Press Briefing Index by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I have a brief announcement to make and I'll be happy to take your questions.
The President this morning had his usual round of intelligence briefings from the CIA and the FBI, to cover the latest developments in the war against terrorism and on homeland security. The President then convened a meeting of the Homeland Security Council.
Earlier this morning, the President made an announcement on a series of new policies to help small businesses grow and protect jobs, a reflection of the President's concern that as there are increasing signs of strength in the economy, he remains very worried about creating jobs for working Americans.
The President's remarks came at the Women's Entrepreneurship Conference 21st Century Summit. It's a real sign that some of the most powerful creators of jobs in the American economy are women-owned businesses, and the President was pleased to announce the policies at this group.
The President will hold a Cabinet meeting later this afternoon, where he will discuss with members of the Cabinet the latest developments in the war against terrorism, homeland security and also on the topic of the budget.
One announcement on an important item that is pending in the United States Senate. The Senate will be leaving for recess at the end of this week, and prior to their departure the President hopes the Senate will be able to take action on legislation that strengthens America's borders and enhances border security; that while at the same time extending a welcome by recognizing that families should not have to be split up when they are in this country already, nor to go back to their country for immigration status. And this is what's called 245(i).
This measure includes some very stringent provisions dealing with border security, and they include requiring personal identification documents to be more tamper-resistant and secure, enhancing the alien application screening process to eliminate entry of unwanted individuals. And this legislation also requires monitoring of foreign students and exchange visitors to ensure they maintain their status.
So as the Senate leaves town, the President thinks it's very important for them to take this action to, one, protect the border and, two, welcome immigrants into our country in the finest traditions that have made us a great and free nation.
And with that, I'm more than happy to take your questions. Ron.
Q: Do you know if Abu Anas Liby, one of the people on the Most Wanted List, is in custody in Sudan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I have nothing to discuss on that topic.
Q: Why not?
Q: Why not? Why can't you at least clarify, because there have been so many conflicting reports.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because anything on this would necessarily involve intelligence and that would involve either a confirmation or a denial of something, which I'm just not going to be able to do.
Q: But at the same time, the administration -- when you released this list of 22 Most Wanted, you were asking the public and all of us to try to help find these people. And now that there have been reports, television, newspaper, saying that he is in custody, you can't confirm or deny?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's just no information I have that I can share with you on that topic, I'm afraid to say.
Q: Is he still somebody who we want to get in custody? Is he still on our Most Wanted list?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would answer the question, if I were to answer that question. That's very creative.
Q: Can you acknowledge if there is confusion if the person in custody, whether he happens to be the person on the Most Wanted list or is someone else who just happens to be the same name?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, I'm afraid this is just a road that I'm not going to travel down. This is a matter that involves intelligence information, which I am just not going to discuss in any way, shape or form. And don't take that to confirm that it is or is not the person in question.
Q: Can you tell us whether you're pleased with the Sudanese cooperation of late? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not -- I think you're defining "of late" as in the last day or so? (Laughter.) No, I appreciate this. I understand the questions. There are some times and matters that I'm just not going to be able to provide you any information on. This is one.
Q: There are reports out there, the newspaper and television reports out there to the American people. Your response to those reports are?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no information on that topic that I can share. And that shouldn't be taken as an indication that is true or it is not true.
Q: Well, let's talk about Congress then. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim Angle.
Q: You mentioned 245(i) and also what was the other issue you mentioned, that you wanted -- the strengthening borders --
MR. FLEISCHER: 245(i) includes two provisions in there. There's one that makes the nation more welcoming to immigrants while, at the same time, appropriately toughening up the borders.
Q: You did not mention Andean trade, which was another issue which was sort of on the burner this week. Obviously, the Senate only has a couple of days left, is still dealing with campaign finance reform. What is your priority? Have you chosen border security over Andean trade?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the Senate can take action on a host of these issues. And debt limit is another one. The nation is approaching the date at which it will hit its debt limit and the Senate has serious work to do. You know, on these issues, for example, on the question on making the borders tougher and welcoming in immigrants, that passed in the House of Representatives by a vote of 275-137; widespread bipartisan support. Another example of the House taking action while the Senate has not.
