James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon, everybody. I just want to talk about the President’s trip a little bit — yesterday — and update you on the latest from Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, and the ongoing response and recovery efforts.
One reason the President made the trip yesterday was to make sure things are getting done that need to get done. There were two devastating storms that hit the same region, that Gulf Coast region, and the President wants to make sure that there is good, close coordination at the federal level with state and local officials. We want to make sure that people’s needs are being met, that we are doing our part to help people get back on their feet and help people rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities.
The President had good discussions yesterday in both Texas and Louisiana. He was joined by Chief Paulison of FEMA; he was also joined by Admiral Hereth and General Clark in Texas; and then Admiral Allen and General Honore in Louisiana. And he had good discussions in both those meetings. Obviously, both the meetings were focused on the immediate needs for those two areas along the Texas and Louisiana border region. And those officials, of course, had some immediate concerns — this was right in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Rita and, obviously, there’s going to always be a level of frustration in the immediate aftermath. And that’s why the President wanted to go there and hear what was on their mind and hear their concerns. So we’re continuing to work with state and local officials to make sure that supplies like water, food, ice and MREs are getting to people in the region who have been affected.
We’re moving forward on the immediate cash assistance. People that were affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita are all getting that cash assistance. All they have to do is register — contact FEMA and register, and they can get that immediate cash assistance. Many of those were hit — or some of those were hit by both storms.
We’re focused on making sure that the power is getting back up and running, that generators are getting to hospitals and nursing homes and critical infrastructure. That’s a high priority, getting critical infrastructure back up first; making sure that fuel is getting to those hard-hit areas; and making sure that we’re starting to move forward on expedited debris removal, and things of that nature.
We continue to urge people in the region to follow the advice of state and local officials and the governors and the local officials about when to return. In Louisiana, there continue to be mandatory evacuation orders in place in all or part of ten southwest Louisiana parishes. You have some 284,000 customers without power due to Rita; an additional — well, when you combine it with Hurricane Katrina, there are some 501,000 — or nearly 502,000 people, or customers without power in Louisiana. And in Texas, you have some 545,000 people, or customers without power. And we continue to work closely with both those states on the power restoration. Texas is in the third day — or fourth day, I guess I should say, of the seven-day phased plan return of people to the region. And this is all an update as of this morning.
In terms of Katrina, the latest update there, you have nearly 1.5 million people who have registered to receive immediate cash assistance, and well over $2.2 billion that has been distributed. There are some 188,539 housing damage inspections that have been done in the region, as well.
The President participated in an additional update this morning with Secretary Chertoff and the Vice President and senior White House officials to talk about how we can make sure that we’re moving forward on some of the concerns that were expressed to him yesterday in some of the meetings, and that we’re moving as quickly as we can to get people the benefits and the help that they need.
Today the President had a good discussion with his commanders in the field in Iraq and the broader Middle East, General Abizaid and General Casey. They had a good discussion about the progress being made in the war on terrorism and the challenges ahead. You heard from the President in the Rose Garden. And General Casey and General Abizaid are briefing the Hill today and tomorrow to update them on our strategy for succeeding in Iraq.
One announcement: The President looks forward to welcoming President Kwasniewski of Poland to the White House for a farewell meeting and lunch on October 12th. Poland remains one of America’s closest friends and allies. And we’ll be putting out a statement on that a little bit later today.
And with that I will be glad to go to questions.
Q: Scott, the President earlier this year, in April, called Tom DeLay a very effective leader. In May he called him a fine Majority Leader. Does he still hold those opinions —
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes.
Q: — even though he’s been indicted?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, Congressman DeLay is a good ally, a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people.
Q: Has the President spoken with Speaker Hastert or other Republican leaders on the Hill today to talk about this interim time with DeLay stepping aside?
MR. McCLELLAN: When I left him just a short time ago, he was having lunch with his National Security Advisor and Secretary of State and the Vice President and Chief of Staff Andy Card. I don’t believe he’s had any conversations with those individuals. I think White House staff certainly has been in contact with members of Congress, as we are on a regular basis.
Q: What’s the President’s reaction? You said you were with him —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me keep — I’ll come to you, Dana. Go ahead. Jennifer.
Q: No, we’ll share.
MR. McCLELLAN: Anybody else on the front row? Okay, go ahead.
Q: Can you give us — can you characterize the President’s reaction, and especially with — when you have so many legislative things you want to move forward?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. I think that the President’s view is that we need to let the legal process work. There is a process in place, and we’ll let that work.
Go ahead, Helen.
Q: The papers have been satiated in the last few days, again with another round of our abuse of prisoners and detainees and torture. Has the President ever issued a directive to all military prisons under our control that they should not torture and they should abide by the Geneva Accord?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. Yes. In fact, we did that quite some time ago.
Q: There is an actual directive?
