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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 17, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

      Listen to the Briefing

  1. President's daily schedule
  2. U.S. Senate progress
  3. Status of war in Afghanistan
  4. Military tribunals
  5. John Walker
  6. Economic stimulus
  7. Arafat
  8. Haiti
  9. Cuba
  10. India
  11. Anthrax
  12. Osama bin Laden
  13. Indonesia
  14. Bush, Putin calls to Jiang
  15. Continuing resolution

12:27 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to give you a rundown on the President's schedule for the day, and then I have an opening statement.

The President this morning had his usual intelligence briefings with the Central Intelligence Agency and then the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Following that, he convened another meeting of the National Security Council to discuss developments in Afghanistan.

The President this afternoon will have a reception in honor of Eid al-Fitr, which is the Muslim holiday to mark the end of Ramadan. the President will welcome to the White House a group of 20 Muslim children between the ages of eight and 10, all who go to school in the Washington, D.C. area. And the President will join them, as well as their families or chaperons, to commemorate this important day.

Following that, the President will have no additional public events. He will have several meetings with staff and then that is it on the President's schedule.

This also is a very important week, which likely is to be the last week of the United States Senate meeting here in Washington before they return home for Christmas. It's an important week to measure whether progress is being made in the Senate, and the President will continue to do everything he can to help the Senate to make progress on the policy front, particularly on the economic stimulus. The talks are underway on the stimulus and the President remains very hopeful that a stimulus can be agreed to this week, to help America's unemployment workers.

It's also an important week to measure progress in the Senate to see if they take any action on the 157 nominees that are still pending in the United States Senate. The cause of progress, however, was dealt a setback over the weekend in the remarks made by the Senate Majority Leader, in which he indicated that it will require, in a highly unusual manner, 60 votes to confirm Eugene Scalia to be Solicitor at the Department of Labor.

It has, unfortunately, by both parties, been done before on rare occasion, to say that more than 50 votes are necessary for a nominee. It has been done before, by both parties, to filibuster a Presidential nominee, but it is rare and it is wrong. And the 60-vote threshold presents a real setback for the cause of people who seek progress in the Senate.

The confirmation process in the Senate should be about progress, not paybacks. Because it was done before doesn't mean it should be done now. It was wrong when it was done before. President Bush campaigned for office saying that the tone needed to be changed in Washington, and calling for 60 votes when majority rule is sufficient represents a setback for those who want to change the tone in Washington. It's a continuation of the wrong tone in Washington, and the President would regret if that was, indeed, the action the Senate would take.

The confirmation process should be about progress, not paybacks. It should be about people and not partisanship. And unless there is information that is available to the Majority Leader that is not available to the White House -- the Majority Leader did indicate yesterday that in Mr. Scalia's case, "we have not been given all the paperwork."

If there is any information that the White House is lacking, the White House would welcome an update on that issue of paperwork. Because Mr. Scalia was nominated by President Bush on April 30th; his hearing was held on October 2nd; and the last request for any paperwork received by the White House in regard to Mr. Scalia was on October 5th and was fully complied with. All paper has been received by the Senate, so it's hard to imagine any reason why this nomination is being held up.

And with that, I'm happy to take questions.

Q Is he disappointed? Is the President threatening right here to --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's why, Ron, I'm not going to speculate what the future holds, but there should be no reason to engage in that. There is time left this week for the Senate to show that it is, indeed, willing to make progress on the issue of nominations. And so let's see what events unfold this week. But certainly, Gene Scalia is very well-qualified; Otto Reich is very well-qualified. These are two holdups where the Senate is not moving forward.

Q Is the President willing to take -- does he stand behind these two nominees, to the extent that he's willing to take the unusual step of issuing recess appointments if action is not taken this week?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about anything the President may or may not do in the future. The important thing is for the Senate to show that it's here to make progress and not engage in paybacks. Again, it was done before, and both parties have done it -- on very rare occasions they've sought 60 votes for the nominations. But that is a way to make Washington get mired in gridlock and partisanship. It's not a way that anybody can contribute to changing the tone in Washington. It's a continuation with what's wrong in Washington, not a contribution to what needs to be done to make Washington right.

