|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 5, 2005
Press Briefing with Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:57 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Just let me update you on Harriet Miers' courtesy visits, and then I'll want to do a quick preview of tomorrow's remarks. And then I'll be glad to take your questions after that.
Harriet Miers has now visited with eight members of the United States Senate as part of her courtesy visits this week. She will be visiting with two additional senators this afternoon, and those courtesy visits will continue tomorrow and throughout the rest of the week and beyond. She looks forward to continuing to visit with senators and talking to them about any questions they may have as they move forward on her confirmation process.
Tomorrow the President will be giving a significant speech on the war on terrorism. We recently just marked the four-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11th. It is a reminder that we remain engaged in a global war on terrorism, and this is a major speech that the President will be giving on the war on terrorism. The event is being sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy. That will be the audience he will be speaking to here in Washington, D.C.
I expect that the President will talk in unprecedented detail about the nature of the enemy we face. The terrorists have a vision of the world that is opposite of our vision of freedom. You have heard the President talk about that. This is a sophisticated and determined enemy. They are killers who have a hateful, murderous ideology that is based on evil beliefs and goals. They have a clear strategy that seeks to exploit a religion to serve their violent, oppressive vision. And the President will talk about their strategy and their vision in greater detail than he has before.
He will also talk about our comprehensive strategy for defeating the lethal and determined enemy we face. He'll talk about the strategy we have for staying on the offensive and spreading freedom. He will also talk about the stakes involved in the war on terrorism. Stakes are very high. He will talk about the high stakes that are involved in Iraq, and put Iraq in the context of the broader war on terrorism.
The speech is aimed at educating the American people and raising awareness about the enemy we face and the stakes involved. I expect he'll talk about the terrorist network of al Qaeda and associates, and how that network has evolved since the attacks of September 11th.
The President looks forward to giving that speech tomorrow here in Washington, D.C. And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, if the President has never discussed with Harriet Miers her personal views on abortion, and if he never talked to her about it as a litmus test during their conversations about her going on the bench, how does he know that she shares his view?
MR. McCLELLAN: Shares his view on what?
Q On abortion and whether abortion should be legal in the United States.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President doesn't have a litmus test. The President, when he looks to nominate someone to the bench, he looks for someone who has a conservative judicial philosophy, a philosophy that is based on strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws. He wants to see people on the bench that are committed to looking at the facts and applying the law.
I think that as Chief Justice Roberts said during his hearings, and I know Harriet Miers is committed to the same view, as well, that it's important to have people on the bench who are fair and open-minded, people who will look at the facts of the case and apply the law. Personal views and ideology and religion have no place in the decisions a judge makes. That's what the American people want on the bench, Jessica.
Q But you and the Vice President and even the President, himself, have made it very clear that the administration is trying to communicate to conservatives and people who are concerned about Miers' politics that she shares the President's views on the key issues. I mean, you've made that very, very clear, that there's a signal --
MR. McCLELLAN: That she shares his philosophy when it comes to a judge.
Q So the White House has no idea what her position is on whether Roe versus Wade is the settled law of the land?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President doesn't have a litmus test. Some people want to impose a litmus test; the President does not believe there should be a litmus test for judges. A judge should rule based on the law.
Q So conservatives have grounds to be concerned if they'd like to see that overturned?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me mention a couple of things. One, I think you need to step back, because this announcement was just made on Monday. Two, the President said yesterday that she is someone that the broader public may not be as familiar with, and that includes some members of the United States Senate. That's what the confirmation process is for. I know Harriet Miers looks forward to visiting with senators and going through the confirmation hearings so that she can answer their questions and talk about what's on their mind.
She has earned the respect and admiration of the legal profession. She will earn the respect and admiration of the American people. They will see what the President knows, which is that she will be an outstanding Supreme Court Justice. She is someone who is exceptionally well-qualified to serve on the Court. She has spent her life in the legal community. Her career has been trying cases in federal and state courts. She is someone that The National Law Journal recognized as one of the nation's top lawyers and one of the nation's top women lawyers. She has clerked for a federal judge back in -- this was back in 1970. I don't think there were very many women clerking for federal district judges at that point in time. She has been a trailblazer for women in the legal profession. She is someone who, through real-life experience, has gained deep respect for our Constitution and our laws. And I think that's an important quality to look for when you're nominating someone to our highest court in the land.
Q Scott, I asked the President this morning, but it would appear he didn't hear me -- does he believe Roe v. Wade is settled law?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, he was making a statement this morning, first of all, and second of all, that's a litmus test question. There are some out there that want to impose a litmus test on --
Q It's not a litmus test question. Does he believe Roe v. Wade is settled law?