MR. McCLELLAN: If people are involved in wrongdoing, they’re going to be held to account. And that’s exactly what — that’s exactly what this administration has done.
Q: I asked you if the President has issued any executive order against torture.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President made it very clear that we do not torture and we do not condone torture. And if people —
Q: But we do.
MR. McCLELLAN: — and if people break the law, they are brought to account. And that’s exactly what we’ve done in the instances that you’re referring to.
Q: Why don’t they know it, then? I mean, why has there been this continued abuse?
MR. McCLELLAN: They do know it. And the Secretary of Defense and military leaders have taken steps to prevent such horrible atrocities from happening again.
Q: But not if it goes beyond sergeant. Why is that?
MR. McCLELLAN: You might want to talk to the Department of Defense, because they can brief you —
Q: No, I think this is something at the presidential level.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, but I think it’s important —
Q: It has to do something with our reputation.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it’s important for the American people to know the facts. And if you look at the facts, people have been brought to justice that are involved in wrongdoing. And any allegation of wrongdoing is taken very seriously by this administration. We have an outstanding military; 99.9 percent of the men and women in uniform do an outstanding job and represent the American people in the best possible way. They uphold our standards and our values.
Q: Do you have any papers showing the President has issued a directive against torture?
MR. McCLELLAN: We’ve actually put out paper previously about the directives that he’s made —
Q: An actual order?
MR. McCLELLAN: — and he has publicly stated it very clearly to everyone in his administration and to the American people.
Q: Then why is it still going on?
Q: Does the President take the allegation of wrongdoing seriously, that Tom DeLay used the Republican National Committee as a money laundering operation to fund local elections in Texas? That’s what the grand jury is indicting him for.
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s what the legal process will proceed to address. And —
Q: How seriously does the President take that allegation?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, Leader Delay’s office has put out a statement —
Q: I’m not asking Leader DeLay’s office.
MR. McCLELLAN: — disputing the assertions. We need to let the legal process proceed. And that’s what the President believes.
Q: You just made a very strong statement about some acts of wrongdoing, alleged. Here we have alleged acts of wrongdoing. How seriously does the President take them?
MR. McCLELLAN: This is a different circumstance. And we’re going to let the legal process — we’re going to let the legal process work.
Q: Do you think this is politically motivated?
MR. McCLELLAN: We’re going to let the legal process work. I’ve stated our views when it comes to Congressman DeLay; the President has stated them previously, and we continue to hold those views.
Q: Is the President concerned that there’s a stench of corruption around the Republican establishment in Washington?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, I don’t think you can make such a broad characterization. There are some instances of individual situations, and we’ll let those — the legal process proceed in those instances.
Q: But he’s not — he doesn’t take it as seriously as he takes other allegations of wrongdoing?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn’t say that; you said that.
Q: He did take it seriously?
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s a legal process in place to address these matters.
Q: Does he still have confidence in Leader DeLay? And what does he think the impact of this will be on his agenda?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just expressed his views. Again, the President considers him a good ally and a friend who we have worked with very closely to get things done for the American people.
Q: Does he still have confidence in him?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q: Does he still have confidence in him?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Leader DeLay is going to work to address this issue. He has put out a statement by his office. I think our views are very clear, in terms of our relationship with the Congressman. And the President continues to hold those views.
Q: I want to follow up on what Terry just asked you. Even before DeLay was indicted, there were a lot of Democrats who were making an argument that the Republican Party, by virtue of having controlled Congress for more than a decade now, the White House for almost five years now, had grown arrogant in its use of power, and was flouting rules and sometimes laws. What’s the President’s view?
MR. McCLELLAN: Welcome to Washington, D.C., Dick. That’s the kind of politics that go on in this town. The Republican Party, particularly under this President, has worked to get things done for the American people. We have advanced an agenda that has helped to improve the quality of life for all Americans. And we stand very firmly behind that record and that agenda.
In terms of the question you just asked, we can sit here and try to rush to judgment, but I don’t think that’s a fair thing to do. We need to let the legal process work.
When it comes to the instances that Helen brought up, there is a legal process in place. And you know what? That process proceeded, and some people have been found guilty; some have not been found guilty.
Q: But you said that you take those allegations very seriously. I asked if you take these allegations very seriously.
MR. McCLELLAN: Any such allegations are always taken seriously.
Q: Scott, before, the President — and before, you — have made these strong statements in support of Tom DeLay. Did the President ever talk to him about these allegations, about whether or not it’s true or false?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t have any discussions to update you on from the two of them. They have talked in the past on many occasions about how we advance an agenda for the American people.
Q: Can I follow up —
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q: — Michael Brown. He said yesterday, one of the many things he said was that he had warned the President, warned the White House about the need for — about the fact that this was going to a “bad one,” and also suggested that the things that he asked for from the White House, some of them were not answered in the time line that was requested.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he indicated that the needs he was requesting were being addressed, were being met.
