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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 20, 2005
Press Briefing by Trent Duffy
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:41 P.M. EDT
MR. DUFFY: Good afternoon, everyone. A quick opening comment, then an announcement.
The U.S. economy continues to show its strength and the President is very pleased with the continued strong job growth. Today the government released new data showing that job growth increased in 46 states. Of course, last month we had 274,000 new jobs created, and that is a total of 3.5 million new jobs since last May. So the President is very pleased with that job growth.
The President also had a very good meeting with the Prime Minister of Denmark this morning. They discussed progress in Iraq, the broader movement to freedom and democracy around the world -- especially in Europe -- steps forward in the Middle East between the Palestinian and the Israeli people, and progress in the broader Middle East.
I have one announcement. The President will welcome German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder to the White House for a meeting and working lunch on June 27, 2005. Germany is a strong ally and partner of the United States, working with us to advance freedom and reform, promote prosperity and development, and counter terrorism and proliferation around the world. Germany has played a leading role in the international effort to assist the Afghan people with security, developing the police, and reconstructing their nation.
Building on their February 2005 meeting in Mainz, Germany, the two leaders intend to continue their discussion about how the United States and Europe can work together on a broad agenda of global issues.
With that, I will be happy to take your questions.
Q Trent, a couple of questions. First, what's the President's position on some of these conversations going on in the Senate to try to broker some sort of a deal? Is he open to the idea of a compromise that may get some of the judges through, and also bypass the idea of ending the filibusters?
MR. DUFFY: The President has been quite clear that he continues to believe that all of his judicial nominees deserve a simple up or down vote in the Senate. As far as discussions about compromises, those are discussions that are taking place in the Senate; those involve Senate procedures and the President and the White House defer to Senate leaders about Senate procedures. But the President's view has been very clear, it hasn't changed one iota.
Q Well, but you -- perhaps you're intending to influence that. If his position is inflexible with regard to getting all nominees an up or down vote, then would he not agree to any compromise that may, in effect, block one or more nominees?
MR. DUFFY: I think it's very clear the President just wants simple up or down votes on his nominees, on all of them.
Q So is that to say that a compromise that would not provide that is unacceptable?
MR. DUFFY: I think I've stated it as clearly as we can and we defer to the --
Q Well, obviously not --
MR. DUFFY: -- defer to --
Q Is it a compromise --
MR. DUFFY: The President wants -- the President --
Q -- that doesn't get an up or down vote on all the nominees? Is that acceptable or not?
MR. DUFFY: The President wants an up or down vote on all his judicial nominees.
Q I have one other one.
MR. DUFFY: No, sorry, David.
Q One other question. The First Lady's trip, we discussed earlier in the week, kind of her mission. Has it taken on added significance in the light of some recent events -- the Newsweek stories, the concerns about our image overseas? Does she have a broader mandate now to represent the U.S.?
MR. DUFFY: I think the First Lady's trip had been planned for some time, and obviously, the First Lady does represent the United States overseas. She is a great representative for the U.S. overseas. She recently went to Afghanistan. I know she's looking forward to promoting the U.S. image overseas. I would dismiss any suggestion that's in response to anything. I mean, she's been wanting to travel -- you know that she's been wanting to travel to the region for quite some time. So I think it's just a result of that.
Q And what's her primary focus there?
MR. DUFFY: To deal with promoting freedom and democracy overseas, to discuss and to promote women's rights and human rights and free and fair elections, and to continue to promote the U.S. image around the world.
Q You said earlier this morning that the President would probably veto or that -- would veto a bill that would -- the Castle bill that would loosen the 2001 restrictions on stem cell research. What's the White House position on this bill that would encourage stem cell research using blood from umbilical cords?
MR. DUFFY: The White House is looking favorably on legislation that would maintain the President's principle that human life should not be created for the sole purpose of destroying it. We do believe that there is a lot of promise in some of the research in cord blood, as well as adult stem cells, in addition to the human embryonic stem cell research program that the President authorized. So the President strongly supports that kind of research. We need to look at the specifics of the kind of bill that's being discussed on cord blood, but we think that that has some real promise.
Q Has promise, but you're not willing to endorse it yet?
MR. DUFFY: At this point I would decline to do that until we can really study all the details.
Q The President was asked earlier this morning about these photos of Saddam Hussein which have now appeared in a couple of papers. He said that he didn't feel that these photos would inspire the insurgents, the enemies of the United States, because they are inspired by other things, by what he called their bad ideology and so forth. He never really condemned the leaking of these photos, so what is his reaction? Does he think this was a terrible thing that was leaked? Or does he simply think it's not very important, because he said it wouldn't inspire the insurgents to do more?
