CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Bush Addresses Tax Cuts, McVeigh Execution Delay
Aired May 11, 2001 - 13:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to take you right now into the briefing room, where we expect to hear from the president at any second.
CNN's Major Garrett is in there now.
Major, what do we expect to hear?
MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Natalie.
The White House has just notified us that the president, in his opening statement, will refer to the astonishing developments in the Timothy McVeigh case at the top of his press conference. He will also make a statement about the budget and tax debate on Capitol Hill. No guidance yet from the White House about what the president will say about the Timothy McVeigh case, although we can be expected (sic) that he will echo the comment of Attorney General John Ashcroft.
As for the budget and tax debate, a senior administration official tells CNN that the president will stress that he wants Congress to move as speedily as possible to get a tax cut bill to his desk as early as Memorial Day weekend. He will also call upon Congress, the senior administration official tells CNN, to approve the largest cut in marginal tax rates possible.
There's been a healthy debate on Capitol Hill about how low that top rate should go. It's currently 39.6 percent; the president has proposed 33 percent. Even some staunch supporters of the president in the Senate -- Republicans have told him, it's not going to go that low, but the president will urge the Senate and the House, in this press conference, to take it as low as possible, to do it as quickly as possible so a tax cut can be delivered to the American people just as soon as possible -- Natalie.
ALLEN: And Major, when did the White House, as far as the Timothy McVeigh development -- when did the White House find out about this, and how?
GARRETT: Natalie, can you repeat the last part of that question again for me, please?
ALLEN: Yes: When and how did the White House find out about this, as you put it, astonishing development in the Timothy McVeigh story?
GARRETT: Well, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was asked about this this morning. He did not have all of the elaborate details. Of course, the Department of Justice first notified the McVeigh defense team on Tuesday, so it is certainly within the realm of possibility that the Department of Justice, through the attorney general, at least contacted some senior officials here at the White House earlier this week to notify them of this development and -- well, we're waiting for the president -- any moment now -- Natalie.
ALLEN: All right, as you sit down and we wait for the president, we'll continue to talk with you.
GARRETT: The specifics, as I said, Natalie, were not well laid out. I can -- Natalie, I can see the president approaching now. He's walking to the door. Let's prepare for the president.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon.
First, let me begin by talking about how pleased I am that a budget has been agreed upon. And it's now time for the Congress to act quickly. It's time for the Congress to pass meaningful, real tax reform, and I urge them to do so before Memorial Day.
Tax relief will be good for our economy. But tax relief is also a very important way to help deal with high energy prices. And so the Congress needs to act.
I'm confident, if they have the will to do so, that they can, that they can get this done before Memorial Day.
And secondly, I believe strongly the attorney general made the right decision today. Any time we're preparing to carry out the death penalty we have a solemn obligation to make sure that the case has been handled in full accordance with all the guarantees of our Constitution.
The very foundations of our democracy depend on our ability to assure our citizens that in all criminal cases, and especially in the death penalty, defendants have been treated fairly.
This decision is going to create some frustration amongst people whose lives were destroyed and turned upside down by Mr. McVeigh.
BUSH: But it is very important for our country to make sure that in death penalty cases, people are treated fairly.
I'll be glad to answer some questions.
QUESTION: Attorney General Ashcroft was just talking about, quote, "There is no doubt in my mind or anyone's mind about the guilt of Timothy McVeigh."
First, as someone who signed 152 death warrants in Texas, do you agree that there is no doubt that McVeigh is guilty? And secondly, did Louis Freeh know about these documents when he tendered his resignation?
BUSH: Director Freeh never brought this up to me. I found out about this last evening. In my conversation with Mr. Freeh when he came and said he was leaving, the subject never came up.
Secondly, Mr. McVeigh himself has admitted to the crime. Mr. McVeigh, as I recall, said he did it. And I take him for his word.
BUSH: Actually, I've been given an order.
You're second, Steve.
