White House Briefing, December 8
08 December 2005
Patriot Act, Bush/Austrian Chancellor's meeting, Bush meeting with congressional leaders, aviation security, Iraq/American hostage, Iraqi elections, Howard Dean comments, McCain amendment, Hurricane Katrina, speeches to soldiers, economic data, Iraq poll numbers
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan briefed the press December 8.
Following is the transcript of the White House briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
December 8, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
-- Patriot Act
-- President's meeting with Austrian Chancellor
-- President's meeting with congressional leaders
-- Airplane passenger shooting
-- American hostage in Iraq
-- Iraqi elections
-- Howard Dean comments
-- McCain amendment
-- Hurricane Katrina documents
-- Speeches to soldiers
-- Economic data
-- Iraq poll numbers
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
December 8, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good afternoon. I have a couple things to update you on -- one that I was just getting updated on after some meetings earlier today, and then I want to update you on a couple of meetings the President had.
First of all, we are very pleased that the Senate and the House have reached a compromise on reauthorization of the Patriot Act. We commend congressional leaders for coming to this agreement. This bill reauthorizes every single provision of the Patriot Act, and makes 14 of the 16 provisions permanent. The Patriot Act is critical to winning the war on terrorism. It helps investigators and authorities dismantle terrorist cells, disrupt terrorist plots, and capture terrorists before they strike. Since it was enacted four years ago, the Patriot Act has helped tear down the walls between law enforcement and intelligence officials, and it has also allowed investigators to pursue terrorists with the same kind of tools they already use against white collar and organized crime.
I would also want to point out, in this legislation today, that it includes some important provisions regarding significant national security enhancements relating to seaport security, rail security and terror financing; the creation of a national security division within the Department of Justice, as was recommended by the Silberman-Robb Commission, and endorsed by the President; and it includes crucial new tools to combat the dangerous proliferation of methamphetamine throughout the country, particularly in rural America. A conference report is expected to be filed this afternoon. The President urges both houses of Congress to act promptly to pass this critical piece of legislation.
Secondly, I'd just like to mention the President had a couple of meetings this morning. First of all, he was pleased to welcome the Chancellor of Austria to the White House. He is a good friend, and Austria will be assuming the presidency of the European Union in 2006. The President appreciated the visit. This was an opportunity to talk about the importance of transatlantic relations and our commitment to working together to strengthen those relations. We have a good relationship with Europe, and the President is very committed to working together on our common agenda of spreading freedom and extending prosperity.
They had a good discussion about the war on terrorism and the nature of the enemy that we face, and the war that we're engaged in. The President also talked about the importance of human rights and the importance of promoting human rights, particularly in those countries where they are denied and routinely violated. They talked about the Middle East. The President talked about the opportunity before us to accomplish the two-state vision that he has outlined, and the importance of helping the Palestinians put the institutions in place for democracy to emerge. And then they talked about a number of other issues. And then they talked about a number of other issues, from energy to economic issues, to the upcoming Doha Round, the Balkans, and other related issues.
Then the President met with some congressional leaders. This was some House Republicans, and this included some of the leadership in the House. This is one of a number of meetings that we'll be having with Republicans and Democrats to provide a briefing on the situation in Iraq. This is an opportunity for them to hear directly from our commanders and our Ambassador who are on the ground helping to support the Iraqi people as they move forward on building a free and democratic state.
The President talked about the high stakes that are involved in Iraq and the importance of winning, and made it clear that we are going to win. He talked a little bit about our strategy, the nature of the enemy we face, and our strategy for victory, and how we're going about achieving it. He talked about the three tracks: the political, security, and economic tracks. And then we heard -- they heard from Secretary Rumsfeld and General Pace who were here in the Roosevelt Room. And then Ambassador Khalilzad started off by talking about the political track. They really focused -- Ambassador Khalilzad and General Casey focused on two tracks: the political and the security.
