For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 23, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have a series of announcements to begin today, several personnel and several other items. The President intends to nominate Douglas Alan Hartwick to be Ambassador of the United States to the Lao People's Democratic Republic. The President intends to nominate Alberto Jose Mora to be General Counsel of the Department of the Navy. The President intends to nominate Everet Beckner to be Deputy Administrator of Defense Programs for the Department of Energy. The President intends to nominate Thomas C. Hubbard to be Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Korea. The President intends to nominate William Riley to serve as judge on the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. And the President intends to announce -- or today announced his intention to nominate Nancy Goodman Brinker to be Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Hungary.
The President has made several foreign policy calls this morning -- two calls specifically. He spoke with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat this morning, and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about the situation in the Middle East and about the Mitchell Committee report. The President urged both leaders to seize the opportunity offered by the Mitchell Communication report to end the violence in the region. And the President urged both leaders to work with the United States to develop a framework for implementation of the report's recommendations.
I want to give you a brief overview of next week, and then there's an important tax matter pending before the Senate I want to touch on briefly. And then I'll be happy to take your questions.
On Friday, the President will deliver the commencement address to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis before he heads to Camp David for the weekend. In that address he'll talk about the importance of military service; he'll discuss the valor, the honor and the commitment to country that comes from those who serve.
And on Monday, Memorial Day, the President will host veterans at the White House for a breakfast before he goes to Arlington National Cemetery, where he will lay a wreath at the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers, and he will deliver remarks to commemorate Memorial Day. That afternoon the President will depart for Mesa, Arizona, where he will make remarks at a Memorial Day event there. He will overnight in Los Angeles.
On Tuesday, the President will travel to the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, near Oceanside, to visit the Marines, to tour their facilities, and to talk about how the federal government is going to be a strong partner to the state of California in the cause of energy conservation, to help ease the burden in California as they go through the summer months, when demand is high and blackouts are most at risk.
Following that event, the President will return to Los Angeles to give a speech on the economy to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, and then he will fly to Fresno to overnight. We'll have more details on Wednesday's visit shortly, and we return late to Washington on Wednesday night.
Also during his visit to California, the President has invited Governor Davis to meet with him, to get together to talk about issues important to California including, of course, energy. And the President looks forward to meeting with Governor Davis.
And, finally, the tax bill remains pending before the United States Senate. The President urges the Senate to take action as quickly as is possible. The President hopes that the Senate will be able to take action so that the bill can still be conferenced, hopefully, still, this week.
The President is very concerned that any delays in getting tax relief passed will harm the economy, will cause the economic slowdown to continue longer, and the President urges the Senate to take this action immediately.
With that, I'm happy to take your questions.
Q What is the President doing to try to keep Senator Jeffords in the Republican Party?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Bill, the President met with Senator Jeffords yesterday in the Oval Office for about half an hour, where the two discussed in a private fashion what was on Senator Jeffords' mind, and as you know, Senator Jeffords has an announcement scheduled for tomorrow, and we will all wait and hear what Senator Jeffords says. The President clearly hopes that Senator Jeffords will remain a Republican.
Q Did you offer him any incentives to stay in the party?
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill, it was a private meeting, but it was a discussion that was based on no offers, but it was based on just good dialogue between the two.
Q Can you rule out, now that you've gotten a 24-hour reprieve, can you rule out that the President won't try to reach out to Jeffords again?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to rule anything in or out. Senator Jeffords will make an announcement tomorrow. Senator Jeffords has always been an independent thinker. The Senator has his own ideas about what he wants to do, what he intends to do, and in all cases President Bush and the White House will be very respectful of him.
Q Does the President have plans to call or see Jeffords again?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, Sondra, anytime we have anything that the President does, we'll try to fill you in to the best of our ability.
Q Has Jeffords told the White House what his decision is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it was a private meeting yesterday, and I think the next step, of course, is to wait and listen to Senator Jeffords.
Q How much would a shift in leadership in the Senate complicate the Bush agenda there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it's an interesting question. You know, the Senate is 50-50 right now. It's a uniquely close Senate. And given its close makeup, the President has been tremendously successful in getting things done in the Senate. And I anticipate that the President is going to continue to focus on the manner to get things done.
He believes he was elected to get things done, and he believes that members of the Congress, whether they're Democrat or Republican, have an interest in getting things done. If you take a look at the bipartisan coalitions that he has formed with the given 100 members of the Senate, you will see that from issue to issue, he's been able to assembly healthy governing bipartisan coalitions that allow the nation to move forward with his agenda. And he has not been dependent on party line votes; it's very hard to in a 50-50 Senate. So that's the President's outlook as he faces whatever the future in the Senate would be.
