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

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
March 7, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

  1. Personnel announcements
  2. House vote on tax plan
  3. Vice President Cheney's health
  4. Stem cell research/President's view
  5. North Korea/White House policy
  6. Ambassador to Ireland
  7. Pardon policy
  8. Guns/code of responsibility
  9. Airlines/labor unrest
  10. President's call to Greek Prime Minister

3:05 P.M. EST

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  The President has several personnel announcements for today.  The President intends to nominate Pete Aldridge to be Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics.  The President intends to nominate Robert Gordon Card to be Under Secretary of Energy.  The President intends to nominate Kristine Ann Iverson to be Assistant Secretary of Labor for Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs.  The President intends to nominate Bobby Jindal to be Assistant Secretary of Health and Human Services for Planning and Evaluation.  Finally, the President intends to nominate Donna McLean to be Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Budget and Programs, and Chief Financial Officer of the Department of Transportation.

          That paper should be coming out shortly.  And with that, I'm pleased to take questions.

          Q    Ari, is the President calling House Democrats before the tax vote in the House?  And is he responding to blue dog Democrats or even to Senator Breaux who is saying it's not responsible and he's very conservative to put the cart before the horse, to vote on tax first and budget comes second?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is very pleased with the progress that he's been able to make on enacting tax relief for the voters.  It wasn't so long ago when people told the President, you're never going to get tax relief done.  And we stand now on the eve of a very important vote tomorrow, and the President looks forward to that vote.

          He's encouraged by the courage shown by several Democrats who intend to vote with him and with the Republicans to provide tax relief.  If there are any phone calls, I'll try to advise you.  There's nothing that I have at this moment.

          Q    Ari, three Republican senators came out today and proposed a trigger mechanism, similar to the one that Chairman Greenspan talked about. That would now count the six Republican senators are not on board your tax cut.  Would the President, because of this development, entertain a trigger?  I know you said he believes the trigger should be on spending, but there seems to be growing opposition to that philosophy.  And does he need to do some more work in the Senate?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has been very clear about this matter.  The President believes that there really are only two things that are going to make surplus diminish, and one is excessive government spending -- and that's why he supports a trigger on spending -- and a softening in the economy, which would mean less revenue.  And he believes that in the event of a softening of the economy, we must cut taxes.

          So those are the President's views and he's going to continue to work with members of Congress to build the coalitions to get the bill passed.  Tomorrow is the vote in the House and we're pleased with the progress we're making.  The Senate will come up following that.

          Q    What about the idea that six Republican senators now are not on board his tax plan?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think there are varying levels of support for a trigger.  I'm not sure that's an indication that they won't vote with the President in the end.  We understand that there are differing approaches and, as the President said earlier today at the Treasury Department, this is the beginning of the process.

          Q    The bottom line is he's got no intention to change his mind on the trigger mechanism?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  You know where the President stands.

          Q    Ari, two quick questions on Cheney.  First of all, in the statement that was released last week there was a reference to a Thursday EKG matching same EKG results from the Thursday before.  So the question is, is he doing an EKG weekly?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  My understanding is that was a follow-up to the heart attack that the Vice President experienced last November, the mild heart attack, and that was a follow-up approximately three months after that.  You should talk to the Office of the Vice President for that information.

          Q    So he's not having them weekly?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I would ask you to talk to the Office of the Vice President, but that's my understanding.

          Q    Okay.  Secondly, the Bush Sr. administration and the Clinton administration both had contingency plans in place for succession of the vice presidency.  In part, that was because the 25th Amendment is unclear about when a vice president may be removed beyond the question of retirement, resignation or death.  And so, they had set up contingency plans for this.  Do you all have anything similar?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I don't even think it's appropriate, in the context of what took place yesterday, to be discussing that topic from here.

          Q    Well, it certainly is appropriate.  I mean, he had a health issue, and the whole reason that these contingency plans are in place is for something unexpected.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  There are, of course, contingency plans in place and they follow the normal order of succession.  But again --

          Q    So you do have a contingency plan?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  It's the standard governmental plans that have always been in effect, as far as I understand it.

          Q    But the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration have reviewed and created contingency plans of their own. Have you all done that, or did you all just --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me take your question and see if there are any more specifics I can lend to that.

