|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
June 28, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
Upcoming Travel of the President..........................1
Milosovic/War Crimes Tribunal.......................4-5, 20
Middle East-Secretary Powell Comments.................5, 16
Surgeon General Report..................................5-6
Patients' Bill of Rights.................7-9, 11, 15, 17-23
House Vote on Mexican Trucks..............................9
July 4th Festivities at the White House..................11
Japanese Prime Minister Visit.........................16-17
Stem Cell Research.......................................17
Nevada Nuclear Test Site Review..........................18
the White House
Office of the
12:45 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Where is everybody? We need to have a sale. I have no personnel announcements today. But I would like to indicate a little bit of travel to help you with your planning for next week.
On Wednesday, July 4, the President and Mrs. Bush will travel to Philadelphia, where they will attend a neighborhood block party and the President will make remarks at the Independence National Historic Park before they return to Washington that evening. And on Thursday next week, the President and Mrs. Bush will depart for the weekend to Kennebunkport, Maine.
And with that, I will take your questions.
Q What role will the White House play in assessing what the government's next steps should be in the Microsoft case?
Q And what is the next step?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, let me address that as complete as I can, given the fact that this decision was just handed down. The decision -- there are several things and it's very complicated, but it remands some aspects of the lower case, it vacates several aspects of the lower court case, it reverses several aspects of the lower court case, it affirms some aspects, and then there are additional reversals and additional remands in the case. The Justice Department is going to review the decision; they're studying it now. The President has been informed, and it's a complicated legal case. The decision was just handed down, so the President is going to be having further discussions and will await the Justice Department review and study of a decision that just came down in the last hour.
Q So the President is going to have further discussions; that means he will have some role in assessing what the government's next step is.
MR. FLEISCHER: This will be a matter that is reviewed by the Department of Justice, and we'll have further information for you after the Department of Justice completes its review. As I said, the President was informed.
Q Is it pretty safe to say that this Justice Department won't pursue this case with the same zeal as the last administration?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think it's too soon to make any conclusions, John. The matter was just ruled upon in court, and it's fair to allow the Department of Justice to review a very complicated legal decision.
Q Can you summarize, though, the President's views about the case, going back to when he was a candidate and how that informs what the direction will be now?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been very clear on this all along, and he has said he does not comment on matters that are currently before the court. So he has not commented on this. And, again, it just took place. The ruling just came out, and so I think your questions are fair, but I think you just have to allow a little time to go by so Justice Department can take a look at it.
Q Is it safe to say that any decision that is made by the Justice Department, he will have signed off on?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I'll work with you on the process as it develops here. But at this point, this is a matter that Justice is studying.
Q And, in general, he does not prefer litigation as a way of regulation?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President believes that people should work hard to enter into agreements. And the President believes that there's too much litigation in our society, generally speaking.
Q Ari, when you say the President will discuss the ruling, who will he discuss it with?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President just knows what happens. There are decisions that are made. Again, Ron asked a similar question about what is the process, and I think, again, the process begins with the Department of Justice studying the case. And Justice needs to do that, and anything that happens from there, I'll be happy to share with you.
Q The Justice Department has just issued a statement saying that they are pleased that the Court of Appeals found that Microsoft had engaged in illegal activity.
MR. FLEISCHER: And then it says they're studying the case. It was a two-sentence statement and that's what they say. There's no difference between what the White House thinks and Justice Department thinks. That case was brought by the government.
Q Are you pleased that the Court of Appeals did find Microsoft had engaged in illegal action?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a fair statement. The White House concurs with it.
Q Any time line for the Justice Department review, how long Justice will be reviewing this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I don't know.
Q Ari, do you think the public can get a little bit more than the President, as a rule, thinks there's too much litigation in our society? I mean, he now presides over a Justice Department which, before he took office, launched major litigation against this company. So, I mean, to say that he's against litigation generally and thinks there's too much in our society, can we get a little bit more?
MR. FLEISCHER: David, I will be happy to share with you at the appropriate time any more that I can. But this is a legal matter, it is pending, depending on what action is taken. And the President's policy is not to comment on pending legal matters of that nature.
Q Can you tell us why the President is pleased that the court upheld the ruling that Microsoft had engaged in unfair practices?
MR. FLEISCHER: This was a case that was brought by the government and was continued by the Department of Justice under his administration. And there are certain aspects of it that upheld what the government was doing. There are other aspects that did not. And that's the view of the Department of Justice and the President concurs.
