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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 25, 2002
White House Press Briefing
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
3:40 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'd like to give you a report on the President's day, and then I have an opening statement I'd like to make about homeland security. The President this morning spoke with President Kim Dae Jung of South Korea. The President welcomed the September 18 North-South groundbreaking ceremony for construction of two railroad lines across the DMZ. The two leaders agreed that real progress with the North depends on full resolution of the security issues on the Korean Peninsula, including the North possession and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles.
The President told President Kim that the United States would be sending an envoy to the North at an early date. President Kim expressed full support for the President's U.N. speech and the U.S.-led effort to establish necessary resolutions on Iraq in the U.N. Security Council.
Following the President's early morning call to President Kim, the President received his briefings from the CIA and the FBI. And then the President had a meeting with the President of Colombia. During the meeting the President informed President Uribe that he will be providing the enhanced benefits of the Andean Trade Preferences Act to Colombia, as well as to Bolivia and to Peru. This action will further promote U.S. commercial relations with these nations.
The administration is working with the government of Ecuador in order to be able to recommend Ecuador for designation in the near future. The administration is working closely with the government of Ecuador in order to be able to recommend Ecuador for designation, as I said.
President Bush reaffirmed the administration's strong commitment to helping Colombia meet its financial needs, underscoring that we are working with the IMF, the World Bank, and the InterAmerican Development Bank to assure an increased flow of financial and developmental assistance.
And then the President had a variety of meetings with members of Congress today to help broker an agreement on the energy legislation that is in conference on the Hill. The President has urged the conferees to continue to work together so that we can make America more energy-independent and have more conservation programs.
And then, finally, the President will, this evening, speak to the National Republican Senatorial Committee Annual dinner.
On the question of homeland security, this is an issue that the President would very much like for the Congress to be able to complete. He believes it is vital for the protection of our nation to have a homeland security bill put in place. And he wants to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to make this happen.
There is an amendment that has been offered that is known as the Nelson-Breaux-Chafee amendment, that in the President's judgment, does not match the reality of the amendment's language. It's been described as a compromise; it is not. It is exactly what the special interests are trying to persuade, or tried to persuade the House of Representatives to pass in July, an effort which was defeated in the House on a bipartisan vote.
Under this amendment, the President would have less national security authority in the Department of Homeland Security than he has in every other department or agency of the federal government today. For as long as there have been unions in the federal government, the President has had the authority to exclude certain offices from collective bargaining for reasons of national security. Every President since John Kennedy has exercised the authority with discretion and with care.
A few government unions have been trying to roll back this longstanding presidential authority, using the homeland bill as their vehicle. This amendment would accomplish this rollback by dramatically restricting the President's existing authority. The proposal is a rollback and a restriction at a time when the President needs flexibility and authority to fight terror.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Ron.
Q The President, whenever he talks about homeland defense on the stump, says something to the effect of the Senate is more interested in special interests than in the interests of the security of the American people. On Monday, and at least one other time this month, he has said instead that the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people. When he said that Monday, and he said it in Kentucky, did he misspeak? Or does he really believe that Democrats are not interested in the security of the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, this is a policy debate, where people have said of the President, in terms of his positions on these flexibility measures that I just cited, they have differences with the President. And the President has differences, and he's working with the Democrats and Republicans to bring people together so that we can have a homeland security department. And that's where the President is on this.
Now, in terms of what the President said, I'm aware of the debate that is taking place on Capitol Hill, and the accusations that have been made about the President on this. And now is a time for everybody concerned to take a deep breath, to stop finger-pointing, and to work well together to protect our national security and our homeland defense.
That's how the President approaches this issue. And I'm aware of what was said on the floor by Senator Daschle and in his news conference, as well. And at his news conference, Senator Daschle admitted that his floor statement was not based on what the President or the Vice President had said, but instead was based on newspaper accounts, not the actual statements made. And the Senator cited a headline -- I'm going to go through this, Ron -- the Senator cited the headline saying, "Cheney talks about war, electing Taff would aid war effort."
