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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Ari Fleischer Gives White House Briefing

Aired December 21, 2001 - 12:56   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: We are very close to the White House briefing. In fact, there it is. It's underway -- Ari Fleischer.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. Welcome to what I believe will be our last briefing of this year.

QUESTION: Awful big smile on your face.

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISCHER: I will miss you.

Just want to get into a couple statements. Congress adjourned yesterday and, looking back, President Bush is very pleased with the bipartisan accomplishments of the year, particularly in the area of education, where a major bipartisan reform has been agreed to; lower taxes, including marriage penalty relief, the abolition of the death tax, the doubling of the child credit; and major environmental legislation passed last night, the cleanup of brownfield areas in America's cities; the transportation security legislation that passed and was signed by the president to make our skies safer. All are signs, the president believes, of significant bipartisan accomplishment.

In addition, progress has been made as the House of Representatives passed legislation to expand trade promotion authority, to promote energy independence through the passage of a comprehensive energy policy for the United States. Both the House and the Senate have passed legislation to give patients more rights in dealing with their HMOs.

On foreign policy, the president is very pleased, as the first year comes to an end, with the successes we've had: the successful relations that have been built with allies around the world, the peaceful resolution of the P-3 crisis with China, development of missile defenses to protect our nation, and also with the successes in the war on terror.

Yesterday, if you recall, in a ceremony marking the 100th day since the September 11 attacks against the United States, the president detailed actions the United States government took in response to those terrorist attacks.

FLEISCHER: At the same time, he announced the United States government had blocked assets of two more terrorist organizations, the UTN (ph) and the Lashkar-i-Taiba.

The president yesterday condemned the terrorist attacks against the Indian parliament and the Kashmir legislature and extended condolences to the Indian government and the families of the victims. These attacks were meant to strike at India's democracy and kill its leaders, but were also intended to undermine Pakistan, harm the rapidly improving U.S.-Pakistani relationship and to destabilize the global coalition against terrorism.

President Musharraf has condemned the terrorist attacks on the legislature in Srinigar and on the Indian parliament. He has said that he would move against those involved in the attacks.

President Bush has every confidence in President Musharraf's capacity to act against the terrorists. The president calls on him to take action against the Lashkar-i-Taiba, the Jaish-i-Muhammad and other terrorist organizations, their leaders and their finances.

The president will support President Musharraf in his efforts against terrorism.

One final, just, look back on the year involves the actions that were taken in confirming the president's nominees in the United States Senate. When the Senate left town for the holidays, they left close to 170 nominations languishing in the Senate.

Of those awaiting action in the Senate, 49 have had hearings and have been passed by committee and only require a vote on the Senate floor. These individuals could've been reported to work at the beginning of the year but, because of inaction, the president will begin the New Year without his team in place.

Particularly in foreign policy, this is a troubling development. The Senate failed to confirm 20 of the president's senior foreign policy nominees, including officials who will be directly involved in the war on terrorism, the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan and the economic crisis in Argentina.

FLEISCHER: For example, Arthur Dewey, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration; Roger Winter, assistant administrator of the USAID for humanitarian response; Adolfo Franco, to be assistant administrator of USAID for Latin America and the Caribbean; Otto Reich, assistance secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs.

The president nominated more individuals to serve on the federal bench in his first year in office than any other past three administrations, and he submitted them earlier in the year. Despite this quick action, only 43 percent of the judicial nominees have been confirmed, and only 21 percent of the nominees to the circuit court.

When the Senate returns in January, it'll have much work ahead of it, and there'll be 98 vacancies in the federal judiciary; 16 more than were present when the president took office. Such large numbers of vacancies in federal courts are an impediment to justice. The president deserves to have his team in place, particularly during a time of war. And the American people deserve to have their government fully staffed and they deserve a court system that can fully carry out justice.

The president has done his part, and when the Senate returns it's important that they do theirs.

QUESTION: Since these nominations are so important to carry out the war on terrorism, we could assume that there will be -- the president will use his right to appoint them during the congressional recess.

FLEISCHER: If there are to be any recess appointments, an announcement will be made at that time.

FLEISCHER: There's nothing I can indicate.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) if they're so important, and you have that right to do it, why not just say...

FLEISCHER: There may be. I'm not going to guess what steps or actions the president may take.

