Transcript

Rep. Patrick Kennedy Holds a News Conference

CQ Transcripts Wire
Monday, June 5, 2006; 12:47 PM

SPEAKER: U.S. REPRESENTATIVE PATRICK KENNEDY (D-RI)

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REPORTER: Right now we have Congressman Patrick Kennedy making his first statement since he came out and said he was having an addiction to medication -- his first time since he's come out of rehab. Let's listen in.

KENNEDY: I was not drinking that night. I got -- actually I was with several of our folks here in the other room, Charlie Maynard, Rich LeClair, Liz Uhrls (ph), many others from the Rhode Island mental health community that actually were there. We worked together that evening.

Then I went to vote. My votes ended around 9:15. I called up a friend. We spoke for about 15 minutes. She came over and visited me around approximately 10:30 and I was with her the rest of the night. And, you know, she told me, I got up at around 2:45 because I said I had to go and vote. And that's what happened.

QUESTION: But you said you didn't remember, so I wondered...

KENNEDY: No. Someone was with me. Someone was with me. I was voting up until 9:15. We know that much. Someone was with me. She's attested to, you know, prosecutors down in Washington that she smelled no alcohol on my breath.

Every bar in Washington was combed through and through and through. There wasn't a person in that city that wasn't asked: Did they see me out that night? They can find maybe two people, one of whom works for Roy Blunt, who's the waitress that says she served me drinks. And then the most she said she served me, if she did, was one drink.

And, you know, this is like seven, eight hours later. I mean, I would have had to have been out for a long time piling them down for alcohol to have been a factor at all.

But, you know what's important in all of this is it's irrelevant. It's not whether it's alcohol or Ambien. I should not have been taking Ambien. It says on the directions: Do not operate heavy machinery under this drug. (inaudible) says the same thing.

So whether it's alcohol or drugs, any impaired driving is wrong. You know, it makes no difference to me. If you're driving while intoxicated, you're driving while intoxicated, whether it's booze or it's some other chemical.

So in my mind, you know, I'm ready to take the full consequences for my actions.

KENNEDY: They were just as wrong as they'd be under any chemical.

QUESTION: Do you think you got preferential treatment that night from the authorities?

KENNEDY: I felt that -- I never asked for preferential treatment. The reports...

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY: Can I finish please?

The reports that evening, you know, 10 of the 12 police officers said they did not smell any alcohol on my breath or have any -- nor did I confront them or fight them or say that, you know, anything about me requesting preferential treatment.

If I had, believe me, you would have read about it by now. OK? So I never made any request of it.

I expect at the end of the day to have made sure that I will have done the same thing, in terms of the charges, in terms of bookings, in terms of mug shots, fingerprints, whatever they might have me do, it's what anyone else would have done to them if they were an African American in Anacostia and they were picked up and they were -- stay overnight in a jail, because there was no one else to pick them up.

I intend to ask the court to make sure that I spend no less time, you know, in any accountability that anyone else would have spent under similar circumstances, and I've been insistent on that from the very beginning.

So I think the Capitol Police does a fantastic job of protecting all of us. I think they do a terrific job, and I certainly feel very grateful that they're there for us and for the Capitol.

But, as I said, this was not something that I sought special treatment for. And in fact right now there may be special treatment given to me in the effort to show that I wasn't treated special, which means that there are probably people who want to throw the book at me a little more to prove that they're not treating me special.

I'm happy to take all of that, because you know what? It was my actions, I'm held responsible for them, I'm going to take accountability for them, and then I want to just move on, because, you know, that's what it's all about to me.

QUESTION: What specifically were you diagnosed with by the doctors (OFF-MIKE)?

KENNEDY: Well, on my medical stuff, that's really between me and my doctor. I deserve to have some measure of medical privacy, as does every other person in this country.

KENNEDY: In fact, I am the author of a medical privacy bill that puts teeth into HIPAA, Health Care Information Privacy Act.

Right now, someone can go sell my information from (inaudible), which I'm sure they'll be tempted to do once they're offered a big cash reward, like they have in previous years in the National Enquirer, and they could sell my information and have utter impunity.

They don't have any accountability. They don't have any consequence in terms of law. They have no penalties to pay. They have no jail time or anything.

We've just seen this enormous breach of confidentiality with all of our veterans. I mean, I think that's absolutely outrageous.

It points to the fact that, if we're going to go into health care information technological age, we need to lock in who has control of whose person's records.

If I'm a doctor for a patient, does that mean that other doctors, just because they're doctors but they may not be my patient's doctor, can get access to the same medical records that I do?

I don't think so, but right now, that's currently possible under the law. It's also possible for them to sell information, to transfer information with utter impunity.

So I want to make an example, not only of my own case but I also want to make clear to people that I feel very strongly about their ability to have confidence that they are going to have medical privacy, because the last thing I want to see is people feel like if they go in for mental health care treatment, that they now feel like (inaudible) going to find out about it.

