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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 14, 2005
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
TOPIC PAGE #
Pakistan earthquake............................................1 Karl Rove/leak investigation..............1-2; 6-7; 13-14; 15-16 Harriet Miers.........................................4-6; 18-21 Wounded soldier debt...........................................8 Iraq referendum.............................................8-10 Video conference with troops.........................9-11; 14-15 Emergency preparedness.....................................11-13 Immigration...................................................17 CPI...........................................................21 Canada.....................................................21-23
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release October 14, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:18 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCLELLAN: A good turnout for a Friday. As you all are well aware, the President visited the Pakistan Embassy earlier today to express our condolences over the loss of life and the destruction from the earthquake. Following that visit, the President chaired a briefing on our disaster relief efforts to help people that have been affected by the disasters in Pakistan and Guatemala, the people that are in need in those two countries. We have joint civilian/military disaster assistance efforts that continue in both those countries. The President is grateful for all the assistance our military is providing, and the life-sustaining support being provided by our USAID teams in both those countries.
We have disaster assistance response teams in both countries. Food and other life-sustaining supplies are being provided to those who are in need. We're getting them emergency supplies like blankets and health kits; shelter, like tents; and water, as well. We are coordinating very closely with the government of Pakistan and Guatemala. As you are well aware, there are a lot of military assets that are being deployed to help with that, too, in terms of helicopters and other assistance.
And that's all I have to begin with, so I'll be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, the departure of David Safavian from the Office of Management and Budget would seem to indicate that this administration has no tolerance for employees who face indictments. Is that an accurate assumption?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate your question and I think you're asking that in the context of some of the current events, and I'm not going to even jump in to try to speculate on those matters.
Q Given the time that Karl Rove would need to spend preparing for the testimony he delivered today and the hours that he spent at the courthouse today, how does that kind of absence and that kind of additional assignment for him affect the work that's going on here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are a lot of important priorities that we're focused on here at the White House. We are a nation at war. The President is continuing to lead the effort to win the war on terrorism. We are focused on the priorities of the American people. The White House has a lot of work going on, and we remain focused on that work.
We are working to spread freedom abroad, we're working to spread opportunity at home. The Iraqi people are moving forward on a constitutional referendum tomorrow. We're doing all we can to support them as they show, by their courage and determination, that they are going to defy the terrorists.
We are working to get much-needed assistance to people in the Gulf Coast region who are recovering from the two hurricanes that hit there. We're helping people get back up on their feet and rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities.
We're working with Congress on a number of important priorities. Congress is moving forward on a budget. We're working to make sure that budget meets our priorities, but that it exercises spending restraint elsewhere so that we're cutting unnecessary spending.
We're working to keep our economy growing strong. It has been growing strong, and that's important, particularly with some of the devastation that hit a part of our country.
We're working to move forward on the Patriot Act renewal. The Patriot Act has provided important tools to our law enforcement officers to help disrupt attacks from happening here at home. And it's important that we get that renewed, and Congress is moving forward on that.
We're working to move forward on a national preparedness plan for avian flu. There are a lot of important priorities we got going on right now, and there is a great White House staff that is focused on those priorities and doing their work.
Q And of course there are many people who work here beyond Mr. Rove, but you have always suggested that he is enormously important to this White House and that the President has full confidence in him. And, clearly, Karl Rove would have to spend some time working with his counsel on this matter, and has spent some time away from the White House, and so he would not be available to give the President advice in those moments. Has there been any impact?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has a great team, and the President is the one who is leading our efforts to address these important priorities. And that's where we're focused and that's what we will continue to do, is carry out the work of the American people, because that's what they expect.
And while there are other things going on, the White House doesn't have time to let those things distract from the important work at hand. And that's why we remain focused on what the American people want us to do. That's why we remain focused on keeping our economy growing. That's why we remain focused on addressing high energy prices. That's why we remain focused on winning the war on terrorism and helping the Iraqi people build a strong and lasting democracy, so that our troops can come home. And that's why we remain focused on addressing other important priorities that I just mentioned.
Q Has he been released from the grand jury now? We understand he left the building. Is his testimony completed?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know. You all are covering that.
Q Will he be back here today to work?
