Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
12:58 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Welcome to what I believe will be our last briefing of this year.
Q: An awful big smile on your face. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I will miss you. I just want to get into a couple of statements. Congress adjourned yesterday, and looking back, President Bush is very pleased with the bipartisan accomplishments of the year, particularly in the area of education, where major bipartisan reform has been agreed to, lower taxes, including marriage penalty relief, the abolition of the death tax, doubling of the child credit, and major environmental legislation passed last night, to clean the brownfield areas in America's cities, the transportation security legislation that passed and was signed by the President to make our skies safer.
All are signs, the President believes, of significant bipartisan accomplishment. In addition, progress has been made as the House of Representatives passed legislation to expand trade promotion authority, to promote energy independence through the passage of a comprehensive energy policy for the United States.
Both the House and the Senate have passed legislation to give patients more rights in dealing with their HMOs. On foreign policy, the President is very pleased -- this is the first year it comes to an end -- with the successes we've had, the successful relations that have been built with allies around the world, the peaceful resolution of the P-3 crisis with China, the development of missile defenses to protect our nation, and also with the successes in the war on terror.
Yesterday, if you recall, in a ceremony marking the 100th day since the September 11th attacks against the United States, the President detailed actions that the United States government took in response to those terrorist attacks. At the same time, he announced that the United States government had blocked assets of two more terrorist organizations, the UTN and the Lakshar al Tauba. The President yesterday condemned the terrorists attacks against the Indian Parliament and the Kashmir legislature, and extended condolences to the Indian government and the families of the victims.
These attacks were meant to strike at India's democracy and kill its leaders, but were also intended to undermine Pakistan, harm the rapidly-improving U.S.-Pakistani relationship, and to destabilize the global coalition against terrorism.
President Musharraf has condemned the terrorist attacks on the legislature in Srinagar, and on the Indian Parliament. He has said that he would move against those involved in the attacks. President Bush has every confidence in President Musharraf's capacity to act against the terrorists. The President calls on him to take action against the Lakshar al Tauba, the Yash y Mohamad and other terrorist organizations, their leaders, and their finances. The President will support President Musharraf in his efforts against terrorism.
One final just look back on the year involves the actions that were taken in confirming the President's nominees in the United States Senate. When the Senate left town for the holidays, they left close to 170 nominations languishing in the Senate. Of those awaiting action in the Senate, 49 have had hearings and have been passed by committee, and only require a vote on the Senate floor.
These individuals could have been reported to work at the beginning of the year, but because of inaction, the President will begin the new year without his team in place. Particularly in foreign policy, this is a troubling development. The Senate failed to confirm 20 of the President's senior foreign policy nominees, including officials who will be directly involved in the war on terrorism, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, and the economic crisis in Argentina.
For example, Arthur Dewey, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration. Roger Winter, Assistant Administrator of the USAID for Humanitarian Response. Adolfo Franco to be Assistant Administrator of USAID for Latin America and the Caribbean. Otto Reich, Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
The President nominated more individuals to serve on the Federal Bench in his first year in office than any of the past three administrations, and he submitted them earlier in the year. Despite this quick action, only 43 percent of the judicial nominees have been confirmed, and only 21 percent of the nominees to the circuit court.
When the Senate returns in January, it will have much work ahead of it, and there will be 98 vacancies in the Federal Judiciary. Sixteen more than were present when the President took office. Such large numbers of vacancies in federal courts are an impediment to justice. The President deserves to have his team in place, particularly during a time of war, and the American people deserve to have their government fully staffed, and they deserve a court system that can fully carry out justice. The President has done his part, and when the Senate returns, it's important that they do theirs.
Mr. Ron Fournier.
Q: Since these nominations are so important to carrying out the war on terrorism, we can assume that there will be -- the President will use his right to appoint them during the congressional recess?
MR. FLEISCHER: If there are to be any recess appointments, an announcement will be made at that time. There is nothing I can indicate --
Q: Why wouldn't you do it, though, if they're so important and you have that right to do it, why not just say you're going to do it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there may be. I'm not going to guess what steps or actions that the President may take.
Q: Is there any reason not to do recess appointments?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President always prefers to follow the usual process, and the President always prefers for the Senate to honor its responsibilities. He does have the right to make recess appointments. If he decides to avail himself of it, we'll keep you posted.
Q: Isn't that a concern it could hurt relations between Democrats and Republicans if he goes forward with a recess appointment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there will be -- if there are to be any recess appointments, you can safely assume it's after a careful balancing of the senatorial prerogatives with Executive Branch needs. And if the President makes any decisions, he'll make it based on that balancing.
