THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:40 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: There are no announcements, so if anybody has any --
Q Zip, zilch?
MS. MYERS: Zero.
Q Any schedule changes today?
MS. MYERS: No schedule changes, no schedule additions to announce at this time.
Q Is the President still thinking of announcing his decision about MFN for China today?
MS. MYERS: I won't rule that out. He's working on it. He's been making phone calls, talking to people in the foreign policy community and others, making some, I think, last-minute assessments of this, and we'll have a decision very soon - as he said, before he leaves for Europe on June 1st. That decision -- announcement could come as early today, but there are no guarantees.
Q Has he made up his mind now and he's just looking at --
MS. MYERS: He's working through some of the final details on it. I think he's largely decided. However, there are a few things he's still looking at and, again, consulting broadly in the foreign policy community and talking to members of Congress and others about it.
Q He's made a basic decision to renew the benefits, right, he's just dealing with how you -- what conditions you attach?
MS. MYERS: He's made, I think, many parts of the decision, and I'll certainly let him announce the specifics when he's ready.
Q Has he gotten Secretary Christopher's report yet? If so, what does it say?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that the final official report has been received. As you know, he's spoken extensively with Secretary Christopher about this. They've met several times on the issue. I think it had broad discussions about it and I think the President is quite aware of the Secretary's views on this particular issue.
Q Is one element of this decision the creation of a commission to monitor human rights?
MS. MYERS: Again, I'm not going to get into the details. The President will be able to discuss that in detail once he's made a final decision, and that will be soon.
Q You think he's making calls right now and --
MS. MYERS: Yes, he is. He's got some time on the schedule this afternoon and he's going to spend that working on this, I think.
Q Has the diplomatic notification begun?
MS. MYERS: Not to my knowledge. I don't think that will begin until he's made a final decision. And again, he has not.
Q Does the President think it was appropriate for David Watkins to take a presidential helicopter and spend part of his work day playing golf?
MS. MYERS: The President was very concerned when he learned about this, and he asked Chief of Staff Mack McLarty to look into it. Mr. McLarty will do a thorough review of the incident.
Q How did the President find out?
MS. MYERS: He was told by staff, I believe.
Q When did it happen?
Q When did the staff --
Q Who knew about Watkins doing it in advance -- anybody above his level?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of, no.
Q So how did it come to the attention of the White House, the President, or whoever told the President?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it came to the attention of the White House when it was reported -- at least there was a photograph in a local Maryland paper.
Q What has been the explanation --
Q Can you identify the members of the White House staff who went?
Q What has been the explanation for taking a presidential helicopter for a round of golf on Tuesday afternoon?
MS. MYERS: Again, that's something that the Chief of Staff is looking into. They're reviewing the incident now. I think he'll make some determinations based on the facts. And I'm not going to go into that at this point.
Q Would there be any justification for taking a presidential helicopter --
MS. MYERS: Again, I will say only that this is something that the President and the White House take very seriously, the Chief of Staff is looking into it, and at this point I have nothing further to say about it.
Q Can you identify --
Q Is there a policy that governs the use of presidential helicopters by staff?
MS. MYERS: There's a policy that governs the use of all aircraft. One, it was an executive order issued by the President last year soon after he took office, and it lays out -- because I don't have it in front of me, I can certainly make it available to anybody that's interested -- that lays out the use of government aircraft by government officials.
Q Has the President ever been invited to play golf at this country club? And do you know who the members of the White House were who went on the trip on Tuesday?
MS. MYERS: Again, the Chief of Staff is looking into it. I don't know whether the President was ever invited to play. I'm told that President Bush played there regularly. I don't know -- again, that's what the Chief of Staff's looking into. I do not know --
Q Who are the staffers involved?
Q Can you give us a briefing on what this is about, tell us -- (laughter.)
Q Read the Frederick paper, Greg.
MS. MYERS: For the benefit of those of you who are unfamiliar, there was a photograph in the Frederick, Maryland, newspaper of -- I shouldn't be saying this -- of staff members who flew by helicopter to a golf course in the region, somewhere near Frederick, Maryland.
Q What does Watkins do? What is his role?
MS. MYERS: He is the Director of Administration.
Q What other aides were on that trip?
Q Was he one of the members?
MS. MYERS: Again, those are all the details that are being looked into. I'm not going to comment on it.
Q Certainly you can tell us who was there.
MS. MYERS: I think -- I don't know for sure who all was there.
Q Well, who are you aware of who was there?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to discuss it.
Q Why not?
MS. MYERS: Because that's something that the Chief of Staff is looking into. And I think once we have all the facts, the Chief of Staff will make a decision about what action, if any, needs to be taken. I just don't think it's appropriate for me to discuss it.
