White House Briefing, January 26, 2004

 

Monday January 26, 2004

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Little Rock, Arkansas)
January 26, 2004

PRESS GAGGLE WITH

SCOTT MCCLELLAN
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Little Rock, Arkansas

10:25 A.M. CST

MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning, gagglers. Let me run through the President's day. He had his usual briefings before we departed. Upon arrival in Little Rock, the Freedom Corps greeter will be Mary Lynn Roberson. She's an active volunteer at Baptist Health Medical Center, and she volunteers weekly in the surgery unit waiting room.

Then the President will go to Baptist Health Medical Center, where he will participate in a roundtable on medical liability reform with doctors and patients. In fact, two of the patients in the roundtable I expect he'll reference in his speech -- Sullivan and Mary Ligon. They are orthopedic patients of one of the doctors in the roundtable, and they had come to rely on his services in Helena, Arkansas. But Dr. Wilson, the doctor, was effectively forced to give up his visits to this rural Delta community because of -- was forced to give it up by his insurer. And now these patients have to travel almost two and a half hours to Little Rock when they have injuries that need attention. And this is a burden for two seniors who are retired and living on a fixed income. And the President will talk about that in his remarks, I expect.

Then the President will make remarks about the importance of passing medical liability reform to help address the rising cost of health care. One of the things the President will touch on is that health security is important to economic security. It's important that people be able to have affordable health care that best meets their individual needs. And that's one of the things the President will touch on in his remarks.

Following that, we return to Washington, where this evening the President will have his annual meeting and dinner with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Combat Commanders. Again, this is something that he does annually. And that's the day.

Q: At the White House?

MR. McCLELLAN: At the White House.

Q: Scott, why is the President bringing a medical malpractice message to the state of Arkansas? Why not, say, Florida, for example?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it's a national problem that requires a national solution, and the President takes this message everywhere. Rising health care costs is one of his top domestic priorities -- or addressing rising health care costs is one of his top domestic priorities. We need a health care system that is patient-centered and provides all Americans with access to affordable, quality care that best meets their needs.

Q: So it's not about Clark and Edwards?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry?

Q: So it's not about Clark and Edwards?

MR. McCLELLAN: It's an important priority for the American people, that's what it's about.

Q: Will he draw a distinction between his position and Mr. Edwards, who doesn't favor a cap?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there's a Democratic primary going on, and they can discuss their own differences there. The President is talking about what he's for and what he's doing for the American people.

Q: Any new proposals on medical malpractice?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he's outlined -- remember, there are a number of steps that we've taken, and he'll talk about some of those. He'll also talk about some of the additional steps that Congress needs to take. He touched on some of those in his State of the Union address. He's taken a comprehensive approach to addressing the issue of rising health care costs.

Q: When the President says that he wants to cut in half the deficit in five years, which budget deficit number is he referring to?

MR. McCLELLAN: Which budget deficit? What do you mean, which?

Q: Which number is he cutting in half, $480 billion, or something that's coming out yet?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, the budget is coming out, but I said any way you want to look at it, he has a plan to reduce the deficit in half. And the best way to look at it is to look at it in terms of GDP, and as a percentage of GDP it still remains relatively low by historical standards. But, again, the President has a plan to cut the deficit in half over the next five years and that's what we intend to do.

Q: But if the number, again, is not $480 billion, the projected amount, but it's going to be the number that will be coming out in the --

MR. McCLELLAN: We'll get you -- I'll double-check the number for you, but it's cutting in half --

Q: I just want to know --

MR. McCLELLAN: -- yes, I'll double-check that number for you.

Q: Given the comments by Dr. Kay, does the administration continue to believe there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: One, let me just say that the decision to remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power was the right decision. Saddam Hussein was a dangerous and gathering threat, and the President made the right decision to remove him from power. America -- well, the world is a safer and better place, and America is more secure because of the actions that we took.

And let me just say in reference to what Dr. Kay said, what we know today only reconfirms that the President made the right decision. Remember that September 11th taught us that it's important to confront gathering threats before it's too late. Saddam Hussein chose continued defiance even when the United Nations gave him one final opportunity to comply, or face serious consequences. He was in material breach of Security Council Resolution 1441.

Q: Give that, though, Dr. Kay and now Senator Roberts seemed to indicate the same thing this weekend, and Colin Powell, as well -- they allowed for the possibility there may never have been stockpiles of WMD in Iraq.

