James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:48 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: (Applause.) Big turnout today. Something going on?
Let me start with a preview of the President’s remarks tomorrow at Oklahoma State University. And then I will be glad to go to your questions. (Laughter.)
I hear a little chuckle out there. (Laughter.) This is it for you, pal. (Laughter.)
The President looks forward to giving the commencement address at Oklahoma State University tomorrow. The President will be speaking to the class of 2006 about the tremendous opportunities, choices, and challenges that they have as they take their place in a dynamic world and growing economy. He will talk about why education will continue to be important to them over the course of their careers. He will urge the graduates to really take advantage and seize the opportunities ahead of them with the tremendous advances in technology that we are seeing. He will talk about why they should be optimistic about America’s future, the advance of freedom, and the changes going on in this world present them with some new opportunities. He will also talk about the importance of giving back and serving a cause larger than themselves.
The President’s message is that these graduates will be taking their place in society at an exciting time in the world, and they should take what they have learned to help build a brighter future for all. And the President looks forward to traveling there tomorrow.
And with that, let’s get to some questions.
Q: Scott, 73 percent of Americans in a new poll say that the country is headed in the wrong direction, and six of ten conservatives say that the country is heading the wrong way. Why do you think that Americans have concluded that under this administration, things have taken such a bad turn?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’m not sure that I’d agree with the word, “concluded.” Let’s keep in mind that these are snapshots in time. This President has an optimistic agenda for the future, and we are leading the way to get things done for the American people. The economy is growing strong. We saw the latest numbers come out today — 138,000 new jobs created last month. We’ve seen more than 5.2 million jobs created over the course of the last two, two-and-a-half years since August of 2003. The unemployment rate remains at 4.7 percent. Consumer confidence is a good indicator to look at. It is at a four-year high. Productivity in the first quarter was up significantly. Wages are going up in that first quarter. Those are good signs for the economy.
So I think Americans are feeling good about the economy and they’re showing it through their confidence in the direction the economy is headed. Consumer confidence, again, is a good indication to look at. That’s what they’re doing. That’s how they’re acting. And I think that’s a more important indicator to look at.
The world is also in a time of great change. We are engaged in a global war on terrorism. This President has made his number-one priority the safety and security of the American people. And he is going to continue doing everything within his power, as long as he is in office, to save lives and prevent attacks from happening, and make the world a safer place. And we are making the world a safer place.
Now, I know that there’s some things that the American people are anxious about. When you’re engaged in a war, it makes people anxious about the future. But this country is on a solid track under this President because of his leadership. We have worked together to accomplish big things. We are on the advance in the war on terrorism. We are taking the fight to the enemy. We’re no longer on the defensive. We’ve got the enemy on the run. The enemy is under pressure. And America is safer because of it. But there is more that we have got to do.
And also on the home front. One thing the President is going to be doing next week — and I’ll be traveling with him on this final trip of mine with the President, to Florida — he’ll be talking about the new Medicare prescription drug benefit that is available to seniors. And seniors are showing in overwhelming numbers that they are satisfied with the new prescription drug coverage. It’s helping them realize significant savings.
So we’re more interested in looking at the results, not the polls. The results we’re achieving for the American people are good results, they’re helping the American people realize a better quality of life, and they’re putting us on the right track to a brighter future.
Q: Some people seemed to take out their frustrations yesterday on Secretary Rumsfeld. What did the President think about that exchange? And does it change his opinion at all about the Secretary?
MR. McCLELLAN: People have a right to express their views, but I think you ought to step back and review history a little bit, not try to rewrite history. Saddam Hussein’s regime was a threat. It was a threat to the region, it was a threat to the world. And in the aftermath of September 11th, this President made a determination that we were going to confront threats before they fully materialized, before it was too late.
And this President has led the way. We all saw the same intelligence. Now, the intelligence was wrong, but it was the collective judgment of the intelligence community that decisions were made upon. And this President took steps to appoint a bipartisan independent commission, and that commission took a look at the intelligence because it’s vital in this dangerous time we live in when there are terrorists who still want to strike America, that we make sure we have the best possible intelligence.
And they recommended reforms, and we’re moving forward on those reforms. In fact, the Director of National Intelligence is a new position that was — that came out of those reforms. And there are a number of other reforms we’ve taken, as well. And that’s what’s important to look at. And regardless of where you stood before, this is a time when we all need to be coming together to support our troops in Iraq and to support our plan for victory in Iraq, because success in Iraq is critical to winning the war on terrorism. It is the central front in the war on terrorism. The terrorists recognize that. They recognize how high the stakes are, and you see the Zarqawi video. We must continue to move forward and help the Iraqi people who have shown that they want to build a brighter future, that they want to live in freedom, when 12 million people show up at the polls, and when a group of leaders that they elected comes together and forms a national unity government.
