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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 19, 2005

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

12:33 P.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to give you a couple of updates.

As you are aware, Hurricane Wilma is now a category five storm. We are closely monitoring what is an extremely dangerous storm. We urge citizens on Florida and the Gulf Coast region to follow the advice of state and local authorities. People should take this hurricane very seriously.

A couple of other updates on the President's schedule. The President right now is having lunch over in the residence with Bono.* As you are aware, Bono is in town for some concerts. This meeting with Bono follows up on their discussion at Gleneagles during the G8 summit that took place in Scotland. They have a very good discussion at the G8 about our common priorities. Both share a deep commitment to combating AIDS, preventing malaria, and expanding trade to lift people out of poverty, particularly in developing countries. And Bono is scheduled to be meeting with Steve Hadley, as well, today -- our National Security Advisor -- to talk about some of those issues, too.

This afternoon, the President looks forward to welcoming the Republican Congressional Leadership to the White House. This will be an opportunity for them to talk about some important legislative priorities, as well as some of our larger priorities and the broader war on terrorism. I expect the President will talk about the progress we're making in the global war on terrorism and update the leaders about the progress being made in Iraq. And I expect him to focus on the important legislative priorities we have in the remaining weeks of this Congress this year.

The President will focus on fiscal responsibility and moving forward on a responsible budget that meets our priorities, but exercises spending restraint. I expect they will talk about the hurricane relief and recovery and rebuilding efforts that are ongoing. And I expect the President will talk about moving forward in a timely manner on his Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers. And I expect they'll talk about the importance of getting the Patriot Act renewed so that our law enforcement personnel will have the tools they need to continue protecting the American people.

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

Q Scott, did the President talk to Karl Rove two years ago about the leak?

MR. McCLELLAN: Steve, I appreciate the question. That's a question relating to an ongoing investigation, and I'm just not going to have further comment while that investigation is underway.

Q Because The New York Daily News says the President rebuked Rove two years ago.

MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of news reports out there and I've seen a lot of conflicting news reports, and we're just not going to comment any further on an ongoing investigation.

Q It behooves you to.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a special prosecutor doing his work, Helen, and we want him to come to a successful conclusion. And that's what we're doing, is cooperating --

Q This is a question that directly affects the President, and --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

Q -- you should say it's true, or not true.

MR. McCLELLAN: As you have known for sometime now, we've been saying that while this is an ongoing investigation what we're going to do from the White House is cooperate fully with that investigation and let the special prosecutor do his work. We're not going to speculate or prejudge the outcome.

Q We're not asking you to speculate. We're asking you, is this report true or not.

MR. McCLELLAN: And I've already answered that.

Go ahead, Kelly.

Q Scott, a couple of things. You indicated that you hope that this investigation would come to a successful conclusion and that the American people would be told about the facts. If the special prosecutor decides not to issue a report, would the White House hope that in some way, shape, or form, the facts would be made public?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's up to the special prosecutor to determine how he's going to proceed. What -- again, what we are doing from here is cooperating fully with that investigation at the direction of the President. And in terms of how he is going to proceed, I'm not going to try to speculate about that, or prejudge it. We all would like to know what the facts are. We don't know what all the facts are. And I think all of us would like to know what they are and get to the bottom of this investigation.

Q Can you tell us if any White House staff members, or people who work for the Vice President, or anyone who works for this administration has received a target or a subject letter from the prosecutor?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, a couple of things. That's questions relating to an ongoing investigation. Those are questions you need to direct to the investigator. We're just not going to comment further.

Go ahead, Connie.

Q Scott, two questions. This is a serious one. Since you raised Bono, is there --

MR. McCLELLAN: Those were serious, too.

Q But this is serious about Bono. Is there a possibility he might be given a position in the administration? He's a big name.

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard that. I think he's enjoying the career that he has right now and doing all the good work that he does on behalf of people who are suffering in developing countries.

