THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT The James S. Brady Briefing Room
10:45 A.M. EST
MR. SIEWERT: The President today has some phone and office time, and he'll be signing -- he's got some meetings with his advisors and he's been out of the office for a couple of days, so he'll get an update from Mr. Berger, an update from Mr. Podesta. He'll be signing a couple of dozen bills, most of them relatively innocuous --
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, that's fine -- minor bills. But he will be signing the foreign ops bill, which I expect you'll hear about at the event in the East Room, which was a significant achievement, particularly on the foreign debt relief piece. He'll also be signing the Needle Stick Safety bill -- he's doing that right now in the Oval Office, which I'm informed has nothing to do with knitting, but involves blood-born pathogen standards under OSHA. But that's a -- there are a number of members of Congress in, along with the American Nurses Association, in the Oval Office right now.
And that's about it. We leave for Chappaqua later today. Haven't set a time yet, but I expect it will probably be later in the afternoon.
Q On this day before the election, what is the President doing politically?
MR. SIEWERT: I think he'll probably get an update from his staff on what the --
Q He doesn't need an update. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: -- state of play on the ground out there is. But it's a relatively low-key day. We'll be focused on work here.
Q Is he anguished that he's not out there campaigning?
MR. SIEWERT: I think those of you who saw him over the weekend know that he is having a good time. He enjoyed his time on the road. He's done a couple hundred events this year, another dozen or so over the weekend, and he thoroughly enjoyed it. He enjoyed the time we spent in California and New York and Little Rock, Pine Bluff, and he's --
Q But does he wish he were out there today, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. He seemed very pleased last night when I last saw him that we'd had a good couple of days on the road, and he felt like he's played a valuable role this year in helping raise money and energize Democrats and make the case for why Al Gore, Joe Lieberman and Mrs. Clinton and others should be elected.
Q Has he said anything about George Bush finishing his campaign in Arkansas?
MR. SIEWERT: No, not that I'm aware of, although the President made a forceful case yesterday in Arkansas for why George Bush was the wrong choice for Arkansas and for America.
Q Does he expect both Gore and his wife to win?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, absolutely. He absolutely expects the Vice President -- he said he thought for a long time now, for two years, that Al Gore would win this election and he continues to believe that. And he certainly expects and hopes that his wife will win tomorrow. But these are decisions that are in the voters' hands and, frankly, what we expect here doesn't have much to do with what happens on the ground tomorrow. But we're hopeful.
Q Does he have any private polls that would educate --
MR. SIEWERT: Certainly. I think they'll probably remain private. (Laughter.)
Q Are you speaking from --
MR. SIEWERT: No, look, we over the weekend watched both -- mostly what the press reported about the situation on the ground, although we're in touch with the campaigns -- with Mrs. Clinton's campaign and with the Gore campaign about the latest surveys, as the President likes to say. But I think that, ultimately, everyone around here knows that this is a very tight election and that no one knows what the outcome will be. But we are hopeful that the Vice President, Joe Lieberman and Mrs. Clinton and Democrats around the country will have a good day tomorrow.
Q Jake, this morning Tipper Gore said that Al Gore was the last, best hope for the nation, not the next best thing for the nation.
MR. SIEWERT: Much has been made of a passing comment that the President made in an interview in which he was harangued a little bit on the success of the last eight years and urged to run again, which you all know is an impossibility. And, frankly, that was a little over-blown in the press. I made that point perfectly clear to those of you who I discussed that with on Thursday. And I don't have anything to add to what we've said about that.
The President clearly believes and has been working very hard to see the Vice President elected, and that's what he thinks Americans should choose tomorrow.
Q Does the President regret saying it?
MR. SIEWERT: No, it was a passing comment on a radio show where he made perfectly clear -- and I saw this very carefully excerpted in a number of different places, where the President went on to talk at great length about why the Vice President is the right choice for America. And most of you didn't note that and focused on a quick phrase that was made in passing.
Q That wasn't news. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Well, you all decide that and that's your choice. I'm free to sit here and criticize it.
Q What does he hope to achieve with the meetings on the Middle East?
MR. SIEWERT: We are hopeful -- for those of you who weren't on the road yesterday, I'm sure you've all seen or read now that Chairman Arafat has been invited for the 9th, and the Prime Minister has been invited into the White House on the 12th -- that's Thursday and Sunday. They both accepted the invitation. And we'll continue to work with them to end the violence and to discuss with them how best to move forward toward a political dialogue.
