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House Republicans Back Up on Patients' Rights Bill

Aired July 25, 2001 - 17:00   ET


JUDY WOODRUFF, HOST: This is INSIDE POLITICS. I'm Judy Woodruff in Washington. Far from the nation's capital, Florida politics is heating up, especially the high-profile race for governor.

KATE SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Kate Snow on Capitol Hill, where House Republicans have called a strategic time-out in the debate over a patients' bill of rights.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Major Garrett at the White House. The extra time could be critical, if the President Bush hopes to win support for his version of health care reform.

ANNOUNCER: Now Judy Woodruff takes you INSIDE POLITICS.

WOODRUFF: Thank you for joining us. House Republican leaders today felt the political downside of their very slim majority, conceding that they do not have the votes right now to pass a patients' bill of rights endorsed by President Bush. In the face of that reality, the GOP leaders declared what amounts to a tactical retreat.

For details, we have reports from both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. Kate Snow's at the Capitol and Major Garrett's at the White House.

Kate, let's start with you.


SNOW: Well, Judy, not so much a retreat as a time-out. A sort of, let's take some time and see if we can't garner the votes that we need. House Republican leaders saying clearly that they don't think that the vote is going to happen this week as they had expected all along. They thought the vote might come tomorrow and possibly Friday. It now looks likely the vote will come either next week or perhaps even after the August recess.

REP. RICHARD ARMEY (R), MAJORITY LEADER: We consider this so important in the lives of the American people, that we will take whatever time it takes to get it right. This leadership, this conference is committed to not pass something in health care reform that leaves the American people worse off.

SNOW (voice-over): Taking time to get it right also code for taking time to find the votes. Republican aides say it's clear there is not yet enough support to pass a patient's bill of rights backed by President Bush. That version is sponsored by Republican Ernie Fletcher. Just like the competing bill backed by Democratic leadership, Fletcher's bill offers protections for patients in HMO's, but it includes a more limited right to sue in court.

REP. ERNIE FLETCHER (R): Well, we just got finished meeting with the President and had a good meeting with a number of folks.

SNOW: Fletcher is keeping a frantic pace, lobbying key undecided Republicans. Many of those Republicans support the bill the White House doesn't like. President Bush met with a group of them, even one member whose name is on that opposing bill as co-sponsor. Congressman Bob Barr says there may be room for compromise.

REP. BOB BARR (R): I certainly hope so. You all know me, I'm the eternal optimist.

SNOW: But Democrats have their own interpretation of the delay.

REP. DAVID BONIOR (D), MINORITY WHIP: I think they're struggling. I mean, they're trying to get votes for Mr. Fletcher's inadequate substitute. And people are going down to the White House and they're coming back with limps to the Hill and with arms that are kind of crooked and twisted, but they're hanging in there because they know with those bad hips and legs and twisted arms that they will need a patients' bill of rights to be better.

SNOW (on camera): Now Democrats say that they would be glad to take this up any time. They say they feel they do have the votes for their side of this, for their version of a patients' bill of rights known as the Norwood-Dingell-Ganske bill.

But Republicans accused Democrats today of wanting to pass a bill that the President won't conceivably sign. In fact, Representative Ernie Fletcher, Republican, said earlier today that he thinks Democrats want to pass a bill the President will veto just so they have a political issue to play up in the 2002 elections -- Judy?

WOODRUFF: Two questions, Kate, quickly just to clarify, the opposition you're characterizing led by Democrats is also led by Charles Norwood is a Republican, isn't that correct?

SNOW: That's right. It gets confusing. There are essentially two bills, both of which have a certain amount of bipartisan support. So it's really more fair to say one is the Norwood-Dingell-Ganske bill. The other is the Bush-backed Fletcher bill.

WOODRUFF: Kate, at this point, does anyone really believe this could be delayed until the fall?

SNOW: They do. In fact, I was speaking with Congressman Fletcher earlier today. And he said, "Look, we don't know how long it will be delayed." They really are insistent that they want this to be a good bill, that they want to help the American people. And that's why they're waiting and delaying to make sure their bill is the one that passes.

But he said to me, "I'm prepared to go home over the August recess and start working the phones and making phone calls." Democrats on the other hand say if it's delayed beyond the August recess, that's good news for them because they feel they can play a little bit of politics with this issue. They can remind voters, for example, that many Republicans campaigned on wanting to pass a patients' bill of rights. They will remind voters of that and sort of use the issue against those Republicans -- Judy?

WOODRUFF: All right. Kate Snow at the Capitol.

