CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
President Bush Pleased With Passing of Education Reform Bill
Aired December 18, 2001 - 12:39 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.
JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: And now, to the White House, Ari Fleischer.
ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Good afternoon. Let me give you a report on the president's day, and then I have a statement from the president about a very important item that just took place in the Senate.
The president this morning received his usual round of briefings with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and then he convened a meeting of the Homeland Security Council.
Late this morning, the president welcomed to the White House Speaker Hastert, Leader Daschle, Minority Leader Lott and Minority Leader Gephardt to talk about progress that Congress and the White House can make here in the final days of the Congress to help the unemployed and to give the economy a shot in the arm.
The meeting was a positive meeting, a productive meeting, in the president's opinion. It was a friendly meeting. They discussed the stimulus package pending in the Senate. They discussed terrorism insurance. They discussed bioterrorism funding levels. And the president also urged the Senate to take action on the nominees that are being held up in the Senate.
The president will continue to make every effort to work with the leaders of the Senate, as well as many Democrats -- the leaders of the Congress, as well as many Democrats, in order to get a stimulus enacted into law this session of Congress.
Let me now read to you a statement. The Senate just seconds ago passed, by a vote of 87-10, a signature issue on which President Bush ran for office, promised he would take reform as one of the most prominent items if elected. And now I'm very pleased to report that a conference agreement has been agreed to on education reforms for our country. And this is a statement from the president.
Quote -- "I commend members of Congress for acting boldly and in an overwhelmingly bipartisan way to make sure that no child in America is left behind.
These historic reforms will improve our public schools by creating an environment in which every child can learn through real accountability, unprecedented flexibility for states and school districts, greater local control, more options for parents and more funding for what works. Many share in the credit for making these reforms a reality.
I look forward to standing side-by-side with the bipartisan leadership -- Congressman Boehner (ph), Senator Kennedy, Senator Gregg and Congressman Miller, early next year and signing these important reforms into law. By putting aside partisan differences and working to find common ground, we can get things done so that all our children have an opportunity for a better and brighter future.
The president is just delighted with the progress that Congress has followed the course of action on education reform. It's a real area of achievement for the country, and the president is very grateful to the members of Congress of both parties for working so diligently to make this important day happen. He thinks it will result in better public schools for our children.
And with that, I'm happy to take your questions.
QUESTION: Ari, the leaders were unusually shy leaving the building today. Can you tell us, were there any commitments, especially from Senator Daschle on the issue of bringing a stimulus plan to the floor in the next day or so and acting on any of the nominees?
FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to speak for any of the members who were in the meeting; they will speak for themselves.
But to suffice it to say, again, it was a positive meeting. Now, action has to follow from this, but the president was pleased with the tenor of the conversation. And the president is going to continue to talk directly with the leaders. He'll also continue to talk with many of the centrists Democrats, who can help make things happen in the Congress. And he'll continue to work, of course, with the House leadership, as well.
QUESTION: Was it positive, in terms of substance? Did they negotiate details of a potential compromise package, especially the president...
FLEISCHER: It was a substantive discussion. They did talk at length about several of the issues that were involved, and that included the health care issues that are pending in the stimulus package.
The president made several points about that, and I think that on each issue they -- speaking for the president, he thought that everybody felt they were all being listened to, which is constructive.
But, from the president's point-of-view, it simply remains too important an issue for Congress not to get the job done and complete. The president believes that there are too many in America who are unemployed, and too many people who risk being unemployed if Congress doesn't take action. And so that's why the president has put his shoulder to this wheel, is working directly with members of Congress and will continue to do so.
FLEISCHER: Again, I will not speak for any of the people who were here. They can speak for themselves.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) making a concession on health care or on tax cuts or any of these issues?
FLEISCHER: Well, again, it was a positive discussion. I think everybody understands how close they really are on several of the issues.
I can tell you that on the question of the health care provisions, the president did express a concern he has about one area of difference between the president's approach, which is the bipartisan approach, and the approach taken by some of the others in the Senate. Both proposals that the president has made and the proposal made by the Senate leadership provide approximately $30 to $35 billion in unemployment assistance. So when you get the numbers, we're all talking about the same ballpark in numbers.
But under the bipartisan plan that the president is proposing, 100 percent of health care assistance goes to those who've lost their jobs. Under the Senate leadership plan, less than half of the money for health care goes to laid-off workers. More than half of the money under the Senate leadership plan goes instead to workers who either take an early retirement or voluntarily leave their jobs.
