|The White House
President George W. Bush
|Print this document|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 21, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:21 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I want to make one announcement: Following the G8 summit in Scotland, Mrs. Bush will depart for a trip to Africa. The details and itinerary of the trip are still being finalized, but the trip is an opportunity for Mrs. Bush to talk about the importance of education, to highlight the progress being made on the President's HIV/AIDS initiative, and to discuss women's rights. And once those details are finalized, I am sure that Mrs. Bush's office will get them to everybody.
And with that, I am glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, will the President withdraw John Bolton, or will he make a recess appointment?
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to urge the Senate to give John Bolton an up or down vote. John Bolton deserves an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate. He enjoys majority support -- I think that is clear to everybody. We have continued to work in good faith to address any remaining issues that may be out there. But it's clear that a minority of Democratic leaders are intent on blocking his nomination and preventing him from getting to work advancing comprehensive reform at the United Nations.
It is a critical time at the United Nations. We have outlined a package of comprehensive reform for making the United Nations a more effective organization. And it's important that we get him in place so that he can get about doing that work. And it's really unfortunate that the minority of Senate Democrats have continued to block this nomination from moving forward.
Q So how will you break the impasse?
MR. McCLELLAN: We will continue to talk with the Senate leadership; we'll continue to reach out to those who are interested and recognize that we have worked in good faith to address these issues. It's clear that the Democratic leadership is not interested in finding a middle ground; they're not interested in information. The information has been provided and made available to people. They're simply interested in blocking this nomination and preventing John Bolton from getting to the U.N., where he can begin advancing the comprehensive reforms we have outlined. And we'll continue working with the Senate leadership to work on moving forward on his nomination.
Q Scott, it's not just the Democratic leadership or members of the Democratic Party -- it's members of the President's own party, some of which are calling for him to withdraw the nomination. So is he going to heed those calls or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not correct, Jennifer. It's a minority of Senate Democrats that are preventing this nomination from moving forward. It's very clear that he has --
Q Senator Voinovich is a Republican.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's very clear that he has majority support. You're talking about one individual who has expressed his opposition to his nomination. But it is a minority Senate Democratic leadership that is preventing this nomination from moving forward and that is preventing from [sic] John Bolton getting about, doing the important work of reform at the United Nations.
Let me point out to you that Senator Roberts, just last week, worked to reach a reasonable compromise. But it was clear then that some of the Democratic leaders were simply not interested in information. They were simply interested in blocking this nomination and playing partisan politics. Senator Rockefeller saw the information that was originally in question and said there was nothing improper about these requests. He informed Democrats of that.
Q So are you saying that there's no talk of withdrawing Bolton?
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to urge an up or down vote. He will be a strong advocate for reform at the United Nations. No, in answer to your question.
Q What is your strategy, then? Are you going to try and convert individual Democrats? Because otherwise you have no alternative except a recess appointment.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you know, Bill, there was a recent agreement on judges, and I think it showed a spirit of bipartisanship and a spirit of goodwill between Republicans and Democrats who were interested in getting things done in the United States Senate. The President is interested in getting things done in the United States Senate. By continuing to block this nomination now, two months into it, Democrats are really preventing us from moving forward in a timely way on other matters, and they're preventing us from moving forward as strongly as we would like to at the United Nations on comprehensive reform. And there are some Democrats that have turned away from the Democratic leadership and said he deserves an up or down vote. And it's not that many more that is required to move forward on this nomination.
Q So what incentive might the White House offer to gain such a coalition?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the American people expect better. And let's call it what it is -- this is simply an effort to block the nomination of John Bolton and play partisan politics. It's nothing but that. We've got important work to do at the United Nations when it comes to reforming it and making it more effective and making it work better. And John Bolton is the kind of guy we need there to do that.
Q Is the President concerned about the recruitment being down in his home country, he can't get -- you know, some day you may give a war and no one will come? And, also, the second part of the question, is there any member of the Bush clan who is in the military service now, that you know of?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to go check; that's a pretty large clan, as you --
Q Would you do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- as you referred to. In terms of -- and certainly there are members of the family that have served and served very admirably in the Armed Forces.
Q I'm not talking about the past, I'm talking about now.
MR. McCLELLAN: And in terms of your question on recruitment and the recruiting efforts, I think the Department of Defense has briefed on that recently and they've talked about their efforts to address some of the concerns that you bring up. I would refer you --
Q I asked if the President was concerned.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, it's something he talks to his military leaders about, and they keep him apprised of their efforts.
Q Is the President concerned?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Is the President concerned?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's something he's kept apprised about, but I think you ought to look at the Department of Defense, and the way they have characterized it is the way I would --
Q I heard -- I heard Rumsfeld on the --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- is the way I would characterize it. They briefed on it recently, and they talked about their efforts to do a better job of recruiting people to volunteer for the military forces.
Q Did the President raise human rights concerns with the Vietnamese leader?
MR. McCLELLAN: They did discuss the importance of continuing to move forward on improving human rights and expanding religious freedom. The government of Vietnam has taken some steps recently to allow for the opening of more churches and to allow for people to worship more freely. And the President -- one of the points he made to the Prime Minister was that as you continue to move forward on improving human rights and expanding religious freedom, you will only realize better relations with the United States and with the international community. So it is an important matter. They had an open and candid discussion about it and the President welcomed the steps that Vietnam has taken recently, and we encourage them to continue on that path and do more.
Q Do they have to take steps such as these to qualify for membership in the WTO?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there is obligations for joining the WTO. And I think one of the things also that the Prime Minister brought up was their desire to see Vietnam recognized as a market economy. And, first of all, there are rules set in law that have to be met for us to do that. And I think that goes hand in hand with some of their obligations to join the WTO, as well as the progress that they make on human rights and religious freedom.
Go ahead, John.
Q I have two brief questions, Scott. You said on Thursday, as we got closer to the Prime Minister's visit, to bring this up again.
MR. McCLELLAN: We're closer.
Q Okay. Well, we're here. The President has met with opposition leaders in other countries that have strong man rule. Burma and Uzbekistan come to mind immediately. Will he meet with the exiled opposition leaders of Vietnam, in particular -- and I'm going to spell this -- Mr. Chanh, C-h-a-n-h, Nguyen, N-g-u-y-e-n, whose democratic exile groups claims 18 million people?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything to update you on in terms of the President's schedule. But the President regularly meets with civil society leaders from different countries, and he meets with opposition leaders frequently, as well. The visit today was a good and constructive meeting, that's the way I would describe it. They had a very good discussion, and they talked about ways we can continue to strengthen our partnership. They talked about a number of important issues.
And they talked about, as Steve was bringing up, the importance of continuing to move forward on reform. The Prime Minister talked about their commitment to moving forward not only on economic reform, but social and political reform, as well. So I think you have to look at the visit in the context that it was just 10 years ago that we restored diplomatic ties with Vietnam. And the President believes meetings such as this are an opportunity to have an open and candid discussion about our relationship and about our concerns. And that's what they did.
Q But would he open to meeting --
MR. McCLELLAN: John, I don't have anything to update on the President's schedule about specific individuals, but we'll keep you posted on that.
Q The other question I had was -- and I thought of this when you mentioned the First Lady's upcoming trip to Africa. He's put a lot of emphasis on Africa, the President has, and yet just last week the head of the Millennium Challenge Account, that Dr. Rice explained to us in terms of its significance toward Africa, resigned after only 18 months. Why did the head of the Millennium Challenge Account leave, and have you picked a successor?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we appreciate his service and his efforts to get the Millennium Challenge corporation up and running. He expressed in his letter of resignation that he would work to make sure that the transition was smooth and that there would be an appropriate time period for a transition. So we will -- we are moving forward on his replacement.
The Millennium Challenge Account is one of the key initiatives in our foreign development and aid programs that the President launched. And we are strongly committed to moving forward more quickly to certify countries so that they can receive aid under the Millennium Challenge Account. This is an important initiative that says we want to make sure that the money that we're providing, the United States, is going to achieve results to help people in need and that it's going to countries that promote good governance, rule of law, transparency, that are committed to fighting corruption and that are committed to moving forward on freedom and human rights, and on things of that nature.
So this is an important initiative. The President had a very good discussion with some African leaders about it last week and talked about his commitment -- and the Secretary of State's commitment -- to accelerating our efforts to certify countries and get aid delivered to those who need it under the Millennium Challenge Account.
