For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 4, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
1:00 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon; a few announcements and then, to keep every captivated, we'll conclude today's briefing with a peak at the week ahead.
President Bush today announced his intention to nominate Matt Fong, of California, to serve as Under Secretary of the Army. And President Bush today announced his intention to nominate Ronald Weiser to be Ambassador of the United States to the Slovak Republic.
With that, I'm pleased to take questions.
Q Ari, could you elaborate a little more on what you said this morning on the economic figures? You suggested that the unemployment report was -- there was data that might suggest why there would be a downward revision in the GDP. But the unemployment report was for April, which is not first quarter, it's second quarter. What data were you referring to?
MR. FLEISCHER: Tom, the President continues to be concerned about the strength of the economy and the slowness in the economy. He believes that the best way to protect the economy and get it moving again is for Congress to take prompt action to pass the budget and to put his tax cut into place, especially in a retroactive fashion.
What I'm referring to specifically, there have been a series of private sector studies about GDP rate for the first quarter that have indicated that they believe growth may be lower than 2 percent points. It's just an ongoing expression of the President's concern.
Q But there was nothing in this particular report that raised that alarm, was there?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's just ongoing worries that the President has expressed since you've heard him talk about it since last fall. Vice President Cheney has expressed his concern about the strength of the economy. And there are recent private sector analyses of GDP for the first quarter that add credence to what I said.
Q Because there were some revisions from March in the unemployment report that actually went the other way, they were better than the first version.
Q What are your concerns about the U.S. losing its seat on the U.N. Human Rights Commission and why do you think it happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, it's a disappointment that it took place. Nevertheless, it will not stop this President from speaking out about the importance of human rights around the world -- just as he did last night, when the President gave a speech about religious persecution around the world, particularly in Sudan.
So it's a disappointment, but it will not stop this President or this country from speaking out about human rights.
Q But why do you think it happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not in a position to evaluate other nation's votes. I just will note that it's -- I think that a human rights commission that doesn't have the United States and that does have Sudan and Libya on it is not going to be widely perceived as a most effective human rights commission. It's a little odd to have the Sudan on there.
Q Is it a concern at all, though, that Europe wasn't there for us, and that it may in some sense be a backlash for his position on Kyoto or sort of the aggressive push for missile defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: Campbell, I'm just not going to speculate about the reasons why nations vote as they do. I just do note the fact that it's a human rights commission that has Libya and Sudan, both of which are nations that were condemned by this human rights commission. And now they serve on it. It's a rather odd make up.
Q Based on that, Ari, is the President concerned that that situation could trigger anger among people in this country, at the United Nations, look at it as something as a fraud, and would they be justified in feeling that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President hopes that Americans will channel their thoughts on this matter to making certain that the United States sounds the alarm for human rights around the world. And that is the spirit of this country. That's how the President approaches it.
Q Does it lesson the position of the United Nations? I mean, should people feel less respectful of the United Nations because they have a human rights commission with Libya and Sudan? MR. FLEISCHER: That's not the President's point of view. Having said that about the United Nations, as I mentioned a couple times now, as for this particular commission, a commission that purports to speak out on behalf of human rights, that now has Sudan and Libya as members, and doesn't have the United States as members, I think may not be perceived as the most powerful advocate of human rights in the world.
Q Is the administration concerned that this will give fuel to the people who have criticized the U.N., many of them members of the President's own party, and perhaps further impede our paying of dues, our full participation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President has not given that indication.
Q That was part of my question, was dues. The other part was, did Sudan directly replace the United States on this --
MR. FLEISCHER: They serve on there. I didn't say they replaced us.
Q There were some reports, though, that they were chosen to replace the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have that.
Q Ari, on that, doesn't the President realize this as a clear demonstration of the moral bankruptcy of the U.N., or can you think of any justification for this U.N. decision? And I have a two-part question.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that question came up, and I've shared with you the White House's reflections about what this means for the commission, itself.
And you're not standing today. (Laughter.)
Q Well, there were a lot of seats here. (Laughter.) I remember your telling us earlier this year that the President telephoned Jesse Jackson to say, you are in my prayers. And my question is, does this prayerful concern include the President's hope and expectation that the Reverend Mr. Jackson will pay his mistress child support, rather than having her take him into court in five days? Doesn't he believe he should do this, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question that you need to the parties involved, not to the White House.
Q Well, what does the President think? That's what I wanted to know.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it's a question you should address to the parties involved and not the White House.
