THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
2:30 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: I have no official announcements.
Q Do you have any official response to the lawsuit that was filed?
MS. MYERS: No. Mr. Bennett just held a press conference, and I have nothing to add to what he said.
Q Is the President aware that the lawsuit was filed?
MS. MYERS: Of course.
Q Who informed him? Who discussed it with him?
MS. MYERS: Mr. Bennett informed him this morning.
Q Before it was filed, or after it was filed?
MS. MYERS: I think it was clear this morning that it was going to happen. Mr. Bennett advised the President to that effect. But I have nothing to add to what Mr. Bennett said in his press conference earlier.
Q But when George came out to him in that event and he spoke to him, wasn't he not telling him that it had actually been filed?
MS. MYERS: The President knew that it was probably going to happen at that point.
Q Was he then confirming it?
Q Was he then told that it -- was it not confirmed then at that time that it had just happened?
MS. MYERS: He had been informed in advance of that. I don't know what exactly transpired between George and the President, but I will say that the President was aware of the lawsuit before that.
Q Can you take the question as to whether George was informing him that it had, in fact, taken place?
MS. MYERS: I will say only that the President knew that it was coming. He had been informed in the morning by Mr. Bennett.
Q Are you able to convey any presidential reaction?
MS. MYERS: No. Thank you. (Laughter.)
Q Dee Dee, any reaction to the U.N. vote on Haiti sanctions?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, the President is very pleased by the U.N.'s vote earlier today. This was a U.S. led initiative. The United Nations Security Council supported that. I think this tightens the noose around the military in Haiti who have perpetrated this violence upon their own people. And the international community has decided to side with the United States in efforts to restore democracy and to end the violence in that country.
Q Is the President thinking about changing his policy in any way, regarding the way refugees are being treated?
MS. MYERS: At this point there's been no change in the policy. The United States continues to enforce the direct return policy. The entire Haiti policy continues to be under review. As you know, there have been a number of changes, particularly the enforcement of additional sanctions today. We continue to work with the Dominican government to seal off that border. There is a U.N. observer group that will go down there sometime in the near future to look at that and work with the government to close that border. The policy continues to be under review, and as changes are made we'll let you know.
Q Can anything be done, given the escalation of violence against people within the country?
MS. MYERS: Well, obviously that is a subject of great concern. I think that the changing circumstances on the ground is what led to the overall policy review to begin with.
The violence there continues. The President is very concerned about it. It is one of the reasons that, again, we're reviewing the policy now. The President continues to believe that direct return has prohibited literally hundreds of thousands of Haitians from taking -- or tens of thousands of Haitians, I should say -- from taking to the sea in boats that might not make it. And I think certainly thousands would risk their lives, and the President's trying to prevent that.
Q Dee Dee, how does the administration contemplate to force the Dominican Republic to comply with the embargo?
MS. MYERS: I don't think we intend to force them. I think we intend to work with them.
Q How do you plan to work with them?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think if you look at the way other embargoes are enforced around the world; for example, in the sanctions against Serbia -- there are a number of countries that work in observing that along the borders. I think the way the HaitiDominican border is envisioned is, the Dominican government will have to actually enforce it in terms of providing people there as sort of an armed or police presence. But I think it can be an international presence along the border, and that's something that's envisioned that can help monitor and provide technical assistance. So there is, again, an observer group going down there to take a look at the situation, to come up with some recommendations in terms of what kind of technical assistance and other assistance the international community can provide, and help the Dominican government seal that border.
Q Is this something which is planned in the resolution -- this international presence along the border, or is something else --
MS. MYERS: I don't know if it's part of the resolution specifically, but it is something that's been discussed.
Q In the days, or weeks, Dee, exceptions have been made for boats that got close to Florida.
MS. MYERS: That's not exceptions, though. It's a question of territorial waters. I think since this policy of direct return has been in force, beginning back in the Bush administration, there have periodically been boats that have either gotten very close to U.S. shores, or actually landed on U.S. shores. In those instances, the boats are taken ashore, and the refugees are processed here in the United States as opposed to being directly returned.
