White House Briefing, December 13
13 December 2005
War on Terror/fourth speech, Iraq/troop withdrawal, anti-torture amendment, race relations, polls on the war, Iraq/security, status of Katrina victims, Iran/Israel, alternative minimum tax, Medicare/drug benefits
White House press secretary Scott McClellan briefed reporters December 13.
Following is the transcript of the White House transcript:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
December 13, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
-- War on terror/fourth speech
-- Iraq/troop withdrawal
-- Anti-torture amendment
-- Race relations/President's standing
-- Polls on the war
-- Definition of "completing the mission"
-- Improved security in Iraq/how to measure
-- Status of Katrina victims
-- Iranian President's comments on Israel
-- Alternative Minimum Tax
-- Medicare/drug benefits
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
December 13, 2005
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:15 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to begin with some brief remarks, talk a little bit about tomorrow.
The President's number one priority is the safety and security of the American people. We are a nation that remains engaged in a war on terrorism. Iraq is critical to our strategy for prevailing in the war on terrorism. The President believes he has an important obligation to keep the American people informed about our strategy for succeeding, the progress were making and the challenges ahead. The President felt it was particularly important during this period to discuss our strategy with the American people as the Iraqi people prepare to meet an historic milestone in their future with the election of a permanent Iraqi government this Thursday.
The President has given three in-depth speeches on our plan for winning in Iraq. He has outlined the three key elements of our plan: the security, political, and economic tracks. It is a dynamic strategy. We have learned from experience and we have adapted to circumstances on the ground. But it is a clear strategy and it is a winning strategy.
The President looks forward to giving the fourth speech in this series tomorrow at the Woodrow Wilson Center here in Washington, D.C. On the eve of an historic election, the President believes it is an important time to take stock of where we are in Iraq, why we are there, why it is important, what the stakes are, and why we will achieve victory. It has been just two-and-a-half years since the brutal, oppressive regime of Saddam Hussein was toppled. It has been difficult, but the progress the Iraqi people have made in that time period is remarkable.
This week the Iraqi people will be choosing a permanent representative government. Iraq is the only constitutional democracy in the Arab world. This is a moment of historic change in the center of a dangerous region of the world. Change in the Middle East will make America safer and more secure by laying the foundations of peace for our children and grandchildren. And the President looks forward to going to the Woodrow Wilson Center tomorrow and talking about our efforts to prevail and how we will prevail.
QUESTION: Do you have anything on Gerald Ford's admission to the hospital?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. I don't have any additional information, other than what his office put out. We wish President Ford well and a speedy recovery.
Q: Do you think that a successful election in Iraq will point toward an exit for American troops, or show the way, give us some indication of --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's going to a question of whether or not we should have artificial timetables in place. And the election is another historic milestone in the future of the Iraqi people, but the violence that the terrorists and Saddam loyalists are carrying out against the Iraqi people we expect to continue after the election. We are working with the Iraqi security forces to help train them and equip them so that they can address these threats. And it's important that we continue to stand with the Iraqi people moving forward -- and the President will talk a little bit more about that tomorrow and why it's important that we continue to stay in Iraq until we prevail.
And in terms of troop levels, we all want our troops to come home, but that will be based on conditions on the ground and what the commanders recommend. That's what the President believes those decisions should be based on.
Q: How are the talks in the anti-torture --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm going to go back and forth between you two today.
Q: Ping pong. How are the talks in the anti-torture amendment going?
MR. McCLELLAN: They continue. We continue to work with Senator McCain and others to come up with a good solution. We all recognize that these are difficult issues that we have to address as we continue forward in the war on terrorism. The President spoke about it a little bit yesterday. And we will continue working with leaders on the Hill to try to bring this to a resolution.
Q: What kind of language is acceptable for the President in terms of an exemption for non-DoD personnel?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it's best to let those discussions occur with the members. And Steve Hadley has been very involved in this. He's had good discussions with Senator McCain and other leaders on the Hill. The President talked about it yesterday. He talked about how Congressman Hunter was involved in this, as well. And so we want to let those discussions take place and try to come to a good solution.
