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25 February 2004

White House Daily Briefing, February 25, 2004

Haiti, Chairman Greenspan/Social Security, Constitutional amendment/gay marriage, North Korea, meeting with congressional leaders, presidential travel, Supreme Court ruling, Libya

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed the media February 25.

Following is the transcript of the White House briefing:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
February 25, 2004

PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN

INDEX
-- Haiti
-- Chairman Greenspan/Social Security
-- Constitutional amendment/gay marriage
-- North Korea
-- Meeting with congressional leaders
-- Presidential travel
-- Supreme Court ruling
-- Libya


THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
February 25, 2004

PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN

James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

1:13 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I just have one brief update: The President spoke earlier today with President Mubarak. It was a brief conversation. They discussed issues in the region, and both leaders stated that they look forward to seeing each other soon.

And with that, I'm open to your questions. Terry.

QUESTION: When the President says that he would -- he's talking to the international community about sending -- assembling an international force, incident to a political settlement, did he describe what that means?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think Secretary Powell has described that previously. He's talked about it in the last few days, how, as part of a political solution to the situation in Haiti, the international community is prepared to help police that solution.

Q: But they would not go in before there's a political settlement --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President said, incident to the political settlement. So that's what the President said.

Q: So there has to be a political settlement, and then the international police force --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's what he's referring to. Our efforts right now remain focused on the diplomatic side. We are working closely with the Caribbean Community, we're working closely with the Organization of American States, we're working closely with France and Canada and other nations to bring about a peaceful, political solution. We continue to deplore the violence that is going on in Haiti, and we will continue to work with all parties to bring about a peaceful solution to this situation.

Q: There's some talk that there's some urgency about getting something accomplished, a settlement or a police force in there, by the weekend. Do you have -- does the United States share these concerns?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, our efforts -- we remain actively engaged in the ongoing diplomatic efforts, and we remain in contact with a number of people to bring about a peaceful resolution to the situation. That's where our focus is right now.

Q: Scott, when the President was asked this morning about Chairman Greenspan's comments, he said he hadn't seen them. Has he had a greater chance -- have you all had a greater chance to look at them, and what do you think of this idea of paring back Social Security benefits in order to offset the growing deficit and debt?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President addressed the question, number one. He said that we have a plan to cut the deficit in half over the next five years. And in terms of his principles on Social Security, they are very clear. The President has made it very clear that there should be no changes in benefits for retirees or those nearing retirement. The President has also made it very clear that, as part of our efforts to strengthen and reform Social Security, we should allow younger workers the opportunity to invest a small portion of their retirement savings in personal retirement accounts. And the President talked about how voluntary personal retirement accounts will allow those who choose the potential to realize an even greater rate of return on their savings. That's part of our efforts to save and strengthen Social Security.

Q: When he talks about those near retirement, does he use the age 50 to 55 benchmark that the Social Security Administration --

MR. McCLELLAN: We said that the principles -- have laid out those retirees and near retirees. That's what we've laid out in the principles.

Q: But here we appear to have a situation where the record deficits that the federal government is running now appear not only to be having an effect on the debt, but, according to Chairman Greenspan, may have an effect on Social Security. It seems to me as though that's a pretty big bombshell to be dropped on your head in the middle --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're talking some short-term issues and you're talking some long-term issues that need to be looked at. The President has called for saving and strengthening Social Security. He appointed a commission. The commission went in and looked at a variety of ideas and the commission came back and said there needs to be a national dialogue on this issue. Members of Congress are starting to put forward ideas. So there is some movement to address this important issue. We do need to strengthen and reform Social Security, and the President has talked about his principles for doing that.

Q: But doesn't the suggestion that the deficits that you've been running -- which your economic team has passed off as "easily manageable in this economy" -- suddenly are having the potential for an effect that goes far beyond anything that has been calculated --

MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking long-term. This President has acted to address some long-term fiscal issues, such as Medicare and Social Security. We took an initial step in the Medicare reform legislation to put in some cost controls to the program. Now, there's more that needs to be done. There's also steps we need to take when it comes to Social Security. So you're talking about some long-term issues here, and some long-term problems that we face. And then, of course, there's the deficit. The President talked about how we're working to cut that in half over the next five years.

Go ahead, Helen.

