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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 28, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
12:35 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Two announcements, then I'll be happy to take your questions.
President Bush and Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern will meet at the White House on March 13th. They'll be meeting just before St. Patrick's Day, and they will mark the numerous contributions to America made by the Irish in the continuing -- and note the continuing warm relations between our two countries.
Early this morning, the President made a phone call to the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Prime Minister Balkenende. They had a substantive and warm consultation. The Netherlands is a very close ally of the United States. They agreed on the importance of passage of a new U.N. Security Council resolution. They both stressed the issue is Iraq's compliance -- or failure to comply -- with United Nations resolutions. And they both stated that the credibility of the United Nations is at stake.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Helen.
Q Does the President think, though, to dissent against the war that he's planning are appeasers?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views everybody who has a position about the war as a patriot. The President does view this much like Elie Wiesel did, when Elie Wiesel came to the White House yesterday and met the President -- where Elie Wiesel, one of the great humanists and smartest intellectuals and a leading moral authority -- no less an official than Elie Wiesel stood in front of the White House after a meeting with the President and said, this is like 1938 all over again. And he called --
Q And he thinks we should bomb people?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- and he called on the world, including Europe, to intervene, to disarm Iraq. As Elie Wiesel said, if the world had done that in 1938, there would have been no World War II. The President views it in a similar way.
Q So he thinks Saddam is the same as Hitler? Is he comparing him to Hitler, marching across Europe?
MR. FLEISCHER: He stopped just -- Elie Wiesel stopped just short of saying that.
Q Hans Blix said today that Iraq's pledge to destroy the Al Samouds represents "significant piece of disarmament." How does the White House see it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the White House views this as a question of what 1441 called for. And 1441 called for a complete and total and immediate disarmament. It did not call for pieces of disarmament. President Bush has always predicted that Iraq would destroy its Al Samoud II missiles as part of their games of deception. And I think when you summarize Iraq's statement, that in principle they will destroy their missiles, the Iraqi actions are propaganda w,rapped in a lie, inside a falsehood.
Q Is this going to complicate your efforts at the Security Council to get a second resolution passed? I mean, I can see that the resistant members of the Security Council to your position will say, inspections are working, Iraq is disarming, why stop something that's working?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we will know on the day that the vote takes place. And I think that any given day between now and the vote, I understand the tendency to take a look at every statement, every last wrinkle, and say, does this make it easier for the United States? Does this make it easier for somebody else? That's not how the President approaches it. The President approaches it broadly focused on the principle that Iraq must completely and totally disarm, and that is the issue that the U.N. will be tested on when they vote.
Q I'm sorry, one more. What Foreign Minister Ivanov of Russia said today about Russia potentially using its veto if international stability is threatened. Do you see that as a statement for domestic consumption based on what President Putin told President Bush yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Here's the statement that was made: "Russia has the right to a veto on the U.N. Security Council and will use it if it is necessary in the interest of international stability." Frankly, it's a statement that every one of the five nations of the Security Council can make. I mean, there -- it states the obvious. Each nation has a veto. It's not an indication that there will be a veto. And so the United States will continue to talk productively with our allies and the President remains confident of the ultimate outcome.
Q While you and the President have been consistent on the point that this is about total disarmament, there is some inconsistency with regard to the Al Samoud missiles. You said from this podium a couple of weeks ago that whether or not he destroys the missiles would be a "new test for Saddam Hussein." Now, if you look at that objectively, if he's promising, and if he actually carries through on destroying these missiles, then he would have passed that test. And now you and the President have gone out of your way to diminish and dismiss the importance of that step, when a couple of weeks ago, you were saying, no, this is an important test.
MR. FLEISCHER: And it is a test. It is one question on the test. The test has questions about his anthrax. He hasn't answered those questions. The test has questions about his botulin, not only his missiles. So there are all of those elements, which you know have been well discussed, not just the missiles. The missiles are an important part of it. We'll see what he ultimately does -- because, of course, just as the President predicted, it is a game that Iraq is playing. They, on the one hand, say they will destroy. We expect them to destroy them. On the other hand, they're still producing them.
