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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 8, 2005

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

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Press Briefing
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12:54 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. Let me just update you on some of the latest response efforts when it comes to Katrina.

The federal, state and local first responders continue to focus on lifesaving and life-sustaining operations, by making sure that people have water, food and medicine, and continuing the ongoing search and rescue missions. We continue to work with the Red Cross and other federal and state partners to -- and voluntary organizations, as well -- to make sure victims of Hurricane Katrina are being relocated to safe shelters, with the life-sustaining commodities they need. And FEMA has been moving forward on an immediate assistance program to get some help, cash assistance, to those who have been evacuated.

And there are still more than 70,000 response and recovery rescue and law enforcement personnel who are working round-the-clock to bring critical assistance to those in the region. You have more than 250,000 people that have been evacuated and safely housed in shelters in 17 states, as well as the District of Columbia. More than 47,000 lives have been saved -- or rescued to date, and more than 37 million liters of water and 17 million MREs have been distributed by FEMA.

There are 15 disaster recovery centers open in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and well over 80 national disaster medical assistance teams working in the region.

Mrs. Bush is visiting Mississippi today, where she has been visiting a school that has enrolled students that have been displaced because of Hurricane Katrina, and talking about some of our efforts to get assistance to those students who have been displaced. And she's also visiting -- oh, and she's also highlighting the schools that are taking those children in and the great work that they're doing -- and also visiting a church shelter to highlight the great compassion that Americans are showing all across this nation to those who are in need.

And the Vice President has been visiting Mississippi, and is visiting New Orleans and Baton Rouge, as well, today to get a firsthand assessment of things on the ground and hear from people on the ground there.

The President, this morning, had another daily hurricane briefing with -- Deputy Secretary Jackson led that briefing today because Secretary Chertoff is back in the region, I believe, now -- Andy Card and other White House staff were there, as well -- to discuss our ongoing priorities for meeting the immediate needs on the ground, as well as getting an update on the overall situation. And then he met with the congressional Republican leadership to talk about our ongoing response efforts, and he's been meeting with White House staff on some initiatives that we will be announcing this afternoon to help people get back on their feet.

This includes some initiatives to make sure critical government benefits are getting to people immediately. And this will be at -- it's an event at 2:00 p.m. in Room 350 of the Executive Office Building. The President will deliver remarks on these initiatives. This includes, what I mentioned a minute ago, some of the cash assistance that is getting to people immediately, and then other government benefits, such as Medicaid benefits, child care, food stamps, housing, unemployment insurance, job training assistance, and so forth.

And one other thing I'd like to bring your attention to: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Americans and people from all over the world have opened their hearts to help the victims of this devastating natural disaster. Their generosity is enormous. People are opening their wallets and rolling up their sleeves, helping in the rescue efforts, and helping victims get back on their feet.

Unfortunately, there are some who are intent on setting up fraudulent schemes to take advantage of the victims and the people who are trying to help those who have been affected. These are despicable acts that will not be tolerated. Those who take advantage of this situation will be pursued and will be prosecuted. The Attorney General has established the Hurricane Katrina Task Force on Fraud to deter, investigate, and prosecute disaster-related federal crimes, including fraudulent charities, insurance fraud, identity theft, and government benefit fraud. The task force will work nationwide, and includes the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission, the Postal Inspector's Office, and the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys, among others.

The Attorney General today is traveling with the Vice President to Mississippi and Louisiana. Later today, the Department of Justice will be releasing information on the task force, including how people can report such fraudulent schemes.

And with that, I will be glad to go to questions.

Q Scott, the House Democratic leader says that the investigation announced yesterday by the House with Senate Republican leaders is a sham and that she's not going to appoint any Democratic members to it. Do you see that as an impediment to having an investigation? What's the White House reaction?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President actually met with the congressional leaders earlier today. He met with -- including Speaker Hastert and Majority Leader Frist. And the President, among other topics that they discussed, expressed his appreciation for the Congress moving forward on a joint bipartisan investigation of the response to Katrina. The President talked about how we need to have a thorough analysis of what worked and what went wrong -- what was right and what went wrong, because it's important that we be able to apply the lessons we learn to future threats that we may face, whether those are possible WMD attacks or threats from natural disasters, such as a hurricane.

