|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 8, 2003
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:53 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. And to Helen, bon jour; I like your chapeau.
Q It's a bad hair day. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: You're talking to me about a bad hair day? (Laughter.)
On the good hair day category, the President began his day with an intelligence briefing, followed by an FBI briefing. And then he convened a meeting of the National Security Council.
The President will shortly have an event in the East Room, to make remarks on the one year anniversary of the No Child Left Behind Act. The President is very much looking forward to gathering with school principals, school administrators and members of Congress and members of the Education Department to commemorate this important anniversary. The Department of Education will announce that five states have already, even at this early date, submitted their approved plans for accountability. The President sees this as a point of moving forward and making progress in educating America's children through tougher standards, better standards, with increased funding and increased resources to help educate our nation's school children -- a top priority in this administration.
Then the President will also meet in the Cabinet Room later today with members of Congress of both parties, House and Senate, to begin the new year Congress convened yesterday. The President is very pleased with the progress it has made on unemployment insurance; the fact that the Senate has passed it, he looks forward to signing it. The President will also discuss with these bipartisan leaders the importance of working together to achieve a growth package to pass into law, a growth package to benefit the economy, the unemployed and the entire country. He'll talk about the appropriations process.
He'll also talk about another domestic priority, which is helping senior citizens by modernizing and strengthening Medicare, including the delivery of prescription drugs to seniors. He views that as an important priority this year. Welfare reform remains an important agenda item. Faith-based solutions to help people who have been left out is an important agenda item. And there will be a number of other items, I think, will likely come up in that meeting with the President this afternoon.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions. Campbell.
Q The President has renominated Judge Charles Pickering and has in the past defended his civil rights record. But that doesn't change the fact that Pickering, as a judge, lobbied prosecutors to reduce the sentence of a man who burned a cross on the lawn of an inter-racial couple. Is that acceptable?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, when the President takes a look at the record of Judge Pickering, and he looks at the comments that have been made and the widespread bipartisan support for Judge Pickering, he believes that Judge Pickering has an excellent record and deserves support from the Senate. In fact, in the last session of the Senate there was, indeed, enough bipartisan support to pass Judge Pickering on the floor of the Senate. It was just a question of obstructionist tactics that kept the majority from speaking by keeping the nomination bottled up in committee.
On the issue that you were asking about, specifically on this, that Judge Pickering expressed his record of disdain for his heinous crime. He was concerned in this case about disparate sentences. The sentence -- the person he deemed most guilty was given no jail time, while the person he believed less capable faced what even the prosecutor agreed was a draconian sentence. These concerns were raised in open court before both parties.
Q Can I ask you, I guess, more broadly, since Trent Lott's comments, that incident, Republicans have said that the party generally needs to do more to reach out to African Americans. The President during the campaign said, for a state to fly a Confederate flag in a public place it was the state's decision. As far as I recall, he never condemned states that chose to fly the Confederate flag in public places. Is that something he would do now as a way to reach out to African Americans?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's opinions on that remain just as he said throughout the entire campaign and into his presidency, that he viewed that matter as a matter for the people of the state of South Carolina to decide -- as they did, in a very bipartisan solution, which was a solution that united people instead of divided people to successfully resolve that issue, that the people of South Carolina have agreed was a wise approach to take, and it led to the diffusion of a controversy.
The President's policies, by helping the people of South Carolina to deal with it themselves, led to the solution that has been accepted throughout the state.
Q But does the President think that it's wrong for the Confederate flag to be flown in public places?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes it's a judgment for the states to make.
Q What's his personal feeling, though? Is it right or is it wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a question for the states to decide. That's the President's view.
Q Well, he can voice his opinion without telling the states what to do.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a question for the states to decide, not for the President of the United States to dictate.
Q Did General Franks attend the Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting today? And does it have anything to do with the timetable for invading Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: It was a National Security Council meeting today, as I announced this morning. General Franks did attend.
