White House Daily Briefing, July 22, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT MCCLELLAN
PRESS BRIEFING BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:58 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I'd like to go back over and highlight a couple of meetings the President participated in today. One, the President was pleased to receive an update from his Corporate Fraud Task Force that was created by executive order just over a year ago. This was an update on their first year's activities. During its first year, the President's Corporate Task Force has compiled a strong record in combatting corporate fraud and punishing corporate wrongdoers. Coordination by federal authorities has been significantly enhanced. By drawing on the expertise of the task force's membership and by aggressively investigating and prosecuting fraud, the task force has helped to restore investor confidence.
Through fair, swift and decisive actions, the task force is helping to remove suspicion, doubt, and uncertainty that pervaded the marketplace one year ago. And the actions are successfully working to restore confidence in the marketplace, provide, fair and accurate information to the investing public, reward shareholder and employee trust, and protect jobs and savings of hardworking Americans.
The task force has worked in unparalleled coordination, and as of May 31st, the task force has obtained over 250 corporate fraud convictions or guilty pleas, charged 354 defendants with some type of corporate fraud crime, investigated over 320 potential corporate fraud matters, and obtained restitution fines and forfeiture in excess of $85 million since its inception.
So the President is pleased -- was pleased to receive that update today, and is pleased by the work they are doing in just one year.
The President also met with his National Infrastructure Assurance Council. This is an advisory council that works closely with the Department of Homeland Security and is an example of the public sector and private sector working together in partnership to better secure America and to enhance cyber security. The President was pleased to receive an update on their activities, as well as provide them with an update on the war on terrorism.
And with that, I will be glad to open it up to questions. Campbell.
QUESTION: Can you confirm that Saddam's sons were among those who we're killed in this morning's raid --
MR. McCLELLAN: I am aware of the reports, Campbell. I'm not in position at this time to confirm anything. There was a military operation earlier today, and I think that any additional updates or information about that particular raid will come from the Department of Defense. So I think you should stay in touch with them.
Q: When was the President informed?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has been in touch with the Secretary of Defense today, earlier today. They have talked more than once. And he will be kept apprised of any updates as they become available.
Q: What did Secretary Rumsfeld tell the President, and what was the President's reaction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm not in position right now to confirm anything at this point, so -- and nor have we received confirmation of anything. As I came out here, this is a breaking news story. We are aware of the military operation, and as we get more information we'll try to update you at that point.
Q: But just to clarify, Rumsfeld said, we think we got him, we're not sure, we're going to try to verify and then let you know?
MR. McCLELLAN: I would not characterize the confirmation -- characterize the conversation at this point. Again, I'm just not in position -- I'm just not in position to confirm things. But the President is aware of the reports, and is aware of the military operation that took place earlier today. And for now, I think I will leave it at that. And again, if there's any additional updates or information, I expect that will come from the Department of Defense.
Q: Scott, a U.S. official said just a few minutes ago, "We probably got him." Is that a fair characterization --
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand, John, and this is a breaking news story, and so I'm not going to get into position of characterizing anything at this point until we receive further updates.
Q: Well, let me ask you this question. If, in fact, it turns out be Uday and Qusay, does this take a lot of the pressure off of the White House from some critics who have spoken out quite loudly against your inability to find the top Iraqi --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, again, I think that this is a breaking news story. That's getting into speculation about our "what ifs." Let's let the Department of Defense provide any additional updates, and then we will go from there.
Q: Scott, how high a priority is the capture of Saddam Hussein, in the sense -- capture or killing -- for the President in postwar Iraq? How important is that to him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, let me put it this way. The former regime in Iraq is gone. They are out of power. And we continue to make significant progress in moving towards a free and democratic Iraq. The governing council, some of the representatives from the Iraqi governing council were at the U.N. earlier today and there's been a meeting going on. Again, I want to resist getting into a specific discussion about these reports. This is a breaking news story.
