THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. Tomorrow the
Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the nomination of
Pickering to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th
Circuit. Judge Pickering is a respected and well-qualified
nominee who was unanimously confirmed 12 years ago to the District
bench. His nomination deserves a full vote, a vote in a full
Senate. I strongly urge his confirmation.
While tomorrow's vote is about one man, a much larger principle is
also at stake. Under our Constitution, the President has the
right and responsibility to nominate qualified judges, and the
Legislative Branch has the responsibility to vote on them in a fair and
timely manner. This process determines the quality of
justice in America, and it demands that both the President and Senate
act with care and integrity, with wisdom and deep respect for the
Unfortunately, we are seeing a disturbing pattern, where too often
judicial confirmations are being turned into ideological battles that
delay justice and hurt our democracy. We now face a
situation in which a handful of United States senators on one committee
have made it clear that they will block nominees, even
highly-qualified, well-respected nominees, who do not share the
senators' view of the bench, of the federal courts. They
seek to undermine the nominations of candidates who agree with my
philosophy that judges should interpret the law, not try to make law
from the bench.
And because these senators fear the outcome of a fair vote in the
full Senate, they're using tactics of delay. As a result,
America is facing a vacancy crisis in the federal
judiciary. Working with both Republicans and Democrats, I
have nominated 92 highly-qualified, highly-respected individuals to
serve as federal judges. These are men and women who will
respect and follow the law. Yet the Senate has confirmed
only 40 of these 92 nominees, and only 7 of the 29 nominees to the
circuit courts, the courts of last resort in a vast majority of cases.
This is unacceptable. It is a bad record for the
Senate. The Senate has an obligation to provide fair
hearings and prompt votes to all nominees, no matter who controls the
Senate or who controls the White House. By failing to allow
full Senate votes on judicial nominees, a few senators are standing in
the way of justice. This is wrong, and the American people
I will now be glad to answer a few questions, starting with
Q Thank you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: You are Fournier, aren't you?
Q Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm looking at my chart
here. (Laughter.) Yes?
Q The Pentagon is calling for the
low-yield nuclear weapons that could be used against
China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Russia, and
Syria. Can you explain why the United States is considering
this new policy, and how it might figure into the war on terrorism?
THE PRESIDENT: I presume you're referring to the nuclear
review that was recently in the press. Well, first of all,
the nuclear review is not new. It's gone on for previous
administrations. Secondly, the reason we have a nuclear
arsenal that I hope is modern, upgraded, and can work, is to deter any
attack on America. The reason one has a nuclear arsenal is
to serve as a deterrence.
Secondly, ours is an administration that's committed to reducing
the amount of warheads, and we're in consultations now with the
Russians on such a -- on this
matter. We've both agreed to reduce our warheads down to
1,700 to 2,200. I talked with Sergey Ivanov yesterday, the
Minister of Defense from Russia, on this very subject.
I think one of the interesting points that we need to develop and
fully explore is how best to verify what's taking place, to make sure
that there's confidence in both countries. But I'm committed
to reducing the amount of nuclear weaponry and reducing the number of
nuclear warheads. I think it's the right policy for America,
and I know we can continue to do so and still keep a deterrence.
Q Why a policy, though, that might go after
a country like Libya or Syria?
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, we've got all options on
the table, because we want to make it very clear to nations that you
will not threaten the United States or use weapons of mass destruction
against us, or our allies or friends.
Q Do you agree with Kofi Annan that
must end the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands? And
how is the Israeli offensive going to complicate General Zinni's
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, it is important to
create conditions for peace in the Middle East. It's
important for both sides to work hard to create the conditions of a
potential settlement. Now, our government has provided a
security plan that has been agreed to by both the Israelis and the
Palestinians called the Tenet plan. And George Mitchell did
good work providing a pathway for a political settlement, once
Frankly, it's not helpful what the Israelis have recently done in
order to create conditions for peace. I understand someone
trying to defend themselves and to fight terror. But the
recent actions aren't helpful. And so Zinni's job is to go
over there and work to get conditions such that we can get into
Tenet. And he's got a lot of work to do. But I
didn't think he could make progress, I wouldn't have asked him to go.
