Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:50 A.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good morning. I want to fill you in on the President's day. After a very late night in the residence last night, the President this morning has been making a series of phone calls to talk to candidates from last night's election. He has spoken to Senator-elect Pryor. He looks forward to talking to other Democrats, as well. He has made additional calls to Republican candidates. He spoke to some 30 or so candidates last night. And that's how the President will spend his day. He has no public events on his schedule for the day. And I'm happy to take your questions.
Q: In the early going of this administration, there was a lot of talk of bipartisanship and wanting to work with Democrats when you held control of the Senate. But at the same time, the administration was pushing through a partisan agenda to the point that Senator Jim Jeffords, as you know, defected. We're hearing the same talk about bipartisanship now, but why should we believe that it will be any different than it was in the early going?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the only real valid way to measure partisanship -- bipartisanship is in the votes. And if you take a look at the key issues that the President presented to the Congress, they were met with large bipartisan votes. The centerpiece of the President's economic polices, of course, were a tax cut that was supported by 12 Democratic senators, a large bipartisan showing. The education initiative that the President put forward that was passed into law was passed with overwhelming bipartisan votes. And so, too, the trade promotion authority the President has.
So I think when you take a look at these issues, you see a real history of bipartisanship. The members of the Congress are within their rights to speak out as they see fit, to vote as they see fit. In the political process, there is room for people who feel very deeply about something to be opposed to the President if that's what they choose. And the President respects that, understands that. But, at the end of the day, people were sent here to work together and get something done, and that's what the President views is the lesson from last night. The lesson from last night is for people to work together across the partisan aisle to get things done for the country.
Q: Did you also learn a lesson with Jeffords' defection in 2001 that there's a limit to what you can push and to how fast you can push it and the way in which you push it?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there were a whole variety of circumstances that entered into that. And I think that many of them were unique. The President is going to continue to press for his agenda. He thinks it is worthy and deserving of bipartisan support. And I think that was the message we heard last night from the country.
Q: Does the President consider this a mandate to fulfill his agenda? Going to war with Iraq, privatizing Social Security, weakening the Civil Service Commission and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, you sound like a commercial that didn't work. (Laughter.)
Q: So, didn't you?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, Helen. Number one, the President has not made any decisions about war with Iraq. As you know, the President has gone to the United Nations and asked the United Nations to help preserve the peace by passing a strong and effective resolution that will make Saddam Hussein disarm. But the President was heartened by last night's results. And the President believes it's a reflection of the strong candidates that we had running across the country, and that the results are really a testament to those individuals.
Q: So it's not a mandate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think issues of mandates are best left to the voters to judge. And you will have your ultimate test every time a vote comes up on the floor of the House and the Senate to judge whether or not the President's agenda will be able to move forward. He certainly hopes that it will. And he's going to work very hard to let it go forward.
If you take a look at some of the things that got stopped in the Congress, there's a lot of work that the American people want Democrats and Republicans to team up on that's not getting done. If you take a look at judges, for example, there are many cases where the judges that the President named has bipartisan support. They would have been passed on the floor of the Senate had they only been allowed to come to the Senate floor. Even in a Democrat-controlled Senate, there were enough Democrats to confirm the President's judges. But the process was used to keep them bottled up and killed in committee. I think those days may be over.
When you take a look at energy legislation -- to make America more energy independent -- when you take a look at protecting people's pensions, those are two of the important issues that did not get passed by the Congress that the President thinks are in the national interest that perhaps now have a better chance.
Q: So this is a verdict? I can't quite make out what you're saying. This is a verdict on the President's agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, certainly the candidates who ran, ran very strongly on the President's agenda. And they won on that agenda. I think it's impossible to make any prediction about whether or not the votes will ultimately be there. The votes will ultimately be there in the end. The President hopes and will work hard to do so.
But in the words of the President -- the President met with his senior staff this morning and, as the President looked at the results, these are the President's words, this is how he summed it up. He said, "The credit goes to the candidates and to those who focused on changing the tone, people who want to work together to get things done." That's what the President saw as the message from last night. He hopes that it's a mandate for Democrats and Republicans to work together to get issues passed and enacted into law. The President will work very hard himself to make that the case.
