THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY JAKE SIEWERT The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
12:12 P.M. EST
MR. SIEWERT: Welcome to the last briefing of what Mark Knoller assures me is the millennium. (Laughter.) The next millennium begins on Monday. Unfortunately, the news of the day -- I don't have any news for you, although I can assure you that the President and First Lady are in the final stages of negotiations over the purchase of a Washington residence. As you know, in New York, their home in Chappaqua will continue to serve as their principal residence. And we'll let you know -- I think we hope to have something by the end of the day and we'll let you know when that's coming out. We'll probably put a piece of --
Q Do they have to borrow money for that, or do they have the cash?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't want to get into a lot of the details, but I expect that they'll put together a mortgage. But we'll get to the details later on that. And as we did when they bought the house in Chappaqua, we'll put a piece of paper out which explains the basic parameters.
Q And White Haven is the address?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I haven't seen the place, but I understand that it's in that neighborhood. But we'll let you know. We'll give you a piece of paper at the end of the day that outlines --
Q Why do they need six bedrooms?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know much about the property.
Q With seven baths and a half-bath. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Well, you seem to know a lot more about this home than I do.
Q He got used to the White House I guess. (Laughter.)
Q Are they planning to have more children?
MR. SIEWERT: I'm familiar with the geography there. I think it's pretty close to the Naval Observatory. But we'll let you know at the end of the day.
Q What's the state of play on the Middle East?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we are awaiting a reply from the region. Obviously, the President had a chance to talk to you a little about where he thinks things are, and I don't have much new on that today. We obviously think this is -- as the President said yesterday, this is the best chance that both parties have had for a long time now to resolve what are age-old conflicts in the region. And the President has urged both parties to seize the opportunity. We have heard back from the Israelis and we're awaiting a return -- a reply from the Palestinians.
Q Is he going to hold up this trip to Camp David because of waiting for a response or will he just continue to work on that?
MR. SIEWERT: No. I think he may go to Camp David as early as today. I know that we've been back and forth on that a little bit today, but I think that just has to do with his own personal schedule. He has the day off, essentially, and he'll be taping the radio address, doing one or two meetings. But he essentially has the day off and he can leave for Camp David when he and the First Family decide.
Q Is he going to ring in the New Year at Camp David with family?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, they've got some family and friends there. We'll provide you with more information as we get it. But he obviously plans to spend the New Year there. It's their last chance to spend the New Year at Camp David, so he's going to take advantage of it.
Q The window for signing the International Crime Court Treaty is coming up fast. Has he made a decision?
MR. SIEWERT: Sunday, I believe. No, he has not made a decision, but we'll let you know when he does. Obviously the President said yesterday that's something he's been considering and he will probably take the chance over the next day or so to confer with some of his advisors and reach a final decision, I believe by Sunday.
Q So you'll just put out a paper on that?
MR. SIEWERT: We'll probably end up putting out a piece of paper -- unless you want a briefing on Sunday. No, apparently. Okay.
Q Jake, what was the thinking behind declaring a state of emergency in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and not declaring it a disaster area? And do you expect that declaration to come sometime over the weekend?
MR. SIEWERT: Those are governed by an assessment of what the situation is on the ground. The President receives a request from the governors. They then conduct a review through FEMA, and that was their recommendation at this stage. If there's more work done on that, we'll let you know. But that was their assessment of what the situation on the ground warranted at the moment. If there's anything new on that, I'll let you know. But FEMA generally makes the request, and then we act upon that request when we get it.
Q Can you outline the essential difference between a state of emergency and a disaster declaration?
MR. SIEWERT: Not right now, no. But I'll do my best to find out exactly what -- we rely essentially on James Lee Witt and his team there, a very professional team, to make an assessment of what the situation requires. Obviously, as you know, one simply requires a greater severity of injury.
Q What are the President's New Year's resolutions?
MR. SIEWERT: He hasn't shared them with me, to the extent he has any. I think he told you yesterday he's looking forward to earning a living and providing for his family. So I assume that's one of them.
Q He's collecting a paycheck.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, that's true. As he says, he's collecting a paycheck. And we're working every day, busier than most of us expected.
I had one piece -- before I got off track here I wanted to let you know that we are sending -- the President got a question yesterday about his report on Japanese whaling, and he is sending that report to Congress today. We have already taken some action on this issue. We've restricted future access to fishing rights, to the Japanese fishing rights in the United States fishing waters. And as part of the report today he's going to recommend that we continue to investigate and keep under review Japanese practices here.
This is -- the President has made clear that we and most of the international community strongly oppose Japan's continued whaling, and we're going to continue to work with those people who oppose it to stop this practice. We have -- as part of the report, we're going to continue active review and can recommend trade sanctions and measures at any time, going forward, and particularly going to investigate whale manufacturers -- manufacture of whaling equipment in Japan as candidates for additional measures.
We have already cancelled U.S. participation in two environmental meetings that were scheduled to take place in Japan, and we've organized a coalition within the International Whaling Commission to move the next meeting of that commission out of Japan. They had been trying to host that meeting -- we've eliminated future access of Japanese to fishing permits in U.S. waters.