Q: So you thought that this former CIA analyst who challenged Rumsfeld was trying to rewrite history, is that what you’re saying?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m saying that people can express their views, but what I was talking about is, let’s step back and look at history, and look at what the facts were, and look at what people knew at the time, and to also put it in the context of the post-September 11th world that we live in.
Q: But, Scott, that’s what he was trying to do, the CIA analyst. Why was a CIA analyst trying to rewrite history? He was just reading quotes.
MR. McCLELLAN: Those are your words. I’m saying that people can express themselves.
Q: Okay, who was trying to rewrite history? That was what the question —
MR. McCLELLAN: But I’ve seen coverage of this, and — well, my point is that let’s go back and look at history. Let’s go back and look at the facts and look at where we are today in Iraq, as well.
Q: Isn’t that what he was trying to do, is look at the facts?
MR. McCLELLAN: He can express his views however he wants. People have the right to do that. But let’s look at the collective judgment of the intelligence community. It was outlined in the National Intelligence Estimate, and it was provided to members of Congress, too, so that they could look at. Intelligence around the world, in different countries around the world, was the same kind of intelligence that we saw. And the world recognized that Saddam Hussein’s regime was a threat.
Q: Scott, can I ask you about the economy? You’ve clearly got good economic data over a period of time — you mentioned consumer confidence — and yet there’s this disconnect.
MR. McCLELLAN: Can I — one thing I forgot to mention at the top — and I know this will stir some interest, but the President — I do need to back up, it just popped back in my head and I apologize for not mentioning it at the top — at 1:45 p.m., the President does have a pool coverage announcement. That will be in the Oval Office, so the pool will need to assemble after this briefing. And I’m not able to go further than that at this point. That’s an announcement that will be made with the President.
Q: You can’t go further — can you just tell us what it’s about? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: No. (Laughter.)
Q: Scott, is it personnel —
Q: Scott, is it personnel — is it personnel-related?
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s a personnel-related matter.
Q: All right.
Q: Scott, may I —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, David has the floor.
Q: Question —
Q: Connected to what David — when David said economy?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. (Laughter.)
Q: Don’t want to put you on the couch.
MR. McCLELLAN: No. (Laughter.)
Q: Let me just back up, then. There appears to be a disconnect. The economy is in good shape, yet Americans are pessimistic. And you see that in consistent polling now showing that the country is on the right track. How do you explain that disconnect? Why does the President think he’s not getting more credit for the economy than he thinks he deserves?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let’s look at what consumers are doing. Consumer confidence is at a four-year high. That’s what the American people are doing. They’re showing their confidence in the economy. And that’s important data to look at.
Q: But they don’t approve of the President, the job he’s doing.
MR. McCLELLAN: Now, there is more that we need to do. I mean, we need to continue to move forward and address high gas prices — this President is doing that — and eliminate the root cause of high energy prices. And we’ve got a plan to do that by transforming the way we power our trucks and cars. We’ve also got to continue to address rapidly rising health care costs. I think when you look at this and think about it, part of this is that we are a nation at war, and people have anxieties about that. We are a nation at war, so you have to look at it in that context, as well.
But this economy is strong. It is humming along at a good clip. And we will continue to talk about the steps that need to be taken. And first and foremost, at the top of that list, to keep our economy strong and growing and creating jobs like it is, is to keep taxes low and to restrain spending. And this President has called on Congress to make the tax relief permanent. Now, they’re moving forward to take a step in that direction, with one piece of legislation, and they also need to move forward and restrain spending. And the President has made it very clear on this emergency spending legislation what he will do if they bring it to him at a level that’s higher than what he called for.
Q: One more on this. I want to parse that a little bit, because you and the President often say the country is anxious about the fact that we’re at war. Isn’t that to suggest that Americans’ pessimism and anxiety about the war far outweighs their confidence in the U.S. economy, and their confidence in the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the American people recognize the importance of succeeding in Iraq and winning. It is a central front in the war on terrorism. It is a front that we need to win. And we are going to win. We are winning in Iraq. There’s much to do. We see that the violence continues. That’s why —
Q: But I’m asking about U.S. attitudes, about Americans’ attitudes —
MR. McCLELLAN: We’ll let others do the polling. I mean, the President is focused on succeeding in Iraq. There are some Democrats —
Q: The public is more pessimistic about the war than they are confident about the economy. Is that — do you accept that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think when you look at the economic numbers, the important ones to look at to look at how Americans feel about the economy, is consumer confidence. And that continues to go up.