Q: Why are you having to read us the President's words? Why is he not coming out? Given this is such a big victory for Republicans and for him, why not come out and talk about his agenda to the American people?
MR. FLEISCHER: It is a big victory, Campbell. And the President thought that the most appropriate way to mark the day would be with a touch of graciousness. And so the President is not going to have any public statements today. He, of course, looks forward to talking about all the issues with the American people and will do so.
Campbell, did you have a follow up?
Q: Yes, I just wanted -- you don't have 60 -- you don't have enough seats in the Senate now to stop a filibuster.
MR. FLEISCHER: Correct.
Q: So what does this mean in terms of the priorities? You could talk a little bit about homeland security, the economy, what you mentioned this morning, and what you actually hope to get accomplished and how, given that the majority is so light.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has two major priorities for the future, and they involve the protection of the homeland, including our national security, and strengthening America's economy. Those are the two presidential priorities that he wants to work very closely with Democrats and Republicans alike to make happen.
And I think as the new year approaches, the President will have a lot more to share with the American people about any initiatives that may be on the horizon. The President looks forward to doing so, and he looks forward to working with the new Congress to get it done.
Q: Just to follow up on that, you said one of the two top priorities is strengthening the economy. Can you talk at all about the first action item on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there still is some unfinished business for the lame duck Congress to deal with when they come back and let me address that. The most important item of unfinished business for the Congress to deal with this year is the creation of the department of homeland security. America remains a nation at war, we remain a nation where there are enemies who are trying to attack us, and the President thinks that it remains a vital priority of the Congress this year to pass the department of homeland security.
The President still thinks it would be very constructive for the Congress in this lame duck session to create jobs. There is legislation pending in the Congress, particularly to help blue collar construction workers, that creates an estimated 300,000 jobs as a result of passage of terrorism insurance legislation.
So those are some of the issues that are immediately pending. And, as I indicated, typically, as the new term begins in January, there are additional announcements. There is the State of the Union, of course. The President looks forward to discussing these various issues and initiatives with the American people.
Q: You quoted the President earlier saying the lesson of this election is changing the tone works. Some of these races were some of the most bitter, vicious races in modern history -- expensive, brutal races. Where was the tone changed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think if you take a look -- for example, at Senator Coleman. Anybody who watched that debate saw Senator -- Senator-elect Coleman say repeatedly how important it is to change the tone. And I think what Democrats and Republicans and independents and people who just plain don't care about politics want from Washington is leaders who come to Washington to get something done. There are enough people who can either stay at home or come to Washington to stop things from getting done. But what makes a difference in America is people who come together to get things done. And that's the part of Washington that the President would like to expand. That's where the President sees room for a consensus, for agreement.
He's going to fight for his ideas and fight for his principles because he believes very strongly in them. He's going to continue to show leadership on his ideas about how to strengthen the economy and how to protect the homeland. And in the process, just like on education, and just like on trade promotion authority, of course, there are going to be people who legitimately and on principle oppose him. But he's going to work real hard to have more votes than the people who oppose him, and put together those bipartisan coalitions.
Q: What steps might be necessary to stimulate the economy? And are you contemplating a shake-up of the economic team here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me deal with the question of the economic team. The President knows that he has a very strong team. And he knows that he gets very good advice from each and every member of his economic team.
If you take a look at what's happened with the economy, for example, is when the President came into the office, the economy -- as we know now -- was in recession in January of 2001. And the recession lasted until the fall of 2001. And, of course, the economy suffered the blow of the terrorist attacks on September 11th.
Since then, the economy has come back. It has not come back as strong as the President would like. But if you look at the economic data, growth for the first quarter of 2002 is about 5 percent. It was approximately 1 percent in the second quarter, and 3 percent in the third quarter. That's an average growth rate of 3 percent for 2002. The economy is indeed coming back. The fundamentals are strong, inflation is low, interest rates are low, productivity is high. So the President praises his economic team, has confidence in his economic team, and knows he gets good advice from them.
Q: So there's no need for a shakeup then?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can only answer to you how the President views his team. You know the White House has a longstanding policy about any personnel issues anywhere about not speculating, and I'm not going to.
