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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 26, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:19 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then there are two statements I'd like to make.
One, the President began his day with a CIA briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. And then the President welcomed to the White House a group of first responders and members of the federal protective forces that protect our country currently, the various departments from terrorism, and shared with these groups his thoughts about the creation of the Department of Homeland Security.
Later this afternoon, the President, in the East Room, will make remarks and sign a proclamation to commemorate the 12th anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act. And later the President will travel up to the Hill, where he will have a meeting with House Republicans at the House Republican conference.
While he is there, the President will note what a week of accomplishment this has been in the United States Congress. The President is particularly pleased that after almost 10 years of stalemate, an agreement looks like it is in reach to give the President trade promotion authority. The President hails this as a milestone and a landmark achievement.
In addition, this week, the House of Representatives today is passing homeland security legislation to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security to protect the country from terrorism. This will also be a landmark moment in the Congress. This is the largest reorganization of the federal government since the immediate years following World War II that restructured the Department of Defense. And the President is very pleased that the Congress on both these matters has worked together in a bipartisan fashion to put the needs of our nation first.
And, finally, the Congress this week also passed and is sending to the President legislation to crack down on corporate corruption. This has been a week of accomplishment, a week of milestones and a week of bipartisanship.
And, finally, I do want to announce to you that on August 13th, in Waco, Texas, the President will host an economic forum that will bring together government policymakers, small investors, small business owners, industry experts, workers, business ethicists, union members, corporate executives, economists, business students and others to discuss the fundamentals in the American economy and to talk about the President's agenda to increase growth for the future.
The President will be joined at this forum by more than half a dozen members of his Cabinet, and they anticipate having several specific topics of discussion. There still are many items left pending in the Congress that can help give the economy an even stronger boost than it's currently receiving. Among these items are pension protections, legislation of retirement security, how to apply -- if it is done and final this week, which it looks like it will -- the new ability to enter into trade agreements around the world; terrorism insurance remains an important issue, education, technology innovation, as well as how to control spending.
Currently under the Senate appropriations process, the bills that look like they're passing so far in committee exceed the President's requested spending levels by $14 billion, at a time when our nation has a deficit. Over a 10 year period, if that is built into the budgeting, that would result in an increase in the deficit above and beyond what the President has requested, an increase above the President's request of $209 billion over 10 years, as a result of the excess spending in the Senate bills. So the President looks forward to this economic forum in Waco, Texas.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Campbell.
Q Is this economic forum in a sense an answer to the economic summit that House Minority Leader Gephardt has been calling for?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, I think -- the President meets often with the leaders of the Congress to talk about ideas at that level. This is a meeting with the executive branch, with these Americans from across the country.
I think you can look at this, Campbell, very much the same way you see the President when he has roundtable discussions as he travels the country. As you know, yesterday when the President was in North Carolina, he had a roundtable of people to talk about medical malpractice, where he's joined by people in the real world who talk to the President about the human side of the policies that the government talks about.
Often at these roundtables, the President's joined by Cabinet Secretaries. This is a way of bringing many people together in Waco.
Q Are you including Democrats, or any lawmakers at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is executive branch.
Q There's been a flurry of activity in the last couple days to produce what you call this week of accomplishment. This was caused by a lot of Republicans on the Hill giving up and making concessions to break some of these logjams. How much did the President turn up the heat on the Republicans in the House and the Senate to produce some of these breakthroughs? And is some of this a result of the polls that suggest that, you know, consumers and voters are concerned about the stock market and the economy and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tom. You sound like a cynic. (Laughter.)
If you take a look at the three major items that were passed this week -- trade promotion authority, legislation on corporate corruption, and homeland security -- what you really see are Democrats and Republicans coming together and acting bipartisan for the good of the country, exactly as the President asked them to do. And that's what the American people sent people to Washington to do, and the President is very pleased that it's happening.
