THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
12:34 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: I thought I would just start with a readout. I know you had a chance to talk with some of the members of Congress who were at the meeting, but I'll give you a little more detail if you'd like.
The President began with a discussion of some budget issues, specifically he talked about the supplemental for earthquake assistance in California which he asked Director Panetta to talk about a little bit. Panetta emphasized that the supplemental had passed out of House committees. He expects it to be on the floor, I believe, tomorrow -- urged that the aid pass the House this week and pass the Senate next week so that it can be signed before the recess at the end of next week.
They also talked briefly about the buyout options. The President asked that Congress move forward and give the administration, give the departments authority for buyouts which is a better way to go about reaching the goal of 252,000 fewer federal employees by the end of the year.
Q Did they give them any indication of --
MS. MYERS: There was general support for it. Obviously, they have to work with their members on it, but there was general support for the concept. A number of members said they thought that had been effective at DOD, CIA, NASA, places where it has been tried and found to be effective.
They talked about Russia briefly. The President said that he'd like the members to come back -- the leadership to come back sometime probably next week to discuss in more detail his trip to Europe, and Russia specifically.
The President then outlined, talked a bit about what he thinks are the three major domestic initiatives facing Congress this year -- education and the Goals 2000 legislation which has passed out of the House committees and is beginning discussion in the Senate committees today or the Senate Education Committee today. He talked about the crime bill and said he'd like to see a bipartisan bill passed as soon as possible. He reiterated his support for some of the provisions that are currently in the Senate version of the bill, specifically: three strikes, 100,000 new police officers, the ban on assault weapons, expanded drug treatment facilities in prisons, and some additional funding for states to build more prisons.
He talked about welfare reform and reiterated his commitment to have a comprehensive welfare reform bill
in prisons and some additional funding for states to build more prisons. He talked about welfare reform and reiterated his commitment to have a comprehensive welfare reform bill by sometime this spring. He also urged bipartisan action on welfare reform and, I think, reiterated that in 1988 when they passed the family support act, that bipartisan support was crucial to getting that done. And, finally, they talked about health care.
Q That's four issues.
Q That's four.
MS. MYERS: Yeah, he didn't include health care in the three that he talked about. It was just --
Q Does that mean he's downplaying health care --
Q Health care is off the front burner. Filing break.
MS. MYERS: It's no longer a priority. No. But he did talk specifically about those three pieces and building a bipartisan consensus on them. Finally, they did talk a bit about health care. I think the President -- he had some kind words for Senator Dole's comments yesterday, which expressed a willingness to find --
Q Which comments?
MS. MYERS: -- the comments which expressed a willingness to find a bipartisan solution to the health care problems the country faces.
Q Oh, that comment.
MS. MYERS: That comment. And I think generally the President urged everyone to tone down the rhetoric and just focus more on the facts, which is something that he said he's going to try to do over the course of the coming weeks as this debate proceeds. There was general agreement that that was a good idea. It was a positive, productive, frank, open discussion.
Q Was the U.S. Ambassador, in fact, called in to the foreign ministry in London and read the riot act about our admission of their friend from the IRA?
MS. MYERS: Was -- was -- I'm sorry, could you repeat that?
Q In London, the capital of England, British U.S. ambassador, called in, by the Brits, angry about the admission of their friend from the IRA.
MS. MYERS: Oh, Gerry Adams? I don't know, I'll have to take that.
Q Are you aware of any British objections to this?
MS. MYERS: The decision was made in consultation with the British and Irish governments.
Q That doesn't mean they agree.
Q That doesn't mean they agree.
Q Did the President overrule his own foreign policy advisors?
MS. MYERS: No, the decision was made in consultation with his foreign policy advisors, including Secretary Christopher, certainly Tony Lake and others. There was, I think, a fair amount of discussion about it. The President made the decision based on what he thought would help forward the peace process.
Q That doesn't answer any of the question.
Q Did he overrule his own advisors?
MS. MYERS: The answer to the question is that the decision was made in consultation with his advisors. I'm not going to say that who was in what position, but he certainly made the decision in concert with his advisors.
Q Did the British object to the admission?
MS. MYERS: I would leave that to them to answer that question. We made this -- there was a number of conversations with both the British and Irish governments on this.
Q You don't dispute that they objected to this?
MS. MYERS: I will leave that to them to discuss what their view is of this. It's not for me to --
Q? Did any of his advisors recommend against it?
