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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 20, 2001
Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good afternoon. I want to report on several phone calls the President made today, and then also give several personnel announcements.
The President spoke this morning with Israeli Prime Minister Sharon and Egyptian President Mubarak to discuss the situation in the region. The President said he is looking forward to seeing Prime Minister Sharon next Tuesday in Washington. The President thanked President Mubarak for his indispensable role that the Egyptian President is playing in assisting our efforts to bring an end to the violence in the Middle East.
The President later today will be speaking with Chairman Arafat. And finally, the President has directed Secretary Powell to travel to the region next week. And I want to share all that information with you.
On the personnel side, the President intends to nominate Hilton Lewis Root to be United States Director of the Asian Development Bank, with the rank of Ambassador. The President intends to nominate Christopher William Dell to be Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Angola. The President intends to nominate Michael L. Dominquez to be Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Manpower and Reserve Affairs. The President intends to nominate Nelson F. Gibbs to be Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Installations and the Environment. The President intends to nominate Claude B. Hutchinson, Jr. to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Management. And two judicial nominations -- the President will nominate John D. Bates to be a judge for the United States district for the District of Columbia. And the President intends to nominate Reggie B. Walton to be a judge of the United States district for the District of Columbia.
With that I'm pleased to take your questions.
Q Ari, what is his message to Chairman Arafat going to be today?
MR. FLEISCHER: His message to Chairman Arafat will be that it's important for all parties to adhere to the cease-fire, to embrace the recommendations of the Mitchell Committee so that peace can be achieved in the region and confidence-building measures can be taken.
Q And why is he choosing now -- he's been sort of reluctant in the past to call Arafat. Why is he doing it now?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've always differed with that. The President has talked with Chairman Arafat before. Secretary Powell has talked with him before. And so this is part of the President's ongoing effort to help the parties in the Middle East to achieve peace.
Q Is an invitation to Washington likely to be extended to Chairman Arafat in that phone call?
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly, you know our policy. At the time of any announcements, we'll make them.
Q Why is Powell going?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it's very important for all parties in the region to seize the opportunity that has been created as a result of the mission that Director Tenet took to the Middle East that has created this fragile cease-fire --
Q Does he have a special mission, or is he just going there to sound out --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has asked the Secretary to go to the Middle East to help secure efforts to preserve the cease-fire and to build upon it, to build to a greater peace in the Middle East and try to get all the parties to continue to do their part to secure the Mitchell Committee recommendations.
Q Where is he going?
MR. FLEISCHER: There will be additional announcements later. You may want to talk to the State Department about it.
Q What about the timing, Ari? You've always placed a lot of importance on when it was the right time for the Secretary to go to the Middle East. Why now?
MR. FLEISCHER: Jim, the President thinks it's important for all parties in the region to seize the opportunity that's been created as a result of the Mitchell Committee report, of Director Tenet's successful visit to the Middle East, to further build upon the fragile cease-fire that is in place. And, therefore, the President has made the phone calls today. He has directed the Secretary to travel. And the President will continue to be as helpful as is possible, to play the role of facilitator. But it remains fundamentally important for all the parties in the Middle East to act to preserve the fragile cease-fire and to build upon it.
Q Can you give us a slightly more specific idea of what it is that Powell is being charged to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we may want to talk a little closer to the trip. The answer I've given covers it.
Q When is he going? Where is he going? Who is he seeing?
MR. FLEISCHER: The modalities of the trip will be discussed later; not today.
Q When is he leaving?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the modalities will be discussed later.
Q This week?
MR. FLEISCHER: Next week. No, I said next week, he's going next week.
Q It sounds like the President is getting more deeply immersed in the Middle East. And, also, why did he tell Mubarak that he was looking forward to seeing Sharon?
MR. FLEISCHER: I said he told Sharon he was looking forward to seeing Sharon. He told President Mubarak that President Mubarak was indispensable and thanked him for the indispensable role he's played.
Q Ari, since timing is critical here, why is Powell going to the Middle East when Sharon is coming here -- like ships that pass in the night?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Secretary does not always sit in on all the President's meetings he has. And, again, I don't know the exact timing of the events, so I would reach no conclusions about who will be where until you learn the modality of Secretary Powell's visit.
