THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
9:40 A.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: There's been one addition to the President's schedule, which is that at 10:30 a.m. he will sign a bill creating a commission to study the civilian -- or the commercial airline industry which he's talked about. It's been passed in both the House and the Senate. The President will sign it at 10:30 a.m. and make a statement. That will be a pool op.
And that's the only thing -- the only other thing is that last night he signed the debt extension bill passed by Congress Monday night.
Q What about -- has Cuomo pulled out of the running for Supreme Court?
MS. MYERS: As you know, we have a long-standing policy of not commenting on the appointments process.
Q Your two months of long standing?
MS. MYERS: No, we did it throughout the transition and the administration. Officially we do not comment on the appointments process.
Q If a public official has told you that he is not interested, what's the harm in telling us --
MS. MYERS: We don't comment on people who may or may not be under consideration for appointments.
Q Can you confirm whether it's true or not? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: No further comment on the appointments process, other than to say it is ongoing.
Q Is the airline thing, is that in the Oval Office?
MS. MYERS: I think it's in the Roosevelt Room.
Q What exactly does that bill due?
MS. MYERS: It creates a 15-minute -- a 15-member -- (laughter) -- it's a quick review process. (Laughter.) It starts at 10:30 a.m., it will be over at 10:45 a.m. (Laughter.) No, it creates a 15-member commission -- five members appointed by the President, five by the House, and five by the Senate -- to study the commercial airline industry and report back with suggestions on ways to improve it.
Q Who heads it up?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if somebody appointed or elected within the group, but it is 15 members appointed by the three bodies.
Q Have the members been selected yet?
MS. MYERS: It has not been announced.
Q Is there a deadline?
MS. MYERS: Pardon me?
Q Is there a deadline on the --
MS. MYERS: I believe it's 60 days, but let me get back to you on that.
Q Why has he no schedule these days -- he's empty yesterday, empty today and --
MS. MYERS: I don't think he has no schedule. I think he's been very busy in a series of private meetings -- or staff meetings on a number of issues, including health care and other issues. He's been extremely busy. As you know, he just got back from a three-day -- one-day forest conference in Portland, which was very successful, and a two-day summit with President Yeltsin, which was also very successful.
Q How do you know they were very successful?
MS. MYERS: I know these things, Helen. (Laughter.)
Q When did the President come to the conclusion that the Republicans had legitimate objections to parts of his economic stimulus package?
MS. MYERS: I think, clearly, they have some objections. I think he's willing to consider seriously the questions that they've raised. I think he wants to continue to work with Congress, as he has throughout this process. We'll continue to work with Congress throughout the recess and hopefully get something that we can pass when Congress reconvenes on the 19th.
Q Are you able to say which of those objections that he's heard he considers legitimate?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't want to be specific about it.
Q What is the process by which he is deciding on whether an objection is legitimate or not?
MS. MYERS: I think the Congress is going to play the leadership role on this, particularly -- obviously, the Senate. They will obviously consider the impasse where they are right now, try to figure out where to go from here. We will work with them. But Congress has the lead on this.
Q Are they working now -- I mean, these days, or are they all out of town?
MS. MYERS: They're all out of town. I think there will be some consultations going on from their home districts.
Q We understand the President's going to take a more visible role in this, or at least the White House is. What might that entail?
MS. MYERS: Nothing specific at this point.
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't rule it out, but there's nothing specific at this point.
Q Does the President have any regrets at all that Republicans weren't brought in for a more active role in shaping his program?
MS. MYERS: I think Republicans were brought in. Republicans were consulted more broadly than I think has happened in previous administrations when the party tables were reversed.
Q Not true.
MS. MYERS: It is true. He's met with the Senate leadership, the House leadership, bipartisan. He's brought in bipartisan members of Congress on a number of issues, including the economic plan.
Q after the process.
MS. MYERS: That's not true. He consulted with Republicans --
MS. MYERS: -- a couple of times in the drafting process of this. He's continued to consult with them throughout this process. That is just not fair to say that Republicans weren't consulted. Now, they may argue that they should have been consulted more, but I think that's always a debatable point. If the President had more time, perhaps he would have had more opportunity to consult with people on both sides of the aisle. But the truth is he consulted widely.
Q Is the question now how much to cut?
MS. MYERS: The question now is to try to get a jobs package through the Senate, to end the filibuster, to create the jobs that the President believes are necessary to get the economy going again.
