|Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 8, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have two personnel announcements. The President intends to nominate William Henry Lash III to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Market Access Compliance. And the President has nominated Susan Morrisey Livingstone to be Under Secretary of the Navy.
And with that --
Q How do you spell the first name, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: William Henry Lash III, Roman numerals; and Susan Morrisey Livingstone, Under Secretary of the Navy. And I'm pleased to take your questions.
Q Ari, will the judicial nominations be sent up tomorrow, and can you give us an update on where the process is that had been sort of bogged down because of Democratic objections in the area of consultation and the like?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will have an announcement to make very soon as far as the first round of judicial nominations he will be sending up to Capitol Hill. We'll be putting out tomorrow's schedule a little later this afternoon, and so that may have information that you're looking for. Just wait to see what the final information is this afternoon's guidance.
Q On the question of dealing with Senate Democratic objections.
MR. FLEISCHER: I was just getting to that. It was a two-part question. The President takes very seriously the Senate role of advice and consent. And throughout this process, at the President's direction, White House Counsel Al Gonzales has been talking with senators of both parties and will continue to talk to senators of both parties about the process.
The President wants to make this a cooperative, collegial process. That will be his intention, and that's how he will proceed with all his nominations for the Bench.
Q Ari, what message are you sending to Senate Democrats who may threaten to blue-slip some of your nominees without a valid reason?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's message is that the nominees he is going to send up are going to be people that the nation will be proud of. There are going to be people who will not legislate from the Bench, there will be judicial scholars, there will be people who will represent the nation well serving on the courts. And he hopes to take that message to Democrats and Republicans alike.
He hopes that the process will not become politicized, and he is also concerned about the vacancies on the Bench and what vacancies on the Bench mean for denial of justice, as cases are not heard, where cases are stretched out or people have slow access to the courts because there are judicial emergencies in effect, and where there are not sufficient justices or judges to serve in various regions in circuit courts or district courts. So the President is going to move forward and work very closely with the Democrats and Republicans.
Q And if the process does become politicized, what is he prepared to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to have a first round of announcements to make. Then I think it will be interesting to see how well received they are. The president hopes they will be received well; and that way, the process of filling up the courts can begin so people's justice is not delayed or denied.
Q Ari, on the subject of politicizing this process, Democrats would say it already has been and this White House has been part and parcel of that politicalization, A, by taking the ABA out of the system and by giving a green light to a new standard, this blue slip process in the Senate itself, where under the old system, you had to have two blue slips from each of the state senators or the senators from the states from which the nominee came. Now it's merely one. And by doing that, you have shifted the whole groundwork in dealing with the judicial appointees.
MR. FLEISCHER: As far as the American Bar Association is concerned, the American Bar Association is and will be involved. The only question is, is there any one group in America that should have a preferential role earlier than all other groups and above all other groups.
So the American Bar Association will have an equal role of all the other groups who are entitled and the President will welcome their input and their ideas once the nomination is made.
As far as the so-called blue slipping issue, that really is an internal Senate matter. The President's approach is going to be to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to convince them to support his nominees. That's his approach. I think you have to talk internally to the Senate about whether they set up any procedures that some say are in accordance with the way it's always been and others on the Hill say it's not in accordance with the way it's always been. That's an arguable point up on Capitol Hill.
Q Ari, would you agree that there is an unprecedented conflict between the Executive Branch and Congress over these judicial nominees?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to let the process begin, and the process begins when the President sends his nominations up to the Hill and I think it will be very noteworthy to see how these initial round of nominees are received.
The President believes that he has every good reason to see these nominees received well, to be received in a vein that is productive so that the confirmation process can quickly move forward.
Q Since you've drawn so much attention to how this first list of nominees will be received, can you comment on some analysis that I have received from people on Capitol Hill that there has been a culling of this list already to eliminate from this first list any potential judicial nominee that might be blue-slipped? But this first slate, if you will, is a very clean slate, politically speaking, and that the controversies may, in fact, be visited upon the second, third and fourth list of judicial nominees.
