THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS
The Briefing Room
1:05 P.M. EDT
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President's going to go to Frederick, Maryland tomorrow about 10:00 a.m. to visit a housing construction site. He'll probably also be going out to Quantico this afternoon to present the awards at the basketball tournament at the Marine barracks.
Q That what?
Q Awards at what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Awards -- it's their best ball golf tournament for the seniors, and he's going to be presenting the awards.
Q And what else is he doing there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's all.
Q What is the coverage at Quantico?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's closed.
Q Best ball --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's a golf tournament.
Q Why would that be closed?
Q Tomorrow, George, is he actually going to build -- work on the construction or do any participation there?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he'll actually -- I don't think he's going to do any work on it, no. If he does, I'll let you know.
Q Why is he going there?
Q Why -- Quantico?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I just think -- we just don't have any facilities for that. I can double-check on it, but he's just going out and giving the awards.
Q The pool is going protectively, there's no reason why they can't shoot the event.
Q stand real close --
Q The President will be at a golf course, George. Would he consider playing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he's going to, no.
Q His clubs are in the van? (Laughter.)
Q Well, what is this housing project --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's just a housing project. He's going to go out, and I think he's going to go out with the family.
Q Is this -- where there -- some homeless people will get a chance to have a house, or is this a house that's being redone, or a big development or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it is a new construction. As the President pointed out this morning, we've had quite a good increase in new home sales in the last month, and it's the kind of thing he wants to point attention to.
Q This is on the side of the realtor, not the homeless, right, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me?
Q This is on the side of the realtor, not the homeless?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, exactly. (Laughter.)
Q (inaudible) --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the most important effects of the President's economic program so far has been a dramatic decline in interest rates, which has made new homes available to a lot more American families.
Q George, the President just said that he is obviously aware of the public and private concerns expressed by senators about Lani Guinier. Is he prepared to proceed with that nomination, given the opposition and the very cool comment by the Chairman, Joe Biden --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, as he said, he believes that she's a fine civil rights lawyer and that her views have been mischaracterized. But he also said that he wants to consult with the Democratic senators and others over the next couple of days and hear what they have to say.
Q If he's persuaded that a significant number of senators are opposed to the nomination and it is not going to succeed, will he decide to pull the nomination, or try to persuade her to drop out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the important thing is first he has to consult, and after that we'll have more to say. But he wants to be able to consult with the senators. And until we've completed that, he just said -- as he said just about a half hour ago, that we just don't want to comment any further.
Q Has he discussed this with her, the problem of the nomination with her?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he's had any direct conversation the last day or two.
Q Has anyone else talked to her?
Q that he doesn't agree with all of her writings. Which writings does he disagree with?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't have a complete list. I mean, I don't know that every single writing that he's looked at -- he just thinks that basically her writings have been mischaracterized in a lot of the press. I don't know that he would necessarily advocate all of the different remedies that she may have advocated at a different time or another. But I can't go into it in any specific detail on that.
Q George, was the White House surprised by this opposition that's been generated given her paper trail and the extents of writings she has done?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, again, I think that you have to go back and see how the writings have been characterized. And I think that given that, it's hard to understand how there hasn't been more, given the distortion of her writings. But I think that there are some concerns in the Senate, and we're clearly going to be talking to them over the next couple days.
Q George, how are they distorted?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that if you -- for one good example, I think that a lot of the writings, for instance, in the Wall Street Journal editorial page, have been redacted in a way that doesn't really give a good explanation of what she said. They take certain things out of context, and that's basically what I'm talking about.
Q You're talking about her interpretation of the Voting Rights Act?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's what some of the writings have been about -- some of the interpretations of her writings have been about.
Q Is that what the President disagrees with among her writings?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't have a catalog of all her writings in front of me, I just think that -- and I don't know that he's read every single writing, but there have been -- but he does have some concerns.
Q Can you give us one example --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll get back to you.
Q Who has been in contact with her from the White House? From the White House, who's been in --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, there was meetings yesterday. She's been in contact --
Q Yesterday? Here?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know if she was here yesterday. I know that there were some representatives here.
Q Is she here today?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge. I can check.
Q Can you tell me if the President read her writings recently or previously? The writing statement he made is that, based on a recent and new reading of the writings?
Q Since he nominated her.
