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07 January 2005

White House Daily Briefing, January 7

Tsunami relief, Sudan, Iraq, personnel, president's schedule, tax reform

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed the press January 7 aboard Air Force One en route to Clinton Township, Michigan.

Following is the transcript of the briefing:

(begin transcript)

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary
(Clinton Township, Michigan)

January 7, 2005

PRESS GAGGLE BY SCOTT McCLELLAN

Aboard Air Force One
En route Clinton Township, Michigan

11:23 A.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, let me begin with a couple updates. As you all are aware, Governor Bush has returned from the Indian Ocean region. The President was able to discuss -- receive an update from his brother last night about the relief efforts and the progress that we're making in the region to help those who are in need of aid. And I'm going to have an additional announcement on the week ahead about that, for when Secretary Powell comes back from the region, so I'll come back to that.

Q: Just real quick, was Jeb at the White House for the family's thing last night?

MR. McCLELLAN: He did attend that, as well, yes.

Q: Is that when the President got the briefing?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, he got the briefing last night at the White House from his brother, they spoke separately and apart from that.

And, by the way, also on -- I guess while we're on it, the public service announcements that former Presidents Clinton and Bush taped the other day are, I think, just about ready to go and we'll probably be trying to get you some more information on those later today. I think we'll be -- the Ad Council will be sending them out to the networks, so we'll try to get you all more information on that, as well, and you can stay in touch with our USA Freedom Corps office, as well.

Q: Are those appeals for money?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, it's part of the nationwide fundraising effort to encourage Americans to contribute to the non-governmental organizations in the region who are helping. And I know Secretary Thompson, as well, is having a meeting today to address some of the health issues related to the situation there and the potential for disease in the area. So you all ought to stay in touch with HHS on that, as well. That's just a couple of updates there. Obviously, our military continues to do a great job in delivering the aid on the ground. We have a number of ships in the region, a number of helicopters working around the clock to deliver food, water and medical supplies to those in the region.

Now, back to the schedule and starting with today. He taped his radio address and he's going to have a little bit more of an update tomorrow on the relief and response efforts in the region as well, in his radio address. Then he had his usual briefings. As you all are aware, he announced the tax reform panel -- bipartisan tax reform panel and met with the chairman and vice chair in the Oval Office, along with Secretary Snow.

Following that, he met briefly with Ambassador Zoellick and announced that he would be nominated to be the Deputy Secretary of State. And you have remarks from them on that.

On the plane, the President a short time ago spoke with Ambassador Danforth by phone, to discuss the situation in Sudan. As you all are aware, Secretary Powell will be going to Sudan on Sunday for the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, and we welcome the parties moving forward on signing this agreement and hope that they will move quickly on implementation so that we can have a just and lasting peace in the region. I think the President was talking to Ambassador Danforth about the security situation in Sudan, as well; we have some continuing concerns about the level of violence in Darfur and the need to make sure all parties are living up to their commitments and making sure that humanitarian aid is flowing freely in the region, so that the people in the region can get the help that they need.

And the Freedom Corps greeter upon arrival is Colonel Don Kotchman, who, for the past 15 years, has been a volunteer for youth sports programs; he's been a Sunday school teacher and helped with Boy Scouts of America.

And then following that, the President participates in the conversation. I know that we have a daughter of someone who died from cancer because of asbestos exposure, and the President will talk about that in his remarks and we'll get you more information on the participants, as well. They've been working for a few years now trying to get compensated for this injury that led to the death of her father and she'll talk about that. And we have a legal expert, we have a small business owner and another family business owner who will be part of the panel that the President will be talking about and the need to move forward this year on reforming our asbestos litigation system.

Let's see, then we go back to the White House. And just a couple other additional personnel announcements from the White House standpoint. The other day I announced some of the White House staff that had been asked to continue serving in the second term. And I wanted to update you on that. Brett Kavanaugh has been asked to continue serving as Staff Secretary. And Dina Powell has been asked to continue serving as the assistant to the President for personnel. And that's all I've got for right now. Remind me and we'll get to the week ahead.

Q: Very quickly, before I get to an Iraq question, are we going to get any paper fleshing out the President's proposal on asbestos litigation?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes -- Georgia, do we have a fax sheet going out? No, you'll hear more from him during the conversation and we'll put out the participants, if we haven't done that already.

Q: Forgive me if the President was asked this in the Oval, because we haven't seen a full transcript, but General Metz said yesterday big portions of four of 18 Iraqi provinces are not secure enough. That's about half the Iraqi population. Is it possible to have a legitimate election in these circumstances?

MR. McCLELLAN: He was asked that very question in the Oval Office, so you will have a response from the President on that. And I'll add a couple of comments to it. The upcoming elections will be a historic moment for the Iraqi people. This will be the first time after decades of oppression that the Iraqi people will be able to freely choose a -- their leaders. And this is -- this will mark a significant achievement on the path to a democratic and peaceful Iraq. This will put in place the transitional national government, which in turn will put in place some of the leaders during that transitional period, before they adopt a constitution and elect a permanent representative government. The President wants to see as full as participation as possible in this election. He wants, as he said in the Oval Office, everybody who is eligible to be able to vote.