MS. MYERS: There was discussion about it, and I'm not going to get into who was for what position.
Q No, I'm not -- did any of his advisors recommend against it?
Q Would it be fair to say there were views expressed on both sides?
MS. MYERS: I would say that there were a number of different views on this, and I'm not going to say exactly what those views were or who held them, other than to say there were a number of different views on this, the President made the decision in consultation with his advisors. There was, I think, quite a bit of consensus on it and the President moved forward.
Q The Vietnam families are very concerned about the imminent decision which has been signaled in various places that the President will make on Vietnam, that they have not gotten the proper accounting yet. What is the President's view on that?
MS. MYERS: The President believes at this point that some progress have been made. This has been a productive year. There have been a number of trips.
Q The Vietnam families who are concerned that they do not have a full accounting, that this will take the pressure off of Vietnam.
MS. MYERS: Right. The President's view is that there's been some progress made this year. There have been a number of missions to Vietnam by Winston Lord from the State Department, Admiral Charles Larsen and others. The President has stated from the beginning that progress on MIA and POW issues will determine whether or not there's a change in our trade relationship with Vietnam. That is still under review.
Q What about his taking the pressure off them? Once the decision is made, how will there be any more pressure for them to be responsible?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think there are a number of views about that. There are a number of people outside -- both inside and outside the administration who have expressed publicly that they think by expanding our relationship with them, we'll be able to make more progress. I'm not suggesting that that's the President's view at this point, but it's something that's under review, something that he cares deeply about and something that he's committed to making progress on. So we're finding out as much as we can and working with the Vietnamese government to find out the fate of the MIAs and POWs. Certainly, the President's decision will be made with an eye toward continuing to make progress.
Q The lawyer who helps the President on Whitewater was here.
Q The League of Families was in to see Tony Lake just recently. Does the President have any plans to meet with the Griffiths or any other people from that group or other groups before he announces his decision?
MS. MYERS: Administration officials have met regularly with the families. There's no meeting with the families in the President's schedule, but I wouldn't rule it out.
Q Why was the lawyer who helped the President on Whitewater here? Who was he meeting with and could you give us a sense?
Q And what advice did he give?
Q Good idea. Could you give us a sense of what --
Q Can we have any memos he may have communicated?
MS. MYERS: I don't know, but I'm happy to take the question.
Q Would you take the question for us? Thank you.
Q Dee Dee, was the President surprised to get a fax today from the Vietnam Veterans of America saying they wish he would normalize relations with Vietnam, it would be better? That's quite different from what the other veterans have done.
MS. MYERS: I haven't seen that, but I think there's certainly support among a number of veterans, I don't know about veteran's organizations specifically, but a number of veterans, including members of Congress who believe that that's the right thing do.
Q This was a Mr. Terzano.
MS. MYERS: Terzano? Any relation to Ginny? I'll take the question and see if this fax has in fact been received.
Q Dee Dee, would it be fair to say that lifting the trade embargo would be a step toward normalization of relations, and will that be accompanied if it happens with the opening of some sort of diplomatic office in Hanoi?
MS. MYERS: What's under discussion now is lifting the trade embargo. That is not the same as normalizing relations.
Q Why not normalize relations if all of this progress has been made?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think there are two separate -- lifting the trade embargo is contingent on MIA - POW progress, specifically. Normalizing the relationship has a broader set of criteria and I just don't think we're -- that's not under discussion at this point.
Q So would you anticipate some sort of interest section office or some sort of low-level diplomatic presence for the United States in Vietnam as a result of this decision?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the practical implications will be. But it is clear that these are not the same thing. The trade decision is being made separate from a full normalization of relations.
Q Nonetheless, it would be the normal thing to do.
Q What are the criteria for normalizing relations?
MS. MYERS: Let me take that, too. I want to make sure that we get that specifically.
Q That would be the normal course of events?
MS. MYERS: Not necessarily. The two -- don't assume the two are going to happen together.
Q I know, but there would be an interest section if we drop the embargo and 37-some-odd American businesses are poised to begin operating if that embargo is dropped. It would be normal for there to be some sort of interest section at somebody else's embassy under the circumstances. There'd be some kind of diplomatic representation.
MS. MYERS: Practically, there will obviously be some steps, and I'm happy to find out what those might be.
Q Are we expecting a decision this week on the lifting of the embargo?
MS. MYERS: The President said earlier today he expected to make a decision soon within the next few days, but I don't have a hard time line on it.