QUESTION: A lot of families are struggling to pay for gasoline at record prices. What can you do to help them in the short term? Will your energy report address that? And do you agree with your energy secretary that OPEC bears some responsibility for these prices?
BUSH: The price of crude oil has got something to do with the price of gasoline, but not nearly as much as the fact that we haven't built a refinery in years. What this nation needs to do is to build more refining capacity. And we're prepared to work with the industry to encourage capital development, capital be deployed to develop more refining capacity. And that may require us to analyze all regulations that discourage development.
But the best way to make sure that people are able to deal with high energy prices is to cut taxes, is to give people more of their own money to they can meet the bills; so they can meet the high energy prices.
QUESTION: Mr. President, can I follow up on that point?
QUESTION: Your party, in the past, has argued in favor of either suspending or rolling back the federal gasoline tax. Will you consider doing either?
And secondly, what would you say to American families who may pay as much as $3 at the pump this summer at the same time that oil companies in this country are experiencing and enjoying record profits?
BUSH: What I say is, I worry about the fact that hardworking people are paying high prices at the pump. It concerns me a lot. And therefore, the Congress needs to cut taxes as quickly as possible to give people money to be able to deal with this situation.
I also say, we need to build more refining capacity. We need more supply. We need to meet the increasing demands with better supply.
I'm optimistic, in the long term, not only will we increase supplies, but that our automobiles will become more technologically adept at dealing with the energy situation we have now. In other words, we'll have new types of automobiles, hybrids. And in the energy plan I'm going to be discussing, you'll see some incentives for hybrid automobiles.
But the quickest way to get money in people's pockets to deal with prices is tax relief.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you really going to let Republicans and Congress go home for the next recess without some kind of other short-term relief? You know, the Democrats are after you and the vice president saying, "You're a couple of former oil men, protecting the industry." Would you, at least, support the Republican bill in the House, which would ease some emission standards in California?
BUSH: Back to David's question, I'll listen to everybody's suggestions. But I want to remind the members of Congress, both Republican and Democrat, all of us are concerned about high energy prices and prices at the gas pump being too high. Let's get the tax relief done and do it quickly.
I hope there is no intention to delay. There needs to be money in the pockets of our consumers as quickly as possible. We've got the wherewithal to do so. But as to suggestions, I'm open-minded for any suggestion somebody may have.
QUESTION: What about the emissions controls?
BUSH: I'll look at all options. But the clearest way to get things done quickly is tax relief.
Now, the American people have got to understand that this is a situation that can require some long-term planning to get the situation in hand to have a stable future. I mean, there is no such thing as immediate supply. This is a situation that's been developing over the years, and it's going to take a while to correct.
The quickest way to help people with their energy bills is tax relief. That is the quickest, surest way to do so.
QUESTION: All options, including the (inaudible)?
BUSH: I'm open. If anybody thinks they've got a good idea, I'll listen. But for certain what needs to happen is additional refining capacity, as well as tax relief.
QUESTION: Fifty-one percent of the American people now, according to a recent poll, support a moratorium on executions, and support for the penalty in general has dropped considerably over the past couple of years. Does what happened in the McVeigh case, coupled with the more than 75 people now that have been released from death row when evidence of their actual innocence came to light -- does all of that lead you to reflect at all on the fairness and accuracy of the death penalty and the way it is actually administered day to day?
BUSH: Well, I am pleased to be able to report as for the first case that came to my desk at the federal government, that my administration is going to take its time to make sure that justice has been administered fairly.
QUESTION: But do you reflect at all on the general accuracy and fairness of the death penalty and the way it actually works day to day?
BUSH: As Mr. Fournier brought up, I was the governor of a state that had a death penalty, and as far as I was concerned, I reviewed every case and I was confident that every person that had been put to death received full rights and was guilty of the crime charged.
QUESTION: So no second thoughts about the death penalty?
BUSH: Not as far as I'm concerned, so long as the system provides fairness. And today is an example of the system being fair.
