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White House Press Briefing: Homeland Security to Increase

Aired January 24, 2002 - 12:42   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Now, let's go to the White House for the afternoon press briefing.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Of those awaiting action by the Senate, 49 have had hearings. They have been passed by their committees and only require a simple vote on the floor of the Senate. These individuals could easily be hard at work for the American people, but because of inaction the president continues to operate with his full team in place.

The Senate has failed to confirm 20 of President Bush's senior foreign policy nominees, including officials who'll be directly involved in the war against terrorism and the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan. For example, Roger Winter (ph), the assistant administrator of USAID for humanitarian response, has been passed by committee but has not been given an opportunity to have a vote on the floor. Gaddy Vasquez (ph), the director of the Peace Corps, similarly has been passed by committee but has had no vote on the floor. And Frank Derdoni (ph), ambassador to the Philippines, passed by committee, no vote on the floor.

Despite the president's action of nominating a record 90 highly qualified individuals to the federal bench, the Senate has left 47 languishing.

By this point in previous administrations, by way of comparison, only 20 of President Clinton's nominees were left languishing or still awaited action. Only nine of former President Bush's nominees at this point in his administration awaited action, and only four of President Reagan's.

The pace of this Senate is by far way behind the pace of previous Senates.

It's too slow, for example, when only three of the original 11 judges that President Bush nominated on May 9 have even received hearings -- only three who were nominated back in May have received hearings.

There are currently 101 vacancies in the federal judiciary. Chief Justice William Rehnquist recently stated that there is a judiciary vacancy crisis. This vacancy crisis is an impediment to justice, in the president's opinion, and the American people deserve better.

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. The president has done his part. It's now time for the Senate to do its.

With that, I'm happy to take questions.

QUESTION: Ari, what is the president's reaction to Chairman Greenspan's testimony that it's not clear another economic stimulus plan is needed now and that it is not critical for the economy, the economy would recover anyway?

FLEISCHER: Well, without characterizing what Chairman Greenspan said in reaction to the president, I can tell you that the president wants to err on side of protecting America's workers, err on the side of protecting the unemployed and those who have jobs and worry they may lose their jobs.

So the president prefers, as the evidence is coming now indicating there are healthy signs of a recovery, there are still clouds on the horizon however, and the president prefers to err on the side of creating jobs. And so that's why he continues to call on the Senate to reach an agreement, to take action, so that jobs can be created along the lines of the comprehensive package that he's proposed.

QUESTION: And will he be promoting that package in his speech, in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to get at great length into what the president's going to do on Tuesday, but I think you can rest assured the president is going to talk about the need to help protect America's workers and to create jobs and have a strong economy. That will be an important part of the president's speech.

QUESTION: There seems to be a little bit of a zero-sum game economically when you look at the stimulus plan and what Mitch told us about the budget yesterday. He said that there will be no debt reduction this year because of the expected and projected size of the federal deficit, but he also said if there (UNINTELLIGIBLE) stimulus plan the deficit numbers would be much smaller, possibly making room for some debt reduction. I wonder if you could explain to the American public why it's more important to have a stimulus plan and not have debt reduction than the other way around.

FLEISCHER: Well, because if you're an unemployed American the debt that you want to have reduced is your debt for not being able to work, the debt that you worry about in terms of paying your electrical bills, your gas bills and your rent and your food, the health care for your family.

And that's why again, the president would prefer to err on the side of helping create jobs and helping the unemployed. Now if the year goes a long and the Senate continues to fail to take action, and there are increasing signs that the economy is coming back to sufficient levels, then that could change events. But that's not the case today as we speak, and that's why the president continues to urge the Senate to take action.

QUESTION: We've got American troops out in the Philippines. I'm wondering why the president hasn't said more about the operation down there and how it fits into the larger mission of routing out terrorism and wherever it may up.

FLEISCHER: I think that is a topic that the American people are going to want to hear a lot about on Tuesday night. The president looks forward to sharing with the American people his thoughts about the war on terrorism, what has been accomplished so far, and what is next in terms of winning the war against terrorism. I don't say that in regard to a specifically any one country. I think the president does look forward to sharing with the American people his sense of what this war is all about, how it can be won, and that will happen on Tuesday night.

