For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 2, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
12:00 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Hello, everybody. Good morning. Welcome to Williamsburg. This is my sixth year in a row coming to this retreat, although I must say it feels a little different this year.
Let me give you a little bit of information about what took place this morning at the Library of Congress. I want to give you an update for the President's schedule next week, and then see if I can't help and answer some questions. And then the President is speaking in a little while, so we can't be too long.
The President's remarks lasted 12 minutes to the Library of Congress. He said that "It is a time for policy." He said that he will "present the exact plan I campaigned on." And then he proceeded to discuss Medicare reform, Social Security reform, defense budget, tax relief, and education.
He brought the room to a rather -- the whole meeting was attentive and silent. But he really, I think, created an emotional point in the meeting when he talked about former Lt. Governor of Texas Bob Bullock. And he talked about when Bob Bullock was on his deathbed, in the last 24 hours of Bob Bullock's life, the President was called to Bob Bullock's deathbed and summoned there by Governor Bullock. And the President said that when he was first elected as governor of Texas, some people said that Bob Bullock wouldn't be able to stand him. And he said that throughout the course of their working relationship they established together, how well they were able to do business and put Texas first and partisanship second, and that on his deathbed, Bob Bullock said to him, I want you to be President and I want you to eulogize me. And 24 hours later, Bob Bullock passed, as the President put it. And he said, "That's a lesson I carry with me." And I think the Democrats understood the point the President was making, about the importance of working with the other party, to put the nation first.
The final item is, at the end of the President's remarks, he said that, in terms of wanting people to run for office, he cited specifically wanting people to run for the Senate -- he said, "I want people to look at the system and say what a grand system it is." The President took five questions, and then he stayed and mingled for about 10 minutes or so on his way out, and then came down here, as you all know.
Q Can you just quickly reread that quote about, "it's a time for policy," and then you said, I'm going to present something --
MR. FLEISCHER: He said, "It is a time for policy." He said, "I will present the exact plan I campaigned on."
Q Is that meant to be a line in the sand?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a line in the sand. That's just a reaffirmation of the promises he made during the campaign.
Q Ari, the last quote you were talking before you ended, "I want people to look at" -- the last quote.
MR. FLEISCHER: "I want people to look at the system and say what a grand system it is." He said he wants people to run for office, he wants people to feel good about serving their country.
Next week -- the focus of next week will be on tax cuts. On Monday, the President will have an event with four Americans, each of whom will fall into the new lower brackets the President is proposing to create. On Monday, he will travel to the Department of Commerce for the swearing-in of his friend, and now Secretary of Commerce, Don Evans. And of course, we will have the working visit of Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
On Tuesday, the President will have an event, also on taxes, that focuses on creating jobs, job growth. And he will take a trip to a local small business to discuss the importance of small business in job creation and how they will be aided by his tax cut.
On Wednesday, the President will host a reunion of the tax families that those of you who may have traveled with us during the campaign will recall. Many people from across the country joined the President on the campaign trail to talk about their individual tax circumstances. He will host a reunion for those people on Wednesday.
And on Thursday, the President will send his tax legislation up to the Hill. That will be the general outlines of a tax proposal, the type of proposal that you've been getting used to, like education, disability. It will have a lot of specific information in it; it will not be bill language.
And that's the rundown for the week.
Q Can you talk about the Chretien meeting and how big a role trade policy is going to play in those talks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Canada, of course, is our nation's number one trade partner. And the purpose of the meeting is have a get-to-know-you, get acquainted session, and you can anticipate that any number of issues could come up on the agenda.
Q Is trade definitely going to come up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to preview what the agenda will be for a get-acquainted session of this nature. But I think any number of issues could come up.
Q Ari, tell us about the questions -- five questions you say. What were the subjects?
MR. FLEISCHER: All policy oriented -- questions about energy, questions about coal, questions about education. Every one was a very policy-oriented question.
Q -- of yesterday's vote? Anyone express --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not a one.
Q Ari, a question on Iraq. Does the $4 million authorized for use by the Iraqi opposition represent a stepped-up U.S. effort against Saddam Hussein?
FLEISCHER: The $4 million grant to the INC that was mentioned in the article you reference was initiated and appropriated in 1999. This was FY 2000 money intended to help the INC to gather information inside Iraq to help build a case against Iraqi leadership for crimes against humanity. A license application was submitted to OFAC under the previous administration to spend the money inside Iraq. And since passage of the Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, the United States has worked to try to improve the capabilities of the Iraqi opposition. This is a further step in that process, and it is consistent with President Bush's support for the Iraqi opposition. So this ties back to the previous legislation.
Q It's not a stepped-up effort, then?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is in accordance with previously passed legislation.
Q And what was the title of that legislation again, please?
MR. FLEISCHER: This was an appropriation item --
Q But since passage of the what act in 1998?
