CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Ari Fleischer Holds Briefing at White House
Aired December 19, 2001 - 12:42 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Here to Washington and the White House, where Ari Fleischer is just about to step out to brief reporters today. The president has already been to the Capitol this morning, meeting with Democrats and Republicans. And at one point, the president even saying there was agreement. People on both parties, people in both houses, he said, had come to an agreement on an economic stimulus package.
But his comments appeared to reflect only the agreement of a small number of so-called centrist Democrats in the Senate, not enough to reach the number 60 which they must have in order to get a package passed through that body.
Separately, we heard from Tom Daschle, the Senate majority leader, the Senate Democratic leader, saying we've always wanted an agreement but we also believe a bad deal is worse than no deal at all. And he said, I don't know of a deal. So we have got two fairly different versions of this. We do know that among the centrist Democrats who did sign onto the president's plan, John Breaux, Zell Miller and Ben Nelson, perhaps among others.
Now here is Ari Fleischer.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. Let me give you an update on the president's day. We have several visits of leaders to announce.
The president this morning began his day with a call to President Putin. I will return to that in just a moment. Following the call, the president had his usual round of intelligence briefings, one with the Central Intelligence Agency, the second with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council.
The president also returned a little over an hour or so ago from a visit to Capitol Hill in which the president met with and addressed a group of Democratic House lawmakers. Then he met with a group of bipartisan congressional leaders of both sides, the Senate and the House, announcing the agreement on a bipartisan stimulus package. The votes are clearly there to pass the stimulus package in the House, as well as in the Senate. More than 50 votes are in the Senate thanks to the bipartisan nature of the agreement that's been reached by a centrist group of members of both parties with Republican leaders and with the president. The president then addressed the House Republican Conference, as well as the Senate Republican Conference to congratulate them on a year of accomplishment.
Later this afternoon, the president will view and inspect the Spirit of Louisiana, which is a fire truck that is being donated to the City of New York from the people of Louisiana.
And those are the events for the president for the day.
As I mentioned earlier, the president phoned President Putin this morning to extend holiday best wishes and to affirm the positive course of U.S.-Russia relations. The two leaders affirmed their agreement to move forward to codify a new strategic framework between the United States and Russia, including lowered numbers of nuclear weapons and greater transparency and mutual cooperation on defenses if possible.
President Bush and President Putin also noted that economic relations between Russia and the United States are developing very well.
And announcements. The president will welcome to the White House, Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus on January 23.
And the president will also welcome Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit to the White House on January 16.
And finally, tomorrow, will mark the 100th day of the war against terrorism. And the coalition information center tomorrow will be releasing a report documenting the progress made in the war on a variety of fronts, including the diplomatic front, financial front and the military front, the law enforcement front and the humanitarian front. So I highlight that for you today. That will be available tomorrow.
And with that, I'm happy to take questions.
QUESTION: Ari, is Tom Daschle signed on on this agreement?
FLEISCHER: This agreement was reached by the president, the Republican congressional leaders and the centrists, in both the House and in the Senate.
The president will be delighted if Senator Daschle would sign on. The president would be delighted if Senator Daschle would have even just allowed it to come to a vote, but I cannot speak for Senator Daschle.
And the White House will continue to work with Senate leaders, as well, throughout this process.
QUESTION: After weeks of working, essentially quietly behind the scenes with meetings on the Hill at night or the breakfast here with the leaders, this is really an "in your face, Tom Daschle" move, isn't it? FLEISCHER: No. This is an achievement, an agreement with the key people on the Hill who can deliver the votes and the center. This is the center speaking out. And this is an agreement that the American people, particularly those who worry about whether they're going to keep their jobs can be proud of.
You know, the fact of the matter is time is running out on the Congress. They're only here for another day or two. They need to get the job done. There's not much time left to talk.
