White House Briefing, January 5, 2004


Monday January 5, 2004

Office of the Press Secretary (St. Louis, Missouri)
anuary 5, 2004


Aboard Air Force One En route St. Louis, Missouri
1:54 P.M. EST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I brought a guest gaggler back with me, Margaret Spellings, to talk to you here in a little bit about the President's education reforms and how we are -- this month marks the two year anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act. And I'll turn that over to her in a minute.

Let me start with the President's day. The President had a couple world leader calls this morning. The President called President Karzai to congratulate him and the members of the Loya Jirga on their success yesterday in adoption of a new constitution. President Karzai thanked the President and said it was a great day for Afghanistan. The two briefly discussed the war on terrorism and the Kandahar-Kabul highway.

Then the President also called President-elect Berger of Guatemala, to congratulate him on his electoral victory. And both leaders affirmed their mutual interest in a strong, cooperative relationship between the United States and Guatemala.

Then the President had his usual briefings. When we land, the President will have a Freedom Corps greeter. His name is Jeff Tank, and he's an active volunteer who has been involved in Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. He is currently a mentor for an 11 year old boy. He has been mentoring him for two years now. And he's also treasurer of Alternatives to Living in Violent Environments -- ALIVE is the acronym. It's a nonprofit that provides support services and short-term emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence.

Then the President will go to Pierre Laclede Elementary School. It's a blue ribbon school, which is the highest award a school can receive from the federal government. There are 244 students at the school, in pre-K through 5. It is a Title I school, 96 percent of the students are low income, from low income families; and 99 percent of the student body is African American. And they have made great progress in reading and math achievement. The school has also achieved the annual yearly progress under No Child Left Behind.

When he gets there, the President will briefly visit with some 4th grade students in the library, and that will be pool coverage. And then the President will participate in a conversation on the No Child Left Behind Act with parents, teachers and school officials. And I'm going to let Margaret continue on this.

The only other event this evening is he will make remarks at a Bush-Cheney 2004 reception in St. Louis, as well, before we return to the White House.

And with that, I'm going to turn it over to Margaret, to talk a little more about No Child Left Behind.

MS. SPELLINGS: As Scott mentioned, this is the -- this week is the second anniversary of No Child Left Behind, the signing of. We're going to highlight the success of Laclede Elementary. As Scott mentioned, it's a blue ribbon school. This year the blue ribbon award is being aligned with the policies in No Child Left Behind, including the need to make adequate yearly progress and more of a results orientation, as opposed to input, number of books in the library, that sort of thing.

They are one of 234 schools in the country that has this distinction. They have gotten these results by using regular monitoring and assessment and modifying instruction accordingly. You'll see one of the teachers talk about their monitoring system and how they modify the instructions so that no child is left behind, and how they meet these great gains they've made.

The President is also going to highlight the significant federal resources that we've invested since he came to office: 43 percent increase in K-12 funding overall; 41 percent increase in Title I funding -- this is obviously all with OMNI -- reading funds will be nearly quadrupled. Teachers and principles, 39 percent increase in those resources, and a 59 percent increase in special education.

As I know some of you know and it's been reported, in November we got the new NAPE results back, where we saw very significant gains in mathematics, in particular, up nine points for 4th graders and --

Q: Wait, wait, what is up nine points?

MS. SPELLINGS: Mathematics.

Q: For?

MS. SPELLINGS: NAPE results, national NAPE results -- the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This was reported in November. And then as late as late December, the urban NAPE results came out. As you know, the National Assessment of Educational Progress was one of the parts of No Child Left Behind, and for the first time we're beginning to use -- have results and gather this data and use the data in the year it was gathered. So this spring these kids took these tests and now we know kind of how the achievement looks. So much more instant feedback, if you will, on assessment results.

MR. McCLELLAN: With that, we'll go to questions.

Q: What are the results for this particular school and for the St. Louis school district?