Q Does he concur with the fact that -- does he believe that Microsoft has engaged in unfair practices?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, I've gone as far as I'm going to go on that topic. And again, the matter is still pending. There will be an appropriate time, but the case needs to first be studied. The court ruling just came out, and I know your organizations are studying it as well, in its entirety. The Justice Department will do the same.
Q I'm not sure I'm clear on what he's pleased about.
MR. FLEISCHER: The statement spoke for itself.
Q Well, not really. That's why I'm asking.
MR. FLEISCHER: Because there were certain aspects of the government's case that were upheld.
Q Right. So which aspects is he happy about? Are you --
MR. FLEISCHER: The aspects that were upheld, as the Justice Department statement indicated.
Q Is there any reason, Ari, why you're hesitant --
Q There's a report that Milosevic has been handed over to a War Crimes Tribunal official. Are you aware of this? Do you know anything about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: I am not aware of that in specificity.
Q On the Milosevic report, too, you're not aware -- had you heard anything to believe that he was going to be turned over to investigators today?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think if events on the ground develop, you will be informed. And the position of the United States has been clear all along, that it's important for the government of Yugoslavia to cooperate fully with the international criminal tribunal in the Hague.
Q If he is turned over -- and I know the U.S. is sending a delegation to that Donors Conference -- but if he is turned over to the Hague, would the U.S. then go ahead and support funds going to Yugoslavia, or we'd still want to see more action done?
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a delegation going over, and the position of the United States government is that are aid is important, that we're participating in the conference, and we're pleased with the actions that Yugoslavia has taken to date. But it's also important for the government of Yugoslavia to cooperate fully with the investigations.
Q Today Secretary of State Powell endorsed a proposal by Arafat for outside monitors to supervise the cease-fire. Does the President agree with that assessment?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not quite what Secretary Powell said. Reading from a transcript of what he said, the Secretary said -- and I quote -- "I think there is a clear understanding of the need for some kind of monitoring observer function performed by some group." That is not, as you put it, an endorsement of what the Palestinians have said. That is a restatement of longstanding United States policy. There is no change in the United States position. The Secretary's language involving -- and I quote again -- "some kind of monitoring observer function," that stems back to the Wye Accords. And there's no change. Both parties would have to agree to what that monitoring function would be. And that's what the Secretary indicated.
Q How does some kind of monitoring observer function differ from what Arafat is proposing?
MR. FLEISCHER: He's proposed a very specific international force. That's not what the Secretary said. And again, what the Secretary said goes back to the Wye Accords. That is no change in the United States position.
Q What is the United States position on Arafat's specific proposal for an international --
MR. FLEISCHER: Any such proposal would have to be agreed to by both sides.
Q Ari, the Surgeon General released this morning a report on healthy sexual behavior, promoting healthy sexual behavior. Did the President see this report before it was released to us today, and did he have any input or influence either directly on the report or through Secretary Thompson?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, this report was commissioned by the previous administration. It was released today by an appointment of the previous President. And I think you can anticipate, if you haven't gotten already, that Secretary Tommy Thompson will have a statement about that.
Q Does the President agree that there's, what Surgeon General Satcher said, that this country is suffering from a conspiracy of silence around communicating to children and educators and physicians about sexual issues, and that we should be supporting from the top a national open dialogue on sexuality to prevent the spread of AIDS and other STDs?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think Secretary Thompson is going to get into that in greater specificity. The President is very concerned about the problem of AIDS in the United States and around the world. That is a topic that you know he brings up very frequently in his meetings with foreign leaders and it's a problem that he has identified the United States needs to take the lead in, in helping the world to find a solution and a cure to AIDS. The President's overall approach on these matters focuses on abstinence, abstinence education. And that's something the President has spoken about a great deal in the past.
Q Did the White House see the House vote against the President's drilling proposals as a setback for the overall energy policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, first of all, I want to stress one thing. I saw some press reports about the Great Lakes and there was some type of implication that the House vote on the Great Lakes had something to do with what the President proposed. The President has proposed nothing on the Great Lakes.
Q Last week's votes on ANWR and --
MR. FLEISCHER: Okay. Let me get to that. There is nothing in the President's energy plan that deals with the Great Lakes. That's a state matter. And so I just want to make sure that that point is clear.
The President thinks it's very important that we have an approach that focuses on conservation. As he indicated this morning in his event at the Department of Energy and the actions he announced today to help save electricity and to conserve here in the White House and across the country through changing appliances so they can be both convenient and energy efficient.
