THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
1:54 P.M. EST
MR. SIEWERT: A quick piece of business and then I'll give you a little update on the transition, and then we can take your questions. The President today will not return the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2000 to the Hill, which means that it's, in essence, pocket-vetoed. That's the fourth time we've done that in this administration.
As we have said repeatedly, we would have like to have seen Congress complete a bill that was balanced, that made sense, that would reform the bankruptcy system and update it. But instead we got a bill that was badly flawed, punished some creditors and not others, punished some debtors and not others, and lacked the balance that the President said was critical to being something that he could sign.
So we made a good-faith effort to reach out and reach agreement on this bill, but unfortunately, some of the compromises we had reached on that bill were not included in the final agreement. So the President had no choice but to ensure that it did not become law.
On the transition, as you know, the President-elect just left. The President and he had a very good meeting, a very serious meeting. They spent about an hour in the Oval Office talking about a host of different issues, and then they retired to the Old Family Dining Room upstairs, where they had lunch and continued their discussion for about an hour, hour and 10 minutes.
Q Just the two of them?
MR. SIEWERT: Just the two of them. Throughout -- they briefly met in the Oval Office with the Chief of Staff John Podesta and the Chief of Staff-designate Andy Card. But then there were parallel meetings in John Podesta's office and a parallel lunch, where the staff members -- the Deputy Chiefs of Staff and the Chiefs of Staff sat down and discussed some operational issues about how the White House worked, a couple substantive issues. But the President and the President-elect met alone in the Oval Office, and then alone over in the Old Family Dining Room.
Q What did they talk about?
MR. SIEWERT: I think they -- the President told me that they covered primarily foreign policy. He talked about some of the hot spots around the world and some of the challenges the new administration will face, and the state of play in some of those places that make headlines in the news here in America. But the President said it was a good, thorough discussion, primarily focused on foreign policy, although he did spend a little bit of time talking about the operation of the White House and how to run an effective operation here, some of the lessons we had learned over the last eight years.
There was not much of a discussion of domestic policy. Although I know that came up in the questioning, that was not anything where there was a great deal of time spent.
Q Will they meet again before Inauguration Day?
MR. SIEWERT: We're certainly willing to meet. I don't know that that came up, but we're certainly available and willing to meet, if there's a -- if they want to come in and talk again.
Q Jake, were there any signals from the Bush folks on either Middle East or North Korea about how they'd like you to proceed in the next 30 days?
MR. SIEWERT: I think they -- I'll let them speak to that. They've obviously spoken publicly a little bit today in the papers, but we are making our own decision on that. The President will make his own decision based on what he thinks is in the national interest, and whether he thinks a trip to North Korea would help advance the goals of closing down or shutting down some of the more dangerous components of their missile system.
Q Decision today on North Korea?
MR. SIEWERT: I would not expect a decision today on that. But I'll let you know if we have any next steps over the next day or so.
Q Will he be taking a tour of South Korea through North Korea, as well?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, since we haven't announced any travel, I won't get into the itinerary yet. But we obviously are working very closely with the South Koreans in this whole initiative. And the President met with Kim Dae Jung when he was in Brunei to discuss the state of play, and how we could move forward on the offer that President Kim laid on the table on missiles.
Q Did the President do all the talking?
MR. SIEWERT: I think -- no, it was an exchange, and obviously, the President said that it was a very frank exchange of views. But both of them, obviously, had something to contribute.
Q Is that to say, Jake, that there was disagreement about elements of foreign policy or anything --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't think -- I wouldn't know. I would not say that. It was a discussion, and like any discussion, both sides had a bit to offer. But I'm not going to really get into any of the specifics of that discussion. It was a private talk that I think you'll understand between two people -- one who has a lot of responsibility, and one who is about to assume a great deal of responsibility. And they wanted to have a frank, off-the-record conversation. That's why there were no aides involved, and why I probably won't divulge most of the information here today.
Q Did the President offer any advise on foreign policy?
MR. SIEWERT: He certainly offered the insights that we've gleaned over the past eight years about some of what's happening in the world and some of what is important in the hot spots around the world. But I'm not going to actually pass those on.
Q Did the President urge Mr. Bush to retain the troops in Kosovo and Bosnia?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know if that specific topic came up, but I know that we've been perfectly clear in our discussions with the Bush team that we think there's some value to having U.S. troops there. They've played a critical role in helping stem genocide and restore stability to Southeastern Europe. We think they play a vital role in helping restore some civil society there. But I don't know that that specifically came up between them, but our views on that are pretty well-known.
Q And, Jake, has the President spoken to you at all about the particular challenges that the new President faces, coming as a governor to become President? Is that something that he's talked to you guys at all about, and some of the challenges that Bush might face coming as a governor?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, no -- yes, he's said that there's, in some sense, a similarity in that they've run state governments -- it's an entirely different enterprise to run the federal government and to be the person who's making the final call on a lot of critical issues. But I haven't heard him elaborate on that theme much.
Q Jake, was the President surprised at all by the President-elect? Was it the same guy he expected the see? Was he --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think -- he said they had a good serious discussion. I think he told Dan Rather last night in an interview that he had known the Governor a bit, the President-elect, some; knew his brother a little bit better; but always had good relations with them. And I think it was a pretty frank and open discussion.
