For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 23, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
12:17 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have a series of personnel announcements I'd like to make. The President intends to nominate Donald J. McConnell to be Ambassador Extraordinary Plenipotentiary of the United States to Eritrea. The President intends to nominate Stephen A. Cambone to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy. The President intends to nominate Cam Findley to be Deputy Secretary of Labor. The final announcement, the President intends to nominate Lori A. Forman to be Assistant Administrator for the United States Agency for International Development for Asia and the Near East.
That's the end of my opening, I'm prepared to take your questions. Hearing none, thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, I know 100 days isn't your favorite benchmark for judging an administration, but since people will be writing the story, can you give us your assessment of the first 100 days?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can give you my assessment of the first 94. I think the President is very pleased with several things: the changing of the tone in Washington, D.C.; increasing sense of bipartisanship, certainly when compared with the previous times; the success he's had substantively; the Senate Education Committee having already passed his education plan, his number one priority; his tax relief plan, and by that sense I mean the marginal income tax rate cuts that have already been voted on and approved by the House of Representatives; the reduction of the marriage penalty as approved by the House of Representatives; the elimination of death taxes is approved in the House of Representatives; the doubling of the child credit.
Many items on the President's agenda are already moving forward and are doing so at a very healthy pace, particularly given the previous way as Congress deliberated. And so the President is very pleased with that.
He's pleased by, as I indicated, the bipartisanship and the tone is changing. Toward that point, on the 100th day, on Monday in the White House, the President will be hosting a lunch for all 535 members of Congress to come down. And the President views this as, as he would put it, "our" first 100 days, not "his" first 100 days, because any successes that are enjoyed as a result of passing his agenda are thanks to members of Congress from both parties who worked with him to get it done.
So just as he's done in Texas, where he brought all members of the legislature together to commemorate the first 100 days, he will mark the first 100 days of this administration with members of Congress from both parties invited to the White House for lunch.
Q Can I follow that? Any disappointments, anything he would have done differently?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'll leave disappointments, I'll leave things done differently to others. I'll just describe to you the President's approach to what he sees.
Q Ari, though, many of the things you've listed simply made their way through the House, they haven't yet been acted upon by the Senate. And negotiators on the education package met over the weekend, long, long hours, not any real sense of progress. The bottom line is there's not anything from the campaign that he's been able to sit in the Rose Garden and sign into law. Is he -- had he hoped to have done that by now? Is he disappointed that he hasn't had the chance to sign any of these landmark pieces of legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, that's why it's an interesting measure, 100 days. Who chose 100? Why 100, other than the fact that it's a round number? Many scholars have indicated that to measure properly the legislative progress, being measured by a President's signature, 180 days is the more accurate time period. There's a lot of scholarly weight behind that.
Nevertheless, there are a lot of people who are interested in 100 days, and so I'm going to take the questions and give the best answer.
But I want to remind everybody here of something that's very important. President Bush was elected in an exceedingly close election, and people said that the President does not have a mandate, that he won't be able to govern. And I think what you're seeing here in these 100 days, because of the manner in which the President has toned it down in Washington, because of the way he's reaching out and working with others -- the education plan is a perfect example -- because of this new approach to governing, a tremendous amount of progress has been made within these 100 days. And the progress that is laid out now is going to lead to more progress later. And that's, again, one of the most encouraging factors of this first 100 days.
Q Do you think Democrats agree that everything has been toned down in Washington, or do you think it just might be the President's view?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you'd have to ask the Democrats.
Q Okay. But also on this other point, you're going to leave any sense of disappointment or things that could have been different to other people -- does that reflect the President's view that he doesn't really have any disappointments or think anything could have gone differently?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. No. I just think it's a reflection that this still is Washington, there may be some people whose tones are slowly changing. And I would leave it to anybody who wants to point out any other facts, that's their prerogative.
Q Ari, well, isn't he a little disappointed about relations with China and relations with Russia haven't been doing so well either?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, on the foreign policy front, the President is doing exactly what he indicated he would do, which is bring a sense of realism to America's foreign policy, a sense of cooperating with other nations where cooperation is possible, and to the degree that there are differences, dealing directly with those differences. It's an approach based on realism.
Q Ari, based on his briefings, does the President believe what happened with this plane being shot down in Peru was an isolated incident, a miscommunication in this case, or is there a fundamental communication and respect issue, if you will, of the Peruvians following the advice from the U.S. people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Given the duration of this program, which was authorized by statute in 1994, and given the fact that this is the first such instance in which this has happened, obviously, this is an isolated incident.
