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Press Secretary Briefings
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 1, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1. Personnel announcements
2. President's calls to Prime Ministers Blair and Ahern
3. Vote on energy policy
4. Patients' bill of rights
5. Mary Gall nomination
6. Northern Ireland
7. Code Red virus
8. Slavery reparations
9. Pinochet trial
10. Negroponte nomination
11. Middle East/continued violence
12. EPA decision/Hudson River
13. Pentagon visit of the President
14. Education/Urban League remarks
1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Hello, recess anxious people. Good afternoon. In addition to personnel I have a readout on two phone calls the President made, and an opening statement about some important legislation pending on the Hill today concerning energy.
Personnel: President Bush today is announcing his intention to nominate six individuals to serve as United States attorneys, and his intention to nominate two individuals to serve as members of the federal judiciary. The individuals for U.S. attorney are: Timothy Burgess for the district of Alaska; Henry Mattice, Jr. for the eastern district of Tennessee; Robert McCampbell for the western district of Oklahoma; Paul McNulty for the eastern district of Virginia; Michael Mosman for the district of Oregon; and Strom Thurmond, Jr. for the district of South Carolina.
In addition, the President intends to nominate Marian B. Horn to be a judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims, and the President intends to nominate Charles F. Lettow to be a judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims.
This morning, President Bush telephoned Prime Ministers Blair and Ahern to state his strong support for the package proposals their government released today to the political party leaders in Northern Ireland. The President believes the package is fair and that it charts the way forward in areas central to the Good Friday Agreement. The proposals also recognize that a commitment to democrat governance and normalized security requires all parties to renounce violence and deal decisively with paramilitary weapons. Consequently, substantial progress on decommissioning is an essential part of today's package, in the President's opinion.
The President also reiterated in the phone calls the United States stands ready to help in any way that the governments and the parties find useful, and he urges all parties to do everything in their power to take the next steps to implement the Good Friday Agreement.
There will be a statement from the President coming out on this topic shortly after this briefing.
And finally, there will be a very important vote scheduled tonight in the House of Representatives on providing the first comprehensive national energy policy for our nation in many a year, at least a decade. The President is very pleased that the House is taking up one of his major priorities, and certainly a priority for the American people so they can be less dependent on foreign supplies of oil and have more stable and steady supplies of oil, gasoline, and increased conservation measures at home.
The action in the House is focused on increased conservation, promoting technology, expanding the use of renewables and increasing efficiency, increasing energy exploration and promoting a clean environment.
And just as a reminder, over the next 20 years, it's estimated that U.S. oil consumption will increase 33 percent and electricity demand will increase by 45 percent. The United States, as a country, relied on foreign supplies of oil to the degree of only 33 percent at the time we were vulnerable to price shocks as a result of the 1973 Arab oil embargo. The United States currently depends on -- 52 percent of its oil consumption on foreign nations. That's estimated, at current rates, to increase to 67 percent by 2020.
The action in the House today can pave the way to making America more energy-independent, and the President is pleased that the House is taking up this issue.
With that, I'm more than happy to take your questions.
Q Ari, on patients' bill of rights, there seems to be a little less optimism today about a deal, and that the sense is that whatever compromise might be hammered out, there's a very sort of loose, iffy chance of actually getting through. You might win it, squeaking by or you might lose it big. What's your read and the President's read on where things stand? And I'll have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The President remains -- I hear there's a follow-up. The President remains optimistic. Talks are ongoing as we speak. And last night, the White House negotiators met with their counterparts, with Congressman Norwood until just before midnight, and the President has been kept up on a regular basis, he frequently inquires. But the President is optimistic. He thinks it's terribly important that the nation have a patients' bill of rights, and that's why it is coming down to the last hour of the last day. But the President believes that in the end that a deal is reachable.
Q There's a lot of nuance here, though, so forgive me for pressing. But yesterday, you said that you were on the verge of having a patients' bill of rights that could be signed.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Is there --
Q He said threshold.
Q Will there be anything else? (Laughter.)
Q Very nuanced.
Q Do you still feel that way, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question that the United States is today on the threshold of having a patients' bill of rights that can be signed into law. The President and Congressman Norwood have made very important progress on resolving the last few remaining differences between themselves. There is a question about whether or not those who have been supporting Congressman Norwood will, in the end, agree to what Congressman Norwood agrees to. But the President has been encouraged as a result of the talks, as a result of the importance of this issue.