MR. McCLELLAN: I will try to keep you posted.
Q What do you say to reports that the White House is very jittery about everything that's been happening, and that the President is under a great strain?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've been covering the President today. The President has been having a pretty full day here at the White House. Like I said, we've got a lot of important work on the plate, and we are moving forward on the President's agenda.
Q Where do these reports come from, that they -- do they have any validity?
MR. McCLELLAN: From your colleagues, who write them.
MR. McCLELLAN: From your colleagues, who write them.
Q I mean, do they have any basis?
MR. McCLELLAN: What do you mean, "do they have any basis"?
Q That's what I'm asking.
MR. McCLELLAN: Ask those colleagues.
Q No, I'm asking you --
MR. McCLELLAN: I told you what we're doing.
Q -- you know what's going on in the White House.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, we're focused on the priorities of the American people.
Q Come on, Scott, have you got a case of the shakes, or not? Come on. (Laughter.) Hold up the hands, let's see (Laughter.)
Q That's a very stock answer. Is there concern about all of these things that are happening?
MR. McCLELLAN: "All these things that are happening" ---
Q The grand jury and the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I just mentioned a lot of things that are happening, and that we're getting done for the American people. We've got a lot of big challenges facing this country, and the President is focused on addressing those challenges. That's where he's keeping his focus.
Q Scott, the White House argument up to now on Miers has been, just wait until you get to know her, and you're going to like her, and you're going to see the qualifications that we have laid out, you're going to see that she's going to be a great Supreme Court Justice. And, yet, support continues to hemorrhage for Miers. And so what is the White House prepared --
MR. McCLELLAN: What support are you referring to? There are three former Chief Justices --
Q I don't have to lay out for you what's happening.
MR. McCLELLAN: There were four -- well, you asked the question. I think if you look at those who know her best, and those who are getting to know her, they strongly support --
Q What about senators who --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- her nomination to the United States Supreme Court. She is someone who is exceptionally well qualified. She has great legal ability, sharp intellect, high integrity, and she is someone who has the kind of judicial temperament needed on our nation's highest court. And she brings 30 years of legal experience to the Court. She has real-life experience trying cases in state and federal courts, and in appeals courts.
She is someone who is widely respected by her peers. She was elected by her peers to be president of the Dallas Bar Association, the first woman president to serve in that position. She was elected by her peers to serve as the first woman president of the Texas Bar Association. And when you're talking about that election, you're talking about, I think, some -- over 20,000 people who voted in that election. These are people who are from the legal community. Those who know her best know that she will make an outstanding Supreme Court Justice.
We're not making the argument; her record makes the argument about why she should serve on our nation's highest court. She has the qualifications and record and judicial temperament that the American people want to see on our United States Supreme Court.
Q But that's not what I asked. What I asked is what the White House is going to do to convince other people of the same thing that you just said.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the United States Senate is moving forward on the confirmation process. We're still very early in the confirmation process. What Harriet Miers will do is continue to visit with members of the Senate and get to know those that she does not know already. She has already visited with some 16 senators. She's in the process of filling out a questionnaire that was sent to her by the Senate Judiciary Committee. She looks forward to getting them the information that they are requesting in that questionnaire. And she looks forward to answering their questions when the Judiciary Committee begins the confirmation hearings.
Q Do you think this whole process is going to change once she goes publicly before the committee?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there were some early on that were expressing their reservations -- or withholding any judgment, in terms of Chief Justice Roberts, when he began the confirmation process. And what we're doing is reaching out to many groups from across the political spectrum. The American people want someone on our United States Supreme Court that is committed to strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws. She brings extensive experience from the legal community to the Court, real-world experience.
This is the kind of diversity of experience and perspective that the President believes is needed on the Court. Her experience is equal to or greater than many of the Supreme Court Justices who have been confirmed over the last 70 years. I would encourage you to look at her record and qualifications, and I would encourage you to let the confirmation process go forward so you can hear more about her judicial philosophy. She is someone strongly committed to our Constitution and our laws and applying those laws in a fair manner. She is someone who is viewed as very fair-minded by her peers. And the letter that was put out by the Chief Justices today talked about her extraordinary qualifications, her personal achievement, and her intellect and integrity, and it talked about how she's widely respected by her peers.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Jessica.
