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Congressional Leaders Hold News Briefing on Meeting with President Bush

Aired January 24, 2001 - 10:21 a.m. ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you now live to Washington or is this tape, I am not sure. This is the aftermath of the meeting we saw moments ago. This is live. George W. Bush was meeting with congressional leaders, senatorial leaders. As you see there, that is Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott on the left and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle there on the right. They were meeting with President Bush this morning, in the sixth such leadership meeting. And we are hoping to hear some comments about exactly how the meeting went.

REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), HOUSE SPEAKER: We had a very interesting meeting, and I think a very candid discussion between the president and the leadership of the House and the Senate. We kind of laid out some concerns that we had and some of the things we wanted to move forward on. The president talked about a variety of things.

I think it wasn't a meeting where we made any deals or had great agreements on world issues, but I think it was a good start to say that we're going to do this on a regular basis. We're going to sit down and talk about the problems, the agreements and the disagreements that we have, so that we can move forward on good legislation and things that benefit the American people.

I was very, very encouraged about the time that we had, the involvement and participation we had and look forward to doing it again.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R-MS), MAJORITY LEADER: Tom, why don't you go ahead?

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D-SD), MINORITY LEADER: Well, I agree with the speaker. I thought it was a very conservative meeting. Obviously, the more we have opportunities like this to talk about issues of mutual concern, the more productive I think the relationship between Congress and the president, between Democrats and Republicans, will be.

We talked about the importance of establishing a budget process that will allow us to make many of the challenging decisions that we must over the course of the next several months. The president expressed an interest in working with us in trying to come up with a budget at the earliest but most practical time frame. We talked about the importance of education, and we talked about the importance of reaching out to people on both sides of the aisle as we address the array of issues. We talked briefly about energy, foreign policy, taxes. So we covered the gambit, and I thought it was an excellent meeting.

LOTT: Well, let me just say, I'm also very appreciative of this opportunity to meet with the president.

He really has been reaching out. I believe he noted that this was the sixth meeting in two days that he has had with congressional leaders in one group or another. And while he might not want to continue at that pace, it's a very positive sign, and I think it's appreciated by members of both Houses and both parties of the Congress. And it wasn't just a discussion about, you know, platitudes, you know, "I'm glad to be here." You know, "Good luck, Mr. President." We got in through some substantive discussions, as Senator Daschle just noted, all the way from talk about budget to foreign policy, energy, education. I felt very good about it.

And I hope that he will continue this effort to bring the Congress on board, bring us along as we move into the issues, not try to ask us to join up after the die is already cast. And so this was a good meeting, and I appreciate the very positive tone on both sides of the aisle.

REP. RICHARD GEPHARDT (D-IL), MINORITY LEADER: I agree with what's been said.

Dave Bonior also brought up an important issue of electoral reform. And we had a good discussion of that issue. And obviously, Democrats and Republicans have differing concerns on that issue, but I think we're all committed together to find the facts in the House and in the Senate, around the country in the next weeks.

And hopefully we can come up with a bipartisan list of reforms that we might be able to enact. A lot of this occurs at the state and local level; we know that. But the federal government has a stake in this, and the whole country is interested in it, and we hope we can make some progress.

QUESTION: Senator Daschle, the Ashcroft nomination, how do you feel?

DASCHLE: Well, the vote will be taken in the Judiciary Committee early next week.

It is my expectation that it will come to the floor. Senator Lott and I talked this morning about bringing it to the floor shortly after that. We obviously want to accommodate senators that want to be heard on the issue. And ultimately, I'm sure that the matter will be resolved.

I can't give you a time frame, but our hope is that it can be done over the course of the next week or so. QUESTION: Could you be more specific about what was discussed on election reform, and would it be linked to campaign finance reform? Is that the way you'll do it?

DASCHLE: Well, I think that it's important that we draw the distinction between the issues relating to election reform and the array of issues having to do with campaign finance reform.

I, for one, believe that the two ought to remain separate simply because they are entirely different issues. But others may have different points of view in that regard.

I think there's a real chance that we can move forward on both of these, but I think it's critical that we put our focus on both issues separately. And I think we would benefit in the debate and ultimately in the outcome by doing so.

QUESTION: Did the president say...

HASTERT: I think one of the things that Mr. Gephardt and I talked about is doing, probably, a select committee on a short period of time on campaign or election reform so that we can look at the issues, see what the differences are. There are differences of opinions on both sides of aisle, what are problems? And so that we can do a thorough investigation in looking at this and then, on a short period of time -- probably six to eight months -- come up with recommendations on legislation.

So I think we need to keep election reform and campaign reform -- they're actually apples and oranges, and not mix them.

REP. DAVID BONIOR (D-MI), MINORITY WHIP: Just a brief comment on election reform. A rather long segment of our meeting was spent on that, on election reform, and some of us indicated to the president that we appreciated deeply his words at the inaugural. They were moving. They included words like justice and opportunity and responsibility. And we relayed to him how deeply felt many of the American people feel about this election problem that we have, and how disenfranchised they feel, how disconnected they feel and how important it is; it's the building blocks of our democracy.

And the president, in response, understood and appreciated our remarks. He talked about, actually, the question of dealing with how the media reports the election. We talked about how we're concerned about our military service having their votes counted in a responsible way, and, of course, the disenfranchisement of literally hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other Americans, particularly those that were using ballots and machines that are antiquated and shouldn't be used.

So we got into a gambit of discussions on this important issue, and I think we ended the discussion with a concern that we need to move forward on this in a responsible, bipartisan way, not just to redo the past, but so we can move beyond into the future and create the confidence that the American people want in the system that we have. QUESTION: Well, Mr. Bonior, during this discussion, was there any discussion about who actually won the election or should have won the election, any assertion brought on the president's part?

LOTT: Well, I'll respond to that. No. I think the feeling was that the time for that is over. The election is over. We're moving forward. And I think the president made that point.

At this point, we need to look to future and find ways to work together. And I think that feeling was shared by all of us in the room.

QUESTION: Did you discuss energy crisis in California? Did that come up?

LOTT: Who wants to respond to that? Harry, you want to jump into that? Good luck, Harry.

REP. HARRY REID (D), NEVADA: We did discuss the energy problems that we have. He indicated that the two-week extension given to California was the last he was going to give. He emphasized that three or four times.

Now, he indicated that California's problems are lapping over into other states, and that's true. Nevada's had some problems, because of what's going on in California. And he did indicate that he felt it was a problem that California had to address itself, that he, speaking for his share of the federal government, wasn't going to do anymore at this stage.

LOTT: Thank you very much.

GEPHARDT: Thank you.

HARRIS: We've been listening to congressional leaders. There taking the role of reporters, giving us the word on what happened in their meeting this morning with President George W. Bush.

Quite a few items did get discussed this morning. House Speaker Hastert says that no deals or agreements were made, but some issues did make their way to the table, namely the establishment of a budget process, the importance of education reform, the issues of reaching out to both sides to achieve solutions to these problems, the energy crisis in California, and most notably here electoral reform. That is addressing the problem in the electoral -- the actual process of electing a president, which was, in fact, quite a bit of discussion in the five weeks after election night.

We heard here this morning House Speaker Hastert saying that there's been talk now of putting together a select committee on electoral reform. And then, sometime within the next 6-8 months coming up with some recommendations for legislation.



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