White House Briefing, January 30
30 January 2006
Council of Economic Advisors nomination, State of the Union address, budget, Alito nomination, elevating the tone in Washington, terrorist surveillance, Iran, energy, Patriot Act, tax reform, Palestinian election, terrorism, Abramoff
White House press secretary Scott McClellan briefed the press January 30.
Following is the transcript of the White House briefing:
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
January 30, 2006
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
-- Council of Economic Advisors nomination
-- State of the Union address
-- Alito nomination
-- Elevating the tone in Washington
-- Terrorist surveillance
-- Patriot Act
-- Tax reform
-- Palestinian election
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
January 30, 2006
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:34 P.M. EST
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everyone. I want to begin with one announcement -- actually, a couple of announcements, one I might have mentioned to some of you earlier today.
First of all, the President intends to nominate Ed Lazear to be a member of the Council of Economic Advisors, and upon appointment, designate him chairman. Ed is currently a professor at Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and he was a member of our advisory panel on federal tax reform. We look forward to Ed joining the economic time. He has helped to produce -- the economic team has helped to produce real results for the American people; that we have worked to help create 4.6 million jobs; the unemployment rate is down to 4.9 percent; and we look forward to him joining the team and helping the President build upon our strong record of accomplishment when it comes to the economy.
Second of all, the President looks forward to giving the State of the Union tomorrow night and speaking directly to the American people. We are living in historic times and, as the President has said, we have a responsibility to lead. America is always at its best when we are shaping events, rather than being shaped by events. And the President tomorrow night will be charting the path forward for our nation. It's important that we continue leading and acting to spread peace abroad and prosperity at home. The President is optimistic and confident about the path that we are on.
Tomorrow night, he looks forward to discussing some bold initiatives to help keep America strong and he will talk about some new policies that will reflect the priorities that the American people care most about. It will be a hopeful agenda for our future that he will be outlining. And as he said earlier today, and has said last week, it's important that we all work together to elevate the tone in Washington and work together to achieve big things for the American people.
Following the State of the Union remarks, the President is going to travel across the country to directly engage the American people on four key issue areas or initiatives that he will be talking about in the State of the Union tomorrow night. He will be giving four major policy speeches in the coming weeks, over the course of the month of February, in addition to talking about -- continuing to talk about the global war on terrorism. The speeches will give the President an opportunity to lay out in greater detail his agenda for 2006 and focus on those four key initiatives or issue areas.
And with that, I'll be glad to go to your questions.
QUESTION: Scott, what are the four key initiatives, areas that you're talking about?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President hasn't given the State of the Union address, I want to hold off, let him give the address tomorrow night, and then I think you'll be hearing more from him. But the President, earlier today and last week, talked about some areas that we need to continue to focus on to keep America competitive; to address priorities that the American people care most about, like rising health care costs; and our dependence on foreign sources of energy. And he'll talk more about that tomorrow night in his remarks.
Q: Scott -- do you have another question?
Q: I did.
Q: Okay, go ahead.
Q: Thank you. Last year, Social Security was the signature issue of the State of the Union address. You talked about the initiative, that he'll talk about bold initiatives. What is the signature issue out of this year's --
MR. McCLELLAN: Nice try, but I'll hold off until tomorrow night. You'll hear directly from the President on some of those. And you heard a little bit from him last week and a little bit more from him this morning, and I think I'll leave it to the President to talk about that more. That's what the State of the Union is for.
Q: You done?
Q: Yes, go ahead.
Q: Nothing else?
Q: Well, if I do, I'll interrupt. (Laughter.)
Q: How bold can he be in this State of the Union, given the fact that this is an election year where members of Congress are saying that it's not really a time to take on some controversial initiatives? And, also, with this idea of spending restraint being so preeminent in the President's agenda for 2006, the deficits running the way they are -- I mean, just how bold can you be?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. As I talked about, these are historic times that we are living in, these are challenging times. That's why we have an obligation to lead. This is also a time of great opportunity. And the President will be talking about the importance of putting aside partisanship and working together to continue to focus on the big priorities for the American people. This is a President that believes we must lead and act. We have achieved great things over the last four or five years.
