McClellan: Reacts to Sun-Times story on gang members in the U.S. military in Iraq. Bush talks to President Bushir of Sudan on Darfur genocide.
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan comments on a story by Sun-Times crime reporter Frank Main about Chicago gang graffiti showing up in Iraq.
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 2, 2006
TOPIC PAGE #
Statement on Darfur………………………1, 7, 16, 19
Statement on the President’s speech………………..2-3
Bolivia/global energy supplies………………………3
Pandemic flu outbreak/White House plans…………….3-4
Iraqi security forces/gang members…………………..5
Classified information/journalists…………….5-6, 8-9
Abramoff/White House visits…………………6-7, 8, 18
National Anthem in Spanish………………………9, 15
Josh Bolten/White House changes………………….10-13
President/s poll numbers………………………..16-18
* * * * *
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 2, 2006
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:26 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCLELLAN: Good afternoon. I have a couple of things I want to begin with. First of all, the deteriorating situation and human suffering in Darfur have been a high priority for the President. I mentioned to you all yesterday that Deputy Secretary Zoellick was headed back to Abuja, Nigeria, to help move the peace process along and, hopefully, help the parties reach an agreement. He is now there. Yesterday after I announced that to you all, later in the day the President called President Bashir of Sudan. The President spoke with him to inform him that he was sending Deputy Secretary Zoellick to Nigeria to emphasize our commitment to helping the parties reach a peace agreement. The President requested that President Bashir send Vice President Taha back to the peace talks in Abuja to help finalize a peace agreement. The President also stressed the need for President Bashir to accept the transition of an African Union mission to a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur and to accept a NATO supportive role.
Also the President emphasized that real progress has been made on the revenue-sharing aspect of the comprehensive peace agreement between the North and the South, but indicated there is not enough being done in the areas of security cooperation. The President emphasized the need to work closely with President Vice President Salva Kiir to implement the comprehensive peace agreement and noted that he looks forward to seeing progress on joint integrated military units, as well.
Secondly, I’d like to talk a little bit about the President’s remarks tomorrow here in Washington. The President, tomorrow, will be making remarks here in Washington on taxes and spending restraint. He will clearly outline the choice in the debate in Washington over taxes and what it means for our economy and for the American people. Our economy is strong and growing. We saw strong growth in the first quarter at 4.8 percent. That followed a 3.5 percent growth in 2005. We have the fastest growing economy of any industrialized nation. We’ve added jobs for 31 straight months, more than 5.1 million new jobs. Productivity is high, which leads to higher wages. Consumer confidence is at a four-year high. Business confidence is strong and business investment is growing, and home ownership is at record levels.
Upon coming into office, the President cut taxes for all Americans who pay income taxes. We doubled the child tax credit and reduced the marriage penalty. We cut taxes on capital gains and dividends, which is encouraging more business investment. We passed incentives for small businesses to purchase new equipment and hire more workers. The tax relief that the President advocated and passed is working to do exactly what it was intended to do, get the economy growing and help create jobs. To keep our economy strong and growing, the tax relief needs to be made permanent.
Congress is on the verge of taking an important step on tax relief, by completing legislation that would extend cuts on capital gains and dividends, and extend incentives for small businesses to expand. Particularly at a time when Americans are paying more at the pump, the President believes the last thing they need is for Washington to take more of their hard-earned dollars out of their pockets. Many Democrats opposed the tax relief we passed. Most voted against the tax cuts. Now many are in favor of letting the tax cuts expire. The President is determined not to let them take the tax relief we passed away.
Also to keep our economy strong, we need to restrain spending in Washington. Each year since the President has been in office, we have slowed growth in non-security discretionary spending, and in the last two budgets, we have actually cut this spending. We’ve taken important steps to eliminate programs that are not working, saving several billion dollars, and we passed, recently, savings in mandatory spending, as well, which was an important step. This year in his budget the President has proposed eliminating or significantly reducing 141 programs that we have identified, which would save about $14 billion.
Congress is also moving forward on emergency spending legislation. I think the President will touch on that, as well. It’s important that we get this legislation passed, so that our troops have the resources they need and that we continue to move forward on the recovery efforts along the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of the hurricanes. But we also need to make sure that unnecessary spending is not added to that legislation. And as you all know, the President has issued a veto threat if it does go above what we have called for.
