Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer - December 9
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
December 9, 2002
Press Briefing by Ari
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
President's daily schedule
12:42 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. The President began today with his intelligence briefing, followed by a briefing with the FBI. Then he met with the President of Tajikistan, and we will shortly issue a joint statement between the President of the United States and the President of Tajikistan that declares our commitment to continue the development of our long-term strategic partnership and cooperation between our nations based on our common goal of promoting peace, security, economic development and democracy in the Republic of Tajikistan and in Central Asia. You will have that statement shortly.
The President then, as you know, has made the announcement of the appointment, pending Senate confirmation, of John Snow as Secretary of the Treasury. Later this afternoon the President will meet with the Prime Minister of Finland.
And that is the President's public events for the day. I'm happy to take your questions.
Q Is your new Treasury nominee still a member of Augusta? And, if so, doesn't that present a problem?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. Snow is in the process of stepping down from many of the boards and clubs that he belongs to. In this case, he is resigning his membership there, and that's the answer to your question.
Q Why is he resigning from Augusta, specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's an individual decision that he makes. It is not, in the President's judgment, a disqualifying matter in appointment to Cabinet Sectaries. But these are individual decisions that individual appointees make. And it's not uncommon for people who get appointed to look at their various memberships and make determinations about what they want to do and not do as Cabinet Secretaries.
Q Even though it's not disqualifying, did the White House suggest or ask or recommend that he resign?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's his decision to make -- on all his memberships, board of directors, et cetera.
Q Why wouldn't it be a disqualifying factor to be a member of a club that excludes women?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not judge that to be a disqualifying factor.
Q I have a couple of other questions. The President said today that he had outstanding economic advisors. If he did, why did he change the team?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know -- and I'm not going to re-plow old ground -- but the President, as I indicated last week, thanked Dr. Lindsey and thanked Secretary O'Neill for their service. As the President said this morning and as I said last week, the nation has moved from recession to growth and they played an instrumental part in security the tax cuts, trade promotion authority, terrorism insurance. That's what the President was reflecting.
Q And this is totally unrelated, but I hope that you can speak to it. There's a growing anti-war movement in this country against --
MR. FLEISCHER: You're right it is unrelated. (Laughter.)
Q -- It is totally unrelated -- against potential war with Iraq. There's a series of protests scheduled across the country tomorrow. What's the administration's position on that? Do you think that this is going to be a problem that you'll have to face as you go forward putting pressure on Saddam Hussein? Are these people misinformed about the issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think peaceful protest is one of America's most time-honored traditions, and properly so. We're a stronger nation thanks to people from both sides of any debate who feel the right to demonstrate their beliefs in the peaceful manner of their choice.
Q Is this going to complicate your efforts to squeeze Saddam Hussein?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think that -- again, this is part of the America tradition. And the President believes that the overwhelming majority of the American people agree with him that Saddam Hussein is a threat, and that he needs to be dealt with. And we hope that the provisions that have been put in place, through the inspections and through the collective will of the international community, will help Saddam Hussein come to the realization that he must disarm.
Q And given that now Iraq has handed in a declaration and said, announced, it has no weapons of mass destruction, what's the inspectors' role now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the inspectors' role will be exactly prescribed in the Security Council resolution covering the inspections, which is to receive unlimited, unconditional access to all sites in Iraq so they can inspect to determine whether or not Saddam Hussein has, indeed, disarmed. It's a very difficult task. And we want to help them to do it.
Q How is the administration going to help them do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, number one we're helping them to do it by getting them into the country. They couldn't do it having been thrown out of the country. Now that the President has gone to the United Nations and asked for the return of the inspectors, they're now able to do their job. And they are growing in numbers, growing in material. They still have an extraordinarily difficult task given the size of the country and the ease of which material can be hidden or moved. So that is the challenge that they face, and that is the purpose of their mission.
Q Back in August, Vice President Cheney warned against this scenario, explicitly, saying it was dangerous. What changed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the Vice President said what the President thinks, what all people in the administration think, and the Vice President also recognizes the value of having the inspectors there while we all say it's not a guarantee. I think when you take a look at the realm of what is possible inside Iraq with the inspectors, there's a clear recognition said by the President and the Vice President that we want the inspectors to be there so they can do their level best to determine whether Saddam Hussein disarmed. But the presence of inspectors in and of itself is not a guarantee of disarmament.