Q: Does the President really think that the fact that men and women get married will be jeopardized by gay marriage -- I mean, the tradition would be actually hurt? In what way would it be affected?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President actually talked about this in his remarks. He talked about how the union of a man and woman is the most enduring human institution. He said it was honored and encouraged in all cultures and by every religious faith. He went on to say that ages of experience have taught humanity that the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Redefining marriage would hurt those efforts. It would undermine those efforts. And he went on to say that marriage cannot be severed from its cultural, religious, and natural roots without weakening the good influence of society. Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interest of all.

Q: But would it really be affected, men and women?

MR. McCLELLAN: This is about preserving an enduring institution in our nation and in our civilization.

Q: But how would it be hurt?

MR. McCLELLAN: And I just talked to you about the President's views on that. It's a value that we hold dear. It's part of the very fabric of our society. The President made that very clear in his remarks.

Q: Can I ask you to expand a little bit on the children aspect of that? Does the President believe that gay marriage represents a threat to the welfare of children?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's always talked about -- in welfare reform, for instance, we've talked about promoting healthy, stable families and strengthening marriage. And we've talked about some ways to go about that. But I think I would look at it the way the President described it.

Q: But the way he described it suggests that he believes that same-sex couples who are raising children, those children are not as well off, they're endangered.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you're suggesting things. The President talked about the importance of promoting efforts that you're mentioning, promoting -- he said in his comments, the commitment of a husband and wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. He's always talked about the best place to put adopted children is in a loving home with a mother and father. He believes strongly in that.

Q: Has the President been disappointed by the response of some Republicans, whether it was Mr. DeLay who said, we've got to go slow on this up here, or those outside the Congress, Alan Simpson and others who don't think this is a good idea?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think you're thinking -- I think what you're seeing is the congressional process begin. What the President emphasized is it's important for the people's voice to be heard in this process. You have activist judges and a few local officials who are seeking to redefine marriage, without regard for the voice of the people. The vast majority of the American people believe marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. It's important that their voice be heard in this debate. This is an issue of national significance. That's exactly what the constitutional process was set up for.

Q: Would you elaborate -- on Haiti, elaborate a little bit on what the President said about turning Haitians away from the shore? How big a force is out there to do this? And why does he feel --

MR. McCLELLAN: You'd have to talk to the appropriate agencies for --

Q: Why did he feel a need to give this message?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's important that the Haitian people know that our migration policy is very clear and it remains the same. We are focused on bringing about a peaceful, political solution to the situation. That's where our focus is, so that we can resolve the current crisis going on in Haiti right now. We're working with all parties. We're working with the government of Haiti; we're working with the political opposition, as well.

Q: And President Aristide said he needs the security presence there now. You're not willing to do that, is that correct?

MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to work on the diplomatic efforts. Obviously, I pointed out, and the President pointed out, as well, that as part of political solution, that the international community is prepared to police the situation.

Q: Can I have a follow-up on Haiti?

Q: On gay marriage, under the fastest track imaginable, it would take years for a constitutional amendment to be drawn up, ratified --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, some have taken as short as three months, and some have taken as long as 200 years.

Q: It would take a long time. What is the President going to do in the meantime to act on his beliefs on this issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll continue to call on Congress to act quickly. He said, I want Congress to act promptly to pass this and so we can get it to the states so the people's voice can be heard.

Q: In the meantime, obviously, there is a spreading movement out there that is allowing gay marriages to go forward. Is that just going to happen until a constitutional amendment --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's all the more reason Congress needs to move promptly.

Q: Scott, on Haiti, the situation is very tense, and we have some private citizens talking about going over to try and help the situation. Is it advantageous for private citizens -- be it Al Sharpton, or whomever -- to go to Haiti, or any other country, when the United States is trying to work out a deal to prevent bloodshed --

MR. McCLELLAN: It's not just the United States. I would point out that it's the international community, really, working on these efforts. And that's where the efforts should be focused right now. The international community, through the Caribbean Community, the Organization of American States, and other countries, including France and Canada, are working closely with us to bring about a peaceful, political solution.

Q: But as I said, is it, in your opinion, advantageous, or not? Basically, you're saying it's not --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying we need to continue to work through the efforts that are ongoing right now. That's where the focus is.

Q: So are you basically telling Al Sharpton and anybody else --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what individuals are doing. So you'd have to ask --

Q: But do you think that that would cause a hiccup or a glitch in any work that you have -- that the international community --

MR. McCLELLAN: We remain focused on working with our international partners that I just mentioned, and the parties in Haiti, to bring about a peaceful resolution. That's where our focus is.

