White House Briefing, September 9, 2003


Tuesday  September 9, 2003

Office of the Press Secretary
(Jacksonville, Florida)
September 9, 2003


Aboard Air Force One
En Route Jacksonville, Florida

10:57 A.M. EDT

MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning. The President had his usual briefings before departing the White House. Our first stop will be in Jacksonville, Florida, where the President will make remarks at a Bush-Cheney 2004 luncheon. Following that, the President will go to Hyde Park Elementary School -- let me give you a little bit of information about today's event. The President will do two things. The President will participate in a briefing on tools available for parents and teachers through the No Child Left Behind Act, and to deliver remarks on the historic and sweeping reforms we are implementing to make sure every child learns and succeeds.

Specifically, the President will talk about providing parents and educators with better and more information to make our schools -- to improve our public schools. Let me give you a little bit of information about that. The President will discuss a new initiative by the Department of Education to provide parents and educators with the best possible information.

This is a web-based tool. The Department of Education has provided a grant to the Broad Foundation. This is a joint public-private sector partnership to develop a web-based tool for parents and teachers which would allow easy access to student achievement data. And what will happen is that this information will be posted on the web; the data will compare each school's achievement to that of other schools in the district or the state -- in this case, the state of Florida. In addition, it will allow principals and teachers to identify weaknesses within their school or classroom, and will educate parents, providing them an opportunity, as I said, to make more informed decisions about their children's education.

Now, the Broad Foundation is partnered with Just For Kids, to have data from 10 states, including Florida, on the website by January 2004, and will complete all 50 states by December 2004. It's funded through existing funds in the Department of Education, $4.7 million, and then leveraging that against the additional $50 million from the participating organizations.

Let me mention, in the briefing you will have Secretary Paige; Governor Bush; Eli Broad, the President of the Broad Foundation; Tom Luce who is chairman for the National Center for Educational Accountability and Just For the Kids; as well as the principal and a parent and teacher.

Let me give you a little bit of information on Just For Kids. Well, first of all, on the Broad Foundation, the Broad Foundation was established in '99 to improve public education through better governance, management and labor relations, and it leads the coalition of organizations that are partnering with the Department of Education to launch this 50-state web-based tool.

Tom Luce, as I mentioned, was chairman of Just For Kids. It was founded in 1995 to provide achievement data on schools in eight states, including Florida, and it is also partnering with the Department and the Broad Foundation to expand its data collection in all 50 states.

I think that's all I have. And let's see -- following the remarks, we will go to Ft. Lauderdale, where the President will make remarks this evening at a Bush-Cheney 2004 reception, before arriving back at the White House later this evening. And with that, I'm glad to take questions.

QUESTION: Scott, some Democrats are saying that the administration needs -- they're going to look at, the administration needs to look at the tax cuts, delaying -- or suspending the tax cuts in order to pay for the extra $87 billion. What's the White House position on that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the worst thing we could do for our economy right now is to raise taxes. Remember, we went through some extraordinary circumstances. The President inherited a recession. Then we had the attacks of September 11th, and then we had the corporate scandals. So there were unprecedented strains placed on our economy and placed on the budget. And the President acted to get us out of the recession and get the economy growing, and getting more money into people's pockets was the exact right policy to take. And the last thing we should do at this point is raise taxes.

Q: Does that also include suspending planned decreases?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q: Does that also include -- does your comment also refer to suspending decreases -- planned tax cuts?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, and all this is outlined in our budget, the President's budget includes making the tax cuts permanent, which is important to provide certainty to the American people. And we'll help -- will only help strengthen our economy more and help create more jobs.

So that's important. The budget sets clear priorities and funds those priorities, and then it make sure -- it make sure that we hold the line on spending on other non-defense related item. We have significantly slowed the growth in non-defense related spending since the President took office.

Q: So you're really not doing anything to --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- two things here. One --

Q: -- making the taxes --

MR. McCLELLAN: We have to have strong pro-growth policies. We have to put strong pro-growth policies in place and meet our highest priorities -- winning the war on terrorism, protecting the American people -- and then hold the line on spending elsewhere in the budget.

