Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
12:05 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me walk you a little bit through the schedule, and I'll be happy to take questions.
The President this morning had breakfast with a bipartisan congressional leadership to discuss the remaining issues that Congress has on its plate for the rest of the year. He urged the Congress to continue to work together so that the economic stimulus package could be approved by the Congress, be signed this year, he hopes, so that we can help America's unemployment workers.
Following the breakfast, the President met with the CIA for his intelligence briefing; met with the FBI for an update on the domestic front. And then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council.
Throughout the afternoon, the President will meet with members of Congress on trade promotion authority. The House of Representatives is scheduled to take a very important vote tomorrow on whether or not President Bush will have the authority to enter into trade agreements around the world. The President urges members of Congress to vote for that. It will be a very interesting vote, to see whether or not Congress or the House will go along.
The President also early this afternoon will have an event in the Oval Office, where he will announce a new Chairman of the Republican National Committee. And the President will meet with the Prime Minister of Norway this afternoon to discuss cooperation on the war on terrorism.
One update. As a result of the action the President took yesterday in the fight against international terrorism on the financial front, I want to report to you this morning that over $5 million has been blocked in assets belonging to the Holy Land Foundation. And as a result of the freezes and blocking orders the President has implemented on the financial front worldwide against the war on terrorism, more than $61 million has been either frozen or blocked around the world.
Q:Ari, what makes the President -- I'm taking note of his wide-swinging threats in speeches recently. What makes him think that he has the right to go into a sovereign country and bomb the people?
MR. FLEISCHER: His threats?
Q:Any country. Yes, he's --
MR. FLEISCHER: Would you like to be more specific?
Q:Does he think he can go beyond Afghanistan or anywhere else?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it clear to the American people that the United States, in the wake of an attack on our country, will defend itself. And as a result of defending ourselves, you can see what is happening in Afghanistan. The President has said that this is a war against terrorism because terrorists continue to pose a threat to the United States and to others around the world, and that he is involved in phase one of defending this country against terrorists, and he will continue to do so.
Q:What gives him the authority to go into other countries and bomb them, which is what he is threatening to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: The right as the Commander-in-Chief to protect and defend the American people.
Q:Ari, what's the White House reaction to the agreement signed in Bonn by the parties who have been negotiating a future for the Afghan government? Does it meet the standards that the White House has set out -- broad-based, ethnically diverse, women involved?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very pleased with the agreement that's been reached on Bonn concerning the future of the Afghanistan government. He believes it is a positive agreement that bodes well for the people of Afghanistan. This vote will allow the people of Afghanistan to take -- this development will allow the people of Afghanistan to take their country back, and the President is very pleased by that. He's pleased by the multiethnic nature of the agreement. He's pleased by the role that women will play in the future government of Afghanistan. He wants to express his congratulations and praise to Secretary General Annan, as well as to Ambassador Brahimi, for their hard work in delivering this accord.
But much more work remains ahead. This is an important development in the future of Afghanistan, but it's only, in many ways, the beginning. A lot of hard work remains for Afghanistan now to have a stable government that represents and respects the people of Afghanistan. It still will be difficult because Afghanistan is still a nation that is the middle of a war.
Q:Ari, on the Middle East, since last weekend's suicide bombings, has Mr. Arafat done anything to impress the President that, in fact, he is making a commitment to peace and to rooting out terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you listen to what the President said yesterday -- now, it's about 16 hours after what he said -- it's too soon to say. The President will keep a very close eye on the events in the Middle East and on the actions that Chairman Arafat takes, to make certain that Chairman Arafat is dedicated to the cause of peace and to making sure that he takes action against the terrorists who are challenging not only the security of Israel, but the authority of Chairman Arafat.
Q:But what's the timetable here? Because, I mean, day after day, the President keeps calling on him to do something. I'm wondering when the timetable, when the deadline is for Yasser Arafat.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not established it in such a manner. I think that, as always, the President wants to allow events to develop over time in a way that he hopes will be fruitful to convincing the parties in the Middle East that their best interest is to work together, Chairman Arafat and Israel, to forge meaningful peace. And one of the best tests of that will be to see whether Chairman Arafat will take meaningful, long-term, enduring action against the terrorists who are operating out of Palestinian territory.
