Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:41 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I would like to give you a report on the President's day, and then I have several announcements for you. The President this morning had an intelligence briefing about the latest developments in the war, met with the FBI, then convened a meeting of the National Security Council to discuss homeland defense.
The President earlier this morning gave remarks to the U.S. Mayors and county officials, in which he announced a major increase in funding for homeland security to help protect America as we go through a difficult period, given the war. And as we speak, the President is having lunch with the Vice President, his customary lunch. And then the President will convene a Cabinet meeting at 2:00 p.m. today at which he will discuss several of the messages he plans to share with the nation and the upcoming State of the Union address.
I have a couple announcements. President Bush will welcome to Washington King Abdullah of Jordan for a meeting and working breakfast on February the 1st. The President welcomes the official working visit to Washington of the President of Pakistan, President Musharraf, on February the 13th.
One final announcement, then I'll be happy to take questions. As the Senate returns to work this week, the President would like to remind the Senate that they have left many of his 169 nominations languishing before them. They have actually left a total of 169 nominations languishing before them. Of those awaiting action by the Senate, 49 have had hearings. They have been passed by their committees and only require a simple vote on the floor of the Senate. These individuals could easily be hard at work for the American people, but because of inaction the President continues to operate without his full team in place.
The Senate has failed to confirm 20 of President Bush's senior foreign policy nominees, including officials who will be directly involved in the war against terrorism and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. For example, Roger Winter, the assistant administrator at USAID for Humanitarian Response, has been passed by committee, but has not been given an opportunity to have a vote on the floor. Gaddi Vasquez, the Director of the Peace Corps, similarly has been passed by committee but has had no vote on the floor. And Frank Ricciardone, Ambassador to the Philippines, passed by committee, no vote on the floor.
Despite the President's action of nominating a record of 90 highly qualified individuals to the Federal Bench, the Senate has left 47 languishing. By this point in previous administrations, by way of comparison, only 20 of President Clinton's nominees were left languishing or still awaited action. Only nine of former President Bush's nominees at this point in his administration awaited action, and only four of President Reagan's.
The pace of this Senate is by far way behind the pace of previous Senates. It's too slow, for example, with only three of the original 11 judges that President Bush nominated on May 9th have even received hearings -- only three who were nominated back in May have received hearings.
There are currently 101 vacancies in the federal judiciary. Chief Justice William Rehnquist recently stated that there is a judicial vacancy crisis. This vacancy crisis is an impediment to justice in the President's opinion and the American people deserve better.
The President deserves to have his team in place, particularly during a time of war, and the American people deserve to have a government fully staffed. The President has done his part. It's now time for the Senate to do its.
Q: What is the President's reaction to Chairman Greenspan's testimony that it's not clear another economic stimulus plan is needed now, and it is not critical for the economy, the economy would recover anyway?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, without characterizing what Chairman Greenspan said in reaction to the President, I can tell you that the President wants to err on the side of protecting America's workers, to err on the side of protecting the unemployed and those who have jobs and worry they may lose their jobs.
So the President prefers -- as the evidence is coming in now, indicating there are healthy signs of a recovery. There are still clouds on the horizon, however. And the President prefers to err on the side of creating jobs. And so that's why he continues to call on the Senate to reach an agreement, to take action, so that jobs can be created along the lines of the comprehensive package that he's proposed.
Q: Will he be promoting that package in his speech, his State of the Union speech on Tuesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to get at great length into what the President is going to do on Tuesday. But I think you can rest assured the President is going to talk about the need to help protect America's workers, and to create jobs and have a strong economy. That will be an important part of the President's speech.
Q: There seems to be a little bit of a zero-sum game, economically, when you look at the stimulus plan and what Mitch told us about the budget yesterday. He said that there will be no debt reduction this year because of the expected and projected size of the federal deficit. But he also said, if there was no stimulus plan, the deficit numbers would be much smaller, possibly making room for some debt reduction. I wonder if you could explain to the American public why it's more important to have a stimulus plan and not have debt reduction, than the other way around?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, because if you're an unemployed American, the debt that you want to have reduced is your debt for not being able to work -- the debt that you worry about in terms of paying your electric bills, your gas bills, and your rent and your food, the health care for your family. And that's why, again, the President would prefer to err on the side of helping create jobs and helping the unemployed.
