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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 26, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

      Listen to the Briefing

  1. Personnel anouncements
  2. Meeting with President of Peru/Berenson case
  3. Middle East/Sharon meeting
  4. Meeting with Chairman Arafat
  5. Patients' bill of rights
  6. Karl Rove/vested companies
  7. Helms-Burton waiver
  8. Macedonia
  9. China/Olympic games

1:43 P.M. EDT

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  The President intends to nominate John Malcolm Ordway to be Ambassador of the United States of the Republic of Armenia.  The President intends to nominate Brian Carlson to be Ambassador to the Republic of Latvia.  The President intends to nominate Marion Blakey to be a member of the National Transportation Safety Board for the remainder of a five year term, expiring December 31, 2005.  Upon confirmation he will be designated as Chairman.  The President intends to nominate John Arthur Hammerschmidt to be a member of the National Transportation Safety Board for a remainder of a five year term expiring December 31, 2002.

     And I have one announcement on an upcoming visit.  President Bush will welcome Algerian President Bouteflika to the White House on July 12th.  And with that, I'm happy to take questions.

     Q    Ari, when the President meets with President Toledo today, will he discuss the Berenson case, and would the President be inclined to ask President Toledo for a pardon?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  John, that meeting will take place shortly, so I would hate to preface it exactly what will happen.  We'll try to have some type of readout following it.  But, as you know, there is going to be a -- she has been assured that she'll have an appeals process, and we'll have to monitor the appeals process to see what happens.  But if there's any discussion of them meeting following, we'll try to give you a read.

     Q    What's the President's position on a pardon for her?  Is that something he would ask for?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  A pardon for her, domestically here?

     Q    No, no --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, after the meeting, if there's anything to indicate, I will.

     Q    Ari, on the Middle East, is there not some kind of impasse between the administration's position on the ability for the two parties to move forward now, even though there's kind of a shaky cease-fire, and Prime Minister Sharon, who has said the only way to move forward is after a complete cessation of violence?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the situation in the Middle East is always complicated, as you know.  And that's one of the reasons that the President is going to welcome Prime Minister Sharon here today.  That's one of the reasons that he has asked Secretary Powell to travel to the region tonight, to meet with Palestinians, to meet with Israelis, to meet with other parties as well.

     The President intends, in the meeting in the Oval Office today with Prime Minister Sharon, to discuss with him the importance of preserving the cease-fire, and taking the next steps toward the full implementation of the Mitchell agreement, which is to begin a cooling-off period, followed by confidence-building measures.  And that will be the tenure of the meeting, from the President's point of view.

     Q    Well, what about the question, though?  It doesn't change the fact, does it, that Prime Minister Sharon has been rather clear, so far, in his visit to the United States, saying that he is not going to get to a cooling-off period, he is not going to take the next step until the Palestinians go farther than they are going in cutting off violence.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And that's one of the reasons why Secretary Powell is leaving for the region tonight.  That's why the President is looking forward to this meeting.  The history of the Middle East has been a history of contentiousness and statements that are made often that need to be followed up by pursued diplomacy.  And the President intends to engage in that.

     Q    What's it going to take for the President to meet with Yasser Arafat?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  John, as soon as we have anything to announce, if we do, we will let you know.

     Q    That's not an answer.  This has been very one-sided dialogue. You have not talked to any -- the President has not talked to any Palestinian leader, face to face, and we want to know why.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, the President has met with many --

     Q    There are two sides to this conflict, you know.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has met with many Arab leaders who have come here and met with him in the Oval Office.

     Q    They're not Palestinians.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And Secretary Powell, as you know, will be meeting with the Palestinian Authority tonight, tomorrow and the next several days.

     Q    What is he afraid of?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  This is the President's approach and I think it is an approach that is designed --

     Q    Is it a fair one?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  -- to bring all parties together.  The President has spoken directly on the phone with Chairman Arafat and the President is going to continue to pursue this approach.

     Q    Is the Prime Minister's statement that this cannot go forward without total cessation of violence consistent with the President's position that we should move to the next couple steps?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is going to continue to work closely with Prime Minister Sharon, with all parties involved, to help them so that they can begin the process of solidifying the cease-fire and taking the next steps.  The President thinks it's important for the Mitchell accords to be implemented in their entirety and it does call for unconditional cease-fire.