Q But it was more than Watkins?
MS. MYERS: There was more than one person involved.
Q From the White House.
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q Can you tell us what the nature of the President's concern was? You said he was quite concerned about it. Why?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to get into that. I think that's fairly obvious.
Q Could you tell us, Dee Dee, what -- under the policy that you say exists, who has the authority to authorize use of any presidential aircraft, any aircraft, and what the procedures are for getting that authority?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what the exact authority required is for use of a helicopter.
Q Anybody? I mean --
MS. MYERS: No, no. I'm sure there's a specific process. I don't know exactly how it works.
Q Is there any possible security explanation for this?
MS. MYERS: Those are all questions that the Chief of Staff will be looking into. Again, I mean, this is something that we take very seriously, and I think it is appropriate that the Chief of Staff look into it, learn all the facts, understand the details and make a decision based on that information.
Q Is this going to be one of those long White House investigations or --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q What are the --
Q could we expect some resolution today?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't want to put a time line on it. I certainly don't want to set up an expectation that it will happen today.
Q Is he still on the payroll?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q Dee Dee, you keep saying that it's something that you take very seriously, but why are you unwilling to explain why?
MS. MYERS: I think it's fairly obvious why. The use of government aircraft is something that the President laid out specific guidelines for early on in his term. And I'm not going to discuss any more details about this. If there are questions on another topic, I'd be happy to take them.
Q Dee Dee, the Deputy White House Press Secretary did provide an explanation for this, and said the purpose of the trip was to advance a possible presidential golf trip. Are you saying that that explanation no longer applies?
MS. MYERS: I am saying that the Chief of Staff is going to look into it, that, again, this is something that we take seriously, that the President is concerned about, that the Chief of Staff is concerned about. And I think the appropriate thing to do is for the Chief of Staff to oversee an inquiry to determine exactly what the facts are before we say anything else. It is a serious
issue; I don't mean to downplay it. I don't mean to suggest that this is something we don't take seriously; it is.
Q Do you deny that it was an advance for a presidential golf trip?
MS. MYERS: Again, I'm not going to characterize it. I think the appropriate thing to do is for the White House to look into this, to talk with the individuals involved to determine exactly what the facts were, and to make a decision based on that information. I think Mr. McLarty has not had a chance to review it thoroughly yet, and it would be inappropriate for me to say anything else.
Q Another subject, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: Thank you, Wendall.
Q Wait a minute --
MS. MYERS: I don't have anything else to say about this incident.
Q While we wait for the explanation from the report, how should view the quotes that have already been given out by a White House spokesperson on why the trip was taken? Should we take those quotes and use them until we're told differently? Should we disregard them?
MS. MYERS: I think that the best thing to do would be to wait --
Q Wait. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: -- until the Chief of Staff has had --
Q Hell freezes over. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: The second best thing to do is just ignore -- no.
I think yesterday other staffs members were giving the best -- an explanation to the best of their knowledge. I think it is important that we have more information, more facts, and that's why the Chief of Staff is now looking into it a bit more comprehensively.
Q Are you denying that --
MS. MYERS: No. I think those were the comments made in good faith based on the information available at the time, which is why I'm reluctant at this point --
Q Are they inoperative?
MS. MYERS: I think we've gone beyond that now. I think the Chief of Staff is going to look into all of the details, all of the facts. Again, this is something we take very seriously.
Q But you're repudiating what's already been said.
MS. MYERS: I don't know if that's necessary. I think, again, that that was information at the time. We're trying to gather more information to take appropriate action because this is serious incident.
Q Is it part of David Watkins' job to do advance trips for the President? I don't know about his --
MS. MYERS: No.
Q Does David Watkins have the authority to order up aircraft?
MS. MYERS: Again, I'm not sure what the exact process is for ordering up aircraft. The Office of Administration does oversee the military office.
Q Do military aides do advance of a golf trip for the President?
MS. MYERS: I don't know exactly what the job description of the military -- no, the military aides were not involved.
Q Does David Watkins oversee security?
MS. MYERS: Yes. The Office of Administration oversees a number of functions, including security, Military Office, other administrative tasks.
Q Is this golf game going to be on Sunday or Monday?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that the President has any specific plans to play at that course. To the best of my knowledge he does not.
Q Which course was it?
MS. MYERS: I don't have the name in front of me. I'm sure members of Congress would be happy to provide all of the details.
Q Holly Hills.
Q President Bush used to go there by helicopter.
MS. MYERS: I understand that they did regularly.
Q Could you please give me an assessment, or us, if you could, what the impact on the Clinton agenda would be if Rostenkowski is not Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee or if he's not in Congress?
