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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 29, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
Tax Cut Refund............................................2
Vice President/Health........................2-6, 13-14, 19
Elliot Abrams Appointment...............................3-4
Surgeon General Report.................................6-11
Environmental Groups/White House Web Site................11
Muslim Leader Ejected From White House................11-12
Japanese Prime Minister Visit.........................14-16
Patients' Bill of Rights..............................16-17
Milosevic/War Crimes Tribunal............................19
Gun Sales/Background Checks...........................19-20
the White House
Office of the Press Secretary
12:03 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have a personnel announcement and two additional announcements to make. I'll be more than pleased to take questions.
The President will appoint Secretary Norman Mineta to be a member of the AmTrak Reform Board for a five-year term. And the President also intends to nominate Randal Quarles the be United States Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund for a term of two years.
On two policy matters, the President is very pleased to note that in a bipartisan action last night, the House Judiciary Committee passed his faith-based initiative. The President had, in the third week of office, identified this as one of the major priorities of this administration as a way to get help to millions of people who have been left behind in our society, including 15 million children who are at risk. And of that, there are some 2 million children of prisoners that this program will help through mentoring and through other programs.
As far as follow-up to this, the President will, on Monday next week, meet with a group of national service organizations, such as the Kiwanis Club, the Rotary Club, the Optimists Club, where he will kick off a campaign to sign up mentors to help 1 million children receive additional helping hands in their young lives.
On Wednesday, the President will travel to Philadelphia, where he will meet with members of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church to continue to talk about the power that his faith-based initiative can bring to those who need help and have been left behind in our society.
Secondly, on policy, this Sunday marks a very important day. This Sunday the American people will begin to pay lower taxes as a result of the tax cut that the President has -- that the President proposed and has been approved by the Congress. On Sunday, people's paychecks will go up, they'll have more money in their checks, because income tax rates will be lowered.
Already this year, the 15 percent rate has been lowered to 10 percent, and all rates will come down beginning this Sunday, meaning all people's paychecks will go up following this period, this Sunday.
This is all part of four installments that people will get in lower taxes, beginning this Sunday. The other installments include 91 million checks that will be sent out to taxpayers this year as a result of the retroactive lowering of tax rates. And then beginning on January 1, there will be a permanent change made so the 15 percent rate is 10 percent, and then next April, parents with children will receive additional tax relief as a result of the increase in the child credit.
There are four installments to the tax cut over the next nine months, and the first one I'm pleased to report begins this Sunday.
Q When do the checks go out, Ari? Do you know when they go out?
MR. FLEISCHER: The checks will begin going out sometime in late summer, early fall. They will go out in order of people's Social Security numbers. So if you want to know when you're going to get your check, you can take a look at the last two digits of your Social Security number. The lower your last two digits, the sooner you'll get your check. So if your last two numbers end in 01, you'll get a check most likely sometime late summer. And for people whose numbers end around 99, they'll get it sometime this fall.
Q What about joint filers, so there are two numbers?
MR. FLEISCHER: For the joint filers, whoever the signatory is will have the Social Security number.
Q Ari, the White House this morning made a decision that the Vice President's announcement of his condition and his procedure tomorrow would be made very abruptly, and it was an abrupt public announcement. What was the White House concerned about in the way of public reaction, that it felt it needed to take that step?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I differ with your categorization of it being abruptly. I think the Vice President, himself --
Q -- no notice --
MR. FLEISCHER: The Vice President, himself, wanted to be able to share the information with the American people, in his own way and in his own words. And I think it's entirely appropriate to hear the message from the Vice President. And he wanted to be the first voice on it, and I think that's entirely appropriate.
Q Why would the President send back to the NSC a man who admitted that he misled the American people, Congress on the Iran Contra scandal, participated in a cover-up and now he's supposed to be in charge of democracy and human rights?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, you're referring to the appointment of Elliot Abrams to the staff of the National Security Council. And the President believes that Mr. Abrams is eminently qualified for that position. He believes he's the best person to do the job and he has full faith in Mr. Abrams.
Q How could he be the best person with that record?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you'll also find, if you talk to several people on the Hill, that he enjoys bipartisan support and that there is a recognition that he is an outstanding diplomat, he has an outstanding record; and what he has done as Assistant Secretary for International Organizations and Human Rights at the State Department. For the last five years he has been president of the Center for Ethics and Public Policy. And I think that, again, if you talk to people on the Hill -- you'll always find opposition to somebody, but I think you'll also find bipartisan support for Mr. Abrams.
