THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
11:50 A.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: The only other -- let me just get a couple of housekeeping details out of the way -- the only other event on the schedule tonight is the Congressional Picnic. There will be a pool spray at the beginning of that at 7:30 p.m. under the tent.
The rest of the week is still somewhat unclear. The President will be speaking to the Business Roundtable tomorrow at 3:00 p.m. That's at the Marriott Hotel. Thursday and Friday and the weekend are unclear, although Saturday will probably be light and Sunday will probably be down.
Q The President specifically was given a chance to say that there would be a Btu tax, as has been said in the past, and did not. Was he signaling that this energy tax, as some Republicans who came out of the meeting suggested, was not going to be based on heat content?
MS. MYERS: I think what the President has said is that he's committed to a broad-based energy tax, one that will be fair to different parts of the country and one that will encourage conservation. We'll work with members of the Senate, or actually Secretary Bentsen will work with the Senate Finance Committee and others to work out the exact details of that.
Q Could it be based on other elements -- the value or the price of energy?
MS. MYERS: That's something for the Senate Finance Committee to work out at this point. Again, the President's committed to a broad-based energy tax, one that's fair and one that will encourage conservation.
Q So that's not one of his basic principles?
MS. MYERS: A broad-based energy tax is one of his principles.
Q He's not demanding at all anymore that that be based on the heat content of the fuel?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, it's something that the Senate Finance Committee is going to have to take up this week, but he is committed to a broad-based energy tax.
Q Is he committed to a Btu tax?
MS. MYERS: He's committed to a broad-based energy tax.
Q Would he prefer a Btu tax?
MS. MYERS: Well, he proposed a Btu tax. Obviously, he thought that that was a proposal that was fair to different regions of the country, one that would encourage conservation, one that met his revenue goals. But, again, he's committed to a broad-based energy tax, one that's fair and will meet his revenue goals as well.
Q A week or two ago, you said specifically it would be a Btu tax when we were talking about the size of the package, that that was under negotiation, but it would be a Btu tax. You're no longer saying that, so, therefore, the issue is open. A new kind of tax could be brought forward.
MS. MYERS: I think what the President is trying to do here is to outline the principles that will define this package both through the Senate process and through the conference process. Included in that is a broad-based energy tax, again, one that will treat regions of the country fairly, that will encourage conservation. It is now up to the members of the Senate Finance Committee, to the full Senate to work out the details of that to pass something, and then it goes back to conference.
Q Why has he backed off?
MS. MYERS: He hasn't backed off, but I think what he's --
Q Well, when you say, it will be a Btu tax, and now you say it's up to the Senate Finance Committee to figure out what kind of tax, that is changing your mind.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think, the President had outlined the principles that he wants to define this process. That includes a package that will get the economy going and create jobs -- we've already created close to 800,000 jobs in the first four months of this administration -- a process that will be fair, that will ask people who saw their incomes go up in the '80s and their taxes go down. It will ask them to contribute first, and 75 percent of new revenue under the President's plan come from people making over $100,000 a year.
Q If he hasn't, as you said, given up -- what did you say -- I'm sorry -- if he hasn't backed off, has he opened up when it comes to the energy tax?
MS. MYERS: I think that he's committed to, again, a broad-based energy tax. I think what the President is trying to do here is to define the principles that are going to guide the development of this package as it goes through the Senate Finance Committee, through the Senate, and to the conference committee. The details right now are going to be left to people in the Senate Finance Committee, to Senator Moynihan, and to Secretary Bentsen, and we'll let them work out the specifics.
Q Dee Dee, Cochran mentioned an ad valorem tax as a possible replacement for Btu tax on energy. Is that acceptable to the White House?
MS. MYERS: We'll see -- what the President wants to see is a --
Q (In unison) -- broad-based energy tax.
Q Dee Dee, how did the President find out about what this general -- this Air Force general said about him in the Netherlands, and what did he think about it when he found out?
MS. MYERS: He hasn't said anything about it. Obviously, the Air Force is reviewing that and we'll leave it to them.
Q Well, what does the President think about that? Have you discussed that with him today?
MS. MYERS: The Air Force is reviewing it and we'll leave it in their hands.
Q How can you leave words like that hanging without some sort of a response to it?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that there -- the Air Force is reviewing it to see if there have been violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It's up to them. They have a process for handling that. The President will continue to work with members of the military -- with all the different various branches. He has a good working relationship with them, with General Powell, and others, with all the service chiefs and other members of the leadership, and will continue to work with the military.
Q Would the White House like to see this guy courtmartialed ?
MS. MYERS: I think the Air Force is going to have to handle that as they see fit.
