THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS The Briefing Room
2:42 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: We added, as you know, we've added a photo op at the 4:30 reception for -- with nonprofit organizations. It is in the East Room. We'll take you guys up there at the appropriate time and you'll have a -- I don't know -- maybe you have something you want to talk to the President about today.
Q Will that be just tight pool, or will that be open to the --
MS. MYERS: Tight pool.
Q The President -- what's the format? Is he going to open up with the regular event and then take questions, or will he make a statement about Mitchell first and then open it up to questions and then go into the event? How are you going to do that?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if there's --
Q Or do you think he might start up by talking about something else, then talking about, then opening it up? (Laughter.)
Q Would you outline each option twice please?
MS. MYERS: You know, I think he has a few things that he wants to say about community investment development banks first. It's about a half hour statement, and then --
Q Dee Dee, just what --
MS. MYERS: No, what he'll do -- I don't know if they're sitting or standing -- what we'll do is move the pool in at the beginning; he will either make a statement about Senator Mitchell or take a question about Senator Mitchell, since I think those are only two real options.
Let me just review with you --
Q get to go or not?
MS. MYERS: Okay. We'll take questions submitted in writing in Swahili and we'll go from there.
Okay, let me just review what happened from the --
Q get to East Room for this or not?
MS. MYERS: Who?
Q Do we have to go or not?
MS. MYERS: No, it's tight pool, Sarah. So just the pool.
Okay, as Senator Mitchell said today -- earlier today, the President and Senator Mitchell met last night around 6:00 p.m. They met in the Residence of the White House. And as Senator Mitchell has said, he wanted to ask the President that his name be withdrawn from consideration for the Supreme Court. He had drafted a statement to that effect which he showed the President.
The President said that he and Senator Mitchell had an honest conversation about the impact that Senator Mitchell's appointment would have on their common agenda. He thought it was a great conversation, a very honest, straightforward. And the President said he was strongly inclined to nominate Senator Mitchell and thought he would have made an excellent justice. But they talked about it, and I think it was Senator Mitchell's judgment that he could best serve their common agenda by staying in his current post as Senate Majority Leader.
I think the President, as Senator Mitchell said, asked the Senator to sleep on it. The President called him this morning about 8:15 a.m.. They talked about it again. Senator Mitchell indicated he had not changed his assessment of the situation; that he thought he could best serve the country and their shared agenda by staying in his current post. And I think the President regretfully accepted Senator Mitchell's judgment on that.
Let me just make one more point, which is that I think the President was deeply impressed by the conversation and by Senator Mitchell's commitment to their shared agenda. He put the national interest ahead of his personal interest. And President Clinton came away from their conversations with even more respect --
Q Did either the President or Senator Mitchell express the possibility that this might come up again at some time in the future?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe it came up, but the President certainly wouldn't rule it out if there's another vacancy on the Supreme Court. I think you can count on Senator Mitchell being considered.
Q Wait a minute. Why is he putting the national interest ahead of his personal interest when the possibility of a career on the Supreme Court spanning decades is being sacrificed here in order to protect a couple of months of legislative work, however important? Why is one more important in the national interest than the other?
MS. MYERS: I think Senator Mitchell, as he said during his press conference, believes that this is a rare opportunity to make some very important achievements, including health care reform, welfare reform, campaign finance reform. He ticked off, I think, five or six items that he felt were particularly important and that this was, in his words, a rare opportunity to make progress.
Q? And it absolutely cannot be done without him. Is that his view?
MS. MYERS: I think his view was that he could best serve that agenda by staying in his current post at this time.
Q With Senator Mitchell out of the mix, can you review what the President's thinking is as to what kind of person he would want? He had focused initially on someone from the political world. What --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think his criteria hasn't changed. As we said yesterday, they had their first meeting yesterday. A number of names were presented to the President, which are being considered. And I don't think that this President's criteria has changed from the first vacancy, which is that he's looking for somebody with unquestionable integrity, keen intellect and a big heart. Certainly there are a number of candidates out there that fit this bill. He's looking at a number of names now.
Q Just one more question about this. Andrea, just one more question on this process. Can you tell us that neither the President nor anyone speaking on his behalf had previously spoken with Senator Mitchell about this vacancy?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely not.
Q What was the question?
MS. MYERS: The question was, had anybody previously spoken to Senator Mitchell. I assume you mean in advance of his decision to retire?
Q In advance? No. In advance of last night. Had he and the President discussed this or had anyone on the President's behalf discussed this with --
MS. MYERS: He and the President had not discussed this.