And so the President is appreciative of the Majority Leader and Speaker moving forward to set up a joint bipartisan investigation. This is a time -- Congress has an important oversight role to play and the leaders recognize that. That's why they're moving forward on setting up this investigation so that they can pull the facts together. And we appreciate those efforts.

And I haven't seen -- I haven't seen exactly what she said, but we're trying to focus on how we can work together to meet the immediate needs, and also lay the groundwork for the long-term rebuilding and recovery efforts. And that was a lot of what the discussion was with the members of Congress that were here today.

Q Some of the members who were here today said that the President should appoint like a czar or somebody to oversee the rebuilding and recovery. Does the President intend to do that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, we're acting on a number of fronts to get help to people who need it now and to lay the groundwork for the long-term rebuilding and recovery efforts. There are a lot of immediate needs that we continue to have. I mentioned the ongoing life-saving operations and the life-sustaining operations. There is also the issue of flood control and getting that flood -- pulling those flood waters back.

And as I mentioned, it's going to be a very ugly scene once we go in after the flood waters have been pumped out of there and they've receded. We've got a lot of important priorities to deal with right now. There are mortuary affairs teams going in there. There will be bodies that will have to be recovered. And we've got to continue to focus on some of these immediate needs.

But we are also discussing a lot of ideas for how we move forward on the rebuilding and recovery efforts. As I said, this is a time for all of us to come together and work together and find the best possible solutions as we move forward.

And so we -- so we welcome all the ideas that are being discussed. Many of these ideas that were discussed in this meeting earlier today are things that we're already looking at and we will be talking more about as we move forward.

Q So you're saying it's premature, though, now to talk about --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't describe it that way. This is a time for people to be offering big ideas and offering ways for us to move forward on the rebuilding and recovery. That's what we've been doing here. That's one of the reasons the President is moving forward on the initiatives later today. We've been acting, and members of Congress have been acting, and we appreciate their efforts, too.

Q But, Scott, let me just ask you, on the investigation front, because a couple of days ago, the President used interesting language by saying, "I'm going to lead an investigation into what went right and what went wrong." You said, in fact, that would be some kind of after-action analysis. And now, Republicans are saying they'll have a special committee, which Democrats say that they don't buy into. So can't the President just clear all this up? What kind of investigation does he want, and by whom, and will he support it being done independent of the federal government?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would say what the President has said. The President made it very clear that we've got to remain focused on the immediate needs right now, and that's where our focus remains. That's what he'll be talking more about later today. There are people who are in need of assistance, and we continue to keep our focus there.

We also believe it's important for there to be a full investigation of the initial response, the preparedness and response --

Q By whom?

MR. McCLELLAN: Congress has a role to play in that. They're moving forward on a joint investigation. And the President made it clear that he's going --

Q But it's not joint, the Democrats say it won't be joint.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President made it clear that he's going to lead an effort to investigate the response, as well. And we'll be talking more about that as we move forward. Now is the time to remain focused where we are.

Q Well, I understand. But since the President first brought this up it's not something that he's kicking down the road -- or maybe he will; that's not clear -- but the White House --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's it. I mean, I think that you have to keep in mind --

Q You keep saying this isn't the time for accountability now --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is a time to help people, and that's what we're doing. So that's where we are right now.

Q Right, but you can do both, presumably, right? Or should you do both? I mean, the Congress says they're getting started on an investigation. You're saying that you shouldn't be doing that now?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, they haven't started yet. They are setting up the process to begin that investigation.

Q But it's a White House investigation and then there's a congressional investigation. But the Democrats don't buy into a congressional investigation, so --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President hasn't outlined the investigation that he's talked about making sure that we lead, so we'll be talking about that as we move forward. And I wouldn't agree with your characterization of kicking it down the road. We've got to stay focused on what the needs are of the people in the region right now. There are a lot of people who continue to need assistance, and we don't want to divert resources that are part of those ongoing immediate needs.