Q: Scott, on the same subject, before this crisis broke, we heard of 20,000 Americans living in Haiti or residing in Haiti, and the State Department made a warning for them to get out. Do you know how many are still there --

MR. McCLELLAN: You should direct those questions to the State Department. I think that would be the appropriate place to direct those questions. They did put out a travel advisory, making some recommendations.

Q: Here's the second question. Yesterday, when you mentioned that the standing U.S. policy on Haitians trying to leave the country and arrive by boat, you said they would be stopped and sent back. But you had a caveat, you added a phrase that was a standing policy. I think it had to do with security or protection. Would you elaborate what that caveat --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's just our policy. I was just restating our policy.

Q: Would you restate what that caveat was?

MR. McCLELLAN: I stated it yesterday; I don't think there's any need to restate it. You've summed it up there at the end.

Q: Scott, back on Social Security. Would the President, as part of a bipartisan agreement to ensure the solvency of Social Security, would the President support putting on the table items such as cutting benefits and raising the retirement age?

MR. McCLELLAN: The President has outlined his principles. His principles are very clear, and that's where we are. Obviously, as I said, members of Congress are starting to put forward different ideas, and we will take a look at those, and we want to continue to work on this issue to move forward on ideas that reflect the President's principles.

Q: Would you look at those two, specifically?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I point back to the President's principles. He's made very clear what his views are; those at retirement or nearing retirement should not have any change in benefits. And then he has made it very clear, and he addressed this in the Oval Office, as well, he said that -- and this is about trusting in people, this proposal that the President has put forward. It's a philosophical issue, as well. And he has said that younger workers -- well, one, we know that we need to strengthen Social Security for future generations. Otherwise, we're going to run into some of the situations John mentioned years from now. And that's why the President has come out in favor of strengthening and reforming Social Security for future generations. He has specifically said that younger workers should be able to invest a small portion, if they choose, of their retirement savings in personal retirement accounts, and that that proposal would enable them to realize a potentially even greater rate of return on their benefits. That's the way to save and strengthen it.

Q: That proposal would also cost as much as a trillion dollars over the medium-term?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he has outlined his principles. And there are a number of ideas that are being put forward. There are a lot of different ways to address that.

Q: Is he willing to abide by, as a part of the proposal, a pay-go proposal -- a pay-go requirement, which Chairman Greenspan believes the government should re-adopt, it having expired?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President in his budget has put forward budget enforcement mechanisms, and I would refer you back to those.

Q: I think the problem with those budget enforcement mechanisms is that they're too easily avoided by Congress. Is the President willing to --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why they -- they need to be enforced. That's why we're working on Congress to pass the budget the President outlined. The budget that he outlined meets our highest priorities and then holds the line on spending elsewhere. And we're calling on Congress to show spending restraint in this session.

Q: Is the President willing to accept the specific level of spending restraint the government had to deal with in the '90s?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? The spending restraint the President has called for is outlined in his budget. And it is -- when it comes to discretionary spending, it is continuing to come down, the rate of growth of spending on discretionary funds.

Q: I don't think that answers the question. That leaves it up to the --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I'm telling you what our views are. I mean, you're asking me what other people have proposed; I'm telling you what our views are and what we're pushing for and what we're trying to pass.

Q: So you don't want pay-go reimposed?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you what we're for. And we have budget enforcement mechanisms actually in the budget.

Q: Scott, did you read or watch Chairman Greenspan, his comments?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. I've seen the news coverage. I mean, I've seen the reports.

Q: And what is it, in your understanding, that he did say?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't interpret Chairman Greenspan's remarks. Thank you for the opportunity, though. (Laughter.)

Q: Well, I ask the question because you're the President's Press Secretary and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve made comments --

MR. McCLELLAN: We don't comment on the Reserve.

Q: Do you believe that he, anywhere in his comments, suggested that Social Security benefits should be cut for future retirees?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I have not seen the full context of his remarks. I'm telling you what the President's views are. I was asked a question about the deficit and Social Security benefits.

Q: And would the President support changes in the cost-of-living adjustments?

MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about on Social Security?

Q: Yes.

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I refer you back to the President's principles. I think I've already discussed the key principles in his plan to save and strengthen Social Security for the future.

