The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 3, 2002

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En route Springfield, Illinois

9:55 A.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll go over the schedule and then we have some ground rules, because we have a guest briefer this morning.

The President this morning will stop in three places, or today will stop in three places. In Illinois, he will support the campaign of Congressman John Shimkus for reelection, Jim Durkin for the U.S. Senate, Jim Ryan for Governor, and the Illinois Republican ticket.

In Minnesota, he will support the campaign of Norm Coleman for Senate, Tim Pawlenty for governor, John Kline for the 2nd Congressional District and the Minnesota Republican ticket. And in South Dakota, the President will support the campaigns of Congressman John Thune for the U.S. Senate, Bill Janklow for the at-large congressional district, Mike Rounds for governor and the South Dakota Republican ticket. And then we will overnight in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

And we are joined this morning by somebody who will be identified, please, as a senior administration official. And with that, if you have any questions, happy to take them.

Q Actually, we do have a couple other matters for you. Do you want to do that first, and then --

MR. FLEISCHER: Why don't we do that at the end? That way our briefer can resume his --

Q As a senior administration official, is Harvey Pitt's job safe?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Harvey Pitt retains the confidence of the President. And the inspector general's review of the issue is welcomed, we think, a way to get in all the facts.

Q What's your timetable for a decision on whether he should keep his job?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The inspector general is doing his work. And we look forward to looking at the results.

Q Are you considering replacing him at this point?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Harvey Pitt retains the confidence of the President. We welcomed -- we thought his action in asking the inspector general to look into the matter was very positive.

Q On politics, you were very reluctant at first to talk about the President's plans for Minnesota after Wellstone died. You had Cheney Friday, Mrs. Bush yesterday, the President today. What are the stakes there? Why such an aggressive effort?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, there are a number of Senate races in the country that are going to be settled by a small number of votes. And we want to be participating in those races to the degree that the candidate is comfortable and to the degree that it would be positive.

Q How do you feel now, Mr. Official, about chances in this election? Are you looking just not to suffer great losses, or do you think you'll actually win?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: This really is -- the line is, every election is more important, the most important election in history. This may not be the most important, but it's going to be one of the most interesting, because something is going to happen here that's historical.

If the Republicans keep the House of Representatives, it would be a pretty extraordinary accomplishment. If they lose less than five seats in the House, it will be the first time since 1962 that that's happened. It will be the best performance since Kennedy's performance in the off-year election in '62. If Republicans pick up seats in the House, it will be the first time since 1932 that that's happened in the first off-year election of a President's term. In fact, it's only happened twice since the Civil War, once in 1932 in the first -- excuse me, 1934 in the first election after Roosevelt's, and in 1998, the first off-year election of Clinton's second term.

But that's the only time that it's happened in off-year elections that a party has picked -- the White House party has picked up seats in an off-year election. So this would be the first -- it would be the first time since 1934 in an off-year election -- the first off-year election of a President's term if we were to pick up seats in the House.

If the Republicans take control of the Senate, it would be the first time in American history that the President's party took control of the Senate in an off-year -- in the first off-year election. So while the contests will be decided by local issues and the quality of the candidates and the quality of their campaigns, something historic is going to happen at the end of this election.

Q Despite the fact that you've got a number of toss-ups that you guys are tracking closely, do you view it as more of an uphill battle to get the Senate, as opposed to keeping the House?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, we've got the majority in the House, so that's always easier to try and keep something than to try and gain something. But I will repeat, this is going to be settled by a relatively small number of votes, potentially, and a relatively small number of contests in both the House and the Senate. And it's going to be a close election.

Q So let me just follow on one point. What -- strategically what role does the President play in this final rush? What impact does all of that have, and on what specifically?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think the biggest advantage that he has is helping to frame a -- to the degree that it's important in races, and it varies -- the importance of it varies from race to race -- he helps frame the issue agenda.

