White House Press Briefing, October 31, 2003
October 31, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS GAGGLE BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
Crawford Middle School Crawford, Texas
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Someone remind me at the end, and I'll do the week ahead for next week.
Okay, let me go through the President's day, and then we'll jump right into questions. The President began this morning with a phone call to Prime Minister Berlusconi. The purpose of the call was to talk about reconstruction in Afghanistan. There's some upcoming discussions about financial assistance for Afghanistan. The President asked Prime Minister Berlusconi, in Italy's role as President of the European Union, to call on other European countries to increase and accelerate financial support to Afghanistan. The President also thanked the Prime Minister for Italy's support to reconstruction in Iraq, as well.
Then the President participated in his usual briefings this morning. He has been in contact with various members of his senior staff, as well, and he is spending the rest of the day at the ranch, tending to official business and enjoying spending some time at home.
And with that, I will jump right into whatever questions you have.
Q: Scott, the deadline passed for the Senate Intelligence Committee's request for White House and other cooperation on the -- Iraq intelligence probe. Can you tell what you have done, in terms of cooperation with that request, and whether you intend any further actions?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we have been working with and assisting the Senate Intel Committee, and we will continue to do so. We are talking with them about their request, and we will continue working with them. We previously, even though the committee has no jurisdiction over the White House, we previously have made NSC staff members available and provided access to relevant documents to help committee investigators. And we will continue working with them as they move forward.
Q: There was one staff member mentioned in particular, but not by name, as somebody they wanted made available. Will you make that person available? Is it Bob Joseph, by any chance?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's why -- we just received this request late yesterday. And we have been working with and assisting the Senate Intelligence Committee as they move forward on the review of intelligence in Iraq. And we will continue to do so. We are talking with them and we will continue to talk with them about their latest request.
Go ahead, Suzanne.
Q: The President has said that Saddam Hussein is no longer a threat, that he has been removed. And you're aware of the reports that cite other senior administration officials saying he may play a larger role in some of these attacks against Americans in Iraq. Can you tell us if those reports are credible?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think you need to talk to the military in the region about who is responsible for recent attacks. We know that there are remnants of the former regime that are in the country, as well as foreign terrorists who have entered the country who seek to stop the progress that we are making, who seek to spread fear and chaos among the Iraqi people. They target innocent civilians, they target the Iraqi people, and they target international aid workers. It's hard to tell, as Dr. Rice said yesterday, what exactly his role would be, if any. Saddam Hussein is in a survival mode. He is no longer in power, he has been removed from power. His regime is no longer in power. And it's just a matter of time before he is brought to justice, as well as other remnants of the regime.
Q: So do you believe he has the ability to organize or orchestrated in any way some of these attacks that have occurred?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think Dr. Rice said it's hard to tell what role, if any, he'd be playing. You have to keep in mind that Saddam Hussein is in a survival mode. He has been removed from power. He no longer can carry out his mass tortures of the Iraqi people. He no longer is in position to carry out the horrific acts against the Iraqi people that he previously did.
And we will continue to pursue the remnants of the former regime and the foreign terrorists who are in the country. Our military is staying on the offensive. They're using targeted strikes, they're quickly deploying to prevent attacks from happening. They're also working to accelerate the involvement of the Iraqi people in their own security. The Iraqi people are involved in the border patrol more and more. They're involved in the police forces. Some 85,000 Iraqis are already involved in the security of their own country. They're the second largest contributor to the security of their country, next to the United States. And we'll continue working with them to accelerate our efforts. We'll continue to work to improve our intelligence gathering, so that we can act on that intelligence, to prevent attacks from happening in the first place.
Q: Scott, is the President risking his political capital campaigning in Mississippi and Kentucky tomorrow? And secondly, if he wins those states, what impact will that have on his race in 2004, if any?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President looks forward to traveling to both Kentucky and Mississippi tomorrow to help Republican candidates in those states as they face election on this coming Tuesday. The President strongly supports those who share his compassionate conservative philosophy, those who are committed to improving education and strengthening our economy and committed to reaching out to faith-based groups to help people in need. So the President looks forward to campaigning for candidates tomorrow in those states.
Q: What about the notion that the President risks his political capital by so actively inserting himself into these races?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is proud to support the candidates in these states as they are moving closer to election day on Tuesday. And he will do whatever he can to help them win election on Tuesday.
Q: -- Intelligence Committee, if I may. Two things. First of all, do you mind telling us who the staffer is that the Intel Committee wants to speak with and they have not been able to get in touch with?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I'm not sure of the exact request in that regard that they've made. But let me be very clear, we are working very closely with the Senate Intelligence Committee, we've have been. We've provided them access to NSC staff members, we provided them relevant documents related to information that they need, and we will continue to do that. But I think it's best, versus doing this in the media realm, that we continue to work closely with the committee to address their concerns and address their requests, and that's what we will continue to do.