Q:But for now the peace process is dead, is it not, in the President's mind?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you heard the President address that yesterday, when he said that he has a dream that peace will be achieved in the Middle East. And as I indicated earlier, the Middle East has historically been a cycle between violence and hope. And even in the midst of the violence, the President has not given up hope and he will remain committed to achieving peace.
Q:What has President Bush been told about the death of the two Americans in Afghanistan under friendly fire this morning and how it happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: Upon his arrival into the White House, shortly before 7:00 a.m. this morning, the President was informed about the deaths of the Americans and the injuries in Afghanistan that affected people of Afghanistan, as well. And the President offers his condolences to the families and the loved ones of those who have been killed, and he regrets the loss of life very much and also wishes that the injured will have a full and speedy recovery.
Q:And what caused it? Does he know anything about what went wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Department of Defense will have more information about any of the specifics, and I'll refer you over to DOD on it.
Q:What do you think your chances are in the trade vote tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's risky business, always, to predict what a congressional vote will be. It has historically been an uphill fight, at least over the last some 10 years, for the President to be given this authority. But the President thinks it is crucial that he be given the authority to enter into trade agreements around the world, one, to help protect the economy long-term; but, two, to help other nations around the world so they have opportunities to grow and prosper.
Q:With the people he's meeting today, are they leaners or how do you see them?
MR. FLEISCHER: They fall into a variety of categories. Clearly, he won't meet with people whose minds are already made up and there's no use talking to them. So the President is going to meet with people where he thinks it can make a difference.
I can report to you that the President has held, prior to today and not including yesterday's flight, six meetings with members of Congress, exclusively on the topic of trade promotion authority. He's met with 41 members of the House, 8 members of the Senate, 19 Republicans and 30 Democrats.
Q:Are those large meetings, or one-on-one, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: A variety of forums.
Q:Is this over recent, Ari, or --
Q:Has he been on the phone with them also?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President may be making some phone calls.
Q:Spread over the last six months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, if you recall, in anticipation of this, because the President is such a dedicated believer in the importance of free trade, the President over the summer started having meetings with members of Congress to talk about trade promotion authority. He had a few additional ones, and now, of course, on the eve of a major vote, the efforts are accelerated.
Q:This is over that whole period?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q:Has the President talked to Sharon or Admiral Zinni? What has been the President's activity in terms of the Mideast?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the President met directly with Prime Minister Sharon here at the White House on Sunday. No, to my knowledge, the President has not had any additional conversations.
Q:Has the President had a chance to look at this new proposal by Chairman Thomas that provides additional assistance to workers who lose their jobs?
MR. FLEISCHER: TIA? The President is aware of the proposal by Chairman Thomas and the President is hopeful that as a result of a series of conversations that are taking place, that members of Congress will agree to grant the President the authority to enter into trade agreements around the world.
Q:Does he support the Thomas proposal?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President does believe in TIA, the program of trade adjustment assistance. He thinks it is a very helpful way to help people who in individual sectors might lose their jobs as a result of trade agreements. Having said that, the President, as you know, believes that trade agreements create a net increase in jobs. But the President supports the program. The President hopes that in negotiations and discussions they will be successful.
Q:Chairman Arafat is saying that he can't get to General Zinni to return any calls to him. Are you aware of that? Has that been a directive to General Zinni?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd refer you to the State Department.
Q:Ari, in light of the Army's decision to reverse itself on Captain Burlingame, can you tell us how and when the President was advised of that situation? Also, the President's thoughts on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. As I indicated this morning, this is a matter for the Department of Defense, the Department of Army, specifically. And I don't have anything beyond that.
Q:Do you know if the President was at least aware of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I say, I don't have anything beyond that.
Q:Ari, why do we have to be referred to the State Department on that? I mean why can't we -- can't we know if the administration is having conversations with Yasser Arafat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I think you'll get -- well, if you ask me about the President, I can report to you the President has not. If you ask about Ambassador Zinni --
Q:-- the Security Council? I mean, obviously, everybody around here knows, don't they?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't have a phone list of everything that Zinni is doing. He's in the Mideast --
Q:That's not the issue. Are there -- do you know of any contacts with Yasser Arafat?
MR. FLEISCHER: His direct report is to the State Department, which is why I said refer you to the State Department.
Q:But everybody reports to the President, don't they? I'm asking you as the President's spokesman why you can't comment on whether the administration has contact with Yasser Arafat when they're in the middle of war over there.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you ask me about the President, I'll give you that answer.
