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President Bush Holds Press Conference

Aired March 13, 2002 - 16:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: Thank you for joining us. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. We are waiting at this moment for President Bush to enter the White House briefing room for his first formal news conference here in the nation's capital in five months. The president's plan to meet with reporters was just announced about three hours ago.

Joining us now from the White House, our own White House correspondent, Major Garrett. Major, we believe that the president will have something to say the top of the news conference about judicial appointments, perhaps some talk of this Mississippi judge, Charles Pickering, whose nomination to a federal appeals court has been held up and does not appear to be in good shape.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Judy. The White House has announced that will be the president's opening statement. And the context for this is for the White House, one last time, to raise the political heat on Senate Democrats who, right now, are in lock-step against -- at least at the judiciary committee level -- approving Charles Pickering with elevation from the lower court to the Appellate Court, the Fifth Circuit Court.

The president wants to make sure that he uses maximum political influence on the eve of the vote on Charles Pickering, to tell Senate Democrats that if in fact they defeat him in committee and that nomination goes down, it will not be the end of White House pushes for all over judicial nominations.

Senate Republicans have been working very closely with the White House over the last couple of days to develop a strategy post- Pickering. Most Senate Republicans have told the White House they better be ready to absorb a defeat on the Pickering and come up with a more aggressive strategy dealing with Senate Democrats on the issue of judicial nominations.

And, Judy, the larger context for this press conference, at least from a political perspective, is the White House feels good about where the president is politically. Last week, Carl Rove, his senior political adviser, distributed a memo widely around the White House, making this point. George W. Bush has had the highest sustained level of popularity for any U.S. president in the history of American polling.

And what the White House wants to do is use that popularity in many ways. They know if they absorb a defeat on the Pickering front and don't respond in kind, with a direct challenge to Senate Democrats, they'll think, at least when it comes to judicial nominations, they'll have the upper hand. That's not a sentiment the White House wants to linger -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Major. We are watching a picture of the briefing room at the White House. In addition to questions about Judge Pickering, the president is likely to discuss the embarrassing episode earlier this week, when the Immigration and Naturalization Service sent student visas to a flight school attended by two of the hijackers on September 11th.

Here now, President Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee will vote on the nomination of Charles Pickering to serve on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Judge Pickering is a respected and well-qualified nominee who was unanimously confirmed 12 years ago to the district bench. His nomination deserves a full vote -- a vote in the full Senate. I strongly urge his confirmation. While tomorrow's vote is about one man, a much larger principle is also at stake. Under our Constitution, the president has the right and responsibility to nominate qualified judges and the legislative branch has the responsibility to vote on them in a fair and timely manner.

This process determines the quality of justice in America, and it demands that both the president and Senate act with care and integrity, with wisdom and deep respect for the Constitution.

Unfortunately, we are seeing a disturbing pattern, where too often judicial confirmations are being turned into ideological battles that delay justice and hurt our democracy.

We now face a situation in which a handful of United States senators on one committee have made it clear that they will block nominees, even highly qualified, well-respected nominees, who do not share the senators' view of the bench, of the federal courts. They seek to undermine the nominations of candidates who agree with my philosophy that judges should interpret the law, not try to make law from the bench.

And because these senators fear the outcome of a fair vote in the full Senate, they're using tactics of delay. As a result, America's facing a vacancy crisis in the federal judiciary.

Working with both Republicans and Democrats, I have nominated 92 highly qualified, highly respected individuals to serve as federal judges. These are men and women who will respect and follow the law. Yet, the Senate has confirmed only 40 of these 92 nominees and only seven of the 29 nominees to the circuit courts, the courts of last resort in a vast majority of cases.

This is unacceptable. It is a bad record for the Senate.

The Senate has an obligation to provide fair hearings and prompt votes to al nominees, no matter who controls the Senate or who controls the White House. By failing to allow full Senate votes on judicial nominees, a few senators are standing in the way of justice. And this is wrong, and the American people deserve better.

I will now be glad to answer a few questions, starting with Fournier (ph).

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.

BUSH: You are Fournier (ph), aren't you?

QUESTION: Yes, sir.

BUSH: Looking at my chart here. Yes?

QUESTION: The Pentagon's calling for the development of low- yield nuclear weapons that could be used against China, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Russia and Syria. Can you explain why the United States is considering this new policy and how it might figure into the war on terrorism?

BUSH: I presume you're referring to the nuclear review that was recently in the press. Well, first of all the nuclear review is not new. It's gone on from previous administrations. Secondly, the reason we have a nuclear arsenal that I hope is modern, upgraded, and can work, is to deter any attack on America. The reason one has a nuclear arsenal is to serve as a deterrence.

Secondly, ours is an administration that's committed to reducing the amount of warheads. And we're in consultations now with the Russians on such a -- on this matter. We both agreed to reduce our warheads down to 22 -- 1,700 to 2,200. I talked with Sergei Ivanov yesterday, the minister of defense from Russia on this very subject.

I think one of the interesting points that we need to develop and fully explore is how best to verify what's taking place to make sure that there's confidence in both countries.

But I'm committed to reducing the amount of nuclear weaponry and reducing the amount of nuclear warheads. I think it's the right policy for America, and I know we can continue to do so and still keep a deterrence.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) might go after a country like Libya or Syria?

BUSH: We have -- first of all, we've got all our options on the table because we want to make it very clear to nations that you will not threaten the United States or use weapons of mass destruction against us or our allies or friends. Steve.

QUESTION: Do you agree with Kofi Annan that Israel must end the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands? And how is the Israeli offensive going to complicate General Zinni's mission?

