For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 17, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
2:32 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. A series of announcements to begin today. The President intends to nominate Michael J. Garcia to be Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Export Enforcement. The President intends to nominate Mary Sheila Gall to be Chairman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The President intends to nominate Anne Krueger to be a member of the Council of Economic Advisors. The President intends to nominate Jack Dyer Crouch II to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy. The President intends to nominate Russ Whitehurst to be Assistant Secretary of Education for Educational Research and Improvement.
The President intends to nominate David Garman to be Assistant Secretary of Energy for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The President intends to nominate Neal McCaleb to be Assistant Secretary of Interior for Indian Affairs. And the final personnel announcement; the President intends to nominate Rosario Marin to be Treasurer of the United States.
Q Ari, would you spell Ms. Krueger's name so we can write about that immediately?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ms. Krueger's name is spelled Anne -- O is her middle initial -- Krueger.
Q What's your count up to now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me finish with my announcements and then I'll take questions. I am also announcing today that Nigerian President Obasanjo will come to Washington for a working visit with President Bush on May 11th.
And then, finally, two longer-range scheduling announcements for the President. We have two commencement addresses to announce. The President will speak at Notre Dame University graduation on Sunday, May 20th, and at the United States Naval Academy graduation on Friday, May 25th.
With that, I'm happy to take questions.
Q Spell the name of the Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, please.
MR. FLEISCHER: Which one?
Q The Treasurer of the United States. Rosario Marin.
MR. FLEISCHER: The Treasurer is spelled Rosario Marin.
Q I wonder why it is that EPA Chief Whitman is coming here personally to brief us today on this environmental decision. Is it in part because the President feels stung by the criticism that he's hostile to the environment and he's trying to reshape his image?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's the exact same procedure that the President followed with members of his Cabinet when they've come on previous occasions. If you remember, Secretary Veneman came, updated the President on the status of the Foot and Mouth Disease Program the United States has underway to prevent Foot and Mouth from entering our country, and she went out to the stakeout afterwards and spoke. So it's -- in the same vein, members of the Cabinet are going to be coming to the White House on regular occasions. And when they have news to make, they will be pleased to stand before you and make it.
Q So we should expect then that Ms. Whitman will come for every decision on whether or not to roll back or continue Clinton executive orders related to the environment?
MR. FLEISCHER: From time to time, the Secretary will have announcements to make, or any secretary will have announcements to make, and they will come here and make them. If you recall, Secretary Mineta was going to come over here to do a briefing on transportation issues, which we had to reschedule. But it's all part of the same policy of when the President meets with Cabinet members and they have something newsworthy to announce, they're pleased to share it with you.
Q So the President thinks his image on the environment is fine then, intact?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is not concerned about his image, the President is concerned about results. And the President's results on the environment represent a balanced approach to protecting America's environment, just what he said he would do during the campaign. And the President is very proud of that record.
As you can tell, in the early days of this administration, the President has taken a number of actions, which means that from day one in this administration there will be new environmental policies, which I must say contrast with the previous administration. Many of the regulations that this President is reviewing now were left unaddressed for eight years of the previous administration. They only went into effect in the last, in some cases, 24, 48, 72 hours of the previous administration.
And the President has been reviewing, as he announced he would, a number of those regulations, and many will remain in place, others may be modified, and we will keep you informed. But in addition to that, there are a series of environmental initiatives the President has launched himself, such as increasing the funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund from $500 million to $900 million.
That will mark a real increase in protection of many of the green areas of the United States. Eliminating the backlog at our national parks, which has been a vexing problem for millions of Americans who use our national parks. There is insufficient upkeep at the parks. The President has, for the first time, proposed a budget that, unlike the previous administration which didn't propose it, the President proposed a budget that will fully eliminate the backlog of maintenance requests at our national parks.
The American people are about to get on the road this spring and summer and hit the parks. Thanks to this initiative by President Bush, the parks they're going to hit will soon have cleaner facilities, better facilities, less traffic. And I think the public is going to receive that very well.
So the President's approach to the environment is going to continue to reflect the best science; it will reflect balance. There will be a series of new initiatives the President is launching, as well as a review of all those last-minute regulations of President Clinton. And the Secretary will be here today to share with you an announcement on one of them.
Q May I suggest that your long list of the President's environmental concerns suggests that even if he is concerned only about results and not about image, that perhaps some of his staff are concerned about presenting his environmental record in the best possible light, leading up to, say, Earth Day.
MR. FLEISCHER: So if you're accusing me of remembering the President's successes on the environment, I remember them. But I could go through a list of tax accomplishments; I could go through a list of educational accomplishments that the President has achieved on Capitol Hill. This is one of a series of accomplishments that the President has been able to put forward, and I think the President is proud of that record.
