Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:23 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President this morning began his day with a CIA briefing, followed by a briefing by the FBI. Then the President signed into law the Yucca Nuclear Waste Repository Act. Following that, the President in the East Room later this afternoon will, in an effort to promote more adoption across the United States, announce a new public service announcement with Mrs. Bush and the actor, Bruce Willis, and will also announce a new website to promote adoption in the United States.
Then the President is going to have two meetings with members of Congress, two different groups, one a Republicans, one a Democrats, on his plan for homeland security. And that will be in the Cabinet Room. The meeting with the Democrats will begin at approximately 3:00 p.m, last for approximately 30 minutes; and then with Republican members at 4:00 p.m. I anticipate a stakeout after that.
And the President also this morning spoke with President Megawati to express his appreciation for her government's efforts to combat extremism and terrorism at home, and to work with other leaders in the region who are similarly committed to the fight against terror. The two leaders discussed strengthening cooperation between the United States and Indonesia, and they also discussed Secretary Powell's upcoming trip to the region.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions. Campbell.
Q: Can you be more specific on the Democrats that are --
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell.
Q: The Israelis today are calling the military strike on Gaza City justified. Prime Minister Sharon called it "one of our biggest successes." Nine children died in the attack, obviously. What's the White House reaction? Has the President spoken with Sharon or conveyed any concerns?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said repeatedly that Israel needs to be mindful of the consequences of its actions in order to preserve the path to peace in the Middle East. The President views this as a heavy-handed action that is not consistent with dedication to peace in the Middle East. This message has been conveyed to Israel this morning through the embassy in Israel, and that is what the President thinks about this.
Q: Does the President plan to call Sharon directly?
MR. FLEISCHER: This message has been conveyed to the Prime Minister's Office through the embassy. Included in the conveyance of the message and the President's thoughts about this is the regret of the innocent lives, including the children's lives, that have been lost.
Q: But, Ari, Israel's response to that has been it's in a war, as is the United States. And in war, innocent lives are lost. What is the difference from the President's perspective in Israel's action in Gaza, and United States actions against al Qaeda in Afghanistan where innocent lives have also been lost?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is inaccurate to compare the two. And the crucial difference here being that in this instance, in Gaza, this was a deliberate attack against a building in which civilians were known to be located. And that does separate it from the activities taken.
There are going to losses of innocents in times of war. And I think that that's recognized around the world. What's always important is in pursuit of the military objectives, as the United States does in Afghanistan, to always exercise every restraint to minimize those losses of life. But in this case, what happened in Gaza was a knowing attack against a building in which innocents were found.
Q: And so it's the President's position that Israeli commanders did not take sufficient care in avoiding civilian casualties, and even beyond that, targeted the building where there are known civilians. That borders on some transgression on the laws of war, it sounds like.
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I have given you the President's statement about what he thinks about this.
Q: How will this complicate your efforts to encourage Palestinian reform?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President continues to call on all parties to honor their responsibilities, to make certain that the political solutions are found to bring peace to the region. This President has been and will continue to be a big defender of Israel and Israel's right to self-defense. The President will also speak out, as he sees appropriate, as he sees fit, depending on the events. At the end of the day, all parties must continue to remember the responsibility is to pursue a political path, a political process, so that negotiations can be successful, so the Arabs, the Palestinians, and the Israelis can live together, side by side, in peace.
Q: Ari, what evidence does the administration have that the Israelis knew that civilians would be in that building, and that the attack would result in the loss of innocent civilian lives?
MR. FLEISCHER: These were apartment buildings that were targeted.
Q: And when the Israeli defense forces said that they are sorry for any harm, but regretfully, this is the result of terror which uses civilians as human shields. If the Hamas leader had civilians there to protect him?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, again, this President has been and will continue to be a lead defender of Israel around the world and will speak out about Israel's right to self-defense. This is an instance in which the United States and Israel do not see eye to eye.
