For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 10, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Briefing Room
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I have an opening statement I'd like to make.
The President this morning had breakfast with Speaker Hastert, Leader Daschle, Minority Leader Lott and Minority Leader Gephardt, to talk about the importance of Congress taking action on the remaining items on the congressional and presidential agenda in the short amount of time that Congress has left.
The President then had -- that was a 7:00 a.m. breakfast, and the President then had a CIA briefing, followed by an FBI briefing, and then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council. And the President earlier this morning made remarks to federal employees of the 22-some agencies which are affected by the proposal to create Department of Homeland Security, in which the President thanked them for their work to protect our country, and talked about the importance of creating this new agency so we can further protect the homeland.
And the President, later this afternoon, will meet with several former Coast Guard commandants, all of whom support the creation of the Department of Homeland Security with the Coast Guard as a full and intact part of the Coast Guard -- of the Department of Homeland Security. And also this afternoon, the President will meet with House and Senate Republican leaders to talk about action on the congressional agenda.
As far as that action goes, on March 21st -- 111 days ago -- President Bush asked Congress for emergency funding for our troops in the field and for homeland security. Four months later, Congress has not finished its work on this important measure.
This is deeply troubling. Funding for our troops in the field is running out. Our men and women who are fighting for democracy and freedom in Afghanistan today are running out of funds. Funds for the Transportation Security Administration, specifically aviation security, are also expended. This bill is overdue. DOD will be unable to meet the last two military pay dates in September, breaking our commitment to the men and women in uniform, unless action is taken. Air Force and Army depots that overhaul aircraft and vehicles won't be able to pay the salaries of civilian personnel and may be forced to furlough some or all of their 35,800 civilian personnel around the country.
In addition, 80 other major Air Force bases will be similarly impacted; 2.5 million veterans may not receive their September monthly disability checks if action is not taken. And without immediate funding, the USSS Stennis, and aircraft carrier, will not be overhauled as scheduled this month, in July. All of this impacts the readiness of the entire battle group. This deferral, in turn, would disrupt the planned 2002-2003 naval deployments worldwide. This is a very serious matter.
The Transportation Security Administration has already required two emergency transfers just to stay afloat. Secretary Mineta has told Congress on June 27th that without Congress taking action on the supplemental appropriation, aviation security deadlines imposed by the Congress may not be met.
Secretary Mineta has also said that TSA would have to take the following actions: suspend purchases of 800 bomb-detection systems, and 5,370 explosive trace detection units, which are scheduled to be deployed around airports across the country; suspend hiring and training of passenger screeners; delay the rollout of new security procedures at 429 airports. And the Federal Aviation Administration could be in a position to soon issue furlough notices to 35,000 air traffic service employees.
All of this is avoidable if the Congress acts and acts quickly. Congress is the one who has labeled this, properly, an emergency, because money is running out. If Congress believes this is an emergency, it's important they finish their business, act, and send the supplemental appropriation to the President so he can sign it into law.
This is something the President discussed this morning with the congressional leadership in a bipartisan meeting; he will discuss it again this afternoon with the Republicans who come here to meet.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell?
Q As you know, Judicial Watch has filed a lawsuit on behalf of shareholders at Halliburton, alleging accounting improprieties during the time Vice President Cheney was chief executive. What's the White House reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: The suit is without merit. And as you indicate, this is a suit filed vis-a-vis Halliburton, and it's appropriate to address any further questions to Halliburton.
Q Will government lawyers represent Cheney, do you know?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is vis-a-vis Halliburton.
Q Do you know whether they have -- investigators have contacted Cheney yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not know.
Q Does the President see any contradiction between saying at his news conference, telling us that the war on terrorism didn't depend on the fate of bin Laden, depending on one man, at the same time he's planning to use 250,000 Americans to go after one man in Iraq, Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, I don't see a connection between the two, other --
Q You don't? One man?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- than the United States is involved in a war against terror. And two, vis-a-vis Iraq, as you know, I'm not going to comment on anything that is or is not a potential military plan. But the President --
Q There is no plan? Every day we read there is a plan.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has indicated that he's made no decisions, and he's dismissed some of the recent speculation by people who are not in a position to know what he knows.