Nevertheless, the President did concur with the decision to suspend the program immediately, pending the review of how this could have possibly taken place.
Q Are you predicting that all of the things that you've said were on the move -- whether it's approved by one House or not, all of these are going to be passed?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is confident that his education plan will be passed into law. The President is confident that his tax relief plan will be passed into law. Of course, there will be some modifications to it.
But one of the most encouraging things, and one of the real signs, I think, that has surprised people and has changed since perceptions last November 7th, is out of that very narrow margin, the President has really set the agenda and moved Washington in a direction that he ran on, in a direction that he thinks is good for the country. And he's pleased with the success and the support that it's received.
Q The President has changed on a dime. He switched many things that -- he will approve one, in 24 hours, in terms of the environment, and so forth. So if you say he has a mandate, it appears that he has a political sense that these things are not a mandate, or he wouldn't change his mind every once in a while.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I didn't say he had a mandate. What I said is, that in an election where people said he didn't have a mandate, one of the successes has been that the President is clearly setting the agenda, where the policy that he ran on are the policies being submitted to the Congress.
Q Every President has that mandate. What do you expect?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there was a lot of questions after the election about, at the end of 100 days, would President Bush be able to govern, would any leader be able to govern after such a close election. And in these first 100 days, President Bush is showing he clearly can.
Q He also has the ability to change his mind about a lot of things, doesn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think in the case of several of the well-known examples, CO2, for instance, the President acknowledged that he made a mistake during the campaign in saying that we would seek mandatory reductions in CO2. So I think also it's a sign of a President who can deal with things straight and realistically, honestly. And if a mistake is made, he acknowledges it.
But I think incidents like that are dwarfed by the many successes he's had on the very issues on which he promised to run and has honored the commitments he made.
Q It's not unique, you know, to come in with an agenda.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's a sign of success, how the President has been able to carry forward his agenda. And it is -- it is different, how much progress has been made in the Congress at this early stage. Typically, tax bills don't even move in the House of Representatives until later in the year. So in terms of an historical measurement, there has been tremendous progress made that is out of line with previous progress.
Q It's being floated on the Hill that the White House is ready to accept $1.4 trillion tax cut, with spending less than 6 percent, a little less than 6 percent increase in spending. Is that the case? Are you guys about ready to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to entertain any negotiating from the podium. Suffice it to say that in the upcoming conference between the House and the Senate on the budget, the President is going to continue to push for a tax relief plan as close to $1.6 trillion as possible, which is in accordance with what the House of Representatives will bring to the conference. And he will continue to make the case that we need to reduce spending to levels that are reasonable, rather than have spending increases along the lines approved by the Senate.
If the Senate spending increases are agreed to, the surplus will be reduced by $3 trillion over the next 10 years. The President thinks that would be a mistake.
Q And in Peru, are you aware of video and audio tape that captured what happened in the incident?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I have not seen any such video/audio.
Q Are you aware that any existed and do you know if it will be released?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to check with all the appropriate authorities. As you know, there sometimes are videos from missions, but I would have to check with the people responsible for these missions to ascertain its status.
Q Ari, given the government's view that the Peruvian aircraft did not follow appropriate procedures, as you have outlined earlier today, has anyone at any level in the government complained to the Peruvian government about this? Is there any challenge that's underway?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Saturday night, Foreign Minister Perez de Cuellar approached President Bush at the reception in Quebec, and extended the sympathies of the Peruvian government toward the United States, to the families. And said that his government would help the families in any way that they could. And there is now underway a Peruvian and American fact-finding effort to determine the causes of it, and we're going to continue to work constructively with Peruvian authorities to find out how this terrible tragedy could have taken place.
Q Well, let me follow on a couple of points. Was that an apology that was actually delivered? Was there some admission of culpability? And two, yes, there's fact-finding going on, but there's already been determinations about procedures that were not followed. So, in some ways, the United States government appears beyond the fact-finding stage. So are complaints, challenges, other things being lodged against the Peruvian government?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President took what Perez de Cuellar said in a tone of sympathy. He understood it to be a measure -- an expression of sympathy, and he accepted it as such. As for the fact-finding, there will be additional fact-finding underway. There continue to be some discrepancies in the information that the United States is receiving, and that should not surprise anybody. It's typical in the case of accidents, particularly of this nature involving airplanes flying over remote regions, where it takes a little bit of time until all the facts can be thoroughly investigated and reviewed to make certain that all information is 100 percent checked out.