Q: Getting on to domestic issues for a second, homeland defense, first of all, can you define better what these meetings are? Are these senate Dems who are coming and -- or is this a mix?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll release the list after the meeting, as is our usual practice. My information here is not clear on whether it's House or Senate. But the purpose of the meeting is, as you know, the House of Representatives looks like it may be able to vote this week before they leave on legislation to create a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security. And the President wants to talk to members of Congress about this to make certain that the legislation that they worked on comports with his requirements, his requests, to the Congress so that this agency can be set up in a way that maximizes the defense of our nation by providing flexibility in management, flexibility in personnel, flexibility in funding, so that this is an agency that is not bogged down or impossible to move quickly as events would require in the effort to combat terror.
Q: So is it primarily his goal to use this meeting to make the pitch on the flexible management that the White House views as critical?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's going to be to hear any concerns that members of Congress may have that they want to bring up, but also to express with the President his heartfelt case to the Congress, and how deeply he holds his views. That for the Department of Homeland Security to be successful, it must have flexibility. It must have personnel abilities to make certain that people are trained and trained well, and if they're not, they need to be able to bring people on who can do the job and do it right.
Q: If he doesn't get this, is that -- would he veto the bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not -- the purpose of the meeting is to bring people together, and they need to know how strongly the President does feel about the flexibility provisions in here.
Q: Ari, yesterday Secretary of Justice John Ashcroft said United States will apply the law that's been on the books for 50 years that legal resident aliens have to notify the government if they move, change address, within a period of 10 days. This law has been on the books, but it has not been invoked. Does the President agree with Secretary Ashcroft's position?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information that's been provided to me on that topic, so it may be something you just need to follow up with Justice. There's nothing I've got on that.
Q: Next question. Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neill, Harvey Pitt, Director of the SEC, have been criticized. The President has come to their defense. Who else has tried to help the President with the problem presented by the drop in the market and the lack of confidence? The Vice President isn't saying much. Who else does the President have around him who can come out and say things?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President indicated yesterday, he has great confidence in his team. And I think what you're witnessing here is the typical, old Washington phenomenon of that whenever there is some difficulty anywhere, there are some people in Washington who look for a scalp while this President looks for a solution. And that's to be expected in town like this. We've all seen that game be played before, regardless of whether it was Democrats or Republicans. But that's not what the President focuses on, and he doesn't think that's what the American people want people in Washington to focus on.
Q: Ari, given that at the very least the market has not reacted positively to the accounting reform legislation that is being considered on the Hill, does the President now have any questions about it, any questions about whether or not Congress is moving too fast, or whether some of the provisions in the legislation being considered may be too draconian?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me take that in two steps. One, on the legislation, the President, as you know, feels very strongly that Congress this week needs to finish its work on corporate corruption legislation, because the President thinks it's important to have certain laws on the books so everybody in corporate America and the investor community and the employees who have been affected by these layoffs will know that the federal government is serious about taking action to combat and fight corporate corruption. It's now up to Congress. Congress is very close. But the President hopes that Congress won't leave this week without finishing that legislation and sending it to him.
On the premise of your question, I just don't know how you can say with any certainty that market behavior is the result of any action or inaction by the Congress or anybody else. That was the premise of your question. I really don't know how you can reach a conclusion.
Q: It's not the premise of my question. The premise is that at the very least, the markets do not seem to have reacted positively. So what I'm wondering is -- and there has been some criticism from some conservatives that some of the measures may be too draconian, the bills, and may ultimately chill business activity. And I'm wondering if the President shares any of those concerns.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is looking forward to signing this legislation. He hopes that Congress will finish its work on it and get it to him.
Q: There's some evidence that this is perhaps more than just this old Washington game that you talk about. There's some public opinion polls saying the President's approval ratings are dropping into the 60s, I believe, a couple different polls. Is the White House concerned at all that the economy is starting to -- concerns about the economy are starting to erode that approval rating?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Number one, the President does what he thinks is right, based on the merits. And he believes that the best way to talk to the American people is to fight for what you believe in and let the country come to its own judgments. And I think the judgment of the country has consistently been to strongly approve of the job the President is doing. And it happens to be that the country has strongly approved of the job the President is doing in rather unparalleled fashion.
But, no, that's where the President's focus is. This President is going to continue to focus on the fundamentals that drive the economy. And he believes that those fundamentals are solid and strong. And much of the recent economic data that has come out, as Chairman Greenspan pointed to, and others have pointed to, demonstrates that there is strength in the market -- I mean, in the economy -- and markets ultimately are driven by fundamentals in the economy.
