|The White House
President George W. Bush
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For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
January 5, 2005
Press Gaggle by Scott McClellan
Aboard Air Force One
En Route Collinsville, Illinois
12:24 P.M. EST
MR. McCLELLAN: All right, good morning, everybody. I've got a few world leader calls to read out, and a few announcements to make to begin with. First of all, this morning the President had three world leader phone calls. He spoke with King Abdullah of Jordan about Iraq. Jordan is going to be hosting the foreign ministers meeting of Iraq's neighbors on January 6th, and the President told the King that he hoped the conference would encourage participation by all Iraqis in the upcoming election. And the King agreed that promoting democracy in Iraq was a goal we all shared.
And then, following that, the President spoke with President Mubarak about Iraq in advance of the Arab League ministers meeting, which is in Cairo on January 12th. And one of the topics, obviously, they'll be discussing there is Iraq. President Mubarak assured the President that he shared the United States' support for the political process in Iraq. And the President thanked President Mubarak for his leadership in the run-up to the elections, the Palestinian elections on January 9th.
And the third phone call was with President Yawer of Iraq. The President expressed strong support for the political process in Iraq, and the President talked about the importance of moving forward on the elections. The President also expressed his appreciation for President Yawer's leadership during this important period in Iraq's history.
And so those were the three phone calls.
Q All from Air Force One?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, no, this was at the White House. This was this morning before his usual intelligence briefings, which he then had.
Q How long were they?
MR. McCLELLAN: Each of them -- the first couple were around five minutes, and then the last one was about 15 minutes, around 15 minutes. Let me finish this, and we'll come back.
The Freedom Corps greeter in Illinois is Connie Bergmann, who has, for the past two years, volunteered with the American Red Cross. Then the President looks forward to going to Collinsville and talking about the importance of acting to pass medical liability reforms this year. The President, when we get there, will be meeting with some individuals to -- who have firsthand experience with the problems in our current medical liability system. He'll be talking with a neurosurgeon and a cardiologist, both who have had to close part of their practices. He'll be speaking with a -- meeting with a hospital administrator who had to shut down the OB/GYN unit. And he'll be speaking with an OB/GYN doctor who was forced to leave the state.
And then he'll also be talking with, as I mentioned yesterday, a pregnant mother who is now on her third OB/GYN doctor during this pregnancy because the previous two doctors have moved out of state. And this woman is also a labor and delivery nurse at St. Anthony's Hospital in Alton. And so she's seen firsthand a number of doctors -- in fact, seen half the OB/GYN doctors leave in the past year at that hospital. And one of the things that the President will talk about in his remarks, I expect, is how, in the last two years, about 60 physicians in the Madison County and St. Clair County area have either shut down their practices or moved out of state because of the liability crisis. And I expect in his remarks he'll also talk about some of the other reforms we're working on for our health care system, as well, many of which you have previously heard. And I expect at the end, as you have in your fact sheet, he'll touch a little bit on class-action liability reform and asbestos liability reform, as well. And you've got some information on both those in the fact sheet.
Now, I'll do a couple of announcements, both on the personnel side, as well as on the schedule for the President. First of all, on the personnel side, you all are aware that our immediate focus after the election was getting the Cabinet in place for the second term. We also -- I had also mentioned back at that point that the President had asked Andy Card to continue serving as Chief of Staff. We have been -- the President has been also making other decisions about the White House staff, some of which will be announced over the next couple of weeks.
In addition to Andy, for instance, the President has asked Karl Rove to continue as Senior Advisor, which I know you all are aware of. And I think you all are aware of, too, that the President asked Joe Hagin to continue serving as Deputy Chief of Staff. I've been asked to continue serving, and you all are aware of Harriet Miers new appointment and Steve Hadley's new appointment. I think you're aware that Anita McBride will be -- has started already as Mrs. Bush's Chief of Staff, replacing Andi Ball, who earlier had indicated she was going to be returning to Texas after being in Washington for the last four years.
And the President also decided to name Dan Bartlett Counselor to the President. Dan will continue to oversee the communications operations in his new role. This new position will allow him to focus more broadly on strategic communications planning, and expand his role in the formulation of policy and implementation of the President's agenda.