Q Right, but don't you see that there's no way to win here? I mean, you guys --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there is. There is.
Q But on this issue, Ari, on this issue, there is no acceptable answer to this administration. If you disarm, if you destroy the missiles, that's still not good enough. If you don't do it, that's not good enough, either.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's because the U.N. set out the standard: full, immediate, complete disarmament. That is the standard, that is the answer, that is what has not happened.
Q On the Homeland Security Department announcement today, the President criticized Congress for not passing all of his spending. Why did the President fail to convince the Republican-led Congress to pass his money?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what happened is, a process that broke last fall was too far broken to be repaired. And that is, Congress typically passes 13 individual appropriation bills, which allows for a full consideration of each of the elements inside each of the 13 bills.
In this case, the fiscal year was almost half over, and the President had to make the difficult decision that instead of getting the homeland security money the way he would have preferred it, to have helped do more for first responders, that it was best to accept the progress that Congress did make to sign the bill. And I think everybody in Congress recognizes that the process that began late in 2002 failed to get the job done -- and what's important now, in the President's judgment, is to do it right this year, rather than do it the way it was done last year.
Q So it was the Republican-led Congress that gave the bill to President Bush, and President Bush signed it, and now he's criticizing them?
MR. FLEISCHER: And as the President said in his statement, immediately after, in the paragraph you just cited, he said, this is something that Republican leaders on the Hill share the concern about. I don't think you'll find anybody on the Hill who thought the process was a good process that ended up with a thoughtful consideration of all the elements inside a 4,000 page bill.
Q You might be able to find some leaders on the Hill, though, who wish he wasn't criticizing his own party leaders for a bill that he signed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the point --
Q Just to follow-up on that, how much of the $3.5 billion that was in his plan actually came from existing spending for local law enforcement? In other words, are you just shifting the shares --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, that's a question you may want to ask to the people at OMB. I don't have all the budget tables in front of me.
Q Critics say there was some money in his budget plan that was already earmarked for local law enforcement, he just shifted it over. Do you deny that? Is that wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, the administration does not earmark. Earmarks are a prerogative of Congress. The administration takes a look at the flexible --
Q I'm sorry, he cut money. You guys cut money from other law enforcement funding and put it into this $3.5 billion.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's the question you just asked, that I said you need to talk to officials at OMB about any of the line item budget specifics.
Q Six opposition leaders from six Iraqi opposition groups have come together to name what they call an interim leadership group, which would apparently take power if and when Saddam is removed. Does the United States favor this? Would we recognize this group as the leadership after a war?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, it is not the place of the United States to choose Iraq's next leader. Iraq's next leader would be chosen by the people of Iraq. And the United States has stated, and this will be our policy in the event force is used, that the future of Iraq must be decided by people inside Iraq and outside Iraq. And the United States has made no specific selections, and it will not be our place to do so.
Q But does the United States approve or disapprove of this action? These people have set up their own interim leadership, and they want to take over.
MR. FLEISCHER: We understand that there are going to be a series of conversations and consultations that take place. And the message that we have given, unequivocally, is that we support the choosing of the next leader of Iraq by the people of Iraq, from both inside and outside Iraq.
Q So you don't care one way or the other about this interim leadership group that's been formed?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated, we support the choosing of the next leader of Iraq from both inside and outside Iraq, not just in one place.
Q But is this a positive development, then?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've characterized what we support.
Q Ari, consumer confidence has gone down for the third month in a row. Are you counting on the economy to rebound after war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, today is an interesting day, economically. Of course, you do have some of the consumer confidence reports that came out during the week. You have the sharp rise in durable goods this week, and you also have the unexpectedly large -- the doubling of projected growth for the fourth quarter of last year.
