THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
BACKGROUND BRIEFING BY SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS
November 16, 1993
The Briefing Room
3:15 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: We're having back-to-back briefings. The first one will be Howard Pastor and Deputy U.S. Trade Rep. Rufus Yerxa on the current status of the NAFTA vote. Then we'll take about a two-minute break, and we'll do another BACKGROUND briefing on APEC with Sandy Berger and Bo Cutter. So without further adieu, here's Howard Pastor.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: The President has been meeting during the day with members from both sides of the aisle. He's been made a number of phone calls, and we have today, I think, an additional 15 public announcements of support for NAFTA from the House. And I think we're getting very close to the necessary numbers to win.
Let me try and answer any questions.
Q How close?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Single digits close.
Q Yesterday or Sunday, I guess it was one of your -- Gore or one of your people on the show said that you were 12 away. Today you've got 15. Is this like Clinton math? Where are you? I mean, if you were 12 away on Sunday, you've got 15 today --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, obviously we had folks who we had as leaners who we expected to get; and the public announcements which I identified today included a number of people who we expected to make that announcement. It also includes some people, I think, that might not have been expected. And I think there have been several in the last few days that -- and will be before this day is out -- that are reversals, frankly.
Q The Florida delegation has indicated that they're not yet swayed by these deals you've cut over vegetables and citrus. Do you expect that most of the single digits are going to be coming from the Florida delegation?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, I think we already have a dozen votes in Florida, more than half the delegation right now.
Q When people are looking the President in the eye and saying, "You know, Mr. President, I'd like to be with you, but the truth is that most of my support is labor, and if I vote for NAFTA I'm not going to be back in Congress after the next election." What does he say to that?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, they don't say that. Those aren't the words that are used. I think that since the Vice President's debate with Ross Perot, the number of members of Congress who have said, "this doesn't work for me politically at home" has diminished enormously. I think that the clear dynamic has moved our way. The poll data supports what we sense from the members, which is that the support for NAFTA has moved significantly.
I spoke yesterday with two Democratic members of the House, both of whom endorsed NAFTA over the weekend, who said that they had met with their labor leaders at home and they felt that they understood that it was a difficult vote, and they didn't feel as though they were losing support.
Q Could you give us a ballpark figure for the dollar value of promises that have been made to various congressmen to get their votes?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's been no increase in federal spending for anything. I mean, that isn't what happens.
Q Well, could you give us an estimate for the increase of cost to the supermarket for the deals on tomatoes -- citrus, sugar, wheat and so on?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: All of the traderelated letters of understanding simply define and ensure enforcement of the agreement. Nothing has been done to change the agreement. Those items that required conversations with our trading partners have been had. But I think the important thing to bear in mind is that we have not opened up NAFTA to get this done, and the principles are absolutely intact.
Q What have you been promising to secure votes outside of NAFTA?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think a lot of what's been happening has been clarifying, very frankly. A lot of people have come in and said, what does it mean for my district? I have this kind of industry in my district and it might not be one of the beneficiaries of NAFTA. I might lose employment. And people want to talk about whether or not there's going to be adequate retraining programs, adequate relief for people who might be affected. And there is such a program inside the implementing legislation.
They're asking questions, and I think the President addressed it this morning, which are logical questions based on the different constituencies. And there are good answers for most of those questions.
Q There have been a number of -- several senior members -- who had indicated that they would vote for you if you absolutely needed them, but they would prefer not to. As you've gotten some people who you previously thought were leaning in the other direction, have you begun to release any of those?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no. We will not do any releasing of votes. It is not possible in a hotly contested vote like this in which you work hard on both sides of the aisle to release people; and there will be no --
Q Are you going for a margin now bigger than one or two that it looked like you were going for before?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm going for 218. I started in January. It was always 218. We've hit 219 once in the spring, but 218 is normally what we go for. (Laughter.)
Q One of the wire services now has a count that for the first time shows the proponents of NAFTA running ahead of the opponents. Do you think that is possible? And do you think that sows the seeds of complacency on your part? (Laughter.)
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, no complacency. (Laughter.) I'm not certain of a lot of things, but one thing I'm certain of, there's no complacency.
Q But could that be possible --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think we're very close right now. We started out very far behind. I think a month ago most people doubted we'd be even the day before the vote. We've been narrowing the gap, and I think today we're probably just about even.
Q Congressman Gephardt has said that the NAFTA was something that was foisted on the President by President Bush, that he was forced to accept it and follow through with this deal that the previous President cut. Is that the way the President feels about it?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, absolutely not. The President, back in October of '92, spent many hours making his initial decision on whether or not to support NAFTA. I wasn't present at the time, but I was present this year when at various points he readdressed the issue when he sent Ambassador Kantor to work through the side agreements that had to meet the standards which were set up in October of '92. And the President does not, has not, and I don't believe thought of it that way.
Q Knowing what you do about organized labor, how serious do you think they are when they say they're going to work to defeat people who voted for NAFTA, and how hard do you think they will work to defeat people?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I'm not going to characterize what will happen next year. I think that the history is that organized labor, in my experience, tend to support those members who, as a matter of general practice are pro-labor Democrats and Republicans both.