But there is much work to do. And we recognize that this is an election year, and we're mindful of that and take that into account. But the President recognizes that we were elected to get things done for the American people. And because of the times that we are living in, we must continue to lead and we must continue to act on the priorities that the American people care about. We must continue to work to address the threats we face abroad. We must continue to work to spread prosperity here at home. We've achieved great results, but there is much work to do.
And in terms of the budget, 2006 was a year of significant achievement when it came to the budget -- the 2006 budget, I'm sorry, thanks for correcting me. The 2006 budget was a time of significant achievement. We were able to -- Congress delivered on much of what the President asked for. We were able to keep the growth of discretionary spending below the rate of inflation. We actually cut non-security discretionary spending. Congress is on the verge of passing $40 billion in savings in mandatory programs. That's something that needs to be addressed. And the President will continue to talk about the importance of addressing that.
Congress also acted by cutting or eliminating nearly 90 programs. The President had called for more. The President called for more in savings on mandatory programs, and we will continue to build upon that in our coming budget, but we must continue to meet our highest priorities. And the way you make sure you can meet your highest priorities is to set clear priorities and then exercise spending restraint elsewhere in the budget. And that's important to also keep our economy growing. And the President, I expect, will be talking about the importance of fiscal discipline tomorrow night, as well.
Q: If you're not unveiling broad new initiatives like tax reform or Social Security reform, as the President did last year, would you describe this more as tinkering around the edges?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's going to be talking about some bold initiatives tomorrow night, and I would encourage you to listen carefully.
Q: Is the President going to ask for permanent tax cuts when we have such deficits that are rising so incredibly?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, tax cuts are part of the solution. It's out of control spending that has been part of the problem that you bring up, and that's why the President has continued to lead and advocate spending restraint within the budget. And Congress has changed the path that our budget is heading on by moving forward on initiatives that he outlined to --
Q: Taking it out on food stamps --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- address mandatory spending and reduce the growth of discretionary spending, and it's important that we continue moving in that direction. But we are a nation that has been at war. We are a nation that has had to address unanticipated challenges, like the recovery and rebuilding along the Gulf Coast. And, you bet, we're going to continue to meet the needs when it comes to winning the war and --
Q: But why give permanent tax cuts to the richest people?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we're going to meet the needs when it comes to the people of the Gulf Coast as they work to rebuild their lives and their communities. That is something the President is strongly committed to.
Now, in terms of keeping our economy growing, and keeping our budget on path to cut the deficit in half, we need to continue to keep that economy growing, we need to continue to exercise spending restraint. And tax relief has helped us lay the foundation of a strong economy. We're creating jobs -- 4.6 million new jobs created since May of 2003; 400,000 in just the last two months. It's because of the policies that we have pursued that our economy is growing.
And if you look back over the last few years -- and, Helen, I would encourage you to do this -- the revenues have come in much higher than anticipated. Many people said that we'd pass tax cuts and that it would have the opposite effect. Well, it didn't turn out that way. Tax cuts are good to keep our economy growing. It's important that we make the tax cuts permanent. You bet, the President is going to continue advocating for that. The worst thing we can do to our economy right now is raise taxes on working families and the American people. As I pointed out last week, it would be a $1.3 trillion tax hike on the American people and working families if we let those tax cuts expire.
Q: You're contemplating $40 billion to $50 billion in cuts for food stamps, scholarship grants, everything that affects the poor.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I disagree with that. We're making sure that -- the President has talked about this on a number of occasions. The government has a responsibility to make sure that we are meeting the needs of our neediest Americans, and we're meeting the needs of people with disabilities, and we're meeting the needs of the elderly. That's why this President worked to pass Medicare reform. And now seniors are starting to realize significant savings on their prescription drug cost. And we will continue working to make sure that those priorities of the neediest Americans and our elderly are met.
Q: If Judge Alito is confirmed tomorrow morning, does the President want to arrange to have him sworn in, in time to attend the State of the Union address?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, we look forward to his confirmation. Judge Alito is someone who is exceptionally well qualified to serve on our nation's highest court. He brings more experience than anyone in the past 70 years to the bench, having served 15 years on the federal appeals court. And he is someone that all Americans can be proud of. And so we look forward to the Senate moving forward quickly on his confirmation. I think they will be having a vote later today, and then moving forward tomorrow. And I think that Justice O'Connor has waited for quite some time to move on to her next challenge. And so I expect that we will move forward quickly to see that he is in place.
Q: Here, at the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll keep you posted, but the vote hasn't happened yet.
Q: What's he going to focus on, on the foreign side in his speech tomorrow night? Is it mostly about Iraq, or what?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we remain engaged in a global war on terrorism. And I think you can expect the President will continue to focus on the progress we're making in the global war on terrorism and continue to talk about the advance of freedom in the world. Freedom is advancing in this world. And there is a lot of progress over the past year, and we need to continue to build on that. Even there, it's advanced.
And the President will also talk about threats we continue to face. You heard him mention earlier today that he will talk about the threat from the regime in Iran. This is a regime that continues to defy the international community. It's interesting that now the international community is coming together and starting to send a very firm message to the regime that the regime is now talking about -- or more interested in looking at the proposal by Russia. It's important that we send a very clear message to the regime that their behavior will not be tolerated and that they must end their nuclear weapons ambitions. And you heard from him earlier talk about that.
But I also expect he'll continue to talk about the importance of what we are doing abroad to win the war on terrorism, and what we are doing at home to prevent attacks and save lives.
Q: Scott, on the agenda for this year, 2005 was very difficult for this President on a number of fronts, and if you look at some of the signature initiatives that he discussed in the State of the Union, they were either put off or they failed -- Social Security being the most notable. What are the challenges of trying to outline new agenda items combined with things that you're still pushing -- like the Patriot Act and the permanence of tax cuts -- in an election year when Republicans are under considerable pressure --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why you heard from the President earlier today, and he'll continue to talk about the importance of elevating the tone and focusing on getting the important business of the American people done. We all have an obligation to keep our focus where it belongs, and that's on getting things done for the American people. And the President is going to continue to do his part to elevate the tone in this town. We need to work together to renew the Patriot Act; we need to work together to continue to strengthen our economy; we need to work together to make the tax cuts permanent; we need to work together to address rising health care costs; we need to work together to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
Now, I would disagree with the way you characterized 2005, because 2005 was also a year of significant achievement for the American people. We passed a comprehensive energy plan that put us on the path to reducing dependence on foreign sources of energy. There's more to do. Energy prices are too high. We also were able to pass class action reform, to reduce frivolous litigation. We put out a whole sheet at the end of the year last year focusing on the accomplishments. As I mentioned, there was great progress made when it came to our budget. And it's time to continue building upon that progress we have made.
We recognize it's an election year, but this is also a time of great importance for the American people and for our future.
Q: Let me ask you a question about elevating the tone, because, obviously, a lot of Americans are familiar with this talk from the President, even though it didn't really come to pass after he was elected in 2000. The President has talked a lot recently about, in essence, trying to set the terms for how his critics should disagree with him on Iraq, what the responsible way is to do it and what the irresponsible way is to do it. So could you be a little bit more specific about what he thinks he can do to elevate the tone?
MR. McCLELLAN: Just exactly what he's been doing throughout his administration. This President has always worked, whether it was when he was governor of Texas or since he's been President of the United States, has always worked to reach out and elevate the discourse. If you look at his tone, this President has focused on how we can work together to get things done, and focused on what the American people expect us to do. And that's what -- and that's what he will continue to do.
Q: And then also equated Congressman Murtha to Michael Moore, when he questioned whether troops should be withdrawn, is that the sort of elevation in tone you're talking about?
MR. McCLELLAN: First of all, we said that we have great respect for his service to the country.
Q: You later said that.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, we said that at the time. I correct you.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q: Two questions. One, if you can confirm or any comments on The New York Times report last week that as far as domestic recording by NSA's concern that is basically focused on the terrorists in Pakistan and calls going from the U.S. to Pakistan and coming from Pakistan to the U.S. And al Qaedas are there. That's why the CIA last week, or two weeks ago, took action against the number two man, because they were not getting any cooperation from Pakistan. Can you confirm that report?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm not going to get into talking about specifics that might involve operational details of the terrorist surveillance program. This terrorist surveillance program is a limited effort targeted at al Qaeda communications. It is focused on international communications, and it is about detection and prevention. And the President believes it's a very important tool.
We have a whole tool box of tools that are available to help us win the war on terrorism. And we must make use of each of those tools. This is a comprehensive effort. We have to fight the war abroad, we have to fight it here at home. And the President is going to continue doing everything he can within his powers and within his authority to prevent attacks and protect the American people. And this is one vital tool in that.
In terms of Pakistan, we continue to work very closely with Pakistan in the war on terrorism. And we will continue to build upon that. The President had a very good visit with Prime Minister Aziz just recently.
Carl, go ahead.
Q: Is the United States concerned that India is becoming a crack in the international unity about referring Iran to the Security Council? And, if so, what are you going to do about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are discussions going on. You said, Iran? Is that --
Q: And India, particularly, as a --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, but you said referring Iran to the Security Council? As the President talked about, that's something that we are looking at. We're in discussions with the international community. It's important that we send a clear message to the regime that its nuclear ambitions -- nuclear weapons ambitions will not be tolerated. We will not accept the regime developing a nuclear weapon. It is an issue of trust.
The President talked about that earlier today. This is a regime that has hid its activities from the international community for some two decades. It is a regime that has refused to abide by its international obligations. And Secretary Rice is in London this week having discussions with members of the United Nations Security Council, the permanent members of the Security Council, in Germany, about how we proceed forward. We're also in discussions with others. We're in discussions with our allies and partners about how to move forward. I don't want to try to prejudge that at this point, but we've long said that it is time for the matter to be referred to the Security Council, that the regime's noncompliance cannot be tolerated.
Q: And insofar as the President has made it clear that those who don't stand with the U.S. against terrorism stand -- if you're with the terrorists -- you're either with us or against us. In a nuclear stand-up with Iran, are we beginning to see ourselves -- is the U.S. beginning to see itself in a situation where you're either with us or against us against Iran?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn't describe it that way at all, Carl. I would describe it as the international community continuing to come together to send a unified message to the regime in Iran. I think very few in the international community want to see that regime with a nuclear weapon. They understand the threat that it poses. This is a regime that continues to make outrageous comments, that has called for the destruction of a neighboring country. And it's important that we send a very clear message that its behavior cannot be tolerated.
It is a regime that moves in the -- continues to move in the wrong direction from the rest of the Middle East. It is a regime that puts its own interest above the interest of its people. That's why the President also made very clear earlier today that we stand with the Iranian people and support their aspirations to live in freedom. And we will continue to do that. This is about the regime when it comes to the nuclear issue, and other issues that we have concerns about.
Go ahead, Suzanne.
Q: Scott, you say the President is going to be optimistic tomorrow and there's been a lot of talk about being upbeat in his message. Many Americans believe that the President would have more credibility if he acknowledged some of the hardships that they're facing, whether or not there are people who are still homeless from Katrina, or U.S. casualties in Iraq. Is he going to address any of those things?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President often talks about those issues. And I do expect he will talk about Iraq tomorrow in his remarks, and I do expect he will talk about the importance of continuing to meet the needs of the people throughout the Gulf Coast region who have been put in a terrible situation because of a storm of unprecedented magnitude and scope. And we have an obligation to continue making sure that their needs are met. We have already passed some $85 billion in resources that are available to help them. Only about $25 billion or a little bit more than that has been allocated to be spent at this point. There is enormous resources available. We are going to continue working to meet their needs. And the President made it clear that, if needed, we will continue to build upon those efforts.
