THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
3:00 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: You think he's done this before. Yes. Knoller -- I think Knoller exceeded even himself today. (Laughter.) It was hard to do. Unbelievable.
Q Can you tell us what the President's been doing, perhaps who he was on the phone with when pictures were taken?
MS. MYERS: Well, surely without naming names, he spent most of the morning and early afternoon on the phone, making phone calls, calling individual members of Congress. I think his sense is that things are going well. He's making good progress today. But he's going to continue to work on it until that 218th vote has been cast.
Q Is he going to release some -- give a pass to some people who --
MS. MYERS: No, I think that Howard answered that question yesterday and said that we need every vote we can get on this agreement, and we expect every member who is for this to vote for it.
Q You mean the background briefer? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Oh yeah, that one.
Q You've got now -- you can --
MS. MYERS: Howard X.
Q easily make 218. You could get more. Following on from Andrea's question, are you going to hold people to their commitment so you can increase the size of the victory, so you can make it look better?
MS. MYERS: I think that we hope every member of Congress who is for this agreement votes for this agreement. We're not taking anything for granted. We're shooting for 218. If we get more votes than that, obviously we'll be pleased. But at this point, 218 is the goal, and we're working hard to get there and make sure that we get and keep people who are committed to the agreement.
Q Dee Dee, how is the President responding to these criticisms that have increased, really, in the last couple of days that he is really trading away too much and that he is selling votes, or buying votes?
MS. MYERS: It's not true. I think the President has answered that question very effectively himself. People that have come to him have wanted assurances that workers in their district will not be adversely impacted, that certain segments of the economy will be protected, that the agreement is explained in more detail, which is why some of the letters have gone out.
Certainly, the President is interested in making sure people understand what's in this agreement and that certain segments, certain workers and segments of the economy are protected. That's what this has been about.
Q I asked the Secretary a question about a deal for a trade center, and he answered me by responding to a question that I didn't ask about on the Export-Import Bank. What about this trade center for Texas?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that. I don't know the specifics of it, but I think you have to look at the overall agreement and what members of Congress have come in to talk to the President about, and I think he's answered that question that this is about making sure this is a good agreement, that it's in the interest of workers, that it's in the interest of the country. I think the President has made the case very effectively, and I think it is interesting that the charges have increased in the final hours here as the momentum has moved with the President.
Q But does it cast a cloud over the White House's victory if you get it tonight?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely not.
Q If it's perceived that the President bought votes by authorizing additional construction of C-17s and so forth?
MS. MYERS: You know, there's been a lot of accusations with not a lot to back it up. I think a lot of charges are flying a lot of inflated numbers that have absolutely no basis in reality. I think that's unfortunate. The President is very committed to this agreement, and he's gone out and worked very hard, he's worked very hard with members of the Congress to make sure that he's going to get the votes he needs to pass this.
You have to keep in mind that six months ago, people said that this was impossible, that NAFTA was dead and it couldn't be done. And the President said he was going to fight for it. He's fought for it, and here we are in the final hours of this debate, certainly in a very good position. We're not taking anything for granted, but I think we feel very optimistic and hopeful that when all is said and done, we'll have 218 tonight to get this thing done. And I think that it's always a deflection from what really happened here. The President went out and fought like crazy to get this agreement passed. He took a Congress that was undecided and had ambivalence about this, he got side agreements to make it better, he got implementing legislation to make it better, and I think he's convinced members of Congress this is the best thing to do, it's in the best interest of the country. This has not been an easy battle, but I think one the President feels very good about, one that he's committed to and has seen a lot of progress on it.
Secretary Bentsen, who has seen more of these trade fights than just about anybody, said he's never seen one where we've come from so far back to win. If we win tonight, I think we have to keep that in mind.
Q Aren't some of these process troubles your own fault in having started so late and now having to lurch to a climax?
MS. MYERS: No. I think that given the fact that the side agreements weren't wrapped up until mid-August, it was hard to start campaigning on an agreement that wasn't complete in the President's eyes. I think as soon as we all came back from August recess in early September. The President started to fight for this. It's been an intense couple of months, but I think the sort of proof will be in the final product, and hopefully that will be victory.
Q Assuming this goes through, the President's talked about using this to establish other free trade agreements. What country would be next?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he's talked to -- he's looked at a number of countries in Latin America. There are certainly a number of countries there that are interested in having free trade agreements with the United States. I think we'll pursue that on a number of fronts.
Q Is there any kind of follow-up --
Q Do you have a certain country in mind?
MS. MYERS: I don't think we're ready to say for sure at this point, but certainly looking at Latin America.
Q Has he begun a serious follow-up process on that? I mean, has he appointed people to do that? I mean, is there something happening on that?
MS. MYERS: Nothing outside of conversations that are ongoing with countries who have certainly expressed interest in trade agreements with the United States. There have been a number of countries in South America who have made that publicly clear. And, in fact, when the President was at the U.N. a couple of weeks ago for the General Assembly, a number of the leaders of Latin countries came to him and said they'd be interested in working toward a free trade arrangement after NAFTA passed.
Q Could you give us the latest on what will happen here after the vote, when the President will make himself available and all that?
MS. MYERS: It all depends on when the vote is complete. I think congressional estimates now somewhere between 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. I think it's certainly our hope --
Q That late?
