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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
May 15, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
1:39 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. President Bush today announced his intention to nominate Marvin Sambur to be Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Research and Development. That's the only personnel announcement for the day. I'm pleased to take your questions.
Q Ari, can you explain to us what relationship cutting income tax rates will have on helping Americans deal with higher energy prices now, when the income tax cut won't come until next year's filings, and even a $100-billion stimulus, if done in the form of a tax rebate, wouldn't arrive at the earliest, according to the Treasury Department, for three months?
MR. FLEISCHER: The energy crisis is causing millions of middle-income and working Americans to pay more than they would like to pay to fill up their tanks with gasoline. One of the fastest ways to get relief to people is by cutting taxes.
The tax cut that the President asked the Congress to pass is retroactive, and as soon as Congress is able to get to it, the American people can get tax relief in their pockets faster. That's one reason why the President feels so strongly that if Congress were to delay taking action on tax relief after Memorial Day, that the traveling public consumers will suffer. The faster that Congress gets it done, the faster the money is in people's pockets.
Q But if, in fact, the Treasury Department is right, that it will take three months to actually get these checks out if, in fact, that's the choice Congress decides to make -- and it hasn't -- that takes you past the summer driving season. How are these two things related in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Whatever the period of time is -- and I don't know that it's three months -- whatever the period of time is, if Congress delays, the time will be later. The faster Congress acts, the faster people will get relief into their pocketbooks.
Q So what you're saying is that the consumer will have more money to pay the higher prices to line the pockets of the big oil?
MR. FLEISCHER: Consumers will have more money to pay for their needs as they see fit. And to the degree that the traveling public is paying --
Q But that has nothing to do with oil prices, pe se.
MR. FLEISCHER: But giving people tax relief will allow them to have more money in their pockets to use as they need and as they see fit. And, certainly, people are paying more money at the pump and they need more resources to help them to pay that money. Cutting taxes is one way to get people those resources.
The same argument is made about cutting the gasoline tax as well. At a time when prices keep going up, there's no guarantee that cutting the gasoline tax will lower the price. The price may just rise faster than the amount that the gas tax is cut back.
Q You think the fact that a consumer can pay more now will help the whole situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's no doubt about it that people are suffering, and the President wants to make certain that a plan is in place, both on the energy front and on the tax front, so people have more money in their pockets so they can deal with the rising cost, not only of energy, gas at the pump, but home heating oil and for their other needs that are complicated by energy. Air conditioning bills will be higher, gas bills will be higher, and this is a long-term problem that the American people face. Tax relief is a solution that works not only now, but it will work permanently down the road.
Q But, Ari, if the immediate tax rebate goes to energy costs solely, and calculations have been made that would give five tanks full of gas to the average American in the course of a year from this rebate, how does it speak to the broader question of the President's desire to use a rebate to stimulate the economy, and not just the energy sector?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one of the reasons the economy needs to be stimulated is people don't have as much disposable income to invest or to save because they're using it to pay for higher energy bills. Tax relief helps mitigate that. It gives people more command over the decisions they make to invest their money as they see fit.
For some people, that will --
Q But if all of that money is going to pay for gas, where is the money to invest?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nobody said it's all the money. It all depends on individual circumstances. Some people have larger costs than other people. But there is a fundamental principle involved here in tax relief, and that is the President's opinion that money belongs to the people who made it, they deserve to keep it, they deserve to spend it as they see fit, not as the government deems proper.
Q You don't think the government is the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not when it come to their --
Q I mean, why do you keep separating us out?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the government serves the United States, the American people, and serving the American people, the American people don't want to turn over all their money.
Q And you don't think that the government is the people, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: The government's the people, and the government's entitled to 100 percent of the People's earnings, and the President doesn't share that view.