Q Is the President concerned that a recess appointment would jeopardize Mr. Scalia's chances of a longer-term appointment, should he be confirmed by the Senate at a later date?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, the President is concerned that the Senate do its job, and the Senate's job is to give people their fair day, to give people a fair hearing, and then to send their votes to the floor so a majority of the Senate can decide. It appears that there are a majority of votes in the Senate to confirm Mr. Scalia, and that's why an extraordinarily rare procedure seems like it's being put in place.

If, indeed, it is. Perhaps that was a statement that was made on a Sunday show that is not intended to be the actual results of the Senate. That would be hopeful.

Q Since the United States is on the verge of victory in Afghanistan, what is the criteria for not declaring victory, and what is also the criteria for going into any other country, which all of you people seem to be speculating on constantly?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Helen, number one, the President is very satisfied with the progress of the war in Afghanistan. He's pleased with the results. He's pleased with the military successes and the victories, as well as the political progress in helping Afghanistan to have a government that will represent the people of that nation.

As for anything that may come after this, I'm not going to engage in any speculation. The President has made clear that this is a war against terrorism, those who would do harm to us around the world, and that there are multiple fronts in that war. And those fronts include political, the economic, it includes the arrests that you're seeing from various nations around the world that are disrupting terrorist activities. So I'm not saying anything about military, but it's not limited only to the military, Helen, there are many other ways.

Q Does he feel he should be consulting Congress and other members of the United Nations? Or does he feel like he can just go it alone from here on?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President consults with Congress every week. The leaders of the Congress --

Q And he's going to tell them his future plans?

MR. FLEISCHER: The leaders of the Congress come every week and they discuss with the President the status of the war. But I'm not going to engage in any speculation. The President is Commander in Chief and he has the authority vested in --

Q He's the Commander in Chief, but he also has to consult. Doesn't he, at least?

MR. FLEISCHER: -- from the Constitution. And I just answered that he is. Terry.

Q Ari, now that virtually all the territory of Afghanistan has been liberated from both the Taliban and the al Qaeda, is the U.S. military mission there now essentially a manhunt, a big manhunt, and does that square with the kind of mission that the President outlined for the military to begin with?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can just report that today, for example, the military is still engaged in significant bombing in Afghanistan. Not much changed from the previous day. And so I know that there were reports that are probably one or two, maybe three steps ahead of the reality on the ground in Afghanistan; the war remains an engaged war, a shooting war.

And the President's focus is on the long term, and that means that he has said repeatedly in private and in public that he remains committed and resolved and will not leave Afghanistan militarily until the objectives are achieved. And those objectives are the destruction of the al Qaeda network, including bringing to justice not only Osama bin Laden, but his top lieutenants, as well as the government and the leadership of the Taliban.

Q So given that those other objectives that he outlined in his speech to Congress have been achieved, what's left is a manhunt, essentially.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know that it's a manhunt as much as it is a military mission that remains underway. And the President continues to be patient and urges the American people to be patient. As I said, the President is very satisfied with the pace of the war, but there's a lot of work ahead.

Q And there's one other thing that has happened in the past couple of days. The Pentagon is now confirming that members of the al Qaeda are in the custody of the United States military. Under the executive order that the President signed, he, alone, will make the decision as to who would stand trial before a military tribunal.

What's the process? What's the public record that would or would not be laid down for the President, himself, making that decision?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the case of Mr. Moussaoui is indicative of the process, in a matter where there is somebody who may be a likely candidate for a military tribunal. The President will listen to the advice of his advisors. The President will meet as necessary with the Attorney General or others who are involved. And the criteria the President laid down are that he would consider the option of a military tribunal if such a trial would help protect the national security interests of the country, with a particular eye on protecting sources are methods that are used to gather intelligence in the conduct of the war.

That was not the case with Mr. Moussaoui and the trial will proceed through the normal civilian courts.

Q And will there be any finding, any kind of public record of how he reaches such a decision?

