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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 7, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:35 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you an update on the President's schedule, and then I have an announcement and a statement.

The President had his usual round of briefings this morning. He convened a meeting of his Homeland Security Council. Then late in the morning, the President gave a speech to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards Ceremony, where he announced a new 10-point program aimed at corporate governance. This is a follow-on to an announcement the President made directing his Secretary of the Treasury to convene a working group to learn from the lessons of the Enron debacle, to take whatever actions are possible to help protect investors from any actions required to tighten up, to protect shareholders and to protect individuals across the country from any of the ramifications of the Enron collapse.

He is having his weekly lunch with the Vice President. And early this afternoon, in the Rose Garden, the President will meet with Governor Pataki, Mayor Bloomberg and members of the New York delegation, Democrats and Republicans, to discuss the importance of the aid package for New York. The President gave his word about providing aid to New York and the President will always keep that word and the President has an announcement to make in the Rose Garden.

Later this afternoon, the President is going to meet with a group of labor leaders who are coming to the White House. I anticipate the energy bill that's up before the senate will be a topic they discuss. And the President will also meet with members of Congress who are coming to the White House, members of the Senate, as they consider the energy bill in the Senate. The President will urge them to take action to provide for energy independence for our country.

President and Mrs. Bush will welcome British Prime Minister Blair and his family to their ranch at Crawford, Texas, on April 5th through 7th. The visit is an important opportunity for the President to spend time with the leader of one of the United States' most important allies, an exceptionally close partner in the war against terrorism, and consult against the ongoing campaign against terrorism, as well as other key foreign policy issues.

Also today, the House of Representatives will vote on a package of unemployment insurance extensions, as well as tax relief for corporations to help hire more Americans and to keep Americans who are worried they might lose their jobs fully and gainfully employed. This also includes aid that is vital to New York, including the New York Liberty Zone, which is a provision of tax incentives to help businesses locate and hire, as well as bond issuance in New York City to help New Yorkers recover from the attack on the United States. The President endorses this compromise proposal that's a scaled-down stimulus package that includes the unemployment extension that he has sought. He urges the House of Representatives to vote yes on this package. He will sign it into law if it is sent to him.

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

Q Ari, was the President willing to accept a scaled-down stimulus package because of forecasts that the economic recovery is underway? It wasn't as crucial to get everything he wanted?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President's preference, by far, is to get the exact package he sent up to the Congress. But the House of Representatives was able to pass what the President sought, and a compromise had been reached with a group of Senate Democrat moderates, as well as Republicans in the Senate, which could have guaranteed that the package passed and was sent to the President. It was blocked in the Senate, however, so the President, as well as the House of Representatives have now come to the point where we believe it's important to compromise. And the President thinks it's a good compromise, he'll sign it.

Q Does he agree the comprehensive package that he was pushing for is less urgent now that the recovery appears to be underway?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's increasing signs that the economy is recovery. The President's approach is to err on the side of America's workers. And that means that people who are currently clinging to their job, worry whether or not they're going to be able to keep their job -- that's where the President is focused on. He wants to help people who have already lost their jobs by extending unemployment insurance for 13 weeks. But he would still prefer to have an acceleration of all the individual income tax rate cuts, as the House of Representatives and as the bipartisan coalition in the Senate preferred to do, and could have done had it not been blocked by the Democratic leadership in the Senate.

Given the fact that it's been blocked, the President believes the House action today is bipartisan, is helpful, and it ought to be the law of the land.

Q The President has not, himself, said what you just said -- signs the economy is recovering. As recently as yesterday he was still saying the economy seems to be in some degree of trouble. Is he looking at economic data that others are not, and is he not yet ready to conclude that the economy has turned a corner?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's part and parcel of what I'm saying. There's no question when you look at some of the statistics, there are signs that the economy is recovering. The President's concern is that this not be a jobless recovery, and that unemployment typically lags, the economy starts to come back, but people still don't get hired at the speed at which the economy begins to recover. And the President is pleased to see these increasing signs of economic recovery from a statistical point of view, but he also worries about them from a human point of view. And that focus is on America's workers.

And there are still people, particularly the manufacturing sector and the high-tech sector, who are working, but they worry whether they'll be able to keep their jobs. And that's why the President's pleased that what the House is doing today includes provisions that are accelerated depreciation, for example, net operating loss carry-back provisions, for example. All of those are helpful to employers, so they can keep their employees. And that's what the President would sign.