You saw a little bit of this on the front page of the New York Times, and the New York Times/CBS poll, which I took as incredibly good news. Half the American people said the Republicans have got an agenda for the future, less than a third of all Americans said the Democrats have an agenda for the future.

So I think that's the biggest way that he makes it possible. People say, the Republicans have an agenda because I hear the President talking about what he's going to do to make the homeland safe, what he's going to do to make the economy stronger, and what he's going to do to make America a better place. That substance, if you will, is very powerful in helping candidates.

Now, that varies from race to race, because the quality of candidates and the quality of their individual campaigns is going to matter so much in this election. But it is very helpful. The other thing is, is that he obviously helps showcase candidates in a way that they can't showcase themselves.

I remember this from our first visit to New Hampshire for John Sununu, where had -- we looked at his remarks for his introduction of the President in front of a crowd of about 2,500 people, and he had about a minute and 15 seconds worth of remarks. Well, it went on for like nine minutes. And so afterwards I admonished him behind the podium. I said, what was it with that long introduction? He said, I couldn't help myself. I got in front of the largest crowd I'm ever going to speak to in this campaign and talked.

So this allows these candidates to be showcased in a way they might otherwise get to be showcased.

Q What Senate races are you most confident in and which are you least confident in?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm most confident in the ones that we're going to win, and I'm least confident about the ones that are very close.

Q How has the formula in Minnesota changed for you with the death of Wellstone and what's going on now?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think this is a race that was affected by two traumatic events, one more traumatic than the other. Obviously the death of Paul Wellstone changed this race dramatically.

Ironically enough, I personally knew a Republican Senate candidate who in 1978 was killed in an airplane crash. And I found out about it when I got off the plane in August of 1978 in Minneapolis St. Paul. So sort of a dj vu all over again. But that obviously changed the dynamic of the race. And the choice of Vice President Mondale is a pretty formidable candidate.

I think though, also, the memorial service caused people to look at this. They saw the way in which Coleman handled this with grace and with dignity and with respect, and I think people were offended by some of the things that were said and done at that memorial service.

But you know, it's going to end up, this is going to be one of the campaigns that's going to be -- somebody is going to write a wonderful doctoral thesis on this, because the campaign is going to be affected very minutely by the traditional trappings of a campaign; that is to say, television ads and mail and phone calls.

And what it's going to really be affected by is almost the minute attention that is going to be paid by the voters in the state of Minnesota to the every action and every word of each of these candidates. And as a result, with a very accomplished candidate in Walter Mondale, who has been through high profile campaigns for the White House and three times run for the Vice Presidency or the Presidency, and with this very accomplished and energetic young candidate in the form of Norm Coleman, you're going to have a very interesting race, all the way through the final moment.

Q Is he up against a hill here against Mondale, at this point? Do you figure you're a little bit behind the eight-ball going --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: You know, this morning there were two polls published in Minnesota, one showing Coleman up and one showing Mondale up. I think that shows up in the air this race is. And again, I'd repeat, this is going to be a race in which every gesture, every word, every action is going to be taken by the voter, retained and then used to evaluate the two candidates.

For example, 55 percent of the people -- I've been told that 55 percent of the people who had a television set on the night of the memorial service were tuned in in Minnesota to the memorial service. That's about twice as good as conventions get. So you can see that there's a high degrees of interest. People in that part of the world have an interest in politics, and it's even more avid this year.

Q What's the intended gesture of the President's appearance and remarks today?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: To show that he strongly supports Norm Coleman; that Norm Coleman is an energetic young leader who's demonstrated his ability to get things done as mayor of St. Paul; has demonstrated an ability to work across party lines to get things done; somebody who cares about education; somebody who's helped create jobs; somebody who has a common sense, middle of the road philosophy that's in keeping with Minnesota.

