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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 25, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:49 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. For you travelers out there, welcome back. I hope you got some rest last night. I have some personnel announcements, and then one issue the President has asked me to bring up this morning.
The President intends to nominate Gaddi Vasquez to be Director of the Peace Corps. The President intends to nominate Randall Kroszner to be a member of the Council of Economic Advisors. The President intends to nominate Kimberly Terese Nelson to be Assistant Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency for Environmental Information. The President intends to nominate Hal Daub to be a member of the board of directors of the Social Security Advisory Board, and upon confirmation he would be designated as chairman.
And on that topic, the President noted and thanks the efforts of the Social Security Commission for the interim report which they came out with this week, which highlights the important issues that Social Security is facing if younger Americans are to have a solid retirement system that they can trust and rely upon.
The President is particularly grateful to the work of the -- the President particularly notes the bipartisanship of the commission -- Senator Moynihan, Mr. Robert Johnson -- for their efforts in producing the interim report that came out. The President thinks it's very important for Congress to work on a bipartisan fashion on Social Security reform.
He's very worried about making sure our younger works -- people 50 and younger -- have an opportunity the have a strong retirement system that they can depend on. He thinks it's terribly important to protect Social Security for today's retirees, to have a system in place that is reliable and dependable for younger workers and thinks the bipartisan actions of this interim report very helpful in moving Congress forward and in making progress on saving Social Security.
Q You say it's bipartisan, but it was all one-sided. I know you've emphasized that word about three times, and the idea that there might have been some dissenting opinion, but there wasn't. All of these people were handpicked for one idea.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's an example of how --
Q I don't think that's a true study.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's one example of how this approach is able to win bipartisan support. And the fact that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is powerfully pushing this idea; Robert Johnson, a very leading Democratic --
Q They were picked because they pushed the idea.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that there is an interesting sense here that there are many people who are committed to a new way of thinking in Washington and those people come from all over the Republican Party, all over the Democratic Party. But there is a liberal wing of the Democratic Party that is not interested in any new thinking on Social Security. They have saved Social Security in the past by raising taxes, and they offer no new thinking about how to save Social Security today.
Social Security is a system that presents tremendous difficulties, particularly for younger Americans who have Social Security taxes taken out of all their paychecks, and they worry that they're never going to get it back. And this group, which doesn't include Democrats or Republicans, are showing that people can come together, the two parties, on new ways of thinking about Social Security, and that's why the President is pleased with their interim report.
Q Ari, when you say members of the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, are you referring to Mr. Daschle and Mr. Gephardt, who had some very critical assessments of the interim report and the entire work of the commission?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, if you take a look at the landscape of Washington, there are people who are locked into old thinking and there are people who are willing to think new about problems. There aren't many Democrats who are willing to think new about these problems. They're represented on this commission, and they are found throughout the Congress. And the President is pleased to continue to work for that.
The President respects the rights of others to disagree, but that won't stop him from putting together a bipartisan coalition. He understands there are going to be people who will be partisan and will opposed any effort to save Social Security. Many of those people raise taxes in the past to save Social Security, and that might be their inclination to do so again. The President will resist that.
The President thinks that personal accounts are a strong way to go. They rely on trusting people to make decisions for themselves, and the President believes that's in the interest of all Americans.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. The President just concluded a meeting with approximately a dozen or so members of the House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans alike, to report on his trip to Europe. He filled them in on the details of the G7 and the G8 discussions, the efforts that the leaders made to alleviate poverty through a new approach, particularly focused on some new initiatives in Africa, a new approach to grants for the World Bank, and a focus on the World Bank on grants aimed at improving education and productivity.
The President discussed at length -- and this was a big topic at the meeting -- his meeting with President Putin and the success the President believes he had with President Putin in that meeting and making new progress toward a new way of thinking, beyond the Cold War. And that was the core of the discussion.
Q Ari, does the President -- he's certainly someone who is a good judge of people and how they perceive him. What's his view about how European leaders perceived him, both substantively and personally, and how that might be different from the second trip and the first?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I spent a little bit of time talking to him about that. It doesn't matter whether the leaders agree with him or disagree with him on the issues -- he has a very good, warm and cordial relationship throughout, and he's very pleased by that.
