THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS The Briefing Room
1:10 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: The momentum in the NAFTA issue is, I think, moving in our direction today. There were a number of endorsements today, including Steny Hoyer, who's the leader of the Democratic Caucus; Al Swift, Dan Glickman, Ben Cardin and Bob Clement have all endorsed the pact. And as you probably know, the House Ways and Means Committee voted, I think by a substantial margin, 25 to 12, to pass the implementing legislation out to the full House. And we look forward to the vote next week.
Q How many votes do you need now?
MS. MYERS: We're not talking head counts, but we're still short. But I think the momentum is moving in our direction. We've picked up a number of votes today. We expect to pick up more in the coming days. I think the momentum is clearly in our direction.
Q Is the President concerned that Al Gore is going to have a hard time going up against Ross Perot's one-liners, it will be hard to argue facts in a debate with Ross Perot?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so. This is not a debate between two people, it's a choice between two directions -- whether we're going to move forward into the future with a trade pact that creates jobs, increases the standard of living and moves us into the 21st century; or whether we're going to move backwards. I think Ross Perot is going to try to use a lot of one-liners and clever sound bites; and I think the Vice President's going to try to shed some light on the issues here. It is, again, a choice between fear and facts.
Q And what is the Vice President doing to prepare for this debate?
MS. MYERS: He's spending some time today, I think, reading, again, buffing up a little bit. I think he's engaged in some sparring with his aides last night and perhaps a little bit more this afternoon. And I think he feels very good.
Q Which aides? Who is going to --
MS. MYERS: Jack Quinn, his Chief of Staff, who's coordinating the team, and a number of other people.
Q Is there going to be a formal sort of mock debate with somebody impersonating Ross Perot?
MS. MYERS: I don't know how formal, but I think there have been, again, some sort of sparring and just the Vice President's tuning up a little and trying to be prepared for what might be coming at him tonight.
Q Who plays Perot in those -- (laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I don't know that anybody does, but they've done some sparing.
Q Is anyone on the President's staff suggested to him that the administration should ratchet down expectations about what a loss on NAFTA would mean?
MS. MYERS: I think the President's committed to getting a win on NAFTA. I don't think there's any question that the stakes are high. But the President's been working all out that last several weeks on this. He's going to continue to press very hard in the coming days, and I think he's very optimistic that he can win this. I think he believes when push comes to shove, the Congress is not going to walk away from this, they're going to make the tough vote to move this county into the future. And I think he's confident of that. Hopeful. He's going to work very hard between now and then to make sure that it happens, but I think he feels that when it come right down to it, the Congress is going to be with him.
Q Is there an acknowledgement there that the more the President works, the more publicly visible he is, the higher the stakes are?
MS. MYERS: I think that's always been the case with NAFTA. We didn't take this on because it was an easy fight. The President didn't decided to work this hard for it because he thought it would be easy. He knew it would be hard. And that means it takes a lot of extra energy, a lot of extra commitment. He's willing to do that. He believes that this is the right thing to do. He believes that he can convince the Congress that this is the right thing to do. He believes that it's in the interest of working people in this country, that will give them the kind of job security and an increasing standard of living that's been lost in our country in the last decade. And he's willing to do what it takes to get it passed.
Q Can you give us any update on this plot Perot says he's heard about to try to assassinate him?
MS. MYERS: No. I think I would just refer you to the Justice Department. They said they looked into it, but have been unable to confirm it at this point. And I don't know what they're doing today.
Q The President said Sunday he was short 30 explicit commitments. Is this minus five explicit commitments now? Can we say 25?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I'm not going to talk about specific numbers. We did get more commitments today, and I guess one of those was actually yesterday. Bob Clement actually came out yesterday. Obviously, that's good news for us, and we're getting closer every day. But I'm going to stay out of specific numerical games.
Q You lost Pat Williams --
MS. MYERS: We lost Pat Williams.
Q You lost a couple of others.
MS. MYERS: Just Pat.
Q What about Jim Cooper?
MS. MYERS: I think you'd have to check with his office. He has not come out yet.
Q Who was that?
MS. MYERS: Jim Cooper, who went jogging with the President this morning.
Q Why has the First Lady attacked Jim Cooper's health plan yesterday when the President is doing everything he can to get Jim Cooper's vote on NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think the First Lady attacked his plan. What she did was make clear that the President's bottom line is universal coverage and a guaranteed package of benefits that can't be taken away.
Q But aren't they at counter purposes? The First Lady is criticizing Jim Cooper and the President is courting him.