Q: I have two questions. One, in the past we have been dealing and negotiating with -- in trade and on the Capitol Hill, and now we are making deals and negotiations with the terrorists talking about the two cases -- If the President is aware of this, then how can we make deals with the terrorists who killed Americans and they fought against America, and now the President is fighting against global terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say that the United States is making deals with terrorists.
Q: Those two terrorists who plead guilty -- guilty plea.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, I see what you're saying. We do have a criminal --
Q: -- plead guilty.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think you can say that's negotiating with terrorists. Typically negotiating with terrorists is something in terms of ransoms and things of that nature, or release of prisoners in an exchange. I think that's typically what's associated with those words, negotiating with terrorists.
What's happening here is we have a criminal justice system in which justice is served as a result here of plea bargains, in which people have pled guilty -- in this case one individual, John Walker Lindh has pled guilty, which will now lead to a 20-year sentence without parol, a rather strong sentence which the President concurred in, as well as freeing front-line prosecutors so they can continue their efforts against other people who have been detained without being tied up in a lengthy trial.
Q: A follow, please?
MR. FLEISCHER: What was your second?
Q: Second one is that now Secretary of State Powell, he leaves for Asia -- for India and Pakistan. At the same time, this week, the new Deputy Prime Minister of India, Mr. Advani he calls on President Bush to declare Pakistan a terrorist state because infiltrations and all the terrorist activity have not stopped. So what message is he carrying -- what does he think?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, President Musharraf has taken strong action in the war against terror. And that includes against al Qaeda or the Taliban, as well as taking steps to diminish the cross-border incursions into Kashmir. And the President is pleased with the actions that President Musharraf has taken.
The situation between India and Pakistan has twice this year reached almost a boiling point. And as a result of a lot of intervention and diplomacy by the President, by the State Department, by Secretary Powell, the travels to the region, that situation has been managed to the point now where the situation is much more defused, the risk of violence is defused. And that's going to be an ongoing part of America's diplomacy in the region. It's an area of the world the United States is going to continue to actively work.
Q: All right, two questions. First on the phone conversation today with President Megawati, did the President indicate a desire to resume military-to-military contacts and training, which is something that you've all been discussing on the Hill? If so, what was the response, what's the conclusion on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any additional information on that call, so let me see if there was anything else I can get for you, David.
Q: If you could get that, that would be useful. Also, you said yesterday the President and others were going to be calling around the Hill on trade promotion authority. I'd be interested to know whether that's happened, whether the President has indicated particularly to Republicans whether he's ready at this point to sign something that includes some trade adjustment assistance, and if you could define a little bit of that. And if this doesn't happen this week, what damage is done, since there's nothing that is being negotiated right now that leads --
MR. FLEISCHER: There are three main areas that the Congress is working on this week where the President has called on the President to act. And keep in mind that the House of Representatives is leaving at the end of this week and won't be back until the end of September. And then they have a very abbreviated session this fall before the Congress leaves to campaign for reelection. The Senate is scheduled to leave a week from Friday. So time is running out on this Congress, and there are three major issues that are pending in the Congress where the President wants to work with the Congress to help them complete action this week.
One is on trade promotion authority, which can, the President believes, be resolved this week in a conference committee, so final action can be taken and then a bill can be signed this August. The second issue is corporate corruption, as I discussed earlier. And the President again sees the House bill and the Senate bill, both of which are tough, which can easily be brought together and presented to the President for signature.
The third issue in which the Congress has been moving forward rather -- at a strong pace is a legislation to create a Cabinet-level department of homeland security. All three of those, the President is looking for action this week. On trade promotion authority and on corporate corruption, final action, sending a bill to the President. On homeland security, House passage and then, next week, Senate passage.
The risk of inaction is you don't have to be a helicopter pilot to know that Congress is heading for a giant traffic jam. Congress has a lot of unfinished business left on its agenda, and if Congress fails to pass trade promotion authority this week, or it fails to pass the corporate corruption initiative this week, or if it's unable to have initial passage of homeland security, it's presenting itself with a gigantic traffic jam which is hard to get out of this September, and for the shortened session they have before they leave.