Q: Do you expect to get a deal today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't want to put any expectations on -- in terms of timetables on it.
Q: How does this speech tomorrow differ from the last three, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the way I described it -- this kind of pulls it all together -- this kind of pulls it all together and talks about why we are in Iraq, why it's so important, and what the stakes are. That's where the President's focus will be tomorrow. And that's why I talked about how it's going to be discussed in the context of the moment. The Iraqi people are going to be going to the polls on Thursday, and the President felt this was a good time to pull together all these speeches he has given and talk to the American people about the importance of what we're working to achieve and why we will succeed.
Go ahead, April.
Q: Scott, the President said something very poignant in the Brian Williams interview, that he doesn't care what people call him, but don't call him a racist. Is he concerned, still three months after the Katrina relief effort, that there are still some African Americans who may feel that -- the same way as Kanye West, and in these next three years, what can the President do to help turn that feeling around?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we can continue to do is work with state and local officials and the people in the region to help rebuild New Orleans, and help rebuild the Gulf Coast region and Mississippi and Alabama. There's a large area that was affected by the hurricanes, and the President has talked about this before.
I think what was exposed by the hurricanes was the deep roots of injustice and inequality that have existed. And that's why the President has been acting to address those -- the root causes of that inequality and injustice. And we will continue acting on the policies that we have been pursuing, whether it be the education reforms we have put in place, or reaching out to faith-based and community organizations, or helping lift people out of poverty by moving forward on pro-growth policies. The President has been acting to help people improve their quality of life. And, yes, the question came up yesterday, and I think that there were some that expressed some views that did concern the President. And that's why the President responded the way that he did.
Q: But some are saying -- some had been saying that prior to Katrina, and some are saying that Kanye West just exposed the whisperers in the African American community from many years prior to Katrina. What can the President do beyond these steps that you said --
MR. McCLELLAN: As you point out, there's a deep history of this within the region that was exposed by the hurricanes. And that's why we must continue to act to address the root causes of that inequality and injustice. And that's what the President will continue to do. He will also continue working to bring people together from all walks of life to focus on the priorities that we care most about, and that is making sure that the American people have the opportunity to succeed and prosper.
Q: But, lastly, and still back on the question I'm trying to get an answer to, is the President still concerned that there is a pocket of African Americans beyond the people who live in Louisiana that feel that -- that still, I guess, feel what Kanye West has said?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not sure exactly what he said. I don't recall exactly what he said. All I can tell you is what the President is doing --
Q: "The President does not care about black people" --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, okay, that is just outrageous. And I think the President expressed that yesterday in the interview with Brian Williams. It's outrageous to make such a suggestion like that. And it's based on an ill-informed -- it's ill-informed and misguided comments. The President has acted to help people from all walks of life. And all you have to do is look at his record. The President has acted to make sure everybody has the opportunity to learn and succeed through the No Child Left Behind Act. These are historic education reforms. And that's the best way we can help to address these injustices and inequalities that exist.
Q: Scott, I'm going to preface my question and maybe preempt your answer by saying I know you guys never, ever look at polls. But the bottom line is that you have been -- the President has been doing what you just described out there giving -- tomorrow will be four -- speeches to try to change public opinion, convince Americans that he does have a plan in Iraq. But CNN-USA Today-Gallup's latest poll, which is consistent with others, shows that 58 percent, almost six in ten Americans do not think that he has a plan in Iraq. So what does that say about the hill that you have to climb --
MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. Let me first correct you in terms of saying that we don't ever look at polls. We don't govern based on polls. The President does not govern based on polls. The President governs based on a clear set of principles and a clear set of beliefs. And he believes very strongly in what we are working to achieve in Iraq. He believes very strongly that we must succeed, and he knows that we will succeed because he knows that our men and women in uniform are the best fighting force around the world, and he has great confidence in the outcome of what we're working to achieve in Iraq.
But what the President focuses on is what the American people care most about. That's what he will continue to do. We are a nation at war, so the President is going to continue focusing on our plan for succeeding in the war on terrorism. And Iraq is an important part of that. The President is also going to continue focusing on the economy and the steps we've taken to create an environment for strong job growth and lasting economic growth. And that's what the President will continue to do. We'll let all the polls take care of themselves.