Q This wouldn't change any votes on any issues, but it would certainly change the way bills are brought to the floor, and particularly the way judicial nominations are treated and the way they're not brought to the floor.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, in all cases, the President is going to continue to work very respectfully and productively with members of Congress from both parties. As you know, in the judicial nominations, as you indicated, the President sent up an initial round of nominations that were very well received by Democrats and Republicans alike.
When you have a 50-50 Senate, it's important to work closely with everybody, which is what the President has always done. It's also what the President has always done as the Governor of Texas. In Texas, of course, he had a Democrat legislature and he worked very productively and very closely with the Democratic legislature. So, regardless of any decisions that are made, the President will always govern in that style, which is to keep things toned down and to keep things productive and to keep things moving.
Q When you have a 50-50 Senate, Ari, a lot of Senate Republicans are saying today that you don't, despite your displeasure with any one senator over any particular vote, not invite him to the White House when a teacher from his state is being awarded the Teacher of the Year Award. A lot of criticism from Republican senators specifically aimed at Nick Calio and Karl Rove, but at the White House in general, that playing hardball was a mistake here.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, nobody played hardball, and certainly not the two people you mentioned, and no one did. On that event specifically, we've heard no complaints, for example, from Senator Jeffords. But I want to remind you, every morning, I share with the press in this room what events the President is going to hold. And you're talking about specifically, of course, April 23rd when the President honored the Teachers of the Year, who came from all 50 states.
Let me just cite a couple of other examples for you. I want you to reflect on these if you think there is an issue here. On April 6th, the President hosted 59 youth winners from across the United States for the VFW Youth Awards. They came from all across the country. There were no members of the Congress invited to the White House at that time, either. That's often the case where people are honored and receive awards that they get at the White House where no members of Congress come, because if you were to invite one, you would have to invite literally hundreds.
On May 7th, Multiple Sclerosis Parents of the Year were here. I think you all remember; you attended the event. The mother of the year was from Tennessee and the father of the year was from Colorado. Again, no members of Congress were invited. It's not always practical, possible or desirable to invite members of Congress; they don't always want to be able to leave the Hill to come down to the myriad of events at the White House where citizens are honored. And that's the case in this event as well.
That event had 50 Teachers of the Year honored. And if everybody had gotten invited from Congress who represents those 50, you would have had 100 senators and 50 members of the House, or 150 members of Congress. So I dismiss that. I don't think that's an issue, and it's not something an issue that Senator Jeffords has made --
Q There was one primary Teacher of the Year. The answer is extremely disingenuous, if you'll forgive me.
MR. FLEISCHER: And so for the Multiple Sclerosis Parents of the Year, Bill? Is there an issue there?
Q One Teacher of the Year.
MR. FLEISCHER: The point is the same. If you're going to honor somebody from a state for a distinction, whether they're a Parent of the Year or a Teacher of the Year, there's a pattern. It is not always common to have all members of Congress invited down. We have heard no objections from Senator Jeffords on that. I know one Democrat senator raised objections and tried to create an issue with that, but I dismiss that.
Q Is there not a flip side, though, when you're in a 50-50 Senate and you're looking for opportunities to make friends, you, say, have a Rose Garden reception for Joe Moakley, something the President did not have to go out of his way and do, or, say, invite Senator John McCain to dinner tomorrow night here at the White House, someone you've had some issues with in the past -- there are some people you have decided to be extra generous to, extra friendly to, and others who would argue that you haven't.
MR. FLEISCHER: John, I think you're searching for something that is just not there in the way this President treats members of Congress from both parties. This President has a history of reaching out, working very closely and cooperatively with Democrats and Republicans, people who agree with him, people who disagree with him. And that's what he'll continue to do.
And again, the President has not heard any complaints from Senator Jeffords on that account. I know you're all looking for a juicy story line, but I respectfully submit to you in this case, it's not there.
Q To follow up on what John was asking, is it the case that the President never asked Senator Jeffords about this story, about the Teacher of the Year slight that's been in the papers for days? The President did not say to him, Senator Jeffords, Jim, I'm sorry?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it was a private meeting that the two had. But as I just indicated, there were no complaints received from Senator Jeffords on that.
Q I'm asking a different question. Did the President extend any kind of acknowledgement of this story or apology to him?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, there are all kinds of events down at the White House that honor people from various states where no members of Congress are invited. It's --
Q That's not the point.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you're asking if the President apologized for doing something that is routine and ongoing.
