Press Briefing by Jake Siewert (12/21/00)
                              THE WHITE HOUSE

                       Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release               December 21, 2000

                             PRESS BRIEFING BY
                               JAKE SIEWERT

                      The James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

12:08 P.M. EST

          MR. SIEWERT:  For those of you who missed it, PJ Crowley's CSPAN
appearance will be replayed over and over and over again through the
Christmas holidays.  (Laughter.)  We'll try to get this wrapped up, so
those of you who want to follow the MSNBC's live proceedings of the Madonna
christening-arrival and wedding can get back to that.  (Laughter.)

          Q    All news.

          MR. SIEWERT:  All news, all the time.  I don't know what
tomorrow's briefing plans are, but we'll try to arrange it so we don't
interfere with that coverage.  (Laughter.)

          Reading the papers, as you know, is pretty critical on most days,
and we don't hesitate to point out things that we find wrong, misguided,
misleading.  But once in a while we stumble upon something that's just so
accurate and so true that we cut it out of our own paper, post it on the
wall and sometimes even commend people from the podium -- today we had such
an event.  One of the regulars here in the White House press corps, Richard
Breed, from Annapolis, offered some helpful hints in the Washington Post
today, for those of you who missed it, on how to clean your microwave.

          So we'll be conducting some tests in the back room later today
and we'll put Richard Breed's suggestions up against anyone's.  But for
those of you who missed it, it's page C-11 in the Washington Post today --
hints from Heloise.  (Laughter.)  Thanks to the Reuters' crew for pointing
that out.  Richard, congratulations.  You're in print.  We'll expect a
Martha Stewart appearance any minute.

          On a more serious note, the President will sign the omnibus
budget legislation today.  And that includes, as you know, a significant
increase in education spending, which will be the focus of his remarks.
But he'll also use that opportunity to comment on the new rules that were
put out today by the EPA to clean the air.  Those rules have been a long
time in the making, and he will commend Carol Browner and her team for
coming up with a reasonable balanced solution to help implement the Clean
Air Act amendments that were signed during the Bush administration.

          He'll do that at the top, and then go on to comment on all the
good that this budget bill does from the New Markets legislation to the
education budget in Presidential Hall after that.

          Also this morning, the President spoke briefly to President
Mubarak for about 10 minutes to assess the state of play in the Mideast
peace discussions that are going on here at Bolling Air Base.  President
Mubarak had recently met with Chairman Arafat and the President wanted to
bring him up to date on what was going on here and to share their
assessment on how to move the process forward.

          We'll let you know if there are any further calls on that front.
And that's it.  I'll take your questions.

          Q    Mandela?

          MR. SIEWERT:  He also spoke briefly to President Mandela, but
that was essentially a private call to chat, friend to friend.

          Q    Will the President, in his remarks, have anything to say
about the sagging economy and the comments made about the economy by the

          MR. SIEWERT:  I don't expect that he will do that in the
statement.  As you know, our national economic team has been out a little
bit on that topic recently.  And I think it's important that a new
administration, however different their own economic policy may be, to
learn some of the lessons that we've learned here over the last seven or
eight years, and we've had a pretty good track record, I think, not one
that we're the least bit ashamed about or worried about.

          But it is important to be guarded and measured in what we say
about the economy.  That's something that Secretary Rubin believed very
forcefully, Secretary Bentsen before him, and Secretary Summers after that.
And we've always tried to be very careful and measured in what we say about
the state of the economy.  And particularly when there is a rough spot we
talk about how to deal with it, how to move forward, how to address the
problem and how to ensure that Americans can succeed in the economy and not
to worry and fret and pine about the dangers that are out there.

          There are always dangers lurking in any -- in a world economy
that's moving more quickly than it ever has.  But what an administration
should do is focus on what the facts are and what you can do about them to
address those challenges.  That's something we've been saying for a long
time now.

          And even today, there's new economic numbers that show that the
economy grew 2.2 percent over the summer quarter.  That's lower than 5
percent, which it had been growing, but most people thought that 5 percent
rate of growth was not sustainable over the long run.  The 2.2 percent is
higher than the average rate of growth during the last Bush administration,
one in which Secretary Chaney spoke, and most private sector economists are
projecting growth of about 2.5 percent over the next year.

          If the new Vice President and the President were still in the
private sector, they would turn to a private economist, and say -- or their
investment bankers, and say, what are you expecting next year?  And their
Wall Street economists would tell them 2.5 percent growth, roughly.  And
that's how they'd plan about the future.  And they wouldn't turn to a more
political prognosis, they'd look at what the facts are, and make their
judgments based on that.

