|The White House
President George W. Bush
|Print this document|
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
February 6, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:08 P.M. EST
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I have some personnel announcements I would like to make, and then I'll be pleased to take your questions.
President Bush today announced his intention to name Richard Haas as the Director of Policy Planning for the State Department with the rank of ambassador. Also, he is announcing at the State Department today the nomination of Ambassador Marc Grossman for the position of Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Grant S. Green for the position of Under Secretary of State for Management. And you will have paper on each of these three nominations shortly.
And with that, I am all yours.
Q Ari, can you tell us about last night's meeting between Karl Rove and Congressman Norwood and what part, if any, that might have played in Congressman Norwood removing his support or withdrawing his support for the patients' bill of rights that was rolled out on Capitol Hill today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will allow, of course, Congressman Norwood to speak for himself on this matter. But as part of our reaching out to Congress on an issue that is very important, Congressman Norwood is one of the lead people on Capitol Hill on the issue of patients' bill of rights. And so our staff has been talking with him.
They met with him yesterday to talk to him about the President's proposal on patients' bill of rights, and I think it's a very positive sign of the progress we anticipate we're going to make on patients' bill of rights that a leader of it, Congressman Norwood, is going to be working with us as well.
Q Did you ask him to dial back on his support for the bill that's being rolled out in Congress today and jump on board your train?
MR. FLEISCHER: We emphasized to the Congressman as well as to others that the President deserves his chance to put forward a patients' bill of rights that is going to be strong and bipartisan, and we expressed to the Congressman our desire to work with him on it; and he was pleased to work with us on it.
Q So, in other words, we would appreciate it if you don't get in our way?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think -- it's not a question of getting in the way. It's early in the President's term, and he is entitled to make his proposals on patients' bill of rights and to work with the appropriate leaders who can help get it done.
Q I have a hard time, though, telling any difference between what was proposed today and the principles laid out by the President. Can you give me a couple of examples of where there's any light between the two proposals? It seems like something he would embrace right off the bat.
MR. FLEISCHER: And I think that's an encouraging sign. I think that we are very hopeful that this year will finally be the year that we can enact a patients' bill of rights into law.
Q On this bill specifically -- does he support it, and if not, what are the differences between them --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we're going to wait to see --
Q -- the principles he outlined and what was outlined today?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're going to wait to see the specifics of the bill, as they are drawn up, as we would with any legislation on the Hill, patients' bill of rights or otherwise. So we will take a look at that. But the President is very concerned about getting a patients' bill of rights done and enacted into law this year, as there are a number of people, Republican and Democrat.
Q Then why not support this one? Why talk about we're doing our own and try to get lawmakers to stay -- as you say, that we deserve a chance to work on our own bill. Why not jump on this one? What about this bill is not right?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to wait until we see the details of this bill, but there are likely to be many things in this bill that we think are right, and that we are going to be supportive of. But I will await to see what exact language is in the bill before commenting further.
Q Ganske specifically said that the principles that they outlined are the same as the President's principles. Could you agree with that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I want to review the exact language of the bill in question. But let me walk you through some of the specifics of the President's principles on patients' bill of rights, the things that he believes in, that he thinks need to be done. And he will sign a strong patients' bill of rights that provides patient protections, and he thinks we can do so without driving up the cost of health care and without making employers drop health care coverage.
We want to ensure that patients have meaningful remedies that are coupled with responsible tort reform. We want to work with members of Congress to reach a bipartisan compromise on that issue. And the other provisions we're going to look for to make sure that consumers, health consumers have the protections they need, such as, for example, a woman's right to go see her OB/GYN without going through a gatekeeper first, the right of a patient to go to the emergency room without first having to dial an 800 number. Those are some of the classic patient protections that we think could have been signed into law if the political climate had been different in Washington. We think this is the year to get it done.
Q Why wouldn't it be fair though, for people to conclude that since those principles are so similar, if not identical, to what was articulated today on the Hill, that all this maneuvering, and Mr. Norwood being over here has less to do with a patients' bill of rights then with Mr. McCain and the President and politics?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it has to do with -- and again, I would refer you to Congressman Norwood. He can explain his reasons. But I think it's a healthy sign that members of Congress are going to be working with the President and others to enact a patients' bill of rights into law.
