E X E C U T I V E O F F I C E O F T H E P R E S I D E N T
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. Oh, it's you. (Laughter.)
Q Something I said ?
MS. MYERS: No, no. I thought that was me putting words in your mouth for a change.
MS. MYERS: It's only 9:30 a.m. (Laughter.)
Q Whoever said there's no humor in the Clinton White House.
MS. MYERS: No one can accuse us of not having humor. We have plenty of humor. At 9:45 a.m. --
Q There's something funny -
MS. MYERS: That's right. There's a lot funny, actually.
At 9:45 Representative Eva Clayton will come to the White House to deliver a letter on behalf of the freshmen class supporting the plan. That's the 9:45 a.m. photo op or it will be 9:45 a.m. or 10:00 a.m. And someone will come in here and announce it so the pool won't miss it.
Q Freshman class from what?
Q House Democrats.
MS. MYERS: Right.
Q If they support the plan, why did they delay it?
MS. MYERS: I think this is fairly timely. It's a week after the announcement. They're bringing a letter today to say that --
Q It was the freshmen Democrats who brought about the delay in the stimulus package, was it not?
MS. MYERS: I think that they have some concerns about it, as does the President. That's why the President, on Tuesday, asked Congress to delay a vote on the stimulus until there was a budget resolution. The budget resolution will be voted on first. We expect that to proceed in a timely fashion to get the spending cuts locked in and we'll proceed with the rest of it shortly thereafter.
Q Was this unanimous by all the freshmen Democrats?
MS. MYERS: It's a -- they had a meeting and they decided to support the plan.
Q Is the letter from every Democratic freshman?
MS. MYERS: I don't know who it's signed by but it's a consensus of the House Democratic freshmen. So we'll release copies of the letter once she brings it.
Q Do you know how many Democratic freshmen there are?
MS. MYERS: I don't. I can check and get back to you. It's a big class. It's close to 100.
Any other questions?
Q Bosnia today?
MS. MYERS: We'll let you know. It should be soon.
Q Is that a hint now that it's very close?
MS. MYERS: It's quite close. I think the President indicated that yesterday. We're still in the process of consulting, but I expect an announcement fairly soon.
Q Can you tell us what the delay has been? The President, on Sunday, said he expected an announcement either on Monday -- Sunday or Monday. It's now Thursday. What's been the delay?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's been -- the administration has been very interested in consulting with allies and others in the U.N., and that process is going well, as the President indicated yesterday. And we expect to have an announcement soon.
Q So he will be going ahead with it?
MS. MYERS: We'll have an announcement soon. I think the President's comments yesterday stand on their own.
Q Has any other countries signed on?
MS. MYERS: We'll have the details when we have an announcement.
Q How will you announce it?
MS. MYERS: We haven't decided that yet. But I do expect it sometime soon.
Q Would it be here?
MS. MYERS: Again, we haven't made any decisions about the specific --
Q Christopher did it --
MS. MYERS: That's a good strategy. We might have to adopt that permanently.
Q How about this Irish problem? It seems to me that it --
Q What Irish problem? (Laughter.)
Q Did the President back off under Major's prodding in sending a personal representative to Ireland?
MS. MYERS: I don't think his position has changed. He's still reviewing that and said --
Q He was for it once.
MS. MYERS: -- he said that he would have more to say about it after he spoke to Prime Minister Major about it last night. I don't know whether they had a chance to talk at any length about that, but he'll probably have more to say about it at some time.
Q What do you mean he's reviewing it? He used to be for it.
MS. MYERS: He's reviewing it.
Q Remember the New York primary?
MS. MYERS: He's reviewing it. And again, he said yesterday that he'd speak with the Prime Minister about it last night, and I haven't had a chance to follow up on that.
Q There were reports that he has backed off because Major is very unhappy.
MS. MYERS: Again, I think the President said he'd have more to say about it after he spoke with Major.
Q Well, he's spoken with Major.
MS. MYERS: He'll have more to say about it then.
MS. MYERS: When? I think you'll probably have a shot to ask him sometime soon.
Q Like tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: No, there's no formal press conference scheduled, although he had one yesterday.
Q When? Where was it? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Yesterday at 4:00 p.m. with Prime Minister Major in the East Room of the White House. It was an excellent event.
Q It came close. (Laughter.)
Q Closer than ever before.