MS. MYERS: No, she's not. She's saying that there are some things in the Cooper-Breaux plan that the President cannot support. There is no explicit commitment in that plan to universal coverage. That is the bottom line. The President is not willing to compromise on that. However, there are things in the Cooper plan that the President supports. There's an emphasis on increased competition, which we think will help bring costs down, for example. So I think the President and First Lady are going to continue to work with Congressman Cooper and others to pass health care. In the meantime, the President's going to press very hard to try to get Congressman Cooper's vote on NAFTA, and hopefully will be successful.
Q Dee Dee, it seems like the President in the last few days has been trying to elevate this to a foreign policy issue in talking about the GATT agreements and such. Is that what's convincing some of these congresspeople? I mean, what's making the difference?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that's certainly an important issue to a lot of members of Congress, that if the United States is going to lead on international trade, if we're going to demonstrate our commitment to being engaged in the world and moving the international economy forward into the 21st century, then the Congress needs to show a commitment to engagement, not to retrenchment and isolationism. The President feels that's very important. And that is certainly having an effect on a number of members of Congress who --
Q What swung these last five people?
MS. MYERS: I think you have to call them, check with their statements. I think the President's certainly done what he can. But I think they make their decisions based on a number of factors, including conversations they have with workers and businesses in their district. I think that's primarily where the bottom line is for them, is who it's going to affect their districts and how it's going to affect the future of the country. So I would just refer you to individual members.
Q Mrs. Clinton also singled out the Chafee bill yesterday which, as you know, has an individual mandate rather than an employer mandate. As long as that has universal coverage, is that something the President would consider in lieu of having an employer mandate?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that clearly the bottom line for the President is universal coverage. And what the First Lady said yesterday was that the Chafee bill was closer to the President's because -- and the single-payer option was closer to the President's because it included universal coverage.
The President chose to call for an employer mandate; we think that's the best way to achieve it. But there's going to be a long debate about exactly how this is implemented. And I think the President's commitment is to universal coverage. He prefers an employer mandate, but we'll see how the debate goes.
Q So you're saying when he's committed to universal coverage that if the final bill ends up being individual mandate --
MS. MYERS: I think we'll see. I think what we want to do at this -- I think the bottom line here is universal coverage and a comprehensive package of benefits. I think what the First Lady and the President have both said about this is that there's going to be a vigorous debate about this issue for the next 10 or so months, perhaps longer; that there will certainly be a lot of give-and-take, but the two things that are absolutely nonnegotiable are universal coverage and a comprehensive package of benefits.
Q When the President was talking about beefing up the customs service today -- can you talk about that at all?
MS. MYERS: I am sorry to say I missed that part of his talk today. I can talk to you later about it.
Q He was wonderful.
MS. MYERS: Was he? He always is.
Q There's been a rather serious mortar attack on Sarajevo, killing school children and a teacher. The United States and NATO for several weeks and months now have been warning that they're ready to use air strikes to deter exactly this kind of attack on Sarajevo. What are you people going to do in response to this attack?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think our position on Sarajevo has changed at all. We have continued to maintain that we will not allow the strangulation of Sarajevo or the disruption of humanitarian assistance to Sarajevo or any of the other population centers. I don't have any more details on the attacks today other than press accounts. We're certainly concerned about the level of violence in Bosnia and our policy has not changed. I just don't have any more for you on this particular attack.
Q There's no plan in the offing for the U.S. to rev up NATO, responding to this attack?
MS. MYERS: All I'm saying is that our policy has not changed. I mean, we're not going to permit the strangulation of Sarajevo or the disruption of humanitarian deliveries. We're continuing to monitor the situation there, and I just don't have any more on this particular attack.
Q Can you give us any enlightenment on what you mean by strangulation of Sarajevo? In other words, if we have five more attacks like the one today, is that strangulation, or is it less than strangulation?
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm not going to give you a numerical example, but I think the forces on the ground in Sarajevo know what we mean -- that we're not going to allow that city to be strangled, to be cut off, to be relentlessly attacked. We made that clear and it did have an impact on lessening the violence there since NATO made its policy clear.
Q If you are talking to the anti-NAFTA people on the Hill, they are telling you, you can't afford to lose those very loyal union workers -- it isn't having anything to do with NAFTA. Who won intellectually? This kind of argument is -- so what are you able to --
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think that's -- I disagree with your premise. I think that people want to be reassured that this pact is good for the country, that it's important to the future of the country, that it will create jobs. I think the President has worked very hard to talk about the substance and I think we have won the intellectual argument.
