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White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer Holds Daily Press Briefing

Aired March 13, 2001 - 12:21 p.m. ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We are keeping our eye on the White House press briefing room there. We expect Ari Fleischer, the White House press spokesman, to enter the room any moment now and brief the press.

We are expecting to hear some word from the White House today on a couple of matters. One, we have been watching what has happened on Wall Street, with the stock markets actually tanking quite a bit yesterday, the Dow falling some 400 points. The markets are still down today, although the Nasdaq has recovered at least somewhat today. And we expect that President Bush, who has been out pushing his tax cut plan as a remedy for problems like this, we may hear something about that today.

As you see there, that is that latest shot we've got of the Big Board at the New York Stock Exchange. It is -- the Dow is down now 62 points, almost -- yes, 62 points or so. The Nasdaq, as we have said, is up some 29 points. That has been, actually, holding rather steady at that level today. We are also expecting some word from the White House on -- at least on some word into the investigation into that accident in Kuwait.

Let's go now to Ari Fleischer.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. A few announcements to begin today.

The president has invited President Fernando de la Rua to meet with him at the White House on April 19, the president of Argentina. The president welcomes a working visit with the president just in advance of the Summit of the Americas in Quebec City. The United States and Argentina share a broad agenda of common interests and values in the hemisphere and beyond, and the president looks forward to reviewing ways to strengthen cooperation in pursuit of common goals.

We have four personnel announcements to make today. The president intends to nominate Roy Bernardi to be assistant secretary of housing and urban development for community planning and development. The president intends to nominate William James Haynes to be general counsel at the Department of Defense. Victoria Clarke to be assistant secretary of defense for public affairs; that's Tori Clarke. The president intends to nominate Michael Chertoff to be assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division at the Department of Justice. And paper will shortly follow.

QUESTION: Ari, it's closed press today for Ashcroft's ceremonial swearing-in, but with this controversial swearing-in, there seems to be some question about if a procedure that he's had done before will be done at this event: the anointing of oil as he's sworn in.

FLEISCHER: No such procedure today.

QUESTION: Do you know if it happened at his last swearing-in, the official swearing-in?

FLEISCHER: Do not know.

QUESTION: Does the United States plan to offer any compensation, not just for the Americans killed, but the New Zealander killed in Kuwait, and any sort of apology to the New Zealand government?

FLEISCHER: The Department of Defense has been in contact with the government of New Zealand on this matter, and they expressed the opinions of the government yesterday, informed them of the news, and that's all I have to report for now.

QUESTION: Ari, is it standard procedure to offer any compensation to foreigners...

FLEISCHER: Did you have one?

QUESTION: Yes. Also the charge of the embassy in New Zealander sent a letter of condolences to the New Zealand government.

QUESTION: What about compensation though?


QUESTION: Does the president have confidence in the current leadership at FERC or is he considering making a change?

FLEISCHER: As you know, that's a matter dealing with personnel, and I won't speculate about any potential personnel announcements.

QUESTION: Ari, is the president or the White House concerned that it might be living up to the stereotype image of Republicans as pro-business and anti-labor? I ask that because of the ergonomics roll back and the position on the airlines, and now it's been reported that a group of Republicans in Congress have sent a letter to the president, asking him to -- or expressing protest about the ruling on government contracting and that executive order that he did early in his time.

FLEISCHER: The president's position is the government should not tilt either toward organized labor or away. The government should be neutral. And the president's executive orders are aimed at creating neutrality in government contracting. That is the purpose of the executive orders the president signed earlier this year; that's the purpose of the actions he took. As for the airline strike, particularly dealing with Northwest, where the president honored his commitment which he expressed some 30 days ago that he would appoint a presidential emergency board upon the recommendation of the National Mediation Board, the president's concern is that the traveling public not be disrupted and that the economy, particularly in this fragile time, not be given any additional setbacks.

So the president's positions have been focused on a broader community of the traveling public, protecting the economy, and the cause of neutrality in government contracting.

QUESTION: How is it staying neutral if you made Northwest Airlines employees go back to work?

FLEISCHER: Well, under the terms of the bipartisan act, which gave the president the authority to create the presidential emergency board. Upon recommendation from the National Mediation Board, the president has that authority and he invoked it. The neutrality applied to the executive orders that the president signed earlier. What I just indicated was that the president has appointed the presidential emergency board to protect the traveling public and to prevent harm to the economy, two separate issues.

QUESTION: And the president made pretty clear when he announced that decision that he did not want to see the traveling public disrupted by other airline strikes. You're ready to use the same weapon on behalf of management against labor, no matter what the circumstances of those other negotiations are, in the airline sector, isn't that true?