Congress has also taken some important steps on earmark reform. The Senate has passed it, the House has taken it up, and the President continues to urge them to press ahead earmark reform. And today the Senate Budget Committee took up the line-item veto, and we had an official testifying about it. This will allow the President to cut wasteful spending that is added in in the middle of the night in legislation. And I expect the President will talk about the importance of the line-item veto, as well.
So keeping taxes low and restraining spending are two commitments that Congress needs to continue to act on to meet. And that’s what the President will focus on in his remarks tomorrow.
And with that, I’ll be glad to go to your questions.
Q Scott, what is the impact on global energy supplies of Bolivia’s decision to nationalize its natural gas industry?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well — and you point out natural gas. First of all, we’re looking into it. We have not been able to determine if any official change has been made at this point, and what impact that might have. So that’s something that we’re still looking into.
Q So we don’t think it’s happened? You don’t think that the troops have taken over —
MR. McCLELLAN: We’re not aware of any official change that has been made — I’m not questioning some of the reports that have been made — but that any official change has been made, moving from privatization to nationalization.
Q Scott, I just wanted to ask you about the White House plan to deal with any kind of pandemic flu outbreak. In a worst-case scenario, it looks like forecasts of up to two million deaths, 40 percent of the work force out of work, and yet the borders wouldn’t be closed if there was an outbreak in another part of the world. Can you just sort of explain what the general outlook of the administration is?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, a couple of things. First of all, we are going to be releasing our implementation plan for the pandemic influenza, or for a possible pandemic influenza. That’s going to happen tomorrow. So I don’t want to jump ahead of that. I will bring Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend with me to the briefing, and she will update you on where we are. And we will also be releasing that implementation plan tomorrow.
As you know, the President outlined his thinking on this back in early November of 2005 when we announced the national strategy for pandemic influenza. We have also requested more than $7 billion from Congress to begin preparations for the possibility of a pandemic influenza. And part of that strategy called for the creation of an implementation plan. This would really be a road map designed to take what — the principles of the President’s strategy — the principles that he outlined in his strategy and put them into action for all federal departments and agencies. And so we will be rolling that plan out tomorrow. It will cover both the government and non-government actions that are being taken to plan and prepare for any potential pandemic.
Q Can you just tell me why the White House felt the need — I mean, there’s a lot of things that you could develop possible plans for —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’ve seen some reports based on drafts. I’m not going to jump ahead of the briefing at this point. Our Homeland Security Advisor will be talking more about it tomorrow.
Go ahead, Helen.
Q What does the President think of the Justice Department contemplating the use of espionage laws against reporters who find out secrets in this administration, like wire-tapping and secret prisons? And also, a second question is, do you know of anything about the infiltration of gangs, gang-style soldiers in the army in Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Gang-style soldiers in the army in Iraq?
Q The Chicago Sun-Times has a story saying that many gang members are now in the army.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I haven’t read the report that you’re referring to. I think we have talked about the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces. There’s been substantial progress made. And one of the areas they focused on was to make sure that you had a military that is committed to the country and not committed to any individual militia.
Q Committed to the country, but they have been members of gangs and they formed sort of gangs in the army, apparently.
MR. McCLELLAN: Okay, so this is a different issue. I haven’t taken a look at that report. I’m sure that our military commanders could probably talk a little bit more about it in Iraq, if there are questions about it. But the important thing is that we now have a national unity government in place. The Cabinet is being formed. The Prime Minister-designate is committed to putting in good, competent people, particularly into the key security positions, like the Department of — the defense ministry and the interior ministry. And they are moving forward to get that cabinet in place quickly. That’s an important development. It’s a very hopeful moment for further progress on moving forward. And the President talked about that yesterday, and talked about how this is a — really a turning point for the Iraqi people.
Q How about my first question?
MR. McCLELLAN: Your first question — I think you’re going to issues relating to the leaking of classified information. Is that what you’re asking about?
MR. McCLELLAN: The leaking of classified information is a very serious matter, and the President has spoken about that repeatedly. It is of particular concern when information is being leaked that could harm our nation’s security.
