For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
April 24, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
12:19 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have four
nominations to announce today. The President intends to
nominate Richard Henry Jones to be Ambassador to the State of
Kuwait. The President intends to nominate James G. Roche to
be Secretary of the Air Force. The President intends to
nominate Thomas White to be Secretary of the Army. The
President intends to nominate Gordon England to be Secretary of the
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q What did the President tell the leaders?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President made the case that, number one, it's very important that we come to an agreement on the budget because of the state of the economy, the worsening state of the economy, and his desire to make certain that American people get tax relief so that consumers can be protected in this difficult economic time. He urged them to move as quickly as is possible, and is pleased with the action and the pace of Congress up to this point.
Now, the House and the Senate will meet and we will await their action, but it's increasingly clear that tax relief will soon be on the way.
Q Does he really think that that's going to put the economy back in stride again?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the more you look at some of the private sector forecasts, what they anticipate growth to be at the later part of the year. Much of their forecasting is, indeed, based on an assumption that Congress will cut taxes, which is one of the reasons that the private sector does believe there will be an uptake at the end of the year. So, failure to get it done would clearly be detrimental to the economy and to the consumer.
Q Ari, even though it has not been officially announced as yet, it now appears that Taiwan will not be getting the four Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. And despite the rhetoric to the contrary, China must be pleased of this. Because of that, have there been any new overtures about getting the EP3 released? And is the President going to announce, or has he announced, the resumption of the surveillance flights?
MR. FLEISCHER: On that topic, I have nothing new to report. We continue to have discussions with China, but there is nothing -- no new developments, nothing new I can report.
Q Ari, in the meeting today, was there a negotiation or discussion with the Republican leaders about how large the tax cut should be?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, and the President made the case that it should be as large as possible, as close to $1.6 trillion as possible.
Q But they all know that. So, I mean, did he give any kind of indication that he would go lower than that if he had to, or what did he tell them that was new about the tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: His message was that he -- that the American people should get a tax cut as large as possible, as close to $1.6 trillion as possible. And the President pointed out to the members of Congress that the smaller the tax cut, the more money will be on the table in Washington where it will be spent.
Q Just to follow up on Taiwan, how important a factor are China's missile deployments along the coast as a factor in considering what kinds of weapons to sell?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, when the President made his decision on providing defensive weapons to Taiwan, it was based on his assessment and the assessment of his national security team about the threat that is posed to Taiwan by China. And that includes all the military operations of China, including the missiles that are located across the strait. That certainly was a factor.
Q Are the missiles in particular the biggest concern?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not prepared to give an indication, in a linear sense, which came first -- which concern came first. But suffice it to say that under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States has a responsibility to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, as indicated by their needs. Their needs are defined by the threat posed against them.
Q Let me ask you a little differently, if I may. What could the Chinese do, in future deployments, to affect U.S. decisions about weapons sales to Taiwan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Secure peaceful resolution of all differences between China and Taiwan. And that would include lessening the military presence that China has against Taiwan. China has reserved the right, as they say it, to use force. And that indicates a certain level of threat against Taiwan.
Q Ari, you just spoke of this package, again, as a defensive package. Are you getting defensive on this issue, or are these really, truly defensive-only weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, actually I was just looking at the wire stories, and there's a story on one of the wires about -- quoting a group of military analysts, and analyzing the sale, and it's their words, as well. I'm describing it the way it is. It is a package to help Taiwan provide for its defense. So, accurate description.
Q You obviously know the Chinese are very sharply differed with you, especially on the submarines.
MR. FLEISCHER: We differ.
Q Can you elaborate what's in the full package -- what is in the package, since you haven't said that yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Under what the President has advised on the Taiwanese, these aren't the complete details, but the United States will be providing up to eight diesel submarines, four Kidd-class destroyers, 12 P-3s. There's a series of other items. That's the heart of the package.
Q Ari, do you have a time limit for how long the Taiwanese have to decide what they want and what they can afford to buy?
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to talk specifically to DOD if there's an actual date of a time line, but now this is an offering of what the United States will make available to Taiwan. Taiwan must now make up its own -- make its own determinations about which of these items they want to proceed and purchase. And that will be an ongoing, unofficial dialogue.
Q How do you handle the submarine question? Isn't that problematic because we don't actually make those submarines, but we're offering to sell them submarines? Where do we get them?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the beginning of the process again, and obviously, the United States would not have indicated that they would be available to provide to Taiwan if we didn't believe that we had the means to secure their production. And that's an operational fact of how a sale will take place. The United States is confident that's an addressable point.
