For Immediate Release
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
For Immediate Release
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
12:12 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have a lengthy list of personnel announcements to go through today, and I also would like to give you today the week ahead for next week and a little bit over the weekend. So at the end of the briefing, if the senior wire correspondent would be kind enough to remind me, we'll get to the week ahead.
Q It's never going to end, Ari. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, senior wire correspondent. The President intends to nominate Alex Azar III to be General Counsel of the Department of Health and Human Services. The President intends to nominate Theresa Avillar-Speake to be Director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact in the Department of Energy. The President intends to nominate Sharee Freeman to be Director of Community Relations Service in the Department of Justice for a term of four years.
The President intends to nominate Bruce Cole to be Chairperson of the National Endowment of Humanities for a term of four years. The President intends to nominate Roger Francisco Noriega to be Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the Organization of American States with the rank of Ambassador.
The President intends to nominate Ross J. Connelly to be Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. We're about halfway there. The President intends to nominate Patricia destacy Harrison to be Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs.
The President intends to nominate Kirk Van Tine to be General Counsel of the Department of Transportation. The President intends to nominate Ellen Englemen to be Administrator of the Research and Special Programs Administration at the Department of Transportation.
The President intends to nominate Shelia C. Blair to be Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Financial Institutions. And that is all I have on personnel. With that, I'm happy to take questions.
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, there was never a question --
Q His daughter?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- there was never a question about that.
Q No? Did you ask him?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was never a question that the President might seek to do so.
Q Why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views this as a family matter, a private matter, and he will treat it as such.
Q Well, it is a public matter. It happens to be in every newspaper in the country.
MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the Secret Service's mission is to protect the lives of their protectees. And whether they are family members of whether they are former presidents, whoever they are, the Secret Service has one mission, and that is to protect their lives.
Q But are they given more direction in terms of -- given their age and their desire to have some freedom, are they instructed to take a step back and to not be right on top of them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you want to ask the Secret Service any questions about their methods and operations, that's a question you need to address to them.
Q But they have no specific instructions beyond protecting them from the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secret Service's mission is to protect the lives of the people, regardless of who they are. That's their charge, that's their mission.
Q Ari, with all due respect, they are also a law enforcement agency, and they're charged with upholding the law. Does it put the Service in an awkward position at all when protectees engage in arguably illegal activity?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, their mission is to protect lives, and that's what they do.
Q So they don't have a law enforcement mission as far as you know? The Secret Service?
MR. FLEISCHER: Their mission, as far as protecting their detailee, is the people assigned to be covered, is for the purposes I indicated. That's why they are there.
Q Were they involved in getting Jenna's boyfriend out of jail?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think you need to address any questions about what the Secret Service does to the Secret Service.
Q The trial in New York, the bombing trial of the U.S. embassies, now Osama bin Laden has been warning to the U.S., he is condemning the bombing trials. And also, what we are doing really, this administration or President Bush, to bring now the main, Osama bin Laden, maybe this opens the way for him -- for the U.S. to bring him to justice in America?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question I think you want to talk to the Department of Justice about. In regard to the verdict in New York, the State Department has already addressed that question.
Q Ari, another non-family question. Congressman Gephardt sent a letter to the President yesterday in which he says that on one day last week, the Vice President said OPEC is not to blame for high gas prices. Well, an administration person from the Energy Department was up on the Hill testifying that OPEC is responsible. Where does the President come down on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, frankly, I think if you take a careful look at what both have said, they're both accurate. In terms of, the question of the price of energy is a matter of supply and demand, and the supply of energy is determined principally by two factors. One is the availability of the raw supply and, in the case of gasoline, much of it does come from OPEC nations. And it's also -- the price is also driven by the availability of infrastructure to deliver that supply, at a time when our capacity for utilization in this country under refineries is running at approximately 96 percent.
Even if more supply were to come on the market from OPEC, until refinery capacity goes up, it's going to be harder to get that supply to markets, particularly in the tight summer months, particularly in regard to some of the local different -- difficulties that are created as a result of the 15 or so different recipes for reformulated gasoline across the country. So it's a combination of the two, which is I think what every economist would indicate.
Q Gephardt wanted the President to talk -- speak out to OPEC and say, increase supply.
MR. FLEISCHER: And there are conversations that are going back and forth with OPEC, and those conversations continue, and they will be treated as quiet, diplomatic conversations. The President believes that's the most effective way to conduct those conversations.
Q They are asking for generally -- you can just say generally, not specifically, that they're asking for larger supply?