Q To get you on the record, does he, or does he not support an independent review of what went on, what went right and what went wrong -- independent of the government?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that, again, this isn't a time to start getting into start discussing all the options that are available. The President is going to be outlining how we'll be moving forward to fully investigate things and make sure there's a thorough analysis of --

Q When is the time?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- the federal, state and local response efforts, and how those plans were. And Congress is setting that up; they're moving forward. They have an important oversight role to play, and we appreciate that bipartisan effort that the Speaker and Majority Leader are working on.

Q So the President is open to the idea of somebody to run the disaster relief effort independently of FEMA and the other organizations?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, remember, all week long I've talked to you about how we've been discussing a lot of ideas. We remain, first and foremost, focused on those immediate needs. We have also been laying a lot of groundwork, or beginning to lay a lot of groundwork for the planning on the longer-term rebuilding and recovery efforts that will be needed. And there are a lot of ideas that are still being discussed. I'm not trying to limit options, but I think the President will be the one to announce initiatives and plans that we undertake as they are ready, or the respective department that will be overseeing those efforts.

Q When can we expect to hear him announce that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, as we move forward we'll be talking more about that, Bill. I don't want to put time frames on things right now. We're moving quickly on a number of different fronts, first and foremost, on efforts to make sure people are getting the assistance they need.

Q This congressional investigation isn't going to be very bipartisan if there are no Democrats on it.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I haven't seen exactly what the Congresswoman said earlier today. We've been focused on meetings and focused on acting on some of these initiatives that the President is going to be outlining later today.

We believe -- the President believes very strongly -- this is one of the things -- and let me go back and talk to you about this meeting because I think that he talked about some important things. It was a very constructive meeting that the President had with congressional Republicans earlier today. It was focused on how we're meeting the immediate needs of people affected by Katrina and how we can move forward on the longer-term plans. He talked about how this was one of the worst and largest natural disasters in our nation's history. And he talked about it was important for all of us to unite at the federal, state and local levels to make sure we're working together to do all we can to support the people who have been affected by this terrible natural disaster. And he went in and talked about his recent visits to Mississippi and Louisiana, both on Friday and then again on Monday, and he talked about our efforts to help people get back on their feet and give them hope for the better days that lie ahead.

That's where the President's focus is right now; it's on those people and it's on how we can come together and work together. There are immediate needs that we continue to meet -- work to meet. We continue to work to save lives. We continue to deliver critical government benefits to people and make sure that we're getting it to where they are, because we recognize that some of those people aren't going to be able to pick up and move to centers that may be set up. It includes people in shelters; it includes people in homes, apartments, or hotels, wherever they may be staying.

It includes addressing the public health issues. The EPA and CDC spoke about some of those yesterday, and they'll continue to keep the public updated as we move forward, particularly in the New Orleans region where those flood waters have presented us with some serious challenges as we move forward.

And, of course, I mentioned that he talked about the importance of investigating the preparedness and response. He also talked about -- updated the members on our counterterrorism efforts. The President talked about the discussions and briefings that have been held to make sure that we're keeping our focus on potential threats during this time, as well.

As you all know, the President continues to receive his daily intelligence briefings. That is one of the first things he starts his day with. Yesterday he had a National Security Council and Homeland Security Council briefing to make sure we're keeping our guard up and that we're on top of potential threats that we may face.

The discussion in this meeting really centered on how we've got a lot of work to do. Members were talking about that. Everybody recognizes that. And we've got to focus on meeting those immediate needs and coming up with the ideas and solutions to meet the longer-term efforts, as well. So this was very much a meeting discussing ways we can solve problems and move forward together. And we hope that all of us can continue doing that.

Q Would it be fair if I have a question on another subject? The President's definition of "bipartisan" would include members of the Democratic Party?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Speaker and Majority Leader made it clear that they intended to move forward on a bipartisan committee.

Q Those are Republicans. I'm asking -- that would include --

MR. McCLELLAN: They said they were going to move forward on a bipartisan committee. They are the congressional leadership and they're moving forward in a bipartisan way.