Q One follow-up. The President has often said Americans don't want an unemployment check, they would rather have a paycheck. In the totality of this package, do you think this package is more skewed toward unemployment checks or paychecks?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's a $40 billion package over 10 years. And the interesting thing about it, as well, in the immediate years is it actually has a bigger tax bang for the buck. And that's because of the way the tax provisions kick in. There is an acceleration in the immediate years of the tax provisions, and that does give more incentive to businesses to keep the workers they have and to, hopefully, hire more. And that's what the package is all about. As the economy comes --

Q You're talking about depreciation?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's right, depreciation. There's a depreciation of 30 percent expensing. And as --

Q That's all in equipment costs, which you theoretically believe will provide more money to retain or hire workers?

MR. FLEISCHER: The more money a business has, the more money they can use for their employees. They don't have to let people go -- which is what employees are worried about right now, will they be the next one let go. That's the big concern America's workers have, even in these early stages of seeing some good statistics. But it's a focus on America's workers and a recognition that the best way to help people is to let them keep their jobs.

Q Has the President decided to send General Zinni back to the Middle East? And if not, what has to happen before he will?

MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, the President is always looking for an opening, looking for a way to help make a contribution to help the parties find a way toward peace in the Middle East. The President is always reviewing that matter. You could say it's a day-to-day issue, the President is always seeing what can be done. And that's where it stands.

Q Is there an opening now?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is always looking for an opening. I can't say -- speak to the timing.

Q What does the President think of Army Secretary White failing to divest his Enron holdings after he promised a Senate committee that he would?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me read to you a statement from the White House on that.

Secretary White has complied with all Executive Branch ethics requirements as regards conflict of interest. He has not worked on any Enron-related matters since day one and, therefore, has avoided any conflict of interest or appearance of conflict since joining the Department of the Army. The Armed Services Committee has traditionally had additional requirements that appointees are asked to comply with in regard to divestiture. Secretary White agreed to comply with these standards and has been working toward meeting them. It takes time to divest in complex financial arrangements, and Secretary White has worked with both the Armed Services Committee and the Office of Government Ethics toward that end.

The administration is confident that, through working with the committee and with the Office of Government Ethics, that Secretary White will meet all Committee Requirements.

Q Is the White House concerned about his contacts with Enron officials in October, just as the company was about to implode?

MR. FLEISCHER: The statement speaks for itself. That's the point of view from the White House.

Q Treasury Secretary O'Neill had proposed, had suggested, that corporate executives should be held accountable for their negligence in the management of corporations that lose large amounts of money, by way of making them open to lawsuits on that. That's what he proposed would be the best way to toughen and reform corporate management. Why did the President reject that?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that we toughen up provisions against corporations, particularly making it easier for people to, in effect, be disbarred from corporations and from boards on which they serve, or forcing them to give back, in effect, their bonuses if the only reason they got them was as a result of personal malfeasance in the accounting that allowed them to get that bonus in the first place.

But the President also, at the same time, wants to make certain that reforms don't become a haven for opening up lawsuits all across our society because the President has longstanding held a view that it's the opening up every matter in our society to somebody suing somebody is not the best solution to these problems.

Q So is it fair to say, as Senator Daschle has, that the President's package at the end of the day isn't as tough as the Treasury Secretary had proposed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that from a trial lawyer point of view, they would like to be able to sue as many people as possible. But, in the end, is that the best way to have a reform for a system? Is that the best way to enforce accountability? And the President thinks not. And it shouldn't surprise --

Q Secretary O'Neill thought so, though.

MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary O'Neill, of course, is part of the recommendation that was made today. And what happens in this process is there are a number of people who give their opinion, who weigh in. They can make their opinions at different points. Information comes up, it evolves. And it came together in the decision the President announced today.

Q On this same subject, Ari, the President in his speech this morning basically made the case that executives, particularly chief executives, have to go beyond just the legal requirement, so that people are confident that the overall financial statements they're seeing reflect their best knowledge of the company.

You just read a statement in defense of Secretary White. We now know that his own division was one that -- whose statements, which presumably he was aware of, turn out to be those most under suspicion in Enron. Can you try to square these two positions for us? And understanding that you're creating a new standard here, do you have somebody in your administration right now who may not have lived up to the spirit of what the President is discussing?

MR. FLEISCHER: David, anything in particular to Enron, I would refer you to the Department of Justice. As you know, they have an investigation under way of all the facts and the specifics and the particulars dealing with Enron. I don't reach any conclusions about any one individual. I don't think that would be appropriate to do.