Q By finding out we have secret prisons for torture?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are laws on the book, and I will let our law enforcement officials talk about the enforcement actions that they are taking.
Q But my question is, does the President support the use of these espionage laws against reporters who find out what’s going on?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President believes laws should be enforced, and he believes that the leaking of classified information that would be harmful to our nation’s security is a very serious matter.
Go ahead, Martha.
Q Scott, you talked earlier about the historical record, in terms of Jack Abramoff and his goings in and out of the White House, and the Secret Service is about to release that.
MR. McCLELLAN: That’s right.
Q Can you tell us about who would have the total historical record?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think the Secret Service maintains certain records, and there was a FOIA request, a Freedom of Information request of the Secret Service, and they’ll be providing the information that they maintained soon, and they’ll be talking more exactly about what those records are once they release them.
Q But who would have a larger historical record? Is it something you would have? Is it something — where would we go to find out the total story of him —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I previously talked to you about it in this room, in terms of any meetings or large events that he may have attended here at the White House. And I don’t have any update beyond what I’m already said.
Q Would that be part of what the Secret Service would release, or is there something more?
MR. McCLELLAN: They will release the records that they maintain, and they’ll be talking to you more about that once they’re ready to release those records, which will be —
Q Which would include what you’ve already told us in the past —
MR. McCLELLAN: — which will be very soon.
Q — about staff meetings, receptions —
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I’m not sure that they have all that information. They have the records that they maintain, and they’ll be talking more about what those records are soon.
Q Scott, can I follow on that?
Q Today? Will they be putting it out today?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know about today. I think they are required to do it under the agreement that they reached with Judicial Watch, I believe it was, by May 10th. So it would be in the next several days, if not sooner.
Q You mentioned a conversation the President had with President Bushir of Sudan. Did he get any commitments from President Bashir on some of the demands that he was making?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’m not aware that they have sent the Vice President back yet. That is something that the President asked him to do, and we will be looking for the government of Sudan to follow through on what the President brought up in the call.
Q Scott, can you talk more about these Secret Service records? Do they not keep records of every single time somebody comes to the White House?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not able to talk more about it because this is something that they’re pulling together and they’ll be releasing soon and they’ll be talking more about it once they release it.
Q You talked about it partially, so it sounds like you know what you’re talking about. You said it’s not a full historical record. So can you just give any more information about what you’re talking about —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think those are questions to direct to the Secret Service. I’m not sure that they’re prepared to talk about it yet, but they will be once the they release their records that they have.
Q Can I ask — one more try? Is it possible that if you come into the East Gate for a party, that’s not covered by the Secret Service, whereas if you come in on the other gate, you are? Is that what you’re talking about here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, let me let the Secret Service release the records, and they will brief you all on it at that point. Then we can talk more about it then.
Q Scott, you’re talking about these stories that Helen raised, and the possible damage to national security. It’s been several months since both of those were released. Is there any evidence that national security has been damaged by either of those stories?
MR. McCLELLAN: You’re talking about the terrorist surveillance program? Absolutely. It shows the enemy our play book, Peter, and that is — when we are engaged in a war on terrorism —
Q Beyond the general concept that it shows the enemy our play book, is there any specific —
MR. McCLELLAN: We’re facing a different kind of enemy. And General Hayden has talked about how it has been harmful to our national security.
Q — anything that happened, specifically, that you can point to and say that happened because of this, or didn’t happen because of this?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think there are two issues you’re talking about. And people have talked about how it has been harmful to our nation’s security —
Q How? Can you point to any specific —
MR. McCLELLAN: Because it’s showing the enemy our play book. And what happens, when the enemy sees our play book, the enemy adjusts and adapts. This is a different kind of war we’re engaged in, against a very dangerous, determined and lethal enemy. And for people to leak information that shows them our play book is a serious matter —
Q Is there any evidence that they have —
MR. McCLELLAN: — and we take it very seriously. And our law enforcement officials are the ones that enforce the laws on the books.