Q Has he read this stuff since he nominated her?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's read some --
Q Would you repeat the, please. We cannot hear the questions back here.
Q Has he read what she's written recently, or was this before the nomination?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he's read some summaries of her writings recently, since the nomination.
Q George, in reference to your first statement, how are you feeling? What's your role going to be in the future, and how are the briefings going to be handled?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I feel fine. I feel good about the new responsibilities I'm going to have with the President. It's very close to what I did when I first started with him. I'm going to be working with him on policy matters, on troubleshooting, political work and trying to make sure that the politics and the policy hang together in his office, and we're going to be working very closely together. So I feel very good about that.
As far as the rest of the operation, I think that Mack has said that he's going to be making further announcements very soon. I don't have an exact date, and I should leave that to him.
Q On briefing officers?
Q continue doing the briefings?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think until David Gergen gets here, clearly we'll stick with the same system, and then I would expect that it wouldn't necessarily be a dramatic change, but I won't be briefing.
Q George, just to go back to Guinier, you said that he had read summaries of her writings since the nomination. Had he read any of her writings prior to nominating her?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm just not sure exactly what he had read prior to the nomination. He clearly read -- I think he had seen some materials. I don't know which of the writings. I'll just have to take that question --
Q And one other thing is, assuming for sake of argument that her views have in fact been substantially distorted, is there any concern over the fact that essentially the opponents of her have had pretty much a free ride for several weeks to define her with very little concentrated effort from the administration to defend the nominee and until just the last few days to counter the -- what you now characterize as distortions and misinterpretations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm not sure I necessarily agree with that. I mean, I think that we did review what's been written about Lani Guinier. We did work with her and work with the committee. She's been visiting many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee and other Senators since the nomination, and we've been working quite hard and quite closely with her since the nomination.
Q George, could you tell us more about the private reservations the President said had been expressed to him, and why he feels those people will now feel better about her as a candidate when he says he disagrees with her own -- the writings --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think he said he disagrees with -- he said that he didn't necessarily agree with all of her writings. Yes, I think that some senators have clearly expressed their reservations, some publicly and some privately as well. I don't have a list of who he's talked to.
Q But the letter the New York Times wrote about, is that what he's expressing -- referring to -- or is that considered a public reservation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I don't know the letter -- I know that they referred to senators being against it. I don't -- didn't see the letter that they talked about.
Q (inaudible) --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I don't know that that was necessarily in a letter.
Q Does the President feel that on health care it would be better to wait to unveil it until the budget is out of conference and actually enacted rather than just simply out of committee? Is this what he means by not --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that he hopes that we can get health care as soon as possible. But he wants to focus first on the budget. Clearly we want to get as much done with the budget as we possibly can. And I think it's hard to say -- to set an exact date until we have a better sense of exactly how the budget is progressing. But clearly you have to be sensitive to the budget as you're considering unveiling health care.
Q But by getting as much done as you can, does that mean actual enactment rather than focusing on conference and health care at the same time?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that that's what we're going to be looking at over the coming days and weeks. But right now we're focused on getting the economic package through. We're trying to make some progress there. And it hasn't even gone to the committee yet. And that's what we're paying attention to right now.
Q But could it be delayed until September? Have you ruled that out?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we want to go as quickly as we can. We'd like to get it done much before that -- in June if possible. But first we have to make some progress on the budget.
Q It could up after the August recess?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes. I mean -- I suppose anything's possible. We're focused on trying to get it done in June as quickly as we can.
Q George, can I follow up on Lani, one more question, please -- turning David's question around, could you tell us what writings of hers the President most closely does agree with?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I'll have to get back to you on all the -- I don't have a list of her writings with me today.
Q congressmen were down here yesterday on this, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, there were no congressmen here as far as I know.
Q George, on Lani, are you saying that the members of the Judiciary Committee or even any members of the United States Senate might have been influenced by the distortions, or is this just a public relations battle you're concerned about?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think it -- clearly, some of the things that have been written in the public realm are not an accurate reflect of what she's written. So that does affect -- that affects not only public relations but it can have an affect on the vote. We've been doing our best to make sure that people do have an accurate reflection of what she says. She's been trying to talk about that in her meetings with the senators. She is also, I believe, visiting some editorial boards today, and she's going continue to do that.