And the Ambassador talked about the political progress that's being made, and talked about how more and more Iraqis are participating in that political process. We saw those numbers increase from January, where you had 8 million, to the constitutional referendum, where you had some 10 million participating in the elections. And you see stories in recent days where more and more Sunnis are coming into the process, and you have more and more Shiites that maybe previously hadn't participated, participating as well.
But the Ambassador talked about how the preparations for the elections were going well. This will be for the election on December 15th, where the Iraqis will go and choose a permanent representative government. There are some 300 -- more than 300 political entities that are participating in this election. You have some 7,000 candidates and some 6,000 polling stations that will be in place. They did have a discussion with members about some of the challenges facing -- or surrounding the elections, as well.
General Casey then went on to talk about the security situation, and talked about the preparations for security around the elections and how those were going, and talked about some of our military operations, how we're going on the offensive against terrorists and some al Qaeda leaders, and the successes that we're achieving there. And they also talked about the training of Iraqi security forces, some of which you've already heard, about how more and more are in the lead now, and they're controlling more territory. And then there was some discussion at the end about the economic progress and the challenges on the economic front, much of what you heard yesterday from the President.
And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.
QUESTION: What are the President's thoughts on the aircraft shooting yesterday? And does he see any difference between a perceived threat and an actual threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: Any difference? I don't know if you have a specific example you want to highlight, but --
Q: Well, this fellow was a perceived threat. He was mentally ill. He was not an actual threat. He was a perceived threat. I was just wondering what the President thinks --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we might -- there are certain things you might know after the --
Q: Could you tell me what the President thinks of yesterday's actions?
MR. McCLELLAN: A couple things: there are things that you might know after the fact. But from what we know, this team of air marshals acted in a way that was consistent -- I'm sorry, let me back up -- from what we know, the team of air marshals acted in a way that is consistent with the training that they have received. The air marshals receive extensive training, some of the most extensive of any law enforcement agency. And we are very appreciative for all that our air marshals are doing to protect the American people. They use that training that they receive to protect people that fly. And this was an important step that we took after September 11th to expand the air marshal program.
And now, in any situation like this where you have a law enforcement-related shooting, there is a standard investigation that goes on following that shooting. That investigation is ongoing to learn more about it. And, of course, anytime you have an investigation like that, you learn lessons, and you apply that to future training and protocols.
Q: And does the President think that the air marshals were correct in ignoring the pleas from the man's wife, perhaps the assumption that at that point, they couldn't tell whether or not she was telling the truth?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple things. First of all, as I indicated, I mean, you and I can sit here and talk about these issues, but there's an investigation looking into all those matters. But the air marshals that were on this flight appear to have acted consistent with the extensive training that they have received, and that's important to note. And so we are appreciative of all that our air marshals do day in and day out in terms of trying to protect the American people.
Now, no one wants to see a situation like this happen. But, again, if you go back and look at the facts that we do know at this point, I think you will see that they followed the training that they have received, but that investigation will continue to look at those issues.
Q: And like some other people have said, does the President believe that in this case the system worked?
MR. McCLELLAN: That the system worked? Well, again, it appears that they followed the protocols and did what they were trained to do. They receive extensive training. And we will look and see what the investigation turns up, as well.
Q: Can I follow on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: I just wondered, Scott, why, in the U.S. don't we interview passengers the way the Israelis do? Is it just because of matters of political correctness that we stay away from that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you might want to talk to aviation security experts about some of those issues. But what we did in the aftermath of September 11th was take a number of steps to strengthen aviation security. One step was the expansion of the air marshal program. And that's an important effort to help protect Americans. Another step was to strengthen the cockpit doors. And another step was to put in new technology to detect explosives or other things that might come through the screening of passengers. And so, I mean, it's moved out from the curb to the cockpit. There are a lot of security measures that have been put in place. These are important measures that are helping to protect the American people from possible threats that we may face. We know that we face a very determined enemy that would like to attack us again, and that's why it's so important that we continue to act on all fronts, not only abroad, but that we act here at home to defend the homeland. And that's what we're doing.
