This is the www.whitehouse.gov transcript of the May 24 White House press briefing. For other sample press briefings go to the White House web site.
Can you find how many questions from the White House Press Corps that Scott (Spin-Doctor) McLellan actually answered and can you make any sense in this briefing? (See questionnaire form at the bottom of the page.)
Press Secretary’s Statement: The President spoke to the Christians for Family Values this morning about his program to block sex education in the schools.
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Some of your colleagues leave early, it looks like.
Q Banker's hours.
Q Some of them do.
MR. McCLELLAN: I want to begin with a couple of things. There are a couple of good economic reports from this morning. One, the first quarter GDP numbers were revised upwards from 3.1 percent to 3.5 percent, and the unemployment -- the latest unemployment insurance claims came out today, as well. They show that -- they are a sign that we should see continued strong job growth as we move forward. The economy is growing strong, and we're seeing sustained growth, because of the policies that we put in place when the President came into office. The tax cuts are working, it's got our economy growing strong, we've seen 23-straight months of job growth, more than 3.5 million jobs created since May of 2003, the unemployment rate is at 5.2 percent. And I also saw news today that revenues for state governments have been increasing significantly, as well.
But it's important that we continue to follow through with additional pro-growth policies, to keep our economy growing, and see long-term, sustained growth. And the President has called for continuing to open markets and expand trade. He's called for Congress moving forward on saving and strengthening Social Security. He's called for Congress moving forward on a responsible budget that funds our priorities and exercises spending restraint. That is an important part of this. We need to keep our budget on track to cut the deficit in half over the next five years.
And the President has also called on Congress to get him an energy bill by the August recess. Today the Senate committee -- Senate Energy Committee moved forward on comprehensive legislation. We applaud the chairman of the committee, Senator Domenici, and the ranking member, Senator Bingaman, for their work to move forward on a bipartisan and comprehensive energy bill.
The President hopes that the full Senate will move forward quickly on this legislation. As he said, it's time for Congress to act and get him an energy bill by the August recess. The President put forward an energy plan four years ago, and four years is long enough to wait. The American people want Congress to act and help reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy.
And with that, I am glad to go to your questions. Terry.
Q In the President's conversations with President Abbas, what did he say to him about the need or what he needs to do to dismantle terror groups?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you essentially heard from the President earlier today. The road map spells our specific obligations for parties to take. And all parties need to meet their obligations. The President specifically talked about that in his opening remarks, and he also talked about President Abbas and his commitment to democracy and peace. He has spoken out strongly against terrorism and spoken out in favor of ending violence aimed at Israelis. And it's important for the Palestinian leadership, under President Abbas, to continue moving forward and meeting their obligations under the road map.
Q So is the President satisfied that President Abbas is moving aggressively enough, or does he think that he is not?
MR. McCLELLAN: He appreciates his commitment and his leadership, and we urge all parties to continue moving forward. There is more to be done. There is more to be done to meet their obligations under the road map. We need to keep our focus on the Gaza disengagement plan right now. That needs to be successful so that we can lay -- that will help lay the groundwork to get back on the road map.
But President Abbas has taken steps. He's begun reforming the security apparatus. That's one of the reasons we sent General Ward to the region, was to work with the Palestinian leadership and reform the security structure and consolidate it so that it is better able to meet the security needs of the Palestinian people. And the President spoke earlier today about armed groups operating outside of the government structure. You can't have that in a democracy. And the President talked about that in response to your question earlier today.
Q So it's fair to say that the President thinks he's taken some good steps, but he needs to do more?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's begun some steps, and there's more to be done to follow through on the steps that he has taken. The road map specifically says that terrorist organizations need to be dismantled. The road map also calls on Israel to take steps. And both parties need to meet their obligations. The international community needs to meet their obligations. The Arab states need to meet their obligations, as well.
Q One final question. Is it the United States' understanding that under the road map, that Israel would withdraw to the '67 boundaries? Is that --
MR. McCLELLAN: The road map spells out what the obligations are. In terms of final status issues, the President talked about that in his remarks today, as well. And that's to be mutually worked between the parties, in terms of final status issues.