Q Can you elaborate on the tort reform? Because that likely to be an impediment to Democrats signing on to this bill. It has in the past.
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, the --
Q -- malpractice limits, what kind of --
MR. FLEISCHER: The proposal in question today has tort reform attached to it.
Q But do you mean tort reform separate from the patients' bill of rights?
Q You have looked at this proposal?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, the patients' bill of rights that is being advanced today has tort reform as part of it.
Q But when you talk about tort reform, do you mean maybe other types of tort reform, general limits on medical malpractice suits and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we're getting ahead of where the President is on this. He's going to work with the Congress to enact a patients' bill of rights that doesn't drive up costs and has meaningful remedies.
Let me remind you --
Q You think this bill would drive up costs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said we can have a patients' bill of rights without driving up costs.
Q The one that's proposed today, do you think it will drive up costs? Or, in other words --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'll have to look at the details.
Q Well, you have. You just told us that -- I'm referring to the bill.
MR. FLEISCHER: Some of the details I haven't looked at, at all.
Q Does it have the kind of tort reform in it that the President thinks is needed to hold down costs?
MR. FLEISCHER: We're at the very beginning of the process; the President is encouraged by the legislation because it addresses an important issue, which is tort reform. And there will be a variety of ideas suggested from the Hill on what the best way of enacting meaningful tort reform is, and we're going to be prepared to work with a number of people to get it done.
Q You would work with the people, including the ones who put the bill forward today? Why won't you work with them?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely. Absolutely we will.
Q So why are you asking lawmakers not to go with them, to stay with us?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the President is just in a position now where we want to begin the process, begin this year working directly with some of the more influential people who have been part of the patients' bill of rights in the past, and we'll continue to do that.
Q There must be something about -- this is the last question I'll ask -- but there must be something about these people or the proposal that these people are supporting that you don't like, or you would have jumped aboard it. For some reason, you want to put forward your own legislation.
MR. FLEISCHER: We will always want to put forward our own legislation. And in so doing, we're going to look for legislation that is close to ours, and we're going to work with the cosponsors.
Q Why is this one not close to yours?
MR. FLEISCHER: It well may be. There are several aspects of it that are very close to the President's principles, and that's an encouraging sign.
We view what's happening today on the Hill as very helpful to the process, and helpful to finally getting a patients' bill of rights enacted into law.
Q Does the President have a problem with the $5 million cap proposed in this bill, and would he like to see that cap far lower than that?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to start speculating about exact numbers of caps.
Q Because there's certainly the insurance industry has come out and said this cap is extraordinarily high.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's very helpful that this patients' bill of rights has a cap, and it's too soon to speculate on the number.
Q Does he think it's high?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't discussed the number with him.
Q If it's helpful what happened on the Hill today, why was Norwood asked not to attend today's event?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I think the President is looking forward to working with Congressman Norwood and others on his plan.
Q So, then, it was not helpful what happened on the Hill today, because you asked Norwood to stay away from the meeting.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think it's a good sign that we can make bipartisan progress and get a patients' bill of rights enacted into law.
Q So, Norwood should have gone today?
Q So, the President wants to propose his own bill in order to have substantive differences and do more on the issue than what has been introduced today, or to take credit for it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Listen, patients' bill of rights is an idea that a lot of people are going to contribute to, from both parties. There is no one magical answer that any one person or any group of people are going to come up with.
To get a patients' bill of rights enacted into law is going to require a consensus. It's going to require a number of people coming together. It's also going to require a change in the will in Washington, so that both parties on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue agree that this is the year to get it done. And I think that's what we're going to see this year.
Q What is the timetable for the White House sending its proposal on patients' bill of rights to the Hill?
MR. FLEISCHER: We haven't established an exact one. We'll keep you informed of what will happen, but it's a priority for the President, and I think you will see it in the not to distant future.
Q Does the President also consider it a priority to cover all Americans who are enrolled in health maintenance organizations?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q Not in the way that the Nickles bill did?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes all Americans should be covered.
Q And that will be part of his proposal?
MR. FLEISCHER: That will be part of the principles he espouses, that's correct.
Q How would it have harmed the President's position if Congress Norwood had followed through on his plans to co-sponsor this bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think congressmen decide everyday whether they want to co-sponsor bills or not co-sponsor bills. Congressmen decide every day about whether they want to allow the President to have time to put up his proposals first. Those are the routine decisions that get made on the Hill every day.
