For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 9, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
12:15 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon, rambunctious national press corps.
The President intends to nominate Jack Martin to be Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Education. The President intends to nominate Joan E. Ohl to be Commissioner of Children, Youth and Families, with the Department of Health and Human Services. The President intends to nominate Melody Fennel to be Assistant Secretary of Housing and Urban Development for Congressional Intragovernmental relations. The President intends to nominate Frederico Juarbe Jr., to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans Employment and Training.
And the President intends to nominate seven individuals to serve as members of the Board of Directors at the Commodity Credit Corporation -- that will come out in writing. The President intends to appoint nine individuals to serve as members of the President's National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. That, too, will be provided in writing. And the President intends to appoint six individuals to serve as Directors of the Board of Directors for the Student Loan Marketing Association. That, too, will be available in writing shortly.
Q Ari, how is it that the President is having to work so hard at this point in the legislative calendar to try to get his measures through Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you take a look at what's happened since the President took office in January. You'll see that he is simply turning the corner, having passed his most important initiative to get the economy growing again. He is now urging Congress to focus on additional vital actions that Congress needs to take. And they are all the issues on which the President ran and which the President committed himself to in his first three weeks of office.
Q Well, are they not paying attention?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, when it comes to education, the Senate has gotten off on the slower track than was the case just a month ago. Education is a national priority. Education is an issue on which the President ran. Education is an issue that's been put on a back burner in the United States Senate in the last month.
The President thinks it should be a top priority for the Senate and for the House to get to a conference committee so that an education bill can be signed into law before the children go back to school in September.
Q Ari, on the question of education and conferees, House Republicans haven't even appointed their conferees. So why --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just said that.
Q No, you said, the Senate.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I added the House in that same sentence.
Q So is the House Representatives equally derelict in moving on the President's agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said today, it's important for Congress to act and send him a bill that he can sign before the students go back to school in September.
Q But, Ari, I mean, it seems clear that the House and the Senate have got their legislative priorities. Are they just at odds with the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's typical in our government system for the President to call on Congress to do things. Congress's agenda is not always the peoples' agenda. Congress's agenda is not always the President's agenda.
In this case, the President today is making very clear to the Congress that education reform, a patients' bill of rights, helping people who have been left out and left behind in our society through faith-based programs are all vital, top priorities; and he's calling on Congress to focus their attention on those matters.
Q Does the President feel like for the first time now, six months into his term, the Democrats are starting to at least try to thwart his agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think I would use the word thwart, but clearly, the Senate changed hands. The Senate is no longer a Republican Senate. The Senate is now a Democratic Senate. And I think there's no question that if the Senate were under Republican control, education would have been done. I think you would have seen the conference committees get appointed. And it is one of the facts that the new Senate is placing less attention on education than the previous Senate did.
Now, both the House and the Senate need to act to appoint conferees, so that the education bill on which great progress has been made can be brought to fruition, and therefore signed into law.
Q How would having had a Republican Senate made appointment of conference committee members come any quicker? Why would that influence -- the fact that the House hasn't moved on it, either?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it's up to the leaders of the Senate to schedule debates. And obviously another debate, which is an important one, on patients' bill of rights, came up and that took the place of appointing the conferees.
Q So Senator Daschle, in the President's mind, is standing in the way of key elements of his agenda. I mean, that's what we're talking about here, isn't it?
MR. FLEISCHER: You heard the President express it in his own words today. And he said that progress is being made, but that the Senate needs to take action, and the House needs to take action. Congress should send him legislation on a patients' bill of rights, on education and on faith-based solutions prior to leaving for the August recess. That's his call to Congress.
Q Can I just try to put a fine point on it? I mean, you speak for the President. You're saying that the Senate is putting education on the back burner and that it's changed hands. Is it not correct to say that the President believes that Tom Daschle is standing in the way of his agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: David, it's not a question of individuals. That's not the way it works. The Senate is --
Q It's not just a matter of --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the prerogative of the leaders of the Senate to make their decisions as they see fit. It's also the prerogative of the President to fight for his agenda. And his agenda begins with education. It includes helping tens of millions of people, including 2 million children of prisoners, who have been left behind in our society. And it includes a patients' bill of rights that can get signed into law.
