For Immediate Release
April 21, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to begin with two important priorities for the President and for the American people, Social Security and energy.
First, on Social Security, the President had a good discussion with some members of the House today about the importance of acting this year to strengthen Social Security. This was part of his ongoing discussions with members of Congress. They talked about how more and more Americans are recognizing that Social Security faces serious problems, and they discussed how to move forward in a bipartisan way to get legislation passed this year. There were some constructive ideas discussed during the meeting.
The President stressed that all ideas are on the table, with the exception of increasing the payroll tax rate. Now is the time to be welcoming ideas and working together in a constructive way. And you heard the President talk about that earlier today in his remarks, as well.
Secondly, on energy, it is time to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy and secure our nation's energy future. The President appreciates House leaders moving forward today on legislation that is largely consistent with the comprehensive national energy plan that he outlined four years ago. The President wants Congress to get him a bill before the summer recess to make sure our nation has an affordable, reliable and secure supply of energy for the future. And it is vital to our economic and national security.
And with that, I will be glad to go to questions.
Q Doesn't the President, though, have a lot of reservations about this bill that's before the House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we put out a statement of administration policy on it yesterday. This is a comprehensive piece of legislation, and it does address one of the fundamental problems facing our nation, and that is that we are growing more dependent on foreign sources of energy. And we have high energy prices facing consumers because we have not had a national energy plan in place. We have a growing global economy and a growing demand from countries around the world for oil. And we are relying on foreign sources of energy. And that's why the President believes it is all the more reason we need to act now. He put forward a plan four years ago, and it's time for Congress to get that passed.
Q Would he like to sign this bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's going to continue working with both the Senate and the House as they move forward, as you are well aware. And we put out the statement of administration policy, and it spelled out our views on the various aspects of the legislation. It stated that it's largely consistent with the President's views and with his principles.
The President has a comprehensive plan that expands conservation and increases energy efficiency; it diversifies our supply by looking at alternative sources of energy -- clean alternative sources of energy. It also looks at ways that we can use technology to explore in environmentally responsible ways here at home. And finally, it addresses the electricity problem by working to modernize our electricity grid.
And the House bill is comprehensive in approach. And he appreciates them taking this important step today to move forward to get legislation passed this year. And we look forward to working with members of -- leaders in the Senate to get it passed in the Senate. And then, obviously, there will be a process where they'll work to reconcile their differences before the bill comes the President.
But he thinks we have a real opportunity to get it done this year. And I think that's been affirmed by the members of the House and Senate, as well. Senator Domenici has made it clear that he intends to move forward on hearings beginning in a few weeks. And the House, as you are aware, is moving forward to get it passed today. So we have a real opportunity to get this done this year.
Helen, go ahead.
Q In view of the Republican opposition to Bolton, is the President going to withdraw his nomination?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President, as he said earlier today, believes that John Bolton is the right person at the right time for this important position. There are many important priorities before the United Nations right now. And they are working to move forward on reforms, as well. John Bolton is someone who is committed, like the President, to making sure that the United Nations is an effective organization that gets things done. And John Bolton has a long, distinguished career of getting things done. He is someone who has been through the confirmation process before and been confirmed.
Q You don't think his nomination is in peril, at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes he will be confirmed and he hopes that he will be confirmed as soon as possible. It is time for Senate Democrats to stop playing politics, and it is time for the Senate to confirm John Bolton so that he can get about doing the work of the United States at the United Nations.
Q You said the President was 100 percent in his backing of Bolton today. Can we infer from that, that the President simply doesn't believe these allegations that have been made about Bolton, including the one from this woman who was an associate of Bolton? She claims he chased her around the hotel, was verbally abusive to her. Does the President simply not believe the allegations that are out there, or does he feel that whether they're true or not, it's so important to have Bolton at the U.N. that just -- he should be confirmed?
MR. McCLELLAN: These are unsubstantiated accusations that Senate Democrats continue to bring up. They have been addressed by John Bolton in testimony before the Senate. He has testified for more than eight hours, including on issues of this nature. He has responded to a number of written questions that were in follow-up to that hearing, as well. It is time to move forward on his nomination, and the President wanted to make it clear today that the Senate needs to quit playing politics, and they need to move forward and confirm this person.
