THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
11:25 A.M. EST
MR. SIEWERT: Quick announcements, and then we'll go -- we'll try to make this quick, so everyone can go home and enjoy the holiday.
The President will be sending a delegation to the inauguration of Vincente Fox in Mexico, headed by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and including Senior White House Representative Maria Echaveste, the Deputy Chief of Staff. He will not, himself, be attending that, although be sending the highest level delegation possible.
And the President this morning signed the District of Columbia appropriations bill for fiscal year 2001. He was pleased that we were able to work out a good-faith compromise on this, under the leadership of Representative Eleanor Holmes Norton. That bill will provide roughly $446 million in federal funds that are central for District courts, correction facilities and the rest. It also provides $17 million to fully fund the D.C. College Access Act. That's something the President has championed that provides tuition assistance for District residents, a bill that the President signed into law last year. It also fully funds the New York Avenue Metro Station, and provides a strong start for brownfields work in Anacostia, and economic development there.
The entire bill builds on the economic development program that the President has championed in the District, which includes the tax legislation he signed in 1997 that provides tax relief for D.C. residents and businesses, and some projects that were also provided for last year to revitalize the Nation's Capital.
There were some riders in the bill that we didn't like, as there have been other years. But in general, this was a bill that needed to be signed and does a lot of good for the District.
And that is all I have. He is signing about 2 dozen other bills. If you need details on those, check with Nanda or Sarah. Most of them are relatively small measures, although there is one that he is having a ceremony on now, called the Health Care Fairness Act, a small private ceremony.
Q Jake, what does the President think of Secretary Baker's statements last night that no one should be surprised if the Florida legislature involves itself in this election and seeks to turn back the decision that the Supreme Court of Florida made?
MR. SIEWERT: I have been reluctant from this podium to say much on the comments of both sides about the proceedings in Florida. I think we'll try to stay out of it again today. I'll do my best. The President -- this is a matter that's before the courts in Florida, and the President expects both sides to make their case as forcefully as possible and litigate that matter in the courts. I don't know that he has any view on whether the legislature should or should not get involved. I'll check.
Q Do you know if he sees that as circumventing the constitutional process, which is what sources inside the Gore campaign are saying?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I haven't discussed it with him.
Q Any comments on the illness of Dick Cheney?
MR. SIEWERT: I talked to the President about that this morning. He saw that news and wishes Mr. Cheney well and a speedy recovery.
Q Jake, you said you expect the President will expect the two sides to fight this out as aggressively as they can. But how about some of the rhetoric that's now there, statements today from members of the Congress who are Republican saying this election is being stolen? I mean, not alleging that, stating that as their point of view. As far as the President is concerned, how damaging does he think statements like that from members of Congress are to the entire public's confidence in the way elections are run in this country?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, there's a lot at stake here and I expect that you'll hear a lot of rhetoric. We already have heard a lot of rhetoric. But I think what's important is that we get past the rhetoric and let the American people have the confidence that this will be worked out in a way that follows the rule of law and that we get the fullest and most accurate count possible, as the President said before.
Q Does the President feel that the Republicans are not following his earlier advice, to take two aspirin and --
MR. SIEWERT: That was not advice for Republicans, it was advice for the American public at large to relax and let the process play itself out. It is playing itself out. It's understandable I think that there would be quite an emotional period for a lot of different people, that there be some heated rhetoric. But what's important is that everyone let this process play out in a way that's fair and equitable.
There are plenty of lawyers, plenty of advocates on each side to make the case, and we expect that they'll continue to do so forcefully. But I think the President said that the American people expect this to be worked out in a way that reflects the will of the people of Florida, and let's let the courts and those who are responsible in the state figure out exactly how that should proceed, and not get involved ourselves.
Q Gore said last night that both sides ought to start getting going on their transition. Does that change anything about the White House policy that nothing would be done until there's an apparent winner?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think that we -- as I said yesterday, we're prepared to help the winner of this election move as quickly as possible to establish a transition team, and we'll provide them with whatever assistance we can, as soon as possible.
I don't think our plans have changed, other than, understandably, we've lost a couple weeks of planning. I don't think that's an enormous problem, as I said yesterday. But I think we'll probably take the opportunity next week to remind the Cabinet of the importance of having everything available, reminding the White House agencies the importance of having everything available for the winner when the election is resolved. And I think the President actually has a Cabinet meeting which will focus on a host of other topics, as well, but that will probably come up on Monday when the President meets with his Cabinet.