QUESTION: Is there any reason not to do recess appointments?

FLEISCHER: The president always prefers to follow the usual process, and the president always prefers for the Senate to honor its responsibilities. He does have the right to make recess appointments. If he decides to avail himself of it, we'll keep you posted.

QUESTION: Isn't there a fair concern it could hurt relations between Democrats and Republicans if you (OFF-MIKE) the recess appointments?

FLEISCHER: Well, if there are to be any recess appointments you can safely assume it's after a careful balancing of senatorial prerogatives with executive branch needs. And if the president makes any decisions, he'll make it based on that balancing.

QUESTION: But you're not ruling them out, are you?

FLEISCHER: That's correct. The president has not ruled any out.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) considering them?

FLEISCHER: I can just tell if there are to be any we'll keep you fully informed. We'll announce them if there are.

QUESTION: The president says he's asked the NSC to come up with a system to categorize captives, battlefield captives, Al Qaeda captives for legal disposition -- whether they can go to a military tribunal civilian court, third country. Will that be made public?

FLEISCHER: The decisions that they make will obviously, once determinations will be made, will be shared by the relevant agencies about what the process will be. They'll still working it through. They're still thinking about the best course of action to take. And when they have a determination, that information will be shared.

QUESTION: Will the criteria that he's asked them to come up for the disposition of each individual, including John Walker, will that be made public?

FLEISCHER: I can't promise you that every piece of information they have will be shared. I don't know exactly what type of information they are working with; some of it could be of a nature that cannot be shared.

But it's fair to say that when a determination is made about how people will be brought to justice, whether it's Al Qaeda, Taliban, Mr. Walker, you'll see, as a result of the decision made, the thinking that was involved, why the procedure has been put in place. If they are difference in the procedures for the Al Qaeda or for the Taliban it'll be evident in the information that's released. I think you're going to get a lot of the answers to your questions once it's clear.

QUESTION: One more. Now that the president's asked the NSC to do this, what happens if Attorney General Ashcroft recommendation that John Walker be charged with providing material support to terrorists?

FLEISCHER: Well, number one, I'm not discussing any recommendations that the president may have received up to this point, but suffice it to say that all the president's security team will be working together on the ultimate outcome.

QUESTION: Is the economy recovering enough that a stimulus will not be necessary?

FLEISCHER: Well, it depends on your point of view. If you're an economist, you can look at the simple numbers and you can say the economy is projected to grow and grow in a more robust fashion at some point in 2002. If you're unemployed today, it's already too late and you want your job tomorrow. You don't want to have to wait for the economy to recover in June or July.

And the difference between the Senate leaving town and the Senate taking action yesterday, is a difference between somebody being rehired in July or somebody being rehired in January. The president would prefer for Americans who are unemployed to be rehired yesterday or, if they pass the stimulus, in January.

And that's the real-life impact of the Senate's failure to act. There are people who are unemployed, who may not get hired back and there are people who are clinging to their jobs because their companies are on the edge who could have used the assurance in this holiday season that they've been able to keep their jobs if stimulus had been passed. There are real-life consequences to failure to act. And the consequence of the Senate not acting does have an impact on people's lives.

QUESTION: So you still want a stimulus then? FLEISCHER: The president would still prefer for the Senate to pass a stimulus. I think when you talk to the economists, what you're going to see throughout -- for their projections for next year, is the economy is projected to rebound next year. Without a stimulus, it'll rebound slower and later. With a stimulus, it will rebound in a more robust fashion and do so earlier. That benefits America's workers the most.

QUESTION: You mentioned Mr. Reich. Senator Dodd has repeated his view that that nomination is dead. What is your reaction to that and what are your options now for that nomination?

FLEISCHER: Well, that would be very unfortunate. If that were the case, that would be contrary to what Senator Dodd has said earlier in the year, and that would be a big disappointment. I'm not prepared to discuss what options the president would take. The president hopes that would not be the ultimate outcome.

QUESTION: In what way is that contrary to what Senator Dodd had said before and why is this nomination important to the president?

