For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
August 1, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
President's Calls to Prime Ministers Blair and Ahern.......1
Vote on Energy Policy......................................2
Patients' Bill of Rights............................2-5, 7-8 Mary Gall
Code Red Virus.............................................7
Pinochet Trial/Kissinger Testimony........................10
Negroponte Nomination..............................10, 15-16 Middle
EPA Decision/Hudson River..............................14-15
Pentagon Visit of the President...........................15
Education/Urban League Remarks.........................16-17
the White House
1:40 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Hello, recess
anxious people. Good afternoon. In addition to
personnel I have a readout on two phone calls the President made, and
an opening statement about some important legislation pending on the
Hill today concerning energy.
Personnel: President Bush today
is announcing his intention to nominate six individuals to serve as
United States attorneys, and his intention to nominate two individuals
to serve as members of the federal judiciary. The
individuals for U.S. attorney are: Timothy Burgess for the
district of Alaska; Henry Mattice, Jr. for the eastern district of
Tennessee; Robert McCampbell for the western district of Oklahoma; Paul
McNulty for the eastern district of Virginia; Michael Mosman for the
district of Oregon; and Strom Thurmond, Jr. for the district of South
In addition, the President intends to
nominate Marian B. Horn to be a judge of the United States Court of
Federal Claims, and the President intends to nominate Charles F. Lettow
to be a judge of the United States Court of Federal Claims.
This morning, President Bush telephoned
Prime Ministers Blair and Ahern to state his strong support for the
package proposals their government released today to the political
party leaders in Northern Ireland. The President believes
the package is fair and that it charts the way forward in areas central
to the Good Friday Agreement. The proposals also recognize
that a commitment to democrat governance and normalized security
requires all parties to renounce violence and deal decisively with
paramilitary weapons. Consequently, substantial progress on
decommissioning is an essential part of today's package, in the
The President also reiterated in the phone
calls the United States stands ready to help in any way that the
governments and the parties find useful, and he urges all parties to do
everything in their power to take the next steps to implement the Good
There will be a statement from the
President coming out on this topic shortly after this briefing.
And finally, there will be a very
important vote scheduled tonight in the House of Representatives on
providing the first comprehensive national energy policy for our nation
in many a year, at least a decade. The President is very
pleased that the House is taking up one of his major priorities, and
certainly a priority for the American people so they can be less
dependent on foreign supplies of oil and have more stable and steady
supplies of oil, gasoline, and increased conservation measures at
The action in the House is focused on
increased conservation, promoting technology, expanding the use of
renewables and increasing efficiency, increasing energy exploration and
promoting a clean environment.
And just as a reminder, over the next 20
years, it's estimated that U.S. oil consumption will increase 33
percent and electricity demand will increase by 45
percent. The United States, as a country, relied on foreign
supplies of oil to the degree of only 33 percent at the time we were
vulnerable to price shocks as a result of the 1973 Arab oil
embargo. The United States currently depends on -- 52
percent of its oil consumption on foreign nations. That's
estimated, at current rates, to increase to 67 percent by 2020.
The action in the House today can pave the
way to making America more energy-independent, and the President is
pleased that the House is taking up this issue.
With that, I'm more than happy to take
Q Ari, on patients'
bill of rights, there seems to be a little less optimism today about a
deal, and that the sense is that whatever compromise might be hammered
out, there's a very sort of loose, iffy chance of actually getting
through. You might win it, squeaking by or you might lose it
big. What's your read and the President's read on where
things stand? And I'll have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
remains -- I hear there's a follow-up. The President remains
optimistic. Talks are ongoing as we speak. And
last night, the White House negotiators met with their counterparts,
with Congressman Norwood until just before midnight, and the President
has been kept up on a regular basis, he frequently
inquires. But the President is optimistic. He
thinks it's terribly important that the nation have a patients' bill of
rights, and that's why it is coming down to the last hour of the last
day. But the President believes that in the end that a deal
Q There's a lot of
nuance here, though, so forgive me for pressing. But yesterday, you
said that you were on the verge of having a patients' bill of rights
that could be signed.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q Is there --
Q He said
Q Will there be
anything else? (Laughter.)
