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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 12, 2003

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En route Omaha, Nebraska

2:04 P.M. CDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, a couple things. Sorry I didn't get here earlier. I've been trying to get some info for tomorrow, which is what I'll go over with you.

First, when the President gets to Indiana tonight, he's going to do a half hour meeting with a group of Indiana Republicans. Talk about Indiana issues, I suspect. Mitch will not be there.

Tomorrow, after the speech in Indiana, the President will leave for the Pierce City, Missouri area.

Q Where?

MR. FLEISCHER: Pierce City, P-i-e-r-c-e, Pierce City, Missouri, where he will tour the tornado damage. Right now the plan is still subject to change, but it looks like he'll take a helicopter tour. He will get a briefing on the ground from disaster officials, federal and local, and then he'll take a walking tour of what he has seen.

That's tomorrow. And then back to Washington. We'll now get into Washington closer to about 6:30 p.m. or 7:00 p.m. tomorrow night. One final item. While the President was waiting here, he worked out. He also called Rafael Palmeiro to congratulate him on hitting his 500th home run. He said to Raffy, "Your name is among the greats, and it deserves to be." He did a little staff work. And that's that.

Q Ari, what's the -- how are you going to deal with the press tomorrow?

MR. FLEISCHER: In Pierce --

Q Will it be pool only?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm still trying to figure it out. I'm still trying to figure out a way to get the entire press corps there. The problem we're running into is, the area we're touring is accessible really by helicopter. And we're just trying to manage logistics. This trip obviously was set up late. We started to look into doing it either Friday night or Saturday morning. So it's now coming together. The Springfield airport is about 75 miles away, so the possibility of flying into Springfield and then bussing. I'm pushing for it. But right now I'm not optimistic.

Q What would you do under those circumstances?

MR. FLEISCHER: The pool would then -- of course the pool would depart with us back for Washington, can't swap out.

Q Then we all could stay in Indianapolis if that happens?

MR. FLEISCHER: I believe that's how it's being looked at right now, that the rest of the press will stay in Indy. But anyway, don't rush to any conclusions about it. Lucky Dog will -- Lucky Duck will give you the updates as the day develops.

Q Ari, another subject. Did the Secretary of the Treasury misspeak yesterday on the dollar?

MR. FLEISCHER: Tell me what he said.

Q Well, he cited the fact that exports were regaining because of weaker dollar strength.

MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary of the Treasury -- I saw a wire story that said Undersecretary -- Secretary of Commerce said something along those lines.

Q No, Snow, Snow on ABC yesterday.

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. I didn't see all the remarks.

Q Did he misspeak?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I haven't seen everything he said. But no, the Secretary, I know that he would also say -- he knows the position is the support for strong dollar. Obviously, exports depend on a variety of factors, all of which are fairly obvious.

Q Still --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you have to tell me if he said anything about support for a strong dollar.

Q He didn't -- strong dollar policy, and that's what we're looking for. I mean, is there any change in dollar policy?

MR. FLEISCHER: There's no change in dollar policy. The position of the government continues to support strong dollar.

Q Ari, why did the Iraq reconstruction team have to be shuffled up?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that, number one, General Garner is there for another few weeks. Two, it was always anticipated, as was said when Ambassador Bremer was named, that a senior official was going to go in with an overarching view of all areas. For the next couple of weeks General Garner will continue his efforts on the day to day reconstruction. Zal continues to do his efforts on the day to day political. And we're going to continue to react to the developments of reconstruction.

But the President's sense is the events continue in a difficult environment to progress. He expects that it's going to continue.

Q What about Barbara Bodine being recalled and Margaret Tutwiler and the rest of the team?

MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to the State Department about anything involving Ms. Bodine.

Q Didn't the White House shake this up? I mean, why refer it to State? The White House was the one that -- I mean, you're suggesting that this is all happening just as planned and this is not responding to any unforeseen difficult circumstances?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think that -- yes, from the President's point of view, he thinks that we have a good team on the ground. He never ruled out changes to the team. And his focus is on the actual reconstruction efforts and the efforts to improve security for people not only in Baghdad, but throughout the country.

Q Ari, what did the President mean today in his speech? He said the American people had been held hostage by Saddam's regime.

MR. FLEISCHER: What the President is referring to is allowing somebody who had a clear militaristic history like Saddam Hussein to use weapons of mass destruction and that he could take the American public -- American positions hostage.

