THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
12:40 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess I'm just prepared to take questions today.
Q George, Bob Dole says that the Clinton administration's policy on Bosnia is a failure and that he wants the United States to take the lead in lifting the arms embargo so that the Bosnian Muslims can defend themselves.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: As you know, President Clinton has said that that suggestion is under active consideration. Obviously, this is a tragic situation in Bosnia. And if the Bosnian Serbs don't come to the negotiating table in a constructive way, we'll look seriously at pressing for lifting the arms embargo. In the meantime, we're going to continue to press for a tough sanctions resolution in the U.N. We're going to continue to work on the Serbs to come to the negotiating table. But the prospect of an arms embargo is something the President certainly will consider if the Serbs don't come to the table.
Q How much longer are you going to give them to come to the table, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on that right now.
Q It's been a long time.
Q On February 19th, the President mentioned the value added tax in Ohio. And when he was asked about it later by reporters, he said -- quote -- "That is a radical change in the tax system of the United States. It's something I think we may have to look at in the years ahead." Questioned again about it later he says, "It is not something that is now under consideration. If we start considering it, I'll tell you." It wasn't a trial balloon or anything, he said. I was just discussing the tax response to a question. Donna Shalala, quoted in USA Today this morning -- quote - - "Certainly we're looking at a VAT." What's gone on?
Q The same with Alice Rivlin this morning.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The health care task force is reviewing a number of options. They haven't made any decisions yet. And as I have said from this podium time and time again, we're not going to comment on decisions that haven't been made.
Q But you have also said from this podium time and time again --
Q Wait a minute. Whoa, Nelly. Whoa.
Q that that was not under consideration.
Q Yes. Clinton says, "It is not something that is now under consideration." Is that no longer true?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe the working group, as Ms. Shalala says, has looked at this prospect, but no decisions have been made of any kind.
Q Well, I know. But he said he'd tell us about it if it was ever under consideration. I take it that now he is and he didn't tell us about it or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Did he say if it was under consideration or if it was something to be proposed?
Q "If we start considering I'll tell you."
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: If it's something to be proposed?
Q "If we start considering it, I'll tell you." That's a direct quote.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The task force has looked at a number of different options. They have not made any decisions yet. The President has not made any decisions yet. This is -- one of the proposals under consideration by the task force was to go out and cast as wide a net as possible for different ideas on how to reform the health care system. They have cast a very wide net. They have looked at hundreds of different proposals -- probably thousands of different proposals. But the President has not made any decisions.
Q Well, is the President aware of their consideration of this option?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if he's been briefed on any preliminary conclusions or anything like that from the task force on this specific proposal of any kind. I don't know that that's gotten to his level. He started yesterday to go through with the task force a very wide range of decisions and I don't believe that that's been presented to him, no.
Q Well, he's not relying on the USA Today to tell him what his task force is considering in the way of taxes.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, he's going through it in a very deliberate fashion. There are a number of decisions that have to be made. I don't know that this proposal has reached that decisionmaking point.
Q If this is still under consideration, that's a change, at least from what we've been told by Dee Dee, I think about three weeks ago or so. She said, that is not an option, talking about the -- had a big argument with somebody over this, so I remember it specifically -- and said it not once, but twice. Is that not the case?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know if this has been presented to the President as something that is being looked at at some level in the task force.
Q It was ruled it out, though. I mean, unlike other options that you've kept in the mix, this one specifically was ruled out.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, this is something that is being looked at, but no decision has been made of any kind. I mean, it doesn't -- it's not necessarily material until you get to the decision-making phase. The working groups are looking at hundreds of different options.
Q If it was ruled out before and it's not ruled out now, then something has changed, George. Yes, no?
Q When a guy says in February --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the working groups are looking at the widest possible range of options.
Q So something's changed. They weren't looking at it before; they're looking at it now.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I don't know if the working groups have gotten to that point yet. They are casting a very wide net.
Q How was it possible that you and Dee Dee were able to sell -- definitively rule it out as an option previously and now are saying that, in fact, it is being considered?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the working groups are looking at a wide range of options. They have not --
Q Do you deny that you and Dee Dee ruled it -- flatly ruled it out on several occasions in the past month?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't deny that -- I mean, those are the President's words. Those are very clear.