Q: But you're not ruling them out, are you?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The President has not ruled any out.
Q: You say he's heavily considering them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, I can just tell you if there are to be any, we'll keep you fully informed. We'll announce them if there are.
Q: Ari, the President said he's asked the NSC to come up with a system to categorize captives, battlefield captives, al Qaeda captives, for legal disposition -- whether they would go to a military tribunal, civilian court, third country. Will that be made public?
MR. FLEISCHER: The decisions that they make will obviously, once determinations will be made, will be shared by the relevant agencies about what the process would be. They're still working it through, they're still thinking about the best course of action to take, and when they have a determination, that information will be shared.
Q: But with the criteria that he's asked them to come up with, for the disposition of each individual, including John Walker, will that be made public?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I can't promise you that every piece of information they have will be shared. I don't know exactly what type of information they're working with. Some of it could be of a nature that cannot be shared.
But it's fair to say that when a determination is made about how people will be brought to justice, whether it's to al Qaeda, Taliban, Mr. Walker, you will see as a result of the decision made the thinking that was involved, why the procedure has been put in place, if there are differences in the procedures for the al Qaeda or for the Taliban, it will be evident in the information that's released.
I think you're going to get a lot of the answers to your questions once it's clear.
Q: One more on this. Now that the President's asked the NSC to do this, what happens to Attorney General Ashcroft's recommendation that John Walker be charged with providing material support to terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I'm not discussing any recommendations that the President may have received up to this point. But suffice it to say that all the President's security team will be working together on the ultimate outcome.
Q: Is the economy recovering enough that a stimulus will not be necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it depends on your point of view. If you're in an economist, you can look at the simple numbers and you can say the economy is projected to grow, and grow in a more robust fashion. At some point, in 2002, if you're unemployed today, it's already too late, and you want your job tomorrow. You don't want to have to wait for the economy to recover in June or July.
The difference between the Senate leaving town and the Senate taking action yesterday is the difference between somebody being rehired in July or somebody being rehired in January. The President would prefer for Americans who are unemployed to be rehired yesterday, or if they passed the stimulus in January. And that's the real-life impact of the Senate's failure to act. There are people who are unemployed who may not get hired back, and there are people who are clinging to their jobs because their companies are on the edge, who could have used the assurance in this holiday season that they have been able to keep their jobs if a stimulus had been passed.
There are real-life consequences to failure to act. And the consequence of the Senate not acting does have an impact on people's lives.
Q: So do you still want a stimulus, then?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would still prefer for the Senate to pass a stimulus. I think when you talk to the economists, what you're going to see throughout -- for their projections for next year is, the economy is projected to rebound next year. Without a stimulus, it will rebound slower and later. With a stimulus, it will rebound in a more robust fashion and do so earlier. That benefits America's workers the most.
Q: You mentioned Mr. Reich. Senator Dodd has repeated his view that that nomination is dead. What is your reaction to that, and what are your options now for that nomination?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that would be very unfortunate. If that were the case, that would be contrary to what Senator Dodd had said earlier in the year, and that would be a big disappointment. I'm not prepared to discuss what options the President would take. The President hopes that would not be the ultimate outcome.
Q: And in what way is that contrary to what Senator Dodd had said before, and why is this nomination important to the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: On previous occasions, I've read statements from Senator Dodd, a statement that he made back in 1995 about the right of everybody -- in one particular case, somebody to have a hearing, have a vote on the floor. He talked about how wrong it was not to allow a nominee to proceed and have a vote on the floor. I would hope that the same standard that Senator Dodd stood strong for on principal then, he will stand strong for on principal now.
Q: I'm sorry, why is that nomination important to the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: Otto Reich's nomination? Otto Reich is nominated to be Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere. The Western Hemisphere is a very important region for the United States, particularly in these troubling times, with Argentina facing economic difficulties, with the drug trade and the intervention we need to prevent drugs from coming into the United States from Central American and Latin American countries.
Latin America, Central America, Western Hemisphere are very important regions that have an impact on life in this country. And it's important for the President to have his foreign policy team in place. If people have principled objections, let them voice them on the floor in the process of a vote. But it's wrong to deny a vote on the basis of one senator's objections.
Q: Ari, I want two questions. Latin America -- one has to do with Otto Reich and the other one with Argentina. Let me start with Otto Reich. Senators Christopher Dodd and Michael Enzi, who is a Republican, and Dodd is a Democrat, have written the President asking him to strongly -- not to give a recess appointment to Mr. Otto Reich for the position of Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs.
