|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 17, 2006
Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:42 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCLELLAN: Before I go to questions, I want to begin with one statement. We condemn the terrorist attack today in Tel Aviv in the strongest possible terms. It is a despicable act of terrorism for which no excuse or justification is possible. We express our condolences to those who were injured, to the families of those who were killed and to the people and government of Israel.
The burden of responsibility for preventing terrorist attacks such as this one rests with the Palestinian Authority. We have noted reactions by several Palestinian terrorist groups, including Hamas, that defend, or even applaud, the barbaric acts of terror committed in Tel Aviv today, as we have noted President Abbas's quick denunciation of it. Defense or sponsorship of terrorist acts by officials of the Palestinian cabinet will have the gravest effects on relations between the Palestinian Authority and all states seeking peace in the Middle East.
A Palestinian government that encourages or tolerates terrorism against men, women and children not only increases the level of violence against Israelis, but can, as well, only do great harm to the interests of the Palestinian people and ensure its own further isolation.
We reiterate that the United States will have no contact with such a government, and we call upon all states to demand that it abandon its support for terror.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, can you tell us about this morning's senior staff meeting? Were you surprised that Josh Bolten immediately signaled there will be more staff changes? And do you get the impression it's going to be a shake-up or cosmetic changes? What's your impression --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, look, I mean, there are a lot of rumors that go around at this time, whenever there is a change in Chief of Staff at the White House, and I think that's what those are -- just rumors and speculation. I think what Josh was saying this morning -- well, first, let me back up.
I mean, Josh has hit the ground running as Chief of Staff. Last week he shadowed Andy Card in a lot of his meetings that he regularly participates in. And Josh, this morning, when he came into senior staff, talked about how this is a challenging time period that he is coming into as Chief of Staff. We remain engaged in an ongoing global war on terrorism. There are a number of important priorities we're working to pursue on the behalf of the American people. The President outlined a number of those in his State of the Union Address this year. So we have a very active and full agenda ahead of us for the remaining two-and-a-half years or so of this administration.
And Josh, this morning, talked about how over the next seven to 10 days, he would -- he's continuing to look at some of the process of the White House, meaning the meetings that take place. There are a lot of regularly scheduled meetings that take place, and for the next seven or 10 days or so, he's going to pretty much leave that structure in place as it has been operating.
But any time you have a new Chief of Staff coming in, you can expect that there will be some changes in some of the structure and personnel and other issues.
Now, what he said at the end of his remarks at senior staff was simply talking about, look, we're in a transitional period, and I want to make sure I have a team in place that is with us for a minimum the remainder of this year and, to some extent, beyond that. And as you know, any White House goes through change. People decide to leave after they've served here for a while. It's hard work serving here at the White House.
And so he said to the senior staff -- and I think this will be passed on to others, as well -- is that if you're thinking about leaving sometime in the near future, now would be a good time to do it, because this is this transitional period. And so that's the way I would look at it.
Q And was this also affecting Cabinet posts, as well? Did you get the impression it was just White House staff? Or when you say --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this morning he was talking to the White House staff. I think you would expect that. This is his first full day -- first full weekday as Chief of Staff. Obviously, when you're Chief of Staff, you're 24/7, and he took over late Friday afternoon from Andy Card, when Andy departed the White House and Josh was sworn in.
Q Can I clarify that point, though? When you say -- you've said repeatedly, Josh has full authority, the President's authority --
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q -- does that just cover staff? Does that cover Cabinet posts, the entire administration, or --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is going to be looking to Josh for his advice and counsel. And the President has given him the full authority to do what he needs to do and what he believes is in the best interest of this White House and this President. We are all here to help the President advance his agenda. We have accomplished much over the last few years and there's much that we want to get done in the years ahead as we -- two-and-a-half years is a relatively short period of time left for this President to get some things done. And there's a lot that he wants to get done in that remaining two-and-a-half years.
Q Scott, you're one of those visible members of the President's senior staff. Do you plan to stay on?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you trying to tempt me here?
Q Not at all.
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, I never speculate about personnel matters.
Q "Personnel" or "personal" or both?
MR. McCLELLAN: Two years in this position is a long time, I'm very mindful of that. But, look, I never get into any of that speculation.
