THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS The Briefing Room
1:47 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: The President will travel on Saturday, which most of you already know. There's a sign-up sheet in the back. He is going to St. Louis to speak with, among other things, to speak with the governors of the eight flood-affected states. More details on the schedule will be available as they are finalized.
Q Do you know what time, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: We'll leave -- his goal is to leave early on Saturday morning and to finish up sort of early afternoon.
Q Is he going to Little Rock?
MS. MYERS: He may. And if he does, he will take a family pool, so the press charter will come back to Washington and hopefully get back sometime mid-afternoon.
Q When will he return from Little Rock?
Q How long would that be for?
MS. MYERS: Sunday midday.
Q And how long would he stay there?
MS. MYERS: Just for the night.
MS. MYERS: Just it's an opportunity for him just to go back to Little Rock, see some friends.
Q Where will he when he's there?
MS. MYERS: I don't know yet. We're -- scheduling is working out the details.
Q Dee Dee, getting back to this St. Louis thing, what about the reports that there would actually be like a big meeting -- you know, what am I trying to say? Not town hall, but a conference among all sorts of state and local leaders?
MS. MYERS: I think something along those lines is likely. Again, it will -- I think perhaps -- I mean, certainly the governors -- we're working out the details. Perhaps congressional delegations and other people who are involved in the efforts there, as well as some people from the local communities. But it will be someplace in the greater St. Louis area. And as soon as we have the specific details, we'll let you know.
Q Is it something we could broadcast live?
MS. MYERS: Possibly. I mean, there probably will be some aspect that you all can carry live.
Q There has been a protest by a member of gays and lesbians at the Lincoln Memorial about "don't ask, don't tell". How does "don't ask, don't tell" fit with the President's commitment?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, the final details of the policy are still being worked out. I expect that Secretary Aspin will have the final report here sometime later today or possibly this evening. As you may know, he -- the President met with Secretary Aspin last night and they -- the Secretary presented to him sort of preliminary recommendations.
MS. MYERS: Preliminary. They're not final -- as opposed to final.
Q You mean on the eve of the deadline he gets preliminary recommendations?
MS. MYERS: As opposed to final. That's correct. They're not final.
Q How do they turn into final?
MS. MYERS: Based on the conversation that the Secretary had with the President last night, he will finalize his recommendations and forward those to the President today. To get to Andrea's question, the President said that what he -- his objective in this was that nobody should be excluded from service on the basis of status alone. We'll have to wait for the final details of this policy, but that is still the President's objective -- that status alone should not disqualify people from serving. They've already stopped --
Q What do you mean status?
Q Social status?
Q How is it legal -- how is it constitutional for people to not be able to discuss their own sexual orientation? Isn't that unconstitutional?
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm certainly not going to discuss the constitutionality of a policy whose details have not yet been finalized. But, again, the President's objective in this has not changed -- that people ought not to be excluded on the basis of status alone. However --
Q What do you mean by status?
MS. MYERS: Status as opposed to conduct; on who they are as opposed to what they do. There will still be, as there always have been, strict rules guiding conduct in the military. The President has said numerous times that he didn't expect the Uniform Code of Military Justice in this regard to change to allow any kinds of changes in conduct as a result of this policy.
Q Dee Dee, the President said many times during the campaign and the transition that gays should not have to lie about themselves. "Don't ask, don't tell" basically requires people to lie about themselves.
MS. MYERS: They no longer ask the question now. And again, I can't comment in detail on a policy which has not been finalized. So the President said he would review this. He expects to make a decision on it quickly. I don't know when the final announcement will come. It could come as soon as tomorrow.
Q What was his reaction to Aspin's visit and recommendations? Not the substance, but did he think he did a thorough job or was there still work to be done?
MS. MYERS: Yes. I think the President thought that -- they had a fairly, I think, long conversation about it.
Q How long?
MS. MYERS: It lasted about 90 minutes, maybe a little longer. They talked -- I think the President thought that a lot of work has been done on this. I think it's a difficult issue. I think that it's obviously very complicated when you get into different aspects of how it would be applied practically and the practical effects of these kinds of policies. And so there was a lot of discussion about the practical implications.
Q Was it just the two of them?
MS. MYERS: No, no, there were other staff members there.