Q Subsequent to the President's words, do you deny that within the last month you and Dee Dee have both publicly ruled it out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about the timing. I think what we did was refer back to the President's words and say they stand.
Q So don't they stand any longer?
Q March 25th, Clinton said for the next four to five years it was ruled out.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, those words -- the President did say that in February. The working groups are on a separate track, and as I said, I don't believe --
Q Separate from the President?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't believe this has been presented to the President.
Q Are they considering something that the President --
Q Has ruled out?
Q has ruled out? I mean, will the President consider a VAT tax?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the working groups have not presented this to the President. They have looked at a wide range of options. I suppose that if an argument is made, he will clearly listen to it. That does not mean he has decided to do it.
Q Can we put this another way? In his answer in Ohio, he looked at the VAT in terms of restructuring the whole tax system. Under those -- that was the circumstance that he said it might be considered at some future point. Is that no longer the case, or is that the only way that he can see a VAT emerging?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I guess I'm not sure exactly what you're asking.
Q He talked about the VAT in the context of a restructured tax system, not as a specific way to finance health care, for example.
Q Or anything else.
Q Or anything else.
Q It was always in the context of substituting for other taxes at a time of a dramatic overhaul of the whole tax system.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right.
Q Has that change, too?
Q Is that still his view?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I haven't spoken about those specific comments. I think -- I can just go back to it -- are the working groups -- have they examined the possibility of a VAT? Yes, they have.
Q Certainly we're looking at a VAT, she said.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They have examined the possibility of a VAT. Has it been presented to the President? Has he made a decision? No, he has not.
Q What kind of a deal do you have when you've got the President's appointed task force, obviously not oblivious to his ruling something out except in the context of some huge down the line reform, goes ahead on its own and considers a tax which he has specifically ruled out in any context other than much later, and then goes ahead and announces that that's what they're looking at? Is the President concerned about that sort of thing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that the President's concern is to make sure he gets the best health care proposal possible. He's concerned with making sure that they have the most thorough process for examining all the possible alternatives, all the different alternatives. If a decision is made to go forward with something like that it's certainly something the President will explain and justify. But no decision has been made along those lines.
Q What does it mean exactly, though, when the President rules something out? Does it mean it can get back on the table later if a more persuasive argument is made?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's just -- that's indisputably true. If you -- but, at the same time, he has not ruled it in. He has not made a proposal.
Q What makes him open to it now when he wasn't open to it before?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's certainly willing to listen to the argument.
Q Was he willing to listen to the argument for a short-term tax this year, and he wasn't willing to listen to it in Chilicothe? He's now open to it --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The context of his comments was that it was not something -- he wanted to be clear that this is not something he was proposing, not something he was floating.
Q Not something he was considering. Those are his words -- "It's not something that's now under consideration. If we start considering it, I'll tell you." You're now acknowledging, are you not, that it is under consideration and --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm acknowledging that the task force has studied this proposal. I am also stating that the President has not made a decision on it.
Q But the door is open for the President to reconsider including this as part of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously, the working groups are looking at it. Again, but the President has not made a decision.
Q Do you know if they will make a presentation on behalf of the VAT to him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that. I assume that if -- I don't know what stage they are it in proposing. I don't know that they're going to make the conclusion that this is something they should present to him. I know this is something the working groups are looking at.
Q Do you understand, George, that none of us are asking these questions in context of a decision that the President has made, only about what the President is considering?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that, and I am acknowledging that the working groups have examined the issue of a VAT.
Q And the President will consider it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume that he will consider the argument if it is presented to him.
Q Does that mean the President -- that working groups think that when the President says no, he means maybe? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that means that the working groups are trying to do the most thorough job possible.
Q George, can I ask you another question about Bosnia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure. (Laughter.)
Q No, he wants us to stay on this.
Q Let's do gays in the military. (Laughter.)
Q No, he got out of that swamp.
Q I think we've gotten the bottom line on that VAT. Reggie Bartholomew, your Special Ambassador in Belgrade, today said that if the Serbs do not accept the agreement that has been worked out -- quote -- "We will do our part to pursue the lifting of the arms embargo together with our allies." That seems to go a bit further than what you've just said --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sounds almost exactly what I just said.
