White House Daily Briefing, May 18
18 May 2005
Bush/Egyptian Prime Minister meeting, Georgia/grenade incident, Uzbekistan, space policy/weaponizing space, the Fed/Chairman Greenspan, Newsweek, judicial nominees/nuclear option effect, stem cell legislation, Cuban exile/Luis Carriles, Negroponte/chief intelligence briefer
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed the press May 18.
Following is the transcript of the White House briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
May 18, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
-- Readout on meeting with Egyptian Prime Minister
-- Georgia/grenade incident
-- Space policy/weaponizing space
-- The Fed/Chairman Greenspan
-- Judicial nominees/nuclear option effect
-- Stem cell legislation
-- Cuban exile Luis Carriles
-- Negroponte/chief intelligence briefer
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
May 18, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Got a couple things to begin with. The President had a very good visit this morning with Prime Minister Nazif of Egypt. Prime Minister Nazif briefed the President on the bold economic reforms that President Mubarak has launched in Egypt. The President commended Egypt for moving forward on those reforms. The President and Prime Minister also had a good discussion about the Middle East peace efforts. The President expressed our appreciation for Egypt's leadership and active involvement in promoting peace and stability in the Middle East. The President also discussed political reform with the Prime Minister. The President praised the historic initiative that Prime Minister [sic] Mubarak outlined to hold free and competitive elections for the presidency. The President urged Egypt to continue moving ahead on free elections that allow for full campaigning and international observers to be present. So they spent a great bit of time talking about the importance of political reform.
They also talked about our economic relationship in light of the economic reforms that Egypt is pursuing. The administration has been in close consultation with Congress and we will explore -- about exploring ways to build upon that economic relationship in light of the reforms. One way we're looking at that is the effort to continue discussions regarding a possible free trade agreement between our countries. The President has asked our United States Trade Representative and the Prime Minister has asked the Egyptian Trade Minister to look at ways to put in place the conditions necessary to advance that objective.
They also talked about Iraq and the progress that is being made in Iraq. They talked about the importance of supporting the Iraqi people during this period of transition. And they talked about Lebanon and the importance of fighting terrorism, as well.
I also have one statement I want to make about the recent announcement from Kuwait allowing women to fully participate in the political process. The President extends congratulations to the women of Kuwait on their historic achievement in gaining full political rights. Women have made worthy contributions to all aspects of Kuwaiti society, and now they will be able to exercise their fundamental right to participate in and contribute to Kuwait's political process. Their influence already is being felt with the passage of this historic -- with the passage of the historic legislation. The President wishes to commend His Highness Amir Jaber, and the Prime Minister for their leadership on this issue, and the brave women and men who tirelessly and courageously pushed for this victory. It is a great moment for Kuwaiti women, Kuwait, and advocates of democratic reform in the Middle East.
And with that, I will be glad to go to your questions.
QUESTION: Scott, after the announcement out of the U.S. Embassy of Georgia today that this grenade was, in fact, real and represented a threat to the President, will there be any change in the security protocols related to the President when he travels outside of this country as a result?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Secret Service is always looking at ways to make sure they're doing everything they can to protect the President of the United States.
Q: But in Georgia, there was a particular situation where part of the crowd rushed a security checkpoint, went through it without being appropriately screened. Will there be any protocols put in place that if such an event happens in the future that the President may cancel the speech, or may there be some other things that happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. First of all, the Secret Service takes any number of security precautions when you're talking about a public event that the President is attending. And so there are a lot of security steps that they take, and I think you need to keep that in mind when you're talking about this.
In terms of the issues that you raised, I mean, those are all issues that the Secret Service will look at and take into consideration for future events.
Q: Was he rattled at all when he was told that this, in fact, was a device that was functional and just merely failed to ignite?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President wants to see the results of the investigation. There's an ongoing criminal investigation into this matter. It's being headed by the FBI for the American side, and they're working in close consultation and cooperation with Georgian authorities. So that investigation continues at this point.
They did make a statement about what they have learned at this point, and beyond that, I think we need to let the investigation proceed and let them look at all these facts and gather those facts. And then we'll be able to talk more about it at that point.
Q: Scott, the FBI statement says that the device fell within 100 -- was tossed and fell within 100 feet of the President. Did the President see a grenade in the air, or did any member, that you're aware of, of the White House entourage, see anything come sailing through the air?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, as you're aware, we learned about this when we were headed back to the United States.
