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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 28, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:10 P.M. EST
My two announcements -- the President intends to nominate John E. Robson to be President of the Export-Import Bank. And the President intends to nominate Anna Maria Farias to be Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
I'd like to introduce Scott McClellan to make the third announcement.
MR. MCCLELLAN: The President intends to nominate Mark B. McClellan to be a member of the Council of Economic Advisors. He is currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Economics and the Department of Medicine at Stanford University. McClellan is an attending physician at the Stanford University Health Services and the director of the program on health outcomes research at Stanford Medical School. He served at the Treasury Department from 1998 to 1999 as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Economic Policy.
Originally from Austin, Texas, he is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin; received his Masters of Public Administration from Harvard University; received his MD from the Harvard-MIT Division of Health, Science and Technology; and earned his PhD in Economics from MIT. And he is also the father of my two and a half year old nieces, Ellie and Alex. (Laughter.)
Q Does he ever fight with you? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCLELLAN: We can talk about that later. (Laughter.)
Q Is this nepotism? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCLELLAN: Bipartisanship. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Brotherhood.
Q During the campaign, when he introduced Christine Todd Whitman to America as his nominee for the Environmental Protection Agency, the President promised to balance the competing interests of commerce and the environment. And yet we have seen a string of what environmentalists perceive as setbacks to their agenda. I'm wondering what the administration believes it is, in fact, balancing here, when environmentalists see no balance at all and he keeps lining up with industry on the questions of polluting.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you that the President has also taken actions on diesel fuel trucks which were hailed by the environmental community. The President's position on national monuments which were designated by the previous administration, leaving those national monument designations in place, has also been hailed by the environmental community. And the President is finding balance in his environmental policies and he is doing exactly what he said he would do as a candidate. And the President has gone beyond the proposals made by either President Clinton or Vice President Gore in calling for mandatory reductions of three pollutants under the Clean Air Act, so that we can reduce pollutants in the air. And those are sulphur dioxide, mercury, and the third nitrogen oxide, all of which goes beyond the pronouncements made by the previous administration.
Q Ari, with respect, there are some people who don't quite see it that way, and they were out there this morning, talking about some of the rollbacks in arsenic, his reversal on carbon dioxide. And I know your explanation on that, so I'm not asking for that again. But they said that the President came to town saying that he would change the climate in Washington; we didn't know that it was the actual climate that he was talking about. (Laughter.) And I'm wondering if the White House is concerned that they're giving the Democrats a very big stick with which to whack the President with between now and a year November.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, and I think you remember during the course of the campaign there was also some hyperbole on the side of those who oppose the President. And I think what you've heard this morning is a continuation of that partisan hyperbole. It happens in Washington.
But, no, the President is going to continue to pursue a balanced policy when it comes to the environment. That's what he's said he would do; he intends to do it. On the arsenic question that you raise, of course, let me remind you that Administrator Whitman said at the time of the announcement that she will be moving forward to lower the amount of arsenic in the water. It's a question of what is the proper level to which it should be lowered, from the 50 parts per measurement in place today, to a lower level. And there's also regional concerns that she had, so we don't have a one-size-fits-all national level, when there are certain regions of the country, such as Arizona and other places in the Southwest where there are higher, naturally-recurring levels of arsenic in the water that should be reduced, but if you reduce them to too great a point, you're going to force people to lose the municipal source of water. It's a real problem in the Southwest.
So she will be moving forward on a new standard to have reasonable levels that are based on science and on some flexibility for states or for regions where the level that was pronounced by the previous administration would have done real harm to people's ability to get drinking water.
Q So you're saying that the proclamations that we saw on the Hill today are just nothing but more of that partisan hyperbole that we saw during the campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've already addressed the question.
Q The Democrats never said that they would replace, substitute the tax cut with a rebate. They say they support the idea of a tax cut, just the size, the proportions, the figure and such issues are debated. So why does the President think that the rest of the tax plan would just die if he would not push through quickly the whole thing through Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President just told a group of congressional leaders who he met with in the Cabinet Room, he views what Senator Daschle proposed as healthy. He thinks it's just one more sign of how the conversation in Washington every day seems to come closer and closer to what President Bush proposed.
Now you have Senator Daschle not only supporting the President's call for retroactivity, but for reducing the 15 percent rate down to 10 percent rate, all of which the President proposed. So the President welcomes Senator Daschle's statements. But the President is going to continue, as he said yesterday, to call for a permanent tax relief package, because the President will oppose anything that leaves too much money in the hands of the politicians to spend.
