The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 22, 2001

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


  1. Personnel Announcements
  2. President's Phone Calls to Mubarak and Abdullah
  3. The Middle East
  4. Reception at Vice President's House
  5. Immigration Extension
  6. President's Meeting with the Dalai Lama
  7. Tibet
  8. White House Vandalism Report
  9. President's Yale Commencement Speech
  10. President's Meeting with Republicans/Education Bill


1:52 P.M. EDT

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  I have a series of personnel announcements, and then the President made a few calls to foreign leaders this morning, so I want to fill people in.

          The President intends to nominate Wendy J. Chamberlain to be Ambassador of the United States to the Islamic Republic of Pakistan.  The President intends to nominate Lavenski R. Smith to be a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit.  The President has officially nominated Sharon Prost to be a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.  And the President intends to appoint Charles Blahous III to be Executive Director of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security.

          This morning the President placed two phone calls to leaders in the Middle East, to follow up on the Mitchell Report and on the President's commitment to try to facilitate peace between the parties in the region. He called President Mubarak of Egypt and King Abdullah of Jordan to discuss the Mitchell Report and the situation in the Middle East.  They both the welcomed the United States endorsement of the Mitchell Report.  And they both told the President they're ready to work with the United States to encourage the parties to implement the report's recommendations.           Q    Ari, what was his main message to Mubarak and Abdullah?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That the President is very concerned about the level of violence in the Middle East, and that all nations in the region, particularly the parties that are involved, have to cease the violence. The nations in the region need to be helpful to call for cessation of the violence.  And the best way to seize this moment, now that the Mitchell Report is out, is for the parties involved to end the violence, so that the cycle of violence can be broken, and that the parties can indeed begin talking, with the United States playing a facilitating role.

          Q    Do the President and the King believe that the administration's doing enough, or did they ask the President to do more?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  They appreciated the phone call, they appreciated the President's message.

          Q    Do they think he's doing enough?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I just indicated what their reaction was.

          Q    When the Clinton administration hosted supporters and donors at the Vice President's residence, at the White House, Cabinet Secretary's office, they called it donor maintenance, a way to say thank you to Democratic donors.  What is different about that and what the Vice President did at his house yesterday and visitors who happen to be donors who come to the White House?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the difference is day and night.  And I don't think there is any comparison that is fair.  The event at the Vice President's last night was to say thank you to members of the Republican national committee, the regents, the Team 100 people, the national committee men and women who happen to be in town for the gala tonight.  And it was a way just to say thank you for all their efforts to have -- to elect officials across the country who support the Republican vision and President Bush's agenda.

          What took place that is very different from that was an organized, elaborate scheme involving spreadsheets and donor targets and regular meetings on a regular basis for the purpose of raising money and using the meetings in the White House to go back out and raise further money.

          Q    Are you saying there's no memos at the RNC that have lists of people who have donated in support of the President, and who therefore -- that would be a good idea to have them -- let them go to the Vice President's --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  In fact, it's my understanding that the people who came into Washington to attend the gala tonight did not even know about this event.  It was added late.  It's just is a way to say thank you.  So when they accepted their invitations to come to Washington for the gala, they had no way of even knowing that they might be invited to an event at the Vice President's.

          Q    How did the Vice President know who to invite to his residence?  Where did he get that list of names from?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Through the RNC.

          Q    And the RNC, how do they get those lists?  From their spreadsheets?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, it's fairly obvious.  It's just -- it indicates -- just the groups I said.  It's the purpose of the meeting that is the distinction.  The purpose of the meeting, what makes this very different from anything that came before in the previous administration, the purpose was simply to --

          Q    But it's the same purpose that the Clinton administration used -- I'm not being argumentative.  It is the same purpose that the Clinton administration announced to justify their action for --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  But there is one major difference.

          Q    What is it?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As we all learned that the reason that the Clinton administration gave for those events was not quite what those events were.  They said they were doing maintenance events, and they were actually ways of raising money on an ongoing, regular basis.  That's clearly not the case with this new administration.

          Q    But, Ari, if I could pick up that line of questioning, they made the very same distinction that you're making or that others at the RNC have made.  No checks were actually handed back and forth at these various events, at the coffees, or the sleepovers, that there was no transactional relationship there at the premise, but if other things happened at some other time later, well they had no control over that.  What's the distinction?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Major, I think you said it very well.  That's what they said about the events, and then subsequently everyone learned that what they said is not what came to be.