Q On a separate issue, how does the President propose the country will pay for all of this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, pay for all of --

Q The reconstruction relief effort, which is --

MR. McCLELLAN: We talked about the immediate needs that we're working to address right now. And when it comes to addressing those immediate needs, we've already passed one supplemental request, an emergency budget request, that provides $10.5 billion to meet some immediate needs. Yesterday we made a second request for $51.8 billion --

Q And to finance that, though, the country will go into debt to do that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's going to -- keep in mind, these are one-time costs, but we're going to make sure the needs of the people are met. And it will have an impact on the budget, at least in the short-term. But these are one-time costs we're talking about. But we're going to do whatever it takes to meet the needs of those on the ground. We are going to spare no effort to get them the help that they need.

And the President has made it clear in meetings he has been having that we are going to show the true compassion of America in all that we do. And that includes in the delivery of government benefits, critical benefits that people depend on, on a daily basis. And that's what we'll be talking about more later today. We're going to do all we can to support the faith-based and community groups that are helping those in need. That's why the President met with a diverse group of faith-based and community organizations the other day to address some of their concerns.

Q I'm going to yield the floor, but I just have one more question. Why does the President believe it is morally justified, why is it the right thing to give some of the richest people on the planet a huge tax cut right now?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not a fair --

Q Well, that's what the estate tax cut repeal, making it permanent, is, isn't it? There are some people who want to hand on billions -- hundreds of millions of dollars to their --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no -- the tax cut you're talking about -- I don't know of any that are expiring this year. They expire in later years.

Q Right. But why at this point in our history is it justified, morally right to do that?

MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, I'd have to dispute your characterization, because all Americans receive tax cuts. We went through a very difficult time, economically, and our national economy is really a lifeline for that region that has been hit by this hurricane. We must continue to keep our national economy growing and creating jobs. The latest unemployment numbers are down to 4.9 percent last week, more than 4 million jobs created since May of 2003. We've made tremendous progress to keep our economy growing and get people -- and create jobs.

Q And there's no way to ask the richest people in America to sacrifice?

MR. McCLELLAN: And the economy -- keeping our economy growing stronger is important to helping with the rebuilding and recovery efforts on the ground. The last thing we want to do is take more money from lower-income Americans that have been affected by this and that have received significant help from those -- from those tax cuts.

Q That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about taking money from higher-income Americans.

MR. McCLELLAN: And we're going to remain focused right now on our highest priority. Well, again, these tax cuts you're talking about, many of them expire in later years. I don't know of any that are expiring this year. But it's important to keep our economy growing and keep jobs being created.

Q Scott, you called the meeting with congressional Republicans today "very constructive." Was yesterday's meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders as constructive? Did Minority Leader Pelosi accurately relay to reporters outside her exchange with the President about FEMA Director Mike Brown? Is the President unaware of shortcomings in New Orleans? And if he's aware of any, can you tell us of any?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, unfortunately, it was not an accurate characterization, Wendell. And the President has talked to you about some of those shortcomings. He's directed some of those -- I mean, he's talked about some of those in his remarks. We talked about how the Convention Center was really something that -- where the response fell well short. People were in need of assistance and they weren't getting it. There was a security situation there that needed to be addressed so that the supplies could get in. That's why we made it a high priority to make sure that those issues were being addressed, and those were things that we were working on last week.

The President found it completely -- or the President found it totally unacceptable that you had some 25,000 people in need of assistance that were waiting for a few days to get the food and water and medicine that they needed. And that's why he said, we're going to make sure that problems like this are not happening, that they're being addressed, that they're being solved. And that's why we acted from the federal government standpoint.

Q If I can take you back to Terry's question, does the President's vow to lead an investigation into what happened rule out the kind of independent investigation that was launched after 9/11?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Congress has an important oversight role to play. That's why one of the reasons --

Q I'll grant you that --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- one of the reasons they were elected by the American people, to fully look into issues of this nature and make sure that our response is meeting the needs of the American people.

Q But in saying what he did, is the President suggesting we don't need an independent investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President said that he would lead an effort to make sure that it's fully investigated, as well, and he's going to be talking more about that as we move forward.

Q Would that effort be an independent investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, right now, Wendell, our focus remains on the immediate needs of the people in the region.

Q But you're not ruling it out?

MR. McCLELLAN: He'll be talking more about it later.