Q Well, do you accept -- in other words, you accept what Reggie --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President has said that this is something that's under consideration. It is something he will consider if the current actions don't bring the Serbs to the table.
Q Isn't there some kind of timetable here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, there is a timetable. There's going to be a vote on the U.N. resolution in about 10 days.
Q That's on sanctions, that's on tightening the sanctions.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right, that's sanctions. And we believe that that will ratchet up the pressure, and we hope that that will bring the Serbs to the table. As you know, Mr. Bartholomew also met with Mr. Churkin of Russia, and they are also working on ways to bring the Serbs to the table. We will continue to pressure them in many different ways and this is one possible option as well.
Q The question is whether there's a timetable for consideration or a vote on a decision on lifting the arms embargo, not the sanctions.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The next vote in the U.N. is on sanctions. As far as I know, there are no votes scheduled on lifting the arms embargo. But it is something that we have discussed both internally and with our allies.
Q Why did Reggie Bartholomew tell the Serbs that the U.S. would do that? What was the point of his telling them that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, clearly, I mean, this is something that's under consideration, and this is something that we take quite seriously if they do not come to the table. They should know the consequences of failing to come to the table.
Q Have they been given a deadline?
Q Warren Christopher has been saying the same thing and it hasn't seemed to change the Serbs' behavior in the least. Why should the Serbs take any heed of a threat to lift the arms embargo when so far everything that's been done has had no effect on the fighting in Bosnia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just don't accept the premise of your question. It has had an effect; the embargo is having an effect.
Q What effect?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: If the Serbians choose not to heed our warnings, then they will face the consequences.
Q What effect has it had in Bosnia?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the effect that it has had on the Serbians, it has tightened up -- they are not getting their shipments through. We can brief more fully --
Q In Bosnia, George. In Bosnia what effect has it had?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it's hard to say if it's stopped the aggression to date. That is why we're continuing to press for the Serbians to stop. But we believe that over time we will continue to weaken the Serbs and that will have an effect. I'm not saying it's going to happen overnight; it clearly hasn't happened overnight. But we believe that over time the sanctions can weaken the Serbs. If it fails to work and if the Serbs fail to come to the negotiating table, we'll move forward with the embargo.
Q Isn't there a working deadline, George, of the 24th -- the same date as the U.N. -- the scheduled U.N. vote? Hasn't the United States said, along with many of the other NATO allies, that if the Serbs aren't willing to sign on to the peace accord by then, that we'll seek -- haven't we said that we will seek --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We've said continually we're going to --
Q But on that deadline?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have a specific date, but we're going to move forward with the resolution, the U.N. resolution, by around that time. And if that fails to take effect, if that fails to bring the Serbs to the table, we will clearly consider other actions.
Q Isn't this awfully incremental?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're taking a step-by-step approach. We're ratcheting up the pressure and we're going to continue to do that.
Q Is there a possibility, George, that by the time all these incremental steps are taken the Serbs will have achieved their goals and then what's the purpose?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the purpose is to get the Serbs to stop the aggression. We are pursuing that goal on many different fronts. We are pursuing it through the U.N.; we're pursuing it through direct talks; we are pursuing it through tightening the sanctions. And we will consider lifting the arms embargo. We are turning the screws up on the Serbs and we will continue to do that.
Q But if the efforts have been unsuccessful in getting the Serbs to stop the aggression how effective will any campaign be to have the Serbs give back what they've gained? I mean, once they're entrenched --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't speculate on that. We're going to continue to press for them to come to the table now. We're going to continue to find ways to stop the aggression. But I can't see into the future.
Q George, on the stimulus package, House Republicans say they're going to hold a series of town meetings on Saturday to try and explain the details of your package. They cite polls which show that the more people learn about it, the less they like it. What's your strategy to counter that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The strategy we have is the one we're going to continue. As you saw, the President today pointed up the very real benefits of the summer jobs program that this package will provide: 700,000 new summer jobs this summer for kids in inner cities and suburbs to do productive work. We are also going to point out the benefits of the highway money, the investments in highways. We're going to point up the benefits of immunization. We're going to point up the benefits of Head Start. We are going to say that the Republicans have a choice: they can take action to create jobs or they can perpetuate the gridlock of the last four years.
