FLEISCHER: Good afternoon.
Several announcements today, some new White House personnel to report.
President-elect Bush is today pleased to announce his intention to name Dan Bartlett as deputy assistant to the president and deputy to the counselor; John Bridgeland as deputy domestic policy adviser and director of the Domestic Policy Council; Tucker Eskew as deputy assistant to the president for media affairs; and Ken Mellman (ph) as deputy assistant to the president for political affairs and White House political director.
Those are our four personnel announcements.
In terms of an update on hearing schedules, several Cabinet designees are up on the Hill today meeting with a bipartisan group of senators, as individuals, in courtesy calls. They are designate O'Neill, Veneman, Martinez, Abraham, Norton, Paige and Principi.
And we have one new announcement of a hearing date that has been released from the Senate, and that is Mel Martinez's hearing will be on January 17, at the Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.
So to recap where we are with our upcoming hearings: Secretary of Education-designate Paige, January 10, tomorrow; Designate Rumsfeld, January 11; Colin Powell, the 16th; Christie Todd Whitman, the 16th; Spence Abraham, 18th; and Gale Norton, the 18th.
And as a reminder, those are as announced by the Senate. It's the Senate's prerogative, of course, to choose the hearing date for each of the nominees. They announce them as the Senate sees appropriate and fit.
And one final item, and I'll be pleased to take questions, is the résumé count. We are surging once more. And we are up to 45,314 résumés have been sent in to the transition team.
QUESTION: Ari, Linda Chavez has announced a news conference for this afternoon at 4:00. Is she going to withdraw?
FLEISCHER: I have heard that from media accounts that she was going to have or is going to have a press event this afternoon. And as is my practice throughout the campaign and the transition with any announcements that President-elect Bush would make, for example, I don't presume to indicate ahead of time what anybody may or may not announce.
QUESTION: Should she withdraw?
FLEISCHER: I am not going to speculate on that topic. President-elect Bush, of course, as you know, yesterday said that he has full confidence in her. President-elect Bush has confidence in Linda Chavez.
QUESTION: Just one more, if I may. Was the president-elect aware when he said that yesterday twice that she had had a conversation with the neighbor who also hired Ms. Mercado after she had been notified of a possible nomination?
FLEISCHER: We addressed that this morning. And that is part of the whole fact-gathering process that has been in place. That is the same process for each and every one of our nominees, where as any information comes to light it's evaluated during the course of the many steps of a vetting process.
So any information of that nature gets fully vetted and reviewed as information comes to light.
QUESTION: But you can't say whether he knew yesterday?
FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into the exact timing of what the president-elect may have known or not known. And, again, we have a process that's in place, and I think it's a very thorough vetting process and I'm not going to presume to predict any events this afternoon. Any announcements that she wants to make are of course up to her.
QUESTION: Has the president-elect spoken with Ms. Chavez today or yesterday?
FLEISCHER: Not to my knowledge. I have no information on that.
QUESTION: Ari, you might have to look into this, but have any male nominees in any administration ever been forced to withdraw because of this nanny-gate situation? Has it always been the women nominees?
FLEISCHER: I would have to refer you to someone else to try to find that information.
QUESTION: Is it possible you could look into it? It is a really valid question of discrimination.
FLEISCHER: I'll do my best. That's also a matter, I'm sure, that some scholars, historians, others can be equally helpful.
QUESTION: Are men asked the same question about employees, illegal employees?
FLEISCHER: Our clearing counsel makes no distinction by gender in terms of the questions he asks or the information that comes to light. We work with all information provided to make certain that everything is as accurate as it can be, regardless of gender.
QUESTION: Ari, I have a question Ms. Chavez was asked on her questionnaire regarding domestic help.
FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the Office of Personnel Management. Those questionnaires are available from them. It's a rather lengthy questionnaire. I would not presume, if I were you, that any such question is on the questionnaire itself. That's a government form of long standing. I refer you to that. You'll be able to get it online.
QUESTION: Ari, you said that President-elect Bush has confidence in Linda Chavez. Does that mean he believes she will be nominated and would be a good labor secretary, still?
FLEISCHER: He indeed believes she would be a good labor secretary, of course.
QUESTION: Can you assess for us the president-elect's level of concern about these questions that have been raised about her dealings with the formerly illegal immigrant?
FLEISCHER: I would think it's ongoing. I mean, I think any time questions are asked and raised, that is part of the process that he has set up to make certain that all answers are thoroughly explored. And so any time any questions come up about Ms. Chavez or any nominee, the president's concern is that they be fully addressed.