Anyway, go ahead. Did you have a follow-up?
Q: Is that one of his initiatives, the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. I mean, that's one of his initiatives now. But I'm talking about new initiatives now.
Q: Scott, the President has been talking about alternative sources of energy for about five years, so what is exactly new in this energy proposal he talked about yesterday on CBS?
MR. McCLELLAN: The energy --
Q: He's been talking about new sources of energy --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I don't [sic] think he's outlined some of the areas we need to focus on, in addition to what we've already done. We did pass a comprehensive energy strategy last August, and that was the first time that had been done in, like, a decade or so. And that will put us on a path to reducing our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The President has long talked about the importance of making America more energy self-sufficient, and that's why that legislation was so important. But there's more that we need to do. Energy prices remain too high and --
Q: Is he going to talk about the record oil -- the record profits of Exxon released today? Is he going to address that issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you'll hear his speech tomorrow, and he'll talk about what we need to do and the kinds of alternative sources of energy we need to look to in his remarks.
Q: But is he going to make any reference to --
MR. McCLELLAN: But not only that -- again, tomorrow night, the State of the Union, there's only so much you can say in the course of that time period on each priority area. And that's why I said that following the State of the Union the President is going to continue to lay out in greater detail some of the initiatives that he will be talking about tomorrow night. So I'd encourage you to listen. I know you want to try to get out in front of what he's going to say, but I'd encourage you to listen tomorrow night, and then listen in the coming weeks as he outlines in greater detail his agenda.
Q: We promise if you dish now, we'll listen tomorrow night, too.
Q: Yes, can you just say what he's doing right now? Is he --
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, I'll tell you, but don't tell anybody else, okay?
Q: -- rehearsing today, doing one more run-through? What's he doing with the speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, he was doing another run-through this morning, following the Cabinet meeting earlier today, of the speech.
Q: And that's it, we're done? Or is there more?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if he wants to do more, that's certainly an option. But, typically, on the day of, he doesn't tend to do a run-through of the speech. But it just depends, so we'll see.
Q: What draft?
Q: Yes, what draft?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in the 20s, in the low 20s right now -- 23 as of early this morning.
Q: You said the President is going to continue doing what he's doing in terms of elevating the tone in Washington. So to whom, exactly, is he referring?
MR. McCLELLAN: To elevating the tone?
MR. McCLELLAN: All of us. Both parties, to work together to get things done for the American people.
Q: So everybody is kicking in the gutter, except him? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: No, that's not what he said. That's what you said.
Q: But he doesn't need to elevate his tone, so are there some who don't need to elevate their tone?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's going to continue to. I think we've seen that -- and it's one of the things he's talked about, Victoria. Maybe it's a surprise to you, but this town has become pretty bitter over the course of the last several years, not just when this President has been in office, but even before that. And this President, when he -- go back to his days as governor; he was able to reach out and work with Democrats and Republicans, alike, to get things done, and he was hoping we could have made more progress to elevate the tone in this city. But it requires both parties reaching out to one another.
The President has reached out. It requires others to reach back. And there are many people here in this town that would like to see that happen, many leaders that would like to see that happen. Unfortunately, the focus sometimes is too much on the partisan attacks and the bitter, negative tone. The President is going to continue to say, even though it's an election year, we've got to work together and elevate the tone and get things done.
Q: So in terms of working together, is he prepared to compromise at all on the Patriot Act with the Senate?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we've made our views very clear on the Patriot Act. And it's -- unfortunately, there are some that have obstructed getting that renewed. And there was a compromise --
MR. McCLELLAN: I reject your characterization, because there was a conference committee that came together and they reached important compromises.
Go ahead, Mark. And we continue to urge renewal of the Patriot Act. It's an important tool in the war on terrorism, and it's helped to disrupt plots and prevent attacks.
Q: You've spoken about the President's hope to get something done, despite the fact that this is an election year. As someone who listened to last year's State of the Union speech and would probably rate tax overhaul as one of the top issues the President hoped to accomplish something on quickly, is that a casualty of the election year?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of priorities, it remains a priority. But we have not --
Q: But not this year?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't believe we have yet received a report from the Secretary of Treasury. But we do recognize the realities of an election year and recognize what can be accomplished in the context of an election year. But the President, again, tomorrow night is going to talk about some bold initiatives that we need to move forward on, and we need to move forward on now.
Q: But tax -- we're not going to --
MR. McCLELLAN: I just told you where we are, and tomorrow night you'll hear more about the priorities.
Q: Scott, a two-part. The Washington Post has published history professor emeritus Lewis Gould's critique of the State of the Union speech as, in his words, "nothing but theater, meaningless annual ritual, continuous campaigning, a gaudy spectacle of ballyhoo and hype." And my question: Since this professor emeritus is from the University of Texas in Austin, was he one of your teachers? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't believe so.
Q: Why aren't the -- you don't believe so?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't recall him being one of my teachers. I don't know if he was even there -- when was that, 20 years ago, almost 20 years?
Q: Why aren't the Hamas-electing Palestinians immediately cut off from all U.S. funding of what they decided to elect, a terrorist government whose leaders have again refused to abandon its call for the destruction of Israel?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things, Les, and Secretary Rice has talked about this; the President talked about it earlier today. We will not -- we do not and we will not fund a terrorist organization. We will not fund an organization that advocates the destruction of Israel. We will not fund an organization that engages in terror. Hamas has choices to make. They need to renounce their platform calling for the destruction of Israel. They need to reject terror.
We have been very clear on our views. So has the international community. The Quartet has been very clear in their views, as well, putting out a statement. And Secretary Rice is meeting with the Quartet in London to talk about the way forward when it comes to these issues. And in terms of our assistance programs, our assistance programs will be reviewed with that key principle in mind, that we will not fund a terrorist organization. We can not be clearer --
Q: "Reviewed"? What about now, right now, to stop the money right now, the millions going --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, right now we believe it's important for President Abbas to continue to remain engaged in the peace process, and indications are that he intends to do that, from what we've seen in recent days and in terms of his comments. And we will see how the new government forms. At this point, it's in the process of forming. And as we've said, if Hamas is the new government, we will not fund a terrorist organization. The President couldn't be clearer --
Q: "If"? You're implying there is any doubt that Hamas is going to be the government.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there's a level of uncertainty in the political system in the Middle East right now, and in the Palestinian Territories. And so we'll see how that plays out.
Q: Is the peace process then, is it stalemated, is it set back, is it broken? Where is the peace process now, given this whole election?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as we indicated the other day, we believe very strongly that the Palestinian people want a peaceful life, that they want to live in peace. The way to get to peace is the two-state vision that the President outlined. That's why there are discussions going on with the Quartet and others about how to move forward. And that's why we continue to encourage President Abbas to stay in office and remain engaged in the process. He is someone who has expressed a commitment to peace.
The election, as we talked about the other day, had much more to do with fighting corruption and responding to the needs of the people. The President talked about that in his remarks the other day. Remember, when it comes to elections, elections are the beginning of the process, not the end of the process. So we are going to continue working to achieve peace, and working with all those who want to be a partner in peace. But you can't be a partner in peace if you advocate the destruction of a neighbor, and if you advocate the use of terror, the use of attacking innocent civilians.
Q: Do you consider this, then, a setback for peace at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Freedom is advancing. Again, elections are the beginning of the process. We congratulate the Palestinian people for conducting a successful election that was peaceful. And we are going to continue to work with our partners and others and support people in the region as they move forward to achieve peace.
