The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:34 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me fill you in on the President’s day, and then I have a rather lengthy opening statement I’d like to make about events concerning the Pan Am 103 verdict.
The President this morning had his regular round of briefings from the CIA and the FBI about the latest developments in the war. The President will depart the White House shortly to give remarks on global development assistance policy at the Inter-American Development Bank.
In these remarks, the President is going to announce a new compact and a new approach to helping the developing nations of the world, so that they are able to lift up their citizens and give them economic opportunities. The President is going to talk about aid; the President is going to talk about reform; the President is going to talk about trade. The President will also focus on the importance of helping people to have lives that are economically successful, that also include the educational benefits and the health benefits that we want people to have around the world, by having governments that root out corruption, that focus on human rights, and are governed by the rule of law.
The President will then return to the White House. And later this evening the President will meet with the Prime Minister of Canada to talk about bilateral issues between our two nations, including trade issues, border issues, thank Canada for their help and hard work in securing our borders, our common border. The President will also have dinner with the Prime Minister of Canada this evening.
As far as the court ruling this morning regarding Pan Am 103, the United States government welcomes the decision of the Scottish High Court of the Judiciary, sitting in the Netherlands, to uphold the conviction of Abdel al-Megrahi. We reiterate the need for the government of Libya to move quickly to satisfy its remaining obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions related to the bombing of Pan Am flight 103. The completion of the appeal does not end U.S. sanctions against Libya, but should spur Libya to take quick action to fully comply with the requirements of the United Nations Security Council.
We again express our deepest sympathy to the families of those who were lost in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. As we have stated previously, nothing can undo the suffering this act of terrorism has caused. However, we hope that for all those who lost loved ones in this tragic accident, they will find some solace in the measure of justice achieved by today’s decision.
This decision affirming the conviction of a Libyan agent for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 represents a vindication of efforts by successive United States administrations. It also underlies the unshakable determination of the United States not to forget, but to hold terrorists accountable for their acts.
The President also renews his congratulations to the Scottish prosecution team, and his thanks to the Dutch government for its assistance, and to the entire United States government team who contributed to this outcome.
With that, I’m happy to take questions.
Q: Ari, does the United States feel that there were others at large who were involved in the bombing of Pan Am 103 still out there who haven’t been brought to trial?
MR. FLEISCHER: The case remains an open case. And the United States government will continue to pursue any leads as appropriate if any develop. The case remains an open case.
Q: What exactly does Libya need to do to comply, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, they need to pay all appropriate compensation to the families. They are in discussions with the lawyers for the families. It’s the appropriate mechanism for the determination of a level of payment to be arrived at. They have to acknowledge responsibility in this matter and to pay the reparations as negotiated. Those are their obligations that they have to fulfill under the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Q: Has the United States had any discussions with the Libyans about this in recent months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the discussions of the exact amount of how much needs to be paid, the reparations, that’s a matter between the families and the Libyan authorities. Further meetings are possible involving the United States government. None have been planned at this time. There have been occasional meetings in the past.
Q: Ari, yesterday one of the few subjects that did not come up in international affairs had to do with Colombia. The Secretary of State recently gave testimony in Congress in which he said that a project will be sent up there asking for less rigid language on the aid to Colombia, so maybe some of it can be used to fight terrorism, not just counternarcotics. Does the President have a view on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration has consulted with the Congress on this matter, and about the serious concerns that we have involving providing help to the government of Colombia as it faces the threats from within from the FARC. And the United States, in these consultations — as Secretary Powell has said, the administration has determined that we seek new and more explicit legal authorities for State and DOD assistance to Colombia, to support the government of Colombia in its unified campaign against narcotic trafficking, terrorist activities and other threats to its national security.
So we have made that determination. We’re going to continue to observe all the requirements of current law as we work with the Congress to try to figure out the appropriate way to bring more help to the government of Colombia. The Congress has been very productive, very helpful. Many people in the Congress had some good ideas about how to proceed, and we’re going to continue to work with them.
