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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 2, 2001

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

      Listen to the Briefing

  1. Personnel announcements
  2. Presidential appointments/confirmations
  3. FBI
  4. Patients' bill of rights
  5. U.S. Senate reorganization agreement
  6. Offshore oil leases
  7. Polls
  8. Surplus/economy
  9. Medicare/Social Security
  10. Death penalty
  11. John McCain
  12. Vice President Cheney
  13. Kosovo travel
  14. Tax rebates

1:38 P.M. EDT

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Good day.  I have personnel announcement, coverage announcement, and then I want to discuss something that is of note in the United States Senate.

     The President intends to nominate Wanda Nesbitt to be Ambassador to the Republic of Madagascar.  The President intends to nominate Mattie Sharpless to be Ambassador to the Central African Republic.  The President intends to nominate George McDade Staples to be Ambassador to the Republic of Equatorial Guinea.

     On a coverage note, the meeting with Mr. Schundler will be a pool meeting, it will be open to pool at the end of the meeting.  You have that on your schedules, that's open to the pool at the end.

     I also want to note that the President is very pleased to see that a reorganization agreement has been reached in the United States Senate, which the President hopes will now allow senators and the leadership from both parties to address what is a growing confirmation gap in the United States Senate involving Presidential appointments.

     The numbers are very simple and clear.  As of June 30th, President Bush has nominated more people for confirmation to the United States Senate than any of his three predecessors, despite the late confirmation, or the late inauguration of the President as a result of the transition.  By late inauguration, I mean the amount of time that was available to the President during the transition.

     As of June 30th, the President has nominated 315 people to Senate-confirmable posts.  That compares with Bill Clinton, who, as of June 30th, nominated 249 people; George Bush, former President, 220 people; and Ronald Reagan, 301 people.  President George W. Bush has nominated more than any of these three people.  Yet, the record in the Senate shows there is a growing confirmation gap.

     For President George W. Bush, the Senate has confirmed only 132 of the President's nominees.  Bill Clinton, at the same time, had 188 confirmed; George Bush had 147 confirmed; and Ronald Reagan had 225 confirmed.

     So despite the problem of a late transition, President George W. Bush has nominated more people than Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan or George Bush, yet the United States Senate lags far, far behind.  The problem is in both parties.  There have been holds put by people in both parties.  And the people believes that it's the interest of good government for the Senate, now that a reorganization agreement has been reached in a bipartisan fashion, to step-up the pace and to confirm his nominees, because the only people who get hurt are the citizens of the country when we do not have a government in place.

     Q    What is the problem in both parties, Ari?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There is just a lag.  It does not seem to be a high enough priority of the United States Senate for attention to be focused on it.  We have entered an era where senators, individual senators are putting holds on individual people for a wide variety of reasons that seem to be much greater than previously done.  And the numbers speak for themselves.

     Q    But you think it goes beyond attributing it to just the changeover in the Senate?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Actually, because the lag began even before the changeover.  I mean, there has been a lag in the last month, even more pronounced.  For example, as of May 31st, the Senate confirmed 129 people; as of June 30th, 132.  So only three people were confirmed in one month's time.

     Now, I do think it's legitimate to allow the Senate at the time to enter into an agreement on the reorganization resolution, which they have done.  And the White House issued no comments during this period of time which hardly anybody was confirmed.  But now that the Senate has reached this agreement, the President believes it's very important for the senators to step up the pace and begin the confirmation process anew, so that the government can be put in place.

     Q    Ari, speaking of nominations, how come there's been such a delay in finding somebody to run the FBI?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I just don't agree with that characterization of a delay.  The FBI is a position unlike almost any other position that a President will make an appointment to.  It is a fixed 10-year term.  It has a jurisdiction and an impact on people's lives that is very direct, very pronounced.  And it's the type of decision that a President should weigh carefully and thoroughly before naming someone.  And that's the approach that the President has taken.

