Excerpt from July 26, 2002 Press Briefing with White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer
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QUESTION: On trade promotion authority, obviously it cleared the House by just one vote last time. And the Republican leadership asked the President to come up and speak to the conference today.
What are they saying in the lay of the land? Is there in the compromise agreement some things that the Republicans don't like and therefore they need the President's help to guarantee that those votes are there again today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that on trade promotion authority, the history of the vote on trade promotion authority indicates, regardless of who the President is, it's a very close vote. Since President Bush came into office, there has been an increase in the number of votes for it. President Clinton tried valiantly in a bipartisan fashion to get trade promotion authority repeatedly throughout his term, and he was not able to. This year, there was a one-vote margin supplied by the House of Representatives.
The breakdown is very straightforward. Republicans are overwhelmingly in favor of trade promotion authority. Democrats are largely opposed. There is a very small, but influential and important, group of Democrats who are helping to make this happen. Indeed, it is a small block.
The President is going to go up to the Congress today to ask for widespread Republican support. It will be necessary to have the support of a large number of Republicans to make up for the absence of Democrat votes in the House of Representatives.
QUESTION: We're closer to the election now. Has he been told by the leadership that maybe not all of the votes that were there the last time will be there this time, and that's why he's going up?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think anybody will know for sure until the voting starts. But the President thinks that the agreement that has been reached by the conferees is a strong agreement, a good agreement. The President thinks it will help protect jobs for the American people, will create more jobs for America's workers. And it's also good for our allies and our trade partners around the world.
There are many provisions in here, especially for Andean nations, for Latin America and for Central America, that are vital to their economies, that are good for our country. And the President is hopeful that at the end of the day -- and he will put his shoulder to the wheel -- that the Congress will be able to pass this into law. It's been too long that the United States has not had it, and it's hurting America because other nations are negotiating trade agreements with nations that do not include the United States, going around America in a way that denies American people to have jobs.
QUESTION: Ari, on the same subject as John's question, last night a very late an agreement between Senator Max Baucus, president of the Finance Committee in the Senate, and Bill Thomas, head of the House and Ways Committee on this free trade agreement.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ways and Means Committee.
QUESTION: Ways and Means Committee, right. My question has to do, what broke the logjam, because in an election year -- what caused this agreement --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what really most likely broke the logjam, in addition to the diligence and the hard work of Senator Baucus and Congressman Thomas, is the fact that there was a deadline approaching. Very often in the Congress what spurs action is a deadline, a recess, a time when Congress realizes if they don't get it done, it's going to be too late, and it will never get done. And President Bush, as you know, made very clear to members of Congress that he had three priorities for Congress to focus on this week: trade promotion authority was one of them, corporate governance was a second, and homeland security was a third.
And the President is very pleased that the Congress is listening to his call for bipartisan action. And I think the American people are going to be the ones who are better for this, because Congress is legislating, Congress is working bipartisan. And the President is going to sign these bills into law if Congress can finish them and get them sent to him.
QUESTION: On the same subject, the President has been asking, and certainly the Andean countries -- I'm speaking of Colombia, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador -- have been asking for something that they've had, and ended and hasn't been renewed, which is the trade preference --
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely.
QUESTION: And those countries are having terrible economic problems and political problems.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly right. That's why the President regrets that it's taking Congress this long to get this job done. If you remember, the President earlier in the year traveled to Peru and traveled to El Salvador and talked with the leaders of those nations about the importance of passing the Andean trade preference act. And that important act got complicated and caught up in the negotiations in the Congress over trade promotion authority.
The President did not think it needed to get complicated by this issue, but the Senate would not pass it, if you recall. There were many requests on the Senate to take action earlier this year. And the President can call for the Senate to act, but he cannot force them to act. That's why the President is very pleased that Senator Baucus and Congressman Thomas have reached this agreement. As I said yesterday, the nation is in a hurry to get this done, and the President hopes that it will be done.