MR. FLEISCHER: I would urge you to await the submission of the names and you'll come to your own conclusions about the quality and the caliber of the men and women that the President sends up to the Senate so it can play its constitutional role in advice and consent.
Q So the administration has not in any way changed the list of the number of people -- would send up on the last two or three days based on advice its gotten internally from Senate Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's hard to change something that hasn't happened yet. The administration has not yet submitted any lists up to the Hill.
Q Isn't it true that the number of nominees that were intended to be submitted, has been changed by the number of three?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not made any announcements yet. So until the President makes an announcement, any such speculation is conjecture or premature. The announcement is made when the President makes it.
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House views that as a disappointment, and it's not going to stop this President, however, from vociferously carrying out America's role around the world in reducing the flow of narcotics and fighting the drug war at home.
In fact, the President, this week will have some announcements to make about fighting the war against drugs, and he'll have some announcements to report on that front. And so, despite this action, the President will continue to hold America high in fighting the scourge of drug abuse around the world.
Q A follow-up. That, in conjunction with the Human Rights Commission, is there any thought that a message should be sent to the U.N. by the U.S. by perhaps withholding dues?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President believes we should pay the dues that we owe to the United Nations. But the President is also concerned about the signal the United Nations, through these two entities, is sending to the world about the seriousness with which these entities will carry out their mission in fighting for human rights or fighting against drugs.
It's hard to be committed to the cause of human rights when you've put Sudan and Libya on a panel that's dedicated to fighting for the cause of human rights. The real losers in this equation are people around the world who are struggling to be free. The United States is going to continue its role as a beacon of freedom and human rights. And the President will continue to speak out.
It's unfortunate that this one panel of the United Nations will be a weakened voice in that effort. But I remind you that this is not the full United Nations. The full United Nations will be able to carry out its work on human rights and other areas. These are two entities within the United Nations.
Q On the same theme, Ari, it seemed last week as if the White House was taken somewhat by surprise on the first vote, the Human Rights Commission. And then, Secretary Powell said that he wasn't going to spend time trying to figure out who voted against us, it was a secret ballot, and so forth. At the same time, given the pattern that's emerged here between this and the narcotics vote, it does seem as if there's some kind of problem that the U.S. has to figure out whether we're the central player in. What are you doing to figure out what is going on in these votes? Are you interested in who the countries are --
MR. FLEISCHER: As you acknowledged, Secretary Powell has pointed out that in a secret ballot, where people give you a written assurance, saying, yes, we are voting for you, and then they don't keep their word when it counts, it's not likely that they're going to keep their word when you ask them, or tell you, oh, yes, we're one of those nations that gave you a written commitment, but then we voted against you in reality. It's not exactly the type of action or behavior that most nations fess up to.
The United States had the written assurances of those nations. Those nations did not keep their word. But the --
Q The same thing in the narcotics case?
MR. FLEISCHER: The same thing in the narcotics case, that's correct. But the point is, the real losers here are people around the world who are struggling for freedom and whose human rights need to be protected. They're the ones affected by this vote. It's not the United States. The United States is the land where human rights prevail, and the United States is a nation where its President will continue to speak out on behalf of the cause of freedom and human rights.
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie, as far as the plane is concerned, the discussions are underway with Chinese officials about returning the plane, and the President is going to allow those discussions to proceed, and allow them to take place so that we can get the plane back. And Secretary Rumsfeld said the most efficient and effective way to bring back an airplane is to let it fly, and if the plane is judged capable of flying, then we'll just continue the talks with China and hopefully that will get resolved somewhat soon.
Q Ari, considering the President's warm commendation of the Navy pilot who saved the lives of that surveillance plane's crew, and this morning's page 1 report on The Washington Times is the Pentagon is considering sending fighter escorts, my question is -- part one and two -- part two, would you deny that the President will never again allow a surveillance crew's lives to be threatened by no U.S. fighter support, or will your neither confirm nor deny not be an obvious refusal to deny the very good news about the Bush administration?