Q: Okay, but just the idea that six in ten Americans -- nearly six in ten don't think that he has a plan -- my question is, what does that say about the kind of hill that he's trying to climb here in doing what you are --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's the political analysis that I'll leave to others to do. What the President will continue to do is talking to the American people about our strategy for winning in Iraq. That's what he's been doing the last few weeks. It's important for the American people to have a clear sense of what we're working to achieve and why we're there, and the way forward. And that's why the President is going to be talking about it tomorrow again in his fourth of this series of speeches he has been giving on Iraq. And we're pleased with the response that we've been receiving from the American people on those speeches.
Q: Would you concede right now that it seems pretty clear that the American people don't yet understand what the President's plan is on Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think the American people want to win in Iraq. They understand the importance of winning in Iraq. And they also want to see our troops come home. And polls are snapshots in time. We'll let you all do the analysis of what the polls say. The President is doing what he believes is right and what he believes will make America safer for the long-term. And that's why it's so important that we continue to work to achieve victory in Iraq, and he knows we will.
Now, there have been some Democratic leaders that have chosen very irresponsibly to say that we don't have a strategy for victory. I think it's becoming very clear to the American people in these speeches and in the document we put out just a couple of weeks ago that we have a plan for winning, and it is the right plan for winning. It's important, though, that within that plan, that you be flexible. The tactics -- that you take the tactics and you be able to adjust those tactics to the circumstances on the ground. And war is difficult. That's why it's important that you're flexible in your approach. But the strategy is clear. And the President is going to continue talking about it to the American people.
Q: Scott, one of the things that Mr. Murtha went out of his way yesterday to point out, and others have said, is that part of their frustration or their criticism is that they perceive the President's plan to be open-ended and that the absence of a date certain is the absence of a plan. To the extent that the administration, yourself included, has said that there is an expectation that there could be a conditions-based withdrawal, beginning next year, does that rightly or wrongly create a perception in the American public's mind that there is a glide path to a complete exit?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that you have to look at the progress that we're making on the three elements that the President has outlined. The three elements of our strategy are the security front, the political front, and the economic front. And the Iraqi people are making tremendous progress on each of those fronts.
And as the President has made clear, as we stand up Iraqi security forces, we will stand down American forces. What you're seeing is that the Iraqis are more and more in the lead in the fight. The Iraqis are controlling more territory. And so our forces are able to step back and focus on the terrorists, the Zarqawi network, and his allies in Iraq, and go after those terrorists and bring them to justice. And we're also able to focus more and more on training and equipping those Iraqi security forces to get them in place.
The President and members of Congress that were here earlier today received an update from General Casey about the progress on the security front. And he talked about the preparations for the elections. He talked about the progress that's being made in joint military operations with Iraqi security forces to go after these terrorists that want to derail the transition to democracy. He talked about the challenges that lie ahead. I don't think anyone expects that -- with an election -- that the violence is just going to stop. We still have challenges to address there, and we're working to address those. And the Iraqi forces are the ones who are more and more in the lead to address those threats.
Q: So is the American public right to assume that an expectation of a conditions-based withdrawal makes clear --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this is interesting, because this gets to --
Q: -- is a glide path --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this gets to the whole discussion here. There are some that think we ought to immediately withdraw, or withdraw completely within a certain amount of time. The President is focused on winning. That's what the American people want. Withdrawing is a strategy for defeat. It's a strategy for retreating in the face of the war on terrorism. We are fighting the terrorists there in Iraq so that we don't have to fight them here. And when we succeed there, we will take away any opportunity for them to have a safe haven in Iraq, and we will deal them a significant blow in the war on terrorism.
They understand how high the stakes are. The President will be talking about those stakes tomorrow in his remarks. The stakes are very high in Iraq. It is critical to winning the war on terrorism. And that's why we will complete the mission and we will win.