Q: I asked you because there's a question about it because the Chairman made some remarks, and at the end of his testimony, a member of Congress asked him about the way the wires were interpreting his remarks. And he responded by saying, I am not urging Social Security cuts.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, well, then you have it from the Chairman. (Laughter.) I don't interpret his remarks.

Q: I mean that's the question. I'm asking you, is it your understanding that the Chairman was, in some way, urging --

MR. McCLELLAN: I was responding to a question that the President was asked earlier, as well.

Q: Scott, two quick questions. One, last month the President gave real hope to millions of undocumented people in this country, illegals, by giving them some hope that they will become legal one day. And now some -- many of them have not visited their homeland for five years, 10 years, 15 years. Now they're asking when the President will act, or when can they have this opportunity to be legal.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that is another important priority the President has called on Congress to act on, for the very reasons that he stated, that this is about meeting an economic need, as well as a compassionate view towards those who are here now, and not necessarily being treated humanely. And the President continues to call on Congress to act on that.

Look, we may be in an election year, but it's important to move toward on important priorities for the American people. And that's what we will do.

Q: Second, a quick one. Everybody is talking about that there is a danger of terror, and we still live under the threat of terrorism, like CIA Director, Mr. Tenet also said that, and also Homeland Security Secretary said the same thing. These tapes coming up now, are we still living under the threat of terrorism and are you raising the level of the threat --

MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely, the war on terrorism continues. As you know, on the threat level, that's something we review on a regular ongoing basis. There's no change in it at this point. But it's important that we continue to stay on the offensive and take the fight to the enemy. That's exactly what this President is doing. And some of the testimony you heard yesterday is all the more reason we need to continue to stay on the offensive and go after those who seek to do us harm. That's what this President has done, and that's what he will continue to do.

Q: Scott, if I can go back to Terry's question for a moment. Aside from Representative DeLay --

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry Hunt or Terry Moran?

Q: I'm sorry, Terry Moran.

Q: The real Terry. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, oh. (Laughter.)

Q: I thought I was Team Terry.

MR. McCLELLAN: Not anymore. Division in the press briefing. (Laughter.)

Q: When Terry Moran cited Representative DeLay's questioning of support in --

MR. McCLELLAN: He's already had his question, Scott. (Laughter.)

Q: Aside from Representative DeLay, you have Representative Dreier, Senator McCain, there are others who have cited some skepticism and, in some cases, outright lack of support for a constitutional amendment. Did the President anticipate any kind of division within his own party over this issue?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I talked about yesterday, this is about acting on an important principle that the President has always held. And Presidents make decisions. Events have dictated that there is a need for action on this issue of national importance. That's why the President has called for Congress to begin the constitutional process, because he wants the voice of the people to be heard. The voice of the people is not being heard because of the activist judges and a few local officials who are seeking to redefine marriage.

Q: A follow-up, Scott. You say this is a --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. I'll come back. I'll come back. Let me keep going --

Q: -- you say that he's always held this belief. How do you explain, then, the fact that, as a candidate in 2000, he said that this was a matter better left up to the states? How do you explain the change of heart?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I disagree with the way you characterize it -- as I did with John, yesterday. The President's views were very clear in 2000; they were very clear even before that. The President has always believed that marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. The President strongly supports the Defense of Marriage Act.

Now, there is no certainty that the Defense of Marriage Act won't be struck down by activist judges. Recent events have forced us to take another course of action. The President believes the only alternative for the people now is the constitutional process, so that their voice can be heard. But events have certainly changed, and it's important that we act decisively to preserve this sacred institution.

Q: Scott, two questions, one on gay marriage. On the gay marriage question, the President has talked about it being in all cultures, all religions. But in the Muslim religion, Islam, you're allowed to have four wives. So how is -- and, yet, we don't agree with that here. How is that -- all religions --

MR. McCLELLAN: I will tell you the President's views again: Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. That's his view. That's the view of the vast majority of the American people. I would refer you back to the fact that 38 states have passed measures saying that marriage is between a man and a woman. I would refer you back to the congressional vote on the Defense of Marriage Act, which overwhelmingly passed, broad bipartisan support.

Q: Okay. And on Haiti, how is President Aristide expected to keep order in Haiti when New York City -- same population, roughly -- has 40,000 policemen and Haiti has maybe 8,000? Why not give some support to --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that was part of the consensus plan that was agreed to with the international community members that I mentioned earlier, that was presented to the government of Haiti and presented to the democratic opposition, as well. And it called on steps to be taken to address some of the issues of governance, and to address relating to security, such as the police forces.