Q:Ari, following up on this situation at Arlington, we just spoke with the spokesman for the Army Secretary who says there has been no reversal, that they can bury this man in an existing family plot, but not in a separate grave as his family has requested. What are the prospects that the President might get involved and overrule this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I said this is a matter for the Department of Defense, the Department of Army. If there's anything further to be added to it, you will know from the White House.
But these are always very sensitive and difficult matters. Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place where countless numbers of Americans want to be buried. Arlington National Cemetery is also a place that is running out of space. It makes for some of the most difficult emotional issues for the families of loved ones who have been lost in any type of military or any other type of action, having served in the military, also with a nation that wants to honor its promises to people who will be able to be buried into Arlington in the future.
It is always a very emotional and difficult issue, and the military has very stringent rules that they try to comply with, because it makes it easier for everybody to understand what the criteria are. So that's why the Department of the Army is the one who is charged with this. They worked very hard at it, and they understand the sensitivities involved.
Q:So are we to take the initial part of your response as an indication that the President might get involved? You said --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I just said to you -- you asked me and I told you, you know where it stands, that the Department of the Army made the announcement made this morning, and that's where it stands.
Q:To follow up on Ken's question and the point he was making on the Middle East, why can't you tell us as the White House spokesman, what, if any, contacts White House officials -- Card, Karl Rove -- has had on this issue with the Department of the Army?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, I thought you were asking about, again, Zinni and Arafat. The Department of the Army?
Q:Well, again, I'm asking you to tell us what contact --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I'm not aware of any. If I had something to report, I would report it.
Q:Can you check to see whether or not there has been any contact or if the White House is involved in this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I raised it this morning, and I had nothing to advise you of. If I had something to advise you of involving the President or the White House's involvement in this case at Arlington, I would advise you of it.
Q:So you're saying the White House hasn't been involved as far as you know?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is nothing that I've been made aware of.
Q:Ari, two things, real quick. On Ann's question, is the President planning, or has he talked to the families of those soldiers who were killed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to let you know. And as you know, the President's habit has been to send notes to the families. But if there is anything, I'll let you know.
Q:And a second question, quickly. The President, since September the 11th, has showed extreme patriotism, brandishing his flag, talking about this country, the love of this country. What are his thoughts about the American who has fought for the Taliban and his patriotism?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's first thought is that we need to collect the facts about what has taken place. But I think until then, the President hasn't really entered into the realm of conjecture. I think that -- I would just leave it right there, until the facts can be ascertained about if it's all true what we've read, and why somebody may have done this. But beyond that, I don't think it's fair to speculate.
Q:From the initial facts, is it treason?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Rumsfeld was asked that question yesterday, and I'm not going to go beyond what he said.
Q:I'm asking you, the White House.
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a matter for the people who were involved to ask the appropriate questions, to gather the appropriate information. It's not a time for people in the government to guess or to speculate. These are important matters.
Q:But he's fighting against the American government, basically --
MR. FLEISCHER: I understand.
Q:Ari, after the breakfast, Speaker Hastert and Leader Gephardt both said that they believe Congress is right to engage in a broad investigation of Enron. And both said that they were open to the idea of having some remedial legislation drafted to protect shareholders, such as those of Enron's, who were affected when their 401(k)s were frozen as the stock value of the company plummeted.
Question one, does the White House support any kind of inquiry into legislation like that? And, two, Mr. Gephardt said the entire Enron situation raises questions anew about the President's ideas about privatizing, even partially, Social Security, because assets held in those funds are subject to all sorts of market pressures, they could disappear overnight. And the Enron situation adds more evidence, the Democrats complain, you just simply cannot and should not privatize Social Security. Your reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. On the two points -- on the first point, as you know, right from the beginning I announced that the Department of Treasury and other government agencies are monitoring the events in the wake of the announcement about Enron. And since I said that, Enron has, of course, filed for bankruptcy.
You may want to talk to the Department of Labor. The Department of Labor has jurisdiction over pension issues. It is not uncommon for the Department of Labor, in a time like this, to keep a watchful eye over people's pensions to make sure that any consequences are fairly and adequately dealt with. So they are the agency that would be involved. They have their own criteria to determine whether or not they will have any type of investigation. But the President wants to make certain that all agencies are monitoring events and will take action as their criteria warrant.
