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 Home > News & Policies > April 2005

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 26, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan

Aboard Air Force One
En route Galveston, Texas

10:23 A.M. CDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning everybody. A couple of things to begin with. The President had his usual briefing out at the ranch this morning. We will be going to Galveston, where the President will be participating in a roundtable with a Social Security expert and some Galveston County officials to highlight their alternate plan that they have for employees in the county. There are a couple of neighboring counties -- I believe Matagorda and Brazoria Counties -- as well that offer alternate plans for -- retirement plans for their employees. And this is a way to highlight the benefit of personal accounts, as well as finding a permanent solution to make Social Security sound for our children and grandchildren, and these are models that can guide us as we move forward on the legislative efforts to make Social Security permanently sound and make it a better deal for younger workers. And we appreciate that Senator Grassley is moving forward in his committee today on efforts to strengthen Social Security.

Let's see, we return to D.C. after this event. I think that's really all I have to begin with, so I'm here for whatever questions you all might have.

Q Scott, why -- Tom DeLay is not from Galveston, why is he riding back with the President today? And what's the signal that the President is trying to send by inviting him on Air Force One?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he is from the area. Galveston is near his district and we typically invite members of Congress to events in their area, and we're glad to have Leader DeLay flying back to D.C. with us. I know the President looks forward to seeing him and visiting with him on the way back.

Q Is this a way to, you know, express further commitment to their relationship, you know, further backing DeLay?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've already made that pretty clear. I'm sure it will be an opportunity for them to continue to visit about how we can move forward in Congress on the important priorities facing the American people. He is someone that the President has worked closely with, along with other congressional leaders, to get things done for the American people.

That's the way I would describe it.

Q Does DeLay's district touch on Galveston at all?


Q Okay.

Q Does this have something to do with his ethics problems?

MR. McCLELLAN: What's that?

Q Is it helping him with his ethics problem?

MR. McCLELLAN: This has to do with an event that is occurring in his area and the fact that the President appreciates his leadership in the House and that we work very closely with him, as well as other congressional leaders, on the agenda for the American people.

Q But how strongly is the President supporting him at this time in which he's embattled in this ethics dispute?

MR. McCLELLAN: As strongly as he ever has, which is strongly.

Q He wasn't deterred by the latest revelations about the lobbyists paying for his plane tickets? That didn't give pause to the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. Look, those will be issues that Leader DeLay has said he's more than happy to address before the Ethics Committee and those matters will be addressed by congressional leaders and by Congressman DeLay.

Q Scott, what does the President think of polls that show two-thirds of people disapprove of his handling of Social Security?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to keep in mind what we're in. One, we are still in the early phase of our efforts to strengthen Social Security and get something done this week [sic]. And the goal of the initial phase has been to educate the American people about the problems facing Social Security. And the American people now recognize that there are serious problems facing Social Security. Survey after survey shows that a majority of Americans believe there are serious problems facing Social Security. And that, in turn, is helpful to get the American people to urge Congress to act. In the Gallop poll just the other day, more than 60 percent said they believe Congress is moving too slowly. And Congress is now beginning to move forward in committee on legislative efforts, and we appreciate that effort.

But the goal has been to make sure that the American people understand the problems facing Social Security. There are significant problems and the American people want to see Congress act to make Social Security -- to make sure that Social Security is around for our children and grandchildren. There is a big hole in that safety net right now: it's fine for today's generation, but we've got to fix it for our children and grandchildren and the American people recognize that. So I think that that has been important progress and that is exactly what we set out to do in this initial phase. This is not an issue that we have ever viewed was going to easy to get done right away. If that was the case, it would have been done long ago.

Q But, Scott, just the mere fact that Tom DeLay will be at today's event is distracting from what the President is trying to accomplish. Does --

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I disagree. Like I said, Leader DeLay, along with other leaders in the House and the Senate, is someone who is committed to getting things done on our shared priorities. And I think that's evident by the way he worked to move energy -- comprehensive energy legislation through the House last week. And he's someone who has participated in meetings with the President, along with other members of Congress, to talk about ways to strengthen Social Security and get it done this year.

Q What does the President think of this offer by Harry Reid and by Senator Biden for a deal on judges, that if the President were to maybe relent on some of the most, in their minds, most conservative judges, that they'd be willing to work out a compromise and approve some of the President's nominees that have been either deadlocked or filibustered?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think our view is that Senate Democrats need to stop playing politics and give all judicial nominees an up or down vote. It is unprecedented the steps they have gone to, to prevent highly qualified judges from receiving simply an up or down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. In terms of senatorial procedures, those are matters for the Senate to address. You know, I'm sure that the leaders in the Senate will discuss those matters, but our view has been and continues to be that all judicial nominees should receive an up or down vote. The President has a responsibility to appoint individuals to the bench, and the Senate should move forward in a timely way to make sure that each and every nominee has an up or down vote. These are nominees that we believe have a majority of the support of the United States Senate and it is the constitutional responsibility of the Senate to fulfill their responsibility to vote on those nominees.