And the President has also asked Nicole Devenish to oversee communications strategy and the day-to-day implementation of the strategy as Communications Director. Nicole will also serve as the Principal Deputy to the Counselor, and she is starting at the White House today, for her second tour of duty in this administration, in addition to the great work she did on the campaign during the reelection. And we'll have more on this, paper on this later today. The President has a tremendous amount of trust in Dan and Nicole and is pleased that they will be serving in these senior-level positions.
Q Is it a policy role for Bartlet?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, he has been involved in policy, and this will just allow him to be more involved in the formulation of policy.
Q The Rove stuff is new, right? I mean, we didn't know Rove had been --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think everybody pretty much knew, and that's why I was talking about -- since most of the announcements have really focused on the Cabinet, I just wanted to point out some of those individuals, as well.
And finally, for today, the President has -- the President is naming Claude Allen to be Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy. As you all are aware, Claude Allen is the Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services. He's been serving there since May, 2001, and he's done a tremendous job as the Deputy Secretary and the President is pleased that he will be serving on the White House staff in the senior staff during the second term here.
Q Domestic Policy Advisor?
MR. McCLELLAN: Margaret Spellings' place. He will be replacing Margaret Spellings. Assistant to the President for Domestic Policy.
Q And Mrs. Bush is staying on this -- (laughter.)
MR. McCLELLAN: Mrs. Bush, the Vice President, yes, all continuing.
And then on the schedule -- let me update you on the schedule for this week. Tomorrow, the President is going to be meeting with some bipartisan members of Congress on class-action reform in the Cabinet Room. And we will have some pool coverage either at the top or bottom of this. We'll get that finalized, out later today. And then on Friday, we will be traveling to Clinton Township, Michigan, where the President will participate in a conversation on asbestos litigation reform. And we'll get you more details on that as we finalize things.
The past couple of days, I know some of you or your colleagues have asked about the President's contributions to some of the international relief organizations in the Indian Ocean -- who are working in the Indian Ocean region. The President has sent contributions totaling $10,000 to some of the relief -- some of the international relief organizations who are working in the region to help those in need recover from this grave tragedy.
Q Which ones?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, there are some from the list on the usafreedomcorps.gov website. And the President --
Q -- a list of them?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not going to get into specific ones. The President, as you heard the other -- as you've heard on a couple of occasions over the last week, the President has said he encourages all Americans to send cash donations as they're able to do so to these international relief organizations who are working in the region and have a good understanding of where the resources need to be directed to meet the needs of the people in the region.
Q Do you happen to know when he wrote the check or checks?
MR. McCLELLAN: They are being mailed today.
Q In the mail -- check in the mail.
Q How many checks --
MR. McCLELLAN: I'll just leave it at "to some organizations on the list." And I think that's all I've got to --
Q Did he divvy them up equally? Can you put a finer point on that?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think that, obviously, this information will be -- more information will be available when his tax returns are released. But at this point, I think he'd prefer to leave it at that and continue to encourage others to look at -- go to the usafreedomcorps.gov website and look at the list and participate to organizations of their choosing, as well.
Q Is the President comfortable with Gonzales' role in developing torture memos, approving torture policies?
MR. McCLELLAN: Approving torture policies?
Q Over the last couple of years.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what you mean by torture policies -- because the President -- the policy of the administration has been very clear from the beginning that we adhere to our laws and our treaty obligations. That's the policy that the President set and that's the policy he expects to be followed. And he made it very clear, previously, as well, that we do not condone torture and he would never authorize the use of torture. So I want to correct that characterization of any misperception that might be there.
Q It was his request, of course, in 2002, that elicited the controversial August, 2002 memo, which the DOJ, last week, repudiated. That's the track record I'm talking about.
MR. McCLELLAN: And I think one reason that you saw in that memo when it was -- after it had been withdrawn and then updated last week, you saw the Office of Legal Counsel talk about some of the reasoning behind that, and they pointed out what the -- essentially what the President had said previously, which is, we don't engage in torture, and he would never authorize the use of torture. And so that's part of the reasoning for their decision to update it. And we -- our Counsel's Office provided comment into that updated memo. But it was the office of the legal counsel's decision.
And on the earlier memo -- you've heard the judge address this already. I saw some stories that seemed to portray it as new information, and I didn't see much new in these stories today, leading up to his confirmation hearings that begin tomorrow.