Q Regarding the questions about the President and Harken Energy Corporation and the sale of the stock there, has the President talked to the White House counsel about this? Has he retained outside counsel?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, I think, came to the White House with outside counsel. But, no, nothing has been done differently vis-a-vis this matter.
Q Outside counsel has not been contacted during this whole hullabaloo in the last week or so?
MR. FLEISCHER: The only contact I can think of that involves anything is, in an attempt to answer some reporters' questions, that we've talked to the private accountants and private counsels who are involved in the President's private transactions. That's the only contact that I'm aware of, John.
Q And does the President feel at all the furor about Harken Energy in any way detracted from his message yesterday, undermined its effectiveness in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as he said to the members of Congress this morning, thinks that this is an issue where Congress can and should fulfill its duties and responsibilities to the country, so we can have an administration and a Congress work together to fight corporate corruption. The President told the members this morning that if you take a look at what's been passed by, I think it was a 360 to 90 vote by the House of Representatives in terms of cleaning up corporate fraud and abuse and compare it to what is currently moving through the United States Senate, the President's words were the two measures are very close. And that's how the President sees this. The President sees this as a real issue where people in Washington can and should get something done to fight corporate corruption. That's what the American people expect and that's what he's working on.
Q My question was, does the President feel that the questions raised primarily by Democrats in some way undermine the effectiveness of his message yesterday, given the amount of criticism he got --
MR. FLEISCHER: No. That's why I indicated to you --
Q -- reaction of the stock market?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. That's why I indicated to you that's where the President is focused.
Q A comment and a question.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q A comment, she asked me not to do but I'm taking the liberty, the grand lady of the front row -- we had a great date at the Bombay Palace Restaurant on Tuesday, in Washington. She had a lot of good things to say about you. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Must have been a case of food poisoning. (Laughter.)
Q I told him --
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, you don't have the floor. I'm very interested in this. (Laughter.)
Q It's getting better.
Q Question -- according to reports, the U.S. war, as far as the military is concerned, is over in Afghanistan. But the troubles are still there because the Karzai government is in trouble, the terrorists and guerrillas are back in Afghanistan. And his Vice President was murdered. Now, what is the future of Afghanistan, as far as the President is concerned? And is he really concerned about the future?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Afghanistan remains a very dangerous place on this earth. And the President is determined to continue to work with Afghanistan as Afghanistan emerges from the terror and the turmoil that the Afghani people have been put through, not only by the Taliban, but, of course, by the war involved the Soviet Union prior to the Taliban, and the harshness of the Taliban. It has left its scars on Afghani society. Afghani society is rebuilding from that with the help and the assistance and the care of the United States government and the American people, as well as countless nations in the international community.
President Karzai is demonstrating strong leadership in trying to bring together various Afghani parties, but as the assassination of the Afghani -- one of the Afghani Vice Presidents shows, it remains a dangerous place and it remains a place the United States is committed to helping to find stability as we fight the war against terrorism.
Q No, what I mean is -- I'm sorry -- what the President thinks as far as the U.S. military war is concerned -- is it over in Afghanistan, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, it's not over. There remains danger in Afghanistan. And as the President said in the very beginning of this battle last October, this will be a war that is going to go in various phases, some of which will be visible, some will not. Obviously, the major military campaigns took place last fall and came to the most visible conclusions over the winter, but it remains a place of danger, it remains a place where the United States is committed to helping. And there remain military missions ahead.
Q On the President's corporate responsibility speech yesterday, the reaction -- the Dow Jones was flat, went down some, and Wall Street yawned and Democrats had a field day, calling it a weak initiative -- in light of the fact, too, that the Vice President now is being sued by Judicial Watch. If you take all of this in its aggregate, is there any concern from the administration that the Democrats' message that this administration has no moral authority to call for corporate reform in fact may begin to resonate with the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President looks at this as a time for people in Washington to come together and demonstrate confidence in the economy, confidence in our system of Congress and the administration working together to fix the problems. It's very easy in Washington for politicians, if they're interested, to point fingers and place blame and work against the interests of the nation. What's harder to do is to work together sometimes. But that's what the President has asked the Congress to do. And he does think in this instance, ultimately that will be what's done.
