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Bush Meets with Cabinet Members

Aired September 24, 2002 - 11:30   ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: While we were listening to the Iraqi general, President Bush had released some statements. He is meeting with his cabinet members today. The White House releasing some videotape of that meeting. Let's listen in to the president.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thanks for coming. We just had a very productive Cabinet meeting.

We realize there's little time left before the Senate and the House goes home, but we're optimistic a lot can get done between now and then. Congress must act now to pass a resolution which will hold Saddam Hussein to account for a decade of defiance. There's time to get a homeland security bill done, one which will allow this president and this administration, and future presidents, give us the tools necessary to protect the homeland. And working as hard as we can with Phil Gramm and Zell Miller to get this bill moving. It's a good bill. It's a bill that both Republicans and Democrats can and should support.

BUSH: My message, of course, is that -- to the senators up here that are more interested in special interests, you better pay attention to the overall interests of protecting the American people.

We can get budget going. I need a defense bill. And the Senate needs to get -- and the House needs to get their differences reconciled and get a defense bill to my desk before they go home. That's a very important signal to send.

And at the same time, since there is no budget in the Senate, they've got to be mindful of overspending. Very important for those up there who keep talking about budget and the balanced budget and all that to not overspend. If they're truly that concerned about the deficit, then one way they can help is to be fiscally sound with the people's money.

We talked about the need to get pension reform and an energy bill, terrorism insurance. There's time to get all these done. And we look forward to working with the members of Congress to get it done.

I'll answer a couple of questions.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Can I have your reaction to two recent assessments on the situation in Iraq? First, Tony Blair said today that Saddam has tried to acquire significant quantities of uranium and is quickly -- and can quickly deploy chemical and biological weapons, but there seemed to be little new information in the dossier.

Secondly, former vice president...


BUSH: ... might explain why.

QUESTION: Pardon me, sir?

BUSH: Explain why he didn't put new information, to protect sources. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) if you could explain why...


QUESTION: And secondly, vice president...

BUSH: Oh, that's right, I forgot, (inaudible).


QUESTION: (inaudible)


BUSH: That have something to do with the background check?




The vice president yesterday said you managed to replaced sympathy on Iraq with fear (inaudible) and uncertainty, and you're using this -- using the issue to steer attention away from the inability to get Osama bin Laden.

BUSH: I'm confident that a lot of Democrats here in Washington, D.C., will understand that Saddam is a true threat to America. And I look forward to working with them to get a strong resolution passed.

Prime Minister Blair, first of all, is a very strong leader, and I admire his willingness to tell the truth and to lead.

Secondly he continues to make the case, like we make the case, that Saddam Hussein is a threat to peace. That for 11 years he has deceived the world. For 11 years, he's ignored the United Nations. And for 11 years he has stockpiled weapons. And we shouldn't deceive ourselves about this man. He has poisoned his people before. He has poisoned his neighborhood. He is willing to use weapons of mass destruction. And the prime minister continues to make the case, and so will I.

And I again call for the United Nations to pass a strong resolution holding this man to account. And if they're unable to do so, the United States and our friends will act, because we believe in peace.

BUSH: We want to keep the peace. We don't trust this man. And that's what the Blair report showed today.

The reason why it wasn't specific is because -- I understand why: He's not going to reveal sources and methods of collection of sensitive information. Those sources and methods may be -- will be used later on, I'm confident, as we gather more information about how this man has deceived the world.

QUESTION: Do you want to specifically respond please to Al Gore (OFF-MIKE)?

BUSH: No, I just responded. I mean, there's a lot of Democrats in Washington, D.C., who understand that Saddam Hussein is a true threat and that we must hold him to account. And I believe you'll see, as we work to get a strong resolution out of the Congress, that a lot of Democrats are willing to take the lead when it comes to keeping the peace.

QUESTION: Sir, Arab leaders (inaudible) terrorism coalition and your efforts in Iraq are at risk because of the Arafat siege. Why didn't the U.S. support last night's U.N. resolution? And what can you say to Israel to end the siege?

BUSH: Well, what we do support is this, and our abstention should have sent a message, that we hope that all parties stay on the path to peace. And I laid out what the path to peace was here at the -- in the Rose Garden.

First of all, we all have got to fight terror, but as we fight terror, particularly in the Middle East, they've got to build the institutions necessary for a Palestinian state to emerge. That we've got to promote the leadership that is willing to condemn terror and at the same time work toward the betterment of the lives of the Palestinian people. There's a lot of suffering people there. And we've got to help end the suffering.

And I thought the actions the Israelis took were not helpful in terms of the establishment and development of the institutions necessary for a Palestinian state to emerge. We will continue to work with all parties in the region, Israel and everybody else who wants to fight off terror. We'll do that.

In order for there to be peace, we must battle terror. But at the same time, we must have a hopeful response. And the most hopeful response of all for the Palestinian people is for -- to work for a state to emerge, and that is possible. I believe strongly it can happen. I believe it's -- I believe in peace in the Middle East.

BUSH: And I would urge all governments to work toward that peace. And we're making progress, and that's what's important for the world to know. We're making progress on the security front. We're making progress on the political reform front. We're making progress to make it clear that if there is to be a peaceful settlement that the Palestinians must be given the opportunity to bring forth leadership which is willing to work toward peace. And it was not helpful what happened recently.

QUESTION: Mr. President, we haven't asked about the economy in quite some time.


QUESTION: The consumer confidence number is out today, not real good. Later this month, lots of Americans are going to receive their 401(k) statements and (OFF-MIKE) cringing about what they're going to see in there.

Do you feel like the economy is on the right track, that the stock market can mount any kind of a recovery in the coming months? And if you are optimistic, what are your reasons for your optimism?

BUSH: Yes. Well, I'm optimistic because, one, I'm optimistic about America in general. I mean, the American people are resilient. They're strong. We got the best workers in the world. Inflation's down. Interest rates are low. And so when you combine the productivity of the American people with low interest rates and low inflation, those are the ingredients for growth.

But there's more to do. That's why we need a terrorism insurance bill. We need to get our hard hats working again. We need to make the tax cuts permanent so that entrepreneurs and small businesses have got certainty in the tax code.

We need to make sure Congress doesn't overspend. If Congress overspends it'll send a chilling signal to markets.

And so there are things that Congress and the administration can do working together to make sure people work.

But I'm an optimist. I'm optimistic because this is America, is what makes me optimistic. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong. We're really good at a lot of things we do.

But no question that, you know, that things changed. I mean, from the boom days, the markets started to climb in March of 2000. That's when it peaked. The sellers outnumbered the buyers, starting in March of 2000.

And then in the summer of 2000, the economy begin to slow down. People begin to see a serious slowdown.

And then, we came into office and we had three quarters of negative growth. That's called a recession, and we're dealing with it. We're dealing with it with sound fiscal policies, starting with letting people have more of their own money.

See, the tax cut was absolutely necessary, a necessary part of economic recovery. And there are some up here in Washington, D.C., who would like to raise the taxes on the people. And that's just -- that's bad economics, that's bad policy. People up here want to stop the reduction in income taxes for the American people. That's bad policy in the face of an economic slowdown.

And so, you bet I'm optimistic, but I understand we got a lot of work to do. And we will, we will continue to work hard to make sure that people can find work.

Thank you all.

KAGAN: We've been listening in to taped comments from President Bush as he met earlier this morning with his cabinet.

Once again, a big theme that we've heard throughout the world this morning, comments on Iraq, and Mr. Bush reiterating that he believes for the last 11 years, Iraq and Saddam Hussein have ignored the United Nations. And he's calling on the United Nations to pass strong resolutions against Iraq. If not, he says, the U.S. and its friends will act alone.

Let's bring in our John King to talk about what we have been hearing from world leaders, and namely Tony Blair, the prime minister of Great Britain, that we heard from earlier.

Criticism of that speech, and you heard President Bush address this, that the new speech that he gave before the House of Commons, there were no new specifics, not that much new information about the allegations against Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

President Bush making no apologies for that, saying, of course, he's not going to be specific in that form at this time.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Daryn, this is an ongoing dispute, and there is some resentment, here at the White House and on 10 Downing Street, they feel that the burden of proof, if you will, is on the wrong party. The president makes the case, why are you asking me, why are you asking Prime Minister Blair about our evidence against Iraq when it is clear that Saddam Hussein has broken his repeated promises to the United Nations over the past 11 years?

But that said, what the U.S. government is saying, and the British government is saying, is that there is more detail in terms of specific allegations of weapons development in that British report than we have seen in most documents so far.

But the president saying, of course, the United States government or the British government cannot disclose exactly where they receive intelligence about Saddam's weapons programs. Exactly who told them that this factory was a chemical factory, for example, or exactly how they came to the conclusion that Iraq is developing even longer-range missiles, as the British suggested in their report this morning.

The president says to release that information would then choke off the supply of such sensitive intelligence information in the future. But that is one of the tense dynamics of this debate, if you will. Many who are trying to ask the prime minister and ask the president, why now, why do you say this such an urgent crisis now, want more proof that Saddam is doing things now that are a direct threat to the United States or the United Kingdom or their interests overseas.

And it's difficult. For those who are skeptics, that is the biggest criticism they raise: Where is hard evidence that Saddam Hussein is threatening U.S. troops or threatening U.S. interests right now?

KAGAN: We want to go back to a story you reported earlier. I thought the president might mention this. I don't think that he did. And that is the lowering of the terrorism alert. He didn't mention it, but why don't you give it to us anyway?

KING: We are told that the government today is poised to lower from orange to yellow the threat assessment in the country. Some disagreement among our sources here at the White House as to the president's involvement in this.

But I was told earlier at the top of the hour there is a statement being prepared at the Justice Department that will announce that based on the latest intelligence data, the government is going back from orange, which is the assessment level for a high risk of domestic terrorism here in the United States, back to yellow, which is still the assessment for an elevated risk of a terrorist attack.

We are told in that statement, the government will say Americans, and especially law enforcement agencies, should continue to be on high alert and should continue to be quite aware of what's going on around them. But that there is much less firm data now suggesting the possibility of attacks here in the United States than there was when they went up from yellow to orange about two weeks ago now.

KAGAN: John King at the White House -- John, thank you.


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