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Press Briefing by Jake Siewert (12/1/00)

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                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                          December 1, 2000

                              PRESS BRIEFING
                               JAKE SIEWERT

                     The James S. Brady Briefing Room

1:28 P.M. EST

     MR. SIEWERT:  We have a quick update on transition -- I know
everyone's interested in what we're doing around here to make the
transition operate smoothly.

     Today, Mr. John Podesta, the Chief of Staff, submitted and accepted
his own resignation -- (laughter) -- effective January 20, 20001, with

     Q    Without any argument at all?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Without any argument.  More seriously, John has been in
touch with the Gore team, and is reaching out to the Bush team to discuss
how we can best move forward on the background checks, on a parallel
process.  As you know, the Justice Department has indicated that they're
willing to consider moving forward on a parallel track to make that process
go more smoothly.  And recognizing the unusual nature of this circumstance,
we're exploring with both campaigns how we can best do that and make some

     As I've said before, 90 percent of the work that's done at this stage
is done by the campaigns, themselves, and the transition teams and the
individuals who have been selected for those jobs.  But there's no reason
why we couldn't begin to talk about helping make that progress move a
little more smoothly.  So that's something we're discussing with the
Department of Justice; John is reaching out to both teams and we'll let you
know how that goes.

     In a brief update, for those of you interested in Nebraska, the
President's schedule is firming up a bit there.  Next Friday, we will go to
the University of Nebraska where he will speak at -- in Kearney, where
he'll speak to the student body there, at the invitation of former Senator
Jim Exon.  And I expect that will be the first in a series of speeches the
President gives towards the end of his term here, to focus on some of the
larger issues confronting the United States, how we've met them and how we
plan to move forward.  We're still finalizing the actual topic, but I think
you can expect that to be a relatively serious speech about what we've done
here and what the next administration can do.

     He will then maybe take an opportunity to explore some of the sights
around Kearney and then travel on to Omaha, where he will speak to -- take
an opportunity to talk to the citizens of Omaha, and then probably attend a
Democratic event there.

     He will not, unfortunately be going to Carhenge, which I'm informed is
an actual replica of Stonehenge, consisting of American-made vintage cars.

     Q    He is not doing that?

     MR. SIEWERT:  He is not doing that.

     Q    Are we going to sleep in Nebraska?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I think we're coming back here that evening, for an
event here.  We are looking for a chance for him to explore the culinary
delicacy called "runza," which I have a recipe for if anyone's interested.
It's r-u-n-z-a, which is a delicacy enjoyed at University of Nebraska
football games.

     Q    What is it?

     MR. SIEWERT:  It involves -- funny you should ask.  (Laughter.)  It
involves bread dough, hamburger, cabbage and onions.  And as I said, I've
got the recipe here if anyone is interested.  More Nebraska information.

     Q    No alcohol?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I think it's probably accompanied by alcohol at many
football games, but I don't -- (laughter) -- in particular.

     Other than that, I don't have anything off the top of my head to share
with you.

     Q    Background checks -- could those happen as early as next week?  I
mean, could the FBI start doing those background checks as early as next

     MR. SIEWERT:  No, we haven't finalized this.  Obviously, in the past,
these sorts of background checks have been governed by some sort of
agreement between the team and -- the transition team and the Department of
Justice.  We probably need to explore that.  That's one of the issues we're
discussing.  And as I said, it hasn't been finalized, but we'd like to do
something to make sure that we're moving forward quickly and not getting in
the way of people, if they are actually ready.

     I don't think -- I don't have any indication from them yet whether
they're willing to do this, but it's something we're exploring with both
the teams and something we've talked to the Department of Justice about.
And we're certainly open to the idea of helping that move forward quickly.

     Q    Has Podesta scheduled his sit-down meetings with either Mr. Card
or Mr. Neel yet?

     MR. SIEWERT:  No, but he's talked to both of them over the past week
or so and, as I said, I expect he'll be in touch with them today.