Q Ari, do you have -- does the United States now have in its possession the declaration made by the Iraqis, and do you have an estimate now how long it will take to analyze that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not seen any reliable estimate of how long it will take to analyze, other than it's going to take whatever time is right and appropriate. The analysis of this document is going to be done in a very thoughtful, thorough and complete way. We want to be very deliberative as we move through and look at this document to determine with the international community what this indicates about Saddam Hussein and his disarmament.
In terms of the document, we are in the process. The United States is assisting the President of the Security Council with copying and distribution of the declaration.
Q And I think the IAEA official there was saying it could take the inspectors as long as a year to verify compliance on that front. Is that a realistic estimate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to judge how long it will take the inspectors to do their job. That really depends on Iraqi cooperation. If the Iraqis cooperate, their job is made much easier. If the Iraqis don't, their job is made much harder.
Q Will you be sharing more information now, more intelligence information with the inspectors now that the document has been handed over?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to continue to cooperate with the inspectors, of course.
Q Ari, back to the Treasury Secretary for a moment. How should we expect John Snow to be different stylistically, if not substantively, from Paul O'Neill?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think it's my business to compare one person to the next. I think you heard what the President has said about Mr. Snow. The President looks forward to the Senate hopefully confirming him. I can tell you this morning he's already made more than 20 phone calls to Capitol Hill to members of both parties. The initial reaction has been very positive.
In addition, a number of leading groups throughout the nation have issued statements on his behalf that cite his experience, that cite his track record of success, that cite his work involving ethics in corporations. So the President is heartened by the initial reaction.
Q Does the President expect him to toe the line more than O'Neill did?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President expects all his advisors to feel free to speak freely, to give him their unvarnished opinions, and then to represent the administration as one team.
Q Ari, was it Snow that made the phone calls?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Could you just clarify that? Was it Snow who made --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm sorry. John Snow is making courtesy calls to Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Q How many?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's made more than 20 so far; he's continuing his calls.
Q Ari, based on the Iraqi's declaration so far -- I know the analysis is going on, but their public declarations. Are they lying? Is this a material breach of the resolution when they say that they have no weapons of mass destruction? And is the government prepared to prove such a lie?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the history of Iraq certainly is that they lie. They lie to the United States, they lie to the inspectors --
Q What I'm asking about is --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there.
Q -- specific question.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm getting there. The history of Iraq is unquestionably that they lie. They have lied to the United States, they have lied to the United Nations, and they've lied to the inspectors. The question now is what is contained in this voluminous declaration that they have submitted. The answer to that is, we don't yet know.
And that's why I indicated earlier that what we will do with this declaration is look at it very thoughtfully, very carefully and very thoroughly to determine what is in there and also what is not in there. But I can't judge beyond that at this point.
Q Why not? I mean, the President has been so unequivocal in this --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because we haven't read it yet.
Q The President has been so unequivocal in his laying out of his policy. The Iraqi government is coming up and saying, we have no weapons of mass destruction.
MR. FLEISCHER: You're asking why we don't have a conclusion based on the declaration yet?
Q I mean, does the government have the proof that, in fact, they do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated earlier, the President has said on numerous times, and so have other leaders -- and so have other previous administrations, interestingly -- they've made flat-out declarations that Iraq does possess biological --
Q Then why -- why do we have to go through the careful, methodical analysis?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it's important to do what the United Nations is called on to do. And this is important. And the President believes in it and the international community believes.
Q But in an administration of moral clarity, why do we need all these niceties? If we have the goods, let's lay them on the table. Why do we need to go through a report that appears -- based on the bluntness of this President -- to be patently false?
MR. FLEISCHER: One, we have not made any conclusions about the declaration Iraq has given to us. We've only just received it.
Q Why? Why is the declaration different to the issue of whether they have weapons?
Q There are those who believe that the only way inspections will be successful is to have defectors inside of Iraq tell where things are. And there are published reports that Dr. Rice spent some time with Hans Blix and tried to forcefully stress point five of the resolution. Does the President believe that, too, is really the only way to get this done to make the inspections effective?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't know that it's the only way for the inspectors to be effective. The inspectors are going to work very hard to be effective with whatever means they have. But it's certainly an enhanced way for the inspectors to be effective.
History has shown that very often the best quality information the inspectors were able to discover in the '90s was a result of information they received from people inside Iraq -- scientists and weapons experts -- who had information that they wanted to share.
