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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 22, 2003

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route St. Louis, Missouri

9:55 A.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning. All right, let's get going. Good morning. The President will visit St. Louis today as part of his taking his economic growth and stimulus package to the country, to build a case of support for it. He'll do a roundtable discussion with a group of workers and company owners in St. Louis. Then he will make remarks.

The President will also address the annual gathering of the pro-life movement on the Mall, via telephone. A transcript of his remarks will be distributed to you.

Q We're not going to hear that, Ari? At the filing center, are they going to hear that?

MR. DICKENS: We're going to give you the text of it first, before he gives the remarks. At 11:10 a.m. he's going to do the remarks; we'll give you the text first. And then after his remarks, we're going to replay the audio into the filing center.

Q And the text is going to be distributed at the filing center?

MR. DICKENS: We're going to give it to you.

MR. FLEISCHER: And one of the things you'll notice when we hand out the factsheet on the roundtable and the participants, you'll notice deliberately that included on there will be some very successful people -- some business owners, some people who pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes. And this is because the President believes that all Americans who pay income taxes deserve income tax relief. His plan will benefit the economy by helping to create jobs. And small business owners plough their profits back into the business, which helps create jobs for American workers.

And this is our approach to those who offer class warfare in response to the President's proposal for economic growth. The President is proud to take on their charge of class warfare, to engage in it head on, and to share stories of people's success from all walks of life in America.

Q He's going to engage in class warfare head on?

MR. FLEISCHER: To engage those who engage in class warfare head on. (Laughter.)

Q Thanks for clearing that up.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for clearing that up. The technical term for that is "slip of the tongue."

Other items I just want to point out to you -- one day after issuing the Apparatus of Lies, describing Saddam Hussein's willingness to lie to the Iraqi people and to the world, Saddam Hussein this morning lied to the Iraqi people and the world. Iraq claimed to have shot down a Predator this morning. There is no truth to the Iraqi claim. They couldn't even wait 24 hours to show the world that they, once again, lie.

With that, I'm happy to take questions.

Q Ari, do you have any response to the poll results in the Post this morning, talking about weakening support for action in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, the President believes that a strong majority of Americans agree with him that it's important Saddam Hussein disarm; and that if Saddam Hussein does not disarm on his own, he will lead a coalition to disarm Saddam Hussein with the support of a large majority of the country. And that's because the American people see the threat the same way the President does. And I think that's overwhelmingly reflected in all the survey data that is out there.

Q -- show that a large majority of Americans want to give the inspectors much more time, maybe many months. And that doesn't seem to be the President's position -- that there aren't many more months left to wait.

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly that it's important for Saddam Hussein to disarm. And in the event he makes a decision that we must go to war to make Saddam Hussein disarm, he will talk to the American people at greater length.

But there should be no understanding the position of the American people on this. Pollsters can ask every type of follow-up question they want, but the basic fundamentals are unchanged, and that is the strong majority of the American people are willing to support military action if it comes down to that. And if the President makes that case to the American people, I think you will see even more of the country supporting.

Now, if you're interested, I'll be happy to go on background and discuss more data with you.

* * * * *

Q Is the President going to outline any new evidence about Iraq's weaponry in his State of the Union speech next week?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let's go on record. In the President's State of the Union speech, the President will focus on the economy; he'll focus on compassion and caring; he will focus on security -- security being both homeland security and national security. He will, of course, discuss Iraq, and I'm not going to get into any more specifics on that this early.

Q Can you talk about the economic side of that poll just to get back to the Washington Post poll, showing that a majority of Americans feel that this tax plan would benefit the wealthy over others? What do you guys say in reaction to that on a day when he's trying to give a different view of this plan in St. Louis?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think anybody who thinks that a plan would benefit the wealthy or benefit the middle class or benefit anybody else is an indication that they're for or against it on that basis. The fact of the matter is, the President's plan benefits all. And what separates America from so much of the rest of the world is we are not a class-envious society. People don't oppose something because they think it benefits not only themselves, but everybody else.

The wonderful history of America is lower-income people want to become middle-income people; middle-income people want to become upper-middle-income people; and upper-middle-income people want to become upper-income people. And the President believes that all people who pay income taxes deserve tax relief. He also thinks it's a wonderful way to help create jobs.

That's why when he goes to St. Louis today, he's going to meet with the owners of a small business, who pay a huge amount of taxes, who receive a large compensation. The more they have to reinvest in their business, the more employees they're going to hire. And my question to the Democrat critics is, how can you be for the employee if you're so against the employer? Where do employees come from? They come from employers who create jobs and are willing to hire.