Q Ari, you've heard this before too, though. Palestinians, though, with the fact that Ariel Sharon is coming to Washington next week, it will be his second meeting with the President, and Palestinians say there has yet to be one meeting with Chairman Arafat. So how do you respond to Palestinian criticisms that the U.S. looks to be a biased facilitator in this process?
MR. FLEISCHER: The United States will continue to work with all parties in the region. We will continue to have conversations with all parties in the region to help secure the peace. And, clearly, the discussions that the United States had with the parties in a facilitating role has helped create the cease-fire, albeit a fragile one.
Q Were you looking to see Chairman Arafat do more before he would be extended such an invitation to Washington?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm going to limit my comments to what I've said about it.
Q Is this a sudden decision? All of a sudden, he decides to send Powell?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, this is a continuation of the diplomatic efforts that the President has launched.
Q Are you still in a cease-fire maintenance mode or are you looking to take this somewhat further with this trip?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Mitchell Committee's recommendations, which have been accepted by all parties, begin with an unconditional cease-fire from all parties. The cease-fire is in place, as I've indicated on many occasions here, on a fragile basis. The next step are the confidence-building measures that can help move beyond that to a more lasting peace. So as part of the confidence-building measures, the President is going to continue to have the conversations he's been having on a regular basis, either in person or on the phone with leaders in their region. The Secretary's efforts are continuing, and the Secretary will be traveling to the region.
Q I'll try again on this one, if I may. Does the White House believe that both Sharon and Arafat control or speak for all their factions? And also, in light of this infamous video tape put out yesterday by Osama bin Laden, does the U.S. think that some of the groups under Arafat are connected with Osama bin Laden's groups?
MR. FLEISCHER: Connie, I addressed your question yesterday about who speaks for whom, and I have no information for you on your second question.
Q Ari, on a different subject, on Russia, first off, the advisor, military advisor to President Putin was meeting today with Dr. Rice. I was wondering if you could share anything with us about that meeting? And in a more general way, could you describe what the White House wants to do to carry out agreement or the decisions or whatever it was that the two Presidents agreed on in Ljubljana?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the meeting with Condoleezza Rice, Dr. Rice, I have no information for you. I don't do readouts on those meetings, as you know. As far as the meeting with President Putin, I can refer you to the Department of Defense. As you know, the Secretary of Defense will be meeting with his counterpart, and you may want to follow up over there about the exact timing and sequence of events.
Q The Indian ambassador will present his credential this afternoon to President Bush. Is it going to be more than a photo op, or will they extend words or any statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the President is going to have some brief words there, if I recall looking at the briefing material this morning.
Q Ari, back on the Mideast for a minute. As you've said a couple of minutes ago, and you've said before, ultimate progress will be up to the parties, themselves. Is the administration's goal here to get Arafat and Sharon to sit down together or to resume direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, there have been direct discussions between Israel and the Palestinians.
Q Not on that level.
MR. FLEISCHER: It's on the security level. But just as the Mitchell Committee report indicates, it does begin on the security level because it has to begin with a cease-fire that both sides, all sides adhere to. And, ultimately, it has to move from there through the confidence-building measures into political dialogue, so that additional disputes can be resolved.
Q But is he, in his talks with them today and with meeting with Sharon soon, is he going to suggest that it's soon time for them to get together, themselves?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to get into the specifics of what the President is going to suggest. I think you can imagine that these are delicate diplomatic conversations that take place and that to preserve the greatest likelihood of a successful outcome over a long period of time, the right of leaders to have conversations in private should be respected.
Q Ari, NATO said today that it's going to begin putting together a force of maybe 3,000 people for Macedonia. I'm wondering what the President thinks would be an appropriate role for the U.S. to play in that force and whether he signed off on that conceptually last week at NATO?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know, during the meeting with NATO, the President did call for stepped-up NATO action. The discussion at the NAC in Brussels focused heavily on events in Southeast Europe. So the talk about having NATO step up its efforts is perfectly in keeping with what the President discussed while he was traveling.