The other items that are pending in Congress that they hope to come back to when they return in September are a patient bill of rights, which is still stuck in the House-Senate conference committee; legislation to make America more energy-independent, which is still stuck in the H-Senate conference committee; faith-based legislation; welfare reform; a ban on cloning. The Senate has yet to even pass a budget. And of course, they also have all 13 appropriation bills to get through.
So from a very practical point of view, if the Congress is not able to get it done this week, it does endanger the possibility of getting it done at all because the roads will be too crowded and clogged to get anything to its final destination.
Q: And on the specific question of trade adjustment assistance, which -- the differences don't seem all that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Trade adjustment assistance is an issue where the President does support trade adjustment assistance. It's part of the budget that he sent up to the Hill. There is a conversation going on on the Hill right now about what the appropriate level of a tax credit should be. I think the Senate provision included a 73-percent rate on trade adjustment assistance. And the President believes that trade promotion authority that includes trade adjustment assistance can and should be agreed to by the conferees this week. He'll work with the Congress on that.
Q: Is he making the calls --
MR. FLEISCHER: He hasn't made any phone calls yet this morning, but he will. The President, the Vice President, Dr. Rice, Secretary Powell will all be making calls underscoring the importance of trade promotion authority.
The other issue with trade promotion authority is while it's not impossible, it's certainly harder to get it enacted into law the closer the election is. This is an authority the President used to have routinely, but no President has had it in almost the last decade. There's been great progress made by the Congress this year; the House of Representatives for the first time in almost a decade was able to pass it in the House. The Senate has been historically a more strong supporter.
Q: -- trying a whole bunch of trade deals in its absence? China WTO, Jordan -- I could go on with the list.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll be able to sign far more in the event we have trade promotion authority. And there are a number of trade agreements, Mr. Sanger, which I know you're aware of that are being negotiated without the United States because we don't have trade adjustment -- trade promotion authority.
Q: On Yucca Mountain, Ari, the signature today by the President -- does he really think that this is the end of the story? Does he acknowledge that there's going to be a lengthy legal battle, regulatory battle --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think -- first of all, there's been more progress made now on having a more rational storage policy for the entire United States as a result of this action than at any previous time. So this is an important step forward on the way to a comprehensive policy for dealing with our nation's nuclear waste. It also is a very helpful sign to the scores of states which have nuclear power plants where the waste has been piling up and backing back, contrary to the commitment the federal government made more than a decade ago where the federal government pledged to these states that they would take that waste out of the states and put it in one comprehensive location.
But the history of these type of activities is certainly one that includes legal challenges. I don't think that anybody was expecting other than that. But without this important step, progress would not even begin to be made. This is an important step in having a more comprehensive and rational policy for dealing with waste. And it's very helpful to these states.
Q: The target date was 2010. Is that going to be met?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about the dates. The Department of Energy has its time lines and they'll work actively to promote them. Certainly the ability to get this done is now enhanced as a result of the action the Congress took on an overwhelmingly bipartisan manner. This was an issue, if you recall, I think the Senate leadership said it would never happen. There are some people in the Senate Democratic leadership who said they would do everything in their power to block this from happening. And the President is very pleased that there is a bipartisan coalition that agreed with him and disagreed with their leaders and has been able to allow this to take place.
Q: Ari, returning to the Israeli missile strike, are you making a moral equivalence between the Israeli attack and Palestinian terror attacks against Israelis in settlements and in public places? And was U.S.-supplied equipment used in this strike?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's statement speaks for itself, as I read it. That's what the President thinks about it. He makes no comparisons. He judges it in and of itself.
Q: What about U.S.-supplied missiles and equipment?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's statement speaks for itself about the topic.
Q: Could you detail for us the role that the President played and the role that the White House staff played in the decision not to fund the U.N. population fund --
MR. FLEISCHER: Under the law, the Secretary of State makes the determination of whether the Kemp-Kasten provisions that would prohibit funding in the event there is coercive abortion are found. And that was a review that was undertaken by the State Department, and the information was shared with the White House and the President concurred.
Q: The President signed off on this decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: Any White House staff people play a role in formulating this decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would imagine there were a number of people who, as any decision made by the agencies, work as a liaison with the agencies.