And meanwhile at the White House, President Bush has spent much of this day lobbying those dozen or so lawmakers that he would need to shift the momentum in the patients' rights debate. Earlier, Mr. Bush said that he remains hopeful that he can work out a compromise.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT: I laid out the principles that would allow me to sign a bill and I still stand by those principles, but I can report we're making pretty good process it seems like.


WOODRUFF: Well, for more on the President's strategy and his lobbying efforts, let's go to CNN White House correspondent, Major Garrett. Major, how did the President do with those moderate Republicans today?

GARRETT: He didn't make much headway, Judy. And what the White House has discovered is after picking up several Republican votes, converting many Republicans in the House who had previously supported the Norwood bill, they've sort of run into a brick wall.

Part of that because the President was out of the country and could not lobby members personally. But the other fact of the matter is that there is very strong, if you will, brand-name identification with this Norwood bill. The House Republicans who have yet to decide to shift from that bill, feel very strongly that that's a position they've taken politically. Their constituents know it very well and they are very reluctant to abandon that position.

And so the President is having to find a different route. And part of the reason there's a strategic pause is the White House is trying to negotiate with House Republican leaders on how they can strategically change that. Perhaps they might bring the Norwood bill to the floor of the House as the main bill and offer a couple of amendments. That would allow these Republicans, who have always supported Norwood, to still vote for it, but maybe add a couple of amendments that the White House likes.

Nothing has been decided, but the White House is certainly groping and looking for any possible solution.

WOODRUFF: Now Major, we're going to be talking later in the program with Congressman Fletcher. It sounds as if you're saying the White House has all but given up trying to work something out based on his bill, that they are still very much trying to work something out on the basis of the Norwood-Dingell bill?

GARRETT: They're trying to work with Charlie Norwood. Mr. Norwood was here at the White House last night for four hours, almost up until midnight, sitting down with the deputy chief of staff, Josh Bolton, who the President instructed to sit again down with Mr. Norwood to see if they could work out an agreement on this issue of liability, where you can sue and how and what kind of damages you can reach and obtain from HMOs who have, in some respects, harmed you as a patient.

That's a very tough issue, but the negotiations continue. But you're absolutely right, Judy. As far as putting the Fletcher bill out there as a stand alone alternative that can beat the Norwood bill with 218 votes, the White House and House Republican leaders do not see how that is currently possible.

So they're looking at other strategies. One is get a negotiated agreement with Norwood, which would break the log jam entirely. The other is to make the Norwood bill the base bill, which would allow those Republicans who have been loyal to Charlie Norwood to still maintain that loyalty, but provide a couple of key amendments, one on liability, one on adding medical savings accounts that could attract the 218 votes necessary to amend that bill, so the President would in fact endorse it. Then you merge that with the Senate bill and start from scratch, at least, merging those two bills together.

At that point, the White House thinks a deal ultimately can be struck and a bill actually signed into law.

WOODRUFF: All right, Major Garrett at the White House, thanks.

While the House of Representatives is focused on health care, the Senate is considering a bill that goes to the heart of one of the President's other policy priorities, U.S. relations with Mexico. Earlier, the debate went beyond issues of trade, to include accusations of discrimination.

For more, I'm joined now by CNN congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl -- John?

JONATHAN KARL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Judy, Republicans are threatening to bring the Senate to a halt if they don't get their way on this issue, which is about trucks coming from Mexico. The Democrats want to propose restrictions on trucks coming into the United States from Mexico. Republicans are saying those restrictions are a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, threatening again to bring the Senate to a halt.

Meanwhile down the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue at the White House, the President also getting into the act here. A little bit more softly spoken, but making it clear that he will veto any effort by Democrats to put excessive restrictions on Mexican trucks.


KARL (voice-over): The President made his case by gently urging Congress to treat America's southern neighbor with respect.

BUSH: I urge Congress to deal fairly with Mexico, and to not treat the Mexican truck industry in an unfair fashion. That I believe, strongly, we can have safety measures in place that will make sure our highways are safe, but we should not single out Mexico.

KARL: Democrats want to put safety regulations on Mexican trucks coming into the United States, regulations Republicans call excessive and a violation of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The Republican Senate leader said the proposed regulations, which would not apply to trucks coming from Canada, amount to discrimination against Hispanics.

SEN. TRENT LOTT (R), MINORITY LEADER: It bothers me that there's sort of an anti-Mexican, an anti-Hispanic, anti-NAFTA attitude that we really don't want to allow Mexican trucks to come into this country. If they meet safety standards and inspection and insurance standards, why not?

KARL: That was Trent Lott on Tuesday. When his comments weren't picked up by major news outlets, his office released his comments again, this time specifically tarring Democrats. "There's an anti- Mexican, anti-Hispanic, anti-NAFTA attitude among Democrats," Lott's statement said.

