For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 26, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
Meeting with President of Peru/Berenson Case.........1-2, 8
Middle East/Sharon Meeting..............................2-8
Meeting with Chairman Arafat?...........................2-3
Patients' Bill of Rights........................8-12, 14-17
Karl Rove/Vested Companies............................12-13
the White House
Office of the Press Secretary
for Immediate Release June 26, 2001
Press Briefing By
the James S. Brady Briefing Room
1:43 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good
afternoon. The President intends to nominate John Malcolm
Ordway to be Ambassador of the United States of the Republic of
Armenia. The President intends to nominate Brian Carlson to
be Ambassador to the Republic of Latvia. The President
intends to nominate Marion Blakey to be a member of the National
Transportation Safety Board for the remainder of a five year term,
expiring December 31, 2005. Upon confirmation he will be
designated as Chairman. The President intends to nominate
John Arthur Hammerschmidt to be a member of the National Transportation
Safety Board for a remainder of a five year term expiring December 31,
And I have one announcement on an upcoming
visit. President Bush will welcome Algerian President
Bouteflika to the White House on July 12th. And with that,
I'm happy to take questions.
Q Ari, when the President meets with President
Toledo today, will he discuss the Berenson case, and would the
President be inclined to ask President Toledo for a pardon?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, that meeting
will take place shortly, so I would hate to preface it exactly what
will happen. We'll try to have some type of readout
following it. But, as you know, there is going to be a --
she has been assured that she'll have an appeals process, and we'll
have to monitor the appeals process to see what happens. But
if there's any discussion of them meeting following, we'll try to give
you a read.
Q What's the
President's position on a pardon for her? Is that something
he would ask for?
MR. FLEISCHER: A pardon for her,
Q No, no --
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, after the
meeting, if there's anything to indicate, I will.
Q Ari, on the Middle
East, is there not some kind of impasse between the administration's
position on the ability for the two parties to move forward now, even
though there's kind of a shaky cease-fire, and Prime Minister Sharon,
who has said the only way to move forward is after a complete cessation
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the situation
in the Middle East is always complicated, as you know. And
that's one of the reasons that the President is going to welcome Prime
Minister Sharon here today. That's one of the reasons that
he has asked Secretary Powell to travel to the region tonight, to meet
with Palestinians, to meet with Israelis, to meet with other parties as
The President intends, in the meeting in the
Oval Office today with Prime Minister Sharon, to discuss with him the
importance of preserving the cease-fire, and taking the next steps
toward the full implementation of the Mitchell agreement, which is to
begin a cooling-off period, followed by confidence-building
measures. And that will be the tenure of the meeting, from
the President's point of view.
Q Well, what about the
question, though? It doesn't change the fact, does it, that
Prime Minister Sharon has been rather clear, so far, in his visit to
the United States, saying that he is not going to get to a cooling-off
period, he is not going to take the next step until the Palestinians go
farther than they are going in cutting off violence.
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's one of
the reasons why Secretary Powell is leaving for the region
tonight. That's why the President is looking forward to this
meeting. The history of the Middle East has been a history
of contentiousness and statements that are made often that need to be
followed up by pursued diplomacy. And the President intends
to engage in that.
Q What's it going to
take for the President to meet with Yasser Arafat?
MR. FLEISCHER: John, as soon as we
have anything to announce, if we do, we will let you know.
Q That's not an
answer. This has been very one-sided dialogue. You have not
talked to any -- the President has not talked to any Palestinian
leader, face to face, and we want to know why.
MR. FLEISCHER: Helen, the President
has met with many --
Q There are two sides
to this conflict, you know.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has
met with many Arab leaders who have come here and met with him in the
Q They're not
MR. FLEISCHER: And Secretary
Powell, as you know, will be meeting with the Palestinian Authority
tonight, tomorrow and the next several days.
Q What is he afraid
MR. FLEISCHER: This is the
President's approach and I think it is an approach that is designed --
Q Is it a fair one?
MR. FLEISCHER: -- to bring all
parties together. The President has spoken directly on the
phone with Chairman Arafat and the President is going to continue to
pursue this approach.