Q Why wouldn't he just cut the whole package into two parts? So the first, the urgent part, would be on his desk by April, as the Democrats say, and the rest of the tax plan could be worked out expeditiously, but in negotiations, further negotiations --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes it's urgent to provide permanent tax relief, not one-time-only tax relief. And the President would not support anything that would keep taxes high or leave too much money in the hands of politicians because he fears they'll spend it later.
Q On campaign finance reform, will the President sign McCain-Feingold, as it now stands? Or, in light of the fact that his support for the Hagel amendment failed, will he push for another kind of compromise in the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the bill before the Senate is a moving target. It is changing. Obviously, there was an important vote this morning on a tabling amendment dealing with increasing the hard money contributions allowable. And so the McCain-Feingold, as it was originally written, is evolving and will continue to evolve. And the President is pleased to monitor it. He's going to work with Senator McCain, he's going to work with Senator Hagel, he's going to work with other senators, because he believes that we need to reform the current system and he wants to sign a bill and sign one this year. And that's the message he's sending loud and clear to members of Congress in both parties, that the President cannot be counted on to veto it, because he thinks we need to reform the campaign finance laws.
Q Let's see if we can get you to be a little bit more specific. Hagel was specific. And the White House, to the extent that it wanted to get into this fight, backed that and its set of principles. That was the major fight -- you know it, the President knows it. That amendment failed. So the guts of McCain-Feingold as they're moving forward are intact and appear stronger now than they were before. So can't you be a little bit more specific about what the President is prepared to sign today, now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I can tell you what the President has said, and that is, he is sending a message to people in both parties that they should not count on him to veto campaign finance reform because --
Q What does that mean?
MR. FLEISCHER: It means exactly what he said.
Q No, but it doesn't, you're not giving clarity. What is he for? I don't want to know what he's against. I don't want to know what he's not going to veto. What will he do?
Q What will he sign?
MR. FLEISCHER: You saw his principles, and you talked about Senator Hagel's proposal. Let me remind you that the President's principles included a ban on corporate soft money, a ban on union soft money. The Hagel position, of course, would have limited it to $60,000, those categories.
So you say Hagel represented the President's position, I want to remind you the President has called for a ban, as McCain-Feingold does, of corporate and union soft money. The President differs with McCain-Feingold on allowing individuals to be able to contribute.
But it's the beginning of the process still; campaign finance reform is still moving through the Senate; the original McCain-Feingold is being changed, as we speak, by the votes of the Senate by majorities. The House has yet to speak on the matter. And the President has sent the signal that he wants to send, that he cannot be counted on to veto it because he wants to reform the system. It's too early yet to say precisely what he will sign, but he's sending very clear signals about he does not believe we need to veto campaign finance reform because he wants to reform the system.
Q Will the President sign anything that does not include the non-severability clause?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to go down any specifics on Sherman-esque statements like that, because that's not the President's approach. As you see, the President put forth several principles and the non-severability is one of them. He believes that's important because if you take a look at --
Q How important does he believe it is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's one of several principles that the President has promulgated. But he's indicating flexibility because he wants to get the job done. What people on the Hill need to hear from this President is this year, campaign finance reform involves real bullets. It very well may happen. And he wants to be able to sign campaign finance reform. In the past, people had free votes, they knew that they could posture on campaign finance reform because it didn't matter. Those days are over. The President is looking for action.
Q Real bullets, but a lot of people say non-severability is the time bomb that will eventually kill this, if not now, down the road, and if the courts kill it, everybody gets a bye because the voted for campaign finance reform and said those bad guys in the courts, they killed the bill, not us. MR. FLEISCHER: From the President's point of view, that's an interesting reflection, because, of course, what's brought us the current state of campaign finances in America was severability, was the fact that the Supreme Court struck down in the Buckley v. Valeo decision, parts of campaign finance reform. So the current system, which everybody says is terrible and has to be reformed, is because you have a half-system in place. It was not the complete reform. And one of the reasons was because the Supreme Court, back in the '70s, struck down a portion of it, leaving unintended consequences on the table. And now, people are trying to clean up what's been left on the table as a result of severability.
Q Ari, is he relying on Republicans in the Senate or the House to kill campaign finance so that he doesn't have the dirty his hands by vetoing it? MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President's made it perfectly clear that he wants to be able to sign a good campaign finance reform proposal this year.
