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John King: Mueller confirmation hearings and patients' rights



John King is CNN's senior White House correspondent. He joined the CNN.com chat room from Washington, D.C.

CNN: Good morning John King. Welcome all to Political Week Preview chat.

JOHN KING: Hello everyone and happy Monday.

CNN: Congress is about to recess for the summer. What are the top items on the agenda this week?

KING: The patients' bill of rights is the biggest - and a tough lobbying campaign for the president as he tries to sway enough Republicans to back his version in the House. The president's nominee for FBI director also faces tough questioning at his confirmation hearings this week.

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CNN: What kinds of questions can FBI head nominee Robert Mueller expect?

KING: He will be asked about his own views on law enforcement and some resume material if you will, but the overwhelming focus here will be on the FBI itself and what many lawmakers view as bad management, including questions about the Hanssen spy case, for example, and the missing weapons. So it will be more about the FBI than about Mr. Mueller himself.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: John, don't you think it's public knowledge that Mueller is more than qualified to run the FBI? It seems to me if the Democratic committee leaders come down too hard on him, that they will appear very partisan.

KING: I think every question will be prefaced with the thought that he is viewed as more than qualified but that members of Congress want answers about the agency. The key Democrats, including Chairman Leahy of the Judiciary Committee, already say they are all but certain to vote for confirmation.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: John, does the Cheney energy task force story go anywhere - or are we in for more months of Condit stories posing as quality investigative journalism?

KING: We will be reporting not only on the task force - and the controversy over its secret meetings, but also as Congress works on the result of the task force: the president's energy proposal. But yes, it can be hard to break through sometimes with the heavy focus on the Condit/Levy story.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Has there been any official reaction from the White House regarding the overwhelming vote to oust the Navy from Vieques?

KING: The White House says the vote doesn't change anything in its view; that it backs the decision by the Navy - which of course was made in conjunction with the White House - to look for a new site.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Where has the education bill gone and why isn't Bush more concerned about it getting quickly passed?

KING: It is in conference committee now - the House and Senate trying to work out their differences. The president has made several public appeals for Congress to finish the work this week before its August recess and look for him to do so again in the next day or two if the committee work is not picking up speed.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: John, how is Vice President Cheney's health these days?

KING: Well Mr. Cheney says he feels fine and that he is keeping in touch with his doctors and in sync with his exercise regime. There was a newspaper story a week or so ago about him being seen buying lamb chops in the supermarket! So we will keep an eye on him, but he has appeared in good spirits of late.

CNN: Reports say that Republicans won't try to repeal many of President Clinton's final days regulations. Why the change of heart for them? What was the nature of most of these rules?

KING: Simple math: Democrats now control the Senate so the Republicans were not going to succeed. As for the rules, it is a pretty varied mix: from new requirements on reporting workplace injuries to questions about when a fetus is viable to new price disclosure rules on the meatpacking industry.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: What is up with Bush's abstinence programs across the U.S. and cutting the family planning programs?

KING: This administration is trying to turn the attention away from family planning and contraceptives and more to abstinence in federal programs that deal with reproductive health issues. It is in line with promises Mr. Bush made during the campaign and has long been a goal of many cultural/religious conservative groups that are influential in the Republican Party and within the administration.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Mr. King, may I ask if Mr. Bush supports the call to restructure the G8 meeting format, ie: smaller more quiet meetings?

KING: He has not been specific, but has said that, especially as a new president, he enjoys the opportunity to have the face-to-face contact with the other leaders. The U.S. brings the biggest delegation, so the plans to make it smaller and less formal could cause some tension within the staff/agency ranks. But it is clear Prime Minister Chretien wants next year's meeting in Canada to have a different look.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: Is campaign finance reform dead?

KING: It is on life support but no, not dead. There is a so-called discharge petition in the House that if enough members sign it could force a vote this fall after Congress returns from the August recess. Essentially backers are trying to overcome the leadership's decision to put the issue on the back burner for now.

CHAT PARTICIPANT: John King -- why are you always talking from the White House lawn?

KING: Well, John King covers the White House and so this is where I have to do most of my work. It is nice to get out from time to time, trust me -- sometimes you feel captive inside the gates. But you need to be here to be around the president and his staff.

CNN: What's on the president's agenda this week? And any final thoughts?

KING: The biggest thing for Mr. Bush is trying to lobby enough House members to come his way on patients' bill of rights. It is a huge issue and the first major test of the new congressional environment -- Democrats running the Senate -- on a major top tier issue. So much of the president's time is focused on that. He is preparing for three weeks off mostly on vacation in Texas, so this is a big week in terms of trying to get a few more pieces of his agenda through the Congress.

CNN: Thanks for joining us today, John --- look forward to another discussion next week.

KING: My pleasure -- take care for the earlier question about fast track - it is trade authority that means Congress has to vote yes or no on major trade deals -- it cannot try to make amendments. Take care everyone.

John King joined the CNN.com Newsroom from Washington DC. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Monday, July 30, 2001.






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