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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 13, 2006
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:27 P.M. EST
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. Let me begin with one update on the schedule today. The President will today -- or today is submitting his 2006 Economic Report to the Congress. The Council of Economic Advisors will be hosting a press briefing here shortly, at 1:30 p.m. today. Our economy is strong and growing stronger. The U.S. right now is experiencing a very healthy job market, with nearly 4.8 million jobs created since the summer of 2003. And for 2006, the Council of Economic Advisors projects a steady growth rate, in the range of 3.4 percent, which is in line with the view of other economic forecasts in government and the private sector.
The report will also look at key areas that we're working to address, like making sure we have a skilled and educated workforce for the 21st century, looking at rising health care costs and issues related to that, making sure that we continue to keep America open to free and fair trade, and looking at energy issues, as well.
That's all I've got to begin with, so I'll be glad to go to your questions. Terry.
Q Scott, do you think that the shooting accident involving the Vice President on Saturday should have been disclosed to the public on Saturday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the first priority was making sure that Harry Whittington, Mr. Whittington was getting the medical care that he needed, and I think that's where everybody's attention should have been focused and was focused when the hunting accident took place. And in terms of here in Washington, there was information that we were continuing to learn about throughout the course of that evening and into early Sunday morning. The initial report that we received was that there had been a hunting accident. We didn't know who all was involved, but a member of his party was involved in that hunting accident. And then additional details continued to come in overnight.
And it's important always to work to make sure you get information out like this as quickly as possible, but it's also important to make sure that the first priority is focused where it should be, and that is making sure that Mr. Whittington has the care that he needs. And the Vice President went to the hospital yesterday to visit him. The Vice President was pleased to see that he was doing well and in good spirits. And the President is, as well.
Q Well, I assume that people -- he got immediate medical attention. Aside from the medical attention, which I'm sure was swift, isn't there a public disclosure requirement that should have kicked in immediately?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and the Vice President's Office was working to make sure information got out. We learned additional information overnight -- throughout the night, we were learning additional information here in Washington. The Vice President spoke with Mrs. Katherine Armstrong and they agreed that she should make that information public. She was an eyewitness, she saw what occurred and she called her local paper to provide those facts to the local paper. And the Vice President's Office was ready to comment on it at that point.
Now, keep in mind that there's not a traveling press corps that was along with the Vice President on this trip. With that said, though, as I said, I think it's always important to get information out as quickly as possible. As you know, the way we have typically approached things, that I typically approach things -- I think of a similar incident when the President was in Gleneagles, Scotland, and he had a biking accident with a police officer there, and I quickly tried to give that information to the press through the pool reporter and provide that information to you all.
Q Scott, is it really appropriate for the --
Q So as the Press Secretary, are you satisfied with the way this was handled?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I know that the Vice President's Office was working to pull together information and make sure that information got out. And the Vice President felt that Mrs. Armstrong should be the first one to go out there and provide that information to the public, which she did -- and she reached out early Sunday morning to do so.
Q And you're satisfied with the way --
MR. McCLELLAN: You can always look back at these issues and look at how to do a better job.
Q Well, it's not really a hindsight issue here. I mean, the Vice President made a decision about how the public should be notified that basically is at odds with the standard practice of how the President's own press operation and this White House notifies the public; isn't that right?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, this was handled by the Vice President's Office. The Vice President thought that Mrs. Armstrong should be the first one to give that information out, since she was an eyewitness.
Q But let's just be clear here. The Vice President of the United States accidentally shoots a man and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper, and not the White House press corps at large, or notify the public in a national way?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we all know that once it is made public, then it's going to be news and all of you all are going to be seeking that information. And the Vice President's Office was ready to provide additional information to reporters. There was no traveling White House press corps with the Vice President, as there is with the President in a situation like this --
Q Right, that's a distinction without a difference, really. I mean, we have Blackberries --
MR. McCLELLAN: So there is some different circumstances. And the other circumstance here was that someone was injured and needed medical care. And the Vice President's team was making sure he was getting taken care of and that he got to the hospital and received additional treatment.
Q I know you had a chance to speak to, I assume, the President and the Vice President today. Did the Vice President follow all of the appropriate safety procedures that are familiar to hunters in this case?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think if you've got specifics about that, probably direct them to the Vice President's Office. I don't know all the specifics about it, but I think Mrs. Armstrong spoke publicly about how this incident occurred. And if I recall, she pointed out that the protocol was not followed by Mr. Whittington, when it came to notifying the others that he was there. And so, you know, unfortunately these types of hunting accidents happen from time to time. And all of us were most concerned about Mr. Whittington. And as I said, the Vice President was glad to see he was doing fine yesterday and that he's in good spirits. He is someone that many of us here know and have great respect for, and we look forward to him getting out of the hospital soon.
