For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 26, 2001
Press Briefing by
By Ari Fleischer
Phone Conversation with President of Indonesia.............1
Patients' Bill of Rights................................1-11
Meeting with Congressman Norwood
Comments on Immigration/Guest Worker Program......6-7, 12-14
Gun Buy-Back Provision.................................11-12
China/Release of Dissident.............................14-15
Faith-Based Initiative/Senator Lieberman Meeting..........15
the White House
Office of the Press Secretary
for Immediate Release July 26, 2001
Press Briefing By
the James S. Brady Briefing Room
12:45 P.M. EDT
MR. FLEISCHER: Good
afternoon. The President intends to appoint Richard J.
Warren to be a member of the Roosevelt Campobello International Park
Commission. And I have a readout on a phone call the
President made early this morning.
President Bush had a cordial 10-minute
phone conversation with President Megawati of Indonesia this
morning. The President called and congratulated her and
Indonesia on the peaceful transfer of power, emphasized the importance
of Indonesia's unity, prosperity and continued democratic
development. He reaffirmed the United States' commitment to
working with Indonesia to address its many challenges.
I'm pleased to take questions.
Q Is the President
any closer on the stem cell research?
MR. FLEISCHER: Nothing new to
Q Ari, what
progress has been made on the patients' bill of rights? The President
said there are serious conversations today. What area of
compromise would he accept?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
today sees progress on two fronts involving a patients' bill of
rights. One is the number of members of Congress who are
indicating they are switching positions and supporting legislation
sponsored by Congressman Ernie Fletcher; and two, his conversation this
morning in the Oval Office with Congressman Charlie
Norwood. The President sees reasons for optimism and
progress on both fronts.
Q Can you be more
MR. FLEISCHER: As you know, the
President has been meeting now for several weeks with members of
Congress of both parties, principally in the House of Representatives,
on patients' bill of rights legislation, urging members to pass a
patients' bill of rights that can be signed into law because it
protects patients in their dealings with HMOs without driving up the
cost of health insurance. Toward that point, in these
meetings, the President has spoken with many members who have
previously voted for the Norwood legislation, who this year are
indicating a willingness to support the Fletcher bill. And
there is continued progress on that front in the course of these
private meetings. The President just concluded a meeting in
the Oval Office.
This morning, at 8:30 a.m., the President
met privately with Congressman Norwood, which is a follow-up to several
meetings that have been taking place on the staff level with
Congressman Norwood. And the President was encouraged by the
meeting. They are talking about ways to get a patients' bill
of rights passed into law that meets the President's principles --
principally, that it does not drive up the cost of health insurance
because there's no point in enacting a patients' bill of rights into
law that means that people are going to lose the very insurance that it
is designed to be protecting.
And discussions will continue with
Congressman Norwood and with many other members. The point
is the President is going to continue to reach out and talk to members
of Congress as hard as he can, because he is committed to getting a
patients' bill of rights that protects patients signed into law this
Q Is he seeking a
compromise? I mean, he's talking to all these people -- are
they making any impression on him?
MR. FLEISCHER: Oh,
certainly. And he's making an impression on them, they're
making an impression on him.
Q Is he changing
his mind about anything?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
wants to work with the Congress on the specific terms of the patients'
bill of rights so that one can be signed that keeps in mind his focus
on enacting a patients' bill of rights into law that gives patients the
protections they need such as access to emergency room care, a woman's
right to go visit her OB/GYN without first going through a
gatekeeper. To afford patients those types of protections,
without creating such a new system of lawsuits that the cost of health
care is driven up to the point where people lose their health insurance
coverage. And that's the balance the President is working
with members of Congress to reach, and members of Congress are working
with the President.
Q Why do you assume
lawsuits if there's going to be good care and so forth?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because there is
no question about it, that if you make lawsuits such a preeminent part
of health care, the cost to people who provide health insurance in the
first place will go up, and therefore, people will lose their
insurance. After all, this whole debate about a patients'
bill of rights is about giving people health insurance that protects
them in their dealings with HMOs. What good does it do a
patient if they lose the very insurance that they need in the first
place to get health care?
Q Why are they
going to lose it?