Q And does he think Tom DeLay is an obstructionist, given his vow to kill it in the House?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is committed to reform, and he has walked through on the principles of abolishing corporate -- he and Tom DeLay have differences over this, and the two of them have talked about it directly. The President wants to abolish corporate soft money. The President wants to abolish union soft money. Those are the President's positions.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ask a question, and I'll try to give you an answer. Q The question is, where do we stand on Kyoto? Have we pulled out? What is -- is there movement now to pull out and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: The treaty, as you know, was signed, but it was not ratified by the Senate. In fact, the Senate voted 95-0 against ratification of it. Also on that measure, whether it's enforced or not -- as you know, under the Kyoto agreement, 55 nations need to submit it, enforce it to their various governments. Only one nation in the world has done so. There are 54 more to go. So the treaty cannot even possibly even be in effect. So there's nothing to withdraw from because there is no treaty in effect.
The President has been unequivocal. He does not support the Kyoto treaty. It exempts the developing nations around the world, and it is not in the United States' economic best interest. The President has directed his Cabinet Secretaries to begin a review so we can, as a nation, address a serious problem, which is global warming. That Cabinet-level review is underway, and the President looks forward to receiving the results.
Q Does he think it never should have been signed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've not asked him that question. It was signed prior to him becoming President, so it's a moot question.
Q Has he read the treaty?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anybody in government who reads every page of every treaty except for a very, very few people. But the President is well aware, of course, of what's in the treaty.
Q Is it his intention to have the U.S. withdraw from Kyoto?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what Helen just asked, and I said there's nothing to withdraw from. The treaty is not in effect. But he opposes the treaty. He's made that plain.
Q But we have made a commitment. I mean, you said there's nothing to withdraw from. You make a certain commitment when you sign a treaty.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the commitment on the treaty is dependent on ratification. As you know, the Senate voted 95-0 against ratifying it. It also is dependent on actions taken by the international community. When only one out of 55 nations required to put the treaty into effect has acted, it's a signal worldwide that others agree with the President's position on the treaty.
Q Ari, in the closing days of the Clinton administration there was an effort to negotiate an understanding with European nations about some of the Kyoto protocols dealing with emissions, and those failed. It was a frustrating failure for the Clinton administration. Did this administration look upon that and say, well, if those negotiations, if Clinton failed, there's no way that we can make any progress; therefore, you're much more pessimistic about working anything out with Kyoto?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know about that time frame, Major. I know this has been the President's consistent position from the campaign forward. And the concern is that most of the world was exempt from the treaty and the treaty as it currently is written is not in the economic interests of the United States, as well.
Q Why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because of the huge costs involved that are disproportionate to the benefits, particularly when most of the world is exempt.
Q Well, would he favor making the rest of the world subject to the treaty or --
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to await the results of the Cabinet-level review that the President has directed.
MR. FLEISCHER: I did not.
Q It was a two-hour special --
MR. FLEISCHER: I was in Billings, Montana.
Q -- that makes allegations that the chemical industry over the past 20 years knew it was exposing workers to hazardous chemicals, and as a result these workers died. He actually interviewed some of the workers before they died, and their spouses afterwards. There's a criminal prosecution in Italy, a consumer case, where there are manslaughter charges brought against 31 chemical executives for exposing workers to these same chemicals. Would the President support a manslaughter prosecution against chemical executives in this country for that kind of behavior that was exposed on Monday night?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a topic I've discussed with the President and I won't comment on shows I haven't watched, so I can't tell you.
Q On Kyoto, Ari, was there any discussion, and what did the White House believe the wisdom was of approaching this by saying, we're going to throw this whole treaty out, we're going to start from scratch, as opposed to going in and discussing with our allies ways of changing the treaty to meet the President's concerns?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you should withhold until you are filled in on what the Cabinet-level review will show. The Cabinet-level review is going to be broad, it's going to look at what the President views as a serious problem, which is global warming. So until they complete their review I think it's premature to judge what will be in it.
Q Why didn't the White House wait until the Cabinet-level review was done before deciding what to do on the treaty?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President has always opposed the treaty. It's a question of what can we do based on sound science and a balanced approach as a nation to take action against global warming. That's why the President opposed the Kyoto treaty and that's why he has directed the Cabinet-level review to take place.
Q That doesn't explain why you couldn't have gone in and said, look, there are parts of this treaty -- obviously, the developing world is not included, and also we think it's too hard on us for economic growth, so let's figure out ways to change it. And can you give us some specifics on the economic cost to the U.S.? What is it particularly that the President is concerned about in terms of the economic cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I have addressed the President's concerns about the treaty. And as for solutions for global warming, once again, you have to wait for the review of the Cabinet-level review. But the President does believe that working with our friends and allies and through international processes, we can develop technologies, market-based incentives, and other innovative approaches that can combat global climate change.