And the president thinks that it's more important to target it with more money to those who need the help because they were laid off. So the president in the bipartisan plan actually gives more help when it comes to health care to those who have been laid off then the partisan leadership plan.
FLEISCHER: And so, that's one area where the president thinks we can bridge a difference, and he hopes that the Senate will listen.
QUESTION: How did Daschle respond to these points that the president made?
FLEISCHER: Again, I appreciate the opportunity to speak for others. I will decline it. The senators and the congressmen are very capable of speaking for themselves.
QUESTION: Well, if the meeting as good as you've described, why didn't the leaders want to talk about it? That's unlike them.
FLEISCHER: I think, actually, a couple of them had votes. I think that's why they left. But I can't imagine they won't talk, once they return to the Hill.
QUESTION: What did the president say about the health care plan? What was it that he said to the leaders and what is his concern? You expressed concerns earlier in the day about an entitlement plan, which you described your understanding of what it is the Senate Democrats are proposing?
FLEISCHER: Well, the proposal by the Senate Democrats is designed, as they see, to help people who move from job to job or who take early retirement or who are unemployed. It's very broad.
And the president believes the purpose of a stimulus is to do two things: one, to help people who've been laid off; and, two, to make sure nobody else is laid off, by giving the economy a boost, by cutting taxes and creating an environment in which business can grow and hire more workers and certainly, not lay off any workers. That's where the president is focused.
But again, this was a constructive meeting, and I think people had a good listening to each other's opinions. And now it's important to see if this helps bridge the gaps.
There are no guarantees. There's still a lot of divisions in the Senate. It's not easy leading the Senate. There are many people who will prefer no stimulus at all.
And so, this is where the leadership now has to work very carefully with the centrists who clearly want to get an agreement before everybody leaves town this week, but maybe some who the leadership has to listen to who do not want an agreement before people leave town. It's a difficult balancing act for the leader of the Senate, but...
QUESTION: But did the president tell the leaders that he considered this a new entitlement, and therefore, there was no give on the issue of how health care would be extended to those who have lost...
FLEISCHER: Well, I expressed it the way I did. The president made clear that he thinks this should focus on the people who have been laid off and not be so overly broad, that it helps people, for example, who decide they want to retire at 55.
FLEISCHER: They did talk about the nominees, and the president did talk about some people by name.
QUESTION: If the interim appointments still on the table, did that come up in the discussions?
FLEISCHER: I don't know if the -- anything involving -- you mean recess appointments?
FLEISCHER: I don't know if that came up or not.
QUESTION: Ari, two Sundays ago, Senator Lott suggested that if an agreement on the stimulus couldn't be reached by what was last Wednesday, the talks should be taken strictly to a leadership level with the White House. Is that where we are right now? FLEISCHER: No. We're in multiple places right now. We're at leadership level at the White House. We're also watching...
QUESTION: ... still involved?
FLEISCHER: I'm sorry.
QUESTION: The other sort of conferees, I guess, are still involved.
FLEISCHER: Correct. This is being discussed at the leadership level at the White House, obviously, the leaders just left the White House. They met with the president. And it's being discussed, as well by other leaders on the Hill in both the House and the Senate who have important responsibilities. And finally, it's being discussed, as a result of the president's efforts, with many of the centrist Democrats who really do want to get things done, who really do have a concern about bridging differences and finding ways for the Democrats and Republicans to work together.
So it's being discussed on multiple levels. And that's probably the best way to get an agreement reached, is to keep the pressure on in multiple levels so that the American people can see that people who came to Washington are here to get agreements and not just to engage in partisan disputes.
QUESTION: Did the president say he was going to make these recess appointments in this meeting? Is he moving any closer to it than he has?
FLEISCHER: Well, again, I think the president would like to see the Senate do what the Senate committed to do, which is to give every nominee a fair hearing and a vote.
As I indicated earlier, there are many quotes on the record from the leaders of the Senate -- Senator Daschle on June 17 saying, "Everyone will get a fair hearing." As you know, there are nominees who have not yet had hearings. Others have said that, "We'll move as quickly as they can. The administration deserves to have its team in place, and we'll resolve any differences," that was Senator Dodd.
And so the president thinks it's important that the Senate actually follow through now on those kind words and schedule hearings, schedule votes and confirm as many as possible of the 157 nominees that the Senate has failed to act on.
QUESTION: Did he tell them he was going to make recess appointments if that didn't happen?
FLEISCHER: Maybe you didn't hear...
QUESTION: I don't remember the answer. (CROSSTALK)
FLEISCHER: I said that I was not aware if that came up.