The President also believes it's important to reduce our reliance on foreign supplies of energy. And he is cautious about any actions the Congress would take that would increase American reliance on unstable foreign supplies of oil.
He does worry that we are a country that seems to lurch from energy crisis to energy crisis. And even though there are some encouraging signs -- a new power plant went on in California -- the margin of error in California is far too small for anyone to rejoice. There are still energy problems in this nation and the President does not believe that we can be a nation that lurches month to month from crisis to crisis.
The American people would like the government and Democrats and Republicans alike to focus on comprehensive fundamental energy fixes so we can reduce our reliance on foreign supplies, once and for all.
Q Ari, on patents' bill of rights, why is the President calling some additional House members to the White House today? Is he feeling the pressure to make some headway here when he's got an uphill fight even in the House, where he's got a dog in the fight with the bill he's backing?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President hopes that everybody gets the message that we're all in this together and that it's terribly important to give patients the protections they need. And that means there has to be a willingness in the Congress to compromise. And if you take a look at the votes that have taken place in the Senate, you see there is not much of a willingness to compromise. And the President thinks to get patients those protections, it is vital for the Congress, the Senate and the House to put progress before politics. And the House has shown much more of an inclination to work in a manner that can get a bill that can get signed into law. And he'll continue his efforts to reach out to senators and to House members, Democrat and Republicans alike, so that a patients' bill of rights can be signed into law.
Q Does he feel, therefore, that he's losing some ground on this? As you say, there's not much willingness to compromise, apparently, in the Senate. And is that a veiled veto threat?
MR. FLEISCHER: He doesn't look at it as if he's losing ground or if somebody else is losing or gaining ground. He views it as, will patients get the protections they need in their dealings with HMOs? Will people be able to keep their health insurance as a result of the legislation that the Congress proposes, or will that legislation result in such increased liability expenses that people are unable to get their insurance through their employers anymore. That's the President's focus, and that's what he feels strongly about.
Q So his principles are losing ground on this.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, we'll have to see what the ultimate outcome is. The Senate still has some important amendments ahead of it, and the President hopes that the Senate will work with him, and not just try to work in a fashion that puts politics before progress.
Q And that's what they're doing in the Senate, you believe?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has a lot of concerns about that. And I said it yesterday, that the President hopes that the Senate will not put politics before progress. This President hopes that the Senate will show a willingness to compromise. The President hopes that the Senate is not engaged in partisan activity that will result in people being denied the patient protections they need, and employers having to cut off the insurance to their employees because they can't afford the higher liability costs of the Senate legislation.
Q You said the Senate is not willing to compromise. But what about this Snowe-DeWine compromise which would limit how much employers would be held accountable, especially if they did not have any role in health care decisions. They wouldn't be --
MR. FLEISCHER: It would be an interesting reflection on the Senate if that was the one and the only amendment that the Senate agreed to. The President thinks that that is a helpful step, one of several steps that need to be taken in the right direction. But if that's the only step that the Senate takes in that right direction, than it's clear that the Senate is not interested in a bill that can be signed into law; the Senate is more interested in putting politics before progress.
Q Is it safe to say that he's increasingly pessimistic that he'll get a bill out of the Senate that he could support?
MR. FLEISCHER: The ultimate outcome gets determined often by the conference committees. So I think it's important and the President believes that it's important to continue to work with the House of Representatives, to continue to work with the Senate, to see if the Senate makes any changes here in the last few days of the debate on the bill, potentially.
But I think it's always important to give Congress time to work things out. It's always important for Congress to get to conference and then, often in conference, reasonable members of both the House and Senate are willing to work to compromise, because then they realize that they will have a chance to either get something done for the American people or engage in a political activity that contains a poison pill that they know will not get signed into law.
Why would the Congress want to engage in a political activity to pass something they know would not be signed into law, when it is within their reach to pass patient protections that they know will get signed?
Q This is in the Senate itself, though, just without the conference committee. I mean, the Senate -- is he pessimistic that he is going to get a bill out of the Senate that he could sign?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think he is monitoring it and we'll just have to see where the votes are.
Q Ari, has the President spoken to President Fox since the vote in the House? Does he believe this will create -- this vote will create friction between both countries?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has not spoken with President Fox. But there is no question that the vote in the House will create frictions. There are also signs of the friction that will be created. We already have Mexico saying that they are going to deny access to American trucks in Mexico.
