White House Briefing by Ari Fleischer - Sept 4th
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 4, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:47 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the President's day, and then I have one scheduling announcement I'd like to bring to your attention. And then I'd be happy to take your questions.
The President, as you know, began his day with a meeting with bipartisan congressional leaders to talk about international security, and especially Iraq. Then he had a meeting with Senators on the Department of Homeland Security to again press the Senate to vote to pass homeland security legislation to create the new department. And later this afternoon, the President will make remarks on education implementation, still a cornerstone of the President's agenda, improving education across the country. Those remarks will be in the East Room later today. The President will also meet with the Prime Minister of Estonia.
I also want to bring to your attention that Mrs. Bush will be the honorary chairman for the September 11th Concert for America. This will be taped on September 9th at the Kennedy Center, and the President and Mrs. Bush will attend the concert. And they will be joined by Kelsey Grammer, James Earl Jones, Chris Isaak, Denyce Graves, and India.Arie, who will be performing at the concert.
And with that, I am more than happy to take your questions.
Q When is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Taped on September 9th and will air on September 11th.
Q After the President delivers his speech to the U.N. on the 12th, will we know what his plan is to oust Saddam, or just what his case is for ousting him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I suggest that you be in New York to hear the speech, and the President will be able to fill you in.
Q You can't give us just the most broadest guidance? Like -- I'm not asking what his plan is. Will we know what his plan is when he's done?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me try to help you out here. As you can see in the President's remarks today with the congressional leaders, and in other phone calls the President will have with world leaders this week, and his meeting with Prime Minister Blair this weekend, and then leading up to the speech the President will give to the United Nations, the President will continue to make the case to the American people about how the best way to promote peace and stability and freedom for the United States and the world, particularly in the region of the Middle East, is by removing the threat that we all face through Saddam Hussein's presence as leader of Iraq.
The President will continue to make that case. The President wants to engage in the debate that democracies must go through, in order for the public to fully understand the issues, in order for Congress to play its full role in this issue, and in order for the world to play its role. And so the President will consult, the President will listen, and the President will lead.
Q Well, I'm simply asking -- and I can infer from your answer, in a way -- will we know after the speech, will we know on the 12th, what his plan is to overthrow Saddam? Or will he simply have made a better, bolder case for overthrowing him? Will we know what he's doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: And I think you will continue to see the President making the case why the world will be better off without Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq, without Saddam Hussein trying to arm up, trying to acquire weapons that he, we fear, will use against either ourselves or our friends. The President will continue to make that case. I will invite you to listen to it, and you will be able to evaluate it as time goes along. But the President is just beginning to make this case.
Q Ari, can you clear up a point that was made this morning? Is the President going to seek support from Congress or approval from Congress? And in what kind of form would he seek either support or approval?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that Congress will draft the appropriate language in consultation with the White House for a vote that can include any number of things, including the option of military force.
Q But one implies permission, the other one implies a vote of confidence.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say -- and you know this from the legal findings that took place over the last couple weeks -- and from a legal point of view, the White House has the authority that it needs. From a much broader point of view, the President said this morning that he will seek congressional approval for any of the options that he may consider.
Q So he's looking for permission, as opposed to just the measure of support? Because the words support were used by some officials and then the words approval were all used.
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I think this is very much akin to the vote the Congress took in early 1992. The White House position today is similar to the vote -- the position back then, from a legal point of view, about the authority the President has as Commander-in-Chief. Nevertheless, it is very important, particularly in a democracy, for Congress to have its role, for Congress to speak and for Congress to vote.
Q In '92 or '91?
MR. FLEISCHER: The vote was in -- I'm sorry, 1991 was the vote. The vote was in 1991.
Q Ari, can I just follow on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, we're going to keep going in our regular way, Kelly, otherwise you would be missed --
Q All right, no, I understand.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- when it comes to the second row.
Q The President makes a persuasive case about the need to remove Saddam Hussein. But that's really just the first question, isn't it? What's the President's position on what comes next? Some of the members of Congress talked about the need to level with the American people about the possibility of a long-term American occupation. What's the President's position?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the President again has made no decision about the use of the military. And the President's position is strikingly similar to Congress' position about the world being better off without Saddam Hussein being in charge. Congress voted on that matter themselves. They took a vote on that. And it is an important part of the debate that will take place up on the Hill. Administration witnesses will go and testify. The Secretaries in the government will go and testify, the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of State, et cetera, and they will talk about these issues.
The President's point of view is, the world will be far better off without Saddam Hussein in charge of Iraq. We look forward to an Iraq that is democratic, that is stable, that is unified, and that's the administration's position.
