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

Press Gaggle by Ari Fleischer Aboard Air Force One En Route Crawford, Texas
Aboard Air Force One
En route Crawford, Texas

11:42 P.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as you know, paid a visit to Capitol Hill this morning. He spoke to the members ** to thank them for their support, for their working together, for demonstrating that Congress could get things done. He talked about national security issues, and he said that "we are more secure than we were one year ago; and one year ago, we were more secure than we were two years ago."

He talked about the changing nature of the war, talked about how thanks to them and their funding for the military the war is now to target the guilty while protecting the innocent. He talked about the importance of the HIV/AIDS initiative that they just passed, and thanked them for passing it. He said, "The support showed not only our muscle, but our heart." On the growth package, he said, "Sometimes I get everything I want, sometimes I don't." He said, it's important that they agreed to this because of the "up front, stimulative" nature of it. His words were the "upfront, stimulus." He also talked about how it sends a signal to the markets and Congress to get something done to boost the economy.

He urged the members to continue to engage in spending restraint, the importance of spending restraint; said he was committed to spending restraint. He informed them about Josh Bolten being named. Then he talked about when they ? that they have a well deserved recess coming up and he said, "you have more to do when you return." Specifically, he cited prescription drugs and Medicare, energy legislation, a healthy forest initiative and appropriations. And he concluded by thanking them for what he called "great progress."

He returned to the White House, made the announcement about Josh. And then aboard the airplane the President just got off the phone with President Chirac of France. They discussed the upcoming G8 summit. The President he is looking forward to attending it. It was a productive phone call.

And then this afternoon the President will greet Prime Minister Koizumi with a 4:00 p.m. arrival. That's pool coverage of the arrival. And then he will have a very small dinner, along with Mrs. Bush tonight for the Prime Minister. And of course, tomorrow's events.

One last thing. The President today in his remarks publicly talked about a season of accomplishment. The season just had more added to it with the vote at the United Nations. The President is very grateful that the world ahs come together to lift the sanctions on the long-suffering Iraqi people. He is pleased that an agreement was reached. He thinks this will help the Iraqis recover from the huge damage that Saddam Hussein did to their country. The President wants to thank Secretary Powell for his hard work in bringing together the world behind the lifting of sanctions.

And with that, I'm questionable. (Laughter.) I'm open to take questions. (Laughter.)

Q Ari, so the President is prepared to sign a tax cut that, A, he said was an itty-bitty tax cut and maybe even smaller than that and one that he previously said would not have the sort of stimulative effect on the economy that he believes his original proposal would have. So is that, in fact, his view now? That he will compromise and he will sign this, but this is not going to have the impact on the economy that he intended, it will have a lesser effect?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President looks forward to signing it. I'm glad you asked me that. Here are the numbers, and it's very interesting when you look at the exact agreement reached and the make-up of the agreement and how it differs from the President's original proposal, and the numbers speak volumes.

The President's original $726 billion proposal called for $191 billion worth in tax relief in the first two years. The original House-passed plan of $550 billion called for $218 billion of tax relief in the first two years. The original Senate $350 billion tax plan called for $191 billion of tax relief in the first two years, similar to the President's proposal.

The actual conference agreement that the President looks forward to signing includes $226 billion worth of tax relief in the first two years. The conference agreement has more stimulative impact upfront than either the President's original proposal or the original House or Senate bill. That's why the President views this as a very good agreement.

Now, in the aggregate number in the out years the President is getting less than he would have liked. He recognizes that. He wishes it could be more. But he is pleased, nevertheless, that an agreement was reached.

Q Okay, but understanding that, the President never made that argument when he stood up in Ohio and said that Democrats want an itty-bitty tax cut that won't have the same impact on the economy. So was he aware of these numbers then and just didn't talk about it? Or is this something that you guys have crunched the numbers to find later?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it gets down to the exact make-up and the substantive nature of what they did, indeed, pass. It does provide for a greater stimulus in the early years. And that was something that our people working on the Hill kept an eye on, to make certain that the economy got the biggest boost possible now.

But, clearly, the President wanted $726 billion. The President believes that the best policy is to have tax cuts that are permanent, with an accent on "the best." The President views this as not the best. But he views it as very good and looks forward to signing it.

Q I mean, the President is on record now, he's taking a pretty bold stand that tax cuts are the way to stimulate the economy, particularly in the short-term. So what does he expect now will happen in the short-term, say, over the next year, when it comes to jobs? What is he, you know, putting himself out on a limb for?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Council for Economic Advisors will likely to an analysis of this bill to look at job growth. Their analysis of a tax cut with slightly different provisions inside it, and concluded that more than a million jobs would be created in '03-'04. And the blue chip private forecasters had previously projected that a tax cut of this level would add several tenths of percentage points to GDP. They'll probably take a look now at the exact details of this update.

The President does believe this will provide a boost to the economy; it will help the economy to grow faster and create more jobs for the American people.

Q Ari, isn't that kind of cynical? I mean, when he was arguing against the $350 figure, as David said, he called it little-bitty; he didn't talk at all about the immediate stimulative effect, these two-year numbers. And all of a sudden when he has something he wants to sign, he switches his argument. I mean, that seems incredibly cynical.

MR. FLEISCHER: I acknowledged that the President wishes it could be bigger. But the President wants to get something done for the country and he views this as a good way to get things done. And particularly from an economic point of view, when you look at the fact that this plan, which will now become law, means more of a boost for the economy in the immediate term than even his own $726 billion proposal, it's a good outcome.

Q Can I follow-up? The front page story today in the New York Times on this CIA review of intelligence, what would you guys like to see come out of that? And how do you view, you know ? how does this play into the debate over whether you find weapons, whether they're there, whether they're not still there?

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not yet had a chance to talk to the CIA to verify that story. But let me just say broadly, it should not be surprising that it's part of good government across the board to take a look at all elements that led into assessments, particularly on the part of military planning, to see what can be learned, what lessons can be learned, and how accurate was information, to help you in the future.

Q But are there not concerns in the White House that maybe you guys jumped the gun on what you were accusing Iraq of having and the capabilities, both nuclear, biological, chemical ? and that that's what this review might produce? It seems to me that's why they're taking it up.

MR. FLEISCHER: The CIA said to you that's why they're taking it up?

Q I can only tell you what I read in the New York Times.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's ? exactly as I described to you. I wouldn't be surprised if you looked back at other wars, that as a common practice and a healthy practice for agencies to always look back at operational issues, the way the operations that were carried out and see what lessons can be learned for future uses of force if they become necessary. That's proper, prudent planning.

Q The Chirac phone call, how long was it? Did they discuss Iraq reconstruction?

MR. FLEISCHER: It was 10 minutes; they did not discuss Iraq.

Q Did they discuss the G8?

MR. FLEISCHER: They discussed the G8.

Q What was the atmosphere on ?

MR. FLEISCHER: They talked about the agenda for the G8, how the President hoped that they could focus on alleviating poverty and suffering. The President particularly looks forward to talking about the AIDS initiative that he will have signed, that will help people around the world.

Q Did he talk about gene altered products?

MR. FLEISCHER: That did not come up.

Q Did either leader raise the issue of U.S.-French relations and the state thereof?

MR. FLEISCHER: T hey said they'll look forward to having additional conversations when they see each other in person.

Q Did Chirac call him?

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, President Chirac called President Bush. Chirac called him. I think I began by saying the two spoke.

Q Yes, you did, but since we're here, I thought the President must have called him.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the way it works is, they schedule a time and then the worker bees put the call together. But, sequentially, President Chirac made known to White House staff he would like to call President Bush. That's how it works ? when you become a President, apparently you're not allowed even if, you know, around the world, to pick up the phone.