Q Jake, realistically, by law, until one of these candidates is declared President-elect, just how far down the road to transition can they go?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think there's much we can do -- there's some, but there's not a lot we can do in terms of providing assistance directly to a transition team, because there isn't one yet that we can work with. But we can get everything ready so that we have -- typically, I think what happens -- I worked on the '92 transition -- typically, what happens is that you prepare materials after consulting with the transition team of the President-elect.
I think in this case we can begin preparing some of that material, getting that material ready. Maybe it will need to be reformatted or rejiggered a little bit when you've consulted with the winner, but there's no reason why some of that work can't be started now and some of that work can't be ready when there is a designate. But it shouldn't be an enormous problem. Some of that work can get done now. We know the rough -- roughly, what the Cabinets expect, and as I said yesterday, we'll be ready to move quickly when there is a clear winner.
Q Jake, based on your experience on the '92 transition, which some have observed did not go as smoothly as it might have, and yet you had all the available time, why don't you believe that whoever wins would be hamstrung by losing three, maybe four weeks, of that vital transition time?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I probably don't have enough time to rehash the entire experience of the '92-'93 transition, but I'll be happy to spend time with you if you'd like later on that one. I don't know that -- I think some of the -- I'm not sure the length of time was the problem that we experienced in '92. It's a little more difficult than some expect to put together some of these teams, but there's no reason why it can't be done in relatively short order. And there's no reason why we can't do what we need to do to help the new President and his team get ready quickly. We can begin that work now; we have begun some of the work and there's no reason why we can't accelerate that, given that we're looking at a so much shorter time frame for that team to work in.
Q Jake, the President is on his way to the food bank to volunteer this afternoon, on the day before Thanksgiving. I wonder if you could tell us what he's learned over the years doing these kinds of volunteer activities, and also what, if any, volunteer activity he has planned for after he leaves office?
MR. SIEWERT: I haven't talked to him about what he's planning on doing after he leaves, although I expect in between supporting his family he'll find time to do a lot of work that probably is not reimbursed. And he's already indicated an interest in helping people around the world who are disadvantaged build better lives, better opportunities for themselves.
He thinks that service is critically important. He'll be joined today by Harris Wofford, who heads the Corporation for National Service. This is something he's worked on with members of both parties, with General Powell and the Service Summit, to encourage community activism, to encourage volunteerism, and it's something that obviously we'll be highlighting a little bit today and I expect he'll continue to do so after he leaves office.
Q Anything he's learned from these experiences?
MR. SIEWERT: That it's richly rewarding to help others.
Q When does he go to Camp David?
MR. SIEWERT: Sometime this afternoon. I don't have a precise time yet.
Q Jake, has the President spoken with the Vice President since the court ruling was announced?
MR. SIEWERT: I checked this morning. Not that I'm aware of. I'll double-check that, but I don't think he's spoken to him since he returned from Vietnam.
Q While this election drama, circus, you call it -- has the President received any call or has spoken with any world leaders privately or -- what they feel, how they feel?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't -- nothing specifically on this topic at any length. It did come up around the APEC meeting a little bit, but not in any serious way. I think foreign leaders understand that this is a -- that we have a constitutional process and a legal process to work this out, and most of them seem relatively unperturbed by that.
Q Jake, how is it that President Clinton has talked to the Vice President since he's been back from Vietnam? We know that during the campaign, before the election, that he was talking to Daley, the President was talking Daley. But wouldn't you think now that he and the Vice President would --
MR. SIEWERT: He has talked to him a couple times since the election, but I think the Vice President has been -- obviously been working pretty hard on this effort, probably working --
Q Well, even as moral support. I mean, he was --
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, he's had a couple conversations like that. I think I've detailed them from the podium here.
Q Yes, but lately, in the midst of all --
MR. SIEWERT: I'll check. I don't know. Obviously, he was out of the country for a great deal of time, and then he got back and we put him to work again. He's been working pretty hard today. But I'll check and see. I'm sure he'll talk to him sometime in the near future.
Q On a separate note, completely different note, are we coming out with final rules any time soon on these -- that would ban companies that violate labor and tax laws from getting government contracts?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know that specific issue. I can check on it. Companies that violate --
Q Yes, these proposals came out I think in June, and we got -- there's a report that these rules --
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, the final rules coming. I'll check. I don't know the timing of the final rule on that. But I can check with -- you may want to check with OMB.