Vice President Cheney's totally innocuous quote, delivered at the end of a lengthy speech about President Bush's entire agenda included the economy, national and homeland security, trade promotion authority, energy, common-sense judges and fiscal restraint. The last sentence of the Vice President's speech was the following: "President Bush and I are very grateful for the opportunity to serve our country. We thank you for your support -- not just for our efforts, but for candidates like Adam Taff, who will make a fine partner for us in the work ahead." That's what the Vice President said. Hardly the stuff of politics.
Senator Daschle, citing another press account said -- and this is what you just referred to, Ron; this is why I go through this -- this is the quote that was given on the floor of the Senate earlier today. "The President is quoted in the Washington Post this morning as saying that the Democratic controlled Senate is not interested in the security of the American people." Despite the assertion that Senator Daschle was quoting precisely -- as he said at his news conference -- from the press, that's a misstatement of what the President said. The President never in that speech referred to the Democratic controlled Senate.
Here is what the President said, and this is what the President believes: "So I ask Congress to give me the flexibility necessary to be able to deal with the true threats of the 21st century by being able to move the right people to the right place at the right time, so we can better assure America that we're doing everything possible. The House responded, but the Senate is more interested in special interest in Washington and not interested in the security of the American people. I will not accept a Department of Homeland Security that does not allow this President, and future Presidents, to better keep the American people secure."
And the President continued. "And people are working hard in Washington to get it right in Washington, both Republicans and Democrats. See, this isn't a partisan issue, this is an American issue, this is an issue which is vital to our future. It will help us determine how secure we'll be."
That's what the President thinks. And make no mistake, he feels very strongly about the need for the Senate, the complete Senate, everybody in it -- Democrat, Republicans, independents -- to join together to protect our national security and to pass it. If it is not passed, it will have implications for our homeland security, and that's what the President feels very strongly.
Q I appreciate that. But the question wasn't about what Senator Daschle said; it's what the President said in that speech and in one in Kentucky, where he says -- I'm taking his words literally -- "the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people." Did the President mean to say that the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people, or did he misspeak?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no doubt about it. If this does not pass into law because special interest provisions will have prevailed, the Senate will not have acted in the best interests of the American people. And the interests of the special interests will have been put ahead, and the result will be that the Senate will not have acted in that interest, for the national security.
Q Sorry, I don't want to be argumentative here, but you're not responding to the question, because that's not what the President said. The President said, "the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people." Did he mean to say that the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people, or did he misspeak? It's one of the two.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is stating the fact that unless and until this passes, the Senate will not have acted in the interests of the security of the American people. Homeland security is just that; it is the security of the American people.
Q That's not what he said. He said, "the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people." He didn't say "if" or "whether" or "but."
MR. FLEISCHER: He made that --
Q He said, "the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people." Did he mean to say that, or did he misspeak?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question that in the event that this does not pass because the special interests, who are fighting to take away the flexibility that every agency currently has in terms of the President's ability to act for national security -- if that is deprived and taken away from the President, and rolled back, then the President's conclusion will have been that the special interests prevailed over the security of the American people, and that in that Senate action, that the Senate action will have shown, by failure to pass it, that the special interests prevailed over the security interests of the country.
Q Will that show that special interests have prevailed over the interests of the American people? Or will it show that, again, in the President's own words, "the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people"?
MR. FLEISCHER: We won't know until the vote takes place.
Q But does he stand by that remark or not? He didn't --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's clear --
Q -- he didn't qualify it. He said --
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President wants to --
Q -- "the Senate is more interested in special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people." Does he stand by that comment, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President is trying to do is bring the Democrats and Republicans together, as he said in the rest of his remarks, when he said that this is not a partisan issue, it is an issue vital to our future. It will determine how secure we will be. And there's no getting around the fact that if the Senate does not pass it --
Q That's why I'm wondering if he misspoke --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- that the security of our country will not have been protected.
Q That's why I'm wondering if he misspoke, because it doesn't jibe with what he said a couple sentences later.
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only interpret it for you as I have.
Terry. Terry, and then we'll go to Bill.