Q Scott, there's a report coming out of a Sheriff's deputy there who said that he was prevented from interviewing the Vice President by the Secret Service. Do you know anything about that? And is that appropriate?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't know anything about that. You ought to direct that to the Secret Service. My understanding was that Secret Service took the appropriate steps to inform law enforcement. But, again, check with Secret Service.
Q Scott, what was the input of the White House? What was your input, once you learned of this? Did you just turn it over to the Vice President's Office? Did you know they were turning it over to a private citizen to inform people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of my involvement, first of all, Saturday night I find out that there was a hunting accident -- it was late Saturday night -- of a member in his party. But I did not know who was involved in that hunting accident. It wasn't until very early Sunday morning that I found out that the Vice President was involved in this accident. And, of course, in a position like mine, I was urging that that information be made available as quickly as possible and the Vice President's Office was working to get that information out.
Q So as of Saturday night, you didn't know, the White House did not know that Vice President Cheney was involved?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, there were details coming in throughout that night and into the morning. There was additional information coming in at 3:00 a.m. and 4:00 a.m., and even after that.
Q But, again, Saturday night, you did not know the Vice President was involved, you just thought someone from his hunting party was --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I, personally, was informed by the Situation Room that there had been a hunting accident, and that is was a member of the Vice President's hunting party. But I didn't have additional information other than that at this point. Obviously, I asked questions about -- is he okay, and who was involved -- and they didn't have those facts at that point.
Q So Sunday morning you first learned that it was the Vice President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Early Sunday morning, that's correct.
Q And then what was your reaction about letting the public know? Did the Vice President's Office tell you that they would turn this over to Katherine Armstrong, and that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I had additional discussions, and I knew that the Vice President's Office was working to get information out. I'm not going to get into all the discussions that I had -- but it was the Vice President's Office that took the lead on this.
Q But were you aware they were just going to allow a private citizen to inform a local paper of this, and not beyond that? Did you not have a suggestion on how to inform the public?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to get into all the discussions or suggestions that I make about specific matters like that. I can only tell you the way I've done it in the past, for you all.
Q What time on Sunday morning did you learn that Vice President Dick Cheney was the shooter?
MR. McCLELLAN: It was early. I was woken up.
Q Do you have any -- was it 6:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m.? Can you give me at least just some sort of sense of how early --
MR. McCLELLAN: It was probably in the 6:00 a.m. range or so. Usually I'm up at 5:00 a.m., but it was Sunday.
Q And who woke you up and told you?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Who told you?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just had discussions with staff. I'll leave it at that.
Q Was it Cheney's gun? Is that his gun, that shotgun?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Was it the Vice President's gun?
MR. McCLELLAN: You ought to talk to the Vice President's Office and check that fact.
Q You don't know?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can check with their office.
Q You said this morning that the President was informed Saturday night by Karl Rove and Andy Card.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, initially by Andy Card.
Q At that point, what was he informed? Was he informed that the Vice President had accidentally shot somebody?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think initially, again, Andy had the same report that I had, or a very similar report to what I had. And so we didn't know who was involved. But then there was additional information that was coming in later in the night, or later in the day and on into the morning.
Q They knew exactly what happened --
Q -- to not reach the Vice President to find out that he was the shooter? How is that possible?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Kelly, I can only tell you what the facts are.
Q This doesn't make any sense, though. This happens at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, and you're saying that until the morning, the President of the United States --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I didn't say that. I said there was additional information coming in later that evening and into the morning hours of Sunday.
Q You've got to clarify this timeline, Scott; it just doesn't make any sense.
Q When did the President know that the Vice President was the shooter? What time?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, there was additional information coming in that night. And the details continued to come in throughout the morning, into the Sunday morning time period.
Q The Vice President did not call the President to tell him he was the shooter?
MR. McCLELLAN: Suzanne, go ahead.
Q Katherine Armstrong talked to CNN Sunday evening. She said that she thought this was going to become a story, so she was going to go to the local press. She also told CNN that she did not believe the Vice President's Office was aware that she was going to go to the local press. How do you square that with your account that they were coordinating their --
MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President spoke with her directly and they agreed that she would make it public.
Q So you're saying that she is lying, that her statement is not correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. You ought to check with her.
Q Well, we did check with her. So you're saying that's not correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President spoke directly with Mrs. Armstrong and they agreed that she would make the information public.