Q Is there anything that shows us that they have, in fact, adapted or changed as a result of —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think General Hayden has talked about it, Peter. He’s our Deputy Director of National Intelligence, and I would encourage you to go back and look — he has talked about how this has been harmful.
Q Scott, I wonder — on Friday, the President firmly said he believes the National Anthem should be sung in English. Kevin Phillips, the Republican analyst, wrote a book called American Dynasty, and in there he claims that during the President’s 2000 campaign, he did sing the Star Spangled Banner in Spanish at some Hispanic festivals, various campaign events. Are you aware, do you recall that from the 2000 campaign?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I don’t.
Q Do you think that that would be counter to what the President laid out on Friday?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t recall that, and I’m not going to try to speculate on something I haven’t looked into.
Go ahead, Goyal.
Q Scott, two questions, One, as far as human rights and terrorism is concerned, last week, State Department issued a report on terrorism and also it said that global terrorism is on the rise, as far as this report was concerned. And also Hindus around —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the report is now based on some methodology that has changed, so I don’t think you can compare it to a previous baseline. It’s a new methodology that is being used to calculate terrorist attacks.
Q My question was that the Hindus around the globe are calling on President Bush to take some action to protect Hindus because they are under attack in India and outside India. And Indian government has — because one Hindu camp, the largest to be opened in Minnesota in June, was vandalized and broken in pieces, and now they’re going to open a second. A 125-year-old Hindu camp in Malaysia was bulldozered like the World Trade Center in New York. Of course, the World Trade Center was act of terrorism, but in Malaysia, Hindu camp was act of Malaysian government.
MR. McCLELLAN: You’ve made your point — two things together here, acts of vandalism, acts of terrorism. Do you have a specific question?
Q — in Kashmir on a daily basis, like 35 of them yesterday. So what kind of action President Bush is now going to take about all this terrorism —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of India and Pakistan and Kashmir, we’ve been — encourage the parties to continue their dialogue and to resolve the matter peacefully. So that’s something that we’ve continued to work with the parties on, and they’re working to address.
Q Thanks, Scott. This past Sunday Josh Bolten said that it was time for the White House to sort of begin to get its mojo back, and you’re going to have the President meeting with the congressional Republican leadership in the next couple of hours. Can you give us an idea of how the mojo renovation is going, the refreshing of it? (Laughter.) And maybe also —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m feeling pretty reenergized. I’ll be more reenergized in about a week and a half. (Laughter.)
Q What does the President want to see the Republican leadership get accomplished in this legislative year? We know there are going to be talks about the upcoming budget and the supplemental and immigration and gas prices, et cetera. Is there, at some point, a concern with the President and here at the White House that Republican numbers are dropping and the GOP at each end of Pennsylvania Avenue needs to get its mojo back faster?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that we are achieving real results for the American people. The country is safer because —
Q Is the President concerned?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me — hang on, I’m coming to your question. Under this President’s leadership we’re achieving real and meaningful results for the American people. We are advancing in the war on terrorism by taking the fight to the enemy. America is safer because of it. We are seeing a growing and strong economy because of the tax cuts that we have put in place, and we need to make sure that those tax cuts stay in place. We are moving forward on providing seniors with better options, better health care choices, including prescription drug coverage. And seniors are realizing significant savings on their prescription drug coverage. The typical senior is realizing 50 percent or more in savings on their prescription drug coverage.
So there are real results we’re accomplishing for the American people. But there’s more that we need to do. We need to build upon that. And this President is committed to solving problems, and there are some problems facing this country that we need to act on and that we need to act on sooner, rather than later. We need to move forward on pressing legislative priorities.
One pressing priority right before the Congress now is the emergency spending legislation. This is legislation that provides vital resources the our men and women in uniform so that they can continue to wage the war on terrorism and prevail in the war on terrorism. It provides vital resources to the people along the Gulf Coast who are still recovering and rebuilding their communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
We need to continue to move forward on the appropriations bill and do so in a way that spends the taxpayer dollars wisely. That means restraining spending and doing away with unnecessary spending that is in that legislation.