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you believe I should be able to respond to your questions?
Q Yes, but it's not a litmus test.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me respond to your question, and I'll be glad to answer it, as I just was. It is a litmus test question. You're asking it in the context of a Supreme Court nominee. There are some out there that want to impose a litmus test on judges. The President does not believe we should have litmus tests for judges. The American people want judges that are fair and open-minded and that will rule based on our Constitution and our laws. That's what Harriet Miers is committed to doing, and that's why the President selected her to fill this vacancy.
Q I understand your comments about litmus tests and your whole position on that, but I'm just asking what the President thinks. Does he believe it's settled law?
MR. McCLELLAN: And he talked yesterday about his views when it comes to issues of life, and he expressed his view. You're asking this in the context of the Supreme Court, and I'll repeat again that that is a litmus test question.
Q No, you're putting it in the context of the Supreme Court. It was just something I've been thinking about for a while.
MR. McCLELLAN: And something that you're putting in the context of the Supreme Court nomination. I guarantee you'll be working on a report tonight for the Supreme Court. So let's not pretend that it's not a litmus test question.
Q You know, I might take that bet. When you say that the President is going to talk in unprecedented detail about terrorist activities and the evolution of the al Qaeda network, you're talking about -- I mean, how much more detail can he get that he's already been? Is he going to be talking about --
MR. McCLELLAN: He will -- he will talk --
Q -- specific operations?
MR. McCLELLAN: He will talk in very specific detail about the strategy that the radicals who espouse this hateful, murderous ideology want to -- want to implement. They have a very clear strategy. This is a strategy that is based on driving us out of the Middle East because they know democracy and peace are the greatest weapons that we have and it's a very -- threat to what they seek to impose on the rest of the world.
Q But isn't that obvious?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, if you'll let me finish, I'll be glad to answer your question. There are really two parts. He'll talk in greater detail about the strategy that they have, and he'll talk in greater detail about the loose network of radicals that exist. This is a network that is inspired by a broader movement. Al Qaeda seeks to spread propaganda and inspire this movement, but it is also a movement that is unified with a single enemy and a shared strategy. And he will talk about that in detail. He'll talk about how this is a group of people that have a very clear strategy for driving us out of the Middle East, for creating a safe haven in the Middle East, a safe haven from which they can plan and plot attacks on the rest of the civilized world, and a safe haven from which they can seek to overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East.
This is a enemy that has a very clear vision of the world. It is a vision that runs counter to everything that the civilized world stands for, and everything that we stand for in America. And we have seen in recent weeks and months this terror offensive carried out in places like London and Sharm el Sheikh and Bali. And the President will talk about that network that exists. There's al Qaeda, but there are other networks, other groups within that network that are affiliated in loose ways with that broader movement. There are regional groups, there are local cells, and the President will talk in great detail about the nature of that enemy, and talk to the American people about what this enemy seeks to impose on the rest of the world.
Q Scott, are you ready to say yet what former senator is going to be the sherpa? And also, the Democrats have a Senate Judiciary Committee working on a list of documents they would like from the White House that involve Harriet Miers' work on different decisions, including Guantanamo Bay treatment of prisoners. The President has said he wants to protect executive privilege and let her answer questions, but are there any documents that you would be willing to share with the Senate?
MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, on the first part of your question regarding another sherpa, Ed Gillespie is filling the role of sherpa, as well, for this confirmation process. I expect we will have an announcement soon. We are not ready to do this -- do that at this time.
The second part of your question is something that came up yesterday during the press conference and that the President talked about. We expect that there will be a thorough confirmation process. That is the role of the United States Senate when it comes to advice and consent. And Harriet Miers looks forward to going through a thorough confirmation process, including congressional -- Senate hearings where she will be asked a wide range of questions. And she looks forward to answering those questions. That is part of this process.
And in terms of documents, I'm not aware of any requests that have been made at the White House -- of the White House at this time.
Q Well, the President has to invoke executive privilege. It just doesn't automatically exist. I mean, is he prepared to invoke executive --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, if you're talking about -- and I assume this is what you're talking about -- some of our confidential deliberative documents --
Q -- there are other documents that don't fall in that category.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any requests that have been made for other documents at this point. But remember, the President's Records Act was created by Congress back in the late '70s, and Congress recognized that those confidential deliberative documents should only be released after a certain period of time, years later. This is -- this goes to an important principle within the executive branch. The President ought to be able to receive candid, sound advice from his advisors. And it would be unprecedented to release the confidential deliberative documents that you may be talking about for a sitting President.
