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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 9, 2006
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:42 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I've got a couple of announcements to make, and then some brief remarks, and then I'll be glad to go to your questions.
First of all, I have a statement from the President. "Claude Allen has been a trusted adviser since 2001. As Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, he worked to improve the health and welfare of all Americans. During the past year he has served as my top domestic policy advisor at the White House and has helped develop policies that will strengthen our nation's families, schools and communities. Claude is a good and compassionate man, and he has my deep respect and my gratitude. I thank him for his many years of principled and dedicated service to our country. Laura and I wish Claude and his family all the best."
And just a personal note, for all of us who have worked here closely with Claude, we have the highest respect for him, and we will certainly miss him. And we wish him all the best.
And secondly, I'd like to make an announcement on the President's schedule. The President will welcome President Saca of El Salvador to the White House on February 24th. The President looks forward to meeting with President Saca and to underscoring his appreciation for President Saca's leadership in the war on terrorism and promoting and defending democracy in the Western Hemisphere and beyond, and to expanding free trade and economic growth. The meeting will be an opportunity for the leaders of the United States and El Salvador, an important partner of the United States, to discuss continuing cooperation in areas of mutual interest.
And finally, I'd just like to reiterate some of what the President touched on earlier today. The top priority for the President is the safety and security of the American people. We remain engaged in an ongoing war on terrorism. The President is continuing to have a discussion with the American people about our efforts in the war on terrorism.
Today the President wanted to provide the American people with an update on the broader war on terrorism. He has more recently been talking about our strategy for victory in Iraq, and today was an opportunity to talk about the broader war on terrorism. We're acting on all fronts -- military, intelligence, law enforcement, diplomatic and financial; we're using all tools, both international and national, within our power -- to disrupt plots, prevent attacks and bring the terrorists to justice.
The President wanted to highlight today the strong international cooperation in the war on terrorism. All nations have a stake, and all nations have a role to play. As the President mentioned, we now have more than 90 nations that are participating in the global efforts to win the war on terrorism by cracking down on terrorist financing, by going after the terrorists and working to bring them to justice.
Terrorism is a global threat. It requires a global response. Today's speech talked about how we are partnering with many nations to break up terrorist networks and prevent attacks. We are also, as we talk to the American people about the progress in the war on terrorism, we are always looking for ways to keep the American people informed and provide greater understanding about the threat we face and the kind of global effort that is required to confront the threat.
The President today cited a specific example of a plot that was disrupted. He talked about our efforts, working in partnership with international partners, to disrupt a plot in which al Qaeda planned to hijack planes and attack the West Coast. And you heard more from the President. Then you had additional information from our Homeland Security Advisor about that plot.
Again, I would just reemphasize what the President said earlier. We are winning the war on terrorism. The terrorists are under a lot of pressure. They are frustrated and on the run, because we are taking the fight to the terrorists. But they are a sophisticated, lethal, and determined enemy that wants to strike America again. The President made it clear that he will not wait to be hit again. We must, and we will, continue doing everything within our power to protect the American people.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions. Terry.
Q Scott, why did the President change his mind and decide to expand the briefings in Congress about the NSA surveillance program and include more members, rather than just limit it to the handful?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we've made it clear that we want to continue working with Congress. As you might recall, we had briefed members of Congress, congressional leaders, on this important terrorist surveillance program more than a dozen times over the course of the last few years. This is a vital tool that is aimed at detecting and preventing attacks against the United States. It's focused on al Qaeda, international al Qaeda communications, some of what the President talked about today in his remarks. And the President indicated previously that he would resist any efforts that would compromise this vital program. But we want to continue listening to ideas that are out there. The way that I would describe it is that there is a high bar to overcome for such ideas. But we will continue working with members of Congress as we move forward.
I'm sorry, I was jumping to another question here.