Q And what's the American responsibility in assuring that stability and that unity?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States plays a role, the world plays a role, because the world and the United States will all be better off with a new regime in Iraq. But the Iraqi people play a role, as well. The Iraqi people play a central role.
Q Would that role potentially include American occupation of Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: You are presupposing American military forces in Iraq, and that's a decision the President has not yet made. But the President will go into this with his eyes wide open, asking for the country to focus on this, asking for Congress to focus on this, to consider all the implications, to consider all the issues. The President right now is focusing on how the world would be better off without Saddam. I think it's a fair point, and it's a point that will indeed be raised and has to be thought through.
Q Beyond his opinion that the world will be better off, did he present any concrete evidence of Iraq on the verge of nuclear planning, nuclear bombs, or any other thing that would really be different than what Israel has today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, well, first of all, I don't think it's fair to compare Israel to Iraq.
Q Why not? It's the only nuclear power in the Middle East.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think it's fair to compare. Let me go through something here for you. On September 22, 1980, Iraq invaded Iran, starting an 8-year war in which Iraq employed chemical weapons against Iranian troops, and ballistic missiles against Iranian cities. In February 1988, Iraq forcibly relocated Kurdish civilians from their home villages, killing an estimated 50,000 to 180,000 Kurds. On March 16, 1988, Iraq used chemical weapons against Iraqi Kurdish civilian opponents, killing an estimated 5,000 Kurds and causing numerous birth defects that affect the town still today. That's the town of Helabjah. On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded and began a 7-month occupation of Kuwait. In April 1993, Iraq orchestrated a failed plot to assassinate former President Bush.
Since March 1996, Iraq has systematically sought to deny weapons inspectors from the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq access to key facilities and documents, has on several occasions endangered the safe operations of the United Nations officials and their helicopters transporting personnel in Iraq, and has persisted in a pattern of deception and concealment regarding the history of its weapons of mass destruction programs. On August 5, 1998, Iraq ceased all cooperation with UNSCOM and subsequently threatened to end long-term monitoring activities by the International Atomic Energy Agency and UNSCOM.
These were the findings that Congress made, that President Clinton signed into law as part of the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act. This is what Congress found that led to the overwhelming --
Q A whole retrospective.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- that led to the overwhelming vote for regime change in the Congress. These were their findings at that time. Since then, we know that America is even more vulnerable because of September 11th.
Q Has any other nation defied U.N. resolutions, and have we decided to go to war against them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President has not decided to go to war, but the President has decided that he won't --
Q Well, he's certainly on the verge. How long does it take?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- but the world has an obligation not to let Saddam Hussein thwart all these resolutions.
Q Don't you think the country is convinced he is going to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell.
Q You've talked generally about options, making clear the President hasn't made a decision as to what to do. There's a report in the LA Times today that says one of the things the administration is looking at is what they describe as coercive inspections, which I guess means the inspectors would go back into Iraq, but with military forces of some sort backing them up, and that they could use force if the inspectors were denied.
MR. FLEISCHER: I saw that report; I can't vouch for it. I can tell you that, as the President indicated today, the goal is disarmament. Inspectors are one means to try to find out whether or not Saddam Hussein has indeed lived up to his commitments and has indeed disarmed. I wouldn't place a lot of emphasis on that. I think there's still a lot of different things that are being talked through.
Q Is that a focus, though? I guess when he meets with Blair this weekend and Chretien on Monday, there is still a push from our European allies that returning the inspectors should be the first step. Has the President ruled that out?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has said that the inspectors need to return. He thinks Iraq needs to allow the inspectors back in with unfettered access any time, anywhere, to anyplace.
Q So why wouldn't that make sense, sending them in with forces backing them up, to say, if you're not going to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President is reviewing a great number of options, and the bottom line, though, is that Iraq needs to live up to its commitments to disarm. Not simply allow inspectors in, not to resume the cat-and-mouse game, not to put people in there in harm's way, where Saddam Hussein would again use the powers of his state police to rough up inspectors and make their job impossible to do. The purpose is to know that Saddam Hussein has lived up to his commitments and has disarmed. After all, if the world doesn't know if he's disarmed, how can the world know if it's safe? The burden is on Saddam Hussein, not on the United States.
Q Ari, the President will be making his case to the world in the United Nations speech next week. Will he be willing to make a similar speech before a joint session of Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Randy, I can't predict this early in a process that is going to take some time each and every step along the way. What I can say to you with certainty is that the President will continue to address this matter with the American people and with the Congress, and with our friends and allies. Democracies must proceed in that manner, and the President will lead this democracy in doing that.