Q And the President simply does not believe the allegations.
MR. McCLELLAN: John, these are unsubstantiated accusations against John Bolton. John Bolton is a strong, effective diplomat who has a proven record of getting things done. If you look at his record, he has worked to help us move forward with Russia to agree to the Moscow Treaty, which will help us reduce our nuclear arsenal. He has worked on the efforts as the negotiator with Libya to get Libya to abandon its weapons of mass destruction program.
John Bolton is someone who has a long record of getting things done, and sometimes that's going to make people mad when you are someone who gets things done. But the President believes he's exactly the person we need at the United Nations. He has been an effective manager who has earned respect from many people that he has worked with.
Q Scott, I think the energy bill has $8 billion in incentives. Would the President like to see those stripped out?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we addressed that in our statement of administration policy. I think the President talked about it yesterday, too. The President has made his views known. He doesn't believe that with the price of oil around $50 a barrel, that oil and gas companies need any incentives at this point. Now, we do have tax incentives in our plan, and we believe those ought to focus on renewable sources of energy and increasing energy efficiency.
And that's what our approach does, and we did express that view in the statement of administration policy that we have put out and made available to members of the House, as well. But this bill, overall, is largely consistent with the one -- with the plan that the President outlined.
Q Are you going to try to -- in conference, perhaps, try to get this money out of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to work with members of Congress to make sure -- to make sure that we have a comprehensive piece of legislation that reduces our dependence on foreign sources of energy and also helps make sure that we have affordable, reliable supplies for years to come.
Go ahead, Dick.
Q On the Bolton nomination, there are three Republicans -- Voinovich, Hagel and Chafee -- all of whom have expressed varying degrees of concern about these allegations. What is the President or the White House staff doing to work with them, to put pressure on them, to convince them that these need not hold up the nomination.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if I'd put it that way, but we're continuing to have discussions with members of the committee who have questions. And we will make sure that their questions are addressed.
Q And how are you addressing those? Is Bolton going to provide more information to them? How are you going to deal with this --
MR. McCLELLAN: Our staff has been in touch with them to make sure that they have the answers to the questions that they have. So -- and that's what we'll continue to do.
Q Scott, you say John Bolton gets things done, and yet, some U.S. officials are expressing today that they believe part of the reason why North Korea walked away from the six-party talks had -- in some part, had to deal with the strong language that John Bolton used in his speech in 2003 when he described North Korea as a "hellish nightmare." Given that, are you concerned that the longer this nomination takes to put through that there may be more reasons that might emerge for people not to vote for John Bolton?
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with that view, first of all. And second of all, as I stated, we're confident that he's going to be confirmed. We want to see him confirmed as quickly as possible because this is an important position that has a lot of important challenges that need to be addressed at the United Nations. And we want to see him in there working on behalf of the administration to make sure that the United Nations is effective and that it's achieving results on priorities across the board. We work very closely with the United Nations. And John Bolton is someone who shares the President's commitment to making sure that the United Nations does move forward on reforms that will make it work better and help it achieve results.
Q Will you concede that the more time that passes, obviously, there would be more opportunity to come up with new accusations --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people want the Senate to put aside the politics and move forward on the nomination. There's been too much of this in Washington, D.C. over the years. This is the ugly side of Washington, D.C. that we see from time to time. John Bolton is highly qualified. He has a distinguished career in government, a distinguished career serving his nation, and it's time to get him in the position.
Go ahead. Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Scott, Quito, Ecuador is reported in chaos after President Gutierrez was ousted yesterday in a coup. Will the U.S. recognize the de facto government of the Ecuadorian Vice President? And will the U.S. provide safe passage out of the country for President Gutierrez?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the situation there remains very fluid right now. And we are monitoring and following developments very closely in Ecuador. We have repeatedly called for peaceful, inclusive, respectful and constructive dialogue during this time in Ecuador. We continue to urge all parties and all politicians and activists to work together to find solutions that will strengthen the democratic institutions in Ecuador. We want to see constitutional stability and the rule of law prevail in Ecuador. And we urge all Ecuadorians to come together to peacefully resolve these issues. And that's what we'll continue to do.
