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Press Secretary Briefings
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 30, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1. Personnel announcements
2. Black law enforcement executives
4. Social Security reform
5. Middle East
6. Arsenic standard
7. Cloning, stem cell research
8. Missile defense
9. NAFTA, trucking
10. Fast track
11. Faith-based initiatives
12. Patients' bill of rights
13. National Academy of Sciences study
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have a series of personnel announcements I'd like to make today.
The President will nominate eight individuals today to be United States Attorneys. They are the following: John L. Brownley, for the Western District of Virginia; Paul Charlton, for the District of Arizona; Tod P. Graves, for Western District of Missouri; Michael Heavican, for the District of Nebraska; William Mercer, for the District of Montana; Thomas Moss, for the District of Idaho; John Southers, for the District of Colorado; and Mills Waggoner, for the Middle District of North Carolina.
In addition, the President intends to nominate Emil Frankel to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation, for Transportation Policy.
And, finally, the President intends to nominate Read Van de Water to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Aviation International Affairs. She is the founder of Carson King Consulting, an employment consulting and placement service, which she has managed since 2000. From 1997 to 1999, she was Legislative Counsel for the International Trade and Investment, with the Business Round Table. And she previously served as Legislative Counsel, Director of Government Affairs for Northwest Airlines.
Ms. Carson -- otherwise known as Van de Water -- has a master's degree from George Washington University and her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center. And you will receive the full information of all these U.S. Attorneys and others coming out in writing shortly.
Mr. Gregory, you have your hand up.
Q What will he -- what will the President talk about today, this hour, for the black law enforcement executives?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's speech this afternoon will cover two topics broadly. One is the importance of combating crime across the United States in a tough manner, in a fair. And also the President will address the faith-based initiative which he has proposed that has passed the House. And he will talk about the progress and the momentum that he sees for that initiative.
Q Why is that an important audience for the faith-based initiative?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because often some of the worst problems of a society are linked to crime. And the police of our communities are the ones who have to deal with the consequences of drug abuse, of alcohol abuse, of violence within families. So to the degree the people have solutions to these social problems, it creates great help for our nation's police forces, because it means they don't have to deal with the consequences of these social ills.
Q There was a nonbinding resolution yesterday in Puerto Rico, calling for the immediate end of the testing. Will the President immediately end testing, or do it over the next two years, as he announced last --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has accepted the recommendation of the Department of the Navy. That represents a balanced approach. The President has always said it's very important to listen to the people of Puerto Rico, and he has. The President also believes it's very important to have a seamless transition so that our military can be the best trained it can be, so we are prepared for any contingencies around the world. And that's the approach that the President will reflect.
Q So we can't do it immediately, we need to take a couple years?
MR. FLEISCHER: The recommendation of the Department of the Navy was that the withdrawal from Vieques would be effective as of May 2003. And that's a recognition of the fact that the people of Puerto Rico have concerns on this issue, but so, too, it's important to make certain that our military is trained until an alternative location is found.
Q Does the referendum have any say with the President? After all, isn't that the will of the people? The referendum shows they want it stopped now.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, and in addition, there are the ongoing legitimate needs of our nation's military. And these matters are not only decided by referenda, but they are decided by a variety of factors that represents a balanced approach. And that's what the President has done here.
Q What about communities who are also facing military operations in their area they didn't want? Do you think this starts a precedent, where local communities should be able to have some kind of a vote either to get rid of military operations or maybe to keep base closings that they don't want closed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ann, the President thinks it's important to listen to the local communities; and he thinks it's important for the United States military to work well with the nations that are hosting us or the localities in this country that have military facilities. Very often these communities cherish those military facilities. There may be occasions where they don't, and there are some problems.
And the President thinks it's very important to work closely with local hosts. But it's always a question of balance and working well with local hosts and securing the military needs of our country to have our men and women properly trained so they can deter war.
Q The question is, a referendum against base closings or a referendum for other communities that do not the military as a neighbor.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in this case Vieques is rather unique. As you know, this was an agreement entered into by the prior government of Puerto Rico with the previous administration, and codified by the United States Congress that has created a referendum. So it is the law of the land in this one instance. I'm not aware of another instance which is similar to this. But this is the law. There is a referendum in Puerto Rico.
