Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:53 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm smiling because there's been some mischief placed on the podium. A Ravens fan has left some information up on the podium. I want to thank this Raven fan for it, as a New Yorker. Sorry about what's going to happen.
Q: Is that an official White House statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: That was as a New Yorker statement. Let me get into a couple items with you this morning. I've got a couple of announcements to make. I'm sorry I'm running late. The President was actually reading me a very funny speech he's working on.
Q: Where? When? Tomorrow night? Can we have a copy after he delivers it?
Q: What was it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Alfalfa.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me read you some statements this morning. This is a statement by the President on the earthquake in India.
"I am saddened by the news of the tragic earthquake centered in India's Gujarat State this morning. I extend my condolences and those of the American people to the families of the many victims in the cities and villages of Gujarat and elsewhere. Earthquakes know no political boundaries. I send condolences to the people affected in neighboring Pakistan as well. We stand ready to assist as needed and as desired by the governments."
I also have a statement from the Press Secretary on an upcoming visit to Washington.
"President Bush will welcome Prime Minister Tony Blair to Washington for a working visit February 23rd to 24th. The United States and the United Kingdom share a broad agenda of common interests and values in Europe and beyond, and the President looks forward to reviewing ways in which we can intensify cooperation and pursuit of common goals. The President and Mrs. Bush look forward to hosting the Prime Minister and Mrs. Blair at Camp David."
Q: Is that a State Visit or an official visit?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an official visit; working visit.
Q: Will there be a joint press conference?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll have any details on that a little bit later, closer to it.
Q: And is he here on Friday and go to Camp David on Saturday; is that the deal?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: The majority of the events will be at Camp David.
Q: The majority of the events.
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me -- as I indicated earlier, I wanted to give you a brief overview of -- we'll do this at the end, I'll give you an overview of next week at the end. So let's take some questions, then I'll come back to this.
Q: What about the number of Democrats that he's met with this week? Are you going to get that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has met this week with 90 members of Congress, including 29 Democrats. He's had 12 confirmations in the United States Senate. He has spoken by the phone with 12 foreign leaders. And he has 17 Governors in town today, 10 Republicans, seven Democrats.
Q: Who wrote the funny speech?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me get back to you on that one, Helen.
Q: Did you write it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll see if he wants publicity. Q: Ari, after a week of courting Democrats, both prior elder statesman and present members of Congress and governors, does he think that the so-called "charm offensive" is going to ameliorate concerns over vouchers and the size of his tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the President's approach to how to get things done in Washington is to begin with the power of ideas. He thinks that the reason you get legislation enacted and passed through the Congress is because you offered a good idea. And he looks at his education proposal and he thinks that's what's attracting support, because he's offered a sound proposal. I think it certainly is helpful to have good relations. It beats the alternative, which is bad relations, with the Congress, with Democrats and Republicans. But it does -- it begins with ideas.
Q: Does his willingness to listen and to hear differing views signal a willingness to compromise on vouchers or with the scope of the tax cut?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not prepared to start discussing anything of that nature. We have just introduced these -- the education package this week, sent it up to the Hill. The Hill, of course, will begin in short order to have its hearings on the legislation, and they'll let the process begin.
Q: He says he doesn't want to negotiate with himself. You've had a number of people who have been here to meet with him, including George Miller, who has praised him in many respects, but said he made clear that vouchers were going nowhere, that he would lose Democratic support. Does he consider that part of the negotiating process?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the process is just beginning, Jim. The President, as I indicated, sent the bill up to the Hill this week. People are going to take a look at it. There are going to be various provisions in there where people wholeheartedly support, others that they may oppose, others that they're going to ask to amend. And we're very encouraged by everything we have seen so far, and we have good reason to keep being encouraged. Q: Do you think what you've seen so far is just the cordiality that comes with a honeymoon, or is there something more substantive and business-like in what you're hearing from members of Congress, especially Democrats?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, honeymoons don't spring out of no where. Honeymoons also spring out of good ideas and good policies. And there would be no good reception if it wasn't for the fact that the President hasn't proposed good ideas. And that's what we're seeing. And it's spreading. It's not just education. We see it now on tax cuts, where we now have -- are starting to build bipartisan support for the areas the President believes in. I think you see President Bush setting the agenda in Washington on the ideas on which he ran, delivering on the promises he made. And you're seeing a lot of that this week.