Now, if the year goes along and the Senate continues to fail to take action, and there are increasing signs that the economy is coming back to sufficient levels, then that could change events. But that's not the case today, as we speak, and that's why the President continues to urge the Senate to take action.
Q: We've got American troops now in the Philippines. I wonder why the President hasn't said more about the operation down there, and how it fits into the larger mission of routing terrorism wherever it may spring up?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that that is a topic that the American people are going to want to hear a lot about on Tuesday night. The President looks forward to sharing with the American people his thoughts about the war on terrorism, what has been accomplished so far, and what is next in terms of winning the war against terrorism. I don't say that in regard to specifically any one country, but the President does look forward to sharing with the American people his sense of what this war is all about, how it can be won. And that will happen on Tuesday night.
Q: What is the difference in his mind between the sort of ramp-up to the fight in Afghanistan, conditioning the American people about what the Taliban was all about, what al Qaeda was all about, and operations like the one ongoing in the Philippines, where the stakes, presumably, are just as high?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that's -- you're going to hear a lot of those points raised Tuesday night by the President.
Q: So he'll talk specifically about the U.S. operation in the Philippines?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into specifics this far before the President's speech, but when you talk about the President making the case and the war on terrorism and what the war on terrorism means to the American people, and to what he is looking at in terms of how to win the war, beyond the immediate theater of Afghanistan, that is something the President is going to talk about and make that case on Tuesday.
Q: So he will talk more specifically about other theaters? Because we know what the general principles are of the war on terrorism. That's not the question. The question is some meat on the bone, where we are next, what's going on in places where we are currently.
MR. FLEISCHER: He'll talk about winning the war on terrorism beyond the Afghanistan theater alone.
Q: Can I just follow up on that? In the Afghanistan theater, one of the ultimatums the President delivered to the Taliban was to release American missionaries who were being held there. There are obviously -- Abu Sayyaf is holding two American missionaries. Is there a similar ultimatum to this group?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I'm not going to preview the President's speech Tuesday. If I told you everything, you might not watch it. So I would just urge you to wait until Tuesday night, and then you'll be able to judge the President's speech in its entirety.
Q: That's a policy question, not necessarily a speech question, Ari. What is the policy of this administration --
MR. FLEISCHER: Separate question.
Q: I'm sorry?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a separate question. The United States government has made it plain that the United States is very concerned about the taking of hostages in the Philippines. There is nowhere in the world, including the Philippines, where the United States would ever countenance the taking of American hostages.
It is another reminder about the risks that the United States is up against, with terrorists around the world who resort to the capturing of innocents to pursue their terrorist purposes.
Q: Is there an ultimatum there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to go beyond what I've said.
Q: Can you unravel the numbers a little bit for us on the increase in homeland security? The President said $38 billion, which if you add that with defense spending, would be more than we understand the total increase in spending will be. So, clearly, some of this money is in the budgets of other departments, perhaps in defense, and so forth. Could you clarify for us --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question, homeland security is cross-cutting. Homeland security funds programs in a variety of different agencies. Such as, for example, Health and Human Services with money to increase biotechnology, prevention against bioterrorism. Public health infrastructure improvements. Tomorrow the President will be traveling to Portland, Maine, where the President is going to be talking about announcing a new initiative and new funding figures for border security. That obviously involves programs mostly in the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, but it also involves the Coast Guard, which is under the Department of Transportation.
So the homeland security budget is cross-cutting. It also does include some areas within the Department of Defense. So it is a cross-cutting budget that the President announced today.
There was another question earlier about the exact funding levels, and as is the way budgets have always been done, any funding appropriated as a result of emergency funding would not be counted in a baseline. I think you're all familiar with that bit of wonkery.
Q: You're right. Now, how much -- as far as Tom Ridge's office is concerned --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sure you'll all get over it, as well.