Q: But the restraints are in place, like the number of troops — I think 400 is the maximum — you can’t help offices that violate human rights, and some of those are — those will still be kept?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, it’s principally the Byrd and the Leahy amendments which restrict or bind the activities that can be undertaken. Of course, that is the law of the land, and the law of the land will be obeyed. But we have gone to the Congress and said, we do seek to make some changes now, to help the government of Colombia.
Q: The President says he will not provide a sanctuary for the al Qaeda. And as you know, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and military leaders at the Pentagon have been saying that one of the missions in the war in Afghanistan is to destroy “the al Qaeda”. And yet there are reports coming from Afghanistan that some of the leadership there, some of the Afghan leadership is willing to make deals with the al Qaeda of the Taliban, that if they surrender, they will let them go free. Would the President accept such a deal, if so, and if not, what would he do about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of the mission is to destroy al Qaeda so they cannot regroup, so it makes it as hard as possible for them in their ongoing efforts to regroup, and then to inflict more harm on either the United States or any of our friends or other allies. So the President’s point, which is something that DOD carries out every day, is to create an environment in which they cannot regroup, and that means the notion of letting people go free is not something the United States supports. And it’s a fluid situation on the ground in Afghanistan; that is a message that is conveyed, and we continue to work with our friends in Afghanistan to achieve that objective.
Q: Ari, on Pickering, you said earlier — two questions on Pickering. You said that the President and his staff are making “a call or two.” It doesn’t sound like there’s an intensive, you know, calling or reaching out to senators to try and win Pickering’s nomination.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you have to keep in mind in a case like this, where unless the Senate changes what their intentions are, where it’s the will of the Senate leadership to bottle this up and allow the vote to proceed only in committee because they lack the votes on the floor to stop the nomination from going through — that there just aren’t that many swingable votes on the committee. There’s no point in calling people whose minds are made up; they don’t change their mind. It can be a pleasant conversation, but nothing happens.
So there are just a small enough universe of people that it’s worth making a phone call to, to see if they want to think through some of the arguments that the President made yesterday, they may be receptive to those arguments. So a small number of calls have been made, and we’ll see exactly what the committee does.
But the President would regret it very much if the committee killed this man’s nomination after the full Senate voted unanimously just 12 years ago to support him for the district court, especially when there are enough votes to pass him on the floor. And that’s one of the most troublesome aspects about this process. It’s a hint that the judicial process may be marred by partisanship and ideology, when it should be marked by success and bipartisanship, especially when the votes are there to pass people on the floor.
Q: Let me follow up, because some Republicans are already talking about consequences — even some senior administration officials are saying consequences for the Democrats if this nomination is killed. What consequences are we talking about? And would the administration support what some Republicans are talking about, delaying the work of the Senate to force action on other judicial nominees?
MR. FLEISCHER: Make no mistake, the greatest consequence of this Senate committee killing this nomination, if they do so, will be on justice in America, on delays in the courts, on the number of vacancies in the courts. That’s the greatest consequence of all.
America has judicial emergencies. America has courtrooms that lack judges, and that means justice is delayed, and justice delayed can be justice denied. And that’s the greatest harm done if the Senate proceeds to kill this nomination and send a signal to this White House that the circuit court nominations are not going to go through, especially when the gold standard that the Democrats like to observe, the American Bar Association’s ratings, call him well-qualified.
Q: Consequences for Democrats, though? Will there be consequences for Democrats beyond the consequences —
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s the consequence the President sees.
Q: What does this episode suggest to you about the future of getting your nomination approved, and in general about efforts for the President to select judges that somehow reflect his own views?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that what this process shows is that there is a bipartisan majority to confirm the President’s choices on the floor of the Senate, but there is a determination made by the Senate leadership to prevent bipartisanship from happening. And that’s a very unfortunate process, problem, in the United States Senate. It doesn’t serve the President well, clearly, because I think most people agree Presidents are entitled to have their nominees put in place. But, more importantly, it doesn’t serve the nation, because there’s a judicial crisis, there are vacancies in the court. And the Senate has obligation to fulfill, under its constitutional requirements, putting judges in place, as the President has requested.