Q Is the Prime
Minister's statement that this cannot go forward without total
cessation of violence consistent with the President's position that we
should move to the next couple steps?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is
going to continue to work closely with Prime Minister Sharon, with all
parties involved, to help them so that they can begin the process of
solidifying the cease-fire and taking the next steps. The
President thinks it's important for the Mitchell accords to be
implemented in their entirety and it does call for unconditional
Q Is the Prime
Minister's position consistent or inconsistent with President Bush's
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not that
simple. It's a question of continuing to work with our
allies in the region, with Israel, and with other neighbors in the
region to help create a climate, to help facilitate a climate that can
secure a cease-fire.
Q Does President Bush
agree that the process cannot go forward unless we have total and
complete cessation of violence?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, the
process is going forward this afternoon in the Oval Office.
Q Senator Mitchell
yesterday said that the reason that there has been no face-to-face
meeting between the President and Yasser Arafat is that it is the
administration's way of expressing disapproval for Mr. Arafat's
perceived failure to stop the violence. Is that true?
MR. FLEISCHER: If there is any
meeting to be discussed, I will promptly let you know about
it. But the President is going to continue his efforts to
talk to all parties, to work with all parties so that the Mitchell
Committee report can be embraced, as I said, in its entirety.
Q Is Arafat being
punished? Is Arafat being punished essentially?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course not.
Q Ari, what steps does
the President think that Ariel Sharon and Israel have to take in way of
confidence-building measures? What steps specifically does
Israel need to take?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, if you look at
the Mitchell Committee report, it talks about having an unconditional
cease-fire followed by a cooling-off period. And then the
confidence-building steps include a series of political conversations
aimed at dealing with the most vexing political issues that have kept
the parties apart, even though they came very close to reaching an
agreement last year. And that encompasses a host of items,
all of which were on the table very prominently last year.
Q And are they still on
the table as far as the White House is concerned?
MR. FLEISCHER: Of course, all
issues are on the table.
Q Prime Minister
Sharon's demands says zero violence is a precondition for the
cooling-off period. Does the administration agree with him,
that there should be zero violence? Zero means zero for the
Israeli Prime Minister.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks
that the Mitchell Committee recommendations should be embraced
comprehensively. And that question is addressed through the
Mitchell Committee recommendations, which is an unconditional
cease-fire, followed by the cooling-off period. And --
Q And zero violence --
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's what the
President will continue to seek. The President thinks it's important
that all parties make a 100-percent effort.
Q There are sources in
the Mideast, Ari, in Israel and elsewhere, saying that rather than
simply rejecting the cooling-off period, Prime Minister Sharon is
preparing major military action against the Palestinian areas, and that
unless he get a clear and firm message from the United States that this
would not be in U.S. interests, there will probably be war in the
Middle East in the short-term. Is President Bush prepared to
give such a message?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has
been consistent and clear all along and he has urged all parties to
exercise maximum restraint, and he will continue to do so.
Q Ari, does the
President believe that Chairman Arafat is doing everything within his
power to control the violence?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
certainly hopes that's the case, and he will continue to engage in the
conversations he has to make that clear, that obviously all parties in
the Middle East need to continue their efforts to help achieve a
cease-fire that is lasting and that holds.
Q But is he satisfied
with the efforts that Chairman Arafat is making at this point?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think my answer to
that is the same as I indicated before. This is a reflection
of the complexities and the difficulties of Middle East negotiations
and Middle East diplomacy. Clearly, there is violence going
on. Clearly, there is a cease-fire that is
fragile. And the President is going to call on all parties
to do more so it's less fragile and more secure.
Q But if he was
satisfied, you would say so right now, wouldn't you?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I just
answered the question.
Q What do you make of
Sharon's statement that Arafat was basically the head of a terrorist
gang? Is that sort of rhetoric helpful?
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, the President
is going to urge restraint from all parties in terms of actions on the
ground and actions rhetorically. And the President is going to
continue his efforts to get the parties to embrace the Mitchell
Committee report in its entirety. But the role of the United
States again will be that of facilitator, doing all it can to help. It
fundamentally still remains an issue for the parties themselves to want
to enter into agreement so that a peace can be achieved. It
begins with that, and under President Bush the United States would be
prepared to be there at the table and in the region to help make that
Q But, Ari, you're not
prepared to say today that the United States and Israel see eye-to-eye
on how to proceed, there is an impasse, isn't there?
