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Bush Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Holds First Televised News Conference for President-Elect

Aired January 2, 2001 - 1:01 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: With the holidays over and Inauguration Day approaching, the Bush transition team picks up the pace. At transition headquarters, Ari Fleischer, the next press secretary at the White House, is about to begin his first briefing for the president-elect.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor joins us now from Washington.

What's it all about, Eileen?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ari is actually going to be getting his first on-camera briefing. He has been briefing reporters through conference calls and what they call pad-and-pencil briefings. But this is the first on-camera briefing, basically because it's only a few days ago that Ari Fleischer was named as the designated man that George W. Bush wants as his White House press secretary.

So Ari will be coming out and talking about transition. He's been very disciplined, though, in basically letting the president- elect make the announcements on who he wants for transition. Ari Fleischer has not budged when reporters ask him about all the speculation. He calls it the "quadrennial Washington parlor game," all of this talk about various names for various posts.

And, of course, this being his first briefing, there's an awful lot of advice floating around Washington for him. Republican strategists credit Ari Fleischer and Karen Hughes, who was the campaign spokesman, for being very on-message, very disciplined during the campaign. They had, they said, a very good strategy.

But people in the Clinton administration past and present are saying that may be good for a campaign, but it's a lot different when you get up here. And it's a lot different White House nowadays because of the Internet, because of 24-hour cable and because of talk radio, that now it will be much more difficult to stay only on that one message and feed this hungry press corps whenever they want to feed it -- Lou.

WATERS: I'm interested in the chronology, Eileen. The president-elect's press secretary appearing before the president-elect appears, expected to name the rest of his White House team. What's there to talk about over there at the transition headquarters? O'CONNOR: Well, there's also reaction to the -- what is going on at the White House today, Lou. I'm sure we'll be asking about where the Bush team stands on these Middle East peace negotiations. And there's also a lot of nuts and bolts about the inauguration and about policy priorities. You know, the Bush advisory committees that they've set up throughout this transition are all working hard and we all want to have updates on exactly where they stand on what the first priorities will be that they present to Congress -- Lou.

WATERS: OK, Eileen O'Connor keeping watch there in the briefing room at the transition office in Washington.

And across the country, the other half of this dual presentation today. And here's Natalie Allen with more about that.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Right, Lou. Eileen saying that Ari Fleischer doesn't want to play the name game, but perhaps CNN's Tony Clark will play that game with us. He is in Austin, Texas waiting from Mr. Bush, to hear from Mr. Bush around 3:00 p.m. this afternoon. And Tony joins us now.

TONY CLARK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Natalie, I talked to Ari Fleischer just a short time ago because we tried to play the name game with him. I wanted to -- or, in fact, did ask him about Norman Mineta. He is the current commerce secretary under President Clinton. Sources tell CNN's John King that he is likely to be named transportation secretary under a Bush administration. That announcement could come this afternoon when the president-elect holds his news conference, 3:00 Eastern time.

Those same sources tell John King that Mineta came to Austin likely to take the position, but that he wanted a face-to-face meeting with the president-elect to talk about that position. Mineta, you know, as I say, is the commerce secretary now. He's former House Transportation and Public Works chairman. He was the first Asian- American who was a Cabinet officer.

And interestingly enough, had Vice President Gore won the presidency, he was one of the Cabinet officers that the vice president was expected to hold over for own administration. So a lot of high regard for Norman Mineta. As I say, we expect he may likely be named transportation secretary this afternoon at the president-elect's news conference.

Two other Cabinet posts are still up for grabs. That is the labor secretary and the energy secretary, and then a couple of other key posts that still have not been named: U.N. ambassador and director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Right now, Vice President-elect...

ALLEN: Tony.

CLARK: ... Dick Cheney is over at the...

ALLEN: Tony, we have to interrupt. Ari Fleischer is beginning his news conference. We will hear what he has to say.


ARI FLEISCHER, BUSH PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon, everybody. Happy new year. Hope it was good and joyous. You all look very rested.

Let me give a couple of announcements, then I'll be more than happy to take questions.

One, on the -- some scheduling for today: The Inaugural Committee will have an important announcement to make about their themes and scheduled events at 2:00 today Eastern time.

And the president-elect, at 3:00 Eastern time, will have some announcements in Austin that I think you may want to pay some attention to.