And I think it would be a different matter if these nominations the President was making lacked bipartisan support on the floor of the Senate. There is a bipartisan majority to put his nominations through, and that’s why the Senate is going through extraordinary hoops to keep it bottled up in committee to stop the bipartisan will.
Q: If I could follow on the question about consequences, there are people on Capitol Hill, Republicans who are talking about there will be some consequences from the way this has been handled by the Democrats. You make it sound as if the White House is simply at the mercy of Democrats in the Judiciary Committee; even if they’re acting wrongly in your view, they have the power to do so and there’s not much you can do about it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is not a voting member of the United States Senate. The President can make his case to the American people, and the American people ultimately will be the judges. But the President hopes that, number one, that Judge Pickering will be approved today in committee. Let’s see what the vote is. If he is defeated in committee, it’s again a reflection of the fact that the Senate leadership would resort to killing qualified nominees in committee because the Senate leadership knows that it does not have the votes to stop them on the floor.
And that’s a very unfortunate result. And I think it’s also what makes people sour on Washington, when they know that there is bipartisanship available, but there are leaders who choose not to take it.
Q: May I follow on Pickering also? Could this be a recess appointment someplace down the line? Is it possible in this type of position? Or would the President consider another position —
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie, I’m just not going to speculate. They haven’t even voted yet.
Q: Did the President meet with anybody on this, bring anybody from the Hill to the White House to lobby them on Pickering?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I’m just not going to describe how the President goes about some of the contacts he has. He has talked to people about it, and just out of respect for the privacy of the President’s conversations, I’m not going to get into that.
Q: But usually when he’s serious about something like this, he’ll publicly bring somebody down, we know about it. A lot of issues he does that on, where he brings somebody in the Oval Office and —
MR. FLEISCHER: Sometimes also when he’s serious about things, you don’t know about it. But I think you saw his seriousness yesterday.
Q: Ari, on the same subject, Ari —
MR. FLEISCHER: Then we go all the way to the back, and then we come to you, Les.
Q: On the same subject, I think this has been brought up here and by you also, is the fact that when the shoe was on the other foot, the Republicans have done the same thing to the Democrats —
MR. FLEISCHER: There’s no question of that.
Q: So maybe the law should be changed in the Senate to try to put a stop to this kind of thing. It happens all the time, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: It does happen all the time. And I can tell you that was not the way Governor Bush did his business with the legislature in Texas. And it’s not the way that the American people want business to be done.
The American people want to be able to look at Washington and say that even though they have differences of approach and differences of opinion, at the end of the day the Democrats and Republicans are able to get together and get things done for the country.
And that’s what’s so distressing about the process that the Senate leadership has chosen to take in this matter with Judge Pickering. They have chosen a process that is a partisan one, that defies bipartisanship — because they know, the Senate leadership does, that there are enough votes to pass Judge Pickering on the floor of the Senate. Not by a lot, but in our democracy, a majority, and it would be bipartisan. And that’s what makes it even more disappointing to see the Senate leadership decide to try to stop a good man’s nomination, a qualified man’s nomination, a nominee who received 100 percent of the votes of the Senate before.
Something has changed, and what’s changed is the Senate is pursuing an unfortunate partisan direction, when you have a judicial candidate who has bipartisan support — especially bipartisan support from within his own state.
Q: Ari, I was hoping you could help me understand two things that the President said yesterday during the press conference, when he was asked about the nuclear posture review. The first thing he said was, first of all, the nuclear review is not new. It’s gone on in previous administrations. Did he mean by that to say that the process of doing a nuclear review was not new, or the content of this one was not new?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me state something clearly. “We continue to maintain a nuclear deterrent, absolutely devastating in its destructive power. Anyone who considered using a weapon of mass destruction against the United States or its allies must first consider the consequences. We will not specify in advance what our response will be, but it would be both overwhelming and devastating.” That was said by Secretary of Defense William Perry in 1996. Let me continue.