Q We understand that he's willing to give up the $1.8 billion in Pell grants. Is there anything else you can --
MS. MYERS: There are no specific decisions that have been made yet. We're waiting to see what kind of advice the Senate offers on this. We'll continue to work with them, but no specific decisions have been made.
Q Which Republican senators is he consulting with now and how is he consulting with them?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to use specific names, but -- and the President -- I don't know that the President has had any specific conversations yet with Republicans or in the last few days. But there are --
Q He will, though?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. Nothing is scheduled.
Q What are the long-term implications of this filibuster strategy? Is this going to make it more difficult for you to get through Congress things like health care reform?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's clear that a minority, as the President pointed out yesterday, can thwart the will of the majority. But we have to live with the rules of the Senate, which are quite complicated and which allow for 40 senators to stop a filibuster from being ended and stop progress on legislation, even if it's something as important as creating jobs.
Q In view of this, do you plan to change your approach for upcoming legislation to avoid this type of deadlock?
MS. MYERS: I think that we will continue to try to work with Congress as the President has throughout this. He'll continue to consult with members from both sides of the aisle on a variety of issues, whether it's Russia aid, health care, economic package, any number -- campaign finance reform -- any number of issues on which he's already consulted with bipartisan groups of members of Congress.
Q Is this current situation gridlocked?
MS. MYERS: I think it is gridlock. I think clearly a minority of Republicans have held up a jobs bill that would create 500,000 jobs that Americans desperately need. There has been no job growth to accompany the weak economic recovery. The President continues to worry about that and he's committed to getting a jobs package through.
Q What does the President think is legitimate in their arguments?
MS. MYERS: Again, I don't want to be specific, but will continue to work with Congress to address those concerns.
Q Why don't you want to be specific?
MS. MYERS: Just not ready to be specific at this point.
Q Dole's people say it's not -- even if you cut the package in half, that's not going to satisfy him; that the bigger concern is this problem of paying for it and no provision has been made for that. How do you address that concern?
MS. MYERS: Again, what we're going to do at this point is work with Congress. The President believes that the whole idea of a stimulus package is to put money into the economy.
Q Do you acknowledge that your bill is not paid for?
MS. MYERS: By definition, the stimulus package is additional spending to create jobs and get the economy moving. That was the whole idea of the stimulus package in the first place, was that it infuses the economy with some much needed spending. The President thought it would create jobs.
We will see what the Senate comes back with in terms of what they think is possible. And we'll look at that and try to work something through.
Q Dee Dee, two things: Where does he stand on campaign finance reform now? Where does that stand?
MS. MYERS: Well, it's still in process. We don't have a specific timetable on it, but we expect to have a proposal relatively soon.
Q Relatively soon, meaning --
MS. MYERS: Again, I don't have a specific time line. Sometime in the next few weeks.
Q And how is he following up on the commitment at the timber summit to have some kind of policy in 60 days?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, he delegated that to the people he outlined -- the different members of the Cabinet and others. And he'll continue to consult with them as the process goes on and then they'll report back to him at the end of 60 days.
Q And will they report back with specific recommendations including legislation or --
MS. MYERS: Specific recommendations. I don't expect legislation.
Q The Easter schedule.
MS. MYERS: Unclear at this point. I think that he'll take Friday, Saturday and Sunday off. I think that's likely. But whether or not he'll travel is not yet known.
Q For those of us who would be stuck with that, what are the -- what are you thinking? What's the thinking?
MS. MYERS: Again, it's unclear at this point.
Q Is there a Saturday radio address live?
MS. MYERS: Don't know. It will either be -- it may be pretaped on Friday.
Q Is there any plan for the President or any other member of the administration to address the gay rights march on April 25th?
MS. MYERS: We don't have specific plans for that yet. Will the President address or any other members of the administration address the gay rights march on the 25th, and the answer is we don't know. I don't know what his schedule is for that day yet.
Q Have you gotten any kind of word from the Russians about that explosion involving radioactive material in Siberia and whether it's a danger to anyone outside of that country?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether we've gotten any specific word from them. We're continuing to monitor the situation.
Q Monitor it how?
MS. MYERS: Just receiving reports through the national security staff and others, news accounts.
Q What's your assessment of it so far? How dangerous is it?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to comment on that other than to say we're monitoring it. We don't have any official statement on it at this point.
Q Is the President thinking about going to Los Angeles after the Rodney King verdict?
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't rule out a trip there at some point, but I don't -- I guess the jury is expected to go out some time probably the end of this week. There's nothing specifically related to that on the schedule at this point.
