THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
Immediate Release November 28, 2000
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:23 P.M. EST
MR. SIEWERT: Good afternoon. You've all been following the
conference closely? Okay. I have nothing to start with, so I'll be happy
to entertain your questions.
Q Tell us about the Podesta phone call with his counterpart in
the Bush team.
MR. SIEWERT: John had a good conversation, a cordial
conversation with Mr. Card, who Governor Bush has designated to serve as
his Chief of Staff for his transition. Last night they finally reached
each other. John offered to meet with him and offered to meet with either
the Vice President's transition staff or separately, whatever their choice
was. And we will wait to hear back from them, and then we'll be happy to
arrange such a meeting to give them an overview of where we are in the
transition and what we hope to do going forward.
Q What about the Berger briefings for Bush?
MR. SIEWERT: As I said yesterday at the podium, we are happy to
provide more regular briefings. John Podesta offered regular briefings to
Mr. Card yesterday.
Q Daily briefings?
MR. SIEWERT: Daily briefings, yes. Sandy Berger is following up
with Condi Rice today. So the CIA would provide the kinds of briefings
that are provided after the convention to Governor Bush. And those are the
kinds of briefings that the Vice President receives today.
Q Are they written briefings, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: For security -- a lot of the specific details will
be worked out between Sandy Berger and Governor Bush's security -- national
security team. But I'm not going to get in to the whos, whys, wheres,
whens for a host of security reasons.
Q So did they say that they want the daily briefings?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, they agreed that they would appreciate those
updates. This has been done for administrations going back all the way to
-- at least to President Truman, the CIA has provided this sort of service.
They provide it after the convention to the nominee of the opposing party,
or of both parties. And in this case, given the unusual circumstances,
this hasn't started until now, but with the encouragement of the Vice
President, John Podesta made that offer yesterday, and they are following
up today to set those up.
Q Have you heard anything more back from the Department of
Justice on their interpretation of the transition law and whether its
different from what you have?
MR. SIEWERT: We have received an advisory -- we've received the
advise, essentially, that they have provided, and I think I went through it
yesterday in some detail. Some of you asked about the --
Q You said you were waiting for --
MR. SIEWERT: But we're actually waiting for a formal written
opinion from them on what the Presidential Transition Act entails. But I
thin the legislative history makes pretty clear that if there's any doubt
in the mind of the GSA Administrator, that they should not move forward and
no money should be expended. In fact, I'll just quote from the
Congressional Record briefly from 1963. This very issue was raised.
Someone said, well, if the GSA administrator were to give such help to
someone who was in a position in a close election, it might give them a
psychological advantage. And the author of the legislation, Dante Facell,
said, no, that is exactly what is not intended by this. And he said, if
there's any doubt in his mind, and if he cannot or does not designate the
apparently successful candidate, then the act is inoperative. You cannot
do anything, there will be no services provided, and no money expended.
So that's very clear in the Congressional Record. They actually
spent a fair amount of time discussing the possibility of a close election,
and a decision by the GSA administrator to provide such services as proving
a crucial edge to someone who is claiming to have won the election. And
they make perfectly clear that if there's any doubt, taxpayer money
shouldn't be dispensed because it would create -- might create some sort of
an edge for one candidate or the other.
But, in any case, the law, the statutory language, for those of
you who looked at it, is very clear. And if you go back and look at the
legislative history, it's also very clear that the decision to provide this
aid shouldn't be made when there's any doubt in the mind of the GSA
Q Do you intend to release a more detailed --
MR. SIEWERT: I'll talk to -- I don't see an particular reason
why we couldn't at least make you familiar with the general thrust of that
opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel, but I haven't heard back from the
lawyers about whether it would be possible. In any case, we don't have a
final written draft yet.
Q Given your interpretation of that, of that language
regarding that act, is the Bush campaign, in fact, trying to get --
MR. SIEWERT: It's not my interpretation. It is something
provided by the legal counsel. And as I said, those of you who have been
reporting on this should probably -- it would be best to go back and take a
look at the actual language and the language of the legislative history,
because this has been portrayed in the media in large sense as some sort of
decision that we've made here. In reality, there's a law governing this.
I think anyone who is familiar with transitions, as the Bush people are, as
the Gore people are, can take a look at that law and see what it says for
Q Given that emphasis on not wanting to give an unfair edge to
one party or another in a contested election --
MR. SIEWERT: Again, that's not my emphasis, that's something
that was raised by Congress who passed this law and something that they
Q Do you feel the Bush campaign is seeking an unfair advantage
MR. SIEWERT: I'm not in a position to make any judgment. I'm
just saying that this was an issue that was raised when the statute was
debated, and answered in the floor debate.
Q Well, is there any possibility still of what the President
raised yesterday of having the funding for both candidates --
MR. SIEWERT: That is actually one of the specific questions we
put to the Department of Justice, and they said that that was something
that was specifically contemplated again by Congress and rejected.
Q Will there be a GSA administrator after Friday? David
MR. SIEWERT: David Barram told the White House Chief of Staff
yesterday that he planned to stay through the 15th.