Q Can you define what the President meant by the word "crawfish"? (Laughter.) A folksy harangue at Saddam Hussein.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think what the President is saying is -- let me give you another example on something. This is the United Nations resolution in 1991 that set out many of the terms by which Saddam Hussein pledged to abide by. And that's what helped end the Gulf War. The United Nations in 1991 -- and I'm reading from this -- decided that "Iraq shall unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, or rendering harmless, under international supervision, of all chemical and biological weapons and all stocks and agents of all related substances and components, of research and development, support and manufacturing facilities. Also, they will "unconditionally accept the destruction, removal, and rendering harmless of all ballistic missiles with a range of greater than 150 kilometers." This is what Saddam Hussein promised to do.
This is what Saddam Hussein has tried his best to slither out of -- as the President put it, to crawfish out of. These are the promises that Saddam Hussein made to the world -- promises designed to ensure peace -- that Saddam Hussein has not honored.
This is why peace is at risk. This is why peace is at jeopardy. Because Saddam Hussein made these promises. Saddam Hussein promised that he would give up chemical weapons, promised he would give up biological weapons, promised he would give up missiles that had a range greater than 150 kilometers. He has not done so. That is the threat to peace.
Q This is kind of a follow-on to Campbell's question. The President said that he was seeing Tony Blair this weekend, and he's also speaking to the leaders of France, Russia, China, who happen to be the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Is the U.S. -- are the U.S. and Britain considering the need for some new U.N. resolution, possibly asking for tougher kind of inspections? Or at least, is this an indication that the next step goes through the U.N.?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President today said that he would, at the appropriate time, ask Congress to approve any resolutions, if he makes that determination. The President will continue to consult with our friends and allies. He will begin with the members, as you point out, of the Perm Five, the U.N. Security Council's permanent five members. He will also discuss this when he goes to the United Nations and speaks to nations throughout the world. He will continue to consult, he will continue to listen. And as he has more determinations to make, he will share them with you. If that is one of them, he will share that with you at the appropriate time.
This is the beginning of a process, and it's the beginning of an important process, for the President of the United States, the leader of the democracy that has kept the world free and safe, to speak to our nation, other nations, to speak to our allies, to speak to our enemies, and most importantly, to speak to the American people, so the American people can understand what is at stake, why it is so important, and how open the President will be in the formulation of whatever policy he decides is necessary.
Q In other words, there could be a new U.N. resolution or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President will continue to consult with our allies, and this is the beginning of a process.
Q Two quick questions, please. One, when President Bush to the U.N. next week and meeting world leaders, do you think he's going to make this time -- the way he did in the case of Afghanistan? Do you compare these two, Afghanistan Taliban and al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein?
And also, the world economy is already bad, but oil flow may be on hold after the attack on Iraq. What he thinking about, because many countries may not get oil?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to predict what the President will say beyond what I've said about August 12th. But certainly, there is no question that there are people in this world -- al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein -- who have, or in the case of al Qaeda, who had, although they are trying to regroup, means to attack and harm the United States, our people, and our interests abroad -- our friend Israel. And they have shown a willingness to use those weapons to take lives. And that is why the world has to stand strong, in the President's opinion, to protect freedom and to protect our way of life.
Q Second question is that the closer we go to 9/11, first anniversary, people here still -- very much living in fear and terrified. What message you think he has now on this first anniversary that how can they live their lives? And also, especially, the businesses are being hurt and losing their shirts every day.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President on September 11th will also give an important speech, and that will be, I think, a very solemn day for the American people. And the President's remarks are going to be very respectful of those who have lost their lives, those who mourn. And he will talk about the wonderful love that our country has for their families and survivors, and talk about the challenges our nation faces from those who would take away our lives if they could.
Q Ari, Gephardt said today that he didn't hear anything new in the meeting today. I'm wondering, as the President begins to talk to Congress, is the plan to really sort of repeat information that they already have about Saddam? Does he think they already know enough, or does he have significant new pieces of information that he's going to share with them to convince them to support these resolutions?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President -- the purpose of the meeting today, as the President made plain, was to inform them that he will seek congressional support, if it comes to that point, at the appropriate time. That was the purpose of the meeting. The purpose of the meeting was not to share intelligence information. There will be many other meetings that information will be conveyed. Secretary Rumsfeld is traveling up to Capitol Hill today to have closed door meetings with members of Congress. I think you can anticipate throughout the course of the public hearings that the House and the Senate will hold, administration officials testifying, the President will continue to lay out the case.
