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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 7, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:20 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. At approximately 11:30 a.m. this morning, while the Secret Service was on routine patrol around the White House, they heard shots fired and proceeded to surround a subject who was wielding a weapon, a gun. A 10-minute standoff ensued, following at which time the Secret Service fired a shot into the suspect's leg -- a Secret Service officer. The suspect, as you know, is in custody. He's been taken to George Washington University Hospital, where he's being treated for injuries that do not appear to be life-threatening.
During this time, the President was in the residence and was never in any danger. The Vice President was working in his West Wing office, also was never in any danger at any point. The Vice President and the President continue their routine schedules. Mrs. Bush, during this time, was in Texas.
And that is the information as far as the shooting is concerned.
Q Ari, how was the President notified of this? What procedures were followed to ensure his safety?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President was in the residence at the time. The Secret Service notified him that there had been an incident on the South -- outside the gates of the White House, just outside the southernmost tip of the South Lawn. And he resumed his activities that he was in the middle of.
Q Can you give us examples you can describe that were --
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secret Service took the routine precautions they always take.
Q Can you tell us what those routine precautions were? Did it involve him moving at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Any other matters that pertain to the Secret Service's handling or the methods that they use, we're not going to discuss, of course.
Q Secondly, can I ask you, did the gunman aim his gun at anybody or himself?
MR. FLEISCHER: All the specific facts of that matter will be investigated by the relevant agencies, including the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police, and that investigation is underway.
Q What was the President's reaction to this incident?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has full faith in the Secret Service, so the President understood that he was not in any danger. And the President -- again, we all have full faith in the Secret Service here. They are professionals, they do their job, and they do it well. It's unfortunate that it ever comes to this point, but if it ever does, the Secret Service serves our nation very, very ably.
Q Two questions. What was the President doing in the residence at the time? Was that planned?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President was working out in the residence at the time.
Q And also a question for you. We had seen some people leave. Was there any time where visitors and tourists were asked to leave the White House, any evacuation, temporary evacuation that went on?
MR. FLEISCHER: The tourists -- the White House was open at that moment for tourists, and tourists were escorted out the gates of the White House as a routine precaution.
Q Can you confirm this wasn't an act of terrorism?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the whole matter will be under investigation, but I've seen no evidence that would suggest that.
Q Ari, was this a handgun that the suspect had? Did he, himself, fire the shots?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be under investigation.
Q Do you have any idea what his motive or intent was?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, it's all preliminary. The investigation is underway.
Q Do you know how many shots were fired, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll decline to -- that would be part of the investigation. It was a number of shots.
MR. FLEISCHER: A number of shots. I'm not going to indicate a specific number.
Q Fired at him? Is that what you're saying?
MR. FLEISCHER: The suspect fired a number of shots.
Q When he shot at the White House, was the White House hit?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is a part of the investigation.
Q When you say he was at the southernmost tip, that means that the part there where you'd have a clear line of vision.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. I've seen a number of press reports that say it was the Southwest Gate -- that's not correct. It was very close to the southernmost tip, just slightly west of the southernmost tip.
Q Ari, back to this question before. Does the President, in view of today's shooting incident, have any further thoughts about whether to reopen Pennsylvania Avenue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I did not discuss that with the President.
Q What about jogging on that track? You say that --
Q -- he stated a position?
MR. FLEISCHER: I talked to the President and the President said he understood he was never in any danger and he kept up what he was in the middle of. Again, the President has full faith in the Secret Service. But we did not discuss the issue involving Pennsylvania Avenue.
Q About the jogging track, you say that he's jogged a number of times on that track. He would be exposed if he were on that track, given the facts as we know them in this scenario.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President was at the residence at the time this incident took place.
Q Is there any rethinking of whether he should be running on that open-air track?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the event just took place a few hours ago, and as a standard, a review will be done and an investigation will be done --
Q If I understand what you're saying, from where he was standing he would have a clear line of sight of the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: The southern tip is very far removed from the White House; it's quite a distance.
Q But there is nothing in the way, it was a clear line of sight?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a very public place down there. Tourists often gather at the southernmost tip of the gate to look in.