MS. SPELLINGS: For Laclede, I don't know if I brought that with me, but I have it somewhere. Laclede in particular, they are one of the top 10 most improved schools in Missouri, I know that. Okay, here at Laclede, in '99, 7 percent of 3rd graders were reading proficiently, now over 80 percent of the 3rd graders are reading at that level. In the past two years they've doubled the number of students who test at grade level in mathematics. And as I said, they're a blue ribbon school. You'll meet some of these outstanding educators today.

Q: -- in Tennessee, the school we're going to in Knoxville?

MS. SPELLINGS: I don't have it with me, but we have -- they, too, have made adequate yearly progress in keeping with No Child Left Behind.

MR. McCLELLAN: Any other questions for Margaret?

Q: What's going on in the St. Louis school district, more generally?

MS. SPELLINGS: I'm actually really not very apprised of that. I mean, I know they've had some funding issues and so on, but we're here to highlight No Child Left Behind and the great results of this school.

Q: How about Missouri schools, in general? What's going on there?

MS. SPELLINGS: Missouri schools, actually the achievement results on the MAP test is what they call it, are beginning to show progress there. I have that back -- I'll look that up for you, but Missouri has an annual assessment system. Obviously, all 50 states are compliant with the assessment requirements, and they have received a reading grant. In fact, this coming week they will be training teachers with their reading grant money in Missouri.

Q: Margaret, you said the President is going to emphasize federal resources that have gone to schools, but the Democrats are saying the budget isn't enough. Do you expect that we would see a move towards a higher -- even more resources in the coming budget?

MS. SPELLINGS: Well, as you know, the President has been committed, since his term, to very significant increases in resources as evidenced by these numbers, you know, 41 percent, Title I increases, and the like. As you know, states have -- there are about $6 billion, actually, in the Treasury that are unspent funds that states are entitled to that have not been drawn down yet. So it's hard to believe that there are not adequate resources in light of additional resources that are in the bank waiting for them to be spent.

MR. McCLELLAN: I would just add, what's most important is that we are now insisting on results. We are providing unprecedented resources, but we're also now insisting on results and accountability. We're setting high standards because the President believes that every child can learn and succeed. And that's what this is about. But as Margaret mentioned, that this is an unprecedented amount of resources that we are providing to help these schools meet these standards.

Q: Scott, I recall seeing some polling last year that showed many Americans were not familiar with this signature of accomplishment of the President's. Why this tour this week to emphasize this bill, this law?

MS. SPELLING: -- the two years that it has been in place, the anniversary, the approval of 50 state plans, the 50 state reading grants, and so forth, just to highlight the progress at this milestone of two years.

MR. McCLELLAN: This has always been one of the President's highest priorities, improving public schools so that every child can learn has always been one of his highest priorities.

Q: -- heightened awareness at the same time?

MR. McCLELLAN: We continue to highlight the important progress that we are making and the reforms that are being implemented all across the country.

All right, thanks. We'll see you all. Anything else?

Q: Does the President have any problem on the CIA leak with members of his staff citing these confidentiality agreements?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, I would remind you that the President has directed the White House to cooperate fully with the career officials who are leading this investigation. And that's exactly what he expects the White House to continue doing. We have been and we will continue to do so. I think also in the spirit of cooperating fully with the career officials who are investigating this matter, it's important that we do everything we can to preserve the integrity of the investigation and not compromise it.

And so I think it's best that if there are specific questions relating to the investigation or what the career officials are doing, that you should direct those questions to the career officials.

Q: I'm asking whether the President will direct his staff.

MR. McCLELLAN: I understand, and that's asking a specific question about matters that should be directed to the career officials at the Department of Justice. The President has made it very clear that the White House should cooperate fully in this investigation. The President said -- has always said that leaking classified information is a serious matter, and certainly no one wants to get to the bottom of this more than he does, so that we can find out the truth. And the President has said from early on that if anybody has information, they should come forward and share it with those who are leading this investigation.

Q: You're deflecting to DOJ, but of course, I'm asking what the President will do, what the White House thinks about these disclosure forms.

