White House Press Briefing, November 4, 2003


Tuesday  November 4, 2003

Office of the Press Secretary (El Cajon, California)
November 4, 2003


Aboard Air Force One En route Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California

8:00 A.M. PST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. Let me go through the President's day. He had his usual briefing earlier, en route to California. And upon arrival, the Freedom Corps greeter today will be Sue Mayberry. She is an active volunteer with the American Red Cross, she has been since 1992; and she is a team leader with the Southern San Diego County Disaster Action Team of the American Red Cross. And she has volunteered more than 100 hours in the past week assisting San Diego residents who were forced to evacuate because of the wildfires.

Following that, we will board the helicopters and the President will participate in an aerial tour of areas that have been damaged by the wildfires. The Governor and Governor elect will join him on board Marine One, as will the division chief of the California Department of Forestry, Bill Clayton, and FEMA head Mike Brown.

And then the President following that, the President will participate in a walking tour of the Harbison Canyon community that has been damaged by the wildfires.

Then the President will receive a briefing on the wildfires from area fire chiefs.

Q: Is that fire division chief spelling in the schedule, the name of Bill it sounded like Playton?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sounded like what?

Q: Sounded like, Bill Playton, is that name in the schedule, the fire division chief?

MR. McCLELLAN: We're going to get you a backgrounder that will have all this information in it.

Then the President will participate in a greeting and make remarks to off duty firefighters and volunteers. I expect the President will touch on the strength and the character of the people in the area in the face of great adversity and I expect he will talk about the concern they have shown for one another during this time period. And I also expect he will personally thank the firefighters, the first responders, rescue workers, emergency managers, military personnel, volunteers and other state and local and federal officials who have been involved in the response and recovery efforts.

And then we return to our nation's capital, and that's the schedule. With that, I'll be glad to take whatever questions you might have.

Q: The First Lady's birthday this evening or anniversary?

MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, he's already celebrated Mrs. Bush's birthday. They celebrated with some close friends this weekend at the ranch in Crawford. Mrs. Bush also received a call from the President's parents this morning, the President and Mrs. Bush wished her a happy birthday.

The President gave her a John Clem Clarke painting. He's a close friend, a New York Artist John Clem Clarke.

Q: Would you mind spelling that for us?

MR. McCLELLAN: John, J o h h, Clem, C l e m, and Clarke, is C l a r k e.

Q: A major friend of the family?

MR. McCLELLAN: A friend and a New York artist.

Q: What does the painting depict, do you know?

MR. McCLELLAN: It was wrapped.

Q: Her birthday is today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Today, yes; their anniversary is tomorrow.

Q: Any plans tomorrow for their anniversary?

MR. McCLELLAN: No updates on their anniversary at this point.

Q: Is the President going to announce any additional aid, that has not yet been announced, for California?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think today he'll, one, receive a briefing on the state and local and federal response and recovery efforts. He's going to hear from the officials that are involved in those efforts firsthand. We already some of this information will be in the backgrounder, as well. We have already provided a significant amount of assistance from the federal level in the response and recovery efforts from the grant money that is going out to help individuals and families who have been affected by these wildfires, to the one stop centers that have been set up by FEMA. So there are a number of efforts already underway.

Q: Do we know if federal aid has been provided?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that will be in your backgrounder, kind of the latest numbers, some $3 million in grants has already been provided.

Q: Did I read there was more put into the supplemental yesterday for that, as well?

MR. McCLELLAN: Into the wartime supplemental? I'll check that, I don't know. I don't know about that.

Q: Is he going to sign the Iraqi supplemental bill?

MR. McCLELLAN: Hopefully, I'll have more to announce on that tomorrow.

Q: -- next week?

MR. McCLELLAN: No updates to the schedule on that. I'll try to get you more on that tomorrow.

Q: A couple questions on Iraq for you, Scott. Mohammed ElBaradei is seeking -- is asking the United States to let U.N. inspectors back in. Do we have any intention of doing that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I saw his comments. Our coalition continues to oversee those efforts. The Iraq survey group, headed by Dr. Kay, is leading those efforts, and they continue to remain in charge of those efforts.

Q: The other question on Iraq, too, is it seems like the strategy is shifting almost completely to Iraqification on security. Have we given up hope of getting more international military and financial aid in there?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, we have had a strategy in place when it comes to bringing about a secure, peaceful, free and democratic Iraq. And then of course you've heard me talk about how important that is to winning the war on terrorism. A free and peaceful and democratic Iraq will serve as an example to the rest of the Middle East, which has been a breeding ground for terrorism. And the strategy that we have put in place really centers around the security efforts, the transfer -- the transition to self-government by the Iraqi people, and the economic and -- the economic reconstruction efforts, which will also help improve the security situation, so that we can achieve our objectives there.