MR. FLEISCHER: Those discussions? It's a reminder to the oil-producing nations that we are interrelated economy, and that to the degree that energy prices go to unacceptably high levels in the United States, that it hurts all nations as a result of our interconnections economically.
Q Why can't we know what the President's asking OPEC to do? Why is it a secret?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I just gave an indication of what the President is asking OPEC to do. There are quiet, diplomatic conversations going --
Q For what? And what his he saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- on with our OPEC allies, to remind them that we are an interdependent economy and that we all have an interest to make certain that the prices don't spike up --
Q But does he want them to bring the price down?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does think that the prices should come down. That's why he has announced the energy policy that he has, and that's why there are quiet diplomatic conversations underway with OPEC. It's not a secret, Helen, I just indicated it.
Q Ari, earlier this morning, you suggested that the press corps should, in your words, very carefully think through follow-up questions on the matter relating to Jenna and Barbara.
Since the White House is not going to issue a statement, can you tell us if you believe that coverage of the episode yesterday is a legitimate occupation for the press? And what do you mean by follow-up questions that we should be careful about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, I am not going to deem to tell the press at this juncture what the press should or shouldn't do. I think that's why you're here. You're here to make those judgments and you're the White House press corps, and I think you're set apart from most press corps in America in terms of exercising that judgment. You're not the Internet.
Q I didn't ask you for that. I asked for his attitude of what had happened --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think it's appropriate for people to be told what was a part of a private conversation that the President had with a 19-year-old child. And in that, I think most Americans agree that, yes, he is the President of the United States, but he too is a father and, as a father, he is entitled to have private conversations with his children. And he will continue to keep those conversations private and so, too, shall I.
Q I think we should know what his attitude is toward his children who are constantly in trouble with the police.
MR. FLEISCHER: Gone into it.
Q Is it fair to assume that she got chewed out over this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think that you really want to ask yourself these questions about, do you want the American people to know that you're asking about private conversations that took place between the President of the United States and his child. And I will just have to leave that to you. But you know what my answer will be. This is and shall remain a private family matter.
Jim, did you have a follow-up?
Q We understand that it's just -- it seems fair to assume that the President might be upset that his daughter is arrested and charged with a crime, even though it's a misdemeanor. Especially since --
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, you need to examine the premise of what you just said. Your facts are totally incorrect.
Q Not the most recent one; the previous one.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's also incorrect. Be careful about your facts.
Q -- received a violation of the law.
MR. FLEISCHER: You've indicated that there was an arrest.
Q Sorry; she received a ticket. Obviously, the President -- the President gave up drinking. This is something that is obviously something that is very personal to him, not in a private way, because he has talked about it during the campaign. And that's one reason that this obviously raises more questions.
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, let me stop you there. I've addressed this. And the President has addressed this. And nothing is going to change. And in that, I think the American people agree with the President that it is his purview, even as President of the United States, to have private moments with his family, and that includes his two 19-year-old daughters.
And like any parent raising a child, they expect the right to talk privately with their children, no matter what position they hold in life, whether they're the President of the United States, whether they are the head of an organization, whether they're an ordinary citizen who gets to enjoy their privacy. I think it should always be the right of any President of the United States to have private conversations with their children. And that will continue to be the President's approach.
And I think, frankly, that's an approach that the American people receive, and receive well. The press corps may not receive it well, but that won't change a thing.
Q Ari, can you clarify on another conversation the President had? I thought you told us in the gaggle that -- in answer to a question about Arafat, that subject did not come up. The Israeli President told the Israeli press that in fact he did ask Bush to set a deadline for Arafat to end the violence, and that the President, President Bush, replied it's an interesting idea, but he didn't make any commitment to any such a deadline. Can you --
MR. FLEISCHER: Sondra, the question I answered this morning I thought was in the context of an Arafat visit to Washington.
Q Okay. So is this a fair representation of the conversation that took place?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to check on that one specific point.
