THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS The Briefing Room
9:30 A.M. EST
MS. MYERS: Good morning. At 11:00 a.m. the President will speak to the Chamber of Commerce. And then at 4:00 p.m. he will meet with U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Those are the only quasi public appearances of the day.
Q Has he made up his mind to push the air relief -- relief air drop on Bosnia? And is he trying to convince Boutros Boutros-Ghali?
MS. MYERS: Well, we think that -- he's currently in consultation with a number of people about it. He'll speak with the Secretary General about that and other issues today, and we expect an announcement on it sometime soon. I don't expect it today.
Q Will he comply with the War Powers Act?
Q What do you mean an announcement -- that the U.S. would go it alone ever?
MS. MYERS: No. The U.S. believes that we have the authority under U.N. Security Council Resolution 770 to explore these options. We want to do it in consultation with the U.N. and others, and we're currently in consultation. And the President will speak with the Secretary General about that and other issues today.
Q Authority under 770 to explore or to conduct the operation?
MS. MYERS: To conduct, but we're currently exploring to find out how to structure it.
Q But you believe that the U.S. has the authority under 770 to unilaterally conduct such an operation?
MS. MYERS: We don't anticipate doing it unilaterally.
Q Can you confirm those in NATO who say the President has already sent them a memo saying that he's going to go ahead with this within the next few days?
MS. MYERS: He hasn't -- at this point, he's still consulting.
Q He has sent no memos to any other NATO allies?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. There's been no final decision made on that. The President is currently in consultation and we'll have an announcement on it sometime later this week --probably.
Q Will he go through the U.N.? I mean, will it be a part of the U.N. operation?
MS. MYERS: The U.N. Security Council resolution allows for taking action to assist humanitarian deliveries in consultation with the United Nations. The President is consulting with the U.N. at this point; again, he's meeting with the Secretary General today, and we'll have more to say about it sometime in the near future.
Q You said we don't anticipate doing it unilaterally. Do you stand by that statement?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q Will he comply with the War Powers Act?
MS. MYERS: In regards to humanitarian assistance in Bosnia?
Q All the news reports say that any aircraft bringing in humanitarian supplies would be subject to ground fire and-or possibly Serbian air fire. Will he comply with the War Powers Act?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to get back to you on that. Under U.N. Security Council Resolution 770, it is permissible to conduct -- to go after assisting humanitarian relief efforts. And we're working with the United Nations now; we'll have more to say about later.
Q Will the President insist that any U.S. airlifts or fighter escorts or whatever is involved would remain under U.S. command and not under U.N. command?
MS. MYERS: Again, we're currently in consultation on this and we'll have more to say about it sometime soon. I can't speak to the details yet because the President is speaking with the Secretary General today and is currently in consultation.
Q You ruled out unilateral and you have not said whether it will be part of the U.N. Are you indicating that it would be part of a NATO operation or something else? I mean, is this where you're --
MS. MYERS: All I'm saying is that U.N. Security Council Resolution 770 grants authority to provide humanitarian assistance in conjunction with the United Nations. The President is currently in consultation and we'll have more to say about it soon.
Q Dee Dee, a federal judge yesterday called the Justice Department's effort to change course in the case of Congressman Harold Ford repugnant. And a lobbying effort began with a letter to the President on February 3rd, and I understand there was a meeting between the Chairman -- or a discussion between the Chairman of the Black Caucus and the President. Did the President tell Mr. Mfume to go see Mr. Hubbell and set up that meeting?
MS. MYERS: I think Acting Attorney General Gerson said the decision was his. The judge has spoken in that case and I think that that's all we have to say about it.
Q What did the President tell Mr. Mfume? What was the nature of that conversation?
MS. MYERS: Again, the Acting Attorney General made the decision on that case. The judge has spoken. And that's all -- we have no further comment.
Q Dee Dee, will there be a readout after the meeting?
MS. MYERS: With the Secretary General?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll have some guidance.