I think it's a sign that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue have indicated a willingness to reach in the middle on this issue. It remains to be seen whether we can close all the gaps, whether those who are working with Congressman Norwood will allow him to close all the gaps. But the President is optimistic; it is not done yet.
Q Ari, did Congressman Norwood give the President sort of his kind of commitment to support the President's proposal that if you said those who support Congressman Norwood don't decide to go with it, that the Congressman will go ahead and support maybe an amendment, something the President could sign? Has he given a verbal or any kind of commitment --
MR. FLEISCHER: I won't speak for Congressman Norwood, but as I mentioned, the President is optimistic based on his conversations with Congressman Norwood. In response to David's question, Congressman Norwood also is interested in working with several of his allies who have been working closely with him on this issue for many a year. So that's really where it stands now.
Q But there's no sense he's given his commitment or any sense that he will go ahead and support what --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to let today's developments unfold. They are talking as we speak.
Q Any conversation with the President and Congressman Norwood expected today?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's always possible. They have not yet spoken today, but it is possible.
Q Ari, could you tick-tock what happened today so far? Have they -- who has met today? Who has spoken and has the President spoken to anybody?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our negotiating team has been working with Congressman Norwood and his staff; also working with others on Capitol Hill who also share a commitment to getting an agreement.
Q Okay. You said that the country is on a threshold of a patients' bill of rights. Are you on the threshold of a deal with Norwood that his allies can accept?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question I think you need to put to his allies.
Q Why? I wonder --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I don't speak for them.
Q I'm wondering what your perspective is. You're doing the negotiating. Why do I have to talk to them? I want to know if you think you're on the threshold of a deal with the people you're talking with.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question that if the President and Congressman Norwood have an agreement, it will pass the House of Representatives.
Q Okay. So you're not willing to say that a deal is imminent at this point, or that you're even close to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just indicated that the country is on the threshold; it's not done yet. This is what you would expect on the final day of important congressional action. They are hoping to go to the Rules Committee in the House of Representatives tonight. In order to get to the Rules Committee tonight, it's logical that they would have to reach an agreement today if that's going to happen.
Q If I could follow one more time. The country being on a threshold of a patients' bill of rights could also mean that the Fletcher bill is going to pass, without any of these talks with Norwood. So is that something that you're also hopeful for, believe is likely to happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there's also been a lot of progress on the Fletcher bill. But the President is going to continue to talk to Congressman Norwood and try to work out an agreement.
Q You're point is -- Norwood is your guy and he's come along, but the problem you all are having is with his allies and the other Democrats --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't want to speak for -- I'm not going to speak for the people who have worked in good faith with Congressman Norwood for many a year. But Congressman Norwood wants to be able to work with them; there is a question about whether or not, if the President and Congressman Norwood are able to agree to something, whether others who have worked with Congressman Norwood will similarly agree. But there's no question that if the President and Congressman Norwood come to an agreement, that that will be an agreement that can pass the House of Representatives, and therefore, serve the patients of this country.
Q I have another threshold issue. The Gall nomination seems to be on the threshold of defeat. Senator Daschle said today that their positions, specific especially to children's safety, make her ability to chair the commission an impossibility.
MR. FLEISCHER: You would think that if her votes were the issue, then those who oppose her now would have opposed her when they last had a chance to vote on her in 1999. The issues raised by the gentleman were raised -- were cast, those votes were cast prior to all the senators, including Senator Daschle, approving her nomination without objection in 1999. Again, this appears to be new-found opposition to someone who they previously approved.
Q He does say that the '99 vote was a deal with the Republicans to allow the confirmation of the chair, saying that they hand to do both at the same time, that it was a package.
MR. FLEISCHER: The vote still speaks for itself, that in 1999, without objection, the United States Senate passed the nomination of Mary Gall. The only thing that's different now is that President Bush has renominated her. President Clinton nominated her in 1999 and it was good enough then, it's not good enough now. And that suggests this is a partisan action by the Senate, not an action based on substance.
Q And so does the White House still stand behind Ms. Gall, or is there a chance that you would pull the nomination?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely, the White House stands behind her.
Q Even if she's going down?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll see what the vote is in the Commerce Committee tomorrow.
Q Can I follow up on that, please? How do you think the Democratic leadership has comported itself in handling this? Daschle also said today the Senate doesn't have a responsibility or a requirement to confirm anybody the President sends up.