MR. FLEISCHER: As I indicated, it's
always a complex matter in the Middle East and nothing is --
Q We understand that --
MR. FLEISCHER: -- nothing is 100
percent. But the United States will continue to work very
closely with Israel, our friend and our ally, to achieve a lasting
Q I don't mean -- but
the question still stands -- is there, or is there not, an
impasse? Does the United States and Israel see eye-to-eye on
how to proceed from here?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think I've
addressed this as fully as I can.
Q Ari, if the
settlement issue is one of the prime points of contention for the
Palestinians and one of the key recommendations of the Mitchell report
was cessation of expansion of these settlements, why does the President
see that as one of the last confidence-building steps that should be
MR. FLEISCHER: He sees it in the
same order in which the Mitchell report sees it. And the
Mitchell report, again, began with unconditional cease-fire, followed
by a cooling-off period of a greater duration, followed by the
confidence-building steps. The position of the United States
is unchanged; additional settlement activity has never been helpful.
And that is part of the comprehensive Mitchell Committee
But the President is focused on achieving
peace in the Middle East through a comprehensive fashion, through the
Mitchell Committee recommendations.
Q It's a bit of a
tangent, but worth getting on the record. There are efforts
in several countries -- Belgium and Great Britain -- to bring war
crimes charges against Prime Minister Sharon for his role as defense
minister in the invasion of Lebanon and the massacres at the Sabra and
Shatila refugee camps. Does the administration have a
position on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Obviously, the
President is going to have a meeting with a duly-elected Prime Minister
this afternoon, and I think that makes it clear.
Q If I could just
follow up. The theory that those who advocate these charges
say Sharon should be charged on is command responsibility, that he knew
or should have known the troops under him -- under his control, were
going to do this. That's the same theory of liability that
the Hague wants to use against Slobodan Milosevic. Is there
any hypocrisy there?
MR. FLEISCHER: I've addressed the
question as far as Prime Minister Sharon is concerned.
Q Ari, can I follow up
on that? According to The Washington Post yesterday, in an
article titled, "Sharon's Actions in '82 Massacre Stir New Debate,"
this whole issue was triggered by a BBC documentary called "The
Accused," and this is the key point of evidence that they
raised. It says, during the BBC program, Morris Draper, the
U.S. special envoy to the Middle East at the time, said U.S. officials
were horrified when Sharon had allowed the Phalangist militia into West
Beirut and the camps because the would be a massacre, according to
Draper. And this is Draper: he told the BBC that
after the details began, he cabled Sharon telling him, you must stop
the slaughter; this situation is absolutely appalling; they are killing
children; you have the field completely under your control and are,
therefore, responsible for that area. That's why Human
Rights Watch wants a criminal investigation. Does the
President support a criminal investigation, given that evidence?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the very
fact that the President is meeting this afternoon in the Oval Office
with the duly-elected leader of a democrat nation speaks for itself
about what the President will do and what the President supports.
Q Ari, the President of
the United States will support the requests of the President-elect of
Peru to declassify documents about involvement of Vladimiro
Montesinos with the CIA of the U.S. government in the past?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as you know,
the United States is pleased and the United States played a helpful
role in securing his arrest. And I'm not going to go beyond
that until after the meeting, if you're asking if that question will
come up. Again, that meeting is going to begin in about 15
minutes or so. And so I just don't want to judge what's
going to take place in a meeting that I'm not participating
in. I'm here with you. But after that meeting
we'll try to do our best to get you information.
Q -- requested
declassification of documents two month ago. The United
States has already an answer about it?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the only
information I have as far as that's concerned. I know
they're going to be talking about the earthquake today, but I don't
have anything additional beyond that, and the United States efforts for
earthquake relief, which have been substantial.
Q Aside from the appeal
on Berenson, the President probably could cut through, if he really
asked for clemency. I mean, considering our relationship
with Peru and their need for assistance and so forth. Why
wouldn't the President weigh in on this case?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, again, I
didn't say he wouldn't, but I just think 15 minutes before a meeting
begins between two Presidents --
Q Do you know if it's
on the agenda at all?
MR. FLEISCHER: It very well may be,
Helen. But again, I want to wait until 15 minutes from now
the meeting takes place between two Presidents. It's not a lengthy
meeting, and so I want to just be certain about what they discuss
before I try to give you any indications,
definitively. We'll all know soon enough.