(AUDIO GAP)

KENNEDY: ... to have confidence that they're going to have medical privacy because the last thing I want to see is people feel like if they go (inaudible) mental health care treatment that they now feel like (inaudible) going to find out about it.

KENNEDY: And I assure you that is a huge concern and obstacle for many people seeking treatment. They're worried their insurance is going to sell it to someone else who's going to put them on a direct mail list, and all of that's happening.

QUESTION: But if you lead and raise public awareness, wouldn't it be helpful to those who are suffering (inaudible) things you are (OFF-MIKE)

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY: I have been more open than perhaps any other public official. I've said I have been diagnosed with bipolar. I'm confirming what I've also talked about for years, and that is I've had alcoholism and addiction.

This, for me, was the latest kind of wake-up call for me, and I sure got it. And I will also say I'm enormously grateful -- every day I'm on my knees thanking God that I didn't hurt somebody.

And this was an opportunity for me to get my life back on track. Frankly, I didn't know how miserable I was until I started feeling better.

(LAUGHTER)

And so I'm really happy that I've had this chance.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) can you tell us how much your medical treatment was (OFF-MIKE)

KENNEDY: Again, that goes back to my own personal situation. I don't want to get into a situation where I'm disclosing all of my medical treatment -- what kind was it, what -- those are all things that belong between me and my doctor.

QUESTION: But (OFF-MIKE) as a part of that?

KENNEDY: I have insurance. I've always paid for my own insurance. And I will say this, however, though: If you're a member of Congress, you have mental health parity, including drugs and alcohol treatment.

And, you know, what? It's funny, members of Congress give it to themselves but they don't give it to any other American.

KENNEDY: But I think it's important to note, as the GAO study revealed, that there right now is little than 1 percent increase in premiums as a result of providing for coverage. And that I think is something that is worth noting. But it also shows that even if it's drug and alcohol treatment, the HMOs still do, with drug and alcohol treatment, the same that they do for diabetes and cancer and everything else, and that is, they try to restrict treatment as much as possible.

So it's no different from any other illness. It probably is not as open as other, you know -- as you would like it to be in general by an insurance company, but the fact of the matter is that the medical necessity has to be determined now before you qualify for treatment.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) full schedule or are you going back into this thing?

KENNEDY: No, I'm going back to the full schedule. I'm going back to Washington in the morning. I obviously have a lot of thank- you notes to catch up on. And if you'd be good enough to let people know that I will get back to them. It's been a little while since I've been able to write anyone back or phone anyone. And I've got a lot of messages piled up in my office.

Obviously, I needed to focus first and fore most on my treatment while I was there, but I plan in the coming weeks to do my best to try to get back to as many people as I can possibly get.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) in your inner struggle (inaudible). What will come first (inaudible)?

KENNEDY: Well, my recovery has to come first, no matter what. I won't be able to be a good member of Congress if my recovery does not come first. In fact, this is important to my job and my success in my job that I get healthy and that I make my health care primary focus of my life.

And certainly, I spent my weekend with my nieces and nephews and a lot of my cousins. And I had such a fantastic time. And I can't imagine what that would have been like had I been on the path I was before I went to treatment. I definitely would not have had the sharks and minnows with Circia (ph), my cousin Courtney's little girl. And I just wouldn't have enjoyed that.

I wouldn't have been jumping in and out of the pool as much as I was, playing and having that great experience. The number of ways that I'm starting to see how much more enjoyable life can be without holding on too tight to everything, you know, and without putting my own personal success in terms of what other people think of me or how well this event did or how well that event did.

KENNEDY: And then I take that all home and it's all on me, and then I don't have a private life, I don't have real personal connections, I don't have a support system.

So this is about a whole real transformation for me. It's not just about drugs and alcohol. I mean, this disease involves a lot of parts of your life, and it's actually a program to recovery that involves trying to tackle, you know, other interpersonal challenges that you have every day so that you don't slip back, maybe not to drinking or drugging, but into an old mindset that makes you very unhappy.

QUESTION: So I'm hearing -- I want to make sure I understand you correctly -- if you find (OFF-MIKE) is just too great, and if you find that (OFF-MIKE) you will choose your recovery over the U.S. Congress. In other words, if you find that you cannot recover the way you want, you will step aside.

KENNEDY: I don't really feel like it's necessary for me to get into this hypothetical question. The fact of the matter is, I'm really excited to be back at work and moving forward. I'm really excited about the health that I have now going for me and the support systems I have going forward for me.

I don't want to look at this negatively, like, you know, I'm doomed to fail. That's just not a way you succeed.

QUESTION: But is part of the total recovery being able to accept that perhaps, "I will have to change my whole lifestyle"? Is that something you are open to?