The President hopes that the Senate will be able to take action, not only on this legislation, on border security and immigration, 245(i), as well as debt limit, as well as Andean trade preferences. The Senate is of course taking up an important piece of legislation, campaign finance reform. The President welcomes this, although the timing is interesting, because of course debt limit is immediate. We're about to hit it; 245(i), toughening up the borders, we need to do that quickly.
Campaign finance reform, despite the President's request, won't even be effective until after the election. The President thinks it should be effective now; Congress disagreed. Nevertheless, they want to pass it now. There's a lot on the Senate's plate that's important. The President hopes the Senate will be able to turn to it.
Q: On the debt limit question, the White House believes that this must be acted upon right now, in spite of the fact that you're about to get a lot of the revenues from the annual collection of income taxes?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Treasury Department informed Capitol Hill again yesterday that the date upon which the nation will hit its debt limit -- a statutorily, congressionally imposed limit -- will be either at the end of next week or the week after.
Congress is running out of time. And if they recess at the end of this week, which they say they will, Congress will have run out of time, forcing the administration to take extraordinary measures, which the administration should not be in a position to take, because Congress has a responsibility to fulfil. And the President has called on Congress to pass this, and has made that case for more than a month. Congress has had fair warning this is coming up.
Q: Have you passed the message on to House Republican leaders that you want a clean debt limit bill, because there's some resistance there?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has stated his case publicly and privately. He wants to be able to sign something. He has called for something clean, that includes something that he'll be able to sign, of course.
Q: So are you saying anybody who blocked such a thing would be irresponsible, is what he's saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President understands that this is not a time, in a time of war -- it's never a time to mess with the nation's credit limit, especially in a time of war.
Q: Would he support tapping federal employee pension funds in order to keep the government running, if the Congress does not address the debt limit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, it's not a topic that the President wants to get into, because Congress still should do its job. Congress is in a position to prevent pensions from being tapped into. Congress will create conditions where the government has to go to extraordinary steps if Congress doesn't fulfill its mission to pass a debt limit prior to the debt limit expiration. And this is an issue that's important for both parties, in the President's opinion.
Q: On border security, has the President signed off on a plan to merge three agencies that deal with border security? And if he hasn't signed off, has he been presented with that option?
MR. FLEISCHER: This morning at a meeting of the Homeland Security Council the President was presented with a recommendation on how to enhance security at the nation's borders. The President has not made any decision yet. The matter is under review.
The President is very satisfied that his administration is moving forward to present good ideas about how to protect the border. Some of those ideas, of course, involve consolidation.
Q: Do you expect a quick decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did not indicate what the timing would be.
Q: Ari, can I just confirm a couple things? Is the recommendation merging INS and U.S. Customs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to get into specifics of a recommendation that was shared with the President at a private meeting.
Q: And one other thing. Wasn't Governor Ridge push with something broader, merging, not just INS, Customs, other parts of the inspection service at Agriculture, so why not go even more expanded?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as part of the Governor's mission to protect homeland security and to work in a coordinating fashion with all the agencies that have operational responsibility, the Governor has been looking at a series of ideas for how to enhance security along the border. And that's the charge the President gave him.
And, as I indicated, there was a meeting this morning. The President has received a recommendation. Because of the nature of a meeting where the President receives these recommendations, until the President has something to say, I'm not going to discuss the specifics of it.
Q: Ari, on that topic, why does the White House continue to resist the idea of making the Office of Homeland Security a Cabinet-level department with its own budgetary authority and its own responsibility to Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the Office of Homeland Security, under Governor Ridge, is working extraordinarily well. It is fulfilling the exact mission that the President set out for homeland security when the President announced it in the wake of the attack on our nation.
If you remember, the President's speech to Congress on September 20th announced that for the first time the White House will have an Office of Homeland Security, that really is parallel to the long-standing bipartisan tradition of the Office of National Security. It is a coordinating entity that works with the operational agencies.