Q They don't get 100 percent; you know that. Q Ari, you addressed the question -- the ever-shifting rationale the President presents to the American public for this tax cut. During the campaign, it was about it's the people's money, we don't want to leave a large surplus in Washington. Then it was about the economy. Now it's about energy prices. Is there no rational the President finds that supports a tax cut? Does every excuse out there justify cutting taxes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think what you're seeing is a series of good reasons why taxes should be cut, and that's why there's bipartisan support to cut taxes. But the President said, when he announced his tax plan, dating back to December of 1999, is taxes should be cut, because if you don't cut taxes, the politicians will spend the money. Taxes need to be cut because people earn the money. It's theirs, and they have a right to keep it. And taxes should be cut as an insurance policy against a future economic downturn. Those are the three reasons the President gave in November of 1999. Each of those three is just as valid today as it was then.
Q Up on the Hill, Democrats released their energy plan just a few moments ago. What's the White House response to their proposals?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are several interesting overlaps between the Democrat plan and the President's plan. And there are several areas in the Democrat plan that are worth noting and worth support. For example, the Democrat plan, just like the one the President will offer, promotes efficiency, conservation and renewables. The plan offered on the Hill by some Democrats includes funds for weatherization and for LIEAP, to help low-income Americans. So too does the President's budget and the President's plan.
The plan offered on the Hill by the Democrats talks about conservation. The President has already offered a conversation proposal, where the federal government would cut back on its use of energy. There are a couple other areas of the Democrat plan that do not go in the right direction, and those include price controls, which do not work, which ultimately create greater energy problems, and they are not a short-term solution, let alone a comprehensive solution. The other aspect of the Democrat plan, which was tried in October of 2000, and did not work, is tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. If tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve had worked, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in now.
Q So what's your overall assessment?
MR. FLEISCHER: The overall assessment is that the energy plan offered by the Democrats on the Hill today has some areas of overlapping, commonality with the plan that the President is about to propose, and the President looks forward to working with Congress on those areas. The President believes that we can promote conservation, we can increase energy development, and we can do so without complicating matters or hurting matters through price controls. That's the President's position.
Q Ari, you were talking, the Vice President was talking to renewable energy people today. How big a problem -- I gather the administration was telling them and agreed with them that there is a huge problem in permitting for renewable energy, in particular. Can you talk about what you see as the bureaucratic impediments, especially to power in the West?
MR. FLEISCHER: On permitting for renewables?
Q Permitting in general, but particularly for renewables.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take that question and try and get back to you on the specific substance on permitting.
Q Okay, let me ask you another question. Senator Daschle has introduced 22 amendments to the tax plan. The first five of those, I believe, mention giving people money in their pockets in order to help pay for higher energy costs. Does the White House regard that as an agreement with the President's proposal? Have you talked to Daschle about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Depending on exactly what Senator Daschle proposes, the President is encouraged by the fact that the Minority Leader is moving forward in the same vein that the President discussed from this podium last Friday. The President does believe that tax relief can be a helpful way to give people relief from the energy woes that they're suffering, and he's pleased to hear that Senator Daschle agrees.
Q Ari, we have a new poll coming out today that says only 39 percent of Americans approve of the way the President is handling the energy situation, while 43 percent disapprove. Are you concerned that what the President wants to do is not what the public wants?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, number one, the President is not governed by the polls. The President is going to focus on a plan that he thinks is right and that is the best plan for America. Clearly, the energy problem is a very vexing one, and to have substantial support from the American people -- that's one-to-one support -- indicates that there are many Americans who understand how difficult a problem this is.
Q But is he concerned that more Americans do not approve of the way he's handling it? I'm not talking about governing by polls, I'm talking about doing something the American people don't want.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he hasn't even announced his plan yet. I'm certain that once the President announces his plan and makes the case for it, the American people will respond favorably to what the President is proposing. The American people know that the United States now is suffering an energy crisis. It's been a problem long in the making; it's hit some states harder than others, and it's going to take leadership, it's going to take a well-rounded approach, an approach that focuses on both conservation and on development of energy supplies. It's going to take an approach that says we can't be overly dependent on foreign supplies of energy. That will be the focus the President makes, and he'll do so because he thinks it's the right way to solve the problem
Q Ari, what's the President's view of the McCain-Lieberman bill with background checks and three-day waiting period on gun show purchases?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President supports closing on the gun show loophole so that criminals are not able to go to gun shows to get their hands on guns. He favors doing so with a plan that does it as quickly as is possible. The President believes we can have an instant background check, and the instant background check should apply to gun shows.