Q Does this suggest that -- that his appearance today suggests that Coleman is no longer treading lightly in the wake of Wellstone's death?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, I think the nature of the campaign was changed -- was changed for both candidates. There are now, sort of, constraints on each candidate of what they can and cannot do and what's appropriate and not appropriate. And to the degree that they understand that and abide by those sort of not well defined, but I think pretty strongly felt sort of admonitions by the voters they'll succeed and prosper.

Q Going down the stretch here, the President --


Q -- the President's remarks have been fairly typical from place to place. Obviously, you know, we all know the speech. Are we going to hear anything different in Minnesota?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not certain -- you know, I've seen that -- you all aren't paying close enough attention. For example, yesterday in Atlanta, he talked at greater length about homeland security, for example. Last night he talked more about education. He talked about how Jeb would not make -- would not make commitments he couldn't keep, that he was a guy who would do what he said. And one of the issues in this campaign, for example, is the issue of one candidate saying I'm going to increase spending by $15 billion, but I'm not going to tell you how I'm paying for it.

So I would make the argument that if you look back at the President's comments and -- there are particularly tailored in his own mind what he wants to say about individual candidates, particularly when he talks about their views and values and their relationship with him.

Q I guess what I'm getting at is given everything that has happened in Minnesota, will we hear anything new or different from the President that reflects upon everything they've --

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think you will hear him reflect on his knowledge of Norm Coleman -- Norm Coleman's values, his vision, his record, his attitude, his approach to public service.

Q There was some interesting horseplay out on the tarmac. I can only attribute that to this punishing schedule. Is the President getting stir crazy at all with all this travel and all these hours?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I would say that the horseplay on the tarmac -- which was completely inappropriate -- did not involve the President, but instead involved the President's chief communicator attempting to air the dirty laundry of another member of the President's traveling party in front of the press. And I think this is reprehensible conduct. And I know the President feels strongly about this serious divide among members of his senior staff.

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me -- hold on -- here for a second. There has been a serious accusation by the press, and this is a tight-lipped White House. As part of our new sunshine policy to let the press into things that previously unseen, it's important for this senior administration official's dirty laundry to be aired.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I wish you wouldn't use my name, incidentally. (Laughter.) The socks were blue. It was a white t-shirt that said "national marine fisheries program." The pajamas were blue.

Q Despite the amount of perspiration that you shed on election night 2000, I mean, how does this stack up for you in terms of a hold your breath kind of election? When you look particularly at the Senate races?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think this is going to be really one of the most interesting elections to watch. And, again, it's because of the sort of -- somebody is going to make history. Only three times in the entire history of the country has any party gained seats in the U.S. House of Representatives three elections in a row -- more than three elections in a row, excuse me.

So the Democrats, if they're able to, having gained seats in '96, '98 and 2000, to gain -- they'll make history. On the other hand, if Republicans lose less than five seats, it'll be the first time that that's happened in an off-year, the first off-year election since 1962. If Republicans gain seats in the House, it'll be the first time since 1934 in the first off-year election. And before that, you have to go back to the turmoil before the Civil War in order to find that.

So if the Republicans gain control of the Senate, it'll be the first time in American history that that's happened for a President in his first off-year election. So this is going to be -- and it's going to be, I think, settled. These races are going to be settled. Remember, the last three races for the U.S. House of Representatives have been settled by a difference of less than 1 percent in the total vote for Republicans and Democrats. I think the widest gap is just over 1 percent. In the last three elections.

So we're in a period where the two parties are very competitive and, as a result, we're likely to see some very close races all across the country.

Q Look at the Senate. You said, yourself, that there's a lot of association in these local races between their agenda and the President's agenda: education, security matters, et cetera. If Democrats do hold on to the Senate, do you view that as a sign that the public wants to hold on to divided government?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: David, I'd correct you. I said that -- when I made the reference about the issues, I was talking about the President in his comments in these races. I think these races are going to be deeply effective, more than normal, by local issues.