Q Very nuanced.
Q Do you still feel
that way, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no
question that the United States is today on the threshold of having a
patients' bill of rights that can be signed into law. The
President and Congressman Norwood have made very important progress on
resolving the last few remaining differences between
themselves. There is a question about whether or not those
who have been supporting Congressman Norwood will, in the end, agree to
what Congressman Norwood agrees to. But the President has
been encouraged as a result of the talks, as a result of the importance
of this issue.
I think it's a sign that both ends of
Pennsylvania Avenue have indicated a willingness to reach in the middle
on this issue. It remains to be seen whether we can close
all the gaps, whether those who are working with Congressman Norwood
will allow him to close all the gaps. But the President is
optimistic; it is not done yet.
Q Ari, did
Congressman Norwood give the President sort of his kind of commitment
to support the President's proposal that if you said those who support
Congressman Norwood don't decide to go with it, that the Congressman
will go ahead and support maybe an amendment, something the President
could sign? Has he given a verbal or any kind of commitment
MR. FLEISCHER: I won't speak
for Congressman Norwood, but as I mentioned, the President is
optimistic based on his conversations with Congressman
Norwood. In response to David's question, Congressman
Norwood also is interested in working with several of his allies who
have been working closely with him on this issue for many a
year. So that's really where it stands now.
Q But there's no
sense he's given his commitment or any sense that he will go ahead and
support what --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have
to let today's developments unfold. They are talking as we speak.
Q Any conversation
with the President and Congressman Norwood expected today?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's always
possible. They have not yet spoken today, but it is
Q Ari, could you
tick-tock what happened today so far? Have they -- who has met
today? Who has spoken and has the President spoken to
MR. FLEISCHER: Our negotiating
team has been working with Congressman Norwood and his staff; also
working with others on Capitol Hill who also share a commitment to
getting an agreement.
Q Okay. You said that the country is
on a threshold of a patients' bill of rights. Are you on the
threshold of a deal with Norwood that his allies can accept?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a
question I think you need to put to his allies.
Q Why? I
MR. FLEISCHER: Because I don't
speak for them.
Q I'm wondering
what your perspective is. You're doing the
negotiating. Why do I have to talk to them? I
want to know if you think you're on the threshold of a deal with the
people you're talking with.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's
no question that if the President and Congressman Norwood have an
agreement, it will pass the House of Representatives.
Q Okay. So you're not willing to say
that a deal is imminent at this point, or that you're even close to
MR. FLEISCHER: I just indicated
that the country is on the threshold; it's not done
yet. This is what you would expect on the final day of
important congressional action. They are hoping to go to the
Rules Committee in the House of Representatives tonight. In
order to get to the Rules Committee tonight, it's logical that they
would have to reach an agreement today if that's going to happen.
Q If I could follow
one more time. The country being on a threshold of a
patients' bill of rights could also mean that the Fletcher bill is
going to pass, without any of these talks with Norwood. So
is that something that you're also hopeful for, believe is likely to
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think
there's also been a lot of progress on the Fletcher
bill. But the President is going to continue to talk to
Congressman Norwood and try to work out an agreement.
Q You're point is
-- Norwood is your guy and he's come along, but the problem you all are
having is with his allies and the other Democrats --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I don't
want to speak for -- I'm not going to speak for the people who have
worked in good faith with Congressman Norwood for many a
year. But Congressman Norwood wants to be able to work with
them; there is a question about whether or not, if the President and
Congressman Norwood are able to agree to something, whether others who
have worked with Congressman Norwood will similarly
agree. But there's no question that if the President and
Congressman Norwood come to an agreement, that that will be an
agreement that can pass the House of Representatives, and therefore,
serve the patients of this country.
Q I have another
threshold issue. The Gall nomination seems to be on the
threshold of defeat. Senator Daschle said today that their
positions, specific especially to children's safety, make her ability
to chair the commission an impossibility.
