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Ari Fleischer Comments on Health of Dick Cheney

Aired June 29, 2001 - 12:01   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Our attention turns first to Vice President Dick Cheney's health. Cheney has called a hasty news conference at the White House -- or rather, he did so this morning earlier to alert the media that he is going to return to the hospital. This time, he is going to be tested for an irregular heartbeat.

Our White House correspondent Kelly Wallace was at that briefing. She joins us now live with a fuller update -- Kelly.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, in just moments from now, we are expecting Ari Fleischer, the president's spokesman, to come to the podium and hold his daily briefing with reporters.

No doubt Mr. Fleischer will get questions about the vice president and his upcoming tests tomorrow. I have been told that it was the vice president himself, Leon, who wanted to come out into the briefing room and talk with reporters extensively about what was happening to him. He told us that about two weeks ago, when he was undergoing a test his doctors recommended -- when he was actually wearing a halter for about 34 hours -- there were four instances detected of rapid heartbeat -- and so the vice president saying that his doctors recommended he go to the hospital for a procedure -- Mr. Cheney saying the risks are minimal.

And he said that 100,000 people have such a procedure every year.


DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm going to undergo a test tomorrow at George Washington University Hospital. It's called an electrophysiology study. And it specifically is performed for the purpose of determining the prospective risks for me going forward in terms of abnormal heart rhythms.

If there were any inhibition on my ability to function, if it were the doctors' judgment that any of these developments constituted the kind of information that indicated I would not be able to perform, I would be the first to step down. I don't have any interest in continuing in the post unless I'm able to perform adequately.


WALLACE: And we understand Ari Fleischer has come to the podium. Let's listen in now.


ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: ... House Judiciary Committee passed his faith-based initiative. The president in the third week of office identified this as one of the major priorities of this administration as a way to get help to millions of people who've been left behind in our society, including 15 million children who are at risk. And of that, there are some 2 million children of prisoners who this program will help through mentoring and through other programs.

As far as follow-up to this, the president will on Monday next week meet with a group of national service organizations, such as the Kiwanis Club, the Rotary Club, the Optimists Club, where he will kick of a campaign to sign up mentors to help 1 million children receive additional helping hands in their young lives.

On Wednesday, the president will travel to Philadelphia, where he will meet with members of the Greater Exodus Baptist Church to continue to talk about the powers that his faith-based initiative can bring to those who need help and have been left behind in our society.

Secondly, on policy, this Sunday marks a very important day. This Sunday, the American people will begin to pay lower taxes as a result of the tax cut that the president proposed and has been approved by the Congress.

On Sunday, people's paychecks will go up, they'll have more money in their checks, because income tax rates will be lowered. Already this year, the 15 percent rate has been lowered to 10 percent, and all rates will come down beginning this Sunday, meaning all people's paychecks will go up following this period, this Sunday.

This is all part of four installments that people will get in lower taxes beginning this Sunday. The other installments include 91 million checks that will be sent out to taxpayers this year as a result of the retroactive lowering of tax rates. And then beginning on January 1, there'll be a permanent change made so the 15 percent rate is 10 percent.

And then next April, parents with children will receive additional tax relief as a result of the increase in the child credit.

There are four installments to the tax cut over the next nine months, and the first one I'm pleased to report begins this Sunday.

QUESTION: When do the checks go out, Ari? Do you know when they go out?

FLEISCHER: The checks will begin going out sometime in late summer, early fall. They will go out in order of people's Social Security numbers. So if you want to know when you're going to get your check, you can take a look at the last two digits of your Social Security number -- the lower your last two digits, the sooner you'll get your check. So if your last two numbers end in 01, you'll get a check most likely some time late summer. And for people whose numbers end around 99, they'll get it sometime this fall.

QUESTION: What about joint filers with two numbers?

FLEISCHER: For the joint filers, whoever the signatory is will have the Social Security number.

QUESTION: The White House this morning made a decision that the vice president's announcement of his condition and his procedure tomorrow would be made very abruptly, and it was an abrupt public announcement. What was the White House concerned about in the way of public reaction, that it felt it needed to take that step?

