THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS The Briefing Room
12:49 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I, first of all, would like to announce that the President has invited the President of the European Council, Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen, and the President of the European Community Jacques Delors to the White House for the biannual presidential consultations between the European Community and the United States on May 7th. We'll have additional details when we know them.
Q Speaking of invitations, has the President invited Hafiz al-Asad and Jordan's King Hussein to come to Washington in April?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q George, the President met with a number of Democratic senators this morning amid indications that the stimulus package may face some obstacles from conservatives in the Senate. Why was he meeting with the guys he was meeting with, and what was the meeting all about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know, the President has had a series of meetings with all senators. I believe at this point he's now met with every Democratic senator in some meeting about the economic stimulus and investment package.
Q What happened in the meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a good meeting about the President's economic program and his investment package. The President reiterated his strong support for passing the investment package now, for getting these investments through to create jobs.
Q You mean the stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The whole package. The budget, the investment and jobs package -- and get it done now.
Q Was there any discussion of how to deal with the fact that there are some criticisms that could possibly stand in the way from conservative Democrats?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think right now there's generally strong support for the President's package. We expect a good vote today in the House, and then we'll move on to the Senate.
Q May I take it from what you're saying then that this was not at all a strategy session on how to overcome the objections from the conservative Democrats?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a general discussion on the investment package and the best way to get the President's package passed as soon as possible.
Q And what was decided?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was decided to move forward.
Q So you have no worries?
Q You mean not moving forward was something on the table? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it was decided to move forward with the President's package with a vote right now, and that's what we're going to get in the House today.
Q You mean they sat around together all that time and decided to move forward?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They decided to move forward. They decided to express their support for the President's package. And we expect a good vote soon.
Q You must feel a lot better after that.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I feel a lot better, thank you.
Q Can you tell us what calls he's making on the House side? Has he talked to Stenholm?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know specifically who he's talked to. He's talked to several members of the House and they've been going quite well. He made several phone calls last evening. I don't know that he's made any more today. He's been in meetings most of the morning.
Q Just to follow that, what is his expectation? Stenholm has not yet said whether or not he'll support the package now that he's not going to get a vote on his amendment. Has the President called him to try to --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not certain that he's talked to Stenholm. I know that Mr. Stenholm has talked with Howard Paster, our Director of Congressional Affairs, and we've had several discussions. But I would just remind you that we feel we have strong support in the House at this time and we're looking forward to the votes today and hope that we get a strong vote for the President's package tonight.
Q So you have an expectation that he will win votes on the budget and the stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's what we're working toward.
Q George, what was the President referring to when he mentioned those that are affectionately called in the White House the "status quo lite" crowd, as opposed to the status quo crowd? Is he referring to conservative Democrats?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President was referring to those who don't understand the important of investment and the need to invest --
Q Who are they? Any names?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. People who are not ready to move forward on the kinds of changes that he seeks. I mean, the President was elected to provide fundamental change for the American people, to set us in a new direction, and to provide real new investments in jobs, in education and health care. And that's what he intends to do. That's what his package does, and that's why he wants it passed.
Q What is the President's reaction to the fact that some of the pork items that the Republicans outlined have been stripped from the bill in order to avoid further problems?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Whatever it takes to get the package passed as quickly as possible at this time that can be agreed on in the House, we'll look at. But we feel the package is moving well.
Q George, when the package reaches the Senate, would the President agree to the kind of proposal that Senator Boren had been talking about of passing the entire stimulus plan but putting some of the money on hold?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now we're focused on the House, and we'll deal with Senate strategy after the House vote.
Q One other thing. The President's economic package originally proposed ending funding for the advanced nuclear reactor program, which is one of the largest cuts in the proposal. The Senate Budget Committee recommended putting that money back in. Does the White House still stand behind that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We don't want to get involved in all the different details and differences between the House and the Senate budget resolutions. There will obviously be a conference coming up after the bill passes the House and the Senate, and we'll be getting involved at that time. But there will be some differences. We expect that they'll get worked out.
Q George, does the President still want to see that program terminated? It's a fairly large program; it's one of the largest individual cuts in the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President stands by his budget proposal. He recognizes that there will be changes as we move through the process, but we're just at the beginning now.
Q George, what did the President mean when he said on the way over to Treasury in answer to a question about today's vote, he said, I feel good about it, and he said, I worked hard on it until late last night. What was he doing until late last night? Phoning members?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Phoning members of the House, yes.
Q Do you know specifically which block or group or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know he talked to a handful of members, but I don't know who.
Q How late was he up doing this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: My guess is -- I don't know exactly. I would guess probably around midnight.
Q Did he wake anyone up?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge, no.
Q Calling them at home. Do you know how many calls in all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a handful. I'm not sure if it was five or six. I just don't know for sure.
Q explain to them the merits of the stimulus package, did he tell any of those members or have any of staff told members that this is a loyalty vote for the new Democratic President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He just explained why he thought this vote was important and why he thought it merited their support.
Q importance go to political loyalty to the President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The reasons are that the package is important to the American people and it needs to be passed so we can get the investments out in the field.
Q Does that mean he didn't say loyalty was part of it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wasn't listening to the phone calls.