MR. DUFFY: Well, the President was asked if he thought the photos would inspire the insurgents. The President responded that the insurgents have already been inspired, way prior to these photos, to kill and murder innocent civilians in America and around the world. The President has been briefed on the situation regarding these photographs, and he strongly supports the aggressive and thorough investigation that's already underway. The source of these photos is unknown at this time. These photos were wrong; they're a clear violation of DOD directives, and possibly Geneva Convention guidelines for the humane treatment of detained individuals.
And the multinational forces in Iraq, as well as the President, are very disappointed at the possibility that someone responsible for the security, welfare and detention of Saddam Hussein would take and provide these photos for public release.
Q Well, the administration has said that the Newsweek controversy the alleged allegations that somebody stuffed pieces of the Koran down a toilet in Guantanamo, had a serious impact and people did die from that. Does the President feel that this could have some kind of serious impact, too?
MR. DUFFY: I think this could have serious impact, as could the -- as we talked with the revelations of prisoner abuse. What the United States did in both of those situations, however, is recognize that, take immediate steps to investigate and get to the bottom of why it happened, how it happened, and take steps to make sure, one, that people are held to account -- and in the prisoner abuse instance there are people being held to account, people are going to jail, people are serving time because of those abuses -- and, likewise, there will be a thorough investigation into this instance and similar accountability measures will be taken.
Q Is it fair to say that the President was angry about the leaking of these photos of Saddam Hussein?
MR. DUFFY: Listen, I've covered that. The President wants to get to the bottom of it immediately.
Q Trent, you said yesterday that you think that Congress can do both -- deal with the judicial nominees standoff and some of these priorities like Social Security and the energy bill that the President places a lot of importance on. But there's also the issue of Bolton's nomination. Realistically, if the nuclear option is invoked, these things will, at a minimum, get delayed. Is the President worried about the risk to the Bolton nomination because of this?
MR. DUFFY: Well, the administration and the President are still confident that John Bolton will be our next ambassador to the United Nations and we're confident in his nomination. The President does believe that the Congress has some serious work of the country ahead of it. He believes that putting judges on the bench is an important part of the obligation to the country, so that we have a fair justice system that delivers speedy trials and continues our independent judiciary.
But there is other important business that the Senate has before it, that the Congress has before it, and he's confident that they can continue to do their work.
Q But is the importance that he places on getting these judges through -- does that override the importance of these other priorities?
MR. DUFFY: They're equally important.
Q Trent, what's the President's reaction to the First Lady saying she believes that, in fact, the President should have been interrupted during his bike ride when we had the plane scare at the White House? Does the President agree with the First Lady's assessment?
MR. DUFFY: The First Lady said that she has full confidence in the Secret Service, and so does the President. They do excellent work. They put their lives on the line each and every day to protect both the President and the First Lady, their families, the Vice President, Mrs. Cheney and their families. And that's all I have to say about it.
Q But the question is more, does he agree with the First Lady that he should have been interrupted, not whether he believes Secret Service does a good job.
MR. DUFFY: He agrees with the First Lady that the Secret Service does an outstanding job and they have the full confidence in the Secret Service.
Q Trent, two questions. One, yesterday President was speaking at a function and he blamed India for the energy crisis and high oil prices around the globe. And he said that India should come up with some alternative oil and energy needs. Now, question is that if President has any alternative energy plans for India, or he's willing to help India in any way to come energy and oil crisis India is facing today?
MR. DUFFY: I'm not familiar with the comments, Goyal. I'll be happy to go back and review them. The President believes that we have an obligation, both at home, to have a comprehensive energy bill and also to help our friends and allies around the world get the energy that they need to keep their economies growing and to keep the world economy growing. So I'll be happy to go and review the comments.
Q Second question, if I may, please. Recently, Catholic bishops for the first time ever in the history called on the administration of President Bush that illegal immigrants in this country should be given permanent status or they should be made legal because this will be good for the U.S. economy and they are not paying taxes and working for low wages and living underground. Any comments on that?
MR. DUFFY: Well, the President has a temporary guest worker program. The President is against blanket amnesty. But the President wants to see a guest worker program that matches willing workers with jobs that Americans are not interested in. He wants to see that passed by the Congress. He does believe that our immigration policy needs to be more humane, and needs to reflect the simple fact that people are coming here to feed their families, and that we can have a more compassionate immigration system, while also making sure that we're securing our borders against those that might want to do us harm.
Q Is the U.S. government apologizing for this picture of Saddam Hussein?
MR. DUFFY: The investigation is underway. It was a clear violation of DOD guidelines. We don't yet know who is responsible for the pictures, and until the investigation is finished, I wouldn't have anything further.