Q Scott, it's getting very confusing to try to figure out who knew what when, and why, you know, once Mr. Whittington's immediate medical needs were being addressed, it sounds like everything just shut down. Was there no staff member with the Vice President --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, actually, as I pointed out, there was information that was coming into people back here, all the way at 3:00 a.m. in the morning and beyond. So additional information was coming to light from what occurred down in the Corpus Christi area of Texas.
Q Over the roughly 12 hours or so, none of that information -- it took 12 hours for someone to tell someone up here that the Vice President had fired the weapon?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Jim, keep in mind two things. One, the very first priority was making sure Mr. Whittington was getting the medical care, and that's where all efforts were focused. There wasn't a press corps traveling with the Vice President, he didn't have his full entourage that he might have on other trips, official trips. This was a weekend hunting trip. And then, secondary to that is gathering the facts. And so you want to get the facts together so you can provide that information to the public. And I think that's important to do, and so they gathered facts together and those facts were coming back to us throughout the evening and into the morning hours of Sunday.
Q Who was gathering the facts? Who was doing that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there's the information on the ground there, as well as information then being provided -- from the ground there being provided back here.
Q Right, and who was doing -- who was doing the providing, and who were they providing it to?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, people with the Vice President's Office. I think you can probably -- I would check with his office on more specifics.
Q So when did the President definitively know that the Vice President had shot somebody?
MR. McCLELLAN: He was learning additional details into that evening on Saturday --
Q It wasn't a detail that it was the Vice President that pulled the trigger? When did that detail --
MR. McCLELLAN: We didn't know the full details, but I think he was informed because Karl -- I think his Deputy Chief of Staff had spoken with Mrs. Armstrong and provided him additional update that evening. So there were more circumstances --
Q Deputy Chief of Staff Rove talked to --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- known Saturday evening. So the President was getting more information about who was involved, and that was late Saturday evening.
Q So he knew Saturday evening? Scott, definitively, did the President know or --
Q -- the question.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- some additional information, yes, and the Vice President --
Q -- or hear that it was the Vice President?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and that the Vice President was involved, but didn't know the full facts of what had occurred.
Q How is that possible?
Q He did know -- wait -- details here. Scott, he knew Saturday night?
MR. McCLELLAN: Carl, go ahead.
Q Straight chronological questions. We don't have to yell it.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q If the Deputy Chief of Staff had a conversation with the President late Saturday night, what time was that conversation? And did the information, though developing at the time, contain the fact that the Vice President had actually been the shooter --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the specific time. I know that Andy Card talked to him initially, probably in the -- my sense is probably in the 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. range, initially. And then it was later that evening when he found out additional information, but we still didn't have all the details at that point and additional details were coming into Andy Card at even 3:00 a.m. in the morning and beyond.
Q So could we just -- and so what --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish this, because what we're trying to do from here in the course of the night is get more information and find out exactly what occurred.
Q All right, if I may then, the Chief of Staff, at 7:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., tells the President that there was an incident. Later in the evening, the Deputy Chief of Staff tells the President that the Vice President was, in fact, the shooter; is that what you're telling us?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.
Q And then the further details, then, unfolded throughout the course of the early morning Sunday?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct, additional details, additional information was coming out.
Q On Sunday morning at 6:00 a.m., you were clear, personally, that the Vice President had, in fact, been the shooter?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct. That's correct.
Q Thank you.
Q Wait, wait, hold on. Human beings are not normally this inefficient. I mean, was the Vice President immediately clear that he had accidentally shot his friend, or not? Or did that information become available later? You make it seem like there's all this information that had to develop.
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't suggest that at all. I'm sure that that was the case. I mean, Mrs. Armstrong was there and saw that --
Q I don't understand what information had to trickle in?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, David, again, what's important when it happened was to make sure the medical care was getting to --
Q Fair enough.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- Mr. Whittington.
Q Fair enough.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's where all the attention was focused, and making sure he was getting to the hospital --
Q That's been stipulated here. Everybody agrees that that's fine.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.
Q And it doesn't seem to me that that would take an inordinate amount of time, it certainly wouldn't take 22 hours.
MR. McCLELLAN: This is happening Saturday evening.
Q But you've got a Situation Room here, you've got people who monitor stuff -- it's impossible to find out -- I mean, the Vice President knew immediately, oh, no, I've shot somebody accidentally, and it takes 22 hours for that --
MR. McCLELLAN: And you know what his first reaction was? His first reaction was go to Mr. Whittington and get his team in there to provide him medical care.
