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Crossfire

How Will Bush Manage his Relationship With the Washington Press Corps?

Aired January 11, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY-DESIGNATE: He's going to have an agenda involving education; prescription drugs to seniors; providing tax relief; rebuilding the military. He understands how Washington can get sometimes. It's one of the reasons he wants to change the tone in Washington. And so we won't have everybody in black tie and boots, of course, but for those of us Texans in the room...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: The president-elect's spokesman speaks out. Tonight, incoming White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on his new job, his boss' relationship with the press, and those embattled Cabinet nominees.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, White House Press Secretary-designate Ari Fleischer.

LAURA INGRAHAM, GUEST CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Laura Ingraham of Voter.com, sitting in on the right.

President-elect Bush wasted no time in naming a new labor secretary nominee. It's Elaine Chao, former United Way chief and Peace Corp director and wife of Senator Mitch McConnell.

Today, Bush also announced his pick for U.S. trade representative, former Treasury and State Department official Robert Zoellick. Those are just a few of the two new faces we'll see in Washington when Bush is sworn in, in nine short days.

But no one's face will be out there more than that of our guest tonight, incoming White House Press Secretary Lawrence Ari Fleischer, who will be on the front lines with the press corps on a daily basis and is charged with balancing two difficult challenges, sometimes conflicting: Keeping the public informed and representing the best interests of the president.

He's 40 years old, single, the youngest of three boys, a former high school gymnast, one-time RNC staffer, communications director for the House Ways and Means Committee, deputy pressman to the '92 Bush campaign, communications director for presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole.

So tonight, how will Bush manage his relationship with the skeptical and cynical Washington press corps and will we ever see an end to the spin games of the last eight years -- Bill.

PRESS: Well, I certainly hope we don't see an end to the spin games.

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM: Your show. What would your show be called?

PRESS: I'd be out of half of my job.

INGRAHAM: Exactly.

PRESS: Ari, good evening and congratulations.

FLEISCHER: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

PRESS: Proud of you in that post, and of course, all of us at CROSSFIRE take credit for grooming you for the job. I mean, the first thing that we all want to know here at CNN is how are you ever going to put up with Mary Matalin. I mean, what are you going to do with her?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm just going to listen.

PRESS: Which, you know what -- that's what all of us did for all of this time. Let's get to one of the embattled nominees who is no longer a nominee. Linda Chavez yesterday -- two days ago she graciously withdrew as designate-to-be labor secretary, but she indicated it wasn't exactly voluntary. Let's here what she told Wolf Blitzer Tuesday evening her on CNN.

I'm sorry, I'll read you what she said. Quote: "I can read the tea leaves," she said. "No one was calling me and saying, Linda, hang in there."

Did you leave her hanging in the wind?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think you heard her address that herself. At the time that she made her announcement she said the decision was her own. The president-elect said that in the time that he addressed the question. I think anybody who knows her knows she makes her own decisions.

PRESS: Today you named the -- the president-elect named Elaine Chao as the new designee for labor secretary and boy, what a difference in the reaction of organized labor.

Let me read you what John Sweeney said, it's almost a Valentine. The president of the AFL-CIO put out a public statement saying, quote: "President-Elect George W. Bush has chosen a nominee for secretary of labor who has worked with the labor movement and has experience in government, in the private sector and in public service and I've served with her on the board of the United Way."

It sounds like to me that this one was checked out before it was announced with organized labor, with Democrats in the Senate. Did you run Elaine Chao by organized labor? Did they give you their stamp of approval?

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: That's not how the president-elect makes his decisions. His makes his decisions based on his conversations with his staff of people, his intuition on his judgment and on who he thinks will best serve the nation. You know, very often we have lobbying campaigns that are mounted on behalf of any given number of posts; the president makes up his mind on who he thinks will best carry out his agenda.

PRESS: Was Teddy Kennedy consulted on this one?

FLEISCHER: I don't believe so.

INGRAHAM: I don't believe so? We're going to start parsing these sentences. Now, Chavez is down, unfortunately; a lot of conservatives upset about that. But now we're turning our view to Ashcroft and what's going to happen with the Ashcroft nomination. We now know that Ronnie White, the rejected Missouri Supreme Court judge for the federal bench, is going to testify at the nomination hearings. How are you guys going to deal with what seems to be the playing of the race card, not only with this, but perhaps with other issues coming down the line?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, the Senate, I think, is going to conduct the hearings, as obviously it is the Senate's prerogative to call whatever witnesses they so choose. And I think there will be some witnesses on the other side, some victims of crime who have some things to say that I think you're going to find particularly poignant, and that reminds people about the importance of an attorney general who will enforce the law, will carry out the law, who is dedicated to full enforcement of the existing laws and also fighting crime in that position. And John Ashcroft, I think, is going to be an outstanding person to get that job done.