QUESTION: ... a day's meeting and you continue to work with Senate Democrats. Has the president made the calculation that he cannot get a deal if he works with Mr. Daschle, that he has to go around him and work with...
FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated, the best way sometimes in working with the Congress to get an agreement is to pursue agreement on multiple courses, and that's what's happening. The president is working productively with the leadership.
The president is also working productively with a group of the key swing voters, who often can help the leadership to get agreements.
QUESTION: Are we passed a level of just simply having listening sessions? I thought today was supposed to be sort of make or break a day in the next couple of days, the official cut made. Does the president come out of this meeting and think, "OK, we're much closer to having a deal," or does he come out of this meeting thinking, "We're at the same point we were this morning, which is not very close to...
FLEISCHER: Well, again, the president thought it was a positive and productive meeting. Now, it has to translate into action up on Capitol Hill. So ultimately this comes down to a matter where the House and the Senate still have to get together and enter into agreement.
FLEISCHER: We still legislatively are on the track where the House of Representatives passed a stimulus, but the Senate has not. And so the president is doing his best to help the Senate to help itself. And so he is working hard with as many people as possible to try to bridge those gaps.
QUESTION: What specifically was productive about it? He came out -- can you give us...
FLEISCHER: I think there was real understanding about the differences on the issues and that those differences are not all that big. Certainly, the tenor of the meeting was friendly; more friendly than last week's meeting for example.
And again, it's not uncommon, as Congress gets down to the wire for all of a sudden the pace to speed up, for things to become more serious. That is the rule with the Congress. As a recess approaches, the Congress either decides that it will fish or cut bait, or it will conclude an agreement. So the president does not have a vote in the Congress. He can just do his best to keep talking to the members and help them to bring them together. And that's what happened here at the White House this morning. The president brought members together to try to move the ball forward. Ultimately, now it still is up to Congress to act. The president cannot order a vote in the House or the Senate. Only the members of Congress can do that. The president can do his best to bring people together.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) to leave the room this week?
FLEISCHER: (OFF-MIKE) contributed mightily.
QUESTION: The president was very close to a lot of the Enron people. Has he tried to personally find out what went wrong and talked to anybody about it? And what does he think of the situation that has hurt so many people?
FLEISCHER: I think the administration is concerned about anything involving the bankruptcy of any company that would affect so many individuals across our country. And that's why the various agencies of the federal government that are the investigative agencies are monitoring events dealing with the bankruptcy of Enron. And if there is anything to report, it will come properly from those agencies that are charged statutorily with being the overseers of investigations.
QUESTION: Has he talked to Kenneth Lay at all about it?
FLEISCHER: I cannot tell you if the president's talked to him or not. I don't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Ari, John Walker's now been in custody, U.S. custody for more than a week and interrogated pretty regularly. As an American citizen, he has a constitutional right -- in that he's facing very serious criminal charges -- to talk a lawyer. He hasn't. Why not?
FLEISCHER: On questions like this, the facts are still being gathered to ascertain what, if any, charges will be brought. And that needs to be addressed to the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice. As they gather those facts, they will take the appropriate action.
QUESTION: Is this an indication of the kind of due process that people caught up in these terrorist investigations are going to face?
QUESTION: Because as an American citizen, facing, as the attorney general and others have said, very serious criminal charges, he has a constitutional right to see a lawyer and he hasn't.
FLEISCHER: I don't think this is the typical case. This is a case where an American citizen was found in a country abroad, in which was doing battle with the United States. It's not as if there was a lawyer on the street corner who was available at that moment. So, of course, constitutional rights will be obeyed. But I think you need to talk to the specific agencies involved with this and that's the Department of Defense or the Department of Justice.
QUESTION: Is he being denied legal help?
FLEISCHER: Again, it's up to the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice to make determinations about how to hold people and when people should be accessible.
QUESTION: One more. Is the administration then thinking of stripping him of his American citizenship, and he wouldn't have those rights...
FLEISCHER: No, no.
QUESTION: ... because of his allegiance to the Taliban?
FLEISCHER: No. I just indicated that there aren't exactly -- there are different arrangements that have to be made in order to provide somebody who was a battlefield detainee access to the same immediate availability of an attorney, as is the case here with somebody arrested on our shores.
QUESTION: And in that interim, should the authorities refrain from interrogating him and placing him in jeopardy of incriminating himself?
FLEISCHER: These questions all need to be addressed to the proper agency which is responsible and is knowledgeable of the legalities involved.