Q Dee Dee, in terms of the President's schedule and jogging, three days have elapsed that we haven't seen him jogging. Is he jogging? Is he jogging on the track? What's happening?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I think maybe he's just been tired and has been sleeping in a little in the morning. I don't think there's any major policy implications.
Q Has he used the track yet?
MS. MYERS: No. It was completed over the weekend but I don't believe he's used it yet.
Q Dee Dee, do we have a final list of contributors to that?
MS. MYERS: Pardon me?
Q Do you have a final list of contributors to the track? I mean is that public?
MS. MYERS: I'll double-check on that.
Q Did you have an explanation for the gash? Was that Socks?
MS. MYERS: No, no. I believe the President cut himself shaving yesterday.
Q What do you do now to pressure Aristide to give in and accept some form of amnesty?
MS. MYERS: Ambassador Caputo and Special Envoy Pezzullo are continuing to work down there. I believe they're making progress and we're encouraged by the process. Other than that, we'll continue to work through the process.
Q The situation is the opposite, that the process has ground to a halt because Aristide is not willing to grant amnesty and Caputo has delayed his trip down there because at this point he doesn't have anything to do.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the process is ongoing. I think there have been a lot of ups and downs in these processes, as there always are, but we think Ambassador Caputo and Special Envoy Pezzullo are making good progress. We're encouraged.
Q Are you going to give Aristide the word that he had best give in or risk losing support?
MS. MYERS: We're going to continue to work through the process.
Q It hasn't even been 100 days, and in the next month Dole, Gramm, Cheney, Kemp and maybe even Dornan are going to be in New Hampshire testing the waters. Do you have any -- are you surprised at what appears to be the '96 process beginning at this stage?
Q Are you going to New Hampshire soon? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We're going to wait until next winter to go to New Hampshire. No, I think that they're not -- the Republican Party is not used to being out of power. I think they're anxious to get it back, to win back the presidency. They're going to have to work very hard at it. But I think the process always starts early. I would say it's a little early to say that it's actually starting, but there are going to be a number of people who are going to test the waters. That's the way it always is.
Q Dee Dee, in terms of Russian aid, is there going to be a regular process now that we can be updated on how effective this aid is going to be? And also, how is that going to be assessed?
MS. MYERS: Well, actually quite a bit of money will be spent on monitoring the distribution of aid -- the $1.6 billion that was just discussed at the summit over the weekend. I don't know what official process there is, or if there's been one created to date for sort of releasing the results of that monitoring process. But a lot of money will be spent through private volunteer organizations and other organizations that can monitor the progress and make sure that the money is spent well.
Q So we don't have like a monthly or any type of --
MS. MYERS: Yes, there may be. I just don't know what the details are for releasing the results of the monitoring process.
Q Dee Dee, will the President consider waiving the preferences for our maritime industry, which are eating up a huge amount of the money that could be spent on grain?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the details of that are. Let me take that question.
Q Apparently, half the $700 million will go toward paying shipping charges that are noncompetitive because of special preferences to the maritime industry that can be waived by the President.
MS. MYERS: Let me get back to you on that.
Q Another part of that question is also it appears that because of the special grain deals, that the level of trade -- U.S. trade that would be granted this year will be double what was last year, so it's not a question of scaling back.
MS. MYERS: Okay, let me take that.
Q Why are some 20 ambassadors having to cool their heels for two months to get the President to accept their credentials?
MS. MYERS: I think that the whole process is ongoing. We're moving as quickly as we can on that and a number of fronts. And hopefully we'll have a resolution soon.
Q You don't have to move on a number of fronts.
MS. MYERS: Yes, we do.
Q All you've got to do is accept the letter of credentials.
MS. MYERS: The process is ongoing and we'll get it done as quickly as possible.
Q When will he name the chief of protocol?
MS. MYERS: I don't have a specific timetable on it, but we're moving on it.
Q Can we go back to the airline commission for a second? What is the point? I mean, why is the government getting involved? And what is this commission supposed to produce besides recommendations -- government recommendations for legislation, or federal relief, or business recommendations for the airline --
MS. MYERS: I think it's going to look at a number of things. That's what the commission is instructed to do. It's to take a look at the commercial airline industry, which has lost $10 billion over the last three years. It's a vital part of the U.S. economy, and the President wants to take a good, hard look at what the government can do and what the industry can do to make it more competitive and more effective.
Q I mean, lots of other industries have lost money over -- significant amounts of money over periods of time. Why the airline industry, and why now?