Q: But does the White House have any thoughts on interviewing --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that that's a matter that aviation experts involved within the administration and outside the administration, those are all issues for them to look at. And if there are additional recommendations, then I'm sure they'll bring those forward.
Q: Iraqi insurgents are claiming that they have killed the kidnapped U.S. security consultant; they're blaming President Bush for failing to comply with their demands. Can you confirm whether he's dead, and has the President been notified of this?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don't have any confirmation of that matter.
Q: Did the United States do anything to try to rescue this man?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I don't have any confirmation or any additional information to provide on that matter. Any time there is an American that is taken hostage, it is a priority for the administration and their safe return is a priority for the administration.
Q: When you described for us the topics that the President and the Chancellor discussed today, did the Chancellor and the President at any time talk about the torture issue that has gotten so much attention on Secretary Rice's trip --
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, yes, and, in fact, the President was the one who brought it up. As I mentioned at the top, the President talked about human rights. This is something he always brings up in meetings he has with world leaders and something that he talks about very often in public. We all have an obligation to promote human rights and to defend those who are being denied rights, and to try to encourage the advancement of human rights in countries, particularly where many people have their rights violated or routinely denied. And that's what I talked -- and at the end of that portion of the conversation, the President said, I know there's been some focus on the detainee issue and I just want to reiterate our position, which is, we don't torture. We are -- and as I've said on numerous occasions, we are a country that abides by our laws and our values and our treaty obligations.
Q: And so when Secretary Rice seemed to, at least to a layperson's view, expand the U.S. policy by saying it extends to any employee who is working anywhere in the world, which seemed to many people to be a distinction from just those installations that are in the United States being separate from those abroad -- did that aspect of it come up?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again -- no, that did not. The President was the one who brought it up. But then I think the -- they went on to talk about -- more about the war on terrorism and the nature of the enemy we face, and the Chancellor expressed how he shared our commitment to doing all we can, lawfully, to protect our citizens. I mean, that's a commitment that all governments have a responsibility to fulfill. And the President has made it very clear, and he made it clear in the meeting, too, that we're going to do everything we can within the law to protect our citizens.
He remembers very well what happened on September 11th -- it's something that he will never forget. And that's why we are taking all the actions that we are, from the air marshals to taking the fight to the enemy abroad so that we don't have to fight them here at home, to moving forward on provisions like the Patriot Act that provide us important tools to defend Americans here at home and disrupt plots from happening in the first place.
Q: Scott, on Iraq, how big a turnout do you think will be needed to make this election a success?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not an election predictor, but --
Q: You've had 8 million the first time, 10 million the next, will it be more this time --
MR. McCLELLAN: I've never tried to be an election predictor, but what I would point out is that in January you had some 8 million people turn out to vote, which was an historic election at the time, for the transitional government. Then that government formed, moved forward on drafting a constitution. In October they came back and the Iraqi citizens came back and voted on the constitutional referendum, and you had some 10 million people showing up at the polls. And now you see reports throughout Iraq that politics is breaking out around the country. I mentioned how there are numerous political parties; there are thousands of candidates participating in this election. And what we're there to do is help support them as they move forward. I think you have a large, very large number of election monitors that will be in place. I think they're mostly Iraqi, but there will be international ones, as well, and maybe even some others that will be there to monitor the elections.
And what's important is that the democratic progress -- process is continuing to move forward. The Iraqi people have shown time and time again that they are going to defy the terrorists, and those Saddam loyalists who want to return to the past -- or those terrorists who want to deny them the right to live in freedom. The Iraqi people want to live in freedom.
And so it's a good sign that you're seeing all these reports about more and more people engaging in the political process, and realizing the political process and democracy is the way forward to a brighter future -- a future that is built on an inclusive representative government that protects the rights of all. That's very -- that stands in very stark contrast to the past.