BUSH: Well, first of all, it is important to create conditions for peace in the Middle East. It's important for both sides to work hard to create the conditions of a potential settlement.

Now, our government has provided a security plan that has been agreed to by both the Israelis and the Palestinians called the Tenet Plan. And George Mitchell did good work providing a pathway for a political settlement, once conditions warrant it.

Frankly, it's not helpful what the Israelis have recently done in order to create conditions for peace. I understand someone trying to defend themselves and to fight terror, but the recent actions aren't helpful.

And so Zinni's job is to go over there and to work to get conditions such that we can get into Tenet. And he's got a lot of work to do. But if I didn't think he could make progress, I wouldn't have asked him to go. During the announcement of the Zinni mission I said there was -- we had a lot of phone conversations with people in the Middle East which lead us to believe that there is a chance to create -- to get into Tenet, or to at least create the conditions to get into Tenet.

And I've taken that chance. And it's the right course of action at this point, Steve.

Yes John (ph)?

QUESTION: Mr. President, let me look at what happened Monday with the INS visa approvals with Atta and al-Shehhi. Can I ask the requisite three-part question. Let me ask you, first of all, how high did the hair on the back of your neck rise when you heard about that? And how could the American people have any faith in the credibility of the INS and its anti-terrorist efforts? And what can you do, both immediately and for the long term, to ensure nothing like that ever happens again?

BUSH: Well, it got my attention this morning when I read about that. I was stunned and not happy. Let me put it another way: I was plenty hot. And I made that clear to people in my administration. I don't know if the attorney general has acted yet today or not, I haven't seen the wire story, but -- he has. He got the message. And so should the INS.

Look, the INS needs to be reformed. And it's one of the reasons why I called for the separation of the paperwork side of the INS from the enforcement side. And obviously the paperwork side needs a lot of work. It's inexcusable.

And so we've got to reform the INS, and we've got to push hard to do so. This is an interesting wakeup call for those who run the INS.

And we are modernizing our system, John. And it needs to be modernized, so we know who's coming in and who's going out and why they're here.

QUESTION: What it say, sir, about the credibility of the INS in its anti-terrorist...

BUSH: Well, it says they've got a lot of work to do. It says that the information system is antiquated.

And, you know, having said that, they got the message, and hopefully they'll reform as quickly as possible. But yes, it got my attention in a negative way.


QUESTION: Mr. President, there's a growing crisis in the Catholic church right now involving pedophilia; and the crisis is exploding in Boston under the watch of Cardinal Law, who you know. Do you think the Archdiocese there is acting swiftly enough to deal with the issue of pedophilia among the ranks priest?

BUSH: Well, I know many in the hierarchy of the Catholic church. I know them to be men of integrity and decency. They're honorable people. I was just with Cardinal Egan today. And I'm confident the church will clean up its business and do the right thing.

As to the timing, I haven't, frankly -- I'm not exactly aware of how fast or how not fast they're moving. I just can tell you I trust the leadership of the church.

QUESTION: Do you think Cardinal Law should resign?

BUSH: That's up to the church. I know Cardinal Law to be a man of integrity. I respect him a lot.


QUESTION: Sir, Vice President Cheney is on the road now trying to build support for a possible action against Iraq. If you don't get that and down the road you decide you want to take action, would you take action against Iraq unilaterally?

BUSH: One of the things I've said to our friends is that we will consult, that we will share our views of how to make the world more safe.

In regards to Iraq, we're doing just that. Every world leader that comes to see me, I explain our concerns about a nation which is not conforming to agreements that it made in the past. A nation which has gassed her people in the past, a nation which has weapons of mass destruction and apparently is not afraid to use them.

And so what the vice president is doing, is he's reminding people about this danger and that we need to work in concert to confront this danger. Again, all options are on the table. But one thing I will not allow is a nation such as Iraq to threaten our very future by developing weapons of mass destruction.

They've agreed not to have those weapons. They ought to conform to their agreement, comply with their agreement.

Yes, John (ph)?

QUESTION: You seem to be saying, yes, you would consult with the allies and others including in the Mideast, but if you have to, you'd go ahead and take action yourself.

BUSH: Well, you're answering the question for me. If I can remember the exact words, I'll say it exactly the way I said it before.

I -- we're going to consult. I am deeply concerned about Iraq, and so should the American people be concerned about Iraq. And so should people who love freedom be concerned about Iraq. This is a nation run by a man who is willingly to kill his own people by using chemical weapons. A man who won't let inspectors into the country. A man who's obviously got something to hide.

And he is a problem, and we're going to deal with him. And -- but the first stage is to consult with our allies and friends, and that's exactly what we're doing.

Everybody here in the front row -- John (ph)?

QUESTION: Mr. President, on the question of Iraq, how does the increased violence between the Israelis and the Palestinians affect what Vice President Cheney is trying to do, affect the case you're trying to make with our Arab allies for a regime change or just unconditional inspections?

BUSH: Well, I understand that the unrest in the Middle East creates unrest throughout the region, more so now than ever in the past.

And so -- but we're concerned about the Middle East, John (ph), because it's affecting the lives of the Palestinians and our friends the Israelis. I mean, it's a terrible period of time, when a lot of people are losing their lives, needlessly losing life. And terrorists are holding a peace -- a potential peace process hostage.

And so while I understand the linkage for us, the policy is -- stands on its own. The need for us to be involved in the Middle East is to help save lives. And we're going to stay involved in the Middle East and at the same time continue to talk about Iraq and Iran and other nations, and continue to wage a war on terror, which is exactly what we're doing.