Q But the question remains, why did he decide to brief -- allow more members of Congress to be briefed, rather than -- I think it was just eight members, now it's a much broader number -- why?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, these are -- and I would dispute some of the characterization because, keep in mind, these are highly classified --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, some of the characterization that is in the press about how it was --
Q You're not talking about my question?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. These are highly classified briefings for the full intelligence committees, and they are designed to talk about how this terrorist surveillance program works. We wanted to provide additional information so that members of the Intelligence Committee had a better understanding of how this program is carefully tailored and it's closely monitored. And I think you heard from Chairman Hoekstra yesterday when he said this was not the full operational briefing that the congressional leadership, the bipartisan congressional leadership received, and that the bipartisan leadership of the Intelligence Committees received.
But we're glad to provide this additional information. General Hayden and the Attorney General have participated in these hearings, and again, these are classified hearings, but we are glad that they appear to have a better appreciation for the importance of this vital tool in the war on terrorism.
Q Does that mean that you're willing to share more -- you're sharing more with Congress? Will you share more with the press and the public?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've heard from the President. First of all, this program was disclosed in an unauthorized way. And you heard last week from some of our top intelligence officials, talk about how its disclosure is harmful to our national security efforts. And remember, this is a very limited and targeted program. It's aimed at al Qaeda communications, international al Qaeda communications. If people are communicating with al Qaeda outside the United States or with -- or al Qaeda is communicating with people inside the United States, we want to know about that. Enemy surveillance is critical in winning the war on terrorism. It is at the heart of any war, surveilling the enemy. And so that's what this is about. It's about hot pursuit efforts to detect and prevent attacks.
The President has talked about it in a little more detail after the unauthorized disclosure took place, but it is still a highly classified program. There are still operational matters that are very sensitive, and we are not going to get into talking about those publicly. We do not want the enemy to have our play book. We don't want al Qaeda to have a play book. We know -- as I said, this is a sophisticated and determined enemy. They want to hit us again. We know that they change their tactics. We know that they are watching what we are doing and listening to what people are saying. But it's also important for the American people to know that this President will continue doing everything within his power to protect them. And I think that's what they expect. And we'll continue working with Congress.
Q Can I ask you a question about the timing of the speech today? Why now, given the ongoing discussion that is taking place about tactics in fighting the war on terror, why did the President seek to disclose the details today, specifically?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, for the reasons I just stated. This is a speech that we have been working on for the last few weeks. The President has been having an ongoing discussion with the American people about the war on terrorism. This is the nation's highest priority. It's the President's top priority. It's about protecting the American people. And we're always looking for ways to inform the American people about our efforts and provide them additional information.
As you know, it takes time to declassify information. And as time goes by, you might be in position to share more information about plots that were disrupted. Remember, back in October, the President talked about, I think it was, 10 or so plots that were disrupted or broken up. And we provided some general information at that time. One of these was the plot that the President talked about today.
But I think it's -- what he was highlighting -- the purpose of the speech was to highlight the strong international cooperation that is going on.
Q But is it just a coincidence? You had February 6th circled on the calendar for the hearings, the NSA hearings. Is it just a pure coincidence that this comes out today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're talking about the -- let me mention, the terrorist surveillance program is a vital program, and it's been a very valuable tool. I'm not going to get into discussing any of the tools that may have been used when it comes to disrupting this plot. We provided you some additional information about this plot. But the purpose of this speech is the way I stated it. And I would discourage you from suggesting otherwise.
Q You've had years in which to decide to brief the full committees, and you have been resisting that for all that time. But now when they're talking about new legislation that might require either the administration to go to the full FISA court or some sort of a way to more explicitly give the President this authority, now you're willing to brief them more fully. Is this a way to try to negotiate with Congress?
MR. McCLELLAN: Kelly, first of all, as I said, we're going to continue working with Congress. We'll continue listening to the ideas that they have. As I mentioned earlier, this was a program that was disclosed in an unauthorized way. Its disclosure is harmful to our national security because it gives the enemy a sense of what we are doing. And it's one tool in the overall tool box that we use. And I think I put into context what these briefings were about. The chairmen of the committees worked to pull the entire committee together so that General Hayden could provide some additional information about the effort and about the program. But this was not the full operational briefing that we provided to the congressional leadership and to the committee leadership.