But there is another argument which I agree with you, for the hearts and minds of the people who feel their lives will be affected by this. And I think the President is working very hard to address their concerns. That's why he's speaking to business groups. That's why the Vice President is talking to Ross Perot tonight on Larry King. That's why the President is doing Eye To Eye With Connie Chung and continuing to speak out every day to talk about how this pact is going to affect the lives of working people.
This is a --
Q First, this needs to be -- can't afford to lose --
MS. MYERS: I don't think that's clear.
Q of loyal union people --
MS. MYERS: I don't think that's clear. That won't be clear until the 17th of November. I think the President has -- the facts are on the President's side. We are going to continue to fight to convince the working people of this country that the President is on their side, that this pact will create jobs and help raise their standard of living, which is something that he cares passionately about.
Q The President, again today, as he has in many appearances over the past couple of weeks was begging the business leaders to call members of Congress. Have you been satisfied with the level of support and the response to that request from the American business community?
MS. MYERS: I think the President said on Sunday that he wished that business could do more. I think that continues to be true, but I think he's going to continue to work with them to try to increase their level of involvement in this.
Q Why do you think that they're not responding?
MS. MYERS: You'd have to ask them. I think they have -- some businesses have been more involved than others. I think they have a big stake in it. They certainly have a lot to gain, as do the working people of the country. And the President is going to continue, as are other business leaders who support the pact from Lee Iacocca on down, going to try to convince their friends and colleagues in business to contact their congressmen or to make their case in the closing days, and we'll see how it goes.
Q A report by Harvard University claimed that 1,000 children die every month in Haiti because of sanctions. Is there any comment by the President on that?
MS. MYERS: The report has not been made public yet, but I think from what we know about it we have some questions about the methodology. Apparently, they used information gathered at one of 38 sites in Haiti where they sort of monitored the situation in the country and extrapolated to draw some national conclusions. So I think we want to see the report and see -- and perhaps talk to the people who produced it.
But let me make one more point. The situation in Haiti is, I think, quite serious. The economy there is stalled. But the fault for the situation lies with the people there who have thwarted the will of the majority, who have refused to allow the restoration of democracy, who continue to keep that society locked up and the economy there disintegrating. And I think that's the real tragedy.
Q But based on the figures gathered by your embassy, do you think the figures here is exaggerated or is false or that no one dies because of the sanctions?
MS. MYERS: Clearly, the sanctions impose a hardship. But we have a massive humanitarian assistance program there. We feed 680,000 people a day and provide other medical services to them. There's no question that the sanctions create some hardships. There's no question about that. I don't know whether we're not going to put any particular number on it or quantify it.
Q What do you mean by hardship? Do you mean that people actually die because of sanctions, or do you admit that, or do you deny this claim?
MS. MYERS: I would say that it creates a hardship and I'm not going to put any numbers on lives. I don't know that we have any reliable information about that, or not. But again, the fault of the situation in Haiti lies with the people there who have thwarted the will of democracy.
Q But is the case of the end, in that case the return of Aristide to power, justifying the means, any kind of means? Is that what you mean by hardship?
MS. MYERS: I think our means have been peaceful. We've tried very hard to work through diplomatic channels. That's why we worked with the leaders in Haiti, or the people in Haiti to create the Governors Island process, which we lived up to, which Aristide lived up to, and which people like Cedras failed to live up to. The fault lies with them, not with us. The will -- the people of Haiti voted to make Aristide their President and we intend to help the people realize that.
Q Do you mean that you intend to leave the sanction in place months if necessary?
MS. MYERS: We intend to leave the sanctions in place for now, absolutely.
Q Even if there is proof or evidence that hundreds or thousands of children die because it's a fault of the military? Is this what basically you mean?
MS. MYERS: I think we don't -- I think our position on that is clear.
Q You didn't answer his question, though.
MS. MYERS: Our position is clear. The sanctions are going to stay in place. We're going to continue to work with the people in Haiti to restore the duly elected leader of that country. And we're going to continue to provide
Q But does the end justify the means?
MS. MYERS: We're going to continue to provide humanitarian assistance for literally hundreds of thousands of people, and medical assistance. And I think our policy speaks for itself in that regard. Our objective is to restore the duly-elected democratic leader, and we're going to continue to try to do that.
Q So if thousands of people, or even hundreds of people die, that's --
MS. MYERS: Next question.
