THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: A couple of quick announcements. President Clinton today sent a telegram to Indian Prime Minister Rao:
Dear Mr. Prime Minister, I was saddened to hear of the recent earthquake in western India. My heart goes out to the victims of the devastation and to those left homeless. I am confident that the efforts of your government and the courage and resilience of the Indian people will succeed in mitigating the worst effects of the disaster. I wish your country a quick recovery. That went out a little while ago. Second, the
President, as you know, met today with members of Congress who are undecided on NAFTA. They wanted to heard basically what the President had to say about the agreement's impact on jobs. Predictability, he reiterated his belief that NAFTA will create jobs on both sides of the border. He pointed out that since Mexico began lowering tariffs in 1986, the U.S. has gone -- actually U.S. exports to Mexico have quadrupled and we went from a $6 billion deficit to a $5 billion surplus.
The President also said he believes NAFTA's prospects are improving. He pointed out that a Los Angeles Times poll today shows public support increasing and there's a plurality of people who now support NAFTA for the first time.
Q Can you explain that. The Post says 31 percent of those polled said they opposed the plan, 26 percent support it, and 37 percent said they were unaware of it.
MS. MYERS: A plurality of people who have an opinion about it support it. And that is an improvement over previous polls, and I think a reason to be encouraged.
Q So it's a plurality of those who are following, those who are closely following it? That was the plurality?
MS. MYERS: A plurality of those who are closely following the agreement now support it for the first time, which is an improvement.
Q But overall, I mean, the country as a whole opposes it.
MS. MYERS: I don't think that that's true. Based on what evidence?
Q Thirty-one percent opposed it.
MS. MYERS: And?
Q Twenty-six support it.
MS. MYERS: If you look at people who are following it --
Q That's a narrow group, though. Most of the people don't know what it is.
Q The plurality is unaware of it. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I stand by the President's earlier comment and mine, that people -- that we're moving in the right direction; that for the first time there's a poll showing people who are following this treaty support it. That is reason to be encouraged. There were no announcements by members of Congress at the end of the meeting today that they had changed their position one way or another. They are genuinely undecided. But the President will continue to meet with members and campaign hard to see that this agreement is passed.
Q Can we take this the next step, though? A lot of the members out there said that perhaps the administration's campaign has been focused in the wrong direction. That instead of lobbying members of Congress, you should be lobbying people on the factory floor, ordinary Americans, to build support from the ground up. Did the President accept that argument from them?
MS. MYERS: I think the President's going to work hard to convince all Americans that NAFTA will create jobs. He certainly speaks out about it every opportunity. He's done a number of events on it in recent weeks and he'll continue to do that. I think that there is some evidence to suggest that once people -- that if people believe the treaty creates jobs, then they support it. There was a Wall Street Journal poll to that effect last week. It's certainly something that the President is aware of and will do everything he can to convince people that this treaty creates jobs. I think it's 19 out of 20 credible studies on the subject show that it does.
Q Is he going to raise the issue at the AFL meeting on Monday?
MS. MYERS: The speech is still being worked out. I suspect in one way or another it will come up. It's something that's important to both groups -- to the President and to the labor leaders.
Q In these three-a-day phone calls that he's been doing to the Hill for a while now, how many votes has he picked up?
MS. MYERS: I don't have an exact head count. I think the people who are keeping track of that think that they are gaining support, that it's moving in the right direction. There's no -- nobody believes that this is going to be easy, but the President believes that it is doable. I think Speaker Foley indicated after the meeting today that he thought things were improving, that NAFTA's prospects were improving, and that we are picking up votes.
Q But there aren't any numbers that --
MS. MYERS: There have been several announcements in the last few days, including Congressman Berman, which I think was a major step in the right direction for NAFTA.
Q The Speaker told us out on the driveway he thought there was a secret vote, that it would probably pass. Does the President think that the Democratic Congress, if they weren't caught in special interest poll and this sort of thing, would vote secretly and approve it?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President believes that if people can focus on the merits of the agreement and on the facts, that he can win a lot of converts to this because credible studies do show that it creates jobs. I think just the results since Mexico has lowered tariffs over the last six or seven years are very credible evidence to that effect. I think he believes that through the course of the next couple of months he'll be able t convince members based on the merits of the actual facts in this case that it's a good deal.
Q In that speech to the AFL-CIO, is that then on health care primarily?
MS. MYERS: Primarily on health care, yes.
Q NAFTA comes in in what capacity?
MS. MYERS: Well, I only throw out the prospect that in some capacity it's likely to come up in that forum.
Q Is he going to take questions?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so, it's just a speech. But in discussions with labor leaders, perhaps in the speech. It's still being drafted.