MR. FLEISCHER: Just like I did there, just as I did immediately on the day that General Ashcroft announced that the trial of Mr. Moussaoui would proceed and you received the indictment of Mr. Moussaoui, we'll answer all the questions we can.

Q Is that the process he's going to follow in considering John Walker Lindh. And do you have any more information --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Mr. Walker, there's no consideration of a military tribunal. The military tribunals are exclusively for non-citizens of this country; Mr. Walker is a citizen.

Q But will the President make the ultimate decision on his legal process?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't believe -- it's really not the same. In the case of a military tribunal, that is reserved for the President, alone, to make the judgment about whether somebody should be tried in a military court or not. There is a series of procedures that are different from that in civilian matters.

With Mr. Walker, the government is still ascertaining what the facts are involved; the Department of Defense and others are still inquiring to determine exactly what happened to Mr. Walker, how he came to be a Taliban; what activities he factually engaged in as a member of the Taliban. All that are the relevant facts that need to be gathered, and those facts are still being assessed.

Q And are you getting information that he may have been more actively involved in the Taliban, or al Qaeda, than previously thought? And will he be allowed to see a lawyer any time soon?

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to ask those questions to the Department of Defense or the Attorney General. And the facts are still being gathered.

Q Ari, I understand you want to get a deal on the stimulus, but do you consider it constructive for the House Republicans to bring up their own version of a stimulus package tomorrow night, if there's no deal? And what do you expect on -- I mean, would that give you an leverage on Wednesday morning, to try to compromise something when the leaders come up here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President continues to talk to members of Congress. He's talked extensively with the Democratic centrists, who have supported similar legislation in the past, involving stimulating the economy by cutting taxes.

The President is hopeful that Congress will still get an agreement. The President just cannot imagine that the Senate would leave town without taking action to help the economy, to help the unemployed and to provide assistance to the President who are already unemployed.

The House of Representatives has been able to do so. The President made a proposal, the House of Representatives acted on it 55 days ago, but the Senate has failed to act. So it's just hard for the President to see that the Senate would want to leave town without taking action to do two things: one, to stimulate the economy so people who currently have jobs don't lose them; and, two, to help people who have lost jobs, so they can receive additional unemployment and health care.

Q Specifically, does the Republican plan help you get that agreement? Does it give you leverage or is it counterproductive?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's a real possibility it might help. It seems to be a rather centrist proposal and a positive idea, something that the President supports.

Q Can you just be more specific. You said the President was doing everything he can, he's meeting with moderates. Is he making phone calls? Is he bringing anybody down here, aside

from --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President met with a group of moderates last week. He followed that up the next day with a whole series of phone calls to a group of Democrat senators. He spoke to Senator Breaux over the weekend. The President will continue to help the Senate to help itself. Obviously, the Senate is on a slow path, a slow track to stimulating the economy and the President would like to help the Senate.

Q But the next 48 hours are obviously very crucial.

MR. FLEISCHER: They are.

Q Is there anybody coming -- I mean, is there anything specifically planned for this time period, aside from the breakfast --

MR. FLEISCHER: The Congress is returning to town from the weekend. There were discussions throughout the weekend. There may be additional discussions today. So we'll just keep you posted. I think now, at the end of the Congress -- as is typical, it's a day by day event up on the Hill to see what action they are able to take.

Q You saw the speech from Yasser Arafat over the weekend, urging cessation of violence against Israel. Is that enough, or has he done enough, in the administration's view, to arrest people on the list that has been provided to him both by the Israelis and the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the President viewed Chairman Arafat's words as constructive. But the President is also most interested in making certain that the constructive words are matched by concrete actions. And only time will tell.

Q Has he done enough to arrest people, who he's been asked to arrest?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President will watch to make certain that the concrete actions result in a diminution of the violence that is plaguing Israel. And that will be the real measurement of Chairman Arafat's leadership.

Q This morning, in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti, armed men trying to assault the presidential palace, and people were killed. It seems like the action has been stopped. Has the President -- was the U.S. advised this morning at the national security briefing, and does the White House have any later knowledge about it or any comment?