Q: Well, aside from operating funds, will he have any money, any programmatic money, any money for programs which he is supervising? Is there anything that is actually run out of Homeland Security, or is it largely a coordinating --
MR. FLEISCHER: Homeland Security has a budget as part of the office of the White House, just as the National Security Council, for example, does not have tanks in the field, the Office of Homeland Security serves a similar purpose as the National Security Council, which is to coordinate the various entities and agencies of the government that do have appropriated line accounts.
Q: So he will not actually have programmatic money? He won't actually be running federal programs on homeland defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I mentioned, those are cross-cutting. The Coast Guard, for example -- the Coast Guard budget is under the Department of Transportation. Tomorrow up in Portland, Maine, the President is going to make a new announcement about --
Q: -- terrorism, public health, all of that --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- Health and Human Services --
Q: -- all of that will be done in other departments, so they will --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. And here's how it works, as well. The President this morning had a meeting of his Homeland Security Council, which was chaired by Governor Ridge. Seated at the table with Governor Ridge and the President and the Vice President were Secretary of Health and Human Services, the Attorney General, the CIA Director, many others, as well.
The President called the meeting; Governor Ridge briefed the President; the Cabinet Secretaries made their presentations about the various agencies and what they are doing as part of Governor Ridge's homeland review.
Q: On these, the homeland security, they're going to be block grants to some of the cities, et cetera. How are those going to be administered? Are they going to be where they have to fill out an application, or are they going to be automatic? And how long do you expect that that's going to take to get the money to the cities?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in many of the cases, for example, in the first-responder money, which the President announced today, would have a tenfold increase in money for first-responders, up to I think it was $3.5 billion. That money was going to go to fund police, firemen, ambulances, the emergency first-responders in those communities. The money will go to the states and then the states are going to work to bring it to the local level. That's how the money will be --
Q: Have predetermined levels for the states, in other words?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's a formula that involves the size of the different states, size of the different cities. And I think it's fairly logical that if there's a state -- one entity that is 10 times the size of another entity, you can expect somewhere along the line they'll receive 10 times the amount of resources that traditionally would have 10 times as many people.
Q: Ari, on this question of border security that he's going to address tomorrow, where does the President stand on the idea of consolidating some of the many agencies that handle border security -- Customs, INS and the other agencies that are involved in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is a proposal that is under review. The President is aware of the thoughts of different members of his Cabinet about it. The President has asked Governor Ridge to take a careful look at whether or not it can make the borders more efficient in terms of allowing the flow of people and the flow of commerce that we welcome into this country, while at the same time preventing people and goods that we don't want in this country from getting into the country. In other words, having a border system that keeps terrorists out and keeps people in who want to come to the United States. Keeping drugs out, but letting commerce in. And that is again, a cross-cutting aspect of the United States government.
There are a host of different agencies that are involved in things along the border, including food inspectors, for example, from the Department of Agriculture. So the review is being taken, to see whether or not there is a more effective and efficient way to consolidate any of those agencies. But no decisions have been made. They're still talking about it.
Q: To get back to the earlier funding questions, how is it going to be determined where bioterrorism, for example, begins or ends, and another disease begins? I mean, anthrax versus some disease that could be used as an attack? Are you going to say to HHS, you have to use this money on a specific anthrax --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think one of the interesting things here, is that you're going to see a large public benefit as a result of the homeland security aspects that goes beyond bioterrorism, because the benefits that are gained in fighting bioterrorism can also help in ongoing health endeavors.
For example, the more laboratories there are that can do examination and research of anthrax, they also have abilities to do research in other areas, too. The more improvements that are made to help the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta become more modernized and have more resources, that has a magnificent benefit throughout society, in areas that are just health related.
So the purpose is homeland defense and bioterrorism. But it's undeniable that there are going to be ancillary benefits to society as a whole as a result of that. But the funding is earmarked toward those purposes.
Q: Ari, have you gotten any more information on Ben's request from yesterday, on additional Bush family members who may have owned Enron stock?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not.