Secondly, in terms of Cabinet visits to the Hill, we are going to begin that process this week. And as a result of that, Secretary of Treasury-designate O'Neill's attendance at the economic forum in Austin, as well as Secretary of Commerce-designate Don Evans' attendance at the economic forum, they will not be able to attend because they will be on the Hill.

We will, in fact, have the first -- congressional hearings will take place Thursday for Secretary of Commerce-designate Evans. The Commerce Committee hearing will take place on Thursday.

Other items we will be handing out very shortly: You have here, attendees, a partial listing. We'll have a complete listing a little bit later today of attendees for the economic forum on Wednesday.

It will not be a briefing.

If I didn't give you the latest update on resumes, we have now received a total of 42,041 resumes.

And with that, I'm more than happy to take questions.


FLEISCHER: Well, in the traditional sense of Cabinet, it does represent the Cabinet, as well comprised of, of course, 14 Cabinet posts. Presidents reserve the right, of course, to designate additional posts as Cabinet-level posts.

But that is -- I leave the definition up to others. Different people have different definitions, but for the most part, those 14 -- EPA has already been announced -- constitute the Cabinet in many people's minds.

QUESTION: USTR and the UN representative would be not be Cabinet...

FLEISCHER: No, I didn't indicate that. USTR, UN, other positions may indeed be Cabinet posts.

And I'm indicating that most people, by their definitions, after these three are announced, that they're all announced today, whenever they are announced, I think a lot of observers believe that represents the traditional Cabinet in that sense.

QUESTION: Ari, do you have an agreement with the Senate on when the bulk of the hearings will be held on the Cabinet nominees and how quickly the Senate will be able to vote on them after?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that the decision as to votes will, of course, depend on what the senators learn here in the course of the hearings, and the hearings are being set up now. As I indicated, the Senate Commerce Committee is going to be the first committee. They'll have the hearing on Secretary-designate Evans and we will expect others will follow in short order.

QUESTION: Have you talked to the leadership about trying to hold as many hearings as possible before the 20th to get the process going?

FLEISCHER: Certainly. We've had some very good conversations with the Senate leadership. They're well aware of that and I think that they're leaders of the Senate and both parties want to expedite the process and move it forward in as expeditious a manner as possible.

This is a serious process. The Senate has a constitutional obligation to consider the choices that an executive makes. They take the responsibility seriously. And we're very respectful of the role of the Senate. So the Senate will be setting up the hearings.

Incidentally, one little bit of almost trivia. We talked last week about whether any votes could take place prior to January 20, and interestingly, in a technical sense, no one will be nominated until just after noon on January 20 because only the president can nominate, and, of course, President-elect Bush will not become president until noon on the 20th.

So there could not be any votes prior to the 20th. In a technical sense, that's when the nominations actually take place.

QUESTION: Any more on (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: No. As soon as we have announcements to be made, they will probably be made on the Hill, and then we'll share that information as well.

QUESTION: Ari, after the last three posts are filled, actually some people are going to be unhappy that they got left out of the Cabinet. People are going to be displeased with some of the choices that were made.

Can you talk a little bit about the decision-making process, the factors that the president-elect has to take into consideration, party ideology, party affiliation, experience, that kind of thing? What is it like trying to build a Cabinet and what challenges does he face? FLEISCHER: The president-elect's thoughts, as he goes through the formation of the process, begins with, "Who is best able to serve the country and enact my governing agenda into law? Who will be the strongest person, the sharpest mind to put into a Cabinet agency, who can carry out my agenda and who will be able to work in a bipartisan fashion with people on the Hill and bring people together?"

So, for example, the first selection he made, of course, was General Colin Powell. And he wants somebody who will be able to take his world view, his approach to international affairs, his internationalist approach to international affairs and believe that America must occupy a place, a humble role in world affairs, and while fighting for free trade and represent America proudly abroad.

And so, in that case he was able to select one of the sharpest minds also in this business, General Colin Powell.

That's what he begins to look at it: implementing his agenda and someone who can work well with others, work as a team. And then, of course, he also wants to select people who, there's an element of diversity, but it all begins with a question: Who is the best? Who can best represent our country?

QUESTION: Ari, Senator Ashcroft's nomination, as you know, is causing a lot of consternation among liberal groups. Jesse Jackson has promised to lobby Senate Democrats very hard to oppose the nomination.


QUESTION: Pro-choice groups are out there saying essentially the same thing. How do you plan to counter that?