Q Could you repeat the question? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, no, no. I understand it. Les, as you've indicated, the United States is not going to be put in a public position of telling other nations when we are flying military missions, whether they are reconnaissance or otherwise.
Q That wasn't my question. The question is fighter support. He's not going to risk any more lives, is he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Fighter support, of course, is a military mission. And so I am not going to indicate to you whether or not we are, indeed, operating any escorts anywhere around the world.
Q So you're not denying it. (Laughter.) The second question. Does the President believe that Pope John Paul in Syria should have immediately denounced Bashar Al-Assad's incredible and disgusting Jew-baiting, or does the President believe that the Holy Father may have been emulating Jesus' silence in front of Herod, as well as far more effective than a Syrian shouting match, given John Paul's frequent outreach to Judaism?
MR. FLEISCHER: A question about Bashar's comments was addressed yesterday at the State Department, and I think they have expressed the position of the United States government, as far as what Bashar said.
Q Well, this morning we got news and so forth. Does the President -- doesn't feel that Pope John Paul was wrong, does he?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's focus is on what Bashar said.
MR. FLEISCHER: Has it?
MR. FLEISCHER: They're well along. I think that until the President makes an announcement, you can always anticipate that there is room for something to be changed or added to it or subtracted. But they're very well along.
Q And my other question related to that is, do you have any concerns that with all this focus on the long term when this thing comes out, a lot of people who are worried a lot about high energy prices right here and now are going to say, you know, where's the help for us in this thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the American people want to know is that the government takes these problems seriously and has a plan to do something about them, and to do something about them in a way that can help as much as is doable in the here and now. But the American people also want to know that the government is moving forward on a variety of fronts, that involve conservation, that involve production, that involve modernizing our aging, deteriorating infrastructure, so that there are long-term solutions to the energy problems that people face.
I think one of the frustrations that people in the country have with Washington over the years is that Washington doesn't focus on long-term problems. If people had focused on long-term problems five or 10 years ago, people would not be in the spot they're in today.
Q Ari, but that's small consolation if you're pumping $3 a gallon.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the plan is going to have a series of initiatives in it, such as conservation and clearly, to the degree that people can conserve, it can have a short-term impact. But the program will also, in addition to conservation, focus on long-term solutions, and I think that's something that the American people will take comfort in.
Q A couple of new economy questions. The House and Senate are both looking at anti-spam legislation. Some consumers don't like it. But there are some 1st Amendment concerns raised on the other side. What is the overall President's position on anti-spam legislation, this particular bill, HR-3113 from Heather Wilson and Gene Green?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President, of course, has nothing but the deepest respect for all the Constitution provisions; it's the 1st Amendment that deals with freedom of speech. At the same time, he believes that consumers should be empowered and individuals should not be subject to numerous or unwanted spam messages. And that means working very carefully with all sides on this issue to find the appropriate balance to protect people's 1st Amendment rights, also protecting consumers and individuals' rights to not be spammed when they do their work.
Q Secondarily, the Internet tax is up this year. What is the overall White House position on should it be extended and whether dot-coms should face the same tax obligation as brick and mortar companies?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President favors an extension on the moratorium on Internet taxation, and he favors a permanent ban on all Internet access taxes. Now, he'll continue to work with the Congress for the exact duration of it.
What the President has indicated on that topic before, Major, is the Internet economy represents a new world and it has a lot of new consequences for not only consumers who like to buy products off the Internet, but also for governments who rely on sales taxes for their revenues. So he wants to have an appropriate period of time to let the moratorium continue so that policymakers can take a very careful and deliberative look at how this new Internet world is shaping revenues for the government, as well as people's abilities to shop on-line and do so in a tax-free way.
Q What constitutes an appropriate time?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's going to work with the Congress to determine what that should be.