Q Should the Republicans entertain the compromise?

MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, those are discussions that will be held between the leaders in the Senate. Our belief is that all nominees deserve an up or down vote and it's time to stop playing politics with the judiciary. Some of these are judicial emergencies and these are individuals that have received high marks for their qualifications and their judicial temperament.

Q Did you think the Republicans were playing politics when nominees when the Clinton folks had problems getting their nominees through?

MR. McCLELLAN: What has happened in this Senate is unprecedented. There has not been a situation like this, where members of one party have blocked nominees from even receiving an up or down vote on the floor.

Q What did the President do this morning, anything fun?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was going on a bike ride. I'll double check that when he gets on. That was before his briefing this morning

Q As the 60 days winds down, what's his role going to be? Is he going to continue to travel the country like he is, like he has been?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, like I said, the 60-day push was our effort to go out and really define the problems facing Social Security for the American people. And we've accomplished that goal. But this is still an early phase in our efforts to strengthen Social Security and the President is going to continue reaching out to the American people as we move forward to get something done this year. The American people want to see Congress act and solve this problem.

Q How many states has he visited now?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is 23.

Q And you said we've accomplished that goal, what was laid out to do in the first 60 days and now that this 60 days is coming to a close, do we see the President laying out a new goal for the next 60 days?

MR. McCLELLAN: We've continued to consult with members of Congress about how we move forward to advance a solution. The President believes it's important that we have a bipartisan solution. Our door is open. We would hope the Democrat leaders would start coming to the table with ideas for solving the problem, instead of simply standing in the way of solutions.

Q Does the President pivot, or do we -- I mean, does the President stop traveling after these 60 days? I mean, what does he do now?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, as I said, he will continue reaching out to the American people and continue going across the country talking about this important priority. This is a high priority for the American people that affects everyone and the President is going to continue talking about the importance of acting this year. Congress is -- you know, we're also entering a new phase in Congress, where they're starting to move forward on legislative efforts and we appreciate the leadership of Senator Grassley and leaders in the House, like Congressman Thomas. And we'll continue to work closely with them as we move forward to advance a solution. And the President will continue to work in a way and make his views known in a way that helps advance a solution.

Q Is he open to a final solution that doesn't include private accounts?

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate the opportunity to sit here and negotiate with the pool this morning. (Laughter.) I think the President has made his views very clear, that all ideas are n the table as far as he's concerned, with the exception of increasing the payroll tax rate. This is a time when we should be welcoming ideas, not getting into ruling things out. And the President believes that we must address the hole in the safety net, we must make Social Security permanently sound. And he believes we also need to strengthen it for our children and grandchildren by giving them the opportunity to realize a greater rate of return on their retirement savings -- that's why personal accounts are so important and that's one of the things that he'll be highlighting today. I think there are examples in Galveston County, some where people have realized a rate of return that's almost twice as much as what they would have realized under the current Social Security system.

Q But, Scott, at some point all these ideas have got to come together and the President has to make it known which ones he's in favor of. He brought this idea to the American public. If he's taking this forward, why don't we see a plan from the administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President will be focusing more on solutions as we move forward. But the President I think made it clear that this is an issue that we should work together on to advance a bipartisan solution. And that's why he's been reaching out members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, alike, and he will continue to do so. He wants to continue to consult with leaders about how to move forward to advance that bipartisan solution.

But he has I think made it very clear that he will -- I mean, one, he is leading on this issue and going out across the country and talking about the need for action. And he's been very open to welcoming ideas from others. Unfortunately, Senate Democratic leaders -- I mean, some Democratic leaders continue to simply stand in the way of a solution, instead of coming to the table with ideas. We would hope that that would change.

But another aspect of this debate, keep in mind, just a couple of months ago there was discussion about whether or not there were serious problems facing Social Security. Today, people are now focused on solutions and talking about solutions. But this is not a time for people to be trying to block ways to advance a solution. This is a time for people to come to the table with ideas to advance a solution. And that's the way the President has been approaching it.

Q Any reaction to Putin's speech yesterday on democracy in Russia?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me see if there is any more to add. I mean, I saw where he talked about the importance of democratic reforms and those are issues we continue to talk about with Russia. We have good relations and we'll continue to have discussions on those issues, but let me see if there is any more from the President's standpoint to add to it.

Okay, thanks.

END 10:37 A.M. CDT