I think you've seen in both parties some healthy give-and-take this week. On some issues, Democrats moved toward Republican positions; on other issues, Republicans moved toward Democrat positions. And in the process, the country has been well served, because for a change, Washington looks like it's going to be passing legislation that gets signed into law, instead of passing legislation so they can posture and position.
Q Well, given that that's the way Washington ought to work, as you point out, why not have Democrats at this economic summit? Don't they have a role in getting the economy moving as well as it should?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course they do. And the Democrats, and the President will call on -- I think that it will be very appropriate for Congress and both parties to hold similar forums in their districts as they see fit right around that same time to discuss the economy. But this President is going to continue to meet with members of Congress on a regular basis, as you know. But the executive branch, the President, has the right to have meetings as well, as he travels across the nation, and he will.
Q Doesn't it make this economic summit less meaningful, though, if you don't have the government actually getting together to work on those programs, to work on those proposals, where some healthy give-and-take might happen to get something done?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what makes it helpful is to have citizens come forward from all the variety of communities that I described to talk with Cabinet Secretaries, to talk with the President, about how they see the human side of policies in Washington. And that's exactly why this forum is being set up.
But, again, this is very much like what you have seen as the President travels the country, as the President did as he campaigned to be President, to create these roundtable, these forum environments where real people can be heard.
Q One more on a slightly different subject, although dealing with Congress. Does the President believe that he has the authority, the full authority, under the congressional resolution authorizing the use of force passed after September 11th, to pursue the war on terrorism into its next phase in whatever form or fashion, including any kind of action against Iraq? Or does he think that there needs to be more congressional action?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, that's a hypothetical that verges on the legal, and it's some things that I could not possibly speculate about.
Q Does he believe that he can take the war in whatever direction he sees fit as Commander-in-Chief? Or does he think that there needs to be more congressional input?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will always act in accordance with his constitutional powers and constitutional obligations to protect our country. And in doing so, he will always consult with Congress properly to the full degree possible.
Q Ari, what do you hope to get out of this economic summit? A series of recommendations, some advice from real people? What exactly --
MR. FLEISCHER: Economic forum, the White House is calling this an economic forum. What the President hopes to get out of it is to be able to hear from the American people from a variety of walks of life, from a variety of backgrounds -- whether they are union workers or whether they are business executives, whether they are business school students or whether they're people who have spent a lifetime as ethicists studying the complexity of issues and how they affect our economy and our culture.
To talk about what ideas people have to keep the economy moving, to keep the economy strong; to hear their various ideas on, for example, education, there can be a variety of people there who are going to discuss the importance to the economy of job training, job flexibility, educational training and other worker proposals that affect the future prosperity of our country.
Technology and innovation is another area of great importance to the economy and to growth and to creating a climate of greater growth. Trade, for example. Think about this, for almost a decade no President has had trade promotion authority. If trade promotion authority can now be agreed to and signed into law by the President before he leaves, this becomes a real, tangible way to improve the lives of the American people, in a multilateral way that has not been practical or doable for almost a decade. And the President wants to focus on how can we now apply these new trade promotion authority powers to benefit America's workers and to benefit other countries around the world?
There will be a series of workshops, of forums at this event in Waco, where all these issues will get discussed.
Goyal, and then we'll go to John.
Q Ari, two questions please. Two questions. One, it seems to me that this is a season of corruption and fraud. If you have seen yesterday's Washington Post --
Q Yes or no? (Laughter.)
Q Pick one. (Laughter.)
Q Yesterday's Washington Post, front page story, one of the largest and maybe, perhaps, the largest immigration fraud in the U.S. history. A lawyer, Mr. Kooritzky of Capital Law firm in Virginia, over 3,000 victims, mostly from South Asia. And here at India Globe, we have been getting so many phone calls, and they are asking for White House action because he might get away, but these victims are left with nowhere. So, how President can stop all kind of this corruption in the future, especially in immigration?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that this is one of the reasons that government is so important, in the President's opinion. It is a vital part of government to enforce the laws so that anybody in any walk of life, for whatever reason, of any background, who thinks about engaging in crimes, in fraud, in stealing money -- whether it's from their company, from their shareholders, or their employees -- is punished; whether people who would use their positions of power to do things for illegal or for reasons of bribe are punished. And this is a government that the American people have seen vigorously enforces the laws and will continue to do so.