Q: What about ways to stimulate the economy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President is always reviewing different ways to possibly create more growth. The President's immediate focus right now is on the possibility of creating those 300,000 jobs. That remains still, even after the election, the quickest, most effective way to create jobs in the American economy through government action. And beyond that, anything else would come from the President at the appropriate time if he has anything to say.
Q: Ari, a week ago I think you said that the election was really going to turn on local issues. And then you said that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Elizabeth, you left out all the other factors that I cited in that same sentence. You're truncating my quote.
Q: Can you tell me the difference? What happened? Why did you switch the tone about the President's --
MR. FLEISCHER: Switch the tone? Elizabeth.
Q: Can you answer the question?
MR. FLEISCHER: I you recall what I said last week, with precision, I remember it, was that this election, in the view of most analysts, is coming down to a variety of factors, and those factors are the President's strong, favorable opinion across the country, the work the President is doing on behalf of the candidates, a variety of local issues, the strength of our candidates. So I said last week, and it's just as valid today in the immediate aftermath of the election, that it's a variety of factors that lead to the final judgment the voters have made. There's no one factor, and I'll just have to point out, nobody indicated to you that it was only one factor. It was, if you recall the sentence, a variety of factors.
Q: Are you at all concerned that now that the Republicans have such control, that anything that goes wrong, that the President cannot blame the Democrats any longer? I mean, you've got a tough two years ahead of you with the economy --
MR. FLEISCHER: The American people are not interested in blaming one party or the other; the American people are interested in the two parties working together to get things done. And that's how the President approaches these issues. That's why the President enjoyed such bipartisan support for the major items on his domestic agenda -- the tax initiative, education initiative, trade promotion authority. All those passed with large bipartisan votes.
Q: As far as this election is concerned, how much role the war against terrorism played? It must be a lesson against terrorism. And two, after the phone calls, his concern, what the President has in mind in the future to get things done --
MR. FLEISCHER: Foreign policy and national security are always important issues for the American people. It remains a fundamental, core mission of the federal government to defend the country. And the President is very proud that he will defend this country. And we are in the midst of a war against terrorism, and the President will continue to do everything possible to fight and win that war.
Q: Ari, do you expect the President to use the Republicans' new control -- gained control of the Senate to press for things like an amendment banning late-term abortions, or some of the more conservative elements that have not been addressed in the first two years of his presidency?
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, I can't speculate about every legislative initiative that may or may not come down the pike. I think you've got a good example of the way the President leads, based on his first year in office when there was a Republican Senate for at least the first six months of his tenure. But, again, the President is going to fight for the principles that he believes in and try to bring people together.
Q: Let me, then, try and turn the question around. Would you expect him not to use the new control of the Senate to press for this? What benefits will we see in terms of the President's agenda from Republican control of the Senate?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me say again, the President's top priorities on his agenda for the future involve the protection of our country and the strengthening of our economy. He wants to make America stronger, safer, and better. The President looks forward as the new year approaches and into the new year, with announcing legislative initiatives. I don't think it would be appropriate for me as a staffer today, and with 12 hours of an election, to preview anything the President may or may not say down the road. They'll come at an appropriate time for the President to discuss that with the public.
Q: If I could press you just a little bit further --
MR. FLEISCHER: Please.
Q: -- presumably, the protection of the country and the strengthening of the economy are things that can be accomplished with a bipartisan agenda. You now have Republican control of the two Houses of Congress and the White House. What about elements of the conservative agenda? What can conservatives look for to gain from this?
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the President views this that good ideas attract support. And the good ideas that the President believes in are keeping taxes low; increasing spending for the vital priorities that we face as a nation such as education, such as for community health centers to serve predominantly low-income Americans who need primary health care. Homeland security, bioterrorism, to fight bioterrorism. These are among the President's priorities. And the President leaves it to the individual senators and members of the Congress to make up their mind about whether they will support those initiatives. The President views all of this as a compassionate conservative agenda and he's going to keep pushing it.
Q: What is the timing on the replacement -- getting a replacement for Pitt? And is there a candidate --
MR. FLEISCHER: The timing will be as soon as the transition allows. I can't guess what ultimately that will be in terms of weeks, months. I don't know that anybody has a firm handle on how long that could be. And as far as anybody -- again, this fits the same definition of speculating about personnel. It's just not something that we have done, going back to the transition.
