|Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 18, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:50 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me update you on the President's day today. He had a breakfast meeting this morning with the bipartisan congressional leadership to talk about many of the items pending on the congressional agenda, as well as to fill them in on his recent trip to Europe and to the Middle East.
The President, later in the morning, after his intelligence briefing and FBI briefing and the National Security Council meeting, had a meeting and a roundtable on prison fellowship ministries as a way to bring help to those of our fellow citizens who are in prison, and help their families. This is an initiative that the President believes very deeply in to help reduce recidivism in our federal prisons and prisons everywhere.
Later this afternoon, the President will welcome to the White House a group of bipartisan senators to discuss the action that is pending on legislation to get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors. And then, this evening, weather permitting, the President will welcome members of Congress down to the White House for the annual congressional picnic. And with that, I'm happy to take questions.
Q The apprehension of Mahmud al-Tikriti, do you see that as being a potential boon in your so-far fruitless hunt for weapons of mass destruction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, on the interesting twist to your question at the end there, I do want to remind you about the capture of the biological weapons laboratories, which is not an insignificant finding, and fact about the capture of the biological labs. Two, CentCom has issued a statement confirming the capture of the Ace of Diamonds. This is a significant capture. And I refer you to CentCom for any other details.
Q Are you suggesting then that there is irrefutable evidence that the mobile labs that you claim were designed to produce biological weapons are, in fact, those laboratories?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but I know you were saying that really as a throw-away line, but when you say "fruitless," I just want to make certain that people understand that this has been a very careful search, and a search that has turned up things that we have previously talked about applying to the weapons of mass destruction program that the Iraqis had.
Q Understood, but unless it's absolutely confirmed that those were bio weapons labs, was my characterization not correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think your characterization does not apply to the weapons labs which we know have no other purpose other than for the production of biological weapons.
Q So you're saying that there's no chance that they do produce hydrogen for weather balloons used in artillery?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that theory is full of hot air.
Q Or hydrogen, one of the two.
Q Could you walk us through the meeting this morning with the congressional leaders a little bit? Apparently, the Democrats said that -- Daschle said that he and, I guess, Congresswoman Pelosi urged the President to kind of support the Senate bill on the child care because it was simple and not bogged down like the House version, and that Congressman DeLay made the opposite argument. Where did the President come down between those two sides?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in the meeting the President focused -- most of the meeting was spent talking about foreign policy, the effort to bring peace to the Middle East. That was the largest part of the focus of the meeting. Energy legislation came up, with the President calling on the Congress to pass a comprehensive energy plan so that United States will, indeed, be less dependent on foreign sources of energy.
They talked about Medicare at length, too, and the progress being made on the Medicare legislation. They did talk about taxes, and in the context of the child credit the issue was raised, and the President urged the House and the Senate to name conferees and to reconcile this matter quickly so it does not get bogged down. The President made his case, stressed the importance of getting it done.
They also talked about appropriations and the need to keep moving. They have just begun the process in the House subcommittees on the appropriation process. And that took up the meeting.
Q Does the President have a preference between the fairly straightforward Senate version on the child credit and the House bill, which contains a whole lot of other new tax cuts?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message is that he wants to sign the child credit for low-income workers into law. He wants to get it done. He wants the House and Senate to reconcile their differences so it can be done. He's pushing for it to be done and he wants the House and the Senate to quickly resolve their differences.
Q Are they talking about getting it done before July 4th?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't remember -- I couldn't tell you if any dates were attached to it, or not.
Q Ari, the President has said two things recently. Last night in his remarks, he said that he's not the kind of leader who's going to leave problems to future administrations or future generations. He also made the point that on the economy, and in terms of the deficit, that these are extraordinary times, after a terror attack and war and recession, and whatnot. So, given those two statements, why does the President think now is the time for a sweeping prescription drug benefit that is going to add in the deficit in a way under the best of scenarios that, indeed, leaves a very real problem to future generations? So why not, if he wants to do this -- obviously he does -- more narrowly focus such a program and make it a little bit more --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's approach to this issue is exactly, in keeping with what you said, about focusing on future problems and solving them before they become acute. And one of the most important future problems is as the baby boomers retire, as the baby boomers become more increasingly dependant on Medicare, a federal program, for the system to be modernized to take care of future needs. And one of the greatest weaknesses in the current Medicare system is a lack of prescription drugs.
