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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 9, 1993
                            PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY DEE DEE MYERS

The Briefing Room

3:30 P.M. EST

MS. MYERS: Gosh, you're so quiet today. It's so unlike you. A couple of quick announcements. The President called Jacques Delors, President of the Commission of the European Union, today, to talk about GATT. They spoke for about 30 minutes about some of the unresolved issues and look forward to making progress over the course of the next week.

In addition, there has been an addition to tomorrow's schedule. At 8:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, the President and the Vice President will call the astronauts up in the Endeavor from the Oval Office. There will be a satellite hook-up. The President and Vice President will be able to see the astronauts, but the astronauts will be able to hear and not see the President and the Vice President. And that's it for the announcements. If there's any questions.

Q Dee Dee, why did the President choose to call Jacques Delors today?

MS. MYERS: They are working through some unresolved issues, as you know, with regard to GATT. The deadline is approaching -- December 15. I think the President is still hopeful that we can get an agreement, but there are some issues that must be resolved, and I think the President has made clear that only the right GATT will be acceptable to the United States. So, they are trying to work through some of those unresolved issues.

Q Does the President think that his personal involvement at this point would lend the final push toward getting some of the outstanding --

MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, the President has been involved personally. He's made calls to a number of heads of state on this -- Chancellor Kohl, President Mitterrand. He talked to Prime Minister Balladur over the course of the last week or so. And I think that he certainly believes that his personal involvement can help. That's why he's taken those steps.

I think Mickey, by the way, will be here tomorrow to update you before he goes back to Brussels.

Q Were the mayors accurate when they said the President has now put crime as his number one agenda item, and why has he come to that determination? Is it about health care?

MS. MYERS: Well, what the President said was that the crime issue threatens the rest of his domestic agenda. That if we don't do something about crime, it threatens health care reform, job creation and economic growth, welfare reform and a number of the other items that he believes are important. So, certainly, crime is at the forefront of his domestic agenda. But it works in conjunction with many of the other issues that he feels very strongly about. And he's going to certainly be talking about it, working with members of Congress, working with the local mayors and police chiefs, and people around the country to try to do something about not only crime, but the decaying social structure that is some of the underpinning causes of crime.

Q Dee Dee, has the President been watching the repair job on the Hubble telescope during this mission, and has he had anything to say about it?

MS. MYERS: He's been quite interested in it, paying attention to it. I think like a lot of Americans, he's both fascinated by the ability of these astronauts to actually take repairs out in space and proud of the progress that they've made and the success of this mission. It's been an extraordinarily successful mission, and I think he's anxious to talk with the astronauts about it.

Q Dee Dee, the mayors and the police chiefs made some very specific recommendations. For example, requiring registration of all newly purchased and transferred handguns, upping the federal licensing fee -- $1,000, some pretty tough things like that. What was the President's reaction specifically?

MS. MYERS: Well in their discussion they got through the first three proposals which was the crime bill and $100,000 additional officers, the omnibus firearms legislation and the drug proposals. The President was interested in their opinions on it. He's certainly willing to continue the discussion with them but didn't take a position on most of the specifics of the proposals. Certainly there are a number of things in their proposals that the President supports, but most of this was an opportunity for them to present their position to him and him to ask questions about it.

Q Will we know when he -- is he going to make a definite decision on each of the points?

MS. MYERS: No, but I think certainly as the year progresses and the President and the Congress take on additional crime measures some of that will become clear. I think, again, the President the Congress to pass the crime bill early next year, including a ban on assault weapons.

Q That's a very, very strong plan.

MS. MYERS: Yes, it is.

Q Is he going to study it?

MS. MYERS: Yes, absolutely. We're going to look at it and continue to look at a number of issues out there with regard to crime. The President obviously is very engaged on this and wants to do everything possible.

Q Is he for banning automatic weapons?

MS. MYERS: Yes, he supported the assault weapons ban in the Senate version of the crime bill.

Q Dee Dee, on the GATT, your favorite subject, the Europeans seem to be saying that now the sticking point is really the U.S. Is that your understanding that the issues now are things that the U.S. is just not going to budge on?