     Q    Is the Prime Minister's position consistent or inconsistent with President Bush's position?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It's not that simple.  It's a question of continuing to work with our allies in the region, with Israel, and with other neighbors in the region to help create a climate, to help facilitate a climate that can secure a cease-fire.

     Q    Does President Bush agree that the process cannot go forward unless we have total and complete cessation of violence?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Obviously, the process is going forward this afternoon in the Oval Office.

     Q    Senator Mitchell yesterday said that the reason that there has been no face-to-face meeting between the President and Yasser Arafat is that it is the administration's way of expressing disapproval for Mr. Arafat's perceived failure to stop the violence.  Is that true?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If there is any meeting to be discussed, I will promptly let you know about it.  But the President is going to continue his efforts to talk to all parties, to work with all parties so that the Mitchell Committee report can be embraced, as I said, in its entirety.

     Q    Is Arafat being punished?  Is Arafat being punished essentially?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Of course not.

     Q    Ari, what steps does the President think that Ariel Sharon and Israel have to take in way of confidence-building measures?  What steps specifically does Israel need to take?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, if you look at the Mitchell Committee report, it talks about having an unconditional cease-fire followed by a cooling-off period.  And then the confidence-building steps include a series of political conversations aimed at dealing with the most vexing political issues that have kept the parties apart, even though they came very close to reaching an agreement last year.  And that encompasses a host of items, all of which were on the table very prominently last year.

     Q    And are they still on the table as far as the White House is concerned?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Of course, all issues are on the table.

     Q    Prime Minister Sharon's demands says zero violence is a precondition for the cooling-off period.  Does the administration agree with him, that there should be zero violence?  Zero means zero for the Israeli Prime Minister.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President thinks that the Mitchell Committee recommendations should be embraced comprehensively.  And that question is addressed through the Mitchell Committee recommendations, which is an unconditional cease-fire, followed by the cooling-off period.  And --

     Q    And zero violence --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  And that's what the President will continue to seek. The President thinks it's important that all parties make a 100-percent effort.

     Q    There are sources in the Mideast, Ari, in Israel and elsewhere, saying that rather than simply rejecting the cooling-off period, Prime Minister Sharon is preparing major military action against the Palestinian areas, and that unless he get a clear and firm message from the United States that this would not be in U.S. interests, there will probably be war in the Middle East in the short-term.  Is President Bush prepared to give such a message?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President has been consistent and clear all along and he has urged all parties to exercise maximum restraint, and he will continue to do so.

     Q    Ari, does the President believe that Chairman Arafat is doing everything within his power to control the violence?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President certainly hopes that's the case, and he will continue to engage in the conversations he has to make that clear, that obviously all parties in the Middle East need to continue their efforts to help achieve a cease-fire that is lasting and that holds.

     Q    But is he satisfied with the efforts that Chairman Arafat is making at this point?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think my answer to that is the same as I indicated before.  This is a reflection of the complexities and the difficulties of Middle East negotiations and Middle East diplomacy.  Clearly, there is violence going on.  Clearly, there is a cease-fire that is fragile.  And the President is going to call on all parties to do more so it's less fragile and more secure.

     Q    But if he was satisfied, you would say so right now, wouldn't you?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think I just answered the question.

     Q    What do you make of Sharon's statement that Arafat was basically the head of a terrorist gang?  Is that sort of rhetoric helpful?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, the President is going to urge restraint from all parties in terms of actions on the ground and actions rhetorically. And the President is going to continue his efforts to get the parties to embrace the Mitchell Committee report in its entirety.  But the role of the United States again will be that of facilitator, doing all it can to help. It fundamentally still remains an issue for the parties themselves to want to enter into agreement so that a peace can be achieved.  It begins with that, and under President Bush the United States would be prepared to be there at the table and in the region to help make that happen.

     Q    But, Ari, you're not prepared to say today that the United States and Israel see eye-to-eye on how to proceed, there is an impasse, isn't there?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated, it's always a complex matter in the Middle East and nothing is --

     Q    We understand that --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  -- nothing is 100 percent.  But the United States will continue to work very closely with Israel, our friend and our ally, to achieve a lasting peace.