As for the specific announcement, if that's your question, NATO did make an announcement this morning. The United States supports NATO's decision to prepare to assist the government of Macedonia with a voluntary disarmament of ethnic Albanians, the ethnic Albanian insurgents. Once a comprehensive political settlement is achieved, which is exactly what NATO indicated this morning -- that decision is in keeping with the statements that the President made while he traveled to Brussels last week.
Macedonia's main political parties, including those representative of ethnic Albanians, are currently in talks aimed at achieving a political solution to the crisis. And we hope that the political parties in Skopje can reach an agreement quickly. The announcement that NATO made is contingent on the parties in Macedonia achieving a political settlement first.
Q What role does the President think would be appropriate for the U.S. to play in this kind of contentious --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, Secretary Powell testified on the Hill today we're going to continue to work with NATO on this, but it's premature to state what that role would be at this time.
Q So the President, when he said last week, which was, there is still political activity needs to take place before troops are on the ground -- that statement, more or less, is unchanged?
MR. FLEISCHER: Which is exactly what NATO indicated this morning.
Q You're not ruling out U.S. participation in such a force?
MR. FLEISCHER: The participation by the United States will be something that is discussed at the appropriate time.
Q But, Ari, they are planning now -- they are planning that force now.
MR. FLEISCHER: But it's contingent on an achievement of political agreement in Macedonia first, as NATO indicated, and as Secretary Powell testified on the Hill.
Q Every other American President who had dealt with the Middle East has been pretty even-handed in the sense that the President sees an Israeli official he will see the counterpart of the Palestinians. The President is breaking this kind of precedent. Why? Why is he shunning face-to-face meeting --
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, that's not an accurate description of the history of Presidents and the meetings they've held.
Q Yes, it is.
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's --
Q I'm sorry, I've been here a long time -- (laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I know you have. And you'll be here after I'm gone. (Laughter.) But that's not an accurate statement about the history of presidential meetings in the region.
Q Yes, it is. I'm sorry, it is.
MR. FLEISCHER: Kelly.
Q I just want to follow up on a question that Helen asked a little bit earlier, which is that it appears the administration is starting to begin this more active engagement. I know you obviously say the administration has been engaged for a long time, but the President on the phone today, Secretary Powell going to the region is more of a shuttling of diplomacy that you seemed to be critical of in the previous administration. How do you respond to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, what criticism did the President make of the previous administration? Shuttling diplomacy? Can you cite a specific instance for me?
Q Well, you sort of seemed to say you wanted to kind of make sure that other parties play a role, that it's not just going to be the U.S. involved and it's not going to be the U.S. forcing the players to the table in these decisions.
MR. FLEISCHER: Precisely right. Precisely right.
Q So you don't see any difference to what you are doing and what the previous administration did? Or do you see any difference?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm just differing with your premise that the United States disputed -- the President disputed, as you put it, shuttling diplomacy. The President has been very involved from the beginning of the administration in efforts to secure peace in the Middle East. But the President has always maintained that the role of the United States can best be to help facilitate the peace, that the United States cannot possibly, despite its good intentions, force the parties to achieve a peace. And the Mitchell Committee report is consistent with the President's recommendations and progress has been made. There is a cease-fire in place and the President wants to build upon that and that's the purpose of his phone calls and the purpose of the Secretary's travel.
Q Why is this administration trying to settle the tobacco lawsuit? And why put out word that you don't think you have a good case? Doesn't that hurt your negotiating ability?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the decision to begin -- the recommendation, I should say -- the recommendation to enter into a settlement talk came from a 38-year-long career employee of the Department of Justice, whose responsibility is in this very area. He made a recommendation -- you may want to ask Justice what his name is; I don't have his name specifically, but he is the person who -- he is the acting head of the civil division at Justice. He is a 38-year-long career employee at Justice who made the recommendation to the Attorney General. The Attorney General accepted the recommendation. The President concurred. And that is to proceed on a two-track approach to the issue of tobacco.
Q Would you agree with the officials who said yesterday that one reason to do this is you might lose, you don't have a very good case?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's hard to speculate about what the prospects of a court outcome will be. But it's the Attorney General's recommendation to proceed on two tracks, one involving the litigation, the second involving a settlement.
