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Special Event

Ari Fleischer Briefs Press

Aired March 28, 2001 - 12:13 p.m. ET

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

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to the White House Press Briefing Room, Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary answering a question posed by our very own Major Garrett.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

QUESTION: ... we can reduce pollutants in the air. And those are sulfur dioxide, mercury and the third.

(CROSSTALK)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... nitrogen oxide. That's correct. All of which goes beyond the pronouncements made by the previous administration.

QUESTION: Ari, with respect though, there are some people who don't quite see it that way, and they were out there this morning talking about some of the rollbacks in arsenic, his reversal on carbon dioxide. And I know your explanation on that, so I'm not asking for that again.

But they said the president came to town saying, that, "He would change the climate in Washington, we didn't know that it was the actual climate that he was talking about."

(LAUGHTER)

And I'm wondering if the White House is concerned that they're giving the Democrats a very big stick with which to whack the president with, between now and a year November?

I think you remember, during the course of the campaign, there was also some hyperbole on the side of those who opposed the president. And I think what you've heard this morning is a continuation of that partisan hyperbole. It happens in Washington.

But, no, the president is going to continue to pursue a balanced policy when it comes to the environment. That's what he said he'd do. He intends to do it.

On the arsenic question that you raised, of course, let me remind you that Administrator Whitman said at the time of the announcement that she will be moving forward to lower the amount of arsenic in the water. It's a question of what is the proper level to which it should be lowered, from the 50-parts per measurement in place today, to a lower level.

And there's also regional concerns that she had, so we don't have a one-size-fits-all national level when there are certain regions of the country, such as Arizona and other places in the Southwest, where there are higher naturally recurring levels of arsenic in the water that should be reduced. But if you reduce them to too great a point, you're going to force people to lose the municipal source of water.

That is a real problem in the Southwest.

So she will be moving forward on a new standard to have reasonable levels that are based on science and on some flexibility for states or for regions, where the level that was pronounced by the previous administration would have done real harm to people's ability to get drinking water.

QUESTION: So you're saying that the proclamations that we saw on the Hill today are just nothing but more of that partisan hyperbole that you saw during the campaign?

FLEISCHER: I've already addressed the question.

QUESTION: The Democrats never said that they would replace, substitute, the tax cut with a rebate. They say they support the idea of a tax cut, just the size, the portions, the figure on such issues are debated. So why does the president think that the rest of the tax plan would just die if he would not push that through quickly, the whole thing, through Congress?

FLEISCHER: Well, as the president just told a group of congressional leaders, who he met with in the Cabinet Room, he views what Senator Daschle has proposed as healthy. He thinks it is just one more sign of how the conversation in Washington every day seems to becoming closer and closer to what President Bush proposed. Now you have Senator Daschle not only supporting the president's call for retroactivity, but for reducing the 15 percent rate down to a 10 percent rate, all of which the president proposed.

So the president welcomes Senator Daschle's statements, but the president is going to continue, as he said yesterday, to call for a permanent tax relief package because the president will oppose anything that leaves too much money in the hands of the politicians to spend.

QUESTION: Why wouldn't he just cut the whole package into two parts, so the first, the urgent part, would be on his desk by April, as the Democrats say, and the rest of the tax plan could be worked out expeditiously, but in further negotiations?

FLEISCHER: The president believes it's urgent to provide permanent tax relief, not one-time-only tax relief. And the president would not support anything that would keep taxes high or leave too much money in the hands of politicians, because he fears they'll spend it later.

QUESTION: Ari, on campaign finance reform, will the president sign McCain-Feingold as it now stands or, in light of the fact that his support the Hagel amendment failed, will he push for another kind of compromise in the Senate?

FLEISCHER: Well, obviously, the bill before the Senate is a moving target. It's changing, and obviously there was an important vote this morning on a tabling amendment, dealing with increasing the hard money contributions allowable. And so the McCain-Feingold, as it was originally written, is evolving and will continue to evolve. And the president is pleased to monitor it.

He's going to work with Senator McCain. He's going to work with Senator Hagel. He's going to work with other senators, because he believes that we need to reform the current system, and he wants to sign a bill and sign one this year.

And that's the message he's sending loud and clear to members of Congress in both parties, that the president cannot be counted on to veto it because he thinks we need to reform the campaign finance laws.

QUESTION: Let's see if we can get you to be a little bit more specific. Hagel was specific and the White House, to the extent that it wanted to get into this fight, backed that in its set of principles. That was the major fight. You know it; the president knows it. That amendment failed. So the guts of McCain-Feingold as they're moving forward are intact and appear stronger now than they were before. So can't you be a little bit more specific about what the president's prepared to sign today, now?

FLEISCHER: Again, I can tell you what the president has said. And that is, he is sending a message to people in both parties that they should not count on him to veto campaign finance reform because...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: It means exactly what he said.

QUESTION: Yes, but it doesn't... FLEISCHER: You have to...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... clarity. What is he for? I don't want to know what he's against. I don't want to know what he's not going to veto. What will he do?

QUESTION: What will he sign?

FLEISCHER: You saw...

HARRIS: We have been listening to Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, meeting the press today and fielding questions this morning on the environment, on taxes, and on campaign finance reform. He did say on that particular note -- which is actually being discussed right now across Pennsylvania Avenue, at the Senate -- Bush does want to sign a bill this year, and those in the Senate and in the House should not count on the president vetoing anything. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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