrorism, and spread freedom, working together to keep our economy growing stronger, extending the compassion of America and building an ownership society.

Obviously, when we talk about the war on terrorism aspect he'll touch on the historic times we're in, where we're seeing that freedom is on the march in places like the Middle East region and the broader Middle East; where Afghanistan has held elections; the Palestinians elected a new President; Iraq is moving forward on elections this week; and point out other places as well -- like Ukraine just holding their elections.

I expect on the economy he'll touch on things like making sure we have a budget that meets our highest priorities, while exercising spending restraint. I expect he'll talk about the importance of moving forward on lawsuit reform, the importance of reforming our tax code, the importance of making sure we have an educated work force prepared for the jobs of the 21st century -- that means supporting community colleges, enhancing Pell grants and things of that nature.

And I expect he'll talk about the importance of continuing to move forward on the faith-based and community initiative that the President has pursued. And when it comes to the ownership society, obviously, I expect he'll spend some time talking about strengthening Social Security for our future generations and the importance of acting on that now.

But, anyway, then we return back to the White House and the President will be at the White House through the weekend. And I'll get to the week ahead after we go through any questions you all might have.

Q How much trouble does the President think he has persuading Republicans to support his Social Security plan?

There's been a lot on TV shows expressing skepticism.

MR. McCLELLAN: When you say "a lot," who --

Q Well, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, in the House you've got people like Olympia Snow, Rick Santorum in the Senate.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has talked about ways to move forward to permanently fix Social Security and take steps to strengthen it for future generations. That's what he's been talking about. And the President has been participating in meetings, some of those were bipartisan meetings to talk about ways we can move forward together in a bipartisan way. He's been meeting with Republican congressional leaders, as well, to talk about the importance of addressing Social Security this year. And in those meetings there has been a strong consensus around the need to seize the opportunity we have before us to strengthen Social Security.

So I think that there is a recognition throughout the Republican leadership that it's important that we seize the opportunity we have now and fix Social Security before it gets even worse. And the President is going to continue talking to members about all ideas to move forward and do that.

Q If he's asked a question about a timetable for reducing the U.S. presence in Iraq, or a timetable for even getting out of Iraq with armed forces, what's he going to say to the members of Congress?

MR. McCLELLAN: He will say what he's said before. When you're talking about a timetable, are you talking about for our troops; is that what you're asking?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: We've got an important mission to complete, and that's helping put Iraq on a path to a peaceful and democratic future and making sure that Iraqi forces are prepared and capable enough to defend their country. And that's why we're working to train and equip Iraqi security forces and put in place a command structure to make sure that they're fully capable of assuming full responsibility for their country's security. And we're going to continue partnering with them to do that.

I think most Iraqi leaders and most Iraqis recognize the importance of the coalition forces helping the Iraqi people move forward on a peaceful and democratic future and helping to build the Iraqi security forces so that they can provide for their security in the future. Our coalition forces are serving and sacrificing to help the Iraqi people realize a brighter future and they're also serving and sacrificing to make America more secure. We're grateful for that.

As the President has talked about, the elections on Sunday are an historic moment for the Iraqi people, and a free and peaceful Iraq will be a force for change in the broader Middle East. And we're there to support them, every step of the way, and I think the Iraqi leadership recognizes that.

Q How is he going to monitor the election on Sunday? Is he going to be getting updates from staff?

MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding is that the election will be basically taking place from about -- from around 11:00 p.m. Eastern time to 9:00 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday. And he'll receive updates as needed. And, obviously, he'll be paying close attention to it. I mean, I think most people expect the results are going to take a couple of weeks -- take a couple of weeks for the results to come in.

But this is an important step in Iraq's future, an important step on the path to democracy. And you're seeing the determination and the courage of the Iraqi people in the face of terrorists who are doing everything they can to derail a transition to democracy. Because they recognize how high the stakes are and this -- when we achieve a free and democratic and peaceful Iraq, it will be a major blow to the ambitions of those who support an ideology of hatred and oppression.

And you saw -- I might point out that you're seeing some coverage today where Iraqis living abroad are already casting their ballots for the transitional government. And there are some remarkable comments that you're hearing from these people as they cast their vote. One woman who cast her vote in Jordan said, "I've been waiting for this day, I've been dreaming of this day to tell my grandchildren that in the first election in the history of Iraq, I was the first woman to vote." You had another individual who was in Australia said, "When I look at the ink on my finger, this is a mark of freedom." And just one more quote. Another one who held up his ink-stained finger said, "This is a symbol of democracy." And one other who said, "This is the first time we can vote with any freedom. I could almost cry."

The Iraqi people want to vote. They want to have a say over their future. And this is an historic moment for them and a significant achievement on their path to democracy. And we are there to help them in every way we can -- as well as many other members of the international community.

Q The week ahead?

MR. McCLELLAN: Week ahead. On Monday, the President will go to the Department of Education and participate in a swearing-in ceremony for the new Secretary of Education. And then at the White House later that day, he'll participate in a photo opportunity and make remarks to the Detroit Pistons. That will be in the East Room.

On Tuesday, the President will sign the Presidential Proclamation on National Heart Health Awareness Month in the Oval Office. You know this is an effort that Mrs. Bush has been very involved in.

And then on Wednesday, the President will deliver the State of the Union address. And then on Thursday, the President will make remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. And then we will travel Thursday and Friday.

The President will participate in a conversation on Social Security reform starting in Fargo, North Dakota. Then he will go to Great Falls, Montana, will overnight in Omaha, Nebraska, and on Friday, the President will participate in a conversation on Social Security in Omaha. Then he'll participate in a conversation on Social Security in Little Rock, Arkansas. And then he'll participate in a conversation on Social Security reform in Tampa, Florida, before we return back to Washington.

Q Okay, that's all Friday?

MR. McCLELLAN: All Friday.

Q Fargo, North Dakota and --

MR. McCLELLAN: Fargo, North Dakota, Great Falls, Montana, overnight Omaha, and then Omaha, Little Rock and Tampa.

Q What's the strategy behind going to Florida? Because in the papers I've seen Senator Bill Nelson, of Florida, has said, essentially, he's not too interested in doing private accounts.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is one of our nation's highest priorities, strengthening Social Security, and the President is going to be speaking directly to the American people all across the United States. And this is the beginning of the post-State of the Union outreach that he will be doing. But he's going to continue to lead on this issue and talk directly to the American people about the importance of acting this year to strengthen Social Security.

As you're well aware, Social Security only gets worse over time. And each year you wait, it's going to cost another $600 billion to fix the system. And he'll continue talking about how you have fewer workers paying into a system to support a growing number of retirees. And this is the time to act to strengthen it. So this is the beginning of the post-State of the Union outreach efforts that he'll be participating in.

Q Do you think there will be more after that, more states to be visited the week after? Can you preview that, at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, we'll keep you posted. He will continue to go out and speak directly to the American people about the importance of acting on Social Security and strengthening it for our children and grandchildren. So, yes, he will.

Q Scott, is he taking questions today? Or is it just remarks? Is it a conversation?

MR. McCLELLAN: He'll make remarks, then he'll take some questions from members, yes. You'll be in for the remarks.

Q Not the questions?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that's how it's always been. Yes.

Okay, thanks.

END 11:52 A.M. EST

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