MS. MYERS: Well certainly I think the President said that among the unresolved issues were ag issues which we've made good progress on. Certainly there are some outstanding audio visual issues and some civil aviation issues. I think until you get a deal then you have outstanding issues for, in this particular instance, between Europe and the United States. But I think we're still hopeful. We'd like to get a GATT agreement, but I think the President has made it clear that only a good GATT agreement. And as you know, he supports some changes in the audio visual issues.

Q Dee Dee, is the White House considering a proposal that would require girls who are still teenagers and have babies out of wedlock to live with their families in order to get federal help?

MS. MYERS: The welfare reform task force is looking at a wide range of issues and ideas at this point. They have not made formal recommendations to the President, as you know. They said that they are considering a wide range of proposals. We expect some time this month that an options memo will go to the President or some form of options will go to the President, and we'll begin to work from there. But at this point, again, I would point out that the task force hasn't made any formal recommendations to the President.

Q When did the President decide that crime threatens the rest of his domestic agenda and what does he base that on?

MS. MYERS: I think that's something he's been concerned about for quite a while. And if you go back to his speeches, certainly over the last several months -- I think if you go back as far as the campaign, you hear him say that unless we can work together to solve some of our problems, unless we can come together as a country and address some of our social problems, none of the rest of his agenda is possible. I think that's something that he's been talking about for quite a while.

What does he base it on? His experiences as a governor, as a President, as an American citizen.

Q He really came forth with this in the Memphis speech. Before then, it really wasn't a big part of his public agenda. Was there something immediately prior to that, some triggering event that made him -- I mean he refers back to that article in The Post that day of the girl planning her own funeral. Something like that that has changed his --

MS. MYERS: I think there have been a number of incidents, both locally -- I think if you remember when the President was quite disturbed by the shooting here in Washington, D.C. of the kids in the pool last summer, but I think it certainly goes back beyond that. But there have been a number of incidents that I think have raised people's fears -- there have been some random incidents that have raised people's fears. I think crime is epidemic in the country. It's something the President has been concerned about, and now, I think, as the first year wraps up, he's had an opportunity to speak out about it. I think it's something he's going to continue to speak out about throughout the course of his presidency.

I don't think there's one specific incident, but I think that there is -- he's been concerned about it all along. There have been a number of incidents, I think, that have peaked people's fears -- certainly the shooting on the Long Island Railroad this week, the randomness of it. And I think he's just wanting to move forward with the debate at a time when it seems possible to make progress.

Q Are members of Congress or his pollster telling him that crime threatens the rest of his domestic agenda?

MS. MYERS: I don't think anybody has to tell him that crime threatens the rest of his domestic agenda. I think he knows that unless you can do something about violence, you're never going to be able to control health care costs. He certainly said that --he said that when he unveiled his health care plan in front of the Joint Session. So it's something that I think he believes that all these things are connected.

Q Dee Dee, does that actually mean that he believes that his health care plan will not work unless the problem of crime is solved?

MS. MYERS: He doesn't believe -- I think, again, I would refer you back to the health care speech in front of the Joint Session -- that the cost of violence in our society, both sort of psychologically and financially in terms of dollars, is astronomical. So, if we're going to control health spending and if we're going to get our health system reformed, then one of the things we need to do is do something about crime.

Q But if he can't, does that mean that the health care plan is doomed?

MS. MYERS: I think we're going to get a health care plan passed next year, but if over the long-term -- over the course of the future of the country -- if we're going to control health care spending, we have to do something about violent crime and violence, generally.

Q Is there also a sense that there's been a change in the public climate toward crime, and that measures that wouldn't have been acceptable a short time ago suddenly are, including things to control firearms?

MS. MYERS: I think that certainly the passage of the Brady Bill was an important step. And I think that the President has said that if we can pass a crime bill with an assault weapons ban that that is a significant step forward -- something that wouldn't have been possible, perhaps, last year. So, I think we are at a point where perhaps there are things that are possible that haven't been possible with respect to guns and crime.

Q You said that he was optimistic after his talk with Delors?

MS. MYERS: No, I said he's still hopeful that we can get a GATT by December 15th. But there are some unresolved issues and that was the purpose of his call.

