The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 31, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer

The James S. Brady Briefing Room

  1. CAFÉ standards
  2. Congressman Norwood/Patients’ Bill of Rights
  3. Consumer Products Safety Commission/Mary Gall Nomination
  4. Proliferation in China
  5. Election reform
  6. Mexican trucks
  7. Middle East violence
  8. Treasury Secretary O’Neill’s comments

11:52 A.M. EDT

MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I do not have any personnel items today, but I would like to begin with a short announcement. I am pleased to report to you today that Senators Snowe and Feinstein plan to offer an amendment to the agricultural supplemental bill which is being considered on the floor of the Senate today. This deals with an administration concern about a prohibition that ties the administration's hands from reserving options to encourage conservation as part of the National Academy of Science's study on CAFE standards.

We are encouraged by our initial review of the National Academy of Science's study that promotes conservation. And the administration's eager to begin a through review of the report. The President commends the two Senators for their action, and he encourages the full Senate to pass their important measures so that the administration can fully and thoroughly review the National Academy of Science's report.

With that, I'm happy to take questions.

Q Ari, is Charlie Norwood here, or is he coming here? What's the state of play?

MR. FLEISCHER: He's not here now, no.

Q Do you expect him?

MR. FLEISCHER: No meeting is scheduled. I do not rule out that he and the President will talk later today. They've been talking on a regular basis.

Q People on the Hill seem to think that he's on his way here to discuss possible changes in the legislation.

MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have any -- I can't confirm that, and I've just got an update on -- but let me say this: As a result of several meetings that took place late into the night last night at the staff level, as well as contacts between the President and Congressman Norwood, a significant amount of progress has been made in getting close to an agreement on a patients' bill of rights.

The President is very pleased with the amount of work and the progress of the work with Congressman Norwood and with others, and the President is very hopeful that an agreement can be reached. And I think that's it fair to say that the nation is on the threshold of having a patients' bill of rights that can be signed into law. There is some additional work that does need to be done, but many of the differences that remain are easily bridgeable if others who are working with Congressman Norwood are interested in bridging those differences.

Q You say on the threshold. On the threshold of an agreement with Republicans in the House to get a bill through the House, or on the threshold of an agreement that would then carry over to the Senate, which is controlled by the other party?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is no question that if Congressman Norwood and President Bush enter into an agreement, the votes will be there to pass it.

Q Does that answer the question? You mean in the House?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, was that your question, John? I thought that was.

Q That would be the House. Do you think the Senate would then pick up on whatever the House passed?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, of course, then you go to a conference with the Senate; that's regular order.

Q In addition to Norwood, who's been involved in these discussions? Have Dingell and Ganske also been involved?

MR. FLEISCHER: Congressman Norwood has had follow-on discussions with others that have been working closely with him. And there is additional conversations to take place.

Q But basically he's been negotiated for that group, is that how it's working?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to ask Congressman Norwood that question.

Q Well, you know who you're talking to. I mean, is it Norwood, or are you also talking to Kennedy and McCain?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has talked to Congressman Norwood; the President has talked to Senator Kennedy. Senator McCain is playing a very helpful role in this process, and the President is continuing to talk to members of Congress and others are talking to members of Congress about support for the Fletcher bill. So there is an awful lot of movement, a lot of action, and we are in the middle of watching it all unfold. And the President and the staff are continuing to help -- help it unfold in a way that leads to a patient bill of rights that gets enacted into law this year for the first time in eight years.

Q So, Ari, is that to say that if the President were to speak, and plans to speak to Norwood today, it's essentially to seal the deal to ensure a vote this week?

MR. FLEISCHER: You never know, David. I think it all depends on the exact progress being made. Hopefully, a deal can be sealed. It's very close to having a deal be sealed, but additional conversations will have to take place, as always, in a legislative process. So I think you will just have to watch it unfold.

Q So is the President now willing to go along with Congressman Norwood and others and allow patients to sue in state court under state law?