Q You're crawfishing away from my question. (Laughter.) Does he have new information that he's going to share with them in order to try to get Congress' support? Or do they have enough already?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that it's fair to say that when this becomes a matter of vote in the Congress, the President is very confident that he will have the support of the overwhelming majority of the Congress. I think the Congress has voted like that in the past, and the President will continue to make the case and he's confident that Congress will support him.
Now, there may be some members who don't. And they'll speak on their own, and they will, I'm sure, on good faith and on principle, announce why they would oppose. But the President is confident that when this goes to a vote, at the appropriate time, that the vote will be a yes vote.
Q Okay, I'm going to cede you that, if you'll give me one more question. You said, if it comes to that time. I don't quite understand. Is a vote -- is there definitely going to be a vote, or is it contingent on a decision to go to war?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said, at the appropriate time this administration will go to the Congress to seek approval.
Q He will go to seek approval, no matter what?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that there will be a vote in the Congress before they leave for the elections.
Q That would include sanctioning military and possibly other options for removing Saddam Hussein?
Q Well, the exact language, as I indicated at the top, the exact language, of course, as always, and any time Congress works on anything, will get discussed between the White House and the legislature.
Q Just following on that --
MR. FLEISCHER: On the crawfish? (Laughter.)
Q Yes. Is there new information that President will present to lawmakers?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will continue to make his case, and I don't think --
Q You can't answer that question?
Q Why can't you answer --
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, from the President's point of view, from Congress' point of view, as a result of the vote they, themselves, took in 1998, they had all the evidence they needed then that Saddam Hussein needed to go.
Q That's what he's going to depend on then?
Q Is that how he feels now, that they have --
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't say he would or he wouldn't. But I'm focused on today's events. I can't predict to you all future events.
Q On this possible resolution of congressional support, does the President anticipate waiting until he has made a decision before seeking this vote in both Houses of Congress, or they could be a vote even before the President has decided what action to take?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't rule out that there could be a vote before the President has decided what action to take. Congressional language can often be all encompassing, to allow for different possibilities.
Q Sounds like he's looking for a blank check.
Q One other thing. You also sent letters, I believe. Did all members who attended the meeting today get these letters?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. The President sent a letter to the individuals who were there. This is the President's way of saying he wished he could have had this meeting with all 535 members of Congress. And so this letter will be disseminated.
Q Ari, I have two questions, only one on Iraq and one on Colombia. On Iraq, the President has already started today to make his case to Congress. When will he start making his case with the American people? Will he hold special events, will he travel specifically on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President started making this case with the American people today. I think the President has repeatedly been making his case even earlier. But certainly this is a new atmosphere and a new context as Congress comes back for the last five weeks of the scheduled session.
Q So will he have special events?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will keep -- continue to inform you about the various events. I've already indicated, and you heard from the President, that he's going to be having some phone calls. And as you know, we always try to give you a report on the phone calls. He'll have the speech up in the United Nations, he'll have the Prime Minister of England to Camp David. So there will be a series of events. And there's a public component to much of this where you'll get a chance to talk to the President.
Q On Colombia, you said yesterday the President will be receiving the new President of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe Velez, on the 25th. The New York Times today has a story that's saying with his support, the President of Colombia, the United States has begun what an American official is saying will be the biggest and most aggressive effort yet to wipe out coca grown by spring. It also says that the amount of crop-dusters will -- arriving from this country to Colombia will increase from 12 to 22 by next spring. But at the same time, the State Department is expected to submit a report to Congress today on the potential health effects of the spraying. Under the provision sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy, Congress has required that the Department of State, in consultation with the Environmental Protection Agency, certify that the use of pesticides does not pose unreasonable risk or adverse effects to humans or the environment. Does the White House --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I can get anything on that and post it for you later today.
Q Let me see if I can clarify. You want Congress to give its support for the use of military action before the President decides whether or not it's necessary --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I said I don't rule out that that could be the timing.
Q Because we don't know when the President is going to make a decision.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q But he's already asking for support.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that at the appropriate time, it's appropriate for Congress to extend the support.
Q Is he asking them today to go ahead and start the process to give him support for some sort of action, even though he's not sure what action he's going to take?
MR. FLEISCHER: During the meeting it came up about what the timing of a congressional vote would be. And one senator asked the President, do you think that the Congress should vote on this in the five weeks that remains, and the President said, yes.
Q So what are they to vote on? Do you want --
MR. FLEISCHER: The language will get talked about and negotiated between the White House and the Hill.
Q I know, but the problem is -- they obviously will try to inject, as they did in 1991, some reference to War Powers Act, and a number of other things regarding congressional prerogatives. How do they deal with that if the President hasn't yet decided what he's getting support from them for?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I can't address a hypothetical of what Congress may or may not put in there on the day the President just said to the Congress --
Q No, I'm asking what you need for -- what you want Congress to put in there.