Q -- the President more broadly is satisfied with Judge Gonzales' performance in his role as --
MR. McCLELLAN: Absolutely. Judge Gonzales has -- Judge Gonzales is a very trusted advisor of the President who has done an outstanding job in his role as Counsel to the President. And I know Judge Gonzales looks forward to participating in the confirmation hearing tomorrow before the Senate Judiciary Committee, and he looks forward to answering any questions that may come up on this issue or other issues of interest to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
And I would also point out that our policy relating to the detainees in Guantanamo Bay was spelled out very clearly. The determination was made back on February 7th, 2002. That information is all on our website about the reason behind that policy decision.
Q It seems there's memos out there that lawmakers are asking for from the Counsel's Office that the White House has refused to turn over. Do you know why that is?
MR. McCLELLAN: We have provided a number of documents -- made a number of documents available publicly, as well as to the Senate Judiciary Committee. And I know that the Counsel's Office has responded to letters from senators, and will continue to do so and be responsive --
Q -- secrecy, are there security concerns about these memos that the White House won't turn over?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know specifically what you're referring to. There might be some memos that were not White House memos, that were outside the White House. So I'm not sure specifically what you're referring to. But, obviously, these will be questions that the Judge can talk about tomorrow if the senators have questions about it, and he looks forward to doing that.
Q There's a number that --
MR. McCLELLAN: But remember, the Judge -- hang on one second. Remember, the Judge, I believe it was last summer, if I recall -- no, it's the summer before -- it was 2003, if I recall correctly, when the Judge participated in a briefing with some Defense officials on the policies and the -- some of the interrogation methods, and went through a lot of these issues and addressed a lot of these issues, and made very clear what his role was, as well as the White House role.
Q Senator Leahy says there are a number of documents that he'd like to see before the confirmation hearing, including, as I recall, the final version of the so-called torture memo.
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know --
Q Is it your feeling you've given them all the documents you're going to?
MR. McCLELLAN: Again, this reference to a "torture memo," I don't know what you're referring to. There's a memo you might be referring to about the policies relating to the Geneva conventions applying to al Qaeda and Taliban from Afghanistan, and that's why I pointed to that determination. And the policy was outlined on the White House website and is on there now, from February 7th of 2002, and it spells out very clearly what the policy was.
Q Yes or no, have you got -- are you going to give --
MR. McCLELLAN: That was not -- that's not related to interrogation techniques.
Q Are you going to give them any more documents that they're asking for?
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what the latest is that he's requested. Obviously, the Judge will be participating in the hearing tomorrow. We have responded to previous letters from Senator Leahy and we'll continue to respond to other letters that he's sent. I think he just sent another letter and I think some of those memos are not White House memos that he's referring to, but we've provided a number of documents. And the Judge looks forward to talking about these issues during his confirmation hearings.
Q Should we expect more world leader calls, steady world leader calls, as we get closer to the Iraq elections?
MR. McCLELLAN: We'll keep you posted. I mean, I think, the reasoning behind these, I think were pretty clear, because of some of the meetings that are coming up, as well as he spoke with Prime Minister Allawi the other day and he spoke with President Yawer. Prime Minister Allawi -- I saw some of the comments he made today, reaffirming his commitment to moving forward on the elections, and the importance of moving forward on elections to helping the Iraqi people realize a democratic and peaceful future.
Q In any of these calls this morning, did the issue of delaying the elections from January 30th, did that come up at all, do you know?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I told you that with President Yawer, for instance, the President talked about the importance of moving forward on the elections, and Prime Minister Allawi -- this morning I saw some public comments he made reaffirming the commitment and importance of moving forward on those elections.
What our focus is on right now is supporting the Iraqi people as they move forward on elections, and supporting them to -- and supporting the Iraqi people as they work to -- and Iraqi leaders, as they work to encourage as broad a participation as possible. And I think that's one thing that Prime Minister Allawi talked about again this morning, too, was that he's reaching out to all segments of society in Iraq to encourage everybody to participate in those elections. And he will continue to do that, including those that have said that they don't want to participate in the elections. He's continuing to reach out to those individuals, as well.