When you take a look at that last bit of data, what it shows is that the economy in 2003 now grew at a rate of just under 3 percentage points. So the economy was in recession in 2001, it grew to just under 3 percentage points in 2002, and the forecast from the private sector economists is that the economy will grow at even a greater rate than that in 2003, taking into account the year in its entirety.
The President's concern remains that because of other factors in the economy, and as a result of the uncertainty that war has created, that there is a need for a stimulus package. And the President has called on Congress to pass it.
Q Ari, going back to David's question on Iraq. If he's looking at the glass half full, the White House is looking at the glass half-empty -- will there ever be a meeting of the minds or some middle ground to come up with some kind of compromise to the potential war?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President remains hopeful that war can be averted. The President remains hopeful that Saddam Hussein and his top leaders will go into exile or that he will completely and totally disarm. But, clearly, Saddam Hussein is acting in a way that does not lend confidence to that possible outcome. And that is the source of the concern, that Saddam Hussein is not following what the United Nations called on him to do.
Q But Mr. Blix is seeing a sign of hope that, yes, this is a turning point, he is planning to destroy tomorrow. Yet, the White House is once again, as you said, lies, deception, things of that nature. You don't see it as a positive step -- even though, yes, he did deny that he had them -- but you don't see this as a positive step forward to the destruction, to total disarmament that you're calling for?
MR. FLEISCHER: Total disarmament is total disarmament is total disarmament. It's not a piece of disarmament. As I said the other day, that if somebody takes one bullet out of the chamber of a gun while they have six other bullets in the gun, they haven't disarmed. They've merely put one bullet aside, while they still have five they can kill you. And that's the analogy here that is at play.
Q A follow-up real quick on that. Do you think that this back-and-forth with the United Nations and the President has helped his poll numbers go down some?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think the President looks at it that way and I think there's been remarkable stability to his polling numbers, frankly. He remains very, very popular.
But let me talk a little bit about the United Nations, though, and the process that we are in the middle of, in advance of an important event, which is Mr. Blix's report, which leads up, then, to a vote. And I want to spend a minute on this, because a lot of these questions are trying to deal with the daily tax of statements around the world from one leader or another, trying to guess what the ultimate outcome will be.
Let me read something: "The United States faces an uphill struggle with the United Nations this week to obtain a Security Council resolution." Here's another one: "Setback for Bush Gulf strategy, more U.N. votes needed. After a week of intense diplomacy, the Bush administration has been forced to accept that it still does not have enough votes to secure overwhelming approval of a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq." And then this, from the leader of Germany: "Anyone who believes that this can be solved militarily must think of the end, not the beginning of the enterprise. What will the consequences be? How many victims will there be? And won't a political solution still have to be found afterwards anyway?"
That was 1990. These statements were made in 1990, the same statements you're hearing today, in the events that lead up to the ultimate vote. And, of course, in 1990, the United Nations voted.
Two more: "The United States formally introduced a tough resolution on Iraqi disarmament to the 15-member United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, though the measure still face a strong opposition from veto-holding Russia, France, and China." Another one: "That there was little sign of give in the French position, President Jacques Chirac, in a statement some interpreted as a veto threat, said France would continue to push for a resolution, in line with the interest of the region as we see them. 'If it does not succeed,' Chirac said, 'France, as a member of the Security Council and a permanent member, will assume its responsibilities.'" This is from the fall of 2002, and of course, the United Nations went on to approve the resolution.
My point is, you're covering the process as if it was a baseball game. You're looking at every step that has taken -- every hit, every pitch, every strike -- ignoring the fact that history has shown that during this consultative process, you'll be able to write any type of story you want about any of these types of statements. But the focus is on the outcome for President Bush.