Q At the fence?
MR. FLEISCHER: At the fence, that's correct.
Q Was he menacing the tourists? Was he menacing himself, the tourists, or the White House, or all of the above?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's fair to say that anytime anybody has a weapon that they're discharging, there's a safety problem for all concerned.
Q Does the President or does the Secret Service have any intention to make the White House less accessible, the President less accessible to the public or the press after that?
MR. FLEISCHER: There has been no discussions of that.
Q Ari, are we under heightened national security here at the White House right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. E Street remains closed pending the investigation. Traffic is coming in and out of the White House. Authorized traffic, of course, is allowed through that particular Southwest Gate if you're authorized. But everything else is back to normal. The routine investigation proceeds, but other than that, the White House is at work.
Q Ari, do you know if this man was ever a threat, an immediate threat to the White House, this President, or when he was governor of Texas?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information on that, Kelly.
Q One aspect of this story is a little confusing. Secret Service was saying that they were informed by a citizen who had seen the man with the gun. What light can you shed on the fact that he did, in fact, fire some shots in the air, according to eyewitnesses? Is that was Secret Service heard?
MR. FLEISCHER: A Secret Service vehicle was on routine patrol around the White House at approximately 11:30 a.m. They heard shots fired, at which point they exited their vehicle and took appropriate action.
Q And that was what?
MR. FLEISCHER: They surrounded the suspect. And additional agents arrived, additional officers arrived.
Q What happened then? Can you describe the standoff?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I'm not going to tick-tock the whole standoff. That was a matter that is going to be part of their investigation that they engage in.
Q Is there any indication as to why they fired a shot, after apparently talking with him for some time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the Secret Service felt it was necessary to do so in this case.
Q What did he do?
MR. FLEISCHER: He was armed with a weapon that he had discharged.
Q Did he take any threatening action?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll refer you to the Secret Service.
Q What were they were talking about for 10 minutes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll refer you to the Secret Service.
Q Why was he shot in the leg only if it was a standoff and he had a weapon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, and I think that's a question you should address to the Secret Service.
Q Ari, how close does that track come to the southernmost tip of the perimeter -- the track of the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not very close.
Q But certainly close enough, right?
Q Are they looking for where these bullets ended up?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's part of the investigation, John.
Q So they're investigating around here at the White House or anything like that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Did they recover any shell casings from the South Lawn?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's part of the investigation.
Q Any political impact on the happy face of the new administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nobody ever wants to have to go through anything like this, for anybody -- not for the Secret Service, who guards this building; not for the people who work here; and of course, the suspect. Nobody ever in our society wants to have these types of incidents arise. Unfortunately, as we've seen through history, they sometimes do. And that's why we're all grateful to the people who protect this building and protect our President.
Q Ari, you said the standoff was 10 minutes long. The Park Police are saying 15 minutes. Can you resolve that discrepancy?
MR. FLEISCHER: My information is 10 minutes, and that will all be part -- I would refer you to both Secret Service and to the Park Service.
Q -- comes from the Secret Service?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q Your 10-minute figure comes from the Secret Service?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Are you wearing your flak jacket under your suit today?
Q Ari, was it the Vice President's decision to stay in the West Wing while the Secret Service was trying to secure the outside area?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know whose decision it was, but he just kept working as normal. I think that's a reflection of the threat inside the grounds, that the President continued what he was in the middle of, the Vice President continued what he was in the middle of. And of course, the suspect never entered the White House grounds. It all took place outside of the gate of the White House, on public property, on a public street -- public sidewalk.
Q Ari, wouldn't the Secret Service decide to tell the President and the Vice President where to stay or not move?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I mentioned, the appropriate precautions were taken.
Q Did anyone hear the shots from within the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Ari, can you go over any biographical information you have about the suspect? We hear he might have lived in Baltimore for a period of time.
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not have that information. That will be, I think, addressed by other authorities.
Q Can you shed any light on reports that his vehicle has been found and there were some materials inside?
MR. FLEISCHER: As for any follow-up questions about what the investigation is finding, I am not an investigator, I would refer you to the appropriate law enforcement authorities -- in this case, the Secret Service and the U.S. Park Police.
Q From what you know initially, was his intent to threaten the President, or was his intent otherwise, perhaps to hurt himself?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was asked and that will be a part of the investigation.
Q Ari, what you describe as a standoff, might that be interpreted differently, might have the various officers been trying to coax him out of committing suicide, for instance? Is that part of what's being investigated?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to refer that question to the people who speak for the law enforcement officers. I speak for the President.
Q But you used the word standoff.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Well, I think that any time you have law enforcement officers with drawn weapons and you have a suspect with a drawn weapon, that's a standoff.
Q Were the families who came to see the President this morning on the South Lawn ever in danger?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there was never any danger to the people here in the building.
Q Are they still here?
MR. FLEISCHER: If they were taking a tour, they could have been. There were tourists walking through the White House, as part of the normal White House tours. But, again, I have no information that anybody was in any danger at that point.
Q What time did people go inside from the South Lawn, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: What time did that event conclude? I think the event began approximately 9:30 a.m., it probably ended shortly after 10:00 a.m.
Q Did they hang around at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know what each of those families did.
Q Ari, is it still standard practice to block pedestrian traffic along that perimeter of the White House while there is an event taking place on the South Lawn?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know that it's ever been the practice, John. You would have to address that to the Secret Service.
Q Ari, going back to Pennsylvania Avenue, I know you didn't talk to the President about it today, but what's going on with regards to this administration and keeping it open and keeping it -- or opening it or keeping it closed?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question of Pennsylvania Avenue, the President has spoken with the Secret Service, the President has spoken with Mayor Williams. He's going to continue to speak with relevant parties, and he's made no determination at this moment, at this time, about what he will do or won't do, what can be done or cannot be done with Pennsylvania Avenue.
Q Will today's incident affect --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's -- as I indicated earlier, I have not talked to the President about that.
Q Ari, can you talk about the Middle East election or are you still --
Q One more on this. The people in other countries look at the United States as a particularly violent society. Do you think for people watching this in other countries that this says anything about the character of the United States?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would not engage in any such thought. I think many nations on this Earth deal with issues and the matter of protection of their presidents, and the United States does not stand alone in having to have people protect the President, protect the building in which the President resides. That's common throughout the world. There have been incidents around the world, unfortunately, where violence has taken place that we all come to regret.
Q Ari, can we just get one thing clear? You said a number of shots were fired.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Were they fired in the air or at anybody or --
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be part of the investigation.
Q May I ask a policy question? The tax families who visited the President this morning, they're all Republican voters. They were involved in the Republican campaigns or they had changed sides for reasons such as the abortion issue. Wouldn't it be reasonable to pick families who are not taking sides politically, for demonstration purposes?
MR. FLEISCHER: You mean, like the family we visited yesterday at the toy store in McLean who began her statement by saying she did not vote for President Bush?
Q That's an example, yes, but not this morning. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: That was an example. Perhaps she'll vote for President Bush in the future.
Q On the Israeli elections, we know what the President said and what you said, but how does the President feel now after speaking to Barak and Sharon? Is he optimistic, pessimistic?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President believes very much that the United States must be committed to the peace process in the Middle East, and he will endeavor to do so. Obviously, in the wake of an election that took place yesterday, the Prime Minister now will be putting together his government, putting together his Cabinet, and we must allow time for the new Sharon government to form its -- to come into place.
Q Ari, what's the status of the AIDS office now? There are differing reports out there. What is the bottom line?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House, in order to fight the scourge of AIDS, will continue to have an office dedicated to that mission. It's an important mission, in the President's opinion. And the manner in which we will do that will be the following: The Department of Health and Human Services will be detailing people to the White House. In addition, at our Domestic Policy Council we will have a White House employee who is dedicated to fighting AIDS and developing policies that can help us to fight AIDS. There is also a task force in place, that will remain in place, that also is concerned with the battle against AIDS. That will be the entities within the White House that are dedicated to that cause.