Q Ari, any reaction on
events today in the patients' bill of rights debate, the defeats of
some of those amendments?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the President
made a series of phone calls today on the patients' bill of
rights. He called Senators Nelson, he called Senator Snowe,
he called Senator DeWine, urged them all to work together in a fashion
that can lead to a comprehensive solution to a variety of the
litigation issues that stand in the way of getting a patients' bill of
rights enacted into law, that gives patients protections they need and
deserve against HMOs.
So he is continuing his efforts. In
fact, I think it's fair to say that this week you will see the
President step up his efforts in a variety of ways, including phone
calls to the Hill, meetings that will take place here at the White
House and in several other ways. The President is very
concerned because he wants to have a bill that he can sign into law
that give patients those protections.
There are a series of amendments that have yet
to come up that will be important amendments, to make sure that the
Senate is working in a manner that can lead to a compromise, that can
lead to getting patients those protections, as opposed to a bill that
the senate knows will not go anywhere.
Q You've several times,
and others in the administration, have derided the
McCain-Kennedy-Edwards bill as a trial lawyers' bill of rights. What's
so bad about trial lawyers, Ari?
MR. FLEISCHER: How much time do we
have? (Laughter.) The question really is, if you
are in need of medical treatment, do you want to go to an independent
review organization and have them tell your HMO that you, indeed, must
honor that person's medical claim and you should reimburse them for
it? Or do you want to make somebody go out and hire a lawyer
and take months, if not years, to go to court and, therefore, never
receive the medical treatment necessary? That's one of the
problems, that when you change America's health care system into a
system that invites the trial lawyers in, in such a deep and profound
way as the Senate bill currently does, you risk denying people the
health care they need. You make them hire lawyers instead of
getting doctors. And, according to the Congressional Budget
Office, it will increase the cost of premiums to the point where some 4
million to 6 million Americans who currently have insurance will lose
their insurance. And all that is a result of what happens
when there are sky-high prices dealing with medical liability and you
have a system where you have unlimited or very high limits on jury
Q Ari, what if it's set
up in a way that you would only go to court after you exhaust the
independent review process?
MR. FLEISCHER: Then that's
something the President would be supportive of; that's the President's
proposal. The President believes that people should have a
right to go to independent review organization, and after that point,
if they do not receive the care to which they are entitled as decided
by the independent review organization, they should have and would have
a right to go to court. Under the plan in the Senate right
now, they circumvent the independent review organization and it's a
shortcut to court.
Q What about on the
state, as well as the federal level?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
believes that the best manner in which to approach these suits is on
the federal level.
Q Why is it that a
self-insured employer who administers its own health care plan, why
shouldn't that self-insured employer be held accountable in court, if
necessary, at the state level?
MR. FLEISCHER: It all depends on
their level of activity in the denial of benefits and in their review
of the medical decisions. The President believes that
medical decisions should be made by doctors and by nurses and by health
professionals. And that's why he supports the independent
review organization, which would be comprised of such people.
Q The Republican view
is seeking an immunity for these self-insured employers, that they
shouldn't be held accountable at all.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's view
is that if the company is involved directly in the decision to deny
medical care, that they should be held liable. But what the
President does not want to have happen is to turn our health care
system over to a system that will make people lose their insurance
because employers will no longer be able to afford it if liability
costs increase to the point that the CBO anticipates they will under
Q When you mentioned --
when she asked about the federal courts, your answer didn't sound hard
and fast. Is the President -- the President prefers federal
courts, that's what he has supported. But is he drawing a
line in the sand over state courts? And then also, these
meetings that are going to take place later this week in the White
House, is the President going to be directly involved in those
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks
that federal courts are the best way to proceed because it gives the
patients the protections they deserve and need. It gives
them legal recourse. It also is consistent with the manner
in which health care is delivered in the United States through
employers, through a federal law, not state laws, and it protects
patients because they will have more access to insurance if there
aren't 50 lawsuits in 50 states, which makes it much harder to insure
Q But is he drawing a
line in the sand?
MR. FLEISCHER: Now, there is a
proposal working its way through the House that will be introduced
shortly by Congressman Fletcher and Speaker Hastert and others, and
that proposal also meets the President's principles. There
is much more flexibility in that proposal and that's what the President
is calling on Congress to do. He wants them to take a look
at how we can come together and get an agreement on this issue.
Q Is the President
going to be in the meetings, finally?