Q But is he considered an advisor or supporter of the administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's someone who has a lot of influence and is committed to helping people who are in need, and lifting people out of poverty, and helping those who are suffering from AIDS. And those are priorities that the President shares. And so they've had some discussions over the last few years, and we appreciate the opportunity to visit with him.

Q One more try again on the CIA's situation, not the investigation, per se, but does the administration consider it a serious matter to have revealed the name of a covert agent, even if inadvertent?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's a question relating to the investigation, so I'm going to pass on that.

Go ahead, Sarah.

Q Thank you. Scott, Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson accuses House conservatives of wanting to cut as much as $50 billion from programs for the poor, such as Medicaid and food stamps. Since many recipients of those programs are survivors of Hurricane Katrina and Rita, would the President allow such cuts to take place? And will he veto any bill that contains them?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's a good question. We have important priorities that we must meet, and the President is committed to meeting those priorities. One of the priorities is making sure that the people who have been affected by the hurricanes that hit the Gulf Coast are getting the help that they need, that they're receiving the government benefits that they depend upon. And so the President has worked to expedite the delivery of those benefits. Secretary Leavitt has been leading the President's efforts. And we have issued waivers to speed the delivery of some of those benefits. And that's what we're focused on, making sure that they're getting the help that they need, because as they get back up on their feet -- we want to help people get back up on their feet and rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities.

In terms of the question you asked, there are people who are relying on important government benefits. And we want to make sure that those benefits are going to those who need it and depend upon it. And in terms of the budget, we're going to continue working with Congress. There is a strong commitment that I think we share to helping the Gulf Coast recover. And to do that, we also need to look at unnecessary spending in the budget more than ever. The President has worked to significantly slow the growth in non-security discretionary spending. And we have made some great progress.

But there's more we can do. He's outlined a lot of savings in his budget. That's a good starting point for moving forward with Congress, and we're continuing to discuss how we move forward with -- today with the congressional leadership, the Republican congressional leadership, to talk about how we can move forward to cut unnecessary spending while making sure that we're meeting other important priorities.

Q Scott, two things. You're saying that people want to get to the bottom of this, they want information when they're able to discuss this -- investigation. Senator Chuck Schumer sent a letter to the President asking for him to disclose details about conversations with Karl Rove regarding this. Does the President have any intention of responding to Schumer, even after the investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know if he gave that to you all before he delivered it here or what, but --

Q He hasn't received it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I'm aware of. The special prosecutor is the one who is overseeing this investigation. The President directed us to cooperate fully; that's what we're doing. The last thing that we need to do is politicize an ongoing investigation.

Q And the levee system -- the Army Corps of Engineers announced yesterday, as you're aware, that the federal government will pick up 100 percent of the costs, waiving the state cost, to bring the levee system in New Orleans to pre-Katrina levels -- standards. Is there any intent that the federal government will fund beyond that, so that they can improve the levee system?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a couple of things. One, the goal of the Army Corps of Engineers is to get the levees back to the pre-Katrina levels before next hurricane season. So they're working round-the-clock to make that happen. And the federal government announced yesterday that we're going to pick up 100 percent of those costs to make sure that that happens.

Now, the Corps of Engineers is also working closely with state and local authorities and experts in the engineering field to look at how we address the long-term issue. And so that's something that they're continuing to work on, and we'll continue to stay in touch with them on that and talk about what those long-term needs are.

Q A couple of Republican senators, Lindsey Graham and Sam Brownback, have both suggested that it would help them a great deal and they think that the White House should now release some of the documents from Miers' time at work here for the administration, to further broaden their understanding of who she is and what she stands for. Is there any kind of accommodation that can be made for these Republicans that would keep intact the principles of both attorney/client and executive privilege, but give them the information they seek?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, I'm not aware of any official request that has been made, so I don't want to speculate about what requests may be coming. Secondly, we are committed to making sure that the Senate has the appropriate information they need to be able to move ahead on the confirmation process, and there are really two primary ways to do that. One is to provide them information they need in terms of documents, and we have started that process by already providing them a lot of information. The second way is for the Supreme Court nominee, Harriet Miers, to go before the Senate Judiciary Committee and answer their questions. And she looks forward to that opportunity.