MR. FLEISCHER: Under the Fletcher proposal that the President supported, he always did agree to a mixed venue of suits in federal court, suits in state court. I'm not going to go into the exact details of any impending agreement or compromise. Suffice it to say that in order to get a patient bill of rights signed into law, this has to be give-and-take on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. The President is willing to do that; Congressman Norwood is willing to do that. Between the two of them, an agreement can be reached. The question is, will others who are working with Congressman Norwood agree to also participate in the give-and-take so that it can be signed into law.

Q You mean Dingell and Ganske, correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I will let events on the Hill speak for themselves. I will talk for the President and let you know how encouraged the President is because something very good can happen for the American people if people up on Capitol Hill will let it happen.

Q Ganske and Dingell have publicly raised concerns about protection of patients on the state level under the current proposal.

MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, that's why I indicated that the President has given and Congressman Norwood has given, as part of a healthy, strong process of give-and-take. The question is, will others on the Hill be as equally interested in a good process of give-and-take so that the American consumer and the American patient can get a patient bill of rights signed into law. Or are there other political concerns that will stop them from participating in what's been a very healthy process of compromise and progress.

Q So if the President reaches a deal with Congressman Norwood and you get a bill through the House, will the President then say, this is as far as I'm willing to give? Or will he then be willing to meet with Senator Kennedy and give some more?

MR. FLEISCHER: Let's take it one step at a time.

Q On the Gall nomination to head the CPSC, I believe that all of the Democrats on the committee have indicated that they plan to vote against her on Thursday. Is it the White House's position that the nomination will stand?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President stands proudly and tall behind Mary Gall's nomination to head the Consumer Products Safety Commission.

Q Why?

MR. FLEISCHER: This vote coming up on Thursday will be a very interesting first test of whether the Senate is pursuing a new and partisan course. It's a very interesting vote, because Mary Gall has been voted on twice before by the United States Senate -- once in 1991 and once in 1999 -- for her appointment to the very same commission that the President has proposed to name her chairman of. And both times that she was previously voted on there was not a single objection in the United States Senate. All of a sudden, now, Democrat senators are raising objections. It seems the only thing that's changed is that she's now been nominated by President Bush, so therefore, some Democrat senators are saying they're going to vote against her this time, and they voted for her previously. And for the senators to change their vote simply because with this time President Bush appointing her suggests a new partisan course by the Senate that would be very regrettable.

Q So let me ask you this. Why wouldn't the Senate be partisan, and why would you stay with a nominee who is sure to go down to defeat when you want somebody of your choosing to head the Commission?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think the question is, why, when the United States Senate unanimously voted for Mary Gall in 1991, and why when President Clinton, himself, nominated Mary Gall, and why when the Senate unanimously voted for her in 1999, would the Senate do anything differently now that it's 2001, unless the only difference is that President Bush has made the nomination? And that would be a real indication that this new Senate is more interested in pursuing a partisan course than a fair or balanced course. After all, they all voted for her before, so what's different, what's new?

Q She's going to be the chair. And I say, why wouldn't you expect them to be partisan?

MR. FLEISCHER: If the Senate believes she was qualified to serve on the Commission in 1999 and in 1991, there's no difference now between her serving as chairman and her serving as a member of the board.

Q Ari, the basis of the objection has been that she is in favor of voluntary standards for several baby products that have been recalled. Isn't the administration concerned about that, if she were to head the Commission --

MR. FLEISCHER: Certain Democrats have raised objections to about four of her votes on the Consumer Products Safety Commission. All those votes took place prior to President Clinton naming her in 1999, and prior to those very same Democrats voting for her in 1999. So they had that information in 1999 and voted for her. Yet now that she's being nominated by President Bush, they indicate that they will no longer support her.

If they were to pursue that course, and if the Senate were to vote no, it would be a real sign that this Senate, this new Senate, is more interested in partisanship than progress, because, after all, they would have flip-flopped on the very same person.

Q -- the administration has no problem on voluntary standards of baby products?