We're going in order here, as you may have been able to tell. So now we'll go -- Major.
Q On the question of Social Security reform, the President has made clear he is not in favor of increasing payroll taxes. Is he open to the idea of exposing more income to the payroll tax, itself, increasing the threshold, as it were, which those Social Security taxes are now --
MR. FLEISCHER: A tax hike is a tax hike is a tax hike, and the President opposes tax hikes. The President does not think that's an effective way to save Social Security and he differs, frankly, from Congressman Kolbe and Congressman Stenholm. Their approach does have included in it a tax hike, and the President's principles flat-out rule out tax hikes.
The problem with tax hikes with Social Security is it's what has always been done, and it hasn't gotten the job done. Social Security is still going bankrupt, despite the fact that previous administrations and previous Congresses relied on tax hikes as a way to boost revenue coming into the system. Social Security has a tax hike each and every year. For upper income earners, the amount of income subject to Social Security taxes rises every January 1st.
So that is not part of the President's principles; he does not support it.
Ron, do you have a follow-up on that?
Q What about the other elements of that plan, the adjusting the COLAs and accelerating the increasing the retirement --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you of the President's principles on Social Security. Let me read from them. Modernization must not change Social Security's benefits for retirees or near retirees. That's the first presidential principle.
The entire Social Security surplus must be dedicated to Social Security only. Social Security payroll taxes must not be increased. Government must not invest Social Security funds in the stock market. Modernization must preserve Social Security's disability and survivor components -- keep those separately under the President's proposal. And modernization must include individually control and voluntary personal retirement accounts.
Q But, Ari, what about those that aren't near retirees, those like 30 years down the pike? What about their benefits? You're talking about just retirees or near retirees.
MR. FLEISCHER: Under the plan that the President envisages, their benefits will increase and that is a result of the combined savings of the government portion of Social Security in conjunction with the individualized benefit. Under all historical models, those younger workers would have more money to retire on as a result of the new system.
Q And without any need to adjust COLAs or to increase the age of eligibility?
MR. FLEISCHER: Those would be all issues that the Commission takes a look at.
Q Ari, back to Vieques. Sixty-eight percent of the inhabitants of Vieques want the Navy out immediately. I think the resolution of the President speaks -- May 1, 2003 -- it doesn't say on May 1. That means there's some wiggle room there. When you have 68 percent of the people saying one thing, could this spur the White House to try to accelerate it? I'm not saying --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the President has said, and he is listening to the people of Puerto Rico, he thinks that's important. The President is also the Commander-in-Chief, with a responsibility to make sure that our men and women are sent into harm's way with the best training possible. And he wants to do both, and he has done both. He has listened to the people of Puerto Rico, and he wants to make certain that our nation's military training mission is fully and fairly carried out.
The Department of Navy is engaged in looking for alternative sites to Vieques, and they need a sufficient amount of time to get the job done, to protect our men and women in their training missions. So as always, it's a question of balance, and the President believes he's found it.
Q Yes, but to follow up on that, you did say earlier -- I don't know if was sort of a -- that the changeover was effective 2003. Is it your understanding that we won't be leaving that base until May 2003, or we will be leaving it sometime between now and then?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the announcement from the Department of Navy said effective as late as May 2003, but I will just refer you to the direct words of the Navy's announcement or recommendation. But it was through May 2003, no doubt.
Q What's the soonest you think it can get done?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question you need to address to the Navy. That really depends on the Navy's success on finding an alternative location.
Q Can it possibly be done immediately, as this non-binding resolution --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, that's a question for the Navy.
Q Ari, under the terms of the agreement there is a binding referendum which is scheduled to take place in November, which as you know would either have the Navy leave or would it allow to resume live fire. Is the administration doing anything at all to lobby and try and change the vote on Vieques, even though we know that the vote on Vieques is not necessarily representative of the whole people of Puerto Rico. So what's going to happen -- what are you going to do on --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of what's being done with that. But given the action that the President has already announced concerning Vieques, with the Navy recommendation, the President has already determined in accordance with the Navy, that the United States needs to find an alternative location.
