Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer on President's Meeting with Senator John Mccain
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
6:10 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: All right, let me give you a read from the President on the meeting with Senator McCain. The President said it was a very good session, a wide-ranging session, and he said he views John McCain as an ally on many issues up on the Hill. They discussed the budget; they discussed tax relief; they discussed defense; they discussed energy; and they discussed campaign finance reform. And that's what I have.
Q: Did the President indicate that he had in any way changed his thinking on this since the two of them kind of discussed the issue in the South Carolina primaries?
MR. FLEISCHER: Since the South Carolina primaries -- I'm just trying to remember, going back, to the position he took then. His position remains the same as it was then.
Q: Senator McCain has suggested out there that President Bush has agreed to this shareholder protection aspect of the bill, if Senator McCain would agree to the paycheck protection.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this President has long held that people should not have to have their money taken from them involuntarily, whether they are shareholders in a corporation or whether they are members of a labor union. He makes the distinction between that and individuals who give of their own free will, and therefore, have a constitutionally protected right to give money. But for people who otherwise -- it's money taken involuntarily, whether they're shareholders, corporate employees -- although in this case it's shareholders -- or members of unions. So the President shares a concern about taking money involuntarily from people through corporation ties.
Q: Did the President, after talking with Senator McCain, change his position on any of the differences the two of them have, and did Senator McCain indicate that he has changed his position at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think when the President's first reaction is what a good session it was, it means that the process is beginning now for moving forward.
Q: Is it safe to say, though, that minds were not changed?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think we need to see two people who know they have views that are substantially similar, with a couple differences, both emerge from a meeting saying they've had a good meeting, as President Bush put it, and cordial, as Senator McCain put it. The legislative process is beginning.
Q: On those couple differences, was there anything, any movement made that would close the gap? Did either one bend on any of those couple differences?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just refer you to the President's words. Q: You can't report any achievement on resolving those couple differences?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's words I think are his reflections on what the meeting meant.
Q: But neither you or the President are reporting any advances on closing the differences, closing the gap on those couple differences?
MR. FLEISCHER: I happen to think that any time you can begin three days into your term and have a meeting with somebody who advocates something that's important and something that many people think you're far apart, and it becomes clearer and clearer you're not so far apart, and both parties say it's a good meeting, then the process is beginning on the right note.
Q: Just one more follow-up. I just want to make sure with all the talk out there and from here that I didn't miss any advances on closing the differences that the two parties have.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've addressed it as best I can.
Q: -- that they begin to think in terms of timing, in terms of getting something done in the next couple of months?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything on the timing. I know -- I don't think from Senator McCain's point of view it's changed as far as the timing he's working out with Senator Lott.
Q: What about from the President's point of view? You said substance was more important, we expect that to be more important, but is he willing to address the issue of timing now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is more focused on the substance of what should be in campaign finance reform.
Q: But is he willing to address the issue? Did he and the Senator talk about the issue of timing, and is he willing to address that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have anything on timing.
Q: McCain said that the President increased his own understanding of some things that he had not previously reviewed as part of campaign finance reform. Do you know what issues those are the President had not previously considered?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think that -- that was Senator McCain saying that the President's understanding of the McCain position was enhanced?
Q: Understanding of some issues he hadn't reviewed in the past.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President was just reflecting on the manner in which Senator McCain described how his soft money ban would actually work.
Q: In what way?
MR. FLEISCHER: The things the Senator described -- and I don't have much more of a read than that from the President on how the soft money ban according to Senator McCain will work.
Q: That ban still includes a ban on individual soft money, which the President still opposes, correct? MR. FLEISCHER: The President continues to believe that individuals have a constitutionally protected right to give.
Q: And McCain still continues to support that as part of his bill? There is still a ban on individual soft money in the McCain-Feingold bill, so there is still a disagreement there, yes?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sure they're not in complete agreement. I'm just going to take one or two more, because I really -- I've given you the read I have from the President. Q: Did the subject of individual soft money even come up in the discussion?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what I have from the President.
Q: And to follow up, did McCain agree to put paycheck protection in --
MR. FLEISCHER: Did McCain agree to put paycheck protection in his bill? No, I don't have anything on that, Ron.
Q: In what way did it become clear --
Q: Ari, the fact that they even held this meeting, is that a sign that campaign finance has risen on the President's agenda? Because he hadn't mentioned it as one of his top priorities before.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, he mentioned many issues that came up in the meeting. Again, they talked about defense, they talked about energy, they talked about a variety of things. And particularly on pork barrel spending, I urge you to pay some attention there in the future. I think campaign finance reform is an issue the President has always highlighted. And, clearly, we have other priorities at this very moment, including education, including prescription drugs, faith-based, providing tax cutting. They had a good conversation about tax cutting, too.
Q: Where does campaign finance rank in those priorities.
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't do linear rankings.
Q: Thank you.
END 6:17 P.M. EST
Ari Fleischer, Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer on President's Meeting with Senator John Mccain Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/271485