Q: Just as Commander-in-Chief, where does he rank in postwar Iraq the importance of getting rid of the Saddam Hussein family?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that I would leave it at characterizing it that we're making important progress in Iraq. We're making important progress in stabilizing the country. We're making important progress in going after the remnants of the former regime, in going after foreign terrorists who are in the country -- those who are enemies of peace, those who are enemies of a free and democratic Iraq, those who are enemies of the Iraqi people. We're making some important progress. We continue to carry out military operations seeking individuals that are part of what I just described, and we will continue to do so.
Q: Just one more on this. Has he expressed any anxiety, displeasure? Has he wanted to get after this problem, the fact that these top leaders of that regime were still at large? Has he wanted --
MR. McCLELLAN: Has who?
Q: As Saddam's sons, has Saddam Hussein, himself -- has he expressed an urgency about that problem?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, ridding Iraq of people that remain loyal to the former regime, people that are foreign terrorists who are trying to disrupt our efforts to help the Iraqi people have a better future, those remain priorities in our military efforts and part of our efforts to secure and stabilize Iraq.
Q: What's your best intelligence on the role of the sons and the assaults on Americans over there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, this is going back to a breaking news event. I want to avoid getting into specifics here until we receive further updates from the --
Q: -- wanted dead or alive --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- until we receive further updates from the Department of Defense. I'm not -- I think that's a question for the Pentagon or Central Command to address, in terms of military operations or the specifics that are happening in Iraq.
Q: I'd like to ask about Liberia, too. Oxfam, the relief agency, is pleading with the administration to, "show its hand and end this waiting game that's costing lives in Liberia." You've said the President is monitoring the situation in Liberia. What exactly will, at this point, will his decision hinge on?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's not only monitoring events closely, because it is a dynamic situation over in Liberia right now, it's also remaining actively engaged with the United Nations, actively engaged with the Economic Community of West African States, so that we can get back to a cease-fire, so that we can make sure that that cease-fire takes hold. And that's what we are doing. The United States strongly condemns the latest round of violence and we strongly condemn the escalation that has taken place. We continue to call on all parties to immediately cease any military activity and focus on the peace talks.
Q: What will the President's decision turn on at this point, on sending the military?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the discussions remain ongoing. What we want to do is make sure, as the President noted as recently as yesterday, and has talked about over the recent couple of weeks, is enable ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, to get in there and make sure a cease-fire takes hold. And we are looking at ways that we can provide that help. But I would not speculate on any decision at this point that hasn't been reached.
Q: What's the hold-up on that, Scott? Why hasn't this thing -- they're talking about several days and we're talking about several days. Things are clearly deteriorating there at a much faster pace than anyone anticipated. What do you see as the possible date for ECOWAS to get involved? What's slowing this whole process --
MR. McCLELLAN: Jim, I would not try to put a time line on this. What I would try to emphasize to you is our active engagement with the United Nations and our active engagement with the Economic Community of West African States. It's an important priority that we continue working with them, so that they can get in there and make sure that a cease-fire -- we get back to a cease-fire, one, and that a cease-fire takes hold.
Q: The President has indicated he is willing to help get them in there. Does that mean that they're going to fly in this group once they're ready to go? And where do things stand? I mean, are they telling that they need several more days to get the force together --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think once a decision is made, we can update you at that point and provide more information. But until then --
Q: The President said yesterday, I have promised to help get them in there. Does that mean flying them in? What is he talking about?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and he's talked about whether it's training -- training ECOWAS or other steps. So let's let the decision be made and then we can update you at that point.
Q: Just one more. Is the administration seeking -- what is the administration doing to seek broader participation, as the President indicated yesterday, to get more people into Iraq, in terms of forces? The President said yesterday, the more people, the better off we are.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there already are a number of countries that are participating and helping. He had a great visit with Prime Minister Berlusconi yesterday. Prime Minister Berlusconi has committed troops, so they will be providing vital help in securing and stabilizing Iraq. There are 19-some countries that are helping right now. There are a number of other countries that we are in talks with. Obviously, each country has to make their own decision.