There may be a few lonely voices out there who are partisan, who are shrill. But most people in Congress want to get something done, and that's who the President is going to work with on this.
And as I indicated, the President told the congressional leaders this morning that the House and the Senate bills are very close. And from the President's point of view, this is a chance for Washington to get something done for America. This is a chance for our nation to see that the system works, that Congress and the President will work together to restore confidence. That's what the American people are looking to have happen.
And in this case, on the substantive specifics of the legislation, from the President's point of view, there is about 95 percent agreement between the administration and Congress on the various pieces of legislation. And the President's focus is on working through that 95 percent and getting something done. If there are people who are focused on 5 percent differences, who complain that we can't get anything done, the President will work with the people who think there's 95 percent agreement and therefore can get something done. That's his focus, and that's where he is.
Q Is the sticking point on the role of the SEC and the independent regulatory board -- is that what --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think it's fair to say there is a sticking point. I think you see the House of Representatives, as I indicated, in a huge bipartisan vote -- unusual for the House -- pass the reforms that the President asked the House to pass. And you're seeing tremendous progress in the Senate.
And the President is not a rubber stamp for the Congress, and the Congress is not a rubber stamp for the President. And so what you're seeing is the system in work. And the ultimate test of it will be when this goes to a conference committee, as the President urges it to do, and then to put it together.
Q What's the 5 percent that you keep pointing out? Is 5 percent left?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are a couple -- Helen --
Q Why isn't that a sticking point?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a sticking point if people want to focus on how to draw opposition and stop things from happening and getting done. It's the way the process works, if you're like the President, who sees this as a way to work together and get things done.
Q There are still differences?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are some real differences, but these are all bridgeable, in the President's opinion. I'll give you a couple specifics. In the legislation as it's currently constituted before the Senate, the legislation does not give the Securities and Exchange Commission the unilateral authority to remove corporate leaders or board of director members who engage in malfeasance. They have to, under the current law and under the current Senate bill, go to a judge or to a court system in order to get permission to take action against these corporate individuals.
The President thinks the SEC should have more authority, a strengthened hand, to take unilateral action against these type of leaders. That may get fixed as the bill moves through the Senate; the President hopes it will be. That's one example.
There's another example involving both of us agree there should be a board to oversee the accounting profession. The Democrats want to have a board that's set up -- I shouldn't say the Democrats -- but the bill that is moving through the Senate includes legislation that would have a board set up that can have an overlapping jurisdiction with the SEC. The President thinks that there should be clear lines of authority and responsibility and, therefore, the board that the President sets up is done under the jurisdiction of the SEC. The President wants to have more enforcement and less turf battles. Overlapping jurisdiction often leads to turf battles.
And I do want to note, this morning, when you talk about the SEC and other areas of disagreement where there's been with the Congress, Arthur Levitt, who was appointed by President Clinton as the Chairman of the SEC prior to Harvey Pitt, said this morning, quote -- "I think Harvey Pitt is one of the most experienced security lawyers in the history of the country. He's diligent, intelligent and fully qualified to handle the job as Chairman of the SEC." And he was asked, "So he has your full vote of confidence?" And Arthur Levitt said, "Yes."
So I think you're seeing bipartisan voices of support for the Securities and Exchange Commission's vigorous actions on the enforcement. And this issue is a test of Washington. The ability to fight corporate corruption will be tested by whether people in Washington want to work together to get something done or they'd rather point fingers and place blame. The President sees a way to get something done.
Q Following up, there's movement in the Senate to take the penalties that the President proposed in his Wall Street speech yesterday and put those penalties directly into the Sarbanes bill. Does that move the President, the White House, closer to endorsing that bill --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President proposed doubling criminal penalties for people who engage in fraud from 5 to 10 years. The Senate also wants to get tough on people who engage in fraud. And I think as you look at any piece of legislation, the exact number of categories subject to the definition of fraud is an issue that will get debated between various senators. And then, ultimately, I'm sure an agreement will be reached on that.