Q Did anyone on the President's behalf discuss this with him?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I'll have to take that. They had just inquired about his availability. I don't know the answer to that. I'll check.
Q? You will take that question?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I will take that question.
Q Would the President now considered anyone else from the Senate? Would he want to add to the list that was --
MS. MYERS: I would certainly never -- I would certainly not rule out the possibility that the list could be expanded or reduced in the course of this process. Again, the President was presented with a list of names yesterday. Those are the names that are currently being considered. I think as we saw last time, that is a rather flexible list, and I think names could be added or could be subtracted.
Q? Is Lawrence Tribe of Harvard one of those being considered?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on specific individuals who may or may not be considered.
Q The White House last week -- very clearly that Senator Mitchell was being considered. That was one name they weren't shy about talking about, apparently given the President's interest in probably nominating him. Does this move then embarrass the White House or is that -- as short as this is after the vacancy, present an image of a zig-zagging White House?
MS. MYERS: Of course not. Absolutely not. I would just point out that this process has been underway for less than a week. Clearly Senator Mitchell was a strong candidate, well qualified, but there are a number of strong, well-qualified candidates out there. It's a big country, and we are going to have a thoughtful process. And ultimately, the President will choose someone who is ultimately very qualified.
Q Why was his name surfaced if it wasn't clear that at least he'd be interested?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't want to point any fingers, but you all might have had something to do that.
Q Hey, hey -- we get the zig and zag --
Q Dee Dee, if the President was strongly inclined to nominate Senator Mitchell, why didn't he try and talk him out of taking himself out of the running? Mitchell said had he done so, he would have reconsidered.
MS. MYERS: Well, but he didn't say he would ultimately change his judgment. I think that the President believes Senator Mitchell is in the best position to judge what impact his appointment would have had on the legislative process. I think Senator Mitchell knows the Senate better than anybody and understands the legislative process better than anybody. And I think the President respectfully deferred to his judgment.
Q Did the President expect Mitchell to go and tell everybody that he was the President's first choice?
MS. MYERS: I think the President expected that both he and Senator Mitchell would honestly describe the exchange. And that's what they've done.
Q Do you think the timetable now slips a little on when you could name someone?
MS. MYERS: Well, we said it would be weeks as opposed to months. I think we've always maintained some flexibility on when the decision will be made. I think the President wants to move expeditiously, but the process will be thoughtful. And as quickly as he reaches, I think, a final decision, we'll let you know.
Q You understand the confusion that some of us have is because since Blackmun announced his retirement, all of the initial signals that Mitchell gave up in Maine since he came back on television, everything that was being said by him was that he was really interested; he wanted it. And then, all of a sudden, for him to come up here and tell the President he doesn't want it comes as a big surprise.
MS. MYERS: I think what --
Q So that raises the possibility that somebody signaled to Mitchell, hey, maybe you're not get it.
MS. MYERS: That's not correct. That's just absolutely incorrect.
Q Wait a minute, Dee Dee. The guy said, if I'm asked I will consider it. What he's done now is ask that he not even be considered. That's certainly -- on his part.
MS. MYERS: I think Senator Mitchell certainly had an opportunity to speak for himself today; and what I think he said was he thought about it; he considered the impact it would have on health care and the agenda for change that he shares with the President; and decided he could best serve the country by staying in his current role. I think that is a decision that the President deeply respects.
Q Senator Mitchell basically said it was a done deal, and but for his withdrawal he would have been on the Supreme Court. Is that an accurate portrayal of where things were?
MS. MYERS: I think the President, as I said, was very inclined to choose him, would have like to have chosen him.
Q Well, then, how genuine was the search process you had underway while Mitchell was already essentially the nominee?
MS. MYERS: I would just point out that we've been in this process for sometime, at least in a prospective way. I think for the last year we've been looking at a number of candidates, evaluating them. When Justice Blackmun resigned, obviously, that began a more formal process. And there are a number of candidates that are being considered.
Q I know, but did everybody really have a straight face then sitting around that meeting yesterday afternoon with the President, his mind made up, his inclination already known, and they're all sitting around acting like all these other people were, at that time at least, seriously being considered? Or did the President know the Mitchell deal was done?
MS. MYERS: No, the President didn't speak to him until later in the day. Again, that meeting happened -- with Senator Mitchell happened around 6:00 p.m. I think it is reasonable, given that the President had not spoken to Senator Mitchell directly, that a number of candidates be selected. Certainly, the President was inclined to nominate Senator Mitchell, but there was always the possibility that that, for one reason or another, wouldn't work out. So it's prudent of us to consider a number of candidates, which is exactly what we've doing. There are many qualified people in this country, and we'll find somebody who suits the bill very well.
