The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 21, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Tucson, Arizona

10:03 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning. The President departed the White House earlier today; right now, he's visiting with some members of Congress and the first stop today we'll be going to the Morris K. Udall Center, where the President will visit with some seniors -- they'll be participating in some recreational activities while he's there. And I expect the President will make some brief remarks to them -- and we'll have some pool coverage of that -- where he will talk to them about Social Security and how nothing changes for those who are currently retired, that this is about helping our children and grandchildren have a strong Social Security system there for them.

And then following that he will go to the Convention Center in Tucson, where he'll participate in a conversation on strengthening Social Security. And Senator McCain is joining us for the day; he'll be at this one, as well as the conversation in Denver. The participants in the first one will include a Social Security expert, a young worker and three seniors. And then at the second one in Denver, the participants will include a retired senior and his granddaughter, a young worker, and a small business owner, as well as a Social Security expert. Senator McCain will be with the conversation participants in both these events today.

And then we're over-nighting in Albuquerque. And that's all I've got for you for now.

Q McCain will be on the panel, or just be --

MR. McCLELLAN: He'll be up there with the conversation participants.

Q That does mean he'll speak, right?

MR. McCLELLAN: I expect he'd say a few words.

Q Scott, when you say he's going to talk to the pool at the first event, is he going to limit his comments to Social Security, or are we going to be able to ask --

MR. McCLELLAN: There, he'll probably talk about Social Security. If he has any more to say -- if you're asking me about the Terri Schiavo case, I expect if he did it would be at the first conversation event.

Q Not at the pool event?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't expect at the pool event.

Q You said "if" he did, so you expect him to say something?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he may. I'll keep you posted.

Q Has he been getting updates on the case? And did he talk to Gonzales about the Justice Department's move to file the paper in support of the legislation?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's gotten updates this morning. He's being kept apprised of developments.

Q By who?

MR. McCLELLAN: The senior staff, before he left the White House. I don't think there's any new developments that we've heard of recently on this flight.

Q Did he talk to Gonzales about Justice Department's moves?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think he spoke to Judge Gonzales. Senior staff, we've been in touch with Judge Gonzales and talking to him throughout the last several days.

Q Has he ever talked to the Schiavo family?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. I don't know -- I don't think he's ever met them before in the past.

Q Would he?

Q Can you go over what went on last night, in terms of the President signing the bill and how it went down?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. I guess the bill -- the House passed it shortly after midnight, and then the President signed it at 1:11 a.m., in the morning. The Staff Secretary, Brett Kavanaugh, walked the legislation over to the residence for the President to sign. He came outside his bedroom and signed it in the residence.

Q Had he been asleep?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he was woken up after it was passed, when it was ready to be signed.

Q I heard you describe it earlier, he came out of his bedroom and literally signed it standing up in the hall; is that how it went/

MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct, yes. He was just standing in the hall in the residence an signed the legislation then.

Q Was he wearing --

Q Is it safe to assume he wasn't wearing a suit and tie at the time? (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going into that much detail. Yes, he cleaned up, put on his suit -- (laughter.)

Q Was it just one signature, or was it the standard, lots of pens?

MR. McCLELLAN: I will double-check for you. I didn't check in that level of detail. I think it's just a signature. If something changes, I'll let you know, but I think it was just one signature.

Q What members are on board?

MR. DECKARD: Congressman Beauprez, Congressman Hefley, Congressman Franks and Congressman Shadegg.

MR. McCLELLAN: Very well done.

Q Can you repeat -- I couldn't hear you.

MR. DECKARD: Beauprez, Hefley, Franks and Shadegg.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is visiting with them right now, right in front of you.

Q Are they talking Schiavo?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't been sitting in on the conversations.

Q Scott, you may remember this from your Texas days. A member of Congress in Florida, Deborah Wasserman Schultz, got on the floor yesterday and said that the President, when he was Texas Governor, signed a piece of legislation into law that, she said, would allow -- when there's a dispute, would allow a feeding tube to be removed and that -- she was a little bit murky on exactly what the law was, but, essentially, she was saying that the President signed something into law that's contradictory to what he is doing now.