MR. FLEISCHER: The question of monitors for the Middle East really begins with adherence to the cease-fire. That is the necessary prerequisite, to make certain that the cease-fire takes hold and that it lasts. As then the United States and other nations move forward and deeper into the Mitchell Committee recommendations involving political solutions. Specifically and only at that time will the question of monitors possibly come up. And in that context, the President has said that on the topic of monitors, it would have to be agreed to by both sides.
Q So the view of the White House is that, especially with the fresh violence there, that this is something that is sort of far off to consider?
MR. FLEISCHER: The first action has to be implementation of the cease-fire. The question of monitors will only come up in a practical matter, in conjunction with a lasting cease-fire. The implementation, therefore, of the political provisions dealing with reconciliation under the Mitchell Committee recommendations, and then in the context of anything the two parties agree to.
MS. COUNTRYMAN: And that reflects what the G8 leaders all agreed to at the summit last week.
Q To follow up on that, what's your reaction to the violence we've had just today?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is, again, a troubling reminder of how fragile the situation is in the Middle East. And the United States urges restraint on all parties and urges all parties to do their level best to, again, achieve a lasting cease-fire.
Q There is no cease-fire now. The President doesn't believe there's one, does he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there are calmer moments and then less calm moments, more violent moments. That, unfortunately, has been the marked pattern in the Middle East for the last several months.
MR. FLEISCHER: Is the White House encouraging another vote in the House?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anything, Dan. Do you have anything specific in mind?
Q Just if there was some effort to get them to consider that again?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not received any of that information that there is.
Q A do-over. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: A do-over.
Q You are backtracking a lot on all the regulations you tried to say "no" to from the beginning, aren't you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Would you like to be specific? I'm not sure what you're referring to.
Q The whole slew of regulations that -- new regulations that Clinton left behind. You seem to be very negative toward, saying "no" to all of them. So now you're renewing your --
MR. FLEISCHER: There has been a case-by-case review of the Clinton administration's last-minute regulations, and that's ongoing. Some have gone through; others have not gone through. And I think that would be what you would typically expect when a new administration comes to town.
Previous administrations are within their rights to issue as many last-minute regulations as they deem fit. But because it's regulatory and not statutory, it's subject to the review of the incoming administration. And that's exactly what this administration did. That's exactly what all incoming administrations do.
Q Ari, tomorrow the House is going to have a vote on two competing bills, on the question of cloning. One is sponsored by Curt Weldon, one is sponsored by Jim Greenwood. Some see in this cloning debate the subtext of the stem cell debate. Because in the Greenwood bill, which the administration opposes, there is an allowance for the creation of cloning for medical research purposes.
Can you give us the White House perspective on the debate about cloning, itself, and its position on these two competing pieces of legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President opposes cloning of human beings. The President thinks that it is wrong and opposes it strongly. As for the more specifics on the legislation that you mentioned, let me take that question -- I want to get back to you with specificity on that.
Q Could you add to that the creation of any embryos strictly for research purposes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll post it, too.
Q Since I feel almost certain that you discussed with the President Pope John Paul's strong public objection to embryonic stem cell research -- because the Pope said it violates human life, which he said begins at conception -- my question is, could you tell us if the President is aware of the disagreement that human life begins at conception by Popes Gregory the XIV and Innocent III, as well as Saints Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas and Alphonso -- and does the President believe that the instant an egg is fertilized it has a soul?
Q Didn't that come up in the morning briefing? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Welcome back, by the way. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you very much.
MR. FLEISCHER: You must have been doing some papal research while you were at.
Q And if want to recite the catechism after that, that would be great, too, Ari. (Laughter.)
Q I'd just like to know, does he believe that the instant an egg is fertilized it has a soul?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the topic of stem cell research, this is going to be an issue that as the President deliberates and reaches his conclusions, he will share the reasons why he has come to the decision he makes at that time.
Q -- saints and popes. (Laughter.) And the other question. Since I feel sure that as a very dedicated chief spokesman for the President you must have diligently studied the presidency, very diligently, I ask, Ari, can you name one President who died in the last 50 years who received a 14-page all adulatory, no mention of false, obit in the Washington Post, and 24 pages of such adulation, no faults, obit in Newsweek? Can you name one President? You can't, can you, Ari?
