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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 16, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

     Listen to the Briefing

  1. Personnel announcements
  2. Larkspur Peeker Power Plant
  3. Energy
  4. Mexico
  5. U.S.-Japan missile defense
  6. Helms-Burton
  7. India-Pakistan meeting
  8. National Academy of Sciences report
  9. Russia-China relationship
  10. Taiwan Relations Act
  11. Faith-based bill
  12. Income tax code
  13. China

1:56 P.M. EDT

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  A few announcements.  The President intends to nominate Marie T. Huhtala to be Ambassador of the United States to Malaysia.  The President intends to nominate Mary Anne Solberg to be Deputy Director of the National Drug Control Policy.  The President intends to nominate Scott Burns to be Deputy Director for State and Local Affairs in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.  And the President has designated David Curtis Williams to be Acting Inspector General of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

     One final note, and I'll be pleased to take questions.  Today, Governor Davis will open the Larkspur Peaker Power Plant in San Diego, California.  The President is very pleased to note the addition of a new power plant coming on to the grid in California.  This plant was helped to come on line as a result of work that was done by the Bush administration and Environmental Protection Agency, where they issued administrative orders, a consent that allowed the immediate and expedited construction of peak new power plants.  It's another example how the federal government can and will work with California to help get through the energy crisis that they are in the middle of.

     And with that, I'm more than happy to take questions.

     Q    Ari, the President said earlier today that when there is not necessarily a crisis, or people aren't feeling the crunch, that it's harder to get people to think about long-term solutions, when you're talking about energy.  Do you -- are you taking the view with this sort of new push to sell the plan that there is, in fact, a crisis?  Or is this really a long-term strategy?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  After a period of substantial stability and, in fact, low prices in the energy industry throughout much of the mid-1990s, beginning in approximately 1998, the energy industry has been met with a series of spike-ups and spike-downs, in terms of energy prices.  And while many politicians have alternated between denial and blame, President Bush thinks the best course of the nation is to stay steady and true, to have a stable, comprehensive policy that allows America to develop its energy resources, so we can have more energy independence.

     So clearly more people focus on problems in energy when they're in the middle of something extraordinary.  But as I've indicated, there have been a series of spike-ups, spike-downs, which leave politicians to alternatively blame and then deny.  They blame somebody else for a problem, and then they deny there's a problem.

     The President thinks the best course is to continue to focus on a comprehensive solution, so that we don't need to have any more blame or any more denials.  Instead, we have solutions.

     Q    Is that where we are right now, in a spike-down period?  Are you waiting for gas prices to go back up, the brownouts to start up again?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Prices have been coming down recently.  The President is very pleased about that; that's good for the consumer, that's good for the country.  But as the history of energy in the United States has shown, these trends don't stay in one direction very long.  And America still has an aging infrastructure in terms of the electric grid.  It still has an aging infrastructure in terms of the ability to get natural gas from one part of the country to the next.  There are regions of the country that remain vulnerable to blackouts and to brownouts.  And America still is a nation that is overly reliant on foreign supplies of oil.

     So despite the fact that prices have, indeed, come down recently, which is a good thing, the President still wants to focus the nation's attention on the need to get the job done, so we are less dependent on foreign oil.

     Q    Ari, not two months ago the President said, in St. Paul, Minnesota, we are facing the biggest energy crisis since the Arab oil embargo of the 1970s.  What happened to the crisis?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the nation still is operating on the margins of error.  Any little problem can create a major problem for the country.  We still are not out of the woods.  California has brought on a couple plants, which is helpful.  Conservation has been very helpful.  The federal initiative in California to have the federal government, which is the largest consumer of electricity in California, cut back its usage by 10 percent has been helpful.  And certainly the role that individual Californians have plaid in conservation has been helpful.  The FERC action has been helpful.

     So it's taken a combination of actions, all of which has added up to a little bit of breathing room so far.

     But as I indicated, this is July 16th -- summer is halfway over and the nation is still far more dependent today than it was in 1973 on foreign supplies of energy.

     Q    In retrospect, did he overstate the case in St. Paul?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I don't think so at all, John.  I think anybody who has had their power go out knows that the President was not overstating the case.  Anybody who was paying $2.50 a gallon for gasoline knows the President wasn't overstating the case.