Q Let me follow up. I don't want to know why the person who recommended it made the recommendation. Why does the President think that we should -- the United States should try to settle this suit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the President believes it's best, most appropriate to proceed on two tracks to try to bring resolution to the matter.
Q But does he have reservations about proceeding with it? He's expressed that in the past, although sort of couching it. But does he have any reservations?
MR. FLEISCHER: In general, the President does believe that we are a much too litigious society, that there are far too many lawsuits. And it's preferable if you can reach agreements to reach agreements. In the case of the tobacco matter pending before the Department of Justice, the Department of Justice is going to proceed on a two-track approach, one involving litigation, the other involving possible settlement talks, and the President supports that approach.
Q Ari, can we go back to the Middle East just for a moment and let me ask the question another way. In his phone conversation later today with Arafat, will the President invite him to Washington?
MR. FLEISCHER: If there is any invitation to be announced, I will share that information with you.
Q Now that the EU is set to block the GE-Honeywell merger, what steps will the President take to persuade the EU to change its mind, and how will the administration retaliate if the merger gets blocked?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think you should address that question to the agencies that are directly involved, and that would be the Department of Commerce or the antitrust division over at the Department of Justice.
Q Ari, why did Vice President Cheney meet with Steve Ballmer of Microsoft at a point when the antitrust case is still pending?
MR. FLEISCHER: At that meeting they talked about education initiatives. Microsoft is very involved in several educational programs. The suit did not come up.
Q Following Karl Rove's meeting with Intel executives, does the administration have a policy of meeting with corporate executives, on the one hand, for general policy matters like education, and on the other hand, for specific private interests, the likes of which Intel was seeking?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not sure what you're -- private interests -- I'm not sure what your question is.
Q Merger, antitrust issues, specifically related to the corporation itself, as opposed to an energy company generally weighing in on energy policy.
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration meets with all kinds of constituents -- citizens who represent labor, citizens who represent business, citizens who represent particular causes that they believe deeply in. Foreigners who come to this country, foreign leaders, of course, who come to this country -- the administration believes it's important to listen to the causes of the American people, whether it's an individual or it's a business or whether it's labor.
Q But is it appropriate for administration officials to meet with corporate executives who are seeking private action by the government -- seeking action to benefit their specific private interests?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think there is hardly a citizen who is not seeking something from the government. And that's a formula for saying that government shall never meet with anybody. There are many Americans who are concerned about improving education across the country. There are many organizations that come to Washington for the sole purpose of lobbying members of Congress or lobbying the administration on an education issue, for example.
It is entirely appropriate for the administration to listen, to hear them, just as it's entirely appropriate for the administration to listen to steel workers who want to come to Washington, or to listen to business leaders who want to come to Washington. This afternoon the President is going to meet with a business roundtable to talk about trade promotion authority, a very bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill. So it's part of the administration's effort to listen to people who have causes that are worth bringing to the attention of government leaders from all walks of life.
Q Ari, presuming that almost all of the American Legion voted for Bush and not for Clinton's Vice President, surely the President has a response to the Legion commander's letter -- "you campaigned on a promise to shore up combat readiness, but we are abandoning what the Navy and Marine Corps consider the most important East Coast training site." Question: Since you, Ari, defend this as "an incentive" yesterday to make the Navy look for a new place, will the President respond to the Legion that he may reconsider and that the Navy needs only an order from the Commander in Chief, rather than any "incentives"? And I have a follow-up. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Your question obviously applies to the situation in Vieques. And the issue there is, where can the United States most effectively train. And the President has made his determination that it's appropriate for the Navy to find another location to train. That was a recommendation, a decision made by the Secretary of the Navy. The President shares that belief. And the President adheres to that.
Q With the population of Vieques Island only 9,000, to which the Navy has already given 6,000 acres from an ammunition depot, on Monday there was a grand total of 14 demonstrators arrested, one of them was from Chicago. And since you told us of the President's telephone to the Reverend Jesse Jackson to tell him "you are in my prayers," shouldn't he have told Mrs. Jesse Jackson that she was in his prayers, given the conduct of her husband?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did not make any such connection.
Q Well, you wouldn't deny that she was in his prayers, too, would you, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not been asking him daily about that topic.
