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Press Briefing by Jake Siewert (12/6/00)

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                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary

Immediate Release                  December 6, 2000

                              PRESS BRIEFING
                               JAKE SIEWERT

                     The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:05 P.M.

     MR. SIEWERT:  I have no particular announcements, so I will take your

     Q    Does the President see a purpose in the Vice President continuing
his fight in the Florida courts, particularly if the Supreme Court in
Florida ruled against him?  Should the Vice President continue to wait for
the results of the Seminole and Martin County cases?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I think the Vice President is capable of making those
decisions on his own, with his team, and doesn't need much guidance from
the President on this.  The President has tried to stay out of this.  He
obviously has his opinions about it; he shared those with some people
privately.  But I think, as President, he's focused on doing his job and
letting the Vice President and Governor Bush pursue their cases in court.

     Q    Is he taking any role at all in keeping Democratic support behind
the Vice President?

     MR. SIEWERT:  No.  I mean, this is a topic that comes up from time to
time when he speaks with members of Congress.  He was on the Hill last
night, meeting with some of the new senators and some of the senators who
have been there, so I'm sure it has come up from time to time.  But he's
not part of any organized effort by the Vice President's team.  They have a
perfectly capable team in place doing that.

     Q    What do you make of Congressman DeLay's comments on the budget,
that the Congress should force the President to shut the government down?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I think that it's unfortunate; the work of the Congress
could be wrapped up pretty quickly.  We have important work on education,
as I've said the last couple days here.  There are many people out in the
real world who are trying to make decisions about their lives, many people
who are expecting services from the government, who are being hit pretty
hard right now because we're in a state of limbo.  And it's not right to
just say that we can kick this problem down the road three or four months
when Congress is already a couple of months late in its work.

     So right now, just yesterday, the Social Security Agency pointed out
that its case work is being delayed because, essentially, their budget has
been flat-lined by the continuing resolution, and that many agencies -- the
National Institutes of Health, the Education Department -- need the
increases that are built into the budget agreement that we worked out in
the fall to continue their work.

     So we think that Senator Lott has indicated an interest in getting
this done, the Speaker has indicated an interest in getting this done, and
that we ought to work together over the next couple of days to wrap this up
pretty quickly.

     Q    Were you surprised by these comments in light of these
discussions that you've been having?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, I don't think he was a part of that discussion
yesterday in the Oval Office.  What we heard from the members of Congress
that were in the meeting was a willingness to try to finish up this work to
ensure that we can secure a strong education budget and to wrap up some of
the work that Congress is a couple of months late in getting done.

     Q    There are rumors that things were going to be settled perhaps as
early as Thursday night.  Any possibility?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, there's no reason why the work couldn't be done in
fairly short order.  We're trying to arrange -- we've invited the
leadership down later today, and we're waiting to hear back from them on
scheduling.  But I think that -- we think that we ought to be able to sit
down again and get some of this work done.

     There's also important work to do to help health care providers who
have been hit hard by some of the cutbacks that were envisioned in the 1997
budget accord.  There is also important tax work that can be done.  And
we've indicated a great deal of flexibility in addressing specific issues
that were the subject of some partisan division before the election.  We've
said we're willing to negotiate and make this easy, but we need cooperation
from all sides.

     Q    What do you think about the language that DeLay is using?  He's
raising the prospect of a government shutdown and saying it would be the
President's fault -- "If he wants to shut down the government, that's his
problem, not ours."

     MR. SIEWERT:  That language is hardly unusual coming from that
particular office, so I wouldn't find it at all surprising.

     Q    Is there any scenario, though, where you would see a possible
government shutdown?

     MR. SIEWERT:  No.  We think that there is work to be done and we are
intent upon getting it done.  And I might point out that there's a lot of
talk about bipartisanship up on the Hill, in the wake of the election and
the closeness of the House up there.  And we think -- the President
believes it's important that that spirit of bipartisanship pervade this new
session that we're dealing with, this unusual lame duck session, and that
we get some work done, especially when we have consensus on the major

     We have a consensus on the rough shape of an education package.  We
have consensus on a bill that would fund the Treasury and Postal
Department.  We have consensus around a U.N. funding arrangement in a bill
that also funds the Commerce and Justice Department.  And there's no reason
why we couldn't put aside some of our differences -- and we've indicated
that we'll be flexible as we confront those differences and get that budget
work done and get it done in short order.

     Q    Does that mean the administration is willing to sign continuing
resolutions all through December and into January?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, we think that the two-day time frame looks about
right and we'd be willing to consider another one.

