For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 26, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The Crawford Elementary School
11:17 A.M. CDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning, y'all. Welcome back to Crawford. I see the school is in session today, so I would like to urge the Washington Press Corps to leave no child behind. Be very kind to our hosts. Actually, I do -- we all should -- I'm very grateful to the Crawford School for having us in here while they're in session. It's kind of neat for the kids and it's kind of fun for us.
Anyway, the President this morning -- I got off the phone with him a little while ago. He spoke to Prime Minister Sharon of Israel. The President called the Prime Minister to discuss ways of securing peace in the region.
He's been working on his speech tomorrow night for the Bob Bullock dedication. I think that's going to be a particularly poignant moment for the President. It also, of course, will be, since the President left Austin to come to Washington, his first return to Austin. And the same, too, for many of the staff who really has not been back to Austin since December 18th when the President became -- went from Governor to President-Elect. So it's going to be a particularly poignant moment for a lot of people to go back to Austin.
With that, I'm happy to take questions about anything going on today.
Q Ari, why did he call Prime Minister Sharon? Is there a particular event that triggered that? Why was that call made?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was just part of his ongoing engagement in helping to secure peace in the Middle East. As you know, he met with the President of Lebanon on Monday. He has talked to leaders throughout the region. The State Department is an active participant in helping to secure peace in the region, and it's going to be a continued approach of the President's to be in touch with the leaders in the region.
Q Did he specifically urge restraint on the Israelis in that phone call?
MR. FLEISCHER: His position is unchanged. He's urged all parties to help end the cycle of violence. And he believes very strongly that the only way to secure a lasting peace in the Middle East is for the violence first to stop. He understands how difficult it is to engage in securing an agreement while there is bloodshed in the streets.
Q I'm sorry, can we finish up on that topic? Any plans for him or anybody else to call Arafat or anybody on the Palestinian side?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q Any plans for him or anybody else, like Secretary Powell, to call Arafat or anybody else on the Palestinian side?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, I can only speak for the President, and the President, if he does so, I'll let you know.
Q Powell said today that the U.S. -- said to Congress today the U.S. is stepping up its role in Mideast diplomacy. Was this call today part of that, and are there other efforts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll keep you informed. I can just tell you what the President has done today. And as part of the President's ongoing plan to help create an environment that can get the parties engaged so they, themselves, lead the way in bringing peace to the Middle East.
Q Powell said we have a number of things working right now quietly to get the security situation stabilized. Are there other -- could you elaborate on that? Are there other efforts we should know about?
MR. FLEISCHER: I choose not to elaborate when the Secretary of State has used the word "quietly."
Q Should have left that one out.
Q Ari, in terms of any progress on negotiations with the Democrats over funding for education?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a bipartisan agreement on the substance of most of the reforms in the education proposal that is pending before the Senate. The President is very pleased with the progress that has been made.
We continue to talk to Democrats and Republicans in the Senate about the funding level. The President's budget has proposed an historic increase in funding for the Department of Education. The Department of Education receives the largest percentage increase of any item in the President's budget, and the funding for the education is secondary -- ESEA, Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- also receives a multibillion-dollar funding increase in the President's budget. So he'll continue, the administration will continue to talk with Democrats on funding levels.
Q Can I just follow up on that? Some House Republicans, conservatives, are sort of concerned, expressing concerns about the testing initiative, and also concerned about that vouchers are in no way in this bill and saying that there's a concern that this may get out of hand and that they're not going to back the bill that comes to the Senate floor next week.
MR. FLEISCHER: On the testing initiative, the President is very well aware that there may be some in his own party who do not support what he's proposing. He will fight for it to the very end. The President believes the single-most important provision in his education plan is testing and accountability, because he saw in Texas firsthand as a governor who dedicated himself to education reform that the way to improve our schools is by annual testing, where the tests are determined at the state level. That's the singular best way, in the President's opinion, to know whether or not children are learning.
So whether he hears criticism from the right on testing or from any source, he will fight to the very end for it.
Q Ari, on a related topic, some of the Democratic leaders are -- and I guess much of the Democratic rank and file aren't coming to the 100 Day Lunch on Monday. And do you have a count on how many Democrats are coming, and are you disappointed by the fact that a lot of the Democrats won't be there?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have hard numbers. I know that the message is still going around the Hill. It's not unusual for invitations to be accepted toward the very end of a process. But this is a first for Washington, this lunch. This lunch is a first for Washington. It's what Governor Bush did on a regular basis in bipartisan Texas, and it's what President Bush hopes to create, an ongoing, increasingly bipartisan fashion in Washington, D.C.
So I think the President will be understanding if not everybody can make it for this first lunch. But he hopes to change the tone in Washington, to change the way politics is practiced in Washington, and no matter how many people come, he will welcome them all, Democrat and Republican alike. He hopes that all members of the Congress can come. He hopes the Democrat Leadership will be interested in coming. If they can't, he'll be understanding. But this is how you start to change the tone in Washington, and the President will continue to push to change the tone through events like this.