Q: Well, he also indicated another point that it wasn’t.
MR. McCLELLAN: I thought he said he couldn’t — he couldn’t say the timeliness of it, he couldn’t address that.
Q: Will you —
MR. McCLELLAN: Am I correct? I saw some of the testimony.
Q: My quote here is that some of the things were not answered in the time line that —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we can go back and look at the transcript. I’ll be glad to do that.
Q: Let me ask a broader question about this. Some of the things that he said also were about the local leaders, about the Louisiana leaders, that they essentially were dysfunctional.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me — first, before you get to that question, let me address something on your first question.
We were very focused and engaged when it came to preparing for Hurricane Katrina. We were talking to the American people and providing them updates, starting on that Thursday before the storm hit, about the discussions and meetings that the President was involved in. We were keeping people updated about the discussions that Mr. Brown and others were having with state and local officials. If you’ll recall, the head of the storm center, or the hurricane center, Max Mayfield, was in touch with governors on that Saturday, urging that steps be taken.
The President issued an emergency declaration on Saturday for Louisiana. He issued an emergency declaration for Mississippi and, I believe, Alabama on Sunday morning. The President urged the governors in those states to evacuate people out of the path that morning. And the President participated in a videoconference with state and local officials in the Gulf Coast states to make sure that the preparations were being taken to be able to respond quickly once the storm has passed and you could get the search and rescue teams in there and you could get the supplies in there.
Now, there are things that went right and there are things that went wrong. And we’ve got to fix what went wrong. The President is very interested in making sure that we understand the facts and that we take steps to prevent what happened, what went wrong from happening again. And that’s what we’re doing. And the second question I think you were coming to, some of the comments — go ahead.
Q: Yes, I think you sort of alluded to it — it sounds almost like, as if you are concurring with what Mike Brown said, is that a mistake was not recognizing that the Louisiana officials, local officials were dysfunctional.
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me make a couple of points. Washington tends to get caught up in bickering and finger-pointing. The President is focused on problem solving. We’re focused on how we can work together with state and local officials to meet the needs of the people in the region who have been affected, the people who have lost their homes, who have seen their communities destroyed. We want to help them get back up on their feet and rebuild their lives and rebuild their communities.
We also want to know what the facts are surrounding the response, the preparedness and response to Hurricane Katrina. Congress has a — has committees moving forward on hearings to gather those facts and determine what worked, what didn’t work, and look at lessons learned.
The White House, under the President, has moved forward on a comprehensive lessons-learned review of Hurricane Katrina. All Cabinet Secretaries are participating in that. It’s of the highest priority. But we’ve also got to keep our focus where it’s most needed, and that is on the people in the region who are trying to rebuild their lives, get back up on their feet, and rebuild their communities.
All levels of government have responsibilities when it comes to protecting the American people. The federal government has a responsibility to support and assist the state and local first responders, and that’s what we have done in these instances, and that’s what we’ll continue to do going forward. But we’ve also got to — we’ve also got to fix what went wrong.
Q: But Mike Brown was under oath, testifying before Congress, doing exactly what you say should be done. So they were engaging in fact-finding. So why can’t you talk about or respond to something that he said in an investigation that you’re saying is appropriate?
MR. McCLELLAN: Because we need to step back and look at the facts, Dana. We need to — remember — remember —
Q: That’s what I’m doing, I’m asking if you can —
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and so I’ll be glad to talk about the facts. I just pointed out a number of the facts that we were keeping the American people informed about — ahead of the storm, during the storm, and after the storm. We also kept the American people informed about the President’s actions and what he was personally doing to make sure the federal government was responding.
Now we’re at a time period — we’re a month after Hurricane Katrina hit now. The fog of war is clearing, and it gives us an opportunity to get a better sense of the facts. The media is able to step back and look at the facts. There are things that certainly went wrong, and they need to be fixed. The media has also been taking a look at some of what we thought happened and thought was true at the time, and now we’re finding out it was not true. And that’s important.
So it’s important to be able to step back and look at the facts. But we’ve got a lot of immediate priorities right now that we’re working to address, and we’ve got to stay focused on making sure we’re working together with the governors in those states and working together with the local officials in those states. That’s why the President has been visiting the region time and time again over the last few weeks, to make sure that things are happening, to make sure that people are getting the assistance they need. And you know what? We’re able to — we have been able to speed up some of the benefits getting to those people — important benefits that they need. That’s what the American people want us to do, Dana. They want us to stay focused on helping the people who have been so dramatically affected by these terrible storms.
Q: Do you think some of them might want answers, too?
MR. McCLELLAN: They’re getting them, Bill. That’s the purpose of what Congress is doing, and that’s the purpose of what the administration is doing in our reviews.