Q What I'm wondering is, if you feel that there is an influence on these senators that wouldn't be there if they simply studied her writings, that maybe there -- the word coming off the Hill is not an honest --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I wouldn't say that at all. I mean, they're going to review the writings for themselves and make their own judgments.
Q George, you left some distance and so has the President between himself and Lani Guinier today by saying he disagrees with some things and not reaffirming he -- I mean, you're not saying he definitely intends to go ahead, is that correct?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He said that thinks she's a good lawyer. He says that he thinks that her writings have been mischaracterized, and he wants to consult with senators as we move forward.
Q George, that's not exactly --
Q I'm not finished the questioning -- if Lani Guinier were to stand up today and say she'd like to withdraw her nomination, would the President be pleased or would you try to dissuade her from doing that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Lani Guinier is going forward with the nomination. We support that nomination.
Q But, George, isn't it a little late in the game to be expressing these kinds of reservations? And what was said today was not exactly a ringing endorsement of her nomination at this point from the White House.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what was said today is not very different from what the President said in a press conference in the Rose Garden two weeks ago, where he -- again, he did say that her prime responsibility was going to be to enforce the laws, not as a policymaker.
Q But at that point he didn't express reservations in some of her beliefs or writings.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to go back and check the transcript for exactly what he said. Clearly, what we saw this morning was an expression from the Senate, and the President wants to consult with the Senate as we move forward. There were strong reservations expressed this morning.
Q George, when the President talks about consultation in this instance, is it the same thing as when he consulted with European leaders about Bosnia -- that that's -- when they said no, he just had to back down?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think what he wants to do is get a close reading of their view of what's happening in the Senate; what they think; why they have their reservations; what the focus of their reservations are.
Q And if they say absolutely no, he's open to following their advice?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think we have to wait and see what happens with the consultations.
Q George, have you taken a preliminary vote count in the Senate that shows 10 or more Democrats opposed to it?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there's any formal vote count, no.
Q Is there an informal one?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. I haven't seen a list.
Q What's your reading in the opposition?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things we see is there clearly have been reservations and opposition expressed in some quarters. What we want to do is get a closer reading of that.
Q George, did the President reread some of her or read for the first time some of her writings after he was asked about it at the press conference two weeks ago and after more of this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would have to check the timing. I just don't have the exact timing.
Q Following up an earlier question, until the letter, the Howard Paster letter was circulated on the Hill last week, what effort did the White House make publicly to come to her defense and try to stop her from being mischaracterized or defamed --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It would have been hard to break through that travel story. I don't know. We had people working all the time on -- working with her defense, working with her meetings --
Q Quietly, behind the scenes, but what public expression was there by anyone from this podium, the Cabinet level, from Janet Reno --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I know that I was asked from this podium and said that I supported her, and we supported her.
Q But there was no effort to see that there was a problem on the Hill and to rally behind her and to try to sell this candidate.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's simply not true. There was a constant effort to work with Lani Guinier. We were working with her in her consultations with the Senate. We were helping arrange her visits. We were working on her writings and answering the arguments on her writings. We supported her from this podium, and the President supported her from his. I just don't accept the contention.
Q George, on Guatemala, last week you announced when President Serrano had his -- coup, you announced that the United States was reviewing all foreign aid to Guatemala. Yesterday President Serrano was removed totally from office. What is the position of the White House on that? And how about the aid or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Obviously we're monitoring that situation very closely. And even though things seem to be moving in a positive direction, we have not yet lifted the suspension of the aid. But we're going to continue to follow it closely.
Q Who will be attending for the U.S. tomorrow at the OAS?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have the name, but we will be attending.
Q Is Mr. Serrano coming here to the United States -- on the way?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I've heard that he is. I don't have any official confirmation of that, but I have heard that he is. I have seen the same reports.
Q Also, on Bosnia, Prime Minister Mulroney said the United States would improve its standing, its leadership position among European nations on the Bosnia issue. If it sent ground troops either to Bosnia or perhaps to Macedonia, what's your response to that comment?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, our position on ground troops remains the same. We will send ground troops to enforce a peace agreement. That's the only position the President supports at this time.
Q Is that hurting the U.S. ability to lead the Europeans --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. We're supporting the efforts. We're supporting them strongly. We will continue to do that.