Q Ari, on the economy, when you were discussing evidence of slowing in the economy a couple of months back and asking the Congress to move more quickly on the tax cuts, you were saying that contrary to what some people thought might happen, the Treasury was actually running ahead of receipts from last year. Is that still the case? Has the slowness in the economy, and as you say, perhaps even a downward revision --
MR. FLEISCHER: Receipts are coming in generally on a line, what was projected for this year. I'd have to take a careful look at the exact analysis. The last two weeks of February are typically the most important weeks to look at in terms of revenues coming in. And they did come in, in a fashion that was projected.
Q If you're coming in on a line projection now, and you were $30 billion ahead early on, as they come --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that was $30 billion ahead of last year's collections, given the weakness in the economy. But you may want to check with Treasury on the daily fluctuations. There's a daily report that comes out of Treasury, or a weekly report, I think. There's a daily report that's summarized and a monthly report that's available from Treasury.
Q Ari, missile defense recently, and Kyoto before that, has some U.S. allies worried that this is an "our way or no way administration" with a unilateralist foreign policy. What do you say to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's precisely why the President made a series of phone calls to European leaders the day before he announced the missile defense speech. In addition, he spoke to the new Prime Minister of Japan the weekend before his speech. And it's a pledge that the President has made to our allies, that he will move in a fashion that is consultative, not unilateral. And I also offer you previous meetings the President had with a series of leaders -- Prime Minister Blair, Chancellor Schroeder -- where the President discussed, in a very constructive fashion, his thoughts about missile defense.
Q So you're saying it's not unilateralist?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is not unilateralist.
Q Back to the U.N. Human Rights Commission. The United States sponsored a resolution condemning China on human rights this spring, as it often had. Do we think that China played a role in getting other countries to vote us off?
MR. FLEISCHER: I couldn't tell you.
Q There are a lot of people reporting trouble accessing the White House website today. Some Internet security firms have reported that Chinese nationals, hackers were planning to use today for concentrated attacks on that website. Are we having a -- attack on the White House websites, or any other kind of hacker attacks in the last couple of days? Have they had any success --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me get back to you on that. I've gotten some preliminary information about this matter, just in terms of whether the website or any portions of it may not have been up. I have no idea about the source of it. But let me try to get back to you on it.
Q But are you saying, then, that you are aware of a problem, that the White House has been looking into it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me get back to you. I've got some preliminary information about whether a portion of our website was up this morning. And I want to evaluate that information.
Q Ari, Senator Grassley today said there are not enough votes in the Finance Committee to support the 33 percent top rate in the tax cut the President wants. Is the White House at all flexible on the top rate, particularly since it doesn't look like you have the votes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, the top rate was lowered from 39 percent to 33 percent by the House of Representatives, and there are many senators who do want to lower the top rate from 39 percent to 33 percent. Chairman Grassley has a very difficult job. The Finance Committee is, of course, an evenly-divided committee and he's going to work hard and do his best to get the tax package as close to the President's plan as is possible.
So the President's approach is to continue to work constructively with all people who are dedicated to cutting taxes, and to have a package emerge from the Senate that is as close as possible to the President's original proposal. And then he looks forward to working in the House-Senate Conference to have the final package come out in a way that is even closer to the President's proposal.
Q There seems to be a consensus growing on 35 percent rate. The President has said he doesn't want the average taxpayer to be paying more than 33 percent of their income for taxes. So is that within the ballpark?
MR. FLEISCHER: They haven't even passed the budget resolution yet, so I'm not sure the consenses have been formed on the exact, final decisions in the tax bill. So I think it's a little early.
Q Speaking of the budget resolution, is the administration concerned that the votes might not be there when the House finally does get around to voting on it on Tuesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I don't think that's in the cards.
Q There was a lot of impetus and talk about the need to pass it last night, and then when there was a glitch and it wasn't passed, was that need misplaced?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've been -- I was on the Hill for a little while and we've all seen glitches before. The conference agreement has been signed, so now it's just a question of presenting it to the full House and to the full Senate for votes. No phone numbers on the pages this year.
Q Ari, State and DOD are reviewing U.S.-China policy. What about USTR? Is there support from the White House for a USTR review of its policies?
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to check with USTR specifically to see what actions or what reviews they may or may not be taking.
Q But would the President support such a review?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, as part of the national security team's recommendation to him, which he's accepted, was to have State, DOD take a look, case-by-case, at the China policies. And any other agencies that may want to take a look at their policies are doing so with Condoleezza Rice.