But it's important to put aside any past differences and recognize that this is about a better future for the Iraqi people. This is about a free and democratic Iraq and helping them -- helping the Iraqi people to realize a better way of life.
So we will continue to have conversations. We look forward and appreciate -- we greatly appreciate help that other countries can provide. And we will continue to have those conversations. Fourteen eighty-three, Resolution 1483 under the U.N. calls for countries to help. And we believe that it provides them sufficient authority to get in there and help us with the situation in Iraq.
Q: In lieu of the recent developments, does the White House, does the President stand by all of the briefings that Congress got preliminary to going into -- where they gave him resolution to go into Iraq? Do you stand by the credibility of everything they were told? Or are you making some amendments to that? And I have a follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: There was a mountain of evidence about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. The threat was real and it became even more real as we --
Q: -- directly --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- let me finish -- as we looked at it through the lens of September 11th. It was a grave and gathering threat, as the President pointed out, and it was important that we provide leadership and confront that threat. The United Nations Security Council provided a resolution that gave Saddam Hussein one last opportunity to comply. Remember, he defied the United Nations and the international community for 12 years. He was an individual that possessed chemical and biological weapons, and sought to reconstitute his nuclear weapons program. He was an individual that had used chemical weapons on his own people in the past. So Iraq was a very unique situation, and it was a part -- it was part of our broader effort to win the war on terrorism.
Q: A direct and imminent threat to the United States. That's what sold Congress.
MR. McCLELLAN: It was a grave and gathering threat, and the President is --
Q: He's satisfied with that?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President's highest priority is protecting the American people. And the President will not wait for something to happen. He will confront threats. He will not ignore threats --
Q: Where are the weapons?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we had a great coalition that helped us address this threat, and that threat is no more.
Q: My one other question on part of this is would the United States be willing to give some power, some authority back to the U.N. if they -- the major powers contributed troops to Iraq, reconstruction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the U.N. has a representative there, Sergio de Mello, and he is back at the U.N. today providing an update and working -- he is working very closely with Ambassador Bremer as we move forward. And we very much appreciate his help and appreciate their involvement --
Q: -- give some power back to the U.N.?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- but this is being carried out by the United States and working closely with a number of our coalition countries, and other countries that are providing help.
Q: Try one more on this breaking story, and then ask you a question about North Korea. You're not disputing accounts from other officials in the government, are you, that Secretary Rumsfeld told the President that the initial reports from the scene were that it was quite likely the two sons were in the building?
MR. McCLELLAN: As I said, the President has been in touch with the Secretary of Defense. I think I should leave it at that at this point, because otherwise it's getting into speculation. When I walked out here, we had not received a confirmation of anything at this point. I've seen the reports, but we have not received any confirmation of that.
Q: Can you -- there's a report today suggesting that the administration is at least considering offering North Korea some formal guarantee that it would not attack in exchange for North Korea agreeing to dismantle its nuclear program. Can you flatly rule out that the administration, under any circumstances, would agree to do that as part of a deal?
MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things. We continue to seek a peaceful, diplomatic solution, working with our friends and allies, particularly those countries in the neighborhood -- China, South Korea, Japan. They have all been involved in this, and it's important that they continue to be involved in this. North Korea needs to understand that it can realize the benefits of the international community and it can realize help from the international community if it ends its pursuit of nuclear weapons and its nuclear weapons program, and do so in an irreversible way, once and for all.
The President has been very clear that while we seek a diplomatic solution, we never take options off the table. But again, I would emphasize to you, we continue to work with those countries I mentioned, to seek a diplomatic and peaceful solution to the situation in North Korea.
Q: So it's a question of sequencing, then. You seem to be saying that if North Korea disavowed its nuclear program in a verifiable way, then perhaps there could be conversations --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I'm talking about that they're ready to receive assistance from the international community to help the Korean -- help the North Korean people. That's what I'm referring to. But this report -- and as I pointed out earlier to you today -- I did not -- I disagree with that characterization. That is not something that has happened.