As the President does this -- and this stands in contrast to the approach of some on Capitol Hill -- the President wants to do this as part of a modernized Medicare program, which also includes more choices, more options, more competition, so that Medicare can have many of the benefits that people currently have in their private health care plans. And so, the President's call for prescription drugs within Medicare is also accompanied by a desire to strengthen the existing program, to put modernization into the existing program.
Now, you talked about the price tag of it. An interesting development took place yesterday at the House Ways and Means Committee as the Medicare legislation was debated, and we heard much talk from members of Congress about opposition to the President's tax cuts and they say that tax cuts take money out of the -- increase the deficit. It's worth noting that almost -- almost -- every single Democrat on the committee yesterday voted for a $900-billion Medicare program -- half a trillion dollars more than the President's. The point being many of these people who have said they want to raise taxes have used that money for more government spending, not to apply to deficit reduction.
So the President's program of $400 billion is actually a well-thought-out, properly-sized program that gets the benefits to the seniors and does so in a way that helps with their health care needs.
Q But it doesn't change the fact that we can't afford it right now.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that we can't afford not to give seniors prescription drugs, and do so as part of a modernized program. I think that's going to be one of the interesting things that develops as you watch the congressional debate, is how much modernization makes it into the final bill. And this is something that the President is going to work hard on in conference to make sure there's modernization in there.
Q Is the President convinced that Iran wants to join the nuclear club? And are we having a hard time pushing the International Atomic Energy Agency to -- on inspections, pushing them harder to get the agency to force Iran into more intrusive inspections?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States, as well as many nations around the world, including Russia, do have deep concerns about Iran's development of nuclear weapons and their attempts to develop nuclear weapons --
Q Are you sure they're going to?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have grave concerns when a nation that is as awash in natural resources, such as Iran's oil and gas, why they would want to develop -- as they claim, for peaceful civilian purposes -- nuclear energy when they have abundance of oil and gas and don't need nuclear energy. We have concerns about some of the reports that have come out of Iran from the International Atomic Energy Administration. And let me read to you from their latest June report -- and this summarizes what is happening now in Iran.
The report points out that "Iran has failed to report certain nuclear materials and activities, and that corrective actions are being taken in cooperation with the Iranian authorities." The report also explains that "work is still ongoing with regard to the correctness and completeness of Iran's declaration to ensure that all nuclear material in Iran has been declared and is under safeguards."
There are issues that remain unanswered with Iranian failure to comply with the IAEA, providing access and providing assurances that the safeguards have been met. That, coupled with Iranian attempts to develop nuclear energy in a country that doesn't need nuclear energy, does give cause for a great concern.
Q They are saying -- I'm not holding a briefing, but they are saying it's for the future. But why are the other nations reluctant to join our push on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: They're not reluctant. This is why the International Atomic Energy Administration has issued this report, has said what they've said. And this is why I think Iran is finding itself coming under increased international scrutiny as a result of their not answering these questions that the international community has asked of them. And that includes, now, Russia.
Q Can I follow on David's question? You said we can't afford -- the President believes we can't afford not to have prescription drugs for the elderly; we can't afford not to wage an aggressive war on terrorism; we can't afford not to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan; we can't afford not to have tax cuts to the tune of upwards, now, $2 trillion in this administration. Is there anything the President believes we just can't afford?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, frankly, one of the reasons that the President is able to make these commitments to our nation's seniors is because of the fiscal discipline that he has presided over for the last year or two on the domestic appropriations account. As you know, in the budget the President submitted for fiscal year '04, which the Congress is working on now, growth in domestic discretionary spending is capped at 4 percent. Last year, as a result of the President working with Congress, we were able to adhere to the budget resolution that the President submitted to the Hill. The President has turned back other efforts by Congress to spend more money on domestic spending programs.
And so this is a question of the President taking action on the tax front because he believes it will be good for growth, and will create more growth in the economy. We are not going to skimp when it comes to homeland security or national defense, and the President did run on a promise to deliver prescription drugs to seniors, and he intends to fulfill that promise. So long as there is fiscal discipline on the domestic discretionary accounts, and as the economy comes back, the President is confident, and you've seen the briefings on it, that the deficit has hit the bottom and will start to reduce -- the size of the deficit will be reduced, as it heads closer toward balance over the next many years.