Q Ari, why is this particular issue different? Ordinarily, the President would invite a handful of people who are involved in an issue, have them come to the White House, sit down with them, talk about his principles. In this case, he peels off one member of Congress and apparently urges him not to participate in a news conference that was scheduled to talk about the new bill. I don't understand. You said the idea is to get a consensus. They seem to already have a consensus.
MR. FLEISCHER: And Congressman Norwood, as I indicated before, is one of the more influential people on -- in patients' bill of rights legislation on the Hill, and we're very pleased that he has indicated this willingness to allow the President to put forward his plan.
Q Why not get all of the people involved in this effort up here and talk to them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we've been working with a lot of people. The patients' bill of rights has come up in some of the meetings the President's participated in with members of Congress. It's an issue that he's talked about before, and he's going to talk about it again. He believes in it.
Q You're leaving us with the impression that there's something here that you cannot say. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: That has never happened at this podium, in this room, before. (Laughter.)
Q Since I couldn't get a straight answer in the last two weeks, let me try it again, to ask the question. I know it's still off the table, but why isn't it just a rational idea to give any role in the Middle East peace process to President Clinton by the new administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: We've addressed that before.
Q Will that change? Let me ask a follow-up? Will that change after the election?
MR. FLEISCHER: If it changes, we'll advise you.
Q Ari, has there been a similar effort to engage Mr. Dingell in a supportive effort of the administration on this issue of HMO reform? He and Mr. Norwood were partners in the previous Congress, have been over the years. What role do you expect --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you can anticipate that at the time that we move forward with patients' bill of rights language, we will be engaging with members of Congress from all the relevant committees. Mr. Dingle of course, from the Commerce Committee, Ways and Means Committee is involved in this, the Finance Committee is involved in this. There will be a series of important members of Congress on both sides of the aisle that we're going to work with, including Mr. Dingell.
Q To this point, has there been any effort to reach out to Mr. Dingell?
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, I really don't know the specifics. I can only tell you that the Congressional Affairs people work with everybody up there on a very regular basis.
Q Ari, what with the tax proposal not still being officially unveiled and the public starting to digest that, would you have preferred that the people on the Hill have waited on this particular issue, one major issue at a time?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it doesn't work that way. Members of Congress every day make their proposals.
Q The public's interest can only focus probably so much on some of the issues.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the public has the ability to focus on several important issues at one time and taxes and health care are both important issues.
Q On energy, Senator Schumer has been calling for more help through LIHEEP in the Northeast and New York. Do you guys have any plans to put more emergency funds into LIHEEP to release that faster to help these folks who are struggling with these high costs?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did advocate increased funding for LIHEEP and acceleration of the spending on LIHEEP. The previous administration did begin the process of increasing the spend-out of LIHEEP and so we would be prepared to take a look at that spend-out rate and see if it is being brought to fruition and the President would support that acceleration of the spending to help people get through the winter months.
Q And you're actively pursuing that to try to --
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the Department of Energy to see what that spend-out rate is and where the money stands.
Q Ari, back on patients' rights, you may not want to get into specifics, but in general, what is the President's philosophy on limiting lawsuits?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that it is very important to allow people to have the right to sue their HMO if they did not receive the care to which they are entitled. He believes that should be done after independent review of the claims, and that it is people's right to sue.
He also believes that it is important to have a patients' bill of rights and not a lawyers' right to bill. In other words, we want to have a health care delivery system that protects patients and doesn't protect lawyers first. So there is a balance that the President would like to seek. And that balance means patients should have that right to sue, but lawyers should not have the right to change our health care system into another system where they can simply sue to make money outside of what are reasonable needs of people in the health care community.
Q With specific monetary limits like those in Texas? Is that what he has in mind on the federal level?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the bill that we were discussing this morning had a specific monetary limit on noneconomic?
MR. MCCLELLAN: Punitive.
MR. FLEISCHER: On punitive, on punitive damages, so we'll be prepared to work with the Congress to achieve that goal.
Q Does he have a view on whether people should be allowed to sue in state or federal court?
MR. FLEISCHER: Federal.
Q He believes they should only be allowed to sue in federal court?