Q -- go back to the tobacco settlement. Haven't you cut the legs out from under the litigators by advertising your doubts so publicly in this case?
MR. FLEISCHER: No. I think, again, this is a matter that the Department of Justice recommended as their way, they think is the most appropriate and fitting way to reach an agreement.
Q Let me follow up, because the lawyers for the other side said, wow, this is news to us. Usually, if you're trying to settle a case you go to the lawyers first, before you go public; not the other way around.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President concurred with the judgment made by the Attorney General and his professional staff.
Q Ari, do you have any idea why the Justice Department thought that that was a matter that needed to be reviewed here at the White House? Is there any standard by which matters are referred up here for concurrence by the President?
MR. FLEISCHER: The administration, as you know, is always in touch with the agencies. And we have a whole division here set up to talk to the agencies on a daily basis. And so it's par for the course, it's part of the everyday routine of the White House to be in close contact with the agencies. But this was a recommendation or decision made by the Attorney General and the President concurred.
Q And if I could just follow up on that. In response to Terry's question, you said that it's appropriate for White House officials to meet with people that may have private interests in front of the government. Is it appropriate for White House officials to meet with people that have private interests if the private interest is a litigation matter that's in the courts?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you use that standard, of course, there's a host of people who have entered into suits involving environmental matters before the Department of Interior and before other agencies. That would shut down almost the entire environmental community, wouldn't it? They would not be able to have any access to people in government if that's the standard. So the fact that somebody is in the middle of exercising their constitutionally given rights to recourse from whatever decisions the government may make through the judiciary should not deny them access to any other branch of the government. If it did, again I would suggest to you, you would put out of business a large group of the environmental community.
Q But would it be appropriate for them to come here to discuss the matter under litigation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a matter that the ethics attorneys would take a look at in each individual case.
Q Ari, when you say this is a litigious society and the President prefers that we work matters out instead of sue, does that mean that the Justice Department lawyers and the lawyers on the other side should assume that the President prefers that the case be settled?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a general statement for the President. You've heard the President say that as a matter of overall approach.
Q -- with this issue. So why should not the people who have been fighting the government assume that he wants to cave on this thing and wants a settlement?
MR. FLEISCHER: I answered that question in terms of the President's overall approach to litigation in society and litigation from the government. But obviously the Department of Justice is continuing on also with the lawsuit.
Q Are they pressing it seriously? Or have they been told by the President through this podium that the President would prefer that it be settled?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, they are pressing it seriously and they are also pressing seriously the question of a settlement.
Q Ari, does the President still believe or did he ever believe that the tobacco companies engaged in a conspiracy to defraud the public?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a question that the President -- the President has confidence in the Attorney General's Office to get to the bottom of that question. That's a matter of -- a legal matter, and that's why the Attorney General's Office is involved in this.
Q That's the wording of the suit filed by the government of the United States. Does the President still believe that that was the case and --
MR. FLEISCHER: That is going to be -- that will be resolved in the course of the legal action that is ensuing.
Q It already has been resolved by -- the Justice Department has already filed a suit making that claim. Does the President believe otherwise, and would the Justice Department --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's why the President supports the two-track approach that the Department of Justice has underway.
Q Because he has doubts about whether or not --
MR. FLEISCHER: The Department of Justice is proceeding with its litigation and the Department of Justice is also proceeding with settlement talks.
Q Does the President believe, though, with the Justice Department lawsuit, that the tobacco companies have been defrauding the public? Does he believe that, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: That is why the lawsuit is proceeding as well. There is a two-track procedure underway.
Q I'm just asking, does he agree with that contention, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, that's really -- that's a legal matter that's dealt with in the suit. That's what the suit contends and that will now be decided. And there is also a settlement talk that is underway that the Department of Justice has just launched.
Q The previous President and this current Justice Department has already taken a position on that question. Does this President have a position on --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's position is that the United States government should work as productively and cooperatively as it can to try and resolve matters short of litigation. There are going to be times when it's appropriate to litigate. The Department of Justice is proceeding to both litigate and pursue settlement talks and that's the President's position.
