White House Briefing, January 23
23 January 2006
President's schedule, war on terror, White House/Abramoff connection, Ford Motor Company/U.S. economy, Iraq/American hostage, Iran, Congress/surveillance program
White House press secretary Scott McClellan briefed reporters on Air Force One January 23 as they accompanied President Bush on a trip to Topeka, Kansas.
Following is the transcript of the White House briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
January 23, 2006
PRESS GAGGLE BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
Aboard Air Force One
En route Topeka, Kansas
9:53 A.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning, everybody. Let me run through the day real quick. The President had his usual briefing before we departed. When we arrive at Kansas State he'll do the phone call to the March for Life participants back in D.C. That's an open press event, so you'll hear the remarks. He'll be talking about the steps we've been taking to help build a culture of life in America. It's their 33rd annual March for Life event.
And then following that, the President will be speaking to the Kansas State Landon -- Kansas State University's Landon Lecture Series. And I gave a little bit of a preview of that on Friday. To add to that a little bit, what the President will be doing is sharing some of his thoughts on the broader war on terrorism, both what we're doing abroad and what we're doing at home. And I'm talking about the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program.
But then he'll kind of shake up the traditional lecture series, and spend much of the time engaging the audience and taking questions. And this is, I think, one of the largest audiences he has taken questions before. Several thousand students will be there. I know there will be about a thousand military personnel from Fort Riley will be present. And then the faculty, a number of the -- most of the faculty I think will be there, and others, as well. So you're looking around -- probably around 9,000 people in attendance for the event.
Then following the event, the President is going to be meeting with a family of a fallen soldier. This is a Army Reserve -- Sergeant who was in the Army Reserves who lost his life in Afghanistan in December of 2005.
Then we go back to the White House. The President will be participating in the photo opportunity with the U.S. Walker Cup team, and congratulate them on winning the 40th Walker Cup Match. And then this evening the President and Mrs. Bush will be hosting a retirement dinner in honor of Chairman Greenspan, as he gets ready to depart the Federal Reserve.
General Myers and Senator Roberts are on board, with us as well. And as I mentioned the other day, General Hayden, I think it's right about now, is giving remarks to the National Press Club, and then he'll be taking some questions there, as well.
That's all I've got to begin with.
Q: Scott, how was the ticketing handled for today's event? How were they handed out?
MR. McCLELLAN: Through the university and through the base.
Q: No Republican Party?
MR. McCLELLAN: We typically give to some of the congressional offices, so they may have had some -- but it would have been a relatively small number of tickets. Like I said, I think you're going to have some 6,000 students or so attending the event.
Q: On the Abramoff pictures. You had said last week that if we had something specific, that you would then explain further about the connections between the President and the White House and Mr. Abramoff. Can you talk about the specific circumstances surrounding these pictures, and exactly the range of contacts that Mr. Abrmaoff had?
MR. McCLELLAN: I can talk -- let me repeat some of what I have said previously. First of all, the Department of Justice is holding Mr. Abramoff and others to account for the wrongdoing they engaged in. The wrongdoing they engaged in was outrageous, and they should be held to account. And that's what the administration's Department of Justice is doing. They're also continuing to investigate whether others were involved, as well, as they should. And they will continue to pursue it to the fullest.
Now in terms of the reports about some of these pictures, as we have previously indicated, the President did not have a personal relationship with Mr. Abramoff. But we also indicated that it should not be surprising that he might have taken some pictures with him at some of the widely attended events that we know both attended. What I indicated previously was, if you've got some specific issue that you need to bring to my attention, fine. But what we're not going to do is engage in a fishing expedition that has nothing to do with the investigation.
Q: Why not -- why are you guys resistant to open this here? What is there to hide, or why not just say, here are the contacts he had, here are the issues he talked about when he came to the White House, here are the people --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I did do a check, and I indicated to you exactly what I just told you. I indicated to you that there were a few staff-level meetings that he attended at least -- he attended two holiday receptions, in 2001 and 2002. There are some 400 to 500 people at each of those gatherings. And of course there's a photo line at those holiday receptions. The President has participated in tens upon thousands of photo lines or pictures in photo lines over the course of the last five years. He's taken pictures with many of you. But like I said, we're just not going to get into a fishing expedition that has nothing to do with the investigation. Though we have been very straightforward about that, when asked about it.