Q You're the weakest link. (Laughter.)
Q What was your answer to that, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I yielded to Mr. Koffler. I think he
Q You'd like to duck that question because you can't name one single President that had that kind of adulatory, no fault obit, can you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm a frequent reader of the archives of our nation's newspapers. I must not have read all the issues.
Q Missile defense, Ari. You're going to be clearing ground for some land in Alaska shortly, and I'm not sure -- I think you're aware that several members of Congress have asked for a specific citation of where Congress has authorized that. Does the administration believe it needs that, or can it just go ahead and spend the money?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the way legislation and appropriations works, there is discretion within the different accounts, including the Department of Defense, of course, to spend money in accordance with promoting the national defense of the United States. So unless Congress speaks otherwise, there is no prohibition on that.
Q It does not have to specifically authorize clearing of land for missile defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course not. Imagine all the expenditures the United States government enters into on every given day, whether it's the Department of Defense or any different agency. There's a broader statutory authorization for, in this case, promoting the national defense. But Congress does not authorize or appropriate every single penny that is spent; it just has to be for the purpose of those agencies.
Q Ari, last week USTR Zoellick gave a speech in which he basically linked the future of the trade agenda, the Bush trade agenda, to the being able to persuade the country that it had a good deal with NAFTA. To what extent does the fight over the trucking bill on the Hill now tell you something crucial about the political climate on the Hill with respect to that agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a worrisome indication that there's some people on the Hill who are pursuing an isolationist path. And the President would like to stop that from happening. I think you see some people on the Hill are pulling back from NAFTA, which is troublesome. And on the question of Mexico trucking, the President believes very strongly we can have both safe roads and be fair to our neighbors to the south, to our Mexican friends. So there are some troubling signs of isolationism on the Hill, and this action on Mexico trucks is one of them.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is working with Congress on the exact timing of it. The President is clear that he believes that fast track should be authorized. It's, again, a good indication of whether Congress will be isolationist or Congress will join with the President, promoting vigorously America's agenda around the world, because we can win on America's agenda in a multilateral world. But the exact timing of it is something that really we'll take our lead from members of Congress on.
Q On faith-based initiatives, what are the hurdles before the bill now? What do you see as the next hurdles, now that you've gotten through the House, but the President's obviously trying to lend a little momentum to the effort here today. What do you have to do now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there are two issues. One is substantive, and that is the right of senators to take a good, hard look at all pieces of legislation, and decide whether or not they believe that it serves broad public purposes. And the President is confident on that score that the Senate will do so. After all, no less a person than Al Gore campaigned on faith-based initiatives. If you remember, there were many initiatives announced by then-Vice President Al Gore that the Democrats heralded as the Democrats' willingness to work on faith-based solutions.
But I think that it's also fair to say there is a political consideration. This would be seen as a big victory for President Bush if it gets through the Senate, and there may be some who seek to simply deny the President a victory, even if it comes at the cost of hurting 15 million low-income Americans, 2 million children of prisoners who look for new ways of having social problems solved.
Q So you're saying that the opponents in the Senate are in part motivated just by an attempt to keep the President from succeeding?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly there's no question that the House of Representatives has taken action on faith-based legislation. The only thing that stops it now from being signed into law is the actions of the Senate. But the President is hopeful that the Senate will put progress before politics, that the Senate will put ideas before ambition, and therefore send him legislation that can be signed into law on a way to help solve social problems.
Q Will he name any names, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I addressed the question.
MR. FLEISCHER: As a result of the President's conversation with Congressman Norwood last week, Congressman Norwood was able to take an idea of his to a group of congressmen and senators that he's been working very closely with on the patients' bill of rights legislation.
The President has been very encouraged, as a result of those talks, and we'll see exactly where those talks lead to as this important week approaches.
Q Okay. But have there been any conversations today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to check and get an update. There hadn't been any as of about 10:00 a.m. this morning.
Q Staff-level conversations today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'll have to get an update; I'll have to talk to --
Q And they had a negative response to the proposal, why are you so encouraged?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it depends on who the negative is you're talking about.