Q I'm sure his first reaction -- absolutely. But why is it that it took so long for the President, for you, for anybody else to know that the Vice President accidentally shot somebody?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, early the next morning, Mrs. Armstrong reached out to the Corpus paper -- that's her local paper --
Q Oh, come on.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- to provide them information.
Q But that's ridiculous. Are you saying that you don't know within the White House? What took you so long?
MR. McCLELLAN: Listen again to what I said. The first priority is making sure Mr. Whittington is receiving medical care. Secondary to that is making sure you get the facts together and then as quickly as possible provide that information to the public. Now, the Vice President agreed with Mrs. Armstrong that it was best that she provide that information publicly first --
Q Understanding that, but he doesn't even --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- because she was --
Q That's fine if you want to deal with the public that way --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- hang on, hang on -- she was an eyewitness to what occurred and could provide the facts to the press. And the Vice President's Office was ready, they were on point to provide additional comment on the incident that took place.
Q Scott, do you think it's appropriate for a private citizen --
Q Scott, the Vice President has a --
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Bill. We've got three people from each news organization here --
Q The Vice President has a Secret Service detail and has communications which are up to date, operating and in place. How is it that the word of the shooting and the fact that the Vice President was involved could have been confused or delayed, given the fact that that was almost --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the initial information is coming from his team on the ground with him, and they're just providing an initial report, an accident has taken place. They might not know all the facts at that point, Bill.
Q Are you kidding? They're right there, they're out there with him. They have communications --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the ones that are providing that information may have not been right there, physically, with him and saw exactly what happened -- I don't know. But I'm telling you --
Q And it also --
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. Can I finish? Okay. But I'm telling you the facts as they occurred and as I know them. And if there is additional information you want, you can direct those questions to the Vice President's Office.
Q And it also sounds as though your suggestions about how to handle this were disregarded by the Vice President's Office.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'll keep those conversations private.
Q Well, you might as well say that.
Q I just want to clarify one thing. Is it appropriate for a private citizen to be the person to disseminate the information that the Vice President of the United States has shot someone?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's one way to provide information to the public. The Vice President's Office worked with her -- I should say, the Vice President -- the Vice President spoke with her directly --
Q You make it sound like it's up to her to decide when this comes out.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and agreed that she should make it public and that they would provide additional information.
Q But why should it be up to a private citizen to decide when it comes out?
MR. McCLELLAN: It came out Sunday morning. I've told you the way that I've operated and the way I've provided information in similar circumstances.
Q This is certainly different.
Q Has the Vice President always had a hunting license whenever he's gone hunting? There was an item in one of the wire stories this morning that he had a license prior to November, but other stories say he goes every year to Texas --
MR. McCLELLAN: Check with his office. I don't have those facts.
Q Do you know whether he's taken a hunting safety course?
MR. McCLELLAN: My understanding is that he had the hunting license for this hunting trip.
Q What about other trips where he's taken --
MR. McCLELLAN: You can check with his office.
Q Has he also -- has he taken a hunting safety course in Texas?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'd check with his office. I don't have those facts, Mike. I haven't checked into that.
Q Will the Vice President be available soon to answer all questions, himself, about the incident?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you ought to direct questions like that to his office. He has a press office you can direct questions to.
Jessica -- keeping with the practice of at least two or three reporters from each news organization today.
Q You've repeatedly said that the Vice President's Office will share this information with us. Will you tell us -- will you now ask them to share this information with us, because they're not.
MR. McCLELLAN: Share what information?
Q Details of what happened during the shooting and more information about --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Mrs. Armstrong provided that information. She was the eyewitness to what took place.
Q Can we get someone from his office in here to answer --
Q Why can't we get someone from his office to answer some questions?
Q Or get him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, talk to his office. I think they have provided a response to the questions.
Q Not that information.
Q We're not getting any of that information.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Connie.
Q Is it proper for the Vice President to offer his resignation or has he offered his resignation --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's an absurd question. Go ahead, Ken.
Q Can we get someone from the Vice President's Office in here to answer all these questions that you're deferring?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you can ask questions to his -- direct questions to his office.
Q I'm sure they're overwhelmed. It seems like it would be more efficient --
MR. McCLELLAN: Understood, but they're the ones who can provide additional information if there is any to provide.
Q Or not.
Q You say Mrs. Armstrong was the eyewitness. There were other eyewitnesses. Can you tell us who they were, and --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Vice President's team was with him. You ought to check that with the Vice President's Office. But the Vice President's traveling team was with him, so you'd have his normal security detail, as well as military aide and others and doctor.