That vote in the House not only is unfair to our neighbors to the south, it's not consistent with safety standards, because they didn't approve the inspectors that the President wanted to approve. But that vote in the House also hurts American truckers because it hurts the ability of American truckers to carry on their livelihood south of the border. And it's not consistent with NAFTA.
Q Ari, I couple seconds ago, you said that the President thinks that we're a country that lurches from one energy crisis to another. How does he square that belief with the statement made yesterday by a BP-AMOCO executive that the world is awash in oil, there is no oil crisis, there is no energy crisis, and the idea that this really seems to be a problem of regulation rather than resource?
MR. FLEISCHER: If that's the case, why then did the previous administration tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in October of 2000? Why did prices spike up the way they did as a result of regional differences, where our electricity could not be transmitted from one part of the nation to the next. We are a nation that is increasingly consuming energy, as a result of the strength of the Internet economy, and that trend is foreseen to continue well into the future.
And the President believes very strongly that the best way to address it is in a comprehensive, fundamental way that solves this problem once and for all, so the American people do not have to lurch from crisis to crisis. And that solution, which the President is calling on the Congress to pass, and the President has invited Democrats and Republicans from the Congress to join him here at the White House today, depends on both conservation and increased exploration.
Q But Ari, given that the energy situation in California looks to be improving, that gas prices look to be coming down, politically, is there just less urgency?
MR. FLEISCHER: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. Because one power plant went onto line is not a reason to think that the nation or California are out of the woods. It's important to bring additional power plants onto line. But it's an excuse to lurch from one crisis to the next. If policymakers relax, this nation still has fundamental energy imbalances that can only be addressed, in the President's opinion, through greater conservation and through increased exploration and through fixing America's infrastructure.
And in all cases, no matter what happens in California this summer, our nation remains overly dependant on foreign supplies of oil and energy. And that is never in the interest of the American consumer, or the American energy industry, or the American user of energy.
Q A few times today you're putting conservation first in the list of things that needs to be done. That's a change for the administration. Is it an acknowledgement that you did not win the American people to your plan to begin with, because you overemphasized production, and now you're trying to catch up --
MR. FLEISCHER: Actually, I was just explaining it in the order in which the energy plan that the President proposed two months ago explained it. The first item in there was conservation.
Q But, Ari, just for the record, you talked this morning on the attendance of the 4th of July festival here at the White House, and talked about how it would be senior officials, but it would be on a rotating basis. Could you tell us why it wasn't done by an alphabetical -- on an alphabetical basis, so perhaps it would be more inclusive, and wouldn't seem so exclusionary?
MR. FLEISCHER: First of all, I didn't say senior officials. I said I would try to get an answer to everybody about exactly who was invited, and here's what it is. The invitation -- first of all, the President is going to welcome to the White House on July 4th thousands of people who work for the government and their families, so they can have an enjoyable July 4th, watching the fireworks.
In the past, there have been 11,000 people on the lawn of the White House, and it was too many people to be able to have any type of enjoyable event. So this year, and on a rotating basis, everybody will be covered over the course of the four years, so the gates will be open to all White House employees and their families. This year it's going to be employees of the Residence; it's going to be groundskeepers; it's going to be political appointees. They will be welcomed to the White House. It's going to be about 3,000 or 4,000 people, as well as their families. And then in subsequent years, that's going to be expanded to other groups. So it rotates fairly and squarely, so all can be invited.
And in the past, I want to remind you that people showed up with tickets and were turned away at the gate. And if you can imagine disappointing families, that's the best way to do it. And the President wants to avoid that situation.
Q I want to go back to the patients' bill of rights. And really quickly, a second question about energy. On patients' bill of rights, is there a sense -- I'm listening very carefully to what you're saying, and I'm getting the sense that the White House is beginning to get a little concerned that the Senate's unwillingness to compromise on patients' bill of rights is boxing you into a position where you're going to get a bill you have to veto, and the Democrats in the Senate may be looking for a political gain here rather than an actual bill.
MR. FLEISCHER: The President has been unequivocal that he intends to protect patients, and that means preventing any legislation from being signed into law if it means that patients are going to lose their insurance.
In the meeting yesterday with House members, the President saw that the likelihood of a patient dying in a hospital is three times more likely for someone who does not have insurance than for somebody who does. And that's the reason -- the reason is because if you don't have insurance you wait too late to get treatment, and too often it's too late. And the last thing that a nation needs and our workers need is to lose health insurance as a result of costs that get driven up by a bill that is written more at the behest of trial lawyers, because there is so much that can be agreed upon in the legislation that the Senate proposes.