Q Any reaction on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruling?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. On the FERC action? Number one, this is a little premature to call it an action. It's not final yet. They have not issued a final ruling. And to the extent that FERC's action would represent a price cap, the President has a long-held belief that price caps don't work, that price caps don't create any incentive to reduce demand. And price caps create a disencentive to encourage supply. And at a time when our nation is facing increasing energy problems, the last thing you want to do is create -- artificially increase demand and put in disencentives that harm the availability of supply.
But to the extent that this is a price cap, the President is on the record as saying price caps don't work. Again, I want to note this is not final. And just reading through it this morning, I've seen in some newspapers it's described as a limited price cap. So I think it still bears watching to see exactly what they do. But the President's position is unequivocal.
Q Has the President changed any minds, or is there anything he can do to --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an independent agency.
Q Does he have the authority to review their actions? There's no legal provision that gives him the authority to override it, or would he file comments if its proposed rule? Presumably, it's open to comments; would he or the Energy Department --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just gave you a comment from the President.
Q Ari, with the President going to that reading event this afternoon, the folks at the Reading Is Fundamental program are upset that the President's budget for next year would eliminate funding for their reading program for distributing books to kids. Is there a contradiction there in the President's support for reading programs, but cutting off funding for Reading Is Fundamental?
MR. FLEISCHER: How come it's easier to hear your voice in the back row than it is to hear other voices in the front? No, what the President's budget does is substantially increase funding for reading. It triples the federal budget for reading initiatives, and it creates a consolidated block grant program. So there is a dramatic increase in funding for reading. And the school district will have plenty of funds under the President's program for reading initiatives.
Q Ari, have you seen the ad Democrats are running on the budget cuts, talking about what's been cut from his budget? And do you guys have any reaction to it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The ad the Democrats are running?
Q In Washington -- it's one ad they're running only in Washington.
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not. I saw Mr. Gephardt's news conference this morning, but I'm not aware of any ad.
Q Ari, going back on education, any reaction to the Senate delaying action, debate on that until next week because of the negotiations? And also, I wanted to ask a question on China.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President continues to be pleased with the progress that all parties are making on education. He does want to make certain that the Senate proceeds, so that education reforms can be passed. It's our nation's top priority. It needs to get done. It needs to be done. But the President's pleased with the progress the Senate is making.
Q And on China, of course, as you know, China has had an angry response, saying that President Bush's remarks were misguided and takes down the wrong road. What is the administration saying about -- is the China-Taiwan policy the same?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's words speak for themselves, and the President said what he said because he meant it. And the President's words speak for themselves.
Q Any reaction to China's response?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said what he wanted to say.
Q Ari, on that topic, yesterday a member of the administration said that the comments were -- not their word, but calculated; that it was in a response to the buildup of the missiles by the Chinese. Can you further that for us here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Say it again, a little louder?
Q That the President's comments on Taiwan were calculated, that they were based around the Chinese buildup of missiles across the Taiwan Strait. Can you expand on that for us?
MR. FLEISCHER: What the President said yesterday and the day before, what he said a year ago, and it's what he'll say tomorrow, his position -- he took the position he took because he believes in it. He believes in it so much that he said it during the campaign, in a debate last March. He said it Monday, he said it yesterday. It's what the President believes. Actually Tuesday and Wednesday.
Q -- Chinese military buildup last year? I mean, the comments from the senior official specifically suggested that this was a time to make strong comments on Taiwan, because there was a Chinese military buildup underway.
MR. FLEISCHER: The senior administration official has said it. That's -- you quoted a senior administration official as saying it?
MR. FLEISCHER: A senior administration official has said that.
Q You just said the position is the same as what he's always said, and I'm a little confused. Do you see a current Chinese military buildup, or it's been continuing for the last year, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, the President's decision in regard to selling arms to Taiwan is based on the threat that he perceives that Taiwan has. And that threat is based on an assessment of China's military programs. And, clearly, the President's decision is commensurate with the threat.
Q Ari, is the President intending to send a signal with his remarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President was saying what he believes, which is what he'll always do. He's a straight-spoken man, a plainspoken man. He says what he thinks.
Q Ari, what do you make of China's response that the United States is heading down a dangerous road, and that is has no business viewing Taiwan as a protectorate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's words and actions are designed to help secure the peace.
Q One more. Roadless areas, Ari. Are you asking Ashcroft, is the White House asking Ashcroft to investigate ways to overrule the regulation on logging and road building in roadless areas?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything new for you on that.
Q John Walters as head -- as drug czar; is the President planning to do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't confirm or deny or speculate.
Do any of you have questions back there? Who's got a question? They can raise their hand. Anybody have a question?
END 11:30 A.M. CDT