Q: So the American public should not expect that --
MR. McCLELLAN: What the American --
Q: Let me just finish the question, because I -- the expectation, acknowledged by the administration, that there is a possibility of conditions-based withdrawals next year should not be taken by the American public as an indication of a long-term glide path to a withdrawal?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's a long-term path to victory. That's what the American people should take from it. That's what the American people want. The way to get our troops home is to complete the mission and succeed in Iraq. And that's why the President has outlined our clear strategy for doing so to the American people, and will continue to talk about it and continue to talk about how we're adjusting and adapting to the circumstances on the ground.
Others have a different approach, and the President couldn't disagree more, because it's the wrong approach, because it would make us less safe if we were to pull out before we completed the mission, or withdraw our troops before we completed the mission. And the President knows that when we succeed in Iraq, it will help inspire other reformers in the Middle East and it will take away a possible safe haven for the terrorists.
Q: So based on that, then, may we assume that the President rejects the argument made by some Democrats that the United States is viewed as occupiers, and therefore is, "feeding the insurgency"?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, General Casey has. General Casey has talked about it and talked about the importance of training and equipping Iraqi security forces. Our forces understand the importance of what they're doing. I think the families of the military understand the importance of what we're working to achieve. And this goes to a fundamental argument that is being had among leaders in Congress. And the President believes that the wrong approach is to pull out before we have completed the mission, and that leaders who suggest that have a responsibility to explain to the American people how that would make us more safe.
Q: Two quick questions.
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. Martha, go ahead.
Q: Is "completing the mission" turning it over to the Iraqi security forces, or is it defeating, as you call them, the rejectionists, the Saddamists and the terrorists?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the rejectionists -- it's not necessarily defeating them; it's bringing them into the political process. There are a lot of fence-sitters. And what we heard from Ambassador Khalilzad earlier today was that there are large numbers of Sunnis now participating in this upcoming election on Thursday. And that's a significant benchmark to look at for progress.
Q: Then, let's say, is it defeating the insurgency?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President outlined what victory is, and he defined that in his remarks. And he talked about how, when Iraq is no longer threatened by those from the outside who seek to establish a safe haven, and he talked about how we must continue to stand with the Iraqi people as we move forward. But, I mean, I think he defined victory for the American people, and it's not the way --
Q: But does that mean the U.S. troops will still be there?
MR. McCLELLAN: What are you talking about?
Q: You keep talking about, "as Iraqi forces are stood up, U.S. forces can stand down."
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right.
Q: Whether or not the insurgents are defeated, whether or not there's a civil war, as there are more and more Iraqi security forces, does the U.S. just start pulling out?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as they have the capability --
Q: No matter what the conditions on the ground are.
MR. McCLELLAN: As they have the capability to be able to protect themselves, not only from external threats, but from internal threats, then we will be able to stand down coalition forces. And that's what the President has talked about at length.
Q: So, no matter what the conditions are on the ground?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: No matter what the conditions are on the ground, if there are more Iraqi troops --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to get into -- get into speculation. I think the President has very clearly outlined it in the remarks he's been making. It's very clearly outlined in our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq.
Q: How do you measure the improved security now? I know the President has talked about this some, but particularly in those four provinces, you still have numerous attacks, you still have a lot of loss of life, Iraqi and U.S. forces. How do you measure that? I know --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Anbar Province is one where there's still a lot of difficulties and challenges that remain, and I think our commanders would talk about that. I think our commanders are the ones that are in the position to talk about that, the ones who are on the ground. And they have a clear understanding of how that progress is being made.
Q: But the President has talked about that, as well.
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q: The President has talked about that, as well. So would you say security has really improved?
MR. McCLELLAN: And it's measured by looking at the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, how more and more are taking the lead in the fight. And I can give you some information on that. I mean, the Department of Defense has talked about this. Just in the month of November, Iraqi security forces conducted over a thousand combined operations with coalition forces; they conducted over 400 independent operations on their own. And there were only about 220 -- 227 operations that were conducted without Iraqi security forces, meaning coalition forces. So that's a benchmark to look at. There are more and more in the lead.
Q: But so the measure of improved security is improved Iraqi security forces?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the measure is spelled out by our commanders who have put the strategy in place for training and equipping those Iraqi security forces. And they are the ones who are in the best position to talk about it, and I think they have talked about it.