Q But you talk about a thorough confirmation process. If you have hearings where Harriet Miers follows the lead of John Roberts and doesn't really answer any specific questions about her legal philosophy and decisions that she might make and what she believes in legally, and if you have a situation where virtually her entire professional record is covered by one privilege or another, how can it possibly be a thorough --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me disagree with you, first of all. I think you're talking about questions relating to cases that may have come before the Court, not about his --
Q -- it goes further than that --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- not about his legal philosophy and views. I disagree with that.
Q It goes further than that. Well, okay.
MR. McCLELLAN: He answered a lot of questions. Now, there is a precedent that has been set over time, and certainly in recent history, where people that are going to be serving on the bench are not expected to, and should not, talk about cases that may eventually come before the Court. They should approach those cases in a fair and open way. And you shouldn't prejudge the outcome of those cases.
Q But if you have --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's the issue here, I think that you're bringing up.
Q Well, no, it's one of the issues I'm bringing up. The second part of it is, is the almost total absence of a paper trail because of a variety of privileges? She has been a lawyer all her professional life, which means that virtually all of her documents will be covered by lawyer-client privilege. And of course, you assert -- or suggest that the White House is going to assert whatever privilege is necessary to shield those documents. What possibly will the senators have to work with?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what confirmation hearings are for, Bob, is the opportunity --
Q They're for people to go through information --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the opportunity for senators to ask questions and an opportunity for the nominee to answer those questions.
Q -- or not answer those questions.
MR. McCLELLAN: She looks forward to answering those questions. Well, again, let's be specific about what you're talking about. You're talking about questions about cases that may come before the Court. And there has been a precedent set. That precedent was shown during the confirmation hearings for Justice Ginsburg and Justice Breyer. Those are individuals that many in the Senate may have disagreed with some of their philosophy or views, but they recognized they were highly qualified to serve on our highest court in the land, and they received very broad support.
Justice -- or Chief Justice Roberts received very broad support. It was still interesting to note that some 22 Democrats voted against him after he clearly demonstrated to the American people that he was exceptionally well-qualified to serve on the bench. The American people want judges that are going to look at the law and apply the law, that are going to be fair and open-minded. And that's the type of people that this President has appointed, people that are not going to legislate from the bench.
Q But won't you be taking -- asking the senators to take it on faith that that's what they're going to get with Harriet Miers?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what a confirmation process is for, so that they can get to know the nominee and get to hear her views.
Q Scott, the relationship between Harriet Miers and the President predates his time in office. Will the President be willing to waive any of the privilege for work she did with him when he was governor, or in his personal life?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you talking about attorney-client privilege? Let me back up. There haven't been any requests made of us at this point. Let's let the requests be made, first of all. I don't want to speculate about requests that haven't been made. There is a process in place, but I think people across the country recognize the importance of attorney-client privilege, and they recognize the importance of the separation of powers issues that I talked about earlier.
Q The President was referring to executive privilege and the need to protect the presidency as an individual citizen --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a separation of powers issue.
Q Do you believe he would be willing to waive his own privilege on work he did --
MR. McCLELLAN: You're asking me to speculate about requests that haven't even been made. And I think that he has talked about some of that in the past, but I'm not going to try to jump into speculative questions at this point.
Q The President said today that we are making progress when it comes to training Iraqis to take the fight to the enemy. I wonder where he sees progress in what General Abizaid says is a reduction in the number of battalions able to take the lead, from three to one.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that is incorrect. The President talked about it in his press conference yesterday. He talked about how, a year ago, there were less than 50 Iraqi battalions in various states of readiness. Today there are some 88 army battalions fighting alongside coalition forces in Iraq, and more than 30 of those are taking the lead in the fight -- the term that you used. So there is significant progress that is being made to train and equip Iraqi security forces. All you have to do is go back and look at where we were a year ago, look at where we were a few months ago, and look at where we are today in terms of training and equipping those Iraqi security forces.
Not only that, but today Iraqi forces are in the lead in cities like Karbala and Najef, and even parts of Baghdad. We've gone in, secured those areas, and Iraqi forces now have control over Karbala and Najef. They have full control over those --
Q Did General Abizaid misspeak last week, or did we misunderstand?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- they have full control over those cities. Well, you heard him talk this weekend, and you heard General Casey speak, as well, and General Casey and Secretary Rumsfeld participated in a briefing. And the way you characterized it is just not accurate. You ought to go back and look at their briefings.