Q Scott, one follow-up to what Wendell asked. Did the President agree that it would be a mistake to go ahead and send supplies into the people at the Convention Center because of the security situation? And how much did that add to --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's an interesting characterization, but I didn't hear it characterized in those terms when I was in some of those discussions when the President was working to make sure that it was addressed. But there were security issues that you had to address in order to be able to get some of those supplies in, because there were concerns about what would happen if you -- if the situation wasn't secure and what might happen to the people there.

Q There were supplies there that could have gone in, but didn't because of the security.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I -- and again, some of the people on the ground might be able to tell you a little bit more. My understanding was that there were supplies that were ready to get there at a certain point. I don't know how far in advance it was, but there were some supplies that were ready to get there. And they weren't able to get there because of the security situation relating to the Convention Center.

And if you'll recall, Friday, we went to New Orleans, and Mississippi before that, and Alabama before that, but by the time the day had passed, I think it was early in that afternoon, National Guard troops had gone in, additional National Guard troops, along with law enforcement people, and secured the Convention Center, so that the federal government could then get those supplies to people who need it.

Q And can you tell us, does the President plan to do anything to observe the fourth anniversary of the September 11th attacks?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes -- not ready to talk about the schedule, but, yes, he will. And there will also be a moment of silence at the White House, as we have done every year.

Q Scott, Josh Bolten, when he was asked yesterday, on the call that he gave, about the $150-billion figure that Harry Reid had talked about kind of punted on the question, saying that he didn't want to make a comment on somebody's speculation. Isn't he thinking big enough? I mean, $150 billion -- Judd Gregg has estimated maybe $200 billion. He's a conservative from New Hampshire --

MR. McCLELLAN: I thought Josh had a great answer, he said, I'm not going to speculate myself and I'm not going to speculate on those who are speculating.

Right now there's great uncertainty about what the long-term costs are going to be needed, so we have to continue to assess what those needs are. We've made it clear that there's going to be more that's going to be required, and we're going to be coming back to Congress requesting additional resources for the longer-term response efforts, for the longer-term recovery and rebuilding efforts. But right now we need to make sure that people continue to get the assistance they need, and that's why we are moving forward on the second installment. We appreciate Senator Reid, earlier today, as well, indicating that he wanted to see Congress move forward quickly to pass this additional emergency spending request.

Q In regard to the displaced persons who are being dispersed throughout the country, if you are really serious about reconstruction, one of the things you're going to need are people to rebuild. And by dispersing people to other areas, they tend not to come back; but if you keep them in the region, that could be your working force for actually rebuilding the city. And isn't that a consideration, to try and set up temporary --

MR. McCLELLAN: These are all issues that we're looking at. In fact, we want to make sure that people, certainly all those that want to, return to their homes -- which I expect there will be a large number -- are able to do so as soon as they can. I mean, it's going to take some time in a lot of instances, as we work to rebuild. And I think people recognize the challenges that we face. The challenges are enormous. We first have to get all the flooding out of New Orleans at this point, and get all that water pumped out of there and make sure that those flood waters recede. And that's one of the focus areas right now, that's one of the priority areas.

The Corps did a great job working with others to repair the 17th Street Canal, and they've been working to repair the others, as well. And they've been beginning to pump some of that water out of there, but it's going to take some time. In Mississippi you've have neighborhoods that have been devastated. And it's going to take some time to rebuild those neighborhoods.

And as we move forward in the region, the President, of course, wants to make sure that those who have been affected, those who have been evacuated, those who have lost all that they have are given, really, the first opportunity to be able to have those jobs that will be needed in the rebuilding effort if they want them. And that's why job training is going to be so important in the long-term rebuilding and recovery efforts, as well. That's one of the areas we've been looking at, to make sure they have the training they needed to fill some of the jobs that are going to be needed in that recovery.

Q Scott, the congressional leaders described the President as being receptive to the idea of a czar. First of all, is that an accurate description of the President's thinking?

MR. McCLELLAN: And I said we welcome all ideas for addressing the challenges that we continue to face. There are enormous challenges.