The President agrees with 90 percent of what the Senate is doing. So why can't the Senate send to the President the 90 percent that everybody agrees on and get a bill signed into law?
Q And on energy, we've got members of the House and Senate committee to talk about that. You've got an indication that the House will take this up in July. Do you have any indication that the Senate is willing to follow suit?
MR. FLEISCHER: With what the House does?
Q With the energy policy.
MR. FLEISCHER: With energy policy. Oh, well, the President certainly hopes so. I think there's no question that if the Senate were to abandon any approach to conservation, any approach to increased exploration, to fixing America's aged infrastructure, the Senate, in the middle of the summer, would be turning its back on people who are paying sky-high prices for energy and who are still lurching from crisis to crisis.
Q May I follow on that?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let's get some people who haven't had questions.
Q Yes, but I think a follow-up --
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll get to follow up.
Q It won't be a follow-up then.
Q Is the President having trouble finding a new FBI director? It seems to be taking much longer than many people anticipated.
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, it's been a longstanding policy of the White House not to comment or speculate on personnel.
Q Why do you think the President is sagging in the polls? And is there any concern over here about that? And in particular, the indications that many average Americans don't think he shares their concerns.
MR. FLEISCHER: Ron, let me say this as clearly as I can. I just dismiss the premise of the question. On the same day that a Reuters-AP poll came out, for example, came out that showed the President has a 60-percent job approval. The fact of the matter is that the President's numbers have been solid and stable. And the President, having emerged from a very close, one of the closest elections ever in the history of the United States, his presidency has been very well-received by the American people.
Depending on what poll you want to look at, his job approval is anywhere between 50 percentage points and 60 percentage points. The fluctuation is minuscule. Some days it goes up, some days it goes down. But the President has emerged from one of the closest elections in American history to have received solid support from the American people. And the best evidence of that is the fact that the President's agenda is moving forward on the Hill, and gone are the days in Washington where people are talking about gridlock. Instead, people are talking about getting things done.
And on the patients' bill of rights, if the Senate is willing to pass and focus on the 90 percent where there is agreement, there will be further reason for the American people to receive everybody in this town well.
Q Senator Murkowski, as you know, is announcing the President's energy package right around this time, and he is supposed to be calling for a date certain that the Senate should be introducing or pursuing this plan -- I presume in markup. Does the White House agree that Senator Daschle needs to set a date certain for advancing the energy package?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President thinks it will be very helpful for people who are paying sky-high bills for gasoline, for electricity, and for people who worry about whether their lights are going to go on or have additional blackouts, for the Senate to set a date so that we know that an energy plan can and will be received in the Senate. After all, if the House can do it, the Senate can, too.
Q Also, why is it that on a day when the President's own package is being advanced from the congressional end that you haven't emphasized it from this end? You're only emphasizing the energy conservation component. Why didn't you promote the entire package today?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, actually, you're about to get the President's package. It's being put together now. You're going to get that today. The President indicated that this morning. You're going to have a handout on that.
Q One more follow-up on John's question. On the BP study, the head of BP said in an interview that it's not necessary to have additional gasoline refineries, you can just expand existing ones. And I just wondered if the White House had a response to that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The issue deals with both supply and with capacity, refinery capacity. Our nation's refineries are running full out. And any way that can expand them, whether it's an expansion of an existing refinery or whether it's the building of new ones, will help create more supply, which will get the price down for the consumers at the pump.
Q On the subject of what's going on in the Senate, Republicans have been pretty direct in criticizing the Democrats for holding up this legislation. Senator Murkowski today said that if they continue to delay, they're threatening the economic security of this country. Since this is a long-term energy strategy, what does a delay of a few weeks matter?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I'm sure that Senator Murkowski is just thinking back to the things that were said two months ago by Senator Daschle, when Senator Daschle indicated that there is an urgent need to move on energy, that people are paying very high prices. So there is a lot of agreement in the Senate that there is an immediate short-term problem that needs to be addressed, and that's why the President believes the Senate will act within its responsibility.
Q But this plan doesn't address the short-term problem.
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, it does, in the fact that the longer you wait, the worse the problem gets. And no long-term solution, a comprehensive solution means the nation --
Q But indications are the problem is getting better.
MR. FLEISCHER: Again, I differ with that. Because one power plant went on in California, which is very helpful, but more needs to be done.
Q I'm not talking about power plants. The price of gasoline is going down. The price of natural gas is coming down.