     Q    But nobody is.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  They were just as recently as five, six weeks ago. And so it remains an issue of volatility in the market, and we remain a nation that is too dependent on foreign supplies of oil.  And we remain a nation that has continued to lurch from crisis to crisis, with periods in between of relative calm which were marked by a later crisis.

     The President's approach is it is the job of serious people in government to focus on comprehensive solutions that get the problem solved once and for all, so America won't once again ask itself, how did we get into the energy predicament we're in.

     Q    Ari, but since Americans aren't paying so much money for gas right now at the pump, is it going to be harder to get Congress to focus on this, since they have such a busy agenda in these last two weeks?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, Americans are, clearly, not paying as much as they were five weeks ago, and that's a good thing.  But Americans are paying more today than they were paying a year ago, and that's a bad thing.

     So from the President's point of view, the more supply we can bring on the market, the lower the price is.  The more capacity we have to refine energy and gasoline and get it to people so they can pump it into their cars, that the better our nation will be.  The less reliant we are on foreign supplies of oil, the stronger our nation will be.  And the more modern our infrastructure, the better it will be for one region of the nation to be able to make up a shortage by using a surplus in a different region of the nation.

     We remain a nation that has energy problems.  And the President has offered a plan to Congress to help solve those problems.  Just because the price has gone down, does that mean the President thinks we should cut back on conservation?  No.  The President is still as equally committed to conservation, just because the price has gone down.  And he hopes that Congress will hear the message and that Congress will act on his plan that focuses on both conservation and on exploration.  And that's exactly why Vice President Cheney and members of the President's Cabinet are taking out across the country today, to help meet with American people and help promote the President's plan.

     Q    Can you give us the status of this proposal to legalize the standing of 3 million illegal Mexicans, I guess?  You know, where does it stand?  What's going to happen?  Is it a long-range thing?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Earlier this year, President Bush met with President Fox and they discussed many issues of mutual interest, including immigration and border issues.  As a result of those meetings, the President of the United States committed the United States government, through the State Department and the Justice Department, to work with their Mexican counterparts on a way to make our work with Mexico along the border more orderly and more humane and to have more safe and legal immigration into this country.

     That's very significant, because this is the first time in many a long period of time involving our relationship with Mexico that Mexico and the United States are approaching the border from a position of shared responsibility, as opposed to where there's an immigration problem, and illegals arrive in the United States and Mexico says that's an American problem, now we have the President of Mexico and the President of the United States and our governments committed to working together on immigration issues.

     Toward that point, there has been a series of meetings at the State Department and at the Justice Department with Mexicans that are focused on the possibility of a new temporary worker program, which could hopefully create a more orderly process for immigration into this country, which would take into account issues such as border safety, it would involve a temporary guest worker program, it would have ideas on regularization of undocumented Mexicans in the United States, it would focus on worker rights, it would focus on labor demand, it would focus on cooperation of law enforcement along the border.

     So there is a working group that is in the middle of their effort. The White House has not yet received the paper from that working group. But the President is encouraged about the progress that we are making with Mexico on border issues.  And the President has said that America is a nation of immigrants, and we should welcome people to our shores.

     Q    Is this working group going to work out the details of how this all comes about, or how, for example, the illegal immigrants here will be able to legalize their standing?  Is it all going to be crossing every "t" and dotting every "i"?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  They are looking at the creation of a new, temporary, guest worker program.  And as part of the guest worker program, as you indicated, there are some 3 million Mexicans who are in the United States illegally, and this would focus on whether or not there is anything that can be done to regularize their immigration status and to provide them either some type of temporary or some other type of status that would welcome them into the United States.

     Q    Just one last follow up.  Is that a legislative process?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Parts of it very well may be legislative.  It depends on what actions the working group recommends.  But they are still in the middle of their work.  It still is -- it's not early, but it's right in the middle of what they've been working on.  And so it all depends on what specific recommendations they will propose to the President.

     Q    Ari, when you're talking about regularization, are you at all envisaging allowing those 3 million undocumented Mexican citizens living in the United States to apply for permanent residency, and ultimately -- i.e., a green card -- and ultimately for citizenship?  Is that even in your minds, or not?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It really depends on what the working group recommends.

     Q    So it's a possibility then?  That's one of the possibilities they're studying?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It all depends on what the working group recommends. And the President has spoken out before on these issues, about welcoming our neighbors to the south; but also the importance of enforcing the laws of this country and having a border that both the United States and Mexico are working hard on to make sure that we have a more orderly, humane, legal and safe migration into the United States.