Q Did he ask him to go back and refine a couple of points?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think that they had a couple of --the President had a couple of outstanding questions. And I think there's still a lot of work being done on it today. And sometime today -- I don't know when; by the end of today or sometime tonight we expect to have the final report.
Q Are you ruling out a decision today?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q When George talked to us about this at some point, he said that the President would want to go through a series of whatif questions to understand the practical implications. That is, if you decide that gay people cannot -- not that they have to lie, but they can't tell, there's a series of questions, such as does going to a gay church amount to telling? Does telling your bunk mates amount to telling? And that the President would want to go through a series of his own questions on this. Is that process -- is that what occurred last night?
MS. MYERS: That's a lot of what happened last night, yes.
Q Would you describe that in your own words, what kind of questions is the President interested in knowing answers to?
MS. MYERS: I think that -- again, I won't characterize it other than to say that the President was interested in what the practical effects of the policy would be -- how it would be affected in practice in the day-to-day life of the military. And I think trying to understand the concerns of the military versus the concerns of some of the individuals. And he spent some time going over that last night.
Q What kind of questions was he asking?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I don't want to give you the specifics of it, other than to characterize the general nature.
Q Will Aspin's report be available to us?
MS. MYERS: I think that there will be -- it will come in the form of recommendations, and I don't know whether we'll release it as it or not. I'll check on that.
Q When do you expect him to make a decision?
MS. MYERS: He said he would review it and hoped to make a decision soon. I said it could come as soon as tomorrow, although I don't know yet since the report hasn't arrived.
Q How would he do it? Would he hold a news conference? What is on the schedule?
MS. MYERS: I don't know yet. We haven't made a final decision about what form it would take, although the President will make the announcement himself in some form.
Q Will Aspin be back here today?
MS. MYERS: Don't know. The President said he may call him and ask him to come over later, although it's not scheduled.
Q Dee Dee, when you say that the President's objective is no exclusion on the basis of status, is that secret status or open status?
MS. MYERS: Again, the President's position on this has not changed. He doesn't think people should be excluded on the basis of status. Since the final recommendations have not been received, the President hasn't made a decision, I don't want to go beyond that.
Q That's not what his question is. His question is not about what the recommendation is, his question is about what is meant by status, which is something you've been talking about here for months.
MS. MYERS: And I'm just not going to comment on what the policy's going to look like since --
Q He's not asking that. That's not the question. The question is, you've been saying here since the first day of this administration that the President doesn't believe that people -- anybody should be excluded solely on the basis of status.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q He's asking what that -- not the new policy -- what that means. What status means. Does it mean secret status or open status?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I'm not going to comment on how the policy is going to address status, other than to say that there's --
Q What did mean during the campaign, Dee Dee, when he said during the campaign that people should not be excluded on the basis of status? What did he mean?
MS. MYERS: I think he made that very clear -- status as opposed to conduct on the basis of who they are as opposed to what they do. Now, how you define that, obviously, is what the last six months has been about. It's very complicated because the practical implications of it are not simple. That is why the President asked the Secretary to go and look at this, to talk to as many people as he could to commission an independent study. And exactly how that is affected by the policy, I think, remains to be seen. It is what the President will decide sometime in the next few days.
Q Dee Dee, we know that Gergen and Stephanopoulos have been heavily involved in discussions with Barney Frank and Gary Studds on that side of the issue. Do you know if the President has talked to anybody from the gay community in the last 24 hours, 48 hours?
MS. MYERS: He hasn't. They were not present.
Q So his -- all conversations have been on the military side -- that is, Aspin?
MS. MYERS: Well, since Aspin was the point person, the person that he asked to go out and do the ground work for him and the person who's preparing the report. But obviously, Secretary Aspin and George and David have had numerous conversations with a variety of parties, including representatives of the gay community. And then they were there last night -- yesterday George and David went to the Pentagon and met with Studds and Barney and others.
Q Do you know if the President is talking to anybody?
MS. MYERS: He has not.
Q Or anybody in Congress about this now, like Nunn or --
MS. MYERS: He has talked certainly to -- I'm sure he'll see people up on the Hill today. Whether that comes up, I don't know. He certainly talked to Barney Frank and others throughout this process, but not in the last 24 hours.