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be discussed between the legislature and the executive. The point is that in the event the President were to take any military action, the President would seek congressional approach for such action.
Q So you're saying if the support -- if their expression of support for presidential action comes before he decides to use military power, you would go back and seek additional authorization before you launch a military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, it can only work one of two ways. Congress can either give Presidents support for taking military action prior to it, in which case Congress would have had its role to play, they would have been consulted and the American people would know that the voice of Congress was heard. Or, they can express that after military action. That doesn't do anybody any good.
Q I guess where I'm confused -- is the President asking Congress to authorize him to take military action now, even though he hasn't decided yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President said that -- and I'll just read it to you again. I'll take you right back to the President's language in the meeting. And he said that Congress -- he would ask Congress. "At the appropriate time, this administration will go to the Congress to seek approval for -- necessary to deal with the threat." And the exact language will get worked out, but suffice it to say, the way it could be written could certainly include a variety of options, including military force.
Q You want it to include the military force --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ken.
Q Wait, wait, wait.
MR. FLEISCHER: You only get two, otherwise we're never going to get to the back of the room. There's a --
Q There's no rule on two, and of course, that doesn't include the crawfish factor.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's a lot of crawfishing going on here, trying to get twos into threes.
Q What is the administration's view on the idea of a deadline for Saddam Hussein to accept unfettered arms inspection?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about any discussion on deadlines.
Q You don't have a view? The administration doesn't have a view?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about any deals with deadlines.
Q I'm not asking you to speculate. What is the administration's view?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's premature and speculative.
Q Except it's not so premature and speculative, because the -- began yesterday marshaling support for a new Security Council resolution that would essentially demand return of inspectors on an unconditional basis within two months. What's the administration's view of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration's position is that Saddam Hussein needs to live up to the terms that he's already promised to live up by in the existing United Nations Security Council resolution. And that means unfettered access any time, anyplace, and immediately.
Q I understand that, but apparently there's a move afoot to produce a new resolution. Would the administration be prepared to support --
MR. FLEISCHER: I've just told you what the administration position is, and I'm not going to speculate about any future, potential drafts.
Q Second question, then.
MR. FLEISCHER: Third.
Q Tony Blair is coming this weekend. Yesterday, Prime Minister Blair said that he would, within a short period of time, be prepared -- probably be prepared to publish a dossier on Saddam Hussein and the case to be made for his drive for weapons of mass destruction. Might this weekend's meeting be the time he does that?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to ask Prime Minister Blair about any of the timing of any of his announcements.
Q But he hasn't consulted --
MR. FLEISCHER: Richard.
Q Yes, quick change of subject. What does the White House know about this Secret Service alert that's been issued for a car coming from Pennsylvania, supposedly loaded with explosives and heading for Washington?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to look into that. Have you called the Secret Service?
Q They just say that -- they've confirmed that there's an alert.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to look into that.
Q He was arrested --
Q Ari, a follow-up on Ken's -- does the administration have any problems if Prime Minister Blair wants to issue a bill of particulars? You know, he did last time, against al Qaeda.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President welcomes various nations' contributions to the debate, and to an informed dialogue, so that the world can know what the threats to peace are.
Q Blair has indicated, or at least his government has indicated, that there may well be some new information in there. Is the President considering issuing any similar bill of particulars here?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not aware of anything like that. But just stay in touch, and we'll keep you informed as the debate begins. This is going to be a long process. The President will continue to engage in this dialogue with the American people, and I invite you to participate, as well. You will see what develops as the President makes his case.
Q Ari, yes or no, does the President have new intelligence information on Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, I would not discuss intelligence information in any way in any case.
Q Yes or -- does he have new information on Iraq that he is going to share with the American people? Not intelligence.
MR. FLEISCHER: I would again invite you to observe all the events that will unfold as the President gives the various speeches that he's giving, just as he did today.
Q Why are you so hesitant to discuss --
MR. FLEISCHER: To predict the future?
Q No --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because these events take place on a daily basis, and you will continue to see, in a variety of forums and a variety of ways, the President continue to make the case about how to protect world stability and peace. And you're asking me today to give you a prediction of everything that will come in the future, and I cannot do that.
Q I'll ask two questions together. Is the President concerned that Tony Blair may release some new tidbits, bill of particulars, et cetera?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated, the President welcomes the contributions that the United Kingdom is making.
Q Just to follow up on my question yesterday, any further word on a possible rescinding of the executive order against foreign assassination?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing new since we talked yesterday.