Q: Last night an interview President Bush gave Tom Brokaw of NBC, he mentioned that Afghanistan was just the first step, and he was watching -- your government was watching other countries. Specifically, he mentioned Iraq, and said that as long as Saddam Hussein does not allow inspectors to come in, et cetera. My question is, the United States, maybe Great Britain is backing it, but I see no rush in the Security Council either, in the five corp groups or 15 or something member group for the inspectors to go back. So is this White House just going to wait for inspectors to come back, or not, or are you going to take other steps?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President was very clear in what he said. And the reason the President said it is because Saddam Hussein signed an agreement that helped end the Persian Gulf War, in which he committed himself and promised to allow inspectors into the country. That was one of the terms of surrender. And it's another indication of the risks that Saddam Hussein presents to the world -- when he made that agreement, swore to the world, and then as soon as he was able to, he reneged on the agreement. And the President stands strong and firm in his insistence that Saddam Hussein live up to the agreements that he himself made, that he committed his country to, to protect peace and stability in the region.
And the President believes very deeply, having not decided -- and I'm not indicating any next course of action specific to Iraq -- but that the world follows strong leadership. And I think that's one of the lessons that you've seen in Afghanistan -- that the President was strong in Afghanistan and the world has followed; President Musharraf was strong in Pakistan and the Pakistani people have followed. And that's how the President believes that the United States can lead the world and lead the world to a more stable world, a more peaceful world.
Q: What I would like to add to my original question is, is the United States doing anything with its partners in the Security Council of the U.N.? Nobody else seems to be interested in pushing that issue of the inspections, the return of the inspectors.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I don't share your point on that. The United Nations has spoken. The United Nations has passed resolutions about it, and Iraq is violating those resolutions.
If you're asking, can I tell you today is the President going to take a specific step because Iraq is violating that, the President has indicated up to this point that Iraq needs to return the inspectors to Iraq. That's the extent -- that is the extent of what the President has said to date.
Q: On those lines, Ari, a U.S. official in Geneva today said that time was running out for Iraq to allow U.N. inspectors in. Is there a decision pending? Is there something -- a new U.S. policy likely to be unveiled soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing -- nothing to report.
Q: Getting back on the formula for money that's going to the states, you mentioned size would be an important factor. Will you not also consider threat? And if so, how you factor that in?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, mostly -- the spending on homeland security, which is now going to -- as I mentioned, doubled up to $35 billion, will come in a variety of different categories. Within those categories, there are going to be different spending allocations and decisions. For example, on the first-responders, which there is no telling where our next threat may be. Hopefully, there never will be a next attack on the United States. But I think that will flow along the logical lines of the different sizes of the different entities have different needs. New York City and Los Angeles have much more need for first-responders, for example, than a smaller city would. So there can be a formulaic approach when it comes to that.
On health, for example, where you have the Centers for Disease Control, which does a lot of work across the country, but most of it is located in Atlanta, you're going to have a more focused approach there, because the Centers for Disease Control is unique; it's not formulaic. What they do is they spread out across the country.
On the funding for border initiatives, for example, obviously, the funding on the border initiatives is going to be located on states that have borders, which will be the northern area of the country and the southern tier of the country. I don't think you'll see a lot of border funding given to Iowa. So there's just a certain logic of these programs and how they work.
Q: You don't see these reports, though, of alerts from the CIA or FBI or any kind of that data weighing into how --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Jean, because remember on those reports there was no site-specific information in almost every case.
Q: Ari, do you have any detail on the upcoming Karzai visit, his schedule and who might be coming with him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know who is coming with him. I know that he will be meeting with the President on Monday, and we will, of course, have information about the meeting on Monday.
Q: He arrives in the country on Sunday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have his itinerary; I just have the President's.
Q: Who would have his itinerary?
MR. FLEISCHER: Afghani authorities or the State Department.
Q: Do you know what he's doing Tuesday night?
MR. FLEISCHER: You almost caught me, Ron.
Q: Sitting in the front row?
Q: -- you should know. (Laughter.)
Q: Good head fake, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: I need a quick dodge.