Q Will there be an AIDS coordinator and will the people -- the number of people dedicated to this issue be the same or lesser that were in the AIDS office under Clinton?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't speak yet to the exact number of people. There will be an AIDS coordinator on the Domestic Policy Council. There will also be, as I mentioned, the question of the detailees from the Department of Health and Human Services, and then the task force. So it will be those three entities.
Q A follow-up on that question, but on the race office -- it's now changing, we understand, from the President's Initiative on One America to another office.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right. The former President had an initiative that he called One America, that was part and parcel of a commission that he had set up, that focused on a matter that the former President brought to the forefront of his agenda. Their work has basically been completed, as part of the commission that the President brought forward. I think everybody remembers the event surrounding when President Clinton concluded his work on that area. The office was set up in conjunction with that.
What President Bush intends to do is to broaden that effort. And that is why we will, as part of our effort to improve race relations in America, create a working group on uniting America that picks up the themes and develops the policies that the President talked about in his inaugural address, the concerns he mentioned about people who don't see the justice, that we have justice for all. And that will be conducted also through the Domestic Policy Council, as well as the Office of Public Liaison.
Q A follow-up to that. Andy Card said outside today, he said that it will be dealing with the same issues, but the "bureaucracy" would be different. Is that what the administration is thinking of?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Ari, could I ask one two-part question, because I have to leave. First, Israel's new Prime Minister, by a landslide, has stated with pride, quote, "I have never shaken hands with Yasser Arafat." Does the President believe this is wrong, or does he understand General Sharon's reaction, given Arafat's connection to the killing of so many Israeli civilians, as well as Americans, including Mr. Klinghoffer and --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to continue to work for peace and security in the Middle East, and that means he will be working with the parties involved to bring peace to the Middle East.
Q As the President's Press Secretary, could you give us your impression of Columbia Journalism School's inviting as a guest lecturer a recent presidential candidate who refused, for 62 days, to answer reporters' question and whose lecture Columbia Journalism School tried to conceal from all reporters, including its own alumni, several of whom are here?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have full faith that any journalist who graduates from the Columbia Journalism School will be an excellent journalist.
Q Will they learn how to deal with presidential candidates who try to evade reporters' questions, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I hope not. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, a federal judge in Sacramento ruled that Reliant Energy must continue selling energy to California after the deadline that was set for emergency action. The judge decided that when it comes to a weighing between the law of supply and demand and the general welfare that the law of supply and demand must bend. Is the President also of that same opinion?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, Governor Davis has publicly thanked President Bush for the leadership he showed in helping California to manage the crisis, and the President is committed to helping California through whatever tools are available. And that will continue to be the position of this administration as we develop our national energy policy. But I'm not going to comment on a specific judicial ruling.
Q A follow-up on that, Ari. The deregulation has obviously -- that has been a part of the Republican program and the President's program -- has led to a lot of problems in California, but there are also clouds on the horizon in the state of Washington. In New York this year -- may also have problems. Doesn't this indicate now that the deregulation policies -- that they have benefitted only one side, and that is the energy companies, which have had a surge in profits as a result of deregulation? Given that these companies were largely in support of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there a question here?
Q Yes, there is. Given that these companies were in support of candidate Bush during the election, doesn't this create kind of an unseemly condition, where they're making the money and people are suffering as a result of these policies which, as I understand it, are still policies of the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what it indicates is that America's supply of energy is not sufficient to meet its demand. And that is why the President is dedicated to increasing the supplies of energy, so that we can have supply and demand come into an equivalent level, which will bring prices down and also provide us energy security and independence.
Q On the AIDS and Race Relations offices, what are the current staffing levels and budgets of those offices, and how might they change?
MR. FLEISCHER: The AIDS task force is a $250,000 program on an annual basis, funded by the Department of HHS. There is a detailee, also, that comes with that. Working out of the White House Office of the Domestic Policy Counsel is an employee who will be focused on health care issues and AIDS. There will be one person in the Public Liaison office also, who has, among their duties, outreach and liaison; as well as in the Domestic Policy Council, somebody who will be also focused on policies and can help advance the cause of civil rights and racial unity. That's part of our working group.
Q One question about that, though. Isn't there currently an Office of National AIDS Policy on Jackson Place, and is that going to be used or is it all going to be in the West Wing?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly the point. That's why there is nothing that is closing; that office is open.
Q That will be where?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a task force. That's one of the elements, Kelly,
Q Has the administration decided not to ask for a supplemental defense spending bill for this fiscal year?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has said that he will seek no immediate supplemental. He has not ruled one out for later in the year. But his first priority is to make certain that we attend to America's defense needs. And that is why he has directed Secretary Rumsfeld to begin the four structure review, so that we can make certain that we have a military that is prepared to face the threats that our nation has to deal with. And that process has now begun.
And that is precisely what the President said he would do during the course of the campaign. The President proposed a pay raise for members of the military, which will be in this year's budget. He proposed funding to increase housing. He proposed funding for more R&D. And he said in his speech at the Citadel, which I will point you to -- we have copies available for those who would like to read it -- on September 23, 1999, that he was going to begin an immediate -- and I'm reading from his speech -- "comprehensive review of our military, the structure of its forces, the state of its strategy, the priorities of its procurement, conducted by a leadership team under the Secretary of Defense." He said, "This will require spending more and spending more wisely."
So what the President indicated more than a year ago is exactly what he is doing now; that he wants to have a strategic review of what our needs are and once that review is complete, then we will proceed to have a dollar figure for those priorities, other than the ones I mentioned -- military pay raise, et cetera.
Q Immediately, there is this shortfall between what the President is willing to give and what the Pentagon says it needs.
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why the President has said that we need to complete this review and he has sent a signal of fiscal discipline that there will be no immediate supplemental.
Q If he is refusing immediately to ask for a supplemental spending bill, what would cause him in the future to seek one?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we'll just have to monitor events and to see what the reviews start to indicate and what the recommendations are.
Q On the AIDS question again. The last administration, last year, declared that AIDS was also a national security problem and, therefore, had to be dealt with out of a national security structure. Is that continuing to be the policy of this administration and is there a plan to deal with that through the NSC, as well?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that is an issue that concerns the President. And, frankly, that's why he brought it up when he met with the Congressional Black Caucus about the problems of AIDS in Africa. And so there -- in addition to what people do on their mission dedicated toward eradicating AIDS, there will be other people, of course, in the course of their routine work who are going to concern themselves with AIDS, as events warrant. And I think that's entirely reasonable that it will come up in that context, as well.
Q I'm a little confused on the defense spending issue. I thought you had indicated a few days ago that the President intended to include an additional pay raise and additional monies for military housing in his first budget.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q But Rumsfeld told people yesterday that there would be no increase in the Clinton budget. I don't understand how to reconcile those two.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not certain what the Clinton budget is, and so I'm looking at what the President proposed during the campaign, which as you know was a $45 billion over 10 years proposed increase in DOD funding, separate and apart from the strategic review which I mentioned. And that will be aimed at those issues I just mentioned -- pay raise, housing, et cetera.
Q And a pay raise over and above what President Clinton had proposed?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q So it's Clinton's budget plus $4.5 billion for this next fiscal year?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is proposing $45 billion above and beyond what was previously appropriated.
Q Over 10 years?
MR. FLEISCHER: Over 10 years. That was his campaign proposal.
Q To be clear about this, he absolutely is adding additional money over the Clinton budget for military pay raise and military housing, so his first defense budget will be larger than the Clinton defense budget.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me read to you from the President's speech at the Citadel on September 23rd. "My first budget will go further, adding a billion dollars in salary increases." And that was above and beyond what
was appropriated by the Congress last year to help our men and women in uniform -- $1 billion on the pay raise per year.
Q Is the White House committing to keep that Jackson Place office open after the end of the current fiscal year? In other words, will it stay open?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is the plan.
Q A follow-up on that. I guess I'm as confused as Jim is, because we have this report that Rumsfeld said, we're not going above the Clinton budget -- we're talking about the review that we all know the President said in September of '99 we would undertake. The question is, was Rumsfeld right when he told the Joint Chiefs and people at the Pentagon yesterday, or will we, in fact, have an increase?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me talk with Secretary Rumsfeld to see the exact context of what he said. But it is accurate to say, as far as programs that I did not delineate there in terms of pay raise and housing, that the President has sent a signal that until the strategic review is done, the existing budgets will be in place. I can imagine that that is why you hear two pieces of information, both of which are correct.
Q How long is it estimated that review will take?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question you need to direct to the Pentagon.
Q Ari, the GAO report yesterday was a pretty sober warning about the uncertainty of the surplus projections. I assume you still believe the surplus projections, and if so, would the President go along with the Democratic proposal from the Senate this morning that would provide some sort of dividend approach that, if and when the surpluses materialize, a portion of the tax cut would be paid out to the taxpayers on that basis?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will propose to the Congress that which he ran on, and he's going to fight to get it done. And we already have good bipartisan support and I suspect it's going to get enacted into law, and that is that we should have marginal across-the-board rate cuts for all income taxpayers, eliminate the death taxes, reduce the marriage penalty. That's the program the President will submit to the Congress.
There's been this talk about a trigger, that we shouldn't cut taxes unless we put in a trigger. Well, that's the equivalent of saying that we're going to reimpose a marriage penalty on people, that we're going to raise taxes on people. And the President does not subscribe to that notion.
Q He's not open to any discussion on that issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to fight for what he believes in.
Q But, Ari, wasn't it Chairman Greenspan -- you had said "this talk about a trigger" sort of sounds like you're denigrating it -- it was Chairman Greenspan, who everybody was a big fan of here a little while ago. So the President disagrees with Chairman Greenspan on that point?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just told you what the President believes in.
Q Does he disagree with the Vice President as well? Because the Vice President said that he would consider triggers.
MR. FLEISCHER: I just explained to you what the President's position is, and I'll be happy to talk to the Vice President and learn what he said.
Q And what you just indicated was that the President would rather go into deficit spending than to keep the budget balanced.
MR. FLEISCHER: I indicated no such thing. The surplus is $5.6 trillion; the tax cut is $1.6 trillion.
Q But you suggested that even it were necessary to use the trigger, he's against that because that would be reimposing taxes.
MR. FLEISCHER: I said the President doesn't believe that you raise taxes on people.
Q So what happens if you find out that you can't balance the budget because your tax cut is putting you --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to deal with a hypothetical. Actually, the pattern for the last five years in a row is that the estimates have been wrong on the too low side, and that every year the estimates get adjusted upward. So every year they get adjusted upward, and every year people say, but what are you going to do if they go downward? I'll wait for people to be right. So far they haven't been.
Q The tax cut is predicated on a hypothetical, which is that there will be a $5.6 trillion surplus. And what the GAO is saying is it's not a certainty. So why --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's a good reason never to budget. And that's not possible for any organization, whether they're government or whether they're private sector, or whether you're a nonprofit. The way that you make rational decisions is based on the most recent, most accurate information available at the time, and that is that this country will have a surplus projected for $5.6 trillion.
Let me reiterate something I said yesterday that the President believes very deeply. The biggest threat to the surplus is government spending. This town was built to spend, and if you don't cut taxes, that money will get spent. And the President would rather cut taxes.
Q Back on the AIDS and race offices. Was the White House Chief of Staff misquoted or misunderstood, or just mistaken when he told USA Today that the administration -- and your office confirmed -- that the administration intends to close those offices?
MR. FLEISCHER: The third.
Q The White House Chief of Staff was mistaken?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q How did that happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: He made a mistake. It happens.
Q You are quoted in that same story. We're you mistaken, too?
MR. FLEISCHER: What I said in that story is that we will have an AIDS coordinator working out of the Domestic Policy Council, which is accurate.
Q Can you explain, give us any detail exactly how the Chief of Staff was giving out this information when it wasn't correct? Like, why wasn't he briefed on --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not very complicated. I mean, he made a mistake. As I indicated this morning, Margaret LaMontagne, who is head of our Domestic Policy Council, had discussions with HHS -- actually, it was with the Secretary of HHS -- on Monday about the detailee who would come in here. And so a mistake was made.
Q Was this an option that was being considered? Is that the genesis of the mistake, that this was an option that was being considered and the Chief of Staff thought the option was taken?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not extensively researched the genesis of mistakes.
Q Was this an option that was being considered --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, if Margaret LaMontagne is meeting with the Secretary of HHS to talk about who the detailee would be, we were proceeding with the planning for the White House Office on AIDS.
Q My question was, was closing that office an option that was considered and then --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to go run around and ask a number of people, but obviously, you've heard from Margaret LaMontagne and others that she was making plans to proceed.
Q Were these efforts on par either on the organization chart or in real world clout with the office on faith-based and community initiatives?
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of the priorities, they are all important. And as I've said before from this podium, I don't make a linear delineation among these priorities. Fighting AIDS is going to be important. Achieving racial healing and harmony in this country, as the President indicated in his inaugural address, is going to be important. Having faith-based solutions is going to be important.
There's an overlap in some of these areas as well. Faith-based solutions -- that's the area particularly that many people in the African American community have participated in the meetings we've had on that issue. So there's a way to have confluence among these issues.
Q Isn't it fair to say, though, that the administration was looking at the AIDS policy, and also the One America office? Because I know at a gaggle we had asked you about a week ago about what's going to happen to these offices -- MR. FLEISCHER: And I said no decisions had been made. Well, there are a series of offices that expire in any White House. President Clinton allowed certain offices to expire; previous Presidents allowed offices to expire before that. That's all part and parcel of what new White Houses will meet when they come into office. There are a series of events that took place prior to their service -- or to our service -- that have deadlines attached.
Q Ari, does the President believe that Arnold Schwarzenegger can solve the energy problem in California if he decides to throw his hand in the ring?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is the President speaking to Arnold directly on this, or --
Q Does he have any opinion?
MR. FLEISCHER: He would probably yield if Arnold was there. No, I have not talked to him.
Q Patients' bill of rights that he's supposed to send up today -- where are you with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: There should be a letter coming out to you with attached -- with a statement of principles that will be attached to it shortly.
Q Since we won't be able to chat with you after this, can you tell us a little bit about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: You can always chat with me.
Q Not on camera. Could we get a little bit from you on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the principles? The President will send up a letter to Capitol Hill that enunciates his principles for enacting a bipartisan patients' bill of rights into law. He believes that this is the year it can be done, and he's going to dedicate himself to getting it done.
It will say the patient protections should apply to all Americans; patient protections should be comprehensive; that patients should have a rapid medical review process for denials of care; the review process should ensure that doctors make medical decisions and patients receive care in a timely manner; federal remedies should be expanded to hold health plans accountable; and patient protection legislation should encourage, not discourage, employers to offer health care.
Q So where are we with the idea of tort caps and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you'll be able to review that in the letter.
Q Does it set a cap, specifically, in the principles?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not a specific dollar amount.
Q Does he point out any specific differences with the McCain-Kennedy bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the biggest difference is -- a difference is the question of liability and of whether or not it goes too far in turning the health care system over to lawyers in such a manner that it would drive up the cost of health care, that will make it harder for people to get health insurance because the cost of their premiums go up.
The President believes that we can have a patients' bill of rights that protects people without driving up the cost of health care due to too much involvement by a lawyers in a lawsuit situation, where the caps are not set at a reasonable level.
Q You said federal court, he wants all federal options exhausted, which means that he has opposed, as McCain-Kennedy spells out, that the area of medical mistakes could actually be handled in state courts, under their bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. There is more than a 30-year tradition of federal legislation protecting people against those type of suits in state court. And the President believes that this federal legislation should maintain that tradition.
Q So if he doesn't propose a specific cap, give us some kind of idea what he thinks is reasonable.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, you know what he did in Texas. In Texas he proposed to limit that, I think his original proposal was -- what the original proposal the President made in Texas? It was either $250,000 or $500,000 was the President's original proposal to the legislature in Texas. And after consultations, they agreed to a limit of $750,000.
Q Is that what he's thinking about here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Too soon to say, John.
Q How do you work that out? I mean, if he said there should be caps. is he saying to Congress, you work it out?
MR. FLEISCHER: You work it out the way any successful governor or President works it out -- you meet with Congress and you work it out.
Q But I take it it's substantially lower than what is proposed in McCain-Kennedy?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, the President thinks that would be too high, and that it would drive up the cost of health care. That would make it harder for employers to provide health insurance to their workers. It will drive premiums sky-high.
Q Let me ask you about the Drug Czar. I think I asked you about a week ago. Is there going to be a Drug Czar?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any determination for you on that yet.
Q But you will have a drug office --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q -- you don't know if it's going to be the same way, like General McCaffrey?
MR. FLEISCHER: As soon as we have something to announce, we'll report it to you.
Q Ari, I'm kind of confused, if you could help me here. If the AIDS office is on par with the task force on faith or that office or all these other offices, how is that, when Colin Powell said that it's a national security crisis and the President has talked about how important it is, and also, you're talking about funding it at least through the next fiscal year -- I don't understand the importance, if you could explain to me --
MR. FLEISCHER: You can only fund things in this building through the next fiscal year. This building operates on a one-year appropriation.
Q I understand that.
MR. FLEISCHER: Everything here is.
Q Yes, but, at the same time, if it's important, you would try to say at least through this administration we're going to have this office, I would think.
MR. FLEISCHER: I do not think it would be appropriate for the spokesman, 10 months before a fiscal year begins, to say what this White House would propose in a budget for the following year. I would invite you to pay close attention at that time and I think you will see what I indicated come true.
Q Okay. And, also, the issue of the fact that why is it on par with the other offices --
MR. FLEISCHER: I said they were all important priorities of the President.
Q Ari, a trade question. Apparently, a trade panel has ruled that the U.S. violated NAFTA by barring Mexican trucks from its highways. Will you open the U.S. border to those Mexican trucks, and if so, why, and to what extent will you open the borders?
MR. FLEISCHER: Right. That report was just issued, it was issued yesterday and we're reviewing its findings. The President is committed to making certain that we have free trade with Mexico. And he does believe that we need to have borders that make that possible, fully consistent with safety issues involving trucks. And that determination of those safety standards will be made by the Department of Transportation and the USTR, so I would refer you to them in terms of what the specifics of those standards will be set at. But the President believes that we can have both, that we can have safe standards for trucks that enter this country and free trade with Mexico. He thinks they're both important.
Q On abortion, does the President have a particular view about the Virginia state law that imposes a 24-hour waiting period on abortion?
MR. FLEISCHER: On that specifically, I have not talked to the President about Virginia, but I can tell you from previous conversations from the President and from what he has done in Texas, he does support steps that make abortion more rare, including parental notification, including steps to promote adoption, including abolition of the practice of partial-birth abortion, and 24-hour notice.
Q Ari, on an economic policy matter, it looks like there's going to be bankruptcy legislation again. The previous administration opposed that. Is President Bush likely to support bankruptcy legislation when it comes up?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Larry Lindsey has spoken about that issue. It depends on the exact substance of what the legislation would say. As you know, every time a Congress is complete, new legislation gets introduced, and you have to see if the terms are exactly the same as previous terms. But Larry Lindsey has spoken favorably about the notion of working with the Congress to get that enacted into law.
Q Are you planning to replace the presidential envoy in Cyprus --
MR. FLEISCHER: Cyprus?
Q Are you planning to replace the presidential envoy on the Cyprus issue --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me refer you to Mary Ellen on that if I may.
Q In terms of the AIDS office and the AIDS task force, some of the President's critics during the campaign said they were worried that he might stack both of them, particularly the commission, with people who would overturn some of the recommendations of the previous commission, such as for safe sex, recommending condom distribution and needle exchange programs and so forth. Can you comment on the President's thinking on those issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would urge you to await the appointments to those offices and then we will develop a policy from there.
Q Ari, I'm a little confused on the numbers. How many full-time staffers would there be devoted to the AIDS issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: There will be the task force, which is already up in place. There will be a detailee from the Department of Health and Human Services, as well as a person in the Office of Domestic Policy Council, who is responsible for this issue.
Q -- works exclusively on AIDS, or deals with a variety of health care issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the Domestic Policy Council, they will be focused on health care issues.
Q Thank you.
END 3:00 P.M. EST
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