Q Dee Dee, correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought one of the criteria for lifting the embargo was fullest-possible accounting. That's the phrase that keeps going back and forth.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q Today you are merely saying that progress needs to be made.
MS. MYERS: No, I'm saying that progress has been made, that our criteria has always been that the Vietnamese are doing everything that they can to help us to resolve outstanding MIA and POW cases, and there's a number of specifics that we continually cite -- remains, documents, cooperation with Laos, a few other things.
Q How far back do you go to determine whether you're getting that kind of cooperation? Is it just a mater of a few years? Because in the past the Vietnamese have said historically that they had no more remains and then they'd come up with more remains. My question is, how far back are you going?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the Bush administration established a process which we've built on. And I think we're looking at their behavior now -- how they've been in the last -- certainly, their current attitude, their current level of cooperation.
Q Dee Dee, what is the administration's position on the economic stimulus package announced in Tokyo just a couple of hours ago in -- that is one of the key elements of the framework --
MS. MYERS: This has just been announced. We're reviewing it and at this point, we don't have any comment.
Q Dee Dee, there are apparently no swimming pools in it, and I' can't imagine why the White House would react favorably to it. (Laughter.)
Q Is there a crime meeting here today?
Q Wait, she's got to read the note.
MS. MYERS: Is this true? Breaking news. John Terzano -- this is signed by Ginny Terzano -- "John Terzano is my brother. He's President of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation." But it doesn't speak to the issue of the facts. (Laughter.)
Q Is there a meeting here on crime today, on the crime bill?
MS. MYERS: Yes. The President has a meeting with Chairman Brooks, Chairman Biden, I believe --
MS. MYERS: -- no, I don't think so. I think it's then, Mitchell, Foley and maybe Gephardt -- 4:30 p.m.
Q Photo op?
MS. MYERS: An hour. It's scheduled for an hour.
Q With Biden? An hour? Are you kidding? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Is the correspondent from ABC expressing an opinion down here?
Q At this point, does the White House feel confident --
The plan at this point is a White House photo release as opposed to a photo op.
Q How about a photo op?
MS. MYERS: I understand. We'll take the --
Q Isn't crime an important issue? (Laughter.)
Q What can you tell us about the Kramer speech he's going to give tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: At this point, it's going to focus, I think, a lot on crime. It was originally an opportunity to build on the
State of the Union. I think the content will be largely the same, although I think the context is a little bit less directly connected. But I think he'll talk about crime and about values and about how these -- how these children should view their future in light of a lot of the problems that they face.
Q Dee Dee, what is the White House sense at this point about what's going to happen in the Business Roundtable? Do you think that you're going to be able to turn the tide and talk them out of voting support for Cooper-Breaux?
MS. MYERS: I don't think we know what they're going to do. I believe they're meeting at 4:00 pm. today. I think what the President said was that many of them support guaranteed private insurance, and that regardless of what they vote today, what we would like to see is that the business community, including members of the Business Roundtable, work with us toward that goal.
Q The Senate voted overwhelmingly in a nonbinding resolution to get tough with North Korea. What is the administration doing at this point? What is the next step? What are you waiting for, or who are you talking to?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, we had a series of meetings with the North Koreans last month. They agreed to full IAEA inspections which needed to be worked out with the IAEA. Those discussions have been ongoing in Vienna, and at this point the IAEA has not reached a resolution with them.
Q They backed down, though. Dee Dee, they informed the IAEA that they would not go along and that, in fact, we had been misled by the briefers who have briefed us.
MS. MYERS: Our view is that they agreed to full inspection, nonetheless regardless of what they're saying, that they have to agree to full inspection. That's our bottom line. We want them to agree to full inspection. The discussions in Vienna are ongoing, although not much progress has been made.
Q According to officials in Vienna, they have been badly used by the North Koreans --
Q Stiffed is the right word.
MS. MYERS: Clearly, they have not achieved their objective there, and until the IAEA is satisfied, we won't be satisfied that enough has been done and that they've opened themselves to inspections.
Q What's the view of the U.S. government on the South Korean Foreign Minister's taking today that -- tone down the rhetoric. He spoke to the diplomatic community in Seoul, I believe, and said not to blow this out of proportion. In other words --
MS. MYERS: I am not familiar with those comments. I think our comments on this have been consistent throughout. We've continued to maintain that they have to open their facilities to inspection, and that if not, we'll go back to the U.N. Security Council for further action.
Q Delay works in their favor. So how long do you let them go?