MS. MYERS: Because I think $10 billion over three years is a big loss. The President met with members of the commercial airline industry, both the carriers and the manufacturers in Seattle a few weeks ago. It was something that he discussed with them. They have a number of suggestions about how changes -- both government changes and private industry changes that could make the industry more competitive. And the President agreed to take a look at it.
Q Did you announce who was going to chair the commission?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Will all the commission members be here, or will it just be the President?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that the commission members have been appointed yet. I don't think that they have. Today it will just be the President. And I don't know when the commission -- the names of the actual members will be released. I expect that to happen quickly.
Q Is there a point person at the White House that's dealing with this?
MS. MYERS: I believe -- I'll have to get back to you. I think it's Bob Rubin, but I'll check.
Q Will members of the industry be on the commission? I mean, how do you see the composition of the commission?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it will -- again, there's five appointed by the House, five by the Senate, and five by the President. I think it will incorporate a variety of people -- some from the airline industry, others from business, perhaps some from the public sector.
Q Will this commission have within its jurisdiction revisiting the Airbus agreement?
MS. MYERS: They're going to make a number of recommendations. I don't know whether they'll revisit the Airbus agreement. I don't think that that's been called for. What Ambassador Kantor and others have said is that we need to go back in there and have a consultation on the Airbus industry agreement.
Q Did you say who appoints the chairman of the commission?
MS. MYERS: No, I'm not sure.
Q Do you have a specific window to work to come up with some sort of a compromise?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's a short period of time. It's either 60 or 90 days. It's not a compromise; it's a proposal.
Q Is this a move toward reregulation -- bringing back the CAB or --
MS. MYERS: Again, they're going to make recommendations and we'll take a look at those recommendations once they've been compiled.
Q You're putting out a specific budget tomorrow? Is it going to be available here?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I believe so. And as I pointed out yesterday, Panetta, Tyson and Bentsen will be available at 10:00 a.m. in Room 450 of the OEOB. And I believe the President may make some comments at that unveiling as well.
MS. MYERS: Tomorrow.
Q The President yesterday said he was ordering a complete review of what the Egyptians told us. Can you tell us how that -- who is conducting that and how the results could be communicated?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that the structure is in place yet, but I will take that and get back to you. It's to monitor specifically who knew what when in terms of Egyptian warnings.
Q Did the President rebuff a request from President Mubarak that he intervene with Israel on repatriation of the 400 Palestinians?
MS. MYERS: No. I think the President communicated to President Mubarak that the U.S. had offered a package to the Palestinians when Secretary Christopher met with them last week, that it was a comprehensive package and one that was effective, and that the President believes will bring the Palestinians back to the table. And President Mubarak agreed.
Q Why is it a secret?
Q Dee Dee, what's the timetable now for the health task force to finish its work and report?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the deadline has been pushed back now, due to the unforeseen circumstances surrounding Mr. Rodham. And I think it will happen sometime in May, but we don't have a specific deadline at this point.
Q No target date?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Is Medicare reform part of the health care package?
MS. MYERS: As you know, we're still looking at a number of options and, at this point, decisions haven't been made.
Q Something has to be done. Is it your preference or is it likely that it will be contained within that since that's the most immediate vehicle?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't know that everything will be done the first time around on health care reform.
Q According to this report that came out yesterday, something has to be done immediately.
MS. MYERS: That's a sort of -- there will be decisions made within the context of health care reform and there may be subsequent action taken to make sure that Medicare is solvent, as it has been. I mean, I think the reforms that have been put in place so far have worked fairly well and we'll continue to pursue that. But in terms of whether that is part of the overall health plan I can't say at this point.
Q To return to an earlier question, I never quite heard whether the President thought that these legitimate objections to his stimulus package -- did he think they were legitimate objections when they were first made or is this something that was determined after it got blocked in the Senate?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President always takes the objectives raised by members of Congress seriously. He believes in the consultation process. I don't know exactly at what point he reached that decision, but we'll continue to work with Congress to work through those objections.
Q Why do you say he will work with Congress and not with Republicans when they're the ones that are holding this up?
MS. MYERS: Because there are a lot more people that need to be worked with than just the Republicans in the Senate.
Q Dee Dee, Senator Dole seems to have developed a religious aversion to pork late in his career. (Laughter.) The President would not force --
MS. MYERS: It's never too late.
Q The President would not force any of those projects on Kansas, would he, over Dole's objections?
MS. MYERS: Wouldn't force any kind of job creation spending in Kansas?