On the second point about markets, you know, one of the things about our country is that unfortunately, we can be a land of haves and have-nots. And one of the things that distinguishes the have-nots and the haves is the haves have access to ownership of stock and mutual funds. And, therefore, they have a little piece of a rock that can grow and allow them to enjoy more wealth and a better life.
There are many people in society who would like to have access to markets, so that way they can accumulate wealth. And often, they can't. Social Security is one of the reasons they can't. Young people have all this money taken out of their paychecks, and often they do not receive any return on it, specifically people who are young today pay taxes for a system that is scheduled to go broke before they have any return.
So one of the ways the President sees as helping workers who have a low income is to allow them to have the same market access that upper-income and middle-income people have, so they, too, can accumulate wealth.
Q:That doesn't do anything for the Enron 401K.
Q:Yesterday, the President and Secretary O'Neill went out of their way to talk about Hamas as a terrorist group with global reach. Is that the first time that that definition has been applied to a Palestinian group? And secondly, this was the first time the President had acted against a group not associated with al Qaeda. What significance should we attach to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the first point, I couldn't tell you if that's the first time. I think you would have to take a review of that and see what you -- I can't tell you from everybody in every government -- branch of the government if people have ever used such language. But as you know, Hamas was added to the executive order that the President issued on November 2, allowing the United States to block or to freeze the assets of groups.
The announcement yesterday was on top of that. It was built on the foundation of his November 2 announcement. And I think it shows the world that the President is sincere and will act when he ways that this is a multi-front war and financing of terrorist organizations is one of the fronts at which the United States and others will actively engage.
Q:When he first began the war on terrorism, they used terrorist groups with a global reach to apply specifically to al Qaeda. And as part of the rationale for going after these groups, militarily if necessary, should we apply the same criteria to what is now happening in the Middle East? Would the U.S., for instance, consider military action against Middle Eastern terrorist groups?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as you know, the President has repeatedly said he's focused on phase one on the war against terrorism, and that's where I think I'll leave it.
Q:Ari, two questions on Afghanistan. As part of the agreement today, there was discussion of having some kind of a U.N. force in Kabul, at least for a while. How long -- I know the President has expressed reluctance to have American forces there for long. What kind of contribution is he willing to make, and with what range of time parameters? And, secondly, in order to reach this agreement, were there any American commitments made on aid?
MR. FLEISCHER: The principal contribution the United States is making is creating an environment in which peace can take place in Afghanistan. And if there are to be any international security forces put into Afghanistan, it will only be as a result of winning a war against al Qaeda and the destruction of the Taliban. So I think events are still somewhat fluid involving what type of steps will come next with any international security force. You know, the President is unchanged in what he has always said, that the American military should be used for the purpose of fighting and winning wars, and the President has not changed his opinion on that.
Q:On the aid issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the which one?
Q:On the aid issue, were there any further commitments of American aid for Afghanistan made as part of this agreement?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing that I'm aware of, David.
Q:Democrats are still, as far as I know, trying to add $15 billion in spending on homeland security to the defense bill. As I understand it, Republicans, in order to stop that, may end up involving stalling the defense appropriations bill. Does the President think it's worth it to end up doing that in order to keep this money, extra money, off of the bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the meeting with the members of Congress this morning, the President made it as plain as day that if the Senate were to send the President a bill that complicates our nation's defense needs, he will veto it. And by "complicate," he means if they try to attach extra spending beyond what has already been promised and agreed to by the Congress to a Defense Department appropriation bill at a time of war, the President will immediately veto it, send it back so Congress can back to work on something that can indeed be done.
There is also a letter that is now circulating up on Capitol Hill, and Senator Lott's office is distributing, that has a sufficient number of senators to sustain any presidential veto. So why on Earth would the Senate go through this exercise when it clearly won't go anywhere, other than to delay America's national defense needs.
America is at war and the war should not be fought on last year's budget. And that's why the President feels so strongly that Congress should send him a defense appropriation bill that has the funding increases for the Pentagon to fight a war and that that bill should not get bogged down by other issues beyond what has already been agreed to by the Congress.
Q:Do you want Republicans to vote against that bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it has yet to be attached on the floor. It passed in the committee with the extraneous spending that the President has said goes beyond how much is necessary to immediately take care of the needs we have on the homeland. And so let's see what happens on the Senate floor.