QUESTION: Mr. President, on the question of repealing the gas tax, even some Republicans have questioned the leadership and the clarity of voice from this White House about what they should do. I've talked to several Republican leaders who've said the White House has said, "Look, if you can figure out a way to pass it, we'll say it's OK, but we're not going to propose it." And what they say is, "If the White House would say they're for it, it would be easier for us to pass it."
Can you tell the American people...
BUSH: I can tell -- let me say it again, see if I can be more clear. To the Congress, who's interested in helping consumers pay high gas prices: Pass the tax relief as quirkily as possible. We've set aside $100 billion to help consumers with high energy prices. That's the quickest way to help consumers.
I am deeply concerned about consumers. I'm deeply concerned about high gas prices.
To anybody who wants to figure out how to help the consumers: Pass the tax relief package as quickly as possible.
QUESTION: Mr. President, there are a number of people, including Senator Leahy, who was here today, who are suggesting that there needs to be much tighter oversight of the FBI. Aside from the McVeigh matter, there have been a number of things over the years -- the FBI labs, the Hanssen case and a number of other things.
Do you believe it's time for a more sweeping look at what is going on at the FBI?
BUSH: There are two looks at what's happening in the FBI. One, of course, is the commission that Louis Freeh put together, headed by Judge Webster. I'm confident that that commission will take a full look at the proceedings within the FBI in regards to security matters. And, secondly, the attorney general is going to be conducting an investigation as to why the documents were not given to Mr. McVeigh's lawyers. And I look forward to seeing what those findings reveal.
Yes, ma'am? QUESTION: Mr. President, to follow up on energy, you're developing closer relations with Nigeria, Mexico and Canada. Could you use your leverage with these countries to have them convince Saudi Arabia to open the spigots and provide more fuel?
BUSH: The reason why we have a problem at the gas pump at this particular moment in history is because we haven't built any refining capacity. When you don't increase supplies of a commodity and demand continues to increase, the price is going to go up.
And so, our nation must expand refining capacity. And we've got to do that within our hemisphere. Otherwise, when you transport refined product from far distances, it doesn't meet market tests. So we need more refining capacity.
I am working with Canada and Mexico to increase the supply, particularly of natural gas.
We have a serious situation in the state of California, as you're very aware. We've been working with the officials of California to expedite the development of new electric generating capacity. We're also doing our part as a good citizen to reduce demand for electricity in peak hours.
But the new plants that are being brought on stream in California are going to be driven by natural gas, and we need more natural gas to make sure there's fuel for those plants.
And so I am working with Mexico, and I am working with Canada to try to figure out ways for us to encourage exploration in our own neighborhood.
I had a good discussion today with the president of Nigeria who is talking about increasing their amount of production coming from Nigeria. That is positive news for U.S. consumers. The more supply on the market, the lower -- the less pressure there will be on price.
QUESTION: Given what's going on with energy prices and the difficulties in the economy, can you assure the American people at the start of your term, that they'll be better off at the end of it than they are today, and if they're not, should they blame you?
BUSH: Well, I certainly hope they're better off. There is no question that the minute I got elected, the storm clouds on the horizon were getting nearly directly overhead. In other words, the economic news started to deteriorate.
The truth of the matter is, the market started to adjust March of last year. In other words, the so-called "downturn" has been in the making for a while. I believe with good policy from the Fed, as well as good fiscal policy, that we can recover; that that robust growth we all hope for will come back.
I wish I could tell you when. I'm not an economist. But if I were, I'd probably say there's a 50 percent chance it would happen soon and a 50 percent chance it wouldn't. QUESTION: And if it doesn't work out, does that mean it's not your fault?
BUSH: Listen, presidents, whether things are good or bad, get the credit or blame. I understand that. But I'm not really that concerned about standing in polls. I'm doing what I think is the right thing to do. And the right thing to do is to propose a tax relief package that is an integral part of a fiscal policy that makes sense. I proposed the plan. I campaigned on the plan. Many of you, if the truth be known here, didn't actually think it was going to happen.