          Q    But you are saying that you have a contingency plan of some sort that would deal with the process.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, I think that it's not -- in the context of what happened yesterday, I think bringing that question into play in this context is --

          Q    This is perfectly the context for it.  So, is there a contingency plan in place?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As I said, I'll be happy to take the question to see any more specifics that I can bring to you.

          Q    On that subject, Ari, is the public now entitled to more specific information about what medication the Vice President takes, how much weight he's lost and other questions that he's been unwilling to answer thus far about his health?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the Vice President has been very forthcoming and he's made his doctors available and people had opportunities to ask his doctors those questions.  Again, I think those are questions you may want to address to the Office of the Vice President.  But the Vice President has been very open about a significant amount of information, and if you have anything further to discuss, I think you should address it to the right place.

          Q    Well, you're the spokesman for the President of the United States.  I think this is the right place.  He has been forthcoming about a lot of information, but as you know, there has been certain information that he has not been willing to release, including medication and other specifics related to his diet and exercise and weight loss, et cetera.  In light of what happened yesterday, should those details be made available to the public now?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I speak for the President, and you've heard my answer:  The President believes that the Vice President has been very open and provided a significant amount of information, and that's the President's belief.

          Q    The answer to my question is that no more is necessary and the public does not deserve to get any more, additional information?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated, the President believes the Vice President has provided an awful lot of information and has been very open about it.  He made his doctors available yesterday and people had an opportunity to ask whatever question they chose to ask, and that's the President's belief.

          Q    But on an ongoing basis, Ari, the only -- the White House policy is going to be that we will only be updated about the Vice President's condition if he goes to the hospital for some kind of procedure?  Or, as David suggests, will we get regular information about his condition?  Do you believe -- does the White House believe that the only appropriate time to talk about the Vice President's health is when he's on his way to the hospital?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think that in all cases health decisions, health questions will be answered as they come up, depending on events warrant.  But there is no such policy, as you indicated.

          Q    Ari, yesterday the Vice President came out of the hospital; today he's had an extremely busy schedule -- an hour meeting with President Kim, then he's going to Congress to hold a press conference.  Is the administration trying to send a message about his vitality or --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  The President is pleased that the Vice President consulted with his doctors and has come to work as is in accordance with his doctors' instructions.  If the instructions from the doctors had been any different, the Vice President, of course, would have followed them.

          Q    What is President Bush's stance on stem cell research?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We've discussed this at great length and there is a review underway right now at HHS.

          Q    Is it different from what Tommy Thompson said yesterday?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  What specifically are you referring to that Tommy Thompson said yesterday?

          Q    Well, he said that he was troubled by the law banning stem cell research.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has expressed his views on this directly and that's why he's asked HHS to undertake the review.  The President is very understanding and respectful of the promises of science, but he's very concerned about any procedure that would involve taking stem cells from fetuses that are viable.

          Q    Ari, it looks like there are probably a handful of Democrats who will vote for the plan tomorrow.  And if you only get a handful of Democrats, doesn't that really kind of increase the difficulty of getting to the Senate, where you have a 50-50 split, and right now you definitely need --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President's view is that he's pleased that there are any number of Democrats, no matter what they turn out to be, who vote for the right proposal, to lower taxes on the American people.  He thinks those Democrats, however many there are, deserve praise for voting to lower that tax burden.  And he's going to continue to work to build additional support from additional Democrats.

          But again, the tax process -- this is just the beginning, as the President indicated, and we'll keep building support and we hope more Democrats will choose to follow the lead of the Democrats who are voting with Republicans in a bipartisan manner.

          Q    We asked you this in the gaggle this morning, but just for the cameras -- what's your sense going into the vote tomorrow?  Are you confident in going into tomorrow's vote?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President views tomorrow's vote as very important.  The President views the vote in the House of Representatives tomorrow on tax relief as the key moment in honoring a campaign promise that he made and in delivering tax relief that the American people deserve. He calls on members of Congress to vote for it.  He's very praiseworthy of those Democrats who have indicated they will, and he hopes that a good number will follow that lead.  But the President is pleased that early indications are that this will likely pass in the House tomorrow.  He's hopeful it will.  And that makes it one step closer to delivering tax relief for the American people.

