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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 24, 2005

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

12:11 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to begin with one update on the President's schedule. At 1:00 p.m. today, in the Oval Office, the President will announce his choice to succeed Chairman Greenspan at the Federal Reserve. And that will be pool coverage; the pool can gather in the driveway here shortly for that.

Now I want to go to today's Cabinet meeting and also discuss Hurricane Wilma. The President had good conversations this morning with Chief Paulison of FEMA, and his brother, Governor Bush, about the preparations and response efforts that are underway for Hurricane Wilma. It remains a dangerous storm; people should not let their guard down. We urge people in Florida to continue to follow the advice of local authorities. The state is well-prepared and we have been pre-positioning food and water and ice and disaster response teams and medical personnel and search and rescue teams. Those search and rescue teams and disaster response teams will move in quickly, as they are able to, once the storm passes and the wind settles down a little bit from that storm.

This morning, at his 32nd Cabinet meeting, the President discussed a number of important priorities and challenges with his Cabinet. Secretary Chertoff gave the update on Hurricane Wilma and the latest track it is on. It is a fast-moving storm. It is expected to be beyond Florida by this afternoon. There are evacuations that have been underway in different parts of Florida leading up to the storm, and we, as Secretary Chertoff said, are as prepared as we can be to be able to respond to this storm and we will get people into those areas that have been affected and do damage assessments and make sure that we're meeting the needs of the people in the region as we are able to.

In addition to Secretary Chertoff, the President heard from a number of his Cabinet Secretaries about their areas of responsibility. Josh Bolten gave an update on the fiscal situation and talked about the importance of moving forward with Congress to cut unnecessary spending. As you heard from the President, he is strongly committed to a fiscally responsible budget that meets our highest priorities and holds the line on spending elsewhere in the budget. And Josh gave an update on the latest situation there and our discussions with members of Congress. We appreciate congressional leaders' commitment to move forward on a budget that will provide significant savings to the American people. And we are working closely with members to identify some of those areas.

Secretary Rice also gave an update on several areas of importance on the foreign policy front. She talked about the Middle East and the real progress that is being made there over the last three to four years as we see Iraq moving forward on the constitutional referendum. We're expecting results to be announced within the next couple of days, if not sooner.

She also talked about the good meeting the President had last week with President Abbas, and the President talked a little bit about that, as well. And she talked about the latest situation with Syria and the Mehlis report. The President has directed Secretary Rice to urge the United Nations Security Council to hold a ministerial-level meeting as soon as possible. The Security Council is meeting again tomorrow. We look forward to them moving forward quickly on a ministerial-level meeting to discuss how to proceed to hold people accountable for the report that was released last week. It is a deeply disturbing report.

And the President also heard from a number of other areas -- from the Department of Defense Acting Secretary -- Acting Deputy Secretary England was present since Secretary Rumsfeld has been traveling. And he talked about the latest with regard to Iraq and Afghanistan and also gave an update on Pakistan and how we are providing significant resources to help the people of Pakistan recover and rebuild from the earthquake that hit there recently.

Secretary Leavitt gave an update on our Medicare program. We are moving forward to reach out to people and educate them, educate our seniors about the benefits that they'll be receiving. November 15th is the official date of the enrollment period beginning. It continues for six months. Come January, people will start receiving those benefits and realizing significant savings, as well. He also gave an update on the latest progress we're making to put in place a national preparedness plan for avian flu.

And then the President heard from Secretary Snow about the tax reform panel. And Secretary Bodman talked about our efforts to help rebuild from the Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and talked about the energy situation, and the status of the electricity in the region, as well as what we're doing to address high energy prices. Gas prices have been coming down some recently, but we remain concerned about high energy prices when it comes to other areas, as well. And he talked about what we're working to do on that front. And Secretary Leavitt* also talked about our border security and immigration reforms that we're moving forward on.

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

Q Scott, what led the President to choose Ben Bernanke to replace Chairman Greenspan?