MR. FLEISCHER: I believe that's the position.
Q So you get a single bite at the apple, not two, as the bill in Congress now would provide?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me ask you -- you will see some communication from the President on this issue shortly, and it will spell it out for you in some further detail.
Q Shortly, as in --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think later this week.
Q So there is no answer, then, on federal or state court, or can I use that answer?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me advise you to wait for that letter. What I've indicated to you is what it will likely be.
Q Ari, the President has talked about fostering the spirit of bipartisan cooperation -- Washington in general. Does it advance that goal to peel off a supporter or longtime supporter, of a particular piece of legislation and get him to back off at the last minute --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think certainly, if you want to get patients' bill of rights enacted into law, it's very helpful to have the support of Congressman Norwood and many other people, and so again, I would reiterate, we're pleased that Congressman Norwood is going to allow the President the opportunity to move forward.
Q Doesn't that somewhat poison the well with the other people, Republican as well as Democrat, who are still on there?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, you know, I really think this notion of wells being poisoned, it goes too far. That is not where we are with patients' bill of rights this year. The President's mindset, coming from a state where -- Texas has a strong patients' bill of rights where President Bush played a significant role in getting that done and enacted into law, is that this is an issue that can, will and should be done. And that will be the mindset he brings to his dealings with members of Congress. He's dedicated to it.
Q Just to follow on what you were talking about earlier about it should be a lawyer's right to sue, I assume, based on what the President --
MR. FLEISCHER: Right to bill, I think I said.
Q -- right to bill, I'm sorry. I assume, based on what you just said and what the President said on the campaign trail, that he will require that tort reform be in any patients' bill of rights legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think you should await to see what the President says specifically. But the President does think we need to find balance between allowing people that right to sue, which he believes in, and making certain that we don't create a a system where the lawyers are able to take too much advantage of a good proposal that distorts the health care marketplace.
Q Based on what the White House knows what was proposed today, and the White House knows a lot about what was proposed today, is that the balance in the McCain -- at all, legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I just think it's too soon to say. The process is beginning, and we're encouraged by the fact that there is a cap in that bill. That's a productive step.
Q Ari, who is he sending a letter to specifically -- and he's going to lay out his plans in this letter, and can you give us a better time frame --
MR. FLEISCHER: Later in the week.
Q And who is he sending it to? I mean, who is he sort of directing it to?
MR. FLEISCHER: Members of Congress. I'm not certain of the exact list at this time.
Q On tort reform, you're not ruling out accepting provisions that might extend beyond the HMO issue, that may have a more generalized effect on a lawyer's right to sue?
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll let the process proceed.
Q Federal court.
Q So, but you're not ruling that out, but wouldn't that be perceived by Democrats as a real poison pill if you start to go to general tort reform and maybe act in bad faith?
MR. FLEISCHER: I didn't indicate that.
Q But why not rule it out?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the process is just beginning.
Q Ari, on energy policy, can you say anything about the Vice President's meeting with Senator Murkowski, and are you planning to roll out an energy policy anytime soon?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would refer you to the Vice President's office. I don't have anything for you on that.
Q That's not part of an energy policy the President is involved in --
MR. FLEISCHER: I just don't have a read on his meeting with Senator Murkowski.
Q Is the President likely to contact the new Israeli leader as soon as the election results are finalized?
MR. FLEISCHER: The polls will not close to approximately 3:00 p.m. Eastern Time.
Q Is he expected to make contact right away, or just --
MR. FLEISCHER: As events warrant, we'll keep you informed after 3:00 p.m.
Q Ari, has the President made any other phone calls to foreign leaders since he called Nigeria yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't think we have any new information -- no? We always try to do our best to keep you apprised of the phone calls, but there's nothing that has been brought to my attention.
Q Ari, is there any update on the attempt to determine whether the gifts taken by the Clintons were for the Clintons or the White House?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the matter of the gifts, I will refer you to the National Park Service who are the proper spokespeople on that issue, or the White House Foundation.
Q Ari, back on patients' bill of rights. Would it be fair to say that the President is trying to slow down an ongoing effort in order to get his views included in whatever bill emerges in Congress?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think the President is endeavoring to create a consensus behind a proposal that he will be making, and he is encouraged by some of the efforts of other people who have been involved in this process. And we're going to reach out to people who have been involved in the issue before and reach out to Democrats and Republicans to rally support for the President's proposal.
