THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release December 5, 2000
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
11:40 A.M. EST
MR. SIEWERT: A couple of quick updates and then I'll take your
questions. As you know, the President met with the members of the
Republican and Democratic leadership of Congress yesterday, had a good
meeting, lasted about an hour and a half in the Oval Office. The President
went through a discussion of the major remaining issues: appropriations,
immigration, taxes, Medicaid, Medicare. I think all sides are willing to
discuss how we best move forward, how we can wrap up some of the unfinished
business, and everyone pledged to use the next couple of days to discuss
with their own team, their own side, how we can pull together agreements
and get things wrapped up within the week.
We agreed to sign a continuing resolution that would keep the
government agencies that have not yet received final funding functioning
through midnight Thursday, and both sides are conferring with their
caucuses today. John Podesta has been on the Hill to talk to the
Democrats, and we will regroup shortly as early as tomorrow. No final
decisions were made in that meeting, but it was a productive one and one
that we're following up on even today.
On the trip Friday, I told you yesterday this would be the first of a
series of speeches that the President will make, take an opportunity to
talk about where America has been over the last eight years, the kinds of
strategic decisions we made and where we'll go in the future.
The trip at the University of Nebraska at Kearney on Friday will
specifically focus on foreign policy. And the President will address the
role that America has played in the world over the last several years and
the principles that have guided his administration's foreign policy path we
should take in the future.
I expect that speech will be discussing how a foreign policy for the
global age was shaped in this administration and how the kind of principles
that guided that foreign policy can help shape future decisions that
America will make about its role in the world.
He obviously, speaking from the heartland, the President will talk
about the importance of America remaining engaged in the world and the
importance that the decisions that we make here in the United States have
throughout the world and beyond our borders.
Q Did he meet with Gore today?
MR. SIEWERT: No. The Vice President has been at his house this
morning. He may come by this afternoon. I expect him to be here sometime
this afternoon, but they don't have anything planned. As I said before,
they occasionally drop in on each other, and that may happen. We'll let
you know if it does.
Yesterday, the transition team met as well, on Monday for about 45
minutes in the Roosevelt Room. That meeting was chaired by Deputy Chief of
Staff Maria Echaveste and attended by representatives from GSA, OPM, FBI,
other agencies. The agencies were able to provide an update on the
progress they've made preparing for the transition and those efforts are
well underway and we are on track.
The group plans to meet again in two weeks. On background checks,
specifically, the FBI continues to work with both teams to make sure they
understand what kind of material they need to prepare and how they can move
forward and process their application for background checks in a timely
manner. We are working through Counsel's Office and expect memoranda of
understanding to be signed with both teams shortly so that the FBI can
begin receiving and processing applications by the end of this week for
either transition team.
Q What do you mean "on track" in terms of transition? What has to
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we are preparing briefing materials for the new --
Q From all the agencies?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, from all the agencies around the government. We
are also working with the FBI and the Department of Justice to begin a
parallel process of receiving and beginning the FBI background checks that
enable people to get the security clearances they need to do their jobs.
Q Are names submitted?
MR. SIEWERT: No. We are working on finalizing a memorandum of
understanding between each transition team and the Department of Justice,
so that those can begin as early as this week, by the end of this week.
And then finally, on disbursement of funds, we are limited in what we can
do there, because of the GSA, in consultation with Justice, has concluded
that the Presidential Transition Act does not allow us to proceed by giving
funds to both camps. If Congress wants to explore changing that, that's
certainly something that we're willing to do. In fact, the President has
made clear that he thought that was a better course of action, but one that
was prevented by the clear intent of the statute, and Congress has
deliberations on that.
Q That would only be if someone conceded that that could be the --
MR. SIEWERT: We'd need to see some more clarity. The law of Congress
was very clear when it passed that law that we couldn't disburse funds to
just one campaign while the outcome of the election was in any way in
Q In what respect, Jake, is the election still in doubt from a
White House point of view? What has to happen that hasn't happened?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think it's really from our point of view, but I
think that both sides have made it clear that they are going to be before
the Florida Supreme Court, litigating a number of issues, and many people
see that as an effort to resolve some of the issues that were left
unresolved by the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday. In fact, the U.S. Supreme
Court sent that case back to the Florida Supreme Court, and asked them to
reconsider what they had done. So, given that the highest court in the
land has spoken on that, there obviously needs to be some more work done
before the Florida Supreme Court. At the same time, there was a case
yesterday decided, well-known to all of you, that is also -- seems to be on
its way to the Florida Supreme Court. So, there's clearly another round of
action at the Florida Supreme Court, and we will wait, like the rest of
you, to hear the outcome of that.