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate your question. The President has not announced who his selection is for the Federal Reserve -- for the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve. The person that he is announcing is someone who is highly qualified, and someone who is very well respected. And he looks forward to making that announcement at 1:00 p.m. And I think you will hear more from the President about why he selected that individual.

Q Several news organizations are reporting that it is Ben Bernanke. You won't confirm that here?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to let the President be the one to make the announcement.

Go ahead, Helen.

Q You were going to make a statement, White House statement on the approach of the 2,000 Americans dead in Iraq at the earlier briefing, didn't you? At the gaggle?

MR. McCLELLAN: Do you have a question?

Q The question is, what is the feeling about that? And also, does the President approve now of finally telling how many Iraqis we killed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, we have lost over 2,200 men and women in uniform in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no higher priority for the President of the United States than the safety and security of the American people. It is a responsibility he takes very seriously. No President wants to go to war. But four years ago, or just over four years ago, war was brought to our shores. This nation remains engaged in a global war on terrorism. It is a war against Islamic radicals who seek to spread their hateful and murderous ideology. Our men and women in uniform volunteered to defend the freedoms we hold so dearly. They are the ones who are on the front lines in this global struggle that we are engaged in.

We mourn the loss of each and every one of our men and women in uniform who have made the ultimate sacrifice to make the world freer and more peaceful. We are forever grateful for their sacrifice, and we will always remember and honor what they have done. They have given their life in defense of freedom, and the best way to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is to prevail in the war on terrorism. And that's --

Q And kill more people?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and that's exactly what we will do. We will prepare --

Q The Iraqis did not attack us.

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just finish my response. I appreciate that. We will prevail in the war on terrorism. Our men and women in uniform are doing an outstanding job in helping us to win this war. And the President made a decision after September 11th that we were going to wage a broad and comprehensive war on terrorism --

Q Against any country?

MR. McCLELLAN: We are taking the fight to the enemy to bring people to justice before they can carry out their attacks. We are also working to spread freedom and change the Middle East. We are no longer accepting the status quo in the Middle East. And one thing --

Q That's not your role, is it? What right do you have to do that?

MR. McCLELLAN: And one thing that Secretary Rice talked about was the significant -- in the Cabinet meeting -- was the significant change that we've seen in the Middle East over the last three to four years. We're seeing democracy take hold in Afghanistan. We're seeing democracy take hold in Iraq. The Iraqi people are showing through their courage and determination that they want to live in freedom. The Iraqi election commission just reported this weekend that some 63 percent of Iraqis showed up to vote; some 9.8 million people --

Q Do we expect sovereignty of nations?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish, Helen. Our troops understand the importance of the mission. They are laying the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren. We live in a dangerous world; the threats are real --

Q That's why you're killing Iraqis?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and they are dangerous. But our men and women in uniform understand the enemy that we're up against, and they understand the stakes involved. We are forever grateful for their sacrifice; we're forever grateful for the sacrifice of the families of the fallen, as well. That's why the President visits with the families on a regular basis, to comfort them, console them, and to remind them of the importance of what their loved one sacrificed for.

Q Scott, a question about the leak investigation. The President has said in the months past that he would dismiss anyone who was responsible for leaking classified information. He was pretty clear-cut on that point. What would he do, though, if there were other charges -- charges like perjury or obstruction of justice? Would any member of the White House staff who is accused of such charges be expected to resign immediately, or would they be summarily fired by the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to speculate about an ongoing investigation at this point. I don't want to pre-judge the outcome of it. The President has spoken to it previously. The investigation continues and --

Q Right, but can't you -- since he has spoken to it previously, which is why I knew you wouldn't comment about the investigation -- but he has spoken to that point rather clearly. And, yet, he's raised some questions about what he might do in other --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, it's an ongoing investigation at this point, and I don't want to comment on it any further. You heard from the President earlier today, indicate that as well. And to get into commenting on it --

Q So you won't clarify for the American people as a matter of policy whether a White House advisor who faces criminal charges should be immediately --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has stated his views, but I'm not going to speculate beyond that, because the investigation continues. Let's let that investigation continue; it is a serious matter. The President wants to get to the bottom of it, and we support the work of the special prosecutor and I expect he'll have more to say on it soon -- as you all expect, as well.