Q What else is he doing tomorrow?

MS. MYERS: That's the only public event for tomorrow. It's a series of private meetings and then Saturday the radio address will be here, which is the only event for the weekend.

Q Just to clarify this idea of crime threatening the rest of the domestic agenda. Is that a direct quote that he said after reporters left the --

MS. MYERS: Yes, it's more of a sentiment. And, again, I would just point out that it's something that he has -- a sentiment that he has expressed for some time.

Q Right, but I mean -- but he repeated this to --

MS. MYERS: I think that was the context in which he said that crime was at the top of his domestic agenda -- at the forefront -- he didn't say the top -- I don't think he -- he certainly doesn't mean to rank these issues -- but at the forefront of his domestic agenda in the sense that it's connected, it has bearing on all the other things that he's trying to do. So, addressing crime is part of addressing health care, and part of addressing welfare reform, and part of addressing many of the other issues that he cares about.

Q There have been some wire reports in the Middle East, the PLO people in Cairo saying that Arafat will meet with Rabin. Do you know anything about this?

MS. MYERS: I have seen the reports, but I don't have anything else for you on it.

Q Dee Dee, what is the rationale for the President to meet with Assad?

MS. MYERS: I think it's an opportunity to move the peace process forward. As you know, he's met with the leaders from the other tracks.

Q Who originated this idea of the meeting?

MS. MYERS: Well, it I think was proposed today. Secretary of State Christopher discussed it this morning. I'm not going to suggest whose idea it was, but it came out of and was confirmed at the meeting this morning; and I would refer you back to the Secretary's comments about that.

Q Is Syria still on the list of states supporting terrorists as of now?

MS. MYERS: Yes, there's been no change in our position on that.

Q Is this a matter that is to be discussed by the President and Assad? Is that what --

MS. MYERS: I don't have an agenda for the meeting, but there's been no change in our position on Syria with respect to terrorism.

Q The formula for the Madrid conference was that there would be face-to-face contacts between the Israeli government and its neighboring governments and it's turned out with the PLO as well. Is this now a breakdown of that formula?

MS. MYERS: No, we're still operating within the parameters of the Madrid formula.

Q Well, how was it -- why isn't Rabin meeting with Assad then instead of Clinton meeting with Assad?

MS. MYERS: Well, I think at this point -- two things that happened today. One, the Secretary announced that all the parties were coming back to the process, that we move forward to the next step. And I think he outlined a couple of steps that are going to take place. And he announced the meeting between Clinton and Assad. But he also affirmed the Madrid process. So we're still operating in the context of that.

Q Well, the problem that arises out of here is that the PLO-Israeli agreement is so weak and so derailed now that the President sees fit to deal with the head of a terrorist state -- a terrorist-supporting state to put it back on track?

MS. MYERS: No, I think as Secretary Christopher said today we think this is an opportunity to move the process forward. I think that the meeting between Arafat and Rabin was a significant step forward. There's been a lot of progress on the Israel Jordan track. We're hoping to stimulate more progress on the Lebanon Israel track and the Syria Israel track and that's the objective of the President's meeting.

And, I think we think this is a good opportunity to move the process forward.

Q Does the administration still feel that the Israeli-PLO agreement is as solid today as it was on September 13?

MS. MYERS: We're going to do everything we can to make sure that that agreement works.

Q That's not the question.

MS. MYERS: This is a difficult process but one that the United States is committed to working toward.

Q Is it as strong today as it was on September 13?

MS. MYERS: There are certainly some difficulties. We're committed to the process, we think we can work through it.

Q Did you get anything on the President's medical condition, the questions we had?

MS. MYERS: This is something I think I said before that happens to him periodically once every year or so.

Q What happened?

MS. MYERS: He strained his back. He has see Dr. Ramsey, who is the chief White House physician, sort of a routine check and the Doctor didn't prescribe any prescription medicine. The President's been taking some over-the-counter painkillers.

Q What is his full name and rank?

MS. MYERS: It's Robert Ramsey, and I believe that he -- I think he's a Colonel in the Army but I want to doublecheck it. There are three doctors who are on the White House staff. Robert Ramsey, Colonel in the Army.