Q Who was the third hunter?
MR. McCLELLAN: Check with his office; I don't know.
Q Scott, when you consider the chronology you're trying to go through here, and all of the various wrinkles of how long it took for the primary information that the Vice President was the person who shot this fellow to get through to the President, himself, is there any notion here of reviewing your own communications apparatus? I mean, this is sort of reminiscent of the levee story, frankly, you know?
MR. McCLELLAN: I reject that. I disagree with that fully, Peter. I don't know what you're referring to there, but I reject the insinuation there.
Q Well, when you look at how long it took for the information in that case to get through and the information in this case to get through, or you could look --
MR. McCLELLAN: Peter, there are certain facts that you don't know necessarily immediately; people are getting that information together, in terms of exactly what happened. I mean, I don't think you immediately know all the facts in situations that you bring up, particularly in terms of a hurricane that was unprecedented in terms of the scope of the damage that occurred. So I don't know how you can leap from here to that comparison.
Q Well, surely they immediately knew that the Vice President of the United States shot someone?
MR. McCLELLAN: And you know what the immediate response was? To makes sure he was getting the medical care.
Q Yes, we --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, you may know that, but people that are listening need to hear that, too. The Vice President went over to him and was making sure that his team was getting to him and taking care of him. That's what the first priority always ought to be. Now I know that it's important to inform the media, and I have told you I believe it's important to get that information out as quickly as possible.
Q The immediate --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he was informed in a relatively reasonable amount of time.
Q Scott, in Texas is this kind of accident --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we can always look back, Bill. We can always look back and say, here or there. But the important thing is, was that the information was provided to the public, and most importantly, Mr. Whittington is being taken care of.
Q Scott, under Texas law, is this kind of accidental shooting a possible criminal offense?
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't even speculate on that, but I think the Sheriff's Office or the local law enforcement office has already commented on that and said it was a hunting accident.
Q Scott, would this be much more serious if the man had died? Would that change the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Of course it would, Connie. It would have been terrible. Personally, I don't know him very well, but I know Mr. Whittington and I have great respect for him from knowing who he is and what he's done. And it would be horrible news.
Q Do you think that it's such -- if the Deputy Chief of Staff told him sometime in the eight p.m. hour, told the President that it was Cheney that had pulled the trigger, who made the decision not to inform us and, specifically, not to inform you until, like, 6:00 a.m. the next morning?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's the way I would look at it. There were additional details that were coming in and we were trying to learn --
Q -- to make the decision, though? This is kind of a big deal, may or may not want to --
MR. McCLELLAN: We were trying to learn details, but I think it's important to have the facts together to be able to provide that information to the public.
Now, I also believe in a situation like this it's important to provide as much information to the public as quickly as possible.
Q Well, why were you waiting until Sunday morning --
Q Will the Vice President -- and the President, for that matter -- continue to go hunting? And is there some thought about maybe this is too dangerous an activity for such an important person?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't had any discussion with either of them about that. I don't know of any change.
Q Was there any consideration, to your knowledge, that the information should be delayed in order to avoid it becoming red meat on the Sunday talk shows on Sunday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not that I know of. In fact, she reached out to the local paper that morning -- I don't know what time, but I was told she reached out that morning.
All right, let's go to a new subject.
Q Much of the free world is concerned about nuclear weapons from North Korea and Iran. But according to The London Sunday Times yesterday, Brazil is about to put on line a facility to make large quantities of enriched uranium, enough to power its present two plants and a third power plant, but also enough to make nuclear weapons and to export enriched uranium. Is the administration aware of this and is there --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've not seen that specific article; I'll be glad to take a look into it. But our view is very clear that all nations ought to adhere to the nonproliferation treaty and all nations -- we believe all nations should be parties to the nonproliferation treaty. I think we've expressed that view before.
Now, there are important energy needs that we need to work together to address, and the President outlined that in his global nuclear energy partnership that was in his budget, and he's going to be talking more about it next week when he focuses on the energy initiative.
But in terms of this specific one -- I think a difference here, though, that I would point out -- if you're talking about Brazil versus Iran -- is one of trust. Iran has shown that they can't be trusted with nuclear technology because they have hidden their activities for some two decades; they failed to comply with their international obligations. And this is a regime that continues to defy, through its actions and comments, the demands of the international community. Their continued defiance from the rest of the world -- or their continued defiance of the world only further isolates Iran. And it undermines the aspirations of the Iranian people.
The regime in Iran knows what it needs to do. So far, they're continuing to choose defiance and confrontation over cooperation and diplomacy.