So that report will go up today and we'll have a piece of paper out on that. But the President had said yesterday that he was going to take further action on that and this is what we're doing at this moment.
Q Jake, on the announcement on cancelling the ethics pledges yesterday -- the statement that was put out by Ms. Nolan explained why the change was being made, but it wasn't clear to me why it was made retroactive, why did the President feel -- what did he feel was the policy argument for releasing people who had perhaps left government two years ago from pledges they agreed to when they came in?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think the general impetus for that policy was to ensure that people who left the Clinton administration did not have undue influence with their former colleagues in the Clinton administration, or in a future Democratic administration.
That tends to be the kind of situation where someone leaves and they can then contact their former employees or their former bosses, where you could have a potential conflict of interest, which is why we put the ban in place. Given that the next administration is liable to be -- every day we learn liable to be full of more and more Republicans, with whom I think most Democratic and Clinton appointees have very little personal contact with, close personal relationship with, I think the President felt that there isn't much of a question about whether former Clinton appointees would have undue influence with the members of a Bush administration, whether they left yesterday or whether they left today.
So we had consulted with the Vice President's staff and he was willing and wanted to leave that pledge in place, given that that situation could have led to some of the conflicts of interest. But we felt that Clinton appointees are not liable to have any special relationship or any special influence over the appointees in a Bush White House or a Bush administration.
Q What harm was the ban doing -- if indeed the prospects for Clinton administration people going on to be lobbyists is so bleak, what harm did abiding by the pledge do?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think that there was a lot of criticism from groups in Washington, nonpartisan groups and partisan groups, but group think tanks in the area on both sides of the aisle that this was overbroad, literally prevented former Clinton administration officials from calling up and asking the very simplest of questions, and that rather than try to narrow it in a way that might -- narrow the scope of it, we just let the next administration decide what additional ethics requirements it wants to impose on its employees beyond those already required by law.
The law already requires a one-year ban on contact. We had lengthened that, but also broadened it in a number of ways that many people felt was unworkable and overbroad. So the Bush administration can make its own decisions about whether to take measures that go beyond those that are required by law.
Q Jake, does the President plan to sign any more executive orders, or sign any more pardons before the New Year or before he returns to Camp David?
MR. SIEWERT: I wouldn't expect any more pardons before the New Year. On executive orders, nothing major coming up. There may be some paper coming through here between now and the end of the day, but I don't think anything that --
Q But before he leaves office, there will be many?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know about many, but there are certainly a number of issues that we're continuing to work on. There is going to be some action --
Q How about ANWR?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't have anything to announce on that. There have been some monument designations that are recommended by Secretary Babbitt to the President, so we're reviewing those now. I'm not aware that a recommendation has come over on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Q And do you have anything -- has the President tried to call Putin or anything in connection with the Russian-Iranian deal, possible arms?
MR. SIEWERT: He talked to President Putin yesterday -- two days ago, but I don't believe that that came up. I don't believe that that came up. Obviously, that's --
Q Did that take us by surprise?
MR. SIEWERT: I think it's something that we've been discussing with them. As you know, there are expert-level talks on conventional sales, so I know that there's been some ongoing discussions with the Russians about proliferation issues. But I'll see if we have more for you on that. But I don't think it came up in their discussions yesterday. They primarily focused on the Middle East and on some of -- the situation in the Caucuses.
Q Has he made any more calls in the last day about the Middle East?
MR. SIEWERT: No, not since yesterday. But we'll let you know if he makes any today.
Q Yesterday he made calls?
MR. SIEWERT: Wednesday. Yes, the calls to Putin, Abdullah, and King Fahd. And he did talk to Schroeder yesterday briefly and they had a short discussion of it. But that was a more broad-ranging discussion.
Q Has he put a deadline, per se?
MR. SIEWERT: We obviously think that -- the President said yesterday very clearly that there's a window of opportunity now for both parties to discuss what next steps we can take, and the President laid out the parameters of what he thinks would be a good discussion. But we're waiting to hear back from them. We think -- the President said yesterday, there's an obviously window of opportunity here and he hopes that both sides will seize it.
Q After the Prime Minister's of India cease-fire announcement there are still attacks by the militants, and some of those militants are now going to Pakistan to consult the militants in Pakistan whether they should honor the cease-fire by the Prime Minister -- Is the President in touch now with either party?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't believe that he, personally, has been in touch with either party. But I now we've urged both sides to show restraint in that area, and we've praised the government of India for its move on a cease-fire during this holiday period. So we've urged both sides to honor that and we think that could be a constructive way of moving forward and renewing dialogue in the region about how to lessen tension there.
Q In another report in India Globe And Asia Today, if you can have any comments that next year President will be a film star in Hollywood or -- either he will start a TV show, weekly TV show.
Q You Bet Your Life. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Really. I have no independent knowledge of that, other than what I read on the Internet. (Laughter.) But, no, I don't think the President has made clear what his plans are beyond January 20th. But when he has an idea of what he's doing, then I'm sure he'll let you know.
Q Did he ask you to go as a staffer?
MR. SIEWERT: No. No, he has not. (Laughter.)
