White House Press Briefing, February 9, 2004
|Monday February 9,
THE WHITE HOUSE
PRESS GAGGLE BY SCOTT McCLELLAN
Aboard Air Force One En route Springfield, Missouri
11:31 A.M. CST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good morning. The President had his usual briefings this morning. Upon arrival in Springfield, the Freedom Corps greeter is Travis Morrison, who has been an active volunteer with a number of different organizations, including the United Way March of Dimes and, more recently, Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Services. He began doing that in May 2003, when some tornadoes hit the area around Pierce City, Missouri.
Following that, the President looks forward to participating in a conversation on the economy at SRC Automotive. SRC Automotive is a small business that employs 120 people and remanufactures engines for General Motors, Mercury Marine and others. And they have stated they plan to hire an additional 10 to 15 employees this year.
Q: How many?
MR. McCLELLAN: Ten to 15 new employees this year, they said they expect to. I expect the President will talk about how the economy is strong and growing stronger, that the tax relief that we passed is working; it is helping families and small businesses improve their economic security. And I think that will kind of be the focus of his remarks in the conversation. And there will be some employees, as well as small business owners, up on the stage with him.
And then we return back to the White House this evening, or this afternoon. He meets with Leader Frist and Speaker Hastert later this evening in the residence, just to talk about some legislative priorities.
Q: Legislative priorities?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q: Anything in particular?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that we'll read anything out, but we'll try to keep you posted if there is.
Q: A readout afterward?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll see what we can do. But he meets regularly with these two.
Q: In the Oval or the residence?
MR. McCLELLAN: Residence. I think 5:00 p.m. -- around 5:00 p.m. And that's it. See you all later.
Q: Did you talk to -- I think the FBI about the CIA leaks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Did I talk -- me, personally? Well, let's just say I'm doing my part to cooperate.
Q: What was the question?
MR. McCLELLAN: She asked if I was interviewed by the FBI last week, and I said, I'm doing my part to cooperate, as the President directed all of us to do.
Q: You can't go into that any further?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you have further questions, you really ought to direct those to the Department of Justice.
Q: Can you say for the record, "yes," or "no"?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I was filmed by several news organizations coming out of the courthouse. I think that confirms it for you.
Q: What do you know about this memo from the al Qaeda leader that was intercepted and it suggests they're trying to stir up a civil war in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: We've said previously that Iraq is the central front in the war on terrorism. There are foreign terrorists who realize the stakes are high. And they seek to do everything to undermine -- everything they can to undermine the aspirations of the Iraqi people. But democracy and freedom are taking root in Iraq, and there is no turning back. There are foreign terrorist organizations that are -- there are foreign terrorists who seek to undermine the Iraqi people's aspirations. And they cannot, nor can they break the resolve of the coalition forces in Iraq.
But we will -- we are continuing to take the fight to those terrorist elements who are in Iraq and we will bring them to justice.
Q: Scott, Al Gore had some unusually bitter remarks about the President over the weekend. He said he -- the President -- betrayed this country, he played on our fears, he took America on an ill-conceived foreign adventure, dangerous to our troops, preordained and planned before 9/11. What do you make of -- it seems remarkably sharp criticism and I think the source is notable, too. What do you make of it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there are some who are backward-looking, still wanting to replay the 2000 election. The President is forward-looking, focusing on acting to meet the big challenges that we face.
Q: I've got to ask you, too, about military records. The President committed yesterday to releasing additional records. Is there any effort by the White House, the RNC, the campaign to come up with new records, new notes --
MR. McCLELLAN: This issue, as the President pointed out, goes back to his first campaign for governor, it goes back to the 2000 campaign. You know, we made everything we had available during the 2000 campaign. I think that one of the things you can look at that will help address these questions is the annual retirement point summaries. And we previously made those available during the 2000 campaign. They show that the President fulfilled his duties, and that is why he was honorably discharged.