Q To clarify his position then, is that no one should be excluded on the basis of status, however that is defined; but is his position also that no one should be evicted on the basis of status? Because I could see a situation where they could say, well, since "don't ask, don't tell" has been enshrined here, no one will be excluded, i.e., no one will be barred from entry into the military on the basis of status. I want to know if it applies -- is his position no one is excluded and no one is evicted also on the basis of status?
MS. MYERS: Well, the exact definition of how that is going to be applied is what is being worked out now. And I just don't want to go further in characterizing how it will be applied practically. I just can't do that today.
Q Dee Dee, is the intent to reach a point where homosexual behavior, conduct, prohibited behavior, is in the same category as prohibited heterosexual behavior on or off base?
MS. MYERS: Well, that is how the Uniform Code of Military Justice currently works. It applies to conduct on and off the base, it has a lot of regulations regarding heterosexual conduct so, I mean, I think that it's looking -- certainly there is a, sort of, movement toward a uniform standard. But I don't want to get further into the specifics of this since the President hasn't made final decisions.
Q The point is, though, that they don't launch investigations most likely in a heterosexual context -- someone has been adulterous, but they do when it's homosexual. Is there intent to try to reach the point where these are parallel situations and they would only investigate the kind of behavior involving homosexuals as well as heterosexuals?
MS. MYERS: You know, I just -- I don't what to -- I'm not going to say anymore about the -- I think I've said all that I can say today since the details of the policy are not available. Exactly how these matters are going to be resolved are not yet ready to be made public, and so I just don't think, unless anybody has a different question that in terms of the specific nature, definitions, and applications --
Q I'm asking you the intent, not --
MS. MYERS: But I am not -- I'm just not in a position to characterize it today.
Q You said that he may not accept the recommendations presented by Secretary Aspin. Has he had someone develop other policy options?
MS. MYERS: Not in any kind of formal sense. I think that obviously there have been a number of conversations about this and a lot of different options have been explored. And I think that all of the options, many options are sort of out there on the table.
Q Is it sufficiently along so that if he doesn't want to do what Aspin wants to do, he has something else he can go to?
MS. MYERS: I think that that's -- wouldn't take long to put that together were he to make a decision, that kind of decision.
Q As a practical matter, though, didn't Aspin basically brief him on what this was likely to contain and get guidance from him as to what he would like it to contain? I mean, so that whatever comes out of the Pentagon is likely to have had heavy presidential input, right?
MS. MYERS: It has had, I think -- and particularly after last night I think that it has had input from the President and other members of the White House staff at this point. The Secretary is still going to go back and make recommendations based on his findings. I think it will reflect many of the President's concerns, but perhaps not all of them. I just leave the option open.
Q Dee Dee, has the Attorney General had a role in this? There have been some reports that she's a little bit concerned about defending in court the constitutionality of something like "don't ask, don't tell." Did she have a role?
MS. MYERS: The Justice Department has been involved, and I'm not sure exactly who and at exactly what points. But my understanding is that they have been involved in this.
Q Is that a factor, being able to defend this later down the road in court?
MS. MYERS: Of course.
Q Is that a major factor?
Q Can you find out who is handling the legal issue from both the White House and the Justice Department?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q From the Counsel's Office and from Justice.
Q Dee Dee, if he's been having these conversations with Aspin about the practical application of a policy, can we presume that since that's the way the conversations are going that he will not call for just a complete lifting of the ban the way he said he would during the campaign?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think that that's probably unlikely.
Q Dee Dee, a few weeks ago Barney Frank came out and said that he felt he could possibly support a "don't ask, don't tell" policy as long as the Military Code of Conduct is uniformly enforced and applied to both heterosexuals and homosexuals. And given there have been several discussions with Congressman Frank, is this along the line that you're considering? That there be some -- whatever it is, that would ensure that there's uniform enforcement of any prohibited acts?
MS. MYERS: I'm just not going to characterize what the policy might look like and how it might be applied. So I just don't have anything else to say on that. If anybody has any other questions, I'm happy to answer them.
Q How much has this issue hurt you in getting your budget through? How much do you think this has hurt -- the concentration on this issue?
MS. MYERS: I think the President himself has spent very little time -- the key players in the budget process have spent very little time on this. I think it's had virtually no effect on the budget process.
Q In other words, you don't think you would have done any better had this subject not been on the table during the opening months?
