THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
1:06 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Hello. I'd like to start out --the President made a mistake this morning. (Laughter.) It's hard to believe.
Q the press secretary --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The Senate has two swimming pools. Any questions?
Q Well, we checked on one. Now, there's one in the Russell Building. Where's the other one?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think they might both be. There's one warm water, one cold water.
Q Let the record reflect that the White House has two swimming pools also.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But you're on top of one.
Q That's right.
Q We're always on top of things. (Laughter.)
Q What about the scratch? How did the confusion occur about the scratch?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not exactly sure. I just know that what the President said is true. He was -- (laughter) --
Q go out on a limb --
Q Can we go with that or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He was playing with Chelsea and he just got scratched.
Q By her?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not sure.
Q Did he say? I mean, does anybody know?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He didn't say. He just said he was playing with her and he got scratched. I didn't get all the details minute-by-minute.
Q Why did -- got it shaving, George? Why did we first think he got it shaving?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure -- confusion--
Q Well, Dee Dee said so.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I know. And it was just some confusion.
Q logical because it looked like it.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It looked like a shaving -- I mean, I just wasn't sure.
Q Well, you didn't guess, did you?
Q Well, who told Dee Dee, and how all this happened?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We'd better get to the bottom of this. It sounds like a real scandal.
Gwen, would you like to ask a different question?
Q Would you like to explain to us why the President used a routine bill signing for an aviation commission that will merely study a subject to launch another assault on the Republicans in Congress about his economic stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think as the President said this morning, everything he does or has been doing with the Congress is related to the economy. And all of these issues are interrelated. And he is determined to get the economy back on track, to pass his economic program. As you know, the first part of the economic program -- the budget -- has already passed. The airline commission and the proposals it will make will also serve to help the economy get moving again. And the jobs program that he has now before the Congress is another central element to that.
Q The President commented during those comments that he felt like he had been distracted it sounded like in the past month or so from selling the plan as he would like to. Was that a correct --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think that's a correct impression. I mean, in fact, what he was saying is that everything we're doing is focused on the economy. There are a lot of different issues out there before the public, but what ties them together is the economy.
Q How are gays in the military and the abortion issue tied to the economy?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, those are issues that are out there that he has to contend with. But the abortion is part of his budget. As you know, the Hyde Amendment repeal is part of the budget that is being submitted. The gays in the military -- the President has said consistently that he's waiting to hear back from the Pentagon on their review on July 15th.
Q George, after seeing that there was going to be some type of move toward a compromise on the part of the President, now it sounds as if he does really want to go to the mat. Is that what we should understand from this --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President believes in his economic program. He believes in his jobs program. He also is open to adjustments in the package, as he also said this morning. I mean, those two aren't necessarily inconsistent ideas. He's going to fight for as much of this program as he can get. At the same time, if adjustments are needed to allow for debate and vote on the President's package, he is willing to consider those adjustments.
Q George, if the problem is not that he was distracted the last few weeks by Russia and Bosnia and everything else, what is the problem? There seems to be -- I mean, he's been out campaigning for this thing for some time, but the public does not seem to be rising up in great excitement about the filibuster on the stimulus package. Somehow the message that you guys are sending doesn't seem to be clicking. So what's the problem?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I guess -- I don't know if I'd necessarily agree. The House passed the jobs package overwhelmingly. A majority in the Senate supports the jobs package. A determined minority is trying to prevent a vote on that package. The President's going to do everything he can to get a vote and passage on the jobs package.
Q But public opinion doesn't seem to be rallying. Often when you need to put pressure on the Senate, you can do it by rallying the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Everything we see still says that the public wants action on the economy -- consistently. They want the President -- they want the government to do something about jobs.
Q Are you saying there's a groundswell for this measure, this stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying that the American public expects the President and the Congress to get to work on the economy. They expect the President and the Congress to get to work on jobcreating activity, and this is a central component of that package. But let's also remember that the broader parts of the President's package have already passed. This is one more component of that, and we're going to continue to fight for it.
Q Yes, but still there's no sign that the public is demanding that this stimulus/jobs package be passed.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We think the public is demanding action on jobs, and that's what we're going to give them.
Q But, George, the polls show a decreasing of support. Is that not correct?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The polls still show a majority of support for the President's package, and we're going to continue to fight for it.
