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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 15, 2006

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En route Columbus, Ohio

10:28 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everybody. Let me just kind of quickly touch on the President's day and then I'll take whatever questions you have.

First of all, the President had breakfast with the bipartisan leadership. The President felt it was a really good discussion. This was an opportunity to talk about foreign and domestic priorities. The President really focused on some of what he talked about in his State of the Union agenda, and he said they had a good discussion on some of those topics. They talked about the bipartisan commission that the President proposed on entitlement reform. The President believes that that's one area that Democrats and Republicans can work closely together to find solutions to what is a long-term problem with the upcoming retirement of the baby boom generation, and it's something that needs to be addressed and the sooner we address it, the better. And he thinks it ought to be done in a bipartisan way.

It was also an opportunity to talk about his competitiveness initiative and the energy initiative. These are a couple of other areas where the President feels very strongly that Congress can work together in a bipartisan way and get some things done for the American people. You've heard him talk about those different priorities. Obviously, on the competitiveness initiative we want to make sure that we keep America the most competitive and innovative economy in the world, and that means investing in the sciences and research and development, and also having more teachers focused on advanced placement math and science, and making sure that we have the most educated workforce in the world.

And on the energy initiative, it was an opportunity to talk about how we can continue to work together to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. And you know the President has talked about looking at alternative sources of energy, and that's where his initiative is focused, as well as looking at different ways to power our automobiles and our homes and our businesses.

Then following that, the President had his usual briefings. We're on our way to -- oh, he met with the Secretary of State, one of the regular meetings that they have. She's up on the Hill testifying this morning. There are probably some comments she'll be making on Iran that you will be interested in, and some of what we're doing there.

We're on our way to Dublin, Ohio. I gave a preview yesterday of the President's remarks and what he would be focusing on today. He'll be talking about his comprehensive strategy for making health care more affordable and available, and really focusing on health savings accounts within those remarks.

And then we're back at the White House. And on the schedule when we get back we've got the signing of the Federal Deposit Insurance Reform Conforming Amendments Act of 2005 -- that will be stills at the top. Then he's got a meeting with the bicameral Republican leadership in the Oval Office this afternoon.

That's what I've got on his schedule, glad to go to questions.

Q Scott, is there any indication that Vice President Cheney will make any comments about the shooting? A lot of people, including Republicans and Democrats, are saying that the Vice President should come out and express, you know, how sorry he is publicly about what happened.

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. First of all, the Vice President has expressed his concern through his office for Mr. Whittington, for his health and well-being. He is a friend of the Vice President's and we are all keeping Mr. Whittington in our thoughts and prayers. We want to see him recover fully and return home. I know the indications are that's what he has expressed to friends, as well -- at least, friends of his that -- I've heard them talk publicly about that. And I know no one is more concerned about Mr. Whittington and his well-being than the Vice President. He has expressed that publicly through his spokeswoman and his office.

In terms of any updates on his schedule, I don't have any updates on his schedule.

Q has the President told the Vice President that he should speak publicly and put an end to this?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't get into any internal discussions like that. And, again, I think that in terms of what I've said about the issue -- you know, there's the issue of Mr. Whittington's health, and we're all concerned about his well-being. The doctors gave a good prognosis for him going forward yesterday. We all hope that he recovers fully and he gets home soon. And that's where our focus is from the health standpoint.

In terms of the other issues that have been raised over the last few days relating to the notification and how that was done, I mean, I think I've been through that pretty thoroughly from my standpoint. I don't really think there's anything I can add to what I've already said on those subjects.

Q Has the Vice President not spoken up until this point because there is this question about his health and some potential questions about any legal issues that might arise?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about that. I know that the Vice President is first and foremost concerned about Mr. Whittington's well-being, and that was his first focus in the immediate aftermath of the accident -- he wanted to make sure he was getting taken care of and that he continues to receive good medical care.

Q What about long-standing concerns about this kind of accident happening -- concerns coming from those within the Secret Service? Is there going to be any change now in what the Vice President can do on his down time?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not sure about "concerns." I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Q Safety concerns about --

MR. McCLELLAN: That who expressed?

Q Shooting and hunting.

Q About going shooting, going hunting, using a firearm. There were some concerns early on within the Secret Service about this kind of leisure activity.

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard anything about it. So you might want to direct questions to the VP's office on those matters.

Q Any staff changes or any procedural changes in the communications office because of this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because of this? That's the first I've heard such a suggestion.