Q: Did Karl Rove play a role?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you who everybody was.
Q: Ari, why won't the President ask the SEC to release all Harken documents?
MR. FLEISCHER: No change in anything on that, Holly. That question was asked yesterday, asked last week. No changes, as you're well aware of.
Q: What is the reason why?
MR. FLEISCHER: Same reasons -- you can just check the transcripts from the last time you asked the same question.
Q: I don't think I -- could you repeat it, possibly?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's in the transcripts.
Q: Ari, there's been more talk over the past couple of days about a wider domestic role for the military. Is there any definitive policy on this? Is something evolving that it is being redefined?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as a result of the strategy that came out on national homeland security, there is a review about the military role in the promotion of homeland security. And these are things that are going to be taken a look at by the appropriate agencies. And I'll just give you one instance why a review, in the President's judgment and Governor Ridge's judgment, is warranted.
Quickly after September 11, when a decision was made about sending the National Guard to the borders to provide enhanced security at border crossings, that decision and the legal issues that involved were very, very complicated and it could have significantly delayed the ability of the federal government to have the Guard deployed in a way that would have protected homeland security as a result of the various overlapping legal jurisdictions. And, in fact, it took National Guard, Customs and INS and DOD some four months to negotiate memoranda of understanding among the various agencies for that deployment, which is something I think the country recognized was in its interest. And so that deployment was called up literally by the state governors to enhance the federal role at the borders. And then there was some four months of negotiations to come out with the memorandums of understanding.
So these issues can often involve complicated legal matters where there is a law on the books that we want to make certain is working and working well in the modern context. So that's why these reviews are being called for.
Q: Does it go beyond the National Guard, this National Guard matter that you're talking about? Are there other ideas, number one? And number two, is the President sensitive to the ramifications of expanding the domestic role of the military?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why it's a review, that's why no action is taken, but that's why a review is in order, a review is underway by the lawyers involved here.
Q: Ari, given what has happened with Israel and the White House's feeling about the action done today -- or yesterday, whenever -- over the period of the night, does the White House have the same feeling that if Osama bin Laden were in a cave or in a house and we could get him, kill him, but perhaps there would be some innocent lives lost in terms of his children, would the White House still be opposed to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to speculate about any type of military action against somebody who we don't know is dead or alive. He may be dead already, he may be alive; we don't know. I'm not going to speculate about any type of action.
But suffice it to say, as always, no matter what the target, America's policy that we have military operations that always focus on minimizing the loss of civilian lives. And any time anyone is lost, whether it's as a result of an errant bomb or whether it's a result of any mistake made possible by anybody in American theater of operations, we deeply regret the loss of any innocents.
Q: You're not saying that the Israelis should not have gone after the head of the military wing of Hamas?
MR. FLEISCHER: The statement speaks for itself.
Q: You're not saying that they shouldn't have gone after him?
MR. FLEISCHER: The statement speaks for itself.
Q: Are you suggesting there is some other way they could have gotten to him that would not have involved --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm just not going to get into a world of hypotheticals about what could have happened or what might happen in the future. We are dealing with the realities on the ground here in an area where it remains very important for people to remember the consequences of their actions. And those consequences have to always keep in mind the fundamental, overriding importance of finding a political solution to the violence in the region. And that also makes it separate and apart from what's happening in Afghanistan.
In Afghanistan, there is no political future for Osama bin Laden or for the al Qaeda or for anybody that we're working with over there who are involved in having attacked the United States. Israel is the first to acknowledge that the way to peace in the future does involve contacts with responsible Palestinian officials and Arab leaders. The Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, for example, have stepped up and been very, very constructive and helpful in trying to create that political atmosphere. That is not and will not be the case with what's happening in Afghanistan.
Q: On corporate corruption, is there any provision in either of the bills that would prompt the President to veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say the President viewed the House bill as a tough bill, the Senate bill as a tough bill, and he's looking forward to signing a tough bill. He only hopes that Congress will be able to get it done and do it this week.
Q: So there is nothing on the table at the moment that would prompt the President to veto or push for --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, given the fact that he viewed the House bill as a
tough bill and the Senate bill as a tough bill, the only thing that could be tantamount to a veto is if Congress vetoes itself by failing to get the bill done this week.