Q: According to data currently available at the Department of Homeland Security Funded Terrorism Knowledge Base, the incidents of terrorism increased markedly in 2005: worldwide attacks were up 51 percent from the year before, and the number of people killed in those attacks is up 36 percent; since the year 2000, attacks are up 250 percent, and deaths are up 550 percent. How do you reconcile those numbers with your claim that you're winning the war on terrorism and putting terrorists out of business?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, just look at the facts. If you look at the facts, many of al Qaeda's known leadership have been put out of business. They've been brought to justice. They've either been captured or killed. No longer is America waiting and responding. We're on the offense; we're taking the fight to the enemy. We are engaged in a war on terrorism. The enemies recognize how high the stakes are. And one thing the President will talk about, continue to talk about tomorrow night and in the coming weeks, is that we continue to face a serious threat. This is a deadly and determined enemy. But the difference is now that we've got them on the run, we've got them playing defense, we're taking the fight to them. And all of us in the international community must continue to work together.
We've been fortunate that we haven't been hit again since the attacks of September 11th. And that's in no small part because of the great work of our men and women in uniform abroad, and because of the great work of our intelligence community, and the great work of our homeland security officials here at home who have worked together using vital tools, like the Patriot Act and other tools, to help disrupt plots and disrupt attacks. And there's great progress being made.
But the President made it clear after September 11th that this was going to be a long war, but he's going to continue acting and leading and doing everything in his power to win that war so long as he is in office. And we also have to work to continue to advance freedom. And 2006 was a year of progress when it came to advancing freedom around the world. The Middle East is a dangerous, troubled region, and that's why it's important we continue to support the advance of democracy throughout that region.
Q: Prime Minister Koizumi is still under much scrutiny because of the (inaudible) U.S. deal more than a week ago. How do you think this will affect U.S.-Japan relations? And how does President Bush -- does he have any other plans to -- action or to call the Prime Minister again?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Deputy Secretary of State Zoellick just returned from a visit to the region. He was able to visit with Prime Minister Koizumi. He updated the Cabinet earlier today during the Cabinet meeting that took place about his visit. And we have a very good relationship, very strong relationship with Prime Minister Koizumi and Japan. And we will continue to work together to address issues of mutual concern. And we will continue to work together to address this matter, as well. The Department of Agriculture has been taking a number of steps to address this issue already.
Bob, go ahead.
Q: From the White House vantage point, is it possible that the Patriot Act will be renewed by the end of this week?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has made it very clear that we cannot go even a day without this vital tool. It has been essential in helping us to disrupt plots and prevent attacks and save lives -- we have spoken about the many examples, the way it has. The one thing we are determined to do is not let that wall be put back up between law enforcement and intelligence officials. It was important to break down that wall so that they could share information and be able to go after people who may be inside the United States seeking to do harm to innocent civilians.
And so the President is continuing to urge renewal of the Patriot Act. But it's important that we not let that law expire even for a day. And so --
Q: Are there discussions --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are discussions going on -- there are discussions going on with Congress, and we continue to engage in those discussions about how to get it renewed.
Q: Two more, Scott, on Hamas, please. Does the U.S. still think it's important to press for democratic elections in the greater Middle East?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q: Even though you might get the same results?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. And Condi, again -- I go back to what I said earlier. Elections are the beginning of the process, not the end of the process. Democracy yields peace. Democracy yields responsive government.
And I think that that's what you saw in the elections last week, was that there was a sense with -- among the Palestinian people that they were sick of corruption. The President talked about this earlier today. They wanted more responsive government, and they had some concerns about the old guard that had been in place for many years. Those were ongoing concerns that they had, and I think they were able to exercise their choice at the ballot box in a peaceful way. And so we congratulate them for doing so. But, again, elections are the beginning of the process, not the end.