Q How does the President feel about some White House allies, including Senator Hutchison yesterday, essentially making the argument that should the special counsel bring charges that involve a cover-up -- obstruction of justice or perjury -- that those are, in effect, technicalities and aren't really worthy of all the effort and money spent on this investigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate that, but asking me to comment would be speculating about an ongoing investigation -- I'm just not going to do that. Let's let --

Q Well, wait a minute --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, the President was asked this question --

Q That's kind of a dodge, don't you think?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President was asked this question earlier today. What we want to do is continue to support the work of the special prosecutor. The best way to do that is not to get into commenting on it --

Q There are allies of this White House --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- or speculating about it.

Q -- who are beginning to go out there and effectively lay the groundwork to trash the special counsel. Does the President want to put a stop to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Let's let the investigation continue and we'll see what the special prosecutor does.

Q He doesn't want to take an advantage of an opportunity to either say, you know what, we shouldn't speak that way, or, no, I endorse those views?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President made it clear that we're not going to have any further comment from the White House while the investigation continues.

Q But you'll let surrogates do it?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that. You said that.

Go ahead.

Q What's the President's mood these days, Scott, given all the background noise? There is some suggestion that stress is getting to him a little bit, that he's tense, peevish.

MR. McCLELLAN: The President is very focused on getting things done for the American people. We've got a lot of work to get done. The American people expect us to get things done and that's what we're doing. The President had a very good Cabinet meeting today. We talked about a number of important priorities facing the American people and facing this Congress. He talked about the broader war on terrorism. We talked about the priorities here at home when it comes to meeting our budget obligations, but also holding the line on spending. We're moving forward with Congress to renew the Patriot Act. We are moving forward on the recovery and rebuilding for Hurricane Katrina.

There are many things that we're focused on right now, and they are the priorities of the American people; they're what the American people care most about, and that's what the President is focused on.

Q So he's not chewing people's heads off, as was suggested --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know where you're hearing that.

Q -- in the story this morning?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know where you're hearing that. Where are you hearing that?

Q It was --

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't put much stock in it.

Q It was in the Daily News today. Are you saying they're wrong?

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't put much stock in it.

Q Okay. Well, let me just ask one more question, a little narrower than what David was asking. What are the President's views of Patrick Fitzgerald as a prosecutor?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's previously spoken to that issue and I'll leave it where he left it.

Q Could you just remind me?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he spoke about that recently and nothing has changed.

Q Because, you know, I have a memory like a sieve and I just tend to forget things from day to day.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think anything has changed, in terms of his views. And he's already expressed that.

Q The President seemed to rule out releasing any internal White House documents about Harriet Miers this morning. Is there any room for compromise there? Are there any documents that might -- that might fit the -- that he might be able to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're working very closely with the Senate Judiciary Committee and Senator Specter and others to make sure that the Senate has the information they need to do their job. The confirmation process is still in the early stages. Two weeks from today, Harriet Miers will be going before the Judiciary Committee and beginning the hearings process. She has visited with 23 senators as part of the initial courtesy visits, so that they can get to know her a little bit better. She is continuing those visits today and this week. She looks forward to going before the Judiciary Committee and answering their questions. I'm sure they'll have a lot of questions and there will be hours of testimony, and it will be an opportunity to explore her qualifications and her experience and talk more about her judicial philosophy. She has outlined that judicial philosophy very clearly in the questionnaire that she previously responded to.

