THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
12:34 P.M. EST
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Good afternoon. The President will be calling Senators Mitchell and Sasser to congratulate them on the passage of the budget at 2:15 p.m. today. He's also be meeting with the Ukrainian Foreign Minister Zlenko later this afternoon -- I believe at 2:45 p.m.
Q Will there be a photo op at the Zlenko meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. I don't think so.
Q What about the phone call?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Budget vote -- whether you think that the stimulus has a chance of passing, whether you think you can think you defeat Breaux-Boren?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President's very pleased that the Senate has now passed his budget in record time and approved his plans, both to increase investment and reduce the budget deficit over the next five years. We're very happy with this. We hope there's a quick conference. And we now want the Senate immediately to go forward with this stimulus investment package.
Q Do you have the votes to defeat the Breaux-Boren amendment?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on it.
Q Does that mean you don't quite have them yet, or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It means the vote hasn't been taken yet.
Q No, we understand that. But I mean are confident you have them, or do you not yet have them? I mean, that's --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the vote hasn't been taken. We're going to continue -- forward on the Breaux-Boren amendment.
Q Clearly, you're not in the dark. And you have a head count, I'm sure. Does anybody have the votes? Does the other side have the votes, and you're trying to get them away? What's the state of play?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right now, we're up on the Hill trying to convince members of the Senate that the President's stimulus package should go through immediately and intact. We feel good about that. We believe it's an important program to increase jobs. And we think ultimately it will prevail.
Q Is the Breaux-Boren amendment a killer amendment in your view?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if I'd use those words to characterize it. We're against it. We don't think it makes sense. But we will go forward right now.
Q On a completely different subject, yesterday the President in his interview said, if the Bosnians and the Croatians --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: On CBS.
Q Yes. If the Bosnians and the Croatians sign and the Serbs don't, we think we are going to have to look at other options to get the Bosnians to defend themselves. What is he talking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think clearly we're going to have to -- first of all, we shouldn't comment on specifics until that comes to pass. But the President's continued to review options for tightening the sanctions and increasing the pressure on the Serbians if they refuse to sign.
Q Are you taking another look at lifting the arms embargo?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we're considering a lot of options.
Q What else could he possibly talking about when he says other options for the Bosnians to defend themselves.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that that's clearly one of the options.
Q It is -- so, that's been revived since they outrightly rejected it because it would put the ground troops in too much danger --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's under consideration.
Q Speaker of the Russian Parliament, Mr. Khasbulatov, has now said he's no longer going to support the impeachment of Boris Yeltsin. Is that something you would welcome, obviously?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think any step towards resolving the dispute in Russia right now then allows the process of reform to get back on track is a welcome step.
Q George, with the Ukrainian here the whole START process has been hostage to Ukraine's position. How much longer is the administration going to tolerate that? Are we offering the Ukrainians any inducement or are we just going let START sort of fritter away?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, this is certainly an issue that the President will discuss with Foreign Minister Zlenko today. I would point out that the Ukraine has publicly committed itself to being a nonnuclear state. We expect it to live up to that obligation, and we believe it's in the best interest of the Ukraine to destroy these nuclear weapons. We'll continue to press for it.
Q A follow-up on that. Is the United States ready to give the Ukraine security guarantees that it's seeking against possible return of the Russians?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's certainly one of the things we'll be discussing with Foreign Minister Zlenko today.
Q It's under consideration?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't comment beyond that.
Q Back to Bosnia. Why is the U.S. Secretary of State more optimistic about the peace process than the man behind the peace process? Lord Owen says they're at irreconcilable positions and he thinks we should begin to consider the use of force; and Christopher thinks that they're going to be able to settle this soon. At least that's what he said up on the Hill this morning. Do you know something that Owen doesn't know?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there are discussions going on at the U.N. today. And I really don't want to comment until those discussions are completed, but we're going to continue to press all sides to sign the agreements.
Q Is there some new element being added?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, there are discussions going on right now, and I don't think I should comment until they're done.