Now there are a lot of initiatives we have -- or a number of initiatives, I should say, we have to provide assistance to the continent of Africa and to countries in Africa. This President is strongly committed to helping the people of Africa. We have tripled aid since he came into office. We are committed to fighting poverty and combating hunger. We just announced the additional $674 million to go to countries in the Horn of Africa that are facing a severe situation when it comes to hunger. They're facing famine and we need to get that aid to them now and that's what we're working to do.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Carl.
Q Social Security, Scott. Some Republican Senate leaders are beginning to signal some emerging consensus, or at least somewhat measured renewed support for Jim DeMint's proposal for personal accounts paid for by the Social Security surplus, as opposed to from, sort of, concurrent Social Security tax withholdings. Can you give us an assessment of the President's view and the administration's take on personal accounts as financed through the Social Security surplus?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure I've seen reports about a proposal. I'm not sure the actual -- any actual proposal has been put forward. Obviously, we welcome all ideas for moving forward to save and strengthen Social Security for future generations. This is a high priority for the President, and I think you see a lot of discussions going on because Congress is holding hearings, and the Senate leadership under Chairman Grassley, and the House leadership under Chairman Thomas, are looking at ways to move forward and get something done this year.
This is a high priority for the President. We believe very strongly that Social Security needs to not only be made permanently sound, but that it should be made a better deal for future generations, and that means personal retirement accounts. Younger workers ought to have the voluntary option to invest in personal retirement accounts. They are an important part of the solution. And we've pointed out how we believe that ought to be part of the payroll tax structure.
Q So would funding payroll -- excuse me, personal accounts protect Social Security for future generations and deal with Social Security's solvency issue in an effective way, in the administration's view, if it's through the Social Security surplus?
MR. McCLELLAN: Like I said, I don't know that a specific proposal has been put forward at this time. I've seen reports about it, and we appreciate those who are committed to moving forward on legislation that will save Social Security. And we'll continue working with all those who want to get something done. The President has put forward his proposal and his ideas for advancing a bipartisan solution and solving this problem for the American people, and that's what the American people expect. And so we want to continue reaching out and working with all those who want to get something done.
Q Has the President decided yet on a venue for next Tuesday's speech on Iraq policy?
MR. McCLELLAN: There's nothing to announce on the schedule at this point.
Q Is it a televised address?
MR. McCLELLAN: As you are aware, we put out the week ahead on Friday, typically, and I'm sure that we will keep you updated on his schedule once we're ready to announce that. But it will be a speech at a specific event site.
Q Scott, can we get a clear "yes" or "no" answer on whether the President agrees on the Vice President's assessment that the insurgency is in "its last throes?" Is it a "yes" or "no"?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I already answered this question the last couple of days.
Q Is it "yes" or is it "no"?
MR. McCLELLAN: And I've talked about it the last couple of days. If you look -- if you look at the terrorists and the regime elements that are seeking to derail the transition to democracy, they are in a desperate mode, and here's why. Let me walk you through this.
First of all, I think, to begin with, you ought to go back and look back at the full context of the Vice President's remarks, where he talked about the progress we're making to go after and capture al Qaeda elements that are inside Iraq -- like Zarqawi lieutenants. Just last week, we captured one of his top lieutenants, a very dangerous man who is responsible for the killing of a lot of innocent civilians inside Iraq. This was the person who oversaw Zarqawi's Mosul operations. And that was a significant development.
So I think you have to look at the facts on the ground. And the facts on the ground show that the Iraqi people are making important progress on the political front to build a free and democratic future. The vision of the terrorists is one of chaos and destruction. They really have no vision. Their only alternative is chaos and destruction and the killing of innocent civilians.
And that's what I talked about yesterday. They, every step of the way, have not been able to stop the progress that the Iraqi people are making on the political front. And they are being defeated and they will be defeated.
Q So that's a "yes"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I said that. I said that the other day.
Q A couple of things. First, on the calls by a number of members of Congress for some kind of independent commission to look into the question of detainees, interrogation centers, Guantanamo, et cetera, what's the White House's decision on establishing something like that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, establishing a what?