I want to reiterate what I said the other day. Our policy is to deny sanctuary to terrorists any place in the world.

And we will be very actively in doing that (sic).

QUESTION: But on the question of the Palestinians, Sharon has said that he shares your concern for those not involved in terror. Do you still think that's the case?

BUSH: I do. But unlike our war against Al Qaeda, there is a series of agreements in place that will lead to peace. And therefore we're going to work hard to see if we can't, as I say, get into Tenet and eventually Mitchell.

I certainly hope that Prime Minister Sharon is concerned about the loss of innocent life. I certainly am. It breaks my heart; I know it breaks the heart of a lot of people around the world to see young children lose their life as a result of violence -- young children on both sides of this issue.

This is an issue that's consuming a lot of the time of my administration. And we have an obligation to continue to work for peace in the region, and we will. We will. The two are not mutually exclusive.

QUESTION: Mr. President, in your speeches now, you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that?

Also, can you can tell the American people if you have any more information -- if you know if he is dead or alive (OFF-MIKE). Deep in your heart, don't you truly believe that until you find out if he is dead or alive, you won't really want to make...

BUSH: Well, deep in my heart, I know the man's on the run if he's alive at all. And I -- you know, who knows if he's hiding in some cave or not. We hadn't heard from him in a long time.

And the idea of focusing on one person is really -- indicates to me people don't understand the scope of the mission. Terror's bigger than one person. And he's just -- he's a person who has now been marginalized. His network is -- his host government has been destroyed. He's the ultimate parasite who found weakness, exploited it, and met his match.

He is -- you know, as I mention in my speeches -- I do mention the fact that this is a fellow who is willing to commit youngsters to their death. And he, himself, tries to hide, if, in fact, he's hiding at all.

So I don't know where he is. Nor -- you know, I just don't spend that much time on him really, to be honest with you. I'm more worried about making sure that our soldiers are well supplied, that the strategy is clear, that the coalition is strong, that when we find enemy bunched up, like we did in Shah-e-Kot mountains, that the military has all the support it needs to go in and do the job, which they did.

And there will be other battles in Afghanistan. There's going to be other struggles like Shah-e-Kot. And I'm just as confident about the outcome of those future battles as I was about Shah-e-Kot, where our soldiers are performing brilliantly; we're tough, we're strong, they're well-equipped, we have a good strategy. We are showing the world we know how to fight a guerrilla war with conventional means.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) threat that bin Laden posed won't truly be eliminated until he is found either dead of alive?

BUSH: Well, as I say, we hadn't heard much from him. And I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure. And, you know, again, I don't know where he is.

I'll repeat what I said: I truly am not that concerned about him. I know he is on the run. I was concerned about him when he had taken over a country. I was concerned about the fact that he was basically running Afghanistan and calling the shots for the Taliban.

But, you know, once we set out the policy and started executing the plan, he became -- we shoved him out more and more on the margins.

He has no place to train his Al Qaeda killers anymore. And if we -- excuse me for a minute. And if we find a training camp we'll take care of it -- either we will or our friends will. That's one of the things that's part of the new phase that's becoming apparent to the American people is that we're working closely with other governments to deny sanctuary or training or a place to hide or a place to raise money. And we got more work to do.

See that's the thing the American people have got to understand that we've only been at this six months. This is going to be a long struggle. I keep saying that. I don't know whether you all believe me or not. But time will show you that it's going to take a long time to achieve this objective.

And I can assure you I am not going to blink, and I'm not going to get tired, because I know what is at stake. And history has called us to action and I am going to seize this moment for the good of the world, for peace in the world and for freedom.

Michael? I'm working my way back there, slowly but surely. Michael?

QUESTION: Mr. President, a bipartisan group of lawmakers has asked Governor Ridge to testify about the administration's domestic -- homeland security efforts. Why has the White House said that Governor Ridge will not testify?

BUSH: Well, he's not -- he doesn't have to testify. He's a part of my staff. And that's part of the prerogative of the executive branch of government, and we hold that very dear.

QUESTION: Mr. President, that's another area along with the war and the development of the energy policy...

BUSH: This wasn't a trick question, Mike -- you're trying to get me to say that and then kind of have a quick follow-up? Go ahead.

QUESTION: No, sir. But that's an area where Congress has said members of both parties have told us they're not getting enough information from the White House.

BUSH: Oh, Mike, Mike. We consult with Congress all the time. I've had meaningful breakfasts with the leadership in the House and the Senate. I break bread with both Republicans and Democrats right back here in the Oval Office and have a good, honest discussion about plans, objectives, what's taking place, what's not taking place. We have members of our Cabinet briefing. Condoleezza Rice is in touch with the members of the Congress. We are in touch with -- we understand the role of the Congress. We must justify budgets to Congress. And so, I don't buy that, frankly. Yes, Mike. This is the third. Two follow-ups is a record. Keep trying.

QUESTION: Given that you've not convinced everyone in your own party of that, to what degree are you trying to recalibrate the power between Congress and the presidency?

BUSH: Mike, I'm just doing my job. We'll let all the kind of the legal historians figure all that out, you know.

First of all, I'm not going to let Congress erode the power of the executive branch. I have a duty to protect the executive branch from legislative encroachment.

I mean, for example, when the GAO demands documents from us, we're not going to give them to them. I mean, it's just, you know -- these were privileged conversations. These were conversations when people come into our offices and brief us. And can you imagine having to give up every single transcript of what has advised me or the vice president? Our advice wouldn't be good and honest and open.

And so I viewed that as an encroachment on the power of the executive branch. I have an obligation to make sure that the presidency remains robust and that the legislative branch doesn't end up running the executive branch.

