For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 9, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have three personnel announcements. The President intends to nominate Vincent Martin Battle to be Ambassador of the United States of America to the Republic of Lebanon. The President intends to nominate Congressman Asa Hutchinson to be Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Agency at the Department of Justice. And the President intends to nominate Brian Carlton Roseboro to be Assistant Secretary of Treasury for Financial Markets. With that, I'll be happy to take questions.
Q On the nominations today, has the President decided to hold back on nominating among two others, Congressman Chris Cox, in an attempt to mollify Democrats because of objections they have?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President today will nominate 11 people to the circuit court, people he believes are going to make superb jurists, people he chose because of their quality, their character, and because they will not legislate from the bench. The President will have additional announcements to make, of course, throughout the remaining weeks and months, throughout the remainder of his term, to fill other vacancies that exist in the courts. I can only discuss the people he has named. You'll have to stay tuned for any possible additional announcements.
Q But are you denying then that this original list included three additional names that were taken off in the late-going?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's only one list, and that list is the list of the people the President is announcing today.
Q So you think you can get away with not discussing at all who's notable in their absence?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to be making additional nominations throughout the weeks and months, and today he's naming these 11.
Q Are you saying politics had absolutely nothing to do with the names that the President will unveil today?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's focus today was naming people he believes are qualified to the bench, and doing so in a manner that is collegial and cooperative. There are people that we are discussing with different senators, Democrat senators, as well as Republican senators, and concerns have been expressed about some people. The President is going to continue to work with senators to allay any concerns they may have. Any future announcements will reflect the decisions that the President makes. He at all times reserves the right to name the people he thinks are most suited to serve on the bench to serve our nation.
Q But you clearly, in this case, clearly wanted a bipartisan list, because you're obviously trying to affect the climate on Capitol Hill, I assume.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it's very important that the Congress, in this case the Senate, under its advice and consent clause, work closely with the White House on the naming of justices and judges to the courts. And the list that he has picked today is a reflection of how the President is going to name judges throughout his tenure. He's going to name leading jurists, people who won't legislate from the bench, people who are eminently qualified, and people with whom he has consulted with Democrats and Republicans alike, home state senators and others in the selection process.
Q When you say "won't legislate from the bench," how was that determined? What question was asked of the nominees to determine whether or not they were the kind of people who would not legislate from the bench?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, it's a matter of judicial temperament. You can look at the rulings justices have made; you can review their histories to see if they share the President's belief that the purpose of the judiciary is not to rewrite the laws that the elected body, the Congress, passes and that the President signs, but it is to be an impartial administrator of justice and not an activist who will legislate from the bench.
Q I think you have four people here who have not been on the bench previously, who were, in fact, activists. So how would people judge whether or not they would likely be activists --
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President's analysis, in reviewing their qualifications and in concurrence with the White House Counsel, that these people reflect the President's belief that it's important not to legislate from the bench.
Q Obviously, they were asked something along those lines.
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes -- I couldn't tell you every question put to each and every one of these 11. That's something you may want to check with the White House Counsel on for specifics on any of the four that you mentioned, for instance.
Q Ari, you were going to check on what role the President played. Did he talk to any of these nominees? How did he review their nominations?
MR. FLEISCHER: As with all personnel announcements that the President makes, the President meets on a two, three times a week basis with the people who are responsible for the searches of these people. In the case of the announcements today, he knows several of these people personally, already knew them, did not need additional meetings. There are some people he will announce today he has not met before, but he has reviewed their qualifications and discussed their background, their qualifications at length with the Office of White House Counsel.
Q On the DEA nomination, what's the President's thinking on that? What's he looking for in Congressman Hutchinson?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to have somebody at the DEA, as well as also in the Office of the Drug Czar, across the United States government who is committed to fighting the war on drugs and who recognizes the need to address the issue from a variety of fronts -- that includes a focus on supply and a focus on demand.
Q Ari, a follow-up on that, please. The President does see a definite war on drugs? There's something of a debate on that, using that phrase.
Q No, the President is committed to fighting the war on drugs. The President thinks it's very important to address the terrible problem this country has of drug abuse. There are 5 million hardcore drug abusers in America today. Ten percent of people who use drugs represent 80 percent of all drug use in America. And it's a hardcore addiction that the President wants to tackle.
Of those 5 million, some 2 million are already in treatment. There are 3 million people who do not have treatment. And the President recognizes the problem of one of both supply and demand. The problem is drugs grown in other nations, drugs grown in America that enter the streets, enter the marketplace of America, if you will, because there is a ready and willing population that buys the drugs, and that's a treatment problem.