Q: Along those lines -- this is not a flippant question, but is the President going to talk about the Enron situation, either directly or perhaps indirectly, in the State of the Union speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not, on any of the specific questions you're asking, indicating what the President is going to say. This is Thursday. The President is going to practice the State of the Union today. He'll do probably additional practice over the weekend. He's still reviewing his remarks. And so I'm not just, on any of the levels of specificity that you're very appropriately asking about -- the news will be made by the President. The news will be made by -- I appreciate the opportunity to preempt the President's State of the Union. I like my job.
Q: Let's make some other news on campaign finance reform.
MR. FLEISCHER: Wait, we still have people who haven't had questions yet.
Q: Thank you. We saw what the President said last night -- that was a good feature, by the way -- about John Walker. In the wake of what Walker and his parents and attorney said today, does the President have any fresh thoughts, especially about the charges that he had asked for legal representation, or the father's claims that the son had done nothing anti-American?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has faith in our impartial system of justice. And the system of justice does not respond to news conferences of the day. The system of justice responds to evidence that is presented in a court of law and to strict adherence of the laws that protect all citizens, including John Walker. And that's where the President's faith lies. And the President looks forward to justice being done in a court.
Q: Ari, following up on your opening statement, who in the Senate is responsible for the inaction on the judicial nominees?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you take a look at the pace of what's happened, the President made his first nominations in May. The Senate then changed parties in June. And so for that short one-month period where the Republicans controlled the Senate, I don't think anybody's expecting one-month action on judicial nominations. So since the change in the Senate, since June, when it came under Democratic control, it really has been a very slow movement on the President's judicial nominees.
I know some of the Democrats like to say they confirmed more nominees in the last six months than the Republicans confirmed in the first six months. Well, of course, they did. The President didn't make any nominations until May. So I think that wherever it is, whether it's with any one senator, or whether it's more than one senator -- which is often the case in the Senate -- and there have been cases, isolated, where Republicans put holds on nominees -- again, those were isolated -- it doesn't matter to the President who individually has placed a hold on a nominee. What matters to the President is that the vacancies on the bench be filled up, so that Americans can go to court and expect quick action in a court, and not a delayed action because there are so few court rooms that have judges sitting in the chairs. And that's where the President's concern is.
Q: On one other Senate issue, the faith-based plan. The President in his speech to the mayors today gave pretty spirited defense of it. Has he or anybody at the White House received any new signals from the Senate about the prospects of faith-based?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we have, and the signals are somewhat mixed. It appears that there are some senators who would very much like to work in a bipartisan way with the administration on faith-based legislation to help people in poverty. There's also a hope that perhaps it will get scheduled for a vote. But I don't believe we have received any commitments about a scheduled vote.
But there are, indeed, some senators who want to work closely with the White House on that. And the President welcomes that and the White House has been reciprocating, working with those senators.
Q: Daschle specifically committed to bring it up this year. Is that commitment still valid? He did that last year. Is that commitment still valid, as far as you're concerned?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can't speak for the Senate Majority Leader. Only he can schedule votes, so if he were indicating a date and time specific -- he has indicated that on several other issues, such as energy, there will be action. And he has committed to time frames on some of these issues. So that's a question that only the Senate Majority Leader can answer.
Q: Are you going to try to hold him to that timetable?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly, the President thinks it's important to help people who are in poverty and people who can benefit from his armies of compassion initiative or the faith-based initiative. The only way that can happen is for the Senate to vote it.
Q: Related to scheduling of votes, campaign finance in the House has now achieved the necessary signatures for a discharge position to force House consideration of that. One, White House reaction? Two, the Shays-Meehan bill, the White House and the President would sign?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, I have not gotten confirmation on what you just said about the petition. So, without accepting the premise of that, because I just have not -- the petition process, as you know, is a very complicated process in the House.
Q: Is there some doubt in your mind as to whether --
MR. FLEISCHER: But in any case, as you recall the House of Representatives did last year take up campaign finance reform and in a very complicated series of actions. As campaign finance reform emerged from the Rules Committee, there were a series of test votes on the floor, and the result was, actually, a defeat of campaign finance reform, because of an unusual coalition where many Democrats voted against campaign finance reform. There is a split in the Democrat ranks on several of the campaign finance reform proposals.