And we are -- certainly on this, it's important to be able to have some flexibility within that strategy. Certainly on the security front we are accelerating our efforts to involve more and more Iraqis in the security of the country. We are staying on the offensive, from the military standpoint. We are working to improve the intelligence gathering, so that we can act on that intelligence.

And so we are adapting and adjusting to the enemy -- the foreign terrorists and the Baathists, the criminals that were released. We are continuing to accelerate our efforts to transition sovereignty to the Iraqi people, as well, and accelerate our efforts on the reconstruction front. It's important that we move quickly to restore the essential, basic services for the Iraqi people. It's important that -- that's part of our efforts to create a civil and stable society, which will also help improve the security situation.

Q: What are the prospects, in your assessment, that we'll be able to draw more international financial and military aid as part of this --

MR. McCLELLAN: We already have significant international participation in Iraq. We welcome the recent passing of the third U.N. resolution in the post-war aftermath. And we welcome the commitment by nations at the Madrid donors conference. Those are some significant commitments of financial assistance to the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people are the ones who will benefit from the international participation, and are benefiting from the international participation in Iraq.

Q: But my question is going forward. Do you hope -- do you expect more military, financial aid?

MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to talk with nations about additional ways that they can participate and help the Iraqi people realize a better future. I think the international community recognizes the importance of building a secure, peaceful, free and democratic Iraq for the Iraqi people, and what that will mean to the -- to building a safer and better world.

Q: Tariq Aziz apparently has been telling investigators or interrogators that Saddam Hussein was using his weapons of mass destruction image as a ruse, that he didn't really have them, he was merely claiming to have them to try to scare off the United States or attackers. Is there any credibility there?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into discussions of any of the interrogations or classified information of that nature.

Q: Well, what do you think of the notion that he was --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, what I know is that Saddam Hussein has been removed from power, and his regime is no more, and they will not be coming back. The Iraqi people have a better and brighter future ahead of them because of the actions we took. The world is also a safer and better place because of the action we took to remove Saddam Hussein and his regime from power.

Q: Is it possible that major fighting could resume in Iraq? I mean, you say he's not coming back, but he hasn't been caught yet. Some people say he's behind some of these attacks. Could there be a --

MR. McCLELLAN: We've indicated we have no evidence that he is involved. And in terms of the questions about military activity, I think those are best directed toward the military leaders in the region to make those assessments.

Q: You have no evidence that he's not involved, either.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that, one, Saddam Hussein is in a survival mode. Again, we have no evidence that he is involved in any way. I think it would be -- as Dr. Rice pointed out last week -- hard or difficult for him to be very involved in any of that.

Q: Can we expect reactions from the President or from you on elections today?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's tonight, I guess. I'm sure that you all will ask us about it later, or tomorrow.

Q: If there's a call, an official call in a race, can we look to you for reaction this evening?

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll make sure we've got at least our duty officer prepared for any reaction.

Q: The President hasn't taken questions in a week. Do you think he'll be inclined to do that today?

MR. McCLELLAN: He takes questions on a regular basis. And while you say he hasn't taken questions for a week, he had a news conference last week and took extensive questions. Those are always possibilities.

All right? Thank you.

-- # # # #

Q: Scott, what's your take of the President's take on this mushrooming mutual fund scandal and how these various agencies are doing in their investigations?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, the SEC and the Justice Department are working to address these issues through the Corporate Fraud Task Force. The President has great confidence in Chairman Donaldson and the SEC to address these issues. And beyond that, I really can't get into commenting on ongoing investigations.

Q: The SEC said yesterday that a quarter of mutual fund traders, or the big traders, had engaged in an illegal practice of trading mutual fund shares after hours. It's the kind of behavior the President has condemned in the past, corporate behavior. Is that something that you want to weigh in on, or he would?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I don't -- I can't get into commenting about ongoing investigations that may be underway. But we do have great confidence in Chairman Donaldson and the SEC to address these issues. It's important that these issues are addressed and they are -- they are being addressed by the appropriate agencies.

Q: Scott, is the President concerned that this mutual fund scandal might hurt the economy the same way the corporate scandals earlier did?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I would go back to what the President has always talked about. The corporate responsibility -- or corporate America has a responsibility to address these matters.

Q: To address these matters?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, to address these matters -- to address these matters and ensure confidence in our markets.

Q: Is there anything the President could do to help keep that confidence from sagging?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, the appropriate agencies are addressing these matters. They are looking into it. And we have full confidence in the SEC's ability to address these issues. But I'm not in position to where I can comment on specific ongoing investigations.

Okay? Thanks.

Q: Thanks very much.

END 8:17 A.M. PST


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