Now there's a budget in place -- $1.25 trillion of tax relief, coupled with $100 billion of immediate stimulus that's now available. If I had my way, I'd have it in place tomorrow, so that people would have money in their pockets to deal with high energy prices; so people would have money in their pockets to be able to plan for the future.
The Congress needs to act. I'm confident that that will help an economic recovery.
QUESTION: Sir, how are the recent controversies in the FBI affecting your search for a new director? And just what kind of person are you looking to head the FBI?
BUSH: Well, we've just started. I look forward to seeing what the Webster report says. I look forward to hearing what the attorney general says about the reason why Mr. McVeigh's attorneys did not see certain documents.
And I'm looking for somebody who will do a couple of things: one, enforce the law; two, keep morale high at the agency; somebody who's a good manager; and somebody who can work with the attorney general and my administration.
QUESTION: What's your timetable?
BUSH: As soon as possible. I'm not sure what that means, though, to be perfectly frank with you.
I mean, we're beginning to look at different candidates. And, obviously, it's a process that's going to take a while.
Director Freeh assured me that the number two person there could do a good job if we took us a while to find a replacement.
QUESTION: Mr. President, some of those who have interviewed Tim McVeigh say that he will actually revel in what happened today.
QUESTION: It'll be a sign of FBI incompetence. What message should he take from this whole episode, in your mind?
BUSH: He should say he's lucky to be in America; that's what he ought to say. That this is a country who will bend over backwards to make sure that his constitutional rights are guaranteed. That, as opposed to rushing his fate, that the attorney general with my strong support said we'd better make sure that all guarantees are fulfilled.
Mr. McVeigh is lucky to be in a country like this. It's unfortunate that he would feel like reveling at all after what he supposedly has done.
There's a lot of people's lives he affected in -- there's a lot of people in Oklahoma City. I went to the memorial. I got to see the faces of people, the pictures of people whose lives were lost. I talked to relatives who still weep when they think about a relative. This isn't a time to revel.
QUESTION: To follow up on that, what will those relatives -- what will those families of victims gain? How will they benefit from Timothy McVeigh's execution?
BUSH: You need to talk to them about that.
QUESTION: In your opinion?
BUSH: Well, I can't possibly put myself in their stead.
QUESTION: Why is his execution so important and the death penalty so important then?
BUSH: Because it needs to send a signal to anybody who thinks that what Timothy McVeigh did was OK, that in this society we're not going to tolerate that kind of heinous act.
But you need to talk to the -- all I can tell you is, I'm sure there's going to be some frustration by the family members by the decision that the attorney general made supported by me. I'm sure there will be. And we'll probably hear from them.
But they must understand that we live in a country that protects certain rights. And the attorney general did the right thing in this decision.
QUESTION: Mr. President, what is your level of concern about U.S. citizens who are being held in China? And what are you doing for them?
BUSH: We've sent clear signals to the Chinese that we expect our citizens that have been detained and/or citizens who have been detained with U.S. relatives, that we expect them to be treated fairly and we'd like for them to have whatever due process the Chinese can offer. We have expressed our concerns. Sometimes they listen, sometimes they don't.
Our relations with China are relations that are going to be based upon a consistent message with the Chinese: one, we expect there to be trade, and I hope there is trade; but two, that we expect people to be treated fairly inside that country. And hopefully they'll respond.
QUESTION: Mr. President, is your confidence in the FBI undermined by this episode?
BUSH: I'm obviously concerned about an incident where documents have been misplaced. But I withhold judgment until I find out the full facts, to find out what the attorney general's investigation finds out.
QUESTION: Mr. President, following up on that, do you think our American justice system is healthy or does it need fixing?
BUSH: I think by and large the system is healthy, and I think today proved why it is healthy. That ours is a government that when found that documents hadn't been given to the defense attorney, even though those documents reviewed by our own -- by our Justice Department lawyers didn't feel like it was going to change the verdict, but we delayed until Mr. McVeigh's attorneys have a chance to look at the documents.