Q: Back on Iraq, was the President informed in advance, and did he give explicit authority in advance of this attack in Mosul, or was this an attack that took place in the normal course of operations, and later turned out that there may have been high-value targets in it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that there are military operations that are carried out on a daily basis. I think the Department of Defense and Central Command are in the best position to characterize those operations. What I can confirm for you at this point is that the President has been in touch with the Secretary of Defense. He is aware of the military operation that was carried out. But I don't want to characterize it before that.
Q: -- did he know in advance --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the specific answer to that question. I do know that the President delegates that to his military commanders in the field, that they make the decisions and move on that. If there's any additional information I find out, I will try to let you know.
Q: But, Scott, in the past he's been informed about these attacks on high-value targets.
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand. I said if there's any additional information I find out, I'll try to let you know at the appropriate time.
Q: Scott, some in the Bush administration have said to be elated over this breaking news story. But how does that play with questions of credibility from those 16 words?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I didn't connect the two.
Q: There is a connection. Some people are concerned that there's no legitimate reason for the war, especially after the 16 words from the State of the Union. And now, these two may be dead. How do you mesh these two --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people recognize that they are safer because of the action that we took. I think the American people recognize that this was integral to winning our war on terrorism, that the action that we took in Iraq was an important part of winning the war on terrorism.
And I think you should go back to the President's remarks most recently with Prime Minister Blair, where -- I think he also addressed it some with Prime Minister Berlusconi. But let me point out a couple of things, and this is what the President said last Thursday. "A free Iraq will be an example to the entire Middle East, and the advance of liberty in the Middle East will undermine the ideologies of terror and hatred. It will help strengthen the security of America, and Britain, and many other nations." That's what the President said last week. It's very important to understand that a free and democratic Iraq will help bring about peace and stability in that region, which is very important to undermining terrorism.
Q: To follow up to that, so basically what you're saying, today's military action was justified in light of questions of the credibility going into this war?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that the way I would describe is we had a mountain of evidence that outlined a clear and compelling case for the decision the President made to confront this threat. The President will not ignore threats. The President will not put lives of the American people at risk by ignoring grave and gathering threats. He will confront them. This was an important and essential part of our efforts to win the war on terrorism.
Q: First on Liberia, you seemed to imply before that the first order of business there is getting a cease-fire that holds, that there won't be any peacekeeping operation until that takes place. But there was a cease-fire that was holding for three weeks or so, that seems to have broken down only because neither ECOWAS, nor the United States seem to be making any particular effort to get in there quickly. Isn't the lack of a decision by the President about what to do here creating a vacuum that is leading to more violence?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think that, again, this is something that we are working closely with the U.N. on, we're working closely with ECOWAS on, to address. It's important to realize that we have a dynamic situation over there. We have a complicated situation over there. The President takes his decisions very seriously and makes them in a deliberate manner, but in continuing to do so, working closely with the United Nations, and working with the Economic Community of West African States, so that we can make sure that a cease-fire takes hold, that we get back to a cease-fire and that a cease-fire takes hold. And this is an important priority that our assessment team has been looking at, and that the President is actively engaged in with the people I just mentioned.
Q: On a different topic, going back to the uranium question. The background briefing that we got here last week suggested that the White House's version is that there had been no changes made to the State of the Union address, other than those that were made internally, not changes that were made at the behest of the CIA based on any qualms the CIA had.
MR. McCLELLAN: You're talking about changes in the speech? Changes in the actual text of the speech?
Q: Correct. Yet, George Tenet's statement about this, on the previous Friday, very specifically referred to a back-and-forth between the White House and the CIA that led to changes in the text of the State of the Union address. Can you tell us why there is that contradiction, and explain it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I stand by what the senior administration briefed you all on Friday about. I think that this continues to go back over -- well, let me put it this way. That one statement in the State of the Union we've already said should not have been in there. And it was not the reason that we acted to confront the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. And I recognize that you all want to continue to go down that road. What I want to continue to do is focus on what's most important, and that's protecting the American people; that's the safety and security of the American people; that's winning the war on terrorism. And I think it's important to remind people that this was one piece of one part of a mountain of evidence that laid out a very clear and compelling case. And that threat has been removed, and America is safer for it.