Q Did the vetting process begin at all with Senator Mitchell, and had he turned over any financial records, personal records?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the answer to that, whether they had asked him for any of those kinds of documents yet. I'll have to take that.
It's a moot point now. I mean, he's not -- he has asked that he not be considered.
Q Was there any discussion yesterday about the hassles with the Constitution, the through-the-hoops they'd have to do with Congress?
MS. MYERS: Sure. But I think that becomes a moot point as well, since he's withdrawn his name.
Q discussions at all between President Clinton -- MS. MYERS: It was something that had to be considered
as part of the overall judgment.
Q Mitchell talk about it? I mean, did Mitchell say it was a concern to him?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that that was --
Q He said it wasn't.
MS. MYERS: Yes, he said thought that it was possible and that he could have done it.
Q Can you answer directly whether anything turned up in the vetting process that influenced his decision?
MS. MYERS: Not to my knowledge. I don't believe so.
Q As of yesterday afternoon --
MS. MYERS: Again, I think Senator Mitchell's words here speak for themselves. I think he made it very clear that he made a judgment based on, I think, a lifetime of work. This was a rare opportunity to make progress and he chose to do what he thought was in the best interest of that agenda.
Q As of yesterday afternoon when the President had his first meeting, you had no indication -- he had no indication that Mitchell would not be interested in the job. Every indication that you had and the that the President was operating under was that Mitchell wanted the job. Is that correct?
MS. MYERS: Well, we had no indication that he didn't want the job, but he hadn't spoken to the President yet. And I don't --
Q You had no indication from any source that Mitchell was --
MS. MYERS: I'm going to take the question as to whether anybody else spoke to him. Again, I think this is something that happened within the last week. I think it's reasonable to assume that Senator Mitchell took some time to think about it and reached his own conclusion. I don't think there's anything unreasonable about the timeline here.
Q Could you also specifically take the question whether Cutler spoke to Mitchell?
MS. MYERS: Well, it's part of the same question, but I'm happy to be specific about that.
Q Is it true that as of 24 hours ago, the list that came up at the meeting was all people of judicial background except for Mitchell? Is that --
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on the kinds of people that were on the list. I think there are a number of different kinds of people would make qualified Supreme Court justices.
Q The President has suggested that too many sitting judges have become -- have come under the Court in the Reagan and Bush years and was looking for a politician or public figure. Would he be disappointed if he ended up naming another sitting judge?
MS. MYERS: No, of course not. I don't think he's ever said too many -- I think he said that it certainly, that had been the trend in recent years, but I don't think he ever said it was too many. Clearly, that's been the trend.
Q The President has had a remarkable number of people tell him they're not interested in serving on the Court. To what do you attribute his poor batting average here?
MS. MYERS: I know you'll find this shocking, but I don't think it's in any way a reflection on the President. (Laughter.) The Supreme Court -- I mean, each of them had their own reasons for making that judgment. I think it's a difficult job. If you look at the hours that those justices work, and the type of work that they do -- it's rigorous, it's challenging, but it's very time consuming. And I think each of them had reasons for declining the post.
Q Boring wardrobe.
Q Bad wardrobe.
MS. MYERS: You know, it saves you a lot of money on suits. That would be the benefit.
So, okay, anything else?
Q In Little Rock today, Jim McDougal said that the Clinton's used Whitewater as a tax shelter to shield her commodities profits, and that that was their intention at the time. Is that correct?
MS. MYERS: Well, yes. I mean, if you look at their tax returns, they offset interest in one investment with profits on another investment the way the tax code is set up. That is the -- I don't know whether they got into Whitewater as a tax shelter. They got into it as an investment.
Has everyone gotten their 50 cents a page McDougal documents today?
Q Two dollars.
Q Well, Dee Dee, that was going to be my next question. Why --
MS. MYERS: No. There's a run on them. The market has taken over. It's 50 cents a page.
Q Why is it that the White House chose not to release those documents to reporters -- and instead required reporters basically --
MS. MYERS: We didn't require reporters to do anything. If reporters chose to purchase the document, that was their own decisions. We gave Mr. McDougal back his documents. We haven't released a lot of the Whitewater records at the request of the special counsel, and I think we'll continue to follow that policy.