The President believes that Governor Ridge is doing a superb job at it. He believes that Governor Ridge is an excellent advisor to him, and that the Governor does a very important function for the President and the White House by coordinating the various agencies, just as the National Security Advisor does in her capacity.
Q: But if we're talking about consolidating all of these agencies, why not create a Department of Homeland Security, as many lawmakers have suggested? And rather than take Customs, Border, whatever, and put it all under DOJ, why not bring it all under the auspices, under one umbrella of Homeland Security?
MR. FLEISCHER: The reason for that, John, is if you take a look at how the federal government is set up across the myriad of agencies, there are more than a dozen agencies, many of which have components that deal with homeland security in one form or another. I'm not aware of a single proposal on Capitol Hill that would take every single one of those agencies out from their current missions and put them under Homeland Security.
So even if you took half of them out and put them under a Cabinet level Office of Homeland Security, the White House would still need, in the President's estimation, an advisor on how to coordinate all that myriad of activities the federal government is involved in. So creating a Cabinet office doesn't solve the problem. You still will have agencies within the federal government that have to be coordinated. So the answer is, creating a Cabinet post doesn't solve anything. The White House needs a coordinator to work with the agencies, wherever they are.
Q: So why then is the Lieberman bill a bad idea, in your estimation?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Lieberman bill? I don't -- your specifics. Do you want to define the Lieberman bill?
Q: Well, it would take a lot of those agencies that you just talked about and put them under the auspices of a Cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, for the exact reasons I mentioned, that even if you had a Cabinet level office, the White House would still need somebody to help coordinate the entities that, whether they're in a Cabinet agency or wherever they are, they still require coordination. Just like the National Security Advisor has proved to be, over decades, a very informative and helpful way for the Congress and for the President and for the people to have national security coordinated.
Homeland security, whether it's under a Cabinet agency or whether it's elsewhere, still needs coordination, and that's what the President is getting out of the Homeland Security Advisor.
Q: So you're saying, even if you had a Department of Homeland Security, you'd still need a Homeland Security Advisor to advise the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: That creating a Cabinet-level post doesn't solve the issue of how do you coordinate all the agencies that are involved.
Q: Ari, the President and the First Lady will do a stop over in El Paso on the way to Monterrey. He said he'll be talking about the importance of border security. Will he make any definite proposals that day about some of the measures he's considering, or will he just speak on broader terms?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll see exactly what Thursday events will be. I think it's -- today's only Tuesday, so I think we'll see exactly what the President has on his mind to talk about on Thursday.
Q: I want to ask one another question. This has to do with Zacharias Moussaoui who is going to be -- I don't know if he's going to be asked for the death sentence or not, by the Justice Department, there are some versions that that might be the case. He seems to be the only surviving member of the terrorist group that took over the plane, at least that is the accusation. Would the President back a death penalty request by the Justice Department for Zacharias Moussaoui if he's found guilty of the charges?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a determination the President makes. The matters of justice, matters of the charges that should be brought in courts of law are matters that the President delegates to the professionals and the Department of Justice to decide.
I can share with you that when the President made the determination that Mr. Moussaoui would not be tried in a military tribunal, that he would indeed be tried in a civilian court, he was aware of the possibility that one of the charges could be brought included a death penalty. But this was a decision made by the professionals at the Attorney General's office. The President is not involved in that process.
Q: But I would assume with a case of this significance and well-known case, there would be a discussion between the President and the Secretary of Justice before the --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I just indicated otherwise.
Q: Before the session is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just indicated otherwise. I think that's an important part of protecting justice in America. Those decisions, and this is the way the President leads, get delegated to the professionals who have responsibility for reviewing the facts as they see them that are gathered by the Department of Justice. And decisions about at what level people should be prosecuted should be made by professionals, and not the White House.
Q: Two quick questions. One on the (i)245. Some senators are hard on this 245 because of the blunders at the INS, or they had already made their minds that they do not want to go through with this President.
