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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release October 6, 1999


The Rose Garden

12:10 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon. I want to say a few brief words about three critical issues now pending before Congress. There have been major developments on all of them in the last 24 hours that demand our attention and the attention of the American people.

First, yesterday's defeat of Ronnie White's nomination for the Federal District Court judgeship in Missouri was a disgraceful act of partisan politics. Once again this creates a real doubt about the Senate's ability to fairly perform its constitutional duties to advise and consent.

Unfortunately, by voting down the first African American judge, who was already serving -- the first African American judge to serve on the Missouri State Supreme Court, the Republican-controlled Senate is adding credence to the perceptions that they treat minority and women judicial nominees unfairly and unequally.

I would just point out that that strict party-line vote included Republicans who had previously voted in the Judiciary Committee to recommend him to the full Senate.

I hope the Senate leadership will reverse this course and begin to provide timely and fair consideration of all judicial nominees. In particular, I ask the Senate to act on the nominations of Marsha Berzon and Richard Paez who has been held up for years now. They're both excellent candidates for the 9th circuit and have been waiting for quite some time to receive a vote from the Senate.

Meanwhile, I will continue to fulfill my obligation to nominate and press for the confirmation of the most qualified candidates possible for the federal bench.

The second thing I want to talk about is congressional action on the patients' bill of rights. Today was supposed to be the day the American people have long waited for -- the day a bipartisan majority passed a strong patients' bill of rights. Now, the Republican leadership knows there is a majority for that bill. But, unfortunately, as a result of an 11th hour appeal by the insurance industry lobbyists, which all of you reported on yesterday, once again it appears that the will of the American people will be thwarted.

In the dead of the night last night the House leaders concocted a process filled with enough poison pills and legislative slights of hand to practically guarantee the defeat of this bill. This is a travesty. It's the sort of thing they did to kill common-sense gun legislation in the aftermath of Littleton. The American people want something; there is a bipartisan majority for it; the leadership makes a deal with the special interest and figures out some procedural way to tie everything up in knots to keep it from passing.

Now, a bipartisan majority is poised to pass this bill. But now they are being blocked by legislative tactics concocted by the leadership that blatantly put special interests ahead of the interests of the American people.

What is the result of this? The Republican leadership would ensure that the American people will have to wait for the right to see a specialist, wait for the right to have access to the nearest emergency room care, wait for the right to stay with their health care provider throughout a course of cancer treatment or pregnancy, wait for the right to hold their health plan accountable for harmful decisions.

Again, I ask the bipartisan majority who favor the patients' bill of rights: Don't make them wait. Reject these tactics. Insist that the leadership allow a fair up or down vote on the Norwood-Dingell bill. Insist on an up or down vote on a bill that is comprehensive, enforceable, and paid for. Don't let this 11th hour gimmick kill two years of hard work for something the overwhelming majority of Americans of all political persuasions know we need to do.

The American people deserve more than partisan posturing and legislative gamesmanship on an issue this vital. The people who think it's the wrong thing to do ought to just stand up on the floor and vote against it. But they know they're in the minority; they shouldn't be able to pull some 11th hour deal that keeps the vote the way a majority want it to come out.

Let me say, finally we also should proceed with our actions to protect Americans from the threat of nuclear weapons. Later this afternoon, I'll meet here at the White House with Nobel laureates, former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others on the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. I fervently believe, as all of you know, that this treaty will restrain the spread of nuclear weapons, while enabling us to maintain the effectiveness of our nuclear arsenal.

As you know, there are discussions between Republicans and Democrats on the Hill about a better process for deliberating on this important treaty. After two long years of inaction, one week is very little time for considered action. The Chemical Weapons Convention, for example, that we ratified in 1997, had 14 full days of hearings in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee after a long process of negotiations. But for now, the vote is scheduled for Tuesday, and I will continue to aggressively to the Senate and to the American people that this is in our national interests.

And I will have a little more to say about this later today at the other event.

END 12:15 P.M. EDT