Q One other one. Prime Minister Mulroney also made a strong statement for a blockade against Haiti. He said he's ready to send Canadian forces. And both the President and the Prime Minister said it's time to do something different on Haiti. What's next?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that we obviously are concerned by the breakdown or the potential breakdown in the negotiations. That's not something that we like to see. And we're looking at further and stronger actions now, but I have no announcement.
Q Mr. Mulroney said -- used the phrase military assets in terms of bringing in help or changing policy toward Haiti. Did he urge the President to do that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge, but I'll have to check.
Q George, the President has had sterling things to say about Ms. Guinier's character and experience and fitness to serve every chance he's gotten. Is there an idea or a single idea that she's advanced that makes her an attractive candidate to this point of view?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that if you look at the body of her career, I mean, she certainly has been a leading civil rights attorney. Again, I can't comment on the specifics.
Q I'm trying to separate the resume side from the intellectual side. Is there an idea that makes her attractive from the President's --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She's strongly committed to civil rights, she's strongly committed to the enforcement of her civil rights laws. I don't want to get into an analysis here of her academic writings.
Q Is his consultation with the senators this week by way of lobbying in her behalf, or is it more by way of counting the votes?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think you always -- I mean, you learn a lot when you talk to the senators and find out what the situation is, and that's what we're going to do. We're trying to find out the nature of the objections and trying to find out what the situation is.
Q Is there any concern in the White House that if you all pull down Guinier's nomination that it will contribute to an attitude by some people on the Hill that this is a White House that you can roll?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, we're going to make the best judgment we can based on the prospects in the Senate, and that's why we're discussing what's going on in the Senate now.
Q political damage that could be done to the White House just by -- even by pulling her name down, that has nothing to do with her nomination --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, that's a hypothetical at this point. We believe, as the President said, that she is a good civil rights lawyer and we're going to consult with the Senate on the nomination.
Q In view of the new position created for you and the new position created for Gergen, is the President still committed to a cut of 25 percent in White House staff?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that clearly we would like to achieve that. We're going to see -- we have until October 1st to make that. But, as the President has also said, this has led to a lot of constraints on --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: This has led to a lot of constraints on the staff. But we're going to continue to look at it.
Q Well, it sounds like you're kind of fudging -- that you might be abandoning the 25 percent staff cuts.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, October 1st is the effective date.
Q Well, do you have any compensatory staff cuts in mind if you're still on track?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Mack will be announcing more -- the final staff changes when he's got them fully done.
Q But do you expect that some positions will be eliminated to offset ones that are being created.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I simply don't know what the structure will be. Mack has not completed his review yet.
Q What are you going to do about Secretary Aspin? Is he has going to get a letter of reprimand from the President? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: For what?
Q Is he going to get a letter of reprimand from the President? He's violated the rules, and he's violated ethics and a lot of things.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Which one? When?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, I'm not certain. I'd have to --
Q The Secretary of Defense.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Right. (Laughter.)
Q for his trip to Geneva --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm not certain that he violated any ethics rules. I'd have to take another look at it. But as you know, the Secretary --
Q He violated a lot of expense rules that the President was trying to cut back on.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're conscious of all the expenses --
Q Well, what are you going to do? Is the President going to send him a letter of reprimand or what?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think there are any plans for that right now. I'm not certain that he broke any rules.
Q Will you let us know as soon as you know?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sure.
Q How about Supreme Court justice?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing now.
Q Has he offered the job to anyone?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge.
Q Anything this week? This week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not inconceivable, but there's nothing set yet.
Q Are you saying to your knowledge he hasn't offered the job to anyone?
Q Who he's asked?
Q Has he asked anyone if they were interested?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President has obviously had discussions on the Supreme Court. He was asked -- I was asked a direct question on whether he'd offered the job to somebody.
Q Discussions with candidates, George?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I can't get into the discussions.
Q What was your answer?
Q Has the President personally been interviewing anyone?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q Has the President interviewed anyone?
Q offered it to Riley?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q He did not offer it to Riley?
Q He sounded him out.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I cannot comment on the discussions the President has.
Q But you're saying that -- no firm offers --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President has had a lot of discussions on the Supreme Court.
Q Including with people whom he might consider to fill that slot?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would imagine that to be so, but I don't know everybody he's talked to.
Q George, why is it taking so long for him to make this announcement?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know -- I think that we can still stay on track. I mean, it's an important decision for the President to make. It's his first appointment to the Supreme Court, the first appointment by a Democratic president in many, many years, nearly a generation, so he is taking it very seriously. And he's going to make the announcement when he's convinced he has the best candidate for the job.
Q George, under this reorganization of the staff that's clearly going to continue, what role is the President looking for McLarty to fill in the months ahead?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, Mack McLarty is the Chief of Staff. He is going to run the show. He is going to set the direction for the White House. He's going to manage the staff and he's going to also, obviously, serve important representational functions working with the Congress and others. But he's in charge.
Q But some people are interpreting his shedding of the day-to-day responsibilities to Neel as a diminishing of his role.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: They're wrong.
Q George, you all took salaries that were lower than your predecessors when you came in. Will David Gergen be earning also a lower salary? In fact, will he be earning a lower salary than he did --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know what he's making.
Q Can we find out?
Q Did you ever tell us what you were making?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: What?
Q Did you ever tell us what you were making?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think I did. I think Frank Murray did. (Laughter.)
Q How many appointments do you think he'll be making, McLarty?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't have any number. Again, we just have to leave that to him.
Q Are you building new office space out here in the back?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think somebody said we were building lofts, but I'm not sure. (Laughter.)
Q big construction project --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it's a big tent for a party.
Q Are you staying in your office?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know, but I don't think so.
Q We'll have access to it then, huh?
Q Is that for his Georgetown reunion party?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so, yes.
Q Who's paying for that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I would have to check.
Q George, what does the rest -- look like?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Tomorrow he's going to be, as we said, going to the housing site. We don't have any set event Friday outside of the White House, and then he'll be doing the radio address Saturday, but I think he's down the rest of the weekend.
Q Camp David?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think here, but I'm not positive.
Q And next week?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Nothing on that yet.
Q He's got two groups of people coming in at least tonight and tomorrow night -- it looks like CEOs. What's he doing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He had his lunch with CEOs today.
Q Does he not have --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He has a dinner tonight. I haven't seen the guest list.
Q And tomorrow night?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He may be having a dinner then, too, but I don't have the guest list.
Q You're not aware that it's just CEOs or some, like business groups --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think it is actually.
Q Is he actually going out to a military base tomorrow night?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know. I'd have to check. Not to my knowledge.
Q Why don't they tell you what's going on? (Laughter.)
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think is an awful lot of speculation that people are just kind of making up; and there just aren't any plans on that. (Laughter.)
Q Is there a party on the lawn?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I better go take that up with the President. You're right -- (laughter).
Q Is there party on the lawn --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I believe so, yes.
Q Is he going to the Kennedy memorial --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think so, yes.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Sunday night, right. I believe he is, yes.
Q George, one more on Lani Guinier, if I may. Was the President briefed about her writings before he made his choice on the nomination? Did he know this was going to be a controversy coming up or --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to check with Bernie Nussbaum. I don't know how extensive the briefing was. Clearly, they went through some of her background, but I couldn't tell you how detailed it was.
Q fundamental question as to whether the writings that he now disagrees with were writings he was aware of before he nominated her.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And I know that he did not read all of her writings before the nomination -- not to my knowledge.
Q Did he read any of them?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd have to check.
Q George, on -- to come back to health care for a minute, you said earlier that you'd like to get it done in June; you also have to be sensitive on the budget. Does that mean that if there's no progress on the budget or there's some backsliding on getting the economic plan through the Senate that we can expect the health care --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It would obviously have an effect. I couldn't tell you what exactly that effect would be, but it would clearly have an effect.
Q Do you think there is any prospect that you could get health care legislation through Congress this year given the timetable --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, there is, yes.
Q On the CEOs lunch, are all these CEOs that were invited today known to be opposed to the tax bill or undecided on the tax bill?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think so. I don't know about all their detailed views, but I just don't know that.
Q Was the purpose of the President's message then today specifically on the energy tax or just generally --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he was talking generally about the economic program. Obviously the energy tax is an important component of that, and if these CEOs had specific concerns, I'm certain they'll raise them with the President. But I'm certain that the discussion will go far beyond simply the energy tax.
Q On the energy tax, when the President yesterday said that he's willing to accept a budget with less taxes and more spending cuts than he originally proposed, was that an oblique reference to the BTU tax and, of course, you're considering a scale back of probably $20 billion?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, the specifics I can't get into, but we're going to be working with senators and others and house members over the next few weeks and talking about the composition of that, but I have no specific details.