And number two, I have just returned from India, and President Bush is very popular in India, including on the borders in Kashmir. But what they're saying is really that this is the first President ever publicly and officially came out against terrorism. But he should go beyond Afghanistan to fight terrorism against India, or in India. And also the it is thought that President -- General Musharraf said that war in Afghanistan is over. Does President Bush share his views?
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, welcome back. (Laughter.) Let me remember all the questions.
On (i)245 -- on 245(i), anybody who properly points out that there are problems with the Immigration and Naturalization Service should vote for this bill, because this bill involves and includes enhanced border projections to protect Americans. And I went through the list of more tamper resistant and secure identification requirements, enhanced screening processes. So the lesson to be learned from what happened with the INS is, vote for this bill, it's a way of enhancing border security.
As far as the war on terrorism is concerned, the President, as you know, has been working very hard with India and Pakistan to relieve any of the tensions that have occurred there as a result of the terrorist attacks that have taken place, and with some success. I think the tension has eased in the region in great part because of the President's role that he played, and Secretary Powell's role that he played in working directly with India and Pakistani officials.
It's an important area that continues to be a priority of this administration. And, so, too, as you know, the war against terrorism, the Vice President's trip to the region is a part of that. And I think anybody who pays just a little bit of attention to what the President has been saying as he travels understands how clearly the President feels that it's important for us to carry on this war against terrorism, to protect our country. And the next phase has already begun, and that is denying sanctuaries to would-be terrorists.
Q: If I could return for a moment to the homeland security meeting this morning. During the steel decision you managed to give us a pretty good texture of the debate and the trade-offs that were involved, without prejudging the President's decision. Can you do that in this case? Can you give us some sense of what the pluses and minuses would be of doing --
MR. FLEISCHER: David, if I recall, I did that after the decision was made. I want to share that information with you, but until --
Q: You did some before, as well.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think so. I think I waited until after the decision was made, and that's what I would do here again. I'll be more than happy to try to provide you insight, but right now the President has received a recommendation, as I indicated, and I think it's only fair to let him consider it.
Q: On Colombia, does the President see helping Colombia fight the FARC as part of his global anti-terrorism campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a little bit different. The situation with the FARC involved a group that is listed by the State Department as a terrorist group. I don't think it's fair to say that FARC has global reach. But it is clearly a significant problem for the government of Colombia and for the region.
But, nonetheless, terrorist attacks are a serious threat to Colombia's democratic institutions, and that is why the administration has gone up to the Hill and has asked for additional authorities to be able to help the government of Colombia to counter the FARC. It's not quite the same as --
Q: Ari, under what conditions would the President ask Vice President Cheney to meet with Arafat, even it means returning to the region?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the Vice President said this morning in Israel, General Zinni is on the ground and has made substantial progress. And we are very hopeful that as a result of the talks that General Zinni has had with the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority that a cease-fire will be able to take hold.
The Vice President has indicated directly that he will be willing to return to the region -- he even indicated it could possibly be next week -- if Chairman Arafat and the Palestinian Authority put in place General Zinni's plan to create a cease-fire.
So the ingredients are there and it's very important now to see what the events are on the ground. As you know, the President measures these matters in results. The President is very realistic. He's less interested in talk and more interested in results. And that's the next step that the President is looking to and he'll be listening carefully to General Zinni's thoughts.
Q: Regarding the Vice President's trip to the Middle East, if it weren't for the prohibitive word "if," I would ask that in his talks with the Arab leaders, particularly Crown Prince Abdullah and those in Kuwait, if the United States went back into Iraq to dump Saddam Hussein, would the U.S. be denied bases and ports in the Middle East?
But since I can't ask that -- (laughter) -- I will ask under what conditions in the talks --
MR. FLEISCHER: If there were a jury here, I'm sure you'd instruct them not to pay attention. (Laughter.)
Q: Disregard that. But under what -- based on the Vice President's talks again, under what circumstances would the U.S. be denied bases in the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a question that I can answer. And I think there are too many hypotheticals built into your premise, even based on "ifs."
