President  |  Vice President  |  First Lady  |  Mrs. Cheney  |  News & Policies 
History & ToursKids  |  Your Government  |  Appointments  |  JobsContactGraphic version

Email Updates  |  Español  |  Accessibility  |  Search  |  Privacy Policy  |  Help

Printer-Friendly Version
Email this page to a friend

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
November 25, 2002

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:20 P.M. EST

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I'll give you a report on the President's day, and then I'm happy to take your questions. The President began with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. And then he announced the winners of the 2002 President's Quality Award program for excellence and serving the public as a government official. It was awarded to several federal agencies.

Then the President signed into law the first of four bills that he will sign into law this week, this being the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002, to protect the American people from any threats that might involve the use of maritime. And then he will sign into law the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the largest reorganization of the federal government since 1942.

As I indicated, tomorrow the President will sign into law terrorism insurance legislation to help create jobs in the country. And on Wednesday, he will sign into law the 911 Commission, capping off a week of accomplishments, which also is an appropriate finish to what has really been two good years of accomplishment, working with the Congress on a host of issues, both foreign policy related and domestic.

And that's the President's schedule for the day. I'm happy to take your questions. Helen.

Q Why didn't the President -- the White House intervene to help the unemployed workers get their compensation benefits beyond December 28th, when they'll be -- Christmastide, and they'll be without a livelihood?

MR. FLEISCHER: We would have liked to have seen that done. And we worked very hard with both the House and the Senate to urge them to work with each other to get it done. Ultimately, the House and the Senate had different ways of accomplishing the goal of extending unemployment benefits. I remind you that earlier this year, the President supported it, signed it into law as part of the economic stimulus package. So the President was on record for it. Unfortunately, the House and the Senate were not able to a reach an agreement on this, despite the White House's urgings.

Q I've seen reports that if the White House had used its clout and intervened, then it would have happened.

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure I can call those reports. Those were some of the statements made by some of the Democrats on the Hill who, after they realized that the Congress wasn't going to get it done, they turned to the White House and said, you do it for us. The fact of the matter is, unless the House and the Senate pass identical legislation it cannot proceed. The White House urged the House and the Senate to pass identical legislation. We have some influence, but we don't have control over the Congress.

Q You mean the Republican leaders would not take your advice?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure it was just the Republicans. I think there was just not sufficient agreement between the House and the Senate to get the job done, and the President was disappointed.

Q What can we assume about your -- what kind of priority, that is, you took when the President, at every speech, every time he was in front of the media, talk about terrorism insurance and talk about the need for homeland security, but rarely, if ever talk about the need to get unemployment done?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me make a couple points. One, as I indicated, the President did sign this into law earlier in the year as part of the fiscal stimulus package, and he was pleased to do so. The President remains concerned about a jobless recovery. And it's interesting, when you take a look at the economic trends, if you recall -- take a look back at 2002 -- you had surging growth in the first quarter of 2002; then you had a slowdown in growth; then you had decent-size growth, 3 percent, in the third quarter. And now we're trying to assess what the fourth quarter will look like.

And so, as is typical of an economy coming out of a recession, the economy is growing in fits and spurts, not as far as the President would like it to. It remains a concern for him to make sure that people are working.

I can't predict, Ron, everything that will happen with economic certainty, and I won't preface a guess what the President is going to propose, if he might propose anything on this. I simply say that the President remains very concerned about it because he's concerned about a jobless recovery.

Q I'm sorry if I wasn't clear. I was wondering why he didn't call last week and the week before and the week before for these unemployment benefits.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we did. We actively worked on Capitol Hill to try to make it happen.

Q We never heard from him, though, did we?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think this was a lot of work behind the scenes because this an issue where it does down to the legislative wire. And either the work was going to get done or not get done behind closed doors up on the Hill. And that's where we lent our efforts to try to help them to get it done.

Q As the President signs the Homeland Security Act today, is he concerned that in the short-term, there could be a decrease in homeland security because of the merger issues that in any merger like this occur?

MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President believes that as a result of signing this into law, while there may be some wrinkles that are going to have to get ironed out, as with any transition to a major new department, the creation of this department will enhance American's homeland security. It will bring people together in the security field who are the experts under one roof to help them to do their jobs and to do them better.