MR. FLEISCHER: He is the one who is
doing the inviting. Of course. The President is -- just as
he reached out today and called three senators, the President will be
inviting members of Congress to come down to the White House this week
for the express purpose of discussing a patient bill of rights so that
progress can be made. And the President hopes that the
Senate will put progress first and not exercise -- not participate in
an exercise that leads to a bill that will go nowhere.
Q Who is going to be
MR. FLEISCHER: We'll get you the
list as soon as they're finalized.
Q Will Senator McCain
be one of them?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's been down here
already for meetings and we'll get you the list as soon as they're
Q And just to clarify
what Jim was asking, if there is employer protection, essentially, if
the employers can set up some safe harbor for this decision-making,
they are going to get sued, and there is some kind of cap on damages,
the President is okay with state court lawsuits?
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, again, it all
depends on exactly how it's said. I've indicated there is more than
one approach that meets the President's principles, and that's
important because the President does want to get a bill that protects
patients so it can be signed into law. He hopes that the
Senate will be interested in getting a bill that can be signed into
law, and that the Senate will not pursue this just for the purpose of a
But the President is hopeful that will be
done. And his efforts this week, the phone calls he made
today to key senators and the meetings he's going to have this week,
are all aimed at bringing people together so that patients can get
Q Ari, it sounds like
the Gramm amendment that was rejected today goes even beyond where the
President would go in terms of protecting employers. Is that
correct? And so, does its rejection mean that it doesn't
affect your potential support for the bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I think the
Gramm amendment, as you know -- there was a discussion in the Senate
that the bill presently before the Senate was exactly like the Texas
bill in the state. So I think what the Senate did is they
offered the exact language in the Texas bill to document the fact that
the bill under consideration is not exactly like the Texas
bill. If it was, you'd have thought that amendment would
have been agreed to.
Q Ari, can you tell us
if the White House Counsel's Office has ever considered or issued a
waiver to Karl Rove in order that he could discuss policies with
companies in which he is vested?
MR. FLEISCHER: It doesn't work in
that manner, John. The White House staff works in accordance
with all the ethics guidelines set out by the Counsel's Office and by
the Office of Government Ethics.
Q There was a provision
for a waiver.
MR. FLEISCHER: Do you have
Q Meetings that he had
with Intel, where there was a waiver in the ethics guidelines --
MR. FLEISCHER: Mr. Rove's actions
complied with all the ethics laws.
Q Complied with the
ethics laws, but in January, when the President was swearing in his
staff, he said that he expects his staff to avoid even the appearance
of improper conduct. Did Mr. Rove's meeting with these
companies and discussing policy that would affect companies in which he
was vested, was it consistent or inconsistent with that --
MR. FLEISCHER: I think we're
plowing old ground. In this case, Mr. Rove wanted to divest
his holdings immediately upon taking office. And due to a
series of things that were beyond Mr. Rove's control, he was not able
to get his certificate of divestiture. Actually, it's pretty
simple, it wasn't even a series, it was just the Counsel's Office was
not able to get him a certificate of divestiture in a timely enough
fashion. As soon as he received it, he fully divested his
Q So, again, would the
fact that he met with these companies in which he was vested be
consistent or inconsistent with the President's statement that his
staff should avoid even the appearance of improper conduct?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think given the
fact that Mr. Rove conducted himself in accordance with all ethics
rules makes that clear. Mr. Rove did nothing wrong; he did
what was appropriate. He comported himself in full keeping with the
Q Ari, two-point
question. The New York Times reports from Chicago that
Democrat Alderman Tom Murphy, who is a white man, was reelected by a
constituency that is 85 percent black, has announced his hope to join
the city council's black caucus because, in his words, I want to make
sure that 45,000 black residents in my ward have a voice in those
meetings. But the black caucus leader, Alderman Ed Smith,
says this will have to be put to a vote. And my question,
should the Chicago Daleys, with whom the President is, I think, all too
familiar, should they put up with such racist discrimination as this --
it has to be put to a vote, anymore than they would tolerate a
whites-only or gentiles-only Chicago country club?
MR. FLEISCHER: Les, the President
is not involved in Chicago's alderman politics.
Q I know, but what does
he think? Does he think that --
MR. FLEISCHER: Not a topic I've
talked to him about.