INGRAHAM: So, you're going to take a more -- it sounds like you're going to take a more proactive role with Ashcroft than some conservatives think you might have taken with Chavez? Going forward, saying this is the evidence...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Well, you can't -- you can't compare the two. The issue with John Ashcroft is ideological. There are a lot of people in this town who don't like him just because of the views he holds and so they're going to try to break precedent; establish the most new partisan ground that the Senate will reject someone just because of their beliefs in the Cabinet. That's never been one before.

INGRAHAM: By the way, President-Elect Bush today talked a little bit about the tone in Washington and what has been happening lately with some of these nominations. Let's listen to what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, what happens in this town is the voices of the special interests like to tear people down. That's just part of the process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

INGRAHAM: Well, you know, you guys are in Washington, now and part of the campaign was to change the tone in Washington...

FLEISCHER: That's right.

INGRAHAM: ... to make Washington a better place; uniter, not a divider. Given what's happened already, not only with Chavez, and maybe it is a little bit different from Ashcroft, but with the ideological war room that is still up and running in this town; what do you do and what are you going to do?

FLEISCHER: Well, the best way to unite people is behind the power of ideas, and that's why President-Elect Bush ran on the ideas he did: improving education, for example; cutting taxes, including an across-the-board rate cut; rebuilding the military. You achieve bipartisanship by having ideas that attract people from both parties to them and then you work in a gracious fashion -- in a fashion that's different from the -- just the go nuclear, instant tone that Washington has had. We're going to change that tone and I think it's going to take time, but we can also do it through good ideas.

PRESS: What has struck me is the last few days, you in particularly, almost every day have made a statement something along the lines -- I want you to listen to what you said again...

FLEISCHER: Don't make me do that.

PRESS: ... again today, but that -- it's almost as if you expected no opposition to your nominees. Let me remind you, maybe painfully, of what you said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLEISCHER: It would be a sad day for the country if the traditions in the Senate changed this year and the bar of partisanship was brought even lower that now presidents don't get the latitude in appointing the people who support their governing agenda to the Cabinet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Now, I believe that was in response to a question about the Ashcroft nomination. Only one out of 100 U.S. senators has said, Barbara Boxer, that she's going to oppose this nomination so far. I mean, wouldn't you have to say that it goes with the territory. The president designates and opposition raise questions. FLEISCHER: Bill, you know what's going on. The United States Senate has historically given always wide latitude to your president to put his people in the Cabinet, regardless of their ideologies. It's called getting your team in place at the Cabinet level. The Senate has always given them wide latitude. I think there's a serious question this year about whether the Senate intends to follow that bipartisan tradition, and I think it would be a sad day for the country if the Senate lowers that bar so partisanship reaches a new and deeper level. It has never happened before and for good reason. A president is entitled to put his people in place.

PRESS: I repeat, you've got all 50 Republicans saying they're going to vote for him. So, far, one out of 49 Democrats. What do you want?

FLEISCHER: Well, I -- let's just call it a healthy reminder about how to build bipartisanship to remind people that it is the tradition of the Senate. And there should be tough questions, the president-elect said that today, and there will be tough questions at the hearing. That's the process should be played.

PRESS: OK.

INGRAHAM: Now, President Clinton has been quite active on what I'd like to call the unplugged frustration tour. Forget the farewell tour. You know, he's going across the country. He's been in, I think, Michigan, Washington state. Today he was in New Hampshire doing the old comeback kid redux. And let's listen to some of the things he said which I think to some past presidents have been quite surprising. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They thought the election was over, the Republicans did. By the time it was over, our candidate had won the popular vote and the only way they could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: They have this unusual system in Washington state. They actually count all the votes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

INGRAHAM: Now, Ari, we have the most prominent Democrat in the country -- probably the most prominent politician in the world, still -- talking about this election, and basically saying this is not a legitimate outcome. This is not right, what happened. That's clearly what the president is saying. You can talk all you want about bipartisanship and increasing -- bettering the tone in Washington, but this is Bill Clinton out there campaigning against what happened in November. FLEISCHER: Well, this is part of changing the tone. There are some times it's going to be hard, there are going to be people who may resist. But I want to remind you that President Bush has said -- President-Elect Bush, he will be the president of all the people and that includes former President Clinton. And I would certainly expect that President Clinton as he enters retirement is going to enter into, hopefully, a position of grace and respect as all previous presidents have done. I don't think he'd want it do it any other way and I hope he won't,

PRESS: Do you think his comments are appropriate?

