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Fleischer Conducts Daily Briefing at Bush Transition Office

Aired January 12, 2001 - 1:15 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS: CNN ANCHOR: Ari Fleischer, the next White House press secretary, is conducting his daily briefing in the transition office. Let's listen in.

QUESTION: First of all, do you think it's inappropriate for him to comment on policy matters like that? And what's the president- elect's thoughts about Clinton's warnings along those lines?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY-DESIGNATE: Well, on the policy matter, the president-elect feels very strongly that one of the best ways we could help protect economic growth is to cut taxes. I think it's curious the way things work in this town that anytime spending is increased it doesn't come out of the surplus, but anytime taxes are cut, somehow it does.

President-elect does not share that approach. He believes that we can and should cut taxes to help keep the economy strong, in addition to the fundamental values-laid initiative, which is, it's the peoples money, they have a right to keep it.

As for the commenting of the president, he is the president through January 20. He can comment as he sees fit. I've discussed a little bit how there is this ongoing tradition of leaving office with a note of grace and respect, and I expect President Clinton will honor it.

QUESTION: The president-elect has made clear that he's open to the idea of front-loading the tax plans; I mean that you all are considering, something that your allies on the Hill are also considering. Wouldn't that, as he has suggested, run the possibility of -- create the possibility of running deficits in the short term? Isn't that a concern?

FLEISCHER: Actually, no. When you take a look at the economic projection, I don't think that's going to be -- that's not in the cards. When you take a look at the size of the tax cut he has proposed -- and even if you did make modifications to it -- and then you take a look at the projections for the size of the tax cut in fiscal year 2002, the first year of the 10-year budget window, the size of the projected surplus far succeeds the amount of the tax cut and all of the spending initiatives that he has proposed, such as things like health initiatives, et cetera. So, no.

QUESTION: Ari, you said that the speech that Ashcroft gave at Bob Jones University has been located. Has your transition briefers for Ashcroft seen it? Can you tell us anything about what it might say?

FLEISCHER: That will be sent up to the Hill with a variety of documents that were requested by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, and they will be transmitted up to the Hill later this afternoon -- I think late this afternoon.


QUESTION: Can your characterize it?

FLEISCHER: I think it's going to get sent up to the Hill. And I'm going to leave it at that.

QUESTION: Has the transition planned at all to characterize what was said at Bob Jones University speech?

FLEISCHER: I think, out of deference for the Senate, we're going to let it get to the Hill first.

QUESTION: And then?

FLEISCHER: We'll be happy to take any questions at the appropriate time.


FLEISCHER: At the appropriate time.


QUESTION: Along the lines, again -- Bush's latest comments on the economy seem to be a little bit stronger than previous. Does that mean that he has changed his assessment?

FLEISCHER: Stronger in what way?

QUESTION: Saying that the economy is not doing so well. But the words that he used -- I don't have them verbatim -- was stronger than what he said in the last couple of weeks.

FLEISCHER: His concern is unabated. It's the same that he has articulated for several months now, that Vice President-elect Cheney articulated that the economy is clearly weakening. It's a question of how far and how long. And it is a concern, not only of his, obviously, of people in both parties and the private sector as well. Same concerns.

QUESTION: So no new meetings or something that he got out of the information over in Washington that might have made his assessment change, then?


QUESTION: President Clinton, sort of, answered that as well today. He's talking up the economy. There are economists who say you guys are talking down the economy.

What's happening here in this transition period, the whole, sort of, politicalization of forecasting...

FLEISCHER: I don't think it's the purview of politicians to talk the economy up or the purview to talk it down. They should all talk it accurately.

And that is the standard by which President Clinton will discuss the economy. Growth for the third quarter, for the June and July -- I'm sorry, the July, August, September period of the year 2000 has been downgraded by the United States government under President Clinton to 2.2 percent. That's a decline from 5.6 percent growth in the previous quarter. That's a big drop.

And we continue to see signs going back well into mid-2000, quite some time ago, of a deteriorating economy. And it is a slowdown. No one arguing that it's a slowdown.

You can still have growth that is not recessionary. You can still have growth at 1 percent, 2 percent, 2.5 percent. It's just a question of exactly what levels that growth is. And that is the source of the president-elect's concern.

QUESTION: How much is this based on figures, and how much of it is based on political interests? I mean, the president -- the current president in establishing his legacy and making sure nobody spoils it by talking about the economy tanking, and the incoming president who's, sort of, protecting himself from a declining economy.

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, on the political, I think you could ask that question to the incumbent administration. Certainly President-elect Bush's focus is just like the private sector's, what are the numbers? What is the health of the economy? How strong is it? How much is the decline? How far might it go?

But one thing I think you're going to hear, President-elect Bush, as we learned during the campaign, is a plain-spoken man. And he will address the economy in a plain-spoken fashion. And I think what's important is not, for political reasons, to be Pollyannaish about the state of the economy.


QUESTION: Do you think a running critique of the Bush administration from ex-President Clinton...


... Mr. Gore?

FLEISCHER: I think that would be a real break with tradition, and I think that Vice President Gore and President Clinton we would hope would have no intention of doing that. But that's a question for them, not us.

QUESTION: Aren't you all kind of geared up for something like that, though? Everyone expects it.

FLEISCHER: I try to always be geared up. We'll see what they do.


QUESTION: Ari, every president since William Howard Taft has accepted the honorary presidency of the Boy Scouts of America. The national headquarters of Reform Judaism has asked local synagogues to banish their 207 Scout troops, because the Boy Scouts refuse to stop being morally straight. And my question is, will this stop the president-elect from accepting the honorary presidency of the Boy Scouts who are nationally headquartered in Texas? I have just one follow-up.

FLEISCHER: I have not heard any discussion about whether he will be the honorary president.

QUESTION: Do you think there's any chance that he will be the first president to turn them down because of this?

FLEISCHER: I've heard...


FLEISCHER: I've heard no such discussion, so...

QUESTION: But you don't expect that he will, do you?

FLEISCHER: I'd be surprised.

WATERS: All right. There you have it from Ari Fleischer at the transition office today. Comments about the economy, since President Clinton stepped out this morning to talk about the health of the economy. Ari Fleischer asking how healthy is the economy when you take into account the third quarter numbers dropping to 2.2 percent from 5.7. He says that's a big drop, used as a foundation for the incoming administration's efforts to cut taxes, a selling point to beef up the economy.

The questions from the press corps, who's talking it up -- the economy; who's talking it down? Ari Fleischer says the important thing is to talk it accurately. As to John Ashcroft, who's nomination to be the next attorney general is shaping up to be something of a food fight on Capitol Hill, we see videotape here just in of him meeting up on the Hill -- as he's meeting with New York Senator Charles Schumer here as he continues his effort to win over senators to his nomination to be the next attorney general.

You may have heard that the Ashcroft speech to Bob Jones University in 1999 has been subpoenaed by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy's committee and that speech had been sent up there or will be sent up to the Hill later on today. No characterization of what was in that speech. But, of course, that is going to be under consideration as all of John Ashcroft's record in public life will be considered at his confirmation hearings scheduled for the 16th. So, we have Ari Fleischer's briefing out of the way for today. He's been up every day. I expect we will see him again Monday.



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