MR. FLEISCHER: You would think
that if her votes were the issue, then those who oppose her now would
have opposed her when they last had a chance to vote on her in
1999. The issues raised by the gentleman were raised -- were
cast, those votes were cast prior to all the senators, including
Senator Daschle, approving her nomination without objection in 1999.
Again, this appears to be new-found opposition to someone who they
Q He does say that
the '99 vote was a deal with the Republicans to allow the confirmation
of the chair, saying that they hand to do both at the same time, that
it was a package.
MR. FLEISCHER: The vote still
speaks for itself, that in 1999, without objection, the United States
Senate passed the nomination of Mary Gall. The only thing
that's different now is that President Bush has renominated
her. President Clinton nominated her in 1999 and it was good
enough then, it's not good enough now. And that suggests
this is a partisan action by the Senate, not an action based on
Q And so does the
White House still stand behind Ms. Gall, or is there a chance that you
would pull the nomination?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely, the
White House stands behind her.
Q Even if she's
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll see what
the vote is in the Commerce Committee tomorrow.
Q Can I follow up
on that, please? How do you think the Democratic leadership
has comported itself in handling this? Daschle also said
today the Senate doesn't have a responsibility or a requirement to
confirm anybody the President sends up.
MR. FLEISCHER: And, of course,
that is accurate. But that would also be another worrisome
sign that the new Senate is focusing more on partisanship than
bipartisanship. The President hopes the Senate will not
pursue actions that are partisan.
Q Ari, can I follow
up on Ireland? I was there last week and talking to both
sides. The Unionists are saying that the IRA will never
completely give up their arms, and the IRA has been saying that they
would lose face if they accept this decommissioning. And the
British government was saying that this would be a make-or-break
resolution that they're giving to the two parties. So from
the U.S. point of view, what would happen if the party is willing to
compromise, and how involved is the U.S. willing to get?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's
why it's important that the actions announced today by Prime Ministers
Ahern and Blair are given a chance to succeed. The President
does think that's very important, and he wanted send a sign of support
for their actions. Decommissioning is an important part of
that. I don't want to go beyond that; it's a
hypothetical. But this is based on the Good Friday
Agreement, and this can help pave the way toward peace.
Q Ari, on patients'
Q Can I ask you
about the Code Red virus and whether that has had any effect on White
MR. FLEISCHER: We've been
monitoring that closely. As of this time, there has been no
impact on the White House.
Q And the White
House web site, has it affected additional traffic? Because that was
supposedly a target.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's had no
impact. I can't tell you beyond that. My briefing
just told me that there has been no impact on the web
page. I would be happy to either try to get more information
from you or refer you to the people in Media Affairs who handle the web
page. But there has not been any harm done, any negative
Q Any national
security concerns about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing that's
been brought to my attention. I think the Pentagon is
dealing with it in a different manner. But no impact here.
But you may want to call other agencies.
Q Could we switch
to patients' bill of rights -- because I know Paula wants to,
too. Has Norwood told the White House that there will be no
separate deal with the White House, that he will only move forward if
he can get all those who have worked with him on this on the Hill to
MR. FLEISCHER: The Congressman
continues to work in good faith with the White House, and I'm going to
leave it at that. While we're close, we're not there yet.
Q Who is your
MR. FLEISCHER: It consists
principally of Josh Bolten, the Deputy Chief of Staff is the lead
negotiator, and he has a team of people who work with him on the
Q Have they been up
on the Hill most of the day?
Q Over the weekend,
House Speaker Hastert had indicated a willingness to use the Norwood
bill as the basic bill, with amendments as proposed by Congressman
Fletcher, as a possible way of getting this through. It's
been reported late last night, I guess, that Congressman Norwood is
willing to support the Fletcher amendment, or pieces of that, if he
can't get Democrats to sign on. It seems like there are two
scenarios here. You're either one way or the other -- you
can either have the Norwood base with the Fletcher amendment, or if
need be, apparently Congressman Norwood might be even willing to back
the Fletcher amendment if that's the only way of getting it
through. Do either of those scenarios conform with the
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, again,
the President is not looking at this in terms of a legislative
tactician. He's looking at this in terms of what substance
can get passed that is good for patients that won't drive up the cost
of health care. I think several of those decisions will be
made in the House of Representatives by the floor managers, by the
rules committee. The President is continuing to talk to members of
Congress, or the staff is continuing to talk to members of Congress,
about support for the Fletcher bill. But we are also working
directly and closely with Mr. Norwood.
Q What's the
President's position on the United States paying reparations for
slavery to African Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
believes that, especially in the context of the upcoming Conference on
Racism in South Africa that there are two issues that have the
potential to take that important conference and put it off
track. The President believes that conference can be an
historic opportunity for the nations of the world to get together to
combat the problems that are here and now that people have to deal with
The United States intends to go to this
conference. The only thing that would stop the United States
from going is in the event that this conference and its organizers
equate Zionism with racism in the agenda leading up to the conference,
or if they look backwards at the very tangled question of reparations
And the reason for that, Terry, is the
President wants this conference to be successful by dealing with the
current problems that nations and people face combatting
racism. If this conference were to get lost in a tangled
past that involves the question of who should pay reparations to who,
when, after all, West Africans enslaved Africans -- does that mean the
nations of West Africa should pay reparations to
themselves? It very quickly becomes a tangled affair that
does not promote the cause of racial justice; it will bog the
conference down in areas that don't serve the needs of people who want
to fight racism today.
Q What is the
President's position on the U.S. paying reparations for slavery to
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not
something the President supports. It's not something the
previous administration supported either.
Q Does the
President take a position on the payment of reparations to Japanese
Americans for the internment during World War II?
MR. FLEISCHER: They're separate
issues. They really are different issues in the President's
eyes, dealing with the internment issues that took place in this
century, compared to issues that took place hundreds of years ago that,
again, not only involved the United States, but involved African
nations, Arab nations, European nations, as well.
Q But did he
support the payment of reparations to Japanese Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated,
they are separate issues, and he did.
Q Randall Robinson,
of Trans-Africa -- has written a book on this, called "The
Debt." And he says it's not just history from 200 years ago,
he says -- he calls for reparations to African Americans for the
present-day racism that stems from 240 years of slavery. And
if I can just read you this one sentence: No race, ethnic or
religious group has suffered as much over so long as blacks have and
still do at the hands of those who benefitted from slavery at the end
of the century of legalized American racial hostility that
followed. So exactly how is it different from compensation
to Japanese Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: In the
President's speech to the Urban League today, the President stressed
that there are real problems that America faces today as a result of
racial disparity. He cited education as one of the principal
areas where we need to bring people together in this country; the gap
between African American scores and white American reading scores is
wide and it needs to be closed. The President wants to focus
on the issues that will do the most to help people have a chance in
life. And that involves a focus on education.
And in the question on the upcoming
conference in South Africa, the President believes one of the best ways
to combat racism here and now is through democracy. It's
very often the non-democratic nations of the world that create the
greatest threats and problems in terms of racial injustice, ethnic
violence. So that's the President's approach to it.
But, again, I can only answer as I did to
Terry. The President, just like President Clinton, does not
support reparations. So he differs with Mr. Robinson.
understood. But one follow-up. The U.S.
government actually wrote a check to Japanese
Americans. They didn't say, we'll improve the education
system or we'll improve welfare, or whatever. They wrote a
check to groups of people. Why not write a check in this
MR. FLEISCHER: Asked and
answered. I indicated the reasons why earlier.
Q Ari, the Chilean
Supreme Court has asked for Henry Kissinger to come and testify in the
Pinochet's trial. What is the Bush administration's policy
on that? Are they going to help advance that? Are
they going to encourage Kissinger to go to Chile and testify?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me get back
to you on that, or I'm going to ask the State Department to contact you
on that. I'll have to take a look at that.
Q Are you all
concerned with the apparent opposition to Negroponte's nomination,
which seems to be delayed in the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
does think it's important that the Senate take action on the nomination
of John Negroponte to the United Nations. There's a very
important conference coming up at the United Nations in the third week
of September, and it would look very odd to the rest of the world if
the United States did not have an ambassador present. And that's
another reason the President has called on the Senate to resist any
isolationist tendencies. It's very important that the United
States be represented at the conference with a U.N. ambassador in
Q As long as we're
back on the subject of nominations, what is the White House doing to
save the Gall nomination?
MR. FLEISCHER: We've been in
contact on a regular basis with members of the committee. I
know that conversations were held yesterday with the chairman of the
committee and others on the committee. So it's a question of
counting the votes and urging members not to engage in partisan
Q Do you have a
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't get into
vote counts. I think it's going to --
Q No, but does the
White House have one?
MR. FLEISCHER: We always -- the
White House always does its best to count the votes. That's
not a topic I get into publicly.
Q But you were
about to say?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was just going
to reiterate that this is an important test vote tomorrow in the Senate
Commerce Committee about whether this new Senate is going to pursue a
path of partisanship or a path of progress. It's just hard
to understand how all senators can be for Mary Gall when she's
nominated by President Clinton and then be against her when she's
nominated by President Bush. Either it's a flip-flop of
historic proportions or it's partisanship, and it looks like it may be
Q Ari, Senator
Daschle today, though, said the only --
FLEISCHER: Judy. Judy.
Q Ari, is there
anything the administration can do to ease the deteriorating situation
in the Middle East?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is
going to continue to work with all the parties in the Middle East --
so, too, Secretary Powell -- in an effort to facilitate the
peace. Obviously, it has gotten difficult, much more
difficult in the Middle East in the last several days. The
President, again, reiterates his call for all parties to exercise
restraint and to put an end to the violence.
Q Could you address
this notion that the State Department and the White House are sending
conflicting signals on Israel?
MR. FLEISCHER: I dismiss
it. We say the same things. And -- I think
yesterday the White House indicated, just as the State Department did,
that there needs to be implementation of the Mitchell Committee
recommendations, that there needs to be an end to violence in the
Middle East, that the administration, the State Department, the White
House at all levels deplores the violence there. And that
includes the targeted attacks.
There needs to be an end to the
violence. A cease-fire is a cease-fire. And
whether it's Israel or whether it's the Palestinians who engage in the
violence, the United States condemns that violence, and urges all
parties to cease.
Q Are you
contemplating any action besides just the jawboning that you've been
MR. FLEISCHER: There will
constantly be conversations and phone calls. But, again,
it's a reminder about the long history of difficulties for achieving
peace in the Middle East. And as the President has
indicated, the United States will be a facilitator to help bring about
the peace. But it still fundamentally depends on the two
parties to engage in peace. The United States cannot force
peace. The United States will be a party to help facilitate
Q This morning, the
Israeli cabinet held a security meeting, and in spite of deploring
yesterday by the State Department and the White House of the targeted
killing of the Palestinians, they announced this morning that they will
continue this policy of assassination. Do you have any
MR. FLEISCHER: The United
States has called on all parties to exercise restraint and to preserve
what we hope can be a cease-fire. That includes opposition
to a policy of targeted attacks.
Q Can I follow up
on that? Many people in the Middle East sees the United
States as a partner in this policy, in spite of your statements at the
State Department, because American-made weapons are used in these
attacks. Two children were killed, civilians, by the attack
in the Hamas office where Apache helicopters were used. What
are you doing to stop the Israeli government from using American-made
weapons to kill civilians?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the
President believes that if the cease-fire can be implemented and if the
two parties will be able to embrace the Mitchell Committee
recommendations, that would not be an issue.
Q Senator Daschle,
at a news conference this morning, said the only reason that Democrats
endorsed Gall the last time around was because it was the only way they
could keep Brown as the head of the Commission. And he also
indicated that while he considers her a lovely person, the Democrats
are concerned about the dissenting votes that she had on baby products,
where her view is that the burden is placed on the parent, and it was
the parents' responsibility, for example, in the case of baby bathtub
rings, to be there, and when a baby is unattended --
MR. FLEISCHER: Is there a
Q Yes. It's just that there is a
concern about baby products, and her view that it was a parental
responsibility, not a manufacturers' in terms of having those on the
MR. FLEISCHER: And your
Q The question is,
you keep saying that this a political -- this is a partisan issue, when
in fact, they are raising a concern of her views and her position on
product safety and whose responsibility it should be.
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing has
changed from when you asked me the same question
yesterday. I indicated that those votes took place prior to
1999 when, at that time, the Democrats all voted to confirm her, having
known that was her position. So they were aware of those
votes in 1999, they all voted for her in 1999. They're only
voting against her now -- President Bush is the one making the
Q Ari, how
confident is the administration that what the House passes today will
include a provision allowing some oil drilling in ANWR?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is
hopeful that the House of Representatives will take that
step. The President believes it's very important to have a
balanced energy program, to have conservation, but also to explore so
that we can reduce American reliance on foreign supplies of oil.
It is no small threat to America that the
amount of oil we import for foreign nations is almost twice what it was
in 1973 when the United States was totally vulnerable to price shocks
from foreign nations. And developing America's supply of
energy will help America to avoid such over-dependence on foreign
supply. And in that score, the President is grateful to the
Teamsters, who have played a very helpful role in contacting members of
the House of Representatives to convince them of the importance of
providing for America's energy independence.
Q What do you say
to those moderates, though, who might be concerned that the
Democratically-controlled Senate has already sort of said it's going to
sort of stand in the way of any drilling in ANWR? So that
there might be moderates who would say why go ahead and vote for this
and face sort of political repercussions from environmentalists when it
may not go anywhere in the Senate? Is that a message you're
hearing, and what are you doing to counteract that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The message is
one in the same to both the House and the Senate, that we need to
conserve and we need to make certain that America does not overly rely
on steady foreign supplies of oil and energy, which will put the United
States at the mercy of foreign nations. The American people
want to have more stability and they want to have more control
domestically of America's energy future and not let it be dependent on
Q So you're
hopeful. Are you optimistic, cautiously optimistic, going
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is
hopeful going into the vote, and I think it will be an interesting vote
to watch today.
Q A quick follow-up
on the Middle East. Has the President, since Israel stepped
up his policy of targeted attacks, assassinations, unilaterally
violating the cease-fire -- has the President
called Prime Minister Sharon on this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to
take a look at the last time the President talked to Prime Minister
Sharon; I don't have the date. He has not talked to him this
Q Why not?
Q Did he call
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the
State Department is making its views clear at the behest of the
Q He doesn't feel
that this series of attacks rises to the level of a leader-to-leader
MR. FLEISCHER: I've answered
the question about what the President has said and why he said it.
Q On the Hudson and
this EPA decision regarding dredging the Hudson -- first of all, did
the President sign off on this? And I'm wondering if the
fact that the administration has gotten so much criticism on
environmental policy, whether that influenced the decision to move
forward and force GE to dredge the Hudson?
MR. FLEISCHER: This was an EPA
decision that EPA made on the merits. EPA decided to move forward
cleaning up the river in a way that is environmentally sound, and also
responsive to the concerns of the people who live in the affected
communities. The President, of course, supports EPA's
decision. But this is an EPA matter and EPA has taken this
Q Ari, what's the
President doing at the Pentagon?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is
over at the Pentagon right now as part of the ongoing strategic
discussions that have been taking place on the question of various
Q Is he talking
about base closings? What's the status of the review now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The topic over
there is the strategic reviews. Every once in a while,
Secretary Rumsfeld will come here, sometimes the President will go
On base closing, there is, in the
President's budget that was submitted to the Congress earlier this
year, a reference to the fact that the United States continues to have
an excess capacity of military facilities and there is some concern
about that. As the President reviews the military and wants
to increase spending for the military, as his budget has called for,
that doesn't mean there is not still room to find savings within the
military. And the President is dedicated to that goal.