MS. MYERS: I think it's impossible to say. I don't think that the President came into office thinking he'd make this the first issue that he addressed, but I think it's impossible to say what the exact -- I don't think it's had a dramatic impact on it, no.
Q Dee Dee, now that you have conceded that the President will compromise on this issue and not call for complete lifting of the ban, can you explain why he has retreated? Is it because of the pressure from the military?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that he will have a policy. I wouldn't characterize it as a retreat. I think he'll have a policy that meets the broad objectives that he outlined. That people will not be eliminated from service on the basis of status alone.
Obviously, it's a very complicated. I think that -- I'm not sure that anybody will be 100 percent satisfied. I don't think that there's a way to make anybody 100 percent satisfied. This is obviously a difficult issue. But I think the President came into office committed to making a change in this area and I think he's going to do that. It wouldn't have happened without his leadership and I think it will be a step forward.
Q Dee Dee, may I clarify something, please? You seem to be putting some daylight between the President and Aspin. You're saying --
MS. MYERS: No, I don't mean to.
Q Well, you're sending it back across the river to revamp the report --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q he gave the President last night and you're saying the President's looking at other options other than what Aspin --
MS. MYERS: No. Let me clarify. I'm not trying to do that at all. I just left open the option which I think is because it's the President's decision, that he may not accept Secretary Aspin's recommendations as exactly as presented. I think that that is the President's prerogative and it's not for me to limit his options. I think that the conversation he had last night with Secretary Aspin is very much part of the process. I think the President had some questions he wanted answered, I think he wanted to give -- I think Secretary Aspin wanted some direction from the President. I think it's part of the process as opposed to sending him back to the drawing board. This is just part of the process.
Q Could you just clarify what the process is once he makes his decision and makes his announcement? What is the next step and where does the congressional role come in?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that will be up to Congress. I mean they can take congressional action and mandate what's been nonlegislative policy, but that's separate. I think it will go to the Department of Defense and to the services to implement the policy and Congress can take additional action if they see fit.
Q But to change what? What would Congress exactly do?
MS. MYERS: They could adopt the legislation that would create a law doing one thing or another as per gays in the military.
Q Which would change the Military Code of Justice, specifically?
MS. MYERS: I don't know exactly how it would affect --I don't think it would change -- the Military Code of Justice is something that the military defines and operates, but you could create a law affecting homosexuals in the military.
Q In order to meet his campaign promise about who you are rather than what you do, under the President's policy, if you are homosexual will you be allowed to serve openly in the U.S. military?
MS. MYERS: We'll wait until the President makes a decision on exactly what the policy will look like. I'm not going to answer that question today.
Q How can it be otherwise?
MS. MYERS: Sometime in the next few days the President will announce the details of his policy and at that time I think it will be appropriate to take up specifically how that will function.
Q Will he do it from Washington, D.C.?
MS. MYERS: I would expect so.
Q Can you tell us about the war room that's being set up to ride herd on the budget?
MS. MYERS: Yes. As you know, Roger Altman and Ricki Seidman are spearheading a -- oh, I wouldn't call it a war room exactly -- a place that's going to coordinate the details of the reconciliation process, the conference process, just making sure that the President's message gets out every day, that we consider all the options that we inform the American people about what's in the President's plan, what's in the conference report, how that's going to affect them. And I just think we hope to do it in a very focused way.
Q What will you do differently? We heard that when the thing was first introduced the war rooms --
Q Is this a physical deal?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's the conference room on the first floor OEOB, I think it's 168. I don't know what the room number is.
Q Is that the same one that was the war room before?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's the same room.
Q Same room.
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q Well, what's different?
MS. MYERS: I think -- yes, Ricki's over there. Roger's going to be over there. I think they're just going to focus through this next two or three week period --
Q All day, every day?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q Is it for public drumming up or the congressional?
MS. MYERS: I think it will focus on -- a little bit on both. But I think the focus will be to make sure that people know what's in, what the President's position is on various issues; people know what's in the package; people are sure how it's going to affect them; what the alternatives are; what the down side to not passing the President's budget package would be.
Q Can't you take this war room concept a little too far if you do it too often and you get to the point where instead of focusing attention and everything, people just aren't going to pay any attention to it at all because you have another war room on another topic?
MS. MYERS: I would be -- I don't think anybody here would be disappointed if nobody paid attention to the process involved. (Laughter.) So the sooner we can wear out the idea the better.