Q I was really questioning the timing more than anything else.
MR. FLEISCHER: In many cases, the timing was set for us, a course that the previous administration had the effective date of many of their regulations go into effect, say, January 17th, January 18th, January 19th. And as you know, the Chief of Staff, Andy Card, issued a memorandum to all agencies asking them to carefully review each of these last-minute regulations set by the previous administration.
So much of the timing had nothing to do with the actions of this administration. The timing was determined by the previous one. But it is notable. Many of these actions will go into effect for the entire tenure of President Bush's time in office. The previous administration did not take action on many of these measures until the very end.
Similarly, with the President's multi-pollutant strategy. The President has proposed a strategy to seek mandatory reductions in several pollutants. Again, that's a step above and beyond what the previous administration sought or did. And there has been some talk about the President's actions on CO2. Of course, the previous administration did not make any effort to have mandatory reductions in CO2.
Q Was that the case with this regulation? Were you up against a deadline today on lead?
MR. FLEISCHER: On lead?
Q That you had to meet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I believe that's right. I think that one was up on January 17th or 18th, if I recall.
Q This is one of those rare areas where you're actually willing to look backward, so it's worth pursuing. Do you believe that President Clinton, and that his administration, specifically set up President Bush to look bad on the environment?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not making any such accusation, but it is notable, that for eight years of the previous administration, none of these regulations were sought, went into effect. Some of them, of course, took years to study, and that study period happened to end on January 17th, 18th, 19th, et cetera.
It's just a reality of the regulatory scheme that was left behind by the previous administration. The President has received that inheritance, and he's dealt with it forthrightly. In some cases, the appropriate cabinet officials have reviewed the regulations and made determinations that these regulations should proceed.
They are in the nation's best interest. They're based on science. They're good for the environment, they're good for the country. Other cases, the President's administrators have looked at these and come to other conclusions. It's part of a balanced approach to the environment that the President will continue to pursue, and proudly so.
Q Ari, what is the President's take on the escalation of the past 24 hours in the Middle East, and does he have any plans to personally pick up the telephone to urge leaders in the region to exercise the maximum restraint you spoke of yesterday from the podium?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, as you know, the President of Lebanon will be here a week from today, and the President is going to be meeting personally with the President of Lebanon to discuss the situation in the Middle East. He, of course, met with King Abdullah last week and he has met with President Mubarak of Egypt.
He will continue to reach out and talk directly with the parties involved. And as you know, the United States, under the President's direction, has been party to several of the negotiations and the meetings that have taken place between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. And that was in good part because of the United States' constructive role.
In regard to what's happening in the Middle East right now, I think we heard Secretary Powell address that earlier this morning. He issued a statement, and let me share a portion of that with you -- he said that the situation is threatening to escalate further, posing the risk of a broader conflict. And the United States calls on all sides to exercise maximum restraint to reduce the tensions and to take steps to end the violence immediately.
Q Is the President, himself, doing anything today about this? Is he making calls? Is he getting briefings, or is he hands-off entirely on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is, depending on any day of the week, is involved, when you're saying is the President doing anything today. Repeatedly, the President has called on all parties to exercise restraint. The President has had a series of phone calls with leaders around the world and meetings with leaders around the world about this subject.
Q And to follow up on John's question, I mean, is he, himself, making any phone calls today on this matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to check his phone log and keep you advised.
Q Ari, does he want Israel to withdraw from Gaza?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the statement continues, it goes on to say that we call on both sides to respect the agreements they've signed for the Palestinians. This includes implementing their commitment to renounce terrorism and violence, to exercise control over all elements of the PLO, and the Palestinian Authority, and to discipline violators. For the Israelis, this includes respecting their commitment to withdraw from Gaza according to the terms of the agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinians. There can be no military solution to this conflict.
Q Ari, just to follow up, for almost 50 years, though, the U.S. has been calling for maximum restraint, and parties haven't done anything. I mean, is there going to be any teeth to this, anything specific that the U.S. can do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the President has made clear and has said repeatedly, that the key to peace in the Middle East depends on the actions taken by the parties involved. As you point out, Connie, the United States governments have said something like that for quite a long period of time. And that means that it is not dependent from one administration to the next, as much as it is dependent on the actions taken by the parties involved in the Middle East. And the President has sent a very clear message that the United States will continue to play a helpful and constructive role.
But the key to securing lasting peace in the Middle East depends on the actions taken by Israel, the Palestinian Authorities and others in the region.