“We must maintain nuclear forces sufficient to deter any potential adversary from using or threatening to use nuclear, chemical or biological weapons against the United States or its allies, and as a hedge against defeat of U.S. conventional forces in defense of vital interests.” That was said by then Secretary of Defense William Cohen in January of 2000. And that’s what the President was mentioning, that this is not a new policy. In fact, the most new element of all the nuclear posture review is President Bush’s follow-through on its campaign promise to unilaterally lower the level of offensive nuclear weapons, as he announced, down to 1,700 from 2,200.
The broader point the President was making yesterday is that, to keep the peace, it’s important to have deterrence, and that is the ongoing context in which previous administrations have discussed nuclear posture review, and the President yesterday.
Q: If I can follow up on that. When he said yesterday the President must have all options available to make a deterrent have meaning, is it his belief that the new nuclear posture review, the one just conducted, gives him new options, particularly in regard to dealing with nonstate actors?
MR. FLEISCHER: It maintains all options. And that’s been the position of the government for quite a period of time, that —
Q: Do you think it creates any new options for him? I didn’t ask whether it closed any off, but whether it creates new ways.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the newest element in there is the reduction in offensive nuclear weapons. But when it comes to the United States sending a clear message that we will — we have the ability to deter and the consequences will be severe of any nations that use WMD, I would just again refer you right back to what was said by Clinton administration officials; properly so.
Q: I just want to follow on that, because the Clinton administration officials are saying that it was never a Clinton administration policy to have contingency plans to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states such as Syria or Iran. And that’s where they see a big difference between what this administration is putting forward and what they did. How do you respond to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I just cite exactly what was said by Secretary of Defense William Perry in 1996.
Q: But they talked generally; they did not talk about — talking about targeting or using against a non-nuclear state.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, this is Secretary Perry in 1996: “We continue to maintain a nuclear deterrent, absolutely devastating in its destructive power.” And then he continues, and he says, “Anyone who considered using a weapon of mass destruction against the United States or its allies must first consider the consequences.” And that says “anyone.”
Q: So this administration is saying there is absolutely no change in policy between this administration and the Clinton administration when it comes to nuclear — the use of nuclear arms?
MR. FLEISCHER: It’s a consistent policy, as I read those two previous statements.
Q: I’m wondering again, going back to the President’s press conference, if he misspoke or mischaracterized the lawsuit by the GAO. I think the President talked about the GAO asking for transcripts, among other things. I believe the GAO is not asking for transcripts anymore.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, as that has been explained to me by our White House attorneys, that’s a matter of legal dispute. That is what the GAO has publicly said. The GAO has publicly indicated that despite their previous request for transcripts, for information of what specifically was discussed in meetings, they subsequently said, no, we’re no longer requesting that — publicly.
According to our lawyers, when they take a look at the legal analysis of the pending court case — and that is, after all, what is determinative — they say that’s not clear; that the manner in which the GAO has presented their papers indicates that they still are seeking information that goes into some of the specifics.
But the President’s more general point goes right back to a very important issue that the President is determined to take a strong stand on, and that is prerogatives of the executive vis-a-vis the legislature. And since Watergate and Vietnam, the longstanding diminution of executive power to the legislature. And the President does see this as an important issue about his right as President, and rights of future Presidents, to receive the counsel and the advice that the they seek.
It’s not far removed to say that if an organization, indeed, the Congress or GAO specifically, is able to demand and receive every name of everybody the President meets with, it’s not far from that to find out everything they talked about. So it’s a consistent point that the President is making in defense of the executive prerogatives which are protected under the Constitution. And the GAO is determined to take it to court; the President has said, that’s where we’ll see you.
