George W. Bush photo

Afternoon Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, Spokesman for the President-Elect

January 08, 2001

FLEISCHER: Good afternoon.

I have a series of announcements I want to share with you, and we'll take questions.

Lots of personnel news today. A paper will be circulating in just a moment.

President-elect Bush today is announcing his intention to name the following people to White House staff positions: Brad Blakeman (ph) as deputy assistant to the president for appointments and scheduling; Hector Storza (ph) as deputy assistant to the president for management and administration; Scott McClellan as deputy assistant to the president and deputy press secretary; and Brian Montgomery (ph) as deputy assistant to the president and director of advance.

There's a paper will be circulating. We have it here now with the correct spelling on everybody. Incoming First Lady Barbara Bush--Laura Bush has the following announcements to make.


FLEISCHER: Let's start that over.

... following announcements to make: Andy Ball (ph) will be chief of staff to the first lady; Kathryn Fenton (ph) will be the White House social secretary; Noella Rodriguez (ph), press secretary to the first lady; Ann Hylandgeistein (ph) as director of projects to the first lady; Desirea Thompson-Sayle (ph) as director of correspondence to the first lady; and Quincy Hicks (ph) as director of scheduling and advance for the first lady.

The final announcement deals with hearing schedules up on the Hill, and these are the following hearing schedules as best I have them that are already publicly announced by the Senate. I just offer this to you for your convenience so you have the information in one location.

Secretary-designate Paige will have his hearing on January 10; Secretary-designate Rumsfeld, January 11; General Powell, January 16; Governor Whitman, January 16; Secretary-designate Abraham, January 18; and Secretary-designate Norton also on January 18.

And with that, I'm pleased to take your questions.

QUESTION: Do you have a copy of the tape made in the Oval Office when Mr. Nixon was talking to Mr. Rumsfeld about Vice President Agnew's trip to Africa?

FLEISCHER: I've listened to that tape. I have a cassette version of it. And as I say, I've listened to it.

QUESTION: May we have a copy? Or may we hear it?

FLEISCHER: I don't see why not. I don't think there's any issue there. I have it on one of those boom boxes, literally, and the audio quality is not very good, but I'm more than happy to play it for you.

QUESTION: I'd love to get a copy, if you could.

FLEISCHER: To get a copy, I would refer you to the National Archives. I mean, we're not in the business here of making cassette tapes. I don't think we even have the capacity to do that here, frankly.

QUESTION: Well, we can manage.

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm more than happy to let you hear it.

QUESTION: Ari, when did you first learn that Chavez hired an illegal immigrant? And were you surprised by this revelation?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that, first, the vetting process, as I discussed this morning, for each and every one of our nominees begins with a clearing counsel meeting with each nominee. And then the FBI throughout this entire course conducts its background investigation as has been traditional and typical. And then of course the United States Senate has its own investigation that they do.

And so, all of these are pieces of the ongoing vetting process and background process and you continue to learn throughout each one of these phases of the process. And the information that was shared with us in the vetting meeting, of course I'm not going to get into, that's a private conversation between the clearing counsel and each nominee.

QUESTION: Well, was the president-elect satisfied with the information that the nominee gave to him, that she was fully forthcoming?

FLEISCHER: The president-elect announced her, of course, as his designee, which is an indication of the fact that he was satisfied and he announced her.

He knew all the--any information that he needed to be shared with the vetting council would be brought to the president-elect's attention if there was anything that he needed to know prior to an announcement.

QUESTION: But specifically about Linda Chavez and Marta Mercado, did he know about that at that time?

FLEISCHER: Obviously, he announced her.

And again, I'm not going to want to get into the details of everything that is in that process. But suffice it to say, there's a lot of questions that are raised and answered in the course of those meetings.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) the inference that he didn't know by the way you're answering or not answering the...

FLEISCHER: Well, let me try to be more helpful.

During the course of those meetings, one question that, you know, you can assume gets asked is about household help and whether you've had household help. If so, have you paid all the income taxes for that household employee?

We, of course, do not ask each and every one of our nominees to list all the many acts of compassion that they may have carried out on behalf of people. That is not the type of issue or question that would rise up to the level where it becomes an important part or any part of the interview process.

So I think you can assume it was safe to say that the question about household employees and paying taxes was asked. And acts of compassion, we don't ask our designees to delineate each and every one of them.

QUESTION: Did you ask if they harbored illegal immigrants in their house?

FLEISCHER: There's a whole series of questions that are asked about matters that can in any way need to be brought to the attention of the president. And, as I indicated, the process is ongoing.


FLEISCHER: I'm not going to go down each and every question.

QUESTION: Did Ms. Chavez know that she was harboring--that this woman was in the country illegally?

FLEISCHER: I think that you've seen in the press this morning that she has acknowledged that she knew the legal status of the person. The exact date of that has not been determined, at which point she actually did know that information. And that is all part of the ongoing process.

QUESTION: Ari, are you--is the president-elect at this moment satisfied that Ms. Chavez did nothing illegal related to this?

FLEISCHER: I think you--the president-elect spoke on that topic about half of an hour ago.

QUESTION: He didn't answer that specific question, though. Does it bother the president-elect that she may have committed an act of questionable legality?

FLEISCHER: The president-elect now remains confident in his nominee and in the fact that we believe, as we do with all of our nominees, that she'll be confirmed.

QUESTION: She was illegal at that time, but then she became legal. And there is some sort of an amnesty that sets in. So where does that leave the situation now?

FLEISCHER: Well, these are all so precise legal matters, and that's why the normal vetting process continues. I mean, the definitions are precise ones, and the process is a careful and a thorough one. And we're confident that the process is being handled properly and fully.

And the president-elect remains confident in his choice. She's an excellent choice to be secretary of labor, and she'll make a great secretary of labor.

QUESTION: What happens to a nominee whose had just a casual worker, maybe a gardener or somebody, and didn't check on the status? I mean, is it fair to lose a nomination because of this?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, ultimately, this is something, again, that our nation has a long history of people engaging in acts of compassion and helping out people in times of trouble or in moments of need. And that's important. And that is part of, I think, what has happened here, a significant part. And, again, that's one of the reasons the president-elect maintains that confidence, just as he indicated. He talked about this just a little while ago himself.

QUESTION: Mr. Fleischer, acts of compassion and harboring a person who's in the country illegally, isn't it something stronger than--isn't there a suggestion of illegality there? Or something improper about that?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I would urge you--well, you used the word "harbor," I'm not certain that's at all accurate, to say "harbored." That may very well not be the case at all. So I just urge you to be careful on that word, that's a specific word, that word has illegal meaning.

QUESTION: But you're calling it an "act of compassion," and...


FLEISCHER: I think there is no doubt about it. Taking somebody who is in a moment of need into your home is an act of compassion. She's done this on many occasions with other people of various backgrounds and from various walks of life. It's called kindness.

QUESTION: Other people who were in the country illegally?

FLEISCHER: I don't have any information on that.

QUESTION: What precisely was the need? In what way was this woman in need?

FLEISCHER: I don't know all the individual facts about this person who was in need, and what her specific needs were. I think some of them are probably a little bit sensitive as well, and so I don't want to delineate. But I think it's fair to say that she was down on her luck and she was going through some difficult times, and she reached out.

And as is the tradition of our country, Linda Chavez reached back and helped her.

QUESTION: Where did they meet? Do you know, Ari, where they met?


QUESTION: Ari, does performing an act of compassion, at any point, justify breaking the law?

FLEISCHER: Well, I wouldn't urge you--I'm not sure where you get that second part of the question from. I'm not going to speculate about things like that.

QUESTION: I mean as a general question.

FLEISCHER: No, I'm not going to go down that road. I think, that you're asking me specifically about this matter, and there's no evidence of that.

QUESTION: No evidence that any laws were broken, is that correct?

FLEISCHER: I think we're going to let the process continue.

Are you bringing something to my attention?

QUESTION: I'm asking you if you have evidence that laws were broken and if an act of compassion would justify that?

FLEISCHER: Obviously, we do not have such evidence at this time, and I'm not certain that--we do not.

QUESTION: Concerning Ms. Chavez's (OFF-MIKE) aren't you worried about the hypocrisy factor here?

FLEISCHER: Well, you said hired. I'm not aware that anyone was hired in this case.


FLEISCHER: Well, but that's totally different. It's not the same as a hiring.

QUESTION: What's the legal definition of hiring?

FLEISCHER: Hiring is an employee. Hiring is a classification as an employee, as opposed to taking somebody in a moment of need into your home.

QUESTION: Sir, how do you square the active compassion of protecting or helping an illegal immigrant with the president-elect's assurance that the immigration laws in the nation should be fully enforced?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, the process is continuing forward. All the questions are being asked and answered, and if anything else comes to light, we'll talk about it at that time, if that happens.

QUESTION: Just one more question. How did she get to the United States, do you know, and whether she was a refugee from the war down there?

FLEISCHER: I do not know.

QUESTION: Is having a clean legal record a requirement for a Cabinet appointment in the Bush administration? Or is that something that you guys have addressed or have fears that...


FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think you're going back to the question of legality and what is legal. And as I mentioned, again, that the president-elect has a vetting process that is ongoing, that began with a clearing council, and the process continues.

And so, obviously, we take a look at everything. We look at all specific matters, and we look at things in terms of the context of them as well, and the president-elect make his determinations.

QUESTION: Ari, what is the administration's view, the incoming administration's view, the president-elect's view, of the legal responsibility of a citizen, an American citizen, who is involved with a person, perhaps helping them out, sheltering them in a time of need, and at a certain point, discovers that they're in the country illegally? What is the citizen's proper responsibility in that set of circumstances?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I'm not going to answer that question because it's all in the context of one specific case, and those facts are all being ascertained. And so I think--it's too specific to that case.


QUESTION: ... all of that seems to be clearly established. What is a citizen's responsibility, whether it's Linda Chavez or anyone else's? What is their legal responsibility in the view of the president-elect?

FLEISCHER: Well, I don't think that we're in the business of telling every citizen what their legal responsibilities are. Their responsibilities are clearly to comport with the law, and that's important, and that's ongoing.

QUESTION: What does the law require?

FLEISCHER: I think that all depends on the facts of the case.

QUESTION: Does it not require that citizen to do something, to take...


FLEISCHER: Again, I think it all depends on the facts of the case.

QUESTION: Your answer a moment ago suggested that the fact-gathering process in this case is still under way. And I had the earlier impression that you had satisfied yourselves?

FLEISCHER: Well, the fact-gathering process is under way with each and every nominee, from the moment that they are announced by the president-elect until the moment that they are confirmed by the Senate.


FLEISCHER: That's part and parcel of the clearing process, of the nomination process, of the vetting process. As I indicated, the vetting process is several factors, each of which is conducted at a different point of time, beginning with the clearing council interview, and then with the FBI full field investigation, with the Senate's investigation that they conduct as an independent branch of the government.

All of that is part and parcel of the background investigation that obviously, when you investigate the background, you're gathering facts.

QUESTION: Sir, but I took it mean that you were referring specifically to this case, of this undocumented alien.

FLEISCHER: No, that applies to everything, involving every piece of anybody's background in all Cabinet matters and all Cabinet appointees.

QUESTION: Are you satisfied that you have all of the facts in this particular case relating to the undocumented alien?

FLEISCHER: That's why it's an ongoing vetting process.

QUESTION: In other words, you're not.

FLEISCHER: It's an ongoing vetting process, of course.

QUESTION: Have you figured out yet how much money, exactly, Linda Chavez paid this woman? And do you consider that part of the act of kindness and not compensation for the chores that she did around the house?

FLEISCHER: I think that's all matters that will be brought to the Senate's attention.

QUESTION: But have you made that determination? Or are those facts still being gathered?

Yes, you know the specific facts of it--that again is part of the background investigation. And not every piece of the background investigation is going to get shared. Not at least--you know, that's the Senate's purview.


QUESTION: Am I correct in my impression that the president-elect will not hesitate to speak out against any instance of racial discrimination in the United States government?

FLEISCHER: I would concur.

QUESTION: The House Democrat caucus expelled Congressman Traficant of Ohio and took away his committee assignments because he voted for the reelection of the speaker of the House. But they have done not one thing to the Black Caucus members who, as Mr. Gore noted, illegally on Saturday disrupted the joint congressional session for 20 minutes.

And my question is: Why is this punishment of Traficant, who is white, and no punishment for blacks not racial discrimination?

FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, on all matters of committee assignments, that's a matter of the legislative branch to decide. And I think the executive in all areas will not do well to weigh in on congressional committee assignments.

QUESTION: Well, he doesn't think that that's right, does he?

FLEISCHER: Again, I think...

QUESTION: You don't think it's right, do you, Ari? You were up there on the Hill.

FLEISCHER: I know when I worked on the Hill, the president didn't typically weigh in on committee assignments. And President-elect Bush is not going to weigh in on committee assignments.

QUESTION: Ari, there's been a lot of crowing in the European press over the fact that the measures by Greenspan to lower the interest rates led to a one-day, you know, up in the stock market, and then it started going down again. Is the president-elect concerned that the economic situation he'll be facing is perhaps much more serious than has been indicated and that maybe even his $1 trillion tax cut would not be enough to deal with the problem?

FLEISCHER: Our concerns about the economy are ongoing and enduring. There's new information this morning from several Wall Street economists where they believe that growth is going to be far less than previously projected. In fact, some well-known economists are now predicting negative growth.

And so it is a matter that we brought up several months ago, accurately so at the time. Some people criticized us for bringing up information that needed to be discussed and shared with the American people. And we're going to continue to keep a close eye on it. And that's one of the reasons the president-elect feels so strongly that we need to pass into law his economic recovery plan. And it's another reason we need to have a comprehensive national energy policy to protect America from any energy disruptions as well.


QUESTION: The President-elect has made an invitation to the former president of Argentina, Menem, to be here for the inaugural parties. Has he know that DEA is doing an investigation on the former president and his involvement in narco-trafficking?

FLEISCHER: Let me take that question and try to get back on it.


QUESTION: Yesterday, Senator Orrin Hatch said he would pardon President Clinton if he were indicted. I know President Clinton has said that he does not such a pardon. But what would President-elect Bush do if faced with such an issue?

FLEISCHER: The president-elect's position, as expressed during the campaign, was that president-elect--or President Bush has neither sought nor asked for a--President Clinton--President-elect Bush's position, during the campaign, was that President Clinton has neither asked for nor sought a pardon, and he takes President Clinton at his word.

QUESTION: Following-up on that, Ari, presuming that the president-elect is fully aware and fully intends to follow the Constitution, Section 3, Article II, "He shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed," how could he possibly think of pardoning his predecessor, who not only took no such care, but also broke the laws against perjury and obstruction of justice?

And since the Federal Bureau of Prisons would not answer my question as to how many prisoners are serving time for perjury, but there must be some, my question is, if President-elect Bush were to pardon President Clinton, as Hatch and Hyde have both suggested, what about the Supreme Court's building promise of equal justice under law?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think I've already addressed that question. The president has neither asked for nor sought a pardon, and we take him at his word.

QUESTION: So he has no intention, at this point, of giving any such pardon, does he, Ari?

FLEISCHER: I think I've answered the question.

QUESTION: President-elect Bush is coming to Washington, can you tell us a little bit about what he's going to do while he's here?

FLEISCHER: He will get here tomorrow night. Get's into Andrews, I believe 7:30ish, remain overnight at the Blair House.

Wednesday morning he will go--I believe the first stop is the Pentagon. He has Pentagon briefings on Wednesday. I did not bring down the complete schedule with me. Wednesday is Pentagon. He'll do some personnel events late in the day.

He will also have his official portrait taken--his photograph taken--which will hang in all the nation's post offices and federal buildings.

And then on Thursday, he will have some CIA briefings and he will also have the educational forum that I talked about last week. That's going to be a group of educational entrepreneurs who are going to be gathering, a diverse group of people, to give the president-elect their ideas and thoughts about improving education in America.

He'll, of course, also, push for his comprehensive education reform package and try to build support for it so we can move quickly upon his swearing in to pass that on the Hill.

And then he departs back to Texas Thursday mid-afternoon.

QUESTION: When he gets back, how active do you expect that stretch to be between, you know, when he gets back and then returns to Washington for the inauguration? Does he have much left on his...

FLEISCHER: Depends on how well his packing is going.

QUESTION: From what we see, what could we expect?

FLEISCHER: I don't have a rundown on the schedule much beyond that. I know I've been asked before what's the exact date he's coming up to Washington. There still is a little flexibility in that and so once that's settled, I'll have a report on that.

QUESTION: Some sort of policy summits, meetings with congressional leaders--is there much of that left to do before he comes to...


FLEISCHER: There could be. I just don't have a hard read on that yet.

QUESTION: When you say personnel events on Wednesday, do you mean announcements? He'll make personnel announcements?

FLEISCHER: I think he's going to have some continued meetings--you know, more meetings with people, and that, of course, means there could be announcements, but there's nothing to report yet. But he will be meeting with additional people for potential jobs.

QUESTION: Is this the first time he's staying at the Blair House? That's pretty significant.

FLEISCHER: Unless it was--as president-elect, yes, it is, as president-elect.

QUESTION: He'll stay both nights at the Blair House, not just Wednesday, right?

FLEISCHER: Well, I was told Tuesday night. I would hardly imagine that you'd pack your bags and go to another place the next night unless you don't like your accommodations. I don't think that's ever been the case with the Blair House. Unless there's some new information, yes, I think he's going to be at the Blair House for all nights.

QUESTION: It conveys head of state status on him, in a sense.

FLEISCHER: I'm not certain about that if that's the protocol of the Blair House. I'm not certain what their protocol is.

QUESTION: What are the first 100 days going to look like? Is there going to be an aggressive campaign to get some things passed through Congress?

FLEISCHER: We're going to have more to say on that in short order. But, you know, there's a notion of 100 days. I think when you talk to most scholars now, they seem to think that the real window to measure a presidency is really 180 days.

And I can tell you from our initial planning, from the things that we are working on and the time table, we expect to move forward with legislation that could potentially get enacted into law, 180 days is a much more proper window to measure. And I think the scholars have good reason for saying that. If you look back, 100 days is really, in the course of a presidency--you know, the Congress doesn't even pass a budget resolution until April 15 by statute, and typically it's even later than April 15. That's the exception.

So I think that we're going to be looking at maybe a different window. And that's a time to sum up and judge what your priorities are, the order in which you move on legislation, and of course then you start getting measured in terms of your successes or your failures on the Hill.

I think you may want to take a look at the window, the timing of it. But we'll have more to say on that.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) for the CIA briefings?

FLEISCHER: We'll have the exact schedule out. I think we're going to try to get that out either today or tomorrow. And it'll all be on there.

QUESTION: Any press events or any (OFF-MIKE) during the trip here?

FLEISCHER: Yes, there will be. Of course, the education meeting is open to the press in its entirety. And that will be Thursday morning.

The last I saw that's going to be relatively early on Thursday morning. It could begin as soon as 8:30 which means much worse set-up times, of course.

QUESTION: Why is the education meeting open and the economic forum last week was not open? Is there a reason behind that?

FLEISCHER: I think at the economic forum he wanted to--really at a time of greater sensitivity in terms of what people are thinking about, the performance of the economy. He thought that the best meeting would be a meeting where people could engage in a little more frank fashion.

I don't think there's any such particularly market movement sensitivities about an education meeting. And so we've decided to make that education meeting open.

And I think what you're always going to see on these type of meetings is we're going to strive for a healthy mix. There are always going to be times when the president-elect would make the determination that he wants to have a portion of the meeting open, but he wants to be able to get that free and frank exchange that I think everybody recognizes doesn't always when there's live TV coverage, for example.

At other times, however, we're going to have meetings and we're going to try to endeavor to keep everything open when we do. So the education meeting will be open.

QUESTION: Ari, in this new window for action, we will see the president of the United States asking for fast track in Congress?

FLEISCHER: Indeed, that is one of the president's priorities. We do believe that to protect the economy and to help other nations to develop and to grow, and for their economies to be strong in an interactive world, fast track negotiating authority is a crucial piece of the president's economic agenda. And the president-elect did commit during the campaign to seeking early passage of fast track. And that is an important presidential priority.

QUESTION: Could you be more precise about when you may start with that?

FLEISCHER: The exact time? No, I cannot say yet.

QUESTION: But it's safe to say the first six months of this year?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to put an arbitrary date on it, but when we have it, we'll get it out. But suffice it to say that is an important presidential priority.

QUESTION: What's your assessment of the likelihood of passage of fast track, given the problems President Clinton had?

FLEISCHER: You know, I think it's probably too soon to say. I haven't really taken a look at the new members of Congress to see whether that's a group that's particularly supportive of free trade or not. Obviously, every time you have a new makeup of the Congress, you take a look at that. There are clearly a group of Democrats, Congressman Bob Matsui of California, who has been a prominent leader of fast track and who has helped put together Democrat coalitions for fast track.

But the environment for free trade has gotten tougher in recent years. If you recall, during the primaries, President-elect Bush was criticized from the right for his stance on the importance of free trade. And he believes in it and he believes in it strongly. And he'll take on various coalitions whether they are in his own party or in other parties to get the job done. He believes in it.


FLEISCHER: I'm sorry.


FLEISCHER: Well, the Republican Party has always been behind fast track. When you take a look at the way the votes broke down on the Hill, the Republican Party supported it. In fact, I believe in 1998 when it was voted on, and it was defeated--I may be wrong on the year, it could have been '99--the Republicans broke by a overwhelming majority, it was either 2-to-1 or 4-to-1 for fast track.

The Democrats overwhelmingly voted against it, but there was a good block of Democrats who were for it. Now, the exact numbers, that remains to be seen.

QUESTION: Ari, on free trade, the government of Chile has already rejected the idea to have a free trade with the United States in the same frame that the United States has with Jordan. Has the president-elect take a look to his ideas for this free trade agreement with Chile?

FLEISCHER: I'm going to hesitate to comment on the specific substance of various free trade agreements that are being negotiated right now. That would fall under the category of: until January 20.

QUESTION: Does the president-elect plan to enforce the Supreme Court's Beck decision, as President Clinton apparently refused to do? How do you feel on that, Ari?

FLEISCHER: Yes, the president does believe in paycheck protection. That was part of his campaign finance reform proposals, in regards specifically to Beck and the legal mechanisms of the regulatory process.

I have not heard the president-elect discuss that during the course of the campaign. But suffice it to say, he does believe that it's important that people can participate in a political process and give money, but that should be voluntary, it should not be involuntary.

And so, if somebody has money taken from them without their permission, and it is used for political purposes, with which they may not disagree, he believed that's not fair. And he thinks that's true, whether it applies to corporations or whether it applies to unions.

Involuntarily taking money from somebody or somebody having involuntarily their money taken for a cause in which they don't believe, he thinks that's wrong.


QUESTION: Back on the economy, how seriously is the president-elect looking at front-loading the tax cuts for some sort of stimulus package to increase economic growth?

FLEISCHER: Well, he's looking at it. That is a concern. And, again, I think you're going to want to take a look at the economic data as it continues to pour in, and to see how urgent the need may or may not become, but it is an option and it is under review.

QUESTION: Can you give us an update on the inaugural speech? Is it in his hands yet? Do you have any sense of themes?

FLEISCHER: I have not had a good enough conversation with that to give you an update on the themes. I know that it's on his mind, and I know that drafts are being worked on, but I don't have anything more than that yet. Let me take that and try to get back. I'll probably take that and come back at the podium with that. I think that's important.

QUESTION: Couple of questions on Ashcroft. People are charging that he is an arch-conservative is trying to force his agenda or is going to be forcing his agenda on the Justice Department. What do you have to say about that? And then, also charges of racism, as well?

FLEISCHER: Right. As for the agenda, the agenda of Attorney General Ashcroft, if he is confirmed by the Senate, is the agenda of all members of the Cabinet if they're voted on favorably by the Senate, will be president-elect Bush's agenda.

And it is the duty of each and every member of the Cabinet to fully enforce the current laws as they are on the books.

Their agenda, though, will be President-elect Bush's, what he ran on during the course of the campaign. And certainly, when it comes to justice, what you hope to see, and this is why President-elect Bush named John Ashcroft, is someone who will enforce the law and will do so impartially and will do so with integrity and I think that's terribly important. I think that's a signal that the American people want to know comes from the top of Justice and the American people will take great pride in knowing that John Ashcroft can do that.

The second part of your question?

QUESTION: Racism. Integrity is used so much when to describe him, but there are still charges of racism out there.

FLEISCHER: Well, I understand that this is Washington and people, for varieties of reasons, will allege things that just are not true and are the worst, and it's part of why the nomination process needs to be a thoughtful and a reasoned process. And for any other groups that, again, were reported last week that are using this as a way for them to raise money or as they, themselves, said to prepare for the next battle, that's just wrong. That does not contribute to the thoughtful process that we need. That contributes and is one more reason why we need to change the tone in Washington.

But certainly a man who voted for 26 of the 28 judicial nominations that came before him in the United States Senate who were African-American, obviously there are substantive reasons that apply to people from every race and walk of life. And John Ashcroft has a very powerful, strong record on the question of civil rights, and signed the Martin Luther King bill into law as a governor of his state, and we're very proud of that.

QUESTION: Ari, on fast track, it's very--been, in the past, a very divisive issue. Is there a concern that that could detract from the president-elect's efforts to be a uniter in Washington?

FLEISCHER: Well, fast track is a divisive issue. Fast track is an important issue. And the president-elect has principles that he's going to fight for. And one of those is the importance of free trade. And that of course--the issue of free trade--is an issue where people on both parties have strong passions.

It creates unusual alliances. And we're going to--President-elect Bush is going to be proud to put together an alliance that's going to involve a host of Democrats, because you cannot pass fast track without Democratic support, just as President Clinton relied very heavily on Republicans across the aisle to pass--to try to pass fast track and just as President Clinton relied overwhelmingly on Republicans to get NAFTA passed and enacted into law.

It requires bipartisan coalitions. And that's the essence of government. And it'll be a test of many people to see whether they're going to join this bipartisan coalition.

QUESTION: Ari, one of the most difficult issues within fast track has been whether or not to include labor or environmental standards as part of trade agreements. Would President-elect Bush, in order to unite people around the issue, drop that? Or would he try to accommodate Democrats? Can you give us any preview about how he'd handle that?

FLEISCHER: Again, his focus is going to be on passing trade agreements that are in the interest of our country, that help other nations to trade with us, and that help us to trade with those other nations.

Those issues that are most influential in the securing of fast track agreements that are bilateral, that can be supported--or multilateral--deal with the economy.

QUESTION: Ari, on the president-elect's energy program, is he looking again at nuclear energy? Where there has been a crisis in a lot of countries, now they're revising their attitude towards nuclear energy. Will he also do that or take a serious look at going back to nuclear in some instances?

FLEISCHER: On the question of nuclear, if you take a look at the comprehensive energy speech he gave in Michigan in September, there was a portion in there on nuclear. I would refer you to that.

QUESTION: Ari, is the president-elect still looking for a second and maybe a third Democrat to fill senior administration posts?

FLEISCHER: He's continuing to look for the best, and I don't think it's going to matter what their party is, so long as they support his agenda. And I don't rule anything in. Obviously, I'm not going to rule it out. So we'll just see what other additional appointments he makes and what party they come from.

Thank you.

George W. Bush, Afternoon Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer, Spokesman for the President-Elect Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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