MR. FLEISCHER: The White House received a report, of course, from the ambassador, and the ambassador reported that all members of the U.S. Mission in Haiti are safe and accounted for. The ambassador requested additional police protection for the embassy and the consulate, and the government of Haiti responded quickly to that request. The embassy is closed to the public today, following the attack, and the United States urges all citizens in Haiti to remain in their homes today.

Q And I have a follow-up. Also in the Caribbean, today the first shipment of foodstuff, paid in cash by the Cuban government, arrived in Havana -- first shipment since 1963, since the economic embargo went into effect. Does the White House see any particular significance to this, and does it mean an indirect easing of the sanctions that the U.S. has had for almost four decades?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. No, the President's position remains unchanged on maintaining the sanctions against Cuba until it is free and until democratic elections are held. This was an action taken privately and in accordance with the law that was passed by Congress previously and signed into law. So the law has been obeyed in this case.

Q Ari, India, over the weekend, said that the terrorists who had been involved in the attack on Parliament had training camps just over the border in Pakistan, and they used a variant of the Bush doctrine that suggests that they should go after those camps. Obviously, you folks have been urging them not to retaliate harshly, but said they had a right of self-defense. Is it a fair invocation of the Bush doctrine in this case? And, if not, why not?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you stated correctly, India has a legitimate right to self-defense. And at the same time, the President counsels that this is a very difficult situation in the region and one that could spiral out of control. And so, therefore, he urges that both sides share information, work with each other, and take no action that would in any way hinder the war against terrorism, to which both India and Pakistan have committed themselves.

Q Has he spoken with either leaders since this happened?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, he spoke with Prime Minister Vajpayee the day of the attack.

Q I'm sorry, and with Musharraf?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't believe he spoke directly with Mr. Musharraf.

Q Also, India claims that the attack on the new Parliament was similar to New York and Washington, same group and same -- they had connections with the same -- with ISI and with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, and they are based now in Pakistan, this group. Yesterday they changed the name when they heard that the U.S. State Department is planning to -- they ordered that they would not get -- from the U.S. and all that.

Now, yesterday they change the name and, two, Pakistan's General Musharraf and the ISI knows this group. Now, my question is, is the President asking Musharraf to warn this group or arrest them, like they did in Israel, that this group should be arrested? Like India already put Pakistan on alert and they're warning that they should be arrested, otherwise they will take action.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President again, no change from what I said to Mr. Sanger. The Indians, as we understand it, have arrested two individuals that are suspected in the attack, and the investigation is ongoing, being conducted by the Indian government to bring to justice all those who were responsible for this. The United States has offered its assistance to India and that offer stands ready.

Q A couple of things. The Washington Post weekend report indicated that the anthrax used in all of the mailings seems to have a domestic source. Has the administration concluded -- has the investigation concluded, to your knowledge, that we are dealing with anthrax taken from a U.S. lab?

MR. FLEISCHER: There is nothing that has been final that has been concluded. But the evidence is increasingly looking like it was a domestic source. But, again, this remains something that is not final, nor totally conclusive yet.

Q On another matter, totally different, apparently there are reports of a letter from bin Laden, tracked down about a week and a half ago, advising, as is usual, Jihad. What can you tell me about that?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's the first report I've heard of a letter.

Q Can we come back to the anthrax. What would lead you to believe that it's a domestic source? And have you narrowed it down to laboratories that receive their bacillus anthraces stocks from USAMRIID, up in Frederick?

MR. FLEISCHER: The investigators at the FBI are very carefully exploring all the information that they have about the anthrax attack on the country. And I'm not going to -- I'm not at liberty to go beyond what I've said. The investigation --

I can just report to you the information that I've heard. I can't give you the scientific reasons behind it. But you can assume that they're based on investigative and scientific means.

Q -- talking about DNA fingerprinting?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, you're asking questions about the science and the technical aspects of it, and I can't go into that.

Q Do you know if they have any idea who sent it?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, that still is not known.

Q Have you narrowed it down, as they said, to a --

MR. FLEISCHER: You always have to keep in mind, there's a difference, and Ron Fournier just very accurately puts his finger on something important. There's a big difference between the source of it and who sent it, because the two do not have to be tied.