During the announcement of the Zinni mission, I said there
was -- we had a lot of phone conversations with
people in the Middle East which led us to believe that there is a
chance to create -- to get into Tenet, or at
least create the conditions to get into Tenet. And I've
taken that chance, and it's the right course of action at this point,
Q Mr. President, let me look at what
happened Monday with the
INS visa approvals for Atta and Alshehhi, and
ask the requisite three-part question. Let me ask you, first
of all, how high did the hair on the back of your neck rise when you
heard about that? How can the American people have any faith
in the credibility of the INS and its anti-terrorist
efforts? And what can you do, both immediately and for the
long-term, to assure nothing like that ever happens again?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it got my attention this morning
when I read about that. I was stunned, and not
happy. Let me put it another way -- I was plenty
hot. And I made that clear to people in my
administration. I don't know if the Attorney General has
acted yet today or not, I haven't seen the wire story,
but -- he has. He got the
message. And so should the INS.
The INS needs to be reformed. And it's one of the
reasons why I called for the separation of the paperwork side of the
INS from the enforcement side. And, obviously, the paperwork
side needs a lot of work. It's inexcusable. So we've got to
reform the INS and we've got to push hard to do so. This is
an interesting wake-up call for those who run the INS. We
are modernizing our system, John, and it needs to be modernized, so we
know who's coming in and who's going out and why they're here.
Q What does this say, sir, about the
credibility of the INS and its anti-terrorism --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, it says they've got a lot of work
to do. It says that the information system is
antiquated. And having said that, they
are -- they got the message, and hopefully,
they'll reform as quickly as possible. But, yes, it got my
attention in a negative way.
Q Mr. President, there's a growing crisis in
the Catholic Church right now, involving pedophilia. And the
crisis is exploding in Boston, under the watch of Cardinal Law, who you
know. Do you think the archdiocese there is acting swiftly
enough to deal with the issue of pedophilia among the ranks of
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I know many in the hierarchy of the
Catholic Church; I know them to be men of integrity and
decency. They're honorable people. I was just
with Cardinal Egan today. And I'm confident the Church will
clean up its business and do the right thing. As to the
timing, I haven't, frankly -- I'm not exactly
aware of the -- how fast or how not fast they're
moving. I just can tell you I trust the leadership of the
Q Do you think Cardinal Law should resign?
THE PRESIDENT: That's up to the Church. I
know Cardinal Law to be a man of integrity; I respect him a lot.
Q Vice President Cheney is on the road now
trying to build support for possible action against Iraq. If
you don't get that, down the road you decide you want to take action,
would you take action against Iraq unilaterally?
THE PRESIDENT: One of the things I've said to our
friends is that we will consult, that we will share our views of how to
make the world more safe. In regards to Iraq, we're doing
just that. Every world leader that comes to see me, I
explain our concerns about a nation which is not conforming to
agreements that it made in the past; a nation which has gassed her
people in the past; a nation which has weapons of mass destruction and
apparently is not afraid to use them.
And so one of the -- what the Vice President
is doing is he's reminding people about this danger, and that we need
to work in concert to confront this danger. Again, all
options are on the table, and -- but one thing I
will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by
developing weapons of mass destruction. They've agreed not
to have those weapons; they ought to conform to their agreement, comply
with their agreement.
Q It seems to
me -- you seem to be saying, yes, you would
consult with the allies and others, including in the Mideast, but if
you had to, you'd go ahead and take action yourself.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you're answering the question for
me. If I can remember the exact words, I'll say it exactly
the way I said it before. We are going to
consult. I am deeply concerned about Iraq. And so
should the American people be concerned about Iraq. And so
should people who love freedom be concerned about Iraq.
This is a nation run by a man who is willing to kill his own people
by using chemical weapons; a man who won't let inspectors into the
country; a man who's obviously got something to hide. And he
is a problem, and we're going to deal with him. But the
first stage is to consult with our allies and friends, and that's
exactly what we're doing.
Everybody here on the front row? John?