Q Director Panetta, over the weekend, had indicated that if you were to scale back the BTU tax, you'd have to offset it with spending cuts somewhere so --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think that's what the President said all along is that we would both want lower taxes and more spending cuts.
Q He's never said that in the context of the BTU tax.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think, generally, we would like to see fewer taxes and more spending cuts. I can't get into the composition of that.
Q George, along that line, one of the original justifications for the expanded earned income tax credit was to offset the progressive impact of the energy tax. If the energy tax is scaled back, would it then be acceptable to the administration to have a parallel scaling back of the earned income tax credit or would that not be acceptable?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's not inconceivable, but what you'd want to make sure is that we still have adequate funding for the ITC to make sure we can do what we need to do to keep working families out of poverty.
Q So, you're saying it might be okay to scale it back but maybe not a dollar-for-dollar?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, I couldn't get into the specifics but I think that's the general approach.
Q George, given the importance of the Mexico-U.S. relationship, the President announced today James Jones will be the new U.S. Ambassador. How quick do you expect to have his name before the Senate? And do you expect quick sailing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I expect that he should be able to be confirmed rather quickly. He's obviously a man of great eminence who served with distinction both in the government and the private sector, and we expect that he would have no problem getting confirmed in the Senate. And we'll get his papers up as soon as possible.
Q did Jim Jones commit to being for the NAFTA or not?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume he's probably for the North American Free Trade Agreement as the President is.
Q George, can you say today that the President is still committed to Lani Guinier's nomination?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President is going to be discussing this with the Senate, but he does believe that she -- that we should move forward at this time. He's going to be talking with the senators about that.
Q Is he still committed to her nomination, or is he in the process of reassessing her nomination?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, I think that he is committed to moving forward, but he's going to -- part of that process is going to be discussing the prospects of the nomination with the senators.
Q So is her nomination less certain now than it was, say, a couple of days ago?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that's up to the Senate. I mean, clearly there were serious reservations raised in the newspaper this morning by several senators and that's why we're going to be talking to them.
Q George, have you talked to Attorney General Reno about the Guinier nomination?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm certain the President's talked to her, yes.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Certainly, -- recently -- again, if it wasn't necessarily today it was within the last few days.
Q The reason I asked that is that Attorney General Reno has said she's -- the President has said directly that she's standing behind her nomination.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the President has said that he supports it. We are working -- we are going to talk to the senators about this as well. He believes we must go forward with that. But he's said that she's a good civil rights lawyer; he's said that her writings have been misinterpreted and we're going to -- the next part of this process is discussing this with the senators.
Q will the Attorney General will be included in the consultations?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm certain -- she has been and she will continue to be.
Q With the Black Caucus or Jesse Jackson?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge.
Q If the prospects of confirmation are not good, he'll withdraw it, won't he?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: You can't say that. I mean, the President is going to be discussing this with the senators.
Q If you're surveying the prospects, what is the review all about? There is no review really.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there's consultations with the senators, they're the ones who are going to be voting.
Q George, has Mrs. Clinton weighed in on this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't know anything about that.
Q George, having been in office for some months now and having met with Sessions to hear his side of the story, has the Attorney General forwarded her report to the President on his future?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not to my knowledge.
Q Is that expected anytime soon?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'd refer you to Justice. I don't know the timing of the report.
Q Do you feel that since the President has not come out with unqualified support of his FBI Director and allowed this to go on and on waiting for her, how much longer can he go on without getting involved in the process of undermining him by not showing confidence in --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: He wants to make sure that he has a thorough report. And the Attorney General said she will provide that to him.
Q Has he talked to her about hurrying it up a little bit? You've kept him twisting for six months now.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She's going to do a thorough report and then we'll be able to make a decision.
Q George, on this civil rights appointment, the obvious expert on that is -- of the Coalition on Civil Rights.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: And we consulted with him.
Q And he -- you did consult with him?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, sure.
Q Because he came out strongly for the lady.
Q George, on forest policy, the forest Conference in Oregon was 60 days ago and the President said in two months there would be the options forwarded to him. Today is the deadline -- (laughter) -- is he going to be getting those options today? And what's going to be his level of involvement in that issue?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think he will be -- I don't know that he's received them yet, but I think he will be getting them very soon if not today.
Q George, does the President see these meetings with the senators as an opportunity for him to try and persuade them to drop their opposition to Lani Guinier?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think first he wants to hear what they have to say. As you've seen -- we've seen reports, but we want to follow up on those reports and make sure we have a full understanding of the situation in the Senate.
Q George, the Washington Post today quotes a number of unidentified friends of yours as saying that you've been scapegoated. Do you feel that you've been scapegoated?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, and I'm looking very much forward to working with the President in this new capacity and to serving him and doing what we can to make it work.
Q George, on another environmental issue, my understanding is that -- (laughter) --
Q (inaudible) -- (laughter).
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's right. Cleaning out my office. (Laughter.)
Q The deadline for biodiversity is either today or tomorrow. What's the status of the U.S. signing that?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I'll have to check.
Q George, the President mentioned a meeting with health care officials this week. When is it, do you know? And who is it with?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there will be several meetings. I don't know of any formal meetings that have been set up yet, but he's had meetings every week and I'm certain that will continue.
Q George, why did Penny Sample leave the White House yesterday?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: She was planning on leaving after a couple of weeks, just serving in the interim. And that's what she did.
Q It was coincidental --
Q Can I just follow up? Was there no connection between her leaving yesterday and the inquiries from Washington Post?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I checked with David Watkins and she was only supposed to be staying a couple of weeks, and her time had ended. She was not going to be booking any further flights, and that's why she was leaving.
Q What is Watkins' response to what happened?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It was a mistake. You know, it was an embarrassing mistake, but it was an honest mistake.
Q What is an honest mistake in this context?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, in this context it means that Penny Sample told Midwest Express that she was not seeking commission, that she did not want a commission. Apparently the check was cut down in Albuquerque with the commission taken out. As soon as that was discovered, she returned it. She never intended to take it.
Q How was it discovered, other than the Washington Post? I mean, was that the first notice that she or the White House had?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it was, yes.
Q Was the check cut in her name or --
Q Did she book Miami Air?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No.
Q Was the check cut in her name or her company's name?
Q Yes, how much did she get from Miami Air?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: No, it was a wire transfer, I believe, from Air Advantage to Midwest Express. Apparently we had a problem. We had thought that our funds were frozen at that time. And the Midwest Express needed the payment immediately. They couldn't take a 30-day float, as companies often do. And this was just arranged to get the wire transfer. No commission was supposed to be taken out of it. Unfortunately, it was --
Q Why were the White House funds frozen? Was that as a result of the investigation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think there was some concern about the investigation and what was happening there, yes.
Q What's the status of the internal investigation?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: It's continuing, it's just not done yet.
Q Those people on administrative leave are still --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Will David Gergen brief at all?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I assume he'll be talking to the press. I don't know that he'll be coming down and doing daily briefings or anything like that.
Q What did the President think of the covers on Time and Newsweek?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I didn't ask him.
Q George, you said Lani Guinier is visiting editorial boards today. Is that right?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Who arranged that and which one did she --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think her team arranged it. I think it's the Washington Post and the New York Times, but you'd have to check with Justice.
Q Is it a public relations group that's helping her sell herself?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, there are a lot of people helping her out.
Q George, are you open to additional changes in entitlements along the line of those that earn more pay more?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I wouldn't necessarily rule it out, but the President has said that we want to get more spending cuts and fewer taxes and we're going to look at a variety of options.
Q But given Senator Boren's rather firm position on entitlement caps, is that an area that you might be willing to look at as far as means testing?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Again, it's something we wouldn't necessarily rule out but we're going to look at a variety of options.
Q The President's taken on some pretty tough -- there's been some pretty tough things said from the public at appearances, particularly, of course, would be at the Wall the other day -- some pretty strong language, plus in a lot of signs as he went yesterday and accusations that he's everything from a coward to a liar. And at the Rose Garden it was some pretty tough questions really from the public. I just wondered how does the President feel about --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The President enjoyed the town meeting at the Rose Garden. He was exhilarated by it and he felt real good. He felt happy to have the chance to answer the people's questions directly and that's the way he feels all the time. That's part of the job.
Q What about those -- the really tough things people were saying at the Wall?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: That's part of the job, too. When you do big things you get criticized some times.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:41 P.M. EDT