White House Briefing, November 24, 2003
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS GAGGLE BY CLAIRE BUCHAN
Aboard Air Force One En route Fort Carson, Colorado
MS. BUCHAN: Let me start with the President's day. The President had his usual briefings this morning, then he pardoned the National Thanksgiving turkey, Stars and Stripes, the winners of the on-line contest. He then went to the Pentagon, where he signed the National Defense Authorization Act, which will ensure that our government meets its obligation to support our men and women in uniform, who are the defenders of -- who are defending America and fighting the war on terrorism.
He is en route to Colorado Springs, where he will be met by Freedom Corps volunteer Diane Campbell, who has been an active volunteer in the Fort Carson community. She volunteers as an instructor with the Army Family Team Building program, which helps military spouses and their families adjust to the culture, customs and life in the army. She's also a volunteer at her church, and she has served as a Family Readiness Group volunteer, which provides information and moral support for military families year round, but especially in times of deployment.
The President will then have lunch with soldiers. He'll then make remarks to soldiers and their families. In those remarks, the President will thank the soldiers and their families for their courage and their service at this crucial time for our nation. The President will discuss what's at stake for America, and he'll pay tribute to the hardship and the sacrifices that the troops and their families have faced.
The men and women of Fort Carson are heavily involved in the ongoing operations in Iraq. They're fighting to secure the freedom of the Iraqi people, to help the Iraqi people build a free and democratic future for themselves. And they're also taking the fight to the terrorists so that we're more secure at home. And the President will express the thanks of our nation to those men and women and their families, and what each of them is doing to defend and protect America. He will then meet with families of fallen soldiers privately.
Q: How many?
MS. BUCHAN: He'll meet with the families of 26 fallen soldiers. There will be about 98 family members present in that meeting.
Q: Is this the first time he's met with family members of fallen soldiers in Iraq?
MS. BUCHAN: At Fort Carson?
Q: No, of any -- I mean, any family members.
MS. BUCHAN: No, the President has met both before major combat operations ended and after the major combat operations have ended -- in various settings, Fort Bragg, Camp Lejuene, Fort Stewart.
Q: They're all private, these are all private meetings, right?
MS. BUCHAN: As we will do today, you got a readout afterward.
Q: Of the 26 fallen soldiers, how many of them were on the Chinook that went down last month?
MS. BUCHAN: Some of them were on the Chinook; they've also died in various other accidents and in other ways.
Q: You don't know how many of them, specifically, were on the Chinook?
MS.BUCHAN: I did not count on my list, but there were some that were on the Chinook, there were others that died in other ways.
Q: Could you maybe elaborate on why the President does such a -- more of a private thing, as opposed to when you look at what happened with the Italians that were killed in the explosion? They did lots of pomp and circumstance, Berlusconi was involved. Can you, sort of, contrast that, just why the President doesn't do more of that kind of thing?
MS.BUCHAN: Well, this is a time of great grief for these families and the President wants to thank these families and honor the sacrifice of their families. They have made great sacrifices on behalf of America, and the President believes that this is an appropriate way to meet with them, to meet privately with them, to express his appreciation both as Commander-in-Chief and on behalf of the American people for all that these families have sacrificed. They've given the ultimate sacrifice and their loss has not been in vain, America is safer thanks to what these men and women have given for their country. And the President very much looks forward to spending time with them and to expressing that on behalf of the American people..
Q: Do you know if he's had any reaction on the situation in Georgia? Are you guys supportive of the President stepping down there?
MS. BUCHAN: Pardon me?
Q: Supportive that the President stepped down?
MS. BUCHAN: The U.S. supports the stability and sovereignty of a democratic Georgia, and we're committed to helping the Georgian people through this transition. We welcome the dignified and non-violent way that Georgia's opposition political leaders restored the integrity of the Georgian democracy, and we look forward to working with the new interim President and to helping the Georgian people.
Q: When you say "support," what kind of support? Financial, advisory?
