The White House, President George W. Bush Click to print this document

For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 11, 2001

Press Briefing by Ari Fleischer
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

      Listen to the Briefing

  1. Personnel announcements
  2. Medicare / prescription drugs
  3. Stem cell research
  4. Faith-based initiative / religious practices
  5. Hong Kong / President's meeting with Chief Executive
  6. Tax deduction for non-itemizers
  7. NIH spending increases
  8. Immigration Service
  9. Republican Congressional Conference topics
  10. Cuba / Helms-Burton
  11. Kweise Mfume / visit request
  12. Press conference
  13. Week ahead

12:40 P.M. EDT

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Good afternoon.  I have several personnel announcements to share.  The President intends to nominate William D. Montgomery as an Ambassador to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.  The President intends to nominate Clifford Bond to be Ambassador to Bosnia and Hercegovina.  The President intends to nominate Mario P. Fiori to be Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations and Environment.  The President intends to nominate Mary Peters to be Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.  The President intends to nominate Mauricio Tamargo to be Chairman of the Federal Claims Settlement Commission of the United States at the Department of Justice for a term of three years.  The President intends to nominate Charles Curie to be Administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  And the President intends to nominate William Baxter to be a member of the Board of Directors of the Tennessee Valley Authority for the remainder of a 9-year term.  One final note:  The President intends to nominate Robert Royall to be Ambassador of the United States to the Republic of Tanzania.

     I also want to note that yesterday in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Foreign Relations Committee approved the nominations of 16 ambassadors.  The President is thankful to the Foreign Relations Committee for their action on this large number of diplomats to fill the important posts.  He calls on the Senate to continue to make progress on the nominations by bringing these votes to the floor, as well.  But he is pleased by the action of the Foreign Relations Committee.


     Q    Ari, why does the President think it's a good idea to give senior citizens who don't have prescription drug insurance a discount card?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President is very troubled about the price of prescription drugs and the lack of access that senior citizens have to prescription drugs.  And the President is focused on a series of Medicare reform principles that he will announce tomorrow.  And the President believes that Medicare reform needs to make certain that it takes care of the senior citizens' needs and gets them prescription drugs within the Medicare program.

     Q    Will you comment specifically on the discount card that is a part of that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President also thinks it's very important, even before Medicare reform can be enacted, to help senior citizens to get the best prices possible so that the cost of prescription drugs can be lowered.

     Q    But he does support putting prescription drugs under the Medicare program, is that right?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will have an announcement tomorrow about his principles for Medicare, and the President does believe that Medicare reform must and should include prescription drug coverage for seniors as part of the Medicare program.

     Q    Is that what he said during the campaign?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's correct.

     Q    That is?

     Q    Why do a band-aid proposal?  Even supporters of this say this is a short-term measure --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  David, I think that any senior citizen that can get the price of their prescription drugs lowered won't view it as a band-aid, they'll view it as a prescription drug.

     Q    Will there be new government money making it cheaper for them to buy these drugs, or is it just a card that ties them into private sector plans that are already there?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will make an announcement tomorrow.  So on the specifics that you're asking about, I'm not going to go beyond where I've gone.  The President's announcement will be tomorrow, so from this podium right now, that's about as far as I can go.

     Q    The details that are public, in published reports, are accurate, though?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  They are accurate, yes.

     Q    Ari, is there any evidence that this will actually lead to a discount?  I mean, if millions of people get a discount, doesn't it get billed into the price and structure -- I mean, does it really have an impact --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There's no question this is in places where it's carried out a very popular program.  Senior citizens like it and AARP likes it, and again, it's a part of combining the power of group purchasing in a manner that lowers prices.

     Q    But, Ari, the drugstores and the pharmacists don't like it.  They say that basically the kind of emphasis on reducing prices is really on their backs for providing these discounts to the consumers, not on the backs of the pharmaceutical industry or on government providing low-income --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That may be the case.  But in all cases, the point of the President is that it's important to help senior citizens get prescription drugs at as low a price as possible. Seniors need prescription drugs and the President is committed to helping them receive prescription drugs and to do so in a manner that is affordable to senior citizens.  And that means lower prices.

     Q    Is that fair, if you don't hit the industry and you hit the regular -- the drugstore owners?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  It's not a question of hitting anybody, it's a question of helping people to get prescription drugs at lower prices.

