Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:32 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Let me start by running back through the President's day. The President started this morning having breakfast with the bipartisan leadership: Speaker Hastert, Leader Lott, Leader Daschle and Leader Gephardt, where they -- the President gave them an update on the war on terrorism and Iraq. And they also discussed the importance of getting the homeland security department legislation passed and to the President's desk before they leave. And they also discussed the importance of terrorism insurance and getting our hard-hats back to work.
Then the President had his usual briefings following that. And later this morning the President participated in his Cabinet meeting. The President's Cabinet, as he noted, talked about homeland security, about strengthening our economy, as well about maintaining fiscal discipline. And he received a number of updates from his Cabinet Secretaries on various activities they're involved in.
The President later this afternoon will meet with the United Nations Secretary General Annan, where they will discuss the U.N. resolution and the situation in Iraq, the Middle East, and development and security in Afghanistan as well.
Then tonight, the President participates in the White House Symposium on the West Wing, which is to commemorate and celebrate the 100th anniversary of the West Wing.
I would like to mention the homeland security department legislation. We are pleased with the progress that has been made. It appears that the congressional leadership is ready to move forward on this legislation and get it to the President's desk before they do adjourn. This legislation, as it is now, appears to be a strong -- this legislation appears to be strong and meet the President's requirements for a strong homeland security department. And we are hopeful the Congress will get it to him by the holidays.
With that, I am glad to take your questions. John Roberts.
Q: In it's 9-page letter to the U.N. Security Council accepting the conditions of Resolution 1441, Iraq makes the assertion that it has no weapons of mass destruction, that it is "clean." What's the White House's opinion on that declaration?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, I haven't seen what's in the letter yet. I've heard the reports and I would remind you that this was never a question of accepting or rejecting the resolution. The U.N. resolution is binding on Iraq and the Iraqi regime. Saddam Hussein had no choice but to accept the resolution.
I would also remind you that we have heard this before from Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. Now we need to see it by Saddam Hussein's actions. We need to -- the onus continues to be on Saddam Hussein. This is his choice.
And I would go back through what the regime in Iraq needs to do: Iraq must provide a full accounting of all weapons of mass destruction -- the programs, materials and delivery systems -- within 30 days, that's what the resolution spells out; Iraq also must allow free, unimpeded, unconditional immediate access for weapons inspectors anywhere, any time, to anyone; and Iraq must also allow witnesses to weapons of mass destruction programs to be interviewed outside of the country and to bring their families with them; and Iraq must also stop firing on the U.S. and British aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones.
Q: But this assertion that Iraq possess no weapons of mass destruction, does that seem plausible to you?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, John, again, I haven't seen the specifics of the letter, but the resolution clearly spells out for the regime in Iraq that any false information or omissions are considered a violation of the resolution and would be considered a further material breach. That's all spelled out in the resolution.
But, again, I would reiterate that -- the latest reports that the regime in Iraq has agreed to cooperate and comply, that we have heard this before and now it's time to see it by their actions.
Q: If they don't stop firing on coalition planes in the no-fly zone, is that a material breach?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just indicated to you that part of the resolution calls for the regime in Iraq to stop firing on aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones. You're trying to get into "ifs" and hypotheticals and, as I said yesterday, I'm not going to get into every if and hypothetical. It makes clear in the resolution that if there are violations, that the countries, or the inspectors, are to report that to the Security Council where there will be further discussion about what consequences may follow. But just because there are discussions at the Security Council, I would remind you that that does not prohibit the President from using his authority to act with like-minded nations if need be.
Q: Scott, you noted that Iraq has 30 days, or until December 8th, to provide a complete accounting of its weapons of mass destruction. It has; they don't have any.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, this letter apparently, I understand, has been delivered to the United Nations. We have not seen -- or maybe we are reviewing this letter as I speak, but I have not seen the contents of the letter. We'll look at the letter and we'll go from there.
Q: Is the United States prepared to provide evidence to counter Iraq's assertion that it has weapons of mass destruction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, they have a 30-day deadline to list and disclose all that information. I haven't seen the contents of the letter, so I don't want to jump into what I haven't seen at this point. But it's been made clear, if there is false information or omissions, then that would be considered a violation.