Q Two questions, Trent. Going back to Ed's question before, Scott said repeatedly that the protocols were in place on the day of the bike ride, and that there was no need to change them. In view of the First Lady's concerns that her husband should have been notified, should there be some consideration to changing those protocols?
MR. DUFFY: Well, as I said yesterday, the Secret Service is -- they are always, every day, every minute, assessing how they secure the President and protect the President and the First Lady, so it's not any incremental response to any action. Scott did say that there would be a review, that there is and there will be. But every day the Secret Service wakes up thinking about the best ways to protect the President.
Q Also, is it possible that these pictures might have come from a non-U.S. source?
MR. DUFFY: As I just said, the source is unknown at this time, which is why the military is investigating the matter.
Q Another way of saying it is, is Saddam only being guarded by U.S. forces, or are other forces guarding him?
MR. DUFFY: I believe it's multinational forces.
Q Trent, two questions. It has been more than six months since the election campaign, during which the President said he would push for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage. Since that time, we have seen little from him on that vital issue. And my question, first question, is it still on his agenda? And if so, what does he plan to do to make it a reality?
MR. DUFFY: It's absolutely on his agenda. He campaigned very much in favor of a constitutional amendment. As you know, we had a House vote last year -- came up a little short. And what the President wants to see is the success of an amendment, so we need to build the kind of grassroots pressure in favor of succeeding on an amendment so we can get it passed. That's the best way to succeed, is to build that coalition support.
Q There have been dozens of syndicated columnists and editorial pages, including today, such as The Wall Street Journal, which have all strongly denounced Newsweek. And the Drudge Report republished several lines of the briefing transcript on Tuesday where certain network people in this room "ripped into Scott on this issue," as Drudge headlined.
And my question, since MSNBC's Keith Olbermann wrote about Scott's alleged letter of resignation, you can assure us that the President regards this as being as asinine and abusive as the network bullying of Scott, can't you?
MR. DUFFY: Let's see, if I start on that -- (laughter.) I think we've been clear about Newsweek making an error, retracting their story, and we --
Q What about the letter of resignation, this --
MR. DUFFY: Hold on a second, hold on --
Q -- the letter of resignation and the bullying of Scott?
MR. DUFFY: I think we've covered Newsweek cover to cover.
Q No -- no comment? You're not -- Scott has not submitted a letter of resignation, has he?
Q He's gone. (Laughter.)
MR. DUFFY: Les, we all serve at the -- we all serve at the pleasure of the President. Scott has not offered any letter of resignation.
Q So that is just absolutely rubbish, isn't it?
MR. DUFFY: Thank you, Les.
Q Where is Scott, seriously? (Laughter.)
Q Is the President at all concerned -- he talked earlier about vetoing the Castle bill should it become law. Is he at all concerned about the possibility of a veto override in either chamber, should it get to that point?
MR. DUFFY: Well, of course, the vote hasn't taken place yet, but a couple of things on stem cell. Remember that the President is the first President in history of the United States to authorize human embryonic stem cell research. That research is ongoing. Six hundred stem cell samples have been issued to researchers under the President's policy. And the reason the President supported it is because he wants to find the live-saving cures that the stem cell research might have to offer.
Now, his principle was -- is that we cannot cross a fundamental moral line, as he said in the Oval Office some hours ago, about using public money to support the destruction of human life.
The issue with the Castle bill is it does break that principle, and it also may be unnecessary at this point because there are methods in the scientific community that might give us the ability to extract stem cells from human embryos without their destruction, or to obtain stem cells some other way that would fit within the President's program.
As far as the question about the veto override, you know, we'll have to let the vote take place. But you heard the President fairly clearly on this.
Q Do you have anything on the coming meeting between President Bush and the Greek Prime Minister, Kostas Karamanlis, at 1:15 p.m., I think?
MR. DUFFY: I don't have anything on that. We will likely have a readout of the meeting following the meeting.
Q Here in the briefing room?
MR. DUFFY: We'll let you know.
Q Can I ask you one question on the photo of Saddam. Are there rules for military guards that they cannot bring cameras when they're on duty at the prison?
MR. DUFFY: All I know, it was a clear violation of DOD directives that the photos were taken at all. So if you have specific questions as to the Defense Department guidelines or the rules about that, you might want to ask the Pentagon. But I know that it was a clear violation; these photos are a clear violation of DOD policy.
Q Another thing, not related, on China. Chinese government just announced that they're going to put increased tariff on 74 items -- textile exports, in a gesture to try to ease the trade tension between China and the United States. Do you have anything on that, anything that the Commerce might have some goodwill gesture also?
MR. DUFFY: Well, I think Commerce has taken the lead on that. I mean, what the President is interested in and what the U.S. is interested in is keeping our healthy trade relationship with China going, but also making sure that that's a level playing field. That's why Commerce took the actions that it did, that's why the U.S. government took the actions that it did, so that we balance the need for manufacturing jobs and good jobs here at home, along with consumer prices. So as far as the specific actions that China took today, I might refer you to the Trade Representative's Office or the Commerce Department. But overall, what we are interested in is a level playing field and furthering our good relationship with trade with China.
Q Trent, if I could ask something about prisoner abuse. There was a report in The New York Times today from the Pentagon regarding prisoner abuse at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. After Abu Ghraib, you now have Bagram. Are you alarmed by a pattern emerging here?
MR. DUFFY: The President and the administration and the military were alarmed by the reports of prisoner abuse, no matter where they were, whether they be at Abu Ghraib or at Bagram. What the military and what the President supported is investigations holding people to account. I think seven people involved in the Bagram incidents are currently being investigated and are being held to account.
Q But this doesn't help while the First Lady is on a goodwill tour of the Middle East, does it?
MR. DUFFY: Well, but these are instances that have happened; we've taken steps, we've taken new policies to ensure that this doesn't happen again. We're holding people to account.
Q Trent, a clarification on the stem cells. You're saying the President believes in the promise of human embryonic stem cell research, but is concerned about taxpayer money being used to fund that research.
MR. DUFFY: He's concerned about taxpayer funding of a practice which involves the destruction of human life, yes.
Q On the issue of cloning, the President just made a brief statement at the beginning of that answer earlier in the Oval Office. What we're hearing from South Korea, is this an issue of concern, given the President's view?
MR. DUFFY: The President is definitely against human cloning. I think what the Korean development suggests and tells us is that this is the world in which we live. Science has amazing capabilities, but we need to balance the need to push science as hard as we can to find life-saving cures, but at the same time remember that we have ethical and moral obligations, as well. But the President is dead-set against human cloning. The U.S. pushed for a ban on international human cloning in the U.N. this, I think, fall, and won. So our position is very clear about that.
Q Trent, can I ask just one other question about the pictures of Saddam?
MR. DUFFY: Sure.
Q In your mind, in the President's mind, is there a difference between these images and the images which this government broadcast around the world after his capture, of his hair being inspected and his mouth being inspected by a physician?
MR. DUFFY: There is, and I can get further details about why it's different. But the photos that were released today are a human being in custody, of a detainee, and they are possibly in clear violation of Geneva Convention guidelines. The photos that were released after Saddam Hussein's capture were within -- were within our guidelines under the Geneva Conventions, is my understanding.
Q I, for one, would be interested in how the administration views the distinction. Is that to say that a violation of the Convention is that these were -- there was an attempt to humiliate a prisoner here? Is that the idea -- you leak pictures of him in his -- you know, in a state of undress, and so forth?
MR. DUFFY: I'm not the international lawyer, but I think we can definitely get some more information about the differences, the distinction between the photographs that were released following his capture versus the ones we're talking about today.
Q If that could be sent out, I, for one, would be interested in that.
MR. DUFFY: Yes, I'd be happy to get that for you. (See Addendum below.)
Q Trent, I think you've done a very good job, but I was wondering, is Scott -- when does Scott come back, and where is he?
MR. DUFFY: The honorable Scott McClellan is providing a commencement speech at the University of Texas, his alma mater. He is very honored to do that. And we have to close out here so we can go live to that exciting speech. I'm sure you all want to cover it.
Q When will he be back?
MR. DUFFY: He'll be back Monday, yes, sir.
Q Let me just ask a follow-up on Terry's question about the use of blood from the umbilical cord. I can't come away with this thing -- the President would not veto the House leadership bill? He would veto the Castle bill, but he would not veto the House leadership bill?
MR. DUFFY: What I was telling Terry is that we think that that approach for cord blood, which we think has a lot of good promise within the President's moral principle, we need to study a little closer. But we agree with the approach that it's taking. It's premature to suggest what the President may or may not do on the legislation about cord blood.
Q Thank you.
MR. DUFFY: Thank you.
Addendum Responses to Questions from Today's Briefing
Q: How are these photos different than the ones that were released by DoD after Saddam was captured? Why is this a violation of Geneva Convention when that was not?
A: Those photos were released for overriding needs of security -- to demonstrate to the Iraqi people and the insurgents that Saddam Hussein was in fact in custody, which we believed was important to help quell the insurgency. The recent release of photos had no such justification.
END 1:06 P.M. EDT
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