Q The reduction in the growth rate -- the growth rate of discretionary spending still leaves us with a deficit of upwards of $400 billion this year because of economic factors. And I left out the $15 billion for AIDS, which we also cannot not afford. But the question is, does the President then believe that simply by sitting back and letting the tax cuts do its work, the budget will be brought back into balance, or is there something that he's going to concretely propose?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the fact is, what knocked the budget out of balance was a recession and the diminution in revenues that resulted from the recession. That is the single biggest cause of the deficit we have today. In fact, if there had been no tax cut whatsoever, the government would still be running a deficit as a result of the war, as a result of the economic slowdown.
So the President's focus is on growth. The President believes that the best answer to these fiscal questions on how to achieve balance in the budget over the long-term is by focusing on policies and encourage growth.
Q Doesn't that sound like we don't really have to make any hard choices --
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q -- the President isn't really asking the American people --
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a hard choice to get the tax cut passed through the Congress that provided growth. There were many people who voted --
Q -- that seems a pretty easy hard choice.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know -- there's no truth to that. Then why did it pass with small margins? There are many people in Washington whose approach to government issues is very different from the President's, and we saw it yesterday at the Ways and Means Committee. Their approach is to raise people's taxes, to spend more money on bigger government programs.
The President has adopted what he believes are very careful reviews of individual federal programs that need to grow because they are proven successes, while working with the Congress to impose fiscal discipline on the rest of the budget. That's his approach, coupled with tax policies that focus on growth.
Q May I ask a quick question? There's a missing 727 airplane in Africa. What are the President and the National Security Council doing to keep abreast of that? How concerned is the President about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: We are -- we've noted, of course, this development, and the United States government is working with governments in Africa, trying to cooperate to seek any information that is available on the potential location of this. We don't have any reliable assessments about what this portends, what it could be, who may be behind it. But it is an issue that is being worked on in the federal government.
Q Back on Iran. Iran is accusing the U.S. of tailoring the IAEA report, Ari. How much influence did the U.S. have over this report?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think as you've noted from recent events involving the United Nations and the IAEA, these are proudly independent organizations that call it as they see it and make their own judgments. Sometimes we agree with them, sometimes we don't. The IAEA, in this case, has rendered its report. The Commissioner of the IAEA has spoken out in the report, and it speaks for itself. It's their work. We agree with it.
Q Is the U.S. open to direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the United States has talked through different parties with Iran from time to time. This was part of -- in the reconstruction of Afghanistan, for example, we talked with Iran. The United States has not had direct diplomatic relations with Iran. We were represented in Tehran through the Swiss Embassy. The issue here is, what will Iran do to bring itself into compliance with international organizations. Iran has some serious issues to face up to as the world makes judgments about Iranian intentions.
Q Ari, two questions -- one domestic, one foreign. On the domestic side, just following David and Terry's lines of questioning here, you referred to fiscal discipline -- the previous administration had a sort of rough rule that when you started a new program like this you then delineated how you would pay for it. In other words, what would be the equivalent size cuts, or what would be the equivalent revenue increase, tax increase, whatever to pay for it. With Medicare we haven't seen -- with the prescription drug program, we have not seen yet such a description. The sunset legislation on some of the tax cuts also create that same question. Why is -- how can the President talk about fiscal discipline without setting out very clearly how he's going to pay for each of these?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the fact of the matter is, under the budget rules, the President is able to propose and Congress is able to consider priorities that need to be funded. And members of Congress will make these determinations based on their overall reviews of the budget. There are certain priorities, such as economic growth which, if the economic growth package that the President just proposed to the Hill and that Congress just passed was coupled with a corresponding tax increase, it would kill the growth in the package. And, therefore, the most important thing, again, for the President, who focuses on growth, is to have a stimulative impact on the economy as a result of the tax relief plan.
Now, again, if that's offset by correspondent tax increases on one segment of the economy or another, it mitigates the value of growth and --
Q -- budget cuts elsewhere?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of budget cuts elsewhere, the best way to achieve that, the President thinks is through the spending restraint -- which any time would be awful hard to achieve with Congress' desire to spend more. And so seeking a 4 percent increase is going to be an important line to hold as we continue to work with the Congress on appropriations.