Q Dee Dee, the Deputy Commander of Serb forces is quoted this morning as saying that if the United States does this air drop it would result in the "massive use of force and an escalation of the armed conflict." How does that aspect figure into the decisionmaking process? Are you concerned about the troops on the ground as well as antiaircraft impact?
MS. MYERS: Well, obviously we're taking all factors into consideration. But again, the President is meeting with the Secretary General this afternoon, we're consulting with others involved in this, and we'll have more to say about it later.
Q Who are the others?
Q Does the administration, though, agree that there is a danger in escalating --
MS. MYERS: I don't want to say more than we're currently in consultation and we'll have more to say about it.
Q Who is he consulting with?
MS. MYERS: The Secretary General of the U.N., among others.
Q But who else?
MS. MYERS: Again, we'll have more to say about this later. I don't expect it today, but sometime later this week.
Q Is the Deputy Commander overstating the danger of escalating the war?
MS. MYERS: Again, we'll have more to say about it later.
Q Is there a disagreement between the United States and the Secretary General as to whether the U.S. can go ahead with this without U.N. approval specifically for this operation?
MS. MYERS: Again, the President is consulting with the United Nations and others about this and we'll have more to say about it later.
Q Is he waiting to meet with Prime Minister Major tomorrow before announcing, and do you have any logistics on the visit?
MS. MYERS: I expect that it will come up, as will a number of other issues -- United Kingdom-U.S. issues, a variety of different things will come up tomorrow. But Prime Minister Major's visit is not specifically related to that. The schedule is basically the Prime Minister will be here around 11:30 a.m. They'll meet for a while and then they'll have a working lunch and I expect will do some sort of availability at the end of that meeting, around 2:00 p.m. -- roughly the same schedule as with Prime Minister Mulroney.
Q Would there be a joint news conference?
MS. MYERS: I believe so.
Q It's not a state visit, right?
MS. MYERS: No, it's not. It's a working visit.
Q And where is the dinner tomorrow night?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to get back to you on the details.
Q There are a number of other issues that stand out between the United Nations and the United States. One of them is payment for U.N. peacekeeping. Do you know where the administration stands on that? Will they pay the full U.S. share of peacekeeping --
MS. MYERS: I expect it may come up tomorrow with the Prime Minister, but beyond that, I don't have anything to add.
Q No, no, with Boutros Ghali, with the United Nations.
MS. MYERS: I'll have to get back to you on that.
Q Will the President be pressing Boutros-Ghali to move faster to take over the Somali relief operations?
MS. MYERS: I'm sure it will come up. Obviously, we want to work with the U.N. to make that transition as smooth as possible. And I'm sure, again, it will be something that will be discussed today.
Q Would the United States like to see it happen more quickly than it's happening?
MS. MYERS: We'd like to see it happen in an orderly fashion. That's the most important thing, that the transition be smooth. And, again, I expect it will come up today.
Q Does the administration agree with the envoys' accusation that they're dragging -- the U.N. is dragging its feet?
MS. MYERS: Again, the administration's position is we'd like to see this happen as quickly as possible, but as smoothly as possible.
Q That's not answering the question, though. Does the administration --
MS. MYERS: We'll continue to work with the United Nations to make this transition happen as quickly as possible.
Q Has it been happening as quickly as it should be?
MS. MYERS: We're moving forward on it.
Q Has any decision been made on contributing to a standing United Nations force?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to get back to you on that.
Q The President is aware that the French commander in Bosnia is very much against the -- that there may be an air drop because of the vulnerability of the troops and the planes involved. He is aware that -- has he talked to the French at all?
MS. MYERS: There will be -- the administration will consider all factors, all relative factors in making this decision. We're consulting with a number of people now and we'll have a decision -- an announcement soon.
Q Do you expect the President to have any announcement on fast track trade authority when Major is here?
MS. MYERS: I don't anticipate any announcements.
Q You said that the President and Prime Minister Major will be discussing a variety of U.S. and UK issues. What would those be?
MS. MYERS: A number of trade and foreign policy issues. We don't have a specific agenda at this point, but I think they'll be discussing a number of different issues.
Q Any donors for the track?
MS. MYERS: Not as of right now.
MS. MYERS: We're moving forward on it, though. (Laughter.)
Q Are you going to do a coast-to- coast campaign?
MS. MYERS: No, but we have set up a fund similar to the one that operates the Vice President's residence at the Naval Observatory to accept contributions for the track, an issue of major import.
Q Is Paul Begala, who seems to love the White House press corps -- is he on the White House payroll?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q Who's paying him? And who pays his expenses?
MS. MYERS: He is a, as you know, a consultant to the Democratic National Committee. He is working with us on the economic plan. He's been spending a considerable amount of time, as you know, working with the White House on the details of that. I'm not sure who pays his expenses -- I can get back to you on that. He's someone we expect to --
Q But he is on the DNC payroll, right?
MS. MYERS: He's a consultant to the DNC, which is different than being on the payroll. But he is someone who, as you know, worked throughout the campaign and someone we expect to continue to work with us on a variety of issues throughout the administration.
Q When do you expect another trip next week?
MS. MYERS: Yes, but we don't have details yet.
Q But does that give him sort of a special privilege to work on the outside and the inside?
MS. MYERS: Paul will continue to provide guidance and advice, but he will do so within the framework of all of the ethics laws and other laws that govern such relationships. He's paying careful attention to those.
Q How will we ever know?
Q value added tax to pay for the health care reform? And apparently, in private meetings, he's been talking up the value added tax.
MS. MYERS: I think the President spoke on that. The President spoke on that. I didn't hear. I assume you're talking about Mr. Panetta's appearance on CBS. I didn't see it. The President made it clear that he was only speaking about the value added tax in abstract terms; he thinks it's something that the country may want to look at 10 or 15 years down the road to make our tax system more compatible with those of our trade competitors. It is not something that is currently on the table.
As you know, the health care task force is looking at a variety of issues. We'll have some announcements on that later.
Q Did Panetta not get the message?
MS. MYERS: Again, I didn't see Mr. Panetta's comments, but he's -- the President, I think, has been fairly clear on that.
Q You're ruling out a VAT to finance the health care program?
MS. MYERS: I think the President was fairly clear on his opinion about the VAT. It's something that he's looking at 10 or 15 years -- or thinking the country might be interested in looking at 10 or 15 years down the line, and it's not something that is currently being discussed.
Q I've never heard 10 or 15 years put in front of --as a time frame. Is that new? Did you just decide to say that? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I just made it up. (Laughter.) No, the President has said that.
Q He said that --
MS. MYERS: Yes, he did. He said, I think in the comments outside the school in Ohio, he said 10 years. In conversations that I've had with him, he's --
Q You mean after the Q&A in Ohio?
MS. MYERS: He stopped after the Q&A, correct.
Q Why would it be good 10 years from now?
MS. MYERS: Again, to paraphrase what the President said, he believes that the value added tax would require a major overhaul of the U.S. tax system. And as he said, a country can only accommodate so much change at one time. I think his proposals for increased revenues and spending cuts and new investments have been laid out in great specificity. But he's not looking at a value added tax in the near future.
Q about the track. The President has always run on cement and other things. Is there something wrong with his legs, or is there a reason why he needs a new kind of track, a soft-type track?
MS. MYERS: No, the President said that there is some people who think it would be good for long-term health of his knees and other joints to run on a softer surface. There is no immediate concern, but as a long term investment, they think it's a good idea. I think there's -- there may be other people, members of the First Family and others who may also use the track.
Q Is he going to open it up to staff?
MS. MYERS: I think that's entirely possible.
Q Will he get bored running around just that little quarter mile over and over and over?
MS. MYERS: I think the President enjoys running out in the community on the Mall and other places. I think he'll continue to do that under any circumstances. As you know, when he's on the road he enjoys running, getting a chance to visit with local people. I think he'll continue to do that.
Q Dee Dee, can you get us a couple of numbers --what's the number that's been floated on this to the cost of the track?
MS. MYERS: Thirty thousand dollars is the rough estimate -- $10,000 in materials and $20,000 in labor.
Q Can you get us the number on what is costs for a jogging motorcade?
