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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 12, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:11 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have two announcements I would like to make. And there's a rather lengthy personnel announcement, so we will be putting that out in writing. I will not go through it.
The Secret Service routinely conducts sweeps and searches at the White House complex on a 24-hour basis. At mid-morning today, a Secret Service dog reacted to a vehicle that belonged to someone attending a White House event. The dog reacted a second time to that vehicle. At the time, the Uniformed Division of the Secret Service contacted the Technical Security Division, which handled the matter.
The Technical Security Division made a determination of how many feet surrounding the vehicle needed to be evacuated. And that area included portions of the West Wing, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building and the North Lawn, including the press area here. The vehicle was inspected and it was cleared, and all events resumed at normal pace and schedule at the White House shortly before noon. The President and the Vice President were never affected at any time by this incident.
That is my statement on the matter dealing with the Secret Service this morning.
Let me make a second announcement. The Senate just recently, this morning, also in an important victory for Americans who believe in promoting conservation and exploration of America's energy supplies, voted by an overwhelmingly bipartisan 67-33 to secure an agreement for the proposal President Bush made to develop America's energy resources in a conservation-friendly way in the Gulf of Mexico.
Today's vote is a victory for all Americans who want to see environmentally-responsible energy production to help protect consumers from wild fluctuations in energy prices, and increase America's energy independence on foreign supplies of oil and gas.
This vote shows that bipartisan consensus can be reached on the plan to address America's energy needs. The vote represents yet another example of how President Bush is working, and will keep his word to balance the need to address our energy needs with local concerns. The President worked very hard with officials of all states in the Gulf of Mexico in developing that plan. And the President is pleased that an effort to overturn the compromise that he reached was not agreed to, by a very overwhelming bipartisan vote in the Senate.
MR. FLEISCHER: The automobile in question belonged to a staffer of a member of Congress who was here for a meeting with the President.
Q Who was that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a matter for the Secret Service. I'm not going to name whoever it was.
Q Do you know what it was that the dog hit on?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's unclear, Ron. I think the Secret Service might have more specific information on it. Obviously, what the dog hit on did not develop.
Q One more question, and then if I can follow up real quickly. Have you been able to find out if this is the first time that a portion of the West Wing has been evacuated?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware. I had not previously been asked that. I'll be happy to try to find out.
Q The President was in the Oval Office during the time? The entire period?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President was on the patio behind the Oval Office, and then he had lunch with the Vice President. They were initially out on the patio, and they had their lunch in the routine office where they always do; the small dining room just off the Oval.
Q But they didn't ask him to leave the Oval Office?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q In addition to your office, there was some suggestion that Condoleezza Rice's office, because of its proximity to the vehicle, was also evacuated. Can you confirm that?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the areas that were evacuated included portions of the West Wing. Those would be all the northern portions of the West Wing. In other words, any portion of the West Wing that had glass in the area where the vehicle was found, in the proximity, the closest proximity to where the vehicle was found. The vehicle was very close to the gate, so it was a lengthy distance from the vehicle to the West Wing. Nevertheless, the entire northern portion of the West Wing was evacuated. That would include the Offices of the National Security Advisor.
Also, of course, the North Lawn, where many reporters were. I'd like to thank the reporters for your cooperation with the Secret Service in agreeing to leave as quickly as you did. And the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, as well, the northeastern portions of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building were also evacuated.
Q Where did you go, and where did the National Security Advisor go during this period of evacuation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I went into the Vice President's office and made some phone calls from there, and then I met with the President out on his patio.
Q And do you know where Condi went?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not.
Q How do they calculate this area that -- you were saying that they've calculated an area. We have these things happen from time to time and --
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secret Service are some of the nation's leading experts in this type of protection for the people who are fortunate enough to work within these gates. And they made the determination about how many feet were necessary to evacuate from within the reach of that vehicle. And that's the reason why they evacuated these portions of the White House Complex.
Q What was different about this incident from other -- we've had other incidents in the driveway where the guy came out in the Michelin tire-looking outfit to check things --
MR. FLEISCHER: It was the reaction to the dogs which are trained in these matters.
Q Ari, that was the follow-up. Was there another dog brought in for, in effect, a second opinion, or is there just this one dog? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should double-check with the Secret Service. My understanding, it was a solo canine opinion. (Laughter.)
Q Do you know how experienced this dog was? Had the dog ever had a false alarm?
MR. FLEISCHER: You should ask the Secret Service that.
Q Was the mansion at all affected by the evacuation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was not.
Q Has the car now been returned, or is the Secret Service still going over it?
MR. FLEISCHER: My understanding is, everything was cleared, and the owner took the vehicle back.