And I understand there are all these interim steps that lead up to it, and you're going to hear various statements and cover those various statements. But my point is, you've seen this in 1990, and you knew what the outcome was. You saw it in 2002 and you knew the outcome was. In 2003, the President has decided to pursue this through a very consultative process. And he remains confident in what the ultimate outcome will be. And you have heard statements like this before from others on the Council. And I expect you will hear statements from both sides that will continue until the very day of the vote.
Q So this situation with Blix right now doesn't matter? You gave a statement and I want to get a follow-up to it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, it matters. And that's why we're working through the United Nations.
Q The President's interview with USA Today, his comment that Iraq will be disarmed, how is that not an indication that he has decided on military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, throughout that entire interview -- as you can read from the inside passages of it, in addition to the just the front page headline -- is the President repeatedly saying that he hopes this can be done through peace. There's talk about this conditional, if we go to war. And then the headline, of course, jumped up and said, we will disarm him now. And if you want to know what the definition of "now" is, you can look at the very next sentence that the President said in the interview with USA Today, which was, "after 12 long years, he will be disarmed." So when the President talks about "now," he's talking about in the current context after 12 years, he will now be disarmed.
Q But does he mean now? Does he mean now?
MR. FLEISCHER: He means weeks, not months.
Q Ari, if I could follow up on April and David's question. You said before it was the destruction of the Al Samoud missiles would be just a piece of disarmament --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q -- and you're looking at pieces. If you don't give any meaning to the pieces, I mean, how -- the pieces, if you add them up, would equal total disarmament. So if there's no value to the pieces, what is it that Saddam Hussein could possibly do --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because Saddam Hussein has shown that a history of his actions throughout the '90s or his pieces are nothing but diversions and deceptions. His pieces do not lead up to a totality, which means that Iraq is completely and totally disarmed.
Q But if you look at now -- not at history, but at now, if he says, okay, I'm going to disarm, I'm going to comply to this or that -- why not give any value or any weight to those pieces? Because if you look at those pieces, together they would fit a puzzle of the total, you might have a chance of seeing total disarmament. I mean, why would you negate any meaning at all to the pieces?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the United Nations Security Council called for, in November, full, complete and immediate disarmament. It did not say, stretch it out, delay it and only after you're under pressure should you say you're going to destroy a missile that you once claimed you never had and you still say doesn't even violate the United Nations. And that's the problem with the Saddam Hussein. Every time he's under pressure he tries to relieve the pressure by disarming just a touch, just a little; playing the game, playing the deception.
And the's why, as I said to you, when you sum up what Iraq is, and you sum up the actions they take, the Iraqi actions are propaganda, wrapped in a lie, inside a falsehood.
Q And a follow on Israel. Has the President spoken with Prime Minister Sharon recently? And is the administration still the position that Israel would not or should not retaliate if Iraq attacks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our position on if Iraq were to attack -- and it's not just Israel, Iraq has attacked other neighbors, as well -- is that if Iraq attacks one of its neighbors we will, of course, consult closely with all the affected parties. We understand as well that we are dealing with sovereign countries whose leaders have a responsibility to defend their country and their citizens.
Q Ari, the New York Times quotes you as telling them that Dan Rather conducted a, "Journalistically solid interview with Saddam Hussein, even though what he televised was," you said, "propaganda and lies from a dictator." And it was arranged with the help of Ramsey Clark, with CBS unable to use its own cameras, and having to wait for half a day while the Iraqis edited it.
And my question is, since the Times also quotes an anonymous White House official asking how CBS might deal with a demand from the White House that they not use their own cameras, and since a Baltimore poll of 729 people on WCBM rated this --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there a question here?
Q -- appropriate 3 percent and propaganda 96 percent --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I get your question, Lester.
Q -- do you still really think that this was journalistically solid, Ari, really?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I think there is a very important issue here that is going to be a very difficult matter for journalists covering a potential war in Iraq to deal with. And this interview is a good early indication of something that journalists are going to face.