In all cases, the President is committed to having campaign finance reform enacted into law. He believes that improvements can be made in the current system of campaign financing. And the President -- as well as electoral reform, and election reform, which the President would like to see move forward.
But the President does think that we need to abolish soft money. The President thinks that soft money should be abolished for individuals -- that it should be abolished for corporations, that it should be abolished for unions. Those are the two groups that the President strongly believes soft money should be abolished.
He believes that there should be an increase in the limits of how much people individually can give in their hard money contributions, to be a more accurate reflection of inflation. The President believes in full and prompt disclosure. He himself, during the campaign, of course, released all his information virtually instantly on the Internet.
So the President has made it very clear to Congress that they cannot count on him to veto campaign finance reform. And I think in that process, it forced the debate to become a real one. And that's one of the reasons I
think you've seen many Democrats really start to question whether or not they want campaign finance reform to eventually be sent to the President.
Q: Will the President sign a campaign finance reform bill that comes out of Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: It depends on what it says. But the President has made it clear that he can't be counted on to veto it. Which I think was a calculation that many people made previously, which is one of the things that stopped campaign finance reform from ever getting done.
Q: You say he wants campaign finance reform, but you won't say unequivocally that he will sign a bill that comes out of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course. No President is going to give a blank check to Congress and say, you pass anything, I'll sign it. No, of course --
Q: Have you ever said that he'd sign it before?
MR. FLEISCHER: You can check the transcript, David. But I will reiterate what I've always said, that the President has made it clear that he can't be counted on to veto it. The President very much wants something that he can sign.
And you've very cleverly got people asking who had questions before -- I'm trying to spread it around, then we'll come back.
Q: If the United States can find two witnesses who will testify in court that John Walker committed an act of treason, would the President like to see him charged with treason?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question of Justice, that's a question of judiciary matters, and that is not something that the President of the United States decides. That is a question that needs to be addressed to the people who would gather evidence, would know whether or not such witnesses existed, and that means the Department of Justice. The President of the United States does not determine charges that are brought in courts of law under our system. Those decisions are made by professional prosecutors, and the President has faith in those people to make those judgments.
Q: Ari, the President will oppose the ideas from members of the Democratic Party to restore welfare benefits to legal residents?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President announced just the opposite. The President would support a change in the 1996 welfare law, which limited the ability of non-citizens, or immigrants, to come to this country. And if their circumstances changed and they needed to go onto food stamps, there was a provision in the '96 law which denied food stamps to people who are legal residents of this country. And the President has opposed that provision. He opposed it as governor of Texas, and in any reauthorization of welfare reform, the President has made it clear that he would oppose that now.
Q: Does the President have any specific idea in terms of combatting the narco traffic in the border with Mexico, and the fact that in the last couple of months there have been reports of increase of drug smuggling from Mexico to the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Governor Ridge has been in contact with Mexican officials, and Governor Ridge will be traveling to the region shortly, at the President's direction, to talk about border initiatives with Mexico.
This remains a top priority for President Bush. The President, despite what has happened on September 11th, sees it as vital to America's interest to work closely with Mexico, so that our border with Mexico facilitates the free flow of goods; that people can come to the United States legally, for opportunity, while having a border that keeps out drugs. And that remains an important priority. The initiative the President is going to be announcing in Portland, Maine tomorrow, will be very helpful in addressing these border issues, both to the north and to the south.
Q: On the homeland defense funds, obviously homeland defense is an evolving situation. Six months from now, our needs could be very different than they are now. Has there been any thought in this new allocation of money to sitting on some of it for a period of time, or is it all going to be allocated to be spent immediately?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, remember, what the President announced today is a funding proposal that will be part of the budget that is sent to the budget on February the 4th. That proposal is for spending that begins in fiscal year 2003. The first date of that is, of course, September 1, 2002. So this is a proposal the President will make. It will now go to the Congress and it will go to the various committees, and the committees will decide whether it's the right amount, too much, too little. And then it gets appropriated, and then spent by the agencies of the government throughout fiscal year 2003. So it's a 12-month process.
Les, you seem to have something on your mind today.