     Q    But the burden falls -- it doesn't fall on the drug --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There are economies that can be achieved through group purchasing.

     Q    What happened to your immediate helping hand proposal, to help those seniors that can't afford even discounted --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The immediate helping hand proposal is part of the President's budget that is pending before the Congress.  Obviously, the Senate Finance Committee had some members who thought it was not the best route to take.  The President still is committed to it.  The President has kept it out as an active proposal before the Congress, as a reminder to Congress that, don't forget our seniors -- they need prescription drugs. And the Medicare debate will begin most likely sometime this fall.  And the President, tomorrow, will announce his principles for it.

     Q    -- would be part of those principles?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The immediate helping hand?  It's already a current proposal.

     Q    -- talks about the --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear the President's announcement.

     Q    Ari, given the shrinking surplus, can you still afford prescription drug coverage under Medicare or under any other plan?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There's no question you can.

     Q    Where does the money come from?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  From the budget.

     Q    Ari, one more on prescription drugs.  Is there a concern, though, that if you provide these discount cards that might provide political cover to some lawmakers who don't want to go forward and do prescription drug coverage --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Absolutely not.  The President is committed to both objectives:  to a fundamental reform in the Medicare system that includes prescription drugs, and the President also believes, and until a reform can be enacted, it's important to help seniors get prescription drugs at as low a prices as is possible.

     Q    As the President considers whether to federally fund embryonic stem cell research, what impact will the announcement of the Virginia firm creating embryos for the purpose of destroying them to extract stem cell lines, what impact will that have on his decision?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The revelation that there are groups that are now creating stem cells for the sole purpose of research, is a perfect illustration of the deep complexities our society faces as  a result of science and life.

     Even scientists who are involved in stem cell research have raised questions about what took place in Virginia.  And the President views this as a reminder that this is not a simple matter, that this is a matter that involves very sensitive and important issues that involve questions that are fundamental about life, about preserving life with science, on the other hand.  And I think when you read that story, you see that there are many people who are on the other side of the issue on stem cell research, who are clear advocates of stem cell research, who have raised questions.

     Q    Given the depth of these issues, what role will the President's personal religious beliefs play in his decision?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Terry, the President's personal religious beliefs do not influence his government decisions as a matter of religion.

     Q    This?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As a matter of religion.  No.  This is separation between matters of religion and government decisions. The President approaches these decisions about all matters governmental on a basis of who he is and what he believes is best for the country.  Who he is, is shaped by a variety of factors, and that's his background as a governor, it's his faith, it's his experience in working with Democrats and Republicans to bring about bipartisanship -- all factors go into one man's approach.  You cannot separate a man's background from his approach.

     But it is a very complicated and nuanced decision, and it's something the President is approaching in a very thoughtful and deliberative fashion. And, I think, frankly, it's a fashion which the American people will take comfort that the decision the President makes on stem cell research will be based on a careful thought, careful deliberation and a lot of listening. And he will make the decision on his own timetable, and he is going to listen to a lot of parties and face the complexities that this issue raises for everybody in our American society.

     Q    Is the President, like some scientists, opposed to what happened in Richmond?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President views that as a perfect illustration of the deep complexities that are raised by this issue.

     Q    Is he opposed, is he disturbed by what happened in Richmond?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  That's the President's view.

     Q    Is he opposed to what happened in Richmond?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's view is, this is a perfect illustration of the deep complexities that this issue raises.  And I think when the President makes his decision on stem cell, and when the President announces it, I think you'll find all the answers at that time.

     Q    Ari, following on that, does what happened in Virginia not speak to the need for federal oversight of this sort of research, to try to bring everyone under the NIH guidelines?  And if you abandon federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, are you not, therefore, encouraging more of this --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I give the same answer as I indicated to Ron, that any questions pertaining to that I think you'll hear when the President makes up his mind.  You'll hear that expressed from the President, himself.

     Q    Ari, I'm interested in whether the administration would support the denial of any assistance to anyone by a federally-funded religious organization because they were not -- they're atheists, they're not of the same religion?  Can any of these charities deny any assistance -- food or whatever -- to someone who is not of the same religion or is an atheist?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  If you're asking about the hiring practices of religious organizations --

     Q    No, we already got that --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The providing of services?  Let me take that.  I think that's a legal question; let me take that question.

