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Home > News & Policies > Press Secretary Briefings

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 6, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing

  1. Personnel announcements
  2. China
  3. Budget
  4. Education
  5. Business/economy
  6. Middle East
  7. Energy
  8. Week ahead


12:10  P.M. EDT


     MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  I have several personnel announcements I need to make this morning, and then I have a number of items I'm going to discuss and a statement at the top.

     As far as personnel, the President intends to nominate Douglas Jay Feith to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.  The President intends to nominate Kevin J. Martin to be Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, for a five year term, expiring on June 30, 2006. The President intends to nominate Kathleen Q. Abernathy to be a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission for the remainder of a five year term, expiring on June 30, 2005.

     The President intends to nominate Michael J. Kopps to be a Commissioner of the Federal Communications Commission, for the remainder of a five year term, expiring on June 30, 2004.  The President intends to nominate Elizabeth Jones to be Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs.  The President intends to nominate Thelma J. Askey to be Director of the Trade and Development Agency.

     And the President announced his intention to nominate Craig Stapleton to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to the Czech Republic.  And President Bush announced his intention to nominate Jim Nicholson to be Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States to the Holy See.

     I want to touch on one issue dealing with China, and then two domestic issues, and then we have the week ahead also, so let's get to that at the very end of the briefing.  But I want to make people aware of the latest developments.

     Between 10:15 a.m. and 10:25 a.m. this morning, the President spoke on the phone with Brigadier General Neal Sealock, who had just returned from a one-hour visit with our servicemen and women in China.  The President was very heartened to hear that the spirits of the servicemen and women are high.  They are being well taken care of.  They are being housed in the officer quarters, where they are staying.

     The President said to the general -- this is a quote -- that "you are doing a great job for the country and for their loved ones," referring to the loved ones, of course, of the servicemen and women being held.  And General Sealock said to the President that the first message he conveyed to the servicemen was that, the Commander in Chief sends his regards and he has tremendous pride in you.

     Two domestic items I want to talk about, because they're both very much on the President's mind and he has discussed them this morning.  The President is looking forward to the vote this afternoon in the United States Senate on the budget for the country.  The President believes that the Senate this afternoon will move in the right direction, to provide the American people with substantial tax relief, very much like what he promised during the course of the campaign.  After the Senate action, of course, the measure will go to a conference between the House and the Senate, where the House has already voted to pass the President's plan of $1.6 trillion in tax relief.

     So the President is very pleased with the action that looks like it will unfold, and for the prospect of the American people receiving the tax relief that they deserve.

     A final item that the President noted this morning is, there is also progress on Capitol Hill on the area that the President has said is his top priority, and that is education.  There has been a series of actions that are very bipartisan.  The President is very pleased with the cooperative spirit that has taken place on moving his education package forward.  He cited the work of Senator Kennedy, Senator Lieberman, Congressman Miller, a number of Republican members of Congress, of course, and is pleased with the action on Capitol Hill dealing with his priorities, improving education.

     Q    Ari, does the President now believe that all the major hurdles toward securing release of the crew have been cleared at this point?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is pleased that events are moving forward.  There remains work to be done.  Intensive discussions are continuing in China.  So the President is pleased with what is taking place, but he's cognizant of the fact that there -- work does remain, and the end result remains that our men and women should come home, and our plane should be returned.      Q    Can I just follow up on that?  Is there an essential agreement -- there may be details that are in disagreement now -- under which neither country would assign blame or take immediate responsibility?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to discuss the specifics of something that's very sensitive that is in the middle of being discussed, as we speak.  There has been an exchange of rather precise ideas between the Chinese government and the United States government.  That is ongoing.  And we're going to continue to monitor it.

     Q    Then would you characterize the kind of work which remains to be done as the building of a framework for both to exchange ideas, or explanations, as the Secretary of State put it?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Ideas, explanations, work continues to be done to secure their release.