Democrats responded by pointing to the 82 Republicans in the House who voted for even tougher restrictions than the Senate is now considering.

SEN. TOM DASCHLE (D), MAJORITY LEADER: He'd want to go back and check with all of his Republican colleagues in the House, I would imagine, to see whether they're anti-Mexican and anti-Hispanic for having voted for the tough safety legislation that they voted for in the House. My guess is that they would take issue with that characterization and rightfully so.

KARL: Earlier today, Democrats prevailed quite commandingly in the first test vote on this issue. It was a proposal by Republican Phil Gramm that said there could not be any restrictions on Mexican trucks that weren't also on Canadian and American trucks.

That lost by 65 to 35, a resounding victory for Democrat, but Republicans saw strength in their 35 votes, because 35 more than the 34 you need to sustain a Presidential veto -- Judy?

WOODRUFF: So Jonathan, how are Republicans in the Senate then, reconciling their strong stand here with the fact that some Republicans in the House are on the other side of this?

KARL: Well, it's a tough issue. There were of course 82 Republicans in the House voting against -- for these restrictions, but they do point out the overwhelming majority of Republicans are for this. And they see this as a great political opportunity and also something that they feel strongly on policy grounds. It's a free trade issue, but by turning it into an Hispanic issue, it again plays into the Republican effort, really pronounced effort recently, to reach out to Hispanic voters.

Interesting footnote on this also, Judy, is House Hispanic caucus which includes Democrats and Republicans, there are 19 members of the House who are Hispanic. Well, 9 of them actually voted in favor of these restrictions, including one Republican, Iliana Ross Lateen of Florida.

WOODRUFF: All right, Jon Karl at the Capitol. Stay with us. This is INSIDE POLITICS.

ANNOUNCER: He's the former ambassador to Vietnam, where he was once held prisoner of war. We'll talk with Pete Peterson, now back in his home state of Florida, about his possible plans for public office. Also, the debate over a patients' bill of rights hits the airwaves. Who's spending the big money to influence public opinion? Plus, we'll talk with the key sponsors of the opposing legislation. And...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't protect our most vital nuclear secrets in this country. You think we're going to keep Eminem records and tapes out of the hands of kids who want them?


ANNOUNCER: New hearings on Hollywood and a reality check on the entertainment ratings system. Live from Washington, Judy Woodruff brings you more of INSIDE POLITICS straight ahead.


WOODRUFF: In the state of Florida, the list is growing of Democrats who might challenge the President's brother, Jeb Bush, for governor. We know that former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno is exploring the possibility. Now, onetime congressman and former ambassador to Vietnam, Pete Peterson, has filed papers to form an exploratory committee while he considers entering the democratic field.

And he joins us now from Boynton Beach.

Mr. Ambassador, there you were as an ambassador to Vietnam for, what four years? Now thinking about running for governor of Florida. Why?

PETE PETERSON, FMR. U.S. AMBASSADOR TO VIETNAM: Well, I think it's an extension of my public service. I've been in public service all of my life. I've been a resident of Florida for most of my life as well. I arrived here when I was 19 years old to enter pilot training. So I know Florida very well. I have aspirations and a vision for Florida, and would like to participate and to see if I can make a difference. That's what my life has been all about.

WOODRUFF: What's wrong with the job Jeb Bush is doing?

PETERSON: Well, there's -- I could run down a list of things, but I don't think it's time for me to do that right now. It's exploratory in the sense now of talking to my democratic friends to determine what it is that we can do to focus our attention on just exactly what he is doing or not doing, and then make a good contest out of it.

WOODRUFF: Do you think he's vulnerable?

PETERSON: I think so, yes. I think that's a consensus. Clearly he has the strength of incumbency, but he has a record. That record has not been all positive. And those are the kinds of things that the Democratic party has to research and then determine where those issues are that we can stand on to ultimately take back the governorship.

WOODRUFF: Well, are there just one or two points you would make about his record that you disagree with?

PETERSON: Well, I could, but again, I'm not into the position as we noted to someone earlier today. I've been back in the United States for exactly one week. And I'm on a very steep learning curve of getting back into American and Florida politics. And in that process we'll enumerate those at the proper time.

WOODRUFF: Mr. Peterson, at this point, I know have you've been -- you've spent at least part of this week talking to voters, mostly in south Florida. At this point, what do you think the arguments are for your getting in and running?

PETERSON: Well, it's the question of can I add value? There are other very qualified candidates who have spoken and said that they wanted to be a candidate for the governorship. I filed my papers yesterday, according to Florida law, in order to go through a process of exploration.