Q Is it policies or a review of contacts?
MR. FLEISCHER: Contacts.
Q So would you state what it is that the President ordered, so we'll be clear about what he ordered -- the White House, State, Defense to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: To take a look at the contacts the various agencies are engaged with, with China, and to make a determination on a case-by-case basis about which of those contacts are the most positive and productive for the United States and which may not be.
The President, himself, shared his thoughts with you about that yesterday in the Cabinet Room.
Q Ari, on the North Korea missile test hold, anything today on that? North Korea is extending its missile test ban --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, and that would be a constructive step if that is, indeed, the policy that is carried about by North Korea. The United States would view that as constructive.
Q Ari, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill seem to growing increasingly strong in their criticism of what they call a lack of true partisanship at the White House. I was wondering --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lack of true partisanship?
Q True bipartisanship. (Laughter.) Which leads to the second part of the question. I wanted to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep going. (Laughter.)
Q -- hear your analysis of the lack of true bipartisanship on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, with the Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, and then your response to what they're saying about the White House.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, President Bush is determined to help change the tone in Washington. Evidence of that, beyond the actions he's taken throughout the year in his carrying out of his duties with members of Congress and the frequent meetings he's had with members of Congress in both parties, can be found in the lunch he hosted Monday, where the President was very gratified by the number of Democrats who accepted his invitation and came to the White House to join him.
So the President will continue to reach out to work with the Congress in a bipartisan fashion. And the proof can be found in many of the votes that have taken place. Of course, the budget resolution, passed in the Senate in a highly unusual bipartisan vote, 65-36, very unusual. And that's a reflection of the powerful bipartisan ideas that the President presented to Congress that earned those votes.
It's also a reflection of the manner in which the President works with Democrats who are willing to work with him. So he'll continue in that effort. The education bill is another example of a powerful act of bipartisanship that's moving forward.
The President also recognizes there are going to be times when some Democrats just choose not to vote for his policies. That is always their right, and he will be respectful of them. But throughout this process, what you will see emerging are bipartisan majorities that are formed in various numbers on different issues, all of which add up to a Washington, D.C. culture that is getting things done. And the President will be pleased to work with people who form those bipartisan majorities and respect the rights of those who vote outside those bipartisan majorities.
Q If those votes come from a few moderate or conservative Democrats, and the President stiffs the Democratic leadership, does that count as bipartisanship?
MR. FLEISCHER: You say, stiffs the Democrat leadership. I think that in a democracy the only thing you can ask for is for civility and for someone's ideas to be presented, where each individual member of Congress, whether a liberal a moderate or conservative, can express themselves through their votes. And the President will be very pleased to create bipartisan coalitions in a nation that is governed by majority rule, so that he can sign bills into law, which is what the country wants.
Q I think that's a yes. Does that mean that he is not going to really work with the Democratic leadership in forming these policies, as much as searching for votes with the moderate --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course he will work with the Democrat leadership. But in the end, the process always comes down to a question of getting things done for the American people. And to get things done for the American people, what counts is the ability to assemble a bipartisan coalition that is called a majority. And once that's done, then you can anticipate several signing ceremonies here at the White House, which I think the American people will very well receive, and will be grateful to the people who voted yes.
Q But along those lines, has he found, or is he finding, a group of Democrats with whom he feels comfortable making regular contacts? I mean, Senator Breaux has been here a number of times, and the other day in the photo opportunity I think he mentioned a few others. Is he going to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course on Wednesday of this week, the President -- I think -- yes, Wednesday of this week, the President hosted a bipartisan meeting here at the White House to thank the people who helped make the successful completion of the budget resolution conference agreement a reality. And that included seven Democrats. Congressman Condit was down here, Senator Torricelli was down here, Senator Nelson, Senator Breaux.
So the President is going to continue to work with members of Congress, of both parties, to assemble governing, bipartisan coalitions. On some issues, there are going to be many votes. On some issues, the votes may be narrower. The point remains in the end, the legislation gets signed into law, and that's what good government is all about.
Q Speaking of the search for bipartisanship, what do you make of the argument on the Hill over judicial nominations and how Republicans and Democrats will or will not cooperate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take that in half a second, let me come back, because I'm having fun with this.
On your question, also, about the votes, you may want to just do your own research, go back and take a look at several of the actual votes that took place. There have been a series of votes in the House of Representatives, for example, to abolish the death tax -- a huge bipartisan vote.