Q George, what kind of discussions or assurances or conversations went on before these bombing suspects were extradited from Egypt? What kind of contact was there between the U.S. and the Egyptian governments?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know of the specific contact. I believe that since the arrest has been made, the President has sent a message to President Mubarak to thank him for his cooperation. But I don't know of any consultation before that. I mean, I just don't have the details. I would refer you to State.
Q You don't doubt there was some, though, do you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would refer you to State, but I'm not saying that there wasn't.
Q George, Secretary Christopher today on the Hill said that they're considering new sanctions against North Korea. Do you hope to cooperate with the Chinese government, do you expect to get their cooperation? And what kind of sanctions --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We want to continue to encourage North Korea to abide by the Nonproliferation Treaty and the IAEA inspections. We hope that China also continues to press for that.
Q What was the message sent to Mubarak? And can you tell us anything else about it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the details. I believe it was sent yesterday.
Q George, are you concerned that the --
Q (inaudible) --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Diplomatic message of some sort.
Q -- that the apparent move to dismiss all the sitting U.S. attorneys has the aroma of politics to many people, especially with a possible case to be mounted against a powerful figure like Rostenkowski?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. In fact, it's one way to make sure the politics is out of it. Presidents always appoint U.S. attorneys. We wanted to do it in the cleanest manner possible. We are going to be having several career attorneys taking over in the interim, nonpolitical professional people, as the President works with the Senate on his own choices.
Q It has been the custom in the past for holdover U.S. attorneys to stay on until their successors were nominated, or even in place. Why was that not done in this case?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: In this case, we thought it was most appropriate to make sure that everybody was clear from the start, that the President would be making his own choice, as there will be interim appointments in the meantime, and largely from the career service.
Q There is also a tradition of -- prosecutors to remain on cases until current cases are completed. In that case --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's true.
Q People in the field say that that is a tradition; and Jay Stephens --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are many others who say it's not.
Q Jay Stephens believes that there should be a presumption that he remain on until the Rostenkowski case is finished. Is there any intention to keep Jay Stephens until the Rostenkowski case is finished?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so, no.
Q Don't you have some concerns that this might either damage that case or give the impression of politics?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. We expect it will go forward. We expect that the investigation will continue to go forward. We expect that a good career person will be there in the interim until the President's appointment is in place and the investigation certainly will go forward.
Q Are you contradicting what Dee Dee said yesterday, that Janet Reno did not mean that all the U.S. attorneys should clear our their desks immediately, that this was going to be process --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. There's a possibility that some won't have to do it immediately. I know that there are at least some people who are in the middle of trials right now who will not be replaced, but I think the bulk of them will be replaced over the next several weeks.
Q I had the clear impression that we were being told yesterday that we had misinterpreted Reno's remarks, that while they were asking for letters of resignation, that it wasn't a wholesale clearing out all at once.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've asked for the letters of resignation. We will be looking at these at a case-by-case basis. I think the presumption should be that the U.S. attorneys in place will go. There might be special circumstances where some will stay.
Q How soon? What kind of timetable are you talking about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on it right now.
Q Why isn't Stephens a special circumstance?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are investigations going on across the country. This is one of many investigations. We expect that it will continue with the career people in place.
Q You're not worried at all about a question of appearances here with some prominent Democrat in the focus here? I mean, don't you think there's an appearance problem?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have confidence in the career attorneys at the U.S. Attorneys Office to continue this investigation.
Q How long has the President been aware that Japan will not stand in the way of aid to Russia on the grounds of the Kuril Islands? And was that pivotal to his optimism that they could actually produce a package that worked this time?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've been in consultation with the Japanese, as we have with all of our G-7 partners, and we will continue to be in consultation with them as we develop the package.
Q But did they inform him at a certain point --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know of any specific communication to that effect.
Q He didn't know until he read it in the paper?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know when or if there was a communication, but I can find out.
Q George, since Christopher is optimistic about a settlement in Bosnia, can you clarify again what is the condition under which the United States will dispatch peacekeeping troops there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One more time. (Laughter.)