Go ahead, Martha.
Q Is Kelly done --
Q Did anyone come forward and say they plan to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that was the purpose of the senior staff -- I mean, the purpose was for Josh to kind of lay out, you know, we got a lot of priorities we want to get done, this is a time to reenergize and renew our commitment to help the President advance his agenda. And so that's the way he was looking at it, as a time to reenergize ourselves and to really refresh ourselves. This is a time for a little bit of a fresh start with a new Chief of Staff in place.
Q He had a couple of weeks, though, running up to taking over this job. Has he given a time frame for when he wants to have the team in place, moving forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think his impression he has left everybody with is the sooner, the better to get that team in place, because you want to continue moving forward aggressively on the President's agenda. And in his view, I think, the best way to do that is to get that team in place as soon as possible, recognizing that sometimes it takes a little bit of time. So, again, you always -- and I talked about this earlier with you -- you always have to balance some of the continuity with change, and I think he's very mindful of that.
Q Scott, going to the generals who have been speaking out, you have -- I know the Pentagon put out a paper saying there are 8,000 living retired or active duty generals. There are only two who have been on the ground in Iraq as division commanders and retired since then, and they have spoken out. They have told the President they don't think Donald Rumsfeld should stay. And, yet, the President, despite what these commanders on the ground who have the experience there, who came out and made these comments, the President said he wanted Don Rumsfeld to stay. Is he telling those generals they're wrong? And why wouldn't he want to call the --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, what the President did on Friday was make a strong statement reiterating his full support for Secretary Rumsfeld. He talked about how Secretary Rumsfeld's energetic and steady leadership is exactly what is needed at this time. And there have been a number of generals that I think you've heard from expressing very similar views, generals that have worked very closely with Secretary Rumsfeld.
General Myers has spoken about his deep trust for Secretary Rumsfeld and his leadership and his deep respect for his leadership. General Franks, who was head of Central Command, during the lead-up into Iraq, and for a time period thereafter, has spoken out in strong support of Secretary Rumsfeld; General DeLong. So you've had a number of people who've talked about him. In fact, you had several generals who signed a piece in The Wall Street Journal this morning talking about how military leaders have been very involved to an "unprecedented degree," in their words, in every decision-making process. And they went on to express their strong support for Secretary Rumsfeld's leadership. So I wouldn't look at it --
Q Scott, I would say that --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- I wouldn't look at it in the terms you described it in your question.
Q Well, General Franks and General Myers, it seems, were criticized or obviously in on the planning that -- particularly General Newbold in his piece in Time Magazine was -- without naming them -- was probably criticizing, as well, talking about those in uniform who didn't come forward. So in a sense, aren't they defending themselves, as well?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you -- well, I can go and name -- I mean, I just named several others that are speaking out about their support for Secretary Rumsfeld --
Q Who on the ground is a division commander --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- so I think you ought to look to what those --
Q Who on the ground is a division commander?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- generals are saying. But the President, I think, made an important point in his statement. I did, as well. The President has tasked Secretary Rumsfeld and our military commanders with some difficult challenges. And they are rising to meet those challenges. This is a difficult and challenging period in which we are in. The President, when Secretary Rumsfeld first came into office, tasked him with transforming our military so that we're better prepared to respond to the threats of the 21st century.
Then, of course, September 11th came and our nation was attacked, and the President has asked the Secretary and our military leaders to wage the war on terrorism on multiple fronts. We are taking the fight to the enemy. We're on the offensive, and we are a nation that remains engaged in a global war on terrorism.
So there are many challenges that we face, and the President has tasked Secretary Rumsfeld and our commanders to meet those challenges, and they are meeting those challenges.
Q Scott, I want to ask you about the National Intelligence Council report that came to the White House in January of 2003, that essentially said the Niger uranium claims were baseless. In view of that report, how did the uranium claim make its way to the State of the Union Address, subsequently?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know how many times we've been over that. I think we went over that back in July of 2003 and we talked about that. So I would encourage you to look back at the briefing that was provided to you all in this room.