Q Let me ask one other question. Why does the President oppose Senator McCain's legislation to establish standards for interrogation of terrorists?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are already laws on the books, and so I think part of this, if you go back and look at the statement of administration policy that we put out, it would be unnecessary and duplicative. And it would limit the President's ability as Commander-in-Chief to effectively carry out the war on terrorism.
Q And will the President veto Senator McCain's legislation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we put out the statement of administration policy, which stated our concerns about that and stated -- let me specifically refer you to it -- our views when it came to if those amendments were part of the final legislation. It said, if it's presented, then there would be a recommendation of a veto, I believe.
Q One final thing. I did misspeak about Abizaid. He said that the number of Iraqi battalions able to fight on their own -- not take the lead. So given that, how does the President see progress?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's what General Casey talked about in the briefing last week. There's a very high standard for level one, but there is -- the differences between levels one and two are not something that we should be focused on right now because those -- all those battalions in levels one and two are in the lead when it comes to fighting the terrorists in Iraq. And so you have to look at the overall progress that's being made. This is not -- I think General Casey talked about that -- he received an update from General Petreaus earlier today; General Petreaus is the one who was overseeing for the past year, essentially, the training and equipping of Iraq security forces, and you heard the President come out after that meeting and talk about some of the progress that's being made. I just highlighted some of the progress. You have to look at the facts, and the facts show that Iraqi security forces are assuming more and more responsibility and doing more to take the fight to the enemy themselves.
And we will continue to work to strengthen the command and control structure, and as we stand up those forces, we will stand down American forces.
Q Scott, how crucial is it to the progress that you talk about in Iraq that Iraqis ratify the draft constitution? And how much of a setback would it be to that progress if the Sunnis --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what's important is that the Iraqi people are more and more -- I'd say what's important is that more and more Iraqis are participating in the political process, and that the political process is moving forward. It's important to keep that political process moving forward. It's up to the Iraqi people to decide. But they are moving forward on holding a referendum to vote on whether or not they support or oppose the constitution.
We think that the constitution that has been drafted is a strong constitution. If you look at it and compare it to the Afghan constitution, it is very similar in many ways, and other ways it's actually stronger than that constitution. And that was a constitution that was widely heralded by the international community. And the Iraqi people now have a say in their future. And they showed in January they are determined to build a free and democratic and peaceful nation, and they are moving forward on the political process. The process calls for holding the constitutional referendum, and then there will be elections later this year. And it's important to encourage as broad a participation as possible in the political process, and to keep that political process moving forward.
Q But many Sunnis don't like the draft, and if there were enough opposition from them, then it could be rejected. How much of a setback would that be for the U.S. in Iraq if that were to happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said it's important that the political process continue to move forward. And it's important that we continue to move forward on training the Iraqi security forces. That's two parts of our strategy. And one thing that we're seeing with the progress with Iraqi security forces, too, that I forgot to mention in Wendell's question, is that now you have more and more areas where we're able to go in and defeat the terrorists and drive them out, and then the Iraqi forces are able to come into those areas and provide for the security in those regions. That enables coalition forces to continue taking the fight to the terrorists elsewhere in the country, as well, alongside -- with Iraqi forces.
But it's important that the political process continue to move forward, and it is moving forward. The Iraqi people have shown that they are determined to defy the terrorists and those who seek to stop the process from moving forward. The terrorists want to prevent democracy from taking hold. They will do everything they can to try and disrupt the election -- the referendum and the elections from moving forward, and the democratic process from moving forward. But the Iraqi people have shown time and time again that they are determined to build a free and democratic future.
Q Scott, recently you gave a definition of the Republican Party as a party moving forward with ideas to help the American people. That creates a large umbrella for your hard-liners versus your moderates. Could you give me a definition of a hard-liner versus a moderate, as the President views them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Can you give me a definition of a hard-liner versus a moderate in the Democrat Party?
Q I'm asking the Republican Party, the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Republican Party is united behind a very clear agenda. It is an agenda that is hopeful and optimistic. We are the party of ideas, and the party of solutions. The President is leading with a very detailed agenda. It's an agenda that is based on winning the war on terrorism abroad, and strengthening the economy and opportunity here at home. And we have made significant progress. The President talked about that yesterday. And this is a party that is united behind those ideas.
Q Since you say you're united on those ideas, it seems like there is a problem, there's a split on Harriet Miers. Where does she stand under this umbrella --
MR. McCLELLAN: I disagree with you. There are a lot of people that have spoken out who know her very well and recognize what the President recognizes, which is that she will make an outstanding Supreme Court justice. She is someone who has the qualifications and the experience and the judgment needed for our nation's highest court. And the more people get to know her that don't know her, the more they will recognize that she is exactly the kind of person we need on the United States Supreme Court. She will make Americans very proud.
Q -- call her a moderate now?
MR. McCLELLAN: She is someone who has a conservative judicial philosophy. She is someone who is committed to strictly interpreting our constitutional laws. Ideology and politics don't have a role to play when it comes to making decisions on our nation's highest court. The decision should be based on the law. The decision should be based on looking at the facts of the case and then looking at the law and applying the law.
Q -- Sandra Day O'Connor?
MR. McCLELLAN: She is her own unique person with her own real life experiences that will be a welcome addition to our nation's highest court.
Go ahead, Paula.
Q On Medicaid, I know the administration is taking a state-by-state approach. But one of the papers in Louisiana said that more than 50 percent of the hurricane victims in Louisiana who were seeking Medicaid assistance had been rejected because of the state's tight eligibility rules. I know your argument has also been that if you loosen the rules, that people will -- states will get help that don't even have victims in them. But as you know, Louisiana is directly impacted by this hurricane. So why does the administration not think there should be a waiver for all hurricane victims, at least temporarily?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we've been over this issue numerous times, Paula, and I'm glad to go back through some of that. In terms of Medicaid, we are making sure that states are being compensated for those that they have helped and taken in. We're also making sure that people who depend on government benefits are getting those benefits and getting them quickly. We have, actually, provide a -- provided a waiver to compensate some of those who weren't covered. And I'll be glad to get you some more information on that.
Go ahead, Keith.
Q The President said yesterday that Social Security, there seems to be a diminished appetite in the short-term. Does that mean that he's accepting that it's off the agenda for this year?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he said yesterday that it is never off the agenda when it comes to his leadership. He is going to continue to talk about the importance of saving and strengthening Social Security. It is only a -- it is a problem that only gets worse with time. It will cost an additional $600 billion a year the longer we wait. And that's why the President believes very strongly that we need to save and strengthen Social Security. We need to strengthen it for tomorrow's generation. It's headed on an unsustainable course.
He has achieved a great bit by reaching out to the American people. The American people recognize that it is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. And the President believes that leaders are elected to come and solve problems, and so that's why he's going to continue to press ahead on the importance of strengthening Social Security.
Now, in terms of a congressional timetable, he recognizes that there is a diminished appetite, and we'll continue to work with Congress on the way forward. But it is -- it is a priority that he believes very strongly in, and that's why he is leading to solve the problems facing Social Security.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q Thank you. Scott, investigators from the Department of Homeland Security have arrested three persons who were teaching Arabic at the highly sensitive special operations school at Fort Bragg. It appears they used fake documents and lied to get employment at the school. Special operations has the -- in the war against terror. Is the President concerned about this lack of security that enabled possible terrorists to be that close to some of our --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll have to look at the facts of the specific case you're referencing, but I think it shows that we have people who are on top of things and they were able to catch these individuals. I don't know the specifics about it, though. I'll have to refer you to the Department of Homeland Security.
Q Scott, on Monday, a number of administration voices -- Vice President Cheney, Karl Rove, Ed Gillespie, Ken Mehlman -- reached out to conservative interest groups to express an argument, the White House argument for Harriet Miers' nomination. And they said that she has a conservative judicial philosophy. Specifically, Vice President Cheney went on the conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh's program, calling in from Camp Lejeune, and said, "Rush, you will be very happy with her." Specifically, what did he mean by that? And was there any conversation in the course of those talks about her views on abortion rights, privacy rights, school prayer, or any other issues --
MR. McCLELLAN: You can see the transcript; we made it available to you, or you can see the full transcript of the remarks.
Q I've seen the transcript, but what about these other conversations?
MR. McCLELLAN: What he's referring to is that she is someone who has a conservative judicial philosophy. She's someone who believes in interpreting our Constitution -- strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws. That's what he talked about in that interview.
Now, let me point out for you, too, that the Vice President went on those programs right after the President announced his selection of Judge Roberts to fill the vacancy that existed on the Supreme Court. This is a very similar strategy that we had in place for the first vacancy. And we are reaching out to everyone when it comes to moving forward on her confirmation process. She is someone who has, the President said yesterday, not sought out the spotlight. She has quietly accomplished a great deal in her lifetime. She has a career of distinguished service, and a long record of accomplishment.