Q Does it concern you, though, that the House now, the House Republicans are after you as well as the Senate?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The House Republicans voted against it before. They made a mistake then; they're making a mistake now.
Q George, does it strike anybody in the administration that it's a bit strong to describe, as the President did this morning, the summer jobs program as -- quote -- "a reaffirmation of a promise of America"?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not at all. I think it's the promise of America to give kids a chance to reach their full potential.
Q Government-funded jobs?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: To give people a chance to work? Absolutely. That is the promise of America.
Q I want to follow up on something I asked yesterday -- where does 700,000 summer jobs, where does that figure come from?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That is on top of. I did look at it. There are currently 600,000 summer jobs in the pipeline. This will be on top of the 600,000, so it will be a total of 1.3 million.
Q The 700,000 would be created by the stimulus package?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Where does that number come from? Because we've been told all along that the stimulus package would create 500,000 new jobs. And according to Panetta, that breaks down to something like 200,000 full-time jobs and 150,000 summer jobs.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, but the summer -- that's when you do their full-time equivalence. I mean, 700,000 individuals will receive jobs this summer. When you calculate it for the full-time job effect, you have to do -- I don't know what the exact formula is.
Q Seven hundred thousand part-time jobs --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: -- 150,000 or --
Q One to four because it's three months.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Thank you.
Q Can I follow up on that? Did the President misspeak this morning when he said that some of the government money for these summer jobs will pay for private -- for kids to work in the private sector?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not necessarily. I mean, I think that there will be grants available. That's one of the ways that you pay for the jobs. At the same time, he's also issued a challenge to the private sector to hire kids on their own as well.
Q Tax dollars, for instance, would pay for kids to work at Time-Warner?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the Time-Warner is actually somebody coming forward and actually doing a grant. That's going to be the bulk of it. There could be isolated instances, though, where there would be grants to businesses.
Q Has the President spoken with any Senate Republicans this week?
No, but there's been a lot of contact with Senate Republicans in the White House.
Q At a lower level. But the President hasn't?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has not, no.
Q Getting any closer to get the votes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're continuing to work on it.
Q Anybody leaning your way?
Q On Haiti, The New York Times seems to be reporting something of a breakthrough in Aristide's attitude towards the coup leaders. Can you confirm that there has been this change, and what impact will it have on the process? And what did Pezzullo have to say yesterday in his report?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Pezzullo did brief the principals. I can't confirm what's actually happening in the talks. I would leave that to the negotiators themselves. But Mr. Caputo has returned to Haiti. We have received a briefing here at the White House from Ambassador Pezzullo. And as we have said time and time again, we believe that assurances of security are important to a final resolution to a broader political settlement.
Q George, yesterday you offered some selective breakdowns of how the stimulus would impact some states and cities. Can we get a complete breakdown by state of how these jobs would be impacted?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we have it for most states, yes. And I think we can get it out.
Q Could you make that generally available?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe we can.
Q And could you do it by the component of the stimulus? In other words --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if we can do -- I know that we can do it by summer jobs and other jobs. I don't know how deeply it can be broken down. But clearly, we can break it down into summer jobs and other jobs.
Q And can I follow up? Is this the information that Jeff Eller and the rest of the White House is using in the ads in the states?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if they're ads, but they're press releases.
Q Can you describe what those press releases contain?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: All we're doing is pointing out the benefits of this package to various states. For instance, I know that today Senator Dole is heading up to Vermont and New Hampshire. And I would point out that the stimulus package, the jobs package creates 1,000 jobs in Vermont. It creates 2,000 jobs in New Hampshire. And the people of those states should remind him that this is important.
Q Where are the releases going?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They go to the states.
Q To whom?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We can get them. It's no problem.
Q Can we get it?
Q Why don't you put them out here as well?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we can.
Q This afternoon? Would that be possible?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll have to check. I don't know. But as soon as we can.
Q Are you focusing these press releases on states where there are moderate or pragmatic Republican senators?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we're trying to get as many as we can. It's actually quite difficult to pull this together and we're doing our best. We're putting them out as we get them.
Q Why are you so closely tracking Senator Dole's schedule?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I was just following it.
Q Are press releases going along to states where he's visiting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure. I think that probably there are press releases going to Vermont. (Laughter.)
Q Will there be a man in a chicken suit waiting? (Laughter.)
Q George, as the President goes about the business of defending what's in his stimulus package, he doesn't address what seems to be the Republicans' main point, that you're funding it with deficit spending rather than "if it's so important, why not come up with the funding for it" seems to be the Republican argument. And how do you answer that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What was answer is, we are paying for it over time. And if you look at our budget, we pay for this package over time. We believe right now the economy needs a jumpstart for jobs.
Q You're not claiming, are you, that that doesn't add to the deficit this year?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm saying we're paying for it over time. I didn't say that.
Q I know that, George. But I mean, from the beginning, the question -- we do have annual budgets and things -- deficit spending will pay for that this year, will it not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This year they clearly will. But over time our budget fully pays for this program.
Q What you're saying is that there are savings that would cover this if it were this year in future years?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely. That's exactly what I said.
Q I know that, but there is going to be outstanding debt, it will add to the national debt from this year --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, we're reducing the deficit by $500 billion -- $514 billion over the next four years.
Q You mean you're reducing it below what it would have been?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Exactly.
Q In fact, you're adding a very large amount to the national debt over the period of --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: But we're reducing it far more from what it would have been. That's true.
Q Washington-type reduction. (Laughter.)
Q You're getting to be a grumpy old man.
Q George, has any decision been made about the White House or the President's participation in the gay rights march coming up in a week and a half?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're working on the President's schedule now. I believe he's going to be at the Senate Democratic retreat in Jamestown that weekend.
Q Will he address it by phone?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about that. It's a little far out, but I believe he's going to be in the Senate retreat.
Q So will he have the leaders in a day or two before the speech?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. I would expect that at some point he would meet with the leaders of some of these groups. I don't know the schedule on it, though.
Q Will there be an AIDS czar appointed prior to or in conjunction with the event?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not sure.
Q April 22nd is Earth Day. What is the President going to do to mark that, and is it the case that he is going to sign the biodiversity treaty that day?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know there's been some work on the biodiversity treaty. I don't know about signing it that day, but I would expect he'll have a statement on Earth Day or right around then.
Q Where is the work on the biodiversity treaty?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to check with Katie McGinty. I just know that there's been some work done, but I don't know exactly what.
Q When is Earth Day?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The 22nd, I think.
Q Why is it you know that he is going to have a statement on Earth Day but you don't know if he's going to have a statement on the gay rights march?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I said I don't know if he's going to meet or when he's going to meet.
Q Do you have a statement on the gay rights march?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't, actually, no. I wouldn't be surprised if he did, though.
Q Do you have some details on the Miyazawa visit?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a working visit on Friday and the President is looking forward to that in discussing a number of issues including Russian aid and the Japanese stimulus package and the trade issues between the two countries.
Q There was some expectations that a second aid package to Russia was going to be unveiled at the G-7 meeting and, if I understand, it hasn't happened. Why is that or what's the status on that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The G-7 meeting is still going on and, as you know, Secretaries Bentsen and Christopher have talked about the outlines of a possible package. But we're going to continue to consult with Congress and our G-7 allies on that.
Q? We will not then make any kind of announcement during the two-day meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The meeting's not over yet.
Q Is that when you're going to make one?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not ruling out the possibility.
Q the President's going to announce it tomorrow.
Q Bentsen said that.
Q Yes, Bentsen said it would be tomorrow.
Q So did Christopher.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to look at that, but I believe it is more likely that the announcement will come out of Tokyo.
Q George, has there been further consideration here about going to -- sending the President out to Los Angeles?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know that there's -- it's not something we've ruled out. We don't have a date set for it.
Q George, you all have a position or do you support Immigration's plan to settle 4,000 Iraqi prisoners in the United States?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's the first I've heard of it.
Q George, there was a report today about the --
Q Fortunately. (Laughter.)
Q about the pace of appointments and says that President Clinton is behind President Bush in the number of positions that people have been nominated for. Are you going to speed up the pace of nominations or where do you stand with it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We filled 814 of the President's appointments. And it's broken down -- we have 384 Schedule C; 147 noncareer SES; 213 PAS full-time. I'm not sure what that means -- (laughter) -- 70 PA full-time. And this is about the same -- it's about the same pace of President Bush. Obviously, as you move along farther, once you -- each level of appointment actually has a multiplier effect and frees up far more appointments. So we expect the process to speed up. But we're at the pace of Bush. Obviously we'd like to get these done as quickly as possible.
I would point out that the FBI background checks and the background check is far more comprehensive and it takes more time than our predecessors, and that is part of the holdup. But we're working on it.
Q Is that because of Nannygate?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's an awful big part of it, yes.
Q In the story this morning, you were at approximately the same pace as Bush in making appointments, but way behind in winning confirmations.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's where the background checks comes into play. That's the problem.
Q That's the background checks problem? Because I mean, you have a Democratic Senate --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, that's not the -- you make the appointments, and then it takes quite a bit of time to fill out all the forms and have the background checks done. That's exactly where the problem is.
Q What's the President doing this afternoon, and what's on the plan for tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He's got some meetings -- just office meetings this afternoon for the most part, on a variety of issues that -- probably a half-dozen different issues. And then he'll be -- tomorrow we'll have an event, probably again focused on the stimulus and jobs package out of here at the White House. And Friday is the Miyazawa meeting.
Q Will you be releasing his tax return tomorrow, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Either tomorrow or Friday.
Q Is there going to be a pre-briefing regarding the Japanese Prime Minister's visit tomorrow?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know about tomorrow, but we'll probably get something done, as we usually do, for these visits.
Q Was Reverend Jackson here this morning and do you know what that was about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He was here. He met with a group of us here at the White House, including Mack McLarty.
Q Reverend Jackson.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Reverend Jackson. Mack McLarty, me, Gene Sperling, Bruce Reed, Jeff Watson, Mark Gearan.
Q Talking about Haiti?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We talked about general urban policy. He is about to go to Los Angeles. He was just back from Mississippi, where we had a good victory last night; and he's going on to Los Angeles.
Q Did he request the meeting?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Actually, no. He's in continual contact with the President. He had written a letter on a variety of issues, and so we asked him to come in and talk about it.
Q George, Dole is having a fundraiser for Jeffords tonight in Vermont. Have you guys been in contact with Jeffords at all on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there's been some contact, sure.
Q Can you tell us about the contacts?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure --
Q Do you know who contacted him or what was said?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know that Howard Paster talked to him and they just has a general talk about the package.
Q And did he express his support for it now, or is he --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't divulge the details of the conversation, but there have been conversations.
Q The L.A. Times is reporting that abortion -- elective abortions is likely to be included in the basic health care package. Is this something the President is considering?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again --
Q Along with the VAT? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's certainly something that's been looked at, but no decisions have been made.
Q What was the question?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The L.A. Times story on whether abortions will be covered by the President's health plan.
Q Did the President in his meeting -- did you in your meeting with Reverend Jackson ask his advice, solicit his advice about what kind of stance the White House should take in the wake of the verdict in L.A.?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we certainly talked about the situation in Los Angeles and the long-term prospects for economic development and other issues.
Q For instance, did you discuss whether it would be helpful for the President to go there or not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we discussed a wide range of issues related to Los Angeles. That was certainly one of them.
Q Letting you perhaps go out on the way you came in, I need to go back to Bosnia just for a second and ask --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, good.
Q your reaction to Margaret Thatcher's comments that you're just sitting by and watching a massacre.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, we've been pushing very hard on a number of fronts for more aggressive action. We will continue to do that.
Q Can you tell us if you've made any progress in your talks on the stimulus package getting a compromise? I mean, we don't have any feel except talks are ongoing. Have you talked to like 20 people or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know the numbers. We've talked to several people and we've had wide-ranging sessions.
Q Anyone leaning your way?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I can't get into that. We're just going to keep working through Tuesday.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:10 P.M. EDT