Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EST
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon. Let me start with a few announcements. The President today announced his intention to nominate three individuals to serve in the administration. The President intends to nominate Samuel W. Bodman to be Deputy Secretary of Commerce. The President intends to nominate Ann Laine Combs to be Assistant Secretary of Labor. And the President intends to nominate Kathleen B. Cooper to be Under Secretary of Commerce for Economic Affairs.
I've a few other announcements. The President will be traveling to Quebec City April 20 through 22 for the third Summit of the Americas. The summit will provide an opportunity for the democratically elected leaders of the hemisphere to meet together to discuss our shared interest in strengthening democracy and promoting prosperity through free trade.
The President's trip to Canada will also afford him the opportunity to discuss bilateral and regional priorities with hemispheric partners.
President Bush will also travel to Asia in October. The President will visit Japan and the Republic of Korea, before continuing on to China for the APEC summit in Shanghai and subsequent travel to Beijing. Itinerary details are not finalized at this time.
And the President will meet with His Majesty King Juan Carlos, I of Spain on March 22. Spain is a close NATO ally, making important contributions to stability, security and prosperous in the Euro-Atlantic area, and the visit will reaffirm the strong bonds of friendship and cooperation between Spain and the United States.
I have three calls to announce. The President made three additional introductory telephone calls. He spoke with the Amir of Bahrain yesterday. This morning he spoke with the Syrian President Assad and with the Swedish Prime Minister Persson. In all three, the calls were the first time the President has had occasion to speak with the leaders, and they were get-acquainted calls.
And I have one more announcement before I open it up to questions. Cynthia Johnson, as many of you know, with Time Magazine, has covered the White House for the better part of the past couple of decades, will be -- this will be her last day here. And where is Cynthia? Is she in here? Well, sorry that she missed this. But we wish her all the best and we will definitely miss her.
With that, I will be happy to take questions. (Applause.)
Q:Scott, on tax cuts, is the White House amenable to what appears to be growing momentum in the Senate at least to front-load the tax cut perhaps in the first year, even if that were to increase the overall size of the package to provide more of a stimulus?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, it won't necessarily make it bigger, because you can make adjustments along the way. The President submitted, as part of his budget, submitted a $1.6 trillion tax plan over a 10-year period. And he is committed to passing that tax cut. The President, at the same time, believes that we need to get more money in people's pockets quicker. And that's why he supports making the tax cut retroactive, to give the economy a needed boost.
And as you will probably notice, in that same article today, I saw where even a number of the Democrats agree. Specifically, Senator Conrad mentioned that he believes we need to get more money into people's pockets quicker.
Q:Okay, let me just follow on that, because you're right, there is some bipartisan agreement on that. But what's been talked about in terms of retroactivity so far has been at least fairly limited. I mean, this would be a kind of consolidation of the first five years. Rather than phasing in in 2006 all the income rate cuts, you could actually do that effective to 2001, which would cost a little bit more than $100 billion. So is that on the table?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me tell you what is on the table, and that is that we are going to continue to work with Congress to make the tax cut retroactive. So these are ongoing discussions as we work through the legislative process. And we are committed to making that happen.
Now, as I pointed out, the adjustments could happen in the phase-in. You can adjust the phase-in to make it fit within that $1.6 trillion. But again, President Bush is going to continue pushing for a $1.6 trillion tax plan over a 10-year period.
Q:But it also could ultimately make it more expensive?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well again, not necessarily, because of the adjustments that are possible. So we'll continue to work with Congress on this issue.
Q:Scott, was there anything inaccurate about that article that you're referring to?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I think I've addressed the question, and I'm speaking for the President's position. And we look forward to work with Congress and to give this economy a needed boost by getting that money into the people's pockets quicker. This is about providing meaningful relief to the American people. The President understands the concerns of the American people, the concerns about their savings, the concerns about their financial situation at this state. And we need to do everything we can to help get more money into their pockets as soon as possible.
Q:Nobody is denying this article or the suggestion that --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me come back to you.
Q:Isn't it a major break between the Republican Party if Senator McCain's name would be taken off from campaign finance reform just because the President was not really more able to cut a deal with him?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, you're saying --
Q:Wouldn't that be a major break in the Republican Party if Senator McCain's name would be taken off campaign finance reform just because he wasn't able -- or the President wasn't able to cut a deal with him?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, the President submitted his principles yesterday so that the Congress would know where he stands on campaign finance reform. And we look forward to signing a fair and balanced campaign finance reform that is based on those principles. And so we will work with Congress.
Q:It certainly won't be McCain-Feingold any longer. It may be Hagel, may be something else. Do you think McCain's ideas could be incorporated into the President's proposal?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, the President put forth his principles yesterday so that the American people would know and the Congress would know exactly where he stood on this issue. These are principles he outlined during the campaign. He supports campaign finance reform, and we look forward to signing a fair and balanced bill that is based on those principles. And we will continue working with all members of Congress to do that. Q:Since I remember you being designated to answer questions on justice, in this case of United States versus --
MR. MCCLELLAN: And I notice that we have Mindy Tucker here today. She's probably going to go hide back there. (Laughter.)
Q:In this case of United States versus Aramony, this one-time CEO of United Way, is serving a 7-year prison sentence, among the reasons because he, and I quote, improperly used nonprofit organization money to further Aramony's relationships with various women and personal travel expenses incurred by him and one of his girlfriends so she could join him in London on a business trip. That's a quote. And my question is, given President Bush's constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, without regard to race, of course, why is Jesse Jackson not even investigated by the Bush administration when he used similarly nonprofit funds to give to the mistress that he impregnated?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I think on that question, if you're talking about an ongoing investigation there at the beginning --
Q:Is there any investigation? Does the Bush administration care about this, or not?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Any questions relating to any investigation or potential investigation would be handled by the Justice Department.
Q:Is the President concerned?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I haven't addressed that with him, but I'll be glad to take that up.
Q:Could you address Senator Daschle's comments yesterday that the White House's position on campaign financing and its apparent suggestion that the Hagel bill might be a better alternative is actually, in his words, a Trojan horse, that if Hagel becomes the vehicle, Democrat support will fall off, campaign finance will, in effect, go nowhere, and at the end of the process there won't be a signable bill. Could you explain that assessment of Senator Daschle?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we believe that the President will be able to sign a fair and balanced campaign finance reform bill, and we'll look forward to doing so. And we will continue to work with members on that effort. But it's early in the process right now. The debate begins next week, and this is an important debate to have.
Q:The British papers are reporting that you guys are ready to name the Real IRA a foreign terrorist organization. Do you have anything on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't. If you have something to bring to my attention, let me know, and we'll check on it for you.
Q:On the bankruptcy bill, Scott, the President's view of its passage now and its potential impact?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I addressed earlier today, the President is very encouraged by the common sense -- by the quick action by the Congress and the common-sense reforms that are moving along the way to end the abuses in our bankruptcy protections. So it's an important bill. They had bipartisan compromise on this bill previously. And we'll look forward to seeing it when it reaches his desk.
Q:Scott, there is some suggestions from Democrats in the Senate that a conference committee may not proceed on that because of some objections they had if the House determines that they're not receptive to some of the last-minute amendments the Senate passed. Does the administration have an opinion on some of those last-minute amendments, as to whether or not they should be incorporated into the final bill, and the President would sign those?
MR. McCLELLAN: It's still early in the process, as it heads to conference committee. So we need to see what happens there. But again, the President is encouraged that Congress is moving quickly and passing common-sense reforms that will end abuses in the system. That's an important --
Q:But if there's no conference committee, you could have a very protracted, drawn-out process. If the President believes it's such a priority, does the administration have an opinion on what should or should not be in the conference report to get the bill to his desk as soon as possible?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we'll work with members of Congress and make our views known. But we need to -- but again, it's early in the process.
Q:Scott, the debate is largely going to be John McCain's show next week. How much concern is there over here about potential attacks from him?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President has discussed campaign finance reform with Senator McCain, as you're aware, and with other members of Congress. And I believe, like I said earlier, that this is an important debate to have. And we're going to continue to work closely with members to pass what we hope will be a fair and balanced bill that is --
Q:But if McCain goes after him on the Senate floor next week, how might you all respond?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that's a hypothetical, and I'm not going to get into that hypothetical. Senator McCain's a good friend, and we will work with him.
Q:Yes, well, your good friend has been a champion for campaign finance reform since way back when he wasn't such a good friend, in the course of the primaries. And now, what message do you think it sends that the President says he wants a campaign finance bill, but to get it, he's going to back another horse in the fight?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think he said that. He submitted his principles to Congress, and said that -- and we made it clear that we're going to work -- continue working with members of Congress on this legislation.
Q:But he backs the Hagel bill, doesn't he?
MR. McCLELLAN: We said that we look forward to working with members of Congress --
Q:I know what you said, but the reality is --
MR. MCCLELLAN: -- and the principles that he outlined yesterday --
Q:Yes, but those principles are in line with the Hagel bill.
MR. MCCLELLAN: -- to strengthen the ability of individuals to have more of a say in the process, to strengthen parties, and to promote full disclosure, instant and rapid disclosure.
Q:Most of those principles are anathema to the McCain effort, right?
MR. McCLELLAN: We believe there's common ground to build upon, and we think it will be based on those principles.
Q:Scott, give us a readout on the meeting today between Ireland's Prime Minister and the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think I'll leave that to NSC to address later. But, I mean, the President spoke earlier. He did meet, let me point out, with the entire Northern Ireland delegation as well, in the Blue Room at the beginning of the reception. I think he's made his remarks earlier today.
Q:Did that include Ian Paisley?
MR. McCLELLAN: Yes, it included a number of individuals.
Q:I understand you ran a campaign in which you suggested that Carol Keaton Rylander is one tough grandmother. And I'm wondering if you can square that with --
MR. McCLELLAN: Actually, I don't know that I can take credit for that suggestion, but --
Q:Can you square that with President Bush's pledge to change the tone and increase civility? (Laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: She's probably watching. I imagine that my nieces and her grandkids may be as well. But she's not -- her grandkids would dispute the toughness of her.
Q:How tough a grandmother is she? Were you responsible for that line?
MR. McCLELLAN: She's a pretty tough leader. (Laughter.)
Q:Will she be running for lieutenant governor next year? (Laughter.)
Q:How did you get the nickname, Scooter? Could you tell us that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I believe -- I've had other people previously refer to me as that, but I believe during the campaign, Mr. Burman there started that one.
Q:Scott, since I remember you also being designated to answer questions on education, in which the President has great interest. You may remember that his fellow Republican presidential candidate, Steve Forbes, cut off all of his substantial financial support to his alma mater, when they hired Professor Peter Singer, who advocates permission for infanticide up to 40 days after birth, which I presume, that President Bush opposes. My question is --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm sorry, could you repeat that part.
Q:No, no --
Q:I presume the President opposes allowing infanticide 40 days after birth, right? Does the Bush administration --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Just making sure I'm following you.
Q:Does the Bush administration believe that Mr. Forbes was wrong to do this to his alma mater, or should $80 million in federal funding continue to be given to Princeton, whose Professor Singer, the Weekly Standard reports, has now publicly supported bestiality, as well as infanticide?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not familiar with it. I think I'd refer you to Mr. Forbes if you have a question of him.
Q:No, I want to know, does the President --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not familiar with what you're referring to.
Q:Well, it was in The Washington Times and here it is. Does the President feel it's right that --
MR. MCCLELLAN: I'm not familiar with it. We're going to move on. Let me move on. Go ahead.
Q:With everything that's been said, I'm confused. Does the President still back some sort of a repeal of the inheritance tax and the marriage tax?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Absolutely. The plan he submitted is what we're are pursuing and will continue to work to pass that plan. When the President developed his tax plan, what he did was look at the inequities in the tax code and the unfairness in the tax code, and then the $1.6 trillion figure fit that plan. The first thing he did, though, was look at the inequities and unfairness in the tax code. And he believes it's important to pass this tax plan not only to give a boost to the economy and provide all American taxpayers with tax relief now, but to make the tax code fairer.
Q:So this is a reduction in the marriage tax --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Right, and repeal of the estate tax.
Q:And reduction or killing of the estate tax.
MR. MCCLELLAN: That's right.
Q:And both retroactive to the first of the year?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, the retroactive part we're referring to are the marginal rate cuts.
Q:This morning OPEC General Secretary Ali Rodriquez said that a million-barrel cut may in fact not be enough. OPEC next week may have to cut by more. In light of the President's comments on the energy crisis, what's the U.S. stance going into this OPEC meeting? Do we have a viewpoint on what a cut should be?
MR. MCCLELLAN: I don't think we're going to comment in advance of every single OPEC meeting. The President is going to -- and I'll address this in the week in advance when I get to it in a minute -- but the President is committed to pursuing a comprehensive energy policy that will reduce our reliance on foreign oil by promoting domestic exploration and production. But, again, every OPEC meeting I don't think you're going to see us commenting in advance of it. If there's something to say after it, we will be glad to discuss it then.
Q:Also, during the conversation with the Amir of Bahrain, did oil prices, oil cuts come up as part of the discussion?
MR. MCCLELLAN: It was an introductory courtesy call, and I don't have any more than -- if I have any more, I will let you know.
Q:You can't give us any idea about whether you're trying to head off this cut, or what you might be doing, or even if you're doing anything about it?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Head off what cut?
Q:Cut in the --
MR. MCCLELLAN: For OPEC? Well, again, the President is going to focus on a long-term energy strategy. That's what we're doing. And we're just not going to weigh in, in advance of every single OPEC meeting.
Q:Are you doing anything --
MR. MCCLELLAN: But we talk to OPEC representatives all the time, OPEC officials.
Q:When are we going to see the energy policy?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me get to the week in advance and give you a little bit of an update. I will talk about that on Monday.
Q:Are you lobbying against the output cut that OPEC is talking about, in advance of the meeting?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, again, I think I've addressed the question.
Q:Scott, in light of the administration's reversal on CO2 emissions, does the administration have a position on the Clean Power Act of 2001, which would regulate other types of emissions, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Absolutely, that's part of his multi-pollutant strategy. This is a bold, important step forward on the multi-pollutant strategy he's committed to, that will significantly reduce emissions. It's a very strong and positive step forward in our efforts to make the air cleaner, and to improve the --
Q:With the exception of CO2, all the other things and all the other regulatory moves undertaken by Congress under the Clean Power Act the administration supports --
MR. MCCLELLAN: The three pollutants you just mentioned are part of what the President has outlined in his energy plan to reduce emissions.
Q:Well, CO2 was at one time also, so I'm just double-checking.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, we've addressed that. If you want me to do that again, I'll be glad to.
Q:What the decision was on campaign finance issue, just principles and not some sort of detailed legislation, or a more detailed proposal if this is a priority of the President's?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, he outlined a plan very early on in the campaign and continued to talk about it throughout the campaign. So he support campaign finance reform, but believes that that reform must be fair and balanced. Otherwise, you won't have a level playing field across the board.
Q:Can I come back to the oil question one more time? It's hard to imagine anything having a more immediate impact on the price and availability of energy in this country than a sudden large cut in OPEC's output.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q:President Clinton took a lot of hits, frankly, in this room over the fact that he wasn't working hard enough to lean on America's allies in the Gulf to produce more oil.
MR. MCCLELLAN: And we are talking with our allies and OPEC and we are going to continue to pursue a comprehensive national energy strategy here that will help reduce our dependence on foreign oil. But, again, I mean -- every OPEC meeting that goes on, I don't think we're going to weigh in, in advance. But if we have more to say when they meet, then we will update you at that time.
Q:Are you at least willing to say that you're talking to the OPEC -- our allies in the Gulf, and telling them, look, you cannot go for something this big?
MR. MCCLELLAN: We talk to our OPEC folks all the time.
Q:Can you at least tell us, Scott, who's talking for the administration? At least the Clinton administration would tell us the Energy Secretary, other people would at least identify -- wouldn't go into great detail about the sum total of the conversation, but would at least identify who the main administration representatives were in conversation with OPEC. Can you at least tell us that?
MR. MCCLELLAN: If I have more information on that I'll get that to you later today.
Q:Scott, during the campaign, the President -- or then-governor said that the OPEC nations should open their spigots. He said that --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Absolutely.
Q:Is that still the policy of the administration, that he wants the OPEC nations to open their spigots?
MR. MCCLELLAN: He's committed to what he said during the campaign, sure.
Q:Scott, in light of the fact that the President has said that we are nearing an energy crisis, or in an energy crisis, would a 1 million barrel cut concern him gravely?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, if we have more to say after the meeting, we will talk about it then. But, remember, the energy working group that we have working on the issue of our national energy strategy -- and I want to get to that, but not until the end, when we talk about the week ahead.
Q:But if you're not telling us any more, then I guess we're just left to infer from what we know about the President's positions when he was campaigning that you ought to remind the allies who their friends were, and that they should open up their spigots, and that this kind of cut would be considered a major blow.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Look, we had a problem of neglect before the President took office on developing a national energy strategy. And so we are now faced with a serious energy shortage, which the President talked about -- he talked about the other day when he announced his multi-pollutant strategy. So it's going to be important to continue to pursue the plan that he outlined during the campaign. And we will have a little more to say at a meeting on Monday about the energy situation in America.
Q:Scott, why don't you do the week-ahead now?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, I want to wait until the end, but if you all would prefer -- I'll go ahead now if you would prefer.
Q:This is relevant to the week-ahead. What about the meeting with Mr. Mori? Can you give us any heads-up on that? MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me start with the week-ahead and that will take us into that.
Q:Specifically, there are rumors in the financial market that foreign exchange will be high up on the agenda. I don't think --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me go down the week-ahead and I'll get to -- here's the rundown, the week-ahead. The President will continue to talk about his budget priorities including his economic recovery plan, and his priorities to improve the quality of health care. Before I get into Monday, the President's radio address tomorrow will focus on his economic recovery plan that will help give our economy a needed boost and provide tax relief for all taxpayers.
Monday, the President will meet with Prime Minister Mori of Japan. He will stop by the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce meeting at the White House. And the National Energy Policy Development group will meet with the President to provide an analysis, an assessment of the current energy shortage in the United States.
That same day, Secretary Abraham will also be speaking at the National Chamber Foundation, part of their national energy summit meeting, and he will talk about the need for a comprehensive energy strategy and what we were just discussing a minute ago.
Q:He will lay out the plan or --
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me keep going through the week ahead, and then I'll take some more questions.
Tuesday, the President will meet with Prime Minister Sharon of Israel. The President will also meet with women business leaders at the White House, and he will visit CIA headquarters where he will make remarks to employees, do a tour and have a briefing.
Wednesday, the President will travel to Orlando, Florida to speak to the American College of Cardiology Annual Convention. He will talk about the importance of passing a strong patient protection law.
Thursday, the President will meet with the Vice Premier of China. The President will address the National Newspaper Association 40th Annual Government Affairs Conference. And he will tour and dedicate the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center.
On Friday, the President will travel to Portland, Maine, to address the Greater Portland Area Chamber of Commerce. And he will meet with the Secretary General of the United Nations.
MR. MCCLELLAN: That will be here. And on Saturday, the President will attend and address the Gridiron Dinner.
Q:Going back to Mr. Mori, can you say what's on the agenda for the talks? Also, there's some thoughts that this was kind of a hurry-up trip to get Mr. Mori to the White House before the President met with the Chinese Vice Premier, to emphasize the U.S. commitment to Japan. Is there any truth to that?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me talk -- go back to your first part of that. The two leaders will address a range of economic and security issues, both global and regional. And this is a working visit lunch. And the U.S.-Japan alliance is key to regional stability in Asia. So our cooperation is wide-ranging and advances many mutual interests in Asia and around the world.
Q:On Sharon, do you have a time for that?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Sharon, do you have a time for that? About noon. I believe it's a meeting and a lunch.
Q:Is there any truth to the rumors in the financial markets that foreign exchange will be high up on the agenda on the talks between Mr. Mori and Mr. Bush?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Let me say, it is in our interest that Japan be economically strong and prosperous. As you're aware, it is the second largest economy in the world, so Japan's slow growth has implications for the United States and the rest of the world. So I expect the leaders will discuss economic challenges and opportunities that we face.
Q:But is foreign exchange one of them?
MR. MCCLELLAN: If we have a further readout, we will talk to you later.
Q:Scott, so is Abraham then going to actually unveil the energy plan on Monday?
MR. MCCLELLAN: What it is, is to talk about the scope of the problem and provide an assessment of the energy shortage we're in and where we are today. So that's what this is about. This is an ongoing group that is continuing to work on implementing the comprehensive energy plan the President outlined during the campaign.
Q:Who makes up that group?
MR. MCCLELLAN: It's headed by the Vice President, and you have the Secretary of Energy, Secretary of Treasury, EPA Administrator. So it's a diverse group.
Q:So, basically, you're going to tell us what we already know, there's a problem, right?
MR. MCCLELLAN: It's a broader assessment of the problem, so we know exactly what the problem is and we can begin to address that better.
END 2:03 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/271549