And it's important for the American people to come to know that record of accomplishment and see the type of person that Harriet Miers is. The President knows that she is someone who, 20 years from now, will be the same person that she is today -- someone who is committed to looking at the law and applying the law, and someone who is committed to fairness. I think you can see from those who know her well that they will talk about how she is someone who believes in fairness and believes --
Q But, Scott, isn't that kind of a --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- believes in the law and our Constitution.
Q Isn't there a little bit of code being used by the administration, when the Vice President goes on Rush Limbaugh's talk show, and says, "Rush, you're going to be happy with her conservative philosophy"? What does he mean by that?
MR. McCLELLAN: What I just said -- maybe you didn't hear me -- but that she is someone who has a philosophy that is based on strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws. That's what the American people want in a Supreme Court justice.
Q Scott, how does the President know she's not going to change in 20 years? I mean, justices evolve on the Court, they all do. She's not going to be influenced by her colleagues? I mean, how can you possibly say that she's not going to change in 20 years? No one stays the same.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you're taking it broader than exactly what he said, but he knows her strength of character, he knows her convictions and her beliefs. She is someone who is deeply committed to our Constitution and our laws. She is someone who is firmly committed to the same kind of judicial philosophy that the President believes in. That is a philosophy that is based on strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws.
Q Can I come back to the speech tomorrow? I guess I'm interested in trying to determine the motivation and the thrust of it, and why the President feels compelled now to offer more detail about the strategy of the terrorists, et cetera. Is he concerned that Americans are losing heart in the war against terror, or is he concerned that they're losing interest in fighting the war on terror in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's go back to after September 11th. Remember, after September 11th, the President made a decision that our policy was going to change, that we were now going to take the fight to the enemy. He recognized we were engaged in a global, ideological struggle, and he said it's going to be a long and difficult struggle, but that he was going to see it through; he would not falter, he would not tire, and that he will continue to take the fight to the enemy.
This is one of our highest, if not highest priority. It goes directly to the safety and security of the American people. This is something the President has continued to talk about, and this is a good time to talk to the American people about the nature of the enemy we face, and talk about how we are proceeding forward in the war on terror. We have seen recent terrorist attacks take place in cities like London and Sharm el-Sheikh and Bali. This is a global network of radicals that seeks to spread their vision and their ideology throughout the world.
Q Does he think the American people don't know that, or disagree with him on that, or is this more a, please, let's keep the focus on Iraq, because that's a central front in the war on terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he said after September 11th, Mark, and I think you should go back and look, that he was going to continue to take the fight to the enemy, and continue to work to support the spread of freedom, because freedom is the best weapon we have to defeat the ideology of the terrorists who seek to drive us out of the Middle East and dominate that part of the world, and spread a hateful and murderous ideology. This is a matter of will. We have to have the will to see it through. The terrorists became accustomed to a United States that did not respond to their attacks, that let the Middle East become a breeding ground for terrorism. They saw throughout previous decades that they could carry out their attacks and -- indiscriminately.
The President recognized that this is a war that we are engaged in; it's a war that is unlike any we have seen before, it's an enemy unlike any we have seen before, but it is also an enemy that seeks to, or has very similar ambitions that evil ideologies of the past have, like communism. And I think the President will talk about that in his remarks, as well.
Q Scott, with all due respect, much of this talk about progress in the war in Iraq seems to be so much spin on the part of the administration. You talk to military professionals outside of the chain of command, with intelligence background, with long terms in Baghdad, even before the Iraq war, and they will tell you that that insurgency is growing, it's growing stronger, and that U.S. forces there are in a more difficult situation today than they were six months ago or a year ago. One person commenting that if the U.S. would want to withdraw from Iraq, they'd probably have to fight their way out. And it seems to me, even the Green Zone is not safe at all. And to talk about progress in that kind of a situation, it seems totally ridiculous. We have a fight -- you can talk as much as you want --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think your characterization is a little bit ridiculous, as well, because you're not talking about exactly what the President has been saying. He's going to be talking about Iraq and how this is part of the broader war on terrorism tomorrow in his remarks. He is going to be directly taking on some of those who argue that we should withdraw from the Middle East, and those who suggest that taking the fight to the enemy only causes these radicals to launch attacks. These are terrorists that were carrying out attacks well before we went into Iraq. And the President will take on some of those arguments head on in his remarks tomorrow.