QUESTION: Well, why shouldn't the American people see this as a return to the partisan wrangling over the nation's business, a return to very sharp-edged, in-your-face politics?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think that when you hear Democrats and Republicans alike sitting in a room at a common table saying, "We have an agreement," that's the definition of bipartisanship.
Senator Breaux, Senator Nelson, Senator Miller, Congressman Lucas were all in the meeting. This is bipartisanship.
The fact of the matter is, there's only one proposal that has bipartisan support, and it's the proposal that's been made by President Bush.
The other proposal that has been made does not even have any Republicans who support it. So when it comes to bipartisanship and when it comes to the center speaking out, trying to get something done for the American people, this plan represents the best plan. Plus, this plan is the only plan that has enough votes to get passed.
QUESTION: Ari, with all due respect, it does not have -- it has only the support of a handful of Democrats in the Senate and in the House. So I guess two things: Number one, if the president wants a bill, he doesn't want lawmakers to leave, why doesn't he bring Daschle and others together in a room -- their main sticking point is health care -- why don't they just stay together until they can work it out, and get a bill?
FLEISCHER: Well, if you recall, they were in a room yesterday, and the president did meet with Senator Daschle yesterday, and the White House is still open to talking, and it's still open to listening, but time is running out, and talking and talking and talking, at some point, has to result in concrete if the unemployed are to get their extended benefits and if people who currently have jobs are going to get the stimulus the economy needs so they don't lose the jobs they currently have.
People who are unemployed don't want more talk; they want action. The White House will go the extra mile. The White House will continue to talk, but the time has come for action, and that's why this is an achievement. It is bipartisan. And at the end of the day, in order to get something done in the Congress, you have to have a majority to vote. The majority is there behind this package. It's a bipartisan one, and that's why the president was pleased to go up to Capitol Hill today to meet with the Democrats, to meet with the Republicans and announce an agreement.
QUESTION: Ari, if the president didn't have the leader of the Senate on board, how could he come out this morning and say he's got a deal that will pass both houses?
FLEISCHER: Well, what the president said is, "We have an agreement," speaking for the people at the table which were the centrist Democrats. The president, of course, isn't speaking for every Democrat.
Clearly, there are going to be some liberal Democrats who will not support any agreement. But the centrist Democrats do, and now...
FLEISCHER: Well, the president had said that -- there are clearly more than 50 votes in the Senate, clearly more than 50 votes in the House. So the only way it would not pass the Senate is if somebody were to employ parliamentary tactics to block it. That is their prerogative. The Senate has that right. But why block progress, why block bipartisan when an agreement is at hand and can be achieved?
QUESTION: Why say you've got enough votes to pass when you don't have enough votes to pass?
FLEISCHER: Well, there are clearly more than 50 votes to pass. If the vote was scheduled, the vote would proceed, and unless somebody made what's called a budget point of order, the vote would pass. It's their right to do so. It's always the right of a senator to block progress. That's the way the Senate's built. It's the president's job...
It's the president's job to put together the bipartisan coalitions to achieve progress.
QUESTION: Ari, but by saying...
QUESTION: Whether you like the approach Daschle is taking or not, as you just said, he certainly has the right to take that approach.
FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: So why aren't you sort of dealing with the reality of the situation instead of standing there...
FLEISCHER: Because at some point even cordial and productive talk has to turn into action. Congress is about to leave. Congress is about to go home. The president wants to keep the pressure on to make certain that an agreement can be reached that's bipartisan, that gets an unemployment extension of 13 weeks to everybody in all states who are unemployed; that provides money in the health insurance with a new compromise that was announced in this agreement on the health insurance front, that allows people to get health care insurance through ether COBRA coverage or through private insurance or through individual means. That's another compromise. What's important to recognize here is the president has yet again today taken another step in the direction of compromise, and in doing so he's brought about bipartisan support. The question is, will there be people who seek to block bipartisan action or will they join with the bipartisan majority in getting something done for the country and the unemployed.
QUESTION: So why not bring Daschle over here and convey that to him face to face, Ari?