     Q    A follow-up to that.  The HR-7 bill already overrides the local and state initiatives which would allow selective hiring.  And I want to know the administration's of, do they support that provision in the bill?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The HR-7 legislation, the faith-based legislation that passed in the Judiciary Committee by an overwhelming vote last week contains a provision that is in full support of the nation's civil rights laws as passed in the 1960s, and as affirmed in a 9-0 Supreme Court case that allows religious institutions to make hiring decisions in accordance with their faith.  To the degree that any federal law has an interaction with a state law that would differ in any way, that's a matter for the courts to resolve.

     Q    Ari, if I can follow that.  The group Alliance for Marriage will propose that the Defense of Marriage Act be turned into a constitutional amendment -- this act, of course, defining marriage as an union between a man and a woman, for purposes of superseding state laws like that in Vermont, which allows same-sex marriages.  What is the White House's position on this?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As you know, there is already a federal law on the books dealing with the defense of marriage that was signed by President Clinton that states as a matter of federal law, marriage is an institution that exists between a man and a woman.  The President supports that.

     Q    What's his view on the constitutional amendment?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I haven't discussed that with him.

     Q    Ari, why does the President favor a provision that basically is going to push something back into the courts, particularly this --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Paula, welcome to the law.  There are all kinds off issues that are state government issues that involve federalism, that involve different interpretations of state and local issues, with federal issues.  It's not a one clear-cut system we have; that's the way our laws work.

     Q    But in patients' bill of rights, one of your arguments has been that you don't want this to protect trial lawyers over patients, that you're trying to keep things out of the courts. So why are you --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President believes that people should have the right to sue; it's a question of which court is an appropriate court, a federal court or a state court.  And that's a matter that deals with ERISA legislation, as you know, which is a very highly complicated topic dealing with the rights of insurers to provide insurance.  It's not a statement about whether people have the right to go to court or not.  So the right to go to court is a guarantee.

     What I'm indicating here is that anytime, as always, that a state law is in conflict with a federal law, courts get involved.

     Q    Why isn't it a preference, though, in this instance, to support a provision that would just have a federal prohibition against any hiring practices that discriminate based on gender preference?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The federal law is clear and the President supports the federal law in this matter.

     Q    The President is going to meet the Hong Kong Chief Executive. Why is Hong Kong important to the U.S.?  And what is Hong Kong going to do for China-U.S. relations?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  There will be a meeting later this afternoon and we'll have a readout following that meeting.  But the President has invited Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-Hwa to meet with him today.  The visit is an opportunity for the two leaders to reaffirm the friendship and close ties between the United States and Hong Kong.  The President recognizes that Hong Kong civil liberties and rule of law make Hong Kong a model of success and stability.  And the President is looking forward to listening and hearing from Chief Executive Tung.

     Q    Is he happy with the current situation in Hong Kong?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think you'll get a readout after the meeting, and that's probably the best way to measure the meeting.

     Q    Ari, does the United States support an IMF-World Bank bailout for Argentina?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me take that.  I have no information for you on that.

     Q    Mr. Fleischer?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Where did that come from?  (Laughter.)  Dana, are you throwing your voice?

     Q    This is the first I've asked --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll go to Mr. Milbank, and then you.

     Q    Ari, does the White House support a reduction in the size of the charitable tax deduction for non-itemizers, reducing that --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As with all the tax proposals the President has sent to the Hill, he wishes the Hill would pass his tax proposals exactly as he sent them.  Obviously, that's not always the case.  And our nation is now seeing, as a result of the tax bill that has been signed into law, even though it wasn't everything the President asked for, it was an awful lot of what he asked for.

     The actions that will be taken in the Ways and Means Committee to support the President's faith-based initiative provide for a charitable deduction for people who do not itemize on their taxes, just as the President proposed.  It's not at the exact levels that the President proposed, but it's a $13-billion package.  And the President is very pleased that for the first time since 1986, people who do not itemize on their tax forms will receive a charitable deduction.  It's not everything he asked for, but it's much of what he asked for.

     Q    The question I had is, the President proposed more than an 11-percent increase for NIH spending on science and technology this year, but a net cut in other areas.  There's a report coming out today which says -- agrees basically with the administration's arithmetic on that, but suggests that there might be an increase due in some of the other areas in order to help the economy and work in other non-medical research areas. Has the administration considered accepting any adjustments in its non-medical -- upward adjustments in its non-medical research or science and technology?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President was very pleased to propose the doubling of the budget for the NIH that is pending in the Congress right now.  It looks like it's on target.  And the President will continue to work with Congress to make certain that all funding issues are resolved satisfactorily.