Q Ari, a little while ago Vice President Cheney said on CNN about California's problem that they, for years they've had the attitude, well, we can conserve our way out of this problem; all we have to do is conserve; we don't have to produce any more power. And the office of Governor Davis is calling those comments inflammatory. Was it constructive to say that for the Vice President?
MR. FLEISCHER: This has been a very difficult issue for the state of California, and the position of the President and the Vice President is that we will continue -- this administration will continue to do all it can to help California. Governor Davis has sent a letter to the President thanking him for all the actions that the President has taken, and the President has been very pleased to have responded to the Governor's request and to be of assistance to the Governor. So, too, the Vice President.
I think the people of California recognize the difficult spot, the unique spot that their state is in, and the President and the Vice President are going to continue to help California while they move ahead with the plan that represents fundamental long-term thinking, so other states don't have to go through this and so California can recover from it.
Q But is it fair to characterize the Vice President's comments as essentially blaming Californians for their energy problems and saying, Cheney to California, drop dead?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not what the Vice President said. I think no matter how you analyze it, California, while doing its best with its economy and with its environment, has not built any new plants in 10 years. And California's electricity usage has soared, and the fact that no new plants have been built during that 10 years has contributed mightily to the problem. There's no debate about that. I think everybody recognizes that.
Californians recognize that, and that's why the Governor of California has worked diligently now to bring new plants on-line. And he, himself, has said they'll have some new plants on-line this summer, and additional new plants on-line after this summer. And I think that's a recognition of what the Vice President has said is valid.
Q And so it is partly their fault, they made some miscalculations?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Vice President is not interested, and neither is the President interested in pointing fingers. They're both interested in solving problems.
Q But he did point fingers.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think it's pointing a finger to say no new plants have been built in 10 years.
Q Is the Vice President inclined to try to instruct through this report states to build plants, and any particular states that he has an eye on for new power plants?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the report will speak for itself as far as what regulatory actions can be taken, what incentives can be given so that new plants can be built. And it's not going to be the role of the United States government to pick the sites for those plants, it's going to be determined by the market and by other factors that are local.
But the purpose of the report will be to help in a way that encourages conservation, that encourages production, and addresses some of the infrastructure problems. One example on infrastructure when we talk about the price of gasoline is that capacity utilization of our refineries, even if you have an abundance of supply, if you don't have the refineries to get gas to the market, prices will remain high. And that's a reason that the report will also focus on capacity utilization.
For example, in May of 1990, refinery capacity utilization ran at 85 percent. In May of 2000, capacity utilization for refineries was at 96 percent. They're running full-speed. It's a reflection of the fact that we have an aging infrastructure that needs more capacity, that needs more modernization, so that prices can be lowered.
Another example of capacity utilization that's impacting the market is that the average capacity utilization for refineries for all of 2000 was 94 percent; across all industry as a whole, capacity utilization for all types of products ran at 82 percent. And that's a reflection on how tight utilization, tight infrastructure needs are inhibiting people's ability to get more gas at a lower price. And that's an area that the report will focus on.
Q Ari, is it still your contention that it would take a magic wand to offer Americans some short-term relief from $2.50-$3.00 a gallon gasoline prices this summer? And two, what level of urgency will the President attach to implementing this national energy policy? It seems that the White House is being quite casual about it and saying, well, we can't do anything for five or 10 years.
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, this White House is the first White House in many a year to focus immediately and to focus at all on a comprehensive national energy policy. The American people might not be in this position had there been previous thinking about how to address our nation's energy woes. Many of these same problems persisted last year, for example. And the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was tapped. That did not turn out to be a fruitful way to address the problems.
This administration, under President Bush's leadership, takes very seriously the problems of energy costs, the impact it's having on low-income Americans particularly, and the problems it presents for American people when they have blackouts, when they have brownouts, and that's why the President ordered, from the very beginning of his administration, a comprehensive national energy policy to be developed.
In fact, the President as you know, announced the heart of this proposal in September during the campaign. So it's been a top priority for President Bush all along, and it's been a top priority now that he's in office. And you will be hearing more about that very shortly.
