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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Gaggle with Ari Fleischer
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
1:27 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. We're on our way to Pittsburgh for the President's Labor Day events. It will be a two-part event, so we'll watch a group of carpenters and workers go through a training program where they build a house. It's an actual mock home that they use as their training facility. So the President will witness the construction, and then the President will give remarks about the importance of workers to America, honor those on Labor Day who have given so much to our country, talk about the economy and give generalized, overall remarks. Nothing very different from what you've heard before. Very similar.
And that's it for today. And then let me just say the President looks forward to getting back to business here in Washington, which promises to be a very important and busy five-week period before Congress leaves to campaign for reelection. The President sees this as a window to get things done for the country, particularly in terms of enacting homeland security legislation into law so the country can be better protected; securing more economic -- providing more economic security for the American people as a result of passage of terrorism insurance, which will create jobs; energy legislation which will provide energy security to our country, something always in need. And there are many other important legislative matters that are pending, and the President views this as a window to get things done. And he will work closely with the Congress to do that.
We'll have a number of meetings at the White House this week with members of Congress to talk about the legislative agenda.
Q Who's coming in tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tomorrow is a meeting on homeland security, so it will be a group of senators to talk about the prospects for getting the Senate to pass the bill.
Q Democrats as well as Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: They're coming in over several different days; we'll have several different groups. So I'll have the exact lists out tomorrow. It will be bipartisan. They may come down in groups of Republicans, groups of Democrats. But throughout the week both parties are going to be heavily -- they'll have a heavy presence at the White House, both parties will.
Q Is tomorrow's meeting bipartisan, is it open, and what time is it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have tomorrow's schedule here. I think it's still photos at the top, is what we announced last week. And I don't recall if tomorrow is Rs or Ds first. I just don't remember.
Q Is it Senate only tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Is there anything on the public schedule tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have tomorrow's schedule, so -- there wasn't when we put it out last week.
Q Is the President disturbed to see the kind of stories that suggest Colin Powell is not on board with administration policy? And how can the President let these -- his administration figures speak so differently about something that's such a priority for him?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, they haven't spoken differently. They've spoken the same. I think this is much ado about no difference.
Q So the President agrees with Secretary Powell that there must be an international coalition consensus before there is any attack on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said that he will consult. The President has always said that through leadership, others follow. That creates coalitions and that continues to be the President's view and the Secretary's view and the administration's view.
Q And Vice President Cheney agrees that there -- with Secretary Powell on the need for inspectors to go back in?
MR. FLEISCHER: The American position, as the Vice President said in his remarks, and Secretary Powell said, and as the President has said, is that arms inspectors in Iraq are a means to an end, but the end is knowledge that Iraq has lived up to its promises that it made to end the Gulf War, that it has in fact disarmed, that it does not possess weapons of mass destruction. And the President's position, the Vice President's position, the Secretary's position consistently have been --
Q So hundreds of reporters are wrong? We're seeing a gap that doesn't exist?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's much ado about no difference.
Q Secretary Powell has told the BBC that inspectors should go back as a first step. Does the President agree with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is, of course, Saddam Hussein needs to live up to the commitments he made at the end of the Gulf War. Those commitments included making certain that Iraq did not possess weapons of mass destruction, and that means, having weapons inspectors there. Now, will weapons inspectors alone guarantee that he doesn't have weapons of mass destruction? That's why the Secretary said it's a first step.
Q And this -- earlier today, the Iraqi -- I believe it's Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz told us in South Africa, where he's attending this development conference, he expressed greater openness to the possibility of inspectors coming back than Iraq has recently. Does the President see that as encouraging? Does he want to talk about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Iraq changes positions on whether they'll let the inspectors back in more often than Saddam Hussein changes bunkers. Every day you get a different story out of Iraq. They don't have a history of reliability.
Q So you don't view this as credible?
MR. FLEISCHER: Iraqi officials don't have a history of reliability on their public statements.
Q Apparently there's a meeting tomorrow in Iraq about -- with Kofi Annan about inspectors. I mean, do you view that as a positive development?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll see what comes out of the meeting.
Q Is the President likely to take any questions today from the pool?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't talked to him about it.
Q Talk to him.
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything on your minds?
Q We'd like to talk to him about Iraq.
MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. President, what type of nail are you using?
Q Three-penny or four-penny, right?
Q Ari, the head of the AFL-CIO today is going to make some remarks. He says that they're going to launch the most aggressive political effort in our history to replace corporate controlled elected officials with men and women who will do the work of people who work. I mean, does this demonstrate a growing rift between the Republican Party and the labor movement? And what does the President want to do to close that rift?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is proud to spend his Labor Day with working men and women, and leaders of their unions. There are obviously some union leaders who have the willingness to put national interests above partisan party interests. There are other union leaders who are really appendages of the Democratic National Committee. And the President will continue to build bridges to work with labor leaders who are willing to work across what has historically been a partisan divide. The President is working hard himself to bridge that. And I think when you look at rank and file union workers, there is increasing support for President George W. Bush and they are not in lockstep with some of these older-line liberal labor leaders. There's splits in the labor movement.
Q Do you think the President will take any questions today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was just asked that. Don't know. I haven't talked to him about it. So I don't know.
Q Can I ask you one more thing? Are you aware Ivanof today, the Russian Prime Minister, is with Iraqi Foreign Minister and said that he didn't see any reason why there should be any type of action against Iraq. Do you have any reaction to what he said today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen what he said specifically, so I don't have any reaction. The President has always said that regime change is our bipartisan policy for our country, and the world would be better off with a different leader at the helm of Iraq.
Q Any meeting scheduled with the congressional leadership as a group?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take a look at that. I know there's just a lot of congressional meetings this week. I think I'll have a better handle on it tomorrow.
Q What number trip is this for the President to Pennsylvania?
MR. FLEISCHER: We've got it in the material. I'll find out.
Q Who's up front with the President today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you have that, Harry? A couple of the union leaders who -- Harry will get it.
Q Any chance for a news conference this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Point noted. Nothing is planned. We'll let you know.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think there are any elected officials aboard.
Thank you, everybody.
END 1:36 P.M. EDT
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