     Q    These speeches that the President -- the series you mentioned,
the first one being in Nebraska, was it four or five are we talking about?
Like one a week or something?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We haven't set on a particular number.  I think it will
probably be less than that, but it's something we've discussed doing.  It's
fairly traditional.  I understand that President Reagan did four or five,
Lyndon Johnson did a couple.

     Q    Kind of a farewell address-type thing, but spread out?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, I think actually a lot of different Presidents
since World War II that we looked at have done both some sort of farewell
address, which we haven't decided on one way or the other, but have also
taken the opportunity to give major speeches on topics that interested
them.  Reagan gave one on foreign policy, one on domestic policy, one on
the Presidency, one on the economy, and then also did a radio address, a
farewell White House dinner, and a host of other sort of speeches and
events around the end.

     Q    Jake, how are you responding to Iraq's halting of oil exports?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, we are working with the International Energy
Agency on a response to that.  We're certainly ready for any eventuality
there.  We'll take action quickly, as the circumstances warrant.

     Q    What about tapping the SPR?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, we'll work on an oil response, if necessary, that
would compensate for the oil volumes, which Iraq is threatening to withdraw
from the world market, and that could include draw-downs from the strategic
petroleum stocks as appropriate.

     Q    We're reporting that they've already done that.

     MR. SIEWERT:  You're reporting what?

     Q    They've already halted -- they've announced that they're halting

     MR. SIEWERT:  They've suspended loading, but that's a step that we're
monitoring and we'll keep an eye on.

     Q    Jake, how much of the strategic petroleum reserve are you willing
to draw down, for something like this?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, I'm not going to get into numbers here, but we're
prepared to deal with any eventuality that arises and we can, certainly
working with our partners -- with Germany, Japan and other members of the
International Energy Agency -- we can deal with any eventuality that

     Q    These two land mines that were found in Bogota today, do we view
that as an assassination attempt against the senator and the ambassador?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We don't have any information that indicates that that's
what these were.  Some of that reporting I think has been a little bit

     Q    It happened yesterday, the senators already left the country --

     MR. SIEWERT:  It happened yesterday and -- yes, they've left.  There
is no information that indicates that that was directed at those two

     Q    Jake, has the President issued an invitation to Europeans to
restart the climate change talks before the end of the year in Europe?

     MR. SIEWERT:  The Europeans initiated discussion with us about how to
build on some of the work that was done at The Hague.  We obviously think
this is a problem that's not going away and one that we need to address.
But I think the initiation of some sort of further round of talks or some
sort of discussion was done by the Europeans.

     Obviously, the President recognizes this as a serious problem.  He's
committed to solving it.  We had a very reasonable proposal on the table at
The Hague, it was rejected by the Europeans.  I don't want to speculate on
why that was rejected or what all lay behind that, but we're willing to
talk with people who are reasonable about moving forward to address a
serious problem.

     Q    Is that meeting, though, going to take place?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I don't think anything has been finalized.  I think
there has been some discussion today about how we build on the work that
was done at The Hague, and where we go from here.

     Q    Are you considering meeting with them before the end of the year?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We're serious about sitting down and talking about these
kinds of issues with people who are willing to confront some of the tougher
issues.  We had a very difficult discussion at The Hague, where we thought
we had a very strong compromise proposal that was put on the table.  The
Europeans agreed to that.  But we want to see where we can go from here,
and they reached out to us and we're still talking.

     Q    Jake, in know the President was out for World AIDS Day, but when
he returned, did he listen to any of the audio portions of the Supreme
Court hearing?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I don't think he's had a chance to yet.  I know he said
this morning -- he's obviously been following this closely and I think he's
had a chance to read and sort of catch up on some of the arguments that are
being made there in the written briefs.  But I don't think he's had a
chance to listen to any of the oral argument.