Q Can you shed any light on the operational details of how we would get subs to them that we don't now make?
MR. FLEISCHER: Through normal contracting procedures and production procedures.
Q So we would start out fresh on some production line, is that the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, that's an operational detail about a sale of an item. So I think we need to first hear back from the Taiwanese about which items they're prepared to buy, and then really that becomes a production, procurement issue.
Q As a formality -- has China been informed -- as a formality?
MR. FLEISCHER: This decision is -- inform to Taiwan, and that's the level of communication.
Q So it has not been informed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think they've heard about it. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, they've raised serious concern about it. So is this administration concerned as well, but this decision, even though you say it's separate from the standoff with Beijing over the surveillance plane, could make relations even tenser than they are now?
MR.FLEISCHER: Kelly, the President believes very strongly that the best way to promote peace and stability is to make certain that Taiwan has the means necessary to secure its defense needs. And this decision was made on the President's determination on how best to secure the peace and to provide Taiwan with the means necessary to defend itself. In that sense, it's a stabilizing action.
Q Do you care at all about China's reaction to the arms sale?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the United States has a longstanding commitment to Taiwan under the Taiwan Relations Act to help provide the means necessary to defend itself.
Q But do you care at all about China's reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, relations with China are at all times very important. Relations with Taiwan are important. Under the Taiwan Relations Act, the United States took the action the President deemed was the proper and appropriate reaction to take. And when you look at the reaction coming from Capitol Hill, for example -- I think you just heard Majority Leader Lott say this was a prudent course of action, you've heard Congressman DeLay, you've heard many other Republican members, Democrat members express support for the President's determinations.
I remind you, this is an annual process, and the President made his decisions based on what he viewed as Taiwan's legitimate defense needs, and I think he's taken the action he deemed proper.
Q Ari, on Aegis, is this deferral -- has a decision been deferred in a time-specific way, which is to say, will it be considered again next year, or will it simply be dictated by how you all deem and others deem the security environment there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dave, the way the process works, is, Taiwan always has the right to come back and request and suggest the United States will again take that into consideration. It will be part of, as I indicated, an ongoing, unofficial dialogue.
Q Well, could that happen before next year?
MR. FLEISCHER: My advice to you is to focus on the announcements as it's been made and that's the course of action that the President anticipates will be pursued.
Q Well, have you heard from China yet?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, as I indicated this morning, it's best to address that question directly to the State Department.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I'm not aware of any direct White House --
Q You made the decision here.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any direct White House contacts.
Q Ari, on Lebanon, could you give us a feel on how the Lebanese meeting went, and also Shimon Peres is supposed to have some secret meetings this weekend with Palestinian Authority members. Can you give us any more detail on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, ask me that about Peres again? I was --
Q There's a report that Peres is coming in this weekend for meetings with officials from the Palestinian Authority.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. I don't have anything for you on Peres. Let me see if there's anything on that. The President today welcomed the Lebanese Prime Minister to the White House. They had a very constructive meeting, reflecting the close bilateral relationships that exist between our two countries. They discussed the Prime Minister's efforts to address Lebanon's economic situation.
The President emphasized his support for the Prime Minister's reform efforts for an economically strong Lebanon. The President believes that an economically strong Lebanon will be a force for stability and peace in the Middle East. And they're going to stay in close contact on that.
They also agreed on the need for all parties in the region to avoid escalation of the violence and to work for an end -- to end the violence and restore calm.
Q Did the President express any concern about Syria's control of Lebanon?
MR. FLEISCHER: That really is all the readout I have at this point. Let me see if I can give you any more later.
Q Ari, when you say the President was looking for as much tax relief as possible -- I don't know if those were your exact words -- when he's talking to these people who are on the Conference Committee or controlling it, does that mean that he believes that his tax cut of $1.6 trillion could pass the Senate next time around, even though it didn't the previous time?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say his $1.6-trillion tax cut could pass the House next time around. Whether it could pass the Senate or not is a different matter. And, clearly, every time you go into a conference, the Senate has one number, the House has another number, you typically end up somewhere -- somewhere in between the two numbers. And that's what the conference will be about.
The conference will be about not only the tax number, of course, but it will also be a reflection of how much more money this government is going to spend on bigger government. And it is a crucial part of this conference. And the members of Congress who are aware of it, and the President's concerns, given the vast increases in government spending for the last three years, that it not be added to in any further ways above and beyond what is necessary to fund our vital priorities.