Q Well, is that part of the pitch that has been discussed and agreed upon?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Part of the pitch is to explain the importance of the package and why it's important to pass it now.
Q members about the importance to his presidency or to the party for them to vote --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He spent the bulk of his time with members talking about the importance of the package and why it needs to be passed.
Q Has he gotten a letter from Bob Michel? I've got it if you don't. (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me see it.
Q It calls the President's attention that it's against the law for the federal government to lobby Congress, and says that he thinks that some members of the White House staff are in violation of the federal law that bars -- or bans lobbying by the White House.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No members of the White House staff are breaking the law.
Q Has he gotten the letter?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume that we have it in Congressional Liaison. I don't know that the President's seen it.
Q But your assertion is just flatly that nobody's breaking the law?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Can President Clinton endorse a health plan as the one in Oregon that would institutionalize rationing of health care? Philosophically anyway.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe the Secretary of Health and Human Services will be making an announcement on the Oregon plan tomorrow.
Q You don't want to comment on it today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q George, the Canadian Prime Minister mentioned today that he would be happy to see the Vancouver summit expanded to include G-7, either foreign or finance ministers. Are there any plans or any discussions to do that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As the President has said several times over the last week that he expects -- that he wants the G-7 process moved forward as quickly as possible and wants to address -- have the G-7 address the question of Russian aid quickly. There are a number of different options on the table at this time. We welcome the Japanese willingness to have a meeting of the foreign and finance ministers. That is one of many options under consideration. But we welcome any attempt at this time to expand and speed up the process.
Q But not specific --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No specific, no.
Q Well, can you expand a little further about this communication with Mitterrand? He apparently made some comment to the pool about Mitterrand --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what he said was Mitterrand wants to speed up the process and so do I.
Q Have they talked?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe they spoke yesterday evening, yes.
Q Can you tell us anything more about the conversation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It focused almost exclusively on Russia. They probably talked about Bosnia a bit, but what they discussed specifically was the G-7 process and the need to move forward. I'm not going to comment on the details of the discussion.
Q Did Mitterrand have any insight into whether or not Yeltsin was going to proceed with what he has suggested, such as dissolving Parliament? In other words, any further communication along the lines of what Chancellor Kohl was communicating?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of, but I just don't want to comment on the specifics.
Q Some conservative Democrats are saying the President has told them what Republicans say he told them a couple of days ago at the stakeout, and that is that he may revisit the defense cuts. Is there any indication that he would do that for the coming budget, the FY '94 budget, or is this a more political attempt to get their support for the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what the President said is what he said publicly, is if circumstances around the world change, if new threats arise, we would obviously have to reconsider the defense budget. At this time, he wants to go forward with the budget he's proposed.
Q The read I'm getting from our correspondents on the Hill is that he is suggesting this may be done more than saying "if." I mean, the "if" isn't so prominent, I guess is the way I want to put it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's how I would characterize what the President said. That's what I've heard him say.
Q So despite what these folks are saying, there's no active reconsideration of defense cuts going on now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's the Commander-in-Chief. He must always review the world situation; it changes day by day. But at this time, we are moving forward with the defense budget as we have it.
Q George, can you tell us how Sam Nunn ties into this trip tomorrow if at all. Is he going? Is the President indirectly lobbying him while he goes to Georgia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's going to be going to Georgia to talk about his investment package. I assume that Senator Nunn has been invited. I don't know if he's able to go. We'll be able to get to you on that.
Q Is the trip planned partly because of Nunn and his importance in all --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The trip is one of a series of trips the President has had around the country to build support for his economic package, and we intend to continue that.
Q I know, but is Sam Nunn and his political consequence a factor in the equation at all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President wants to get the votes of every member of the Senate, Democrat and Republican. He'll continue to travel around the country to get support.
Q Is that a yes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President will continue to travel everywhere.
Q George, can you walk us through the process that the White House and the Department of Justice is going through on Judge Sessions, including what meetings are being held and who is involved in the ultimate decision besides the Attorney General?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Attorney General will be reviewing the file on Judge Sessions now that she's in office. I don't know that there are any --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume she has. I don't know that there's any final decision at this point, and I'm not certain of any meetings that have been scheduled at the White House.
Q Who is involved in the White House in helping her reach that decision?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe that the White House Counsel reviewed the file as well. But as the President said, this is something that he wants the Attorney General to take primary responsibility for, and she's now reviewing it.
Q Has the White House Counsel made a recommendation to her?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge.
Q Has he made a recommendation to the President or reached a conclusion about what he believes should be done?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe so.
Q You mean she will make the decision on the question of whether --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She's going to review the file. I'm certain she'll consult with the White House, but the President wanted to make sure that the Attorney General had the opportunity to review this case.
Q But he will make the decision, won't he?
Q The Attorney General said this is supposed to be a top priority. Is this something that she has a timetable, or that you have a timetable on?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if there's a specific timetable, but I believe we'll move forward on it as quickly as we can.
Q Did the White House trying to dissuade Judge Sessions from going to Waco and intervening personally?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q When Coretta Scott King was here the other day and met with the President, did she bring up the Sessions matter? Because she's been one of his more public defenders.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't be completely sure, but I don't believe so.