     Q    Does he think it's going to be tough, though, if the Court does
side against Al Gore and --

     MR. SIEWERT:  I haven't heard him speculate on that one way or the
other.  Obviously, the decision is a little ways off and we'll watch it
with the rest of you on CNN -- advertisement.

     Q    One other question.  Apparently it was reported in Canadian
papers that the President was overheard saying on Monday that if every vote
in Florida would be counted, that Al Gore would win.  Have you -- is that a
true reflection of the President's feeling?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I don't know.  I wasn't there.  I mean, he's had, as
I've said before from this podium, he's had a number of conversations with
friends in private.  I expect those will remain private.  I think in this
case, there's a private book party that he was at for Tony Lake, and he was
just chatting with a group of people about the election, and I don't have
any reason -- I don't have any way of confirming whether he said exactly
that or not.

     I did talk to him this morning about one comment which I think was
mischaracterized there, which was that there was some sort of embarrassment
risk to the country, and that was simply something that someone else had
said that he had noted, not something he said, himself.

     Q    Has the President commented at all on just the historic nature of
the election going to the Supreme Court, something that's never happened

     MR. SIEWERT:  I haven't heard him specifically say that, but like any
American, I mean, he's following this unique moment in our history very
closely and he's had a chance to discuss it with a lot of the staff and
some of his friends.  But at the same time, he's been very careful publicly
to avoid commenting on this.  He understands that it's a matter that's
before the highest court in the land and that they're the proper ones to
determine how this is interpreted as a matter of federal law, as a matter
of constitutional law.  That's the proper role for the judiciary.

     Q    Congress is coming back next week.  Are you doing any
preparations to finish things up with them?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Yes.  We've met internally a couple times this week --
actually, virtually every day this week, on the budget process and we're
certainly hopeful that we can work together on the education initiative,
particularly.  There was an $8 billion increase that we'd agreed to for
education, for student loans, for elementary and secondary education,
particularly for after-school care and other important initiatives.

     We're hopeful that we can at the very least hammer out an agreement on
that and on the other important appropriations bills.  We have had some
discussions, I believe, with various congressional members.  I expect we'll
have some more before they actually return on Tuesday.  And we hope that
it's a productive session.  It's an unusual session; Congress hasn't been
back this late in a while -- for appropriations business, anyway -- and we
hope that we can get some work done there.  There's no reason why we can't
use the week or two productively.

     Q    Does the fact that the election is still unresolved diminish the
chances of quickly reaching agreement with Congress?

     MR. SIEWERT:  It shouldn't.  I think, initially, there was some
reluctance on the part of Congress to get back while this was all underway.
But at the same time, time is short, and Congress has some work to do.  The
budget is long past overdue.  They've taken a pretty extensive break now,
in the wake of the election, and there's no reason why we can't get back to
work and at the very least address some of the easier issues, ones where we
had achieved compromise.

     We recognize we may have to set aside some of the more difficult
disputes we were having, and some of the thornier issues that were the
subject of a lot of partisan rancor before the election.  But, having said
that, we think that -- particularly on education, on some of the other
basic appropriations bills -- the work is relatively simple and could be
wrapped up very quickly.

     Q    What is the President doing the rest of the day?

     MR. SIEWERT:  The rest of the day?  That's a good question.  He's here
most of the afternoon.  He has some phone and office time.  He may be
making some calls, and we'll let you know if any of them are significant.
This evening I think he's attending a dinner with Mrs. Clinton, a private
dinner that is held off campus.  But I'll let you know the details of that
when we have them.

     Week ahead.  Do I hear any dissenters?  No?

     Q    Week ahead.

     MR. SIEWERT:  Next week.  The President's weekly radio address will be
broadcast live, tomorrow, Saturday, December 2nd.  The President has no
other public schedule for tomorrow.  Expect him to be in the Washington

     Q    Subject for the radio address, are you saying at this point?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I think he'll take a chance to talk a bit about what he
hopes Congress can achieve when they return, particularly on education.
And I think we're having Secretary Riley brief those of you who are
interested on the phone sometime later today.  And check with our office on
the details of that.