The President in six months in office is forging very strong ties with individual leaders. And there are many nations in Europe that are very strongly supportive on a policy basis of the President's initiatives. Other nations have other points that they bring up to the President.
But if you look throughout Europe, there's very interesting developments in Eastern Europe and Spain and Italy, other nations, the United Kingdom, that have a very strong shared outlook with the President of the United States. There are other nations that have different outlooks.
But Europe is diverse, and that message is reflected in the messages that the President hears from their leaders. Certainly, anybody who heard Prime Minister Berlusconi's news conference with President Bush heard a powerful affirmation of Italy's support for the United States and for President Bush on substance, on initiatives, on policy, on missile defense, on a new way of thinking. And that's reflected in several other European nations, as well. And for the nations where there are different approaches, for example, on global warming or on missile defense, the President has hit it off with those leaders very well.
Q I just want to follow on one point. What does he -- I mean, he was aware of criticism of his -- the perception of him as a new leader and maybe -- just various levels of criticism. What has he done, what does he feel like he's done to overcome some of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there's no such criticism from his counterparts. I think there is the typical welcoming that some in the media give to every new President, in terms of saying they're going to be tested when they go abroad, leaders will measure this new American leader and form judgments. And this is part of the hazing that every new American President goes through in the media -- whether it's European media or American media.
But in terms of the statements made by foreign leaders -- in Quebec, trip to Europe in June, his trip to Europe in July -- he has been greeted by nothing but positive sentiment, which I think is a reflection of the strong relations and the shared values that exist between the United States and Europe, even with the governments of Europe that are left of center. And, of course, we have a Republican administration in Washington, so European leaders who come from a different political philosophy are getting used to a new President, and they're getting used to him, I think, in a very productive way. It's a different way of thinking in terms of having left of center governments welcome somebody with the American initiatives.
Q Has the President heard from Condi Rice? Can you update us on her efforts?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any update for you on that. He had a series of domestic briefings this morning and then he has a foreign meeting this afternoon. Earlier this morning, right before this meeting, on the European trip, that topic did not come up. So I haven't heard him talk about that.
MR. FLEISCHER: There will be a meeting at 1:15 p.m. this afternoon in the Cabinet Room with Republican members of Congress focused on patients' bill of rights. The President's going to continue to work very hard with members of the House of Representatives on getting a patients' bill of rights agreement so he can sign a bill into law.
Q Will you put a list of participants out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. After each of the congressional meetings, we always publish a list. So the list should be coming out on the basis of the meeting he just had as well.
Q Ari, can I get a question in also on the meeting with foreign relations people? The President, in his communique, expressed the Mexican truck issue, which you did not bring out among the subjects of main concern. What is the President doing? Because it's not just the members of the Foreign Relations Committee, you have the budget people, transportation people, and it's still complicated. What is the President doing to get the Mexican truck --
MR. FLEISCHER: Vice President Cheney has met with members of Congress this week to talk about that issue. The administration is very actively engaged in that issue. The President has made his point of view very clear about being fair to our neighbors to the south. As you heard the President say, he believes we can have safe trucking on American roads and to do so without being unfair to Mexico. And that's the message that the administration has taken to the Hill, and the President hopes that that message will be heard and well-received in the United States Senate, where action will be taken shortly.
Q Well, since the free trade agreement, NAFTA is the law of the land, and the President was stressing that not allowing the trucks in violates the spirit of NAFTA --
MR. FLEISCHER: You heard the President say just there.
Q That's what I mean. So if it's the law of the land, why can't Congress just approve it? What's holding up Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a great question for Congress. And this is an issue that the President differs with Congress and differs with some people in his own party. The President thinks it's terribly important to be fair to our Mexican friends. the President thinks it's important to adhere to the NAFTA agreement. The President doesn't think that it's right to treat one NAFTA partner different from another NAFTA partner.
And, at the core level, the President does believe that you can have safe transportation on our roads, and that's a priority for the President and his budget reflects additional money to hire safety inspectors. And you can do so in a way that is not unfair to one of our major trading partners and to our good neighbor to the south, Mexico.