MR. FLEISCHER: And, of course, that is accurate. But that would also be another worrisome sign that the new Senate is focusing more on partisanship than bipartisanship. The President hopes the Senate will not pursue actions that are partisan.
Q Ari, can I follow up on Ireland? I was there last week and talking to both sides. The Unionists are saying that the IRA will never completely give up their arms, and the IRA has been saying that they would lose face if they accept this decommissioning. And the British government was saying that this would be a make-or-break resolution that they're giving to the two parties. So from the U.S. point of view, what would happen if the party is willing to compromise, and how involved is the U.S. willing to get?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's why it's important that the actions announced today by Prime Ministers Ahern and Blair are given a chance to succeed. The President does think that's very important, and he wanted send a sign of support for their actions. Decommissioning is an important part of that. I don't want to go beyond that; it's a hypothetical. But this is based on the Good Friday Agreement, and this can help pave the way toward peace.
Q Ari, on patients' rights --
MR. FLEISCHER: We've been monitoring that closely. As of this time, there has been no impact on the White House.
Q And the White House web site, has it affected additional traffic? Because that was supposedly a target.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's had no impact. I can't tell you beyond that. My briefing just told me that there has been no impact on the web page. I would be happy to either try to get more information from you or refer you to the people in Media Affairs who handle the web page. But there has not been any harm done, any negative impact.
Q Any national security concerns about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing that's been brought to my attention. I think the Pentagon is dealing with it in a different manner. But no impact here. But you may want to call other agencies.
Q Could we switch to patients' bill of rights -- because I know Paula wants to, too. Has Norwood told the White House that there will be no separate deal with the White House, that he will only move forward if he can get all those who have worked with him on this on the Hill to agree?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Congressman continues to work in good faith with the White House, and I'm going to leave it at that. While we're close, we're not there yet.
Q Who is your negotiating team?
MR. FLEISCHER: It consists principally of Josh Bolten, the Deputy Chief of Staff is the lead negotiator, and he has a team of people who work with him on the issue.
Q Have they been up on the Hill most of the day?
Q Over the weekend, House Speaker Hastert had indicated a willingness to use the Norwood bill as the basic bill, with amendments as proposed by Congressman Fletcher, as a possible way of getting this through. It's been reported late last night, I guess, that Congressman Norwood is willing to support the Fletcher amendment, or pieces of that, if he can't get Democrats to sign on. It seems like there are two scenarios here. You're either one way or the other -- you can either have the Norwood base with the Fletcher amendment, or if need be, apparently Congressman Norwood might be even willing to back the Fletcher amendment if that's the only way of getting it through. Do either of those scenarios conform with the President's principles?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, again, the President is not looking at this in terms of a legislative tactician. He's looking at this in terms of what substance can get passed that is good for patients that won't drive up the cost of health care. I think several of those decisions will be made in the House of Representatives by the floor managers, by the rules committee. The President is continuing to talk to members of Congress, or the staff is continuing to talk to members of Congress, about support for the Fletcher bill. But we are also working directly and closely with Mr. Norwood.
Q What's the President's position on the United States paying reparations for slavery to African Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that, especially in the context of the upcoming Conference on Racism in South Africa that there are two issues that have the potential to take that important conference and put it off track. The President believes that conference can be an historic opportunity for the nations of the world to get together to combat the problems that are here and now that people have to deal with involving racism.
The United States intends to go to this conference. The only thing that would stop the United States from going is in the event that this conference and its organizers equate Zionism with racism in the agenda leading up to the conference, or if they look backwards at the very tangled question of reparations and slavery.
And the reason for that, Terry, is the President wants this conference to be successful by dealing with the current problems that nations and people face combatting racism. If this conference were to get lost in a tangled past that involves the question of who should pay reparations to who, when, after all, West Africans enslaved Africans -- does that mean the nations of West Africa should pay reparations to themselves? It very quickly becomes a tangled affair that does not promote the cause of racial justice; it will bog the conference down in areas that don't serve the needs of people who want to fight racism today.
Q What is the President's position on the U.S. paying reparations for slavery to African Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not something the President supports. It's not something the previous administration supported either.
Q Does the President take a position on the payment of reparations to Japanese Americans for the internment during World War II?
MR. FLEISCHER: They're separate issues. They really are different issues in the President's eyes, dealing with the internment issues that took place in this century, compared to issues that took place hundreds of years ago that, again, not only involved the United States, but involved African nations, Arab nations, European nations, as well.
Q But did he support the payment of reparations to Japanese Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, they are separate issues, and he did.