What I'm hearing and what I want to hear is can I make a difference? Is there a good possibility that I could be a candidate that would gather support not just from a Democratic base but independent base and even from Republican base? That is what I have to determine. And if I feel good about that, and if it looks like I can in fact provide the kind of leadership that I think Florida needs, then I'll enter the race, but I haven't concluded to that point yet.

WOODRUFF: So you'd be looking for Republican votes, even in a state that evidently is still pretty sharply divided since the election last November?

PETERSON: I think there are Republican votes out there. We've got some very independent people who live in Florida. And they look at the person. They look at the issues. They look at the future. And given that, I would like to appeal not just to the one party, frankly. I think in order to represent in a governor's position you have to be inclusive rather than exclusive. And I will be looking for independence. I'll be looking for Republicans and certainly the base will be Democratic. WOODRUFF: We mentioned that former Attorney General Janet Reno is also thinking about returning. Would her decision whether or not to run affect your decision?

PETERSON: Oh, certainly. You know, I think it's a problem right now of perhaps too many people having an interest. There's only so much room in the process for candidates and we'll have to look at the possibility of who's going to lead. Now if it's me, fine. But if it's the party selects someone else, I'll certainly support that candidate.

WOODRUFF: Do you have a time table?

PETERSON: No, I don't, really. A lot of people have suggested that this has to be -- the decision has to be made right away, I don't think so. We still have 14 months before the primary, roughly 16 before the general. I think we're looking at a period of time when I'll do analysis and I'm talking several weeks, perhaps a couple months.

WOODRUFF: All right, former congressman, former ambassador to Vietnam from the United States, Pete Peterson. Thank you very much and we appreciate your talking with us.

PETERSON: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Good to see you, thanks.

And joining us now to talk some more about the governor's race and other political action in the state of Florida, Steve Bousquet, who's with the "St. Petersburg Times."

Steve Bousquet, I think you were listening to Pete Peterson. How does the rationale sound to you? You're somebody's whose looked at Florida politics for a long time?

STEVE BOUSQUET, "ST. PETERSBURG TIMES:" Well, the interesting thing, Judy, that I just heard Pete Peterson say is that he would go after an Republican and independent votes. He's down there in south Florida today, which is where your most liberal Democratic voters in Florida are. But the fact that he said that suggests what many Democrats in the state are already imagining happening, which is that if Reno runs, Pete Peterson would be the moderate or conservative alternative to Janet Reno.

The problem Pete Peterson is going to face is that the legislature here which is controlled by Republicans eliminated the runoff. We were one of only a handful of states that had the runoff, a second primary where you had to get a majority of votes. That's out in 2002. Whoever gets the most votes in the first primary is the Democratic nominee. That skews the playing field tremendously in favor of south Florida and in favor of a candidate that south Floridians are comfortable with. And that would be Janet Reno if she ran.

WOODRUFF: Well, if that's the case, what you think the chances are that Peterson will ultimately run?

BOUSQUET: I think the chances -- I've spoken to him each of the last three days. And he sounds like someone approaching this thing very deliberately, a person who's taking the measure of Florida where he's been out of the state for much of the past four years, and they're taking the measure of him.

You know, people in Broward and Dade and Palm Beach counties are going to find out that Pete Peterson doesn't have horns, that he is a guy with a long record in Congress and as an ambassador. And it's way too early though for people to start staking out positions and for them to start making judgments based on where they stand on gun control, taxes or education.

But Pete Peterson is being quietly supported and encouraged by some of the leaders in Florida politics on the Democratic side, like Senator Bill Nelson. And so I think that's going to be an encouraging factor for Peterson to get into this thing.

WOODRUFF: All right, Steve Bousquet, I'm going to change the subject to Katherine Harris, Secretary of State, who became very well known during the recount last year, after the Presidential election. Is she definitely going to run for Congress?

BOUSQUET: Oh, sure, there's no question about it. She's beginning to take some of the building block steps of forming a committee with consultants and so forth. She's going to run. It's going to be an open field.

Dan Miller, who's a congressman from the Sarasota area's retiring. Harris wants to go to Washington. There's no job for her to retain. It's a long story for your viewers, but basically the legislature, rather the voters of Florida eliminated the office of Secretary of State as an elected position. So she has to move.

WOODRUFF: Now this is a very Republican district. Does that mean -- are you saying she's a shoo-in if she runs?

BOUSQUET: Well, I think the chances are overwhelmingly favorable for her because the Republican legislature is handling reapportionment here. And they're going to make sure that a district is drawn that is very favorable to Katherine Harris.