Q: Secondly, have you seen Howard Dean's comments this morning? Do you see that as a clarification of what he said --
MR. McCLELLAN: As a clarification? What was his clarification, that his comments that we can't win in Iraq were taken a little out of context?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it highlights the problems within the Democratic Party. You have a lot of disarray and disagreement within the Democratic Party. You have some that are advocating like he is, to -- that we can't win and that we should cut and run and retreat. You have some that are trying to score political points off the situation on the ground or off media reports. And then you have a few within the Democratic Party, like Senator Lieberman, who understand the stakes that are involved in Iraq, and understand the importance of winning and know that we will win. They have great confidence in our troops, and they know that our troops will succeed.
And what the President is emphasizing is a plan for victory, and a way to get there. And what others are emphasizing is immediate withdrawal of troops, or artificial timetables. That's a plan for defeat.
Q: Is Senator Lieberman getting a holiday invitation to the ranch by any chance? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: Or to the Pentagon?
Q: Scott, two questions -- one, now, as far as the Iraq elections, as you say, coming next week, and Saddam Hussein is on trial. It seems to me it's a drama, not a trial, because defendant is laughing, enjoying, having fun, and he still thinks that he's the President of Iraq. My question is that he bribed thousands of people, elite or the cream of the -- "top of the cream" people around the globe, including the Foreign Minister of India, who just resigned, and he was fired by the Indian government. And why other leaders, or top leaders around the world have not come out -- who got billions of dollars from Saddam?
And second, he's a man who brutally murdered his two son-in-laws in front of his daughters, and killing millions of others in Iraq, my question is that, where are we going from here? Now he's still in -- he still think that he's in power, and now we are moving forward with elections and free Iraq.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- a free and democratic Iraq, an Iraq that is an ally in the war on terrorism, and an Iraq that will help inspire other reformers in the broader Middle East, whether it's in Iran or Syria, or elsewhere, and help us lay the foundations of peace for generations to come. And that's why it's so important that we succeed in Iraq.
I would like to go a little bit back to what I was talking to Steve about on some of the comments that have been made, because I think what you're seeing within the Democratic Party is that to a large extent, there's the liberal base driving Democrats into some of these positions that they're taking. Some feel that -- maybe that supported us going into Iraq in the first place, some feel a need to try to appease that portion of their party by going out and attacking us. And they're trying to have it both ways. Then you have some that are being driven to the position that we should cut and run, that we should retreat in the face of an historic opportunity to achieve significant gains in the Middle East and achieve lasting peace. And I think that's what's happening here.
But there's -- reports are coming out saying that they're trying to search for an alternative or some sort of plan. The President has a very clear plan. It is a strategy to help us win in Iraq and to help us succeed by spreading freedom in the broader Middle East and lay the foundations of peace for a long time to come.
And that's why this is so important to the broader war on terrorism. We see the letters from Zawahiri to Zarqawi, which talk about how they want to drive America out of the Middle East -- that's their goal -- so that they can establish a safe haven in the Middle East from which they can plan attacks against America, from which they can try to topple moderate governments in the broader Middle East. And we are fighting the terrorists there in Iraq so that we don't have to fight them here at home.
And we are going to win. That's the President's message. That's his message to our troops, that's his message to the enemy. The enemy has said this will be a significant blow to their ambitions if we let America succeed in the broader Middle East and we don't drive them out.
Q: My second question is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me go on to Elaine. Go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Scott, on the issue of torture, now that Secretary Rice has come out and said the United States will not permit cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment by all U.S. personnel, will the President still veto the McCain amendment?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, on the McCain amendment, that's something that we're working very closely with Senator McCain and other congressional leaders on right now. What we emphasized previously is that we face a lot of difficult issues in this different kind of war that we're engaged in, and what we're doing is trying to find a good solution. And that's where it is at this point.
