- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2000

President-elect George W. Bush hit Capitol Hill yesterday to begin selling his tax-cut proposal and national energy policy as Democratic leaders finally acknowledged his legitimate claim to the White House.
"I campaigned on a clear view of tax relief, and that's what I'm going to bring to the floor of the House and the Senate," said Mr. Bush, standing with House and Senate leaders of both parties. "You're going to find out about me. I campaigned and say things because I believe them. I believe I'm standing here because I campaigned on issues that people heard."
At a brief press conference with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt, Mr. Bush made clear he will press ahead with the campaign promise.
"There's going to be a lot of discussions, a lot of head-knocking, a lot of gentle arm-twisting. I might try to twist a few myself," he said with a smile.
After a brisk round of meetings at the Capitol, Mr. Bush found himself sandwiched between the top two Democrats in Congress as they finally professed publicly they see him as the legitimate 43rd president.
"The electors are going to elect George W. Bush to be the next president of the United States," Mr. Gephardt of Missouri said. "And I believe on January 20, not too many steps from here, he's going to be sworn in as the next president of the United States."
"I don't know how you can get more legitimate than that," Mr. Gephardt said.
A day earlier on NBC's "Meet the Press," Mr. Gephardt had refused three times to say that Mr. Bush's presidency is legitimate, at one point answering the question: "George W. Bush is the legitimate 43rd president of the United States?" by saying "George W. Bush is the next president of the United States."
Mr. Daschle who yesterday took issue with a front-page story in The Washington Times that said he joined Mr. Gephardt and the Rev. Jesse Jackson in refusing to say Mr. Bush is the legitimate president made his view crystal clear yesterday.
"Absolutely, President-elect Bush is the legitimate president of the United States."
"Let's put this campaign behind us," Mr. Daschle said. "Let's find a way with which to begin working together in a constructive way. And the most important thing we can do to recognize the level of urgency with which to do that is to recognize the legitimacy of his presidency and to begin working with him."
Mr. Daschle said Sunday on "This Week" that he believes it's important for the votes in Florida to be recounted, even after Mr. Bush's inauguration, to find out if Mr. Gore really won. He said so in answer to a question from Sam Donaldson on whether a recount by outside groups "would de-
legitimize, to some extent, a Bush presidency."
On his first visit to Washington as president-elect, Mr. Bush also conferred with Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and interviewed several candidates for Cabinet posts, including former Sen. Daniel R. Coats of Indiana for secretary of defense and Alcoa Chairman Paul O'Neill for Treasury secretary.
And today, after campaigning for more than a year to restore honor and dignity to the White House, Mr. Bush will meet President Clinton at the executive mansion. The president-elect will meet separately with Vice President Al Gore, who finally conceded the election last week, 36 days after the ballots were cast.
Mr. Bush repeated yesterday that his first bill to Congress would be a proposed reform of federal education programs, including a $5 billion reading initiative, school-accountability requirements, and school-choice options for parents and students.
Behind closed doors in four meetings at the Capitol yesterday, Mr. Bush emphasized the urgent need for a national energy policy to help lower fuel prices and reduce dependency on foreign oil.
"I'm not going to allow the working people of this country to suffer," Mr. Bush told congressional leaders, according to transition spokesman Ari Fleischer.
During the campaign, Mr. Bush was highly critical of the Clinton administration for failing to enact a comprehensive energy policy. Crude oil prices hit a 10-year high in October, and rising natural gas prices have threatened electricity blackouts in California this month.
Sen. Judd Gregg, New Hampshire Republican, said Mr. Bush emphasized the need to increase U.S. production of coal, natural gas and oil, as well as gaining more access to energy markets in Mexico and Canada.
"There is a growing sense that something needs to be done," Mr. Fleischer said, adding that Mr. Bush "sees it as a shining opportunity" for bipartisan cooperation between the administration and Congress.
A Republican aide said Mr. Bush spent about 40 percent of his meeting with House Republicans on tax cuts, 30 percent on energy policy and less time on Social Security reform and education.
In his meeting with Mr. Gephardt, Mr. Bush said "even if he's going to be here for [only] four years, he'd like to get things done," according to a senior House Democratic leadership aide.
"His tone was extremely positive, very pragmatic, very results-oriented," the Democratic aide said. "He's got a great deal of charm personally. We weren't disappointed."
Many of the participants in yesterday's meetings spoke of the new spirit that Mr. Bush brought to the process.
"This is a time for a new beginning, a new atmosphere, a new tone," said Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican. "I believe we have a leader in George W. Bush that will provide direction toward a more cooperative atmosphere."
Mr. Gephardt said he and Mr. Bush talked about compromise.
"I can tell you that we will be there, coming 50 percent of the way, sometimes even a little further, to the middle to get things done," said Mr. Gephardt.
Said Mr. Daschle, "It's an opportunity for us to wipe the slate clean, to begin anew, with a recognition that we have many, many challenges ahead."
Mr. Gregg, who worked closely with Mr. Bush during the campaign, said he noticed a difference about the president-elect yesterday.
"Now there's an aura," said Mr. Gregg. "It's very distinct. He is now the leader of the greatest country in the world. There's an energy, and he appears to be comfortable with it."
Another Cabinet candidate for Mr. Bush is Ann Veneman, former California agriculture director, in line to become secretary of agriculture. New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman was also in town for a meeting with Vice President-elect Richard B. Cheney and possibly with Mr. Bush. Speculation with her centers on the U.S. trade representative or director of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Late in the afternoon, Mr. Bush paid a courtesy call on French President Jacques Chirac at the French ambassador's residence. Mr. Chirac was in town for a European Union meeting.
In other transition news yesterday, Mr. Bush's nominee for secretary of state, retired Gen. Colin Powell, met with Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering and Marc Grossman, director-general of the Foreign Service, and others. Those meetings followed a three-hour session Sunday night with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright at her home in Georgetown.
Condoleezza Rice, chosen by Mr. Bush to become national security adviser, met with outgoing National Security Adviser Samuel R. Berger to discuss transition and foreign policy issues, the White House said.
The Bush-Cheney transition office in McLean reported yesterday that it received 5,850 resumes over the weekend, bringing the total to 31,829 since Nov. 7.
White House spokesman Jake Siewert said yesterday that Mr. Clinton might make a case with Mr. Bush today for keeping U.S. troops in the Balkans.
"It's no secret, we believe that the U.S. presence in Kosovo and in Bosnia is critical to ensuring a more stable transition," Mr. Siewert said.
Andrew Cain and George Archibald contributed to this report.

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