Q These people have paid from $10,000 to $28,000 to stay in this country to this person, and they have left nothing now. And they are working maybe $5 a job. And now they have been told that their applications are being now nowhere, because they haven't -- so what is their future, something like this? Victims of frauds, something like this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Full enforcement of the law, to vigorously investigate and prosecute and arrest, arrest and prosecute anybody who engages in such practices.
Q -- yesterday --
MR. FLEISCHER: John. You had two questions; that's your third.
Q I'm going to steal two if I can, one on trade in a second. But first, to follow up on Terry's point. You call this an economic forum. Congressman Gephardt and other Democrats have asked for some kind of a summit. They say at such a meeting you should look back, if you will -- they want to revisit some decisions made on economic policy, including the President's tax cut. Is it fair to say that in having an economic forum, where he brings together business people and his own Cabinet, that the President just dismisses that notion, that he wants to look forward, not look back and revisit decisions made in the past, including his tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, surely I would not imagine anybody would seek to deprive the President of the ability to meet with people as he sees fit and say it's inappropriate for the President to have a meeting unless they, themselves, are there.
But, two, as I indicated earlier, the President on a regular basis welcomes to the White House the leaders of the Congress to have such discussions. Somebody asked me the other day about that and I said, if that's what the leaders are seeking, they have a mini-summit, if you will, on a regular basis here at the White House. And if any of the leaders of the Democrat Party want to propose to the President raising taxes or stopping the tax cut from going into effect for the future -- that has helped revive the economy from the recession that it was in, in March of 2001 -- that's their prerogative, they're always free to bring that up.
So the President will continue to have regular meetings with members of Congress, but he looks forward very much to having executive branch meetings with all these people from across the country.
Q On trade promotion authority, obviously it cleared the House by just one vote last time. And the Republican leadership asked the President to come up and speak to the conference today.
What are they saying in the lay of the land? Is there in the compromise agreement some things that the Republicans don't like and therefore they need the President's help to guarantee that those votes are there again today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that on trade promotion authority, the history of the vote on trade promotion authority indicates, regardless of who the President is, it's a very close vote. Since President Bush came into office, there has been an increase in the number of votes for it. President Clinton tried valiantly in a bipartisan fashion to get trade promotion authority repeatedly throughout his term, and he was not able to. This year, there was a one-vote margin supplied by the House of Representatives.
The breakdown is very straightforward. Republicans are overwhelmingly in favor of trade promotion authority. Democrats are largely opposed. There is a very small, but influential and important, group of Democrats who are helping to make this happen. Indeed, it is a small block.
The President is going to go up to the Congress today to ask for widespread Republican support. It will be necessary to have the support of a large number of Republicans to make up for the absence of Democrat votes in the House of Representatives.
Q We're closer to the election now. Has he been told by the leadership that maybe not all of the votes that were there the last time will be there this time, and that's why he's going up?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think anybody will know for sure until the voting starts. But the President thinks that the agreement that has been reached by the conferees is a strong agreement, a good agreement. The President thinks it will help protect jobs for the American people, will create more jobs for America's workers. And it's also good for our allies and our trade partners around the world.
There are many provisions in here, especially for Andean nations, for Latin America and for Central America, that are vital to their economies, that are good for our country. And the President is hopeful that at the end of the day -- and he will put his shoulder to the wheel -- that the Congress will be able to pass this into law. It's been too long that the United States has not had it, and it's hurting America because other nations are negotiating trade agreements with nations that do not include the United States, going around America in a way that denies American people to have jobs.