FLEISCHER: Well, we plan to simply let Senator Ashcroft speak for himself. And once people see what a man of integrity he is, what a man of strength, of honesty, we're very confident in Senator Ashcroft is going to well-received by the United States Senate, by the strong majority of the United States Senate.

He is very well-respected by his Senate colleagues on both sides of the aisle. So we understand, of course, there are going to be some partisans who would like to make an issue out of a nominee, who have concerns and they're going to raise them from a partisan manner. But we're very confident that, upon full consideration, as people hear Senator Ashcroft, that he's going to be in good shape.

QUESTION: Do you know if he needs any help from other members of other people on teams, Secretary and Vice President-elect Cheney and others?

FLEISCHER: Well, of course, as far as that approach goes, we do have a team put together for each nominee, as is traditional.

And we'll be working shoulder to shoulder with the nominees as they move through the process. That's already begun. And they've already been busying themselves with studying the governor's positions that he took during the campaign so that they'll be able to go to their various committees and articulate the president-elect's positions.

There are, of course, security forms that everybody has concerned themselves with that need to be filled out.

And then we have a team put together, a confirmation team, that consists of a policy person, a legal person, a press person, a congressional affairs person, and we are there for each and every step along the way, helping each nominee until they are confirmed by the United States Senate, if they are confirmed by the Senate.

QUESTION: Ari, can I follow up? When you said people have partisan concerns about Senator Ashcroft, are you indicating that they're not legitimate concerns on the part of Democrats about his record, and more specifically about the (inaudible) issue?

FLEISCHER: No, I think there's always a blend of concerns that are legitimate, that are partisan, and welcome to Washington. And that's in many ways how it works.

But we are very confident that each of the choices that the president-elect has made for his Cabinet are going to be not only received well by the Senate. But we're also very respectful of the Senate's prerogatives. It is a strength of our system that the president makes a nomination, and it is up to the Senate, in its own right, to confirm that role. That is the tradition of our country, advice and consent. And it's proper. It's the Senate's role.

QUESTION: Ari, this morning, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, which is the nation's largest Catholic civil rights organization, noted this morning that Senator Ashcroft has said, quote, "Frankly, I reject the anti-Catholic position of Bob Jones University. I didn't really know that they had these positions."

Well, Governor Carnahan received campaign contributions from the National Abortion Rights Action League, who had tried to get the Vatican downgraded at the United Nations, and the Catholic League says, in short, the controversy over Ashcroft is much ado about nothing as far as the Catholic League is concerned.

Do you agree or disagree with the Catholic League?

FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think that Senator Ashcroft is going to receive a fair hearing from the Senate. We're very confident in its ultimate outcome. We understand there's a process where people are going to chime in. They're going to give their thoughts.

But President-elect Bush chose John Ashcroft because John Ashcroft is a man of great integrity. He's a good man, he is a strong leader, and he'll do a very good job impartially administering justice, and he will do so for all Americans.

QUESTION: Does the president-elect believe that both tax exemption and taxpayers' dollars should continue going to National Public Radio, whose anti-Israel policy included a lengthy uninterrupted and dissent-free call by Allegra Pachecko (ph) for the dissolution of the whole state of Israel?

And I ask this because one of the country's largest Jewish newspapers, Heritage in Los Angeles, has just detailed repeated National Public Radio attacks on our ally Israel. And they noted, the network received millions in tax dollars and it has consistently stone-walled public complaint.

How does the president-elect feel about this?

FLEISCHER: That is not a position the president-elect took during the campaign.

QUESTION: Ari, regarding the economic forum, you say it's a process of listening and selling. What short-term economic growth policies might the president-elect be talking about? And does he have an open mind about the size and the distribution of his proposed tax cuts?

FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to say if anything like that needed to be done in terms of changing the tax plan like that. He is going to propose that which he ran on. When you talk about anything short term that can be done, I think he will go in to this meeting with open mind. He wants to listen to people and if people have any ideas of anything short term, he will listen. But that's one of the reasons that the president-elect wants to have this forum.

We are going to have people there who, frankly, because they live and breathe the economy, they are the job creators in our society, they are ahead of the government estimators. They are the people who are best versed at telling the American people and the president-elect how strong is the economy? How serious are the problems of potential weakening?