Q Some sort of independent commission to look into the question of how detainees and those who are being interrogated and held in places like Guantanamo and other places are being treated?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there have been 10 such investigations launched -- major investigations launched by the Department of Defense. They have looked into these issues. They continue to look into allegations of abuse. People are being held to account, and we think that's the way to go about this.
Q So you would rule out supporting any sort of independent or bipartisan commission?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would say the Department of Defense has worked to address these issues and hold people accountable and take steps to prevent abuse from happening again where it has occurred.
Q But since the Defense Department has a role in managing these centers, are they really able to take an independent look at what's happening?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, but look at who they have appointed to head up some of these major investigations. You ought to go look back at some of the reports that have been published on these allegations of abuse. See, our military is committed to adhering to the highest standards of conduct, and they're committed to upholding our laws and our values. And we appreciate the standards that our men and women in uniform adhere to. And in terms of -- are you talking about allegations of abuse at Guantanamo Bay?
Q Well, among others.
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, those allegations of abuse have been looked into, and I think if you look at the number of people, it's a relatively small number of people that have been involved in any wrongdoing, and they've been held accountable. And that's what the President expects. So I think the Department of Defense has taken these issues head on and addressed them.
Q So no need for any sort of independent look into any of these --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Department of Defense, if there are any additional allegations of abuse, they'll continue to look into them. But they have appointed individuals also to take an independent look at these matters. And you ought to go back and look at -- they've briefed on these issues and pointed that out.
Q Secondly, earlier you said that the Democrats were motivated by partisan politics on Bolton. Would you apply that specifically to Senator Biden, and do you think his presidential aspirations are part of what's going on here?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'd say the minority Senate Democratic leadership is playing politics with his nomination. I don't think I need to get into individuals here, but look at what has been done. We have worked in good faith to address issues that they claimed they still had that they wanted to see addressed. Look at what Senator Roberts did. Andy Card had a discussion with Senator Biden just yesterday. But it's clear that the Democratic leadership is not interested in meeting anybody halfway, they're simply interested in blocking this nomination and preventing John Bolton from going about to implement reform at the United Nations.
Q Scott, on Guantanamo and Africa -- President Bush's new friend, Bill Clinton, has said that Guantanamo needs to be cleaned up or closed. What are your thoughts about that, as you're saying that the allegations have been looked into?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not sure specifically what he's referring to.
Q He's referring to the abuse and the problems at Guantanamo Bay.
MR. McCLELLAN: And what abuse are you referring to?
Q The abuse of the prisoners, the fact that the prisoners, some of them -- you still have, what is it, 500 --
MR. McCLELLAN: So you can't point to anything specifically.
Q There's a whole bunch of things you can point to and I'm trying to --
MR. McCLELLAN: A whole -- no, April, that's not correct, because let me tell you about the ways detainees are treated at Guantanamo Bay. They are treated humanely, and that has always been the policy at Guantanamo Bay. And it is a policy that was set out early on in this administration to deal with these detainees. Now, these detainees are dangerous enemy combatants. They are at Guantanamo Bay for a reason. They were picked up on the battlefield fighting American forces, trying to kill American forces. They are individuals who seek to do harm to the American people. One individual, al-Qahtani, who has come up in the news recently, was someone who we believe wanted to be part of the September 11th hijackings. These are very dangerous individuals. They have provided us with valuable intelligence to disrupt and prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
So let's be clear about who these are and let's be clear about our men and women in uniform and the standards that they adhere to. The 99 percent-plus of our men and women in uniform adhere to the highest standards, and they believe it's very important to uphold our laws and our values. And they do that every day wherever they are serving.
Q So is Bill Clinton wrong in his assessment that it should be cleaned up or closed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I asked you what specifically are you referring to, and you said --
Q All of the problems that have been happening at Guantanamo Bay with these people that you have detained. You've let how many go --
MR. McCLELLAN: "All of these problems"? Now, what are you referring to? I think the Department of Defense has pointed out the relatively small number of people that have actually been involved in wrongdoing.
Q Well, since you won't respond to Bill Clinton's statement, let's go to Africa.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm responding to the facts.
Q Okay. Well, Tony Blair says if it was any other country, the problems of poverty and warring would not happen; the world community would not let it happen. I'm asking you, in this White House -- who some consider is not a friend to minorities, particularly African Americans -- do you feel that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Some, I said, some consider are not a friend to African Americans. Do you feel that the problem --
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, it's one thing to make a statement of generalities, but maybe we ought to point at specifics, April.
Q Can I finish -- can I finish? You will understand what I am saying. Do you consider that the problems with Africa, the poverty situation and the fact that the civil wars that have been going on in Africa, that are currently going on in Africa, do you consider the fact that they have been somewhat -- people have walked away, some countries have walked away from the problems because of the racism, a bit of racism?
MR. McCLELLAN: I ask you to consider the facts. This President has made Africa a top priority in his foreign policy. And this President has made an unprecedented commitment to combating the scourge of HIV/AIDS that has afflicted many countries on the continent of Africa. We have made a strong commitment to helping people in need in Africa and providing assistance to those who are hungry and to those who are living in poverty in developing countries. We have tripled assistance to Africa under the President of the United States. We are going to continue to make a significant contribution to Africa through our aid and assistance programs.
I pointed out earlier in this briefing that not only have we tripled development aid, but we've also established the Millennium Challenge Account, we established the President's HIV/AIDS initiative, the emergency relief plan for HIV/AIDS. So I think you should look at the facts and the record of the President, because the President's record --
Q -- not just the United States.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the President's record is a strong one when it comes to supporting the people of Africa.
Q Not just the United States.
MR. McCLELLAN: We've also worked very closely with African leaders on resolving conflicts on the continent of Africa. And it's important --
Q Can you specifically say --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me -- let me finish. You brought this up, and I think it's important to make clear what the record is because it's a strong record and it's going to continue to be a strong record because we are strongly committed to helping developing countries and helping people who are in need, particularly on the continent of Africa.
Q But not just the United States. Tony Blair said if it was -- if it was another country, particularly a white country, that we would not see the problems happening like they're happening in Africa. Do you think that many of the world communities have turned their heads to Africa maybe in part due to some racism -- some point of racism or some --
MR. McCLELLAN: You know, April, all I can say is that the United States is fulfilling its commitments to the continent of Africa. We encourage others to make sure that they are fulfilling their commitments, as well. We have an historic debt relief agreement that has been reached and that will be announced at the G8 summit coming up. That is an important initiative.
We also have to work to continue to expand trade, because trade expands opportunity and trade helps lift people up out of poverty and despair. And that's one of the best way to address some of these issues when it comes to hunger and poverty and other issues, as well.
Go ahead, Roger.
Q Scott, you mentioned that the highway bill was going to be among the topics discussed with the Senate Republican leaders this afternoon.
MR. McCLELLAN: I expect it will. That lunch is going on right now.
Q The Senate has offered a compromise of $290 billion on the six-year highway bill. And Senator Inhofe says that the White House can accept that. Can you verify that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, a compromise of?
Q Two hundred ninety billion dollars. That would be up from the President's $284 billion, which he --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what we've continued to emphasize. That's what was agreed to. We believe it's important to move forward on a responsible highway bill that meets our transportation needs and that keeps us on track to cut the deficit in half by 2009. We've continued to reach out and work with members of Congress so that we can move forward on this legislation. It's an important piece of legislation. We want to get it done and get it passed. And our commitment continues to be to the level of $284 billion. And that's, by the way, a 35 percent increase over the previous legislation that was passed when it came to --
Q Inhofe made the point, though, that the White House could accept $290 billion --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen what he said, but we continue to emphasize the importance of sticking to the agreement.
Q Scott, recent terror attacks in Israel, especially in the last 48 hours, have proven the so-called cease-fire agreed to in February has failed. And my question is, hasn't the President cut the feet out from under the Israelis with his insistence on the 1949 armistice line as the starting point for negotiations with the Palestinians, who have proven that they cannot control terrorism?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, we have to focus on what is before us right now. What is before us right now is the historic Gaza disengagement plan that Prime Minister Sharon outlined. The parties are meeting today, or they have been meeting today. I haven't heard an update on the discussions that they had. But there are some important agreements in principle for moving forward to make sure that the disengagement plan is successful. This is a process that will be done in steps, and the important step to focus on right now is the disengagement plan. This is an historic opportunity to get moving again on the road map. But we need to focus on making sure we get it right with the disengagement plan. And that's why Secretary Rice has been in the region visiting with the parties. That's why we're pleased that the parties have been meeting today.