Q Ari, on the same subject as John's question, last night a very late an agreement between Senator Max Baucus, president of the Finance Committee in the Senate, and Bill Thomas, head of the House and Ways Committee on this free trade agreement.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ways and Means Committee.
Q Ways and Means Committee, right. My question has to do, what broke the logjam, because in an election year -- what caused this agreement --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what really most likely broke the logjam, in addition to the diligence and the hard work of Senator Baucus and Congressman Thomas, is the fact that there was a deadline approaching. Very often in the Congress what spurs action is a deadline, a recess, a time when Congress realizes if they don't get it done, it's going to be too late, and it will never get done. And President Bush, as you know, made very clear to members of Congress that he had three priorities for Congress to focus on this week: trade promotion authority was one of them, corporate governance was a second, and homeland security was a third.
And the President is very pleased that the Congress is listening to his call for bipartisan action. And I think the American people are going to be the ones who are better for this, because Congress is legislating, Congress is working bipartisan. And the President is going to sign these bills into law if Congress can finish them and get them sent to him.
Q On the same subject, the President has been asking, and certainly the Andean countries -- I'm speaking of Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador -- have been asking for something that they've had, and ended and hasn't been renewed, which is the trade preference --
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely.
Q And those countries are having terrible economic problems and political problems.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly right. That's why the President regrets that it's taking Congress this long to get this job done. If you remember, the President earlier in the year traveled to Peru and traveled to El Salvador and talked with the leaders of those nations about the importance of passing the Andean trade preference act. And that important act got complicated and caught up in the negotiations in the Congress over trade promotion authority.
The President did not think it needed to get complicated by this issue, but the Senate would not pass it, if you recall. There were many requests on the Senate to take action earlier this year. And the President can call for the Senate to act, but he cannot force them to act. That's why the President is very pleased that Senator Baucus and Congressman Thomas have reached this agreement. As I said yesterday, the nation is in a hurry to get this done, and the President hopes that it will be done.
Q Ari, I hope you don't think I'm also a cynic -- (laughter) -- but who's doing the, who is inviting the -- who is deciding who will be at the economic forum? And will there be liberal points of view represented, as well, particularly among the economists? Or is this just going to be sort of a cheerleading session?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you'll see the full list as it gets closer to the event, and I think you'll be fair to draw whatever interpretation you want of who was invited. But as I walk through, it's a good cross section of the United States, including, as I indicated, union members and there will be a lot of people there who are small business owners, industry experts, ethicists. So there will be a large cross sample of America.
Q Okay. And also, given that this is a week of accomplishment, the White House has criticized Daschle, Senator Daschle pretty firmly in the past. I'm wondering if the President thinks, at least of now, that Daschle's doing a pretty good job?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, my remarks by praising the Congress and that includes all the leaders of the Congress, including Senator Daschle if all these are finally agreed to. Now, this is a conference agreement between Senator Baucus and Congressman Thomas, and the President will go up there to talk to House Republicans about it today.
The President hopes that there won't be any last minute blockage for something that is very important for the country.
Q Ari, two questions. One, on the economic forum, the timing is one day before the deadline for corporate executives to personally certify or recertify the validity of their earning statements. There's a lot of speculation that this will trigger a whole new round of earning restatements, and that that may have an impact on the economy and securities markets. Are you trying to get out in front of some bad news which you see coming? Is that --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is actually good news for America, that the Securities and Exchange Commission has ordered these largest thousand corporations in the country to go back and personally certify that their books are accurate and are reliable. And that's -- one of the things the American people are looking for from corporate America is honesty, accountability, and certainty. And that deadline set by the Securities and Exchange Commission will help deliver that.
Q Second question, on the question of flexibility in homeland security. Most of the White House's fire has been directed at the Senate version of the bill. What's the White House's view of some of the amendments working their way through the House on that subject, like the Morella amendment and the Shays amendment?
