THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:50 P.M. EDT
Q Dee Dee, Dee Dee, Dee Dee. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: You guys never quit, you know.
Q Is it Babbitt? (Laughter.)
Q Enough of the foreplay, what about -- (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That's right. Now we'll get -- I can see the press hasn't changed a bit. Helen and Bill here in the front.
I think that we will have an announcement on Supreme Court fairly soon. I think it's likely but now assured that it will happen this week. It will not happen today.
MS. MYERS: Obviously, I can't say. I don't think so, no.
Q Not tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: I think that's unlikely. So I think the latter part of this week at the earliest.
Q President --
MS. MYERS: Yes, the normal process. The President hasn't made a final decision yet, but there is the on-going process.
Q Will the President meet with whoever the candidate is, especially if it's someone who is not from Washington -- or someone that he does not personally know?
MS. MYERS: The process is going forward and the President has not made final decision yet and it is not clear --
Q Has he interviewed anyone personally? Has he spoken with anyone personally who is a potential nominee?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe that he's had any personal meetings with the potential candidates.
Q Dee Dee, did the way the Lani Guinier thing went where he said he had not read all of her writings -- is that reflective of the vetting process for this particular nominee?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think certainly the vetting process is different for Supreme Court nominee than it is for as Assistant Attorney General position. However, I think that we've gone -- throughout this administration we've tried to learn from our mistakes and to do better. I think that there will be a very thorough review of all the likely candidates for Supreme Court. I don't know that the President will read all of the writings of each of the candidates, but you can be assured that somebody will, and those views will be presented clearly and thoroughly to the President.
Q Well, Dee Dee, could you tell us where the process is exactly because all along we've been led to believe that it would have to be -- the nomination would have to be made very soon because of the six-week time lag and the fact that you wanted this nomination cleared by the time Congress leaves in August. Is he still searching for candidates? Is the search done? Has it been narrowed to one, two?
MS. MYERS: Without giving a specific number, I would say that the search has been narrowed, that the President is reviewing the results of the vetting process. I think there's still some pieces being collected and the President will continue to review that and make a final decision some time very soon. But he's obviously given this a lot of thought. He's spent a good deal of time on it as has the staff, and I think he's fairly close to making a decision.
Q And when you say the decision has not been made, does that mean that he's simply waiting for the results of the vetting process to put his chop on the final candidate, or are more than one candidate still in play?
MS. MYERS: He hasn't made a final decision, so that does mean that there are -- there is more than one candidate at play here, Without saying more about how many or who, the President will again review the final documents as they come into the vetting process and make a decision sometime soon. I think, again, it's likely this week, but not guaranteed.
Q Dee Dee, the Republicans on the committee say that in light of his last preparation on Guinier that they're going to want to take -- they're not going to rushed into a judgement and that any candidates are going to be squeaky clean. Has anybody been knocked out over ethical concerns?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of.
Q This morning Mitchell says that he was tough -- Boren would be on -- when it came time for the Finance Committee to vote. He didn't think they'd have to go around the Finance Committee. From where does that optimism come? Do you share that view?
MS. MYERS: Well, we've been hopeful all along that this could get worked out through the Senate Finance Committee. Obviously we'll leave that to Senator Moynihan and the other members. As you know, Senator Moynihan and Senator Mitchell will be here later today, at 5:30 p.m., to meet with the President. The President will meet with, I believe it's Democratic leadership tomorrow morning from both Houses to just talk about the reconciliation generally and other issues.
But I think -- we've been hopeful all along that we can reach a conclusion. I think the President would welcome changes in his package as long as the major principles are preserved. That is that his package will create jobs, that it will reduce the deficit by $500 billion over five years, that it will be fair, that it will take -- most of the new revenue will come from people making over $100,000, and that there will be a good balance between new taxes and spending cuts. And if the Senate comes back with deeper spending cuts and fewer taxes, I think the President is inclined to look favorably at that.
Q You didn't say in that list there that the Btu tax --
MS. MYERS: The President has said, I think, time and time again that he's committed to a broad-based energy tax, a Btu tax, and will continue to work with the Senate.
Q Boren keeps saying is that the Btu tax isn't going to happen as far as he's concerned. Have you got anything you can give him.