MR. FLEISCHER: It doesn't change what happens at the refineries. It doesn't change what happens with the infrastructure problems. And it, again, leaves America vulnerable to lurching from crisis to crisis. I mean, again, this happened in October last year, to the point where the previous administration deemed it a national emergency, and they tapped the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. People who pay their high prices this winter, people who worried about blackouts and brownouts -- do they want to just be told the issue has gone away? I don't think they'll believe it.
Q It's no coincidence that when they did it last fall it just happened to be in the middle of a very tight election?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a question you can address to the previous administration.
Q On the patients' bill of rights, I'm wondering why the President believes that his views on the issue reflect principle and those who support the Senate bill are putting politics ahead of progress?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, surely --
Q Are they unprincipled about this?
MR. FLEISCHER: Surely, you would think that with all the votes in the Senate there would be room for some Democrats to act in a bipartisan way and compromise with the Republicans. But there's been scant evidence of that to date. All the votes seem to be lopsided, almost party-line votes, where very few Democrats are willing to cross parties. The Democrats are voting on block. And that's a sign that the Democrats are not willing to compromise, at a time when to get patient protections to people, to get 90 percent of what everybody agrees to, signed into law, there's a focus on voting on block to create a bill that everyone knows has a poison pill, where 10 percent of the poison stands in the way of 90 percent of the remedy.
Q Ari, this administration came into office talking about conservation as a "personal virtue," that did not solve the country's energy problem. There's been a pretty steady shift since then and the President's message today certainly was very different. Is that shift a reaction to the currents of public opinion, which indicate that people are suspicious of --
MR. FLEISCHER: The President and the Vice President have both been very clear from the beginning that no one plan alone can solve the problem. Conservation alone can't solve the problem, and exploration and development of energy resources alone can't solve the problem. And energy policy to get the United States fundamentally and long-term energy secure requires both. And that's what the President stressed in his remarks today, and that's what the Vice President has always stressed.
Q On outside monitors in the Middle East, did the President discuss that with Prime Minister Sharon?
MR. FLEISCHER: Not during the portion of the meeting that I was in, and I'd have to check to see if it came up at any other portion of the meeting.
Q Can you comment on reports that the United States is pressuring Europe and Japan to ease their monetary policy?
MR. FLEISCHER: When the Prime Minister of Japan comes to the United States this weekend, the President is looking forward to having a wide-ranging discussion with him about a variety of topics. Those will include the security alliance between the United States and Japan, and our U.S.-Japanese alliance is a cornerstone of the peace and prosperity in Asia.
Beyond the security arrangements that they're going to talk about, they will talk about important trade issues that will -- the meeting will also give the President an opportunity to listen to the Prime Minister discuss the structural reforms of the Japanese economy. And the President will be curious and attentive to the discussions that the Prime Minister has.
Q To follow on the Asia security, why is all this changed from Europe to Asia? Because the new military defense budget funds for the transformation of the army --
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a zero-sum game. There's no shift in focus. The United States enjoys an important security relationship with Japan.
There's a very clever man here with a sign over his head that has his name. Bill.
Q Thank you. I am new. That's the problem.
MR. FLEISCHER: Welcome, Bill.
Q Thank you. Given the fact that researchers have discovered and isolated stem cells of adult fatty tissue, and billions of stem cells are discarded every day in umbilical blood in hospitals, and being that the President is pro-life, will he resist efforts to continue creating human embryos, robbing them of the stem cells and then destroying those embryos?
MR. FLEISCHER: Bill, this is an issue that the President has been focused on and it's a very important and sensitive matter because it involves many aspects of life. And the President is focused on that. He is well aware of the powerful research that can come from stem cells. He also is cognizant of the fact that life should not be destroyed to save or make another life. So this is an issue that has very important matters on both sides, and the President is focused on it now. He has not made a decision.
Q Ari, on patients' bill of rights, why are you so enthusiastic about a conference committee on that? Isn't that exactly where the last patients' bill of rights died?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I didn't say I was enthusiastic, I just pointed out the process of the Congress means that --
Q You said it was important to get it to conference. That's what we've got to do, and that's exactly where the last one was stuck for --
MR. FLEISCHER: But it is important to get to conference. That's not an indication of enthusiasm or lack of enthusiasm. That's a statement of how the important process in the Congress works. And the fact of the matter is that after the Senate passes something, it's important to compare it to what the House passes than to see if reasonable-minded, compromise-oriented members of the House and Senate would be willing to work with the White House so patients could get their protections.
