THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS The Briefing Room
10:00 A.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: First we have an announcement. We have a new Deputy Press Secretary for National Security Issues, someone who knows foreign policy -- Don Steinberg. There he is. Stand up, Don.
Q Hi, Don.
Q Hi, Don.
MS. MYERS: Don is a career Foreign Service senior -- Foreign Service officer. He joins us from South Africa, where he was serving as the officer in charge of the embassy in Pretoria. He's also served in overseas posts in other places in Africa, South America and East Asia. He has a Masters in journalism from Columbia, and most importantly, he's a Dodger fan. (Laughter.)
Q Our deepest sympathy. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That was the most important criteria in his coming here.
Q I think journalism was the most important, for a change.
MS. MYERS: That's right. He has credibility, Helen, at least for the first 15 minutes.
Q For a change.
MS. MYERS: For a change. (Laughter.)
Q changed his mind. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Yes, exactly.
At 10:25 a.m. the President will greet General Johnston in the Oval Office where he will award the General with a medal. Then they'll proceed out to the South Lawn and --
Q Do you know what kind of medal?
MS. MYERS: Yes. It's a Defense Distinguished Service medal.
Q Is there coverage of the Oval Office ceremony?
MS. MYERS: Yes. That will be a pool inside the Oval Office, followed by a ceremony with an additional 25 Marines and roughly 30 other campaign veterans from the Navy, Air Force, and Army. These folks just arrived this morning from Mogadishu and this is the first sort of welcome home.
The Joint Chiefs will be there as well as Secretary Powell, Tony Lake, Sandy Berger.
Q General Powell.
MS. MYERS: What did I say -- Secretary? I meant Secretary Aspin and General Powell.
Q You said 25 Marines and how many other --
MS. MYERS: Roughly 30 other from the other branches.
Q And is the last officer --
MS. MYERS: General Johnston is a Marine, by the way.
Q The last Marine is out, the last soldier is out of Somalia now?
MS. MYERS: No, the last part of the forces that are coming home. But there are others that are staying there as part of the U.N. peacekeeping mission.
The rest of the schedule for the day -- at 11:00 a.m., the President will hold his bipartisan leadership meeting. That will be in the Cabinet Room. Pool spray at the top of that meeting.
Q Subject of the meeting?
Q What's on the agenda?
MS. MYERS: Subject -- Bosnia is at the top, as well as reconciliation and I believe they'll talk a little bit about national service.
Q Do you know how long it will be?
MS. MYERS: It's scheduled for an hour. And then at noon, the President has his health care lunch with Democratic senators. That is in the Old Family Dining Room in the Residence, but there's no photo op. At 4:00 p.m. he'll participate in a ceremony for National Nurses Week. That's open press. You won't want to miss it. And 7:30 p.m. he leaves the White House for a tribute to Senator Fulbright. That's at the ANA Hotel. After that he goes to a reception for Latino USA at the Sequoia Restaurant at 10:15 p.m. He'll stay there roughly a half an hour.
Q Coverage of either one?
MS. MYERS: Both of them are pooled.
Q Are they open coverage as well, or just pool?
MS. MYERS: I believe there both pooled, so the pool can be in there for the events.
Q We understand that, but is it also -- are these events otherwise open to the press?
MS. MYERS: They are otherwise closed to the press. Pool only.
Q Pool only -- all right.
Q The pool will be in for his remarks?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q And what are those?
MS. MYERS: At the Fulbright, he'll speak about Senator Fulbright. I don't believe -- and the impact -- as you know, his relationship with Senator Fulbright goes back many, many years.
Q What's the deal on the other one?
MS. MYERS: The Hispanic USA event? Latino USA?
MS. MYERS: Yes. Cinco de Mayo -- I don't think he has any prepared remarks. Probably several foreign languages.
Q Will the Fulbright remarks be piped back into the briefing room do you know?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. Scoop or Dave, will you check that out -- to see if the remarks will be piped back in here.
Q Will they include any remarks about Bosnia or foreign policy in general, or is it all --
MS. MYERS: No. This is very directed toward Senator Fulbright, his contributions and accomplishments.
Q Is the story on vaccines correct?
Q The schedule says they will be piped in.