     Q    Ari, the President announced yesterday he wants to reform the Immigration Service, split it up into two groups, make one for service and one for enforcement.  When does he intend to push this proposal to Congress, and who will be the point man in the White House?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, that was also part of the President's budget that is pending in the Congress.  It's another reminder to Congress that the Congress needs to get moving and acting on the President's plan.  The President believes very deeply that immigrants add to the quality of life in the United States and that we need to be a nation that welcomes immigrants; the Republican Party should be a party that welcomes immigrants.  And that matter is pending before the Congress.


     Q    On Monday we asked you when the President believed that life begins, and you e-mailed us later that day --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Correct.

     Q    -- at conception.  Would it be possible for you to ask him if he believes that an egg fertilized outside of the womb constitutes conception, and therefore, a living being?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Jim, I think everybody is asking around about the same questions dealing with stem cell research and the President's approach to it.  As I indicated, the President will decide this matter on his own timetable.  And when he does, I think the nation will hear a very thoughtful explanation of what factors the President took into consideration with whatever decision he makes, and that will all be shared at the time.

     Q    Is he on a timetable?

     Q    Did this meeting come up with the House Republican Conference this morning -- did he discuss stem cell research?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No, it did not come up.

     Q    Did he present his Medicare reform plans to --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No.  The President's remarks this morning focused on education, focused on patients' bill of rights, it focused on the faith-based initiative, it focused on trade, and the President also thanked the Congress -- Republicans in the House -- for their action to give strength to the economy by cutting taxes.

     Q    Ari, just one more on the stem cell.  Last night the President met with bio-ethicists.  What was he looking for, what was he listening for in that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, when I say that the President is approaching this in a very thoughtful and deliberative fashion, that's evidenced by several of the meetings that the President has held this week alone.  The President this week has met with people who represent Americans who suffer from debilitating diseases.  The President has met with people from the Right To Life community.  The President has met with some of the leading ethicists in our nation.  And the President is going to continue to listen very carefully to all sides of this issue so that when he makes his decision it will be a very informed decision, it will be a very sensitive decision, and it will be a decision that recognizes the deep complexities that this matter raises for our society.  This is not a simple matter.

     And the President is very aware that the ramifications of whatever decision he makes will be with mankind for a considerable period of time. It is not just a matter for one President to decide.  This is a very fundamental point that involves some great sensitivities on all sides of a delicate issue.  And that's precisely why the President has been meeting, and listening.  And that will be reflected when the President makes his decision on it.

     Q    Well, does he have a timetable, though, for making a decision? Or is this rumble just going to continue on indefinitely?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  As I indicated, the President will make this decision on his own timetable.  And, again, I think the American people take comfort in the fact that the President is approaching something that can last mankind for so long, in such a serious fashion.  And he will make up his mind when he has completed the conversations that he intends to have and when he is ready and when the timetable is complete.

     Q    Does he have more of those conversations scheduled, Ari, in the next few days?  Is he continuing meetings?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President will have additional conversations.

     Q    Within the next few days?

     Q    Ari, is he devoting more time to this decision than any other decision so far?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You know, I was asked about that previously, and it's hard to put decisions on a linear path like that.  Many decisions are important.  This decision involves very profound and important ethical considerations; considerations dealing with health, science, technology and the promise of breakthroughs on health, science and technology.  And it also involves issues involving a culture of life.

     Q    Ari, you sent us that e-mail that he believes that life begins at conception.  Does he continue to believe that?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Yes.

     Q    And that's not something that he's wrestling with, in making this decision?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I think, again, all the factors that go into the President's decision, the President, himself, will explain when he made his decision.

     Q    So he may be wrestling with that issue, as well?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I'm not going to indicate anything beyond what I've said:  if the President has something to announce, he will announce it and he will share that with the American people in a manner that answers many of these questions.  But until then, the President is going to continue to listen to people and to think very carefully about this.

     I don't think the American people expect him to be in any hurry to decide this.  But they do expect him to focus on this in a very careful and deliberative fashion because of the ethical implications of whatever decision is made.

