For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 30, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
1:38 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Two personnel announcements from the President today. The President intends to nominate Carlos Ramirez to be Commissioner of the United States Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission for the United States and Mexico. And the President intends to nominate Robin L. Higgins, to be Under Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Memorial Affairs.
Q What office is running this baseball program? Is it the faith-based group, as reported? And who is paying for the diamond?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're not going to build a diamond. We're going to drop bases, the White House will be dropping bases down on the South Lawn.
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House already has bleachers that have been used for previous events on the South Lawn. They remain in storage, they'll be brought out for this. The South Lawn has been home to many event over recent years. President Clinton used it to have a carnival on the South Lawn. There is, of course, the picnic for reporters on the South Lawn, which will be similarly followed by tee-ball on the South Lawn.
Q Will they carve out base bands so it will look like a diamond? Or it will be like a --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, they'll be running on the grass. They'll be running on the grass.
Q How often, how many games, how do you pick the teams? What are the logistics here?
MR. FLEISCHER: The teams will be selected by the Little League officials in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, the Little League organization, the official Little League organization. The games will be on a periodic basis, maybe some of them about monthly, along those lines.
The President is very much looking forward to it; Mrs. Bush is, as well. And all the moms with kids and dads with kids are looking forward to this.
Q Local teams or from anywhere around the country?
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be local.
Q And who is running it? What office here is organizing it on the White House end?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's going to be a combination of the Office of Communications and it's the office of -- let me remind you, it's community and faith-based, and this is part of their community outreach. This really is not the faith-based side of the office, it's the community side of that office.
Q Ari, is it assumed that the President and First Lady will attend all of these games?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't commit that they'll attend all, but they will be attending. The first game, particularly.
Q Does the President view himself as the commissioner of tee-ball? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to ask him about that. I hadn't thought about that yet. I know he is looking forward to it. Since he can't throw out the first pitch, placing the first tee.
Q When is the first game?
MR. FLEISCHER: April or May. We're still working on the exact date.
Q And will Cabinet Secretaries and staff be coaches?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can anticipate there's going to be a healthy amount of participation from the White House, from Cabinet Secretaries. I mean, there's just a whole lot of fun to be had with this in a good, welcoming way. We'll have to decide who gets to sing the National Anthem.
Q Mark Knoller. (Laughter.)
Q Are you serious when you say that, Ari, or no?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're working out all the details of exactly how it's going to work out, but there's no end to how much fun this can be for the families who come. And we anticipate -- you know, about 15 kids on a team, so that's 30 kids, generally. And then they'll have their parents with them and maybe some grandparents. It won't be opened up to everybody, but it's going to be opened up to their immediate families.
And the President is doing this because he thinks it's going to be a wonderful event locally for the tee-ball teams in the region and, as I indicated earlier, for part of the national pastime at a young age.
Q An outreach to inner-city kids, by any chance?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does anticipate inviting and welcoming to the South Lawn children from disadvantaged areas and bringing them to that beautiful lawn to play tee-ball.
Q Has the President, in his current capacity or previous capacity as the owner of the Texas Rangers, stated a preference for a major league franchise in Washington?
MR. FLEISCHER: He talked with Mayor Williams about that when the Mayor came to visit earlier, and I think the President would welcome that if that was possible, if it could happen. The agreement of all of the owners is, of course, required, but I think the President would welcome that.
Q Has he lobbied for it, though?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware of, Bill.
Q May I ask this on the record? As for the Middle East. Is the administration measuring with even hands? If Chairman Arafat is lectured over the phone -- I know in diplomatic terms -- by the Secretary of State, what should he do while Mr. Sharon is received at the White House by the President, with pomp and circumstance? Isn't that really a pro-Israeli feel on behalf of the President and the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: President Bush has made it very clear that the violence must stop. And he has called directly on Yasser Arafat to speak out in his own language, so his own people can understand that the violence must stop. He has urged all sides to use restraint and he has called on Israel also to take action to ease the economic plight of the Palestinians.
That is the President's position and will continue to be the President's position, until the violence stops.
Q Does the President have the same respect toward Mr. Arafat as to Mr. Sharon?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President views Chairman Arafat as an important player in Middle East peace. And the President, as you know, has a series of meetings coming up with Arab leaders. He looks forward to welcoming President Mubarak of Egypt here next week. The King of Jordan will be here. And that's the President's -- those are the conversations the President has had and will continue to have.
Q If Chairman Arafat is an equal partner to them, why isn't he treated differently?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will have any announcements about any other visitors, if that's what your question implies, at the appropriate time. And if we have anything to share, we'll be pleased to let you know.
Q Ari, some of the natives appear to be a little restless up on the Hill. Some members of the Armed Services Committee, both in the Senate and the House, are questioning why it's taking so long for the Bush administration to revamp the military and keep the campaign promises of both the President and the Vice President. Has the President instructed Secretary Rumsfeld, given him a date as to when to have the final top-to-bottom review finished? Can you give us any guidance when you think it will be done?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President has said on many occasions, and is well known, he has directed Secretary Rumsfeld to undertake the four structure review. And the Secretary has indicated he anticipates it will be done this summer.