Q: I understand that. But why not just say, and just get it over with -- say, here are the issues that he talked about -- he came to the White House to talk about, here's who he met with, and then move on. Why not --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of anything that has anything to do wit the investigation. I know that there's some Democrats that want to try to make this -- try to engage in partisan attacks. But what we do know from media reports is that Mr. Abramoff gave directly or indirectly to Democrats and Republicans. Trying to say there's more to it than the President taking a picture in a photo line is just absurd.
Q: Ford Motor Company is today announcing just staggering layoffs. Does the President know about it; is there anything the federal government can do for those thousands of employees; what does it say about the economy?
MR. McCLELLAN: Very aware of -- aware of their points. I don't know if they have made the announcement yet before we had left. I know that they were going to be making an announcement. And first of all, for anyone that loses their job, we are concerned about it. And that's why it's important in the changing economy that we live in to make sure that workers have the skills they need to fill the high-paying, high-growth jobs that are available. Our economy is growing strong -- 4.6 million jobs created since May of 2003, 400,000 jobs -- new jobs created just in the last two months, and an unemployment rate that is below 5 percent, and below the averages of the '70s, '80s and '90s.
There are a lot of indications that our economy is growing strong, but we're also in a changing economy. And what we've got to do is make sure that we focus on making sure workers have the skills they need to be able to fill the kind of jobs that are being created. These are good jobs, these are high paying jobs. As the President pointed out recently, workers between -- I think it was like 18 and 39 will, in this day and age, will go through some 10 different jobs over the course of that time period. And that's why it's important that we focus on education. That's what this President is doing. And we also have to focus on making sure that we're closing the wage gap. The President is going to continue talking about that.
Q: Does the Ford situation speak to anything larger in the U.S. economy? Is it not a problem for the U.S. economy?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, anytime someone loses a job we're concerned about it, and we're concerned about the community. And that's why we've got to continue to act to build on the pro-growth policies that we have put in place. We want to make sure that working families can keep more of their hard-earned money. And that's what -- we put policies in place to do that. The last thing we need to be doing at this point is raising taxes.
We've also got to make sure that we are helping workers to fill the jobs of this changing economy. And that's what we'll continue to do. We'll continue to act and build upon those pro-growth policies. But I think it's clear if you talk to -- most independent economists will say that the economy is growing strong, and they see further growth ahead. I think that some have indicated that the more than 4 percent growth we saw in the last quarter won't necessarily continue going forward, I think all expectations are that it's going to be down a little bit this next quarter, but that we'd see continued strong growth over the course of the next year. And that's -- Congress must continue acting.
Q: Scott, it's been three days since the deadline has passed for Christian Monitor reporter Jill Carroll. And just what is the administration doing now to intervene? Are there negotiations going on at all? What kind of updates, what's the situation?
MR. McCLELLAN: You're aware of our policy on negotiations, and the reason why we don't, because of the message it would send to terrorists. But anytime there is an American held hostage, it is a high priority. And our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all Americans that are held hostage, wherever they may be. And Ms. Carroll and the others are a priority. We want to see them returned safely. It's something we are constantly focused on and working to achieve.
Q: Make sure I understand -- you said General Myers, Senator Roberts. Anyone else?
MR. McCLELLAN: White House staff.
Q: Are the questions today screened, pre-screened?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. They can ask whatever they want, and the President looks forward to it.
Q: Is he going to talk about Iran at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's not necessarily formal remarks. We'll see what questions are asked, as well. It's really focused on the broader war on terrorism. I expect he'll cover a little bit on Afghanistan, talk about Iraq and our strategy for winning there, and talk about, like I said, some of the tools we're using at home to prevent attacks, like the Patriot Act and the National Security Agency's terrorist surveillance program, which is targeted at al Qaeda communications coming into or going out of the United States. We'll see.