When it comes to White House documents, the President made it very clear that there's an important principle involved: It is a matter of separation of powers. The President depends on his staff to receive open and candid advice as he moves ahead on the decision-making process. It would be unprecedented for a sitting President to release deliberative decision-making documents while they are in office. That is unheard of. It would have a chilling effect on the ability of the President to continue to receive sound and open and candid advice from his advisors.

Q Scott?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Well, it seems like this is heading toward the showdown, then it's -- if the Judiciary Committee says, we don't go anywhere unless we have some documents from the White House, would that be a cause for withdrawal of Harriet Miers?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, "if" you could ask me that question at that point, "if" they start saying that --

Q I mean, it seems to be going that way.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- but I think the President has previously emphasized the importance of this principle and stated the reasons why that principle is in place, and the importance of protecting it.

Q So, again, just to make sure there's absolutely no --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not aware of any official requests that have come our way at this point regarding what you're referring to, so I wouldn't want to speculate on it. The President is confident that Harriet Miers is going to be confirmed. Harriet Miers is someone who is exceptionally well qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. I would encourage you to go and look at her qualifications and experience and compare that to previous justices who did not come from the court that have been confirmed to our nation's highest court.

Go ahead, Terry.

Q This is a bipartisan request, it's not a partisan attack on the nominee. And the senators of both parties are saying they need this information in order to make a decision. Why is the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm not aware of any official request that has come to our attention. I've seen some of the comments that senators have made. So let's see if those official requests come, and what they may be. But I think the President was making very clear, yet again, what our position is when it comes to those documents.

Q But you accept this as a good-faith request from bipartisan representatives?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not aware of any official request that has come our way at this point. We're going to continue to work closely with the Judiciary Committee to make sure they have the appropriate information to be able to carry out their duties. And we're also going to look forward to the confirmation hearings. Harriet Miers is looking forward to that. That will be an opportunity for her to discuss a lot of these issues directly with the senators and directly with the American people, who will, I'm sure, tune in to watch those hearings.

Q And then on the Mehlis Report -- the Mehlis Report found that the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister was ordered, plotted and carried out with the assistance of the highest levels of the Syrian government. What does the President believe is the appropriate response to that? Sanctions? Tribunal --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it is a criminal investigation that continues. It is deeply disturbing what Mehlis outlined in that report. The President is of the belief that the Security Council needs to take this matter up at the soonest possible date and discuss how we move forward. There needs to be accountability. This report did strongly suggest that the assassination of a former Prime Minister, Prime Minister Hariri, could not have taken place without Syrian involvement. That is a very troubling report. And the Security Council needs to take it up at a high level. And that's why the President directed Secretary Rice to move forward on getting the Security Council to hold a meeting at the earliest possible date to discuss how to proceed.

Q Are you looking for sanctions?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't want to speculate about it. We'll talk with the international community through the Security Council about how to proceed.

Q Hurricane Katrina question. The recovery effort is so large, so much money is involved, that it could have an effect on inflation. It will be very stimulative to the economy. And I'm wondering what Ben Bernanke told the President when he was planning the recovery effort for Katrina about the possible effects of stimulating the economy and triggering inflation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked about the latest inflation reports just last week, and what I said still stands in terms of our confidence in the Federal Reserve to address monetary policy and to address issues relating to inflation. And we continue to hold those views. I'm not going to get into discussions that the President has with his advisors, but I think we've made it pretty clear what we need to do to keep our economy growing strongly.

Our economy is growing stronger. The hurricanes certainly have had an effect on the Gulf Coast region, and even on the national economy to some extent. But it's a short-term effect. And we've got to continue to move forward on pro-growth policies, and we've also got to make sure that we're meeting our obligations from the federal standpoint to help people in the communities along the Gulf Coast rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities.