In the two instances that happened within the last, I guess, 10 days or so, or two weeks, those are boats that, one, wash ashore, actually came ashore in Key Largo, and the other got within a couple of miles, and because it was in U.S. territorial waters and because the Coast Guard had a reason to believe that the people on board were being very badly mistreated, the decision was made to bring it ashore.
Q Dee Dee, Mr. Robinson is in his 21st day of his hunger strike, and I don't think that the U.N. resolution will bring it to a stop. Is there any other contacts besides the usual contact the White House has had with him?
MS. MYERS: Nothing in the last day or two that I'm aware of. As you know, as I think I've said, a couple of people here, including Tony Lake, have spoken to him over the course of the last couple of weeks.
Certainly, the President, I think, respects the depth of his commitment. But the President will continue to pursue a policy he believes is in the best interest of the American people.
Q Dee Dee, can you tell us about the agenda for today's Supreme Court meeting? What are they trying to do? Are they down to --
MS. MYERS: Do you want me to just give you names, or --
Q Yeah, right.
MS. MYERS: -- handicap it a little?
Q No, just the order in which the names will be discussed.
MS. MYERS: Okay, names, rank them and handicap.
Q How many are still under consideration?
MS. MYERS: I love when you guys ask questions that you know I'm not going to answer.
Q It's a great job, isn't it?
MS. MYERS: It really is.
Q How close -- how close is --
MS. MYERS: Clearly, the President's making progress on the Supreme Court. He's meeting later today with his advisors to discuss that, and I think we'll have to wait and see what kind of progress is made at that meeting.
Q Do you think he might have an announcement over the weekend?
MS. MYERS: I can't say. I just don't know.
Q You don't rule it out.
MS. MYERS: I can't rule it out. I hate to handicap these things because it's very difficult to do. I won't rule it out, no.
Q Well, give us your best guidance.
MS. MYERS: I can't rule it out.
Q Don't visit our mothers.
MS. MYERS: Well, I wish I could give you better guidance. I can't rule it out. I think it's --
Q Because it's possible the President make a decision at 5:00 p.m. today, and announce it tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: I can't rule it out, but I would say it's my opinion, which is one person's opinion, it is more likely to happen later than sooner, meaning --
Q Could it happen on Monday?
MS. MYERS: I certainly can't rule that out.
Q Even though he's traveling later in the day?
MS. MYERS: That scheduling question is a bit complicated. It's impossible to answer. He has not made a decision. I think we'll make an announcement as quickly as we can once the President makes a decision. I can't rule out that it will happen any time in the near future.
Q Dee Dee, can I go back to Haiti? As part of this review, is it safe to assume that you've passed the Pentagon to come up with military options -- embargo --
MS. MYERS: I think what I can say about that is that the policy is under review and that the President made very clear that he does not believe we can any longer rule out the use of military force. Beyond that, I'm not at liberty to comment on what options are being prepared or where they are in the process. I can't comment on that.
Q Also out in Haiti, your comments would suggest that the Dominicans are, by and large, ready to cooperate and just need a little bit of assistance and help. Is that the view of the administration, or is it the view that the Dominican Republic is really turning a blind eye to this porous border, and if not abetting, at least tolerating, all the smuggling that's going on?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think our view is that there have been some problems, clearly, along that border. It has been one of the primary points that the embargo has been violated. I think it is as important to improve the enforcement of the sanctions in many ways as it is to increase and tighten the sanctions. I think our view is that the Dominican government is willing to work with us in addressing this problem. And we're currently in discussions about how best to do that.
Q But you've indicated what you're prepared to do, either unilaterally or multilaterally, to help them --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q do the job if they want to do the job. But what are you doing to really increase their willingness to do it in the first place?
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean, we're in discussions with them. We think that they're willing to cooperate, and we're going to continue to work with them to try to address these problems.