Q Did Andy Card specifically ask for this, the access to the
GSA facility and the money, during his conversation with --
MR. SIEWERT: Not that I'm aware of. They discussed the security
briefings, they discussed the possibility of a meeting. But I don't think
that this specific issue came up. It may have come up, but I'm not sure
that it did in any -- I think they know what our point of view --
Q Has the Chief of Staff had a similar conversation with Roy
Neel this morning?
MR. SIEWERT: I know he's tried to reach him. I'm not sure if
they've actually touched base, but I think you can expect he'll be in
contact with him.
Q Was Barram asked to stay on longer?
MR. SIEWERT: No. He told us that he would.
Q And the reason that he gave?
MR. SIEWERT: I think you should ask him, but I think he probably
feels like it's as important a time as a GSA administrator has ever had to
stay in the job.
Q So the Bush people and the Gore people will be getting the
exact same daily briefing on security issues every day, right?
MR. SIEWERT: You should maybe check with the CIA on exactly what
the hows and wherefors are on that. I said I would not get into the
specifics for security reasons here. But they will certainly get the same
briefings that have been provided for administrations since the Truman era,
according to --
Q Gore gets some kind of briefing a day anyway, doesn't he,
some written thing?
MR. SIEWERT: Sure. I mean, as you know, different Presidents
choose to receive this information in different ways. Some Presidents have
gotten their daily intelligence briefing orally, some have done it on
paper. And that's largely issues that have been just historically decided
by the President, what they prefer.
Q Since the convention, Sandy has, on occasion, called the
Bush representative to inform that person about ongoing developments,
international policy and military policy, has he not?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes. Sandy has been in contact, I think usually
with Condi Rice about security matters when they arise and he feels it's
Q These daily briefings will start tomorrow, is that right?
MR. SIEWERT: We're still working out the specific details, but
they've accepted the offer to have them.
Q Jake, what is your reaction to the Canadian election? Is
there any envy that Chretien has three terms? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: Is that final, or have the absentee ballots from
Florida come in yet? I think the President considers Jean Chretien a very
good friend and is pleased with won't work that we've done together with
our -- one of our closest allies and our largest trading partner. And
obviously, the Canadian people have recognized the tremendous record that
Jean Chretien has accomplished in his two terms as Prime Minister. And the
President looks forward to talking to him later this afternoon -- they have
a call scheduled -- and he will inherit the President's title as the
longest-serving leader in the Western democratic nations in January, at
some point. He started in '93, as the President did.
Q Jake, in quoting Dante Facell, do you find any particular
harmonic convergence that the voice from the dead from the Congress,
articulating how transition works, comes from a politician who cut his
teeth, of all places, in Miami Dade County?
MR. SIEWERT: Miami Dade County. No. I noted that this morning,
for those of you who are unfamiliar with Mr. Facell's work. But, no, I had
no knowledge until this morning that Mr. Facell was the author of this
legislation. But it's obviously something that he took a great deal of
personal pride in.
Q Jake, question on -- earlier we had a conference on
diplomacy and culture in the East Room. Could you please find out why
India is one of the oldest cultures on this Earth and also largest
film-producing countries in the world and exporting around the world, but
India was not represented in the audience or on the panel? There were
several U.S. ambassadors overseas here and even though -- U.S. Ambassador
to India or Indian Ambassador to the U.S. were also not in the audience.
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I'll check. I'm not -- I'll check. It may
well be that they were invited and couldn't attend, but I will check on
that. We certainly appreciate the distinct contribution that India has
played to world culture. And the President noted that many times when he
was visiting the sub-continent.
Q Also, this conference, how will this play a role as far as
the U.N. and UNESCO is concerned?
MR. SIEWERT: Let me check on that.
Q Jake, on the budget, what do you expect when Congress gets
back next week? Do you have -- you sign one-day CRs, or any meetings
scheduled at this point this week or next week?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, we've met internally to discuss how to
proceed, and we certainly hope that when Congress returns we can at least
focus on the achievable -- on an education budget, on some of the key
funding measures that are before Congress, where there's a great deal of
bipartisan agreement. We think there's no reason at all why we couldn't
memorialize the largely bipartisan agreement on education that we were
hammering out before they left town.
There are obviously some very difficult issues that prove very
divisive, and made it difficult to wrap up before we left. And we may need
to set some of those aside in order to achieve consensus before we leave.
But I don't think we've met yet with the Republican leadership, although
we've had some discussions with Democrats. They haven't come back to town
As to CRs, I don't think we've made any determination, but we'll
consult with them. We'll be as flexible as we can be on how to let them
achieve the work that they want to achieve in that one week or two weeks or
however many days they think it will take to wrap up.
Q Jake, has the President been fully briefed on the failure of
the Kyoto meeting in the Hague to try to reach a consensus on the global
warming treaty issues, and does he see a method to push forward or
reconvene or do anything on that front?
MR. SIEWERT: He certainly received an update. I don't know
about a full briefing. And as you know, he was in contact during the talks
with some of the parties that were involved. I know he spoke to Prime
Minister Blair and a couple of the other key players in that.
