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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 20, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing

  1. Personnel Announcements
  2. Remaining Positions to Fill/Process
  3. The Economy
  4. Interest Rates
  5. Stimulus Package
  6. President/Prime Minister Sharon's Meeting
  7. Possible Meeting with Chairman Arafat
  8. Comair Labor Situation
  9. Federal Judge Appointments
  10. Tomorrow's Trip to Orlando
  11. Small Business
  12. Ergonomics
  13. Energy


2:27 P.M. EST


          MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  Let me begin with a couple of brief announcements.

          The President intends to nominate Peter F. Allgeier to be Deputy to the United States Trade Representative.  The President intends to nominate Linnet Deily to be Deputy United States Trade Representative.  And we have paper on that, that will be available shortly.

          With that, I'm pleased to take questions.

          Q    Do you know how many positions you've got left to fill?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Several hundred.  The President has nominated -- actually, there are three stages of the nominations, Jim.  The President intends to name -- that is the first step where the President -- people have already gone through a sufficient level of the background clearances that the President puts their announcement out publicly.

          The second step is the formal nomination to the United States Senate, and typically there is about four to five weeks that is done prior to the President's intention to name.  Following that is the Senate nomination after all security investigations are complete, and then you await confirmation by the Senate.

          The President is very pleased with the progress that he has made, given the fact we had a shortened transition, and we anticipate, as you have been able to see in the last week to two, an accelerating pace of nominations.

          Q    But you still have several hundred left to fill, you say?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  To name, correct.  But, again, the President's pleased with the pace.  It's an accelerating pace, and it's a reflection of the shortened transition.

          Q    Do you have a number for how many you have named?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have a hard number on that.  We can get that for you; I'd be more than happy to.  Anne Womack will have that available.

          Q    Is the President likely to revisit his stance on offshore drilling, in light of the California energy crisis?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I have not heard any such discussion about that. The President said clearly during the campaign that Californians opposed having offshore oil off their coast, and he supported that, and that is his position then.  I've heard nothing that would indicate a change would be coming.

          Q    Ari, let me try this on you since I tried it on the President and he didn't play -- he did say yesterday that he was very confident about the economy.  He said today that our economy is slowing down.  Was he, yesterday, trying to placate Democrats who accuse him of talking the economy down and reverting back to form today?  What's going on?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I urge you to roll the tapes, and you will find very frequent references by the President of the United States to the fact that he has faith in the long-term growth of the economy.  When he talked about the projections in his budget, he indicated that he believes -- he's said this for weeks -- that he believes that the actual results of the economy will out-pace that which he has projected.  And he has repeatedly stressed his confidence in the long-term growth of the economy, while also understanding and emphasizing with the concerns of people right now who are suffering in today's weak and weakening economy.

          But the President has been very consistent about it.  I just think there are people who, from time to time, are uneasy with some of the progress the President is making, and so they criticize the process because the substance is moving forward.  And I think that's a case of what you have here.  But the President has said the same thing repeatedly and will continue to say it.

          Q    But if the economy is slowing down, as he says, then that means that receipts in the future will be slowing down and, in fact, there was evidence of that yesterday, which you may have seen.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, reality is different.  The actual amount of money coming into the United States treasury for the first five months of this year, even with the slowdown, was $42 billion more than it was last year.  And so receipts continue to come in at a faster rate than last year, despite the slowdown.  And that's, frankly, a sign that people are just underestimating receipts.

          So, on the one hand, I know it sounds incongruous to say that in time of economic slowdown, revenues are coming in faster than projected. But the reality is it means the projections were wrong and the money, the revenues are coming in faster than projected.  That's a pattern that the President anticipates will continue under his 10-year budget plan, because his estimates are so conservative in the amount of revenue coming in the out-years, that we see no empirical evidence in the economics or in the data suggesting it would be otherwise.

          Q     At least not until you leave office?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, for the 10 year window.

          Q    Could you give us a comment on the Fed's action today?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I can't.  As you know, the administration will not comment on monetary policies announced the Federal Reserve.

          Q    Was there hope here at the White House that they would lower the interest rate by a greater amount than a half point?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, the White House is not engaged in any such speculation about the actions of the Fed.

          Q    Is the President keeping tabs on the moves that the Fed made today?  Was he watching news reports?  Was he trying to keep up with it? Does he even know that this has happened?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The announcement was made by the Fed about five, 10 minutes ago.  I was so actively preparing to face you all that I have not talked to the President since the announcement.

          Q    But I mean --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm sure he will.  If he didn't watch it or know it as it took place, he will find out, I'm sure.