FLEISCHER: I think only the president, President Clinton can judge that. I think there are some powerful traditions that keep this country a united country, and one of those is the grace and the respect with which a president enters his post-presidential period, and we can only hope, and I do expect that President Clinton will do that.

PRESS: We're going to take a break. Ari Fleischer will -- he's here. He's the press secretary-designate for the White -- for the Bush administration and when we come back, how does he think the media is going to President Bush and how will President Bush treat the media? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's considered the toughest job in Washington, maybe even tougher than being president because he can always hide from reporters, but the White House press secretary can't. But that didn't stop Ari Fleischer. He figured is he can handle CROSSFIRE so many times this year -- first for Elizabeth Dole; then for George W. Bush, he can handle anything.

So, will there be any honeymoon for President-Elect Bush? If so, when will it start? Warming up for his official duties tonight, the next White House press secretary Ari Fleischer -- Laura.

INGRAHAM: By the way, you first faced off with Karen Hughes on CROSSFIRE. We have to take credit for that; right? Isn't that right?

FLEISCHER: This is where I met Karen. That's exactly right. Little boxes on the TV screen.

INGRAHAM: Well, you know, a beautiful relationship was formed them. Now Ari, you have a press corps in Washington today, perhaps more so than at any other time in modern history that is, perhaps, more cynical, more critical and, at least with this press corps, probably thinks they're intellectually superior to the current president-elect.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY-DESIGNATE: He's going to have an agenda involving education; prescription drugs to seniors; providing tax relief; rebuilding the military. He understands how Washington can get sometimes. It's one of the reasons he wants to change the tone in Washington. And so we won't have everybody in black tie and boots, of course, but for those of us Texans in the room...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: The president-elect's spokesman speaks out. Tonight, incoming White House press secretary Ari Fleischer on his new job; his boss's relationship with the press; and those embattled Cabinet nominees.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak. In the CROSSFIRE, White House Press Secretary-Designate Ari Fleischer.

LAURA INGRAHAM, GUEST CO-HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm Laura Ingraham of Voter.com sitting on the right. President-Elect Bush wasted no time in naming a new labor secretary nominee. It's Elaine Chao, former United Way chief and Peace Corp director and wife of Senator Mitch McConnell.

Today, Bush also announced his pick for U.S. trade representative, former Treasury and State Department official Robert Zoellick. Those are just a few of the two new faces we'll see in Washington when Bush is sworn in, in nine short days.

But no one's face will be out there more than that of our guest tonight, incoming White House Press Secretary Lawrence Ari Fleischer, who will be on the front lines with the press corps on a daily basis and is charged with balancing two difficult challenges, sometimes conflicting: Keeping the public informed and representing the best interests of the president.

He's 40 years old, single, the youngest of three boys, a former high school gymnast, one-time RNC staffer, communications director for the House Ways and Means Committee, deputy pressman to the '92 Bush campaign, communications director for presidential candidate Elizabeth Dole.

So tonight, how will Bush manage his relationship with the skeptical and cynical Washington press corps and will we ever see an end to the spin games of last eight years -- Bill.

PRESS: Well, I certainly hope we don't see an end to the spin games.

(CROSSTALK)

INGRAHAM: Your show. What would you show be called?

PRESS: I'd be out a half of my job.

INGRAHAM: Exactly.

PRESS: Ari, good evening and congratulations.

FLEISCHER: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

PRESS: Proud of you in that post, and, of course, all of us at CROSSFIRE take credit for grooming you for the job. I mean, the first thing that we all want to know here at CNN is how are you ever going to put up with Mary Matalin? I mean, what are you going to do with her?

FLEISCHER: Well, I'm just going to listen.

PRESS: Which, you know what -- that's what all of us did for all of this time. Let's get to one of the embattled nominees who is no longer a nominee. Linda Chavez yesterday -- two days ago she graciously withdrew as designate-to-be labor secretary, but she indicated it wasn't exactly voluntary. Let's here what she told Wolf Blitzer Tuesday evening her on CNN.