Our opposition to this nomination is well-known, but what is less well-known is that many of our colleagues, including our colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee, have quietly supported our efforts to prevent this nomination from going forward. We are aware that some are urging you to circumvent the Senate and give a recess appointment to Mr. Reich. We have discussed at length with administration officials our reasons for opposing Mr. Reich's nomination, but we stand ready to discuss the matter and the view at your request. What does the White House say to this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, that question was asked in a different form earlier about recess appointments and I've answered the question.
Q: But would the President be willing to meet with Senators Dodd and Enzi on this matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the letter. The President is always willing to listen to people's views. But at the end of the day, it's important for the Senate to schedule a vote and not hold up Mr. Reich's nomination.
Q: Can I ask on Argentina now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.
Q: As is well-known, the President of Argentina, Fernando de la Rua, submitted his resignation yesterday. President Bush has had a very personal relationship with Mr. de la Rua, he has met with him here at the White House, met with him at the U.N. and met with him, I think, once or twice on international events. And you have called him a strong ally and good friend of the United States.
How does the President view what happened to Mr. de la Rua, and what is the United States willing to do now with whatever eventual new government comes in?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Argentina is our neighbor; Argentina is an ally of the United States; and the United States and Argentina share many values and interests. Argentina has a strong and a vibrant democracy and the President has confidence in the strength of the Argentine institutions. And he reiterates his confidence in Argentina's standing as one of the Western Hemisphere's leading democracies.
Q: But on the economic side, is the United States willing to do something? The situation there is getting to be chaotic.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's important for Argentina to continue to work through the International Monetary Fund on sound policies. There will be a statement coming out later today by the President, by the Presidents of Canada and Mexico on this topic; a joint statement, as well. So you can look forward to having that sometime early this afternoon.
Q: Ari, on the bin Laden video that the government released last week, can you offer assurances that the omissions in the government-supplied translation were not deliberate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mark, I think Secretary Rumsfeld addressed that very eloquently earlier today, when he said, number one, this tape doesn't change anything -- or, this translation doesn't change anything about the facts in the case. The Department of Defense translators worked very diligently on a very short timetable to put together a faithful translation and that's what they did. And if you note on the cover note of what the Department of Defense put out, they wrote "due to the quality of the original tape, it is not a verbatim transcript of every word spoken during the meeting; but does convey the messages and information flow."
So I think what you saw was the very best effort possible and, as the Secretary said about the translation of Arabic, it's not a precise art that is agreed to by every translator.
Q: So absolutely nothing happened to be left out that could have been embarrassing to Saudi Arabia?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think this whole contention that there was something deliberately left off is a far-fetched one.
Q: Ari, if an agreement wasn't able to be reached on the stimulus before the Christmas break, why should anyone expect that one will be reached when the Congress comes back?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's hard to say. But, perhaps, when senators go home -- particularly the Democratic leadership goes home and they hear from unemployed constituents who want their jobs back, or they hear from people who are clinging to the jobs they have and they don't want to be let go, it can have an impact on the Senate. That's why, again, these decisions that senators make do affect people's livelihoods. And there are people who are hurting. And the President thinks it's important that senators listen to their voices.
Q: Ari, it's also a major political issue, is the President planning to be more out there, in terms of campaigning for candidates? He's let Cheney and other people in the administration sort of do that, attend the fundraisers more recently . Do you expect come January that we'll see more?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, separating the stimulus from the immediate question of campaigning, I do expect that. I do think the President in 2002 will campaign for candidates. The President thinks it's very important for people who support his agenda to be in the Congress.
I think it's fair to say that if the Senate were under Republican control, the stimulus would have at least been scheduled and likely have been passed. So, clearly, there are differences that result in whether the Congress is in Democratic or Republican hands. And the President thinks it's very important to have people in Congress who support his agenda.
Q: Can you say if he's going to attend Governor Jeb Bush's big fundraiser in January?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you informed closer to the event.
Q: Two quick questions. One, Ari, we are at the end of --what do you think -- who deserves the front cover of the magazines and newspapers and televisions? Where does Osama bin Laden stand? And also, as far as President Bush is concerned, what he thinks, where he should be -- his place should be at this time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as far as what President Bush thinks, I think he leaves those judgments to others. As far as what I happen to think about what should be on the front pages of the nation's newspapers, magazines, TV shows, my influence is small. That's up to others to make those calls. (Laughter.)
Q: Time Magazine is proceeding; they have already Osama bin Laden. What do -- do you think he deserves this title, to be on the front cover?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not my place to tell magazines who to put on their covers.