Q One more time just for the record -- is it, according to the plan, that within 72 hours we will send peacekeeping troops there, or will we be waiting for heavy weapons to be removed, the plan to be implemented, sieges lifted, the lamb to lie down with the lion, et cetera?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think I can get into the specifics as much as you did in your question, but we will certainly move forward to enforce any agreement that is reached, as we've said.
Q But the agreement calls for -- what Christopher signed onto was 72 hours. It's not like we have an option --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We expect that forces will be sent as part of a multilateral force to secure the agreement. The agreement has not been signed yet and I don't think I should comment on those kinds of specifics until it is.
Q George, speaking of peacekeeping forces, things are getting a little rough in Somalia. I think I heard somewhere about a thousand troops -- American troops are going to be sent to Kismaayo within the peacekeeping force.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I have not seen that report. I can --
Q I heard about it. And second, when are the American troops coming out of Somalia so the U.N. --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, several thousand American troops already have returned from Somalia. The bulk are expected to return on May 1st as we move towards a U.N. force.
Q I want to go back to the U.S. attorneys for just a moment. Janet Reno said in her confirmation hearing that one of the things that she was to do was to get politics out of the Justice Department. If that's the case, why is a White House spokesman telling us what Jay Stephens's future is going to be? Isn't that her decision?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, you asked, and secondly, she made the decision when she asked for his resignation.
Q But how would you know in terms of his staying on to complete the Rostenkowski investigation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I said I wasn't sure, but I said that I expect -- I know his resignation has been asked for.
Q Why would you expect his -- him to leave before -- MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Because I said the presumption will
be that almost all of them will go unless they're in the middle of a trial. And I know that he is not in the middle of a trial.
Q Whose idea was this that they should all go and it should be done this way? Was this her idea, or was this an idea that was advanced by someone else?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She made the announcement.
Q I understand that. But the question really is, did she come in and say: You know, it's a great idea to get rid of all these U.S. attorneys at once, even though we haven't done that in the past, or did somebody suggest that to her?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what the timing was of the discussions or who said what first, but I know that the Attorney General has made the announcement.
Q I understand that. But who was involved in the discussions then?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume she was in discussions with the White House Counsel, but it is her decision.
Q Can you tell us whether the White House Counsel may have suggested the idea?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if he specifically suggested it, but I am certain that he was consulted.
Q Would it be fair then to say that after consultations with the White House she decided to do this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It would be fair to say that she consulted with the White House before making the announcement.
Q And the White House approved.
Q The decision or the announcement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The White House did not disagree.
Q I want to thank you for your persistence -- (Laughter). When I headed up here, it seemed -- I thought that Senator Mitchell was going to call the President about 1:00 p.m. Has that now been replaced with the President's call to the Hill at 2:15 p.m.?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I think the 2:15 p.m. call is the set call. Yes.
Q So there will be no call from the Hill to here at 1:00 p.m., that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As far as I know there won't be a call. There will be a call though at 2:15 p.m.
Q Will that be on the mult?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, yes, that will -- we'll take care of it.
Q Does the President believe that the Japanese position on the Kuriles and aid is reasonable, or does he think it's shortsighted?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think I should comment on that position at this time. We're now in discussions with the G-7 and the Japanese on the whole position of aid to Russia.
Q Do you hold out any hope that the Japanese may reverse that -- their position?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I hold out great hope that the G-7 nations will agree very soon to come forward with a package of aid to Russia.
Q And that that will include the Japanese in some sort of -- in some way?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would expect that it would, and they have been very positive.
Q Is the President making any calls to foreign leaders today, other G-7 leaders in regard to aid to Russia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not that I know of. I know he hasn't made any yet today.
Q George, is it possible -- announce that package before the summit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not inconceivable.
Q Oval Office speech, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There are no plans for that right now.
Q On campaign finance reform, could you explain why if during the campaign Clinton said that we should eliminate soft money, what is the administration's reasoning for why it needs to be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He will eliminate soft money and the proposal will eliminate soft money, absolutely.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The proposal will eliminate soft money.