Q: -- that is the equation for a more secure environment, that the Iraqi security forces are handling the security, not necessarily that security is improved.
MR. McCLELLAN: That's right, they're controlling more territory, and they're taking the lead in the fight more and more. And that's an important way to measure the progress, so that they're fully capable to defend themselves from external and internal threats. I think that's the way the President has always talked about it.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q: Scott, two quick questions. One, I just said last week that aid to the earthquake victims in Pakistan is not reaching -- that terrorists are attacking aid workers in Pakistan and they are trying to block aid to not reach the people. Also, at the same time, Prime Minister of India and the Defense Minister of India both are saying yesterday that terrorists are attacking also across the border in Kashmir. My question is that how do we deal now with these terrorists in Pakistan now they are trying to block the aid to the victims, and now there's a winter, and also slowing --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think President Musharraf and his government are dealing with those terrorists. They're going after those terrorists. We have good cooperation with the government of Pakistan. We'll continue to work with them to go after the terrorists that are in Pakistan and that are along that border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. And we appreciate the job that they're doing. There's more that we can always be doing, and we'll continue working with them.
Q: Second question is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep -- let me keep going. Go ahead, Sarah.
Q: Thank you. I have two questions, please. Now that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has total control of his country for perhaps the next three decades, does the President believe Chavez may cut off the oil supplies to the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't heard a discussion about that recently with the President, that particular matter. I think that what's important is to look at what's happening there. And we have expressed our concerns about the backing off of some of the democratic principles that are important in that country.
Q: Does the administration plan to appeal a federal judge's ruling that Hurricane Katrina victims can remain in their hotel rooms until February? And is the President concerned about the story in the Style section of today's Washington Post, the story that alleges more concern about the Louisiana Governor's personal image than the caring for the hurricane victims?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is focused on how we can all work together to help the people in the region. And one of the most important priorities right now is helping those who are in hotels move into some transitional housing. And that is a top priority for the President. The levees are a top priority for the President. He talked a little bit about that yesterday. And we're moving forward to address that issue and we'll be talking more about it soon.
On the issue of housing, the President has made it very clear to people in the administration that we're going to help those who are in need, and that nobody is going to be just put out on the street. There is a lot of help available to people. It is a top priority for this administration to make sure they understand the help that is available. And just the other day FEMA announced that they were extending that deadline. And so they've already been moving to address some of those concerns.
Q: Scott, a two-part question. WorldNet Daily's Jerusalem Bureau Chief Aaron Klein is an American citizen who was denied entrance into Syria because he's Jewish. But I understand our State Department has had nothing to say about this outrage. And my question -- surely the President, as worshiper of a Jew named Jesus, has something to say about this Jew-bating, doesn't he, which I recall was also done to Wolf Blitzer when he was a White House correspondent?
MR. McCLELLAN: We haven't had a discussion about it, Les. What's your next question?
Q: Surely the President is concerned about this, isn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, if there's more to get to you, I will.
Q: Since Iran's President Ahmadinejads says that Israel should be moved to Europe, and a U.N. ceremony in New York included a map of, "Palestine in place of Israel," does the President believe that we should support eliminating Iran as a sovereign state, and returning that land to its legal owners, the Mongols?
MR. McCLELLAN: What the President believes is that the international community needs to continue to address the concerns we have highlighted about Iran, particularly when it comes to nuclear weapons. We have a number of concerns about the regime in Iran, and the President of Iran's comments only further underscore the concerns that we have, particularly when it comes to their pursuit of nuclear weapons. We must continue to stand firm in the international community and prevent Iran from being able to develop nuclear weapons. That's why we're so supportive of the Europeans' efforts to resolve this matter, and that's why you see more and more in the international community expressing their concerns about Iran's behavior and about their statements that have been made by the president.
Q: What did he think of the U.N. map that has Palestine and eliminates Israel?
MR. McCLELLAN: What the President is working to do is to support the advance of freedom in the Middle East, because by advancing freedom in the Middle East, we'll be advancing our own security. And I think he'll talk a little bit about this in his remarks tomorrow. We're supporting the Israeli people and the Palestinian people as they move forward to the two-state vision that the President has outlined. We'll continue to stand with the Palestinian people who want to have a free and democratic state. That will help bring about greater security in the region.
It's also important that we continue to support the Iraqi people. Both those can serve as an inspiration to reformers throughout the Middle East. And free societies are peaceful societies.
Q: Scott, Senator Frist today said he doesn't think the Congress is going to be able to finish its work on the Alternative Minimum Tax until '06, Congress is going to have to come back and finish it next year. The consequence of that is that 15 million households might face a $30 billion tax increase under AMT. Does the President have any reaction or comment on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I spoke a little bit about this last week. We continue to work with Congress. What we want to do is make sure that it doesn't hit more middle-income Americans. And we want to make sure that the tax relief that we provided and that they're realizing is not taken away. The President acted and led on tax relief to get our economy growing and to get or create an environment where jobs would be created. And it's important that we keep that tax relief in place. It's important that we continue to work to address this issue, as well.
Q: So if the clock is running out, and if they bounce it into '06 tax year, they're going to be eligible, or liable --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Congress is committed to working on this, and we're working with them.
Q: The venue for tomorrow's speech, Scott, is the President inviting comparisons with Woodrow Wilson?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen that in the drafts. He's still working on his speech. But I think he'll talk about the Woodrow Wilson Center when he arrives there. Wait for his speech tomorrow, is what I would tell you. I think it's more of talking about the things I discussed at the opening.
Q: Scott, it also looks like, with the tax reconciliation bill, that -- in general, that won't be addressed until next year, but that you could take up hurricane tax relief and even AMT separately this year. And I wonder if the White House would support that.
MR. McCLELLAN: What we support is working with Congress to move forward on the priorities that we have outlined, priorities that are in our budget, the priorities that we have outlined when it comes to addressing the needs of the people in the region, such as the Gulf Opportunity Zones and other matters. And that's what we'll continue doing. Congress is the one who determines the timetable and how to move forward on that legislation.
Q: And also, to follow up on a couple questions -- and I don't report about this, but I'd like to ask about it -- is with respect to the United States stepping down as Iraqis are able to step up. There's been reports that you're looking at a gradual draw-down of troops, and basically, as you train and equip them, focus more into transferring to an air war, and that if you do that, then you'll have minimal casualties on the ground and that you would just target sites. And I just wondered if that's under consideration, to gradually move out --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President has outlined our strategy. Our commanders have talked about the strategy when it comes to the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces and how we're working to address the threats in Iraq and partnering with those forces and putting them in the lead in the fight. Those are decisions for our commanders on the ground to make. If we learned anything over the course of history, it is that the decisions should be made by the commanders on the ground, not by politicians here in Washington, D.C. This goes to an issue that Carl was bringing up a little bit earlier in the briefing. And I think it's important to keep that in mind. They're the ones who are in the best position to determine how we go about conducting the war and the strategy for succeeding.
Q: There have been reports that the Defense Department --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen those reports. I would encourage you to talk to the Defense Department about them.
Q: Scott, I understand I'm addressing the lesser McClellan on this particular issue and I'll try anyway. This morning in Springfield, the President acknowledged that the Medicare Part B sign-up process is daunting for some. In retrospect, did it have to be this way? And what are the advantages people will realize of a system that is proving so daunting for people to sign up for?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid has talked about the process that has been put in place, and there is a very easy way for senators to go and learn -- for seniors to go and learn more about the prescription drug benefits that are available, and the other modern medicine that is available to them under this benefit. They can go to the Medicare website, Medicare.gov, they can call 1-800-Medicare, and learn more about the options that are available to them now -- options that they didn't have previously.
What we have done is acted and modernized Medicare and given seniors access to the same kind of health care that members of Congress and others here have access to. This gives them important new benefits, better benefits, expanded benefits, and the ability to choose the kind of health care that best fits their needs. And it also, for the first time gives them a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. Seniors will be realizing significant savings under that prescription drug benefit. The President believed it was very important to move forward on modernizing Medicare. And now we are delivering on those benefits to America's seniors.