MR. FLEISCHER: The House is continuing to vote on this measure. The House is now proceeding on this on a rather open rule, and so this is a moving target as we speak. So once the House finalizes action and we're able to take a look at it in its entirety, you'll see a statement from the President about it. But until then, I'd hesitate to comment.
Now, on the Morella amendment specifically, the point the President makes is the same regardless of whether it's in the House bill or the Senate bill. For example, if the House were to create an Office of Homeland Security Director, Homeland Director, in the White House, subject to Senate confirmation, the President's message to the House would be identical to the President's message to the Senate. He would oppose that provision.
So it doesn't really matter who is the individual behind an idea; it's the ideas. That's what the President is focused on.
Q The Morella amendment doesn't deal with that issue, it deals with the question of civil service protection. Are you opposed to the Morella amendment?
MR. FLEISCHER: That deals with collective bargaining. The Morella amendment deals with collective bargaining, and the President's made clear that he opposes that.
Q Ari, two things, like everybody else. Can you give us -- this is a public forum? It'll be televised?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, public forum.
Q There will be -- reporters will have access to the participants?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, you will.
Q Is it an all-day event?
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be a lengthy event. We will, closer to it, give out the exact timing and scheduling and full details about it. But it will be an open forum for people to listen to and to watch, and you will be invited to cover it.
Q On an entirely different subject, when the President was in Arizona, he talked about problems in fighting forest fires because of environmental policies. Senator Daschle got an amendment -- a provision exempting South Dakota from some of these rules in the bill. Now several western states are saying, we want the same thing. Does the President feel they ought to have the same thing Daschle got his state?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Secretary Norton and Secretary Veneman have focused on the importance of having sustainable policies that allow for proper amounts of foresting. And they are focused on doing this in a way that is uniform and applies to all. And there has been resistance in the Congress up until now to Secretary Veneman and Secretary Norton's ideas. And so it's very curious to see if there's any individual changes sought to something. But anything that moves in the direction of what the Secretaries have been talking about would be welcome.
Q Does the summit have implications for new policy? I mean, is the ultimate goal here for the President to hear all of these ideas because he's looking to come up with a new package of ideas for the economy? Or is there a greater goal here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, if there were ideas circulated that could create new policies, that's something the administration always listens to carefully. That's one of the benefits of having a session with people from outside of Washington, to hear new ideas, to hear new thoughts. And so that's always a possibility.
Q Second question. Why isn't the President going to Camp David this weekend? Are we looking at a corporate accounting bill-signing over the weekend, or -- why isn't he going to Camp David?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, we'll -- you'll have the radio address tomorrow here, and that will be released in the usual format. He's just spending the weekend here. If there's any activities over the weekend, we'll of course let you know over the weekend.
Q Since it's an empty house, I'll try two, also. Have you gauged any public reaction to the President's calls about the medical lawsuit situation? And how aggressively will this now be pursued?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you listened to the stories of a lot of these pregnant mothers who were there yesterday, who have to travel great distances to find doctors, and if you listened to the doctors who are leaving their communities because of their rising cost of malpractice insurance, for them it's an immediate crisis that needs to be solved yesterday.
The President has made his proposals to the Congress. He hopes that Congress will take action. And the President said he hopes that Congress will take action before they leave this year.
Q There was a report about a military buildup in the countries around Iraq, a tent city being formed. Do you have anything on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with the report. Wendell.
Q Ari, given that the President's homeland security department aims to give new leadership -- uniform leadership, if you will -- to federal workers who will basically continue doing the same jobs, why do they need to lose the civil service protections? Give me an example of what Title V, existing law, prevents the President from doing -- or prevents the Director of the Department of Homeland Security, who is the Secretary -- that the President -- that he needs to do.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, people do not lose civil service protections. They maintain their civil service protections under the President's proposal.