Q Would you take the
MR. FLEISCHER: You have a
Q Yes. Regarding a President inviting
to the White House those who claim to be descended from President
Jefferson, through Sally Hemmings, The Boston Globe and, now, The
Washington Post have both exposed the prominent propounder of this myth
-- Joseph Ellis of Mount Holyoke College, to be a serial liar, and he's
confessed, but he's not been fired from his $90,000 job, plus book
royalties. And my question is, the President would never
tolerate a serial liar in the Bush administration, would,
FLEISCHER: No. (Laughter.)
Q Good. Thank you.
MR. FLEISCHER: Who would like to
follow that? (Laughter.)
Q Ari, something a
little more mundane. To get back to health care, to what
extent is the President willing to address a much more fundamental
question which really gives rise to this patients' bill of rights, and
that is, the number, and growing number of uninsured in this country?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a very good
question. And the President has two proposals that are
pending before the Congress to address what has been a vexing question
for policymakers of both parties for many a decade,
frankly. And that is, the President's budget proposes to
double the number of community health centers in the United
States. Community health centers are often a place where
low-income Americans can go to get their health insurance -- to get
their health care needs met.
That's particularly true in rural America and
some urban areas of America. Community health centers are
the primary place that people go who can't afford health
insurance. And the President has proposed a dramatic
increase in funding for community centers -- community health centers.
The President's also proposed a health care
tax credit, so that people who work for companies that do not provide
health insurance are able to get sufficient funds, so they can get
access to insurance, so they can be covered. It's an
important question, and the President has made two significant
proposals to address it.
Q What percentage of
the 40-some-odd-million people who don't have insurance will get it
under -- if those two proposals pass?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a
look at the numbers, Ron. But this has been a question that
a lot of people have been wrestling with. And I don't think
anybody has been able to come up with a way -- certainly, the previous
administration tried, with a Democrat Congress and a Democrat President
-- they did try to come up with a proposal, and even a Democrat
Congress was not agreed to it. So one of the lessons from
that is to make incremental progress, by insuring as many people as
Q Under the health
care, would you care to reassure the country
that you're okay, and that you're not working to hard?
FLEISCHER: Fine. Thank you for asking.
Q Is there any cosmic
significance that you fainted on the same weekend as Fidel
Castro? We've never seen you together. (Laughter.)
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd like to deny
that I wrote his talking points. (Laughter.) But, again, I
appreciate the press' concern. I'm expecting more softballs
Q Has the President
already started talking to the State Department on the Hill about the
waiver for the Chapter 3 of the Helms-Burton law that has to be
announced in a few days?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm still working on
that. You had asked me that before, and I need to get you
Q The President
recently has reissued a threat to veto the patients' bill of
rights. In light of all of the discussions that have gone on
between the White House in recent days, what do you think the chances
are that he's going to veto anything? I mean, how much
validity is left in that threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the
President's message is clear. This can be the year that
patients get the protections they need, so if a women wants to go see
her OB/GYN without going through a gatekeeper, it's up to the Senate,
it's up to the House. They can make it
happen. And the best way to make it happen is to show some
flexibility and be willing to work with the White House on the
liability side of the ledger, because those liability questions are
going to lead to people losing their coverage if the bill is not
So it's premature, Jean. The Senate
is still debating the measure. There will be a series of more
amendments. The House, of course, has yet to
act. So it is early. But the President has sent a
very clear signal to Congress. Don't waste this
opportunity. Let this year be the year in which people can
get the protections. And the President will put his
signature on that bill if the Congress is prepared to work with the
Q But doesn't the
President face an even greater political risk than in the Senate or the
House if he vetoes a bill that now is being fairly largely defined by
the McCain camp and is extremely popular in public opinion
polls? Doesn't he face an even greater political threat if
he vetoes --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, Jean, I
think the President's position focuses on what will happen to the
country and if that bill were to be enacted into law, people will lose
their insurance. Rates will go up. I think
there's no question about it. But I think there is no
question about it, that when you increase premiums -- and premiums are
already rising across the United States regardless of this
legislation. Employers across the country are reporting
dramatic increases in the cost of their health care
premiums. To put additional burdens on people who are in the
business of giving families the insurance they need to take care of
themselves does not make sense if those increases are driven by
liability prices and by inflexibility by the Congress to work with the
But there's encouraging signs on the
Hill. There are people who want to work with the White
House. And the White House, as the President indicated today
through his phone calls to leaders on the Hill and through the meetings
he is going to have this week, is going to work as hard as he can to
get an agreement, because that's in the interest of the American health
consumer. But it has to be done right and the President has
been unequivocal on that.