Q There's a story --
Q Has General Powell or the Air Force Secretary call the President to apologize or explain it to him?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. No, I think at this point the Air Force is looking into it to try to determine if there were violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
Q Was he told about it before it was in The Post?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q And who told him? Did Secretary Aspin tell him?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the exact -- we were informed by the Pentagon. I'm not sure exactly who told who. I don't believe that Secretary Aspin talked directly to the President, but the Pentagon did inform us that this was being reviewed.
Q Can you take the question as to how he learned about it and what his reaction is?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Leaving aside this --
MS. MYERS: He's not going to have any comment.
Q Leaving aside the specific case and whether the general did or didn't say it, does the President, as Commander in Chief, believe that it's appropriate for people to make those kinds of comments about him, or does he believe that they should be disciplined if it's found that they do?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's something that's clearly outlined in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It is clearly defined within their code, and I will leave it to them to define exactly how that works. But there are certain standard of behavior that must be followed. What the President believes is that there is a long tradition of civilian leadership in this country. That is something that is strongly endorsed and supported by the military leadership in this country. It is a long tradition. The President obviously supports it. He has a good working relationship with the military at this point and he expects that to continue.
Q To follow up on that, you said that the code is clearly defined. The code says that any commissioned officer who uses contemptuous words against the President shall be punished as a court martial may direct. Do you consider the terms, "draft-dodging, pot-smoking, womanizing commander in chief" to be contemptuous?
MS. MYERS: Again, the Air Force is investigating at this point. I think it is up to them to conduct a review and to determine what the facts in this case are. And they will proceed with disciplinary action as they see fit, as is outlined within the Uniform Code of Military Justice and within military tradition. I will leave it to them.
Q Aren't you concerned at what you see as -- what we see as a lingering hostility in the military towards this man as commander in chief?
MS. MYERS: I think that you have to look at all the --I mean, the negative always gets accentuated here and the positive always gets ignored. If you look at the President's relationship with General Powell, if you look at the words of people like General McCaffrey at the Vietnam Memorial, if you look at reaction of people like General Sullivan when the President went to West Point, they have words of high praise for the President's leadership, for his relationship with the military, for the progress we feel we've made in forging that relationship and making it even stronger. I think the President feels very good about where he is in his working relationship with the military and I think we expect to continue to build on that.
Q If I could follow up on that. Those are all people that you just mentioned that the President has actually met and talked to. Is there a feeling here that he needs more of an outreach program so that the other people in the chain of command, the other members of the officer corps get to know him better and he can win them over?
MS. MYERS: I think that's always a good idea and I think it's something that the President is trying to do. I think it's important for him to get out as he has, visiting the USS Teddy Roosevelt, going to West Point. There will be continuing, I think, opportunities for the President to meet both with the leadership and with the rank and file members of the military. I think that's always a good idea for a new President. President Clinton will continue to do that.
Q How did his meeting with Mayor Flynn go and was there any --
MS. MYERS: I think it's going on right now with the Acting Secretary of State, with Peter Tarnoff. I think Mayor Flynn is here to discuss some of the specifics of his role as Ambassador to the Holy See.
Q Is that here or at State?
MS. MYERS: It's at State. He's not here.
Q Do you expect him to accept this appointment?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q He's not pulling out?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so.
Q Has the President talked to him at all?
MS. MYERS: No, the President has not spoken directly to him. But the President continues to believe that he's the best choice, he's a fine politician, one of the great mayors in this country, and we expect that that nomination will proceed.
Q Does he think the complaints from Flynn are valid?
MS. MYERS: He's concerned about it. He wants to make sure -- he believes that -- he appointed Flynn because he does think he's one of the finest politicians in the country, he has a lot to offer, would be a very good Ambassador to the Holy See. The President continues to support him and wants to work with him to outline the specific outlines of that role.
Q What criteria does --
Q Is he coming here?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't expect him to come here.
Q What criteria does the President use when deciding whether to make a political appointment for an ambassador or use the career foreign service?
MS. MYERS: I think that it just depends on who the various candidates are and what their qualifications are. I think he's looking for the most qualified people. In some cases, those are career foreign service officers; in some cases, they are not. But he's looking for people who are experienced, who have something to offer at the post, who can help him there and in our relations with the various countries or entities.
Q To follow up on the ambassador. What's the situation of the ambassadors to Japan? There was some talk about two people being named. Or did you already answer that?
MS. MYERS: Two people?
Q That came up at the State Department yesterday.
MS. MYERS: No, I think we should have actually a number of ambassadorial appointments to announce sometime in the next week or so.
Q There was also talk about a hold-up to the ambassador to New Zealand. Is that about --
Q Including Tokyo?
