THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:45 A.M. EST
MR. SIEWERT: I have one personnel announcement and then we will -- I will be available to take questions.
We will have a new face in the Lower Press Office starting tomorrow. Sarah Gegenheimer, who many of you know -- there she is -- will join the Lower Press team as the Deputy Press Secretary. As you know -- (applause) -- she will be occupying the Nanda Chitre Memorial Closet. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Arboretum, yes. Before joining the White House here in '98, Sarah worked at the Department of Health and Human Services for Donna Shalala and, as you know, she has been an Assistant Press Secretary here for a while and has more recently been running our media relations office, overseeing all the regional specialty press. So we're very happy to have her here and I'm sure that you'll see more of her now that she's down in these environs.
We won't have a Week Ahead since we're on travel. But I'll let you know just that the Radio Address will be taped tomorrow, and on Saturday morning, the President will participate in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery. That's at 10:55 a.m. It will be open to the press.
He will then address a Veterans Day memorial service at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. That's at 11:15 a.m., also open press. And later that day, in the early afternoon, he will make remarks at the World War II Memorial groundbreaking ceremony on the National Mall and that is at 12:45 p.m., also open to the press. And that's it.
Q What time is the Barak meeting scheduled for on Sunday?
MR. SIEWERT: I expect it will be sometime Sunday morning. We will probably -- we are exploring ways -- since the press will be leaving that day for Brunei -- or Hawaii and then Brunei, we will be trying to find some way to make sure that we have a way to read that out that meets your needs. We may just do something on the plane, but we will let you know as we get closer.
Q Has the President had any conversations today with the Vice President about the election? And what's the President's view of this jumble of what's going on in Florida? Is he concerned? A lot of Democrats have raised concern about voting irregularities. Does the President share this concern?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think -- I think you heard the President speak to this yesterday. He said that he was a fascinated observer of the election results. I don't know that has changed much. He obviously spoke to the Vice President the morning after the election. We told you about that conversation. I don't think he has spoken to him since then, but I'll double-check.
Q He's more than just a fascinated observer of the election results. I mean, he's also the President of the United States.
MR. SIEWERT: But he told you yesterday that it might take some time for this process to play out, but the American people have voted and it's going to take a little while to sort out exactly what the end result of that is, but we'll wait and see. We don't have any --
Q Jake, since then, I mean, complaints have been lodged with the Justice Department and the situation has changed.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, and I understand the Attorney General said she is reviewing that. She is the proper person to do that. She also said this is primarily a matter of state law, but she will take those complaints seriously. I don't have anything to add to what she said.
Q Do you know if the Gores are coming to the White House tonight for the --
MR. SIEWERT: They are not planning on being here.
Q They were invited, though, right?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think the invitations went to presidents only. Obviously, there are other guests, but the Carters, Fords, Bushes, Reagans --
Q Are the Bushes coming?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, I expect they are. We'll be here.
Q Could you give us the lineup of who you expect tonight?
MR. SIEWERT: I believe that President Carter and his wife will be here, President Bush and his wife will be here, President Ford and his wife will be here, the Reagans are unable to attend, but --
Q Are they staying over?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes. Some will be staying in the Residence, and I think the Bushes will be staying across the street -- it's called the former Presidents' Residence. I had never even heard of it before, but apparently it's in and around the Blair House complex. And that was at their request.
Q Does the President have any view on whether there should be any kind of limit on the amount of time this should go on before it harms the transition, before it harms the confidence of the American people and the whole election?
MR. SIEWERT: Look, this is a process that's underway. There is a recount underway, and we'll take this one day at a time here. I'm not aware that he has any views on that, other than --
Q Can you talk about under what grounds --
MR. SIEWERT: Other than what he said yesterday, which is --
Q Will the President be in favor of a vigorous court challenge by the Democratic Party and by the Gore administration?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll leave the -- I'm not going to comment on whether he is or is not in favor of that. That's something for the candidate to request, and we'll allow them.