Q: Just, generally, why would you need to reorganize any agencies if you have somebody who is coordinating -- effectively coordinating the activities of agencies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the things the President asked Governor Ridge to do when he came on as Homeland Security Advisor is take a fresh look at how the government is doing its business. Obviously, the government, in any issue -- whether it's homeland security or anything domestic -- has been doing it a certain way and doing it for a long time. And you just reach a point in government where people stop asking the question "is it effective" and they continue to say, "well, that's the way it's always been."
So Governor Ridge's challenge and charge was to come in and take a new look and a fresh look at the government agencies with an eye toward what can and should be improved, learning the lessons of September 11th. And that's his mission and that's what he is working on.
Q: And my other question is, do you feel though, that -- I mean, nothing's more difficult than trying to reorganize the bureaucracy --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's true.
Q: -- that any proposal that you might forward is going to be jeopardized or made less likely because you continue to refuse to let Mr. Ridge go to the Hill to testify? I mean, I know you say it's tradition, but traditions are often broken. I mean, why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think there's any sense that there should be a connection between what is the right, best policy for the country based on substance, and a totally unrelated issue that is a much more process-related issue that involves changing a long-standing, successful, bipartisan tradition that Congresses have honored going back decades.
Q: But you know it's not unrelated. I mean, it is very related --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that if somebody were to say that this is a good -- if the President were to act on this recommendation and say on the Hill, this is a good idea, but we're going to oppose a good idea because we don't like the process. I think the American people want the focus to be on substance and on the quality of ideas. And that's where the President is going to focus his thoughts and his attention.
The other issue is something that you've heard the President talk about directly. Now, the President feels very strongly about it and I don't see that changing.
Q: Ari, last week the President said that he was going to work with his friends in relation to the situation in Zimbabwe, with Mugabe. And today, Nigeria and officials from South Africa are dealing with the issue of the elections in Zimbabwe.
What are the thoughts of the administration and what are the options that are on the table for dealing with these elections?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States is continuing its conversations with allied nations about what the proper response should be to the fraudulent election in Zimbabwe. The President's concern remains about the violence that took place leading up to the election and including in the election, and his concern about the importance of democracy as the best way to help people who suffer around the world. And that includes in Zimbabwe.
So those conversations will continue because the President wants to make certain that no decision be rushed, that whatever decisions are taken will be constructive in improving the conditions for people on the ground.
Having said all that, I think it's also fair to point out that the President is disappointed that some African nations that profess their support and practice for democratic values nonetheless have been willing to turn a blind eye to what happened in Zimbabwe and the abuse of those values, which the President thinks are important everywhere. So that is disappointing.
Q: And also back home, in New York, we're hearing reports about the Pentagon looking to change the air patrols, Combat Air Patrols. This morning you said that there will always be a robust presence. But how can you say there will be a robust presence when it will take 15 minutes to deploy aircraft to fight whatever terrorist attack may come?
MR. FLEISCHER: On that question, this is an issue that will always be reviewed to provide the greatest protection for the American people, wherever they are. And that's based on intelligence information, it's based on threat analysis, it's based on a whole series of items, including the fact that since September 11th, domestic security -- as any traveler can tell you -- has been changed. And that involves a strengthening of cockpit doors, for example; it involves the presence of federal air marshals on an increased basis; it involves changes that have been made on the ground, in terms of the procedures when people board airplanes.
So a series of enhancements to security have taken place since September 11th across the nation. And any decision about operational matters involving CAPs will be based on intelligence and other items, as I indicated. And there will continue to be security measures that include CAPS on a changing basis, depending on what those threats and analyses show.
Q: But it's ad hoc, temporary. And, I mean, is it too costly? Why is there a major change and why can't we know when this change happens?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, not all the decisions are final on this; issues are continuing to be talked through. But it's not ad-hoc; it's based exactly as I indicated, which is based on intelligence information, threat analysis and a recognition that security has been enhanced broadly since September 11th in all the ways I mentioned.