You know, we have a new report out today from the National Association of Purchasing Manufacturers, which indicates for the fourth month in a row there is a weakness in the economy. This morning's report, which was released, is a further deterioration of the economy. It's a troubling report.

But, he wants to hear -- we are going to have retailers there. We want to be able to ask them directly, "How were Christmas sales? Are they more than you expected, less than you expected?" Various sectors of the economy will be there. And I have a few names I can release to you today.

I will, as I indicated, put out the additional list. But, just for example, Jack Welch of GE will be there. Lee Scott (ph) of Wal- Mart, a key retailer. Steve Brobeck (ph) from the Consumer Federation of America. Steve Forbes will be there. Michael Dell of Dell Computers. Terry Jordie (ph), our foreign banker. Nancy LaZar (ph), an economist and a partner with ISI on Wall Street. Darcey Walker (ph); she's an economist with the Discovery Card. And so we're going to be bringing together a wide cross-section of people who know how to take the pulse of the American economy. The president-elect very much wants to hear from them, what they think, as the people who live and breathe and keep the American economy strong if there is a downturn. And then he will, of course, share with them his ideas for his agenda and help to build coalitions and build support for what he wants to do.

QUESTION: Ari, can you comment on reports that President-elect Bush is going to arrange for General Powell's son, Michael, to be chairman of the Federal Communications Commission?

FLEISCHER: There we are with a speculation question about a name. No, I'm not going to speculate about any potential names the president-elect may announce.

QUESTION: Can you talk a little bit about the (OFF-MIKE) How are the names chosen? How do those people participate? (OFF-MIKE) Jesse Ventura is on the committee for USTR.

FLEISCHER: I read that.


FLEISCHER: If you would like to dispute it with Mr. Ventura.


We have two entities that are helping us through the transition process.

The first group, the lead group, is called policy coordination groups. It is a small group, typically about four to six people per agency. And their mission is to take President-elect Bush's campaign promises and get them ready to be turned into presidential proposals so that they can be submitted to the Congress and enacted into law.

These groups also directly work with the agencies. In fact, they're located downtown. Very often they are not at their desks here. They are at the agencies, working with the agencies, learning how the agencies operate, being the key liaisons between the agency and the incoming administration.

And the cooperation we've had from the administration has been good, and we are appreciative for that.

The second group is what's called an advisory committee or a group of advisory committees. These are much larger entities. They can be 30, 40, 50 people per group. And they are advisory. They don't meet with the agencies, for example. They do not turn the president's proposals into policy.

But what they do do is, it's a helpful way of us reaching out to listen to people and to receive memos from them, receive input from them, receive advice from them. So if they have thoughts to share, they'll share them with the policy coordination group who will then review them and make any determinations as necessary.

QUESTION: Ari, can you tell us of any issues to talk about on (inaudible)?

FLEISCHER: No. Is there a more specific question you'd like to ask?

QUESTION: What about secretary of transportation?

FLEISCHER: President-elect Bush will have some announcements to make -- an announcement to make later today. And we'll all just have to wait with bated breath to see what the president-elect says.


FLEISCHER: Well, again, it is an American right to protest. It is a time-honored tradition. And people come here, and they are free on January 20 to express their concerns. And that's how it works.

QUESTION: During the election campaign, there was talk of Governor Bush going to Europe, a sort of getting-to-know-you tour. Are there any plans for any trips for the first few weeks after the inauguration?

FLEISCHER: Too soon to say. There will not be travel like that between now and the 20th, and then, of course, there will be presidential travel, but there's nothing that I can announce now.


QUESTION: Let's put it this way: Why does President-elect Bush feel it's so critical to have a Democrat in the Cabinet?

FLEISCHER: On the question of a Democrat in the Cabinet, let me stress that that was a goal of President-elect Bush's regardless of the margin of this race. He does that, because as he governed in Texas, for example, he reaches out; he includes people in his Cabinet, he includes people in a circle to receive ideas from a diverse group of Americans.

And so, if he had won with giant landslide, for example, he still would have been reaching out. I mean, keep in mind, one of the first people he met with was Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. And even though it was not directly, as it turned out, personnel related, he wanted to listen; he wanted to hear what thoughts Senator Breaux had.

And that is the manner and style -- get used to it -- in which president-elect will govern. I think you're going to see a president- elect who often picks up the phone and calls people, calls Democrats, listens, seeks ideas. Now, sometimes with know about it and sometimes he's just going to come pick up the phone and do it.