     Q    Ari, on the same subject, please.  This will have to go -- any regularization or amnesty or whatever will have to go to Congress.  Does the President intend to work with Congress or present a plan to Congress?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Absolutely.  Anything that requires legislation -- and much of this, as I indicated, would -- the President would, of course, work with the Congress on this.

     Q    But I mean, before he sends it up there.  That's what I mean.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President hasn't even received it himself, yet. So it's all a little premature.

     Q    But as this idea has sort of, like, come out now, have you received any response from border legislators or border state officials?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If anybody here has, I'm not aware of it.  Obviously, it's a topic that's important to the border states.  But, again, the White House has not yet received anything.

     Q    You would call it amnesty, Ari?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As I mentioned, it's a possibility of a new temporary worker program.

     Q    Ari, the whole idea of a temporary worker program is that it's temporary, that people come and go for short periods of time, or up to a year, I think, in some of the programs.  But it sounds as if one of the options that is being considered now is not a temporary program but, rather, to give people who are here working illegally some sort of permanent legal status.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You know, I think it's important to see exactly what the State Department and the Justice Department working group come up with, what ideas they submit for the White House.  And, again, it's at mid-level of their deliberations.  I don't anticipate any action or any decisions on this for quite a little bit of time.

     Q    Well, when you use the term "regularize," doesn't that imply some sort of permanent legal status, rather than a temporary status?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It totally depends on how they do it.  It can be done temporarily; it can be done on a longer period of time; it can be done in a manner that one event can lead to another event in the immigration stream of events down the road.  So, again, it really depends on the substance and the facts of something that has not yet been received by the White House. And even after it is received by the White House, it will undergo some more review.  Members of Congress will have their say.

     But from the President's point, he thinks it is very important that we work with our Mexican friends to say that the United States is a nation that has welcomed immigrants, and that we have immigration issues with Mexico, and that those issues should be handled in a way that recognizes humanity, that recognizes safety, that recognizes law, and that focuses on ways to have legal and safe migration into this country.

     Q    Is it accurate to say that he is considering among his many options a program that would, in fact, make temporary workers -- give them some sort of permanent legal status that would eventually enable them to become citizens?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, we'll have to wait to see what the working group recommends.  But, clearly, as a result of if you come with a legal status, then under the laws of the United States, well, of course, you're perfectly within your rights then to apply for citizenship, just like everybody else who had become a citizen of this country.

     Q    Does the White House have a position on whether or not those temporary workers should receive traditional government benefits -- health care?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think you're getting way ahead of where this is. They're just not there now.

     Q    Can you take that, to get us a sense of what the report is, when it gets here?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me go to somebody who hasn't asked yet.


     Q    Can we finish on this topic then, just one question?  Can you -- since you're expecting this today, can you undertake to get us at least the gist of what that panel recommends, when you get those documents today?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.

     Q    Thank you.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'll work with everybody on it, absolutely.

     Q    Are you going to get it today?

     Q    Can I ask you, do you believe there is going to be another meeting between the U.S. -- the Secretary of Justice and the Attorney General with Mexican counterparts before the --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You need to ask somebody at the Department of Justice what the Attorney General's schedule is; I don't keep it.

     Anybody else on this topic?  Yes, ma'am.

     Q    In the past, President Bush has stated that he is against an amnesty program.  But it seems to me that you're mixing what it would be, and the Mexicans have pushed for, which is a regularization of legal people here in the United States -- Mexican illegal workers in the United States. And the worker program on the other side, which is temporary.

     Will the White House reconsider a position where some regularization of those who are here already would take place?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You've accurately stated the President's position and there is a distinction between the two programs.

     Q    What is the distinction?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Between the two programs, the temporary worker program and an amnesty program.

     Q    So there is a space for the other?

     Q    Any reaction to Taiwan's President calling for a joint missile defense with U.S. and Japan?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have anything on that statement; I'm not familiar with it.  I'll have to take a look at that.

     Q    Go back -- what is the distinction on that?  I mean, because that is a point of confusion I think for many of us.  If the President is against an amnesty program, but one of the options is to regularize status, which would eventually allow people to qualify for citizenship, isn't that an amnesty?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, amnesty is an automatic granting, as opposed to a formalized process that everybody who comes to the United States, in accordance with the laws, has to go through.  It's a very lengthy process and it's very different.