Q My foreign question was this. This morning you seemed to be suggesting, in relation to the Madrid agreement last week, that we were on the verge now of beginning the imposition of these interceptions of nuclear-related materials. Can you say flatly that the U.S. and its allies have now agreed and will begin to implement such interceptions, starting with North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't predict the date. What I can indicate to you is that there has been marked progress made between the United States and many of these other nations as they team up to focus on how to fight proliferation. And the interdiction initiative that the President announced in Krakow has been well-received and has now moved forward, as it was received in Spain in the recent meeting and then in the conversations Secretary Powell is now having with other allies. So it's moving forward nicely, given the fact it was only recently announced.
As for a specific date, it's something that we would look forward to, but I can't give you an indication yet.
Q But the agreement in concept, even if you don't have a date to begin implementing it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a fair characterization of the message we've received from our partners.
Q Ari, has the President ever, to your knowledge, contended that the Supreme Court was wrong in its ruling on Roe v. Wade, as Norma McCorvey, alias Roe, is now contending in a court action? And I have -- want to follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said repeatedly throughout 2000 that what he would do as President is welcome in a society that creates more of a culture of respect for life, and that the plans and the policies he will pursue will be cognizant of that, as he tries to usher in a culture that respects life.
Q In other words, he opposes Roe v. Wade?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly how the President put it during the campaign.
Q Ari, in New York, the Marist Poll reports that in a 2006 U.S. Senate race, Rudy Giuliani would defeat Hillary Clinton 56 to 39, while an ABC News Poll reports that 53 percent of Americans think Mrs. Clinton should never run for President. And my question, the President surely has the highest regards and confidence in his fellow Republicans Rudy Giuliani and Frank Keating, doesn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Back on the child -- the child tax credit. My understanding is that Senator Daschle and Congresswoman Pelosi asked the President to get involved, to be very public about the fact that he wants this to pass, and to put pressure presumably on the House to work things out. How did he respond to that, and will he do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: He responded just as I indicated. The President, in the meeting with all relevant parties at the table, urged them to do what Congress needs to do, which is get together to resolve the differences. They know where the President stands. They know what the President supports. It's been abundantly clear. He's said in private; he's said in public.
Q Urged them to do it, but what about getting out and talking about all these other issues we've been talking about here, making it publicly clear that he wants it to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no public misunderstanding. People know where the President stands.
Q Earlier, a couple weeks ago, you said that the President just thinks the House should vote on the bill. Is that what you still think? Do you still think that they should --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the House pursued a different route. The President's message remains the same: don't let it get bogged down. He wants to see it passed. He wants to see it signed into law. And the House has now taken action; the Senate has taken action.
The way to get it moving now is to do what the President said this morning -- it's important to name the conferees to the conference. And, therefore, the House and the Senate need to work together to resolve this issue so that low-income families with children can get the child credits in the President's judgment they deserve.
Q One follow-up. Has the President spoken recently -- today or at all this week -- to any of the leaders in the Middle East? Has he placed any phone calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: If he has any phone calls later today, I'll give you a report.
Q Ari, as the President said last night at the fundraiser, he does not intend to pass on problems to future presidents and future generations. How does that square with lack of movement, it seems, on doing Social Security reform?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on Social Security reform, that remains a very important priority for the President. That is a very good definition of a growing problem that future generations -- principally, younger workers -- are going to face. As you know, the President had a commission, led by Senator Moynihan, that looked into how to create a Social Security system that will honor the promises to current retirees and those approaching retirement, making no changes for them, while giving younger workers a chance at getting back the money they put into Social Security. The President remains committed to that solution.
He wants to work with Congress on the exact appropriate time for when that has the greatest prospects of passing. But I assure you, that, indeed, remains a presidential priority, something that he wants to find the right time to return to so that it can actually be debated on and passed.
But if you look at what Congress is working on right now, it's a rather full plate for the Congress. And when you talk about the success Congress has already had on Medicare, when you talk about the success they've had on fighting AIDS, when you talk about the success they may be on the verge of with Medicare -- Congress has a lot on its plate right now and is doing rather well with it.
Q Would it be fair to conclude that the right time is after the election?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President will make that judgment as he works with the congressional leaders to determine when they believe the time is right so that it can actually do more than be debated, but actually can be enacted.
The President makes these commitments knowing that he will be accountable to keep them, just as he did on Medicare. And he's fulfilling that commitment. The President, indeed, wants to fulfill that commitment on Social Security and he will look for the right time to do it.
