For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 20, 2001
By Ari Fleischer
President's Calls to Sharon, Mubarak, Arafat..............1
Middle East/Message to Arafat....................2-8, 15-16
Secretary Powell to Middle East....................2-5
President Putin/Slovenia Meeting..........................5
Tobacco Lawsuit..................................8-9, 11-14
Meetings with Private Interest Groups.................10-12
Patients' Bill of Rights..............................16-19
the White House
Office of the Press Secretary
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 Soon?
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.