Q Jake, who is going to handle the budget negotiations? The Senate is back in session on the 14th now; the President, obviously, will be gone then or expected to be. How is that work going to get done?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think the President is perfectly able to keep in touch with his budget team that will be here on the ground, and I expect they'll be conducting the bulk of the work. Obviously, Chuck Brain, who runs our legislative affairs shop, will be in town a little later than he expected. And I expect that Jack Lew and Sylvia Mathews and the entire team at OMB will be engaged in that process. And we'll see how it goes.
Q How about Podesta, who's been --
MR. SIEWERT: I'll check with John. I know John had been planning to travel to Vietnam. I don't know if he's revised those plans, but I'll check with him.
Q Is the stop in Korea ruled out now?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes. We will not be stopping in Korea as part of this trip. The President has not made a final decision on whether to travel to North Korea to follow up on the good work that Secretary Albright did there. But we expect to make that decision in the coming weeks, and we will let you know. But it is certainly not going to happen as part of the Brunei-Vietnam trip.
Q What is the reason that the President is not stopping there on this trip?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think we made some substantial progress in the discussions on missiles and we're doing that in a systematic way. We want to be perfectly clear about where we are and where the North Koreans are, and have a full understanding of that. But the missile talks are one factor that we'll base that judgment upon, and they were useful in helping clarify where the United States stood, where the North Koreans stood, expand some areas of common understanding. But there are gaps there, and as a practical matter, the trip is very close and no decision is made ultimately on North Korea. But it's just not feasible at this time to do that trip, to pull it together.
Q When is the next round of talks on the missiles?
MR. SIEWERT: You should check with State. I think they're having some follow-up talks at a different level, but why don't you check with the State Department on that.
Q Are you saying there is no stop in North Korea for logistical reasons or for diplomatic reasons?
MR. SIEWERT: No, it's just not feasible to pull together a trip at this point, both because the substance isn't there and it's just not -- we're just not in a position right now where we can make a decision to go forward. But we'll make a decision about whether the President goes there before the end of his term at a later date.
Q Either way on the election, what impact do you think that's going to have on your ability to get things done on the budget after the election, no matter who wins, whether it is Gore or Bush? What impact will it have?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think that's relatively unknowable at this moment. We certainly hope that Congress will get back to work when they return. They left a lot of unfinished business, from the education agenda to a middle class tax cut, to the minimum wage and some other initiatives that really demand action. And we'll be pressing them very hard to complete that work. We left tax cuts and new markets, on education, on health care unfinished, and we think Congress has the duty and responsibility to finish up the budget, create a real education budget, raise the minimum wage, do some work on health care.
But it's very difficult to predict how an election that hasn't happened yet will have an impact on a lame duck session -- that's fairly unprecedented. I'm not pretending to know here how that will all play out. But we'll push them very hard to get their work done.
Q But haven't you gambled here? I mean, wouldn't you be in a worse position if Bush won the presidency with less leverage over --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know that we've gambled at all. They walked away from the table, so we're going to meet them again after the election and we'll see what happens.
Q But aren't you in a worse position if Bush wins the presidency --
MR. SIEWERT: As I said, I'm not going to comment on 15 different hypotheticals based on an election that hasn't happened yet.
Q Jake, jumping back to the Middle East, if I remember correctly, when these meetings between Barak, the President and Arafat were first proposed, they were conditioned on the fact that you would make progress in the Sharm el-Sheikh --
MR. SIEWERT: No, we have talked at great length about the importance of implementing Sharm el-Sheikh. I have never said here that there is one specific set of preconditions before such a meeting would take place. We've said that it's important to continue to take steps to implement Sharm el-Sheikh, to end the violence and to begin to find a way back to some sort of political solution and how best we could do that.
But we have said all along that we'll make any judgment about any visits based on an overall assessment of whether they might be useful.
Q Jake, on the Middle East again. Iraq has now begun flying passengers in military aircraft into the no-fly zone. What sort of risk does this present and what do you think they're trying to do?
MR. SIEWERT: We have not -- I'm not going to speculate on their motives, but we have never had an objection to civilian flights. But the no-fly zones remain in effect and are designed to protect people on the ground.
Q I think the Iraqis have rejected a U.S. proposal that would give them -- that the Iraqis provide 48 hours notice on these flights.