Q Is it true that the President suggested they just e-mail? (Laughter.)

Q They spoke before the U.N. vote?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, they spoke after the U.N. vote.

Q -- did mention the fact that France voted for the resolution -- said yesterday that they were going to vote for it ?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if that came up or not.

Q Anything new coming up this afternoon or tomorrow, new U.S. plans to pressure North Korea to drop its ambitions?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, but the President looks forward to the meeting with the Prime Minister of Japan. They have a busy agenda. The United States has a special relationship with Japan. They are a good friend and partner to the United States. And their discussions will include the situation in North Korea, which presents serious issues to the Japanese people. I think the Japanese people have been very disappointed in North Korea's action, particularly in regarding the kidnapping of Japanese officials.

They will discuss economic matters between our nations. They'll discuss reconstruction is Afghanistan, reconstruction in Iraq. Japan, of course, is helping out in building the road in Afghanistan linking three major Afghani cities. They are leading world partner in developing that ? building, actually building a road, in addition to financing it. I think those are about the key issues on the agenda.

Q Ari, I know that the diplomatic groundwork has been laid for a fairly strong statement on North Korea from the two, much like with President Roh of South Korea? What specifically will the President ? can the President ask the Prime Minister to do on North Korea as that goes forward?

MR. FLEISCHER: North Korea miscalculated. They thought that by acting belligerently and threatening the development of nuclear weapons, they could scare their neighbors, scare the United States and receive a reward. In the course of the President's discussions with regional leaders, including the Japanese, it's clear that there is a united front that does not intend to reward blackmail; that will work together to tell the North Koreans that they only hurt themselves and further isolate their people and set back their cause of being integrated into a growing economy in the region. That's been the tenor of his conversations with all those nations ? notably China, and including Japan and all our allies in the neighborhood.

Q Ari, given the fact that there's evidence that al Qaeda is reconstituting itself, that it is posing a greater threat to U.S. interests overseas, to our allies and, indeed, to the country ? there's an orange alert now ? and that the United States, or the coalition forces have not found evidence of a weapons program in Iraq, isn't it appropriate for the American people to begin to doubt the primary rationale for going to war in Iraq?

MR. FLEISCHER: One, the American people are very pleased for the results of the war in Iraq, the reasons why the war was conducted. And they continue to judge it as a wise and successful effort that makes us better protected ? no changes in position on the weapons of mass destruction issue, particularly given the fact that we now have assessed that there are two biological mobile trucks that could have no use other than for the production of biological weapons. These are prohibited items. Iraq said they didn't have them. They've been caught red-handed, they have them for the purpose of producing weapons.

Q -- a conclusion that they, in fact, were part of a weapons program. You're just saying what other use could they have had. But that's not a firm conclusion yet.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's something that the American ? your question was about the American people. I do think when the American people see, hear about what Iraq's ownership of these trucks that they denied, Amercian people will reach conclusions along the same lines the President does.

Q But it doesn't change the fact that you guys have yet to find any concrete evidence of a weapons program the way you claimed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed our confidence in the ultimate outcome.

Q Ari, on a sporting note, what does the President think of Annika Sorenstam playing in the PGA? I mean, he's a sports fan, he can't have missed it, it's a huge story.

MR. FLEISCHER: I have not talked to him about it.

Q It's in Texas, as well. We've got lots of reason to talk to him about it.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if the President wants to wax about it.

Q -- if he's going to watch any of it? I mean, it's a big story, you've got to admit, a big sports story.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if wants to say anything. I'll also ask him if he has any comment on the fact that the Yankees took two out of three from the Red Sox ? back into first place.

Q While you're at it, ask him if he thinks Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame.

MR. FLEISCHER: Ouch. (Laughter.) A hot-button topic. Please, go back to asking me about Iraq and WMD.

Q Ari, any closer to a policy decision on Cuba, any official response on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing beyond what you've heard today.

Q Thank you.

END 11:58 A.M. EDT

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