Q: A follow-up on a different issue. On the Hurricane Katrina issue, will the White House turn over documents and communications that Chairman Davis is asking for?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've been working very closely with Chairman Davis' committee -- the bipartisan committee that is investigating some of the matters. We also, as you know, have a lessons-learned review going on at the White House, and we're moving forward on it. We will continue to work with the committee and make sure they have the information that they need to do their job. We've provided a lot of information to the committee already, we've provided them access to a lot of officials already, and we'll continue to work with them. And, in fact, we've responded to some more recent requests that the committee made in a letter just the other day and reiterated that commitment to work with them to make sure they have what they need to be able to do their work.
Q: But what's the delay? Governor Blanco released 100,000, as you know, documents related to --
MR. McCLELLAN: What delay are you talking about? As I pointed out, we've provided substantial information to the committee, and we'll continue to work with them. We've already provided them some 250,000 pages of documents from departments and agencies charged with the operational response. We've provided them access to officials, and we've provided them situational reports, updates, and assessments addressing issues that they said were priorities. And we'll continue to work with them to make sure they have the information they need to do their job.
Remember, we worked with the 9/11 Commission, too. They had information they wanted, and we made sure they had the information they needed to be able to complete the important work that they were doing.
Q: Is there an issue of executive privilege here when it comes to specific --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's always a separation of powers issue involved. But I don't know that I'd necessarily agree with the characterization of our efforts to support the committee's work and work with them to make sure they have what they need.
Go ahead, Greg.
Q: Scott, this is going back a little bit, but we've received some complaints from soldiers, both former and current, about the Tobyhanna speech and the Elmendorf, Alaska speech. They cite their own regulations that say U.S. soldiers cannot participate in partisan political activity. But when the President attacked Democrats, they are -- they feel like they were put in the position where they're supporting a democratic cause in uniform. Does the President feel --
MR. McCLELLAN: Who said that? I think the President was talking as Commander-in-Chief to our troops and talking to them about the war that we're engaged in.
Q: Well, he was talking about Democrats, as well. "Some Democrats who voted to authorize use of force are now rewriting the past." He said, "It is irresponsible Democrats --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's true.
Q: -- "claim we misled them."
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, I notice -- now, I notice they're not making those same claims recently.
Q: Well, nevertheless, does the President feel like it's appropriate to inject the troops into what is, I think, quite clearly a partisan debate?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I disagree. The President is the Commander-in-Chief. No one has been more involved in this war on terrorism than our troops and their families. And our troops understand the importance of the mission. They understand what they're working to achieve in Iraq, and they know that they're going to win. And they know they have the full support of this White House and this President. We're going to make sure they have everything they need to be able to accomplish that mission. And General Casey and General Pace both today in the meeting talked about how high the morale was of our troops, and what a great job that they're doing, and how clearly they understood the stakes involved, and how clearly they understood the importance of completing the mission.
Q: This President has a lot more difficulty than President Clinton in getting credit for a good economy. We've had a good economy for months and yet he's really low in the polls. Has he figured out what's wrong? I mean, is it his team at Treasury? Is it his message machine? Why --
MR. McCLELLAN: We got a great economic team, first of all. Second of all --
Q: That's Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? I'm sorry? Okay. Our economic team has done a great job helping the President implement our pro-growth policies that are leading to strong economic growth and real job creation. We've had 4.5 million jobs created since May of 2003; the unemployment rate below the averages of the '70s, '80s, and '90s at 5 percent. We saw third quarter growth at 4.3 percent in the revised figure that came out last week. Productivity is at a very high level, and that's good for American workers and helping them hopefully realizing better wages as we move ahead. And --
Q: He didn't get any pop in the polls until he went to North Carolina.
MR. McCLELLAN: And what we're most interested in is what people are doing, not necessarily what people are telling pollsters. What people are doing is they are acting. They are -- consumer confidence is up. They're spending more, and all signs are that our economy is very healthy.