Q Does he rule out any waiting period?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will work with the Congress on the exact details of it, but the President favors an instant background check. In addition to facilitate making sure that states have the resources to put in place an instant background check, the initiative the President announced yesterday on gun safety includes $44 million so states have more resources to update their computerized files so the background checks can be as instant as is practical.
Q I'd like to get in one more, too. You probably notice there is a bunch of people outside the White House today in wheelchairs, basically complaining that the President has dropped the ball on his new freedom initiative. Can you respond to that? Didn't he promise to do an executive order on that right off the bat?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the new freedom initiative? The President announced the new freedom initiative in I think either the second or the third week of his administration and has sent his proposal up to the Congress, and the President is going to work with the Congress on it. The President considers it a very important initiative.
Q Was there a commitment for an executive order?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there something specific you have in mind, Ron?
Q Well, they claim that was one of the things that there is supposed to be an executive order.
MR. FLEISCHER: Specifically what?
Q Beats the heck out of me, Ari. They said he had broken his promise to sign by February 1st an executive order to implement -- oh, the Olmstead decision.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if there is anything further on that. But that's a very broad question, the Olmstead decision.
Q He also said -- asked for someone to speak to them -- someone from your administration. Is anyone going out there today to talk to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would have to check around the building.
Q Who is the lead point person on the new freedom initiative in the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the domestic policy group.
Q Ari, you've talked about the danger of price controls before, and again today. Could you explain to us, put it in the White House words, what will happen if price controls are introduced to the market? What's the x's and o's? What will then happen, this happen, that happen? What will we see?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the President's opinion, one of the most important short-term actions the government can take to prevent the energy crisis from getting worse is to avoid price controls. Price controls will cause more harm than good in the economy, in terms of people's ability to get energy. They will drive supply down, they will create more demand. Price controls do the exact opposite on both the supply count and the demand count than is necessary to solve the energy crisis.
Q Because it shields consumers from the real price of energy, therefore consumption patterns don't change, and producers lose the incentive to bring product to market, because their prices are controlled and they can't make adequate profits. Is that basically it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Price controls have never worked. They're artificial. They end up causing more damage and hurting more people than the backers of price controls would indicate. It's well-meaning, it's well-intended, it's never worked. The problem with price controls is, they do the exact opposite of what they purport to do. They decrease supply at a time when Americans need more supply, so that the prices can come down and stay down.
Q Patients' bill of rights, the Frist bill, which I guess is about to be unveiled, why does the President like this and dislike all those that have gone before it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes very strongly that this year can be the year we get a patients' bill of rights done and enacted into law. He views this as one of those issues where people have fought so long that they've stopped putting the national needs first and the need of patients first, and they put the needs of the parties first.
The President has proposed six principles on a patients' bill of rights, and the bipartisan legislation offered on the Hill today by Senators Frist, by Jeffords and by Breaux meets those six principles the President announced. And so the President is supportive of this effort.
Q Is the crux of it the lawsuit issue -- how to limit lawsuits?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's one of the many issues, but the other issue that the President is pleased to see is that the patients' bill of rights proposal that was announced by this bipartisan group on the Hill today applies to all Americans, for example; it's comprehensive, patients are entitled to a rapid medical review process for denials of care. It does not turn our courtrooms into trial rooms -- I mean, it does not turn our hospitals into courtrooms where all decisions are made by lawyers. And that's another reason that the President supports it.
It holds plans accountable for the decisions that they make, and the President believes that patient protection should encourage, not discourage, employers from offering health care. The bipartisan plan offered on the Hill today meets those principles.
Q Ari, in 1998, a jury in San Antonio ordered Diamond Shamrock Refining Corporation, to pay a widow, Donna Hall, $42 million from the death of her husband at the refinery. The jury thought that this was a way to punish the company for knowingly using unsafe equipment. Governor Bush, at the time, pushed tort reform law that limited that award to $200,000.
Last year, President Bush took $5,000 from Diamond Shamrock's political action committee. Two questions: One, is the President now concerned that there's a growing public perception of him siding with the oil industry on everything from the energy crisis to workers' rights? And two, does he have second thoughts about tort reform in light of the Diamond Shamrock case?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, the President is going to do what he thinks is right, regardless of whether or not one group of society supports him or opposes him on it. And he'll continue to do that in the case of tort reform. What's happened all too often is consumers pay far higher bills than is necessary, and that instead of people being able to get justice through the courts, the courts have been turned into a system where lawyers are able to come in, especially trial lawyers, and drive up health care costs, consumer product costs for everybody in society.
Under the patients' bill of rights, for example, we were just talking about some of the principles. Under the President's approach, patients would be entitled to sue on an unlimited basis for economic damages suffered. But when it comes to non-economic damages suffered, the President does believe, and so, too, does a bipartisan group of senators, that there ought to be a reasonable cap.
Q Ari, one reason why people think we have regional price spikes in gasoline is because of the complex reformulation issue. And the FTC investigation confirmed this. I'm wondering whether your energy plan will seek to simplify the reformulation procedures. I believe there's 15 different gasoline formulas the country has in use, and that prevents gasoline from flowing from one region to another during shortages.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to preview everything that's in the proposal the President will make, but suffice it to say the President is very concerned also about the state of the environment, and reforming gasoline is one of many items that serves as an environmental protection as we develop America's energy resources. And the President is mindful of that.
Q Ari --
MR. FLEISCHER: Les.
Q In the President's effort to promote intelligent government spending -- that is, only where it's really needed -- does he believe that the Democrats on the San Francisco City Council were wise to vote to provide any city employee who wishes with $37,000 to be changed from male to female, and $77,000 to be changed from female to male?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not a topic I've talked to the President about.
Q You can take it. I'm going to be away for a week, and I've got one two-part here.
Q Yea!! (Applause.)
MR. FLEISCHER: It's time for the bonus round. (Laughter.)
Q London's Daily Telegraph reported --
MR. FLEISCHER: Where are you going?
Q Around. There's a National Convention of Talk Show Hosts in New York.
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll always be welcome here. You will always be welcome.
Q London's Daily Telegraph reported that Prime Minister Tony Blair is considering recommending to the Queen an honorary knighthood for Mr. Clinton. And Reuter's News Agency reports that Mr. Blair, when asked about this, laughed. And since honorary knighthoods were conferred upon Presidents Reagan and GHW Bush when they left office, can you deny that anyone in the White House laughed, too, or did anyone think that Mr. Blair was wrong to laugh?
MR. FLEISCHER: Try hard as I may, I've not kept up with all the White House laughter. I don't know what all my coworkers laugh at.
Q Last one. On Sunday, The New York Times reported at some length from Geneva that the former runner-up for Miss America, who is now the wife of the Swiss ambassador to Germany, has been furiously criticized by the Swiss media and the Swiss foreign ministry because she posed for photographs on a horse wearing a strapless gown, among other things. Since this gorgeous young lady is Shawne Fielding, the former Miss Texas, she can surely depend on gentlemanly support from the former Governor of Texas, can't she, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, I'm afraid you're 0-3 on your final round of questions. I don't have anything to offer you on this topic.
Q You don't know? Does he know her, do you know?
Q Has the President met with any of the oil industry people on the whole question of gasoline prices?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Vice President --
Q Has he tried to rap with them at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check to see if individual members of the Vice President's group or any staff members have had any conversation with the people who produce energy. It wouldn't surprise me.
Q But how about the President? Has he talked to the big oil people at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check. I don't know who he's talked to.
Q Why not? I mean, how do you form an energy program without that kind of --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's why I indicated that I'd have to take a look at the individual members of the task force, to see who they've talked to, because they've talked to more than 130 groups, some of whom are energy producers, some of whom may be involved in oil production and development, some of whom are involved in other fossil fuels.
Q But he knows a lot of these oil people very personally, so --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not as I just indicated. I don't have the information on exactly who the President has talked to.
Q Ari, Democrats today said that they will encourage the President to talk to our friends in OPEC to "open the spigot" and get supplies flowing into this country. And I'm just wondering, where is the President on his pledge of March 12, 2000 in Plant City, Florida, to encourage OPEC nations to "open the spigot?"
MR. FLEISCHER: There are a series of ongoing discussions with leaders of OPEC. And they will continue to take place. They are quiet, they are diplomatic, and that's the focus of the President's efforts.
Q Is he satisfied with the amount of movement he has made toward fulfilling his campaign promises?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, in terms of the manner in which the President will focus on this, and his administration will focus on it, those efforts are ongoing, and they will be kept as a matter of diplomacy.
Q Have they been responsive? Are they responsive?
MR. FLEISCHER: Saudi Arabia has already indicated publicly, several months ago, that they would seek to keep the price of petroleum at $28 a barrel. And so there have been some indications that the OPEC nations and other nations understand that we are an interrelated world when it comes to America's energy use, and their decisions they make about production. And there will be continued ongoing diplomatic outreach and discussions. They'll be done quietly, because the President's conclusion is that type of diplomacy is the most effective diplomacy.
Q I just have a follow-up to that. Is the President concerned that if the President of gasoline, the price of crude oil were to drop too much, it would dissuade the type of domestic production that he is trying to spur in this national energy policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that's one reason the President feels so strongly that the nation needs a comprehensive approach that diversifies our supplies of energy. For example, it's not only the question of the amount of supply, it's a question of the refinery capabilities, the infrastructure capabilities, the electric transmission grid. All of those are factors that go into making sure that supply and demand are in equilibrium. And that's going to be the President's --
Q Yes, but it's also a question of price, it's a question of price. And if the price is not at a certain level, you can't have the level of domestic production that the President is seeking.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a question of having the market establish that equilibrium, but doing so in a way that recognizes that no new refineries have been built for 25 years, that our nation's infrastructure is old and needs to modernize, also recognizing that there are many ways of producing more energy at a more efficient rate. And all of that will be the President's focus.
Q Going back to that quote from last year, did the President realize at the time that he was oversimplifying or overstating the President's ability to demand countries open their spigot, or did he not realize at the time?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think what the President was stating back then is a recognition that in the absence of any other type of comprehensive energy policy, that dealing with OPEC was one of the few things that the previous administration had at its disposal. Obviously, this is the first administration in many a year to come out with a comprehensive energy plan which includes one portion of which is to continue these diplomatic conversations with our OPEC friends and other nations around the world.
Q The negotiations?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I've misstated that -- I would not call it negotiations. But the point is that if you have only one or two options, and tapping the Strategic Petroleum Reserve is an option the previous administration took -- obviously it did not create the results that the administration sought -- there are very few options they have, other than to talk to OPEC.
This administration has a much more broad, comprehensive approach that involves, as I mentioned, conservation and efficiency, production, diversification and quiet diplomatic discussions with our OPEC allies.
Q At what point did the President determine that quiet diplomatic discussions with our OPEC allies would be more productive than a very public pronouncement such as you made a year ago?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think when you -- the President, as part of the development of a comprehensive energy plan, recognized that this is the best way to handle discussions with OPEC, I think when it came to a lack of anything that was comprehensive in nature, there were very few things the previous administration could do, because they were not focused on the comprehensive approach. Talking to OPEC was one of them.
Q So at that time, yelling was a good idea, but now it's not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Clearly, having a comprehensive plan is the best idea.
Q What does he think of the OPEC prices now?
Q To what extent to you regard the high price of oil and gasoline the responsibility of OPEC's policies?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the point I was making about supply. It's not just a matter of supply; it's also a question of the infrastructure and the refining capabilities of the United States. If we were awash in supply but did not have the refining capacity to get it to market in the form of gasoline that people could pump into their cars, obviously OPEC plays a more narrow role.
Q Ari, refining capacity, of course, is not just a U.S. phenomena, it's around the world. Has the President considered talking with Japan or Europe, which seem at this point not to have this kind of tight refining problem, about diverting some of that refined product here?
MR. FLEISCHER: David, that is one of the items that the group met and talked about, and as the President indicated --
Q Ari, which group?
MR. FLEISCHER: The task force, the energy group. But as the President indicated at his news conference last Friday, there are issues associated with transportation of refined products from great distances. It's not the most cost-effective way to bring products to the market; therefore, the more you ship it, the longer you ship it, the more the consumer has to pay for it. The best way to get the price of gas down.
Q It is a short-term solution. Until you get -- building refineries takes a few years.
MR. FLEISCHER: Only if you can do it in such massive, sizeable quantity to impact the market, and that's not clear that you can do that.
Q I'm sorry -- this is a related question to this. When you ask the Europeans and Japanese how they manage to do that, they point, of course, immediately to their much higher at-the-pump price, much of which
is, of course, built into it with taxes. Has the President considered following that kind of model as a way to encourage more refining --
MR. FLEISCHER: If you're asking, does the President think that the solution to the crisis is to raise the price of gasoline, the answer is, no, he's on the side of the consumer.
Q Ari, on David's question, though, isn't it really --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's get some new people in here.
Q Ari, are you going to have a readout on the meeting with Arafat's aide?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if we're going to have anything on that. I'll talk to Condi later. The meeting is at State, so you may want to talk with them. The meeting is at State.
April. Welcome back.
Q Thank you. Ari, President Bush has made it plain he believes in family, in supporting families. He's also talked against a lot of political mud-slinging. Has he talked to his brother in support of him in the midst of all this controversy in Florida?
MR. FLEISCHER: April, I haven't asked him, and I don't intend to.
Q Ari, you've already indicated the President is not moved to act by polling data. But to what extent is the energy problem increasingly a political one for this White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not the President's focus. The President thinks that the best politics comes from the best substance and the best government. And that's where his focus is. He believes the nation has an energy crisis that has been building and brewing, and his only focus is on fixing it.
Q What about other officials?
Q -- regulatory burdens the President mentioned that he wants the administration to assess as far as energy -- and what regulations does he have in mind that he thinks are getting --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the energy report will speak to that directly, so you'll be able to hear in the energy report about a series of regulatory hurdles that have allowed a situation to take place where -- California, for example, hasn't built any power plants in the last 10 years; the nation hasn't built any new refineries in the last 25 years. When it comes to transmission of electricity across the power grid, so that when one region is experiencing an electricity shortfall and people may suffer blackouts, another region can pick up the slack -- another region of the nation can pick up the slack and send the energy across the grid.
When it comes to nuclear energy, obviously there have been a series of regulatory steps that have inhibited the advancement of new nuclear power, which is a technologically advanced way of getting nuclear power to people's homes, so that when they turn on their lights, their lights work.
Q Do you plan to establish a formal review process, just like Andy Card did at the beginning of this adminstration, for other regulations?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll let the report speak for itself.
Q The President, in Philadelphia, met with a cardinal there. He met with one in St. Louis when he was touting the tax cut. That's at least two episodes I know where the President met with a high-ranking official of the Catholic church, and there was no coverage allowed at all. Could you explain that, and why there is what appears to be intense White House sensitivity to coverage of these meetings, even with stills or a small pool?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Major, going back during the campaign, the President often would meet with religious leaders of all faiths. He had a meeting with a group of Islamic leaders in Michigan, with a group of African American ministers. He's met with Catholic leaders throughout the country, with Jewish leaders, and he'll continue to do that.
Some of the meetings, particularly there have been some in the White House where people have come out and talked to you afterwards, but when the President travels and visits, for example, a bishop or an archbishop's home, very often the President feels that the best way to have those meetings is to respect the privacy of the people he's meeting with. They are often at their homes, and that's the way the President approaches matters of faith, and also matters of talking to religious leaders about how to improve the fabric of American society.
Q Ari, following David's question, isn't it really more a matter of regulations requiring reformulated gas than cost, and that if you were to issue waivers for RFC, you could immediately take advantage of excess refining capacity in countries like Venezuela, which is just a short hop away from the Gulf Coast?
MR. FLEISCHER: I already addressed that issue. There is a question of how much you can get into the markets by bringing in refined product from other nations. It's a transportation issue. That again involves tankers, that involves the capacity to bring into the country refined product. And it's not the easy solution that you would present as you make it sound.
Q Ari, Senator Shelby today met with Louis Freeh up on Capitol Hill. He told him that the FBI has had just too many failures and too many blunders lately. Does the President share that assessment?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President addressed that topic on Friday at his news conference, and he said that there are two reviews that are under way at the Department of Justice right now involving the FBI right now, and the President is going to receive those reports. And if he has any further evaluations, he'll share it with you at that time.
Q Is there any sense of any growing frustration with some of these missteps that have been so public?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll leave it in the President's words as he expressed it last Friday.
Q Ari, though you say the President is not motivated by politics, clearly there is political dimension with this problem that affects the White House. The President has laid out a plan that identifies the problem as a long-term one that requires long-term solutions, but there is obviously a political sensitivity over the short term for people who are paying more, suffering brown-outs and that sort of thing.
Is that a problem for the White House? How do you balance the policy prescription that you've come up with, with the sensitivity to the short term for which you keep saying there's not much you can do?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's focus on this and on all other matters of a similar nature that may offer some difficult, difficult politics is to do his job, to do what he thinks is right for the country to enact the policies that he thinks are the best and that would solve the nation's problems. He's a big believer that if you solve people's problems through good policy, the politics will take care of itself. And that's the direction that he has given to the Vice President's group, and that's the path that he has chosen to follow.
Q Don't you have -- I understand all that, but don't you have a political concern that people will look over the short-term and say, hey, the White House isn't doing enough over the short-term? You have Governor Davis once again on Sunday literally begging you to impose price caps. How do you deal with the short-term politics, even though you think the key things people are asking for would not be the correct solution?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only explain it to you how the President approaches these problems. And the President's view is, one of the most important short-term steps you can take is not to make the matter worse or last longer. Price controls will make the matter worse and make the crisis last longer.
Q On the House education bill, as you saw, it passed 41-7 last week. In the seven were six House Republicans, and according to the paper yesterday, they were called to the White House and sort of given a stern talking to. What kind of message does that send to conservatives that people who are trying to support the President's principles on education are now being told to be quiet and go along with the, as they said it, Ted Kennedy and George Miller, people they think the White House is trying to please?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House is always going to keep in touch with people on both sides of issues, whether they're Democrats or Republicans. And the President is always going to work hard to build consensus behind his ideas. And he was very pleased to see that his education plan was able to, as you said, get 41 votes. That's a very powerful sign of how good the education proposal is. And the President is heartened by that. He'll continue to work with other Democrats and Republicans. If Republicans have a concern that they don't think it's a -- there's something in there that's a good idea, the President wants to talk to them, or the staff will talk to them.
Q Isn't it a strange picture, the Chief of Staff chewing out conservative Republicans for basically trying to keep --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's just not the case.
Q -- trying to keep to the campaign plan on education?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not the case that there was a chewing out. It's always a question of listening to people's ideas, and if they have concerns about a substance -- substantive proposal, to give them a good hearing, to listen to them and to explain the President's reasons for acting as he did. Obviously, the President's education plan has large bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, and the President's very pleased by that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
2:12 P.M. EDT
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