|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 15, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
MR. FLEISCHER: It looks like a sell-out crowd today. Something must be going on. A couple announcements. One, I have a travel update I want to report. The President will travel to Orlando, Florida on Wednesday, March 21, to speak to the American College of Cardiology's annual convention. And that will be a day trip, for your planning purposes.
Q Is Cheney going? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Are you? (Laughter.)
I have a statement by the Press Secretary on a personnel related item. The President announced on February 6 his intention to nominate Richard Haass for the rank of Ambassador during his tenure of service as the Director of Policy Planning at the Department of State. And today the President is announcing his further intention that among Mr. Haass' other responsibilities he take the lead on U.S. engagement in support of the Northern Ireland peace process.
The United States will continue to support full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and stands ready to assist the process in any way that the British and Irish governments and the parties deem useful.
And with that, I'm pleased to take questions.
Q What's the subject of the speech in Orlando?
MR. FLEISCHER: It will be health related. We'll have a little bit more information on it closer to the event itself.
Q Campaign finance reform -- today?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will, later today, sign and send a letter up to Capitol Hill which will enclose a statement of principles on the President's dedication to enacting campaign finance reform legislation into law. That will go up sometime this afternoon. As soon as it goes up and the Hill receives it, we will distribute it.
Q Coverage of the signing?
MR. FLEISCHER: No coverage of the signing.
Q Ari, is the President through with Senator McCain? Is he not talking with the Senator on campaign finance anymore? Is he supporting only Senator Hagel's bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President is working with a number of people on Capitol Hill on campaign finance reform, because he thinks very strongly that this is the year we can actually get it done. And toward that effort, he is working to build common agreement around his principles with a variety of senators on the Hill, including Senator McCain and Senator Hagel and other senators as well.
Q So McCain-Feingold is not dead? There can be a compromise that would build in the President's plan, Senator Hagel's plan and McCain-Feingold?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's focus on campaign finance reform this year is on making things live. He doesn't want anything to be dead, he wants to have an agreement. And that's why he thinks this is the year it can finally be done. It's been one of those issues that has been talked about for so long by politicians in both parties, and for some reason, somehow, it never gets done. I think the dynamic has changed this year. The President is determined to take advantage of that, and to get it signed into law.
Q He is definitely in touch with Senator McCain?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is in touch with a number of people on the Hill that includes Senator McCain. We're going to work with Senator McCain.
Q When is the last time he talked to Senator McCain about the issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to find out for you --
Q Since the meeting --
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the President very often picks up the phone and talks to members of Congress, or actually at night has them over to the Residence for dinner and for other meetings, and we don't make all of those meetings and contacts public. But you can assume on a very ongoing, regular basis, the President is talking to members on the Hill. But Senator McCain is aware of what we are doing on this issue and has been kept in very close touch.
Q Ari, as you know, the Chief of Staff of the Army wants to issue black berets to all troops by the 14th of June, the anniversary of the Army, which has caused something of a firestorm among veterans of the elite units. And Minnesota Governor Ventura says when he talked to the President at dinner here, he asked the President to block that move. And someone from the Governor's office later reported back that it was a "done deal." Is it a done deal? Is the President going to intervene? And how does he personally feel about the issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ivan, as it was reported at the time when that issue was raised at the National Governors Association meeting, and it was reported by the press, the President indicated that he would ask Secretary Rumsfeld to look into it. He has asked the Secretary to do so, and Secretary Rumsfeld is currently looking at that matter.
Q How does he personally feel about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: He feels, personally, that Secretary Rumsfeld will look into it.
Q Ari, a couple of issues related to campaign finance. Senator Torricelli has a bill that would require stations to provide the lowest possible rate for TV ads, not preemptable. And secondly, McCain has a proposal for free air time. What's the White House view on either of them, on both of those?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me suspend on that. I want to let the -- I think it's more proper to let the statement of principles go up to the Hill, and have you evaluate those once they are sent up there. I just want to suggest that again, the President wants to get an agreement reached this year. And that's why he will send the principles up. They will address many of the questions that you have. But there's also room in those principles to reach an agreement. And that's going to be the President's focus.
Q How do you reach the principle?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me -- go ahead, Helen.