Q And then just as a follow-up, why would it be necessary or why would it be a good idea to double the amount of hard money?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, we have not made any specific proposals yet. We're in discussions on a number of different elements of the campaign finance laws. We want to make sure that state and local parties can continue to build their organizations, but we will eliminate soft money.
Q Has the President decided on a timetable for seeking either enhanced recision authority or a line-item veto?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's no specific timetable now, but he would want to move forward on something like that.
Q Do you plan to submit legislation before -- budget?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not sure.
Q What would be the reason why? Is it a matter of writing the legislation or deciding between the two options?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have not yet come down on a final decision on exactly the option to propose, but it's something we're working on.
Q Back on campaign finance reform. What's the timetable on that? Have you decided in the course of these discussions to move more quickly? Are you seeking faster action on this than you were a month ago?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President -- I don't know that it's faster than a month ago, but the President said at his press conference two days ago that he would do it soon, and I expect that we will within the next several weeks.
Q George, the National Council of Churches, which called on the President yesterday as you well know, has an --proposal which calls for combining church investments, such as pension funds, with federal money to create job partnerships in the inner cities. Does the White House have a position on that principle?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that we have a formal position, but the principle of partnership and matching public and private investment for urban development is something the President is very attracted to and will certainly take a close look.
Q Is this the same principle that we're talking about here, matching public with church money? Is this the same principle as public and private matching --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would have to take a look at it, but it wouldn't necessarily be out of court.
Q George, as a matter of record, does the United States still support Japan on the Kuril Islands, that the islands belong to Japan and that Russia should return them to Japan sometime in the future?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's been no change in the U.S. position. We continue to work with the G-7 and all nations to move forward on the issue of aid to Russia.
Q Back up for just a second --
Q Wait, they're the Kuril Islands.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And they're tied together --
Q I understand that. But I assume they're --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, there's no change in the U.S. position, the traditional U.S. position, no.
Q On the line-item veto, the Bush administration always contended that the President had a constitutional right to a line-item veto, and they were always looking for a case in which to apply it -- when they ran out of time, obviously. What is the Clinton administration --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that we're going to challenge it in that way, no. We'll continue to look for the proper legislative vehicle.
Q Did the President discuss that with Senator Byrd?
Q Can you outline the U.S. position on Kuril Islands?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. (Laughter.)
Q Could you name the Kuril Islands?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know there are three, but I'm not going to outline it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Four? Oh, well. (Laughter.) I lose today.
Q (inaudible) --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. (Laughter.)
Q question on campaign finance reform again. Whatever the final outlines are of the President's proposal, since he has said all along that he thinks there should be less special interest money in campaigns rather than more, what would be a justification for increasing the amount of hard money to be given --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, first of all, I shouldn't comment -- I'm not going to comment specifically on a proposal that hasn't been made. But one thing the President will do in his campaign finance proposal is propose strict spending limits. That will be the heart of the President's proposal. That will mean there will be less money in politics, less special interest money in campaigns. And that's at the heart of the President's proposal.
Q But one thing that's obviously under consideration is allowing people to give more money rather than less --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's just simply a mischaracterization. I mean, if we're doing away with soft money and putting spending limits in, you would be having people give less money overall and the opportunity to give less money overall.
Q George, just a real light question. Last night, when the President was --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A what question?
Q A light question. He was being interviewed by Dan Rather and they noticed these books on the table in the Oval Office. Does the President normally read novels in the Oval Office? And how did they -- (laughter) -- there were five books he was currently reading in there in the Oval Office.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That was one of the five. I'm not sure where he reads them, but he's always carrying one around with him. So it's wherever he happens to open it up.
Q He didn't --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q Carrying what --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Books.
Q What does the rest of the week look like?
Q George, one more time on this. All we want you to do is explain the reasoning why it might be a good idea to double the limits for hard money contributions. I mean, what would be the reason to do that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It will first -- if it was in the context of overall limits, an elimination of soft money, it might be a way to provide for -- still have some adequate opportunity for people to contribute. But at the same time, you're dealing with overall limits coming down.