Q So he has no concern about how the clash of -- that some people talk about that could occur by bringing these agencies under one roof, or the efficiencies in terms of computer systems or whatever that will all have to get worked out, that that won't impact the security of the country?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is no question from the point of view of the experts who are involved in security, as well as the bipartisan consensus of the House and the Senate, as well, of course, as President Bush, that bringing these people together under one roof will enhance our homeland security. The process, which will take a couple years, in the process of bringing people together, there, of course, are going to be wrinkles that need to get ironed out. No transition is perfect. But it is the judge of the experts, as well as the elected officials, that this process will lead to enhanced homeland security for the America people.

Q So you think a couple of years is the time frame -- that in a couple years, the American people can expect these improvements in homeland security to be realized?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the improvements we're going to want to start taking place rather quickly. But it will not hit its ideal point of being a final department, as with the creation of previous departments, for a certain period of time. It's unreasonable to expect that because a new department has been created, America will change overnight. That's not going to be the case. But America will change and America's ability to have homeland security will be improved.

Q Why isn't it a hindrance that the FBI and the CIA will not be under the same department?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it was the judgment of the experts -- and this is why the President made the proposal he did, which obviously was greeted with large support in the Congress -- to make certain that the FBI and the CIA have their independent roles. The President thought that was very important.

And one reason for that -- and this is a lesson of September 11th -- is the President thinks it is absolutely essential for this President and all future Presidents to have an empowered director of both the FBI and the CIA to come, separate and apart from a Cabinet secretary, and brief the President on what it is that their agencies are doing, that their involvements, and their roles, and the functions of their agencies are so important that he wants to make certain that they have that distinct identity and they have the ability and the means to carry out their missions, as well as the responsibility of knowing that they will, indeed, be measured by the President of the United States on a regular basis.

Q Hasn't the President's moral clarity in this war on terrorism been undermined by the fact that Pakistan, who is supposed to be an ally, has reportedly transferred technology to -- nuclear technology to North Korea, and now the Saudi government is under investigation for transferring money to hijackers?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, on the question of Pakistan and North Korea, I think that September 11th changed many things. And a new government, if you will, in Pakistan is not always doing things that they used to do. And so, times have, indeed, changed. Not everything that took place years ago gets repeated today.

And on Saudi Arabia, your question is?

Q The fact that they are under investigation for transferring money to the hijackers.

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay, first of all, that country is not under investigation. A certain set of circumstances involving a transfer is being looked at.

Q The royal family.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that if you take --

Q I mean, you can parse it, but the investigation is the investigation, isn't it?

MR. FLEISCHER: But I don't think that you can define relations with a country around the fact that, A, an investigation may be taking place. It's a much more complicated world than that. And so I don't think it changes moral clarity.

Q It's not complicated when the President comes out and says, you're either with us or against us, all Americans understand that. What seems to be a little bit more questionable is when somebody that's supposed to be an ally like Pakistan is helping a spoke in this axis of evil. And Saudi -- and you're constantly on the defensive about what the Saudis are or are not doing.

MR. FLEISCHER: And what were the -- what were the dates of those transfers, Mr. Gregory?

Q You tell me.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, as I indicated --

Q You tell me. You're saying vaguely that -- so are you saying that they -- well, you tell me what the dates are. When did the transfers stop?

MR. FLEISCHER: As I just indicated to you, it took place -- September 11th changed many things. Certain things happened under different governments in Pakistan in a time period not represented by Pakistan today. Events change and so do nations.

Q And that's not going on anymore?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think in regard to the question that you asked pertaining to the newspaper story, it was clear from that story that this is not immediate history. This is history of several years ago.

Q Why should anyone believe that transferring 170,000 people from 22 different agencies will result in a more efficient bureaucracy -- a bureaucracy being generally judged to be inherently inefficient?

MR. FLEISCHER: The issue isn't the number of people, the issue is the mission of the people. And the mission to protect the homeland currently is scattered throughout 22 different agencies, reporting to 22 different bosses. And the President thinks that you can enhance security as a result of bringing these 22 agencies together under one roof where their entire focus is going to be their primary mission, protecting the homeland; and as a result of this new mission, that it will, indeed, bring people together with more expertise, more sharing of information behind that mission.

