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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
October 30, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:36 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day. The President began with an intelligence briefing, followed by his briefing with the FBI. Then he met with the head of UNMOVIC, Dr. Hans Blix, as well as Dr. El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Administration.
Later this afternoon the President, in the East Room, will make remarks about the judicial nominations. The President will outline a new plan to ensure a timely consideration of judicial nominees. This comprehensive plan will call for a clean start, proposing a reasonable and common-sense agreement from everyone involved in the process, including the President and, of course, the United States Senate.
One opening announcement, and then I'll be happy to take your questions. President Bush will welcome His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei to the White House on December 16th. The President looks forward to discussing with His Majesty the Sultan ways the United States and Brunei can further strengthen bilateral relations, especially in the areas of counterterrorism and trade.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Helen.
Q Ari, what is the President's response to those at home and abroad who have the perception that he wants to take Iraq's oil fields? And I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's just nothing to it.
Q Nothing to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think the fact of the matter is -- go ahead, Helen.
Q Would he renounce any control of oil if we are victorious in Iraq, if he ever invades?
MR. FLEISCHER: The only interest the United States has in the region is furthering the cause of peace and stability. And what has brought the region to the point where the United Nations is making decisions about what the appropriate means are to enforce Saddam Hussein to comply with U.N. resolutions is his defiance of U.N. resolutions, not his country's ability to generate oil.
Q So you would never take over the oil fields, and they're not coveted by our country?
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of any plan the United States has is to make certain that Saddam Hussein complies with all U.N. resolutions.
Q Ari, I've got a couple of questions here. With all the concerns about homeland security, border security, coastal security, how was it that the Haitian migrants got so close to the United States before they were detected?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Coast Guard determined that the vessel did not present a threat to the homeland security of the United States. As a result of the Coast Guard's operations, they were aware of the vessel shortly before it's arrival and they were able to make a determination about the vessel. And we have seen incidents like this before where a vessel comes toward our shores teeming with people, and the Coast Guard's concern at this point was that it not capsize and endanger the lives of those who were on it.
Q Can you tell us --
MR. FLEISCHER: But they were able to make the determination that it represented an immigration case.
Q Can you tell us how far out that determination was made? And I have one more question.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have the longitude and the latitude. I think you may be able to get that from the Coast Guard. I don't have it.
Q Just one other question, unrelated. You've said from this podium, and the President has also said, that if Saddam Hussein were to give up his weapons of mass destruction, it would represent a fundamental change in the regime, leaving open the possibility Saddam could stay in power. But we hear today that you're preparing for the possibility of war crimes to be filed against Saddam, his two sons and top lieutenants. Does that suggest that either way, he's cooked?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly that America's policy is regime change. And when the President went to the United Nations, he spelled out the terms by which peace could be kept if the regime in Iraq performed in a way that is fundamentally different from the way they've performed over the last 10 years in terms of disarmament -- more than just the one issue you mentioned -- but disarmament, cessation of oppression of minorities, cessation of using hostility as a means to settle disputes with neighbors. If all those provisions were honored, then the regime indeed would have changed. That's what the President has said.
Q But you'll still try to file war crimes charges even if the regime "fundamentally changes"?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't speculate about every potential outcome of something that has not happened or may not happen, in terms of any change in the ruling party in Iraq. But suffice it to say that atrocities have been committed and the Iraqi people and the international community will address this in the appropriate way.
Q Does the President think it's fair that, when Haitians come ashore they're deported, and when Cubans come ashore they can stay in the States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, the President's job is to enforce the laws of the land, and the laws will be enforced. In this case, what is happening now is these Haitians are being treated fairly, they're being treated appropriately, they're being treated humanely. And the Immigration and Naturalization Service will apply the law and make the proper judgments.
Q Does he support that law? Will he make any effort to change it, or does he support the law?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President knows that his administration will enforce the laws. I'm not aware of any changes that are being proposed.
Q Jeb Bush also said that he had been reassured by the White House that the Haitians were being processed speedily. Is that true, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to the Immigration and Naturalization Service about their exact timing of it. That would not surprise me. As I mentioned, these are types of things that have happened before in our country, and the INS -- it's job is to process these cases.