Q Going back to Vieques for a moment with a two-part question. One, is the President willing to stop the training before May of 2003? And, if so, under what conditions? And, secondly, under the previous agreement, under the agreement worked out with the previous governor and the previous President, there were two dollar values, one for $40 million in public works and if live fire resumed another $50 million. What's the status of those chunks of money or public works?
MR. FLEISCHER: You may want to talk to the Pentagon about the specific sums of money. But the President's position is, as the Department of Navy announced, that it would proceed through -- testing will proceed through May 2003.
Q The President said today that he would like to see some OSHA rules eliminated. Does he have any in mind? He said some are not needed, didn't he?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, let me take that and get back on any specifics.
Q Ari, on the Middle East, it does seem that we've gone from hoping that the two leaders would get together to using American officials to try to nudge them to get together. Is that fair?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, American officials have been involved from the beginning. As you know, one of the reasons that the cease-fire has been achieved is because of the efforts of Director Tenet, who traveled to the Middle East two weeks ago, at the President's request. And so the United States has been a player at the table, bringing the two parties together. In the context of Director Tenet's visit, that was for the security talks.
Q But that's precisely what I mean. The U.S. before -- initially, the administration has said it's necessary for the two parties to get together on their own for us to have any role. And now we're actually helping --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a subtle mis-statement of the administration's position. The administration's position was the United States will be a facilitator to secure the peace, we cannot force the peace. The United States did not say that the two parties have to get together on their own. It was always, the United States will be there to facilitate that.
Q Do you have any comment on Laurie Berenson giving her first testimony today, or on the Berenson case, generally, in Peru?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the State Department is handling that.
Q One more follow-up. Would you please put out a statement after the President has spoken to Yasser Arafat, give us some sort of readout?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, I'll keep you advised about that.
Q Ari, one on patients' bill of rights. Some Democrats, and even some Republicans, say politically it would be impossible for the President to veto a patients' bill of rights if it came to his desk, with polls showing that Americans, more than 70 percent of Americans want Congress and the President to deal with this issue this year. What do you say to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, because so many Americans want Congress and the President to deal with it this year, it would be very unfortunate if the Congress dealt with it by inserting a poison pill into legislation that would otherwise be signed into law. Congress has within its own hands the ability to deliver these patient protections to the American people, who deserve them. And it would be very unfortunate if Congress took those protections away from the American people by inserting a poison pill into legislation that they know the President would otherwise sign.
Q What is the poison pill?
MR. FLEISCHER: The poison pill are the liability provisions that Congress is debating right now, that go way beyond the liability provisions that the President is willing to accept. The President does believe very strongly that individuals should have the right to sue HMOs after an independent review.
Congress takes the President's belief and goes way too far and hands too many favors over to trial lawyers, in a manner that would make health care premiums go up, in a manner that would deprive people of health insurance because of rising costs, in a manner that would hurt our health care system and would fundamentally hurt people's ability to be protected from their HMOs because it would stop a good bill from getting signed into law.
Q Ari, what is the state of play on that? There was some talk yesterday, there was a meeting I think in Hastert's office, about the possibility of a compromise on the state lawsuits. Is the White House involved in that? Is there any movement here?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, the White House is involved in a lot of the talks that are up on the Hill going on about this, because the President would like to see an agreement reached. And as the President indicated this morning, there are a lot of things in the bills that are moving before the Congress, particularly in the bill that is offered by Senator Breaux, a Democrat, Senator Frist, a Republican, and Senator Jeffords, an independent, that are worthy of support, that he is looking forward, if Congress will only send it to him, to signing into law.
So the administration will continue to work with members of the House and the Senate, Democrats, Republican, independents alike, to try to secure an agreement. He hopes that the leaders in the Congress, particularly in the Senate, will be willing to compromise, and will be willing to work with him.
Q Is there movement?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's just a little early to say. The Senate is about to take up the bill, and it's going to be a lengthy debate in the Senate. And as anybody who has watched Senate debates before know, until the amendments really start, there's a lot of interesting conversations, but it's also important to let the amendments begin.