Q Other than talking to Congressman Norwood, what have you done so far to try to create that consensus?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as I indicated, in several of the meetings the President had last week and the previous week with members of Congress, he has brought up the patients' bill of rights, talked about the need to get it done and done this year, and we will be moving forward with it, as I indicated, in the not too distant future, and you'll have more to eyeball and review for yourself in terms of what the President's proposals will be.
Q Has he talked to others about the details and the principles that apparently give him some difficulty with the current bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's focused on the principles.
Q When can we expect to see the President's proposal? Will it be in this letter that he's sending this week?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated -- no, the letter will be focused on the principles.
Q So when can we expect to see it?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's already been asked.
MR. FLEISCHER: Sometime in the future.
Q Ari, is there any reaction to Canada's decision to regularize -- normalize relations with North Korea, and was the President informed of this by Prime Minister Chretien yesterday?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the second part of your question, their meetings last night were private, and I'll refer you to Mary Ellen on the first part.
Q The nation witnessed another workplace violence shooting yesterday. And when President Clinton was here, he often used workplace shootings as a means of delivering another message to Capitol Hill about gun control.
I know the President doesn't agree with what President Clinton said, but we have an incident here where someone who had been convicted of a crime gained access to weapons. Does the President have anything general to say about this shooting, or anything that informs him or the Justice Department about how to proceed on the issue of guns and crime?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, that whole issue is one on which the President, as you know, has spoken out in favor of -- for example, and this doesn't immediately address the shooting, which unfortunately -- too often with these laws, there are people who are going to break laws, and we cannot stop that in all cases. But what the President has proposed is to have safety locks, mandatory sales of safety locks with hand guns. In Texas, he proposed raising the age at which a youth could gain access to a handgun from 18 to 21.
Q Is he going to propose legislation like that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes.
Q It's been holed up for one year in Hatch's committee for safety locks for children.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President, during the course of the campaign, talked about the safety locks should be national policy as well.
Q He is going to propose a gun control law?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's what he campaigned on, that's what he will do.
Q What about accelerating programs such as the program that many are familiar in Richmond, which used the U.S. Attorneys, who are very vigorous in enforcing federal gun laws? Perhaps in a case like this, in Chicago that may have had some effect, perhaps not. The jurisdictional differences might have interfered. How about stepping up things such as that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me refer you to -- there were a series of commitments the President made during the course of the campaign on gun safety and on gun programs. But the President -- let me also advise you that the President does believe one of the answers is in tougher enforcement of the current laws, to make certain that the laws that are on the books are enforced, which will be a role of the Attorney General. We believe that especially in school zones and people who bring guns into schools -- there are federal laws prohibiting that, and we can step up enforcement of those laws.
Scott, is there anything else that the President proposed to do?
MR. McCLELLAN: It also rises to what he's talked about, about changing our culture and -- responsibility.
Q This is the birthday of President Reagan. I would love to know what lessons President Bush learned from him, and I would refer to the 1981 tax cut, which was followed by huge public debt.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the number one lesson that President Bush learned from President Reagan is the importance of instilling a spirit in America that this country can accomplish anything it sets out to do. I think that President Bush was particularly taken by President Reagan's optimism, and the manner in which he took office in 1981 and addressed America's problems in a direct, forthright fashion. Certainly his strength -- his policy of peace through strength, which helped secure democracy around the world, is something that President Bush has noted and noted well.
We will have a message from the President sometime later today in honor of President Reagan's 90th birthday.
Q So how to avoid to accelerate public debt after a huge tax cut this time?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think it's an entirely different era. There are surpluses in this era that were not present in 1981. And the greatest danger to increasing the public debt is government spending, not tax cuts. And as evidence of that, just from last July forward, as a result of legislation passed by the Congress, signed by the previous President, the Congress and the President agreed to spend some $550 billion in new spending over the next 10 years, and they agreed to cut taxes by some $37 billion over the next 10 years. The biggest threat to the surplus is spending increases.