MS. MYERS: I think that's likely.
Q Tokyo is likely?
MS. MYERS: I think that's likely.
Q What about New Zealand?
Q What's likely?
MS. MYERS: An announcement of an ambassador to Tokyo is coming soon.
Q Anything new?
Q Prior to the summit?
MS. MYERS: That would be helpful.
Q Anything new on the Supreme Court nomination? Or stay tuned, like the President said?
MS. MYERS: Yes, stay tuned. He's continuing to work on it. Nothing to announce yet.
Q Any decisions --
MS. MYERS: He has not made a decision yet. Pardon me?
Q This week?
Q Anything new on the search for a new Interior Secretary? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: No, nothing to announce.
Q How about on the newspaper story that talks about some of the potential irregularities of the current Interior Secretary. Is the White House looking into the old FBI investigation of gambling debts?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those charges are old and unfounded.
Q Old and unfounded? Are you looking into them again, since it is a current --
MS. MYERS: You know, just let me say in Secretary Babbitt's behalf without any linkage here -- Secretary Babbitt ran for president in 1988. He was just confirmed by the Senate swiftly. His background, I think, has been fully looked at and there was absolutely no grounds to validate any of those charges.
Q Dee Dee, are concerned that no matter who you all nominate there will be an attempt to Bork them, per say, to find something in their background that could be used to knock down a nominee as sort of an eye for an eye thing after what happened to Bork?
MS. MYERS: Well, we certainly hope not. Obviously, the President is going to look for somebody that he thinks has a keen intellect, good judgment, experienced both with the law and with the lives of everyday people, as he said, and a big heart. The President believes -- he's committed to finding somebody who's supremely qualified for this job. And he hopes that it's somebody that the Senate will give a fair and equal look at.
Q But is there some concern in the White House that this, in fact, could be the case, and is that one of the reasons why it's taken so long to come up with a nominee?
MS. MYERS: No, I think it's taken a while because the President -- this is the first time a Democrat has had an opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice in fully a generation. I think the President wants to take his time and make the best possible appointment. And we can only hope that the Senate confirmation process will be based on merit and not politics, and we're hopeful that that will be the case.
Q Dee Dee, if I can take you back to the Btu tax for a minute, and at the risk at eliciting a familiar phrase, Senator Cochran said that Senate Mitchell said that the Democrats had decided to reduce it by a fourth to a third and call it something else. Was he wrong when he said that?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think as Secretary Bentsen said over the weekend, that reducing it by a fourth to a third is something that we'd be willing to consider. Exactly how it's structured -- I think we've also said that we'd be willing to look at some changes in the way it's structured. Exactly how it's structured and what it's called in the final Senate version is something that will be worked out in the Senate. We're open to a number of options at this point. I think, again, what you're going to hear from the President over the course of the next several weeks as this process goes forward is a reaffirmation of the principles he wants to see embodied in this package. And as for an energy tax, it's a broad-based energy tax, and you'll continue to hear us say that over the course of the next couple of weeks.
Q Dee Dee, does Senator Boren share this new commitment to a broad-based energy tax?
MS. MYERS: You'll have to check with Senator Boren. I think he's amenable to an energy tax of some fashion.
Q Has the President talked or had any contact with Senator Boren in the last 24 hours?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. No, I don't thing so.
Q Anything planned that you know of?
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't rule it out. I think he may talk to -- I think he's in the process of talking to some members of the Senate Finance Committee. I think that that will be ongoing.
Q Dee Dee, Senator Cochran said after the meeting, "It seems that they're now beginning to shift from a tax on the heat content to a tax on the value of the energy. The value paid somewhere along the distribution line, an ad valorem type of tax on energy." Is that accurate?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think that the -- Secretary Bentsen is going to be left to working out specific details with the Senate Finance Committee. The President is going to continue to reaffirm broad principles. I think that we've made it clear that the President would welcome less taxes, deeper spending cuts, some adjustments in the Btu tax. And exactly how that is worked out will be determined over the course of the next couple of weeks.
Again, you're just going to hear for the couple of weeks the President continue to emphasize the principles that he wants to see included in this package, the same principles that I think shaped the House version of the package and will shape the conference version of the package.
Q So let me just follow up. So you're no longer calling this a Btu tax?
MS. MYERS: We're calling it a broad-based energy tax. (Laughter.)
Q There have been a lot of statements from administration officials explaining why a Btu tax is preferable, outlining all the advantages of it over some kind of other energy tax. Is that no longer the administration's position? Are those statements not operative?
Q What was the question please?