Q But does he have a view as to whether that would be good for the country?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll check; I don't know.
Q There have been calls for a civil or criminal investigation through the Justice Department at a federal level. Can you talk about under what grounds he might be supportive of such a --
MR. SIEWERT: Those should be reviewed by the Department of Justice. And I think the Attorney General has already addressed those questions.
Q Has he given any thought to Maureen Dowd's invitation that he stay on for a while?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know that he's read her, but I know he always reads her column with some degree of trepidation and -- (laughter) -- I'll check.
Q Everybody does.
Q He has not spoken to the Attorney General, though, about this?
MR. SIEWERT: No. And I got the question from one of you earlier. We have not made any comment -- made any contact with state officials in Florida, although we did receive one call from a local official in Florida. We simply referred them back to the state, didn't do any business with them.
Q Jake, with respect to the President's comments on Veterans Day, will those be focused to a larger extent than usual on Vietnam, in light of his upcoming trip there?
MR. SIEWERT: I think you can expect him to talk a little bit about the trip and the purpose of the trip, and particularly about America's experience in Vietnam, yes.
Q What does he think about the result? I mean, whatever happens in Florida, does he view this at all as a referendum on his legacy? And whatever happens in Florida, it looks like it's about 50-50.
MR. SIEWERT: This was a vote that was about two candidates that were running for the Presidency. I don't know that it speaks much beyond the views that the American people had of those two candidates and their respective qualifications to be and serve the country as President.
Q I mean, every piece of paper we get here says Clinton-Gore on it. Why isn't this the view of the President as well?
MR. SIEWERT: The President has said for a long time the Vice President was on the ballot, not the President. The President said for a long time now that this election was between two candidates and two people, and that the American people were choosing between them, and not between him. He wasn't on the ballot, and he made very clear that the election was about the choice the American people faced about the future direction they wanted to take the country in.
Q That doesn't involve him, and his policies?
MR. SIEWERT: He was not on the ballot.
Q I understand that. I saw the ballot myself, but -- (laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: I hope you voted.
Q Doesn't the President regret he spent a little more time in Arkansas?
MR. SIEWERT: The President had a good visit to Arkansas, and it was, I think, probably helpful in providing a comfortable margin -- not a comfortable margin, but a winning margin for a candidate down there we wanted to see elected. But I don't -- I think in the end, the President has said repeatedly, throughout this process, that it was Vice President Gore who was running for office and that he chose -- we conducted our schedule, did more than 200 events, based upon what the Vice President's campaign thought would be most effective.
Q So he doesn't think that he should have gone to Arkansas more often or places like Dade County, Florida where he might have been --
MR. SIEWERT: I think we made a judgment that we would look to the campaign, which was in the best position to make that assessment of where the President could be most helpful and where his time would be best spent.
Q And the judgment was correct that you made?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes. They made judgments based on what they saw, their internal polling, their internal assessment of what was going on. The President was deferential to the people who actually knew what was going on in the campaign who wanted to make that judgment.
Q Has he talked to Bill Daley, though, today or yesterday?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think the President has; I know that others -- I know that we talked to Bill Daley during the election, during that morning after the election, and I expect we've had some contact with the campaign just to see where things are. But I don't think that was at the President's level.
Q Jake, you referred to the internal polling -- internal polling, you know, according to the Gore people was that there were a lot of states where the President would hurt Gore with swing voters because he was unpopular. Are you saying that the President agreed that, yes, that was right?
MR. SIEWERT: What the President agreed was that the Vice President's campaign was in the best position to assess how the President might be most useful in this election. We're still waiting for the results of that election and we'll see how that plays out.
Q Jake, what's the assessment of the White House of the impact of both the uncertainty over the presidential election and the outcome of the Senate and the House races on lame duck session of Congress and the work that you have yet to accomplish?
MR. SIEWERT: We think the session of -- Elliott was telling me earlier that when he took this job, that he expected that at this point in the day that at least at some point, the election will be over and Congress will have left town, and neither of those has come to pass. (Laughter.) So he wants to review his contract. But he has a case.