So the President recognizes to fight the war on drugs you have to fight it from multiple fronts, and the people he has selected to do so, whether it's the drug czar or the head of the DEA, are committed to do that.
Q So what would constitute victory in a war on drugs?
MR. FLEISCHER: A reduction in the number of Americans who abuse drugs, and an increase in the number of Americans who are successfully treated so they no longer use drugs. It's a question also of the White House sending the right message from the bully pulpit of the White House and grants to local communities that do good work to fight drugs. Faith-based programs make a marked difference in people's lives in getting people to kick a very hard habit to kick. That's how the President is going to approach this. It's multifaceted.
Q One more. There are some critics who view Mr. Hutchinson and Mr. Walters as extremists who would favor a lock them up policy rather than a treat them policy. Will law and order take precedence over treatment?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President differs with that analysis. The President thinks it's important to do both, and he believes the people he is appointing -- Asa Hutchinson in the case today -- do represent a willingness to fight this battle on both fronts. But there is also -- law and order is an important factor, too, and it always will be.
Q Ari, Republicans are considering withholding U.N. dues until the United States goes on to the Human Rights Commission at the U.N. Do you think that's a good approach?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have something for you on that. Let me get some specific language on that. Let me come back to that in a minute. I'm going to give you something specific on that.
Q Ari, Newt Gingrich was here today. Did he meet with the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not as far as I know, no. It wasn't on the President's schedule and I haven't seen him in the Oval Office.
Q Do you know what he was doing, by any chance?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. People come to the West Wing all the time for meetings with staff.
Q Secretary Rumsfeld was here, too, though. Was he meeting with the President, and can you tell us why he might be here?
MR. FLEISCHER: I know the Secretary will be meeting with the President, and that's part of the Secretary's regular conversations that he has with the President about military plans, military operations, the assignment the President gave the Secretary to review the future of the military and to come up with recommendations sometime this summer.
Q Ari, yesterday the Vice President indicated that the administration will propose legislation to enhance the federal government's eminent domain authority to take private property in order to site and construct electric power lines. Why does the President think that's a good idea?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to prejudge what the energy report will show when it's released next week, but given the criticality of having an energy policy that can help bring prices down, that can help make sure that people's supplies are secure so when they flip on their switch, the lights work. The President does want to make certain that our aging infrastructure is modernized. And part of that is to take a look at the transmission of electricity to make certain that it does flow across the country, so that if one region has a problem with energy, they can get energy from a different region of the country.
Under the current setup, that's hard to do at times. That's one of the reasons that California is going through the difficulties it's going through. There is energy available in other parts of the country, but it can't be shipped to California as easily as you would hope, because of infrastructure problems.
Q Why would the power companies need the federal government to step in and exercise eminent domain? Why can't they just pay fair market value?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are differences in the law on the federal law that apply to such things as natural gas pipelines, for example, where the federal government is able to help communities and help states in the approval process to get pipelines built, to serve the infrastructure needs. Those same rules that apply for natural gas pipelines do not apply to electric pipelines. It's not exactly consistent to have an approach like that; nevertheless, that is the way the law is currently constituted.
Q And one last one on this. A lot of local officials -- local regulatory officials and local political officials -- are afraid that this would be the heavy hand of the federal government putting power lines in their communities without sufficient consultations. This is an administration that has said power should be shifted back to localities. What happened?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, without prejudging what the report is going to show, this President is determined to make certain that local voices are heard in all such matters. He's very respectful of the need to work with people locally, before the federal government steps in. And he believes that we can do that, as we have done -- as the United States government has done in the case of natural gas pipelines.
But, clearly, there is a national need to make certain the energy that is produced in one region of the country is able to be received in a different region of the country, so that people can fire up their heaters, can turn on their air-conditioners, can turn on their lights. It does seem a little inconsistent, under current law, that the law allows for a federal role in natural gas pipelines, but no such role exists in electricity transmission. The energy problem is a problem of infrastructure, in addition to supply, in addition to conservation.
Q How does the President feel about space-based offensive weapons?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has asked the Department of Defense to take a look at its defense needs. And Secretary Rumsfeld is reviewing the overall military strategy to help preserve the peace. And this week, as you know, the Secretary made a personnel management decision to create a four-star general to oversee space programs. And that's the President's view.
Q So he certainly hasn't ruled it out?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary is reviewing these matters, per the President's direction.