Q On the child tax credit issue, obviously, there's a big difference between the House and Senate, between 10 and 82. Has the President had any private conversations with anyone involved in this issue to suggest that they narrow their differences? Or is his strategy just to say, I wish you guys would get together, and to hope for the best?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the first step is for the House and the Senate to name conferees. And, as you know, the President had a meeting last week with House Republican leaders in the residence and he made clear to them what he wanted to see done on the child credit for low-income workers.
Q He just made clear he'd like to sign it. He didn't make clear that there's some way that he sees that they ought to narrow --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message was that he wants to sign low income -- the tax relief for low-income workers, and there was no misunderstanding the President's position.
Q But he's doing nothing to push the two sides to a middle ground?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is. I think when the President says that, that is the definition of helping push the parties to get an agreement.
Q What's he trying to do this afternoon on Medicare? What's the message in this meeting, other than just, let's get it done, guys? -- a lot of issues or a lot of amendments the Democrats are now talking about offering -- does the President have a specific idea he wants to present --
MR. FLEISCHER: The specific message the President is going to impart to the senators this afternoon is about the importance of finishing the job to get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors, and to do so in a way that includes modernization so that seniors have more choices and more options as the Congress takes action on the Medicare legislation.
Q One of the amendments the Democrats are talking about proposing today addresses a problem they claim exists in the current plan in the Senate, which is that people would not be able to get traditional Medicare unless there were less than two private plans available. You had said that the President wanted everyone to have access to the same drug benefit under whatever Medicare option they chose. It sounds like there is some confusion here over whether or not that would be available to all people.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look. You're referring to what's called the fall-back provision; let me see if I can get you anything further on that.
Q Just one quick follow on Jim's question, just so we read all the signals here properly. The President wants to sign the low-income child tax credit; fine. Was that a signal to the House to scrap the other stuff?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a signal for the House to pass legislation that includes the low-income tax credit, to do so in a way that doesn't get it bogged down, that doesn't get it slowed down so that low-income Americans can, indeed, get the child credit assistance that the President thinks they deserve.
Now, the President always -- I said for the President, the House has its prerogatives, but at the end of the day the President wants to make certain that this gets done so this can be signed into law.
Q Okay. Two on Iran. You mentioned that things are -- that conversations in the international community are going well. But the EU wants to engage Iran through trade and more talks and that sort of thing. And there are people on Capitol Hill who want to isolate Iran. Where is the White House in --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the EU already does engage in Iran. It's the United States that does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, as a result of Iran taking American diplomats hostage. And so Europe does -- some nations in Europe do trade with Iran. And one of the things that typically comes up in the President's meetings with European leaders -- he talked with President Chirac about this when he was in France -- the President will often raise, what do you think is going on in Iran? What's your assessment?
And so the President recognizes that different nations have different policies. They weren't the victims of the hostage-taking the way the United States was; they are in a different position.
Q So is that -- does that mean the administration would not consider a change in approach that would become more interactive with Iran?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think for now, the focus remains on making certain that Iran honors its obligations to the international community as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. They are a signatory to it. They are covered by the IAEA safeguards, and they need to comply with it. That's the focus of our policy with Iran right now.
Q Okay. And on the question of WMD, you said the President's proposal was well-received, in concept there's agreement. But Europeans do want to have more formal international agreements about the legal aspects of all of this, as opposed to the White House approach, which was more, you know, treaties in between nations, and things like that. How do you bridge that gap --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is why the conversations take place. We are working on the modalities of it. This is also why I can't give you a date when actual action may begin. But I don't think anybody would expect action to begin one month after a presidential initiative is announced. We're not even at one month yet.
These will be the types of conversations that are had between different nations. Not all nations see it the same way in terms of international or legal obligations and how those legal obligations are best honored. It will all, of course, be done in honor -- in accordance with international law. And that will all be worked through in the conversations with the different nations.
Q But is the White House willing to move on that and to embrace the U.N. --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is focused on the bottom line, how to get this done so people can not get away with proliferating weapons of mass destruction.
Q How confident is the administration that the President will have a Medicare prescription drug bill to sign by the 4th of July, which is only a couple of weeks away now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you'll have a better sense of that after the meeting today, and the President is going to continue to push for it. This has probably been the most progress made in Congress ever on the topic of getting prescription drugs to senior citizens.