Q Scott, you said that these allegations against Mr. Bolton -- Secretary Bolton are unsubstantiated. But just generally speaking, if there was a staffer here at the White House who conducted -- this amounts to workplace abuse and harassment, the types of allegations -- some of the allegations that are talked about. If there were a staffer here at the White House who was engaged in that kind of activity, would the President tolerate that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, that's a hypothetical. And you're asking me to agree with the characterization that you just made. And I'll -- I don't. I think that these accusations are unsubstantiated. I think they have been addressed by John Bolton himself. And John Bolton is someone who has proven himself as a manager and proven himself as someone who has earned respect of those who he's worked with because he's someone that is committed to achieving meaningful results.
Q But just generally speaking, does the President feel that if somebody's qualifications are -- if somebody is very well qualified for a job, that in some way, that would ever override even minor allegations of workplace abuse?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking me a hypothetical. You're also asking me in the context of this nomination, and I just don't accept that. So -- go ahead, Les.
Q Scott, WorldNet Daily quotes the largest local union of U.S. Border Patrol agents, Local 2544 in Tucson section, as saying this: "We have not had one single complaint from a rank-and-file agent in this sector about the Minutemen, many of whom are retired firefighters, cops and other professionals. Sensors have been set off by the ACLU sneaking around."
If only President Bush were supportive of the rank-and-file agents -- and my question, first question, has the President given any reconsideration to his reference to the Minutemen as vigilantes?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we have great appreciation for the job that our Border Patrol does day in and day out. They work very hard to enforce our borders and to protect the American people and make sure that our borders are secure. So we greatly appreciate the job that they are doing.
And second of all, I mean, I think that we've been over this now two or three times, Les, and I think the President's views were made known and I've expressed what our views are, as well.
Q Republican Senator Wayne Allard says we should consider deputizing the Minutemen to help secure our borders. Republican Governor Schwarzenegger clarified his statement as meaning we need to secure our borders. And the Republican-controlled Senate voted down amnesty. Question: Why won't the President reconsider his vigilante remark and do what is necessary to secure our borders?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, we are, Les. We have taken a number of steps to improve our border security. We also believe -- well, we've increased the number of Border Patrol agents along --
Q Two hundred instead of 2,000.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- along our borders. We're making use of new technology to help secure our borders. We have taken a number of steps in recent years to achieve that important objective.
The President also believes it's important -- you bring up one -- you mentioned amnesty, and the President does not believe we should have a blanket amnesty. He's made that clear, as well. But the President does believe we should have a more orderly, secure, and safe migration system. And one of the issues before us is immigration reform. There are a number of members that are committed to immigration reform. The President has outlined his approach for moving forward on a temporary worker program that will address two important priorities when it comes to our border. It will -- well, address an economic need, and it will address the security challenges that we face, because if we move forward on that plan, it will allow those who are enforcing our borders to focus their efforts on those who are coming here for the wrong reasons, and help us better secure the borders.
John, go ahead.
Q Two brief questions -- thank you, Scott. With the surprise retirement of Senator Jeffords of Vermont, the President, who has encouraged other people to run for the United States Senate before, has he contacted Governor Douglas of Vermont and urged him to become a candidate for the now open seat next year?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, if we make any -- if the President has any contacts of that nature, I'll try to keep you posted.
Q Thank you. The other question -- you said at the morning session that the White House has been in touch with Republican members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Bolton nomination. When you said that, could you be more specific -- has the President, himself, gotten to the point where he would personally urge senators on the phone to take this nomination up and report it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he reiterated his views again today and made it very clear his strong support for John Bolton and the need to move forward on his nomination and get him in this important position. And we will, as I said, continue to stay in contact with committee members who have additional questions and make sure that those questions are addressed. But I think that the accusations that the Senate Democrats continue to bring up are unfounded. I think that they have been addressed. And now is the time for the Senate to move forward on his confirmation.
Q Scott, I'd like to turn to the economy. The Dow Jones Industrials have fallen more than 6 percent since January 1st. Is the President troubled by that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I noticed before I came up here that the market was up, somewhat, today. I think 130 points was the last --
Q I'm thinking the broader view --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- was the last I looked. If you want to take the broader view, I would look at where it's been over the last few years and where it is today. But I think when you're talking about the economy, you have to look at the overall picture. We are seeing solid economic growth and job creation because of the pro-growth policies that the President has worked to enact. And he's continuing to pursue pro-growth policies to build upon the economic progress that we are making.
I think most economists believe that we're going to continue to see a solid economic expansion. We've seen, over the last 22 months, more than 3 million jobs created. Last year, the GDP was 3.9 percent. And the forecast going ahead -- forward continue to show sustained economic growth. Unemployment is down to 5.2 percent, well below the levels of the -- average levels of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. So I think you have to look at the overall picture.
Now, with that said, there are still challenges to our economy that we need to address, and that's why the President has outlined a number of initiatives that build upon our efforts to keep our economy growing stronger. He is concerned about rising prices -- rising energy prices, and the price of gas at the pump. And that's why its all the more reason for Congress to move forward now on the comprehensive national energy plan that he outlined four years ago, and that's why we have great appreciation for the House acting quickly on this legislation.
Q Well, if I could follow up, the stock market rises and falls, as everybody knows, but with the 6 percent decline since the first of the year, is that giving any trouble in selling the personal account side of Social Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought that up, because I think that, one, you have to look at the market over time, and if you look from 1926 to 2004, the annual real rate of return from the market has been nearly 7 percent. Social Security experts conservatively estimate that the rate of return on personal accounts would be at least 4.6 percent. The current rate of return under the Social Security system is 1.8 percent.
And I think this goes to a larger issue, as well, and that is giving people the choice to control their own retirement savings. What we're talking about are voluntary personal accounts. Washington should not be denying our children and grandchildren the opportunity to grow a nest egg. We want them to have the opportunity to own and control their savings and realize a much greater rate of return on their own retirement savings. And that's what personal accounts provide, the opportunity, if they so choose, to realize a much greater rate of return than they're realizing under the current system. It's a voluntary approach, it's up to them to decide whether or not they want to participate in it. But the facts show over the long term that the rate of return on a conservative, safe mix of bonds and stocks is much better than the rate of return from the current Social Security system.
Q So it's not having any effect on selling the plan in Congress?
MR. McCLELLAN: If you look at the facts, they're very clear. The facts are very clear in terms of the rate of return that people can realize.
Q Can you tell us about the Tennessee trip tomorrow, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. The President looks forward to going to Tennessee tomorrow. As you may be aware, this is National Volunteer Week and National Park Week. Steve Holland, you going?
Q I'm sad to say I'm not going.
MR. McCLELLAN: The Tennessean is not going. Okay. Tomorrow is also the 35th annual Earth Day. So the President will be touring the Cades Cove area of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, near Townsend, Tennessee. And he will assist local volunteers with a trail restoration project. And then following that, he will be making remarks.
The President is the first sitting President since Franklin Roosevelt, when he dedicated the park in 1940, to visit Great Smoky. And the President has visited 22 national parks since taking office, and that's more than any other sitting President, according to the National Park Service.
And in the remarks, I expect the President will emphasize the importance of personal environmental stewardship, volunteerism, and cooperative conservation efforts. Those are important themes that this administration has moved forward on in our policies and that he constantly encourages. So that's kind of the thrust of tomorrow.
Q Could I ask a question about the Crown Prince visit? The last Arab summit agreed on reviving so-called Arab initiative, which calls for withdraw to 1967 border in return for normalization of relations between the Arab countries and Israel. Is this proposal on the agenda? And how does the President reconcile it with the road map, which takes into account new realities on the ground?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I think we have to recognize where we are in the Middle East right now. There is a real opportunity before us. There has been some good progress made recently. I think you have leaders in Israel and leaders in the Palestinian Territories who are committed to moving forward toward the President's two-state vision. And right now Prime Minister Sharon is moving forward on his withdrawal plan from Gaza.