But if you take a look at what differences have existed on previous legislation between the House and the Senate or the Congress and the administration, you've seen giant chasms. On this bill, you see very small differences. Literally, the differences come down to how many classes of fraud do you want defined as fraud, is it two or is it four? Is it 5 years to be doubled to 10 years, or should it be 12 years? You're really seeing small differences around the margins, and sometimes in cases like this, people who want to divide and who want to point fingers want to play up those differences in an effort to pretend that one person is tougher or weaker than the other. The President is not interested in that.
The President has made it clear to the leadership of the Congress he wants to find a way to bridge these small differences, to bring people together. Everybody in this room has seen big differences before; you don't see them on this bill.
Q Just following up, if I may?
MR. FLEISCHER: Follow up, and then we'll go across.
Q You're obviously banking on a lot of remedies coming out of the conference. But you know from your experience that, the majority of the time, when legislation goes into conference, it gets watered down, it does not get strengthened. What makes you think this time, when both sides come together, that they're actually going to work out something that's going to be able to protect middle class Americans' 401Ks, for instance, and also strengthen the SEC, but, at the same time, create a board where there is sort of an oversight or checks and balances?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because, Ken, when you look at the substance of the issues that are being debated, those that already are in agreement and those where there is disagreement, you have the following three factors: The President has proposed a strong bill that's tough; the House has passed a strong bill that's tough; and the Senate wants to pass a strong bill that's tough. By any measure, corporate America is in for some big changes that are going to strengthen the ability of the government to regulate them and halt corruption.
Q Ari, after September 11, a lot of things have come to light, errors that have been committed and a lot of weakness in the security as far as entering this country. Now there's a story out there that 70 visas were issued illegally in the capital of Qatar, Doha, through the U.S. embassy there. Thirty-one persons have been apprehended and they're looking for the others. Two of these people are supposed to have roomed with some of the terrorists. How does the President feel about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the State Department has been taking action on this matter. As you know, this was announced, I believe, by the State Department. The State Department has moved forcibly on this; they have had a strike force that has participated on this, and they have moved on this matter aggressively. And they have the full details. They are briefing this afternoon, and they have already addressed much of that.
Q I have another question, if you don't mind, Ari, please. This has to do with Iraq. Is the U.S. government having contact with Arab countries and Persian Gulf countries, trying to get military support for any military action the United States may undertake against Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not going to speculate about the potential of any military actions. As the President has said on numerous occasions, the President is, of course, consulting with nations around the world about all America's plans, diplomatic and otherwise, in the war against terrorism, and we'll continue to do so.
Q Ari, last week, the signals being sent from the White House were much stronger in opposition to key portions of the Sarbanes bill. While they may be only 5 percent, they are the core of the bill. Now, it sounds like the White House is sending different signals, signals that are more willing to negotiate over these differences. Has the President moved, in terms of where -- what he's willing to accept in the Sarbanes bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the characterization has been consistent, and I would refer you to the statement of administration principles which has been released, and which I know you've seen. And the President said, and I said last week, that we share the goals of the Sarbanes bill.
Clearly, I walked through a couple of the technical differences this morning about the composition -- not the composition, but the independent review board and whether or not it should be separate and apart from the SEC, or whether it be overlapping jurisdiction. We've talked about the ability of the SEC to take action against people in corporations without going to court. These are not the things of big disagreements unless people want them to be disagreements.
Q Well, is the President willing to accept an independent board?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President --
Q I understand his concerns about jurisdictional overlap, but --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to make sure that what is passed allows for the maximum enforcement and the maximum action and the least turf struggles. And the President does have a concern about something that would set up a body that would engage in turf struggles at a time when there should be one goal, and that's a unified government working together to target people and corporations that try to take advantage of the rules.
Q I understand that. But concern is one thing, but an adamant objection to it is something different. Is he taking any hard stance --
MR. FLEISCHER: Jean, as you know, whether it's this bill or any other bill, the President is going to let the process continue and he will be involved deeply in the process. The House has passed its version; it's up to the Senate now to pass a version -- ultimately, in conference all these issues will get resolved once and for all and finally. But not before that. I'm not going to speculate or rush to any conclusions about something that is still being worked on and will likely be amended on the Senate floor, as well.