Q: So it came as a complete surprise that anything had been thrown?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I would describe things, Terry. There's an ongoing investigation right now. I think they're looking into all these issues. I think we need to let the investigation proceed.
Q: And you spoke about -- you said the President wants to see the results of the investigation. Did he have any more personal comment about this, what the statement says was a threat against the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me back up. The President was briefed about this last night. We learned about this last night and the statement that was going to be made by Georgian authorities and by the FBI. And then the President received an additional update this morning during his usual briefings, when the FBI Director was present, as well as his Homeland Security Advisor.
And again, I think it's best that we let the investigation proceed and let those who are in charge of the investigation do their job. And then we will be able to talk more about it at that point.
Q: Anything to suggest that this was terrorist-related?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, John, there's an ongoing investigation, and we'll let the investigation proceed at this point.
Q: Is there a conclusion about whether he was ever really in danger? And I say that because there was bullet-proof glass in front of the podium --
Q: No, to the side.
Q: It was the side, it wasn't directly in front of him?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think you're incorrect, Terry. I think David is correct.
Q: No, there was a gap in front.
Q: -- big gaps. A big gap in the front.
Q: There was a big gap in the front? All right, well, what I'm getting at here --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know how you describe it -- you all saw the pictures there.
Q: Yes, I can't -- anyway, the point is, were there not measures taken to protect him, at least to protect him, individually? There was a realization that they would sweep the area, but they wouldn't have a hundred percent control, crowd control after a certain point, and that's why you'd have that.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why I pointed out that there are a lot of security measures that the Secret Service takes. Obviously, I don't think it's helpful to get into discussing security matters. I think if you have specific questions about it, you ought to direct that to the Secret Service, itself. But the President has full trust in the Secret Service and appreciates the job that they do. They do an outstanding job, and they go to great lengths to make sure that the President is protected and also to make sure that the events he participates in are secured.
Q: But has a conclusion been drawn about whether, even given the presence of this grenade, whether the President was in danger?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you're aware, the FBI put out a statement, and I would refer you back to that statement because they talked about the threat in that statement and I think they addressed that matter.
Q: Scott, the President of Uzbekistan has now admitted that his government killed upwards of 170 of its citizens, some anti-government protestors, some escaped prisoners, apparently. Opposition groups say the figure could have been far, far higher. What's the President's view of this situation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, we spoke about it just the other day. The State Department addressed this very matter and expressed our concerns about it. Obviously, we have continued to urge restraint by all and for all to work for calm in Uzbekistan. We were deeply disturbed by the reports that authorities had fired on demonstrators last Friday, and we expressed our condemnation about the indiscriminate use of force against unarmed civilians. And we certainly deeply regret any loss of life. So we've expressed that previously.
But we've also called on people to reject those who would try to incite violence, as well. And we talked about that, too. We've urged the government, as well, to allow humanitarian organizations, like the International Committee for the Red Cross, to have access to the region so that they can gather facts and help take care of people that need help.
Q: That's very clear. I wonder if I can contrast it with something, though. In 2002, the President said of another leader who had arrested 75 people and had them sentenced: "The dictator has responded with defiance and contempt and a new round of brutal oppression that has outraged the world's conscience." The President was speaking of Fidel Castro, who imprisoned these dissidents, didn't kill any of them, and I wonder why the double standard.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I would look at it that way. Obviously, Terry, there are different circumstances around the world. You have to deal with those different circumstances. And so I wouldn't look at it that way at all. But we have long spoken about our concerns when it comes to the human rights situation in Uzbekistan, and we've laid out the facts as we know them about the human rights situation in Uzbekistan. We would like to see a more open and responsive government. But the way to achieve that is not through violence; it's through peaceful means. And that's what we always emphasize.
Q: This is a leader who has been in power since before the fall of the Soviet Union. He's clearly a dictator by any definition of that word. And I wonder if you could respond to the concerns that many people have that this administration is going easy on him because he is necessary in the war on terrorism, in part because the United States has rendered certain detainees into his country and --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the facts speak differently. The facts are very clear in terms of we speak out about the concerns that we have, we speak out when we are disturbed by events that take place. And that's what we have done in this instance, as well. And I just did.