Q Ari, you said that this declaration from Iraq would be the beginning of a process.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q To Terry's point of what the Vice President has said, he fears that if this goes on forever, inspecting one site a day or two sites a day, that it loses its urgency, that the world consensus you now have to deal with this would dissipate over time. Is there a time frame within the administration that says, okay, if you say you have no weapons of mass destruction prove to us within X that you have destroyed this, destroyed that, show us this site?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the time frame begins with the submission of this declaration by Iraq. And it will continue with the United States engaging in the analysis of the declaration to see what it says. I think those events may help determine the time frame. I have not heard the President engaged in any speculation about what the time frame may be beyond that. But the President is taking it in turn. And the turn now is to review the declaration Iraq has presented.
Q He urged the U.N. to act on this in days and weeks, you'll remember, not months and years. Does he believe there has to be -- Iraq says it's now -- now the burden is on the United States to prove they're lying. Obviously, you view it differently. Does the administration have a sense that this needs to be resolved within a period of days and weeks, months?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's what I indicated. I have not heard the President engage in any speculation on that. The President's statement about days and weeks applied to the vote that the United Nations cast. And the vote felt just shy of two months. The President went to the United Nations on September 10th. The United Nations voted in early November, if I recall, for their 15 to nothing resolution that gave Iraq the 30 days. The 30 days expired last week -- just this past weekend, so it actually is moving very much along the time line that the President outlined.
Q One more. Iraq says it has no weapons of mass destruction. Everyone in this administration, from the President on down, says it does. Will you wait until this analysis is complete? Or is there a real-time transfer of intelligence data, as in today or tomorrow, from the United States government to the inspectors saying, they say they have none, it is a lie, here's the proof, go look?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're going to continue to work with the inspectors to help to get them the information so they can do their job. And we want the inspectors to be successful in doing their job.
Of course, at the same time, we want to make certain that sources and methods are not compromised in any information that can be conveyed to the inspectors. I think that's very well-known and the inspectors understand that.
Q But they say they were not getting this information prior to the Iraqi declaration. Are they getting it now, or will you wait until this analysis is complete?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you can imagine, I'm not at liberty to discuss conveyance of intelligence information in any great detail. But it's in the United States interest for the inspectors to be successful.
Q Ari, if the President is going to commit American lives, those of young men and women, to a war, isn't there a higher obligation to come up with affirmative proof than simply asserting a charge on past behavior?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, there are reasons the President and the Vice President, members of the President's administration, foreign leaders -- I remind you that Vice President Gore, just as recently as July of this year, himself, categorically, based on what he knew when he was Vice President, said, Iraq has weapons of mass destruction. Former President Clinton said the identical thing.
There's a reason that all these people in both parties have said it. They've said it because they have reporting to let them know that it's true.
To your first question, the burden on the President -- and on that score, you're absolutely right. Of course, there is. And this President does not engage in any discussion of war lightly. I want to remind you, he's the person who's had, because of the attack on our country on September 11th, the burden and the duty to hug the widows and the children of those who have lost their lives already in combat. Combat is the last thing this President wants to engage in.
In the event it ever gets to the point of combat, you can be assured the President will communicate with the American people and explain the reasons why to the American people, that this choice would become an unavoidable choice. That is not to say that the President will release intelligence information that will compromise sources or methods or abilities to win a war, if that were to be the only way to go. But, yes, the President would talk more to the American people. We are not at that point. The President hopes to avoid that point.
Q Ari, two questions on Iraq. Would you clarify one thing for me? As I understand it, the Iraqis not only have to say whatever it is they have, but also prove that they destroyed what they used to have. Is that, in fact, the case? And, secondly, there have been concerns expressed that the Iraqis would lay something out in their declaration -- this is the reason for the talks over the weekend about making it available to everyone -- that they would somehow lay out the means to make weapons of mass destruction. Where does that concern come from, and is that a concern of the U.S.?
MR. FLEISCHER: On your second point, I would refer you to the statement that was issued by the President of the Security Council in this regard. I will read from it. It begins, "After consulting with members of the Security Council, the Presidency decided to allow access to the Iraqi declaration to those members with the expertise to assess the risks of proliferation and other sensitive information to begin its immediate review."
There are proliferation concerns, of course, and so those concerns will be dealt with as the Presidency of the United Nations Security Council indicates, in a way that makes sure our mutual international goals of nonproliferation are in no way endangered by this process.