Q Now, you haven't mentioned the Leahy amendment. And yesterday the White House was sort of -- well, didn't really comment about it. What is the position now --
MR. FLEISCHER: On which aspect of the Leahy amendment?
Q Creating a new criminal category.
MR. FLEISCHER: Criminal category for what?
Q For fraud and securities.
MR. FLEISCHER: And as I indicated, that the President has proposed a provision that has fraud and mail fraud and the most prevalent actions of which there has been corporate wrongdoing. If there are additional categories that are being suggested we look at, we'll take a look at those categories. But now we're into whether it should be two classes or four classes of fraud -- again, these are all differences that are bridgeable, in the President's opinion. If people want a bill, we'll get one.
Q Ari, you quoted Arthur Levitt's statement of support for Harvey Pitt. Does Harvey Pitt support, and more importantly does President Bush support, what Arthur Levitt tried to do three years ago, unsuccessfully, which was to enact new SEC rules that would prevent auditors, auditing companies from simultaneously acting as the accounting firm, the auditing firm for a company, and a consultant?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, at the morning briefing the President does, the President proposes, and the proposal includes allowing the Securities and Exchange Commission to write new rules that would create a distinction between corporate consulting and corporate auditing, and, therefore, create a difference, so you cannot engage in both, subject to the rule-making of the SEC. There can be cases in which smaller companies, for example, may not be covered by that; that's up to the SEC to determine through rule-making. But generally speaking, the President does see merit in that approach.
Q Ari, on your statement earlier about the serious concern about the supplemental, was there any reason that the President didn't raise any kind of concern when he had kind of the ideal forum to do it this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President did at his news conference on Monday. The President did talk about the urgent need to pass a supplemental. The President raised this directly in his meeting with the congressional leaders this morning, and the President's going to raise it again in his meeting with Republican leaders this afternoon. This is a serious issue. It's called an emergency supplemental because money is running out. Congress asked for it, and Congress is late in getting it done.
Q Ari, just to follow up -- I do appreciate your full disclosure about the supplemental, but is it wise to let our enemies know that we're in such a dire situation? And also, there was a report about an American plane down in Pakistan. Do you have anything on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not have anything on the second part; that's the first I've heard of this.
But this is the reality, and this is why it is important for Congress to take action. The Transportation Security Administration has twice had to rob Peter to pay Paul. It's wrong, and it's because Congress is not providing the funds necessary to fund the very agency that they created, with the very deadlines that they created. And the House has passed legislation that met with the President's approval. The Senate has passed a bill on the supplemental appropriation that includes, as usual, billions of dollars for pork that many people on both sides of the aisle have found to be wasteful. And the President hopes that the Congress will get this done and wrapped up quickly, so this can be signed into law. This fiscal year is almost over.
Q On the -- you were talking a moment ago about the Leahy provision, a new thing. I mean, this is not a new idea; it's been floating around. So I'm sure the White House was aware of it before it came up here this morning. The question is, what is the view of that proposal? A lot of people who follow securities law suggest that it is -- that you need a specific statute to go after fraud by corporate officers in a more effective way. Does the White House agree with that, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President proposed -- the President proposed in his announcement yesterday taking action involving those classes of fraud, which I explained. Whether or not they'll be --
Q You're talking about --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Whether or not there will be a need for additional categories is something the administration is going to look at, talk to the Senate about, and work closely with them on.
Q So you have no position at the moment on whether or not that is a better idea than the President's proposal?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're continuing to listen to and work with the Senate.
Q Now, on that, on Sarbanes, on all of the other issues, the differences, even though they're 5 percent, how will the White House get its views into the mix? Will you ask Republicans to propose amendments to Democratic bills? How do you plan on proceeding?
MR. FLEISCHER: For example, I cited specifically the one instance in which the SEC is not given as much power as it needs to be given to take action without going to court against some of these corporate people who deserve to be thrown off boards and never to get on a board again in their life. Currently, they have to go to court to do that. We'll see if any senators make an amendment to strengthen it to reflect what the President has asked for, which is the unilateral authority of the SEC to take that action. That's possible in the Senate.