Q Have you any reaction now yet to the Randall Robinson fast --
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President respects Randall Robinson's commitment on this issue. Clearly, this is a difficult problem and one that the President has been working on for sometime. We maintain the policy of direct return, particularly for humanitarian reasons, to protect the lives of literally thousands of Haitians who might take to the seas in rickety boats and lose their lives in transit.
At the same time, I think we'll continue to review our policy toward Haiti and to work with President Aristide to find a way to restore the president and restore democracy in Haiti and to address the underlying problems that have led to the desire on the part of many Haitians to flee.
Q Has anyone talked to Robinson about this?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if anybody has talked directly to him or not.
Q Communicated any effort to mediate his efforts, or to convince him that you're trying to find some other way to do it?
MS. MYERS: You know, I just don't know if somebody either at the NSC or at the State Department has talked directly to him. I can take that question. We're certainly aware of his efforts.
Q What is the President's involvement with Bosnia today, if any? Is he making any phone calls to any foreign leaders --
MS. MYERS: He hasn't made any calls to foreign leaders. He's been kept abreast of the situation by Tony Lake. Secretary Christopher called Foreign Minister Kozyrev today. Ambassador Redman is in Sarajevo -- he met today with Churkin, Deputy Foreign Minister from Russia. He has spoken to a number of other people, including Akashi, who are on the ground in Sarajevo, and he's continuing to work the situation there. And we're keeping on top of -- the President is keeping on top of developments.
Q report any progress?
MS. MYERS: No, Churkin has spoken with the Bosnian Serbs. Redman has spoken with the Bosnian government leaders and we're trying to resolve something, but they have not agreed yet to go back to the talk -- to the negotiating table.
Q To what extent is the President troubled by the obvious perception on the parts of Randall Robinson and members of the Congressional Black Caucus that this administration has abandoned Aristide?
MS. MYERS: Well, certainly that perception is troubling; it's just not true. Our policy remains to restore President Aristide and to restore democracy to Haiti. We're reevaluating now the best way to achieve that. I think we've tried repeatedly over the last 15 months to work out a solution that would see democracy restored and President Aristide returned. It's a difficult process and one that we're committed to pursuing.
And I would just point out that the only way to deal with the refugee problem is to deal with the underlying problems that have caused the refugees in the first place, which has certainly been the commitment of this administration from the beginning.
Q Forgive me if I've missed this -- the State Department said the White House released a list of distinguished Americans going to South Africa for the --
MS. MYERS: Once we've completed the delegation list, we'll release it. The only thing we have said so far is Secretary Christopher will not be going as he has another commitment in Mexico, I believe.
Q Is there any chance that the President or Vice President will go?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe the President will be able to attend, but I think, and the rest of the delegation is subject to question. And as soon as we have the complete list, we'll release it.
Q Could you determine the source of the President's claim that 1 in 20 American school children carries a weapon to school?
MS. MYERS: Did we -- okay, we'll post it. We got it yesterday.
Q Dee Dee, can I get back to the Mitchell thing for a second? Who initiated the meeting at 6:00 p.m. last night at the Residence? Did the President invite Mitchell to come over, or did Mitchell call up and say he wants to come over and talk to the President?
MS. MYERS: They spoke. Mitchell said that he wanted to meet with the President, and the President invited him to come to the Residence.
Q But it was Mitchell's initiative for the meeting last night?
MS. MYERS: That's what Senator Mitchell said today, yes.
Q Well, when you say they spoke, who called who?
MS. MYERS: I believe -- Senator Mitchell said he called the President, and I believe that to be the truth.
Q? And you don't believe that the President had any inkling beforehand that Senator Mitchell was going to say that he didn't wish to be considered?
MS. MYERS: Not to my knowledge, but you'll have a chance to ask the President that directly. I don't believe -- when I spoke to him about it today, he didn't say that he did.
Q Do you know about what time Senator Mitchell called to say he wanted to see the President?
MS. MYERS: It was sometime in the afternoon.
Q Dee Dee, did the President tell Senator Mitchell first that he wanted to name him to the job and was strongly inclined to do so, or did Senator Mitchell first say that he wasn't interested?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the exact -- the way the President described the conversation was that Senator Mitchell came over and said that he wanted his name withdrawn, and that he had with him a statement that he had drafted to that effect.
Q And was the President dumbfounded, surprised by that?
MS. MYERS: I will leave that to your creative minds to come up with the proper adjective. But I think you can ask the President what his --
Q Did it come as a surprise?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think the President was somewhat surprised, and I think that he was sorry.