Q: So you’re saying a list of names —
Q: Going back to Pickering for a moment. The Senate has had a committee system for a long time. Are you saying that the Judiciary Committee should have no role in the vetting or passing on of judicial nominations —
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course not. Of course not.
Q: — and that judicial nominations should go right to the floor, with no vote in the Judiciary Committee?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn’t indicate anything even resembling that. What I’ve indicated is that in the Judiciary Committee previously, they have reported out unfavorably recommendations so they could proceed with a vote on the floor. That’s not uncommon; it’s been done before. But if you want consistency in the United States Senate, you can take a look at two very big issues that are pending before the Senate right now. And one is the nomination of Judge Pickering, and the other is energy security.
There’s only one consistent action taken by the Senate leadership, and that is to try to stop President Bush from getting his policies in place. When it comes to energy security, the Senate leadership made a decision not to even let the Energy Committee have any say in the energy legislation. They immediately said the only entity that will discuss this is the floor of the Senate.
On Judiciary, they said that only the committee will have a vote, not the floor. There’s no consistent approach when it comes to how to ensure a fair, bipartisan debate. The only consistent approach seems to be determined to inject partisanship into the will of the Senate, when there is bipartisan support for the President’s nomination.
Q: If a negative vote in committee doesn’t kill a nomination, then what’s the point of the vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s a procedure in the Senate and the House that’s been — in the Senate that has been allowed before, to report unfavorably, so that all 100 members of the Senate can have their say.
Jim, you had a question?
Q: Yes, but I want to switch from following up on that, if I could. Can I just dissect for a moment this INS thing? I mean, clearly this was a screw-up and was embarrassing. But does the administration see that any harm was done in this regard? Or is it simply a fear about that much mismanagement possibly leading to some future harm with regard to terrorists?
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s exactly why we need to investigate this, in the President’s opinion. They need to determine what took place, how it took place, why it could possibly have taken place, and whether or not it’s systematic of something broader that could indeed do harm, that could suggest that we’re not able to patrol or control who comes into this country and who doesn’t.
As part of the President’s budget, he has proposed an additional $400 million for next year to create a new entry and exit system, so that we can improve the operations of the INS. It is a very important matter.
It is also a very embarrassing matter. And when the President woke up yesterday, saw it in the papers — which was how he learned of it — he immediately in his conversations in the Oval Office that morning set in motion the series of events that you heard and read about yesterday, where he announced in response to the questions how upset he was about it. And the Attorney General has directed the Inspector General of the INS to get to the bottom of it, and he’s got 30 days to do so.
Les, I told you, we’re going to go to the back of the room, then we come to the side of the room.
Q: Back and forth, and back and forth —
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I’m kind of going back there.
Q: So you’re saying it suggests a level of mismanagement that could be dangerous, but, in this particular case, was not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, we’re trying to determine what the facts are. But clearly, in the case of the two individuals, they killed themselves on September 11th. So, in the specifics of it, it’s a very embarrassing matter that suggests there could be other problems at the INS that have got to be looked at and dealt with to determine whether there are other problems there.
Q: All right, but there’s no information that anyone in the U.S. government knew at the time or warned the border checkpoints that these two guys had terrorist connections or should —
MR. FLEISCHER: No. In fact, I think it’s been long recognized that in this matter, they came to the country legally, and that was prior to these papers being sent to the school in Florida.
Q: In the context of the President’s speech this afternoon, what does he say to his critics and even his allies in the hemisphere who say that the government has succumbed to protectionist pressures, not just simply on steel but on anti-dumping, on farm subsidies, on market access issues having to do with farm products?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that’s kind of an ironic statement for people to make, given the fact that this is one of the most free trading Presidents we’ve seen. Take a look at the President — the President was really challenged very strongly when he ran for President by Republicans, in his own party, because of the President’s determination to trade with China, for example, to allow China to enter into the World Trade Organization; to enter into a new round of global talks, which Ambassador Zoellick was successful in doing in Qatar — I think it was in Qatar, but it was in the new round of global negotiations that Ambassador Zoellick reached an agreement at — for the free trade vote in the House of Representatives on trade authority for the President. That had been unsuccessful for 10 years; the President was able to get that done in the House of Representatives. He’s still waiting for the Senate to do it.