Q Is there a date set for him to visit?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Ari, earlier this morning, you've said that in regard to the tax cut that the Congress has approved that though it sunsets, it would be your expectation that the Congress, when it deals with that sunsetting tax cut will probably be extended, because to do otherwise would be to raise taxes on the American people. Does that not suggest that the President's tax cut is in fact much more expensive than the $1.35 trillion that is established by current Senate rules, and that all those who deal with budget matters should expect much greater costs in the out- years, in fact plan it in all budgets?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's stating the arithmetically accurate, that the tax cut has a cost over 10 years, and of course that's a 10-year cost. Over the following 10 years, it has a cost. Over the following 10 years -- that's just arithmetic. You can use whatever window you want to use to judge a tax cut. The House, in fact, uses a five-year window. The Senate uses a 10-year window. You can use a one-year window if you choose. They're all accurate, arithmetic descriptions of the tax cut, or of any spending proposals. Spending proposals have a one-year cost, a 10-year cost, a 20-year cost. All of that is just -- it should be obvious.
Q But the arithmetic also factors into political decisions, and policy decisions. For example, is there room for a prescription drug benefit under Medicare? If you have a tax cut that policy makers assume will be extended, doesn't that have to fit within the larger mathematics, and arithmetic, to use your word, of how to fit prescription drug benefits?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, all budget decisions have to fit within the arithmetic, absolutely.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, we'll advise you about any meetings that may get set up. But as far as what the change in the Senate is going to do to the President's agenda, the President did not run for office because he made a measurement of the number of Senators of one party of the other. He ran for office because of the ideas on which he believes.
And so, regardless of whatever the makeup of the Senate is, the President will continue to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to get them to pass his agenda, which includes now that tax relief is final and will shortly be signed into law, it includes education reform, which is a very bipartisan matter pending before the Congress as we speak. It includes moving forward on faith-based initiatives to help solve some of the worst social problems in our nation. It involves a patient bill of rights, so that patients have the ability to go see their doctors and not be burdened by HMOs that are hindering their ability to get the health care they need. It involves a missile defense system.
So all the issues on which the President ran, he continues to believe in very strongly. He will continue to work with the Congress to get them enacted into law. I think you will see the President has always reached out and will continue to reach out to people from all areas in the Congress, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives and liberals.
Q Will he have to make any more accommodation to their views?
MR. FLEISCHER: Will he have to do what?
Q Will he have to make any more accommodation to their views as a result of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the interesting thing is about the Senate, of course, the votes on the Floor really haven't changed. The process, indeed, has changed and the control of the calendar, indeed, has changed and Senator Daschle will now be in charge of scheduling the Senate. And with that ability to schedule comes a fair amount of influence. And it's important to always listen to Senator Daschle.
But what becomes interesting is, where are the votes? Have the votes changed? In the end, when people make amendments, will the support be there for the amendments?
And in all cases, outside of the reconciliation process, action in the Senate requires 60 votes. It required 60 votes when it was Republican-controlled, it requires 60 votes now that it is Democratic-controlled. So that has always been a part of the White House approach, is the need to get bipartisan support for all issues, because it often will require 60 votes. So the switch doesn't change that.
Q Ari, on the issue of scheduling and patient bill of rights, Senator Daschle has said he wants to make that the second order of business after education reform. He wants to take up the McCain-Kennedy bill, which the President has indicated is unacceptable. Is that an area where the President would be willing to compromise, particularly on the area of caps?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made very clear that he wants to have a patient bill of rights and he supports quick action by the Senate to get a patient bill of rights.
If the focus on the bill of rights is on the issues that involve people's health care, such as a woman's right to go see her OB/GYN without going to first a gatekeeper or a primary physician, if it involves somebody's right to go to an emergency room without having to first dial an 800 number, then our nation will have a patient bill of rights that this President will sign.
If the issue involves allowing lawyers to sue for up to $5 million in damages for noneconomic concerns, then the Senate will not be engaged in any productive activities; it will be engaged in an exercise that is akin to spinning wheels.
So the President is hopeful that the Senate will heed his message and be able to send him a patient bill of rights that addresses the concerns of patients with their HMOs, while allowing for lawsuits to proceed after independent peer review, but clearly not at the level specified in the Kennedy-McCain legislation.
Q So no bill with the $5 million --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it abundantly clear that he will not support any legislation that has a cap on legal liability set at such an artificially high level. And that is why the President is hopeful that people will be willing to work together on this because it should be the year that a patient bill of rights gets enacted into law, and I would imagine the Senate will be looking to do that.
Q Is there room for a compromise in the President's mind between the $5 million figure in McCain-Kennedy and the, I believe it's $500,000 in --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to preview what any ultimate outcomes may be. That's akin to, as you know, as the President puts it, negotiating with yourself. But the President does think that this is, indeed, the year that a patients' bill of rights can be signed into law, and he calls for quick action on a patients' bill of rights. He would very much like to make this year the year it's done.