Q He's trying to bring Democrats and Republicans together essentially by saying if you don't agree with me, then I'm going to use the bully pulpit and tell America you don't want to protect the American people.
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the President has also, in this debate, met with a policy difference with the Democrats, as well, who say about the President that he is stopping homeland security from going through if the President sticks to his position. This is a policy debate, it's a legitimate policy debate, and the President wants to make certain that in the end that a compromise can be reached. And that's why he's working with the Democrats and Republicans to do so.
Q Well, that's a heck of a way of trying to reach a compromise with somebody who disagrees with you, by finger-pointing and saying, those guys don't want to protect the security of the American people.
MR. FLEISCHER: If homeland security is not passed in the Senate, it will be true that the Senate will not have acted to protect the American people's security. That's why it is such a vital matter, and that's why there are leaders in the Senate in both parties who have joined with the President to get it passed. The President has indicated what he did not out of any malicious feelings about the Senate or any senators, but out of an overriding desire to make certain that the Senate finishes its business, because protecting the homeland is our top priority. And it has security implications.
Q So the President has not second thoughts about using the terminology, the security of the American people? Does he wish he had put it differently?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, again, said that -- you can just quote him -- the House responded, but the Senate is more interested in the special interests in Washington, and not interested in the security of the American people. He won't accept it if it doesn't protect security. And then he praised the Democrats and Republicans. This is a choice that the House -- the Senate has to make about the votes that they cast.
Q It's very hard to get passed the notion that he's not interested in the security of the American people.
MR. FLEISCHER: We have a lot of people with their hands up.
Q I know, but --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm happy to keep it in the front row. If everybody agrees, we'll just stay in the front row.
Q No apology, Ari --
Q We can go back to that in a minute. I have another question. Yesterday in the briefing, you said that the information you have has said al Qaeda is operating in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was asked about linkages between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein this morning. He said very definitively that, yes, he believes there are. And then the President said, talking about al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, the danger is that they work in concert. Is the President saying that they are working in concert, that there is a relationship? Do you have evidence that supports that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President is saying that's the danger. The President has repeatedly said that the worst thing that could happen is for people -- the world's worst dictators with the world's worst weapons of mass destruction to work in concert with terrorists such as al Qaeda, who have shown an ability to attack the United States. And that's what the President has said.
Q So why -- when Rumsfeld was saying, yes, there is a linkage between the two, what is he talking about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, al Qaeda is operating inside Iraq. And the point is, in the shadowy world of terrorism, sometimes there is no precise way to have definitive information until it is too late. And we've seen that in the past. And so the risk is that al Qaeda operating in Iraq does present a security threat, and it's cause for concern. And I think it's very understandably so.
If you're searching, Campbell, again, for the smoking gun, again I say what Secretary Rumsfeld said -- the problem with smoking guns is they only smoke after they're fired.
Q I'm not looking for a smoking gun. I'm just trying to figure out how you make that conclusion, because the British, the Russians, people on the Hill that you all have briefed about all this stuff say that there isn't a linkage, that they don't believe that al Qaeda is there working in conjunction in any way with Saddam Hussein. And there is a mountain of comments, both public and private statements that Osama bin Laden has made about Saddam, calling him a bad Muslim, suggesting that there would be no way that the two would ever connect. So I just -- if there's something, if you have some evidence that supports this, I'm just wondering why --
MR. FLEISCHER: What supports what I just said is that the President fears that the two can get together. That's what the President has said, and that's one of the reasons that he feels so strongly about the importance of fighting the war on terror.
Q So does Rumsfeld have some information that the President doesn't, that they are, in fact, working together now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm going to take a little more detailed look at anything that you've got there. I haven't seen a verbatim quote, so I'll take a look at that.