Q Why is this process starting today? And does the -- Blair said yesterday that he had the feeling that the leaders' timeline -- the debate had gotten ahead of the leaders' timeline. Is he right on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it started today because today is the first day that Congress has come back from a month-long recess. And of course, the House was out until today; the Senate came back yesterday. And the President meant what he said in August, that he will consult with congressional leaders. He would not have had an opportunity to consult with congressional leaders until today, today was the earliest. So as soon as the members of the House and the Senate came back, the President invited them to the White House so they could share with the President their thoughts, and the President could share with them, his. And that's exactly what took place this morning.
And I think, from the sentiment of most of the people there, they're very appreciative of the President for coming in and saying that Congress will be asked to engage in such a vote, that Congress' opinions would be important. And I think it's fair to say, as the debate goes along, Congress will have some very important decisions to make, Congress will face some very difficult issues. And then we're going to see what the members of the Republican Party, the Democratic Party do, as they become the focus of this action, as the hearings develop and as Congress' voice is heard.
Q Well, isn't it at least a little odd that the process starts today, a week after the Vice President, who seems to have made up his mind, presented the case for military action?
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, if Congress wanted to come back a week earlier, they could have had a discussion a week earlier, if the President had been here, as well. But the President meant it when he said he would consult with the Congress. Can't consult with the Congress if the Congress isn't in town.
Q The President has wanted Congress to make it a first priority of the defense appropriations bill --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Did the leadership in the House and Senate today agree, make a commitment to move that on an accelerated --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President in the meeting did call for them to pass the defense appropriations bill first. He reminded them that we are currently in a war, in a shooting war, vis a vis al Qaeda and the Taliban and the war on terror, and he asked them to pass that first.
My practice, Greg, is not to characterize what members of the Congress say in a meeting on something specific like that. The President is hopeful that that's what Congress will do. We'll have to see.
Q Ari, you said that the President may seek this resolution without actually having made up his mind definitively, and it could actually happen before the elections. If that's the case, what message would you give to Saddam Hussein if he observes that track happening? What steps could he take in that case to avoid a military strike against Baghdad and his people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President has not made a decision to engage in a military strike. But I think the message to Saddam Hussein is to abandon his ways of war and to promote peace. The problem is he had very little history of showing a willingness to do that. He has said things that are absolutely not true, he has made commitments he has not honored, he has used the international community as a foil to try to play for more time. And the worry that the President has, that the Vice President has, the Secretary of Defense and State have, the national security team has, and I think it's fair to say that the American people have, is that there does reach a tipping point where time is not on our side, where Saddam Hussein will have been able to play for sufficient time to develop weapons. And we've known from his history that he has an inclination to use them once he has them.
Q So that sounds like if the administration -- to seek the resolution, that a military strike is definitely at the end of the line of that progression of events.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what's important is for Saddam Hussein to show the world that he has disarmed, exactly as he promised he would do when the Gulf War ended in 1991; exactly as he tried to avoid doing throughout the 1990s. This has been brought to the world as a result of Saddam Hussein's attempts to get around the commitments he made to the world community in return for ending the Gulf War.
Q Ari, can I change the subject? On Mexico, today the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations have scheduled a hearing on the elimination of the United States ambassador to Mexico, Mr. Tony Garza. Any comments on that? Do you expect the --
MR. FLEISCHER: You asked that yesterday and I indicated the same thing, the President hopes that all his nominees will be approved.
Q I did not ask --
MR. FLEISCHER: It was asked yesterday.
Q And also on Mexico, today is one year that President Fox came to Washington to meet with President Bush. Do you think the talks on immigration -- do you think there's any hope to discuss this topic eventually again, sometime soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Unquestionably. This remains an important issue. The President would still like to find ways to welcome workers into America, to deal with some of the border issues that we face with Mexico. It's been immensely complicated as a result of the war on terror and the need to also protect the American people from weapons being smuggled over the border. People, as we saw on September 11th, took advantage of our nation's goodwill toward others to come in, and so it represents a case of a desire to be open and to have immigration, lawful, but at the same time to make certain that we do everything we can to make sure our borders are protected.