Q And the other part was, don't the Iraqis have the responsibility to prove that they dismantled things they once had?
MR. FLEISCHER: Under the United Nations resolutions, Iraq is under obligation to destroy all its weapons of mass production. And presumably, evidence exists that they have, indeed, done that.
Q One other thing --
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to keep moving. There are a lot of hands up, and everybody has been on extended tours here.
Q Believe me, I'll take less than my colleagues have so far. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I get to make those judgments. Sorry, we'll try to come -- we'll try to come back. Jeanne, do you have something?
Q Just a quick one. On the Treasury Secretary, neither the President nor Mr. Snow mentioned the efforts by the Treasury Department to crack down on terrorism funding. Will that continue to work -- be a part of the Treasury Department's responsibilities --
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course.
Q -- r is it being moved to Justice or something? Is that --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I've not heard of anything that would indicate a movement. And unless I missed my mark, on the organization of the Department of Homeland Security the financial aspects of the war against terrorism remained at the Department of the Treasury, so --
Q Is there any reason neither one of them mentioned that as their -- as their responsibilities?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you recall, the President -- there was a reference to the war on terror. And I just think at an announcement like this, the President doesn't go into every single important mission of any announcement that he makes. There are many other important missions at the Department of Treasury, as well, that the Secretary will be involved in.
Q Air, the President has said war is the last resolve. But critics are saying there is a clear path being laid to war right now. And they're saying that no matter what Saddam Hussein does, he cannot jump enough hoops and jump high enough to appease the White House. What are your thoughts about those statements?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think from the President's point of view that the strongest path to peace is by making certain that Saddam Hussein understands that he must disarm, that is the best way to ensure the peace, that Saddam Hussein will honor his international obligations and disarm so that war can be avoided.
In the President's judgment it may also be the best path to make sure that we protect the American people so that Saddam Hussein does not fool the world, develop weapons of mass destruction, only later to use them.
Q But to back up what you're saying, as David said earlier, why not lay out your evidence? Why not show the American people that this is not a vendetta to avenge his father, this is not an obsession or what have you? Why not lay out information?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I would remind you of the President's speech in Cincinnati, in which the President discussed Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. There's been other material that we have released. But I think you can also imagine that when it comes to anything that could compromise our ability to continue to gain information about the situation inside Iraq, or if war became necessary, to make certain that we would win the war, we are not going to compromise any of that information. And I think that people understand that.
Q Ari, at best Mr. Snow can't be confirmed by the Senate until early January. Does the President want to put out an economic stimulus proposal by the end of the year? And if so, would Mr. Snow be an active participant in formulating it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in terms of the timing of it, I would not make any predictions about when the President will offer an economic plan. But certainly, the President has been taking a look at a number of ideas and has made no final determinations about them. And whenever the time is right in his judgment, he will share that.
Q Will it be at the end of the year?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't rule anything in or out, in terms of the timing.
Q Ari, since Mr. Lindsey was at the event this morning, can you tell us was Secretary O'Neill also supposed to be there? Was he invited? And did the President speak to him? Has he spoken to him since --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the only people at the event were White House aides. Bob Zoellick was there. But I'm not aware that anybody else was there other than those.
Q Secretary Evans --
MR. FLEISCHER: Was Don there?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't see him. I don't know. You would have to check Treasury's schedule.
Q Okay, an unrelated follow, please. What role, if any, did the President have in honoring his father by naming a Nimitz-class aircraft for him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no idea. I know that he's honored that his father was honored.
MR. FLEISCHER: But I don't know.
Q Did he get to at least pass the word on to his father, do you know? Do you have anything on that at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No idea. I've been doing other things.
Q Just going back to a previous question, how big a role will Snow have in formulating the economic policy? I mean, the President did say he'll be the senior member of his economic team, so isn't he expecting him to have a pretty big say in that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I think he may have some role. Obviously, his first priority is going to be continue the courtesy calls he's making up to Capitol Hill. And he has, as I indicated, a lengthy list of people that he wants to call; I think he's going to focus on that. But I think members of the Hill would like him, if he is confirmed, to hit the ground running. And so we'll continue to work together.