Q I don't understand. Why not work for change this treaty? That's what people were originally trying to do? Why not put this on the table and work with those countries --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President opposes this treaty in its present form. And I think until you see the results of the Cabinet-level review, it's premature to speculate about exactly what steps the administration will make. But, obviously, any time a treaty has to be submitted by 55 of the signatory nations in order for it to go in effect and only one nation has submitted it, it's an indication that other nations agree with the United States.
Q Well, let's be clear. I mean, is this treaty from the United States' viewpoint, dead, or -- because he opposes it doesn't mean that you have abandoned it, necessarily -- has this treaty been abandoned by the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: Given the fact that it was voted 95-0 against in the Senate, it's a clear sign that there is little support, if any, to --
Q What nation ratified it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Romania submitted it for it to be in effect -- Romania did.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let me -- I have something on that. You remind me of the campaign. The President is opposed to the legalization of marijuana, including for medicinal purposes and he strongly supports the current federal law that's in place.
Q Why not trust the people?
Q Give us a reason as to why.
MR. FLEISCHER: I've not discussed it at length with him about his reasons why, so I can only tell you that is his position.
Q Ari, on medical marijuana, several times during the campaign early on he said he was in favor of letting states decide for themselves about marijuana. Has he changed that position?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President's position is always on state referenda and things like that. That is a process question where the states have the right to follow their own processes. But as the President has said, and as you know -- as discussed by campaign spokespeople with you directly during the campaign -- the President opposes it, he supports federal law. On the personal level, he opposes medical marijuana, but he supports the federal law.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that -- I'm not going to speak for the Chancellor when he is here, but the President expects to talk about the strong, lasting bilateral relationship we have with Germany. We're going to talk about -- I anticipate that the President will talk about missile defense, ESDP, NATO enlargement and other European security issues. But the President will always be receptive to talking about any issue that is on the Chancellor's agenda, as well, of course.
Q Ari, on the Middle East, how would you classify the administration's relationship now with Ariel Sharon and with Yasser Arafat, in view of the violence and the strong administration request to Arafat to preempt the violence?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President spoke to Prime Minister Sharon last night about the most recent violent incidents in the Middle East. The United States strongly condemns the violence that has taken place. There is no excuse, no justification for the bombings that recently took place in Israel. And the President again reiterates his call for the violence to end. And that way we can move forward to secure a direct conversation between the parties in the Middle East so that they can reach an agreement that they, the two parties, support.
Q Did he talk to Arafat?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President opposes the cloning of human beings.
Q And he thinks there should be a federal statute or federal -- I mean, how would he -- is there any policy movement towards that end that he thinks are necessary or appropriate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the moral and ethical issues posed by human cloning are profound and cannot be ignored, even in the quest for scientific discovery. And, frankly, there is a general consensus around the scientific community and many other places that supports what the President has said. The President believes that any attempt to clone a human being would present a grave risk to both -- to the mother and the child. He opposes it on moral grounds. And there is a presidential directive already in place that prohibits federal funding for cloning of humans, and the President supports that.
Q What about a statute or something barring the cloning -- that only prohibits, as I understand it, the cloning of humans with federal funds. Would he support a statute to make it unlawful to try to clone a human being in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will work with Congress on that, because the President believes that no research -- no research to create a human being should take place in the United States.
Q Ari, what about the cloning of human cells for purposes other than to actually create a human being? (Laughter.)
Q Replacement parts. (Laughter.)
Q Stem cells.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know the President's position on stem cells.
Q No, I know his position on embryonic stem cells. I don't know his position on cloning.
MR. FLEISCHER: But that's not a cloning issue. You just heard the President's position on cloning of humans. That's the President's position.
Q What about cloning human cells?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of the distinction between the issue of cloning human beings and cloning human cells.
Q Big distinction. Big distinction. Could you check that?
Q -- is it true that today, His Majesty, the King of Spain Juan Carlo, and his wife, are going to be received by the President and the First Lady. And in view of that, are you aware that the Hispanics has created a Latino army of -- in order to support the faith and community initiative of the President, because they want to create a unity in this country for America's -- prosperity, peace and national security? Do you say the President supports these kinds of endorsement of the Latino -- in which the Latino people -- there are people like me -- what is your response?
MR. FLEISCHER: If I understand, there are two questions there. One, the President is meeting for tea with the King of Spain at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon. And as you rightly point out, many descendants of Spain who live in the United States and are part of the Hispanic community in this country are strong supporters of the President's faith-based initiative. The President is going to continue to reach out to those people and to build additional support, but he's very proud and pleased to have the support of the Hispanic community in large part for his faith-based initiatives.
Mr. Kinsolving has his hand up.