I think you're free to do the vote analysis of how many people voted with the President, how many did not, who they may be; on marriage penalty relief; on death tax relief; child credit. So there have already been a series of test cases and you can see who was falling within this new bipartisan governing majority and who was outside of it in a narrower minority.
Q While we're still on this, is it more important to the President to get a strong bipartisan vote than it is, say, to get his policies passed? I mean, is it more important to have a lot of Democrats on board than it is to get more tax cuts, say, for the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, it all begins with the power of ideas, and that's how the President approaches it. What's most important is for the power of the President's ideas, the issues on which he ran, to be enacted into law. And what creates bipartisanship in the first instance is those ideas.
You can work the phones, you can be as cordial and cooperative as you want to be, and often that is reciprocated by Democrats on the Hill. But if your ideas aren't bipartisan, it's hard to get bipartisan support. The President's ideas are powerful, and that's why they're attracting bipartisan support. Hence, the vote in the House to abolish the death tax; the vote in the House to double the child credit from $500 to $1,000; the power of the President's ideas on education reform.
The President certainly understands there may be some Democrats who, for whatever reasons -- liberal, ideological -- will just not join with him and this new governing bipartisan majority. He will respect them; that is their right. But it is the power of his ideas that are attracting so much powerful support.
Q But he's had to change those ideas in each case. They weren't so powerful that he could get them through just as they were. So I guess what I'm wondering is, I mean, would it be more important to him to maybe shave $100 billion off his tax cut and get a large vote in Congress, or to keep that and just win by one vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'll just watch different issues, issue by issue. Obviously, he had to make no changes whatsoever in the child credit, for example. So you can keep your eye on that and see how the votes develop. But it's a real sign of how Washington is changing, that these bipartisan majorities have been formed on legislation that the President is prepared to sign.
Jim had a question here.
Q In this search for bipartisanship, what is your judgment about what's happening on the Hill with regard to judicial nominations, and the argument by Democrats, the position the Democrats have taken with regard to the role of senators?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to be very respectful of the senatorial prerogative on advice and consent. And I said this morning I will get it to you this afternoon, the letter that Judge Gonzales has sent up to the Congress that expresses the President's desire to work with senators to make certain that his nominations for the judiciary are put through the Senate.
It's very important to have the judicial nominations go through. There are vacancies on the benches. Nobody wants to slow down the wheels of justice. And certainly, the President would not expect the Senate to do that. So this letter will make clear to you, the President intends to work closely, cooperatively with senators.
Q But does that mean that he will abide by the old policy Democrats claim was enforced before, that will allow the two home state senators to more or less exercise a veto over whether or not a judicial nomination --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me get you the letter and then you can evaluate that.
Q Back to the United Nations issue and the human rights issue. Is the Bush administration willing to look at its own human rights violations? For instance, our going against the United Nations issues on 23-hour lockups in prisons, et cetera?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, say that again?
Q In other words, we have violated some of the United Nations agreements on prisoner rights, et cetera. Are we willing to look at our own human rights --
MR. FLEISCHER: Can you be specific?
Q Twenty-three-hour lockups. I believe that that's in violation --
MR. FLEISCHER: Where?
Q Colorado, the maximum security prison in Colorado.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. And is there a U.N. case pending on this?
Q No. I don't know whether there's a U.N. case pending, but it's in violation of an agreement we've signed.
MR. FLEISCHER: If there is a U.N. case pending on it, bring it to my attention and I'll be happy to take it.
Q I have a question about commercialism reaching into areas that were previously off limits to commercialism. Alcatel, the French telecommunications firm, has procured the rights to Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech and they're running ads nationwide to use his speech to sell telephone equipment.
They've also procured the rights to Lou Gehrig's farewell speech in Yankee Stadium in 1939, to sell telecommunications equipment. And I knew the Yankees were here today and the radio announcers are required to say on a double play -- there is a Jiffy Lube double play, or on a home run, there's Coors Light -- the question is, does the President believe that there are any limits to commercialism in terms of where it can and cannot go?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are, of course, a series of laws that govern communications activities and I think that's a question that you need to address to the Federal Communications Commission.
Q -- the President's belief? For example, would he be offended by an oil ad on the backs of a Texas Ranger shirt?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the law needs to be followed within all the bounds of a free enterprise system.