Q: Ari, what's he learning about how the political landscape in Washington is a little bit different than that in Texas, where he was very successful in charming even his adversaries?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too early to make any assessments, frankly. This has been one week, and I think it has been a strong week. It has been a week marked by some strong decision making that is being reflected now in the progress we've made this week.
But the real tests are going to come also down the road. We're aware of that. This is week one; there are many weeks to go, many months to go. And we have to let the Congress, with all respect for the Congress, take up the legislation and move it forward as they see fit and work with the Congress at that time. It's a little early. But it's an encouraging beginning.
Q: The Russian President today made a speech saying, in part, one of his toughest goals this year will be the talk about the ABM Treaty with the -- negotiate with the United States which wants the NMD. Does the United States plan to review relations with the Russians before moving forward on that and going anywhere towards talking about more arms control and other --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me refer you to State and to Mary Ellen on that, for now.
Q: Ari, the President is not taking questions on foreign policy. Can we expect more from him soon? Perhaps a major interview on foreign policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, his focus this week was on education. I'll get into this at the end of the briefing, what his focus next week is going to be on.
But in many of these sessions, people have asked whatever question was on their mind. And so you've had several opportunities to ask him a number of questions. The events he is focused on are, as I indicated, education this week.
Q: Can we go back to what the President has been doing this first week? We talked a little bit about this earlier. In addition to the public meetings, what kinds of things has he been doing? How has he been settling into the new house?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was just talking to him about that. He's settling in very nicely. He expressed his appreciation for the staff of the White House. He told me how just professional and courteous they are. I think he's enjoying White House life. He walks his dogs in the evening. He's been running almost every day, and he's establishing a routine. He's up, usually, at about 5:45 a.m. He gets into the Oval Office typically between 7:00 a.m. in the morning and 7:15 a.m. in the morning.
So his routine is established and I think he's enjoying White House life.
Q: Is he using any of the amenities that -- you know, the theater or the bowling alley?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not yet. He's been a little busy.
Q: What time does he head home?
Q: Does he run outside, or --
Q: Where does he run?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's running inside. He's got exercise equipment and he's been working out with the exercise equipment. He'll probably start running outside at some point, but right now he has been running inside.
Q: Ari, would the administration rule in or rule out giving California exemptions so that plants that have already used their emission credits could stay in operation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, the only way that can happen -- oh, are you talking about California making a request to relax its --
Q: Right. Would you rule in or rule out giving California an exemption on the emission credit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Our goal is to be helpful to California in whatever ways we can be helpful to California, and such a request would first have to come from the State of California.
Q: So if the state wanted to relax rules so they could get new plants built, would the administration be willing to help on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. I think it all depends on what the specifics of the proposal are, and they would have to make such a proposal first. But we would like to be helpful to California whichever ways we can.
Q: Isn't this a California problem and that they should take care of it themselves?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the bulk of the solution, as the Californians know and they have been working diligently on, will come from California, but there may be some other things the federal government can do, and that's what I was addressing.
Q: So this isn't a change in tone or policy?
Q: Ari, how dismayed is the President about the vandalism, and what does he want you to do with the cataloging once it's completed?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, I think we really dealt with that question. His focus is on governing. He's not focused on any of the things that took place as we arrived here. The cataloging that I mentioned, frankly, that's one person in their administrative offices who is really just keeping track in his head about things that may have taken place. So we've moved beyond it.
Q: But, Ari, this is a President who has come in here, expressed from the very beginning how honored he is to be here, how he wants to restore honor and dignity to this office. Doesn't he consider it a personal affront that taxpayer money must go to replace the vandalized property here?
MR. FLEISCHER: He does not consider it a personal affront.
Q: Ari, could you clarify just a little bit the schedule for the budget? Is it early February, mid-February, late-February?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're leaving some flexibility in that to allow our policy people to have sufficient time to put it all together. It's a little bit of a different process any time you have a new president in office.