I don't think it should surprise anybody to see President Bush fight for his agenda. He was successful in the first action of his agenda, which was to protect the economy. Now he and his administration are turning a corner. We're entering a new phase with the Congress, where there is a lot of hard work that gets done by the Congress, traditionally, before they leave for the August recess.
The President is sending a note to the Congress today. Before you leave for recess, address these priorities of the people: education reform, patients' bill of rights and faith-based solutions to people who have big, intractable problems in our society.
Q Let me follow up on the question I had. You're criticizing the Senate Democrats for putting patients' bill of rights on the front burner and education on the back burner. But the patients' bill of rights is also one of the top three agenda items.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q You're criticizing them for doing something --
MR. FLEISCHER: Appoint the conferees. Let's go to conference. It can be done. You can have the conferees appointed, and you can have patients' bill of rights move. But the conferees could have been appointed some time ago.
Q Same in the House, where the Republicans --
MR. FLEISCHER: Same in the House.
Q But I still don't understand what the Senate Democrats have done wrong, besides put focus on patients' bill of rights, an issue that the President said --
MR. FLEISCHER: The appointment of the conferees. The education bill could already have been in conference if the House and the Senate had acted on it previously. And I think the two are looking to act about the same time.
Q So when you say that Congress's agenda isn't always the people's agenda, what do you mean by that? And does that include the House and the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Education. Education is a top issue for the American people. Education is not moving in the House or the Senate. The President believes very strongly that education needs to move.
Q So you're suggesting that Congress is not acting in the best interests of the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm suggesting that the President is going to continue to prod the Congress, so that the Congress focuses on an agenda that includes education reform before children go back to school in September, that includes a patients' bill of rights that can be signed into law, and includes faith-based solutions to people's social problems.
Q What's the President's time table for the growing economy, which you referred to, which doesn't exist?
MR. FLEISCHER: His time table for when it will grow again?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's, actually, a very important question, and that's a matter that economists argue about. (Laughter.)
Q Everything I read, it's not growing at all.
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, they revised GDP figures for January, February and March, which came in at about 1.3 percent, I believe, 1.2 percent. The economy in the second quarter did not grow by a strong rate either, which is a continuation of a trend that began in the summer months of the year 2000, and then accelerated throughout the fall of 2000, and has continued into the winter and the spring of 2001.
The nation's economy has been in an approximate one-year slowdown. And it is reaching the point where, as a result of the cuts in rates by the Federal Reserve in combination with the tax cut that is about to be received by the consumers, the President believes the economy will start to come back. He's not an economist, he doesn't have a crystal ball, but most economists have suggested that the recovery will begin sometime late this year.
Q Back on this question. I just want to make sure I'm understanding you clearly. The House leadership, which is Republican, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate are equally to blame for the lack of progress on education in conference committee, is that correct?
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, I think that there's no question that the previous Senate was looking forward to taking up the education bill immediately upon return from the recess in I, believe it was May. And that got put back. I think that bill would have moved faster -- if you recall, the education debate was lengthened in the Senate; it would have been completed earlier. They took more time to complete it. There were a lot of amendments to the education bill, and that did delay the whole process. Conferees have not been appointed either in the House or in the Senate, and the President calls on Congress to send him the bill.
The Senate had intended to name conferees when the Senate was under Republican control. That was something that Senator Lott said he intended to do. I think there's no question that had that happened in the Senate, it would have made it happen in the House. And now they're both waiting to appoint conferees. In all cases, the President thinks they should do it, and that way a bill can get sent to him.
Q Ari, as you know, China has sent us a love letter with the EP-3, a bill for about $1 million. And the Pentagon says it costs probably $5.8 million to dismantle the plane and fly it home, and it may cost another $40 million to $50 million to put either that one or a new one back in service with the fleet. A three-part question.
One, will we pay the China bill? Two, the State Department implied we may send a bill of our own -- will we? And three, what was the President's reaction when he heard about the China bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not discussed the China bill with the President. I think this is something that you've heard from DOD and the State Department about, and they have addressed it. I don't have anything further to add to it.