Q Did he acknowledge the story in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's conversation with the Senator is going to remain private. But as I indicated to you, the Senator did not raise any objections to what the White House had done.
Q Ari, you're saying he didn't raise any objections, but are you assuring us the decision not to invite, not to have him at this event had nothing to do with any vote that he cast, or any other reason related to him?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can assure you of that just as unequivocally as I assured you of the fact that the Multiple Sclerosis Parents of the Year came to the White House and no member of Congress from Tennessee, or no member of Congress from Colorado were invited for that. It is not at all unusual for people to be honored at the White House without inviting members of Congress to the White House. That is a pattern and a practice of White Houses, going back many a year, that will continue. And there are no slights when events like that happen. Members of Congress don't expect to spend all their time down at the White House. It's not always practical.
Q What about the larger issue here, Ari, that a moderate Republican, one of the leading moderate Republicans, feels uncomfortable in a conservative party led by this conservative President?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's important to let Senator Jeffords speak for himself, and I think everybody will listen to him. But I want to make that point again -- if you take a look at the coalitions that the President has assembled on the Hill, and if you take a look particularly at the education bill that's moving forward in the House, for example, you'll see a President who has governed and will continue to govern in a fashion that brings people together. And he'll be respectful of those who agree with him, and he'll be respectful of those who disagree with him.
One example on specifics, the patients' bill of rights. Two weeks ago, the President announced his support for a patients' bill of rights provision. That patients' bill of rights was authored by Senator Jeffords, Senator Breaux and Senator Frisk, a bipartisan coalition. I submit that to you as proof perfect that the President is going to continue to work with people, regardless of their party, regardless of their views, on where he sees common ground. And that's going to be the ongoing pattern.
I know that Senator Jeffords, for example, is pleased to work with the President on their mutual support of a patients' bill of rights.
Q Doesn't the President take this as something of a warning sign?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think it's important to listen to Senator Jeffords, to hear what he says, what his reasons are for whatever action he ultimately decides to take. But you're dealing with a President who has a history and a pattern of governing in a bipartisan way, and nothing will change that. He'll continue to govern in a bipartisan way, with big results. Look at the tax bill that's pending. Look at the number of Democrats who support him on the tax bill. That's a governing bipartisan majority. Look at the education bill. That, too, is a governing bipartisan majority. That's going to be the continuing pattern that the President seeks to adhere to.
Q Did Senator Jeffords specifically request to attend the Teacher of the Year event?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I have no information that he did.
Q He did not?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Ari, the White House Chief of Staff, out of the blue, called the AP reporters in Vermont during the pendency of the budget resolution and said, just wanted to let Vermonters know where the President is and where Senator Jeffords is on this. Isn't that putting the muscle on Senator Jeffords in a rather crude way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the White House is always going to reach out and talk to reporters in the various 50 states. The President represents those states, as well. And the President traveled to various states, as you know, with great results. There are a number of Democrats who support the President's tax provision. I don't know what the ultimate outcome will be, but I understand today, just watching the news, that Senator Jeffords will support the tax bill.
So, obviously, the President's approach is going to be continuing to be respectful and courteous. The staff will continue to reach out, talk to reporters from all 50 states. And that wouldn't surprise me if it continues.
Q Who arranged this meeting with Davis, and was it in response to his request for a meeting? His people have been saying they were preparing to be snubbed by Bush out in California. And exactly what are they going to talk about?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's mutual. I imagine Governor Davis wanted to meet with the President; the President obviously wants to meet with Governor Davis. That's why he's invited the Governor to meet with him during this trip. California is a very big state. It represents one-sixth of the United States and it's the sixth largest economy in the world. And the President is very pleased to sit and talk with Governor Davis. That's important.
Q Are they going to focus on energy, or what --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, clearly, energy is going to be one of the topics they discuss. It wouldn't surprise me if the President wanted to talk about education, maybe taxes. There will be a series of issues they want to talk about, but energy will, of course, be at the top of the list.
Q Will the President have anything new in terms of offers for federal help for California on energy?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll keep you advised. Obviously, one of the reasons he's visiting a military facility in California is the President has already taken the action to help Californians by directing our military facilities in California to cut back on their use of energy by 10 percent, to help Californians get through a hot summer.
Q Has anybody been in touch, anybody from the White House been in touch with Senator Zell Miller to talk to him about --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think Zell Miller has already addressed that issue. The Senator has said that he is not going to change parties. I think it's fair to say the White House is going to be in ongoing conversations with any number of senators about continuing their support for the Republican agenda and for the President's ideas. But Senator Miller, I think, has laid that issue to rest.