Q Can I ask you a bit about -- there's a rally Friday in Chicago, a pro-NAFTA rally. The President, the Vice President have been invited. Any plans to go there? What else is on the agenda for next Thursday regarding NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: Next -- a week from Thursday?
Q Before the vote next Thursday -- a week from Thursday -- I'm sorry.
MS. MYERS: The vote's next Wednesday, the 17th. And the rally in Chicago is when?
MS. MYERS: No. There's no plans to do it. Let me give you what we have for the rest of the week. Tomorrow he has additional meetings -- tomorrow's still actually -- I wish I had more about tomorrow. He'll have additional meetings with congressional leaders, he'll make some more phone calls.
On Thursday, there will be a breakfast in the morning in the White House at 8:15 a.m. for veterans. Then he'll go at 11:00 a.m. to a wreath-laying at the Tomb of Unknowns. Then we leave to go to Martinsburg, West Virginia, arriving there around 1:20 p.m. I think that's going to be -- I think we're going to helicopter and I think that will be pool only.
Q Will he come back to the White House after the wreath-laying and before Martinsburg?
MS. MYERS: No, he'll go to the Pentagon and fly out of there.
Q So we need to have two reporters --
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q Will he speak at the wreath-laying?
MS. MYERS: I'm not sure what the program is. Yes, he'll speak? Yes. I think that's the major `open to everybody' event of the day. Then he'll tour the hospital, come back --
Q Can you back up just a step? What's he doing in Martinsburg?
MS. MYERS: He's touring a VA hospital.
Q And is he -- he'll have remarks there, presumably?
MS. MYERS: Perhaps informally, but I guess the formal remarks will be earlier at the wreath-laying. So the afternoon event will be mostly a tour, perhaps some informal remarks and pooled only.
Q A lot of us are going to have to go to Martinsburg anyway, and it's a real pain in the neck to get there unilaterally. If you guys could consider some way of getting us there, it would be better.
MS. MYERS: I'm told we're bringing everybody. We'll get you a little more on this later when we actually have a clear clue. (Laughter.) Friday, --
Q Oh, no need for that. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Yeah, you don't want to know.
Friday is Rabin.
Q When does he get back from Martinsburg?
MS. MYERS: He's back in the White House at 4:00 p.m.
Q Anything else that afternoon on the veterans?
MS. MYERS: No. That's it for the public schedule.
Q He's coming Friday, did you say?
MS. MYERS: This coming Friday, Rabin will be here. He'll meet with him from 10:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. There will be a press -- statements and some questions at some point during that; I think before lunch, around 12:00 noon. Now it's been changed? I'm sorry. I keep getting these little asides from offstage. As soon as we have -- I think it will be before lunch. The plan right now -- it may be earlier.
Q What about these rumors --
MS. MYERS: That's right. See, she leaves and all of a sudden --
Q What about these rumors that King Hussein is going to show up at the White House on Friday?
MS. MYERS: Rumors. There's nothing to them.
Q Dee Dee, today a federal --
Q Wait. One other thing before we --
Q Finish Friday.
MS. MYERS: The rest of Friday and Saturday are up in the air. I think that there is a good chance the President will travel.
MS. MYERS: Friday, Saturday.
Q Overnight somewhere?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q NAFTA related?
MS. MYERS: This is for planning purposes only. No.
Q Rest related?
MS. MYERS: There is a conference in Memphis that he may speak to. I think it's African American religious leaders. I'm not sure which forum it is.
MS. MYERS: Well, it's going on for a couple of days. I think there's a good chance that he'll address them either Friday or Saturday, and then probably go to Little Rock. He'll probably come back here Saturday night. Leave Friday afternoon -- it's unclear, but somewhere between leaving Friday, overnight in Little Rock, speech in Memphis, some down time in Arkansas.
Q Speaking of going to Little Rock, do --
MS. MYERS: Thanksgiving.
Q Do we know yet?
MS. MYERS: We don't know for sure. I think Little Rock is looking less likely.
Q What would you take press-wise if he does Memphis and Little Rock?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. That's a good question. I think we would probably take the full press corps to Memphis, and probably try to do a pool to go to Arkansas. But I don't know. If we have the plane with us and you guys want to -- have to stay on, we might be able to work something out.
Q Help the Arkansas economy.
MS. MYERS: It's good for the economy. The Capital's attendance is down a little bit. Doe's is suffering.
Q If he goes, the topic for his remarks --
MS. MYERS: Family crime, probably.
Q I'm sorry, what's family crime?