Q Mr. President, on the question of Iraq,
how does the increased violence between the Israelis and the
Palestinians affect what Vice President Cheney is trying to do, and
affect the case you're trying to make with our Arab allies for a regime
change, or just unconditional inspections?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I understand that the unrest in the
Middle East creates unrest throughout the region, more so now than ever
in the past. But we're concerned about the Middle East, John, because
it's affecting the lives of the Palestinians and our friends, the
Israelis. I mean, it's a terrible period of time, when a lot
of people are losing their lives, needlessly losing
life. And terrorists are holding a potential peace process
And so while I understand the linkage, for us the policy stands on
its own. The need for us to involved in the Middle East is
to help save lives. And we're going to stay involved in the Middle
East, and, at the same time, continue to talk about Iraq and Iran and
other nations, and continue to wage a war on terror, which is exactly
what we're doing.
I want to reiterate what I said the other day. Our
policy is to deny sanctuary to terrorists anyplace in the world, and we
will be very active in doing that.
Q But on the question of the Palestinians,
Sharon has said that he shares your concern for those not involved in
terror. Do you still think that's the case?
THE PRESIDENT: I do. But, unlike our war
against al Qaeda, there is a series of agreements in place that will
lead to peace. And, therefore, we're going to work hard to
see if we can't, as they say, get into Tenet and eventually
Mitchell. I do -- I certainly hope
that Prime Minister Sharon is concerned about the loss of innocent
life. We certainly -- I certainly
am. It breaks my heart and I know it breaks the heart of a
lot of people around the world to see young children lose their life as
a result of violence -- young children on both
sides of this issue.
This is an issue that's consuming a lot of the time of my
administration. And we have an obligation to continue to
work for peace in the region and we will. We
will. The two are not mutually exclusive.
Q Mr. President, in your speeches now you
rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is
that? Also, can you tell the American people if you have any
more information, if you know if he is dead or alive? Final
part -- deep in your heart, don't you truly
believe that until you find out if he is dead or alive, you won't
really eliminate the threat of --
THE PRESIDENT: Deep in my heart I know the man is on the
run, if he's alive at all. Who knows if he's hiding in some
cave or not; we haven't heard from him in a long time. And
the idea of focusing on one person is -- really indicates to
me people don't understand the scope of the mission.
Terror is bigger than one person. And he's
just -- he's a person who's now been
marginalized. His network, his host government has been
destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness,
exploited it, and met his match. He
is -- as I mentioned in my speech, I do mention
the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to
their death and he, himself, tries to hide -- if,
in fact, he's hiding at all.
So I don't know where he is. You know, I just don't
spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with
you. I'm more worried about making sure that our soldiers
are well-supplied; that the strategy is clear; that the coalition is
strong; that when we find enemy bunched up like we did in Shahikot
Mountains, that the military has all the support it needs to go in and
do the job, which they did.
And there will be other battles in Afghanistan. There's
going to be other struggles like Shahikot, and I'm just as confident
about the outcome of those future battles as I was about Shahikot,
where our soldiers are performing brilliantly. We're tough,
we're strong, they're well-equipped. We have a good
strategy. We are showing the world we know how to fight a
guerrilla war with conventional means.
Q But don't you believe that the threat that
bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead
THE PRESIDENT: Well, as I say, we haven't heard much
from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center
of any command structure. And, again, I don't know where he
is. I -- I'll repeat what I
said. I truly am not that concerned about him. I
know he is on the run. I was concerned about him, when he
had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact
that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the
But once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he
became -- we shoved him out more and more on the
margins. He has no place to train his al Qaeda killers
anymore. And if we -- excuse me for a
minute -- and if we find a training camp, we'll
take care of it. Either we will or our friends will. That's one of the
things -- part of the new phase that's becoming
apparent to the American people is that we're working closely with
other governments to deny sanctuary, or training, or a place to hide,
or a place to raise money.
And we've got more work to do. See, that's the thing the
American people have got to understand, that we've only been at this
six months. This is going to be a long struggle. I keep
saying that; I don't know whether you all believe me or
not. But time will show you that it's going to take a long
time to achieve this objective. And I can assure you, I am
not going to blink. And I'm not going to get
tired. Because I know what is at stake. And
history has called us to action, and I am going to seize this moment
for the good of the world, for peace in the world and for freedom.
Mike Allen. I'm working my way back, slowly but
Q Mr. President, a bipartisan group of
lawmakers has asked Governor Ridge to testify about the
administration's domestic homeland security efforts. Why has
the White House said that Governor Ridge will not testify?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he's
not -- he doesn't have to testify; he's a part of
my staff, and that's part of the prerogative of the Executive Branch of
government. And we hold that very dear.