Q: And saying that they had no weapons of mass destruction would be false information, according to the United States?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I haven't seen the contents of the letter. So let's -- they have a 30-day time line to report all that information.
Q: I asked you this morning -- Benjamin Netanyahu, running for leadership to the Likud Party, has said if elected he will expel Yasser Arafat. What is the U.S. position on the expulsion of Yasser Arafat by any Israeli government?
MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, as I mentioned earlier, there are -- we recognize that there are elections upcoming in Israel, and the United States has a long policy of not getting involved in those internal domestic discussions that are going on within Israel. But the President's views are very clear; they were laid out in his June 24th speech when he outlined a road map to our goal of achieving two states living side by side in peace. And we're working with all parties in the region to implement that road map.
But I'm not going to go and venture into internal discussions that are going on within Iraq.
Q: So we have no position on whether or not --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President -- I think the President's views were fairly clearly spelled out in his June 24th remarks, and I would refer you back to those. But you're asking me to jump into internal debates or discussions that are going on in an upcoming election in Israel. I'm not going to do that.
Q: Scott, there were also reports overnight that the -- that the United States and Israel agreed to put the road map initiative on hold pending the elections. Can you confirm that?
MR. McCLELLAN: We remain committed to pursuing that road map and we are going to continue working with all parties within the region. I don't know which exact report you're referring to, but --
Q: It was an Haaretz report, it said Dr. Rice and her Israeli counterpart agreed to this, I believe yesterday.
MR. McCLELLAN: That may well be. I'll look at the report; I haven't looked at it.
Q: Secondly, has the United States taken a position on the fuel oil shipment now on its way to North Korea? I understand there was a National Security Council meeting this morning that was to address that issue?
MR. McCLELLAN: There was a National Security Council meeting this morning. As you know, we don't discuss the discussions in those meetings. And, as I would also point out, we do not comment on intelligence matters from this podium.
But the United States has had consultations with the Japanese and the Korean governments. Assistant Secretary Jim Kelly has been in the region, as you're aware. And the executive board of KEDO, the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization, is meeting later this week to discuss how to proceed. And the executive board includes South Korea, Japan, the European Union and the United States. And we'll let those discussions proceed. We're working this through diplomatic channels, as you're aware.
But one thing is clear to North Korea, we have made it clear to North Korea, that this is not business as usual: North Korea must dismantle its nuclear weapons program. We seek a peaceful resolution and we are going to continue to work through those diplomatic channels with our friends and our allies to keep maximum pressure on North Korea. If North Korea wants to be part of the international community, then they must dismantle their nuclear weapons program.
Q: Apparently, the South Koreans and Japan are not willing to suspend these shipments immediately.
MR. McCLELLAN: I've seen those reports and, again, we're continuing to work this through diplomatic channels. When there's more information, then we'll be ready to discuss it at that time.
Q: Scott, as a general matter, does the President believe that deficits are bad for the economy over the long haul? And if he does, then does he believe a fundamental choice has to be made by the White House and by Republicans on the Hill between the notion of further stimulus to the economy in the form of tax cuts, or things like a $400 billion prescription drug benefit under Medicare?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, David, I remind you that the primary reason for the deficit that we are in now is the war and the recession. And I would also point back to what private economists have said, that the tax cut that was passed when we came into office was well timed. And it was because of the tax cut, it was a contributing factor that the recession was one of the shortest and shallowest ever. So we have continually made the point that surpluses don't create growth; growth creates surpluses. And so that's what I would go back to.
Q: That doesn't answer the question, which is that it doesn't matter what happened on September 11th, the price of prescription drugs are still what they are and insurance is going to be what it is.
So, given this climate, which is likely to get worse if there's war in Iraq, financially, does the President believe Republicans have to make a choice? Either we further stimulate the economy with a new round of tax cuts, or we do things like a prescription drug benefit on the Medicare? At the moment, Republicans are talking about accomplishing everything.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, David, I think there's a way to accomplish this. The President has a history of showing this, where -- and he talked about this a little bit earlier, where we can fund our priorities and hold the line on spending elsewhere. Then we can meet those important priorities that you just mentioned.
We do need to continue to look at additional ideas, which the President is, to stimulate the economy. He is committed to working with Congress to create a new jobs and economic growth package early next year, and we are moving forward in that direction. At the same time, as he pointed out earlier, we need to get terrorism insurance passed. That's something the lame duck Congress can do before they leave. This will put our hard-hats back to work. It's a job creations measure.
And tax cuts. The President has talked about making the tax cuts permanent to bring some certainty to people's minds there. Those are all important measures that we are pursuing. And then we're looking at additional ideas as well to work with Congress on.
Q: Does the administration oppose the delivery of that oil shipment to Korea?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I think I addressed it. We're working this through diplomatic channels right now. There is a meeting that is going to happen --
Q: But what is the administration's position?
MR. McCLELLAN: There is a meeting that is going to happen later this week, and we need to let the discussions happen at that meeting through diplomatic channels, not through media channels.
Q: So you won't tell us what the position of the administration is on whether that oil should be --
MR. McCLELLAN: Our position for North Korea is very clear. This is not business as usual, as I said. North Korea needs to dismantle its nuclear weapons program, and we are continuing to work through diplomatic channels to seek a peaceful resolution in the region.
Q: On Harvey Pitt, anything new today on that or --
MR. McCLELLAN: No. And as you know, I don't speculate on personnel matters.
Q: And you won't be announcing any today? At least that one.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't speculate on timing or personnel announcements. Let me go to Jim. Oh, Jim and Jim. You guys figure it out. (Laughter.)
Q: On Harvey Pitt, can you describe what the urgency is to filling that job, and then to filling the accounting oversight job?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we are moving as quickly as possible. The President believes that the accounting oversight board needs to move forward quickly and aggressively on the work that it has before it. And we will work to find someone who has broad experience and is well-qualified, that can continue the efforts that the SEC has been working on to crack down on corporate wrongdoing. And we are moving as quickly as we can.
Q: I want to go back to a material -- different question, if I can. You specifically mentioned the firing on U.S. and British planes in the no-fly zones. That is not something the inspectors have anything to do with, so one would not expect them to report back any violations. That would have to come from the U.S. and Great Britain.
MR. McCLELLAN: Others are able to report, through the resolution, to report violations.
Q: So you would consider any further firing on U.S. and British planes a new material breach?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, those matters, if they're violations, they go back to the U.N. Security Council for discussion.
Q: Well, but we don't go back to the Security Council for definition, we just go back --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're getting into "ifs" here -- but we made it clear that they need to follow that and not continue to do that.
Q: Right, because it would be a new material breach if they were to fire?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don't have the resolution right in front of me that spells out specifically, but I'll refer you back to the resolution for that specific issue. But that is part of what Iraq needs to comply with, is not to fire on aircraft patrolling the no-fly zones.
Q: And one other matter in the same regard -- that is, that they -- you talked about the declaration where they must fully declare any weapons of mass destruction they have. They've indicated they will say they are clean, as they said this morning. Do we consider a declaration -- since we believe they have weapons, do we consider a declaration, if they have none, to be a material breach, or must that be proven?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, what is considered to be a material breach is if there is false information or omissions about what they are required to disclose and to report.
Q: And what is the proof of false information?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that will be determined in discussions with the U.N. Security Council. That's what the resolution calls for.
Q: Scott, two quick questions. One, same question yesterday, and today U.S. officials are saying -- other Bush administration officials -- that link between North Korea and Pakistan, Pakistan is the root cause of helping -- earlier, just a few months ago, and still helping North Korea in training, technology, like giving nuclear and getting missile technology.
Now my question is that I hope President Bush is aware and reading all these think-tank and the reports and now all the cards on the table that (inaudible) Musharraf. And Musharraf is threat to the west and the United States and Israel as much as North Korea or Saddam Hussein, because (inaudible), what he calls. And, two, link with terrorists with Osama bin Laden and Taliban, and also against Israel. And their nuclear technology also I think in the hands of Osama bin Laden or his al Qaeda. So where do we stand now?
MR. McCLELLAN: What's the question there?
Q: The question is how do -- what -- U.S. is (inaudible) with link with the North Korea and Pakistan. What are they starting now and how -- what action, sort of action U.S. will take against Pakistan, because under U.S. law all economic and military aid must be stopped.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the press has reported that a number of countries may have assisted North Korea in its efforts to develop a nuclear weapons program. I think all of those countries view how seriously we take such action and how serious we view any kind of proliferation activity that involves North Korea. And I would refer you back to Secretary Powell's comments on October 26th, where he talked about President Musharraf's assurances that Pakistan is not participating in activity of this nature.
And I would again reiterate what I talked to you about yesterday. Pakistan has been a strong partner in the global coalition in the war against terrorism.
Q: So there are no consequences for Pakistan having supplied North Korea with materials as recently as this past --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, if you go back to some of the Secretary's comments, he talked about how we are focused on now and the future. The past is the past. He -- Secretary Powell talked about that. But we will continue to follow the issue closely.
Q: Just to follow. Former Prime Minister Pakistan is in town and she has been talking with -- meeting with U.S. officials, including the State Department. And she said that whatever pledges and commitment General Musharraf made to the United States and President Bush and the international community, he has not lived up to those pledges and he has broken all those commitments, including his government or Pakistan will be governed by the pro-Taliban and al Qaeda (inaudible), this week maybe. And she said that U.S. is making a big mistake toward Pakistan, General Musharraf policy and they must change it.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you have my response. I'm not aware of the details of the meeting that was had.
Q: One question, just following up on your answer on North Korea. When you quote the Secretary of State as saying that we are focused on now and the future, of course, the law requires you, in terms of sanctions, to focus on the past. The law doesn't deal with future transactions.
Are you suggesting there that the administration's position at this point is to ignore what happened in the past, not enforce that law?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I would leave it where Secretary Powell left it on October 26th, after he had discussions with President Musharraf. And specifically there, he said that President Musharraf assured him -- he said -- these are Secretary Powell's words: 400 percent assurance that there is no such interchange taking place now of any kind between Pakistan. And he was referring to now or looking ahead.
And he said: we didn't talk about the past, we'll talk about now and the future. The past, as he said, is subject to intelligence analysis with sources and methods. And, as you know, we don't get into discussions of -- discussing those intelligence matters.
Q: I didn't ask you to discuss -- to be --
MR. McCLELLAN: I know, but you're asking me --
Q: The response to -- the question is, does the administration plan to enforce the law that is on the books in this case? Or is the administration saying, no, we're only going to look at the future and not enforce the laws?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I addressed it by referring back to what Secretary Powell said.
Q: Secretary Powell didn't refer to sanctions --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I would remind you that September 11th changed the world and changed the behavior of many nations, as well. But we are looking at now and we are looking at future action, and we will continue to follow this closely.
Q: Does September 11th mean that law is no longer in effect in terms of enforcement, is that what you're telling me?
MR. McCLELLAN: I didn't say that, David. I think I addressed the question.
Q: A quick question on Iraq, if I could. Is it the administration's intention -- if this letter says, as we believe it does, that there's no -- that there are no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, to provide in any public forum, to the United Nations or anybody else, some sampling of the administration's specific suspicions or evidence that, in fact, there is -- there are weapons of mass destruction?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I haven't seen the contents of the letter, but stay tuned. We will work with the U.N. and provide what support we can to the inspectors. We will provide what intelligence we can, as well.
Q: Scott, on another subject. In Nevada, 67 percent of the voters supported an initiative confining marriage to one man and one woman, while in his Florida debate with Bill McBride, Governor Jeb Bush, when asked if homosexuals should be prohibited from adopting children replied -- and this is a quote -- "I believe they should. If you're going to have permanency, it should be with a loving couple that is man and wife." And my question is, the President doesn't disagree with either his brother or the majority of Nevada voters, does he, Scott?
MR. McCLELLAN: What was the statement again?
Q: I believe -- this is what Jeb Bush, with 650,000 votes, he said when he was asked if they should be prohibited from adopting children, he said, "I believe they should. If you're going to have permanency, it should be with a loving couple that is man and wife."
Now, the President doesn't disagree with his brother, does he?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President's views are very clear on that issue, as well.
Q: So he doesn't disagree. The New York Times reports this morning that the Catholic Bishop's Conference meeting here in Washington has just debated the question of whether action in Iran is a just war. In a debate presided over by Cardinal Law of Boston, whom the Times identified as "the leader at the center of the abuse scandal," even as abuse victims are calling for his resignation. And my question, does the White House hope the bishops can achieve some real solution to their pedophile priest problem before making any proposal of pacifism towards Saddam Hussein?
MR. McCLELLAN: You mentioned Iran. I think you meant Iraq when you said that earlier?
Q: I mean Iraq, yes, you're right.
MR. McCLELLAN: But the Catholic Church is working to address this issue, and it's important that they do. I think the President has expressed his concerns previously about the issue you referred to.
Q: How does he feel about pacifism? How does he feel about --
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think he's -- I think he's addressed it.
Mark, let me go on to you.
Q: Yes. Can I come back to Iraq letter?
MR. McCLELLAN: Sure.
Q: The first deadline that Saddam Hussein was supposed to meet was the Friday deadline for acceptance of the U.N. resolution. Has he now met it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I haven't seen the letter. I've seen the reports. I understand that the U.N. does have a copy of that letter. I don't know if we are in possession of a copy of that letter as well.
But I would go back to what I said, we have heard this before from Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime. We need to see it in their actions. We need to see it in their actions to disarm. This is about disarmament, and it's going to require actions, not just words.
Q: You haven't even seen enough of the letter to say whether it's --
MR. McCLELLAN: I haven't seen the letter before I came out here. All the reports were happening just before I came out here.
Q: I'd like to go back to David's issue for a moment, and that is deficits. What level --
MR. McCLELLAN: David Sanger or David Gregory?
Q: The esteemed Mr. Gregory.
Q: Clearly mine. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Esteemed? (Laughter.)
Q: What acceptable level of deficits does the President envision? The reason I ask is that most forecasters you talk to either in New York or around town here think that we're talking about a minimum of $200 billion for most of the rest of the decade, if not all of it. And those calculations don't even take into account the possibility that we'll have some nation-building costs associated with whatever happens in Iraq. So their estimates are caveated with the expectation that, indeed, the sum is likely to go higher and perhaps far higher. And that's before --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't try to forecast budgets or forecast economic outlook.
Q: But those that do think that there are some very, very hard choices to make, unless the President is willing to accept deficits north of $200 billion for the foreseeable future. How does that fit into his calculations?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think it goes back to what I said earlier, that we need to get -- continue to keep the economy growing and take additional steps, some that the President has already outlined, some that he is going to work with Congress on to move early next year. And it goes back to the point I made, that surpluses don't create growth, growth creates surpluses. So that's the importance of getting the economy growing.
And at the same time as we're taking additional steps to stimulate the economy, we need to show fiscal restraint. We need to fund our important prioritIes -- homeland security, the war on terrorism. And then we need to work to hold the line on spending elsewhere. There are a number of priorities within that -- David mentioned Medicare and prescription drug coverage, that's an important priority, as well.
But if we fund our priorities and hold the line on spending elsewhere, the President believes we can get us back on that path.
Q: If he is to achieve these things, and to fund a prescription drug benefit, realistically, where are the cuts going to have to come from? Everyone knows they're going to have to be cut. Where are they going to come from?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I don't have the whole budget here in front of me. But, I mean, those discussions are going on now. Congress still needs to act. As you know, they've only passed two of the appropriations bills, two of the 13 appropriations bills. Congress still needs to get it done, and we are working with Congress.
But the most important thing they need to do as they're working to get this done is to show fiscal restraint while they're funding our priorities.
Q: Scott, coming back to homeland security bill, if I can. You've received some assurances that there will not be a filibuster, some Democrats have assured the White House that that won't take place. However, amid the revelation that the provision that would create the 9/11 commission has been stripped out of the Senate vote, there is some talk about a potential filibuster now. What is the White House going to do to try and avert that from happening, given the fact that the commission had a provision --
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand that's not part of the legislation that is moving in the House --
Q: Right. But it had been part of the Senate legislation and it's obviously not there now.
MR. McCLELLAN: And the President remains committed to a strong bipartisan 9/11 commission. It's important to let them look at a broad range of issues and build upon the work that's already been completed by the intelligence committees. And he remains committed to that.
Q: So what is the White House going to do, are you going to propose there to be --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's an issue we're still talking with members about. As you know, there are a couple of issues that remain to be resolved and we're trying to get those issues resolved.
Q: Does he want that done before the end of the year?
MR. McCLELLAN: We're working with members on it. I didn't put a time line on it; it's something that's important and we continue to work with members on. We've had a number of discussions with families, as well.
Q: Scott, the Osama bin Laden tape -- anything new to report on authenticity? And, two, could you characterize for us what the President's reaction has been to that tape?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the President's reaction was spelled out in his remarks in the Cabinet Room. Again, the analysis is ongoing. As the President said, the experts are looking at it, they continue to look at it. There's nothing I have to confirm here right now. But obviously, as he said earlier today, any time we hear a tape like this, where someone, no matter who it is, threatens the world -- not just the United States, several countries were mentioned, individuals were mentioned, countries such as Britain, France, Italy, Jordan, Russia, Indonesia, just to name a few -- there are other countries, as well, that were threatened in that tape.
We take that very seriously. And it is a reminder that we are at war on terrorism. It is a reminder of why we have a global coalition of some 90 countries that are working together to win that war on terrorism. We have disrupted the terrorist network, but we are continuing to hunt down the terrorists wherever they are. And we know that there are thousands of trained killers in some 60 countries, and we will not stop until we have tracked them all down, until we have stopped this threat.
Q: Does the White House consider this a setback in the war on terrorism if it were to be found that this is, indeed, Osama bin Laden on that tape?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President mentioned earlier that the war on terrorism -- that we are making tremendous progress in the war on terrorism. There is obviously more to do, but this war on terrorism is about more than any one person.
As I just mentioned, there are some 60 countries where terrorists, thousands of trained killers, are residing. And we are going to continue the best way -- the best way to protect the American people. We are taking steps here at home by creating the Department of Homeland Security and taking other measures to protect the infrastructure and protect the American people. And that's important. But the best way to protect the American people and win this war on terrorism is to go after those killers wherever they are -- those killers who want to carry out attacks on the United States, on our friends and allies and on the international community. And we're going to continue working to hunt them down and bring them to justice or bring justice to them.
Q: Let me take the last question and turn it around a bit, if I may. Did that tape in some ways make that United States's job easier, in terms of shoring up the international coalition against terrorism by tying together in a nice, pretty package the Bali bombing, the Moscow theater incident, the Yemen incident, all the countries that you mentioned, the threats against so many countries. Does that make it easier to shore up that --
MR. McCLELLAN: It's clearly, as the President said, a reminder to the world of why we are waging this war on terrorism. It's clearly a reminder of the types of threats we face in the 21st century. That's why we're going to continue working with our coalition partners to hunt these people down wherever they are.
Q: Does the fact that the tape mentions rather prominently the Moscow theater incident, does that -- does that lend support to President Putin's longtime assertion that Russia's war in Chechnya is part of the war on terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as you know, we support a political solution in Chechnya and that's our position. As far as the -- what exactly is within the tape, there is analysis ongoing. But we have made our position pretty clear when it comes to Chechnya.
Q: -- any support to make these assertions at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, when you were asking in the context of Chechnya, I said we support a political solution there. That's our position.
But we are going to work with our global coalition partners to fight terrorism wherever it exists.
Q: Will you step up efforts to find bin Laden, given the likelihood now that he has survived the Afghan war?
MR. McCLELLAN: We have and we continue to go after the terrorist networks and their leaders, wherever they are. If there is information that comes to light, we will pursue that information. But, again, this is about more than any one man. This war on terrorism is about going after the terrorists and their networks -- they exist all across the world -- and bringing them to justice.
Q: Scott, on the 9/11 commission again. If the White House really does want this commission, why not negotiate it as part of this bill, which is basically a White House brokered compromise? Why take it out? And especially since members of Congress seem to be --
MR. McCLELLAN: There are still some issues that remain to be resolved --
Q: Right, but why not negotiate --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- with the 9/11 commission. We want -- and as the President talked about last week, the number one priority for this lame duck session is to get the Department of Homeland Security bill passed, so that we can move forward, get it up and running as soon as we possibly can.
The 911 commission -- again, I mean, those are issues that are still being worked through, still being discussed with members, and with families of victims of well. And they're important issues. But the President supports a strong bipartisan commission.
Q: When this bill is passed, what's your latest estimate of how long it will take to actually have a new department up and running?
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I don't know that I -- I don't know that I could predict that at this point. It's going to take some time to get certain parts of it up and running. But we want to move as quickly as possible to begin that process. That's why they need to go and act now, get this to the President's bill [sic], so we can start moving on it quickly and get it up and running.
Q: You have no estimate -- a year?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, some parts of it may take time. But we will move as quickly as we can to begin that process. We already are making preparations, if that department is passed by the Congress.
Q: Scott, you said earlier that Secretary Mineta was going to brief at the meeting, Cabinet meeting today about the TSA. Is it the administration's feeling that the deadlines for bomb detection equipment and the other airport precautions are going to be met by the end of the year? Is there any consideration of an extension?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Secretary Mineta addressed it, not only in the news reports that were in today's papers, but he addressed it in the Cabinet meeting as well. He said that we're committed to meeting the congressional deadline. So I understand there is some discussion going on that in Congress, but he made it clear that -- and we've made a tremendous amount of progress. But we are committing to meeting the congressional deadline.
Q: Scott, I know you have, and appreciate the fact that you haven't read the letter, but separate and apart from that, based on the President's own public statements over the last couple of months, is it the President's position that Iraq does in fact have chemical and biological weapons, and is pursuing nuclear weapons?
MR. McCLELLAN: That's a good question. We have made that clear, that Iraq does possess chemical and biological weapons. And what we are doing is to -- what we are working to do right now with the international community, speaking with one voice, is to disarm Saddam Hussein of those weapons of mass destruction. We know that he possesses chemical and biological weapons. And we know that he seeks to acquire nuclear weapons.
Q: And that said, what sort of a foundation for cooperation is laid by a statement that these weapons don't exist?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, you're asking me to comment about a letter that I have not seen. The resolution, I go back to that, says they have a 30-day time period to disclose all information. So that's what I would refer you back to.
Q: On Israel and terrorism, will the United States aid Israel in any way in its investigation of this horrendous murder in the kibbutz of the women and her two children, because of this eerie coincidence or relationship, the fact that the killer was Sirhan Sirhan, the cousin of the Sirhan Sirhan who is in American custody?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any information on that, Connie. I might refer you to the State Department. What specific --
Q: Well, since Sirhan Sirhan who killed Kennedy is in American custody, and the 19 year old who killed the woman and the two children is also named Sirhan Sirhan and is a cousin. I'm just wondering if there is any possibility of a relationship with it?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just don't have any information on this.
Let me get April.
Q: Scott, on another issue from the news conference last week, President Bush talked about Pickering and Owens in the Senate committee, Judiciary Committee. What is the work right now that's happening on that process with them to make it through and to actually --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you brought that up. I understand Congress is moving on a couple of the nominations. The President has made it very clear that the voice of the entire Senate deserves to be heard on his nominees. There are far too many vacancies in the judiciary and far too many very qualified individuals who have been held up, their nominations have been held up. And that's why the President said the voice of the entire Senate needs to be heard. There are currently 18 pending court of appeals nominees being held up, almost all of whom have received very strong bipartisan support. So we urge Congress to -- urge the Senate to allow those nominees to be voted on, on the floor.
Q: You're vocally urging from the podium, but what has the President done since the news conference in talking about what could be done for these nominees?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the White House staff continues to work with Congress to move these nominees forward. We work very closely with them on an individual basis. I would also point out -- I would also point out on nominations that there are over -- this is beyond just judicial nominees -- there are over 95 nominations awaiting floor action, and over 150 nominations awaiting committee and floor action. And it's important that Congress move forward on those nominees, as well, so that we have people in place to carry out their responsibilities.
END 1:10 P.M. EST
Scott McClellan, Press Briefing by Scott McClellan Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272137