          Q    Ari, one of the things the Fed said today in cutting interest rates was concern about the global economy slowing down.  How big a concern is that here at the White House, particularly when the tax package that the President has presented is also being presented as a stimulus package, to help the economy?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It is a concern of the President's.  As he indicated yesterday in his meeting with Prime Minister Mori, the United States and Japan economies account for 40 percent of the world's GDP.  And the President discussed yesterday his concern about the slowdown of the United States' economy, the slowdown in the Japanese economy.  And clearly, anytime you have a slowdown in two economies that make up 40 percent of the world, you are talking about -- the impact of a slowdown crosses borders.

          That's another reason the President feels so strongly that the Congress needs to pass his economic recovery plan.  Today he referred to it as a stimulus plan, because he does think it will help create growth in America.  Growth in America has historically driven growth around the world.

          Q    The President did use the word stimulus package today, but as now crafted by the House, his tax plan would put about $5.6 billion into the economy this year, a pretty modest amount.  To make it a real stimulus package, as the Senate deals with this, and the President said he's open to suggestions, how much money does he think should be frontloaded in the tax cut?   How much would it take to make it a true stimulus package?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President thinks the most powerful stimulus is certainty that people will have more money in their pockets each and every paycheck.  It's not driven only by the amount of money that is made retroactive in the tax cut.  It's also driven by the fact that consumers, business people, will have certainty that people will have more money to spend to buy goods, to pay down their credit card bills.

          The President believes that signal that the government is going to signal tax relief for sure will help create stimulus that will get the economy going again.

          Q    He doesn't want it any bigger than the $5.6 billion in rate cuts in the House plan that would go into the economy this year?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President called for retroactive tax cuts to help stir the economy.  And that is obviously what the House of Representatives did.  And the President was pleased by that.  He's going to continue to work with the Senate on retroactivity.  He hopes the Senate will take a similar step.

          Q    Same amount?  Keep it right about the same, or make it bigger?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  He's going to continue to work with the Senate on that, and looks forward to the Senate passing the tax cut that includes a retroactive portion, and then we'll see how close it is or if it's identical, or if it's different to the House, and the President wants to keep working the process through so he can get an agreement.

          Q    Can I follow up on that, Ari?  In the past, he said absolutely $1.6 trillion; that's it, no more, no less, this is just right. Is there some give on this now because you're not sure the Senate and the House are going to be able to hit that mark?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President continues to believe that the Congress should pass the proposal that he has advocated, which is a $1.6-trillion tax cut.

          Q    But in terms of the amount, I mean, he's now open to a slightly different amount on the tax cut?  Is it clear to him that Congress is not going to be able to hit $1.6 trillion on the money?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  The President continues to believe $1.6 trillion is the right number.

          Q    A two-part question, Ari.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  They always are.  (Laughter.)

          Q    Since Secretary Powell testified to the House International Committee that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, does the President believe Secretary Powell was wrong?  Because Agence France Presse reported yesterday U.S. diplomats cringe as Powell gets standing ovation for Jerusalem slip.  And I have a follow-up.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President addressed that question today in his meeting with Prime Minister Sharon --

          Q    He didn't say anything about Powell.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  -- and the President said -- one at a time -- and the President said at that time at the meeting in the Oval Office, that the status of Israel be a part of the final stage negotiations.

          Q    Status of Israel or --


          MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm sorry, status of Jerusalem as the capital -- the status of Jerusalem will be dealt with in the final stage negotiations, as the President said.  I would refer you back to Secretary Powell's comments.  He expressed himself following those comments, and I don't need to say anything further.

          Q    And my follow up is, the Zionist Organization of America pointed out in a full-page ad this morning the despite Palestinian murders of 16 American citizens in Israel in the past eight years, $100 million a year in taxpayers' money is given every year to Yasser Arafat's preventative security forces, who include five of these murders of Americans.

          My question is, isn't this another Clinton measure that the President thinks should be ended, and if not, why not?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me -- on that question, on any specific questions, what I'm going to do -- there will be a background briefing immediately following my briefing by the National Security Council, and so on any of the more specific questions --

          Q    Are you going to refer it to them?

          Q    Could I ask you to -- not that specific, but more broadly, with respect to the President's views on the Middle East, Prime Minister Sharon has laid the blame for the violence squarely at Arafat's feet.  The President has invited Mubarak here, Abdullah, but not Arafat.  I'm wondering if the President thinks that putting distance between the United States officially and Arafat is one way to put pressure to tone down the violence?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me just say, the President was very pleased today to meet with Prime Minister Sharon, and the United States enjoys a special relationship with Israel.  I want to remind you that the President spoke on the phone recently with Yasser Arafat, and Secretary Powell visited with Yasser Arafat.

          The President will have additional announcements to make, and as events warrant, we will keep you informed about who is coming to visit. You accurately point out that the President will be hosting meetings with President Mubarak and King Abdullah.

          Q    You mean, he's considering inviting Arafat to the White House?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As with any invitation with a foreign leader, when we have something to announce, we will inform you.