MS. MYERS: Again, this is something that the Finance Committee is going to have to work out; that's the next phase. I think, again, the President will meet with Senator Moynihan later today. I'm sure that Senator Moynihan will probably have something to say after that meeting. But the President is committed to the principles of his package. We feel good that the package has a good chance of making it through the Senate Finance Committee and through the full Senate and then it's to the Conference Committee.
Q With modifications?
MS. MYERS: Well, the modifications and then obviously you have to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions, whatever those might be. But, again, I mean the President is committed to the broad principles of his package as he has been throughout this process, and we're confident that we can get a budget that reflects his values.
Q What do you think about the Moynihan cut, $51 billion, a lot of Medicare?
MS. MYERS: It's something that the President, I'm sure, will talk about with Senator Moynihan today. Obviously, the President has said he's willing to look at additional spending cuts and fewer taxes, but it's something that the Finance Committee is going to have to work out in terms of the specific details.
Q There's no gas tax rumblings. What's the administration's current position on the gas tax?
MS. MYERS: The President has not changed his position on the gas tax. He doesn't believe that it is as fair regionally as a Btu tax or some other broad-based energy tax. The President has just not changed on that.
Q So what about increasing the gas tax within the framework of a Btu tax? I mean, gasoline is in there anyway. What about increasing that? Is that an option?
MS. MYERS: Again, as Secretary Bentsen said yesterday, the President and the administration is willing to look at all options. However, that's not something that's been proposed yet. If the Senate Finance Committee comes back with it, we'll take a look at it.
Q Has the President rescheduled the meeting with the Black Caucus?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Dee Dee, what about scaling back the Btu tax fairly dramatically? Is that an option that's being considered?
MS. MYERS: I think clearly it's an option that we'd be willing to take a look at what the Senate Finance Committee comes back with in terms of restructuring the Btu tax.
Q Have you discussed it with Boren? Is there a point at which he'd accept it if it was scaled way back?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that we've had specific conversations with him about a particular point. This is something that is going to have to be worked out within the committee and something that I'm sure that Senator Moynihan and the President and Senator Mitchell will talk about.
Q Senior aides for Babbitt said this morning that they think Babbitt is likely to get a Supreme Court appointment. Do you all dispute that?
MS. MYERS: I think they may be speaking from their hearts, which is understandable. I can't comment specifically on who may or may not be selected until the President's made a final decision.
Q Anything on the massacre in Liberia?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, we deplore that kind of violence and hope that the parties will come together to a negotiated settlement to the three-year-old civil war there.
Q I want to follow Susan's earlier question. If the point where the President focused on one person for the Supreme Court and he thought, well, this is pretty much our candidate now, would the President then sit down and personally read some of that person's major writings? Is he going to do that, do you know?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to say specifically what he might do. I think clearly that the team that's looking at the various Supreme Court candidates will give the President a thorough briefing on anything that that person may have written. I think it's up to the President then whether he feels he needs to read various documents. I think, again, there's a different level of scrutiny, if you will, for Supreme Court justice than there is probably for an assistant attorney general. I think it will very much depend on what might be out there with a particular nominee.
Q Dee Dee, will you clarify this. We all have been told that the President put the woman out from the nomination of the civil rights because she was for accumulative voting. And then the records come out and show that accumulative voting was not originated by her, not even advocated strongly by her, but that it has been in effect for years in New York City, places like New Mexico, Alabama and Pennsylvania, places like that -- they've been voting seven times, some of them. How can they possibly permit that to go on? Is he going to do something about stopping accumulative voting now that he's found out that it exists and he's not for it?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the President made his case fairly clearly on Thursday night about what his troubles were with Ms. Guinier's previous writings. There were a couple of things including proportional representation, accumulative voting which were troubling to him in the broad way that they were applied in some of her writings. But I think we've been over that, and I would hope that we can move on from that.
Q Well, you can't get over it because the facts show and the facts came out after he said he was not going to have her because of accumulative voting. And then it shows that these other states have already been doing it for years. And it must be against the law. So I wonder if the President's going to take some lead in trying to see that that's stopped.
MS. MYERS: No, we don't have any plans to, but perhaps we'll review it. I'll get back to you.
Q Dee Dee, any word on that topic? Has the President's got any candidates in mind and will it possibly be another black woman candidate?
MS. MYERS: Don't have a replacement yet. And when we do we'll let you know.
Q The long knives seem to be out for Bernie Nussbaum. Would you care to offer the President's thousand-percent support for him, or does that fall under Mack's review?
MS. MYERS: No, the President stands behind Bernie Nussbaum.
Q Are there going to be any changes in the Counsel's Office?
MS. MYERS: I can't speak to that because I honestly don't know. Again, that is something that Mack will address later this week.
Q Dee Dee, do the administration's ethics rules allow a spouse of a Supreme Court justice to work in the Justice Department?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the answer to that. I will have to take that question.
Q Bob Krueger lost by a very big margin --(laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Squeaker. (Laughter.)
Q and they certainly don't say that's the only reason, but they cite it, use words like the misadventures at the White House and the President. What kind of message do you think the Texas voters were sending to this White House?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't know that they were sending any message. I think it was largely about local issues. It was, to some degree, about spending cuts. But Senate Krueger didn't vote for the budget resolution; he didn't support the President's budget package. He didn't campaign on the President's budget package. So I don't think this can be judged in any way as a referendum on the President's budget package. I think it was a local race.
But if we're keeping score, I think it's important to look at the other races around the country, special elections that have occurred since the President, including one tomorrow in California where I think the Democrat is almost assured to win.
Q Dee Dee, do you think it was irresponsible of Mrs. Bailey Hutchinson to suggest that it had anything to do with taxes?
MS. MYERS: I think she's free to suggest it had to do with whatever she wants. But I think since neither candidate campaigned for the President's budget package, I don't think it can be read as a referendum on the President's budget package.
Q On entitlements, Senator Breaux yesterday thought that there should be a change in the Medicare Part B premium for upper income. Is the administration willing to consider any means testing on Medicare Part B?
MS. MYERS: I think that Senator Moynihan has made his views fairly clear on that. We'll see what the Senate Finance Committee comes up with. But I don't know that that's likely.
Q Is the administration also willing to consider bypassing Senate Finance altogether and getting it directly to the floor?
MS. MYERS: I think Secretary Bentsen said yesterday that if we have to go around -- and Senator Moynihan, whose job as the Chairman of the Committee said that he was going to get the package to the floor no matter what it took. Now, I think Senator Moynihan has also said that he doesn't think it will have to go around his committee. But I think that Senator Moynihan made it clear that he's willing to do whatever it takes to get the package to the floor.
I think the consequences of not going forward, of the kind of chaos that could result from this package not going forward are severe. Five hundred billion dollars in deficit reduction has meant a lowering of interest rates. It's put more than $10 billion back into the economy already since the election. I think that there is significant deficit reduction, there's job creation in the package. It is a sound fiscally responsible package. And I think we need it.
Q Dee Dee, is the President meeting with any other senators?
Q It's not a matter of going forward. It's just a matter of using a different procedure to get it forward and to get it on the floor.
MS. MYERS: Which is why we -- I mean, we're going to get it to the floor one way or another.
Q And health care is also hinging on progress on the budget, as you've said. Is there also a concern that if it does look like it's being tied up in Finance, that you would go that route in order not to delay health care reform?
MS. MYERS: I think our commitment now is to getting reconciliation done. I think that's our first priority. As we've said, we think that that will happen. We think we can get this package through Senate Finance and through the full Senate, and we'll continue to work toward that goal.
Q Dee Dee, can I ask you about Haiti? If the measures announced by the administration on Friday are not strong enough, is the White House ready to go further than that?
MS. MYERS: I think that we've said repeatedly that we're willing to consider tougher sanctions, including an international sanctions oil embargo.
Q What about the -- let me follow-up on that. There was a story last night that said that at the OAS meeting in Managua, the U.S. had backed a total embargo of oil and other goods.
MS. MYERS: I think what was said is that we're willing to look at that. Obviously, there's no proposal in the U.N. right now to do that, but we've said we're willing to look at tougher measures.
Q On Ray Flynn, there's a story in the Boston Herald saying that he's very disenchanted. He's been treated badly by the State Department who called his appointment a two-year junket to the Vatican. Has he formally submitted that he wants out?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't believe so. The President has asked him to serve as his Ambassador to the Holy See and that process is moving forward.
Q Have they talked? Have they talked?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I don't think so, but I'll have to double-check. I'll have to take that.
Q Dee Dee, according to Boston reporters, Flynn has given the White House 48 hours to clean up its act or whatever ultimatum he gave before he would withdraw from that nomination. Are there negotiations, discussions? What's going on between Flynn and the White House?
MS. MYERS: I think he's had conversations with the State Department, and I don't believe -- he hasn't talked to anybody in the White House that I know of. But I'll take the question. As far as -- obviously, the President would like to see this move forward. I don't know that he's talked to Mayor Flynn, but I'll check and find out.
Q Dee Dee, on the aftermath of this ship going aground off the coast of New York City with the 300 Chinese immigrants or aliens -- whatever -- Representative Schumer says that the White House has set up a task force to take a look into the entire immigration problems underscored by this event. Is that true?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's been ongoing for, I believe, several months. It includes INS, Treasury, Justice. It's coordinated by the National Security Council. And they're looking at a number of measures, including working with the flagging countries, East Asian countries who are involved, toughening U.S. local and state laws, enhancing enforcement, and prosecuting American residents who might be involved. I think the INS put out a statement on this on Friday.
Q They did put out one?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q What's the administration's position on the status of these boat people now? What's going to happen to them in the immediate sense?
MS. MYERS: They'll go through the review process to determine whether or not they are eligible for legal status or actually register as political refugees.
Q Is their status similar to -- situation similar to the Haitian refugees? I mean, is it going to take as long as that?
MS. MYERS: I don't know where they're all being detained, and I would refer you to INS for the specific details. But there is a process being set up. Each of them will be interviewed to determine their identity and their actual status, and then decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis. And exactly where they're being held in the interim I don't know. I mean, it's not like Guantanamo and it's not like they're being sent back right away.
Q Dee Dee, can I have a follow-up? I heard a report that many of them are asking asylum based on the fact that China has a sterilization policy and that President Bush approved something in 1989 that they could claim under that situation.
MS. MYERS: Again, we're reviewing the cases on an individual basis and will make a determination on an individual basis.
Q Dee Dee, Madeleine Albright said over the weekend that those responsible for the attack on the U.N. peacekeeping force in Somalia would pay a heavy price. The U.N. has adopted a resolution to seek out those responsible, put them on trial, and make them pay. Does the White House believe that it will require the introduction of additional U.S. troops to carry out that U.N. mandate?
MS. MYERS: At this point we don't have a decision on that. We're looking at it to try to determine who was involved in the incident in Somalia. We support the U.N. resolution, obviously, as Ambassador Albright said, and we'll take a look at it.
Q But at this point there had been no determination that additional U.s. forces of any kind will be required to carry that out?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Dee Dee, under this new set-up here, are you going to continue to brief in the morning on a formal basis? And the afternoon briefing -- late afternoon briefing sort of gone by the wayside in the past couple weeks. What are you plans for logistically along those lines?
MS. MYERS: I'm glad you asked. I think with the opening of the hallway -- the morning briefing was originally an opportunity to give people early morning access to somebody in the press office given that the hallway was closed. I think what we'll do is move the daily briefing to 11:30 a.m., a little earlier as a lot of you have requested, and eliminate the morning briefing. And the afternoon briefing I think will be a needs basis. If there's a particular meeting that there needs to be a readout on, myself or somebody else could come down and do that. But I think that daily schedule will be obviously open hallway, and an 11:30 a.m. briefing, starting tomorrow.
Q Hutchinson campaigned on reducing federal spending. Is the White House now more apt to take a second look at the supercollider and the space station?
MS. MYERS: At this point the President continues to support those programs that are in the budget.
Q When might he know?
MS. MYERS: At this point he continues to -- there's been no change in our policy.
Q Would he accept, in fact, Congress taking those out? Would that not make a bill subject to a veto if Congress took those out?
MS. MYERS: We'd have to look at anything that the Senate or the conference produced --
Q The election in Texas doesn't basically change the administrations view on either project?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Any travel on the schedule?
MS. MYERS: Nothing scheduled this week, and next week is unclear, although there's nothing on yet. It could change.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:07 P.M. EDT