Q Does the President believe that Israel has gone too far in its recent actions?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the context of what I just said, the hostilities in Gaza were precipitated by provocative Palestinian mortar attacks on Israel, and then the Israeli response -- the statement issued by the Secretary, which the President concurs with. The Israeli response was excessive and disproportionate.
Q In the campaign, the President said that he supported the legislation that would allow wholesalers to re-import American drugs from Canada. And that was something that the Clinton administration decided not to enforce, at the very end. Is this one of those Clinton things that's under review?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check on that. Failure to enforce is not the same as promulgation of a new regulation. So let me take a look at that and get back to you on that.
Q On the Middle East, Ari, you're asking for withdrawal. Now some Israeli officials are talking about withdrawal in months, maybe years today. Do you -- are you happy with such a statement, or are you asking for immediate withdrawal from Gaza?
MR. FLEISCHER: The statement speaks for itself.
Q It doesn't say immediate.
MR. FLEISCHER: The statement speaks for itself.
Q Ari, you can assure us that the President will not send any unarmed, unescorted $80-million surveillance plane with crew into the South China Sea, as long as the Chinese claim that this is all their territory, and refuse to return our plane, can't you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I'm not going to talk about the manner of which the United States will conduct its missions. Suffice it to say, the President has made it clear on many occasions that the United States reserves, at all times, the right to fly reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace. Q With fighter planes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to discuss any of the terms of any pending missions and any missions.
Q All right, the Washington Post reports that Ted Koppel and other members of ABC News dared to challenge Michael Eisner, asking how he can possibly lay off 4,000 people, when he was paid $11 million last year. And my question is, doesn't the President think that was a good question that ought to be asked of many multi-millionaire owners who lay off but don't take pay cuts, because the President would surely take a pay cut rather than lay off you and Scott, wouldn't he? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: You're half right. (Laughter.)
Q Doesn't the President think that's a good idea? I thought it was great for Ted Koppel to do this. I mean, he should have asked that guy.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks all questions that Ted Koppel asks are good ones. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, back on the environment, if I may, yesterday the Administrator of the EPA issued a decision on wetlands, another area in which one of those decisions that environmentalists embraced and were happy about. At that point, the White House issued a statement, more or less --
MR. FLEISCHER: Applauding the action.
Q Applauding the action. That was sort of an unusual gesture. Why did the White House feel it necessary to do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is not unusual. There have been often statements from the White House in regard to actions taken by Cabinet officers. Not uncommon at all. And I think you can anticipate that on a continued basis. It's natural; people at Cabinet agencies take certain actions. These briefings are proof perfect.
I was asked right here just moments ago about the White House reaction to what the Secretary of State said, vis-a-vis Israel and the Palestinians. So it's questions that you all ask that we're pleased to answer. Sometimes we put them out in writing for your information; other times I take them right here at the podium. But that's why, and you can anticipate that will continue.
Q Some of your supporters have suggested that you had failed to get out your side of the argument on various environmental questions. Are the actions of yesterday and today at least an effort to give a little higher profile to your explanations and the actions the administration has taken?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I would just say that as these regulations come up, and they are now subject to their final reviews, because of the necessities of the clock you will continue to hear from the Bush administration what it will do with these last-minute regulations.
So, again, the calendar to a significant degree was provided to us. It was not of our own making. But the President is proud to bring a balanced approach to the environment. The President is proud to involve stakeholders in decisions that will be made about the environment -- for example, the national monument designation that the President and the administration have left in place.
It's also important to talk to the stakeholders who are involved with those decisions, which is exactly what the President said he was going to do in the course of the campaign. So the President is moving forward to honor his campaign commitments, to create a balanced environmental approach, and that's what he's doing. And you're hearing the manifestation of that as each of these regulations comes up for review.
But again, I want to remind you of the initiatives that the President has launched on his own. The Land and Water Conservation Fund increase and the elimination of the backlog at the national parks are major developments in helping the American people enjoy our natural resources in this country. Those are no small efforts.
When you think about the interaction most Americans have with the environment, very often it is their visits to our national parks. And one of the biggest frustrations the American people have said is they visit the parks and they can't park, they're too crowded, that there is a backup, that the facilities are not adequately maintained. That is one of the most important ways the American people interact with nature. And the President is very pleased to be able to be the first President to take that step, which he announced in the campaign, which was part of his budget. And he will continue to push for that in the negotiations with Congress on the budget.
Q Ari, since you're painting the White House so green ahead of Earth Day here, where is the President going with the roadless areas rule?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any information on that today, John. It will come out of the agencies whenever their review is complete.
Q Aren't we hitting the 90-day -- I mean, 90 days from January 20th -- we're just about out of time, then.