But you know the Senate as well as I do, and it's impossible for the White House to predict, anticipate every amendment that's going to get offered, to predict what their process is going to be. It's often a convoluted one, given Senate rules. And that's why we'll continue to work closely with the Senate and hope that they pass something that is strong and we'll get to conference and see if we can't work something out that allows it to be signed into law. The President thinks we can.
Q The Democrats are also working on something on pension protection. Has the administration taken any position on Democratic ideas on pension protection, and where do you stand on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, pension protection goes right back to what the President announced in March as part of his 10-point plan, when the
President offered a whole series of specific initiatives to protect people's pensions, including allowing investors to have quarterly access to information so they have better and more information and education on judging financial performances of companies; the blackout rules, meaning that if a worker is prohibited from trading his or her retirement program, a corporate leader should be prohibited from trading their retirement program for the same period of time. These are all issues that the President has asked the Congress to pass, and Congress is working on that. So, yes, on pensions we share an interest.
Q If I could, one other thing. There is a Democratic ad now running, talking about the fox guarding the henhouse, obvious reference to both the Vice President, Haliburton and the President and the Harken allegations. What does the White House make of this ad?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we don't know what to make of this. Obviously, on the merits, the ad is total nonsense. But it's hard to make something of something that's so secretive. It's not clear at all who's behind this ad, where the money came from. We're in an era now in which people have expected people who run advertisements to indicate who they are, who they're contributors are, where they come from. This seems to be -- have an ad that they will not announce who has paid for it, which is -- cuts against the whole spirit of campaign finance and the recent trend that's been taking place. It's more of a secretive ad.
Q Ari, going back to the President's urging Congress to move forward with his agenda, including the supplemental, could it be that it's not just politics which is holding things up, but an unusually heavy agenda? I mean, this is a unique year, we're dealing with a war on terrorism, we're trying to create an entirely new government agency, we're dealing with investor confidence and corporate scandal. There's a lot of things that are priorities that have to be done right away. So is part of this simply just a hugely full calendar?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are a lot of issues that are pending in the Congress. But, unfortunately, what's happened is many of these issues have gotten bottled up, and time has run out or is running out. If the House of Representatives was able to pass the supplemental appropriation 111 days ago, you just have to wonder why it takes this long. When Congress itself declares this an emergency, you would think that if it's an emergency, there would be a willingness to act quickly to address the emergency. Instead, it's been a question of a great deal of time.
But there are many issues that are still being debated in the Congress, that were passed by either the House and/or the Senate months ago, if not last year. And the President's very concerned -- if you remember, he held a news conference Monday, and he began it by going through the agenda that remains: the need to make America more energy independent, the need to pass the faith-based legislation to bring hope to people who live in communities where they lack hope and opportunity. The patients' bill of rights remains before the Congress. Ban on human cloning remains before the Congress. Trade promotion authority remains before the Congress.
This is a real test of this Congress, to see whether or not they'll be able to get these things done. Last year, the Congress was able to take action, particularly early in the year, to pass tax cuts and education.
Q Last year we didn't have a war on terrorism, we didn't have a homeland defense department, we didn't have an investor confidence all over the place --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think that it's fair to say that these are the reasons for the congressional lack of action.
Q Back on Harken, the President is urging corporate America to take responsibility for their actions, yet he hasn't taken responsibility for the series of late stock filings that he made when he was at Harken. So, in light of the current environment, wouldn't this be an opportunity for the President to come out and set an example of responsibility?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President has already addressed that, and addressed it fully.
Q We had three different explanations, actually, and the most -- the latest from the President was that he just didn't know what happened.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the President has addressed it, and addressed it fully.
Q Mr. Fleischer, is the President aware about the Greek investigation in the recent days in Athens, vis-a-vis to the terrorist organization November 17th, since a lot of U.S. federales are involved with this affair? Any comment?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was nothing given to me on that topic; I'm not familiar with that.