Q: Fair enough. But why, then, did the White House and the CIA have such different recollections of what happened --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that we have a lot of professionals that work very hard and do a great job throughout the government -- at the White House, at the CIA. And we appreciate all that they do. But I'm not -- I already stated that we stand by the way it was described Friday by the senior administration official when he briefed you. And we continue to stand by that. But what's most important is to focus on what we're doing to win the war on terrorism and what we have done to remove a threat and make America safer and make the American people safer.
Q: -- on the military actions, do you know when the President was briefed by the Secretary of Defense, what time?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think he's talked to him more than once today.
Q: There's been a series of conversations --
MR. McCLELLAN: More than one conversation.
Q: Do you know when he was first notified?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know the exact time, but he's been in touch with him this morning.
Q: On the child credit, there's been -- the White House was very strong in June about the need to approve the Senate legislation that expanded the credit to low-income families that did not benefit from the original bill. But that effort has been slowed now, it's lost momentum on the Hill. I'm wondering if this is still a priority for the President.
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q: And what do you envision the timing should be on the --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we continue to urge, publicly and privately, Congress to act and resolve those differences and move forward on expanding it. So that remains a priority. Hold on, do you have a follow-up on it, Greg?
MR. McCLELLAN: Jacobo.
Q: You said the President spoke on a number of occasions today with the Secretary of Defense. The Pentagon is getting ready to announce rotation of troops, an issue that has become very important --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're pleased that they're taking steps to bring some of those troops home that have been there the longest. Q My question is, you say the President does not necessarily get involved in combat operations -- lets the commanders make some of those decisions. Does the President -- is the President involved in the decision of the units that are going to be rotated and the number of soldiers that will remain behind?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's briefed and he's aware of those decisions. I think that those are steps that the Department of Defense has taken, and decisions that they make, but the President is very aware of the decisions that they make and he's pleased that they're moving forward to bring some of those troops home that have been there the longest.
Q: The Robert Novak column last week identified the wife of Ambassador Joseph Wilson as a CIA operative who was working on WMD issues. Novak said that identification is based on information given to him by two administration sources. That column has now given rise to accusations that the administration deliberatively blew the cover of an undercover CIA operative, and in so doing, violated a federal law that prohibits revealing the identity of undercover CIA operatives. Can you respond to that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you for bringing that up. That is not the way this President or this White House operates. And there is absolutely no information that has come to my attention or that I have seen that suggests that there is any truth to that suggestion. And, certainly, no one in this White House would have given authority to take such a step.
Q: So you're saying --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying that that is not the way that this President or this White House operates, and I've seen no evidence to suggest there's any truth to it.
Q: Are you saying Novak was wrong in saying that it was two administration sources who were the source for --
MR. McCLELLAN: I have no idea who "anonymous" is. I often wish --
Q: It's not anonymous. He says senior administration officials.
MR. McCLELLAN: That would be anonymous.
Q: Well, that would be senior administration --
Q: Like the guy who briefed us last week?
MR. McCLELLAN: Whether it's anonymous senior administration officials or just anonymous sources, it's still anonymous.
Q: Is Novak lying? Do you think he's making it up?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you our position. I'll let the columnist speak for himself.
Q: You're saying, flatly, it did not happen, nobody --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm telling you, flatly, that that is not the way this White House operates. I've seen no evidence to suggest that there's any truth to that.
Q: That's different from saying it didn't happen. Are you saying, absolutely, it did not happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm saying no one was certainly given any authority to do anything of that nature. And I've seen no evidence to suggest there's any truth to it. I want to make it very clear, that is simply not the way this White House operates.
Q: If it turns out that somebody in the administration did do that --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not even going to speculate about it, because I have no knowledge of any truth to that report.
Q: What's the extent of your knowledge? Don't you want to get some more facts? I mean, how do you know that no one in the administration -- Robert Novak has been around for a long --
MR. McCLELLAN: If I could go find "anonymous," Terry, I would.