What we know from our experience, however, is that progress can get derailed. And this is why the President wants to work so hard with Democrats and Republicans to keep this on track so it can be done. We'll have to see. There are many different issues that come up. Keep in mind, even if you have House and Senate passage, it still has to go to a conference committee before it can be sent to the President.
Q Did you get any sense that the Democrats still want to get this issue bogged down so that they can use it as an election --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it is worth noting that the time when the most progress has been made is at a time when we do have a united government with a Republican President and a Republican House and Senate, thanks to the help of many Democrats in the Senate and, hopefully, Democrats in the House, as well, who are working to finally get this done this year, rather than use it the way it's been used in the past as a political football, where the only people who get hurt are senior citizens who are promised prescription drugs, but then for a variety of reasons it hasn't happened.
Q Ari, on the ban on racial profiling, early on, the President wanted to deal with the issue of "driving while black". And is he doing this -- doing this ban at the expense of national security and homeland security?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the initiative as the President announced it in the State of the Union in 2001, which, of course, took place before the September 11th attacks, focused on what you've described as a real problem in America, where many of our fellow citizens felt that they could be pulled over and arrested because they were said to be "driving while black". The initiative the President announced made the Department of Justice review all the activities in the entire law enforcement community on the federal level to prohibit the practice of any type of racial profiling in law enforcement activities.
The announcement that the Department of Justice made yesterday -- and this is something that the President actively participated in. He had a lengthy briefing on this on May 8th, and even another one prior that in the Roosevelt Room, and then this was brought to him last week in final form for his approval. The President approved it because it does, in fact, put an end to racial profiling in America in terms of the law enforcement activities and carrying out of routine operations of law enforcement while making certain that we can protect national security as a separate matter.
And so the spur of what drove the President in his State of the Union in 2001 is what has now been done and carried out as a result of this action. Separate and apart from that, we still do have this ability under this action at our borders and at our airports to take action to protect the country in more narrowly described instances involving matters of national security and terror.
Q But as you're trying to stop "driving while black" --
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q -- does the administration acknowledge that there has to be some sort of racial profiling after 9/11?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, interestingly, what was found in the review by the Department of Justice on this matter is in a very small number of cases, they did find instance of racial profiling. It was small, in terms of the total number of contacts that federal law enforcement agents have with the general public, but it was there. And as a result of this action, it cannot be there any longer. That's the purpose of the action the Department of Justice took yesterday.
And I'll just read from it. It states -- and this is now the policy: "The racial profiling guidance bars federal law enforcement officials from engaging in racial profiling, even where such profiling would otherwise be permitted by the Constitution and laws. Specifically, the guidance provides that in making routine law enforcement decisions, such as deciding which motorists to stop for traffic infractions, consideration of the driver's race or ethnicity is absolutely forbidden."
Q But isn't there a contradiction -- you're going to stop racial profiling here, but at the same time at borders and airports you're still going to have it. I mean, is the administration saying it's still --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, because here's the criteria -- and the same thing would apply to law enforcement. If law enforcement under this receives information that a crime has been committed and there is a description of a crime suspect, and the description would include a racial description, law enforcement will, of course, take that into consideration as they try to apprehend somebody who has been given -- for whom they were given a physical description by a witness to the crime.
So, of course, race can be a criteria in the pursuit of somebody who has been identified; not, however, in the more random selection of motorists where they have no allegation of a crime being committed, other than to pull somebody over for the color of their skin.
On the national security side of it, according to the announcement, in the event the intelligence community, for example, has a report that a group of male terrorists from Middle Eastern nations, for example, we have intelligence saying that they are trying to infiltrate into the United States and the information may be specific to a certain area -- well, then, of course, the Customs people at the borders, people who guard our country from keeping terrorists out will receive the latest intelligence information so they can have stepped-up actions to protect the American people from people trying to slip into our country.
And that's one of the reasons that the review was delayed. As a result of September 11th and as a result of wanting to ban the practice of racial profiling for law enforcement matters, they did take a separate look, also, how at the same time to protect in those much more narrow circumstances of national security and terrorism threats.
Q And when does this start again?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is immediate. This went into action immediately. It's guidance that has already been directed to the agencies.