Q No hard and fast drop-dead date by the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: This summer is the date, the target date.
Q Ari, what do you know about reports that Milosevic is about to be arrested?
MR. FLEISCHER: We have noted those reports. The White House is monitoring events in the area and will continue to do so. That's where we stand right now.
Q I'm sorry, was that Iraq? What was the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: Milosevic.
Q Do you know whether the reports are true?
MR. FLEISCHER: Do not have any firm indications yet. It's developing.
Q What has the United States government said to the government of Serbia about arresting Milosevic?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's been -- the United States' position is well known, stated repeatedly that we do believe -- that United States government does believe that Slobodan Milosevic should be arrested for the crimes he has committed against his own people and internationally. It's an oft-stated position.
Q Was it a condition for the certification of Yugoslavia?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is what a condition?
Q Human rights, Milosevic --
MR. FLEISCHER: Congress has specified a number of areas where progress is required for certification. The administration will be reviewing Belgrade's performance overall and coming to a certification decision. As you know, the President has been discussing that matter with the Secretary of State. No decision has been reached yet. The Secretary has said that he will be working on this over the weekend, and I do not anticipate any response on that measure until Monday.
Q But to his question, is the arrest of Milosevic in any way a condition of Yugoslavia getting certification?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I just indicated, the Congress has specified a number of areas that will be judged in determining whether or not they should be certified or not --
Q In your opinion, this one of them.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a number of areas.
Q Is this one of them, though?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no hard-and-fast one issue. It's a series of actions that need to be taken. And the government of Yugoslavia has taken a number of helpful actions. But, again, that's a decision that has not yet been made.
Q Would this be considered a helpful action?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to comment on events that are developing right now.
Q Is the White House indifferent to whether or not Milosevic is arrested or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the White House position is -- as I've just said, the position of the White House is that Slobodan Milosevic should be subject to arrest for the crimes he has committed.
Q And that preference has no bearing whatsoever on certification?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are many factors that go into certification. I'm just not prepared to say there's any one factor that is the single factor that would determine --
Q But you say this is one of them?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Ari, same topic? Does the White House have any indication why they're finally taking action now, if they are, when they've been pressed for action for ages?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated, these events are developing as we speak, and so I'm going to be hesitant to talk about events that are literally developing during the course of this press briefing.
Q Ari, on the Middle East, thinking about Mubarak's visit on Monday. Some of the criticisms about the way Clinton handled the whole peace negotiations at Camp David was that he didn't talk closely enough before, during and after with other Arab leaders. And a number of times the President has mentioned, you know, getting other Arab leaders to put pressure on Arafat to renounce violence and so on.
So would you say that this administration is going to work that channel more vigorously than the previous administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has made clear that he thinks the first prerequisite to securing peace in the Middle East is that the violence must stop. And that is the single, most important factor to begin the process. And that's why he issued the call that he has repeatedly issued since becoming President, and that he reiterated yesterday. He's going to continue to have meetings and conversations with Arab leaders. Secretary Powell has been in frequent contact, as of course, the Secretary traveled to the region.
But the President, as you know, his approach is that the United States cannot force a peace on the parties in the Middle East. But the President stands ready to help facilitate one.
Q So does he think that in just getting the violence to cease or to ratchet down, that other Arab leaders can be really helpful in that regard?
MR. FLEISCHER: He does think so.
Q I have a budget question. Yesterday, the President seemed quite fond of the phrase, look-back provisions. And the White House had previously said that it was not interested in triggers. Is there something about look-back provisions in a budget package that is more acceptable to the White House and, if so, why is that considered more acceptable?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what the President is saying, it depends on what a look-back provision may entail. Clearly, he is on record when it comes to triggers, as expressing his concerns that would need to be stopped. If anybody wants to have a trigger, it's government spending. He believes tax relief needs to be permanent and should be permanent.
Tax relief is, in many ways, a trigger on spending because you won't be able to spend the money if the government doesn't have it. On a look-back provision, it would all depend on what it says in there, but that's different from a trigger.
Q Why is a look-back provision more acceptable to the President than a trigger?
MR. FLEISCHER: Some of the people who are talking about a look-back provision are just saying that it's appropriate every year to measure what the size of the surplus is and to make decisions accordingly. Which, of course, the President does believe that every year the government has a responsibility to look at the new numbers and analyze if any changes in existing laws need to be made.
Q But, Ari, what would actually be accepted? Would the quid pro quo involve a limit, then, on spending? In other words, if you cut back the tax cut -- or you wouldn't really cut it back, you would just say you wouldn't drop to the next level. That would require -- if that's going to be binding, then you'd have to force Congress not to -- I'm sorry, this is convoluted, but --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure what you mean about the tax cut to the next level.
Q Well, in other words, if you're dropping it, let's say, from 15 to 12 to 10, you would bring it down to 12, but you wouldn't have it go down to 10 in the next year, say, if Congress agrees not to spend above a certain level, isn't that the idea?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President has spoken out on the record against that.
Q The Agriculture Department announced this afternoon that a test on a hog for foot and mouth disease was negative. Can you tell us what the President has instructed the Agriculture Department to do specifically to monitor livestock in this country, and if there is a heightened level of concern about the possible infection of any U.S. livestock with foot and mouth?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is -- you're information is correct, the Department of Agriculture did report that earlier today in regard to the situation in North Carolina. But measures to keep foot and mouth out of the United States include stepped-up measures at our ports of entry. The President has directed that a team of 40 inspectors to Europe, to go to monitor and assist in containment efforts. There has been increased inspection of passengers and luggage at airports; increased inspectors at United States ports of entry; enhanced public education.
And, of course, there are no confirmed reports of either -- of the disease in the United States. The President has been talking with Secretary of Agriculture Veneman on a regular basis about this. He is concerned that the United States does take appropriate action. He's satisfied we have.
Q Has he been in touch with any industry members at all, or through -- asked the Agriculture Department to expand its contacts with industry members, to spread communication throughout the livestock producing industry, itself, to make sure of its heightened awareness?
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, I couldn't tell you if the President, himself, has -- I'd have to ask him. But, certainly, the Department of Agriculture has. Toward that point, as well, it's worth nothing that the Department of Agriculture has approximately 2,000 inspectors at our ports of entry. There are another 450 throughout the United States assisting states; and another 150 have been redirected, at the Department of Agriculture, to help in the foot and mouth effort.
Q A two-part question. The highly unlikely combination of Tom DeLay and Dick Gephardt, plus 50 other members of Congress have put together a resolution condemning Beijing's application to host the 2008 Olympic Games, because of that country's "extra judicial killings, use of torture, forced confessions, arbitrary arrests and detention of prisoners." The President surely doesn't disagree with this, does he?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't discussed specifically the Olympic question with the President. But, as you know, when the Deputy Premier of China was here, the President did discuss the human rights situation in China and made American concerns plain and known.
Q Week ahead, please.
Q In other words, he will not -- he will support this resolution?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I said that deals with the Olympics, specifically. That's not a topic I've talked to the President about.
Q Wait a minute, I have a follow-up, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to need to move this quickly, because the President is about to begin a photo op at the Oval. I know you want to watch it.
Q Just one quick follow-up. During the past week, The New York Times, Chicago Tribute, Washington Post, New York Post have all done extensive stories on the sexual and financial misbehavior of the Reverend Jesse Jackson; so did The Weekly Standard, which concluded George W. Bush, too, treats Jackson with deference. It says Mr. Jackson's use of tax-exempt funds to pay his mistress is so similar to United Way's now imprisoned Aramony, on his mistresses. Doesn't the President believe Jesse should be investigated without regard to racial favoritism?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not discuss whether -- who should be investigated. That's a matter for others to decide in the judicial process.
Q Does he hope they will?
MR. FLEISCHER: And I don't even know if this case rises to that.
Q Ari, does the President, as a supporter of the death penalty, have a position on whether the United States should waive the death penalty in the case of the killer of Dr. Slepian in order to expedite him from France?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the Department of Justice and to the folks who work on extradition on that. The President does not weigh-in on those decisions.
On the week ahead -- Wendell, let me give the week ahead, and then there is an event in the Oval Office, and I really can't proceed while the President is doing an event in the Oval Office. The President's news comes first.
Let me do the week ahead. He's going to begin it, and so I'm going to need to do this.
On Monday next week, the President will meet with the President of Egypt. He will speak to members of the National Restaurant Association to build support for his budget plans, and he has a meeting with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to Delaware to visit a Boys' and Girls' Club to highlight his education initiatives. On Thursday, the President will address the American Society of Newspaper Editors Annual Convention, and he will host the U.S. Conference of Mayors here at the White House.
On Friday, the President will attend the Malcolm Baldrige Awards, and then he will depart in the afternoon for Milwaukee, where he will attend the season opener between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Cincinnati Reds.
Q Could you do energy real quick?
Q Given the energy crisis the President says we are in and predictions of higher gasoline prices and shortages, and the driving season upon is. What is the White House doing to minimize the effects of either shortages or price rises?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as you know, has directed a Cabinet-level review, which the Vice President is chairing, to deal with comprehensive national energy policy. As the President discussed at great length yesterday, he believes the United States needs to develop additional energy supplies, including the development of ANWR. He is committed to opening up ANWR, he thinks it's in the national long-term interest of our nation.
Q He's made clear the review is aimed at the long-term, and obviously ANWR, as well. What about this coming driving season?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made it abundantly clear that there are no short-term fixes. The fixes are long-term. The President wants to make sure that five and 10 years from now, the United States is not in a position where somebody says, what do we need to do short-term, because he, this year, will have taken the long-term actions necessary to prevent future problems.
Q Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you. And I'm sorry I have to cut it short.
END 1:57 P.M. EST