MR. FLEISCHER: Some regs were 60, some were 90, some could be an additional period of time. It all depends on the effective date set in the regulations.
Q Do you have any more information on this meeting with Powell and Rice and Rumsfeld this afternoon? Is the President going to join them?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no, no. That's a regular meeting that takes place among the principals. The President is never in attendance at that meeting, and it's a regular occurrence.
Q It will be on China and the Middle East, though, won't it?
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be on a host of topics around the world. I think you can anticipate those two will be included.
Q There's some rumblings from China that the Chinese may not consider return of the plane as on the agenda for the meeting tomorrow. What would that constitute if that were the case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to prejudge what the Chinese actions will be at this meeting. I think it's important to allow that meeting to take place, and review what the Chinese say. Certainly that will be an item on the American agenda. The agenda includes discussion of the return of the airplane; an explanations from the United States on how we view the accident -- the cause of the accident; how to avoid future accidents in the future; and the United States delegation will also ask, as I indicated previously, tough questions about the manner in which the Chinese have been intercepting our reconnaissance aircraft.
Q You're saying the Chinese don't set the agenda, that each side comes with its own?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly.
Q Ari, last -- final question. Last one, I promise.
Q No, just today. Yale is having its 300th anniversary next weekend, reports the New Yorker, and one of Yale's class of 1968 is refusing to attend, even though his father will be there, and his daughter is a Yale undergraduate. Could you explain why this Yale graduate has refused reportedly repeated invitations from his alma mater, for God, for country and for Yale, and is it possible that he now prefers Harvard, where he earned an MBA?
MR. FLEISCHER: What weekend is this event?
Q Next weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: Next weekend the --
Q Three Hundredth anniversary, Ari.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President was faced with a difficult choice between his alma mater and the White House Correspondents Association, and I'll leave it to you all to decide what the right answer is. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, on the Free Trade Area of the Americas, has the President been encouraged with the Minority Leader of the Democrats, of the House, about the trade promotion authority in the last few days, and there is also an accusation by the President of AFL-CIO saying since the President took the office, he has been calling him, and the President never called him back. And he says, if the President is ready to discuss labor issues of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, why he isn't taking care of the labor organizations and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I noted, I believe this is the same President who must not have been as informed, at the moment, who said that the AFL-CIO has had no contact with the administration on the same day that representatives of the AFL-CIO were in the White House meeting with officials to discuss transportation labor disputes. So I think that he understands that there's been regular contact with this administration, and of course with the Secretary of Labor, who's also met with the President of the AFL-CIO. So I'm sure it's just a question of information updating.
The Congress, of course, is in recess, and the President looks forward to continuing discussions. He indicated today in his remarks about the importance of trade promotion authority, securing that authority from the United States Congress. And upon his return from the summit in Quebec, where he will again discuss the importance of trade promotion authority, he looks forward to developing an aggressive strategy with the Congress, so we can pass it.
It's always a difficult fight. It will be difficult this year as well. But the President is determined to make the case and to succeed, because he thinks that free trade is in the interest of economic growth for developing nations, for the United States and around the world.
Q Do you have any sense of when the President's going to submit Fast Track?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no hard and fast date for it yet. The President's indicated that following the summit, he will come back, and we're going to be working with members of Congress on the best strategy to get it done. As I indicated, it's been a tough vote in the Congress in the last many years.
Q President Clinton couldn't get it, and he had a -- and there was a Democrat in the White House. Do you think the fight is tougher now than it was a couple of years ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tom, I think it's too soon to say. I think this has always been one of those -- trade has been an issue that has split both parties. The split is deeper in the Democratic Party, but there, too, is a split in the Republican Party. And I just think it's too soon to say exactly how it's going to come out. I can simply tell you that the President is committed to getting it done. He believes it's important.
If you recall, he took on his own party to make the case for free trade, and he will do so again. He will work, of course, closely with as many cooperative Democrats as possible. You recall, he hosted a meeting here at the White House about three weeks ago -- Congressman Bob Matsui, a Democrat from California, and other leaders of the Democrat effort and Republican effort on free trade and trade promotion authority joined the President at that meeting. So the President has this on his mind, clearly. He's already begun a series of meetings with the Democrats who are likely to support it.
I would point out that in the previous Congresses, that split did mean the Democrat leadership was on side, Congressman Matsui and other Democrats who were historically for free trade were on another. The President will, of course, begin work with those who are closest to his position on the issue and then try to broaden support from there.
Q Can he move forward with any of these negotiations without fast track?