FLEISCHER: Well, I differ with your categorization of it being abruptly. I think the vice president himself...

QUESTION: You wouldn't say that was well...

FLEISCHER: The vice president himself wanted to be able to share the information with the American people in his own way and his own words. And I think it's entirely appropriate for the American people to hear the message from the vice president. And he wanted to be the first voice on it, and I think that's entirely appropriate.

QUESTION: Why would the president send back to the NSC a man who admitted that he misled the American people, Congress on Iran-Contra scandal, participated in a cover-up and now he's supposed to be in charge of democracy and human rights?

FLEISCHER: You're referring to the appointment of Elliot Abrams to the staff of the National Security Council, and the president believes that Mr. Abrams is eminently qualified for that position. He believes he's the best person to do the job, and he has full faith in Mr. Abrams.

QUESTION: How can he (OFF-MIKE) with that record?

FLEISCHER: I think you'll also find, if you talk to several people on the Hill, that he enjoys bipartisan support and that there is a recognition that he is an outstanding diplomat. He has an outstanding record. And what he has done as assistant secretary for international organizations and human rights at the State Department. For the last five years, he has been president of the Center for Ethics and Public Policy. And I think that, again, if you talk to people on the Hill, you'll always find opposition to somebody, but I think you'll also find bipartisan support for Mr. Abrams.


QUESTION: ... participated in a cover-up against the American people.

QUESTION: Does the president have an opinion about his past and how it impacts his ability to function? FLEISCHER: The president thinks that's a matter of the past that was dealt with at the time and that Mr. Abrams is held in high regard by Democrats and Republicans alike, and that he'll do an outstanding job in this position.

QUESTION: Does the president think that Mr. Abrams acted in a solely ethical way in the past? Is that the way that White House officials should conduct themselves now?

FLEISCHER: The president believes that he is the best person for the job, and he enjoys the president's full support.

QUESTION: Did the president appoint him to an National Security Council job, which does not require Senate confirmation, as opposed to a State Department job because he felt he was unconfirmable?

FLEISCHER: I can only talk to you about the job to which he's been appointed.

QUESTION: On the vice president again, many of the people who get pacemakers implanted are warned to stay away from cell phones, microwave ovens. And as vice president, you know, he's surrounded by people with sophisticated communication devices, walkie-talkies, cellular phones. Has any thought been given to that?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think that's a question you need to address to medical personnel.

Medical personnel are the ones who -- first of all, the procedure and test will take place tomorrow. And then if they proceed with the step of installing a pacemaker, I think that's an appropriate question for medical personnel. They understand the technology of pacemakers better than I do.

QUESTION: Why is it not an appropriate question for the White House, given that the White House is making the changes?

FLEISCHER: Well, I think the question is, what are the medical implications of pacemakers?

QUESTION: I think the second question might be, are you worried that the White House may have to make some changes or arrangements in order to accommodate whatever device that they may implant?

FLEISCHER: I think you should allow the test to be performed tomorrow to see what the determination is. And then I think that's a technology question that's best addressed to medical personnel who understand the technological implications of their recommendations to their patients.

QUESTION: Last year the president's father reached out to an independent heart specialist to get an independent take on Vice President -- then-Mr. Cheney's health and his capacity to do this job. Is the president going to seek any extra input on this, any independent assessment for himself? FLEISCHER: This is a question for the vice president about who he entrusts his medical care to. He has entrusted it to some of the nation's very best doctors and physicians. The president has full faith that Vice President Cheney knows how to take care of himself. And the vice president is in excellent medical hands.

QUESTION: Does the president need to conduct his own independent assessment of this, given the responsibilities that he asks...

FLEISCHER: No. As I indicated, the president has full faith that the vice president is well aware of how to take care of himself.

And as the vice president has said just hours ago from this podium, he has had this heart disease for years and years. It's not something new to him. And he's been dealing with it very successfully as a secretary of defense who served during wartime and as a vice president.

QUESTION: One more. Now, since he has joined the president's team, he's had three episodes -- one a heart attack, one a repairing of the stent, and now this discovery of arrhythmia. After having had heart disease for 20 years, the major heart attacks happening a long time ago, is that any indication that the responsibilities he's been asked to undertake here are affecting his health?