Q: And looking beyond the lame duck session -- you will want to do I assume the budget, in addition to the terror insurance. In a new Congress, does the election sweep last night for Republicans improve the prospect for action on some of the higher profile items being talked about, such as the Social Security overhaul or the changes -- the fundamental change in the tax code?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's no question that last night's results increase the likelihood of getting things done for the American people. There are many initiatives that could have and should have been done in the last Congress that got bottled up and stopped that now have a much stronger chance of getting done.
Having said that, of course, in the Senate, if members decide that they still want to exercise all their parliamentary rights, they can block, they can filibuster, they can use 60 votes to thwart a growing bipartisan consensus. But let me -- let me walk through a list of the things that were left undone from the last Congress that the President still remains very interested in.
One, protecting people's pensions. It was passed by the House, not passed by the Senate. The President would like to see action taken to protect people's pensions. Homeland security, I mentioned. Faith-based legislation to help predominantly low-income Americans have a better economic shot at making it in America. Welfare reform, another way to help predominantly low-income Americans have a better life in America, was not passed in the Senate. Energy legislation to make America more energy independent was not addressed that has a better chance of passage now. The Treaty of Moscow, the ratification of the treaty to have reductions in the number of offensive weapons the United States has was not passed.
Some issues got stuck in a House-Senate conference committee. One of the key issues there that the President would like to see passed was a patient bill of rights. The President thinks it's very important to give people enhanced abilities to deal with their health maintenance organizations. He would still like to push for that. He thinks it is important.
I cited earlier, increasing funding for community health centers to help people with their health insurance needs. A ban on human cloning was passed by the House and not take up by the Senate. So there remain a wide variety of issues that have not gotten done in this last closely divided Congress.
Now, there is not an overwhelming majority for the Republicans in the new Senate. History was made because the historical trend of Presidents losing in the midterm did not take place. In fact, for the first time in history Republicans gained seats in the House of Representatives in the midterm election, which is the first time in history, as well as taking the Senate was the first time.
Q: Can we look for improved outlook on fundamental tax reform and Social Security overhaul?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say, Greg. Particularly for some of the major issues, I think it's important to have as broad a consensus as possible. And it still remains a closely divided Senate, even though party control has switched.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about the process now that goes into replacing Harvey Pitt? The SEC is an organization that doesn't exactly have probably the confidence from most Americans that maybe it should. Where does the President look now to find an able replacement? And what is the background that he's looking for somebody to fill that role?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President wants to find somebody who will be dedicated to enacting the legislation that's been passed to help crack down on corporate corruption that the President feels so strongly about. And he'll also -- will continue Harvey Pitt's very successful record of taking action against corporate corruption.
Let me cite to you some of the facts about what's taking place because the SEC, in fact, has one of the strongest enforcement records of any SEC in history. They have thrown record numbers of noncompliant corporate officers and directors off of corporate boards; they have recovered compensation, bonuses and stock options from corporate wrongdoers; and, they've filed a record number of actions for financial reporting and company disclosure violations. The Department of Justice, of course, is very much in the middle of a whole series of announcements about prosecutions against people who have engaged in corporate wrongdoing.
So even if there are personnel changes to be coming at the Securities and Exchange Commission, the fact of the matter is the SEC and their career officials have done a very strong job in taking action and in bringing cases against people who do wrong. And that will continue.
Q: But there have been issues there now. I mean, Harvey Pitt -- the resignation of Harvey Pitt is not coming because of the outstanding record of the SEC. I mean, when they go back now to find a replacement, is he likely to go to the accounting industry to look for someone?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think he is going to look for somebody who is going to do what needs to be done to focus on corporate corruption, to continue to take strong action. And the personnel office at the White House, as always, will be working and talking to a number of people. As I indicated before, it's just not a topic that I speculate on about names.
Q: Ari, on two issues, one close to your heart, I hope -- will the President call for a total repeal of the marriage penalty tax? (Laughter.) And also on homeland defense, will you grandfather it so that the present civil service workers can maintain their protection if they're folded into this department?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the first question, yes, the President does indeed believe in making marriage penalty relief permanent. The President just cannot understand why anybody would want to reimpose the marriage penalty on people after Congress has now spoken and said there should be no marriage penalty.