          Q    You talked about Rubin and Summers and even the President
being guarded.  Why is it important to be guarded in those kind of public

          MR. SIEWERT:  Well, there's a huge difference in what you say as
a private sector commentator on the economy, where with rare exceptions
your views don't have much influence over the way in which people think
about the market and the economy itself.  But it's important for the people
who are in leadership in the -- an economic team that's part of the
government to be very careful about what they say, and to make sure that
their prescriptions for the economy are in line with the facts.  Because
people take those views very seriously, they take those comments very
seriously, and it's important to try to instill a degree of confidence
wherever it's appropriate in the way in which people assess the state of
the American economy and what the future holds.

          The reality is that most private sector economists, 49 out of 50,
project the economy to grow about 2.5 percent next year.  As I said, that's
stronger than the average growth rate of the previous administration, and
it's a solid rate of growth.  That's what you should be looking at.

          Obviously, everyone wants to be vigilant and wants to be careful,
and we always have here.  The reality is, the new administration will have
a lot of new tools to deal with any problems that might arise.  I mean,
there's a federal budget surplus, the debt is a much smaller percentage,
the federal national debt is a much smaller percentage of the economy now,
so they have a lot more flexibility in dealing with problems as they arise.
That's something that this administration didn't have when it came in.
There was a huge federal deficit, there was very high unemployment.
Unemployment's much lower now, the federal budget is in balance, and so
they have an array of options and abilities to deal with problems as they
crop up.  And that's something that we expect they will do to the best of
their ability.

          Q    But is it right for the outgoing administration to be trying
to muzzle the next administration?

          MR. SIEWERT:  No, I just think that there are some -- we're not
trying to muzzle anyone.  I think we're just urging a measured tone, one
that is in line with the facts.

          Q    Are you suggesting that in tamping down the political
expectations, there is a real danger that you actually create the problem
in your warning?

          MR. SIEWERT:  Your words, as someone who is in the government,
have a greater significance and are taken seriously, and so it's important
to keep those words and those pronouncements in line with what's actually
going on in the real world out there.

          The President has always tried to look at the economy as a place
of opportunity, a place where people can build better lives, better futures
for themselves, and that businesses could make good judgments about the
future and plan for the future in such a way.  It's always talked about in
a way that takes some recognition of dangers that are out there, but tries
to provide solutions and not just blame and finger-pointing.

          Q    Jake, there are reports that at yesterday's meeting,
President Clinton laid out parameters for Middle East peace, set sort of a
wish date of January 10th for some progress to be made, and may or may not
have scheduled or tried -- sought a meeting here tomorrow.  Do you have any
comments about any of that?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I'm not going to discuss the specific issues
involved in the peace process from this podium.  The President did have a
good 45-minute discussion with both of the teams yesterday.  The Secretary
of State's meeting with him this evening around 6:30 p.m., I believe.  But
he reviewed with them what's at stake, how important it was to reach an
agreement and how important it is to proceed.  But while we covered the
full range of the issues that are on the table there within the peace
process, I'm not going to provide a running commentary on those.

          As to future meetings, we'll take this day by day, but there's
nothing scheduled at the moment.  But the President is willing and ready to
help, if it's necessary.  Ultimately, these decisions are in the hands of
the negotiators from both sides.

          Q    I've been asking this for a few days.  I still don't
understand what their incentive is to reach an agreement now, with this
administration leaving and with the Israelis up for election.

          MR. SIEWERT:  Well, I'm not going to assess what their
motivations are.  I just don't think that's very productive.  We think,
obviously, that both sides have a long-term interest in addressing the
problems that divide them, in trying to find a way to live together in
peace.  And long-term problems have to be dealt with some day, and we're
hopeful that they can deal with them in the shorter-term rather than the

          Q    What's the President's involvement in the EPA regulations
that are being put out today?  Did he really approve the regulations
yesterday, or what's been his involvement?

          MR. SIEWERT:  He certainly approves of those regulations and
thinks that they're important.  There's a process here that's run through
OMB that involved meetings with the President's Chief of Staff and others
who are involved in the process.  I'll refer you to OMB for the specifics
of how that process works, but ultimately this is something that the
President thinks is important to implement the Clean Air Act amendments
that were passed early in the last decade.

          He was kept apprised and reviewed these regulations through his
Chief of Staff, John Podesta, who is very intimately involved in the final
rules that were put out today by Carol Browner.

          Q    Did the President take some action on this yesterday, as far
as you know?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I'll have to check on that and see whether there
was any specific paper or briefing that went to him yesterday.

          Q    Jake, are we likely to get some presidential action on the
pardons today or tomorrow, before Christmas?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I would not expect anything today, but I certainly
wouldn't rule it out for tomorrow.  That's not a definite, but I think it's
-- nothing will come today, but it's very possible there will be something

          Q    Will they all be in one group, or this maybe as a partial,
and there would be another announcement later?

          Q    They will all be in one group, or would this maybe is a
partial and there would be another announcement later?