Q Dee Dee, there's a couple stories about Jocelyn Elders, one that she -- the Governor of Arkansas is upset because she's been taking two salaries pending her confirmation hearing tomorrow; and the other is that her husband didn't pay his Social Security taxes on the nurse taking care of his mother. Do you have any reaction to this?
MS. MYERS: We're looking into them now.
Q Is she taking two salaries?
Q Do you think that they're --
MS. MYERS: We're looking into it. I don't know all the specifics on it.
Q What would be the administration's view of somebody double-dipping like that?
MS. MYERS: We're looking into it.
Q Is it something you think could possible derail the nomination?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I think we need to have a little more information on it, exactly what the circumstances were. I know it's something that the Counsel's Office is working on.
Q So the Counsel is now investigating her?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q Is the FBI investigating?
MS. MYERS: You'll have to call them. (Laughter.)
Q Could this possibly delay the hearings?
MS. MYERS: As of this morning, there was no plans to delay the hearing. But if that changes -- I mean, I'll certainly be happy to take that question and post a response.
Q What, she's getting a salary from federal government and from the state?
MS. MYERS: I think there's an issue as to whether she's paid as a consultant to the federal government. She can't draw a salary because she hasn't been confirmed.
Q But she is being paid as a consultant.
MS. MYERS: She's being paid as a consultant and --
Q Same salary that she would get if confirmed, do you know?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q How long has she been on the job -- consultant job?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q Can you take those questions?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q How much.
Q Yes, how much is important, and how it compares with what her salary when and if confirmed would be.
Q I bet it's identical.
MS. MYERS: I don't know how that works for her.
Q When is the OMB going to release its midsession budget review?
MS. MYERS: By the end of today they'll have a preliminary review, which will go up to Congress, which will look at the reestimate of the fiscal -- where we are in Fiscal '93. I think it will show that the budget deficit is actually $20 or $25 billion lower than our original estimate for a number of reasons, including lower interest costs, but other things, too -- not spending money for bailing out financial institutions, things like that.
But I think -- so they'll send sort of a preliminary review up to the Hill. I'm sure they'll make it public, sometime later today before close of business.
Q Does that mean you need less money in deficit reduction and you could go for --
MS. MYERS: No, because it will also show that in the out-years our baseline hasn't changed, that our projections haven't changed over the long-term. And it's somewhat surprising that given the fiscal situation that the Republicans are so quick to say that we don't need real deficit reduction. The President's still committed to $500 billion in deficit reduction.
Q I was talking about John Breaux; he's a Democrat.
Q Breaux is the one who said it.
MS. MYERS: Well, the Republicans have been saying much more for much longer about this.
Q What about Breaux?
MS. MYERS: The President would like to see $500 billion in deficit reduction. That has not changed.
Q Would he not agree to $400 billion? Is that just below --
MS. MYERS: He wants $500 billion.
Q Dee Dee, if you deficit projection ends up being more like $20 billion less than you expected, does give you a little leeway of perhaps $20 billion less than $500 billion deficit reduction?
MS. MYERS: I think the President still wants $500 billion in deficit reduction. I think Panetta and others have said if it was $497 billion, I don't think that that would be a dealbreaker. But the President wants $500 billion.
Q You seem to be shifting a little and depicting this as you just want to have the largest deficit reduction in history, and the largest to date is in the low $480s, so you could still have something in the $480s and meet your goal.
MS. MYERS: No, I think from the beginning of this process, the President has called for $500 billion in deficit reduction. I think at one point it was $495 billion, at one point it was $512 billion or something. But I think throughout this process the President has said $500 billion in deficit reduction; that has not changed.
Q Why is it lower?
Q Without stretching your economic background or accidentally getting Laura Tyson in here, why do the out-years --
MS. MYERS: You threaten to get a backgrounder.
Q why do the out years show the same number? I mean, starting from a lower deficit in coming years, are you spending more money somewhere else? How is that $25 billion made up?
MS. MYERS: Well, because some of the savings is because money for things like bailing out financial institutions simply hasn't been spent. It's not that it's not going to be, it's going to get spent in later years.
Some of it comes from lower interest costs, but not a lot. And I think they'll be able to show that when they work --Laura Tyson is actually doing the actual forecast. So they'll have more on that.