Under current law, if it's not made permanent, the marriage penalty will be reimposed on people. The $1,000 child tax cut will be taken away from people, and the President thinks that that's wrong. The death tax will be reimposed on people. The President thinks that's all wrong, and that's why he supports making it permanent.
On homeland security, the proposal, as you know, is to give the President the same authority that previous Presidents have had in dealing with these same issues at the existing agencies. The President is not asking for anything that previous Presidents have not had. And perhaps with this change in the Congress, the job can now be done. We'll see.
Q: Ari, is the President concerned about the state of the economy? There have been some fairly gloomy growth numbers that came out in the last week or two, and a lot of economists on Wall Street talking about the possibility of dipping back into recession. And if the President isn't concerned about that, we've heard him on the stump many, many times over the last couple months talking about tax cuts and they had a stimulative effect on the economy. So if the economy doesn't -- he thinks the economy is fine and doesn't necessarily need any stimulation, what would be the argument for additional tax cuts?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President hasn't said that it's fine. The President has said that it's bumping along. And the most recent economic data that came out showed that it was growing at a 3 percent rate for the third quarter. That's by historical standards, strong growth. But when you take a look --
Q: But the projection for the 4th quarter is very, very low --
MR. FLEISCHER: When you take a look at the existing trends, there still are reasons for the President to be concerned. And so the President will review what action, if any, will be appropriate. And as I indicated, if there are any new policy initiatives, the President will be the one to announce them.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the Iraq resolution. The resolution that has now been circulated at the U.N. Security Council, A, is it going to pass; B, is this what the President wanted all along; C, hasn't he given up a lot? I guess, I'll ask D, as well -- does he feel that he has the right under this resolution to see Iraqi defiance and say, we're going to combat it with military force?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, one, the President views this as has been a long, but a very constructive and important process by focusing on diplomacy and asking the United Nations to fulfill its important responsibilities to keep the peace.
The President made the decision to go to the United Nations. He set this course in motion, and the course he set in motion is now coming to a head. The United States is seeking a vote on this resolution on Friday this week. We, in New York, laid down the resolution today. This is a revised text of our resolution that makes crystal clear that Iraq must disarm.
For six weeks, efforts by the President, by Secretary Powell, by Ambassador Negroponte in New York, we have put together the key elements of a resolution that we hope will meet with support of all the members of the Security Council. The resolution we'll circulate takes into views -- takes into account the views that we heard from our allies on the Security Council. And it meets the goals that the President identified from the start.
From the start the President made clear that any resolution to be voted on had to say that Iraq is in material breach. This resolution does. He made it clear that it had to provide for a very tough inspection regime. This resolution does that. And the President made it clear the there will be serious consequences if Iraq fails to disarm. This resolution accomplishes all of those core principles. And it does so in a way that we believe will also attract the support of our allies whose voices are important and whose voices the President wanted to listen to.
Q: Those voices, principally, were concerned about -- they wanted this issue to go back to the Security Council if there was further Iraqi defiance. Under this draft, do we have to go back to the Security Council? Or is the President empowered to make a decision on his own?
MR. FLEISCHER: Under this draft, and as always at the United Nations, it is the prerogative and the right of any member of the Security Council to convene, to hold a meeting as they judge wise and see fit. Nothing in this resolution handcuffs the President, and the President thinks it is very important and has committed to further consultations.
Q: This would have the international legal authority, this resolution alone, that the President would be able to take the country to war against Iraq?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's exactly as I just stated.
Q: Can you say it again?
Q: Mr. Fleischer, did President Bush congratulate the new elected Turkish leader Mr. Tayyip Erdogan?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to go back and take a look at the phone calls made by the President and say, I don't recall off the top of my head.
Q: Do you have any comment for the elections?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me see if I have anything further to add to that topic. Because I don't -- did not bring anything with me on that. So I want to be clear on it.