Q Was there any discussion, Jake, of the events that have transpired since the election or what brought them to --
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't think they spent any time on that. The President didn't mention that, at least, when I talked to him.
Q On a bit of a different question, the President supposedly is a strong supporter of voting rights for the District and for statehood. There's a new license plate, says, "Taxation Without Representation." And I was wondering if the President is going to get his and put it on his car before January 20th. As you know, the new President is against any form of congressional representation. Many people feel that the President has not spoken out as clearly as he should on an issue which supposedly he supports. Will he do this, will he put this plate on the limousine before January 20th?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll check. I know, actually, we did ask him that once and he asked his Chief of Staff to look into it, and I'll see if there's been any progress made on that.
Q So you'll get back to me -- so by January 20th he very well might put this on the car? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: It's not out of the question. I don't know if he could use that particular one. It looks like it belongs to someone else. (Laughter.) And if it doesn't, you probably have some explaining to do to the Secret Service. (Laughter.)
Q What screwdriver would he use? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Exactly. I'm not sure he'll personally install it. But I'll ask him that. Actually --
Q -- inaugural parade on January 20th, the President's limousine very well might have this license plate?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I guess that may be a question that involves the transfer of power. I honestly don't know whose call it is on January 20th what license plate is on the car. But I'll check and find out. We asked him this once and he said, I'm a strong supporter of D.C. statehood, and let me know what the state of play is. And we were going to check it out on a staff level. I haven't actually heard back yet.
Q Will you let me know?
MR. SIEWERT: I will.
Q Did the President and the President-elect revisit any of the harsh words they had about each other during the campaign?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't think so. I think this was a pretty serious and substantive discussion. It was very much focused on policy and not on the past.
Q Can I ask you on another subject, Jake, there is a summit going on regarding electricity shortage and high electricity prices on the West Coast. Is the President planning any steps related to that? Has he asked the Energy Secretary to pursue this, or what does the federal government think is going on?
MR. SIEWERT: We've been working with Secretary Richardson on this topic. There have been a number of National Economic Council meetings on the topic regularly that Gene Sperling has chaired. I know last week Secretary Richardson issued an emergency order that would require generators to provide electricity to California, if needed, to keep the lights on. And Secretary Richardson has been in touch -- I know some of the Western governors are meeting; we'll have some sort of presence at that meeting to discuss this problem. Governor Davis may not be there -- I think they're meeting in Denver -- but the President has asked his staff to stay in touch with them and to keep on top of it.
I don't know of any new steps that have been announced, but I know that the FERC is meeting with some of the Western governors and Secretary Richardson will be there and Governor Davis may join them by phone.
Q Jake, does President Clinton have any additional personal role in the transition planning at this point, or is that largely at this point for the staff?
MR. SIEWERT: I think most of the transition is engineered and run by the staff. I mean, that's only natural. And I know that John had a good discussion with Andy Card about how the policy councils work, how the White House itself functions. They're obviously very familiar with the White House; most of the folks here today from the President-elect team have been through this White House in one way, shape or form in the past, so they know their way around. But the world's changed a bit.
There are some new -- there's a new National Economic Council, there's some new operations here that we ran through with them, and spent a little bit of time detailing how this place has functioned over the last eight years. There also obviously are some -- a couple policy issues that were just brought up more on the order of a heads-up than anything else. And we let them know that we're moving forward on a couple of issues, a couple regulations that are pretty widely known, publicly, I think, but just to let them know that that was coming down the pike.
Q Did they react to that at all?
MR. SIEWERT: I think they just took it in, and they made clear that they understood that the President had all the powers of the presidency until January 20th, and they understood that full well.
Q -- regulations?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think we just notified them that, obviously, we have some rules that are under consideration here that are moving forward. And whether its medical privacy or the effort to protect the forests from new road building, there are some things that we're moving forward. There's also some trade initiatives underway that are being negotiated now. I talked a little bit about those. Obviously, we're pursuing a free trade agreement with Chile and also with Singapore. Not clear whether those will be completed by January 20th, but work is ongoing, and there's no reason why negotiations can't move forward. Those are both modeled in large part on the Jordan agreement.
Q Jake, has the President sent any kind of message to political appointees stressing the need for them to be cooperative with the incoming administration, despite the fact that it's a different political party coming into power and there may be some resentment on a personal basis?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think -- I'm not aware that we've sent a message from the President, but certainly that's something that John Podesta has emphasized in his briefings with the Cabinet, in the memos that we've sent out, and I think the meeting today should help set a good tone for the transition work as we go forward.
Q How many people are going to lose their jobs in this administration? Do you have a rough idea?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think there are roughly somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 full-time positions that are political appointees. I expect most of those people will be finding new work come January 20th. There are another 3,000 or so that are appointed by the President, but are much more part-time or ceremonial positions. But the number of political appointees is roughly the same as it was, somewhat smaller, when we took office, which is somewhere between 2,500 and 3,000 appointees. And they actually spent a fair amount of time in the staff meeting discussing some of those issues and what personnel were involved. Obviously, some people stay on for a little while.
Q Career people will stay on.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes. But as you know, the White House is predominantly made up of political appointees, almost exclusively, and most of those people are --
Q Back to the District, does the Mayor plan to -- there was talk that the Mayor would -- excuse me, that the President -- I've been to too many mayors press conferences -- that the President would go --
MR. SIEWERT: There's been some talk of the President as mayor, which I think we've put to rest.
Q -- that the President would go to the re-opening of the Wilson Building, which is the District's City Hall.
MR. SIEWERT: The downtown City Hall.
Q -- before January 20th. I was wondering if he's planning to do any District event before January 20th, and if he's planning to do that exact event.
MR. SIEWERT: I'll check. I don't know if a date's been set for that, but I know that Karen Tramontano, who used to work with the city, has been talking to them about some of these issues. But I don't think we have anything scheduled yet for January, and he's certainly not doing anything between now and the end of the year that's related directly to the governance of the District.
Q Jake, do you know when the First Family is physically moving out of the White House?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think it's an ongoing process, but January 20th, we'll pack up and leave. (Laughter.) But I think that actually a lot of the moving and packing has begun, in the sense that they've moved a lot of their personal belongings, a lot of the furniture and the like, to Chappaqua over the last year or so.
Q Are they here until the morning of the 20th?
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, yes, I think we'll stick around until the last possible minute. (Laughter.)
Q What is he doing for the rest of the week? Anything highlighted --
MR. SIEWERT: We may have an announcement tomorrow of some sort. I'll check back and see where we are on that. But we have some work planned between now and the end of the week. Although, I think towards the end of the week, the President is moving into holiday mode.
Q An announcement on an issue, or did --
MR. SIEWERT: Well, it's newsworthy, so we're going to try to save it.
Q Like what? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Like some of the other news we cook up around here. (Laughter.) I'll tell you tomorrow.
Q Like a news conference?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't think we have that planned. That would be a surprise to Ms. Engebretsen, she would not be prepared.
Q What time is newsworthy enough.
MR. SIEWERT: What time is it? I don't know. Is that a secret, too?
MS. CHITRE: Yes.
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, it's a secret; I'm sorry.
Q The AP has reported that, I believe, Harry Thomason, was going around to TV studios, approaching them about doing a show with the President. Has the President -- did he bring this up last night at a dinner, or has he talked to people about hosting a television show?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I think there was some reporting on this and some people approached him about it last night. I didn't get a chance to hear from him in any detail on that. But we actually discussed it yesterday before he left, and he said he had no plans to do such a show. I don't know whether -- I can't detail for you whether anyone approached anyone about such a show, but that's not anything he's planning on.
Q Jake, have you heard the President on comment on how he feels about being preceded by a Bush and then succeeded by a Bush?
MR. SIEWERT: Not really, other than -- he's talked a little bit about the parallels to John Quincy Adams, but I haven't heard him express any personal feelings on that.
Q Back on the trip to Korea -- if it happens, will this happen after the inauguration or before?
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, no, to the extent that we're discussing a trip to North Korea, we are discussing a trip as President to North Korea. I don't think we have anything coming up next week, but we have a full month in January and we'll let you know if we have a final decision on that sometime soon.
Q And he's going to spend Christmas here?
MR. SIEWERT: Here. Here. Right here in the briefing room. No, he'll be in Washington. They may at some point go to Camp David, but I don't know exactly when. I think the day of Christmas they'll spend at the White House.
Q And he'll shop at the last minute before Christmas, right?
MR. SIEWERT: Presumably. We do a study to determine when we can best tie up Georgetown traffic -- (laughter) -- and then we hit the maximum point of confusion and commotion. (Laughter.) Maybe we'll do some more on-line, take a little of the burden off the last-minute shoppers.
Ken? No? (Laughter.) I guess he's just trying to get out of here. That's all right.
Q Jake, has the President narrowed, to your knowledge, in any way, his plans for after the presidency?
MR. SIEWERT: Every day we rule something out, yes. If we ask enough questions -- he's not going to seek the mayor's seat in New York City.
Q What about a book, what about his memoirs?
MR. SIEWERT: He has said that he plans to write a book at some point, but I don't think he's finalized that. He's told people, actually in interviews, that he may write a book or two. But I don't think he's concluded that plan yet. He obviously has said very explicitly that he hopes to maintain some level of public service. But he wants to do it in a way that wouldn't intrude upon the next President's ability to do their own business.
Q President of Harvard?
MR. SIEWERT: Haven't heard that discussed, other than in the press, where all these things are routinely discussed. Chancellor of Oxford, president of Harvard, mayor of New York. Any more suggestions? TV host.
MR. SIEWERT: Dreamworks, yes. I've heard it all.
Q The New Markets legislation, do you know if that's going to be signed yet, either Thursday or Friday?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know, but we will do it one of those two days. We will not do it tomorrow, as far as I can tell.
Q Is that the omnibus?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, omnibus bill. Although, I guess it's technically not an omnibus, but we'll sign it the end of the week.
END 2:14 P.M. EST