So the President has not only taken on people in his own party who don’t believe in free trade, but he’s been successful in bringing Democrats and Republicans together as President to further the actual legislation necessary to promote more trade.
Q: Now, Ari? Now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les — relax. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I told you, we’re going around the room.
Q: Okay. There is nothing that has happened in the trade area since he was inaugurated that has represented a giving up or a compromise on a trade issue that has resulted due to trade agreements.
MR. FLEISCHER: I’d beg to differ. Because of the process by which trade works, the process of trade begins, of course, with — as I indicated, the global round of talks, which broke down in Seattle previously, which was now successful under this administration. The House of Representatives’ passage of free trade legislation for the President, which allows him, then, to enter into trade negotiations around the world. You can easily make the case that it’s very hard to enter into bilateral or multilateral trade agreements around the world until Congress gives him the authority to do so, and that’s why we’re waiting for the Senate action.
Q: Two things. One, how will we get your reaction to the Pickering vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: To what?
Q: To the Pickering vote. Because you sort of deflected a lot of questions by saying the vote hasn’t happened. Will the President speak? Will you put out a statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can anticipate a statement by the President.
Q: Okay. In writing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Written statement.
Q: And then, on an entirely different topic, the President the other day was talking about the damaging effect of the Jerry Springer show on America’s image overseas. Does the President feel it’s good for America’s image overseas to have a convicted rapist licensed to box in the Nation’s Capital?
MR. FLEISCHER: That’s not a topic I’ve really gone over with the President, so I’m not going to comment on that.
Q: Do you think that — do you think it’s something he will choose not to weigh in on?
MR. FLEISCHER: You were free to ask him, Deb. He held a news conference yesterday. He took 22 questions, and nobody asked him.
Q: I know, and I didn’t get called on.
Q: In Texas, the Andrea Yates trial, both prosecution and defense acknowledged that she is mentally ill. Does President Bush believe the death penalty is appropriate for anyone who’s convicted who’s mentally ill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ann, the President believes that those are decisions for juries to make based on the laws of their states.
Q: And Daniel Pearl? Is there any follow-up on prosecution concerning Daniel Pearl’s killers?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Attorney General is having a news conference today. So if there is anything to be announced on that front, you’ll get it from the A.G.
Q: Is there any reaction to the budget resolution that was passed by the House Budget Committee last night?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very pleased that the House is moving forward with passage of a budget resolution that is very strongly supportive of policies and priorities that the President announced, which is to fully fund the war on terrorism, to protect America’s homeland, and to provide responsible increases in spending on domestic programs. The President is gratified by the action that the House Budget Committee took.
Q: Well, there has been some criticism, though, in how they arrived at some of the numbers by using White House rather than CBO assumptions.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is not the arbiter of whether it be CBO or OMB or any other bunch of initials that Congress uses as they put together budgets.
Q: There’s been a lot of debate in this GAO debate about the diminishing of presidential authority. There’s been a lot of general talk about it, but no specific talk. How, over the years, has the President’s authority been diminished?
MR. FLEISCHER: In multiple ways. I think when you look statutorily at some of the areas — take, for example, appropriations — much of the domestic spending done now is earmarked, far more than it ever was before, removing the Executive Branch’s ability to take a look on the merits in a broad, national sense, to decide what programs should or should not be funded. Depending on the various program, you will see earmarks in giant excess of where they used to be, where Congress will decide exactly where the money gets spent, often because of the power of a committee chairman or because of arrangements that are made between members of Congress to decide where money gets spent. You see it in several of the restrictions on the administration’s ability in matters military that Congress has put restrictions on the Executive Branch. And, of course, the President obeys anything that is statutory law of the land.