Q On two -- how many letters of understanding on trade have there been?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We've exchanged two letters with the Mexican government, and this was submitted to the Congress at the time we submitted the fast track package -- that is, at the time when the legislation was introduced. There's been an exchange of letters on sugar and an exchange of letters on citrus. Both of those were talked about by the administration really from day one. Ambassador Kantor started discussing those with Congress in the earliest hearings on NAFTA in January.
Q I meant exchange of letters with members of the Congress. For example, one of the Florida delegation said today that he was anticipating a letter from the administration on tomatoes. Another one said he was anticipating a letter from the administration on some --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Yes, but as my colleague pointed out, I think what those letters basically contain are clarifications from the administration of what's in the --
Q I understand. I'm just asking how many of those letters there were?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: How many letters total to members of Congress on those issues?
Q On trade issues.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, Individual letters or -- because some letters went to many members. You obviously mean how many different subject letters.
Q That'll do, yes.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: A lot of letters. I mean -- (laughter). I haven't counted --
Q? bigger than a bread box?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven't counted them.
Q More than 218?
Q Well, I mean, is it more than 20, more than 60, around a dozen? I mean, there must be some ballpark.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Members of Congress have been writing us about every single issue in the agreement, and we've been sending letters clarifying the agreement, the implementing legislation -- there probably have been dozens of letters sent. But those are letters to clarify, these are not changes in the agreement or in the implementing bill.
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Some of those letters have gone to opponents of NAFTA who have sought clarification of what sections mean. A letter went to Congressman Waxman today in response to the letter he sent the President Friday in opposition to NAFTA in great detail, addressing the issues that Congressman Waxman raised in his letter on Friday. So, I think the answer is, there are many, many letters on the Hill explaining and answering questions. I would say over the last month -- in the scores of letters, really, clarifying --
Q letter to -- do you hope to change Waxman's vote, or was this --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: No, the letter was sent in good faith in response to his letter. I don't think it's likely to change his vote.
Q Have you released the letter to the Republicans yet that the White House said --
MS. MYERS: We're in the process.
Q the things that you had to do to get this passed, including the commitment to Republicans that you won't let NAFTA used against them, do you think this could complicate your lives next year in the midterm elections? For instance, do you think the President would be precluded from accusing Republicans of gridlock since they've helped him get this important measure through?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I think that the election will be fought out on a whole bunch of issues. Gridlock has been an issue more often against a filibuster in the Senate than the House, which has permitted to follow its course through a rules committee. So I don't think the gridlock issue is raised here. Fast track has special consideration under the Senate rules and will not be subject to a filibuster.
I don't think that the understandings and the cooperation we've had on a bipartisan basis on NAFTA will prevent the President from being an energetic campaigner for Democrats next year.
Q How many democratic votes do you think you're going to get?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There were 91 Democratic votes in opposition to the disapproval of fast track in '91, and I think we'll do better than that.
Q Do you have 51 hard votes in the Senate?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I haven't counted the Senate. (Laughter.) The answer is hat I'm confident there are the votes in the Senate, yes.
Q you say you're single digits away from 218 at this point. That's with how many more meetings --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, some of those meetings, frankly, are with people whose position is known, so the meetings wouldn't be a way of measuring against it. There are at least two people coming in this afternoon whose votes we know of. And so not everybody who is coming in here is necessarily uncommitted when they come in here.
Q And tomorrow?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: We haven't scheduled any meetings for tomorrow on NAFTA.
Q Assuming it passes the House and the Senate, then what? Do you present a job retraining bill? Does it go into a --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There are two different issues. There is within the NAFTA legislation a relief provision to support people whose jobs are affected by the NAFTA if, in fact, any job loss results from NAFTA. Separately, the President has said repeatedly, and Secretary Reich has addressed the specifics of a major administration initiative, which is a dislocated workers bill, which will do with redoing unemployment insurance, worker training programs, and trying to catch up with the changing economy. And that will be the long-term administration initiative for addressing the kinds of uncertainty that people worry about.
The opposition to NAFTA clearly breeds from a kind of uncertainty about the future of the economy as much as it does from the specifics of NAFTA. That legislation will address that kind of economic insecurity. And the President is very committed to that. He talks about -- how many times have you heard him talk about people changing jobs eight times in their career -- okay -- that kind of uncertainty and insecurity is going to be addressed by this legislation.
Q Can I follow up on that? Of the jobs that may be lost within the next, say, two years, how will you determine what percentage came from NAFTA? And what are you going to do with the other percentage that were lost not because of NAFTA?
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Well, the goal is to pass the legislation I just talked about early in 1994, and that will supersede even --
Q What percentage --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: I don't know the answer to that one.
Q A small percentage of the jobs to be lost would be lost to NAFTA --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Oh, yes. We don't anticipate any net job loss to NAFTA. We think NAFTA is a job creator.
Q Not net loss -- of the actual jobs --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: There's a certification requirement under the worker component piece that's in NAFTA which would test whether or not the job loss was a result of it.
Q What percentage of the jobs to be lost --
SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL: Minuscule. Absolutely minuscule percentage. And as he said, more jobs created than lost.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END3:30 P.M. EST