     Q    Is there a problem, though?  Is it detrimental for the FBI to be sort of leaderless and without a permanent chief for any long period of time?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The FBI will be under an interim director, and the President has faith that the people heading the FBI will do an excellent job.  But, again, this is a serious appointment to a 10-year post.  It is not a post that serves at the pleasure of the President.  And, therefore, it's a post that deserves more time, more consideration, and that's what the President is giving to it.

     Q    On the patients' bill of rights, Senator Daschle yesterday suggested that if the President can't support the current version of the bill that he allow it to become law without his signature.  And I'm just wondering, given the statement that came out on Friday night, where there was no veto word, he just said that in clear conscience he couldn't sign that bill, is it possible that he might take up Senator Daschle's invitation and, in clear conscience, not sign a bill such as the one that's there right now, and just allow it to become law without his signature?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, last I looked, if you allow something not to be signed, it's called a pocket veto.  So I'm not quite sure how you can let something become law without a signature on it, in the federal system.

     Q    It depends on the timing -- 10 days.

     Q    You have 10 days.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's right.  But in any case, the President's statement was as clear as clear can be.  The President said that the version passed by the Senate is not something that he will sign.  That's just another way of stating what he has said always, that he will sign a measure that has the patient protections that he has sought, that the Senate has sought, that the House has sought.  But he will not sign something, he will veto something if it includes the liability provisions as passed by the United States Senate.

     Q    So he would veto this bill in its current form?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President could not have been clearer in his statement.  There's no change.

     Q    On the reorganization, one more, does this reorganization prevent senators from putting a hold on a nomination?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, it does not.  The Senate retains the prerogative of putting holds on nominations.  The President is simply appealing to the better judgment of the Senate to step up the pace.  Clearly, this Senate lags far behind all previous recent Senates in the first year of a President's term.  And it lags behind badly.  And it's not just the new Senate.  It is a problem in the Senate, itself.  It's not partisan to one party or the other.  But it does cause problems for the nation and for the ongoing filling of posts in the government.  And the numbers are growing increasingly troublesome.  There is a confirmation gap in the United States Senate.

     Q    Ari, which is the bigger problem, the politics on Capitol Hill or the paperwork and all the background checks these folks have to undergo?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, President George W. Bush is way ahead of the pace of previous Presidents in terms of making nominations to the Senate, even with a shortened transition.  I'll say the numbers again.

     As of June 30th, the President has nominated 315 people for confirmable Senate positions.  Bill Clinton, with a full transition as of June 30th, only nominated 249; George Bush nominated 222; Ronald Reagan nominated 301.  So President George W. Bush is way ahead of the pace of nominations.  So, clearly, the problem is not on this end of Pennsylvania Avenue, in terms of filling out the paperwork and getting the nominations to the senate.

     Q    Ari, on offshore oil leases, has the President communicated at all with his brother, and is he at all concerned about his brother's political fortune, since his brother opposed this move?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I have not talked to the President about if he talked to his brother in regard to anything.  There will be an announcement made later today, and I'm not going to get into the specifics of it, by the Department of Interior.  I will simply say that the President has heard the voices of many people in Florida; he is concerned about the environment; he's concerned about people in Florida and their reaction to development of resources off of their shore and there will be an announcement made later today by the Secretary of Interior.

     Q    Is this part of his energy plan and, if so, how does it fit in, per se?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  This was always part of an announcement that was made by the Department of Interior, after they reviewed the sale, as is routine with all sales.

     Q    Is there going to be a surprise turnabout in his views?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think what you will hear will be a reflection of what the President said during the course of the campaign, which is he would work with the governors of all the states in the region and would have a program that is balanced, that allows our beaches to be protected, as well as development of energy in a way that is environmentally sensitive.

     Q    May I ask you another question?  Did the President say the Wall Street Journal poll was BS?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  (Laughter.)  He didn't say it to me, so I haven't heard that.

     Q    You didn't check it out with him?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I didn't check that out.

     Q    Can you tell us what his views are now on all these stories that his polls have fallen?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He shrugs his shoulders.  He thinks it's a non-issue, a non-story.