     Q    The idea is that once the structure is put together and this happens, that they can be released?  Is that the understanding we have with the other side?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Bill, they all go together.  In the course of exchanging the ideas of developing the specifics, to create the goal that the President identified when he spoke to the nation earlier this week, about the release of our men and women so they can come home to their families.

     All the efforts in China right now are aimed at securing that result. That's the whole purpose of the discussions that have been underway.

     Q    One more, if I may.  What is it -- that's our goal, obviously. What is it that the Chinese want?  Do they continue to want some sort of apology?  They obviously want something as well as --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to characterize what the Chinese are asking for, what the Chinese position is.  That's something for the Chinese officials, of course, to do.  Major.

     Q    You said just a moment ago that you want to discuss something very sensitive that is being discussed as we speak.  Can you confirm that these sensitive discussions are about the final deal and not about preliminary negotiations that may lead to a final deal?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm reluctant to put any type of time frame on it like final, such as that.  It is ongoing and it is intense.  It continues.  And I think it's important to allow them to continue their important work.  But we will see what the exact time is, sequence is.  During the course of diplomacy, of course, events develop, items move forward, items sometimes move not forward; things start, things pause.  All of these remain possibilities.

     Q    But the discussions are about the deal to get them home, right?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.

     Q    Secretary Powell said that U.S. officials are expected to meet again with the crew tomorrow.  Does that mean the U.S. has secured what we've been looking for, sort of constant or regular access to the crew? And is there any concern that that is an indication this might not be wrapped up anytime soon, or in the next 24-48 hours?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The Secretary indicated that we would meet, that General Sealock will meet with the servicemen and women tomorrow.  We are pleased about that.  I think it's an indication, again, of how we are moving forward.

     Q    Ari, a follow-up, if I may.  The Secretary also said, in answer to a question at the end, from the AP correspondent, whether China has agreed to further meetings.  He said, yes.  If we say, further meetings, is this now an ongoing, lengthy process?  Any idea of the time table, at all?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated, it is ongoing.  Diplomacy is ongoing. And it is at a sensitive stage still.  And Ambassador Prueher has been having meetings and will continue to have meetings.

     Q    In the meeting this time, the second one, were the U.S. officials allowed to meet with the U.S. service personnel by themselves, or were they still accompanied by Chinese officials?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  At this second meeting with the General and our servicemen, they met alone; there were no Chinese officials present.

     Q    And did they report anything in particular to the President back on what they learned in the conversations they were able to have alone with the U.S. service personnel that might shed light on some of the disputed facts of the collision?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to get into some of the details of their conversation.  And I informed you of what the President discussed with the General.

     Q    Has there been any exchange, whatsoever, between President Bush and President Jiang Zemin?  And is General Powell  the point man at this stage, and who is his counterpart in China?  Is it the Foreign Minister himself, or what --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Ambassador Prueher is the point man on the ground in China, in terms of the discussions with Chinese officials.  Secretary Powell of course, this is a diplomatic effort.  Secretary Powell, as Secretary of State, is the head of the diplomatic effort, of course.

     The President spoke to Secretary Powell twice last night, just for your information.  Those conversations I think were about 9:00 p.m. or so. And the President had his first conversation of the morning with Condi at about 5:30 a.m. this morning, about the situation in China.

     So those are the people who are doing the talking.  Of course, Condi is involved.  But this is a diplomatic effort.

     Q    Ari, is it accurate to say that in these sensitive discussions right now, Chinese officials are no longer demanding an apology in exchange for any result, because there's been progress absent an outright apology? Is that accurate, and how does that square with the fact that President Jiang is still publicly saying there needs to be an apology?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to characterize the Chinese position.  I think that's a question that you need to address to the Chinese officials.

     Q    I'm sorry, but is it still accurate to conclude that that's the case, given there's been progress, that there is still, through channels, not an explicit demand for an apology by the Chinese?  Can't we make that conclusion?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to characterize the Chinese position. Martha.