Q Scott, does the President believe that the insurance companies bear any responsibility for rising premiums? There was a --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think the President --
Q Let me finish the question. There was a CBO study that showed liability settlements are a very small fraction of overall health care costs, and I think 19 or 20 states have caps on awards, and they've actually seen their premiums go up by more than states that don't have caps. Does the insurance industry --
MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know that that's accurate, that last part of that, when you talk about some of the states that have implemented reforms in --
Q They've both seen increases, but the states --
MR. McCLELLAN: That's not an accurate picture of what has been done to address some of the rising cost related to health care. I don't think that's an accurate picture at all, and --
Q Does he believe that the insurance industry bears some responsibility?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President -- and he'll talk about this in his remarks -- believes that junk lawsuits and abusive litigation are the reason we are seeing rising insurance premiums that Americans are forced to pay, and that doctors -- or that Americans are forced to pick up the cost for, and doctors are forced out of business because of, or have to move out of states. And that's -- and one of the reasons -- and he'll be talking about why this is a national problem, because you have doctors shutting down in certain states and moving to other states. And he'll be talking about the cost to the federal government of $28 billion per year, and he'll be talking about how, by addressing this issue, we can reduce health care costs for all Americans by $60 billion or more. And so --
Q So he doesn't think the insurance --
MR. McCLELLAN: -- the lawsuit abuse is the issue we need to address to fix the medical liability system. We have too many frivolous lawsuits being filed. And this area we're going to has been rated the top place to sue in the country, and he'll talk about the problem there -- and as I mentioned, some of the people he's meeting with. If we could -- and I think you've seen in states where they've passed lawsuit reforms, that it has addressed the costs, and it has -- and helped reduce costs, health care costs, and it has also improved the quality of care. And he's talking about all those issues.
Q I'm just wondering -- I mean, would it make it harder to give out large --
MR. McCLELLAN: And California is an example. I mean, there are other examples, as well.
Q The proposal on medical malpractice is to limit the amount of awards mostly, right? I mean, as opposed to access to the courts?
MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry?
Q In other words, the proposal on medical malpractice is mostly to limit the amount of these non-economic awards?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, actually, I mean, if you look at the framework in the fact sheet that we handed out, and this is what he -- he talks about the framework that he's outlined, wants to make sure that those truly injured patients are getting timely access to the courts and getting compensated in a timely manner. And -- but, yes, I mean, in terms of -- he does believe we should have reasonable -- there should be reasonable caps on non-economic damages and reasonable amounts on punitive damages, as well. And we've seen some states act on that, but --
Q This proposal doesn't change my ability to go to court, only the amount that I might get if I were to go?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, the amount you're -- it's the amount that the personal injury trial lawyers are receiving. They're the ones who are receiving large amounts of money, while patients who are truly injured are having their compensation delayed or their day in court delayed because they can't get access to the courts because they're clogged with frivolous litigation.
Q -- stop somebody from actually going to court, still, under this proposal if they wanted to?
MR. McCLELLAN: No. No.
Q The issue is --
MR. McCLELLAN: I wouldn't it view that way at all. But it would help --
Q The issue is about verdicts.
MR. McCLELLAN: But it would help stop some of the lawsuit abuse by putting some reasonable caps on non-economic damages as well as punitive --
Q -- there's no new rule that says I can't go.
MR. McCLELLAN: All right.
Q You weren't able to get this last year. What makes you think you'll get it this year?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, there are some very powerful special interests, personal injury trial lawyers, who are committed to stopping any effort to reform our medical liability laws and other lawsuit reforms. But the American people strongly support common-sense reforms to our legal system. And the election did change the dynamic somewhat. The House has been very supportive, and we'll work very closely with the new Senate, too. The President believes that the election sent a clear message that the American people want to see legal reform on these issues that he's talking about -- medical liability reform, class-action reform, asbestos litigation reform. And it's time for Congress to act before this problem gets any worse, because we're seeing in parts of the country, in areas all across the country, that doctors are shutting down their businesses, or they're limiting what they practice, or they're moving to other parts of the country because they can't afford to stay in business. And the reason why is because of the frivolous litigation and unlimited number of lawsuits that are being filed.
Q So will he travel this year for priorities like this, Social Security --
MR. McCLELLAN: Oh, I would expect he'll, as he has done in the past, continue to not only reach out to members of Congress to get things done, but he'll travel the United States to talk to the American people about these big priorities and the reason why we need to act on these priorities now.
Q All right, thanks.
Q Thank you.
END 12:48 P.M. EST