Q And could you talk a little bit about the Hans Blix meeting? Are you worried that Blix isn't on the same page as the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the purpose of the meeting, the President welcomed Hans Blix to the White House, the President wanted to thank him for his service. And the President, as he said to the world when he went to the United Nations, believes in the importance of an effective inspection regime. Hans Blix would be the head of the inspectors.
Hans Blix has previously traveled to Moscow, to Paris, to Beijing, to London and Washington to talk about inspections with all the heads of the Security Council states. And this is a consultation that Hans Blix is doing as a thorough and deliberate inspector. So the President was pleased to see him here to stress how the United States wants to work with the inspectors to make sure they are able to carry out whatever the ultimate decision of the U.N. is, which is the disarmament of Saddam Hussein.
Q On a couple -- first to follow Helen's question. Are you saying that in the event of a post-Saddam Iraq the U.S. military would have no role in administering of the Iraqi oil fields?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speculate about every type of potential military operation. What I can tell you with certainty is that in the event there is a military operation, the cause will have been that Saddam Hussein has defied the world and has weapons that present dangers to the Americans and to our allies and to our friends. That would be what would precipitate a military action.
Q So it is possible that the U.S. military would administer the Iraqi oil fields?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that it's impossible for anybody to speculate about anything and everything that could possibly happen under any military scenario, and I wouldn't even try to start guessing what the military may or may not do.
Q But you acknowledge, don't you, that this is a widespread perception that we want the oil?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, if the issue was the United States wanted the oil, then why not lift the sanctions? Iraq is limited in the amount of oil that it can deliver as a result of the sanctions that the United States supports that are imposed on Iraq under the oil for food program. So I totally dismiss that.
Q Yes, but if we got control of it all, we could divvy it up.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not the way America works.
Q If I could follow on Blix. What specifically is the U.S. looking for in an inspections regime in terms of the timing of the reporting that Mr. Blix would do of any non-compliance by the Iraqis in terms of what sites he and his teams might go after first? Is that the nature of the discussion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what the United States is looking for is something that is very plain and public, and it's been reprinted in many newspapers, which was the original draft of the resolution that was submitted to the United Nations. That draft remains under discussion at the United Nations, but the heart of it called for a 30-day period in which for the first seven days Saddam Hussein would have, or Iraq would have seven days to indicate whether or not they were going to comply with the expressed will of the world, as expressed through the United Nations Security Council.
Then over the next 23 days, up to a 30-day total time, Iraq would have to then produce documentation about what weapons of mass destruction it possesses, and that way the inspectors would be able to go in and verify, and therefore, also be able to disarm. The resolution walked through a whole series of steps that would empower the inspectors to be able to carry out their duties in terms of people to talk to, rights to visit presidential palaces, rights of free movement without being hindered by Iraqis. All in all, it's a series of provisions that give the inspectors the tools they need to do the job.
Fundamentally, whatever tools they are given to do their job, it still comes down to Saddam Hussein and Iraq's willingness to allow the inspectors to do their jobs, because no matter how strong the United Nations resolutions are, it still involved Iraqi agreement to let the inspectors do their jobs for the purpose of disarmament. And that still remains the ultimate test of Iraq and whether they are willing to listen to the world, or whether they will again defy the world.
Q But if all those conditions have already been made public, why have a meeting with the President, the Vice President, the National Security Council chair? If all this is already on the table, already well public, what exactly is the purpose of having him there except to thank him for his service?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the same purpose that he went to all those other capitals that I mentioned. This is part of the proper consultation that goes into the person who will head the inspection regime who reports to the Security Council, talking to the individual member states that make up the Security Council. I think for people who said that when the President went to the United Nations and he laid his cards on the table and called on the U.N. to pass a tough and effective regime, this shows he meant it. He wants to work with the inspectors so they can get their job done to disarm Saddam Hussein.
Q Ari, number one, could you give us a readout on the meetings that Mr. Blix had with Condi Rice and the Vice President? Secondly, this is now 53 days we're talking about for inspections, once they start, whenever that might be. Was part of the discussion --
MR. FLEISCHER: How many days did you say?
Q Fifty-three -- 30 plus 23 is 53.
MR. FLEISCHER: Where did you get 30 plus 23?
Q You said it.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I said 7 and then 23, a total of 30.
Q Whatever -- 60 days --
MR. FLEISCHER: Math. (Laughter.)