Q Let me put it in a different way, then. If those investigations came to a conclusion that Secretary White knew or should have known about these kinds of issues within his division, would it still be appropriate for him to be serving?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has confidence in Secretary White that he will comply with the ethics requirements that the Committee has, above and beyond the requirements of the --

Q I wasn't asking about the --

MR. FLEISCHER: What you're asking about is a hypothetical which, as you know, I don't get into.

Q Back to the Middle East. Does the President think that his hands-off policy has contributed in any way to the hopelessness and the rising violence in the Middle East? And, anticipating your answer, I have a follow-on. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: Why don't you just get it all out of the way, Helen? (Laughter.)

Q Well, American weaponry is being used. So why are we so passive in this conflict where people are dying on both sides?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I just have to disabuse you of your premise that the United States is hands off, the United States is not involved. The United States has been deeply involved. The United States is always deeply involved.

Q How? I mean, the President has never met a Palestinian. And he is -- he seems to be so detached. Let's hear something positive.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has spoken out on this on any number of occasions. As you know, he just welcomed President Mubarak at the White House.

Q I know, everybody's for peace.

MR. FLEISCHER: And he's talked with President Mubarak as he's talked with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Prince Abdullah, and any number of others in the Middle East about how to achieve peace.

Q Well, you know how that's been interpreted? As a rejection.

MR. FLEISCHER: But, Helen, the premise of your question is that the United States is to blame for events on the ground in the Middle East --

Q No, that's not the premise at all. I'm just saying --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- and I don't accept that.

Q -- by not participating in any sort of -- as a mediator, as we've always been since the '40s, how come -- I mean, of course -- why are we really not actively involved?

MR. FLEISCHER: The United States has been, will be and continues to be. So we disagree on the premise of it.

Q Ari, I want to ask you about Judge Pickering. You said this morning at the gaggle that you had been notified that the voting has been postponed. The belief in town is if the voting had been today, he would have lost because Democrats are united on this issue and the Judiciary Committee would not have approved it. How do you expect to get the votes on the Judiciary Committee if it's delayed for a week, let's say? Is the President going to try to talk to the Senate --

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President will talk to the Office of Congressional Affairs and make an assessment about whether or not any individuals on the Committee can be swayed, and that always helps determine what the President personally will do. But at any other number of levels, you can anticipate that members of the Committee will have communications with the White House and with others.

You heard the President yesterday and you heard the Democrats from Mississippi yesterday and leaders from the Mississippi civil rights community yesterday urge the Senate to vote for Judge Pickering. The President hopes that's a message that will be heard and we'll find out over time whether it does.

Q Can I ask you this? Do you think the Democrats -- I don't know if it's hypothetical or not -- do you think the Democrats are trying to send a message to the President in case there's an opening in the Supreme Court about the type of nominee he would have to send up?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I can't guess what the Democrat motives are for changing their vote on the same man that many of them voted to confirm when he was up for the District Court. They just have changed their minds about the same man. And I can't guess what their motives are for that. The President indicated he thinks there's politics going on.

Q Can I follow up on that, though? At the meeting this morning, some of the Democrats indicated that the President should always send up to them choices who are consensus choices -- that's their words, consensus. Several of them used that word. Was there any point where the President felt that Pickering was a consensus choice for this post?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say he remains a consensus choice, and we could find out if the Senate would only schedule a vote on the floor. But what the Senate Democrats want to do is create a system in a committee that prevents him from going to the Floor.

Now, this stands in contrast to other issues in the Senate. For example, the energy legislation that the President is going to discuss today with members of the Senate. The Senate Majority Leader made a decision not to allow that to go to committee because he thought if it did, it might likely reflect something that's much closer to the President's view of energy independence, which enjoys bipartisan support on the Senate Energy Committee. So in that case, the Committee was not allowed to proceed, the energy legislation went straight to the floor.

In this case, the Senate is looking for a way again to stop what the President believes -- and many bipartisan -- Democrats and Republicans and a majority likely believe is a man who can get confirmed on the Senate floor. So it's an inconsistent approach procedurally. The one consistent thing is, it seems to be a way to play politics and block the President and the bipartisan majority who supports the President from having their point of view achieved and carried out into law. So it's more representative of the actions of a minority vote that can use politics for partisanship, as opposed to letting the majority rule prevail.

Q Ari, another angle to this -- since the administration began, it seems the nominees the President has picked have had much opposition from many minority groups, civil rights groups and dealing with issues of racial bias. What does the administration attribute that to, especially with Pickering, and in the latest case with the gentleman at the Department of Agriculture?