          Q    They learned after investigations.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think you will be in a position to watch this administration, and you have heard what we say about the event last night, it was a way to thank you to people who are in town.  And you'll be in a position to judge whether or not what this administration said about those events turns out to be accurate and true.  I think you'll be satisfied that it is.

          Q    If some of the people who showed up at the Vice President's residence go on to give money in the future, then won't that be the same thing?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, the purpose is, when the people who came to the previous White House for those coffees were very often new people who had not previously given money, who were brought in for the purpose of raising money.  Some were people who had previously given.  It was all part of a fundraising approach, where they used the White House for the ability to get more money out of people.  This was a way just to say thank you.

          Q    You don't expect these people to give more?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think there's no doubt that people who are regents and Team 100 -- there's no doubt that people who are the regents in Team 100 will continue what's been, for many of them, a long way of serving the Republican Party and the Republican agenda.  They very well may give more.  But it's not as a result of this.  This is a way just to say thank you.

          By that logic, what that means is no elected official should ever meet with a contributor, because they might contribute again.

          Q    -- Clinton's --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  But again, the difference is night and day, in terms of how they used the White House to keep getting money out of these groups.

          Q    They bring them in, they give them good food, they chum up with powerful people, and --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the -- on a basis as limited as this, to say thank you to people who came by, and then they go to the gala tonight, cannot be compared.  It's a night and day difference between -- well, you all knew it was a very well documented, elaborate, ongoing effort to continue to raise money by using taxpayer property.

          Q    Ari, let's separate out the issue of the White House and the Vice President's residence for a second.  In the invitation that has Presidential Gala at the top of it, it specifically says, when you come -- you, the donor, arrive in Washington -- you will be given access to Cabinet officials and senior White House officials as part of your trip to Washington, and by any normal reading of that letter, in return for your donation to the Republican Party.

          What about access at that level?  Isn't there anything that the White House feels sensitive about telling donors you give us money, you get to see these people, very special people, very close people to the President, and having the ear that you might not otherwise have if you didn't write a check?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Major, the President and the Vice President, elected officials, both parties, meet with people all the time, some of whom support them and support their candidates, many of whom oppose them and oppose their candidates.  Many people have access to the government. The point is that in this administration, that access will continue to be open and available to many, even to those who do not support the President.

          Q    You don't find it at all unseemly to tell people in a letter that soliciting money from them -- that for the money, they will get to see a Cabinet Secretary?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Certainly people are here for the gala tonight, and the President will be making a speech at the gala tonight, and they will meet the President tonight.  I see absolutely nothing wrong with people coming to Washington and listening to the President speak, and for the President to participate in the event.

          Q    That's not what I've said.  I said special meetings with Cabinet Secretaries and senior White House officials.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, I think there's a longstanding tradition where Cabinet officials meet with supporters.

          Q    Wealthy and powerful supporters, and I think that's the question that people have.  How can you say that arranging the event like this doesn't give special access to people who gave a lot of money, thus distorting policy and access to the administration, for the benefit of the wealthy and powerful?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Because the President has a policy to give access to people who support him, who don't support him, who are indifferent. People meet with the President all the time, some of whom may be contributors, others of whom are not contributors, many of whom do not support him, and will not support him.  But he will continue to meet with those people.  He'll continue to meet, if he deems appropriate, with supporters.

          Q    So you can say to the American people with a straight face that just because these people gave a lot of money doesn't mean they have a leg up when it comes to getting their interests before the administration?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's absolutely correct.

          Q    Ari, the way we found out about the Clinton fundraising abuses is the Republicans put it -- was through a congressional investigation.  Would this White House be comfortable with a call -- I believe it's from Congressman Waxman -- for a congressional investigation of what too place last night at the NAVOBS?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, John, I think I've answered the questions about what the purpose of the meeting was, and why the meeting took place. And the White House is perfectly comfortable with the actions that were taken.

          Q    So would you be comfortable with an investigation of those actions?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It depends on what the Congressman specifically wants and what the purpose of it is.  If this is just paybacks of things that took place in the past, I don't think the American people support additional investigations that have no purpose other than to be political.

          But again, the event last night was for the purpose of saying thank you to the regents, to many of the people who are in town tonight for the gala.

          Q    And are you quite confident that an investigation would show up no evidence of wrongdoing, that this was, in fact, a thank you and was not an ongoing program of raising money for the Republican Party?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's exactly what I've indicated.