It's unclear yet whether or not this proposal will actually make it through the Senate floor. But the President has sent Congress as direct a message as you can about the need to pass a defense bill that can get quickly signed into law so our troops can have the resources they need.
Q:Ari, in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Senator Hatch said that he saw an element of partisanship in the oversight hearings that are taking place over the way the Justice Department is carrying out its investigation. Does the White House share that view that partisanship is creeping into the Congress's oversight role on the investigation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President understands very clearly and welcomes Congress's legitimate oversight of all the activities that the Executive Branch engages in. That is how our Constitution is built, and the President is keenly respectful of it. And I don't think it should surprise anybody that the Senate will exercise that review. But I think the President has also noted that there have been some positive statements by many Democrats about the actions that the President has taken on the home front, military tribunals, et cetera, to fight and to win the war on terrorism.
Now, clearly, the American people are overwhelmingly with the President on this. But there very well may be people who represent a small minority and they have that right to do so.
Q:Just to follow up. Do you think that there are people that are trying to score political points against the Attorney General or against the President in their criticism of his handling of the situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, there very well may be. But that doesn't bother the President. The President understands that -- he came to Washington from a very different background than many people who have been here for a while. The President came from a state government where you'll see -- not only in Austin, Texas, but throughout many of the states -- less partisanship, less strife. And that's the spirit that the President has been trying to bring to the Congress. I think many people accept that new spirit that has come to Washington. There may be some who won't.
Q:Going back to Holy Land Funding, there are many other groups who are raising funds from this country and sending overseas, including many groups in Kashmir and funding terrorists' activities. Do you think the President is going to go now after all those groups who are raising funds from this land?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, yesterday's announcement was one announcement in a series of announcements the President has been making on the financial front in the war on terrorism. And I really urge you to look at this as a front in a war. And given that fact -- and that's the President's approach to it and that's the message that he has given the Secretary of Treasury and the government investigators and the law enforcement community -- you need to look at this as an ongoing series of events designed to protect this country by drying up the money that's available to those who would do us harm or engage in terrorism around the world. So, as the President has always said, there very well may be more actions to be taken.
Q:Just to follow, because the Prime Minister of India when he was here at the White House and met with the President, and also, the Foreign Minister of India, they all said that there are groups here who are funding terrorist groups in Kashmir. And they urged the President and this administration to take action on this --
MR. FLEISCHER: And I think the President is putting groups on notice that no one is going to be safe, no one is going to be immune; if they practice terrorism, the war will be brought to them on a number of fronts.
Q:Ari, despite philosophical differences between Democrats and Republicans on the economic stimulus package, it's already December 5th. Does the President feel he will get an agreement?
MR. FLEISCHER: He just doesn't know. No one can say what Congress will do. It's up to Congress, finally. The President will continue to be helpful, but obviously, the Senate was not even able to pass a bill. Unlike the House of Representatives, which was able to pass a stimulus bill, the Senate could not. Now the administration is going -- taking the extra step of working with the Senate in a way that really is unprecedented, it's not common that one branch of the Congress passes a bill -- or one House in the Congress passes a bill, the other doesn't. But the President thinks it's so important to help the economy that a new -- an entirely new procedure has been put in place to help the Senate to complete its work.
Q:Let me ask you about fast track authority, which, as you said, is an uphill fight, hasn't been approved for a President since 1994. Dick Gephardt is the leader of the House, a Democrat. He opposed it then, he hasn't stopped opposing it. What makes the President believe that this time he'll get the votes? He needs at least 30 Democratic votes.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I make no predictions about how votes will go. This has been in modern times a very difficult issue. But because the President believes in it so strongly, because of the points I made earlier about its ability to create jobs on the home front and give the President the authority he needs when he meets with heads of state and others to negotiate trade agreements, the President is hopeful that the power of reason and the principle behind free trade will convince enough members of Congress to put it over the top. We'll see.
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester?
Q:All nine Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee have charged that Chairman Patrick Leahy has used what they termed, quote, "misleading statistics," to try to defend what they charge is a disgraceful effort to block President Bush's judicial nominees. And my question: Does the President agree with these nine fellow Republicans, and what does he think of Leahy's objections to military tribunals?
MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking two questions, one on judicial nominees and the other on tribunals.
