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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
February 10, 2005

Press Gaggle with Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Raleigh, North Carolina

10:10 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: The President had his usual briefings back at the White House. We've got the town hall today, and then the conversation. So those are the events on the schedule, and then we're back at the White House. I don't have anything else to update, so I'm here for your questions.

Q North Korea?

Q North Korea?

Q Is U.S. policy going to have to change in light of what North Korea has said? And they seem to have no interest in the six-party talks anymore.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've heard this kind of rhetoric from North Korea before. North Korea's actions and words only deepen their isolation from the international community. You know, North Korea has defied the international community before. North Korea violated the '94 agreed framework and pursued nuclear weapons. The intelligence community assessed that -- and publicly stated that it is their belief that North Korea had nuclear weapons. I think all parties in the region are making clear to North Korea that there needs to be a nuclear-free peninsula, and that North Korea needs to come back to the six-party talks.

We put a forward-looking proposal on the table. It's a proposal that addresses the concerns of all parties. If North Korea commits to giving up its nuclear weapons and permanently dismantling its nuclear weapons programs, there are multilateral security assurances that will be provided to North Korea. That's part of the proposal that's on the table. And the way for North Korea to end its isolation and realize better relations with the international community is to come back to the six-party talks and discuss how we can move forward on the proposal that is on the table.

Q Did North Korea take itself out, or just suspend itself from the talks? Do you have a read on just exactly what --

MR. McCLELLAN: I could never -- like Condi said, I don't think we could divine what their thinking is. That's why I said we've heard this kind of rhetoric from North Korea before; it's not the first time.

Q Where do we go from here?

Q How is the U.S. communicating its disapproval of this latest declaration from North Korea?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard what I just said, you heard what Secretary Rice said. And Secretary Rice pointed out that we would be in touch with our friends in the region; North Korea's neighbors. I think North Korea's neighbors are sending a unified and clear message to North Korea that the way for them to realize better relations and end their isolation is to commit to eliminating their nuclear weapons program and come back to the six-party talks, and talk about the way forward.

Q Are there any administration officials today calling people that are part of the talks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Condi said we would be in touch with our friends in the region, and we will be. We will be in touch with North Korea's neighbors about this. We are always in close contact with the other members of the six-party talks on these issues.

Q Is the White House even viewing this as a change of policy on North Korea's part?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Are you viewing this as a change in policy from North Korea?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's rhetoric we've heard before. That's the way I would describe it. I think that all parties are continuing to urge North Korea to come back to the six-party talks. We remain committed to the six-party talks. We remain committed to a peaceful, diplomatic resolution to the nuclear issue with regards to North Korea. We've made that very clear. And there's a proposal on the table that provides the way forward for addressing the issues of all parties. And it's time to talk about how to move forward on that proposal.

Q What do you think prompted it?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're not going to try to divine their thinking.

Q Can we move to another subject?

Q On Social Security, yesterday, the head of the AARP said that although they still will fight the partial privatization accounts of the President, they are suggesting now that to shore up Social Security, they would go along with a gradual increase in payroll taxes, raising from -- the taxes on $90,000 up to $140,000. The President has said no increase in taxes. Is that etched in stone? Is that non-negotiable?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's made very clear the principles. I think, Jon, what's important is that we continue to talk with the American people and members of Congress about the serious problems facing Social Security. That's what the President is doing in these conversations and town hall meetings, he's reaching out directly to the American people to talk about the serious problems facing Social Security.

You have a poll in the paper today -- in Mr. Fletcher's paper today -- that points out that 73 percent of the people recognize that Social Security is either in crisis or faces major problems. And that's significant, because it's important that we have a common understanding of the problems facing Social Security, so that we can talk about ways to solve that problem. There are some in Congress who want to stick their head in the sand and say there is no problem.

But the problem only gets worse over time, it doesn't go away. So the President is going to continue focusing on the problems facing Social Security. We're going to welcome all ideas for solving the problem, and we look forward to hearing ideas from other members of Congress who are interested in solving this problem, so that we can talk about how we can move forward together to address it. Now, the President has made very clear what his principles are, and he remains firmly committed to those principles for the reasons that we've stated.

Q And the principles are, no increase in payroll taxes, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's one of the -- yes, that is --

Q So that's really non-negotiable.

MR. McCLELLAN: But he's essentially said that he's open to all other ideas, with the exception of increasing payroll taxes. Keep in mind what's happened. We've had dozens of tax increases to try to address the problems facing Social Security. But it doesn't solve the problem, it doesn't make it permanently sound. And we have a -- serious shortfalls are going to begin facing Social Security beginning in 2018, and they only are going to get worse over time. That's why the President wants to make it permanently sound, and find a comprehensive solution that makes it permanently sound and allows younger workers to realize a greater rater of return.