Q Do you mean some guys will stand up in the audience to protest or the President is going to utter the word NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: The speech is still being drafted, but I wouldn't rule out the fact that it may come up. The speech is at 11:00 a.m. Pacific time on Monday. At 10:59 a.m. the speech will be done and we'll know for sure.
Q And at 11:07 a.m. it will be on the TelePrompter.
MS. MYERS: It's an announcement of a local initiative. We'll have more on it later. I think it's primarily of local interest.
Q What's that?
MS. MYERS: The rest of the schedule in San Francisco on Monday.
Q Will NAFTA be the focus of any event in the California trip?
MS. MYERS: No. The speech on -- the town hall on Sunday evening is primarily health care, but it's certainly not restricted to health care. The speech Monday will focus primarily on health care and then we'll do an event Tuesday morning that will also focus primarily on health care.
Q Is he going to do a Monday afternoon event in Los Angeles?
MS. MYERS: Probably not. We originally thought about it, but for those of you who are not in the pool, Monday will be a night off in Los Angeles. For those of you who don't have to work.
Q Guess who's in the pool.
Q What is he doing the rest of the day Monday?
MS. MYERS: He has some fundraisers in the evening, a DCCC event and a couple of other events. But they'll be closed with a protective pool only.
Q One more scheduling thing. The trip to Yale, does that have another event yet?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President may go to New Haven next Saturday, a week from tomorrow, for a law school reunion. The schedule around that has not been finalized. It's possible an event could be added somewhere in New England, but it's not finalized.
Q Is there any difference between the administration's view and Boutros-Ghali's view on what the mission should be in Somalia and how long American troops should stay?
MS. MYERS: No, I think that there's actually quite a bit of agreement there, that while things have been moving forward on the enforcement track, that more attention needs to be paid to the political track to create a secure environment the Somalis can start to take over the -- rebuild the day-to-day institutions of life there. I think that Boutros-Ghali agrees with that.
Q Any areas of disagreement that you're talking with him about now?
MS. MYERS: I don't think there are any major areas of disagreement, no.
Q What is the President hoping to accomplish with his meeting this afternoon? And how disappointed is he about the Arab refusal to lift the embargo?
MS. MYERS: Well, obviously the President was disappointed with that. He had urged the parties to do that and will continue to press for it.
Today, the President will meet first with Crown Prince Hassan and then with both Foreign Minister Peres and Crown Prince Hassan. And they'll go out to the South Lawn where they will each make a statement. There won't be any questions at that. And I believe it's an expanded pool. And then he'll come back and meet with Prime Minister Peres --
Q On the South Lawn? He's going to do the pool on the South Lawn?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's kind of down the hill by the Oval Office -- I'm pointing the wrong way, but --
Q Expanded pool?
MS. MYERS: It's expanded pool -- open photo-writing pool, I think.
Q Open photo-writing pool?
MS. MYERS: I'll check and see why it was decided that there's a pool. There's plenty of room. There are no questions, though, so it's sort of a limited event. It's simply to make a statement. And then there will be a background briefing here afterwards.
Q Will they shake hands?
Q The President is not going to bring them into the East Room and have Q and A?
MS. MYERS: No, no, no. It's not that. And they'll discuss a number of things, including their mutual support for the recently signed Israeli-PLO agreement and progress that they're making on the Israel-Jordan track of the peace agreement.
Q Will they use the word modality"? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: We can only hope. And I'm sure the briefers will find a way to work it into their readout.
Q No, I'm just wondering whether the leaders would actually get the word modality in.
Q Yes, that was my question.
Q That's what Bill and I are working on.
MS. MYERS: I think you should lobby for it. I think there's still.
Q That's what we're talking about.
MS. MYERS: I would like to see -- $5 whoever gets modality into their lead tomorrow.
Q What about venue?
MS. MYERS: That's too easy.
Q That's the Ron Brown word -- as in "change of." (Laughter.)
Q How quickly will there be a replacement at the Secret Service, and what are they looking for in a replacement? Are they going to go for career Secret Service?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that we have a timetable and I'm not sure that we've limited it to anybody in particular.
Q Dee Dee, has the President received a letter from Yeltsin on NATO membership, and what is the U.S. position on possibly bringing in central and east European countries into NATO?
MS. MYERS: That's something that's being discussed within the administration, something that we've talked to our allies about, and something that will be discussed at the NATO conference early next year. We're looking at it.
Q Did he get a letter from Yeltsin about it?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q Yeltsin's apparently opposed to it.
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't want to discuss the contents of the letter. But it is something under discussion in the administration and among our allies, and certainly something that will come up at the NATO conference.
Q Was Russian opposition significant?
MS. MYERS: I'm certain it will be discussed.
Q Dee Dee, I see a newspaper story that says the President's going to make a decision on trade sanctions on Norway, whaling, by Monday. Who's handling that and how are you all going to do that? Has he reached a decision?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe a final decision has been taken on that. It's being handled at the National Security Council.