QUESTION: What is the difference in his mind between the sort of ramp-up to the fight in Afghanistan, conditioning the American people about what the Taliban was all about, what Al Qaeda was all about, and operations like the one ongoing in the Philippines, where the stakes presumably are just as high?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that's -- you're going to hear a lot of those points raised Tuesday night by the president.

QUESTION: So there's no talks specifically about the U.S. operation in the Philippines?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into the specifics this far before a president's speech, but when you talk about the president making the case in the war on terrorism, and what the war on terrorism means to the American people and to what he is looking at in terms of how to win the war beyond the immediate theater of Afghanistan. That is something the president is going to talk about and make that case on Tuesday.

QUESTION: I'm sorry. I'm just trying to (OFF-MIKE). So, he will talk more specifically about other theaters, because we know what the general principles are in the war on terrorism. That's not the question. The question is some meat on the bone -- where we are next, what's going on in places where we are currently?

FLEISCHER: He'll talk about winning the war on terrorism beyond the Afghanistan theater alone.

QUESTION: Can I just follow-up on that? In the Afghanistan theater one of the ultimatums the president delivered to the Taliban was to release American missionaries who are being held there. There are -- obviously, Abu Sayyaf is holding two American missionaries. Is there a similar ultimatum to this group?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I'm not going to preview the president's speech Tuesday. If I told you everything, you might not watch it. So I would just urge you to wait until Tuesday night, and then you'll be able to judge the president's speech in its entirety.

QUESTION: That's a policy question, not necessarily a speech question, Ari. What is the policy of this administration?

FLEISCHER: That's a separate question. The United States government has made it plain that the United States is very concerned about the taking of hostages in the Philippines. There is no where in the world, including the Philippines, where the United States would ever countenance the taking of American hostages. It is another reminder about the risks that the United States is up against with terrorists around the world, who resort to the capturing of innocents to pursue their terrorists purposes.

QUESTION: So, Ari, what's the ultimatum there?

FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to go beyond what I've said.

QUESTION: Can you unravel the numbers a little bit for us on the increase in homeland security? The president said $38 billion, which if you add that with defense spending would be more than we understand the total increase in spending will be. So clearly, some of this money is in the budgets of other departments, perhaps in defense and so forth. Could you...

FLEISCHER: Well, there's no question, homeland security is cross-cutting. Homeland security funds programs in a variety of different agencies, such as, for example, Health and Human Services with money to increase biotechnology, I mean, the prevention against bioterrorism. Public health infrastructure improvements.

Tomorrow, the president will be traveling to Portland, Maine, where the president is going to be talking about announcing a new initiative and new funding figures for border security. That, obviously, involves programs mostly in the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, but it also involves the Coast Guard, which is under the Department of Transportation. So the homeland security budget is cross-cutting. It also does include some areas within the Department of Defense. So it is a cross-cutting budget that the president announced today.

There was another question earlier about the exact funding levels, as is the way budgets have always been done. Any funding appropriated as a result of emergency funding would not be counted in a baseline. And I think you're all familiar with that bit of wonkery (ph).

QUESTION: As far as Tom Ridge's office...


FLEISCHER: I'm sure you'll all get over it, as well.

QUESTION: Aside from operating funds, will he have any money -- any programmatic money, any money for programs, which he is supervising? Is there anything that is actually run out of homeland security or is it a largely a coordinating body? FLEISCHER: The homeland security has a budget as part of the Office of the White House, which is as the National Security Council, for example, does not have tanks in the field. The Office of Homeland Security serves a similar purpose at the National Security Council, which is to coordinate the various entities and agencies of the government that do have appropriated line accounts.

QUESTION: And he will not actually have programmatic money. He won't actually be running federal programs on homeland defense.

FLEISCHER: No. As I mentioned, those are cross-cutting. Coast Guard, for example, the Coast Guard budget is under the Department of Transportation.

Tomorrow, up in Portland, Maine, the president is going to make a new announcement about...


QUESTION: ... all of that will be done in other departments, so there will actually...