QUESTION: Well, you speak for the government, Ari, and the president's involved in a lot of these deliberations, obviously, you know these questions are coming. I mean, are you aware of his status? Has he waived his right to counsel?
FLEISCHER: Speaking for the president, the president is more than satisfied that all rights are being fulfilled and that the Department of Defense and the attorney general are doing the appropriate thing in accordance with the constitution and given the on-the-ground practicalities and realities of the situation with Mr. Walker.
QUESTION: The first of two questions. First, a clarification. Are school vouchers included in it -- or whatever they're called now -- included in this education bill?
FLEISCHER: Let me take a look at the final language of the bill, but there was language in there that allowed for the use of funds to provide alternative means to help people who are in low-performing schools, to get options, so they could have better educations, more access to tutors, more access to transportation to get them to a school of their choice, if that's their desire. That was in some of the earlier versions of the bill. I need to take a careful look at the final provisions of it, but that was in earlier versions.
QUESTION: Now that the militants have rejected his calls, what is the U.S. assessment of Arafat power or status of power right now? FLEISCHER: Well, it still remains to be seen what Mr. Arafat's authority is. Nothing has changed from the president's point of view. The fact that these terrorist organizations have resisted Chairman Arafat's calls underscores the need for Chairman Arafat to take the appropriate action.
FLEISCHER: Clearly, these are terrorist groups that are opposed to peace, and they are presenting a challenge to the authority of Chairman Arafat. And to preserve peace, or to create an environment in which peace can take hold in the Middle East, the president has said plainly Chairman Arafat needs to take action against these groups.
QUESTION: What is the United States doing to pressure Pakistan into turning over the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces that are slipping into Pakistan? And are the Al Qaeda fighters who are in custody now considered POWs? And what's the United States learning from their interrogations?
FLEISCHER: Much of this was addressed by Secretary Rumsfeld earlier and by Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz in their briefing, so I'd refer you to what they said on this topic.
QUESTION: But is President Bush personally doing anything to put pressure on Pakistan to turn over Taliban and Al Qaeda fighters?
FLEISCHER: Well, the cooperation with Pakistan has been superb. Pakistan has done a very good job in helping to fight the war against terrorism and continues to do so.
QUESTION: Ari, yesterday we learned that the president had the lesions removed after reporters noticed it. Could you just tell us what the guidelines or the policy is for reporting those kind of medical procedures and letting us know when the president has follow- up medical exams?
FLEISCHER: Sure. I appreciate your bringing that up.
Keep in mind how the press got notified yesterday. As soon as I saw the president, I talked to the president, the president agreed to put out a statement, I put out a statement. So it wasn't as if you were told because you saw it, you were told because I saw it. And that is why press received the notification it received yesterday.
Now, having said that, I think the procedure took place Friday. I've talked with the president about it. I do think it's fair to say that the president thinks this could have been done sooner rather than when it went out yesterday afternoon, and that's from a conversation I had with the president after this morning.
But I do want to remind you of that. That's how you heard about this. QUESTION: On the matter of recess appointments, aside from whether or not it was discussed in the meeting with the leaders, does the White House have any intention of making recess appointments?
FLEISCHER: Again, the president still hopes that the Senate will take action in accordance with its responsibilities here. I'm not going to speculate about any future action that the administration may or may not take.
QUESTION: Well, some administration officials led a major newspaper to believe that there was some intention of that, that they were threatening to do that. Are those officials wrong?
FLEISCHER: Well, what were the names of those officials?
QUESTION: Mr. Senior Administration Official, I believe.
FLEISCHER: The administration has under the Constitution the authority to do just that.
FLEISCHER: Whether or not the administration avails itself of that constitutional authority, I'm not in a position to give to you today.
QUESTION: You can't say whether or not the White House is considering such a move if, in fact, the Senate doesn't do what you're asking it to do?
FLEISCHER: Again, the White House is hopeful that the Senate will fulfill its duties and will confirm the president's remaining nominees this week before they leave.
The Constitution does give the president authority to act otherwise, but the president continues to hope the Senate will do what the Senate should do.
QUESTION: So in other words, if they don't do it this week, then you might have to take action under your constitutional...
FLEISCHER: You never know. If the Senate decides to stay in town after this week, that could change things. But according to what we understand, the Senate will indeed be leaving this week. You never know when they leave.
QUESTION: Ari, despite the president's optimism to break the log jam in the Senate, how frustrated is he with Senator Daschle?