Q: Ari, since both United States Senators from New York have now contributed money equal to their contributions received from Enron to a fund to help laid-off and pension-destroyed employees, my question is, has the President ever considered the possibility of inviting all of these laid-off Enron employees, mostly Texans, as I understand it, to Enron Field in Texas, along with Enron officers like Lay, and suggesting that Lay contribute $29 million of the $30 million he got away with to the employees fund?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been very focused on the whole issue of how to protect the workers at Enron, as well as other companies whose pensions have been either wiped out or severely diminished as a result of this. And the President thinks the best way to help them is through changes that can possibly be made to the nation's pension laws, as well as the review that the Secretary of Labor is carrying out right now, aimed specifically at those Enron employees. So the President does think that there can be things that need to be done. And I think you'll hear more about that at some point.
Q: C-SPAN radio provided nationwide coverage on Monday at Washington's Metropolitan AME Church, where a program by Black Voices of Peace, arranged by John Hutto of Amnesty International, declared, the U.S. has no right to hold detainees in Cuba; Ariel Sharon, George Bush, Kissinger and Clinton are terrorists; and America got what it deserved on 9/11. And since you and Secretary Rumsfeld so effectively refuted European critics of the detaining, surely you will refute these American critics, won't you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I have not heard those specific remarks, but I don't think it matters, in the President's opinion, the source of any remarks that would suggest that what the United States is doing is not fully consistent with the Geneva Convention in Cuba, because it is. And the President has great pride in the way that the men and the women of the military are treating these very dangerous people who have been brought to Guantanamo Bay, so that they are not free to go around the world and engage in more terrorism against our citizens.
Q: So you are appalled at what was done --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've answered it.
Q: You used very strong language that I think painted President Bush as potentially a campaign finance reformer -- very strong language. I mean, you've made comments like this, similar, but never strung together, I don't think, the way you did earlier. Is it Enron -- the fact that we had an Attorney General who had to recuse himself, New York senators who have given back money, your former employer, Elizabeth Dole, who has offered to give back money -- is it Enron that is moving the President now in a position where he now says, there's just too much money that's being thrown around this town? Is that advancing the President's position?
MR. FLEISCHER: I appreciate the, I think, compliment that you gave me. But there's nothing new I've said. I mean, that's what the President himself has said from the very beginning of the year. And you can just check the transcript and check the records of both the President's remarks and mine. And you'll see that's what the President has always said.
The times that this issue came up the most were, frankly, about the time that the Senate took action on campaign finance reform, when it was a red-hot topic, and I said the same thing then. And, of course, last year, when the House tried to take up campaign finance reform, but many of the Democrats voted against it and it did not pass in the House.
Q: Well, if the Democrats are now united, or if there's enough of them to come along, will he specifically sign Shays-Meehan, if that's the legislation that comes up? A solid, soft money ban.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that what the Senate passed is not exactly Shays-Meehan, so even if the House passed something similar to Shays-Meehan, it would still have to go to conference. But I think the President would view that as -- the President wants to see progress made on campaign finance reform so he can sign something into law. And that's been what he's been saying all year.
Q: Ari, may I follow that? If you're right and you haven't gone any farther on campaign finance reform -- I want to take another stab at Ken's question -- do you think that Enron underscores the need for campaign finance reform?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Enron underscores the need for a couple things. One is for a full-blown criminal investigation to determine who did something wrong, wherever they are -- whether it was Enron, whether it was any of the accounting firms, or wherever they are. That is ongoing.
Enron underscores the need to take a review of how the pensions in this country are administered, given the fact that we have many people who lost a lot of money, while also protecting people who work for a great number of companies -- some of the most successful companies in America, where there are literally tens of millions of people who are going to retire, already retired, thanks to a pension system that allows people to invest in 401Ks. That's what the President thinks of the lessons of Enron.
Q: But does it also underscore the need for campaign finance reform, do you think?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you accept the premise that if contributions were somehow limited, would that have changed what anybody inside Enron did -- I don't know that anybody could give you that answer. Only the people who were inside Enron can give you that answer.
END 1:16 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/272475