Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:52 P.M. EDT
MR. McCLELLAN: Good afternoon. How's everybody doing? Let me start by going back through the President's day. The President had his usual briefings this morning. Then he had a meeting with the President of Senegal, President Wade. This was the second meeting that they have had. It was a positive meeting. They discussed Madagascar. The President commended President Wade for his mediation efforts and they discussed the World Cup, as well. Both the U.S. and Senegal, as everybody may be aware, are in the quarter-finals and the two Presidents said that they look forward to the two teams possibly meeting, which, of course, would be in the finals if they did.
They also discussed counterterrorism cooperation and they talked about their shared view about the importance of the private sector in investing in regional development issues.
I want to again reiterate that this afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee is taking up legislation related to the President's initiative to rally the armies of compassion. It's an important step forward and the President is pleased that the Senate is moving forward on this legislation.
The Care Act will make it possible for faith-based and community-based programs to do more to help Americans who are in need, and it also includes a provision to give non-itemizers a tax deduction for charitable contributions, something the President previously proposed. And since September 11th, charities have had a dramatic drop in donations, and the non-itemizer credit is an important step, urging Americans to give those who have fallen on difficult times.
Last, before I open up to questions, we will be issuing a special message to the Congress from the President recommending the establishment of a Department of Homeland Security. In that message, the President talks about how our nation faces a new and changing threat, unlike one we have ever faced before. And that is the threat of international terrorism, in that no nation is immune and all nations must act decisively to protect against these constantly evolving threats.
Since September 11th -- I'll just refresh everybody -- all levels of government and leaders from across the political spectrum have been working together like never before. And we've strengthened our aviation safety, we have tightened our borders, we have stockpiled medicines to defend against bioterrorism and improved our ability to combat weapons of mass destruction. We have dramatically improved information-sharing among our intelligence agencies, and we have taken new steps to protect our critical infrastructure.
Our nation, as the President notes in this message, is better and stronger prepared today than it was on September 11th to address these threats. Yet he believes we can do more, and that is why he is calling on Congress to act quickly on his proposal to establish the Department of Homeland Security.
With that, I will --
Q: When will the President unveil his plan for the Middle East?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, Bill, as I indicated earlier, I'm not going to get into any additional information about how, when or what the President may say. He indicated last week that he would have more to say, and that he wanted to share that with the American people. I expect something to -- I expect something soon on that, but I don't want to speculate. I expect that it will be soon. I just don't want to get into speculating about specifics. You should be prepared that it could come at any time.
Q: Who notified the President about the latest bombing? When was that notification given? What was his immediate reaction? And how has this bombing affected his deliberations on the speech?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, going back to the first part of your question, Condi Rice briefed the President this morning, about 5:00 a.m. this morning, on the bombing that occurred overnight in Israel. And I would like to reiterate what I said earlier: the President condemns this act of terror in the strongest possible terms. These terrorists who attack and kill innocent men, women and children are the enemy of peace, and they are trying to disrupt our efforts. The world must condemn terrorism and stand together against terrorism.
Q: If I could just follow up, just for color, was this by phone? Did she --
MR. McCLELLAN: It was by phone, that was by phone, at 5:00 a.m. this morning.
Q: Do you how long the conversation was, by any chance?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know.
Q: And how has this affected his deliberations on the speech? Will it delay it, in other words?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I want to reiterate -- I mentioned this earlier -- there is no relation or connection. The President has been working -- if you go back to April 4th in the Rose Garden, the President laid out his vision for moving forward in the Middle East, a framework for that. And last week, again, he indicated that he would soon have more to say about how we move forward to two states, living side by side in peace and security. And that is our goal, and that is where we continue to keep our focus.
But I would not make a connection between the two. He's continued -- he's been consulting with world leaders, listening to their views, he's been consulting with his senior advisors. This will be an important policy statement that he will make and when he is ready to say it, he will say it.
Q: Prime Minister Sharon has drawn a direct connection, standing at the scene of the carnage. He said incredulously, what Palestinian state are you talking about? Does the President intend to continue to call for the establishment of a Palestinian state, perhaps as early as tomorrow, in the face of this kind of terror?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, Terry, again, that gets into speculation about what the President may or may not propose. And I do not want to get into speculation. The President indicated that he would do it on his time frame when he was ready to do so.
