"The president hopes that everybody gets the message that we're all in this together and that it's terribly important to give patients the protections they need. And that means there has to be a willingness in the Congress to compromise. And if you take a look at the votes that have taken place in the Senate, you see there is not much of a willingness to compromise."
-- White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, speaking about the patients' bill of rights debate in the Senate
The Senate is nearing approval of a patients' bill of rights that the president has deemed unsignable. While the Senate did approve compromises Thursday that limited liability for most employers and reinforced the authority of patient protection legislation already in force in several states, most GOP leaders say that none of the compromises will allay Bush's fears that the new law would flood the courts with lawsuits.
Republicans have begun to focus on the endgame, with some insisting that the party should continue to propose amendments to the bill, even those that are sure to be defeated, with an eye toward delaying a final vote. But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., is following through on his threat to keep the Senate in session over the Fourth of July recess until the patients' rights bill comes to a vote. Consequently, some Republicans believe that it's in the interest of the party to come to a resolution as soon as possible -- even if that means a White House loss -- so that the GOP can start damage control and move on to other issues.
Bush wants the next issue to be his energy plan, which slipped through the cracks after Democrats took over the Senate earlier this month. On Thursday, he renewed the White House's focus on power in a speech at the Energy Department. There, the president called for the White House staff and government agencies to set a good example for the rest of the nation by becoming more vigilant about energy efficiency. Bush also spoke about the need for conservation, alternative fuel sources and expanded domestic power production.
But the White House is likely to be discouraged by the initial reaction to the latest edition of Bush's energy plan. Much of Congress remains focused on other legislative initiatives, and Bush lost an energy policy vote on Thursday when the House blocked new gas and oil exploration in the Great Lakes. The public also remains skeptical of some of the president's priorities on energy, according to a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
In other administration news, Republican and Democratic senators voiced displeasure with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's recommendations to close military bases and scale back production of the B-1 bomber. Lawmakers complained that the Pentagon's failure to consult them before making determinations about weapons programs and bases is another example of how poorly the Defense Department has communicated with the Hill since Rumsfeld took over.
Some gun control organizations believe that the communication between the National Rifle Association and Attorney General John Ashcroft is undermining provisions of the Brady law. Ashcroft has pledged that federal law enforcement will hold onto information about gun buyer background checks for only one day. Current policy is to retain the records for 90 days. Ashcroft and the NRA assert that holding onto the information compromises the privacy of those who own firearms. Gun control advocates say that retaining the records is the only way to adequately investigate patterns of suspicious arms purchases and dealers.
And don't miss the president's first night on the town in Washington's theater world. He attended a performance of the Neil Simon play "Proposals" at a community theater in Northern Virginia. His sister-in-law, Margaret Bush, is starring in the production.
Friday schedule: Bush holds an event in honor of Black Music Month at the White House before heading to Camp David for the weekend. He meets with Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizuma there on Saturday.
This day in Bush history
June 29, 1999: Republican presidential candidate Gov. George W. Bush opened his California campaign office. The presence of Hollywood bigwigs and Hispanic leaders, normally allied with the Democrats, assured the state GOP that Bush would be competitive in California.
Bush league: Pentagon picture show
Since Ronald Reagan rode out of Washington more than a decade ago, Republicans have always accused Democrats of being the party in Hollywood's pocket. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is bringing the Bush administration closer to the entertainment industry, one movie at a time.
Just a month after sending the Navy aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to Hawaii for the premiere of "Pearl Harbor," the Pentagon has confirmed that it deployed 35 Black Hawk helicopters and 100 military personnel to Morocco to assist in filming the movie "Black Hawk Down," based on the award-winning book by Mark Bowden. The picture will give an account of the landing of U.S. troops in Somalia in October 1993. Matt Drudge broke the story on Sunday.
According to Pentagon spokesman Marine Lt. Col. David Lapan, the production company, Revolution Studios, will ante up approximately $3 million, which will cover the cost of helicopters and other equipment, as well as the soldiers' expenses. Salaries, however, are excluded from the bill.
Lapan assured Salon that this deployment wasn't an anomaly. It turns out that the military maintains an office in Hollywood that routinely handles requests from film and television producers looking for training, equipment and technical experts to provide that authentic military touch for their features. The CBS program "JAG" is a steady customer.
But the Pentagon won't send America's soldiers off to shoot just any show. "The determination from the department varies on a case-by-case basis," said Lapan. "It's generally based on the willingness of the film crew or the production company to take not only our physical assistance but our technical assistance in making adjustments to the script," he said. "We realize that we cannot dictate to filmmakers, but we want to make sure that it's an accurate portrayal of the military."
Pressed on the standard for accuracy, Lapan acknowledged that films that fudged on technical perfection, but accurately depicted the "dedication and values" of the armed forces, were more likely to get approved. The most important question that Defense Department script reviews ask is, "Does this [movie] portray the military in a positive light?" And the Defense Department doesn't leave that to chance. Even after a production company finishes work with troops and equipment, a military liaison hangs around to make sure that the script stays defense-friendly.
Lapan insists that American troops are still subject to military codes of conduct while they participate in filming, and that they are expected to report any inappropriate requests from directors to the military liaison. "We don't do stunts," he said. As to the wisdom of sending soldiers to do their duty for Hollywood, Lapan believes that the practice is far safer than having actors or stunt people playact military scenes. "Who better to do something like this than the people who are trained to do it?" he asked.
Rant: Bush embraces the Balkans
So much for campaign rhetoric. After spending last year railing against the Clinton administration's involvement in the Balkans, President Bush is now vowing to maintain a U.S. presence in the region indefinitely. In fact, Bush may even expand the U.S. role in the region, offering American troops for a possible new NATO force in Macedonia.
This of course is a far cry from the campaign trail, when candidate Bush said he would not have gotten involved in the ongoing conflict because American national interests were not at stake. Al Gore also expressed some hesitancy about Balkan involvement, but defended the administration's role in Kosovo.
Bush's supporters will hail his policy shift as an example of adaptability and resilience. They will point out that Bill Clinton was guilty of this as well. Indeed, after crusading against Chinese leaders as "the butchers of Beijing," Clinton embraced those same leaders with open arms, fighting for permanent "most favored nation" trading status for China.
But two wrongs certainly don't make a right, and Bush should be taken to task -- not for his new policy per se, but for using the Balkan issue during the campaign to play to conservative isolationists.
-- Anthony York
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Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York
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