On the other hand, there's plenty of consultation, Mike. I don't know what single Republican you're referring to. But, you know, if you'd give me the name afterwards, I'd be glad to have him over for another consultation, if you know what I mean.


BUSH: David? Yes, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Mr. President, when you endorsed the Saudi plan on the Middle East, or the Saudi vision, it called, of course, for full normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab states. You've seen some backing away from that now by some other Arab countries -- in fact, by the foreign minister of Saudi Arabia.

Can you imagine endorsing a plan that calls for anything other than full normalization, anything less than full normalization...

BUSH: Well, I think the thing -- in order for there to be a plan that is acceptable to all parties it must recognize the right of Israel to exist. And that's what I thought was very encouraging from the Saudi declaration, it was the first such declaration, if I'm not mistaken -- David, you probably know that better than me -- but that the crown prince said there ought to be an independent state, but that recognizes Israel. That's how I interpret it, Israel's right to exist.

And I think that's a very important declaration. That's why we seized on that. I have said the same thing myself, but it obviously didn't have nearly the same weight as the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia saying that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) becoming a little deeper than that.

BUSH: Well, first of all, there's nothing more deep than recognizing Israel's right to exist. That's the most deep thought of all.

After all, there are some skeptics who think that nations in that part of the world don't want Israel to exist. The first and most important qualification, it seems like to me for there to be peace, is for people in the region to recognize Israel's right to exist, and therefore policies ought to follow along those lines.

I can't think of anything more deep than that right, that ultimate and final security. And when the Crown Prince indicated that was on his mind, we embraced that, strongly embraced that.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I was about to say, just a moment ago you said that many of your allies were joining you in the war on terrorism. You do have a number of countries right now that seem to be right in the middle: Indonesia, Somalia, places that you've been worried about, but that have not asked for our training, our help.

Would you consider going into a country that did not seek your aid?

BUSH: Well, that's one of those pretty cleverly worded hypotheticals. Let me put it to you this way, David: We will take actions necessary to protect American people. And I'm going to leave it at that. That's a good question, however.


QUESTION: Mr. President, back to nuclear issues, the Russian defense minister expressed the hope today that agreements on the new strategy (ph) framework could be signed by the time of your visit next May in Moscow. Is it realistic? And second, are you ready to sign documents in a treaty form? And have you made progress on the issue of destroying versus storing nuclear warheads?

BUSH: Well, I share the minister's optimism that we can get something done by May. I'd like to sign a document in Russia when I'm there. I think it'd be a good thing.

And therefore we've got to make sure that those who are interested in making sure that the Cold War relationship continues on are kind of pushed in the background. In other words, we've got to work hard to establish a new relationship.

I also agree with President Putin that there needs to be a document that outlives both of us. And what form that comes in, we will discuss.

There is a -- I think David asked me this question, as a matter of fact, back in Slovenia, if I'm not mistaken, about storage versus destruction. We'll be glad to talk to the Russians about that.

I think the most important thing, though, is verification; is to make sure that whatever decision is made, that there is open verification so as to develop a level of trust.

There is a constraint as well. I mean, the destruction of nuclear warheads requires a lot of work and a lot of detailed work. And that in itself is going to take time, and that's got to be a part of the equation as well.

But no, those are all issues we're discussing. Had a very good discussion with Sergei Ivanov yesterday. I'm confident that President Putin is interested in making a deal, coming up with a good arrangement that will codify a new relationship.

The more Russia -- the more we work with Russia, the better the world will be. And we've got a good, close relationship with them. Got a few sticking points.

We've got an issue on chickens, for example, that some of you have followed. We've made it pretty darn clear to them that I think we probably got to get this chicken issue resolved and get those chickens moving from the United States into the Russian market.


BUSH: We laugh, but nevertheless it is a problem, that we must honor agreements.

I believe we're going to have great relations with Russia, and we're going to work hard to achieve them, yes.

Yes, go ahead. You're next, Angle (ph).

QUESTION: Can I ask about the debt limit, sir?

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: And specifically about the treasury secretary's plan to borrow cash from the federal retirement funds. Can you justify that to the American people, sir?

BUSH: I'm not going to comment on the secretary of treasury's plan. I'll tell you what I think ought to happen. I think Congress ought to pass a clean bill that raises the debt ceiling, and I'll sign it. I think it's important.

I hope we can get that kind of spirit out of Congress. There is -- if they do that, it will solve the problem. We don't need to be playing, you know, politics with the debt ceiling, particularly now that we're at war.

And we're working with the Congress on that. I've had some pretty good discussions with the leadership about the need to get a clean bill coming, and I hope they do. I hope they listen. I hope they respond. QUESTION: Mr. President, there are those who will say that borrowing from the federal retirement fund is also a form of playing politics...

BUSH: Well look, if the Congress passes the bill, we're fine. And that's -- we got to get that done. That's their responsibility to get the debt ceiling raised. I hope they do it quickly and soon. And we're going to work with them to get it done.


QUESTION: Mr. President, what do you make of the dust-up over the nuclear review, and have you made any decisions about its recommendations? In particular, what is your view about building smaller nuclear weapons, which some people believe would make them more likely to be used?

BUSH: Well, first of all, I view our nuclear arsenal as a deterrent; as a way to say to people that would harm America, that -- don't do it. That's a deterrent. That there is a consequence. And the president must have all options available to make that deterrent have meaning. And that's how I view the review.

QUESTION: But what is your thinking, sir, on smaller nuclear weapons, which some analysts believe would be a major departure and would make them more likely...

BUSH: My interest is -- Jim, my interest is to reduce the threat of a nuclear war, is to reduce the number of nuclear warheads. I think we've got plenty of warheads to keep the peace.

I'm interested in -- and that's why I told President Putin and told the country, if need be, we'll just reduce unilaterally to a level commiserate with keeping a deterrence and keeping the peace.

And so, you know, I'm interested in having an arsenal at my disposal or at the military's disposal that will keep the peace.

We're a peaceful nation, and you know we're moving along just right and kind of having a, you know, time, and all of a sudden we get attacked. And now we're at war, but we're at war to keep the peace.

And it's very important for people in America to understand that at least my attitude on this is that we're not out to seek revenge. Sure we're after justice. But I also view this as a really good opportunity to create a lasting peace.

And so, therefore, the more firm we are and the more determined we are to take care of Al Qaeda and deal with terrorism in all its forms, particularly at a global reach, that we have a very good chance of solving some difficult problems, including the Middle East or the subcontinent. And -- but it's going to require a resolve and firmness from the United States of America.

One of the things I've learned in my discussions and, at least, listening to the echo chamber out there in the world is that if the United States were to waver, some in the world would take a nap when it comes to the war on terror.

And we're just not going to let them do that. And that's why you hear me spend a lot of time talking to the American people -- at least I hope I'm talking to them through you -- about why this is going to take a long period of time, and why I'm so determined to remain firm in my resolve. And anyway...

Yes sir, you asked the softest.


QUESTION: Can I ask you about the public service initiative...

BUSH: The what now?

QUESTION: The public service initiative of yours...

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: ... as it relates to the war, which you've just said again that could go on for quite a while. As we all know, 18-year-old men in this country when they turn 18, they're required to register with the draft which is now dormant but could be activated again. At this time, and we're looking at sort of an unlimited situation with this war, should the country expect the same of women in this country?

BUSH: You mean as far as the draft? Well, the country shouldn't expect there to be a draft. I know they're registering, but the volunteer army is working. Particularly when Congress passes my budget, it's going to make it more likely to work.

There's been a couple of -- there's been a pay raise, and then we're going to have another pay raise. And the mission is clear, the training is good, the equipment is going to be robust. Congress needs to pass this budget.

I don't worry about a -- and people shouldn't worry about a draft.

Now, we do have women in the military, and I'm proud of their service. And they're welcome in the military. They make a great addition to the military.

Pardon me?

QUESTION: That the military will be stretched to family (ph), as some people have feared.

BUSH: Ed, I don't think so. I think we're in pretty good shape right now.

There's no question we have obligations around the world, which we will keep.

Did you go to Korea with us? Yes. There's a major obligation there of 37,000 troops. It's an obligation that's an important obligation, one that I know is important, and we will keep that obligation.

But we've got ample manpower to meet our needs, plus we've got a vast coalition of nations willing to lend their own manpower to the war. And as I mentioned the other day in my speech there on the South Lawn, there's -- 17 nations are involved in this first theater in Afghanistan. And we have Canadians and Danish and Germans and Australians -- probably going to leave somebody out -- Brits, special forces troops on the ground -- boots on the ground, as they say -- willing to risk their lives in a dangerous part of -- in a dangerous phase of this war. And men going cave to cave looking for killers. These people don't like to surrender. They don't surrender. But we've been able to count on foreign troops to help us.

And so Ed, I think we're in good shape. I really do. And if not, I'll address the nation, but I don't see any need to right now.


BUSH: Monday.

QUESTION: Can you take one on Mexico?


QUESTION: You are going to my country next week.

BUSH: Es la verdad.


QUESTION: Besides what President Fox presented to you last year, you haven't acted in favor of the Mexican proposal by the president of Mexico. You haven't presented anything to Congress.

BUSH: Excuse me for a second. What proposal are you talking about?

QUESTION: The one that President Fox...

BUSH: In specific. I don't mean to interrupt you...

QUESTION: The regularization of Mexican...

BUSH: Oh, the immigration issue.

QUESTION: Yes. The immigration issue.

BUSH: Yes, well, OK.

QUESTION: So when are you going to present any concrete steps in that direction for Mexicans?

BUSH: Well first of all, we are working closely with Mexico. We've had many of our administration officials down there. Tom Ridge just came back. He had a very good dialogue with President Fox. John Ashcroft has been very much involved with the Mexican government. We have had a wide-ranging discussion as to how make the border work better, how to make the border more secure for both countries. We've had a really good dialogue.

Some of what needs to be done didn't require a law. I'm glad you brought that up. We just got 245(i) passed in the House of Representatives. Hopefully that'll come out of the Senate quickly. That's a step toward -- that's a good reform, it's one that I support.

I also cautioned President Fox at the time that there will be no blanket amnesty in America. I don't think the will of the American people is for blanket amnesty. I think he understands that.

And so, therefore, the thing we've got to do is figure out how to make sure willing employers are able to match up with willing employees. And so we'll work. We're making progress; 245(i) is good progress.


QUESTION: Mr. President, do you believe there's an American pilot from the Gulf War still alive in Iraq? And if so, how might that complicate any action...


BUSH: Well, let me just say this to you. I know that the man has got MIA status. And it reminds me once again about the nature of Saddam Hussein if, in fact, he's alive. And therefore, you know, it's just another part of my thinking about him. I guess lack of respect is a good way to define it.

QUESTION: Would it complicate any action you might consider taking against Iraq in the war...

BUSH: Well, that's what we're trying -- this is the old hypothetical again. Let me just put it this way: It doesn't change my opinion about him.

Matter of fact, it reinforces the fact that anybody who would be so cold and heartless as to hold an American flyer for all this period of time without notification to his family -- just wouldn't put it past me -- wouldn't put it past him, given the fact that he gassed his own people.

QUESTION: Mr. President...

BUSH: Yes, ma'am?

QUESTION: OK, thank you.


QUESTION: Do you officially recognize the Zimbabwe elections? And what are your thoughts about Mugabe? And also, on Pickering, what are your thoughts... BUSH: Wait a minute. Wait a minute. That's all over the lot. Wait a minute, all over the lot.


BUSH: You talk about somebody taking the liberty...

QUESTION: When I get a chance with you, I have to take it.

BUSH: I can see that. Go ahead, take it.


BUSH: Is this a six-part question?

QUESTION: No, it's only three.


BUSH: We start writing them down. The first one is Zimbabwe. Go ahead.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) and Pickering, what are your thoughts about many of your nominees who are opposed have issues with racial bias, including Pickering.

BUSH: Yes, OK. That's two. You're going to limit it to two? Thank you very much. That's a good break.

First on Pickering. Pickering has got a very strong record on civil rights. Just ask the people he lives with. I had the honor of meeting the Attorney General of Mississippi Moore, Attorney General Moore.

Fine Democrat, elected statewide in the state of Mississippi. A man who I suspect is a man who got elected because he cares deeply about the civil rights of his citizens came up and sat in the Oval Office and said, "Judge Pickering has had a fine record on civil rights and should be confirmed by the U.S. Senate."

I hope the senators hear that. I hope they listen to Moore, or Al Gore's brother-in-law, or the former governor of Mississippi, Winters. Zimbabwe. We do not recognize the outcome of the election, because we think it's flawed. And we are dealing with our friends to figure out how to deal with this flawed election.


BUSH: Well, we're dealing with our friends right now to figure out how to deal with it.


QUESTION: The House is voting on class-action reform this evening. Given the current political atmosphere, do you want to enact new legal reforms into law this year? And if so, which ones are you going to...

BUSH: Well look, here's the thing. I am for reducing the number of lawsuits in our society. I think everybody ought to have their day in court, but I think a society that is so litigious-oriented is one that is bad for jobs, bad for the creation of jobs.

And if any reform -- I will support reforms which reduce lawsuits and at the same time provide -- give people the opportunity to take their case to court.

Stretch? Super Stretch, Little Stretch, Regular Stretch.


QUESTION: Last week you announced an ambitious set of changes to make it easier for the government to crack down on corporate wrongdoing, yet Republicans in Congress and your own SEC chairman says essentially a lot more money than you proposed will be needed to do the job effectively.

BUSH: Yes. You're talking about when I called on the SEC to enact laws to make sure that corporate CEOs take responsibility for their books, make sure that when somebody says they've got X amount in liabilities that X equals X and not X equals Y, or something less than X?

Yes, I strongly believe that, and the SEC needs to get after it. And I don't use the excuse of not enough money in the budget, frankly.

BUSH: I need to know the numbers. But we need action and we need reasonable action without causing a plethora of lawsuits.


QUESTION: I wanted to ask about the second phase of the war. As a member of the Vietnam generation, are you worried, as you send these military advisers all over the world, particularly to chaotic places, that they may get involved in direct conflict and the situation could escalate, and are you prepared to do that?

BUSH: Interesting question. Hutch, let me tell you something. I believe this war is more akin to World War II than it is to Vietnam. This is a war in which we fight for the liberties and freedom of our country.

Secondly, I understand there's going to be loss of life. And that people are going to -- and the reason I bring that up is because for a while, at least for a period, it seemed to be that, you know, the definition of success in war was nobody lost their life.

Nobody grieves harder than I do when we lose a life. I feel responsible for sending the troops into harm's way. It breaks my heart when I see a mom sitting on the front row of a speech and she's weeping, openly weeping, for the loss of her son. I'm not very good about concealing my emotions. But I strongly believe we're doing the right thing. And Hutch, the idea of denying sanctuary is vital to protect America. And we're going to be, obviously, judicious and wise about how we deploy troops.

I learned some good lessons from Vietnam. First, there must be a clear mission. Secondly, the politics ought to stay out of fighting a war. There was too much politics during the Vietnam war. There was too much concern in the White House about political standing.

And I've got great confidence in General Tommy Franks and great confidence in how this war is being conducted. And I rely on Tommy, just like the secretary of defense relies upon Tommy and his judgment, whether or not we ought to deploy and how we ought to deploy.

Tommy knows the lessons of Vietnam just as well as I do. Both of us -- he graduated from high school in '63, and you and I graduated in '64. We're of the same vintage. We paid attention to what was going on. And so -- I think it's '64, wasn't it?

QUESTION: No, sir.


BUSH: Oh. You're not that old. You're not that old.

I'll give you an interesting fact. I don't know if you all know this or not, speaking about Tommy. But Tommy Franks went to Midland Lee High School, class of '63. Laura Bush went to Midland Lee High School, class of '64. That's an interesting thing for the social columns.


BUSH: For those of you who allow for your news gathering to slip into social items or social gossip, which sometimes happens -- it doesn't happen that much.


BUSH: No. Elizabeth?

QUESTION: Mr. President, who do you hold responsible for the failure at the INS this week? I see the attorney general said he was going to hold individuals responsible...


QUESTION: Hold individuals responsible.

BUSH: Well, let's see what the inspector general comes back with. But obviously, you know, I named a good man to run it, Ziglar, and he's held accountable. His responsibility is to reform the INS, let's give him time to do so.

He hasn't been there that long, but he now has got, you know, another wake-up call. The first wake-up call was from me, this agency needs to be reformed. And secondly, he got another one, with this embarrassing disclosure today that, as I mentioned, got the president's attention this morning. I could barely get my coffee down when I opened up my local newspaper. Well, a newspaper.


QUESTION: Mr. President, back on the Middle East, can you tell us what was behind the timing of pursuing a U.N. resolution...

BUSH: Yes.

QUESTION: ... at this point regarding a future Palestinian state?

BUSH: Well, there was a -- sometimes these resolutions just get a life of their own. And sometimes we have to veto them, and sometimes we can help the message.

And this time we felt like we were able to make the message a clear message that we agreed with. If it was a message that tried to isolate or condemn our friend, I'd have vetoed it. In this case, it was a universal message that could lead to a more peaceful world, and so we supported it.

As matter of fact, we helped engineer it. We were a part of the process.

And as to the timing, I don't know that. All I know is that things start showing up on my desk.

QUESTION: When did it start showing up on your radar screen, sir?

BUSH: Well, yes, desk or radar screen. It's the same thing. About 24 hours ago.

And I heard from the secretary of state and Condoleezza Rice that there was a little movement afoot there at the Security Council. And so we made a decision, a conscious decision, to try to send a statement that it was a hopeful statement.

It turned out to be a good statement, by the way. It was one of those statements that was embraced by all the parties except for one, who couldn't bring themselves to vote for it -- Syria.

You know, again, we are working hard to create the conditions for a security arrangement that will then enable the Mitchell process to kick in. I know you all are tired of hearing me say that. But unlike other parts of the world, in this part of the world Tenet and Mitchell have been agreed to by both parties, which means there is a hopeful process if we can get people into the process. And so our mission is to do that, and that's why Zinni is over there.

Listen, I want to thank you very much. I've enjoyed this press conference, I hope you have as well.

Thank you.


WOODRUFF: President Bush with a news conference that ran something like 45 minutes, started out on a domestic issue, saying that he was upset with the United States Senate, that, he said, a small group of senators -- he didn't say this, but they are Democrats -- holding up his nominee and other nominees to federal judgeships, in particular Charles Pickering of Mississippi.

But the president made news when he spoke about the nuclear review that was issued in January, but was made public this week, in which the Pentagon said that there would be -- that there should be a movement toward the development of smaller nuclear weapons and also raised the possibility of using nuclear weapons against countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, North Korea and one or two other countries.

The president said, "We want all options on the table," he said, "so that we can make it very clear to nations that they cannot threaten the United States."

And I want to call in Major Garrett now, our White House correspondent.

Major, I want to ask you about what the president had to say about Iraq. The vice president, Dick Cheney, is over in the Middle East right now visiting a number of countries. The president made it very clear. At one point, he said, "I'm very concerned" about Iraq, about Saddam Hussein. And he said, "We will deal with him."

GARRETT: Well, that's right.

Even as Vice President Cheney encounters none-too-subtle resistance from moderate Arab nations, specifically Jordan and Egypt, on the question of any military action against, the president made it clear that Iraq remains very high on his agenda, at least as dealing with the issue of getting weapons inspectors in there. But he made no commitment that, if weapons inspectors are allowed back in Iraq, that solves the question.

And he also, when asked specifically, if other allies consulting with the United States recommended against military action, would that be enough to stop the U. S., the president didn't say that it would, but he left clearly the option open of acting unilaterally against Iraq -- the president signaling to all those who were paying attention: Yes, you can object. Yes, we will consult with you. But, ultimately, if there's issues of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the United States is going to deal with it and leaves open the option of doing so unilaterally.

WOODRUFF: Major, the president also said at a couple of points that it is not helpful what the Israelis have been doing in the last few days in moving on the Palestinian territories. A number of Palestinians have been killed.

Does this represent any new language on the part of the White House?

GARRETT: New language and new emphasis. And it has been ratcheted up considerably in the last 72 hours.

The administration, at many different levels, State Department and here at the White House, publicly and privately have been sending very strong signals to the Israeli government that: You are crossing a military line here. You have gone beyond defending yourself and responding to individual acts of terrorism committed against your civilians and now creating a destabilized environment, one that is making it almost impossible for the retired Marine general, Anthony Zinni, to succeed in trying to create a security environment in there agreeable to both sides."

But the president is turning against Israel and saying: You've got to pull back if we want to have any hope at all of creating a security arrangement good for both sides -- Judy.

WOODRUFF: All right, Major Garrett at the White House at the conclusion of the president's news conference.

We are going to take a break. When we come back, we are going to look at some more of what the president had to say with our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley, and our senator political analyst, Bill Schneider.

We'll be right back.


WOODRUFF: President Bush opened his news conference just earlier this hour with some strong language, accusing a small group of senators, in his words, of blocking judicial nominees. The president went on to urge the full Senate to vote on his nomination of Charles Pickering of Mississippi to a federal appeals court.

The Senate Judiciary Committee will vote tomorrow. And the panel with a Democratic majority is expected, at this point anyway, to stand firm in opposing Pickering and his record on civil rights.

Well, the view of Pickering is quite different in his Mississippi hometown. We heard that from the president.

And we will hear it now from CNN's Brian Cabell.


BRIAN CABELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Religion is important in Laurel, Mississippi, very important to both blacks and whites. A devout Christian, as Judge Charles Pickering is known to be, commands respect here.

THADDEUS EDMONSON, LAUREL CITY COUNCILMAN: He judge is a very good man, a very Christian-hearted individual, a very strong leader in this community who has helped African-Americans gain a place at the political table, at the economic table. CABELL: That's a common view among African-Americans, at least those who know him, in this town of 18,000 in Southeastern Mississippi. He's regarded by many, including pharmacist Larry Thomas, as a man who has attempted to bridge the gap between blacks and whites.

LARRY THOMAS, PHARMACIST: His children attended the early integrated public schools at the post-desegregation in the early '70s. And he never supported the development of private schools that we hear so much about in Mississippi.

CABELL: The Reverend George Barnes, who also owns a car dealership in Laurel, says he and Pickering used to play at swimming holes together when they were kids and remembers him as a man who spoke out against the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s.

REV. GEORGE BARNES, PASTOR: And back in those days, for a white man to take a stand during the time when the Ku Klux Klan was very visible, it took some courage for him to do that.

CABELL: Councilman Manuel Jones is one of the few dissenters among prominent blacks in this town. While conceding the judge is a good man, he believes Pickering could have done and said more, and more forcefully, in favor of civil rights over the last 40 years.

MANUEL JONES, LAUREL CITY COUNCILMAN: You know, if you don't speak out here, I don't think you will speak out there. And there means New Orleans in the 5th Circuit Court.

CABELL (on camera): Of course, there is plenty of African- American opposition to Judge Pickering, but most of it comes from outside his hometown. Both the state and the national NAACP oppose him, primarily because of his past political and judicial views.

(voice-over): His black supporters here concede that he's conservative politically, but they don't condemn him for it.

EDMONSON: If a person is conservative and they have their morals and values in places and things, I understand that. I respect that.

CABELL: Friendship and faith matter here. And Charles Pickering is seen as a friend and a man of faith.

Brian Cabell, CNN, Laurel, Mississippi.


WOODRUFF: And joining me now: our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, our senior political correspondent, Candy Crowley.

Candy, what about the president's charge that it is a small group of senators who are holding up the Pickering and other nominations for ideological reasons?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, 'twas ever thus. We heard the exact same complaints when Bill Clinton was in office and Republicans were in the position of holding up nominations. Are they doing it for ideological reasons? I think they would tell you: "No. We are doing this for reasons that this man has a bad record on civil rights. There is this. There is that." So it is always in where you are sitting.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I think they would call it principle. The word ideology sounds bad. But the Democrats would say: "Don't talk about ideology. We're doing this on an issue of principle. Is this man good on civil rights issues?"

WOODRUFF: I want to talk to you both very quickly about what the president had to say about Iraq.

But, Candy, you were just making the point that the president has a somewhat new formulation on how important Osama bin Laden is.

CROWLEY: Well, you know, dead or alive was sort of the famous quote right after the attacks in New York and Washington. And now he is saying, look: Deep in my heart, I know he is on run, if he is alive at all.

And it was almost like he's not important. He is a parasite. But he made, you know, what is a good argument, which is: Look, he used to be the head of Afghanistan. He used to be this. Now he is in command of absolutely nothing -- interesting in relation to the polls, where it still shows that most people really don't think you can win this war without getting Osama bin Laden.

WOODRUFF: Bill, with regard to Iraq, the president said "I'm very concerned" and he said "We are going to deal with Saddam Hussein."

SCHNEIDER: That is right.

A number of people asked the president, "Will we deal with him unilaterally?" And the president was very clear on this point. He said we are going to consult other countries. That is why the vice president is there now.

But he made a very direct, straight answer, when he said: "He is a problem and we are going to deal with him." That was pretty strong clue that we intend to do it on our own, if necessary. But we are not going to do it without consulting.

WOODRUFF: But, Candy, in conjunction with that, you've got the vice president now moving through the Middle East, consulting, as the president said today. But while he is there you've got literally a conflagration in the Middle East: violence every day, people dying. And, today, the president said he is not happy -- more than unhappy -- that what the Israelis have done by moving on the Palestinians so aggressively in the last few days is not helpful.

CROWLEY: It seems to me that a number of administrations come to this point -- the Middle East seems to ebb and flow a lot and not change much, that we have seen other presidents come out and go, "This is not helpful."

But you can also watch them when they say something like, "But I understand the need to defend oneself." So they always have a difficult time coming out and saying, "This is not helpful." But, clearly, this is something, as Major said, that the administration has been putting out there: "This doesn't help."

WOODRUFF: Bill, are we clearer now on this nuclear review that came out of the Pentagon? It was issued in January. And nonclassified parts were released. But this week, we learned that there was some interesting, at least, language in there that suggests that perhaps the threshold for using nuclear weapons may have been lowered by the administration.

What do we now know after what the president said?

SCHNEIDER: The president said, "We use nuclear weapons as a deterrent." The question is: Will we use them in actual warfare? Will we use them in fighting? He wouldn't answer that. He just said, "We use them as a deterrent." And then he added, "But the president must have all options available to him." I'm not sure that is a very clear answer.

CROWLEY: Well, and I think purposely so. If you want to use it as a deterrent, you go, "Well, I don't know if I will use them or not." This isn't a message to us. This is a message to the people he would like to sort of contain, to those countries he would like to contain. I think it is purposeful that you just say, "Well I may use them; I may not." It's a deterrent.

WOODRUFF: The question some would raise is: Is it helpful to have ambiguity on nuclear weapons as well as on conventional and other weapons?

We are going to have to leave it there. Candy Crowley, Bill Schneider, thank you all.

That is INSIDE POLITICS for now. Tomorrow, I will be joined by former Senator George Mitchell. We'll talk about the Middle East. And we'll also be speaking with Democratic Senator Robert Byrd.





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