But right now we need to keep the focus on Prime Minister Sharon's Gaza disengagement plan, and it's disengagement from parts of the West Bank. It's critical that we get that right, and I think you heard from President Abbas earlier today saying that we are ready to coordinate with Israel on that disengagement. It's critical that we support the Palestinian people as they move forward to put the institutions in place for a democracy to emerge in those Palestinian territories. And that's why the President expressed our confidence in the leadership by signaling that we're going to provide $50 million in funds to go to specific projects that will help improve the livelihood of people in those territories.
Q Scott, would the President like to see Abbas take on Hamas directly and shut it down? Or does he understand the political sensitivities that Abbas faces in doing that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I mean, the road map has specific obligations for all parties. You heard from the President today. They had a very good discussion about these issues. They talked about these issues. They talked about the importance of continuing --
Q But --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- no, John, let me finish -- they talked about the importance of continuing to move forward on the steps under the road map and meeting their obligations. One of those obligations is dismantling terrorist organizations.
Q So he wants to see him take on Hamas, then, and shut it down.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, he has taken some steps to address these issues. He has made a strong commitment to ending violence against Israelis or ending attacks against Israelis. He has spoken out against terrorism, and he is someone who is committed to democracy and peace. And to get to democracy and peace, you have to take those steps, as well.
Q Scott, on the security fence, does the President believe that it's being used for security reasons or for political reasons?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President said that it must be for security purposes, not for political --
Q What does he think --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- not as a political barrier, and that's what the President spelled out. And we've expressed those views to the Israeli government, as well, and we have discussions with them about that, as well, and I think you've seen them taking some steps to take into account the need for the Palestinian people to be able to move about more freely, as well. They've taken some steps to --
Q You're not answering the question. What does the President believe it's being used for?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, they've taken some steps to address that, and --
Q It was a very artful construction, to say if you're trying to impose a boundary, then that's wrong, that would be a political --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I appreciate that, but we're consulting directly with the parties and working with them --
Q I said what does the President believe it's being used for?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we're making our views known directly with the parties. The President has said it publicly; he's said it in private, as well, and we'll continue to talk with the Israeli government about those issues as we move forward. And that's why --
Q You won't answer whether he thinks it's being used for political purposes, or --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it where the President left it.
Q Which is nowhere. He just said -- Scott, I mean, he said it should be used for security reasons, not for political reasons, so I'm wondering what does he think it's being used for?
MR. McCLELLAN: David, we've got a real opportunity before us to move forward to the two-state vision --
Q He doesn't have an opinion on the fence?
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and as he made it clear, it needs to take into account the impact it has on Palestinians that are not engaged in terrorist activities. That's what he said in his remarks. And as we make progress, Israel needs to continue to take that into account.
Q I want to follow up in a different area. You talk about the importance of two things: one, returning to the road map; and also, focusing on Gaza. But doesn't President Abbas have a pretty good point here when he says you want to focus on removing settlers, a relatively small number of settlers -- 8,000 settlers from Gaza -- and yet, the Israelis are building up these close-in settlements to Jerusalem, like Ma'aleh Adumim, at a pretty good clip, which would totally prejudice final status negotiations.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President said that shouldn't happen.
Q So isn't it disingenuous --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not at all.
Q So this administration is going to stay focused on Gaza and not worry about the other?
MR. McCLELLAN: Not at all, David. In fact, the President has spoken directly with Prime Minister Sharon about these issues, too. And you heard him talk about it with him when he stood next to him in Crawford, as well.
Q Sharon just keeps on doing what the President says not to.
MR. McCLELLAN: He talked about it with him in Crawford, as well. And what the Gaza disengagement plan is, it's a very bold step. It's an opportunity to jump start the road map again. But we've got to get it right in Gaza in order to get back to the road map. This is happening now. This is a very great opportunity before the parties to move forward on the President's two-state vision.
Now, in terms of the road map, we've made our views very clear that parties have obligations they need to meet under that road map, and we expect parties to meet those obligations. But we must make sure that it's successful -
Q The Israelis aren't, in terms of settlements.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- we must make sure it's successful when it comes to the Gaza disengagement, as well. And we're going to continue speaking with the parties and consulting with them and working with them and supporting the Palestinian Authority as they move forward. We are making progress. This is a difficult task, as the President talked about. There are difficult things that have to be done, and the President talked about that with President Abbas, he's talked about it with Prime Minister Sharon. But we will be there to support the parties as they move forward to make those hard decisions and take those difficult steps. If this -- there's a long history here, and we think the best way to approach this is to continue working with the parties, continue pushing them to follow through on their commitments. And that's exactly what we're doing.