Q: Every point summary is available -- payroll stubs --
Q: Russert asked a more specific question, tax returns and payroll stubs, and the President's answer to that was, yeah.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think -- I think the President, like most Americans, does not have his tax returns from 33 years ago. In terms of pay stubs, during the 2000 campaign we checked with the Texas National Guard and they informed us that they did not have them. Obviously, if there's anything additional, we'll keep you posted.
Q: You checked during the 2000 campaign, or you checked in recent days?
MR. McCLELLAN: We checked during the 2000 campaign, yes.
Q: It's your interpretation, though, that everything that could be released has been released?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, everything we had we made available. And like I said, if there's more, we'll do our best to keep you updated on that.
Q: But you're not looking for anything else at this point?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if there's more that comes to our attention, we'll make sure we make that available.
Q: Scott, just to confirm one thing about your participation in the leak investigation, you acknowledge you were at the courthouse. The question, I think, was originally about whether you were interviewed by the FBI. Our understanding is that you testified before the grand jury. Can you confirm that to us?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that -- that's why -- like I said, the cameras filmed me coming out, and, yes, I did. Like I said, I'm just doing my part to cooperate fully with the investigation. The President has made it clear that no one wants to get to the bottom of it more than he does. Leaking classified information is a serious matter and I want to do my part to help the investigation move forward.
Q: Can you also tell me, if you could, the latest on the President's thinking on a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriages? There had been a lot of speculation that perhaps he would have something to say about that during the Russert interview. A lot of opponents of gay marriage say they've been assured at the highest levels of the White House that the President is going to come out supporting a ban. When is that going to happen?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. One, the President believes that marriage is a sacred institution and that we should do everything we can to protect and defend the sanctity of marriage. If activist judges continue to try to redefine marriage without regard for the voice of the people, then the only alternative would be the constitutional process. And the President has made it clear that, if necessary, he will do what is legally needed to protect the sanctity of marriage.
Obviously, the recent Massachusetts Supreme Court ruling was deeply troubling and we've been reviewing that decision.
Q: But did that cross the threshold by which activist judges can no longer be tolerated, and now the President feels he has to come out for a ban?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, certainly, we're looking at that whole issue. We continue to look at this issue. The President issued a statement when that ruling came out, and I think it made it very clear in there again what he has said, that he is committed to doing what is needed to protect the sanctity of marriage. And so, if necessary, we would look at -- well, the only alternative would be the constitutional process, and, if necessary, the President would support those efforts.
Q: How long are you going to look at it? When are you going to decide?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that I can put any arbitrary time line on it. It's something we continue to look at closely. The President believes that the recent ruling was deeply troubling. He believes it's important for the voice of the people to be heard in this debate.
Q: Scott, not to put too fine a point on it, but it's not just leading opponents of gay marriage who have said they've been told by the White House that the President does support a ban and will soon announce such support, but also you had members of Congress who were at the Republican retreat who said the President also said that there.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, what he said there was, if necessary, he was prepared to support legislation that would lead to a constitutional amendment. And he specifically referred to Congresswoman Musgrave's legislation as something that reflects the principles that he is committed to when it comes to defending the institution of marriage.
Q: Can you rule out this week -- can you rule out an announcement this week?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't rule things in or out. I'm saying that we continue to look closely at the issue, and that, if necessary, the President is ready to do what is legally necessary to defend the institution of marriage.
Q: Scott, we haven't heard about Saddam Hussein lately. Can you tell us where he is, whether he's given up any information?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, you need to direct those questions to the people in the theater.
Q: One other thing. We've had three trips in a row where the President pulled his motorcade over to mingle, in a restaurant or a chocolate factory. Is this part of some larger effort to get him out there, mix in with regular people?
MR. McCLELLAN: Are you hungry? (Laughter.)
Q: We never get any food at these things, I might add.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is -- the President believes it's important to get outside Washington, D.C. and talk about the big challenges that we face and that we're working to meet. And he also believes it's important to get outside of Washington, D.C. and visit with people across the country. And it's a good opportunity for him to visit with people from around the country.