Q But that was today. We're told that White House people worked him over, overnight.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to -- (laughter) -- what were the verbs? I'm not going to characterize any of the conversations that may or may not be happening between individual people at the White House and anybody on the Hill. But I think it is fair to say that the Senator has laid that issue to rest.
Q Ari, you talked about the President's approach being respectful and courteous. He's talked a lot about civility, about disagreeing in an honorable way. Clearly, Senator Jeffords felt that he was considered a traitor for disagreeing in an honorable way and for voting his conscience. If the President did not see him that way, does the President realize, did anyone at the White House realize that that's the way he was being treated on Capitol Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I think it is very important for everybody to allow Senator Jeffords to speak and explain what it is he may or may not do. So I would urge you all just to, if you can, give it 24 hours. Let's listen to Senator Jeffords. Let's listen to the reasons he gives for whatever action he may take. And I think these are fair questions, but they should come up after the Senator has spoken.
Q Was there any sense here -- I mean, this has been talked about around town for quite sometime now -- was there any sense here that he was being mistreated by the Republican leadership in the Senate? Is there any sense that the President needs to step in?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated at the beginning, Senator Jeffords has always been an independent thinker. The Senator has always exercised his mind. He has a history of voting and thinking independently, and again, let's listen to the Senator.
Q Ari, along the lines of invitations, when was the last time Tom Daschle was here at the White House, and how soon, how quickly will he get an invitation, assuming he becomes majority leader?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the President very often has meetings with members of the House Democrat and Republican, and he'll often meet with people in the residence, just as he did in Texas where he would often, unannounced, drop by and visit with various legislators of both parties. The President has continued that pattern here in Washington. He likes to keep those meetings private, so I think you could ask Senator Daschle if he would like to answer that question, but the President will continue to meet with and talk with people. Sometimes you will find out about those meetings, and sometimes you won't.
Q You won't say the last time when he's been here?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know it off the top of my head.
Q Ari, you said that the President's meeting with Jeffords yesterday was based on nothing on the table in terms of an offer from the White House or -- do you mean to suggest that there has not been and will not be any specific kind of offers to him from this White House as a whole? Or is it possible that the Vice President or other White House aides have talked to him along those lines, but it just didn't -- with the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, the Vice President, the White House, they all hope the Senator -- we all hope that Senator Jeffords remains a Republican. But that's based on agendas, that's based on ideology, that's based on merits of ideas and proposals, and it's based on their desire, our desire to make sure the Senate remains in Republican hands so our agenda can continue to move through. But in all cases, the President will continue --
Q So what are you doing?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President met with him yesterday. Their conversation was private as I indicated, but --
Q But you've got another 24 hours. What are you doing to keep him in the Republican Party?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's only fair to let the Senator think about where he is and what he wants to do.
Q Are White House people talking to the Senator today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to get into anything further right now. It's time to listen to the Senator.
Q Are you denying that there's been no offers made to him?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when you say offer, if you're saying -- I'm not sure what you mean by offer. The President uses good reason, and good reason the President believes that Senator Jeffords should remain a Republican is because that's the best way to get through an agenda that improves education, that cuts taxes, that saves Social Security, for example. The President's focus is on merits, it's on policy.
Q The argument to him remains purely on the power of ideas, on the President's personal charm and charisma -- purely on those kinds of things, not on any "we could do this for you," "we could do that for you"?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's on the power of ideas.
Q Ari, has the White House taken a position, or is it going to, on the Northeast -- the dairy cartel? And could the Jeffords case influence that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Jeffords decision will not influence that at all.
Les Kinsolving has had his hand up for many, many minutes. It's Les time.
Q This morning the AP in Montpelier confirmed my recollection that in February of 1999, Senator Jeffords, on talk radio, was asked by a listener about Juanita Brodderick's charge that she was raped by the former Attorney General of Arkansas, to which Senator Jeffords replied -- and this is a quote -- I think that the kinds of things like that are supposedly private affairs and should stay that way. My first part question -- does the President believe that Democrat Senators Mikulski, Feinstein, Boxer, Cantwell, Murray, Stabenow and Lincoln, as well as the ladies in this room agree with Senator Jeffords historic contention that rape is a private affair?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, that's a very tangled question and I'm really not sure what you're asking.
Q You don't believe that rape is a private affair, do you?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, if you're asking about any of the allegations about things that took place before the President got here, he's not commenting.