Q Is there a concern at the White House that these inspections are going to drag on and on and on, and that you will not -- this will go into the winter and spring, and this will delay any kind of action you might take against Iraq? Was that discussed today?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I, of course, won't speculate about any type of action. I presume you mean military, and I'm just not going to speculate about --
Q Not necessarily.
MR. FLEISCHER: But in terms of the timing, this shows the President's commitment to his September 12th speech. The President made a decision to go to the United Nations and he stands by that. This is the United Nations' chance to get it right and to make certain that Saddam Hussein does, indeed, disarm, so that peace can be protected. That's why he went to the U.N., and he meant it and he still means it.
Whether or not the U.N. means it, we will soon find out. But the timetable was known; the timetable was clear; and we support moving forward. We will see ultimately if the United Nations can do it.
Q Ari, on the judicial nomination proposal, can you explain what this is? Is it a legislative proposal? Is it just a voluntary arrangement? Should the Senate change its rules? What are you asking for?
MR. FLEISCHER: It would be desirable if the Senate changes its rules. That would be the strongest way to get this implemented. It cannot be legislation because the Senate procedures are not subject to legislation of that type, as effectively as a rule. It does not need to be legislation. So it's a proposal by the President and it's something that he views as a clean start. The existing system is breaking down and the courts are full of vacancies as a result. And so the President has been conjoling the Senate to take action; the President has been urging them to do so. Yet they have not. So this is the President's way of saying, regardless of what party controls the Senate, this is a better procedure so that the American people can have justice served.
Q Well, why is he asking the Senate to basically hold hands with him on a controversial issue a week before the election? Wouldn't it have been a more productive route to take to do this a couple weeks after the election, after everything has cooled off?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President thinks this is the best process, and if it's the best process it doesn't matter who runs the Senate. It should apply to both parties equally. And by doing it this week, I think it makes it even a clearer and stronger case that what's happening in the Senate is a problem for all parties. And that's why the President has called on -- made this proposal now, and made clear that it doesn't matter who wins control of the Senate; whether it remains Democratic or it changes to Republican, this is a path and a plan that the President believes in and he hopes the Senate will follow it.
Q Ari, you all have highlighted Dr Blix's comments earlier in the week where he said it would be good in a resolution Saddam Hussein should know if he doesn't cooperate there will be reaction from the U.N. Security Council. Has the President or any of his advisors, have they asked Dr. Blix to lobby the French and convey that message to the French or other U.N. allies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, the purpose of -- or the role of Dr. Blix is not to tell the United Nations Security Council what to do. The United Nations Security Council sets the terms that tells the inspectors what to do. I think that Dr. Blix also meets with Kofi Annan and, if he has any advice to give Kofi Annan and other members of the Security Council, he is free to do so. I couldn't speak for him.
But I think it's fair to say the inspectors don't want to be the cat in the cat-and-mouse game; they don't want to be the mouse in a cat-and-mouse game. They don't want to get run around. They want to be able to go in and do their jobs and disarm Saddam Hussein. Probably nobody is more committed to peace than the inspectors, and they know that in order to secure the peace, they have to have the ability to do their job.
Q Since you've highlighted their comments quite a bit, you know how important it is what the inspectors think about the debate at the U.N. So is there not any move to try and encourage Dr. Blix or others to convey what they think is needed in a resolution to the people debating the resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that you could ask Dr. Blix if he has any intention of saying any of his opinions to anybody else. I wouldn't presume to guess for him. The United States is continuing to press the case. Secretary Powell has made many phone calls today to foreign ministers of the Security Council nations, pressing the case to resolve some of the remaining differences among the members of the P-5 and others. So we'll see ultimately where that outcome is, but it's being worked at the ministerial level.
Q Can you say where you are now? Are you any closer today than you were yesterday about getting a resolution --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't really think it's appropriate for the White House to try to put its hand on the daily dial. Talks remain underway. These are serious talks and people are approaching them seriously. There still are some differences that remain and efforts are being made to bridge those differences, and we will see.
Q On the judicial nomination proposal, can you walk through what are the steps you've gone through to work this through with the Hill already, in terms of this specific proposal? Have you spoken to the Hill committees yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: A series of phone calls were made from the Office of Legislative Counsel and possibly Congressional Affairs. I'm not sure if Congressional did any of them, or if they were all done by legal counsel's office to Democrat and Republican senators on the Hill. Many of the conversations took place at the staff level. And so they were informed prior to the announcement.