MR. McCLELLAN: That's absolutely incorrect. The legislation he signed is consistent with his views. You know, this is a complex case and I don't think such uninformed accusations offer any constructive ways to address this matter. The legislation that he signed into law actually provided new protections for patients. He had previously vetoed legislation in 1997, when he was Governor, which essentially would have sanctioned current law in Texas that allowed hospitals to stop providing life-sustaining treatment -- because under Texas law, prior to the passage of the '99 legislation that he signed, there were no protections. And so this legislation was supported by many; it enjoyed strong bipartisan support; concerned citizens, various groups came together to support this legislation and put in place new protections for patients.

The legislation was there to help ensure that actions were being taken that were in accordance with the wishes of the patient or the patient's family. And let me give you an example. Prior to that legislation being passed I think there was a 72 hour period where if the hospital notified a patient -- or the family that represented the patient that they were going to deny life-sustaining treatment, then they had just that 72 hour period to find a place to transfer the patient, that would provide the treatment.

This legislation, some of the new protections it put in place were --included, the ethics committee review by the hospital, in working with the families as well, making -- you know, to discuss those decisions, determinations. And it also provided a 10-day period, so they had 10-day notice to be able to transfer the patient to another health care provider. And it also authorized court proceedings to extend that 10-day period in order to extend that transfer, if necessary.

So it's just an uninformed accusation.

Q Scott, does the President believe that Congress should take wider, broader action to -- along the lines of what the House originally passed, to cover all patients, like they are covering Terri Schiavo?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard any discussion of that within the White House. This is an extraordinary case. It 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 live. But the presumption, particularly in a situation like this, where you have someone that is at the mercy of others, ought to be in favor of life. And that's the President's view. This was narrowly tailored to address this case.

Q So then why not extend --

MR. McCLELLAN: Because this was an extraordinary circumstance.

Q What makes it extraordinary, beyond a lot of attention being paid to it?

MR. McCLELLAN: The questions that have been raised. It's unclear what her wishes are. And her family, her parents have expressed that they would care for her for the rest of her life. So there are serious questions and significant doubts raised. I think most Americans recognize the extraordinary circumstance involved here. And the President is always going to stand on the side of defending life.

Q Scott, if Congress would have passed a broader bill, you're saying he wouldn't have signed it?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's speculative at this point. For the President -- Democrats and Republicans alike came together to pass this legislation and give Terri Schiavo's parents another opportunity to save their daughter's life. And the President appreciates the efforts by Congress and he was pleased to sign the legislation last night.

Q Scott, can I turn to the subject of gas prices? Aside from passing the energy bill, gas prices have hit a new record now. What does the President think should be done now? Aside from addressing the energy bill, which would deal with future issues, what does he think should be done now?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think you can say "aside from the energy bill," because the President proposed a comprehensive energy plan four years ago and called on Congress to pass it. And you've had a minority of Democrats who have really tried to block efforts to advance that energy plan in the Senate. This is a comprehensive energy plan that will reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy; it will make America more energy self-sufficient. And the fact of the matter is that this is a recurring problem. It keeps happening year after year because we have not acted to make ourselves less dependent on foreign sources of energy.

This plan is comprehensive in nature and it diversifies our supply, it expands conservation, it increases energy efficiency. It also addresses the problem with our electricity grid; it modernizes the electricity grid. The fact of the matter is that we need to -- it's time to act on a comprehensive energy plan.

Q Understood that that's what he wants and that, you know, he believes that that would address the issue in future cases. What about today? What else does he think should be done?

MR. McCLELLAN: You heard him go to Ohio recently and continue to press Congress to act. You know, we have a problem with refining capacity. You have a problem in the world where there is a great demand and the supply is not meeting the demand. That's why you have rising energy prices. And we'll continue to make our views known to OPEC-producing nations and non-OPEC-producing nations about the importance of acting in a way that continues to make sure we have affordable, abundant supplies of energy available.