MR. FLEISCHER: April, everybody has their right to speak out and oppose as they see fit. And I wouldn't question or guess what people's motives are. That's their right, that's their prerogative. But again, it appears that in the case of Judge Pickering, there is a slim bipartisan majority that would confirm him. And so I really think the question is why is there a partisan minority that is using unusual parliamentary devices to stop this from reaching the floor of the Senate.

Q So the racial bias thing is unusual?

MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak to that. I don't question people's motives or why they -- it's anybody's right in society to speak out as they see fit.

Q Ari, on steel, did the President consult with any foreign leaders before making his decision on the steel tariff?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say he heard from foreign leaders, yes.

Q Any specifics?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't get into the discussion specifics --

Q Is he expecting any retribution from foreign countries at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the action the President took is permissible under the World Trade Organization rules and under 201 -- Section 201 of the law. And obviously, Europe has a right to challenge -- or other nations, including Europe have the right to challenge that under the WTO rules. There's already been an indication that they will do so, so that's a matter that will get taken up, likely, by the World Trade Organization.

Q Ari, as you know, we're approaching the six-month anniversary of 9/11. I realize the President will say something, but I wonder what your thoughts are on the way the American people and the country have changed in the past six months.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me answer that. The President hopes that the American people, as we approach the six-month anniversary of September 11th, will do two things -- one is look back and look forward. He hopes that they will look back to the day of September 11th and remember the lives of those who were lost, and to remember the families of those who still suffer; and he hopes they'll also look forward and look at the great sacrifice the men and women of our military are making to keep the world free from the terrorists who would bring more harm to our nation if they were allowed.

The President also hopes the American people will look around the world and recognize how the world has rallied to the cause of fighting terrorism, and the world stands at one with the United States.

Q Ari, what do you hope to get out of this meeting with the union leaders today? And how do you rate your chances of having ANWR in the energy legislation at this point?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President will be meeting in the afternoon with a group of union leaders that includes the International Union of Operating Engineers, the Marine Engineers, Beneficial Association, the Teamsters, the Iron Workers, AFL-CIA, Building Trade, the Seafarers -- a number of people who aren't exactly bedrock Republicans are coming here to send a bipartisan message to the United States Senate that America needs energy independence; that America ought to produce its energy here at home and not overly rely on foreign supplies of oil; and that it's good for the economy, it's good for energy independence and it's good for jobs, for America's workers.

That's the message the President hopes that these union leaders will be able to help take to the Senate. Certainly, the President's comprehensive energy plan passed with a nice bipartisan vote in the House of Representatives. It's another example of where the President, working with the House, Democrats and Republicans alike, is creating bipartisan consensus in Washington. The only question is, will the United States Senate stand with or against bipartisan consensus.

Q You said AFL-CIO will be part of that?


Q On steel, some analysts in Europe are perplexed at the timing in the decision in this regard -- they say it could not only prompt a trade war of some magnitude, but also it could lead some of our allies in Europe to question the commitment to the broader goals of the war on terrorism. Does the administration see any danger of that happening? A, a trade war; or B, a lessening of enthusiasm in Europe for the overall goals of the war on terrorism?

MR. FLEISCHER: The answer is no on both. But as to timing, the timing is dictated by the rules under Section 201 of the trade laws. That sets up a statutorily defined period of time in which the President had to act. So the President had no choice about the timing of it. Having initiated the 201 investigation to see whether foreign imports of steel were hurting America's steel workers, that began back in June, I believe, of 2001, and that required a March date.

Q Why don't you believe there are any dangers of either a trade war of any magnitude, large or small, or any lessening of commitment on the war on terror?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President believes that this was a situation that is permissible under the World Trade Organization rules, and the World Trade Organization rules are set up to help nations deal with what's inevitable frictions and differences as we engage in free trade. But the President also, who is an ardent free trader, who took on his party in the cause of free trade, who stood up in Republican primaries, if you recall, to people in his own party, on behalf of the cause of free trade, believes the best way to have additional free trade is by enforcing the laws we have on the books.

Q Did the President agree that it was a good idea for Mike Parker to step down as head of the Corps of Engineers?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me say -- I'm not going to get into that in any great length, but let me simply say that the President welcomes a diversity of views in his administration; he welcomes questions, he welcomes critiques, and that's all part of the process by which budgets are put together. Once they are put together, they are a statement of administration policy and the President does think it's appropriate for his staff to support the administration's policy.