Now I'll give you something that Iraq has talked about. And this is the issue of blowing up dams, for example. In the event there is a war, and journalists are in Iraq, and a dam is blown up, I think there's no question you will be offered Iraqi propagandas to go live on the air, in the area of the dam, and will they be able to show you a flood. They will have the set up -- made it set up so you can go live on the air, from the ability of the Iraqis to put you there.
And American media are going to have to ask themselves, do we put these paid liars and propagandists on the air to show this? Or do you withhold going live, at a time when if there is war, the networks are likely to cover it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there is going to be a real demand for putting things on the air? These are difficult issues for journalists to decide.
The Dan Rather interview with Saddam Hussein is in a slightly different category. I think there is no question that an interview with Saddam Hussein is solid journalism. But the journalists still have to ask themselves these questions about the responsibility to accuracy, knowing that the Iraqis are nothing but propagandists and deceivers.
Q Ari, there is a new 30-second radio spot which was reported in its entirety by the Washington Times, which notes -- to summarize it -- in 1998, Pat Leahy said he opposed any filibuster against any judge, even somebody he opposed, and he said the Senate has a duty to give every judicial nominee a vote, and allowing a minority of senators to block a vote on a judicial nominee shamed all senators.
Now that was 1998. Today, Pat Leahy is blocking a Senate vote on Miguel Estrada. Shame on you Pat Leahy, shame. The question, does the President -- the President doesn't disagree with this shame on Leahy spot by American Renewal, does he, Ari? He agrees with it, doesn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is no question that you have accurately quoted Patrick Leahy. Patrick Leahy, in 1998, did say, emphatically, that it was wrong to engage in filibuster of judges and that it should not be done and that he would not do it. And, frankly, I do --
Q And that's shameful, isn't it, Ari? Isn't that shameful?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do think it's also accurate to say he has gotten away with changing his position scott-free.
Q Ari, two questions on Iraq. In response to an earlier question, you said the President still hopes to avoid war, and that Saddam Hussein could avoid it by completely and totally disarming, and by going into exile. I'm wondering, are you -- is that now the standard? Previously, you've obviously said disarmament. But is it now the combination of disarmament and exile?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President made it perfectly plain yesterday in the Oval Office and he has said this repeatedly, it's disarmament and regime change.
Q So even though the United Nations would sign on to the first part of that, and not to the second, when the President thinks about launching military action, he's going to think about the combination?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made that plain.
Q The second question is, it was notable in Wednesday's speech and in the comments yesterday, the President hasn't publicly gotten into, in the past week or so, the debate over what it is that Saddam needs to do to disarm, the specifics of it, the questions about Mr. Blix. He had almost moved beyond that in his speech, when he talked about the vision of a post-Saddam Iraq. At this point, has the President basically decided to suspend making public arguments about what it is Saddam needs to do, and basically in his own mind, moved the whole country and the world toward a vision of Iraq without him?
MR. FLEISCHER: If I'm not mistaken, David, it was the day before the speech, or two days before the speech when the President in the Roosevelt Room -- no, I'm sorry -- in the Cabinet Room, said, complete disarmament. And the President expressed his thoughts then that here's what he needs to do, total disarmament. So the President has spoken about it just this very week.
Q Ari, a second ago, you said that forecasts for growth in 2003 are going to be over 3 percent. Is the President at all worried that since nothing is really going to be done until the Iraq situation is resolved, that the tax package is going to come too little, too late? And, secondly, why is it now a stimulus and not a jobs and growth package?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've always called it all three. I've repeatedly called it stimulus, jobs and growth. So that's a matter of lexicon and all three are accurate.
But the timing of the tax package is unrelated to anything that would happen with Iraq. Congress has its own schedule for the consideration of tax packages and, historically, that means actions taken in the Congress typically -- in 2001 it was done very early, which meant Memorial Day; and typically it's done closer to the summer months, June, July or August. The President believes the earlier the better.