In terms of AARP, they don't have anything to worry about, because seniors or those near retirement are not going to see any changes in Social Security. The President has made that principle very clear, as well, and he's going to continue talking about that. But it's important that we all work together to talk about ways to solve the problem. And so we welcome ideas that are focused on solutions.

Q Jeff Gannon. How did he get a White House pass, or what kind of credentials did he have?

MR. McCLELLAN: Just like anyone else who comes to the White House.

Q Hard pass?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he had never applied for a hard pass. He had a daily pass. I think he's been coming for --

Q Was he coming for --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. I think he's been coming for more than two years now.

Q Under what name?


Q Under what name?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you have to get cleared. You have to -- just like anybody else that comes to the White House, you have to have your full name, your Social Security number and your birth date. So you have to be cleared just like anybody else.

Q So he was being cleared under James Guckert, or whatever his name is?

MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding, yes.

Q Okay, and how did he get picked to get a question asked at the last news conference?

MR. McCLELLAN: He didn't. The President didn't have a list. The President didn't -- he was in the briefing room. There are assigned seats in the briefing room. We didn't do any assigning of seats, and the President worked his way through the rows, and called on people as he came to them. He doesn't know who he is.

Q Were you aware that he had another name?

MR. McCLELLAN: Was I aware? I had heard that. I had heard that, yes, recently.

Q But did you know during all this time that he really wasn't Jeff Gannon?

MR. McCLELLAN: I heard at some point, yes -- previously.

Q As Press Secretary, what do you think about this whole --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said -- what do I think about it? Well, let me explain a few things. First, as the press secretary, I don't think it's the role of the Press Secretary to get into picking or choosing who gets press credentials. Also, I don't think it's the role of the Press Secretary to get into being a media critic, and I think there are very good reasons for that. I've never inserted myself into the process. He, like anyone else, showed that he was representing a news organization that published regularly, and so he was cleared two years ago to receive daily passes, just like many others are. The issue comes up -- it becomes, in this day and age, when you have a changing media, it's not an easy issue to decide or try to pick and choose who is a journalist. And there -- it gets into the issue of advocacy journalism. Where do you draw the line? There are a number of people who cross that line in the briefing room.

And, as far as I'm concerned, I would welcome the White House Correspondents Association, if they have any concerns or issues that they want to bring to my attention, they know my door is open and I'll be glad to discuss these issues with them. I have an open dialogue with the Correspondents Association. No one's ever brought such an issue to my attention, in my -- during my time as being Press Secretary. And you all cover the briefing room on a regular basis. You know that there are a number of people in that room that express their points of view, and there are people in that room that represent traditional media, they represent talk radio, they represent -- they're columnists, and they represent online news organizations.

Q Was the White House aware at all -- was the White House aware -- was the White House aware at all about the online websites that he was linked to?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. This has only come to my attention through the news reports, just a few reporters calling in.

Q But just to make it clear, the only criteria, from the White House perspective is, someone can pass the Secret Service background check

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, that's not -- first of all, I don't involve myself in that process, it's handled at a staff level. Like I said, if the White House Correspondents Association ever wants to talk about issues, I welcome that. But it becomes an issue -- it becomes an issue of where do you draw the line? Do you draw the line at advocacy journalism because there are a number of people that crossed that line, as I said? But there's hard -- there's hard passes and there's daily passes, as you are well aware. For a hard pass, you have to have a House and Senate credential, you have to regularly cover the White House, you have to apply for it, you have to go through a detailed FBI background check.

My understanding was, when he started coming to the White House about two years ago, the staff asked to see that it -- that he represented a news organization that published regularly. And they showed that, so he was cleared and has been cleared ever since based on that time.

And this is just now something that's come to my attention more recently because it's been an issue raised in some media reports.

Q Scott, one other question, separate subject. The FAA report on the 52 pieces of information that they had, the administration, apparently, just filed the report a couple of weeks ago to the Archives. Why did it wait so long to come out?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you'd have to talk to the Justice Department. The Justice Department was the liaison for working with the 9/11 Commission on classification issues related to reporting. My understanding was this was a report that was given to the Justice Department at the last minute of when they completed their work. And we provided unprecedented cooperation to the 9/11 Commission --

Q For --

MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on -- unprecedented cooperation to the 9/11 Commission, and we were pleased to do that because their work was very important. And --

Q So it's a matter of declassifying -- that's what --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are classification issues that have been involved in the process before. It's involved in the report itself. And I know that we always encourage people to work quickly to do the classification review that were handled, essentially, by career officials within the various departments. And you'd have to ask the Justice Department about this one. But my understanding was that it was something that was given to them very late in the process. And then they worked to go through those issues with other respective agencies, I assume, and -- so that the report could be released, that portion of -- that addition to -- I should say, that addition -- the addition to the report that they provided. But you have to ask Justice Department specifics.