Q Why can't you ask David Wilhelm, as other members of your administration have said, why can't you make up the difference with small donors and small contributions? Why do you allow rich people to be able to give $50,000 instead of $25,000?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that we're also looking at ways to increase the participation of small donors; we will continue to do that. We have not made a proposal yet.
Q Would the spending limitations that you're talking about apply only to candidate committee spendings, or would they apply also to the kind of thing that's done with party-building and a lot of the ways that the soft money is now used?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President will -- I mean, it's soft money. I do not have the --
Q I understand -- I take that point. But in terms of the spending limits, what do they actually cover?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The spending limits will cover what the candidates spend in a campaign.
Q But the parties could then spend in relatively unlimited ways.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: State and local parties, but not for any federal campaigns.
Q For federal office even.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. We can't regulate the state and local.
Q George, any plans --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We can regulate the participation in federal.
Q context there's a --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right.
Q There's a spending limit on the candidates, but there's an equal amount that is now spent -- raised in --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. We would eliminate soft money.
Q during the campaign, wasn't the criticism that Clinton, and also Ross Perot, made about the campaign finances -- it was not the amount of spending, but the influence of special interest money or whatever you want to call it --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. The President talked about the amount of spending time and time again.
Q Okay. I read that, but I think he talked more about the influence of special interest money. Back to Maura's question, why do you want to double the amount of money that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First, we have not made any proposal.
Q just speaking for the sake of argument --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: There's enough arguments without creating new ones.
Q Okay, well, then are you guys saying that you will not double? I mean, will you say that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I'm not saying that, either.
Q So what would be the reason -- just academically -- why would --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This isn't the place for an academic argument.
Q Obviously you guys are thinking about this. What would be the reason for even wanting to do this? In other words, I don't understand -- you know, in terms of the greater government good --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're trying to make sure that we limit the amount of money in politics. We will be doing that by having strict spending limits. We also want to make sure that people have an adequate opportunity to participate in campaigns, and we'll continue to balance those interests.
Q But why -- do you think they have an inadequate opportunity now with $25,000?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: First of all, we will be putting more limits on them if you eliminate soft money. You will be preventing people from giving the amounts of money that has been brought up in the last campaign. That will be stopped.
Q You're taking from one hand and giving to another.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, you're not. It's far less money. Right now, it is unlimited.
Q George, what is the state of health of Mr. Rodham?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing's changed.
Q Is the First Lady still in Little Rock?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q She'll stay there for the time being?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Do you any specifics about tomorrow's schedule?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not yet. We'll have something a little later this afternoon.
Q Is this budget still on track for April 7th?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Certainly hope so.
Q No change in the date?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q What was the question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: April -- is the budget still on track for April 5th.
Q George, I was going to try again on campaign finance, but I give up for the moment. (Laughter.) On Guantanamo, a representative of the NSC was down there examining the situation. Could you tell us what he found and whether the President proposes to take any action --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not certain he's back, yet. You might know better than I. I've not seen his report, but I'll take the question and get back to you.
Q George, any plans for the President to call Yeltsin?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing's set yet, but I wouldn't rule it out.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's not planned at this time.
Q You mean, he didn't call him after he spoke with Kozyrev, like he said he was going to do?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He said at some point that would clear the way but he has not called him yet, no.
Q Is Vice President Gore going to the summit, to the Yeltsin summit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. I don't think that's planned at this time, but I'll have to have to get back to you on it.
Q George, this morning, Dee Dee, said that the option of a VAT tax for health care is not under consideration, that the President's ruled that out. My understanding about what he said about a VAT tax is that it holds some interest for him in the longterm, maybe not in the near-term, but --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what he -- certainly, what he is indicating that it would not be part of this proposal.
Q Elements of health care reform have to be implemented over time. You're looking for revenue sources over time. What are the prospects that a VAT tax might emerge as an option for revenues, not in this year but down the road?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President's proposal will cover a four to five year period, and it will not be in that proposal.
Q And it will not be in it at all.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No. I mean, the indications are that it won't be in; I mean, that's clearly the indication he had.
Q You mean the current indications?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is not proposing a VAT. It is not something that is at the top of his list and I would expect that it would not be in his proposal.