Q Does the White House consider that the last round, the very last
MR. SIEWERT: It's not really for us to decide. These are issues that
are being litigated by both teams and they are making the decisions on this
and making their case; we think that's appropriate.
Q The GSA is part of your administration. It does take its cues,
at least, from the White House as it considers whether or not we have
reached clarity on the new president.
MR. SIEWERT: It think they are governed by a statute that provides --
and they received a thorough look at that statute from the Department of
Justice, from the office of legal counsel there, which makes pretty clear
that at this point, they have no option but to -- not to disburse the
At the same time, if Congress were willing to -- this could be
relatively easily addressed -- I know there is a lot of concern in Congress
about the statute, but it's a law that Congress passed. If they want to
revisit that, we're willing to explore a way in which we could provide
funds to both campaigns; but, unfortunately, the law that's on the books
today doesn't allow that.
Q But do you need one side to do a formal concession? Do you need
the electors to meet on the 18th? What is the formal --
MR. SIEWERT: We're not -- I'm not going to address all those
hypotheticals here from this podium. I'm not in the best position to bring
this to closure here. There is obviously litigation underway, and I don't
think it's appropriate while this litigation is underway, something that
the U.S. Supreme Court envisioned, for me to try to forejudge -- prejudge
what the outcome of all that will be.
Q But is there anything in the statute which would guide that?
MR. SIEWERT: We've had a pretty extensive discussion of this statute
here. It makes pretty clear from the floor debate that if there is any
doubt about the outcome of the election, that the money is not to be
Q Jake, any reaction to Chairman Greenspan's speech from the White
House? He says, in periods of transition from unsustainable to more modest
rates of growth, an economy is obviously at risk of untoward events. So he
seems to be raising some concern that there may be a possibility that the
slowdown will get out of hand.
MR. SIEWERT: I saw the Chairman also noted that we dealt with some
difficult periods in 1998 and the economy was able to withstand those; in
fact, grew much faster in 1999 and 2000 than anyone expected.
So the economy -- what's important for us is that we keep our eye on
the fundamentals; that's what we've done throughout this administration.
That is why we made a strategic decision in 1993 to begin eliminating the
deficit and to target and to targeted smart investments in education and
That's why we've remained committed throughout this administration to
an open trading system that expands opportunities around the globe. And
that's why it's important that any future decision-makers here keep in mind
the importance of paying off the debt, getting our balance sheet in order
and leaving the private sector capital free to invest and grow the economy.
Q What is the President's view on the courts' decisions yesterday,
the two courts?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know; I didn't hear him express any particular
view on that. I mean, he's obviously, as I've said, following this very
closely and, like everyone else, twists and turns are fascinating. But I
don't think that it's useful for us here to give the President's
perspective on these court decisions.
Q Why not?
MR. SIEWERT: Because there are cases that are being litigated by the
two campaigns. There are critical decisions that are being made by judges,
and judges are the best ones to decide what the law means, not observers,
however fascinated they might be.
Q Jake, on the budget, is the President now willing to accept less
funding for his education initiative than he originally was with the
agreement a month ago?
MR. SIEWERT: I think it's important that all sides show flexibility
as we approach the final round of negotiations on this budget. We have
indicated to the members of Congress that we're flexible about how to
resolve this and we want to ensure that we can resolve the differences that
remain in the shortest order possible. I don't want to get into dollars
and cents here, but I think we indicated that we were flexible about how to
At the same time, this talk of putting off these decisions for another
three or four months and taking us halfway into the fiscal year without
resolution of these issues amounts to a real cut in education, a real cut
in student loans, a real cut in programs that help hire new teachers, a
real cut in programs that universities and schools around the country are
And we don't think that that's an acceptable outcome. We think that
will have a real-life impact on people who are trying to make decisions
about where to send their kids to college and how much money to allocate
for the schools. It also has impacts for people who are dealing with the
heating crunch caused by cold weather. There's a significant increase in
LIHEAP money in that budget. There is a significant increase in medical
research in that budget. And we think that it's important to lock in some
of those increases, but we're flexible about how exactly we do that.
Q Jake, you mentioned that -- Medicaid in your list of things that
are on the agenda. Is it true that you've added this Kennedy-Grassley bill
that would allow children with disabilities to keep their Medicaid if their
parents went to work as part of the mix, on BBR?