Q Does he endorse that idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I think I addressed this question earlier when I said we'll be talking more as we move forward about additional steps that we're taking to address not only the immediate needs, but the longer-term efforts, as well.

Q Are we talking a couple of months, do you think? Or how soon will we be addressing those --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I said earlier I answered that question and said I'm not putting time frames on things. We're moving as quickly as we can on a number of fronts. But, most importantly, we remain focused on the needs of those right now, the needs of the people right now.

Q Scott, can I follow up on that?

Q Scott, the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: Sure, after Les. He might yield to you.

Q Oh, I'm sorry. I'll yield.

MR. McCLELLAN: You'll yield? Okay. I'll come to Les tomorrow. (Laughter.)

Q Thank you.

Q Tomorrow? (Laughter.)

Q You mentioned Senator Reid also, but he expressed a great deal, in his news conference today, of disdain for FEMA and that the money, the $51 billion should not be going to FEMA. He and the other Democrats who were up there, Senate Democrats, are suggesting some sort of, what he called a Tennessee Valley Authority to go over this, to oversee this region and this recovery effort -- specifically, independent kind of government agency. Is that a possibility, that kind of czar, if you will?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's important that Congress, as they did before, act quickly on this emergency spending request. There are people that continue to have ongoing needs, and these are immediate needs. And that's why we appreciate Senator Reid and congressional Republicans expressing a willingness to move forward quickly to get that request passed. It's important that there be no disruption in our efforts to get assistance to people who need it. This includes food, water and medicine; it includes addressing the public health threats that are faced. There are many needs right now, and this was based -- this second installment that we're requesting was based on some of our short-term assessments here of how the money was being spent, what it's being spent on and what the needs were for the next several weeks.

Q Does that require -- could it require a separate bureaucracy?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Could it require a separate bureaucracy --

MR. McCLELLAN: What we're trying to do is cut through bureaucracy. We're trying to make sure that there's no delay in getting assistance to the people who need it now. That's some of what the President will be talking about later today, is how we're moving quickly to get people the assistance they need. So the President is focused on cutting through the red tape and cutting through the bureaucracy.

There was a good discussion about that with congressional leaders earlier today in the meeting here at the White House. There was a lot of agreement -- or full agreement on the need to cut through a lot of the red tape and bureaucracy, and members expressed appreciation for waivers that we've already issued to do away with some of the red tape and regulations that sometimes prevent things from getting done, because people need help right now.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Scott, the President has said FEMA Director Mike Brown is doing "a heck of a job" on disaster relief, yet calls for his ouster seem enormously widespread. Does the President still think Brown is doing "a heck of a job?" And I have one follow-up.

MR. McCLELLAN: I actually went through this yesterday -- David and I. David can probably fill you in on it. (Laughter.)

Q Wait, wait, wait. Give it a crack today, though.

MR. McCLELLAN: We went through this yesterday, Terry. The President is appreciative of all those -- Secretary Chertoff and FEMA head, Brown, and all those at the federal level and state level and local level that are working round-the-clock to help the people who are in need.

Q Appreciative -- does he have full confidence?

MR. McCLELLAN: We went through all this yesterday.

Q Scott, a travel visa into the United States to attend U.N. meetings was extended to Iran's President, who was identified by five former U.S. hostages as one of their captors and interrogators in '79, and the assassination of a Kurdish leader in Austria in 1989, as well as recruitment of suicide bombers. And my question: How does this -- granting this visa fit in to the President's promise to fight all terrorism?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is for next week's U.N. meeting. As you mentioned, and the State Department addressed this issue over the last couple of days -- I think they talked about the visa that was issued. I can't get into talking about particulars regarding the specific visa. But when it comes to the concerns that you bring up, there are still questions that have not been answered relating to his involvement during that time of the hostage taking -- the taking of American hostages. And there are questions that still need to be answered. And it's incumbent upon the government of Iran to answer those questions.

Q And can I ask just one last --


Q One last one? These guys in the front get seven questions.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no.

Q I didn't get my seven questions today.

Q I didn't get seven questions.

MR. McCLELLAN: You noticed he said "today." (Laughter.)