Q The unions argue they do lose civil service protections, because they lose the enforcement mechanisms that guarantee the protections.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware that there's one side that states the case in that matter. But that doesn't make it correct. People do not lose their civil service protections under the President's proposal, people maintain them. And let me be specific. Under the President's proposal, workers will continue to enjoy civil rights protections, equal opportunity employment protections. The Fair Labor Standards Act will continue to apply, the Social Security Act. Veterans' preferences will apply, government ethics will apply, the Hatch Act protections will apply. All of these will apply.
What the President --
Q But the enforcement mechanisms are gone. So tell me what the President can't do that he needs to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, all those enforcement mechanisms apply there. What the President is looking for is common sense flexibility for managers to be able to move quickly in hiring and firing, and giving pay raises to employees, so that if there is an outstanding employee, a front-line worker, for example, at the Border Patrol, if there is a management decision to give an employee a pay raise, they want to be able to give that person a pay raise without having to give pay raises to everybody at the same level. Because right now, there's such a one-size-fits-all standard, without regard to merit, that people cannot be rewarded for their individual hard work and initiative.
Another example is that in one case it took nearly two years of negotiations, including a mediator and a Federal Service Impasses Panel, for the Immigration and Naturalization Service to negotiate a policy for
the use, care, and feeding of canine patrol animals. At a time when the nation is shifting footing to a wartime footing, where terrorism is a real threat, we don't necessarily have two years to do what we need on the borders to make certain that our personnel have every tool they need, including canines, to protect our country from explosives or other objects that might cross the border.
And that type of flexibility that the President is seeking will better protect the country. And I think that's why you're going to see that in end, Congress is increasingly listening to what the President is proposing. I think there have been some scare tactics used by people who want to make suggestions that are not in the President's proposal. The President's proposal is focused on many of these common sense things that frustrate taxpayers and frustrate citizens when they realize how cumbersome and bureaucratic rules can be.
Q These things have existed, for the most part, for 50 years, through wars. Given we face, if you will, a different kind of enemy, the people that you are moving are going to be doing the same things that they were doing -- they've been doing for 50 years. How does --
MR. FLEISCHER: Which is exactly why change is necessary in this regard. And that's exactly why a new department is being created.
It's very important to recognize the risk of terror and the need to have an agile agency that can move quickly to counter terrorism risks, not encumbered by old bureaucratic formulas. For example, if somebody needs to quickly deploy 100 agents at one spot on the border, managers need to have the immediate discretion to move those employees without having to enter into negotiations for the request to move employees. And that's as a result of the new threats our nation faces. And that's why the President believes managers need that flexibility to have a department.
Q Ari, just quickly on the summit, I'm trying to imagine what it --
MR. FLEISCHER: Forum.
Q I'm sorry, forum.
MR. FLEISCHER: I recognize again one side would like to call it that. I know the press will not take a role in choosing words used by that one side.
Q This forum, what is it going to look like? I mean, you mentioned Waco. Is it actually going to be in Waco? Is he renting a hall? Is he going to have folks out to the ranch and on folding chairs? What is it going to look like?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no, this will be in Waco, not at the ranch. This will be in Waco. We'll have the exact location made available closer to it. I think it's going to be at Baylor University at one of their rooms, one of their facilities.
Q Is the Vice President going to be there?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't believe so.
Q Ari, the President this morning at that homeland security event spoke of the capture of 2,000 terrorists. Has the government now confirmed that all these people in custody are terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has repeatedly used the number 2,000 or 2,400 to describe the number of people who have been detained. And, yes.
Q So it's confirmed? I mean, certified that all these people who are being held are, indeed, terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's how the President described it before.
Q How does he reach that conclusion?
MR. FLEISCHER: These are people who don't belong to any organized nation who were fighting with al Qaeda or with the Taliban against the United States. And the reason they were captured is because they were taken in battle.
Q Is any progress being made at Guantanamo on eliciting information from these people, advancing the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Without being able to get into any specific details about intelligence information that's being gleaned, the answer is, yes. It's been a productive part of the war on terror to be able to protect the country as a result of information that's being gleaned. I think you were aware of several things that have been in the press as a result of some of that.