     Q    He doesn't follow polls, at all?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is cognizant of them, but the President thinks the test of a leader is what you do in office.  And the President is also comforted to know that he has the solid support of the American people.

     Let me reflect on that.  I take a look at the polls, so let me give you little reflections on that.  According to the latest Gallup Poll, the President's job approval rating is 55 to 33.  That's according to Gallup, and there's some other polls --

     Q    It's what?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It's 55 to 33, most recent Gallup.  There are some other polls that show his job approval in the low 50s; there are some other polls show his job approval in the high 50s.  Gallup is right smack in the middle.  Let me give you some numbers to compare it to.  In October of 1996, on his way to a landslide reelection, then-President Clinton's job approval according to Gallup was 54 to 36 --

     Q    Why do you always have to bring in the Clinton administration?  I mean, why don't you just stick with your own --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  According to the same Gallup polls of President Reagan, in October of 1984, Ronald Reagan's job approval was 58-33 --

     Q    What did President Truman do?  (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  -- and I can get that, too.  (Laughter.)

     President Bush, in 1992, in October of '92, his job approval was 34 to 56.  And the reason I bring up the history of it, Helen, is because history is a good indication of the present, often.  And you asked me, should the President be worried about the poll numbers.

     Q    I'm wondering what --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If poll numbers at the point at which the President has them are any indication of popular support, then previous Presidents who had virtually identical job approvals went on to landslide reelections just a week or two after those polls were taken.  So the President enjoys solid support of the American people.  By some measurements, that solid support is down from a very high level of support.  But when you take a look at the numbers in and of themselves, the numbers are solid.

     Q    May I just follow up on that?  All these stories indicate, other people are talking that you are concerned, that there are more meetings, more strategy, more trying to reach out to the Republicans who are moderate.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, you asked me, is the President concerned, and I answered the question.  The President really shrugs his shoulders at these polls.

     Q    Is there more activity around here now to improve the --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think it's fair to say the White House is looking carefully at our summer and our fall strategy.  The White House has turned a corner, where the major initiative that the President believes will help the economy to recover has been put in place and has been signed into law, which will give a boost to growth and give a boost to the economy.  And that will likely take place sometime this fall, and as a result of an accomplishment of the President's singular initiative.  Now it's important to focus anew on other initiatives that the White House will undertake.

     Q    Can I follow up on that?  There's a new budgetary environment, in part because of the tax cut and the weakening economy and the declining tax receipts as a result.  And the surplus that we heard so much about during the campaign is rapidly dwindling, at least in the near years.  Should Americans be concerned about that?  What happened?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think people should be concerned about lack of growth in the economy.  Growth is the key to revenues.  And any time the economy softens it will have an impact on growth.  And to review the numbers, industrial production, which is a key measure of the strength of the economy, peaked in September of 2000 and has gone down since then. Growth of the economy, as measured by the Gross Domestic Product, hit 5.4 percent in the spring of 2000.  But in the summer of 2000, the slowdown began.  And for the period of July, August, September of 2000 -- so now we're talking almost one year ago -- growth dropped precipitously, to 2.2 percent.  And in the fall of 2000, growth dropped even more, to just over 1 percent.

     And on Friday last week, we had new estimates of first quarter -- January, February, March -- growth, which includes 20 days prior to this President taking office, where growth was revised to 1.3 percent.  So the decline in revenue that you are accurately describing is caused by low growth in the economy.

     The solution to low growth is to cut taxes.  Taxes have now been cut in an overwhelmingly bipartisan fashion.  And to listen to the private sector economists tell the story, you hear that they believe that as a result of the tax cut and the fact that it's only now starting to go into law, it will give a boost to the economy, estimated anywhere from 1 percentage point to .7 percentage points.  In other words, it will help grow the economy and, therefore, bring in additional revenue at a time of a weakness in the economy.

     Q    In the out-years, maybe.  In the near-term, revenue has declined because of the tax cut, as well.  And that will force changes in the budget --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  (Laughter.)  Wait a minute.  Wait.  You just said that revenue has declined as a result of the tax cut.  The tax cut hasn't gone into effect yet.