Q It seems that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is ignoring the recently passed Security Council resolution, and he is maintaining his siege around Yasser Arafat's headquarters. Why does the President continue to support Israel, even though tacitly saying that he condemns Israel, but in short, on the bottom line, he continues to support Israel -- why does he continue to support him when Iraq is being blamed by the President for doing exactly the same thing, for violating the Security Council resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to be very careful when you equate Iraq with any other nation, and say Israel and Iraq are the same, when they are not. If you look at Resolutions 242 and 338, Resolution 242 and 338 explicitly call for a political settlement, a political dialogue as the underpinning of all the resolutions that subsequently followed that refer back to 242 and 338. Not the case in Iraq. In Iraq's decade of defiance of the U.N. resolutions which explicitly called on Iraq not to have a political settlement with their weapons of mass destruction, but disarm and destroy them. You cannot equate the two.
The President does feel strongly, however, about the need for Israel to listen and to heed the call and to make certain that its efforts don't hurt the cause of reform in Palestinian Authority. The President has spoken out about that, directly in opposition to Israel on that matter.
Q Ari, after the President met with energy conferees, Congressman Tauzin outlined a possible compromise that he sees on the ANWR issue that would involve scaling back the area to be explored and increasing the amount of land that would be protected. What was the President's reaction and is there a compromise that the White House is pursuing on the issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's reaction is that he wants to help the conferees to come together and get an agreement. Other people said that not one acre of ANWR can be opened, not one. People talked about if they could scale back the ANWR proposal so it was just one acre, would it be acceptable to the other side in this debate. And people on the other side of the debate said, no.
And so this remains an issue -- as many issues do typically become at the end of the year, issues in the conferences that, as the end of the year pressures build and as Congress gets ready to finally adjourn, many of these issues do get resolved at the last minute. We'll see if this is one, or not. There are many interesting debates underway in that energy conference, in addition to the electricity title and Price Anderson concerning nuclear authorities, nuclear development, in addition to the renewables and the conservation provisions that the President has asked the Congress to pass.
Q Is there a compromise that the President is pursuing in the ANWR --
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll see. The President hopes that they will be able to reach an agreement. Certainly I am not going to, in public, discuss anything they may be discussing as part of an effort to bring people together. That's best done in the conference in order to resolve these differences.
Q Two questions. First of all, you said the President believes that now is the time for everyone involved to stop finger-pointing. Does that also apply to the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't believe the President has finger-pointed. The President has talked about the importance of getting Democrats and Republicans to work together to resolve the differences on homeland security. There are policy differences and the policy differences should be resolved and they should be resolved without acrimony.
Q Saying the Senate is not interested in the security of the American people is not finger-pointing?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President again has talked about the vital importance of passage of homeland security. I think there's no question and no doubt about it, if the Senate was not to pass homeland security, do you think there would be a newspaper in the country that would say, Senate fails to pass homeland security? Homeland security is now equated with protecting the country, and that's stating the obvious.
Q Would there be a paper in the country that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry. Ron, we'll come back if we have time.
Q One other thing on another topic. This week, the President had his second fundraiser for John Thune, and I'm wondering why does there seem to be a focus on this race? Is it possibly because the result could be damaging to Daschle, who is a possible presidential contender? Or is there a particular focus on --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President believes very strongly in working to elect people who share his agenda. The President thinks it's very important to elect people in both the House and the Senate who will support what he is focusing on with the Congress, to pass legislation to secure the economy, to create more jobs, to pass welfare reform, to pass a budget, which the Senate has not done this year. Every vote makes a difference, and the President is hoping to elect people who support his agenda.
Q Ari, can I come back to what seems to have emerged as the sticking point in the homeland security legislation in the Senate? Senator Durbin on the floor brought up the point that no one asked for union cards when New York City police and firefighters were rushing up into the World Trade Center. As you know, the Secret Service -- there's about two dozen law enforcement agencies here in this town. All of them are unionized. Most municipal police and fire departments are unionized.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q Can you tell us why public safety among the first responders seems to function in an organized labor environment, but what the concern would be on the federal level if these people were unionized in the Office of National -- excuse me -- Homeland Security?
MR. FLEISCHER: They have every right to be unionized, and they are unionized, and under the new department they would remain unionized. So I think you've misstated what the debate is about. They will stay unionized.
Q I understand what the debate is about --
MR. FLEISCHER: The whole issue is -- I'm sorry, the whole issue here deals with the existing waiver authority for the President at a time that he, like all his predecessors going back to John Kennedy, would deem it necessary to have certain waivers for national security interest. President Carter did that with the defense -- with the Drug Enforcement Agency. It's been done in the past in terms of previous Presidents' judgments about how to protect the national interest.
What's really at stake here is these current provisions that the President is already empowered to have, vis-a-vis, say, for example, the Border Patrol at the Department of Justice -- if somebody today shows up for work at the Department of Justice at Border Patrol, they can belong to a union, they can have the union management, and the collective bargaining rights can be waived today if the President determines it's necessary for national security.
What the debate is now about is taking that exact right away from the President when these very same people who signed up for the Border Patrol jobs move across the street to the Department of Homeland Security. Why does it work today for these people and the unions in which they currently serve the nation well, in the Border Patrol, the Department of Justice, and every other agency where it's found, but it would not longer work, it needs to be taken away from the President and from these workers if they move to the Department of Homeland Security? That's why it's a rollback of the authority the President currently has.
Q So if it's done differently, if the language is in there to preserve the President's right, then he is not opposed to collective bargaining units; is that what you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: That we're trying to work out the appropriate language now so that a compromise can be reached. And, as I indicated, the amendment that has been authored is a nonstarter with the President.
Q Senator Daschle has asked for an apology from the President. Can we assume that he's not going to get one?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why I said that this is a time for everybody concerned to take a deep breath, to stop the finger-pointing, and to remember why we're all here. And that's to work together to pass a department of homeland security to protect the country.
Q So will the President at least clarify what he meant by the statements? I know you did, but does he feel a need to clarify?
MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, I think people have to understand, it can happen that somebody misreads the newspapers and has a misunderstanding of what the President said. And in the Senator's remarks he clearly was upset because he thought the President was talking about Democrats when the President was not; he thought the Vice President was talking about something that the Vice President did not say.
And so it's important for the President -- and the President thinks this is important for everybody on the Hill to hear -- is this is the time, this is the exact time, as the Congress winds down, for everybody to work together and to take a deep breath.
Q With all due respect, you're misstating what the President said, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: Goyle.
Q You're saying it's a misunderstanding? You're saying it's a misunderstanding?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly what Senator Daschle said in his speech, in which he asked the President to apologize, he had a misunderstanding of what was in today's papers, and --
Q Not in today's papers, but in statements that the President made earlier that Ron referred to.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, again, when the statement was -- that the Senator talked about on the floor, the Senator cited a headline saying, "Cheney talks about war; electing Taff would aid war effort." Nobody here writes the headlines. I don't think there's anything that the Vice President said, as I just read it to you -- he said, "We thank you for your support, not just for our efforts, but for candidates like Adam Taff, who will make a fine partner for us in the work ahead." What's wrong with saying that?
And I would encourage anybody who wants to see exactly what the President said to go to the White House web page, and you can see the President's remarks in their entirety on the transcripts at whitehouse.gov. And people can see it and judge it for itself.
Q Ari, two quick questions. One, if President Bush agrees with the U.S. Ambassador to India, Robert Blackwell, who said that despite President Bush's meeting with Musharraf in New York and -- in India and Kashmir, especially during especially during elections -- went up rather than a reduction. And also, he warned Pakistan that Musharraf is lying by saying that elections were rigged and all that, and he says I approve the elections -- in Kashmir, and they are fair and free.
MR. FLEISCHER: Goyle, as you know, when the President met with President Musharraf in New York -- and I made this point to you immediately after the meeting last week, and this week as well -- the President reiterated to President Musharraf the importance of adhering to democracy in Pakistan and supporting the rule of law. And that remains what the President thinks.
Q Just to follow, on Pakistan --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going try to keep it moving, because we have a lot of people up with hands in the back, and we'll be here for three hours if we don't get to them.
Q Ari, does the President see or did he read Senator Daschle's comments on the floor? And, if so, would you please share with us his reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've shared with you his reaction. My statement reflects what the President thinks.