Q: But you’re unwilling to talk about it. I mean, all you say is, don’t finger-point, the American people want answers.
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s not what I said.
Q: The American people want answers to what happened and what went wrong —
MR. McCLELLAN: You’re absolutely wrong. The American people recognize that sometimes here in Washington, people get all focused on the bickering and the finger-pointing, they get into this charged atmosphere. The President is —
Q: Maybe they could be focused on more than one thing at the same time.
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is trying to elevate the discourse, and we are. We’re doing that, as well, Bill. And that’s what we’re getting: the facts.
As I just pointed out, there are some people that thought things were happening initially in the immediate aftermath of the storm that now turn out to be not true. And we need to let the facts be gathered and let the facts come out, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Q: The facts would include what went wrong, wouldn’t they?
MR. McCLELLAN: And if you want to keep engaging in this kind of talk, that’s your business. But we’re going to focus on what the people need, and we’re going to focus on moving forward because that’s what the American people want us to do.
Q: Secretary Rumsfeld and General Myers went up to Capitol Hill last week, briefed lawmakers on Iraq. And Democratic leaders came out and complained that there was a clear lack of strategy. Did that play a role in the President’s decision to send Generals Abizaid and Casey up there today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know that that specifically did. I think that this is part of our continuing to keep the Congress informed about the strategy we have for succeeding in Iraq. The President talked at length about the strategy that we have. And you’d have to look back at the Department of Defense and ask when these discussions with Congress were scheduled. I don’t know that off the top of my head. But they came back from the theater in order to brief members of Congress about the strategy and talk about the way forward and talk about the enemy that we’re up against.
You’re going to continue to hear from General Abizaid and General Casey about the way forward to victory in Iraq, and you’re going to continue to hear from other members of the administration about the progress we’re making in the war on terrorism. This is one of the President’s highest priorities, and it is a long war that we are engaged in. Iraq is a central part of that.
And we’re going to continue to talk about the nature of the enemy that we face. This is a determined enemy. They are terrorists. They have a clear strategy for seeking to dominate the broader Middle East. The way to defeat them is to engage them where they are and bring them to justice before they can carry out attacks. That’s exactly what our men and women in uniform are doing. We are greatly appreciative for their efforts. They’re making important progress, but the terrorists will continue to try to ratchet up the violence and do everything they can to stop freedom from taking hold, because the best weapon we have in our arsenal is democracy and freedom. And we’re going to continue to support efforts to advance it because it’s about laying the foundation of peace for our children and grandchildren.
Q: Two more questions on that. The President twice today said that we are changing our strategy to adapt to the insurgents changing theirs. Usually you don’t think about changing a strategy that’s working. Is ours not?
MR. McCLELLAN: In a war you always have to adapt to circumstances on the ground. It’s something that we have continually done both in Afghanistan and Iraq and wherever else we’re engaging the enemy. This is, as I said, a determined enemy, an enemy that has no regard for innocent human life. And we have to be able to adapt as they adapt. And we will continue to pursue them and bring them to justice. We will continue to defeat the ideology of hatred that they’re seeking to spread throughout the Middle East.
Let’s be very clear that this enemy is sophisticated, they have a strategy in place. And so do we. And we are going to defeat them. But we must continue to recognize the stakes involved, we must continue to have the will to see it through. And that’s why it’s important that you continue to hear from the President and continue to hear from these commanders who are doing an outstanding job.
Q: The President talked about the importance of Congress and the American people supporting the troops and getting a good understanding of the progress being made in Iraq. Does he feel that the American people are getting an inaccurate picture of what’s going on in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: We want to make sure that they’re having a full picture of what is going on, on the ground in Iraq, and that we have an obligation to keep the American people updated in the war on terrorism. And that’s what we’re doing.
Q: Can I follow some of that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Ed. I’ll try to come back to you. Go ahead.
Q: Scott, it seems like the President is concerned about the erosion of support on Capitol Hill for the Iraq war, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people understand the importance of completing the mission and succeeding in Iraq. Iraq is central to winning the war on terrorism. That’s why you heard the President talk about it today. It’s something that we’re going to continue to keep the American people updated about.
Q: Is the President concerned about the erosion of support on Capitol Hill?
MR. McCLELLAN: The American people — the President believes it’s important to keep Congress informed and to keep the American people informed. I think Congress understands the importance of succeeding in Iraq. They have shown a strong commitment to what we are working to achieve there, and the President is greatly appreciative of that.
It’s also important to keep members of Congress informed about what our strategy is and how we are adapting to defeat the enemy. The enemy recognizes how high the stakes are, Ed. They recognize that when freedom takes hold in Iraq, it will be a major blow to their ambitions to dominate the broader Middle East. Iraq will serve as an example for other countries in the Middle East and help advance peace and prosperity in that region, which means that it will help advance lasting peace for generations to come.