FLEISCHER: He's not. I think that the president recognizes that the legislative process is a process of cordial conversations and discussions, that president believes strongly in certain principles and so too does Senator Daschle. And it's not realistic to expect them to agree 100 percent of the time.
But what is realistic to expect that Senate leaders will work to bridge the differences, and that's what remains to be seen.
And the president sees a way that this can be done. He sees a way that agreement can be reached. It's very difficult in a 51-49 Senate, and the president understands that.
Nevertheless, that is the charge of leadership. The Democrat caucus is generally divided on this topic, and that presents leadership difficulties, but the president believes that, in the end, in the final week and in the final days, that the American people sent people to this town to bridge differences, to forge agreements, and that's why the president, in this final week, has worked as hard as he has.
And let me remind you, it was the president who made the initial proposal for a stimulus this fall. It was the president who then modified that proposal, sent it up to Capitol Hill last week as a result of the president's direction to Secretary O'Neill to accelerate the pace of the discussions with Senate leaders.
And that's what has brought us to the point where we are so close to getting an agreement. So the president hopes that can still happen.
But this -- especially with President Bush, go back to what he did as governor of Texas. This is not a personal business to President Bush. He believes that's what wrong with Washington, when people personalize their differences. He wants to change the tone in Washington, and that's why you see him working in the fashion that he is.
That's why you see President Bush doing something that -- I don't that it was done before -- regular weekly meetings with the opposition leaders, with the Democrat leaders of the Senate and, of course, with the Republican leaders of the House and the Senate.
That's how President Bush governs. That's his style. It's a style that helps to make things happen rather than to drive people apart.
FLEISCHER: But we'll see.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) relationship hasn't deteriorated at all because of the log jam?
FLEISCHER: It's not personal. This is a matter of policy differences where the president sees a way to bridge those gaps. The president hopes that the Senate leadership will agree to bridge those gaps. The president thinks they can.
QUESTION: But Ari, Vice President Cheney called Daschle an obstructionist, and Karen Hughes who's quoted in a major paper, making similar comments -- is it OK for the president for -- the president's senior advisers to take this task while he insists it's not personal?
FLEISCHER: You know, compared to some of the things that have been said in this town in the recent decade about people in both parties, those are hardly tough words.
The fact of the matter is that the House of Representatives did pass a stimulus 56 days ago. It passed an energy bill 140 days ago. It passed a faith-based initiative 157 days ago, and the Senate has not acted. So, I think it is fair to hold people accountable for a legislative progress.
QUESTION: So does the president think Daschle's being an obstructionist?
FLEISCHER: No, the president thinks it's important for the Senate to act.
Go ahead. Yes ma'am?
QUESTION: Thank you. Oops, I'm not supposed to say 'thank you', I'm sorry.
Ari, the president says, if Osama bin Laden has gotten away, the U.S. will pursue no matter how long it takes. What countries would be willing to take him in and would we be willing to go to war with those countries to get him?
FLEISCHER: I don't think there's a country in the world that's foolish enough to want to take Osama bin Laden.
QUESTION: Last week, trade representative Zoellick angered both Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee by not showing up at the fast-track markup. He had showed up earlier when the House Ways and Means Committee marked up that bill. Does the White House feel that he was out of line last week?
FLEISCHER: No. I mean, frankly, it's highly unusual for a trade rep to show up at a markup or for any Cabinet member to show up at a markup.
Typically at markup sessions, lesser officials show up to lend technical expertise to the members of Congress who are engaged in the markup. So, no -- I mean, I think you can see in the result of that, the Finance Committee passed the president's trade promotion authority initiative by a vote I recall of 18 to 3. So obviously it didn't have any difference.
QUESTION: But he did show up at the (OFF-MIKE) used to show up at markups all the time.
FLEISCHER: No, it's actually more unusual for people to show up at markups. And Mr. Zoellick has done an outstanding job -- if you take a look at what has been accomplished this year on the trade front, particularly the agreement that he was able to reach on another round of trade negotiations.
That was not done, if you recall in Seattle. It lead to a -- Seattle was marked by violent confrontation, and free trade agreement -- the next round of free trade agreements failed.
Under Mr. Zoellick it has now been achieved.
FLEISCHER: Trade promotion authority legislation in the House previously failed. Under Mr. Zoellick, it's been achieved. So he has a very strong record of working well with people in both parties on some of the most difficult issues with very small margins.
QUESTION: Ari, what is the U.S. doing to ease tensions between Pakistan and India?
FLEISCHER: In various levels of the government, the president and his staff have been in touch with leaders of both India and Pakistan.