     Q    I don't mean -- but the question still stands -- is there, or is there not, an impasse?  Does the United States and Israel see eye-to-eye on how to proceed from here?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think I've addressed this as fully as I can.

     Q    Ari, if the settlement issue is one of the prime points of contention for the Palestinians and one of the key recommendations of the Mitchell report was cessation of expansion of these settlements, why does the President see that as one of the last confidence-building steps that should be addressed?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He sees it in the same order in which the Mitchell report sees it.  And the Mitchell report, again, began with unconditional cease-fire, followed by a cooling-off period of a greater duration, followed by the confidence-building steps.  The position of the United States is unchanged; additional settlement activity has never been helpful. And that is part of the comprehensive Mitchell Committee recommendations.

     But the President is focused on achieving peace in the Middle East through a comprehensive fashion, through the Mitchell Committee recommendations.

     Q    It's a bit of a tangent, but worth getting on the record.  There are efforts in several countries -- Belgium and Great Britain -- to bring war crimes charges against Prime Minister Sharon for his role as defense minister in the invasion of Lebanon and the massacres at the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps.  Does the administration have a position on that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Obviously, the President is going to have a meeting with a duly-elected Prime Minister this afternoon, and I think that makes it clear.

     Q    If I could just follow up.  The theory that those who advocate these charges say Sharon should be charged on is command responsibility, that he knew or should have known the troops under him -- under his control, were going to do this.  That's the same theory of liability that the Hague wants to use against Slobodan Milosevic.  Is there any hypocrisy there?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I've addressed the question as far as Prime Minister Sharon is concerned.

     Q    Ari, can I follow up on that?  According to The Washington Post yesterday, in an article titled, "Sharon's Actions in '82 Massacre Stir New Debate," this whole issue was triggered by a BBC documentary called "The Accused," and this is the key point of evidence that they raised.  It says, during the BBC program, Morris Draper, the U.S. special envoy to the Middle East at the time, said U.S. officials were horrified when Sharon had allowed the Phalangist militia into West Beirut and the camps because the would be a massacre, according to Draper.  And this is Draper:  he told the BBC that after the details began, he cabled Sharon telling him, you must stop the slaughter; this situation is absolutely appalling; they are killing children; you have the field completely under your control and are, therefore, responsible for that area.  That's why Human Rights Watch wants a criminal investigation.  Does the President support a criminal investigation, given that evidence?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think the very fact that the President is meeting this afternoon in the Oval Office with the duly-elected leader of a democrat nation speaks for itself about what the President will do and what the President supports.

     Q    Ari, the President of the United States will support the requests of the President-elect of Peru to declassify  documents about involvement of Vladimiro Montesinos with the CIA of the U.S. government in the past?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as you know, the United States is pleased and the United States played a helpful role in securing his arrest.  And I'm not going to go beyond that until after the meeting, if you're asking if that question will come up.  Again, that meeting is going to begin in about 15 minutes or so.  And so I just don't want to judge what's going to take place in a meeting that I'm not participating in.  I'm here with you.  But after that meeting we'll try to do our best to get you information.

     Q    -- requested declassification of documents two month ago.  The United States has already an answer about it?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's the only information I have as far as that's concerned.  I know they're going to be talking about the earthquake today, but I don't have anything additional beyond that, and the United States efforts for earthquake relief, which have been substantial.

     Q    Aside from the appeal on Berenson, the President probably could cut through, if he really asked for clemency.  I mean, considering our relationship with Peru and their need for assistance and so forth.  Why wouldn't the President weigh in on this case?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, again, I didn't say he wouldn't, but I just think 15 minutes before a meeting begins between two Presidents --

     Q    Do you know if it's on the agenda at all?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It very well may be, Helen.  But again, I want to wait until 15 minutes from now the meeting takes place between two Presidents. It's not a lengthy meeting, and so I want to just be certain about what they discuss before I try to give you any indications, definitively.  We'll all know soon enough.

