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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 18, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Columbia, South Carolina

11:15 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. The President had his usual briefings this morning. Following that he met with his Secretary of State. When we arrive in South Carolina, this will be the 22nd state we've gone to as part of our outreach to the American people on the need to act on Social Security reform this year.

As you are aware, the President will be speaking to a joint session of the legislature. And I expect one of the things that the President will talk about in his remarks is that the American people elected us to go to Washington to solve problems and take on the difficult issues. And one example he'll point to is what the members of the legislature in South Carolina did. South Carolina faced some tough economic challenges in recent years and their economic growth slowed dramatically and they had to face a tough fiscal situation. The legislature came together and came up with a bipartisan solution to avert the fiscal crisis. They not only erased their deficit, but they did so two years ahead of time, and the President will point to that as an example of what we need to do in Washington.

I expect that one of the things he'll emphasize in his remarks is that Congress needs to come together and make the tough choices to make Social Security permanently sound for our children and grandchildren. And so that will be one of the points of emphasis in his remarks. I expect he'll continue to talk about the problems facing Social Security and the need to make it permanently sound, as well as make it a better deal for our children and grandchildren. So, anyway, that's the focus of his remarks today.

Then we return back to D.C. and the President has got a couple of interviews today. He's doing an interview with Ron Insana this afternoon when we get back, and this will be an opportunity for the President to talk about Social Security and to talk about his energy plan and the need to act on it, and it will be an opportunity to talk about other domestic priorities as well -- I'm sure that may come up in the interview.

And then following that, the President will be doing an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. And this is an opportunity for the President to speak directly with the people of Lebanon. It's an opportunity to let the people of Lebanon know that the international community is united in their support as they move forward to a sovereign, independent nation that is free from outside interference and intimidation. And so those are the two interviews he has on the schedule.

Traveling with us today we've got Senators DeMint and Graham, and Congressmen Brown and Wilson, and we'll be joined by two others on the way back, Congressmen Barrett and Inglis will join us on the way back, in addition to those four.

Q When are those interviews going to be aired?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me double-check, we'll double-check on the Lebanese one. I'm sure that Ron Insana will be going to air this evening, I would suspect, with his -- as well as probably tomorrow morning, some of it.

Q Will you guys be putting out transcripts of those?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, those are -- well, I take that back, maybe on the Lebanon one; we tend to do the foreign interviews, so on that one, probably would.

Okay, questions?

Q Any reaction to the story that North Korea may be preparing to ramp up its development of nuclear weapons again?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, all parties in the region have made it clear to North Korea that they want to see a nuclear-free peninsula. North Korea previously made a commitment to come back to the six-party talks so that we can move forward on the proposal that we previously outlined. And North Korea's failure to follow through on that commitment and its provocative words and actions only further isolate it. And so we continue to join with our partners in the region calling on North Korea to come back to the talks so that we can talk about how we move forward in a substantive way on the proposal that we outlined.

Q Are you giving any thought to taking them to the United Nations Security Council?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if North Korea refuses to come back to the six-party talks, then I fully expect we would consult with our partners in the region about the next steps, and that's certainly one possibility.

Q How much longer are you going to let this go on?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're continuing to work closely with our partners in the region and urge North Korea to return to the six-party talks. They made a commitment to do so and we want to see them follow through on that. But, again, if they -- you know, I don't know that we've set a timetable, but if they refuse to come back to the talks, then we would have to consult with our partners and look at the next steps.

Q Do you have any concerns about these charges against John Bolton, as published in The Post today, that he was trying to keep information about Iran from Secretary Powell and some other officials?

MR. McCLELLAN: John Bolton is exactly the kind of person that we need at the United Nations. He is an effective diplomat who has a proven record of results and so we hope that the Senate will move forward quickly and confirm his nomination. The President appointed him because he believes he's the best person to be our ambassador during these times when the United Nations is talking about reform. And the United Nations needs to move forward on reform.

As far as issues that have come up, I mean, John Bolton has been addressing those in his testimony and we hope the Senate will move forward quickly on his nomination.

Q Senator Graham has said that he doesn't think the President is doing enough to address the solvency problem in Social Security and he said he expects that maybe we'll hear more about it today. Does the President have plans to talk about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, and he has been talking about the need to make sure that Social Security is permanently sound for our children and grandchildren. And I expect in his remarks he'll talk about how Social Security has been a very successful program and it has worked well for those who are currently retired; it's working well for them.