She represented this area in the state senate before she became Secretary of State. As Secretary of State, she deals with the arts community a lot. And that's very strong in the Sarasota community. There's a lot of arts and cultural money there.

Surprisingly, Democrats say they want Harris on the ticket. They know they can't win that congressional seat, but they think she'd be a lightning rod to draw Democratic money from around the country.

WOODRUFF: Fascinating footnote to all this. All right, Steve Bousquet with "The St. Petersburg Times. Thanks very much. Thanks very much. In a final Florida note, Republican Jeff Miller and Democrat Steve Briese will face off in October in a special first district congressional election. Miller, a state representative, got 54 percent of the vote yesterday in a six-way Republican primary fight for the seat of retiring GOP Congressman Joe Scarborough.

Briese, who writes a financial newsletter, got more than 3/4 of the vote in a two-man democratic race. Scarborough is retiring on September 6, to spend, he says, more time with his family.

New developments involving Congressman Gary Condit and the search for missing intern Chandra Levy. Plus, a decrease in oil production, and what the President thinks. A look at some of the day's other top stories, when INSIDE POLITICS returns.


WOODRUFF: Thank you, Bill. We'll be watching. Two major players in the patients' bill of rights debate join me here next. Congressman John Dingell, a co-sponsor of the Dingell-Norwood bill and Congressman Ernie Fletcher, sponsor of legislation supported by the President.


WOODRUFF: The patients' rights debate has galvanized interest groups on all sides of the issue. A case in point, the television ads now running here in Washington. A group called the Health Benefits Coalition is running ads that warn against the expanded right to sue in the Dingell-Norwood Bill.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What if the kids get sick?

ANNOUNCER: Congress protects employers. Put real caps on lawsuits. Keep health insurance affordable. Right the wrongs in the Patients' Bill of Rights.


WOODRUFF: Groups that support the Dingell-Norwood Bill are also running ads. One of them uses a child's serious illness to dramatize the need for reform.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The insurance company told us to give you up for adoption and let the taxpayers step in and pay for his care. They didn't care. It was all about saving money. A real patients' bill of rights would hold an insurance company legally accountable for their decisions. There's no reason why these multi-billion dollar companies should be above the law.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WOODRUFF: And one more advertising note. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee today unveiled campaign ads from the last election, featuring GOP candidates pledging their support for a patients' bill of rights. The Democrats hope to portray the featured Republicans as hypocrites if they vote for what the group considers a weakened version of the bill.

Who better to talk about the patients' bill of rights than two of the major players in this debate. Democratic Congressman John Dingell of Michigan is co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill, favored by House Democrats; and Republican Congressman Ernie Fletcher from Kentucky, he's the sponsor of the version endorsed by President Bush.

Representative Fletcher, to you first: our White House correspondent Major Garrett said a few moments ago, that the White House no longer considers your bill a stand-alone alternative that they can work with, that they're now looking for something that is closer to a compromise of the Dingell-Norwood Bill?

REP. ERNIE FLETCHER (R), KENTUCKY: I think as we met with the president today, he made two statements: one, that he was fully supporting the bill that we have; and that he would veto the current Dingell-Ganske bill. He made that very clear.

And he expressed the same concern that we have. We have 43 million uninsured in this country. Do we want to drive that up to another 2-9 billion, whatever the estimates are? And we felt like the other bill has a flagrant disregard for the uninsured. And it will hurt most the most vulnerable -- the low-income and minorities in this country.

We are clearly always ready to compromise to find something, but he will not sign a bad bill, and we have worked to make sure we get a good bill out there, much different than last year, that does hold HMOs accountable.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Dingell, before I get to the political questions on this, I want to give you a chance to respond to some of the comments from Congressman Fletcher there.

REP. JOHN DINGELL (D), MICHIGAN: First of all, the issue is not lawsuits; it's the rights of patients to get the treatment that they have bought with their health insurance plan. And the interesting thing is that this is a -- that ours is a bipartisan bill. Ours is a bill which protects the right of a patient and a doctor to address the problems of the patient. It does not allow the continuance of the unfortunate situation where, today, we have faceless HMO bureaucrats making decisions, hundreds or thousands of miles away from the point where the -- where the accident or the injury or the sickness occurs.

It is interesting to note that without a decent right to sue to protect rights, rights do not exist. And so what we are trying to do is to give a balanced package, which protects the doctor/patient relationship and which insures that the care that is needed is there, and also, to see to it that things like access to specialists, to pediatricians, to rights, to proper pharmaceutical medicines and things of that kind are available to the patients according to the plan.

WOODRUFF: Representative Fletcher, I do want to bring up the politics here, and my question to you is, why are these moderate Republicans, who the president had to the White House today, having such a difficult time coming over to your side, if your argument is -- is clearly the stronger one?