Q: What about Priscilla Owen and the confirmation hearings? First, I want to ask you what you make of the arguments against her. And, second, could you clarify a remark apparently made by Judge Gonzales himself in reference to one of her decisions in which he referred to her way of thinking as an unconscionable act of judicial activism?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views today's hearing of Priscilla Owen as a very important hearing. There is a judicial emergency, a judicial vacancy crisis throughout this country, and that's because the Senate has failed to act on many of the President's nominees. Priscilla Owen is one of 32 circuit court nominees that the President has made, while the Senate has confirmed only 11, leaving 21 with no action taken. The President is very concerned about that.
In the case that you are citing, Judge Gonzales is the first to say that he supports Priscilla Owen's appointment to the circuit courts. So if people would want to cite what Judge Gonzales believes, then they should be consistent and vote to support her, just as Judge Gonzales did. Simply because they disagreed on a case does not mean she's unfit to serve.
This is the final question you get.
Q: Well, you know, these are all matters that you obviously want to address, so let's not -- (laughter).
MR. FLEISCHER: In that case, I'll argue with myself.
Q: The question of judicial activism, which would seem to go against the President's own standard in selecting judges, is not a question for the White House in this particular matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, given the fact that Judge Gonzales says himself that because they had a disagreement over one case does not mean she's unfit to serve. He's looking at her record in its totality, just as the President does. And if you want to get down to the complications of that issue or into the weeds of the issue, it is much more complicated than the critics suggest on there. The actual opinion with which Justice Gonzales had written that about was penned by somebody else, concurred into by Justice Owen.
Q: Ari, we're coming up on the 12-year anniversary of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and subsequent ouster. But among the former coalition partners, it almost seems as though that's ancient history. Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz has just come back from Turkey, which is the latest former coalition partner to suggest that it does not -- publicly, at least -- want the ouster of Saddam Hussein. And Hussein in the meantime is reaching out and trying to end his isolation with his neighbors. Is this all undermining the President's position that he still wants a regime change?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think given the fact that, one, in a bipartisan act, the Congress of the United States and signed into law by President Clinton made the United States policy regime change; two, the fact that Saddam Hussein has fought wars with his neighbors that led to the loss of more than a million lives, he invaded Kuwait, he's used chemical arms against his own people; I think there's no question in the region that the region would be safer and at more peace without Saddam Hussein in power. Saddam Hussein being in power has led to massive deaths. And so the position of the United States is a moral position that has been taken with overwhelming bipartisan support in the interest of preserving stability in the region and preventing future wars.
Q: He's even reaching out to the Kuwaitis who also have some concerns of an attempt to try to oust him.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a clear sign of how seriously Saddam Hussein views President Bush's statements.
Q: Back to TPA. Would the President sign a TPA bill that contains the Dayton-Craig amendment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dayton-Craig amendment is something the President feels very strongly about should not be a part of it. He has conveyed that message directly and personally to members.
Q: Would he accept something that falls short of the Dayton-Craig amendment --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear that he does not support that position.
Q: On the legislative items the President would like action on, you didn't mention the prescription drug benefit, which Congress is starting to debate today. Does the administration have any way or are you attempting to find any way to get them out of the log jam they're in, since there's not enough votes on either side, or have you given up for this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that is something the President would clearly like to see done. The reason I didn't mention it, because unlike the other issues which were in conference committee, this has not even been acted on by the Senate yet. Certainly if the Senate is able to pass it this week, as they take it up, this would become one more car in the Senate's traffic jam. The President hopes that the Senate will be able to take it up -- I should say Congress' traffic jam. The President hopes that they'll be able to take it up. He thinks it is a priority to get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors.
But I could have also added to that list the Treaty of Moscow is another item that the Senate has to act on this fall, or the President hopes that they'll act on this fall. The simple fact of the matter is that time is running out for this Congress, given the very busy agenda they've set for themselves. And if Congress fails to take action this week on these three pending issues, they will jam themselves up in such a fashion this fall that it's unrealistic to expect them to take action on almost all these items.