Now, we'll continue to work with the Judiciary Committee and work with leaders in the Senate to address these issues going forward, but I don't want to try to jump out ahead and speculate about it too much. There are issues that the President has already discussed in terms of executive deliberations, and that still stands in terms of what he said.

Q Scott, is the President willing to consider reducing the mortgage interest deduction from personal income taxes as his tax reform panel apparently wants to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: He wants to see what the recommendations are, once the report is finalized and it goes to the Treasury Secretary. He appreciates the work that the bipartisan advisory panel is doing to look at our tax code and find ways to simplify it and make it fairer, and also make sure that it's conducive to economic growth. Those are important principles for the President.

Another important principle is that the President believes that our tax code should encourage home ownership, and should encourage charitable giving. Those are principles that we've outlined previously. Now, the tax reform panel has held their last meeting; they voted on some issues that they're going to recommend. They will be issuing a final report to the Secretary of Treasury by November 1st. The Secretary of Treasury will then look at that report and then he'll send some recommendations on to President.

The President believes that our tax code is a complicated mess and that it needs to be simpler and fairer, and he's committed to moving forward on reforming our tax code. He wants to work with Congress to get that done, but there is a process that he set up to look at these issues. And this is a well-respected group of bipartisan leaders who looked at these issues, and we are going to look closely at what they have said. But I don't want to speculate about what actions we may take because it still goes to the Treasury Secretary and then to the President.

Q So right now you aren't willing to take off the table the notion that the mortgage interest deduction could be limited in some way?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not ruling things in or out. What I'm saying is that there are some clear principles that the President has outlined and he remains committed to those principles.

Q And then, on Saddam Hussein's trial, there are some human rights groups, which have a long history of condemning the human rights abuses of Saddam Hussein's regime, who are now saying that he's not getting a fair trial. What do you think?

MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein is facing Iraqi justice. The Iraqi people are holding him accountable -- accountable for the atrocities he committed against the Iraqi people and for the crimes he committed against humanity. This is an important step in building a democratic Iraq that is based on the rule of law. And the trial is another symbol that the rule of law is returning to Iraq.

The Iraqi people set up the special tribunal. This is a special tribunal that consists of judges and prosecutors to look at crimes against humanity, and to look at war crimes, and to look at genocide, and to look at a few other offenses that they are especially charged with addressing. And the special tribunal received extensive training in international law from experts in a number of coalition countries. The special tribunal also set up some standards, and those standards are based on international law. Those are basic standards that should be in place. There's due process that they've put in place; individuals -- the former leaders of the regime have access to counsel; they have a right to appeals. And so this is the beginning of that trial process that we saw taking place today.

We hope that this trial will help bring some closure to Iraq's dark past for the Iraqi people. This is a time to keep the victims and their families in our thoughts. The Iraqi people -- many Iraqis suffered greatly under Saddam Hussein's brutal regime. And this is the first case that is proceeding forward relating to the village of Dujail, where hundreds of villagers were rounded up and tortured and executed. That's the kind of regime that has been removed from power. And our coalition forces did a great job capturing him, returning him to the Iraqi people, so that he can face Iraqi justice. But it's important that they continue to move forward on those basic international standards that are expected for a fair trial.

Q So as far as the President of the United States is concerned, he's getting a fair trial?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, they've begun the process, and they've put in place all these standards, and we want to see them continue to move forward on that path. It's the Iraqi people who are deciding his fate.

Go ahead, Nedra.

Q Scott, on Iraq, Secretary Rice is on the Hill today, and she refused to rule out that U.S. troops could be in Iraq even in 10 years. Could the mission there be considered a success if U.S. troops still had to be in Iraq in 10 years?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking me to speculate about things that are way down the road at this point. What our focus is on is implementing the clear strategy that our commanders on the ground have outlined. That strategy is really based on two important elements: one, training and equipping Iraqi security forces; and, two, moving forward on the political process. There's important progress being made. There is a determined enemy that we continue to face that wants to do everything they can to disrupt democracy from taking hold. But they cannot stop the desire and will of the Iraqi people to live in freedom.