Q Ari, did the topic of continued troop deployments in the Balkans come up? And was there any discussion at all about the deteriorating situation in Macedonia in the meeting with the members of the Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: I left about 10 minutes before the meeting ended, to prepare for you. It did not come up prior to that time. A lot of the discussion was focused on missile defense, President Putin.
Q Has the President been briefed on the situation in Macedonia, specifically dealing with the embassy and embassy personnel, and any latest thoughts from the administration on what's happening there and what it is doing, if anything, to assist the EU and others to keep the cease-fire?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been fully briefed on the situation in Macedonia, which is a very sensitive situation involving events on the ground in Skopja and throughout Macedonia. And the President believes that it's time for leaders to show leadership, that it's time to focus anew and to strengthen the initiatives, to secure peace in Macedonia, to make certain that the cease-fire goes back into effect.
The President does not believe there is any military solution to the problem in Macedonia, there is only a peaceful solution. And that's reinforced as a result of the President's visit to Kosovo. Kosovo was a reminder about the dangers that can take place throughout the world as a result of ethnic tension and ethnic strife. And that's why the President is again urging the parties in Macedonia to come together, to honor the cease-fire and to take the steps necessary to continue the political dialogue. There is no alternative to a political dialogue in Macedonia.
Q Are, at the stakeout the senators said they urged the President to have a new framework in place before abandoning the old framework. They're talking about the ABM Treaty. Does the President agree with that assessment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not sure which senators you're referring to said that --
Q Biden and Warner.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay.
Q Levin and Warner.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I heard other senators praise the President's approach on missile defense and said they were heartened and encouraged to see not only the President take the stand that he took, but also the fruitful progress that he and President Putin are making in leading the world to new thinking on the question of missile defense.
But the President stated privately what he has said publicly, that the President does think it's time to move beyond the antiballistic missile treaty. That was a treaty negotiated in 1972 by then-President Nixon and President Brezhnev, and it's a reflection of a very different world and a very different time. And the President stressed that in his meeting with the senators.
Q In that meeting, what was the central message that the President wanted to deliver to these members of Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: The central message --
Q On Putin. Not all the other topics, but on Putin.
MR. FLEISCHER: The central message that the President delivered to the members of Congress with whom he met today was that he believes that Russia and President Putin can be welcome in the West, that they look westward, that their future is in the West, that their chances to even be a stronger nation rely on openness to the West, which is dependent on the reforms that Russia is working hard to make under President Putin.
Q Ari, what's the President's plan for the rest of the week on patients' bill of rights? Is he going to start talking to Democrats, as well? Is he going to start making phone calls? What's he going to be up to?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's already talked to a number of Democrats, has met with Democrats. The President is prepared to work this issue as hard as he has, and will continue to work it even harder if necessary to make certain that patients throughout this country can get a good patients' bill of rights that gives them the protections they need in dealing with their HMOs, and does so in a fashion that does not drive up people's premiums in a way that makes people lose their health insurance. And that's what this debate is coming down to. It's a debate of patient protections versus higher premiums. And the President comes down on the side of patient protections.
Q Also, my understanding is that there have been fairly intensive discussions with Charlie Norwood in recent days and weeks. Does that mean that the President may be willing to abandon the Fletcher bill, even as he tries to assemble support for it?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President believes in the principles that he announced earlier. And as you know, the Fletcher bill conforms to those principles, and that's a bill the President would sign. The President's aides have been meeting with Mr. Norwood, those meetings will continue, and the President thinks it's important for all parties to work together so that an agreement can be reached. And he's dedicated to it, and he hopes the members of Congress will be as well, and it's ongoing.
Q On the timing of the vote in the House, it's been suggested now that the Republican leadership is interested in delaying it until perhaps September. Is that not a reflection of having to retreat a bit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me say, as a veteran of many such votes in the House of Representatives, you never know what the data is going to be until the vote almost begins. And so I think it's important to allow the leaders of the House of Representatives to make their decisions as they see fit for when the vote should take place, but I don't think anybody knows reliably exactly when that vote will take place. This is a typical walk-up to a major vote on something that, arguably, may be a close vote. We'll see when the vote is.