Q -- said, it's going to be 3 percent growth, so isn't that going to be too late?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, of course, because the more growth there is -- especially as it ramps-up toward the end of the year -- the more jobs there will be for the American people.
Q Ari, some experts in the Senate are now saying the Miguel Estrada nomination is dead, that there is no way there will be sufficient votes for cloture. How long does the President intend to leave the nomination on the floor? And would he consider a recess appointment?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he will do this for as long as it takes. The President believes very deeply in the importance of the Senate taking action to confirm Miguel Estrada, and not to engage in these obstructionist tactics that Chairman Leahy said he would never engage in, in the first place, which he is now the leader of the engagement.
And just yesterday, another letter was sent from Judge Gonzales to Democrat leaders on the Hill, suggesting ways to break the impasse if only they would avail themselves of it.
Q Ari, you just talked about the economy and the no timing of the tax cut being related to the war in Iraq. Yet, this coming at the same time with the tensions with Iraq and the situation in Venezuela is pushing oil to $40 a barrel, and you've got a frigid winter in the northeast driving up natural gas prices. Is the cost of energy going -- is the President concerned that the cost of energy for Americans is actually going to punch a hole, and kind of negate the effect any benefit you might get from the tax package? And is anybody in the administration giving new thought, perhaps, to taking steps to alleviate this in the near term?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the cost of energy remains a very important, and the availability of energy remain very important issues for both the President and the Congress. And there have been a confluence of factors involving both the cold weather and a shortage of supply that have led to an increase in the prices, which concerns the President greatly. There is a cyclical nature to some of this, and we have seen the prices go up and down before.
To avoid a repeatable, predictable pattern of the cyclical nature, which hurts consumers, the President believes that is why Congress must pass a comprehensive plan to deal with energy, to increase conservation and to create more supply. These become predictable debates in Washington, as prices go up in the winter, and then they come down, and they go back up in the summer. The President thinks that people came to Washington to think long-term, and to act long-term, and to get ahead of the cycle. And that's why it's so important for Congress to pass the comprehensive legislation that the President has discussed to increase conservation and promote more production.
Q If I could just follow. In the last 30 years, when oil hits $40 a barrel, it typically triggers a recession. Does the President believe that the tax package that he has before the Congress now will be enough to curtail a possible recession if oil stays at $40 a barrel?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think, one, today is the perfect day to study some of these benchmarks about predictions and patterns, given the fact that the best estimators in the government did not have the estimate correct about the past. The fourth quarter GDP report we have today, it does indicate that you have to be guarded about estimates into the future. And that's why the President's focus is on the principal policies -- in this case, the American people need to conserve more, they deserve to have more supply. And we need to have an economic growth plan in place that creates jobs. All of the above.
Q The Pentagon yesterday delivered a rather strong warning to news organizations, that they should get their journalists out of Baghdad because it would be -- before a war starts, because it would be an unsafe place, a very unsafe place once a conflict begins. Some of the news organizations that received that warning said they suspected that at least
one of the purposes of delivering it was that the administration doesn't want journalists in Baghdad to witness what goes on in the case of a war. Is there anything to that suspicion?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Ken. I think that if there is war, there is one thing I have to say to the journalists who are going to be in harm's way, doing their duty for our country and our people -- and that is I can only urge you all, individually, as people I know and to your colleagues, to listen to the military. This is not a light matter. And if the military says something, I strongly urge all journalists to heed it. It is in your own interests, and your family's interests. And I mean that.
Q Would the administration prefer that, though, that journalists not be there to witness what is going on when war starts?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, clearly, it is the administration that has decided to imbed journalists inside the troops for the exact purpose of seeing what goes on, so you can see if the Iraqis claim that America destroyed a dam -- that you'll be there, yourselves, to see whether or not that is a true statement or not a true statement.