So it's a healthy part of governing; it's a healthy part of bringing people together. We are hopeful that we will have a Democrat. As I indicated before, there are no guarantees, but we're hopeful. Eileen?

QUESTION: A different question, on the Middle East. How in touch has the president-elect been on the most recent negotiations?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president-elect works very hard and keeps foreign policy as a daily part of his routine. He has an intelligent briefing every day. He talks frequently with his foreign policy team. I know Condi was talking to him this weekend. He's had other conversations with General Powell and with Secretary-designate Rumsfeld. So it's an ongoing part of his daily life.

Now, beyond that I'm not going to go, because as you know, we're not going to get too deep into foreign policy.

We have one president through January 20. His name is Bill Clinton. And we will be very respectful of the important fact that it's good for our country to speak with one voice on foreign policy, and that's what we'll continue to do.

QUESTION: Well, just to follow up, Ari, are you at least happy that these talks -- that there's obviously a will on the side of both the Israelis and the Palestinians to try to push for a peace settlement?

FLEISCHER: I think the president-elect expressed himself last week on that question when he talked about progress being made and wished it well.

QUESTION: But, Ari, certainly it's fair to say that the president is keeping the president-elect posted on developments.

FLEISCHER: The president-elect is receiving information about events from a variety of sources. And our people are also in close touch with President Clinton's people. Condi and Sandy Berger, for example, are in contact, as at other levels. And so he keeps informed very closely.

QUESTION: Well, but surely the national security briefing that he receives, President-elect Bush, would include developments in the negotiations.

FLEISCHER: Well, if you're asking me to reveal what is in the national security briefings, I will choose not to do that, especially at my first briefing. It could be my last.

No, I'm not going to discuss what's in his national security briefings.

QUESTION: Ari, did you take a position on President Clinton's signing of the treaty authorizing an international criminal court?

FLEISCHER: On that question, we have no intent of sending the treaty up in its current form, sending it to the Hill. We will review it when we come into office. But we are concerned it is a flawed treaty. QUESTION: Do you think it was a mistake for President Clinton to sign it?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to characterize what the president did. That's our position.

QUESTION: Why is it a flawed treaty?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm really not going to get into those aspects of it. I think President Clinton himself had some concerns even on signing it, about the substance of it and we concur.

QUESTION: A Washington Post story suggested that former Senator Coats was passed over as defense nominee in part for suggesting some roll-back in military rules regarding gays and women in the service. Did that type of exchange happen? What would be your comment on that?

FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into any of the conversations that were private between President-elect Bush and any of his potential nominees, so I'm going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: Does the president-elect see a need for change in the existing policy regarding gays and women in the military?

FLEISCHER: Let me just continue on your question and I'll answer that. He choose Secretary Rumsfeld because of the great strength Secretary Rumsfeld brings to the job and that's how he views it. But the president believes in the "don't ask, don't tell" policy and that is the position that will be the position of the White House.

QUESTION: Just to follow up on one more thing on the Mideast, how much in touch with Madeleine Albright is Powell? Has he been in the State Department?

FLEISCHER: I can't quantify and, you know, I wouldn't try to. I know that they've talked and they are talking, but that's something you may want to refer to Secretary-designate Powell's people, but I'm not prepared to quantify how many times he or any other Cabinet secretary has conversations with people.


FLEISCHER: No, the agency teams won't do that. President-elect Bush will.

QUESTION: Are there any plans for that?

FLEISCHER: Once the Cabinet is in place, then we'll, of course, turn our attention increasingly to the sub-Cabinet. During this process, we've already been making a lot of progress looking towards sub-Cabinet, while nothing is ready to be announced yet. I'm not quite certain when it will be. But, clearly, once the Cabinet's selections are done, then the sub-Cabinet become the most important posts to go. I should add that we will also have an announcement likely this week on additional senior White House staff. That will be an announcement that comes out of Austin, likely sometime later this week.

QUESTION: Will you have the key sub-Cabinet ready by the 20th, do you think?

FLEISCHER: I'm not willing to make any predictions on dates. You know, a lot of those events are -- you know, when you start getting into the sub-Cabinet, you're getting into a lot of people now and it also depends on how people define sub-Cabinet. There's all kinds of ways.


FLEISCHER: Again, see, this is where people define sub-Cabinet different ways and I'm not wanting to offend anybody who thinks they're in a sub-Cabinet or not, I'm not going to define it myself.