MR. FLEISCHER: And to the
degree that these lawsuits drive up costs, employers will be less
likely to offer insurance to their employees, and that is one of the
greatest ways Americans get their insurance is, thanks to
Q But why do you
say that the lawsuits are preeminent in this legislation?
MR. FLEISCHER: Because in the
Norwood approach, to a certain degree there are no caps at all on the
amount that can be recovered in damages and lawsuits brought in state
court. The President wants to give people the right to sue
if they've been wronged. It's just a question of what
reasonable limits can be put on the right to sue so that the bill does
not become one that enriches the trial lawyers at the expense of people
being able to afford health insurance in the first place.
Q So he wanted
Q Ari, two
questions. First, what was the crux, the central core of the
conversations, specifically between Norwood and the President on the
patients' bill of rights? Two, the Speaker said today that
he still has hopes this can be dealt with before Congress leaves for
the August recess. Does it matter to the White House whether this is
voted on before the recess, or after? Tactically, does it
make any difference?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me take your
second question first. Getting a patients' bill of rights
signed into law has been a 10-year battle in the United States
Congress. It's languished; it has not gotten
done. Whether the President was a Republican or the
President was a Democrat, it just hasn't gotten
done. Whether Congress was a Democrat or Congress was
Republican-controlled, it didn't get done.
From the President's point of view,
whether this measure gets voted on today, tomorrow, next week, or next
month, is not as important as that it gets done and signed into
law. The President believes the American people have waited
too long for a patients' bill of rights, and what's most important is
to get an agreement so it can get signed into law this year in a way
that protects patients and their dealings with HMOs without driving up
the costs of health care.
Specifically, on the meeting this morning,
they discussed several substantive areas of the legislation, which I'm
not prepared to get into, but they both have a willingness to work with
each other to get the job done. And that's another
encouraging sign of progress.
It's also a sign of how hard the President
works this issue, how he reaches out to people who don't always share
his exact approach to legislation. And the President is
hopeful that at the end of the day, enough fruitful conversations will
take place that enables millions of Americans to have better protection
in their dealings with their HMOs.
Q But there's more
to compromise than back-slapping and hand-shaking. What
specifically has he said he would do, policy-wise, in the way of
MR. FLEISCHER: As I just
indicated to Major, there were substantive discussions in the course of
the meeting with Congressman Norwood.
Q Beyond just that
meeting. If you don't want to talk about that meeting, can
you tell us an example of where he's willing to compromise?
MR. FLEISCHER: What do you
think takes place at all these meetings with members of Congress when
they come down and sit around a table and talk about patients' bill of
rights with the President? If you think the only thing that
takes place --
Q We don't
know. Apparently, they had substantive conversations, but
what we're trying to figure out --
MR. FLEISCHER: That's exactly
Q -- is what
exactly is the substance of that conversation. Like where is
the President willing to compromise? Can you give us an
MR. FLEISCHER: There is a
series of discussions -- take legal liability, for
example. There is no question there is 90 percent agreement
on so many of the key protections in this bill that afford patients
what they need when they deal with HMOs, such as access to emergency
rooms, a woman's right to go see her OB/GYN, a parent's right to have
their child see a pediatrician. There is widespread
agreement. If Congress would send President Bush that bill,
a patients' bill of rights could be enacted into law today.
But Congress instead is focusing on a bill
that contains poison pills. And those poison pills are much of the
conversation. They involve legal liability issues that drive
up the cost of health care. Those issues include venues for
court cases, state and federal. They include limits on
damages, non-economic, economic, punitive. All those are
measures that are under discussion.
When it comes to the things that people
most relate to, going to see their doctor and getting good care,
there's widespread agreement. When it comes to things that
involve trial lawyers and the cost of health insurance, as a result of
excessive legal fees, that's where the differences lie. And
that's where it's very hard to move Democrats off of those provisions
that help the trial lawyers. The problem with helping the
trial lawyers, in this case, is they drive up the cost of health care
to consumers and to the companies that provide health insurance in the
Q Is the President
willing to move -- you keep talking about moving Democrats away from
their position. Are you willing to change your position on
the venue or on the cap size of the lawsuit?