Q Ari, you said many times over the last couple days the President wants to see the child care tax credit situation taken care of. But we haven't heard him talk about it, we haven't had him do any events on it. Now, we've just come out of a period where he toured the country and talked extensively, made trips for the sole purpose of pushing for this latest round of tax cuts. Then, as now, there were differences between the House bill and the Senate bill. And in those cases he got very particular about what he wanted -- he didn't want an itty-bitty tax cut package, he wanted one of $550 billion or more. There were a lot of specifics. If this is important to him, then why aren't we seeing him do that the way he did with tax cuts?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, there are many provisions in the tax bill where the President has spoken out about it at one time or another and he doesn't return to each and every day. This is the nature of the tax bill; it has massive number of pieces to it. But never rule out that it could come up at any given day.
Q But this is one that has been the subject of remedial action, if you will, up on the Hill.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no misunderstanding where the President is and what he thinks about this, and I never rule out that it may come up directly from the President.
Q Ari, what aspect of the administration efforts to stimulate the economy does the President specifically want to talk about tomorrow? And in more general terms, when does he think that the administration's efforts are going to begin to bear fruit? When is the unemployment rate going to come down?
MR. FLEISCHER: In Minnesota the President is going to talk about economic security for the American people, and he will focus on the tax relief measure that was just passed by the Congress and is now law of the land, and particularly how it provides growth incentives for small businesses to grow and to hire workers as a result of the increased expensing that is in the bill, as a result also of the reduction of marginal income tax rates which creates higher growth.
The President has received information from private economists, from government economists that suggest that we are starting to see more good signs on the economy; however, the economy still remains mixed and this is why he wants to continue to monitor it closely.
Q President Clinton went to the voters with a specific promise for X number of jobs created. Does the President ever think of maybe doing something like that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think every President will go to the voters and talk about different issues at different times in a different era. And this President will always talk to the America people about economic security and national security.
Q Ari, Senator Kennedy and other lawmakers have written to the President, urging him to request additional funding for AmeriCorps. Given the President spoke at length about it in 2002, about community service in the State of the Union address, and more recently wanted the number of volunteers to go from 50,000 to 75,000, will he consider it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is strongly committed to working in a bipartisan way to expand the national and community service, or AmeriCorps. He thinks AmeriCorps is an important part of our efforts to have a society of volunteers who can help do good for their fellow citizen.
The President's commitment is underscored by the budget he submitted in 2004, which did, indeed, call for -- and he still calls for -- AmeriCorps to expand to 75,000 members. He has supported this publicly; he supported it privately; he thinks that this will be good for our country. And he's continuing to work with the Congress to find a way to maximize enrollment this year. There's some technical issues dealing with the manner in which some of the accounting is done for AmeriCorps that he wants to see resolved so that this can be done. But the President stands behind his commitment to AmeriCorps.
Q But what about additional funding? Will he consider that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the budget the President submitted in '04 is a call for more funding. The President did increase that in the budget that he submitted to the Hill. The request for the National Service Trust Funds, which is where the Americorps has its education awards, the President proposed increasing that from $100 million to $120 million. And on the AmeriCorps grants, he proposed increasing it from $175 million to $313 million.
Q Democrats in Congress are dragging their feet on the President's free trade initiatives. Is the President frustrated by the loss of business and jobs as a result of their procrastination?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, actually, some of the most important free trade agreements that remain the closest to action are the Chili Free Trade agreement, which was just signed into law. And I anticipate Congress will turn its attention to that. And, of course, Congress did pass by a one-vote margin in the House the overall free trade agreement that we had sought to permit the President trade promotion authority around the globe.
So this Congress has taken action on several of the most important trade initiatives. There will be others coming. We continue to negotiate them around the world. It's always a tough and close vote in the Congress. It divides the parties. Typically, you will have more support from the Republican Party than the Democrat Party, but both parties have splits when it comes to trade. Nevertheless, there has been important success on it, and the President is going to ask for more.
Q Thank you. North Korea today says it will increase its nuclear deterrent capabilities in response to what it calls the New York -- sorry, U.S. pressure. What's your reaction to that? And do you have a list of the countries North Korea is selling drugs and nuclear weapons to?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your first question, what's important is for North Korea to understand that the international community is unified in its approach to North Korea not developing nuclear weapons. It remains a deep source of concern for China, for Russia, for Japan, for South Korea, and for the United States. And this is a message that has been conveyed directly and repeatedly to the North Koreans. I think they're understanding that their actions, where previously they were rewarded for their belligerent and bad behavior, will not be repeated this time. North Korea has a rather dramatic history of engaging in rhetorical excesses, and I think that continues now.