Q: And also, on homeland security, you mentioned there was concerns about flexibility provisions. Are you saying that in the interest of comporting with the President's principles on this, that you do not believe that civil service protections should be extended to all employees in this department?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, actually civil service protections are guaranteed under both the House bill and the Lieberman mark. There is flexibility in transferring and flexibility in funding. But the civil service protections, including the Civil Rights Act, the EEOC, Equal Opportunity Employment Commission regulations, The Fair Labor Standards Act, the Social Security Act, the Government Ethics Act, the Hatch Act on political restrictions, whistle-blower protections -- all of these do apply, properly so, and with the President's support.
Q: Are there any that don't?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the flexibility provisions in terms of transfer authority that the President's looking to. The very same provisions and protections that are given to other agencies will continue to apply. What the President wants to make certain happens is that the Department of Homeland Security, which in many ways will be the front line of protecting America from terrorist attack, is the same flexibility given to screeners at airports, the President thinks should be given to workers at this agency. Somehow it doesn't seem right to give these protections to screeners at airports, yet to deny it -- the flexibility protections, the transfer protections -- but to deny it to the managers and the people who work at Homeland Security.
Q: Ari, NARAL today in its press release on Priscilla Owen says they want to prevent her from joining a court "already tilting far outside the mainstream." One of the things they've taken exception to is her rulings on Texas's parental notification law. We've heard the White House defend Justice Owen on the grounds of judicial restraint, but will, as this moves along, the White House take a stand on parental notification itself, considering the fact that she was in the majority on most of these cases and that this was a law that was overwhelmingly favored by the Texas legislature and by the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: The job of a justice is to enforce the laws regardless of personal views. And groups like the one you cited obviously have a litmus test. And this is something where hopefully the Senate will not have its own litmus test, where one party imposes a litmus test on the other party. Justices and judges at all levels, their job is to interpret the laws -- is to enforce the laws and make rulings that do not legislate from the bench.
Q: Could it make it harder, though? I mean, we're in a case where -- you're always, obviously, talking about the process working, there being civility in the process, when now we have a situation where -- Republicans generally, when a bill -- or when a judge comes to the floor, have generally -- you know, look, for example, Justice Ginsberg only had three Republicans vote against her. And in this administration, we've seen Senate Democrats vote in large majorities -- or in large minorities -- against administration appointees and judges.
MR. FLEISCHER: At a time when there are so many judicial vacancies and judicial emergencies resulting from these vacancies, it would indeed be unfortunate if litmus tests were imposed by the party that receives the President's nominees, in this case the Democratic Party. This is a time for bipartisanship on the bench.
Q: Ari, two if I may. One on the Gaza strikes. In the message that the President sent via the embassy today, did he make clear that he did not regard this strike as self-defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the message speaks for itself, when the President says that.
Q: The message certainly suggests as much, but the President's a pretty clear-speaking fellow, I'm sure he wouldn't want us to misinterpret --
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly when the President says that this heavy-handed action does not contribute to the path to peace, that's a different measure from Israel's legitimate right to self-defense.
Q: And, Ari, second, if I could, you said that while some are looking for scalps, he's looking for solutions. With respect to the stock market, could you tell us when was the last time the President huddled with his economic team to discuss whether there was anything the White House might be doing or should be doing, and sort of options resulted from that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's focus is on the economy, and wisely so. The President knows that in the long-term, the economy -- and in the medium-term and the short-term, too -- it is the economy that is most fundamental to the pocketbooks issues in our society. That is, it's the economy that drives markets, it's the economy that drives mortgages, it's the economy that drives interest rates. And that's where the President is focused.
And by any measure, given the fact that the economy grew at a rate in excess of six percent in the first quarter this year, that growth looks like it is continuing, albeit not at that rate, and that blue-chip private forecasters are projecting growth in the ballpark of approximately three to four percentage points for the entire year, the economy has recovered from the recession that began in March of 2001. The stock market decline began in March of 2000. And that's why the President's focus is where it should be, on the fundamentals in the economy that ultimately drive these other factors.
We've got to keep moving here, because we're running out of time.
Q: Ari, are you concerned that the weapons used in this attack by Israel were U.S. supplied and possibly in violation of the rules of the FMS regime?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has spoken out rather strongly about this, and I leave it at what he said.
END 1:00 P.M. EDT
Ari Fleischer, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272706