Q Is he willing to negotiate not with himself, but with Congress on the amount --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will always work with the Congress.
Q Ari, you just mentioned that the President's still dealing with the same 100 people in the Senate, although there are process changes, like calendars and scheduling and so on. But as you know from your own background, process is half the game on the Hill. So could you please comment on how you feel the new calendar and schedule and priorities and all of that will affect the White House agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it is terribly important. And the President has a lot of respect for Senator Daschle. He believes Senator Daschle is a patriot who also wants to get things done for this country. And so he looks forward to working with the Senator; he looks forward to working with Senator Lott as well. And he'll continue to work with Democrats, Republicans alike, to move forward on his agenda.
I think time remains to be seen what happens in the new Senate and how it all works. The Senate is a difficult institution to govern with 55 votes. It's difficult to govern with 59 votes. It's difficult to govern with 50.
Q They're going to push some other things, like minimum wage or gun control; other issues are going to try and come to the fore. How will you deal with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it all depends on what the substance of the legislation is. The President does believe there is room for accommodation on many issues. He will adhere to his principles as President, however, as he moves forward and works with the Senate. He will continue to push for his agenda. He will hope that the Senate doesn't engage in obstruction, for example, on nominations.
It is the Senate's purview and right to advice and consent, but it's also the President's responsibility to fill the government so the seats in the agencies can be filled with people responsible for the assistant secretary level, the under secretary level. So it will be a lot of work the President looks forward to doing with the Senate and with the House.
Q Ari, some Republican strategists have said that in his effort to forge bipartisanship, the President neglected some members in his own party; Senator Jeffords may be one among them. What would this White House do as the mantle of power changes in the Senate to reach out to members of your own party, from the moderate wing, to keep them on board?
MR. FLEISCHER: He will continue to work with members of the moderate wing of the party as he always has. But let me give you a for instance. If you recall last week, some 20 conservative members of the House came down to the White House to talk about the education bill. And they thought the education bill was too tilted toward the moderates or too tilted toward the centrists. And the President made very clear in that meeting to fellow conservative Republicans that he said he wanted a bipartisan education bill, and that he would continue to work with Congress Miller and Congressman Boehner to secure a bipartisan education bill.
So, sometimes the President will work directly in private meetings that he holds with the moderates and talk to them about his concerns, and other times, he will meet with others, conservatives, to say that he's taking a different point of view on this issue.
At other times, he's going to take -- it all depends, issue to issue, what position the President will hold, and as the President proceeds on his agenda. I think one of the things you've seen early in this administration is the President has already demonstrated a real ability to bring bipartisan governing coalitions around, to support his agenda. And that's the approach he'll continue to take.
Q Where is he on entertaining this idea of regular meetings with moderate Republicans and a greater outreach toward them, not just by saying to conservatives, look, there are some moderate folks here that I have to take care of, but actually talking to the moderates?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is always open to good meetings.
Q Back on the education bill, Senator Kennedy will be the new Chairman, Senator Harkin will be the Appropriations Sub-committee Chairman over Education. Both have made it clear they would like to see more money in the '02 budget for education. Some Kennedy aides have suggested as much as $10 billion more. Not so long ago, there was a disagreement between this White House and Senator Kennedy between $4.8 billion and $4 billion. Now the bidding could go up to $10 billion. Is there a point at which this White House cannot go as far as adding money to the education budget in '02, and is that a complication --
MR. FLEISCHER: In the President's point of view, if throwing money at education were the answer, our educational system would have been improved years and years ago. The key to improving education is to enact reforms that are focused on accountability and on consequences and on strong standards. That should be coupled with an increase in funding, just as the President has proposed. He's proposed a record increase in funding for the Department of Education. It's the largest area in his budget that receives an increase.
But clearly, money alone is not the answer. And the President hopes that people will not take the approach, let's just see how much money we can throw at education. That's not the most productive approach.
Q Ari, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle up on the Hill expect a supplemental budget request to be around $30 billion. Is that figure on the mark, and what can you tell us about the relative priorities, defense, agriculture, when the bill finally goes --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first, I would urge you to talk to many other members on the Congress, because I think that's a figure that is rather high for many, if not most, members of the Congress.
The supplemental process is an example of what's gone wrong with federal budgeting, where people rely on supplementals to shoehorn in all kinds of extra money that should have been anticipated or should have been thought about in the original budget submission. And the President does not believe that Congress should rely on supplementals as a way to just increase funding willy-nilly. The original budget proposal should accommodate that, if it's properly thought out.