Q: Ari, you stressed all morning that the President will continue to reach out across the aisle to Democrats, it's all understood. At the same time, the control of the Senate did shift, votes are votes, politics are politics. Is this the end of checks and balances for the moment, and is the President poised to govern by fiat?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, our system is built with checks and balances in mind. And that is the genius of our founding fathers. It remains just as
firmly in place today as it does -- with still a closely divided Senate, a House that is narrowly controlled by Republicans, albeit for the first time in many years it's an increase in control by the Republicans. But certainly it's nowhere near the margins that the Democrats used to enjoy in the House of Representatives.
It remains a close country. Party control has indeed switched. But the President thinks it remains terribly important to listen to people in both parties and to work on principle and from principle on behalf of the agenda he believes.
Q: Ari, there were a lot of Democratic and Republican leaders on the air this morning framing the outcome as a referendum on the President. Around here I know you seem to have your gloat blocker on, but is there any -- have you heard any sense around here that what happened yesterday is a redemption for the way the President came to office after losing the popular vote?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not heard people talk like that around here. What the President said this morning in the Oval Office I think is the best representation of how he views the election results, when he said, that, if you want to succeed in American politics, change the tone. That's where the President is, that's where he thinks he country is. And that's what he's committed to.
Q: So no sense among the President or his political team that this was a referendum on George W. Bush?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President leaves those judgments to analysts. The President is, of course, heartened by the results. The President is pleased that he will have a Senate that will be more likely to work with him on his agenda. The only reason he ran for President in the first place was to pass an agenda that, in his judgment, helps the American people to strengthen the economy and to keep it safe and strong. Running for office is all about doing good things once you're in office. And the political campaigns are our democracy's way of judging whether or not somebody should have success in furthering their agenda. The President hopes that he'll be able to further his agenda now.
Q: Ari, is it likely to think that this Congress would end the lawsuit involving the Energy Task Force? Is that a priority for the President, ending that entanglement?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've heard no discussion of that. Of course, that's a congressional matter; I wouldn't be in a position to evaluate it.
Q: Is it something he might talk to them about, the incoming Congress, about?
MR. FLEISCHER: I really view that more as a congressional matter. I think that's something they're going to focus on.
Q: Ari, you praised the candidates. But does the President feel indebted to Karl Rove, who was the mastermind behind this whole strategy -- recruited Norm Coleman, for example, made the decision on where to travel in the last week, going back to Minnesota. How key was Rove to --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I can just tell you how the President viewed it. What he said this morning is, "The credit goes to the candidates and those who focused on changing the tone, people who want to work together to get things done." I think there a great many people, Karl included, Ken Mehlman included, who worked very, very hard and worked very closely with the campaigns. And, obviously, the White House is pleased with the outcome.
Q: Could you have done it without Rove?
MR. FLEISCHER: I hesitate to get into any one staffer, because that's not how the President approaches this. The President has a team of people who all work very hard and well together and our preference is to do so from a relatively anonymous position, as anonymous as you can in these positions or jobs, and to serve the President.
This comes down to really what the President does, how he does it, what the candidates do, how they do it. And the President is very proud of the fact that over the many years, going back to governor and in the White House, that he assembles as hopeful as hard a working team as is possible, that is dedicated to, one, serving the President and, in the process, serving the country.
Q: Treasury Secretary O'Neill in the past has called the tax code an abomination that needs to be overhauled. Does the President agree with his assessment? And even though you've said it's too soon to say in terms of overhauling in the near future, would it be accurate to say that the administration supports simplification of the tax code with overhaul farther down the line?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's fair to say that the President totally agrees that the tax code is much too complicated. It's a headache for many people who have to fill it out every year. And for people who don't fill it out every year, it's a headache for them to pay somebody to do it.
It's too soon to say whether or not there will be any new initiatives or new proposals in any type of fundamental way or perhaps in an incremental way that deal with making the tax code fair and lower and simpler and flatter. Any of those various possibilities; it's just too soon to say, Paula.
Q: And also you mentioned how closely divided the Senate will still be, but with the change in control. But is there any way the administration is exploring the use of the budget reconciliation process that would circumvent the 60-vote rule in terms of advancing its agenda?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, with the expiration of the Deficit Reduction Act, the budget act point of order and items of that nature have lapsed. I don't think they were extended in any of the continuing resolutions that passed at the very end of the year. So the President still believes in the importance of fiscal discipline and making certain that Congress is guided by rules that provide for fiscal discipline. But we'll see again what the new Senate does.