MS. MYERS: I'm certainly not going to speculate on Chairman Rostenkowski's future. I will say only that he's been an effective member of Congress and certainly a close ally of the President's, and he's been very effective in helping the President pass his agenda through Congress. But beyond that, I have no comment on the process.
Q Has he spoken to Rostenkowski?
MS. MYERS: The Chairman was at the meetings yesterday. I don't think he's spoken to him beyond that.
Q Ambassador Blanchard has accused the Secretary of Agriculture of not speaking for the President in his claim that Canada engaged in predatory pricing policies regarding grain. Is either one of these two gentlemen right? Is Espy off the reservation or is Blanchard?
MS. MYERS: I've seen accounts of Ambassador Blanchard's comments. I haven't had a chance to review the details. Certainly the Secretary of Agriculture is somebody who works closely with the President, as is our United States ambassador to Canada. I'm happy to take that and look into it in a little bit more detail. I'm only aware that there was some comments.
Q Has the President agreed to a final welfare reform package?
MS. MYERS: He has not. He is working on it, has made good progress, still considering a number of financing options.
Q Is the Superfund surplus part of one of those funding options?
MS. MYERS: They're looking at a number of options, and I wouldn't exclude that.
Q Could you explain what the President was talking about, about the need to do away with verbal extremism this morning, what he was talking about specifically?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President has said a number of times that it would be helpful if people would tone down the rhetoric and try to work toward more -- I can't think of the right word -- if people would tone down the rhetoric and try to work toward more amicable solutions to their differences. That's something that he's advocated across the board on a number of issues.
Q Most people who -- about whom -- to whom he seemed to be referring say that they've wanted to talk. They had an appointment with the Attorney General in November, and that she canceled it at the last minute, the three of the nine who were there. And they would like to be able to talk. I don't know what they have to say, but is there any prospect that he will talk to people on the other side of that issue?
MS. MYERS: Certainly, if they had an appointment with the Attorney General and she canceled -- I can't speak for why that may have been. I don't know of any specific request that they have into the President to speak with him.
Q One had outstanding warrants and the other two had cases pending in court. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That might have had some bearing on the schedule change. (Laughter.)
The President's had dialogue with a wide variety of people on a number of issues. I know of no specific requests from these particular individuals, but he certainly had an ongoing dialogue with people on all sides of this and many other issues. And I think that will continue.
Q Why did Congressman Brooks see him this morning before the abortion -- and he had two -- I guess he came twice.
MS. MYERS: That was a meeting that was scheduled independently of today's bill-signing. The Chairman and the President talked about the crime bill, about China MFN and a few other issues facing Congress.
Q Who is this?
MS. MYERS: Chairman Brooks, who was here this morning for breakfast.
Q The President is encountering some kind of criticism on his foreign policy, too. How is he going to respond?
MS. MYERS: The same way he has in the past, by continuing to pursue his policy objectives. I think certainly the trip to Europe, which begins next week, is an opportunity for him both to honor the veterans and those who participated and served in World War II, and for him to look ahead at how his generation and coming generations can build on the peace in a comprehensive way.
I think he talked a little bit yesterday about Bosnia, and I think he laid out very succinctly what U.S. interests are there, why we're involved and how we're involved. I think he'll continue to do that on Bosnia and a number of issues over the course of his presidency.
Q Does he have anything new on Bosnia to propose on what's going on in Bosnia and --
MS. MYERS: No, but I think we'll continue to build on existing policies, both with respect to Bosnia and to the Partnership for Peace and other issues -- other integrative policies that the President has discussed with the Europeans over the course of the last year and a half.
Q It was reported this morning that in the welfare reform plan that the President may have given funding approval to, $7 billion of the $9.3-billion cost was to come from reductions in spending in programs existing for the poor and so forth as they reform welfare, and the bulk of the rest of the $2 billion something would come from the Superfund change. Is that correct?
MS. MYERS: Again, the President has not made final decisions on this. I think what we've said in the past is still operative which is that the welfare reform plan will be between $9 and $10 billion. The President is considering a wide variety of funding options. He is beginning to narrow it down. I think he is getting close to final decisions. He has said he will propose no new taxes.
Q What about changes in the tax code?
MS. MYERS: I wouldn't rule that out. But there will be no new taxes -- and that we expect to have a plan to send up to Congress sometime next month.
Q Dee Dee, is the President satisfied that NASA has set up the appropriate safeguards, financial safeguards in case the Russians are not able to meet their commitments on the space station?
MS. MYERS: I'll have to take that question. I just don't know the answer.
Thanks. If there's any more news, we'll let you know.
END 1:52 P.M. EDT