Q He still participated in a cover-up against the American people.
Q Does the President have an opinion about his past and how it impacts his ability to function --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that's a matter of the past that was dealt with at the time, and that Mr. Abrams is held in high regard by Democrats and Republicans, alike, and that he'll do an outstanding job in this position.
Q Does the President think that Mr. Abrams acted in a totally ethical way in the past? Is that the way that White House officials should conduct themselves now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that he is the best person for the job and he enjoys the President's full support.
Q Did the President appoint him to a National Security Council job which does not require Senate confirmation, as opposed to a State Department job, because he felt he was unconfirmable?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only talk to you about the job to which he has been appointed.
Q On the Vice President again, many of people who get pacemakers implanted are warned to stay away from cell phones, microwave ovens. Is the Vice President -- you know, he's surrounded by people with sophisticated communication devices, walkie-talkies, cellular phones. Has any thought been given to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that is a question you need to address to medical personnel. Medical personnel are the ones who -- first of all, the procedure and the tests will take place tomorrow. And then if they proceed with the step of installing a pacemaker, I think that's an appropriate question for medical personnel. They understand the technology of pacemakers better than I do.
Q Why is it not an appropriate question for the White House, given the White House has made --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question is, what are the medical implications of pacemakers.
Q I think the second question might be, are you worried that the White House might have to make some changes or arrangements in order to accommodate whatever device that they may implant?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should allow the test to be performed tomorrow to see what the determination is. And then I think that's a technology question that's best addressed to medical personnel who understand the technological implications of their recommendations to their patients.
Q Last year, the President's father reached out to an independent heart specialist to get an independent take on Vice President -- then Mr. Cheney's -- health and his capacity to do his job. Is the President going to seek any extra input on this, any independent assessment for himself?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, this is a question for the Vice President about who he entrusts his medical care to. He has entrusted it to some of the nation's very best doctors and physicians. The President has full faith that Secretary Cheney knows how to take care of himself -- I'm sorry -- Vice President Cheney knows how to take care of himself. And the Vice President is in excellent medical hands.
Q Does the President need to conduct his own independent assessment of this, given the responsibilities that he asks --
MR. FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated, the President has feel faith that the Vice President is well aware of how to take care of himself. And as the Vice President has said just hours ago from this podium, he has had heart disease for years and years, it's not something new to him, and he's been dealing with it very successfully, as a Secretary of Defense who served during war time and as a Vice President.
Q One more. There are now -- since he has joined the President's team, he has had three episodes: one, a heart attack; one, a repairing of a stent; and now this discovery of an arrhythmia. After having had heart disease for 20 years, with major heart attacks happening a long time ago, is that any indication that the responsibilities he's been asked to undertake here are affecting his health?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that very same question was put to the Vice President on this very spot just hours ago, and the Vice President answered it for himself. And he said that this is a condition that he has lived with for many a year and that he's going to undertake this test tomorrow, it's a routine procedure and if all goes as planned, it will be an outpatient procedure and he'll be back at work.
Q No second thoughts on the part of the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Did the President ask that question? Did he pose that question to the Vice President?
MR. FLEISCHER: The question that Terry posed?
Q The one that I posed earlier.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President discussed with the Vice President on Tuesday this week -- just as the Vice President indicated already to you today -- that he asked questions about how the Vice President was feeling, what the Vice President was hearing from his doctors, what the recommendation was. And the President said to the Vice President that he thought he made a wise decision.
Q Did he ever, at any point, bring up the question of whether, you know, he could continue in office?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. The Vice President was asked that this morning. I mean, all these questions were asked to the Vice President and you've heard his answers.
Q Ari, on the Surgeon General's report, has the President read the full report and, if not, is he going to? And what is his reaction?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not read the full report. The President understands the report was issued by a Surgeon General that he did not appoint, a Surgeon General who was appointed by the previous administration and --
Q What does that have to do with him reading a report or not? I mean, he believes in education, doesn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, he believes in education, Helen.
Q He's a strong advocate of education. Why wouldn't he read the report?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've addressed the question.
Q No, you haven't.
MR. FLEISCHER: I was asked if he read the report.
Q You haven't. Why wouldn't he read it?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's aware of it.
Q What do you mean, aware of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: He has many things to read. He's aware of the report. He's aware of what the report says.
Q Has anyone here read it, Ari? Or can --
Q Well, what does he think about it? Can we get back to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure. The domestic policy has looked at it.