I'm sorry, I'll read you what she said. Quote: "I can read the tea leaves," she said. "No one was calling me and saying, Linda, hang in there."

Did you leave her hanging in the wind?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think you heard her address that herself. At the time that she made her announcement she said the decision was her own. The president-elect said that in the time that he addressed the question. I think anybody who knows her knows she makes her own decisions.

PRESS: Today you named the -- the president-elect named Elaine Chao as the new designee for labor secretary and boy, what a difference in the reaction of organized labor.

Let me read you what John Sweeney said, it's almost a Valentine. The president of the AFL-CIO put out a public statement saying, quote: "President-Elect George W. Bush has chosen a nominee for secretary of labor who has worked with the labor movement and has experience in government, in the private sector and in public service and I've served with her on the board of the United Way."

It sounds like to me that this one was checked out before it was announced with organized labor, with Democrats in the Senate. Did you run Elaine Chao by organized labor? Did they give you their stamp of approval?

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: That's not how the president-elect makes his decisions. His makes his decisions based on his conversations with his staff of people, his intuition on his judgment and on who he thinks will best serve the nation. You know, very often we have lobbying campaigns that are mounted on behalf of any given number of posts; the president makes up his mind on who he thinks will best carry out his agenda.

PRESS: Was Teddy Kennedy consulted on this one?

FLEISCHER: I don't believe so.

INGRAHAM: I don't believe so? We're going to start parsing these sentences. Now, Chavez is down, unfortunately; a lot of conservatives upset about that. But now we're turning our view to Ashcroft and what's going to happen with the Ashcroft nomination. We now know that Ronnie White, the rejected Missouri Supreme Court judge for the federal bench, is going to testify at the nomination hearings. How are you guys going to deal with what seems to be the playing of the race card, not only with this, but perhaps with other issues coming down the line?

FLEISCHER: Well, you know, the Senate, I think, is going to conduct the hearings, as obviously it is the Senate's prerogative to call whatever witnesses they so choose. And I think there will be some witnesses on the other side, some victims of crime who have some things to say that I think you're going to find particularly poignant, and that reminds people about the importance of an attorney general who will enforce the law, will carry out the law, who is dedicated to full enforcement of the existing laws and also fighting crime in that position. And John Ashcroft, I think, is going to be an outstanding person to get that job done.

INGRAHAM: So, you're going to take a more -- it sounds like you're going to take a more proactive role with Ashcroft than some conservatives think you might have taken with Chavez? Going forward, saying this is the evidence...

(CROSSTALK)

FLEISCHER: Well, you can't -- you can't compare the two. The issue with John Ashcroft is ideological. There are a lot of people in this town who don't like him just because of the views he holds and so they're going to try to break precedent; establish the most new partisan ground that the Senate will reject someone just because of their beliefs in the Cabinet. That's never been one before.

INGRAHAM: By the way, President-Elect Bush today talked a little bit about the tone in Washington and what has been happening lately with some of these nominations. Let's listen to what he says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, what happens in this town is the voices of the special interests like to tear people down. That's just part of the process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

INGRAHAM: Well, you know, you guys are in Washington, now and part of the campaign was to change the tone in Washington...

FLEISCHER: That's right.

INGRAHAM: ... to make Washington a better place; uniter, not a divider. Given what's happened already, not only with Chavez, and maybe it is a little bit different from Ashcroft, but with the ideological war room that is still up and running in this town; what do you do and what are you going to do?

FLEISCHER: Well, the best way to unite people is behind the power of ideas, and that's why President-Elect Bush ran on the ideas he did: improving education, for example; cutting taxes, including an across-the-board rate cut; rebuilding the military. You achieve bipartisanship by having ideas that attract people from both parties to them and then you work in a gracious fashion -- in a fashion that's different from the -- just the go nuclear, instant tone that Washington has had. We're going to change that tone and I think it's going to take time, but we can also do it through good ideas.

PRESS: What has struck me is the last few days, you in particularly, almost every day have made a statement something along the lines -- I want you to listen to what you said again...

FLEISCHER: Don't make me do that.

PRESS: ... again today, but that -- it's almost as if you expected no opposition to your nominees. Let me remind you, maybe painfully, of what you said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FLEISCHER: It would be a sad day for the country if the traditions in the Senate changed this year and the bar of partisanship was brought even lower that now presidents don't get the latitude in appointing the people who support their governing agenda to the Cabinet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Now, I believe that was in response to a question about the Ashcroft nomination. Only one out of 100 U.S. senators has said, Barbara Boxer, that she's going to oppose this nomination so far. I mean, wouldn't you have to say that it goes with the territory. The president designates and opposition raise questions.