Q Where does the $50 million come from and how does it work?
MR. McCLELLAN: The $50 million comes from 2005 funding that had previously been passed by Congress. In terms of how it works, this will be money set aside in a separate, special account. And it will go to specific projects -- projects that are agreed to between the United States and the Palestinian Authority. We'll consult closely with the Palestinian Authority about how these dollars are used. There is an elaborate process in place to track the money throughout that process, so the money will be tracked to make sure it's going to those specific projects it's intended for.
This money will be going to projects like housing and schools. And one thing that the Palestinians talked about over lunch with the President was they need more schools. It'll go to projects like road building. It'll go to projects like health clinics, putting in place some of those basic services that the people need in those territories, and the Gaza area. This is directed toward Gaza. And it's a sign that we have confidence in the leadership as they move forward.
Q And in what sense did the talks today bring us closer to resuming the road map talks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's why you heard the President emphasize the importance of making sure that we're successful in Gaza and successful as Prime Minister Sharon moves forward on the disengagement plan. That will, as the President said, lay the ground work to get moving again on the road map.
Q You said there's a long history, but there has been a history here of Sharon defying President Bush by expanding these settlements. Is the President frustrated that he continues to build these settlements, despite the U.S.' clearly stating policy on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I appreciate you all trying to continue to engage us in this, but the President's views could not be clearer, and those are views he expressed both publicly and privately, and those are views we continue to make known to the parties. All parties have obligations, and we expect them to meet their obligations. There are obligations that the Palestinians need to meet; there are obligations that the Israelis need to meet. And both parties need to do more to meet those obligations.
Q When Abbas says that time is the enemy, does this not concern the President that there is no momentum on this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, there is momentum. The momentum is the Gaza disengagement plan and the opportunity that that presents for us. There is momentum because we have a democratically-elected leader in President Abbas who is committed to democracy and peace, so I reject that characterization outright.
Go ahead, Sara.
Q Thank you. Scott, The Post today say that Syria is being cooperative by turning back would-be fighters who wanted to go to Iraq. Are U.S. relations with Syria improving?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are many concerns that we continue to have about Syria, and our expectations have been made known when it comes to -- when it comes to Syria and the actions that they should be taking, or that they're expected to take. They have been out of step with the direction the rest of the Middle East is headed. And we've expressed our concerns about their continued support for terrorists, terrorists who operate in places like Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East, like the Israeli-Palestinian areas.
And we have concerns about Syria's allowing terrorists operating inside their territory that are carrying out attacks inside Iraq. We've had concerns about what they have been doing along the border, or their lack of taking action along the border. And it's important that they address those issues. That's the way that they will realize better relations with the rest of the international community.
Go ahead, Carl.
Q Scott, related to the 1967 borders, as well as the expansion of settlements, when Prime Minister Sharon was in Crawford, did not the President signal to Sharon and the world that there had to be a recognition that the situation has -- has, in many ways, changed and that there would not be a return to the '67 borders, and that at some level, a settlement expansion had to be understood as part of the evolution of time?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President back -- that was back here at the White House over a year ago, and the President made our views known, that you have to take into account some of the realities of the situation on the ground. But final status issues are to be negotiated and mutually agreed to between the parties, but we've got to keep our focus on where we are now. This is a process that is going to be done in a step-by-step way, and we have a real opportunity before us with the Gaza disengagement plan to move forward on the President's two-state vision. We shouldn't lose sight of where we are right now and what we need to accomplish now. And there will be -- there will be an opportunity to discuss those final status issues when we get there.
Q Besides schools, can you give us specific run-down on what was covered in the working lunch?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let's see they talked about -- they spent a good bit of time talking about the Gaza disengagement and the preparations for that. The President wanted to, I think, hear President Abbas's views on what they are doing and what help they need. And that's -- they got into a discussion there about schools and things of that nature.