MS. MYERS: No, it's the fourth press conference we've had since he's been President. We're very proud of that record.
Q Well, he said in the Oval Office he didn't know that he hadn't had any and he didn't realize it.
MS. MYERS: Because he'd had three at that point, and he added a fourth yesterday. So we'll continue to have press conferences on a regular basis.
Q How about one-on-one? Just us and him and nobody else -- no other foreign leaders, no appointees.
MS. MYERS: I believe we've had -- we had one, yes. When we announced --
Q During the transition maybe.
Q gays in the military, there were four questions, four.
Q the rest of us weren't even allowed to ask questions, so I don't count that.
MS. MYERS: You're always allowed to ask questions, Mike.
Q There's a story this morning that the health care task force has abandoned the idea of taxing employee health benefits -- employer-provided health benefits, on the grounds that it is politically impossible.
MS. MYERS: The health care task force is in the process of evaluating a number of things. They haven't made any final decisions about that, but we'll have something to introduce to Congress within the first 100 days, which will be sometime by early May.
Q The health care task force -- where does it meet?
MS. MYERS: They haven't had a formal meeting yet and none has been scheduled, although the working groups are meeting regularly and looking at a number of different options.
Q Where do they meet?
MS. MYERS: Where?
MS. MYERS: They meet in different rooms here, mostly in the West Wing or in the OEOB.
Q Are there any doctors on that?
MS. MYERS: I don't know -- the working groups are made up --
Q On the task force?
MS. MYERS: No, the task force -- the President outlined, and I can go through the specific members of that again if you'd like -- the President outlined the members of the task force, which are all people in the administration. It's an insider group. The task forces are also made up of employees.
Q But no doctors, no medical people?
MS. MYERS: No, but the task force and the working groups will consult regularly with a number of public groups, private citizens, different health groups, doctors.
Q Don't you think there ought to be some doctors on a task force?
MS. MYERS: There will be a number of doctors involved. They're just not members specifically of the task force or of the working groups.
Q Why not?
MS. MYERS: Because the task force is made up specifically of people who are working with or are part of the federal government.
Q Why does that have to be?
MS. MYERS: Why does that have to be? Because that's who the President appointed to be on the task force.
Q So there are no outsiders on the task force?
MS. MYERS: No, there are no outsiders on the task force. However, the task force will --
Q But wouldn't it odd to have a health task force and not have a doctor on it?
MS. MYERS: No, because the task force and the working groups will consult broadly with doctors, other people representing the medical profession, the insurance business, different public interest groups. They will consult broadly with anybody that wants to meet with them about health issues over the course of the next -- however many days are left.
Q So you're denying the reports that they've abandoned the idea of taxing employee-provided benefits?
MS. MYERS: Correct. We haven't made any final decisions at this point. They're looking at a number of options.
Q Are they still looking at that one?
MS. MYERS: They haven't made any final decisions yet.
Q Has the President heard from Christopher, any report back on his meetings with Kozyrev?
MS. MYERS: He's meeting with Kozyrev I believe right now. And I believe he has a press conference scheduled for 10:30 a.m. our time. So in the next hour or so he will be having a press conference to talk about -- to sort of give a readout from that meeting and other things.
Q Would we expect a date for a summit to come forward in that?
MS. MYERS: I think that's likely.
Q Early March?
MS. MYERS: You'll have to wait to see what the announcement is. I don't know that they'll have a site.
Q What are the President's feelings about some of the trappings of office? I'm thinking specifically about the playing of "Hail To The Chief," being saluted by military personnel when he gets on and off of Air Force One and helicopters, and wearing of military uniforms here in the White House. And let me just say the reason I'm asking is that apparently in this vast expanse of middle America there are phone calls to talk shows, people are under the impression that there's some disdain either by him or by the White House for these traditions.
MS. MYERS: That's absolutely false. Absolutely false. The military personnel at the White House have a longstanding tradition of wearing their uniforms on Wednesdays. That proceeds. The only person who wears a uniform on the road with the President is the military aide. And you'll always see a uniformed military officer with the President at all times. The President is extremely appreciative of the Marine Band or of the other military personnel who work here in a variety of capacities. I think that he has great respect for the traditions of the office -- all of them, including the playing of "Hail To The Chief" -- he's the commander in chief -- of the military's respect in saluting him. He returns that salute. And I think he has nothing but the highest respect for those people.