MS. BUCHAN: If there are specifics on a financial front, we would advise you of that, but we're supportive of what the Georgian opposition party did to restore the integrity of Georgian democracy, in terms of using peaceful demonstrations to overturn a fraudulent parliamentary election. And we did -- so we stand ready to help the Georgian people as they prepare for new presidential elections.
Q: Can I ask about steel? There's a story out of Brussels yesterday that the WTO may be finalizing the decision earlier than people had thought, meaning that tariffs, you know, retaliatory tariffs may go into place earlier than thought if they're not repealed. Do you guys have any reaction to that? Do you have any timetable on a decision from the President?
MS. BUCHAN: The President has not made a decision; I'm not going to speculate on a timetable. As he has said, the safeguards were imposed to give the U.S. industry time to adjust and to restructure. The ITC gave him a report, which is being reviewed, and the President is looking to determine the extent to which the U.S. steel industry has restructured. That review is ongoing.
Q: Claire, two American soldiers were brutally beaten in Mosul. Does the President think that's an indication that the situation -- that the feelings of the Iraqi people toward the American military has changed dramatically?
MS. BUCHAN: Well, we mourn the loss of any soldiers in any circumstance, and the circumstances in this case are being looked at and they're being investigated. But in any instance, we mourn that loss and they remind us that there are killers in Iraq who hate freedom and who wish to do harm to those who are trying to bring freedom to the Iraqi people. And we remain resolved to defeat these killers.
Q: This was in Mosul, which has been fairly safe, and these were young teenagers who came and dragged the two soldiers out and beat them. That doesn't sound like the same kind of planned attacks on Americans; this is something different.
MS. BUCHAN: Ann, as the circumstances have changed on the ground, you've seen that we have made adjustments to our strategy to respond to those changing circumstances on the ground and we continue to do that. But the fact remains that we are resolved to win this war, to help the Iraqi people bring about a free and democratic and prosperous future for themselves. And we are continuing to work on the security, it continues to be a dangerous place. Progress is being made, but Iraq continues to be a very dangerous place.
Q: Claire, do you have any reaction to the conflict of interest situation involving Boeing and the Pentagon? Was the White House involved at all in that decision?
MS. BUCHAN: Which decision are you talking about?
Q: There is a -- the decision by the Pentagon to lease fewer aircraft, I believe, than they originally planned. And there is a report that there had been some conflict of interest involving the Pentagon and Boeing and that decision, there were some firings.
MS. BUCHAN: I'm not aware of the conflict of interest. With regard to the Boeing tanker lease, we have worked on that issue and the Congress was involved recently, prior to the defense authorization bill, in bringing about a satisfactory solution on that. The goal has been to ensure that both our military has the resources that they need and also that the American taxpayers get the best value for their money.
Q: Claire, it might be hard to do, given the changing situation on the Hill with the Medicare bill and things being in flux still today, but can you talk about what the President plans to do tomorrow? And is there any chance he would actually sign the bill if it were passed today?
MS. BUCHAN: I think from a logistical standpoint, even if it were passed today there would not be an opportunity to get it enrolled and to physically get it to him; that would surprise me, I suspect it's rather thick and will take a little more time than that.
We will keep you posted if there are developments on that, that we can share with you. The President has urged Congress, as you know, to take advantage of this opportunity to bring historic reform to Medicare, to bring seniors prescription drugs and better choices. We're on the verge of historic reform for seniors, and the President urges Congress to act.
Q: So suffice it to say that his speech and his remarks tomorrow are in flux, depending on where things are? (Laughter.)
MS. BUCHAN: It would be safe to say that his remarks will reflect what happens today. (Laughter.)
Q: Has there been any further progress or a decision coming on the Israel loan guarantees and the fence? Can you update us?
MS. BUCHAN: I have nothing to report on that. Anything else? Thank you.
Q: Thank you.
END 12:17 P.M. EST
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