Q For that matter, another part of the question is that there's a lesson in here for other administration officials that you'd better adhere to the President's agenda or you're in trouble?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to leave it as I said. The President welcomes a healthy debate. But there's also a matter of once the debate is settled and the President has proposed a budget, the President does think it's reasonable for the people who work for him to support the budget.

Q Ari, your statement a couple minutes ago saying the Democrats are holding up the Pickering nomination in committee is quite reminiscent of what some of your Democratic predecessors at this podium used to say when the Republicans --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. That's correct.

Q So what's changed?

MR. FLEISCHER: What's changed is there's a President who came from Texas who was not part of the partisan polarization that has taken place in Washington for years. When the President talked about changing the tone, he's referring to these constant battles between the Congress and the President that just seem to switch parties. And the Democrats did it to the Republicans; the Republicans did it to the Democrats. The President believes it's time to stop this. It's not in the national interest and --

Q Are you saying the Democrats are playing gotcha here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that both parties have done it in the past, but that doesn't make it right. And particularly at the a time when there does look like there are enough votes on the floor of the Senate for this man's nomination to proceed. Even if there aren't enough votes in the committee, it is entirely within the rights of the Senate to allow this vote to come to the floor with what they call an unfavorable recommendation from the committee. It's been done before. But in this instance, because the votes are likely there to pass Judge Pickering on to the Circuit Court, a parliamentary maneuver is being used to block his consideration, to block the bipartisan will of the Senate, even if it is, arguably, a narrow will. But it is a bipartisan narrow will.

Q So you concede that Republicans did that during the Clinton years, too.

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question Republicans did it as well.

Q Ari, back on the Middle East. In light of Secretary Powell's remarks yesterday, is the Bush administration turning up the heat at all on Israel in terms of violence in the Middle East?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would refer you to what the President has said when he stood with President Mubarak, and his statement at that time was perfectly clear and very much what Secretary Powell said, as well -- that it's very important to find a way to stop the violence in the Middle East. The violence doesn't serve either party, either cause. The President continues to believe that Chairman Arafat can and must do more to stop the violence. And the President is very worried about the impact on the Israeli people, on the Palestinian people, but he does not want the region to get spun up into war. He wants the region to find ways to reduce the violence. And that's the President's view.

Q Did the White House view Powell's remarks as more pointed against Sharon than the President had said in recent comments?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the Secretary's remarks were a reflection of just what I indicated the President said.

Q Ari, the Middle East -- would the administration support a multination force to attack the terrorist organizations in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, that are waging war against Israel?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has long said that there are not good terrorists, there are no bad terrorists. And one of the effects of the war against terrorism is that nations that are engaged in terrorism are taking a second look to determine whether or not that's an industry they want to remain involved in.

Beyond that I'm not going to go about any steps the President may or may not take in continuation of furtherance of that policy.

Q The L.A. Times is reporting this morning that the Pentagon is considering banning all non-U.S. citizens from computer projects that are unclassified -- things like payroll and software. Defense contractors say it could cause job loss and make it difficult for them to do their job. Does the President support the plan?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard that report, and so I can't speak to it.

Q On the steel decision, administration officials said the steel workers, as well as other unemployed, could have health care benefits through a health insurance tax credit. But as you know, the House Republicans just dropped that provision from the stimulus package because it appears too contentious to receive bipartisan support. Is the administration open to other avenues for providing health care benefits?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let's take it one day at a time here. Let's hope the House today can pass some that is a compromise. But many things were dropped in the cause of getting a compromise that can be signed into law. The health package was something the President supported. So, too, were across the board income tax rate reductions. There were other provisions in there that were not able to pass. But today could be a day of real progress in Washington; the President hopes so. So let's wait for the vote to see if the House is putting their votes behind compromise and bipartisanship. The President hopes they will.

Q Ari, when we had the debate on the stimulus before it was, as you noted, roughly twice as big as it is now and there were plenty of people on Wall Street who were questioning the need for the package at the time --

predicting an economic recovery of which we've now seen, in the last couple weeks, a lot more evidence. So the question is, if the economy really is coming back and the package is smaller than it was before, when there were questions about whether it would provide any kind of stimulative effect, what would this package really do, in terms of benefits?

MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, I think you've got to remember what the President said when he ran for the office. And the President gave a warning as a candidate that he believes that people in Washington should not just focus on statistics and letters, like OMB, CBO. They need to remember the real lives of people who are affected.