And so those are important priorities that this President is focused on. We also need to continue to move forward and act to address high gas prices. And the President has outlined some short-term steps that we can take. We’re continuing to act at the executive level to take some steps by making sure that there’s no price gouging on. We’re continuing to act by not — or delaying some of the deposits into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
The Congress can act by expanding the tax credit for diesel cars and hybrid-powered cars, as well, to encourage the use of alternative sources of energy.
Q If I could pause you there then — so insofar as there are things that Congress can do to act, Republicans on the Hill haven’t shown any reluctance to criticize the administration for occasionally not helping them advance their agenda. Is there any reciprocation to that criticism —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he’s going to have — he has a meeting later —
Q Is it time for the White House to now suggest that lawmakers need to get off the stick, too?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has had a number of meetings in the recent weeks to talk about important priorities, like continuing to support our troops as they move forward on our plan for victory in Iraq. That is a high priority. That is a central front in the war on terrorism, and we must continue to work together, no matter where you have stood on previous decisions that were made. There have been Democrats and Republicans coming to the White House to get updates about the situation in Iraq and talk about how we can move forward together to succeed in Iraq. And with the formation of the new unity government, that provides a very hopeful moment to continue to make progress going forward. Now, there are challenges, and there’s going to be continued violence. But we’re making real progress in spite of that violence that is ongoing.
In terms of the other issues, the President has been talking with members, particularly of the Senate, of recent, to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. Now, this is a difficult issue. This is an issue that creates emotion on both sides of it. And the President has worked to elevate the debate and to conduct it in a civil way so that we can press ahead and fix our immigration system by continuing to strengthen our borders, improve interior enforcement, and move forward on a temporary worker program.
And the Senate is moving — is on the verge of moving forward. There is an agreement that got to the floor of the Senate. Now it’s time to get that off the floor and get it into conference. Now, this is an issue that’s going to take some time to work through the details, but we’re hopeful that it can get to conference, and we can begin to iron out some of the details and get a comprehensive piece of legislation passed. But again, that’s something that’s going to take some time going forward.
And then I mentioned some of the other issues we’re working on. Certainly when it comes to high gas prices, this is a White House and congressional leadership that is united in working together to take some short-term steps to address high gas prices, while at the same time, working together to eliminate the root cause of high energy prices. The Senate is going to be working more on some of the energy proposals that the President has outlined. They also are looking at taking up some of the health care proposals that the President has outlined to address rapidly rising health care costs. So this President is acting on many fronts to achieve real results for the American people.
Go ahead, Connie.
Q By that way, that phrase, “get your mojo back,” you’re going to have to translate that into foreign languages. (Laughter.) I have a series of questions about Israel and Iran. The President has said he would protect Israel militarily if it’s threatened. Now, do the latest words of the Iranian President constitute sufficient threat?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think that the latest words from the regime — not only those, but other words that they are making — are just another attempt by the regime to divert attention away from the real issue, and the real issue is this regime’s behavior. This is a regime that continues to defy the international community, that refuses to live up to its obligations. And it is time for the United Nations Security Council to take additional diplomatic steps to compel the regime to change its behavior. And that’s why we have been working with the United States Security Council member states, and working with Germany, and working with other friends and allies to move ahead on the diplomatic front.
The President has had a number of discussions. Tomorrow he’ll be welcoming Chancellor Merkel to the White House. He looks forward to seeing Chancellor Merkel back at the White House and talking about this important priority. Germany has been very involved in trying to find a diplomatic solution to the issue. So we are continuing to move forward on that.
We believe it’s time for the United States Security Council to look at a Chapter 7 resolution. A Chapter 7 resolution compels countries to change their behavior if they are defying the international community. It has the force of international law. We believe that’s an important next step. We’re taking this one step at a time. But the international community is united in its concern about the regime, its behavior, and its desire for nuclear weapons.
Q Just two more. Does Israel have to actually be attacked first for the U.S. to react? And what happens if Israel attacks Iranian facilities?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m not going to try to get into all the speculation here. I think the President has made very clear what his views are. And the comments by the regime are all the more reason why we need to continue to act on the diplomatic front within the international community to compel the regime to change its behavior. We need to continue to increase pressure on this regime. This is a regime that is only further isolating itself and its people from the rest of the world.