Q: Can you give us an update on the situation in Africa with the negotiations to end the civil war in Sudan?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q: Could you characterize it — has an agreement been reached, and is it an agreement if it’s just one rebel group and the government?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, this could be an important moment for the people of Darfur. The President has made this a priority. He’s concerned about the some two; billion people there that have been displaced. There are people dying every day. There are people suffering. And we’ve provided an enormous amount of humanitarian aid to the people of Darfur.
But we do now have before us an opportunity to move forward on peace. The largest rebel group has come into an agreement with the government of Sudan. This is a result of an intensive international effort. We appreciate the efforts of the African Union. Deputy Secretary Zoellick has been in the region helping with this. My understanding is that now the second largest rebel group is reconsidering their position on this, so those discussions are ongoing within that group.
This would be a step, but it would be a very important step. There is more that we will need to do. We need to continue to move forward on blue-hatting the African Union force, transforming that into a U.N. force with NATO logistical support.
Q: But at this point, it’s a step and not a peace agreement?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there’s an agreement with the largest rebel group. The second largest rebel group is still considering it at this point, is my understanding. And we think that there’s an opportunity there to move forward on peace, and that would be a very welcome step.
Q: Let me ask you this, if you could just widen that a second — how important does the President feel about peace in Darfur as a legacy item for him? How personally connected is he to this?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he’s looking at it from the standpoint of the human condition. This President cares passionately about the human condition around the world. We care passionately about the plight of the people in North Korea; we care passionately about those who are suffering in Darfur. As I mentioned, there are rapes of women that continue; there is random violence; there is great suffering that has been going on in Darfur.
So the President is looking at it from the standpoint of, we all have an obligation to help when there is suffering on this scale. We are the one country that has come out and said genocide has been going on in Darfur. The President has made this a high priority and we were able to move forward on an agreement between the north and south in Sudan. That was an important first step. Now we need to continue to urge the parties to come to this agreement on the Darfur region.
So the President is looking at it from the standpoint of getting peace in that region and helping to alleviate the great suffering that’s going on and improve the lives for the people there — and to save lives there, as well.
Q: I want to first go on record as saying that I appreciate the way you have treated us, all of us fairly and professionally over these years.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. It’s been an honor.
Q: My question, unfortunately, is not the kind of question that I hoped to ask you at your last briefing, but the Russian press has treated the Vice President’s speech in Vilnius universally as sort of a launching of a new Cold War. Do you feel there is any reason for that approach? And while you are at it, would you tell us what the President and the Russian guests spoke about yesterday?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure. First of all, the Vice President’s comments are consistent with what the President has said, what the Secretary of State has said, and what other senior officials in the administration have said. We are working very closely with Russia on a number of security and economic issues, issues of mutual importance. We also have some concerns about the direction the government is headed when it comes to democratic reform.
And those are concerns that we’ve expressed previously. We encourage Russia to respect the values of freedom and democracy at home and not to impede the advance of freedom and democracy in the region. The advance of democracy is good for all in the region, and that is a message that the President has said repeatedly.
We have a number of discussions that are ongoing with Russia about these issues. The President has a very good personal relationship with President Putin. It’s a relationship that the two leaders can talk openly and candidly with one another, and that’s important. The President believes that by building personal relationships with leaders like President Putin and others, that we can often accomplish much more than would be otherwise, and that’s why he has really worked to develop that relationship.
But we will continue to express our concerns. The G8 Summit is coming up in Russia, in St. Petersburg, later this summer, and the President will continue to talk about ways we can work together, and also raise these issues of concern.
Q: Scott, the White House, in a way, is a glass house these days, it’s very vulnerable to criticism. And one of the things that has surprised me over the years was how reticent my own government was to criticize the American actions when criticism seems to be very legitimate. Did you even notice that the outside world does not criticize you as much as probably you deserve? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, no, I haven’t noticed that, actually. But I would just point out that the way the President approaches this is as I said. This is a relationship that he has built with President Putin, where we can openly and candidly talk about issues of concern while continuing to work together on areas of agreement and areas of high priorities for both countries. And that’s what we will continue to do. But we’ve previously talked about some of our concerns when it comes to the non-governmental organizations, when it comes to freedom of the press, and those are issues that are important to the President. But he will do so in a respectful way, and in a way that is encouraging Russia to continue to move on the democratic path. As they move on the democratic path, our relationship will only grow and strengthen.