I think it's a follow through to something he talked about before, where he said, in 1991 had Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons, for example, would it have changed our abilities to take action in the Persian Gulf war if Saddam threatened to lob a nuclear missile at Israel? That's something the President has previously talked about, taking American policies hostage.

Q Was he talking -- or was he talking more about the economy, how the economy has been soft because of concerns over a war that was in part the result of Saddam Hussein?

MR. FLEISCHER: What was the exact context in which the President said it

Q On the hostage?


Q I think he said, this was a regime that threatened --

Q Held America hostage.

Q Threatened the world, or something, and held Americans hostage

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I think his reference is just as I said, because I've heard him talk, and I think you've heard him before publicly, where the President has actually drawn that analogy about if he had nuclear weapons and he could attack Israel.

Q We're not going to be held hostage by rouge regimes, et cetera.

Q The President simplified, but it sounds like he thinks we're in the recession now. Is that the case, or was it just the rhetoric of the moment? He said, the best way to fight recession is more jobs. He didn't say that we're out of a recession.

MR. FLEISCHER: When I heard him go through the chronology, he talked about how the market peaked in March 2000, January of 2001 we went into recession. Then we emerged, and the enemy attacked us. So, no, we're in a period of growth right now, but it's a period of low growth. It's been spikes in the growth. There have been quarters that had rather robust growth, but they were followed by quarters that had low growth.

And that's the problem with the economy. We continue to see ups and downs at a time when the President would like to see more ups. And that's why he wants to put in a stimulus into the economy, because he thinks it will help create a more stable environment -- an increasingly upward direction to GDP.

Q Ben Nelson, Senator Nelson is going to be asking the President to support at least $20 billion in aid to states. That's in the Senate bill. He's shown some flexibility on how much tax cuts he would support. Is the President at this point willing to support the $20 billion that's in the Senate bill?

MR. FLEISCHER: Senator Nelson has said some very interesting things about the tax plan, including the willingness to support more tax relief on the dividend side, and that's noted. Senator Nelson may be one of those Democrats who is willing to think differently on taxes and represent the people of his state, and not special interests or liberal interests in Washington, D.C. We'll see.

There are a series of pieces in the tax bill that continue to be talked about. Now, state aid is not something the President proposed. But we will work with the Congress as the process moves forward on that provision.

Q Is that something you're considering? In the past, you stated that it wouldn't make sense to transfer money from one entity -- government entity to another government entity.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's what I said, it is not in the President's original package. But we'll work with Congress.

Q Does that mean you're open to it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just going to leave it the way I said it.

Q He said he wants a new nickname. He doesn't like "Nelly," he wants something more macho. Is that a possibility?

MR. FLEISCHER: What was the suggestion?

Q He wants a new nickname. He says his nickname now is "Nelly," or something like that. He wants something more macho.

MR. FLEISCHER: Do you have a suggestion for what it may be?

Q Do I have a suggestion? No, I don't think I should. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: -- to take suggestions. I'll get back to you after the vote.

Q Ari, is there any administration decision yet on filing a complaint with the WTO on genetically modified products against the European Union?

MR. FLEISCHER: Europe has blocked approval of safe biotech food for five years. We believe this is a violation of both WTO rules and the EU's own laws. We have made it ultimately clear that by blocking imports on an unscientific basis, the EU is interfering with the use of safe food products that could help stem world hunger, improve nutrition and benefit the environment.

The U.S. made its position clear. Administration, leaders of Congress, our agricultural community believe the EU should lift its moratorium on biotech products. Our goal is to resolve this issue, and we are working with others to determine the most expeditious way to do so.

Q And so?

MR. FLEISCHER: And we will not comment on rumors or speculation regarding any further course of action.

Q Is that you speaking?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's me speaking, with the help of a Blackberry that sent me those words just minutes before I came back here. (Laughter.)

Q The operative, we will not comment, because the rest of that has been said before.

MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. We're still looking at options.

Q Are we close to a decision? I mean, this has been hanging fire for, as you know, months.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to get a better update.

Q Has the President been briefed on this surrender of a woman known as --


Q Yes.


Q What does he think about it?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President is pleased with the numerous arrests and people who have been turned in or turned themselves in since major combat ended. It's another sign of what are still are difficult moments in Iraq on the security front. There are also good moments in Iraq, and these clearly represent good moments. It portends for a better future for the Iraqi people as the old vestiges of power are swept off the streets, swept up from hiding. We'll see, obviously, if she says anything. The pattern has been for the people that talk to continue to lie.