Q Randall Robinson, of Trans-Africa -- has written a book on this, called "The Debt." And he says it's not just history from 200 years ago, he says -- he calls for reparations to African Americans for the present-day racism that stems from 240 years of slavery. And if I can just read you this one sentence: No race, ethnic or religious group has suffered as much over so long as blacks have and still do at the hands of those who benefitted from slavery at the end of the century of legalized American racial hostility that followed. So exactly how is it different from compensation to Japanese Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the President's speech to the Urban League today, the President stressed that there are real problems that America faces today as a result of racial disparity. He cited education as one of the principal areas where we need to bring people together in this country; the gap between African American scores and white American reading scores is wide and it needs to be closed. The President wants to focus on the issues that will do the most to help people have a chance in life. And that involves a focus on education.
And in the question on the upcoming conference in South Africa, the President believes one of the best ways to combat racism here and now is through democracy. It's very often the non-democratic nations of the world that create the greatest threats and problems in terms of racial injustice, ethnic violence. So that's the President's approach to it.
But, again, I can only answer as I did to Terry. The President, just like President Clinton, does not support reparations. So he differs with Mr. Robinson.
Q I understood. But one follow-up. The U.S. government actually wrote a check to Japanese Americans. They didn't say, we'll improve the education system or we'll improve welfare, or whatever. They wrote a check to groups of people. Why not write a check in this case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Asked and answered. I indicated the reasons why earlier.
Q Ari, the Chilean Supreme Court has asked for Henry Kissinger to come and testify in the Pinochet's trial. What is the Bush administration's policy on that? Are they going to help advance that? Are they going to encourage Kissinger to go to Chile and testify?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me get back to you on that, or I'm going to ask the State Department to contact you on that. I'll have to take a look at that.
Q Are you all concerned with the apparent opposition to Negroponte's nomination, which seems to be delayed in the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does think it's important that the Senate take action on the nomination of John Negroponte to the United Nations. There's a very important conference coming up at the United Nations in the third week of September, and it would look very odd to the rest of the world if the United States did not have an ambassador present. And that's another reason the President has called on the Senate to resist any isolationist tendencies. It's very important that the United States be represented at the conference with a U.N. ambassador in place.
Q As long as we're back on the subject of nominations, what is the White House doing to save the Gall nomination?
MR. FLEISCHER: We've been in contact on a regular basis with members of the committee. I know that conversations were held yesterday with the chairman of the committee and others on the committee. So it's a question of counting the votes and urging members not to engage in partisan action.
Q Do you have a vote count?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't get into vote counts. I think it's going to --
Q No, but does the White House have one?
MR. FLEISCHER: We always -- the White House always does its best to count the votes. That's not a topic I get into publicly.
Q But you were about to say?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was just going to reiterate that this is an important test vote tomorrow in the Senate Commerce Committee about whether this new Senate is going to pursue a path of partisanship or a path of progress. It's just hard to understand how all senators can be for Mary Gall when she's nominated by President Clinton and then be against her when she's nominated by President Bush. Either it's a flip-flop of historic proportions or it's partisanship, and it looks like it may be both.
Q Ari, Senator Daschle today, though, said the only --
MR. FLEISCHER: Judy. Judy.
Q Ari, is there anything the administration can do to ease the deteriorating situation in the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to continue to work with all the parties in the Middle East -- so, too, Secretary Powell -- in an effort to facilitate the peace. Obviously, it has gotten difficult, much more difficult in the Middle East in the last several days. The President, again, reiterates his call for all parties to exercise restraint and to put an end to the violence.
Q Could you address this notion that the State Department and the White House are sending conflicting signals on Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: I dismiss it. We say the same things. And -- I think yesterday the White House indicated, just as the State Department did, that there needs to be implementation of the Mitchell Committee recommendations, that there needs to be an end to violence in the Middle East, that the administration, the State Department, the White House at all levels deplores the violence there. And that includes the targeted attacks.
There needs to be an end to the violence. A cease-fire is a cease-fire. And whether it's Israel or whether it's the Palestinians who engage in the violence, the United States condemns that violence, and urges all parties to cease.
Q Are you contemplating any action besides just the jawboning that you've been doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: There will constantly be conversations and phone calls. But, again, it's a reminder about the long history of difficulties for achieving peace in the Middle East. And as the President has indicated, the United States will be a facilitator to help bring about the peace. But it still fundamentally depends on the two parties to engage in peace. The United States cannot force peace. The United States will be a party to help facilitate the peace.