FLEISCHER: And here's how it works, as well. The president, this morning, had a meeting of his Homeland Security Council, which was chaired by Governor Ridge. Seated at the table with Governor Ridge and the president and the vice president were secretary of Health and Human Services, the attorney general, the CIA director, many others as well. The president called the meeting. Governor Ridge briefed the president. The Cabinet secretaries made their presentations about the various agencies and what they are doing as part of the Governor Ridge's homeland review.

QUESTION: On these -- the homeland security -- there are going to be block grants to some of the cities, et cetera. How are those going to be administered? Will they have to fill out an application, or are they going to be automatic? And how long do you expect that that's going to take to get the money to the cities?

FLEISCHER: Well, in many of the cases, for example, on the first responder money, which the president announced today, will have a ten- fold increase in money for first responders, up to, I think it was $3.5 billion. That money was going to go to fund police, firemen, ambulances, the emergency first responders, in those communities. The money will go to the states, and then the states are going to work to bring it to the local level. That's how the money will be...


QUESTION: ... for the states, in other words?

FLEISCHER: There's a formula that involves the size of the different states, size of the different cities. And I think it's fairly logical that if there's a state in one entity that is ten times the size of another entity you can expect, somewhere along the lines, it will receive 10 times amount of resources that traditionally would have ten times as many people. QUESTION: Ari, on this question of border security that he's going to address tomorrow, where does the president stand on the idea of consolidating some of the many agencies that handle border security -- Customs, INS and the other agencies that are involved in that?

FLEISCHER: That is a proposal that is under review. The president is aware of the thoughts of different members of Cabinet about it. The president has asked Governor Ridge to take a careful look at whether or not it can make the borders more efficient in terms of allowing the flow of people and the flow of commerce that we welcome into this country while at the same time preventing people and good that we don't want in this country from getting into the country.

In other words, having a border system that keeps terrorists out and keeps people in who want to come to the United States; keeping drugs out, but letting commerce in.

And that is, again, a crosscutting aspect of the United States government. There are a host of different agencies that are involved in things along the border, including food inspectors, for example, from the Department of Agriculture. So a review is being taken to see whether or not there is a more effective and efficient way to consolidate any of those agencies, but no decisions have been made, they're still talking about it.

QUESTION: To get back to the earlier funding question, how is it going to be determined when bioterrorism, for example, ends and another disease begins? I mean, anthrax versus some disease that could be used as an attack. Are you going to say to HHS, "You have to use this money on a specific, anthrax"?

FLEISCHER: No. I think one of the interesting things here is that you're going to see a large public benefit as a result of the homeland security aspects that goes beyond bioterrorism, because benefits that are gained in fighting bioterrorism can also help in ongoing health endeavors.

For example, the more laboratories there are that can do examination and research of anthrax, they also have abilities to do research in other areas, too. The more improvements that are made to help the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta become more modernized and have more resources, that has a magnificent benefit throughout society in areas that are just health-related.

So the purpose is homeland defense and bioterrorism, but it's undeniable that there are going to be ancillary benefits to society as a whole as a result of that. But the funding is earmarked toward those purposes.

QUESTION: Ari, have you gotten anymore information on Ben's (ph) request


HARRIS: For now, let's go back to the White House. FLEISCHER: And the president believes very deeply -- I have not decided and am not indicating any next course of action specific to Iraq -- but that the world follows strong leadership. And I think that's one of the lessons that you've seen in Afghanistan, that the president was strong in Afghanistan, and the world has followed. President Musharraf was strong in Pakistan, and the Pakistani people have followed. And that's how the President believes that the United States can lead the world, and lead the world to a more stable world and a more peaceful world.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I would like to ask in my original question, is the United States doing with the partners of the Security Council of the U.N.? Nobody else seems to be interested in pushing that issue for the inspection, return of the inspectors.

FLEISCHER: Actually, I don't share your point on that. The United Nations has spoken, and the United Nations has passed resolutions about it. And Iraq is violating those resolutions, but if you're asking, can I tell you today? Is the president going to take a specific step because Iraq is violating that? The president has indicated up to this point that Iraq needs to return the inspectors to Iraq. That's the extent of what the president has said to date.