Q A quick follow-up, if I may -- and you have to read the article, I'm sure -- but according to the article, Brazil wants to be a nuclear power. And if it produces great quantities of enriched uranium, it will be the ninth country in the world to do so. And some experts I've talked to are not so concerned about Brazil making nuclear weapons to use, they're more concerned about the possible export of enriched uranium to --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why there are safeguard obligations in place; that's why the President has proposed an initiative to address some of these proliferation issues in a much better way than they're currently being addressed. And I think you ought to take a look at that initiative and listen to what he's going to say next week.
Q Scott, a follow-up on Iran. You say that this is a furthering of their isolation and continued defiance. Is Iran --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not the Brazil issue --
Q No, Iran.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- it's their comments and actions.
Q Is Iran's small-scale enrichment of uranium, itself, destabilizing to the region?
MR. McCLELLAN: We do not believe the regime in Iran should have the ability or the technology to produce nuclear weapons. The President has stated very clearly that the Iranian people have the right to chart their future and win their freedom. And we stand with them. It's not a question of whether or not Iran has the right to civilian nuclear energy, as well. We've already said we support the proposal that was offered by Russia. But what you see coming from the regime is continued defiance of the world, a continued disregard for their international obligations, and a continued thumbing of their nose to what the world has demanded.
Q But is the enrichment of the uranium, rather than a continuance, does the White House view it as an escalation, as an increase in the defiance and an increase in the potential threat or destabilization of the region?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's continued defiance of the world, as has been stated from the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors that voted in overwhelming numbers to report the matter to the United Nations Security Council. They spelled out what Iran needs to do. Iran has an opportunity to respond to what was laid out by the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. It called on Iran to abide by the Paris Agreement and suspend all enrichment and enrichment-related activities, and to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency, and to abide by their safeguard obligations. And so far Iran continues to defy the world.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q I have two questions. One, as far as this cartoon on Prophet Mohammed is concerned, now it's spreading throughout the world, now it has gone to Pakistan. And since, President General Musharraf and President Bush both said in the past that Islam is a religion of peace. But when we talk about peace, so much has been written in the past against Hinduism and against Christianity, so many cartoons were made even last week against Hinduism in India and here. But nothing sort of this kind, any violence took place anywhere, in the U.S. or in India. But why is this happening in the name of the religion and Islam --
MR. McCLELLAN: Why is what happening?
Q Who is behind it, and how to stop it?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about the demonstrations or the violence?
Q Yes, demonstrations and the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Peaceful demonstrations is one thing. Engaging in --
Q -- the burning and the killing --
MR. McCLELLAN: If you're talking about engaging in violence, there is no justification for that. The President has spoken out about it. You know, right now, in Italy, we have the Olympics going on. The Olympics shows the kind of goodwill and understanding that there can be between nations. It's an opportunity for nations from all over the world to come together and compete through sports. And it's also a way for people to learn more about one another and have a better understanding for people of different ethnic backgrounds or different races or different religions. And I think we ought to look at all the goodwill that's being shown at the Olympics as an example of the kind of understanding that we would like to see moving forward.
Q And second --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no second question. I've got to keep going. The President has got a meeting coming up here. Go ahead, John.
Q Thank you, Scott. Turning back to last week's blame game, when former Director Michael Brown testified before Congress nothing was mentioned about the fact that he's had contact with the administration and meetings with White House officials since leaving his position. Are you going to provide any names of people that former Director Brown has met with since he left the government?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about any specific ones you're referring to since he left the government. I know that he helped provide important information for our comprehensive lessons learned review, which our Homeland Security Advisor is going to be talking about here later this afternoon -- or touching on some of that, giving a little bit of an update on the progress of that review. That's going to be completed by the end of this month. She's going to be touching on some of the 17 specific areas that they looked at in terms of areas that need to be addressed, and then I think that they have some -- more than 100 recommendations that will be made under this comprehensive review.
Now, in terms of Katrina and the congressional investigations, we've worked closely with the congressional committees to make sure that they have the information they need to do their job. We appreciate the hard work that they are doing. They'll be coming forward with their own reports here very soon. The President said months ago that there were failures at all levels of government, and he said then that he accepts responsibility for the role of the federal government.
There was a lot of great successes that occurred in the response effort, particularly when you look at the search and rescue operations. Our Coast Guard and FEMA personnel and other first responders were working to save lives. That's what you do in the immediate aftermath of a hurricane. That's where you focus your attention. And we appreciate the work that was done there. But we also need to make sure that we're focused on making sure we are better prepared to respond in the future. And that's exactly what we are doing. That's why we'll take a close look at the recommendations not only from the congressional committees, but also from the comprehensive lessons learned review that the President directed his Homeland Security Advisor to undertake.
