The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 22, 2006

Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Wheeling, West Virginia

11:04 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, everyone. Let me run through the President's day. He had his usual briefings before we departed. He also participated in a National Security Council meeting on Iraq. He had the usual suspects involved in that, from Secretary Rumsfeld and Admiral "G," who here, the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, since General Pace was traveling. And Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey on from secure video conference. It was on Iraq. Following that, he participated in a meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld.

When we land in Wheeling, the President will be greeted by Governor Manchin and his wife, Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito, and the Mayor and then some state legislators that will be there as well. And they will be attending the event, as well.

And then we go to the Capitol Music Hall. And the audience for today, the local chamber there had, I don't know, around 2,000, 2,300 tickets, something in that range. And they distributed tickets for this event. They also gave 100 to the local paper. I know that some military families -- around 200, 250 military families were given tickets. And I think there are supposed to be about 80 active duty military personnel there, as well.

This is really a town hall event today. The President doesn't have formal remarks. I expect he'll recap some of what he's been talking about over the last few days, about the war on terrorism and Iraq, specifically. He may touch on some other subjects, as well. This is not formal, prepared remarks. And then he'll take questions from the audience.

And then following the event, the President will be meeting with two families of fallen soldiers. One is the family of an Army sergeant who recently made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq; and then the other is the family of a Marine who made the ultimate sacrifice a couple of years ago in Iraq.

And then we return back to the White House. The President has got some policy time this afternoon, after we get back. And that's really his schedule for today.

Let me also make one announcement on the schedule. The President will welcome Chinese President Hu to the White House on April 20th. The visit is an opportunity for the President to work with the Chinese leader on a number of areas of mutual interest and to make progress in resolving outstanding differences. The President looks forward to discussing with President Hu a full range of regional and international issues, including the war on terrorism, non-proliferation and advancing freedom and promoting prosperity in Asia and beyond.

Q Is that a state visit?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a visit by President Hu, is the way I would describe it.

Q I know he's going to be discussing the global war on terror today, but I think it's his first visit to the state since the Sago mine disaster. Do you have anything on the federal response? There had been some talk about amending federal rules and regulations in the wake of that.

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to work closely -- and I would not be surprised if the President touches on it while he's there in West Virginia. Certainly, the Governor is joining us and the President had a number of conversations with the Governor around that time, as well.

Q What was the question?

MR. McCLELLAN: About the Sago mine, the incident there.

You know, there have been a number of steps that we've been taking. I mean, the investigation is something that's been a joint investigation with state authorities, as well. I don't have an update specifically on that matter, but we have obviously continued to push forward on some of the proposals we have made in previous years, such as increasing some of the most egregious violations -- the fines for the most egregious violations fourfold. And you know, mine safety is a top priority for this President. And we all continue to keep the families of those who lost their lives in the mine in our thoughts and prayers. And certainly we were all heartened to see the rescue of the one miner.

Q Is he going to re-visit the issue yesterday about future Presidents will decide when U.S. troops leave Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll see what questions he gets. I don't know if you have a specific question on it. I mean, I saw some of the coverage I think put it in the full context of the question he was asked. I think some of the coverage also seemed to leave the impression with readers or viewers that the President was saying that there will be large or significant numbers of troops in Iraq after he leaves office, and that's not what the question was. The question was will there be zero -- when will there be zero or no American troops in Iraq. So he was referring to that specific question.

And he also made the point very clear that decisions about troop levels will be made by our commanders on the ground, who will make those decisions based on the conditions on the ground. The President is focused on victory. And as we move forward towards victory, and training and equipping the Iraqi security forces and moving forward on the political process, which is part of winning in Iraq, then we will continue to make decisions about troop levels, based on that progress.

And General Casey just the other day on the Sunday shows was asked about the troop levels and in the conversations with General Casey, he discussed how we're already moving down from 138,000 to around 130,000 troops, we're already in the process of doing that based on the recommendations of the commanders. And General Casey, in response to questions, said that he expected we'd continue to see reductions in troop levels over the course of 2006 and into 2007. And the reason why is -- but he also said that that would be evaluated based on the conditions on the ground. So I think it's always important to keep that in mind.

I think the reason he was expressing that was because the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces is going well. They are continuing to take more of the lead in the fight; they're continuing to control more battle space. You heard the President the other day talk about how we want to see a majority of the battle space being controlled by Iraqi forces by the end of the year. And the United States and coalition forces are continuing to play more of a supporting role and helping the Iraqi forces who are in the lead. And that enables us to also focus on going after the terrorists who continue to seek to try to derail the transition to democracy.

So I appreciate you bringing that question up, but we'll see what questions come up today for the President. But I think he's always been very clear in his view that troop levels are going to be based on the recommendations of the commanders who will look at conditions on the ground.

Q Can you talk about why West Virginia was chosen -- and Cleveland, for that matter, on Monday? What's the thinking behind these places?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's traveling all around the country talking about important priorities. And there is no more important priority than winning the war on terrorism. And, of course, Iraq is central to that. But, you know --

Q Obviously, there is some thinking that goes into what locations he chooses to do that from, so what --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's also going around the country because he believes it's important to update the American people about the war on terrorism and about the situation in Iraq. And explain to them why it's so important that we win in Iraq, and the consequences of withdrawing before we achieve victory.

Q I understand what he's trying to say; I'm asking about where he's saying it.

MR. McCLELLAN: If there's anything else I'll -- I don't know of anything in particular, beyond the fact that he's traveling around the country doing that. But if there is, I'll check.

Q In his meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld this morning, was that in any way to show that he is still fully supporting the Secretary? Was it --

MR. McCLELLAN: It was one of the regularly scheduled meetings he has with the Secretary. I always mention those on his schedule when he has those meetings.

Anything else? Short and simple. All right, enjoy.

END 11:13 A.M. EST

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