Q And, also, was education mentioned during this meeting? Did he discuss possible compromises on that, maybe more money for --
MR. FLEISCHER: Education was discussed, but the purpose of the meeting was not to resolve the education negotiations that are underway on the Hill. That's being pursued by a different group of lawmakers.
Q Ari, the President is going to be attending, I think, tomorrow his first fundraiser as the President. Given his message and intention of being a bipartisan President and setting a new tone, it's not even 100 days yet. Is it a little too early to be doing this for the next election?
MR. FLEISCHER: I thought you were going to ask me if, in the spirit of bipartisanship, he was going to go to Democrat fundraisers. (Laughter.)
Q It was --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to help raise money for people who will support his agenda of improving education by voting for more accountability, he will allow people to keep more money in their pockets for tax relief and he won't go on spending sprees. That's why the President participates in these events; it's how he can get his agenda enacted into law.
I discussed with the President this morning the coverage decision. The President wants to be certain that you have access to the event. It will be open to pool coverage.
Q Would he rule out doing a fundraiser for a Democrat who is particularly supportive of his policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not discussed it with him. (Laughter.) And we will leave that tantalizingly opened.
Q Ari, on flooding, yesterday the FEMA Director Joe Allbaugh said it's not fair for the American taxpayer to have to keep time in and time out, paying for the rebuilding of these areas that are repeatedly struck by floods. Can you elaborate on that? What is the position of the administration on these areas that are repeatedly hit by floods?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are laws in place to help protect people who happen to suffer from natural disasters. And as FEMA Director Allbaugh also indicated, that there has been a series of steps taken by residents in the community to protect themselves, to prevent their regions from being flooded once again. There have been a series of floods along the Mississippi River in the past, and it's a real sign of progress being made by local officials if they have put resources into their local communities to prevent similar repeats.
Many of these communities face choices about the actions they can take, and I think that's a reflection of what the Director was talking about.
Q Administration officials tell us that the FEMA Director and the administration would like to pressure some communities, such as Davenport, to take further steps to protect themselves. Can you tell us how you might pressure these communities and what your message is to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was no discussion in the meeting that Director Allbaugh had with the President about pressuring communities, Davenport included.
Q But what is your message?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was no discussion about that in the meeting with the President?
Q Then, what is your message to communities like Davenport that have decided not to build the flood wall?
MR. FLEISCHER: There was no discussion of that in the meeting with the President. The discussion with the President was about how to protect communities. So I'm not aware of the premise of your question. It was not a topic of the Director's meeting with the President.
Q Do you have a message, then, for communities such as Davenport that have not done as much as others?
MR. FLEISCHER: The message is, as Director Allbaugh indicated yesterday, that the United States government stands by and stands ready to help if necessary.
Q Ari, this morning, on Argentina, you said the Argentinean government hasn't asked the U.S. for bilateral economic assistance. Have they asked for U.S. support for any expanded, multilateral assistance?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Let me take a look at that and see if there's anything on multilat.
Q Ari, do you have any comment on the election of the new Japanese leader, Junichiro Koizumi, who calls for the radical reform of the Japanese economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, he's been elected the leader of his party. There remains another step until he becomes the prime minister. The United States will, at all times, look forward to working closely with Japan. Japan is a very important ally to this country, and whoever the Japanese select to lead their government, the President will look forward to working closely with.
Q Is the President willing to meet with him in the near future?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you advised, of course.
Q Ari, does the President plan to exempt the Navy from federal noise pollution laws in order to conduct training exercises on Vieques?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything for you on that yet, so let me see if we have anything new and let me talk with DOD about that as well.
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, it's not your moment yet. Let me come to you. A new approach. (Laughter.) But we will come to you.
Q Thank you very much. I have a two-part question, Ari.
Q Can I follow up?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, sir. How many parts?
Q Just one. Has the President issued, or will he issue, any kind of guidelines for his Cabinet members on how -- what kind of fundraising they can do, how they can use their offices and government facilities to do that fundraising, or any parameters for his own activities in that regard?
MR. FLEISCHER: The guidelines will be, the President does believe it's appropriate for Cabinet members to help elect people who will pass and will promote -- pass the President's agenda. Any actions will be taken, as the President indicated on day one of this administration, if you will recall, at an event in the East Room, the President talked about the importance of all members of this administration following all ethics laws and all actions they take should be in accordance with those laws.
Q Does he believe the activities by Secretary Thompson where the -- fundraisers were brought to his office for a legislative update was the proper use?
MR. FLEISCHER: Secretary of HHS received word from his counsel that his actions were in accordance with all the provisions of the law.
Q Ari, can I follow up on that? What about inviting donors into the White House to have coffee sessions, and also what about use of the Lincoln Bedroom? Has the President thought about those at all? MR. FLEISCHER: The President said repeatedly last year that if he were elected, he would bring honor and integrity to the White House, and I think you'll be able to judge all his actions in that context. Any actions that the President takes to support members of his party who are running for office - and he will take actions to support members of his party who run for office -- will be done in accordance with the laws and in accordance with this high standard of ethics.
Q But has he, then, ruled out White House coffees and ruled out inviting donors to use the Lincoln Bedroom?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will, of course, have his family, will have his friends to the White House. But he will not make the White House a program that is available to contributors in return for contributions. At no times would the President ever take such a step.
Q Has he had guests in the Lincoln Bedroom?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's probably had his -- I don't know about the Lincoln Bedroom, John. I know the President has had family and friends to the White House, as he did in the Governor's mansion, as he did in his private homes.
Q Ari, on electoral reform, the House begins hearings tomorrow. But a lot of the states say that the only way anything's going to get done is if they get some money to improve their systems. But since there's no money in the budget, how do you anticipate that there's going to be reforms in the electoral system?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, not all reforms require money. But those reforms that require money that the President deems meritorious, he'll be open-minded about. For example, the question of making certain that communities don't have old machines, that the machines are able to work and be operative. I think the President is prepared to listen to good ideas and to work with Congress on matters pertaining to that.
But questions about military voters not being allowed to vote, having their absentee ballots thrown out, that's not a question of funding, that's a question of protecting the rights of men and women who serve in the military, to have their votes counted.
The questions of felons voting, for example, in contravention to state law. That's an enforcement matter that the President believes needs to be looked at. The matter of networks calling elections before the elections are over, and therefore discouraging voters from turning out because they think it's already done, that the election has been decided, so why should they vote. That certainly doesn't require a penny of federal money. That requires good judgment and discretion by the networks.
So the President is determined to work with the Congress to secure elections reforms. He'll be open-minded about the question of funding. But not everything requires funding to get solutions.
Q How do you plan to proceed at this point? I mean, is he going to actively pursue any of this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, there is a National Commission on Federal Election Reform that is looking at a number of these issues. It's a blue ribbon group. It's comprised of a group of very senior leaders and statesmen: Howard Baker, Lloyd Cutler, for example. They're working on it. And Congress, even though it doesn't have a special committee, certainly still can make progress on election reform. You don't need to always have a new committee to get things done in Congress. So the President's position is very clear, and the President hopes that progress can be made on election reform issues. He thinks it's important.
Q Ari, can we expect to hear him speak out directly on this? As you were asked this morning, a number of Democrats have sent a letter asking the President to show guidance and leadership on this. The White House wrote back and said, we'll have further details for you later.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, the President --
Q This was April 4th; they still haven't heard those details.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, no, the President has spoken out about it. The President has spoken about it publicly. He's spoken about it in meetings with members of Congress from both parties, in the Cabinet Room, located right down the hall. So the President has spoken out. He'll continue to speak out. And his position is very clear. Congress also has responsibilities to act, and to act in a way that looks forward, so that we can solve some of the problems that were brought to people's attention as a result of the last election.
Q Since he knows firsthand about this issue, does he plan any personal initiatives on it himself, as it again goes before the Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President has personally discussed his initiatives and his desires with members of Congress. He has spoken with the Speaker about it and he has spoken with members of the Congress about it, in meetings, as I indicated. He's taken your questions on it. He's been very clear about it.
Q I have a foreign question. The Peruvian government is disputing the version put out by the American government on the shooting down of the civilian plane. They claim that they did follow guidelines. I know there is an investigation going on by both governments. Who is keeping the President informed of how the investigation is going?
MR. FLEISCHER: His national security team, which is coordinated, of course, as you know, by Condoleezza Rice.
Mr. Kinsolving, it's Kinsolving time. (Laughter.)
Q Thank you. Regarding -- page one of The New York Times this morning quotes an unidentified senior administration official as saying, in connection with the no Aegis destroyers decision, there was no link to the EP3E incident. And my question, you would never make such an unbelievable statement, would you Ari? (Laughter.) And since the mainline Chinese still hold our $80-million plane, why don't we give free China what it needs most, to deter those U.S. plane thieves and kidnappers? (Laughter.) And I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, Mr. Kinsolving, every morning I pick up those papers and I just scratch my head and wonder who those background people are.
Q Well, it's not you? It wasn't you, was it?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- unnamed officials, your guess is as good as mine.