If I can I'll give you a couple examples of it. There are several agencies in the government that have dual purposes. Take the Secret Service, for example. They were originally started during the Civil War for the purpose of fighting counterfeiters. They did not have a presidential protection mission until actually -- in final authoritative way from the Congress until 1951. The Secret Service has that dual mission. The Coast Guard has a dual mission of being able to protect and rescue people who are -- maybe, perhaps be lost or drowning at sea, with protecting the coastline against any ships that may approach with hostile intent, or smuggling, et cetera.

The purpose of putting them in a new department is to create a sense of all these workers -- that their primary mission, their core function of why they exist is to protect the homeland. They will, indeed, continue to carry out their secondary missions. But it's a reflection of the fact that their missions now are secondary. When it comes to those other important priorities, those priorities will remain underway.

But their core mission becomes protecting the homeland, much in the same way that September 11th changed the mission of the FBI from an agency that had a long history of prosecuting arrest -- developing evidence so an arrest could be prosecuted, into now preventing terrorism. September 11th changed many of the missions for the federal government. This change brings all the security -- many of the security agencies of the federal government together under one roof to better protect the American people.

Q Yet in the year or so that it will take them to get organized, what's going to change? I mean, nothing.

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I just disagree with that. I think the experts do, as well. By putting together these people under this one roof with one purpose in mind, to protect the homeland, you're going to see better interaction among these different agencies, better coordination.

Q They won't get there for a year.

MR. FLEISCHER: I think they're going to get there over a period of time as it ramps up. But to suggest that because it may take time is a reason that it shouldn't be done is to suggest that our government should never be flexible and should never respond, that our government can only remain the same. And the President doesn't accept that.

Q I wasn't suggesting it shouldn't be done. I was just questioning whether it would, indeed, be more efficient.

MR. FLEISCHER: And I think the answer, as I indicated earlier, is yes.

Q First of all, congratulations again, and I wish you a happy married life. Question, going back to North Korea and Pakistan, you said that time has changed Pakistan and a new government is there. But all this happened, Ari, during General Musharraf's time. And as far as North Korea, Pakistan missile technology and exchanging with missile technology with the nuclear, it took place only about three months ago, as far as it went back -- not before 9/11.

And as far as money transfer is concerned, then the ISA chief was in Washington on 9/11, and at least $100,000 wire transfer from Pakistan to the United States, to the terrorists here. And all this linkage after 9/11 -- not before 9/11. Like the Secretary of State said the other day, the past is past, forget it, and let's work for the future or in the future. What past were you talking about? Before 9/11, or after 9/11?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think before 9/11.

Q Pakistan -- General Musharraf has not done anything for the United States. He's making a fool of us here. And he's misleading the United States. That's what -- and others think, including The New York Times --

MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. Thank you for that editorial. (Laughter.) I think it is fair to say, and accurate to say, that many nations may have done things prior to September 11th that September 11th changed, and changed in a fundamental way, as you would expect. There is a fundamental realignment of nations since September 11th in terms of what they do, why they do it. And Pakistan, for example, had diplomatic relations with the Taliban prior to September 11th. The ISI played a role in helping to shape the Taliban prior to September 11th. Obviously, September 11th changed all that, and in the sense of cooperation with Pakistan, changed it for the better.

And the United States will continue to push around the world, not only Pakistan, not only Saudi Arabia, but all nations around the world to continue to do more in the fight against terrorism worldwide. These changes, while 9/11 changed many things, still sometimes take time. And the United States, President Bush, do continue and will continue to press those nations to fulfill their responsibilities on the financial front, political front, diplomatic front, and as necessary, the military front, to press the war against terror wherever it is.

Some nations respond more quickly than others. Of course, in the case of Indonesia, with the bombing in Bali, the bombing in Bali has changed their speed at which they are cooperating on the war on terror. Not everybody reacts the same way at the same time, but the United States reacts the same way and will continue to press all around the world to do more.

Q Does the President intend to renominate Otto Reich in the new year, or will he continue as Special Envoy?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, his recess appointment, as you know, expired with the conclusion of the Congress. I think he has already been named as a Special Envoy to the Western Hemisphere, reporting directly to Secretary Powell. Beyond that, if you're asking me to engage in any speculation about whether the President will make any further appointments as part of the confirmation process, I just don't engage in speculation on personnel.