QUESTION: Mr. President, if I can follow up, you know that those documents could have been discovered days after Timothy McVeigh had been executed. You also know that there is some concern about a forensic scientist in Oklahoma City who was involved in a number of death penalty cases...
BUSH: Say that again on the forensic scientist?
QUESTION: In Oklahoma City, he was involved in a number of death penalty cases -- those inmates happened to be executed. What can you say to the...
BUSH: Well, in this case...
QUESTION: Let me just finish.
BUSH: OK. I'm sorry. I beg your pardon.
QUESTION: Thank you, sir.
What can you say or what can you do as president to ensure that at the federal, state level, the death penalty is always administered fairly?
BUSH: Well, at the state level, I encourage governors to be diligent and to look at all the facts and to make sure that people get full access to the courts, and that there is no question about the person's guilt.
At the federal level, I'm pleased to report, that on the first case that came toward my desk, my administration reacted the way it should have, which is given the fact that documents had been misplaced, the attorney general recommended the delay of the execution until Mr. McVeigh's rights were fully vetted. In other words, his lawyers have a chance to look at those documents. It was the right thing to do. And you bring up a hypothetical, but that's not the way it happened. The way it happened was that the evidence was brought forth and we made a decision, and it was the correct decision.
QUESTION: Mr. President, you would not equate the baby that was killed in retaliatory Israeli fire in the Gaza Strip with the 13- and 14-year-old Jewish boys, one of them a U.S. citizen, who were tied up, beaten to death and mutilated near Tekoa, would you?
BUSH: I'm, kind of, smiling because it sounded, kind of, like an editorial.
But the death in the Middle East is abhorrent, and our nation weeps when people lose their lives. And what we must do is work hard to break the cycle of violence.
It's going to be very difficult for us to be able to bring people to the peace table so long as there is violence. And we'll continue to work to break the cycle of violence.
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President.
Did you speak to Secretary General Annan this morning about the United Nations vote to kick the U.S. off of the Human Rights Commission? And if so, what did you tell him?
BUSH: I did. I told him it was hard for me to envision a human rights commission without the United States on it and Sudan being on it, let me put it that way. We're off, and Sudan is on.
I'm not so sure -- that sent an awfully, awfully strange signal to the world, it seems like to me.
QUESTION: Do you believe that some U.S. back dues to the United Nations should be withheld as a result of that vote, as some in Congress...
BUSH: I do not. I think we have made an agreement with the United Nations, an agreement that had been negotiated in good faith, and I think we ought to pay our dues.
Having said that, the decision was an outrageous decision.
To me, it undermines the whole credibility of this commission to kick the United States off, one of the great bastions of human rights, and allow Sudan to be on. And I think most reasonable people in the world see it that way.
And but I did bring up the subject. Thank you for pinning me.
BUSH: He listened carefully.
QUESTION: Another energy question, if I may, Mr. President.
QUESTION: What would you tell an American citizen who is suspicious that your energy policy is going to benefit the oil industry, because of your background and Vice President Cheney's background in the industry?
BUSH: I would tell the American people, "I'm going to tell the truth when it comes to energy." That we have a serious problem. That we need to do a couple of things. One, we need to encourage the development of technologies to help us conserve. We need to be more conservation-minded in America.
But I'm also going to say, as plainly as I can, "We won't conserve our way to energy independence. We must also increase supply." It's in the consumers interest that we do so. The more supply there is relative to demand, the less the price will be.
And I believe that we can have exploration and sound environmental policy go hand-in-hand. The only thing I know to do, sir, is to tell the truth is the way I see it.
And we can play like there's not an energy crisis or hope there's not a problem. There is a problem. And there's a problem that's going to confront this nation. And my job as the president is to take the problem on and propose the solutions I think necessary to solve the problem.
And again, I repeat, it's a combination of good conservation and an increase in supplies. And I believe we can do both. And I think most of the American people understand that.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Japan's new prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has accepted your invitation to visit the United States as early as possible. He now enjoys a record support of more than 80 percent, thanks mainly to his strong commitment to economic reforms in Japan.