Q Scott, just one point of clarification on Social Security. Does the President view lifting that $90,000 cap as a tax increase?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've addressed this issue on a number of occasions. What -- the President made it very clear early on that we're not going to get in the business of ruling things in or ruling things out. He stated his principles. His principles are very clear. One of them is no increase in the payroll taxes. And he said he welcomes all ideas that focus on solving this problem, we should discuss this and work in a bipartisan way to address this issue.

In terms of raising the wage cap -- or raising the cap, we've pointed out that that issue -- that doing that does not solve the problem -- the fiscal problem facing Social Security, it only pushes the date out a few years. But it doesn't address the problem. And so I think that's important to keep in mind.

But those -- we're going to discuss all ideas with members of Congress about the best way to proceed forward. The President has made his views known in terms of how he believes we ought to approach it and solve the problem. And we're -- we will listen to all ideas that are out there, but that doesn't mean we're ruling things in and doesn't mean we're ruling things out.

Q Just to be clear, there are no non-negotiable proposals. This isn't a non-negotiable thing, a payroll tax increase, it's just something that it's his principle, he says --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he does believe we should not increase payroll taxes.

Q But it's not --

MR. McCLELLAN: He said he's open to all ideas. Remember, just recently, he said he's open to all ideas with the exception of increasing payroll.

Q With the exception of that, okay.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what he made -- that's what he made clear --

Q Is raising --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what he made clear recently.

Q Is raising the cap under the category of things that he wouldn't rule in or out?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is -- let me repeat. This goes back through what we've answered previously -- I think what he's answered, what administration officials have answered. He's stated his principles. You all want to try to get us into negotiating with ourselves. We're not going to do that. We stated our principles and made clear what his views are. He's made clear what his views are. And we're going to listen to all ideas that are out there for solving this problem.

What's important is that people recognize the serious problem facing Social Security. There are some in Congress who want to look the other way, or want to stick their head in the sand, and that doesn't do anything to solve the problem. The American people expect us to solve problems, and the American people recognize there are serious problems facing Social Security, as seen in poll after poll.

Q Raising it to $140,000, does he view that as a tax increase?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've answered it, Roger.

Q I'm not clear on it.

MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to negotiate with ourselves, and we're not going to do that.

Q I'm not -- I'm just trying to --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's asking us to -- because there are proposals that members of Congress and others have put on the table that they want to discuss, and we're not trying to get into negotiating through the press. What we're doing is talking with members of Congress about their ideas for solving this problem.

But we'll -- what we have to continue to focus on is the problem facing Social Security and talking with the American people and talking with members of Congress and why we need to act this year. The American people recognize the serious problems facing Social Security. They recognize that the system that was created for a different time period needs to be strengthened for our children and grandchildren. It doesn't need to be changed for today's retirees. But we do need to strengthen it for tomorrow's retirees.

Q It would be wrong to say -- it would be wrong to say that any item, including a tax increase, is non-negotiable. It would be wrong to say that -- for us to say that.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I will repeat what the President said. You all are trying to get us into discussions that we believe we should have with members of Congress, and we're not going to do that.

Q No, it's just --

MR. McCLELLAN: I know, John, but --

Q Earlier you said all -- everything else is on the table but tax increases.

MR. McCLELLAN: And that's what our position is.

Q Okay, so --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what our position is.

Q Is the President going to release a new detailed proposal? He's talked about the need to fix the long-term aspects of Social Security. He's released details about the private accounts, but he hasn't come forth with details about how he'd fix the long-term.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's because the President believes it's important to continue focusing on the problem, and then working in a bipartisan way to determine the best way to solve it. And so we're going to continue having, as he is -- as he has been, having conversations with members of Congress. We're having them at the staff level; he's having them with members of Congress, himself. He's going to continue to have a series of meetings with members of Congress to -- from both parties to talk about the best way to proceed forward together in a bipartisan way. And so those are -- those are discussions we'll have with members of Congress about how to proceed, both in terms of ideas and the legislative process.

Q So he wants to have those conversations before he releases a detailed plan?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, because he believes it's important that we address this in a bipartisan way, that's why.

Q Scott, on North Korea, did you say, our intelligence services do believe they have a nuclear weapon?

MR. McCLELLAN: They stated publicly, previously, the intelligence community has. And remember, that's -- everybody is well aware that North Korea violated the '94 agreed framework and pursued nuclear weapons during that time period. And the intelligence community did assess and state publicly that they believe they do. And that's why I said --

Q You mean more than one, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- this kind of rhetoric only deepens their isolation.

Q In today's events, are there any lawmakers traveling with the President today on any legs of the trip?

MR. McCLELLAN: There's no one on the plane. I'd have to check for the events. I can get you that information.

Q Santorum will be up in Pennsylvania with him today, right? Or no?

MR. McCLELLAN: No idea.

Q Say it again.

Q Santorum going to be with him later today?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll check. I didn't bring a list of who all is coming.

Q Is Senator Dole going to come here?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll check. I didn't bring a list with me. So I'll check that later.

Q He's listed as --

MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.

END 10:27 A.M. EST