Q In general, the cars which have congressional tags, are not checked at the gate; as a courtesy, they're allowed to drive in. And does this incident -- would that spark any reconsideration of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I cannot get into the manner in which the Secret Service acts for security purposes at the White House gates. I would simply say, as with all incidents, the Secret Service is always reviewing actions to make certain that the White House, the President, the Vice President and all the guests are safe as always. And so, they always conduct a review, and -- Q Are those cars exempt?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, you're asking questions about specific security matters at the White House, and you know those are not topics I can talk about.
Q Ari, because of the scare, is there a thought that there might be a change in how cars, or what cars are allowed in the Northwest Driveway area?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the Secret Service always reviews their activities to make certain that they are taking all appropriate steps to protect people within the gates of the White House and that will be something the Secret Service if they decide to look at, will look at.
Q Will this have an effect on the President's decision about reopening Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say if there will be any effect of this whatsoever. I don't see a connection.
Q Yesterday, you said in the gaggle on the Salvation Army story, that if people had checked deeper, they would have seen that this did not reach the senior staff of the White House. Did you know then that Karl Rove and the number two person at the Faith-Based Office had some involvement in this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep reading.
Q Okay, "if people had checked deeper, they would have seen that this did not even reach the senior staff level of the White House, that the words "firm commitment" were obviously a misread of the White House." I know how you're going to parse that sentence, but I would like you to ask me when you -- answer -- when you gave us that sentence if Karl Rove was involved.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll give you a two-part answer. And it's not parsing. It is literally the meaning of what I said, that the question of whether or not there was a firm commitment from the White House to the Salvation Army was an erroneous statement in that memo from the Salvation Army, and the question of support for the action the Salvation Army sought never rose up to the level of the senior staff following the review.
As for the question of whether or not Karl Rove specifically had any contact with the Office of Management and Budget to pass along the information about the review, I did not know that at the time.
Q And have you been able to answer in the brief time since our briefing in your office what exactly Karl Rove's involvement was beyond the one call to OMB?
MR. FLEISCHER: No changes. As I indicated to you, I took your question and we're going to work to try to get you an answer.
Q You have said that under the civil rights laws that these charities, religious organizations can discriminate on hiring. Am I wrong there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, under the civil rights laws, religious institutions --
Q There's an exemption -- exemption.
MR. FLEISCHER: -- are not made to discriminate on the basis of hiring. In other words, if the Catholic Church decides that priests cannot be married, that is, under our laws of freedom of religion in this nation, that is a right of the Catholic Church to decide who can be a priest. And it is the right, under the Civil Rights Act, as affirmed by a 9-0 Supreme Court decision, to allow hiring decisions by ministries to be made in accordance with civil rights laws.
Q I want to know, can these federally-funded religious charities, which, under the President's proposed program, can they deny assistance to non-believers or atheists --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I told you a half an hour ago, I do not have an answer for that question yet.
Q Well, why don't you have an answer?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because you asked a half an hour ago. I didn't --
Q No, I asked you yesterday.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, yesterday, you asked -- Helen, as always, I work very diligently to get you those answers. I do not have it today.
Q I think that's a very significant thing, don't you?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll try to get you that answer.
Q And the question here, that the Salvation Army wanted, was not whether their ministry had to abide by local anti-discrimination laws, but whether their federally-funded social service activities had to abide by local anti-discrimination laws. And the White House was considering some kind of action to allow them to discriminate against gays and lesbians in hiring in these federally-funded social service programs, correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House, as we indicated yesterday, reviewed the request from the Salvation Army.
Q And it -- so the administration was entertaining the possibility of allowing the Salvation Army to discriminate against gays and lesbians, while at the same time, taking federal money.
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House was reviewing the question, whether in this instance a private organization could hire as a matter which it saw fit. In this instance, the White House made a decision, as you know, not to proceed with the Salvation Army request.
Q But in HR-7, the charitable choice provision, in the current bill that's making its way toward the House floor, doesn't it also seek to provide dissimilar shelter from state and local ordinances on this question of religious institutions, and whether or not they are required to adhere to those state and federal -- state and local ordinances on the question of hiring homosexuals?
MR. FLEISCHER: HR-7, passed by the House Judiciary Committee, affirms the nation's civil rights laws and the charitable choice laws which have been signed into law by President Clinton. And that affords religious institutions the opportunity to hire on the basis of who they believe should be hired, in accordance with their faith.