     Q    I'm just following up.  Is it accurate to say that President Bush and Jiang Zemin have never spoken on the phone, have never had any contact since he became President?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's a correct statement.

     MS. COUNTRYMAN:  No, no, they have exchanged letters.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm sorry.

     Q    Exchanged letters?

     MS. COUNTRYMAN:  Yes.

     Q    Can I ask about what -- the negotiators are going back and forth, Secretary Powell has spoken of drafts.  Is it the intention of the two sides to come up with some sort of joint statement?  And can you give us a clue as to what might that entail?  Might it include a description of the event, as best we all know it, a description of a mechanism for investigating the facts?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As for the specifics of what's being discussed, I just have to urge your patience.  I understand the question but, as you can imagine, it is ongoing, and it is sensitive.  And for us to start publicly to discuss what is still a conversation going back and forth between American officials and Chinese officials would not be productive in obtaining the President's goal, which is to bring our men and women and home.

     Q    Is the goal some sort of joint statement, at least?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, I'm not going to discuss what is going on between the two parties as they negotiate.

     Q    Ari, what explanation can you offer the American people as to the administration's view of why our servicemen and women are over there?  Why are they being held?  What can you tell the people?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as a result of the accident, of course, the United States crew made an emergency landing on Chinese territory, as has been very well described.  And I think you know the facts of the matter, in which the plane landed and the pilot of the American airplane was able to successfully, in very difficult circumstances, save the lives of his crew by landing on the runway.

     And that is why they are there.  And, of course, the Chinese took the action they did that has led to the situation that we are in.  And that's where we stand.  I think it's all rather obvious.

     Q    The President has asked that they be returned and they have not. What is the administration's view as to why they have not honored his request?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The administration is less interested in assigning any blame and is more interested in solving the issue, so that our men and women can come home.

     Q    What is China's response now, when we ask that the 24 detained servicemen and women be released?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  -- we're going to talk to the United States government about it, and that's why there has been this ongoing series of diplomatic exchanges.

     Q    China says that it will talk to the U.S. government about it, when the U.S. government asks for their release.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think it's fairly obvious; China is talking to the United States government about it.  That is precisely what is happening. That's why Ambassador Prueher has been meeting with officials in Beijing and that's why the President has said what he said.

     Q    Then I ask again, because, obviously, I didn't understand your response.  What is China's response when we ask that the service people be released?  What is their explanation for why they continue to be held?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  They're aware of our request that they be released, and that is the course of the negotiations that we're in with the Chinese, to determine the best, as Secretary Powell described it earlier this morning, exchanging the precise ideas so that goal can be secured.

     Q    Ari, there's an agreement in effect between the United States and China that was signed back in January of '98, calling for maritime and aviation issues.  CBS broadcast last night that is on the table being considered.  Is it being considered as perhaps a way to solve this problem?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, I'm not going to discuss any of the specific ideas that may be part of diplomatic exchanges between the United States and China.  You correctly characterize that there is a Maritime Commission, but I'm not going to go beyond that.

     Q    I have a question about -- just to change the subject for a second -- about the President's political philosophy.  A couple months ago, Business Week magazine did a poll, which found that three-quarters of the American people "believe that business had gained too much power over their lives."  And in an editorial, Business Week called on corporations to "get out of politics."

     Now, this reminded me of something I read by George Orwell, who defined fascism as an economy in which the government serves the interest of oligopolies, a state in which large corporations have the powers that in a democracy belong to the citizenry.

     My question is, does the President agree with three-quarters of the American people, that business has gained too much power over their lives and with the editorial that they should get out of politics?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President believes that in this nation we are all in our economy together.  I'm reminded of an old adage that you can't be for employees if you're against employers.  And the President knows that to keep our economy strong and to make sure that the American people have jobs, and high-paying jobs, we need to work together in a balanced approach that protects consumers, protects workers and helps business.