Q But if you find out where it came from, you've got a better chance of finding out who sent it. So have you narrowed it down, again, to a small group of laboratories that received their stocks of the bacteria from USAMRIID?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, I'm not at liberty to go beyond what I've said about that topic.

Q Back on Mr. Walker. Mayor Giuliani yesterday -- Mayor Giuliani, who had quite an accomplished record as a prosecutor, yesterday suggested that should it be proven that he is in fact a traitor, he would deserve the death penalty. Is Mayor Giuliani someone whose advice or reasoning at this point is something the administration would take into consideration, given that he is the Mayor of New York City?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Mayor is listened to on all things, particularly baseball. (Laughter.)

Mayor Giuliani is very well respected by the President and by the members of the White House team. But when it comes to the administration of justice, and Mr. Walker, that will be based on the facts as they are found by the investigators on the ground, in terms of what actions he has taken. And I'm not going to speculate about the course of justice. Those are matters that are legal. And once decisions are made, those decisions will be shared.

Q Do you think it's not helpful then, perhaps, for the Mayor to be offering his opinion on such a matter?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's always helpful for people in this country to offer their opinions.

Q Ari, what has the President been told about the likelihood that Osama bin Laden remains in Afghanistan?

MR. FLEISCHER: As you heard repeatedly over the weekend, while we do not know the precise location of Osama bin Laden, we have no evidence indicating that he has left the country. We do not know with precision where he is. And that's the same status, same answer you've heard for quite a period of time on that.

Q But, Ari, actually it's not. There's been a real difference over the last week. We were hearing reports that you could hear Osama bin Laden on radio transmissions out in the field, that the administration felt like he was still there. And Powell basically said yesterday that they really have no idea where he is.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's the exact same answer that Secretary Rumsfeld has been giving for weeks. If you remember, in fact, Secretary Rumsfeld has said it's like chasing a chicken. And the Defense reporters are familiar with the Secretary's full throttle answer. We've always indicated that if we knew where he was, we would take action against him, which is a real indication that the United States did not have precise knowledge of his exact whereabouts. Rumsfeld repeatedly said he could be out of the country. We don't know. We believe he still is in Afghanistan, and nothing has changed.

Q Just a little while ago, Admiral Stufflebeam said that there was much less chatter, meaning much less intelligence data. He said he couldn't say for certain, as you just said, that he was still in Afghanistan. Given that obviously cooperation with the Pakistan intelligence services would be critical, there was a shakeup there, in fact encouraged by the U.S. administration, who believe some of the people high in the intelligence services a few months back were, shall we say, less than loyal to Musharraf, and perhaps inclined to be supportive of al Qaeda. Is the United States convinced it is receiving full cooperation from Pakistan at the intelligence surveil of level?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The cooperation with Pakistan has been very strong. And Pakistan has no interest in allowing Osama bin Laden to enter its country. That would be not helpful to Pakistan or to the majority of the people of Pakistan. And they've been very helpful in working with the United States, as they have been all along.

Q Ari, on the stimulus package, you've said that the President wanted to help the Senate help itself. How far is he willing to go on the two things that Senate Democrats have most insisted upon: unemployment insurance and health benefits, increasing health benefits? Is that too far for him to go, and is he willing to risk agreement on the stimulus package, rather than go a long way towards providing a great deal more in unemployment and health benefits?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the issue of unemployment insurance, the President already did modify his proposal, and so I don't think there should be any disagreement on this point. The President has moved. The President has now proposed that unemployment insurance be extended from six months to nine months, from 26 weeks to 39 weeks, and that people in all 50 states be eligible for the extended benefit period, as opposed to just those who lived in the states that were hardest impacted as a result of the attacks. So the President has already shown substantial movement.

On the issue of the health insurance benefits, the President has a proposal that helps people who have lost their jobs through no choice of their own, those people who were laid off. The Senate proposal goes well beyond that, and it provides health insurance benefits to people who walked away from their jobs or who retired early, not to the people who were laid off.

So it's unclear why the Senate would want to pursue a path that is so broad that it doesn't focus on the people who need help the most.