Q Do you have some leverage over the Dominican Republic in terms of aid that you can use to get them to be more cooperative?
MS. MYERS: I think that they understand the importance of restoring democracy to Haiti. I think they're willing to work with us on this. We'll continue to do what we can to try to improve the situation. It has been far from perfect so far. But I think we'll continue to work with them on this.
Q Federal Court in Colorado ruled yesterday that that state can no longer refuse to allow Medicaid abortions to people have rape, incest and -- there's a third exception, I'm blanking on it.
MS. MYERS: Life of the mother.
Q Life of the mother. And a number of states are affected by this, including Arkansas -- shutting down on it. The deadline was a couple days ago. What is the President's response? He was written a letter by Casey in January -- which I don't believe he's every commented on -- asking him to allow some conscience waivers to these states, including his own, which is under a constitutional amendment that he sponsored, or at least supported.
MS. MYERS: Yes, he didn't sponsor it.
Q Well, it bans these very abortions, even in the three exceptions. And he did support it, he was on record in support of it in '85. Can you tell us where he stands on this now that the Feds are going to go and sanction states that don't go along?
MS. MYERS: I don't have any -- I don't have an answer to that question with response to today's suit. And you know, HCFA -- actually there was a change in the law based on a statute that was passed by Congress. I think that is for the courts to interpret, but I'll take it and see if there's anymore response.
Q It's interpretation that the exception in Hyde amendment actually was a mandate.
MS. MYERS: Oh, okay. The photo op for the Prime Minister of Malaysia is going to start soon, so if you guys don't mind, we can wrap this up in a couple of questions.
Q Excuse me, there was unfinished business on Casey. Did he response to Casey's letter --
MS. MYERS: I don't believe we ever had a formal response, but I'll take the question.
Q Thank you.
Q Dee Dee, the NRA, of course, is making lots of threats about targeting folks during the elections. Is the White House going to do anything to help these folks?
Q Targeting. (Laughter.)
Q Is the White House going to do anything to help these folks, Democrats or Republicans, whatever, in their campaigns?
MS. MYERS: The President's certainly grateful to the members who voted in support of the assault weapons ban yesterday. He called a number of them yesterday, including Chairman -- well, Chairman Brooks separately -- but he spoke with Schumer and a number of the others who voted for it, particularly those who switched their votes. He was very grateful to them.
Certainly that will be a factor in determining how the President makes decisions about who to support. Clearly, it was bipartisan. There are a number of issues that will go into deciding who the President supports --
Q Who to support and who not?
MS. MYERS: Sure. But the President is very grateful. I think he's hopeful now that his major priorities will come out of the conference report on the crime bill, which include 100,000 more cops, the assault ban.
Q? In trying to get support for this vote, he asked law enforcement people to work to do all they can to have people who voted for the ban to help them in their elections, be they a Democrat or a Republican.
MS. MYERS: I think this is a very high priority for law enforcement organizations. I don't think that that's necessarily the same thing as the President, or that they have exactly the same agenda. But certainly every major law enforcement organization that took a position on the ban came out in favor of it. I think as they often do, those organizations support the members who vote with them. I think that's to be expected.
Q Can I take it one step further? Did anybody ask specifically for his help in combatting the NRA --
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I don't the content of each of the -- he had a number of conversations. But certainly I think a lot of members who had never voted against the NRA voted against the NRA for the first time. I think other members have shown in the last couple of votes, including the vote on Brady and now the vote on assault weapons, that they are willing to stand up to the NRA in support of measures to crack down on crime.
And I think that the voters -- that people don't necessarily need protection for that. I think the voters in their districts will applaud many of them for what they've done. It was an act of courage for many people. There are people in districts for whom it's going to be difficult, and it will depend on a number of factors what we can do to help them. But certainly, there are a lot of places where voting in favor of that ban is a good thing -- 75 percent of voters surveyed supported this ban.
Q On the same subject, the President campaigned on behalf of NAFTA. He offered to write letters on behalf of anybody who was being challenged in an election because of their vote on NAFTA. Did he make a similar promise to anybody?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of, but I can take that. I don't know that that came up.