MS. MYERS: I think that that's not possible to break down the costs. As you know, the Secret Service protection is classified.
Q Back again on the Ford case -- is the Justice Department and the Clinton administration -- new standard that says that minority defendants always get a majority jury composed of minority members here -- that seem to be the essence of Gerson's feeling in the case.
MS. MYERS: I think that Mr. Gerson made his decision based on a number of elements. Again, it was his decision and we don't have any further comment.
Q Dee Dee, what's the latest on the Health Care Task Force, though? You said that they were going to meet at some point or announce last week their meeting schedule. Is there anything more on that?
MS. MYERS: No, we don't have specific details yet. The working groups, which report to the task force are moving forward. There are a number of different groups, more than 20, and their looking at a number of different issues from long-term care to a variety of different things.
Q But you do expect them to be open meetings?
MS. MYERS: I expect some of the health care -- there's been no overall policy decision about it, but I do expect that a number of the task force meetings will be open.
Q What is the White House deadline to have something in place?
MS. MYERS: The President said he wanted legislation within the first 100 days. He said if he was off by a day or two, he wouldn't lose any sleep over it. Have a heart attack is, I guess, what he said. So we're looking at sometime by early May.
Q I can't get enough of this track stuff. You said other members of the First Family will be on it. Who? There are only two other members.
Q Socks, don't forget. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That pretty much narrows it down. (Laughter.)
Q When you say we're moving ahead on it -- we're moving ahead, what does it mean? Have you started a campaign to collect donations? What do you mean?
MS. MYERS: We set up a fund or are in the process of doing so to accept the contributions. And I can get back to you on the exact details of how that's structured.
Q What's it called?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that it has a specific title. (Laughter.) But we're taking suggestions. So -- we're taking suggestions. Please submit yours. We'll have a contest. (Laughter.)
Q Yes, help the press.
MS. MYERS: And whoever wins the contest can have the first lap around the track when it's completed.
Q Can I ask you -- this $20,000 estimate for construction of the track, that's based on what? Is that the use of - -
Q Thirty thousand.
Q No, $10,000 was donated material --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q and $20,000 is the estimate for the actual construction of the track.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q This is based on what? Federal --
MS. MYERS: I believe it's a GSA estimate.
Q So federal employees would perform the function and then be reimbursed by this fund?
MS. MYERS: Correct. That's how it works at, for example, the construction that's going on now at the Naval Observatory is done by federal employees but it is reimbursed by private contributions.
Q And so that $20,000 rate is below what you might pay union labor, for example, because that --
MS. MYERS: GSA labor is union labor.
Q No, but that $20,000 figure seems awfully low for that expanse of ground.
MS. MYERS: I don't think it's a particularly labor intensive endeavor.
Q That's a pretty big surface area that you're going to cover, and I think if you go out commercially and make an estimate on that cost, it would probably well exceed that $20,000 figure.
MS. MYERS: I don't know how the GSA calculated it, but I believe that would be, roughly, the market cost. I don't think it's that complicated of an endeavour to dig a trench and then lay some soft material into it.
Q When do you expect the track to be finished?
MS. MYERS: I don't have a particular time line.
Q WIll he have a heart attack if it's not done on time?
Q Can we have a photo op of the track in progress? -- photo op of the track at various stages of completion, please?
MS. MYERS: I'm sure that that will be a fascinating --
Q Will we be allowed to watch him run when he runs on it in the backyard?
MS. MYERS: We haven't really thought through the pool arrangements for the President's jogging on the new track, but we'll get back to you as soon as we've made some decisions.
Q Dee Dee -- charge yet of soliciting the money?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe -- I don't know if there's one specific person in charge whose actually actively soliciting.
MS. MYERS: Well, the Counsel's office is involved in making sure that the way the trust is set up, that is meets all of our legal obligations.
Q Right, but can you name anyone involved in actually soliciting and handling the fund?
MS. MYERS: Not at this point.
Q Have any funds come in yet?
MS. MYERS: Beyond the materials, not that I know of.
Q Will there be an organized campaign to raise money?