MR. SIEWERT: We discussed a number of different options about how to
move forward on the particular balanced budget bill, on the BBRA. And
we're willing to discuss in more particular detail how we could work
through some of the differences we had on that bill. Chris Jennings is
ready to go to the Hill at a moment's notice, to discuss those. He had
some technical discussions with people during the recess, and that's one of
a number of options that we have looked at to helping make this easier to
Q But the administration does support that legislation, does it
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, but I want to be careful about how we characterize
what we see as being in final form. We floated a number of ideas
yesterday, but we didn't make any final decisions, and we're looking to
hear back from the bipartisan leadership about how we can best go forward
from here. And, as I said, we want to maintain maximum flexibility, given
that we have a short time frame in which to resolve these differences.
Q Are you going to get Hastert and Lott back up here tomorrow, is
that what he's saying?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, we'd indicated to them yesterday that we thought
after they talked to their caucus, a lot of members were just filtering
back into town over the last couple days, that it would be good to sit down
again, as early as tomorrow, and figure out where we go from here.
But there's important work to be done. There's no reason why we can't
tackle some of that work and take it off -- take it off the books for the
next administration, get some of that work locked in. And it's
particularly important because we're in the third fiscal month of a year --
the third month of a new fiscal year, and a lot of these institutions that
rely on government money, whether it's for low income energy assistance or
for education, are in limbo now, because they don't know exactly what their
bottom line is.
Q Did the President indicate to the leaders yesterday that despite
the flexibility that you're talking about today, that he would not accept a
long-term CR --
MR. SIEWERT: I think we clearly stated our overwhelming preference is
to get this work done, and to focus on the unfinished business -- the work
that could be done in relatively short order. And we didn't take anything
off the table in terms of that work. We said that we'd be willing to work
on taxes, on the tax cut package. We'd be willing to work on health care
reimbursements. We'd be willing to work on the budget initiatives that
Q Did the leaders come with any proposals, or basically it was you
that sketched out some ideas about --
MR. SIEWERT: I think the meeting was constructive all the way around,
but they obviously need to consult with their caucuses before they decide
how they want to proceed. But we made very clear that we want to resolve
some of these differences quickly, and give everyone an opportunity to go
Q Jake, you said that the President was going to be giving a series
of speeches, talk about where things have been over the last eight years.
Is he going to do one on economics, and his economic policy?
MR. SIEWERT: Hard to imagine that we'd leave that topic undiscussed.
I think particularly the speeches that the President gave at Davos and in
Geneva were important in laying the groundwork for his vision of how we can
proceed to make globalization work for American families, American
businesses, and I expect he'll have some discussion of how to insure that
the American economy benefits, as it has, continues to benefit from
globalization and --
Q How many speeches, and where, and --
MR. SIEWERT: That's something we're still discussing.
Q -- any foreign travel beyond Ireland?
MR. SIEWERT: We haven't made any further decisions on foreign travel
beyond Ireland. As you know, the President is still contemplating the
importance and advisability of a trip to North Korea. That's something
that will depend ultimately upon whether we think such a trip would be
helpful in advancing some of the goals that we have to achieve working with
the Koreans, both the South and the North Koreans. We have nothing further
planned at this point, but he will give some more speeches. Relatively few
major speeches, but we're still discussing exactly which topics and where.
But the first one will be Friday.
Q Jake, should we view these speeches as an effort by the President
to cast his legacy?
MR. SIEWERT: I think you should view them however you'd like to
characterize them. What they are is they're an effort, as other presidents
have done, to lay out what's been accomplished over the last eight years,
and to look a bit in to the future and lay out the President's vision of
the future challenges the country faces. But this is something, that as I
pointed out, President Reagan did. He gave three or four major speeches.
And presidents dating all the way back to Truman have given important
speeches as they left.
Q What are these? Farewell addresses?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think there's a farewell address that's a very
distinct issue, which is typically given in January.
Q He will give one in January?
MR. SIEWERT: We haven't made a decision on that at all; but I know
many of the Presidents have left by saying something.
Q Does he have to do a State of the Union at all?
MR. SIEWERT: That's another decision -- I think, technically, you
have to at least deliver a State of the Union, it can be written or given
in person. But that's not a decision that we've made at all. It's a long
Q It's not a long ways off. (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, depending on how far January seems from today.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to the resignation of
Ambassador J. Stapleton Roy?