QUESTION: Mr. President, are you now optimistic about the future of the second largest economy in the world, or are you still very concerned?
BUSH: Well, I am concerned, but I am optimistic when I read what the prime minister has said about reforms. And I believe he's a man who is intent upon reforming the system.
I had a good visit with him on the telephone. I look forward to meeting him in person. I look forward to discussing ways in which our important friendship can remain strong. And I look forward to hearing from him what he and his government intend to do to reform the system.
Japan is a very important partner of the United States. And it's not only an economic partner, but it's an important partner to keep stability in the Far East. It's important for us to work closely together. And I look forward to meeting him soon. And I'm confident we'll have a very good dialogue when I'm able to do so.
Thank you all very much. Have a very good weekend.
ALLEN: All right, 30-minute news conference from President Bush today. Talking about mainly two issues, first of all, the delay of the Timothy McVeigh execution; John Ashcroft announcing an hour-and-a- half ago the government is delaying that execution by one month. It is now set for June 11 because the FBI has revealed that thousands of pages of documents were missing and not handed over to attorneys in the case.
The other big story the president taking many questions on, the energy crisis in this country. He was asked why the oil companies continue to reap profits when average Americans are paying up to $3 a gallon for gas. His answer: we need more supplies; we need to supply more oil and we need a tax cut. He urged Congress to pass a tax cut by memorial day.
Let's go to CNN's Major Garrett, who was in there for this news conference.
And Major, the reason for this news conference -- was it to make a statement on the McVeigh developments, or it was it regarding the tax cut and the budget?
GARRETT: Natalie, primarily the reason for this press conference was to frame what the White House believes is a crucial two or three weeks ahead about the debate in Congress on the president's tax cut, and also to respond to the increasing criticism this White House is receiving, even from Republicans, about its approach to the energy situation.
The White House knows Republicans are feeling nervous on Capitol Hill; they're feeling the political heat. So, for the first time, this president decided to frame the debate about his tax cut, not in the terms of reviving a sluggish U.S. economy, but for helping consumers ravaged, possibly, by higher energy prices, particularly higher gasoline prices. For the first time, this White House is putting those two issues together.
The president responding, if the public is concerned about higher energy prices, they should turn to Congress, demand that they pass a tax cut quickly so they can get money in their pocket and deal with the energy situation there. So the main driving force behind this press conference was to deal with two political arguments this White House is having with Congress and to respond from increasing Republican criticism that it's approach to energy is putting them in a political bind -- Natalie.
ALLEN: And now back to this development in the McVeigh case, Major. He was peppered with questions about the FBI, about the fairness of the death penalty, whether McVeigh will revel in this extra attention. What stood out in your mind, as far as the message that President Bush was sending out today about the death penalty and this case?
GARRETT: Two things stood out, Natalie. First of all, the president said Timothy McVeigh is lucky to live in a country like the United States; that, at the federal level, at least -- and he stressed it, he said, I've got no control over the way states handle the death penalty. But at the federal level, even with a crime this horrific, even with so many lives affected -- an entire nation convulsed by a crime of this magnitude, this government will take the time to make sure all appropriate steps are taken so that justice is taken care of according to law. All constitutional guarantees are, in his words, carried out.
The other thing he said is, I know this is going to cause frustration to many Americans, particularly the victims, the most immediate victims of this tragedy in Oklahoma City. He said, but they, too, should take some comfort in the fact that when this is carried out -- when Timothy McVeigh receives his ultimate justice, it will have been done in full accordance with the law.
Lastly, the president said, Timothy McVeigh has admitted he did this. He has not in any way lost confidence in the FBI or the fact that Timothy McVeigh is guilty. And he agrees with the decision of his attorney general to stop this, or at least delay this execution so all procedures can be carried out -- Natalie.
ALLEN: All right; Major Garrett at the White House, we thank you.
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