Q: And another question is, as far as World Trade Center is concerned, many of the people who died there were illegal immigrants. Where is your task force, now they're asking President to provide some kind of legal status for their families and financial help. What can the President --
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, there has been a master appointed at the Department of Justice to administer the claims -- a former aide to Senator Kennedy. And the process is underway so people can receive the compensation. No amount of money can, of course, make up for what was lost. The process is set up and this will be administered through the Department of Justice in accordance with the rules that have been set up.
Q: How about the families have no legal status? Where do they stand?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll have to ask that to the attorneys who are involved.
Q: What is your assessment of the in-fighting going on among the Palestinians, and your reaction to the Hamas statement, especially about the fact that Hamas says it's still all right to launch suicide attacks in the West Bank and Gaza?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the Hamas statement, the President believes that all terrorist activities everywhere must cease. And he believes that Chairman Arafat is the one who can make that happen and needs to take the action to stop terrorism. Hamas is a terrorist organization, and it's Chairman Arafat's responsibility as a leader in the region to stop the terrorism so that peace can take hold.
We'll go to Lester early today.
Q: Thank you. Senator Grassley of Iowa said, I don't know where Senator Daschle is going to spend the holidays, but I would hate to be in South Dakota and face the unemployed workers. And my question: Does the President share Senator Grassley's pungent estimate of the Daschle-Democrat recession enhancement?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I addressed this earlier. There are real consequences to the decision that the Democratic leaders of the Senate made by going home without addressing the nation's unemployment problems. And the President regrets that. He's disappointed by that.
This is not a personal matter. Senator Daschle is a good man, in the President's estimation, who has a very difficult job. Nevertheless, he believes that the decision that was made by the Senate Democratic leadership was the wrong decision that is going to make it harder to help the unemployed and harder to help people who right now are clinging to their jobs and worried they're going to get laid off.
Q: Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick said, the PLO has definitely been a terrorist organization, engaging in the assassination of the American ambassador in Sudan and the murder of Israeli athletes in Munich. And my question is, does the President believe Ambassador Kirkpatrick is wrong, or will he add the PLO to the list of terrorist organizations on his executive order?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is focused on the Oslo Accords and the results that have been achieved since a peace process has begun. And under that peace process, Yasser Arafat has committed himself to foregoing violence, to recognizing Israel's right to live in security. And that is the agreement made by Yasser Arafat that the President will hold him accountable to.
Q: He thinks the PLO is not a terrorist organization, then, is that right, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Palestinian Authority has entered into a peace agreement, and that's what the President is focused on.
Q: How about the PLO, though? Is the PLO a terrorist organization, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're looking back in history, there's no question that it was. But the focus right now is on --
Q: Oh, it's no longer?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- what's happening with the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Oslo Accords.
Q: Can I follow on the stimulus question? The President was asked what the impact was to the stimulus bill not passing. He said, we'll see. And he was asked, is it a must, and he said, basically, we'll see, or no. Why are you being so much more clear about what the impact will be --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President also said he was disappointed that it had not been passed. And the reason the President was disappointed are for the exact reasons I articulated.
Q: Yes, but he wasn't nearly as clear about what the impact would be -- do you know why that is?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we're saying the same thing, Ron. When I was asked earlier about the effect of no stimulus on the economy, and when the President says, "we'll see," it's because he's seen the estimates of what economic growth could be with a stimulus or without a stimulus. And clearly, private sector forecasters do believe the economy is coming back next year, in good part because of the stimulative effect of the previous tax cut that was put into law.
But private sector forecasters also believe it will be less robust without the stimulus, and that costs jobs.
Q: Ari, related to that, this is the time of year usually when the President and OMB are making final decisions on the new budget presentation for February of next year. What kind of impact do you think that not getting the economic stimulus package may have on the presentation of the new budget in February?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it really doesn't change anything. The President thought the stimulus was the right thing to do, and therefore, he advocated it. It would probably have resulted in higher growth, meaning more revenues, had it been passed, as a result of it having that stimulative effect on the economy. But for the numbers that OMB is putting together, their numbers have to be based on the actual numbers in the economy, and without a stimulus they will have to take that into account.
Q: You don't think policy will change in terms of presentation of tax policy or spending policy, related to the failure on the stimulus?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to, at this point, indicate everything that's going to be in the budget next year. That's an announcement for next year.
Q: Back to Argentina. What lessons are we to draw from that event? I mean, is Argentina the victim of impersonal globalization forces, or is this the result of bad policies?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not something that I'm qualified to judge. The situation in Argentina is a very complicated one. I think different people in Argentina and different experts outside Argentina will probably give you different reasons. By all accounts, it does look like there is no contagion as a result of what's happening in Argentina. It does look likes it's isolated to Argentina, and that's a helpful fact.