FLEISCHER: Well, again, they were here -- he was here yesterday. But the president also has the right to talk to other members. There are 100 senators. It takes 50 to pass unless a senator exercises his right to object and to block.
QUESTION: Specifically, in order to get something that actually will pass, because there are always procedural hurdles in the Senate, it's routine, why is the president sticking to his insistence on having tax credits for health for the unemployed? Why does that have to be part of it? Isn't that the deal breaker that the president is insisting on?
FLEISCHER: Because in order to help people who have lost their jobs, they want health benefits. If the only way they can get the health benefits is through the Democratic proposal, which administers health benefits through the corporations, if you work for a corporation that just went bankrupt, you no longer have corporation to give a health credit to. If you work for a dot-com that's gone out of business, they can no longer give you a government-administered health benefits that runs through the corporation.
So it requires flexibility to help people who are in need, and that's what the president's newest compromise achieves. It allows benefits to be done through the COBRA system, which is administered by corporations that are not defunct, it allows individuals to take credits, and it allows for COBRA coverage. So it provides the unemployed with the health care flexibility they need to get coverage and to get insurance.
The Democrat formula doesn't help people who work for companies that went bankrupt, unless it's administered through Medicaid. And if it's administered through Medicaid, then many states, including Democrat governors would object, because, one, they don't have the resources to do it at this time, and, two, they would have to pass laws in their own legislatures to expand Medicaid.
Many state's legislatures have already gone home. In Texas, for example, the legislature won't even meet until 2003.
So the best health plan, which is why it's attracted bipartisan support, is the one that was announced today. QUESTION: You say it may be the best plan, but what the Democrats are essentially arguing was to stick with what currently exists. If you insist on your plan, you're going to end up getting nothing. Would that be better?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think that there comes a certain point in dealing with the Congress that if all you do is talk, you also get nothing.
Now, the president is going to continue talking. The staff is continuing to meet and is continuing to listen. But at the end of the day, it's important to move forward.
And I remind you again, just like on the previous tax cut, you have people up on Capitol Hill who are just dedicated to keeping taxes high and will not join a bipartisan coalition. On the previous tax cut, of course, 12 Democrats split with a Democrat majority and voted to provide tax relief, which still has given the economy a necessary stimulus.
At the end of the day, the president will work to build a bipartisan coalition wherever bipartisanship can be achieved. That's what took place today on the Hill. There very well may be some who just cannot go that extra mile to achieve bipartisanship. That, too, is their right. Now, there remains a little while longer for Congress to meet and to consider and hopefully to act. The president is hopeful that, as a result of the agreement today and a result of the fact that the House is voting on this today, the Senate will somehow find a way to take care of the nation's unemployed and to give the economy a boost, so people who currently cling to their jobs don't lose them. And it's too important for the Senate not to act.
So the president hopes, as a result of his meeting today, as a result of the House action today and the result of his willingness to compromise, the Senate will reciprocate and at the end of the session, which is now 24, 48 hours away, the Senate will find a way to match.
QUESTION: You said that liberal Democrats won't sign on. Are you implying that liberal Democrats are just being obstructionists? I mean, perhaps they have a very different viewpoint about what would help the American people.
QUESTION: I mean, that statement...
FLEISCHER: That's absolutely correct. There are philosophical differences, which is why, under our constitutional system, it takes 50 votes to pass legislation in the Senate.
Senators have the prerogative to raise that to 60 votes if they so choose. In doing so, though, it makes it awfully hard for bipartisan coalitions to hold, because it gives a more partisan minority a veto over a bipartisan majority. That is the way the Senate is constituted -- that is the Senate's prerogative. The president hopes that, as a result of this, the Senate will find a different way to get the people's business done. QUESTION: Ari, at this point, you said the White House was willing to go the extra mile. Does that mean that you're still working on some sort of compromise over health care, or at this point...