Q Go ahead, I'm sorry.
MR. FLEISCHER: I was going to say, if you recall, during the campaign, the President said, and still believes, that we should have a ban on soft money coming from corporations, coming from unions. He does not believe that we should -- that the system should be filled with soft money coming from those groups. He believes in full disclosure. He thinks it's terribly important that there be full and instant disclosure by candidates, by various parties and political campaigns. He thinks the sun should shine in, and that applies broadly to all groups. He believes that people should give money voluntarily, not involuntarily.
That's an important provision as well. So that's the core of what the President has talked about during the campaign. The principles that he sends up to the Hill will be reflective of that core.
Q These were drawn from his own experience in running, or how were they developed?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, from the President's point of view, it was drawn from his experience in governing, his experience in running, and the considerate approach he took to how best to reform a system that he believes is in need of reform.
Q Paycheck -- is not one of the four principles?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've just discussed involuntary giving.
Q Is that negotiable? Because many on the Hill believe if that's core requirement, there's no chance for campaign finance reform.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the President's view, and I think this view is becoming increasingly shared by others, that this is the year to get it done.
Q Including paycheck?
MR. FLEISCHER: Including involuntary contributions. The President does not believe that anybody should have money taken out of their paycheck without permission to be used for political purposes, no matter what they belong to -- a labor union or any other entity. He does not think that's right. He doesn't think that's fair. And he's going to work to put together a coalition to support his principles, that can be enacted into law.
Q So, shouldn't employees have the same right? I mean, if your corporation is --
MR. FLEISCHER: You will see his principles shortly.
Q On China, do you have anything to say on the President's trip to China or on the comments made by Zhu Rongji, and on the contradictory statements, you have the Chinese Premier saying that the President agrees that Taiwan is part of China; at the same time, you've got China building up its arms against Taiwan.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very pleased to have received the invitation to visit China, and we are considering how we can respond at this time. And as soon as we have a formal response, of course it will be conveyed to the Chinese government, and then we will let you know shortly thereafter. But he's very pleased to have received the invitation.
Q Oh, so it's not definite that he's going.
MR. FLEISCHER: He's very pleased to have received the invitation.
Q Are the Chinese mistaken in saying that he had accepted?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question.
Q In North Korea, is the President concerned about the cancellation of Cabinet-level talks with the South?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you've heard, the President, in his discussions with President Kim -- with President Bush and his discussions with President Kim -- he supports President Kim's efforts to bring peace and bring stability to the region. And he will continue to be supportive of those efforts. He has expressed his own personal skepticism about the intentions of the government of North Korea, and that's where the matters stand.
Q It does appear that the cancellation of these talks may relate to some of the comments that have been made by administration officials, including the President. Does the President feel any responsibility for this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that the situation is developing in the Korean Peninsula, and there will be other events that follow as well. And the President made his position clear to President Kim and President Kim understands that President Bush is supportive of his efforts.
Q Ari, the President, in seven weeks-plus, now, has called most world leaders. Has he talked to the President of China? And on this invitation for a state visit, what are the factors in play here that will be weighed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, it's always proper to notify the people who invite you to a meeting before you notify the press. I know that sounds novel. But again, once --
Q You've not notified -- accepted formally?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered the question earlier; there's no change in my answer on the question. Once we have something to report, we will.
Q But So are you saying China is lying?
MR. FLEISCHER: But again, the President's pleased to have been invited.
Q Has he talked to the President, leader of China?
MR. FLEISCHER: Has he had any recent conversations? As you know, the Deputy Premier will be here next week and will be meeting with the President.
Q So the answer is no?
Q Is the President pleased that China announced that it will talk about a missile defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is. The President thought that was helpful. It's another sign that, around the world, people are taking President Bush seriously and understand that the United States, under President Bush will move forward with the development an the deployment of a national missile defense. And the reaction around the world has become increasingly supportive in various measured ways, and the President is pleased by that.
Q Will the Chinese willingness to talk about this be a factor in his decision on arms to Taiwan and what kind of package to put together?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Ari, Senator Daschle and Congressman Gephardt came out this morning armed with some charts and quotes, and they basically are accusing the President and Vice President Cheney of talking down the economy, scaring consumers, contributing to the dropping consumer confidence and creating the economic downturn, all to build support for his tax plan. Do you have a response, a, to that? And then I have a follow-up.