QUESTION: What is his level of concern, though, about these specific questions?
FLEISCHER: I indicated that. It's ongoing. It's ongoing until we have all the facts at our disposal.
QUESTION: Ari, if the president-elect supports the illegal amnesty or amnesty for illegal immigrants?
FLEISCHER: Say again?
QUESTION: If he supports or favors amnesty for illegal immigrants.
FLEISCHER: That was not part of what he discussed during the campaign.
QUESTION: There was an unconfirmed report about another of the women nominees. Anything on that? I don't want to mention names if it's unconfirmed.
FLEISCHER: Be hard pressed, unless I was Karnak, to answer your question about a nominee if you don't give me the name.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) but I mean have you heard of any of this or anything else in the wind?
FLEISCHER: Do you have something you would like to offer?
QUESTION: Well, the unconfirmed report I heard was Christie Todd Whitman, and I just heard it on the air. I don't even know.
FLEISCHER: Yes. There was actually AP report that went out yesterday about a 1993 old news story involving Christie Todd Whitman and the payment of taxes she made at the time in 1993. And I think that matter was pretty well discussed publicly and fully dealt with, openly and voluntarily, by Governor Whitman eight years ago.
QUESTION: So it's not an issue, then?
QUESTION: Ari, don't you guys and the president-elect feel somewhat blindsided by this? This is something that didn't have to happen.
FLEISCHER: Well, again, when you say blindsided by this, that is part of the ongoing vetting process. And we have a process, and I explained this yesterday, it's really a three-part process, and that will continue.
And I think that, frankly, that's going to be what previous presidents have done, what future presidents do, you work with the information as best you can gather it. And what's important is that you have a process that is willing and open and acceptant of any new information that may come to light. As it comes to light, you evaluate it.
QUESTION: But I guess the question really is, you had a vetting process. If played out as it did, this still happened. So what about the appointee who isn't forthcoming enough with information?
FLEISCHER: Well, that's precisely the point of a process that is ongoing. And it's not as if there's only one step in the process, there are several steps in the process to make certain that all information that comes to light is thoroughly reviewed.
QUESTION: Again, the bottom-line question, though, is whether you're disappointed that it has gotten to this stage?
FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to characterize it. We are where we are. And we're going to proceed and put together a Cabinet that I think the American people are going to be proud of.
That is the vetting process. And it's a process that has several parts and works and we think works well.
QUESTION: Ari, the (OFF-MIKE) question of the day here, but did anybody ask you--you're not Senate confirmable--did anybody ask you during this process whether you had had domestic help? And how did you answer the question?
FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into the specifics of any one individual, especially my own. I'm not going to get into the actual questions anybody was asked.
As you know, the president-elect makes his decisions and then those are reviewable.
QUESTION: Ari, why do you think there's been so many confusion about exactly when Ms. Chavez knew of Marta Mercado's legal status in the country?
FLEISCHER: Well, I think that, obviously, different people have different memories of events, and that is part and parcel of the human condition. People remember things differently.
But what is important is that you put together a process to help review it all. And that if there are any pieces of information that are not entirely consistent with each other, you put the process together to figure out which is which.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up, you talked about this a little this morning, but what is the campaign or the transition's current understanding of when exactly she did know of Ms. Mercado's legal status?
FLEISCHER: At some point, and that point has not exactly been nailed down.
QUESTION: And has she told you or the FBI, Ms. Chavez, this?
FLEISCHER: I'm not going to be able to describe to you. Of course, she has told the FBI.
QUESTION: Was it proper for Ms. Chavez to contact her neighbor, Ms. Zwisler, to discuss the fact of Marta Mercado's mutual relationship with the two of them after she was aware that she might be nominated?
FLEISCHER: I think that all goes to the facts of the matter are they're being gathered. Certainly neighbors contact neighbors all the time. Neighbors talk to neighbors all the time. So I think what you're getting at is what was the substance of those contacts, and that's part of the fact gathering.
QUESTION: Doesn't it at least raise the appearance of some sort of impropriety?
FLEISCHER: I think, again, that gets right to the basic issue of what are facts. What was said, what was not said and of course, we don't know what was said. That's why we have a vetting process to gather the facts, so we know what's said.
QUESTION: Ari, on the question asked earlier about whether Bush had spoken to Chavez, you said that not to your knowledge. Earlier, you said it had not been brought to your attention.
FLEISCHER: Same answer.
QUESTION: Is it possible that Bush, in fact has spoken to her and you're unaware of it?
And if I could ask a follow on on that.
FLEISCHER: Well, of course I'm not aware of every phone conversation he has. But I would urge you, do not interpret that to leave the door open as if, yes, it happened. But you've asked me a question that I'm only give you if I have 100 percent certainty on the answer. But nothing's been brought to my attention. I'm not aware of it.
QUESTION: Can I ask a broader question? As the incoming president's designated press spokesman, how often do you talk to Mr. Bush? Or how are you informed of his thinking on a daily basis?
FLEISCHER: I talk to him regularly, as often as necessary. Clearly, with the president-elect being in Texas and me being here, he has other staff in Texas who he's in much more frequent contact with. And I speak with, obviously, all the people I need to speak with here on a regular basis, including Vice President-elect Cheney on a daily basis.
QUESTION: When did you last talk to President-elect Bush?
FLEISCHER: I'm not going to tick-tock my conversations with the president. I don't think that's necessary. But I appreciate the question.
QUESTION: If Ms. Chavez sought advice from the Bush team, would you encourage her to hang in there or would you leave it up to her?
FLEISCHER: Again, I am not aware--what she's going to say later this afternoon.
As I said earlier, the way I handle these issues when the president-elect speaks, when anybody speaks, I think you're aware of our campaign practices, that anybody who has what they want to say, we don't typically preview it on their behalf. So I'm not aware of any changes in our policies that would make me all of a sudden do something differently than I've been doing all year with the campaign.
QUESTION: Just to put a slightly finer point on it, I wasn't asking you to change any policies. I was just asking whether the Bush team would leave it up to Ms. Chavez or would they give her advice to hang in there?
FLEISCHER: Let me reiterate the president-elect has confidence in Linda Chavez and her ability to be a good secretary of labor, a strong secretary of labor.
QUESTION: Is the president-elect in the incoming administration developing a response or a policy to the electricity in deregulation and power crisis in California? Yesterday the governor of California, who will be here today meeting with Clinton administration people, announced some fairly severe measures. But at the same time Republican lawmakers in California were calling for even stronger measures to bring this crisis to heal.
FLEISCHER: The president-elect's focus is on a comprehensive national energy policy. Obviously there are a series of short-term problems that we face in this country. The reason we have these short-term problems in California and other places is because there is no long-term policy in effect.
The president-elect, in September, announced a plan that is focused on the fundamental imbalance between supply and demand. And his focus, so that we never will again have to go through these short-term problems that are as severe as they are, people paying extraordinary bills with their home heating and electricity, is that we increase America's domestic supply of oil, of natural gas, coal, clean-burning coal technologies.
There are a host of things we can do here at home to reduce our reliance on foreign supplies of oil and energy which are often unsteady, and in addition, to make certain--such as opening up ANWR, opening up 8 percent of a very large land area of Alaska, we're talking a sliver of the land, to open it up in an environmentally balanced way so that we can secure America's energy needs. That's his focus.
One of the reasons that we keep getting into these short-term energy problems is because nobody focused on the long term. And I think one of the voters' real frustrations with Washington is too much short-term focus, not enough long-term thinking, and he'd like to change that.
QUESTION: Is Bush meeting with Davis this week?
FLEISCHER: No, he's not.
FLEISCHER: Not that I've heard. I inquired to see if there were any requests to set up meetings, particularly with Governor Davis, if they had sought any meetings, and nothing has been brought to my attention.
So of course we'll--I know the president-elect and Governor Davis did speak, oh, about two weeks ago or so, I think just a little bit over two weeks ago. There are some real concerns in California and we need to work together to address them.
QUESTION: On the energy question, Ari, the president-elect takes office in the dead of winter with natural gas prices up by 50 percent and more. I know what your long-term solution is. What's the short-term solution?
FLEISCHER: The immediate short-term solution is to make certain that those people who live on the edges of society, who most need help, get the help they need. And that's why the president-elect supports the LIHEAP program, and he supported increased funding for LIHEAP and the release of the money that has been backlogged in LIHEAP, so we can get help to those who need it most.
But the only way to avert these short-term problems is to have a government that is serious about first enacting a long-term solution. If you have a government that is only focused on the short term, you never get to the long term, and therefore you lurch from one short-term energy crisis to another.
And again, that's one of the things that the president-elect views as a serious problem with the way Washington too often does its business. And you need to have that comprehensive, longer-term focus, despite the pressures, of course, that will grow to say, "Only focus on the short term, let's do what we can now."