Q: The free trade agreement you're talking about with Egypt, would it be conditional on Egypt taking election reforms that you would like to see?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's important that they move forward on the political reform, and they had a very good -- the President and the Prime Minister had a very good discussion about that. And the President emphasized the importance of free elections where you're going to have multiple parties and you can have full campaigning. The President talked about the importance of that. And President Mubarak has taken an important step by saying, we're going to have competitive presidential elections this fall. And the President also emphasized the importance of international observers for that process, as well, to show the world that it is free --
Q: So there's no --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- that it is free elections. Again, we are -- in terms of any free trade agreement, I would describe it the way I did at the beginning, just having some discussions about that, about how to proceed forward.
Q: Okay. And separately, are you going to change the space policy to allow for the weaponization of space?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. We are -- let me make that clear right off the top, because you asked about the weaponization of space. The policy that we're talking about is not looking at weaponizing space.
Now, there's a -- we do have space systems, obviously, and we want to make sure that those space systems are protected. But that's a -- that's, I think, a different matter from what you're referring to. We have a draft updated national space policy that is going through the interagency review process. It has not risen to the presidential level; it has not risen to the level of the National Security Advisor; it has not risen to the level of department heads.
And I would point out to you that -- and you'll recall -- that back in June of 2002, the President directed that there be a review of our national space policies. It was initiated because it had been more than eight years since they had been updated. And we've already acted on a -- on four presidential directives previously. And I think if you step back and look at recent history, it's been about seven or eight years when the space policy has been updated. And certainly during the last eight or nine years, there have been a number of domestic and international developments that have changed the threats and challenges facing our space capabilities. And so the space policy needed to be updated to take into account those changes. And at this point, it's still going through that review process.
But it was not something that was initiated by the Air Force or Department of Defense. It was initiated because we needed to update our space policy. And the policy we are reviewing is aimed at being consistent with previous national space policy and our overall national security policy. It, from my understanding, does not represent a -- quote -- "substantial" shift in American policy. I expect it's likely to continue to emphasize the sovereignty of space systems and the right of free passage of those space systems. We believe in the peaceful exploration of space, and there are treaties in place and we continue to abide by those treaties.
Q: Scott, does it appear that satellites are vulnerable to some sort of attack --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked about the importance of protecting our space systems. Obviously, that's something we have to look at. And there are changes that have occurred over the last eight or nine years, and there are countries that have taken an interest in space. And they have looked at things that could -- or technologies that could threaten our space systems. And so you obviously need to take that into account when you're updating the policy.
Q: Do you have any comment or reaction on the suggestion in the Post today that the White House might be considering delaying appointment of a successor to Chairman Greenspan?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. Chairman Greenspan is doing an outstanding job, and we support the work that he is doing at the Federal Reserve. And in terms of personnel matters, you know that I'm not going to get into speculating about them. His term is set to expire in January -- his chairmanship is actually a longer period of time, I think.
Q: Do you anticipate that he would leave at that time?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm just not going to speculate on personnel matters.
Q: On Newsweek, Scott, have you heard from the magazine since urging them to take additional steps yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't. I don't think any -- I don't think anyone else has.
Q: And has there been any recognizable --
MR. McCLELLAN: I mean, I did point out yesterday and the day before, I think, that they have been in touch with the Department of Defense.
Q: Has there been any reduction in the incitement of violence, based upon the retraction, that the White House has been able to detect?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I'm in a position to assess the latest situation on the ground in Afghanistan or Pakistan. I mean, there are other people that would be in a better position to do that.
I mean, we do believe it is important to continue to work to repair the damage that has been done, and that's why we've taken a number of steps to do so. We have reached out to our embassies. We have put administration officials on Arab networks to make clear what our policies and what our values are. And of course, yesterday I was making the point that now that Newsweek has said that they got it wrong, that they should diligently work to repair the damage that was done, particularly in the region. And I've seen that they've been out there talking about this. I think it would be helpful that they're also getting out there and talking in the region about what occurred and why it went wrong. I think that would be helpful to repair some of the damage that has been done by this report.
Q: In the aftermath of your comments yesterday, some have suggested that you were trying to dictate to the press. How do you feel about the criticism of that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I kind of laugh at it because I don't think that's possible. We have a free media in the United States, and the only point I was making yesterday was that they said they got it wrong, this was a report that had serious consequences, people lost their lives, the image of the United States abroad was damaged by the report, and I think that there's a responsibility to help repair the damage. And like I said, I've seen Newsweek officials out on television shows or appearing on Nightline. I mean, I would hope that they would be appearing on Arab networks, as well, and talking to the region about this issue. I think that that would help repair the damage. And I think that's the point I was making yesterday.