Q I will take you to the other side of the world. The Secretary of State Colin Powell just returned from China, and the Assistant Secretary for South Asia is in the area. Last year China promised to the United States that they will not sell any missile defense or any high-tech or military equipment to Pakistan, Iran and other countries including Libya. But now, according to the CIA report, they are still selling it. And I think Secretary of State had a message for the Chinese. Can you talk about it a little more? And if the Assistant Secretary is taking any message from the President to the South Asian principals?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the question of proliferation in China is always an important topic and it's something that the administration has raised at the highest levels. Secretary Powell has said China's record on proliferation has been mixed, and that's a real source of concern. That is something that has come up and will continue to come up.

Q Was there any discussion between Carter and President Bush on some of Carter's comments on the President's foreign policy, tearing up all the treaties we have made?

MR. FLEISCHER: There was a private discussion between the two Presidents at the beginning of their meeting --

Q On this subject?

MR. FLEISCHER: It was a very gracious discussion on both parts.

Q Was there an apology?

MR. FLEISCHER: A private discussion.

Q What does that mean?

MR. FLEISCHER: It means it was a -- how can I rephrase it? Let me rephrase this. It was a private discussion. Because I was there for it.

Q Well, if you were there, it's not private -- come on. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: If I don't tell you, it's private.

Q Was it embarrassing?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, it was gracious. It was gracious. President Carter was gracious

Q Did he apologize?

MR. FLEISCHER: -- and President Bush was gracious.

Q Did President Carter or President Bush raise the recent criticisms.

MR. FLEISCHER: It was private. I think you need to allow two former -- a former President and a President to have private conversations.

Q Who initiated the gracious conversation?

MR. FLEISCHER: Asked and answered.

Q Who was more gracious? (Laughter.)

Q Tell us more. (Laughter.)

Q Where did this gracious meeting occur?

MR. FLEISCHER: In the Oval Office. It was prior to the event in the Rose Garden.

Q They were not alone?

Q Did anybody else attend -- other people other than you?

MR. FLEISCHER: It was a private conversation between two Presidents and the people who were in the Oval Office who heard it. I think we will all treat it as a private conversation between a former President and the incumbent President.

Q Give us some other names to call, will you? (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: I will give you the Hansel and Gretel crumbs for you to follow the leads.

Q On election reform --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, go ahead. David?

Q If you're going to answer, go ahead. (Laughter.)

Q On election reform, why is the President reacting to all of this so cautiously? I mean, endorsing sort of broad guidelines of a report, some of which are pretty obvious, certainly not controversial. I mean, who better than the President of the United States knows the vagaries of the electoral system, given what he has gone through?

MR. FLEISCHER: Listening to the President's remarks today, he made clear that he embraces this report and he does so warmly and thoroughly. And the President is going to actively call on the Congress to enact it.

This is a very important bipartisan recommendation on how to reform our nation's electoral system and do so in a way that does not create a federal takeover of elections, or it does not do so in a way that imposes mandates on the states. The President, I thought, was very supportive of it and he looks forward to working with Congress to push them on several of the specifics.

Q If I can follow up on that. When you say that he wants Congress to enact, does that mean he endorses every single specific proposal?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, as the President said, he has embraced the report. He spoke about the four principles. There are some 13 overarching recommendations; there are some 68 total recommendations, each dealing with varying levels of specificity in the report --

Q And he supports each one of those, we can assume?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to allow the administration to have time to review it, and the administration is going to work with Congress very closely on implementing it.

Q Does the President think felons should be allowed the right to vote after they serve their time?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes broadly that anything that encourages more voter participation is good for the system. I can only tell you, Ron, what the President did in Texas on that question, and in Texas the President, then governor, signed into law a measure that changed the number of years a felon had to wait for the privilege of voting to be returned, from two years after they left prison and served their probation successfully to zero. So the President has already taken action on that in Texas. I think that's indicative of the fact when the President says that he's supports allowing more people to vote, the better, that's a sign of what he's done in Texas.

Similarly, on the question of -- the report had recommendations dealing with the rights of the disabled to vote -- the President also signed legislation in Texas that said the purchase of all new equipment must allow people who are disabled, such as the blind, to be able to have access to a secret ballot. Very often the blind have to have somebody else read them the names and they would tell them who they wanted to vote for, which runs contrary to the American spirit of having a secret ballot.