We saw in World War II, in the aftermath of that, with freedom and democracy established in Europe and Japan, how it helped bring about a more peaceful world. And that’s what we’re working to achieve where we are now.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q: Scott, as far as nukes are concerned, Iran is still standing forward, that they will continue with their nuclear program. Also they are following the schedule from A.Q. Khan, which wanted to spread the nuclear weapons in every Muslim country and Arab country. Now, yesterday General Musharraf supported Iran, as far as having a nuclear program (inaudible). He said Iran has right to have nuclear programs, just like in every country. So are we pressing General Musharraf to come out what —
MR. McCLELLAN: When it comes to Iran, it’s a matter of trust and confidence within the international community. Iran for some two decades has deceived the international community and concealed their activities, their nuclear activities from the international community. That’s why the international community has put Iran on notice that they most come clean. If they don’t come clean, then additional steps will be taken. The international community is deeply concerned about Iran’s behavior and about their continued defiance of their international obligations.
People have a right to civilian nuclear power, but they have to meet their international obligations and show that they will abide by those obligations. Iran has not. We support the Europeans in their efforts. The Europeans are continuing to pursue a diplomatic resolution to this matter, and they are growing more and more concerned about Iran’s statements and Iran’s behavior.
Q: I want to be clear. When the President talked today about a changing strategy for Iraq, he seemed to talk a lot about the use of more Iraqi security forces —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he talked about adapting to the enemy as the enemy changes. The enemy changes their methods; we have to adapt to those circumstances.
Q: So what’s being adapted —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he actually — he actually laid it out —
Q: Hasn’t the plan all along been to lean more on Iraqi security forces as they got — they go up, we go down —
MR. McCLELLAN: Remember what he talked about today. Maybe you should go back and look at some of his remarks, because I think he spelled this out, not only this week but he talked about it at length last week. You’ll continue to hear from him in the coming days and weeks, as well, on this important priority for the American people.
But he talked about how we are now in a position where we’re able to go in — remember, a lot of the Iraqi regime forces fled the battlefield early on and decided to fight another day. You also have a lot of terrorists that recognize that a free Iraq will be a major blow to their ambitions. And so the terrorists have chosen to make this a central front in the war on terrorism. And we’re fighting them there so that we don’t have to fight them here at home.
But now we’re in a position where Iraqi forces are assuming more and more responsibility. They’re taking over more and more of the security situation. We’re able to go into areas like Tal Afar and work with Iraqi forces — Iraqi forces actually led that effort to secure the city, to defeat the terrorists, to defeat the insurgents. And then our forces can move out and Iraqi forces have been able to move in to secure cities like that, or to secure areas like that so that we don’t — we are not in a position of leaving that area and then the terrorists can come back into it.
And that’s an important part of the strategy that the President was talking about today, that General Casey has been talking about. This is a strategy that was developed by our military commanders, because they’re the ones who are on the ground, the ones on the ground who are in the best position to understand how to defeat the enemy. And it’s a strategy that will succeed.
Q: Scott, the President earlier this week has called for a beginning of a discussion about giving the federal government and the military extra power to come into (inaudible) states. Has he starting a discussion with the governors and people most affected by this?
MR. McCLELLAN: He has had some discussions. I don’t need to — I don’t think I want to get into names; some of those discussions are private. He’s had some discussions with — certainly with White House staff and military commanders and his Secretary of Defense. And there have been some discussions we’ve had with some members of Congress.
The President wanted to start a national discussion. This is a discussion that is just starting. And we want to hear views of members of Congress. We think it’s an important matter for Congress to consider. It’s an important lesson learned that the President has talked about.
When you have a severe catastrophic event, like a Hurricane Katrina, do you need to have the authority, a trigger, to allow for the military to assume full responsibility for the immediate response in order to stabilize the situation, and then step back and let others assume control?
Q: Not the governors?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q: The governors? Has he talked to the governors?
MR. McCLELLAN: He has had some discussions.
Q: Scott, a two-part. President Bush has suggested his pick to replace —
MR. McCLELLAN: I might point out, too, in some of these meetings that have taken place, since he talked about it with state and local officials, sometimes this is an issue that comes up because they’re on the ground, they know what it was like, and they’re applying lessons learned already — some of those state and local officials. They’re expressing some things that maybe can be approved in the future. You always want to do assessments of the response efforts in any situation like this, and it’s something that we’ve always worked to do.
Q: Scott, a two-part. President Bush has suggested his pick to replace Sandra Day O’Connor will likely bring diversity to the Court. Does he mean diversity in color, gender or philosophy? Or is he more concerned with the look of the new justice, rather than the substance?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President will appoint, or nominate the person he feels is the best one for that vacancy. That’s what he did with the first vacancy. We appreciate the Senate moving forward in a timely manner to confirm Judge Roberts. The Senate Judiciary Committee moved forward quickly on his confirmation process. It has been conducted in a civil and dignified way in large part. We appreciate the Senate for moving forward in that manner, as well.
