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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 8, 2006
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route New Orleans, Louisiana
8:17 A.M. CST
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning, everybody. The President had his usual intelligence briefing this morning on board the flight. Right now the President and Mrs. Bush are continuing to participate in a briefing on the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts in the New Orleans and Louisiana area. They're joined by Don Powell, our Federal Coordinator, and two members of the Louisiana Recovery Authority -- the Vice Chairman of the Authority, Walter Isaacson, and a board member, David Voelker, who is from New Orleans. And they're talking about ways we can continue to work together to help the people in New Orleans -- in the New Orleans area and Louisiana rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities.
When we land we will be touring one area of New Orleans -- that's still OTR at this point. Then we're going to go to a part of the levee system, and I expect you'll hear from the President after that. And from there, we'll go on to the Gautier area in Mississippi, and then we'll tour a neighborhood in the Gautier area, as well.
The President views this visit as an opportunity to get really a firsthand look at the ongoing recovery and rebuilding efforts. I think every time he visits the region he's reminded of the hardship and pain that citizens -- many citizens in the region continue to face. And the President has made a commitment that we're going to do all we can from the federal level to support state and local authorities and the citizens as they move forward on the rebuilding and recovery efforts.
And I think today the President will focus really on kind of three key areas that we've been focused on. That includes the levees and making sure that we're repairing and restoring the levees ahead of the hurricane season, and then also working to make the levee system stronger and better than before as we move forward. You heard from General Strock the other day, with the Army Corps of Engineers, talk about where we are with regards to that. Remember we've asked Congress for an additional $1.5 billion to help make that levee system stronger and better.
And I think he'll also talk -- we'll also focus today on the debris removal efforts. There's been a lot of progress made in terms of removing debris from public property, but there's still a lot of work to do when it comes to people's private property, and one of the challenges that we're working to address is making sure that we can get citizens that have been displaced back to their homes so they can go through their homes and determine what they want to see removed and what they want to keep. And that's something that's a top focus right now, as well.
And then also, the ongoing efforts to get people back into their homes and help them rebuild their homes. And there's a lot of resources we've provided to help people with housing, a lot of -- billions of dollars in resources from the Community Development Block Grants. And the President asked for an additional $4.2 billion from Congress that we're working to get to Louisiana for those efforts, as well.
And so the President -- this is one of a number of visits that the President has made to the region. He will continue to visit the region as we move forward. This is one of our highest priorities. And you'll hear more from the President on the ground. And then we return back to Washington this evening. That's, I think, all I've got to begin with.
Q Does the President have any announcements that he's going to be making today, or is this mostly a "listen and learn" session?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you'll hear more from him. But I think he'll probably touch on where we are, in terms of repairing the levees, and touching on the debris removal and probably housing, as well. But you'll hear more from him on where we are.
And one thing I want to try to do is get Walter and David to visit with you all, too, and talk about it from their perspective, in terms of where we are. I know that they've expressed appreciation for all we're doing at the federal level to help people in the region rebuild their communities, but I think it would be good for you all to hear from them, as well.
Q What is the White House doing with the House Republicans to prevent a vote coming up on the Dubai Ports deal next week? There are talks of them attaching it to the Iraq and Katrina supplemental funding.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're continuing to work closely with Congress. We recognize that some members have concerns. The lines of communication are open. There are a lot of conversations going on between the company and Congress and the administration, and those continue. The company reached an agreement with some congressional leaders, and asked for a 45-day investigation. The process is moving ahead in that direction, in terms of the Committee on Foreign Investment, and we'll continue to have conversations with congressional leaders and move ahead from there.
Q -- Speaker Hastert's support for this effort?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there have been a lot of conversations. Those conversations continue. And we understand the concerns that are there. We also -- well, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is moving ahead on the review and headed toward the investigation that the company requested, so that's moving forward. And we'll continue to have conversations, and we'll move ahead from there.
Q Is this a case of where the politics has gotten ahead of the policy maybe?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, we'll continue to have conversations with Congress about this. We recognize the concerns that are there. We've stated our views, and we're all working closely together.
Q You've got a Republican mutiny kicking in right now. Does the veto threat stand, yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's position is unchanged. But, Matt, I think what's important is that there are a lot of conversations going on. And our interest is in continuing to move ahead on those conversations and working with congressional leaders, and that's exactly what we're doing. And so that's really where the focus is right now.
Q What are you offering the congressional leaders, or what can you offer them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we'll continue the conversations with congressional leaders. I'm not going to do that through the media.
Q Does the White House have a deal with Senate Republicans on oversight of the eavesdropping program?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard from some of the leaders on the Intelligence Committee yesterday. As we previously said, we are committed to working with congressional leaders to further codify the constitutional and statutory authority that the President already has. And we've expressed to some of the leaders on the committee that we're fine with the general approach that they are taking. We want to continue to work with them as we move forward and stay open to ideas or ways that we could improve upon the legislation. The one thing we want to make sure that doesn't happen is that any legislation that is passed does not compromise the program or undermine the President's authority. And so we are moving ahead with congressional leaders on that.
And we've previously said that we're committed to further codifying the authority the President already has. He has the constitutional authority and he has the statutory authority. He also has a responsibility to do everything within his power to protect the American people. And that's exactly what he's doing. The terrorist surveillance program is a vital tool; it is critical in our efforts to connect the dots and prevent attacks from happening and save lives. And that's why the President directed the National Security Agency to move ahead with that program.
Remember, it's the -- General Hayden and others there said this would be -- this is an important tool that could help us in the broader war on terrorism, by better protecting the American people here at home. And that's why the President decided to move ahead on the program.
Q Scott, any reaction to Iraq's threat to cause harm and pain if the U.S. takes the nuclear case to the Security Council?
MR. McCLELLAN: You mean Iran?
Q I'm sorry, Iran.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've made our position very clear when it comes to the regime's behavior. The international community is deeply concerned about the regime developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program. And this is about the regime and its behavior. The regime still has an opportunity or has time to change their behavior. You can understand why we remain skeptical given their history, and given their continued defiance of the international community. They have continued to move in the wrong direction.
The board at the International Atomic Energy Agency is reviewing the latest report from the Director General. It continues to raise troubling issues about the regime's failure to cooperate, and the regime would be better served by making a decision to work with the international community and abide by their safeguard obligations instead of continuing to engage in provocative statements and take defiant steps.
Q Can you confirm these reports that there were accidental missile launches from North Korea?*
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish on Iran one second -- because we expect after this review is done at the International Atomic Energy Agency that action will move to the Security Council. And we are continuing to pursue a diplomatic solution here. And the international community has made it very clear to the regime that we are not going to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapon capability. And that's where the focus is.
Q -- when they make this threat somewhat directly?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that provocative statements and actions only further isolate Iran from the rest of the world. And the international community has spelled out what the regime needs to do. We've made it very clear that Iran must not be allowed to engage in any enrichment and reprocessing activity within its own territory. There have been proposals put on the table for Iran to realize peaceful civilian nuclear energy. And thus far, the regime continues to move in the wrong direction and defy the international community.
Q North Korea?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're aware of the reports. I'm still checking some additional information, and I really don't have more for you at this time.
Q Thanks, Scott.
END 8:29 A.M. CST
* Indications are that North Korea launched two short-range missiles. The regime has conducted similar tests in the past. We have consistently pointed out that North Korea's missile program is a concern that poses a threat to the region and the larger international community.
We work closely with our allies in the region on ballistic missile defense and to maintain a strong deterrent against the threat North Korea poses.
We believe the six-party talks remain the way to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions and deal with the threat from its missile program and activities.
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