Q: Scott —
MR. McCLELLAN: Sarah.
Q: Thank you, thank you. The D.C. delegate wants the Congress to give the Mayor of Washington the authority to call up the National Guard if needed. Right now, only the President can do that for the District of Columbia. Will the President go along with the request?
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s not an issue that he and I have discussed, but I think we have expressed our views when it comes to D.C. and its relationship with the federal government previously.
Q: Scott, the President’s poll numbers in the latest polls are the lowest of his presidency. We know that you are going to be leaving us soon, today is your last briefing. Have you given any advice —
MR. McCLELLAN: Did you see the stock market today? (Laughter.) Where it was two-and-a-half years ago, three years ago?
Q: Have you given any advice to your successor about how he might help the President grapple with turning these numbers around? And any thoughts you want to share with us, on this, your last briefing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that my successor is going to do a great job. Tony Snow is a very capable individual, and I wish him all the best. He is someone who is coming into this job looking forward to working with you all, and looking forward to continue to build upon what we have done over the course of the last five-and-a-half years. I think that the most important way to continue to reach out to the American people is for the President to continue to be out there doing the events that he’s doing, where he’s taking questions, he’s visiting with real Americans, and hearing what’s on their minds. And sometimes there’s a disconnect between what might be covered in Washington and what the American people are most focused on. And I think you sometimes see that in some of those town hall-type settings that the President participates in.
And so, our greatest asset is the President, and that’s why it’s important to continue to provide access to you all to him, and to keep him out there in those kind of settings.
Q: Scott, what are your thoughts on this being your last day?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the advice, my advice to Tony is, have fun and enjoy this. It is a great job, and there are certainly challenges with it, but it is very rewarding. And I’ll talk more about the end — about some of this, too.
Q: Scott, first of all, we will miss you, the best of luck on the lecture circuit.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you. I will miss you all in this room, too — individually, at least. (Laughter.)
Q: Thank you. Yesterday was a hypothetical question. Now the British have had their elections. There’s been a cabinet shake-up, new defense secretary, new foreign minister. How do you think your government will get along with them, and do you see any lessons for the American public, since many of the issues are the same?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that’s an internal political matter for the United Kingdom. But in terms of our relationship with the United Kingdom, it is a strong one. And the President has a great relationship with Prime Minister Blair. We have worked together on any number of important priorities around the world. And he will continue to do so. But I don’t have anything specific in terms of weighing in on some of the local elections that took place.
Q: Do you have any indications that the defense or foreign policies will change now concerning Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry, concerning?
Q: Iraq, that there —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Prime Minister Blair has made it very clear where his government stands.
Q: Scott, another question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Richard.
Q: Scott, the President’s low poll ratings, he’s not running for reelection, he’s not running for election this year. Are you concerned that those low poll ratings might be dragging down Republican —
MR. McCLELLAN: I know sometimes this room gets caught up in polls, but the American people want us to focus on getting things done. And that’s what this President is going to continue to do for the last two-and-a-half years of his administration. We have accomplished much over the past five-and-a-half-plus years. And the President wants to continue to build upon that record.
That’s why he’s reaching out to Congress on important priorities, like making sure that we move forward on a budget that meets our highest priorities, like funding our troops and funding our homeland security priorities, and then holding the line on spending elsewhere in this budget. We have a solid record of making sure that our priorities are met while holding the line on spending elsewhere.
And we’re continuing to move forward on those efforts. And we’re moving forward to urge Congress to get comprehensive immigration reform passed. There are a number of important priorities. The Congress is addressing high energy prices. That’s an important priority that the American people care about. The President is focused on the priorities that the American people care most about.
Q: Doesn’t the President have concerns about whether or not he’s able to influence the Congress based upon those low numbers? Republicans are less likely to —
MR. McCLELLAN: The President is going to continue to do what he’s always done, which is work to elevate the tone, to reach out, and to get things done. He’s had any number of congressional meetings over the course of the past several weeks, and he’s going to continue to reach out. He just had one on energy and moving forward together. This was a bipartisan group of House and Senate members. He’s had a number of meetings on immigration reform, and he’ll continue to reach out to members of Congress so that we can work together to accomplish the priorities of the American people.
Q: A two-part, Scott.
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s your last two-part for me. (Laughter.)