     Q    And ones after that?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Yes, we'll continue to work with Congress.  We don't
know yet how long it will take them to wrap up their work.  A lot of the
membership that was down here, the leadership that was down here the other
day indicated an interest in getting this done quickly.  The Chairman of
the Appropriations Committee, Ted Stevens, said there is no reason why this
couldn't be done very quickly.  An influential Republican voice up there,
the Majority Leader of the Senate also said he wanted to get this work
done.  And there's no reason for a lot of divisive rhetoric.  We ought to
focus on getting our work done.

     Q    One of the more influential voices in the country, though, Alan
Greenspan, yesterday indicated that he foresees a possible serious downturn
in the economy, which would, of course, affect the next administration,
more than likely.  How is that playing?  Is that playing in any of this at

     MR. SIEWERT:  We don't comment on the Fed's particular moves.  I think
what the Chairman said is that the economy is fundamentally strong and he
is always on the lookout, as are we, for trouble spots.  He said yesterday
that the economy was in no -- that the dangers to the economy were actually
more substantial in 1998, when we worked very closely with the Federal
Reserve, with the Treasury Department, with the IMF and with the World Bank
to head off what could have been a very serious financial crisis.  That
crisis was well-managed by this administration, well-managed by
policy-makers at the Federal Reserve, and we were able to put the economy
on a strong footing going into 1999 and 2000.  And there's no reason why,
if we're all vigilant, if we continue to pay down the debt and make the
right economic policy decision-makings in the government, that the economy
shouldn't continue to move along at what, in 1992, would have been
considered a very strong pace.

     As I pointed out here the other day, the economy has grown throughout
the Clinton administration at a roughly 4 percent average, which is more
than double that of the previous administration.  So when we talk about
moving from 4 percent down to 2.5 percent or 2 percent -- and most private
economists expect the economy will continue to grow somewhere around 2.5
percent over the next year -- that's better than the economy that we
inherited when we took office here.

     Q    Jake, I just want to clarify.  You said that because of Congress'
inactions some government agencies are suffering, and you specifically
mentioned the Social Security Administration.  But if you're willing to
continue to sign continuing resolutions, you are part and parcel of that
pain that's being inflicted.  At what point does the administration say
it's not going to sign any more CRs?

     MR. SIEWERT:  There's no reason why we shouldn't do the work that we
should have gotten done before the election and wrap up this work and sign
some of these budgets into law, so that people know what they're working
with, so that they know what their bottom line is, so that they know how
they can operate.  But it's very hard to operate over a sustained period of
time in an era of uncertainty about what your budget is, what your fiscal
outlook is for the year.  I mean, you wouldn't go about trying to make
decisions about your own family's finances if you didn't know what you were
going to earn this year.  And, yet, many government agencies are in
precisely that position.

     So it is not our preference to have a budget that is essentially
flat-lined from last year that provides no certainty to government
agencies; we would like to get this work done and pass the budget.
Congress has to play a role there, and we expect them to get that work done
and we're willing to work with them.  And so, we don't want to take a route
that would lead us toward more confrontation.  We want to work with members
of Congress who were in here just the other day to get that budget signed
into law and get it done.

     Q    But you're still not answering the question.  At what point do
you stop signing CRs and say the work has to be done now, we're into the
next year --

     MR. SIEWERT:  Aside from the comments that were raised here in the
briefing, there's been a generally cooperative tone from the Majority
Leader and the Speaker's Office, and we would like to work with them to get
our work done.  We're looking forward to hearing from them today --
hopefully, can meet this afternoon and wrap up some of this work.

     But there's generally a willingness to work in the wake of the
election and the closeness of the new Congress.  I think members of
Congress have indicated a willingness to confront some of these problems
and get some of the unfinished business done so that they can have a fresh
start next year.  In fact, they used that very same language.

     Q    So you're not concerned by these comments?  I mean, he runs the
floor of the House, DeLay.

     MR. SIEWERT:  I don't think they're particularly surprising, given his
track record here.  But I think Congress has a choice. They can choose
bipartisanship and a businesslike atmosphere that would allow us to get
this work done.  But I think that choice, the choice of confrontation, will
just lead to more uncertainty, deterioration in government services, and
some real cuts in programs -- real cuts in education, real cuts in the
administration of Social Security, real cuts in the administration of the
Justice Department.  And there are consequences for that.  The FBI
estimates now that it has a number of vacancies, several hundred, and if
they continue to operate at this year's budget levels, they're going to
have to make further additional cuts or not be able to fill vacancies as
they arise.  And that's problematic.