Q Ari, can you just go over a little of the history again post-September 11th? When the Democrats first suggested the department of homeland security, the President resisted it. How now do you explain how he came to support this idea, and what's different now from what they originally proposed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Two issues were in play immediately after September 11th, the first being the call by some on the Hill for a creation of a Cabinet-level department of homeland security. And what the President urged in the meeting in the Cabinet Room in the immediate aftermath of September 11th was our nation didn't have time to wait for Congress to take the months it would require to get the job done. So the President acted under the executive authority and acted immediately to create a White House Office of Homeland Security, with Governor Ridge appointed as the Director, reporting directly to the President.

And the President, in a meeting in the Cabinet Room, urged members of Congress who were pushing the statutory proposal to wait until 2002. He said we did not have time to do it in 2001, we needed to protect the nation immediately, but let us consider this in 2002. And that is exactly what transpired.

Subsequent to that, a different issue came up involving whether or not the White House Office should have statutory authority, and whether the Director of the White House Office of Homeland Security should be Senate-confirmable. If you recall, the controversy was about whether or not Governor Ridge should testify up on the Hill. Many members wanted him to testify. That led, in the spring of 2002, to a second round of whether or not the Office of Homeland Security should have statutory position, which the White House steadfastly opposed and continued to oppose. And that was, of course, reflected in this legislation the President will sign today. An attempt in the Senate to make the Director in the White House Senate-confirmable was not included in the final bill that Congress passed, as the President was pleased to see.

So the President got exactly what he asked for, an immediate creation of a White House Office of Homeland Security to protect the nation, because there was not time last fall for a months-long debate in the Congress. But then, as the nation could stand farther back from September 11th, we did have the time to let Congress do its careful, methodical job. And that brings us to today with the signing of the bill.

Q Is it fair to say the President wanted to control the process?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's fair to say the President wanted to protect the country. And in the aftermath of the attack we did not have months to wait for Congress to pass a department of homeland security. I think in all cases, any time you have the largest reorganization of the government since 1942, it was going to take time. It was going to take months, and we did not have months.

Q But are you saying that he always supported the establishment of a department of homeland security from that original --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, what I said is the President said let's take a look at this next year, that he said we didn't have time to do it through the Congress immediately after the attack. And that's why he moved immediately to create it in the executive branch. And his message in the Cabinet Room that day was very clear to Senator Lieberman and others; he said, it may be a good idea, but let's take a look at it next year. And that's exactly what he did.

Q He said take a look at it next year, but he didn't issue his own proposal until June of the next year. That's a lot of next year before he actually got to issuing a proposal at all. Why didn't he do something earlier, and wouldn't we have a department of homeland security by now if he did?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know about that. I think Congress, as is always the habit, waits until the last day to get things done. So I think if he had proposed it, for example, a month earlier, in May, I think the chances are we'd still be having the signing ceremony today.

Q But why not in February? What precluded him, with whatever else was going on here -- it's a White House that can multi -- task pretty well -- what precluded him from issuing a proposal in, say, February, instead of --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Keith, one of the big reasons was because, as you know, in June, after the President made the proposal, it required a tremendous amount of staff work up on the Hill, led by Governor Ridge and others, to work with Congress to get it done. A mere three, four months after the attack, Governor Ridge had a higher duty, and that higher duty was to continue to build the homeland protections for the United States so that we'd harden on the infrastructure and prevent attack. It was not to become the chief lobbyist up on Capitol Hill for the creation of a new department, it was to become the chief actor here within the United States working with the oil and the nuclear and all the various industries that could have been subject to attack, to help protect them.

Q So Calio couldn't do that on his own?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think, clearly, something of this magnitude required not only Nick Calio, who did an excellent job with this, but Governor Ridge, as well. So I don't really know that there was any distinction between May and June, or April and June, other than the fact that the President made it clear to all, your first priority is to protect the country. And that meant do your job as Director of the Office of Homeland Security, working with the various law enforcement people in the various private sectors so they harden their assets, harden their facilities to prevent against attack. That was a better use of his time in the three, four, five-month period after September 11th.

Only after that first priority was taken care of did the President think it was then appropriate to launch what was then a very time-consuming task of creation of a Cabinet-level department.