FLEISCHER: There's no question that after the House passes this today, that it has to go to the Senate. And so the Senate still has its due time and its fair right to consider. And the Senate can still work a compromise.
The president hopes that this will propel the Senate towards that compromise as opposed to further talk that does not lead to any type of tangible result. This can get talked to death if votes don't start to take place. And the president wants to continue to keep the doors open to talk, but he wants to make sure that, at the end of the day, action is taken.
QUESTION: So your sense is then that the White House has compromised all it can on the health care issue, and we're now down to the point where essentially we're just trying to shame the Democrats in the Senate to letting it pass?
FLEISCHER: Well, obviously there's enough democrats in the Senate who will join this to give it a bipartisan majority. And again, that's the way our government works. If you can achieve a majority, then take it to a vote and let it happen.
And I think that this is a type of day people should look at Washington and say this shows that the system can work, that the Republicans and the Democrats can work together. That was what took place in the room where the president met with these leaders. There may be others who have a different interest, and the president hopes that they won't prevail.
QUESTION: That may be the way democracy works, but it's not the way the Senate works. As you know, you need 60 votes, and you actually even need more than that in order to keep people from putting amendments on whatever package comes up and going way past the deadline for Congress to leave here. So how do you get past all of that? Are you asking members of the Senate to cast and set aside all of their differences over this and just go along with the White House for the sake of getting a stimulus?
FLEISCHER: Well, it's not go along with the White House, it's go along with the bipartisan majority that's supported by the White House, because this is one route to getting things done.
Now the Senate has the right to amend, the Senate has the right to consider, and the president hopes that they will do that.
But again, how much time is left? It's important for the Senate to decide whether they will act or not, and the White House will continue to talk to Senator Daschle and continue to talk to senators to help make that happen. QUESTION: But, Ari we still want you to answer his question. Is the White House and this bipartisan majority (inaudible) compromise all it can compromise?
FLEISCHER: The conversations can continue. And again, this will be the House that votes it today. And as a result of now having a core group of Democrat senators who have an interest in making progress, they will likely talk to their colleagues.
So I think you should allow the process to move forward on the Hill. But what's taken place today, as a result of this agreement, a new way has been found for the process to move forward. It is an achievement that the Republicans and a small group of Senate Democrats were able to get together and agree on the language. After all, this is the only package that has the support of the other party. Nothing that has been proposed by the Democrats has been able to earn support of Republicans. This proposal offered by Republicans has earned support of the Democrats, and that's a helpful way to get progress made.
QUESTION: But, Ari, after the president made his announcement this morning, Senator Daschle said he has no plans to bring this to the Senate floor for a vote. So isn't the talking and the maneuvering now more about who the public should blame for inaction, which now seems inevitable?
FLEISCHER: No. I think this shows again that the president is going the extra mile to get an agreement. The president could have said, "Let's just talk," and then watch Congress go home. The president chose instead to work closely with the leaders of the Senate -- remember, Congressman Gephardt and Senator Daschle were here yesterday -- and then to work very closely with the centrists, who often do contain the swing votes.
Let me walk you through what is in this agreement, because I think the facts also speak powerfully to what the American people can receive if the Senate takes action.
In order to give the economy a boost, the plan would cut taxes from 27 percent to 25 percent for people in that bracket. That means for individuals who make as little taxable income of $27,950 a year, they receive a tax cut up to $795. For couples that make as little as $46,700 in taxable income a year, they receive a tax cut of up to $1,300.
That extra money in their pockets can create a boost to the economy as a result of the extra purchasing power they'll have. The more they purchase products, the more businesses will be able to keep their workers employed.
There are many people, particularly who work in the manufacturing community and the high-tech community, who worry that they're going to lose their jobs, that they'll be next. By giving tax cuts, it creates a stimulative effect on the economy so these people may not lose their jobs. There is alternative minimum tax relief in the package, not only for corporations, but for individuals. The Democrats have for a good period of time properly brought up the fact that there needs to be ATM relief for individuals. That is now in this package out of recognition of the Democrat concerns.