For example, in South Dakota, forest policy of the Rapid City area is going to be important. In Minnesota, the issue of drug importation is going to be important. In Missouri, the effectiveness and standing for Missouri values on a whole series of issues is going to be important.

So I think while it's important that the President create a national agenda to help give some of these people a banner to repair to, at the end of the day it's going to be the quality of the candidates, the quality of their effort and how they handle the range of issues of local concern -- of state concern that's going to matter.

But the President will have an impact in it. And I repeat, it's a very close election. An all-out effort is being waged. We will see the largest expenditures in any off-year election ever by labor, by the National Abortion Rights Action League, by the Sierra Club, by the League of Conservation Voters, by the National Organization of Women, by the People for the American Way, by a whole host of liberal special interest groups. We will see them, in some instances, spending more than they did in the 2000 election. And while that makes an uphill climb, in addition to simply the historical trend of a President in his first off-year election suffering losses generally in the Senate and suffering losses almost without exception in the House, will nonetheless, I think we stand a chance of doing some good things election --

Q On Wellstone, we had heard just after Wellstone's death that the trip, this stop to Minnesota was somewhat in doubt, given the event. Did the President at any point, or did you at any point consider not coming to Minnesota? And, if so, did the memorial service turn that around for you?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the President said, it's up to Norm Coleman. I want to come. But if he thinks it'll be helpful. And Norm Coleman said, I think it'd be helpful, let's wait on announcing for a couple of days about it; but he said, I'd love to help you come. Never any hesitation on -- you know, unnamed interns at the White House were opining to you again.

I'll take one last one, since you were so eager to ask. Yes, sir.

Q Listen, can you tell us what these races mean for the President's agenda in the next two years of the Bush administration?

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Look, this is a President who came into office seeking to advance an agenda, to achieve goals, to cut the taxes, to pass an education reform package, to expand trade, to encourage economic growth, to change our government health system so it more effective serves the needs of patients and communities. And he wants to advance his agenda.

So the reason that he's out lending a hand wherever he is asked and where he can make a difference, hopefully, for the good is because he wants to help elect people who will help advance his agenda, people who he thinks are in sympathy with his values and his vision. And that's the responsibility of any leader.

And we also know that if the President -- if the President advocates an agenda, it not only wins the support of Republicans, it also wins the support of Democrats and Independent voters and Democrat office holders. I would remind you, the tax cut passed the U.S. Senate with the support of, I think, 12 or 13 Democrats. The education bill passed the House and the Senate with the support of a good many Democrats. The trade promotion authority bill, while it passed with fewer Democrat votes than it garnered when Clinton was in office, nonetheless garnered a substantial number of Democrat votes in passing.

And so if the President, by campaigning around the country, helps articulate a public support for his agenda that makes it easy for Democrats who agree with him to vote for him -- because there are Democrats who cross pressure between the demands of their caucus and the demands of the electorate, would like to go with the demands of the electorate if they're given an opportunity. And by advocating his message and demonstrating its popularity, he helps provide that.

Thank you actually Stretch and Super Stretch. (Laughter.)

Q Senior Administration Official, you sound like such an academic when you say it's going to be so interesting. Is that when you sit back and go, God, this is going to be interesting? I find you more passionate than that.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm a passionate individual.

MR. FLEISCHER: I will fill you in on details of the passion. (Laughter.) All right.

Q Ari, what about this Financial Times report about Iranian officials capturing al Qaeda members and maybe even bin Laden's son? Is that accurate? Have you been informed of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm aware of the reports. We are looking into it. At this point, I can't go beyond that. We are looking into it.

Q -- has said it's open to meeting the administration demands that it shut down uranium enrichment facilities. It wants to discuss with the United States international inspections of those facilities. What's your reaction to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: North Korea knows what it needs to do. It needs to dismantle its nuclear program and honor its treaty obligations. North Korea in 1994 entered into a quid pro quo, and it's inappropriate for North Korea to say that, we will walk away from our quid and ask for more quo. They entered an agreement, they should abide by the agreement, and that's why we're working in concert with our allies.