Q When was that, today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Starting yesterday, and this morning.
Q Back on the Blix matter, yesterday Secretary of State Powell said that they largely agreed with the thrust of the U.S. resolution, but there were some areas in which they would tweak the language here and there. Did, in fact, they talk to administration officials today about ways the language might be changed in the resolution that would somehow reflect their thinking more closely than it has so far?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of every conversation that took place between Dr. Blix and White House officials, so I would have to go back and more thoroughly review everything that was said. So I can't rule that in and I can't rule that out.
Q But the U.S. was willing to make some changes, it seemed, from what Secretary of State Powell and other officials were saying yesterday.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is no question the United States is willing to work the other members of the Security Council to get an agreement. We have certain issues that we feel extraordinarily strongly about that we will not change, such as the resolution must state that there are consequences; such as it must state that Iraq is in material breach. But we want to work out an agreement, and so long as it is one that is effective and will disarm Saddam Hussein, then we -- the purpose of diplomacy is to reach an agreement. Ultimately, we'll see. We still don't know if we can or cannot get the United Nations to change its ways.
Q Blix told the Security Council on Monday that UNMOVIC would depend on member states to provide intelligence to help the arms inspectors know where to go. Do you know whether or not that was discussed yesterday and what can you say generally about U.S. willingness to provide and share intelligence on Iraqi weapons --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a look at that. I don't know the answer to that.
Q Following up -- the point then is to discuss with him the nuts and bolts and mechanics of carrying out this program, going forward within the context of what the U.S. would like?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's to go over the modalities of how the inspectors can carry out their work. There are many real, live issues that inspectors have to deal with. For example, the inspectors talk about the need to send in an advance team that would go in. If you can imagine, a team of inspectors that would go into another nation for the purpose of being able to unconditionally go anyplace, anywhere, for any reason, with the purpose of finding something that the other nation has a history of wanting to hide. It involves a whole series of logistics, of movements, of arrangements for where they're going to stay, the type of communications they would have.
And these are real, day-to-day, real-life issues that the inspectors have a long history of wrestling with because, throughout the '90s, they had their equipment seized, they were shot at, they were thwarted, they were stopped, they had the places they were going to go search moved -- because some of these are mobile. They went to places where they already found smoke and fire, because word had gotten out about where they were going, so evidence was destroyed before they could get there. So the inspectors talk about how to carry out their mission, how to do their job. These are the types of modalities that we talk about with them.
Q So it would be like discussing how -- what role the U.S. might play or the United Nations might play in terms of providing security, making sure -- logistics, getting around the country safely --
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no point in sending the inspectors back into Iraq if the inspectors themselves don't think they can get their job done. The purpose of the United Nations Security Council is to provide the tools and the equipment and the means necessary for the inspectors to carry out the will of the Security Council. And as the Security Council resolution is debated, it is healthy, it is wise and it is fitting for the members to meet with the members of the Security Council worldwide, including in the United States, to make certain that they have the tools they need to get their job done.
Q Ari, like it or not, this Haitian situation comes at a time when it is ripe for a lot of people to try to make political points out of it. Can the President and those closest to him maintain a hands-off policy, especially when there may be some gray areas for asylum?
MR. FLEISCHER: If the question is, because it's six days before an election, should a President start to interfere with the actual workings of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the answer is no. Whether it's one day, six days or 364 days before an election, the laws of our land are the laws of the land, and they should be enforced by the proper authorities.
Q Again, there may be some gray areas of asylum here, from what I understand, not being down there, that may require higher up decisions.
MR. FLEISCHER: These issues will all get reviewed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, as is their purview.
Welcome back, Goyle.
Q Thank you. Ari, if the President is aware of this report. While on the plane I was reading the Financial Times, that Pakistan was behind nuclear and missile technology to North Korea. Also another report in another news media in the plane that also said that al Qaeda now has nuclear technology, also Pakistan was behind. And earlier they had arrested two nuclear scientists, and I don't know what happened to them by the Pakistan government.
MR. FLEISCHER: On the first question you asked, that was asked while you were traveling. And President Musharraf has addressed that, and has said it is not the case. I can't confirm or deny information that may or may not have taken place in the '90s. So that's where that matter stands.