Q So give us some sense of what level of urgency you will attach to implementing it.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why the President has moved -- the President attaches such a level of urgency to solving the nation's energy problem that he moved on it as quickly as he has. This is something that he immediately addressed upon becoming President. And it is a reflection of the fact that the President recognized America was in the middle of a serious crisis dealing with a lack of energy. And he immediately, upon taking office, put in place the review group led by the Vice President to recommend policies. And that is now coming to fruition.
And once the recommendations are received, the President is going -- or once the President makes his recommendations, he will travel across the country, he will meet with Americans to promote his proposals. He will work very closely with the Congress and he will urge the Congress to take action, because time is of the essence.
Q Well, that makes it about the -- at least secondary to his economic policies. So are we to assume since he is following basically the pattern he did with his tax cut, he figured the tax cut was more important than dealing with the energy problem?
THE PRESIDENT: It's not linear. The President has many top priorities. This is, indeed, one of the most important.
Ari, for 60 years, federal law has prohibited foreign government takeover of U.S. telecommunications assets. Last month, the FCC rewrote the law and allowed German government Deutsche Telekom to buy VoiceStream.
Senator Hollings is upset. He is going to introduce legislation to reverse it. And in the 92-page decision by Michael Powell, the son of Colin Powell, the head of the FCC, he basically said foreign government controlled companies, no problem, come in. I was wondering, does the President side with Michael Powell, at the FCC, or does he side with Senator Hollings who's going to introduce legislation and who said, we didn't deregulate the telecommunications market so the German government can come in and buy this.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I can't get you anything on that.
Q This is about trade. And I would like to know if the White House was informed by the Mexican government when President Fox was here last week, did they intend to establish -- re-establish their relations with Cuba? Apparently, there is conversations to pursue with a trade agreement between both governments sometime before the end of this year. Do you have any information on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was not a topic that came up during the course of their conversation in the Oval Office.
Q And what about the Helms-Burton law? Would you be willing to implement this law if Mexico pursued this initiative?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with any hypothetical situations involving Mexican initiatives if the United States has not been informed of those initiatives. So I view that as a hypothetical.
Q Some in the environmental community are already objecting to the formulations of this energy policy, in that they have not been brought in to even informal discussions here with the White House as the policy has been developed. They allege, however, that industry representatives from the oil, gas, coal, nuclear industry have been. Can you summarize for us the kind of consultations the White House has undergone, and if in fact this contention from the environmental community that they've been frozen out is in fact true?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the task force did meet with a number of groups from the environmental community. I'll try to get that for you, or you may want to talk to Claire right after the briefing, because she might have it, but I don't have it in front of me, or talk to the Office of the Vice President. They'll be able to make that available.
But the goal of the task force from the beginning was to reach out and listen to a variety of voices and concerns. And that involved people who produce energy, that involves people who consume energy, and that involves people from the environmental community who also have important thoughts to share.
Q If I could follow up on the U.N. situation. Does this administration think now would be a good idea for the Senate to move on its nominee to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Negroponte? He was nominated, but he has not been dealt with by the Senate. And do you believe that this is in any way inhibiting the U.S.' ability to deal with some of these controversies going on at the U.N. about whether it stays or does not stay on these various panels?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second point you're making, I don't think the fact that the Senate may or may not have confirmed somebody for the U.N. Ambassador position would have had an impact on people keeping their word when they made a written promise to the United States government.
On the first point, the President would urge the Senate to move quickly on all the nominations that have been submitted that are now under review in the Senate.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views it as, frankly, a source of trouble for people who love freedom around the world. They're the ones who are affected, not the United States. The United States is going to continue to be a country that fights the war on drugs. And the United States is going to continue to be a country that speaks out for human rights.
The real losers in this vote are people around the world who need a strong United Nations and a strong voice on behalf of human rights. They are the ones most affected.