Q Ari, what's the President's assessment on what the landscape is like on patients' bill of rights? I mean, is he on the ropes on this? Is his approach on the ropes?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that the American people want to have a patients' bill of rights that gets signed into law that doesn't make them lose their health insurance. And that means the President is carrying the American people's message to the Congress. The President thinks that the worst thing you could do would be to pass any type of health care provision that would make people lose their health care. And if a bill is passed that has excessive attorney fees, that encourages frivolous lawsuits, that drives up the cost of health care in the form of higher premiums, fewer companies will be able to offer health insurance to their workers, and fewer workers will be able to afford health insurance. That's not patients' bill of rights, that's a patients' bill of wrongs, and the President wouldn't support that.
Q What I'm asking is, I understand what his opinion is on this, but it appears that politically at this point, that point of view is not winning in the House of Representatives.
MR. FLEISCHER: I disagree with that assessment, and I think that's what the vote --
Q Based on what? I mean, that's what I'm trying to get at, is what's his assessment of how likely his approach is of winning in the House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is plenty of evidence that the President's approach is making good progress with members of the House, Democrat and Republican alike. And the question was, when will we know, when will the ultimate test come, which, of course, is a vote. And you'll find out when the vote is, and that will be the ultimate answer to your question.
Q And Ganske-Dingell would still definitely be vetoed by the President, correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any bill that does not conform to the President's principles would not be supported. As you know, he said that about the Kennedy-McCain approach in the Senate, and that would apply as well.
Q Ari, do you think that the longer you wait until September, the more likely you're able to use this time to twist arms to get more Republicans and maybe even change Norwood's mind?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's hypothetical, because, again, nobody knows when the vote will take place, and so the President -- no matter when the vote is, whether it's tomorrow, whether it's next week, or whether it's -- whenever the leadership of the House schedules the vote, the President's position remains the same, and that is, he will sign a bill that gives patients the protections they need in dealing with their HMOs that doesn't make them lose their health care coverage because of higher premiums. That's just a timing issue for when the vote is. The timing is not the most important thing to the President; the substance of the legislation is.
Q Ari, is it fair to say that this is the President's number one priority right now? There's a lot of other stuff on the table in the House, and the recess --
MR. FLEISCHER: There are three important priorities the President established in a speech he gave approximately a month ago, where he urged Congress to take action, and that is education reform. The second is patients' bill of rights, and the third is his faith-based initiative.
MR. FLEISCHER: That doesn't mean anything else is exclusive of those priorities, but those are the three the President identified. Energy remains an important issue. Certainly with the important actions that OPEC is considering taking, it's another reminder for why it's important for Congress to act on the President's energy initiative, so that way we don't have to be dependent on decisions made by foreign nations that affect America's energy supplies and America's energy dependence.
Trade is also a very important issue to the President, and it's one of the most powerful and positive results of the G7 and G8 summit, is the strong statement by the industrial nations to promote trade around the world, begin the next WTO round of trade discussions in Qatar this fall.
Q Ari, OPEC has taken action since the President spoke this morning. They have agreed to cut daily crude output by four percent. So is that, when you go back and consider what he said this morning -- is that a move to stabilize the market, or is that a move to drive up prices?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, you heard the President. The President's remarks focused on the importance of providing stability and pricing. It's worth noting -- and this is not in the form of taking credit, because I think these are issues best judged by outsiders -- but the price of oil had declined from $32 a barrel to $26 a barrel since President Bush took office. OPEC is responding to what it sees as market reasons to not let the price drop further. That's an OPEC judgment.
The President's point is that we need to take the power of setting prices out of the hands of foreign countries and put them more in the hands of American consumers and Americans. And that means to reduce our dependence on foreign supplies of oil, whether it's from OPEC or other foreign nations, and allow Americans to have more energy by conserving, and also by increasing exploration at home.
Q Ari, to follow up, that's the long-term. In the short-term, what effect does the administration think this action is going to have on especially wintertime fuel prices and supplies?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it remains to be seen. I'm not an economist, I can't predict, but obviously it's another reason to make certain that the American people conserve at home and that we enhance exploration at home so that the impact of these decisions is mitigated.
Q Ari, does the President really believe that the American people would like stable prices rather than lower prices?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it's important to have stability, and stability can come in the form of lower prices; stability can come in the form of moderate prices. But the President thinks it's important that the nation doesn't go through giant price fluctuations as it has for the last two or three years.