Q This morning, the Israeli cabinet held a security meeting, and in spite of deploring yesterday by the State Department and the White House of the targeted killing of the Palestinians, they announced this morning that they will continue this policy of assassination. Do you have any comment?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States has called on all parties to exercise restraint and to preserve what we hope can be a cease-fire. That includes opposition to a policy of targeted attacks.
Q Can I follow up on that? Many people in the Middle East sees the United States as a partner in this policy, in spite of your statements at the State Department, because American-made weapons are used in these attacks. Two children were killed, civilians, by the attack in the Hamas office where Apache helicopters were used. What are you doing to stop the Israeli government from using American-made weapons to kill civilians?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President believes that if the cease-fire can be implemented and if the two parties will be able to embrace the Mitchell Committee recommendations, that would not be an issue.
Q Senator Daschle, at a news conference this morning, said the only reason that Democrats endorsed Gall the last time around was because it was the only way they could keep Brown as the head of the Commission. And he also indicated that while he considers her a lovely person, the Democrats are concerned about the dissenting votes that she had on baby products, where her view is that the burden is placed on the parent, and it was the parents' responsibility, for example, in the case of baby bathtub rings, to be there, and when a baby is unattended --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there a question here?
Q Yes. It's just that there is a concern about baby products, and her view that it was a parental responsibility, not a manufacturers' in terms of having those on the market.
MR. FLEISCHER: And your question is?
Q The question is, you keep saying that this a political -- this is a partisan issue, when in fact, they are raising a concern of her views and her position on product safety and whose responsibility it should be.
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has changed from when you asked me the same question yesterday. I indicated that those votes took place prior to 1999 when, at that time, the Democrats all voted to confirm her, having known that was her position. So they were aware of those votes in 1999, they all voted for her in 1999. They're only voting against her now -- President Bush is the one making the nomination.
Q Ari, how confident is the administration that what the House passes today will include a provision allowing some oil drilling in ANWR?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is hopeful that the House of Representatives will take that step. The President believes it's very important to have a balanced energy program, to have conservation, but also to explore so that we can reduce American reliance on foreign supplies of oil.
It is no small threat to America that the amount of oil we import for foreign nations is almost twice what it was in 1973 when the United States was totally vulnerable to price shocks from foreign nations. And developing America's supply of energy will help America to avoid such over-dependence on foreign supply. And in that score, the President is grateful to the Teamsters, who have played a very helpful role in contacting members of the House of Representatives to convince them of the importance of providing for America's energy independence.
Q What do you say to those moderates, though, who might be concerned that the Democratically-controlled Senate has already sort of said it's going to sort of stand in the way of any drilling in ANWR? So that there might be moderates who would say why go ahead and vote for this and face sort of political repercussions from environmentalists when it may not go anywhere in the Senate? Is that a message you're hearing, and what are you doing to counteract that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The message is one in the same to both the House and the Senate, that we need to conserve and we need to make certain that America does not overly rely on steady foreign supplies of oil and energy, which will put the United States at the mercy of foreign nations. The American people want to have more stability and they want to have more control domestically of America's energy future and not let it be dependent on foreign nations.
Q So you're hopeful. Are you optimistic, cautiously optimistic, going into --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is hopeful going into the vote, and I think it will be an interesting vote to watch today.
Q A quick follow-up on the Middle East. Has the President, since Israel stepped up his policy of targeted attacks, assassinations, unilaterally violating the cease-fire -- has the President called Prime Minister Sharon on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to take a look at the last time the President talked to Prime Minister Sharon; I don't have the date. He has not talked to him this week.
Q Why not?
Q Did he call anybody today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the State Department is making its views clear at the behest of the President.
Q He doesn't feel that this series of attacks rises to the level of a leader-to-leader conversation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question about what the President has said and why he said it.
Q On the Hudson and this EPA decision regarding dredging the Hudson -- first of all, did the President sign off on this? And I'm wondering if the fact that the administration has gotten so much criticism on environmental policy, whether that influenced the decision to move forward and force GE to dredge the Hudson?
MR. FLEISCHER: This was an EPA decision that EPA made on the merits. EPA decided to move forward cleaning up the river in a way that is environmentally sound, and also responsive to the concerns of the people who live in the affected communities. The President, of course, supports EPA's decision. But this is an EPA matter and EPA has taken this step.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is over at the Pentagon right now as part of the ongoing strategic discussions that have been taking place on the question of various reviews.