Q Al Qaeda, if they have any nuclear technology --
MR. FLEISCHER: We have no evidence to suggest that they do. It had been a concern, but we have no evidence to suggest that they do.
Q Ari, you've talked from this podium many times over the last months about the problem of judicial nominees and the pace of the Senate. The President routinely mentions it in his campaign stump speeches. If this has been an issue for you folks, and it has been because you've also done events around it, why do we have this proposal this week, especially as the President is heading into a final round of campaigning for Senate candidates in Minnesota, New Hampshire, places like that, where he routinely mentions this? Is there absolutely nothing to do with politics in putting this forward right now --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the fact that it was announced this week underscores the non-political nature of it. If it was a political announcement, you would think the White House would have withheld it until after the election, to see who won.
Q Well, so, I mean, are we going to hear him make these standard stump statements as he campaigns for Senate candidates now, and drawing on this, as well? I mean, that would pretty much put it entirely in the political realm, wouldn't it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Judging from how newsworthy people found the announcement this morning, after I made it I searched the wires, I watched the cables -- (laughter) -- I couldn't find it anywhere. So I assure you, if it's included in the President's stump remarks, I will eagerly tune into cable once more, to see if it appears.
Q Ari, speaking of the election, this is the last time we're going to see you before the President heads out. Can you summarize what you -- where we're going to see the President going in the next few days, and what he thinks is at stake that voters should keep in mind when they vote next Tuesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President will be making will be making a series of stops in some of the states where some of the elections are the closest. And the President will continue to make the case for his agenda, which the President believes can help move America forward to help make the economy grow and to keep America strong, and will ask the American people to render their judgment on election day to elect candidates who share that vision. He'll travel to a series of states to press that case, and I think the states are rather predictable in terms of that's where the close races are.
Q Do you feel his agenda is on the ballot?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that if you asked some of the political analysts and the professionals who make those judgments, you'll get a very complicated picture. Typically, there is a historical trend in the first year of presidential elections, in the first midterm election. And the historical trend runs very strongly against the White House. The White House would like to defy history this year. Historically, the party in power traditionally loses large number of seats in the Congress in its first year.
By all indications, that trend may be broken this cycle. Whether or not Republicans will be able to gain seats remains unclear. Certainly the President hopes that that will be the case. We'll see on election night. But the President understands that both parties are going to do their very best to bring out the vote, to urge people to cast their ballots for whoever they see fit. The President hopes there will be a favorable outcome on election night.
Q Does it appear that if the Senate does not return to his hands, his ability to set the agenda in his final two years will be crippled?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly the President has had a number of accomplishments this year, even with a Senate that worked in the opposition party. The President thinks that if there was a different Senate, much more could be done for America. But I think the ultimate outcome is going to be -- again, I began this by saying, if you talk to the analysts, I think -- I've been in this town now for a little over 20 years, and I just know how these things work. The fact of the matter is, if the Republicans enjoy a big win and win the Senate on Tuesday night, the analysts will say it was all local issues. If the Senate stays under Democrat control or if -- unimaginable -- the House goes Democrat, analysts will say it's President Bush. Welcome to Washington. That's how the analysis sometimes works. Of course, we will disagree.
Q A quick follow-up to Terry's questions. I know --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll come back, David.
Q -- I know you don't want to speculate about the oil fields after any sort of hostile -- but, has the White House at least -- can you at least say the White House has studied some of a few, maybe a few most likely scenarios, or have they not done any studying of that at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to speculate at all about anything that may involve any military operation anywhere.
Q This morning, the Minneapolis Star Tribune quoted former Minnesota Congressman Vin Weber as saying that last night's memorial service was, in his words, "a complete, total and absolute sham, just another campaign event to exploit Wellstone's memory" -- end of quote. And my question is, does the White House disagree with this statement and with the Minnesota Chairman at the Republican National Convention, who announced, in Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 lakes and a lot of loons?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, the White House has no comment on last night's event.
Q Since the Democratic National Headquarters, as you may know, has just denounced the White House for designating this as Radio Day, do you think this is because Democrats dominate so much of television, the junior electronic medium, but not the senior electronic media's talk radio, where one of my talk radio colleagues from Philadelphia, Don Giordano, is here? Could he ask one question on this Radio Day? Don?