          Q    If I could just follow up again, as you know, many House Democrats, though, are just saying, all talk of bipartisanship is a big sham, that the House Republicans are pretty much ramming this through without sort of taking into account Democratic concerns on this and other issues.  So they say any talk of sort of bipartisanship, working together coming from here really isn't spreading to Capitol Hill.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  And the President's hope is that other Democrats will follow the lead of those Democrats who have chosen to vote with the Republicans and with the President.  He praises those Democrats who are voting in a bipartisan fashion tomorrow, he thinks they're doing the right thing for the country.  He hopes that their example will lead others to do the same.

          Q    But, Ari, isn't it true that the White House really isn't interested in negotiating at all in the House, they just want to get it through the House, do it quickly, and all the time for negotiation will happen in the Senate?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President has said right from day one that he was going to fight for the tax plan on which he ran.  He believes it's the right tax plan for the country and he's very pleased with the fact that this town is now governing.  And he praises those Democrats who are joining in getting the job done.  He's very pleased -- the President is very pleased that all the Republicans have joined together to get it done, that there are no Republicans in the House who are voting against tax relief.  And that's a good achievement, and he's proud of it.

          Q    In the Senate if you only get a few Democrats voting for your plan, you won't actually stand here and say that's a bipartisan agreement, will you?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, tomorrow is the House and we're going to keep moving forward.

          Q    The President has been barnstorming around the country trying to drum up support for the tax cut and put pressure on specific members of Congress, spending political capital.  Where does he get that capital, given the manner in which he came to office?  And given tomorrow's vote he's not going to have a lot of Democrats on the side, is he squandering that --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think just the opposite.  The President is building it.  And he's building it because tomorrow his tax plan appears on its way to passage, and he's very pleased about that.  He hopes that it will.  And the President believes that it starts to send the right message to the country that he meant what he said when he ran on tax relief.  He gave his word; he's honoring it.  And he looks forward to continue to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to get the job done.

          But I think people also recognize that this is the beginning of a process.  Of course, you have committee passage, House passage; then you'll have Senate action; then you'll have a conference agreement; and then additional votes will take place following the conference agreement.  And if all those votes line up, then, indeed, the American people will receive the tax relief that the President is working to deliver.

          So I think when you look at everything that's happened in this administration, the President's message and his proposals have been very well-received by the American people in an increasingly favorable fashion.

          Q    So that's the source of this political capital that he's spending here?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President views political capital as the voters and the American people agree with the things he's doing and saying. And that certainly has been the case.

          Q    On North Korea, Ari, General Powell's statements this afternoon seem to be in stark contrast to what he had said yesterday and what he had also said before Helms and Biden up on the Hill.  What changed between yesterday and today in our approach to North Korea?  And I'm also wondering about the idea of a review.  Former Secretary of Defense Bill Perry did an extensive review on North Korea; why do we need another one? And, further to that, is it inconsistent to have a review while at the same time we're engaging with Pyongyang?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Rephrase the second part of your question.  I'll take the first and the second, but is it appropriate to have the force structure review you're asking about?

          Q    No, no, no, a review of our policy toward North Korea. Since Bill Perry just went through a rather extensive, year-long review of our policy.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I think what you've heard from President Bush today at the news conference following the meeting with President Kim, and what you've heard from Secretary Powell and others in the administration is the same message, the same voice.  Our approach to dealing with Korea is that any agreements must be verifiable.  Although some promising developments could have taken place and may take place, we want -- and the President stressed this today -- to make certain that they're all verifiable, which is something that Secretary Powell has addressed.  And you will have an opportunity -- at 3:30 p.m. there will be a background briefing that can answer additional questions on Korea.

          Q    Well, can you take the other part of that, why do we need a review when there was just one conducted?  And is it inconsistent to have a review ongoing at the same time that this administration engages with the leadership in Pyongyang?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  John, it's not unusual for every new administration to come in and review foreign policy for an eye toward what changes need to be made and ought to be made, and that's what we're doing.

          Q    And any idea of conducting a review while engaging in some sort of dialogue?  Why do you have to shut off the dialogue while you're conducting the review?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President has addressed that today, in terms of expressing his support for the vision of South Korean President Kim, and you heard him say that today.  And he has expressed his skepticism about North Korea and its intentions, but he has expressed his support for the vision of President Kim.

          Q    Ari, there is word today that the President is close to picking an ambassador to Ireland.  What assessment do you have of his level of involvement in the Irish peace process?  And what kind of role do you expect he's going to want the ambassador to play in that process?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President and Prime Minister Blair discussed the situation in Northern Ireland and Ireland during the course of their visit, and as Prime Minister Blair and President Bush said at that time, the President stands ready to help if there's anything that Prime Minister Blair and the United Kingdom asks for him to do.  If that were to take place, we'll keep you advised.

          As for the report about the nomination of ambassador to Ireland, as you know, I'm not going to speculate about any of the names that were mentioned -- or the name, in this case.

          Q    Back on Korea, Ari.  Is the President comfortable with the assertion Secretary Powell made yesterday and which the Secretary seemed to back away from today, that we would pick up the U.S.-North Korea missile agreement where the Clinton administration left off?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, I think that there are two sides of the coin.  And the President, as I indicated, is skeptical about the intentions of North Korea.  And although there have been some promising developments in the past, the President's intention, and he will make certain, that any agreements are, indeed, verifiable at their core.  And that's the President's point of view.  I think that's what you've heard from this administration.

          Q    Also on Korea, Ari.  The Secretary of State, when he came out, said, we'll be formulating our policies and, in due course, decide at what pace and when we engage, but there is no hurry.  And the Koreans were very clear to us when they were arriving, they're in a very big hurry; that they believe that there is a narrow window of opportunity here and that to delay too long is to risk losing it.  How do you reconcile those two views and did that come up today?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me ask that question come up at the background briefing at 3:30 p.m.  I think you'll get a more -- fuller answer.

          Q    We would like an on-the-record answer to that.  That's why we're pressing you on this.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, one of the things you've heard the President say repeatedly is that it's not going to be the approach of the United States to dictate the pace of international events to our allies; that he believes the United States has to play a humble role in foreign policy and work well with our allies, but not force a timetable on anybody else.

          Q    But he's also said that he'd like to work within a timetable that works for the two parties who were involved.  And if a rapid timetable is what they want, why wouldn't he support that?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  And I think you can anticipate continued consultations between the United States and South Korea on the timetable.

          Q    Ari, the President welcomed President Kim's comments today about the national missile defense and his putting his statements of last week with Russian President Putin in what appeared to be a very new perspective.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  You've got that addressed in the joint statement that was issued by the President of South Korea and the President of the United States.  And you have that in here, talking about the two leaders share the view that countering these threats requires a broad strategy involving a variety of measures, including active nonproliferation, diplomacy, defensive systems and other pertinent measures.  That is the joint statement made by the two leaders and the President was pleased to make it.

          Q    Ari, someone asked this earlier today -- former President Bush pardoned this Edwin L. Cox, Jr. back in '93, January, and then Cox's father contributed -- or the family contributed about $31,000, I believe, to George W. Bush's gubernatorial and presidential campaign.  So, A, any connection between the pardon and subsequent contributions?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  Obviously, any funds that were contributed to Governor Bush were contributed because people believe in Governor Bush. And as far as anything that was done in any previous administration, you have to talk to the previous administrations about that.  That's not been something that I've been looking back on, as you know.

          Q    Is that the example of -- this was a longtime supporter, or even James Baker, in a memo, said that this was a longtime supporter of the President.  Does this show that perhaps there is more of a review that's needed for pardons, and the fact that sometimes there may be a connection of access that donors are getting to high-level administration officials in all administrations, when it comes to the pardons that are done by Presidents at the end of the --

          MR. FLEISCHER:  I've never spoken to the facts of any previous pardons that took place under any previous presidents; I have no intention of doing so.  I speak for President Bush, and President Bush has not issued any pardons.

          Q    Where do things stand in terms of Al Gonzalez's review of how this administration will approach pardons and what rules and regulations would be followed when it comes to pardons?           MR. FLEISCHER:  He's working on what the process review would be, and if there's anything to inform you about, I'll try to.

          Q    Senator Schumer yesterday called for the NRA and other parties in the gun control dispute to come to an agreement on a code of responsibility for gun owners and gun-owning families. Is that something that the President can endorse, a code of responsibilities?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me tell you what the President's position has been.  As he said yesterday, he thinks that everybody in society has to do a good job of teaching right from wrong.  He thinks that is a question of values, and that lies at the core of so many of these terrible and unfortunate incidents, including what took place today in Pennsylvania.

          During the course of the campaign, the President had a series of initiatives that involved gun safety and strict enforcement of gun laws.  I would refer you to those statements that the President made.  But it all comes down to, again, people knowing right from wrong and parents raising their children in a manner that helps them to carry out their acts in a way that is rightful and not wrongful.

          Q    So he would believe that a code of responsibility in initiatives doesn't do any good?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I haven't seen the specifics of that, and so I can't comment on the specifics of that one proposal.  But that's what the President has said in the past.

          Q    There appears to me more labor unrest in the airlines on the horizon.  I was wondering if the White House has a staff person or a point person to monitor the situation at the various airlines to advise the President.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  That's all done through Larry Lindsey's office. Larry is the principal staff person on that.

          Q    You all had a statement, I guess, at the beginning of February, like the 9th or something, where you said the President would go ahead and call for, I guess, a presidential emergency review board if Northwest negotiations aren't resolved.  Would that kick in exactly 30 days from when you put out that release?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  There was a 30-day clock that began with the nations of the National Mediation board.  That clock has not run out yet.

          Q    So, exactly, at that time, that will kick in and that will be the first of 30 days?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  You would have to check to see what the rules are as far as weekends and Saturdays and Sundays counting; I'm not sure how that works.

          Q    I think it's 12:01 a.m. Monday, isn't it?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  We can get back to you on that if you need to know when the 30-day clock runs out.

          Q    You have five days.  The President has said -- let me take that back -- a senior administration official has said he would not take lightly the threat of concurrent strikes by all four airlines.  Would you seek to act on this one, or would you wait for the next one?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, I think the first thing, let's find out when the 30-day clock exactly expires on the action that's already been taken.  And any subsequent action involving the President on any of the airline disputes would, of course, also depend on any actions taken by the National Mediation Board.

          Q    Is the President or his political strategists, are they of the opinion that if these tax cuts pass, that that will    -- since people in polls generally feel they're not going to see         a tax cut, if they actually see a tax cut, then that will be a political gain for the President?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President doesn't look at it in terms of a political gain.  The President looks at it in terms of this is what he ran on, this is what he said he'd do, and this is what he's fighting for to get done because he thinks it's the right thing.

          One of the reasons there has been a sense in Washington at least, or that people don't think that Washington will follow through on tax cuts is because they seldom happen.  They happen much more often in state capitals, which is a good thing, and that's part of the reason the President is trying to bring change to Washington and to bring tax relief.

          The President believes that in fulfilling his promise to bring tax relief people will recognize that he is serious about cutting taxes and Congress is, too.

          And we've got to wrap up in a minute for the background briefing.

          Q    Representative Velazques is pretty much concerned, saying that the President is going to pay for his tax cuts with a strong impact on small business, saying that budget cuts will cut the agency by over 40 percent, virtually crippling its ability to support small businesses that are the key to economic growth.

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Kelly, the President's tax cut is going to be very beneficial to small business.  Many small businesses pay taxes at top rates of 39.6 percent.  Small businesses are often taxed at the same rate as individuals; they're not taxes at the rate of corporations.  And that's one reason why the President believes, especially in this time of economic softening, that we need to cut taxes to help small businesses grow and hire more workers.

          Last question.

          Q    Ari, what was the main reason for which President Bush placed a telephone call to the Greek Prime Minister Simitis the other day at the initiative of the American President?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  The President called to express the interest of the United States in maintaining strong ties with Greece and to discuss other issues of importance between our two nations.

          Q    Did President Bush extend an invitation to Mr. Simitis to visit Washington, as reported?

          MR. FLEISCHER:  Once we have an invitation to announce, of course, I will announce it.  There's nothing to announce at this time.

          Thank you.

                              END         3:30 P.M. EST


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