In terms of security issues, we have continued to say that the Palestinian Authority needs to do more to address these security concerns, and to go after people who seek to undermine the goal of a two-state vision that the President outlined.
Q Did the President believe it was wrong for House International Relations Chairman Henry Hyde to tell the House, "When it comes to sanctions against the United Nations for failing to reform, if you leave it to the State Department, you're plowing in the sea."
MR. McCLELLAN: We all share the goal of reforming the United Nations. That is something we share with --
Q Was Hyde wrong?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- Chairman Hyde.
Q You share with it, oh, good.
MR. McCLELLAN: Reform at the United Nations, Les. You know exactly what I'm referring to, so let's not try to put words in my mouth. But we all --
Q No, no. I would never try to do that.
MR. McCLELLAN: We all want to see comprehensive reform at the United Nations to make it more transparent, more accountable. The American people want to see reform at the United Nations to make sure that it is an effective organization that is getting things done, that is advancing freedom and peace and democracy around the world.
Q Hyde said, depend on the State Department is like "plowing the sea." What do you think of that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you need to let me finish. I'm talking about the importance of reform, and Secretary Rice and the people at the State Department are committed to moving forward on comprehensive reform. They held a briefing just last week and they outlined our proposals for reform. And they talked about the importance of management and budget reform; they talked about the importance of establishing a democracy fund. And there are a number of other reforms that they outlined, as well.
Q Scott, the protestors outside the gate this morning during the Vietnamese meetings were saying, and the message was that the President should link any concessions to the Vietnamese government on trade and other things --
MR. McCLELLAN: Should what?
Q Should link the concessions, any concessions, to progress on human rights and religious freedom. Did the President hear anything today with --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure specifically what you're referring to, but as I said, the President and the Prime Minister had a good discussion about the importance of moving forward on human rights and moving forward on religious freedom.
Vietnam has taken some steps. We welcome those steps. There is more to do. And as the President made clear, that it's important to strengthening our relationships -- relationship with Vietnam, as well. And he emphasized that in the meeting, that as you continue to move forward, it will only help us have a stronger relationship.
Q Were any concessions made at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you're referring to, in terms of concessions.
Q The World Trade Organization or any --
MR. McCLELLAN: The President expressed our strong support for Vietnam moving forward on accession to the WTO. There are obligations that have to be met to join the World Trade Organization.
Q Scott, given the situation in the Senate over John Bolton, it's deadlocked or stalemated, however you want to describe it, it seems like given the President's strong and repeated commitment to doing U.N. reform, how is he weighing this balance between sticking with one individual versus getting reforms done at the U.N.? As we all know, graveyards are filled with indispensable men and women.
MR. McCLELLAN: And, Ed, as I said, we need to call this like it is. This is a minority of Senate Democratic leaders blocking this nomination and preventing this nominee from getting about the important work of reform at the United Nations. It is critical that he get an up or down vote so that he can get to the United Nations and begin that important work. It's the Senate Democrats who are blocking this.
Q Is he the only person who can do that job? And is he worth waiting endlessly --
MR. McCLELLAN: You heard the President talk before -- well, I don't think that's the case, Ed. I think that's a very general --
Q It hasn't gone anywhere. His nomination --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's a very broad characterization you made, and other things have been worked out in the past.
Q With oil at $60 a barrel, has the White House or the Council on Economic Advisers, have any of you, the President, really figured out what that's going to do to the airline industry, to the trucking industry, and what the impact that's going to be?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're actually most concerned about the impact it has on families and small businesses. This is a problem that we've continued to run into year after year because Congress has failed to address the root causes of higher energy prices. Congress needs to move forward on the President's energy plan and get it passed. He outlined this four years ago, and four years is long enough. The Senate is moving forward this week, and it looks like they're going to pass legislation and we hope that they will then get together with the house and work out their differences quickly so that that legislation will get to his desk by the August recess.
Q Scott, how about the here and now, in the economy right now, the next six months?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's always issues that we're looking at. The President has just talked about it on a number of occasions. He's talked about how our economy is growing strong. He talked about it today. We've seen 3.5 million jobs created over the last two years. The unemployment rate is down to 5.1 percent, more Americans working than ever before, home ownership at all-time highs. But we need to continue to build upon that progress to ensure that our economy continues to grow and that it continues to create jobs.