MR. FLEISCHER: Number one, the President believes the most important thing for policymakers, either in the Congress or in the White House, is to be accurate, and not to withhold information from the American people, but to accurately and fully describe to the American people the state of the economy. That way, we can help improve the state of the economy.
The President has submitted a plan to the Capitol, to Congress, that he believes is an economic recovery plan to help create growth in the economy. It's worth noting, of course, that any time somebody has statements to make, we hope they contribute to solving the problem.
Certainly, the last time the nation was experiencing an economic slowdown, there were many Democrats on the Hill in 1991 and 1992 who did not hesitate to point out the softness in the economy at that time. We would hope that nobody would engage in one type of rhetoric back in 1991 and 1992 and a different type of rhetoric now.
Q Just a follow-up on that. Is there any shift, though, or change in the administration's approach in light of what we've seen in the markets this week in terms of questioning or reevaluating what the President says publicly and what you all say privately about the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to believe that all recent reports make it even more important for Congress to pass his plan. He thinks it's terribly important that people in both parties send a signal to the public that we understand the difficulties that people are going through with the current weakness in the economy, and that it's very important for people to hear that message from the government.
He hopes that nobody would turn a blind eye to the economic difficulties in this nation at a time when people need to know straight facts from the government leaders.
Q If I could just follow one more time, though. Just like you say, there's a psychological benefit to giving a tax cut, even if the dollar sign impact won't be so large in the first year. But, psychologically, if people know a tax cut is coming, they will spend more. Isn't there a psychological impact by taking about the problems of the economy that people say, oh, I shouldn't spend money on this car, or I had better save, and that could contribute to some of the warning signs we're seeing now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes very deeply that there will be a real-world and psychological impact of a negative nature if people in government do not share accurate information with the American people. And the President is going to continue to talk about the economy. The President has expressed his belief that the long-term factors in the economy are going to be strong, and he has said that repeatedly, and his budget reflects that factor, of course.
But again, going back to 10 years or so ago, the last time there was softness in the economy, there were many leading Democrats who pointed out that softness in the economy. And they did so on the basis of the evidence and the accuracy of the information at that time. It's always important to be accurate.
Q And the last time we had that kind of softness in the economy, the budget took a tremendous hit. The deficits in the '90s, early and mid-'90s really stemmed from that recession. Given the difficulties in --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not accurate. The deficits stem from many factors of a long-term nature well before the '91 and '92 recession.
Q Given the difficulties in this economy and the sell-off from the market, is the President reconsidering his tax cut in light of the potential smaller surpluses that would result from a weaker economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I mean, the interesting facts are that the surplus continues to grow larger even with the softness in the economy. And for the first four months of the current fiscal year, the surplus is $32 billion higher than last year, even though growth is significantly less than last year for the comparable period.
So the facts are, frankly, just the opposite of that. The surplus continues to grow larger, and the estimates that President Bush has made in his budget are very conservative, as far as the amount of revenue projected to come in.
And interestingly, one other factor on that, too -- of course, if you looked at the last budget submitted by the previous administration, they projected growth for this current fiscal year to be 3.5 percent in 2001. I noted this morning some officials from the previous administration were suggesting that it was somehow -- they were questioning some of the economics of what the President was saying. Of course, again, the President believes it's important to be accurate.
The last budget submitted by the previous administration projected growth to be 3.5 percent. Our budget is a very -- much more realistic, much more accurate budget.
Q How do you know that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That it's more realistic and accurate?
Q How do you know it's more accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, growth does not appear to be on track for 3.5 percent this year. And the blue chip economic -- the blue chip private estimators are much closer to the administration's estimate. Our estimate was 2.4 percent, and for the course of the year, it looks like it's going to be much closer to 2.4 than 3.5, for example.
Q Doesn't it follow that you're not going to get the kind of tax payments in the out years that you're getting now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, you have to look at what is exactly taking place in the economy.
Q What's taking place now reflects the tax payments that are due and coming in this year.