Q Ari, can you react to the action taken yesterday by the AFL-CIO's executive council? This is an entity that's been anything but anti-war throughout its history, but yesterday in Florida they passed a resolution that essentially says the President hasn't made a coherent case yet and that there should be no war without the U.N. backing.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it shows -- and I'm going to speak very carefully, because I'm speaking about "some" not "all" -- because, clearly, there are members in the AFL-CIO who do not see it that way. But I think it's a further sign that there are some who are becoming attachments to the Democratic National Committee and the liberal wing of the party, and their philosophy is represented by increasing liberalism that is out of step with their membership.
Q You mentioned the fact that the President talked to the Dutch Prime Minister this morning. There's already a close cooperation between the Netherlands and the U.S., with Patriot missiles in Turkey, for example, U.S. transports going through the Netherlands. Have any additional requests been made by the President? And, secondly, you've seen quite a European leaders who are firmly on the U.S. side being invited to the White House to meet the President. Did the President invite Dutch Prime Minister to meet him here? And if not, can the Dutch Prime Minister expect such an invitation any time soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your second part of your question, as always, if we have invitations to report, they get reported in consultation and coordination with a foreign country. And that's the timing that we always follow to make an announcement.
On the first point, I think you have to be referred to the Netherlands. It is their place to describe any activities that they are participating in.
Q Did the President make any requests?
MR. FLEISCHER: I gave you the read-out of the phone call.
Q Is the President reconfiguring his prescription drug plan in face of opposition from Hill Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's plan has always been to do two things. One is to get prescription drugs to senior citizens; and the second is to modernize the program. We have always said that we want to work closely with members of Congress on the details of it. And that's exactly what you're seeing unfold.
Q And may I have a follow-up? My recollection is that you have said up there that the President's plan does not hinge on people going into an HMO.
MR. FLEISCHER: Exactly.
Q But the people up on the Hill are saying that's exactly what it is that is being proposed. What is the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that we did not make any type of formal proposal to the Hill, I think people are talking off of information that is incorrect, if anybody would be -- to say something like that. The President believes that the best way to save Medicare is to get prescription drugs to seniors, to modernize the programs, and to give people more choices and better benefits.
Q Ari, will the administration call for a vote on a second resolution only if it appears it has the support for it to pass, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the United Nations is heading for a vote.
Q So you're saying, regardless whether or not it appears the administration has the support --
MR. FLEISCHER: And I'd urge you to keep in mind what I explained about 1990, when you heard so many similar statements before and 2002 --
Q But I'm just saying, bottom line, the administration will call for a vote or press for a vote regarding how the other countries appear to be lining up?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't see anything that indicates anything otherwise.
Q There have been reports out of Maine that the children of deployed service personnel are being harassed as a result of their elementary school teacher's expression of anti-war views in the classroom. Could you comment on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with any specific report, but I can assure you that the President, in all instances, believes that it's important for all to honor and respect the first amendment.
Q Ari, is the White House concerned about the highly negative reaction from European nations about the President's use of religious terms and themes as he makes his argument or explanation for war?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I'm not aware of them. And, two, the President speaks as he speaks because he believes as he believes.
Q Ari, your answer to Don's question about the AFL-CIO implied that you view it as almost a matter of Democratic Party policy to oppose a war in Iraq. Your congressional resolution last fall passed with considerable Democratic support, and two rather prominent Democratic presidential candidates have been with the President on this. Why do you view this as a matter of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that when you look at the leadership of some of the organizations, and certainly, when you look at some of the rhetoric of the presidential candidates, you see people who really do view this as a matter very differently than the President does. I think that's true for much of the liberal base of the Democratic party. And I say that with respect, but I say that accurately.
Q Can we revisit your approach to how the press covers a war, if it happens? Are saying that U.S. will not censor anything that, you know, where the correspondents are embedded, so-called?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, anything dealing with the embedment issues and journalists, you need to talk to the Pentagon about. They're in charge of it.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:10 P.M. EST
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