Q: Ari, among the Israelis and the Palestinians, have the extremists taken over? Is it a perception among the administration that the extremists on both sides are in charge? And, if so, how does the U.S. rectify that and negotiate with the moderates?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, General Zinni is in the region for a purpose, and that is to meet with the responsible officials who speak for the parties, and to meet directly with the parties. And the President is very hopeful that as a result of the Zinni mission the chances for a cease-fire have been enhanced; the chances to begin security talks have been enhanced. And that was the purpose of sending General Zinni over. And as I indicated, the President is hopeful that as a result of his visit, those conditions will now be created.
Q: Is he meeting with opposition groups from either side?
MR. FLEISCHER: General Zinni has met with the Palestinian Authority, as well as Israeli officials, of course.
Q: Ari, to go back to Ridge just briefly, I mean, if he's in charge of reviewing the situation and coming up with fresh ideas, I mean, wouldn't
he be the most logical person to explain these ideas to Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this goes back to a case that could be made about any number of people. That would be a real change in the way Congress does its business, in terms of who they seek to come up from the executive branch to testify. And the reason I say that is, Governor Ridge has gone up to the Hill on numerous, numerous occasions. He has met with members of both parties in private and the caucuses, answered their questions, they have received answers to all the questions they have in multiple, different forums.
The question is, Congress is indicating they want to change that long-standing bipartisan tradition and have him come up now and actually testify. That would be a significant change from the way Congress has treated people who are in an advisory context to the President. And that is what Governor Ridge does; he is a coordinator, he is an advisor to the President, just as the National Security Advisor is, just as many other people who are assistants to the President fulfill that role.
The people who are charged by statute and by a concern for good government who are going up to testify before the Hill are the operational officials -- the Attorney General, the Secretary of Defense. Congress receives its information on a regular, ongoing basis through the testimony of those officials. I think it's unusual for Congress to turn it around and change the way it's worked and worked well for many a decade and now, for the first time, say we seek to have an advisor to the President who does not have operational responsibility come up and testify, even though they've gotten their questions answered in multiple other forums by Governor Ridge.
Q: To get back to your opening statement, would you prefer -- would you go so far as to suggest -- the President would suggest that the Senate put away the cots, and put aside the campaign finance reform bill? Because that seems to be where so much attention is focused this week.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not determine the Senate schedule; the Senate leadership determines the Senate schedule. So this is a matter in the discretion and judgment of Senate leaders.
The President merely points out that it is very important to protect our borders and to do so quickly; and to let people who are here not be forced to leave this country, to be separated from their families, when there is widespread bipartisan support, as the House of Representatives has already done, for the legislation on border security and 245(i). Debt limit is approaching. Those are decisions that can only be made by Senate leaders.
Q: Has he tried to talk to Senator Daschle about this at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think through regular contacts, the message has been received about the importance of passing the border security and 245(i) measure.
Q: Ari, has the administration reached an agreement with the Congress on the supplemental? And will the failure to get -- if there is a failure to raise the debt ceiling, what impact would that have on the ability of getting the supplemental through?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's really no connection between the two, because the nation will hit its debt limit in the next week or two. And under no circumstance have I heard that the Congress will pass any type of supplemental that quickly, so it's not connected.
The administration will be proposing a supplemental appropriation bill, and that will get sent up to the Hill.
Q: How much?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to discuss the details in it yet. That will be something you will hear from the --
Q: Is it more than $25 --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't do breadboxes. (Laughter.)
Q: And when, Ari? When will it go up?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll let you know the exact date.
Q: As you know, Jane Swift announced today she's not going to run for a full term. And Mitt Romney is going to announce his candidacy later today. Did anybody in the administration talk to either party to make this switch occur so neatly?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I asked about that after I saw the announcement, and the answer is, no. Senior White House staff heard about that this morning. That was the first inkling that anybody here at the White House had that the announcement was coming. There were no conversations with the Governor or her staff, as far as anybody shared with me.
Q: And what is the President's reaction to this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Governor Swift has done an excellent job for the people of Massachusetts. The President wishes her well. And the White House will work with whoever the nominee is. It appears that it will be Mitt Romney, who has done an outstanding job as the head of the Olympics. And the White House will support the Republican nominee, of course.