There are some concerns that the American people have. They're concerned about high energy prices, they're concerned about high gas prices, they're concerned about the changing economy that we live in, in the 21st century. And that's why the President is continuing to urge Congress to move forward and having discussions, in fact, right this second with members of Congress about moving forward on additional pro-growth policies. It's because of the pro-growth policies that we have implemented that the economy is growing as strong as it is today.
Q Scott, we've got breaking news up here. We've got a headline up here to ask you about, seriously.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come to you. Go ahead, Ken.
Q The President this morning mentioned a landmark agreement signed with Vietnam about religious freedoms. Is that the same thing as the statement you put out, or is there some other document that's being called --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, this was back -- and what he was referring to was what was agreed to on May 5th. And that's when we kind of concluded that agreement, and it's spelled out.
Q Let's let the breaking news out.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, okay.
Q The Senate Majority Leader is saying that he won't schedule another Bolton vote because that's been exhausted. And he says at this juncture we have to go back to the President and see what decision he's going to make.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, we'll continue to work with the Senate leadership. I haven't seen his comments. I'll be glad to look at what he said.
Q Are you evaluating his comments?
Q -- he's not going to schedule another vote.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I appreciate that, and I don't comment on breaking news from the podium when I haven't had a chance to look at it myself.
Q Scott, with the assassination of another high profile leader in Beirut this morning, the former Secretary General of the Communist Party, do you feel that chaos might return to Lebanon again and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Do I -- I'm sorry?
Q Do you feel that chaos might return to Lebanon again?
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay.
Q Do you think that you still blame the Syrians for anything that's happening in Lebanon --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry on Syria, do I what?
Q Do you still believe that Syria is playing a role from behind the scenes for anything that's happening --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we are still concerned about Syria's presence inside Lebanon. It's a very real concern. I think the international community is concerned about it.
In terms of the assassination of Mr. Hawi, we strongly condemn the assassination. This is the third such heinous act in the last three months. You had former Prime Minister Hariri and the journalist, Kassir, who were assassinated, as well. These are not random killings. These are targeted assassinations of political figures. It is clearly an attempt to intimidate the people of Lebanon and to undermine progress toward a free and democratic future. There needs to be a full investigation into the assassination. People who are responsible must be brought to justice for this, as well. Syria's long and continued presence inside Lebanon has created an environment of intimidation and political repression. Syria needs to fully comply with U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559. That means getting all their intelligence operatives out of Lebanon.
The international community is not going to look the other way. The international community expects this to end. And Syria needs to comply with its obligations.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, I appreciate the President's fight against terrorism and also standing for human rights and democracy and freedom around the globe. But last week he sent a message to Aung San Su Kyi, democratic leader in Burma, on her 60th birthday, but she's still under house arrest and -- and in jail, and the Burmese military is still pressing the people in Burma and also the democratically elected government in exile? So where do you stand as far as Burma? Why you are not really focusing on the freedom and democracy there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we are. And you pointed to the statement that the President put out just last week marking her 60th birthday. We continue to stand in solidarity with Aung San Su Kyi and call for her immediate release. That is something we have expressed concerns about for some time now. And we want to see action taken.
Go ahead. I need to keep going. Go ahead.
Q Scott, last week the drug czar said that Mexico is a model to fight terrorism -- I mean narco-traffickers. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the same time expressed a big concern about the narc violence in the border between Mexico and the U.S. My question to you is, what's the President considering to do about it, to stop that violence that apparently, and according to the DEA, it's coming to the U.S. Now there are some members of the Mexican cartels who were in Dallas, Texas, according to the DEA, and they say they need more money and the White House is giving more money, more budget to fight on terrorism than on narcotics.
MR. McCLELLAN: I know the President is concerned about the violence that has occurred recently along the border, particularly in the Nuevo Laredo area there along the Texas-Mexico border. And we have had discussions and consultations with the government of Mexico. They have been sending in federal law enforcement authorities to address our concerns and to stop the violence from happening. It is a real concern, and drug trafficking is a real concern that we've worked with Mexico to address, as well. I don't -- I think the State Department provided an update on it last week. I don't have any additional information at this point.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you all.