Q:Make it one. (Laughter.) Does he agree with the other Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure how to make that one. Well, military tribunals, I think you've heard that directly from the President himself, and as I said earlier, the President is respectful of those who represent the minority point of view, but that is their right. The President clearly disagrees.
Q:He disagrees with Leahy, doesn't he, and he agrees with the nine Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would ask you for further amplification. Mischievous two-part, one question.
Q:U.S. Attorney for the southern district of New York, Mary Jo White, was assigned the criminal investigation of last January's Clinton pardons. But she is now retiring, and there has not been even a report after 11 months. And my question: Can you assure us, Ari, that the President is neither considering a Jerry Ford-type pardon of the presidential predecessor, nor planning that this criminal investigation, so long out of the news, will just expire and kind of let bygones be bygones?
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I have no information for you on any presidential pardons. And anything dealing with a matter that's under investigation by the Department of Justice needs to be --
Q:Will it continue? Who is going to continue it? She's leaving.
MR. FLEISCHER: Anything involving investigations with the Department of Justice are sensitive matters that need to be addressed to the Department of Justice.
Q:On trade promotion, as the President meets with members of the House who are on the fence, is he prepared to do some horse trading?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, as I indicated, the President believes that trade is right on principle and that is the -- in all the meetings that I have been in, that has been the argument that he's been making with members of Congress, about the need to address trade because on principle, he thinks it helps create jobs.
Having said that, there are certain elements of trade that are always up for discussion; that there are valid points that members can make that typically do get discussed. And there is a lot of consultation that goes on in the trade process; many members of Congress, in exchange for giving up their right to amend an agreement that is submitted to them, seek an additional role in the negotiations. And so that is not an uncommon request from members of Congress. So the President will continue to at on principle as he works with members of Congress and listens to their ideas.
Q:Ari, the President is going to be announcing a new Party Chairman this afternoon. How active is the President going to be in next year's campaigns?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the President will make his determination about that. But politics, elections are an ongoing part of a democracy, even a democracy that's at war. So I think as the President sees fit, he will increasingly play a role as the election year rolls around and we'll duly report that.
Q:Ari, can I follow on that? Some Democrats are raising the question if Governor Racicot will continue in his role as a lobbyist next year, as he heads the Republican Party. What is the President's position? Does he believe that the Governor should no longer be a lobbyist next year as he heads the Party?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think the President has made no such announcement yet. So I think until an announcement is made, it's a premature discussion. But there has been an ample history on both the Democrat and Republican side of chairmen being involved in other lobbying or having outside sources of income; that's not an uncommon practice for both parties.
Q:Ari, on the principles the President outlined in the stimulus package back on October 5th, it seems there is progress being made on all of them, except accelerating individual tax rates. You said this morning that you consider that one of the more stimulative aspects of a package. Does that mean that the President will not sign a package if it does not contain individual acceleration rates?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has been very clear about what he thinks Congress needs to do. And one of the centerpieces of what Congress needs to do is accelerate the tax cuts so that it can have an impact on the economy, so people have more money to spend and so that the economy can get the boost that it needs. That is a core component of what the President has proposed.
Q:But is it a deal-breaker?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President is right now in the middle of discussions with members of Congress about how to reach agreement, not how to reach disagreement. So he'll focus on that.
Q:What can you tell us about the EPA decision to force GE to engage in, I think, a $500 million cleanup of the Hudson River?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take another one, then I'll come right back to that.
Q:Ari, does the President believe Osama bin Laden has been making a dirty bomb? And, if so, does he think it has been smuggled into the United States? Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is not sure.
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the President, himself, several weeks ago raised this very issue. And he said that Osama bin Laden has said it's a religious duty of his adherence to develop such weaponry and to use it if they can. So it is something that the President is concerned about and takes seriously and every precaution is being in place. And that's one of the reasons it's so important to fight and to win this war against the terrorists. So it's a source of concern.
On your question about the Hudson River, EPA Administrator Whitman and the EPA are moving forward on this cleanup of the Hudson River. The Administrator has made it clear the EPA will continue to have an open process that involves all the interested parties, including the people in the affected communities. So that's really the only information I have on it. You may want to talk to EPA. But they are moving forward.
Q:She has not said yet, she is waiting to hear from those who are protesting?
MR. FLEISCHER: She's listening to the various parties as she moves forward, and you may want to get more specific information from her.
END 12:36 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/271831