Q There's an awful lot of people who don't understand what the President has put forward as his program in that bill and what Congress is doing. That's shown by the speeches being made in Congress everyday, especially the House. Now, if this Seidman woman and her partner are working up some explanation of what the President really means, can we have a copy of them?
MS. MYERS: Thank you. I think -- it won't be anything that we will hand out copies of, Sarah, but it will be something that we'll be out there pressing very hard every day. And if we haven't --
Q There are people that do not understand all these words and all this -- these people are puzzled. They do not understand at all. And as a result, they all think that it's only about raising taxes.
MS. MYERS: That's why we've created an opportunity to press the President's case. And I think we're going to do that very aggressively over the course of the next couple of weeks to make sure people do know.
Q some evidence of it.
MS. MYERS: We hope to provide that.
Q On the Elders case, could tell us these problems that have been raised in the last couple of days. Did that come out in the interaction or in the Counsel's Office? How was all this discovered -- the two salaries and the --
MS. MYERS: I think through routine background checking.
Q Vetting, huh?
MS. MYERS: Vetting.
Q Is the President --
MS. MYERS: I believe so, but I am not 100 percent sure.
Q Dee Dee, are you aware of any other case where a nominee was being paid as a consultant while also collecting another salary?
MS. MYERS: No, I'm not.
Q What's the latest on these five Travelgate guys? What's the latest on trying to find them jobs?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that any of them have been placed yet, but they will be somewhere in the federal government.
Q They won't be at the White House, will they?
MS. MYERS: I think that's unlikely.
Q Also, you have a lot of folks on the Hill -- Dole and I think Wolf today, trying to sink their teeth into something on Travelgate, and they've called for investigations by Treasury and also by other people. Do you all see any need for more investigations? Do you think this is just politically driven?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think there's been, obviously, a White House review, a GAO review and the Justice Department has reviewed it.
Q Has reviewed? Is Justice complete?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if it's 100 percent complete. I guess they're in the process of reviewing it.
Q Dee Dee, for the last week Shalala and others have been saying that they're a thousand percent behind Jocelyn Elders' nomination. Would you characterize the President's stand today as still a thousand percent behind her nomination?
MS. MYERS: Yes. There's been no change.
Q Dee Dee, on NAFTA a lot of boosters are saying that the White House has, if not dropped the ball, fumbled it, allowing opponents kind of a prestaged, to turn public opinion against the pact. What are you doing about that, and what --
MS. MYERS: I think we've been working --
Q A NAFTA war room. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: As soon as reconciliation is over -- I think the administration has been working very hard on it, and the President's made it clear that he supports the package, but it needs to have the side agreements on environment and labor first. I think that the President will continue to work hard, as will others in the administration, to pass NAFTA.
Q On the NAFTA czar?
MS. MYERS: I think that's something that we'll do. We haven't named anybody yet, but there will be somebody in the White House to coordinate that effort.
Q the preliminary budget here that you sent to Congress?
MS. MYERS: Yes. We can certainly make it available. It's for preliminary review.
Q Dee Dee, what's the President's position about the current crisis between the U.N. and Italy? I mean, does he approve the U.N. decision to recall or to ask that the general commanding the U.N. contingent -- contingent -- be recalled to Italy, or --
MS. MYERS: Well, that's certainly a U.N. decision. I think the President believes the U.N. has the authority to make that.
Q But does he approve of the decision?
MS. MYERS: It's the U.N.'s decision -- it's for them to make.
Q You mean, he doesn't have any opinion?
MS. MYERS: He doesn't have any objection.
Q Dee Dee, on Dr. Elders, in his speech to the NAACP, Vice President Gore on Monday had a reference in his prepared text to Dr. Elders in the vein of who would have thought 30 years ago that Jocelyn Elders would be surgeon general, but that was omitted in his delivery of the speech. Why?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'd suggest you give Marla a call. He may have been --
Q Pressed for time.
MS. MYERS: Pressed for time -- he may have been doing -- (laughter) -- as we say, ad libbing, but that's so unusual where I come from that I wouldn't be familiar with it. (Laughter.)
Q Dee Dee, when the President goes up to the Hill today he's going to be talking with some of the flood people. How is he going to handle this? I mean, a couple of weeks ago, a week and a half ago, he said $1.2 billion, and then he said $2.5 billion. Is he going to keep upping the ante, or will there be a point where he just says let's study it and then we'll figure out how much --
Q Will he give Tom Harkin everything --
MS. MYERS: I think what the President said was that the $2.5-billion package was based on preliminary damage estimates. I think what people in Iowa and the other states are saying is that it will take some time until the water recedes and have a chance to make a more thorough damage assessment before they know exactly what the impact is going to be. The President left open and Director Panetta left open the possibility of asking for additional disaster relief if that becomes necessary.
Q When would that point come? Will he wait until -- MS. MYERS: Sometime in the next -- I don't think it'll
come this afternoon, but I do think that is something he'll talk both to the bipartisan leaders about and then to the delegations from the affected states today. I think he's going to ask the bipartisan leaders to pass this package, the supplemental appropriation quickly and to make that money available as quickly as possible and to hold open the possibility that they may come back for more.
Q What does he want to come out of Saturday's meeting?
Q Is the President meeting with the President of Mexico in August?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if that's been scheduled. I'll take the question.
Q And have there been -- what is the administration going to do in terms of negotiating with Mexico and other countries about the Chinese immigrant situation, this first one having been less than easy?
MS. MYERS: I think that the U.S. and Mexico cooperate on a number of issues including a lot of immigration issues. Obviously, we're grateful for Mexico's decision yesterday to proceed -- to get the people and to proceed with getting them back to China or whatever they're going to do. And we'll continue to cooperate on immigration and other issues.
Q Was part of the discussions having Clinton and Salinas meet on this issue soon?
MS. MYERS: I'll take that. I don't believe that was a part of it but they may be meeting at some point in the near future anyway.
Q Dee Dee, when you say $20 to $25 billion below the previous forecast, you're referencing the $322 billion end of February?
MS. MYERS: Exactly. Right. I think that this will show that it's somewhere between $285 and $290 billion.
Q Dee Dee, is the White House or the President personally involved at all -- federal relief for the droughts in the Southeast in conjunction with the worry about the floods?
MS. MYERS: I'm sorry, one more time.
Q Relief, federal aid to the drought victims in the Southeast in conjunction with putting together a package for flood aid in the Midwest --
MS. MYERS: I'm not -- I think we're going to have an exchange. We're going to send some of that Mississippi -- I don't know. I know there is some talk of disaster declarations in those parts -- in other states, but I don't think that those have happened yet. I'll have to check. I don't know if there's been an official request for disaster declaration in any of those other states. I know there's been some conversation about it.
Q I don't know what that Seidman woman has decided yet about selling the President's reconciliation package -- for the next couple of weeks what's the strategy for the President? Is he best served by being here in town twisting arms or is he going to go on the road to whip up public support?
MS. MYERS: I think he'll spend a lot of time in Washington. I certainly wouldn't rule out a couple of trips outside of Washington, but I think he'll be quite involved in this as the process moves forward.
Q Anything planned?
MS. MYERS: I don't have any schedule beyond the weekend?
Q How about a vacation?
Q Why is Saturday -- how did -- come about -- and what did he want to accomplish? And also what about tomorrow's --
MS. MYERS: I don't have tomorrow's schedule in front of me. How did this come about -- I think it's just an opportunity to continue to work with the governors in the affected communities in the flood states to make sure that they get the kind of help from the federal government that they need.
I think that already FEMA and other federal agencies have gotten quite high praise from people in the region for responding quickly. And the President's committed to making sure that the federal government responds as quickly and compassionately as possible.
Q Dee Dee, was it a White House request that U.S. special forces be deployed to Soviet Georgia to help train bodyguards for Eduard Shevardnadze?
MS. MYERS: There are occasional reports of that and we just don't comment on them.
Q The President's meeting last night with Aspin -- who else was in the room? And who went with Gergen and Stephanopoulos --
MS. MYERS: Tony Lake, Gergen, Stephanopolous, and I'm not sure who else.
Q -- Pentagon?
MS. MYERS: No, no, they went before. They went to the Pentagon in the early evening. I think The Post had them in at 4:37 p.m.
Q Dee Dee, what is General Powell's role right now in this?
MS. MYERS: He's been actively involved.
Q Was he in on the meeting last night?
MS. MYERS: No, he was not.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:20 P.M. EDT