MR. FLEISCHER: Let me give you
an example where the President has indicated flexibility that still
conforms to his principles. And that was in a speech in
Florida. The President said that he believed that the best
way to protect people's right to keep their health insurance was to
have all legal matters brought in federal court, because companies are
able to provide insurance on the basis of a federal law that provides a
one nation standard for health insurance.
There is a bill moving in the House,
sponsored by Congressman Ernie Fletcher, that has a mixed system of
state and federal action on lawsuits. The President thought that the
mix was right in the Fletcher bill and he indicated a willingness to --
he has supported the Fletcher approach. That's a bit of a dual track
about state and federal. There's a perfect
example. If others demonstrate the same flexibility the
President has demonstrated, a patients' bill of rights can be signed
into law this year.
Q Is the concept of
a cap part of all of this discussion? A cap on the size --
FLEISCHER: Certainly. As the President made clear
from the very beginning of this debate in the speech he made in Florida
in the winter, the President believes there can and should
be a cap on the amount of damages somebody can
collect. That way the cost, again, is not driven out of
control by outrageous and excessive lawsuits.
The cap in the state of Texas was set at a
level of $750,000, which is a level the President has
cited. The cap in the Fletcher bill is set at approximately
$500,000. The cap under discussion in the proposal of
Congressman Norwood and Senator Kennedy is at a level of $5 million.
That's an area that the President believes is way too excessive.
Q Are the
discussions ongoing then haggling about the precise size of the cap,
and is there some point between $250,000 and $5 million --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not going to
do the President's negotiating through the press. There are
serious conversations underway that give the President encouragement,
and that's what you would hope and expect toward the end of a
legislative process. That's how Congress and the President
work together to get the people's business done.
Q Two questions,
Ari. Can you elaborate in any way on the President's
statement this morning that he's open-minded in considering other
countries in the immigration reforms being considered by the working
MR. FLEISCHER: What the
President indicated is that he has not made any decisions yet, but that
matter is under review. And he cited, of course, the reason
for much of his focus is because of the impending visit of his good
friend, President Fox of Mexico for the state visit in September.
Q He indicated a
willingness to include other countries.
FLEISCHER: Certainly. All along -- the White
House has said that all along, that the President had made no decisions
about the exact groups that may be liable for more humane and legal
treatment as a part of an expanded or improved guest worker
program. But no decisions have been made. The
President is considering various ideas about how to apply changes in
the guest worker program and to whom those changes should apply to.
Q And one other
area. The House, as you know, yesterday voted to lift travel
restrictions to Cuba. What's the President's position on
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
does not support that. The President thinks it's important
to send a strong message of standing strong against oppression in Cuba,
and that is not a measure that the President would support.
Q Would you kill
MR. FLEISCHER: It's a little
early in the process to get into that. This, after all, just took
place. The legislative process concerning this action is
Q Why doesn't he
MR. FLEISCHER: Because the
President thinks it's very important to stand strong against oppression
in Cuba and to keep a strict economic embargo in place against Cuba.
Q But there is a
lot of travel now, and it's growing.
MR. FLEISCHER: That's the
Q Ari, usually when
the President wants to talk to lawmakers about legislation, they come
to the White House. And all of the meetings on the patients'
bill of rights have been here. This afternoon, he's going up
there, he's going to go to Speaker Hastert's office, sit down with
members. Doesn't this sort of create the impression or look like he's
going hat in hand to members who sort of -- almost begging for votes?
MR. FLEISCHER: With all due
respect, I think this is an indication that sometimes with the press,
no matter what a President does, it doesn't matter what the party is --
the press will find a reason to oppose it. It used to be
that the President was not engaged. Now, all of a
sudden, the President is very heavily engaged. The press
says, why is he engaged.
I don't think it matters what venue the
President uses to convince members of Congress that the nation needs a
strong patients' bill of rights. The President is pleased to
have meetings with members of Congress to discuss his initiatives and
his ideas to build support so that patients around America can have
protections in their dealings with HMOs. So the President is
honored and pleased to go to Capitol Hill and meet with members of
Q Did the idea for
this come from the White House, or did Hastert say that this would be a
good thing to do?