Q Why Wendy's?

MR. McCLELLAN: Because this a business that has a lot of employees that have signed up for health savings accounts, so it's an opportunity to highlight that. I think there is -- it may be in the fact sheet; have you all gotten the fact sheet?

Q Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think it talks about -- I mean, there are several thousand employees for this franchise and business that are using health savings accounts, and the President, as you know, outlined some initiatives to expand health savings accounts. We've seen over the last 10 months an increase from 1 million to 3 million people signed up for health savings accounts. He thinks it's a great way to -- for a foundation for really transforming our health care system and giving people greater say over their own health care.

Q Is he going to give us any new wrinkles?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it'll focus on the health savings account aspect. I think he'll expand on some of what he talked about in his State of the Union and what he's talked about in the last few weeks.

Q Is the President satisfied with --

MR. McCLELLAN: I talked about the five different parts of the plan that he'll be focusing on today.

Q Is the President satisfied with Cheney's handling of this whole situation and his silence?

MR. McCLELLAN: You know, Jim, I don't know that there's anything I can add to what I've already said on the whole subject --

Q Is that because you're not saying --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, those questions came up on Monday and as I indicated then -- I mean, I'll indicate again today, you can always look back at these issues and work to do better in the future and I think that --

Q Is that his view, or is that your view?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- I think that's what --

Q Is that the President's view?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm speaking on behalf of the White House and the President.

Q Which is, it would have been done differently, or he just thinks it could have been done differently?

MR. McCLELLAN: I would describe it the way I did.

Q Scott, can I ask about -- Ben Bernanke is giving his Humphrey Hawkins testimony today. And given -- as he oversees the economy, if the economy requires higher interest rates to prevent it from overheating, is the White House okay with the Feds need, perhaps, to raise interest rates on Americans?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I appreciate the question, I think you know our views on those matters: those are decisions for the Federal Reserve to make. We have great confidence in Chairman Bernanke and the Federal Reserve to take the appropriate steps when it comes to monetary policy. You know, the economy is strong and growing stronger because of the pro-growth policies we have put in place. You saw retail sales yesterday were much higher than expected. That's just the latest indication of an economy that is showing strong job growth and is expected to continue that strong growth going forward. I mean, nearly 4.8 million jobs created since the summer of 2003, and an unemployment rate down to 4.7 percent now.

And we need to continue to act on that, and that's why the President was talking with the bipartisan leadership this morning about moving forward on the competitiveness initiative. To keep our economy competitive and growing, we also need to address the issue of rising health care costs, and that's what the President is focusing on today. Americans are concerned about rapidly rising health care costs. And the President is going to talk about five key areas that are part of his comprehensive strategy for reducing those costs and making health care more affordable, and also making it more available.

Q Are there any lawmakers with him?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Senator Voinovich, Congresswoman Pryce, Congressmen Hobson and Tiberi.

Q Will the governor be at this event?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he's going to meet us there, apparently at the event. Yes.

Q What about DeWine? Why not DeWine?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'll check.(*) We typically reach out to the various members.

Q Both, right? If they're Republicans --

MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine we did, but I'll double-check. I don't know if he's meeting us there or not. Let me double-check that.

Q What about the number of people in the counter-terrorism data base? That's more than half the population of Washington, according to The Post.

MR. McCLELLAN: You have to talk to the National Counter-Terrorism Center about those matters. A lot of that information is classified matters, but we are going to continue to use every available tool to disrupt and prevent attacks. And the National Counter-Terrorism Center was created in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, and it gives us one central location where we can access information about known or suspected terrorists. I think for any further comment about it, it's probably appropriate for the head of the NCTC to talk about.

Q Given the enormity of the number, isn't that surprising or troublesome?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not getting into discussing the numbers one way or the other. You ought to talk to the NCTC. They're doing a great job working around the clock, 24/7 to protect the American people. That's their one and only priority. The President was pleased to visit there -- when was that, about a year ago? About a year ago -- and see how we have a fully integrated operation amongst all the various intelligence and law enforcement agencies that are focused on preventing terrorist attacks. And I think the American people appreciate the great job that they're doing. It's an impressive operation with one mission, and that is the protection of the American people.

Q Thank you.

(*) Mr. McClellan: My understanding is Senator DeWine stayed back in D.C. because of previously scheduled commitments.

(**) Mr. McClellan: The Vice President will sit down for an interview with Brit Hume at 2:00 p.m.

End 10:40 A.M. EST

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