So, for example, the defense supplemental, defense appropriations has traditionally, in the last several years, been short-changed. The defense spending that was put in original budgets was not sufficient to get the Department of Defense through its needs for a year. So the President is looking at sending up to the Hill a supplemental to address the needs of the Department of Defense. That way, they do not have any shortfalls in the fourth quarter of this year. And what the President is looking at is things in terms of the maintenance of DOD and also in terms of vital human areas, personnel areas, such as pay, such as housing, and such as health care.
Q Ari, Senator Daschle has expressed a lot of strong differences with the policies of President Bush. As of Tuesday, he will be the Majority leader. Is the President already reaching out to him? Is there a meeting planned as soon as possible?
MR. FLEISCHER: I took that question earlier and I indicated that if there is any meeting, we will advise you.
Q On the supplemental process, and especially the defense supplemental, you're saying this is just for the short change that's happened year after year. This has nothing to do with the top-to-bottom review, nothing to do with any missile defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. That's correct. The supplemental that the President will soon send up to the Hill dealing with the Department of Defense is focused on addressing the shortfalls in the budget for the Department of Defense so they can finish Fiscal Year 2001 in good shape. If they do not have enough money in their budget to make it through Fiscal 2001 in good shape, then the supplemental the President is focused on is addressed at completion of the Department of Defense mission for this year.
There will be further changes made to the future of the Department of Defense budgeting. Those will take place in the form of an amendment to the Fiscal '02 budget that will start to get into some longer-range issues, and then finally after all the reviews are completed at the Department of Defense this summer, dealing with funding for '03 and beyond.
Q So are you saying that any money that's needed for missile defense or for decisions made in the top-to-bottom review would not be pursued in a supplemental, but rather in amendments to the budget you've already submitted for next year?
MR. FLEISCHER: Precisely right.
Q So no more supplementals for defense this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just indicated.
Q Ari, are you also saying that the supplemental will be limited to defense, there's not going to be any spending for any supplementals coming out of the White House for other departments are not planned at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and in fact, at the time the President sends this supplemental up to the Hill, we will provide for you complete information. There will be several other areas in there of a small nature. But as the President indicated in California this week, for instance, $150 million in low-income heating oil and energy assistance programs to help people so they can pay their high electric bills this summer as a result of the increase in energy supplies, energy costs. That will be one item -- that
will be in the supplemental.
Q And that's all under that $6.5-billion umbrella, so the defense piece is at $6.5 billion --
MR. FLEISCHER: The defense piece is $6.1 billion. And there will be a briefing over at DOD today at 1:00 p.m. to get into some more of the defense supplemental --
MR. FLEISCHER: When I get into the week ahead, I'll start getting into some of the things leading up to the Europe trip. But if there is anything to be said, stay tuned on that.
Q Ari, Kenneth Lay is a close friend of the President's. He's also head of Enron Corporation in Houston. The New York Times reported last week that Mr. Lay made a call to Curtis Hebert, who is the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and that he offered him a deal, according to The Times. If Mr. Hebert changed his views on electricity deregulation, Enron would continue to support him in his new job.
The Times reported that Mr. Hebert refused the offer, was offended, and thought that he knew of Mr. Lay's affiliation with the President and thought the refusal could put his job in jeopardy.
Two questions. One, is this dignified to have the President's friends mau-mau with regulators who regulate their companies? And, second, is Mr. Hebert's job in jeopardy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President makes all his decisions on personnel based on the merits of the people that he would seek to name. And in terms of -- I think your word was mau-mau, mau-mauing regulators, for example, Governor Wilson has had some interesting things to say about members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In fact, one of them will be meeting with Governor Wilson at the governor's request. So it's not unusual at all people on commissions to meet with --
Q Governor Wilson?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, Governor Davis -- to meet with people who have expressed concerns about matters. But the President makes his decisions on personnel based on the merits of the people.
Q Is his job in danger?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q General Shelton is supposed to be in India today. He was supposed to leave today for India. But at the last minute, last night, he cut his part of the visit. But he's still going to visit -- on Saturday. Is that in any way consultation with the White House that he has cancelled with visit, or in connection with any threat from Osama bin Laden or his empire?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mary Ellen, do you have anything?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: You should address that question to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And my understanding is that General Shelton is staying there because he has to participate in several very important meetings concerning the Defense Review and quadrennial defense review plans.