In terms of the intelligence, we have said multiple times that the intelligence was wrong. That's why the President asked the Robb-Silberman Commission, an independent bipartisan commission, to take a look at all the intelligence in the lead up to the decision to go into Iraq. It was intelligence that was shared with members of Congress, it was intelligence that was very similar to what nations across the world believed, and it's intelligence that the United Nations --
Q Well, who got the intelligence here?
MR. McCLELLAN: What's important now is that we make sure we move forward in implementing the reforms that were recommended by the Robb-Silberman Commission. We have done that.
Q But can I ask how you got the intelligence here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. We put in place a Director of National Intelligence. We have restructured the intelligence community under his leadership -- Ambassador Negroponte. And so there are a number of steps we continue to move forward on to make sure that the President has the best possible intelligence, and to make sure that Congress has the best possible intelligence, because there are many threats we face in this day and age and we need to make sure that those threats are being met in the best possible way.
Q I just want, for the record, who received the intelligence report here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Who received which intelligence report?
Q The January, 2003 National Intelligence Council report.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll have to go back and look and get you that information. I assume it went to the National Security Council.
Q Thank you, Scott. Writing yesterday in The Washington Post, Richard Holbrooke, the former Ambassador to the United Nations, characterized the stinging criticism of Secretary Rumsfeld by the six retired generals as the biggest conflict between civilian and military leadership over a major issue since President Truman fired General MacArthur in 1950. And what's your reaction to Ambassador Holbrooke's characterization?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that our views have been expressed when it comes to Secretary Rumsfeld. The President has made very clear where he stands, and he felt it was important to do so.
Q So you have no specific reaction to the attack in print by Ambassador Holbrooke?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you ought to see what generals that I pointed to, in response to Martha's question, have said about Secretary Rumsfeld and about his leadership and his style of leading.
Q Back to Josh's briefing this morning. Insofar as this is a time of transition and re-energizing and refreshing, et cetera, has there been any indication -- should the public take any potential changes in the weeks ahead as a sign that the priorities and policies of this administration are changing because there might be some changes in the personnel?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think the priorities and policies of this administration are very clear. They've been outlined by the President of the United States. Obviously, I talked about that at the beginning -- winning the war on terrorism is right at the top of our priority list. We remain engaged in a global war. Iraq is central to winning that war on terrorism. We have a very clear and flexible strategy in place. The President has talked about that repeatedly over the last several months.
We also have a number of important priorities on the domestic front. We're working to move forward to keep our economy growing stronger.
You know, today is Tax Day, and the President made some remarks earlier today talking about Tax Day. And, in fact, I would just point out for you that the Secretary of Treasury put out a statement today. On this Tax Day there is some good news out there that people should keep in mind. Tax relief has helped our economy create more than 5.1 million new jobs over the last two, two-and-a-half years. It's left more money in the pockets of American workers, families and small businesses, so that they can decide best how to save, spend and invest, and keep our economy growing.
And some of the statistics that were put out by the Treasury Department today pointed out that, thanks to the tax relief signed into law by the President, over 5 million individuals and families have seen their income tax liabilities completely eliminated; 44 million families with children will receive an average tax cut of nearly $2,500; 14 million elderly individuals will receive an average of $2,000; 25 million small business owners will save an average of $3,600. And just last month we saw that more than 211,000 jobs were created. Our unemployment rate is down to 4.7 percent, below the averages of the '60s, '70s, '80s and '90s.
But there are steps we need to take to keep our economy growing. The President outlined those in his State of the Union. We need to address rising energy prices. That means reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy and addressing the root causes of those high energy prices. That's why he outlined a plan to transform the way we power our cars and homes and businesses. And he also outlined a way to address rising health care costs, by expanding health savings accounts. And he laid out a plan to keep the American economy the most competitive in the world.
These are important priorities that the President outlined in the State of the Union address. Those are the priorities we're focused on and those are the priorities we're moving forward on. And Josh wants to make sure we have the best possible team in place as we move forward to help the President over the next year to two years, as we move forward.
Q Thank you. I guess what I'm trying to sort of focus in a little bit more clearly on is what exactly will be reenergized and refreshed? Is this an exercise in improving communications with folks on Capitol Hill, improving communications and explanation to the American --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to get into speculating about things. Obviously, we'll keep you posted on announcements as we are ready to make them. There's an OMB position, the Office of Management and Budget Director position needs to be filled. We have been moving forward on that. I expect more on that soon. There's some other positions waiting to be filled. And so this is a period where we're still kind of going through a transition period with Josh taking over as Chief of Staff. And so we'll keep you posted on any of those announcements as we move forward.