Q One -- do you and the President know that when Senator Jeffords made this statement on talk radio, within minutes the TV cameras arrived, proving once again that TV listens to talk radio for breaking news? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Never ceases to surprise me what TV does.
Q Is the President concerned that losing Senator Jeffords will adversely affect his legislative agenda in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President clearly hopes that Senator Jeffords will remain a Republican. But no matter what decision the Senator makes, it won't change the 100 people who are on the floor of the United States Senate. And the President has already proven his ability to work in a very productive fashion to create bipartisan coalitions with those same 100 senators to get things done for this country. And the proof is in the pudding when it comes to tax relief and when it comes to education reform. And that will be the President's continued focus.
Q Why would he care then, if it's not going to adversely affect his agenda, why would he care whether he jumped from one place to another?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because as I indicated, the President would prefer to have the Senate remain in Republican hands. It affects the process of the Senate. The votes on the floor are still cast by the same 100 senators, but there would be effects on process and certainly chairmanships.
Q Aren't you going to have to nominate more moderate judges than you would have otherwise, with the Democrats controlling the floor?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, let's wait to see what Senator Jeffords does, but take the initial round of nominations the President proposed. They were well-received. And the President is going to do in all cases what he thinks is right for the country, and then he will fight through the power of his ideas to get his ideas through. And I think when you take a look at the makeup of the Senate, there are a number of Democrats who are willing to work with the President. And they will break with party lines and continue to work with the President. And I think that's true with many appointments, as well as it is on policy.
Q Ari, while we're on judges, can you just give a brief background on Riley, the 8th Circuit judicial nomination for today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not have anything further with me other than that announcement. Let me try to post something on that after the briefing.
Q Ari, is it not true that your success, though, in the Senate, whether the issue be tax cuts, quick action on education, the promise of an energy bill by the July 4th recess, is because you have a Republican Majority Leader who has accepted, I think almost without exception, the President's request of which issues to bring to the floor at any given moment?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, on the energy bill by July 4th, I'm not aware of a statement by any of this administration that there is a target of July 4th.
Q Senator Lott said he wanted to do that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. The timing of what the Senate does is always determined by the senators. And as you know, the Senate works as closely as they can, the Minority Leader and the Majority Leader --
Q The Majority Leader has exceptional powers.
MR. FLEISCHER: The Majority Leader does. And I think it's -- let's wait and hear what Senator Jeffords says, and then I'll be prepared to answer that question.
Q Ari, is the President prepared to press China on Tibetan rights? And why didn't he meet with the Dalai Lama in the Oval Office, why in the Roosevelt?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President met with him in the residence in connection with the visit from a spiritual and religious leader. The President thought it was the appropriate place to have the meeting. It's interesting, too, it came up this morning about the previous administration used to have drop-bys, for example, with the Dalai Lama, as opposed to a meeting. Going back to administrations before the Clinton administration, there used to be meetings. So the President is maintaining the longstanding tradition of meeting with the Dalai Lama.
I've issued a statement in regard to what the meeting covered. I won't bother to go through the statement again; you have that at your disposal, you can read that. It addresses your question, Campbell.
Q Ari, you keep referring to him repeatedly as a spiritual leader. Does that mean you do not believe he has a temporal voice, as many of his people do?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Tibet is not seeking and is not viewed as an independent nation. Tibet is a part of China.
Q He does have strong political views about autonomy, and it's something that he campaigns for.
MR. FLEISCHER: And I've addressed in the statement that you have what the President's reaction was to the meeting.
Q And as a spiritual leader, does the President believe that people who follow him in Tibet are being religiously persecuted by the Chinese government?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has spoken out on many occasions about human rights and religious freedom in China, and he'll continue to do so.
Q And that would include Tibetan Buddhists?
MR. FLEISCHER: You had that all in the statement.
Q Does the President accept the fact that China -- that Tibet is a part of China?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've just indicated that.
Q Ari, whatever Jeffords does tomorrow, we're at a point where he's almost in the Democratic Party, if not, in fact, there. Is there anything the President thinks, retrospectively, that he should have done or wishes that he didn't do with respect to Senator Jeffords?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, again, Senator Jeffords has always been an independent thinker, an independent-minded fellow. And the President is going to continue, no matter what Senator Jeffords decides, to treat him well, to respect him and to work with him. He supports the President and is a leader of President's initiative on patients' bill of rights, for example. He indicated to the press today that he would vote for the tax relief package. So regardless of any decision the Senator makes, the President continues to see good, productive signs in the United States Senate that his agenda will be able to get through.