Q So are we to infer that from that, that his role is really more as a diplomat or as a salesman, as some have said, for the economic plan which the President already has the bearings of in place?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, his role will be exactly as the President outlined it. He will be the lead member on the economic team. He will be, as any Secretary of Treasury is, a decision-maker under the items under his purview. And he will work with the President and the rest of the team, if he is confirmed, to help implement the economic policies that the President decides upon.
Q Ari, the reaction from the Democrats has been that this is rearranging deck chairs and --
MR. FLEISCHER: Some Democrats.
Q Well, some Democrats -- well, including one who worked with Snow at the CSX. Their assertion, though, is that the problem is not -- there's no "it's the plan." What's your reaction to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the proof is in the pudding. And the fact of the matter is that the economy has gone from recession to growth. And as the Vice President said accurately, during the transition, he said back then the economy was on the verge of recession. The slowdown began in the summer of 2000, manufacturing has declined for 28 months in a row -- that's two years and four months.
And so what's important is that all people -- Democrats and Republicans -- work together so that this longstanding decline which has now turned around and gone into growth, can grow even more and more jobs be created for everybody, regardless of what their party is. I don't think people who are unemployed want to know a political party is going to get a job, they want to know if the political parties care about the people who are unemployed. And so that's the President's focus.
Q Ari, in picking another captain of traditional industry here to head the Treasury Department, what did the President find in Mr. Snow that he could not have gotten from, say, a Wall Street graybeard of some sort?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it was all the reasons that the President outlined in his statement: the experience that Mr. Snow has, the expertise he has, the wide respect that he has from those who have known him. Those are all the factors that led to the President's conclusion to nominate him.
Q And why not -- I mean, as compared to getting somebody who had Wall Street experience and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think in the President's judgment there are many good places to find many experts. At the end, he has to make a determination about the individual and which individual he thinks is best suited to carrying out the mission of the Secretary of the Treasury in the Bush administration. And he made his determination and went forward.
Q Can you tell me when the White House first reached out to Mr. Snow about the possibility of --
MR. FLEISCHER: I can tell you this. They first met during the campaign and Mr. Snow -- maybe some of you may recall this -- Mr. Snow attended the economic roundtable in Austin during the transition. And that's when the President first got to see him and listen to him and gauge and judge his abilities. And then the President made the call to him Friday evening to offer him the position.
Q Ari, had he been reached out to by others before the President called him Friday evening?
MR. FLEISCHER: He very well may have. I don't know. I don't know the names of everybody who may have any conversations.
Q On the economic stimulus, how quickly can an economic stimulus package be presented? There are so many people out there hurting. Can the President create jobs immediately, while at the same time preparing to further cut taxes?
MR. FLEISCHER: The timing on all matters of economic policy, of course, is going to be determined by working with the Congress. Unlike foreign policy, where the President has the ability to execute certain actions immediately, when it comes to domestic or economic policy, of course, it's always important for Congress to have its say. And so any proposals that the President makes will, of course, go before the Congress. And that will determine the timing of them.
Q So there's no hope he can offer these people until February or so, you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that, again, the factors of the economy result from many different conditions. The economy has been growing in this year. Not fast enough for the President, but the average growth right now is approximately 3.3 percent for the first three quarters of the year. If you recall the economy grew by about 5 percent in the first quarter, 1 percent in the second quarter, and 4 percent in the third. And so the economy is growing at a healthy clip. There is still concern about the pace of the recovery. And recoveries often have a zigzag pattern to them. And the President is looking long-term for how we can create the most jobs and provide the most help for people, while also being mindful of those who are unemployed today.
Q It's been reported that the administration is looking at $300 billion stimulus package, and that package would include accelerating some of the provisions that are due to kick in, in 2004 and moving them up a year, as well as some form of cut on dividends taxation. Can you respond at all to --
MR. FLEISCHER: What's your window on the $300 billion?
Q What is the window?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q One year -- 10 year --
MR. FLEISCHER: You said three -- 10-year? Yes, as you know, the President is reviewing a number of items. And I'm just not going to prejudge any determinations the President may make.
Q There's also a report -- well, actually several reports that the administration was planning to unveil this package this week, or certainly by mid-December.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q And that that was held up --
MR. FLEISCHER: I've seen those reports that the President was going to announce a package this week. And I can only presume that anybody who said that to the press forgot to talk to the President. That was never in the President's plans.