Q -- and people who support the -- wrote the alternative.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll see exactly where it ends up. Again, this is what is typical of the very last stages of legislative progress. And the President continues to see signs of progress. But let me try to work and get you a little bit of an update later on.
Q Ari, on trucking, you know, what's going on here? I mean, this is -- if it goes down in the Senate, as well, this would be a big defeat. The President is adamantly against what's happening in Congress. What's he doing? How did it get to this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the initial Senate vote was a disappointment for the President and for the people who believe in free trade and being fair to our neighbors in Mexico, as well as people who are dedicated to NAFTA. I suppose you could say on one hand, it was a victory for the isolationists and a defeat for those believe that America should join with the rest of the world and be fair to other nations.
But the President and his staff have been talking to a number of senators. And the President hopes that when this bill gets to conference, we'll be able to fix it. And we're going to continue to have conversations with some of the senators who are dedicated to fixing it.
Q Ari, can I follow-up on that? Do you think the President will have the 34 votes on the Senate to keep his veto power on this trucking issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't do vote counts, and so I'm not going to guess what the votes will become. But the President is very clear on this. He thinks that the action taken by the United States Senate is unilateralist, it's anti-NAFTA, it's unfair to Mexico, and that we can have both safety and allow Mexican trucks to operate in the United States.
Q Now the Mexican government is working on a bill -- the House and in the Senate calling to Mexico to drop out of the chapter of transportation of NAFTA. Has the President of this country been in contact with the Mexican government, or has been telling anybody on the Hill about this threat by the Mexican government?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no question that when the United States takes an action unilaterally that is anti-NAFTA, we put our NAFTA partners in a position where they will of course look at their laws and say, do we need to take a counter action, a retaliatory action which could lead to difficulties for American truckers. So that's the problem when you start to unwind agreements that we have with our international allies.
And that's why the President is committed to NAFTA. He believes NAFTA has been very helpful and successful in creating jobs in the United States and in creating opportunities in Mexico.
Q Ari, will the President sign legislation, a transportation bill, that has an anti-NAFTA provision in it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The staff has recommended a veto to the President. You've heard what the President said. And the President and his staff are going to do their best to fix this when it goes to conference. But the staff recommendation remains a veto.
Q On this question, does the White House believe Mexican trucks are as safe as Canadian trucks right now? Percentages indicate they are not, they fail their safety inspections at a much higher rate than Canadian trucks.
MR. FLEISCHER: The question is, should we have one standard that makes all trucks operating in the United States operate safely? And that answer is, yes, there should be one standard. And if one nation's trucks have a higher failure rate, and therefore are not allowed in the country, the standard should be uniform.
There's no reason to have a different standard for Canadian trucks than for Mexican trucks or Mexican trucks than Canadian trucks. They both should have an insurance regime and a safety regime that is tough, to make certain that all trucks that operate in the United States are operated in a safe fashion. But that same standard should apply equally to Canada and to the United States. And then if they don't pass it in the same proportions, then they need to take the corrective steps to address it, because only those trucks that are deemed safe will be allowed on our roads.
Q Ari, majority in the House and the Senate are of the opinion, by the votes that they have cast, that they are not as safe, and are not going to be as safe as either the insurance or safety regimen that this administration has proposed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Then the better course would be for the Congress to pass one standard that applies fairly and equally to Canada and to Mexico, lest it be seen that this standard is something that is aimed only at Mexico, and not at Canada, and then allow only those trucks that are deemed safe onto America's roads. But to take a unilateral shot at only one nation does not seem fair.
Q Yes, on the same point, one of the problems with figuring out which trucks are safe is having enough inspectors. I was down in Laredo once, trucks were lined up as far as the eye could see, and there was one -- one -- American safety inspector. Is the American committed to beefing up inspection enough so that people will have confidence that when a truck is let in, it has been inspected and is safe?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. And that's why the President's budget included a multi-million dollar increase in the inspection account. Therefore we could make certain that we have more inspectors on the border.
Q And how many inspectors would you increase on the border? Do you know?
MR. FLEISCHER: Anybody have the figures on that?
MS. BUCHAN: I want to say 80, but we'll need to confirm that.