MR. McCLELLAN: A couple of things there. One, let's go back to what Dr. Kay said. As Dr. Kay said, Iraq was a very dangerous place. That's why I said what we know today only reconfirms the fact that we made the right decision. What Dr. Kay --

Q: Scott, no one is questioning the decision --

MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish, let me finish, I'm coming to your question. And what Dr. Kay said, based on what he has learned, reconfirms that we made the right decision. It was -- Dr. Kay said that the regime continued to pursue a biological weapon, including the deadly poison ricin. The regime, according to Dr. Kay, continued an active ballistic missile program. And Dr. Kay pointed out that the regime had, "the technology, the ability to produce, and there were terrorist groups passing through the country," from Dr. Kay.

Remember, Iraq was unique. Saddam Hussein's regime had weapons of mass destruction, they used weapons of mass destruction on its neighbors and on his own people, and they failed to account for the weapons and weapons programs, and refused to comply for 12 years and some 17 Security Council resolutions. Again, given the opportunity to come -- given a final opportunity to come clean, Saddam Hussein chose defiance once again.

We know he had the intention, we know he had the capability. And, given his history and given the events of September 11th, we could not afford to rely on the good intentions of Saddam Hussein.

Now, on questions to the intelligence, Dr. Kay pointed out that it's important for the Iraq Survey Group to complete its work so that we have as complete and accurate picture as possible. There were -- obviously, we want to compare the intelligence from before the war with what the Iraq Survey Group learns on the ground. But the first step is to let the Iraq Survey Group finish their work so the intelligence community can have a -- or have as complete a picture as possible.

Q: So do you feel misled by the intelligence community, as Kay thinks that the --

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think I just said that, obviously, we want to compare the intelligence from before the war with what the Iraq Survey Group learns on the ground. That's part of -- but the first step is to come up with as complete and as accurate a picture as possible. That's what the Iraq Survey Group is working to do. That is their mission. And Dr. Kay pointed out that it's important to let them continue their work so that they can finish it.

Q: What happens if it doesn't match up?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's why it's important that they complete their work. We need to let them complete their work. But make no mistake about it, the decision that the President made was the right decision. Saddam Hussein was a dangerous and gathering threat. The world is safer and better because of the actions that we took. America is more secure because of the actions that we took. The greatest responsibility this President has is the protection of the American people, and the President acts decisively to meet that responsibility.

Q: So you're saying there was no breakdown at all in the intelligence?

MR. McCLELLAN: What I am saying is that the decision that the President made was the right decision. And, obviously, it's important to compare the intelligence before the war with what we learn on the ground through the Iraq Survey Group, and that will come. But -- that will come as we draw as complete a picture as possible, but it's important first for the Iraq Survey Group to complete their mission.

Q: Then a review might come after that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there already are -- there are already some things that the CIA is doing. But the first step is for the Iraq Survey Group to complete their work.

Q: But, Scott, Kay, who, arguably, knows more about this than anybody, says the President is owed an apology by the intelligence community. He thinks they let the President down. What does the President think about how the intelligence community served him on this matter?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think Dr. Kay said, if you go back and look at his comments, said it's important to let the Iraq Survey Group complete their work, it's important to draw as complete a picture as possible. That's what he said.

And that's why I said that the first step -- I think you're getting ahead of yourself, it's premature at this point. But the first step is to let the Iraq Survey Group complete their work. We want to compare the intelligence before the war with what the Iraq Survey Group learns on the ground. But their mission is ongoing. Their work is ongoing. Dr. Kay worked very hard on -- it was a difficult job and we appreciate all the work that he did. But he pointed out that it's important for the Iraq Survey Group to continue their work.

Q: But he also said the President is owed an apology by the intelligence community. What does the President feel about that?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think that I just answered that, by saying that the first step is for the Iraq Survey Group to complete their work. That's what --

Q: -- demand an apology?

MR. McCLELLAN: So that we draw as complete a picture as possible. Then we can compare what we knew before the war with what we learn on the ground from the Iraq Survey Group.

I mean, regardless, the decision that we made was the right decision. And what we know today only reconfirms that it was the right decision.

Q: Even if there are no weapons found, it still was the right decision?

MR. McCLELLAN: We already know from what Dr. Kay has learned that the decision was the right decision. We knew before the war and what we've learned today only reconfirms that it was the right decision. Again, I go back to what I said a minute ago -- Saddam Hussein's regime was a danger and it was a gathering threat, and we made -- and the President made the right decision to remove him from power.