Q: Scott, the $87 billion package, there's a big gap between the $20 billion for reconstruction that you guys are asking for and the $50-$75 billion that you say will be needed. If other countries don't kick in that money and if oil revenues don't help that, what would you say to people who are afraid that this investment is just going to balloon the deficit even more?

MR. McCLELLAN: We expect that they will. So, we are --

Q: Are you certain?

MR. McCLELLAN: -- we are working closely with the international community to broaden participation from nations beyond the more than 30 that are already participating in Iraq, both in terms of helping with security and helping with financial assistance, because this is about the people of Iraq and the future for the people of Iraq.

We are also working to -- in fact, a good portion of this emergency spending request will go towards improving the infrastructure. In addition to improving security, it will go towards improving the infrastructure, which will -- and when we improve the basic infrastructure, that will help the Iraq economy turn around, which will provide more resources for the future of Iraq.

Q: Scott, can you explain why the numbers for the cost of rebuilding Iraq changed so much from when Josh spoke earlier this summer, and he basically said there would be no supplemental, and then lawmakers --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, wait, wait, wait, no, no, we always said that we would be looking at a supplemental later for Iraq and Afghanistan. That's the way we handled it last year. We said we would -- in fact, Secretary Wolfowitz and OMB Director Bolten both testified to that.

Q: But he seemed to suggest that it wouldn't be in the magnitude we're seeing now. Even several weeks ago, lawmakers were getting indications from the White House it would be $60-$70 billion and then became $87 billion a couple weeks later.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about those anonymous reports about what they were getting, but we made it very clear that we were assessing our needs going forward -- the needs of the Iraqi people going forward. And that when we had precise costs, we would go and work with Congress on this effort.

But this is -- this is critical to winning the war on terrorism. Iraq is critical to winning the war on terrorism. It is a central front in the war on terrorism. And a peaceful, secure, and democratic Iraq will help bring peace and stability to that important region in the world that will help us defeat terrorism.

Q: So you fully deny the premise that those numbers are changed as recently -- you know, over the last couple months?

MR. McCLELLAN: We always said that we would be -- we always said that we would assess our needs going forward and that we would come back when we had more precise estimates of those costs, going forward.

Q: Scott, does the President agree with Secretary Rumsfeld's suggestion that critics of the President's policy in Iraq are helping the enemies? And does the President still have confidence in the Secretary in the face of Democratic calls that he resign?

MR. McCLELLAN: Secretary Rumsfeld is doing a terrific job. He is -- shares the President's strong commitment to confronting the new threats we face before they reach our shores. September 11th taught us the importance of confronting threats before they reach our shores and taking the fight to the terrorists. That's exactly what we are doing; we are taking the fight to the terrorists. Terrorism is defeated through strength and going on the offensive. Terrorism is encouraged in the face of weakness.

That is why we are on the offensive, to make sure we are doing everything we can to make America more secure and the world a safer place.

And the President will continue to lead our efforts. We have made significant progress disrupting and dismantling terrorist networks and terrorists. And we will continue that pursuit.

Q: And Rumsfeld's comments on the critics of administration policy, are they helping the enemy?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think what he was talking is what I just said, what I just referred to. Terrorism is defeated through strength, by going on the offensive, by taking the fight to the terrorists. Terrorism is encouraged --

Q: But does criticizing the President in this way embolden our enemies, is the question.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q: Rumsfeld said that this criticism of the President --

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think he -- what he talked about was that debate is healthy and welcome.

Q: Let me follow that up. Recently -- I know you don't like to respond to everything that the Democrats say in their primary, but recently Gephardt said repeatedly that this President was a, "miserable failure," and the RNC felt compelled to come out and say that some of the stuff is getting into the arena of political hate speech. What is -- does the President believe that some of this stuff is actually veering off into political hate speech?