Q Did you sense any -- did anybody at the White House sense any warning signs? I mean, what we're trying to get at is, you have, in an evenly-divide Senate, somebody moving out of the Republican Party, and it's hard to tell how hard the White House fought keep a Republican Senate.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to be fair to Senator Jeffords, and I think you need to allow the Senator to speak and to hear his words, his reasons for whatever action he takes, and I think he'll be in the strongest position to answer your question.
Q Will you answer these questions after he speaks?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will.
Q No matter how hard the White House tries to keep --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated this morning, you're asking good questions, but out of respect for Senator Jeffords, I think you should allow him to answer those questions first.
Q But what we do know is that he's been a happy Republican moderate, more or less, even if an independent thinker for a decade. Now, at the very least, he's an unhappy Republican moderate, if not a happy independent. (Laughter.) What happened? Why now? What happened now that the White House or the Senate leadership changed the environment so dramatically that this man has been independent, but happy within the Republican Party, is considering changing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, I think that's a question you will want to address to Senator Jeffords tomorrow. I think in fairness to the Senator, that's a question that he'll want to answer.
Q On the guest list for the Teacher of the Year and these other kinds of events, on that one in particular, when somebody here mentioned the names Rove and Calio you said, oh, no, they weren't involved. Who would have made up that list? And these events typically have political audiences of some kind or some political makeup to the audience. Aren't those decisions run by the President's top political allies?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question is inviting members of Congress to the White House. And as I've indicated, there have been and there will continue to be, a number of Americans who are honored in this White House and on the grounds of the White House at public events which you all will be in attendance at, and you will see that there are times when members of Congress are simply not there. Yet, we will still honor those individuals, often whom are unique, who have won an award as somebody of the year for some cause, and some good reason, and there will be no members of Congress there.
And if you think that there was something untoward here, then I think you would think there was something untoward with Tennessee and with Colorado. Clearly, that's not the case.
Q I'm just wondering about the process. Is it true that sort of a low- or mid-level person makes a decision on the guest list, and that is never run by anybody at a higher level? It's just sent out and --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a combined decision by a group of medium-level planners who meet every morning to discuss every event on the President's schedule. We have routine meetings to talk about the President's events. And you can go back through the records that you have and the events that you've witnessed with your own eyes, and you will see how often it is that members of Congress are here, and how often it is they are not here to honor people.
These are the types of events that, as you know, when I announce them at the gaggle in the morning, very few of you have any interesting in covering. And as you know, it is not uncommon to have members of Congress who are not here for those events. So I think that this is much ado about nothing, and that this is something that was started by a Democratic senator. And I would urge you to evaluate very carefully before you attribute any deep meaning to this event.
Q Let's take that one event -- let me try this one more time. You have grumbling from House conservatives about the education bill. And the leadership is brought down here and told the President expects you to keep your guys in line, this bill is important to him. Specific members are brought down to meet with the President to discuss their concerns about the education bill.
Senator Jeffords goes south on the President from the White House view on tax cuts, and there are quotes attributed to White House officials about this guy doesn't understand we have a Republican President, he doesn't get it, and gee, maybe we'll take a look at the dairy programs.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of anybody who said that about dairy programs. The two stories I saw on that are absolutely unattributed. There was never any statement by anybody at the White House. And I think that the press has to be careful before you draw causal connections to events where you do not see anybody named, either on background or on the record. So be careful there, please.
Q Should the Republican senators blaming the White House be looking in the mirror?
MR. FLEISCHER: The point is, the President is going to continue to meet with people who disagree with him, and whether they're conservatives or whether they're liberals, and try to persuade them to come aboard. There are going to be times when senators, such as Senator Jeffords or other senators or congressmen agree and don't agree.
The education bill moving through the House -- it won't surprise me if there are a number of Republicans who clash with the President and do not support it. The President is going to continue to push for it, because he thinks it's the right thing to do. The patients' bill of rights. There are some Republicans who don't like what Senator Jeffords is doing, because Senator Jeffords is working with the White House on a patients' bill of rights. That won't stop the President from working with Senator Jeffords. And that's going to be the President's continued approach.
Q Can I try one more time on --
Q Is there any soul-searching at all going on here about what we might have done differently or a different approach in the future?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, you need to allow Senator Jeffords to explain what it is he's doing and why he's doing it.
Q I'm talking about what's going on here among all the officials here. What is the talk in the hallways here.
MR. FLEISCHER: The talk in the hallways is we hope Senator Jeffords remains a Republican.