Q -- going to fire 850,000 people.


Q How much are you going to consult with AFSCME on the formation of the department, on -- the union feels it lost a battle to preserve civil service protection. It's asking now that it be consulted in the establishment --

MR. FLEISCHER: You will notice at the signing ceremony today that the President has reached out, Governor Ridge has talked with the leaders of the unions that fought this, and the union leaders will be at the White House signing ceremony as a gesture of goodwill from the White House to these officials.

Q Which ones?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's the heads of the largest government unions.

Q Sweeney?

MR. FLEISCHER: The government unions, Helen. The ones who represent the federal workers. They will all be at the -- three of them, I know, will be at the signing ceremony this afternoon.

Q The signing ceremony, the pictures are nice, but how much input will they have in the creation --

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I think it is gracious to invite those who continue today to oppose that which the President is signing. And I think it shouldn't be lost that that is a helpful way to build relations after the two sides differed on how to get the job done that we are reaching out. And I think that as time goes along, they will see exactly what the President said is true, that the President wanted to have the flexibility necessary to do the job, just as he has it with all the other current agencies of the government, where it has not necessarily been exercised, but he wanted to retain that option.

We're going to continue to work with everybody in labor, leaders as well as the rank and file. It's important to work with them, and we expect that they will work with us.

Q Page 1 of this morning's New York Times deals with an American Christian missionary, Ms. Bonnie Penner Witherell (sp), age 31, who was in the prenatal clinic of her mission station inside Lebanon when she was shot three times in the head from close range apparently by one of the non-peace-loving Muslims after Sheikh Maher Hammud (sp) denounced her mission from the pulpit of his mosque. And my question is, as a born-again Christian, what is the President's reaction to this and what is he going to do about this murder of an American citizen?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very concerned about all the violence that is occurring in the region there, and these are grave causes for concern. The killing of any innocent who is there to do their work is a matter of concern for our government, and this is part of the President's focus on trying to bring peace to that region.

Q Ari, does the President in any way agree with Senator Daschle's denunciation of talk radio? Or does he agree with the Washington Post media critic, Howard Kurtz, that talk radio has democratized -- that's small "d" -- has democratized the airwaves, despite President Clinton's 1994 denunciation of us?

MR. FLEISCHER: What criticism are you referring to specifically?

Q What Senator Daschle said.

MR. FLEISCHER: What are you referring to specifically that he said?

Q Well, all of -- everything he said. The President doesn't agree with Daschle, does he, Ari? (Laughter.) Does he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say this, Lester. You don't work for talk radio, do you? (Laughter.)

Q Welcome back, by the way.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you for that particular welcome.

I will say that I think it is not appropriate to compare fundamentalism abroad with people in America who hold deep views about legitimate democratic political dialogue. There is no connection, and I think it's not accurate, nor is it appropriate to draw a connection between the fundamentalism that leads to terrorism abroad, and Americans on either side of political debate who may hold deeply-held views in the finest of peaceful American traditions in which we are free to clash over ideas. There is no comparison.

Q In other words, he totally disagrees with Daschle on this issue, doesn't he, Ari?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've just expressed it.

Q What Daschle quote are you referring to when you make that statement? When did he compare --

MR. FLEISCHER: The inference of a connection between fundamentalism abroad and people in the United States, led by talk radio, who have extremist viewpoints.

Q The terrorism insurance bill tomorrow. Can I ask a philosophical question and a specific question? The philosophical question is, why should the federal government be backing up insurance companies? Why should the government be the insurer of last resort on things like terrorism?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because terrorism, like acts of war sometimes, are put in a category in which the implications of a terrorist attack would have such devastating effect on America's economy, where the federal government has a role to play. In this case, insurance companies, because they could be sued -- for example, the owner of the World Trade Center was subject to liability because terrorists hijacked airplanes and rammed them into the World Trade Center. The owner of the World Trade Center could somehow be sued for that under our system. And insurers reached the point at which they stopped providing insurance. Many entities throughout America were unable to get the same level of insurance and had to pay substantially more for the insurance because the risks of insurance companies providing insurance in the new age of terrorism became so exorbitant it had a matter of impact on the national economy.