It's the gigantic price fluctuations that hurt the American people, because they get used to driving and paying a certain price for gas, and then the following summer, sure as they can count on it, the price spikes up to $2.50. This has been happening for the last two, three years in a row. It happened in the Midwest as a result of particular local problems. Last summer, if you remember, the problem of boutique fuels, infrastructure problems. It's indicative of the problem the American people have with the energy infrastructure that is old, with a country that is too reliant on foreign supplies of oil. And that's why, again, it comes down to is this country ready to have an energy policy, or not.
The President thinks they are. The American people want to have responsible decisions made by people in Washington that don't fluctuate like weather vanes between various price spikes and price drops. The American people want to have long-term answers from the Congress to the energy problems. They don't think we should rotate any longer between denial and blame. And that's what Congress has done too long. They blame somebody when prices are high, and they deny that there's a problem when prices are low. The President thinks in all times, whether prices are high, low, or moderate and stable in the middle, that the nation will benefit from the long-term comprehensive energy policy.
Q On patients' bill of rights, when you said the President does not want a bill that can result in insurance -- health insurance being dropped, specifically in the area of punitive damages, is the President opposed in principle to any level of punitive damages? I know it's $5 million, and you think that's too much. But if there were something lower -- does it have to be absolutely no punitive damages, whatsoever, for it to be acceptable to the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can take a look at Texas and the Texas example, which is one of the nation's most successful patients' bill of rights, and that's a good indication of where the President does have an approach that recognizes that it is people's right to sue if they have been wronged. If they go through an independent review and the HMO denies care to a patient who is entitled to the care that is determined by the review, that patient is entitled to sue, in the President's opinion.
Q -- punitive damages.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I would refer you to the Texas experience and the President is going to continue to work with the Congress on these issues.
Q Ari, on the bill of rights, I understand the President's principles and he intends to work very hard, but how does he intend to do so? Is it the same old argument or is he going to marshall some new arguments to overcome the resistance that we've seen up until now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's, as is typical with the Congress on major issues, it's a question of being a good listener and being a good presenter. And that's what the President is seeking to do. In the meetings we'll have this afternoon, he will make his case. He will look members of Congress in the eye and explain that the only thing standing between patients and a patients' bill of rights that gets signed into law are these liability provisions that will drive up the cost of health care and make Americans lose their health care insurance.
And he will continue to work with members of Congress and listen to their concerns. As I mentioned, the staff is meeting with members of Congress, as well. And this is what you would expect when it comes to this stage of a legislative process. And I think, frankly, it's been healthy so far, and we'll see what the ultimate outcome is.
Q Can we expect to see some horse trading going on, as with so much --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is going to stand for his principles, and he has made those principles clear -- he will not bend on his principles. Any legislation that fulfills his principles, as he said, he will be prepared to sign.
Q On stem cell research, there's an article in the Wall Street Journal this morning, researchers at Johns Hopkins were able to use stem cells to restore movement to mice, paralyzed mice. They had a videotape of this; they showed it to Secretary Thompson earlier this month and to Senator Domenici earlier this month. Have either of those two men talked to the President about this? Has the President expressed any interest in seeing this tape? And would the fact that this now appears to be reality rather than just potential and prospect make any difference in his thinking?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, it's that very promise of science that the President, himself, brought up and addressed in his remarks last week when he was asked about stem cell research. The President is keenly aware of the promise of science and saving lives as a result of stem cell research. And that is one side of the issue, and the life side of the issue, that the President is going to deliberate about as he comes to his determination about this issue. So he's very well aware about the promise of science.
I can't speak specifically on this, John. I know the President has been talking with people, will continue to talk with people. So he's --
Q -- are saying this is more than promise, that this is reality, this is showing that it does have an effect. Does that make any difference, make any -- in sort of that balance of things?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think with all medical research it always does begin with promise. And often it becomes in laboratories of promise. And that's fully what the President understands.
Q Just on this point, the President told us a couple of days ago that this is a really tough decision for him. So that we know and he's not going to tell us when he's going to make up his mind. What I'm curious about is what all he's doing on this? I mean, clearly, he's met with a wide range of people with disparate views, so he's heard a lot about it.