We think that the session of Congress that's set to begin later this week or early next week should be spent ratifying existing agreements that we had on education and other budget initiatives, resolving some outstanding differences in a way that is honorable, the differences on workers' safety, on immigration, and they certainly could use that time to raise the minimum wage.
Q Jake, have you heard the President say anything about the congressional elections and how he feels about it?
MR. SIEWERT: I think he's pleased to see, obviously, to see Mrs. Clinton elected, and the stronger-than-expected showing that Democrats had in Senate campaigns and some great races in the House that he's pleased to see the winner of a number of those seats. We had a great showing in California; he was very happy with that. Obviously we wanted to win back the house outright, but Democrats made some gains, and it's clear that the next session will be one in which Democrats in both the House and Senate have a great deal to say about the direction the country is going to take.
Q Is the President or are any senior advisors, are they offering any advice to the Gore campaign about how to proceed?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. These are decisions that have to be made by the campaign, and I understand they're talking about that today, and what decisions they'll make, but those are decisions that are best made by the campaign of the candidate who is on the ballot.
Q Jake, if it turns out that Bush is elected President, the Republicans, a lot of them have talked about having -- when they come back for a lame duck session, having a CR that would simply take us through the inauguration, and then they would deal with Bush on these matters of dispute. How much --
MR. SIEWERT: I think we all ought to wait and see what happens, but first of all we think that there were agreements that were resolved on education spending, on after-school care. There's no reason why tomorrow's Congress -- why we should have to wait for tomorrow's Congress to take care of today's business. We think that there was plenty of work that we'd agreed upon that should be done, including raising the minimum wage and funding some of these education initiatives. The American people don't want a Congress that meets in next February to resolve differences that are taking place today.
Q So, the President will veto any attempt to have a CR going up to Inauguration Day?
MR. SIEWERT: Well look, Congress hasn't even come back to town yet. I haven't seen all these comments. I've seen various reports of what they may or may not do, but we'll wait and see.
Q Jake, just to be clear about tonight's dinner, Vice President Gore was never intended to be a guest tonight?
MR. SIEWERT: No.
Q You mentioned what should be discussed when Congress comes back. Do you think that any of the issues that have sort of been put to the side, like a patients' bill of rights and prescription drugs, that those are worth discussing again?
MR. SIEWERT: It's hard to imagine that in the time they have left that they'll tackle some of the more contentious issues when they haven't been able to resolve some of the simpler ones. So we'd like them to focus on what's achievable. Certainly if anyone's willing to consider those, we are. We think Congress should have moved on a patients' bill of rights, should have moved on prescription drugs, but our focus is going to be on trying to get some work done on the education budget, raising the minimum wage, and resolving some of the disagreements on workers' safety, immigration. Hopefully we can maybe work out something on some tax relief. Those are issues that also we've been very close to working through, and on the balanced budget give-backs for health care providers.
Q Jake, do you know if the President is going to stay on a Navy ship in Brunei, rather than the designated --
MR. SIEWERT: I heard your question. I don't know anything more than Sandy did about that. I think he's staying on land, pretty sure in fact, but we'll double check that.
Q Jake, if and when the election is resolved, what are the transition plans of the White House? Has the President designated someone to oversee the transition on his staff?
MR. SIEWERT: I believe John Podesta, who's the Chief of Staff, will be in charge of that effort. He may have designated someone internally to work on that, but we're committed to doing everything we can to insure that the transition is a smooth one.
Q Jake, a lot of Democrats are angry at Ralph Nader and feel that he may have cost Al Gore the presidency. Is the President angry at Ralph Nader?
MR. SIEWERT: I think the President -- (laughter) -- feels that the Nader candidacy didn't serve any larger purpose in advancing
Q A lot of Democrats are angry at Ralph Nader, feeling he may have cost Al Gore the presidency. Is the President angry at Ralph Nader?