Q In accordance with their religious perspectives?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Which -- and since 1996, since President Clinton signed that, states and localities have stepped in with their own interpretation of what has happened.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q HR-7 would shield these religious organizations from these new ordinances and state laws, would it not?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not clear, Major. I think that's a question that Paula asked yesterday. There are state and local governments that have taken into their own hands their right to pass ordinances that are contrary to the federal measure. And wherever there is a federal statute in conflict with a state conflict -- a state statute, it often ends up in the courts.
Q Whatever happened to local control? Whatever happened to municipalities who believe that people provide social services in their jurisdiction shouldn't discriminate in hiring this way. Why wouldn't the administration, as they do on other issues, say, this is up to localities?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because there's a federal statute. And what the Salvation Army was asking for was for the administration to overrule local control. The administration took no such action. So local control remains in place. There's a federal statute on the books. There are state statutes on the books. And as is typical in our society, sometimes they're in conflict. In certain cities they're in conflict.
Q Ari, the request from the Salvation Army to the Office of Management and Budget was in the pipeline as of mid-April.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q The Office of Faith-based Initiatives was aware of it, the White House was aware of it.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q What was the purpose for the President's senior political advisor getting involved in this issue a month later, in the middle of May?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the Salvation Army met with him and asked him to.
Q But if it was already in the pipeline, why would there be cause to contact another White House official, more senior than the first one?
MR. FLEISCHER: It happens all the time. It happens all the time. If you think that organizations that represent causes in America stop with one White House aide, you don't understand -- and I know you do -- how organizations work. They come and they petition their government for a redress as they see fit. Sierra Club does it, the Cancer Society does it, the Salvation Army does it. AARP was here today. Welcome to America. This is the business of the American people contacting the representatives in the White House to state their claims. The White House will always review these requests. Sometimes they'll agree with these groups, sometimes they won't.
Q But it has the appearance of, we're not hearing what we want to hear, let's kick it up the ladder a little bit.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, groups constantly reach out to talk to as many people in the White House as they can find. For example, today, a representative of CBS News called several officials in the White House to get comments on questions. It's not uncommon for everybody to call multiple people in the White House to try to get action.
Q Are you tracking my phone calls? (Laughter.) But if I could just follow one more time --
MR. FLEISCHER: But that's your job, and that's the right of the American people, including the press, to contact a variety of people in the White House to try to get answers to their questions.
Q You have said repeatedly that there's nothing wrong with listening to people on various issues. And that may be true, as long as there is no conflict of interest or any suggestion of a quid pro quo. Can you say here and now that throughout this entire issue with the Salvation Army there was not even the suggestion by anyone at this White House of a quid pro quo, that we will try to get you this waiver if you support us on faith-based initiatives?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not only can I tell you that there was never a suggestion of a quid pro quo; in this case, the Salvation Army asked for something that they did not get -- and the Salvation Army is supporting the President's faith-based initiative. That's rather proof positive that there couldn't have been a quid pro quo. Otherwise, why is the Salvation Army supporting the President's initiative?
Q Ari, who here in the White House went back to the Salvation Army with the conclusion that there would be no action?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was somebody in the Faith-based Office. I don't know if it was John DiIulio or somebody who works for him.
Q Ari, on the subject of Karl Rove's involvement, one of the things that's attracted attention and criticism is the fact that Karl is the senior political strategist for the President and, yet, he's also deeply involved, and has been deeply involved in some policy issues. Some people say that's inappropriate. This, again, illustrates that nexus of politics and policy in Karl's portfolio. How would you respond to the criticisms that your senior political strategist --
MR. FLEISCHER: I dismiss it as utter nonsense from people who know how good and valued a worker Karl is for the President and for all of us here in the White House. Karl performs his job in a superb fashion, and Karl is in charge of inter-governmental affairs and people should bring business to Karl Rove if they want to have an issue considered, and Karl will exercise his discretion and judgment.
It's the right of the American people to bring their matters to the government, to everybody who works here in the White House, including Karl. Karl does his job.
Q The question is, is it appropriate, or is it, in fact, a conflict of interest to have Karl handling intergovernmental affairs and also serving as the chief political strategist for the President. Is that an inappropriate mixture of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course not.
Q Why isn't it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Why is it?
Q Because it's mixing policy and politics.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think all the decisions that the President has made -- the President makes are based on the merits. And those include a variety of considerations.
Q Ari, as the President's spokesperson, would you have liked to have known, should you have known the full involvement of Karl, and any other senior officials, yesterday morning when you were asked these questions?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, if your question is, is there any White House Press Secretary who is ever able to keep track of every single phone call made by every single White House employee and every meeting that every single White House employee engages in, that's an impossibility. What I said yesterday was in regard to the question of the firm commitment, and properly so.