          Q    Some campaign finance experts I've talked to have taken your point and say, you know, at this stage, perhaps it's not improper for a president to have a thank you event for people who have supported him during a recently-concluded campaign.  But the point they also make is that in the future, it would raise serious questions if this administration continued to provide access to Cabinet secretaries, use the Vice President's residence, use other parts of this vast apparatus to court or deal with donors.

          Can you tell us now that this is the end of events such as we saw last night, that it was a one-time-only thank you in reaction to the campaign and other events will be held off-campus and other places that do not involve government property?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think there's no question that you all will use your own judgment in determining whether this administration is acting in a proper and ethical fashion.  And I think there is no question that you will make comparisons to previous administrations.

          Q    What's the answer?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has said that he will return honor and dignity to the White House, and I think by every fair measure, the American people are satisfied that is what he is doing.  And I think you will be able to watch us and see a President who has a policy of access for people who support him, oppose him, and are indifferent to his positions. That's the policy the President will continue to adhere to.

          You, also, I think, have a responsibility to stand back and, given what did take place before, to be fair and allow a new administration to come in and establish its patterns of how it will engage in political activities

          Q    That's what I'm trying to get at.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  And I would urge you to do that.  And I'm satisfied that as you watch this administration over time, you will come to the conclusion that it is acting in a manner that is fair and appropriate, within a system that allows elected officials to raise money for reelection purposes and to support people who support the ideas of that administration.

          Q    All I asked is, will you use government property anymore?

          Q    Is it a beginning, or is it an end?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, the question -- I'm not going to speculate about hypothetical events, but to say thank you to people is something that can happen.

          Q    So there is no standard at this moment about the future use --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, the standard is to do things that are fair and appropriate within a system that allows people to participate in fundraising.

          Q    Let me see if I can make clear what distinction you're making here.  You're saying that because the Clinton people had documents in which they assigned a goal to each person who was coming here, that they clearly intended to raise a certain amount, that that's what made their effort wrong, and that if you do not assign a dollar figure to someone who is coming to an event, that makes yours okay?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The difference is, what is the purpose of bringing them to the White House or to a federal facility.  In the past, they were brought for the purpose of raising more money from them by design.  A very detailed structure was set up so that money could be raised.

          In this case, it was to say thank you to people who have long supported those who would elect Republicans to office.  And I think the American people understand the distinction, and I think you also understand the distinction, and I think it's fair to say, let it evolve, you'll watch it with your own eyes, and you will come to your conclusions.  I'm satisfied the conclusions you will reach will show that this White House acts at all times in a manner that is appropriate and ethical and fair within a system that allows politicians in both parties to raise money legally.

          Q    No one said --

          Q    Can we just put this kind of in a broader context in terms of campaign finance reform?  What kind of message does it sent if he goes and presides over this dinner, where most of the money being raised is soft money donations, and at the same time is saying that he supports campaign finance reform and that he is signalling he'll sign the bill if it passes Congress?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.  It sends the same signal that any legislation that's pending on Congress sends, that until a new law is written, can be signed into law, everybody needs to abide by the current system of rules and the current laws, which is, of course, what will be done at all times.  And the President has indicated his support.  He would like to abolish all soft money.  He has a proposal on the Hill to abolish corporate soft money, to abolish union soft money.

          But just as there is a proposal on the Hill, for example, to cut taxes, people still have an obligation to pay taxes at the rates set in the current code.  Until a new law is passed and taxes are lowered, people have to honor the current law.  The same thing -- the current law will be honored, and as soon as the current law can be changed with the President's support on campaign finance reform, then we'll have a new system in place, and the President will, of course, abide by it.

          Q    But couldn't he send a message if, by saying I'm not going to headline this kind of huge, massive, soft money fundraising dinner, given my support for campaign finance reform?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has chosen to show his support for it by urging Congress to pass campaign finance reform.  And he calls on Congress to pass it once more.

          Q    When you have a policy that tells potential donors, signals to potential donors that they will be thanked in the White House or thanked in the Vice President's office or thanked in a Cabinet secretary's office if they donate money, aren't you using the offices, those offices to raise money?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No. I think, again, there's a distinction that people understand, and it's a simple distinction.  It's a previous effort --

          Q    What people understand now, though, is if they donate money, they will be thanked by the Vice President or the President, or a Cabinet secretary.  They can have access to this administration if they donate money.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  So the issue is not the thanking; is that what you're saying?  That they should not say thank you?

