|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 13, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
Listen to the Briefing
12:38 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll take your questions.
Q Well, we want some personnel announcements. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Do I hear a thank you? It's Friday in the White House press room.
Q Ari, on Argentina. Have they asked for help from the United States, in the way of the $15 billion or any amount of money? Have they asked for help?
MR. FLEISCHER: Steve, let me answer it to the greatest degree I can. President Bush has sent a message of support to President de la Rua with respect to the economic situation in Argentina. The President said that he was watching the economic situation in Argentina closely, and he noted that President de la Rua's Wednesday proposal to bring down the fiscal deficit in Argentina.
Treasury officials, including Secretary O'Neill, are in touch with the appropriate Argentine officials, and any questions beyond that I'm going to refer to the Department of the Treasury. Q What triggered his note? Why did he send the note? Was there something that prompted that, other than the general economic climate there?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's well-known about the economic troubles that Argentina is facing. So it's a statement from the President to the President of Argentina.
Q What was it that you said about the fiscal situation? I'm sorry, I couldn't hear it.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President -- President Bush informed President de la Rua that he was watching the economic situation in Argentina, and his note was an expression of support for President de la Rua.
Q Ari, on Cuba, can you outline the President's general thoughts about the importance of underscoring freedoms in Cuba and also looking ahead to what he's going to be looking at next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Today is the eve of the 7th anniversary of the ramming of a tugboat called the 13th of March Incident. It was a ramming of a tugboat by Cuban authorities. The President will shortly have an announcement of several specific actions he has taken to further the cause of democracy and the people who yearn to be free in Cuba. An announcement will be coming out from the President later on that topic, and I can't get into the specifics until it's out from the President.
Q I'm not looking for specifics, just your thoughts of why it's important, why he wants to underscore freedom in Cuba.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that it's important to promote democracy and freedom everywhere, and as totalitarianism and communism have faded from the scene, there remain just a few isolated spots on this earth where it remains, and Cuba is one of them. The President is on the side of those who yearn to be free.
Q And looking ahead to next week, I know he hasn't made this -- well, you can say that -- but he's going to be facing a decision next week on whether to allow Helms-Burton to take effect.
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a separate matter dealing with legislation called Helms-Burton Title III specifically, and under the law, that matter will not need to be concluded until July 17th.
Q What is weighing on -- is he worried about the consequences that any decision might cause among European allies --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he'll address whatever his concerns are at the time he makes his announcement, which will be not until next week.
Q Ari, there have been some meetings this week on the education bill. And as I understand it, some significant players, even Republican lawmakers, have advised the White House that because of the complexities of the education reform bill and working them out, that they think they need more time to do a really good bill before July and they can't meet that deadline. Is the White House willing to engage with Congress on extending the President's preference to have this done by July in lieu of the complexities of the education?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would be disappointed if Congress were not able to send him an education package prior to the children going back to school. But he does want to work with the Congress and will work with the Congress in a bipartisan fashion. This has been an issue where tremendous progress has been made. Congress is focusing on education in a different manner this year with President Bush's support. And it's a matter that is less ideological and much more practical in terms of how do you help our schools to help our children.
And so, the President continues to urge Congress to get the work done before the August recess, but he will work in a very collegial fashion with the Congress.
Q That's not an absolute deadline, in other words?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what the President has called for, it's what he hopes will happen.
Q Ari, on campaign finance, you said before that the White House hadn't yet sorted out what this means. Have you sorted it out yet, and could you remind us what the President --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think I said the House hadn't sorted out what it meant.
Q Well, you said it was unclear.
Q Yes. Have you had any clarification now?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. No. I think it's -- really that clarification will be found first in the House.
Q Can you remind us, please, what the President's principles are and what he will accept for campaign finance reform?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that there should be maximum disclosure of contributions, that we need to post disclosures that he did during the campaign, on the Internet. He believes that we need to have a ban on soft money from corporations and from unions.
The President has a series of other proposals in there. Scott, why don't you remind me on the others.
MR. MCCLELLAN: Well, we can get that to her, so --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me post the rest of them. I stopped at two, right there.
MR. MCCLELLAN: -- ban on corporations -- soft money for corporations, labor unions.
Q That's been a top priority.
Q That will be helpful. Thank you.
Q Well, I mean, whatever is going to happen, yesterday was the chance to have something happen and it didn't. And you haven't even expressed any disappointment. The President ran as reformer; is he disappointed that it didn't get resolved --
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, I addressed that at the gaggle this morning. I was asked about it. I'll be happy to give the same answer I gave this morning. The President is calling -- has said to the Congress, and has called on them, to improve the current system, which the President believes is in need of reform.