Q Ari, how concerned is the administration about the possibility of a major airline strike later this year by three or four airlines, and what plans or how involved would the administration get in making sure that does not happen?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is very concerned about the possibility that four major airlines may all be struck at approximately the same time. He thinks, particularly given the softness in the economy right now, we need to be very careful that that does not take place. And therefore, he will urge all parties to enter into agreements so that our nation will not have to suffer through a major strike at four airlines, particularly in the months leading up to summer travel, particularly when the economy is weak.
Q Are you taking any steps to involve the administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: At this moment, it is premature. The negotiations are still underway between the various parties and we hope that they will be successful.
Q Ari, how generally annoyed are people here with Senator McCain for moving on two separate tracks from you on two very important issues?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not an issue. Not an issue. As you know, Senator McCain and President Bush met and had a healthy discussion about issues on which they are going to move together on the agenda. And members of Congress are free at any time to introduce legislation as they see fit. Democrats will do it, Republicans will do it. There are obviously going to be points of disagreement, there are going to be points that are in agreement. There are many people on Capitol Hill who are our best friends and allies who support cutting in the capital gains tax rate. That is not one of the President's proposals.
There are other people who have different visions of how to accomplish campaign finance reform, including Senator McCain. What's important is that we are going to work with those people and not against those people, and there are ways to do that and have disagreements and keep it civil. And that's what we are going to do, whether they are Republican or Democrat.
Q Well, the President is the leader of the Party and isn't Senator McCain undermining his agenda as a new President, undermining his agenda by moving early on two of these things, obviously earlier than the President would like him to?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President understands that the job of a leader of the Party is to lead and to welcome the voices that have other ideas to share on how that President can best lead. And that is the context in which he will proceed.
Again, let me belabor a point I started to raise yesterday. This is part of old Washington versus new Washington. In the old Washington, every time somebody had a difference with you, it became fuel to start a fire. In a new Washington, which President Bush is going to try his hardest to create, you just put your head down and you work with people.
Q So you won't tell any more people not to attend his press conferences in the future?
MR. FLEISCHER: I will refer you to Congressman Norwood for his reaction.
Q Isn't it a little Machiavellian in the old Washington sense to peel off a supporter from this bill, apparently simply because Senator McCain is on it?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, I think, again, we are encouraged by the fact that Congressman Norwood is going to allow the President to proceed with his bill. Congressman Norwood, as I indicated before, is a very constructive, influential person when it comes to a patient bill of rights, so we're pleased.
Q Have you promised him anything for that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Promised him that we would work with him on the legislation.
Q Is it fair to assume, Ari, that one of the things that Congressman Norwood learned is if the Kennedy-McCain bill passed, it would be vetoed and therefore the whole process would have to start over again and he'd better look for another vehicle?
MR. FLEISCHER: Was there a promise of that? Is that what you're asking?
Q That the Kennedy-McCain HMO bill would be veto bait and the process would have to start all over, so he better look for another train --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it is premature for anybody to be talking about vetoes. Again, as I indicated, there are a lot of things in the legislation that are positive items that we are going to work with.
Q But it's not acceptable and if it were passed, he would probably veto it, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: You're getting way ahead of the story. Nobody has indicated that.
Q The President asked Senator McCain --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?
Q Did the President ask Senator McCain not to endorse this bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not to my knowledge.
Q Why not? Why ask just Representative Norwood not to do it and not ask Senator McCain?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think they each have different roles. Congressman Norwood in the past has worked on the patient bill of rights from his perspective with different members in the House and the House leadership and with Congressman Thomas, and we had discussions with Congressman Norwood and he acted as he saw fit.
Q Back on the airline issue for a second, what preliminary work has the administration taken to address the situation? I'm thinking about conversations, perhaps, between the Chief of Staff and Secretary Mineta?
MR. FLEISCHER: The White House Staff is monitoring very closely the situation involving the potential strike at four major airlines. We are keeping aware and abreast of the developments in the negotiations. And there are a series of processes that can take place that have yet to be triggered, may not need to be triggered if the negotiations are successful. Right now, the White House is monitoring it and concerned about where it could go if all four airlines were to strike, or any of the airlines for that matter.
Q Have you undertaken any action to make sure that there will be a smooth trigger through those processes?
MR. FLEISCHER: Premature. Premature.