Q: Why have you abruptly added this component to his trips? In three years, I can recall one pull-over. Now we've had it three trips in a row. What's the strategic decision behind this?
MR. McCLELLAN: He stops in Crawford, he stops at the Coffee Station. I mean, it's a good opportunity just to visit with Americans and to get some good food.
Q: Scott, along these lines, how did the event site today get chosen? (-- see addendum)
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there --
Q: I mean, was the invitation from them, or did the President ask to come to this company?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'd have to double-check the exact specifics on it. There are a lot of different ways we look at event sites.
Q: The reason I ask is the founder and CEO and his family had given -- gave about $10,000 to Dick Gephardt in September. Of course, Dick Gephardt has endorsed what's looking like will be the President's rival. I mean, how did this come to be?
MR. McCLELLAN: How did it come to be? Well, the President is talking about what we're doing to strengthen our economy even more. And this is a small business that is benefiting directly from the actions we have taken in Washington, D.C. to create a more robust environment for small business owners to flourish. And so this is a company that has, like I said, 120 different employees. It's a good opportunity to visit with small business owners, as well as employees about how -- about the direction the economy is going and the actions we have taken.
Q: Was there any sort of a relationship between the President and Mr. Stack before this trip?
MR. McCLELLAN: I can double-check --
Q: Could you find out for us?
MR. McCLELLAN: I can double-check those details. We'll be glad to get you those details.
Q: Did you know that he was such a big backer of Democrats?
MR. McCLELLAN: Me? No.
Q: He's going to hire 10 to 15 this year, employees, or he did hire --
MR. McCLELLAN: They expect to. He said they expect to.
Q: One more question on Massachusetts. As this is under review, what are the criteria for deciding whether this rises to a level in which constitutional action is necessary?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into all the legal issues involved. Like I said, it's obviously something we are looking at closely, and we will continue to look at closely. The President is strongly committed to protecting and defending the sanctity of marriage, and this is an important debate going on in this country.
Q: Why did he only name seven members of the nine-member commission on Friday?
MR. McCLELLAN: I expect we will be naming an additional two shortly.
MR. McCLELLAN: Shortly.
Q: But can they start their work before they have all nine or do they have to wait until you have all nine?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that they will want to get -- make sure the whole commission is there. But those are issues we'll be discussing directly with the members of the commission. I think that they're ready to begin work as soon as they can, and we're working with them to help them begin their work as soon as possible.
Q: But are there problems attracting qualified candidates or --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think if you look at the people that are on the commission, they are highly qualified individuals and they have a lot of experience and expertise that they bring to the table.
Q: What is your impression, Scott, of how the President did on "Meet The Press"? Did he accomplish the goals that you wanted, that you had hoped he would?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the President welcomed the opportunity to talk about the big challenges that he is acting decisively to meet. There are great challenges facing this nation. The stakes are high and the choices are clear. This was an opportunity for the President to continue talking to the American people about the policy decisions that we have made to make the country more secure and to make America more prosperous.
Q: Is it your belief or hope that that appearance will sort of stem this sort of down-slide of poll numbers lately?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't know that we look at it that way. I mean, obviously, you all pay attention to the daily tracking and ups and downs of the election year. I think that the numbers you've seen recently reflect the fact that there have been a lot of dramatic twists and turns in the Democratic primary. That's where the attention has been focused. There will be plenty of time to talk about the choice that Americans face next November. The President remains focused on what we are doing to address the big priorities this country faces.
Q: Was this an isolated interview, or does he plan to be doing more in-depth kinds of --
MR. McCLELLAN: He talks to the American people through a lot of different -- in a lot of different ways. This was one way to do it. He certainly does interviews with other networks, as well. He will continue to talk to the American people in a number of different ways and a number of different forums.
All right. Thanks.
-- addendum: We worked closely with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Senator Bond and Congressman Blunt's office. This was a location that was recommended to us.
END 11:47 A.M. CST
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