     Q    So given your concerns like that, and you're talking about the
need to get everything done, does the President regret vetoing the
Treasury-Postal bill, which also set things back, or publishing the
ergonomics rule, which helped scuttle the Labor-H deal?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We've indicated a willingness on the ergonomics rule to
talk to the leadership about a delay in enforcement of that.  We signaled
some flexibility on that.  We think, by the way, that the ergonomics rule
is critical to help worker safety.  When it comes to some of these riders,
we need to hear a little bit more clarity from Congress about what is it
that they're concerned about, about this ergonomics rule, specifically.
They've said they want to look at it and take a closer look at the impact
it would have.

     I saw in Business Week just last week -- there were a lot of business
people asked about this rule -- they said that the rule, in fact, was
working very effectively.  Ford Motor Company said it was very much in line
with what they're already doing.  So we're willing to delay enforcement,
give the new administration a chance to look at that; but we think that's
valuable and important business.

     Q    There is some discussion on the Hill of trying to put through the
bankruptcy reform bill in the lame duck session.  Is that still something
the President would veto?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Yes.  We think that balanced bankruptcy reform is very
important, that we ought to have new rules governing this, but that that
bill is flawed.  It creates a very high, really unlimited exemption for
homesteads that would allow some of the wealthiest debtors to shield very
valuable assets.  So it lacks -- well, it squeezes middle and lower-income
debtors very hard, and we want more balance in that.  It also did not
contain the work that Senator Schumer did to ensure that people who break
the law, violent offenders who threaten abortion clinics are not exempt
from this rule, as well.  There are other problems with that bill, but we
want to see a balanced bill.

     Q    Jake, anything new on the immigration between the White House and

     MR. SIEWERT:  Again, we've had some discussions.  John Podesta and
Maria Echaveste have been in contact with some of the key members on the
Hill on that bill.  We think, again, that we have signaled some
flexibility.  We know that time is short and that we're not going to get a
perfect provision there, but we think it's important to make some progress
so that we can begin to right some of the inequities of the current system.

     Q    Do you have a response to the Pope conviction?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We believe that the conviction was unjustified and
wrong.  We have seen no evidence that Mr. Pope is guilty of the charges
that were before that court.  We think now the important thing is that
there is strong humanitarian grounds for releasing Mr. Pope and allowing
him to come home.  His widow, today, indicated that there were new concerns
about his health.  He's very sick.  His wife, I'm sorry.  Sorry.  His wife
was there, and indicated fresh concerns about his health.  And we think
that he hasn't had proper medical care there and that it's important that
the Russian government recognize, on humanitarian grounds, that he should
be allowed to return to the United States and receive proper medical care
and the attention he deserves.

     Q    What are you going to do about that, though, in response to --

     MR. SIEWERT:  We've raised this at a number of levels.  As you know,
the President spoke to Prime Minister Putin about this in -- President
Putin in Brunei, and it has been raised at various levels since then, both
by the Secretary of State and by our Ambassador in Moscow.

     Q    Jake, if there's no evidence that he's guilty of these charges,
why are you pressing for his release on humanitarian grounds, as opposed to
that he didn't do it?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, we think there's a strong humanitarian case.  We
think that the Russian government should recognize that he needs medical
care.  He's sick, and should be returned home so that he can receive that
care.  We think that that's vitally important.

     Q    Would we be willing to do something in return?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We think that there's a strong case on the merits for
the humanitarian relief that we've requested and that we've pressed for at
various levels throughout the government.

     Q    Do you believe that this could dramatically or in some way alter
U.S.-Russian relations, specifically as Congress views continued either
financial or military cooperation with the Russian Federation?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Well, there's no doubt this has cast a shadow over
U.S.-Russian relations.  The President has expressed his concern about Mr.
Pope.  As we've said at a number of different levels, we've seen no
evidence that he's guilty of the crimes under which he's been charged.  We
think that we've continued to stress throughout our meetings with the
Russians and the Russian government that he ought to be released.

     At the same time, our overall relationship with Russia is based on our
own national interests, and we have a strong national interest in promoting
democracy there, in seeing fewer nuclear weapons in Russia.  And we will
continue to pursue multifaceted relationship with Russia, based on what we
think is in America's long-term strategic interests.