Q: What will the vehicle be for the tax provisions that the President is announcing? Will it be minimum wage or some other vehicle?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no determination about what the appropriate vehicle would be. The regular process would be the measures get sent up to the Hill. The Ways and Means Committee will consider them. And then it becomes a matter of legislative decision-making about what the appropriate vehicle is.
Q: First Mrs. Gore and then yesterday the Washington Post called for the ending of any armed forces restriction and recruitment including don't-ask-don't-tell, so that our armed forces should be open to any sexual orientation. And my question is, does the President, as Commander-in-Chief, believe that that would be wise or unwise?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is seeking no changes to the current don't-ask-don't-tell policy.
Q: Now, the second question. Independent Counsel Robert Rey's report concluded, "sufficient evidence existed to prosecute such evidence, would probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction." But Mr. Rey declined to seek an indictment and prosecute a perjurer and obstructor of justice whose fines were paid by his defense fund, and who's currently getting $300,000 for a speech and $10 million for a book.
And my question is, since Article III of the Constitution commands the President to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, what is his feeling about Rey's failing to prosecute? And will he endorse Rey for the U.S. Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of the legal question you asked, the President is looking forward, not backwards. It is not a discussion the President is --
Q: Doesn't he think that he should be prosecuted?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not an issue the President has dwelt on.
Q: Back to -- you mentioned regular consultations with the leadership. I don't think you've had a leadership meeting up here in -- this might be the third week. Are you out of the every-other-week habit, and when will the next one be?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the other one -- the last meeting was a couple weeks ago. I don't remember the precise date. Congress leaves for recess next week. The President, of course, leaves out of the country on Thursday. I haven't seen tomorrow's schedule yet, so if there's anything, I'll let you known. But they'll continue to have regular meetings. I can't speak to the exact frequency of them, but they're going to continue.
Q: Same old topic, Ari. If you say that Governor Ridge has gone up and given a lot of briefings to committee, caucuses, whatever, what do you make of all of this talk coming out of the Senate about possible subpoenas to get him up to the Hill, letters from Senator Byrd and Senator Stevens, the Republican side, requesting a meeting with the President to explain why Governor Ridge needs to come up? What are they doing up there?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a surprising development. I think it's a surprising departure from the usual bipartisan way Capitol Hill for decades has treated advisors to the President who are not in operational roles. The people who will be subjected to these types of subpoenas, if this is the case, are not Cabinet-level officials who have a statutory obligation and an importance to good government of going up and testifying on the Hill. This would open up a whole new development where the legislative branch would then bring down to the Congress advisors to the President whose jobs are to give the President advice.
Now, this has been treated with honor and respect for decades. What I think is surprising and is unusual is that the Congress for the first time seeks to change and break that long-standing tradition. It's worked, and worked very well for the Congress, for Presidents of both parties, and for the country. And under that, the Chief of Staff to the President could be called to testify, that hasn't happened; the legal counsel to the President could be called to testify, that hasn't happened; the National Security Advisor, that hasn't happened.
So why the departure, why the break? The President thinks the system has worked, and worked well. And he asks Congress to honor that long-standing bipartisan tradition.
Q: Do you see this as another little step in the erosion of Presidential powers?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that there is no question that when you open these doors, Congress keeps swinging them open wider, particularly given the fact that Governor Ridge has met with numerous members of both parties to answer all the questions that they have. The contact is regular, the contact is frequent. The contact is not in the form in sworn testimony or testimony before a committee. That's as it's always been, and that has served the Congress well, the President well and the nation well for decades.
Q: But aren't you sort of falling back on precedent? And can't you see from their perspective that Governor Ridge is in what is a new job, created post-September 11th, a job that is about how to protect the country in the wake of the attacks, and that Congress might feel equally responsible in the way the executive branch does for ensuring that this doesn't happen again, and that they want to be a part of it. And it's not quite the --
MR. FLEISCHER: They are a part of it.
Q: And it's not quite the same as it has been in the past. I mean, you can't just say, oh my God, they're abandoning tradition that's held for years, when, in fact, everything changed on September 11th, and that's why Ridge is in this job.