Q Two questions. One, as far as this U.S.-India civilian nuclear agreement on Capitol Hill is concerned, getting heated up on the Hill, administration and India both are lobbying for the agreement. But on the Hill last week and for the last four months, China and Pakistan both are spending millions of dollars to lobby against the agreement. And this week, China's President will be here at the White House to meet with the President -- do you think this issue will be discussed? And how President Bush is taking this lobby against his will and agreement on the Hill?
MR. McCLELLAN: How the President is taking what?
Q This lobby by China and Pakistan on the Hill against the agreement.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there's been good bipartisan response from members of Congress about moving forward on this agreement with India. It is an approach that is based on addressing the realities we face, and it's an important agreement. It will help strengthen our strategic relationship, but it's an agreement that will help us when it comes to meeting energy needs in the future -- China and the United States -- and for the first time will bring -- I'm sorry, India and the United States -- it will bring India into compliance with nonproliferation agreements for its civilian nuclear program. So that's an important aspect of it, as well.
But the President is looking forward to seeing President Hu later this week. There are a number of important issues that they will be discussing. This is an important strategic relationship we have. There are many areas of common concern where we are working together. There are also a number of differences that we have.
But I think this is a relationship that has moved forward and matured to a point where we can speak openly and candidly about those disagreements. And just recently, you saw some of the commitments that were made by China to move forward on the economic side and make sure we're leveling the playing field when it comes to trade. Those were important steps that were announced by China. Now we want to see those steps implemented. And so it's important to see the results from that, as well. And we'll have a briefing later this afternoon from some of our China experts to talk to you about the trip -- or talk to you about the visit that's upcoming later this week.
Ivan, go ahead.
Q Thank you, Scott. A little bit of peripheral question on this Secretary Rumsfeld issue. Under the Goldwater-Nichols Act, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as you know, is the chief military spokesman for the President. Has the President ever, or does he choose to talk directly by phone or otherwise with the Chairman, the current, or General Myers? Or does he prefer to go through Secretary Rumsfeld? And turning it around, as a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think it's an either/or situation. The President talks with the Joint Chiefs on a regular basis; he talks with General Pace on a regular basis; he talks with Secretary Rumsfeld on a regular basis. So I don't think you should look at it in either/or terms.
Q Say, for instance, General Pace -- would he have the "open sesame," if you will, to come here and meet with the President without bringing Secretary Rumsfeld along?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think the President has ever looked at it in those terms.
Go ahead, Les. Go ahead.
Q Yes, Scott, a two part. The New York Times reports this morning from Arizona that Republican Congressman J.D. Hayworth says he has seen "an incredible backlash" to those illegal immigrant demonstrations, and he argues that all illegal immigrants should be arrested and eventually deported. And my question, will the President support or oppose the reelection of this Republican Congressman?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has expressed his views when it comes to the need for comprehensive immigration reform. We've been very clear in what our views are and how to address --
Q Do they differ from Hayworth --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- how to address this issue. And, of course, the President has supported Republican incumbents in their reelection bids.
Q And since this morning's annual White House Easter Egg Roll welcomed everybody, including those wearing rainbow leis promoting their sexual orientation, will next year's event include all sexual orientations, including those wearing arm bands proclaiming that pain is pleasure, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, the Easter Egg Roll is a very happy tradition at the White House that dates back to 1878. It is a time for families, and we welcome all families and their children who want to come and participate in the --
Q All orientations --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- Easter Egg Roll.
Q But my question was "all orientations."
MR. McCLELLAN: And you got a response to your question.
Q But that wasn't a response.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead. Roger, go ahead.
Q Back to China for a moment. China did, as you mentioned, offer some concessions last week on trade and some of the other areas, ban on piracy protection, so on and so forth. When the President meets President Hu this week, is he going to press further on concessions? Or is he satisfied with what was announced last week? And how will he measure the progress by which things are implemented?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Secretary Gutierrez put out a statement and said we want to see results. We want to see this implemented. And you have another meeting of the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade that will take place a year from now. They meet on an annual basis. They have a lot of discussions in between, so we want to see China move forward on the steps and the commitments that they just recently made. But those were important steps that were announced. It's important progress. Now we will be looking to see the results.