QUESTION: On those lines, a U.S. official in Geneva today said that time is running out for Iraq to allow U.N. inspectors in. Is there a decision pending? Is there something under U.S. policy likely to be unveiled soon?

FLEISCHER: No, nothing to report.

QUESTION: Getting back on the formula for money that's going to states, you mentioned size would be an important factor. Will you all not also consider a threat, and if so, how do you factor that in?

FLEISCHER: No, mostly -- and the spending on Homeland Security, which is now going to, as I mentioned doubled up to $35 billion will come in a variety of different categories. Within those categories, there are going to be different spending allocations and decisions. For example, on the first responders, which there's no telling where our next threat may be. Hopefully there never will be a next attack on the United States.

But I think that will flow along the logical lines of the different sizes of the different entities have different needs. New York City and Los Angeles have much more need for first responders for example than a smaller city would. So there can be a formulaic approach when it comes to that.

On health, for example, where you have the Centers for Disease Control which does a lot of work across the country, but most of it is located in Atlanta, you can have the more focused approach there, because the Center for Disease Control is unique; it's not formulaic. But they do -- they spread out across the country. On the funding for border initiatives, for example, obviously, the funding on the border initiatives is going to be located on states that have borders, which would be the northern area of the country and the southern tier of the country. I don't think you'll see a lot of border funding given to Iowa. So, I mean, there's just a certain logic of these programs and how they work.

QUESTION: You don't see these reports of alerts from the CIA or the FBI or any kind of back data weighing into...


FLEISCHER: No, because remember, on those reports there were no site-specific information in almost every case. We'll come back. We have some new people here who haven't had questions yet.

QUESTION: Ari, (OFF-MIKE) on the upcoming Karzai visit. The schedule and who might be coming with him?

FLEISCHER: I don't know who is coming with him. I know that he'll be meeting with the president on Monday. And we'll, of course, have information about the meeting on Monday.


FLEISCHER: I don't have his itinerary. I just have the president's.

QUESTION: Who would have is itinerary?

FLEISCHER: Afghani authorities or the State Department.

QUESTION: Do you know what he's doing Tuesday night?


FLEISCHER: You almost caught me.

QUESTION: Good enough.


FLEISCHER: Yes. I need a quick dodge.

QUESTION: Along those lines, this is not a flippant question, but is the president going to talk about the Enron situation either directly or indirectly in the State of the Union speech?

FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not on any on the specific questions you're asking what the president is going to say. This is Thursday . The president is going to practice the State of the Union today. He'll do probably additional practice over the weekend. He's still reviewing his remarks, and so I'm not just -- on any other levels of specificity that your very appropriately asking about.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) made by the president? FLEISCHER: Then there's to be made by the -- I appreciate the opportunity to preempt the president's State of the Union. I like my job.


Thank you.


FLEISCHER: You still have people that haven't had questions yet.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) what the president said last night -- that was a good feature, by the way, about John Walker. In the wake of what Walker and his parents and attorneys said today, does the president have any fresh thoughts, especially about the charges that he had asked for legal representation or the father's claims that the son had done nothing anti-American?

FLEISCHER: The president has faith in our impartial system of justice. And the system of justice does not respond to news conferences of the day. The system of justice responds to evidence that is presented in a court of law and to strict adherence of the laws that protect all citizens including John Walker. And that's where the president's faith lies, and the president looks forward to justice being done in a court.

QUESTION: Ari, following up on your opening statement. Who in the Senate is responsible for the inaction on the judicial nominees?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, if you take a look at the pace of what's happened, the president made his first nominations in May. The Senate then changed the parties in June. And so for that short one month period where the Republicans controlled the Senate, I don't think anybody's expecting one month action on judicial nominations.

So since the change in the Senate, since June, when it came under Democrat control, there really has been a very slow movement on the president's judicial nominees. I know some of the democrats like to say they've confirmed nominees in the last six months than the Republicans confirmed in the first six months. Well, of course they did, the president didn't make any nominations until May.