MR. McCLELLAN: That's politics. The President believes it's important to remain focused on the priorities of the American people, and that is exactly what he is doing. And those highest of priorities are winning the war on terrorism and strengthening our economy. And the President is acting and he's acting decisively in both those areas.

Q: So he's not bothered by this, which is probably going to be reprised tonight at the debate?

MR. McCLELLAN: We recognize there's a Democratic primary going on. That's politics. We'll leave the politics for the Democratic primary. The President is going to focus on acting and leading on behalf of the American people.

Q: Can I go back to Tamara's question about the numbers changing, or the predictions changed? You can't really argue with that. I mean, Wolfowitz, when he testified some months ago, gave a specific number for how much of the oil revenue would be now coming from Iraq, and how much we would have over the course of the next six months. He's totally revised that number way down.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the briefers yesterday talked about -- if I recall, I'll double-check, but $12 billion and then $20 billion and $20 billion.

Q: He had said $60 billion. There was a major change in what he had initially testified to. So what -- you can't really deny that, obviously, over the last four months you've had to reevaluate the amount of money you thought you were going to pay, what it was going to take, how long you've been there.

MR. McCLELLAN: I think you have to keep in mind that the infrastructure we found in Iraq was worse than we expected, after three decades of living under a regime that was more interested in building palaces than helping the Iraqi people, a regime that was more interested in pursuing weapons of mass destruction than helping the Iraqi people.

Q: Who do you blame for getting the assessment wrong of what you were going to find when you get there? Is that the Pentagon?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q: Was it the Pentagon who --

MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein.

Q: No, but --

MR. McCLELLAN: Saddam Hussein.

Q: -- does the President have no interest in finding out how --

MR. McCLELLAN: Look, there was a lot, because you had an oppressive regime that was not open to the rest of the world, there were things regarding the infrastructure we did not know, regarding the electrical system, regarding the sewage system, regarding the water supply --

Q: And regarding whether or not he may have had weapons of mass destruction.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and other aspects.

Q: But what about even things like -- the administration, today, there was a report that the intelligence agencies and other places in the administration internal to the administration, were predicting there was higher levels of resistance from -- after the fall of the regime? I mean, that was a prediction that was made by parts of the administration, which seems to have been ignored by Pentagon planners. Is there no concern with reconciling that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Of course, terrorists are trying to take the fight -- terrorists are desperate because we are making some very important progress in Iraq in a very important region of the world. Terrorists will be dealt a significant blow when we help the Iraqi people achieve a sovereign, free and democratic society. That's to be -- it's to be expected that terrorists will use desperate tactics and attack innocent people and attack the civilized world when we achieve success.

They attacked the United Nations headquarters in Iraq that was simply there to help provide humanitarian assistance, reconstruction assistance to the Iraqi people. They attacked the Jordanian embassy, and they have attacked their own people at a religious ceremony.

Q: Why didn't the President mention weapons of mass destruction in his speech the other night, given he mentioned it in every speech prior to the war?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think the purpose of -- that was not the purpose of the remarks the other night. The President has made it very clear that David Kay and the Iraq survey group -- who leads the Iraq survey group -- is pulling together a complete picture, and that when he pulls that together, he will present that information --

Q: When do you expect that to happen? You're still confident they --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- that information publicly. So he is in the process of doing that, and he will do it on his time frame, when he is ready to present that information.

Q: You're still confident that the information will say, yes, there are weapons of mass destruction here, and that will validate the claims you made prior to the war?


Q: Scott, when you said that it's to be expected that terrorists would use desperate tactics, apparently people like Rumsfeld and Cheney weren't expecting that, or at least didn't forecast that when they were forecasting a quick and easy transition to self-governance and democracy in Iraq.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't agree with all of your characterization there. I mean, look back at World War II, and it took time to help rebuild Japan and Germany. And it requires patience and it requires sacrifice. But it is a matter of will and resolve and we will see it through, because of how important it is to winning the war on terrorism and making America more secure and making the world safer.

END 11:13 A.M. EDT


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