MS. MYERS: We'll see what gets worked out.
Q will he make sure that none of them are included?
MS. MYERS: No, I think what he has said is he'll make sure that no pork is included -- period. There are legitimate spending proposals --
Q Whether you call it pork or whether you call it community development projects or whatever, but the specific ones that are earmarked for Kansas -- will the President make sure they are not included in the bill, as Dole is suggesting so vehemently?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into that.
Q On that question, how is he going to make sure that in the CDCGs, or maybe they'll go away completely -- how does he make sure that there's no -- how do you all have any control over what that money is spent on?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he'll work very closely with Congress to make sure that what is appropriated, both through the different agencies and departments in the federal government and through the community development block grants that there wouldn't be money spent on pork projects.
Q It's the Executive Branch -- he's the one who has control over what his agencies would use that money for.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q So what is his mandate to the agencies?
MS. MYERS: I think he has a lot of control over that. He can instruct the secretaries to make sure that all the projects, all the funding is reviewed and that the money is spent on legitimate projects and not on special interest projects.
Q For instance, will all those -- you know, the list that came out in The Wall Street Journal the other day, will all those be removed from the list?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that all of them are. I think -- I can't remember everything that was on the list, but some things -- I'm not sure that every proposal there was a pork proposal. Some of them will not be funded. I think there's been a lot of attention paid to things like fish atlases, which were on a list of ready-to-go projects but nobody ever said that they would be funded.
Q Dee Dee, last week the President gave ground on the grazing fees. This week he seems to be giving ground on the jobs bill. Why did you decide against going to the mat with the Republicans on that issue after he seemed to move in that direction late last week with the statements he issued out west?
MS. MYERS: First of all, on the mining and grazing, we're going to pursue those same reforms outside of the budget process, either administratively or legislatively. The President expects major reforms in the land management in the west. We will pursue that and we have commitments from people like Bennett Johnson to help us, and I think you can expect perhaps even before the budget -- before the reconciliation process is complete to have some major reforms.
In terms of the stimulus package, that has, unfortunately, gotten held up in the Senate by a minority of senators who will not let it come to the floor for a vote. The congressional process is something that we have to work with.
Q Well, he's not without tools in this case. He could go out to the American people and try to spend some political capital to rule on this issue. Why did you decide against doing that?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that you can say that we've decided against doing that.
Q But, Dee Dee, in the Inaugural Address, he talked about involving the American people in bringing about change.
MS. MYERS: I think he's broadly involved the American people.
Q But he hasn't on this particular issue, he has not --
MS. MYERS: That is not true.
Q put pressure on individual senators in --states.
MS. MYERS: That is not true. I think we've continued to -- he's continue to reach out to the American people throughout this budget process. We got the budget resolution passed through both the House and the Senate in record time. The stimulus package passed the House intact, and now we're trying to work through the Senate. But again, it's being held up by 43 senators who have an interest in seeing it stopped. A political interest, I might point out.
Q Has he done any interviews and/or broadcasts or whatever in Kansas?
MS. MYERS: Probably not in the last week, but he has --
Q Does he plan any in Kansas?
MS. MYERS: There's nothing on the schedule right now, but I don't think that Kansas is the only place that we need to look.
Q No, but he's the Senate Minority Leader. He's the leader of the opposition.
MS. MYERS: I think you can make your own Senate strategy and we'll make ours, but I think that -- last week, the President, unfortunately, had a Russian summit and forest conference on his agenda, and he had to go deal with those two issues. He did. I think in the next couple of weeks he'll do a number of things including discussing this with the American people.
Q Does he have any opinion about why Senator Dole seems to favor job creation and investment in Russia but not in Kansas?
MS. MYERS: You'll have to ask Senator Dole that question.
Q Very quickly. Is Miyazawa -- is that a state visit or is that just a --
MS. MYERS: I believe it's a working visit.
Q Do you have any state visits planned at all? We haven't had any yet.
MS. MYERS: We haven't had any yet. I don't know of any that are on the schedule.
Q Does he travel next week?
MS. MYERS: Unclear.
Q Is he trying to save money by having working visits?
MS. MYERS: No, but you can only have one state visit per country per administration.
Q Is there going to be a dedication of the jogging track?
MS. MYERS: I don't expect any formal ceremony.
Q Why not?
MS. MYERS: Helen, you can plan one and host it, jog on it. (Laughter.) Only if you jog will we have a formal ceremony. (Laughter.)
Q All right, it's a deal.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END10:08 A.M. EDT