Q: Iran is calling for a return to the nuclear talks. Are you guys prepared to do that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you've seen, by some of their comments and actions recently, that they're only continuing to further isolate themselves. We remain engaged in close consultations with Europeans and others about the way forward. There is an emergency board meeting coming up on February 2nd. And I think that there is a clear desire on the part of the international community to refer the matter to the Security Council. There is a growing consensus within the board. We're continuing to talk to others to broaden that consensus. We think a very clear message needs to be sent to the regime in Iran, that its behavior will not be tolerated. Its non-compliance is unacceptable. It continues to defy the international community, and fails to comply with its safeguard obligations. And that's why we believe it's important to send a very clear message to the regime.
We stand with the Iranian people. This is a regime that is not acting in the best interests of its people, and only further isolating itself from the rest of the international community. But you can't have negotiations going on while the regime is ignoring its agreements with the international community.
Q: Scott, yesterday on the talk shows several -- the lawmakers suggested that the President should ask Congress for any fixes that he might see in the FISA law. Is the President inclined to ask Congress for any changes?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. This goes to the terrorist surveillance program we were just talking about. It is -- again, this is a targeted effort aimed at al Qaeda communications coming into or out of the United States. It is a limited, hot pursuit effort to prevent and detect attacks inside America. And it is a vital tool. It is such a vital tool that the President believes it was important to brief key congressional leaders about it -- about the program and the activities conducted under it. We've done that more than a dozen times since it was first authorized.
We continue to brief members of Congress about this vital tool. In those discussions, there was conversation -- my understanding is that there were conversations about this very issue. And the people that were involved in those congressional briefings felt that it was best to proceed as we were. I mean, we will always continue to work closely with Congress on these issues. There are hearings coming up. We'll continue to work with them.
But the President has the clear authority to do this. And it's within his constitutional authority, it's within the authority that was granted to him by Congress. All federal courts that have looked at issues like this have upheld that authority. And in terms of FISA, that's an important tool, as well. And we continue to use the FISA tool. General Hayden will be talking about that, I think, in his remarks today.
But this -- FISA was created in a different time period and didn't anticipate some of the issues we'd have to be dealing with with all the technological advances that we've seen in the last few decades. And the American people clearly want us to do everything within our power to protect them from further attacks. We know that the enemy is determined to strike us again. It is a sophisticated and deadly enemy. And that's why the President is going to continue doing everything within his power to disrupt plots and prevent attacks.
Q: He doesn't think there's anything that needs fixing, then?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, like I said, this very issue came up -- whether or not there needs to be changes in the law -- during the consultations with Congress, with the congressional leaders, and to reflect what the President's authority is. The President already has the authority to do this. But we work very closely with Congress. That's why we brief Congress, that's why we briefed Congress more than 12 times about this very program, the appropriate congressional leaders, and we will continue to do so.
Q: -- FISA is outdated, why not change it, why not ask Congress to change it so that it reflects the modern era, modern technology?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't say it was outdated. We use FISA. FISA is an important tool. It didn't anticipate some of the technological issues that needed to be addressed through this. This is about addressing a specific problem that was highlighted in the 9/11 Commission report. We had two al Qaeda members operating inside the United States and we didn't find out about their communications until it was too late.
Q: But why not make FISA usable now, in the modern era?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just indicated, we'll continue to work with Congress. But the President has the clear authority to do what he's doing, and that's what the American people expect him to do, to act fully within the law, and to do everything he can to protect them.
And I think there are some Democratic leaders that have continued to engage in misleading, false attacks about this vital tool. And we're going to continue to educate the American people about this vital tool.
Q: You don't think it's a false attack to say that Democrats are saying that we don't want to monitor al Qaeda calls? That's not exactly an accurate statement.
MR. McCLELLAN: Democrats are attacking this very vital tool in false ways. All you have to do is go look at the remarks, when they talk about the legal authorization. I mean, what I said yesterday, it defies common sense that the President would go and brief members of Congress about this authorization if he thought he was operating outside of his authority. They were fully aware of this program. Democrats didn't start criticizing it until it -- until the unauthorized disclosure of this program to The New York Times.
And it's important for the American people to understand what this authorization is and what it is not. And that's why General Hayden is giving his remarks today; that's why the President is going to be talking about this in his remarks, as well. Now some Democrats want to try to have it both ways. And that's what this is about.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
END 10:11 A.M. EST
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