Q: The letter also seems to suggest that Dr. Rice and the White House has been an impediment to the CIA's cooperation with the Intel Committee. Is that the case? Have you barred the CIA from participating and disclosing documents and the briefers? And, if so, why? And, if not, will you encourage the CIA to participate in this process?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we have not objected to allowing the committee to access -- to have access to CIA documents sent to the White House. And, in fact, we have made copies of those documents available to committee investigators previously, this past summer. So that's why I say that we've been working with the committee, we'll continue to do so. Obviously, this latest request came just late yesterday. Despite the fact that they don't have jurisdiction over the White House, we want to continue working with them to help them in their work to review the intelligence relating to Iraq.
Q: Back to the governors races. Does the President see any connection between his successes of Republicans in these states and his reelection next year? I mean, is this important for him to have these at his back, as a win? And, also, is he planning to go to Louisiana --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, it's important for every candidate to run their own race on their own credentials. But the President strongly supports these candidates and wants to help them any way he can to win this coming Tuesday. And that's why he's going to those states to campaign on behalf of these candidates tomorrow.
Q: Is he going to Louisiana?
MR. McCLELLAN: There's no trip scheduled to Louisiana. Are you talking about in the next few days?
Q: Well, there's a governor's race there, there, too. I mean, does he plan to campaign with Jindal?
MR. McCLELLAN: Right, he has indicated -- and we've indicated his support for Bobby Jindal in that race.
Q: -- from campaigning with him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there's no update to the schedule on that.
Q: Scott, is he going to California to survey the wild fires?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when we come back to the week ahead at the end. Let's get through the questions and I'll come back to the week ahead, and we have some updates for you.
Q: Another scheduling question. Do you see a partial birth abortion bill signing in the very near future?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's in the week ahead, as well. Go ahead Randy.
Q: Scott, to what extent are the -- is the President's message tomorrow likely to preview things of his own reelection campaign?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President always talks about the priorities of the American people, about what -- what we are doing at home to create more jobs, as well as what we are doing abroad to make the world a safer and better place. And he will continue to do so. He will also talk about the importance of helping these candidates by getting out to the polls and voting for them come Tuesday, because these are people who share his compassionate conservative philosophy.
Q: Does he think that his conduct on Iraq is a selling point, or does he think that will help him win the election next year?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, there will be a time for campaigning, as the President has said. Right now he is going to continue to focus on his priorities. He addressed a little bit of that question the other day. But, as I said, the President is moving forward. We have had a good week on a number of fronts. We are working to make the world a better and safer place. And we are also working at home to strengthen our economic security for America's workers and families. And we're making progress on all those fronts.
Q: Back on Ben's question. Democrats in Kentucky are really trying to tie job losses there and a Republican candidate to the President. Does the President in any way view this race, in particular, as a referendum on his reelection?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, the President is proud to go and support Ernie Fletcher in his bid to become governor of Kentucky, and other candidates in Kentucky, as well, I might add, that the President will be going there, speaking for Republican candidates that are running in the election on Tuesday. But, again, I emphasize that -- obviously candidates run on their own credentials and their own agenda. But these are candidates that share many of the President's priorities and they share his compassionate conservative philosophy for the country, so he's pleased to support them.
Q: Scott, what's the status of the negotiations with the 9/11 commission over the access to the PDBs?
MR. McCLELLAN: There's no update. We continue to have discussions with the commission to resolve those remaining issues. We are working cooperatively with them, and we will continue to do so. It's very important that if we can learn information leading up to September 11th that will help us prevent future attacks, it's important that we learn that information. That's why we support the work of the commission. And the President has directed the administration to cooperate closely with the commission.
Q: Scott, was Condoleezza Rice trying to assign blame to previous administrations for not addressing the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think if you look at her remarks, she was talking about the -- what September 11th taught us. It taught us that we must confront dangers before they reach our shores. She pointed out some facts about attacks that have been carried out on the -- carried out by terrorists across the world, over the course of previous years. And September 11th taught us that we must go on the offensive, take the fight to the enemy, as the President is doing. And this is the only way to defeat terrorists, is to go after them where they are and bring them to justice and get them before they can carry out attacks here in America.
Q: Well, is that substantially different between what previous administrations have done on terror and what this administration has done previous to 9/11?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, was there what?
Q: Did anything change between how previous administrations handled terror and how this administration did, before --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm talking about -- again, I'm focusing on what we are doing and what the President is doing. The President recognizes that the only way to win the war on terrorism is to take the fight to the enemy. We can do everything at home to strengthen our defenses, and we are working to do everything at home to strengthen our defenses, but the best way and the only way to win the war on terrorism is to go after the terrorists where they are. These are people who have no regard for innocent life, they're enemies of peace, they're enemies of freedom, and we are taking the battle to them, and we are making great progress in that regard.