          Q    The issue is, you are sending a signal to people, unless you tell me I'm wrong, you're sending a signal to people that if you donate money to this administration or to the Republicans, you could be thanked by the President, you could be thanked in the Vice President's office, you will be -- your service will be acknowledged with access to high officials in this government.  Isn't that the same -- isn't that selling access?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The signal that this administration is sending is that people from all walks of life, from all political parties, will continue, and always will, have access to the President and to the Vice President.  There are people who have vociferously opposed the President who have had access to the President.  There are people who will never support the President who continue to have access to the President.  There are people who will support the President who will have access to the President.

          So if access is the issue, access is granted to one and all.

          Q    You just said that the President supports banning all soft money.  Has he changed his position on individual --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As a corporate and union.

          Q    He still opposes -- he still favors allowing individuals to continue to contribute soft money?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  If the President could have his ideal proposal approved on the Hill, that would be his proposal, that's correct.

          Q    Two questions.  One, if the President will sign the bill yesterday the House passed on immigration extension, and also the Dalai Lama is going to meet with him tomorrow.  Last year, what he told me in the U.N. -- he's telling me the same thing today, that he seeks from the United States and from this new President to tell China -- press China that he wants justice for his people in Tibet.

          Now, what is the position of this new administration as far as Tibet is concerned and his visit tomorrow?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  On your first question about an immigration provision, the question dealt with the action the House took last night on the suspension calendar that passed a four-month extension for immigrants who are in this country so they can reapply to stay in this country without being forced to leave, because they can legally stay here since they have relatives in the country.

          The President supports an extension to help immigrants stay in this country.  He believes a longer period should be in order.  But he's pleased that action is being taken to help immigrants to be able to remain in this country without being split up from their families.

          On the question of the Dalai Lama's visit, the Dalai Lama will be here tomorrow to visit with the President.  The President considers the Dalai Lama an important spiritual and religious leader and looks forward to the visit.

          Q    Is that an Oval Office visit, Ari?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't have a location on it yet.

          Q    What's the answer to the Tibet question?

          Q    Can I ask you a broader question, though, Ari, on the administration's position on Tibet?  Do we think that the Chinese owe the world an explanation for what's been happening in Tibet, that -- he's a great believer, the President is -- a believer in religious freedom, and does he not think that is being violated in Tibet?

          MS. COUNTRYMAN:  The President will probably discuss with the Dalai Lama our desire to see a better dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama.

          Q    Will there be -- have you worked out the coverage issues on that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll have more on coverage issues tomorrow.

          Q    On another matter relating to the previous administration, as you know, the General Services Administration investigated, at Congressman Barr's request, the reports that came from unnamed sources at the White House and which you said you were cataloging that there was widespread vandalism and trashing of offices here by the Clinton administration when they left.

          The report now indicates that there was apparently no such widespread vandalism or, at least, they couldn't find any.  Would you like to comment on this further, given that in the past you've said there was an effort to catalogue this and, apparently, no such catalogue exists?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  And if you recall, the next day after I indicated in response to a question about -- I think the question was somebody was chasing Matt Drudge in the press corps here.  And Matt Drudge had put something up that said that a full-scale investigation had been launched by the White House, led by Harriet Miers, the Staff Secretary.  That was the question to me.

          And I was trying to knock that down and draw everybody back and away from this story because it was not something the White House was pursuing.  And I indicated that there was no investigation going on, because there wasn't.  I said, if anything, somebody is cataloguing this. And the next day I further explained that meant that somebody was just keeping mental track of what was taking place.  There were no written records about it all.  But they were keeping on eye on and noting what did take place as this administration came into office.

          The General Services --

          Q    But what did take place?  The GSA says nothing took place.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me finish.  The General Services Administration contacted the White House recently and asked if there were any written records of what took place.  And just as I indicated, because there were no written records, the White House informed the General Services Administration that we had no written records to provide them. And I think that's what their report indicated, the White House did not provide them any written records because there were none.  Which is what I indicated at the time.

          Q    Why didn't the person who had it in the back of their head write it down and give it --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Because it was the White House's goal then, and it remains the White House's goal, not to live in the past.  And those things that took place as this administration entered office were not things that this White House was ever focused on.  And the administration's focus, as you can tell by the policies that are moving on the Hill, are policy-oriented and not related to anything that took place like that.