They spent a good bit of time talking about the security forces. General Ward provided an update from his standpoint in terms of how the security reforms are moving forward and what remains to be done. And we heard from President Abbas on those issues, as well. They talked about elections, as well as really those areas. I think they spent a good -- most of the time on the Gaza disengagement and security forces, and some time on elections, and there are a few other issues that they discussed within that, as well.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, just a clarification before a question. Yesterday the President in the East Room with the Indonesian President, he said that we are both among the world's largest two democracies. I hope he will not that -- with the Prime Minister of India, he will be in July here.
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q When the President said that we are here with the -- among the world's largest two democracies --
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, yes.
Q I hope that he was not talking that he -- with the Prime Minister of India.
MR. McCLELLAN: You hope that he would not what with the Prime Minister of India?
Q Indonesia is not the world's largest democracy.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, that -- you're correct.
Q Okay, that's the --
MR. McCLELLAN: He looks forward to visiting with Prime Minister Singh in the future. They have a good relationship, and he looks forward to seeing him and talking about how we continue to strengthen our relationship.
Q The question is on this --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, that was a statement, okay. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, I'm sorry. My question -- the question is --
MR. McCLELLAN: Careful now, some others make statements, too, before their question. (Laughter.)
Q Just clarification.
Q Who would that be?
Q It was not a question -- just a clarification.
The question is -- the question is that ex-Taliban foreign minister in Afghanistan, Mr. Wakil Ahmed -- Mullah Wakil, he said that his government made a mistake by hosting Omar Mullah and also Osama bin Laden. And now he's running for the parliament as the leader of the Taliban. And also in -- according to a Pakistan newspaper, Omar Mullah, he criticized Afghanistan and the U.S. strategy -- or the joint statement yesterday.
My question is that now we're talking about Omar Mullah is still alive in Pakistan or somewhere because he's making statement from Pakistan. And ex-foreign minister is running on the Taliban ticket in Afghanistan.
MR. McCLELLAN: You're speculating things there.
Q And the ex-foreign minister is running on a Taliban ticket, so where do we stand as far as terrorism is concerned in the future in Afghanistan and the democracy?
MR. McCLELLAN: There has been a tremendous progress in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists. Afghanistan now has a democratically elected President in place, and as you heard from the two leaders the other day, we stand firmly behind the people of Afghanistan as they move forward on building a lasting democracy and sustaining that democracy. And they had a very good discussion, and they also issued the joint statement about our partnership, strategic partnership, and that kind of spelled out our commitments that we have to each other.
John, go ahead.
Q Rumors have been circulating on Capitol Hill that some of the President's judicial nominees would be thrown over or sacrificed in order that the compromise reached earlier in the week be achieved. And in particular, the Michigan judge's speculation is centered on Judge Saad, among others. Would you state categorically and without hesitation that the President will continue to send his nominations to the Senate and not withdraw any of those that are there?
MR. McCLELLAN: We want all nominees to receive an up or down vote, and that includes the ones you mentioned, as well.
Q Judge Saad.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has -- the President has made that clear. Absolutely, we believe all should receive an up or down vote on the floor of the Senate.
Q So the President will not withdraw any of his own nominations?
MR. McCLELLAN: John, I think our views have been made very clear when it comes to judicial nominees. The President has appointed highly qualified individuals. He believes all ought to receive an up or down vote. We're pleased that the Senate is moving forward on nominees that have waited years for a simple up or down vote, and we continue to hold that principle, that all nominees ought to receive an up or down vote.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Les.
Q Two-part. Newsweek has featured magazine covers of international editions with headlines like, "America leads, but is anyone following?" a Japanese cover featuring a photo of a dirtied U.S. flag in a trash can. And my first question, does the President believe such action by an American media company fuels anti-Americanism overseas?
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you, Les, for the opportunity to comment on the media. I have tried to avoid being a media critic, with the exception of some rare circumstances where it has been particularly outrageous. And I think that we've made our views known previously on the subject that you bring up, and I have nothing to add to it.
Q There are news reports this morning that parents and children who were guests of the President, when they visited Congress, wore stickers with the wording, "I was an embryo." And my question is, since all of us were once embryos, and all of us were once part sperm and egg, is the President also opposed to contraception, which stops this union and kills both sperm and egg?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President has made his views known on these issues, and his views known --
Q You know, but what I asked, is he opposed -- he's not opposed to contraception, is he?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and you've made your views known, as well. The President --
Q No, no, but is he opposed to contraception, Scott? Could you just tell us yes or no?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think that this question is --
Q Well, is he? Does he oppose contraception?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think the President's views are very clear when it comes to building a culture of life --
Q If they were clear, I wouldn't have asked.
