THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN ANNOUNCEMENT OF PATSY FLEMING AS THE DIRECTOR OF THE OFFICE OF NATIONAL AIDS POLICY
The Roosevelt Room
1:55 P.M. EST
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much, Secretary Shalala, ladies and gentlemen. In the last 13 years, AIDS has claimed the lives of more than a quarter million of our fellow citizens. Today, it is the leading cause of death among all Americans between the ages of 25 and 44.
For nearly every American now, the face of AIDS is no longer the face of a stranger, but the face of a friend. Now, more than every, we must redouble our efforts for effective treatments, for a vaccine, for a cure.
I have committed this administration to working hard to stop the spread of HIV and to finding a cure for AIDS. In the last two years, as Secretary Shalala said, we've increased the federal resources directed at AIDS by 30 percent. We've increased funding for AIDS-related research by 25 percent, funding for the Ryan White Care Act by 82 percent -- bringing services to thousands of Americans who are in desperate need of medical and social services. We've reorganized the Office of AIDS Research at NIH.
And we've done this at a time when, this year, for the first time in 25 years, there was an actual reduction in federal domestic, as well as, defense spending. We've stepped up our efforts to develop and improve new AIDS drugs. We're working hard to find an effective vaccine. We've put forth a very frank HIV prevention campaign aimed at young adults.
And soon we'll announce the creation of a new advisory council made up of experts from the community to advise our administration on the important steps that must still be taken in this fight. We're making progress, but we have to keep pressing forward. Defeating this epidemic demands a disciplined and passionate approach.
That's why I'm so pleased to announce the appointment of Patsy Fleming to serve as the AIDS Policy Director here at the White House. For more than a decade she has been an important voice in our national response to HIV and AIDS. She helped to shape our new AIDS education message, and push for aggressive AIDS drug development. She put together an immediate response to research results that could help to stem the rate of infection from infants born to HIV positive women.
In her short tenure as the Interim AIDS Policy Coordinator, her tremendous performance convinced me that she is the best person for the job. And I'm glad she decided to accept my request that she stay on. She'll head a newly structured AIDS policy office. She'll have direct access to me, to members of the cabinet. She'll play an important role in developing our budget and our policy proposals.
I asked her to provide me with a detailed report on the rapid increase of AIDS among adolescents, and to examine the efforts we are now making to reverse these terribly troubling trends. As we continue our struggle against this disease, I'm pleased to have her at my side.
And as I ask her to come up and make remarks, I'd just like to remind all of you that -- and all the people who are watching this today -- that this is a disease with a human face. And my human face today is -- I would like to dedicate this announcement to my dear friend Elizabeth Glaser. Thank you. (Applause.)
THE PRESIDENT: Do you want the box back? Where's the box?
MS. FLEMING: I'm a little shorter than you are.
SECRETARY SHALALA: -- it's my box. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: This is a step up. (Laughter and applause.
MS. FLEMING: Thank you, Mr. President and Donna Shalala, for those gracious words and for the opportunity to serve you and the nation.
For the first 12 years of the AIDS epidemic, I stood outside the administration looking in, banging on the doors of a bureaucracy that too often turned a deaf ear to the cries of the American people.
One of the doors I banged the loudest is the one on this building, the seat of government. Today, I am proud to stand here beside you inside the door.
In less than two years' time, Mr. President, you have changed the dynamic of the national debate over HIV and AIDS, replacing confrontation with cooperation, lethargy with energy, and apathy with passion. Like many Americans, AIDS has changed my life. The utter horror of the AIDS epidemic has reinforced my need to be an activist. For that I am grateful.
But AIDS has also forced me to attend too many funerals, to hold the hands of too many grieving friends and family members, and to participate in too many candlelight vigils. For that I am angry. I'm angry because as an African American, as a woman, and as the mother of three sons, I know all too well the threat that HIV poses for every American. That's why I'm so eager to take on the challenge that you have given me.
I want to thank you and members of the AIDS community for convincing me that this a job worth doing, and that I am the one to do it. And I must add that Secretary Shalala, my mentor, played a major role in that convincing. (Laughter.)
My task is to make sure that our brilliant scientists and public health experts have a clear path, and I will fight for the resources they need to stem the spread of HIV and ultimately to find a cure for AIDS.
Sadly, we do not yet have the answers to many of the challenges posed by HIV. This year, every day, an average of 90 Americans will die of AIDS-related conditions. We do have the knowledge to prevent the spread of HIV, yet an estimated 40,000 are infected every year.
The trends are particularly troublesome among women, people of color and adolescence. While the rate of increase among gay men has lessened, AIDS still tears at the core of that population, particularly young gay men.
Mr. President, like you, I am particularly concerned with our young people, who it seems are increasingly tuning out the prevention message. Today, one in four new HIV infections is among people under the age of 20. We must find a way to break through the barriers of denial that keep our young people from protecting themselves. That will be a top priority for me.
We must also empower women to protect themselves instead of requiring them to rely on their partners. And we must work very hard to guarantee the human rights of people living with HIV in this country and in countries around the world. A disease is no excuse for discrimination.
Each of us is the product of our experience. And I have been blessed with two important mentors in my career. For 10 years I worked with Congressman Ted Weiss, a man of uncommon courage. From him I learned the need to have a set of core values, chief among which is respect for human rights and a recognition of the needs of the disenfranchised. Both are vital to this job.
For the last two years, I've worked with and learned from one of the most ardent voices in the battle against AIDS. Secretary Shalala has prepared me well for this job, and I look forward to continuing our close relationship.
Mr. President, we have a great deal of work to do. I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and begin working for you and for the people of this country.
Q Mr. President, can you respond to Newt Gingrich calling you a "countercultural McGovernick"? (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: I'm a middle-aged man who's worked very hard in his life -- (laughter) -- to be a mainstream American. And I think I've done a reasonable job of it --
Q Do you think this will make it harder to work with him if he keeps coming out with statements like that, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, the American people can draw their own conclusions. I can only control my own words and my own deeds. My hand is open to them -- (inaudible) --
Q Sir, a question on AIDS. AIDS activists and gay groups have demanded you pick a prominent, high-profile czar, and also ask for a seat at the Cabinet table. Why did you choose this route and what about the seat at the Cabinet table?
THE PRESIDENT: Because I think that -- I made a decision that -- the most important thing we could have is a good advocate, is a person I knew, had great confidence in, and had real access to the White House and a real chance to influence me and my decisions.
I think it was the right decision. And a very large number of people who are interested in AIDS recommended it to me even before I told them I was thinking about it. So I think that the people who are here can answer the question better than me.
END2:05 P.M. EST