     Q    Ari, how does the President plan to deal with the anti-immigrant backlash that's bound to develop over such a controversial proposal?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Proudly.  The President believes that we're a nation of immigrants.  The President, as he said at Ellis Island, said that immigration is not a problem to be solved, it's an opportunity for all Americans and for our country.  And that's the message that the President has given about immigration.

     The President has also said, as I indicated, that we need to make sure that our laws are enforced, that the borders work.  And that's why what's very significant about this development is that for the first time in so many years, this is being done with Mexico, and that's a result of the strong relationship and the amount of respect that the United States has for Mexico; and the strong relationship that President Bush has with President Fox.

     It is terribly significant that Mexico is a partner in this.  And it's a big change from the way it's been done in the past.  And it's a bright sign of --

     Q    Why?  They've never resented the immigration.  Why do you say that?  They've never resented the illegal immigration.  It's been a safety valve for Mexico.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  But now Mexico wants to work with the United States on making sure that the border is done in a humane --

     Q    They never resented it before.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  -- border crossings are done in a humane, legal and safe way.  And to work cooperatively across the border is terribly important and it's a welcome event.

     Q    Ari, on Helms-Burton, the President did say he would extend the waiver for six months, but he didn't have a chance to elaborate.  Could you give us an idea of what's going on in his thinking?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will elaborate that in a statement that will be issued sometime later.  So the statement will speak for itself on that topic.

     Q    Later today?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have a firm timetable on it; it could be today, it could be tomorrow.  But the President will elaborate on his own statement.

     Q    There is nothing you can say at this point, since he's already announced it?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That will be, in the President's words, in his statement.

     Q    Ari two quick questions, one on India and China.  India, first. There is a peace summit going on in Agra -- and it has been extended by two days by the General -- Pakistan.  We don't why.  If anybody is in touch from the White House or the President has spoken with the Indian Prime Minister or anybody on this summit?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not aware of any conversations the President has had about that.  But, of course, the United States is following closely the developments involving the meeting between India and Pakistan.  It's a promising sign that the two parties are talking, and I'll leave it at that.

     Q    On energy efficiency, specifically fuel efficiency, a few months ago when the administration was asked about the freezing CAFE standards, the administration kept pointing to the National Academy of Science study, which is due out, I believe, this week.  Secretary Mineta, last Friday, said that now the administration has to wait at least until October because it doesn't have the funding to do a review of that study.  And I just was wondering why another delay.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The timetable for the National Academy of Sciences report -- I'm not aware of what you said with Secretary Mineta -- but we're expecting the National Academy of Sciences report prior to that.  Secretary Mineta did write to Congress last week asking for additional assistance from Congress involving the fuel standards.

     The administration is pleased to work with Congress on this matter. The administration has not made a determination about whether a administrative route or a legislative route is the best route, but this is a topic that the President is waiting to hear back from the National Academy of Sciences on.

     Q    Secretary Mineta, last Friday, said that the administration wouldn't be able to take a position until it had the funding to do a review of the study, and that it won't be able to get the funding until the next fiscal year, which starts October 1.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the first step is the receipt of the report. And so I think it's important to see what the National Academy of Sciences recommends, and that will help to direct the President in terms of any other step he'll take.

     Q    So there is no way the administration would have any position on this until October, at the earliest?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, until the report is received.  Until receipt of the National Academy of Sciences report.

     Q    Can you check on that and see if there is some holdup that Mineta is referring to -- that you're not aware of?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes -- let's check on it.

     Q    Ari, I've got two questions for you.  The first, there appears to be a grass-roots movement led by Republicans nationwide to keep big-rig interstate trucks from -- to keep them on the interstate highways, to ban them from small, two-lane roads.  For example, Christine Whitman, when she was governor of New Jersey, permitted this policy in parts of New Jersey. Senator Warner got behind an effort to ban these big trucks from a small road in Virginia just last week, Route 17, and it's happening in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.  Does the President favor this kind of limitation on interstate trucks to the interstate highway systems?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's a matter that the Department of Transportation would be working on, and I don't think that's something that the President himself would get involved in.

