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Special Event

Ari Fleischer Gives First Briefing as White House Press Secretary

Aired January 22, 2001 - 2:43 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to check in with Ari Fleischer, who's conducting his daily briefing -- only he's White House press secretary now. He's in the West Wing.

Let's listen to what he has to say.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ... that has addressed U.S.-Mexico relations, the panoply of issues: drugs, immigration, all the rest of it.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I'll have more on the Mexico visit and any other information prior to it. You may want to address that to Mary Ellen.

QUESTION: And does he have any idea about an ambassador? Will he keep Ambassador Davidow in place or...

FLEISCHER: This was the same policy we used during the transition: Personnel matters, we're not going to reveal ahead of time. The president will make a series of announcements pertaining to personnel at the appropriate time.

QUESTION: Some Democrats are already laying down a line in the sand about vouchers. Is that going to be a priority as part of this education plan, part of this accountability measures that he wants to put into effect?

FLEISCHER: The president feels very strongly that one of the best ways to improve our schools is to provide parents -- very often we're talking about single moms, who have children in school, and these schools for three years in a row have failed to educate their children. Under his plan, those schools would have to have their money, their federal money, be available to those parents, often those single moms, so they can make educational choices that they see fit.

So the answer is yes. He will fight for that provision. He thinks it is important.

And I want to raise one issue about that, because I know many people have been talking about it lately. What's the alternative? To allow our children to participate to continue to go to schools that failed them year after year after year? Under the president's proposals, the schools will have three years to get up to standards, so that the children are able to achieve.

The president's education plan includes initiatives to help those schools to get up their standards. And he'll get into this tomorrow, but after three...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... smaller classes, more teachers and so forth, and rebuild 6,000 falling-down schools?

FLEISCHER: The president's education plan is going to focus on a different priority, on a new priority -- and it's a priority that most governors will tell you works more than any of those type of solutions --and that is, standards, testing and accountability in education.

QUESTION: It doesn't matter the size of the class?

FLEISCHER: Size of the class is of course important, but size of the class is something that the president believes can be addressed through federal resources, but also under local control. He does not want to have a one-size-fits-all Washington solution to education matters.

You're going to see tomorrow that his education policy is going to be a different look in education. It's going to be a focus on standards, on accountability, on reading initiatives. That's where the focus will be. And it will include school choice.

QUESTION: Earlier, the president, after saying he would reverse Mexico, he was asked what he would do on fetal tissue research, and he said, "I'll deal with that later." Coming as it did in the context of the discussion about reversing one of President Clinton's executive orders, what should we read into that? Is that an indication that he's going to reverse or institute a ban on fetal tissue research?

FLEISCHER: You'll know when the president has an executive order to issue. We'll advise you if and when he does. And from this point on, they can be issued at any time.

But let me just say on the issue that you raised, the president is very well aware of the importance of that issue. It presents a fine balance between medical research and helping find cures and solutions to problems, and protecting the life of the unborn. And he does support research from adult stem cells, but he does not support fetal tissue research from induced abortions. And I think that's an important distinction to make.

WATERS: Ari Fleischer getting the hard questions already: stem cell research just asked about -- that's yet to be decided. The president's first trip -- and a meeting with an international leader -- will be to Mexico to meet with Vicente Fox -- the highlights of the Bush education plan, which -- according to Andrew Card, the new White House chief of staff -- is the Bush administration's major priority. And those proposals will be sent to the Congress this week.

Ari Fleischer, his first day in the Bush administration and his first day as press secretary, from the West Wing.

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