FLETCHER: Well, Judy, let me say we have a number of them. And even today, some of the more -- I think that you can see the other side did make some changes, designated decision maker which helps shield the employers a little more, because we were getting more support.

But the problem comes back from the history. I think in years past, the moderate Republicans -- and not all of them are moderate, but -- felt like they didn't have a real place home. We provided excellent patient protections. I think it provides as good as the other bill. Actually, in some areas, better, some areas maybe not quite as good. But they're both very close.

And ours also is very focused: it punishes bad HMOs. But unlike their, we don't punish good HMOs, so we are getting more support. But the history of this makes it a little bit more difficult for some that voted one way to come over. But now that they have a home, a number of them are doing it, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Dingell, the bill that you are one of the sponsors of, the so-called Norwood-Dingell-Ganske Bill. Do you now have the votes in the House to pass what you have if the Republican leadership were to bring this to a vote.

DINGELL: Well, we think that we have the votes. We think that we have the support, all of the organized medicine, doctors, nurses, all of the specialist groups, and 800 consumer groups. We also wonder why the Republican leadership, if they have the votes, are not bringing the bill to the floor.

I also wonder why it is that the president, who has said that this -- that has given us a list of specifications he wants, in this bill of ours meets every one of those, why he is not actively supporting the legislation. The only conclusion I can come to is, he's got a bunch of fat cat HMOs who don't want this kind of legislation and don't want anybody meddling in their tinkering of the rights of their patients.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Fletcher?

FLETCHER: Judy, the president is very passionate about a patients' bill of rights. And let me tell you this: causing 2-9 million people to lose their insurance is not compassionate and it's not a patient protection bill. There's a marked distinction.

Under our bill, we provide access to possibly seven million more people getting insurance.

WOODRUFF: But hasn't this really come down to, under what circumstances would people have the right to sue?

FLETCHER: Absolutely right, Judy. Under ours, if an HMO doesn't follow a panel of expert physicians' opinion then they are opened to the same liability as any physician across this country. So we have very strong, I think we have the strongest liability under those circumstances. We don't punish those that -- that abide by physicians' decisions because we don't want to punish good players.

WOODRUFF: Congressman Dingell, if that's the case, if they are willing to compromise to that degree, why don't we have a compromise here?

DINGELL: The interesting thing is, they have a bill -- it's like a walnut shell and a pea. The interesting thing is they appear to give something that they don't. For example, the right to sue is tinkered with clearly and you can only go into federal court perhaps hundreds and miles from the place where you live.

Beyond that, there are a lot of other problems. The appointment of the designated decision maker is (UNINTELLIGIBLE), and almost impossible to find out who he is, or where he is. And if he'd not there, the employer could be sued.

One of the interesting things about this whole bill is, that my Republican colleagues and the HMOs are the people who now are expressing great concern about the people who are going to lose coverage. Well, the fact is, they're not going to lose coverage and have not lost coverage under any of the state programs, including in Texas, where the president vetoed the bill and then permitted it to become law without signing.

But the interesting thing is that they do not support this bill, and they did not support universal coverage when president Clinton tried to get it for all of the people that they are so now concerned about.

WOODRUFF: Well, gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there. We're going to continue to follow this, of course, in the days to come. Congressman John Dingell, Congressman Ernie Fletcher. Good to see both of you, and we do appreciate your joining us.

DINGELL: Thank you, Judy.

FLETCHER: Thank you, Judy.

WOODRUFF: Coming up, the Carlsons, Margaret and Tucker, will also talk about this power struggle over patients' rights, and review the president's trip to Europe when we come back.

Speaking of Mr. Bush, he has a new friend in the Oval Office, sort of. We'll introduce you.


WOODRUFF: Joining us now, Margaret Carlson of "TIME" magazine, Tucker Carlson of CNN's "CROSSFIRE." Tucker, what is going to happen with the Patients' Bill of Rights?

TUCKER CARLSON, HOST, "CROSSFIRE": Well, it's going to take a while, it turns out. I mean, it's -- I mean, the vote may not come until September. Apparently Norwood isn't moving on this. Last time I talked to him was a couple weeks ago. He was on fire for the right of the American patients to sue for tons of dough, and he seemed to be not moving at all from that position. So they're going to try and...

WOODRUFF: So you think it really could be the fall?

CARLSON: I think it could be, yes.