     Q    Are arms sales to Taiwan or other types of equipment to Taiwan part of this discussion with the Chinese at all?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, they're not.

     Q    Can I ask you, has the President contacted Tony Blair, for example, or Kofi Annan on this crisis?  Have they had any conversation that you know of?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Nothing that I'm aware of, I don't think so.

     Q    Any foreign leaders whatsoever that he's consulted with?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He's been working through the American officials, and rather productively so, giving them direction of how to proceed in the course of the conversations, which are bilateral -- and productively so.

     Q    Ari, a number of Asian countries are worried about this stand-off in China.  And, also, Indian Foreign Minister of Defense, Minister was here in the building, just left half an hour ago, met with Ms. Rice.  If the issue was discussed with him?  And, also, what role the United Nations is playing is this matter?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think I just answered that question in regard to what Jacobo was saying about what the President's activities are.  I leave it at that.  I just answered.

     Q    How about the Indian Defense Minister and Foreign Minister.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The Indian Defense and Foreign Minister was in the White House this morning, meeting with Dr. Rice.  He had a brief exchange of pleasantries with the President in the Oval Office.  But his meeting took place with Dr. Rice.

     Q    Any discussion on China?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I haven't talked to Condi about her meeting.

     Q    Just to change to the Middle East, for a minute.  Holy Week is approaching, of course, for Jews and Christians.  Is the White House taking any more active step to try to quell the violence?  And can you give us any general ideas about where diplomacy is going?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as you know, there was just a meeting this week between the Israelis and the Palestinians.  And that was facilitated by the United States.  The President has made it clear to all concerned about the need to reduce the violence.  I think that is particularly important as we enter a holiday period.

     But the President has said that the violence needs to be reduced, that he stands ready to help facilitate the peace.  And that remains the position of the United States government.

     Q    Ari, is the idea of a U.S. apology still not acceptable?  And are the negotiations with the Chinese -- do they involve the United States' continued operation in international waters, where we were?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  On the apology, the American position has not changed. And I'm just not going to get into any specifics that may or may not be discussed.  Ron.

     Q    Sorry.  So if I could follow that, you can't rule out the negotiations for the release of the Americans involving a change in our operation in international waters?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  I would urge you to be very careful before you reach any such conclusion.  What I've indicated earlier is that there are specific ideas that are being exchanged.  I think you know the answer to this.  I'm not going to get into what any of those specific ideas are. That is a matter of diplomacy and privacy, so that those ideas can be discussed productively, so that our men and women can come home.

     So when I say I'm not going to get into any specifics, and if you offer up a specific, I'm not confirming, I'm not indicating to you, yes, that may be possible, or not possible.  I'm giving you a blanket statement that I'm not going to discuss any possible specifics.  Because to discuss them could impact the negotiations that are underway and I'm not going to do that.

     Q    Presumably, however, the apology, itself, is a specific and that, we understand, has been ruled out.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And you know what the President's position is on that. Ron.

     Q    Ari, I wanted to go back to your statement on the domestic issues.  While it is true that there is movement on both education and the tax cuts, in both cases some parts of the administration's program is looking like it's in trouble -- vouchers on education, the $1.6 on taxes.

     Is your message today an indication that you all are ready to start talking now on, you know, maybe finding some middle ground that is not exactly what the President wanted?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, the message from the President this morning is, look how much progress we're making on the domestic agenda.  This has been a very good week on the domestic agenda.  And the reason the President thinks that is because his budget is moving forward, and that's what will be voted on very soon.      And let me remind you that the history of Washington, D.C. until President Bush came to town, is that budgets were dead on arrival on Capitol Hill.  And this budget is driving the process on Capitol Hill.  The President's idea is to provide deep, meaningful tax relief to the American people, to limit the rate of growth to a realistic 4 percent, as opposed to the gargantuan spending increases of the past, and to pay down a record amount of debt that's driving the process.