FLEISCHER: On previous occasions, I've read statements from Senator Dodd -- a statement that he made back in 1995 about the right of everybody -- in one particular case -- of somebody to have a hearing, have a vote on the floor. He talked about how wrong it was not to allow a nominee to proceed and have a vote on the floor. I would hope that the same standard that Senator Dodd stood strong for on principle then, he will stand strong for on principle now.

QUESTION: Why is that nomination important to the president?

FLEISCHER: Otto Reich's nomination?

QUESTION: Right.

FLEISCHER: Otto Reich is nominated to be assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere. The Western Hemisphere is a very important region for the United States, particularly in these troubling times with Argentina facing economic difficulties, with drug trade and intervention we need to prevent drugs from coming into the United States from Central American and Latin American countries.

FLEISCHER: Latin America, Central America, Western Hemisphere are very important region that have an impact on life in this country, and it's important for the president to have his foreign policy team in place. If people have principled objections, let them voice them on the floor in the process of a vote, but it's wrong to deny a vote on the basis of one senator's objections.

QUESTION: Two questions on Latin America. One has to do with Otto Reich and the other one Argentina. Let me start with Otto Reich.

Senators Christopher Dodd and Michael Enzi, who is a Republican, Dodd's a Democrat, have written the president asking him strongly not to give a recess appointment to Mr. Otto Reich for the position of assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. "Our opposition to this nomination is well known, but what is less well known is that many of our colleagues, including our colleagues on the Foreign Relations Committee, have quietly supported our effort to prevent this nomination from going forward. We are aware that some are urging you to circumvent the Senate and give a recess appointment to Mr. Reich. We have discussed at length with administration officials our reasons for opposing Mr. Reich's nomination, but we stand ready to discuss the matter with you at your request."

What does the White House say to this?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, that question was asked in a different form earlier about recess appointments, and I've answered the question.

QUESTION: But would the president be willing to meet with Senators Dodd and Enzi on this matter?

FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the letter. The president is always willing to listen to people's views. But at the end of the day, it's important for the Senate to schedule a vote and not hold up Mr. Reich's nomination.

QUESTION: Can I ask on Argentina now?

FLEISCHER: Go ahead.

QUESTION: As is well known, the president of Argentina, Fernando Rua, submitted his resignation yesterday. President Bush has had a very personal relationship with Mr. de la Rua, he has met with him here in the White House, met with him at the U.N., has met with him I think once or twice in international events, and you have called him a strong ally and good friend of the United States. How does the president view what happened to Mr. de la Rua? And what is the United States willing to do now with whatever eventual new government comes in?

FLEISCHER: Well, Argentina is our neighbor. Argentina is an ally of the United States. And the United States and Argentina share many values and interests.

Argentina has a strong and a vibrant democracy, and the president has confidence in the strength of the Argentine institutions, and he reiterates his confidence in Argentina's standing as one of the Western Hemisphere's leading democracies.

QUESTION: But on the economic side, is the United States willing to do something? The situation there is getting to be chaotic.

FLEISCHER: It's important for Argentina to continue to work through the International Monetary Fund on sound policies.

FLEISCHER: And there will be a statement coming out later today by the president, by the presidents of Canada and Mexico, on this topic; a joint statement, as well. So you can look forward to having that sometime early this afternoon.

QUESTION: Ari, on the bin Laden video that the government released last week, can you offer assurances that the omissions in the government-supplied translation were not deliberate?

FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Rumsfeld addressed that very eloquently earlier today when he said, number one, this tape doesn't change anything or this translation doesn't change anything about the facts in the case. The Department of Defense translators worked very diligently on a very short timetable to put together a faithful translation, and that's what they did. And if you note, on the cover note of what the Department of Defense put out, they wrote, "Due to the quality of the original tape, it is not a verbatim transcript of every word spoken during the meeting, but does convey the messages and information flow."

So I think what you saw was the very best effort possible. And as the secretary said about the translation of Arabic, it's not a precise art that is agreed to by every translator.

QUESTION: So absolutely nothing happened to be left out that could be embarrassing to Saudi Arabia?

FLEISCHER: I think this whole contention that there was something deliberately left off is a far-fetched one .

QUESTION: An agreement wasn't able to be reached on the stimulus before the Christmas break. Why should anyone expect that one will be reached when Congress comes back?