So what is he doing? Is he simply studying compromise options? Is he -- I'm not trying to be flip. I mean, is he just sitting thinking about it or -- I mean, what's the process now?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's listening and he's thinking, and he's weighing the arguments that people have presented to him, both proponents and the opponents. And he's giving a very careful consideration. He's weighing the moral implications of the issues that are presented to him from all sides, the scientific implications and the powerful promise of science implications, as well as the implications for what it means for someone who respects a culture of life.
And many of these are conflicting pieces of information that are brought to him. And he's carefully weighing them and considering them and thinking about them. And as you heard him say last week, he'll make up his mind on his own timetable. And when he does, he will share the reasons on how he arrived at the decision, what it was that he weighed and how he came to the decision he'll ultimately come to.
Q Is the White House now thinking and studying, or considering different ways so he can make his case, both in terms of a venue and a mechanism for announcing this decision? Are those -- is that being looked at?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's all going to begin with the President informing the staff that he's made his determination. And then we'll talk to the President about what ways he would like to share that information with the American people.
Q That hasn't happened yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's nothing to report, David.
Q Is he closer to a decision? When you say, there's nothing to report, it sounds like there's something going on.
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Again, I'm restating what the President said when he said that he'll make his decision on his own timetable.
Q Ari, question on a different matter. We've heard that due to security concerns, that a particular Cabinet member has had to travel by government-sponsored jet. My question to you is, does the administration have any sort of existing policies right now on whether or not Cabinet members should travel by government jet or by commercial jet?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not familiar with the instance in which you're asking about. So if you want to ask me either here or separately, I'll be happy to try to look into something for you.
Q Okay. Well, as a follow-up, are you aware of any security concerns regarding any particular Cabinet members?
MR. FLEISCHER: I, personally, am not.
Q Can I just drag you back to Putin for a second? The senators were clear that they would prefer to have a framework in place before the U.S. moves, in any way --
MR. FLEISCHER: Which senators?
Q Levin and Warner.
MR. FLEISCHER: Levin and Warner?
Q No, Warner also said having a framework in place is preferable to moving without one -- outside.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. Go ahead.
Q All right. Well, my question is, when the President was in the room what is his position on having the framework in place? Does he feel that he -- what did he tell them? Does he believe that he needs to have one in place, or does he not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President has put a framework in place, and that was his speech at the National Defense University in May, in which the President outlined how he was going to proceed on the question of missile defense. The President also, as you know, going back to 2000, discussed the need to, if necessary, unilaterally reduce the amount of the United States's nuclear weapons in our arsenal. And that's the topic that he discussed with considerable progress with President Putin. So the President is creating a new framework around how to protect America in the post-Cold War.
Q Did he use today's meeting to try to convince those who feel a framework is necessary, did he use today's meetings to argue his position that there is an outline of the framework already, or that it really isn't necessary?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think it gets down to the definition of framework here. The President has announced a new framework for how to think about protecting the United States in the post Cold War era. And that involves a missile defense to protect against a launch from a rogue state, not from Russia, because the President -- as he's told President Putin, Russia is not the enemy.
But the real cause of concern, which requires a missile defense for the country, in the President's opinion, is the possibility of a launch by a rogue state, which does not share the United States' ideals.
Q Right. What I'm trying to get at is what happened today in the meeting.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I'm trying to get at this word framework that you're using, Jean, because I think it means different things to different people.
Q -- a negotiated framework --
MR. FLEISCHER: Just what I explained. That's what the President said. The President discussed his reasons why he thought it was important to move beyond the ABM Treaty, and also the importance of reducing, unilaterally, if necessary, America's level of nuclear weapons. And that's the framework that the President begins with when it comes to protecting the United States from the possibility of a missile launch.
Q What Biden was saying is, why -- his opinion is, and he says he said this to the President -- essentially why rush on testing, why send signals that we'll pull out of ABM unilaterally before we have a decent framework to replace ABM? So his question is, why rush, when we're really so far away on being able to deploy a missile defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President's answer to that would be, why delay? Why should the United States spend years and years and take on greater and greater risks for our nation in delaying the development of a way to keep the peace and protect the United States from foreign nations that seek -- might seek to do us harm, that are increasingly acquiring the technology to do so. So the President would turn that question around. And when it comes --
Q Is that today? Is that what he did in the meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: This framework notion, unless it came up in the last 10 minutes, Jean, did not come up. I was not in there for the last 10 minutes, but the discussion was of a different nature, about missile defense. And senators listening -- clearly some senators, mostly in the other party, have concerns about the President's plan on missile defense. That's nothing new.
Q And what was the nature of that discussion?
MR. FLEISCHER: They listened to the President make his presentation, and then I'm not going to speak for other senators in the room, to share with you exactly what they said. But I can just tell you what the President said, and that's what I've done. Q Is the President close to naming a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's personnel, and as you know, Scott, I'm not going to speculate on that.
Q Has he talked about his process at all? Has he got candidates that he's closing in on?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm just not going to speculate or get into the possibility on the potentials on personnel.
MR. FLEISCHER: Dana, the President is very pleased with the progress that the Congress is making on his agenda. That's particularly true, if you compare it to progress made by previous Presidents in their first years in office. I remember going back to President Reagan in 1981, in the first six months of his administration, there was -- none of the President's initiatives -- President Reagan's initiatives were acted upon by the Congress in the first six months of President Reagan's term. Same with President -- former President Bush's term. President Clinton had to await until the last day of August that Congress was in session for passage of his campaign initiative on the budget, which included a variety of tax measures.
When you take a look at the narrowness of the margin that the President holds in this Congress in the House of Representatives and now the lost margin in the Senate, there is remarkable progress on the President's agenda. The tax cut enacted into law far before any other legislative initiative involving taxes has been passed by a previous Congress.
As a result of that, the framework is now in place to create an economic recovery on which so much else domestically depends. And that framework is now in place, and the rebate checks are now being received by consumers, which will help create strength for the economy. And the education bill, of course, passed by the House and the Senate -- the President has called on the Congress to get their business done and finish it.
The faith-based initiative, of course, passed with a nice vote in the House of Representatives. Statements of support now from Senator Zell Miller, the statement of support from Andy Young in regard to the power of the faith-based initiative -- there is increasing signs of strength on the faith-based initiative. The President will continue to have meetings on that now with members of the Senate.
And, of course, a patients' bill of rights -- we could have some information on that in the House of Representatives before Congress recesses. And internationally, the President has had tremendous success, and I think that begins with the tremendous progress he and President Putin have been making on leading the world to a new way of thinking about defense.
MR. FLEISCHER: April, the President addressed that as his news conference with Prime Minister Berlusconi the other day. And the President said that he will, of course, take into consideration what the Pope said. And he will listen to many people, on all sides of the issue, who have been kind enough to share their time and advice with the President.
Q Is it equal weight, though, with everyone he's met, or is it a little bit more because he is a religious man?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I have not heard the President delineate whose word ranks where. I think, again, this is all something that when the President makes his determination he will share with the nation how he approached it and the reasons why.
Q Secondly, what does the White House have to say to urban America, especially those living in public housing whose funding for gun buy-back programs were taken back now that John Ashcroft seems to be the cover boy for the NRA's magazine.
MR. FLEISCHER: April, I have not discussed that initiative with the President. So I think you may want to address that to the Attorney General's office.
Q Ari, congressional scheduling aside, does the President think it would be helpful to have the month of August to continue to persuade members on patients' bill of rights?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to go there. Again, it's a hypothetical question about the timing of the vote, and --
Q They could all come to Crawford.
Q Ari, on the remarks by former President Jimmy Carter, they were unusually strong and broad-ranging in their criticism of a President who was only in office for about six months. He said he was disappointed with almost every single thing that President Bush has done. Was President Bush disappointed in President Carter for his remarks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know the President just returned from a successful trip to Europe, particularly involving the very significant development with President Putin, involving securing the peace. And the President is going to focus on continuing in that positive manner. He's not reflecting on that.
Q He's not even considering the remarks of a former President then?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you may want to address any follow-up questions to the previous President. President Bush is busy focusing on his job.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 1:15 P.M. EDT