Q Has he asked anyone here?
MR. SIEWERT: I think he actually has asked a couple people to help him as he transitions into private life. As you know, the former Presidents have an office and they sometimes take people with them. So there are a number of people, I think, from the White House that will either be helping him in his efforts to set up an office in New York, or helping him set up an office around the library in Little Rock. We'll let you know as those appointments become formal.
Q Do you yet know where the President will be going to after the new President is inaugurated? Have you had the guts to ask him yet? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: That's a tough -- Mark. (Laughter.) I will let you know when we have something to announce there. I have a better sense of that than I used to, but I don't have anything to announce yet.
Q What is the radio address about?
Q Is he going to get a last ride on Air Force One?
MR. SIEWERT: The last ride on Air Force One.
Q It won't be Air Force One.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, it's flight 28000 -- 20000.
The radio address I think will cover some of the measures that the President is undertaking to help people deal with the cold weather this year, and we'll let you know. We'll tape that this afternoon, probably put paper out today, embargoed for tomorrow.
Q Has he been on the phone with people in Arkansas, with friends down there at all, do you know? Because parts of Arkansas are in pretty bad shape.
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I can check on that. I know he had a chance to talk to some people through here the other day, from Arkansas; but I don't know whether he's talked to anyone down there.
Q Will he be mentioning the real new millennium in his radio address?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't expect he will. The Knoller millennium -- (laughter) -- I don't know. I think the radio address actually is focused on the specific weather that we're experiencing today and the past week or so.
Q Well, how do you perceive the next 20 days?
MR. SIEWERT: I think it will be a busy 20 days. We, obviously -- the President has pledged to work up until the last day and we have a lot of work that we plan to get done. We have some environmental measures that we're looking at. I think they're pretty widely known what they are. I think that's something that the President will be working on and has spent some time on, already.
And he'll obviously be occupied with some of the important foreign policy challenges around the world, particularly in the mid-East, and that's something he has devoted a great deal of time to, even in this holiday period, and I expect he'll continue to devote some time to it in the new year.
Congress will be back, actually, and he'll be attending some events -- in a more ceremonial capacity -- to watch his wife assume her seat in the Senate. But I expect we also may try to get a little bit of business done there. We have already said that we're going to submit one appointment to the new Congress and we'd like to see them act on that -- the appointment of Roger Gregory to the bench. And there may be other work that we'd like to see Congress get done. Even though it's just a short period, we recognize that that's not typically the most productive time, but there's some work that could get done when Congress is back here, even if it's relatively light lifting.
Q Thank you, Jake.
MR. SIEWERT: Thank you. Let me give you the week ahead, real quickly -- not that I have much. The radio address will be taped today and broadcast tomorrow. As I said, departure to Camp David is TBD.
The President has no public schedule on Sunday night. He will spend the night at Camp David and return either late Monday or Tuesday morning -- we'll try to figure that out.
He will attend a swearing-in reception for Mrs. Clinton on Tuesday evening, and come back to the White House that evening. That's a reception, the actual swearing-in is the following day, and he will, I expect, be on hand for that, as well. All of these press issues have not yet been worked out. And there may be a dinner that night, also, to celebrate Mrs. Clinton's new job.
And on Thursday afternoon we'll be holding a health-related event here at the White House, in the East Room, that will be open to the press. And that day, not involving the President, but I expect General McCaffrey will be here in the briefing room to release the final national drug strategy report on Thursday, January 4th.
On Friday I expect we may have another event on a domestic-related issue, but we'll keep that secret for now.
Q No travel next week?
MR. SIEWERT: Not expecting any travel out of the Washington region next week.
That's it, and I'll be meeting my counterpart -- excuse me?
Q Is there going to be a State of the Union from --
MR. SIEWERT: We haven't made a decision on that. The President will probably have another opportunity or two to make remarks on his domestic agenda and the opportunities that confront a new administration. But I don't know whether we'll actually do a farewell address or State of the Union; we haven't made a final decision on that.
Q Any major press conference before he leaves?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. We obviously have considered that. We had one yesterday -- (laughter) -- and the day before, actually, in the Oval Office. Whether we have a formal press conference is something we -- but I don't think you'll see him today, unless I'm missing something.
Q You're meeting with Ari, did you say? Is Ari coming over?
MR. SIEWERT: He may be over today. It might be a secret, though, so I don't know if I'm supposed to -- a secret meeting. (Laughter.) No, there are a series of meetings around here with the people who have now been designated officially to serve in some sort of formal capacity. I'll be meeting with the new Press Secretary. I talked to him yesterday. I talked to Mike and Joe, as well, so we're going to provide him our best advice on how to confront and help the White House press corps.
Q When will you know about Camp David?
MR. SIEWERT: About their actual departure time? I don't know. We'll just wait to hear from them about their plans.
Q Are they leaving today?
MR. SIEWERT: It could be today or it could be tomorrow.
Q Jake, I'm sorry, I may have missed, what will be the President's radio address, the subject?
MR. SIEWERT: It will deal with energy and the weather.
Q In India. (Laughter.) And Hollywood.
END 12:32 P.M. EST