BARTLETT: As the schedule that we put out yesterday indicates, President-elect Bush will be participating in a meeting on defense issues with a bipartisan group of congressional leaders. That will start at 11:30 Central Standard Time. And then there will be a 1:30 p.m. Central Standard Time photo opportunity.
Upon conclusion of that, we are preparing for participants of that meeting, similar to last week, to make themselves available to a larger press corps.
QUESTION: Looking at what's going on with your nominee for labor secretary, you folks are telling us it was an act of compassion. Do you have anything that you can back that up with, other than just statements?
FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, she has a history of taking people in. America has a long history of bringing people into your homes or other locations. This is something that the church community also often does. And it's typically looked on as a helpful hand and an act of compassion to help people who are in moments of need or in distress.
And I think maybe we'll be able to work with you to get you some names of some people I know that are already publicly out there.
QUESTION: OK. What can you tell us to disabuses of any notion that she, in fact, did employ her to some degree? I understand that there might be other people who availed themselves of Ms. Mercado's services to some degree or another about the same time.
FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's what the whole vetting process is going through, is looking at. And we do know that she's had household help in the past, to whom she always paid their taxes. And all that information will, of course, will become part of the Senate record.
QUESTION: Yes, but it's to the issue--apparently at the time that she was living with Ms. Chavez that she may have done work for other people, and I'm wondering if her relationship with Ms. Chavez was different than it was with other people for whom she did odd jobs?
FLEISCHER: That will be all part of the clearing process and the Senate record. And I'm not going to try to weigh in on what items the Senate is going to thoroughly review. The facts will be developed before Senate, of course.
QUESTION: All right. Thanks, but you can try to get us some more information to show her side of the story as the day goes on?
FLEISCHER: Yes, I think Carter can help you with that.
QUESTION: All right, very good. Thanks, Ari.
. . .
QUESTION: You seem to indicate you're still trying to learn more information about Ms. Chavez's relationship with the woman she hired. Is that correct? And what sorts of information are you looking for?
And secondly, would the woman be available to testify before a Senate hearing?
FLEISCHER: Well, on the second question, that's a matter you need to refer to the Senate. They are the ones, of course, who invite witnesses.
On the first part, you know, this is the normal vetting process that goes on for each and every nominee. There's a series of actions and steps that are part of the ongoing process, and, of course, we remain in the middle of it for Ms. Chavez and for all the nominees.
And so, what you're seeing is the typical actions that are associated with confirmation process as you receive information for each one of them.
QUESTION: And can you say what she's looking for, in terms of Ms. Chavez and the relationship with the woman who lived in her house?
FLEISCHER: It's the usual, thorough approach that is taken as part of the Senate confirmation process to explore all issues that are part of the life of someone who may serve in the Cabinet.
QUESTION: Thank you.
. . .
QUESTION: . . . Back on this Chavez question. Ari, your answers indicate that the vetting process is sort of still going on and that the announcement of the nominees, in a sense, took place while their vetting is still in process. I guess my question is, you know, how much of the vetting was done before these people were named? And how much is held to go forward, while you prepare for their nomination--confirmation hearings?
FLEISCHER: Yes, that's actually--it's old news. I announced that from the podium probably about 10 days ago, two weeks ago, how the process, of course, works.
And, you know, each nominee sits down with clearing counsel. Each nominee fills out a gigantic stack of papers, and the papers are forwarded to the FBI, and the FBI begins the typical clearing process for each and every nominee.
The Senate, of course, undertakes its own review under its constitutional responsibilities. So you have a series of steps, and it's safe to say it concludes upon a vote of the United States Senate. That's the way it's always worked.
QUESTION: So it's something like this issue with this woman who is living with Ms. Chavez. That's something that did not come up in the earlier vetting? Or was it just not expected to be a concern? Or is it just sort of a late surprise?
FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, the vetting process is a private process between the nominee and our clearing counsel, and we're going to continue to honor that process.
QUESTION: All right, thank you.
QUESTION: A question about the trade representative. There's been some discussion of whether or not the USTR would be a Cabinet level position, and the current USTR, Charlene Barshefsky, said she thought that would be a very bad idea, that it would damage the U.S. prestige in terms of trade negotiations.
My question is: Does the president-elect intend to give the commerce secretary a greater role in negotiating trade deals? Or does he feel that the trade representative would do an adequate job even without Cabinet status?
FLEISCHER: Oh, I think, for number one, as the president-elected indicated, that we have not made any decision about what the exact status will be for the USTR.
And, two, as you know, he believes in building a Cabinet at all levels, and his top advisers at all levels, people who are very strong-willed and competent, capable of sitting around a table with a team of people. And he likes to get advice from strong people and from a variety of different positions. So I think you want to just withhold long enough and let's see who he designates as the USTR, and I think you'll have more information to evaluate it.
QUESTION: One other thing, and it's a small thing on the advisory teams that you announced a few weeks ago. Several people have come forward and said, "Oh, I'm on the advisory team as well," even though my name is not on the list. Have you added people to those lists? And will you put out a final list?
FLEISCHER: Yes, when we put it out, we said this is a partial listing, and, of course, just the mere fact of publishing a partial listing inspired others to want to join, and so I think that's a reasonable request. We'll put it out. I think what we should probably do is put it out as it is final, as we have all names, so I'll take that question and see where we stand on it.
QUESTION: OK, thanks.
QUESTION: I was wondering if Ms. Chavez still has the full backing of the president-elect. And also, how does this case differ from the Zoe Baird case?
FLEISCHER: Well, on the first question, nothing has changed since his initial announcement and since the things he said when he announced her.
And I'm not certain that there are comparisons with the Zoe Baird case. That, of course, involved a different set of circumstances with different people.
QUESTION: How is it a different circumstance?
FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not fully aware of all the facts of Ms. Baird and who worked for her and what the facts were. But I think that will be an evaluation that the Senate will make. And we see no reason why the Senate will come to a conclusion that is identical to Zoe Baird's situation.
QUESTION: So you still expect that she will be confirmed?
FLEISCHER: Indeed. Indeed, indeed.
QUESTION: Is the NASA administrator selection even on the transition team radar screen at this point?
FLEISCHER: All those posts are on the radar. Any post that expires that needs to be filled is on the radar screen.
The presidential personnel operation here has actually grown to a pretty substantial number of people. We've got a developing team in place that's been--you know, it started out very small when we first arrived in McLean, and since that time, presidential personnel has really become a full-blown operation here.
I had a meeting yesterday with somebody whose responsibility is to find people for boards and commissions.
So I think it's safe to assume that all levels of the government, we have people who are looking at them.
I can't talk specifically about the NASA administrator--who they will be. But suffice it to say, we are moving to fill all jobs in the government that need to be filled.
QUESTION: There's a report out this morning that you all will announce a NASA administrator pick today. Can you say thumbs up or thumbs down on that one?
FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, I won't speculate about what we'll do or when we'll do it. But if you were looking at my thumb, you would see it's not in the up position.
QUESTION: Thanks for that thumb forecast.
One final one: On domestic oil and gas production, President-elect Bush says he wants to see that boosted somehow. Does that mean he's rethinking his support for the moratorium on drilling off Florida's coast?
FLEISCHER: I'm sorry. Say that question again.
QUESTION: President-elect Bush has expressed a desire to boost domestic oil and gas production. During the campaign he announced his support for his brother's position in Florida: no offshore drilling off Florida's coast. Curious if that has changed now?
FLEISCHER:No, he stands by his position.
QUESTION: OK, thanks.
QUESTION: I was wondering if you could confirm a story in American Banker today that says that the president-elect met on Friday with Don Powell (ph)?
FLEISCHER: With Don Powell (ph)?
QUESTION: Right. The story goes on to say that he intends to nominate him to head up the FDIC, you know. I wonder if you could talk about either components of the story.
FLEISCHER: First, that's news to me. But second of all, as you know, we don't confirm who we did or did not meet with. Can't confirm that.
QUESTION: Ari, could you clarify what the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, that Mr. Bush has told executives he might create a high-level czar to promote the tech industry's agenda inside the White House? That is somewhat contradictory from your own statement that there would be a person at OMB.
FLEISCHER: Dan, do you have anything on that?
BARTLETT: Well, the term czar was never introduced at the meeting. President-elect Bush spoke with the high-tech leaders regarding, you know, his willingness to have a strong relationship. He had spoken during the campaign about having representation in the high-tech community.
And I think what Ari was indicating was, during the campaign we talked about that being in OMB.
He has not ruled out any other additional selection of a person, but the word "czar" has been introduced by other people, not by the president-elect or his staff.
QUESTION: Well, would it be accurate to say that you might have more than one person overseeing technology issues?
QUESTION: And when would you make that decision?
BARTLETT: When he makes that determination.
QUESTION: And would the OMB post be a confirmable position?
BARTLETT: I'm not sure on that.
BARTLETT: Ari, do you know? Is that...
FLEISCHER: No, I don't know how far Senate confirmation extends in the Office of Management and Budget.
QUESTION: And do you expect to see any more money for technology?
FLEISCHER: That's an existing position at OMB?
FLEISCHER: And what the president-elect said is that he's going to give that person in addition to their regular duties another distinct duty involving technology.
The additional duty doesn't change whether that person is Senate-confirmable or not. You may just need to take a look at the existing structure of OMB.
The Senate Budget Committee is responsible for OMB confirmation. So they may be in a position to get you the best answer fastest.
QUESTION: And one final question, will we see many changes in the IT structure within government, in terms of how much money is spent and the direction it's taking?
FLEISCHER: I would refer you to his campaign statements about technology. And there's nothing more I can add to that.
QUESTION: About Linda Chavez, also: Even if she didn't give this money to the employee, the fact that she kept her two years in her home and she leave three months afterwards and she didn't have the papers, is not that a violation of the immigration laws?
FLEISCHER: I think America has a long history of applauding compassion and helping people. And I think any other information that people are bringing forward is part of the vetting process and I'd leave it at that.