Q: Scott, as far as the caption from Newsweek is concerned, Pakistan's Information Minister, Mr. Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, he said that apology from the Newsweek is not enough. What do they want, if President personally heard from the Muslim and Arab leaders what they want? And two, you think too much is being made by the anti-American elements in both countries from this report? And do you think President will come out personally to apologize?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are people that are opposed to the United States that are intent on trying to mischaracterize our values and our beliefs and trying to undermine our efforts to support the advance of freedom and democracy in an important region in the world. And they look for any material that they can find to try to incite violence and try to misrepresent what we stand for. And I think that was the case here. And there has been some damage, serious damage, that has been done to our image abroad because of the report. I think everybody recognizes that.
Q: Because of the report or --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going, Goyal, because the President is going to be speaking here shortly.
Q: Scott, we know that the President wants up or down votes on his judges, but would he prefer to accomplish that through the use of the nuclear option, or would he prefer some other compromise, like one of the many ones floating around?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of Senate procedures, those are matters for the Senate to decide. The President believes that all nominees should have an up or down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. I think most Americans recognize the responsibility of the President is to appoint individuals to the bench, and it's the responsibility of the Congress -- or the United States Senate to give those individuals an up or down vote. That's all we're asking for here, a simple up or down vote, so that the merits of these nominees can be debated on the floor of the United States Senate and they can receive an up or down vote that I think they're entitled to.
Q: Is the President concerned that if the nuclear option is used, it will blow up other parts of his agenda, and will make it more difficult to get the Bolton nomination?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is concerned that you've had leaders from the Democratic Party in the Senate who have been more intent on blocking progress than they have been on coming to the table and working with us to solve the important priorities that we face. Let's remember that this matter is being discussed right now because Senate Democrats have gone to an unprecedented level of blocking the President's nominees to the bench from simply receiving an up or down vote on the floor of the United States Senate. And that's why there's this discussion going on now in the United States Senate.
We want to see all those nominees receive an up or down vote. The President believes they're highly qualified. I think that they have the majority support of the United States Senate. And they should move forward on giving them an up or down vote.
Q: Scott, can I just follow up on that one point, because I think it's kind of --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll come back to you. I'll come back to you. Go ahead.
Q: House Republicans are going to meet this afternoon to talk about moving ahead on legislation that would expand federal financing of stem cell research beyond what the President has supported so far. If legislation along those lines were to pass, would the President veto it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the President has made his views pretty clear when it comes to stem cell research. We were the first President to -- the President was the first to allow for federal funding of embryonic stem cell research. But he believes that as we move forward on advancing the promise of science, that there are certain ethical guidelines that we must meet. And his views have not changed. He's been very clear in what his views are.
And I know that this is a matter being taken up in the House. The President has provided a tremendous amount of support to advance stem cell research. We've seen a lot of promise from adult stem cell research. We've provided some significant resources to advance the promise of adult stem cell research. And as I said, we are just now beginning to look at the promise of embryonic stem cell research, and the President laid out a policy that allowed for federal funding that met the guidelines that he set out. And that --
Q: As the House moves ahead, what should they keep in mind as far as what the President would do if he got a bill --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President believes very strongly that we should move forward on realizing the promise and hope of science, but we also have to take into account the moral and ethical implications of our decisions. And that's why he outlined the policy that he did. And he will continue to make those views known.
David, go ahead.
Q: I just want to follow up on this filibuster issue, because, with respect, I mean, it just sounds ridiculous, the idea you want to -- you don't want to interfere in Senate rules when you know full well that if this step is taken, there might be a response that slows down priorities that this President cares about, including Social Security, if it ever gets that far. So what I'm asking is, does the President believe that, should Democrats not only block him on these nominees in the so-called nuclear option, but if they were to actually slow down business in Congress as a result of any steps the Republicans take, that that would have negative political consequences for them if they do that? In effect, is he daring them do to it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it would have consequences for the Democratic leadership in the United States Senate if they continue to hold up progress on the important priorities for the American people. The American people elected us to get things done. The American people want to see us work together on important priorities. The President has reached out across partisan lines in order to find solutions to our pressing priorities. Senate Democrats have been standing in the way of progress on some of those important priorities. And that's the President's -- that's the President's view.
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q: Thank you. Scott, what does the President plan to do with Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles? Venezuela wants to try him for terrorism. And he has withdrawn his request for asylum in the U.S. Will he be sent to Venezuela or --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me address that, then keep going to try to get some others before the President speaks. But the Department of Homeland Security made some comments about this. He has been taken into custody. There are laws and procedures that are in place, and they're being followed at this point. And so if you have further questions, you ought to direct those to the Department of Homeland Security.