Q I'm a little puzzled at why we seem to have so much trouble getting accurate information on the famous jogging track. The other day you told us that the reason construction on the jogging track had been stopped was because the money hadn't been raised, and that everything had to be according to -- But Joe Geronomo, who is doing the construction, said that it has nothing to do with --
MS. MYERS: That's incorrect.
Q and that he stopped -- he personally stopped the construction because of the weather.
MS. MYERS: That's incorrect.
Q He doesn't know?
MS. MYERS: The construction was stopped last week or the week before when the issue came to our attention until we figure out a mechanism for private funding. That is a fact.
Q He said he ordered it because of the weather and he'd still be here now --
MS. MYERS: No, construction has not resumed now because of the weather. It will resume on Monday, weather permitting. This week they felt it was too cold. But construction was stopped because we asked that it be stopped.
Q How much money do they have?
Q Back to Christopher. Has he reported to the President on the outcome of his talks with the various people in the Middle East?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if he's spoke to him directly, but he has reported back through channels and he feels very positive about his meetings in the Middle East. He feels that all the parties are willing to come back to the table or all have expressed some willingness to come back to the table. And I think he'll have more to say about that today himself -- Secretary Christopher will. I think he feels that his trip has gone extremely well.
Q Do you have any timetable as to when, as a result of this trip, you expect Middle East peace talks to resume?
MS. MYERS: No. I think I'd refer you to the State Department on that.
Q How much money have you collected now?
MS. MYERS: A couple thousand dollars. I don't know exactly how much.
Q Could we get a total?
MS. MYERS: I don't think there will be any problem with releasing the specific contributors, particularly once all the money is collected. I don't know what the process will be for that.
Q You're starting construction on Monday again because you've collected a couple thousand dollars?
MS. MYERS: Because we've created a mechanism for accepting contributions and contributions are coming in.
Q Does the President feel that Les Aspin was forthright with him about his health condition when he talked to him and nominated him?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely. And I think all the prognosis is for full recovery.
Q But the prognosis seems to talk about full recovery after several weeks or even months. Is there concern here that you have someone in place who is not up to the job, particularly when he doesn't have anybody helping him out?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think, again, all the prognosis is for full recovery. I think Secretary Aspin's health is generally good, that it was fully known about his condition. It was something that was reported on at the time in 1991 when he was diagnosed. The President has full confidence that he'll be back at the job and fully capable.
Q On the broader question of appointments, there's another article today which talks about the time that's being taken and the relative scarcity of top-level appointments in many agencies, leading to, in some cases, serious overwork. Is there anything being considered to speed up the pace of appointments, and do you concede that it is behind?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's somewhere between where the Bush administration was and where the Carter and Reagan administrations were. I think we're making good progress on that. I think we, as you know, released 21 names on Tuesday. There will be more probably today and-or tomorrow. I think that the pace is picking up and that it just takes a while to go through this process. But I think we will get people in place at the Department of Defense and other agencies soon.
Q How many people do you have to appoint? I mean, how many vacancies are there, do you know?
MS. MYERS: I don't have an exact figure.
Q Could you get that?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if it's -- how many total positions does the President have to fill?
Q Well, roughly, how many jobs?
Q Somewhere around 3,000, isn't it?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think it's roughly around 3,000 total. I don't know how many of those are Senate-approved. But we can get back to you on that, sure.
Q What about more Latino appointments? There are some grumblings from that community again about the fact that their names have not been coming on to the short list. And there were a couple this week, I know, but it seems like it's still far behind.
MS. MYERS: I don't think that that's true. I think there are a number of high-level Latinos already. We have two Cabinet secretaries -- Secretary Cisneros and Secretary Pena. There are senior people throughout the administration and there will continue to be not only Latinos but people from a diversity of backgrounds, ethnic groups, regional parts of the country who are appointed throughout this process.
Q Is there any imminent appointments of senior deputies at the Pentagon -- imminent, or is the President, if that is not the case, considering any short-term help for Aspin while he is in the process of recovery, with all the things going on in the world as this Bosnia operation possibly kicking off?
MS. MYERS: No, I think we'll have those positions filled soon.
Q "Soon" in this administration is a very elastic word. And you've got a very important department that is seriously understaffed at a time when there are a lot of things going on.