And this is the time for the international community to come to the support of the Palestinian people as they work to put the institutions in place for a viable democracy to emerge. It's important that we make sure that this is successful so that we can move forward on the road map and get to those final status discussions. It is a real opportunity and it's an opportunity we need to seize, and I'm sure that they will, in their discussions, talk about the progress toward Middle East peace and toward the President's two-state vision. I'm sure that's one of the topics that will come up. I'm sure they'll talk about the war on terrorism and our global efforts to work together to combat terrorism, and a number of other issues, as well.
But I think we need to recognize the importance of seizing the opportunity before us right now to get things moving again toward the two-state vision. And that's why -- that's why the Quartet appointed Jim Wolfensohn to head up our efforts to help the Palestinians during this withdrawal time to put the institutions in place for a democracy to emerge.
And it's important that the Palestinians and Israelis coordinate closely on this withdrawal plan. This is a process that will move forward in steps. And this is the important step that we need to focus on right now.
Q Could I ask you a question about Iraq. Does the President have any concern that the latest surge of violence in Iraq has anything to do with Iraqi forces taking responsibilities more and more?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I'd look at it that way. I think I'd look at it as there is important progress being made on all fronts in Iraq. Iraq is moving forward to a democratic future. They are moving forward on the political process. You have the transitional government that is taking shape and beginning to assume responsibility for Iraq's political future.
In terms of the training, I think if you talk to our military leaders and look at what is happening on the ground, the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces is making important progress. The President talked about the number today; some 150,000 security forces are now trained and equipped in Iraq. The Iraqi security forces are assuming more and more responsibility for their own defense, both from internal and external threats.
But you still have -- and we said there would be difficult days as we continue to move forward in Iraq to help the Iraqi people realize a brighter future -- you still have enemies of freedom who are desperately trying to do everything they can to stop the transition to democracy and freedom in Iraq. They will fail. They continue to target innocent civilians. The Iraqi people are determined to build a brighter future, and I think they've shown that when they went to the polls, and they've shown that as the new transitional government is taking steps to assume responsibility, as well.
Q Can I go back to the Gaza withdrawal plan? As you know, the Israeli Defense Minister today -- he agrees it's going to be a three weeks' delay in the withdrawal. First of all, are you in consultation with them regarding the delay? And secondly, are you satisfied there's not going to be any further delay --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's something that they're continuing to discuss. That's an internal Israeli matter. But Prime Minister Sharon and Israeli leaders have expressed their commitment to moving forward on the withdrawal plan, and they are taking steps to move forward on the withdrawal plan. We appreciate that. And that's why it's so important that the parties in the region coordinate closely as this occurs, and that we make sure that it's a successful transition.
Q So there is no date, you're not worried about the fixed date that has to be implemented --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen the reports, like you have, and I think there are different views. But I'm not aware of any decision that's been made to that effect.
Q Is the President concerned that Secretary of State Rice'sstrong condemnation of the Belarus government could be seen as an endorsement of or even an encouragement to a popular uprising in that country?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you've heard from Secretary Rice earlier today, I believe it was, and she said it's time for change in Belarus. They are one nation in the region that has not moved in the direction of many others, and we stand with all those who seek a -- who seek freedom and democracy. And she made that clear in her remarks. So I would take her remarks for exactly what she said.
Q Does that include a popular uprising?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think she addressed that issue. Go ahead.
Q Thanks so much.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q My question, could I ask you a question to be on recent bilateral relations between Japan and China? Japan is a key ally of the United States, and China is playing a very key role to solve the North Korean issues. And so these build a kind of -- I think it's a -- (inaudible.) The President has any concern about these lost relations between China and Japan --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that, as you stated, is a bilateral matter that they're working to address, and I think that's where I would leave it.
Q Thank you.
Q Do you have any concerns this relationship overshadows the solution --
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:38 P.M. EDT