And in terms of decisions about troop levels, we've always said that we will look to our commanders on the ground and they will be the ones who will make decisions based on the circumstances on the ground. What we are doing is continuing to stand with the Iraqi people as they move forward on a free and peaceful and democratic future.

And this is really a time -- we saw again this weekend -- that millions of Iraqis turned out to freely cast their ballot for a constitution, a draft constitution. This is a time when all of us in the international community should be doing all we can to support the Iraqi people. They have shown through their determination and courage that they want a free and peaceful future, and a future that is run by the Iraqis, not only from a political standpoint, but from a military standpoint. They are the ones that are going to, more and more, assume the lead. The Iraqi forces have shown great progress, and they're taking more and more responsibility. They're engaged in the fight. They are leading the fight in many instances. And so that's where our focus is.

Q Is it possible that the commanders on the ground could come to the President and say, we need to have troops there for another five or 10 years?

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate you asking me to speculate. I'll leave it to our commanders on the ground to talk about the progress that's being made and talk about the circumstances on the ground. But it will be based on the circumstances on the ground. We are making great progress. As we stand up the Iraqi forces, we're going to be standing down American forces. And that's what our strategy is. And they're making important progress, as our commanders recently said when they came to Washington, D.C. to brief the public and brief members of Congress.

Q So the White House isn't willing to say that it would be unacceptable for U.S. troops to be there in 10 years?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you're asking me to speculate about things that are considerably far down the road.


Q Scott, as far as presidential speech yesterday, signing the Homeland Security bill yesterday, where do the I-245 and other immigration bills are concerned? Because millions of illegal immigrants, they are not paying taxes, and I think the President losing billions of dollars, and what they are saying is that -- many of them, that how can we pay taxes when we are not even legal?

MR. McCLELLAN: Right, well, the President is strongly committed to comprehensive immigration reform. That means strengthening our borders. It means enforcing our immigration laws, and it means moving forward on a temporary worker program to meet an important economic need.

I expect that one of the things that may come up in the meeting today is the importance of moving ahead on initiatives to strengthen our borders and to reform our immigration system. We have some 11 million illegal immigrants in America, and this is a problem that needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed in a comprehensive way.

That's why the President was pleased to sign the Department of Homeland Security Appropriations Bill yesterday. This legislation provided significant resources to beef up our border patrol by 1,000 agents, and to beef up the number of agents involved in our -- in immigration and customs enforcement, as well, because interior enforcement of our laws is important, too, when the President talked about our approach to returning illegal immigrants when they are caught to their countries of origin. But this is something that he's strongly committed to; he's expressed his views on those two priorities, as well.

Q One more --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. Victoria, go ahead.

Q Scott, yesterday you told us that Harriet Miers had been very involved in the leak investigation as White House Counsel. Back in 2003, she held a couple of other positions: Staff Secretary, I think Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy. Has she been involved in any way in the investigation as a witness?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this is a question relating to an ongoing investigation, and I've said all I'm going to say on it.

Q Another quick question about the end of the investigation. Suppose the prosecutor does -- I know it's speculating -- suppose he does not issue a report -- he doesn't have to -- would you consider that the end of the investigation? Or if there are indictments, do we have to wait until the end of a trial?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to speculate. Let's wait and see.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, what beyond getting updates on the hurricane, current hurricane, is the President doing? Has he given any special instructions to his people? Are U.S. military troops --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our Department of Homeland Security officials are taking steps already. They can probably provide you with additional information. I didn't come out here with that information today, but I would encourage you to talk to them about the steps that we're taking when something like this -- I mean, the National Hurricane Center spoke about the significant threat this storm could pose to residents in Florida. That's why we're urging people to follow the advice of state and local authorities. They need to take this very seriously. And the President will continue to receive updates and continue to make sure that we're acting in all the different areas to prepare for this storm. I'll be glad to provide you with additional information, if you want that.