     Q    Ari, any reaction on events today in the patients' bill of rights debate, the defeats of some of those amendments?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President made a series of phone calls today on the patients' bill of rights.  He called Senators Nelson, he called Senator Snowe, he called Senator DeWine, urged them all to work together in a fashion that can lead to a comprehensive solution to a variety of the litigation issues that stand in the way of getting a patients' bill of rights enacted into law, that gives patients protections they need and deserve against HMOs.

     So he is continuing his efforts.  In fact, I think it's fair to say that this week you will see the President step up his efforts in a variety of ways, including phone calls to the Hill, meetings that will take place here at the White House and in several other ways.  The President is very concerned because he wants to have a bill that he can sign into law that give patients those protections.

     There are a series of amendments that have yet to come up that will be important amendments, to make sure that the Senate is working in a manner that can lead to a compromise, that can lead to getting patients those protections, as opposed to a bill that the senate knows will not go anywhere.

     Q    You've several times, and others in the administration, have derided the McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill as a trial lawyers' bill of rights. What's so bad about trial lawyers, Ari?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  How much time do we have?  (Laughter.)  The question really is, if you are in need of medical treatment, do you want to go to an independent review organization and have them tell your HMO that you, indeed, must honor that person's medical claim and you should reimburse them for it?  Or do you want to make somebody go out and hire a lawyer and take months, if not years, to go to court and, therefore, never receive the medical treatment necessary?  That's one of the problems, that when you change America's health care system into a system that invites the trial lawyers in, in such a deep and profound way as the Senate bill currently does, you risk denying people the health care they need.  You make them hire lawyers instead of getting doctors.  And, according to the Congressional Budget Office, it will increase the cost of premiums to the point where some 4 million to 6 million Americans who currently have insurance will lose their insurance.  And all that is a result of what happens when there are sky-high prices dealing with medical liability and you have a system where you have unlimited or very high limits on jury awards.

     Q    Ari, what if it's set up in a way that you would only go to court after you exhaust the independent review process?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Then that's something the President would be supportive of; that's the President's proposal.  The President believes that people should have a right to go to independent review organization, and after that point, if they do not receive the care to which they are entitled as decided by the independent review organization, they should have and would have a right to go to court.  Under the plan in the Senate right now, they circumvent the independent review organization and it's a shortcut to court.

     Q    What about on the state, as well as the federal level?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President believes that the best manner in which to approach these suits is on the federal level.

     Q    Why is it that a self-insured employer who administers its own health care plan, why shouldn't that self-insured employer be held accountable in court, if necessary, at the state level?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It all depends on their level of activity in the denial of benefits and in their review of the medical decisions.  The President believes that medical decisions should be made by doctors and by nurses and by health professionals.  And that's why he supports the independent review organization, which would be comprised of such people.

     Q    The Republican view is seeking an immunity for these self-insured employers, that they shouldn't be held accountable at all.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's view is that if the company is involved directly in the decision to deny medical care, that they should be held liable.  But what the President does not want to have happen is to turn our health care system over to a system that will make people lose their insurance because employers will no longer be able to afford it if liability costs increase to the point that the CBO anticipates they will under this approach.

     Q    When you mentioned -- when she asked about the federal courts, your answer didn't sound hard and fast.  Is the President -- the President prefers federal courts, that's what he has supported.  But is he drawing a line in the sand over state courts?  And then also, these meetings that are going to take place later this week in the White House, is the President going to be directly involved in those meetings?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President thinks that federal courts are the best way to proceed because it gives the patients the protections they deserve and need.  It gives them legal recourse.  It also is consistent with the manner in which health care is delivered in the United States through employers, through a federal law, not state laws, and it protects patients because they will have more access to insurance if there aren't 50 lawsuits in 50 states, which makes it much harder to insure people.

     Q    But is he drawing a line in the sand?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Now, there is a proposal working its way through the House that will be introduced shortly by Congressman Fletcher and Speaker Hastert and others, and that proposal also meets the President's principles.  There is much more flexibility in that proposal and that's what the President is calling on Congress to do.  He wants them to take a look at how we can come together and get an agreement on this issue.

     Q    Is the President going to be in the meetings, finally?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He is the one who is doing the inviting.  Of course. The President is -- just as he reached out today and called three senators, the President will be inviting members of Congress to come down to the White House this week for the express purpose of discussing a patient bill of rights so that progress can be made.  And the President hopes that the Senate will put progress first and not exercise -- not participate in an exercise that leads to a bill that will go nowhere.