MS. MYERS: Again, the trust will be set up -- I don't think it's particularly complicated. It's not a particularly large sum of money. And as soon as we have the details, I'll be happy to let you know.
Q Will the donors be made public? Will the names of the donors be made public?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I don't believe it's required, but I'll double-check.
Q Even if it's not required, I'm sure the White House --
MS. MYERS: We'll look at it.
Q Why wouldn't --
Q Why wouldn't that -- why wouldn't you --
Q Where will he jog next, around the country? Does he have any travel plans?
MS. MYERS: There may be a trip next week and we'll get back to you as soon we have the details.
Q East or West Coast?
MS. MYERS: Perhaps neither. No, as soon as we have details, we'll let you know.
Q Does construction of this track continue in the meantime?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q It does not.
MS. MYERS: It's been suspended.
Q Why was it started then, if you didn't have the money?
MS. MYERS: It was approved, as you know -- the President approved it contingent -- it be paid for with private contributions; and construction began a little prematurely.
Q Is it possible that construction began because no one thought of taking donations until it was raised by --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Why was it suspended? I'm sorry, I didn't hear.
MS. MYERS: The construction just got going a little ahead of schedule.
Q Was because somebody thought the President wanted it now?
MS. MYERS: I believe that would be a reasonable conclusion.
Q Aren't you afraid that this could be a metaphor for his budget plan? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: No.
Q There seems to be -- could you address, at least the perception that there could be an inconsistency -- if the President's asking everybody to sacrifice at the same time he's asking them to contribute for a fund so he could have something to recreate in the backyard?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think that the American people think it is reasonable that the President, who jogs everyday, have a place on the grounds of the White House where he can jog that doesn't require him to leave, again, the grounds of the White House. I don't think there's anything inconsistent about it at all. I think it's perfectly reasonable and it is not being paid for at public expense. I think the American people will appreciate that. But they certainly think it is within the President's purview. President Roosevelt built a pool. Unfortunately, we're sitting on it now. But I think it's --
Q That's the deep end, right there.
MS. MYERS: Is it? (Laughter.) It's a good thing I can swim. (Laughter.)
Q There's no water in it, Dee Dee.
MS. MYERS: Have you guys installed the trap door here, yet?
Q They had thought of that.
MS. MYERS: Helen, that could sort of end for "thank you", just -- (laughter) --
Q No, I'd just like to ask you about the possibility of a summit meeting with Yeltsin -- and don't make it on March 27th.
MS. MYERS: We thought we'd do one on the Gridiron Dinner and one on the White House Correspondents Dinner. As you know, Secretary Christopher will be meeting with Foreign Minister Kozyrev, and they will begin to discuss details. No plans beyond that have been confirmed.
Q Dee Dee, just two other things on the track. Is this going to be -- assuming that it ever is finished -- you've suspended construction now -- but assuming that it is finished, is this going to be open to all members of the White House staff as the President directed health facilities at other federal buildings to be?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe any final decisions have been made about that, but I think that's something that will be certainly considered.
Q Okay, and just one other thing. You said that there had been no donations so far.
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of.
Q Those of us who have listened to the tape from the meeting in which the President indicated that this was supposed to be paid for by contributions --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q distinctly heard one of the congressmen at the table indicating that he'd be glad to donate if it would clear up the congestion for morning commuters that his constituents are having to suffer. Has whoever that was not put in his money yet?
MS. MYERS: Again, we work with Counsel to make sure the trust was set up in a way that -- or the fund was set up in a way that was within the parameters of the law. I don't believe any contributions have been received, but we'll certainly go back to those people.
Q Is there anyway to identify that congressman so that we can go --
MS. MYERS: No, that's the first I've heard of that.
Q I actually want to ask one more question on this. Did people or persons who got the impression that the President wanted it built right now, was that impression correct? Did he say, I want it built now?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q His order was or his --
MS. MYERS: He approved the project.
Q Contingent on --
MS. MYERS: Correct. Contingent on private contributions; and the staff here at the White House is very efficient and began to move forward with the project.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END9:55 A.M. EST