FLEISCHER: Bill, you know what's going on. The United States Senate has historically given always wide latitude to your president to put his people in the Cabinet, regardless of their ideologies. It's called getting your team in place at the Cabinet level. The Senate has always given them wide latitude. I think there's a serious question this year about whether the Senate intends to follow that bipartisan tradition, and I think it would be a sad day for the country if the Senate lowers that bar so partisanship reaches a new and deeper level. It has never happened before and for good reason. A president is entitled to put his people in place.

PRESS: I repeat, you've got all 50 Republicans saying they're going to vote for him. So, far, one out of 49 Democrats. What do you want?

FLEISCHER: Well, I -- let's just call it a healthy reminder about how to build bipartisanship to remind people that it is the tradition of the Senate. And there should be tough questions, the president-elect said that today, and there will be tough questions at the hearing. That's the process should be played.

PRESS: OK.

INGRAHAM: Now, President Clinton has been quite active on what I'd like to call the unplugged frustration tour. Forget the farewell tour. You know, he's going across the country. He's been in, I think, Michigan, Washington state. Today he was in New Hampshire doing the old comeback kid redux. And let's listen to some of the things he said which I think to some past presidents have been quite surprising. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They thought the election was over, the Republicans did. By the time it was over, our candidate had won the popular vote and the only way they could win the election was to stop the voting in Florida.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: They have this unusual system in Washington state. They actually count all the votes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

INGRAHAM: Now, Ari, we have the most prominent Democrat in the country -- probably the most prominent politician in the world, still -- talking about this election, and basically saying this is not a legitimate outcome. This is not right, what happened. That's clearly what the president is saying. You can talk all you want about bipartisanship and increasing -- bettering the tone in Washington, but this is Bill Clinton out there campaigning against what happened in November.

FLEISCHER: Well, this is part of changing the tone. There are some times it's going to be hard, there are going to be people who may resist. But I want to remind you that President Bush has said -- President-Elect Bush, he will be the president of all the people and that includes former President Clinton. And I would certainly expect that President Clinton as he enters retirement is going to enter into, hopefully, a position of grace and respect as all previous presidents have done. I don't think he'd want it do it any other way and I hope he won't,

PRESS: Do you think his comments are appropriate?

FLEISCHER: I think only the president, President Clinton can judge that. I think there are some powerful traditions that keep this country a united country, and one of those is the grace and the respect with which a president enters his post-presidential period, and we can only hope, and I do expect that President Clinton will do that.

PRESS: We're going to take a break. Ari Fleischer will -- he's here. He's the press secretary-designate for the White -- for the Bush administration and when we come back, how does he think the media is going to President Bush and how will President Bush treat the media? We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. It's considered the toughest job in Washington, maybe even tougher than being president because he can always hide from reporters, but the White House press secretary can't. But that didn't stop Ari Fleischer. He figured is he can handle CROSSFIRE so many times this year -- first for Elizabeth Dole; then for George W. Bush, he can handle anything.

So, will there be any honeymoon for President-Elect Bush? If so, when will it start? Warming up for his official duties tonight, the next White House press secretary Ari Fleischer -- Laura.

INGRAHAM: By the way, you first faced off with Karen Hughes on CROSSFIRE. We have to take credit for that; right? Isn't that right?

FLEISCHER: This is where I met Karen. That's exactly right. Little boxes on the TV screen.

INGRAHAM: Well, you know, a beautiful relationship was formed them. Now Ari, you have a press corps in Washington today, perhaps more so than at any other time in modern history that is, perhaps, more cynical, more critical and, at least with this press corps, probably thinks they're intellectually superior to the current president-elect.

Given that in the Washington press corps, how do you deal with these people who, you know, there is a tension, I think more so -- even Clinton didn't like this press corps.

FLEISCHER: You can't do what I do for a living if you don't fundamentally respect the press and what they do for our society. They are -- I like reading newspapers when I wake up and I believe -- I want the papers to be accurate. And I know the only way papers can be accurate is somebody gives them accurate information; it begins with that position.

But, look, everybody knows there are going to be tense days; there are going to be moments when you clash. That is the classic relationship between a government source and a free press. My goal is to always keep things accurate, to keep things as cordial and friendly as they can be and never personal.