Q Mr. President, that's another area, along
with the war and the development of the energy policy --
THE PRESIDENT: This wasn't a trick question,
Mike -- get me to say that and then kind of have
a quick follow-up? But go ahead.
Q No, sir. But that's an area
where Congress has said members of both parties have told us they're
not getting enough information from the White House.
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, Mike, Mike, we consult with Congress
all the time. I've had meaningful breakfasts with the leadership in
the House and the Senate. I break bread with both
Republicans and Democrats right back here in the Oval Office, and have
a good, honest discussion about plans, objectives, what's taking place,
what's not taking place. We have members of our Cabinet
briefing. Condoleezza Rice is in touch with the members of
the Congress. We are in touch
with -- we understand the role of the
Congress. We must justify budgets to
Congress. And so I don't buy that, to be frank with you.
Q Mr. President, given --
THE PRESIDENT: Mike, this is the third. Two
follow-ups is a record. Keep trying.
Q Given that you've not convinced everyone
in your own party of that, to what degree are you trying to recalibrate
the power between Congress and the presidency?
THE PRESIDENT: Mike, I'm just doing my
job. We'll let all the kind of legal historians figure all
that out, you know.
First of all, I'm not going to let Congress erode the power of the
Executive Branch. I have a duty to protect the Executive
Branch from legislative encroachment. I mean, for example,
when the GAO demands documents from us, we're not going to give them to
them. These were privileged conversations. These
were conversations when people come into our offices and brief
us. Can you imagine having to give up every single
transcript of what is -- advised me or the Vice
President? Our advice wouldn't be good and honest and open.
And so I viewed that as an encroachment on the power of the
Executive Branch. I have an obligation to make sure that the
presidency remains robust and the Legislative Branch doesn't end up
running the Executive Branch. On the other hand, there's
plenty of consultation, Mike. I don't know what single
Republican you're referring to. But if you'd give me the
name afterwards, I'll be glad to have him over for another
consultation, if you know what I mean. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, when you endorsed the Saudi
plan on the
Middle East, or the Saudi vision, it called, of course, for
full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab
states. You've seen some backing away from that now by some
other Arab countries and, in fact, by the Foreign Minister of Saudi
Arabia. Can you imagine endorsing a plan that calls for anything other
than full normalization, anything less than full normalization?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the
thing -- in order for there to be a plan that is
acceptable to all parties, it must recognize the right of Israel to
exist. And that's what I thought was very encouraging from
the Saudi declaration. It was the first such declaration, if
I'm not mistaken -- David, you probably know that better
than me -- but that the Crown Prince said there
ought to be an independent state, but that recognizes
Israel. That's how I interpreted
it -- Israel's right to exist. And I
think that's a very important declaration. That's why we
seized on that. I have said the same thing myself, but it obviously
didn't have nearly the same weight as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia
in saying that.
Q Normalization means something a little
deeper than that.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, but, first of all, there's nothing
more deep than recognizing Israel's right to exist. That's
the most deep thought of all. After all, there are some
skeptics who think that nations in that part of the world don't want
Israel to exist. The first and most important qualification,
it seems like to me, for there to be peace is for people in the region
to recognize Israel's right to exist. And, therefore,
policies ought to follow along those lines. I can't think of
anything more deep than that right, that ultimate and final security.
And when the Crown Prince indicated that was on his mind, we
embraced that, strongly embraced that.
Go ahead --
Q I was about to say, just a moment ago, you
said that many of your allies are joining you in the war on
terrorism. You do have a number of countries right now that
seem to be right in the middle -- Indonesia,
Somalia -- places that you've been worried about,
but that have not asked for our training, our help. Would
you consider going into a country that did not seek your aid?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's one of those pretty cleverly
worded hypotheticals. Let me put it to you this way,
David: We will take actions necessary to protect American
people. And I'm going to leave it at that. That's a good
Q Mr. President, back to nuclear issues, the
Russian Defense Minister expressed the hope today that agreements on
the New Strategic Framework could be signed by the time of your visit
next May in Moscow. Is it realistic? And second,
are you ready to sign documents in a treaty form? And third,
have you made progress on the issue of destroying versus storing
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I share the Minister's optimism
that we can get something done by May. I'd like to sign a
document in Russia when I'm there, I think it would be a good
thing. And, therefore, we've got to make sure that those who
are interested in making sure that the Cold War relationship continues
on are kind of pushed in the background. In other words,
we've got to work hard to establish a new relationship.