The President is going through a very thorough and deliberate process when it comes to filling this second vacancy. As he did with the first one, he is considering a diverse group of potential nominees. We are also in the process of wrapping up our consultations with the Senate. We have consulted now with some 70 members of the United States Senate. I think almost the entire Judiciary Committee, except for one, which we have reached out to, we just haven’t been able to have that conversation with that individual yet.
It’s well more than two-thirds of the Democratic conference in the United States Senate that we’ve consulted with already on this vacancy. It’s important to get the views and thoughts of members of the Senate before the President makes a decision and announces his person to fill that vacancy. And he is looking at a diverse group of individuals.
Q: The Weekly Standard reports that Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan has always enforced that graduate school’s ban on cooperating with recruiters from any employers who exclude homosexuals, except for the Department of Defense, which, if so banned, would, under the Solomon Amendment, cost Harvard at least $400 million a year in research grants.
And my question, since the President graduated from Harvard’s Graduate Business School, he is surely appalled by Dean Kagan’s cash-influenced inconsistency, isn’t he?
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I’m sorry, you kind of lost me on part of that question. (laughter.) I’m not sure exactly where you were going with that.
Q: They banned — they banned any discrimination against homosexuals, except by the Department of Defense. And if that’s banned, if they ban the Department of Defense they’d lose $400 million.
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry, I don’t know that — I’m not sure the link you’re making there. I guess I’m missing something.
Go ahead, Roger.
Q: Scott, two questions. Back to the indictment, how much damage has it caused the President’s legislative agenda with DeLay’s indictment?
MR. McCLELLAN: We will continue to move forward with members of Congress to implement the President’s agenda and to move forward on the top priorities of the American people.
Q: Is there no effect?
MR. McCLELLAN: Look, you all will make — do that analysis. But I think that Congressman DeLay has put out a statement that he’s temporarily stepping aside from his position. And Congress — the House will move forward on who will temporarily fill that post while he is working to address this legal matter.
And we’ll work with all members of Congress who want to get things done for the American people. Congressman DeLay is someone who has wanted to get things done for the American people, and we’ve worked very closely with him. And we appreciate that.
Q: One other question. The Hubbard-Bernanke meeting this afternoon, after they get done with the President, they’re going to be outside. Should we —
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s not a meeting with the President. It’s a meeting of the President’s economic advisors. They have a weekly meeting where they talk about important economic matters. Now, they meet regularly with the President, too. But this is a meeting with those — with the economic team.
Q: I stand corrected. Should we expect them to come up with some sort of preliminary dollar number? And will it be some sort of budget cut package?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I think we’ve indicated to you all that that’s still going to take some time to assess. So there are savings that we have already proposed, and we’re having discussions with members of Congress about how to move forward on cutting unnecessary spending in the budget.
Go ahead, yes.
Q: I’m trying to understand something with the timeline with Michael Brown’s testimony yesterday. He was asked when he first contacted the White House, and he said Saturday or Sunday, and he referred to emails and conversations with Andy Card and the President. Then a few minutes later, he was asked when was the White House first aware of the disaster, and he said Thursday or Friday, because Andy Card and I communicated.
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s right.
Q: So is he saying that it wasn’t until the following Thursday that FEMA or the White House was aware that there was a disaster? Or is he saying that it was the previous Thursday or Friday that they were aware —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was talking about the Thursday before it hit the Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi region. And on that Thursday, we were updating the American people about the President’s briefings on Hurricane Katrina. We recognized early on that it was an extremely dangerous hurricane. That’s why we were taking actions to make sure that we were doing our part to help the state and local officials and communities prepare for what was coming.
The President went out Sunday after participating in a videoconference with all the states, all the state emergency operation centers; federal officials were embedded into those emergency operation centers working with those officials. And he went out and spoke to the nation and told the people in the path of that storm to take this very seriously and to follow the advice of the state and local officials. And he spoke that morning, early that Sunday morning, with the governors — in fact, Mr. Brown was someone who had urged the President to do so — and reiterated our message to the governors, you need to evacuate people out of the path of that storm.
Q: So is it accurate, then, or not, when he says that he first contacted the President on the Saturday or Sunday?
MR. McCLELLAN: He was in touch with the President over that weekend. We kept the press informed about that.
Q: The first time.
MR. McCLELLAN: And the American people. I’m sorry? Yes, before, that’s correct.
Q: I have one other quick question, which is, has any member of the administration appeared before the Valerie Plame grand jury in the last month or so?
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s a matter you need to direct to the special prosecutor overseeing that investigation.
Go ahead, Ron.