MR. McCLELLAN: -- and if you want to ask those questions, that's fine. I'm just not going to dignify them with a response.
Q Back to our regularly scheduled briefing -- (laughter) -- there was more good news on the economy today, but all the polls and consumer confidence surveys indicate that a majority of Americans both disapprove of the President's handling of the economy, and are pessimistic about the way things are going to go in the next 12 months. How do you explain --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sure it's nothing to do with any reporting on Bloomberg, so --
Q Just call the numbers like we see them, right? No, but how does the President feel about that dichotomy, and what can he do, what does he think he can do to try and convince Americans that, in fact --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are a lot of good economic signs out there, and I think if you talk to economic forecasters, they will tell you that they see strong, sustained growth ahead of us.
But we also -- we live in a changing economy, and we must make sure that people have the job training and the skills they need to fill the jobs in a changing economy. There are a lot of high-growth jobs out there. We want to make sure that workers are trained to fill those jobs. There is more to do to keep our economy growing -- I talked about that at the beginning of the briefing -- but if you look at the facts, the facts are very clear. We're in a sustained period of growth, we're in a sustained period of job creation, and that's because of the policies that the President enacted. And I appreciate you asking the question, because it gives me an opportunity to talk to the American people about what those facts are, and those facts point to 3.5 million jobs created since May of -- since May of 2003. They point to an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent. Real disposable income is up some 12 percent. And we're seeing jobs created for, now, 23 straight months.
So the economy is moving in the right direction and seeing sustained growth, but there's more we have to do to keep that economy growing.
Q Scott, on the issue I asked you earlier in the day about --
MR. McCLELLAN: Not sure if I had a chance to follow up on it with all the meetings today, but go ahead.
Q Oh, well, in that case --
MR. McCLELLAN: Do you want to defer?
Q I guess we will defer.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay. Anybody -- Greg.
Q Scott, will the war on terrorism be the focus of the President's comments tomorrow at the Naval Academy?
MR. McCLELLAN: War on terrorism and military transformation. The President looks forward to going to the Naval Academy tomorrow and giving the commencement address. The President went to the Naval Academy back in 2001 to give the commencement address, and many of those midshipmen who graduated that day are now serving in the global war on terrorism and serving with great valor and distinction. We appreciate the job that they're doing.
Back on that day in 2001 -- that was prior to the attacks of September 11th -- we weren't a country at war at that point. We are now a country at war. And the President will talk about the strategy we have in place to win the war on terror, and he'll talk about the steps we've taken since September 11th to better protect the American people. And he'll talk about the role that our Navy and Marine Corps officers are playing in the war on terrorism. They're playing a critical war -- I mean, they're playing a critical role in the global war on terrorism. We appreciate the great job that they're doing. So I think he'll talk about that in his remarks.
And he'll talk to the future Navy and Marine leaders tomorrow. After they graduate, they will start serving their country in a new capacity. They will also join their colleagues who have preceded them in the global war on terrorism. But the President, I think, will spend a good bit of his remarks focusing on military transformation. Back in 2001, when he went to the Naval Academy, he spoke about the need to transform our military to address the threats of the 21st century.
So this -- these remarks tomorrow are an opportunity for the President to update those at the Naval Academy about the progress that we're making to transform our military and the way forward to transforming our military so that we can confront those threats that we face.
Q Will he address the BRAC process, as well as part of that transformational message?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that is -- that does tie into transformation, as Secretary Rumsfeld spoke about in his remarks when he made the recommendations on that. Remember, this was something that was approved --
Q Will it be in tomorrow's remarks?
MR. McCLELLAN: You'll hear tomorrow. He'll talk about transformation, and he's still finishing up his remarks. But you'll hear tomorrow on -- he'll cover a good bit of ground on military transformation, and it's much broader than just that.
Q Will he talk about women in combat units?
MR. McCLELLAN: He's already spoken about that.
Q Thank you, Scott.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
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