There is expensing to help businesses to grow and invest. There is a welfare-to-work tax credit to help people keep jobs. There is a work opportunity tax credit to help people keep jobs.
There is money in here for New York. This package authorizes up to $15 billion in tax-exempt Liberty Bonds for New York to help revitalize and reconstruct New York City. Governor Pataki and Mayor Giuliani support these provisions.
There is money for unemployment insurance, a 13-week extension that covers all 50 states. And as well, there is a new compromise on the health insurance provisions that would provide refundable tax credits that could be used for COBRA coverage, private sector coverage or individual coverage.
QUESTION: How many Senate Democrats have signed on?
FLEISCHER: There were three at the meeting.
FLEISCHER: And I think you have to talk to additional. That's not necessarily all there will be. These three Democrats were going to go back and talk to their colleagues to try to build even more support.
FLEISCHER: Let's stay on this and we can come back.
QUESTION: On financial matters. Will the president continue to sign continuing resolutions? Is he committed to do so to keep the government functioning or he is about to play hard ball?
FLEISCHER: Actually, there's been substantial progress on the appropriations front. I don't know that it's going to be a relevant issue. It looks like the Congress is going to complete its appropriations work this week, so all 13 appropriation bills can be signed into law.
QUESTION: With the tax cuts is there enough money left in the budget to fund all the obligations -- anti-terrorism, war and everything else?
FLEISCHER: Clearly, there's sufficient support for passing this that the majority, in a bipartisan way, believes, yes. The president believes yes.
And again, the president thinks the best way to make certain that the budget returns to a surplus is to give the economy a boost. It's growth in the economy that creates revenues.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say that what we're seeing today is a significant shift in the approach of the administration? That you've essentially -- although you're continuing to talk, you don't consider that a productive avenue to blowing up the negotiations in favor of using...
FLEISCHER: This is probably the first time...
QUESTION: ... and the trip to Capitol Hill to, as was said, shame the Democrats into doing what the president wants.
FLEISCHER: The president, today, joined with the Democrats. The president, today, put together a bipartisan coalition that can pass this bill in the Senate.
And I just find it a curious line of thought that suggests when the president of the United States, a Republican, enters into an agreement with several key Democrat centrists, that that is anything other than bipartisan. It is the definition of bipartisan.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the Democratic leader.
FLEISCHER: Well, again, if it's important for the Democrat leader to work with his -- listen, this is not easy for the Democrat leader. The fact of the matter is, there is a split in the Democratic Caucus. There are good number, sufficient number to pass a stimulus, of Democrats, who want to work with the Republicans and work with the White House in a cooperative and bipartisan fashion.
There may be others that are putting pressure on the Senate leadership not to accept a bipartisan agreement. It's a recognition of how difficult it is to be majority leader.
Nevertheless, the president will continue to work closely with the majority leader, and the staff will continue to do so, to help him through a very difficult job. But just because a caucus is split, it's no reason to stop progress from being made, particularly when bipartisan progress is now at hand.
QUESTION: Ari, I think it does beg the question, the president could have gone up this morning and laid out many of the things that you've laid out (OFF-MIKE) Democrats in this room, "Here are all the things that we agree on. We just need Tom Daschle to come our way and let's get this done."
Instead he said, "We have an agreement." So everybody goes running out of the room to find Tom Daschle, and, no, you didn't have an agreement. And everybody knows you lead the leadership.
Why did he choose to do it that way rather than to use that same forum to say, "Look at everybody in the room, look at what we can get done, let's get this thing done"? He sort of undercut his own story.
FLEISCHER: No. The president announced exactly what took place. He met with enough Democrats in that room to put together a bipartisan majority. And I think that the American people are heartened to know that there is a bipartisan majority that can be assembled. I think the American people have seen for years that, in Washington, it's easy to assemble a blocking minority; it's harder to assemble a bipartisan majority. And that's exactly what the president did.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) with the meeting yesterday, if this is happening today? You said that Daschle was here; the meeting was very productive.
