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 Home > News & Policies > December 2001

For Immediate Release
December 17, 2001

Press Briefing Excerpt by Ari Fleischer 12/17/01

Click here for full transcript.

It's also an important week to measure progress in the Senate to see if they take any action on the 157 nominees that are still pending in the United States Senate. The cause of progress, however, was dealt a setback over the weekend in the remarks made by the Senate Majority Leader, in which he indicated that it will require, in a highly unusual manner, 60 votes to confirm Eugene Scalia to be Solicitor at the Department of Labor.

It has, unfortunately, by both parties, been done before on rare occasion, to say that more than 50 votes are necessary for a nominee. It has been done before, by both parties, to filibuster a Presidential nominee, but it is rare and it is wrong. And the 60-vote threshold presents a real setback for the cause of people who seek progress in the Senate.

The confirmation process in the Senate should be about progress, not paybacks. Because it was done before doesn't mean it should be done now. It was wrong when it was done before. President Bush campaigned for office saying that the tone needed to be changed in Washington, and calling for 60 votes when majority rule is sufficient represents a setback for those who want to change the tone in Washington. It's a continuation of the wrong tone in Washington, and the President would regret if that was, indeed, the action the Senate would take.

The confirmation process should be about progress, not paybacks. It should be about people and not partisanship. And unless there is information that is available to the Majority Leader that is not available to the White House -- the Majority Leader did indicate yesterday that in Mr. Scalia's case, "we have not been given all the paperwork."

If there is any information that the White House is lacking, the White House would welcome an update on that issue of paperwork. Because Mr. Scalia was nominated by President Bush on April 30th; his hearing was held on October 2nd; and the last request for any paperwork received by the White House in regard to Mr. Scalia was on October 5th and was fully complied with. All paper has been received by the Senate, so it's hard to imagine any reason why this nomination is being held up.

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

Q Is he disappointed? Is the President threatening right here to --

MR. FLEISCHER: That's why, Ron, I'm not going to speculate what the future holds, but there should be no reason to engage in that. There is time left this week for the Senate to show that it is, indeed, willing to make progress on the issue of nominations. And so let's see what events unfold this week. But certainly, Gene Scalia is very well-qualified; Otto Reich is very well-qualified. These are two holdups where the Senate is not moving forward.

Q Is the President willing to take -- does he stand behind these two nominees, to the extent that he's willing to take the unusual step of issuing recess appointments if action is not taken this week?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to speculate about anything the President may or may not do in the future. The important thing is for the Senate to show that it's here to make progress and not engage in paybacks. Again, it was done before, and both parties have done it -- on very rare occasions they've sought 60 votes for the nominations. But that is a way to make Washington get mired in gridlock and partisanship. It's not a way that anybody can contribute to changing the tone in Washington. It's a continuation with what's wrong in Washington, not a contribution to what needs to be done to make Washington right.

Q Is the President concerned that a recess appointment would jeopardize Mr. Scalia's chances of a longer-term appointment, should he be confirmed by the Senate at a later date?

MR. FLEISCHER: John, the President is concerned that the Senate do its job, and the Senate's job is to give people their fair day, to give people a fair hearing, and then to send their votes to the floor so a majority of the Senate can decide. It appears that there are a majority of votes in the Senate to confirm Mr. Scalia, and that's why an extraordinarily rare procedure seems like it's being put in place.

If, indeed, it is. Perhaps that was a statement that was made on a Sunday show that is not intended to be the actual results of the Senate. That would be hopeful.