The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 20, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Andrews Air Force Base

2:30 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, here I am for your questions. We're returning to Washington.

Q So tell us again -- Joe went out there about 6:00 p.m. and talked to the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: Joe Hagin went to the ranch and met with the President. The President made the decision to depart Waco this morning and return to Washington. The President wants to be in Washington so that he can sign the legislation as soon as possible, once it is passed. That's where it stands right now.

Q Can you give any updates on where it is in Congress right now?

MR. McCLELLAN: I know congressional leaders are continuing to meet. The last I heard was that the House -- there were a few objections in the House to passing the legislation by unanimous consent and that they were likely to come back at 12:01 a.m., Monday morning. But I think there are still a lot of discussions going on, so I think that's very much in flux.

Q How does the President feel about those objections?

MR. McCLELLAN: You know, the congressional process -- we're working very closely with the congressional leaders. We appreciate the efforts of the congressional leaders to move quickly on legislation to defend Terri Schiavo's life. And we support their efforts and we remain in close contact with congressional leaders. And, again, like I said, development is ongoing in Washington right now.

Q Scott, what is the President's reaction to people who say that Congress and now, probably pretty soon, the President, they think this is very much over-reaching and going way beyond what their role should be in getting involved in the life of one single woman.

MR. McCLELLAN: This is a complex case where serious questions and significant doubts have been raised. And the President believes the presumption ought to be in favor of life. We ought to err on the side of life in a case like this. And so this legislation, my understanding, is narrowly tailored, it would give her parents another opportunity to save their daughter's life through the federal courts.

Q You've used that same language repeatedly over the last few days, about it being a complex case and the serious questions and doubts and all that --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's the President's view.

Q I know. I know. I guess what I'm trying to get at is with that language, are you -- with that language, are you trying to say that basically this is a very rare kind of a case? What are you trying to get across with that language that you guys repeatedly use?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it is an extraordinary case. I mean, you all -- those that have covered it have pointed out what those questions are and what the doubts are that have been raised. And there are questions about what her intent was, or what her intent is.

Q but, Scott, I guess the question is, what if there are 10, 20, you know, 100 other people or cases out there where they could say, well, if he's going to get involved in Terri Schiavo's case, you know, I have equally extraordinary or, sort of, complex circumstances; why not me? And where does he draw the line?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think most people recognize that this case involves some extraordinary circumstances.

Q Does the President have not a whole lot of confidence in the state court's ability to litigate something like this? Why does he think it needs to go to the federal court?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's what I said, what his view is, that our society and our laws and our courts, in a case like this, ought to err on the side of life. And this legislation will give her parents another opportunity to make sure that her rights have been protected.

Q But, Scott, the case has been to the Supreme Court twice and they've chosen not to touch it, believing that, indeed, she's had due process. So does the President believe that the courts have not acted properly to date?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes that this is a case where serious questions and significant doubts have been raised. And that's why he believes we ought to have a presumption in favor of life. That's the President's view. Congress has been acting to give her parents another opportunity, and we support the efforts by Congress to give her parents another opportunity to make sure that her rights are protected and to possibly save their daughter's life.

That's the way the President views it. You know, you can keep asking the same question, but that's the way the President views is.

Q Has he, or does he intend to make any calls on this matter?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the White House --

Q I'm asking him, specifically.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and I'm giving you the response. The White House senior staff is in constant and close contact with congressional leaders on this matter. The President is being kept apprised of all those developments. And as I said earlier, he has not made any calls today. If something changes, I'll keep you posted. He's being kept apprised of all developments.

Q Can you talk to me -- again, this comes up. Can you explain the difference between this case and the President's support of the death penalty? I mean, I know this comes up in other culture of life issues, but can you explain the difference here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I can tell you why the President supports the death penalty, he's made that clear before. That the President believes it's a deterrent that helps save lives, and that's why he supports the death penalty.

Q But isn't that inconsistent with what he's doing today?

MR. McCLELLAN: The reason he supports the death penalty is because it helps -- he believes that it helps save lives, and he's stated that view clearly and consistently over a number of years.

Q Has he talked at all about the personal connection he has here, in that his brother has been fighting this case for so many years and, essentially, he has spent -- in terms of what legal avenues he had?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, he previously was asked about the efforts going on in Florida by Governor Bush. This was some time back. And the President expressed his support for what his brother was doing. So he had previously made his views known.

