THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN PHOTO OPPORTUNITY WITH MEMBERS OF CONGRESS ON NAFTA The Cabinet Room
10:45 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Let me say, first of all, I'm glad to have this bipartisan House delegation here, the latest in a round several meetings on NAFTA. I want to begin by expressing my encouragement of today's housing numbers as well as the reports of increased business investment, which indicate that the economy is picking up. And I'm encouraged by that. And I know that all of us hope that that will work and that the lower interest rates and the declining deficit will help to support continued economic renewal.
But if America wants to grow more jobs, we're going to have to increase our exports. And therefore it is critical that we continue pushing and pass this trade agreement before the Congress goes home. And I'm here to -- hopeful we pick up a few more votes for the NAFTA agreement today and to discuss some of the outstanding issues on it with the members here. It's imperative -- we can have an economic recovery, but if we're going to create jobs, we're going to have increase exports. That's what wealthy countries have to do. And I hope we can do that here and pass NAFTA.
Q Mr. President, does the withdrawal of the Rangers from Somalia, sir, mean that you've given up on the search for Aideed?
THE PRESIDENT: No, it's means that we have 3,600 Marines coming in, many of whom have similar capacities who will be there. And it means that right now we are engaging in a political process to see how we can resolve our mission in Somalia and to do all the things the United Nations ordered to do, including working out a political solution and having a process by which the people who were responsible for killing the Pakistani soldiers -- that's what started all this -- that that investigation can proceed in and appropriate action can be taken. There may be another way to do that. So right now we're in a stand-down position. It does mean that a final decision's been made.
Q Mr. President, you have set a deadline on March 31st to get the troops out of Somalia. Do you have any contingency plans for Somalia at all?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're doing what we agreed to do. We're pursing negotiations to try to get a political solution. And I'm happy to say that if anything, as you probably noted in the paper today, we're able to fulfill our mission better now than we have been for the last few months. We're delivering the safety of the -- and our mission is going along as planned.
Q Mr. President, this is your sixth meeting with members of Congress on NAFTA. So far only three members have emerged saying that they've shifted their position -- these meetings. Are you making the progress you need in order to ratify it and --
THE PRESIDENT: I think we are. I think -- a lot of people have said things to me privately that they haven't said yet in public. And I think the Congress is still waiting to see how we're going to work out some of these others issues, including the training programs -- a lot of the Democrats want to know -- and they're going to have a chance to vote on that. And we still have to work through the whole issue of how we deal with the fact that if we pass NAFTA, we have to reduce tariffs. And that's a $2.5 billion tax on American consumers today, the tariffs are, that we will reduce. And under our budget laws, that has to be replacing -- so we have to work through that. There are still some practical things to work out.
I believe that a majority of the Congress today believes it's the right thing to do. So our question is whether we can persuade a majority to vote, do what they think is right. I think by the end of November we'll be able to do that.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good question.
Q Mr. President, I don't know if you recognize the young man here. There is Sean Donahue, who introduced you, he says, at an event in New Hampshire.
THE PRESIDENT: He sure did. I recognize him.
MR. DONAHUE: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
THE PRESIDENT: How did you -- why didn't they tell me you were coming today?
Q I came earlier this morning, and they said that we could come in here and the White House lawn event, so --
THE PRESIDENT: You're going to come to the lawn event, too?
MR. DONAHUE: Yes, I will.
THE PRESIDENT: Who have you got with you?
MR. DONAHUE: This is a friend of mine from New York. And she's just starting to get interested in politics. Her name is Karina Meckel.
THE PRESIDENT: I want you to know, this guy grilled me -- he's really good. Are you only staying a day or are you -- you'll probably have me up a tree -- (laughter) --
MR. DONAHUE: We're on a committee of kids to speak out to different politicians about the issues that are concerning us, sponsored by Nintendo.
THE PRESIDENT: Good for you. And I'll see you at the next event, too.
MR. DONAHUE: Definitely, Mr. President. Thank you. (Laughter.)
END10:51 A.M. EDT