Q Ari, going back to the U.N, not only one, but now the U.S. lost two seats in the U.N., human rights and also an anti-drug. How is the administration's relations with the United Nations and what is the future when we're talking about everything -- globalization and fighting terrorism and human rights? And China is celebrating.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, without going through everything that we went through yesterday on the same topic, the President is committed to working with the United Nations. He thinks that is important. There are two entities within the United Nations that exercise their judgment in a fashion that the President thinks is unwise and not helpful to people who deserve a U.N. that speaks out strongly on behalf of the cause of human rights, and also a U.N. that is able to fight the war on drugs.
In terms of the question you asked earlier about payment on this, while the United States is disappointed with the results of the Human Rights Commission election, the President feels strongly that this issue should not be linked to the payment of our arrears to the U.N. and other international organizations.
Q Why does he feel that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because there was a negotiated agreement that was agreed to by the Senate, by the House, by others, dealing with the whole question of arrears and payment to the United Nations that is separate and apart from this current matter.
Q Well, just to follow, should there be some consequence for this, or are we just going to wait until the next vote next year?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Powell addressed that in his remarks yesterday, which we've all read this morning, about the best way to deal with this matter.
Q Back on the judicial nominations for a moment. In the case of District Court nominations from California, has the President agreed to form a joint commission to get that state's senators to screen potential nominees for district court --
MR. FLEISCHER: The process will be very much like it was -- or the process will be very much like it is today. The President will nominate to the United States Senate the people that he, in his judgment, believes are the best people to serve on the circuit courts or on the district courts for this country. And he will do so in a manner that is cooperative, that is collegial. He will work closely with the Senate.
And one of the things that the President will stress throughout this process is that for too long in Washington, there has been too much fighting between the two parties over judicial nominees. And as a result of that, there have been too many vacancies created in the courts. The fighting has not helped the country; the fighting has hurt the courts. And the President believes it's time for Democrats and Republicans alike to put the country first, to put the courts first, and to put the fighting aside.
Q If I could follow up, there was a report in one newspaper today that said in the case of district court vacancies from California, that the President has agree to form a joint commission with that state's senators --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know what a joint commission means. I know that --
Q A commission to screen them, three members appointed by the White House, three members appointed by the senators.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know anything about that. I can tell you that the President's approach is going to be exactly as it is today, that he going to --
Q Ari, on judicial nominees --
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you trying to finish my thought for me? (Laughter.) The President is going to continue to call and work with Democrat senators from those states. There are several states that have two Democrat senators, and the President has directed Judge Gonzalez here within the White House to work closely with the senators from those states.
We have an urgent question from the back.
Q On the question of the nominations in California and Maryland, and the liberal Democratic senators in those states, is there the perception here that the President is going to have a problem, that these judicial nominations may be held up not merely on the basis of qualifications -- I don't think anyone is going to try to question, for example, the qualifications of the Christopher Cox -- but that these are going to be nominations that are contested on the basis of ideology alone?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President hopes that the bipartisan traditions of the United States Senate will be maintained. The President will view it as unfortunate if people tried to block nominees simply because somebody from the other party is in the White House. That would not be healthy and that would not be good for the courts. The Presidents have earned and deserved latitude in their choice of making appointments to the court. The Senate has an important advice and consent role to play, which the President will be very respectful of.
Q If the two Democratic senators in these states continue to basically wave blue slips and say, we don't want these nominees, will the President fail to nominate them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with hypothetical situations. Judge Gonzalez is continuing to have his conversations and the White House hopes that they'll be productive.
Q A follow-up on that. Over the past 15 years that this fight has been developing, there is a new school of thought on the Senate's advise and consent role. Is it fair for senators, in exercising their constitutional responsibility to advise and consent, to take ideology into consideration, just as the President did, as a co-equal member -- branch of the government? Is it fair for senators to say, I don't agree with the way the President looks at the role of judges, therefore, I'm going to vote against this nominee on ideology?
MR. FLEISCHER: Senators, of course, are always free to vote yes or no as they see fit. What the President hopes will happen is that the Senate will allow the process to move forward. That way, the nation can be served and the courts can be filled where there are vacancies.
There are currently several vacancies that are creating emergencies in the courts. In the circuit courts, 17 percent of all seats are vacant. That means that at the circuit court level, almost one out of five courthouses does not have a judge sitting in a chair. And that means justice is being slowed down, courts are being filled with gridlock, courts are being delayed. And that's a real problem for anybody who has to receive justice in a court of law. And that's the problem, when action is not taken. That's why the President will always be respectful of the right of a senator to vote yes or vote no as they see fit. What's important is that senators are able to have a fair hearing, or judges are allowed by the Senate to have a fair hearing, and that there are -- votes are scheduled and that the country can be served.