Q Does the White House have a view on whether it is helpful and advances the debate, or whether its views are things the White House, itself, would endorse, the administration would endorse -- since you're distancing yourself from the Surgeon General?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that everybody has a responsibility to behave in a fashion that stresses individual responsibility, and that all individuals need to act responsibly, they need to understand the consequences of the choices they make.
The President believes, and the report does have some indication on this, that the best way to prevent pregnancy, the only sure-fire way is through abstinence. And that's the best way to avert disease, as well.
Q But the thrust of the report, Ari, is that abstinence education alone, as I understand it, will not be successful in all cases and other things need to be tried, as well, including more broad-ranging sex education --
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no question, and the report gives some slight indication to this, that the only method that is fail-proof for averting unwanted pregnancies is abstinence.
Q Is the President concerned about the spread of AIDS?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very concerned about the spread of AIDS. And, as you know, the President believes the nation and the world need to launch an effort that focuses on both education and treatment.
Q I know, but the Surgeon General raises this one indication of preventing the spread of AIDS, the use of contraception.
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
Q And is the White House view that only abstinence should be followed to prevent the spread of AIDS?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President's view on these matters is that these really are questions of local control and local decisions, and it's not for the White House to dictate those types of policies. And it's important to allow local control, to allow people in various schools to make these decisions. But the President continues to believe that abstinence and abstinence education is the most effective way to prevent AIDS, to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Q Local control, though, means a public health hazard, and AIDS could be spread because people are not taking precautions. Isn't the White House concerned about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House is concerned about many things, but that also means that local control is local control and it means that not everything gets dictated from the White House.
Q Does that apply to sex education? What is his view on sex education being taught in schools?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a matter of local control.
Q Is he for or against it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Is he for local control? He's for local control.
Q Is he for or against students being taught about sex at school?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a question of local control, Ron.
Q And in February, you have an opportunity to appoint a Surgeon General. Is it safe to assume he will appoint his own Attorney General?
MR. FLEISCHER: That he will appoint his own --
Q That would be a story -- Surgeon General.
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, the President will appoint his own Surgeon General.
Q Is it possible that it would be Satcher?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to confirm, deny, speculate about anything involving personnel. That's --
Q Can we assume, though, that Satcher would not be reappointed?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- as you know, the longstanding White House policy.
Q Can we assume, given your remarks, that he will not be reappointed?
MR. FLEISCHER: You're trying to get me to speculate about personnel, and as you know, that's something I just choose not to do.
Q Well, you won't say that the President has confidence in the Surgeon General today, is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a question I'm addressing.
Q What should we infer from that? Can we just draw our own conclusion and you'd be okay with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: That I don't speculate about personnel.
Q Should he quit now?
Q No, no, because there were other matters like earlier today you did express the President's confidence in Elliot Abrams, but not the Surgeon General. So what should we infer from the distinction?
MR. FLEISCHER: That Elliot Abrams enjoys the confidence of the President.
Q And the fact that the administration -- that you've emphasized that this administration did not request this report, that the previous administration did, indicates this administration wouldn't be interested in this subject, there's no curiosity about the effectiveness of sex education?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I recall, also the previous administration delayed the release of this report because it did not want it to come out in the middle of an election year.
Q We're asking about what this President, now holding office --
Q Did he ever believe in reading an opposite opinion?
MR. FLEISCHER: But you do afford me the opportunity to remind you of the history of this report. Obviously, the previous administration made some judgments about the merits of this report. They made a decision that it was a report that they did not want to come out at a time when the previous administration at least was running for office. And so the previous administration must have seen something in this report that made them delay it until after the election.
Q But what is it that makes the President not want to read something like that? I mean, does he never read anything controversial?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, I think it's no secret. Presidents of the United States do not have the time to read each and every report that comes out of the federal government.
Q Was he told about the report, then?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's always briefed on these matters.
Q Briefed by whom?
MR. FLEISCHER: By staff, domestic policy staff.
Q Have you read it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Have I read it? I've been briefed on it.
Q Ari, didn't the President ask Dr. Satcher to stay on earlier this year? And, if so, why did he do that?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's news to me. I have not heard anything like that. People are appointed to terms. His term does not expire until next year.
Q -- he didn't ask the Doctor to stay on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, do you have any evidence? You just said the President asked him to stay on.
Q I believe the Doctor said that he was asked to stay on.
MR. FLEISCHER: He has a term. He has a term that has not expired.
Q Ari, some environmental organizations are claiming victory with some sort of web demonstration against the White House. They're claiming that they sent so many e-mails that the White House web server was brought down. Is that accurate?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard any information about our web server being brought down. And typically, I receive any such notice rather quickly. I think it's happened once since the President took office. But I have received no information on that.
Q Have you gotten any indication that the White House has been flooded with e-mails or --
MR. FLEISCHER: No more than the normal.
Q Ari, Muslim leaders representing more than -- American Muslims in this country were invited to a meeting here at the White House yesterday with the community and faith-based initiative. However, they walked out of that meeting because one of their members was expelled and accompanied by security after being allowed in and cleared for security reasons.
Now, this member is the son of Dr. Samuel Arian and his uncle is Dr. Mazen al Najjar Mr. John DiIulio, the director of office, he described it as guilt by association. I hasten to add, neither of these two men were found guilty by any court in this country of any wrongdoing. Now, David Bonior has protested very strongly and issued a statement on the subject. Would the White House apologize to the American Muslim community?
MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. Bonior is right to complain. The President is very upset about this. The President is very concerned that an action was taken that was wrong and inappropriate, and the President apologizes for it on behalf of the White House.
I want to say that the Secret Service has one of the most difficult jobs in the government, and they do it on an extraordinarily sound and good basis. And everybody who works in this White House is grateful to the Secret Service for the good work they do. In this one instance, the Secret Service made a mistake. They've acknowledged it; they have said so. They will continue to say so. And the President is concerned about it to the point where he does apologize.
Q Ari, on that same subject, some of the Muslim leaders complained that what they sense as snubs or insults to them have begun with, I guess, the cancellation of an Eid holiday observance, cancellation of Vice President Cheney's briefing last Friday for the American Muslim Council, as well as Dr. DiIulio's failure to appear at this briefing, at which the person was ejected. Is there a pattern of snubbing Muslim leaders for perceived or unperceived reasons?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. And there have been many other meetings that have gone forward just as planned. But in the case, for example, that you mentioned about the Vice President's meeting, I think everybody understood that that was a matter dealing with airplanes and logistics and travel time that were beyond the control of the Vice President. And so he was not able to make that meeting, and he wishes he could have.
But this White House has engaged in extensive outreach, all part of the faith-based and community initiative that I began this meeting with. I said that the President was very pleased that the House took the action it did to support a program that can help the nation's mosques, receive help from the federal government to help them complete the good works that they do on behalf of people in their community.
Q Back on the Vice President. Obviously, the energy report is over and we've moved into the legislative phase. Could you just give us a sense of what his portfolio, what his policy portfolio looks like now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's policy portfolio?
Q The Vice President's.
MR. FLEISCHER: The Vice President's portfolio is very, very busy, just as the President's is. And it's the President's agenda. And that includes taking action this summer on education so that our schools can be improved and reformed. It includes taking action on the faith-based initiative which is moving in the House. It includes completion of the energy recommendations in the form of legislation on Capitol Hill. And as you note, the House's committed by mid-July to have an action on energy at the committee level. The President hopes that the Senate will take similar action.
So there's a very busy agenda -- that includes additional items involving appropriation matters where the administration is pleased to see that the Congress appears to be holding the line and keeping spending at the levels and the rates that the President recommended.
Q Can I follow --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's Les time. A follow-up?
Q Wasn't he appointed to some new task force after -- he was appointed to head another task force after energy. Do you recall what that was?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Oh, cyber-terrorism, thank you.
Q Ari --
MR. FLEISCHER: I called on Les. It's Les time.
Q Can we just stay on that subject for just a second?
MR. FLEISCHER: Stay on that subject.
Q Which is he is running a new task force that is supposed to be quite intensive. Can you tell us what kind of demands that makes on his time? The general concern I think we're hearing from all these questions is whether or not, given the succession of problems that the Vice President has had, is his capability to handle the workload matching the workload he's got.
MR. FLEISCHER: As the Vice President, himself, said this morning, he anticipates that this will be an out-patient procedure tomorrow and that he'll be at his desk and working on Monday. And many of these same questions came up after the last time the Vice President had a medical procedure, and he was right back at his desk, working. And that has been the case in each one of these instances.
It's a remarkable reflection about the progress of American medicine that heart patients -- not only Dick Cheney, but millions of others that are just like him -- are able to go into a hospital, have an out-patient procedure, and return to their normal lives, which includes their family lives and their business lives, the very next day. And that's a tribute to modern medicine and the remarkable changes that have been made in the treatment of heart disease. And the Vice President is one of millions of fortunate Americans who are able to enjoy a full life, thanks the medical technology and to the abilities of our nation's doctors.
Q But the point here that's being brought up that I don't think you're addressing -- yes, these questions were posed to the Vice President. But you speak for the President. There is evidence in the past where the President has independently, basically, checked up on his running mate to make sure, independently, that he was fit to serve. And so I think the question that stands out is, does the President believe that the Vice President's capabilities physically match the workload that he's still got ahead of him.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's been no change in the statement, I said that the President has no such concerns, when I said it 10 minutes ago. The President has no such concerns.
Q A two-part. The New York Post has published a report that -- quote -- tapes exist to prove that Arafat ordered the execution of U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and two others in Khartoum in 1973. But, for reasons of state, every American administration from Nixon on has refused to comment. Can you say that this report, that they note is backed up by U.S. Naval Officer James Welsh, is false or not, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not familiar with the report, so I can't comment on it.
Q Both the Washington Post and the Washington Times have again reported the Episcopal Church legal battle of Accokeek, Maryland, where the Bush administration's deputy general counsel of the INS is charged in court with an assault of an elderly church warden, and where this Bush official's wife, the acting bishop of Washington, is charged with trespassing. And she has charged a federal court suit asking that the court remove the elected rector of this 300-year-old Christ Church.
And my question is, since this rector that she wants to remove because she doesn't agree with him is a Texan and he adheres to the same traditional Christian beliefs as the Reverend John Wesley, who founded President Bush's United Methodist Church --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there a question here? Hello?
Q -- the President certainly cares about this, doesn't he? Because he is a man who cares about religious freedom, doesn't he, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: He cares about religious freedom, Les. And I have no --
Q Can you say something about his INS deputy general counsel being involved in this, in this federal suit? Is he just going to be silent on this, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, you have heard a lot about this. I'll have to --
Q If you give me one minute with the President, I'm sure he would speak out, don't you think?
MR. FLEISCHER: If I gave you one minute with the President, you'd take 10.
Q Oh, no.
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.
Q What concrete measures is the U.S. going to offer to help the Japanese economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is looking forward to his visit tomorrow with Prime Minister Koizumi. And the question of the Japanese economy will be one of several topics that are discussed.
The President understands that the Japanese economy is an issue that the Prime Minister is very concerned about and the President looks forward to listening to what the Prime Minister says. I think after the meeting we may have more information to share with you. The President will be there, tomorrow, obviously. There will be a brief photo op, where you'll have an opportunity to ask a question or two, so that's a question you may want to address following on the meeting.
Q They are going to talk about the Asia security issue. Is China, as the neighbor of Japan, going to -- or should worry about anything about this meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. Frankly, the United States-Japanese security alliance has been a bedrock of peace and stability in the region. And the fact that we have such a strong security relationship with Japan has brought peace and, therefore, should bring comfort to all neighbors in the region.
Q In that same meeting there will be a climate issue. And the Prime Minister will be coming up with a new proposal to make United States easier to discuss Kyoto protocol issues. What is the reaction of the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's reaction will be, he'll be interested in listening to whatever the Japanese Prime Minister has to say. And if, indeed, what you just described comes up from the Prime Minister, the President might be able to discuss it tomorrow.
Q Ari, does the President believe that there is much chance of getting a patients' bill of rights at this point out of the Senate, that he could support?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think you still have to allow the Senate to finish its work. It's not clear whether the Senate will finish. It's not
clear what amendments will be offered in the Senate. I think the senators are still trying hard to figure that out for themselves.
So regardless of what the Senate does, the President's principles remain unchanged. And the President is ready, willing and able to sign a patients' bill of rights into law that protects patients in their dealings with HMOs. And he believes that can be done, and should be done, without driving up the cost of health care, by turning our health care system over to the trial lawyers.
Q -- has he made any phone calls on that, though, in the last couple days to any senators, talked to any senators about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to check his phone logs or ask him, so I don't know.
Q Yesterday, Ari, from this podium, you accused supporters of the bill in the Senate of putting politics before progress and not compromising. There is now an amendment that is blessed by the White House, is it not -- by Breaux and others -- that would shift some of the liability provisions to federal court. Would the President sign the bill if that amendment is passed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, David, there is a real question about whether that amendment will even be offered. So I don't think it's appropriate to speculate or comment on something that may not even be.