Now, we're not waiting on that because we're already moving forward on a number of measures to improve the preparedness. In fact, Secretary Chertoff, today in remarks, will be talking about some specific measures that the Department of Homeland Security is taking to strengthen FEMA and make sure that they're better prepared in the future.
Q Scott, a two-part. Why is the Bush administration proposing only a $53-million cut in the annual $400-million government subsidy of public television and national public radio, whose tax exempt networks pay their presidents $540,000 and $377,000 a year?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I guess we know your view on it. I think our view is probably spelled out in our budget. I'll check into it and be glad to provide you additional information beyond that.
Q WorldNet Daily has just reported that Navy Chaplain James Klingenschmitt's statement that under the new guidelines the Air Force will continue to punish and exclude chaplains who pray in Jesus's name, while Rabbi Arnold Oretznikov (phonetic) points out, "the bottom line has not changed; clergy may not invoke the name of Jesus Christ while offering prayers at official government ceremonies."
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I don't know about those specific --
Q And my question -- my question: Why is a devout Christian like the Commander-in-Chief continuing to allow this censorship of Jesus?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about that specific report that you reference. We believe it's important to value the contributions of our military chaplains that they provide to our men and women in uniform. Our men and women in uniform ought to be able to express their religion freely. And that's what our view is, and that's what we --
Q But they're not allowed to in certain prayers.
Q Scott, Katrina --
Q On the deficit reduction package, given the error that the clerk made before the bill went to the Senate, does the White House believe that that's now law?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. And in fact, I think if you look at similar situations, the Supreme Court has upheld that. It was passed by both the House and Senate, and the President signed it into law. And there's precedent for the Supreme Court upholding it when the President signs a document like that into law. It is law.
Now, there is a technical change that is needed, and you've heard from I think both Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress that they are committed to moving forward and passing legislation to address that technical need.
Q Scott, what is the purpose of today's meeting between President Bush and the U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan here at the White House? The purpose, yes.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the United Nations plays a vital role, in the President's view, and they will discuss a range of issues. The President has met with Secretary General Annan on a number of occasions. I'm sure they will talk about important priorities when it comes to addressing the situation with Iran, to moving forward on the Middle East peace process, to -- and look at the Quartet statement that was put out in terms of what the Quartet is urging Hamas to do. Hamas has a choice to make, and the Quartet has spelled out what that choice is that is before them.
I'm sure that they will talk about other important priorities like U.N. reform, and making sure that they're moving forward on management reform. So I think they'll discuss a range of issues. I don't want to try to rule things out at this point, but we'll let the meeting take place.
Q And also, the Cyprus and the Kosovo issue.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I know that some other issues -- just to wrap this up -- that I imagine they'll talk about, is the situation in Darfur. There was a statement put out by the President of the Security Council -- the United States holds that presidency right now -- about how to move forward and address the deteriorating security situation there, and transition from an African Union force to a United Nations force.
Q Kosovo and Cyprus.
MR. McCLELLAN: And address the ongoing investigation with Mr. Hariri. Well, let's let the meeting take place.
Q And when is the end of the meeting?
MR. McCLELLAN: In the back, go ahead.
Q A follow-up on the meeting between President Bush and the (inaudible) of Iran. Will they discuss the atomic (inaudible) resolution, possible sanctions on Iran? Is this on the agenda?
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't be surprised if that's a topic that comes up.
Q What does the President make of Putin's invitation to Hamas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me back up. I don't know how much they'll get into specifics about it, but I would not be surprised if they talk about the issue relating to Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Q What does the President make of Putin's invitation to Hamas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the State Department addressed our view last week, and they said that Russia had provided assurances that they would reiterate what the Quartet statement says. The Quartet statement makes it very clear that Hamas needs to renounce violence, needs to disarm, and it needs to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist.
Q Can I go back to the topic du jour, if I may. How long did it take until everyone involved was sure that Mr. Whittington was in the proper medical care that he needed? Did it take 12 to 14 hours?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know all the specific facts. Mrs. Armstrong and/or the Vice President's Office may be able to provide you additional information. And, no, he was taken to a hospital that evening in Texas.
Q So any concern about making sure he had the medical attention he needed was quickly dissipated. That was not a reason for not divulging what happened, was it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again -- and then the secondary issue is what I said. You're working to make sure you have all the facts, and then you get that information out.