In the war on terrorism, the United States and India are very close allies. And in the war on terrorism, the United States and Pakistan are very close allies.
Indian authorities are continuing their investigation into who is responsible for the brutal attack on their parliament, an attack that has been condemned by the president. The president has made it clear that the United States opposes terrorism everywhere. And as the global campaign continues, the president urges all who support that effort to assist India as India deals with that problem.
QUESTION: Did he specifically urge Pakistan, though, to investigate possible terrorist groups inside their own country?
FLEISCHER: The president has made it clear and Secretary Powell have spoken with President Musharraf that it's important for Pakistan to curb the extremists. And what's important from the president's point of view, for both Indian and Pakistan, is to fight terrorism and to fight the terrorists who are trying to destabilize the region. They have a common cause against terrorist enemies. This is not a reason for India or Pakistan to take action against each other. This is a time for India and Pakistan to take action against the terrorists.
QUESTION: Ari, earlier today, the EU offered to drop its production of steel if the U.S. in turn cut some of the tariffs and quotas that currently apply to that imported steel. Does the administration think this is a fair trade?
FLEISCHER: I think that somebody else from your news organization had a conversation, and you should have that answer from Claire Buchan. I think she's provided that to you. I did not bring that here. QUESTION: On the pending nominations, Senator Christopher Dodd has said that Otto Reich's nomination is not going anywhere. Does the president believe that's the only person who can fulfill the right policy in the State Department for Latin America or is he looking to another candidate?
FLEISCHER: Well, let me site to you a 1995 statement by Senator Dodd when he said, quote, "The idea that you would even block consideration of this person," which was a reference to Dr. Henry Foster, who had been nominated to be surgeon general, "the idea that you would even block consideration of this person from having you vote on the floor of the Senate is childish and wrong and certainly brings disgrace on this institution." So obviously, Senator Dodd has spoken out very strongly in the past about the right of nominees to have a fair hearing, to have their day on the floor of the Senate. And the president expects no less in this case. FLEISCHER: The president think it's important for the senators, regardless of any past disputes they may have, not to engage in a process of paybacks or partisanship, but to engage in a process of progress, so that nominees can have their fair day of consideration.
QUESTION: Ari, on Argentina, there's some Latin American leaders feeling that the White House doesn't care about the crisis in Argentina and in the past have been (OFF-MIKE) United States. What is the president discussing with (OFF-MIKE) economic advice about the situation in Argentina?
FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, president Bush met with President de la Rua up in the United Nations when the two were together in New York, just over one month ago. They had very good conversations. They had met previously in the Oval Office, so the president has had a series of conversations on this matter.
The Department of Treasury and the International Monetary Fund are working closely with Argentina to help Argentina, and I would refer to there. That's where the discussions are being held.
QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) coming to visit by the prime minister of Greece?
FLEISCHER: The administration announced, I think it was yesterday, the upcoming visit and I would refer you to that. That will be meeting that takes place in January.
QUESTION: As you say, both sides have policy differences and you respect these policy differences. How can you reconcile them, without violating your own principles?
FLEISCHER: Well, that's the essence of what Congress tries to do every year. It's not unusual for there to be policy differences. What's unusual is for those policy differences to not be bridged at a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans are unemployed and the economy needs a stimulus to get it going again.
Our economy is in recession and that's why -- I say it again -- the president simply cannot imagine that the Senate would leave town and go on recess, while leaving the economy in recession. It's too important to the unemployed workers of this country and to the economic strength of our country that an agreement be reached and that's why the president has called on Senate leaders and congressional leaders to get their job done. QUESTION: But if they felt they reached agreement on a broader stimulus package, will the president at least request extension of unemployment for 13 weeks?
FLEISCHER: Again, I'm not going to engage in hypothetical guesses. The Senate has a job to do. The president wants to help the Senate to get it done this week.
WOODRUFF: White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, first of all expressing great pleasure on the part of the president that the Senate did pass just a short time ago the education bill -- education reform bill, by vote of 87-10. Among other things, it will -- we'll see many more testing of public school students across the country, and if students do well in return for that, schools will get more money from the federal government. This is all part of president's plan, and the idea of many Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill to pump more money into education.
And just quickly, on the question of the economic stimulus, the president met with the leadership of the House and Senate today, and talked with them about problems getting an economic stimulus bill through. Ari Fleischer said it was a good meeting, but the president is still very much looking for action, for follow through. He wants that bill passed this week before Congress goes home for the Christmas recess.
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