Q: Some people have raised the point or the question, they're saying that with the President standing now behind the need for a constitutional amendment on marriage, that he has revived the cultural wars of the 1990s for political purposes; that he's using this so he doesn't have to answer questions about the economy; that he's using this to energize maybe a part of his base who are disgruntled. What would you have --

MR. McCLELLAN: The President focuses on the economy every day. The President has made the economy and winning the war on terrorism our highest priorities. From day one of this administration, this President has acted to strengthen our economy and to create as robust an environment for job creation as possible. I just mentioned his two highest priorities; they remain his two highest priorities. He looks forward to talking about our record of accomplishment on those priorities, and talking about the additional steps that we need to take to continue the progress we're making on both those fronts.

And this President has worked to elevate the discourse in this town. He has worked to bring the country together around -- around proposals that we all believe are important. This President has acted decisively, and this President believes strongly that this is an issue of principle, this is an issue that goes to the foundation of our society. That's why he came out with the announcement that he did yesterday.

There is a lot of growing confusion. There is a lot of division going on in this country, but it's because of the recent events that have been occurring in places like Massachusetts and San Francisco. And a President makes decisions when it comes to issues of national importance, and that's what this President has done.

Q: So, basically, the cultural war came to his doorstep, rather than him going out --

MR. McCLELLAN: Events, recent events certainly have dictated the need for action on this very issue.

Q: So he made this decision in no way in reaction to the strong pressure that he's getting from his own base to make this decision?

MR. McCLELLAN: He makes decision based on principle and based on what is right for the country.

Q: So there was no reaction --

MR. McCLELLAN: I addressed that yesterday, and I just addressed it again.

Q: And one more. Does he plan to lobby for this amendment in the way that he has for Medicare or taxes --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he had a congressional meeting yesterday, and he talked about the importance of acting promptly on it. And he had a congressional meeting this morning, and he talked about the importance of this issue, as well.

Q: Scott, two quick ones. Does the President expect --

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry?

Q: The "false Terry" has some breaking news. (Laughter.)

Q: Two quick ones. Does the President expect Congress to send this amendment to the states this year?

MR. McCLELLAN: He wants it to act promptly.

Q: And on Haiti, when the Secretary of State spoke about the international police force recently, he ruled out a U.S. presence in that. Is that still the policy?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, what we are prepared to do is to assist the international community in those efforts.

Q: Why isn't he putting in U.S. troops?

Q: The President has yet to say which or what amendment language he would support. Is the White House going to develop its own language, or is it going to leave that --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're going to work with Congress on the specific language. I have indicated that Congresswoman Musgrave's language, or at least her proposal, meets our principles. But we still need to work on the specific language for an amendment.

Q: Now, there's some -- but there's some question about that, whether that would allow -- whether that would prevent civil unions. Is the administration going to back an amendment that permits states to allow civil unions, or is --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President's views have been very clear on that. He believes that states have the right to enter into legal arrangements that they so choose, and that would include civil unions.

Q: And he believes that the amendment that you just mentioned protects that?

MR. McCLELLAN: It does -- he does -- he does believe that. But again, the specific language we need to continue to work with Congress on.

Go ahead, Sara. I'll come back to you, Mark.

Q: Thank you. Scott, there are reports from China that the U.S. and North Korea have had a private meeting. Is this true? And was any deal made?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, this is a multilateral process when it comes to addressing the issue of North Korea. Our goal is a shared goal: North Korea must reverse course and end once and for all its nuclear weapons program in an irreversible and verifiable way. That's what we are working to accomplish.

The second round of talks are ongoing as we speak. We've always said that the multi-party talks certainly allow for individuals to talk to one another if they so choose. And so I think that that's what you're seeing.

Q: I have another question, please.

MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, go ahead.

Q: Washington is having drinking water problems, lead in the water. How is the water in the White House? And does the President drink D.C. water or bottled water?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't looked into the issue of the water at the White House, but I will be glad to do that.

Q: Scott, a follow on Keith's question about the President continuing to call on the Congress on the marriage amendment. One subject that he has consistently spoken out about over the last number of years has been his judicial nominees getting blocked by Senate Democrats. Should we anticipate that the President would be as vocal on this issue as he has been on that one in his public speeches?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you heard how vocal the President was. He believes strongly in doing what is necessary to protect the sanctity of marriage.