Q The President, today, proclaimed April as National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Does he believe it was right or wrong for The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN to refuse to report the five-hour rape and murder of a 13-year-old -- by adult homosexuals while they all reported extensively the murder of adult homosexual Matt Shepard who propositioned and fondled two thugs in a bar? How do you feel about that, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, it's not the habit of the President of the United States to tell the networks or the papers what they should and should not cover.
Q Does he think it was right or wrong? I mean, what is his opinion?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not discussed that specific question with the President.
Q Bill Safire and The New York Times quotes candidate George Bush last May saying, quote, "As soon as I take office, I will begin the process of moving the U.S. ambassador to the city Israel has chosen as its capital." Did he keep that promise? And precisely, what, if anything at all, has been done to move our ambassador to Jerusalem since January the 20th, or will your courteous and charming evasion indicate, Ari, that not a damn thing has been done, and that this campaign was broken?
MR. FLEISCHER: I thought I was in the middle of a compliment for a moment. (Laughter.)
Q Go back. Go back.
Q What has been done -- specifically, what has been done? Can you name one single thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Upon taking office, the President has discussed this matter with his national security team. And the State Department is taking a look at this and looking at the timing of it. And it begins with the process --
Q A two-month look --
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, the situation in the Middle East is very difficult right now. The President is cognizant of that. But the President has discussed this matter with his security team and Secretary Powell has said that they have received the President's direction, and the question is the process.
Q The joint tax committee, which you have quoted recently in support of the President's plan, in the last couple of days came up with an estimate that the estate tax repeal could cost more than $600 billion, I gather because of loopholes and transactions that would occur. I wonder if you could comment on that if you think that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm delighted you asked me that. (Laughter.) The estimate by the Joint Committee on Taxation on repeal of the death tax assumes an immediate, full repeal of death taxes, which, of course, is not the President's proposal. The President has proposed a phased-in repeal of the death tax over an extended period of years. If I recall from the President's position, it was, I think a six, seven, eight-year phase-in -- it was a multiyear phase-in. So it's an apple and an orange.
Of course, it's going to cost more if you do it overnight. But that's not the President's proposal. The President's proposal is a lengthy phase-in. So it's not proper to compare the two.
Q Did you ever get any information on the Office of Women's Initiatives and Outreach?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Since we gaggled this morning, I've been in meetings with the President and then with the congressional leaders, so I haven't gotten to the bottom of it yet.
MR. FLEISCHER: You never know.
Q I mean, is he planning to actually have -- as far as I can tell, the only one he's really done is when he came down here on short notice, pretty early on.
MR. FLEISCHER: He always reserves the right to come down here on short notice. And he very well may.
Q Will he actually plan to have a formal news conference?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President considers every day he takes the questions from the press, which he does on a virtually daily basis, a way to take your questions.
Q Not today.
MR. FLEISCHER: Notice emphasis on "virtually."
Q So the answer to that would be no, he doesn't plan to have one anytime soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President considers when he comes down here and takes questions a formal news conference. Of course, when he was with President Fox in Mexico, the two stood up, took questions. Prime Minister Blair, the meetings in the Oval Office with foreign leaders. The President continues to be accessible, and that will be his approach.
Q No solo news conference in the East Room, with chairs and the formal set-up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me fill you in a little more on that. What the President thinks is important is to be available to answer reporters questions, regardless of what room he happens to be in. He doesn't think the American people really care a wit about whether he's in the East Room or in the press briefing room. The President prefers an informality about certain things. What's important is that people have an opportunity to ask questions. And I think when you look at how many questions the President has taken from the press since day one of his administration, he's readily available.
Q I was going to say what Sonja said. It's been almost 10 weeks. We've had one formal press conference.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, that news conference was about four weeks ago. So it was not 10 weeks, it was four weeks ago.
Q Still, we've had one in almost 10 weeks. And normally -- I'm not trying to compare him with other Presidents, but normally we would expect at least once a month. I don't know if that's the President's feeling. I know he takes a lot of questions.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's pleased to be accessible, and he'll continue to be so. Not all the Presidents always took questions at daily events the way the President does.
Q Sorry about this, but for those of us who missed the gaggle, on the Women's Office, allowing that to expire, was the question why are you letting it expire, and you don't know that.
MR. FLEISCHER: I just said I haven't been able to get to the bottom. Sonja asked me a question last week about the status, and I just haven't been able to get to the bottom yet. I have to get to the bottom of it, John.
Q The President has a Saturday deadline to certify that Yugoslavia is cooperating with U.N. War Crime Tribune with the Hague or to suspend aid. Does the President think that the new Yugoslav government is cooperating with the War Crimes Tribunal?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you properly indicated, there is a deadline upcoming, and you will receive your answer prior to the deadline.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 12:39 P.M. EST