MR. SIEWERT: I'll refer you to the State Department on that. I know
that they've taken some measures to deal with security lapses there and
they're giving the employees an opportunity to respond to the decisions
they made. So I think that's best answered by the State Department. But,
obviously, we support the efforts of Secretary Albright to deal with
security lapses there. She said this is a serious problem and needs a high
level of attention and she's certainly given it that.
Q Jake, has the President come close to a decision on whether he'll
grant clemency or a stay or something in the Garza case?
MR. SIEWERT: We have a deadline of next week on that. The President
takes that responsibility very seriously, but we don't make a habit of
commenting on clemency petitions as they're being reviewed; but he promises
to look at it very closely and make a judgment on the facts. But we won't
comment on it until we have a final decision.
Q Is he reading all of those letters coming in from the coalition
of famous people?
MR. SIEWERT: We usually take an opportunity to let him know about
what views the public has expressed on any particular issue. But I think
in the end, this is going to be determined based on his analysis of the
facts and of the petition, and recommendations by his advisors.
Q Has he met or reached out in any way with any of those folks who
were writing him about the Garza case?
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Has he received any formal recommendation from Justice on this
MR. SIEWERT: Let me check and see where that is in the process. I
know that we've gone -- we consult with the Justice Department as we move
forward, and I'm not sure exactly whether it's in our court here now or on
its way over.
Q Has the President spoken to President Fox of Mexico?
MR. SIEWERT: He has not; Secretary of State Albright was there and
Maria Echaveste. He's gotten a report from their trip there. They had
good discussions with the new President and, as you know, he talked to him
before the inauguration and we'll let you know if he has any personal
contact with him again, shortly.
Q Jake, China has decided to abstain in the Security Council vote
on the new sanctions that the United States and Russia would like to apply
to Afghanistan, particularly to the Taliban. Could you react to that
decision by the Chinese government and explain what the U.S. government
hopes to achieve with these sanctions?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we expect that resolution will be introduced
shortly and that we will press for its passage. This is an important piece
of our strategy, to ensure that the Taliban complies with U.N. Resolution
1267, and we're going to keep pressing them to do that. As I told you last
week, this is designed in part to ensure that the Taliban treat the
citizens of Afghanistan better; in part to ensure that they close their
terrorist camps; and in part to ensure that Osama bin Laden is brought to
justice. But I don't have any specific comment on the decision of other
Security Council members and how they voted.
Q Jake, back on the budget stuff. Are the President's proposals
related to Hispanic immigration going to be subject to negotiation as well?
MR. SIEWERT: We indicated a willingness to negotiate across all
fronts. We think it's very important to wrap up this budget work. And I'm
not going to negotiate from this podium, but we indicated a general
flexibility in our discussions yesterday with the leadership, and Maria
Echaveste and others are ready to discuss how we can move forward on that
issue, as other teams are ready to discuss taxes or Medicare or Medicaid
and the other initiatives that are before the Congress.
Q And on the BBA give-backs, is the President willing to consider
allocating a greater percentage of that money to HMOs than he had been
MR. SIEWERT: Well, in any negotiation there's some give and take.
We're not -- I'm not prejudging the outcome of those negotiations, but we
said that we'd like to see some effort made to reimburse health care
providers that are in difficult straits, and we will sit down and discuss
how best we do that anytime soon. We didn't like the package that came
before us earlier, but we're willing to figure out how best to make
progress, and that's going to depend a lot on the overall mix on what gets
Q Do you have any details on this dinner the President is doing
tonight for the Senate, and is this his first official outing as a Senate
MR. SIEWERT: I don't know. I mean, the dinner is held at the Supreme
Court. I think there are about 250 members --attendees at the dinner. I
know that -- I expect it, yes, it probably is his first official event as
the spouse of the Senator-elect, although he obviously had a chance last
night to see some of the newly elected members of Congress, some of the new
senators, and he was greeting them more in his capacity as President than
as a spouse of a senator-elect. But that topic certainly came up.
Q -- Mrs. Clinton be the First Lady or the senator?
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, I think she can be both. I don't see any reason why
not. She served as host last night, and had a chance to also discuss with
some of the new members of the Senate -- she was doing the receiving line
-- the work they hope to do together there in an informal way.
Q How is he taking to his new role, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, as you know, he's very much looking forward to it.
He said that on a number of occasions. He's looking forward to heading out
into the private sector and earning a living and supporting, as he said,
the new senator in the family.
Q Who is hosting this dinner tonight? Trent Lott?
MR. SIEWERT: Excuse me? I think Trent Lott speaks at the dinner. I
don't know if he is the official host.
Q One who wants lightning to strike? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I don't know about that, but there is a dinner
tonight -- I think it's traditional for the new members of the Senate at
the Supreme Court. And the President is very much looking forward to being
there. You know, he was also on the Capitol last Friday for dinner, but I
think that was much more informal -- a dinner that was hosted by Senator
Moynihan and his wife.
Q Jake, last evening at the party, did the President take the
opportunity in his conversations with any Democratic members to lobby them
to stay on the Gore side as his legal battle continues?
MR. SIEWERT: I didn't get a chance to hear all his conversations, but
let me tell you, he spent several hours in line with Mrs. Clinton, shaking
hands with members of Congress and staff and members of the White House and
the staff. And I don't think there was a lot of opportunity for private
conversation there. It looked a little bit more like -- it was a group
event and not conducive to those kinds of discussions. So he spent hours
doing handshakes and chit-chatting with people, but I don't think it was
anything that serious or momentous as that.
Q Is he going to spend hours shaking our hands and chit-chatting
with us, too?
MR. SIEWERT: We'll see. Last year he was sick. We're hoping that
he'll be healthy this year for the 10th. We don't want to -- go ahead.
Q There's speculation in some of the New York papers that the First
Family intends to sell its residence in Chappaqua and moving to Manhattan.
MR. SIEWERT: Yes -- that's not true. That is not true at all. I've
checked that out with the President. He loves the house in Chappaqua.
They're still in the process of fixing it up and making it perfect. And as
any homeowner knows, that's an endless process. So they have no plans to
sell the place in Chappaqua.
Q Any news on their new residence in Washington?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I don't know anything about that. I'm sure that
come January 20th, they'll probably need a place to stay here. But I
haven't heard anything specific on that.
Q Can you tell us a little bit about the talks going on today on
the Hill? Is Jack Lew over there or --
MR. SIEWERT: I'll have to check. I know that Jack was ready to go up
and talk about appropriations. Gene and Larry were ready to talk about
taxes. Chris was ready to talk about Medicare, health care related issues.
And we had other people on stand-by if the need arose. But I don't know at
this point who's up, who's not up, and frankly, everyone is going to meet
with their caucuses and decide how best to move forward from there.
Q What's wrong with his Chappaqua house that it so badly needs
MR. SIEWERT: Oh, no, there's nothing wrong with it. It didn't come
with furniture, I don't believe, so --
Q Is the President aware that the support for Plan Colombia and the
region is falling apart, and that some countries like Ecuador is requesting
$150 million to the U.S. trying to fight the trouble with the people who
have been moving from Colombia to their territory because of narco-traffic
fights and the civil war in Colombia?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we've always envisioned our counternarcotics plan
down there to cover more than just Colombia itself, and we've always had a
concerted effort working with Colombia's neighbors to ensure that there's
as strong as possible network of countries in the region committed to
countering the flow of narcotics. And there was money in, as you know,
what's called Plan Colombia for some of the neighboring countries to
continue to work with them on what we can do to stop the flow of drugs in
And as you know, it's an inevitable consequence that if you have some
success in one place stopping narcotics, that dealers and traffickers will
look to other places in the area. But that's something that I think
Director McCaffrey had a chance to discuss with some of his counterparts
and some of our allies in the region, around the Fox inauguration,
something we'll continue to work on.
Q But a country like Brazil and Venezuela, they say that $190
million from Plan Colombia for that region is not enough. Is there any
possibility the President will ask Congress for more money for that
MR. SIEWERT: I think we're very focused now on wrapping up some work
that was not done this year. I'll check and see if there's any plans to
submit any additional budget requests. But that seems like it would be
something that would probably be more likely to come up in the next
Q Jake, is it accurate that the senior staff is scared to broach
the subject with the President of where he's going to go on Inauguration
Day, after the new President is inaugurated?
MR. SIEWERT: It doesn't seem to me a very -- a bunch that's afraid to
do anything. They've been through a lot, and they're pretty fearless.
Q Where's he going to go?
MR. SIEWERT: I actually don't know, but I'll check on that. It may
be a decision that the family is making amongst themselves. But I'll let
you know if I hear.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. SIEWERT: Thank you.
END 12:09 P.M. EST