We'll have to get you those numbers. They're available. It was in the President's budget. There is both a dollar amount, specifically, in the President's budget and that translated into the number of inspectors hired. And that was submitted to the Congress in February by the President. It's an important issue, to make sure we have enough inspectors there.
Q The National Academy of Science may have already done this, but they're expected to release their recommendation for CAFE standards today. I wondered if the White House is releasing any form of statement of position, or are you just commenting to the effect that you're going to review it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the central tenants of the President's energy policy was to increase conservation and energy efficiency. The National Academy study, which will be coming out, is an important step in determining what actions can be taken on that front. The study is something that we find encouraging. The National Academy study highlights the promise of technologies and reforms that could both increase mileage, and it also takes into account the problems that are created with lighter vehicles -- increased deaths on the road as a result of lighter vehicles. And this report that is coming out is reflective of all of those concerns.
There is a problem for the administration because Congress has prohibited the Department of Transportation from fully reviewing the National Academy study. And the President is calling on the Congress to remove the prohibition so that the United States can benefit most broadly from this National Academy study. It's a 200-plus page study; it will be reviewed. But there is a question of how much review can be done until that prohibition is lifted.
Q When you mention, though, that there's a problem in terms of lighter vehicles, are you saying that there should be some allowance in terms of higher gas mileage for heavier --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, but the National Academy report will highlight the risks for passengers of lighter vehicles. There's a real concern that will be expressed in this report about the number of people who die on the roads because the vehicles they're driving are lighter in order to partially meet CAFE standards.
So there's a series of tradeoffs that the National Academy of Sciences recognizes involving higher fuel mileage and transportation safety.
Q When you said that the Transportation Department can't fully review this, you're not trying to indicate that you can't review this to the extent that you wouldn't be able to make a decision, are you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there is a prohibition in law that stops the Department of Transportation from fully reviewing this report. It's an irony that Congress is asking for a National Academy of Sciences study on CAFE standards, but then they prohibit the administration from reviewing that study in its entirety. It's the law. This is something that Congress passed years ago that actually stops the administration from spending money to study the National Academy of Science report on CAFE standards. It's a Catch-22, and it's not right. And that's why Secretary Mineta wrote to the Congress asking them to lift this prohibition. It's a troublesome prohibition if you're dedicated to conservation.
Q Are they going to have to lift that prohibition in order for you to make your decision on CAFE standards?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's very hard to figure out right now how to have a whole review of it if Congress prohibits the administration from having a full review of it.
Q But does it expire on the 30th of September without renewal?
MR. FLEISCHER: It does. But the report is coming out now. Sure, I mean, the administration could sit on it for quite a period of time, but the President, as I mentioned at the top -- one of the central tenants of his energy policy is increased conservation, is energy efficiency. So if Congress is serious about helping the administration find productive and balanced ways to increase energy efficiency and conservation, Congress should remove the prohibition so the administration can get working on this National Academy of Science study right away, without delay.
Q Are you asking someone to introduce legislation to remove the prohibition?
MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary Mineta has already written to the Congress asking them to take that step.
Q But don't you need some legislator to --
MR. FLEISCHER: It would be a matter of the appropriations and in the appropriation bill they could just do it.
Q -- they can do without a new piece of legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it would require legislation.
Q Let me just follow-up on that. By the time you get the bill -- let me just follow-up real quick. By the time you get the appropriation bill through, the September deadline would have lapsed anyhow, right? Isn't it kind of a false argument you're making here?
MR. FLEISCHER: It depends on -- in all cases, the administration would not be able to review something that is coming out here in July until October. If there's any vehicle, whether it's appropriations or whether there's any vehicle they can send up earlier -- when the Secretary wrote to the Congress he asked for it to come up earlier.
This is up to Congress. It's up to Congress to decide whether they want to create a Catch-22, that says we should have more energy efficiency and conservation, but we're not going to let the administration -- how to get it.
Q They're literally prohibited from reading a study?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Not from reading, but from a full review of the study. You can read anything, but you can't spend money to do any further review of it. You can read it, but that's about all.
The prohibition that the Congress has passed on the administration reviewing the National Academy of Science's study destines the study to gather dust until October. And that's why the administration has strongly urged Congress to remove the prohibition. Energy efficiency is important.