FLEISCHER: Number one, the National Mediation Board must first recommend to the president the appointment of a presidential emergency board. Without that recommendation from the NMB, the president does not have the authority to act in the manner in which you just described.

But the president is indeed concerned about four major airline strikes crippling the economy and the traveling public. He expressed his concerns. He does not think four airlines striking at the same time or any number of those airlines striking would serve the public well or the economy well, and he is prepared to act if he has the authority to act.

QUESTION: So if you work in the union that's having a dispute with an airline, you can pretty much forget striking as an aspect of your negotiation posture, because the president's going to stop you from doing it.

FLEISCHER: No, that's a misread of the law. The law, which, again, is bipartisan, provides for a cooling-off period in the event of an impasse. And certainly, in the case of the Northwestern strike, there was a multi-year impasse. The parties were not able to reach any type of agreement, which is why the National Mediation Board, a group of experts set up to bring people together, recommended to the president that he take the exact action that the president took. The parties were unable to reach an agreement. An impasse had been reached. And to protect the public, the mediation board gave the president the recommendation it did.

Now, what the president is making unequivocally clear is that he is concerned about the impact of these strikes on the travelling public and on the economy. And if the National Mediation Board acts again, he will take the same steps, which means a cooling-off period. After the number of days allowed under the law for a cooling-off period is fulfilled, then, of course, the Congress can step in or the parties are free to act.

QUESTION: Does he have any other options, past the 60-day cooling-off period?

FLEISCHER: The president does not; the Congress does.

QUESTION: An interesting day on the markets yesterday and an immediate reaction from sort of both sides on the tax cut debate. Some Republicans say you need bigger tax cuts with more pro-business incentives to spur the economy. Democrats say turmoil in the markets show you can't face this on 10-year surplus projections, and you need a smaller, more cautious tax cut.

I'm interested in your thoughts on how market turmoil affects, not only the math of the tax cut debate, but the politics and the psychology of it.

FLEISCHER: In terms of the math of the debate, let me take that first. The budget that the president submitted to the Hill is an extremely conservative budget in its projections. It breaks with several trends in terms of underestimating the amount of revenue coming into the government compared to the way it has been done before.

FLEISCHER: By most estimates, the amount of money coming in will exceed what we have projected, even given the recent economic weakness.

The president, last Monday, I believe it was Monday at the Department of Treasury, announced that revenues for this year are so far coming in at $32 billion higher than last year, even with a significant decline in economic growth. So that underscores what the president said about the conservative nature of the estimates in his budget. And that underscores why the president is confident that the estimates that he has projected will indeed be realized. And if there's going to be a mistake, the likelihood is a mistake will be made on the other side of the scale, that more revenue will come in.

The president has cited before weaknesses in the economy, the statistics about weaknesses in the economy, the effect on real people who are touched by this, in terms of jobs, in terms of economic security. And that's one more reason why the president thinks it is so important for Congress to pass what he has called his economic recovery plan. The president believes that the best way we can help the economy is for the Congress to pass his budget plan and his tax plan.

QUESTION: Ari, on that subject, though, the president has said repeatedly he wants this plan, it's just right, no add-ons. And then I wonder what the president thinks when yesterday he sees someone like Dick Armey, the leader of his own party in the House, or second, right there, you know, proposing add-ons. Does he regard that as sabotage or as unhelpful or he is a stalking horse?

FLEISCHER: He regards it as something he has heard before in private meetings, where he has said in private what he has said in public, which is, he believes that the best proposal is the proposal he made, which is across-the-board tax relief, the route that he has announced: double on the child credit, elimination of death taxes, reduction of the marriage penalty. That's the proposal the president made. That's the proposal he thinks will help the economy best.

In several of these private meetings, the president has talked about the need for capital formation. And that's one reason why he wanted to have a reduction in marginal income tax rates. And members brought up some capital gains taxes. The president has made clear that he thinks we should take care of the people first and enact the tax plan that he has proposed before we consider any other provisions. And he has addressed that message to Democrats and Republicans alike.

QUESTION: Do you regard that they are in defiance of what he is trying to accomplish, members of his own party?

HARRIS: We're going to step away now. We've been listening to Ari Fleischer, White House press spokesman, as he's been briefing the press.

We've been keeping our ears cocked here for any word he may have had from the White House on a response to what happened in the markets. And we hear our John King ask about what this mean for Mr. Bush's plans for his tax cut plan. And Ari Fleischer says that the Bush budget plan is based on some conservative estimates of surplus figures to come in the future. And he is confident, therefore, that those surplus figures, combined with what happened yesterday, are proof that the Bush tax cut plan should be approved in Congress.

And, of course, we'll continue to follow that later on.



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