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you yielding your question to him?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you already asked one. Now you've said, could he ask a question. That's two. So you're already at your limit, Les. Are you participating in Radio Day today, Les?
Q Yes, yes.
MR. FLEISCHER: You are?
Q Yes. It's over at 7:00 p.m. But could you let Don ask one question?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've memorized his name. We will get there.
Q Thank you, Ari. How concerned is the United States over the turmoil in Israel and the Israeli government right now? And does the White House have a stand over the issue of funds allocated to the settlers in the territories?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States views the events in Israel as part of Israel's internal democratic process, and we have no comment beyond that.
Q Does the White House still consider the settlements illegal in the territories?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our position on settlements is long known and often stated.
Q Ari, one more on the U.N. resolution. The President has said he's giving diplomacy one last chance. Is this it?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the United Nations' chance to speak. The President gave the United Nations that chance on September 12th, after 11 years of the United Nations missing the chance to do anything. Again, I've said repeatedly, there are no hard deadlines that the President has established, and the President has made it abundantly clear that if the United Nations does not take action to disarm Saddam Hussein, that the President will lead a coalition that involves multiple allies and partners that will lead a coalition to have Saddam Hussein disarm.
So this is an important test of the United Nations. And as the President put it, this is a chance for the world to know whether it is the United Nations or the League of Nations. And keep in mind the meaning of that, when the President called it the League of Nations. The League of Nations failed; the League of Nations failed to keep the peace. This is the United Nations' chance to keep the peace.
Q Failed because the U.S. didn't participate. For goodness sakes.
Q Ari, what I'm getting at is, the President has said that he would exhaust all diplomatic options before making a decision about military action, as, of course, doctrine requires of him. Does the President think there's any diplomatic option for the United States, aside from a U.N. --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President still has not made any final decisions about the use of military force.
Q Would there be any diplomatic options unilaterally?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would not guess.
Q On the election, I wanted to clarify. If the historical trend is defied this year, the President's view is that it is because of his leadership; he believes that there's some ingredients of his leadership that would have made that --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I said if it's defied it will be because the analysts say it was a result of local elections.
Q I understand what you were saying, but what is the President's perspective on what would be the ingredients to overcome an historical trend?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know -- I have not heard the President guess. I think that these become matters that political scientists and analysts will focus on relentlessly. We'll be able to watch all of that, and I would hazard to offer a guess. I think it will probably be a combination of factors, but maybe that's something we can talk about next Wednesday.
Q To follow up, the President is going to go to Minnesota. What kind of a senator does he think that Walter Mondale would be for Minnesotans?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, we have not announced the President's schedule; we will. But, two, the President thinks that Norm Coleman represents the future, as a vision for the future of Minnesota, and he strongly supports Norm Coleman.
Q The question was about Walter Mondale.
MR. FLEISCHER: I understand. I answered about Norm Coleman.
Yes, Don. We're going to Don. Mr. Kinsolving, your man is -- Don.
Q He left. (Laughter.) I'm very embarrassed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, you set him up. Is he from Philadelphia? I think I used to listen to him.
Q Back to Mr. Blix's meeting today with the President and others at the White House, Mr. Blix said in his comments that he did not think that the 30-day deadline was practical for Iraq to announce its weapons. And he also expressed opposition to the idea -- or not to the idea, the statement in the resolution calling for the transfer of Iraqi scientists abroad. He also said this was not practical in his opinion. Is there any progress on these two issues? Is there any readiness by the United States to change these two clauses in the U.N. resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I have not heard these statements. Two, these will be the matters that the United Nations Security Council decides. The United Nations Security Council is focused on all these issues, and that is what the debate is about in many ways.
Q What's the President's stand? Is there any readiness to compromise? These comments were in the New York Times and Washington Post yesterday. It was everywhere.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President looks forward to doing the negotiating with the diplomats in the United Nations, and not through the media.
Q You said that the President would be able to get a lot more done if the Senate were controlled by Republicans. If it goes Democratic again, what elements of the President's agenda are most in danger over the next two years?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the biggest threat becomes fiscal restraint. I think that when you take a look at the very fact that in 2001 the Senate was able to pass a budget that contained limits on spending, and in 2002, under different management, the Senate was not even able to accomplish something as simple as a basic building block of passing a budget -- failure to pass a budget in the Senate means the taxpayers' pockets are ripe for picking. And the President hopes that the Senate will exercise fiscal restraint as it funds the priorities that the President has identified, and as we work with Congress to make certain that the sky is not the limit.