MS. MYERS: Okay, they will be piped in.
Q Has the President spoken to Warren Christopher today?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of.
Q Do you know when was their last conversation about the consultations?
MS. MYERS: I don't, although the President continues to be informed about the Secretary's progress. They may have spoken. I'll have to get back to you on that.
Q For your information, Latino USA is a new public radio show that's just about to start.
MS. MYERS: Oh. And they're hosting a reception?
Q This week is the public radio conference and there's a reception for this new show. That's what Latino USA is.
MS. MYERS: Got it.
Q This announcement brought to you by --
Q Closed press?
MS. MYERS: No, no, it's not closed press.
Q That's what you said.
MS. MYERS: I didn't say it was closed.
Q Pool only. Otherwise closed to the press.
MS. MYERS: Oh. What's the pool? Don't you guys have that in your --
Q It's in the schedule.
MS. MYERS: It's in the schedule?
Q There are no schedules in the bins again.
Q I don't know why I ever thought to ask her.
MS. MYERS: Brit, I'm sorry if I don't have every particular detail about pool coverage for the day.
Q Is he going to talk about policy toward Latin America at this event?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so, no. This is a reception. He's doing a drop-by at this reception at 10:15 p.m. This is not meant to be a major policy address.
Q Is there a retreat on the vaccine -- or compromise, should say?
MS. MYERS: No. The President is still committed to making vaccines accessible to all two-year-olds. We're continuing to work with Congress to find the best way to move forward with that. And, as you know, we're still -- HHS is still in negotiation with Congress about the specifics, but I would point out that a lot of important points of this program will be preserved, which is making vaccines more affordable and part of the other infrastructure, such as things like tracking and parental education, and other components of the package that the President's committed to.
Q So the story's wrong?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think there's negotiation going on about the purchase of vaccines.
Q So the story is right, he's no longer going to try to make it available to all two-year-olds, just to --
MS. MYERS: No, it will be available --
Q those on Medicaid and those who are needy?
MS. MYERS: The question is -- right -- which part does the government pay for. I think we'll continue to pursue a number of other measures aimed at making vaccines universally available. The question of how much vaccines does the government pay for is what's being debated. But there are other components of the program which are still in place, which include tracking of children to determine their vaccination history, outreach to parents, hiring additional health workers to provide the vaccinations.
Q But, Dee Dee, doesn't this undercut the argument that the White House had that if you corner the market you can reduce the price?
MS. MYERS: We'll continue to work on ways to expand access and decrease the price. We'll have to work with Congress to get a package through. But we believe we can still vastly increase access to vaccinations for children, consistent with the President's commitment.
Q Could you just explain sort of from scratch what the change is and how it will work?
MS. MYERS: Originally, the question as whether or not the government should buy vaccines and distribute them to all children.
MS. MYERS: Right. The issue now is that since many children receive vaccines through their parents' existing health coverage or -- well, particularly through existing health coverage, should the government purchase vaccines for all children or only those who are financially needy. And so the issue is how many vaccines does the government purchase and how do you distribute them.
Q And what's the decision --
MS. MYERS: That's still being negotiated with HHS. The members of the Congress has some concerns about the cost, as Chairman Rostenkowski and others pointed out yesterday. However, we think that ultimately the sort of thrust of the program will be protected, which is to expand access to vaccines.
Q Will he name a new deputy chief of staff?
MS. MYERS: Can't comment on staff changes.
Q Why not? It's on the wires, it's in the newspaper.
MS. MYERS: It's pure speculation. We haven't made an announcement. When we get ready, if we make staff changes, we'll make an announcement. But there's --
Q On the vaccination, the Republicans are proposing that the legislation allow states to require welfare mothers to show proof that their kids have been vaccinated before they can collect their checks. The President campaigned on responsibility for welfare parents. Would he accept that approach?
MS. MYERS: We'd have to review it, and we haven't seen it yet.
Q Was more than one change contemplated? I mean, the President said probably a new deputy. Is anything else in the works?
MS. MYERS: I think as the President pointed out yesterday and I think we pointed out throughout the day, that there will continue to be adjustments. I think that will be ongoing. And beyond that, I don't want to comment about what changes might be contemplated, other than that if there's any major changes, we'll make an announcement.
Q Can you explain -- yesterday, the President said that the best thing to do for a sluggish economy is to cut the deficit, pass the deficit-cutting plan. Just a few weeks ago he thought the best solution for a sluggish recovery was to add $16 billion of deficit spending. Is there a shift in thinking about what the best way to handle the economy is?
MS. MYERS: I think that, one, I think the President has always said he believes the problem needs to be approached on two levels: one was a short-term stimulus package to create jobs immediately to try to keep the economy from stalling again. The other is a long-term program to address the underlying structural problems in the economy. Both of them are very important. Obviously, the President didn't get his jobs package through the Senate for what we believe are partisan political reasons, but he'll continue to press forward on his overall economic plan which, as you know, is working its way through the reconciliation process.
Q Right. But yesterday he said the best think you could do for the economy this year is to pass my deficit cut.
MS. MYERS: I think that in the long term, and certainly beginning -- I think what he was trying to emphasize was that the most immediate benefit from his economic plan was that because of his commitment to deficit reduction, we've seen a reduction, a full-point reduction in interest rates since election day. And that has had a tremendously positive impact on the economy. He's committed to keeping low interest rates by continuing to press for serious and disciplined deficit reduction. We will continue to do that. We will also pursue a number of other measures, both in the economic plan and perhaps in addition to it, to create more jobs. The President is committed to job creation. I think the decline in leading indicators yesterday shows that this recovery remains fragile.
Q Does the President agree with Leon Panetta that investment tax credit is probably dead?
MS. MYERS: I think it's something that we'll continue to work with Congress on. We'll see. I mean, the President believed that investment tax credit, particularly directed towards small business, would help spur investment. But we'll work with Congress and throughout the entire reconciliation package. I think Panetta also said yesterday that he believes the vast majority, 90 percent of the President's reconciliation package will pass.
Q Who are you going to work with on that in Congress?
Q You'll find somebody. (Laughter.)
Q Yes -- nobody appears willing to work with you on that.
MS. MYERS: I think that on the overall reconciliation process and on the specifics of that process, I think there are hundreds of members that are working with us.
Brit, the Latino event will be pool and Latino press. The President will make brief and unprepared remarks.
Q Vaccination was a case where some key players in the Senate like Senator Bumpers were not prepared to go along with that initial plan at all. Is part of the reorganization contemplated in the White House an effort to get a better handle on what can get through the Senate and what seems to be your major stumbling block as far as legislation?
MS. MYERS: I think -- I don't think that any sort of -- first of all, reorganization is too strong a word. I think, as we've said yesterday, we'll continue to make adjustments to respond to changing circumstances throughout the administration. I think all administrations have done that. We will do it as well. I think clearly we've said that we hope to learn from -- not only from our mistakes, but from our successes over the first 100-plus days, and we'll continue to move forward. I think that on any number of initiatives, we'll work with Congress and respond to whatever changes Congress suggests when we think it's appropriate. And immunization is one of them.
Q Has there been too much of a focus on trying to get things through the House and not enough concentration --
MS. MYERS: No. Our focus is on -- I mean, I think it's abundantly clear that getting it through the House is not enough. You need to get it through the Senate. And I think we'll continue to work with the Senate on a number of initiatives.
Q What's the understanding of what's going on in Zepa now? What's the anticipation of the Bosnian Serb assembly's action? And are we going to hear a response to that today, and in what forum?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, we're still waiting for word on what the Bosnian Serb parliament has done. Certainly reports coming out of Zepa are troubling. We are watching that closely to find out what's actually happening. So I think we'll wait and see. Milosevic has addressed the parliament this morning. We'll wait and see. The vote is scheduled sometime later today, although I'm not sure anyone knows exactly when.
Q If I could follow that. Can you guide us whether we can expect something from the President or from you, a piece of paper or something?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think we'll have a response one way or another.
Q The President?
MS. MYERS: Unclear. We'll wait and see what the results are, but I wouldn't rule that out.
Q Whatever the vote, Dee Dee, yes or no from the Serb parliament, how quickly is the administration prepared to go back to the U.N. to get some kind of action either on military strikes, lifting the embargo, or a peacekeeping force? I mean, are you ready to do that tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: If the Bosnian Serbs ratified the agreement today, then, as you know, the U.N. has to sort of accept that, which charges the Secretary General with working with NATO and others to come up with an implementation plan. How long that -- which then has to go back to the U.N. to be ratified yet again before it's actually implemented. I don't think anybody is sure what the time line on that is. Obviously, we'd like to move forward as quickly as possible. In the event that the agreement doesn't pass the Bosnian Serb parliament, we will continue to move forward, as Secretary Christopher is doing this week -- consultations with our allies about further action.
Q Does he has to swing back through to talk to the Europeans again?
MS. MYERS: It's unclear exactly how he would consult. I think he said today that should the Bosnian Serbs reject the peace plan that we would have to have another discussion on some level with our allies. Exactly what form that will take I don't think has been decided. You may know that Secretary Christopher and Foreign Minister Kozyrev put out a joint statement this morning.
Q To the effect that the Russians are willing to participate in a peacekeeping force?
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q Dee Dee, what if there's a more murky response from the Bosnian Serb parliament that says they accept it but with certain conditions attached, namely that the map has to be redrawn. Is the U.S. prepared to support renegotiating Vance-Owen?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll wait and see what the Bosnian Serb parliament does and evaluate the results at the appropriate time.
Q Dee Dee, on Saturday Secretary Christopher stood right where you are standing and said that, almost dismissively about this peace process and said that it would take a lot more than signing a piece of paper and a lot more than words, and said that fighting would have to stop -- laid out three conditions, and by no means suggested that was the only three conditions. None of those thing have happened. Why is the administration now so preoccupied with what the Serbs say instead of what --
MS. MYERS: We absolutely are not preoccupied. I think that we've stood here every day since Secretary Christopher was here and said exactly the same thing, that we need concrete actions on the ground; words and a signature on a piece of paper alone are not enough. I think that one of the things that will happen during the U.N. process should the Bosnian Serbs ratify the peace treaty is that we'll continue to monitor their behavior.
Q When do they have to stop the killing?
MS. MYERS: There is no specific time limit, but obviously this is important. We have made it very clear that it is deeds and not words that we're interested in. And we will continue to watch what they say as well as what they do.
Q But I think the point Carl was just making is that if it's deeds rather than words, deeds are obvious and the words are murky at best. Why is it that we are now suddenly acting as though, well, if they'll just sign this piece of paper --
MS. MYERS: We are not acting that way at all. That's just not true.
Q What have we done in response to the continuing killing on the ground?
MS. MYERS: We're continuing to consult with our allies about further action. We're continuing to make preparations to take further actions should the Bosnian Serbs fail to meet their obligations, both to ratify the peace agreement and to take concrete steps on the ground to show their good faith.
Q Why are further consultations needed before the President's secret military plan could be implemented? I thought this week was the consultations.
MS. MYERS: That's exactly what we're doing. And we've always --
Q But now Christopher says if they don't ratify it and they don't stop fighting, then we'll have to urgently consult again.
MS. MYERS: We've always said that this would be a week of consultations. As you know, we've been discussing a number of things with our allies. The President is in Russia today. He has several -- I mean, the Secretary is in Russia today -- he has several more stops on his trail. We expect to work with our allies to reach some kind of consensus for action. We've always said there is no time line, although we always said the Secretary will return to the United States and consult with the President at the end of this week. We're still on schedule. Nothing has changed.
Q The focus of his talks, though, has shifted from action to force an end to the fighting to the whole peacekeeping effort.
MS. MYERS: I think both topics are being discussed.
Q But he said that they're going to need more consultation before they could take any action to stop the fighting. So it seems -- that would seem to imply that this week's consultations have not made any progress on that issue.
MS. MYERS: I think that is not what Secretary Christopher has said.
Q Dee Dee, has the President sent an answer to those 91 House and Senate members who wrote him saying that if you send peacekeeping troops they want a resolution of approval?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe we've responded to that yet.
Q Is a response forthcoming?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to get back to you on that.
Q Has a decision been made on whether this administration would seek a resolution of approval?
MS. MYERS: We're still reviewing that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MS. MYERS: Thank you.
END10:20 A.M. EDT