MR. FLEISCHER: But that same argument would suggest that every advisor to the President should and can be called before the Congress to testify. That same argument can be made about national security. It's not being made because the Congress is honoring a long-standing bipartisan tradition of the National Security Advisor being seen as an advisor to the President, coordinating the Departments of Defense and CIA and other entities involving the war against terrorism. That same argument could equally be made to somebody else whose role has changed dramatically and importantly since September 11th.
The point I'm making is we have a system of checks and balances that is based on bipartisanship and on sharing of information. And it's a surprising development for Congress to be seeking to change that at a time when everybody needs to be working together.
Q: Ari, can I just follow up? Because that being said, Democrats -- it's not just coming from Democrats. Even some Republicans are saying that there should be an exception made --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: -- and Ridge should come before the Congress. So can you confirm if there are any discussions between the administration and the Congress about a compromise? Maybe coming before a group of members, a televised briefing -- some kind of middle ground, not the sworn testimony?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only tell you the President feels very strongly about it.
Q: You can't say if there is compromise, any discussion about a compromise?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President feels very strongly about honoring that tradition that has worked, and worked so well, for everybody concerned. The President thinks it would be a mistake that would not serve the Congress well, the executive branch well or, frankly, the country well.
Information continues to flow, and flow freely. Questions should be asked, they are asked by members of Congress. Governor Ridge answers them; they have the answers. So the only issue is the forum by which members of Congress hear those answers. And that's the issue that involves a break of precedent.
Q: Could you explain why there have been no consequences for Secretary Rubin for publicly criticizing the steel --
Q: Oh, Secretary O'Neill, thank you. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Did you have to correct him? I was going to work with him. (Laughter.)
Q: And I was thinking I was doing so well this time. Sorry. It's President Bush, right? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: Why there have been no consequences for him for publicly criticizing administration policy on steel, when Michael Parker, who criticized the budget, lost his job over the issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President just doesn't see them as the same, that's why. And I'm just not going to get into anything involving personnel for an issue that is over and dealt with.
Q: Well, one other on that. Does he take exception to O'Neill's contention that the steel decision actually lost -- will lose more jobs than it saves?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the issue was satisfactorily dealt with, as far as the President is concerned.
Q: How about Mr. Zigler? Does Mr. Zigler enjoy the President's 100,000 -- 1,000 percent endorsement? Or is he shaky?
MR. FLEISCHER: He does.
Q: He does?
MR. FLEISCHER: And keep in mind what the President said, that this is a wake-up call to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. They've been charged with reviewing what happened. They have 30 days to complete that charge. And the President will eagerly await that report.
Q: And he wants Mr. Zigler to continue indefinitely in that role?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, the President has confidence in Mr. Zigler. So the answer is yes.
Q: What about Cardinal Eagan and Cardinal Law? Do they still enjoy the President's full support?
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, you asked that question to the President just about a week ago --
Q: Well, there have been a number of new developments since that time.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's been no change in what the President told you when you asked it directly to him.
Q: Ari, back to this issue of Governor Ridge testifying, not 15 minutes ago you just told us one of Governor Ridge's missions was to take a look at the way things have traditionally been done and change them. Why not just take that rationale and apply it to Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because that's a rationale to change anything and everything for no reason. That is not something that's a blanket policy, to just change things for no reason. In this case, I've walked you through why that would be a bad procedure to undertake -- that would change precedent, it would change the long-standing bipartisan way Congress has done its business.
I think the question really should be focused on, is why, when the information has been as flowing as it has been, and members are getting the questions answered in different forums than hearings and testimony, is Congress seeking to change a long-standing bipartisan tradition that's worked very well?
Q: Ari, can I get back to April's question earlier? Has the White House begun to reach out to members of the New York congressional delegation that have concerns about bringing the fighter cover down over the city?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's something that Congressional Affairs would handle, and I presume -- I haven't talked to Nick specifically, to say who have you talked to today, but I presume that in the ongoing operations of Congressional Affairs, something like that gets done.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:33 P.M
George W. Bush, Press Briefing Index by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/272527