Go ahead, Helen. Come to you, Martha, next.
Q You -- this is supposed to be a war on terrorism, and by his own admission, the President has said there's been -- there was no link between Iraq and terrorists. So why are we still in Iraq killing and being killed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President talked about it earlier today. The stakes are high in Iraq. And he talked about where we are focused --
Q -- why were they high --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. All you have to do is look at the letter that Zawahiri sent to Zarqawi. They recognize how high the stakes are. So do we. And we must continue to move forward on the plan we have for victory. That's why we're focused on --
Q Why did you go into Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is --
Q There were no terrorists.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not trying to relitigate what we've -- the decisions that were already made.
Q I am.
MR. McCLELLAN: We've already spelled out the reasons why we went in there, and it was Saddam's --
Q -- given has turned out to be wrong.
MR. McCLELLAN: It was Saddam Hussein's choice to make. He continued to defy the international community. And the President made the decision after September 11th that we were not going to wait for threats to fully materialize. We were going to confront them before it was too late. And as he said again today --
Q It was Iraq, and they weren't there.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you ought to pay attention to what the President said in his remarks again today.
Q I did.
MR. McCLELLAN: He talked about the importance of freedom overcoming terrorism and tyranny and the power of freedom to prevail. The Middle East is a dangerous region of the world. What we are trying to do --
Q Why was Iraq attacked?
MR. McCLELLAN: What we are trying to do is help transform that troubled region of the world by providing a more hopeful future. That's what freedom does. Free societies are peaceful societies. And a free Iraq will help inspire the rest of the Middle East, as well.
Go ahead, Martha.
Q Scott, the National Journal is reporting that Scooter Libby has testified that Vice President Cheney authorized him to release classified material involving the National Intelligence Estimate and Iraq. Do you know anything about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I heard about this story earlier today, but I think you know our policy when it comes to this ongoing legal proceeding, and it hasn't changed.
Q Do you know anything about any authorization to release any classified material --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, our policy is we're not going to discuss this while it's an ongoing legal proceeding, and that remains our policy.
Sure. Go ahead.
Q Can I go to something on Iraq? Just following up on something Helen said. The President and you often say that it was Saddam Hussein's decision to make. What could he have done, given the fact that you haven't found weapons of mass destruction, to stop the invasion?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Martha, I don't think we need to go back and relitigate all this, but it was spelled out very clearly what he needed to do, and he continued to defy the international community -- 17-some resolutions. And it was a threat that we could not ignore. The world is better off with Saddam Hussein out of power. And we have clearly talked about that previously. Now --
Q Could he have stopped the invasion by --
MR. McCLELLAN: What's important -- what is important to do now -- well, he didn't cooperate with the international community. You can go back through all that -- through that whole time period. He did not comply with the resolutions that were passed. And if you're going to pass resolutions and say there are going to be consequences, then you ought to mean what you're going to say. This is a dangerous world that we still live in. There are real threats that we face. And September 11th taught us that we must confront those threats before it's too late. And that's what the President will continue doing. We will also continue working to transform that part of the world because we saw what happened over the years when we tried to accept dictatorships in that region in exchange for stability. We got neither stability, nor freedom in that region.
And that's why the President believes very strongly that we also must continue to advance freedom. As we advance freedom, the world is a safer place. We are safer today, but we are not yet safe, as the President said in his remarks earlier today. And that's why we've all got to continue working together.
And what the important focus now ought to be on is working together to make sure we win in Iraq. And I think that there is a bipartisan effort that is coming together, recognizing that we need to continue to support our troops and we need to succeed there because of how high the stakes are. The terrorists want to create a safe haven within the Middle East. We took away one in Afghanistan, and we're not going to let them have one in Iraq.