     Q    Ari, the President has mentioned several times in front of Cuban Americans that he is going to increase the pressure on Fidel Castro's regime.  And this week he's going to impose a new waiver for Chapter 3 of Helms-Burton -- that is something that the Cuban Americans are not looking for in this administration.  Do you think this decision will be a danger for his brother's political future in Florida?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Well, first of all, that decision is under review. There is a timetable for it; the timetable is not yet fulfilled.  There is additional time remaining on the congressional clock, in terms of when that decision must be made.  So I would just urge you to wait until the decision is made in accordance with the timetable, and there is no need to decide it today.

     Q    Ari, two things.  First of all, how can you say that the American public can understand that the President wants to take his time on this, when this situation has major medical ramifications?

     And, two, Kweisi Mfume wants to meet with President Bush.  He did not come out inflammatory -- with inflammatory statements -- as inflammatory statements as Julian Bond.  Will he be granted a meeting with President Bush?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Number one, I stand by what I said.  I think that's an accurate description.  And, number two, I'm always willing to share the schedule with you and there is nothing on it at this moment, but if anything changes, I'll let you know.

     Q    Is the President aware of what's been going on with the NAACP?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Certainly.

     Q    What has he said about Julian Bond's statements?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I've expressed that.

     Q    The President has been in office six months now.  He's had only three news conferences here.  When can we expect another news conference, so we can put him on the pan, instead of you?  (Laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Helen, some days I'm very much in favor of that -- more so than others.

     Q    Only two news conferences.

     Q    Two?  Is it only two?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Three, he's had three formal news conferences here in the Briefing Room.  And, of course, he had five in a row on the last trip to Europe, every day of the trip to Europe.

     Q    That was nice, but -- (laughter.)

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We'll keep you advised when he has news conferences. Will you be joining us on the trip to Europe?  Will you be joining us on the July trip?

     Q    Will you take me along on Air Force One?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Will you be joining us?

     Q    No.  (Laughter.)

     Q    What about new organizations that don't have enough money to join you on all those press conferences?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  I highly recommend you make more money.  (Laughter.)

     Q    If there was already language written into the faith-based initiative, the HR-7, that protected religious organizations from -- protected their hiring practices, why was the President even considering the bill, the regulation that the Salvation Army had asked for?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Because all kinds of groups ask for things and they go under review.  And the White House aides who reviewed it, looked at and made their decision as announced last night.

     Q    Does the White House have any reaction to the new criticism from the EU of the President's position on global warming?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  The President's position on global warming remains unchanged.

     Q    Do you remember my name?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  No sign.  (Laughter.)

     Q    Congressman Chris Smith --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  You already got your question.  You said, do you remember my name?  (Laughter.)

     Q    Well, let me ask a follow-up.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  A follow-up?  (Laughter.)

     Q    Congressman Chris Smith has a poll that was done several weeks ago that says 70 percent of the country favors stem cell research, but 70 percent opposes embryonic stem cell research.  Will that --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me stop you right there.  The President has said this is not going to be a decision that is made by the polls.  This is going to be a decision that the President makes on the basis of what he believes is right and wrong, having listened to a great number of people.

     I want to just reiterate what I said before.  This is an issue whose implications will last mankind for an extended period of time.  And that is the manner in which the President is approaching this.  Polls don't matter to him.

     Q    He is aware that --

     MR. FLEISCHER:  We need to wrap in a second, because there is a Presidential event and I do have some scheduling announcements I want to share with everybody about some upcoming events.  So let me do that.

     Q    The President is aware that his decision will not end research, isn't he?

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Let me get to the announcements.  I think we've exhausted the topic.

     On Friday, Condoleezza Rice will have a pre-Europe trip-briefing in this room at 10:15 a.m., on the record, on camera.  And the President will travel to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on Friday, to tour and make remarks on the patients' bill of rights and on Medicare, before he departs for the weekend to Camp David.

     On Sunday afternoon, the President will return to the White House, where he will host the third T-ball game on the South Lawn.  The teams will come from what's called the Challenger League.  That is a league for mentally and physically disabled children.

     On Monday, the President will present the Congressional Medal of Honor to Ed Freeman of Boise, Idaho, in a ceremony here at the White House.  Mr. Freeman distinguished himself as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.  I will have additional information for you later in the week about next weeks events leading up to the trip for Europe.

     THE PRESS:  Thank you.

     MR. FLEISCHER:  Thank you, everybody.

                             END              1:12 P.M. EDT

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