Q Ari, what is the White House reaction to The Washington Times report today -- some fear Ashcroft adrift from conservative base, and The Times publishing of Ward Connerly's notation that racial preferences are enormously unpopular among most voters in California and Washington State, but Republican candidates in 1998 ran away from this issue. What's your reaction to that, Ari? Would you deny it?
MR. FLEISCHER: It reminds me of the people who said that Dick Cheney is not conservative enough. I mean, there are all kinds of ideas, all kinds of thoughts. The President has a very strong and powerful advocate for justice at the -- in the Attorney General.
Q Ari, could you expand a little bit about our policy toward Sudan? It seemed like last night the President broke a little ground on our policy, and I'd like to hear --
MR. FLEISCHER: He did. He did, and he did because the President is concerned about human rights, and particularly the religious persecution that has taken place in Sudan. The war in Sudan has cost an estimated 2 million lives. There are 4 million who have been displaced from their homes. It's a terrible tragedy, what has taken place in Sudan. People are being sold into slavery in Sudan in large and significant numbers. It's one of the worst human rights situations that's crying out for redressing justice.
And one of the reasons the President last night appointed the special humanitarian coordinator is to help bring more relief to the people who are suffering on the ground in Sudan, to coordinate the activities of the United States with various other bodies that are trying to bring relief to the people who need help. And to do so in the face of a difficult situation where the government is not always in the best, most reliable position to get the help to the people. And that's why he chose to speak out.
Q Can I ask you a somewhat oddball question, I acknowledge.
MR. FLEISCHER: It would be a first in this press room.
Q Yes, I know -- (laughter) -- while we were in that portion of the briefing -- (laughter) --
Q And I have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I encourage you all to leave early, to watch the helicopter.
Q I do not have a follow-up.
Q What do you make of the fact that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's son slipped into Japan on a false passport to go to Tokyo Disneyland? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's an issue that the Japanese are dealing with.
Q They've already dealt with it.
Q Ari, yesterday the Japanese Economics Minister, Takenaka, said that after -- said that during a meeting with the head of the CEA that the administration believes that the economic slowdown will be check-marked shaped. By that he meant, there will be a sharp downturn at the beginning, followed by steady, moderate growth going out. Is that the current thinking, because there's been debate about a V-shaped downturn --
MR. FLEISCHER: Or a U-shaped. Or a check-marked shape.
Q Is a check mark what the viewpoint is now?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the President, as I mentioned at the beginning, in response to the first question, is concerned about a slowdown in the economy. I don't think his crystal ball or anybody's crystal ball is precise enough to tell you whether it's going to be a check mark, a V or a U. The point that the President wants to emphasize is whether it is a check mark, a V or a U, it needs to go back up again. And the best way to make it go back up again is by the Congress taking action on his tax relief plan.
Q On a much lighter note, you can put your Yankees hat back on if you'd like. We see the President at these sporting events. He clearly has a good time. He's bringing the T-ball field to the White House, and they'll have the game over the weekend. What about behind the scenes? Is he a sports-page-first guy in the morning, and when he says he's in bed reading the briefing books, is he really watching Sportscenter? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is a sports fan. He enjoys sports. He's a good athlete, himself. And I think in that he finds a camaraderie with hundreds of millions of Americans. He does enjoy watching Baseball Tonight. He's been known to go back to the Residence and turn that on and get the latest scores, especially for the Rangers. He reads the sports pages. I would never, in a roomful of journalists, indicate to you the order in which he reads the paper. Of course, he reads the news section first, unless the sports scores are really good and newsworthy. (Laughter.)
Would you like the week ahead?
On Monday, the President will meet with the Premier of Bahrain in the Oval Office. He will participate in a photo opportunity with the multiple sclerosis mother and father of the year. And he will also make remarks to the council of America's 31st annual conference at the Department of State.
On Tuesday, the President will make remarks in a ceremony honoring the small business person of the year. He will make remarks at the electronic industries alliance dinner at Washington, D.C.
On Thursday, the President will participate in an event --
Q What happened to Wednesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: No public events scheduled at this point. That's subject to change.
And on Thursday, the President will participate in a photo opportunity
with the NCAA men's hockey champions.
And on Friday, the President will meet with the President of Nigeria in the Oval Office, and participate in a photo opportunity with the Potomac School first grade class. He will then depart for Camp David until Sunday.
There will be several other announcements that I will be able to give you indication on next week.
Q Does Wednesday possibly mean a press conference, if there are no public events?
MR. FLEISCHER: Good try, Connie. Thank you.
END 1:27 P.M. EDT