Q Does the President still have full confidence in Karl Rove?
MR. McCLELLAN: Jessica, this is asking questions all in the context of an ongoing investigation. And --
Q He's one of the President's chief advisors. Does he have confidence in his ability to perform the job?
MR. McCLELLAN: Karl continues to do his duties as Deputy Chief of Staff and Senior Advisor to the President, and you're trying to ask a question in the context of an ongoing investigation. The President has made it very clear, we're not going to comment on an ongoing investigation. What we're going to do is support the efforts of the special prosecutor --
Q But, Scott, there's a difference between commenting in a way that would interfere with an investigation and conveying the sense and the clear idea that the President is engaged and concerned --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I've already answered that question, and what I said previously still stands. So I would encourage you to go back and look at what I said previously. But you're asking this question today in the context of some grand jury testimony that's going on. So that's asking a question in the context of an ongoing investigation.
The President has made it clear that he wants to get to the bottom of this investigation. It is ongoing. The best way we can help the investigation proceed forward is not to comment on it here from this podium. We'll be glad to talk about it once the investigation has come to a conclusion. And we look forward to that time, once it does.
Q But going to the workings of the White House, you said that there is an extensive White House staff that can take up the issues. Is the suggestion that Karl Rove is less and less engaged and less able to perform his duties?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't say that at all, did I?
Q What are you saying, then? Is Karl Rove fully engaged, and is this White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said he's continuing to do his duties.
Q Thank you. This Washington Post story about the U.S. troops having to pay massive debts even after they're wounded, according to Tom Davis, 331 soldiers -- massive debts. And I know it's a Pentagon issue, but is the White House doing anything to cut red tape and to help out these wounded soldiers?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, and the President visits with our wounded soldiers on a regular basis. He frequently goes to Walter Reed to visit those who have been injured in defending freedom and making the world a safer and better place.
The President often will visit with those who have made such sacrifice. And our most -- our concern is making sure that they're getting the help that they need. The President asks them, when he visits with them, if they're getting all the assistance that they need and if there's any issues that need to be addressed. And when they bring up concerns, we make sure that they're followed up on, and that they're addressed. I read that story today, too, and felt just like everybody else. And as you saw in that story, the Army has been working to address those issues to make sure that that doesn't happen, or if it does, in an instance, then they resolve that matter and take care of those debts.
Q Will you wipe out the debt of this man, Loria. He lost an arm, and now he's over --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Connie, I can't speak specifically to each one of these. I haven't had an opportunity to go and check into that, but I think the Department of Defense will be glad to talk to you about those matters.
Q Scott, what is the administration's position on tomorrow's referendum in Iraq? Does the administration hope and expect that it will pass?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from the Vice President earlier. I think you had an interview with him, and he was expressing our views. We believe that it's important for the Iraqi people to continue moving forward on the political process. And that's why we are supporting them in those efforts. Democracy is taking root in Iraq, and there's no turning back. The terrorists continue to carry out their cowardly attacks. The latest we saw was earlier today, when they carried out a cowardly attack against the Sunni Party that came out in support of the constitution. They showed that they are determined to defy the terrorists, and that they want to solve the problems of Iraq through the democratic process and that they are committed to building a free and peaceful Iraq.
Q And regarding yesterday's event with the President and the soldiers in Tikrit, has there been any adjustment in the administration's position about whether or not it was scripted or rehearsed, and what sort of protocols will be followed in the future?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard from the troops. The troops that were participating in that event said that they were expressing their own thoughts. So you heard directly from the troops. And these are troops that are on the ground in Iraq, who were giving the President and the American people a firsthand account of the progress that is being made on the ground.
You bring up the constitution that's going to be voted on tomorrow. This is an historic moment in Iraq's history. This is a very hopeful period for the broader Middle East. A free and peaceful Iraq will serve as an example for the rest of the Middle East, and it's important that as we fight the war on terrorism, we not only stay on the offensive and take the fight to the enemy and bring them to justice, but that we work to spread freedom, because freedom is the way you defeat a hateful ideology that the terrorists espouse, and that we saw in the letter that Zawahiri wrote to Zarqawi. The Iraqi people are showing their determination and courage to chart their own future. They are going to the polls again tomorrow, this time to vote on a constitution that was drafted by their own elected leaders. And we believe it is a good, strong constitution, and the Iraqi people will have the opportunity to accept it or reject it.