Q Well, is there something different this year that is going to make a conference committee any more successful this year than it was last year?
MR. FLEISCHER: Yes, President Bush is in the White House and he is determined to bring parties together to get something done, if the parties on the Hill will so oblige.
Q Well, President Clinton said he was, as well, and also --
MR. FLEISCHER: You only get seven today. We have to go to somebody who hasn't had one yet. (Laughter.)
Q Ari, how does the President feel about the call by some in the Energy Department for a review of the readiness of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site? Does he feel that's needed?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a very technical matter. It is not dealing with anything involving a resumption of nuclear tests, if that's what you're implying. It's a technical matter, dealing with preparation for any potential -- other events. But it does not have anything to do with the resumption of nuclear tests.
Q Does he agree with the technical need for this review?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's not a matter I've spoken directly with the President about. That's a matter that was addressed yesterday in testimony before the House.
Q Can you refresh our memories then on where he stands on the moratorium?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President is going to continue the moratorium.
Q What exactly is the poison pill that you referred to in the Senate bill? Is it employer liability, is it state versus federal, is it the cap on damages?
MR. FLEISCHER: Ninety percent of the Senate bill is in complete agreement with the President and he is prepared to sign it into law now. And that 90 percent covers patient protections. That's why it's called the patient bill of rights. Those 90 percent include such things as allowing a woman to go see her OB-GYN without first having to go through a gatekeeper. It allows somebody to go to an emergency room without having to dial an 800 number. And those are the areas that average patients care most about.
There are unrelated provisions in there, 10 percent of the bill, that deals with liability issues. The President believes people should have a right to go to court. But then, the bill bogs down on a question of whether it should be state court or federal court, whether there should be no caps when people go to court, or whether the caps should be set at a very high level of $5 million.
The President's concern about those provisions is that they will lead to a denial of health insurance, where people will lose their health insurance because of the excessive costs these liability provisions would put into the health care system. Why can't the Senate focus on what everybody agrees to and send that to the President so the issue can be signed into law? If they were to do that, they would put progress before politics because then a bill could be signed into law. And then if they want to have further discussion of the liability issues, we can return to that subject.
Q Just to be clear, the poison pills which you are identifying are the question of caps and the question of suing in state versus federal?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's correct. Those are several of the liability questions.
Q Ari, on energy, just to follow up on the personal virtue question, are you saying that the administration has not shifted at all its emphasis on conservation when it comes to dealing with the energy situation?
MR. FLEISCHER: I think the energy report that the President proposed two months ago speaks for itself. It began with energy -- it began with conservation. There were some 105 recommendations in the report and some 35 of them, if I recall, focused on conservation.
Q But just hearing the President's remarks today, I mean, is there concern in this administration that you have not been able to get your message out, or that the American people may not like the message? But still most polls -- I know you don't like to look at polls -- but more Americans disapprove than approve of the President's handling of energy.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think that's a reflection of the fact that most Americans are dissatisfied with the status of energy in this country, because they know we have a real problem in this country. And the solution the American people want is, one, that it's long-term, that it reduces our reliance on foreign supplies of energy. So I think there is a real reflection in the country that our energy status is weak, and that's measured in those polls.
Q But those polls disapprove, though -- more Americans disapprove than approve of the President's handling of this problem, which most Americans want to be handled.
MR. FLEISCHER: I think, given where our nation is on energy, given the fact that people are paying $2 a gallon for gasoline, and given the fact that people in California and several other states are at risk of brownouts and blackouts, whoever was in the White House right now would have similar ratings from the American people because it's a reflection of how serious the energy problem is in America. The difference is, President Bush has a comprehensive, fundamental solution to reduce our reliance on foreign oil, through conservation and through more exploration.
Q The Serbian government just confirmed that Milosevic has been handed over to the Hague. In light of that, do you have any comments on his --
MR. FLEISCHER: Any developments that would take place during the course of this briefing I'm not going to comment on until I've had a chance to review them.
Q Ari, what do you say, what does the White House say, the President say, to Democratic assertions that the Fletcher bill may include the words "state court" in its language, that it gives patients the idea that they will be able to take their claims to state court, but does more to keep people out of state court than it does to let them get in?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President would say that's the reason that he will support the bill.