Q And once again, the President promised to protect the rights of hunters and sportsmen to keep and bear arms. Will he extend that same promise to the right of people who keep arms for home defense?
MS. MYERS: You know, the Constitution protects the right of American citizens to own and keep guns in their homes, and certainly the President appreciates that. People have a right to keep arms in their homes to protect themselves and their families and their property; to use them as hunters and sportsmen, sportspeople. I don't think that -- this wasn't about that. This wasn't a gun control issue, it was a crime control issue. These are a class of guns that are created with the specific purpose of killing as many people as possible in the shortest period of time.
I think the President felt very strongly about it. I think a long shot campaign to begin with; the President took it very seriously, as you know, spent a lot of time and staked a lot of his prestige on it and I think it paid off.
Q Dee Dee, I wanted to put in a free pop question. The President is going to meet with Prime Minister Mahahtir. What does the President trying to tell him? I would like to know the U.S. position on the EAEC -- Mr. Mahahtir's personal pet project. Does the President intend to express support for that group? And since the Malaysian Foreign Minister has called this meeting very important for Malaysia, I wonder where we can get some readout from the White House of the meeting?
MS. MYERS: What we will do is probably put out a statement after the meeting that will go through a little about what they talked about. They are going to talk about issues of bilateral and regional concern -- economic and security issues. I'll have to take the question. I'm not sure about the President's -- if he has a position on what you described as the Prime Minister's pet project.
Q The EAEC.
MS. MYERS: I don't know that answer to that. But we will have at minimum probably a written readout from the meeting.
Q On Bosnia, you clearly have a lot of dissatisfaction with Mr. Akashi's judgment, or his record. So are you going to call for his resignation, or --
MS. MYERS: No, but I think we've asked that there be no intentional violations or no permission to violate the U.N. and NATO exclusion zones, and that we would like to see Mr. Akashi do a better job.
Q So what steps are you going to take, specifically?
MS. MYERS: I think we've made our views clear to him in this regard. Again, we're not asking for his resignation, but we would like to see him do a better job.
Q Do you think he's too permissive in allowing violations?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think in the case of the tanks driving through the Sarajevo exclusion zone, yes, that was something that we objected to.
Q Do you think it's appropriate to publicly reprimand him like that?
MS. MYERS: Yes, that's why we did it.
MS. MYERS: Because we disagree with his decision to allow a deliberate violation of the exclusion zone.
Q Wouldn't you normally just privately convey that sentiment?
MS. MYERS: Sometimes these things are done privately and sometimes they're not.
Q Why don't you go -- just go all the way and say he should resign?
MS. MYERS: Because what we're saying is we'd like to see him do a better job. We'd like to see no more intentional --
Q Is this -- other -- to the President's belief in redemption?
Q Or you think he'll suddenly be imbued with the ability to make the decisions the way you want him to?
MS. MYERS: I think we've made our position clear on this. We're not calling for his resignation, we'd like to see him do a better job. We don't want permission for the Serbs or anybody else to violate the exclusion zone.
Q Are you also addressing your reprimand to BoutrosGhali ? Akashi is merely the creature of --
MS. MYERS: We've addressed a couple of letters, as you know. Ambassador Albright has addressed a number of letters to the Secretary General with reference to Mr. Akashi. In this instance, we've chosen to do it publicly.
Q I know you have. My question is, why, in this instance, are you not also saying the same thing about the Secretary General? After all, Akashi is merely his agent in Bosnia.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think -- and in that capacity, made the decisions that we question. So I think it was appropriate to address it directly to him. We've also made our concerns known to the Secretary General on a number of occasions. So he's, I think, aware of it.
Q What about in this instance? Are you making your concerns known to the Secretary General as well?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if Madeleine -- if Ambassador Albright sent him letters, spoke to him directly. I think generally, we communicate with him regularly and he's well aware of our concerns.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END2:50 P.M. EDT