Q Ari, are you assuring us that Karl Rove and Nick Calio had no role in the preparation of the guest list which did not include Senator Jeffords for this Teacher of the Year --
MR. FLEISCHER: I said there are medium-level staffers who are responsible for those decisions. If any of the medium-level staffers, as a matter of routine, bounced their recommendations off of their bosses, I can't speak to each and every decision. But these are obvious routine events that you see all the time here in the White House, and that's why I say I think you're making much ado about nothing.
Q But on this specific event, did Karl Rove or Nick Calio play any role in the preparation of the guest list?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not go back to each and every event and ask every single member of the White House staff, including Nick and Karl.
Q But this has been in the news for days.
MR. FLEISCHER: And I submit to you that that's wrong. And when people say --
Q But there must have been discussions in the White House about it.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to talk to Senator Jeffords and see if the Senator, himself, raised any concerns with the White House about it. And I think you will find he did not. Isn't that the issue, if the Senator thought that it was a problem?
Q I talked last night with a Vermont Republican who has known Senator Jeffords for 20 years; he said he's very upset about it.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, did the Senator raise any issues with the White House?
Q Well, he raised it with some people that he knows pretty well. So, again, the question is, you don't know if Karl Rove -- that's the bottom line, is that you don't know --
MR. FLEISCHER: I know that the decisions for those meetings are made at a routine morning meeting by medium-level staffers. That's where the planning for all White House events takes place.
Q Just to button this down, you're certain that Senator Jeffords did not -- or his office -- did not request to come to the Teacher of the Year ceremony?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's never been brought to my attention that he did, and I know that the White House did not receive any complaints from Senator Jeffords about it. I can imagine if he had requested to come and then was not allowed to come, we would have received a complaint.
Q What if he becomes an independent, Ari, like Bernie Sanders, who will not join the Democratic Party? He's from Vermont. What if Senator Jeffords becomes an independent?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, again, that's another wise reason to wait to see what Senator Jeffords decides to do and why he decides to do it.
Q Ari, aside from whatever Jeffords may say about what he's doing or what the reasons are, the White House has known for sometime that he was disgruntled, that he felt he wasn't being treated right. Is there -- we sometimes get the sense from you that there was sort of a laissez-faire notion here -- well, he's an independent thinker and he'll decide what he wants to do -- did the White House try to do everything it could to keep him from switching parties? And if so, what can you tell us about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question I will be happy to talk about tomorrow. But, as you know, this is a topic that really arose in substantial form for the first time this week. This is not something that you all were talking about two and three weeks ago. This is something that arose in substantial form this week. And, as you know, the President met with Senator Jeffords yesterday. So, too, did the Vice President.
Q But, I mean, this story has been floating around for weeks. Surely, you knew that Jeffords was upset. He has come to at least the leadership on a number of issues saying he disagreed, he wanted the White House to put more money into special ed, for instance.
MR. FLEISCHER: And, clearly, as the White House worked with Senator Jeffords, there were areas in which the White House and Senator Jeffords disagreed, and there were many areas where we agreed, such as the patient bill of rights. I think it's a very productive thing for the nation that Senator Jeffords is on a patient bill of rights that has the White House support. It is a good sign of good things to come, the White House hopes.
Q Ari, on California energy, in a letter that Governor Davis sent to the President dated today, he not only asks for a meeting, but he wants to introduce the President to business leaders and some consumers. Is that what you have accepted for next week when the President is in California?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our staff has been in touch with Governor Davis' staff and we are working out the exact modalities of such a meeting.
Q Is President Bush open to meeting with California energy consumers?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has several events on his schedule that already include business leaders and energy consumers, so it very well may happen that we are each suggesting similar things, which would be a healthy sign.
Q Who took the initiative in setting up this meeting? Governor Davis has not exactly been shy about airing his differences.
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated earlier, I think this is a case of they both wanted to meet with each other and we are very pleased to be able to make it work out.
Q Does he feel that in any sense Governor Davis has been sort of villainizing the Bush White House on this issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know, I think the President's focus is going to be on solving problems; he is not interested in finger pointing.
And that's what the President has done on energy policy in this country, whether people agree or disagree with the specifics of his energy plan. I think most Americans and most Californians are very pleased to see a President who is leading and taking action in addressing the issue head on.
Q On the Middle East call, it has been about three months since the President talked to Yasser Arafat. What prompted him to call today? Was it the release of the Mitchell report specifically?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the release of the Mitchell report. The President believes that the parties in the Middle East should seize this opportunity provided by the release of the Mitchell report to come together at long last, to cease the violence, to engage in constructive conversations so that the recommendations of the Mitchell report can be accepted.