     Paula, late arrival.

     Q    No, I've been here.

     MR. SIEWERT:  Oh, okay.  I'm sorry.

     Q    Have you written off, more or less, the Medicare give-backs and
any comments at all of the tax cut --

     MR. SIEWERT:  No, I think we can work -- I think we need to focus on
getting the budget done, simply because that work has to get done -- it's
long overdue, it's been a couple months now, and we're well into the fiscal
year.  And as I've said before, we're starting to pay a price.  I mean
schools, students, people are trying to make decisions without knowing
exactly what the budget they have to work with is.  So we think that's one
of the more critical pieces of it.  Also teaching hospitals, research
centers, people that rely on the NIH budget and other scientific research
simply don't even know what their budget for the current fiscal year is.
So we think that that's work that ought to get done quickly.

     But on tax provisions, tax cuts, Medicare give-backs, we think there's
no reason why we couldn't work those out -- they're relatively minor issues
of dispute.  We thought the tax package was a little too large, a little
too weighted towards corporate special interests, and we'd like to see some
tax relief that's directed more at working Americans.  But we could work
that out.  There's no reason why we couldn't do it pretty quickly.

     And the Medicare piece was also resolvable.  We wanted to see more
money in there for teaching hospitals, a little bit more of an emphasis on
other health care providers and less of a focus on managed care.  But,
again, those are issues that we could work out.  We're ready to do anything
that's necessary to get them done quickly.

     Q    Sunday?

     MR. SIEWERT:   Sunday, 5:40 p.m. the President and First Lady will
host a reception for the Kennedy Center Honors.  They will make remarks,
which will be covered by the in-house pool, I'm told.  That includes the
2000 Kennedy Center Honorees -- that is the year 2000, I hope -- (laughter)
-- members of the artist committee who nominate them, and the board of
trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

     The honorees this year -- is that a secret?  I don't know, are the
honorees a secret?  I don't think so.  Mikhail Baryshnakov, Chuck Berry,
Placido Domingo, Clint Eastwood and Angela Lansbury.  They'll then go to
the gala at the Kennedy Center.  That will be broadcast by CBS News,
December 27th.

     At 9:35 a.m. on Monday, the President will make remarks at an event at
the National Geographic Museum.  That will be open to the press.  He has no
other public schedule that day.

     Tuesday, Wednesday, no public schedule.  Thursday, no public schedule.
I expect we'll actually be pretty busy Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but
we haven't set that up.  But we've left that clear because Congress is in
town and there's a lot of work to be done there and we're going to be
keeping an eye on what's going on up on the Hill.

     Q    Isn't Nebraska Thursday?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Friday.  And I think I went through the Nebraska
schedule.  We'll be going to both Kearney and Omaha, and return to
Washington that evening.  And then on Saturday, he will again do a weekly
radio address, live.  So, two in a row.

     Q    Is he going to do it live throughout -- until the end of the

     MR. SIEWERT:  I expect around the holidays actually we'll be taping
some of them.

     Q    Right.  Monday's speech --

     MR. CROWLEY:  We have a trip briefing on Thursday morning.

     MR. SIEWERT:  Thursday morning, trip briefing.  Mr. Berger and others,
on Northern Ireland, and --

     Q    On Nebraska, right?  (Laughter.)

     Q    I was asking, Monday's speech, so you have a -- National
Geographic --

     MR. SIEWERT:  I think we'll actually try to keep that a secret until
Monday, but you're welcome to guess.

     Q    What time is that, again?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Nine thirty-five a.m. at the National Geographic Museum.
You can try to torture the answer out of Sarah.  She knows what it is.  So
that's it.

     Q    Thank you.

     MR. SIEWERT:  Thank you.  Have a good weekend.

                            END                 1:47 P.M. EST

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