Q On supplementals, in general, you didn't mean to suggest that there won't be any other supplementals at all, just none other for defense this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, if there is further legislation to report, I will advise you. This is the only one I'm going to indicate now. And don't take that to mean there will or won't be down the road, but this is it.
As a matter of routine, the President believes that something is severely wrong with the budget process, if everybody quickly, after they pass one budget says, the budget we've just passed is flawed, therefore we need in the next couple months to send you an additional one to get more money, it's part of the tendency of Washington to spend money, because it's easy to spend money. And in bringing fiscal discipline to Washington, he is going to try to change the culture of supplementals so that people don't immediately pass a budget and then say, whoops, we underfunded it, now let's spend more money, here's a supplemental.
Q Who do you mean in Washington? Who are you talking about?
Q Apparently there have been death threats against Senator Jeffords for changing parties. Does the White House have any reaction to that? Is there concern here about what that says about the level of political disconnect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the White House would be concerned about any type of threat of hostility toward any member of Congress, and that includes Senator Jeffords, of course.
Q You made the point about the supplementals and how this is what's wrong with spending in Washington. If it's what's wrong with spending, it's not just that Congress passes it, but the President signed them into law --
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q -- are you suggesting that there is a veto out there for any supplemental that goes beyond what the President asked for?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is determined to bring fiscal restraint to Washington. And the President wants to make certain that people do not -- again, as they've done in the last several years -- engage in excessive spending. Excessive spending risks reaching into the Social Security trust funds and that's not something the President would support.
So the President will send a signal that Congress should be careful not to engage in excessive spending.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is hopeful that he will. On faith-based initiatives, clearly that is an administration priority. And the President will push for it very strongly.
On vouchers, as you know, a vote took place both in the House and in the Senate on vouchers. That measure has already been put to the test. The position that was adopted by the House and Senate is not the position that the President would have preferred, but that measure has been voted on.
It is notable that in the tax bill that the President will sign into law, there is a provision in there for the first time allowing for educational savings account withdrawals to go to private schools K through 12, parochial schools K through 12. So that clearly is an important, helpful step forward in making sure that parents have educational options beyond narrow choices, that they have more options available to them.
MR. FLEISCHER: If he were convinced that the votes were there, then I think the President would be very pleased to proceed.
Q Can you repeat the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question was about Congressman Moakley's funeral and the President's travel to Boston. Why is he traveling and the fact that President Clinton will be there.
One, on the trip, as you know, the first bill that the President signed in a public ceremony at the White House was a bill honoring Congressman Moakley. The President thinks that Congressman Moakley brought the right touch, the right way of doing business to this town, that the Congressman believed very deeply in the principles that he held and he and the President didn't always agree. But Congressman Moakley always brought a human touch, an affable nature, to the business of the Congress and to his relations with the White House. And I think the President was touched by that.
And so he will travel to Boston for the funeral tomorrow of Congressman Moakley. He is very pleased that he was able to honor the Congressman in the public signing of the legislation in a courthouse after the Congressman in his first signing in the White House.
He looks forward to seeing President Clinton at the event. The last time he saw President Clinton was when the two of them walked off the front steps of the Capitol on January 20, 2001. So the President will look forward to having a chance to discuss whatever is on either one's mind when he sees President Clinton.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll see. The President continues to believe that it is important to develop energy supplies, so that the United States can secure its long-term energy future. We'll see exactly where the votes are, but it's something the President does think is important.
Q Ari, one of the criticisms of the tax cut bill is that it's too backloaded, and that in order to get everything in the $1.35 trillion framework, expensive provisions like the estate tax bill that kick in 2010. The President repeatedly said that he felt $1.6 trillion was the right size over 10 years, ending in 2011. If you now feel that it would be okay to extend these tax cuts after 2010, what is the administration's position about going beyond $1.6 trillion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one -- you have to remember, again, this is a question I took earlier. The description of the dollar amounts of the tax cuts applies to whatever number of years that you want to look at. You can make it a one-year tax cut, a five- year tax cut, a 10-year tax cut. During the campaign, the President talked about a $1.3 trillion tax cut, which was over actually nine years. Upon coming into office, when the budget window changed, it was a $1.6 trillion tax cut for the same proposals, over a 10 year window.
So again, that's just a function of the dollar amount will change, depending on the number of years that you choose to look at. But the President believes that tax relief should be permanent, that once enacted, it should remain on the books. To do anything other than that is to raise taxes on the American people, and he does not support that.