Q Would he oppose it if it was introduced in discussions with --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that it is very unlikely it will be in his proposal.
Q There was an authoritative report that it would be considered by the task force. Has he --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That it was part of the working group paper. I mean, I'm certain it's something -- we review lots of --
Q Is that what the status of it was?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so, yes.
Q And it was just spite that that point by the President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President has spoken to this and it's something that he's not looking at right now.
Q George, how much direction is he giving to the working groups as they come to the point of narrowing down their options?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, he's had several meetings with different -- I don't with the working groups specifically but with his health care advisers, and they've been going over different issues. But I don't think he's micromanaging the working group process, no.
Q When is he going to appoint an AIDS czar?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I hope it's going to be soon, but we don't have a set date.
Q Is that going to be a White House office or is that going to be out of HHS?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on that right now.
Q What about a drug czar?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I hope that's soon, too. (Laughter.)
Q If the French government returns to a divided form -- G-7, you have a Gaullist prime minister and a socialist president, will the President recognize them as equals?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me, say that again? (Laughter.)
Q If the French government returns to a divided form after the runoff and you have a prime minister who is a Guallist and you still have President Mitterrand, will the President regard them as equals in dealing with them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President will continue to work with President Mitterrand as the head of state.
Q What about as head of government?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He is the head of government -- well, the head of government will be the prime minister. He would continue to work with President Mitterrand.
Q? The President is also the head of the government.
Q want to share with us?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. (Laughter.)
Q How many Kuril Islands?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have the definitive policy on the Kuril Islands.
We have seen the reports of the new Japanese policy and their willingness to say that the Islands are not a stumbling block. We have supported the Japanese in their view that the Islands should be returned; we also see, as do the Japanese, the urgency of the situation in Russia. We welcome their willingness to consider expanded aid within the G-7 context and we are going to closely work with them as plans for an April finance and foreign ministers meetings proceed.
Q George, CBS thought it important enough to check with Ross Perot after their interview with the President last night. How are you working with Ross Perot in conjunction with the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We don't take our cues on this from CBS. We have had some discussions with Ross Perot. He did present us with his poll before it was released yesterday.
Q What did you think of it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if it was direct discussions with him. He had -- his pollster and his staff came in and presented it to us.
Q What did you think of them?
Q What did you think of the poll?
Q Who was at the meeting?
Q When was this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was interesting.
Q Who did he present it to?
Q Do you think it was credible?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, this was a normal poll done by Gordon Black Associates.
Q Who at the White House met with the Perot pollster --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mack, myself, and David Dreyer.
Q The President didn't meet with --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q Stan Greenberg wasn't there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q How about Hank Greenberg? (Laughter)
Q The subject of Dave Dreyer, George, is the President --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- David Dreyer -- (laughter) --
Q Does the President plan to employ outside humor consultants to help him with his jokes this weekend -- (laughter) -- as his predecessors have done --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Is that a comment on David Dreyer's humor?
Q Will he rely on his rich, personal -- and people like David Dreyer?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's a highly classified process. I can't comment on it.
Q You don't know when he's going to bring in Joe --or you can't say?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't say, but the President will be fully prepared. Usually -- he made up most of those jokes last week on his own.
Q That's why I asked. (Laughter.)
Q George, Judge Sessions was on the Hill today, and after testimony before Congress he told reporters he was going to be full exonerated -- Justice Department review his situation. Any development on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're continuing to review the report and we'll comment on it when it's done.
Q How soon would you expect that to be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have a specific timetable.
Q George, any new ambassadorial appointment coming out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm certain that there will be. I don't have one right now.
Q I mean, in the very near future? The pace has been kind of slow. The reason I'm asking is because they've been coming out by dribbles --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, they generally do. I know that the President appointed Mrs. Harriman today. We'll have some more.
Q George, is the question of his wrongful conduct the only issue on Sessions, or is there a question about whether he's the right man to be your --
THE PRESIDENT: The President maintains his ability to appoint an FBI Director, but we're reviewing the report now.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:02 P.M. EST