What's important is that they continue to move forward on the political process. It's the Iraqi people who are making the decisions. Just three years ago, they were under the rule of a brutal, oppressive dictator; they didn't get to express their views. The Iraqi people want to live in freedom and we're going to continue to support them as they do.
The preparations for the referendum are going well. Our commanders on the ground have talked about that. There are over 6,000 polling places operating, that's up. There are over 15 million registered voters, that's up. When I say "up," it's up from January, when you had more than 8 million Iraqis show up and cast their vote for their first freely elected government in some time. And the preparations for security have been conducted by the Iraqi security forces. They are the ones who are in the lead this time, as opposed to January, when American forces were the ones leading those security preparations.
Q Scott, just to follow on the event yesterday the President had with the troops. Was that a fairly typical way that he gets information about what's happening in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: No.
Q Could you elaborate?
MR. McCLELLAN: He talks to troops in a variety of different formats. He gets information directly from his commanders, as you are well aware. He has a number of meetings, participates in weekly meetings with his commanders on the ground in Iraq. Those are commanders that came back and briefed members of Congress and talked to them about the plan that we have in place and the strategy we have in place for succeeding in Iraq. It's a two-track strategy.
But the President does believe it's important to, one, thank our troops for all that they're doing, and do that personally. And that was one thing he wanted to do yesterday, is express to our troops that he's grateful for their service. And there's some that seem to suggest that the comments that they were making were not sincere or not genuine, that they weren't their own. And they said otherwise. These were their own thoughts that they were expressing and they were trying to talk to the American people and get across the important progress that's being made.
Now, we know that the stakes are high in Iraq. The terrorists recognize how high the stakes are. That's why they're trying to prevent the democratic process from moving forward, but they are failing. They have failed before, and they will fail again. They can't stop it from taking root. You see the true vision of the terrorists, and it's a vision of murder and destruction. And their campaign of murder and destruction is falling apart because the Iraqi people want to live in freedom.
Q When the President meets with his commanders, is there a more vigorous give-and-take, or what we saw yesterday --
MR. McCLELLAN: Of course there is. I don't even know why you're making such a suggestion.
Q Just asking.
MR. McCLELLAN: And yesterday, the President was trying to engage in a back-and-forth with our troops. And he visits with our troops in a lot of different ways. I pointed out that he visits with our wounded troops on a regular basis. He visits with the families of the fallen. He visits with our men and women in uniform at their bases across the United States when he travels this country, and it gives him an opportunity to hear directly from them, and for the American people to hear directly from them.
I think you're missing the larger point of the event yesterday, which was to highlight the historic milestone that is taking place in Iraq tomorrow and the preparations for that election. This is a country that just three years ago was living in tyranny, under the brutal rule of a dictator. And look where they are today. And this is going to make the world a safer place for our children and grandchildren, because spreading freedom in the broader Middle East will bring hope to a region that is in need of it.
Q Scott, is the President, is the White House concerned that with all these mass of natural disasters we've had recently -- Katrina and Rita, and now the storms in the northeast -- that FEMA, that federal emergency officials could become, simply, overwhelmed, stretched too thin, not be able to respond to Americans --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, when you talk about our response efforts, it's much broader than just FEMA. There is grant money that we provide to state and local first responders. Remember, it's local first responders who are typically the first ones on the scene. And so that's why we've significantly increased by billions of dollars grant money to go directly to those first responders so that they can be prepared.
We also have a military that does an outstanding job in responding to natural disasters. We've seen that in the response efforts to natural disasters here at home, we've seen it abroad by our other command posts, like the Southern Command for Guatemala, and then the Central Command that has been helping in Pakistan.
And so you have to look at the overall preparedness plans. You're narrowing it down to just one agency, and it's much broader than that. We work very closely to support the state and local efforts. Typically, in natural disasters, it's the state and local governments and authorities that have the lead in the response. And that one issue that we saw with Katrina was the issue relating to the role of the military. And the President believes we need to really consider and look at what role the military plays in the event of a catastrophic natural disaster, like a hurricane four or five that we saw with Katrina.
Q So is the President satisfied with the federal relief efforts that he sees ongoing right now in the south -- Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama -- the northeast, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he has great confidence in the leadership of Secretary Chertoff and the leadership of Admiral Allen, who is our point person on the ground for those response efforts in the Gulf Coast region. He is doing a great job working with state and local officials to make sure that we're addressing needs. At a time like this, there are going -- there is going to be a level of frustration because people are wanting to get help as quickly as they can. And sometimes it takes time to get that help.
But Admiral Allen is someone that has a good relationship with those officials, and he's been working very closely with them for when concerns come up, as to how do we address those concerns. We've cut through a lot of red tape and bureaucracy to get help to people in need in those affected regions.
But it's work that continues. This doesn't stop. This is work that we continue to address, and we continue to work closely with the state and local officials. The President was just there earlier this week visiting with them about issues like debris removal, housing. Housing is a priority right now, getting people out of shelters and into housing. We've made a tremendous amount of progress on that. Admiral Allen talked about that just yesterday.
So there's a lot of work that continues, and I don't think you can just isolate one or two instances here.
Q I'm just saying -- so pick a town, for example, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. They've been promised FEMA portables so that they can open their schools November 1st, the last system on the Gulf Coast to open. They were promised those 76 portables on September 26th. They have 16. They're not going to be able to start school if they don't show up. The mayor wanted a FEMA trailer. He can't get one. His house is a slab. He's sleeping in the fire department. It doesn't sound like things are working.
MR. McCLELLAN: These people are trying to get -- these people are trying to get back up on their feet and rebuild their lives and communities, and we're working to address those issues. You're bringing up one or two incidents here or there. You have to look at the overall efforts that are going on. It's a massive relief and rebuilding effort that is underway. And we're going to be with them throughout this process as they work to get back up on their feet. And we've done an awful lot of work to get them the benefits that they need, to get them into temporary housing, and we'll continue to address those efforts. Admiral Allen is the one that will be in the best position to address individual areas that you're talking about. And he's been briefing about that regularly.
Q Scott, I just have two quick follows to some questions that were asked earlier. One, are you trying -- are you saying that, CIA leak aside, you can't say that the President has full confidence in Karl Rove?
MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe you didn't hear what I was saying earlier. I said, what I said previously still stands.
Q What did you say previously? You say that all the time.
MR. McCLELLAN: You can go back and look at it. I'll be glad to share the transcript of when that question came up last time.
Q Either he does or he does not. So he does have full confidence?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've already addressed that, Jim.
Q Why can't you repeat it?
Q But why can't -- if you've addressed it, why can't you repeat it for me? Clearly --
MR. McCLELLAN: Why do you have to keep asking a question that I've already answered when --
Q Because I don't know the answer.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, because you're asking in the context of an ongoing investigation. And it's very easy to go and look at our transcripts and pull that information --
Q That's why I said -- that's why I said, "set the leak aside," just in general are you refusing to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And I said I stand by what I said previously.
Q Okay, topic two, since you won't answer that question.
MR. McCLELLAN: I did answer that question.
Q Okay. When we take a look at yesterday's event, last night the Pentagon put out a statement saying essentially that they regretted if there's any perception that the event was staged or that the participants were coached. Does the President regret that --
MR. McCLELLAN: There you go again, because the statement also said that these were their own thoughts that they were expressing. And you heard from the troops.
Q Right. But the statement also said what I just said. Did it not end --
MR. McCLELLAN: The statement was -- the statement --
Q -- did it not end by saying that we regret --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- said a lot more than what you just said.
Q But I'm asking, does the President share -- does the President share the concerns of the Pentagon --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's a wrong perception to suggest that the troops weren't saying what they thought and what they believed. They were expressing their views.
Q But the Pentagon felt that they needed to put out that statement and clarify what happened, but also said that they regret there was a false perception --
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. There was a lot of attention given to it.
Q Was the President frustrated by how that was handled? Sorry, Dick.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q Scott, you said a couple of minutes ago that you would be glad to talk about the leak case once the investigation is over. Is that a commitment by you to provide a full public accounting of what went on here in the White House --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the special prosecutor is the one that's leading the investigation --
Q -- when the grand jury finishes its work at the end of this month?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and he's the one who's pulling together all the facts. We don't know all the facts here at the White House. It's the special prosecutor's job to do that, that's why we have been cooperating with the special prosecutor. The President told the White House, cooperate fully with the special prosecutor, and that's exactly what we have done.
Q There are a lot of questions, though, about whether the special prosecutor will ever issue a report about what he has learned in this case. There's intense interest in what went on here. Can you --
MR. McCLELLAN: Your readers, too.
Q -- commit right now to a public accounting of what went on here at the White House during that period, once the investigation is over?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're asking me to speculate about what the special prosecutor may conclude.
Q No, I'm asking you --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you said the special prosecutor --
Q -- to make clear what you said.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- may not issue a report. Let's let the special prosecutor do his work, then we'll talk about these questions at that point.
Q Okay, but --
MR. McCLELLAN: But what our focus was on, was on cooperating with the special prosecutor, letting him come to a successful conclusion. And he's the one that was charged with overseeing this investigation, not us.
Q That's not what you said a moment ago, though. You said you would be glad to answer these questions once the investigation is over.
MR. McCLELLAN: I said I'd be glad to talk about the investigation once it's come to a conclusion.
Q No, that's not what you said.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what I'm talking about.
Q Will the White House eventually provide an accounting of what went on here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I just answered that question.
Q Thank you. Scott, former Senator John Breaux from Louisiana is calling for a national coordinator to handle all Katrina and Rita relief and recovery efforts. Does the President intend to find such a person, and, if so, what --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, who's calling for this?
Q -- about Senator Breaux for the job?
Q Senator John Breaux.
MR. McCLELLAN: We are continuing to look at ways we can continue to help as the people of the Gulf Coast move forward on their rebuilding efforts. This is, as the President said, going to be one of the largest reconstructions in our nation's history. This was one of the largest natural disasters in our nation's history, and we're not ruling things out. There are a lot of ideas that we're looking at about how we can continue to support the state and local efforts as they move forward.
Q Scott, a two-part. This morning's Washington Post quoted Louis Farrakhan at a local press conference yesterday saying, "It is the responsibility of government to prove the rumor false" -- that's the possibility that New Orleans levees were intentionally blown up. And my question: Does the President believe this government has any such responsibility to disprove this astounding Farrakhan claim?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't even seen his claim, Les.
Q Oh, all right.
MR. McCLELLAN: We've got other things going on.
Q The editor of The Washington Times this morning referred to, "The laggard protection of this country's southern border against the rising tide of illegal immigration," while Dr. Michael Vickers, the Texas Republican Committee is reported by The Times to have joined the Minutemen. And my question: Does the President still consider the Minutemen to be "vigilantes," or is he grateful for the many illegal immigrants they have helped authorities to apprehend?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, immigration reform is a priority for this President. He has been talking with congressional leaders about how we move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. We need to continue to take steps to strengthen our border and improve the interior enforcement of our immigration laws, and we need to move forward on a temporary worker program. The President had good discussions with congressional leaders about this. The leaders of the House and Senate were here, I think just a week or two ago, and that was one of the issues talked about, about how we can move forward on that. I think you've had comments from Senator Frist about it, as well.
And the President believes very strongly that if people see suspicious activity along our borders, that they ought to report that activity to the proper authority. There are --
Q Doe he know Dr. Vickers?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know, Les.
Q Did you know Dr. Vickers from Texas?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think so. I don't believe so.
Q Scott, as you and others have said, that Harriet Miers would be able to set aside her personal opinions, including her religious beliefs, if confirmed to the Supreme Court, why was it important, then, for the President to select someone who has such a strong Christian faith?
MR. McCLELLAN: Why was it important for him to?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't say that he used that as a criteria. That's not something he uses in his criteria for selecting a person to the Supreme Court.
Q You're saying it played no role, then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Who has ever said it did? I answered that question the other day. I think Kelly was asking about it, and I answered that question. The President chooses people to serve on the bench who have the qualifications and experience and judicial temperament needed to do so. And that's what he bases the selection on, not religion.
Q Well, then why, in the White House outreach to religious conservatives, is there this emphasis on her Christianity?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's an emphasis on her conservative judicial philosophy. The emphasis that we have is on her view that judges should strictly interpret our Constitution and our laws, and not legislate from the bench. She is someone who is viewed by her peers as very fair-minded, someone who will look at the facts and then apply the law. That's what she is committed to do.
She is a person of faith, and that is part of her background. She recognizes, though, that when you're a judge, decisions are based on the Constitution and the law and the facts of that case, not on someone's ideology or religion.
Q Scott, a few minutes ago you said Harriet Miers looks forward to getting senators the information they are requesting. This morning when asked about her experience in constitutional law, you cited her five years in this building and the work she's done there. In question 17, the Senate has asked her to provide "copies of any briefs you have drafted or filed, transcripts or other records or other materials you have written relating in any way to such issues" -- and this is a constitutional issues question -- "as well as any other materials that reflect your familiarity with, views on or reflections regarding such issues." Is executive privilege going to get in the way of --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President addressed that last week in his press conference. We will respond to the requests made by members of Congress, and we'll address each one in an appropriate manner. The President talked about the privilege that you're bringing up, and I spoke about it last week, too. And what I said then still stands, in terms of information that is provided to the President. The President relies on getting candid, open advice from his staff.
And if you're talking about releasing information that could have a chilling effect on the ability of the President to receive the kind of open and candid advice that he needs to protect the American people and carry out the other responsibilities that he has, that's a different issue. And the President has clearly stated what our view is on that.
Q But don't you have a problem here of her entire experience in constitutional law is in this building, and you can't release anything about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, see, you're focusing on one area. And you're making assumptions that I don't think you can make at this point. What we're doing is working with the Senate Judiciary Committee and moving forward on the confirmation process. That means providing them with information, in terms of documents; and it also means, eventually, going before the Judiciary Committee and answering their questions. There's a process in place. And as that information is provided to the Judiciary Committee, then they make it available publicly. So let's let that process continue, before you make sweeping assumptions that I don't think you can make at this point. And then we'll be glad to talk about it, but I think you know very well what our view is in terms of an important principle. There is a principle involved here when it comes to executive office deliberations.
Q Right, and you zealously guarded it. It just seems like, inevitably, it's going to be a roadblock to finding out anything -- on constitutional law.
MR. McCLELLAN: You jumped in before I finished, because the second part of this is what I was just saying, that she will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee and they will have an opportunity to ask her questions, and she will answer those questions in the appropriate manner. And she looks forward to that opportunity so that people can come to know her.
Now, you mentioned constitutional law experience. She has deep knowledge of the Constitution and constitutional law. Among the constitutional law matters that a White House Counsel has to deal with on a daily basis include laws governing war powers, Commander-in-Chief powers, pardons, executive privilege, the appointments clause, the commerce clause, the 1st Amendment, 4th Amendment, which relates to the Patriot Act, the 14th Amendment, and many other areas. So these are issues that a White House Counsel deals with on a daily basis. These are complex constitutional issues that a White House Counsel has to deal with.
And she's -- I would also point out that she is the -- she would be the only Supreme Court Justice who has actually had to comply with the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution in drawing a redistricting map, because she served as a city councilwoman in Dallas, and so she had firsthand experience with constitutional issues when she was on the Dallas City Council.
Q Scott, can I follow up and just -- could you explain to us how some of those things that you just described that she's been involved in would demonstrate a judicially conservative philosophy? The things that you said that she'd been dealing with -- give us an example of how that might elaborate or illuminate a conservative judicial philosophy.
MR. McCLELLAN: Because 30 years of experience dealing with complex legal issues, and a range of legal issues, has given her deep appreciation and respect for our Constitution and our laws. She is someone who believes strongly in strictly interpreting our Constitution and our laws, and that judges shouldn't be legislating from the bench.
Other experience that she has had, too, is overseeing the judicial nomination process. So she understands very clearly what the President is looking for in a Supreme Court justice, and the President knows that she is someone who is committed to that judicial philosophy, as well. She led the effort when it came to selecting Chief Justice Roberts, in the first place.
Q Does the White House find this morning's CPI figure at all worrisome?
MR. McCLELLAN: I actually talked about this a little bit earlier today, and I think that what you see is that the core price index is -- the core inflation index is at 2 percent. That is much lower than it was four years ago. And the President has great confidence in the Federal Reserve when it comes to monetary policy, and their ability to address any inflation concerns. So I think you have to look at it in the overall perspective of where it has been in the past.
Q Scott, the President spoke by telephone with the Canadian Prime Minister this morning. Can you comment on the substance of that discussion? And, more specifically, Paul Martin has been repeatedly making the point here in the United States that lumber tariffs on Canadian wood are adding $1,000 to the cost of every new home built in this country. Is the President concerned about that, and, if so, does he have any plans to do anything about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President and the Prime Minister had a good and candid discussion. It was a good discussion amongst friends. They talked about a number of issues. I talked about some of those earlier today with reporters. Hang on a second, John, if you don't mind. I talked about those issues earlier with reporters. They did talk about trade issues, and they talked about the softwood lumber issue. That was one topic that came up. The President reiterated our strong commitment to NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The President, also, said that we both should get back to the negotiating table and work to find a solution that will be lasting. This is something that the President would like to resolve. I know it's something that Prime Minister Martin and the Canadian government wants to see resolved, as well. And they had a very good and candid discussion about that matter. Canada is our largest bilateral trading partner. And so if you put this in the overall perspective of things, I think when it comes to softwood lumber, it represents less than 3 percent of Canada's exports to the U.S. I think you have to look at the overall trading relationship that we have, and it's a good one and a strong one.
Q But the Prime Minister has released -- or his office has released verbatim whole chunks of his conversation to the President this morning in Canada, suggesting that the Prime Minister was very tough on the President, threatening to go to court, threatening to embarrass the President by going to the American consumers, and saying, look, you can get cheaper wood from Canada; why don't you do this? What is your perspective on the fact that verbatim quotes from the President have been released, and your perspective on --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I haven't seen that. I'd be interested to see that. But I do know that they had a good and candid discussion. They're friends, they talked very frankly about the concerns that they have. And the President said he believes we need to get back to the negotiating table and try to find a lasting solution. This is an issue that has gone on for some time, and we would like to see it resolved. And the President believes the way to do that is to get back to the table and negotiate and work to find a lasting solution.
Q The Canadian Prime Minister has been linking the issue with energy, musing that perhaps Canada could sell its oil exports to China or India rather than the United States, linking this issue --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's something that came up. They did talk about energy issues on the phone call, but that wasn't something that came up.
Q Well, what was that about --
MR. McCLELLAN: That wasn't something that came up on the phone call. They talked a little bit about ANWR, and the President talked about some of the energy that they have available, as well. They didn't talk about that.
Q There must be some concern, though, when the Prime Minister talks about situations of taking trade reprisals against the United States for the failure of this country to acknowledge the numbers of victories they've had before NAFTA. I appreciate that the relationship is strong and warm and fuzzy, if I may suggest, as you say. But there's no question --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's the way I described it. I said it's a good relationship. (Laughter.)
Q Well, allow me to --
MR. McCLELLAN: They are friends, and that's why they've been able to talk about these issues in a very candid way. It was a very direct conversation on these issues.
Q But when the Prime Minister then talks about trade retaliation, there must be some concern on the part of the White House that perhaps the issues are getting a bit out of --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Prime Minister expressed his concerns. The President also talked about his view -- and his view is that the way to get this resolved is to get back to the negotiating table and try to find a solution. And that's what he emphasized in the phone call. He also emphasized our commitment to the North American Free Trade Agreement. We believe it's been working well. We want to continue to work to make it even better and work better.
But there -- this is one issue in our overall trade relationship. And --
Q But on that point --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- remember, Canada has a fairly significant surplus when it comes to trade.
Q But simply on that issue of NAFTA, the Prime Minister today is saying that it isn't working well, that there have been a number of decisions that have favored Canada that have been ignored by the United States.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is one area where we have a dispute, and the President would like to see it resolved. The Prime Minister would like to see it resolved. We have some differences about how to go about that, but the President believes the way to do it is to get back to the negotiating table.
END 1:57 P.M. EDT
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