Q Getting back to the timing of today's announcement on -- was it just a matter of waiting for the information to be declassified, or -- was that all that was involved in the timing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, this is a speech we had been looking to give over the last few weeks, and we were looking for an example to highlight of a successful plot that was disrupted. And so we were talking with the intelligence community to see what could be declassified without compromising sources and methods, or jeopardizing ongoing counterterrorism efforts.
Q On another subject, Kofi Annan says that he wants to ask the President next week for troops and equipment for Darfur. Has the administration's views on that changed at all? Are you more willing to consider that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me check and see if there's an additional update on that. Obviously, Sudan and the Darfur region is a high priority for this administration. It's something that we have led the way on and pushed the international community to address. And Secretary General Annan is someone who is committed to addressing it, as well. That's why we supported helping get the African Union forces in there, and I think we've continued to work with the international community on how best to address the situation moving forward. And I'll just see if there's any additional update. I don't have it at this point.
Q As far presidential -- is concerned, so much has been written and said every day in the media, including -- in The Washington Post, and also U.S.-India Business Council -- delegation, and -- he has sent a delegation as far as economic relations are concerned. And he said in celebrating -- that the time has come now that we have to move forward as far as U.S.-India relations are concerned. -- last year. My question is that also the last week vote by India with the U.S. and EU in the IAEA in Vienna -- how President taking all this as far as relations on -- and also President, of course, has moved one step forward what are we going on --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, the President is looking forward to going to India. He has a good relationship with Prime Minister Singh. We want to continue to build upon what has been an improving relationship over the course of the last few years. Historically, there have been some issues there with -- in the relationship between the United States and India, but we've worked to change that and have close relations with India. And the President looks forward to continuing to build upon that and he looks forward to visiting a great country, and looks forward to meeting with Prime Minister Singh and others.
In terms of the Iranian issue, I think we've made our views clear. The President spoke with Chancellor Merkel earlier today about this very issue and how we need to continue working together to stop Iran from having a nuclear weapons capability. He also discussed it over lunch with President Kaczynski of Poland, who was here visiting earlier today. They had a good discussion about it.
I think that the international community continues to be -- and their concern has only grown with the regime's recent comments and continued actions in defiance of the rest to the international community. So the international community has serious concerns about the regime's behavior and about the direction that they are headed. And that's why we're all working together to send a clear message to Iran that they need to change their behavior. We will see how Iran responds. You can understand why we remain skeptical, given their history of hiding their activities and not cooperating with their international obligations.
Q Just to follow on that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. Go ahead, Carl.
Q A couple things, Scott -- thanks. Since the President said that there were 10 plots that have been thwarted, have there been additional plots that the White House is prepared to acknowledge have been thwarted?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any additional beyond what he has said today and beyond what he said previously. But we are always working closely with the international community. I think one thing that was emphasized earlier today by our Homeland Security Advisor was how, now, we have real-time intelligence; we are getting actionable intelligence on a real-time basis. And that's very different from the way it was prior to September 11th, when the international community had a more bureaucratic structure in place where you had to go through various levels of the bureaucracy within the international community, and various levels of paperwork to have that kind of sharing of information and cooperation.
That has changed. The international community recognizes that terrorism is a threat to us all, and we're working together on a real-time basis to share information and act on that intelligence. And that's what we will continue doing. We know that terrorists want to continue to strike the civilized world, and all of us need to work together to defeat them and continue to bring them to justice.
Q On the subject of information-sharing, the Mayor of Los Angeles, Mr. Villaraigosa, today is complaining that he got no notification at all that the President planned to disclose this information about an alleged attack plot on his city. In fact, he said, "I'm amazed the President would make this announcement on national television and not inform us of the details through appropriate channels." Insofar as you said earlier that the White House is always looking for ways to inform the American people and keep them up to speed, why disclose the details of a plot that's now four years old?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Carl, first of all, in terms of -- I haven't seen what the Mayor said, I've been in meetings with the President, so I'll take a look at that. But my understanding was that we did reach out to officials in California and Los Angeles to let them know, I think it was yesterday, that the President would be talking about this. And the word I heard was that there was great appreciation for the notification that we provided. That's very important.