Q: Just following up on Arash, if I may. The implication, it seems to be in Dr. Rice's speech was that previous administrations did not take the war to the terrorists and, therefore, it was a mistake on their part not to have done so. Is it the administration's belief that the previous policies were incorrect when it comes to terrorism?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you all will make comparisons, I'm sure. But what we're focused on is winning the war on terrorism. And the way you win the war is by taking the fight to the enemy, doing what the President is doing. We are waging a global war with countries all across the world against terrorists. September 11th taught us that we can no longer wait for those threats to gather and let them come to our shores. We must confront them before they reach our shores, and that's exactly what we are doing.
Q: Forgive me if this is also a look-ahead question, but partial birth abortion bill signing --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's a look-ahead question.
Q: It is? Okay. Well, can you give me your reaction to the fact that --
MR. McCLELLAN: Are we ready for the -- ready for the week ahead?
Q: -- it's already being challenged, that there is now a challenge in court to the bill. Any reaction to the fact that it's already being challenged, even before the President signed it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President looks forward to signing the legislation next week. This is an abhorrent procedure, and the President has strongly supported banning partial birth abortion for a long time. And he looks forward to -- he's pleased that it has finally passed Congress and he looks forward to signing it next Tuesday -- I believe next Wednesday, actually. I'll get to the week ahead in just a second here. Go ahead, Mark.
Q: Scott, why does the President feel it's all right for him to involve himself in the Kentucky and Mississippi elections, but he's stayed out of the recall vote in California?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well again, Mark, you had a unique situation there in California where you had, what, 135 candidates on the ballot. It wasn't broken down into parties. There were a number of candidates running. And he now looks forward to working with Governor-elect Schwarzenegger as he assumes his new role. And they had a very good meeting recently. But he looks forward to going to help Republican candidates in these two states tomorrow.
Week ahead? One more? Two more. Go ahead.
Q: Given that the President campaigned against -- to change culture in Washington, and Haley Barbour being sort of a quintessential insider -- Washington insider, is there any conflict there, in terms of the President supporting Haley Barbour for governor?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's pleased to support his candidacy. As I said, I see someone who shares the President's conservative philosophy and someone who's committed to improving education and strengthening our economy, just like the President is.
Q: What does the administration know about the information that Iran turned over today to the IAEA? And are you suspecting that it's going to be a comprehensive --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we will see. Iran --
Q: -- do you know -- what do you know about the information they have?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you need to direct those questions to the IAEA. It was their deadline, and I think they've made some comments on it. Obviously, it's going to take some time to review everything. But make no mistake about it, Iran needs to come clean and fully comply with its international obligations. And that is our -- that is our position, and remains our position.
Q: -- a preview of any information that's in those documents?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, at this point, I think the IAEA is reviewing the information that they received to see if Iran is meeting its commitments and following through on what it said it would do to the European leaders who were in Iran recently.
Q: On the economy, there's finally recently been some good news for the administration to talk about. Are there plans to have various officials, spokes people, go out, travel around the country to talk about this in the next few days, week ahead?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you mean, "plans." Administration officials are always doing that, talking about -- the highest domestic priority is strengthening our economy. And our economy continues to grow stronger. The President is optimistic about the direction that it is moving.
But he is not satisfied because there are people who are still looking for work who cannot find a job. And the President believes that there is more to do to continue strengthening our economy and creating an environment for strong and robust job creation. There are a number of positive signs, yesterday's GDP numbers being some of the most recent, housing starts up, interest rates low, after-tax income is up, high productivity, new business orders are up. The tax relief that the President advocated in the past is working. But there is more to do. And that's why he'll continue moving forward on his six-point plan.
Q: I guess what I had in mind is Elaine Chao and others, like, taking bus trips to talk about the economy. Are there plans to really, kind of, get this message out?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any special new initiative on that front to announce. But those members of the economic team will continue talking about this highest of priorities and continue pressing the President's priorities, to act on his six-point plan.
Anything else? Week ahead? Week ahead. Some of this has been previously announced. On Monday, the President will travel to Alabama, and in Birmingham he will make remarks on the economy. Then he will attend a Bush-Cheney 2004 luncheon. The President will return to Crawford and remain overnight in Crawford on Monday.
On Tuesday, the President plans to travel to California to view the fire damage and receive an update on our efforts to assist the people of America. I would just point out that the plans are still subject to change, depending upon circumstances in California. But that is our plan at this point.
Q: Where, exactly?
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll get you more details. We're working on those details. On Wednesday, the President will meet with the President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and he will sign the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003, and that will be at the Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.
Then on Thursday, November 6th, the President makes remarks at the 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and then he will make remarks and present the National Medals of Science and Technology in the East Room at the White House.
Then on Friday, November 7th, the President attends the Bush-Cheney 2004 luncheon in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and then he makes remarks on the economy in North Carolina following that, as well. And that's all I've got.
Q: Scott, what happens Tuesday, after California?
MR. McCLELLAN: Then we will return to Washington.
Q: -- or just the pool?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Full press --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're still working on all those details. There will be different parts to this, but, again, it depends on circumstances in California. But the plan is to travel there on Tuesday.
All right. Thanks, everybody. Enjoy the weekend.
END 1:22 P.M. CST
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