Q Ari, the President did not specifically answer the question earlier of whether he was politicizing the war, that Terry put to him. Can you tell us whether you think -- can you issue in his name a categorical denial that he's politicizing the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, the President's remarks were about
homeland security. The President's remarks were not about the war in Iraq. The President's remarks were about homeland security. Again, I think when you take a look at what was said, it was put into a context which did not match what the President said.
Q What about the larger question of the degree to which he talks about the war in political fundraisers? Can we have your assurance that he's not going to campaign on the war this fall?
MR. FLEISCHER: You've heard the President repeatedly say that he wants to work with Democrats and Republicans to protect the country. And the President is going to continue to say that message at all events that he attends, because he thinks it's important, it's part of his job, he was elected by the country for the purpose of providing national security, homeland security now, and economic security. All of that is what the President does, and the President will talk about it.
Q Well, does he think it's fair game as a political issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know what you mean by "a political issue." The President approaches it as a matter of substance. And the President approaches that as part of his job duty; that's what the President does. And I don't think anybody is suggesting that the President of the United States should be barred from talking about the duties of his job.
Q Ari, at the beginning of the briefing you mentioned that a U.S. envoy is going the North Korea. And I was wondering if you could expand on that? What will the envoy be talking about? In the past, the President has labeled North Korea part of the axis of evil. Does that mean that we have -- that you foresee a diplomatic opening to North Korea, that we could negotiate with them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed in the President's thinking about President Kim Chong-il and the North Korean leader's starvation of his own people, the militarization efforts that he's leading, the massive number of conventional weapons that he has on the border with South Korea, as well as proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
But, as you know, the President has said that the United States was prepared to meet with North Korea any time, anyplace. And there could have been earlier progress made with North Korea, until North Korea attacked a South Korean vessel and sank it last summer.
Secretary Powell met with his counterpart, the North Korean Foreign Minister, on one of the Secretary's recent trips to Europe.* And the State Department will have additional information about this trip. And I think that you can anticipate that the President's message about North Korea assuming its proper place in the world community cannot happen until North Korea stops its proliferation, stops its starvation of its people. But the President has said he'd talk any time, anyplace, and this is a helpful development.
Q So the initial message will be North Korea should reform its ways before further progress can be made?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in order for North Korea to feed its people, it would be helpful if they reformed their ways. Their current system is a failure, and it has failed its own people more than anybody else. Look at the remarkable, dramatic progress in South Korea compared to North Korea, and it's a real reflection of what a difference a form of government can mean to the health and the welfare of the citizens of each country.
* in Brunei
Q Ari, Daschle also mentioned in his speech this diskette that was found in LaFayette Park that reportedly contained advice from Karl Rove to Republican strategists to "focus on the war." Can you tell us what the context of those comments were? And if Karl Rove is, in fact, telling Republican strategists to focus on the war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, I think that within various districts, people are going to come to their own conclusions and judgments about what issues they want to talk about. And as I indicated, I don't think anybody is saying that it is inappropriate for anybody in either party to talk about issues foreign and domestic, peace and war, from either side of the issue. If somebody wants to make a position and say that they oppose what the President is doing, that is entirely their right in our democratic system. And I think that you may see candidates in a variety of places in both parties express their opinions, some for the President, some against the President, in both parties.
Q But you're not disputing that Karl Rove may have given that advice?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not seen this diskette, and so -- I've seen media stories about it, but I have not seen it. But again, I think it should not surprise anybody that people in this country are free to talk about domestic and foreign issues as they see fit in their campaigns.
Q Ari, why doesn't the President talk about the economy anymore unless the pool asks him about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: You've been at the President's speeches. How many times have you heard the President say -- just this week, he made news by saying that continuing resolutions that the Congress would have to pass have to be clean, they cannot contain all this new spending. The President has talked about one of the best ways to help the economy is to stop all the excessive spending that Congress is trying to do.
The President talks about it every speech, David. You're there, you hear the speeches. I don't control the coverage of his speeches, but you know as well as I do, the President always talks about the economy and economic security in his speeches.