Q -- endorsing, or he's endorsed $1.6 trillion over 10 years, and if $1.35 trillion over nine, it would -- you'll only have $250 billion left, to extend that an additional year, how realistic is that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not sure your logic follows on that. If you extend it, you extend the price of what is current law, which is $1.35 trillion, which was the compromise arrived at as a result of the budget resolution.
Q Which would be significantly higher than $1.6 trillion.
MR. FLEISCHER: But you're looking at a different time period. You're looking at extending it beyond 2010. Of course it's going to be more.
Q Before you do the week ahead, when you answered Campbell's question, it sounded like by saying that the two presidents -- he looked forward to talking with Clinton about whatever's on his mind. You mean to suggest they're going to carve out time --
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q -- to meet or just salutations in passing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any time people see each other, former presidents see each other -- it's a rare occasion when former presidents get together. And despite any differences in politics, former presidents meet, and a current president and former president meet, there is no --
Q There is going to be a meeting between them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would not be surprised if they exchange words while they're there. But there's no formal meeting set up, no.
Q While they're in church, you mean?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. There's no formal meeting set up, no, and I did not indicate that.
Q Ari, did the President know Congressman Moakley prior to this ceremony that took place here? Did they have a pre-existing relationship, dating back to some earlier events, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me check on that for you.
Q Ari, to follow up on the tax deal in the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, Russell?
Q Princeton economist Paul Krugman put it this way. He said, they simply waived their hands and made all the revenue that will actually be lost in the last year of the 10-year period, hundreds of billions of dollars, disappear from the account. He called it white collar crime, pure and simple, and said Democrat senators and Republican senators alike who were involved with it should be sentenced to a minimum security installation somewhere unpleasant. (Laughter.)
So I'm wondering --
MR. FLEISCHER: Would they be provided with lifelong subscriptions to Mr. Krugman's columns while they are there? (Laughter.)
Q That's the ultimate punishment, you think?
MR. FLEISCHER: I did say something. I'll leave it there.
Q Yesterday, the President would not answer a question posed to him about his thoughts on Governor Gray Davis's threats to sue FERC over price caps. What is the White House's position on those threats?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President makes the case that the last thing that anybody should do at a time of energy shortage is to make the shortage worse. And that price caps will result in increased demand and in lower supply and therefore have the exact worse effect you could want to have, if your goal is to help people, and if your goal is to protect the economy.
Q I know that boilerplate argument. But this idea of suing FERC, is there legal ground to sue FERC for price caps, given their finding that electricity prices in California were not just and reasonable?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you need to address to attorneys or address to the state of California. Obviously, there was a case brought by some legislators in California that a circuit court just threw out last week.
Q Does the President think that Governor Davis is posturing politically? Does he have a legal leg to stand on here?
MR. FLEISCHER: You just asked that question about legal legs and I have referred you to the place where you can get an answer.
Q What about an answer to the political aspect of that? Do you believe it's political posturing?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is not interested in looking at the situation in California with an eye toward posturing or an eye toward blame or an eye toward finger-pointing.
Q Or the 2002 election?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is to solve the problem, and that's why he has taken the position he has on price caps, as well as on a long-term fundamental energy approach to help the country.
Q If price caps are bad, why then it is one of the remedies listed within FERC's own guidelines? The Governor of California maintains that FERC simply isn't following its own guidelines. He'd like to use a lawsuit, if necessary, to force them to do so. Is there any thought here about trying to change FERC's own guidelines and --
MR. FLEISCHER: FERC is an independent agency, and makes its determinations based on what it views as right or wrong. But let me remind everybody here, that this issue is not new to this administration. In early January, Californians came calling to Washington, in the last days of the Clinton administration -- and as you know, the Clinton administration was rather busy in its final days -- and they, too, sought price caps. And price caps were not granted by the Clinton administration at that time.
So it is notable that the same argument that was received by -- we presume, much more receptive ears, but they made a decision also based on facts and on merits, and had taken the same position that President Bush has taken. So this is nothing new coming from California. But the President's position will remain the same, that he wants to be helpful to California. And one of the worst things you can do is make the situation worse in that state.
Q Can I ask a question about --
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead, Jim. There's also a reporter here from the Middlebury College campus. Where is this reporter? A budding reporter. Welcome to the White House press room. This is your future. (Laughter.)
Q Leave while you can.
Q On McVeigh, how close -- did the President sit down and discuss with the Attorney General whether or not they should grant or be open to the idea of extending the period during which he would not be executed, pending further review of the FBI documents?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's a matter that's decided by the Department of Justice.