Q Has he told him he can't jog?

MS. MYERS: I think the President reached that conclusion on his own. He'll jog again when his back feels ready.

Q Does he still using a cushion? He had one the other day when he sat down?

MS. MYERS: He's been generally using a cushion in the chair in his office.

Q Is he in a lot of pain?

MS. MYERS: Yes, it's getting better. It's stiff.

Q Did you happen to find out about the status of his annual physical.

MS. MYERS: He hasn't had one -- has not had one this year. None -- I don't think we have a specific schedule for it, but I wouldn't rule out that he'll have one some time relatively soon.

Q Will he do it in Arkansas or here?

MS. MYERS: I don't know.

Q What medication is he taking, Dee Dee?

MS. MYERS: Just some kind of -- I don't know if it's -- some kind of over-the-counter painkiller like -- could be Tylenol, could be Advil. I'm not going to invoke brand names.

Q Is he having any therapy or anything?


Q How did it happen?

MS. MYERS: Just after running one day. It sometimes just happens after exercise or something like that.

Q Speaking of army colonels, is Rush Limbaugh definitely going on Armed Forces radio?

MS. MYERS: You'd have to check with the Pentagon. I'm not sure.

Q Dee Dee, the President's been having a series of budget meetings with Cabinet officers. When do you expect those to be wrapped up, and when will he get into the actual decision-making phase?

MS. MYERS: Some time in the next couple of weeks.

Q Wrap up the meetings in a couple of weeks?

MS. MYERS: Yes, the series of meetings. Actually, I think he'll probably be done unless some get pushed off by Christmas.

Q Individual meetings, you mean?

MS. MYERS: It's meetings usually considering two or three departmental budgets at a time. And he's been having them every other day or so depending on his schedule.

Q He's going to have those meetings until Christmas, and then he's going to start making decisions on the budget?

MS. MYERS: No, he's going to -- he'll have had a chance to review all of the various departmental budgets. I think the decision-making process is ongoing. I don't think it's separate from the reviews.

Q Well, he has to decide and then stop, because, I mean it takes them a month to print this thing and you have a statutory deadline on the Hill to submit the budget.

MS. MYERS: Correct. All I'm suggesting is that as he reviews the budgets, the decisions are getting made.

Q Dee Dee, could we ask one more question, please? Is the President supporting the continuation of the armies, the military forces on the Sinai border that have been in existence for 14 years, going on 15? This is the last year.

MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that question as to the status of that. I'm not sure.

Q Shall I call you later?

MS. MYERS: Sure. We'll post it, but feel free to call me.

Q Anything new on Korea, then?

MS. MYERS: Nothing new on Korea.

Q Could we just try one more time to clarify this how crime threatens his domestic agenda. Are you saying that if the crime problem isn't solved we can't get this other stuff passed?

MS. MYERS: No, I'm not suggesting a cause and effect in terms of legislation but in terms of crime as an issue, it's pervasive. It touches everything that the President is trying to do. It has implications for health care reform and welfare reform and job creation and economic growth.

And, so, the President doesn't feel he can address those issues without also trying to address the crime issue. He sees them as connected. And, so, unless you can do something about crime, unless you can reduce the amount of violence then the President believes that you cannot have a long-term healthy economic and growing economy. And I think that's something that he's talked about repeatedly. And, so, just to make the point that that is why crime is at the forefront of his domestic agenda. I don't want to suggest a hierarchy but everything that he's trying to accomplish is affected by crime and violence. And that's part of the reason that he's so concerned about it and has brought it to the forefront and will continue to talk about it.

Q There had been some figures, Dee Dee, put out about the cost of crime overall. Does the administration have figures like that? Does it have its own figure system?

MS. MYERS: No, but we've certainly seen the independent figures and they're astronomical.

Q Dee Dee, the President has a short list of suggestions to fill a fed vacancy that will come up January 31st when Wayne Angels term expires. Do you know when he would be expected to make that nomination? If he has a short list or anything?

MS. MYERS: No, I don't have a specific timeline for that.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

                                 END                    3:48 P.M. EST