I think you’ve also seen it throughout the last decade in terms of many of the investigations that took place of the Executive Branch. The sharing or the yielding of information by the Executive Branch to the Congress as investigations were launched and as investigations accelerated. That’s been a longstanding, gradual process. And the Executive Branch is a co-equal branch of government.
Q: Ari, the New York Times reports from Tel Aviv a demonstration of 30,000 Israelis, some carrying signs reading: Sharon, learn to fight like George Bush: Bomb them. The Times also quoted the President’s statement on the same day, America encourages and expects governments everywhere to help remove the terrorist parasites that threaten their own countries and peace in the world. And my question is, since “everywhere” surely includes Israel, you would never, by any evasion, leave the impression that the President does not regard suicide bombers as terrorist parasites, would you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, Israel is a very healthy and vibrant democracy and the President does not comment about events within Israel.
Q: Are the suicide bombers terrorist parasites or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made very plain that anybody who takes the lives of innocents —
Q: And the President has sent General Zinni back to Israel to meet with Sharon and either Arafat, who either can stop suicide bombings and won’t, or he can’t, or other unnamed Palestinian leaders. And my question is, would the Bush administration reject or receive a retired Israeli general sent by Sharon to try to reduce our violence in Afghanistan and possibly in Iraq, and help promote our talking with Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: I’m not sure there is any proposal like that on the table.
Q: Ari, speaking of the budget, the budget that was passed by the committee yesterday does not include an extension of the President’s tax cut. Aren’t they ignoring a major — one of the President’s major priorities by not doing that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is something the President has called for. The President hopes they will get it done, and I think it’s clear that it’s the will of the Republicans to get that done, perhaps a few Democrats, and that’s something the President will continue to push for. As I said, the President was reassured over the fact that the budget resolution strongly support much of his proposals that he’s made. No President gets everything. But I have to —
Q: But that’s a big part of the President’s agenda, isn’t it?
MR. FLEISCHER: It’s also a longer-term issue.
Q: Is he concerned that there may be less appetite for that on the Hill, given the growing concerns with the deficit and Social Security and so forth, that there may not be much appetite for tax cuts for a while now?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, again, that’s a longer-term issue. The President would like to see it get done as quickly as possible. It’s something the President is committed to and will work to get done.
Q: Ari, this morning, you said it in the gaggle, but for the record, does the President still have confidence in Commissioner Zigler of the INS?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said that himself yesterday. And the President said that this is a wake-up call to the INS to make certain that it reforms itself; that it takes the actions necessary to get to the bottom of how this could have happened with the approved visas that were sent to the aviation school in Florida. And I refer you right back to the President’s words.
Q: You also said this morning that the President called for splitting the INS into two separate units.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q: And when will this come about?
MR. FLEISCHER: It’s already in the works. The President made that announcement last fall. They can be administered mostly administratively. We will continue to work with the Congress on it. And the President thinks that’s one of the most vital reforms the INS can take, because it creates a clear mission and focus at the INS that a big portion of their job is to enforce our nation’s laws. And it creates another mission for a separate part of the INS, to welcome people to this country and to be a nation that welcomes immigrants.
But the two missions right now are not being done well by the INS. And that’s why the President thinks you need to split them so that they can have a real enforcement mentality in one part of the INS that stops people from getting to this country before they get here, if they don’t belong here.
Q: Ari, we saw Bono coming in. What’s his role in the aid announcement.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Bono has been a real proponent around the world of helping developing nations to achieve growth. The President’s staff spoke with Bono in the formulation of the policy the President is making today. He’s meeting with the President. And I think he’s actually going over to the speech with the President.
Q: They don’t just think it’s cool to hang out with him?
MR. FLEISCHER: You, too, think that? (Laughter.)