Q Could I follow? Is Kofi Annan going to be talked to about this by anybody in the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't rule that in or out. I know he's --
Q I mean, he's the Secretary General -- is not the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the underlying problem again is when a nation gives you a written commitment that it will support you and does not honor that written commitment, it is hard to imagine how to get something more in concrete than a written commitment.
Well, again, it's a secret ballot, Connie. So, as I indicated earlier, if you go up to somebody and say, we had your written commitment, did you honor it, it's not likely they're going to just fess up to you when you ask them the question.
Q Are you willing to publish the list of the commitments you got? Not the vote, obviously, but can we get a list of the countries that committed in each of these two votes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me talk to State and see where we stand on that.
Q What was the vote going in and what was the vote coming out? Do you know that off the top of your head?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not the vote-counter.
Q Earlier, there was a question about whether we were trying to get to the heart of this problem, which is I guess multilateral relations between the U.S. and those countries that did not honor their commitments to vote in favor of U.S. participation in these two U.N. groups.
Are we trying to do that? And do we feel that there is some difficulty in U.S. relations with these countries that can be traced to the new administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've exhausted this topic. I've answered that question previously.
Q But I don't think you have answered that question. You've talked about a secret ballot. But there's no indication that we even care what countries didn't honor their commitments. Are we endeavoring to find out, and do we feel -- are we trying to deal with those countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as I explained, it's a secret ballot. It's not exactly clear how you find out who did not honor their commitment.
Q How do you feel about torture? (Laughter.)
Q A quick question. The Secretary of State and the FEMA Director, up on the Hill, talking about the threat of terrorism within our borders and home on defense, is the administration, as part of this effort, considering asking for new legal authority, or revising posse comitatus laws to enable a greater involvement of the U.S. military in homeland defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not any information that I have, Terry. There is an announcement that's going to be made up on the Hill today by Joe Allbaugh concerning preparedness for any type of chemical, biological or nuclear threat that would take place within our borders. Administrator Allbaugh will be announcing that. I'm going to have a statement out a little bit later today explaining that in further detail. But that's not anticipated.
Q Is this a major effort of the administration to begin coordinating what is right now a sort of scattered set of commitments across agencies?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q And I'm wondering if, as part of that, there will be an integration of military into this issue, which would require reform of --
MR. FLEISCHER: The military is involved, not in the terms that you were using, but the military, of course, is involved in any matters of preparedness at home and dealing with threats that I just mentioned. Several government agencies are: The Department of Justice, the military, FEMA will be playing a lead role in that, and the Vice President will also be coordinating and chairing a group that's focused on protecting Americans from any such events.
Q Ari, last week, President --
MR. FLEISCHER: You only get one today. Heidi hasn't had one yet.
Q On China, why resume spy planes so soon when we know this is an irritant and a potential obstacle to getting our plane back?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, I'm not going to confirm or discuss the military operations in a detailed level like that.
Q Going back to the U.N. vote for a moment, some commentators have pointed the finger of blame at the State Department in general and Secretary Powell in particular for being blind-sided by this vote, not doing their homework. Does the President share that criticism?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking me does the President have a blame America first reaction to something that hurts people all around the world when it's these other nations that cause this to take effect, the answer is clearly no.
Q Does he think -- is he satisfied with Secretary Powell's performance in this matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. He understands.
Q Ari, in terms of the education bill, there's been some talk surfacing on Capitol Hill that there may be an amendment that would prohibit school curricula from discussing or including materials on the subject of hate crimes, including those directed against Lesbians and gays and sexual orientation.
And would the President have a feeling one way or another on whether that sort of thing should be included?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not seen or heard anything on such an amendment, so I would hesitate to answer a question on that. The President hopes that the Congress will pass his education plan, which included no such provision.
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't say if they've spoken recently. I can tell you that the President's position is a long-held position about extending the Internet moratorium and having no permanent taxes. That's what President George W. Bush believes.
Q Is your assumption that they have had conversations --
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you.
END 2:10 P.M. EDT