Q: So the President then disagrees with Prime Minister Sharon, who says there is a relationship.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you're going back to some specific ideas that you're suggesting may be in the President's proposal. And I'm just not going to get into that at this point. I think that's for the President to announce when he is ready, when he is ready to do so.
Q: Has he not made up his mind?
MR. McCLELLAN: When he is ready to make an announcement, he will tell you, and then we will provide you with additional information about how we move forward in the Middle East.
Q: We know what's going on here. I mean, we know the President has talked for months about his desire for a Palestinian state, for an end to the violence. We know what Arab leaders want, which is the immediate declaration of a state. And it's also well-known that the President is strongly considering laying out the guidelines for at least a provisional Palestinian state. But Terry's question --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think -- I don't think the President has indicated that.
Q: -- reflecting Ariel Sharon's question is -- and obviously, Ariel Sharon knows what's going on because he's been talking about all this -- what kind of state are we talking about? Why does the President feel that the time is right, in the face of this kind of violence, to be -- to be putting the full force of the United States behind the notion of a Palestinian state, even if it's a provisional Palestinian state?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, that's starting to get into some of the speculation about what he's going to say and what exactly he's going to propose.
To my knowledge, he has not indicated anything one way or the other, other than to go back to -- go back to April 4th. He clearly laid out his vision and clearly talked about the need to have two states living side by side in peace and security. He laid out a framework of responsibilities for all parties in the region, and it's important for all parties to keep focused on that end game. That end game is two states living side by side in peace and security. That's where we're going to keep our focus.
Q: Ari has said from that podium that the President has an interest in working toward a Palestinian state --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's correct.
Q: -- sooner rather than later. So my question to you is, why does the President and his security team feel that now the time is right, in the face of this kind of continuing violence, to accord to the Palestinian Authority statehood in any form?
MR. McCLELLAN: We always must keep working toward that goal of two states living side by side in peace and security, and keep that as the focus. The President has been consulting with a number -- I go back to what I said a minute ago -- is consulting with a number of leaders, leaders in the region, Prime Minister Sharon, others. He's been listening to their views. He's been working with his senior advisors, and he is continuing to move forward on this. And when he has more to say, he will do so at that time.
Q: Scott, just to turn this question slightly differently, you said that the bombing today has no relation, no connection to the development --
MR. McCLELLAN: We're talking about the timing of the speech. That was asked in the context of the timing of the speech.
Q: Right. Well, why not?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q: Why doesn't it have an impact?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, because it's important for us to continue to move forward on what I just described, which is the end game. We've got to do everything we can and working with the others in the region, and elsewhere, to move towards two states living side by side in peace. And we're not going to lose sight of that focus.
Q: Is it the assessment of the administration that the people who committed this act did so to try to knock the President off his game plan?
MR. McCLELLAN: I mentioned earlier that people that carry out these acts are enemies of peace, and they are trying to disrupt our ultimate end goal, when people carry out attacks like this. There are some people that don't want to see us move forward.
Q: Scott, Sharon has said time and time again he won't negotiate with Palestinians until the violence stops. Clearly, this has not stopped. With all due respect, what does it matter what is in the President's peace proposal if he can't meet the one requirement that will bring Sharon back to negotiating table?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I do not want to connect the two issues here. This has been a proposal that the President has been working on, and is going to continue -- we are determined to continue moving forward on this effort, and working with all parties to do that.
Q: Scott, how can you not connect the two? This is what Sharon is saying, is that he will go back to the negotiating table --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm talking about the timing here.
Q: Not the timing, but the proposal itself. What does it matter what is in the President's proposal if it doesn't meet the one requirement which will bring Sharon back to the negotiating table, which is the end to the violence?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you should wait until the President speaks more on this, which he will do soon. So, again, I mean, this is all coming back to trying to get further into what exactly the President is going to say or what exactly he may say.
Q: If I may, quickly to South Asia. The President is being briefed by Secretary Rumsfeld who just came from India and Pakistan and what the President thinks now and what is the future of the --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Secretary Rumsfeld actually addressed some of this in his briefing yesterday where he talked about it. I mean, there are some positive signs that tensions have eased in the region. But we still need to continue, and the President actually spoke about this with Prime Minister Blair recently, too, about continuing to do everything we can to get the parties to continue taking steps toward deescalation. And there is still concern about the alert level and so forth along the Line of Control.
Q: Is the President satisfied with what has happened in the last four weeks?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I mean, it is a positive sign that tensions appear to be easing. But we've got to continue to focus on getting the parties to take steps in the direction of de-escalation.
Q: Scott, just one more thing on the timing. I know you've said when he's ready to make the announcement, he will make the announcement, but I'm still a little bit unclear about if he's made up his mind about what the announcement will be, the substance of it? Or he's still tinkering?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, when he has more to say about it, then we'll talk further about it. And I don't want to get into specifics. But he is continuing to consult with his advisors, as well.
Q: Scott, the State Department showed less than great enthusiasm yesterday for the building of a wall by the Israelis. Mrs. Bush seemed also to be unenthusiastic about the whole idea. I was wondering what the President's view was, and whether or not it is also the President's view that the establishment of a wall de facto creates a border ahead of any negotiations on borders?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think if you go back and look at what I said, as well as Richard Boucher and Mrs. Bush, it's all consistent. Mrs. Bush's comments -- I specifically referred to that all parties need to keep in mind the consequences of their actions. And I think that's what was being referred to by her as well.
And Richard Boucher, if I go back to his comments, said that to the extent that it's -- let me see if I've got it here -- while some call it a demarcation of a border, some call it a security barrier, some call it other things. I don't think it's for me to describe what the purpose of this is. But to the extent that it is an attempt to establish a border, we would have to say that that really has to be done through direct talks. He was talking about negotiation. I agree with what he said, and he indicated that he agreed with what I said.
Q: My question here is what the President thinks. Does the President --
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I spoke to this yesterday, and those remarks still apply today.
Q: Well, you're a little more specific today, and Richard of course, has been more specific. Does the President believe this is an effort by Israel to force the creation of a border prior to negotiations?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there have also been indications that this is -- from Israel that this is being done for security purposes.
Q: My question is, which of those explanations does the President believe?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I go back to what I said yesterday. I think I addressed this question fully yesterday, in terms of our view, as did Richard Boucher and Mrs. Bush, as well.
Q: Today you have the directors of the CIA, FBI and NSA testifying on Capitol Hill, and also Governor Ridge is also testifying. Is the President still willing to have his Department of Homeland Security without passing on any sections of the CIA and the FBI, because that seems to be a bone of contention.
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, and I think this may have come up in the background briefing earlier, as well. But there have been a number of improvements that those agencies have taken since September 11th to improve cooperation and coordination. But if you look at the proposal that we sent out today, and it has a section-by-section analysis, I would refer you back to that. As far as that goes, it's important that -- the Department of Homeland of Security is a customer of those agencies, and they can determine -- analyze that information and determine how best to share it. We're talking about with state and local officials and others. This is an important -- I'm sorry, go ahead?
Q: So, basically, they're still going to be sharing information, no transfer of any unit?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q: What can you tell us about the American citizens who have been detained in Pakistan on the Afghan frontier?
MR. McCLELLAN: I believe the State Department is also addressing this as we speak, but we have looked into these reports and have confirmed that two Americans -- these are separate instances -- were being detained in Pakistan. As I understand, one individual is now back in the United States, no longer being detained or in custody. The other individual is still --
Q: No longer detained?
MR. McCLELLAN: Right, that's correct. The other individual is still in the custody of Pakistan. And the State Department has some information on this from our people in the field who were aware of this. But as far as going beyond that, there are some privacy act issues involved, and so I would refer you to the State Department.
Q: Have American officials been able to question these two individuals, and are we satisfied about --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the State Department is briefing on this. They've got some additional information that they've gathered. So I would refer you to the State Department.
Q: Can you tell us who actually did the detaining? Was it American --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, Pakistan, I'm talking Pakistan. That's why I said, in Pakistan, by Pakistani officials.
Q: And when American officials become aware of their presence?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, check with State Department. They've got some additional information on this.
Q: The President has been unaware of it until when?
MR. McCLELLAN: They're briefing, the State Department is briefing now. Well, I became aware of this information this morning, today. So as of yesterday, we were still trying to gather information on this.
Q: They were arrested by Pakistanis, not by U.S. --
MR. McCLELLAN: They were detained by Pakistani officials.
Q: Not detained, but arrested by -- in other words, who first seized them?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, they were taken into custody -- they're in the custody of Pakistani officials.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, and that's why -- I mean, I said there are some privacy act issues involved here. So I'm going to defer on these questions because of that.
Q: You can't say why they were arrested?
MR. McCLELLAN: But the State Department may have some additional information on this.
Q: I'm not asking you to give us their names or Social Security numbers.
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I understand.
Q: Why were these two Americans --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think State Department is going to provide you with additional information.
Q: Condi Rice said over the weekend that the Palestinian Authority is, "corrupt and cavorts with terror," and "is not the basis for a Palestinian state moving forward." What's the difference between saying this and saying that Arafat needs to go?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'm going to go back to what the President has said very recently on this. This is bigger than any one person, what we're talking about, and there is a need for the Palestinian people, as the President noted, as he talked about in his Rose Garden speech, as well, to develop strong institutions in preparation for statehood. And there need to be reforms, democratic, economic, security reforms. And we're continuing to focus on that.
Q: Does the latest incident overnight kind of reenforce this opinion that the Palestinian Authority isn't the basis for a new state of Palestine?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, I'll go back to keeping the focus on the end game and how it's important for all of us to be working together toward two states living side by side in peace and security.
Q: Does the United States government consider that there has been a breach of secure information that it has provided to Israel at any time in the last 48 hours?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, James, we went over this earlier, and this is kind of an end around to try to get back to speculation about what the President may be talking about soon, and I'm just not going to go there.
Q: I haven't asked you about the content of the proposed remarks --
MR. McCLELLAN: No, this is a great end around, it's a clever approach, and I appreciate that. (Laughter.) But I'm just not going there.
Q: Sometimes you give an answer in the afternoon briefing that you don't in the morning.
MR. McCLELLAN: It's all consistent, Helen, all consistent. (Laughter.)
Q: -- bigger than just one person, referring to Arafat. Obviously, the President has been pretty clear about expressing his disappointment in Arafat. Does there come a point when that disappointment becomes frustration or anger? Has the President reached that point yet?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, the issue is so much bigger than one person. You're referring to a specific person. We're talking about the Palestinian people and the people of Israel. It's much bigger than that.
Q: One other one on the Care Act that you talked about at the beginning of the briefing. There are some lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, who are expressing concerns that the Senate version of the faith-based bill is a bit watered down at this point and doesn't reflect what the President had truly hoped for in the beginning. Is that view shared here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I indicated that it incorporates many of the ideas the President has talked about and we think it is an important step forward, and we hope that they will move forward quickly on this legislation, and that we can resolve differences and get this bill passed. This is an important piece of legislation, particularly as I mentioned in light of September 11th and donations being down to some organizations that provide important help to people in need.
Q: Scott, two things. One, does the President agree with Condi Rice's characterization of Arafat and the Palestinian Authority?
MR. McCLELLAN: Which specific characterization are you talking about?
Q: The characterization that Holly just read.
MR. McCLELLAN: I go back to what I said, that our focus is on what steps the Palestinian people can take to move us toward ultimate statehood.
Q: But the thrust of her remarks was that the Palestinian people have got to go beyond --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what you've heard from Condi Rice speaks for itself.
Q: Does it speak for the President?
Q: Scott, one other question, if I might --
Q: Can you answer the question? Does it speak for the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, Ron, the President talked some in his April 4th speech about the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinians, as well. So I would refer you back to what he said, and I think it's all along those -- all along those same lines, still holds today.
Sorry -- finish.
Q: You said before all parties need to keep in mind the consequences of their actions. In this particular instance, what are the consequences for Yasser Arafat of the failure to live up to the President's request that he enforce real security?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's just -- and, you know, we keep going back to one person. This issue goes beyond just any one person, and it goes -- it's well beyond just that one person.
Q: What happens if Israel rejects the statehood, as it indicates it will. And also, I've never gotten a satisfactory answer to this --
MR. McCLELLAN: What statehood are you talking about?
Q: Palestinian statehood, a provisional Palestinian statehood at this time.
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, that's getting into some speculation there. I'm just not going to do it.
Q: What about -- I've never gotten a satisfactory answer to the question of a provisional state. Who grants the statehood? Who takes the statehood away if it's -- if it is not satisfactory?
MR. McCLELLAN: I understand. I think everybody just needs to wait. The President will talk about this all in due course. I think it's for the -- I'm going to leave it -- it's for him to say when he's ready to say it, and to share with the American people when he's ready to do so and he will do so soon.
Q: Bring him on. (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Soon enough.
Q: Are you ruling out that the President will not say anything today?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes. I actually indicated that earlier. You should not expect anything today.
Q: Does the President still hold out hope that a prescription drug benefit can be passed by the end of this year? When this issue has now become blatantly political for both parties?
MR. McCLELLAN: No -- yes, in answer to your question. We support the efforts by some Republicans in the House to move forward on this important piece of legislation. It's an important step forward to enacting prescription drug coverage this year, which the President still wants to do.
You know, this is long overdue, not only for prescription drug coverage, but providing better benefits to our seniors. This is a -- this is an important step that needs to be moved forward on quickly.
Q: Figuratively speaking, is there enough bandwidth in Congress between now and the end of the session to get this kind of thing done, when so much of that bandwidth is going to be taken up by the Homeland Security matters?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that goes back to -- I mean, there are always a lot of priorities on the plate when you're President. I mean, I've addressed this recently. Obviously, the highest priorities remain winning the war on terrorism and protecting Americans, making America safer.
And that's what -- with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, that's the ultimate goal, to make America a safer place. And we believe it strongly moves in that direction.
I'll go to the back.
Q: Scott, on the Mexican dispute with the water --
MR. McCLELLAN: The game's over. (Laughter.)
Q: Yes, and Mexico lost.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, go ahead, I'm sorry.
Q: What's the President's position in terms of Mexico's rejecting the idea that they have the obligation of a debt to pay the water to the United States? The President is very well aware of this situation, he was the governor of Texas. Is he -- that Mexico needs to pay?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think there were some -- I haven't gotten the latest update on this, but there were some meetings that were still going on about how to move forward so that Mexico could meet that obligation. But I'm not sure of the latest information on that; you might want to double-check with the State Department on it. I just don't have the latest information.
Q: But what is the position of the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, let me take it and we'll see what we can get you after the briefing.
Richard? I'm sorry.
Q: Back to the Middle East. As the President formulates his plan for what he wants to do, is the administration in contact with anybody with the Palestinian Authority beyond Arafat? And if so, who?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have anything to update you on in terms of who the -- I mean, I know who the President has spoken with, and you've been provided with that information. But I don't have any information -- I can't, without going throughout the administration, which I haven't done -- can't provide you with that information.
Q: Are people in the administration talking to people in the Palestinian Authority?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that's what I just indicated. I mean, you know, you might check with the other agencies, but I just don't have anything to update you on beyond what I have done recently on the President's calls.
Q: Has the President ruled out making Andy Card his Secretary of Homeland Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that's jumping way ahead of the game here right now. Our focus is on getting this department created, working with Congress as quickly as possible to do that, because it's a very important initiative, like I said, to make Americans safer. But I'm just not going to get into that kind of inside-the-Beltway speculation here.
Q: Scott, I have one follow on the Middle East. Deborah, I thought, raised an interesting point, and that is what the -- the President repeatedly says everybody needs to be aware of the consequences of their actions. But the bombings continue, the fence is going up. Is the administration concerned that there appear to be no consequences? Everybody just keeps -- you know, plodding along, doing their own thing, and we keep talking about a speech that, you know, is supposed to come soon. What are the consequences?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you may be trying to jump ahead here a little bit. I'm going to wait for the President to make his remarks when he's ready to do so.
But you know, again, go back, remember what he said on April 4th. Look back at those remarks. That was a good framework for laying out how we move forward to the two states living side-by-side in peace and security. I would just point back to that, and then say wait until the President is ready to say more on this, which will be soon.
Q: You haven't decided the time, but have you decided the venue? Is he going to speak to the nation, is he going to have a Rose Garden --
MR. McCLELLAN: As I indicated earlier with my earlier preemptive strike this morning, I'm just not going to get into details about how, when, or what the President intends to say about how we move forward.
Q: Scott, did the President contact any world leaders today, or offers --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't have any update on any information. Not that I'm aware of.
Yes, go ahead, Ken.
Q: The upshot of Jeanne's question was that no one seems to be listening to the President's admonitions to pay attention to the consequences of their actions.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, this goes back to -- I mean, there are people, there are terrorists that want to do everything they can to disrupt moving forward toward two states living side by side in peace. And these people are the enemy of peace. They kill innocent people -- men, women and children -- and we've got to keep our focus on the end game, as well.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thanks.
END 1:19 P.M. EDT
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/272661