MR. FLEISCHER: I haven't --
this is so routine, I haven't looked into the origins of
it. Get used to the fact that you have a President who was
governor of Texas, working very hard and very well with members of the
legislature, and often did so by surprise drop-ins on their offices.
In the federal system, as President, it's
a little harder to have a surprise with that motorcade that has to be
taken up there. But it's a sign of how the President
believes it's important to reach out and talk to members of Congress,
to listen to their concerns, to hear them, and it's a perfect
continuation of what he did as governor of Texas very successfully.
There obviously are upcoming votes that
will take place in the patients' bill of rights, which will be the best
indication of whether the President's effort was
successful. But make no mistake -- because he wants to give
patients protections, he's sparing no effort at working with members of
Congress to make progress and get an agreement.
Q Ari, does the
fact that you've intensified these discussions with Norwood mean that
there's an understanding here that if you do get the Fletcher bill, it
won't exactly be the Fletcher bill, it's going to have to be some
modified version of it?
MR. FLEISCHER: Keith, it's an
indication, as the President said in his remarks from the Oval Office,
that he wants to get an agreement on patients' bill of rights, and that
conforms with his principles. And those principles are that
patients get the protections they need, without forcing the cost of
health care up. So there are a series of vehicles moving on
the Hill, the Fletcher bill, the Norwood bill. And what you
see here is a President willing to work with various parties to get the
Q But just a
follow-up. You wouldn't be talking to Norwood if you were
doing so well on the Fletcher bill, would you?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's an
indication that it's important to work several fronts at the same
time. Both conversations help with each other.
Q Based on the
arguments you've been giving, it seems like the crux of the matter
rests in an assurance that whatever reaches the President's desk has
some form of independent review process, where everything's exhausted
first, and then, and only then, would you go to federal court. Excuse
me if I'm getting that right or wrong -- state court. You
know what I mean. If you were able to reach some sort of
agreement with Norwood on this independent review process, that would
sort of eliminate your fear of all this explosion of
litigation. So if you could -- if
Norwood would agree with the Fletcher mixed review system, would the
administration then be willing to show some flexibility on the
MR. FLEISCHER: The purpose of a
strong independent review is to give patients recourse to reverse a
decision an HMO makes if they don't like the HMO
decision. Patients don't want to end up in court, they want
health care. You don't get health care from in a court
room. You get legal liability, you get a damage
award. Patients are less interested in that -- lawyers are
more interested in damage awards.
Patients are more interested in getting
health care from their doctor. Patients would much rather see a doctor
than a lawyer, and that's what a good independent review is
about. It means that if an HMO denies a patient treatment,
because the insurance policy won't allow the doctor to do what the
doctor says is right, the patient should be able to go to independent
review and then the doctor should do what the independent review tells
the doctor to do. It should be used as a vehicle to get
health care to patients. It should not be used, primarily,
as a vehicle to get lawyers into courtrooms, which drives up the cost
of health care. And that's the way the President views
independent review organization, and that's an important substantive
part of everybody's legislation.
Q Would it be
accurate to say that the independent review process, the Fletcher
provision on this area, is non-negotiable, but if you can get Norwood
and company to agree to that, then the administration would be willing
to negotiate on the caps between $500,000 and $5 million, because --
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm just not
going to get into the sustenance of what the President and Congressman
Norwood are discussing, as well as the staff discussions with
Congressman Norwood. Just suffice it to say, the President
is pleased with the meetings, pleased with the progress, and he's
dedicated to it.
Q Ari, in any of
the meetings with the Republicans, does the President talk about the
political impact on the party of having to veto a bill, what it would
mean if he has to tell the public he can't sign this bill?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
has just said directly, in response to one question a member of
Congress asked him yesterday, the member said, will you veto Ganske if
it's sent to you? And the President gave him a one word
Q But have you
talked about the political impact that would have, and have you also
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
Q Are there
discussions about -- I know a lot of the members of Congress came out
to the microphones roundabout, saying that the Democrats are going to
use this in the elections if there is a veto, so we're trying to find a
solution this year, and that's sort of the impetus. How much
of that has been discussed in the White House, in the Oval Office --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the
discussions are entirely substantive. They are focused on
the provisions of the legislation, and the President is making his case
to members and the members are listening.