Q A follow-up on that. These are the same kind of arguments that the Clinton administration made for years about the holdup of their own judicial appointments. And they apparently were not at all persuasive to Republicans in the Senate. Why do you think that these arguments should now work?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jean, I think that's a very good question. And the problem with it, though, is that those are also the same arguments that Republicans can make against the Democrats when there was a previous Republican President. One of the nominees the President is submitting today was nominated in 1991 by former President Bush. And the Democrats in the Senate at that time did not schedule any hearings. Did that make it right, then, for the Republicans who followed to say to President Clinton we're not going to schedule hearings on yours? The problem is, when both parties engage in that type of partisan rancor, the only people that lose are people who need to go to the courts to receive justice. And --
Q But do you think this is going to be persuasive?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to use all his powers to make it persuasive. And that's why he's worked as closely as he has with the Democrat senators from these states. That's why he's seeking to change the tone in Washington. And that's also why I remind you that President Bush was the governor of Texas during this time and that is not the manner in which he governed and he worked with Democrats in the state of Texas.
The President believes there is too much partisanship in Washington. It's evidenced in the way both parties have engaged with each other in the conduct of Senate judicial nominations. And the only thing that will happen if that same partisan pattern continues, is that justice will be delayed, and justice for some people will be hurt or denied.
Q What specifically would you point to, to convince Democrats that, somehow, as you say and as the President will say, that he's different from all who have come before him in this arena, and that he's going to change the tone and eradicate all the partisan bickering? What is the --
MR. FLEISCHER: David, I don't want to go too far in saying he's different from all that came before him. I think there have been many people who have been in the White House who have good intentions and tried to work hard.
President Bush is going to do his level best to help change that tone. And one example is, this afternoon, when the President makes his announcements, you will learn that the President is going to renominate Roger Gregory. Roger Gregory was previously nominated by President Clinton and he was not accepted by the United States Senate.
When President Bush announces today the name of Roger Gregory, that will be an unprecedented act for a President to renominate a judicial choice to the circuit court whose original nomination was made by a President of the other party. It has never happened before in the history of our country. And President Bush is doing that because he believes that Roger Gregory is qualified, and he also believes it's important to work well with the other party. And the President hopes that the other party will show a willingness to work well with him.
Q So that's an olive branch. It's not just about qualifications, there are some politics here. It's a sign to the Democrats that, hey, I'm going to give a little here, too -- that's what you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said in response to the first question, the President thinks it's important in all matters, including the selection of judicial candidates, to work cooperatively and collegially with Senate Democrats and Republicans. And it's that very approach, it's that signal that he's sending that by working together to put the needs of the judiciary first and the needs of partisan politics last, we can advance the cause of people who need justice in this country.
Q So you're conceding that in this specific area, that's what he's doing here? It's not just a matter of qualifications, but politics and to reach out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only describe the fact that this is unprecedented for a President to nominate somebody to the circuit court who a previous President had nominated and that nomination was not accepted. I'll leave interpretations up to other people. But that is the fact of what's happened.
Q You're not steering us away from that interpretation.
MR. FLEISCHER: I would never steer you, Mr. Gregory.
Q Do you have assurances from Republicans who originally opposed the Gregory nomination that there will be no problem this time?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the two senators from Virginia, where Mr. Gregory is going to be nominated from, have indicated that they support this nominee. And those two senators are Republican senators.
Q Ari, Mr. Gregory is the first African American to serve in the 4th Circuit Court, which has a very large African American population. Is that part of the reason that President Bush chose to renominate him?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, he chose to renominate him because he believes that he is qualified, that he won't legislate from the bench, and that's why he has chosen him.
Q More generally, does the President believe that his nominees should reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of the country, or does he just operate strictly on a qualification --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President operates on the basis of qualifications. And the President believes that in the course of those qualifications, it is healthy to have in all his appointments a group of people who are broadly representative of the country. But the first criteria is and always be qualifications.
Q Ari, since Sunday is Mother's Day and the President has a widely-admired mother, he will be observing Mother's Day, won't he, rather than what The New York Post and The Washington Times reported this morning about Mother's Day observance being banned by a private school in New York City, which claims that Mother's Day is unfair to same-sex parents? He will observe Mother's Day without that concern, won't he, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Good. (Laughter.) The New York Times, Washington Times and Washington Post all report this morning that the American Psychiatric Association Convention in New Orleans today, Columbia University psychiatric professor, Robert Spencer, who led the APA's decision in 1973 to remove homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, will present a report that homosexuals are able to alter their orientation to heterosexuality, especially with religious help. Does the President agree or disagree with Dr. Spencer?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a topic I've discussed with the President.
