For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 15, 2005
Press Gaggle with Trent Duffy
Aboard Air Force One En Route Charlotte, North Carolina
11:28 A.M. EDT
MR. DUFFY: All right. Let me update you on the President's day. The first thing, he taped his radio address. It's mostly about the beginning of the President's close consultation with the United States Senate on his nominee to replace Justice O'Connor. He later asked Congress to finish work on some important legislative business, including the energy bill, the transportation infrastructure bill, the CAFTA legislation, Social Security, and he also talks about this week's news on the deficit -- the budget deficit coming down.
He then had his normal intelligence briefings. He also met with President Saca of El Salvador. They had a very good meeting. They talked about both the benefits -- both to the United States and to the CAFTA-DR countries as a result of passing this legislation and why it's important for young democracies in the region. The President also talked with President Saca about the conflict in Iraq, and thanked him for El Salvador's contributions of troops. As you know, El Salvador continues to have troops in El Salvador [sic].
Currently traveling to North Carolina. He will tour a plant, then make remarks. I can give you some information on the plant now or later, it's up to you.
MR. DUFFY: Go ahead? Okay, we're going to the Stowe Mills plant. It's one of the oldest textile companies in the U.S. They employ 115 people. They produce cotton yarn that's sold for various uses. They do a lot of exporting to the Central American region. And one of the points the President will be making today is why passing CAFTA will be good for not only American manufacturers across the board, but especially for the textile industry, because it will immediately eliminate barriers that exist today for U.S. textiles and other manufactured goods and services.
On the plane with us you saw Congresswoman Myrick. She's from the 9th District of North Carolina. Also of note, Bob Johnson is on board with us. He strongly supports the CAFTA legislation.
Q Who is that?
MR. DUFFY: He's the chairman of the -- of BET, I believe?
Q I'm sorry, chairman --
MR. DUFFY: Chairman of BET, Black Entertainment Television. He's also on the President's Commission To Save and Strengthen Social Security. He has ties to the North Carolina region. I believe he's a part-owner or owner of the Charlotte Hornets [sic]. But he's on board, and so is Secretary Gutierrez from the Commerce Department.
Then later today, on Ask the White House, Ambassador Portman, the U.S. Trade Representative, will be answering questions on CAFTA.
And just a quick note on the economy. We had some very, very good news on the economy this week, starting with the trade deficit coming down, retail sales figures going up, inflation is clearly in check, and the budget deficit is dropping dramatically. Those are all signs that point to a very healthy and growing economy, an economy that's creating jobs and that is keeping America moving forward.
I'll do the week ahead at the back, or what?
Q Go ahead.
MR. DUFFY: You want to do the week ahead now? Okay. Week ahead.
Q -- this weekend or is he at Camp David?
MR. DUFFY: He goes back to the White House this afternoon, arrives back there at 4:00 p.m. or so.
All right. Monday, July 18th, you have the arrival ceremony for the Prime Minister of India, then the meeting with the Prime Minister of India, the joint press avail with the Prime Minister of India, and then the social dinner with the Prime Minister of India and Mrs. Kaur.
Tuesday, July 19th, he has a meeting with Prime Minister Howard of Australia, then he has a joint press availability with the Prime Minister of Australia.
Wednesday, July 20th, is the photo op with the 2005 NCAA women's basketball champs from Baylor University, and then he travels to Baltimore, Maryland, to make remarks on the Patriot Act.
Thursday, July 21st, he makes remarks locally in Washington on CAFTA.
Friday, July 22nd, he travels to Atlanta where he has a meeting with seniors on the implementation of the Medicare prescription drug bill, and then later has a conversation on senior security, which combines saving Social Security with implementing the Medicare prescription drug bill.
Saturday, no public events. And Sunday, he has the White House T-ball game between the District 12 Little League Challengers of Williamsport, Pennsylvania versus the West University Little League Challengers of Houston, Texas. And of note, this is a Challengers game which is -- these are children with disabilities who are playing this game.
Q What does he hear from Congress, the congressional leaders in the House, on where CAFTA stands? Because it looks like it's not coming up any time in the immediate future because the votes might not be there.
MR. DUFFY: I think that Chairman Thomas from the Ways and Means indicated that they're planning on moving forward in this period before the August break. That's what the President is hoping that they will do, and we continue to feel confident about CAFTA's chances in the House. It passed the Senate with bipartisan support. It's good for American workers and consumers and, especially, as we just mentioned, manufacturers and textile makers, farmers, you name it.
Currently, in the region -- the President will get into all this in his remarks -- but U.S. goods face steep tariffs right now in the second-largest export market in the world. Those tariffs end immediately when CAFTA passes. So there is great benefit. We feel confident. We hope that the kind of bipartisan support that existed for trade pacts in the past will be there for this, as well.
Q What is he trying to do to overcome the resistance among Southern Republicans to this?
MR. DUFFY: We're traveling to North Carolina today. He's been traveling extensively. I think the President has had at least one, if not two, events each week to bring in members of Congress. As you know, he met with a handful of members, Republican members, just this week at the White House. The President feels this is a -- it's one of his top priorities, not only for the benefits to the United States from a commercial aspect and an economic perspective and for jobs, but also for these emerging democracies, and the President will get into all that in his remarks.
Q -- from the sugar lobby?
MR. DUFFY: I beg your pardon?
Q Opposition from the sugar lobby, it's been pretty intense. What is the President saying to them about the benefits of this bill?