Q: Would it be something that would be repeated in public speeches, that we should anticipate?

MR. McCLELLAN: He will continue to talk about the need for Congress to act promptly.

Q: One other subject. You said a few days ago the President would like to see the movie, "The Passion of the Christ." It's out in theaters today -- I know he can see a movie probably just about any time --

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I indicated that at some point in time he probably would.

Q: But no specific plans as of today?

MR. McCLELLAN: No.

Q: Scott, did you get a further readout on the meeting between the congressional leaders and the President?

MR. McCLELLAN: A lot of the discussion focused on national security issues. The President certainly talked about the war on terrorism and the progress we're making. He talked about the importance of moving forward on transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people on the timetable that the Iraqi Governing Council agreed to. He certainly talked about our efforts that are underway in regards to North Korea. He talked about what's going on in other areas, as well -- the progress we're making in Libya, for example.

Q: What about the amendment?

MR. McCLELLAN: It came up. They did discuss that.

Q: I just wanted to ask about tomorrow's trip. In view of what the President was saying on Monday night, is it safe to say that tomorrow we're not going to hear the President talk about loosening up and politics coming in its own time -- (laughter) -- because he will be in full campaign mode --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President spoke to the fact that we're at a critical period in our nation's history, and there are a lot of serious challenges that we face. And he will continue to talk about the choices that this nation faces. We are moving in the right direction when it comes to the war on terrorism. We are dismantling and disrupting the terrorist network. We are moving in the right direction when it comes to the economy. The economy is growing stronger. Unemployment is below the average of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. Jobs are being created -- 366,000-some jobs over the last several months. It's important that we continue to move in the direction that we are going and not retreat from that.

Q: So on Monday, he was rather pointed and specific about what he was saying about his Democrats -- Democratic opponents --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, these events are focused on the economy, and the President will participate -- well, the two events -- he has some other events which I think will be -- remarks will be similar to what he said on Monday for the political events, for the Bush-Cheney receptions. And then the events that focus on the economy, that's a conversation on the economy like you all have seen. And then the event later in the day is remarks on the economy.

Q: Scott, on Haiti, could you clarify what you said earlier? You said the U.S. stands ready to assist --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to go -- let me go to them, and I'll come back to you.

Q: One aspect of Chairman Greenspan's testimony that you didn't talk about was he actually endorsed making the tax cuts permanent. Can I just get a reaction to those statements from you?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the President's views are very well-known in terms of the importance of making the tax cuts permanent and bringing some certainty to the American people. And he's talked very forcefully about the need for Congress to act now to make those tax cuts permanent. The last thing we need to do in an economy that is growing stronger is to raise taxes.

Q: You think it strengthens your case?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'll let the Chairman speak for himself and I'll speak for the President.

Q: Scott, does the White House have a reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling today that a student can be denied state funds if they are pursuing a degree in theology? And do you think this will affect the President's move to expand faith-based initiatives?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think it's something we're still reviewing. But the -- after taking an initial look at it, we don't believe anything in the ruling affects the President's efforts to reach out to faith-based and community organizations to help those in need. And the President will certainly continue to work to make sure that faith-based groups are not discriminated against. We've taken great care in moving forward on these efforts to make sure that we abide by the fundamental principle of separation of church and state. And the ruling, I think, is very narrow and applies only at the state level.

Q: Do you think it's right?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q: Do you think the ruling is correct as --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, we're still reviewing it, but those were our initial conclusions.

Q: Scott, Libya says it regrets statements by its Prime Minister that it wasn't responsible for the Pan-Am bombing. Is this sufficient --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think this is something that is just breaking, and so I haven't had a chance to take a look at it. But we will.

Q: Is that what you were looking for on it?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll take a look at it.

Q: -- get back on it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you heard what I've had to say the last couple of days on that issue.

Q: But you were looking for this?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'll take a look at it.

Q: Back on Haiti if you would. You said that the U.S. stands ready to assist these international police forces that would go in after a settlement is reached. What are we prepared to do, to offer?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, we're working with the international community on these efforts. And the international community has made it clear that there would be a police force that could assist -- or that would help with a political solution. And our commitment is to assist in those efforts.

Thank you.

END 1:47 P.M. EST

(end transcript)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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