FLEISCHER: Well, it's hard to say. But, perhaps, when senators go home, particularly the Democratic leadership goes home, and they hear from unemployed constituents who want their jobs back, or they hear from people who are clinging to the jobs they have and they don't want to be let go, they could have an impact on the Senate.

That's why, again, these decisions that senators make do affect people's livelihoods, and there are people who are hurting. And the president thinks it's important that senators listen to their voices.

QUESTION: Ari, a couple of major political issues. Is the president planning to be more out there, in terms of campaigning for candidates? He's let Cheney and other people in the administration, sort of, do that -- attend the fund-raisers more recently. And do you expect, come January, that we'll see more of him?

FLEISCHER: Well, separating the stimulus from the immediate question of campaigning, I do expect that. And I do think the president, in 2002, will campaign for candidates.

FLEISCHER: The president thinks its very important for people who support his agenda to be in the Congress.

I think it's fair to say that if the Senate were under Republican control the stimulus would have at least been scheduled and likely have been passed. So clearly there are differences that result from whether the Congress is in Democratic or Republican hands, and the president thinks its very important that people in Congress who support his agenda.

QUESTION: Can you say if he's going to attend Governor Jeb Bush's big fund-raiser in January?

FLEISCHER: We'll keep you informed closer to the event.

QUESTION: Two quick questions. One, I'm aware (inaudible). What do you think would deserve the front cover of the magazines and the newspapers and televisions -- where do Osama bin Laden stands? And also as far as President Bush is concerned, what he thinks, where he should be at this time?

FLEISCHER: Well, as far as what President Bush thinks, I thinks he leaves those judgments to others. As far as what I happen to think about what should be on the front pages of the nation's newspapers, magazines, TV shows, my influence is small. That's up to others to make those calls.

QUESTION: Time magazine has been considering or they have already Osama bin Laden. Do you think he deserves this title, to be on the front cover?

FLEISCHER: It's not my place to tell magazines who to put on their covers.

QUESTION: Another question is as far as World Trade Center is concerned, many of the people who died there were illegal immigrants.

QUESTION: (inaudible) task force, now they're asking president to provide some kind of legal status for their families and financial help. Where does the president stand?

FLEISCHER: As you know, there has been a master appointed at the Department of Justice to administer the claims -- a former aide to Senator Kennedy. And the process is under way so people can receive the compensation. No amount of money can, of course, make up for what was lost. The process is set up and will be administered through the Department of Justice in accordance with the rules that have been set up.

QUESTION: Have about their legal status? Where do they stand?

FLEISCHER: You'd have to ask that to the attorneys who are involved.

QUESTION: What is your assessment of the in-fighting going on among the Palestinians, and your reaction to the Hamas statement, especially about the fact that Hamas says it's still all right to launch suicide attacks in the West Bank in Gaza?

FLEISCHER: On the Hamas statement, the president believes that all terrorist activities everywhere must cease. And he believes that Chairman Arafat is the one who can make that happen and needs to take the action to stop terrorism. Hamas is a terrorist organization. And it's Chairman Arafat's responsibility as a leader in the region to stop the terrorism so that peace can take hold.

QUESTION: Senator Grassley of Iowa said, "I don't know where Senator Daschle is going to spend the holidays, but I would hate to be in South Dakota and face the unemployed workers." And my question, does the president share Senator Grassley's pungent estimate of a Daschle-Democrat recession enhancement?

FLEISCHER: Well, I addressed this earlier.

FLEISCHER: There are real consequences to the decision that the Democratic leaders of the Senate made by going home without addressing the nation's unemployment problems. And, you know, the president regrets that. He's disappointed by that.

This is not a personal matter. Senator Daschle is a good man, in the president's estimation. It was a very difficult job. Nevertheless, he believes that the decision that was made by the Senate Democratic leadership was the wrong decision that is going to make it harder to help the unemployed and harder to help people who, right now, are clinging to their jobs, worried they're going to get laid off.

QUESTION: Ambassador Jean Kirkpatrick said, "The PLO has definitely been a terrorist organization, engaging in the assassination of the American ambassador in Sudan and the murder of Israeli athletes in Munich." And my question is does the president believe Ambassador Kirkpatrick is wrong or will he add the PLO to the list of terrorist organizations on his executive order?