Q Mr. Fleischer, do you have to offer any congratulation message on behalf of President Bush to the Greek Prime Minister, Konstandinos Simits for his success against the members of a Greek terrorist organization?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was a success by the Greek government. And this is again an example where in the war against terror, accomplishments are going to be made in multiple areas around the world, through diplomacy, through arrest, through seizure of financial assets. And Greece is a partner in that effort.
Q One more question, one more question. How do you explain the fact that your government arrested the other day three Greek Americans of Adelphia Corporation, in New York, for fraud, but none so far from the other companies, Enron, and WorldCom/MCI, for stealing billions of dollars from the American people? And when President Bush is going to sign the Senate Sarbanes bill on corporate America?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, on the question of arrests, it's not the place of the White House to discuss any specific arrest that may or may not be forthcoming. You need to talk to the Department of Justice to see where their investigations take them. And I don't think that's the type of information that you're going to determine. That will be determined by the prosecutors, as they see fit, based on the law.
And on the Sarbanes legislation, we don't have a date yet. We haven't received the bill yet. We'll of course let you know when it will happen.
Q Still not today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct. We haven't received the bill yet.
Q Given the economic forum most likely will be held in a climate of jittery-ness, as far as people's concern over their 401(k) plans, as well as the stock market in general, do you anticipate that there might be any proposals coming out of this that would encourage incentives for buying stock? There had been talk about -- within the White House -- of possibly some sort of tax policy to encourage the purchase of stock.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is seeking a change in policy now. And the House of Representatives has already passed legislation dealing with pension protections for workers. And the President hopes the Senate will follow, and do the same. The President wants people to be able to diversify their pensions and their retirement funds, so they'll have greater freedom to have management over their 401(k)s.
He wants to make certain that blackout periods that would apply to top executives at a company, as well as apply to rank-and-file workers. He does not think it's fair, and wants to change the law, so that executives can continue to trade and to sell when employees cannot. He wants to make sure that there's fairness in these blackout periods. He wants to make sure that workers have better access to information, more quarterly reports, so they can have information about their pensions.
This is pending in the Congress. This, too, the President hopes will become part of the Congress's legacy of accomplishment.
Q With respect to the flexibility provisions in the homeland security department, your statement of administration policy says that the administration wants to be able to retain the President's authority to exempt certain operations under the Federal Labor Relations Management Act. Does that mean that if any bill comes here and it does not give the President the authority to remove employees from federal collective bargaining units after that one-year transition period, the President would veto that bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President is seeking is the same authority under collective bargaining that his predecessors have always had. In fact, under the amendment that we discussed earlier, this President, in a time of war, would be given less authority than his predecessors over collective bargaining for national security purposes, when these predecessors were not in times of war or terror.
And so that amendment is actually a step backwards, taking something away from President Bush that his predecessors have had, when the whole purpose of creating the department is to be able to respond more aggressively to terror.
Q Ari, the President of course has made the case for the need for creating this homeland security department. But in the meantime, does he believe the nation's security is at all jeopardized until that restructuring is done?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is always worried about the security of our nation, given the potential terrorist threats that are out there. That's why the President called on Congress to create a Department of Homeland Security.
You've heard the President talk on many occasions about the threat matrix that he receives. There continue to be people who are plotting, who are trying to bring attacks to our country. And so with whatever forum of government we have, this President will use it to its fullest to protect the people.
Q And is there any sense from a practical standpoint how soon it would be before a department could be up and running once the President finds legislation that he can sign?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it depends on all the decisions that are made in the final bill by the Congress. The more flexibility they give the administration, the faster the department will be able to be up and running and effective.
Q Ari, President Clinton had an economic forum in Little Rock, and I'm just wondering whether you see this as a similar kind of a format, sort of a Little Rock II? Or will it be somehow different? (Laughter.) What can you tell us about President Bush's role? And, thirdly, why Waco?