Q Isn't there a difference, though, between talking about the budget in a political context? He doesn't talk about, any more that I've heard, about ways to improve the economy, the economy's in trouble, we need to fix it. It's all about the budget.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President talks about passage of terrorism insurance, which is legislation that is pending in the Congress that would create jobs. I think the quote the President uses in his speeches, that I know you heard just two days ago, is the need to help hard-hats find jobs. So I'm sorry, but I do think the premise of your question doesn't quite match what the President's been saying.
Q Can you talk about tomorrow's speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sarah.
Q Ari, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is opposing the nomination of Miguel Estrada to a judgeship on the Federal Court of Appeals. Since the members of the Hispanic Caucus are all Democrats, is this just partisan politics?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, unfortunately, the nominating process for judges has become increasingly partisan, and the President regrets that. Miguel Estrada is an outstanding nominee. The President strongly supports him, and he hopes that he will be passed. This is very unfortunate, that a group of Democrats have taken this position.
Q A few days ago, Senator Lott said that because of the focus on needing to get appropriations bills completed and homeland security, as well as an Iraq resolution, he did not think it would be possible to address pension security, nor any tax incentives this year. Do you agree with his assessment that because of the focus on foreign policy issues, it has to be done at the expense of domestic priorities?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there has been plenty of time all year for the Senate to focus on these matters. And the Senate has, unfortunately, let the clock run down so much to the end that they are even talking about the need to come back in a lame duck session.
The Senate was scheduled, by law, to pass a budget by April 15th. For the first time in the 28 years that the Senate has had a rule mandating a budget, they have failed to pass one. First time since 1974 the Senate has failed to pass a budget. So the Senate has had plenty of time for these important domestic and economic issues. And when it comes to passage of a budget, when it comes to welfare reform, when it comes to a ban on cloning, when it comes to terrorism insurance, faith-based legislation -- these are all issues that progress can be made and should have been made. And the Senate has done it to itself, and has run out of time.
Q With respect to the energy conferees -- sorry -- Senator Baucus indicated that he believed a deal could be struck in the tax incentive area in the $15 billion range, which is about half what the House has in its version and about $5 billion more than you would like. Would that be acceptable?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I'm not going to negotiate the terms of a conference agreement in public. That's something that is best done by the conferees, along with the administration. But the President did make clear that he does support -- the tax provisions that the administration sent up were focused on conservation and the development of renewable energy. And that's what the President has asked the conferees to focus on.
Q Ari, you were just saying that the President understands that candidates on the stump want to talk about the war in various guises, opposing or supporting, perhaps, what the administration is doing. I want to make sure I understand -- is there some difference between the way they want to talk about the war and the way senators may want to talk about making a better bill for homeland security, in terms of the President's willingness to accept that as an idea that's not necessarily against the security of the American people, or the security --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, on the resolution that's currently being drafted on the Hill, the Senate leadership, including Senator Daschle, has been working very well with the administration on something that is vitally important to the country's future. And so we will continue on these efforts, on the development of the language of the resolution, that the President, as he said in the Cabinet Room yesterday and as he said last night at his event for John Thune, he believes that the Democrats would want to be very supportive of his efforts and join with him. And there are candidates who belong to the opposite party as the President who, themselves, are coming out and saying, I am with President Bush. Which, I think, is proof perfect of the fact that the President is leading in a nonpartisan way and a bipartisan way that's attracting support from Democrats and Republicans alike.
Q Aren't you worried that something quite different is happening with homeland security? That if there are members of the Senate who want to make a better bill or amend a bill that maybe is not to his liking, that that means that they are not in favor of security for the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has said -- well, we're going over what the whole briefing was about at the top and there's nothing I'm going to say any differently. I can repeat it.
Q Why is his tolerance for one area different than for homeland security?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, because obviously, on homeland security, it's bogged down and going nowhere. It's been four weeks now that the Senate has been debating the bill. The action on the resolution is of a different nature. People are working very well together on the resolution and the President hopes that will remain the case and expects that it would be.