Q Do you disagree that you left, at the very least, a perception that there was no senior level official involved in this case, at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's a reminder -- I think it's a reminder that stories can be wrong and perceptions that stories create can be wrong. And in this case, the suggestion that senior administration official -- when I said, no senior administration officials made any such statement about a firm commitment, it's perfectly clear from what you just read that my statement was in the context of firm commitments. And that's exactly right.
Q Can I try one more on substance? Does the President believe that taxpayer money should go to any organization -- religious or otherwise -- that discriminates on the basis of race?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's against the law.
Q Does the President believe that taxpayer money should go to any organization -- religious or otherwise -- that discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is not part of the civil rights laws.
Q What does the President believe on that question?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has -- consistent with all civil rights laws, the President supports the right of private organizations to hire.
Q So it would be okay?
Q On the issue of Medicare that the President was talking about this morning, where do you go from here? If the President offered some guidelines, would you try to shape a bill -- would you submit legislation, do you have a time frame? Also, on prescription drugs, will that have to be wrapped in an overall Medicare reform packet, or would you do a prescription drug benefit separately and then do Medicare reform as time goes on?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President made two proposals today pertaining to Medicare. One is to bring the fastest way possible of reducing the prices of prescription drugs to seniors. And given the fact that Congress has not been able to take any action on Medicare in recent years, it's a good thing that the administration can act on behalf of seniors without congressional approval. That way, seniors can get their discount cards. HHS is working on a plan to get them the discount cards next year, and I think seniors are going to be very gratified to receive them.
The President believes that beyond that, it is absolutely essential for Congress to put partisan politics aside and come together. That way, a fundamental reform of Medicare can be made that strengthens the program that includes a prescription drug benefit for all seniors within the Medicare program.
Q Do you have a time frame for this, though? I mean, because --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would like to see Congress act on this matter in the fall.
Q Will you submit legislation to Congress, or will you simply say these are our guidelines, we'll look for a bill that either comes out of the House or the Senate that meets our guidelines?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's approach is reflected in the package that he sent to Capitol Hill today. The President thinks it's best to bring people together on this issue. The recent history of Medicare has suggested that people will prefer to fight over it rather than to solve it, and by sending up the principles that the President outlined today, it creates a more inclusive environment so Democrats and Republicans can work together to support substantive reforms to strengthen and protect Medicare.
Q Ari, the President today proposed merging A and B.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q As you are aware, the deductibles for A and B differ. One is about $700, one is about $400. If you merge these programs, does that necessarily mean and does the President support a deductible that would be somewhat higher than $400 and somewhat less than $700, and therefore would be somewhere in the middle and because more Medicare beneficiaries use doctor visits as opposed to hospitalization, some might be exposed to higher deductible costs under this reform.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President is committed to working with Congress on a structure with the deductibles and the copayments that makes the most sense for seniors. Currently, the current system presents a very big burden for seniors. As you put it, Major, there is a program in place right now where seniors under what's called Part A are their hospital coverage are required to pay $800 every time they go into the hospital. And that's one of the reasons that more than 10 million seniors who are on Medicare have had to reach deep in their own pockets to pay for Medigap insurance is exactly because they are not satisfied with the premiums and the deductibles and the copayments under the current Medicare structure. So they have to pay often more than $1,000 a year for additional coverage that can get them additional benefits and lower copays and deductibles. It's an illustration of the fact that a lot of seniors would like to see a more modernized structure in Medicare.
Q Many others just use -- tend to use Part B more than Part A.
MR. FLEISCHER: Unless, God forbid, they have to go to the hospital.
Q That's right.
MR. FLEISCHER: And no senior knows when they're going to have to go to the hospital.
Q That's right. But those deductibles are lower, and if everyone is exposed to a higher deductible, a good number of Medicare recipients could be --
MR. FLEISCHER: But no one says that everybody will be exposed to a higher deductible.
Q To follow up on the medical, I know a lot of the family doctors and general practitioners are very concerned about the President's support of specialty doctors. Does the President see any merit in referring patients first to the general practitioners or the family doctors who can often do the same job as effectively at a less cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is exactly why the President believes that seniors deserves choices in health care plans. There are some seniors that would prefer to go right to their general practitioner. There are others that don't want to be bothered with a general practitioner and they would rather go to see their specialist. They've worked with these specialists for many years. They don't want anybody in between them and their specialist. It should not be the role of the government to dictate what they do. They should have choices, so they can best make their own health care plans, as they see fit.
Q The President does support the choice?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President -- the Medicare proposals the President announced today promote choice in health care for senior citizens.
Q The perception is that the President is really pushing the specialty doctors.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President -- I just don't share that perception. I don't see it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 2:33 P.M. EDT