Q The United States
has been without a U.S. ambassador to the United Nations now for a
long, long time. Besides the call you made from the rostrum
right now, is the President getting personally involved in calling some
senators from the Foreign Relations Committee, or is Colin Powell doing
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the
fact that the Senate is about to adjourn in the next two days, I think
this is -- unless the Senate changes its tune this week, not something
that will happen this week. Now, the President would like to
see it happen this week. Right now it's being handled at the
staff level, but the senators are very well aware of the President's
Q On education,
Ari, the President, this morning at the Urban League, he said that --
he called on the Congress, he said, we're coming down to the wire and I
urge Congress to act quickly and wisely. Is he hopeful that
there is actually going to be something concrete done before the next
school -- September school comes in?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me return to
Jacobo's question for one second, and I'll come right back to that.
I do want to leave a little
room. The President often does have phone calls with members
of the House or the Senate, and I'd have to ask him specifically, did
this topic ever come up. He very well may have brought it up
and I'm not aware of it. I've been in a lot of those phone
calls and heard a lot of what he said, but I don't want to give a
blanket statement on that.
On the question of education, the
President is very concerned about foot-dragging in the Senate or in the
House on the importance of moving education forward. The
conferees are meeting today on the Hill. The President has
invited the House and Senate education conferees to come to the White
House tomorrow, to meet with him personally, to underscore the
importance of taking action to get an agreement on an education package
that improves our public schools and to do so very quickly, this fall.
The President is concerned that to help
our communities plan for the upcoming school year -- not only this one,
but the subsequent school year -- this education reform needs to be in
Q How did he feel
about his reception this morning?
MR. FLEISCHER: He felt very
good about it. In fact, prior to the meeting, there was a
speech to some 1,500 people attending the Urban League's
conference. The President had a private meeting in a
conference room at the convention center with about 20 of the trustees
of the Urban League. It was a closed session and they asked
whatever was on their mind about a whole topic of
issues. And it was a very good coming-together session where
I think people had a chance to hear the President's commitment to
issues that are very important to the African American
community. Very positive meeting.
Q On education,
what can you expect to do before recess? Are you just hoping
to keep things moving so that they can continue to work on it during
the recess, so that it can be passed in the fall? What's
MR. FLEISCHER: In the
President's speech today, the President staked out new ground on three
key issues that the conferees have to face. And that deals
with testing and it deals with accountability. And the
President has laid out a road map in his speech today to the conferees
on how to reach an agreement so that our public schools can be
You know, this is a rare moment in
Congress and in the White House where you have the potential for such
important bipartisan progress on education. It's a sign of a
new Washington, a changing Washington that Democrats and Republicans
have come together on so many of these issues.
A lot of these reforms, when it comes to
accountability, were resisted by Democrats in previous years, and a lot
of the expansions at the federal level were resisted by
Republicans. President Bush seems to be finding a new way, a
middle ground, that makes education a less ideological issue and more a
question of what works to improve schools for our
children. And that's why in his speech today, he very
clearly, on three major issues involving testing accountability, showed
the conferees the path to getting a presidential signature quickly this
Q What was the new
round that he identified?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the question
of testing, he talked about the right of states to have the tests that
they think are the most important tests, effective tests, but the need
to have a comparable basis.
The President cited the NAEP test as one
such way. On accountability, the President was discussing
the standards that should be used in accountability so that they're not
at such an arbitrarily high level that all our schools
fail. There is an important place to set the bar that is a
reasonable standard, so that we can judge what schools are succeeding
and what schools are not succeeding.
Q You were saying
that the President thought that they were -- the standards were set too
high before. Weren't those his own standards?
MR. FLEISCHER: In one version
of the legislation, the standards were set at a level that was creating
difficulties on the Hill, and the President today showed the way to
setting the standard at a level that is more reasonable.
Q You mean, he
compromised from what his earlier position was then?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll just rely
on the President's words today and you can take those for -- as he said
Q Ari, back to
nominations for a second. Can you give me the status on the
three member nominations and the ambassador-at-large nomination for the
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom? Where does that
stand right now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to get
back to you on that. I'll have to take that and get back.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
2:12 P.M. EDT