MS. MYERS: The question was, there have been a lot of statements from administration officials outlining the benefits of the Btu tax. Are those statements no longer operative. I think the benefits that were most often underscored were that the Btu tax was broad-based, that it met the President's revenue goals -- (laughter) -- that it promoted conservation -- I'm serious. If you go back and see what it was we said -- and I think it was very important to the President that it not hit one particular area of the country at the expense of another area of the country. Those are the things that he's looking for in a broad-based energy tax.
Q A gasoline tax would not meet that test because a gasoline tax would be unfair to the west.
MS. MYERS: A gasoline tax does not meet that test.
Q You're saying a broad-based energy tax with no "s" on the end. Is that just a term, or do you rule out a mixture of taxes?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that we've ruled anything in or out, except perhaps the gas tax. We'll have to see what the Senate comes back with.
Q Would some amount of gasoline tax be part of a mixture of taxes?
MS. MYERS: We'll have to see what the Senate Finance Committee comes back with.
Q So now you're not ruling out the gas tax?
MS. MYERS: I don't want to get into ruling things and ruling things out, other than to reaffirm the principles. And by the end of this, I think we'll be able to do this all in unison.
Q The President is not speaking tonight at the picnic? He's not making any remarks?
MS. MYERS: No formal remarks, no. It's an informal picnic.
Q Dee Dee, a completely different topic. Is the President as hung up on nuclear issues as past administrations were? Specifically Prime Minister Bolger of New Zealand yesterday has spoken to the American Chamber of Commerce said it's time now to thaw relations, put the nuclear issue aside.
Q What's she talking about?
Q Nuclear issues. Nuclear.
MS. MYERS: Nuclear issues in New Zealand.
Q No, the U.S. (Laughter.) I want to know if the Clinton administration is as hung up over the nuclear matter as past administrations. Is that still going to be a deterrent to good relations?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure how to define "as hung up as previous administrations." Obviously, the President is very concerned about nuclear issues, and I think nuclear issues are changing in the post-Cold War world. It's something that will continue to be central in our relationship with the former Soviet Union, with Russia and the other republics, and with other countries -- North Korea, obviously, the nuclear issue is on the front burner there; South Africa it's come up. I think nuclear issues have changed somewhat, but it's going to continue to be a concern of this administration.
Q Sounds like a broad-based nuclear policy. (Laughter.)
Q Could you please look into whether they will continue to be an impediment to good relations with allies?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Dee Dee, could I ask a couple of specific questions on this modified economic plan? Senator Mitchell says that if you make the higher income tax rates applicable July 1st as opposed to retroactively to January 1st, that will cost $9 billion. Where do you hope to make up that $9 billion?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, that's something that -- the details of this are being worked out in the Senate Finance Committee. That is the process that's beginning today. It's something that the President talked about yesterday with Senators Mitchell and Moynihan. It came up briefly today in the bipartisan leadership meeting. The President, I think, has said he would welcome further spending cuts. He would welcome less revenue from taxes. Exactly how that's going to be worked out is up to the Senate Finance Committee. What the President is committed to is $500 billion in deficit reduction, a disciplined deficit reduction program that will help keep interest rates low and help us continue to create jobs, as we've done. He also wants to make sure that the package is fair and that there's a good balance between new revenue and spending cuts.
Q Do you have any idea where that $9 billion should come -- specific?
MS. MYERS: No, that is up to the Senate Finance Committee at this point. If they're going to make changes in the package, if they want to see deeper spending cuts, they need to say where they're going to come from.
Q Let me ask you a follow-up -- unrelated, also part of the economic plan. (Laughter.)
Q An unrelated part -- (laughter.)
Q If he energy tax, the broad-based energy tax, is scaled back by a quarter to a third, does that mean the administration is now ready to scale back the earned income tax credit by a quarter to a third, since, presumably, the energy tax won't hit the poorer people as hard as it would if it were a bigger tax?
MS. MYERS: I mean, the President, obviously, I think is committed to the earned income tax credit. The exact numbers have to be worked out in Senate Finance Committee. I think one of the things that the President has talked about throughout his campaign and throughout his administration is creating incentives to move people from welfare to work. The earned income tax credit is a very successful way to do that. And the exact structure of that, exactly how broad that tax cut will be -- tax credit will be -- in this package is something that has to be worked out in the Senate Finance Committee. And the President has asked Secretary Bentsen to be his ambassador to that process, and we'll see what they come up with.
Q So the answer is yes? Is the answer yes?
MS. MYERS: The answer is that the President is very committed to an earned income tax credit. He believes it's a very successful program. And the exact numbers are something that need to be worked out by the Senate Finance Committee.
Q There's another phase of this budget bill, the cutbacks in Medicare. And Congress already today, Pete Stark, a very important man on health on the Hill, says he won't put up with this further cut on Medicare, that the older citizens of this nation will be very horrified when they find out how this cutback in Medicare is going to affect them -- one that the President has apparently agreed to.
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think the details have been worked out yet.
Q Didn't they work out the details yesterday afternoon in conference?
MS. MYERS: No, no. The Senate Finance Committee has to sit down now, roll up its sleeves and get down to the work of actually outlining where the specific cuts are going to come from.
Q Moynihan had to agree to something, and Mitchell had to agree to something and --
MS. MYERS: I think, again, what the President has said repeatedly is that he wants to make sure that this package is fair, that it asks people who saw their incomes go up in the 1980s to contribute first, that 75 percent of it at this point comes from people making over $100,000 a year. The President wants to make sure that these cuts do not come at the expense of the most vulnerable people in our society, and he's going to work very hard to make sure that those people are protected.
Q What's this Japanese briefing about?
MS. MYERS: It's about the new framework for a trade relationship between the U.S. and Japan which was given to the Japanese yesterday.
Q If Congress in its wisdom should kill either the supercollider or the space station, would that be acceptable to the White House, given the flexibility of allowing the Senate Finance Committee to --
Q And the election of Kay Hutchinson.
MS. MYERS: I don't understand the relationship, Mark.
The President -- those are both in the President's budget at this point. He supports both of them. We'll see what gets worked out.
Q Would he accept the wisdom of the Senate --
MS. MYERS: I think we'll have to wait and see on that.
Q if it decided that were a good spending cut to make?
Q Well, how do those fit in with his principles?
MS. MYERS: Well, neither of them is specifically mentioned in his principles.
Q They're negotiable?
MS. MYERS: He supports them. Now, I just -- we'll have to wait and see what they come back with. But the President continues to support both the supercollider and the space station.
Q That would not necessarily trigger a veto? If the Congress were to kill both of them --
Q Or either one of them.
MS. MYERS: I just can't get into saying "if this was in would he veto it, if that was out would he accept it" at this point. We'll have to wait and see what -- how it gets worked out in the Senate Finance Committee. And then there is a conference process that follows.
Q Can you explain the President's sudden hands-off attitude toward his economic program?
MS. MYERS: I think --
MS. MYERS: Ruth asked, can you explain the President's sudden hands-off approach to his own economic package. I think that he put forward a very specific economic package, but it was geared toward some very large and immutable principles which we've continued to enunciate particularly over the last few days.
Q Speaking of the principles.
MS. MYERS: Do you want to hear the principles?
Q We stipulate.
Q We want you to do them by charades. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I just go, "one," and Andrea can give the first one.
Q You've been talking details on the economic plan, the Btu tax -- you've been talking details for months. Now, today, you're talking principles. You're kind of leaving the details to everybody else to work out. Why the shift in strategy?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that what the -- because the President does not sit on the Senate Finance Committee, he's not a member of the Senate, he can't either work out the details of this package or vote on it. That has to be done in the Senate Finance Committee. What's most important to him are that the broad principles that he's outlined in his -- talked about throughout his administration be kept intact. I think we feel very good about the House process. There were some changes in the House bill, but those principles were preserved and he got, I don't know, 90 percent of what we started with. I think we're committed to the same kind of a process in the Senate where there will clearly be some changes.
Q Are you still sticking with principles as a more effective way would be your goal than talking details?
MS. MYERS: I think that Senator Bentsen can work on the details and the President is committed to the principles. I think it's important that the American people know what it is that the President is committed to and that, as long as the principles are maintained, that some tinkering around the margins will not affect the overall thrust of the package.
Q Dee Dee, could I ask a question about Mayor Flynn please? Did he seek a meeting with the President or anyone at the White House?
MS. MYERS: No, not to my knowledge. I believe he spoke to Communications Director Mark Gearan, who was -- as Deputy Chief of Staff, was coordinating his confirmation process or working with Mayor Flynn as he went through the details of this process. I know that Mark spoke to him last night.
Q And did Mark or anyone else give instructions to Peter Tarnoff about what he should be assured in his meetings at State?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that Mark spoke directly to Peter. I think the President made clear his appointment of Mayor Flynn, and through his comments at that time, what he expected the Mayor's role to be as Ambassador to the Holy See.
Q about what the Mayor expects his role to be?
Q concerned that he came down here today.
MS. MYERS: The President expects --
Q Does he agree with the Mayor's interpretation of what his role should be as sort of this international troubleshooter?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President sees it as, you know, he'll be the Ambassador to the Holy See and if there are other tasks that the President wants him to undertake during his tenure in Rome, that will have to be something that's worked out on a case-bycase basis with the State Department and with the various embassies in other countries.
Q Other tasks in Rome?
MS. MYERS: During his tenure in Rome.
Q Well, you concede that there's a problem here. That's the reason he's come down and he's trying to straighten that out?
MS. MYERS: Well, yes. I don't know if there's a problem, but I think there's been some -- I think there's some things that need to be clarified. But I think that what is clear is that the President is committed to this appointment.
Q Clarified on whose part?
MS. MYERS: On whose part? I think that between -- perhaps between Mayor Flynn and the State Department, I think there just needs to be a little clear definition of where we are in this process. But I think that the nomination is moving forward. I think Senator Kerry said yesterday he expected it to be done by the 4th of July. The President fully expects that Mayor Flynn will be confirmed as his Ambassador to the Holy See.
Q Dee Dee, another question about the Court. You've been saying week after week that an announcement would be forthcoming. Aren't you concerned that the President looks --there's another perception again that the President can't make a decision, he's slow to make -- to settle on candidates whether it be the Court or the Cabinet, or whatever position, there's a perception out there, and this is only going to exacerbate it?
MS. MYERS: No, I think that when Justice White announced his intention to retire, he did so early specifically to give the President plenty of time to make this decision. I think the President has taken his time. He's considered a number of candidates; he's looked for somebody that would meet the criteria that he outlined.
This is an important decision. It's the President's first appointment to the Supreme Court. You never know how many bites at that apple you'll get during a presidency. It's also the first time a Democrat has had a chance to appoint anyone to the Supreme Court in 25 years. I think the President wants to take his time, to reflect on this, to really have a chance to think it through, given the magnitude of the appointment. And I think that there will be an nominee to the Supreme Court in plenty of time.
Q Why has it taken longer than you all thought?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that we ever had a time line. I'm not sure that it has taken longer than we all thought. I think we were -- one of the reasons that Justice White made his announcement when he did was to give the President some flexibility in timing. And we always said the process would begin immediately, but we didn't have a hard time line.
Q Has the President in his own mind settled on a candidate?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so. I mean, I think he's --
Q He really does not know who he wants yet?
MS. MYERS: He might have been in his heart, but I think that he's -- but I don't think so. I think he's still reviewing a number of options.
Q What does that include? Why do you think he hasn't settled?
MS. MYERS: My conversations.
Q I thought you were all going to do --
Q Wait a minute, Sarah. Hold it. Hold it.
MS. MYERS: Let's finish up Supreme Court, and then I'll come back to you.
Q Your conversations lead you to this conclusion.
MS. MYERS: Yes. But I think he's made good progress. I think he's narrowing the list. I won't say how many people might be on it. And I think he'll have an announcement soon.
Q What is it that led you to the belief that he hasn't settled?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into any detail about it.
Q Has the work to find a Supreme Court nominee pushed back to work to find other nominees for other offices?
MS. MYERS: No, I think they're proceeding on parallel tracks.
Q Different people working on --
MS. MYERS: Yes. As you know, Mack and Bernie Nussbaum and Bruce Lindsey are sort of sharing the Supreme Court piece, and then other people are working on other appointments.
Q But those other appointments eventually go through McLarty.
MS. MYERS: Yes. But this is something that's moving forward. I mean, we can do more than one thing at once.
Q What do you consider plenty of time? When you say a nominee will be confirmed in plenty of time, is your timetable the first Monday in October? Would you like, as Biden would prefer, to get it done this summer?
MS. MYERS: The first Monday in October is when you would hope to have a new justice seated. But we'll get it moving as quickly as we can, once the President has announced his decision.
Q on Biden's timetable?
MS. MYERS: We'll see.
Q One other follow on that. We know that he's talked to Babbitt about the job. The Interior people have confirmed that. But has he talked to any --
MS. MYERS: Are you sure?
Q Well, he's talked to Babbitt. Are you saying he has not?
MS. MYERS: He has not met with Babbitt.
Q No, talked.
Q He talked to him on the phone.
Q Has he talked to Bruce Babbitt on the telephone?
Q Or radio phone?
Q Any phone. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I would just be careful about -- you know, people at the Interior Department don't speak for the President, and we'll see --
Q Now we're asking you to --
MS. MYERS: What's that?
Q They speak with the Interior Secretary and he's on the other end of the conversation, right?
MS. MYERS: He's not making the decision, though.
Q But he would know if they've spoken.
MS. MYERS: Yes. There were some other things that were said yesterday that I'm not sure about.
Q Has the Secretary of the Interior harmed his chances by having his department put the word out here?