MARGARET CARLSON, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Well, fall is almost upon us. Actually, we just lost August, I think, September. But right on Norwood, Bush had him in his sights for about four hours last night at the White House and he didn't crack. And Bush doesn't have the votes. He doesn't want to veto Norwood, but he doesn't have the votes for Fletcher, so the best thing is to take the month and see what he can do. And the president has some things at his disposal that he can do, and maybe he can twist arms other than Norwood's and other than the ones he's tried to do briefly here.

WOODRUFF: How big a deal, how big a loss would it be, Tucker, for the president if this doesn't work out?

T. CARLSON: Well, publicly, if they don't reposition this as a fight against the trial lawyers, which was their original plan -- you don't hear that as much, in my opinion, as you ought to. I mean, this really ought to be a conversation about, you know, should we give billions of more dollars to these revolting trial lawyers, or should we not? If they don't change the conversation to that, I think it could be a loss because...

WOODRUFF: Getting off the patients and...

M. CARLSON: Onto the lawyers. But they tried that and it wasn't working, because lots of people know that trial lawyers work for them, and if the trial lawyers did not take these cases, where would ordinary people go?

T. CARLSON: Trial lawyers work for you -- I like that, Margaret!

WOODRUFF: Really quickly, two other things. The president's just back from Europe, had a very interesting meeting with Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia. They apparently came up with some sort of agreement on what they're going to do about nuclear missiles and missile defense.

Tucker, is this a happy day for President Bush?

T. CARLSON: When Bush said, "I looked into his eyes and I understood his soul," or something to that effect, he was mocked after his first meeting with Putin. But it turns out he was right. I mean, it worked, or something worked. I think this is a big victory for Bush, because the argument against it was, this missile defense will start an arms race with the Russians. And here he has this verbal agreement, anyway. to reduce the nuclear stockpile. Big.

M. CARLSON: They've fallen in love, and he called him a straight shooter. Came away, went back and he got something out of him. I mean, Putin wants money from him, he wants him to go along, unlike all of the other countries, with missile defense, and putting the ABM Treaty on hold. And you know, maybe he'll get it.

I don't know how far it gets him in that every other country other is opposed.

T. CARLSON: No, no. Italy's onboard.

M. CARLSON: And the pope, maybe. You know, who knows what they did over stem cell research and missile defense?

WOODRUFF: China: Just as Secretary of State Powell is about to arrive in China a day or two from now, the Chinese convict and sentenced several scholars to long sentences in prison, accused them of spying. Now, these are scholars with American ties. One of them has a green card, she's not a U.S. citizen. But what does this say to the United States, just as the Secretary of State is about to arrive there?

T. CARLSON: Maybe we'll apologize again like we did when they knocked our plane out of the sky. No, it's clearly a power play to happen just a few days before Colin Powell gets there. It's a statement that the Chinese are making that, look, we're going to conduct our internal affairs the way we want to, continue to be repressive and there's nothing you can do about it. It's totally appalling and I think the U.S. ought to make a grand statement about it.

M. CARLSON: Right. We treat China very gingerly, and it sounds as if Powell is going to be behind the scenes, the Chinese are going to get their conviction. I don't think they want to keep them anymore than they want to keep the plane. They're going to send them back with something about, you know, medical conditions or you know, we -- we convicted them. That's what we wanted to do, now we'll turn them over to the United States.

But they've already sent one back, the one coconspirator. I imagine the others are coming back.

WOODRUFF: Does the U.S. lose face over this, or does the administration lose face?

T. CARLSON: Well, I mean, it depends on its response. I mean, if the administration should come out forcefully and say, actually, it's not a crime to pass on magazine articles about Taiwan to a fellow academic and this is purely political, it's authoritarian and outrageous, and we deplore it.

M. CARLSON: Yes. I think once Powell gets them back, we'll say that, just the way we did with the crew about the plane. WOODRUFF: Margaret Carlson, Tucker Carlson, wonderful to see you.

M. CARLSON: Thanks, Judy.

WOODRUFF: See you next Wednesday, if not sooner.

A report today from the National Urban League shows that nearly 90 percent of African-Americans under the age of 35 believe affirmative action is still needed in this country. Every year, the organization reviews what it calls the state of black America, and this year, it found that a disproportionate number of African- Americans are among the nation's poor and unemployed, victims of poor health and police harassment.


HUGH PRICE, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL URBAN LEAGUE: The problem of interaction with the police and the criminal justice system remains a major, major issue. It's one of the reservoirs where racism is still very much alive and well. Close to half of the people surveyed said that they had had an encounter, as I have had, with the police based on racial profiling, in their judgment.


WOODRUFF: The Urban League survey found that 13 percent of those asked think race relations in the United States are "good." Nearly half of them consider them "fair," and more than 1/3 call them "poor."

INSIDE POLITICS will be right back.


WOODRUFF: In the U.S. Senate today, the focus was on entertainment and ratings. The chairman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, Senator Joe Lieberman, told a hearing that the current rating system from movies, television and music needs work, that too often the ratings are inaccurate and enable young people to access explicit material.


SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN (D-CT), CHAIRMAN, GOVERNMENTAL AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: We are not talking about any legislation or government regulation today. But I again want to warn the industry that the best way to invite censorship is to disengage from this discussion and tune out the larger concerns of millions of American parents about media influence on our kids and on our country.



RUSSELL SIMMONS, FOUNDER, DEF JAM RECORDS: The cultural issue is the most important issue when you start deciding what's good and what's bad. If you don't understand it, it's impossible for you to rate it.


WOODRUFF: Republican Senator Sam Brownback offered some proposals to make the ratings system more user-friendly. Among them, have an independent body decide the ratings.

And now some items our reporters are picking up. Jon Karl's sources tell him that Team Gore is getting back together, at least for a time. Al Gore has invited veterans of campaign 2000 to Nashville, including campaign manager Donna Brazile and strategists Carter Eskew and Michael Holling (ph), to help Gore set up his political activism workshop at Vanderbilt University. The reunion date, August 11th.

And from Capitol Hill, producer Dana Bash: Expect Democratic senators Ted Kennedy and Chuck Schumer to fire a shot at Attorney General John Ashcroft's gun policy tomorrow. The two senators will ask Ashcroft to hand over documents relating to his proposal to cut the amount of time that the FBI keeps gun purchaser background checks from 90 days to just 24 hours.

And in the strange bedfellows department, our Major Garrett reports that Teamsters president Jimmy Hoffa, James Hoffa, and senior Cheney adviser Mary Matalin are joining forces. They will lobby House members tomorrow to support President Bush's effort to open the Arctic Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration.

What's in it for Hoffa? Simple. When it comes to jobs for his Teamsters, Hoffa says he thinks drilling in ANWR could be a gusher.

He is an imposing figure in the Oval Office. No, we're not talking about the president this time. You may recognize him. In a moment, you will hear more about him and the comparisons he invites with Mr. Bush.


WOODRUFF: When people compare President Bush to anyone, it's usually his father, who occupied the Oval Office himself once. Now, the president finds he has a lot in common with someone else, who has taken up residency in the White House.

Our national correspondent Bruce Morton explains.


BRUCE MORTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush has a new friend in the Oval Office: an Englishman named Churchill. Not in the flesh, of course. The living Sir Winston visited when Franklin Roosevelt worked here: a bust instead, but a presence.

CHRISTOPHER MEYER, BRITISH AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED STATES: I think that what he will now do is watch over you in this famous Oval Office with a benign and encouraging eye.

BUSH: I look forward to visiting with him. Sometimes he'll talk back, sometimes he won't, depending upon the stress of the moment.

MORTON: They agree about some things. Mr. Bush says he doesn't act on public opinion polls. And Churchill?

BUSH: He wasn't afraid of public opinion polls. He wasn't afraid of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) focus groups to tell him what was right.

MORTON: In fact, Churchill said once: "Nothing is more dangerous than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup poll, always feeling one's pulse and taking one's temperature."

Then, Mr. President, when you're wondering what to say to those pesky reporters, Churchill might help again. "I think no comment is a splendid expression," he said. "I am using it again and again."

They are both activists. Churchill said, "It is better to be making the news than taking it," and President Bush would surely agree.

BUSH: He knew what he believed, and he really kind of went after it in a way that seemed like a Texan to me.

MORTON: On education, Bush told Yale's graduating class he was proof a "C" average could lead to the presidency. Churchill said: "By being so long in the lowest form" -- grade at Harrow, his school -- "I gained an immense advantage over the other boys. I got into my bones the essential structure of the ordinary British sentence, which is a noble thing."

The president, who has been known to fumble a sentence here or there, might prefer another Churchill saying: "Short words are best, and the old words, when short, are best of all."

They might disagree about Russia. Mr. Bush said he looked into President Putin's eyes and got a sense of his soul. Churchill, contemplating Stalin's Russia, saw, "a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma."

(on camera): But surely, they'd agree about politics. Churchill said, "Politics are almost as exciting as war, and quite as dangerous. In war you can only be killed once, but in politics many times."

President Bush, watching the Democrats dig all those foxholes in the Senate, would probably say, "Sir Winston, you've got that right."

Bruce Morton, CNN, Washington.


WOODRUFF: And that is all for this edition of INSIDE POLITICS, but of course, you can go online all the time at CNN's AOL keyword: CNN. Our e-mail address is



4:30pm ET, 4/16

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