QUESTION: Is the president-elect likely to name someone as a technology czar?

FLEISCHER: You know, there was a story in the Post a couple of months ago, well, sometime ago, about technology czar. And that is not a position that the president-elect took during the campaign to create an office of technology czar. So I was a little puzzled when that came out.

QUESTION: Is it likely to come under economics or...

FLEISCHER: Technology is prevalent everywhere. And when you look at every agency, technology has its importance; it has permeated our society and permeated the government. So I think that everybody in every agency is going to have an eye on technology.

I mean, one of the things interestingly that Secretary Rumsfeld -- or Secretary-designate Rumsfeld talked about was cyber-warfare and cyber-terrorism. That's an outcrop of technology. It's a reflection of what a different Pentagon we have to have going to the 21st century than the one of the '70s. And Secretary-designate Rumsfeld is well aware of that; is already thinking of that himself.

So that's an example that technology is going to find champions in every agency.


FLEISCHER: I think we put it out last week. I think there are some 16 committees. And they are free to have a meeting if they want to. I think most won't. I think most are going to be doing a lot of good phone work and chiming in. But I think...

QUESTION: Are these symbolic?

FLEISCHER: No, I don't think they are symbolic at all. I think they're helpful. I think that these are a group of people from -- you know, Democrats, Republicans, lots of different sides, who have thoughts to share. And that's part and parcel of governing. You have to keep your ears open and listen to people who are experts in their fields.

QUESTION: Ari, getting back to the international criminal court for a minute, Senator Helms came out and said last week that one opposition he had to it is that it could result some day in an American being put on trial by the court. Is that an aspect that President-elect Bush has reservations about?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to go down through the bill of particulars, but we do consider it flawed.

QUESTION: Is there any core message that he's going to be talking about (OFF-MIKE) with the two committees about the sense of urgency that this administration (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's going to be all-encompassing. I mean, the job of a treasury secretary is very broad. And I think he'll make himself -- he'll make himself, and all our designees will, at the disposal of the Senate. So in a courtesy call to be to be courteous, you present yourself to the senators, with whom you're meeting, and you listen to their ideas and their thoughts.

So really that's the kind of meeting where -- I haven't worked in a Senate -- those meetings typically go where the senators would like to take those meetings. This is their time to express their thoughts to the Cabinet designees and then to listen to the Cabinet designees.

So we'll be pleased to listen to each of the individual senators and they'll have different thoughts, depending on the issues.

ALLEN: We're going to break away from this news briefing now. We'll continue to monitor it to see if there's any other news we need to convey to you.

Ari Fleischer getting a little taste of what his job will be like for the next few years, we presume. He's been tapped to be press secretary for George W. Bush. He's a former Democrat who came to work for the George W. Bush campaign over the past few months.

We want to remind you that we will hear from George W. Bush at 3:00 p.m. this afternoon. He has three more Cabinet positions to fill and he says he wants to be finished with that job by the end of this week.

Ari Fleischer got questions about one of the Bush appointees. That is John Ashcroft, who -- the former senator from Missouri who's been tapped to be attorney general.

And let's talk with Chris Black about that. She's on Capitol Hill.

Chris, many questions surrounding Ashcroft, whether the Democrats like him in that job. Ari Fleischer striking that positive note that he believes the Senate will back him. What are you hearing?

CHRIS BLACK, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's probably right, Natalie. John Ashcroft, who has been the senator from Missouri, is one of the most conservative Republicans here in the Senate. And there are a lot of Democratic constituency groups that are strongly opposed to his nomination, and, in fact, are mobilizing their forces against it.

However, what is a lot less clear is whether Democratic senators will follow through and torpedo his nomination. That appears a lot less likely. Sen. Ashcroft is expected to make courtesy calls this week on the top -- to the top senators on the Judiciary Committees, Orrin Hatch, a Republican, and Pat Leahy, a Democrat. And the word from Democratic senators is that they will question him closely on his intentions regarding civil rights law, the enforcement of civil rights law, and also enforcement of the "buffer zone" law that requires demonstrators to stand a certain distance away from abortion clinics.

John Ashcroft is strongly opposed to abortion, even in cases of rape and incest, and it will be important for Democratic senators to hear his intent -- hear him express his intent to enforce existing law -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Chris Black, thanks, from Capitol Hill. We'll continue to follow that one.



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