Q: Scott, is the President interested in hearing from Kay directly?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?

Q: Is the President interested in hearing from Kay now, directly?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think his interest in letting the Iraq Survey Group complete their work. Dr. Kay already provided an interim report which confirmed that Saddam Hussein was, in fact, in material breach of 1441. And remember, 1441 gave Saddam Hussein one final opportunity to comply or face serious consequences. He chose continued defiance in the face of that resolution.

Q: He won't meet with Kay, though?

MR. McCLELLAN: Sorry?

Q: He won't meet with Kay?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that there's anything scheduled to do something like that. I think that the Iraq Survey Group obviously will continue to do their work. He appreciates the work that Dr. Kay did. And, again, what Dr. Kay has already learn, as he has stated, reconfirms that we made the right decision.

Q: It seems like somebody at the White House ought to have some interest in hearing from Kay at this point, if not the President himself.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, I think that he has been doing all his work, and we will -- through the Iraq Survey Group. And now you have a new person in charge of that who will continue the efforts that he began. It was important work. And we are going to have as complete a picture as possible from the Iraq Survey Group once they finish their work. And that's what's important, and that's what -- and the President wants them to complete their mission so that we can compare what we knew before the war with what we learn on the ground.

Q: Scott, this is a very narrow question. It has nothing to do with why we went to war, accepting the premise that it was good to go to war with Iraq. We're going to put that on the table. With regards to large stockpiles of WMD, Kay has now said he doubts it; Powell has now said that he allows for the possibility there never were any; Senator Roberts, head of the Intel Committee, now says the same thing. What is the President's position on that very narrow issue, as whether there were large stockpiles of WMD in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think, one, the Iraq Survey Group work is ongoing. I think it was the judgment of intelligence agencies around the world, as well as the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq, that there were large unaccounted for stockpiles. That was the judgment of the intelligence agencies around the world and of UNSCOM, if you go back to before the war.

Q: The White House still believes there may be large stockpiles of WMD in Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we believe is important for the Iraq Survey Group to complete their work so that we have as complete a picture as possible. Obviously, you've heard from Dr. Kay, and Dr. Kay said that Iraq was a very dangerous place, for the reasons I stated a short time ago. But we want the work of the Iraq Survey Group to continue so that they can draw as complete a picture as possible. And then we can learn -- it will help us learn the truth, their work will. And that's important.

Q: One of the reasons Kay cited for stepping down was that some of his resources were being diverted to handling counter-insurgency activities. If you still want to see the Iraq Survey Group do work in this matter, will you recommit those resources back to finding WMD?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of resources, those are decisions made by the Pentagon. Obviously, there are a number of important priorities that the Pentagon is working to meet. I think you ought to address specific questions about how they are allocated to the Pentagon. But the work of the Iraq Survey Group remains a priority.

All right?

Q: Scott, one other question on a separate subject. The President said last week in New Mexico that he wanted to unstick the energy bill. What's he doing in regard to unsticking that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, one, he's going to continue to urge Congress to act to pass a comprehensive energy bill. Congress is just now coming back into session and that remains a high priority for the President. And we need to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy so that we can become more energy independent. And it was a high priority for the President previously and it remains a high priority for the President in this Congress.

And so we will continue -- obviously, he's having a meeting with bipartisan leaders in Congress and one of the priorities --

Q: That's -- (inaudible.)

MR. McCLELLAN: -- yes -- one of the priorities he will continue to emphasize is acting on a comprehensive energy plan.

Q: I mean, Daschle says that even he wants it through. So I don't understand why it's not moving.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Congress just came back into session, so that's probably why it's not moving yet. But the President will continue to urge Congress to move as quickly as possible to get it passed.

Q: Did he speak with Domenici privately last week in New Mexico?

MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, oh, yes. They had a good visit, sure. And, sure, energy is a shared priority of the two, or passing a comprehensive energy plan is a shared priority of the President and Senator Domenici.

All right, thank you.

Q: Scott, is the President going to do a little campaigning in New Hampshire on Thursday?

MR. McCLELLAN: He's going there to participate in a conversation on the economy -- I believe the economy -- on Thursday -- conversation on the economy on Thursday. And he'll be -- the President is going there to talk about what we have done to strengthen our economy and how we need to continue to take additional steps to create an even more robust environment for job creation. That's what the President -- the President will be talking about the priorities of the American people.

All right, thanks.

END 10:42 A.M. EST

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