Q Is that a make-or-break issue for him? If they won't give on that issue, is it over?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's just hard to imagine why the Senate would want to stop a stimulus bill that could be agreed to by insisting on giving health insurance to people who don't need it, people who left their jobs or took early retirement, as opposed to those who have involuntarily lost their jobs or been laid off. That's where the bill should be focused on, on the needs of workers who have been laid off. That's where the President is focused.

But all of this can be addressed. All of this can be done, if the Senate is willing to take action this week as a result of the meetings the President had with the Senate Democrats and the conversations he's had on the phone with them. Clearly, the votes are there in the Senate to pass this.

It's interesting, because if you look at this last week in the Senate, the votes are there to pass the stimulus, the votes are there to pass Eugene Scalia, the votes are there to pass many of the President's nominees. The only question is, what is the will of the Senate leadership. Do they want to make progress in this last week, or are they more interested in gridlock and partisanship.

Q On the stimulus, does the administration have a fall-back plan? That is, are there things you could do administratively, say, to help, especially, these unemployed people?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are things that can be done administratively to help the unemployed. For example, it is within the administration's powers to extend unemployment benefits for people who are in the states that are hardest-hit. And the President has not ruled out that he will take that step. But he's hopeful that this can be a bipartisan action and not a matter of where the administration did it because the Senate would not.

The President thinks the American people would rather see people come to Washington to work together and to get progress made rather than to resort to that. But he has never ruled out the ability to do that if he needs to.

The other issue, Ron, I would point out to you, is, as a result of the tax cut that was agreed to with 12 Democrat Senators voting for it, for example, earlier this year and supported, of course, by big numbers of Republicans in the House and the Senate, the economy has been set up to recover. And the President has been advised, it looks like, from all projections, that the economy will come back next year.

But without the stimulus, 300,000 additional people will lose their jobs who otherwise would benefit from a full-throttled recovery. And there is a major difference in people's lives about whether they get rehired next summer or whether they get rehired this winter. And there is no reason for the Senate to make people wait until next summer until the economy comes back, when they could pass a stimulus to help people get their jobs much sooner, if not this winter.

Q There are pretty graphic reports about slaughter, or threatened slaughter of Christians in Indonesia. Are these reports true, and is the U.S. government going to do anything to try to help them out?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of the specifics you're referring to, so let me follow up with you.

Q It's a Washington Times report, Christians terrorized by a jihad movement in Indonesia.

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, let me follow up with you.

Q Ari, just to clarify your answer to Ron, are you saying that the President, today, right now, can administratively extend the unemployment benefits from six to nine months?

MR. FLEISCHER: He can in those states that have had a 30 percent increase in unemployment over a period of -- a defined small period of time. That's in the President's administrative authority, it's a Department of Labor program. The President can do that. So if Congress fails to act to help people who are unemployed, the President has the tools available to help those who need help the most. But that's not the preferred course the President would like to take. He believes that another important part of passing a stimulus is to send a signal to the country that the leaders can get their work done.

It would be a very disconcerting signal to people if, at a time like this, at a time of war and at a time of recession, the politicians in Washington cannot find ways to agree with each other. And that's why the President has worked as hard as he has to bridge these gaps, and he hopes that no one in the Senate will stand in the way when it is so close to being done.

Q Ari, can you give us something of the tick-tock of the call from President Bush and President Putin to President Jiang? How was the initiative taken, who decided, was it a joint call, or was it a consecutive call? Can you give any details --

MR. FLEISCHER: Are you talking about the call the President made to President Jiang last week on missile defense?

Q Yes.

MR. FLEISCHER: No difference from what I reported last week on that phone call. Nothing different.

Q Did President Bush take the initiative?

MR. FLEISCHER: President Bush called President Jiang to inform him about his decision on missile defense.

Q And it was a three-way hookup, or --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was just President Bush and President Jiang.

Q So they were separate calls, the call -- it was unclear in the press whether the calls that President Jiang had with President Putin was the same call that he had with President Bush.


Q It was not?

MR. FLEISCHER: The call that President Bush made to President Jiang was a one-on-one call.