Q Is there going to be any kind of meeting to improve the communications setup with the governments --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the program is suspended pending a review of all the facts that went into this terrible accident, and the program has been a successful program. Fighting the war on drugs is an important mission of the United States government, and it has received bipartisan support. And this is why this program exists under a public statute that authorizes the agencies involved here -- DOD, CIA, State, DEA -- to fight the war on drugs.
So this is a terrible tragedy. Lives have been lost. And the United States government is going to continue through all its agencies to work with the Peruvian government to understand how it could have happened. And after that, the government will be in a position to review the program and make any determinations about the future of the program.
Q As far as we've been able to determine, did the crew of the U.S. surveillance plane follow all procedures?
MR. FLEISCHER: According to the information that we've received so far, that is yes. But again, the facts continue to be gathered. Again, one of the things that everybody -- go ahead, Ron.
Q Excuse me, but this morning when you said that --you were asked if all the procedures were followed, generally -- you weren't asked which country -- you said, no, they weren't; from the information that we have, no, they were not. So if U.S. followed all the procedures --
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, obviously, something went wrong and lives were lost. In a program that is meant to fight the war on drugs, innocent lives have been lost.
Q And the procedures that were not followed, were not followed by Peru, it was Peru that did not follow the procedures.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to suspend on further evaluations of it until all information is received.
Q I just want to make sure I understand it. This morning you said that all procedures were not followed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously.
Q But now you're saying that the U.S. followed all procedures. The obvious conclusion is that Peru did not follow all procedures.
MR. FLEISCHER: And I'm going to reiterate that we are working constructively with our Peruvian allies to determine exactly how this happened, what took place. And we're doing so in an atmosphere of cooperation. And the Peruvians expressed their sorrow about the accident. And we will continue to investigate and gather facts in that vein.
Q You're not telling me that I've reached a wrong conclusion, based on --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've answered the question as best I can.
Q One more follow-up, Ari. What about U.S. surveillance help to Colombia and other countries? Have those flights been suspended?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the only one that I'm aware of that's been suspended, this program.
Q Ari, in making the Taiwan decision, where do the scales tip for the President when he's thinking about addressing the military imbalance across the Taiwan Strait and looking at the possible ramifications to U.S.-China relations? How does he tip those scales?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he evaluates the decision on the basis of the Taiwan Relations Act, which obligates the United States to provide defensive weapons to Taiwan. And the decision he makes will be in accordance with what the United States and his national security team recommend as far as Taiwan's defense needs.
Q And he hasn't seen a recommendation yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I indicated earlier today he has received a recommendation.
Q Has he made a decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: He will advise when his decision is made, when it's made publicly.
Q Should this be intended to send a signal that there is -- I mean, this is the first substantive decision that will be made that relates to China's objections to a serious matter of defense. Should this be viewed as a kind of tipping point in the relationship between the United States and China? Is it intended to send that message?
MR. FLEISCHER: This decision is an annual one; it has been faced by previous decisions ever since, I believe, 1982. And so I think you can view this as an annual occurrence that took place last year, it will take place next year. It's part of an ongoing obligation of the United States government to help Taiwan secure its defensive needs.
Q I understand all that. But this is a much different context, and you understand that.
MR. FLEISCHER: My point, it's not in any different context. It's an annual review of Taiwan's request for --
Q But previously you said the President, of course, will weigh everything that's gone on most recently in making his decision. So now you're saying that, no, it's not in that context at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: Every President since 1982 has made their decision about Taiwan's defense needs in the context of events in that year dealing with Taiwan. It's stating the obvious. Well, of course, the President is going to consider all factors that go into Taiwan's defense needs. That's the purpose of the Taiwan Relations Act -- that's one of the purposes of the Taiwan Relations Act.
Q Well, if this has been done -- excuse the word -- "cutely" in the past, because of the one China policy and the sensitivity of this issue, and the President said in the campaign he wanted to be more candid about this, he just wanted to put out his commitment to Taiwan more candidly. And there are a number of senior officials in the administration who have signed letters saying that the administration -- that U.S. administrations, period, Republican or Democrat, should just make clear that the United States would defend Taiwan if it were attacked. Is this President preparing --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's always been the United States policy, that continues to be the United States policy.
Q What's the timing of the announcement, and does it conflict with the Lebanon President?
MR. FLEISCHER: The timing? The Taiwanese delegation will be received by the Department of Defense tomorrow, and they will receive the decision at that time.