FLEISCHER: And it was. You know, this is, again, one of these cases where the differences really are small. But it's the willingness of leaders to step across that small divide to say, "That's correct, we now can get an agreement."
And again, I think the reason that it is so difficult for the Senate is because Republicans in the Senate are unified. The Democrats in the Senate, on this area, are not, and that makes for a very difficult job for the leaders.
And the president is sympathetic to that, and that's why the president will continue to listen to the leadership of the Senate.
But there is a sufficient split in the Democrat ranks in the Senate that a bipartisan majority has been assembled.
QUESTION: Senator Daschle made it clear that he's not going to bring this compromise up, but Senator Baucus does appear to want to get more of an agreement, and he's talking with Secretary O'Neill. And he described their discussions as very, very close to an agreement.
And Democratic senators have said that O'Neill is actually willing to drop the tax credit, but a lot of Democrats are worried that he doesn't actually have the authority to do that.
FLEISCHER: Well, you know, again, there are talks that are under way, and there are many individual Democratic senators who would like to be very helpful. And ultimately, this does come down to a decision about whether a vote will be scheduled or not.
It's, again, a reflection of the difficulty -- and Republicans had the same difficulty when the Senate was in Republican majority control -- of dealing with divided caucuses.
But on this case, when it comes to how to help the unemployed and give the economy a boost, the Republicans are unified and there are a sufficient number of Democrats who can provide a bipartisan majority.
Nobody expects 100 to nothing votes, but at the end of the day, it's important to schedule the vote and let the Senate be heard.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) does Secretary O'Neill have the authority to cut that deal?
QUESTION: Ari, will you explain where the president is in his thinking about charges against John Walker? There was a report today that he was nearing some decision.
FLEISCHER: The president is continuing to receive information from the Department of Justice and from the Department of Defense in regard to Mr. Walker. The appropriate agencies are still reviewing the facts, and as soon as that is completed at the agency level, information will be shared with the president, with his security team, and then I think you can anticipate some type of announcement from the appropriate agency.
FLEISCHER: The timing -- the timing, it could be this week. I'm not going to commit to any firm time, but I don't rule that out.
QUESTION: Would it be his ultimate decision on this or would the agency make it?
FLEISCHER: The president's style on something like this is to listen to the recommendations of his staff and to see if there is a unified recommendation, if there are different recommendations and then to work it out in a collegial manner with all.
QUESTION: Is he considered a prisoner of war?
FLEISCHER: He is considered, under the Geneva Convention regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, a battlefield detainee. They are afforded some of the protections of the Geneva Convention.
QUESTION: My question falls in line with that. Are we so primitive that we would ship this man in a box, deny him legal rights, deny him the right to see a lawyer, deny him the right to see his parents? I mean, is that America?
FLEISCHER: Helen, under the Geneva Convention regarding treatment of prisoners of war, military intelligence agencies may questioning prisoners for information that's of military value in the conduct of war without the presence of a lawyer. That is what the Geneva Convention calls for, and the Geneva Convention is being followed in this case.
QUESTION: So it's (OFF-MIKE) constitutional right to...
FLEISCHER: This is done consistent the Constitution. Because what you're referring to deals with custodial interrogation...
FLEISCHER: ... and that only comes into play...
FLEISCHER: ... that it only comes in as a matter of statute when he is in the custody of law enforcement personnel. He is covered under the Geneva Convention by military personnel, which triggers a different set of statutory requirements.
QUESTION: But he's not allowed to see...
FLEISCHER: Again, Helen, I think that they are moving forward with a review of the facts in this matter. But he is being treated under the Geneva Convention. He is being protected; he has been given medical care, which he was not receiving under the Taliban, and he has received the protection of the United States Armed Forces in a very dangerous battlefield condition.