Now, there's more to do. There are people that have lost jobs, certainly in the Gulf Coast region. We've got to do everything we can to support them, and we are doing that. The House moved forward on some Katrina relief legislation yesterday. That's an important step. We've provided a lot of funding to help get them back on their feet and help them get into housing, and help them get jobs. We're going to continue to do that. There's more work to do there. But we can continue to act on initiatives that will make our workers' and families' lives even better. And that's what we're going to do. That's why we're going to help them address the energy needs by continuing to act on the initiatives that will address the root causes of high energy prices. And health care costs -- rising health care costs is an issue that we are continuing to act on.
Q: You took advantage of my question not to really answer it, but to boost the economy. Is the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I said -- we're most interested in what Americans are doing, not necessarily what's being told to pollsters. We don't get caught up in the polls. What we will continue to do is talk about the importance of acting on pro-growth policies and building upon the foundation for growth that we have in place because of the President's leadership.
Q: But why does he have such a hard time convincing the public that times are good?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's important to -- and, look, I'm not going to try to go and analyze media coverage of everything. I'll let others do that. But we're going to continue talking to the American people about this priority that they care most about, along with the war on terrorism. And it's important for them to hear about these good signs that are in place, and important to hear about how we're going to continue to act on them.
Q: Italian prosecutors are seeking the extradition from the United States of 22 CIA agents in connection with the kidnapping of a Muslim cleric in Milan, who was then flown to Egypt where he was allegedly tortured. Have the President or Secretary Rice or Attorney General Gonzales discussed the kidnapping charges with the Italian government? And will the United States honor the extradition request?
MR. McCLELLAN: I imagine there have been discussions through the appropriate channels, and you might want to check with the Justice Department or the State Department on what discussions have occurred.
Q: So will the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've made our views very clear, and I'm not going to talk any further about them.
Q: Scott, the President has made a number of speeches in the last couple of months on Iraq. The poll today in The New York Times --
MR. McCLELLAN: The last couple of years.
Q: Well, since September, since the protests in Crawford in August --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well before that, too.
Q: -- there have been more focused speeches on Iraq, and you're currently about to deliver the third of four in a series leading up to the election. This New York Times poll today says that 68 percent says the President does not have a clear plan for victory, and 81 percent said the President -- that the Bush administration has not clearly explained how long troops will have to remain in Iraq. Does that concern you at all, and at what point would you -- would you expect to see public opinion move in the direction of --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, a couple of things. One, it doesn't, because we understand how important it is to succeed in Iraq. And that's why the President has outlined a clear strategy for winning. The stakes are very high in Iraq. The terrorists --
Q: It doesn't look like the message is getting through.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, you had your question -- the stakes are very high in Iraq, and the terrorists recognize that Iraq is a central front in the war on terrorism. And we must recognize that, as well, as the President has said. And we know that the American people want to see our troops come home; so do we. But I think most Americans also want to see our troops win, and that's exactly what they are going to do, with our full support. There is real progress being made; we're going to continue to talk about it. There are real challenges still that lie ahead. There are going to be tough days. The President made that clear in both speeches of the last couple of weeks, and he's made it clear going back for some time there are going to be good days and bad days. But what we have to do is be able to adapt and adjust to the circumstances on the ground and see this through to victory. And that's exactly what we're going to do. And if others want to focus on cutting and running and retreating, that's their business. We're focusing on winning and protecting the American people.
And I'd be interested to see if there are any questions relating to the importance of winning in Iraq. That's what most Americans want.
Mark, go ahead.
Q: Yes, Scott, we're not going to see you tomorrow. Can you preview the exercise that's taking place at the White House Saturday --
MR. McCLELLAN: You'll see Mr. Duffy tomorrow if you're on the plane, and on the ground in Minnesota. So maybe we'll have a little bit more for you tomorrow.
Karen, go ahead. Okay, all right. Thank you.
END 1:59 P.M. EST
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