But on homeland security, it has come down to a four-week effort that, despite the bipartisan vote in the House, the Senate does appear to be lining up differently. And when you ask the President's position on something, he expresses it.
Q Senator Inouye and Senator Byrd also responded to these remarks today. Senator Inouye said he was saddened by them, and Senator Byrd said he was disgusted and accused the President of making a bumper-sticker slogan out of the war on Iraq. Did they misunderstand, as well, or is this political opportunism --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President's remarks were not about the Democratic Senate, as people may have been led to believe. The President's remarks were not even about the war in Iraq. The President's remarks were about homeland security. So, again, the President urges everybody to take a deep breath and remember why we're here, and that's to work together.
Q Could I follow, sir? Both of these men suggested -- Byrd said there are a lot of serious questions out there that haven't been answered. "We here in the Senate have an obligation to investigate those questions before we vote on the resolution." Inouye said just as much. He said it's American to question the President, it's American to raise these questions. Does the President think there's something wrong with the Senate asking questions about this policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why the President invited leaders of the House and the Senate down to the White House in early September, as soon as the Senate returned from its recess, as soon as the House returned from its recess, to meet with them, to talk to them, to get their ideas and thoughts and to say that he was going to work with them on this. And the process has been a very productive one and the resolution is moving along and we'll see what the language says. But it's been a very collaborative process.
Q Just to follow up on the question about the economy, there hasn't been anything said about the economic conditions in the airline industry around here, and I just wondered what the White House reaction to more financial assistance for the airlines is.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the Congress passed, and the President signed into law last October a package of approximately -- I think it was $15 billion to help the airline industry. And many of the airlines are still availing themselves of the funds in this program. This program remains in existence to help the airlines. And that was part of the reaction the Congress took that the President signed into law.
Q -- loan guarantee program or making any changes to help them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the program remains in place currently for the airlines.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ari, yesterday on C-SPAN Congressman Filner and Congressman Wilson got into it on the war on Iraq. Congressman Filner said that the -- Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war obtained biological and chemical weapons technology from the United States. And Congressman Wilson then accused Filner of hating America and being viscerally anti-American. I'm wondering if you believe that people who oppose this war are in any sense anti-American or hate America?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, I appreciate the you're giving me the opportunity to referee somebody else's dispute. But as I said, the President is going to continue to work with Democrats and Republicans alike. He respects the opinions of those who agree with him and who intend to vote for him, and he respects the opinions and the judgments of those who disagree with him and may vote against him.
Q You indicated that the President has nothing to apologize for. Will he then perhaps contact Senator Daschle, who seems to be very upset, to try to explain to him the misinterpretation he sees that Senator Daschle --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've just explained the President's position.
Q Will he directly contact Senator Daschle --
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, if there are any calls, I'll do my best to keep you filled in. But you now know what the President believes.
Q Does he have any concern that this disagreement or misunderstanding is going to cause problems with either the homeland security resolution or the Iraq --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that's hard to imagine, because it would be so against the interest of what everybody has come to Washington to do, which is to remember that our first responsibility as Democrats and Republicans alike is to work for the protection of the country. And that's what the President has called on the Congress to do, and that's what he is doing, himself.
Q On North Korea, who are you sending as an envoy? And does "early date" mean next month?
MR. FLEISCHER: The State Department will have any additional details at the time that they are ready to announce them. I'm not prepared to get into that today.
Q Ari, could you set up tomorrow's event a little bit, corporate responsibility, I think?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President tomorrow is going to have a meeting with the U.S. Attorneys and others involved in the corporate corruption task force that the President has created. This task force has been busy, it's been hard at work, and has already moved on a number of fronts to bring to justice and prosecute people who have stolen, who have engaged in criminal conduct as the head of corporations or in positions of responsibility in corporations.
The Security and Exchange Commission has moved aggressively to force them to give back the money they took that was not theirs to begin with. And the President tomorrow looks forward to highlighting what this task force is working on and why it is so important to sending a signal that corporate misconduct will not be tolerated in this administration.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:17 P.M. EDT
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