MR. FLEISCHER: Fast track is the most productive and helpful way to get it done. But you can, of course, have multilateral agreements, you can have bilateral agreements, and you can have fast track or trade promotion authority in place. They all are avenues to free trade. But the easiest avenue to free trade flows from a straight up or down vote in the Congress, which is what trade promotion authority is.
Q What about the deal with Chile --
MR. FLEISCHER: The major difference, Tom, is that any agreement you submit to the Congress outside of trade promotion authority is amendable. Anything that is done under trade promotion authority is subject to an up or down vote, and you then conduct your negotiations with nations in close cooperation with the Congress.
Q What about the one with Chile? Is that stuck until he gets fast track, or can you move on that one --
MR. FLEISCHER: I would not say that. It's not stuck. That was a topic of their discussion yesterday. You can proceed on both tracks, and the United States will proceed on both tracks.
Q Ari, after having passed two tax cut packages, Congress is coming back to start to digest the concomitant spending --
MR. FLEISCHER: Concomitant.
Q Yes. I can't say that in my TV work, but -- (laughter) -- but concomitant spending reductions that will be necessary to make it all work. But it's a long way between now and October 1st. I'm curious how the President plans to keep a handle on this situation before the spending, I guess, gets out of hand.
MR. FLEISCHER: There are no spending reductions required to make it work. The only thing that's required is to have spending increase at a reasonable rate of growth, as opposed to an extravagant rate of growth. And the manner in which the Congress, or at least the Senate has proceeded so far, if they actually increase spending by the amount the Senate passed, which is closer to 10 percent, if you take out -- there's a little asterisk in the Senate budget resolution of unnamed future budget cuts -- without that, spending is actually 10 percent. If you give them credit for this magic asterisk, it's 8 percent increase.
That alone, an 8-percent rate of growth, would subtract $3 trillion from the projected surplus. It would risk tapping the Social Security surplus. It would risk putting the nation back on the course to a permanently bigger government that could hurt economic vitality. And the surplus, handled properly, is of the size that you can have the tax cut the President's talked about, reasonable growth in spending for vital programs such as education, Medicare, Social Security and record amounts of debt relief.
Q How does he plan on keeping, I guess, a grip on this situation before it gets out of hand? How does he knock heads or whatever --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it will be a very interesting conference between the House and the Senate. I think that there are many people who, now that they have been able to review what was written in the Senate, have additional concerns.
I don't think it was immediately clear the night that it passed in the Senate how much additional spending had been agreed to by the Senators. And I think there are a number of Senators who are concerned about that. So there will be a conference between the House and the Senate that could begin as soon as next week. The President will be involved in that conference through our officials on the Hill, of course. And the President will continue to make his case that the greatest risk to the surplus and to economic vitality comes from blowing the budget through bigger spending.
Q Are you sure that they're going to have a conference on this? Because apparently, the Senate can't agree on how many people to send to a conference, and so they haven't conferenced anything.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, without a conference, there is no budget. So clearly there will be a conference. But they still have some areas they need to agree to. And that's an internal Senate question, about who the conferees will be.
Q But you expect it to occur by next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is some talk on the Hill that the conference could begin next week. Now, things always slip on the Hill. But no, that was the original goal. And the question of who conferees will be is a Senate matter. So you'd have to take that up with them.
Q Was the White House consulted about the case of the Ukrainian official whistle-blower who was granted political asylum in the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm advised we were not.
Q Why not? It's a matter that has created a lot of backlash -- I mean --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me suggest you take that up with Mary Ellen following this briefing.
Q Ari, with the visit of the Lebanese President, most major players have visited or come to visit Washington, except for one, who holds the record for the visit in the last eight years. Do you have any plan of inviting Chairman Arafat, or are you shunning him until the reduction of the violence?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, every day I come to the podium and share with you the announcements of the meetings the President will have, and nothing is announceable until I indicate it. So there's nothing to report at this time.
Q Ari, talking about the alma mater, I have one more question regarding that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you recommending the President go to Yale and not show up next Saturday? (Laughter.) It's a very funny speech.
Q Former President Lee Teng-hui of the Republican of China on Taiwan, is visiting the United States from April 30th to May 4th -- that's one week -- to his alma mater at Cornell University. He's a retired politician; he's a civilian. I just wonder whether you care to comment whether the President thinks that he will be able to travel freely as a civilian in the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not have any information on that. You may want to take that up with people who handle visits, and that would be the State Department.
Q One question on the Summit of the Americas. Has there been any discussion about the bilateral meeting of President Bush and the President of Venezuela -- anything?
MR. FLEISCHER: Bilateral between them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would anticipate that they will all be present at the Summit of the Americas in Quebec. And you can anticipate that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 3:02 P.M. EDT