MR. DUFFY: Well, I think that's been addressed through the actions by the Senate. Secretary Johanns is working to address some of their concerns. The administration is always ready to listen to them. We're continuing to do that. But overall, this is a good agreement. It's already been written, can't be changed. And that's why it passed the Senate and we feel confident it will pass the House.
Q Trent, does the President encourage legislation that was endorsed by Bill Thomas yesterday to punish China for companies' imposed tariffs on subsidized Chinese imports in exchange for a vote on CAFTA?
MR. DUFFY: The bill was just introduced yesterday. And the administration needs time to analyze it thoroughly before commenting.
Q You don't have any concerns at all, or --
MR. DUFFY: Well, as I said, the bill was introduced just yesterday, so we need time to study it. So we'll withhold comment until we have a good amount of time to take a look at it.
Q Trent, someone speaking on Mr. Rove's behalf to The Washington Post and The New York Times has made it clear that he talked to Robert Novak before he wrote his piece outing Valerie Plame. Is that your understanding, that he had a conversation with Mr. Novak prior to that piece?
MR. DUFFY: We'll continue to decline comment on this because it's a pending investigation. As the President said this week, he doesn't want to prejudge the investigation that needs to proceed. Past that, I don't have anything to add.
Q Do you have anything on the arrest of the so-called fifth suspect in the London bombing?
MR. DUFFY: We've seen the news reports, and we're -- the U.S. government is looking into that. It's all I know.
Q Any concern that this person apparently was trained down at North Carolina State, may have had a valid student visa? What alarms is this raising within the administration?
MR. DUFFY: Well, again, we've seen the news reports, but in general, the U.S. government is always taking steps to ensure that the American people are protected, and working with our friends and allies in the global war on terror.
Q Is the administration disappointed that it seems like leaders in the House and the Senate plan on putting off consideration of a Social Security legislation?
MR. DUFFY: The President is heartened by the fact that both Chairman Grassley and Chairman Thomas and the leadership have pledged to keep working through the fall on this important piece of legislation. We have two weeks left before the August break. There's some very important business that needs to get done. Chairman Grassley said yesterday that he's going to continue to try to bridge the differences and it was a very positive statement. And there's some activity in the House. So that's -- the President is heartened by the commitments on both sides of the Congress to continue working towards saving Social Security.
Q But why do you think it's being put off until the fall? I mean, it looked like Thomas was going to be able to do a bill before the August recess. What do you think the reason is for why that isn't being considered?
MR. DUFFY: I'll leave it to them to define or to respond to the legislative timetable. All we know is that the President asked that it be done this year. They're working towards that timetable. It's Social Security; it's complicated. But both the House and the Senate are working on good-faith efforts to bridge the divide and try to get consensus, that everyone realizes that the longer we wait to save Social Security, the worse off it gets. It's worse off for workers, it's worse off for benefits, and it's worse off for economic and budgetary reasons.
Q Trent, is there any concern -- yesterday, for a good nearly two hours, the Senate debated for the -- Rove's role in this leak investigation, whether or not he should stay in that job and whether or not he should retain his security clearances. Is there any concern on your behalf that it is a distraction from your legislative agenda on the Hill at this point, or it's getting to that point?
MR. DUFFY: No, the Congress is moving forward on all the items that I just mentioned -- on energy, on a transportation bill, on the budget, as well. So Congress is moving forward on the agenda of the American people. And that's what the President is focused on. He's focused on today, on continuing to grow our economy by opening up markets overseas. He's continuing to focus on the war on terror and keeping Americans safe at home. Secretary Chertoff announced the reorganization of the DHS. So the President's focus is on the business of the American people.
Q -- the President's confidence in Mr. Rove unchanged, enhanced?
MR. DUFFY: Nothing to add beyond what Scott has said this week.
Q What about reaction to Justice Rehnquist's announcement last night he's not going anywhere?
MR. DUFFY: I think Scott provided some comment on that. The White House and the President welcome Justice Rehnquist staying on. He's an excellent justice, and we wished him a speedy recovery and it looks like we got the wish.
Q When did Scott make those comments?
MR. DUFFY: It was last night --
Q Last night.
MR. DUFFY: -- for the -- when the news reports came out.
Q One thing on Rehnquist. Does it make -- having him stay on, does it make your all's job any easier now in terms of choosing a replacement for O'Connor? You now need to focus on one rather than potentially more than that?
MR. DUFFY: The President has been prepared to fulfill his constitutional duties to select and replace Supreme Court justices as they arise. He has been prepared for any number of scenarios and is prepared to go forward.
Q Trent, is the White House looking at this issue of whether or not Attorney General Gonzales, if he were appointed to the Court, would have to recuse himself from decisions on key issues because of his role at the administration?
MR. DUFFY: I'll just leave it where I did. You know, the President is preparing to select his nominee to replace Justice O'Connor, and those preparations continue. I mean, what the President is focused on this week, in addition to what he's doing privately, is reaching out to the Senate, to Democratic leaders and to start that consultative process that we all want to have going forward, because we want this to be a very civil, dignified process that will make America proud.
Q Is it fair to say that an appointment is not imminent?
MR. DUFFY: I won't speculate on timing.
Q What about the status of John Bolton's nomination to be U.N. Ambassador?
MR. DUFFY: Nothing has changed on that. The administration and the White House are still -- hope that Ambassador Bolton will get a fair up or down vote.
Q What support is the administration giving Majority Leader Frist to make certain that a vote does happen on the floor? He's tried twice and has been stopped twice. What now?
MR. DUFFY: I think the administration stands ready to help in any way Senator Frist asks for it.
Q Thank you, very much.
MR. DUFFY: Enjoy your lunch.
END 11:42 A.M. EDT