FLEISCHER: Well, that very same question was put to the vice president on this very spot just hours ago, and the vice president answered it for himself. And he said that this is a condition that he has lived with for many a year and that he is going to undertake this test tomorrow. It's a routine procedure. And if all goes as planned, it'll be an outpatient procedure and he'll be back at work.

QUESTION: No second thoughts on the part of the president?

FLEISCHER: That's correct.

QUESTION: Did the president ask that question? Did he pose that question to the vice president?

FLEISCHER: The question that Terry posed?

QUESTION: The one that I posed earlier.

FLEISCHER: The president discussed with the vice president on Tuesday this week, just as the vice president indicated to you already today, that he asked questions about how the vice president was feeling, what the vice president was hearing from his doctors, what the recommendation was. And the president said that the vice president, that he thought he made a wise decision.

QUESTION: But did he at any point bring up the question of whether, you know, he could continue in office?

FLEISCHER: No. The vice president was asked that this morning. I mean, all these questions were asked of the vice president, and you've heard his answers. QUESTION: Ari, on the surgeon general's report, has the president read the full report? And if not, is he going to? And what is his reaction?

FLEISCHER: The president has not read the full report. The president understands the report was issued by a surgeon general that he did not appoint, a surgeon general who was appointed by the previous administration.

QUESTION: What's that got to do with him reading the report or not? I mean, he believes in education, doesn't he?

FLEISCHER: Yes, he believes in education.

QUESTION: He's a strong advocate of education. Why wouldn't he read the report?

FLEISCHER: I think I've addressed the question. I was asked if he had read the report.

QUESTION: If he has it, why wouldn't he read it?

FLEISCHER: He's aware of it.

QUESTION: What do you mean, "aware of it"?

FLEISCHER: He has many things to read. He's aware of the report.

QUESTION: That he got a precis on it?

FLEISCHER: He's aware of what the report says.

QUESTION: Has anyone here read it?

FLEISCHER: Sure, the domestic policy staff has looked at it.

QUESTION: Does the White House have a view on whether it is helpful, advances the debate, or whether its views are things the White House itself would endorse, the administration would endorse, since you're distancing yourself from the surgeon general?

FLEISCHER: The president believes that everybody has a responsibility to behave in a fashion that stresses individual responsibility and that all individuals need to act responsibly. They need to understand the consequences of the choices they make. The president believes, and the report does have some indication on this, that the best way to prevent pregnancy, the only sure-fire way is through abstinence. And that's the best way to avert disease as well.

WALLACE: As you can see, Ari Fleischer, the White House press secretary, taking questions on a range of issues. He did field a few questions about the vice president's condition and his upcoming tests -- Mr. Fleischer really kind of fielding all the medical questions, pushing those to the vice president's medical team. But one question keeps coming up -- it went to the vice president earlier and to Mr. Fleischer here -- which is the fact that Mr. Cheney, who has had a history of heart disease going back to 1978, but has had three instances -- he had a heart attack back in November. He had some blockage in March and now reports of some rapid heartbeat -- three cases, when he has become a member of the president's team -- and the question being if the stresses of the job are contributing to this.

The vice president earlier today said he did not think so -- Ari Fleischer repeating that.

To recap for our viewers: As we know, the vice president came out earlier today saying that he would be going to the hospital for tests tomorrow to determine if he should have a "pacemaker plus" implanted to take care of some rapid heartbeat.

Four instances of rapid heartbeat were discovered two weeks ago -- the vice president saying this would be an outpatient procedure, that the risks would be minimal, that he expected to return to work as early as Monday -- Mr. Cheney, though, knowing very well that he is a closely analyzed heart patient -- maybe the most closest analyzed heart patient in the country -- and knowing that when the vice president goes to the hospital, especially Mr. Cheney, Leon, who has played such a vital role and continues to in this White House -- Leon.

HARRIS: You got it exactly right.

Kelly Wallace at the White House, thank you. We appreciate that report.



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