Q Ari, in 1991, the President's father enjoyed what at the time was an unprecedented show of international support against Hussein. Last year he, himself, -- similar coalition go after the Taliban and al Qaeda. So far, this time around there's been only limited support from Britain in terms of taking action against Hussein. Secretary Rumsfeld said recently that if necessary, the U.S. would be prepared to go it alone. Obviously, the President embarks today on a very public effort to rally support both within the U.S. among its people, and in Congress, and also internationally. But at the end of the day, is Secretary Rumsfeld's statement still operative, and will the President be prepared to go ahead alone if he can't rally --
MR. FLEISCHER: Dick, the President is confident that as he now begins to make his case to world leaders, world leaders will listen, and that the United States will work carefully and closely with our allies, and that we will have many people who will agree with us. Much of the world does agree about the need for Saddam Hussein to go. The President has not made a case to the world about the need for military action. So when you say the world does not agree, the world does not agree with a case the President has not yet made. And so it's a question in a vacuum.
Q I'm asking you, after making that case.
MR. FLEISCHER: After making the case, if that gets to the point where the President decides that is the case to make, the President is confident that after consultation, the United States will stand shoulder to shoulder with many around the world.
Q Ari, is the President disappointed that it looks like Pricilla Owen's nomination is going to go down tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: If that were to be the case, the President would be deeply disappointed. Pricilla Owen is a superb jurist, widely respected in the state of Texas, has a great reputation. And the President would be very disappointed that the Senate would once again have chosen the course of partisanship over progress. And I think this would be a real setback at a time particularly when there are widespread judicial vacancies that is slowing down people's access to justice. That would be the worst signal to send they could possibly send about the desire to fill the judiciary up with capable people.
Q On homeland security --
Q Does the White House have anything on the budgetary or economic consequences of inaction on Iraq? And was that discussed at all today with the congressional leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not discussed today. Not discussed.
Q Ari, this new phase definitely heightens the feeling that we're moving towards a time of decision and of action. As we're engaged in our outreach with Congress and others, is the administration also doing the same with Iraq opposition, working more closely with them so there isn't a giant vacuum once Saddam leaves power by whatever means?
MR. FLEISCHER: The State Department is working very closely with the Iraqi opposition. The Iraqi Liberation Act of 1998 authorized the government to work directly with the Iraqi opposition, and the State Department has been actively doing so.
Q Ari, President Bush is going to meet with Prime Minister Jean Chretien from France to speak about smart borders. Does he plan any --
MR. FLEISCHER: Canada. Canada.
Q Canada, yes. Does he plan a similar meeting with President Bush to speak about -- President Fox, to speak about the same issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll, of course, always keep you informed about any scheduled meetings.
Q Ari, Senator McCain said that he thought there would be a significant majority of support for a resolution that would call for "whatever action is necessary to effect regime change." He used that phrase a couple of times. Are those the words the President used, whatever action is necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President used the same words in public, I think, that he did in private in the meeting. But suffice it to say, this is the beginning of a healthy debate for our American democracy. This is exactly what should happen. The Congress will now take what the President said and they will meet with themselves, they will consider that appropriate language to develop. They will talk with the White House about it. It will be a very public process. The country will be brought into the process, many voices will be heard. And I think it's fair to say that after many weeks' time, that in the end, the Congress will see this much the same way the President does, and that will be reflected in the vote that the Congress will be taking.
Q And that vote, he said today, he would like to see before Congress adjourns. Does that mean he wants this to be an election issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President thinks anybody who tries to make this a partisan issue, a political issue, an election issue, will be making one of the biggest mistakes they can make. This is a matter --
Q Is part of the debate in a democracy --
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a matter of promoting peace. This is a matter of securing the American people from a threat, a threat that the President has long identified.
Q Can I just clear something up? We've got three ideas here. We've got inspections, disarmament, and regime change. Inspections and disarmament sort of go together. But if you get inspectors and disarmament, how do you effect regime change? Does Saddam Hussein have to give up all of his weapons and pack his bags and leave town? Or where -- I'm just trying to figure out where one ends and the other begins, or if they're all part of the same thing.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me put it to you this way: "The administration has pursued, and will continue to pursue, these objectives" -- these objectives being disarmament, these objectives being to get Saddam Hussein to live up to the terms of the United Nations -- "through active application of all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions. The evidence is overwhelming that such changes will not happen under the current Iraqi leadership." That's what President Clinton said when he signed into law the Iraqi Liberation Act. This is a longstanding bipartisan position of the American government that President Bush is committed to, because the President believes it's the best way to protect the American people.
Q But if Saddam gives up his weapons, do you let him stay?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd just say again, the burden is on Saddam Hussein to show the world that he has disarmed, that he has lived up to these obligations. Saddam Hussein has had a history of not living up to those obligations and thumbing his nose at the world community.
Q But you're willing to reconsider if he does?
MR. FLEISCHER: The position of the administration, the position of the Congress in huge, overwhelming numbers, and the position of former President Clinton, shared by President Bush, is regime change, because that's the best way to promote the peace.