Q Has he concluded that the United States won't necessarily find any weapons of mass destruction or weapons materials, rather the coalition is much more likely to learn about the history of a program that existed?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, we continue to be confident we will find weapons of mass destruction. Nothing has changed, and you shouldn't expect it to change. The President has said that much of that information will come from middle level people, other people. At the top, they would have a hard time explaining how they lied about it or they were involved in it if all of a sudden they start talking about it. So that's not a big surprise.

But clearly now there is new indications of a second bio -- mobile bio truck, a second bio truck. It will be examined, just as the first one was, and we will be diligent and thorough -- that's why I called it indications. That will be conclusively tested. But I think, slowly but surely, people are seeing telltale signs that back up the confidence that the administration has for why we maintained Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and that underscore our ultimate confidence that they're eventually being found.

Q Are there any votes that you hope to sway in Indiana? It seems like you got Senator Lugar -- and Senator Bayh, it seems like there's no way you can get him. Is there a political reason for the trip?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll see. I mean, there are -- you know, the Democratic Party and the Senate particularly can be broken down to three groups. There's the leadership, which is very liberal and will oppose the President. There are the candidates who, of course, will never support the President. And then there's a small group of potential swing voters. They are very small. And it only takes one or two of them to make the difference.

Q Do you see Bayh, Senator Bayh as one of these potential swing voters?

MR. FLEISCHER: I would never go by state-by-state or name-by-name and give indications like that. He'll speak for himself, he'll vote for himself.

Q Does he consider Nelson and Bayh potential swing voters? I mean, does he consider -- you already said that he considers Nelson as somebody who might think differently on taxes. Is Bayh in that category?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I noted the things that Senator Nelson has said publicly in the last day or two about the tax bill, so he has said something. I have not made as careful of a study of what Senator Bayh has said.

Q What did he say that leads you to that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Senator Bayh stated --

Q No, no, Nelson.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, thank you for the correction. Senator Nelson stated in Nebraska press after the vote in the Senate Finance Committee to put a cap on the amount of money you could deduct for a dividend, Senator Nelson's statement was that revision was too weak. Which that goes with what the President thinks. The President said it was insufficient.

And, of course, we're going to Indiana because just six months and three days ago, at this very site, the Westin Hotel, an important marriage ceremony took place. And so when the President talks about marriage penalty relief, he wants to go back to the site where marriage penalty relief now is deserved and earned. (Laughter.)

Q This meeting with the Indiana Republicans --

MR. FLEISCHER: And that's on the basis of tax policy, not marriage penalty on any other grounds. Just to make clear --

Q The meeting with Indiana Republicans, you said that was tonight? Is that with, like, county GOPs or state central folks or what?

MR. FLEISCHER: State chairman set it up, guests of the state chairman.

Q Open?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, closed meeting.

Q About what time --

Q Is it at the hotel?

MR. FLEISCHER: At the hotel.

Q How large a group?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's about 20, 25 people. I think 25 people.

Q Is there a reason why Mitch Daniels is not going to be there tonight?

MR. FLEISCHER: Mitch is a federal worker, and Mitch is working federally.

Q Can't be given --

Q Will he be there on Tuesday morning?

MR. FLEISCHER: Pardon me?

Q Will he be at the speech on Tuesday morning?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, he'll be at the speech Tuesday morning.

Q That was actually what I was asking --

MR. FLEISCHER: He will be at the speech Tuesday morning, yes.

Q What's the President's assessment of how the talks in the Middle East went this weekend?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is pleased that the efforts on the road map are now beginning. And he wants both parties to focus on what they should do. He wants the Israelis to focus on what steps they need to take, and he wants the Palestinians to focus on what steps the Palestinians need to take. That's the way to have success.

And the President will look forward to a report from Secretary Powell once Secretary Powell returns. He has been keeping up on the trip, he's been getting briefed. And, of course, the President will have his own meeting with Prime Minister Sharon later this month.

So what's important here now is the process is beginning in earnest. It is an historically different process, a process that's marred by ups and downs, by progress and failures. Now the process is beginning in earnest, and that's good.

Q When is he going to invite the new Palestinian Prime Minister to Washington?

MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you posted.

Q I'm sorry, you said -- has he talked to Powell?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to ask.

Q But he's going to meet with him later in the week?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, when the Secretary returns he'll meet with him.

Q That's not until late this week, though, isn't it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have the Secretary's itinerary up there, I just don't remember it off the top of my head.

Nothing else? Okay, thanks, everybody.

END 2:21 P.M. CDT

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