But the problem is in just three years, the baby boomers are going to be retiring and that's when it's going to start putting strains on the system and you're going to see it start heading toward the red. And the President will go back through some of that, how you're going to see an increasing number of people receiving benefits under Social Security, with a decreasing number of people paying into the system. And that's why we need to act now to make it permanently sound. It only gets worse, and each year that we wait it's another $600 billion -- it's at least $600 billion a year more each year that we wait. That's why we need to act now and that's why the President will talk about the importance of coming together now to make the difficult choices and act on this problem this year. That's what the American people expect.

You know, I noticed over the weekend there was a wire story citing some House Democratic aides saying that they were going to -- expressing that they were having a new willingness to come to the table and talk about how to move forward on a bipartisan solution. We would welcome that, if that's the case. This House aide seemed to indicate that they were going to move away from their strategy of simply saying, we're not going to come to the table unless you do this or that.

And the President is going to make very clear again today that the door is open, all ideas are welcome, now is the time to come to the table and talk about how we move forward. So we hope that Democratic leaders have recognized that they should stop blocking efforts to move forward on a bipartisan solution.

Q There is a new ad out criticizing what it called activist judges, that uses the President's face and his position. Has the President seen this ad, and what's his reaction to it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Who is that ad by?

Q Has anybody at the White House -- did they --

MR. McCLELLAN: Who is the ad by?

Q It's by the Center for Justice Now, it's this group that's trying to fight against the filibuster?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I haven't seen it. I don't think he has seen it, either.

Q If anyone at the White House saw it prior to the ad?

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I don't -- prior? I don't know. I'd have to check. I'd have to check.

Q Has senior staff --

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard any discussion of it amongst senior staff.

Q Are we near the end of the education phase?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard me say last week that we're continuing our outreach efforts to the American people. It's important that not only that they understand that there are problems facing Social Security, but they understand the significance of those problems. And that's what the President has been emphasizing as we travel across the United States. That's what senior administration officials, members of his Cabinet, White House staff have been emphasizing as they travel across the United States in this 60-day push.

So we're still in that phase. It's still early in the process. This is a difficult issue or it would have been solved a long time ago. But it is an issue that needs to be addressed and needs to be addressed now. And that's one of the things the President is emphasizing.

In terms of the next phase, when we focus even more on solutions, we'll be continuing to talk with members of Congress about the next phase and how to move forward together on those solutions. But we're -- you know, we're continuing to have good discussions with members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, and the President is going to continue reaching out and encouraging all people who have ideas to come to the table. This is a time for all those who recognize the problems to come forward and talk about how we can move forward together.

Q But in terms of venue, doing it as, like, a mini State of the Union address venue versus an open forum, you know, that formula that we had seen so many times -- does this sort of signal a change in types of ways of presenting his ideas of Social Security versus, you know, the groups of people, average citizens, sitting there in a roundtable?

MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about the different formats? And Friday was a different format. It was a way to --

Q That, sort of, venue --

MR. McCLELLAN: There are a number of different ways he's going to reach out to the American people and talk to them about the problems facing Social Security. I pointed out the example of the South Carolina legislature. This is his first time to go into South Carolina and talk about the problems facing Social Security since we began this big push in Congress.

And on Friday there was an opportunity to highlight the benefit of personal retirement accounts and how millions of Americans right now have that opportunity in some of their state programs -- state and local programs. And we're going to be going to Galveston next Tuesday to highlight that program and how well that program has worked for employees in Galveston.

Q Any reaction to -- Prime Minister Sharon says he's going to delay the Gaza pullout until August because of a holiday.

MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen that report. We're not able to confirm that that's the case. You know, Prime Minister Sharon is moving forward on the disengagement plan, and what is important now is that the parties -- the Israelis and Palestinians -- coordinate closely on the withdrawal. Prime Minister Sharon made an offer to coordinate with Palestinian leaders, and we hope the Palestinian leaders will take them up on that offer so that they can be move forward in a coordinated way.

And that's all -- you know, one of the responsibilities the Quartet's new envoy, James Wolfensohn, will be to help the Palestinians move forward on institution-building in the Gaza as Israel pulls out of the area.

Q And what about the Israeli announcement they're going to build 50 new homes on the West Bank?

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw that report, as well. We will be seeking clarification from the government of Israel. Prime Minister Sharon reiterated his commitment to the roadmap just last week in Crawford and his commitment to the President's two-state vision. The roadmap has obligations for both parties. Israel should not be expanding settlements, and the Palestinian leaders need to act to dismantle terrorists' organizations. And I think the President made his views very clear last week, as well, that Israel should not expand settlements.

But on this one, we'll seek more information from the government of Israel about this report. But we have a real opportunity before us, too, with the Gaza withdrawal. And it's important that we seize this opportunity so that we can move forward on the roadmap to the two-state vision.

Q Thank you.

END 11:29 A.M. EST

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