Q How specifically is he -- beyond updates, how does he ensure that those people are doing what he wants them to do?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because we have people involved in overseeing these efforts here at the White House, and they are very much in close contact with their counterparts. The President is also in close contact with Secretary Chertoff on a regular basis. Secretary Chertoff is responsible for the federal response efforts, overall, and we have great confidence in his abilities.

Go ahead, Les.

Q Scott, both the AP and the top of page one of this morning's New York Times report that in 1989, Harriet Miers pledged her support for a constitutional amendment outlawing all abortions except when necessary to save the life of the mother. And my first part of the question --

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you asking me if that's accurate? It is.

Q No, no, no.


Q Does the President share in this belief that all impregnated victims of gang rape and incest, no matter what their age, should be denied the mercy of an abortion?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, the President has made his views very clear when it comes to protecting the sanctity of life. The President is pro-life, and he is proudly --

Q Even gang rape and incest --

MR. McCLELLAN: He is proudly so. The President is pro-life, with three exceptions, and that's been his position all along.

Q Is the President concerned that he is also alienating his conservative base by nominating Ms. Miers, by allowing so much illegal immigration for five years, increasing the federal budget deficit, and not vetoing a single piece of legislation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, this President has significantly reduced the growth in nonsecurity discretionary spending. If you look at where we were when we came into office, the budget the year before we came into office had increased that funding some 15 percent. Now, his number one responsibility is to protect the American people, and we're going to make sure that we have the resources we need to carry out and win the war on terrorism, and to secure the homeland. We live in a very dangerous world. We are a nation at war, and we have obligations that we must meet. But as we do, it's important to look at where there is unnecessary spending in our budget and to go after that spending and cut it. And that's what he's committed to doing. That's what he's done throughout this administration.

We also, of course, when we came into office, had the recession hitting, and we had to address an important economic need, and that meant cutting taxes and getting more money in people's pockets so we could get the economy growing again. And it is growing again, strongly.

In terms of the other -- what was the other -- on immigration?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: We are continuing to strengthen --

Q Well, he's just given two very good statements -- there's no question, but in five years --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree --

Q -- there's been an awful lot of illegal immigration, don't you think?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it is a serious problem in this country, yes. The President has not been satisfied with the results. He talked about that yesterday in his remarks. But this is a problem that has been building up for some time, well before we were in office. It's a problem that he has a plan for addressing in a comprehensive way. That's why we really need to look at it in that manner.

Now, we need to continue to take steps to protect our borders and strengthen our borders to keep people who are coming here for the wrong reason from entering this country. We also need to make sure we're enforcing our immigration laws, and that there is strong interior enforcement. But we also need to make sure -- and this is an important way to address an immigration problem that exists in this country -- that we move forward in a realistic way to address an important economic need. And that's what the President is talking about when he talks about matching willing workers with willing employers. And this will help us address this problem.

It's all important, and we want to work with Congress to move forward in a comprehensive way. Congress has expressed a commitment to moving forward on immigration reform, and we look forward to doing that hand-in-hand with congressional leaders.

Q What about the concern over alienating conservatives, though? The question started with conservative -- alienating conservatives.

MR. McCLELLAN: On what?

Q What Lester asked started out with a concern --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look at the record.

Q -- about alienating conservatives.

MR. McCLELLAN: No, look at the record.

Q Can I follow up on abortion, on what you said about abortion?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, Bill has the floor.

Q Scott, a couple of questions, if I may. One, on the Palestinian meeting tomorrow, with Abbas, and the other one on Miers. The conditions of Palestinians on the ground in the Gaza Strip are difficult -- economically, physically -- at the moment. The Palestinians are looking for some support apparently from the U.S. The meeting between Abbas and Sharon that was set for October 3rd has been postponed, and now Abbas is coming to the White House. Is the President getting into a position of becoming a broker between the Palestinians and the Israelis on the Gaza Strip?