          Q    How close is it?

          Q    When did he speak on the phone with Arafat?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Several weeks ago.

          Q    But not in recent days?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We announced it the day he did it.  I don't recall off the top of my head what day it was.

          Q    But not since?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.

          Q    But senior officials have made clear they believe Arafat has a responsibility to condemn the violence.  Is the meeting with the President conditioned on the public statement condemning the violence?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We will keep you informed of all meetings.

          Q    How closely is the administration following the Comair labor situation, and can we expect to see an emergency board order from the President if they don't reach a final agreement on Monday?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me take that on the specific of that one strike and try to get back to you.  You're asking specifically on that, or on the series of potential strikes?

          Q    Well, I think the first one we come up against is Comair.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Okay.  As you know -- let me just address it in one important sense -- the President cannot appoint a presidential emergency board unless and until the National Mediation Board concludes that parties in the negotiation are at an impasse.  Now, only at that point can the NMB recommend to the President that he appoint a presidential emergency board.  Without such a recommendation, without such a conclusion from the National Mediation Board, the President may not appoint a presidential emergency board.

          Q    Ari, could you tell us publicly about what the process is going to be for appointing federal judges?  There was this question about the ABA yesterday.  Assuming that they're put on the outside, or whatever, what system or process is the President planning on using?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, Judge Gonzalez met yesterday with the President of the American Bar Association, to discuss the administration's selection of justices and judges, and the ABA's role.  And a point that they discussed is prior to the President making a nomination, should the American Bar Association have a role unlike anybody else's role?  Should they have a special role, a unique role, a preferential role?

          And the American Bar Association made its case to the White House why they should be treated differently than any other organization that is equally caring about who a President appoints to judgeships.  The President and Judge Gonzalez will have some follow-up conversations, and as soon as we have something to report, we will advise you.

          But the President will bring to the selection of judges the same care and choosing that he brings to all his selections.  He will appoint people who are the best qualified in the country,  regardless of their party.  He wants to appoint people who will strictly interpret the Constitution, not write new laws from the bench.  Those will be his criteria, as he has enunciated for more than a year.  And that will be the process that we follow.

          Q    Will they be -- will it be any different than previous administrations?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me wait until Judge Gonzalez finishes the conversations with the President, and perhaps we can take it all in one time then.

          Q    A follow-up on that, Ari.  Does the President believe that the ABA's ratings of potential judicial nominees are fair and impartial, and have been fair and impartial?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President's aware that there are numerous groups that have meritorious points of view that should be heard. The question is, is any one group superior to all the rest?  Should any one group have a role that is separate and apart, distinct, from any of the others, who also have valid points to make?  The President's aware that the selection process for judges and for others is going to be reviewed by a host of groups who care.  And we will advise you on, as this process unfolds, if there any changes to an existing procedure.  But the question is, should the American Bar Association have a group -- have a role separate and apart, distinct and preferential from anybody else, who also cares.

          Q    What is the President's judgment about the way the ABA has been fulfilling that unique role in recent years?  Have they been fulfilling that unique role in recent years.  Have they been fulfilling it in a fair and impartial manner, in the President's view?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's not a conversation that I myself have had with the President.  So that's why I was suggesting that after Judge Gonzalez and the President discuss this matter further, perhaps we can address that in a little fuller context.           Q    Any comments on the human rights group met at the United Nations and they criticized U.N. members for failing not to act on the illegal shipment of international arms trafficking, including by China and many other countries?  What did the -- how the U.S. will deal with the United Nations?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Mary Ellen, do you have anything on that, or do you want me to --

          MS. COUNTRYMAN:  I didn't understand the question.  If you come ask me after the briefing, I'll try to --

          Q    Illegal arms shipments --

          MS. COUNTRYMAN:  Human rights group met --

          Q    Illegal arms.

          MS. COUNTRYMAN:  Come talk to me after, and I'll try to figure out --

          Q    Another note on that, Mary Robinson's intention to resign from the human rights commission, since the commission is meeting now.  Is it going to make any difference, since the U.S. is taking the case against China?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me -- I think you should have that conversation with Mary Ellen.

          Q    Ari, can I ask you about tomorrow and the trip to Orlando? The patients' bill of rights apparently is the subject there.  Why now? What does he want to say?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will be meeting with a group of doctors during his visit to Orlando.  And the patients' bill of rights is an issue which the President has spoken out on before.  I think you're familiar with the principles the President has enunciated for having a successful patients' bill of rights signed into law.  I'll have more information tomorrow.  I haven't looked at his remarks yet for tomorrow. But we'll have more on that tomorrow.

          Q    Does this signal he's trying to advance the legislative calendar on that, and trying to get something cooking right away on that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let's take that tomorrow.