     Q    As they prepare the budget for the next year and the following year, they're going to have to take into account --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The decline in revenues already exists, and it exists as a result of the slowdown in the strength of the economy, going back to last summer and last fall.  That's beyond dispute.  The tax cut, for the first manifestation of it, went into effect yesterday, on Sunday, as people will in their next paychecks receive bigger salaries as a result of changes in withholdings.  After the $300 and $600 checks are delivered to people, that, too, will have an impact on revenue.

     But more importantly, according to private sector economists, it will boost growth.  And let me just read to you from some of the things.  This is one firm called Macro Economic Advisors.  These are the leading private sector economists:  The tax cuts just passed by Congress, at about 1.2 percentage points to GDP growth at an annual rate.

     Morgan Stanley:  The tax bill awaiting the President's signature delivers fiscal stimulus sooner than we've been expecting and packs a punch.  We estimate it will boost second half growth by one and one-quarter percentage points.

     And I could go on, Merril Lynch, Lehman Brothers, all the financial accounting firms who make their living by trying to be as accurate as possible have all said that the tax cut will create more growth.  The problem in revenues is a problem caused by low growth.  The tax cut is the cure to the problem, because a tax cut leads to greater growth.

     Q    While waiting for that cure to take, will the administration spend any of the Medicare Hospital Insurance Trust Fund surplus on anything other than hospitalizing the elderly?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me address that in two parts.  There's an issue dealing with Social Security and there's an issue dealing with Medicare. The President has made it unequivocal to all that Congress should not take any action that would lead to any spending, at all, of Social Security money.  That money belongs to Social Security.  Under the Bush budget, even with these new numbers, Social Security need not be touched.  If there's any touching, it's as a result of too much spending by the Congress.

     So this is a wake-up call to the Congress not to spend tax dollars, because if they spend, and go back onto a spending spree, the Congress risks tapping Social Security's money.  And Congress should take no step that will put Social Security within reach.

     As for Medicare, it has long been the position of the Bush administration that there is no surplus in Medicare.  And the reason for that is, there's a shell game in Medicare.  Medicare is divided into two parts that only people in Washington understand.  One is called part A, hospitals, the other is called part B, doctors.  The two together represent a deficit, not a surplus.  So it's --

     Q    One part of it represents monies that are earmarked for hospitalizing the elderly.  You're willing to raid that money to pay for the other part?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It's a meaningless distinction.  There's part A and part B adds up to Medicare.  It's like saying somebody has money in the left pocket of their pants, and they have a big IOU in the right pocket of their pants.  And that IOU is much bigger than the amount of money they have in the left pocket.  By that description, you're saying that person is awash in money because they've got some money in their left pocket.

     No.  It is one system.  It is Medicare.  It's one person.  And when you add up the amount of money that Medicare spends for doctors, compared to the money it takes in; and when you add up the amount it spends for hospitals, the Medicare system is in deficit, not surplus.  And the President believes that every penny of money that comes in for Medicare should be earmarked to Medicare.

     Q    But won't that strategy accelerate the depletion of the Hospital Insurance Trust Fund?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  It means that every penny of Medicare will be earmarked for Medicare.

     Q    Medicare will run out of money faster --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  Because under any other way of doing it, what people are saying is, don't use the money that comes in for the hospital trust fund on Medicare, use it instead to pay off bond holders, use it instead to pay down debts.  That's taking Medicare money and giving it to people who have nothing to do with Medicare.

     The President thinks it's much sounder to take all the money that comes in for Medicare and spend it on Medicare for both hospitals and doctors.

     Q    Ari, on the death penalty, two questions.  The district attorney in Houston will decide within the month whether to seek the death penalty against Andrea Yates -- she's the mother who drowned her five kids.  Has the President expressed an opinion on whether this woman should be put to death for that crime?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, Russell, I have not heard him do so and he doesn't engage in that type of speculation.  That's not the job of the President.

     Q    Second question.  Last week, Sara Lee plead guilty to crimes in connection with a 1998 outbreak of listeriosis, which caused the death of 16 people, eight miscarriages and 40 to 80 seriously injured people.  The company plead guilty to crime.  Has the President expressed a view on the death penalty for corporate criminals?  That is, revoking the charter of a corporation that has been convicted of a crime that has resulted in death?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  As I indicated in your preface question, the President does not weigh in, those are matters at Justice and they should not be dictated by decisions made at the White House.

     Q    Wait a second.  Ari, wait a second.  He's in favor of the death penalty for individuals, generally.  Is he in favor of the death penalty for corporations convicted of crimes that result in death?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Russell, these are questions that are handled by officials of Justice, not by people in the White House.

     Q    How can you say --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You only get three, not four.

     Q    I have 18 questions, also, but I'll whittle it down to one. (Laughter.)  There were four demonstrations in Arizona over the weekend, by Republicans opposed to John McCain because of his stance on issues.

     What is the White House's position on these disgruntled Republicans and this ongoing effort to recall Mr. McCain?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is working very closely with Senator McCain on a host of issues, and he looks forward to continuing his works with Senator McCain.  There are many areas where the two of them have forged a lot of consensus, and see room for a lot of good things to be done for the American people.  And that's the President's ongoing approach.

     John,  I told you I was going to call you before, and I missed you.

     Q    I don't know where that went.  (Laughter.)  I was actually going to enter into the frustrating pit Terry tried to get you through.  I'll yield on that one.

     The Vice President is back at work and the President says he looks great.  Did we learn anything, though, new over the weekend about the Vice President, in terms of, is he on any new medication, any new findings, whether it's cholesterol level or any other heart significant findings that we should know about?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Terry, there is nothing that I can offer, beyond what his doctors said at a lengthy --

     Q    Terry?  (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think everybody needs a sign today.  (Laughter.)

     Mr. King, there is nothing I can offer beyond what his doctors said at the news conference that they had on Saturday, which was a very lengthy news conference where people had opportunities to ask all kinds of questions.

     I think if there is anything that our nation has learned as a result of this, it is the marvelous progress that is made in science and in medicine, so that millions of people -- who don't have to be the Vice President of the United States -- can have health problems, can have those health problems treated and then return to work.  And I think that that's a very encouraging sign for Americans from all walks of life about the state of technology, the state of science and the state of medicine.

     And I think it's -- it's always interesting for politicians to undergo any type of health treatment.  Because on the one level I think that every politician wishes they could have a little more of their anonymity back but, at the same time, I think every politician recognizes they're lending to an awful lot of knowledge across the country, where other people go out and get the health care they need as a result of the coverage of what is typically a private matter for somebody.

     And in that sense, I think Dick Cheney is pleased, because there are probably people whose lives are being changed and are being improved because they heard what he's been through and they realize they can do the same thing, and they can enjoy healthy, normal lives.

     Q    Ari, one follow-up back to the point Terry was trying to make.  I won't get into the Medicare A and B, since he tried so diligently and didn't get you there.

     But do you concede that if the President gets his wishes through the Congress in the next year or so -- the increased defense spending, a prescription drug benefit to his liking, gets the compromise he wants on elementary and secondary education -- that if you take aside Medicare and Social Security and you've got about a trillion dollars over 10 years, there is at least $700 billion of it right there, there really is no -- there is not much of a surplus left anymore.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Terry, I think there is no question --

     Q    Terry?  (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Be inconsistent, at least.  (Laughter.)

     Q    Why don't you call him Helen?  (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Ron, I think there's no question -- (laughter.)

     Q    How about Larry?  (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There is no question that if Congress lives within the limits of the budget resolution that the House and the Senate have already voted on and agreed to abide by, they will be able to pass the budgets that honor the President's priorities without tapping the Social Security trust fund, as the President has said.

     Again, the key to having increased revenues coming into the government is from growth.  And the best way to secure future growth is as a result of the tax cuts that were passed and signed into law on a bipartisan basis.

     Q    Ari, on the confirmation gap, you acknowledge that this happened in the previous Senate, controlled by Republicans.  But the fact that the President waited until now, when the Senate has gone over to the Democrats seems to inevitably raise the issue of partisanship here.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I think that if that was the case, the White House would have spoken out a couple weeks ago.  But the White House wanted to wait for the Senate to have a chance to reorganize.  And now that a reorganization agreement has been reached between the two parties, it's a matter of simple fairness to filling the slots of government, which serve all the people, not just the Democrats and not just the Republicans, but the entire nation.

     So the remarks are aimed at being helpful to the Senate, to remind the Senate that it is a bipartisan obligation to help fill those posts.

     Q    To turn it around, if the Republicans had control of the Senate for the first five months of the year, the Democrats have been in control for one month, and if the administration considers this a priority, what kind of communication went on to the GOP --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Oh, it was ongoing then, too.  The holds were in place then, too.  And as you know, we started publishing the data on the number of confirmations made and on the number of nominations made during the Republican Senate, as well.  This is not a partisan issue.  It should not be treated or seen as a partisan issue.  It should be seen as an issue of how to fill an American government.

     Q    -- to perhaps build bipartisanship with Senator Daschle, and to try to make sure that at least the folks on his side aren't --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There's no question this is an opportunity for the Senate to speak in a bipartisan voice.  These are nominations made by a Republican President that need to be approved by a Democrat Senate.  And it has been the tradition of the Senate that regardless of who is in the White House, a President is entitled to put his people in place.  And that has been the powerful tradition of a bipartisan way of Senates before, and the President hopes that will be the tradition, too, of this newly-constituted Senate.

     Q    On Friday, the White House said they were worried about an oil deal with Iran that the Italian Energy Group, ENI, was about to make.  On Saturday -- and signed a $1 billion oil deal with Iran.  I'd like to know if this administration plans to invoke ILSA or any sanctions against Italy?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me take that question and get back to you on that. I'll have to look at that.

     Q    Do you have anything on a possible trip by President Bush to Kosovo?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If we have any announcements to be added to the trip the President is making in July, we'll announce it at the appropriate time.

     Q    Kind of on the same subject.  Is the administration proposing today in the Federal Register new oil leases for off-shore drilling in the Gulf off of Florida?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I addressed that earlier.  There will be an announcement made by the Secretary of Interior later, and I'm not going to delve into any of the specifics on that matter.

     Q    Ari, on tax relief, as you know, I guess in the third week of this month the first tax rebates are supposed to go out.  But funding for that program is tied up in the defense supplemental.  Is there any deadline or drop-dead deadline that the President needs to sign that bill into law in order for the checks to come out --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's probably a question that needs to be addressed more at the Department of Treasury than to the White House.  They're much more familiar with what their mechanical needs are for the distribution of checks.  That's not under the White House.

     Q    I also have a follow-up on your answer to the question about the patients' bill of rights.  I just don't understand -- when the President was governor, he allowed a portion of the patients' bill of rights to go into law without his signature, dealing, I believe, with legal recourse issues, which is one of the issues in question now.  Why couldn't the President do that if he so chooses to?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think if the United States Senate were to send the President the same liability provisions that are in place in Texas, that very well may be enacted into law.  But that's not what the Senate is considering.  The Senate is considering a provision that has caps set at $5 million.  In Texas they're set at $750,000.  It's a vast difference.  So that might be a constructive route now for the House of Representatives to take so that a patients' bill of rights can, indeed, be signed into law.

     Q    There's no way that he would ever consider allowing a bill to go into law without his signature?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the President addressed that question last week.

     Q    Ari, the President of Mexico has just gotten married this morning.  Taking aside that he's a very close friend of the President of the United States, I wonder if the President has already called Fox to congratulate him?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He has not called him.  And as you know, after phone calls are made, if there is one, we'll let you know.