     Q    The second question I have for you, there's a broad coalition of political leaders, ranging from former CIA Director James Woolsey to consumer advocate Ralph Nader, that are pushing for the legalization of industrial hemp.  This is a non-drug crop, it was grown by Thomas Jefferson and George Washington.  It has a ride range of uses, clothing, fuel. Farmers around the world are growing it; China, Canada, importing it.  It's illegal here, in the United States, for farmers to grow it.  Does the President favor the legalization of industrial hemp?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not aware of any statements that the President has made that would lend one to reach that conclusion.

     Q    Can you look into it?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Industrial hemp?  Well, I'll advise you if anything changes from what I just said.

     Q    On Russia and China's pact, they said they're leaning to a -- new world order.  What's your comment on that?  And also, what's -- affect the meeting between the President and President Putin?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  This is a restatement or a signing of something that was talked about just prior to President Bush's departure for the June trip to Europe.  If you recall, at that time, there was a meeting between the leaders of Russia and China.  We're not the world we used to be, where it's a zero-sum game any more.  And if Russia and China find ways to cooperate peacefully, and make the world a more secure and stable place, that's in the United States' interest.

     Again, it's not a zero-sum game.  Just because Russia and China have entered into an agreement does not necessarily mean it's something that would be adverse to the interests of the United States.

     Q    Some say if the border issue with Russia doesn't exist anymore, the national security for China might be the coastline regarding Taiwan which might be in the interests of the U.S.?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, of course anything dealing with Taiwan is something that, as you know, in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act, is covered by a whole body of law and a whole series of statements have been made on our relations between China and the United States -- between China, the United States and Taiwan.  So that's all covered by the Taiwan Relations Act.

     Q    Ari, how confident is President Bush concerning HR-7, the faith-based bill, when it heads to the House floor later this week?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the vote will take place on Wednesday, on the President's faith-based initiative.  And the President is following it very closely.  He's been talking to members of Congress about it.  I think that's going to be a very important, interesting vote.  I think that issue is one that's been picking up momentum, and the action taken by the House Judiciary Committee, the House Ways and Means Committee -- and it's going to be a very important vote on Wednesday.

     Q    Did the Salvation Army questions that were raised last week do any lasting damage to the faith-based bill?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think you'll find out on Wednesday, with the vote.  I think if it passes, the answer will obviously be, no.  But, again, I'm not aware of any such repercussions.

     Q    How much personal lobbying is the President engaged in on this?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He's been talking to a number of members of Congress about it.  I anticipate some meetings or potential.  And as you know, he's traveled the country with members of Congress.  Tony Hall, an Ohio Democrat, a very important supporter of the President's initiative.  You know he went up to Philadelphia, of course, on July 4th, and met with the constituency that's very dedicated to having new ways of solving old social problems.

     Q    Ari, has he tried to increase funding for it, which has been cut back significantly, up to now?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Which aspect are you referring to?  On the tax provisions of it?

     Q    It's down to, quite a bit from, I think, the Ways and Means Committee.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes, you're talking about the tax provisions that were passed.  Well, what the Ways and Means Committee did, is they just much more slowly phased-in the President's program.  And they scaled it back. And the President has had a host of successes on tax legislation, where he made a proposal, the Congress scaled it back to some degree.  This proposal has clearly been scaled back to some degree.

     But the essential elements that the President sought, which is the right of people who do not itemize on their taxes, and I believe 70 to 80 million Americans to be able to receive a deduction for their charitable contributions will now be back on the books.  It's been some 15 years since people who didn't itemize could get a deduction for their charitable giving.

     It starts out as a very small charitable deduction.  But then it increases.  It increases over time.  And this is a long-term business, and charities are able, as a result of a multiplier effect, to take these small deductions and increase their good works and their good deeds with it. It's a good precedent for the future, as well.

     Q    Talking about tax changes, there have been some  reports that the President will -- may propose a complete overhaul of the income tax code, maybe even go into a flat tax.  At what stage are those conversations?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Very preliminary.

     Q    But there is some preliminary efforts?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Sure.  There are some bright minds in this building who would like to think about the future.  And they have been having some discussions about the ultimate possible shape of a tax code.  But those are in the very, very preliminary stage.  I would not look for any immediate action.

     Q    Is the flat tax one of the things that's being looked at?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  They're looking at a host of ways of making the tax code fairer, flatter, more simple.