FLEISCHER: I think the president is focused on the Oslo accords and the results that have been achieved since the peace process has begun. And under that peace process, Yasser Arafat has committed himself to forgoing violence, to recognizing Israel's right to live in security, and that is the agreement made by Yasser Arafat that the president will hold him accountable to.

QUESTION: He thinks the PLO is not a terrorist organization. Now is that right...

FLEISCHER: The Palestinian Authority has entered into a peace agreement and that's what the president is focused on.

QUESTION: Is the PLO a terrorist organization or not?

FLEISCHER: If you are looking back in history, there's no question that it was, but the focus right now is on what's happened with the Palestinian Authority in the wake of the Oslo accords.

QUESTION: The president was asked what the impact was for the stimulus bill not passing. He said, "We'll see." And he was asked, "Is it a must?" And he said, basically, "We'll see or no." Why are you being so much more clear about what the impact will be?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president also said he was disappointed that it had not been passed. And the reason the president was disappointed are for the exact reasons I articulated. QUESTION: Do you know why that is?

FLEISCHER: No. I think we're saying the same thing. And I was asked earlier about the effect of no stimulus on the economy, and when the president says, "We'll see," it's because he's seen the estimates of what economic growth could be, with a stimulus or without a stimulus. And clearly, private sector forecasters do believe the economy is coming back next year, in good part, because of the stimulative effect of the previous tax cut that was put into law. But private sector forecasters also believe it will be less robust without the stimulus and that costs jobs.

QUESTION: Ari, related to that, this is the time of year usually when the president and OMB are making final decisions on the new budget presentation for February next year.

QUESTION: What kind of impact do you think that not getting the economic stimulus package may have on the presentation of the new budget in February?

FLEISCHER: Well, it really doesn't change anything. The president thought the stimulus was the right thing to do, and therefore he advocated it. It would probably have resulted in higher growth, meaning more revenues, had it been passed, as a result of it having that stimulative effect on the economy.

But for the numbers that OMB is putting together, their numbers have to be based on the actual numbers in the economy, and without a stimulus they'll have to take that into account.

QUESTION: You don't think policy will change in terms of presentation of tax policy or spending policy related to the failure on the stimulus?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to, at this point, indicate everything that's going to be in the budget next year. That's an announcement for next year.

QUESTION: Back to Argentina, what lessons are we to draw from that event? I mean, is Argentina the victim of impersonal globalization forces or is this the result of bad policies?

FLEISCHER: That's not something that I'm qualified to judge. The situation in Argentina is a very complicated one. I think different people in Argentina and different experts outside Argentina will probably give you different reasons.

By all accounts, it does look like there is no contagion as a result of what's happening in Argentina, it does look like it's isolated to Argentina, and that's a helpful fact.

QUESTION: But our policy response will certainly be governed by the kind of judgment that is made as to the causes of what's happened.

FLEISCHER: It's a fair question. I think that's a question that needs to be addressed to perhaps the Treasury Department or some of the private sector people who are more expert in that area.

QUESTION: Ari, can you describe the torch ceremony that is going to take place at the White House tomorrow?

FLEISCHER: Tomorrow morning at the White House, the Olympic torch will be arriving en route to Salt Lake City as it crosses its path around the world. The president will be here tomorrow to welcome two runners to the White House who will be carrying the torch, one into the White House, one out of the White House. Both people's lives were touched on September 11 in the tragedy, and the president is very proud to welcome them to his home in Washington and to see them carry the torch for our nation.

QUESTION: Is he still hoping to go to the Olympics himself?

FLEISCHER: If there are any announcements to be made on travel, we'll have those closer to the event.

QUESTION: Time on the torch ceremony tomorrow?

FLEISCHER: 8:20 tomorrow morning.

QUESTION: On a lighter note, there are accounts in Boston that President Bush called the chief executive of the Red Sox and the baseball commissioner during the sale negotiations yesterday.

QUESTION: I'm wondering what you can tell me about those phone calls, and also, generally, what's his reaction to the historic sale?

FLEISCHER: Yes, I have not talked to him about the sale of the Red Sox, and he hasn't indicated anything to me about any phone calls. I'd be happy to look into that.

QUESTION: Ari, the estimates of the long-term rebuilding costs in Afghanistan run to the tens of billions of dollars. What level of commitment does the administration have to that process, and has the president talked about any specific kinds of programs he favors for the economic development of the region?