     Q    Is he sending a gift?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Is he what?

     Q    Is he sending a gift?  (Laughter.)

     Q    How does the announcement that's being made at the Interior Department square with the image and the message that the President was trying to convey when he went to Florida a couple of weeks ago?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated earlier, the President has heard the voices of the people of Florida and he's done just what he said he'd do, which is work with the governors of all the states on the Gulf of Mexico and come out with a plan that is environmentally sensitive and balanced.

     Q    Aren't the very people he was appealing to with that trip the same people who are going to be not too happy, to say the least, with what's being announced at Interior?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think you should wait and hear what the Department of Interior has to announce.

     Q    The President approved it, though --

     Q    -- we did, too.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm sorry?

     Q    This is an order from the President, right?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  This is from the Secretary of Interior.  The President is --

     Q    I mean, the President signed off on it, didn't he?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President signed off.  This is an order from the Secretary of Interior.

     Q    The murderous Osama bin Laden has threatened Israel and the United States in the next two weeks to, in his words, hit them where it hurts the most.  Since President Jefferson sent the U.S. Navy to attack the Barbary pirates and President Wilson sent the U.S. Army under General Pershing into Mexico in pursuit of a mass murderer of Americans, named Pancho Villa, the President realizes that these are two legitimate presidential precedents for his taking military action, doesn't he, Ari? Or does he think that Jefferson and Wilson were wrong?  (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I can't speak to the history, Les --

     Q    You know the history, you went Middlebury College, they have a good history Department.  You know the history.  Now, was that, in the President's view, wrong what they did?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  They also teach foreign languages there.  Les, I don't discuss military options.

     Q    No, no, no, I just want to know, does he think that these are not good presidential precedents?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will take action that he deems appropriate in national security interests.

     Q    The Washington Times reports that 40 members of Congress are supporting the giving of the Congressional Gold Medal to Mohammed Ali. Does the President support this and, if so, would he support an amendment that the presentation of this medal be in front of the Vietnam War Memorial wall?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's not something I've talked to him about.

     Q    Ari, given that you said the President has sort of signed off on the Interior announcement that's happening right now, can you shed any light on why the President thought it was important to go forward with this at this time, given that the House, including 70 Republicans, did recently voted to pose a moratorium --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think I've addressed the issue, and let's wait for the announcement to be made.

     Q    The confirmation situation, are all the gaps in the government making it harder for you guys to push your agenda through?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, it does present challenges.  It presents challenges again for the government and for people, regardless of their party.  It presents challenges for the Congress to have witnesses come up and testify.  It presents challenges for the nation to have the appropriate ministerial officials go abroad to represent the United States in important meetings, and throughout the government.  At a time when only 132 people have been confirmed by the United States Senate, it does suggest that the Senate needs to, when they return, refocus on this as a priority.

     Q    What are the biggest challenges, given all the openings you all have got?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It's rather logical.  There are voids in places where there should not be voids.  There are people who are not able to serve in jobs that the nation needs them to serve.

     Q    Do you have a breakdown on how many holds are by Democrats and how many holds are by Republicans?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I have not seen any such breakdown.

     Q    Ari, on the oil leasing --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And not all of it is attributable to holds.  Others are attributable to just that action has not moved forward.

     Q    They're controversial, aren't they, like Otto Reich and so forth -- Negroponte, all of these people involved in Iran-Contra?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, there has never been a President who did not have some nominees that brought up certain levels of controversy.

     Q    Deeply controversial.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think we've heard "deeply, deeply controversial" from other Senates, too.

     Q    They didn't get reappointed to the White House.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We've heard other issues in other Senates, but no Senate before has lagged this far behind.

     Q    Ari, on oil leasing, I was unsure from your last response whether or not you were confirming or not whether President Bush has actually conferred with his brother prior to today's announcement on --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, I indicated I hadn't talked to the President about if he talked to his brother.

     Q    Can you let me know if he does?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.

     THE PRESS:  Thank you.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Thank you everybody.


                   2:10 P.M. EDT

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