THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release December 19, 2000
PRESS BRIEFING BY
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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