Q Is there a substantive difference between saying he was favorably inclined to nominate him and offering him the job?
MS. MYERS: I just think that he hadn't gotten to the point of offering him the job yet.
Q What was Mitchell backing away from then?
MS. MYERS: He wasn't backing away from anything. I take his words on their face. I mean, the man has said why -- what motivated his judgment.
Q We're trying to get to a situation -- you know, clearly he knew --
MS. MYERS: Senator Mitchell has addressed that. I cannot tell you more about what he was thinking than he told you in a half-hour press conference a few hours ago.
Q Dee Dee, are the congressional people at the White House concerned that if Mitchell had left, that health care would be in trouble? Had they expressed this concern to anybody else in the White House?
MS. MYERS: I think, of course, people were concerned about what the impact would be. I don't think anybody had reached a conclusion about what the impact would be, but certainly that is an obvious question that anybody would ask.
I think Senator Mitchell made the ultimate judgment on that. And the President deferred to that judgment, being that the President believes Senator Mitchell is in the best position to make that judgment.
Q And did the congressional liaison express concern to whoever it may be -- the Chief of Staff or the President --
MS. MYERS: I think, as we've said, that there were a number of political and legal considerations involved, and that was certainly one of them.
But Senator Mitchell made the judgment based on his best evaluation. If he had said something else, if he'd said, yes, I think we can pass health care and get this agenda through and I can -- the outcome of this whole situation may have been different. But that wasn't his judgment.
Q Dee Dee, that is exactly what he did say last week in Maine, as I and others interviewed him; he said that again and again. He said he felt that Congress would be out in October, that the term didn't begin until October. He thought --
MS. MYERS: You'll have to ask him, Mike. All's I can tell you is he spoke today; he made a determination; he said exactly why he asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration.
The President, for his part, has said clearly, he intended to nominate him, would have liked to have nominated him, has tremendous respect for him, but respects Mitchell's judgment that that would have had an adverse impact on their shared agenda, which includes health care and a number of other initiatives.
Q My impression is that Mitchell felt that he could do both, but that there were nervous people here at the White House --
MS. MYERS: All's I can do is refer you to Senator Mitchell's transcript. He answered that question, and I don't have anything more to add about what was in his thought process.
Q what was in Senator Mitchell's mind. The question is, are there -- was there anyone here at the White House who was afraid of what --
MS. MYERS: The President is the person who makes that judgment. He has said -- the President was the one who was going to make the decision; he has said that he intended -- would have liked to have nominated Senator Mitchell. I don't have anything more to add on this. There's nothing more to say about it.
Q he intended to nominate him, and he offered him the job.
MS. MYERS: He hadn't gotten to that point yet.
Q What stood between those two --
MS. MYERS: Time. I mean, we were in the middle of a process. The President intended to do it. You can intend to do something and not have had the opportunity to do it; that's the way life works out.
Q Had the first, initial, official contact at any level on this matter been made between the White House and Mitchell prior to the --
MS. MYERS: That's a question that I've taken 15 questions ago.
Q Dee Dee, would it be wrong for us to report that if Senator Mitchell had wanted to be on the Supreme Court, he would have been?
MS. MYERS: Pardon me?
Q Is it wrong for us to report that if Senator Mitchell had wanted the job, he would have been put on the Supreme Court, assuming confirmation?
MS. MYERS: I think that the President has said he intended to nominate Senator Mitchell. I think the rest flows from there.
Q Given that the President has known about Blackmun's resignation since --
MS. MYERS: Are we getting a little redundant here, or is it my imagination?
Q Given that the President has known about Blackmun's resignation since January, when did he reach the --
MS. MYERS: I think what we've said previously about that was that Justice Blackmun indicated that this might be his last year, and the President answered that he said he hoped he'd change his mind. So he did not know about Justice Blackmun's resignation specifically until last week when the rest of us found out.
Q Is there another formal meeting scheduled with the President --
MS. MYERS: No. No other formal meetings have been scheduled. I expect there will be one sometime in the future, but nothing has been scheduled.
Q As a philosophical matter, does the President not believe in twisting people's arms to take jobs? I mean, some presidents, when they've gotten a no or an initial no have gone further and twisted a little harder.
MS. MYERS: It depends. It depends on what the circumstances are. I think the President has, in the past, urged people to take jobs in other circumstances like this where a very important agenda the President feels deeply about is at stake. I think he respects the judgment of the person he feels is in the best position to judge the impact of something like his departure on that agenda.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:01 P.M. EDT