Q Ari, do you have comments on India Globe front-page story that President Bush will visit India next year, early next year? And, also, this was confirmed by the new Indian Ambassador to the U.S. who met President Bush, presenting his credential last week in the White House.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I cannot confirm that. We have not announced any such travel.
Q And also, the new ambassador praised President Bush, he said, the more you know him, the more you understand him. Many people may have misunderstood him -- President Bush. So he had high praise for him.
MR. FLEISCHER: High praise noted. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, the NAACP Convention is underway in New Orleans. President Bush's absence is being made note of, especially since he was there last year, and there is going to be a video to replace him this year. Is there bad blood between the organization right now and the President, especially in light of the fact that Julian Bond made some -- as some of the administration officials say -- strong rhetoric?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, from the President's point of view, he is going to continue his reaching out to groups of Americans and individual Americans who did not support his candidacy. He is President of all the people, no matter how they voted, and the President is going to make that clear in his actions and in the manner in which he governs.
He understands that there will be times when people do not support him, and he's respectful of that.
Q Ari, last year he was very strong in his statements when he attended the NAACP Convention. He said that civil rights would be the cornerstone of his administration. He's been in office for six months -- not one African American civil rights leader has been in the White House. What do you attribute that to, especially --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I differ with that premise. The President has held a series of meetings with African American leaders to discuss many items on his agenda. If you're asking about --
Q Mainstream -- the mainstream group that African Americans as a whole look at as civil rights leaders, not the ones that the White House considers their --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated to you this morning, I'll be happy to check the logs to get you all the names of people who have visited with the President who are considered civil rights leaders. And the President will continue to meet with them. He's done so in a variety of contexts. Very often, people who did not support his candidacy, and the President had them in to talk to them about his faith-based and community initiative. I remind you where the President spent July 4th, with Mayor Street, up in Philadelphia. So I don't think there is an issue here.
Q But Street is not Kweisi Mfume.
Q During the campaign, the President -- then-governor -- was pretty clear on not using Social Security trust fund money to pay for domestic spending programs; the same thing with Medicare. Now there is talk about possibly, if surplus forecasts come in lower than expected, dipping into the Medicare trust fund. Can you explain for us this apparent change in thinking?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you're 100 percent exactly right. The President said he will not -- and he will not -- dip into Social Security. And the President is calling on the Congress to make certain that they do not engage in any excessive spending, because it's important for Congress to protect the Social Security surplus.
So the President is fully, 100 percent committed to it. But it's a reminder in this town that the real threat to budget surpluses come from spending. And I also want to point out that there is already talk on Capitol Hill of raising taxes, if you can believe it. An important senator has said that the government should consider additional revenues. That's tax increases -- despite the fact that we have a record surplus, despite the fact that we just enacted a tax cut to get the economy growing again. It's a reminder that the real threat is from a tax-and-spend approach to government that the President thinks is not in the interest of the country.
Q Is the Medicare surplus no longer off limits?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been crystal clear and consistent about Medicare. He believes that every penny that comes in for Medicare should be used for Medicare. And under his budget, that's exactly what happens.
Q Ari, can we go back to the NAACP Convention. Why is the President not attending this year? And do you have any reaction to Julian Bond's comments yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, the President has sent a video this year. Obviously, the President would like to attend many events all around the country as often as possible. As was pointed out, the President attended last year. Unfortunately, he cannot attend everybody's event every year of his Presidency. He still wishes the NAACP a very successful convention, and that will be conveyed in the video that he sends.
On the statements made by Mr. Bond, I think it's another reminder why it's so important for people in this town to change the tone. I think there was a certain sense of going too far. People may have political differences, but it's still important to be respectful and to talk in a manner --
Q Do you think he was not respectful?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- than to talk in a manner that elevates the tone, rather than lowing it.
Q Do you differ with the tone or the substance of the comments?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, both. But there's always room to disagree, but to disagree politely. And I think that in those remarks, talking about the Taliban wing of the Republican Party, talking about canines, it's unfortunate. And it's another reminder of why everybody needs to work together to change the tone.
Q And, Ari, on the substance, at this juncture, what would the President point to as his major accomplishments in advancing civil rights and racial justice?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think there is no question about it, that the speech the President made before the joint session of the Congress in late February, the President talked about abolishing, ending once and for all, racial profiling. He's the first President to call for such an action. The Department of Justice is hard at work on that plan right now. Already various Cabinet agencies are implementing such proposals. The Department of Energy has already taken proactive steps to do that on their own. And the Justice Department will have more to say on that shortly.
When you take a look at the President's appointments, and you take a look at the President's commitment up and down his administration to putting people in place who are well qualified, the best the nation has to offer, I think it sends a very hopeful signal about the strength of this country.
Q He doesn't talk about it much, though. It doesn't seem to be an item high on his agenda.
MR. FLEISCHER: I differ with that. I think the President does talk about it. He talked about it, I thought very eloquently, in his Inaugural Address. He talked about it in his budget message in February. He talked about it up in Philadelphia, if you remember, just on July 4th last week.
Q Does the President believe that -- how bad a problem is abiding racism in the country?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, particularly having grown up in Texas, in a state where there is a large and growing Hispanic population -- in fact, the majority of school children will be Hispanic in Texas, as a result of the demographic changes underway -- the President is keenly aware of the issues that all of us in this society confront as a result of differences in the color of someone's skin or in racial background or ethnic background or religious background.
And the President, throughout his life and as governor and as President, has always done his best to try to bring people together. It's an enduring American problem, and it's something that everybody has to work on.
Q Ari, Bolivia has been a very strong ally of the United States in the fight against drugs. And President Hugo Banzer -- is now in Walter Reed Hospital. He came there on June 30th, for treatment. He has just been diagnosed with cancer of the liver and cancer of the lung. Do you know if President Bush has spoken with him or intends to speak to him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know. I'll try to get you something on that.
Q You said that the main threat -- the real threat to the surplus is a tax-and-spend approach. Obviously, Democrats are saying that the real threat is the tax cut that was passed. By your own estimates, it takes $1.35 trillion out of the surplus. Why isn't that a real threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, it never ceases to amaze me how the Democrats can criticize something that many of their own members voted for, that hasn't even gone into effect yet. There's been a shortfall in revenues, and the shortfall is a result of the weak economic growth that took place beginning last year and that continues until now.
The cause of the budget surplus' decline from gigantic levels to immense levels is a lack of growth. The tax cut is the cure for the problem. The tax cut will lead to more growth. Revenues don't come into the Treasury only as a result of the tax rate. They come in as a result of people holding jobs. And you could have 100 percent tax rate, and if somebody doesn't hold a job, there's no revenue coming in.
The key to higher surplus figures is more growth. And the key to more growth is the tax cut, which was supported by a good number of Democrats. Now, the Democrats who voted against it are the only ones out there saying, let's raise taxes. And that's the wrong focus for the economy, in the President's opinion. And the President is pleased to note that those Democrats believe to a small minority.
Q But it's not your view that the tax cut is actually going to -- I mean, you still say there's a cost to the tax cut, to the surplus. Even though it's going to, in your view, potentially stimulate the economy, it's not going to bring in more revenues than it's going to lose for the budget, is it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Without the tax cut, the economy would be far worse. The fact of the matter is, from the estimates of economists -- Democrat, Republican, private-sector, it doesn't matter -- you seldom see such wide-spread agreement against economists that the tax cut is going to provide a boost to the economy, without which there is a strong possibility the nation could go into recession.
It's the economy -- it's the tax cut that's holding up and strengthening the economy that's going to enable it to turn around and bring in more revenues. Revenues result from growth, not just from the tax rate structure.
Q Okay. So do you disagree with your own estimate that it will cost $1.35 trillion over the next 10 years, or do you think there's an economic stimulus effect that will decrease that cost?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's an interesting question, and economists will differ with the exact amount of additional growth that will come from it. Most economists looking at this year are saying it's going to create growth of anywhere from three-quarters of a point to one percentage point of additional growth.
The other question that the President has asked himself is, if taxes weren't cut, wouldn't Congress spend the money? And the answer is, yes, of course they would. So you can't ask the question in a vacuum. The fact of the matter is that there is always an important reminder to Congress to engage in fiscal discipline. If taxes weren't cut, the economy wouldn't rebound; and if taxes weren't cut, the Congress and members of both parties would spend the money anyway.
So the tax cut is the solution to the problems the nation is going through with the weak economy. It's also the solution to stopping the government from going on a giant spending spree which would threaten the Social Security surplus.
Q When will the President start aggressively pushing a tax package for corporations? They were all promised this when he was putting together the first tax bill, that there would be another tax bill later this year that would be specifically targeted to helping corporations --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, nobody here said there would be another tax bill later this year. As you know, every year the President sends up a budget --
Q -- we all know that you guys had told all these guys on the outside who were helping advocate your tax package that there would be another tax package --
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll have to wait for the '03 budget, which is typically submitted in January or February.
Q So we won't see anything the rest of this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's always -- those items are always, as you know, contained in the budget. And so we'll see what the budget looks like at that time.
Q -- to New York, could you outline the significance of this trip to New York?
MR. FLEISCHER: The trip to New York tomorrow is going to focus on, one, an event to welcome new Americans into our country. The President is very proud of his long-standing record as being a welcoming Republican when it comes to immigration and new Americans. So he's going to participate in a swearing-in ceremony at Ellis Island, to welcome America's newest citizens.
From there, he'll travel to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, where he'll participate in an event in honor of the memory of Cardinal O'Connor.
Q And what about O'Connor, will he use that as a mention of faith-based or what --
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't looked at his remarks for that. I have to do a little more background on that. I think we will work to put something out on that. So we'll have an entire event summary for you later today, that will include whether or not he even has remarks; I'm not sure.
Q Is he going to address --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'm just not sure.
Q Will he again be pushing his legislative initiatives at any time in New York?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. No, no, no. Again, I need to look at whether he's going to have remarks at that event tomorrow or not. I just am not sure.
Q Is that a forum where he would discuss publicly or privately the ethical concerns around stem cell research that he's wrestling with right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of the event is to go up and honor the memory of Cardinal O'Connor. I can't speak to any private conversations the President may have.
Q And will you tell us about them if they occur?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not if they're private.
Q On stem cell, how important are the personal experiences he's hearing from people very close to him -- Andy Card -- and his father was mentioned in the paper over the weekend -- in making his decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: As the President approaches this decision he's thinking very carefully and very thoughtfully about different peoples' perspectives on this issue. And many of those perspectives include things that are individual and things that are personal. And the President is very aware that there is a balance on this issue where there is so much potential for health and for breakthroughs.
On the other hand, the President is very concerned about preserving a culture of life. And both sides of the issue have very compelling, important personal stories to tell. And the President is a good listener and he's going to have a very thoughtful approach to this.
Q Is he going to meet with -- Congressman Smith of New Jersey has asked him to meet with three children who were born from -- were conceived, and then their embryos from which they grew were cryogenically preserved and they were adopted by infertile couples. Mr. Smith thinks that these children are examples of what might be destroyed in the research that others want funded. Is the President going to meet with these children, as Congressman Smith has asked?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the first I've heard about it, so I'll try to find out for you.
Q Ari, is there any time table at all for that decision? Is it in anyone's mind? I mean, could this go on for weeks, or even months, or do we expect something before Europe?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no hard time table for it. I think when the President decides he has something to share and has something to announce, he will.
Q It could be quite a long time, then?
MR. FLEISCHER: Whenever the President decides, we'll let you know.
Q Ari, you said earlier about no further tax cuts this year. Does that include the non-itemizer deductions?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's already been proposed by the President. The question is, when will the President propose any additional or new.
Q So you're not ruling that out for this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, no. The question was, when will the President propose anything else. That's already in the President's proposal submitted to the Congress. In fact, I anticipate that Ways and Means may take action on that shortly.
Q So the President is still supportive of further tax cuts this year for business, is that correct? I mean, if other things such as that, and maybe a capital gains tax cut and so forth, other items of his agenda, you'd be supportive of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about other items that are not in the President's budget. But we'll have to just see if Congress decides on its own to send any additional measures to the President.
You've been very patient.
Q Thank you. There's some conflicting reports from the Mideast that Secretary Powell may have mentioned in the conversation over the weekend to Prime Minister Sharon that the seven-day period prior to the cooling-off period must begin now. Is this the White House opinion? Has the period begun, or is it still -- are we still waiting --
MR. FLEISCHER: I going to want to take a look at exactly what Secretary Powell said before I venture into that, so let me take a look at that.
Q Can you tell me if there's any initiative being planned from the White House side to try and get things moving in the Middle East otherwise?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President remains very concerned about the recent up tick in the violence in the region, and he urges all parties again to do their utmost to maintain the cease-fire, as fragile as it is, and to break the cycle of violence.
Q Does the President see any problem to get approval for trade promotion authority with the problems in the Senate on the patients' bill of rights and education? Do you think the President will be through getting the approval for the TPA as he promised to the countries of Latin America before October or September?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is hopeful that he is going to be successful in those initiatives prior to that time. You mentioned -- what was the fourth issue you said there? You had education, patients' bill of rights --
Q Yes, you said that education and bill of rights will be a problem for trade promotion authority on the side of the Democrats. They are opposing the trade promotion authority because the unions are lobbying on the Senate --
MR. FLEISCHER: There should not be a link between trade promotion authority and improving education for America's families and for America's schools. There should not be a link between any of those programs. The President believes that they are the right thing to do, in and of themselves, and should not be tied to other legislation.
Q Just to clarify on taxes. There are several initiatives that were in this year's budget that were not part of the first tax package. Will the President, this year, push as aggressively for the enactment of those tax cuts as he did the ones that were included in the first tax package?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when you say "as aggressively," I'm not sure how to measure that. But the --
Q He had a very -- in his national campaign, when he traveled -- different cities and had a bunch of pep rallies. Will he do the same thing --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to believe in them just as fully as ever. The President thinks it's an important part of his legislative initiative. And as I just mentioned, Ways and Means is going to take up one of those items that is contained in the faith-based initiative to allow people who don't have a deduction for their child to be given the right to get one for the first time -- since 1986.
Q But will he lobby Congress to enact all those that have not been enacted that were included in his budget?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question that if it's something that's in the President's budget the President is going to urge Congress to enact it.
Q And as a general proposition, the President is or is not supportive of further business tax breaks this year?
MR. FLEISCHER: You've seen everything that is proposed in the President's budget, and you can evaluate that.
Q No, I'm not asking about the budget, I'm asking about what he wants for the rest of the year. Is he supportive of further business tax breaks, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered that already. If Congress passes any items that were not in the President's budget, the President will evaluate it in reality, not as a hypothetical.
Q Ari, what is the President's position on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty? Is the -- effectively dead? Is the New York Times article on Saturday accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, this is an old issue, going way back to the transition when the President said, and many members of the United States Senate have said, that the treaty, itself, is a fatally flawed treaty. There's no surprise, there's nothing new there.
Q On stem cell, how absorbing is this decision for the President? Is it the hardest policy decision he's had to make so far? Is it true that it's starting to permeate other areas of the agenda, which is to say it comes up in meetings that are supposed to be about something else? I mean, is this a real tough one for him?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, a lot of things come up at meetings. The President is often in a meeting on topic and lots of issues come up. So that should be no surprise. But there's nothing really further I can add to the issue other than what I've said before. The President is thinking very carefully about this issue. He's listening to all sides of the debate and hear their perspectives, and that's where the President is.
Q But you won't say how difficult this is for him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's an important decision and the President is treating it as such.
Q But you won't say whether it's more difficult than others?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's hard to make that kind of linear definition.
Q When does the President think life begins?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I have not --
Q What's his theory? What is his theory or what is his belief?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that we need to be a culture that values life in all its forms. And that's the position the President has spoken. That's what he has said throughout the campaign --
Q What does that mean? I mean, when does he actually think a person is coming into being?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has spoken on that by saying that he thinks everybody in society needs to value a culture of life. That's how he's defined it.
Q But when does life begin that we value?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's how the President has defined it, Ron.
Q Can you take that question?
Q -- has opened a 60-day comment period on new rules for national forests. There has been some criticism of some of the questions as being loaded. For example, the question of how you fight wild fires in roadless forests. What's the purpose of the review period? And how do you deal with criticism that some of the questions are intended to illicit answers that support the administration's view?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is a routine procedure all agencies take as part of rule-making. Rule-making includes a comment period that's often 60 days, whereby all interested parties are able to venture forward and talk to the agencies and tell them what they think. And that's exactly what you're seeing played out. You've seen it played out in literally thousands of decisions that agencies make always in the government. This is exactly how a rule-making process works.
Q Ari, will the President answer questions of motive, intended to illicit the response that you want?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't seen the questions. You just read one; I think that's a question you should address to the Department of Interior.
Q Ari, will the President answer the question about when life begins when he outlines and explains his decision on stem cell research?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'll hear him in his own words explain it and you'll be able to evaluate it at that time.
Q Can you ask him so we can get an update tomorrow when he thinks life begins? Because that's really an important part of this.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll do my best.
Q Ari, millions of illegal arms are being shipped around the world, smuggled, and they land in the hands of terrorists. And today a full U.N. conference is opening on the shipments of illegal arms. Any Presidential comments? What is he going to do to stop all these? Because those arms to terrorists come back against the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very concerned about all issues involving arms to terrorists. As you know, it's something that he and President Putin have discussed at great length, about the problems of extremism on the border of Russia. And the President shares that concern and believes that we need to have an approach where all developed nations and developing nations work together to have a nonproliferation strategy to prevent terrorists from receiving weapons.
Go ahead, you had a question.
Q Yes, on the airlines. Is there any truth to the rumor that President Bush is going to meet with John Ashcroft and United Airlines CEO James Goodwin on the US Airways-United Airlines merger?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything for you on that, but the President does not get involved in merger issues. That's a matter of Justice.
Q Regarding that, in the interest of preserving jobs that could be lost if this merger doesn't take place, is the President working with anybody to kind of like restart negotiations at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the merger?
MR. FLEISCHER: You need to talk to the appropriate people in the government who deal with mergers from a legal point of view.
Q What does he think about it, though?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you need to talk to the people who are responsible for the legal point of view on matters dealing with mergers. That's antitrust.
Q Ari, the HHS proposal to cover unborn children under the CHIP program, does that suggest that the President believes that life begins at conception? If you can confer health insurance coverage to an unborn child from the date of conception, does that not suggest he believes life begins at conception?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it shows that HHS has a draft memo that talks about how best to get prenatal care to women who are pregnant. And that's what that issue is about.
Q But if you can confer personhood and provide insurance for an unborn child from the date of conception, is that not a philosophical statement that life begins at conception?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's an actual idea from the government about how to help low-income women who are pregnant. That's what's that's all about.
Q But don't you have to provide insurance for a person?
MR. FLEISCHER: You have to get assistance, prenatal care assistance to the pregnant moms, which help their babies.
Q You're not covering the mother, you're covering the child. So does that not confer personhood to a child from the date of conception?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, when you deal with the specific language of a draft memo at HHS, you should talk to HHS. The President's concern is to make certain that there is proper prenatal care. And that's what the focus is on.
Q Could we just stop because you're not going to go there? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm happy to go round in circles with you. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, there's very little time left until the August recess, and there's the appropriations to fill. Realistically, if Congress focuses on education, patients' bill of rights and the faith-based initiative, doesn't that really squeeze out energy -- real action on energy, or trade promotion authority?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President has already seen action in the House shaping up on energy. The House is scheduled at the committee level to take action on preserving America's energy independence by July 12th. And that's a sign that it can be done. That, too, is an important priority. But the President today outlined three priorities that he thinks are the most important for Congress to focus on between now and when they leave for their month-long August recess.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
1:53 P.M. EDT