In Texas, President Bush led the way in signing legislation that mandated that the state of Texas they would have equipment that was accessible to the disabled and the blind to preserve a secret ballot. So that's a couple of indications of the President's history on these issues, his overall approach, which again is that anything that encourages broader participation is good for our democracy.

Q One more follow-up. Does he agree that if the news media doesn't, on its own, not report victors until 11:00 p.m. Eastern Time, that Congress should pass a law not allowing governments to provide voting data?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President reserves the right to review in more detail the specifics of the recommendation, but he does think that is a good recommendation because he believes it will help protect the integrity of the ballot, that will help people in various regions of the country not be disenfranchised because of events out of their control in a different region of the country.

One of the most enduring aspects of the last election was when the networks and others called Florida before Florida was actually closed. It had an impact not only on the outcome of the vote in Florida, but it negatively impacted people's ability to vote in several other close races around the country. And I think the networks have admitted that there was a problem in what they did, and there's an acknowledgement that something needs to be done about it. Perhaps this report will help the networks to decide what needs to be done.

Q On Mexican trucks, what is the reading the White House is getting on Capitol Hill? Any changes in all the entreaties the President has been making, asking them to be fair?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there have been a couple other test votes. The President is very pleased Senator McCain and other senators are working very hard to make certain that this provision is focused on by members of Congress so that it can be reversed. The President continues to be worried about the impact any such measure would have on Mexico, on NAFTA, and he also worries that it is a real signal from the Senate that they're retreating into isolationism. And he will continue to work that issue hard.

Q Ari, can I follow up on that? There are some signals from the Senate that the vote could take place in September. Do you think maybe the vote will be in the same time when President Fox is doing his state visit to President Bush? Do you think that will be a bad signal from the government of the United States to the Mexican authorities?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm not going to speculate about the timing of the vote. Whether the vote is today, whether the vote is in the middle of the visit of President Fox or whether the vote is after that, it's wrong any time for the United States Senate to take action that's unfair to Mexico and is anti-NAFTA. And that is what the President is dedicated to, is reversing the action in the Senate so that we treat our partners to the south in a fair fashion.

Q Is the President concerned that the reason for this anti-Mexican trucking vote is not just protectionism, but prejudice against the increasing presence of Mexican-American and Mexican business in the United States?

MR. FLEISCHER: No, I have never heard the President say that.

Q Thank you. Just to change topics again, the increasing violence in the Middle East and what else is new. Does the White House blame one side over the other? And do you see any cause at all for optimism here?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the situation in the Middle East remains very difficult for all sides. The recent violence is another reminder of the need for the two parties to engage in efforts to reinvigorate the cease-fire so that a relative calm can be restored to the region. It's another tragic reminder of how difficult events in the region are.

Q Are they both equally guilty?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President has called on all sides to break the cycle of violence and show restraint.

Q Back on the election reform, what about the national holiday?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks that there are some compelling reasons to have a national holiday. He is interested in that recommendation. Specifically in the case of the bipartisan commission, they have mentioned Veterans Day as a possible day for a national holiday. The President thinks it's important to talk to veterans groups before endorsing such a proposal. But again, the President's approach is anything that maximizes voter participation is good for democracy. And other states have had good experiences in maximizing turnout as a result of things like holidays. So the President wants to take a good look at that, but he thinks there are some compelling reasons.

Q And in accepting this report, is there an acknowledgment by the President that the election that brought him to office was screwed up?

MR. FLEISCHER: In accepting this report, there is an acknowledgment that the election that brought him to office was close --

Q You're a master of understatement. (Laughter.)

MR. FLEISCHER: And I think the whole nation learned from what took place in the previous election and there ar good lessons to be learned from it.

One of the things that is very important in this report -- and this is one of the reasons the President has so warmly embraced it and welcomed President Carter and Congressman Michel and the commissioners here today -- is you'll notice, this report was not done in a spirit of partisanship and this report was not done in a spirit of trying to re-fight an election that brought about powerful emotions on both sides. This was very careful work, very cautious work, and very bipartisan work. And the President wants to make sure that the Congress takes up its work in the same spirit.