Q Because it keeps people out of state court?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because it keeps people in federal courts, which is where justice will be adjudicated far faster than in state court. And also where companies will not deny insurance to their workers, as a result of having to offer 50 different plans in 50 different states, as a result of putting suits in state court, where you can have 50 different rulings. It's very important --
Q So you agree then that the Fletcher bill does more to keep people out of state court than it does to let them get into state court?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Fletcher bill focuses on keeping the cases in federal court, except in those instances -- and this is where the Fletcher bill compromises -- in which HMOs fail to honor their commitments to the independent review organizations when a ruling is held against them.
Q You would agree with the premise that the Fletcher bill does more to keep people out of state court than it does to let them get into state court?
MR. FLEISCHER: The Fletcher bill is designed to provide a remedy at the court that will adjudicate the fastest, which is federal, and in a way that will help people so they can keep their health insurance. That's why the President supports it. The President wants the cases to be heard in federal court because he thinks that's how people get to keep their health insurance.
Again, the focus here is on how you get people to keep their health insurance as we've given them the patient protections. And in a system where health insurance is offered to employees in 50 states, so that people can have the same plan offered them in the 50 states, that incentive to give people health insurance can unwind if all of a sudden people have to get 50 different plans offered in 50 different states, because 50 different lawsuits can have 50 different impacts on what is allowable in insurance and what is not. There is a uniformity and a benefit to having a national standard when it comes to health insurance. And putting court cases in state court threatens that uniformity and, therefore, threatens the ability of people to have insurance.
Q On the hydrogen cars the President saw today, miraculous devices, available -- the technology is available today. The problem has always been infrastructure. You can't get compressed hydrogen down at your Exxon station. But the people who build these fuel-cell cars say if there were incentives for energy companies to start doing that, that we could see fuel-cell cars, clean technology on the roads very soon. Is there anything in the President's plan that's going to help that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President's plan proposes tax credits to help people purchase hybrid-fuel vehicles. And the President believes that the market will respond, just as the market has responded to natural gas vehicles, for example. The more vehicles that get powered with natural gas, the more gas stations respond and have pumps that pump natural gas. The President believes very much that many of these issues would be addressed by a continuous focus on technology.
The technology can make amazing changes in our society. Just as energy efficiency as a result of technology has saved the nation the construction of many power plants, it's made the nation a much more energy-efficient country because of the technological changes that have taken place.
Q Ari, about last night, speaking of money issues, last night the Republicans raised over $20 million at the fundraiser. Is that going to be happening a lot more often now, with the President speaking at fundraisers and raising that kind of money? And also, how will the McCain-Feingold bill affect that, if it passes the House?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President will continue to help elect people who believe in the same agenda that he believes in, in improving education and solving America's energy crisis, cutting taxes. And therefore, the President will engage in all activities that he deems appropriate to help support such candidates. The proceeds from the dinner last night go to electing members of the House and members of the Senate who support President Bush and his ideas. So it should be no surprise that the President would lend his support to such an endeavor.
Q Are we going to see that more often now, though? I mean, President Clinton was notorious for having fundraisers all the time. So will President Bush be doing the same thing?
MR. FLEISCHER: You'll be able to judge that for yourself. The President's schedule is always publicly available, and you'll be able to see.
Q Ari, if it appears that the House and Senate will not be able to agree on patients' bill of rights,over this 10 percent that you say is a poison pill, would the President consider bypassing the normal legislative process and calling for a summit?
MR. FLEISCHER: And going through what?
Q Calling for a summit.
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh. I'm not going to speculate on hypotheticals. The President's going to continue to work with members Congress, Democrat and Republican alike, to try to get it done.
Q He talked about the unprecedented way to resolve things.
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not going to speculate about the process. The process is defined, and the President's going to do his best to bring people together. He hopes that people will be willing to work with him, just as he's willing to work with them.
Q Ari, during the energy speech, the President talks about the stale debate over drilling for natural gas and hydrocarbons in Alaska. Was he signaling that he wants to take drilling ANWR off the table, put it on the sidelines, so the rest of the energy proposals can go forward?
MR. FLEISCHER: No.
Q Thank you.
Q Then what was he signaling --
MR. FLEISCHER: Thank you.
Q Yes, can you follow up on that? What did he mean by that statement?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President just --
Q -- no follow-up --
MR. FLEISCHER: What was that?
Q You said thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Is this a reversal of position?
Q I should not have cut him off. (Laughter.) Can we get a replay on that? What did he mean by that?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President was referring to the stale debate that suggests that we can't both conserve and explore. That's what the -- that was the focus of the President's remarks. THE PRESS: Thank you again.
MR. FLEISCHER: You're really welcome.
END 1:30 P.M. EDT