Q: Is he a terrorist?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: Scott, once Mr. Negroponte is sworn in, will he become the President's chief intelligence briefer at the morning briefings?
MR. McCLELLAN: He already has.
Q: He is the chief --
MR. McCLELLAN: He was officially sworn in right after he was confirmed. I think that very day that he was confirmed, and he started -- he started overseeing the briefings. I think it was just a few days after that, after we had returned from Crawford. I think it was that Wednesday morning.
Now, I should point out to you, and I think you all recognize this, there are analysts that actually give the briefings. But it's the responsibility of the Director of National Intelligence to oversee those daily presidential briefings. And Director Goss has continued to attend those briefings, as well.
Q: Scott, the Federal Reserve said that Edward Gramlich is stepping down today. Given that he's leaving, Ben Bernanke is shifting to the CEA, and the Chairman is retiring, how are you going to prevent all this turnover at the Fed from introducing uncertainty into financial markets?
MR. McCLELLAN: We will move forward on those replacements are quickly as possible. That's what we will do, as we do with any personnel matter. And I don't think that that's -- I don't think that that's the case.
Q: Scott, do you have information on the specific type of grenade found in Tbilisi?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Do you have information on the specific --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you need to direct those questions to the FBI. That's part of the investigation.
Q: Is he going to veto the highway bill?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: Scott, you just mentioned --
MR. McCLELLAN: Talked about it yesterday. Where were you?
Q: I was not paying as close attention -- (laughter.)
Q: Scott, you just mentioned that our enemies are looking for any material that they can find to damage us or our reputation. Isn't it the case that the Newsweek article would not have done the damage that it has if our reputation hadn't already been damaged by the atrocities at Abu Ghraib?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you actually bring up a very important point. Abu Ghraib and the individuals that did things that were contrary to our military procedures and contrary to our values did do damage to the image of the United States abroad. And that's why we have worked to make sure that people know that we take such matters very seriously. People are being held to account. They're going to jail for what they did at Abu Ghraib, because it went against everything we stand for, and it was against our laws, as well.
We're also -- we also have taken a number of steps to prevent something like that from ever happening again. When a problem like that arises, the United States deals with it, and deals with it swiftly and takes steps to prevent it from happening again. With the material in the Newsweek report, obviously, as everybody saw, was used to incite violence. It was additional material that people opposed to the United States took and used to incite violence and it had some serious consequences.
I think the American people are outraged about the report, to learn that it turned out to be wrong. And we share in that outrage. And that's why it's important to work to repair the damage that has been done by that report.
Q: Can you assure us that there have been no instances of desecration of the Koran?
MR. McCLELLAN: The Department of Defense actually addressed that yesterday, and I talked about it, as well.
Q: You can assure us of that, there are no cases?
MR. McCLELLAN: You ought to talk to the Department of Defense. They talked about it yesterday. They have found nothing to substantiate any such allegation that was made by the Newsweek report. And Newsweek, itself, retracted the report because they realized it was wrong.
Q: Another follow-up on Ed's question. Has the President decided that an up or down vote on Priscilla Owen is the ultimate matter of principle, is it worth incurring the spite of the Democrats and the consequences it could bring to his agenda?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I guess I just haven't looked at it that way. Maybe you look at it that way, but the Democrats in the Senate have been trying to block efforts on a number of fronts. They have been trying to block progress on comprehensive energy legislation; they've blocked progress on Social Security reform. These are high priorities for the American people.
We have reached out and said let's work together and find a solution. The President has said, come to the table, put your ideas on the table, I want to work with you. Senate Democrats have said, no, we're going to do nothing. We are the party of "no." The President, as he talked about last night, said, we are the party of ideas. And he's going to continue putting forward ideas for finding solutions to the pressing priorities that we face. And it's Senate Democrats that have taken the Senate to the situation that they are in today, because they have gone to an unprecedented level to block these nominees from receiving an up or down vote. Some of these nominees will be filling judicial emergencies. They are holding hostage our judiciary under -- by blocking these efforts. They're playing politics with the judiciary; it's plain and simple that's what's happening here. Democrats are going to unprecedented levels to stop these nominees from simply having an up or down vote.
And we're sitting here discussing these nominees -- we would like to see those nominations debated on the floor of the Senate. That's all we're asking.
END 1:16 P.M. EDT
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