Q: And I wish you the best. Yesterday, the President prayed with those gathered inside the White House for the National Day of Prayer, yet Chaplin Klingenschmitt, that faces a possible court-martial for attending a press conference outside the White House in uniform in which he prayed. And my question, will the President ask the Secretary of the Navy to dismiss the charge against the Chaplin so he can freely pray —
MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I think this gets into area of chain of command matters of which I cannot get into.
Q: But he’s the Commander-in-Chief.
MR. McCLELLAN: I know — which there are rules in place when it comes to issues like this relating to the military. So I don’t think I can comment further on that matter.
Q: There are reports of further misconduct by Congressman Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island including driving at night with car lights off, nearly colliding with a police car, smashing a security barrier, emerging from the vehicle staggering, and telling officers he’s a Congressman late to a vote at 2:45 a.m., six hours after they had adjourned. And my — as spokesman for the nation’s chief law enforcement, why wasn’t this Congressman subjected to sobriety testing since he was involved in another car accident two weeks before in Rhode Island?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that’s a matter to refer to the appropriate law enforcement officials or the Congressman’s office.
Q: But the chief law enforcement, you’re his spokesman —
MR. McCLELLAN: We don’t know the facts. We do not know the facts relating to this, Les.
Go ahead, Ken.
Q: Scott, we’re coming up on a meeting in a week or so — the President with the executives from the auto makers. Can you give us a sense of what he plans to tell them and what he plans to ask them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you’re jumping ahead a little bit on the schedule. We haven’t announced it yet. But let me point out that the President has outlined a way to solve our recurring reliance on oil. He has said that we are addicted to oil. The President wants to break that addiction to oil. And the root cause of why we have high energy prices is because we are dependent on foreign oil.
So the President has outlined a plan that will really transform the way we power our cars and trucks and make us less dependent on oil. This is a plan that is based on hybrid vehicles and making use of ethanol and moving forward on hydrogen vehicles. And so I think that those are issues that the President wants to continue to talk about, and he’s talking to all Americans about it. And that would include the auto industry, as well.
Q: Thank you, Scott. First of all, Koreans say, good luck and long life.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
Q: And God bless you and your family.
MR. McCLELLAN: Same to you.
Q: Thank you. If the North Korea continues to refuse to return back to six-party talks, does the United States have any other action to take to the North Koreans?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what we are doing at this point is urging North Korea to get back to the six-party talks. All of the other parties are ready to move forward on the talks. We want to move forward in a substantive way, and there was an agreement on important principles at the last round of talks, and we’ve said we are ready to go back to the talks without precondition, and all the other parties are ready. North Korea is the one that needs to make the decision now.
MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead.
Q: Scott, I asked this a couple of days ago, and you said you hadn’t looked at it this way. Congress has agreed to spend billions of dollars more to help the Iraqis get back on their feet. Why is there no agreement in place where Iraqis could be sending millions of barrels of oil for free to pay for this and ease our consumption and dependency on foreign oil?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, first of all, there are short-term steps that we can take to address high gas prices. We are taking those steps. The President is moving forward on making sure that there’s no price-gouging. We are delaying some of the deposits to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We are also looking at ways that we can provide waivers for some of the fuel standards that are in place. And so there are a number of short-term measures that we can take.
But there’s no silver bullet solution. What we are trying to do is break our dependence on foreign oil, not increase it. Now, in terms of Iraq specifically, the oil production is getting back up, and that’s important. And we’ll continue to support the Iraqi leadership as they move forward on reconstructing their country, and that will help in that area, as well, and to providing security — and providing security to those areas.
We know that the terrorists want to target critical infrastructure and target oil and gas pipelines in the country. They’ve done that before. But we’ll continue to work to make sure that the Iraqi people and the Iraqi security forces are able to provide for their own defense going forward, and I think you’ll see the oil continue to come back up as we move forward on our plan for victory there.
MR. McCLELLAN: Greg.
Q: Scott, thanks. The President, of course, is going to talk about Medicare in Florida next week. But given the fits and the starts at the beginning of the prescription enrollment period, is the President satisfied that that window, that enrollment window, has been sufficient prior to the May 15th deadline?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to look at what the actuaries have said when they take a look at this program. They talk about the importance of keeping that enrollment deadline in place, because otherwise, it’s going to have an impact that could adversely affect the savings that seniors are realizing, and lower the numbers of seniors actually signing up. So that’s why you have an enrollment time period in place. And we urge all seniors to call 800-MEDICARE or go to medicare.gov or get with their family members or others who can help them, and look at the options that are available. We’ve already exceeded the goals that we thought we would reach for the year.
