For Immediate Release
October 8, 2002
Press Gaggle with Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route to Knoxville, Tennessee
9:09 A.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: The President this morning had his usual intelligence briefings. Our first event in Tennessee will be a speech the President will give, and he will also seek to build support for the campaign -- the Congress -- Van Hilleary for Governor, Lamar Alexander for Senator, Janice Bowling for the United States Congress. The first event is sponsored by the Tennessee Republican Party.
The second event will be a fundraiser at the Van Hilleary for Governor Luncheon, which is expected to raise one million dollars, with $750,000 going to Hilleary's campaign and $250,000 going to Victory 2002.
That is it for the President's schedule today, and with that I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Victory 2002, is that the Tennessee --
MR. FLEISCHER: Republican State Party.
Q You said the first event is sponsored by the Republican Party, so that none of this is official travel?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Why is that? Welcome rallies in the past have been official travel. Is there some attempt now to pick up more of the political costs from the political parties?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the -- go through the election, I think the President is going to focus on those candidates who support his agenda, so that he'll have better prospects for passage of legislation to improve education, to protect people's pensions, to create jobs. And so if it's an official event, the President cannot directly endorse the candidacies of various people -- and this now will afford him the opportunity to do so.
Q Where do we stand on the port dispute, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President looks forward to receiving the report from a bill that he named. He expects to receive the report sometime today, and he will review the report once he receives it.
Q Is he inclined to invoke Taft-Hartley and to get them back to work?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll just leave it at he wants to read their report, after he receives the report. If he has anything to say, we'll keep you advised.
Q Anything on the fact now -- the terror that sniper in Washington is expanding to school kids and so on? Does the President have anything to say to people who live in Washington about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President issued a statement last night about this directly; and he's talked to the Attorney General about it. This is a very important issue of great concern. This is traumatic for the families and the communities that have been affected, and it's scary.
And let me walk you through some of the actions that the federal government has been taking to assist. And as you can see from a lot of the comments that are being made by local officials, there is a very close working relationship already between the federal government and the local government. The local government deserves help and the federal government is going to provide it.
The FBI is assisting in the profiling of the shooter or shooters. The FBI has put people in command posts in Montgomery County and other sites. The FBI is providing helicopter support. The FBI has provided assistance with the rapid start program. That's a program used to assist in tracking all of the hundreds of leads. They put this information in a computer and they correlate and prioritize the information. It's a case management tool.
The FBI is offering agents to covering leads as requested. And the FBI has offered assistance from local field offices, labs or computer systems in any way needed.
I think I have some additional -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and FireArms has also been assisting in providing ballistics help and other types of help. And last night the President directed the Department of Education to work with the local schools and the counselors, the principals and the administrators to provide them with the assistance they need to help counsel the students.
It's a trying time, and the President wants to make the resources of the federal government available to help the community.
Q Can you tell us about the conversation that he had with the Attorney General? When was it? I assume they spoke on the phone? What did they talk about specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me try to get you more information on that -- I dont have a lot,
Q Do you know anything about the two Marines who opened fire in Kuwait, killing a couple of Kuwaitis, apparently?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Pentagon is looking into this incident to determine what the cause is, what was involved, and I would anticipate any statements, if there are any to be made today, would come from the Pentagon.
Q Any information that they were responding to terrorist attack, anything like that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Pentagon is looking into this now, and I dont want to characterize it.
Q Ari, is this the first all political trip he's done?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Others recently, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Friday, last week.
Q Oh, okay. Do you have any information on tonight's event?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tonight, the President will go speak to the Eagles, who are gathering at the Willard Hotel.
Q Is that a fundraiser or that's --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- speech.
Q Why is that closed to press coverage?
MR. FLEISCHER : I dont know, let me look into it.
Q Ari, last night the President said that by complying with demands that he laid out for Iraq, that it could "change the nature of the regime itself." Does this amount to a revision of the policy of regime change?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's a repeat of what he said at the United Nations. In his speech at the United Nations, the President had the six "if" paragraphs. He six times referred to "if a regime in a Iraq will," "if the regime in Iraq will," "if the regime in Iraq will." And his point was if the regime in Iraq will abide by international laws, disarm, stop repression of minorities, stop hostility toward its neighbors, the President's six specific "if" clauses, then the regime would have changed its very nature. And that's a reiteration of that message.
The bottom line is, the world needs the Iraqi regime to disarm, to stop using hostility as a method of dealing with its neighbors; to stop repression of minorities; to give an accounting of the people its held as prisoners. And the regime under Saddam Hussein has shown no inclination of a desire to do that. And the President knows the importance of having it done.