Q -- ready to talk to them? Are these positive developments, these statements from them?

MR. FLEISCHER: -- continue to work with our allies about this. But it is not a question of talking; it's a question of action. North Korea should not have abandoned its obligations, and that's what they've done. Make no mistake, North Korea entered into an agreement, said that they would abandon a nuclear development program in return for work that was done on the nuclear power reactors. Work continued to be done on the nuclear power reactors, but North Korea gave its word and didn't keep it. North Korea needs to keep its word.

Q What's the first step that you want to see, the first concrete step from them?

MR. FLEISCHER: Dismantlement of its nuclear program.

Q -- the U.S.?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we continue to talk to our allies about the approach to take, so North Korea will proceed to honor their word. Once a sovereign nation gives its word as part of an agreement, it's very important for that nation to live up to its agreement, otherwise it makes it harder to enter into future agreements.

Q -- on the U.N., is it going to be overshadowed by Tuesday's vote before you see any action to anything?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the U.N. again doesn't work over the weekends, so I don't think we'll have any kind of more reliable estimate on how close we are until some point on Monday, after they come back. They'll ultimately determine the timing.

I don't think any of the international observers expect a vote prior to Tuesday or on Tuesday.

Q There's a report, I think it was on CNN, Al Faisal said that the U.S. could not use Saudi bases for any attacks against Iraq. Are you aware of that? Do you have a reaction?

MR. FLEISCHER: As in all cases, I don't talk about operational issues or basing issues. That's something that the Department of Defense would talk about.

Q On sort of a more diplomatic level, I mean, that would seem to go against the level of cooperations that --

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I just am not going to get into the issue of basing.

Q Do you know of any world leader calls by the President today or tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: None today. I'll let you know if there are any tomorrow.

Q Does the President still have a head cold?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yeah -- no, he seemed fine this morning.

Q Did he get some exercise in, or did he actually sleep in?

MR. FLEISCHER: Sleeping in for President Bush could be 5:45 a.m. He ran on a treadmill this morning prior to the trip.

Q -- anybody last night after the rally?

MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware of. We all came back in and it's a very boring White House -- well, with some exceptions, perhaps. (Laughter.)

MR. DICKENS: I was asleep by 8:45 p.m.

Q Did Jeb come over to the hotel? Did they hang out last night?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, he wasn't in the motorcade on the way back.

Q What's Karen and Mary Matalin going to be talking about on the shows? What's the message you guys want to get out?

MR. FLEISCHER: I saw Karen's show this morning on Fox, and it's politics as you would suspect. A lot of questions about the races. Mary and Karen are doing the tour together, campaigning in various states on behalf of candidates.

Q -- given the statements now coming from Republicans on the Hill, realistically, Wednesday morning if Democrats still control the Senate and Sarbanes is still the Banking Committee chairman, does the President foresee a long political problem associated with Pitt -- given their clear indication that they intend to drag him up there --

MR. FLEISCHER: Nice try, Stretch. Nothing will change what I've said, what's been said for days, now.

Q Will there be any chance that we would be able to get on camera some sort of statement of confidence in Harvey Pitt, as you guys have done on background and you have said in your briefings?

MR. FLEISCHER: You know, our usual pattern is when the President travels, it's a gaggle that's on the record, and the President's the voice of the administration on travel days. So I don't know that that's going to change.

Q Ari, you've been so cryptic about saying, at least on the record, that the President supports Harvey Pitt. But to any observer, he has over these last many months and including this last incident become a distraction for this administration and its efforts to crack down on corporate malfeasance. Would you not concede that? Does the President not feel that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that everything that I intend to say about this, I've said. I'm not going to go beyond what I've said.

Q So you're not going to answer that one?


All right.

Q Thanks.

END 10:20 A.M. CST

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