     Q    Who is going to be here?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll get you the list as soon as they're finalized.

     Q    Will Senator McCain be one of them?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  He's been down here already for meetings and we'll get you the list as soon as they're finalized.

     Q    And just to clarify what Jim was asking, if there is employer protection, essentially, if the employers can set up some safe harbor for this decision-making, they are going to get sued, and there is some kind of cap on damages, the President is okay with state court lawsuits?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Terry, again, it all depends on exactly how it's said. I've indicated there is more than one approach that meets the President's principles, and that's important because the President does want to get a bill that protects patients so it can be signed into law.  He hopes that the Senate will be interested in getting a bill that can be signed into law, and that the Senate will not pursue this just for the purpose of a political exercise.

     But the President is hopeful that will be done.  And his efforts this week, the phone calls he made today to key senators and the meetings he's going to have this week, are all aimed at bringing people together so that patients can get those protections.

     Q    Ari, it sounds like the Gramm amendment that was rejected today goes even beyond where the President would go in terms of protecting employers.  Is that correct?  And so, does its rejection mean that it doesn't affect your potential support for the bill?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, I think the Gramm amendment, as you know -- there was a discussion in the Senate that the bill presently before the Senate was exactly like the Texas bill in the state.  So I think what the Senate did is they offered the exact language in the Texas bill to document the fact that the bill under consideration is not exactly like the Texas bill.  If it was, you'd have thought that amendment would have been agreed to.

     Q    Ari, can you tell us if the White House Counsel's Office has ever considered or issued a waiver to Karl Rove in order that he could discuss policies with companies in which he is vested?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It doesn't work in that manner, John.  The White House staff works in accordance with all the ethics guidelines set out by the Counsel's Office and by the Office of Government Ethics.

     Q    There was a provision for a waiver.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Do you have something specific?

     Q    Meetings that he had with Intel, where there was a waiver in the ethics guidelines --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Mr. Rove's actions complied with all the ethics laws.

     Q    Complied with the ethics laws, but in January, when the President was swearing in his staff, he said that he expects his staff to avoid even the appearance of improper conduct.  Did Mr. Rove's meeting with these companies and discussing policy that would affect companies in which he was vested, was it consistent or inconsistent with that --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think we're plowing old ground.  In this case, Mr. Rove wanted to divest his holdings immediately upon taking office.  And due to a series of things that were beyond Mr. Rove's control, he was not able to get his certificate of divestiture.  Actually, it's pretty simple, it wasn't even a series, it was just the Counsel's Office was not able to get him a certificate of divestiture in a timely enough fashion.  As soon as he received it, he fully divested his holdings.

     Q    So, again, would the fact that he met with these companies in which he was vested be consistent or inconsistent with the President's statement that his staff should avoid even the appearance of improper conduct?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think given the fact that Mr. Rove conducted himself in accordance with all ethics rules makes that clear.  Mr. Rove did nothing wrong; he did what was appropriate. He comported himself in full keeping with the ethics laws.

     Q    Ari, two-point question.  The New York Times reports from Chicago that Democrat Alderman Tom Murphy, who is a white man, was reelected by a constituency that is 85 percent black, has announced his hope to join the city council's black caucus because, in his words, I want to make sure that 45,000 black residents in my ward have a voice in those meetings.  But the black caucus leader, Alderman Ed Smith, says this will have to be put to a vote.  And my question, should the Chicago Daleys, with whom the President is, I think, all too familiar, should they put up with such racist discrimination as this -- it has to be put to a vote, anymore than they would tolerate a whites-only or gentiles-only Chicago country club?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Les, the President is not involved in Chicago's alderman politics.

     Q    I know, but what does he think?  Does he think that --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Not a topic I've talked to him about.

     Q    Would you take the question?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You have a follow-up?  (Laughter.)

