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Special Event

Fleischer Briefs Press; Bush May Reject Invite to China

Aired March 15, 2001 - 2:40 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Here's Ari Fleisher.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It looks like a sell-out crowd today. Something must be going on.

A couple of announcements: One, I have a travel update I want to report. The president will travel to Orlando, Florida, on Wednesday, March 21, to speak to the American College of Cardiology's annual convention and that will be a day trip, for your planning purposes.

(LAUGHTER)

I have a statement by the press secretary on a personnel-related item. The president announced on February 6 his intention to nominate Richard Haass for the rank of ambassador during his tenure of service as the director of policy planning at the Department of State. And today the president is announcing his further intention that among Mr. Haass' other responsibilities, he take the lead on U.S. engagement in support of the Northern Ireland peace process. The United States will continue to support full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and stands ready to assist the process in any way that the British and Irish governments and the parties deem useful.

And with that, I'm pleased to take questions.

QUESTION: What's his speech in Orlando?

FLEISCHER: It will be health-related. We will have a little bit more information on it closer to the event itself.

QUESTION: Campaign finance reform, today?

FLEISCHER: The president will later today sign and sign a letter up to Capitol Hill, which will enclose a statement of principles on the president's dedication to enacting campaign finance reform legislation into law. That will go up sometime this afternoon. As soon as it goes up and the Hill receives it, we will distribute it.

QUESTION: Coverage of the signing?

FLEISCHER: No coverage of the signing. QUESTION: Ari, is the president through with Senator McCain? Is he not talking with the senator on campaign finance anymore? Is he supporting only Senator Hagel's bill?

FLEISCHER: No, the president is working with a number of people on Capitol Hill on campaign finance reform, because he thinks very strongly that this is the year we can actually get it done. And toward that effort, he is working to build common agreement around his principles with a variety of senators on the Hill, including Senator McCain and Senator Hagel and other senators as well.

QUESTION: So McCain-Feingold is not dead? There can be a compromise that would build in the president's plan, Senator Hagel's plan and McCain-Feingold?

FLEISCHER: The president's focus on campaign finance reform this year is on making things live, because he doesn't want anything to be dead; he wants to have an agreement. And that's why he thinks this is the year it can finally be done. It's been one of those issues that has been talked about for so long by politicians in both parties and for some reason, somehow, it never gets done. I think the dynamic has changed this year. The president is determined to take advantage of that and to get it signed into law.

QUESTION: He is definitely in touch with Senator McCain?

FLEISCHER: He is in touch with a number of people on the Hill, and that includes Senator McCain. We're going to work with Senator McCain.

QUESTION: When's the last time he talked to Senator McCain about the issues?

FLEISCHER: I'd have to find out for you, but...

QUESTION: Since the meeting they had?

FLEISCHER: You know, the president very often picks up the phone and talks to members of Congress or actually at night has them over to the residence for dinner and for other meetings. And we don't make all those meetings and contacts public, but you can assume, on a very ongoing, regular basis, the president is talking to members on the Hill.

But Senator McCain is aware of what we are doing on this issue and has been kept in very close touch.

QUESTION: Ari, as you know, the chief of staff of the Army wants to issue black berets to all troops by the 14th of June, the anniversary of the Army, which has caused something of a firestorm among veterans of the elite units. And Minnesota Governor Ventura says when he talked to the president at dinner here, he asked the president to block that move. And someone from the governor's office later reported back that it was a "done deal," quote, unquote.

Is it a done deal? Is the president going to intervene? And how does he personally feel about the issue?

FLEISCHER: As it was reported at the time, when that issue was raised at the National Governors' Association meeting, and it was reported by the press, the president indicated that he would ask Secretary Rumsfeld to look into it. He has asked the secretary to do so, and Secretary Rumsfeld is currently looking at that matter.

QUESTION: How does he personally feel about it?

FLEISCHER: He feels personally that Secretary Rumsfeld will look into it.

QUESTION: Ari, a couple of issues related to campaign finance. Senator Torricelli has a bill that would require stations to provide the lowest possible rate for TV ads, not preemptable.

QUESTION: And secondly, McCain has a proposal for free air time. What's the White House view on either of those -- on both of those?

FLEISCHER: Let me suspend on that. I think it's more proper to let the statement of principles go up to the Hill and have you evaluate those once they are sent up there.

I just want to suggest that, again, the president wants to get an agreement reached this year. And that's why he will send the principles up. They will address many of the questions that you have. But there's also room in those principles to reach an agreement. And that's going to be the president's focus.