Q Ari, can I go back to Elizabeth's question about whether the administration has information about Saddam Hussein that they're keeping secret --
Q Good luck. (Laughter.)
Q I understand you don't want to address it, but Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said yesterday that, in fact, there is information that the President hasn't revealed to the American people. So is the President upset with him for being so forthcoming?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if he hasn't revealed it to the American people, I won't be the first to do so. But I think --
Q But you can't -- if Rumsfeld has acknowledged that, yes, we do have information that we're not telling you yet, that we're not ready to share yet, why can't you acknowledge that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, I think it's fair to say that when the Congress voted -- the House voted 360-38 in 1998 for regime change, based on everything they saw up to then, they had the position that the best way to protect the American people is through regime change.
Since 1998, the case is even more important to protecting the administration -- the American people. And the policy of regime change remains our government's position. And the President will continue to address the country, and you will continue to listen to what he has to say between now and whenever a vote takes place.
Q That has nothing to do with my question.
Q -- the President's decision whether to reveal it.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q So can you say, is there discussion going on, a determination if the President will --
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why I invite you, I invite you to follow all the events that will unfold as the President shares his opinions with the American people.
Q So is it fair to say there is information, and the President has not yet determined whether to share it to the American people or U.S. allies or lawmakers?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, I think it's fair to say that back in 1998, there was so much information that the Congress voted as it did for a policy of regime change. Since 1998, the case is even more compelling, not less so.
Q Ari, in 1998 nobody was talking about going to war. The resolutions passed, but nobody, not the President, not the Congress was talking about going to war. Now we are talking about that. What has changed specifically between 1998 and today, or is that bill of particulars that you read from the 1998 act, is that it, is that the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: The language in 1998 was rather open-ended about the importance of regime change. It did not address or rule out how to accomplish it, Ken.
Q What's the answer to his question?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just answered it.
Q No you didn't. He wanted to know what changed.
Q You said at the beginning that the President may seek this resolution from Congress, seeking approval for the necessary steps to deal with the threat before he's decided, before he's announced what his action would be. Is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: Whether -- that he would indeed take military -- make a military decision, correct.
Q But he does want the resolution to include the option of military action, in case he decides to take that step.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a fair statement.
Q What other options does he want to have in there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, that will all get drafted by the Congress and the White House together. I think it's too soon to start discussing the specific drafting language. Congress will now -- can begin its hearings process, and this will be developed in the course of the hearings.
Q In this week's schedule, the President is going to travel tomorrow and then he's going to travel Friday. I understand he's still traveling tomorrow, but is the Friday trip still on to Minnesota?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President will be here Friday.
Q Why is that?
Q Any particular reason?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he's got just other business he's going to be here for on Friday. And we just didn't need to do the trip on Friday. It was going to be a welfare event, I believe, in Minnesota.
Q On homeland security, Senator Lieberman is saying that the President has lost his focus and is being -- is taking the advice of anti-worker advisors.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think it was instructive, when the President, on Labor Day was before a group of union workers, and the President made the case on homeland security, why it's important to protect the country by giving the managers the flexibility they need to have a work force that they can hire, they can fire, to have an effective work force, he received widespread applause from that working audience.
And so this is an issue where the President understands that there will be some who just differ. And there are a lot of pressures on those people here in Washington as a result of some of the special interest influences here in Washington. But the President will continue to put the needs of protecting the country first, and that means having a work force at the department of homeland security that is just as nimble and just as able to respond to threats as the Transportation Security Agency, which the Congress created with the very same rules the President is seeking. Why would Congress pass a new agency -- create a new agency that has even less flexibility than one they just created?
Q Ari, one more on regime change. Does regime change mean his sons and his political party, such as it is -- Saddam Hussein's? It means everybody, a complete house cleaning?
MR. FLEISCHER: This applies to -- let me -- I'll read you the language from what passed on the Congress. And their conclusion was, it should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.
Q Last year, before September 11th, the Bush administration, with the same laws on the books regarding regime change, was pursuing the Smart sanctions policy against Iraq. What is the difference now? What happened since September 11th that raised the urgency of action to deal with Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President has said, America's worst nightmare is that a regime led by somebody like Saddam Hussein will link up with terrorists like al Qaeda, who have already demonstrated a willingness to attack the United States, using whatever means they can get their hands on. And were Saddam Hussein able to transfer any of the weapons of mass destruction -- the chemical, the biological weapons or the nuclear weapons that he seeks -- to these organizations, it would be too late for the United States to do anything. We may already have been hit. And that's where the tipping point is, in this President's opinion, of why action may be necessary.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:32 P.M. EDT