Ladies and gentlemen it’s my pleasure to bring you the lovely and talented Helen Thomas:
Q Does the President think that advancing freedom through war is the only way you can do it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not. And, of course, that’s —
Q Does he intend to continue that MO?
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely not, Helen. In fact, we are working in a number of ways to support the advance of freedom throughout the world. The President believes that all people yearn to live in freedom. And we will always stand on the side of those who seek freedom, and the United States will be there to support them in their efforts. One of the key priorities of this administration is continuing to advance freedom in the broader Middle East. I think you’ve heard Dr. Rice talk about that —
Q Will he denounce the use of war to perpetuate freedom?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you’ve heard the President talk — you heard Condi Rice talk about it in her confirmation hearings early today. War is always a last resort. But there are many ways we’re supporting the advance of freedom, and that includes efforts to expand freedom in the broader Middle East. It’s a dangerous region of the world that for too long has only known tyranny and oppression and hatred, and we want to bring hope and opportunity and freedom to the people of that region. There are many hopeful signs that we are seeing about advancing freedom in the world. We’ve seen elections take place in Afghanistan. We’ve seen elections take place for a new Palestinian president. And we are seeing elections move forward in Iraq. For the first time, the Iraqi people are going to be able to choose their leaders. This is a historic —
Q At a very heavy price.
MR. McCLELLAN: — this is a historic moment for the Iraqi people, and we are there to support them in those efforts.
Today we close with a little-known work by Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Hating Earnest (and His Boyfriend Bob).
Q Scott, in a weekend newspaper interview the President said that he would not be pushing the Senate this year to pass a constitutional marriage amendment because the votes aren’t there. I think it could be argued that the votes aren’t there yet, either for Social Security and immigration reform. Why is he abandoning —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me make clear what the President said and what the President believes. The President will continue to advocate the need for a constitutional amendment to protect the sanctity of marriage. It is something he believes very strongly in. In fact, he has already spent a lot of political capital on getting that initiative moving. But he’s also — in his interview he also talked about the legislative reality in the Senate. There really needs to be more of an openness in the Senate to be able to spend more capital on moving it forward. But the President is going to continue to make his views known and continue to talk about it and make clear why he believes it is necessary.
Remember, in the Senate, you have to have 67 votes to move a constitutional amendment forward. And there are a number of members of the Senate that have said that they’re not open to it until the Defense of Marriage Act faces a serious legal challenge. So that’s just talking about the legislative reality. But he remains firmly committed to protecting the sanctity of marriage and moving forward on a constitutional amendment.
Q But the legislative reality last year, when he announced his support for the amendment, was that there were fewer Republicans in the Senate than there are today and presumably less support for the issue. So did he not think he had the support last year?
MR. McCLELLAN: I just said that he’s going to continue to advocate the need for a constitutional amendment. It’s something he believes very strongly in.
Q Were there votes there in the Senate last year, did the President believe?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, that was the beginning of getting the process moving and talking about the need for a constitutional amendment. Since that time, there are many members of the Senate who have made clear their views and their lack of an openness to moving on it at this time. But we’re going to continue to encourage them to move forward on it. And I think it’s important for those who support this effort in the country to make it clear that they want to take this step to protect the sanctity of marriage, as well, and make those views known to members of Congress, too.