MR. McCLELLAN: We remain strongly committed to the two-state vision that the President outlined -- a state of Palestine and Israel living side-by-side in peace and security. That's what the goal is, and we want to do our part to help the parties reach that goal. That's the role that the President has played. He's playing a leading role when it comes to helping the parties move forward on a peace process.

And Prime Minister Sharon made an important and bold step -- that was when he moved forward on his disengagement plan. This gives us a real opportunity to help the Palestinians move forward on realizing their aspirations of a democratic state. And so what we are focused on is helping the Palestinian leadership move forward as they hold elections come January, and as they move forward to establish law and order in Gaza, and put in place good governance and put in place the institutions necessary for democracy to emerge. That's important.

There's real opportunity now, and it's important to seize this opportunity. It's important that the Palestinian leadership act to prevent violence and dismantle terrorist infrastructure. There is more that can be done. There are responsibilities all parties have. We want to see the parties get back to the road map and work in cooperation with one another to move ahead on the road map. And that's where our focus is. That's why we've had General Ward in the region to help the Palestinians establish that security infrastructure and the security forces, a unified security force. And that's why the special envoy Wolfenson was announced by the Quartet, so he could go and help them put in place the institutions for economic prosperity to take place in Gaza, as well.

Q On the Miers nomination, following up on Carl's question, Democrats are also saying that the questionnaire information provided by the White House is insufficient and gives them not enough information to make a judgment about whether or not she's qualified for a lifetime appointment.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't think they should make their judgment based on just a questionnaire. They're going to make their judgment based on her hearings and answers to those questions, as well, and additional information that will be provided, too, as we move forward.

Q Well, then, will there be additional information, or does the White House seek to constrain her --

MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen some -- I've seen some that they are suggesting that they might ask for additional information from the questionnaire, and we look forward to receiving that. I'm not aware that we have. I'd have to double-check that at this point. I've been involved in some other meetings going on this morning. But we will continue to work with the Senate to make sure they have the appropriate information to do their job.

Q What's the purpose of the courtesy visits? I mean, is it -- are they just simply a get-to-know, "hi, how are you, my name is Harriet," or is there actual discussion of constitutional views?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think each one is probably somewhat unique. This is an opportunity for senators to start to get to know Harriet Miers in person and start to learn more about her experience and her background and who she is, as well as start to learn a little bit about her judicial philosophy. The hearings are really the place where they will get into more detailed questions about that judicial philosophy and about her record. She is someone who has a distinguished career and long record of accomplishment. She will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice.

I notice there was an interesting column in the Dallas Morning News today by a respected columnist, Bill McKenzie. What he did was look -- and he knows Harriet Miers -- he looked at her qualifications and experience and then compared that to some previous Supreme Court justices that were confirmed, to look at how it measured up. That's one thing I've pointed out in this briefing room. She is someone whose experience and qualifications is equal to or greater than many of the Supreme Court justices that have been confirmed in recent decades. And I would encourage people to continue to look at the qualifications and record because that's what this is about: Is she qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. We believe she is extremely well qualified to serve on our nation's highest court based on her record and experience and her philosophy.

Q So it would be legitimate then for a senator to ask her, does she believe in the right of privacy? Does that abide by --

MR. McCLELLAN: Senators can ask whatever questions they want, and I'm sure she will answer those questions in an appropriate way.

Q Scott, there was an interesting column in The Wall Street Journal today --

MR. McCLELLAN: Jumping on David Sanger.

Q -- on her qualifications, or lack thereof. Do you have a response to that one?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what specifically you're asking about.

Q The Bork piece.

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, well, some people have made up their mind. Harriet Miers is going through the confirmation process. The confirmation process is moving forward. It's members of the United States Senate that will make the decision on her confirmation. We're confident she'll be confirmed.

Have you looked at the Dallas Morning piece -- Morning News piece? Do you have any thoughts on it?