Q: Are there any plans for Card or anyone else in the White House to testify on the Katrina investigations? And second question: Will the White House comply with a request for all communications between the White House and DHS and the White House and the governors —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not sure of any specific requests that have been made at this point. We’ll certainly take a look at those requests and we’ll reply in an appropriate manner.
In terms of the congressional investigation, the President said he wants to make sure that there’s a thorough investigation by the Congress. We support the work that Congress is doing to look at what went wrong, what went right, and do a lessons learned — or apply the lessons learned, so we will work with the respective committees who are looking into this matter. And I’m not going to speculate about requests at this point.
Go ahead, Peter.
Q: Thank you. Following up on what you just said about lessons learned, and you’ve repeatedly said you want to fix what went wrong. To what extent did Mr. Brown advance that goal of fixing what went wrong or learning lessons when he said that FEMA had been emaciated by this administration over the past three years?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the hearings are just getting underway, so this is part of Congress moving forward on their responsibility to look at these issues and to help us learn the facts, and to help us apply the lessons learned, and so that yesterday was just — really the process getting underway. And so we look forward to seeing what others have to say, and we look forward to learning what all the facts are.
Q: Is that an accurate statement, though, that he made, Scott, about FEMA being emaciated?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me point out the record and the facts. And Secretary Chertoff actually spoke about the steps that we’ve been taking to bolster our preparedness and our response efforts.
Under this administration the core FEMA budget has increased from $693 million in ’01 to over $1 billion in ’05. That’s for the core FEMA programs, minus the disaster relief funds. Now from year to year, some of that budget is going to vary, depending on the different levels of disasters that occur. But just from fiscal year ’04 to fiscal year ’06, we have increased the overall budget by some 13 percent. So I think it’s important to look at the record and look at the steps that we’ve taken.
The core full-time work force at FEMA has grown by approximately 23 percent, from 1,907 full-time individuals to — that was in fiscal ’01 to 2,350, I believe, today.
Now, again, the overall budget will vary from year to year because of the disasters that occur, the different levels of disasters that occur. But it’s not enough just to look at this in the context of FEMA. You have to look at it in the overall preparedness efforts. First responder funding under this administration has dramatically increased from some $464 million in ’01 to $4 billion per year in fiscal year 2005. Close to $15 billion has been sent to state and local first responders under this President. And you also have to look at the massive investments that have been made in public health systems in the aftermath of September 11th, as well.
Secretary Chertoff talked at length yesterday about some of these issues. He talked about the new structure and strategy he was putting in place to revamp and bolster our preparedness work. I would encourage you to look at that speech. He talked about how they are focused on the full range of our capabilities to prevent, protect against and respond to acts of terror or other disasters. And he’s outlined a plan for improvement. And what he intends to do is really take the Department’s existing preparedness efforts and integrate them into a single directorate of preparedness.
Now, FEMA will continue to report directly to the Secretary with enhanced capabilities. It has a historic and vital mission to support response and recovery, and it must continue to be strengthened to enable it to work well in support of state and local officials.
Q: Finally, just one of those “for the record” questions. Since Brown is still on the payroll at FEMA, was he speaking for the administration yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was testifying on behalf of himself and his views of what took place. And in terms of his position with the Department of Homeland Security, as you are well aware, he resigned from his position as head of FEMA. The Department of Homeland Security has him on a 30-day contract that started back at the time of his resignation. That was a decision that they made, and they talked about how one of the reasons they did that was that they could make sure that there’s a smooth transition and that they are looking at all the lessons learned, as well.
The Department of Homeland Security is one of the Cabinet agencies, out of all of the rest, that is moving forward on the President’s comprehensive review.
Q: So you disavow what he said, then, as being anything representing the administration?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think he was speaking for himself and pointing out his views. There will be others that will do so, as well.
Q: Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes is criticizing the Saudi government for now allowing women to drive cars. Isn’t that a rather petty issue to be going after right now, since we need as much oil from Saudi Arabia —
MR. McCLELLAN: I actually — I actually don’t have a full update on her trip. I saw some of the coverage. Depending on which paper you read, you got a different view of exactly how that went yesterday. But that’s another matter.
She is someone the President tapped to help us improve our public diplomacy efforts, and she’s doing a great job. She’s on a, really what the State Department has described as a listening tour. But she is carrying out the President’s policies and agenda. We strongly support freedom for all people everywhere. The President believes freedom is a universal right. Now, she made it very clear in her remarks what the President has said, that people will move forward on their own timetable, and based on their own traditions and culture.
But we will continue to speak out about the importance of freedom for all people — men, women, people of all backgrounds — because it is something that we believe strongly in. It is one of the core values of this country and it is something that the President believes is a fundamental right of all people everywhere.