We are continuing to address some of the security challenges in the four provinces that General Metz referenced, so that people in those provinces will be able to participate in the election. And we're working very closely with the interim government on those efforts, and the Iraqi security forces, to move forward on the elections.

Q: So he thinks it's possible?

MR. McCLELLAN: What's that?

Q: Yes, it's possible, even --

MR. McCLELLAN: That's why I said, keep in mind that -- it's what the President talked about. He answered this question in the Oval Office. The path to democracy is challenging and difficult. We've seen that in our own history. This is an important step toward a democratic Iraq. And it's important that we move forward on elections now, because that will help -- the choice is very clear for all: either you stand on the side of the terrorists and the regime loyalists who want to return to the fear and intimidation and oppression of the past, or you stand on the side of freedom and democracy for all the Iraqi people. And the President knows that when freedom takes hold in Iraq, it will be a significant moment for the Iraqi people, and a significant moment for a region that for too long has known only tyranny.

But we want the best possible election at the end of this month to take place. You've heard us talk about in the past, how while the election may not be perfect, it's an important achievement on the path to democracy.

Q: Is the President having difficulty finding successors for Bernie Kerik, and also the National -- the Intelligence Director?

MR. McCLELLAN: Do you want me to put your name in?

Q: No thanks. (Laughter.)

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we're continuing to move forward on both those positions. The President has not made any final decisions that are ready to be announced at this point, but we will keep you posted.

Q: Can I ask one more substantive question, before we get to that?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no substantive questions today. It's Friday.

Q: Or any other day, right? (Laughter.)

USA Today says the Education Department paid a TV commentator, Armstrong Williams, about a quarter million dollars to promote No Child Left. And in a related matter, the GAO found yesterday the drug policy office broke federal law by using taxpayer money for covert, "propaganda," with made for TV story packages. Are these practices that you condone?

MR. McCLELLAN: On the first one, that was a decision by the Department of Education, and a contracting matter. So you ought to direct those questions to the Department of Education. I know the headline said that the White House -- basically implied that it was the White House, and it wasn't. If you read the story -- if you read the story, it pointed that out.

Q: It's your administration, Scott. It's the President's administration.

MR. McCLELLAN: In terms of the Office of the Drug Policy, I think that they addressed that issue directly, and that that issue has already been resolved, at this point.

Q: You're pushing it off to the agencies. Obviously, the drug control policy office is an arm of the White House. More broadly, do you approve -- does the White House approve this practice?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that they talked about how they had resolved that issue. I know the HHS was referenced in that story, too, and they had stopped doing it, as well. And we think those were appropriate steps to take.

Q: To stop both practices?

MR. McCLELLAN: They both indicated that they had. We think it was an appropriate step to take by those offices.

Q: I've got a quick question. The payroll number today was a little bit less than private analysts had expected. Is the President disappointed that we're still not seeing very robust --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree with that. There was an upward revision in October -- for October, and November, as well. What we are seeing is sustained growth and job creation because of the policies that the President implemented. And he talked a little bit about this at the beginning of his pool spray with the tax reform panel. We need to continue to take steps to encourage more growth and job creation.

And one way we can do that is to make the tax code simpler and fairer and more conducive to economic growth, because right now, he believes the current tax code is a complicated mess that hinders further economic growth. So that's one way. You've heard him talk about a number of other ways we need to continue to build upon that. And we need to continue to move forward on some of his initiatives to address the changing economy that we're in. And he's going to be doing some of that next week. When I get to the week ahead -- when he talks about some of his job training efforts to make sure that workers have the skills they need to fill the high-paying, high-growth jobs that are being created.

But the President's policies are working, and we're seeing sustained economic growth and job creation in this country. And the unemployment rate remains below the average of the '70s, '80s, and '90s. And we've seen, I think, 2.2 million jobs created over the last year. That is strong, sustained economic growth. But there's more we can do.

On Monday, the President will participate in a briefing at the White House on the relief efforts in the Indian Ocean region. And Secretary Powell will be there for that. Following that, he will go over to the USAID offices and he will meet with some of the -- some representatives of international organizations who are working in the region. And then he will also thank all the USAID employees for all that they're doing to support the people in the region as they recover from this disaster.

Then on Tuesday, the President will participate in a conversation on Social Security reform. He will talk about the serious problem facing Social Security and the need to fix it now, and the need to act on it now. I think you can expect that the participants on the panel will represent a multi-generational -- it will be a multi-generational representation on the panel, talking about the need -- the importance of strengthening Social Security for retirees and for younger Americans, as well.

Q: Is that in Washington?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that will be in Washington. I think it's at Mellon Auditorium, yes.

And then on Wednesday, the President will make remarks on high school initiatives. And that's going to be in the Washington, D.C. area. And then on Thursday, nothing to announce on the schedule at this point. And on Friday, the President will go to Jacksonville, Florida, to participate in a conversation on higher education and job training. And that's what I've got for the week ahead.

Q: Is that a day trip Friday?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.

Q: Thank you.

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, thanks.

END 11:36 A.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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