MS. MYERS: Alleged -- proposed topic for the Memphis speech. Okay, this is planning purposes only, though, so --
Q Until Wednesday then, Dee Dee? Anything else next week before the NAFTA vote that you're thinking about?
MS. MYERS: Travel-wise?
Q Or in town.
MS. MYERS: I don't have that.
Q National speech?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think so. I wouldn't look for that.
Q Physically, where is the Vice President preparing today for the debate tonight?
MS. MYERS: He spent some time this morning at home, at the residence. And I think he plans to come in here later, although I don't think he's here yet.
Q Are his aides at his residence helping him there?
MS. MYERS: I think today he was there by himself. Is that right? Do you know?
Q And he's doing the mock sort of debating in which room?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't know --
Q With himself? (Laughter.)
Q In the mirror. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Right. He gets them all right that way. It's incredible. I think, as you know, they worked a little bit last night and the Vice President is doing some stuff this morning, and then maybe a little bit more this afternoon.
Q Will it be in the West Wing, or in the Old Executive? I ask these questions only because --
MS. MYERS: I don't know if we're going to be able to supply that.
Q we haven't seen him today, and Mr. Perot has been very visible on the Hill. It seems that the Vice President is hunkering down, but Perot is confident, and so we want to see the Vice President --
MS. MYERS: Nice try, Wolf. Very nice try. (Laughter.)
Q Too subtle, Wolf. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I think they call that in this business "spin."
Q Perhaps you would prefer to show us that the Vice President --
Q We'd like to see him.
Q parading him out. What could go wrong?
Q economic committee is releasing a study today saying that NAFTA is going to cost $20 billion more than the administration has previously said. Do you have any response to that?
MS. MYERS: We'll wait until we see it. I think most of the credible economic studies are consistent with CBO and our own estimates.
Q Today a federal judge rejected the White House attempts to not turn over the Health Care Task Force documents to a group suing the First Lady. It ordered the White House, within 20 days, to turn the documents over. It also ordered the White House to pay the legal fees of the group suing the First Lady. Do you plan to comply with those orders?
MS. MYERS: That's the first I've heard of it. I suspect we'll review it to see if we want to appeal it. And as soon as we have something on that, we'll get it for you. But I'm sure it's under review with the eye to see whether we want to appeal.
Q Would you expect to have a --
Q You were going to check on whether anything may be afoot to beef up our forces in South Korea.
MS. MYERS: Yeah, we put it out. Basically, I think the response was that there has been a gradual -- over the last 10 years there's been sort of a gradual build-up in North Korea; nothing new there. I think there's -- we're reviewing our force structure there to see if there should be some changes in that. That's something that's ongoing, but there are no plans at this point.
Q Do you expect to have a nominee to head the Justice Department Civil Rights Division this week, and can you tell us anything about the prospects of a new number two at the State Department?
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether we'll have the Justice Department appointment this week. I think that's still proceeding, there have been no real changes in the status. And I think we want to move quickly to fill the number two position at the State Department, but I don't have anything more for you on that. I think the process will be probably getting underway, but you might check with State today.
Q Staying at State -- is there any truth to the report that they found criminal wrongdoing in connection with the file search there?
MS. MYERS: The report -- the IG's report was referred to the Justice Department late last night. Secretary Christopher has not yet been briefed. I think he's planning to be briefed today. And we'll let the Justice Department review it and make that determination.
Q Has the President evinced a personal interest in this, given his comments following the actions on the other side, where he said if it ever happened on his watch he would immediately fire the people?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think if there was conclusive evidence that suggested they were -- had done something wrong. I think what we've done is expedite the process here. That process is proceeding. But I don't -- he certainly didn't ever suggest he would take away their right to due process.
Q Was the President aware in advance of Secretary Bentsen's statement yesterday on Japan? And does he feel it's helpful a week before his get-acquainted meeting with the new Prime Minister to call for an income tax cut in Japan?
MS. MYERS: I think we've made our position clear on the Japanese sort of fiscal stimulus situation for quite a while now. I don't think Secretary Bentsen necessarily cleared his statement, but that's certainly nothing new.
Q didn't clear his statement. (Laughter.)
Q But the fiscal stimulus -- this went beyond it and said what they wanted to see.
MS. MYERS: I don't think anybody asks the Secretary to clear his statements.
Q Can we get a detailed summary on what's going to happen on Friday afternoon as to the timing of the Rabin-Clinton meeting?
MS. MYERS: Sure, I will have that for you. We can try to post that today if we have it, just in terms of meeting, lunch, press conference.
END 1:42 P.M. EST