     Q    China.  Rush Limbaugh asked the other day that what Beijing has done to earn that trust to host the Olympics in China, while there are human rights torture and persecution -- religious persecution, among others.  And China is celebrating against the United States.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the decision about where the Olympics are held, whether it's in Beijing or whether it's in any other city across the globe, is a decision made by a sports body called the International Olympic Committee.  It's not a decision that's made politically by the President of the United States or any other nation.  The President is a sportsman and he recognizes the right of athletes to compete in as non-political an environment as possible.  Having said that, this is also an opportunity for China to show the world a modern face, and that will be an important item to watch in China.

     Q    But the United States is not still going back from the violations of human rights and other tortures in China?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has continued and will continue in his conversations with Chinese officials to speak out on the cause of human rights.  The President, if you recall, in a phone call to President Jiang Zemin about 10 days ago or so, brought up the case of some of the dissidents in China.  And of course, now, we're pleased to note that one of the dissidents who was put on trial has now been released and will be free to leave China.

     Q    Ari, back on Tom's question, for a second.  In addition to other steps that this group of bright minds at the White House is looking at undertaking to make the tax system, tax code more understandable, more evenly distributed, fairer, if you will, is the consumption tax part of the discussion?

     THE PRESIDENT:  It's too early, John.  I think they're casting a very wide net right now, taking a look at a host of ideas.  And I don't know that they are -- they are not focusing on any one specific aspect or one specific approach.  This is a multiyear type of endeavor.

     Q    Do you know if that's a proposal that's been floated?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to discuss anything that's been a private discussion that's not yet reached any more serious policy level.

     Q    Ari, on that area, though, the last time a flat tax was put forward in national debate was when Steve Forbes ran on one as part of his presidential campaign, and at the time it was criticized as being disproportionately unfair to the poor, and disproportionately favorable to the wealthy.  Is the President ultimately against a progressive tax system?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You know, the President is, obviously, focused on, number one, creating an environment so the economy can grow as a result of the tax cut.  Two, the President would like to create a tax system that is simpler and fairer for people.  Our current tax system is terribly, terribly complicated; makes average, ordinary Americans have to go out and hire accountants just to figure out how to fill out a couple pages.  There are even people who file a 1040 who have to hire accountants to fill out the simple 1040 EZ.

     So we have a very complicated tax system, where lawyers and accountants are able to help people who have wealth get around paying taxes, and average people have to go out and hire accountants and lawyers just to figure out how to pay their bills because the system is too complicated for them to figure.

     There's room for improvement in the tax system.  I don't think anybody would differ from that.  But it's too premature, way too premature to start speculating about any one type of tax change, because it just hasn't reached that level in the White House.

     Q    But when you have flat tax, isn't that putting the argument of simplicity against the argument of fairness?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think you should address that to somebody who is advocating a flat tax.

     Q    -- you said that was one of the options --

     Q    Did former President Bush call Prince Khalid of Saudi Arabia in behalf of the President, in terms to say his heart is in the right place?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, that's a topic I'm not going to get into. Former Presidents, including the President's father, including other former Presidents, often call around the world --

     Q    It's a very legitimate question.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I understand, but I think -- I don't speak for former President Bush.

     Q    You're refusing to answer the question?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't speak for former President Bush.

     Q    That's not the point.  You're speaking on behalf of the President and you know whether the phone call took place, or not.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, I think there are conversations that former Presidents may engage in that the White House is not going to announce when former Presidents do.

     Q    It's right in the newspapers.

     Q    Ari, is President Bush going to meet with the embryo babies who are lobbying in town this week?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Tom, if we have any meetings to talk about, we'll talk about them.

     Q    Going back to faith initiative bill.  Is President in touch with other minority religious groups like Muslims, Hindus, and others in the area?  Because they have a large community here and temples and --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The Faith-based Office has had a series of meetings with people from all walks of life, all denominations.  And the President has attended several of those meetings.  The President thinks it's terribly important to reach out to groups, and as he said during the campaign, churches, synagogues, mosques, all Americans from all types of different backgrounds.  It is a reflection of the fact that very often these groups are very close to people in their communities and they have a way of getting closer and solving people's problems better than a government, that can sometimes can be a little distant.

     Q    What are their views, if you have met with them?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm sorry?

     Q    What are their views on the bill, if you have met with them?  How do they feel about --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think you need to reach out to the individual organizations and ask them what their views are.

     THE PRESS:  Thank you.

2:28 P.M. EDT

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