Q And you're not
worried about the political impact if there is a veto?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
has told members of Congress directly that his job as President is to
protect the American people so they get health care, and that he will
not support a bill that would hurt the American people's ability to
have health care coverage. He's talked to members of
Congress about the huge problem in this country of the uninsured, and
he's asked the members of Congress not to make it worse. By
passing a patients' bill of rights that drives up the cost of health
care so that people lose their health care coverage, that adds to the
number of uninsured in America. And that's the President's
message to members of Congress.
Q On another point,
when Norwood was leaving he said, "we aren't changing
anything." So where does the President see progress?
MR. FLEISCHER: I'm not aware of
what Congressman Norwood said as far as that's concerned, but again,
I'm not going to talk about the substance of their
discussions. But there's a reason the President is
Q Ari, why did the
Bush administration pull the plug on the gun buy-back program?
MR. FLEISCHER: On the gun
buy-back program, that was a program operated by the Department of
Housing and Urban Development whose mission is to provide housing for
American citizens who are low-income and in need. There are other
departments in the government whose mission is to protect people within
that public housing and to make certain that the laws of our country
are being obeyed.
And toward that point, the administration
has made millions -- hundreds of millions of dollars available this
year to support Project Safe Neighborhoods, for example -- that's one
program -- $558.8 million is in the Bush budget for Project Safe
Neighborhoods, and that provides $15.3 million for 113 new U.S.
attorneys to serve as full-time gun prosecutors; $75 million to fund
600 new state and local gun prosecutors to work in partnership with
federal law enforcement to reduce gun violence. So there are
a series of actions being taken by this administration to reduce gun
violence; that includes public housing projects. But the
mission of HUD is a different mission and HUD has been racked in
previous years by the inability to carry out their core
mission. And this is a focus on their core mission.
Q But the point of
this program was to take 20,000 guns off the street. It's
great that you have lawyers that can help out, but what about the fact
that there's going to still be 20,000 guns on the
street? The point was to get them off the street --
MR. FLEISCHER: And that's why
the President has ordered these initiatives that provide hundreds of
millions of dollars of new funding, to make certain that whatever guns
are on the street are not in the hands of criminals.
Q Would he be
willing to move it to a different agency or department in law
enforcement? The program -- he just doesn't like the
MR. FLEISCHER: No, it's much
more a jurisdictional issue here, that this is not part of the core
mission of HUD. HUD's core mission, which it's had a lot of
trouble with in recent years --
Q Okay, so you put
it in Justice --
MR. FLEISCHER: I could walk
through the entire list of programs that Justice is working on, but I
think you may want to talk to Justice about whether that's in their
Q Would the
President be willing to do that, change the jurisdiction?
Q Does the
President think this was a successful program, or not?
MR. FLEISCHER: It's not a topic
I've discussed specifically with the President. I can just
walk through with you the reasons why this is not under HUDs core
Q We know that's
your position. Would you be willing to move it to another
MR. FLEISCHER: As I said, this
is a matter that's not under HUD's jurisdiction. Whether
it's the jurisdiction of another department such as the Attorney
General, you may want to address that to the Attorney General's
Q No, I'm
addressing it here --
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, I just
indicated, it's not a topic that I've talked to the President about.
Q Ari, the
President today was very clear in saying he does not support blanket
amnesty. And you keep talking of a temporary worker permit
or a guest worker -- or whatever they're called. In other
words, for anybody to be able to -- the President said today an
employee has to want to work for that employer and he said there must
be a mechanism, a way of making both ends match. So all this
talk about amnesty, all it is is a worker program, that's
all. You've got to have the worker and the guy who wants to
hire him, right?
MR. FLEISCHER: I would hesitate
to say "all it is." That's a lot. There's an important need
to help immigrants come to this country and have the legal protections
they're entitled to, as well as a humane, safe, and legal way for them
to enter into our nation's borders.