Q No, my eyes were burning after reading the Washington -- the Wall Street Journal piece, so I thought I'd let them recover before I did. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to look at someone who knows her very well and is very well-respected in his writings.

Go ahead, David.

Q Scott, the administration has expressed a lot of concern about insurgent forces that may gather in gathering places in Syria and move into Iraq. Has the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not the only concern we have with Syria.

Q It's not the only concern, but my question is just limited to this one right now. Has the President made any decisions, has he signed any orders or any findings that would enable American forces or American intelligence agencies to go over the border into Syria to deal with these gathering places?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, if you are asking a question that might be considered classified information, I -- whether or not he had or not, I would not get into talking about that, because it's classified in nature. I think you can appreciate that, certainly given the current situation that we're all well aware of.

But in terms of Syria, Syria needs to change its behavior. It is trending in the wrong direction from the rest of the Middle East. And Syria's neighbors are concerned about the actions that it has taken, in a number of regards. They're concerned about foreign fighters transiting through Syria and going into Iraq to carry out attacks on innocent civilians, or coalition forces or Iraqi forces. They're concerned about Syria's behavior in the Middle East peace process and its continued support for terrorist organizations. And they are concerned about Syria's actions when it comes to Lebanon.

Now, they've taken some steps, but we're looking forward to seeing two reports that will be put out soon by the United Nations, and we'll see what those say. I'm not going to try to prejudge those reports at this time.

Q Scott, just in an effort to just nail down the response to this specific question, can you say, yes, the President has made a decision on the question of whether forces can go over the border into Syria; no, he has not; or you can't comment on it?

MR. McCLELLAN: I refer you to what I previously said.

Q Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Senator Kennedy is proposing an increase in minimum wage, and I wondered if the administration thinks that might be one effective way of helping the working poor?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President believes that we should look at having a reasonable increase in the minimum wage. He's talked about that before. But we need to make sure that as we do that, that it not -- that it is not a step that hurts small businesses or prices people out of the job market. We don't want it to cost people jobs and stuff. And that's been something the President has expressed. He previously talked about an initiative that had been proposed by, I believe it was Senator McConnell at the time. So I think there's a different approach that we would take to addressing that issue.

Q Also, there are some scientific reports that were released about the effects of climate change and how it might be related to all of the severe storms that have been happening and the likelihood of having more storms like this. Has the administration at all considered changing its views on what the long-term effects of global warming might be and --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it would be based on what the experts are saying, and there's a lot of uncertainties about climate change right now. But this is an issue we take very seriously. That's why we're acting. We are leading the world when it comes to research and development and investing in new technologies to address the challenges posed by climate change.

And in terms of these recent storms, I think you ought to look at what some of the experts have said, because they have found no evidence. Many experts have spoken out, saying they have seen no evidence to suggest that, what you're suggesting.

Q Scott, as you described it, an extremely dangerous storm, this Wilma. What changes can you point to in the communications apparatus from here to Homeland Security to FEMA and down the line since Katrina?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, obviously, you learn lessons from any storm and you take lessons you learn and you apply those lessons. As you learn them, you want to make sure you take steps to apply that. Now, in terms of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita -- well, particularly Hurricane Katrina, there is an ongoing investigation by Congress to look at lessons learned and to look at what went right and what went wrong and to apply those lessons. In terms of the White House, Fran Townsend, our Homeland Security Advisor, is moving forward on a comprehensive lessons learned review. Remember, the President went down to the Gulf Coast region on one of his trips and visited with some of our military leaders, who talked about some of the lessons that they had already learned and that they were working to address.

Now, in terms of the specific actions we're taking now, as I indicated earlier to Richard, I'll be glad to pull together some additional information for you and provide you that information. This is a storm that is still four or five days away from possibly making landfall in Florida. And the Hurricane Center, they said that there is change that could happen. But we're going to --

Q It's two days --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q Two days.

MR. McCLELLAN: What day is today, Wednesday? Saturday.

