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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 11, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Aboard Air Force One
En Route Kansas City, Missouri

1:47 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: All right, Increase in nation's debt limit let me fill you in on the President's day. The President had his usual round of briefings. You know about the meeting he had with members of Congress on homeland security. Then he did the video feed, which you have a text of, to the Southern Baptist Convention.

And upon arrival, the President will tour the Kansas City Water Treatment Plant. Following that, he'll give remarks about the Office of Homeland Security -- the Department of Homeland Security. And then he'll do the fundraiser tonight for Congressman Talent.

I'll give you a couple other items today. The fundraiser is scheduled to -- expected to raise $500,000, consisting of $400,000 hard money, for Mr. Talent's campaign; and $100,000 in soft money, to benefit the Missouri Victory Fund -- 2002 Victory Fund.

I want to fill you in on several other items. The President this morning spoke to Mrs. Burnham, and expressed his condolences at the loss of her husband's life in the Philippines. The President said afterwards that she is a pillar of strength.

The President also spoke with Governor Owens of Colorado this morning, to get an update on where the situation stands with the fires in Colorado. The President noted to Governor Owens that FEMA Administrator Allbaugh is in Colorado to assist. The two are scheduled to take a tour this morning. And Secretary Norton is also on her way to Colorado. And the federal government is making the resources available to help. The President said, if there's anything you need, let us know.

The President also this morning spoke to the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Abdullah, to discuss the ongoing efforts to bring peace to the region. The President will meet with the Saudi Foreign Minister on Thursday, in Washington, as part of the ongoing efforts to move forward with peace in the Middle East.

And, finally, en route here, the Senate just passed by a vote of 68-29, a clean increase in the nation's debt limit.

Q What?

MR. FLEISCHER: The Senate passed, 68-29, a clean increase in the debt limit. The President praises the Senate's action. The debt limit is a very important issue. This is not the time to play any -- this is not the time to engage in any activities that could in any way raise questions about the full faith and credit of the United States. And the President urges the House to follow the Senate's action on this matter.

I'm happy to take your questions.

Q Ari, if the homeland security initiative is so crucial to the administration, why did the Chief of Staff tell the staff members of the House and Senate that you aren't going to fund it for two years?

MR. FLEISCHER: He didn't. It's funded at $37 billion.

Q At a transition cost.

MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, the costs are handled in a manner that's called a transfer. And it's a routine part of appropriations.

Q A transfer?

MR. FLEISCHER: A transfer. The funds that would be appropriated are transferred to the new department. So the full funding of the INS, for example, is by virtue of the word "transfer" made part of the new department. It's not a complicated procedure, it happens often in appropriations process.

The transition costs are something that, one, we don't see as significant, in terms of size -- dollar amount significant. And, two, is as a result of the redundancies that would be eliminated as a result of the establishment of the new department, the efficiencies and the lack of duplication we believe that that can help -- makes this done in a manner that is as close to budget neutral as possible.

Q As close as possible. You said the day this was announced it would be --

MR. FLEISCHER: We've always said there may be some transition costs, and depending on the exact manner that Congress decides to proceed, the dollar amount will become increasingly clear. It's premature to say what that is, other than there's no reason that it should be significant.

Q Why did you say the day it was announced that it would be revenue neutral? And what has changed the administration's mind?

MR. FLEISCHER: The cost of the department would be revenue neutral. I said that there would be some transition costs, depending on the decisions that are made by the Congress.

Q Why isn't the administration going to send up now the actual bill language for, what, weeks?

MR. FLEISCHER: We are. It's right on schedule. It's what we've always indicated. And I'm not sure why anybody is suggesting it's being delayed -- delayed from what -- showing you the administration's statement that gave an original date. The administration has been crystal clear from the word go. We always said it will take a couple of weeks to prepare the actual statutory legislation -- which is a big deal, preparing the statutory legislation.

We're also working with leaders on the Hill on the exact statutory legislation we sent up, to make it a smoother process collaboratively with the Congress. So it's moving exactly at the pace we indicated it would move among our internal deliberations.

Q Is the fact that you haven't done this legislation reflective of the fact that you moved up the announcement in order to get it out there earlier?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. One, it's the nature of preparing legislation. That specific statutory legislation always takes longer than an overview of an announcement, even as detailed as this one. But the reason the announcement was made, as we said earlier, the work on the announcement was done. To wait it any longer would have, one, not been an efficient use of time and we want Congress to have a chance to have hearings and evaluate this, even without statutory legislation, which the Congress will do.

And, two, the obvious risk of it would have leaked if we had waited for the statutory legislation to be prepared.

Q Can you flesh out what the President discussed with Crown Prince Abdullah this morning? Discussion, timetables --

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. The two touched on the consultations that the President has been having. And then they talked about the visit the Foreign Minister will have. And they talked in general terms about the hope to make progress, the importance of additional consultation and dialogue. And that's why the Foreign Minister will be here.

Q How long was the conversation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Probably about five to 10 minutes.

Q And that was from the White House?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q That was at the White House, it wasn't on the plane?

MR. FLEISCHER: Correct, the President was in the Oval.

Q Any sense -- can you rule out a Middle East speech from him this week?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I, one, haven't acknowledged the President is giving a speech. As you know, the President, himself, said he may have something to say in some form or another. My only advice to you is, enjoy your week.

Q Thank you.

Q On Mr. Padilla, as the story comes out, it seems that he was not on the verge of doing this. Did the administration over-state how serious a threat Padilla represented to the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think it's exactly as described. Attorney General Ashcroft used the word "exploring." Secretary Wolfowitz said, "initial planning stages." Which is what I said. So I think it was described accurately. And there's always a tendency at times like this, the initial reports immediately lurch to the worst case scenario. But those are the words administration officials actually did use verbatim.

It's of serious concern, and that's why the President said, he's a dangerous man, it's a good thing he's off the street.

Q Is the President at all concerned that they acted too quickly to arrest him, since we wasn't anywhere near close in performing this deed, that we might have been able to -- "we," the United States government might have been able to track him to other al Qaeda members, track him to places where he might have obtained radioactive materials? Instead we just have this guy and nothing, no materials at all.

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, it's the judgment of law enforcement officials about how to handle each case based on the merits presented. When somebody is on a watch list and they come into the country, law enforcement takes the action they think is the most appropriate. I haven't heard any suggestions to the contrary.

Anything else? All right.

END 1:56 P.M. EDT