And so this was a judgment that was made, and Congress agreed with it, to pass this legislation which would help to make certain that people got the insurance they needed, with a federal backup.

Q This is not a case where the market ultimately would have brought things back into balance and taken care of it?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can look at this in a similar way that the administration and the federal government stepped in with the airlines immediately in the aftermath of the attack. You have a free market President who also makes certain that we can protect the American people, both in terms of their jobs and economic security as well as national security.

Q Let me ask you the specific question. During the campaign, a number of speeches the President cited a range of economic -- well -- costs that were being borne right now because of the lack of terrorism

insurance. Is he confident of all those figures that he was giving about the billions of dollars of construction --

MR. FLEISCHER: And the 300,000 jobs?

Q -- and all that? Because there were suggestions that a lot of those were based on trade industry estimates that were really unscientific and self-interested.

MR. FLEISCHER: Who better to know the impact on the trade industry than the trade industry. I think they are in the position to have the most reliable and accurate information about what is happening in their industry and whether it is suffering or not. And I think that, when you take a look at many of the reports out of New York City, from Senator Schumer and from many Democrats about what construction projects had actually stopped because people couldn't get insurance, when you take a look at Rockefeller Center, companies there, businesses there, were paying far more in costs and receiving far less coverage, it was having a bottom line impact on people. So I think there's a lot of evidence that's been widely reported backing up those arguments.

Q An Iraq question?

MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to come back forward.

Q The Treasury Secretary confirmed today that the President will be offering a new economic plan sometime early next year. Beyond making the tax cuts permanent, what are the President's concern? Is he concerned about sparking business investment or individual rate cuts? Can you be a little bit more specific?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President's primary concern is that the nation continues its economic recovery, and that the economic recovery grows. The President is concerned about anything that can involve a jobless recovery. Now, I do want to point out unemployment, in the President's view, is too high when any one person is trying to find a job and cannot find one. By historical standards, unemployment remains relatively low.

I remember in the fall of 1982, for example, the unemployment rate hit -- I believe it was 10.8 percent. We've had much higher unemployment. We've had other times where the unemployment rate was much, much in excess of where it is today. But the President remains deeply concerned about it. I'm not going to guess or predict whether the President will or will not make any further proposals on economic matters. He very well may. We'll see what he ultimately decides to. And I won't get into what the possible timing may or may not be.

Q Ari, the President gets to sign the homeland security bill today, but does he remain -- or is he committed to revisiting some of those provisions that came over in the House version to which so many of the moderate Democrats, and Republicans especially, objected and managed to get a pledge from Senator Lott and Speaker Hastert to revisit those provisions? Does he still want to revisit some of these provisions?

MR. FLEISCHER: We want to work with the Hill. If the Hill has any concerns about these matters, we're going to work with the Hill as Congress moves forward.

Q Does he agree with the offshore provision, should that be eliminated? The Texas A&M thing?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to go through it point by point. We'll continue to work with the Hill on these issues and see how widespread any opposition may, indeed, have been. We'll see if it was something where some people had particular thoughts that were not reflected with the broader majorities or not.

Q Ari, my congratulations, too. How do you see this Thanksgiving period different from last? Is the security alert the same, or higher than usual? And do you see an impatience on the part of the public to these security procedures?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the public has come to, since September 11th, a very sophisticated understanding of where America stands in the world, and where we stand in terms of our personal freedoms and securities. The American people recognize that we're in an age of terror where our oceans no longer protect us. They also want to live their lives. They want to live their lives fully. And they want to contract out their worries to the security experts.

But I think there's no question, the American people, depending on the time of year and what is in the news, have moments of anxiety in the world we live in today. And that's why the President has spared no effort to protect the American people from potential risks. Risks do, indeed, remain. And this is going to be a long war.

Q Is the alert status the same for Thanksgiving?

MR. FLEISCHER: The alert status is the same.

Q A lot of people are saying that this homeland security bill represents a fairly significant shift in power from the legislative branch to the executive branch. Do you agree with that? And if so, why is such a shift needed?

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know if it's a shift from legislative to executive. I think that all benefit as a result of enhanced security for the American people. Congress continues to have, and will have, a very strong oversight role. Of course, it is Congress that created this department of homeland security. It could not have been done without Congress. And so this something that Congress agrees with.