     Q    Yes.  Regarding a President inviting to the White House those who claim to be descended from President Jefferson, through Sally Hemmings, The Boston Globe and, now, The Washington Post have both exposed the prominent propounder of this myth -- Joseph Ellis of Mount Holyoke College, to be a serial liar, and he's confessed, but he's not been fired from his $90,000 job, plus book royalties.  And my question is, the President would never tolerate a serial liar in the Bush administration, would, Ari?  (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  (Laughter.)

     Q    Good.  Thank you.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Who would like to follow that?  (Laughter.)

     Q    Ari, something a little more mundane.  To get back to health care, to what extent is the President willing to address a much more fundamental question which really gives rise to this patients' bill of rights, and that is, the number, and growing number of uninsured in this country?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It's a very good question.  And the President has two proposals that are pending before the Congress to address what has been a vexing question for policymakers of both parties for many a decade, frankly.  And that is, the President's budget proposes to double the number of community health centers in the United States.  Community health centers are often a place where low-income Americans can go to get their health insurance -- to get their health care needs met.

     That's particularly true in rural America and some urban areas of America.  Community health centers are the primary place that people go who can't afford health insurance.  And the President has proposed a dramatic increase in funding for community centers -- community health centers.

     The President's also proposed a health care tax credit, so that people who work for companies that do not provide health insurance are able to get sufficient funds, so they can get access to insurance, so they can be covered.  It's an important question, and the President has made two significant proposals to address it.

     Q    What percentage of the 40-some-odd-million people who don't have insurance will get it under -- if those two proposals pass?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'd have to take a look at the numbers, Ron.  But this has been a question that a lot of people have been wrestling with.  And I don't think anybody has been able to come up with a way -- certainly, the previous administration tried, with a Democrat Congress and a Democrat President -- they did try to come up with a proposal, and even a Democrat Congress was not agreed to it.  So one of the lessons from that is to make incremental progress, by insuring as many people as possible.

     Q    Under the health care, would you care to reassure the country that you're okay, and that you're not working to hard?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Fine.  Thank you for asking.

     Q    Is there any cosmic significance that you fainted on the same weekend as Fidel Castro?  We've never seen you together. (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'd like to deny that I wrote his talking points. (Laughter.)  But, again, I appreciate the press' concern.  I'm expecting more softballs now.

     Q    Has the President already started talking to the State Department on the Hill about the waiver for the Chapter 3 of the Helms-Burton law that has to be announced in a few days?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm still working on that.  You had asked me that before, and I need to get you that answer.

     Q    The President recently has reissued a threat to veto the patients' bill of rights.  In light of all of the discussions that have gone on between the White House in recent days, what do you think the chances are that he's going to veto anything?  I mean, how much validity is left in that threat?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the President's message is clear.  This can be the year that patients get the protections they need, so if a women wants to go see her OB/GYN without going through a gatekeeper, it's up to the Senate, it's up to the House.  They can make it happen.  And the best way to make it happen is to show some flexibility and be willing to work with the White House on the liability side of the ledger, because those liability questions are going to lead to people losing their coverage if the bill is not constructed carefully.

     So it's premature, Jean.  The Senate is still debating the measure. There will be a series of more amendments.  The House, of course, has yet to act.  So it is early.  But the President has sent a very clear signal to Congress.  Don't waste this opportunity.  Let this year be the year in which people can get the protections.  And the President will put his signature on that bill if the Congress is prepared to work with the President.

     Q    But doesn't the President face an even greater political risk than in the Senate or the House if he vetoes a bill that now is being fairly largely defined by the McCain camp and is extremely popular in public opinion polls?  Doesn't he face an even greater political threat if he vetoes --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Actually, Jean, I think the President's position focuses on what will happen to the country and if that bill were to be enacted into law, people will lose their insurance.  Rates will go up.  I think there's no question about it.  But I think there is no question about it, that when you increase premiums -- and premiums are already rising across the United States regardless of this legislation.  Employers across the country are reporting dramatic increases in the cost of their health care premiums.  To put additional burdens on people who are in the business of giving families the insurance they need to take care of themselves does not make sense if those increases are driven by liability prices and by inflexibility by the Congress to work with the White House.

     But there's encouraging signs on the Hill.  There are people who want to work with the White House.  And the White House, as the President indicated today through his phone calls to leaders on the Hill and through the meetings he is going to have this week, is going to work as hard as he can to get an agreement, because that's in the interest of the American health consumer.  But it has to be done right and the President has been unequivocal on that.