Q: Does the failure -- did the failure of the Democrats to get any traction on this -- on the privatization issue leave the White House more optimistic this morning about the prospects and possibilities of getting Social Security reform moving on the Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there's widespread recognition in the country that, particularly younger workers deserve to have voluntary options, if they so choose, for what happens to that money that gets taken out of their paychecks and that's put into a system that younger workers particularly don't think they're going to get anything back from because the system of Social Security is going bankrupt for the young. I think this is an issue that every two years gets demagogued and every two years it's demagogued less successfully and less successfully and less successfully.
I think the American people are realistic. They are savvy. They understand about having additional options. They understand also that it's vital to protect today's senior citizens and people approaching retirement who don't want any changes in their Social Security and should not have any changes in their Social Security.
So I think many of these tactics that have been used in the past are much, much less effective today. It's notable too that much of the data shows that voters thought that President Bush had the best answers and Republicans had the best answers on how to deal with the economy.
Q: In view of that and in view of what you said about the widespread recognition of the system's problems, don't you have an obligation then, since this is so important to retirement plans of all Americans, to move ahead with it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President does feel very strongly in providing younger workers with voluntary options. That remains a priority of his. As I indicated earlier, I'm just not in a position today, a mere some 12 hours after the election, to predict every single legislative initiative the President may or may not launch next year.
Q: That was not on your laundry list of things that had not been addressed?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct.
Q: Given the new complexion of the Senate, would you be willing to reopen the terrorism insurance debate like Sensenbrenner was looking at? Or do you really want to have it done during the lame duck?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, given the fact that this can be a constructive step to create jobs in the economy in the here and now, the President would like to see this taken up in the lame duck Congress. It's impossible to guess everything the lame duck can or cannot get done. The history of lame ducks is that when you bring together a gathering of the retired and the defeated, it's very hard to say what they will accomplish and how long they want to stay in town.
So nobody knows what the ultimate outcome will be. But the key issue that remains is homeland security. That is a key issue of unfinished business.
Q: You said that strengthening the economy is one of the President's top two priorities in the foreseeable future. And you said that keeping taxes low remains one of his core principles. In line with that top priority and that core principle, will he push for making permanent the tax cuts that were passed in the 107th Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. The President does think it is vital for certainty in the economy and for fairness for people's lives that the tax cuts be made permanent. After all, why would anybody want to reimpose the marriage penalty? Why would anybody want to take away a family's $1,000 child tax credit? Why would anybody want to reimpose a death tax on people? The President does think that's very important to long-term economic growth, to economic certainty, and to fundamental fairness for families.
Q: Will it be one of his first legislative initiatives?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not here to predict the exact timing and path of what the President will call for. But this is well-known. The President has repeatedly stated this position.
Q: Ari, two questions, please. The President made it a point during his whole campaign to press for the approval of Miguel Estrada to the D.C. Court of Appeals. Now that he has won a resounding victory in both Houses -- especially the Senate -- does he think Estrada can be approved by the lame duck session of whatever you call them, the defeated --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again --
Q: Or will he renominate him with the 108th Congress when it comes --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think it's very hard to say how much work the lame duck session will get done given the realities of how lame ducks work. Without getting into any one name, because, again, I don't speculate about personnel, there were a great many good judges who had bipartisan support, who could have and should have been confirmed on the floor of the Senate with a bipartisan vote, who were stopped in their tracks as a result of the partisan process in the committees.
Now that control of the Senate has switched, I think it is far more likely that many of these good bipartisan names will be able to move forward as some the President's appointments. That's not any type of statement about any one individual who you named, because I'm not going to speculate individually. But I think the prospects for more bipartisanship have now increased.
Let me make one final statement before I go. Steve just did the thank you, but I do want -- I wanted to do this at the gaggle this morning, but there are two people who have been regulars in the White House press corps who will be leaving to go on to other beats. And I just want to wish Kelly Wallace well, and Arshad Mohammed, well, as well, in their new endeavors. Congratulations to both of you. (Applause.) Thank you.
END 12:27 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/272128