And I think when you step back from this, what you have to keep in mind is that these are new options that are available to seniors. And there are a lot of educational outreach programs that are available for seniors to go and learn more about the program. And I think at this point what you're seeing happen is that seniors are trying to become more informed about what is available so that they can then go and make the decision as to the health care that best fits their individual needs. And we're in a period now where they have some time to decide. It's from mid-November to May when they can make the decision. The benefit starts in January. And seniors are learning about what those options are.
Q: Was there no way to accomplish this without winding up with a process that is proving so daunting to so many?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we're making it easier for seniors to be able to understand what is available to them. And I think the point the President was making is that he understands that these are new options and choices that are available to America's seniors, and what we want to do is talk to them about what is available to help them make an informed decision. And I think seniors are trying to go about making an informed decision. And what they're going to realize is better benefits and significant savings.
Q: And what's the best plan for my mother in particular? Can you save me some time here? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not the expert on that.
Go ahead. I didn't know that's where you were going.
Q: Scott, why, for almost three years now, the President has not submitted to the Congress the bimonthly report on the focus on Cyprus problem, as required by law? Is there any particular problem?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, I think that the State Department has repeatedly addressed this issue, and I'll leave it to where they said it.
Q: I'm speaking about the --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand. The State Department has been addressing this matter, and I'll leave it to them.
Q: And also on Kosovo, is the President concerned about the developments in Kosovo --
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep going. Go ahead.
Q: Isn't the White House concerned that these discussions to nuance a ban on torture would send the wrong message to the Iraqis that currently are engaging in these practices?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry -- what?
Q: The discussions at the White House to nuance a ban on torture -- a total ban on torture.
MR. McCLELLAN: We already have a ban on torture. The President has made it clear we don't torture.
Q: Any exceptions to --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think what you're seeing now is that if people engage in that conduct under -- someone in the American government engages in that kind of conduct, they're held accountable. We go in and investigate, we hold people accountable. And what you're seeing now in Iraq is something that stands in stark contrast to the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. That was a cruel and brutal regime that systematically engaged in torture. And you have heard from the Iraqi government that the reports of abuse and mistreatment of detainees runs counter to their policy. And they have made a commitment to fully investigate these matters.
And now there are reports from a second prison facility. That was a joint operation by multinational forces and Iraqi forces that involved Iraqi officials for inspectors from, I think, several ministries, including Interior, Justice and the Human Rights Ministry in Iraq. Right now there's a Human Rights Ministry. And you're seeing the government of Iraq fulfill their commitment to investigate these matters, and to do a nationwide investigation of the prison system. That stands in stark contrast to the previous regime that systematically engaged in torture, that condoned torture and that used torture against those who were simply speaking out against the regime.
And we're seeing in a very vivid way through the trial of Saddam Hussein and his regime leaders the kinds of atrocities that that regime was responsible for. Abuse and torture of detainees cannot be tolerated, and we have made that very clear. And we will help the Iraqi government work to hold anybody accountable that is responsible for such behavior. And that's what our FBI and Justice Department have provided, some technical assistance for the investigation and to help them have in place a strong accountability system.
Q: Scott, will the President take questions tomorrow?
MR. McCLELLAN: I was pointing to her.
Q: That was my question, too.
Q: Same question.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's scheduled just for remarks tomorrow. I don't -- I don't know of any discussion that there's been on that, but I'll keep you updated tomorrow.
Q: And who is the audience there?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's people from the Woodrow Wilson Center. It will include some of the scholars and staff of the Woodrow Wilson Center, members of the Board of Trustees, members of the Wilson Council and the Wilson Alliance. There will be some members from the Diplomatic Corps there. I think you have some think tanks that will be represented there with various officials.
Q: Is Hamilton hosting it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's his center. So they're the ones -- yes, they're the ones who are putting this --
Q: How did the President feel after taking questions yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- they're the ones that are putting this on.
Well, the President frequently takes questions, Dana, as you're well aware --
Q: He likes to take questions.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- in a variety of different formats.
Q: Doesn't he like to take questions?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. He enjoys it.
All right, thank you.
END 1:51 P.M. EST
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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