And as the private sector is getting back up and running, that's going to help address a number of those issues that you may be interested in. But we also have an obligation from our standpoint to help, and as we do, we need to make sure that we're offsetting those costs as we move forward. And there are some needs that will need to be addressed this year. And that's -- we're looking at what those needs are and working with members of Congress to make sure that those needs are met, but to also make sure that those resources that we dedicate to the effort are offset elsewhere in the budget.

Q I'm just wondering -- you know, he's known as "Helicopter Ben," because he once said to fight inflation he would fly over the country and throw money out of a helicopter. I'm wondering in the case of Katrina, did he suggest, you know, let's throw $60 billion out of a helicopter, which would stimulate the economy, and now he's in the position of going --

MR. McCLELLAN: He has not suggested throwing anything out of a helicopter to the President. (Laughter.)

Q Was he in favor of stimulating the economy here and then he'll have to go to the Fed and take action --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you've seen the action that we're taking, and the President has talked about our commitment to help. This is going to be one of the largest reconstruction efforts ever. The private sector is going to play an important role and that's why we've been working to make sure people can give back to their communities and be able to fill the jobs that are needed to help address those challenges that the region faces.

Q Scott, Senator Brownback has said that he's asked the White House verbally for privileged documents to be made available, looked at. Is there any exercise underway at the White House right now that would look at either attorney/client or executive privilege documents and see what might be volunteered that wouldn't necessarily jeopardize privilege, but you've made the determination could be a --

MR. McCLELLAN: One, I'm not aware of any official request that's been made; whether or not that's been communicated to some staffer along the way, I'm not sure. But there's a process, and it would come through the official channels for any request like that. But I think the President has made his views very clear.

Q So there is not an exercise at the White House to review documents that might be volunteered notwithstanding -- or that privilege might be waived or not --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know which documents you're referring to. I mean, the President has made it pretty clear that deliberative decision-making documents are something that is privileged.

Q What I'm asking is if there's an effort to find anything outside that grouping of documents underway at the White House now?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any official request, so I don't know of any effort underway to fulfill any official request.

Q Scott, on the President's announcement today, without talking about who it is, can you talk about the process, the search process? Was this a long list of candidates --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'd be glad to talk more about this after the President -- the President talked a little bit about this recently in the Rose Garden, and he talked about the importance of having an independent Federal Reserve and people that are independent of, really, politics; that the Federal Reserve is an independent body that is responsible for setting monetary policy, for overseeing the integrity of our banking system, and containing risk that can arise from financial markets, and making sure that we have a functioning payment system. And the Federal Reserve is really a symbol of the integrity and reliability of our financial system.

I think the President will talk more about that in his remarks, and then he'll talk about the individual he has selected. But this is a process that we have taken very seriously. The President has thought very carefully about it, and the person he has selected will be an outstanding Chairman of the Federal Reserve, following on someone who has served very well in that position and done a great job.

Q So he feels that his political independence, and then that was a major consideration --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he talked about -- he talked a little bit about that in the Rose Garden. You'll hear more from him in his remarks here shortly.

Go ahead, Victoria.

Q Scott, in her role as White House Counsel, did Harriet Miers feel it was any way part of her duties to urge whoever might be the leaker to come forward, to save embarrassment to the White House? Or was it more perhaps to protect the identity of the leaker?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President directed the White House to cooperate fully with the investigation. And the Counsel's Office is one of our lead offices to help make sure that the White House is doing all we can to support the work of the special prosecutor. That's what we've been -- that's what we've been doing. That's what the President tasked the White House to do. And out Counsel -- both our previous Counsel, as well as Harriet Miers, have worked to make sure that we are cooperating fully with the investigation.

Q So, in fact, she would have urged the leaker to come forward?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, you heard from the President -- I'm not going to comment beyond that it's an ongoing investigation. If you have questions like that you can direct them to the special prosecutor.

Go ahead, Paula.

Q With respect to the administration's policy on the disclosure of internal documents, would that policy or principle also apply to any request for documents by the special counsel?

MR. McCLELLAN: Any requests for documents by the special --

Q Right. Under the Fitzgerald investigation, does that principle also apply?

MR. McCLELLAN: What the White House has done is cooperate fully with the special prosecutor, and that's what we will continue to do as he moves forward on his investigation. And beyond that, I'm just not going to have any further comment. If you want to ask about information that he may have, you can direct those questions to his office.

Q And also on taxes. The recommendations are due out next week, and one of the principles in that is to keep any of those recommendations revenue-neutral. But if there were to be any revenue increases as a result of tax reform alone, would the administration support using that toward paying Katrina and the Iraq war?

MR. McCLELLAN: Support?

Q If there were any revenues that were the result of tax reform, would that be an acceptable way of helping to pay for Katrina and the Iraq war?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to speculate about the tax reform. The bipartisan tax reform panel is moving forward on their recommendations. They'll be sending their report to Treasury Secretary Snow on November 1st, if not before. The Treasury Secretary gave an update today in the Cabinet meeting about the recommendations that they are looking at. This is a bipartisan panel that was charged with making recommendations to make our tax code simpler, fairer and more pro-growth. The President wants to make sure that we have a tax code that is conducive to economic growth. And they will be sending their recommendations to the Treasury Secretary; he will be reviewing those, and then he will send recommendations on to the President.

The President is strongly committed to moving forward with Congress on reforming our tax code. He believes it is a high priority that needs to be addressed, and that's what we will do. But I'm not going to speculate about what those -- what the President may decide to do, or not do.

Go ahead, Roger.

Q Scott, you said that Mr. Bolten gave a budget update in the Cabinet briefing. Was there any hint or suggestion that the administration would be sending up a package of rescission requests to the Hill?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have been talking with congressional leaders about how to move forward on offsets, as well as savings elsewhere in the budget. We have proposed significant savings both on the mandatory spending side, as well as the non-security discretionary spending side. We always felt that that was a great starting point.

Congressional leaders have shown a commitment to providing significant savings. The House and Senate are both moving forward. We're talking with them about a number of ways to cut unnecessary spending, and certainly an area that we've been looking at is rescinding spending increases.

Q Scott, I've got a two-part. The Washington Post reports that after Senator Specter told reporters that nominee Harriet Miers had endorsed Griswold, she telephoned him to say that she had not endorsed Griswold. And my question: Since the case of Griswold versus Connecticut resulted in the court overturning Connecticut's law against selling or even counseling about contraceptives, isn't her opposition to this as serious in the President's mind as her expressed disagreement with what is his support of abortion in cases of rape and incest?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think Senator Specter put out a statement last week. Harriet Miers had a further discussion with him. And that issue was clarified how it was originally reported.

And in terms of her views on various issues, that's what the confirmation hearings are for. There will be a number of questions that will come up, I'm sure along the lines of what you're brining up now. Harriet Miers looks forward to answering those questions when she goes before the Judiciary Committee. I think that the American people will see that she is someone who is exceptionally well qualified and someone who has a conservative judicial philosophy. She has outlined that philosophy in the questionnaire that she's already responded to. She is someone that has deep respect for our Constitution and our laws, and believes that we should look at the law and apply the law; we should not be -- judges should not be making law from the bench.

Q In the President's very moving statement, "To defend this country, we've got to enforce our borders," how can this be done if those illegal immigrants who break the law and violate our borders, rather than being punished, are simply returned to their countries, so that they can come across the border again and again and again?

MR. McCLELLAN: Through the measures that the President outlined last week, both in his remarks at the Department of Homeland Security bill signing --

Q That's what I was referring to.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- as well as in his remarks in his radio address. Secretary Chertoff testified on some of these issues last week. We are moving forward on some expedited removal initiatives. We are also moving forward to expand out -- the number of Border Patrol agents along the border to prevent people who shouldn't be coming into this country from entering in the first place. We're also making use of new technologies. But the President believes very strongly that we need to have comprehensive immigration reform.

We need to start by enforcing our borders and strengthening our borders. We need to also look at interior enforcement -- one area that I think you're bringing up -- and make sure that the laws are being enforced. And we also need to move forward to meet an important economic need, which he has addressed through a temporary worker program that he has proposed.

Q Scott, are there any official plans to evacuate Americans from the hurricane-stricken areas of Mexico, and Cancun, particularly?

MR. McCLELLAN: The State Department can probably provide you more specifics, but I know they have consular affairs offices set up. We have provided some initial money to help Mexico address some of these needs. There are, I think, a large number of tourists -- American tourists that were in Mexico when the hurricane hit, and certainly they are a priority for America and for this administration. And the State Department can provide you additional information about what we're doing to address their needs, and make sure that they are taken care of. That is a high priority.

Q Scott, there is an apparent change of policy at the Pentagon. U.S. forces are now reporting body count of the enemy killed or captured in the Iraq conflict. This was done during the Vietnam war to give the impression the U.S. forces were winning. Did the President order or approve this change in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that you ought to talk to the Pentagon about this, because how you just portrayed it is not the situation. They can talk about it more broadly, about what the current policy is. I don't think there has been any change in the overall policy.

Go ahead.

Q If Syrian leaders are bold enough to kill the top Lebanese official and support the insurgency in Iraq, how far is the U.S. from engaging in further military activities against the Syrians along the border and possibly even deeper into Syria?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've talked about this before. What we want to see is behavioral change from the regime in Syria. It is a regime that is out of step with the region. And we are now talking with the international community about how to proceed to address the report that the U.N. investigator, Mehlis, issued last week. There is a criminal investigation that continues, and we will discuss with the international community about how to proceed to ensure that there is accountability.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, how often does the President receive U.S. casualty reports?

MR. McCLELLAN: On a regular basis.

Q Is this a daily thing?

MR. McCLELLAN: Virtually. I mean, he receives it on a regular basis.

Q And is that starting in the national security briefing in the morning, or --

MR. McCLELLAN: It depends. I mean, it's different ways that he receives updates. He certainly receives updates about troops that are lost in the line of combat on a regular basis, on a daily basis when those deaths occur. And like I said, we mourn the loss of all of our fallen.

Q How might a grim milestone, like 2,000 dead in Iraq, affect policy and strategy decisions?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think I just addressed it, and I think tomorrow you might want to listen to the President's remarks. He is going to speak to a group of spouses of -- spouses from all the different branches of the military tomorrow. I think there will be some 500-plus in attendance. And he will talk about the importance of what we're working to accomplish in Iraq and the broader Middle East. And he'll talk about the nature of the enemy that we're up against.

We are laying the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren. And it's our men and women in uniform who are carrying out that important mission, and they understand the importance of it. We are forever grateful for their service and sacrifice. We're forever grateful for the sacrifice of the families of the fallen. The President visits with families of fallen on a regular basis, and he always remembers those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of freedom.

Go ahead, Ken.

Q Scott, is protecting executive privilege and not doing anything that might be perceived as weakening it more important than winning confirmation for Harriet Miers?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're confident that Harriet Miers will be confirmed.

Q Which is more --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't accept the premise, because we're confident that she'll be confirmed.

Q Well, we have senators saying it could --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not either/or.

Q We have senators saying it could be a deal-breaker if they don't see some paperwork.

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not an either/or I don't think.

Go ahead.

Q Scott, National Security Advisor, Mr. Hadley, (inaudible) to have mentioned in Moscow that even if the North Korea nuclear issue is resolved, the United States is not yet prepared to open formal diplomatic relations with North Korea. Could you comment on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen exactly what he said. This must be a recent report. He is in Moscow on a visit. I'll be glad to take a look at his comments, but I think we've already expressed our views on the issue anyway. And I'm sure he's not expressing anything other than what we've already said when it comes to addressing our concerns relating to North Korea.

And there is a six-party talks process that continues. We had good discussions at the last round. There was agreement on important principles. We look forward to the next round of talks so we can continue to move forward on what all parties have agreed to implement.


Q Scott, as we're waiting to find out what the special prosecutor has to say, what is the mood of the President as we're going into these days?

MR. McCLELLAN: I answered that question earlier when John Roberts asked it.

Q I understand, but, Scott --

MR. McCLELLAN: But you want to ask it again?

Q Yes, I do. (Laughter.) The President could possibly lose some people who he's known for many, many years, people he's been very loyal to. And the President is known to be a very loyal friend. How is he emotionally, maybe today and beyond, handling the fact that someone he's very close with personally, beyond --

MR. McCLELLAN: April, a couple of things. One, we're not going to speculate or try to pre-judge the outcome of this ongoing investigation. Let's let that investigation proceed. I'm sure we'll hear more in due course.

The President is focused on the most pressing priorities for the American people. That's what they expect us to do. That's where he's keeping his focus. He's continuing to charge ahead to address the challenges that this country faces and that this world faces. You heard me talk about the priorities that we're addressing. I'll be glad to go through them again with you later, if you want. I've already been through them in this briefing room. But what we've got to do is keep our energies focused on those things that we can get done. And that's what we are doing.

Q Beyond the business, the President is a human being who is known to be loyal and very emotional when it comes to things that touch him. How is he handling the fact that some people who are very close to him are in the midst -- embroiled in controversy --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to speculate about an ongoing investigation. Not going to do it.

Q -- that can bring his administration down?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.

Q Scott, my question is on India-U.S. relations. First, greetings from a journalist from India here in the U.S. for the last 46 years, working in the news business --

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. Let's get to the question, because the President is about to make an announcement and I've got to go.

Q -- what he said, that the U.S.-India relations are better than ever since 1950, is because of President Bush's help, and he has brought to this level which will not go back. What do you think President will add to this --

MR. McCLELLAN: What do I think of what?

Q As far as the U.S.-India relations --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we have great relations with India, and we'll continue to work to strengthen those relations. The President has a good relationship with Prime Minister Singh, and he looks forward to continuing to build upon that relationship.

Q Scott, just as a general principle, would you describe somebody who works in the White House in an advisory or policy capacity as independent and away from politics?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q I said, as a general principle, would you describe someone who works within the White House in an advisory and policy capacity to be independent and away from politics?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President will be making an announcement very shortly, and we're confident that this person will be well received by not only the financial markets and others, but the American people, as well.

Thank you.

END 12:48 P.M. EDT

*Secretary Chertoff


Response to a Question from the Briefing

Q Scott, on the President's announcement today, without talking about who it is, can you talk about the process, the search process? Was this a long list of candidates --

A The President went through a very deliberative and thoughtful process.

The White House conducted a long, exhaustive search that began in late April. A number of potential nominees were given consideration. White House officials involved in the nominating process included the Vice President, Chief of Staff Andy Card, National Economic Adviser Al Hubbard, Assistant to the President for Presidential Personnel Liza Wright, and Chief of Staff to the Vice President Scooter Libby. Chairman Bernanke was not part of the selection committee.

The nominating committee reached out to a number of leading economists in the Academic community, Wall Street executives and other leaders from the business community. Input was sought from Republicans and Democrats alike.

Chairman Greenspan was consulted. He provided significant input on the nature of the job, and the qualifications needed for the position.

The committee interviewed several potential nominees. The initial list of candidates included more than 20 individuals. The President held several meetings with the search team to discuss potential nominees.

The President called Ben Bernanke from Air Force One Friday afternoon to discuss the nomination.

The President formally offered the nomination to Chairman Bernanke this morning at approximately 7:15am in the Oval Office. They also met in the Oval for an additional 20 minutes around 9am this morning.