I know it's a Catch-22; it doesn't sound like it makes much sense, but it is the law of the land and we have to live under it, until they remove it.
Q Excuse me, but, Ari, months ago, you were asked about the CAFE standards. And back then, when the energy plan was still under consideration and not announced you kept saying, well, we'll wait until the CAFE standards --
MR. FLEISCHER: And we can
Q -- are reviewed.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q -- are reviewed and recommendations are made by the National Science Academy. So why didn't all of you press for a change in appropriations back then, when you knew that even when they came out you wouldn't be able to comment? Why did Mineta wait until, like, a week or two ago to press for this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Paula, I will remind you of the date of the letter. When you asked me this question a month ago, I told you that Secretary Mineta sent a letter up there. We'll get you a copy of it; you'll see it wasn't a week or two ago.
Q But in February, if you knew full well back then --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should address the question to Congress -- why is Congress tying the administration's hands? Secretary Mineta wrote Congress a letter more than a month ago -- not a week or two ago, but more than a month ago, asking them to lift the prohibition.
Q Why didn't he write it back in February, when he knew full well that standards were supposed to be -- National Academy was supposed to come out with a report in July --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think if you feel so strongly about it you may want to address it to the Congress.
Q It's not just me, personally, Ari, or professionally.
Q Going back to national missile defense, briefly. There seems to be some wiggle room now between the United States and Russia, about national missile defense, and maybe a modification to the ABM Treaty.
But press reports we're getting out of Beijing seem to show an unalterable position by the Chinese. Does the President plan to go ahead even if that position remains unalterable?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has made very clear that he believes that the job of the Commander in Chief is to protect the people of the United States from accidental or rogue launch of a ballistic missile. And the President is going to continue to consult with our allies, consult with Russia, consult with the Chinese. But he has made perfectly plain that he intends to protect our country from any such launch.
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll see, when you see the National Academy of Science report you'll see it's more than 200 pages, it raises a series of trade-off issues; it does not make any hard, specific recommendation, itself. So, therefore, it does require some real careful thought from the administration about which of the many findings that they make, which of the many series of inter-related recommendations they make should be pursued.
It's not a simple matter. And it raises a variety of issues, not only dealing with CAFE standards, but with a two fleet standard. So as you can imagine with any type of big study, it is complicated.
Q So either way, then, we're months away from a decision, since it's that long --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it depends. If Congress does what Secretary Mineta asked Congress to do, the administration will be in a faster position to give a full review to the National Academy of Science study.
Q But once you did that -- like, say that Congress did what you want Congress to do -- how long after that point would you be able to make a determination on what you're going to recommend on CAFE?
MR. FLEISCHER: It depends on what their findings are. That would be part of the administration review, and I'm not prepared to guess how long that would be.
Q How is it -- what is it that you're actually prohibited from doing? If you can sit down and read it, couldn't White House officials sit down and read it and sit and discuss it without actually having the meter running? Wouldn't you -- can't you just sit around, since people here are already on salary --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think what we need to do is, we will get you a copy of the prohibition, so you can read the prohibition for yourself. This is the law. And as I indicated, you can read anything, but then Congress has tied the administration's hands, making harder for the administration to accept an act upon this study.
Q What money would you have to spend? You say they prohibit you from spending any money. What money would you have to spend to do what you say you need to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Typically, in the case of these 200 page reports, the administration convenes different meetings, they may have different working groups assembled to focus on it. And I think you can talk to the Department of Transportation. They'll give you a cost breakdown of what it would entail.
But I think, again, the prohibition will speak for itself, and we'll be happy to get you a copy of what Congress did.
Q On missile defense, when President Putin stands by President Bush's side, it seems like there seems to be some working ground on missile defense. When they are apart, however, President Putin seems to step-up the rhetoric. We've heard about multiple warheads on missiles. Where does President Bush think that President Putin actually stand on this? Because the two sides, when they're together and when they're apart, the talk is very different.