Q: Going back to Pickering, some conservatives feel the administration got geared up too late for this lobbying effort, that this was really a winnable nomination but the White House misread how truculent the Democrats were going to be. Is it fair to say he didn’t see the Democrats were going to play hardball on this, and so he got started late?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don’t share that analysis. In fact, the President has heard very good things as a result of what he said yesterday. The message we received back from the Hill, that was very helpful.
But the fact of the matter is that the Democrats control the committee. And it is entirely a matter of Democrat decision-making about whether or not they want to stop a bipartisan vote from taking place on the floor. Perhaps it will be one Democrat who will show a little independence and some flexibility. We’ll see when the vote takes place.
Q: So you don’t feel it was winnable if you’d done more earlier?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President approached it in a sound way.
Q: Ari, just behind Jacobo, you know Sensenbrenner came out earlier in saying why not completely separate the INS? You have this completely separate agency focused on enforcement, completely separate and independent agency focusing on welcoming immigrants. Why not —
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that’s the President’s proposal. The President’s proposal is to reform the INS by breaking it in two — one entity focused on enforcement, the other entity focused on welcoming people to the United States.
Q: But they’d still be under the same umbrella of the INS, under the President’s proposal. Is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: But the purpose is you have two with distinct missions. Right now you have one entity with conflicting missions.
Q: You said some of that could be done administratively?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q: What do you need congressional approval for, and how much can you do on your own?
MR. FLEISCHER: Much of it can be done administratively, and that process is already underway. I’m not clear about exactly what may be necessary, if anything, statutorily. But we’ve been consulting with the Hill about that, and we’ll continue to do so.
Q: — conflict between the Justice Department and INS at this point? I think Sensenbrenner was saying have Justice Department have more enforcement.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I can’t speak to what Congressman Sensenbrenner is proposing; that’s his right to propose. I can just tell you what the President believes in.
Q: Ari, just a quickie. The leak on the nuclear posture review, has that been personally embarrassing to the President, now that Ivanof is in town? And will it hurt U.S.-Russian relations, particularly with the big summit coming up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think U.S.-Russian relations are very strong, and continue to be. And I think it’s interesting, because there have been many an issue that people have said would be a setback, will reignite a Cold War. And those analysts continue to be proved wrong about the enduring strength that President Bush and President Putin have been able to create in U.S.-Russian relations. The President is looking forward to his trip to Russia in May, and I anticipate that you will see a continued growth in the strength of U.S.-Russian relations.
Q: Ari, to follow up, has it been embarrassing that the leak took place now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President’s point of view, he looks at this as a matter of — he takes classified documents seriously. Classified documents were meant to remain classified. And I think that the President would regret that anybody in the United States government in any position, whether in the Executive Branch or the Legislative Branch, would take it upon themselves to release classified documents.
Q: Can I just follow up on that? You say there’s nothing new in there, in that nuclear posture review. But it does seem to call for —
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I said the most new element in there was the reduction in offensive weapons.
Q: But some people feel that really the newest thing in there is the call for smaller-than-now-exist nuclear weapons. And of course critics say — and the President was asked about this yesterday — this makes the possibility of nuclear was more likely. Isn’t it true that this does call for smaller nuclear weapons, and isn’t that an important new development?
MR. FLEISCHER: It does not call for the development of new nuclear weapons, and the President has not directed the Department to undertake such action. It’s always under the purview of the Department of Defense to modify existing weapons as appropriate, and that’s a different matter.
But I’d refer you back to what I said earlier: The President believes that the best way to keep the peace is through deterrence, and it’s through having a strong military and sending an unequivocal message to anybody who would do us harm that they ought not even think about doing the United States harm because the United States will protect itself.
Q: You’re saying that if the yield from these weapons is smaller, that’s not a new weapon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Now you’re above my pay grade, when you start wanting to talk about yields and throws and throw-weights. I think you ought to talk to DOD on that.
Q: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:12 P.M. EST