Q Has he been in contact with his brother over the weekend at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think he's been in contact with his brother. They saw each other Friday and it came up in their discussions, but I'm not aware of anything beyond that and I don't think he has.

Q I know you've been hesitant to delve into this, but there clearly are those in the President's Party who see political gain to be made out of this case. Does the President share their belief that this is a smart political move?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I have not heard members talk about it in those terms.

Q They just sent a memo, they didn't talk about it.

MR. McCLELLAN: Exactly, so let's just clarify that. I mean, I don't want to necessarily agree with the premise of your question. The President appreciates the efforts by congressional leaders and we support their efforts. As I said last night, this is about defending life and in a case like this, where you have questions and you have doubts of this nature, we ought to be erring on the side of life.

Q But can you definitively say to us, Scott, that this is not about politics, this is about defending her --

MR. McCLELLAN: I got asked that last night and I said, yes, it's not. It's about what I just described and what I described in our conversation in the gaggle earlier.

Q I guess I wasn't --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes that our society should be based on a culture of life. And in a society that is based on a culture of life, that means we should protect and defend and welcome life at all stages, and that includes people with disabilities. And that's the situation now. So this is a view that is based on a principle that the President has long held.

Q Scott, do you have any update on staff? I mean, is Karl coming back? Is Andy coming back from Maine?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Andy, when he was -- yes, I talked to him yesterday and he was headed back to D.C. So I assume he's back, because he was leaving last night.

Q And what about -- was he coming back because of this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to check. I don't keep his schedule, but I don't know if he was already coming back or if he was --

Q He was in Maine?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he was in Maine. I'll have to double-check. I don't know for sure.*

Q Where is Karl?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's still in Austin right now.

Q Over the break or something? He's going to stay there?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't talked to him about his schedule. Just so you all know, I don't keep track of every senior staff member's schedule. I keep track of the President's schedule.

Q What is the latest on what's going to happen Monday? Say the bill is signed in, you know, three in the morning -- are you still on for the trip?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, there's nothing that's changed, in terms of the trip tomorrow. We are still planning to leave tomorrow morning and make both those stops. That's what I fully expect. As soon as the legislation is passed and enrolled, the President intends to sign it.

Q Can you talk about coverage on that? I mean, do you -- at this point, are you thinking bringing the TV pool in, or bringing stills in? What are you thinking?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it is a possibility that this could be signed in the middle of the night, and in the event of that, I would expect we would probably have a statement by the President that we would release, but that would be the coverage on it.

Q Pictures?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I would not expect that if it's in the middle of the night. And if it's --

Q Define "middle of the night." I mean, if it's one in the morning --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, the latest I heard was that the House may be moving towards meeting at 12:01 a.m., Monday morning -- and I expect that they would move pretty quickly on a vote. But this is all dependent upon the congressional schedule.

Q Right now the way they're moving they'd have 40 minutes of debate, which means the Senate would get it at 1:00 a.m., and then they'd have to enroll it and you'd get it around 2:00 a.m. So let's just say it's 2:00 a.m. --

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect we would probably have a statement by the President we would release and that would be it.

Q And then what time is departure on Monday, for his departure?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's around 8:00 a.m. tomorrow.

MR. DECKARD: Eight-oh-five.

Q Eight-oh-five from the South Lawn?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. But that could change. It could be a little bit earlier, could be a -- I don't think it will be much later.

Q Keeping in mind you don't keep track of every senior staff's schedule, what's the Vice President's involvement in this been, as far as you know?

MR. McCLELLAN: I just know it from the President's perspective, so you can direct those questions to his office.

Q Do you know if he's been in touch, the President has with the Vice President on this matter at all?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me put it this way, we don't get into reading out any of their discussions.

Q Will there be a wire call?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that would be my intention, would be to have the duty officer call and just say, hey, it's coming out.

Q Would you include the TV pool on the wire call, please?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll talk to the duty officer about doing that. We'll see what we can do, yes.

Q It would be really helpful, thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Josh will take care of it.

Q Scott, I'm curious, if it's two in the morning, does the President go down to the Oval Office and sign it, or does he sign it upstairs, you know --

MR. McCLELLAN: He would sign it in the residence.

Q He just gets out of bed, signs it, and goes back to bed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Or in the study. I imagine he would sign it in the residence, yes.

Q Okay, thanks.

END 2:43 P.M. EST

*Andy was already planning to return to D.C.

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