And in terms of this plot, again, over time you're able to look at things and possibly declassify it when it -- in a way that won't compromise ongoing counterterrorism operations, or won't compromise sources and methods. And so we're very sensitive to making sure that we don't do anything that would jeopardize sources and methods. But now that we're at a point where we believe that that information could be shared, we wanted to share it with the American people and highlight the kind of international cooperation that is going on.
There's a lot -- I think you ought to keep in mind, there's -- you know, the law enforcement community, intelligence community, is working day in and day out, around the clock, to do everything they can to protect the American people. It's no accident that we haven't been hit again since September 11th. But we know that there is a determined enemy that continues to want to strike us. And we've got to continue working 24/7, using every tool in our arsenal, to disrupt the plots, to prevent attacks, and to bring the terrorists to justice. That's what we are doing.
Q Last question, on the "every tool possible," is the President prepared to sign a reauthorization of the Patriot Act that in any way diminishes the 16 components of the Patriot Act that are set to sunset?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me address it this way. The President has called for reauthorization of the Patriot Act. It is a vital tool for our law enforcement and intelligence community. It has helped to break down a wall so that law enforcement and intelligence authorities can share vital intelligence information that they couldn't prior to September 11th. It helps us to connect dots and disrupt plots from happening and prevent attacks here at home. It helps to save lives. And we've actually detailed some of the cells that have been broken up and some of the plots that have been disrupted in part because of the Patriot Act.
And so the President, for some time, has called on Congress to reauthorize it. And what we have been doing in that interim period while it's been being renewed on an interim basis, we've been working closely with Senator Sununu and others to help move forward on the reauthorization.
And again, this is a vital tool. We want to see it reauthorized. There are important tools that remain in place. We believe that an agreement has been reached that will continue to build upon the civil liberties protections that are in place, but do so in a way that doesn't compromise our national security priorities within this legislation. And I think Senator Sununu and some others are having a press conference later this afternoon -- I think around 4:30 p.m. -- to talk more about that agreement. And we're pleased that it appears that this important legislation is moving forward.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q Scott, was it the President's intention today to draw a link in the public's mind between the NSA program and the bombing plots -- or the --
MR. McCLELLAN: No. In fact, I addressed that earlier. That was not the purpose. The purpose of this speech was to highlight for the American people the successful international cooperation that is going on in the war on terrorism. And that's why he talked about this specific plot, because it's a great example for the American people to understand the kind of success that is being achieved by working with our international partners.
Q So he would have -- in talking about how the speech was in preparation for some time, he would have brought this up regardless of the fact that the hearings were today and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is a speech we've been working on for the last three weeks, Peter, and I would -- as I think indicated to Jim, in response to his question, I would discourage you from thinking it was some other purpose than the way I described it, because the President has been giving speeches over the course of the last several months, and even before that, on the war on terrorism. And this builds upon those speeches that he's been giving. It's part of our discussion with the American people about what is the number one priority, which is protecting them from attacks and prevailing in the war on terrorism.
Q One other question. It's still the belief of the White House that, as Karl Rove stated a few weeks ago, that this issue works well politically for Republicans, that the NSA program, the more it's discussed, the more it helps Republicans?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the NSA terrorist surveillance program is a vital tool. It has been a valuable tool in helping us to protect the American people. General Hayden has talked about it; Director Negroponte has talked about it. These are our top intelligence officials. I think Director Mueller talked about it in testimony last week, as well. It has been a successful program, and it is one tool in the whole tool box that we have available to us to help prevent attacks.
Q Scott, Mike Brown, the former Director of FEMA, is going to be going before the Senate Homeland Security Governmental Affairs Committee tomorrow. He has been asked before specifically about some of his conversations with the President and the Vice President regarding the handling or mishandling of Katrina. His attorney has sent a letter to Harriet Miers simply seeking some guidance from the White House in terms of whether or not the White House will ask or claim some sort of executive privilege or any kind of privilege that would prevent him from disclosing that information. What is the White House position on it? And I have a --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we haven't responded yet to the letter. We are in the process of responding to that letter that we received, so I want to hold off until then. But I think we've previously expressed our views. And I don't know of anything that's changed in terms of our views.