Q Just one clarifying point on that. Because there's two different time figures. At what point Saturday evening --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, not me.
Q Well, you seem to have some -- anyway, what time does the President find out that it was the Vice President who had accidentally shot --
MR. McCLELLAN: It was later that evening. I don't have the specific time. It was later that evening --
Q Later that evening -- I mean, the event happened --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- when he talked to his Deputy Chief of Staff.
Q So that was about 5:30 p.m. that the event happened. He talks to Karl --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he talked to Andy, like I said, probably somewhere in the 7:00 p.m. range, plus or minus.
Q All right, and it was after that, but you think sometime later that night that he finds out it was the Vice President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think the Deputy Chief of Staff had talked to --
Q Isn't the Corpus Christi paper a member of the AP? Scott, isn't the Corpus Christi paper a member of the AP? Aren't they a member of the AP?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure they are.
Q Why didn't the AP pick it up?
MR. McCLELLAN: Martha, go ahead.
Q On the levee -- August 29th. Michael Brown testified last week that he told Andy Card or Joe Hagin about the levees possibly being breached on August 29th. He wasn't sure exactly what he said, but left that impression. Was the White House told --
MR. McCLELLAN: You saying "possibly" --
Q Yes. Was the White House told --
MR. McCLELLAN: I actually talked about this very issue last week. First of all, we have to recognize that this was an unprecedented storm. And that's why the President issued emergency declarations ahead of the storm. That's why he also urged Louisiana to implement a mandatory evacuation in New Orleans. We understood that this was going to be a devastating storm. It was a category four, and the President was out there publicly talking about it to the American people.
Now, once that storm hit, we knew that there was flooding going on, and that day you're getting additional information coming in. It's not clear what all the facts are immediately, but there are conflicting reports coming in: Well, there may be a levee that's overtopped; there may be a levee that has been breached. It was Tuesday morning when the Corps of Engineers got on the ground, on scene, at the levees, and we became aware that there was a system-wide failure.
But with that said, as I said, we knew there was flooding going on, on Monday, and all our efforts were focused on making sure that lives were being saved. It was on the search and rescue operations. Secondary to that is the cause of the flooding. There's so much you can do to address that issue in a short amount of time. I mean, the levees aren't going to be fixed overnight. And that next day the Corps of Engineers got on the scene, they recognized that there was a system-wide failure -- this is a 350-mile levee system made up of federal, state, and even local -- or federal and local and private-owned levees. And so you have to take that into account.
But I guess what I would ask is, what is the suggestion that should have been being done that wasn't being done, because all the efforts were focused on getting people out of their homes, getting them off their rooftops and getting them to safety. And our Coast Guard rescued some 33,000 people. FEMA and other first responders rescued thousands of others. And that's where the attention should be focused in the immediate aftermath of the hurricane.
Q Scott, but you know these draft reports are going around from the committee, from the select committee on looking into Katrina.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed that earlier and said that we look forward to seeing what their recommendations are and seeing those reports.
Q But one of the things that's already come out is that hundreds of lives might have been saved if they knew about the levee breach, if that was taken more seriously. And so are you saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I just pointed out you can't --
Q -- are you saying you were getting conflicting reports that day, but you got reports that the levee was possibly breached?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can't ignore key facts, and a key fact is we knew the flooding was going on. That's why search and rescue operations were underway. That's why the Coast Guard was hard at work; that's why FEMA and other first responders were hard at work saving lives. And that's where the focus should have been. The cause of the flooding was a secondary issue.
Q You've said that, but the breach -- you've got reports that there may have been a breach on August 29th --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there were conflicting reports, some saying that, well -- even throughout that day, there were some saying, well, maybe it's overtopped, so that may be a reason for the flooding; and others, maybe it's breached; other reports saying, well, no, there's no breach, but there's flooding going -- when a hurricane hits like that along -- near the ocean, there's going to be flooding. We've experienced that in many cases. But what we need to do is --
Q Well, obviously the breach would have made it far more serious
MR. McCLELLAN: What we need to do is not focus on what happened, but how we better prepare in the future. And that's what the President is doing.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Have a good afternoon.
END 1:10 P.M. EST
Response to a Question from the Briefing
Q So when did the President definitively know that the Vice President had shot somebody?
A Chief of Staff Andy Card called the President around 7:30pm EST to inform him that there was a hunting accident. He did not know the Vice President was involved at that time. Subsequent to the call, Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove spoke with Mrs. Armstrong. He then called the President shortly before 8:00pm EST to update him and let him know the Vice President had accidentally shot Mr. Whittington.
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