QUESTION: But he's being interrogated without a lawyer. Is that fair?
FLEISCHER: He is being given all his rights, which are far more than the rights the Taliban or the Al Qaeda extended to anybody living there.
FLEISCHER: He's being given all his rights under the Geneva Convention. But as a matter of law, under the Geneva Convention, when the questioning deals with military matters or matters of intelligence, the Geneva Convention does not require the presence of a lawyer.
He is being treated as someone who fought against the United States in an armed conflict, and that's why he is classified properly as a battlefield detainee, and he's being treated well.
QUESTION: Could we just explore that classification again? So under the Geneva Convention, he's called a battlefield detainee. Would he qualify as a prisoner of war under the Uniform Code of Military Justice?
FLEISCHER: I think you need to talk to the Department of Defense lawyers if you're interested in any more precise definitions. I am not a lawyer. I can share with you the information that's been provided to me by our lawyers.
QUESTION: And just one more question on that same topic. You just said that he is being treated as a person who is fighting against the United States. Does that then give you grounds for a charge of treason?
FLEISCHER: Again, any charges will be reviewed and will be discussed by the appropriate authorities.
QUESTION: You said the president's receiving information from the Departments of Justice and Defense. Is it fair to say he has not yet received a formal recommendation from...
FLEISCHER: That's correct.
FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: Ari, as strong consensus is being built up in India (OFF-MIKE) Also, here, Indian-Americans had a conference yesterday. My question is, if president is asking General Musharraf, like he asked Yasser Arafat, to shut down and close down all of the terrorist camps in Pakistan (OFF-MIKE) delegation of Israeli lawmakers in Delhi, and what they said, the time has come for the United States, India and Israel to (OFF-MIKE) and fight terrorism, because there is not a single one democracy between New Delhi and Jerusalem.
FLEISCHER: The president has made it plain that he and the United States, we oppose terrorism everywhere -- there are no good terrorists, there are no bad terrorists. And that's why the president has been in communication with the government of Pakistan at the highest levels to urge them to make certain that militant groups are not able to engage in terrorist acts.
QUESTION: Does the president support the bill passed by the House last week that includes $6 billion in tax incentives for New York -- related to the stimulus?
FLEISCHER: Yes, this is the victims' compensation bill?
Well, I would note that, in the stimulus package that is moving through the House of Representatives today, that bill also contains a variety of tax measures to help the victims in New York.
Let me get back to you on the specific language of that proposal that passed last week. I want to be precise in my language, so let me take that afterwards.
QUESTION: Ari, (OFF-MIKE) this bill because there's a bipartisan compromise on it, why won't the president sign bipartisan bills that passed to Senate, (OFF-MIKE) I think campaign finance reform. Why does he hold himself to a different standard than...
FLEISCHER: The president would be delighted to sign a patients' bill of rights agreement.
FLEISCHER: There have been two patients' bill of rights bills passed, both with bipartisan support -- one in the House, one in the Senate. And they're currently in conference. The president will be delighted to do that.
QUESTION: But you won't say that he'll sign the Senate patients' bill of rights?
FLEISCHER: Well, clearly it comes to a conference, and they have to conference. But that's the regular order.
And in the case of the stimulus, the House of Representatives has already passed a stimulus; the Senate hasn't passed anything. In the case of the patients' bill of rights, they both have passed, and it goes to a conference. Now even with the stimulus still go to the...
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) You said it's within Daschle's right not to move this if he doesn't want to.
FLEISCHER: That's correct.
QUESTION: And so why is he held to a different standard when the president threatens not to sign bills that come out of the Senate with bipartisan majorities? Why isn't that a different standard for the president?
FLEISCHER: Well the president will sign a patients' bill of rights. He looks forward to doing so.
QUESTION: Ari, you know what we're talking about. He won't sign those specific bills that come out of the Senate.
FLEISCHER: He'd be pleased to sign bills that come out of the Senate and wants to make sure that the House has its say and that the House and the Senate work together.
FLEISCHER: I said that we're waiting for a conference agreement to be reached between the House and the Senate.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) president has to say about recommendations from the International Trade Commission, asking for the protection of the domestic steel industry -- we know that he's a (OFF-MIKE) but is he willing to protect U.S. steel workers by basically closing the U.S. market?
FLEISCHER: The International Trade Commission has been or will shortly send to the president its formal report detailing the recommended remedies that were previously discussed by the ITC on December 7. That report was scheduled to arrive here at some point today.
It will be reviewed carefully by the administration. It's important that the process for making decisions, which called 201 cases, is an inclusive one. And the administration will continue to solicit the views of the steel producers, the workers, consuming industries and our trading partners and other interested parties in this matter.
The president, under the law, has up to 75 days to make a decision on what actions to take, if any. And we'll keep you posted.
QUESTION: When do you expect a decision?
FLEISCHER: Within 75 days.
WOODRUFF: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer devoting much of this briefing to explaining the president's approach to his economic stimulus package. The president went to Capitol Hill this morning, met with different groups of both Republican and Democratic senators. But the most important thing that came out of that is the president's announcing that he did have the support of three so-called centrist Democrats in the Senate, giving him the majority that he says is needed to get the economic stimulus bill through. But, of course, right after that happened, Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle said there is no agreement.
Let's go quickly to John King, who's been listening to Ari Fleischer. John, it sounds very much like -- there were a lot of reporter questions about what the White House strategy is in all this. They really are trying to put Tom Daschle and the other Democrats on the spot.
JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Judy. And let's tell the truth here: The support of those Democrats was guaranteed yesterday and indeed even the day before. So when the president sat down with them on Capitol Hill today, that was no breakthrough. That was a photo opportunity.
A great deal of politics going on right now. The president trying to make the case. There is majority support in the House and majority support in the Senate for passing a package that he could sign, an economic stimulus package, a mix of tax cuts, unemployment benefits, health care benefits. But there is still a disagreement with the Senate leadership. The Democrats run the Senate. Still a difference of opinion over how to deliver, especially the health care benefits. Still some disagreements over tax cuts and other issues, but everyone concedes those could be quickly resolved if there was an agreement on health care.
So the president adding the Democrats to his schedule today on that rare visit to Capitol Hill in an effort, as you know, to put more public pressure and political pressure on the Senate Democratic leader, Tom Daschle. The immediate indications are though that Daschle was not terribly impressed. So the White House now counting on a big House vote on a new stimulus package, hoping that puts pressure on Senator Daschle. No indications yet at all that Senator Daschle is ready to budge.
WOODRUFF: John, does all this suggest that the White House believes, at this point anyway, it's winning the public perception war here, that by standing firm and by saying, we've moved, now we're waiting for Daschle and the other Democrats to come, that they are successfully pinning the obstructionist label on the Democrats?
KING: They certainly hope to pin that label if no deal is reached this week. Leaders in both parties and top officials here at the White House and in Congress will tell you that actually they do not believe this is an issue that is registering at a very high level right now with voters outside of Washington.
The concern is will it down the road? If the economy stays in recession, when we get to next year's congressional elections and two years further down the road, when the president runs for re-election, will it be a major issue then? That will all depend on the state of the economy, a question we can't answer today.
But this president remembers very well the lesson his father learned. He came out of the Persian Gulf War with approval ratings near 90 percent. He ran for re-election, and he was thrown from office because voters thought he was not in touch with their concerns in the middle of a recession. If nothing else, the President's trip to Capitol Hill today, his meeting with the Democrats, all his statements in recent days, this president is determined that no one will say he didn't try to get a deal. Maybe they don't agree with what he wants, but they won't say he didn't try.
WOODRUFF: All right. John King at the White House. And with regard to the public awareness of all this, I do notice that two national newspapers today, neither one of them had on their front page any story at all about this debate in Washington over an economic stimulus plan.
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