On the gun question, I do have -- let me walk people through the President's proposals during the campaign on that. We are to establish Project Century, which is a federal/state partnership to provide funding for safe school task forces; Project Child Safe, which is a $75 million a year program for five years, matching funds with a goal of providing free trigger locks for every handgun owner in America, stronger enforcement of existing gun laws and providing funding for aggressive law enforcement programs, such as Project Exile.
Support automatic detention for juveniles who commit crimes with guns. Support a ban for life on serious juvenile offenders from ever purchasing or carrying a gun.
Q Has he got a commitment from Hatch to --
MR. FLEISCHER: One second. Support increasing the minimum age for possession of a handgun from 18 to 21, and support an assault weapon ban for juveniles. Support instant background checks. And the President would also ban importation of high-capacity ammunition clips, and close the gun show loophole
Q Is he aware that Hatch sat on a bill for one year and wouldn't let it come to a vote on the floor?
MR. FLEISCHER: President Bush has been in office now for approximately just over two weeks.
Q He doesn't have to be in office. He could have known that like anyone else in America.
MR. FLEISCHER: This will be another one of our agenda items that we are going to work with the Congress on.
Q Ari, on trigger locks, that's voluntary and not mandatory; is that right?
MR. FLEISCHER: The sale would be mandatory. The use, you cannot go into people's homes and say, "Where is your trigger lock? You must put that on." You can only hope that parents and others will see fit to do so.
Q But if you bought a handgun, you would have to buy a trigger lock at the time of purchasing the gun?
MR. FLEISCHER: That would be provided with the sale of the gun.
Q What about guns you already own?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why the President is setting up a program to provide free trigger locks for those who need them. He set up that program in Texas. And it would be for all existing handgun owners. The President would set up a program to do that nationally.
Q Ari, on defense issues, if I may? Yesterday again you repeated the President's intention to spend as much as $45 billion extra to bolster America's defenses. There are high military sources at the Pentagon and experts outside the Pentagon who say that's not nearly enough to do the job to get America's military back where it can do its proper job. It will take perhaps an additional 1 percent of the GDP and up to $100 billion more a year.
If that is found to be the case in this study that the President has ordered, would he support that much of an increase?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is the purpose of having the Department of Defense engage in the strategic review, the force structure review. And I think it would be premature to comment on what we will do until that review is complete.
Q The $45 billion is not locked in concrete as an absolute gap or ceiling?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a question of the funding that the President talked about during the campaign over a 10-year period. That addresses an issue of pay raises for the military and housing for the military. And there is a separate question which will be pending, the force structure review, that Secretary Rumsfeld is carrying out now, that addresses the longer term strategic needs of the military.
Q Ari, could I ask one more question on the patients bill of rights?
MR. FLEISCHER: I can't stop you if I try. (Laughter.)
Q How would attaching broader provisions to tort reform to a patients bill of rights go any distance toward crafting a bill that would achieve broad bipartisan support on Capitol Hill? Not just bipartisan, but broad bipartisan.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you have to look at it both ways. If there isn't, if there is simply a right to bill without a bill of rights, will that lose support? So, as always, you endeavor to bring together a majority consensus behind the President's ideas and that's what he will do.
Q But why not just limit it to tort provisions for suing HMOs? Why this idea of attaching broader provisions --
MR. FLEISCHER: I never said we would go broader. I haven't discussed that.
Q You haven't said that, but you indicated --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you need to wait to see what the President proposes before we rush into a conclusion on it.
Q This is a very light question. Since this is the seventeenth, eighteenth day of the new Administration, I wonder if the President ever hits the White House gym? It's a very nice gym and we know that he did his workout every day in Texas, so what's going on?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has a workout facility in his house and he works out at home.
Q So he's back to his old exercise routine?
MR. FLEISCHER: I hate to look at it as old. No, he works out. Typically at the end of the President's business day, he will go back to the Residence, go for a run, work out. He has some exercise equipment over there. He has ordered some weights. He likes to keep in shape. He runs a seven-and-a-half minute mile. He hopes to keep being able to run that.
Q He used to run outdoors in Texas. Does he plan to do that here?
MR. FLEISCHER: He does. He has run once outdoors that I've noted at least. That was on the track. And then he will be running at other locations around Washington on a periodic basis.
Q When does he begin that? When the weather gets a little nicer?
MR. FLEISCHER: Probably when the weather gets a little nicer and whenever he can get out.
END 12:40 P.M. EST