Q Is he talking about base closings? What's the status of the review now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The topic over there is the strategic reviews. Every once in a while, Secretary Rumsfeld will come here, sometimes the President will go there.
On base closing, there is, in the President's budget that was submitted to the Congress earlier this year, a reference to the fact that the United States continues to have an excess capacity of military facilities and there is some concern about that. As the President reviews the military and wants to increase spending for the military, as his budget has called for, that doesn't mean there is not still room to find savings within the military. And the President is dedicated to that goal.
Q The United States has been without a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations now for a long, long time. Besides the call you made from the rostrum right now, is the President getting personally involved in calling some senators from the Foreign Relations Committee, or is Colin Powell doing the same?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that the Senate is about to adjourn in the next two days, I think this is -- unless the Senate changes its tune this week, not something that will happen this week. Now, the President would like to see it happen this week. Right now it's being handled at the staff level, but the senators are very well aware of the President's concerns.
Q On education, Ari, the President, this morning at the Urban League, he said that -- he called on the Congress, he said, we're coming down to the wire and I urge Congress to act quickly and wisely. Is he hopeful that there is actually going to be something concrete done before the next school -- September school comes in?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me return to Jacobo's question for one second, and I'll come right back to that.
I do want to leave a little room. The President often does have phone calls with members of the House or the Senate, and I'd have to ask him specifically, did this topic ever come up. He very well may have brought it up and I'm not aware of it. I've been in a lot of those phone calls and heard a lot of what he said, but I don't want to give a blanket statement on that.
On the question of education, the President is very concerned about foot-dragging in the Senate or in the House on the importance of moving education forward. The conferees are meeting today on the Hill. The President has invited the House and Senate education conferees to come to the White House tomorrow, to meet with him personally, to underscore the importance of taking action to get an agreement on an education package that improves our public schools and to do so very quickly, this fall.
The President is concerned that to help our communities plan for the upcoming school year -- not only this one, but the subsequent school year -- this education reform needs to be in place.
Q How did he feel about his reception this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: He felt very good about it. In fact, prior to the meeting, there was a speech to some 1,500 people attending the Urban League's conference. The President had a private meeting in a conference room at the convention center with about 20 of the trustees of the Urban League. It was a closed session and they asked whatever was on their mind about a whole topic of issues. And it was a very good coming-together session where I think people had a chance to hear the President's commitment to issues that are very important to the African American community. Very positive meeting.
Q On education, what can you expect to do before recess? Are you just hoping to keep things moving so that they can continue to work on it during the recess, so that it can be passed in the fall? What's your hope?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the President's speech today, the President staked out new ground on three key issues that the conferees have to face. And that deals with testing and it deals with accountability. And the President has laid out a road map in his speech today to the conferees on how to reach an agreement so that our public schools can be improved.
You know, this is a rare moment in Congress and in the White House where you have the potential for such important bipartisan progress on education. It's a sign of a new Washington, a changing Washington that Democrats and Republicans have come together on so many of these issues.
A lot of these reforms, when it comes to accountability, were resisted by Democrats in previous years, and a lot of the expansions at the federal level were resisted by Republicans. President Bush seems to be finding a new way, a middle ground, that makes education a less ideological issue and more a question of what works to improve schools for our children. And that's why in his speech today, he very clearly, on three major issues involving testing accountability, showed the conferees the path to getting a presidential signature quickly this fall.
Q What was the new round that he identified?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of testing, he talked about the right of states to have the tests that they think are the most important tests, effective tests, but the need to have a comparable basis.
The President cited the NAEP test as one such way. On accountability, the President was discussing the standards that should be used in accountability so that they're not at such an arbitrarily high level that all our schools fail. There is an important place to set the bar that is a reasonable standard, so that we can judge what schools are succeeding and what schools are not succeeding.
Q You were saying that the President thought that they were -- the standards were set too high before. Weren't those his own standards?
MR. FLEISCHER: In one version of the legislation, the standards were set at a level that was creating difficulties on the Hill, and the President today showed the way to setting the standard at a level that is more reasonable.
Q You mean, he compromised from what his earlier position was then?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll just rely on the President's words today and you can take those for -- as he said them.
Q Ari, back to nominations for a second. Can you give me the status on the three member nominations and the ambassador-at-large nomination for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom? Where does that stand right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to get back to you on that. I'll have to take that and get back.
THE PRESS: Thank you.