In 1981, 1989 and 1993, the dates of those incoming administrations sent their budgets up to the Hill, their economic blueprints up to the Hill, where right around, in one instance I think it was February 8th and then February 17th and February 18th, those were the dates, approximate dates, in all those instances, those previous presidents -- Reagan, Bush and Clinton -- had the advantage of a full transition.
So we are working from a shortened transition, although I think as this week's events indicate, we're able to still do a considerable amount of work with a shortened transition. It's a long way of saying that date will be sometime in February, it could be late February but I'm not willing to put a specific time on it.
Q: Ari, on the Ashcroft nomination, does the President still have full confidence in his nomination of Mr. Ashcroft, given the suggestion that he may have lied?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President does not share that view. I have not heard that allegation. But the President has full confidence in Senator Ashcroft, thinks he'll make a superb attorney general, and he looks forward to his confirmation.
Q: Ari, yesterday, the Republican National Committee sent out this seven-page statement on Ambassador Hormel, including The New York Post editorial saying he's the worst kind of religious bigot and -- anti-Catholic. The Weekly Standard's report that Hormel gay and lesbian center in San Francisco's library includes a children's coloring book of female genitalia entitled the C word or obscenity, and The Washington Times report that it also has pro-pedophile tracks, and my question is, why isn't the President immediately removing this man from being ambassador to 91 percent Catholic Luxembourg, even though I am reliably informed Mr. Hormel is defended by, believe it or not, Josh Gerstein of ABC? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: As always, in the course of any new administration, all the ambassadors have been asked to submit their resignations that will be coming in turn, and all the ambassadors are asked to do so. There may be some instances -- and I'm not saying anything on this particular case -- where they stay over for an indeterminate short period of time. I'm not saying that's the case in this instance, but that's a separate question from anything dealing with Senator Ashcroft.
Q: One final --
Q: -- Lester, now you've had your time.
Q: Just to close the loop on the lifestyle, what time has he been leaving the Oval Office this week and going home?
MR. FLEISCHER: It varies. Sometimes he's had meetings in the mansion, which would continue his business day. But it's been fluctuating. Probably somewhere in the 6:00 p.m.-ish range, maybe a little bit later. And then, as I indicated, there are meetings going on in the mansion afterwards. He's had a couple there along with Trent Lott; one with Speaker Hastert.
Q: Ari, why is it a laughing matter to some to talk about President Clinton's possible involvement in foreign affairs? There are headlines out there.
MR. FLEISCHER: A laughing matter?
Q: To some. Why is it not on the agenda, what role President Clinton could play in the Middle East or --
MR. FLEISCHER: No one here has indicated it's a laughing matter, so I think you would have to refer that to anybody who has said it.
Q: Is there talk about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: We addressed that yesterday.
Q: Congressman Mark Kirk, Republican of Illinois, just told us outside at the stakeout that one of the subjects that came up at the lunch was the fast track authority. The President is very interested. He says he will be meeting with Mr. Fox in Mexico next month, but in Quebec with all the Latin American leaders in April. Does he intend to bring the subject up between now and then? I mean, try to get some support in Congress for it?
MR. FLEISCHER: The exact timing of fast track and when the President will ask the Congress to give him fast track negotiating authority has not yet been determined, but it is a priority. Opening up free trade is vital to America's agricultural interests, it's in our national interests, and the President is dedicated to it.
Q: Ari, are there -- just a follow-up, please, on the vandalism. Could you at some point get us a figure, because people are using wild figures -- $90,000 -- just give us some general ballpark idea?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're not. We're just going to focus on doing our jobs here. Any of the things that took place upon our arrival here are not in our focus. And I understand it is in the focus of some others, but it's not in ours. And we're just going to put our heads down and do our jobs and go to work. It's in the past.
Q: But Ari, the President says this is the people's house. I mean, don't you folks owe a duty to the people to tell them what's been done to their house?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that whatever took place is passed, and our focus is going to be to just do the job that the American people elected President Bush to do. And I can understand -- sometimes in Washington people want others to fight, and this is part of changing the tone. We're just going to do our jobs.