MR. SIEWERT: I think the President feels that the Nader candidacy didn't serve any larger purpose in advancing our agenda here and the President certainly believes that the Vice President was the correct choice for Americans and that he was the best choice for a more progressive, more inclusive society.
Q Does he believe Nader cost him Florida and cost him, thereby, the election?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I'll ask him that. Obviously, you saw -- you can analyze the election results as well as we can.
Q How does he feel about the electoral college? Does he think it's time to reform it?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of, no. Although, since I am at the podium, I'd like to point you to some comments made by Republican leaders over the last couple weeks that, in retrospect, they may wish they hadn't said. I notice a lot of them were on the talk shows talking about the -- when there was some prospect that the presidential candidate might not receive the majority -- that the winning presidential candidate might not receive a majority of the votes, they had a lot of disdainful things to say about that process, but maybe they've revisited those views.
Q Well, Jake -- upholding the Constitution? Will the President speak to that?
MR. SIEWERT: Excuse me?
Q Will the President speak to that himself, if there is a discrepancy?
MR. SIEWERT: I think we'll take this one day at a time.
Q Has he talked to any world leaders about the election and is he concerned about, you know, the message this sort of election, which still hasn't been decided, could send on the world stage?
MR. SIEWERT: I think Sandy addressed that. I mean, the business of America goes on. We're meeting today with Chairman Arafat. We have a meeting with Barak planned. The President has a trip planned where he expects to meet with a lot of the world's leaders. I don't think he's spoken to anyone in the last day or so, but I can double-check.
Q Jake, one of the major sticking points on getting agreement on the Labor-Health Spending Bill was this ergonomics regulation. OMB apparently now has a copy of that rule. Is there any possibility that you would publish that rule before Congress has finished work on that appropriation?
MR. SIEWERT: Sure. I don't know if we have a specific timetable now but, we will publish that rule when the work is completed.
Q When do you anticipate the work will be completed?
MR. SIEWERT: I said I didn't have any specific time line yet. But if the work is done, we'll certainly publish it.
Q Why is the President satisfied with the results of the congressional election? After all, every house seat is in play and the American people still voted for a Republican House and you all are constantly accusing him of thwarting the will of the American people and it looks like they've spoken in favor of the Republicans.
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know about that. I mean, the Democrats made some inroads and there were very -- it was a very, very tight election in which the American people were very evenly split as we're seeing today. And I think the President feels comfortable, a lot of Democrats won. He is encouraged that the Senate Democrats did as strongly as they did and we have the prospect of an evenly split Senate which would be a pretty dramatic reversal of the electoral gains the Republicans made in 1994.
He is certainly pleased that Mrs. Clinton was able to prevail in her contest, and we'll see how the presidential race is resolved.
Q Does he have a sense of satisfaction that two of the main House prosecutors were defeated, Mr. McCollum and Mr. Rogan?
MR. SIEWERT: He certainly followed those races with a great deal of interest, but I think he was satisfied that Democrats won all over the country.
Q Over the weekend, the President said that the Labor Department in a couple weeks would be issuing final rules to extend certain patient protections to order base plans. This would affect about 130 million people. And they would be issuing this as a final rule. Is there any reason why this is being treated differently than other rules that usually go through proposed rules in the rule-making stage?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll check. I know that the work has been under way on that for several years now, so I imagine it's gone through a pretty extensive clearance process. But I don't know about the precise nature of how it would be published.
Q Can you give us some idea -- Sandy didn't go over this -- about how large the delegation will be that is accompanying the President to Vietnam? Is there a delegation of business people that will be going with the President, and how large is the congressional delegation?
MR. SIEWERT: The congressional delegation is relatively sizeable. I know there was a lot of interest, and we're trying to finalize --
MR. CROWLEY: I think part of the issue on the congressional delegation is the impact of the session that they have coming up.
MR. SIEWERT: Right. And some people might want to have come are now reviewing whether they should come in light of the session that's underway. But in terms of business people, I think obviously there will be some people who are flying to Vietnam on their own, and I expect that we will have a chance to meet with some of the local American and Vietnamese business organizations in some setting or another. But I don't think we're taking an official co-delegation of business people.