Q Have surveillance flights over China resumed, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's an operational detail that I'm not going to discuss from here.
Q Well, is the President still reviewing that matter, as far as you know?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an operational matter I'm not going to discuss.
Q One more on China, please. Is the U.S. actively fighting to gain the release of any of these Chinese-American scholars? What is it, six now that are in prison?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States has made it very plain to China that we consider these detentions to be wrong, and we have called on China to release them. The State Department has been in contact with Chinese officials about this on a very regular basis.
Q Yesterday the Washington Post reported that three of the -- it was actually nine -- Mississippi counties where blacks are a majority, all of them voted to retain the Confederate battle flag as the state flag, for which a Post columnist named Malloy questioned whether these black voters are "insane." And my question is, does the President believe this about these black voters, or does he believe that the Post is sometimes extremist? And I have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
Q Do you want to answer this one? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I must have missed the Post that day.
Q You didn't read the Washington Post -- you don't read the Washington Post? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there anybody from the Washington Post in the room? (Laughter.) What's your follow-up?
Q Does the -- the Lone Star flag led thousands of Confederate troops into battle for four years, and the Star-Spangled Banner was the flag of a slave nation for 89 years. Does the President believe that these two flags are inappropriately flown, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the Lone Star flag was flown over the state of Texas during the Governor's tenure; I think you know where he stands on that.
Q And also about the Star-Spangled Banner -- it was, as you know, a slave flag for 89 years.
MR. FLEISCHER: And your question is?
Q Does the President believe that that should be -- how does he stand on this battle flag issue in Mississippi? How does he stand, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: On that matter, as in all matters that are up to votes in states, that's a matter for the states.
Q Ari, Joe Lieberman says that he has been attempting to get documents from EPA and other administrations to, as he sees it, explain some of the President's environmental decisions. He says he's been unable to. Two questions: why can't he? Is the President adopting Clinton administration tactics on documents? And does it feel that the President's environmental decisions are easily defensible by releasing these documents?
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, that's a question you need to address to the agencies. I don't have the facts about what the agencies are doing. I know that the agencies work very hard to cooperate with Congress in all cases, but that's a question and the specifics of it best addressed at the agency level.
Q Did the President request the agencies to accommodate Senator Lieberman's request?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President at all times asks his agencies to work in close cooperation with the Congress.
Q Ari, another question on the environment. What's the state of play on drilling in ANWR?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position on opening up a small portion of ANWR for oil development is unchanged. The President believes that our nation needs to develop more energy resources domestically in order to avoid worsening the current energy crisis. And toward that end, an energy proposal that will be shortly submitted from the Vice President's task force will include a provision calling for opening up a small portion of ANWR for energy development.
Q So was Administrator Whitman out of the loop yesterday when she indicated that this was not going to be part of that report?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think yesterday afternoon Administrator Whitman addressed that question and indicated just as I said. I think there was some confusion in the early morning, as a result of a newspaper story or magazine story, and then that confusion was resolved.
Q Wait a minute. She was on Face The Nation yesterday; she said, somebody made the decision somewhere, but as far as our report goes, we don't specifically say you must drill in ANWR. We don't recommend that to the President. But we will be recommending a range of choices.
MR. FLEISCHER: And as you know, following that statement, through the Administrator's Office, she followed up on that statement and provided information to --
Q Well, why was she misinformed to begin with? She's been in all these meetings.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, there was some confusion yesterday morning, which was cleared up as a result of the statement that her office made later in the day.
Q Ari, how do you guys plan to handle the arms sale announcement tomorrow? And I'm wondering if at 12:35 p.m. on Monday, has the President made any decisions on the arms sale?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, there always comes a moment when the decision that the President wishes to convey will be conveyed by the President, not by his spokesman. And we will work with you on whatever that procedure may be.
Q Ari, if I can go back to Peter's question, am I to understand that the Vice President's recommendation is that this country's energy security depends on opening, as you put it, a small portion of ANWR to oil exploration and drilling?
MR. FLEISCHER: The energy program that the Vice President is working on is a comprehensive program that is going to suggest a variety of means to secure America's energy freedom, and to develop more resources at home. That will include a focus on renewables. It will include a focus on conservation. It will include a focus on the development of America's resources, including opening up a small portion of ANWR.
So it is going to be multi-faceted and approach the energy problem from a variety of fronts, both in terms of production and in terms of conservation.
Q Has there been a decision made yet if the fundraiser Wednesday night in Arkansas will be open to the press?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll get you all the details on that shortly.
