THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT
The Rose Garden
3:13 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I just wanted to test our stamina in the cold this afternoon. (Laughter.)
I am very pleased that the Senate has voted with a very strong bipartisan majority to clear the key procedural hurdle to pass trade negotiating authority to expand American exports, create American jobs, and strengthen American leadership in the world.
Let me begin by thanking Senator Lott and Senator Daschle for their strong leadership and for the powerful arguments they made on behalf of fast track and our national interests. Today's vote shows that a bipartisan coalition for American leadership which has sustained us throughout this century can help us meet the challenges of the next century.
The case for extending fast track is plain. Our economy is the strongest in a generation, growing over 4 percent the last year with $125 billion of that coming from exports. The only way to continue to increase incomes and create jobs is to tear down more foreign barriers to American products and services. Foreign nations already enjoy open access to our markets. This legislation will give us the authority to increase access to foreign markets, especially in the fastest growing regions of the world.
The world economy is clearly on a fast track. If we don't seize these opportunities, our competitors surely will. An "America last" strategy is unacceptable. We have a unique obligation to lead. If we fail to lead on trade our influence will suffer in other areas important to our security, undermining the trend toward free markets and democracy in other nations, weakening especially our relationships in Latin America, damaging cooperation on issues from drug trafficking to immigration.
Now, in addition to this, of course, we should seek to raise labor and environmental standards in developing countries, and to stop abuses like child labor. But this legislation will give us more leverage in pressing those goals. We should seek to do much more in helping American workers and their families when their jobs are lost because of trade or because of technological change, and I will have more to say about that tomorrow. But we cannot raise our own living standards or improve labor and environmental conditions in other parts of the world by withdrawing. What we have to do is to continue to reach out to open more opportunities for Americans and to work with other countries to improve standards there.
In the coming days, I look forward to working with Speaker Gingrich and Representative Fazio. And I look forward to the same sort of determined congressional leadership that has borne fruit today. I call upon all the members of the House, without regard to party, to make the choice they know is the right one for America when they vote on Friday.
Q What do you plan to do about Iraq?
Q Mr. President, the Iraqis once again -- Saddam Hussein, in particular, seems to be raising questions about your willingness, your administration's willingness to break ranks with other U.N. Security Council members and possibly use military force in the face of this latest showdown with Iraq. What do you say to Saddam Hussein at this point?
THE PRESIDENT: Saddam Hussein should comply with the United Nations resolutions and he should allow us to resume the inspections. If he has nothing to hide, if he's not trying to develop weapons of mass destruction, then he shouldn't care whether Americans or anyone else are on the inspection team. This may be just another dodge. The resolution is clear, the inspection regime is unambiguous, and we have confidence in it and that's why we participate in it. And that's what he ought to do.
Q Mr. President --
Q -- his threat to target American flights over Iraq what your response would be?
THE PRESIDENT: That would be a big mistake. But the U-2 flights -- let me say, the U-2 flights, which you have reported on extensively in the last couple of days, are flights in which we are involved, but they are carried out under the authority of the United Nations for a United Nations purpose. And we will continue to consult with our allies on that.
But let me say again -- the world has an interest, stated in the United Nations Security resolution, in preventing Iraq from developing weapons of mass destruction. That's what this is all about. There is an inspection regime which has clearly been approved by the United Nations. And Saddam Hussein must restore respect and opportunity for that inspection regime. That's all this is about. And we have to be very firm about it.
Q Mr. President, what do you plan to do --
Q Mr. President, do you believe at this hour that the United States is headed toward a military confrontation with Iraq, or is this diplomatic mission likely to resolve things?
THE PRESIDENT: I believe at this moment, we should do everything we can to resolve this diplomatically, and we should reserve judgment. This ought to be resolved diplomatically. There is a procedure there, and the Iraqis should let it be carried out by the United Nations.
There was one other question.
Q How long will you wait, Mr. President?
Q Mr. President, what do you plan to do to save Bill Lann Lee's nomination, and is there anything you can do to overcome Senator Hatch's opposition?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm disappointed in Senator Hatch's statement because I think everybody who knows Bill Lee believes he is superbly qualified to be head of the Civil Rights Division. The Civil Rights Division enforces the laws of the United States against discrimination, and we need a strong and nationally recognized leader in that position.
You know, in his hearing, no one could say anything bad about this man. I mean, here he is, the son of Chinese immigrants that's worked his heart out all of his life. He's devoted his entire life to fighting for equal opportunity and against discrimination. He is superbly qualified. And that's what I want to say -- how can anybody in good conscience vote against him if they believe that our civil rights laws ought to be enforced? That is a question that we will be pressing to every senator without regard to party.
I had thought there was a bipartisan consensus in the United States for enforcing the civil rights laws of America. I still believe there is in the country, and I think there ought to be in the Senate.
END 3:27 P.M. EST