Q Ari, Newt Gingrich was at it again yesterday, said the State Department is broke, it's not doing its job, it's not doing enough to spread American ideals around the world. Is this the kind of revisionist history that's getting under the President's craw?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, as you know, the President disagrees with that sentiment. The President thinks that the State Department, led by Secretary Powell, is doing an exemplary job around the world. Secretary Powell's mission is to carry out the President's policies, and he is traveling right now doing so.
Q Also on North Korea, are we any closer to another round of actual talks with the North Koreans?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're continuing to consult with our allies about the modalities for what the next step will be. So that remains to be determined.
Q On the child credit, if the President wants this done as quickly as possible, why doesn't he just directly ask them to send him a clean bill without any additional add-ons from the House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Congress has already chosen a different path.
Q But in the past, like for continuing resolutions, the President has asked for clean bills if he doesn't want it bogged down by Christmas tree ornaments?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did ask for something relatively clean, and the House of Representatives used its prerogatives and voted in a different manner. We now are where we are, which is an upcoming House-Senate conference as the best way to get this done. But the President did ask for that.
Q But a moment ago you said that the President wants Congress to pass a credit bill, and then after that you said that the President wants Congress to pass legislation that includes the child credit. That's two different bills.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message to the Congress is, don't let it get bogged down, get it done, get it passed and get it to him. Now, Congress has to make a decision about whether or not they're going to attach anything else to it. If Congress attaches anything else to it, the President wants to make sure that it doesn't accomplish getting this bill bogged down.
Q Mr. Fleischer, any comment on the upcoming meeting between the Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis and President Bush here at the White House --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we'll have anything closer to the meeting. There's nothing I'm going to indicate on that now.
Q Ari, there is concern at the Pentagon, growing concern, about whether Americans will lose patience and stay the course since we're losing about one American soldier per day on the average, and since the feeling now is there will be U.S. forces in Iraq for at least a year or more. Will the President be addressing this issue on the hustings and asking for patience?
MR. FLEISCHER: I refer to what I said this morning. I was asked that question this morning and I dealt with it then. So that's -- you have that already.
Q The administration and some of its conservative allies on the Hill seem to be parting company over the Medicare prescription drug benefit plan. The Heritage Foundation, specifically, says that the bill that's before the Senate, which seems to be pleasing to the President, would be a disaster, with very little reform in it and exploding costs beyond the first 10 years. How can the perceptions of this legislation be so different?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think one of the most interesting things that happens in Washington when you're making progress on major legislation, is sometimes people on both sides of the aisle will disagree, but what results is an important center that holds. And you see many of the most liberal members of Congress who disagree with the President's approach on this. Nevertheless, this President is determined to work with members of Congress from both parties to get seniors prescription drugs and do so in a way that modernizes the program.
There are still more moving pieces that have to be settled, and those will continue to happen. As the bill is amended on the floor of the Senate, as it moves into the conference committee, different decisions will get made, and the President will continue to push for more modernization, more choices, more options, more competition.
Q One of the aspects of the bill in the House introduces the concept of means testing. In principle, does the administration regard that as a helpful way to approach entitlements?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question specifically of the way they view it on Medicare -- which is, in the House provision, I think it has a $60,000 income threshold, which is more along the lines of income relating than it is means -- the President is willing to talk to the Congress about that proposal. And we'll see where the Congress comes out on this. The Senate did not have it, the House had it. The President is interested in talking to the Congress about how they would approach this matter for Medicare.
Q Ari, just one other thing on Medicare. One of the other amendments that the Democrats are talking about is sunsetting the provisions in order to compress the $400 billion worth of benefits into a smaller number of years, in much the same fashion that the tax cut was compressed by sunsetting many of its provisions in 2005. What is the White House view of using that practice on Medicare?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there was a majority judgment in the Congress on the taxes that that was the appropriate way to go. And when it comes to Medicare, which is a different nature program, that does not appear to even have any close to majority support. As you know, the majority has already spoken -- in the Senate Finance Committee in a very overwhelming, bipartisan way that did not include a sunset provision. And in the House Ways and Means Committee, and likely on the floor of the House, such a provision will not find acceptance.
Q Thank you.
Q You're not saying whether --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks this should be done, just as he proposed it, which does not include a sunset.
END 1:34 P.M. EDT