I also agree with President Putin that there needs to be a document
that outlives both of us. What form that comes in, we will
discuss. There is a -- I think David
asked me this question, as a matter of fact, back in Slovenia, if I'm
not mistaken, about storage versus destruction. We'd be glad
to talk to the Russians about that. I think the most
important thing, though, is verification, is to make sure whatever
decision is made, that there is open verification so as to develop a
level of trust.
There is a constraint, as well. I mean, the destruction
of nuclear warheads requires a lot of work and a lot of detailed work,
and that, in itself, is going to take time, and that's got to be a part
of the equation, as well.
But those are all issues we're discussing. I had a
good -- very good discussion with Sergey Ivanov
yesterday. I'm confident that President Putin is interested
in making a deal, coming up with a good arrangement that will codify a
new relationship. The more
Russia -- the more we work with Russia, the
better the world will be. And we've got a good, close
relationship with them. We've got a few sticking
points. We've got an issue on chickens, for example, that
some of you have followed. We made it pretty darned clear to
them that I think we've got to get this chicken issue resolved and get
those chickens moving from the United States into the Russian
market. We laugh, but nevertheless it is a
problem -- that we must honor
agreements. But I believe we're going to have great
relations with Russia and we're going to work hard to achieve them.
Q Mr. President, can I ask about the debt
limit, sir? And, specifically, about the Treasury
Secretary's plan to borrow cash from the federal retirement
funds. Can you justify that to the American people, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm not going to comment on the Secretary
of Treasury's plan. I'll tell you what I think ought to
happen. I think Congress ought to pass a clean bill that
raises the debt ceiling, and I'll sign it. I think it's
important. I hope we can get that kind of spirit out of
Congress. If they do that, it will solve the
problem. We don't need to be playing politics with the debt
ceiling, particularly now that we're at war.
And we're working with the Congress on that. I've had
pretty good discussions with the leadership about the need to get a
clean bill coming. And I hope they do. I hope they listen,
I hope they respond.
Q There are those who will say that
borrowing from the federal retirement funds is also a form of playing
THE PRESIDENT: Well, if the Congress passes the bill,
we're fine. And we've got to get that done. It's their
responsibility to get the debt ceiling raised. I hope they
do it quickly and soon. And we're going to work with them to
get it done.
Q Mr. President, what do you make of the
dust-up over the nuclear review? And have you made any
decisions about its recommendations? In particular, what is
your view about building smaller nuclear weapons, which some people
believe would make them more likely to be used?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, I view our nuclear
arsenal as a deterrent, as a way to say to people that would harm
America, don't do it. That's a deterrent, that there's a
consequence. And the President must have all options
available to make that deterrent have meaning. That's how I
view the review.
Q But what is your thinking, sir, on smaller
nuclear weapons, which some analysts believe would be a major departure
and would make them more likely --
THE PRESIDENT: My interest
is -- Jim, my interest is to reduce the threat of
a nuclear war, is to reduce the number of nuclear
warheads. I think we've got plenty of warheads to keep the
peace. I'm interested in -- and that's what I
told President Putin and told the country. If need be, we'll
just reduce unilaterally to a level commiserate with keeping a
deterrence and keeping the peace.
So I'm interested in having all -- having an
arsenal at my disposal, or at the military's disposal, that will keep
the peace. We're a peaceful nation and moving along just
right and just kind of having a time, and all of a sudden, we get
attacked and now we're at war, but we're at war to keep the peace.
And it's very important for people in America to understand that at
least my attitude on this is that we're not out to seek
revenge. Sure, we're after justice. But I also
view this as a really good opportunity to create a lasting peace.
And so, therefore, the more firm we are and the more determined we
are to take care of al Qaeda and deal with terrorism in all its forms,
particularly that of global reach, that we have a very good chance of
solving some difficult problems -- including the
Middle East, or the subcontinent. But it's going to require
a resolve and firmness from the United States of America.