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we think that notice would be helpful and that we're maintaining a no-fly zone there that's designed to stop military aggression against Saddam Hussein's own people on the ground there and against the Kurds. And we're going to continue to have that no-fly zone in place. It's important that we have the best information in order to do so.
Q Jake, is the meeting that are going to be here designed to shore-up Sharm el-Sheikh or move also beyond that, and try to move somewhere back in the peace process, in other words, to get the President in a position where he can do more with the two leaders before leaving office?
MR. SIEWERT: They are designed to discuss the current situation on the ground, to find ways to restore calm and lower the level of violence there, and how best to move forward towards a political dialogue. But, ultimately, that's a decision the parties will have to make.
Q What state would you say Sharm is in right now, based on what you're seeing on the ground?
MR. SIEWERT: It's not very useful for me to stand up here every day and pretend to assess the situation on the ground. That's best done in the region. We think that Sharm el-Sheikh is the best possible means of reducing the violence and finding a way back to a long-term political solution. That's our policy and that's what we'll be stating and restating as the two parties arrive here.
Q But my question wasn't to ask you what you think of the state of things on the ground. My question was, how do you think Sharm el-Sheikh is going and how do you think the two sides are moving toward implementation --
MR. SIEWERT: I think we've seen some steps -- the Prime Minister said this morning in the region that there have been some steps taken to implement Sharm el-Sheikh, and we certainly share that assessment, there has been some efforts to reduce the violence. But much more needs to be done. There is too much violence still in the streets and that's part of the reason why we're trying to gather both of the parties here, to try to find a way to implement the security measures that were anticipated by the agreement at Sharm el-Sheikh and to begin to restore calm and lower the level of violence.
Q Jake, back on the election. The President said yesterday he'd be making phone calls to radio stations or something like that. Is that happening today or tomorrow?
MR. SIEWERT: We may do some tomorrow. I don't think anything has been scheduled for today. But from time to time, the President has made phone calls during the course of an election day just to remind people of the importance of voting. We may do some of that tomorrow, but we haven't set anything up yet.
Q Jake, do you expect the President tomorrow night to come out at some point and comment on the presidential race and on the Congress --
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not sure. We'll let you know. The reality is that this might be a long night. We'll make an assessment tomorrow and see where we are. But the races, as we all know, are very close and it's not clear when they'll be decided. My guess is that you'll probably here from him the following day, if you hear from him.
Q How is the President going to spend his day tomorrow, beyond voting and --
MR. SIEWERT: I think he'll vote in the morning and then I expect he'll spend most of the rest of the day secluded, away from the press, hiding from all of you.
Q Is he voting with his wife?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think tomorrow we'll, basically -- he'll vote in the morning in Chappaqua, and then at some point during the day he'll go down to New York where there are some events planned in conjunction with Mrs. Clinton's campaign.
Q Do you think he'll spend most of the day, though, in Chappaqua?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know yet. We'll let you know.
Q Is he going to play golf?
MR. SIEWERT: No plans to play golf. What's the weather out?
Q In the rain? (Laughter.)
Q Jake, the events that you just mentioned, in association with her campaigning, are you talking about events before the polls close, or are you talking about --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I'm referencing -- I think he'll spend the day -- she has some sort of thank-you for supporters that he may attend. I don't think he'll speak at that. And then --
Q But they're not going to go shake hands at subway stops or do anything like that?
MR. SIEWERT: We're not planning anything like that.
Q Is Mrs. Clinton going with him to Vietnam?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know, check with her office.
Q Is he disappointed he isn't going to Korea?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, the President has always wanted to go to Korea if he thinks it will be helpful in advancing our agenda there in helping reduce proliferation in the region and helping bring an end to the missile program there. But that's the only reason why we would go, if we think that such a summit meeting would be productive in advancing our interests in the region, our interests in national security. We have not made a final decision on that at this point. As part of this trip, it's too early to make that decision.
Q On the Mideast, Jake, the Jerusalem Post is reporting that the United States is testing the waters in Israel on the idea of an international force in the occupied territories.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, I'm not going to discuss what we may or may not be exploring with the parties.
Q Why not?
MR. SIEWERT: Because our diplomacy is best conducted, I think, in private there. These are all the final status issues --
Q It doesn't sound very private if they've got it. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Interesting. (Laughter.) As you know, we have a limited ability to control leaks within our own government, not to mention governments around the world.
Q Are you glad you signed the -- vetoed the official secrets. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Thank you. All of your views were well represented to the President, and --
Q Are you taking credit for that veto, Jake? (Laughter.) MR. SIEWERT: No, no. But I did pass on what I heard from members
of the press.
Q Seriously, Jake, what did he say about that, why he was doing it? Did you --
Q Just to clarify that point, you're not denying it are you?
MR. SIEWERT: Excuse me?
Q Just to clarify his question, you're not saying --
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not commenting on it, deliberately.
Q How about the position, the U.S. position on an international force? Has that changed?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not going to discuss those sorts of negotiating issues that -- negotiating stances here at this podium.
Q Jake, did you talk to the President at all about why he decided to veto that intelligence authorization bill?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes.
Q Wasn't it out of great affection for the press corps and its role? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think affection or lack of affection had anything to do with it. The President thought that the bill, while other wise well-intentioned, had a provision in there that simply was not worth the risk it might have. It might well have chilled the work that you do, the work that people in government do, important work, and he didn't think that it was worth the risk that this bill would be used by those who might have an interest in not seeing information that should be in the public realm brought to light. He just did not think that this was worth the risks that were associated with that particular provision.
Q When Congress comes back, are you going to go back to this policy of one-day CRs, or how are you --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. We haven't made a judgment on that. I expect that we'll probably make a judgment closer to the time that they reconvene.
Q And also, apparently there was a large amount of agreement on some issues, specifically the Labor-H bill. Is it the White House view that things that were agreed to before Congress left are written in stone and are unbreakable?
MR. SIEWERT: I mean, since Congress already broke its word on that bill, it's a little hard to pretend that they didn't. We had what were the makings of an agreement on Labor-HHS bill, and we think that that's worth putting back together. There was a significant education budget there that provided for the needs of America's schoolchildren, and got hung up over a special interest provision that Republicans couldn't accept. But we think that that's work that's well worth doing, but they got -- after having worked out some sort of compromise on the ergonomics rule, they backed down on that and they've thrown the whole bill into limbo.
But we think that the work that was done on that bill was important, it provided significant improvements in investments and modernizing schools and after-school care and class size, and that that's an agreement worth reviving when Congress returns.
Q Okay, so when DeLay says that everything -- Tom DeLay says that everything is negotiable once Congress comes back, you don't agree with that?
MR. SIEWERT: That's his position. I said that they've walked away from that bill once; I can't limit their ability to walk away from it again. But we think it's well worth doing, and we think that they would have to explain to the American people why it's not worth providing for our children's education simply because Congress can't tell some of the special interests that this isn't the place for that particular provision.
Q Just to be clear, other than the ergonomics rule, you're satisfied with that bill?
MR. SIEWERT: We thought that we had a good-faith compromise worked out the night before that bill was blown up over that one particular provision.
Q Couldn't the election, though, complicate the budget negotiations, in the sense that that ergonomics compromise, for example, wouldn't work very well after the outcome of the election is --
MR. SIEWERT: It was actually our intention on that bill to work that out, to leave some discretion for a future administration to administer that rule, and that was exactly the point of our compromise with the Republicans.
Q Wouldn't it be more difficult to agree to that, depending on the outcome of the election?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't see any reason why the election would change our basic premise, which was to leave some discretion to a future administration to deal with that.
Q And you think Republicans acted in bad faith on that, when that deal broke down on that, on the ergonomics rule?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, sir. I do.
Any other tough questions? (Laughter.)
Q One more question on the telephone calls. You know, the President had been doing some of these conference calls -- Get Out The Vote conference calls -- thousands of people. Is there anything like that planned today?
MR. SIEWERT: No. No. He did some more calls over the weekend. I think they were slightly smaller. But he's found ways to be in touch with people who either weren't in Washington or weren't in the states he visited, to emphasize for them how important the election was. And as I've told you, he's taped a lot of phone scripts and radio ads as well, dozens and dozens and dozens, but we have done some calls. There are not any more planned for today, though.
Q And tonight --
MR. SIEWERT: Yes. I don't think -- we don't have anything planned, and I think he will just go to the house. But I'll let you know if anything changes on that.
Q When are you going to put out more information on this trip?
MR. SIEWERT: I think we'll have a briefing later in the week, probably -- well, I don't know, Thursday or Friday. And then we'll have a schedule on Wednesday. Okay.
Q And he's not going to Hawaii, right?
MR. SIEWERT: He will go, but it's shorter now. It's just one day, 24 hours.
END 11:07 A.M. EST