Q: Just two more on this, then. Why would you press for Mahmoud Abbas to stay on as President if he was --
MR. McCLELLAN: He was elected by the Palestinian people to serve a four-year term as President of the Palestinian Authority.
Q: The last one, would the United States force Israel back to the 1967 borders to mollify Hamas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's a road map that spells out the steps forward to getting to the two-state vision. And that is the way to get to the vision that the President outlined, and all parties have responsibilities under that road map.
Q: Scott, it is reported that North Korea is manufacturing and illegally exporting to (inaudible) U.S. brand of cigarettes. And even some of them are now circulating in the U.S. market. What is your comment on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we will not tolerate North Korea's involvement in illicit activities. We have taken steps to stop the flow of counterfeit money, or stop the flow of other fake goods or drugs. And we will continue to do so. I think we've announced what steps we've taken and the successes we have achieved when it comes to addressing those issues.
Q: If democracy in the Middle East leads, as it appears to, inexorably to theocracy, have we gained anything? Have we maybe not lost something?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I saw some articles maybe over the last few days about the whole issue of democracy. First of all, the President believes that all people want to live in freedom, and so if you believe that, then you have great confidence in the power of democracy. We saw the power of democracy last week. Again, elections are the beginning of the process. They're not the end of the process. Democracy leads to peace. Democracy leads to peaceful, responsible government. And that's what is important to keep in mind here.
But seeing some of the articles, there's this attitude that some people can't live in freedom. That's a dangerous elitist attitude that the President strongly rejects, or that it's not time for -- certain people aren't ready to live in freedom. Freedom is on the march in the world. Freedom is on the march in the Middle East. The people of the Middle East want peace. They want freedom. And we're going to continue to support those efforts.
And we saw the power of democracy take place in the Palestinian territories last week. And it was -- we saw the people step forward -- let's make clear, Hamas was out there campaigning on fighting corruption, and campaigning on providing essential social services to the people. I don't think Hamas was out there saying, we're going to destroy Israel. And we believe the Palestinian people have a strong desire to live in freedom, and we support those aspirations. We believe the people in Israel want to live in freedom, and that's why the two-state vision is so important. And we have an opportunity to continue to advance peace in a troubled region, and that's what we will do.
But the great thing about democracy is that people choose, they get to chart their path forward.
Q: But, historically, hothouse democracy has not worked terribly well. I would cite the little democracies established in post-colonial Africa that led automatically to dictatorships.
MR. McCLELLAN: There were people that said after World War II that Japan couldn't -- that the Japanese people couldn't live in freedom. We had an attitude in our own country that said African Americans couldn't live in freedom. It was a terrible part of our past. And the President just rejects the attitude that suggests certain people can't live in freedom.
Q: Scott, I'm delighted to be called today by you.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm delighted to call on you.
Q: Okay, thank you. I'm a Chinese correspondent. My question is, Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian yesterday said that he is considering to abolish guidelines for national unification, and abolish the national unification council. So what's your comment and views on his speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen those comments. I think we've made our views known on those issues in the past, and I don't think anything has changed in terms of our view. You might want to check with the State Department to see if they have any additional information.
Glad to call on you, too, John. (Laughter.)
Q: And I'm glad that you did call on me, Scott. Thank you very much.
A couple of Republicans over the weekend, including Senator John Thune, suggested that the White House do a public data dump on everything you've got related to Jack Abramoff, just to clear the air. Your response on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: My response is that it's important for anyone that was engaged in this wrongdoing to be held to account. Mr. Abramoff is being held to account by the Department of Justice. The career team at the Department of Justice within the public integrity unit is continuing to move forward on the investigation, and they should pursue it to the fullest extent and hold all those who engaged in wrongdoing to account. Beyond that, I think we've made our views very well known in terms of this matter. And nothing has changed.
Q: Al Jazeera is reporting a new tape from al Qaeda's number two, Zawahiri. Do you have anything on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. It's the first I'm hearing about it, so we'll check into it.
END 1:15 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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