Q: Does the President support a criminal investigation --
MR. McCLELLAN: Did you have something?
Q: Can I follow on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, Richard.
Q: I'm not following.
MR. McCLELLAN: You answer his question and -- (laughter.)
Q: On Iraq, if I may. Do we have any evidence that Uday and Qusay actually had a role in the post-Saddam operations, the so-called, as some Pentagon officials have called it, the guerrilla warfare that's going on?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that that's best addressed to our military on the ground there in Iraq, any questions related to that.
Q: And do you think that when you capture or even kill an enemy of this kind of stature, what role do you think that potentially plays in trying to damper down some of the violence that we've seen over there?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we've made statements on this. But you're asking me now to assume that something has been confirmed. And I want to --
Q: So there's no connection?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- wait until there are any updates or any additional information that we receive.
Q: First a real quick question. The President is meeting with the Argentinean President tomorrow, correct?
MR. McCLELLAN: Correct.
Q: Is there any -- should we take that as any sort of an indication that the U.S. is satisfied with the way Argentina has turned it around since the last couple of years? I think the meeting has been moved up.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we need to let the meeting take place. We did put out a statement in terms of what they would be discussing. I'd refer you back to that statement. Let's let the meeting take place, and then if there's a readout from that, we will be -- we will be glad to provide you an update at that point. But we did say that they would discuss the bilateral partnership between the United States and Argentina and ways to work together to advance economic growth and prosperity, as well as promoting peace, stability and freedom.
Q: Second question. Several times you've said -- you used the phrase, mountain of evidence, today. At least one of the things that came out of the briefing on Friday is some of that evidence was conflicted, at least in terms of what the various intelligence agencies here were saying, and that the President has not -- had not read some of the dissent, most notably with respect to those 16 words that the State Department thought to be highly dubious.
My question -- I don't know if you've addressed this in the past, but is the President at all concerned in all of this talk about intelligence that some of his supporters and some of the people in this country may feel misled at all about the imminence of Saddam Hussein's threat or -- as opposed to whether or not the threat could be contained? Because that was really the debate, whether or not Saddam Hussein could be contained or whether he was an imminent threat. Some of the things that you're talking about go straight to the argument about imminence. So does the President feel or is he concerned that Americans might feel misled?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the President was very clear when he outlined the grave and gathering threat posed by Saddam Hussein and his regime. The reason we acted was because it was real and because of the new threats that we faced in a post-September 11 world, the potential nexus between outlaw regimes and terrorists or terrorist organizations, where the damage would be far greater and far more tragic and horrific than anything we've imagined before, if that came to bear.
Q: -- extend to North Korea?
MR. McCLELLAN: We are also addressing that issue in North Korea. That remains a serious matter. Different regions require different strategies. The situation in Iraq, as the President made very clear, was unique. You had a dictator who headed a brutal and oppressive regime. You had a dictator who possessed chemical and biological weapons and was seeking -- had a long history of seeking nuclear weapons. More importantly, you had a dictator who had invaded his neighbors, who had used chemical weapons in the past. You had a dictator who went through 17 Security Council resolutions and failed to comply with them, who continued to defy the United Nations. So this was a unique situation in Iraq. And you deal with different situations -- you use different strategies with different situations.
Q: This is a follow-up to a couple of questions on Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay. They have been --reportedly been killed. My question is, does the President believe this, if true, will lower attacks on U.S. troops? And how much will it aid in the peacemaking process?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think I've been through this earlier with everybody in the first couple of rows, so I think that we've already been through this and I would leave it at what I said.
Q: Scott, there's a letter that's going to go out tomorrow by a group of pro-Social Security reform advocates, which states that "it's time for this Congress and this President to solve the problem plaguing Social Security; inaction is no longer an option." There are reports that the White House is unhappy with that language. Is that true --
MR. McCLELLAN: Could you repeat the language again? I'm sorry.