          Q    But the GSA is right, the West Wing was not trashed by the outgoing Clintonites?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President answered that question and he indicated that there may have been a couple acts of some mischief that took place.  But, again, this administration is looking forward, not backward at it.

          Q    Well, wait a minute, Ari, the President said this story wasn't true.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President said that about Air Force One.  And then the President indicated there may have been a couple pranks, some incidents that took place, but that this administration was not focused on those.

          Q    Are you implying that the reason the GSA came up with no evidence of vandalism is because you all didn't provide it to them?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, what I indicated -- I haven't read the entire GSA report, but the GSA did note that this administration did not have any written documents to provide.

          Q    Right, but you aren't suggesting that the GSA didn't --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  -- which is what I said probably two months ago about the topic.

          Q    But you aren't suggesting that the GSA didn't do other forms of investigation to try to flush this out?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  To tell you the truth, I didn't read the whole GSA report, frankly.  Again, this administration is focusing on the forward, on the future and not on the past.

          Q    Ari, if we could focus just on the near-term past, and go back to one more question about last night.  You said it was a thank you event.  At no time did anybody say, thank you for your support and we hope that we can count on it again in the future?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It was an event to thank everybody who was there. And like I say, I think there is -- people are loyal Republicans, they believe in the cause and I don't think anybody would ever rule out that people who believe in the cause will continue to believe in the cause.

          But it's the purpose of these events that I think is the important public question.  Is somebody using these events as an organized way of -- a way that will be repeated on a regular basis, to bring money in to a party or political cause?  And that's where I think you just keep your eye on this administration and you will see the administration will continue to act in a manner that is absolutely appropriate and fair.

          Q    But aren't you doing exactly that, when you take a list from the RNC, whose job is to raise money from these people, and you bring them to the Vice President's residence and say, thank you?  Aren't you maintaining the relationship so they'll donate money to you in the future?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, I think given the fact that these people didn't even know when they accepted the invitation to come to Washington to go to the gala that there may be an event at the Vice President's house, it shows that this was an event simply to say "thank you" to people who happened to be in town.

          Q    But how is it different to thank people who have contributed, who you believe will contribute in the future, from what went on before that the Republicans crowed so loudly about?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Because many of those people had not previously contributed; some had, but not all.  And the purpose of those previous events was to bring in new donors, first-time donors, to up people's donations, to get more money from them.  And that's clearly not the case and what took place here last night.

          Q    Last night wasn't at all to encourage the people who had either given money or raised money to continue doing their good work?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Last night's event was to say "thank you."

          Q    Ari, does the President believe that his treatment by his fellow Yaley, Garry Trudeau, and his being booed by Yale graduates, boycotted by Yale faculty members and even amongst the fraternity brothers in DKE.  Does he believe this was just good clean campus fun, or does he agree that the motto for God, for country and for Yale, is the greatest anti-climax ever written?  (Laughter.)

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I have not discussed the President's cartoon reading habits with him.

          Q    He does read it, doesn't he?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I can suggest to you that I'm a Calvin and Hobbes man, and so I have not been reading that.

          Q    The O'Reilly Factor's Bill O'Reilly writes that in a sane America, the Justice Department would prosecute the leadership of the North American Man Boy Love Association, a criminal organization that advocates in writing what is against the law and is being defended by the ACLU.  And my question is, will the President ask the Attorney General to investigate these child molesters or not?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not familiar with that issue.

          Q    You're not?

          Q    A follow-up, please, on the Middle East.  Prime Minister Sharon has called for a cease fire.  Do you have any reaction?  And what is the situation with talks with talks with Arafat?


          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President welcomes the statement by Prime Minister Sharon.  It is vital in order to bring the parties together and to secure peace in the Middle East that the parties in the region unequivocally speak out and call for a cessation of the violence.  And the President was encouraged by those remarks.           Q    Arafat?  Any contact with him?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President would welcome a similar statement.

          Q    And on the phone calls this morning, or today, what precisely does the President want Egypt and Jordan to do, Mubarak and Abdullah, to do?  Does he want them to contact Arafat?  What exactly is he asking him --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Terry, I'm not going to go beyond what I've indicated before about what was a private conversation between the leaders. But the President does think it would be constructive for leaders in the region to do as he has done, and to call for the parties to exercise restraint, to end the violence.  And he believes that the Mitchell committee report is an appropriate way to make this a new moment in the Middle East.  And so this process can begin, and that's why Ambassador Burns will be heading to the Middle East shortly.