Q: But our policy response will certainly to be governed by the kind of judgment that is made as to the causes of what's happened.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a fair question. I think that's a question that needs to be addressed to perhaps the Treasury Department or some of the private sector people who are more expert in that area.
Q: Ari, can you describe the torch ceremony that is going to take place at the White House tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tomorrow morning at the White House the Olympic torch will be arriving, en route to Salt Lake City, as it crosses its path around the world. The President will be here tomorrow to welcome two runners to the White House who will be carrying the torch -- one into the White House, one out of the White House. Both people's lives were touched on September 11th in the tragedy, and the President is very proud to welcome them to his home in Washington and to see them carry the torch for our nation.
Q: Is he still hoping to go to the Olympics, himself?
MR. FLEISCHER: If there are any announcements to be made on travel, we'll have those closer to the event.
Q: What time is the torch ceremony?
MR. FLEISCHER: At 8:20 a.m. tomorrow morning.
Q: Ari, on a lighter note, there are accounts in Boston that President Bush called the chief executive of the Red Sox and the Baseball Commissioner during the sale negotiations yesterday. I'm wondering what you can tell me about those phone calls, and also, generally, what's his reaction to the historic sale?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've not talked to him about the sale of the Red Sox. And he hasn't indicated anything to me about any phone calls he made. I'll be happy to look into that.
Q: The long-term rebuilding costs in Afghanistan run into the tens of billions of dollars. What level of commitment does the administration have to that process? And has the President talked about any specific kinds of programs he favors for the economic development of the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, there have been and are continuing to be a series of meetings with international leaders on the reconstruction of Afghanistan, now that the interim government has been put into place.
The President is very committed to the future stability of Afghanistan. And that will be reflected in the developments in Afghanistan. As you know, the United States has been and will continue to be the world's largest supplier of food to the people of Afghanistan. And certainly, as a result of the military operations underway in Afghanistan, Afghanistan now, for the first time in decades, has a chance to have a stable future.
Q: Ari, there's a report that a convoy of Afghan tribal elders was hit near Tora Bora accidentally. Can you shed any light on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. That's something you need to take up with DOD.
Q: Can we go back to Time Magazine person of the year? I know you would never tell a magazine what they should do, but if their criteria is as it has been in the past, the person who has changed our lives the most for better or worse, why shouldn't it be Osama bin Laden? Or, what sort of message do you think it would send if they do go that way?
MR. FLEISCHER: I appreciate the opportunity to get myself into hot water telling the press how to do its business. (Laughter.) We've tried that before. No, that's just not something I'm going to get into. That's the decision that the media has to make. Whatever decision they make, I, myself will read US News, Newsweek, and Time that same week.
Q: And National Journal.
MR. FLEISCHER: And National Journal. (Laughter.)
Q: Ari, as we enter the holidays, and then come to a new year, is there any concern as things are sort of ending a little bit in Afghanistan, any concern that sort of the American people -- the resolve of the American people won't remain in terms of going after bin Laden or a broader
war against terrorism? Is there any concern at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think as the President looks back on the year and what a remarkable first year it's been in so many ways, from the closeness of the election that did not end to the recount, the close division in the Congress and then what has been accomplished through the year, I think one of the things the President is very, very proud of is the way the country has rallied, pulled together, and focused so strongly on defending our values, and being willing to see it through at great length.
And I think that was clear right away from the American people. When the American people saw and felt the horror of what happened when our nation was attacked, this country rallied. And the President played his role in helping make that rally take place. But I think one of the things he really looks at is the resolve, the strength, the fortitude of our country for the long-term.
And the President has said that he is patient and he will be patient. There is no telling how long this will go, and the President reminds the American people this is just phase one. And the reason for that is because the President does believe that this is our generation's chance to do something for the next generation, to put an end to terrorism around the world. And that's what this is focused on for the President. And the support of the American people gives the President the strength to do that.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Happy holidays.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you. Yes, on that note, let me just take a personal note, just to say this is the final briefing of the year. And for all of us in the White House, this has just been a very remarkable first year. You know, we still feel like we're all new here. And many of you people in the White House press corps are parts of institutions that have been --
Q: You are new --
MR. FLEISCHER: We are new here. (Laughter.) Well, you guys aren't. I want to just wish every one of you and your families a great, great New Year, a Merry Christmas. It's really been fun working with you. This is a fun relationship. I know I don't answer all your questions --
Q: You can say that again. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: But that's why I love working here. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.
Q: Same to you.
Q: New Year's resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: More briefings.
END 1:25 P.M. EST
George W. Bush, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/271872