And seniors are showing, in surveys, that they are satisfied with the drug coverage they’re receiving. A typical senior is realizing savings of some 50 percent or more on their prescription drug coverage. For the first time, they now have access to prescription drug coverage under Medicare, and they have better and more choices available to them, so that they can choose the health care that best meets their individual needs.
So it’s important to continue to educate seniors about the options that are available, and urge them to take a look at what’s available before this deadline passes, so that they can realize significant savings on their premiums, and take advantage of the opportunity that is before them.
Now there is a low-income group of the remaining seniors that have not been enrolled in the prescription drug benefit — and I think it’s over 30 million now that are signed up, and there’s a substantial number of those left that are going to stay with their private plans that they already have.
But there is a portion, I think it’s around 3 million or so low-income individuals, that we are continuing to reach out to, because they can realize virtually zero premiums, and the vast majority of their cost paid for. And so we want them to continue to look at these options and get information so that they can sign up and enroll in these new benefits. That group is able to sign up after the enrollment period. They’re not affected by the enrollment period, because it’s such an important group that we need to target.
Q: So overall, the general sense is that the window of enrollment has been sufficient?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it’s important for the reasons that I stated to have that enrollment period in place. That doesn’t mean they can’t enroll afterwards, but there’s a penalty that’s paid if you wait until after that time period. That’s why we are urging them to take a look at the options now, so they can realize as much savings as possible.
Q: Two quick questions. One, of course, we’ll miss you, all, I’m sure. And you have been one of the greatest press secretaries we ever had in the White House.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know about that, but thank you, Goyal.
Q: And whatever you do, we wish you all the best, and I hope President will have maybe something better for you.
MR. McCLELLAN: It’s been a real honor. I’m looking forward to the next chapter.
Q: Two questions. One quickly, spending the days in the Alexandria Court House, watching the trial of this terrorist, 9/11, of course there is no death for him, but he will be in jail for life. What he said was that Osama bin Laden live long and he will never be caught, or you will never catch him, alive or dead. And he said that, personally, he would do again, and he is not sorry for anything. My question is, when are we going to get Osama bin Laden, because somebody knows where he is — he knows, and he said many people know where he is.
MR. McCLELLAN: He will be brought to justice. He is responsible for great crimes against humanity and great crimes against the American people. And this President does not forget what occurred on September 11th. He remembers it every single day. And that guides his thinking when it comes to our foreign policy.
And that’s why we are continuing to take the fight to the enemy abroad, so that we’re not fighting them here at home. That’s why we have worked to dismantle the al Qaeda leadership. Some three-quarters of al Qaeda’s senior leaders and other associates within that have been brought to justice — they have either been captured or they have been killed. We are keeping them on the run.
Osama bin Laden, who you bring up, is someone who is on the run. He’s under a lot of pressure. And we must continue to keep the pressure on the terrorists, and continue to go after them by staying on the offensive. And that’s what this President is doing.
Q: Second, quick one on Iran. This week A.Q. Khan has been released, and he’s a free man now, he can travel anywhere, but we — U.S. still does not have any access to him or IAEA. Now Iran needs him more than ever, because Iran is just about to get nuclear weapons, and they know they need A.Q. Khan. So what we have to say about this A.Q. Khan? He’s a free man now, he can travel anywhere he wants, and once he said that every Muslim and Arab countries will be nuclearized by him.
MR. McCLELLAN: We’ve worked closely with Pakistan in the global war on terrorism. They are now an ally in the war on terrorism, and we will continue to work with them to make sure we have the intelligence needed to continue as we move forward to learn more about the network that was broken up. This was an important success in our broader efforts, an important success of the intelligence community. And we appreciate all those that were involved in it, in terms of breaking up that network.
And we have learned much since that time. In terms of Iran, they know what they need to do — the international community has spelled it out. It’s time to come clean and to abide by your international obligations. And if they continue down the path that they’re on, then it’s time for the Security Council to take action. And the Security Council is discussing moving to the next diplomatic step, which would be a Chapter 7 resolution. And we’re having good discussions. Those discussions continue at this point.
Q: Scott, as this is your last briefing, could you reflect on your worst day at Press Secretary, and even your best day? (Laughter.) And also, as the President’s poll numbers are at their all-time low, can you talk to the American public as to why you trust and you are very loyal to this President?