But to the degree that the federal government has additional tools to help protect the American people, it is a unique role of the federal government to provide security for the American people. That is not something that can be done without the federal government. It is one of the core missions of the federal government. And so the President is pleased that he'll be able to sign it today. And he's going to give thanks to the Congress for making it happen.

Q But there are a lot of things in there that give him a lot of power that he does not have, as far as moving programs around, you know, with personnel. Do you not admit that he does have a lot more power?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, many of the provisions he already had in other agencies. We've talked about this at length. In the Department of Agriculture, for example, he had the right to waive collective bargaining. It just seemed odd that he would not have it at the homeland security. Of course, in the final measure that was sent to him, he will have that exact measure that he asked for. But to the degree that the federal government has more tools at its disposal to fight terrorism and protect the American people, all the better and all the safer for the nation.

Q My congratulations also.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

Q And may it last forever. My question, where does the administration plan to house the 17,000 homeland security agency workers who will be here in Washington? And is there a logo for the new agency?

MR. FLEISCHER: Two points on that, number one, you do not -- you should not assume that all people who work for this agency will be housed under one roof. It doesn't necessarily work that way in the literal sense. Their mission and their leadership may be. But keep in mind, 90 percent of these people currently work outside of Washington, D.C. in the field. So the issue of a building is not necessarily the issue involving a mass number of people. It is an issue of keeping all the people under one roof who are responsible for the policies and the direction that the department will take.

But there may be some agencies that stay in their current place, that they already are self-housed. Or they are not housed within their mother agencies, for example. Other agencies may very well move. These will be decisions that will get made over the course of this transition period?

Q Over the weekend the President signed a continuing resolution to fund the government until January 7th. When the Congress reconvenes to extend that funding, will the administration support at that time extending unemployment insurance rather than waiting for Congress to come back later --

MR. FLEISCHER: Same answer I gave earlier on that question. The President has concerns about jobless recovery, but I'm not going to -- at this point predict any of the economic policies the President may or may not propose.

Q Many Democrats believe that the standoff over homeland security hurt them at the polls, particularly at Georgia and Missouri. And some suggest it was even by design on behalf of the White House. How much do you think President Bush and the Republicans benefitted politically from homeland security?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to evaluate that. I think you have to leave that up to the voters and the people who follow voting trends to make those judgments. But I can assure you, it was not done by design by the administration. This President has been pressing Congress for months to pass homeland security along the lines of what he had proposed. In fact, there was several leading Democrats that said that the President -- and then they said it publicly, they wanted to try to get it done by September 11th. And we would have been very pleased if that was the case.

Q Ari, first of all, why is national security able to afford a wrinkle in homeland security being formulated for the next few months? Why is it that the nation -- I guess, you don't understand the question, the way you're looking --

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I was trying to say if you said a wrinkle or a winkle. I didn't know what you --

Q Wrinkle --

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. Number one, the premise of your question is that the federal government can never change, that if there's a threat to the government, the status quo must always be good enough because as soon as you change your status quo, you risk a wrinkle. And the President never accepts that formulation. He's constantly pushing the federal government to see what can be done differently to do better and to do more for the American people.

As I indicated, it is the judgment of the security experts that we can enhance the security of the country as a result of the creation of this new department. In terms of the day-to-day work that's being done, the President is shortly going to sign this bill. The work that a member of the Border Patrol or the Customs Agency are doing right now on the border, wearing the same uniform that they're wearing, they'll be wearing that uniform and doing the same job one minute before the signing, and be doing the same job one minute after the signing. They continue to do a very good job protecting America. The question is, how can we help them and to do more to do it better? That's what the creation of this department will do.

Q That's the border. What about the inside, if we were attacked on the inside, like 9/11? Can the United States afford this wrinkle that will have homeland security formulated totally in the next months, years it will have, and have the inside of the country vulnerable?

MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, it's the judgment of hundreds of Democrats and Republicans on the Hill -- and look at the margins that this new department was created by, overwhelming bipartisan support -- and the concurrence of the security experts, as well as the President that the answer is, yes, the country, indeed can.

Q Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 1:00 P.M. EST


Printer-Friendly Version
Email this page to a friend


More Issues


RSS Feeds

News by Date


Federal Facts

West Wing