Q Ari, you said that Democrats and Republicans should both work together in dealing with the economic problems we're facing. I was wondering, are you making any plans for having Democratic input into the formulation of any policy that might be coming from the White House? You had an economic summit earlier, but it was a different situation -- different personnel, different economic conditions. Are there any plans of this nature --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President always welcomes the idea and input from Democrats on these matters. If you recall with the tax cut that was enacted into law, that helped give the economy the boost it got, which after September 11th helped the economy to begin the recovery, the President had the support in the Senate of some 12 Democrats and he worked very closely with Senator Breaux, for example, on several of those provisions. So we always are on the lookout for Democrats to work with to advance the President's agenda.
Q Ari, based on what you've said so far about Iraq, is it a fair characterization then to now say that all evidence that you have that is fit for public consumption has been revealed to the public? Or, conversely, to say that one of the things that you still have as evidence are fit for public consumption? Is that a fair characterization?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's an area where I'm just not at liberty to get into giving you details or a lot of information about the flow of intelligence information.
Let me try to give you a reason why. Let's just say as a hypothetical that there is an individual inside Iraq who is in a position to know things, who's telling us things. Would you expect us to name that individual or to provide that individual's name to anybody to in any way put that individual in any way that harm could be done? Of course not.
So there is just things that when it comes to protecting intelligence information we will not disclose. The reason we will not disclose them is to protect our ability to receive that information, because that information is how policymakers make the best decisions.
Q But has everything disclosable then been disclosed now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, we also make determinations on what we can disclose about protecting sources and methods, and I'm just not at liberty to get into every detail about it.
Q Why is the President appointing convicted criminals, like Elliott Abrams, to policy positions at the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Russell, you asked that question last week about somebody else. You asked it about somebody else.
I dispute the premise of your question.
Q I have a second question.
MR. FLEISCHER: I dispute the premise of your second question. (Laughter.)
Q Yesterday on Meet the Press, the columnist Bob Novak said that hawks inside the Bush administration never wanted inspections in Iraq because "this is really about change of regime in Iraq and change of the political outlines in the Middle East more to Israel's benefit." That's what this has been all about, and since it's very hard to sell that to the American people, they have done it on a weapons of mass destruction basis."
Is there anything you can say to counter the public perception that hawks like Richard Perle and Wolfowitz have hijacked this country's foreign policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President sets the foreign policy and the foreign policy is, of course, that the inspectors are on the scene and doing their job.
Q Ari, The Washington Times reports this morning that in Arizona there are more than a dozen known militia organizations responding to a reported one million illegal immigrants. And Chris Simcox, the newspaper publisher in Tombstone, is quoted as saying, "I dare the President of the United States to arrest Americans who are protecting their own country. We will no longer tolerate the ineptness of the government in dealing with these criminals and drug dealers." And my question -- first question -- does the President believe that such militia members should be arrested, or recruited, trained and deputized?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the laws of the land need to be observed and the laws need to be enforced.
Q All right. Considering the billions of federal taxpayer dollars that go to support U.S. universities, does the President believe that universities who use affirmative action by race in their admissions should be obliged to use affirmative action by race rather than ability alone in selecting members of their football and basketball teams?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the best guide to what the President believes on this issue is to look at what he did as the governor of Texas, when the President --
Q The Hopwood decision came out against --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester, I was just answering your question.
Q You remember that, the Hopwood decision, don't you?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's your second question. Yes, I do.
Jim Angle, and then David Gregory. Jim.
Q On Snow, I understand he had been considered for SEC. The vetting process has already begun. Does this help speed things along at all? Does that mean that it takes a little less time to get him ready? And how soon can you get things ready for Congress to take up his nomination?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, the vetting process has begun; it will continue. And you will receive the official notification today about the intent to nominate. And the formal process, as you've seen many, many times, is you have intent to nominate, then you have nominate, and then of course, the Senate begins its consideration. This is all part of the nomination process, and it's underway.
Q Had it been underway for a while? Does that mean that this will move a little more quickly than it would have, had you just decided to call him on Friday and start --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it really just began in earnest.
Q Ari, any response -- apparently, there have been some complaints in the neighborhood around the Naval Observatory about some construction to the Vice President's house there. No one is being --
MR. FLEISCHER: Where do you live? (Laughter.)
Q But is there any response to that? I mean, if --
MR. FLEISCHER: You'd have to talk to the Vice President's Office. I don't know any of the facts in this matter.
Q Thank you.
END 1:12 P.M. EST