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Special Event

White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer Addresses Questions About Bush Education Proposals at Daily Briefing

Aired January 23, 2001 - 1:51 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: The daily briefing has just gotten under way at the White House briefing room in the West Wing. Here's Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ... all on the issue of accountability. Is there a softer approach than you've led us to believe?

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Well, what I heard him say was that accountability without consequences is not accountability and that you have to have consequences in order to make accountability work.

QUESTION: How about the rest of what he said?

FLEISCHER: But that's the core of accountability, is to have a consequence; that after you test, if test scores are not at a sufficient level where our children are getting the grades they need so we know that are schools are teaching our children, there has to be a consequence.

And the president believes very strongly that one of those consequences is that parents should have other options including school choice.

QUESTION: Ari, the question is, is there room for negotiation on the issue of vouchers or isn't there?

FLEISCHER: Well at this point, the president is proposing legislation to the Congress. And I think it's way too soon to start talking about negotiating anything.

QUESTION: Washington is going to frame this as a contest between the two sides, one of which doesn't want vouchers, one of which does, even though both want an education bill. Senator Kennedy said to us, as he was getting in his car, that he thinks that they have the votes to defeat a voucher plan. So that said, how do you approach it?

FLEISCHER: Let me say this. Some in Washington will try to make this one pitted camp against another pitted camp. That is not, and I don't think will be the way President Bush will govern. He is going to look for those areas that bring everybody together and he's going to build the public case that's going to bring together a bipartisan coalition to push through this entire comprehensive education reform plan including school choice.

QUESTION: Is he afraid to say vouchers aloud?

FLEISCHER: Well, Helen, the reason he doesn't use that word...

QUESTION: Why?

FLEISCHER: ... is because, his plan is not what has traditionally been called a voucher plan. In fact, if you remember during the Republican primary, he was criticized from conservative Republicans because they thought he didn't do enough in the direction of school choice or vouchers.

A voucher plan, properly understood, is usually a statewide plan for all schools that everybody has a right to a voucher. That's a voucher plan. It's much more universal.

This plan is focused on accountability and results. So that if a school is failing, he wants to have consequences. The consequences are for those children who go to Title I schools, which are schools that receive federal aid for low-income communities, low-income schools -- schools in low-income communities, that parents from those schools will have the option of having that money follow the child if the child needs to go to a different school because the school has failed. It's not a full-blown voucher. It is a very different idea.

QUESTION: Who decides whether a school fails or not?

FLEISCHER: That's why you need to have annual testing of all the students every year in grades three through eight. And after looking at the annual testing, schools get measured.

And I'll tell you who decides...

QUESTION: But that's federal interference and you want all this local control.

FLEISCHER: President Bush does believe that there is a federal role through government in educating our children.

But, Helen, asked who decides...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) but he's approved of vouchers. So, I mean, the issue is, is it open for negotiation as to whether there should be, after three years of failing schools, whether there should be a $1,500 voucher or money withheld -- federal money withheld.

And what I'm asking you is, does the president's language, today, stand on its own? When he seemed to suggest that he's got an opinion, he knows it's open for debate and he's open to other ideas.

FLEISCHER: The president understands in all issues, in all areas that the president proposes and Congress disposes.

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: But, no, but that's true for everything in the plan. Somebody may say, "Your $5 billion reading initiative is not enough, it needs to be $5.5 billion." I mean, that's part of the process.

QUESTION: Are vouchers open for negotiation, yes or no?

FLEISCHER: Everything he does has to be talked through with the Congress, in every issue in every area.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: The president's meeting tonight with Senator Lott. Does the president have any problem with John McCain trying to bring his reform plan up so quickly and to the administration?

FLEISCHER: Well, as you heard Senator McCain talk over the weekend, he's working through the exact timing about when it will come to the floor with Senate leaders. And the president looks forward to sitting down with Senator McCain to discuss campaign finance reform tomorrow night, as well as some other things.

And I think one of the things you'll hear them talk about a little bit is going to be spending. Senator McCain has stood strong on Capitol Hill to eliminate pork-barrel spending, and I think the president wants to talk to him about that.

QUESTION: Ari, the president talked about...

WATERS: That's Ari Fleischer, White House press secretary, responding to reporters questions about the Bush education proposals released today. He said essentially it's too soon to talk about negotiating anything because we have a Democratic alternative also submitted today. So this process will work itself out and we'll keep following it.

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