Q Ari, given the
President's historic embrace of bipartisan measures, how could he in
good conscience veto a bill that comes out of Congress with bipartisan
support, regardless of what it says?
MR. FLEISCHER: Given Congress'
historic predilection to doing things bipartisan, how could they
possibly send the President something they know that he would
veto? That wouldn't be very bipartisan. And, of
course, the President's approach is a bipartisan
approach. The people who are sponsoring the proposals that
the President has offered are Senator Jeffords, Senator Breaux and
Senator Frist. So there's plenty of room for bipartisanship
on this issue if the Congress would look to find it.
Q Ari, are you saying
that the insurance companies are now raising prices in anticipation of
MR. FLEISCHER: No, even without
this legislation, there has been an increase in health care
premiums. It's been a trend that slowed down, has
accelerated in the last several years and is continuing again this
year. It's just a reality of the marketplace that health care costs
are going up.
Q Ari, has the
President considered the irony that Medicaid beneficiaries, sometimes
their services are capped, that they don't have a right to sue?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's
another example of the fact that people have one standard they want to
apply to others and a different standard that they want to apply to the
government. The President believes the standard should be as
close to similar as possible. But an open-ended system of
lawsuits, 50 different suits in 50 different states, is going to lead
to less health care, not more; less people covered, not
more. And, Jean, frankly, I think you don't have to look
very hard, but when you start looking at the liability issues, you'll
find there is a lot of support for reasonable caps and reasonable
limits as opposed to open-ended liability. So there is plenty of room
to get an agreement if the Congress is willing to find an agreement.
Q Who in the White
House gave the okay for American troops in Macedonia to undertake the
mission they did yesterday, evacuating Albanian rebels from a suburb of
MR. FLEISCHER: Terry, as you know,
that matter was -- the action that was taken was a result of a
negotiation taken on by the European Union and Secretary Solana to
begin the process in Aracinovo of moving out the Albanian extremists,
to disarm them and move them out. The decision was made
locally on the ground. The President -- it was discussed
with the President.
Q It was?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes. It
was discussed with Secretary Rumsfeld, discussed with Condoleezza
Rice. And the decision --
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh, I'd have to take
a look at the exact dates, Ron.
Q Before or after the
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I'd have to
take a look at the exact dates.
Q Do you know if it was
discussed with him in advance or afterwards of the action?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'd have to take a
look at an exact chronology and timetable.
Q Is the President
aiming at setting up one of these community health care centers here in
the District of Columbia, since Congress -- the Congressional Control
Board has shut down one of the main trauma hospitals in the country
with D.C. General? And most of these people are indigent,
without insurance; tens of thousands of people per year who receive
treatment who are not going to get it there anymore.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the ability to
name any new community health centers anywhere in the United States
will be contingent on the action that Congress takes. And
that is an important proposal that the President has made, and he hopes
that Congress will act on it.
Q Ari, is the
administration remaining neutral on China's bid to host the Olympic
MR. FLEISCHER: You know, the
President addressed that question several weeks ago. He said
that that's a matter for the Olympic officials to involve themselves
with. The President's not going to get involved.
Q Well, with the
administration not coming out either for or against then, there are
some human and religious rights groups who are saying this is really a
missed opportunity for the administration to send a message to Beijing,
with Americans who are still being detained there and religious
persecution that goes on. Is there a White House response to
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, as the
President has made clear in his meetings with Chinese leaders, he will
not hesitate to bring up the problems in China about religious freedom
and religious persecution. But that does not mean that the
President will tie that to decisions dealing with sports. And those
are decisions that will be made by the proper Olympic authorities, and
not by the President of the United States.
Last one back there.
Q As you know, today in
Beijing, there was an American photographer beaten by about half a
dozen Chinese security agents relative to an Olympics-related
event. Does the President think that's the kind of treatment
that foreign reporters should get in a city hosting the Olympics?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, of course
not. That type of treatment should not be
anywhere. And that's, again, another reason why the
President will continue, as he has, to speak out about religious
persecution in China and freedom in China. It's another
reason the President thinks it's important to trade with China, because
he believes it has a positive affect, to ameliorate that type of