Q Oil prices have crept above $35 a barrel for the first time in two years. Is the President concerned about that and the effect on the economy, and is he prepared to do anything about it?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is concerned about the rising price of energy. And that's why the President's budget will fund the LIHEAP program at an increased rate. It's also why the President wants to move forward on energy independence, and he's disappointed that that legislation that would have helped promote America's energy independence didn't get passed last year.

And this is a long-term issue, but if 10 years ago, Congress and the administration had been able to work in a long-term way on energy, we wouldn't be in the spot we could be in today, with action on Venezuela, for example, driving up the price.

The President expressed his gratitude to OPEC and to Saudi Arabia for their increase in production. There are a variety of ways to approach this issue, including increased conservation, increased production, and increased diversification of supply. But it still remains an issue that the American people want people in Washington to deal with long-term.

Q Do you have any comment on a report out of Russia today that the United States has already declared -- or given the orders to go ahead and begin a war, I think it's in mid-February?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I have no comments on anything of that nature. The President has not made any final conclusions. And even if he had, if there was a discussion of the dates, I certainly would not discuss them.

But I do want to point out, there are people -- going back to some of the polling questions -- who are critical of the President because he hasn't moved yet. And there are a number of conservatives who think that the President should have moved already against Iraq. And so, when they talk about do you approve or disapprove of the President's handling of Iraq, don't forget to take into account that there are conservatives who think he should have dealt with the issue already.

Q You know, that didn't really sound like much of a denial on the idea of an order being given for war.

MR. FLEISCHER: I've said that the President has not reached any final conclusions and that I don't talk about timetables. I'm never going to answer a question about a timetable --

Q I wasn't asking --

MR. FLEISCHER: -- on military action.

Q Well, okay. I mean, I wasn't asking you to give a timetable. I was asking you for -- was the report accurate -- well, anyway, it doesn't matter. You're saying --

MR. FLEISCHER: The only way to answer it is to indicate a timetable about when -- if or when the President is going to put America's troops into harm's way. And for the protection of the troops, that's a question that I don't think people would ever expect me to answer directly.

Q The anthrax story in The New York Times today, the monitoring stations, is that true? Can you speak to that a little bit?

MR. FLEISCHER: The story is correct. The administration, through the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control, is moving forward with a program of monitoring, as part of our precautions to protect the country from any potential threats involving bio-weaponry. We have no specific information about any such impending threat, but as part of the whole precautions the country has been going through since September 11th --

Q Is it happening tomorrow, this announcement? Is there some kind of event tomorrow on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is no event or formal announcement. The story is correct.

Q Is this in place as of today, basically, or is it a gradual process? Do you know how it works?

MR. FLEISCHER: EPA is moving forward with the program beginning today.

Q Starts beginning today and probably phased in around the country, do you know?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, EPA will deploy these systems to major population centers throughout the country. CDC will monitor the equipment on a regular basis. And this program, whose funding will come out of the Department of Homeland Security as the Department begins its operations.

Q On the Snow story, did his DUI and his child support case ever give you pause during the vetting of him as a potential nominee?

MR. FLEISCHER: It did not.

Q And are you confident he would be confirmed by the Senate?

MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, yes. The President remains confident that he is the right man for the job and will be an excellent Secretary of Treasury. We believe the Senate will agree.

Q Just to follow up, you said the LIHEAP -- is that going to be in the '04 budget that he will propose an increase for LIHEAP in '04?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The '03 budget represented a $200-million increase in funding. And it's an important program, and that will be reflected in the President's budget.

Q The $200 billion was '03 and '04?

MR. FLEISCHER: -- '03 over '02 represented a $200 million increase.

Q We can expect another increase, is what you're saying. We can expect another one?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to give out the specific numbers, but I --

Q One more poll question. We were talking earlier about the poll results on the tax plan. But the poll also showed a majority of Americans disapproving of the President's handling of the economy. Is that a danger, and how does he address that? Is he concerned at numbers like that?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, again -- first of all, the American people have strong approval of the President's overall job, and that's been a very longstanding trend. In fact --

Q -- it's declining somewhat, those approval rates, as well.

MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly the economy, has been coming out of recession and into a period of slow growth. The President believes that more can be done and wants to work with Congress to get more done. And I think the American people want to see the President and the Congress get things done.

Q Ari, any reaction to what's going on in North Korea, the South Korea-North Korea Cabinet-level talks said to be going well, and there's a lack of rhetoric on North Korea's part. Is the President reassured about the progress?

MR. FLEISCHER: Back on the record. The President has always encouraged South Korea to engage in talks with North Korea. The United States has said it will talk to North Korea, and this is a reflection of the fact that the problems that North Korea has created for itself are problems that confront the international community and the world.

It is more than a matter between the United States and North Korea. North Korea has isolated itself from the rest of the world. And we support the talks these nations are having with North Korea.

Okay, if there is nothing else. Thanks.

END 10:17 A.M. EST

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