MR. McCLELLAN: April, I guess that’s about a three- or four-part question there in one.
Q: You know I’m good for that. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: But let me start off by saying that it has been a real honor to serve as the White House Press Secretary. I cannot thank the President enough for the privilege of being a part of his team. And I am thinking about this, as I reflect on this day, in a sense of gratitude. I’m grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had. I’m grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had to work with people in this room. And that’s the way I’m looking at it.
In terms of the best day or the best moments, the best moments are when we’re visiting the troops, when we’re going to Afghanistan and visiting Bagram Air Base, and seeing our troops that are on the front lines of the war on terrorism, or when we were going to Fort Bragg in North Carolina a few years ago, and visiting the special ops forces, those who achieve great successes that are rarely heard about in the public, because most of their work is done in a very quiet yet important way.
So those are the moments I think about when I think about the best part of being the Press Secretary. And certainly, there are other moments that are some of the most memorable, but they’re also some of the toughest. This President recognizes the importance of his responsibility to comfort the families of the fallen, and to visit the wounded, those at Bethesda, or those at Walter Reed or elsewhere around the country. He’ll be visiting with some families of fallen this evening, some families of fallen Marines who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq.
And I’ve been with the President when he’s visited those families. I’ve been with the President when he’s visited the wounded. And this President knows that the most difficult decision a President has to make is to send our men and women in uniform into combat. And he takes that responsibility very seriously, and he also takes the responsibility very seriously of comforting those who have lost loved ones, and personally thanking those who have made significant sacrifices in the war on terrorism, those who have suffered great wounds. We are forever grateful to those soldiers, and I will remember those moments most. And it reminds me of the kind of President that we have in office, and what a privilege it has been to serve him.
Q: I’m going to begin, if you will allow me, with a combination of a Pentagon blessing, if you will, an old Irish one: Fair winds and following seas; And may you be in Heaven half an hour before the devil knows you’re gone. (Laughter.)
Serious question, if I may, taking a page from my Russian colleague. There are many experts on Russia, the former Soviet Union, who believe the Cold War is not over, it’s simply been lying dormant, and that the Vice President’s remarks, his rhetoric, has intensified the difficulty between these two countries. There are many differences, including Iran and what have you. You are supporting the Vice President in what he said, but this is a new or an escalated echelon in rhetoric. Can you comment on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Vice President talked about how Russia has a choice to make, and that they can realize even better relations with others in the region and with the United States if they move along the path of democratic reform. I think he talked about that, and we can continue to work together on shared priorities that are facing this country and facing Russia and facing the global community.
Q: Well, when the Vice President —
MR. McCLELLAN: So I don’t view what he said as anything that was inconsistent with what we’ve previously said. We have previously talked about the values that we believe in, and the values that we hold dear, and how democracies on Russia’s borders will be helpful to Russia’s future, and that —
Q: But when the Vice President says publicly —
MR. McCLELLAN: — democracies don’t war with each other, democracies are peaceful countries. And that’s the way that I think it should be viewed.
Q: Well, did the —
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on, hang on. Go ahead, John.
Q: Thank you, Scott. Last month, Deputy Secretary Zoellick said that the United States would not look kindly if Nicaragua elected Commadante Ortega as the president and made some critical comments about the Mayor of Managua, who’s also a presidential candidate. My question is, does this not break with your policy of not commenting on foreign elections? And if the administration is going to comment about elections in other countries or in this hemisphere, would you say who would we prefer in Peru’s runoff, Colonel Humala or former President Garcia?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it’s up to the people of those countries to choose who their president will be. But what’s important for the United States is to continue to emphasize the importance of democracy in the hemisphere and to emphasize the importance of good governance and to emphasize the importance of rule of law and to talk about ways we can work together to lift people out of poverty and to help them realize better quality — a better quality of life. And that’s the way we’ve worked with other nations in the hemisphere, particularly in Latin America, and that’s what we will continue to do.
So I think that we’re going to continue to speak out about what Deputy Zoellick was talking about, which is the importance of continuing to move forward on democracy within our own hemisphere and not to backtrack from democracy.
Q: So let me understand you correctly. Deputy Secretary Zoellick is saying that if Nicaragua elects Commadante Ortega as president again, or elects the Mayor of Managua, that would be backtracking?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’ll let his words speak for themselves. Those are words he made awhile back, as you pointed out. And I’ll let them speak for themselves.
Let me go behind you.
Q: Thank you, Scott.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you, John.