          Q    He said he was going to sign ergonomics.  Has he done that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  He has not done it yet.

          Q    Will this be a public event, or will it be just --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, that's a private event.

          Q    Is there a reason?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We're keeping the focus today.  Obviously the President met with Prime Minister Sharon.  He's going to go over to the CIA with a pool accompanying him.  The focus today is simply going to be on international affairs.

          Q    (Inaudible.)

          MR. FLEISCHER:  CIA?

          Q    No, ergonomics.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.

          Q    Before he goes to Langley?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll have a statement we'll release.

          Q    Last Friday, the President invited small business owners at the White House to discuss his tax plans and all, including many Indian Americans from this area.  Many of them praised his job handling so far. But many businesses are going or filing bankruptcies.  How is the President going to deal with those problems that small businesses are facing?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President believes the best way to help small business is to recognize that so many small businesses pay taxes at the rate of individual income taxpayers.  So for many small businesses, their top rate is 40 percent, and then they have to pay payroll taxes, which can push them close to 50 percent of a tax rate.

          And the way the President believes we can help small business the most is to provide tax relief, so they're paying at a rate no where near as high.  And that's why he's proposed lowering that top rate from 39 to 33 percent, and lowering the intermediate rates from 36 percent and 31 percent down to 25 percent.

          So the President believes that tax relief is one of the best ways to help small businesses, along with regulatory relief.  Similarly, to help the economy, and I want to give a reason behind Deborah's question too, when the President signs the legislation on ergonomics, the President will sign that legislation because he believes that we can protect the health and safety of workers without passing a regulation that is terribly burdensome to the economy and to the small businesses on which their growth depends.

          Particularly in this time of fragile economic circumstances, he does not want to take any action that would hurt economic growth and cost small businesses and other businesses billions of dollars.  He will also -- of course, he has directed the Secretary of Labor to work on making sure that we can protect the health and safety of workers without hurting small businesses and others.

          Q    Why he invited two group differently Friday --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  In a minute.  You've had four.  We've got to get to people who haven't had one yet.

          Q    Ari, both Newsweek and Time are reporting this week about President Bush's relationship -- strong relationship with corporate America, business America.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.  I noticed that.

          Q    And Robert Reich wrote an op-ed in Sunday's New York Times dealing with that issue.  Is this administration fulfilling the agenda of corporate America while ignoring the needs or minimizing the needs of labor?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President thinks that we are all in this together, business, labor, consumer, and that's his approach.  And his approach is a cooperative one on how to bring people together.  And that's why, as you heard the President himself say repeatedly, in regard to his tax plan, that the businesses who are trying to tack on special business tax cuts, he believes that this tax cut should be for the people, and he is not supporting that this year.

          As far as the labor agreements that the President entered into with the executive orders he announced, that's to ensure neutrality in government contracting, for example.  The President does not think that the federal government should tilt toward or against organized labor.  He believes that the government position should be neutrality, and that's what he's done, and that's what he'll continue to do.

          Q    Ari, on ergonomics, what is the time frame or time table as far as getting something out of the Labor Department?  And what has the President directed the Labor Department to do --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Jim, I haven't discussed the timing with the Department of Labor.  You may want to give a call over there, and see how Secretary Chao is undertaking it.

          Q    What about the content?  I mean, what are some of the President's ideas for dealing with what appears to be pretty serious?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President just thought the regulation was too onerous.  It was one of the most massive, costly regulations ever promulgated.  And it did so in a way that went beyond what was reasonable to bear.  And that's why the President believes that we can protect the health and safety of workers without hurting the economy and harming small businesses and other businesses.

          Q    How does he believe we can make those regulations less onerous but still --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  By not having them be as far-reaching and burdensome.

          Q    Does the President realize that it's a -- the repetitive motion that it's actually --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated, the President does think that we can protect the health and safety of workers.  I addressed that specifically in regard to ergonomics.  But to do so in a manner that doesn't harm small businesses and other businesses, particularly in a time of economic difficulty.

          Q    Does the President feel that his father's approach to dealing with the S&L problem might form a template for the Japanese government to solve its own banking problems?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I haven't heard the President discuss it in terms of what his father did.  But I do know that the President thinks that it's important to take resolution action.  And that was a part of the discussions that he had with the Prime Minister of Japan.

          Q    On energy.  Yesterday, the President mentioned that he had been discussing with the Mexican President about letting the foreign capital to explore the national gas and oil resources in Mexico.  My question is, what the President of Mexico has been told to the President of the United States about?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  About allowing foreign capital in?

          Q    Yes.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think those discussions are ongoing between the United States and Mexico.  I know that Secretary Abraham met last week with his counterpart in Mexico to discuss energy issues.  And so those are ongoing discussions.

          Thank you.

                         END             3:50 P.M. EST