     Q    Ari, given the President's historic embrace of bipartisan measures, how could he in good conscience veto a bill that comes out of Congress with bipartisan support, regardless of what it says?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Given Congress' historic predilection to doing things bipartisan, how could they possibly send the President something they know that he would veto?  That wouldn't be very bipartisan.  And, of course, the President's approach is a bipartisan approach.  The people who are sponsoring the proposals that the President has offered are Senator Jeffords, Senator Breaux and Senator Frist.  So there's plenty of room for bipartisanship on this issue if the Congress would look to find it.

     Q    Ari, are you saying that the insurance companies are now raising prices in anticipation of --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, even without this legislation, there has been an increase in health care premiums.  It's been a trend that slowed down, has accelerated in the last several years and is continuing again this year. It's just a reality of the marketplace that health care costs are going up.

     Q    Ari, has the President considered the irony that Medicaid beneficiaries, sometimes their services are capped, that they don't have a right to sue?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think that's another example of the fact that people have one standard they want to apply to others and a different standard that they want to apply to the government.  The President believes the standard should be as close to similar as possible.  But an open-ended system of lawsuits, 50 different suits in 50 different states, is going to lead to less health care, not more; less people covered, not more.  And, Jean, frankly, I think you don't have to look very hard, but when you start looking at the liability issues, you'll find there is a lot of support for reasonable caps and reasonable limits as opposed to open-ended liability. So there is plenty of room to get an agreement if the Congress is willing to find an agreement.

     Q    Who in the White House gave the okay for American troops in Macedonia to undertake the mission they did yesterday, evacuating Albanian rebels from a suburb of Skopja?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Terry, as you know, that matter was -- the action that was taken was a result of a negotiation taken on by the European Union and Secretary Solana to begin the process in Aracinovo of moving out the Albanian extremists, to disarm them and move them out.  The decision was made locally on the ground.  The President -- it was discussed with the President.

     Q    It was?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.  It was discussed with Secretary Rumsfeld, discussed with Condoleezza Rice.  And the decision --

     Q    When?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Oh, I'd have to take a look at the exact dates, Ron.

     Q    Before or after the action?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Again, I'd have to take a look at the exact dates.

     Q    Do you know if it was discussed with him in advance or afterwards of the action?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'd have to take a look at an exact chronology and timetable.

     Q    Is the President aiming at setting up one of these community health care centers here in the District of Columbia, since Congress -- the Congressional Control Board has shut down one of the main trauma hospitals in the country with D.C. General?  And most of these people are indigent, without insurance; tens of thousands of people per year who receive treatment who are not going to get it there anymore.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, the ability to name any new community health centers anywhere in the United States will be contingent on the action that Congress takes.  And that is an important proposal that the President has made, and he hopes that Congress will act on it.

     Q    Ari, is the administration remaining neutral on China's bid to host the Olympic games?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You know, the President addressed that question several weeks ago.  He said that that's a matter for the Olympic officials to involve themselves with.  The President's not going to get involved.

     Q    Well, with the administration not coming out either for or against then, there are some human and religious rights groups who are saying this is really a missed opportunity for the administration to send a message to Beijing, with Americans who are still being detained there and religious persecution that goes on.  Is there a White House response to that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, as the President has made clear in his meetings with Chinese leaders, he will not hesitate to bring up the problems in China about religious freedom and religious persecution.  But that does not mean that the President will tie that to decisions dealing with sports. And those are decisions that will be made by the proper Olympic authorities, and not by the President of the United States.

     Last one back there.

     Q    As you know, today in Beijing, there was an American photographer beaten by about half a dozen Chinese security agents relative to an Olympics-related event.  Does the President think that's the kind of treatment that foreign reporters should get in a city hosting the Olympics?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, of course not.  That type of treatment should not be anywhere.  And that's, again, another reason why the President will continue, as he has, to speak out about religious persecution in China and freedom in China.  It's another reason the President thinks it's important to trade with China, because he believes it has a positive affect, to ameliorate that type of action.

     Thank you.

                               END          2:15 P.M. EDT

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