And if there is somebody who is unemployed today, they don't want to be rehired in June or July, as the economy comes back over time. They want to be hired today, and so, too, does their family want them to be hired. If there is somebody who has got a job, where the boss is announcing they may have lay-offs, they don't want to be laid off, they want to be able to keep their job.

And, therefore, the President believes that the package that the House is taking up today represents a good compromise to getting the job done to helping America's workers. There is not everything in it that he wanted in it. There's not everything in it the Democrats wanted in it. There's not everything the Republicans on the Hill wanted in it. And that's called compromise, and that's how Washington, over time, needs to get its work done. There's been a lot of wrangling on this issue; the President hopes the wrangling has come to an end.

Q Ari, two quick ones on the Blair visit. Can you tell us what's going to top the agenda there and why did the President want to meet with Prime Minister Blair in Crawford as opposed to here at the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing against Washington, he just happens to like Crawford a lot. I think it's a sign of the closeness of President Bush and Prime Minister Blair. They've met on many occasions. They talk on the phone often. If you recall, Prime Minister Blair, on his first visit to the United States, was at Camp David; he wasn't at the White House. And the two have really just hit it off, have a good relationship.

When the President went to England in June, they met at Chequers. They met at the Camp David of England, for example. So they have their meetings not necessarily at their typical meeting places. The President welcomes him to his home. He's a good friend and the President will -- the President enjoys taking leaders to Texas.

Q And the anti-terror campaign will top the agenda?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the agenda -- the meeting is a month off. We'll have a lot more specificity on the agenda closer to it. But I think it's fair to say the war on terrorism will still be going on, and the President will talk to the Prime Minister about it at that time.

Q Two things. On campaign finance, 27 House Republicans wrote to the President a couple days ago, asking him to veto the House campaign finance bill. And I wonder if there was any reaction to that.

MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the letter, but the President has made it clear, he has not changed his view on that topic.

Q The second thing is on the nomination from the NIH, are you going to announce that today --

MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, I don't speculate about personnel. When the President has personnel announcements to make, he'll make them.

Q The fast track bill as it's emerging in the Senate includes an expansion of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act. Does the President have a position on that particular configuration that the Democrats are proposing which does, in fact, expand the program rather significantly?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say it's not exactly clear what provisions, when you get into the detail level, will be there as the Senate takes up trade promotion authority. This is legislation the President is committed to. He wants to work very closely with Senate Democrats and Republicans so that trade promotion authority can be signed into law.

The Senate has historically been a supporter of trade promotion authority. In a reversal, the House, which had previously been against it, has now voted for it. On this one other issue that the House has not taken action on, the President is going to work with the Senate so the Senate can do what the House has done. On the specifics of it, I think it's just too soon. We'll have to see exactly what the details are.

Q It's pretty clear then that trade promotion authority or fast track will not be passed by the time the President heads south for Central America where trade issues are going to be a prominent part of the agenda. Is that going to be a problem for the President in terms of the credibility and the kinds of things that he will be --

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been calling on the Senate to pass trade promotion authority for months, and the President does not control the timing or the calendar in the Senate. So I can't speak to that. That's a question that the Senate leadership will need to address. The President would have liked to have had it done yesterday. But he understands there's timing issues in the senate. He'll work with the Senate. That's all he can do.

Q He's not going to try to goose them into moving more quickly?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the timing is up to the Senate. The President would like to have it done before the trip. I don't know if that's possible or not. But the President, most importantly, wants to have it done for America's workers.

Q Quick question. Does the administration believe that the Macedonian government, as it claims, has broken up an al Qaeda ring of non-Balkan terrorists who were planning to carry out attacks against U.S. interests in the Balkans?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look into that and see if there's anything I can get you on it. And, if so, I'll post it.

Q One last one, on Pickering, one of the subtexts of the conversation in the Senate is because the President won elections so narrowly, he is disqualified, essentially, from nominating judges who cannot obtain a broad -- a more broad consensus support than what you've talked about, the narrow bipartisan consensus that Judge Pickering would receive now. Would you respond generally to that attitude from Senate Democrats and how it shapes not only circuit and appellate court justices, but could very well influence Supreme Court nominees?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's no precedent for that idea. There's nothing in the Constitution, nothing in the statute that supports that. That would suggest that, in 1984, the Senate and the House should have done everything Ronald Reagan told them to do because he won in a 49-state landslide and that's not the way our system is built.

Q Thank you.

END 1:06 P.M. EST

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