MS. MYERS: The President's going to make a decision based on who he thinks is best qualified, based on criteria that he outlined. Those were really the only factors that will be considered.
Q Has he spoken to any other candidates?
Q If the White House nominee for the Court is attacked the way Judge Bork was and your recent nominee for the Civil Rights Commission was attacked, what is the White House plan to try to shore up some public support?
MS. MYERS: We'll choose a nominee and then we'll come up with contingency plans in the case that they're attacked. (Laughter.)
Q Is there going to be a plan that will involve getting public support?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll have a strategy to guarantee the success of whoever the President chooses as his nominee.
Q Has he called Judge Breyer since Breyer's been in the hospital?
MS. MYERS: I didn't know Judge Breyer was in the hospital.
Q Well, if you called him once in a while. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Not to my knowledge, but I'll have to take that.
Q The President said he wanted a quick replacement for Lani Guinier. How is that search going? Who is handling it? What's the division of labor between Justice and the Counsel's Office?
MS. MYERS: As far as I know at this point, it's proceeding normally, which is that the Justice Department would submit some names, the White House would submit some names, they would come up with a mutually-agreed-upon list of people. The process is moving forward, I don't have a specific timetable, but I wouldn't expect it in the next couple of days.
Q Aren't you concerned that the nomination of --
Q Dee Dee, the back of the room, please.
MS. MYERS: I'll get you next, Sarah.
Q the nomination of a Supreme Court Justice.
Q I'll take it now, please. I was next. What are you going to -- (laughter) -- people spending government money, officials using airplanes when they shouldn't and things like that? Are you going to let Les Aspin get by with what he did in Geneva?
Q Well, what are you going to do? (Laughter.)
Q I don't know what you're laughing about up in the front, because we can't hear.
MS. MYERS: Somebody just pointed out that Secretary Aspin was in Venice and not in Geneva.
Q Well, all right, in Venice, then. Fine.
MS. MYERS: There are no plans at this point to take any action.
Q You say you have made the decision not to take action or you just haven't gotten it before you, or what?
MS. MYERS: There are just no plans to do so.
Q You going to let this guy get by with spending government money and wasting the time and salaries of other people who were with him on this trip and bringing along a girlfriend? You're going to let him get by on it?
MS. MYERS: She paid her own way.
Q How does that make a difference if she paid her own way when he was taking up the time of other officials of the government.
Q The President thinks his action was appropriate, for the government to pay for 22 members of his staff for R & R?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what all the details are -- if that was -- I believe that was in the middle of a trip, that Secretary Aspin took a few days off in the midst of that trip.
Q Well, the Pentagon has been studying the cost for days and they can give it to you.
MS. MYERS: Yes, and I'll have to get back to you on exactly what the costs was. As far as I know -- I don't have all the details in front of me, but as far as I know, that was part of a trip, it was in the middle of a trip, that Secretary Aspin's friend paid her own way. And we have nothing to add at this point.
Q So the President is not appalled?
Q question or follow-up?
MS. MYERS: I have nothing to add at this point.
Q First, is there concern that if you're going to nominate a Supreme Court justice this week, that's going to grind the Judiciary Committee to a halt in terms of seeking any replacements for Guinier? Is there any concern that that post is going to be vacant now for quite a while? And second, what is the President's expectations going into meeting with the Black Caucus on Thursday? What is his principal --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he'd like to talk about -- his principles are that he'd like to discuss the principles of reconciliation as well as a replacement for the civil rights division. I would be happy -- if anybody has any questions about the principles of the President's reconciliation I'd be happy to answer that.
Q Are you concerned about this post now that Guinier was up for is going to be -- it's not going to be replaced realistically, if you talk to members of the Judiciary Committee, if they're busy with a Supreme Court nominee. I mean, is there concern on the White House part that that post, very important post, is going to be vacant now for quite a while?
MS. MYERS: We would like to see that post filled as quickly as possible. However, I think the President's going to move forward with a Supreme Court Justice nominee. We'll move forward as quickly as we can with a civil rights division head, and hopefully, we'll get both of those confirmed as quickly as possible. I can't speak for the specific Judiciary Committee schedule other than to say that we'd like to see them both done as quickly as possible.
Q Is the Supreme Court a higher priority for you now?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the Supreme Court will be -- I mean, you'll have to check with the Judiciary Committee. I expect the Supreme Court's a higher priority for them. The President -- those two appointments are moving along on independent tracks. I think the President's going to announce a Supreme Court nominee when he's ready. He'll announce a new civil rights division chief when he's ready. And we'll let the Judiciary Committee take it up as they see fit.
Q You said he would seek the recommendations of the Black Caucus on that appointment?
MS. MYERS: Yes, he'd like their input on a replacement.
Q On Thursday?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Dee Dee, can I clarify something you said earlier? You said the ambassador to Japan would be named within this week?
MS. MYERS: No, no, within -- soon. Possibly later this week, but I don't have a hard timetable on it.
Q And how much lead time do you need before the Tokyo summit for an ambassador to get his feet on the ground and understand what's going on?
Q He won't be confirmed.
MS. MYERS: Yes, he won't be -- I don't think it will be through the confirmation process.
Q So Armacost will still be there at the time of the summit?
MS. MYERS: I would expect so, yes.
Q Dee Dee, on Guatemala, the new civilian President is trying to assert his authority over the military. He has sacked the old defense minister, put a new one. Is the White House satisfied with the way events are now unfolding in Guatemala?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the White House is generally satisfied with the way events there generally unfolded. There was a peaceful transition, that there was an election after a ruling of the constitutional court there. As you know, we've lifted the sanctions against them and continue to support them. The new President has a good -- sterling human rights record and we stand behind him.
Q Dee Dee, under the heading of unfinished business, what's the status of the review of the Travel Office investigation?
MS. MYERS: Ongoing, and I don't have a date as to when it might be completed. Soon.
Q I mean, we expected it last week. Have the changes in your area delayed this? Mark was in charge of that.
MS. MYERS: Yes, probably a little bit. He's now taken on new responsibilities. I don't think that means -- and I don't know exactly if he's going to continue and see that process through, whether he's going to shift it and Roy Neel take over. I just don't know.
Q What is the investigation about -- whether you present a case against these people for the Justice Department?
MS. MYERS: No, I think -- it wasn't to review -- it was to review the way the White House handled it, to see if there were ways that we might handle similar situations, if there ever are any, better in the future. But I don't think it was with an eye toward seeking any kind of further action.
Q But is there a second track where charges are being considered?
MS. MYERS: No, I mean, the only separate track will be there's an FBI investigation ongoing, or if there is. You have to check with them. I can't comment.
Q Dee Dee, there was one lingering question on the general's comments about the President. In the normal course of events the President would be reviewing authority on any court martial activity against the person in the military. Would he excuse himself in this case since the offense was against him?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that the President would have to review a court martial. I'll have to get back to you. I'll have to take that question because I don't know what the process is.
Q He would normally approve all the way up the line, and it would fall to him to --
MS. MYERS: The President would review and approve any court martial activity?
Q That's right.
Q He's in the line of command, and the line of command gets it passed up in any case. You know, command influence is out, so I was wondering in this case whether he would just remove himself from that process.
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that question.
Q The House a couple of weeks ago voted $1.2 billion for the Pentagon, which the Pentagon didn't ask for. And about $750 million of that went to the Somalia relief effort that the Pentagon said it could get through other projects and didn't really need the money. Why is the administration supporting that effort for those funds, given the size of the deficit?
MS. MYERS: Are you talking about the supplemental?
Q It's a separate --
MS. MYERS: There were two supplementals passed in the House. I believe Senator Byrd has combined them into one in the Senate, and it includes some foreign aid, which I believe part of it goes for peacekeeping, which we understood that we needed. So I'd have to -- maybe we could talk about this afterwards to find out the details.
Q This is separate from that, but it's $1.2 billion - -
MS. MYERS: Are you sure you're talking about -- there were was two supplementals that were passed in the House that are now pending in the Senate.
Q It was a whole separate from the supplemental. I don't know where, but I know the Pentagon did not ask for the money.
MS. MYERS: It was $1.2 billion?
Q Dee Dee, at 8:00 p.m. tonight time, the Japanese royal wedding will occur. Did the President send any message of congratulations or do you have a statement?
MS. MYERS: I don't, and I'll have to double-check to see if he sent a message of congratulations. I know the world is watching. (Laughter.)
Q Or a gift.
MS. MYERS: No, I will check that because it's --
Q Well, he sent them a framework for trade. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: It was a sterling silver framework.
Q Can you describe how important it is to the President to have reconciliation done in time to go to Tokyo?
MS. MYERS: I think that it would certainly help. I mean, one of the things the President has talked repeatedly about is encouraging global growth and getting all the developed countries in the world to do their part to get the global economy moving again. If the United States takes a step forward and passes a disciplined deficit reduction package, I think that that gives us credibility in the world. I think it had an impact -- it's had an impact already in our relationships with other countries, and I think we can go there with an example of United States' resolve to getting this global economy moving.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
Q Free at last! (Laughter.)
END 12:31 P.M. EDT