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Office of the Press Secretary

For 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 glee.

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 progress.

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. (Laughter.)

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 week?

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 arises.

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 misleading.

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 individuals.

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 before?

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 area.

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 administration?

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