One of the things I've learned in my discussions, and at least
listening to the echo chamber out there in the world, is that if the
United States were to waver, some in the world would take a nap when it
comes to the war on terror. And we're just not going to let
them do that. And that's why you hear me spend a lot of time
talking to the American people -- at least, I hope I'm
talking to them, through you -- about why this is
going to take a long period of time, and why I'm so determined to
remain firm in my
resolve. And -- anyway.
Q Mr. President, could I --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, sir? You asked the
Q I'd like to ask you about the public
service component of your initiative as it --
THE PRESIDENT: The what, now?
Q The public service initiative of yours as
it relates to the war, which you've just said again, that could go on
for quite a while. As we all know, 18-year-old men in this
country, when they turn 18, they're required to register with the
draft, which is now dormant, but could be activated
again. At this time, and we're looking at sort of an
unlimited situation with this war, should the country expect the same
of women in this country?
THE PRESIDENT: You mean in terms of the
draft? Well, the country shouldn't expect there to be a
draft. I know they're registering. But the
volunteer army is working. Particularly when Congress passes
my budget, it's going to make it more likely to
work. There's been a pay raise and then we'll have another
pay raise. And the mission is clear, the training is good,
the equipment is going to be robust. Congress needs to pass
So I don't worry about, and people shouldn't worry about a
draft. We do have women in the military and I'm proud of
their service. And they're welcome in the
military; they make a great addition in the military.
Q You don't think --
THE PRESIDENT: Pardon me?
Q -- that the military will be
stretched too thinly, as some people have feared?
THE PRESIDENT: Ed, I don't think so. I think
we're in pretty good shape right now. It's --
there's no question we have obligations around the world, which we will
keep. If you went to -- did you go to
Korea with us?
Q Yes, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: There's a major obligation there of
37,000 troops, an obligation that is an important obligation, one that
I know is important and we will keep that obligation. But
we've got ample manpower to meet our needs.
Plus we've got a vast coalition of nations willing to lend their
own manpower to the war. And as I mentioned the other day in
my speech there on the South Lawn, 17 nations are involved in this
first theater in Afghanistan. And we had Canadians and
Danish and Germans and Australians -- I'm probably going to
leave somebody out -- Brits, Special Forces
troops on the ground, boots on the ground, as they say, willing to risk
their lives in a dangerous phase of this war. And men going
cave to cave, looking for killers. These people don't like
to surrender, they don't surrender. But we've been able to
count on foreign troops to help us.
And so, Ed, I think we're in good shape, I really
do. And, if not, we'll -- I'll address
the nation. But I don't see any need to right now.
Q Will you take one on Mexico?
THE PRESIDENT: Si.
Q You are going to my country next week.
THE PRESIDENT: Es la verdad.
Q Besides what President Fox presented to
you last year, you haven't acted in favor of the Mexican proposal by
the President of Mexico. You haven't presented anything to Congress.
THE PRESIDENT: Excuse me a second, what proposal are you
Q The one the President Fox
THE PRESIDENT: In specific. I don't mean to
Q The regularization of --
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, the immigration issue?
Q Yes, the immigration issue. So
when are you going to present any concrete steps in that direction for
THE PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, we are working
closely with Mexico. We've had many of our administration
officials down there. Tom Ridge just came back; he had a
very good dialogue with President Fox. John Ashcroft has
been very much involved with the Mexican government. We have
had wide-ranging discussions as to how to make the border work better,
how to make the border more secure for both countries. We've
had a really good dialogue.
Some of what needs to be done didn't require law. I'm
glad you brought that up. We just got 245(I) passed in the
House of Representatives. Hopefully, that will come out of
the Senate quickly. That's a step
toward -- that's a good reform, is one that I
support. I also cautioned President Fox at the time that
there will be no blanket amnesty in America. I don't think
the will of the American people are for blanket amnesty. I
think he understands that.
And so, therefore, the thing we've got to do is figure out how to
make sure willing employers are able to match up with willing
employees. And so we'll work -- we're
making progress; 245(I) is good progress.
Q Mr. President, do you believe there is an
American pilot from the Gulf War still alive in Iraq? And if
so, how might that complicate any actions you consider --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let me just say this to
you. I know that the man has got an MIA
status. And it reminds me once again about the nature of
Saddam Hussein, if, in fact, he's alive. And, therefore,
it's just another part of my thinking about him, my, I guess, lack of
respect is a good way to define it.