MS. MYERS: Yes. Maybe not 11:00 p.m., but certainly I think people are looking at --
Q Nine p.m. or 10:00 p.m. is what the Gallery says.
MS. MYERS: Yes, that means 10:00 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. Hold on, let me just answer that. So I think it's certainly our hope that the President will be able to comment on it one way or another after the vote.
Q Do you we get to have Al Gore come out and say this is the beginning of gridlock-breaking, because we'd all be --
MS. MYERS: I think that's become a standard opening feature.
Q What about the morning before he leaves, just logistically to help us out here?
MS. MYERS: Tomorrow we'll do something on departure mostly likely.
Q On departure here?
MS. MYERS: On departure here, which is roughly 12:00 noon, or before -- maybe it will be something to the pool. We haven't completely figure it out yet.
Q And what does he do on arrival?
MS. MYERS: On arrival there's an event in Seattle with the local community there. It's a rally, actually.
Q At the airport?
MS. MYERS: Yeah, at the airport. And it will be local Seattle citizens. And he'll talk about NAFTA to APEC.
Q What about the form tonight, though. Will it be a statement? Will it be a --
MS. MYERS: It'll depend on when it happens. If it's early enough I think we'd like to do something for camera. Probably, in all likelihood, that would be pooled. Although I think we'd be willing to discuss it if there was other people here. Pool for the network, certainly, absolutely, no way around that. No open coverage for the nets. And if it's really late -- so, if it's before 11:00 p.m. I think we'd really like to do something for camera. If it's later than that, what we did in the past was put out a statement -- a written statement -- through conference call to the wires.
Q Let's all go up for milk and cookies in the private --
MS. MYERS: Oh that's the next thing I'll do -- I'll make sure I raise that with the President and First Lady.
Q Has the President spoken with President Salinas in the last few days?
MS. MYERS: No, he has not.
Q Is he likely to call him tonight?
MS. MYERS: I think it's likely that he would call him at some point should this pass, but I don't think he has any specific plans for tonight. Although, what time zone is Mexico City in?
Q Or maybe Salinas would call him if the phones work.
Q One hour from Florida.
MS. MYERS: So it's in central. So depending on what happens, it's possible. Photo op time, right.
Q L.A. on Sunday, do you have that events calendar?
MS. MYERS: We don't. For anybody that doesn't know, we will go to San Francisco on Saturday night and then down to Pasadena. The overnight is in Pasadena. We will do a couple of events in Los Angeles on Sunday, probably starting with some kind of a church -- ecumenical church service followed by another event which we're working on.
Q All fire-related, or violence-related?
MS. MYERS: No, not necessarily. Not necessarily, we're looking at a number of different things. And then come back -- although we're not scheduled to get back here until like 11:00 p.m. or 11:30 p.m. on Sunday. Sorry.
Q Dee Dee, what's the airport rally? Is that yea, NAFTA if he passed it, or --
MS. MYERS: It's a local -- it's a chance to see some of the local citizens. It will be NAFTA, Pacific Rim, APEC conference. But I think it's an opportunity for him to say something to the people of the greater Seattle area.
Q Is there any possibility that health care bill might not be introduced before Thanksgiving recess?
MS. MYERS: I think we're working with Congress to work out the final details. I think it's our hope that it will be introduced soon, before Thanksgiving.
Q Will there be a ceremony --
MS. MYERS: No, I think we probably won't have a ceremony.
Q Can you respond to the CBO scoring of reinvent the government, which is considered coming up with $5.9 billion in savings, I think came up with $305 million, just about five percent?
MS. MYERS: There were a number of factors for that. And I think Leon Panetta has addressed some of that. One is that there's just scoring differences between the CBO and the OMB. But our numbers are solid and we stand by them.
Q You stand by $5.9 billion?
MS. MYERS: We stand by $5.9 billion over five years. CBO just scores things differently. They score the FTE reductions differently than we do. They don't score a number of things that we think will result in significant savings. And the bottom line is that we think that the reforms contained in REGO, whether they be forced reductions -- 252,000 reductions in full-time employees is going to result in long-term savings for the federal government. There's some discrepancy about how the buy-outs would affect the short-term cost. We think that that can be done under the caps and that it will result in savings and certainly will result in savings in the long-term. Same thing with things like procurement reform -- anybody who's looked at that, who's worked with the federal government, believes that the procurement reform that we've proposed is serious, it will result in savings. It's just nothing that the CBO scores. So again we stand by our numbers and we'll continue to push for the reforms.
Q Dee Dee, as a result of the last week's debate, new Gallup polls in the way Congressmen have shifted their positions on NAFTA in the last couple of days, does the administration see Ross Perot as less of a force than it did one week ago prior to appearing on Larry King?
MS. MYERS: I think Ross Perot has been ruled out before and has I think proven that to be premature. But I think he has become a visible spokesperson for the anti-NAFTA forces and I think we'll see how that goes tonight.
Q Was this a side benefit of NAFTA?
MS. MYERS: Oh, I think you'll have to ask the members who have to run in another year what they think about that. But I think certainly the Vice President did a good job of exposing the weakness of many of his arguments and I think that the anti-NAFTA forces have suffered some as a result.
END 3:12 P.M. EST #132-11/17