MS. MYERS: We're making good progress on those. Again, we'll have more announcements this week and more next week, and I think we'll have those senior positions filled in a relatively short period of time.
Q Within this next group this week?
MS. MYERS: I think there will be some.
Q Is he going to Rutgers -- going to New Jersey on Monday?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q And New Hampshire, too?
MS. MYERS: At this point, only Rutgers. It's a stop in New Jersey. And he'll talk about the national service program. National service.
Q And there's a specialized speech there?
MS. MYERS: National service.
Q Is this Monday you're talking about?
MS. MYERS: This is Monday -- the President travels to Rutgers University.
Q What time is this, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the specific time.
Q Afternoon, morning?
MS. MYERS: I think it's late morning.
Q Will he be announcing something on the national service program?
MS. MYERS: No, he'll just be outlining the framework for national service.
Q What time is tomorrow's AU speech?
MS. MYERS: Anyone? Tomorrow's AU speech?
MS. MYERS: That's right.
Q Is Monday the only trip next week?
MS. MYERS: At this point it is.
Q Just the one stop?
MS. MYERS: Secretary Aspin will be leaving the hospital today at 12:00 noon.
Q You were talking before about Latinos. Do you feel that there's a shortage of Asian Americans in this administration?
MS. MYERS: We'll continue to appoint people from -- again, we don't have any numerical goals. And I think the President is committed to a Cabinet that looks like America. When all is said and done, I think it will reflect the diversity of this country, as his appointments to date have.
Q Who are the highest ranking Asian Americans in this administration?
MS. MYERS: I'd have to get back to you on that. I don't have a list in front of me.
Q Dee Dee, was Airbus discussed at all yesterday with Mr. Major?
MS. MYERS: I believe it was discussed briefly and they were asked about it at the press conference.
Q When did the President start reviewing the Ireland question?
MS. MYERS: It's been ongoing.
Q Was it prior to yesterday that he started reviewing it?
MS. MYERS: Yes. It's something that's been ongoing. The American University speech is at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow.
Q Dee Dee, various evangelical religious groups have asked the President to end formal diplomatic recognition of the Vatican. Is he seriously considering those requests?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to get back to you on that. I don't know about requests from specific evangelical groups.
Q On the question of a summit date, did Warren Christopher go to Geneva with a set date in mind, and was Yeltsin contacted?
MS. MYERS: He went there to talk to Foreign Minister Kozyrev about a summit, among other things, and to try to come up with a date or at least a framework. And I expect that they'll have some -- I mean, obviously he had to speak with the Foreign Minister about potential dates and come to, hopefully, one that was mutually acceptable.
Q Dee Dee, do you have a site in mind?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that's been selected yet.
Q Given the effort to keep public -- keep the public believing the President has focused like a laser beam on the economy, are you more interested in having something in this hemisphere or in the United States than traveling overseas?
MS. MYERS: No, I think we're interested in having a site and a date that's mutually acceptable. I think the President looks forward to meeting with President Yeltsin, and I think we'll have an announcement about that later today.
Q Well, the Finns have offered, haven't they?
MS. MYERS: I think there's a number of options. I just don't believe that that's been resolved.
Q Is it likely to be a neutral spot as opposed to one --
MS. MYERS: I think they're considering a number of neutral spots.
Q Are you going to announce a summit later today?
MS. MYERS: I think Secretary Christopher will announce a date at his 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time news conference.
Q Two days.
MS. MYERS: Today.
Q I mean, two days of a summit?
MS. MYERS: Oh, I don't have the particulars.
Q So you're not specifically inviting the Russian President to come here?
MS. MYERS: To come to this country? Again, I'll let the Secretary make an announcement about the date later today.
Q Dee Dee, what's the White House reaction to the Russian plan for the Baltics?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to get back to you on that. We haven't had a chance to really review it at this point, or make a comment on it.
Q Judy, what is the topic for tomorrow's speech?
MS. MYERS: The international economy.
Q Thank you. Unless you have another announcement.
MS. MYERS: A time change. This just in: Tomorrow the President will leave the White House at roughly 9:20 a.m., speak at American University at roughly 10:10 a.m.
Q Anything else --
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of.
Q Is he going to announce the credit regulations today -- banking regs?
MS. MYERS: Tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: Today? No, I don't believe so.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END9:50 A.M. EST