So I think that wherever it is, whether it's with any one senator or whether it's more than one senator, which is often the case in the Senate, and there have been cases, isolated, where Republicans put holds on nominees -- but then again, those were isolated -- it doesn't matter to the president who individually has placed a hold on a nominee, what matters to the president is that the vacancies on the bench be filled up so that Americans can go to court and expect quick action in a court and not a delayed action because there are so few courtrooms that have judges sitting in the chairs. And that's where the president's concern is.

QUESTION: On another Senate issue, faith-based plan, the president in his speech to the mayors today gave a pretty spirited defense of it. Has he or anybody at the White House received any new signals from the Senate about prospects of faith-based?

FLEISCHER: Well, we have, and the signals are somewhat mixed. It appears that there are some senators who would very much like to work in a bipartisan way with the administration on faith-based legislation to help people in poverty. There's also a hope that perhaps it'll get scheduled for a vote, but I don't believe we have received any commitments about a scheduled vote.

But there are indeed some senators who want to work closely with the White House on that, and the president welcomes that, and the White House has been reciprocating, working with those senators.

QUESTION: Daschle specifically committed to bring it up this year. Is that commitment still valid? He did that last year. Is that commitment still valid as far as you're concerned?

FLEISCHER: Well, I can't speak for the Senate majority leader. Only he can schedule a vote. So if he were indicating a date time- specific. He has indicated that on several other issues, such as energy, there will be action, and he is committed to time frames on some of these issues. That's a question that only the Senate majority leader can answer.

QUESTION: But are you going to try to hold him to that timetable?

FLEISCHER: Well, certainly the president thinks it's important to help people who are in poverty and people who can benefit from his armies of compassion initiative or the faith-based initiative.


FLEISCHER: The only way that can happen is for the Senate to vote it.

QUESTION: Relating to scheduling the votes, campaign finance in the House has now achieved the necessary signatures for a discharge petition (UNINTELLIGIBLE) House consideration of that. One, White House reaction. Two, the Shays-Meehan bill, the White House (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

FLEISCHER: One, I have not gotten confirmation on what you just said about the petition, so without accepting the premise of that, because I just have not...

QUESTION: You think I'd lie to you?


FLEISCHER: Petition process, as you know, a very complicated process in the House.


FLEISCHER: But in any case, as you recall, the House of Representatives did last year take up campaign finance reform, and in a very complicated series of actions this campaign finance reform emerged from the Rules Committee. There were a series of test votes on the floor, and the result was actually a defeat of campaign finance reform because of an unusual coalition where many Democrats voted against campaign finance reform. There is a split in the Democrat ranks on several of the campaign finance reform proposals.

In all cases, the president is committed to having campaign finance reform enacted into law. He believes that improvements can be made in the current system of campaign financing, as well as electoral reform and election reform, which the president would like to see move forward.

But the president does think that we need to abolish soft money. The president thinks that soft money should be abolished for individuals, that it should be abolished for corporations, that it should be abolished for unions. Those are the two groups that the president strongly believes soft money should be abolished.

He believes that there should be an increase in the limits of how much people individually can give in their hard money contributions to be a more accurate reflection of inflation.

The president believes in full and prompt disclosure. He, himself, during the campaign, of course, released all his information virtually instantly on the Internet.

So the president has made it very clear to Congress that they cannot count on him to veto campaign finance reform. And I think in that process it forced the debate to become a real one, and that's one of the reasons I think you've seen many Democrats really start to question whether or not they want campaign finance reform to eventually be sent to the president.

QUESTION: Will the president sign a campaign finance reform bill that comes out of Congress?

FLEISCHER: Depends on what it says, but the president's made it clear that he can't be counted on to veto it, which I think was a calculation that many people made previously, which is one of the things that stopped campaign finance reform from ever getting done.

QUESTION: You say he wants campaign finance reform, but you won't say unequivocally that he will sign a bill if it...

FLEISCHER: Well, of course. No president is going to give a blank check to Congress and say, "You pass anything, I'll sign it." No, of course, nobody...

QUESTION: Have you ever said he'd sign it before?

FLEISCHER: You could check the transcript, but I will reiterate what I've always said, that the president has made it clear that he can't be counted on to veto it. The president very much wants something that he can sign.

QUESTION: If the United States can find two witnesses can find two witnesses who will testify in court that John Walker committed an act of treason, would the president like to see him charged with treason?

FLEISCHER: That's a question of justice. That's a question of judiciary matters. And that is not something that the president of the United States decides, that is a question that needs to be addressed to the people who would gather evidence, would know whether or not such witnesses exist, and that means the Department of Justice.

The president of the United States does not determine charges that are brought in courts of law under our system. Those decisions are made by professional prosecutors, and the president has faith in those people to make those judgments.

QUESTION: Ari, the president will oppose the idea of some members of the Democratic Party to restore welfare benefits to legal residents?

FLEISCHER: The president announced just the opposite. The president would support a change in the 1996 welfare law, which limited the ability of noncitizens or immigrants to come to this country, and if their circumstances changed and they needed to go on to food stamps, there was a provision in the '96 law which denied food stamps to people who were legal residents of this country. The president has opposed that provision. He opposed it as governor of Texas. And in any reauthorization of welfare reform, the president has made it clear that he would oppose that now.

QUESTION: On border security, has the president any specific idea, in terms of combat the narcotraffic in the border with Mexico, and the fact that in the last couple of months have been reports of an increase of drug smuggling from Mexico to the United States?

FLEISCHER: Governor Ridge has been in contact with Mexican officials, and Governor Ridge will be traveling to the region shortly at the president's direction to talk about border initiatives with Mexico.

This remains a top priority for President Bush. The president, despite what has happened on September 11, sees it as vital and in America's interest to work closely with Mexico, so that our border with Mexico facilitates the free flow of goods, that people can come to the United States legally for opportunity, while having a border that keeps out drugs. And that remains an important priority.

The initiative the president is going to be announcing in Portland, Maine, tomorrow, will be very helpful in addressing these border issues, both to the north and to the south.

QUESTION: On homeland defense funds, obviously, homeland defense is an evolving situation; six months from now our needs could be very different than they are now. Has there been any thought in this new allocation of money to sitting on some of it for a period of time or is it all going to be allocated to be spent immediately?

FLEISCHER: Well, remember what the president announced today is a funding proposal that'll be part of the budget that is sent to the Congress on February the 4th. That proposal is for spending that begins in fiscal year 2003; the first date of that is, of course, September 1, 2002.

So this is a proposal the president will make. It will now go to the Congress, and it'll go to the various committees. And the committees will decide whether it's the right amount, too much, too little. And then it gets appropriated and then spent by the agencies of the government throughout fiscal year 2003. So it's a 12-month process.

QUESTION: Ari, since both United States senators from New York have now contributed money equal to their contributions received from Enron to a fund to help laid-off and pension-destroyed Enron employees, my question is, has the president ever considered the possibility of inviting all of these laid-off Enron employees, mostly Texans, as I understand it, to Enron Field in Texas along with Enron officers, like Lay, and suggesting that Lay contribute $29 million of the $30 million he got away with to the employees' fund?

FLEISCHER: The president has been very focused on the whole issue of how to protect the workers at Enron, as well as other companies, whose pensions have been either wiped out or severely diminished as a result of this. And the president thinks the best way to help them is through changes that can possibly be made to the nation's pension laws, as well as the review that the secretary of labor is carrying out right now, aimed specifically at those Enron employees. So the president does think that there can be things that need to be done. And I think you'll hear more about that at some point.

QUESTION: C-SPAN Radio provided nationwide coverage of Monday at Washington's Metropolitan AME Church where a program by Black Voices for Peace arranged by John Hutto and Amnesty International declared the U.S. has no right to hold detainees in Cuba, Ariel Sharon, George Bush, Kissinger and Clinton are terrorists and America got what it deserved on 9/11. And since you and Secretary Rumsfeld so effectively refuted European critics of the detaining, surely you will refute these American critics, won't you, Ari?

FLEISCHER: I have not heard those specific remarks, but I don't think it matters in the president's opinion the source of any remarks that would suggest that what the United States doing is not fully consistent with the Geneva Convention in Cuba, because it is. And the president has great pride in the way that the men and women of the military are treating these very dangerous people that have been brought to Guantanamo Bay, so that they are not free to go around the world and engage in more terrorism against our citizens.

QUESTION: So you're appalled at what was done?

FLEISCHER: I think I've answered it.

QUESTION: You used very strong language that I think hinted President Bush is potentially a campaign finance reformer. Very strong language. And you've made comments like this similar, but never as strung together, I don't think, they way you did earlier.

Isn't Enron -- the fact that we had an attorney general who had to recuse himself, New York senators who have given back money, your former employer, Elizabeth Dole, who's offered to give up money, is it Enron that is moving the president now in a position where he now says there's just too much money that's being thrown around this town? Is that advancing the president's position?

FLEISCHER: Well, I appreciate the, I think, compliment that you gave me, but there's nothing new I've said. I mean, that's what the president himself has said from the very beginning of the year, and you can just check the transcript and check the records of both the president's remarks and mine and you'll see that's what the president has always said.

The times that this issue came up the most were, frankly, at about the time that the Senate took action on campaign finance reform when it was a red-hot topic and then I said the same thing then; and, of course, last year, when the House tried to take up campaign finance reform but many of the Democrats voted against it and it did not pass in the House.

QUESTION: Well, if the Democrats are now united or if there's enough of them to come along, will he specifically sign Shays-Meehan, if that's the legislation that comes on, a solid soft money ban?

FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that what the Senate passed is not exactly Shays-Meehan, so even if the House passed something similar to Shays-Meehan it would still have to go to conference -- but I think the president would view -- the president wants to see progress made on campaign finance reform, so we can sign something into law, and that's been what he's been saying all year.

QUESTION: If you are right and you haven't gone any farther on campaign finance reform...

FLEISCHER: I'm right.

QUESTION: ... do you think that Enron underscores the need for campaign finance reform?

FLEISCHER: Well, Enron underscores the need for a couple things. One is for a full-blown criminal investigation to determine who did something wrong, wherever they are -- whether it was Enron, whether it was in the accounting firms or wherever they are. That is ongoing. Enron underscores the need to take a review of how pensions in this country are administered, given the fact that we had many people who lost a lot of money. Also protecting people who work for a great number of companies -- some of the most successful companies in America, where there are literally tens of millions of people who are going to retire, or already retired, thanks to a pension system that allows people to invest in 401(k)s. That's what the president thinks are the lessons of Enron.

QUESTION: But does it also underscore the need for campaign finance reform, do you think? FLEISCHER: Well, if you accept the premise that if contributions were somehow limited, would that have changed what anybody inside Enron did? I don't know that anybody could give you that answer. Only the people who were inside Enron can give you that answer.

QUESTION: Thank you.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

HARRIS: Ari Fleischer there, wrapping up his comments to the press this afternoon. Got a lot of new news coming out of it today. A lot of talk on this afternoon about the Homeland Security budget, and talk about the numbers that are involved with this multi-billion dollar effort to shore up the nation's Homeland Security. Says the budget, the money is going to come from a number of different agencies, because the responsibilities cut across agencies as well.

No idea yet how soon the money is going to be getting to the localities who will be actually spending it, because there's a formula that's being taken -- that's being used to decide how much each different part of the country is going to be getting, and that formally involves the -- figuring out the size of the area, the population that's there, anything else unique about it like, for instance, what happens to be there if there is any strategic importance, say for instance, here in Atlanta there is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, that sort of thing.

As well as things like the border states. We also heard because of that, as a matter of fact, President Bush is going to be travelling tomorrow to Portland, Maine, where he is going to be talking about border security, and how it is going to be beefed up as well.

Also we heard a bit about judicial nominees and the process and how it seems to be totally bogged down now in Congress. And Ari Fleischer actually went back and harked onto some arguments that had been made quite often in the past. The Clinton administration saying these nominees weren't getting through fast enough. It turns out, he's saying that they're getting through slower even than they did in the Clinton administration years.

Not much talk about Enron this time around. Enron didn't take the spotlight like it did last time around, but we'll have much more to come for you on Enron this afternoon as those hearings get underway today.




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