On the congressional delegation, we had a lot of interest and we're trying to finalize the list now in light of the new session of Congress.
Q Is it dozens, or a handful, or --
MR. CROWLEY: There will be a fairly substantial number of business people.
MR. SIEWERT: Business people that we meet within Vietnam, yes. But I don't think there's a co-del plane.
Q Will Hillary be going, too? And Chelsea?
MR. SIEWERT: I will check. I think she was intending to join the President in Vietnam, but she may be looking at her schedule in light of her election and plans she has to put together an office in the Senate.
Q Why did he curtail the Vietnam visit? Because he thought the lame duck --
MR. SIEWERT: We never officially -- we gave him a number of options, and I know that probably those were shared privately with you. But we never put together a comprehensive schedule and published it. We gave him a number of options that involve three or four days and he ended up choosing one. But I wouldn't say that we curtailed the visit. We had given the President a number of different options, and he chose one that involves spending a fair amount of time in Hanoi and a day in Ho Chi Minh City. But it's a pretty substantial trip for -- it's rare that we spend this much time in one country.
Q But did he want to get back because of possibly the lame duck Congress will still be around? Was that one reason, or --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think his decision was just made on the merits of how long he thought we should spend there and how long he wanted to be out of the country.
Q Next week, will taxpayers have to underwrite the expense of flying new continuing resolutions over to Brunei for his signature?
MR. SIEWERT: I hope not. I think we should be able to work that out in a way that involves the least amount of expense. We actually have some planes that are heading over separately from the President, that will skip the APEC portion of the trip.
Q Jake, given the President's commitment to campaign finance reform and limiting the role of money in elections, is he at all uncomfortable with the election of Corzine in New Jersey?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. He thought that Jon Corzine ran a strong campaign and that he campaigned on the issues and the voters of New Jersey made a decision.
Q So he has no problem with someone spending -- considering that campaign finance reform, trying to get fat cat's out of elections, so forth, a guy spending $50 million of his own money on --
MR. SIEWERT: Well, it was his own money, but in any case, the President feels that the campaign finance system is badly broken, needs fixing, but that people like Jon Corzine and some of the other senators that were elected are committed to fixing it.
Q Back on Vietnam for a second. Will members of any family groups, leaders of any family groups or MIA groups be going with the President to Vietnam?
MR. SIEWERT: They have been invited and I expect we'll have a full list in the next couple days of the delegation. But we have invited some members that represent Vietnam veterans groups and they'll be accompanying the President.
Q Jake, on Crs, as in any other legislation, can't the President now sign electronically?
MR. SIEWERT: I think that is what the lawyers would call a case of first impression, it would be subject to some -- it might be subject to challenge. We haven't made any decision to do it electronically.
The legislation that was signed governed private commercial contracts, and didn't amend the Constitution in any way, shape or form. And that is a question -- the legality of an electronic signature, in terms of legislation, will be governed by the Constitution and not by the e-signatures law.
Q Jake, is the President concerned at all that the impeachment played a roll in the presidential election may have limited some votes for Gore?
MR. SIEWERT: He didn't seem to. No, I don't think -- I haven't seen any data that would suggest that.
Q Well, I think 44 percent of the people said that they based their vote on feelings one way or another about the President. I think one in five of them said they voted against Gore for that reason. Does he feel any sense of responsibility?
MR. SIEWERT: I can't imagine those people would have voted for him.
Q So he thinks that they would have voted for Bush, anyway?
MR. SIEWERT: I haven't seen that data. If we want to sit there and look through polls and analyze them, we can do that privately. I'm not going to do that from this podium.
Q Does he feel any sense of responsibility --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't think that -- it's not clear to me at all that this candidate was anything -- this campaign was about anything other than a choice between two candidates who had two different views of where to take the country.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. SIEWERT: Thank you.
END 12:10 P.M. EST