Q: Ari, some Clinton folks that we've talked to said, wait a minute, there's sort of a double standard here. No one says from the Bush White House exactly what happened. There's this word cataloging, but there's no specifics ever given. And they're saying in many respects, they don't think these things ever happened in the first place. And we don't even know how to respond to allegations that are as amorphous as these are. And when you say cataloged, is this a catalogue that's going to be kept within the White House forever, or at some point are you going to tell the American people in some sort of way --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I said, it's one person in an administration who is just keeping track in his head of the different things that people have said took place to their desks or offices, and as far as we're concerned, it's over.
Q: Is there going to be an effort to confirm these things?
Q: Can we download the mental catalogue for the reporters to look at?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's just not our focus. Q: Ari, did the President specifically give instructions that no kinds of criminal charges or legal charges should be pursued with respect to any vandalism or mischief that might have taken place? MR. FLEISCHER: It is the White House's position, it is our focus, and obviously that's what we're doing.
Q: No. Did the President give instructions that there should be no pursuit of this in terms of legal or criminal charges of the vandalism or mischief, or whatever --
MR. FLEISCHER: My information comes from Andy Card. If Andy got it from the President, I'm not aware of it. That's our position.
Q: Can I ask you about the Blair visit, Ari? As you know, there is probably going to be a British election in May. Was there any concern at the White House that it might be impolitic to have Blair over so quickly?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. He is the Prime Minister of Great Britain and we're pleased to have him.
Q: And how would you characterize what you expect to be atop of the agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we'll have additional information on the agenda closer to it.
Q: To the best of your knowledge, do you know if any message has been sent or is being planned to be sent to Russia, like the one that you sent to Greenland, for instance?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to refer you to Mary Ellen on that.
Q: Ari, Super Bowl weekend. Have you found out anything about his plans? Is he going to Camp David? What are the plans?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just asked him about it, and I think he's going to have a quiet Super Bowl at home, with his wife.
Q: Is she a football fan?
MR. FLEISCHER: Dallas. So he's going to have a quiet time watching the Super Bowl at home.
Q: Who's he rooting for, other than Dallas, in this game? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Other than Dallas, the President will be cheering for Dallas.
Q: Does he intend to place a call after the Super Bowl?
MR. FLEISCHER: The traditional presidential call? I haven't asked.
Q: One other thing, Ari. You've described the President, how he's settled in. Has either he or Andy Card given out any particular instructions to the White House staff about their general comportment here at the White House -- when they're expected to be here and how they're expected to conduct themselves?
If you recall, there was a little bit of adjustment when the Clintons first came in here, about how they conducted themselves in this building.
MR. FLEISCHER: Andy has addressed that with staff. Andy's guidance to us is very basic: treat the White House with respect. And that means when you walk into the Oval Office, you should be properly attired. That if you're in your offices on the weekend, be properly attired. We'll see exactly what the dress code is as established by the President, when he decides to walk around, particularly on weekends.
But that's how we'll comport ourselves. There's no hard and fast rule, Major. It will be a general tone.
Q: On nominations, can I ask one quick thing on nominations? Have you talked further with Daschle's office about what he either said or intended to say? Are you still confident that he said that there would be no problem --
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me say on that point that it is not my practice, and will not be my practice, to characterize what others say in meetings. I speak for the President -- that's what I should have done and that's what I will do.
We had a question here for the week ahead --
Q: Are you saying you made a mistake, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm saying it was not -- it will be my practice in the future to only speak for the President and not for anybody else.
Q: Are there any further details on the President's trip to Mexico?
Q: Can you hold on just a second? Q: What would be on the agenda and the open borders issue, would that be included?
MR. FLEISCHER: The agenda will be -- we'll discuss the agenda closer to the trip.
Q: Anything put out?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not yet.
Q: So you're saying you don't want to quote others, other than the President. But was it the President's understanding that Daschle had given him some assurance?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me just say that based on a lot of information the President has received from a number of sources, he's confident that all his nominees will go through.
Q: And you would no longer put that in Daschle's mouth?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will not put anything in anybody else's mouth. Mr. Fournier?
Q: Ari, the flak jacket?