The President has indicated that he would like to sign a bill this year that improves the campaign finance system. He has said to lawmakers directly, in private and in public, that they cannot count on him to veto campaign finance reform this year, which is something that many Republicans have called on him to do. He has indicated to them that he cannot be counted on to do that.
The President would like to sign a bill that improves the current system.
Q So no judgment about what happened? I mean, McCain was pretty clear about what he thought about what happened yesterday. You have no view about whether it's disappointing that it didn't --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is still prepared to sign a bill if it meets the principles.
Q Does the President believe that an egg fertilized outside the womb constitutes the conception of life?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, again, on this whole topic -- which your questions deals again with stem cell research --
Q No, this could deal with a lot more than just stem cell research.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, until the President makes that determination, he's going to speak for himself about the reasons and his approach, his view of life, his view of health, his view of science at the time he makes the decision.
Q Is there a reason you don't want to answer this question?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's not a question of want to or not want to. It's a question of as the President deliberates on this matter, he'll share those reflections, himself.
Q On global warming, the statement that you just put out, is that the extent of what the President plans to bring to the allies in America about his solution to global warming, or is this just like a first --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is a first step that the administration is taking. This is in follow-up to what the President announced last month, about the effort to combat global warming. The President today announced a series of specific initiatives that the administration is going to undertake to combat global warming. And the global climate working group continues its efforts on a more broad approach.
Q Dr. Rice mentioned in her briefing that you would have something to say about -- something to say about he could bring or what the advances have been by the Cabinet-level group when he went to Europe? Is this it, or does he plan to say more about it next week, before he goes to Europe?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will have additional remarks next week, but this represents the statement of administration on this issue.
Q Can you tell us what other plans he'll -- the European trip next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing beyond what Condi indicated this morning.
Q Ari, I just have a follow-up question on the faith-based initiative, the process for how you notify, for example, the Salvation Army when they requested a change in an OMB circular? And I just wondered, after the decision was made in early June, that this request was unworkable, whether or not any White House or OMB official contacted the Salvation Army --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything further beyond your question to me this morning about it. I know that John DiIulio contacted the Salvation Army after the decision was made final this week. But I don't have anything interim from OMB. You may want to ask the OMB press office. I just haven't had a chance to talk to them yet.
Q Several new, or at least a couple of new polls out, ours seems to show a slight decline in the President's job approval rating, though it's still within a sufficient margin of error -- 59 percent to 56 percent. Do you have any comment on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: It sounds to me like there are two polls in a row that show the President's job approval rating is the mid- to upper 50s -- 56 percent and 57 percent in the cast of the Gallup poll that's released today.
I think this is further evidence that the President's message and his presidency has been well-received by the American people. Those are solid marks -- 56 percent, 57 percent job approval. Certainly, it is leap years ahead of the job approval of the previous President at this turn in his presidency. It's generally consistent with the job approval rating that Ronald Reagan had at this time in his presidency. Ronald Reagan was a little bit higher than President George W. Bush's at this time.
But I think it's a sign that the American people welcome his presidency, that they are supportive of his presidency and the agenda that he is pursuing and an agenda that is starting to move nicely on Capitol Hill.
Q Why, when -- last week or the week before, there were four polls that showed a drop in the polls, you and your allies at the RNC had conference calls to explain that you couldn't trust the polls and it's just a blip in time and no big deal? Now you're --
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think anybody said you can adjust the polls. I think the message you heard on that phone call and the message that I've repeated many times here is that the President has been in a very consistent range, and some polls in the low 50s and other polls in the upper 50s, and that it's been adding a lot of stability to the President's numbers, particularly when measured from January 20th.
We indicated that several polls were taken at a peak right after the China period. But that's been a consistent message from the White House. Nobody ever said that you can't trust the polls; the message was there seems to be a stability in the President's ratings and the ratings are solid.
Q Ari, on faith-based --
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, are you cradling that telephone? (Laughter.)
Q Yes. I'm just holding it here, in case it doesn't ring. It rang during Condi's briefing, so I want to muffle the ring. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Expecting a call. (Laughter.)
Q Don't want to bother you in any way.
In extolling what the Ways and Means Committee did on faith-based, you took no note of the fact that its tax provisions are a tenth of the size the White House originally proposed. Is there any sense of disappointment that the tax provisions are not larger and do not reflect the larger effort to expand charitable giving to those who cannot or do not currently itemize?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you check the transcript, what I said is that the Ways and Means Committee passed a scaled-back version of what the President proposed, and I likened it to the President's overall tax proposal, where he sought a larger tax cut. He did not get all of what he wanted, but in the case of the Ways and Means bill, as I said, he got $13 billion of tax relief over a 10 year period.
And the President is very pleased that for the first time since 1986, if this passes into law, people who don't itemize on their taxes will be able to take a deduction for charitable giving. That will help spur even more than $13 billion dollars' worth of charitable activities across the country.
Q But, Ari, how can a $25-a-year deduction -- which is, I believe, what that amounts to -- spur more charitable giving, if that's all you're getting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it ramps up over time. It's $25 in the first year for individuals, $50 for couples. And then it ramps up over a number of years to a more sizeable level. It has been scaled back. The President would have preferred more, but that was the pattern in the previous tax bill which, when he signed into law, I think people recognized the President was successful in getting much of what he sought.
Congress is not a rubber stamp. Congress exercises its own free will. But the principle of what the President sought has been put back into the tax code if this is enacted.
Q But you would concede that $1.35 trillion is much closer to $1.6 trillion than -- I mean, we're not talking about similar --
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why I called it scaled-back. This is phased-in over a longer period of time, but it still ramps up to a significant level.
Q Ari, on a related --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's go to somebody who hasn't asked one yet. Go ahead.
Q On this action on climate change, part of the President's language talks about reducing uncertainties in the science. Does the President -- is he already accepting the dangers of global warming, does he need these new scientific reports before he'll state that global warming is a serious priority?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has always said global warming is a serious problem, it is a serious priority. That's widely acknowledged. The President concurs.
But the National Academy Report that came out last month also indicated that there are areas of uncertainty. There are some things that are known, but there are other things that aren't certain, and that's what this addresses.
Q Why is the initial action, then, towards more research as opposed to a specific action to target a reduction in global warming?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you notice here, there are several steps that have been taken to engage in carbon sequestration. Those are specific steps in the action that's been announced. For the debt for forest agreement by the Department of Treasury, those are specific steps, in that case, addressed to El Salvador, to help address carbon sequestration -- not to study, but to do.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's go. We're trying to get to new people.
Q Ari, following up on that, though, can you just explain to the American people who don't see your paper what it is that you are saying today about global warming?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President today announced a series of actions to further promote the cause of reductions of global warming and to reduce greenhouse gases. These include the fact that NASA will now invest $120 million over the next three years in research on natural carbon cycle climate modeling and the link between atmospheric chemistry and climate to help reduce uncertainties in science, which were highlighted by the National Academy of Science's report.
In addition to that, the Department of Energy just signed agreements to begin two significant new projects to study carbon sequestration. The first agreement is with the Nature Conservancy, which is the world's largest private international conservation group, to study land use and forestry practices for storing carbon more effectively in Brazil and in Belize.
And, finally, to further cooperate -- to further the cause of cooperation in the Western Hemisphere, the Department of Treasury yesterday entered into a $14 million debt for forest agreement with the government of El Salvador under the Tropical Forest Conservation Act.
By this Act, the agreement will secure important benefits of carbon sequestration and climate change mitigation. In other words, it will reduce carbon. And those are specific initiatives that that the President is pleased that the agencies have been able to take at this time.
Q Ari, is the President open to the idea of revising the Kyoto protocol and making it more acceptable to the United States, or are you simply --
MR. FLEISCHER: There is currently a Cabinet-level review that is working on how to reduce greenhouse gases. The President is committed to the procedural Kyoto approach, as he announced last week -- and it's an international approach. And the President believes there is going to be a promise of much in the way of new technology to help address global climate changes.
Q So Kyoto could be reconfigured or reformulated?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the international aspect of bringing the various nations together that was set out in the Rio -- in Rio.
Q The process --
Q Not the process, not the protocol.
Q The document itself is dead?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Right, I did not say the protocol.
Q As far as the President's concerned, the document's --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's the process that was laid out, which is a continuation of what began in Rio. Okay.
Q Ari, is the administration trying to avoid embarrassing or provoking Beijing in any way by taking a neutral stance on the selection for the Olympic Games?
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the President's position about sports and policy. The President does not view this as a political matter. The President views this as a matter for the International Olympic Committee to decide what nation or what city should host the Olympics.
Q Having said that, is it the President's hope, or even belief, that perhaps by Beijing now hosting these games in 2008 that it will foster an atmosphere of more democracy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President believes that the Olympics are a sporting event, and not a political event. But having said that, this now is an opportunity for China to showcase itself as a modern nation.
Q He, therefore, thinks it was a mistake to boycott the Moscow Olympics in 1980?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't work for him in 1980 and it's not a topic I've asked him about, so I don't know.
Q Is there any concern on the part of the President and his economic team that the earlier initiative for trade liberalization in Latin America is going to be undermined by all this financial turmoil that's going on in the region there now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that is one -- the President has addressed that, in terms of expressing his support for President de la Rua, in the note that he sent. But the administration was always going to work through the Department of Treasury around the world with various nations about economic situations.
Q I wonder if the President was aware of the strong and continued increase of Hispanic business organizations supporting the trade promotion authority? And in that respect, has he had any conversation with the President of Costa Rica?
MR. FLEISCHER: Just this week, the President met with a group of leading American Hispanic businessmen and women to discuss trade promotion authority. The Hispanic business community is a growing and thriving part of our economic success and it's further part of how we can have an economic recovery by focusing on small businesses, many of which are Hispanic.
So this week, many of these leaders committed to the President they would help to pass trade promotion authority because they believe in it and because they think it's good for their businesses.
On that point, too, I want to note again that the President continues to urge Congress to make progress on the issue involving Mexican trucking. The President believes that's an important commitment that we have under NAFTA. There was a helpful step taken in the amendment that was passed by Senator Patty Murray on that matter; additional work needs to be done. And the President wants to make sure that the Congress does not take any action that's unfair to our friends from the south.
Q Do you have a read-out on the Costa Rica meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going around to the new people, and I'll come back.
Q About the Mexican truck issue, what Murray did on that amendment, is that enough to avoid a veto of the Transportation Appropriations Bill, or is --
MR. FLEISCHER: It is a helpful step, but the concerns raised in the Mitch Daniels letter that said the staff would recommend a veto, those concerns remain in place.
Q Just one other thing about that. Since the Sabo amendment on the House bill before the recess, has the President spoke with Fox or other people about Mexico's concern about the issue?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President of course spoke to President Fox and President Aznar of Spain when they were together in Mexico. And that was about 10 days ago. That was after the House action on that matter. I don't recall if that particular topic came up.
Q Just a readout on the Costa Rica meeting, what they talked about?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: We'll have some points a little bit later. I'm sorry. We haven't had time.
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll have a little bit on that for you in a little bit. I wasn't in the meeting, and so we'll have something in a little bit.
Mr. David Gregory.
Q Hi, thank you. (Laughter.) And I'll have a follow up. (Laughter.) Does the -- on stem cell -- I'm trying to be serious. Would the President like to discuss this matter with the Pope prior to finally making his mind up?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not indicated what his timetable will be. He will decide when he sees fit. And I have no indication whether that will be prior to or after the trip.
Q But does he -- would he like to consult the Pope on this directly, face to face?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's keeping his own counsel on that, so I really have no information about whether it will happen before or after.
Q But I'm saying, has he not expressed any desire, as one of the people to listen to and consult with, that the Pope would be among them?
MR. FLEISCHER: That again would get into whether or not he's willing to decide before or after the trip. And the President has not given any such indication. He just has not given an indication about that.
Q A congressional research economist yesterday was talking at the National Economics Club, and this might be a little wonky, but she said an unintended consequence of the new tax cut package is that certain families of four, earning, say between $25,000 and $30,000 a year, will not benefit from the tax rebate because it will be offset by the child care credit.
Is there any concern -- I know the President is always talking about like a single waitress benefiting from his tax cut package, but apparently they've done an analysis, and it turns out that families of four in that income tax bracket won't -- it's going to be offset --
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't -- I'm not familiar with her remarks, and I haven't seen the analysis, so I'd hesitate to comment.
Q For next week, could you look ahead to Monday? What is he doing Monday, what's the significance of it, and also just sort of give a summary of what's happening next week.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President on Monday is going to have a meeting with a veteran of the Vietnam War, to give him the Congressional Medal of Freedom -- I'm sorry, the Congressional Medal of Honor. And the President will depart for Europe on Wednesday next week, where he will meet with Prime Minister Blair, where he will meet with the Queen, where he will travel to Genoa to participate in the G-7 summit. And following that, the President will travel to Rome to meet with the Pope. And if there are any additional travel, we'll fill you in at the appropriate time.
Q How about Monday, Tuesday?
Q Is he going to be pushing any further on the legislation as its going through -- any further events on faith-based or anything like that next week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, there will be an interesting -- this will be an interesting time, because while the President is abroad, there's going to be a very busy domestic agenda here at home. And I think you can look forward to the President discussing that agenda during the trip.
There will be on the floor of the House of Representatives, as soon as next week, possibly, patients' bill of rights could be on the floor as well as the faith-based initiative. And the President has been working very hard on both initiatives, as you know. He's been having a series of meetings with House Democrats, House Republicans on the patients' bill of rights so that a bill can be sent to him that he can sign into law. He'll be very keenly interested to see what the House does, and that may -- very well may happen next week, so too with faith-based initiative.
Q Ari, do you mean to say there's some question about the President's stop in Kosovo, which Dr. Rice spoke about earlier today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not issued any formal statement on it. Dr. Rice, of course, has addressed it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:00 P.M. EDT