          Q    On the meeting this afternoon with Republicans on education, what is the purpose of that meeting, and what is the group?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will be meeting with a group of Republicans from the House of Representatives this afternoon to talk about the education bill that is pending before the House.  They are a group of members, who I think have not decided yet how they will vote.  And the President wants to listen to their concerns, but also convince them that his approach to education, which is based on accountability, which is based on testing every year in grades 3 through 8, based on consolidation of several programs so states and localities have more control, is the best route to take.  The President is pleased by the support he has gotten.  It looks like a bipartisan package can be in the making, and he wants to talk to Republicans about that as well.

          Q    -- or not, in the House, said that the President has suffered some pretty devastating setbacks.  Does the White House view it that way?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, if I recall the voting committee, it was 41-7.  That's a pretty healthy sign of education reform that's -- members of Congress from both parties agree to.  And the President has stressed repeatedly that when it comes to education, this is an issue that people should focus on what works.  This is not an issue that falls into a simple left-right ideological spectrum.  And the President is going to continue to fight for the education reforms, based on accountability and strict standards that he believes in.  And he'll make that case to Democrats and he'll make that case to Republicans.

          Q    Are some of the people in this meeting some of the Republicans who have misgivings about accountability?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated, they are going to be a group of people who have not yet decided how they'll vote on the bill.  And I'm not in a position to chronicle each of their thoughts.  We'll learn more a little this afternoon.

          Q    Will the President seek changes in the bills that are in Congress now based on what he hears today, or is it basically -- just he's basically just trying to convince them to support what on the --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I can't preview that, of course.  The purpose of the meeting is to listen to their concerns.  But the President feels very strongly about education, as you know.

          Q    It's been reported that some of the top donors tonight are energy industry lobbyists -- a lot of them actually.  I'm wondering how that affects the President's efforts to convince people that he's got a balanced energy plan and not a giveaway to the administration?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think the plan speaks for itself.  The plan that focuses, I think it was 35 recommendations, on conservation and non-renewables, that speaks for itself.  What's that Mr. Roberts?

          Q    Forty-two.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Forty-two.  Mr. Roberts says it's 42 recommendations.  No, the plan speaks for itself, in terms of what it emphasizes in a comprehensive way, on how to secure America's energy independence and conservation, the development of renewables, such as wind, solar, biomass are a key part of that.  And that's the focus of the President's policy efforts.

          Q    What about the perception, given the fact that a lot of energy -- former energy executives helped write the policy?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Obviously, I don't deal in perceptions, I deal in reality, and the reality of the policies that the President has proposed. I think we're going to have to wrap in just a minute.

          Q    One more thing on education, if I may.  There were people who were talking today about an amendment to try to get private school vouchers back into this bill, some saying the President should not sign it if it does not have that.  For the Republicans who believe the President should not sign a bill without private school vouchers, what does he say?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President believes strongly that the private -- that the proposal involving school choice should be a part of the bill that is sent to him.  That was part of his initial proposal he sent to Congress.  And the House of Representatives will have an opportunity to vote on that.  A vote did take place in committee, and there were insufficient votes to support the President's position.  The President hopes that will be turned around on the floor.

          Q    Is he encouraging Republicans to oppose the bill if it does not have private school choice?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the President will take a look at the bill in its entirety and its context, and see what the bill says in totality.

          Q    The tax bill's moving slowly again today.  You said early this morning that some Democrats were foot-dragging and stalling.  Would you include the minority leader, Tom Daschle and his allies in that --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is very concerned about tax relief, because the tax relief bill that is pending before the Senate seems to be getting slowed down, bogged down and delayed.  And the President thinks that's not helpful or constructive for the economy or for the taxpayers. And the President calls on the Congress to take action, the Senate today, take action now, so that tax relief can be enacted into law.

          Q    Who does he blame for it being bogged down and slowed down?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President thinks that everybody in Congress has a responsibility to take part.  Clearly, there are some Democrats, a bipartisan majority, who agree with the President, are working hard with the President to secure tax relief.  There may be some other Democrats, unfortunately, who are dragging their feet, and they're engaged in stalling tactics.  And that's not helpful or constructive for the taxpayers or the economy.

          Thank you everybody.

          Q    Does the President believe that there is a role for him as an intermediary with the two parties, or does he prefer to leave it at the Department of State level?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President believes there's a role for the United States to play and for him to play as a facilitator, to help the parties to come together.

          Thank you.


2:23 P.M. EDT

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