Q Does it complicate any action you might
take, you might consider taking against Iraq in the war on terror?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, that's where
we're -- this is the old hypothetical
again. And let me just put it this way: It
doesn't change my opinion about him. Matter of fact, it
reinforces the fact that anybody who would be so cold and heartless as
to hold an American flyer for all this period of time without
notification to his family just -- I wouldn't put
it past him, given the fact that he gassed his own people.
Q Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, ma'am?
Q Okay, thank you. Do you
officially recognize the Zimbabwe elections? And what are
your thoughts about Mugabe? And also on Pickering, what are
your thoughts --
THE PRESIDENT: Wait, whoa,
whoa. (Laughter.) Wait a minute. This
is all over the lot. (Laughter.) Wait a minute;
all over the lot.
Q Mr. President, when I get a chance with
you, I have to take it.
THE PRESIDENT: You talk about somebody taking the
liberty of a --
Q When I get a chance with you, I have to
THE PRESIDENT: I can see
that. (Laughter.) Go ahead, take it.
THE PRESIDENT: Is this a six-part question?
Q No, it's only three.
THE PRESIDENT: Three,
okay. (Laughter.) Let me start writing them
down. First one is Zimbabwe -- go
Q Yes, and with Pickering --
THE PRESIDENT: Pickering --
Q -- what are your thoughts
about many of your nominees who are opposed have issues with racial
bias, including Pickering?
THE PRESIDENT: Yeah, okay. That's two.
THE PRESIDENT: You're going to limit it to
two? Thank you very much.
Q Yes, you're welcome.
THE PRESIDENT: That's a good break.
First on Pickering -- Pickering has got a
very strong record on civil rights. Just ask the people he
lives with. I had the honor of meeting the Attorney General
of Mississippi, Moore, Attorney General Moore. Fine Democrat, elected
statewide in the state of Mississippi. A man who, I suspect,
is a man who got elected because he cares deeply about the civil rights
of his citizens, came up and sat in the Oval Office and said, Judge
Pickering has had a fine record on civil rights and should be confirmed
by the U.S. Senate. I hope the senators hear
that. I hope they listen to Moore. Or Al Gore's
brother-in-law, or the former governor of Mississippi, Winters.
Zimbabwe. We do not recognize the outcome of the
election because we think it's flawed. And we are dealing
with -- and we are dealing with our friends to
figure out how to deal with this flawed election.
Q What are the options then?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're dealing with our friends
right now to figure out how to deal with it.
Q The House is voting on class action reform
this evening. Given the current political atmosphere, do you
want to enact new legal reforms into law this year? And, if
so, which ones are you going to --
THE PRESIDENT: Well, here's the thing. I am
for reducing the number of lawsuits in our society. I think
everybody will have their day in court, but I think a society that is
so kind of litigious-oriented is one that is bad for jobs, bad for the
creation of jobs. And if any reform -- I will
support reforms which reduce lawsuits and at the same time provide
-- give people the opportunity to take their case to court.
Q Are there any ones you want to pursue?
THE PRESIDENT: Stretch. Super Stretch, Little
Stretch. Regular Stretch. (Laughter.)
Q Last week, sir, you announced an ambitious
set of changes to make it easier for the government to crack down on
corporate wrongdoing. Yet Republicans in Congress and your
own SEC Chairman says, essentially, a lot more money than you proposed
will be needed to do the job effectively. I'm talking about
THE PRESIDENT: You're talking about when I called on the
SEC to enact laws to make sure that corporate CEOs take responsibility
for their books, make sure that when somebody says they've got X amount
in liabilities, that X equals X and not X equals Y, or something less
than X. Yes, I strongly believe that, and the SEC needs to
get after it. And I don't use the excuse of not enough money
in the budget, frankly. I need to know the
numbers. But we need action. And we need
reasonable action, without causing a plethora of lawsuits.
Q I wanted to ask about the second phase of
the war. As a member of the Vietnam generation, do you worry
as you send these military advisors all over the world, typically to
chaotic places, that they may get involved in direct conflict and the
situation could escalate? And are you prepared to do that?
THE PRESIDENT: Interesting question. Hutch,
let me tell you something, I believe this war is more akin to World War
II than it is to Vietnam. This is a war in which we fight
for the liberties and freedom of our country.
Secondly, I understand there's going to be loss of life and that
people are going to -- and the reason I bring
that up is because for a while, at least for a period it seemed to be
that the definition of success in war was nobody lost their
life. Nobody grieves harder than I do when we lose a
life. I feel responsible for sending the troops into harm's
way. It breaks my heart when I see a mom sitting on the front row of a
speech and she's weeping, openly weeping for the loss of her
son. It's -- it
just -- I'm not very good about concealing my
emotions. But I strongly believe we're doing the right
And, Hutch, the idea of denying sanctuary is vital to protect
America. And we're going to be, obviously, judicious and wise about
how we deploy troops. I learned some good lessons from
Vietnam. First, there must be a clear
mission. Secondly, the politics ought to stay out of
fighting a war. There was too much politics during the Vietnam
War. There was too much concern in the White House about
political standing. And I've got great confidence in General
Tommy Franks, and great confidence in how this war is being
conducted. And I rely on Tommy, just like the Secretary of
Defense relies upon Tommy and his
judgment -- whether or not we ought to deploy and
how we ought to deploy.
Tommy knows the lessons of Vietnam just as well as I
do. Both of us -- he was a, he graduated from
high school in '63, and you and I graduated in '64. We're of
the same vintage. We paid attention to what was going
on. And so -- I think it was '64,
Q No, sir.
PRESIDENT: Oh. (Laughter.) You're not
that old. You're not that old.
I'll give you an interesting fact -- I don't
know if you all know this or not, speaking about Tommy. But
Tommy Franks went to Midland Lee High School, class of
'63. Laura Bush went to Midland Lee High School, class of
'64. That's an interesting thing for the social columns.
(Laughter.) For those of you who allow for your
news-gathering to slip into social
items. (Laughter.) Or social gossip, which
sometimes happens -- it doesn't happen that much.
Q Did they know each other?
THE PRESIDENT: No. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, who do you hold responsible
for the failure of the INS this week? I see the Attorney
General said he was going to hold individuals responsible --
THE PRESIDENT: Going to
do -- hold --
Q Hold individuals responsible.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let's see what the Inspector
General comes back with. But obviously, I named a good man
to run it, Zigler, and he's held accountable. His
responsibility is to reform the INS; let's give him time to do
so. He hasn't been there that long. But he now
has got another wake-up call. The first wake-up call was
from me; this agency needs to be reformed. And secondly, he
got another one with this embarrassing disclosure today that, as I
mentioned, got the President's attention this morning. I
could barely get my coffee down when I opened up my local
newspaper. Well, a newspaper. (Laughter.)
Q Mr. President, back on the Middle East,
sir, can you tell us what was behind the timing of pursuing a U.N.
resolution at this point regarding a future Palestinian state?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, there was
a -- sometimes these resolutions just get a life
of their own. And sometimes we have to veto them, and
sometimes we can help -- help the
message. This time, we felt like we were able to make the
message a clear message that we agreed with. If it was a
message that tried to isolate or condemn our friend, I'd have vetoed
it. In this case, it was a universal message that could lead
to a more peaceful -- a peaceful
world. And so we supported it. As a matter of
fact, we helped engineer it; we were a part of the process.
And, as to the timing, I don't know the timing. All I
know is the things start showing up on my
desk. And --
Q When did it start showing up on your radar
THE PRESIDENT: Well, desk or radar screen, same
thing. About 24 hours ago. And I heard from the
Secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice that there was a little
movement afoot there at the Security Council. And so we made
a decision, a conscious decision to try to send a statement that it was
a hopeful statement. It turned out to be a good statement,
by the way. It was one of those statements that was embraced
by all the parties except for one that couldn't bring themselves to
vote for it, Syria.
But, again, we are working hard to create the conditions for a
security arrangement that will then enable the Mitchell process to kick
in. I know you all are tired of hearing me say that. But
unlike other parts of the world, in this part of the world, Tenet and
Mitchell have been agreed to by both parties, which means there is a
hopeful process if we can get people into the process. And
so our mission is to do that. And that's why Zinni is over
Listen, I want to thank you very much. I've enjoyed this
press conference. I hope you have, as well. Thank