Our delegation worked very hard to reach a deal and we thought
that we had the basis of an agreement worked out with the EU.
Unfortunately, they backed away from that deal. We're not in the business
here of assigning blame for that, but we thought that we had hammered out a
good-faith compromise. And Under Secretary Loy's closing statements speaks
for where we think we should go from here.
Q Jake, are you aware of the story circulating in New York
that the President might want to consider running for mayor after he leaves
the White House? (Laughter.)
MR. SIEWERT: He already has the second toughest job in American
politics, so why would he want the first? (Laughter.)
Q Is that a "no"?
MR. SIEWERT: Yes, that's a "no." (Laughter.) It's also a New
York pander, in case you were wondering -- in that business here. I have
Q Did you actually ask about that?
MR. SIEWERT: No. But I'm sure he'll find it amusing.
Q Jake, finally, can you update on this problem of terrorism?
State Department officials and also some high-level officials for the White
House have been meeting the Taliban on the future of bringing Osama bin
Laden to justice in this country.
MR. SIEWERT: That's something that we've been pursuing for some
time. I'm not aware of anything new, but, obviously, we're intent upon
bringing him to justice and we're always working on that. Most of that
work, for obvious reasons, is not best discussed from this podium, but best
discussed privately with law enforcement officials in the region.
Q Did the President watch the Vice President's speech last
night? And, if so, have you had a chance to talk to him about his reaction
or has he spoken to the Vice President about it?
MR. SIEWERT: I don't think he's spoken to him today, but I'll
check on that. I know he saw it; I don't know if he saw it live or not.
Q Did you talk to him about it?
MR. SIEWERT: Briefly.
Q What was his reaction?
MR. SIEWERT: I won't characterize it, but I think he thinks the
Vice President did a terrific job laying out the case. As you know, the
President said yesterday that --
Q But that's not his characterization, that's your description
of what you think he thought?
MR. SIEWERT: Exactly. (Laughter.) Two very, very controversial
Q Back to the CRs for a second. You mentioned one two-week
period for getting work done. Is that the outside limit?
MR. SIEWERT: That's, I think, the kind of framework that
congressional leaders have been talking about, about coming back and trying
to wrap it up under a week or two. But as I said, they're not back in town
yet, we haven't sat down in any sustained way and discussed this with them.
The President talked to them before he went to Vietnam and Brunei, agreed
to extend the CR until December, which seemed like a reasonable time frame.
And when they get back into town next week, there's a new member
orientation, as well, we'll have a chance to sit down with them and discuss
it in greater detail.
Q Jake, did his order on ergonomics remove that as a bone of
contention with Congress to try to reach final resolution?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, that's a rule that we thought was worth
pushing. But in terms of whether Congress thinks that it's off the table,
I mean, I'll leave that to them to discuss. We told them for some time
that we're intent upon moving towards a final rule. We've now put that
rule in place. It may change the debate a little bit. I assume that those
who oppose that rule will continue to find ways to undo it.
Q Is it your understanding that the President would refuse to
sign a CR to the end of his term in office?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, I think that we -- I don't see any real
reason to get into that now because Congress has indicated an intention to
come back and work. And that's what we hope they do, that's what we expect
they'll do, and that's what we'll certainly urge them to do.
Q Is the President at least open to that idea?
MR. SIEWERT: No, I think there's no particular reason why the
work of today should be put off until tomorrow. I mean, there is a cost to
putting off work until next year. It means that rather than have a robust
education budget that provides new Pell grants, new student loans, more
education funding for students today, we essentially punt on a decision and
leave a lot of people without those benefits. And that's -- it's really
not an acceptable choice. I mean, there's a lot that's achievable. We've
reached bipartisan agreement on much of the education budget and there's no
reason why we can't do it when they get back.
But we're already two months in the fiscal year. And what that
means essentially is that for a lot of the programs that are being run
around education, that the funding is flat-lined over last year, which is
actually a real decline in the value of student loans, of Pell grants and a
lot of other education funding when you factor in inflation. So there's no
reason why we shouldn't be able to take the reasonable increases that were
contemplated by both parties before we left and memorialize those into law.
Q As far as focusing on the achievable, are you defining that
then as limiting it just to the appropriations bills?
MR. SIEWERT: No, we're willing to work on the Medicare piece as
well, certainly; and tax pieces where there's bipartisan consensus. There
is a bipartisan consensus, for instance, on the importance of alleviating
some of the harm that's been done by overly strict measures in the Balanced
Budget Act, and there's no reason why we couldn't hammer out some of those
differences. So we think that's worth working on.
We also think that certain of the tax credits and tax cuts are
relatively uncontroversial and could be worked through in pretty short
Q When do you think it could be wrapped up then, Jake?
MR. SIEWERT: Well, that depends on the pace that Congress sets
for itself. But they've said they want to come back and try to do this
work in very quick order, in a week or so. It may take longer, it may take
less. But we're willing to provide whatever assistance is necessary to get
it done quickly.
Q What portions of that $240 billion tax cut package do you
think could be achievable in short order?
MR. SIEWERT: I guess that depends in large part on Congress'
mood when it returns.
END 1:42 P.M. EST