Q: "It is time for this Congress and this President to solve the problems plaguing Social Security." "This Congress" meaning before the election of 2004. Does the White House agree with that language?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President is strongly committed to modernizing Social Security and enhancing its fiscal sustainability, particularly giving younger workers the ability to use a small portion of their Social Security funds to invest in personal retirement accounts, personal security accounts. That's an important national priority; it's an important priority for the America people.
We commend Republican and Democrats who are willing to put aside partisan differences and work together to get something done, and work together to save Social Security for today's seniors and strengthen it for tomorrow's retirees.
So he appreciates members who want to put aside political differences and focus on what's best for the American people, and steps that will move us closer to bipartisan legislation that will accomplish what I just outlined, and that's saving and strengthening Social Security.
Q: Why not just commit to doing it before the election? A lot of people thinks he wants to preserve it, doesn't want to stir the pot during --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's important to have a national dialogue. It's important to work closely with members of Congress. And it's an important priority that we remain committed to addressing and working in a bipartisan way to get done.
Q: Scott, Senator Lieberman, in his apologizing for being late to the NAACP Convention, which the President declined to attend, he told that convention, we need Kweisi Mfume on the Supreme Court. My question, does the President agree that anyone with no legal training is qualified, and that Senator Lieberman's expressed need is at all sensible? And I have one follow-up.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has stated his position on the types of people and individuals that he would appoint if there was a vacancy. There is no vacancy at this point, so I'm not going to get into speculating about it. But he's made very clear his views about appointing individuals that would interpret the law and not try to make law from the bench.
Q: Patrick Guerrero, the Executive Director of the Log Cabin Republicans, is quoted as saying, "I'm not sure that there's been a week that I've been on the job where we haven't been called to the White House or asked to attend a meeting with the Republican leadership". And my question: Why is this extensive amount of White House and other Republican calling of the Log Cabiners so much greater than in the first Bush and Reagan administrations?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know about the characterization within your question, but I will say that -- I will say that the President is an inclusive leader that reaches out to people across the political spectrum from -- reaches out to people from all walks of life to focus on areas where we can work together. Whether there are disagreements on other issues, there are a number of issues that are important for us to work together to address. There are some common priorities that the President looks to work together with people on to achieve and to accomplish.
Q: Scott, I just want to quick ask a follow-up to Greg's question on the child care tax credit. The Speaker, basically, over the weekend said that he wasn't going to do it. Surely the President must be disappointed that there's such strong opposition when he said that directly. And secondly, today on the day we were highlighting the roughly one-year anniversary of the Corporate Task Force, is the President at all concerned about the image it sends when his top economic official, the Treasury Secretary, is going to Wall Street to meet with a bunch of economists and hedge fund -- investment fund managers in private -- which if he were a corporate official would not be allowed under the law, even though I understand he's allowed to do that? Is he worried at all about --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think you can address that to the Department of the Treasury. But I don't know his schedule, but I'll be glad to look at it. But let me make it very clear. The President wants Congress to act and resolve the issue regarding the child tax credit. It's important and we have made it clear that we want Congress to act and resolve their differences and get it done.
Q: Scott, can we go back --
MR. MCCLELLAN: And with what -- well, okay, one last one, and then --
Q: Can you come back to the Ambassador Wilson issue for a second. As Ken suggested, it appears as though a federal crime may have been committed. Would the President support an investigation into the blowing of the cover of an undercover CIA operative?
MR. MCCLELLAN: John, I think that's suggesting that there might be some truth to the matter you're bringing up. I have seen nothing -- I have seen nothing to suggest that there is any truth to it. And certainly I want to make very clear --
Q: Somebody told --
MR. MCCLELLAN: -- that no one, no one in this White House would be authorized to take such a step.
Q: Right. But somebody blew her cover. And would the White House support an investigation into that?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I'd have to look into the specifics about whether or not that characterization is accurate when you're talking about someone's cover. But let me make it very clear, that's just not the way this White House operates.
Q: Could you look into it?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry. I'll be available later.
END 1:35 P.M. EDT
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