MR. McCLELLAN: And why I'm saying that you should direct those questions to the Department of Justice is because there is an ongoing investigation underway, and we want to do everything we can to help that investigation move forward. The sooner they get to the bottom of this, the better. That's our view. And I've said this in response to other questions about specific matters that career officials may be working on, as well, that you should direct those questions to the career officials at the Department of Justice who are leading the investigation. But the President has made it very clear that he expects the White House to cooperate fully in that --

Q: -- in the position of writing in our stories that you decline to say what the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that what I am saying is that the President -- well, one, that the President has made it very clear that we should cooperate fully with the investigation, that the White House should cooperate fully in the investigation, and that because this is an ongoing investigation, I think that those questions need to be directed to the career officials at the Justice Department. If there is information that they believe they can share publicly without compromising the ongoing investigation, then I imagine that they will share that information with you. And that's why I'm saying that you should direct those questions to the career officials.

Q: Just one last thing on this, have any waiver requests hit White House staff desks?

MR. McCLELLAN: See, that's asking specific questions about an ongoing investigation, and there -- if there are specific questions being asked of White House officials, we wouldn't necessarily know about that. That's why you should direct those questions to the career officials. And, as I said, I imagine if they want to share that information publicly and they believe that they can do so in a way that won't compromise an ongoing investigation, then they will do it.

Q: Scott, are you willing to say that the President thinks that his aides should sign these forms if they're asked to by the FBI?

MR. McCLELLAN: But that's getting into specific questions that I'm not aware that the career officials at the FBI or the Justice Department have discussed publicly at this point. That's why I think you should step back from this and look at what the President said. The President made it very clear that he expects the White House to cooperate fully in this investigation, because it's important that we do everything we can to help the career officials get to the bottom of this, and the sooner, the better.

Q: But Scott, does full cooperation that he's asking for mean that if the DOJ ask for anything -- forget the specific question about the waivers -- that his staff should feel obligated to cooperate with that request?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made it very clear. He expects the White House to cooperate fully. That's what --

Q: Any DOJ request?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- he has said repeatedly, he wants the White House to cooperate fully, he wants anyone who has information that can help in this investigation to come forward with that information and provide it to those who are leading this investigation.

And now, you all are trying to get into specific questions. Again, we're asking about specific -- previously have we -- have specific people been interviewed by the career officials? Those are questions that you need to ask the people who are leading this investigation, because it is an ongoing investigation. But make no mistake about it, the President was very clear in stating that everybody -- that the White House should cooperate fully in this investigation.

Q: Has the President heard the purported bin Laden tape at all? Or do you have anything on that, any bin Laden audio tape?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, our intelligence team has analyzed it for -- to determine whether it is authentic or not. And they have determined that it is likely that the voice on the tape is bin Laden's. And I think that obviously we will continue to carefully review the contents of the tape.

Q: Do you think it's possible that with all the scrutiny and the orange alert last week, and the last two weeks, that the U.S. has actually disrupted a planned attack? And have there been any indications that there might be time to step down?

MR. McCLELLAN: That there might -- well, one, in terms of the threat level, I think Secretary Ridge has addressed that earlier -- or addressed that earlier today. We are always looking at the threat level to determine at what level it should. But I think that it was made very clear that the reason we raised the threat level to high risk of terrorist attack, or to orange, was because of information that we were receiving that indicated that there could be a probability of terrorist attacks during the holiday season and beyond.

And so it's something that is constantly reviewed, and it's reviewed on a daily basis. And it's based on the consensus judgment, the determination of where that threat level should be. And right now it remains at high.

Q: My question is, though, is there any feeling in the administration that the way that the U.S. responded in the last couple of weeks may have disrupted an imminent attack?

MR. McCLELLAN: Whether the intelligence has disrupted -- well, one, we do -- when we receive actionable intelligence, we act on it. I think that people have seen that the Department of Homeland Security is working hard, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and that they are continuing to stay on top of all such matters. And I think that it's difficult to tell, sometimes, maybe at this early stage, what may or may not have been disrupted. But we do know that when we see increased chatter, and we elevate the -- based on some credible information, and we elevate the threat level, that it has served as a deterrent to terrorist attacks. And that information has come from people that have been captured.