Q Is it the White House position to claim executive privilege or any other privilege?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I indicated to you, after we respond to the letter then maybe we can talk more about it. But we previously expressed our views.
Q On another matter, the legislation, Specter legislation on FISA, is the President willing to veto that legislation? Or are you working with Specter --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's quite a hypothetical at this point. We are going to continue working with members of Congress as we move forward. But as I was indicating earlier today, we welcome ideas; we'll listen to ideas as we move forward. The President said in this very room just a few weeks ago that he would resist any effort that could compromise this vital terrorist surveillance tool, and he still strongly believes that.
In terms of any legislation or ideas, I think that there is a high bar to overcome for such ideas, in our view.
Q Scott, I apologize if I'm still confused, but I wonder if you could tell us a bit more specifically what has changed since October, when we were told that discussing details of this plot was inappropriate, and today? What has actually changed since October in that regard?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I described it to you; I don't know how I can be more clear to you. This is something that we had been talking about with the intelligence community in looking for a good example to highlight for the American people about the type of international cooperation that goes on that helps us disrupt plots. I think that's important for the American people to have a clear understanding of, so they have a clear and better understanding of the threats we face and they have a better understanding of the efforts that are going on around the world to disrupt plots. So that's what this was.
And as time goes by and you continue to look at this and take into account the sensitivity of sources and methods and ongoing counterterrorism efforts, you are able to provide more information.
Q So sources and methods would have been compromised in October, but not today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Peter, we're always looking for ways to provide the American people with more information and that's what I said to you earlier -- maybe you didn't quite hear all that -- but we're always looking to keep the American people informed about the threats we face and provide them better context and better understanding of what we are doing to confront those threats. So that's what this was about, and so that's something we're always looking at.
Q But that wasn't actually the question. The question was, would sources and methods have been compromised in October, but wouldn't be today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the intelligence community said that it was okay to talk about the information that we provided you today and the President spoke about. So like I said, there is ongoing efforts that we look at to provide the information to the American people, and this was --
Q It was not okay in October to talk about that level of detail?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't say that. What I said was that they said that it was okay now to talk further about this specific plot.
Q Would it have been okay in October, but you chose not to?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know how many times you're going to keep asking the same question.
Q As soon as I get an answer.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I've answered the question.
Q Can you say when you started trying to get it declassified so you could talk about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when we were talking about doing this speech, we were looking for a specific plot that we could talk about in more detail?
Q So two weeks ago?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the speech has been in the works, as I say, for at least three weeks.
Q So three weeks ago you decided you wanted to try and declassify this particular --
MR. McCLELLAN: Martha, I can't tell you the specific time. But, again, two things -- one, we're always looking to keep the American people informed and provide them additional information like this. Two, we were looking to give this speech and talk about the international cooperation that's going on and how successful that is and how important that is to confronting the threats we face. So in that context, we were also talking in the intelligence community, is there additional information we can provide. And I think a good starting point was some of the plots that we had talked about last year, in a general sense.
Q But you say you don't want to give a specific date, but is it fair to stay that you started looking at this when you started looking at giving this speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think our Homeland Security Advisor provided a briefing earlier today. I don't really have any additional information to provide than what she did and beyond what I just told you.
Q Are you trying to get more declassified?
MR. McCLELLAN: I said we're always looking at ways to be able to provide the American people important information about the war on the terrorism.
Q The specific incidents that the President has cited before, are you trying to get those all declassified?
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll keep you posted if there's additional information to provide. Nice try. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you, Scott. In the past, the President has promised to veto legislation in order to keep government spending within the budget guidelines. Having signed the budget the other day, will he make that promise again? And how does he feel about --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, make the promise to --
Q Veto legislation --
MR. McCLELLAN: Switching subjects here.