But make no mistake about it, the terrorists recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. They recognize that a free Iraq will be a major blow to their ambitions. They want to create a safe haven in Iraq from which they could plan and plot attacks against governments in the Middle East and against the civilized world. That is why it is so important that we succeed in Iraq.
And we are making important progress. Our troops know that they are making important progress. And we appreciate all that our men and women in uniform are doing to help the Iraqi people build a free and peaceful future. The Iraqi people, time and time again, have defied the terrorists. Now, the terrorists are determined, and they recognize the stakes involved, and they are going to continue to carry out their violent attacks because they recognize what a free Iraq will mean for that part of the world.
Q Scott, the problem isn't the loose network of terrorists, it's really the larger group of people there who are looking to the United States trying to figure out what is the -- what are they -- what are their intentions. The battle is the minds and hearts of the Iraqi people, and it seems to me that we aren't winning that battle at all at this point. And you can send Karen Hughes wherever you want, to the Arab capitals of the world. That's not going to change that situation. And somehow, we've got to do things differently to instill confidence in the people that America does not have hostile intentions against them, especially with regard to the Sunnis in Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: You've made some very broad statements there that I disagree with fully.
Q Scott, does the President ask tough, challenging questions of the military generals who come to brief him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q And can you account then -- why is it that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me back up. Because the military leaders, our commanders on the ground in Iraq, are the best ones to talk about the progress that's being made, the progress that's being made to train and equip Iraqi security forces so that they can provide for their own security, and the progress being made by the Iraqi people on the political front, as well.
And I think -- I would encourage you to go back and look at what our commanders on the ground in Iraq are saying, and what our men and women in uniform are saying. They understand the importance of the mission that they have been given, and they understand how this fits into the broader war on terrorism and how this will help lay the foundation of peace for generations to come.
Q What's the difference, then, when the President gets briefed, like he was last week by General Abizaid and General Casey, today, again, with General Petreaus, he comes out very encouraged; yet, when those generals go to Capitol Hill and brief lawmakers, the lawmakers seem almost -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- Susan Collins, Senator McCain -- so what's the difference? Are they getting different information on the Hill?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is optimistic because the Iraqi people have shown they are determined to build a free and peaceful future. And he knows that we are making important progress on the ground to train and equip Iraqi security forces.
Now, he stated in his remarks in the Rose Garden earlier today what he has said repeatedly, that the terrorists recognize how high the stakes are. They are going to do everything they can to try to disrupt the advance of democracy in Iraq, because they know what a serious blow that will be to their ambitions. This is what taking the fight to the enemy is about. We're taking the fight to the enemy, and we're fighting them there so that we don't have to fight them here. We no longer are ignoring the Middle East or letting it become a breeding ground for terrorism. The way to ultimately defeat this ideology is to continue to spread freedom and democracy. And that's why what we are working to achieve in Iraq is so important to the broader war on terrorism.
Q Scott, two things on the speech tomorrow. You said he'll speak in unprecedented detail and as an effort to educate the public. Does he expect to change minds tomorrow, that people will hear something and say, now I get it, who didn't get it before?
MR. McCLELLAN: He expects to continue to talk to the American people about the nature of the enemy that we face and the war that we're engaged in. Again, go back to what I said earlier and what the President has said repeatedly and consistently. This is a long struggle that we are engaged in. This is a determined enemy that we face. This is a lethal enemy that seeks to spread a hateful and murderous ideology. They have no regard for innocent human life. And it's important for the President, as Commander-in-Chief of the American people, to continue talking to the American people about what's involved and the importance of continuing to see this through. Remember, he said after September 11th that some would tend to forget as time passed. He will not. He is going to see this through.
Q In talking about previous administrations and strategies that may have allowed terrorism to prosper in the Middle East, does the President hold his father responsible for anything like that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, Ken, go back and look at what the President has said previously. Of course not.
Q How high on the priority list is capturing Osama bin Laden at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to pursue bin Laden. We will bring him to justice. He is someone who has been on the run. We have made great success in dismantling and disrupting the leadership of al Qaeda. And some three-quarters of the top leadership of al Qaeda has been brought to justice in one way or another. But this is a broader movement than any one person. We continue to pursue Zarqawi in Iraq. Look at some of the comments that Zarqawi makes. I expect the President will talk about some of those in his remarks, and what they seek to impose on the rest of the world.
Go ahead in back.
Q Thanks very much, Scott. I want to go to the avian flu. The President talked about it yesterday, wanting the Congress to take a look at the idea of empowering the Army or the Armed Forces to ensure quarantines. Is that part of a larger plan that the President wants to see in the case of a pandemic? Would he go so far as to shut down the borders?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is something that the President feels very strongly needs to be discussed. I've talked about this recently, he's talked about it recently. The military is the one organization that has the capability to come in quickly and help stabilize the situation in the event of a severe, catastrophic event -- in the event of a major terrorist attack, in the event of a ultra natural disaster like a Hurricane Katrina, or in the event of a disease pandemic. And we should not limit our options when it comes to protecting the American people. He thinks this is something that should be on the table. We need to look at ways, the best ways to minimize the spread of -- the potential for a deadly disease like this to spread, and to save lives.
And that's what the President has talked about. The threat is serious, and that's why the President, for some time now, has been focused on this. And we're moving forward on a comprehensive strategy. Secretary Leavitt is very involved in overseeing the implementation of that strategy. The President has numerous meetings with his health experts. It is a global threat that requires a coordinated approach, and that's why, at the U.N., the President talked about the international partnership. We need to make sure that we're prepared with partners around the world to be able to quickly -- to identify a potential outbreak from this disease, so in the best case scenario we're able to go in there and contain it at the spot. But we also need to be prepared for -- in the event that there is an outbreak and it spreads to the United States. And the President believes this is an important option that we ought to have on the table, and that we ought to discuss.
Q Thank you. Can the White House help the families of the soldiers who have expended their own money for vests and military equipment? They were supposed to have been reimbursed last year.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the Department of Defense can address that, and I think they've talked about it recently.
Q Is the President concerned about sectarian divisions in Iraq, and what seems to be a growing influence of Iran in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let's talk about -- that's an issue that for some time now people have been talking about, yet it has not happened, if you're talking about the idea that civil war could break out. The Iraqi people have shown that they are committed to a free and democratic future. This is a country that is determined to build a brighter future, based on democracy. And we are there, along with the international community, to support the Iraqi people as they move forward on the political process and as they move forward on building a brighter future.
Q Saudi Arabia has warned against the influence of Iran in Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: We do have concerns about some of Iraq's neighbors, like Iran and Syria, and we've expressed those concerns. They need to be -- they are moving in the wrong direction from the rest of the Middle East. They are out of step with the rest of the Middle East. They need to become a positive influence in the Middle East region and help to support the Iraqi people and the aspirations of the Iraqi people.
Go ahead, John.
Q I'm just trying to fully understand the urgency of the President's major address tomorrow. How would you characterize the current threat of terrorism emanating potentially out of Iraq? Is it at historic levels?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q I said how would you describe the current threat of terrorism in and potentially emanating out --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think our commanders have described that over the last few days. I would encourage you to go back and look at their comments.
Q But what would the White House say? Is it at historic levels?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a speech -- this is not a speech on Iraq. This is a speech on the broader war on terrorism. But he will talk about Iraq in the context of the broader war on terrorism. So I think the way you're looking at it is a little misguided.
Q Well, I'm just wondering -- I'm wondering, though, about the potential threat. If you're talking about them trying to kick us out of the Middle East and all of that, what's the potential threat --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's talking about their strategy. That's part of their strategy.
Q Right. But what's the potential threat of terrorism coming out of Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: They think -- they think they can shake our will. They cannot shake the will of this President and the American people.
Q Back to the avian flu. The President talks about the possible involvement of the military. Public health officials, as you know, believe that probably the greatest hope of containing this is this promising vaccine and an adequate supply of it, that last part being the problem. Does the President's option -- do the President's options include recruiting the pharmaceutical companies that have been reluctant to stay in the flu vaccine business -- recruiting or coercing some of them --
MR. McCLELLAN: One thing you need that's very important is real-time reporting, particularly from the region where an outbreak could occur. And that's something the President has talked about at length.
Another thing you need is to make sure that we are moving forward on developing vaccines against the H5N1 virus. The President talked about that yesterday. We're working to do that. We're working to expand our stockpile for antiviral medications like Tamiflu, which he referenced yesterday, as well.
Q But public health officials will say that a big part of the problem is the withdrawal of the pharmaceutical companies from the business of making flu vaccines for a variety of reasons, some of them economic. Is there a discussion about recruiting them with --
MR. McCLELLAN: These are all issues that we're looking at, Bob. I don't have an update for you right now, but these are all issues that we've been looking at. Secretary Leavitt has been moving forward on a comprehensive strategy that the President has directed him to implement, and we'll be talking more about that, as well, in the future. And this is something we will -- we remain focused on and we will continue to talk about as we move forward.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT