Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
2:21 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: It must be Friday in the White House press room. I have nothing prepared to open with. I would like at the very end to give you the schedule of the President for the upcoming week and, as an extra added bonus, I'll go a tiny bit even into the week following that. But until then, I'm all yours. Ron Fournier.
Q:The President today talked about racial profiling. What does he -- first of all, a lot of that data was collected by the Clinton administration. Do you plan to dip back into anything they collected? And what does he hope to accomplish?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is going to listen to a number of parties on the question of how to find a solution to a problem that he is very concerned about, as he indicated earlier today. We'll be listening to various people in different communities who are affected by racial profiling. We're going to be listening to law enforcement authorities and trying to move forward on some type of understanding about what can be done that's productive.
Q:Do you know how soon he'll have a decision made or --
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no timetable set.
Q:Is there any meeting, Ari, with the International Association of Chiefs of Police? I think they're pushing for some type of national commission to look into racial profiling, other issues, and they've wanted a meeting with the White House.
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe it's not yet scheduled. They've requested a meeting with the White House staff.
Q:During the campaign, the now-President referred often to a waitress who earned $22,000 a year. Now when he refers to what seems to be that same person, she earns $25,000 a year. People in the House --
MR. FLEISCHER: He's raising incomes for American people since he was elected, obviously.
Q:Right. In addition to that, the Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee are pointing out that they think that woman's salary had to be raised in order for her to get anything out of this tax proposal. Is that, indeed, why the example has been changed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Here is what the President said during the campaign, and this is why he brought it up. If you are earning $22,000 a year in this country and you have a couple of kids, as a result of the way the earned income tax credit phases out, which is a program that helps low-income working people with children, principally, who receive extra help from the federal government -- it's predominantly a redistributed program -- you start to lose your earned income tax credit as you make more money, plus you're in the 15 percent tax bracket, which means you're paying taxes at a higher rate than the President believes you should.
The marginal tax rate imposed on that person is higher than the marginal tax rate imposed on somebody who makes $220,000 a year. In other words, if you make only $22,000 a year, for every dollar of pay raise you get from your employer, the government snatches more of it away from you than somebody who makes $220,000 a year who gets a dollar pay raise. The amount the government takes from that upper-income person is less than it is for that lower-income person. That's the reflection of a system that has marginal income tax rates.
So the President's concern was that we need to help that person so they can make it into the middle class, and that's the purpose of the President's proposal. And the way the President's proposal works is that a family making $22,000 a year with a couple of kids actually would not start to get taxed until they made about $31,000. In other words, they can have a multi-thousand-dollar raise without the government snatching that money away from them. And that's how he believes we can help people get into the middle class.
Q:Twenty-five thousand is a better example, because that person actually pays --
MR. FLEISCHER: That person would receive a tax cut.
Q:Right. So it's an example of that.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q:I have one on police profiling.
Q:Ari, you said that the President is considering reducing unilaterally America's nuclear arsenal. If so, is that an attempt to ease the opposition from the NATO countries to the national missile defense, and is it also to try and convince Russia to allow -- or not to oppose, if you will, the modification of scrapping the ABM Treaty?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a reaffirmation of what the President denounced in a very public event in May of 2000, in a speech at the National Press Club, where he reflected on the possibility of the United States setting its nuclear levels of deterrence at a level that we would set, not as a result of treaties, but as the result of a decision that the United States makes, that is the level appropriate to protect our national defenses. I refer you to his remarks from that speech.
Q:Just one follow-up, please. You say considering, you used the word "considering," but is there a stronger word you'd like to use? Is it almost a done deal that he's going to reduce --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, that's what the President said, that we should consider that, and we should do so in consultation with our allies.
Q:One of the other things he said during the campaign to veterans' groups and others was that help is on the way, for the military. He criticized the Clinton administration's handling of military readiness, and now that he's saying he's not going to propose any more spending than President Clinton has proposed, there are those on Capitol Hill and some in the Pentagon talking to reporters who feel misled. Are they wrong?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President said help is on the way, and help is on the way. And the help will be delivered in the manner exactly as the President said during the campaign. There will be a pay raise above and beyond the pay raise that was provided in the previous administration. That's additional spending beyond what President Clinton proposed for the military. There will be improvements in housing, as well, pending the review that is underway, per the President's direction to the Secretary of Defense, additional help will be on the way.
And that's exactly what the President laid out in the campaign. And we're very pleased with the reaction to it. And I think what you're seeing here is a President who not only does what he promised to do during the campaign, but he's going to make big picture, big spending decisions in a careful, thoughtful way, and Secretary Rumsfeld is leading that effort to help.
Q:Are you pleased with the reaction of members, hawkish member of Congress and members and people in the Pentagon who want more money now? And they say that if they don't get it now, the military will not be ready, as the President promised it would be?
MR. FLEISCHER: And let me remind you that an appropriation bill was recently signed into law, just a couple months ago. And one of the items that the President wants to bring to Washington is fiscal discipline. And that is another reason why he has talked about no supplemental immediately.
Q:Well, what would you say to those members, and others in the defense community, who feel that there was perhaps a wink and a nod from a Republican about to take office that would take care of the military's immediate needs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that many of them paid very close attention to the speech he gave at the Citadel, where he announced in September of 1999 that this is exactly what he would do. And he's doing it. And I think the Pentagon will be very pleased to have a Commander-in-Chief who does exactly as he says.
Q:Some of them apparently weren't paying attention.
Q:But, Ari, what if circumstances are different? What if the Pentagon now is finding itself $5 billion to $7 billion short, and if it doesn't get that money now, it's saying it has to cut flying hours or training exercises. So what if it makes a compelling case to the White House that it needs this money, or it's going to have to take steps A, B and C? What would you say?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has discussed this with the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of Defense of course has discussed this with his top commanders, and there's no disagreement.
Q:No disagreement in the sense that the commanders say they don't need this money?
MR. FLEISCHER: The commanders understand the President's position. He's made it clear. He has said no immediate supplemental.
Q:How long -- just one second, I'm sorry -- how long -- an assessment of this review before any additional funds could be directed to the Pentagon?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll inform you as events warrant.
Q:Ari, The Washington Times quotes Maryland's Senator Paul Sarbanes on Tuesday, when he told a reception for businesswomen at the Capitol, and he tells Senator Mikulski, "You're the first woman elected to the Senate in your own right, in other words, not on the body of your dead husband." And my question is, does the President, as a gentleman who is always gracious to ladies, believe Senator Carnahan deserves an apology from Senator Sarbanes, or not? MR. FLEISCHER: That is the first I've heard of such a statement and I don't think --
Q:It was quoted yesterday in The Washington Times.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't see the President getting involved.
Q:But you're a gentleman, Ari, surely, you believe the Senator should apologize. (Laughter.) Don't you believe he should apologize? Really, Ari? You're a gentleman.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if the President won't get involved, I certainly won't. Jim Angle.
Q:Actually, that was my question. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Friday in the press room. (Laughter.)
Q:I'm only kidding.
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to Mr. Kinsolving.
Q:The President said he's ordering this review, as I believe you've indicated, we expect the review to be completed by summer, sometime?
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q:What that suggests is the President is perfectly willing to spend the money and talked about it during the campaign, but wants the review first, that would suggest that after the review is complete, then you would be looking more seriously at a supplemental.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me remind you of the words the President used when he announced this in September of '99. He talked about how he was going to direct the Pentagon to conduct a force structure review, and he said, following that statement, that this will likely require more money, but we will spend it and approach this manner in a wise way.
So the President does understand that there are needs and he looks forward to addressing them. But we will do so in a wise and careful, thought out way, which is why Secretary Rumsfeld is conducting the review.
Q:Is there any sense of whether or not once that review has been conducted, whether you would want to move quickly on that, wait until the following February to put it in the next budget, or simply ask Congress, who will probably still be working on a military budget by then, to add it in?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, I'm not going to prejudge that event. That will depend on what the review finds, what its recommendations are and what the Secretary of Defense recommends.
Q:But would you expected the President to act quickly --
MR. FLEISCHER: I won't prejudge. Let's just -- we'll wait for the review.
Q:On the same subject, Ari, can you confirm that Andrew Marshall* has been tasked to look at the military report back within a week? And how does that fit in the broader scheme on the review? Why do you have this very preliminary report back and then the longer review?
MR. FLEISCHER: There are a number of people who are involved in the review at Secretary Rumsfeld's direction, and I think the Pentagon can explain to you the procedures they're going to use for their review. That's internal to the Department of Defense.
Q:On police profiling real quick, President Bush today said that he wants to study this issue. Is he aware that former President Clinton had a study on this same exact issue, but he never completed the report? Will he go back to the prior administration and try to go through their findings on this at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: Certainly, if there was anything that was done by the prior administration that can help solve the problem, we're going to take a good, hard look at it. This is not an issue that should know any partisanship, and it shouldn't matter. If good work was done, if good research was done, if there's a way to bring people together to find an answer to something that is vexing a large number of Americans, it doesn't matter what the source is; the President's going to have an open mind and want to look at it.
Q:Do you know whether it requires legislation or an executive order? There was a lot of talk in the campaign between Senator Bradley and Mr. Gore, at least, about the fact that he could have simply marched down the hall and told President Clinton to sign an executive order. Have you done a study to see what kind of action would be required to take any sort of --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that, as is typical with any decision, there are a number of tools that are available, and I'm not going to prejudge what those tools could be, and that's one of the reasons we're going to take a look at this issue inside the administration.
Q:Now that Secretary Colin Powell is going to the Middle East, does President have any plans to go at some point, and does he intend to meet with Prime Minister Sharon who actually comes here next month?
MR. FLEISCHER: Any questions about that will be announced as we formulate trips. And so we'll have additional information at later times throughout the year, as well as any scheduling meetings, too. Nothing to report today.
Q:How does the President define the Secretary's charge on this trip?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Powell addressed that today and his reasons for why he's going.
Q:In the Rose Garden, the President said that the federal government is now taking 21 percent of GDP, up from 18 percent over 16 years. CBO says it's 18.2 percent. Do you have any idea why there is such a large disparity between those numbers?
MR. FLEISCHER: I wish you had told me, I had my book right there on my desk. I'll take a look at the numbers and see, but I think the figure is what the President indicated. There are different ways of measuring the -- what taxes you're considering, for example. Are you measuring income taxes, are you measuring all taxes, are you measuring state, local and federal taxes. Any time you're talking about budget numbers and statistics, there are many different ways to measure.
The measure the President thinks is relevant is what percentage of taxes are people paying.
Q:He said federal shares.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to look at his words.
Q:Ari, on this question of military spending and budget again. Under Goldwater/Nickles, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs is the President's primary military advisor. And, yet, we're getting reports that Secretary Rumsfeld has told the Joint Chiefs, in effect, don't end-run me. Is the President going to be receptive to the Chairman coming to him and talking about his own particular needs, even in parallel to the Secretary of Defense?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President hosted a meeting just this weeks with the CINCS and people spoke around the table, and the President is going to listen to a number of people, part of his national security team. And, of course, Secretary Rumsfeld is Secretary of Defense.
Q:Any update on the Robert Pickett letter? Has the President read that letter?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the agents involved. I haven't talked to the President about it.
Q:Did you get a copy and you're aware that you have a copy of the letter?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't looked for it.
Q:How quickly you move on this request from Governor Davis for environmental protection?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration is very well aware of the need to move promptly to help California. The letter is under review as we speak. A number of Cabinet Secretaries are reviewing it and reviewing their options with it. As soon as we have something to report, we will. But we are aware of the sensitivities and the need to move. We're pleased to help California any way we can, and as soon as we have something to report, we will.
Q:Can I follow on that? What is your understanding of what Davis is asking for in that letter?
MR. FLEISCHER: An expediting of permitting, which covers a number of agencies, and covers a number of issues. It involves construction in some instances; it involves existing plants and the amount of energy there and able to produce under the law; it deals with credits, pollution credits as they're known as; it deals with back-up generators being brought on to line.
The letter was broad; it encompassed many different options to help California through its energy problems.
Q:Would it, among other things, lift or loosen environmental restrictions?
MR. FLEISCHER: The request from Governor Davis did involve a request to lift, or relax environmental restrictions.
Q:Does it indicate temporarily, until the crisis is done or is there --
MR. FLEISCHER: The letter --
Q:The letter doesn't mention environmental, or is that inherent in the request to speed up the --
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, it's by definition.
I don't believe the letter had a duration attached to it. It asked for the administration's assistance in expediting permitting by all appropriate federal agencies -- it said during this emergency was the terms of the letter.
Q:It's not going to happen today? Can you tell us that?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's not likely to happen today.
Q:Can you explain that? The letter asks for expediting certain licensing procedures. Why is that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Expediting permanent.
Q:-- why is that a loosening of environmental restrictions?
MR. FLEISCHER: By definition, it is. The way the system works in terms of energy production under the Clean Air Act, is you're entitled to pollution credits. And you can run extra generating capacity at certain times of the year, and then you drop your capacity if you have sufficient credits to do so.
Very often -- in this case, in California -- they are running out of credits, and they're asking for a relaxation of the crediting procedures so they can continue to run energy, produce energy. It's by definition how it works under the Clean Air Act.
Q:Ari, the wire services report that more than 250 people in Oklahoma applied to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to watch the May 16th Timothy McVeigh execution, which the Bureau is considering televising by closed circuit. My question is, since the President believes in capital punishment as a deterrent, why should its deterrence be limited to closed circuit rather than network television late at night?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a matter for the Bureau of Prisons to resolve.
Q:But, I mean, what does the President believe? They would certainly follow the President's belief. Doesn't he believe that deterrence should be widespread, or does he believe it should be hidden?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does believe in deterrence, and he also --
Q:Okay, then, he wouldn't mind it being on national television as long as it's late?
MR. FLEISCHER: And he also believes that there are decisions to be made by the relevant agencies -- in this case, that decision is the Bureau of Prisons'.
Q:The phone calls the President's made this week to Sharon and Arafat, did you say that this is the most personal involvement the President has had thus far in the question of Middle East peace?
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of phone contact with those foreign leaders, this was his first opportunity since the election to talk to those two leaders. In terms of the President and what he is doing inside the White House, I would not share that. The President is actively involved and engaged in foreign policy, in the Middle East.
Q:In what ways on Middle East peace until now? I mean, it was -- we had the impression before that everything was sort of up in the air awaiting the outcome of the election because there wasn't much you could do.
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of waiting for Prime Minister-elect Sharon to form his government, that is, of course, correct. But in terms of -- you said the President's activities and the President's involvement -- I remind you that each day, the President begins with an overnight intelligence briefing and with foreign policy briefings, foreign policy updates, and that's part of our ongoing foreign policy.
Q:One more question on the subject of single moms. There was a woman here named Deborah something-or-other who was from Arlington Heights, Illinois, who introduced the President the other day, and she said that she would get $1,000 back. Do you or anybody in your office know what she earned?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, if you have two children you would stand to get back $1,000, and that's because the President's proposal doubles the child credit from $500 to $1,000.
Q:As long as she's paying at least $1,000 tax.
MR. FLEISCHER: Precisely.
Q:More on taxes, actually. Ari, what's your reaction, a couple of moderate Republicans have expressed some concerns thinking the $1.6 trillion package is too large. Senator Jeffords of the Finance Committee said he wouldn't support it. Senator Olympia Snow said, unless there are safeguards in it, she couldn't support it. I think Senator Chafee also said it's too large. What's your concern about that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think it matters what party somebody belongs to. The President has set that level of tax cut because he thinks it's the right tax cut level to set. And, of course, as a conservative Democrat from Georgia who has said the President's level is the right level and he supports it.
So I think what you're going to see is us work very hard with members on the Hill to get that tax cut enacted into law by building coalitions who will support it, vote for it and let it pass.
Q:But, obviously, as you know, with a sharply divided Senate, I mean, if three moderate Republicans already sort of speaking out, does that affect your confidence going into the debate?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the President still is very confident that when the time comes to vote, the votes will be there.
Q:Ari, can we come back to profiling? And I'd like to phrase this question the same way it got phrased to both President Clinton and Al Gore during the campaign. If the President is troubled by the practice, why doesn't he just take some action within his purview to do away with it in some fashion?
I understand he wants to hear what the law enforcement folks have to say and gather some facts, but isn't this an issue of moral leadership? If he's opposed to it, he thinks it's wrong, shouldn't he act, as opposed to just finding out how widespread it is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the answer, frankly, lies within your question. As you said, this is an issue that troubled former President Clinton, that troubled former Vice President Gore. And it is an issue that is difficult to wrestle with, and the President is determined to do his best to address this issue.
It involves local jurisdictions, local authorities. It's not as if there is one federal police force that the President can wave a magic wand and make a very, very difficult problem go away. It involves a lot of local jurisdictions that the United States government does not have direct control over.
So it is an issue that if it can be so easily done, I suggest it would have been done a long time ago.
Q:I'm not suggesting that he could wave a magic wand and do away with it universally. What I'm asking, though, is if he finds it offensive for someone to be pulled over because he fits a racial profile, there are police forces within his jurisdiction the he could take action on.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sure, and as you heard the President today speak about the topic, it is a source of concern and he wants to find a solution for it. And our administration is three weeks old.
Q:Ari, do you have any reaction to the AP report that Governor Cellucci, from Massachusetts, will be the next ambassador to Canada?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I saw that report but, as usual, we're not going to comment or confirm, deny, speculate about personnel.
Q:Is there any timetable for an ambassador to Canada, given that you've got the Quebec trip coming up in April?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to entertain about timetables. We'll have personnel announcements as they're made.
Q:Governing officials in Yugoslavia have indicated that they may put Slobodan Milosevic on trial in a domestic, national court. Would this administration feel that is sufficient treatment under law, of Mr. Milosevic, and would that relieve Yugoslavia of its obligations to turn him over to the Hague?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you don't mind on that, take that up with Mary Ellen.
Q:You said during the transition that the Deputy Director of OMB would have a special role with regard to technology. You named that official this week. Can you explain, would that role be just government wide, or the broader issue of technology in the economy, or what will he do? What will his job be with regard to technology?
MR. FLEISCHER: If you don't mind on that, let me take that question and get back on technology.
Q:Ari, The Wall Street Journal reports that at the Morgan Stanley Dean Witter convention in Florida, which former President Clinton addressed, there were shareholders that held up signs, "leave the silverware," "does Dean Witter need a pardon," and a man with a megaphone who shouted, "sexual predator alert, Bill Clinton in the neighborhood." My question is, did this disappoint the President, or does it illustrate what he repeatedly promised about restoring honesty and decency to the Oval Office?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, as I think you know, the President is looking forward and not backwards, and not focusing on those type of events.
Let me give you a read on the week ahead. It's going to be a busy week next week, with considerable travel. We will have a schedule out for you shortly. We will have our departure at approximately 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning from the South Lawn for Savannah, Georgia, Hunter Army Air Field. Following that, the President will arrive into Fort Stewart, Georgia, in late morning, to review the troops and make remarks and tour barracks at Fort Stewart and have lunch with the troops. His focus of that day is going to be on the men and women of the military, improving the morale of the military, a real focus on the people who serve in our nation's Armed Forces.
On Tuesday, departure approximately 9:00 a.m., by the President, arriving into Norfolk Naval Air Station, where he will participate in a video teleconferencing battle exercise, and make remarks. His focus that day will be on transforming the military for the next generation. He will be joined at that event by our NATO allies.
On Wednesday, the President will also depart a little bit before 9:00 a.m. from the White House for Charleston, West Virginia, Yeager Field. The President will participate in a round table discussion with reservists and guardsmen, and participate in a disaster relief simulation at the West Virginia emergency operations center in Charleston. The focus that day will be on our citizen soldiers, our reservists who serve our nation.
On Thursday, the President will travel to the State Department for some remarks, talking about diplomacy, the importance of our alliances. And on Friday, the President will, of course, travel to Mexico for his meeting with President Vincente Fox.
We will overnight in Waco on Friday night. The President will be at his ranch in Crawford for the weekend. And we will spend that weekend there, and then on Monday morning, the 19th, travel from Crawford to Oklahoma City, where the President will participate and speak at the opening of the Oklahoma City Memorial Center, in memory of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing.
And then I believe we come back to Washington that evening. So that's the highlights of the schedule with a glance at the next day.
Q:Ari, a backgrounder on the Mexico trip -- do you plan a backgrounder on the Mexico trip?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: Yes, we plan one and we'll get --
Q:It would help if we knew what day so we'd know when to be --
MS. COUNTRYMAN: Well, I think the only day we can do it is Thursday, right, because we're out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday. Thursday morning.
MR. FLEISCHER: We will be getting back to Washington typically in mid-afternoon-ish on the three travel days.
Q:Ari, you said yesterday that the need for reform in Social Security was based not on the shortfall of revenues, but on the long-term sustainability program. Does the same apply to Medicare as an explanation for why you don't just use the surplus to solve that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the President thinks they both need --
Q:What's the difference between sustainability and shortfall in revenue?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's how you achieve sustainability. You can achieve sustainability in a variety of ways, and that's why reforms are necessary, in the President's opinion.
Q:A question on --
Q:Could I just come back to that for a second? In these three trips the President is asking for a review of these very -- these issues.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's right.
Q:Why does he then want to go out and speak about it and visit the bases? Why doesn't he --
MR. FLEISCHER: To underscore the importance of the reviews that he has directed the Department of Defense to undertake.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:48 P.M. EST
Ari Fleischer, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/271510