If you recall during the campaign, the president said and still believes, that we should have a ban on soft money coming from corporations, coming from unions. He does not believe that the system should be filled with soft money coming from those groups. He believes in full disclosure. He thinks it's terribly important that there be full and instant disclosure by candidates, by various parties, and political campaigns. He thinks the sun should shine in, and that applies broadly to all groups. He believes that people should give money voluntarily, not involuntarily. That's an important provision, as well.

So that's the core of what the president has talked about during the campaign. The principles that he sends up to the Hill will be reflective of that core.

QUESTION: These were drawn from his own experience in running or how were they developed?

FLEISCHER: I think that, from the president's point of view, it was drawn from his experience in governing, his experience in running, and considered approach he took to how best to reform a system that he believes is in need of reform.

QUESTION: Paycheck protection is not one of the four principles...

FLEISCHER: I just discussed involuntary giving. QUESTION: Is that negotiable, because many on the Hill believe if that's a core requirement there's no chance for campaign finance reform?

FLEISCHER: That's the president's view, and I think this view is becoming increasingly shared by others that this is the year to get it.

QUESTION: Ari, you said including paycheck?

FLEISCHER: Including involuntary contributions. The president does not believe that anybody should have money taken out of their paycheck without permission to be used for political purposes, no matter what they belong to, a labor union or any other entity.

FLEISCHER: He does not think that's right. He doesn't think that's fair. And he's going to work to put together a coalition to support his principles that can be enacted into law.

QUESTION: So shouldn't employees have the same right? I mean, if your corporation's giving...

FLEISCHER: You will see his principles shortly.

QUESTION: Ari, on China, do you have anything to say on the president's trip to China, on the comments made by Zhu Rongji, and on the contradictory statements you have the Chinese premier saying that the president agrees that Taiwan's part of China, and the same time you've got China building up its arms against Taiwan?

FLEISCHER: Well, the president is very pleased to have received the invitation to visit China. And we are considering how we can respond at this time. And as soon as we have a formal response, of course, it will be conveyed to the Chinese government, and then we will let you know shortly thereafter.

But he's very pleased to have received the invitation.

QUESTION: Oh, so it's not definite that he's going.

FLEISCHER: He's very pleased to have received the invitation.

QUESTION: Were the Chinese mistaken in saying that he'd accepted?

FLEISCHER: I've answered the question.

QUESTION: Ari, on North Korea, is the president concerned about the cancellation of Cabinet-level talks with the South?

FLEISCHER: As you heard President Bush in his discussions with President Kim, he supports President Kim's efforts to bring peace and to bring stability to the region. And he will continue to be supportive of those efforts.

He has expressed his own personal skepticism about the intentions of the government of North Korea. And that's where matters stand.

QUESTION: He doesn't fear that the cancellation on these talks may relate to some of the comments that have been made by administration officials, including the president. Does the president feel any responsibility for this?

FLEISCHER: I think that the situation is developing in the Korean Peninsula, and there will be other events that follow, as well. And the president made his position clear to President Kim. And President Kim understands that President Bush is supportive of his efforts.

QUESTION: Ari, the president, in the seven weeks plus now, has called most world leaders. Has he talked to the president of China? And on this invitation for a state visit, what are the factors in play here that will be weighed?

FLEISCHER: Well, of course, it's always proper to notify the people who invite you to a meeting before you notify the press. I know that sounds novel. But again, once...

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

FLEISCHER: Again, I've answered the question earlier. There's no change in my answer on the question. Once we have something to report, we will.

But again, the president is pleased to have been invited.

QUESTION: Has he talked to the president...

FLEISCHER: Has he had any recent conversations?

As you know, the deputy premier will be here next week and will be meeting with the president.

QUESTION: So the answer is no.

QUESTION: Is the president pleased that China now says it will talk about a missile defense?

FLEISCHER: He is. The president thought that was helpful. It's another sign that, around the world, people are taking President Bush seriously and understand that the United States under President Bush will move forward with the development and deployment of a national missile defense. And the reaction around the world has become increasingly supportive in various measured ways, and the president's pleased by that.

QUESTION: Would a Chinese willingness...  ALLEN: Ari Fleischer talking about upcoming trips by President Bush; most of the questions, as we expected, centered around campaign finance reform.

As you heard, the spokesman Mr. Fleischer, the president continues to work on a campaign finance agreement; he really wants it to pass this year, but as you also heard, it appears that Senator John McCain and the president are far apart on how they view campaign finance reform, although Mr. Fleischer says the president continues to plan to work with John McCain on that very topic. Debates start next week in the Senate. We'll take a break.

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