Q: Is there any danger in -- it seems like every time we have a holiday season, the threat level goes up. Is there any danger -- the reason I'm asking is if you've managed to disrupt anything, or if you think you may have disrupted anything, is there any danger that you get into a situation where the American people just think you're crying wolf?

MR. McCLELLAN: No. One, whenever there is specific and credible information, we share it appropriately. I think Secretary Ridge made it very clear when he announced that we were raising the threat level that we share information with states and local officials; we share it with the private sector. We also share that information with foreign governments, as well, so that we can make decisions and act on that intelligence.

And that's exactly what we've been doing. I think the American people understand that we are living in a post-9/11 world, and when we have specific and credible information, we will share that information and we will act on that information in order to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect the American people. And that's what we have been doing. There has been some specific and credible information that we have shared with others.

Q: Should we expect any new immigration measures this week as the President gets ready to go to Mexico?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think -- one, the President indicated that he would be talking more about that soon at his news conference before the holidays. The President has long talked about the importance of having an immigration policy that matches willing workers with willing employers. America is a -- it's important for America to be a welcoming society. We are a nation of immigrants, and we're better for it.

And so in that respect -- and I would point out, too, that in the post-September 11th time frame we have gone to extraordinary steps to strengthen our border security and make America more secure. And I think that the President will have more to say soon on his approach to matching willing workers with willing employers. There is certainly an economic need that exists.

Q: Is he going to meet with the new Canadian Prime Minister, do you know, in Mexico? Will he meet with the new Canadian Prime Minister --

MR. McCLELLAN: Are you asking about next week in Mexico? I don't have the schedule details for next week yet, right now.

Q: Scott, in addition to the usual briefings and the two foreign leader calls, is there anything else the President did this morning that you're able to share with us?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's a typical day -- policy briefings and his usual intelligence briefings in the morning.

Q: There are reports that the administration is going to allow Iraqi Kurds to form a semi-autonomous state within Iraq. Number one, is that the case? And number two, does that in any way contradict the President's pledge to have a one sovereign Iraqi state?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Coalition Provisional Authority -- well, one, we have always said it is important to maintain the territorial integrity of Iraq. And we are strongly committed to that. But there was a November 15th agreement reached with -- reached between the Coalition Provisional Authority and the Iraqi Governing Council. And so that's the framework that the Iraqis are moving forward on. And we're -- the Coalition Provisional Authority is working with them to help them implement that agreement. And we are assisting the Iraqis as they move forward on that agreement.

And I think in terms of -- it outlined a framework for moving forward, and that the Iraqi people will be the ones who will make the decisions within that framework as they move forward. But no, we are strongly committed to the territorial integrity of Iraq.

Q: Within the territorial integrity of Iraq, if the Kurds were to form some sort of semi-autonomous territory within that framework, is that something the administration can endorse?

MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, there is a framework. You need to look at the November 15th agreement. That's the framework for moving forward on transferring sovereignty to the Iraqi people. And we are making some good progress already in moving forward on that agreement. And as Iraqis are ready to assume more and more responsibility, we are transferring that responsibility to the Iraqi people. But I think that you have to look at the framework, and that the Iraqi people will work within that framework and we'll assist them along the way, to make the determinations on the specifics within that framework. I think you're asking a question that would --

Q: -- framework, if they're okay, the Iraqi people want that, you're okay if they're okay with it?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, we're committed to moving forward and assisting the Iraqi Governing Council and the Iraqi people on implementing the November 15th agreement. That's what you need to look at. That's the foundation for moving forward to transfer sovereignty. There will be issues under that, related to federalism, that the Iraqi people will decide within that framework.

Q: What's he doing this afternoon?

MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't read one thing -- anything into that, one way or the other.

Q: Anything special going on this afternoon between the last education event and the fundraiser?


Q: Meetings, anything --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, nothing to update you on at this point.

Q: Any opinion on Pete Rose admitting he bet on baseball?

MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't asked him about it. Haven't asked him about it.

All right, thanks.

END 2:16 P.M. EST


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