Q: Scott, when the President nominated John Roberts, he said he wanted Roberts to be confirmed by next week, for the fall term of the Court. When would he like to see his nominee up there?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, after we make that announcement, or after the President makes that announcement, then I think we can talk about that. But, more specifically, the President said he was going to move forward in a timely manner to nominate someone for the vacancy. He has been going through a very deliberate and thorough process. The President will nominate someone that all Americans can be proud of, someone who is highly qualified to serve on the highest Court in our land, and someone who will represent the country well.
The President —
Q: Does he want a confirmation —
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is moving forward in a timely manner, and he believes that once he makes that nomination, it’s important for the Senate to move forward in a civil and dignified way and in a timely manner. He said that when he filled the first vacancy; he continues to believe that. The President has a responsibility to nominate highly qualified individuals to the bench, and it’s the role of the Senate to move forward in a timely manner and in a civil and dignified way. And as I said earlier, to a large extent, the confirmation of Judge Roberts was conducted in a civil and dignified way. That’s what the American people expect. And we certainly hope that will be the case on this next vacancy, as well.
Go ahead, Paula.
Q: Does the President plan to extend the Davis-Bacon waiver, as well as the — affirmative action waiver?
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s no update in terms of waivers that I have at this point. We will continue to work to cut through red tape and bureaucracy to make sure people are getting the help they need. With Hurricane Katrina, you had some very unique and enormous challenges, and the President has been acting to do what he said he was going to do, which was cut through red tape and make sure that people’s needs were being met. And that’s why the waivers were issued in those instances. If there’s anything to update you relating to Hurricane Rita, we will do so at that time.
Ken, go ahead.
Q: Scott, how does the — regarding Karen Hughes — how does the President reconcile what he would like to see for — for example, women in some countries — with what their traditions and religious beliefs say? There are religions in our own country that put restrictions on women. Should those religions be looking to make changes?
MR. McCLELLAN: The very way he has described and the very way I just described it, people will move forward on — based on their own traditions and their own cultures. When freedom takes hold, it’s not going to necessarily look like it is — or democracy takes hold, it’s not going to necessarily reflect our culture, our values. It’s going to reflect the cultures and values and traditions of that particular country, or that particular area. And that’s what it — that’s what it should. It’s giving people the ability to have a say over their future and giving them the rights that everyone has, or should have.
Q: The topic Karen talked about was driving. If the Saudi’s religion and tradition tells them —
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t think you should just separate out everything. That’s equality for all people — men, women, and people of all ethnic backgrounds — is a fundamental value of the United States, and we’re going to continue to speak out about it, and that’s what she was talking about.
Q: Would you like to see progress in religions in America that place restrictions on women?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are steps — there are steps that countries are taking in the broader Middle East. There’s progress being made in countries. Even in — I mean, Saudi Arabia has taken some steps, as well, in terms of holding elections.
Q: Would he like to see —
MR. McCLELLAN: There’s more we’d like to see done in countries in the broader Middle East. But we appreciate the steps that are being taken.
Q: What about the —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q: Does he — would he like to see religions that place restrictions on women in his country make some changes?
MR. McCLELLAN: We believe people should be treated equally under the law in all places.
Q: When can we expect the President to resume his conversations with various groups of Americans about the importance of revamping Social Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s something that we have continued to work to move forward on. The President, last week, met with his bipartisan Commission for Strengthening Social Security. It remains a high priority, and here’s the reason why: because right now, it is headed on a course that cannot be sustained. And we’ve talked a lot in this room about spending issues. It’s the entitlements that need to be addressed as much as anything. And that’s why the President recognizes that his obligation to the American people is to lead and solve problems.
One of the big problems facing this country is the course that Social Security is headed on. My generation, younger generations don’t expect it to be around when they retire. Now, we want to make sure we save it for today’s retirees and strengthen it for tomorrow’s retirees. And each year that we wait, the more costly it becomes and the more limited our choices become for fixing it. That’s why the President believes we need to move forward sooner rather than later, and we’ll continue to talk with members of Congress and work with them on how we move forward on this important priority.
Q: Just very, very briefly, on Iraq, now the President in the long remarks that he made in the Rose Garden — or you here have mentioned one of the most salient facts about the violence in Iraq: It’s sectarian. It’s Sunnis killing Shia. Why didn’t the President talk about that? Many people think the country is on the verge of civil war. And what’s the President’s read on the sectarian nature of the violence in Iraq right now?
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s terrorists killing Iraqis. It’s terrorists attacking innocent civilians.
Q: So you just don’t recognize the sectarian nature of it?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. It’s the terrorists that want to take Iraq into civil war. That’s what their goal is. They want to bring chaos into this country. But the Iraqi people have shown them every step of the way that they are determined to build a free and democratic future. And that’s why they’ve continued to move forward on the political process. And the President has said as they move forward on building a lasting democracy, the terrorists will continue to seek to carry out their violence and become more desperate. And we can expect that there will be more violence as the Iraqi people move forward on securing their freedom and democracy.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT