SPEAKER: SCOTT MCCLELLAN, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY
MCCLELLAN: All right. Good morning, everyone. The President had his usual briefing this morning before we departed. And we will be going to Charlotte, where the President will be speaking before members of the World Affairs Council of Charlotte, which is a — I think you all have information on it; we’ll make sure we get you the information on the group — but it’s a non-profit, non-partisan organization.
And there will also be people there from the local community college, as well. There’s supposed to be around a thousand people, or nearly a thousand people that will be there. From the college I think there are 250, 275, from faculty, staff, administrators, students. And then the bulk of the people there are World Affairs Council members.
QUESTION: Were tickets…
MCCLELLAN: Yes, tickets they distributed. Those two groups passed out the tickets.
This is more of a town hall-type setting, I think. The President does not have formal remarks, but he will focus on Iraq. He’ll talk about our strategy for victory in Iraq, the progress we’re making, and the difficulties and challenges that lie ahead, as well. And that will kind of be — that’s a general overview of what he’ll talk about. And then he looks forward to taking some questions from people in the audience.
Then we return back to the White House this afternoon. The President looks forward to making remarks to the 2005 and 2006 NCAA sports champions. This is 12 teams that won national titles in either 2005 or most recently, the two basketball champions, men’s and women’s, who will be there as well, 2006 NCAA men’s and women’s basketball champions.
And then following that the President has some policy time on our Katrina recovery and rebuilding efforts, which will include Don Powell and others that are involved in those efforts.
And I think that’s all I’ve got to begin with.
QUESTION: Do you know which of the two immigration bills that the Senate is considering the President prefers?
MCCLELLAN: A couple of things. One, I expect you may hear more from the President at this event; we’ll see. It tends to be an issue that comes up at some of these town hall-type meetings, and certainly an issue that is on the minds of many Americans.
You’ve heard the President talk about how he wants a comprehensive bill to get out of the Senate. And the President believes it’s important that we address the immigration problems in a comprehensive way. And that’s what he has proposed and that’s what we’re continuing to work with leaders in the Senate to get done.
I mentioned to you yesterday that the President met with the bicameral Republican leadership, and this was an issue that was discussed. And they reiterated the importance of getting a comprehensive bill passed.
The President appreciates the efforts of Senator Frist and others in the Senate to build broad support for a comprehensive piece of legislation. I know Senator Hagel and Senator Martinez have been working to try to bring people together around a compromise and build as broad a support as possible to move the legislation forward. There is a lot of activity that will be going on today in the Senate.
The President has laid out some very clear principles, and what we believe what’s important at this point is to find a vehicle that can build broad support to move forward on a comprehensive piece of legislation. So we appreciate the efforts of those Senate leaders that I mentioned and others that are working to accomplish that objective.
QUESTION: Which one does he like better? Which vehicle?
MCCLELLAN: Well, again, we’ll see if you hear more from the President later today. But we’ve continued to stay in close contact with leaders in the Senate and talk about how to get this moving forward.
QUESTION: Have you been lobbying any lawmakers on this?
MCCLELLAN: Yes. As I mentioned, you know, yesterday he met with the bicameral Republican leadership. And there are a lot of conversations going on. We’re remaining in close contact with Senate leaders. This is an important priority. The Senate is continuing to debate it today and likely through tomorrow. And the President wants to see them get a comprehensive bill off the Senate floor and into conference committee.
QUESTION: Back to the war on terror, how frustrated is the President that there has not been more movement toward getting that coalition government all formed?
MCCLELLAN: Well, I don’t know if I agree with there has been no movement. There are a lot of discussions going on, and those discussions continue. The Iraqi leaders are continuing to talk about how to move forward on a government of national unity, that represents…
QUESTION: Bogged down…
MCCLELLAN: Well, that’s the nature of democracy, the compromise. The President is continuing to emphasize that we want to see it get done as soon as possible, and that we’re continuing to urge Iraqi leaders to move forward as quickly as possible. And this may be something the President touches on in his remarks. I wouldn’t be surprised if he does.
The President sent Secretary Rice to Baghdad to emphasize the importance of coming together and getting a unity government in place as quickly as possible. There is a political vacuum that needs to be filled, and particularly in this time when they had some sectarian violence taking place it’s important to move forward on a unity government quickly to really disable those who are seeking to create that sectarian violence. So that’s what we’re continuing to urge Iraqi leaders to do.
QUESTION: On the Katrina meeting, do you think they’ll talk about the issue with the levees and the fact that Powell said that there’s going to be more money than they initially thought — billions more needed to get the levees up to category three?
MCCLELLAN: Well, that is an issue that we’re staying in close contact with congressional leaders from the Louisiana delegation about. And our federal coordinator, Don Powell, has spoken about that in recent days. This is an issue that came up late last week, as well. Yes, I expect it will. That’s a high priority for the President; the levees are a high priority for the President and making sure that we’re on track to rebuild those levees to the pre-Katrina levels, and even strengthen in some areas, to fix some of the construction flaws in the system.
The President went down to New Orleans and highlighted those efforts just recently with the Army Corps of Engineers and others who are working to repair those levees. Ultimately, we’re moving forward to make sure that those levees are stronger and better than before. But I think right now that Don Powell’s office will tell you that they don’t have the precise estimates on some of these numbers, and they want to make sure that they have those.
But they felt it was important to reach out to the Louisiana congressional delegation and leaders in Louisiana to make sure that they had the most up-to-date information that they were getting. And I know Chairman Powell is committed to staying in close contact and working very closely with leaders in Louisiana and leaders in Congress from Louisiana to move forward and make sure that we meet this important priority.
QUESTION: Is it still likely that it can be done before the start of the hurricane season?
MCCLELLAN: 8211″‚I don’t think that — I haven’t heard anything
again, I’ll let this briefing take place and see what additional updates there are. But I think Chairman Powell stressed that they’re still all on track when it comes to meeting their objectives for this hurricane season. But it’s also important that Congress continue to move forward and make sure that the funding is there as we move forward on this.
QUESTION: Is the White House going to make another formal request?
MCCLELLAN: I don’t have any updates at this point, beyond what I just told you. I think right now Chairman Powell wants to make sure that they have precise estimates on what may be needed in the future. But the Army Corps of Engineers is continuing to work to get those levees back to the pre-Katrina levels before this hurricane season, and as they do so, to fix some of the flaws in the design, originally. I think they talked about, instead of the I-shaped levees, going to the T-shape.
And when we went down to New Orleans you all saw some of the charts about how they’re strengthening some of those levees.
QUESTION: Scott, Secretary Rumsfeld disputed remarks by Secretary Rice that the United States made tactical errors in Iraq. Who does the President think is correct on that?
MCCLELLAN: Well, actually, I think if you look at what they’ve talked about, everybody has essentially been saying the same thing, which is that the strategic decisions have been the right ones, we have the right strategy in place. But when you are at war, you’re going to have to adapt and adjust to circumstances on the ground. And so all of us — the President, Secretary Rice, Secretary Rumsfeld — have been talking about the lessons that we have learned and how we’ve adapted and adjusted to circumstances on the ground. And I think that’s what everybody is talking about in the remarks.
I know Secretary Rice talked about how she was speaking figuratively, not literally, in some of the remarks that she made. But if you look at Secretary Rumsfeld’s whole transcript, he talked about how the enemy is constantly adapting, and that’s the nature of warfare, and we have to be able to adapt and adjust to circumstances on the ground, as well. And the President has talked at length about some of the difficulties we face and how we’ve had to learn from experience and then apply those lessons as we move forward. Reconstruction is a great example.
Some of our initial reconstruction efforts focused on larger projects, when we realized that we needed to move to some of the smaller projects, it would have a more immediate impact on people’s lives. And that’s what we’ve done. He’s talked about how we’ve — the President has talked about how we’ve adjusted the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces and in the political arena, as well.
QUESTION: So you don’t see this as a disagreement between the two?
MCCLELLAN: No, I think if you look at what both were talking about, they were talking about how we’ve had to adapt and adjust to circumstances on the ground. And the President has talked about that at length in his remarks, particularly over the last few months.
QUESTION: Any reaction to the op-ed piece in The Times by the Iranian ambassador to the U.N.?
MCCLELLAN: I don’t know if I read that.
QUESTION: The headline, We Do Not Have A Nuclear Weapons Program.
MCCLELLAN: I don’t know if I read that whole — oh, the op-ed in The New York Times?
QUESTION: Op-ed piece in The Times.
MCCLELLAN: The international community has made it very clear what the regime in Iran needs to do and what is expected of the regime. It’s time for the regime to come clean and commit to complying with its international obligations. The Security Council passed a very clear and united statement just last week, and the regime has 30 days to make that commitment to come clean and comply, or we’re going to be back at the Security Council talking about next steps to take.
I think you can understand why we are skeptical about the regime, that it will actually change its behavior. But the regime is only further isolating itself and the Iranian people from the rest of the world by its own behavior. And the international community is united in our objective of preventing the regime from developing a nuclear weapons capability.
And what’s important is that the regime needs to build confidence with the international community, to show that it’s not developing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian program. They hid their activities from the international community for some two decades. They have continued to conceal their activities when it comes to their nuclear program. And that’s why the international community is united in its concern when it comes to the regime.