Q -- veto legislation.
MR. McCLELLAN: Veto legislation.
Q Yes, that would exceed the budget guidelines. And will he make that promise again? How does he feel about the current level of federal spending, especially in light of the Congressional Research Service study that showed he's the first President not to veto a single bill since James Garfield in 1881?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, I think you have to keep in mind the trend that we're on when it comes to controlling spending, and look at where things were when we came into office and where we are today. You have to keep in mind that we are a nation that is engaged in an ongoing war on terrorism. The President said we're going to make sure our troops have everything they need to succeed in the war on terrorism, and that is a commitment that we will keep.
But what we have done is work to make sure that we fund our highest priorities -- the war on terrorism, and making sure we continue to pursue pro-growth policies. That's why the President emphasized in the budget report he just sent to Congress that we've got to keep taxes low to keep our economy growing. And he also emphasized that we're going to continue to make sure that our troops have the tools they need to prevail on the war on terrorism.
Now, what we also have done is work to exercise spending restraint elsewhere in the budget. And there are really two areas you should look at. One is the non-security discretionary spending, and we have worked to slow the growth of non-security discretionary spending. Last year we actually proposed a cut, and Congress acted on that and met that objective.
We also have worked to address the real fiscal danger to the budget, and that is entitlement programs -- Medicare, Social Security and Medicare [sic]. And the President has acted to modernize these programs and to address the structural problems within those programs. They are on an unsustainable course and we've got to address these problems. That's why the President called for a bipartisan commission to look at solutions to the course that these entitlement programs are on.
And Congress, last year -- or just recently, I should say -- acted on entitlement savings, passing $40 billion in savings over the next five years. That was an important step. It had not been done in several years. And so in this year's budget, the President has proposed an additional $65 billion in savings in those entitlement programs. But we've got to take a larger look at this, too. That will be another step to addressing the challenges and the problems facing the entitlement programs, but there's more to do. We need to look at structural reform.
Q But will he veto --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President -- again, I think you have to keep in mind that Congress has met the budget outlines that he has put in place. Now, with that said, the President has also proposed important budget reforms over the last few years, and he's renewed a call on some of those important reforms, including a sunset commission to look at programs, whether or not they should continue on or be sunset, and the line-item veto.
The line-item veto would allow the President to look at specific areas where we could cut the budget and address this problem of earmarks.
Les, go ahead.
Q Yes, I have a two-part. The New York Post --
MR. McCLELLAN: Make it quick.
Q Yes. The New York Post notes the following -- and this is a quote -- "Jimmy Carter's disgraceful performance at Coretta Scott King's funeral marks him as the most shameless." While The New York Times page one report mentioned "the overt political jibes." And my question: Did any of the King sons or daughters thank the President for his tribute to their mother and his extraordinary control, despite the performances of Jimmy Carter and Joe Lowery?
MR. McCLELLAN: I believe they expressed their appreciation for the President attending the ceremony the other day, the service -- it was a celebration of her life. The President and Mrs. Bush were honored to attend. This was an opportunity to honor and pay tribute to a remarkable and courageous woman, a woman who was a civil rights leader who made lasting contributions to freedom and equality.
Q And the New York Post also noted, "Carter couldn't quite bring himself to note that the wiretappings of Dr. King was conducted under Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and was originally ordered by Attorney General Robert Kennedy, all Democrats." And my question: Can the President deny that Jimmy Carter was, in this statement, revenging himself on Teddy Kennedy for running against Carter's reelection?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think you pointed out that some others have passed judgments on the comments that were made. Again, I just reiterate, the President and Mrs. Bush were honored to attend. I'm not going to get into analyzing or making judgments on it. They were honored to attend the service and to honor Mrs. King and all that she did in her life.
Q So you wouldn't deny -- you wouldn't deny that he was revenging himself? You wouldn't deny that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, you pointed out the history of that wire tapping, and I'll leave it at that.
Q It was history. Thank you. Good. Thank you very much.