Q You went through the message too India fast. Was there an offer of assistance in that?
MS. MYERS: No. There will be a meeting later today. The Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance is bringing together just various elements in the administration to talk about what would be available, should the Indians make a request.
Q Something like 68,000 people may be dead over there. And the President says he's "saddened" and he wishes them a "quick recovery." It sounds like that nation's got the flu or something. Isn't that a little half-hearted -- saddened and please recover, get well soon?
MS. MYERS: The President sent a telegram to Prime Minister Rao expressing his concern over --
Q shock? I mean, saddened.
MS. MYERS: All of the above. I'm sorry you're displeased with the choice of words, Brit, but I think the message is clear.
Q Why today and not yesterday?
Q Has the White House sent up legislation on the federal workers' buy-out?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if legislation has gone up on that. Let me take that question.
Q Have senior people from the White House met with Ron Brown on his situation in the last 24 hours here?
MS. MYERS: He was here yesterday. I don't think there have been any meetings specifically about that, although he may have spoken to people individually.
Q Was he here yesterday for an Economic Policy Council meeting, or what?
MS. MYERS: Yes. There was an event -- what was it yesterday?
Q Science and Technology awards.
MS. MYERS: Yes. No, that was yesterday when he gave the awards -- Medal of Science, Medal of Technology.
Q Brown was here for that.
MS. MYERS: Brown was here for that, correct.
Q Did he speak to the President?
MS. MYERS: I don't -- not at any length. I mean, he may have said hello to him, but they did not have a meeting.
Q How about Mr. McLarty?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether he met with him or not.
Q You're not aware if there was any sort of strategic meeting on his problem in the --
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. I mean, there has been no -- nothing new to add to that situation today.
Q Has anybody asked him why the house in which Ms. Madsen lives and that is owned by the Secretary and his son did not appear in his personal financial disclosure form?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q were up today. Reaction?
MS. MYERS: Obviously it's good news. I mean, it's been a long time since nine out of the 10 components have been up. Obviously, we're keeping an eye on the longer term trends, but it is good news.
Q Is there any timing on the NAFTA submission?
MS. MYERS: Our goal is by November 1st. That hasn't changed.
Q And they would vote within three weeks, that's the way you see it?
MS. MYERS: They would vote by the end of the year. And we'll leave it to Congress to schedule the vote.
Q Before Thanksgiving?
MS. MYERS: Yes. We'll work out the venues and modalities. (Laughter.)
Q omnibus bill, or will you be sending it up incrementally?
MS. MYERS: We're still working on that. And once we have a strategy, we'll let you know -- I mean, the specific answer to that, we'll let you know.
Q Do you know if the President supports the First Lady's endorsement of an idea yesterday by Senator Bradley that there be a 25 percent tax on the sale of guns in America?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, she was expressing her opinion. It is not included in the health care package that the President presented.
Q But does the President support it?
MS. MYERS: He feels that we have to do something about violence and gun violence, which is why he's supporting the Brady bill and the ban on assault weapons. But it is not included in his package. He chose other methods of -- other sin taxes, if you will.
Q Would he object to it being included?
MS. MYERS: He didn't include it. It's not going to go up as part of our original package. But we're certainly open to discussion on a number of issues, including this one. And if Congress wants to talk about it, we're happy to discuss it.
Q Did he notice that a majority or more Americans think that Mrs. Clinton is smarter than Mr. Clinton? (Laughter.)
Q Those who know -- look who they are.
Q For those who follow the issue closely. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That's right. She's very smart.
Q What was it you were saying before he interrupted her?
MS. MYERS: No, the President's view is that he's always believed that people would think less of him if they thought he married somebody who wasn't as smart as he was.
Q So he doesn't agree with that opinion that she's smarter?
MS. MYERS: He's happy that the American people think well of Hillary, that they think she's as smart as he thinks she is. And he thinks -- he's very proud of her. She's doing a great job.
Q Isn't he on the record as saying he believes she's smarter than he is?
MS. MYERS: I think he may be, actually. And I'm not really interested in your all's opinions about it. (Laughter.)
Q Is the President interested in supporting tax breaks for the oil industry to support production?
MS. MYERS: I'm sorry?
Q Is the President interested in proposing tax breaks for the oil industry, the petroleum industry?
MS. MYERS: In what regard? Is there --
Q Energy, Department of Treasury are apparently working out a series of proposals to support production or production support the industry. Through the tax system.
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that question. I don't think that they've finished that proposal yet. But I'm just not sure exactly what you're talking -- I mean if you're talking about something specific or broad.
Q Well, there's a whole series of apparently proposals.
MS. MYERS: Okay, I will take the question then.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT