The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 24, 2005

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Rochester, New York

9:48 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. I'm going to go through the President's day to begin with. He had his usual briefing this morning. He's got the conversation he'll be participating in shortly, when we land. This is -- today's focus is kind of generational. On the panel you're going to have former Congressman Tim Penny, who served on the President's --

Q Tim who?

MR. McCLELLAN: Tim Penny, former Congressman Tim Penny, who served on the President's bipartisan commission. He'll be the expert. Then you will have a grandparent, a parent, and a couple of younger workers and a college student. So the focus will be on fixing the hole in the safety net and personal accounts and making it permanently -- making Social Security permanently sound.

And then this afternoon when we return, the President has the meeting with a number of families who have adopted children as embryos. And so he'll meet with them and then he'll make remarks -- I think it's being moved to the East Room because of the weather -- where he will make remarks about -- where he'll highlight the good work of embryo adoption and talk about his stem cell policy and talk about the importance of exploring the possibilities that science presents us with, but also making sure that we maintain high ethical standards as we do so.

Then following that, the President has a meeting with some Republican members of the House. This will be over in the residence. It will be an opportunity for the President to discuss a range of issues with these members. I imagine those will include Social Security and CAFTA and war on terrorism and current priorities before Congress.

And I think that's really what I've got on the President's schedule for today.

Q What is the reaction to the filibuster?

MR. McCLELLAN: I talked to a few of you -- or a few of your colleagues last night. I do expect that the President will say something at the beginning of his remarks today, at the conversation.

Yesterday, these judicial nominees that the Senate is now moving forward on were being blocked. These are nominees that have waited for a number of years to receive an up or down vote, and now they're going to get one. We consider that to be real progress and so we're pleased that the Senate is moving forward on these judicial nominees.

Q That's only three out of -- let's see, there are two more who are excluded from that, and then some others beyond that. The President didn't seem to differentiate in his statement yesterday; he seemed to say he wanted an up and down vote on all of his nominees. He's clearly not getting that.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, our principle hasn't changed. But the fact that they're moving forward on these nominees who have waited for years is positive. And that is progress. I mean, these nominees yesterday were being blocked by a minority of Senate Democrats. And now the Senate is going to move forward on their nominations. We're confident that they will be confirmed on the floor of the Senate and we look forward to the Senate acting on those nominees soon.

Q Does he consider this to be a victory, since his standard was all his judicial nominees deserve an up or down --

MR. McCLELLAN: He considers it to be real progress, and I think any way you look at it, it is. As I said, these were nominees that have been blocked for years and now they're going to receive an up or down vote.

Q Frist said it was bad news and good news.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it's a sign of real progress.

Q Are you going to use the word "victory"? I mean, that's the term everybody is looking at. Is it a victory or is it not a victory?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's real progress that they're moving forward on these nominees. I mean, that's the way I would describe it.

Q So what is it for the other two nominees? Is it not progress for the other two nominees?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's my understanding the agreement was silent on those, but let's remember where we were just yesterday, before this agreement.

Q Where is the priority now that -- with the remaining two judges? Is that something that the Senate should do before moving on to other business?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're pleased that the Senate is going to move forward on the nominees I mentioned at the beginning. And it's important that the Senate continue moving forward on all the important priorities for the American people. It's important that they continue moving forward on energy legislation. It's important that they move forward Social Security reform -- one of the things the President is going to talk about today. We want to see them move forward on the big priorities for the American people, and that's what we've been urging all along.

And there has been progress made. There is progress being made on both those priorities as well -- Social Security and energy legislation. And the President is talking about one of those today, and the Senate is moving forward on energy legislation this week in committee.

Q What would like -- what would the President like to see done first out of the Senate of those priorities?

MR. McCLELLAN: He wants to see it move forward on all those priorities. Those are all important priorities for the American people.

Q Is the President willing to work with these centrists? In other words, if the group makes clear that they believe one nominee brings extraordinary circumstances, a filibuster is forthcoming, would he withdraw that nomination and work with this group?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a hypothetical at this point. The President is going to continue moving forward on appointing highly qualified individuals to the bench. That's what he has done and that's what he will continue to do.

Q Scott, the -- one of the central points of the agreement, at least as it relates to the President, is that they restore what the senators involved in this refer to as the core of advice and consent. And they went back to Federalist 66 and, you know, sort of read through Hamilton's thinking on this, and in the end of the -- at the end of the agreement that they signed, said that they wanted to see the White House seek the advice ahead of nominations of both Democrats and Republicans. Does the President plan to do that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't know that was the exact language, but we have, we do and we will consult with the Senate on judicial nominees. I think -- I think I recall -- yes, in fact, I think I recall Senator Schumer, during Judge Gonzales's confirmation hearing to the position of Attorney General applauded Judge Gonzales -- or now General Gonzales -- for our efforts and our consultations with him on judicial nominations.

Q Let me read you that relevant paragraph, and just tell me if this fits in with what you're saying here: "We believe that under Article II, Section II, of the United States Constitution, the word 'advice' speaks to consultation between the Senate and the President with regard to the use of the President's power to make nominations. We encourage the executive branch of government to consult with members of the Senate, both Democratic and Republican, prior to submitting a judicial nomination to the Senate for consideration."

MR. McCLELLAN: As I just said --

Q Do you think that happened in the case of the three senators who are up for the up or down vote now?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I just said, we have, we do, and we will continue to consult with the Senate on judicial nominees. And Senator Schumer, I recall, recently applauded the White House for what we have previously done when it comes to consultations.

Q Scott, the President has been talking an awful lot about Social Security. All the polls show that there is still no sign of movement in terms of support for private accounts. There are some ideas floating around on the Hill. Are we now at the time we're going to really begin to hear him start talking about alternatives and options?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, one, all the polls continue to show that the American people now recognize that there are serious problems facing Social Security.

Q Right. No support for private accounts -- you're correct on that, but there is no sign of any support for private accounts.

MR. McCLELLAN: We have been moving in to the next phase of this discussion and debate on Social Security. The American people clearly recognize that Social Security needs to be saved and strengthened. That's clear in survey after survey. That was part of -- that was, in part, because of our outreach efforts and where our focus was initially. Now, we are focusing -- we're continuing to focus on the problems, but we're also focusing on possible solutions that will make Social Security permanently sound and make it a better deal for younger workers. And the President believes very strongly that we should give younger workers the voluntary option of being able to realize a greater rate of return on their own retirement savings. That's why he believes it's so important. He's going to continue to emphasize the importance of both: making it permanently sound, but also making it a better deal for younger workers.

And I think -- I mean, he welcomes all ideas and people coming forward with ideas. We're seeing now that some more Democrats are starting to come forward with some ideas. We've had Congressman Boyd come forward with ideas; we had another congressman just come forward with some ideas; Senator Clinton has -- I mean, President Clinton has called on Democrats to put ideas on the table for saving Social Security.

And so you're seeing progress. And now this -- I think the American people understand that on an issue like this that sometimes the legislative process is not going to move as fast as on other issues. But we are making steady progress on it, and we will continue reaching out to all those who want to get something done.

Q Can I ask you about Syria? Do you guys agree with the U.N. assessment that Syria has fully withdrawn from Lebanon?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, the U.N. assessment said that they couldn't be certain that all of Syria's intelligence services have left Lebanon. And, as you're aware, we've made it very clear that all Syrian military forces and intelligence services need to be out of Lebanon. We want to see free and fair elections without any outside interference or intimidation, and that means all Syrian forces need to be out of Lebanon. And we need to make certain that all Syrian intelligence forces are out of Lebanon, as Secretary Rice indicated in her remarks to AIPAC last night.

Q So what is the U.S. assessment of this? Is your assessment similar to that, then, that not all the intelligence forces are out of Lebanon?

MR. McCLELLAN: We need to be certain. The assessment, itself, said that they can not be certain that all those intelligence services are, indeed, out of Lebanon.

Q So the U.S. --

MR. McCLELLAN: And so we're continuing to emphasize that all Syrian forces and intelligence services need to be out of Lebanon. We want to see Lebanon move forward on free and fair elections, and that's where our focus remains.

Okay, thanks.

END 9:59 A.M. EDT

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