Other things that the Senate failed to get done this year that were done in the House, for example, are pension protections. Clearly, everybody would think, with what happened with Enron and what's happened across corporate America, the protection of people's pensions would be a top priority for the Senate. The Senate failed to get the job done. The President hopes that the Senate can return to that and get it done.
Homeland security. Of course, the Senate is still wrestling with the passage of homeland security legislation. That is of vital importance to our country and it hasn't been done in the Senate.
A ban on cloning, for example. That was passed by the House of Representatives. The Senate has failed to be able to even take that up. Welfare reform, the House of Representatives passed legislation to reauthorize the welfare program, which has improved the lives of millions of Americans who are of low income. The Senate failed to take up welfare reform legislation. The faith-based initiative, another important initiative that the House took action on that has addressed at closing some of the gaps between the haves and the have-nots in our society. The Senate failed to get the job done.
In many ways, with the busy agenda that both the House and the Senate had, the House was able to move forward this year and the Senate did not. And that's why the President does think that elections matter, that it's important to have a House and a Senate that will work with him to get an agenda enacted into law.
And the final item I'll cite is prescription drugs for our nation's seniors. It's another issue on which the House took action and the Senate did not.
Q Ari, how quickly does the President think he can move ahead with his judicial nominations plan, and does he think it can be done if the Democrats keep control of the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the plan the President announces has provisions that apply to the executive branch and as well to the Senate. Of course, the President cannot force the Senate to comply with the deadlines he hopes that they will establish, to give people a fair vote up or down, yes or no, at the end of a short period of time. But the President would commit himself to living by the terms of this proposal, that he would make the announcements to fill judicial nominees within the period that he specified.
Q Does he think a Democratic Senate would go along?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's impossible to say. He hopes the reaction today to his proposal will be good. I think we'll find out from senators as they hear the President's proposal. But given the length of the period that the President has given the Senate to take action -- for example, under the President's proposal the Senate Judiciary Committee would commit to holding a hearing within three months, 90 days of receiving a nomination. Why after they receive a nomination do they need longer than that, unless it's to drag their feet, and not take any action. The full Senate would commit to an up or down vote on each nominee no later than 180 days after the nomination is submitted. That's six months, that's half a year. Why would the Senate need to take action longer than that?
And in fairness, this has been a problem that when the Senate was under Democrat control or Republican control, the foot-dragging took place. Both parties have done it. The President's point, it's time for everybody to stop, because the victims are the American people who want to go to court and have swift justice.
Q Ari, since President Fox and President Bush met in Los Cabos during the weekend, has there been any progress trying to convince Mexico, Russia and France to vote in favor of the U.S. -- the resolution that the U.S. has proposed in the Security Council?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll see. The President and President Fox talked about the issue. The consultations continue. There were some reports about the meeting, that if you noticed, were corrected in an important newspaper that acknowledged they mischaracterized the nature of those talks. So they will continue, and we'll see ultimately, of course, this will be something that Mexico will announce, not the United States.
Q I want to make something really clear for the record, just in the event that Republicans do defy history, and hold on to what they have in the Congress, or gain some. If that happened to happen, and if by some wild chance you came out on Monday and said it's because of the President's agenda, I want to make sure what your answer to the question is today. If Republicans defy history, is that a reflection of the President's agenda, yes or no?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think this is a topic that we can take up on Wednesday.
Q No, I want to ask you now, so that Wednesday we can compare your answer between now and then.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, it's a complicated series of factors. I think in some places it's going to be a reflection of local circumstances. In others, it may be a reflection of the President's message. And I think --
Q It may be a reflection of the President's --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think all of these are factors that go into the judgment of the voters. But I don't think anybody can say assuredly how much of one is a factor, how much of another is a factor. In different places, it will be different things.
Q And your answer won't change Wednesday, no matter how it goes?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm laying down that marker now, Ron. I think that's fair analysis. I also think it's the type of things that you'll be able to get, and analysis, from independent experts, as well. I think there are a variety of factors that go into a voter's judgment, and I can't predict them all.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:14 P.M. EST
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