Q Jake, does the White House have any concern that the atmosphere that's around the election becoming more poisonous could undermine efforts to reach agreements with Congress when it comes back in this lame duck session on a lot of the pending business you're going to try to get done?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't see why that should have any impact really. I mean, we've worked with Congress through some pretty contentious times, and we were able actually to agree on a great deal of important work. In the middle of some pretty serious wrangling over whether the President should be removed from office or not, we were able to strike budget accords that funded the President's priorities on education, on health care, welfare to work, on the environment, at a time when many of the members that were voting to fund the President's initiatives were also trying to remove him from office.
So I don't see any reason why we can't work together in a lame duck session to fund education, to take care of some of these other priorities that the President has mentioned. It doesn't seem to me that that's an insurmountable task. We've certainly been through more difficult periods.
Q Does that mean the President would reject any continuing resolution through the end of his term?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't see any real reason for that. The President spoke to the Majority Leader and the Speaker before they left town. They said they wanted to come back December 5th and go to work, so I don't think there's any real reason to push this off until January.
Q Has the President spoken to any of the leaders in the Middle East today, or will he before he departs? And is there any reaction to today's shooting or car bomb?
MR. SIEWERT: We strongly condemn the latest violence there. The President hasn't spoken to anyone yet; he's actually been in an event since that happened. But it's very unclear so far what the facts are and who's responsible, so I think we'll probably leave it at that for now.
Q Will he make a comment before he --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't expect so. But I think, if anything, this latest incident, the latest violence underscores the importance of all sides who share an interest in seeing peace and breaking the cycle of violence, working to implement the arrangements we agreed to at Sharm el-Sheikh.
Q Will he speak to them before he departs for Camp David?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think we have anything planned.
Q Has a date been set for the departure of the fact-finding commission?
MR. SIEWERT: I think Secretary Albright is meeting with Mr. Mitchell, former Senator, Ambassador Mitchell, sometime today. But I don't think that we have anything to announce.
Q Is the Vice President going to be with the President at the food bank this afternoon?
MR. SIEWERT: No, the President will be there by himself.
Q Does he have any comments about the Prime Minister of India announced cease-fire in Kashmir, and also he has invited all the parties, delegation now -- if President has spoken with him recently, in the last week or so?
MR. SIEWERT: With the Prime Minister?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't think he has. But we welcome the Prime Minister's announcement. We have been saying for some time now, the President said that for the Kashmir dispute to be resolved that it's important that there be restraint by both sides and respect for the line of control, and that both sides reject violence and work towards a renewal of dialogue.
The Prime Minister's statement was fully consistent with those principles and we hope it represents an opening toward a process of dialogue that's needed to bring about a lasting settlement in Kashmir.
Q Any word from Pakistan, if the President is in touch, or anybody from the administration --
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think we've -- I think that, yes, Ambassador Inderfurth has been in touch with the Pakistani government. And we certainly -- we saw the statement that was issued by the Pakistanis and we know it does not reject the Indian announcement. It says that it will closely watch the developments in the region. And we certainly urge the government of Pakistan to respond to the Prime Minister's announcement in a positive fashion.
Q Jake, has the President been kept abreast of the situation in Peru?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, he has. We noted yesterday and I'll note today that there is a constitutional process underway there. We don't back a particular party or person, but we are working with the Organization of American States to ensure that there is a democratic transition in Peru.
Q Jake, who is joining the President at Camp David tomorrow, and what's on the menu?
MR. SIEWERT: Turkey.
Q We know it's not Jerry. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Not Jerry. Jerry's safe. I think he will be joined by Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea and some other members of his family, and some friends, as well. We'll try to get you a full list and menu later today -- excellent -- according to Nanda.
Q Is there any word from Chuck Ruff's family as to plans for a service or a memorial or anything?
MR. SIEWERT: I think that they will hold a private service this weekend, and then they will hold some sort of a memorial service early next month. I expect that we should have a date for that pretty soon. And that's where you would probably see the President attend.
Q Do you have a week ahead for next week, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: No, other than -- since it's a little early to put together next week, other than the Cabinet meeting on Monday, I don't have anything else yet for you.
Q Do you have a time for that, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: It will be late afternoon. We're working on the time.
Q Is Clinton coming back Monday or Sunday?
MR. SIEWERT: Hasn't decided yet. Either Sunday night or Monday morning.
All right. Happy Thanksgiving.
END 11:46 A.M. EST