     Q    Secretary Cheney was up on the  Hill yesterday, meeting with some
Senate Republicans who have urged him to aggressively pursue to overturning
a number of executive orders the President has recently gone ahead and
done.  And they're calling it a midnight binge.  Is the President trying to
get some things through before he leaves office, as the Republicans claim?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We're working on a number of different regulations that
would promote worker safety, that would protect the environment.  It's no
secret what those regulations are.  The rule that would protect forests
from new roads was something that we announced more than a year ago, and
we've been working on that rule.  There's been ample time for the public to
weigh in, for interest groups to weigh in.

     The rule on medical privacy is even a more stark example of how
Congress actually delegated us the authority to act on this provision to
protect medical privacy.  They gave themselves three years to address that
issue and they didn't do it.  And they said, if we haven't done this in
three years, then the administration ought to act.  And so we're acting.
We proposed an interim rule.  We did that publicly; everyone can read where
we are on this and comment on it.  So that work is proceeding in the light
of day and, I might point out, very differently than a lot of the same
special interests that are urging him to overturn these rules, which are
tucked in rider after rider in these legislative appropriations bills -- in
the middle of the night, sometimes, no one has even read them before they
vote on the bill -- that would undo these to help special interests on the

     So we think that we're going to pursue our work, we're going to pursue
it in the light of day.  But it's important work.  It's on pace with what
another administration not too long ago did in its final year in office,
the Bush administration in 1992.  In fact, at this point, we've issued
fewer regulations, major regulations, than the Bush administration did in
1992.  But it's important work and we're going to continue it.

     Q    Jake, is there heightened concern here about avoiding a
government shutdown, given that it would add to the uncertainty in the
country that already exists because of Florida?

     MR. SIEWERT:  There's no need for this talk of a government shutdown.

     Q    But there is --

     MR. SIEWERT:  There's no need for it.  And there's no need for us to
address that.  The work can be done.  The Majority Leader, the Speaker have
indicated an interest in getting this work done, and so we ought to avoid
the divisive rhetoric and get to work.

     Q    But what I'm wondering is, doesn't it make it tougher for you to
veto these CRs, because if there is a shutdown, there's already uncertainty
that exists in the country because of Florida, makes it tough for you to
veto the CRs?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I don't see whether that should play any role.  We
allowed Congress to take a couple weeks off to do -- while the election,
post-election played out.  But we think that there's a willingness on the
part of Congress to work, and we see no reason not to get that work done

     Q    Jake, any indication that the President will meet with the Vice
President today?  And did they meet yesterday?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I don't believe they talked yesterday, but I can
double-check on that.  And there's nothing planned for today.  The
President actually has a pretty busy afternoon in the office.

     Q    Jake, will there be coverage at the top of the meeting with
congressional leaders?

     MR. SIEWERT:  We're still trying to firm up that meeting, but I don't
expect so.  I expect it will be a working meeting.

     Q    What time --

     MR. SIEWERT:  At 4:45 p.m. is when we're looking at, but I don't think
it has been locked down.  Most of the members can make it at that time, but
it's not clear that everyone can.

     Q    Same group as last time?

     MR. SIEWERT:  Yes, we've invited the Speaker and the Majority Leader
down, and the Minority Leader of the House and Minority Leader of the
Senator -- or the Majority/Minority Leader of the Senate or -- the leaders
of the Senate.

     Q    Any word on whether they'll come to the stakeout after?

     MR. SIEWERT:  No, I haven't heard one way or the other.

     Q    Jake, did you nail down whether the Justice Department has sent
over its recommendation in the Juan Garza matter?

     MR. SIEWERT:  They have not yet, but we are continuing to consult with
them on that matter.  There has been some discussion back and forth.  As I
told some of you yesterday, this is work that the President takes very
seriously.  He has indicated in the past some concern about the geographic
disparities in the administration of the federal death penalty.  But on the
whole, as a supporter of capital punishment, he believes he has a special
obligation to ensure that it's administered fairly and effectively in the
federal system.  We're going to look at that individual case and, at the
same time, we've asked the Department of Justice to take a broader look at
some of the geographic disparities and what could be done to remedy that.

     Q    Jake, yesterday the Vice President voiced at least tacit support
for these cases that are going on in Florida court right now -- Seminole
and Martin Counties.  Does the President see that as inconsistent with the
Vice President's longstanding philosophy of counting every vote in Florida?

     MR. SIEWERT:  I haven't heard him express a view on that specific
comment.  The Vice President just made a passing comment yesterday
afternoon; I haven't heard the President talk about that, at all.

     All right, thank you.

                            END    12:25 P.M. EST

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