Q It's going to hit Saturday morning.

MR. McCLELLAN: I count that three.

Q Scott, since the storm is obviously going to get here before these investigations are completed, can you not point to anything that you know of that --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that, Peter. I'll be glad to pull together the actions that we're taking. There are a lot of actions that we're taking. You're making certain assumptions in your questions, though, that I don't think you can make. Typically, when you have a hurricane like this, the state and local authorities are in the lead in terms of the initial response. And the federal government's role is to support those efforts and help with the coordination of those efforts.

And we remain -- right now what our focus remains on is preparing and being in position to respond as best we can to a hurricane. It's as natural disaster. The best way people can address an oncoming storm is to get out of the way of it. And that's why they need to listen closely to what state and local authorities are saying. And so I take some exception to the characterization of the question, to some regard.

Q I don't know why you make that assumption --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, for the reasons I just stated, that's why.

Q What is the status --

MR. McCLELLAN: The tone of your question.

Q What is the status of the Fran Townsend project?

MR. McCLELLAN: It is moving forward. We have -- all Cabinet departments have appointed liaisons and people are in place. I'll be glad to provide you some additional information. I didn't bring all the specifics out here with me. But everybody's pulling together information and doing a lessons learned review within each of their departments. White House offices, or offices within the Executive Office of the President, have already moved forward and done some initial lessons learned analysis and provided information to Fran Townsend, as well. And the Cabinet departments are doing that, and they are moving forward on a plan that she has outlined.

Q Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.

END 1:15 P.M. EDT

*in the President's private dining room next to the oval.


Response to a Question from the Briefing on Hurricane Wilma Preparations:

Q Scott, as you described it, an extremely dangerous storm, this Wilma. What changes can you point to in the communications apparatus from here to Homeland Security to FEMA and down the line since Katrina?

A: The Administration is actively taking steps to prepare for Hurricane Wilma. The steps are consistent with long established pre-landfall preparations for a storm of this size. The primary difference between Wilma and Katrina storm preparations is a renewed effort to make coordination at all levels of government as seamless as possible. The ability to work closely in partnership with state and local governments to target resources where needed is critical. We are redoubling our actions and asking tough questions about what those needs are to ensure that we meet them. We believe responsibilities and expectations are clear at all levels, and that familiarity results in an immediate operational infrastructure for response and recovery efforts.

Specific actions include:

  • FEMA is coordinating video teleconferences with our field offices in the Gulf Coast region as well as our state partners daily to ensure close coordination in preparation, as done in all approaching storms. These include the National Hurricane Center, which offers the most up-to-date briefings on Hurricane Wilma and its movement and path.
  • FEMA is identifying the members of the Advance Emergency Response Teams for possible early deployment to areas that could be affected, and working closely with state and local officials on any pre-positioning of teams and resources that may be needed.
  • FEMA is encouraging people to follow the advice of local authorities, including possible evacuation orders. People in the likely area of impact should have provisions for at least 72-hours after the storm.
  • DoD has provided at the request of FEMA:
    • A Defense Coordinating Officer (DCO) and a Defense Coordinating Element for Florida. (Projected to be in place in the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee by Thursday afternoon.)
    • Use of Homestead Air Force Base (Florida) as a FEMA Mobilization Center if needed.
    • DoD has inventoried and identified assets for possible use to include:
      • 13.2 million Meals Ready to Eat
      • Several locations in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi that could serve as additional FEMA Mobilization centers.
      • Search and rescue assets on-call at installations along the Gulf Coast.
      • Medical Surge Capabilities.
    • The Florida National Guard is reviewing and adjusting plans for Hurricane Wilma response and has more than 8,000 troops available for duty.
    • Services and individual component commanders are undertaking prudent planning in order to ensure rapid response to FEMA requests (U.S. Navy has put three Norfolk-based ships on stand-by to sail to South Florida if needed).

The President also spoke by phone with Governor Bush earlier today, and later in person, to discuss preparations for Hurricane Wilma.