Yes, sir. You have a very important question, I see.

Q -- visit of the Prime Minister of Greece -- January 9th and 10th to meet President Bush here at the White House, as it was reported extensively in Athens?

MR. FLEISCHER: We have not made any such announcement, and when we have something to report on that, we'll fill you in.

Q -- anything process to this effect?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we will make announcements about visitors to the United States, and no such announcement has been made at this time.

Q Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, we'll get to you. Paula.

Q When will you get to me?

MR. FLEISCHER: After Paula. But not immediately after. (Laughter.)

Q Ari, does the administration's concern for the displaced workers also apply to part-time workers and those that were newly-hired and aren't eligible for unemployment, they were laid off?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, it all depends on whether the Senate takes action or not. If the Senate is able to take action, those issues can be discussed and addressed. If the Senate does not take action, the administrative actions the administration could take would be more limited -- which is another good reason for the Senate to move forward on a stimulus, and that's, again, why the President begins this week hopeful that the Senate will be able to move forward and not get bogged down.

Q Does the President also still stand by his principle that a stimulus package shouldn't exceed $75 billion because of adverse economic effects?

MR. FLEISCHER: The range that the President proposed in his stimulus announcement for the tax provisions was between $60 billion and $75 billion. The President would like to see that adhered to.

Q On appropriations, there at least three -- well, three bills that House Republicans and Senate Democrats haven't worked out yet. If they can't or they're not appearing to get close to something, will the White House support a continuing resolution for three or four weeks?

MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, if the appropriation agreements cannot be entered into this week, the President will of course support a continuing resolution.

You know, if this is, indeed, the Senate's last week in Washington, the history of the Congress -- and this applies equally to Democrats or Republicans -- is that the last week has a wonderful way of focusing the mind and on getting the people's business done. And so the President -- I can just say it again

-- is hopeful that this final week will result in a lot of good work being done and completed. The appropriation bills need to be completed, the stimulus needs to be passed, the 157 nominations that are being held up in the Senate need to move forward, the judicial vacancies need to be filled.

You know, on the question of the judicial vacancies, I noted also that some of the Democrats were defending their nominations by saying that -- their nomination pace by saying that they have confirmed the same number for President Bush that they confirmed for President Clinton in 1993, which is a half-true statement. They have, indeed, confirmed 27 of President Bush's nominees to the Bench, while they confirmed 27 of President Clinton's.

The big difference is, President Bush has named far more people to the Bench. In other words, the Senate has failed to act on a much greater number for President Bush than it did for President Clinton.

President Bush has made a record-setting pace of appointments to the Bench to fill the vacancies. But the Senate has lagged behind in the number that they have confirmed. And that's not a matter for Democrats or Republicans, that's a matter for people who are waiting in the administration -- law in a court.

Q Ari, do you see any movement on terrorism insurance legislation --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's another issue where the House of Representatives has been able to take action and pass terrorism insurance, and we continue to wait for the Senate to take action. That's one bill in a long list of bills where the House was able to take action. And we're waiting and hopeful that the Senate will, too.

Q Reuters quotes Senator Helms as saying that the war on terrorism cannot and will not end until Saddam Hussein suffers the same fate as the Taliban. And my question: does the President believe Senator Helms is wrong?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm just not going to speculate about anything that may come next.

Q Since the President has such an extensive professional background in sport, and he attended both baseball and football games in time of war, but the President surely supports Father Malloy of Notre Dame in getting rid of the extensively lying coach George O'Leary, doesn't he? (Laughter.) Rather than agreeing with Maryland's coach Friedgen, who claims O'Leary has unquestioned integrity? Surely, he supports the President of Notre Dame in getting rid of this monumental liar, doesn't he, Ari? Surely he does. If he had a manager of the Texas Rangers who lied like this, he would be gone. Isn't that true, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Les, this week the President is focusing on personnel issues that have 50 votes to them and that would be the United States Senate. (Laughter.)

Q Is he going to desert his friend, Father Malloy? He surely won't fail to support --

Q Thank you. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, Helen.

END 1:02 P.M. EST


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