Q But has there been a decision made?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll get you the details as soon as its final.
Q Will you let the sun shine in? (Laughter.)
Q Ari, is the President aware that it's 400 degrees in the briefing room, and did he sign off on that decision? (Laughter.)
Q Briefing room warming.
MR. FLEISCHER: I thought that was somebody here's attempt to get me off the stage as fast as they could.
Q Is this related to the gassing of the press corps on Friday night? (Laughter.)
Q Or global warming?
MR. FLEISCHER: Or food poisoning on Air Force One. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, since fighting drugs is such an important part of the U.S. government, when are we going to get an official appointment of a drug czar, or head of the anti-drug --
MR. FLEISCHER: On that topic, that fits into the area of personnel. And as you know, we will keep you advised on all personnel appointments.
Q Some of the people involved in the drug war are saying today that they're afraid that the drug traffickers themselves are going to be the beneficiaries of this suspension of these flights. Does that concern extend here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the facts are being gathered. And I can't comment on the duration of operations. The President thinks it's important to ascertain exactly what took place, and then make any determinations. The agencies will look at it. But this has been a successful program. This has been a good program to help win the war on drugs. And drug trafficking in Peru has dropped markedly since the program began.
So it's a question of balancing. And obviously any time a life is lost, it's a tragedy. Also, in fighting the war against drugs, many lives have been saved as a result of the steps that have been taken by the United States government. And so it's a question of finding that appropriate balance. And the President thinks it is appropriate to suspend the operations until we can gather the facts in regard to what's happening with this one program with Peru.
Q -- is he going to take advantage of this break?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to evaluate that. I think you need to talk to DEA or somebody else about that.
Q Ari, can I go back to Taiwan, and try one more time. The Chinese have said some pretty blood-curdling things about what would happen if he approves the Aegis Destroyers. Are you telling me that the President doesn't even take that into consideration when he makes his decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's decision will be based on what Taiwan -- what he judges as Taiwan's defense needs require. That will be the criteria the President uses. I would remind you that there have been strong statements made previously pertaining to this annual event. And in the case of this President, his decision will be based on the factor I just said.
Q So he does not take into account the larger needs of U.S. policy and stability in the region -- it's purely the Taiwan Relations Act?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll remind you again, this is an annual event that has taken place, where the President makes his decision based on a variety of factors. And this will be one of them.
Q Ari, there's been a perpetual vote in Japan, and the clear leader is Koezumi for the next Prime Minister. Any reaction to the new Prime Minister in Japan?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything for you on that, at this time.
Q Ari, does the President have any reaction to the decision made by Admiral Thomas Fargo, of the Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, that the Commander, Scott Waddle, will not be court-martialed for the collision with the Ehime Maru, especially given the apologies as expressed by the President, himself?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take your question and see if there's anything to get back to you on that.
Q On the issue of drugs, although production has declined in Peru, it seems that it may have just shifted elsewhere. A lot of it shifted to Colombia. Is this going to encourage the President to have a larger reassessment of drug policy in light of the fact that these flights have now stopped, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's a little early to come to those type of conclusions. Again, this accident just took place and we're still gathering the facts about it. But I would hesitate to get into any broader policy implications as a result of this.
Q Ari, you have said the only flights that have stopped are the ones in Peru, right? All other flights, as far as you know, are still on?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States still has ongoing missions to fight the war against drugs.
Thank you, everybody.
Q Ari, one last thing on the environment. How did Administrator Whitman get confused Sunday morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think there was an account in a news magazine that suggested a fact, and as that was evaluated, it was clear that the fact as suggested was not accurate. And so I think that she suspended until she was able to verify that information.
Q Well, why did the EPA Administrator read something in a magazine and not know it was inaccurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, actually, she didn't read it in a magazine. She was presented with one reporter's version of another reporter's work. And as you know, any time that happens, it's always best just to accurately assess the information, which is exactly what EPA did, and released that information later in the afternoon.
Q But doesn't she have access to all of the decisions that have been made, and wouldn't she have -- she should have known what the --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, there was confusion created as a result of the question, as a result of what had been brought to her attention. And I think she readily clarified it.
Q But does she have copies of everything, and has she been in every -- all of the meetings?
MR. FLEISCHER: She's a participant in the task force, as you know, and has been doing a very good job as a member of the task force.
Q You believe in what reporters tell you, don't you, Ari? (Laughter.) No comment?
MR. FLEISCHER: I know there are no mistakes.
END 12:44 P.M. EDT