Q And the President did not discuss that with General Ashcroft?
MR. FLEISCHER: If he had any discussions, Jim, I'd have to take a look and see if there were any. I don't know the answer to that. But those are the decisions that are made at Justice.
Whether there was information sharing or conveying back and forth, I don't know the answer to that.
Q And the President agrees with that decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: About no further extensions? He supports the Department of Justice reviewing this matter and not acting in a way that is based on the merits. And he believes that's what the Department of Justice has done here.
Q Has the President supported a penalty for people who smuggle aliens on the border with Mexico. The one arrest in Arizona -- 14 Mexicans died. Does the President support the death penalty for those people involved in the smuggling of aliens on the border?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, after that tragedy took place, the President called Vicente Fox of Mexico to express our nation's condolences to those families who lost their lives trying to come to this country.
The President is very concerned about the people who exploit these immigrants who come to America for opportunity and for freedom. And there are people who exploit them by bringing them across the border in very dangerous fashion. And the President does support legal action to help protect people who would seek to come to this country, hopefully legally.
The President will travel to Camp David upon his return from Congressman Moakley's funeral tomorrow. Just one point of note, there will be a rededication of the chapel at Camp David. It will be the tenth year anniversary of the chapel. The President's parents will be in town for that. So that will take place. It's a closed press event, but that will take place up at Camp David this weekend.
On Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. on the South Lawn, an open press event. The President will host the second T-ball game on White House grounds. It will feature the Senators League, Fort Lincoln Brewers against the Ward 7/6th District Benning Park Parrots at 5:00 p.m. Baseball Hall of Fame member Ernie Banks will serve as the play-by-play announcer for the game. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta will be the first base coach, and Daryl Green, formerly of the Washington Redskins, will coach third base.
Hall of Famers Bob Feller and Lou Brock will also be in attendance at the game and the President will be joined by a special visitor and that is Tommy Shawhan, his family from Quantico, Virginia. And Tommy is a little child who plays on a Marine team. His father was a combat pilot in the Persian Gulf War, an active duty Marine. Tommy suffers from disabilities. He cannot talk, he cannot walk. He plays T-Ball, and he plays on his team at the Quantico facility, and he will be here as a special guest, along with his parents, of the President for the game.
On Monday, the President will travel to the Everglades National Park in Florida, where he will make remarks about his budget's impact on helping to preserve the Everglades and other national parks. Also on Monday, the President will travel to Tampa, for an event that talks about the tax legislation, and how it's going to affect the lives of individual Americans. He will overnight in Tampa.
On Tuesday morning, the President will participate in a Habitat for Humanity event in which -- at which the President will help build a home in Tampa. He will also make remarks about his budget, and the plans in the budget to help increase homeownership across the country.
For your planning purposes, the press charter will leave on Sunday night, after T-ball, for the trip to Florida. The alternative was a 2:30 a.m. check-in Monday. So apologies to the comptrollers at your organizations.
Q Do you know what time that Everglades speech is on Monday?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll have exact times out later, in writing. We don't have the specific times. On Wednesday, the President will attend a dedication of the National D-Day Memorial, in Bedford, Virginia. And he will also make remarks that are a preface to his upcoming trip to Europe. He will talk about the strong trans-Atlantic ties between the United States and our European allies.
On Thursday, the President will make remarks at the fourth national summit on fatherhood in Washington. He will also have a photo opportunity with the 2001 Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens. You can also anticipate that the President, at some point next week, at an event at the White House, will sign the tax legislation into law. We'll have more details on that forthcoming.
On Friday, the President will travel to Omaha, Nebraska, for the College World Series, and then he will depart for Crawford, where he will be until Sunday. On Sunday, he will return to Washington, and the President and the First Lady will participate in a time-honored presidential tradition of attending the Ford's Theater Gala.
A reminder, about the upcoming trip to Europe, the press charter for Europe will depart on Monday morning and the President and the First Lady will depart at 7 p.m. for Madrid. That's a week from Monday. We will let you know about any other pre-briefings for the Europe trip next week.
Q You will have them?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will have some.
Q He goes straight to Crawford from Omaha?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q And what day is the dedication of the chapel? Is it Saturday or Sunday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sunday. Correct.
Q Do you know if any other family members will be here for the weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's possible. I know the parents are. There may be others. Possible, possible. Thank you, everybody.
END 12:59 P.M. EDT