KENNEDY: Oh, absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

KENNEDY: But you know, when I changed my whole lifestyle by just having a total different perspective within the life that I'm living doesn't mean I have to change jobs or anything else, you know. It's the perspective you have on things that changes.

I mean, I'm looking at things in a different way that allows me to look at my life a different way. It doesn't mean I'm changing the actual day to day things that I'm doing; it's my attitude towards it that has to...

QUESTION: But when we go back, we're all going to have e-mails who say, "If Congressman Kennedy has to first and foremost pay attention to his recovery, Rhode Island needs someone who's first and foremost concentrating on representing Rhode Island and you should step down."

Before we come to call you back, what's the answer to that?

(LAUGHTER)

KENNEDY: Well the answer is -- well, part if it was in my speech, and that was I'm enormously heartened by the response that I've received so far from the people of Rhode Island. It's been overwhelmingly supportive. People in everyone's life -- they know somebody, they have a family member or they themselves have come across this disease.

And they know there is nobody in Congress, very few people who are really advocating as hard for this issue than I am. And I've done that from the very beginning.

I mean, this is the number one epidemic in this country. It's more costly than heart disease, cancer, diabetes, hypertension, bigger than all of those.

KENNEDY: But I can guarantee you, when it comes to Cancer Week, I have 200 constituents come down to Washington to make the trip on their own dime. When it comes to diabetes, I have hundreds and hundreds of people.

When it comes to mental illness, I'd be lucky if I have someone knock on the door. That's how bad the politics now are of this disease.

I don't want to occupy time in Congress spinning my wheels, trying to just fit in for the sake of just getting more time in Congress. I want to be able to look back at my life now and know that I did the most I could with the time that I had to make a difference.

And I know that, while I'm in the minority now, I can get appropriations because I'm on the Appropriations Committee for programs back here.

Maria Montanaro, in the (inaudible) of Thunder Mist -- we were able to expand the Thunder Mist Health Care Center to include, you know, 4,100 families that are now able to get treatment today than were unable to before I got that appropriation.

The bottom line is I'm able to do a lot for this state because of my position on Appropriations. But frankly, in terms of moving legislation, it's very difficult.

What I really look forward to doing is, if I can't pass bills, I can go out there and set the groundwork in place so that, when we do get the majority back -- as I know my friend, the Chairman Bill Lynch expects -- we'll be able to move on these issues and we'll have been able to prepare.

As I quoted in Dr. King, it's not one fell swoop that's going to solve this; it's everybody working on a consistent basis.

King didn't come along and say, we'll do civil rights now, and it happened. There were millions of people that came before him that had been struggling in the shadows for years to raise the consciousness of America in terms of the injustice toward African-Americans.

So we're all standing on the shoulders of people who came before us. And my goal is to keep making progress. And I feel very positive. I mean, I really have renewed energy and dedication to this issue.

QUESTION: Congressman, to follow up on what she was saying and in your speech today you (inaudible) Rhode Island, and I certainly believe you. But there's also this other strain (inaudible).

I wrote a column (inaudible) -- I'd say rather sympathetic. I get e-mails like this: "He may have mental health issues, but he also has immaturity issues. You, sir, are (inaudible) make excuses for (inaudible) far from courageous."

In another one, "he's an irresponsible child. He needs to resign (inaudible)."

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

(LAUGHTER)

KENNEDY: For your sake, I hope that isn't the case.

QUESTION: What I'm getting at here, is you must know there's this strain of (inaudible). What do you say to these kinds of (inaudible)?

KENNEDY: Well, you know, when I ran for state rep in Mount Pleasant, I got excoriated. And I went on Buddy Cianci's talk show. It was just humiliation. Everybody was (inaudible) "congressboy" when I got first elected (inaudible) all over me.

You know, my (inaudible) all my campaigns, people have not said very nice things about me. So the whole notion that there are people saying negative things, I accept. I'm in public life. I got to take all the spears and arrows.

I have to know in my own heart that what I'm doing is the right thing, and I feel in my own heart that that's what I'm doing.

And I, frankly, believe that anyone whose encountered addiction as a disease understands that this is a disease. We have the preeminent health care providers in NIH here today and researchers. I mean, this is uncategorically an illness.

Now, would they call me that if I did not take my diabetes insulin shots and ended up crashing into something because I had a diabetic shock? Would those people say the same thing? That's my question for them.

I don't think they would, because they would see that as something different. But, unfortunately, there's a moral dimension that is put on this question, where people cast judgment about the strengths or not of someone based upon their ability -- whether they succumb to this disease or not.

And I don't -- you know, there are too many successful people in this country to say that they're all (inaudible) there are also too many people who are in great recovery in this country (inaudible) be called courageous.

And I think that it's (inaudible) all the, you know, kind of, gut reactions to people on that is, "This is a disgrace," "His decision, moral decision -- why does he do this?" and so forth.

You know, when people point out...

(END AUDIO FEED)

END

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