Q About a week ago, you told us President Bush had directed the Attorney General and, I believe, Federal Trade Commission, to look into allegations of insurance fraud, price-gouging at the gas pump, whatever. You just told us today there would be a new task force on fraud for hurricane victims. Can you give us an update? Is there any kind of a similar task force on price-gouging allegations or --

MR. McCLELLAN: The Department of Energy actually put out an update earlier this week, and they talked about the steps that they're taking, and the 1-800 number that they put up, in addition to their website so people could report those efforts. And certainly, there are other agencies that have a role in enforcing those laws and pursuing people who engage in such acts. They can talk to you about some of the steps that they've taken. I'm not sure of any specific incident that has come to my attention, but you might direct those questions to those agencies.

Q Those are ongoing investigations at this point, you're not aware of anything coming to a head?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there hasn't been any announcement at this point on any specific issue, I think, relating to that.

Q Cuba offered help to the United States. Are you considering taking any of this help? They offered medicines and doctors. What's the situation with that?

MR. McCLELLAN: The State Department actually had a briefing yesterday on all the offers of assistance. There have been more than 100 -- or 100 nations that have now offered assistance. We've taken many nations up on that assistance. We will be taking others up on the assistance, as well. You have 11 international organizations that have offered assistance, as well. We appreciate the great compassion of the international community that is being shown, in addition to the great compassion and generosity of the American people and all that they're doing.

When it comes to Cuba, we have one message for Fidel Castro. He needs to offer the people of Cuba their freedom.

Q Scott, there are a couple of issues that are developing that are of concern to journalists now in Louisiana and Mississippi. One of them is FEMA refusing to take reporters and photographers when they're going to recover the bodies, ostensibly because they don't want pictures of them on the news. But this also is at the same time as reporters are discovering that access is being barred to them to places by the military -- to places where they previously went. Brian Williams' own blog reports an instance of a police officer turning a gun on a reporter.

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry, I haven't blogged today, so I haven't seen some of those reports.

Q Well, check it out, he has three instances in there of the military being hostile to journalists.

MR. McCLELLAN: I know that the military, and I think even Coast Guard is taking steps to try to make sure reporters can go along on some of the efforts, the humanitarian assistance efforts and the search and rescue efforts. That was my understanding when we were there on Friday visiting with a lot of the Coast Guard people that had been working round-the-clock on search and rescue operations.

Your first statement that you made, I think you need to look further into that, because I don't think that's an accurate characterization. I saw some reports to that effect, and my understanding is that it was not an accurate characterization. Certainly, I think we all want to keep in mind the sensitivities that will arise when we begin a more -- or a larger undertaking of recovering bodies that will be found. As I said, it's going to be an ugly situation when those flood waters ultimately recede and we go in and start recovering larger numbers of bodies, of people who have lost their lives. Those are people who had families and friends, and we hope everybody will show the dignity -- proper dignity and respect. But in terms of the characterization that you made, I don't think that's accurate.

Q I have a quote from FEMA about it, saying the recovery of victims is being treated with dignity and the utmost respect, and we have requested that no photographs of the deceased be made by the media. And, yet, the bodies, themselves, tragically, are a very large part of this story. And to bar any official --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure that that's the full statement.

Q Scott, on estate taxes, you pointed out that they don't even expire until 2010. Are you saying that there really isn't any necessity to address this right now, particularly given the other priorities that --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying their highest priority right now is the response to the immediate needs of the people who were affected by Katrina. There are other priorities we have, as well, and we continue to move forward on those priorities. Right now, our highest priority remains where it should be, and that's with the people in the region.

Q Would that be a prudent use of the legislative schedule, though, given the other priorities and the tax doesn't expire until 2010?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Congress sets the legislative schedule; we work closely with them and we will continue to do so as we move forward on other priorities.

Q Yes, sir. I'm out of Pine Cove, Georgia, and the question I have is, the troops that are down there right now -- you've got thousands of soldiers -- is that going to affect rotations in Iraq, as far as the White House knows?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to direct that question to the Department of Defense. They had a briefing earlier this week and talked about how they're meeting all of our needs, both our needs here at home, under the direction of the Northern Command that was set up after September 11th, and our needs in places like Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:30 P.M. EDT

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