Q Three years ago Congress passed, and President Clinton signed, public law 105-154, which requires -- and this is a quote -- any reference in a law, map, regulation, document, paper or other record of the United States that the Washington National Airport shall hereafter be known and designated as the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. And my question is, what is the President's reaction to Democrats in Congress or on local boards who are refusing to obey this law on the Metro, and what does he plan to do about it in his constitutional obligation "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed"? Even Connie Morella is opposed to that rule.
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, the President thinks very, very highly of Ronald Reagan.
Q What's he going to do about it, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe this is one of those issues that you're going to see will be addressed and will be worked out by the Congress. They have the purview over this at this time and I do not imagine this will be an issue which pits people against each other. I think it would be unfortunate if people were pitted against each other at a time when people should be honoring Ronald Reagan.
Q Thank you, Ari, for that time.
Q Ari, there is a Dutch company, ASML, would like to take over Silicon Valley Graphics, which is a U.S. company. There are national security implications. A Treasury committee has forwarded a recommendation. Apparently, only President Bush can make the call on whether this transaction will go through.
I'm wondering, can you give us an idea of what's in that recommendation? And, also, when will the President make that decision? And the follow-up question is, did Andy Grove of Intel lobby the President in favor of this acquisition?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take your question and try to get back to you. I don't know about that.
Q A poll out this morning shows that people give the President fairly high approval ratings, but also shows that they question his priorities. What is the view in the White House of what impact that has, what's your sense of that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Jim, the White House is very pleased with the public perceptions of the President. The President has, since a very close election, built a governing coalition, a bipartisan one that has won the praise of most Americans, particularly independent Americans and, obviously, the Republican Party and many, many Democrats, as well.
As far as his priorities, they certainly do seem to be the priorities of the American people, protecting and improving education and providing tax relief for the American people. Those are his top two priorities. Those also seem to be shared by the American people.
Q It's -- tax cuts, if I remember correctly, is seventh down on the list, while it would no doubt be in the top three for the President. Does that make it more difficult for the President to sell his policies to Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The President does what he does because he thinks it's the right thing to do. And that's the basis on which he makes his decisions. It's called leadership, and that's why he has proposed it. I think often when you look at these surveys, depending how the questions are asked, and depending on the order in which they're in, you can get many different reactions to questions about priorities.
Q Do you have any more information on whether the Germans or the Dutch, who produced the subs, were consulted on the Taiwan arms sale?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of, again, who was going to be building submarines, or providing plans for submarines, those are part of procurement decisions, contracting decisions, that will get made down the road. It would not be appropriate to make those decisions or consultations prior to the announcement to the Taiwanese of the weapons that we were prepared to sell to them.
Q How are you trying to harness public opinion on the state of the economy, to try to convince Congress to pass the largest-possible tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, members of Congress hear it themselves. It's the best way for members of Congress to hear public opinion, is to go home, and they do. And when they're home, they've heard from their constituents about the state of the economy, and how soft it is, particularly in the high-tech sector, and the manufacturing sector.
The biggest area of strength that remains in the economy comes from the consumer sector. And that's why the economists believe that securing tax relief is vital to making certain that the consumer sector doesn't follow the manufacturing or the high tech sector into decline. So that's a message that member of Congress receive when they go home.
Q Hi. About U.S. submarine collision case -- the Japanese families of victims are not satisfied with the Navy decision; they do not send to the courtmartial. The families demand a full investigation. Do you think that the Navy's decision may damage to U.S.-Japan relationship?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President remains very, very interested in making sure that relations with Japan remain strong. As you know, he has expressed his condolences to the families who were affected by the accident involving the Greeneville. And he believes that relations will remain strong with Japan.
Q Senator Lott appeared very optimistic that a tax bill could be enacted by the 4th of July recess. I just wondered if the White House shares that confidence that you will get both a long-term cut and a retroactive cut by then?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly the timing is up to the Congress. The President cannot convene a conference committee. The President cannot schedule a vote on the floor. So any statements made, of course, by Senator Lott, are welcome, as far as the timing.
But what's so important in providing tax relief to the American people is that it be done soon, because of the economic downturn that we're in. The ability to get money into people's hands now is terribly important to prevent the economy from getting into worse shape later. And that's why prompt congressional action is helpful to the economy and to the consumers.
Q What's your view of making -- just while we're on taxes -- capital gains part of the tax cut that's retroactive? Senator Lott has broached that idea a couple times.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's view remains unchanged, Keith. The President views this tax bill as a bill that should first be focused on people, not on other items, not on business items, as he said before. That's the President's view.
END 12:48 P.M. EDT