Q In the final days of the Clinton administration, a series of regulations under the general title of the Clean Air and National Parks Safeguards were put in place. They were frozen at the beginning of this administration, presumably for 90 days, and yet apparently there had been no movement. Can you tell me what the administration is going to do about those recommendations? Will they be allowed to go forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me get back to you on that. I'll have to look into that one.
Q On the education bill, what's commonly known as the voucher component of the President's plan is going to be voted on and expected to go down. How big of a disappointment is that to you, or have you given up on it a long time ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would be disappointed if it was not approved. The President believes that it's a helpful part of education reform, to allow parents who have children in schools that are failing to have additional options. And those options should include being able to go to a different public school. Those options should include private tutors. Those options should include being able to use a portion of the federal money to go to a private school, if that would be more helpful in parents eyes, to educating that child.
The President believes in that proposal. That's why he's made it. He's urged members of Congress to support it. He did so yesterday in the meeting with the House Republicans who came down here. We'll just have to see what the vote is.
Q Is that one of the things that he talked to the conservatives yesterday, about putting in a separate bill further down the line?
MR. FLEISCHER: It did not come up in the matter of putting it in a separate bill, if I recall.
Q So he has no plans to bring it up again after it dies in the spring?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think you have to see what the vote is. And, obviously, if the votes aren't there, the votes aren't there. But the President believes in it. But the President is very satisfied that the core of the reforms that he has proposed are focused on mandatory testing in grades 3 through 8, and a stricter accountability and a consolidation so that the federal -- the state governments can do more with the resources they have, with less federal strings. All of those key provisions are moving forward, and doing so nicely in a bipartisan way.
Q Ari, when are you going to send up the Vietnam trade agreement? There are reports you'll do it by June 1st. Apparently, Pete Peterson's resignation was made with the understanding that the track is now smooth for that.
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, there's not a hard date on that, but it will be soon.
Q If I may go back to Dalai Lama's visit, please. China is very angry on both visits, the President of Taiwan and Dalai Lama's visit to the U.S. Do you see any policy change? And also, does Dalai Lama have a sympathizer in the White House today for his people in Tibet who say they have been suffering for the last 50 years?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no policy change. The President continues to believe that he can work with China on issues where we have agreement, such as trade, with the other areas, such as human rights and religious persecution, where the United States and China will differ. And the President will not hesitate to discuss those differences in an effort to ameliorate them. Previous Presidents, of course, have met with the Dalai Lama. So there's no change in the United States policy.
Q Is he still going to China?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is still going to China, correct.
Q Ari, you mentioned the Middle East call was prompted by the Mitchell report. What prompted the President to invite Senator Jeffords here yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Talk that Senator Jeffords may leave the Republican Party.
Q Anything in particular? Why not a week ago or a month ago when the same issues were already out there?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the issue took on a sense of greater importance this week. And I think that's why Senator Jeffords is thinking about what steps he's going to take.
Q Ari, did he call up and say, hey, can I come on over? Did you guys call him? How did it happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to find out exactly. I know he met with the Vice President, and then the President had the Senator down here after his meeting with the Vice President.
Q You don't know whose initiative this was?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe it was a White House initiative, but I'll have to check on that.
Q What time of the day was it, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: At 3:30 p.m.
Q Were they alone?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just the two of them in the Oval Office.
Q Ari, as part of his energy plan, the President has proposed renewing the Price-Anderson Act. That would limit the liability of nuclear companies in the case of a nuclear meltdown or a disaster, and the government would step in and pay the excess lawsuits. This has been labeled corporate welfare, because the government comes in and subsidizes the nuclear industry. Why would the President, who is a supporter of the free market, support this kind of corporate welfare reform?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I differ with you on the characterization of it. There have been a series of impediments that have been put in the path of nuclear power which now seem to be changing. And nuclear power provides 20 percent of the electricity for homes in this country. In other words, one out of every five homes is powered -- receives its electricity from nuclear power.
And the President is concerned, as he looks at the energy situation broadly, that we need to have a comprehensive policy that uses natural gas, that uses clean coal, that stresses conservation, that uses nuclear power, as well.
Q Well, why not look at the nuclear companies to pay the costs if there is a nuclear accident? Why should the government step in? Why should the people step in to pay for it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the report addressed that directly and why the President took the actions that he did.
Q One more quick one. As far as foreign policy concerned, how often is the President in touch with his father, like China policy or on any foreign policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I've talked about this many times before, the President talks to his father and he's asked that those conversations be private and I will keep them private.
END 2:18 P.M. EDT