As is often the case, today’s gaggle opens with a question Little Scottie would rather not answer.
Q Let me — these are obviously difficult days for Republicans. The top Republican —
MR. McCLELLAN: Not for Judge Roberts. (Laughter.)
Q Good point there. But the President’s political standing has eroded significantly; we’ve gone through the laundry list of other potential legal problems for other top Republicans. As essentially the top Republican in the land, how does the President —
MR. McCLELLAN: Someone had to stop all the goodwill in this room.
Q Right. How does the President assess the state of the Republican Party, a party that’s got to face voters again in congressional elections —
MR. McCLELLAN: The Republican Party is a party of ideas, and a party of finding solutions to the pressing problems before the American people. The President believes that we are here to lead and to solve problems. That is why we are pressing ahead on the important priorities to get things done for the American people. And that’s what we will continue to do. You have a united congressional leadership in the Republican Party that is determined to continue getting things done for the American people, and that’s exactly what we’ll do. And the President will continue leading on the highest priorities facing the American people. That’s what we have continued to do.
Q Does that answer suggest the President just puts his hands over his eyes and over his ears and doesn’t pay attention to what is going on in this town?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, absolutely not.
Q Well, then what about —
MR. McCLELLAN: What’s going on in Washington is different from what may be going on in America. I know Washington —
Q Okay, in America, the President’s political standing is significantly eroded; —
MR. McCLELLAN: Hang on. I’ll come to you — hang on, hang on —
Q — one of the top Republicans in Congress is now under indictment; you’ve got the top Republican in the Senate who is under investigation; you’ve got a leak probe of this White House’s activities of releasing secrets. These are difficult days, are they not, for the Republican Party? How does the President assess it; does he worry about it?
MR. McCLELLAN: These are days of important progress for the American people because we’re pushing ahead on the priorities that they are most concerned about. The American people are most concerned about making sure that we win the war on terrorism and that we succeed in Iraq, and that we address the issue of high energy prices. And they’re most concerned about making sure that the people who have been affected by these hurricanes are taken care of. And those are the priorities that this President is focused on.
Q Easy for him to do. What about congressional Republicans who have to face voters? You think they go out to their districts and say, oh, yes, well, the Republican Party is the party of ideas and moving forward? Or you think you’re a little more worried?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think they will — I think they will talk about how we are the party —
Q You don’t think they’re worried about having to face voters in this climate?
MR. McCLELLAN: And we are the party that has advanced an agenda to help the American people and make us safer and stronger and better.
And then, as is his habit when cornered, Scottie punts to Raghubir Goyal of the India Globe.
Goyal, go ahead.
Next, Scottie gets a bit prickly when a gaggler questions John Roberts’ views on civil rights.
Q Scott, on the consultation, has the President consulted with any groups, particularly on the issue of diversity? Friday we understand that the head of the NAACP, Bruce Gordon, met with President Bush and Karl Rove. Did they, indeed, discuss the potential nominee soon to be named? And what were they talking about?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President was pleased to sit down and meet with the new NAACP President, Bruce Gordon. They had a very good discussion about ways we can work together on shared priorities. The meeting was a private meeting, and I think both of us are leaving it at that for this — at this time.
Q Okay, granted, it was private.
MR. McCLELLAN: But you’re still going to ask me what occurred in the meeting?
Q Oh, yes, most definitely. When you have issues of Katrina and the race aspect, and then when you have the NAACP itself saying that John Roberts was not a friend to civil rights, of course —
MR. McCLELLAN: Who said that?
Q I’m not talking about you, John Roberts.
MR. McCLELLAN: Who said that?
Q The NAACP.
MR. McCLELLAN: Who at the NAACP?
Q The leadership — I’ll give you that information later along. But anyway, for them to say that, and you have a meeting with — to meet with the President, there is apparently still a concern that the person will be an extreme conservative, that the person would not maybe be a friend to civil rights, i.e. affirmative action and things of nature, what —
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think the facts have shown otherwise when it comes to Judge Roberts, just to correct the record a little bit.
Q How does — how does that change, because we understand during the Reagan era he was against affirmative action and certain civil rights issues.
MR. McCLELLAN: April, he has just been confirmed by 78 members of the United States Senate who supported him. And I think that all those questions were fully addressed during the hearing process. And go and look at the record.
Q I did look at the record. Reagan-era records show that he was not —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, then you formed your opinion, but —
Q No, I did not. I’m still —
MR. McCLELLAN: — most Americans disagree with you based on what the record was.
The gagglers notice Chimpy is worried about waning support for his Vanity War.
Q [W]hy the full court press on the war? Is the President concerned about the polls that show more and more — that less than 50 percent of the American people now feel we should have gone to war with Iraq?
MR. McCLELLAN: Maybe you missed what I was saying to David Gregory earlier in the briefing. He doesn’t get caught up in those. What the — what we’re trying to do — the President spoke after September 11th and said that we’re going to be engaged in a long and difficult war. The war on terrorism is one of our highest priorities. It’s one of the most important responsibilities the President of the United States has, protecting the American people.
Q Given all that, in summary, in a little over 24 hours here, the President in the Rose Garden; you have the Pentagon heavy hitters up on the Hill; now you’ve got the Vice President; now you’ve got the Secretary of State; why suddenly this maximum effort? Is the President —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I don’t know that I agree with the characterization. Obviously, some of the focus over the course of the last month has been on the response and recovery and rebuilding efforts going on relating to Hurricane Katrina and more recently Hurricane Rita. So that’s been some of the attention publicly.
But the President has remained focused on all the high priorities that we have on our plate. And none are higher than those that relate to the safety and the security of the American people. And we have remained focused on those other issues. Now we’re at a period where we are going to continue talking more and more about the progress on the ground. This relates directly to the safety and security of the American people and our efforts to establish lasting peace for our children and grandchildren. And that’s why he’s continuing to talk about it.