INGRAHAM: Leak-proof White House; we've heard that you guys want to have it leak-proof -- that anyone who violates the cardinal rule of not talking to the press outside the proper bounds is going to be history. Is that true?

FLEISCHER: No; nobody's ever said anything even close to that.

But what we do want to do is try to comport ourselves differently; and one of the things -- I take great pride in it in the campaign -- and I think we've got to earn the begrudging respect of the press in doing so.

This town loves to know what goes on behind closed doors in terms of, who clashed with who? Is there a knife in someone's back? And our campaign, proudly, did not engage in any of that; and that's because we really are a closely-knit team. And that is a change in the tone.

But I think, over time, as long as we comport ourselves differently, we're going to help change the tone of Washington.

PRESS: We have seen a lot of press secretaries, all of us. We know that the success of the job depends on the access to what's going on behind those closed doors. There are -- there have been concerns expressed about the level of access that you have; you were not one of the iron triangle down in Austin. You were out there defending Linda Chavez this week the same time some people in Austin might have been sawing her -- the limb off behind her.

Are you confident -- have you had the guarantees from the president-elect that you will have the access to all the information you need to do your job?

FLEISCHER: Bill, I do. He wouldn't have offered me the job -- he knows how it works if he wasn't going to give me that. And I wouldn't have taken it if I didn't have that, because you can't do it any other way. And the press knows that, and I don't think it's ever going to be an issue.

PRESS: Turn it the other way around: Reporters will be demanding, will be expecting regular, unscripted news conferences where the president stands up like President Clinton did -- hour, hour 1/2, takes questions, fire away on any subject.

Do you have -- can you tell us tonight -- has the president-elect agreed to hold those regular news conferences? When will they start? How often will they be?

FLEISCHER: Well, he will; and we'll make determinations about how often they'll be. As you've noticed, that each time he makes a Cabinet announcement he take several questions following it, and I think that's a healthy thing. I don't know that previous presidents have done it like that. He is very accessible.

We'll figure out exactly how accessible he'll be. I don't know that we're going to have, you know, a weekly full-blown news conference; you don't need to.

INGRAHAM: Quick final, last question: John McCain -- you guys -- we're always talking about the Democrats attacking Republicans, but a lot of conservatives out there say, OK John McCain coming forward again, campaign finance reform, going to steamroll it through, going to put Bush on the defensive. Also, his power sharing idea actually ended up winning out, to the dismay of many conservatives.

How are you guys going to deal with McCain? FLEISCHER: First of all, we're not very far apart on campaign finance reform. President-elect Bush believe that we need to ban all corporate soft money, all union soft money. He wants to make sure that there is full disclosure of all contributions.

So I think it's one of those issues where -- let's just see how the process rolls out and maybe we'll surprise some people.

PRESS: But do you want John McCain to make this the first agenda item of the Senate, when it reconvenes?

FLEISCHER: It's always the prerogative of a senator to introduce legislation, to seek to bring it to the floor. President-elect Bush ran on education as his top priority and he's committed to that.

INGRAHAM: Ari Fleischer, fairly well-polished. I mean, you know, congratulations, good luck. This is the last friendly comment you're going to have from this show. Thanks Ari Fleischer.

We'll be back with CROSSFIRE with closing comments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

INGRAHAM: You know, Ari Fleischer, nice guy; but the question is, is he too nice for Washington? Because all these people come into Washington, Bill, and they think they're going to change the tone of Washington.

This is a nasty town; and can that really change? Can you be genteel and expect to move policy forward; you know, vanquish your political opposition and move forward?

PRESS: Well I certainly hope there's not. And, by the way, we both wish Ari well; but I certainly hope there's not too much bipartisanship because, you know, I mean, hey, we survive on it.

But I do think it's going to be -- no, you can't change it, to answer your question. I think it's healthy, also, as long as it's not personal; and I think it's going to be a rocky road for this administration because the media is already cynical. They were suspicious about his -- Bush's abilities to govern -- who's really going to be in charge.

And they're going to have to prove themselves, and it ain't going to be easy.

INGRAHAM: Yes, I think the late night talk shows, you know, all the jokes about Bush's intelligence -- that's going to be hard to overcome because, you know, it's like with the Quayle factor: once you have that indelibly printed on, you've got to work hard to get rid of it.

PRESS: They're not going to stop, either.

From the left, I'm Bill Press, good night for CROSSFIRE.

INGRAHAM: And from the right I'm Laura Ingraham. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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