     So the President is cheered by what he's seeing.  He's also seen in the course of the last year a sea change in attitudes toward tax relief, where the attitude used to be, don't cut taxes, you'll never get it done; the tax cut should be zero -- to a Democratic position of the tax cut should be $250 billion, then it became $500 billion, then it became $900 billion.  At last look, it was $1.1 trillion.  All the while, the President has stayed fast at $1.6 trillion.  All the movement has been in his direction.

     Now, there may be some movement that remains, but the point the President is focused on, and look how much is getting done, that is because he has set a tone of leadership, he fought for something that he believes in.  He has stood by it, and the vote tonight in the Senate is going to be a harbinger of more good things to come when this goes to a House and Senate conference agreement where, then, the President will get to deliver the tax relief he promised to the American people.

     And education, as well.  A tremendous amount of progress is being made.  And, again, the President believes a lot of that is because he has toned things down, he has worked in a very civil and bipartisan fashion, with Democrats and Republicans alike, and the proof is in the pudding when it comes to education.  That pudding is rapidly being made.

     Q    Did you see the lead editorial in USA Today this morning?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Do you really want to make me answer that question on the record?

     Q    It's titled, "More public drilling, let's collect bills first." It says that the President has recommended more public drilling on public lands, but there is a history of these big oil companies not paying the royalties.  So over the past couple of years, Shell Oil has paid $110 million in penalties -- these are penalties -- Chevron, $95 million, Exxon-Mobil $52 million.  The editorial says, let's collect from the oil companies before we open up to more drilling.  Does the President agree?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is working on the development of the national energy policy -- which he has directed a Cabinet-level review to be chaired by Vice President Cheney, as you know -- and they are taking a look at how best to develop America's energy resources to promote conservation, to take the steps necessary to secure America's supply of energy, particularly as we head into the travel season into the summer.

     Q    Chinese television today has run an interview with the second fighter pilot, in which that pilot contends it was a veering, a sudden and unexpected veering of the surveillance aircraft that caused the collision in the first place.

     I wonder if the White House has any reaction, generally, to this blame-placing by this eyewitness, which is being described in the Chinese media as the only eyewitness to the collision, and any assessment whatsoever about the truthfulness of that account?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There has been no change in the American position, and that's where the matter stands.

     Q    Which is?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As you have heard for the last several days, the American position has been clear about that matter.  And what the President -- again, he is focused on a diplomacy that is underway to bring our men and women home.  And he's less interested in assigning blame, assigning credit.  His focus is on the diplomacy required to bring our men and women home; and that's where he'll stay.

     Q    Would not it be fair for some in this country to conclude that the absence of any specific response from the administration about a direct accusation of fault might leave open the question as to whether or not the U.S. plane did, in fact, do something wrong?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That would not be accurate.

     Q    Why not?

     Q    Just on a similar subject, one of the things that you have said about why we need access to the crew, such as the second meeting, is to be able to ask them what happened, to get a fuller understanding of the incident that occurred, the accident that occurred.  Were we able to achieve that in this meeting, since the Chinese weren't present?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That question came up previously, and I said I'm not going to discuss every aspect of the meeting that took place.

     Q    But you're still confident that our understanding of events is as it was?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No change.  No change in the American position.

     Q    Does the President have any plans or any thought of cancelling this trip today because of this?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  The President has indicated all week that there are a number of events this week that he's been focused on, including the domestic agenda.  Early this morning, he called Senator Lott, he called Senator Domenici, to thank them for the work they've been doing in the Senate on the budget plan.  He's focused on meeting with Americans and traveling the country, just as he went to Delaware on Wednesday.  So the President is very busy, engaged in a variety of items that all are his duty.

     Q    But it's just throwing out a baseball.