Q But not the CBS-New York Times poll last week.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What did it show?
Q It dropped below 50; 48 or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think if you look at the range of polls there's still a majority in support of the President's package.
Q We'll select which polls we want to use, is that --
Q Aren't you a little concerned though that this stimulus package may be just a turkey that's easy for the Republicans to oppose because it looks like it's full of pork?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not in the least. I mean this package provides for job-creating investments in highways. It provides for a huge summer jobs program to put kids to work this summer. It provides or immunization. It provides for important investments in sewage treatment and water treatment and rural development. These are all investments that are going to create jobs this summer and beyond, and that's why we support them.
Q You said a minute ago that the President's going to fight for as much of this program as he can get. What's your thinking today on how much he can get?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on it. We're fighting.
Q How many kids jobs are in that summer program and what's the deadline for it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The overall package creates 500,000 jobs. I believe that the summer jobs is about 700,000.
Q What's the deadline to implement those jobs? How soon must you --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to get -- package at end of April and that's plenty of time.
Q George, the President seemed to contradict himself in the statement this morning. First he said that he thought there was legitimate concerns -- these hypothetical programs, the projects -- I guess he was referring to the ready-to-go projects. He thought those were legitimate concerns, but then later he seemed to defend those. He said that there were spurious complaints about those -- swimming pools.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He said that there are conceivably some programs that shouldn't be funded, and he will not fund them. And he's already given those assurances to the Congress. And I would also point out that Senator Byrd also passed amendments that would prevent the funding of programs that aren't worthwhile. At the same time, the President doesn't necessarily agree with every characterization of the opponents. The President believes that if you fund, for instance, as he said, you know, swimming pools in public parks, it can be a public service. It can create jobs and give kids a healthy outlet for recreation at the same time and it's only fair. So, that was a specific program that he was defending.
Q Will he go to the mat on those particular kinds of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, that's just a misconception of what's in the package. The block grants provide for this kind of funding. It is up to the state and local officials to make the choices themselves. And, as he also pointed out, the Republicans have been supporting these kinds of programs and this kind of federalism for an awful long time, for two decades.
Q George, can you cite anything during the campaign that would have given the public any reason to believe that three months into his presidency that Bill Clinton would be in a fight with the Republicans in Congress over his desire to use federal money to build swimming pools?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what the President has said time and time again is that he was going to be a President that created jobs, and that's what his package is about, and that's what it's going to do.
Q The President said yesterday that he was working on a new proposal to answer the answerable objections. When and in what form will that proposal be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we're in discussions right now with the Congress, but I would expect it would be an amendment in the Senate.
Q Has the President talked to Governor Cuomo in the past -- and is Governor Cuomo still a leading candidate for the Supreme Court?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President talks to Governor Cuomo lots and lots. (Laughter.) Frequently. But I can't talk about the Supreme Court process.
Q Did he talk to him Thursday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, he talks to Governor Cuomo frequently. I'm not going to confirm or deny any specific conversation.
Q Why not?
Q Is Governor Cuomo still a leading candidate in --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not going to talk about the Supreme Court process.
Q Is he in favor of a high dive, is that --(laughter) --
Q George, I'm sorry I missed some of the questions up there. There were stories in the paper that said the Governor of New York phoned the President aboard Air Force One and took himself out of the running. That's a pretty specific thing. You're saying you won't even confirm that or you won't --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's exactly what I'm saying. (Laughter.)
Q Has he talked with Cuomo or -- I mean, --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying that he talks to Governor Cuomo frequently but I'm not going to talk about any single conversation.
Q Confirm a conversation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q Why not?
Q So why did he pull out? Did he tell you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Very nice try.
Q In '76 the government spent more than $30 million for Medicaid abortions. If you are successful in lifting the Hyde Amendment, how are you going to pay for it and why is there no money set aside in the budget?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think it's unclear what the budgetary impact of lifting the Hyde Amendment is.
Q But there was $30 million spent in 1976 -- assume that there's going to be no expense?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I don't make any assumptions at all. I say, it's a complicated situation. We just don't have a number right now.
Q So do you expect a hit for the Medicaid program to just absorb the extra cost?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying that we don't know what the cost is going to be. We don't necessarily know if it would be a severe budgetary impact of any kind.