Q: Can I ask one more question before the week ahead, a quick one? Just a reaction. Do you have any reaction to Jeb Bush's letter to federal government officials asking that there not be any oil drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's consistent with the President's position during the campaign, about any drilling off of the shores of Florida.
Q: How do you feel about the first week, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's been a very strong first week. I think we've seen a week in which the President has shown leadership, decisiveness. He's energized as a result of it, and a strong week.
Q: How about next week, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: Next week. (Laughter.) We have a request for next week. Let me give you an overview of next week. He's going to do his radio address tomorrow morning. The topic will be education.
He will give a speech tomorrow night to the Alfalfa Club Dinner, which is a closed press event. He will attend church -- yes, a standard pool will go -- he will attend church Sunday morning at a location to be announced.
On Monday and throughout the week, the President is going to focus next week on a variety of items. He will send his prescription drug plan up to the Hill, the immediate helping hand plan. I'm going to be a little flexible on the days, it will be early next week.
He will have a series of meetings with faith-based providers, people who have found innovative and new solutions to some of the most difficult social problems that people face in their lives; people who have problem with alcoholism, drug abuse; families that have parents or fathers in prison; children who were raised in homes with no fathers. A variety of programs will be announced next week, all aimed at solving some of our most intractable social problems, focused on faith-based solutions. He's going to meet with a wide series of congressional leaders next week of both parties, so you can anticipate many meetings here at the White House. He will submit to the Hill his faith-based programs, his solutions to those social problems I mentioned. He will have the first Cabinet meeting of the administration next week.
On Thursday, he will attend the National Prayer Breakfast. And he will also, finally, announce the new freedom initiative next week, which is an initiative aimed at helping people who are disabled have strong and secure lives.
Q: Is that something he did in the campaign?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. That's a follow on to an announcement he made in May -- I mean, I believe it was either May or early June, in Maine, in the campaign.
Q: On Sunday, he'll be making any comments on his faith-based initiatives when he goes to church on Sunday, or is he just going like to attend church?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. It will be a visit to church.
Q: Can we request that your staff have a little bit of information on the church Sunday, why you picked it, had he talked to a Minister, will it be the church he's going to all the time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let's take that and try to help.
Q: Can you give us more specifics on Monday's -- to look ahead on Sunday?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to try to come out with that a little bit later.
Q:Ari, do you know later today, or --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not clear yet.
Q:Will you have a duty officer this weekend?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q:Do you know what day the Cabinet meeting is?
MR. FLEISCHER: Cabinet meeting is scheduled for Wednesday.
Q:That's the day he's going to submit the faith-based legislation as well, on Wednesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: Faith-based will be early next week. I'm going to withhold on the exact date, but it will be early next week.
Q:Does he expect to have a Cabinet by Wednesday?
MR. FLEISCHER: As many are confirmed will be in attendance.
Q:In both cases, with prescription drugs and faith-based, will this be legislative language, or again more broad proposals and outlines for --
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it will be specific proposals. It will not be legislative bill language. It will not be legislative bill language.
Q:Ari, the President's statement, and I quote, "the promises of our Declaration of Independence are for everyone, including unborn children" -- presuming you agree with this, and as a graduate of Middlebury College you understand it as being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.
Q:Can you explain, Ari, how a fetus has either liberty and how it goes about pursuing happiness?
MR. FLEISCHER: Go ahead.
Q:Ari, who is the administration's point person for the disability initiative? Is there a disability coordinator in the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: In terms of policy, it's a variety of people who are working on the policy front of it.
Q:The previous White House had a disability task force, as well as a disability coordinator in charge of outreach. Do you guys have anything like that here?
MR. FLEISCHER: If there is anything developing, I'll let you know.
Q:Ari, does he intend to go to the Republican House retreat at the end of next week, and --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have more information on retreat participation probably next week.
Q:And one other scheduling thing, is he doing any kind of television interviews around the Super Bowl?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is. He will be doing an interview with Jim Nance.
Q:Ari, did the President actually have a telephone conversation with Prime Minister Blair to finalize this visit?
MS. COUNTRYMAN: He spoke with Prime Minister Blair earlier in the week.
Q:Is that just the one chat they've had since he was inaugurated?
MR. FLEISCHER: Right.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
END 2:19 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/271487