     Q    Ari, without getting into specifics of the negotiations, you've already told us that the Chinese are not seeking to link the negotiations to the issue of Taiwan arms sales.  Without getting into specifics, is there any other issue, aside from this incident and the return of the crew members and the plane, that either side is trying to link to any other issues?  Is there any linkage going on, on either side?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, you're asking me about specifics, again, that may be underway, under discussion, and I'm not going to go into that.

     Q    But you did with Taiwan arms.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I gave you the American position on that.

     Q    Ari, the budget.  At the outset, you said -- and maybe I'm mistaken in hearing something -- but I think you said something.  You said the President would be delighted with the Senate if they approved something very much like what he campaigned on.  So is that the new bar, that it's very much like he doesn't need what he campaigned on anymore?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, I want to remind you that seldom in Washington, D.C., does a President and his budget drive the debate the way it's being driven this year.  Typically, presidential budgets are dead on arrival.  And that often happens, frankly, when it was one President with the same Congress.  And this President has been able to accomplish something that is rather rare in this town, and that is that the focus of the Senate's actions on the budget are really very much what he has proposed.

     So the discussions with the Senate are continuing.  The vote has not taken place yet, and we're going to have to continue to work with a couple senators on the Hill -- and that's going on.

     Q    As of today, he knows he's not going to get what he wants, he is going to get something maybe very much like what he wants?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me say the President has not given up hope.  He is going to continue to work with the Senate.

     Q    Ari, there also have been billions of dollars in new spending added to the budget through amendment during the debate.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Right.

     Q    I wonder how that squares with his pledge to keep spending down and why he's in such a cheerful mood with all this --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has noted the amendments, many of which were not agreed to.  And his reaction was, this underscores what he has been warning people about, that if you don't cut taxes, the money will be spent.  Many people said, don't have the tax cut the size the President proposes; use it all for debt relief.

     Well, we can -- see what happens in Washington.  The money is proposed to be spent on one meritorious program, another meritorious program, another.  It all goes to government spending if it's not cut in taxes.  So that's another reason the President feels that the debate is moving in his direction.

     We'll see what the final outcome is in the Senate on the exact number of tax relief.  But it's very much along the lines of what the President proposed, and he is cheered.

     Q    He opposes these amendments that were added, $700 million, for example, for fighting AIDS globally?  He opposes that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, the President will take a look at the budget resolution in its entirety after it's passed and share whatever thoughts he has and let it go to the House-Senate conference.

     But I want to remind you also, not to get technical about it, but a budget resolution sets the broad parameters of spending.  The actual work in the authorization committees and the appropriation committees is where you determine how much actual money gets spent on those programs after the budget resolution is put in place.


     Q    Could I just follow-up?  You're not going to comment, then, on the new spending that was added, whether or not he supports specific things that were added yesterday onto this bill?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, the specific funding items will get decided later on in the process.  The budget resolution determines broad spending categories.  Major.

     Q    If I could engage you again on the question of blame, the Secretary of State and others have applauded the pilot of the EP-3 for taking -- for rescuing the crew in what was obviously very hazardous circumstances.  They have talked about his efforts to save the plane.

     Now we have a specific allegation.  The Chinese pilots have said that pilot, if he did what is alleged, put his crew and everything that they

were trying to accomplish in jeopardy.  I am just curious why the administration doesn't want to engage in this very specific allegation coming from the Chinese fighter pilot of what would clearly represent hazardous flying by a U.S. pilot and placing blame on the U.S. for this episode?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I did respond to it.  I assured you that the American position is unchanged.

     Q    There are some Republicans on the Hill who actually are saying that maybe the President could have done more in lobbying, persuading members of the Senate on both sides of the aisle, and that if he had done so the tax cut may actually be at a larger amount than what we think.  Do you have any reaction?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let's wait and see how the vote turns out tonight. But from the President's point of view, things are moving very well and moving in his direction.  So he's pleased with the status of events and let's wait to see the final vote and let it go to the House-Senate Conference Committee.

     Q    Ari, some of the rhetoric coming out of the Hill earlier this week on China was pretty heated.  It seems to have been toned down a bit in the last few days.  Did the President make any phone calls to members up there, to tell them to cool it a little bit?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There have been conversations between people in the administration and the Hill, emphasizing that this is a sensitive time. There are important diplomatic exchanges underway, and a reminder of where the United States and China stand diplomatically at this very moment.

     Q    There's actually -- I've listened to what you've said about the budget, but there is actually some specific numbers that were thrown around this morning.  Top Republicans have said that $1.6 trillion tax cut is dead.  Dick Cheney has negotiated for a $1.4 trillion.  John Breaux has said, you're lucky to get $1.2 trillion.

     Can you talk about the specific numbers?  Is $1.2 trillion in the tax cut acceptable?  Does your previous statement apply to that, or are you really going to press and say, if it's not $1.4 trillion, we're not going to go along with this?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's position should be as close to $1.6 trillion as possible.  He believes $1.6 trillion is the right number.  And the President also knows that he will go into a conference, no matter what the number the Senate agrees to, with a $1.6 trillion figure in the House. And he continues to urge the Senate to take action so the tax cut can be the right size, so the American people can have a doubled child credit, can have the death tax repealed, can have across-the-board income tax rate cuts for all income taxpayers.

     Q    What about --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We have to do the week ahead.

     Q    Can you comment on whether or not Cheney is, and other administration officials are proposing $1.4 trillion?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Keith, administration officials are working with senators of both parties to secure a number as close to the President's number as possible.  I'm not going to discuss any of the specifics of something that is pending in the Senate right now.  It's kind of moving pieces.

     Q    Ari, a question about a personnel appointment.  About two weeks ago, the President said he was going to nominate Kay Cole James as the head of the Office of Personnel Management, which will, among other things, enforce the previous Clinton executive order on sexual orientation discrimination.

     Now, Ms. James comes from The Family Research Council and other groups that have vociferously opposed that sort of thing.  Could that be considered a sign the President is backing away from that executive order by nominating this person?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I would not make any link between an appointment to somebody and a decision that the President would make on an executive order here, as far as White House personnel.

     Go ahead, Ron.

     Q    Can you give us the week ahead, please?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  On the week ahead, on Monday the President will meet with his Cabinet to discuss his budget, which will be released that morning.  I also have details on the release of that budget and this is the telephone books.  The budget will be released -- be available at GPO at 8:00 a.m.  There will be one free copy per media organization.  You are requested to call the Office of Management and Budget to secure yours.

     There will be a wire embargo on the budget until 10:00 a.m. that morning.  There will be a series of agency briefings and press conferences throughout that morning.  Contact the Office of Management and Budget press office and they'll be able to provide you the details, or talk to the individual agencies, wherever your interests take you.

     Director Daniels will hold a briefing on the budget at an undetermined time on Monday.  We'll advise you about that.

     Q    Here?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Here in the White House.

     Q    On camera?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I haven't talked to the Director about that, Major. That's a legitimate request.

     Q    Will the Treasury Secretary come, as well?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I have information on Director Daniels.  I don't have any information on the Treasury Secretary.

     On Monday afternoon, the President will meet with the presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan in separate meetings here at the White House. Tuesday, the President will meet with the King of Jordan, and make remarks on character education from the East Garden, a 3:00 p.m. event.

     On Wednesday, the President will travel to Charlotte and Greenville, North Carolina to discuss his education plans and participate in a North Carolina welcome event.  And on Thursday, the President and Mrs. Bush depart in the afternoon to spend Easter Weekend at the ranch in Crawford, Texas.  They will return to Washington on Sunday.

     Q    Anything at the ranch that's public, as far as you know, or anything on the way out to the ranch?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll advise you closer to it.  That's the week ahead. Thank you, everybody.

     THE PRESS:  Thank you.

                            END               12:45 P.M. EDT