To do only what you can do now, you're going to be doing it again in another couple of years, and that's not where he wants this issue to go.
QUESTION: On OPEC, do you have any statements to make to OPEC? I know you're talking with one voice on foreign policy.
FLEISCHER: Well, of course, OPEC is scheduled to meet on January 17, and it's widely speculated they're going to be cutting back production at that time, which is another reason why we need to develop America's natural resources.
For example, knowing that on January 17 we're going to be pinched even more by OPEC, it makes it even more important that Americans join together in a bipartisan way so that we can develop our own resources, including ANWR. Failure to develop ANWR, an OPEC cutback, all of this suggests more difficult days in achieving America's energy independence and America's energy security, one more reason we need to have a domestic energy policy that is balanced and produces America energy for American citizens.
QUESTION: Do you know if the new administration will support alternative fuels, tax breaks for alternative fuel development and that sort of thing?
FLEISCHER: In the president's proposal on energy, one of the things that he announced was that the royalties that will be developed as a result of ANWR and the bid bonuses that will be developed from ANWR, as well as if there is any exploration or development of energy resources from other federal lands in the lower 48, that that money be earmarked for the development of alternative resources, alternative fuels. Yes, and that's part of a balanced approach.
I think it's also a wonderful example of how we can develop America's fossil fuel energies and use the resources that come into the government as a result to develop alternative sources of fuel energy. I think that's balanced and it's in our national interest.
QUESTION: The foreign policy--energy, in the next administration, has there any discussion to increase the oil imports from Mexico and decrease the oil import from Venezuela, a country where the president is not kind of friendly with this country so far. He's trying to be different.
FLEISCHER: If the question is about specific oil imports nation-by-nation, I'm going to refer that to the Department of Energy.
QUESTION: You offered a list of nominees making courtesy calls on the Hill today.
QUESTION: You didn't mention Governor Thompson and Senator Ashcroft the press saw here in the building. Are they here having confirmations...
FLEISCHER: Well, Senator Ashcroft, of course, has already made his courtesy calls on the Hill. And over the course of several days, I've released a lot of the names of the people who are going up there. So don't presume because they didn't go up today, they haven't gone. In Ashcroft's case, they've already been.
QUESTION: Concerning Ashcroft and Thompson here today, are they meeting with Vice President-elect Cheney's strategy here?
FLEISCHER: All our Cabinet officers have offices in this building, and so they work out of here. They have offices, they have support staffs here.
In fact I was walking down--there is a hallway, I call it "Cabinet Row," where each of them has an office. Of course, there are none of the giant buildings.
FLEISCHER: Well, if I told you, you would walk around the corner and try to find them. It's in a non-public part of the building.
But they all have offices here, so they work out of here on a regular basis.
QUESTION: Does President-elect Bush plan to meet with his Cabinet nominees this evening?
FLEISCHER: This evening? No.
QUESTION: Ari, can I ask you a question about an invitation by the president-elect to the former president of Argentina to be here for the...
FLEISCHER: You asked that yesterday. I don't believe we have an answer for you yet on that. Scott McClellan, I think, was looking into that, and so you may want to call Scott later, but we do not have that developed yet.
QUESTION: You indicated that you heard about the Chavez press release through media accounts. Is this how the transition team and the president-elect heard of her intention to have a press release this afternoon?
FLEISCHER: Well, you're asking about others as well. You asked me--how I heard. And the first I heard of it was through a media account.
QUESTION: And how about the president-elect?
FLEISCHER: I haven't asked him how he heard about it.
QUESTION: Ari, I'm sure you're aware that a panoply of human and civil rights organizations and women's advocacy groups...
QUESTION: ... all got together at the Mayflower Hotel today, and they announced their intention to defeat Mr. Ashcroft. Does this increase your level of concern? And at what point do you start answering their complaint that Senator Ashcroft is too extreme for the nation?
FLEISCHER: Well, let me say that those groups, of course, have the right to do that. That is part of our country, that they can do that.
The United States Senate has never defeated a Cabinet member on the basis of ideology alone. That's a long-standing bipartisan tradition.
Now I understand that these liberal special-interest groups may not be as interested in those bipartisan traditions that the United States Senate has established and have worked so well for our nation throughout the course of many administrations. That is their right to object to these bipartisan traditions. But the president-elect is going to be a president for all of the people, for the whole country, and he's going to continue to work with the United States Senate in a bipartisan tradition.
So they are free to engage in partisan events if they so choose, but that is, I think, not the lesson of the last election. And President-elect Bush is going to govern in a way that continues to seek to bring people together.
QUESTION: If you'd like to follow up--does this--by all of these groups getting together like this, does this turn up, in your opinion, the pressure on Democratic senators to line up against Mr. Ashcroft?
FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think there's some very powerful bipartisan traditions that call for a president getting the Cabinet that he seeks, that there is deference to the president in terms the Cabinet-level personnel when it comes to ideology. That is one long-standing tradition of the Senate that has not been broken.
I would remind you that President Clinton, from 1995 forward, named, I believe it was in excess of six or eight members to the United States Cabinet, each of who was confirmed by the Republican-controlled Senate, despite strong ideological opposition and, again, at the Cabinet level.
Now, there are some real liberal stalwarts in that group. Yet, that bipartisan tradition was honored by Republicans.
So, again, it is the right of the liberal special interest groups to oppose as they see fit, but those longstanding bipartisan traditions of the Senate should be dealt with very, very carefully.
QUESTION: Would you point to Bork, of course, not a Cabinet member, but an extremely important appointment, and wasn't Bork rejected for his viewpoints?
FLEISCHER: And he was, he was. And that was really the first time ideology came into play in that manner. And this is part of coarsening of the tone in Washington. It's one of the reasons we need to change the tone in Washington.
It was reported last week that many of these groups are engaging in their partisan opposition because as they said, wanted to raise money for their causes and to warm-up, as they said, for the next battle. That's part of what's wrong with Washington. If everybody is warming up for the next battle, then Washington is always in a battle.
And that's one reason that President-elect Bush wants to change the tone in Washington.
QUESTION: Can you give us a little more detail on this issue with USTR? You said that you're reviewing this. How close are they in coming to a decision on the person and their role?
FLEISCHER: As you know, with all our Cabinet announcements, or announcements that--you know, EPA, for example, the president-elect named Christie Todd Whitman to be the administrator of the EPA, she will have Cabinet ranking.
And as he makes his announcements, he makes other announcements that come along with those announcements. So I would just suggest to you: Keep your powder dry on that front.
President-elect Bush is a real fighter for free trade. He understands the importance to our economy. He understands the importance to help other nations grow their economies, that stems from free trade in a vigorous promotion of free trade around the world. That's the cause he's dedicated to, and his selections will be reflective of his dedication to free trade.
QUESTION: Will he devolved in reviewing what role the USTR will play, whether it's Cabinet or sub-Cabinet? Or is Don Evans involved in that review process? Or who's making decisions?
FLEISCHER: You know, let me try to get back to you on the exact people who are involved in it. Of course, related to the Cabinet selections, it's our normal transition group. And, of course, you know, policy people weigh in and such.
But I also believe that most of the Cabinet members are a little busy just working on their own nominations and have their heads down, but I'll try to get you some more information.
QUESTION: Ari, more than 100 people so far contributed $100,000 each to the Inaugural Committee. What do those people expect in terms of attention by President Bush once he becomes president?
FLEISCHER: You know, that is a long-standing part of inaugurals. And it's been practiced widely. We disclose it all, which I think is terribly important. We were the first campaign to instantly disclose, and that's a policy that we continued right through the Florida recount, that we've continued in the transition and in the inaugural. And I think what they can expect is good government.
I want to make another point, too, that for a lot of the events we're holding, there are going to be a lot of people, a lot of younger people, a lot of people who don't have a lot of money to make ends meet, and the price of their tickets is going to be lower as a result of some of these contributions.
Now it's been done different ways. Previously there were limits put on it, but then what you had were special interest groups buying up gigantic blocks of tickets that they never used. It was just another way of getting large contributions in. This is I think a very open, direct and fully disclosed way, and I think the inaugural will be better for it.
And I think that all the attendees are going to have an enjoyable inaugural as a result.
QUESTION: Any special consideration? Any special attention?
FLEISCHER: No different from anybody else. The president-elect makes his decisions about policies based on what he thinks is right for the nation.
QUESTION: I noticed that a lot of the people who went to his conferences on economics last week were big donors. What connection is there between donors and being selected to go to those events?
FLEISCHER: We make no distinctions about people on the basis of whether they've given or not. We don't review that information when people are invited. And I would refer you to the meeting on the faith-based leaders who came to Austin and met with President Bush. I dare say a number of them didn't vote for him, let alone give to him.
And that's part of how he's going to govern. We're going to be bringing together a wide variety of groups of people. And we don't ask what their donor status is. We don't ask who they voted for.
QUESTION: Ari, clearly part of the problem--going back on the energy issues--clearly part of the problem with California is that it's very difficult to get a permit to build a new power plant for environmental concerns. I don't think a new power plant's been built in California for something like 15 years.
The same issue applies to refineries. Under the Bush administration, will the process of permitting things like power plants, refineries, be eased in such a way that you can actually build something like that in this country?
FLEISCHER: You know, I would refer you to his energy speech that he gave up in Michigan. That was, indeed, part of it. He did talk about helping to make sure that--let me find the exact words if I have them right here, otherwise I'll just refer you to it.
Yes, I'm going to refer you on this one. There was a section of the speech where he did discuss the need to make certain that we were able to increase our refining capacity, for example, our generating capacity. And one of the items he talked about--let me walk you through a few of them--was improving the regulatory process to encourage more refining capacity and to limit regulatory overlap.
It's that overlap that is very often resulted in a position where people stop building, because they couldn't get any electricity generation going and that defeats the purpose of having an energy policy if you don't have the means to deliver or refine the energy that you develop. And that means higher prices for American consumers.
Pipeline transportation. One of the things the president-elect talked about in that speech was requiring FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and the Department of Energy to develop a comprehensive policy for pipeline transportation.
Of course, people remember in the summer the gigantic spike-up in prices of gasoline in the Midwest. There were a variety of causes for it, but pipeline problems were one of them.
Again, if you develop your resources but you don't have the means to get them to the market, you haven't developed the resources. If you develop your resources but--in addition to not getting them to the market, you don't have the refining capacity, if you import oil. But the capacity utilization is running at 96, 97, 98, 99 percent. You cannot get any more energy to the American people.
And that's why what's required is a balanced approach to our energy needs. Otherwise, the American people are going to pay sky high prices for energy and they won't like it.
QUESTION: Let's shift to the Pentagon for a minute, please.
We're coming down to a head on whether the Pentagon should go ahead and authorize initial low-rate production of the F-22 fighter aircraft. There is something called the Defense Acquisition Board, which may meet as early as this week or next, ahead of the inauguration, to make a multi-billion dollar decision.
I wonder if you know whether your team supports this decision being made before you take office on January 20?
FLEISCHER: Well, again, any decisions that are made before January 20--we're respectful of the president's prerogatives. As I said, we respect the fact that he is the president through January 20, and I'm certain that he is respectful and will be respectful of prerogatives President-elect Bush takes upon assuming office.
After January 20, on a question like that, you may bring it up. I may refer you to DOD at the time.
QUESTION: Well, it's just that Richard Armitage, a military adviser to President-elect Bush, has been quoted in The Washington Post as saying he thinks that that is something that should be put off until after January 20, since we're so close to when the new administration takes office.
FLEISCHER: Is that Mr. Armitage on your phone now?
QUESTION: But my question is whether that accurately reflects the views of the incoming administration. Would the administration like...
FLEISCHER: I've not read Mr. Armitage's remarks, and so I would hesitate to comment on them.
QUESTION: Another Cabinet issue: Are we going to get--or any closer to getting some deputy treasury secretaries named?
FLEISCHER: Yes, we are at the stage now where any day we could have additional personnel announcements in the undersecretary, deputy secretary--the sub-Cabinet level. And those will be announcements made by the president-elect, and I'll keep you informed whenever they're made.
QUESTION: A question about the transition office: When would you or can you invite the media, TV, I'm sure? I mean, we have been requesting--we want to have some view of how you work on the other floors. Now you have Cabinet members' rooms upstairs. We, the people of the United States, want to know how they look like. I mean...
FLEISCHER: No, we did that extensively out in McLean, and maybe what we can do if there's sufficient media interest, we'll try to pick one moment and set up some type of organized tour for the cameras. Maybe we'll pool it.
So I'm aware of your requests. Frankly, we have got a whole lot of requests. Maybe we will now.
QUESTION: ... maybe the networks have requested as well and inundated with many requests, therefore she can't deal with our specific request. That's the answer that we have.
FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, if there's enough demand for it, if we want to bore a lot of producers, we'll be happy to take them around our fine offices.
QUESTION: Ten more days, and this office has been open for a little while now.
QUESTION: So hopefully this week. That's what I heard.
QUESTION: Ari, has president-elect decided to keep the office of special envoy of the United States for the Americas? He has any names in mind to that post?
FLEISCHER: That, like all personnel announcements, will be--if there is anything to say, we will say at the time.
QUESTION: What are the president-elect's thoughts about cutting taxes across the board and making it retroactive to January 1 of this year, as Majority Leader Armey has suggested today in a memo? And my understanding is a lot of leaders on Capital Hill are asking.
FLEISCHER: On the question of retroactive tax cuts, President-elect Bush is going to continue to monitor the strength of the economy, and he's going to continue to meet with his advisers and learn the latest. And he is very concerned about the strength of the economy.
As you know, he has three reasons principally to cut taxes.
The first is because if we don't, the politicians in Washington, as history shows, regardless of the party, will spend the money. Two, because, as he said throughout the campaign, the surplus belongs to the people, it's their money. And three, and he has said this now for more than one year, he believes it can also be an insurance policy against a future economic downturn.
Given the economic circumstances we're finding ourselves in, he is exploring what options he has to look at phase-in rates or effective dates. No decisions have been reached.
QUESTION: Does he think the economy needs the surge that would be given by cutting taxes across the board and giving consumers more money to spend immediately?
FLEISCHER: He does believe the economy needs a boost. He calls it an economic recovery plan.
And one of the things--let me also address on the question of taxes.
In addition to effective dates, in addition to phase-ins, the certainty of a tax cut also has a boost to the economy. The very fact that consumers know that they will have more money in their pockets on a permanent basis allows them to have more resources, it allows them to pay down their debts, it gives them more money to spend and use as they see fit, not as the government decides.
So even without an immediate boost to the economy, the very fact that people know that it is done and it is permanent changes their ability to make their decisions down the road, because they know they're going to have more money.
QUESTION: Ari, could I go back to Senator Ashcroft? Is the transition aware of any kind of marshaling of conservative forces in support of Senator Ashcroft? And does the transition believe that he needs such a marshaling of support?
FLEISCHER: Well, I would say I've never been around a confirmation process where one side decided to go and the other side decided not to respond. So I can only imagine that that's inevitable, that's part of the way it works.
QUESTION: Are you aware of such a marshaling taking place?
FLEISCHER: I've heard some things. I don't think I could refer to you anything hard or specific. I'm sure if you dig not too very deep, you'll find it.
QUESTION: Ari, the police say they're expecting the biggest protest crowd for an inauguration since '73. Do you have any comment on that?
FLEISCHER: That is absolutely the right of the American people, and we understand that, and we will be very respectful of them. Of course, we expect they'll be very respectful of the president-elect.
But even with the protest, President-elect Bush has said that his job is to be president of all the people, and that's what he intends to do.
QUESTION: Ari, do you have any schedule for remarks by the president-elect either tonight or tomorrow afternoon or both?
FLEISCHER: Remarks tonight by the president?
QUESTION: What he intends to do.
FLEISCHER: No. I think he's just arriving, and I don't believe there are any remarks. He'll get into Andrews around I think it was 7:30, the last I heard, and arrive at Blair House at about 8:15.
And tomorrow there'll be--I think the first public event will be at the Pentagon. We're going to have paper out this afternoon that has all the details of it.
QUESTION: Any scheduled news conference?
QUESTION: You're going to brief tomorrow at 10 as usual, or will that change with the president...
FLEISCHER: If there are any changes, you'll be advised in the way of e-mail.
QUESTION: Going back, Ari, to free trade. If President-elect Bush is in touch with the countries who has huge deficits or surplus with the United States, like China, if he's in touch or working on this, how he's going to deal with this problem?
FLEISCHER: Well, of course, the trade deficit is an ongoing part of the job of the USTR, the United States Trade Representative. So of course it is a concern. With some nations we have trade surpluses, with some nations we have trade deficits. The overall balance of trade issue is part and parcel of the USTR's job. It's another reason we need fast track negotiating authority so we can address those imbalances.
QUESTION: Ari, the head of the Forest Service has directed the government to do more to protect old trees. And he's going to be around for about three months after the new administration comes in. What's the plan for the new administration to take this project up?
FLEISCHER: I have nothing for you on that.
QUESTION: Ari, yesterday, former Senator Nunn said regarding, national missile defense, that he hoped the Bush administration would see it as a technology, not a theology.
Is President-elect Bush of the mind today that this is an unproven technology? Of where is he on that?
FLEISCHER: He's well-aware that it is a technology and that the technology has to be there to move forward. But he's also well-aware of what the power of the presidency can do to help people to arrive at solutions that allow that technology to be developed as quickly as is realistic.
We've all seen how it works. You can develop technology really slowly if you want, or you can develop technology quickly if you want. And he does believe that it is in the strategic best interest of the United States and to promote the peace that our nation have a missile defense system. And so he will make that a governing priority. And he's going to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to achieve it. That's one of the reasons he held the meeting yesterday.
QUESTION: So he would perhaps be recommending an accelerated testing schedule?
FLEISCHER: Well, as he announced in his speech on this topic in May at the National Press Club, he is going to dispatch the Pentagon and the best experts to work on what system is the best system. He did not, at that time, deliberately so define what he thought the best system was, because it's not a matter for the politicians to decide, whether it's sea-based, land-based, air-based. That is a question of technology, and that's why we have the experts.
QUESTION: Does he have the feeling we're not moving fast enough on this?
FLEISCHER: Indeed, he does. That's why he wants to push forward development of the national missile defense system to protect our nation.
QUESTION: The president-elect, you say, classified his tax plan as being an economic recovery plan. Has he or his advisers indicated what kind of growth rate would represent economic recovery? Because in his father's administration, 2 or 3 percent (OFF-MIKE) growth would have been seen as a pretty healthy recovery. Is there any guidance you can give?
FLEISCHER: Well, the president-elect has not and I don't expect that he will. That really is a question for economists. And I suspect that they will differ over that answer, if I know economists.
FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
FLEISCHER: I haven't put the question to them, but suffice it to say, the dramatic slowdown we've seen is, in the eyes of Democrats, Republicans, the private sector, all, a troubling sign.
QUESTION: Ari, you've talked about the importance of fast track, getting fast track. What would you want to use fast track for? Would it be to bring Chile into the NAFTA? Or what specifically would he use it for?
FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, once fast track is in place, then the executive has more authority to enter into trade agreements with other nations around the world. During the course of the campaign, the president discussed and promoted a free trade agreement of the Americas, I think he had a Western Hemisphere trade initiative. I'd be more than happy to give you more specifics or to go deeper.
But once fast track is in place, the executive is empowered to enter into those agreements. And what very often happens is that other nations, such as Chile, will enter into agreements with Canada in place of the United States because the fast-track trade negotiating authority isn't present and, therefore, America's negotiators are hamstrung at the negotiating table. If you don't have fast track, business goes to other countries.
QUESTION: Well, Chile is already negotiating even without fast track. They've said they'll negotiate?
FLEISCHER: Sure they are, but they were negotiating with us years and years ago. I remember in Congress in 1997 when fast track came up, we were negotiating with Chile at that time.
It makes it easier and if it's easier, you can get agreements faster.
FLEISCHER: No, Chile--when fast-track was developed in 1997, when the vote initially came up and we didn't have the votes to do it, we pulled it from the Hill, we were all well-aware that Chile was entering into agreements with Canada at that time because they were unable to deal with us. We wanted to.
Now, there are always trade discussions going on. They can take place outside the context of fast-track, it just makes it a lot harder.
QUESTION: Ari, (OFF-MIKE) programs were featured prominently in the campaigns, and I wanted to ask you about prescription drugs. I understand the helping-hand proposal might be the second bill that's sent to the Hill. And I wondered how you're going to reach out to Democrats and say that doesn't go far enough?
And secondly, on Social Security, I wonder whether President-elect Bush will push for a commission to recommend a solution this year?
FLEISCHER: OK. On the immediate helping hand, that is indeed the president's--he announced that is the second thing that he wanted to focus on. Improving education remains his top priority.
And secondly, he talked during the campaign about the need to get prescription drugs to our nation's seniors through what he called his immediate helping hand proposal, which is a $48 billion program, I believe, to help the states develop a plan to get prescription drugs to needy seniors. That remains a priority of his.
And throughout the process, of course, we're going to work with the Hill. This obviously has been a priority on the Hill for many years, although they have not been able to get it done. There's been too much fighting over that issue in Washington. And so I think you're going to see some healthy work between the executive and the legislature on getting prescription drugs to seniors.
The president-elect did announce his support for a commission on Social Security. He does believe that can be an effective way of getting people together to save Social Security.
You know, commissions sometimes work, sometimes they don't. But if there is a will, there is a way, and he seeks to create that will for Social Security.
And of course, the last time there was major legislation enacted on Social Security was, in a good part, because of the 1983 Social Security Commission.
So there's a history of commissions working when the politicians want it to work.