FLEISCHER: As you know, there have been and are continuing to be a series of meetings with international leaders on the reconstruction of Afghanistan now that the interim government has been put into place.

The president is very committed to the future stability of Afghanistan, and that will be reflected in the developments in Afghanistan.

As you know, the United States has been and will continue to be the world's largest supplier of food to the people of Afghanistan. And certainly, as a result of the military operations under way Afghanistan, Afghanistan now for the first time in decades has a chance to have a stable future.

QUESTION: Ari, there's a report that a convoy of Afghan tribal elders was hit near Tora Bora, accidentally. Can you shed any light on that?

FLEISCHER: No, that's something you need to take up with DOD.

QUESTION: Can we go back to the Time magazine person of the year? I know you would never tell a magazine what they should do, but if their criteria is, as it has been in the past, the person who has changed our lives the most, for better or worst, why shouldn't it be Osama bin Laden? Or what sort of message do you think it would send if they do go that way?

FLEISCHER: I appreciate the opportunity to get myself into hot water telling the press how to do its business.

(LAUGHTER)

We've tried that before.

Now, that's just not something I'm going to get into. That's a decision that the media has to make. Whatever decision they make, I myself will read U.S. News, Newsweek and Time that same week.

QUESTION: And National Journal?

FLEISCHER: And National Journal.

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: Ari, as we enter the holidays and then come to a new year, is there any concern, as things start, you know, ending a little bit in Afghanistan, is there any concern as to the American people -- the resolve of the American people won't remain, in terms of going after bin Laden or a broader war against terrorism? Is there any concern at all?

FLEISCHER: You know, as the president looks back on the year and what a remarkable first year it's been in so many ways -- from the closeness of the election that did not end, the recount, the close division in the Congress, and then what has been accomplished through the year -- I think one of the things the president is very, very proud of is the way the country has rallied, pulled together and focused so strongly on defending our values and being willing to see it through at great length.

FLEISCHER: And I think that was clear right away from the American people. When the American people saw and felt the horror of what happened when our nation was attacked, this country rallied, and the president played his role on helping make that rally take place.

But I think one of the things he really looks at is the resolve, the strength, the fortitude of our country for the long term. And the president has said that he is patient, and he will be patient. There is no telling how long this will go. And the president reminds American people, this is just phase one. And the reason for that is, because the president does believe that this is our generation's chance to do something for the next generation to put an end to terrorism around the world. And that's what this is focused on for the president.

And the support of the American people gives the president the strength to do that.

STAFF: Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Let me just take a personal note, just to say this is the final briefing of the year, and for all of us in the White House, this has just been a very remarkable first year. You know, we still feel like we're all new here. And many of you people in the White House press corps are parts of institutions that have been -- we are new here. Well, you guys aren't.

I want to just wish every one of you and your families a great, great new year and a merry Christmas. It's really been fun working with you. This is a fun relationship.

I know I don't answer all your questions.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I love working here.

Merry Christmas and happy new year to all.

QUESTION: New Year's resolutions?

FLEISCHER: More briefings.

WOODRUFF: Sentiments of the season from Ari Fleischer, who briefs the press every day, and clearly, there are some days that get a little more contentious than others. As he just said, I know I don't answer all your questions, and I think one of them said, you can say that, again. But he was saying that for all the -- if you will, adversarial relationship that exists between the White House press corps and the White House staff, he was saying when it all kind of shakes out, they all work together every day, and they -- and being in close quarters, they ought to have some fun every once in a while.

Just quickly to a very brief recap, he said there toward the end, the president knowing that this country was divided, coming off of the election last year that took so long to resolve, the president's very proud, Ari Fleischer said, of how this country has pulled together, has focused on the values that are important in the wake of 9/11, and has rallied around the fight against terrorism.

Not much other news out of this briefing, other than to say the president still wants his nominees to be confirmed by the Senate, although it's pretty clear some of them are not going to be. And we may see some of what are called interim appointments over the holiday break, when the president does have the ability to make these appointments, even without congressional approval. We also heard him say the president's disappointed that he didn't get the economic stimulus plan that he wanted, but he said the president may very well decide to push again for it in the new year. And that's it for the Ari Fleischer briefing at the White House.

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