MR. FLEISCHER: The notion of American Presidents meeting with the American people is hardly new, either to President Bush or President Clinton. This is what Presidents do. And, if you recall, this is what President Bush did regularly. Go back to the transition, for example. Think about the forums that the President held in Austin, Texas, where he talked about education, where he talked about other issues down there.
Remember, President Bush during the transition said that the economy was on the verge of a recession. President Bush, from the first days of his administration, announced policies to help get the economy out of recession, and the Congress passed those policies. The recession actually turned out to be much shorter and shallower than anybody thought, a substantial result because of the tax cuts that the President got Congress to agree to and were passed into law last year.
In the President's State of the Union, he talked about economic security as one of the three pillars that he would focus on in 2002. So this is a continuation of things that the President has always identified as major priorities for the country and for his administration. And Presidents meeting with individuals throughout the country is exactly what you would expect Presidents to do, I think.
Q Why Waco?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sorry?
Q Is it Waco simply because --
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the President -- the House of Representatives is scheduled to leave for its recess today. The Senate is going to leave, I believe, next week. Following that, President Bush is going to leave. I think he's going to spend some 25 days based -- moving the White House to Texas. And he'll be at his home in Crawford.
During those 25 days, he's going to travel to 12 American cities and he'll also have not only this economic forum in Waco for you to look forward to, but there's going to be other events in Waco and in Crawford for you to look forward to during this time, too.
Q Ari, do you have any reaction to the report that Saddam Hussein has been trying to import specialized steel that can only be used in gas centrifuges, which can only be used to enrich uranium, which can only be used in nuclear bombs?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, one, I do not talk about any intelligence information. But, two, there is a reason that President Bush, in his State of the Union, identified Iraq as an "axis of evil" nation. And one of the reasons is Iraq is trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, and it is a worry that this President has. And it's one of the reasons why it's so important to protect the American people from people like Saddam Hussein.
Q Do you have any fears --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester.
Q Paul Sperry of WorldNet Daily has interviewed a number of recently retired FBI agents, including Ivian Smith, former head of the Analysis, Budget, and Training Section of the Bureau's National Security Division, who noted that on 9/11, domestic terrorism was the number one priority. And my question, is the President aware that the Clinton administration de-emphasized fighting Arab international terrorism in order to focus on right-wing militia groups, and the FBI never analyzed boxes of evidence gathered in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing until after 9/11?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, the President is looking forward, not backwards, and is focused on bringing bipartisan support to his fight against terror.
Q Okay. Ari, I do not know of any evidence that the U.S. Navy's youngest fighter pilot in World War II, Lieutenant George H.W. Bush, after the war, ever condemned our bombing of Japanese cities, and therefore killing millions of civilians, because we were at war, just as we are at war today. And so is Israel, and so, as Secretary Rumsfeld said, it is an unfortunate fact of war that, inevitably, innocent civilians are killed. And my question is why does the President criticize the Israeli killing of 13 civilians in the course of killing a terrorist responsible for killing at least ten times that number, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the reasons I outlined when I gave you the President's thoughts two days ago.
Q Ari, Judicial Watch has been having a hard time serving papers on the Vice President in this Halliburton lawsuit. In fact, they said that they were threatened with arrest when their process server came to the gate. Apparently, the past practice, when serving papers on the President or the Vice President, is that the people at the gate accept service. But the Judicial Watch process server says he was threatened with arrest, and they're now accusing the White House of frustrating the law that says you can't tamper with a process server.
Is the White House making any effort to keep these papers from not being served?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tom, I don't have any information about this. It's the first I heard about it. You may want to talk to the Vice President's office, I don't know anything about that.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
Q How about the week ahead, Ari?
Q Yes, the week ahead.
MR. FLEISCHER: I did that this morning. We'll put it out.
END 12:58 P.M. EDT
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