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Congressional Leaders Discuss Meeting With President Bush

Aired July 11, 2001 - 10:20   ET


STEPHEN FRAZIER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go now to Christopher Hines, where Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert is briefing reporters on a meeting behind closed doors with President Bush.

Let's listen in.


REP. DENNIS HASTERT (R-IL), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: ... people, to help people solve problems in the area that we want to go to. And we've been working out the constitutional problems with faith-based. We think they're there. And we hope that we can move on that as soon as possible.

And the other issue that the president talked about was trade. We need to take the initiative in this country so that the president can go out and make the sell around the world to take care of it and make sure that we're producing our great products that we produce from our grain and commodities, from the agriculture to computer chips so that we can sell them across the world.

And today, you know, we are being besieged by rulings from European bureaucrats in their arrogance and saying our companies can't combine, they can't sell, they can't do this. We need to take the initiative and I think the president intends to do it.

But basically what we said, that we're committed to pass legislation that focuses on the American people, to give the American people a better life, better decisions to make and a better way to take care of themselves and their family and we're very appreciative of the president coming down. I'll recognize Mr. Armey.

REP. DICK ARMEY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

Well, speaking as a Texan that enjoyed Governor Bush as Governor Bush, I think that the thing that was very refreshing today was he hasn't changed as President Bush. Tom, I think you would agree.


ARMEY: His emphasis on putting people first was throughout his entire speech. He talked about the passion he had for education and he talked about it in terms of what it meant in the lives of the children. He talked about the passion he had for faith-based. He talked about the importance of faith in his own life and what it meant in the lives of real people when they have, through the efforts of faith-based institutions, a chance to pull their lives back together. He talked about his passion for trade and related it to what he had seen as the transformation of the communities along the border between Texas and Mexico because of the impact of trade.

Always, throughout his entire speech, he always brought it back to what it was that we could accomplish together for the people. He talked about the discipline we need to exercise in this process to fulfill our objectives, to put priorities out and to be prepared, if necessary, to, as he said clearly, to use his veto power against excessive spending that would jeopardize priorities or, in fact, bad legislations such as an HMO reform that would jeopardize health care in American people.

And once again, he related that to the need for the families, and he talked about the families standing in the hospital room, wondering if somebody they love was getting the right kind of medical attention and worrying that they were getting good professional medical attention rather than the advice of lawyers worrying about the cost of health care from the wrong bill that could increase the number of people without insurance.

So it was clearly George W. Bush that we knew as governor in Texas, now as president of the United States, relating all the efforts of his presidency and what he believed to be and hopes to be the joint venture between his presidency and this Congress on behalf of real people and their real lives in the real America. It was, I think, received by the members as a heartwarming talk and one that shared a lot of enthusiasm.

I might mention, by the way, there was a moment that, where he kind of cracked us all up after about the fourth time of saying I'm passionate about this, he quipped, I guess I'm a passionate fellow. And he was a passionate fellow this morning. We all enjoyed that moment of candor and just lightheartedness on his part mixed in with a very, very serious speech.

Thank you.


UNIDENTIFIED CONGRESSMAN: I think I was the proudest to see the president give a very passionate speech.

FRAZIER: Here members of Congress who were meeting earlier in a closed door session with President Bush, who traveled up to Capitol Hill today to speak to members of the House about getting his legislative agenda back on track following the Independence Day recess. It's been a little bit stalled. And so he went up there for what it really kind of a pep talk, although they were calling it a speech there in the comments of Representative Dick Armey of Texas.

Let's turn to Kelly Wallace, who's been following not just the agenda, but this latest development up on Capitol Hill. Kelly, we took the comments of Speaker Hastert just a moment after, I think, the key. He was talking there on camera about exports and about regulations from Europe. But really he spent the first part of his comments talking about a patients bill of rights, which was the president's first item.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Stephen. This really an opportunity for the president to try and build some momentum for his legislative agenda and also to try and get Republicans united behind that agenda. And as you mentioned, the president going up there really trying to urge Republicans and other members of Congress to finish work on a number of issues. Also, definitely, as you mentioned, a patients bill of rights.

As you know, Stephen, the president has been throwing his support behind a Republican led initiative in the House of Representatives which would place limits on a patient's right to sue his or her HMO. Of course the Senate last month passed a bill which has wide Democratic support, which would allow patients to sue in state and federal courts and would allow a cap of about $5 million of punitive damages in federal court.

The president believes such a measure would lead to too many lawsuits, would force some employers to drop coverage. So he is very much against this. He's hoping a measure in the House will gain some steam, that that measure will come out of the House of Representatives and that that can be used as a compromising point with the Senate bill.

Other issues, Stephen, though, the president urging Congress to finish work on his faith-based agenda. And as you heard Speaker Hastert talk about that, this initiative kind of took a hit yesterday after the Salvation Army said that in exchange for working with the president on this agenda that the White House was considering issuing a federal regulation which would basically allow religious charities not to hire homosexuals if they chose not to do so. Well, late in the day, in a sort of damage control, the White House said it was no longer considering such a proposed regulation and the White House saying today it does not believe this whole story will hurt its efforts to get that agenda, the faith-based agenda, passed in the Congress.

And finally, Stephen, another big issue for the president, education reform, the president wanting the House and the Senate to reconcile differences on education bills passed in both chambers, the president calling on Congress to finish up all this work by August.

But again, big challenges ahead for that faith-based agenda, allowing religious groups to obtain tax dollars to provide social services. Big challenges for the president's energy plan, Republicans starting to craft some energy legislation, a much more scaled back version than the president's initiatives unveiled earlier this year. And also other challenges ahead for the president. So lots of work ahead, this kind of a way of building momentum and trying to get Republicans united behind his ideas -- Stephen?

FRAZIER: That unity very important, Kelly, because of the division right now of both houses of Congress, and I know that you've been following the agenda rather than counting heads up on Capitol Hill, but where do things stand now with these measures that the president would like to see passed and how close are they to getting what he wants?

WALLACE: Well, you know, an important point which you are raising, which is this whole sense of Republican unity, because as you know, of course, Democrats controlling the Senate, Republicans holding a slight majority in the House, but some moderate Republicans have been abandoning the president on some key votes. You saw House Republicans voting against the president's position when it comes to sort of banning oil drilling off the Florida coast and also banning drilling in national monuments.

So a big challenge for the president is holding onto sort of these moderate Republicans behind his agenda. It's unclear, Stephen, about the patients bill of rights. Democrats believe they have more momentum behind their initiatives. Again, it remains to be seen what happens in the House. As for the faith-based plan, many people think it's a long road ahead, not likely to get work done before the August recess, and then there is the education, both sides wanting to resolve this but a big difference is just how much money the federal government should spend on education. Big differences between the Senate have House versions -- Stephen?

FRAZIER: And a big point to make, and perhaps you noticed, Kelly, that the people who came out and spoke about this closed door meeting with the president, the majority leader and the speaker, didn't give any kind of prognosis. They were basically talking about what happened, not what they're going to accomplish.

WALLACE: Yes. And everybody talking very positively, everyone getting along, the president passionate, all sort of in agreement. But certainly they do know they have big challenges ahead. The biggest challenge for the Republican Party in the House is sort of keeping moderate Republicans behind their agenda and behind the president's plans.

FRAZIER: From the White House, Kelly Wallace keeping tabs not only on the White House but what's been on up at Capitol Hill today. Kelly, thank you very much.



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