MR. FLEISCHER: There was softness in the economy in the fourth quarter. The fourth quarter came in much --
Q Yes, but not like this.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, it sure did. Fourth quarter projections came in at about 1.1 percent, much lower than previously estimated. But revenues continue to come in at twice the rate of the previous year. And our budget underestimates revenues by a significant effect.
Q But isn't it true that a lot of the increase in the tax revenues over the past several years came from capital -- taxes on capital gains realizations --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not true.
Q -- and options income --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not true.
Q -- and just as there was irrational exuberance in the market, isn't it possible there's irrational exuberance in surplus projections?
MR. FLEISCHER: The premise of your question, I have to say, is off. The capital gains realizations represents a very small sliver of revenues in this country.
Q Plus options income.
MR. FLEISCHER: Still, it's a small sliver of revenues. That is not the bulk of revenues in this country.
Q There is no irrational exuberance in the surplus projection.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the surplus projections in this administration are indeed very conservative.
Q Try one more crack at this, Ari. Do you -- you're basically saying that a world exists now where growth can continue to decline and surpluses will continue to grow. Surely that can't last forever.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's a reflection of the fact that previous surplus estimates were wrong, and they were wrong in the direction of being so conservative that growth continues. Even with diminished growth, surplus revenues continue to pour in at a rate higher than expected.
Not to extend the seminar on economics, I'm sure we have bored all of whoever is no longer watching this briefing. But that is the economic reality of how revenues are coming in. And for the last five years in a row, revenues have come in far higher than all the estimators projected.
For the last five years in a row the question has always been, what are you going to do if those estimates are too high? That hasn't happened yet, for the last five years. Yet, always it's the same question. So you could equally ask the question, what are you going to do if those estimates are too low and more revenue comes in. That remains, frankly, more of a likelihood than revenue coming in at a lesser degree.
Q So why use that, Ari, that the revenues have been stronger when the economy has been weaker?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the estimators are being too conservative. They are estimating revenue at a far less rate than has actually come in. And even with growth diminishing, the pattern continues. The revenue estimators, both at the nonpartisan CBO and at the Office of Management and Budget have missed the mark on revenues on the too pessimistic side, the too conservative side.
I understand the nature of the questions coming in, but what happens if they're wrong? I think in all due respect, you also have to ask the question, what happens if they're wrong again on the pessimistic side. That has been the recent history. It appears on the basis of the first four months of the year that recent history will repeat itself, even with the slowdown.
Q But, Ari, with regard to the last few days, the tremendous gyrations on the market may indeed indicate that there really is no predictability in the markets at this point, and maybe we're facing something much more serious than you or the Clinton budget had predicted.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the tremendous gyrations in the market have taken place on several occasions in the last several -- many years.
Q But they're coming at an ever quicker rate. And wouldn't it be better to have a buffer?
MR. FLEISCHER: The market has been known for its gyrations. It's been part of a pattern in the market going back many years.
Q But wouldn't it be better, to follow up on that, Ari, wouldn't it be better to have a buffer in terms of the unpredictability, rather than to give that buffer away in a tax cut and not have it if things got much worse?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, the President believes very strongly that if you leave all that money on the table in Washington and you call it a buffer, that buffer will be spent. That is the history of the politicians. And the surplus is, in fact, $1.4 trillion smaller for the next 10 years than it would have been because of government spending, agreements made by the last Congress and the last President to increase government spending.
So the President rejects that idea. He has a reserve built into his budget, and he believes very strongly that if you do not cut taxes, even after paying the debt, after increasing money for education and Medicare and Social Security, if you do not cut taxes, that additional money will be spent.
Q A question about the West Coast energy crisis. Gordon Smith, a Republican, this morning asked the President to reverse his opposition to wholesale price caps. Is there any chance the President will do that, or would he turn the decision over to his FERC appointee?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, as Secretary Abraham made clear in his testimony on the Hill this morning, the President does not support price controls. He thinks price controls have not worked, will not work, and do not work.
Q Under any circumstance you would not reconsider that decision?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just explained the President's point of view.
Q -- with the slowdown of the economy, do you think it will be more difficult for the President to get fast track authority from Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that you can -- I've not heard any discussion about a tie between the difficulties in the economy and the prospect for fast track. The President is very committed to securing trade promotion authority, which is the new name for what fast track was previously called -- trade promotion authority. The President wants to move forward on that. It's always been a difficult issue on Capitol Hill. The margins are very tight. But the President is committed to getting it done.
Q Do you think we're going to see a real effort by the President before the Summit of the Americans, in the next few days, when?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House has not announced a time table yet. We'll keep you informed.
Q Going back to Gephardt and Daschle, what they were saying, I don't think anybody's suggesting that the President ought to withhold facts. But when he makes statements like, there are dark clouds on the economic horizon, and the economy is sputtering, those are really statements of opinion, based on all the political calculus involved. Are you suggesting he did not seek to have a problem that his tax cuts could solve?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of any economist who would differ with what the President is saying. The President thinks what is important is to be accurate, not political, and his statements have been accurate. And again, I draw you back to 10 years ago. And if you take a look at the statements that were being made by various Democrat officials 10 years ago, you'll see they too were accurately describing the state of the economy then, harboring no such reservations about the statements they were making at the time.
Q So he did not, gin up, if you will, the darkness of what he saw, so as to help sell his tax plan?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I'm sure you're aware, the decline in the Nasdaq began in March of 2000. President Bush had just barely emerged from the primaries in March of 2000. The economic slowdown also can be traced back factually and accurately in time. So to suggest that the President's words could have caused any of these actions, when the economic slowdown actually begun in a period some time ago, is as wrong as wrong can be.
Q If you're talking about the decline in the Nasdaq, which, frankly, the Fed was probably trying to encourage -- I'm talking about the GDP slowdown.
MR. FLEISCHER: That, too, began in the summer quarter of 2000. And in June, July and August of 2000 is when GDP estimate began getting revised downward in a rather sharp fashion. And that continued to the point -- we just discussed it -- for the fourth quarter -- or the first quarter of this fiscal year, which is November, December and January of last year. Before the President even took office, growth diminished even further.
And there is a history to these matters. There are economic facts that speak, and speak clearly. The President believes that it is the job of a leader to speak accurately, and not to hide or withhold information from the American people. He also thinks it's terribly important that people in a position of power show the American people that they care, that they hear their pleas, they hear the needs of people who are paying high energy bills, who are struggling in this economy, and the job of the government is to hear their pleas. President Bush does.
Q Daschle and Gephardt went so far as to suggest that corporate leaders who have been listening to the economic talk coming out of the White House have prompted a number of the thousands of layoffs that we've been seeing in the past couple of months. What is your reaction to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Would that be true in 1991 and 1992, when Democrat leaders made similar statements, because at that time the economy was weakening? I think what you see are accurate measures of the economy.
Q Ari, following up on that, the President yesterday was talking about -- this just struck me as one of his first comments on this -- but he seemed to balance out his comments about the difficulties of the economy with other ones talking about the fundamentals, and there are some things that are still good about the economy, and so on. Does he plan to do more of that balancing out in the future?
MR. FLEISCHER: You've heard the President say repeatedly that he believes that the long term prospects for the economy are good, and that's reflected in our budget. And the President will continue to say that. He always has. Let me stress again: The President believes that it is the job of a leader, regardless of what party you're in, to talk about accurately about the state of the economy. And he will continue to do so. And I know of no private sector economist who disagree with the President's descriptions of the economy. And we would hope that all politicians of all parties would hear what is happening in this country and not turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to it.
Q Can you promise that the President would continue to talk about problems with the economy if it's still bad in 2004?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a hypothetical, if I understand the definition of hypothetical.
Let's get someone new here.
Q If there's a cap on the homestead exemption, is that a deal-killer?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is not talking in terms of veto. The President -- the statement the President put out in connection with that bill, as you know, the President reiterated his support for the compromise measure which had previously passed. But he is not talking about language.
Q Is he considering at all the direction in the legislation today?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, we're very encouraged by the direction of the bankruptcy legislation, and we'll continue to work with leaders on the Hill. The President is looking forward to the presentation of a bill that he can sign.
Q There is a large body of opinion, too, that believes that even a $1.6-trillion tax cut may not have an immediate impact to stimulate the economy. Should that prove to be right, what is plan B?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does believe that it will stimulate the economy, and that's one of the reasons he was heartened when the House of Representatives made the tax cut retroactive. The President believes that when people know that they will have more money in their paychecks each and every pay period for the next many years, it's real-world. It's a real-world sign of consumer confidence, a real way to boost the economy. The President has a plan, and he hopes the Congress will pass it.
Q Ari, about the meeting with Prime Minister Mori on Monday, are they going to talk about the strength of the two economies and the recent development in the stock markets?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll have some type of read on the agenda a little closer to the meeting. I'm not prepared to do that right here.
Q Are they going to have that tomorrow?
MR. FLEISCHER: It could be earlier next week.
Q The meeting is Monday.
Q May I ask something about NMD? You welcome other countries' willingness to talk to the United States about that program --
MR. FLEISCHER: About which program? Missile defense?
Q About missile defense.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q But the Russian official that was visiting recently, Mr. Ivanov, he's saying there is basically nothing to talk about this point, that the Americans are not giving any specific proposals, any specific ideas. Not even as specific as the Russians gave to Lord Robertson from NATO in Moscow. So the question probably is how soon do you expect to give something concrete and specific for discussions?
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the President has ordered a review of missile defenses as well as other reviews, including the quality of life in the military and our overall strategic needs in the military, and that review is under way.
But I would refer you, and I will remind you of what President Bush said when the Russians made their announcement about sharing nuclear missile defenses with Europe. The President said he was heartened to hear about that. So that's why I've indicated to you that the President is heartened to see this increasing talk around the world about the need for defensive systems. Prime Minister Blair said that, President Kim said that. The Russians and the Chinese also talking about development of missile defenses. And the President believes it's a reinforcement of what he has talked about.
Q That's not actually an issue. It has not been an issue all along -- I mean, developing and creating missile defense. The issue here is breaking the old treaty.
MR. FLEISCHER: And as I indicated to you, the President has ordered the review to take place.
Q Ari, is the President considering another formal press conference?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll let you know when there's another one scheduled --
Q Ari, the Catholic League is protesting the President's decision to invite Ian Paisley to the celebration tomorrow, comparing it to inviting Yasser Arafat to a Hanukkah party. Is the President sensitive to these concerns of this major Catholic organization.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Mr. Paisley is coming here as a representative of the various parties who all support the Good Friday Agreement. And his decision to attend the meeting tomorrow has been hailed by the signatories to the Good Friday Agreement as a positive step.
Q Ari, some of my brethren are reporting that the President has ordered up to an 80 percent U.S. troop reduction in Bosnia. Is that true? And if so, how is it going to work?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an erroneous report.
Q It's our understanding that this is being looked at, and will go to NATO.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President -- as you know, there was recently a 750 troop withdrawal, part of the regular draw down from the troops on schedule. But the President has made clear that he will continue to consult with our allies in the region prior to taking any action, and that we will honor our commitments.
Q Right, but it will go to NATO -- that's what's reported.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's erroneous to say -- that report was erroneous. Consulting with our allies will of course continue to go on.
Q Erroneous in what respect?
MR. FLEISCHER: To say that we have a plan for --
Q The report was that there was a proposal to withdraw up to a certain number of -- contingent on submitting it to NATO.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you're confusing two issues. One, we will continue to consult with our allies and NATO about United States plans for its troop commitments abroad. But to say that we have -- we have a plan to draw down the troops to that level is not accurate.
Q But we may have a proposal which we would take to NATO, consult with them, and then see it done, as things usually are when we go to NATO.
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you want to weigh in on anything else?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: The report was incorrect in characterizing the six month review process as a first step in a withdraw.
Q Which means that it is not a first step, there may be a second step?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: Right, it's not a first step. We're not stepping toward withdrawal at this point.
Q Well, a proposal, nonetheless --
MS. COUNTRYMAN: The U.S. intends to review the force posture with NATO allies. It reviews it every six months. As Ari said, as a result of a previous six-month review, we determined that some forces and some military weaponry in Bosnia was no longer needed to do the mission, and we removed it.
Q So the next proposal will go to NATO when it's ready?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: NATO does conduct a six-month review. All allies are consulted in the six month review of force posture. And we don't have any intention of taking a first step toward withdrawal, as that CBS report indicated.
Q Without consulting NATO?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: Right now, there is no plan for a military withdrawal from the Balkans.
Q -- will announce on the Hill that there is a budget of $730 million for the Andean strategy to help countries like Peru and Ecuador with the spillover of Colombia. The President feels that it's enough money to help those countries, even though Ecuadoran government are asking a loan of $150 million for the border aid?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take your question. Either somebody here will get back to you, or State will. They'll take you're question.
Q The President has seen the movie, Traffic?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q The President has saw the movie, Traffic? The movie, Traffic?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, has he seen the movie, Traffic? I don't know.
Q Ari, there's been a general consolidation or reduction in the number of special envoys. But today we have one appointed for Northern Ireland. Can you elaborate a little --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not the title. He's not a special envoy. That's not his designation. He -- in addition to his duties at the State Department, he will assume the role of helping to coordinate the policies in that area. But the title of Special Envoy is not an accurate title.
Q Ari, there's an article in the Los Angeles Times this morning that said that a top energy executive called while the President's speechwriters were trying to top off his address to the joint sessions of Congress, with a request which basically said, ask Bush to drop a line from his speech restating his campaign pledge to limit carbon dioxide emissions. Who was that? Can you confirm that someone did place that call, and who was the industry --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's the first I've heard of that and I have no information on that. I know that was not a matter that was discussed with the President in preparation of his speech.
Q But someone may have called?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know who calls our speechwriters.
Q Are those reports erroneous that the line about carbon dioxide was in his speech and it was taken out, that's erroneous?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. It was never in his speech. I indicated that to somebody at the time, when I saw that.
Q Ari, in view of what you've just said about the missile defense, would you find it helpful if international visitors would stop talking about this issue until you complete the review? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I would never presume to tell international visitors what to say upon their international visit. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, speaking about international visitors, the Irish tomorrow, in addition to seeing Bertie Ahern, what other things are planned here; any discussions about the specifics of how to push the peace process forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the President's remarks today at the luncheon with the Prime Minister, the President talked about how the United States was going to be a partner in peace. He said that we stand ready to help. He praised President Clinton and the role that President Clinton played in bringing other nations to the point where they are now.
And he said that the Good Friday Agreement remains the best hope for a lasting peace. That's what the President said in his remarks up on the Hill. And, as you heard when the President discussed when he was with Prime Minister Blair, he said that we stand ready; if you need our assistance, we will provide it. But he believes, essentially, that now is a time for the parties to the negotiation to complete their work and we'll stand ready to be of assistance.
Q Depending on how you read the -- which account you read or who you talk to, on the CO2 question, the President either explicitly reversed himself on the campaign promise, or the original promise was a mistake made by some aide who stuck it into his speech and apparently the President didn't know that CO2 was not deemed a pollutant up until then. Which is it? MR. FLEISCHER: There are several things that have happened. But, clearly, describing CO2 as a pollutant is not in accordance with the terms of the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act does not include CO2 as a pollutant. And the President has said, and will continue to go beyond any previous administration's anti-pollution strategies by targeting for mandatory reductions three pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen and mercury -- nitrogen oxide and mercury. So, even with this, there's still going to be an unprecedented attempt by this administration to create mandatory reductions in those pollutants. And the Clean Air Act does define those three as pollutants.
Including CO2 as a pollutant should not have been done. That was a mistake made during the course of the campaign. And subsequent to that, you also have then --
Q -- corrected it after he made that statement, because many people talked about it as a breakthrough.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, it was barely talked about. Most people following the speech talked about the President's proposal in that same speech to open a section of ANWR up for development, to increase American domestic supplies of energy. I do believe that if more attention had been brought to that matter of CO2 at that time it would have been noted at that time. Then in December of 2000, the Clinton administration Department of Energy came out with a study that said, to have mandatory reductions of CO2 would lead to large increases in the price of electricity. And given where California is today and where our nation may be facing in terms of high energy bills and a looming energy crisis, the President does not think it would be wise to proceed.
Thank you very much.
Q One follow-up. Does the President personally believe that carbon dioxide emissions lead to global warming?
MR. FLEISCHER: Evidence does suggest that CO2 does play a role in global warming. But the's separate from it being a pollutant.
END 3:15 P.M. EST