Q The President received Randy Forbes and his wife not long ago -- this morning. And the Republicans have picked up a seat in the 4th Congressional District of Virginia that was in Democratic hands for a long time. I imagine the President's happy on that one. Does he feel that Forbes' win is a referendum or endorsement of the President's policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: I do have to say the President did take note -- (laughter) --
Q You're forced to do that.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President did take note in that race that the Democrat candidate accused the Republican candidate of being a Bush Republican, and the voters of that previously Democrat district chose the Republican to win. And so if there's an accusation by Democrats in upcoming elections that their opponents are Bush Republicans, this election proves that the voters like Bush Republicans.
It's a very interesting special election, because there have been some 70 special elections in the past 25 years. And of those 70, only 19 resulted in a change of one party to the other. And of those 19 changes, only three were changes in favor of the President's party. So it took place in Virginia in a previously long-term Democrat seat is a harbinger of good things to come for those people who believe, as President Bush does, in providing tax relief and saving Social Security through individual accounts and faith-based initiatives. All those items are on the agenda; particularly Social Security was on the agenda in this Virginia election.
Q Does that mean the President is going to be reelected? (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, with your support, the answer will be yes. (Laughter.)
Q A softball like that --
Q Can I go back to patients' bill of rights please?
MR. FLEISCHER: I was hoping Jacob had a follow-up. (Laughter.) We have two people who have not had their chance yet, so let's go to --
Q If I can follow up, please --
MR. FLEISCHER: Can we go to two people who haven't had a chance yet?
Q On managed care, we sped $4,200 per person per year on health care, and yet 42 million Americans have no health insurance, 15 million have inadequate health insurance. The Swiss spent $2,400, the Germans $2,300, the French $2,200, the Canadians $2,000. Everyone is covered. And, according to Dr. Quinten Young, of Physicians for National Health Program, they have a better health care system. Question: He wants Medicare for all, national health insurance. Would the President support such a program?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that the best way to get health insurance to as many Americans as possible is through a combination of the successful private plans that have been working, particularly for people who are under 65, and by reforming and saving Medicare, so that people who turn 65 will have a Medicare program they can count on and rely on that includes prescription drugs.
Q And what's wrong with Medicare for all? Everybody gets it?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a current system in place that is focused on employer-provided health insurance that for tens of millions of Americans is a program that provides prescription drugs, is a program that provides much lower premiums and copayments than Medicare currently supplies. So I think if you were to ask many of those people who have insurance currently if they want to just abandon what they have and instead accept a different type of program, they would respond to you and say, no, they prefer to have the system they have.
What's important in the President's opinion, is to concentrate on those people who do not have any insurance of any type, and that's why the President is committed to the health care reforms that he ran on.
Q Ari, Senator Daschle said if necessary, he would hold the Senate in through the July 4 recess to pass a patients' rights bill. First of all, what is the White House comment on doing such a thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's an indication, as every Majority Leader of the Senate has found, of how difficult it is to govern the Senate.
Q If it turns out that there is an impasse and nothing can be done, in the past on areas like the budget, there have been summits held to try to get both sides to hammer out an agreement. Would the President entertain such an idea of something like this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's important to let the Senate have a chance to do its business. They are just beginning the debate. The debate begins today or tomorrow in the Senate. Allow them to begin it.
Q The debate is already two days late. They started out last week --
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, that would be a real first. I mean, this is the Senate and the Senate proceeds in a longstanding tradition in a similar manner. Often, at the end of the day, the Senate still gets its business done.
Q Does the President have any thoughts on Cal Ripkin?
MR. FLEISCHER: I have not asked him. I do notice that the day Cal Ripkin will have his last game is also a day they play the Yankees, which means tickets will be hard to find, which is a blow to Yankee fans.
Q They're already sold out --
Q Ari, on Iraq, what does the administration make of Iraq's claims that U.S./British air strikes killed 23 soccer players today?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is no substance, nothing at all, to those claims. It is woefully incorrect.
Q Who killed them?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that is a question you need to address to the Iraqi authorities.
Q Ari, just to follow up on the judgeship, you mentioned that John Bates was being nominated to a judgeship. Is that correct? Is that the same John Bates who worked for the Independent Counsel's Office?
MR. FLEISCHER: The biographical information will be coming out a little later today, so you will have that in writing.
Q Do you know if he worked for the Independent Counsel?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't have that information with me. The biographical information will come out later.
Thank you everybody.
END 1:17 P.M. EDT
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