Q Well, I think President Putin took that question, himself, in Genoa, when he was asked the question about didn't you say afterwards that you would have a multiple launch regime in case the United States developed missile defenses. And he indicated that he continued to stand by what he said to President Bush. So I think you need to ask Russians across the line about the statements they make. I can't speak for them when they go to Moscow, but the message that the President has been receiving in private is very much the message that we've been receiving at other levels of the government from President Putin and that I certainly saw in all President Putin's statements.
Q Ari, do you have any reaction to Japan's House of Counselors election on Sunday? Is the President happy that Prime Minister Koizumi was given a mandate --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's an internal Japanese matter, the actions that are taken by their parliament.
Q You have called the people who are opposing the entry of Mexican trucks or not being fair, like the Canadians. You call them unilateralists, anti-NAFTA and not fair to Mexico. Do you think they're doing this thing out of principle, or do you think they're trying to butter-up the unions, especially the Teamsters?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think as always, it's a question of a balance between principle and politics in the Congress. There are many people, of course, who act on principle. Principle is often affected by domestic politics.
Q One last question on the NAS study. I know that the Transportation Department is prohibited from spending their money, but don't you have a budget for your domestic policy staff from which you could draw funds from so they could study this while you wait for whatever Congress is going to do on --
MR. FLEISCHER: This study should be reviewed and reviewed properly. And to review a National Academy of Science study on raising auto standards for cars, that should be done by the agency of jurisdiction. There should be no need to have an end-around. It should be done by the Department of Transportation.
Q But his point is correct, isn't it? There's nothing that prohibits your domestic policy staff from examining.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know, again, whether the domestic policy staff has adequate resources that Transportation would have, whether they have the expertise that the Department of Transportation has. Transportation has hundreds of people who are --
Q You have people detailed over here from Transportation. It's easy.
MR. FLEISCHER: All these points are ways to do an end-around a congressional prohibition that should not exist. Wouldn't it be easier for Congress this week to send the President legislation that he could sign to end the prohibition? If Congress is dedicated to helping conserve energy and increase gas mileage standards, end the prohibition. Let the administration get to work.
Q Ari, why couldn't this be done through the NEC? The NEC coordinates all agencies.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again it's the same question. It's best done by the Department of Transportation. That's where the experts are.
Q -- and you can't do it that way, then why don't you find another way to do it?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I've never ruled out that the administration won't pursue this through whatever means are possible. But, again, the question is, why is the Congress tying the administration's hands and forcing it to even examine whether or not there are alternative ways to get the job done.
Q Are your hands really tied? It sounds like there are other means of doing this.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're surmising that it can be done here, without the experts from the Department of Transportation. I'm not saying that it can be. The Department of Transportation, as you can imagine, has the experts necessary to study this, and that's the place that the study should be done.
Q You need a member of Congress to introduce something along these lines. Have you talked to any members of Congress? Do you have a prospect in mind? Has anybody stepped forward to do what you need them to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll check with Congressional Affairs and see if we can't give you some names. I don't know. I'll check with Congressional.
Q Are you sure you're not using this prohibition just to punt this issue down the road about two months?
MR. FLEISCHER: If we were using the prohibition to do that, why would Secretary Mineta have written to Congress a month ago asking them to remove the prohibition? Again, the burden falls on Congress. It's Congress who enacted the prohibition. Congress sent it; President Clinton signed it. There's a prohibition that binds President Bush, that ties his hands.
On the one hand, it's hard to say to the administration, here's an important National Academy of Science study, do something with it; and at the same time, say to the administration, we don't want you to do anything with that study.
Q On a range of social issues, from the stem cell debate to sex education, critics of the President are basically suggesting that they have science on their side, and the President or the conservatives have just politics or religion on their side. How do you think the President is going to respond to that sort of an argument?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that it's best to apply both science and principle to all matters that come before the government. And that's reflective of the actions that his administration has taken.
Q Well, for example, last week when we had the controversy about the effectiveness of condoms, and Congressman McDermott was suggesting that somehow -- were Galileo and the people who suggested that condoms weren't always effective in preventing venereal disease were the Catholic Church. Is there going to be an effort on the part of the White House to make the scientific -- to continue to make the scientific case for, whether it's stem cell research or abstinence only sex education, that there is a scientific debate here and not just a political one?
MR. FLEISCHER: True, of course.