Q It's not just energy prices that are soaring. All commodity prices across the board are up. Is there a sense that maybe that inflation might be starting to set in and the economy is over-heating?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I haven't heard any change in that, in terms of what people have previously said, from the Fed to others. I haven't any heard change in that and I don't think you have, either.

But energy prices, high energy prices are a drag on our growing economy and the President believes it's time for Congress to act. There was a step taken by the Senate to pass legislation that would allow for environmentally responsible drilling in a small portion of ANWR, and that will help reduce our dependence. But the President believes we need a comprehensive strategy adopted.

Q Secretary Rice has made clear that her patience is running thin with North Korea's refusal to come back to the talks. What consequences would there be if they don't? And where does the process go from here?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Secretary Rice was saying what we've said, the time to come back to the talks is now. She expressed that this could not drag on forever; we need to resolve this issue. The United States put forward a very practical proposal at the last round of talks. We want to see results to moving forward on that proposal. We want to see North Korea come back to the talks, as do the other parties to those six-party talks, so that we can talk about how we move forward on that proposal that is on the table. That proposal, we believe, addresses the concerns of all the parties. It's a way forward to resolving this matter and making sure that we have a nuclear free peninsula, which is what all parties have expressed they want.

So she has been having good discussions with her counterparts in the countries she's visiting now. And we continue to urge North Korea to come back to the talks so we can talk about the way forward.

Q Scott, though, following up on that, senior State Department officials have suggested that the U.S. is close to giving up on those talks. How close are we? How much time does North Korea have to return to the bargaining table?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to try to speculate on that, other than to say that the time for them to come back to the talks is now. We have a proposal on the table. We need to talk about how to move forward on that proposal. We want to see -- we and all parties to the talks are committed to a nuclear free peninsula. And North Korea has indicated that they want to come back to the talks, and now they need to follow through on that.

Q Does the President have a living will of his own, or a power of attorney designated to make decisions about do not resuscitate, in the event he were ever incapacitated?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure of the specifics, let me check on that.

Q What was the question?

MR. McCLELLAN: If the President has a living will of his own, or power of attorney if he was incapacitated. I'm not sure of the specifics. I think he has something, but let me double-check and see what we can get you on that.

Q Forgive my ignorance on this, but does he believe in the right to assisted suicide?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he has previously expressed our view on that and the Justice Department has actually defended that view, when it comes to physician assisted suicide in the situation in Oregon. The President believes that a culture of life is built on valuing life at all stages. And the Justice Department has defended that view, as well.

Q Is it his belief, then, that there are steps that need to be taken to protect your life, that if they aren't taken that there's some sort of crime being committed? What's the -- there was some question raised in The Journal today about whether this was -- whether removing a feeding tube amounts to murder. Is that what the President believes? And what sort of steps does he think that this will do to --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes what I've told you. I haven't heard any discussion of it in those terms.

Q Scott, when we left you yesterday, he had only spoken by phone with Frist. Did he make any calls, or receive any other calls after that?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. No congressional leaders, no.

Q If the federal courts decide to uphold the husband's position, will the President support that? Will he stand by whatever the courts decide?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll see what the federal courts do. We have -- the Justice Department, as you're aware, has provided technical support to congressional lawyers in this matter. We have stayed in close contact with congressional leaders. We've looked at options that were available previously. The President believes that this legislation was important because it gives her parents another opportunity to save their daughter's life, and that's why he signed it into law. And we'll see what happens with the court now.

Q Why not grant all parents that right? Why limit it to this one case?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that previously Anne, when you brought it up. This is an extraordinary circumstance. And this law was narrowly tailored. It didn't create any new substantive rights under federal or state law, but it is an extraordinary circumstance. We stand with Terri Schiavo's parents. We stand with members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and all those who are on the side of defending life. There are a number of questions that have been raised in this case and the President believes we ought to err on the side of life in this situation.

Thank you.

END 10:20 A.M. EST

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