Q Scott, with polls showing that the President’s job approval ratings are at their low for his presidency, and the interior numbers showing that he, more specifically, is losing now support from Republicans and conservatives, is the President concerned about that? And why is that happening?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President is focused on results, not polls. And look at the results that we’re achieving. Look at the economic progress that we’re making in this country — 4.8 percent growth in the first quarter of this year. This is an economy that is really humming and moving forward. And consumer confidence is at a four-year high. I think those are important aspects you need to be looking at, looking at what the American people are doing. The American people are confident about the economy. That’s why consumer confidence is continuing to increase.
Q Why is that not translating then into job approval numbers for the President, especially Republicans —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are important concerns that the American people have. And we’re acting to address those concerns. The American people are concerned about high gas prices. They’re concerned about rising health care costs. They’re concerned about the situation in Iraq. And that’s why we must continue to work together to address these important priorities. And that’s what this President is doing. And we’ll continue to talk about the progress that we’re making on each of those areas going forward.
Q Scott, a two-part. Since the President called for the National Anthem in English alone, do you believe there is no inconsistency in one version of the White House website being in Espaol?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry. I’m not sure exactly the connection that you’re trying to make.
Q Well, I just wondered if the National Anthem should be in English alone, why do you have a multilingual White House website?
MR. McCLELLAN: There are people in this country that come from all kinds of different heritages, and we should be celebrating people’s heritage. The President has, going back to his days as governor — maybe you were not paying attention in yesterday’s briefing — has talked about the importance of having an English-plus approach in America. That’s something that he advocated while he was governor, and that says that it’s important for people that come to this country to learn English, to be able to speak English, and to read and write in English. He also recognizes the importance of respect for people’s heritage. And that’s why, as governor, he talked about bilingual programs can be helpful if they’re working to achieve the result of helping people to learn this country’s language.
Q The AP reports from Blackfoot, Idaho, the arrest of 17 people from Idaho, Utah and Nevada for being involved in a cockfight. But in New Mexico, which, with Louisiana, is one of only two states where cockfighting is legal, for any old presidential contender, a Democrat, Governor Bill Richardson, said of this brutal and deadly, activity, “I have not made my mind up on that,” reported the Las Cruces Sun News. And my question: Does the President have any such indecision on this brutality, as Governor Richardson does?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we really haven’t a conversation about cockfighting lately. (Laughter.) But there are —
Q The AP reported this, and it’s going on —
MR. McCLELLAN: I hate to inform Terry Hunt that I don’t read every AP article that is out there, but there are laws on the books, and the laws are there for a reason. And I think the President believes that laws —
Q What does he think of Governor Richardson —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President believes laws ought to be enforced.
Q What does he think of Governor Richardson —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he knows Governor Richardson, and I think that they’ve had a fairly good relationship. They certainly have disagreement on a number of issues. But I think they’ve had —
Q They disagree on this then?
Q Scott, getting back to Darfur for a moment. Deputy Secretary Zoellick is over there on the ground trying to push the process along. Is there anything more the President anticipates doing in the crucial 24-48 hours —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, we’ve been acting on any number of fronts when it comes to addressing the situation in Darfur. It has been a very high priority for the President. We provided substantial funding last year when it came to meeting humanitarian needs, reconstruction needs, and security needs. And we will continue to do our part to help in that regard. But it’s also important to make sure that that aid is getting to the people who need it.
We’ve been acting at the United Nations to move ahead on changing the African Union mission — or the African Union forces into a blue-hatted force, and to help provide additional NATO support. I know NATO has provided some logistical support, including communications, and airlift support. And we’re looking at additional ways that NATO can support those efforts.
So there are multiple fronts that we’re acting on. Deputy Secretary Zoellick has been a point person on addressing the situation in Darfur for us, and has visited the region a number of times. He is back there now. We are hopeful that they can move forward and reach an agreement. It is possible, but there are some key differences that remain that need to be resolved. I think those differences relate to the disarmament of the militias and integrating those militias into the security forces there.
Go ahead, Victoria.
Q Scott, you said the President is focused on results, not polls. At what point will he have to focus on polls if, in fact, they continue to drop, as they are doing?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I guess you all are going to stay focused on polls, and that’s what you can do. We’re going to keep getting things done for the American people. That’s what the American people want us to do. And we’re accomplishing some important things to make America safer and to make America more prosperous. And the President will continue talking about those important priorities.
I assume that you’re bringing up — “at what point will he pay attention to this” — I assume you’re bringing up the context of this an election year for members of Congress. And the elections have a tendency to really clarify what the choices are. And the President will continue to make clear what the choices are on the important priorities facing this country. That means the war on terrorism, it means our economy, and it means other issues, such as Medicare, which I mentioned earlier.
Q If the President continues to stay focused on results, but those results, themselves, result in lower and lower polls, at what point will he have to look at the results themselves?
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me make clear, the American people want their leaders in Washington to work together, to get things done on the important priorities facing this country and the big challenges facing this country. This President believes in solving problems and leading and working across the partisan isle to get things done. And that’s what he’s going to continue doing.
And I think that we’ll let the results speak for themselves. We’ll also let the choices speak for themselves. The President is going to continue to clearly articulate what the choices are for addressing these important priorities going forward.
Q Does he not think that a poll is a way for the American people to speak to him?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think they are snapshots in time. And there are important priorities that we’re working to address right now, and we’re achieving some meaningful results for the American people. And I think it’s important to talk about what the American people care most about, and that’s what this President is doing — not only talking about it, but acting on those important priorities.
Q Scott, given the President’s emphasis on spending restraint, does he believe that the $100 gasoline rebate idea is a fiscally responsible idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I talked about this a little bit yesterday. There are a number of ideas that are being proposed to address high gas prices in the short run. The President has proposed a number of short-run ways that we can relieve some of the pressure at the pump for the American people, and he outlined those last week. I talked about some of those at the beginning of this briefing.
Members of Congress have also been looking at some additional ways that we might address high gas prices. And the President commends Republican leaders in Congress for taking action and looking at options to meet this important priority for the American people. And we’ll continue to look at other options. The President has outlined his proposals. But, ultimately, what we need to do is eliminate the root cause of why we are in this vicious cycle of recurring high gas prices. It’s a supply and demand issue. We need to continue to increase supply and reduce demand. And that’s why the President has outlined a plan to develop new technologies and wean us off oil.
Q Okay, so why — are you trying to be polite by saying you don’t like the idea because it wasn’t a part of the President’s four-point plan?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we’ll have to look at the details of how it’s going to be paid for, and things like that. And we’ll continue to do that.
Q Scott, this morning you cautioned us against viewing the Secret Service records of the Abramoff visits as a complete historical record. Are you trying to tell us that that’s going to be wholly inadequate, and offer a misleading picture of the contacts, and is there are a lot more that they are going to show in there?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, I wouldn’t say that. What I’m telling you is that the Secret Service maintains certain records, and you should look at it in that context. I just want to make sure you have the clear expectations.
Q Are there a lot more visits — or were there a lot more visits than —
MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t have any update beyond what I told you and reiterated to you this morning and told you previously, I think a few months ago.
Peter, go ahead.
Q How would you describe the tone of the President’s conversation with the head of Sudan?
MR. McCLELLAN: The tone of it?
Q The tone, yes.
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I’d say it was a good conversation, but the President was making very clear that we have some concerns and that we also want to see the government continue to work with the rebel groups and others to get a peace agreement.
Q Was he lecturing him, or —
MR. McCLELLAN: I will leave it the way I described it.
Q Another question on that, quickly. What kind of U.S. participation would you see in a blue hat force or in a NATO —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we’ve already talked about it. I don’t think anybody is talking about our military involvement in terms of the forces that are on the ground there. But what we are talking about is moving the African Union forces from an African Union mission to a blue-hatted U.N. mission. And that’s what we’re talking about. And then NATO would provide logistical support.
Q And wouldn’t, by definition, a U.N. force or NATO-supported role possibly —
MR. McCLELLAN: I think we previously said that, that no one is under the expectation that that’s going to happen.
Q Thank you.
MR. McCLELLAN: Thank you.
Q Scott, is there going to be pool coverage of the —
MR. McCLELLAN: I’ll keep you updated. It’s very likely.
END 1:00 P.M. EDT