Q As a guy who wants smaller government, does he support another commission, election commission, that is proposed in this report and spending $1 million to $2 million over the course of the next several years to help states update their election systems?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President wants to work with Congress on the amount of funding necessary to help implement this bipartisan report's recommendations and that's where he stands.

Q How about on the election commission? Do we need another commission?

MR. FLEISCHER: I am going to have to take a look at that specifically, and that will be part of the review.

Q Is that antithetical to the idea of having the states retool on their own without mandates, without another federal commission to oversee them? I mean, just philosophically, what's your view on that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, clearly, the first recommendation in the report, the first principle was the primacy of state and local elections.

Q So is this at odds with that?

MR. FLEISCHER: I think it depends on what the commission does and the President is going to review that, a follow-on commission.

Q Right. But does he support a commission or not?

MR. FLEISCHER: He is going to review each of those recommendations. As I mentioned, there were some 68 specific recommendations in it. The report was received by the President at 11:00 a.m. this morning and I think he is entitled to a couple hours at least, maybe longer, to look at it.

Q But you keep framing it as if these issues have not been hashed out by the President and his entire team going back to the campaign.

MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the question of a second commission, I don't think that is something that has really been explored.

You seem to have an important question.

Q I think it is. Treasury Secretary O'Neill has been heavily criticized for his comments last week in the Financial Times, saying he wasn't the fire department, with many Europeans and others feeling that this means a certain amount of nonchalance from the U.S. side with regard to the burgeoning financial crisis. I was wondering, is somebody else the fire department? Do you have a fire bell to sound the alarm if you see that there is a problem? Do you have fire spotters -- (laughter) -- looking at the various elements of smoke coming up in various parts of the world economy? What is the status of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you. I understand why you were fired up to ask your question. I think the administration under Secretary O'Neill's leadership has been very vigilant and working well with allies around the world to recognize the impact of our global economy on one another and Secretary O'Neill will continue in that vein. He is doing a very good job at it.

Q Within the last 48 hours, 14 people were killed in the Middle East. Two of them are children, 8 years and 10 years old. Many people don't think the case-fire that you helped negotiate will take hold in the presence of an -- declared target killing of Palestinians that the Israeli government has adopted. What can you say about your efforts to stop the Israeli government from this policy that many people see the cease-fire will not take hold with it?

MR. FLEISCHER: When the President talks about a cessation of violence and a cease-fire, it means no killing of anybody. And, of course, that applies to civilians, it applies to all. Violence is violence and the President has deplored the violence in the region and he has called on all parties to implement fully the terms of the Mitchell Commission recommendations which begins with a cease-fire. A cease-fire is a cease-fire is a cease-fire.

Q This is an official policy by the Israeli government of target killing, which the Chief Rabbi has even condoned. And what are you doing about it, to stop it?

MR. FLEISCHER: The President has called on all parties to implement the Mitchell Committee recommendations. And if there is a cease-fire in place, it means there will be no killings at all.

Q The question is, does the President approve of a policy of assassination of your political foes?

MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President approves of a full cease-fire, implemented by all parties.

Q This country took a strong stand against assassination. And Israel has a policy. What do we think of that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Any such action is a violation of the cease-fire. And the President calls on all parties to abide by the cease-fire.

Q Why don't you pull out a little paper and read it again?

MR. FLEISCHER: It's the President's position.

Q What about the Palestinian's position of just arbitrarily bombing women, children, people at will? Does the President support that?

MR. FLEISCHER: Again, before we get into a debate in this room, reporter on reporter, I want to suggest that the President's position is the position of this government, because he believes it is the best way to help restore peace to a region of the world that has not had a recent good history of keeping this peace. And the President is going to continue to work hard with the leaders of the region to achieve it.

Q And he understands people fighting against military occupation for 50 years?

THE PRESS: Thank you.

MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.

END 12:17 P.M. EDT

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