MR. FLEISCHER: Why did he attend? He typically attends these type of National Security Council meetings.
Q He always attends?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not uncommon for him to be here for those meetings.
Q Well, was it a chips-are-down meeting, in any way?
MR. FLEISCHER: Good try. As you know, I'm not going to discuss the content of any National Security Council meetings.
Q Do you know what the contents were?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have a good idea.
Q Is it now up to North Korea to seek a dialogue with the United States? They have to ask for a meeting?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that North Korea unilaterally walked out of its commitments that it made as part of an agreement that North Korea entered into with the United States, it is clear that the ball is in North Korea's court. The United States has said that we want to work with our allies to resolve these issues, to make certain that North Korea takes the steps that were called for by the world community to come back into compliance with their international obligations. And the United States has expressed its thoughts on this. The ball is in North Korea's court now to respond.
Q But the United States is now willing to talk to North Korea, which is a shift in position, no?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I can belabor the point. I can go back to all kinds of briefings where this issue, since November, has been talked about -- will you or won't you talk. Let me try to be the most helpful on it, why I think there may be some confusion about what policy was. But I think the central issue still remains, what's going to happen next? What will North Korea now do?
But what we have always said is there have been channels of communication that have been open that have been used, and those channels represent North Korea's mission to the United Nations up in New York. We've also consistently said that we're not going to negotiate, and we will not negotiate. But we will talk to North Korea about North Korea's intentions and how they intend to come back into compliance with the obligations that they committed to.
Q We'll talk to whom about North Korea's obligations? We'll talk to North Korea?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we have channels that exist through the New York channel to have those conversations. And as you saw in the statement that was issued yesterday by South Korea, Japan and the United States, we have said plainly in here that the three delegations express serious concern over recent steps by North Korea to lift its nuclear freeze, and call upon North Korea to undo these measures and not take precipitous action.
The statement continued that North Korea's relations with the entire international community hinge on its taking prompt and verifiable action to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program and to come into full compliance with its international nuclear commitments. And then the statement went on to say that the U.S. delegation explained the United States is willing to talk to North Korea about how it will meet its obligations to the international community. However -- this is the next sentence -- "However, the U.S. delegation stressed the United States will not provide quid-pro-quos to North Korea to live up to its existing obligations."
So we'd be happy to talk about how North Korea will come into compliance, but it won't be a negotiation, it won't be any additional offers, because we have made offers before, they accepted the offers, an agreement was reached and then North Korea walked out on its end of the agreement.
Q But the willingness to talk is a new position. And the reason this isn't a "gotcha," just a game, is that dealing with an erratic, opaque, nuclear arms regime, it seems that the administration has staked out a variety of positions erratically and perhaps in a way that has led to a ratcheting-up of the tension. By staking out such a hard-nosed, we-aren't-going-to-talk, and now having to climb down from that, is that making the situation worse?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I just differ on your statement about the policy. I think it's always been clear to North Korea and to our allies what our position was on negotiations, and that remains the ongoing position. And I'd be happy to bore you and go back to briefings at the State Department as recently as November 2002, in which this very topic came up and the position was said. And, as you know, the President this week made clear what the position of the United States is on it.
But the fundamental issue, to preserve the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is what now will North Korea do, having North Korea brought the international community to this point, by walking away from the very agreements that it entered into. When nations enter into sovereign -- when sovereign nations enter into agreements, those are important statements. And for nations to be able to enter into additional agreements, their word has to be given and has to be good. In this case, North Korea gave its word, and then walked away from it.
Q And so the bottom line is the United States is now willing to talk to North Korea about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: We will talk to North Korea about how North Korea intends to come back into compliance and honor its word.
Q Is that the only thing you will talk to them about? Are you now drawing a new line saying, you'll only talk to them about how they'll come in compliance? Is there anything else you'll talk with them about?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- had no intention of getting into any negotiations or offering any inducements.
Q I'm not asking that, because you've made that clear. Is there anything else you'd be willing to talk to North Korea about? Or is now the line only about --
MR. FLEISCHER: We've never ruled out anything else, Ron. I mean, their channel in New York does exist to have conversations such as -- there is the food program. We are a huge supplier of food to the people of North Korea. And we do have concerns about whether North Korea is getting that food to its people. There are questions that we have asked the North Korean government to answer about whether or not the food is getting to the people of North Korea. We'd be always interested in making certain the people of North Korea, with whom we have no dispute, are well fed and that none of the food is diverted.
Q So you're now willing to talk to North Korea, but the only thing you're saying is we're not going to negotiate, which of course is a term that can be interpreted differently by people.
MR. FLEISCHER: This is why I'm just a little confused on the process side of this, because we have consistently said that. And I just think there may have been some over-emphasizing. I don't know if it was anybody that you talked to or if it was a misinterpretation by the press on the conversations. But it has always been clear that --
Q The people who work for you and who work in this White House have been consistent with everybody in this room on that point.
MR. FLEISCHER: I've laid out the position as clearly as I can.
Q Let me try one more on North Korea and then I want to ask you a domestic question. So if the North Koreans say, we will accept this offer to talk, but only if also on the agenda are resumption of the fuel shipments, perhaps diplomatic recognition, perhaps a nonaggression treaty, the United States will say, no?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keep in mind that the United States already entered into a series of quid pro quos and negotiations with North Korea which led to their saying to the world they would no longer pursue nuclear weapons. In return for that, North Korea was granted a series of benefits and programs, including the shipment of fuel oil and other potential benefits.
North Korea pocketed those parts of the agreement and then they walked out on their part of the agreement. So certainly it makes little sense to no sense at all for the United States to say, we'll give you additional inducements if now you only go back and do what you originally promised us to do.
Q I'm not saying --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's just a formula to invite countries around the world to go back on their word to the United States, to try to get more out of us.
Q I'm not saying the United States would negotiate. But as you know and in the case of the various interpretations of Resolution 1441, sometimes it helps diplomatic progress if different parties to an agreement have different interpretations of either what a document says or what the meeting is about. Sometimes that helps move the ball forward. Is it -- in a confusing situation, can you say with clarity that -- to Ron's point and to Terry's point about confusion -- that if there are discussions, the only thing discussed at any meeting involving a United States representative would be North Korea coming into compliance --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just give the example of the food program which is very important. And I can't rule out --
Q No fuel oil, no nonaggression pact?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's negotiating, isn't it? That will not be done. Let me remind you again of the joint statement among the United States, Japan, and South Korea -- we are pursuing a multilateral course to preserve peace. And the President has faith that this can be done through diplomacy. We are dealing with a nation that prides itself on a unilateral approach against the will of the world. What was said yesterday by the United States, shoulder-to-shoulder with our South Korean and Japanese allies, is North Korea's relations with the entire international community hinge on its -- meaning North Korea -- taking prompt and verifiable action to completely dismantle its nuclear weapon program.
I think there's no question that the issue involving North Korea has now come down to what will North Korea do now? The ball is in North Korea's court.
Q On the domestic front, you mentioned the growth plan will obviously come up at this meeting with the bipartisan congressional leadership. Democrats say the President's plan is way too big and will blow up the federal budget deficit. Leader DeLay said a short time ago to reporters that he views the $674 billion of the President's plan as the floor, not the ceiling. Is the White House open to this package getting even bigger?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House is open to working with Congress to get something done for the American people. The President made a proposal that he thinks is the ideal and the best proposal to get the economy going and growing and to create jobs for America's workers. We have a process in our system. It's a process that works well. The President has made his proposal; he will work diligently to fight for it with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle.
And I think there's no question there are some Democrats who will never be for what President Bush is for. But there are going to be others who are. And we will find them, we will work with them, and the process is now beginning. That's why the President has invited people from both parties and both parts of Congress to the White House to begin the work of the people today.
The year is already off to a good start. Congress came in just yesterday. Unemployment insurance to help people who need help is on its way to passage and to presidential signature. The new year has begun with people working together. The President would like to build on that.
Q Is that a yes? Are you open to a bigger tax cut? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to work with Congress.
Q On the question of the President's economic plan, how do you intend to introduce this to Congress? Will it be an administration-proposed bill? And does it all go up as a single package, or for various reasons, does it get split up? Does it accelerate and the tax cuts, for instance, go up as one thing, and other things go up separately?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think this will go up as one package. This was announced by the President as one package; $670 billion of this is in the form of tax relief, $4 billion is in the spending program, the new package to help those who are unemployed. Per the Constitution, it will begin in the House Ways and Means Committee. The Ways and Means Committee would be the committee of jurisdiction that takes first action. The Senate cannot act on a tax measure until it is passed by the House. Because this is a new Congress, there are no pending tax measures in the Senate, and so it will begin with the House Ways and Means Committee, it will go to the full House of Representatives, and only at that point could it proceed to the United States Senate.
Q Now, the President indicated yesterday that obviously moving forward the tax cuts, he seemed to suggest shouldn't be that hard a stretch for Congress, since they'd already approved them later on down the road. The dividend tax cut is a different matter. Why did the President decide to spend so much money on one particular thing that does not have any short-term stimulative effects for the --
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of the announcement the President made yesterday was to increase consumer spending, to give a boost to the economy and to investment -- particularly in small business -- and also to help the unemployed. Those were the three broad goals the President outlined yesterday.
The acceleration of the income tax rate reductions, the acceleration of marriage penalty relief, the acceleration of a child credit, all into January 1, 2003, all provide an immediate stimulus to the economy as soon as Congress passes them and they're enacted into law, which could take place in 2003, perhaps in the summer, we'll see exactly what the date would be.
The dividend piece, the President looks at as a chance to do something fundamentally good for long-term economic growth. Washington, as much as it must always focus on the here and now and on short-term solutions, would neglect its responsibilities to the people if it didn't also focus on what is important long term. And the President at a meeting, which was on November 26th in the Roosevelt Room, had this conversation with his economic advisors. Prior to that time, most of the discussion focused on a 50 percent dividend exclusion. At that meeting, the President received advice from his advisors that, given the state of the economy, one of the most important steps that could be taken for long-term economic growth would be an absolute abolition of the double taxation on corporate -- on dividends paid by corporations that are received by individuals. So it's the abolition of the individually paid tax on dividends.
Q If I could just clarify one thing on North Korea, when the U.S. has these discussions with North Korea, you're not suggesting that there would be no discussion of what the future would be like if, in fact, North Korea came back into compliance?
MR. FLEISCHER: What I'm saying, I can't predict every shake and turn of a conversation that has not yet had -- been had. What I am saying is it will not be a negotiation, there will be no inducements. The purpose would be, principally, to make sure that North Korea does what it is supposed to do to come back into international compliance as they've been called on to do not only by the United States and Japan and South Korea and the neighbors who are closest, but by the IAEA which represents multiples of nations around the world, including Cuba and Iran, all of whom have called on North Korea to come back into compliance.
Q Because it was part of the original agreed framework and therefore may not be seen as being an incentive or rewarding North Korea for its bad behavior, would a resumption of fuel oil shipments -- in the White House's opinion -- represent a negotiation? Or could it be seen as a gesture of good faith entering to talks?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, it was a multilateral decision -- the United States and its allies -- to halt the shipment of fuel oil because the agreement that North Korea entered into in return for receiving the fuel oil was abandoned by North Korea. So if you're asking does the United States think it makes sense in having North Korea abandon its commitments to an obligation it said it would comply with, then the United States should say that doesn't matter that you are no longer holding up your end of an agreement, we'll continue to honor ours. I think that's a formula for nations to walk out on agreements knowing the United States will do nothing about it.
Q No, I'm just saying, could you make the argument that if you were to resume fuel oil shipments as a result of these talks with North Korea, if you could say, well, that was part of the 1994 agreement, so we're really not negotiating anything new here, we're not rewarding North Korea --
MR. FLEISCHER: No --
Q -- for its bad behavior by doing this?
MR. FLEISCHER: You should not look for that to be in the cards.
Q Ari, how do you -- at the start of the process on the debate about the growth package, how do you assess the level of support for Congress? And particularly the Senate for what the President is proposing?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President is encouraged from what he's heard so far. Obviously, there are some who voted against the 2001 package, which received substantial bipartisan support, who've already come out -- even before the President announced his proposal -- against the President's 2003 proposal. That's not a surprise.
But the President is going to continue to work with and look for others who are willing to work with the White House. And I think as the process begins, as Congress holds its hearings, it'll become increasingly clear what type of will is there in the Congress to move forward. Clearly, on the Republican side, the package is met with what sounds to be like considerable support. On the Democratic side, there are many people who are really, interestingly, not said very much about it. Typically, that's where bipartisan coalitions are forged.
Q And in 2001, the President unveiled a package, it went up to the Hill and it was negotiated off of -- as the bill moved through the process. Will there be the same sort of flexibility in this bill, or does he insist on the details going into the package as they are?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President worked very hard on the details, because he believes that they are the right details and the best details to get America's economy growing. So he is committed to them. The President understands that we have a system in our country. And the President proposes, and it's Congress's responsibility to the American people to discuss it, to hold hearings and to exercise its judgment on the President's package.
I think he has shown over the last two years a very successful track record of fighting for what he believes in and working well with Congress to get it enacted. And that's exactly what he intends to do this time.
Q Senator McCain yesterday was very critical of the President's tax plan, especially the dividend elimination. He said that the money would be much better spent on much more targeted tax relief for middle class and lower middle class people. Is it a blow to the President's plan that a veteran Republican senator, like Senator McCain, would come out against it?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think there are many issues that the President and Senator McCain, and the White House and Senator McCain worked very closely on, shoulder-to-shoulder on, particularly in the area of foreign policy. This may be an issue on which, at least at this stage, they don't see eye to eye. Senator McCain did not vote for the previous tax plan, if I recall. And that's his prerogative. It was enacted into law with many bipartisan votes. So Senator McCain is an important senator. There are many senators and we intend to work with all of them to assemble a bipartisan commission.
Q The views that Senator McCain enunciated last night sounded very much like the Democratic arguments against the President's plan. Similarly, on global warming, Senator McCain has sounded very much like a Democrat in recent days. Is the President concerned that Senator McCain is drifting away from the Republican --
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, as with every senator, there are going to be issues on which we can work directly on because we see close enough what the solution should be, and there are others on which people will differ. And that's true about every senator to varying degrees, and every senator is free to exercise their constitutional prerogatives.
Q Ari, could you tell us, please, about the efforts by this administration and the White House to sell the President's growth package?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's been extensive. The President thinks it's very important when it comes to getting the economy going, which is the source of creating opportunities for the American people, to be successful. And so there have been a series of phone calls made to various different constituencies -- Steve Friedman is up in New York right now, the President's new economic advisor, meeting with various groups in New York City to discuss the prospects for passage of this proposal.
The President today is meeting with Democrats from the Senate, Democrats from the House, Republicans from the House, Republicans from the Senate; as well as the White House Office of Media Affairs has conducted a series of phone calls and conversations with local newspaper writers and editorial boards throughout the United States. It's a very detailed plan to try to garner as much support as possible for something the President thinks is important.
Q Cabinet officers, Vice President Cheney?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Vice President will have more to say about this, as well. Cabinet officers -- of course, Secretary Evans and Director Mitch Daniels have been involved in this and they've also been doing their share of work in building support for it, too. Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao, of course, worked very extensively on -- and successfully, as well -- on getting Congress to pass the unemployment insurance extension.
Q Ari, does the President have a time frame in mind when he'd like this economic stimulus package to be passed by Congress? Does he have a three-month or 30 days or 60 days?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, there's no immediate sense that I've heard from the President. I think his preference is the sooner the better, the better for the economy. But Congress has its process. In 2001, Congress was able to pass it actually on -- as Congress typically takes up tax bills, a more rapid rate than in the recent past. Congress passed by Memorial Day the President's 2001 tax proposal. We'll see if they're able -- what the timetable will be this year. I think it's too soon to say, Richard. Congress is also still working on last year's appropriations, unfortunately.
Q Is he concerned that it might go too long and that it wouldn't do any good?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, the sooner the better for the economy in the President's judgment. But he has not put any date at all on that. But the President -- again, this program has immediate help to get the economy growing as soon as Congress passes it. And then it also has more long-term fundamental fixes in place that will be appropriate at all times.
Q Ari, getting back to Campbell's question, there was some expectations on Capitol Hill that Judge Pickering would not be renominated. Was there any debate in the White House and, if so, can you give us an idea of how those discussions went?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think as you saw, the package that went up to the Hill yesterday -- which by the way, I've seen some discussion that this was a dinnertime announcement. If people are eating their dinner between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., I guess they would have noticed it. But the package was sent up between 4:30 p.m. and 5:00 p.m., received by Senate officially between those hours. I think we distributed here in the press office at -- it was 5:46 p.m. So if you were eating early, you received it publicly. And the package represented all the nominations that were submitted to the Senate last year in which no action was taken. And so in some senses it's a formality to resubmit the same names. And it was in its entirety all those who were submitted last year. I think it was some 31 names.
Q If I can follow, the President's speech in Philadelphia arguably put a nail in Senator Lott's coffin as GOP leader. How does this nomination not send a mixed signal?
MR. FLEISCHER: And on what basis would it send a mixed signal, Ken?
Q Well, if you are nominating someone who has defended a cross-burner -- cross burning is arguably, and this would be an
understatement, segregationist. And that would seem to be --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think your question is taking sides in a debate which not everybody has agreed that that is an accurate statement. As I said earlier in regarding when Campbell asked me a question about that very topic, that was something that he expressed on the record, his disdain for that heinous crime.
Q Ari, as a former governor, is the President aware of the problems the states are having fiscally? And is he worried that without more assistance to the states in his stimulus plan, that states may be forced to raise taxes? And is he concerned that that may have a counteracting effect?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is very sympathetic with the needs of the states, having been a former governor himself. He understands what has created the deficits within the states is the state of the economy. The fact of the matter is, the state budgets are driven fundamentally by economic growth, just as the federal budget is. And by way of example on that, in 2000, when the economy was growing at a rate of 3.75 percent, the states had a surplus of $177 billion. Then the slowdown began in the summer of 2000 and that surplus diminished and went away. In 1997, the federal economy grew at a rate of 4.3 percent and all 50 states had enjoyed a combined surplus of $27.5 billion.
In times of recession, states have gone into deficits as a result of the federal economy being in recession. So the President's judgment is the most important way to help the states on a macro sense is to have a federal economy that is going and growing, and that's why the policies he announced are designed to give a boost to the economy which, as history has shown, will return money into state coffers.
Beyond that, the President's budget has proposed a variety of money for the states, including a $30 billion increase from the '03 budget -- from the '02 budget, and that includes a large infusion of resources for NEGs, which are national emergency grants, Reed Act distributions, which are used for a variety of programs to help the unemployed. And there have been streamlined state Medicare waiver process, which also has been helpful to the states. So the President is very sympathetic to the needs of the states. He is aware of the difficulties they can go through, and he has announced a program that, in his judgment, will be very helpful to the states.
Q If I could just follow-up, is he going to be then asking the governors to resist efforts within their legislatures to cut critical services that haven't been aided by the items you just mentioned, or to raise taxes again? I mean, the states are facing a more immediate crisis than the federal government.
MR. FLEISCHER: When George W. Bush was the governor of Texas he did not think it was Washington's business to dictate to Texas the decisions that elected officials in Texas were elected to make on behalf of their constituents. He had his governing approach in Texas and he followed it through with his state legislature. He knows the governors will do the same thing.
Q Ari, can I just ask you briefly about the philosophical balance of the package the President proposed yesterday? You said to us that the package is aimed at incurring growth both in the short- and the long-term. And that ultimately the best solution to deficits is growth plus spending restraint.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q Does the President believe the package he proposed yesterday will encourage enough growth to pay for itself?
MR. FLEISCHER: Over time the President does believe that the package he proposed yesterday will lead to a boost in the economy, and as the economy grows, additional revenues will come in. Clearly, that's one of the issues that drove the President to do it and I think he alluded to that yesterday.
Q But as you know, there's this philosophical question as to exactly how much growth to expect from tax cuts in general. Presumably, I mean, you showed us that you calculated 2 million jobs over three years, you've run it through models. Will it produce, in your estimation, enough growth to pay for itself? Or will there need to be other effects to fight the deficit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this is a classic issue of economics and federal budgeting. And on it what you basically have is -- you're asking a question that deals with what economists call macroeconomic feedback -- and the question is, will the additional growth in the economy give a sufficient boost to the economy that it pays for the cost of these tax rate reductions. And I think if you take a look at how the economy grew in the 1990s, the Congress passed a large tax cut in 1997, including a reduction in the capital gains rate from, I think it was at that time 28 percent, down to 20 percent. And it had additional -- that's where the child credit first found its home in the tax code.
Then the economy soared following that. And depending on how you or other experts define cause and effect, you can make that case. Now, I don't think anybody with precision can say that the economy in its entirety grew as a result of this one policy or that one policy, and therefore, you can make a dollar-for-dollar corresponding calculation. But what you can conclude is that programs that are put in place have an effect on growth, and the more the economy grows the more revenues come in.
Q Does that mean you have not made that calculation on the President's package?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if you're asking on a dollar-for-dollar basis, it's a question that is almost like angels on a head of a pin. What precisely caused growth? Is it a variety of factors; is it one factor? And is it the child credit alone that caused growth, by having it retroactive to 1/1/03? Or was it a combination of economic policies that led to growth, and therefore, how do you divide and attribute? And it's hard to say.
Q Typically, these things are run through economic models. Are you telling me that you haven't done that --
MR. FLEISCHER: You're missing my point. What's not run through an economic model is any one provision, such as speeding up of a $500 per child tax cut. Does that in itself create growth, or is it in combination with other factors? The entire package is what the President looks at. And the estimate is, clearly, as 2.1 million jobs are created as a result of this, you will now have 2.1 million additional taxpayers, people who will no longer be on unemployment, people who are paying revenues into the federal government. And that is how growth gets created.
Q In its entirety, has the package been run through the Council of Economic Advisors models, and is it the President's contention this will pay for itself, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I don't know how to make a literal answer based on any one tax provision. The entire package the President does believe will lead to growth, which will over time grow the economy, create additional revenues for the federal government and pay for itself.
Q Ari, what is President Bush's philosophy on civil rights, and how does that mesh with his statements about Trent Lott's comments in Philadelphia and the renomination of Charles Pickering, who has recent -- well, has controversy throughout his life, I guess, with civil rights?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me talk specifically about Judge Pickering and the record that he has. And keeping in mind that Judge Pickering -- you say "controversy," I want to remind you, Judge Pickering was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate just a short number of years ago. So if there is so much controversy about Judge Pickering, why did so many senators vote for him on the District Court? I think it may suggest that the controversy really is not about Judge Pickering's record, it is just about a different type of controversy and I'll address that in a second.
But let me talk specifically about Judge Pickering and the type of leader he is, and what people have said about Judge Pickering. Frank Hunger, who is Al Gore's brother-in-law and served as President Clinton's Assistant Attorney General in Charge of Civil Division, wrote: "I have known Judge Pickering for nearly 30 years and have the utmost respect for him as a fair-minded judge who would never knowingly do anything improper or unethical. He is a person of great integrity, strong moral character, courage and compassion, who treats all who come before him in a fair and dignified way."
Thaddeus Edmonson, a former local President of the NAACP who is now president of the seven-member Laurel City Council and one of its five African-American members stated: "I can't believe the man they're describing in Washington is the one I've known for years. If those people who are voting against him because of some press release would just come down here and talk to the people who know him, I think they would have a very different opinion."
Charles Evers, the brother of slain Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers, said Judge Pickering was "standing up for blacks in Mississippi when no other white man would."
And, finally, the sitting Democratic attorney general of Mississippi said, "You won't see elected officials stand up for a man if he is a racist."
This controversy, if there is one about Judge Pickering, I submit to you, this has nothing -- nothing -- to do with race and everything to do with the ideology of a few liberal Democrats who oppose a man who has bipartisan support, enough support to be confirmed by the full United States Senate, including having a rating of well qualified by the American Bar Association. This is not about race; it's about ideology.
Q Ari, you say it's not about race, but all right, let's not even talk about the cross burning situation. Let's talk about the situation --
MR. FLEISCHER: A cross burning situation which he denounced as a heinous crime.
Q Okay, I'm not talking about that. Let's move on to another one I'm trying to point out. Let's talk about the one, the opinion that he wrote, the paper that he wrote -- I believe it was in '61, where he was a first-year law school student -- and he was talking about interracial marriages. I mean, is that not about race? And once again, how does President Bush's feelings on civil rights mesh with this issue and Trent Lott?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you've read that, you will see that while it was written some 40 years ago, it neither advocated -- did not take any position -- it neither advocated nor condemned such laws. It was an analysis of the existing Mississippi law, as it existed in the early '60s, and how many states and how many places have these laws changed. He, as a law student, a first-year law student, wrote an analysis of the existing statute. It did not take a stand. It did not take a side. It was a straight analysis.
Q Well, that's pretty cowardly -- wait, that's pretty cowardly --
Q Yes, but, Ari, 1970, the --
MR. FLEISCHER: April. April.
Q -- he met with a segregationist group when he was a state legislature.
Q Ari, okay, I understand your opinion and what you're saying right now. But let's say when he was confirmed by the Senate before, do you agree that that time is different from now? There is a whole new era of politically correctness as it deals with racial issues.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that when you take a look at the record of Judge Pickering, and the fact that he was confirmed unanimously by the United States Senate; the fact that so many African Americans in Mississippi who know him, support him; and so many Democrats support him, you'll see that these charges don't stand up. They fall on merit. And they're based on ideology, not race. Lester.
Q Can you just address that one --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester.
Q -- just one example --
MR. FLEISCHER: Lester.
Q Ari, on Monday -- on Monday, the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York confirmed that there has been no report on their criminal investigation of William J. Clinton for Pardongate, which investigation began nearly two years ago. And my question, since the Constitution requires that the President, "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed," will he or has he ever taken such care regarding this criminal investigation lest there be national suspicion that this is just being swept under the rug forever?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have no information on that, Lester. And anything dealing with Justice, you need to refer to Justice on.
Q When the President was Governor of Texas, as I understand it, he signed a bill allowing anyone age 21 or over with no crime or mental health problem a permit to carry a concealed weapon. And my question is, since this meant that this weapon could be legally used to stop a crime, which all good citizens are supposed to resist and report, how can the President oppose malitia groups who stopped the crime of illegal immigration which goes on by the millions, including those who bring in drugs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm really not sure I see the connection, Lester -- obeying the law, and the law in Texas was obeyed, and the President urges people in the domestic -- the federal level to obey --
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:33 P.M. EST