MS. MYERS: We don't have a time line on it.
Q Is there a deadline --
Q I thought there was a deadline of February 26th.
MS. MYERS: No. We haven't established a hard deadline, although there is an IAEA Board of Governors meeting on February 22nd.
Q Is that what you're looking towards?
MS. MYERS: We're not establishing any hard deadlines in this process, but we'd like to see some movement.
Q Whatever happened, then, to the statement from that podium by you and other people that we had only a matter of weeks?
MS. MYERS: It's up to the IAEA to determine when the continuity of safeguards has been broken. That continues to be our position. And we're not going to let them go on forever. We haven't established a hard deadline, but we maintain that if we don't get the kind of progress we need, that we'll go back to the U.N. Security Council for further action.
Q Where do we stand on the Patriots?
MS. MYERS: No change.
Q Did the North Korean response on the Patriot -- is having influence on the decision --
MS. MYERS: No. The decision is being made on the basis of the recommendation of General Luck, and the view that it would enhance the security of South Korea and the Korean Peninsula generally. It is a defensive weapon, and it is meant simply for those defensive purposes.
Q Did the President address the -- the President this morning, did he take a position on that truth in sentencing provision on the regional?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q What does he think about that? It's gotten rather controversial. They say they're dictating to him and we heard Romer talk about that the other day.
MS. MYERS: Right. I was going to take that question and I guess, and I haven't. I don't have an answer, so let me get back to you.
Q Could you do it again, Dee Dee.
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q Mickey met with the Japanese Prime Minister in Tokyo, and they were still in a stalemate and no progress. I think they'll meet again tomorrow. Do you have any assessment at this moment on the Japanese attitude?
MS. MYERS: No. Ambassador Kantor is there. He has met with a number of people including the Prime Minister. Obviously we are looking to make progress on the framework before the February meeting. We'll see what the results of those talks are over the next few days.
Q Deputy Treasury Secretary Altman was sent over there last night real fast. Was there something new that developed?
MS. MYERS: He was? I was unaware of that, obviously. I don't know if there's any specific developments that required him to go over there. He's been intimately involved in this throughout the process.
Q He was with Rosti on the Hill last night.
MS. MYERS: Are you sure?
Q He was scheduled to give a speech this morning -- and sent word he had to rush over to --
Q The Roundtable --
Q How about that?
Q Is Peres due in here to talk to Lake at some point today?
MS. MYERS: This afternoon, both Gore, and I believe there's a photo op with the Gore meeting and then with Tony.
Q Do you know what time it is?
MS. MYERS: I don't. Do you know, Dave? Two o'clock.
Q Is the February 11th meeting between the President and Prime Minister Hosokawa still taking place?
MS. MYERS: Yes. Still on schedule.
Q What about this weekend?
MS. MYERS: There is no -- he's going to do the radio address on Saturday morning. He'll be in Washington until he leaves for Houston Sunday, mid-afternoon, I think 3:00 p.m.-ish is the scheduled departure time. He'll attend a DNC fundraiser in Houston, do an event in Houston on Monday morning. At some point --
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q You're sure now? It's not going to be budget mixed with a whole bunch of other stuff?
MS. MYERS: I can't guarantee that.
Q Not merely some watered-down, convoluted budget speech?
MS. MYERS: I can't guarantee that. Not that I know of, but I think they probably --
Q There will be an event.
MS. MYERS: Oh yeah, oh yeah. You should plan to go to Houston, it's going to be a lot of fun.
Q And then what?
Q How do you figure?
Q Where do we overnight?
MS. MYERS: Greg McDonald and Cragg Hines are taking us on a tour.
Q Where do we RON?
MS. MYERS: We RON on Monday.
Q In --
MS. MYERS: Very likely in Shreveport.
Q Do you have any restaurant recommendations?
Q They found the only place in Louisiana without good food. Congratulations.
MS. MYERS: I will not say that from this podium.
MS. MYERS: Yeah .
Q Health care in Louisiana?
Q Is that event set yet?
MS. MYERS: No, it's in process.
Q Why does the White House have such difficulty finding places where they want him to speak?
MS. MYERS: We don't. There is such a dearth of invitations. So there are so many invitations, I mean, that -- there are -- a deluge of invitations.
Q That's better -- abundance.
Altman is here. Altman did not go to Tokyo.
Q Bring him out then.
Q Yeah, where is he?
MS. MYERS: Prove it. (Laughter.)
END12:55 P.M. EST