          MR. SIEWERT:  The President has offered to review as many of
these cases as he can in his last days in office, and he will take the
opportunity tomorrow or sometime before the Christmas holiday probably to
take some of them out of the in-box.  But I don't think that would be the
end of it.  I think he's going to try to do as many -- review as many of
these as he can.  And I expect that they will be, in some sense, a rolling
process that continues right up through the end of his term.

          Q    Are they going to be issued by Justice, or will we get them
here, as well?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I'm working with our Counsel's Office here, and
I'll let you know as we get closer.  Typically, the actual piece of paper
comes from Justice, but we'll try to find some way of letting people know

          Q    Do you know if Jonathan Pollard is on the list?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I wouldn't expect anything new on that.  I don't
think there is anything new on that.

          Q    Did he ever get a report from -- it was former White House
Counsel Charles Ruff, who was coordinating the process for getting a
recommendation on Pollard.  Did the President ever get a report on that?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I believe there's a report here --

          MR. CROWLEY:  The review has been completed.

          MR. SIEWERT:  The review has been completed, but I wouldn't --
there's nothing new on that today.

          Q    Did it recommend against any kind of clemency for him?

          MR. SIEWERT:  Would don't discuss typically the recommendations
that his Counsel's Office prepares for him, just because it constitutes a
waive of the attorney-client privilege.

          Q    Has there been any discussion at the White House recently
about what to do, if anything, about the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge
before the President leaves?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I think that our focus on Alaska has been on the
impact that the roadless rule might have on Tongass National Forest and how
we can best protect the wildlife in Southeastern Alaska and the national
resources there.  I know that that's an idea that's been floated by some in
the environmental community and elsewhere.

          The President actually did address this in an interview not too
long that he did with the Discovery Channel in which he said he was looking
at the issue, but that he was uncertain at this point whether a monument
status would protect it any further than it already is protected and might
actually be counterproductive in some way, and that it might create some
political controversy.  It could be counterproductive.

          So our focus has been on what we can do to protect the Tongass
under the roadless rule.  But he has looked at this issue, he's had
something to say about it publicly, and if there's anything new I'll let
you know.  I know that any effort to drill in the ANWR would require
legislative action.  We've always opposed such legislation and will
continue to do so.

          Q    Do you have anything to release about the President's
consideration of a possible visit to North Korea?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I don't have anything new on that to share with you
today, and I don't expect we will.  The President obviously is going to
make a judgment based on whether he thinks such a trip would be helpful in
advancing the process of curtailing the missile program that North Korea

          Q    When is he going to make that judgment, Jake?

          MR. SIEWERT:  When is he likely to make the trip or the decision?
As soon as we can.  As soon as we can.

          Q    He wouldn't travel through the holiday period.

          MR. SIEWERT:  No, that's extraordinarily unlikely, if not --
let's just say, no.  (Laughter.)  That's safe, yes.

          Q    Just one more on the Middle East.  The parties aren't asking
the President to provide any guarantees or anything, are they, at this

          MR. SIEWERT:  We're not dictating the terms of this agreement and
we're not going to discuss them here from the podium.  The parties,
themselves, have to reach this agreement and we are ready to do whatever it
is, though, that we can to be helpful in --

          Q    And after he leaves office, would Bill Clinton be willing to
help out with those Middle East and Northern Ireland?

          MR. SIEWERT:  He's addressed that himself a number of times.  He
obviously cares very deeply about the peace process in the Middle East and
about the peace process in Northern Ireland.  But he also wants to make
sure that the next president, President Bush, has a chance to address these
matters himself and make his own judgments about how best they can move the
process forward in both those areas.  The President's willing to help, but
he understands that it's a new administration here, one that will have its
own ideas about how to proceed.

          Q    Is the President done with his Christmas shopping?

          MR. SIEWERT:  Unfortunately, no.

          Q    Today?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I don't know.  I'll check.  But I expect between
now and Christmas that he will probably be out and about a little bit to do
some more shopping.  I did check and I'll try to get you finality tomorrow
on the holiday plans.  But I do think he will be here at the White House
for the better part of the next week, and that we'll do everything we can
to get a full lid on Christmas Day, as is traditional.

          Q    Will he give us any Hanukkah gifts?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I don't know if he's in the habit of giving the
press gifts.

          Q    Is that open to coverage today, Jake, the menorah lighting?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I think it's stills only.

          Q    Is that traditional for it to be stills?

          MR. SIEWERT:  It's varied a bit, year to year, but it's more
often than not --

          Q    Usually, the President toasts Mr. Knoller at that event.

          MR. SIEWERT:  Oh, really?  Excellent.  We would enjoy that.

          Q    And that will be lost to history if it's stills only.

          Q    Why is it closed?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I think we've actually done stills a number of
years.  Some years we've done -- but I think stills is a pretty good way to
deal with that this year.  Give you all a break.

          Q    First Lady going to be there?

          MR. SIEWERT:  I think so, yes.

          THE PRESS:  Thank you.

          MR. SIEWERT:  Thank you.

                          END        12:25 P.M. EST

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