In terms of any additional information, stay tuned, we'll have a briefing here in a short amount of time. And those individuals can talk to you more about it.
Q Did the President think he got sort of half of a loaf? Or was he gratified by the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I expressed our views on it. It's progress, but now we want to see results.
Q Scott, thank you. A few more on Hamas. Does the financial support of Hamas by Iran and Russia and other countries undermine U.S. efforts to transform Hamas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that we have spelled out what our views are, as has the Quartet, of which we are a member. The Quartet has spelled out what Hamas needs to do. They laid out some very clear principles and has called on Hamas to agree to abide by those principles. That includes committing to nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and fulfilling obligations and previous agreements that the Palestinian Authority had made with Israel and others.
In terms or -- you know, we also announced recently our humanitarian assistance for the Palestinian people. We're increasing that. But we're not going to fund a government that does not abide by those important principles -- and we've made that very clear -- fund or support a government in any way. And the Quartet has made that very clear, as well. Now, if they change their ways, then we can address the matter at that point.
Q Are there any behind-the-scenes talks going on directly with Hamas? Does there appear to be any give in this situation?
MR. McCLELLAN: We don't deal with a government that is not committed to the principles I just outlined and that the Quartet outlined.
Q Scott, in early June 2003, did Vice President Cheney tell President Bush that CIA Officer Valerie Plame was the wife of Joseph Wilson?
MR. McCLELLAN: You know that -- and I wouldn't read anything into this one way or the other -- you know that I can't get into talking about this matter. It's an ongoing legal proceeding at this point. And we've had a policy in place for a long time. I appreciate you asking the question, but I know that you have heard me say we're not going to get into discussing an ongoing legal proceeding.
Q Has Prime Minister Tony Blair cancelled an upcoming trip with the U.S.?
MR. McCLELLAN: We haven't made any announcements on any trips by Prime Minister Blair.
Q Well, that's why I'm asking. Has he cancelled --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything to add to what I just said. I mean, we haven't announced any trip that he was making to the United States.
Q Scott, on the egg roll, why did the first people in line not get tickets for the first entry to the grounds this morning?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q Why did the first people in line for the egg roll tickets not get tickets granting them entry for the first --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've covered the egg roll probably the last few years, and one of the things that we have started a tradition of is designating some time for special groups to come and participate in the Easter Egg Roll. Go back to May of -- or go back to 2003; I think we set aside time for military families and their children to participate in the egg roll. And this year there's a special group that we set aside the morning time for. That group included youth volunteers -- volunteers with Big Brothers, Big Sisters; volunteers with organizations like 4-H, Campfire USA, Citizen Corps, YMCA, and Youth Service America. So that morning time was set aside for those groups.
Q What about the ones with the arm bands?
MR. McCLELLAN: You've already had your two questions. (Laughter.)
Q Any comments on Iran or Lugar's most recent comments that the U.S. needs to take action against Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: That we need to take action against Iran? Well, I think Secretary Rice expressed last week that if the regime continues on its current path, that it's time for the United Nations Security Council to take further steps on the diplomatic front. And that's what she said last week, and that's what we continue to believe. This is a regime that is only further isolating itself by its recent announcements and its continuing behavior. And it's time to address this matter at the Security Council if they're going to continue on that course.
Q Does the U.S. government know whether or not they have the P2 centrifuges that will help them get closer to obtaining a nuclear weapon? Do you know that, or not?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any further update on that. But if the statements prove to be true, it would be a very serious concern. Undisclosed work on P2 centrifuges would be a further violation of Iran's safeguard obligations, in addition to those that have already been identified by the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Such violations and failures by the regime to comply with its international obligations run contrary to the regime's claims that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes.
The United Nations Security Council, as I mentioned, has called for the regime to comply with the requirements of the Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency. If the regime does not, then it is time for further action by the Security Council.
Thank you. Have a good day.
END 1:09 P.M. EDT