One of the biggest problems with people
coming to this country from Mexico is they have been entering in ways
that have led to tragedies, human tragedies, with people dying on the
borders trying to get through. And if we can create a new
guest worker program that addresses some of those concerns, we can
protect the lives of people who come to this country for
opportunity. And that's why the President is focused on
I would just remind you that nobody in
this administration talked about amnesty. You heard the
President's position on it. It's always been a guest worker
program, as was accurately reported in the first story on this topic.
Q How about the
people who are already here? There are millions of them that
are already here; they're probably working illegally, and the workers
would probably like to retain them. Would they be eligible
MR. FLEISCHER: This applies to
the people who are already here.
Q Even if they're
MR. FLEISCHER: That's
correct. This applies to people who are already here.
Q As long as both
MR. FLEISCHER: This applies to
people who are already in this country, and it, of course, would have
implications for how people arrive in this country beyond that.
Q Which leads to
the central question. If the President is not in favor of
blanket amnesty, but nevertheless, this guest worker system as it has
been described to me would be a transitional bridge to full legal
status, don't you eventually achieve amnesty, or something very close
to it, for the people who are already here? It's not just a
guest worker program that has a date certain where they have to go
back. It's a bridge to becoming a full-fledged legal
MR. FLEISCHER: Only after they
avail themselves of their legal rights to apply for citizenship, which
takes a considerable period of time, of course.
Q But citizenship
is different from being able to permanently work in the United States.
MR. FLEISCHER: Major, I think
until the President makes his determination about what steps to take,
you're jumping ahead. You don't know what the President is
going to decide. But what you know is that the President is
indicated that we need to be a country that welcomes immigrants to our
shores. And there are millions of people here who are here
illegally, who came here for opportunity, and there are millions --
there are many people who risked their lives coming
here. The President would like to set up a system that is
humane, that is legal, that is safe, so that immigrants can come here
and be welcomed with the opportunities that this nation presents.
Q I'm jumping
ahead, it's only because I have been lead there by people I've talked
to within this administration who say what is currently contemplated is
something where guest worker is a transitional phase to legal
status. So isn't this much closer to amnesty than the
President is actually conceding?
MR. FLEISCHER: No, because as
the President indicated, he opposes a blanket amnesty. There
is a difference between that and the guest worker program, which as the
President and Jacobo just indicated, matches employers' needs with
employees presence here.
Q Ari, the White
House has expressed its pleasure at the release of Gao Zhan; the
President even suggesting a bit of pride, suggesting that it came as a
result or after his talks with Jiang Zemin. Is the U.S.
pursuing any remedy for the illegal detention of a U.S. citizen, in
this case, Gao Zhan's son, either in terms of a monetary remedy or some
other sanction on the part of China?
MR. FLEISCHER: Wendell, there's
nothing that I'm aware of when it pertains to that.
Q Why not?
MR. FLEISCHER: Well, the point
here is the President has repeatedly spoken out against China and their
violations of human rights. And he will
continue to do so, just as he did today. The President
is heartened by the result of these two releases in this
case. And they did follow the President's call and personal
message to President Jiang Zemin. This has been a
contentious issue with China, and as the President said, it's very
important for China to understand that as they modernize and become a
part of the developed world, human rights is a key component of
development. And the President will be looking to China on that
Q Do we have any
indication, Ari -- if I could follow -- do we have any indication this
is something that China might not repeat next week, next month?
MR. FLEISCHER: That's a
question you need to ask Chinese authorities. It's not in the hands of
the United States.
Q Can you address
the pending legislation on religious charities and the conversation the
President had this morning with Senator Lieberman and Senator Santorum,
and especially their indication that there was some possibility, they
had thought, on Title VII of the discrimination provisions?
MR. FLEISCHER: The President
had a very constructive meeting today with Senator Lieberman and
Senator Santorum, in which progress was made and having the Senate take
up a key initiative, which is helping people who have some of the most
difficult problems in our society through faith-based initiatives.
Senator Lieberman was very powerful -- his
support for the overall program. The President is looking
forward to working with the Senate on the exact details of the program,
and doing so in a way that comports fully with the nation's existing
civil rights laws.
And I've got to go catch a vehicle to get
up to the Hill for the next series of meetings so I can answer more of
your questions. Thank you, everybody.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:12 P.M. EDT