Q -- does the White House support that amendment? You won't comment on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, it may not even be offered, so I'm not going to speculate about something that may not exist.
Q Does something have to be offered in order for you to comment on it? I mean, there are proposals that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, it does.
Q Your energy plan --
MR. FLEISCHER: Paula?
Q On Medicare reform, Senators Bob Graham and Lincoln Chafee yesterday introduced a bill. I'm wondering if the White House has any response to that? And, also, they want to start moving on that mid-July. Does the White House believe there is room on the congressional plate to do energy, on faith-based initiatives and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll tell you something. The President is becoming increasingly concerned that the Senate is failing to take action on education. It's important that the House and the Senate are able to proceed to a conference. There should be no higher priority than educating our nation's children. And the President understands that you can have a crowded Senate calendar, but that needs to begin with education.
The President is pleased that an agreement has been reached -- although, it is a tad late -- on the defense supplemental, so that the Department of Defense can receive the money that it has been promised in this very fiscal year, which will end in just a few months.
So there is a real question about what issues are the nation's priorities. And the President believes that education is a top priority for this nation and so, too, is making sure that Americans have a summer that is as free as possible from blackouts and brownouts and high energy prices. So, therefore, he also calls on the Senate to make sure that they take prompt action on energy.
Q On Mexico, yesterday you mentioned the possibility of growing tensions and the U.S. because the vote in the House, in regards to the trucking. Yesterday, the Mexican government denied that they participated in Operation -- International to capture about 8,000 smugglers. Do you think this is the result of this growing tension?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think it's hard to say that there is any type of correlation. Nothing has been done yet. The House of Representatives has taken one step and, as the Mexican government knows, it's a multi-step process. But the President is concerned. The President believes it was an action that was not necessary, and the President believes that we do need to increase the number of inspectors on the borders, that we can and should have safe trucks operated in the United States. And the same standards should apply to all, whether they are Mexican or American.
Q -- because INS have announced here, in a big conference, press conference, the results of this participation that was supposed to involved Mexico and 12 other Latin American countries. But now Mexico is saying that they were not informed, they didn't know anything about the operation. What do you --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you should address to the appropriate agency.
Q How does the administration justify its enthusiastic backing of Milosevic's transfer to the U.N. on the War Crimes Tribunal at the same time it so strongly opposes the proposed U.N. Court of Criminal Justice?
MR. FLEISCHER: There's an already recognized international Tribunal of Criminal Justice in the Hague, and it's a separate matter. It's a separate legal matter, it's a separate issue.
Q Back to the Vice President, very quickly. The briefing room was virtually empty this morning when the Vice President came up and spoke. I mean, I got to sit in the third row, which meant it had to be pretty empty.
MR. FLEISCHER: There's room in the first row for this briefing.
Q My question is, if as Ms. Matalin said, she has no concerns about the public's confidence in the Vice President's health, why not fill this room with every reporter possible, and say that to as many people as he could?
MR. FLEISCHER: The announcement went out at 9:15 a.m. this morning, so, of course, all reporters who were at work at 9:15 a.m. would have been here.
Q Well, I mean, other people do have multiple tasks they play around here. I mean, everyone -- it's not to say that people were --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't control people's schedules for when they decide to arrive at work at the White House.
Q So the Vice President informed the President on Tuesday. Why the three-day period?
MR. FLEISCHER: He shared with the President on Tuesday what was found, as a result of the harness the Vice President was wearing. And he discussed with the President the recommendations from his doctors. The Vice President talked with his family and with his wife, and I think he made the final decision last night, is what I'm told.
Q Ari, the Attorney General has announced his intention to change the policy concerning the retention of records from background checks at gun sales, reducing the length of time those records are preserved to one day, and there are some law enforcement communities say that's a very bad idea. Senator Schumer in the Senate and Ms. McCarthy in the House are going to introduce legislation to overturn that. Does the President support what the Attorney General did, and would he veto a bill like the one Senator Schumer intends to introduce?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, the President thinks its very important that we have a system that safeguards people from anybody who would seek to purchase a weapon illegally, and that's why he supports background checks. And he believes that background checks can and should be done on an instant basis. He also supports people's right to privacy. And he supports the right of law-abiding Americans not to be treated as criminals, and to have any type of onerous keeping of their records. So he supports it.
Q Is this is a -- to the gun lobby?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only tell you what the President believes.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you, everybody. Have a very enjoyable weekend.
END 12:35 P.M. EDT
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