Q Does he believe that regime change can be accomplished without Saddam Hussein's removal?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no history of Saddam Hussein showing any inclination to do the things the world expects. And the President is being realistic.
Q Is the President disappointed that the three major networks ended up not carrying his speech live last night? And what do you make of them deciding not to?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. The White House did not request them to do so, so I think it would be unreasonable for anybody to think they should have. The White House deliberately did not ask them to do so, because, one, given the substantive amount of information that was new in the speech, in good conscience we did not think we should ask the networks to do so, even though it was an important and newsworthy address.
Two, it was our conclusion that if on Friday -- on Thursday, when we announced the speech, we had said we were requesting live coverage, despite every effort we possibly could have made to keep expectations realistic and accurate, the rumor-mongering that had become uncontrollable, and it would have suggested that war is imminent -- and we did not think that was a proper or wise course to take.
Q So why schedule it at 8:01 p.m., a time that's generally used when giving an address to -- live on the networks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Quite frankly, it reaches more Americans that way.
Q -- got your message across?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, I think the -- we dont know how many people watched it, but for the many millions who did they had an opportunity to hear and see the President, in totality themselves, which is always important for the country to hear the President unedited. And, obviously, the newspapers and wires and others have followed it closely.
Questions of war and peace are weighty and serious issues for democracies and for all the world. But particularly in a democracy, it is the responsibility of the Commander in Chief to openly and publicly discuss all sides of the issues that people raise. It is not a light issue. And the President takes that responsibility seriously. He will continue to speak out, the administration will continue to reach out. It's what democracies do; it's what keeps us free.
Q Has he had any reaction from either other world leaders or anybody in Congress to the speech last night?
MR. FLEISCHER: The reaction that we have first heard has been from congressional leaders, has been very encouraging. People have welcomed his remarks and they thought it was a wise course.
Q Anyone in particular?
MR. FLEISCHER -- to speak to the members that were traveling with the President last night, traveling with the President today. We'll probably take a more detailed look at various statements from Democrats or Republicans alike. I think Congressman McDermott again spoke out; i look forward to reading his transcript.
Q Any overseas reaction at all, especially to the unmanned vehicles and the other things he brought up in the speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not got any overseas briefings yet on what foreign leaders said. Keep in mind, the timing of the speech, of course in Europe it would have been 3:00 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. in the morning. And this morning, just quickly, i just haven't received anything yet.
Q I think this morning they're quoted as saying it's all lies. I assume that's just a predictable response?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, Iraq denied it invaded Kuwait, so why listen to them?
Q Can you give us some sense on the timing of the report from the board of inquiry? Do you know when, approximately, Bush receives it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to let you know. I think it's going to be midday, midday-ish.
Q Do you mean noon, or 2:00 p.m. or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Noon is a good description of midday. (Laughter.) That's why I said it as artfully and as accordion-like as I could: midday-ish, i-s-h.
Q What's your broad definition of midday, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Generally, it begins sometime in the mid- to late morning, and travels through to the early to mid-afternoon, with the forefront being clearly in the center. (Laughter.)
Q Ten to 2:00 p.m., or would it be more like 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ten to 2:00 p.m., working hours for West Wing staff; 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. is OEOB staff. (Laughter.)
Q -- wise-ass portion of the briefing? That's wise-ass. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: That was none other than Sandra.
Q Is the President going to talk about the economy today, and, if so, what's his message?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will talk about the economy today. The President will talk about the importance of creating jobs for the American people; about why he's pleased the unemployment rate, for example, came down a small amount last month -- it's not good enough. More action has to be taken to help the economy, which continues to ooch along. And the President believes that there are two key provisions Congress can pass that would be very helpful to workers right now.
One is pension protections, and the second is job creating passage of terrorism insurance. And we'll just have to see what the Congress does. It is reaching that -- it is reaching that biennial point where Congress gets ready to adjourn, and it's anybody's guess about whether adjournment would create a rush to actually legislate and get things done, or whether we will mark a year of inactivity.
There are a lot of issues that are stuck in the Congress right now and nobody knows what the Congress is going to do.
Q I'm sorry, is that biannual, as in twice a year? Or biennial, as in once every two years? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd like to thank you for the wise question. (Laughter.) That would be it happens once every two years.
Q So biennial.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll get back to you midday on -- (laughter.)
Q Ari, do you think there is now overwhelming support in Congress for a joint resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Based on what the President has heard from Democrats and Republicans alike, it appears that there is overwhelming support and a likelihood of a significant bipartisan vote for the resolution that the President has proposed and that has been introduced in the House by Congressmen Hastert, Gephardt, as well as in the Senate by Senators Lieberman and McCain.
Anything else? I would like to take this opportunity to say "bye."
END 9:23 A.M. EDT