Q: Several world leaders called on the United States to hold direct talks with Iran. And last night — Kofi Annan and Angela Merkel — during their visit. Could you please tell us why it’s a bad idea for the United States to hold direct talks with —
MR. McCLELLAN: Because it’s not a bilateral issue between the United States and Iran. It’s a problem that Iran has with the world. This is a regime that is a threat to the region by its own actions and its own behavior. This is a regime that continues to move in the opposite direction of the rest — or most of the Middle East. Most of the Middle East is continuing to take steps forward on the path to greater freedom and greater democracy. And that’s important. The President has talked about this before.
But this has been a volatile region of the world, and it’s a region where we cannot accept the status quo any longer. Before September 11th and for years, our foreign policy was based on the premise that we could have stability at the expense of democracy. The President rejects that view, and we saw that we didn’t get stability in the region, because we saw what took place on September 11th. So what we’re trying to do is support the transformation of the Middle East for greater freedom and democracy in that region.
In terms of Iran and why no direct talks, it’s for the reasons I just stated. It’s not a bilateral issue. This is an issue that the regime has with the world. It’s a concern that the world has about the regime’s behavior and its continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. This is a regime that says they are developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. But their actions only suggest that they are developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program.
And that’s why we’re working with the international community to pressure the regime to change its behavior, because all it is doing is isolating itself and its people from the rest of the world.
Q: Scott, but the President says he will exhaust all the channels — all diplomatic channels, would he resort as a final solution to —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’re still in the early stages of diplomacy when it comes to Iran and dealing with the nuclear issue. This should be viewed as the beginning stages of diplomacy. There hasn’t even been a resolution passed at this point. We’re in discussions now about getting a Chapter 7 resolution passed which would compel the regime to change behavior, would have the force of international law. And so that’s where discussions are at this point.
Let me take a couple of minutes just to say a few quick thank-yous. I’ve already thanked the President, and I want to say that I’m also forever grateful to the President and Mrs. Bush for making this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity really special. My wife and I value our friendship with the President and Mrs. Bush.
I also want to thank the entire White House staff, because you cannot do this job without the support and help of all those that are part of this team. My job is to help provide you information so that you can do your job, and to help the President advance his agenda. And I depend on people throughout this White House for timely responses.
I thank my colleagues on the senior staff. It has been a real privilege to be a part of a senior staff that is such a fine group of people. I want to thank the White House Military Office. They help make the White House function. And the White House Communications Office in particular, I think that that is a group that if they need to get a message to you, they can find you about anywhere in the world. The Situation Room staff, they’re the ones who track events around the world 24-7, and they do a great job of keeping us informed.
The traveling team, the Air Force One crew, the Travel Office, the Advance teams, particularly the younger folks on the Advance team, because when we travel, they help all of our lives go a little bit smoother. And I’m grateful for all the help that they have provided when I don’t always get the chance to say it.
The President’s military aides who are always with him. They represent the best of our military and I’m proud to call them friends — all those, those that are currently serving and those that served before them.
The communications team at the White House. This is a terrific team, and we work very closely together. And I’m grateful for their friendship, as well.
Most importantly, I need to thank the Press Office staff. I know you all appreciate all that they do to help you, and I’m forever indebted to them for all that they’ve done to help me. My assistant Tina, the staff assistants — Nathan, Amanda, John, Carlton, Lois, assistant press secretaries, Josh Deckard, Erin Healy. Thank you.
Most importantly, I think, in terms of the Press Office staff, that I just want to do a special thank-you to my deputies — Dana and Fred and Ken. You all have been a terrific help to me, and I depend on you a lot. But I also want to thank those who preceded you that I worked with — Trent, who beat me to the punch a little bit. Sean and Claire, I really started this with Sean and Claire. And I’ve got a lasting friendship with them, and I look forward to continuing to stay in touch with them.
And I thank the President’s Cabinet, as well. It’s been a privilege to work with them and all those throughout the administration, particularly the communicators.
And the biggest personal thank-you, I think, goes to my wife, Jill, because she has made a lot of sacrifice in order for me to serve the American people and serve this President and work with you all. And I cannot thank her enough for all that she’s been through. And I look forward to beginning the new chapter in our life together.
Finally, I want to thank each of you in this room and each of you in the White House press corps that aren’t here today. Thank you for all you do to keep the American people informed. Thank you for all you do to hold those of us in elected office accountable for the decisions that are made. Keep after it. Keep up the good work. You are a terrific bunch of professionals, and it has been a real honor to serve with you all. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 1:33 P.M. EDT