Q Would you take it to him and ask him about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not view sexual orientation as a matter that he reviews when it comes to hiring decisions inside this White House.
Q I understand. But does he deny that it's possible for a homosexual to become a heterosexual?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that's a topic that the President is focused on.
Q Ari, on energy, does the administration view itself to be in a dispute with Governor Gray Davis?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Governor Davis' spokesman has said that the administration is not doing enough to assist California. Is there a dispute on that question?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think perhaps the Governor's spokesman must not be aware of the letter that the Governor sent to the President, in which Governor Davis thanked President Bush for all the steps he's taken that responded to Governor Davis' request to help California.
This administration stands ready and able to help California in all ways possible. And that is why the President has announced a series of steps, including conservation, where the Department of Defense is now going to cut back by 10 percent its energy needs within the state of California, all the federal agencies are reviewing the role that they can use conservation to help California and other states this summer get through an energy crisis. The President has expedited permitting to help California. The President ordered the for-sales marketing of natural gas and electricity into California during the months of January and February. So the President's going to continue to be helpful to California in all ways that are possible.
Q Ari, you talked about fighting over judges. We have a pretty fundamental difference here over the role of judges and what courts should do in society. Isn't that worth arguing about?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President respects the right of people to differ with him. The question is, will differences manifest themselves in a way that means the Senate won't vote, that there will be no action, that people who were duly nominated do not receive their day in court, so to speak. So the President will be very respectful of people's rights to differ. The question is, will the nominees have their cases heard, and will votes be cast. The President believes the answer should be yes, and he believes the answer will be yes.
Q If we have a bunch of 51-50 votes for a judge, is that a good thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to deal with hypotheticals. We'll see what the votes are.
Q On Iraq, has the President received a recommendation from his national security team about scaling back U.S. flights over the no-fly zone? I believe The Washington Post reporting today that some commanders in the field say that the flights should be scaled back because of danger
and a chance of a pilot being shot down.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has directed a review to take a look broadly at the United States policy, vis-a-vis Iraq. That review is underway. And we are always, as a government, looking for ways to make the no-fly zones more effective. The no-fly zones are a critical part of our efforts to defend against threats that are posed by the Iraqi regime, were they to have unencumbered access to the airspace. It could risk threatening their neighbors and American allies. So the United States has made clear to Iraq that any attempt to threaten our forces patrolling in the no-fly zones will be a cause for us to respond militarily, and that policy remains in effect.
Q And just a follow-up, because the review has been underway for a while now, since you started the administration. Is there any new, newer approach here or any --
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing new, the policy is in effect.
Q On the budget, is the President making any calls today or talking to any members of Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the budget? The House of Representatives just passed the budget resolution.
Q Did he make any calls today?
MR. FLEISCHER: To influence the vote, and to talk to members about the vote? No, I think that the President knew that the vote was going to pass. He is in frequent contact with members of Congress. He often picks up the phone and calls members and discusses things with them of a broad nature -- not just the vote today, but on a series of pending items, he'll talk to members of Congress.
Q Yes, but I just wanted to make sure this morning, or something, he didn't have any involvement or wasn't involved in any lobbying or anything like that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as I indicated, the prospects for the vote looked good.
Russell, I'm still working on your question. I think I'll have something for you later today.
Q If I could just stay on the budget. Grassley indicated yesterday, the Finance Chairman, that the President is not going to get his top marginal rate tax cut down to 33 percent, 39 percent bracket. Are you still holding out any hope for that, or is there an area where you're looking to compromise?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President understands the 50-50 Senate. And the President believes that the top rate should be lowered to as close as to the level that he proposed in his plan, which is 33 percent. I remind you that it was just 10 years ago where the top rate in the United States was 28 percent.
So no matter what level they lower it to, even if it's all the way to the level the President said, it is still significantly above the top rate where it was just a few short years ago. And during those intervening 10 years, a whole series of tax hikes went into effect, a series of provisions that raised taxes even more beyond the rates were put into effect. People lost their right to itemize their deductions; they lost a lot of their phase-ins. And the President does believe that we should not punish people because they are successful in America, and that no one should pay a rate of higher than 33 percent.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, everybody.
END 2:10 P.M. EDT