Q Scott, why — Tom DeLay is not from Galveston, why is he riding back with the President today? And what’s the signal that the President is trying to send by inviting him on Air Force One?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he is from the area. Galveston is near his district and we typically invite members of Congress to events in their area, and we’re glad to have Leader DeLay flying back to D.C. with us. I know the President looks forward to seeing him and visiting with him on the way back.
Later, the devastating follow-up.
Q Does DeLay’s district touch on Galveston at all?
MR. McCLELLAN: No
Q Does this have something to do with his ethics problems?
MR. McCLELLAN: What’s that?
Q Is it helping him with his ethics problem?
MR. McCLELLAN: This has to do with an event that is occurring in his area and the fact that the President appreciates his leadership in the House and that we work very closely with him, as well as other congressional leaders, on the agenda for the American people.
Q But how strongly is the President supporting him at this time in which he’s embattled in this ethics dispute?
MR. McCLELLAN: As strongly as he ever has, which is strongly.
Q He wasn’t deterred by the latest revelations about the lobbyists paying for his plane tickets? That didn’t give pause to the President?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. Look, those will be issues that Leader DeLay has said he’s more than happy to address before the Ethics Committee and those matters will be addressed by congressional leaders and by Congressman DeLay.
Next, the gaggle turns to Social Security.
Q Scott, what does the President think of polls that show two-thirds of people disapprove of his handling of Social Security?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think you have to keep in mind what we’re in. One, we are still in the early phase of our efforts to strengthen Social Security and get something done this week [sic]. And the goal of the initial phase has been to educate the American people about the problems facing Social Security. And the American people now recognize that there are serious problems facing Social Security.
But it does not take long for the conversation to return to the Bugman.
Q But, Scott, just the mere fact that Tom DeLay will be at today’s event is distracting from what the President is trying to accomplish. Does —
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I disagree. Like I said, Leader DeLay, along with other leaders in the House and the Senate, is someone who is committed to getting things done on our shared priorities. And I think that’s evident by the way he worked to move energy — comprehensive energy legislation through the House last week. And he’s someone who has participated in meetings with the President, along with other members of Congress, to talk about ways to strengthen Social Security and get it done this year.
Scottie on Trent Lott’s “nuclear option”.
Q What does the President think of this offer by Harry Reid and by Senator Biden for a deal on judges, that if the President were to maybe relent on some of the most, in their minds, most conservative judges, that they’d be willing to work out a compromise and approve some of the President’s nominees that have been either deadlocked or filibustered?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think our view is that Senate Democrats need to stop playing politics and give all judicial nominees an up or down vote.
And again, the devastating follow-up.
Q Did you think the Republicans were playing politics when nominees when the Clinton folks had problems getting their nominees through?
MR. McCLELLAN: What has happened in this Senate is unprecedented. There has not been a situation like this, where members of one party have blocked nominees from even receiving an up or down vote on the floor.