Q Scott, does the President think it's appropriate to force feed prisoners at Guantanamo?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Mark, I think that the President, what he did, was issue a directive to the military that all detainees be treated humanely, and that's what we expect.
Q And force feeding that apparently has taken place there has taken place within those guidelines? He's satisfied about that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that you've heard from military commanders about the steps that they are taking. And I think they describe it in a way that is humane and compassionate.
Q Then you know that one of the prisoners there has called it torture and thinks he's being abused?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, yes, we know that al Qaeda is trained in trying to make wild accusations, and so forth. But the President has made it very clear what the policy is, and we expect the policy to be followed. And he's made it very clear that we do not condone torture, and we do not engage in torture. That has been our policy and that remains our policy. We are a nation of laws and values, and we follow them.
Q Scott, back at the January press conference, the President said he didn't know Jack Abramoff. Abramoff is saying that he met with the President in nearly a dozen settings and that the President joked with him about a bunch of things, including details of Abramoff's kids. He also says the President has one of the best memories of any politician he's ever met. Does that help the President, perhaps to remember that there were many meetings in which he met Jack Abramoff?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what the President said still stands. Mr. Abramoff is someone who was involved in wrongdoing. He acknowledged that himself. He is being brought to account. And there is an investigation going on by the Justice Department. They are continuing to pursue the matter and go after anybody else that was involved in wrongdoing.
I think as the President also indicated, he's taken at least five photos with many people in this room at the annual holiday reception. And so I think you need to put this in context.
Go ahead, Alexis.
Q Would he still, then, be saying that he does not remember meeting Abramoff on a dozen occasions?
MR. McCLELLAN: You've heard directly from the President on this matter.
Q We haven't.
Q We heard him say he didn't know him. We haven't -- we didn't know there were as many meetings as this at that time.
MR. McCLELLAN: Keep going. Go ahead.
Q Two quick topics. Are you going to release Claude's resignation letter to us?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I expect we will.
Q And does it say effective when?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he's still working that out with Andy Card and others.
Q A Wednesday night seems like a rather sudden time to resign. Is there anything you want to add, because --
MR. McCLELLAN: Wednesday night?
Q Last night. To resign. Is there anything you want to add --
MR. McCLELLAN: Wednesday night?
Q Last night.
MR. McCLELLAN: This -- first of all, as I indicated, we're all going to miss him here at the White House. Claude served for four years as Deputy Secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, and he's been serving here for the last year. He's put in a lot of long hours during that time, and I think you'll see reflected in his letter he has a family; he wants to be able to spend more time with them. And we're all going to miss him here. But we wish him the best, and fully understand the decision that he made. But it's something he's been looking at for -- I don't know -- the last several weeks, I think, or the last few weeks, at least. And he's been talking about when would be a good time to do this. And I think he wanted to make sure we got through the State of the Union and this would be a good time to transition.
Q Scott, I wanted to just ask a follow-up about the LA plot. Is there something missing from this story, a practical application, a few facts? Because if you want to commandeer a plane and fly it into a tower, if you used shoe bombs, wouldn't you blow off the cockpit? Or is there something missing from this story?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you're referring to about missing. I mean, I think we provided you a detailed briefing earlier today about the plot. And Fran Townsend, our Homeland Security Advisor, talked about it. So I'm not sure what you're suggesting it.
Q Think about it, if you're wearing shoe bombs, you either blow off your feet or you blow off the front of the airplane.
MR. McCLELLAN: There was a briefing for you earlier today. I think that's one way to look at it. There are a lot of ways to look at it, and she explained it earlier today, Alexis, so I would refer you very much back to what she said, what she said earlier today.
Sarah, go ahead.
Q Thank you. Is the President considering canceling his visit to Pakistan because of the Muslims civic riots over the cartoons?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President expressed our views yesterday. I've been expressing them as well, prior to that, regarding the cartoon controversy. The President looks forward to going to India. He looks forward to going to Pakistan. We are making arrangements for that trip, and that will be in a few weeks.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 3:24 P.M. EST
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