MR. FLEISCHER: Appropriated in '99 -- let me refer you back to Mary Ellen for a little of the background on the legislation. The part I'm more familiar with is the appropriated funds that passed in the Congress and was signed by the previous President.
Q And at that appropriation were those funds appropriated for use within the national boundaries of Iraq, and this does not represent a new policy in the Bush administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is consistent with the legislation previously passed and signed into law.
Q Ari, are there any meetings planned at Camp David, or is this purely relaxation, break?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is always free to work the phones or talk to people as he sees fit, but the purpose is relaxation. He will be joined there by his brother Marvin and his sister Doro, and their spouses.
Q Is National Security Advisor Rice going to be there?
MR. FLEISCHER: She is.
Q Anybody else?
Q Any other Cabinet members?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the only one I'm aware of.
Q He is going to return Sunday afternoon after his visit to Pennsylvania?
MR. FLEISCHER: Go to Pennsylvania, and depart from Pennsylvania, come back to Washington.
Q Why is Rice going to be there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because she'll be traveling with the President.
Q Ari, what was the President's -- how does he feel he was received? Any sense of how he feels the meeting went this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: He was received very, very well. And he was thanked by a number of senators for coming and joining with them. He was thanked by a number of senators for all the efforts that he's displayed since he was elected. In fact, one senator pointed out that the President actually began this effort before he took office, that this senator had been invited down to Austin to participate in bipartisan meetings with President Clinton -- whoops -- with President Bush. And I think there was just a note of -- stop laughing. (Laughter.)
Q In the spirit of bipartisanship. (Laughter.)
Q Just to follow up, though, some were saying that this meeting today is all part of more symbolism than substance, that this is sort of not really the substance yet --
MR. FLEISCHER: Who has said that?
Q Senator Baucus has described this as all form, no substance, this meeting this morning.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when you hear the conversations, it was so substantive, the number of discussions, the issues addressed, the meetings he's had at the White House with members of Congress, the legislation he has sent up -- it's two things. It begins with ideas and the power of his ideas; and the second thing is bipartisan cooperation to get it done.
Q Ari, Democrats in the Senate voted 42 against Ashcroft yesterday. Did the President acknowledge that in any way when he met with them this morning, or was it sort of --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, it did not come up. The President, after the vote yesterday, called Senator Lott and called now Secretary Ashcroft and thanked them, congratulated them. The President is very pleased with the vote and bipartisan support.
Q Daschle said the Democrats were trying to send a message. Does he take any message from that split?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very pleased with the entire process by which is Cabinet was chosen -- I mean, was confirmed, the speed of which his Cabinet was confirmed. And the White House views yesterday's vote as a bipartisan showing of support.
Q It's the largest number of "no" votes against a sitting, confirmed Attorney General in history. Is that meaningful --
MR. FLEISCHER: There have been other instances in which the opposite party joined ranks and voted against President Cabinet selections before. I think you just see the numbers are what they are in terms of the split in the Senate, 50-50. But, again, it was at 58; that means by definition 8 Democrats joined not only with every single Republican in the Senate, but they joined with the Executive Branch -- that is the definition of bipartisanship. And we're pleased.
Q Can you tell us anything about the meeting so far here with the Republicans?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's all been mix and mingle right now.
Q Can you give us a sense how movie night went last night?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't ask him.
Q Not even if he liked it?
MR. FLEISCHER: He was here on the helicopter; I was there; we were talking deep policy, wonk -- I didn't ask him.
Q Ari, some of the House members here today are pushing for an even larger tax package than the one the President is calling for. What is the White House position on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The plan we will send up will be the plan on which he campaigned. He will stress that today, and then I think you will also hear the President say that he understands the President proposes, the Congress disposes -- or as he says, the President suggests, and then Congress acts. And he'll look forward to working with the Congress.
Q What does he think of Clinton calling Vajpayee?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has already taken a number of steps to help the Indian government, and the government is doing -- our United States government is being very helpful in doing what it should. He has no further thoughts on the subject.
Q But did it annoy him at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No further thoughts. Q Ari, reaction from the administration to the increase to 4.2 percent in the unemployment rate for January?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, that's another reminder why it's important that the Congress pass the President's tax plan and recovery plan. The President has been indicating for a considerable period of time that the economy was softening, to the point where it should worry all Americans. This morning's increase in unemployment is another reminder that we need to work in a bipartisan fashion to pass President Bush's tax plan so we can help strengthen the economy.
Q The President has met with over the last two weeks, as you pointed out, dozens and dozens of members of Congress. In the events next week, does he continue to plan to meet with a number of lawmakers?
MR. FLEISCHER: I took a quick glance at the schedule next week; I don't recall how many congressional meetings are on there. He'll continue, yes. But the pace may slow down. We've got a few more members to meet with, of course, but he's obviously meeting with everybody in these sessions, as well, though it's a different style meeting.
Okay. Thank you.
END 12:15 P.M. EST