Q Just one more question, please? Yesterday, the President met with the Greek Orthodox Archbishop Dimitri and some other church leaders here in the White House. I was wondering what was the purpose of this meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, from time to time, has had meetings with different religious communities and religious leaders, as part of his agenda to have faith-based solutions to some of the difficult issues in society. And that meeting was in that vein, yesterday afternoon.
Q Does the President support the House committee vote yesterday that would ban federal contracts going to companies that reincorporate outside of the United States for tax purposes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look at the specifics of that vote. I'll have to take a look at that.
Q What does he think in general of closing that -- what some call a loophole?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is something the Treasury Department has taken a look at and has come to the conclusion that there are real problems with the laws and their impact on corporations, that has created a disincentive for them to remain in the United States creating jobs. And it is a serious problem with the current law. Let me take a look specifically at what was passed.
Q On the Sarbanes bill, although you've made clear that the President would like stronger enforcement authority by the SEC, if conferees come out with a bill that does not bridge the gap the way you would like, does the administration feel the bill would still be strong enough for the President to sign?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to speculate. And you know, as a rule -- you know this -- on any issue moving through the House and the Senate, the President is going to allow the process, and work the process, through the House and through the Senate, and reach no final conclusions until it emerges in the conference. That's the best way for Presidents to have influence and authority over what the Congress is acting on.
Q What are the plans for the mid-session review this year? Are we going to see that next week or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Mid-session review is due out next week. And I think you will get all the information on that from the Office of Management and Budget, as they analyze the most recent trends, the effect of the war on spending, the effect of the recession on revenues. All that will be out next week.
Q On the supplemental, you mentioned pork as maybe being one of the reasons why it's being delayed. But what about the debt ceiling issue? Is that something that the White House is still pushing to have attached?
MR. FLEISCHER: A debt ceiling increase has already been signed into law. Congress did pass that, the President signed it into law a little over a week ago.
Q In addition to the pork, what does the administration see as the main stumbling blocks to the passage of the emergency supplemental? And if it isn't passed by the end of the week, would the President consider going directly to the public and appealing for them to pressure Congress to pass one?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to speculate on anything that may or may not happen in terms of how to help Congress take action. But the President doesn't -- he hopes it's not necessary for that to happen. The President thinks it's important for Congress to act, and act now, given the fact that this is an emergency and given the fact that the year, fiscal year, is almost at an end.
Q The SEC has some vacancies. Could you tell us why they continue to have vacancies when we have these problems with the markets?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at anything specific to the vacancies. And, of course, you can talk to the Senate about their confirmation rate. There is an ongoing issue involving the Senate in terms of the votes to confirm presidential appointees.
Q The President today was talking about a homeland security bill and he said Congress is reacting positively. I just wondered what his assessment about getting a bill through Congress and what sort of timetable?
MR. FLEISCHER: There were, I believe, four mark-ups yesterday in the House of Representatives on homeland security, another three will be happening as soon as today or tomorrow. So Congress is moving forward and making progress on homeland security. And the President this morning expressed his thanks to the congressional leaders for the congressional pace and for the congressional action on homeland security.
Members of Congress have said to the President they would like to have it passed in both the House and the Senate prior to September 11th. But all of this means Congress does have a very busy agenda, and for every day that goes by without the House or the Senate, and particularly the conferences taking final action to pass the numerous bills that remain stuck in the Congress is one less day for Congress to act. The House will be going out for the August recess in approximately three weeks, the Senate in approximately four; time is running out.
Q On Harken Energy, you said earlier that the President has, I believe, gone to private accountants and lawyers to try to get some answers?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said the staff, in an attempt to answer a reporter's questions --
Q The staff has. And obviously, he didn't get all the answers he wanted because he said he still doesn't know why some of these forms were filed late. Are they continuing to work on that? Is the President dissatisfied, and he said, go back there and ferret this out and let's give these people answers?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I think we've given you every explanation -- the explanation possible.
Q I'm just saying, is he still trying to ferret out those answers? I understand you say he's told us what he knows.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when you have a case where there's a mixup with attorneys, it remains a mixup with the attorneys.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EDT