Q The last time you talked about this you actually said there might be a saving in there. Are you assuming that abortions would have an offsetting saving from birth costs that wouldn't be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying it's just a complicated issue and we just don't know the budgetary impact.
Q On the same issue, as you know, several states have constitutional amendments or constitutional language that bar state funding for abortion. And since most of these are the Medicare, Medicaid, part of it is the state-federal match. How are you going to work that out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think this is one of the things we have to discuss. In fact, it will be language in the budget resolution that says we have to reconcile this in discussions with Congress and reconcile this with state laws and the proper judicial interpretations. I think that this is all matters that we have to discuss as we move forward on the budget.
Q Well, was it your understanding that if Medicaid funds abortions that -- it's our understanding from HHS that a state cannot refuse to do a procedure that's funded under Medicaid, so --or they lose their Medicaid funding.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, this -- we also specifically say in the budget we are not mandating federal funding for abortion.
Q Well, I mean, you believe that under the Medicaid law you can allow certain states to not perform Medicaid approved --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Several states don't have specific prohibitions on it.
Q George, is the proposal that the administration's going to submit -- will it specifically contain language that says that notwithstanding the usual practice in Medicaid, that in the case of abortion states can opt out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It will say -- what it will say is that we are not specifically mandating federal funding. We are also saying we're going to work with the Congress and the states on coming up with a consistent approach.
Q But are you going to -- normally in the budget you have specific legislative language on how these things are done. Will the budget --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We will not have that kind of -- it's a simple striking of the Hyde Amendment with this additional report language that I just outlined.
Q Actually you're just submitting it without the Hyde -- doesn't the Hyde -- that's added every year anyway.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's added every year. And you'll actually -- what you'll see tomorrow is --
Q In fact, hasn't it been Natcher that's edited every -- I don't think it was ever been in the Bush-Reagan budget. It was --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know that Chairman Natcher has been a strong supporter of it. I don't know that he's necessarily been the --
Q I thought he was the guy --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He may have, yes.
Q So you'll just strike it out --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You'll see a black line through the --
Q And you're not going to propose any alternative language at this --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Simply report language. No.
Q So it's all right with the President if, for example, his state, which bans abortion -- state funds for abortion -- it's alright with him if certain states deny it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A lot of this is going to be subject to judicial interpretation. But right now, as you know, there is a mixed situation in the states and we're going to be working through that.
Q Can you give us an update on the possible rehiring of the PATCO workers? Who's working --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's out of the Labor Department. I don't know that we have anything new right now.
Q Who is -- so Reich is handling that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, Secretary Reich.
Q George, on the stimulus package, what parts of the bill does the President consider so crucial that he wouldn't be willing to compromise at all? What just must be protected?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what the President is most concerned about is the summer jobs, the highway funding, the kind of real job creating activity that we could see results from right away. But the President wants to get as much of this package as he can get. He thinks it's all important. But he is willing to make adjustments in the interest of getting it passed.
Q George, Dole says the Republicans in the Senate are going to stand fast. What's the plan to peel off Jeffords, Specter, Cohen? Do you have a plan to win them over?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to continue to press for the package and make sure that everybody in every affected state knows the real job creating benefits to their states. And we're going to continue to enter in discussions and come up with a proposal that can break through the logjam and pass the Senate.
Q You're hinting that there might be something in those states that might bring them over or put into the package. Is that --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that this package already contains real benefits to states across the country -- real jobs.
Q George, along the same line as the question a second ago, where do you hear the most complaints about this package from the opponents -- is it over the block grants? Is it somewhere else? Where is the biggest problem with this package right now?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you're going to have to ask them. We think the package works at this point.
Q Well, that's what they tell you. What are they telling you?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what -- they're saying what they say in the debate. I mean, I think that there are some objections to the package, but you'd have to go to them for the characterization.
Q What's the President working on today and through the rest of this week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has a series of meetings and phone time in his office today. He'll be working on health care. As well, he has a few health care meetings this week. I think he just has general office meetings tomorrow. In addition, he'll probably be joining Mr. Panetta in presenting the budget tomorrow.
Q Any travel plans?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He might do something for Easter weekend, but nothing definite yet.
Q George, on the health plan, are the dates pretty much close to May -- presentation of the health plan or any --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I think we can get it in May.
Q And how is Mr. Rodham doing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Same.
Q No change?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q George, there's a report our of Alabama that the White House denied tour tickets to a group of schoolkids because of the feud with Senator Shelby.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sounds wrong. (Laughter.)
Q Do you know?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would have to check, but it doesn't sound right to me.
Q Well, usually those tickets are worked through the congressional offices, so is it a case where Senator Shelby has now been cut off on access to --
Q Will you take the question and get back to us on it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I really will take the question. It just doesn't sound right to me.
Q George, President Clinton indicated that today he would be thinking about ways of promoting this stimulus package to the American people. Is he planning on doing any travelling or could you give us some details of how --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No definite plans yet, but as the President will continue to press every day in every way that he can on the importance of the job package.
Q Will he go out into the field? Will he go out to the countryside and talk with Americans --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's conceivable. He doesn't necessarily have any travel plans right now.
Q Do you plan to release the President's tax returns sometime before 15th, and what are your plans on the --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if they're done.
Q Or his request for an extension -- (laughter) --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What was that? I'd have to check. I know he's released the tax returns in the past. I would expect that he would again. But we just don't -- I just don't have it.
Q And financial disclosure, do you have a estimate on when that will be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think those are due May 1st, aren't they? Or I'm not -- I'll have to check on that as well.
Q You'll release them here without an individual request?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would expect so.
Q George, the grazing fee issue seems to have ticked off some House members who might be slowing down the President's EPA Cabinet bill. Is the President still confident that he is going to get EPA as a member --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President would like to get EPA as a Cabinet as soon as possible. And I would just point out that he's also still committed to the grazing fee issue and Secretary Babbitt is going to be moving forward on that.
Q What's he going to do to try to appease, like for instance, Representative Synar on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I will just say again that the President's committed to the grazing fees and Secretary Babbitt is moving forward.
Q George, can I go back to Cuomo for a second.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You can try. (Laughter.)
Q Can you describe -- little detail the nature of the relationship between the two of them? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They have a good, respectful relationship. I think that the President values Governor Cuomo's judgment and advice and broad thinking on policy matters. I believe the respect is mutual.
Q Does this controversy over this Supreme Court issue in any way damage that relationship?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there's any controversy.
Q Is the administration going to do anything in particular to help Russia as a result of this nuclear accident?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe we've received any specific requests yet. We have reports but I don't know there's been any specific requests. As you know, in the package we've already presented on Russia, there is funding in both FY '92 and '93 for nuclear safety that goes to both Russia and the republics.
Q Has the President used the new jogging track?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q George, on the review the President has ordered of the intelligence that the Egyptians provided us on the possible terrorist action here, can you provide more detail on what agencies are doing to review?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe it's going to be coordinated out of State, and I think it's broader than just Egypt; probably a general review of terrorism intelligence. But obviously I would expect that that would also include the CIA and the NSA. But I think it will be coordinated out of the State Department. I refer you to them for any further details.
Q Do we know anything from the International Energy Agency or any other international organizations on what the extent of the damage is and the risk?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. Well, we've heard from the Russian ministry of atomic energy, they have stated that the living area in the vicinity is out of danger. We don't have any information on plant personnel. The Russian ministry's first assessment was that this was level three on the seven level international nuclear event scale. That's described as a serious incident. Chernobyl, by example, was a seven. Three Mile Island was a five. As far as we know, the problem's a local problem. According to an IAEA notification the government receive this morning, the Russians have not asked for any assistance.
Q George, in that Russian aid package, the money for nuclear safety -- is that geared more toward nuclear weapons or actual power plants?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's civilian nuclear reactor safety.
Q Given that so many high level military appointments have not yet been made what prompted the promotion yesterday of Lieutenant General Packard?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe that it was -- the rotation was up and it was time.
Q still your plan to have a broad outline of the package on May 3rd even though you won't have the specifics until later in the month?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we'll have the bulk of the package decided by then but I would expect a formal announcement later in the month probably.
Q Are you planning to do something publicly on the third as was indicated?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't know.
Q George, Congresswoman Waters introduced a bill yesterday for community -- to set up community development banks, which is something which Clinton has pushed for. Is that a bill that she worked out with the White House? Does it have the President's support, do you know?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as you know the President is deeply interested in the issue of community development banks. I have not seen the specific proposal. I assume that it will come over to the White House and we'll take a close look at it. But clearly the concept is one we'd like to support.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:28 P.M. EDT