Q Does the President have a view on whether there's any distinction to be made in assessing the severity of people's Social Security or nanny problems, whether they're going to agencies like the IRS or the Justice Department that have a role in administering the tax laws?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'll just continue to look at them on a case-by-case basis. As you know, there have been some confirmed appointments of people who have paid their back taxes and those have moved forward. We'll continue to look at every case on its individual merits.
Q Can you tell us a bit more on the Oregon Medicaid rationing? Who's consulting with the President on that, and secondly, why is Secretary Shalala consulting with the President on that since it's her decision?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I would hope that Cabinet officials consult with the White House on all of their major decisions. She's worked with Carol Rasco, other members of the domestic policy staff. There have been good consultations. And I just can't comment any more on the announcement until it's made.
Q George, did the President meet today with advisors on aid to Russia and when -- is he making the decision today or when is the decision --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President said he'll make the decisions before the summit in Vancouver. I don't know if he has any set meetings today on that matter, although he meets every morning with his national security team and I assume that they discussed it this morning. But we -- again, I don't have a date for any announcement.
Q Can you give us some details, George, on that in terms of how the President will be promoting that to the American people?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, Secretary Christopher is going to be making a speech next week. I assume that the President will be making a speech sometime around the Vancouver summit, but there's nothing set yet.
Q Before the summit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Probably.
Q Given the promises the President made during the campaign, is there any sense of urgency in coming forward with the campaign financial reform proposal, and, if so, is there a time certain?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President said several times he wants a campaign finance proposal introduced and passed by the Congress as soon as we can. And we're working on that right now. As you know, we have people tasked to work on the development of the legislation. They are working as we speak, and we hope to have an introduction of a bill as soon as possible.
Q Is there a time certain? I mean, you've set --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No date. No.
Q deadlines for health care and other --
Q George, where does the drug czar appointment stand at this point?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Hasn't been made yet.
Q Are you having trouble finding someone to take the job?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. We're continuing discussions. We're looking at a number of people and I hope we'll have it soon.
Q One other thing. Regarding what's going on in Mississippi at this point, as you know, I'm sure, a number of black leaders are asking for a Justice Department investigation into the suspicious coincidence of 40-something hangings in jail cells in Mississippi. Has the White House been approached formally and is the President amenable?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the full details on that. We'll review it. And, obviously, it's something that the Justice Department is going to have to take primary responsibility for, but we will review the situation.
Q The Wall Street Journal had a story this morning about a number of health care drug companies and others who have interest in the health care package hiring the lobbying firms of people who had been involved in the campaign or in the transition, including one person who was a director, I think, of a health group in the transition. Does the President or the administration have any view on that? I understand that people would be barred from directly lobbying the administration, but does the President have any view about the propriety of all that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President expects all members of the transition to strictly abide by the rules that they signed. And I expect that they will.
Q But beyond strictly abiding by the rules, that they find obviously when drug companies hire these lobbying firms, they're hiring in part the knowledge and access and insight of the people who had key roles in the transition --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President authorized and promulgated the strictest ethics rules ever for a transition, and those rules will be followed.
Q So the President has no problem with the set-up in the Wall Street Journal today, which obviously didn't seem to run afoul of the ethics rules?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President would have a problem if any of the rules were broken. He expects them to be obeyed.
Q George, is the President considering Charles Ruff as the number two attorney general?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment on that.
Q George, did the President ever get a report back from the Office of Personnel Management on the bonuses that were given out to departing Bush administration --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to check. I don't think we've gotten it back yet, but I'll check.
Q What is the Delors meeting all about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a meeting with the Commissioner and the President to talk about the state of relations with Europe, the state of integration in Europe, and the possibility of good trade and financial ties with the European Community.
Q George, is this more of just a get-acquainted session with Delors?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's his first working session.
Q It's a working session?
Q What's the press coverage of it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe there's going to be a pool at the end.
Q Regarding tomorrow's meeting with the business leaders in Atlanta, who are these men and women, and how will they be -- how are they being selected?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First we're going to go to the Child Development Center. Then we're just going to meet with a cross-section of the Atlanta business community at the -- I think at the apparel mart. In the afternoon, the President will be delivering a speech. I'm not certain how many are going. I think it's a couple of hundred.
Q Is that an open invitation in Atlanta?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think -- I don't know if it's an open invitation. I don't know how big the seating is at the hall. But it's generally members of the business community.
Q What's the Child Development stop? What does he do there? I mean, why is he going there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a center that will illustrate the President's commitment to investment in children. This is being helped by many of the corporations in the Atlanta area, and will clearly -- one of the kinds of programs that will be helped by the President's investment package.
Q Is it pre-K or is it --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so, but I'm not positive.
Q George, I'm somewhat confused. You said there's supposed to be a pool at the Delors meeting? We were told this morning there was no coverage.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As far as I know, we're going to have a pool at the end.
Q Is that something that you all just added on?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, we change.
Q Three times?
Q Change it back to what it was yesterday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure what it was yesterday, but now it's open.
Q Thank you.
END 1:08 P.M. EST