THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: Just a quick readout on the crime meeting for any of you who missed it. The President asked the Law Enforcement Steering Committee to come here today, as the crime bill has been hostage for 11 days now, and he wanted to work with this group to help intensify pressure on Congress to get the bill passed. They made it clear to him that they see this as a substantive vote, that they're watching it as carefully as some of the opponents of the bill who are trying to kill it, and they expect to hold members accountable.
One member said that we all know that the NRA killed this bill the last time, and we can't let them do it this time. They also talked about the provisions that were particularly important to them, including 100,000 new police officers, three strikes and you're out, as well as the prevention money which they said prevention money is money well spent, and they support it very strongly.
And, finally, they talked through a little bit on strategy, what they expect to do in the course of the coming days to make sure that this bill gets passed.
Q Dee Dee, is it reasonable to believe that the President's lawyer, Mr. Bennett, would not have said what he did about the appointment of the new independent counsel unless he had discussed it first with the President?
MS. MYERS: I'm not in a position to discuss what the Presidemt may say -- what the President and his lawyer may discuss. I will say that the White House's position on this is that the President supported the independent counsel law in the face of opposition from many, many Republicans. He signed it into law, we cooperated fully with Mr. Fiske, and we expect to cooperate fully with Mr. Starr, who is the new independent counsel.
Q Dee Dee, when the President's personal lawyer comes out two days after Mr. Cutler issues a statement to the effect that you just made and criticizes the appointment and says the guy shouldn't take it, it may look to very many people like that's not exactly cooperating with the new independent counsel. Who speaks for the President on these issues? Which lawyer?
MS. MYERS: I think Mr. Panetta spoke for the President yesterday, Mr. Cutler spoke for the President yesterday, as he has throughout this process. Obviously, Mr. Bennett is President Clinton's personal attorney, but the White House's position on this is clear. We've cooperated fully with Mr. Fiske; we expect to cooperate fully with the new counsel.
Q Is the President going to tolerate there being a difference between what his lawyer as President says and his personal lawyer says on the same issue?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think the White House made our position very clear on this.
Q Well, what does -- refer to?
MS. MYERS: The President supported and signed the independent counsel statute. That directed a three-judge panel to appoint an independent prosecutor, which they've now done, and the President has made it very clear that we intend to fully cooperate; with that we expect a fair and impartial view of this.
Q What is the effect out of the 29 current and former people who had previously been cleared? Do they now have to anticipate possibly going back over this whole thing again, retaining lawyers, going back to grand juries? Doesn't that have an effect on the White House staff?
MS. MYERS: I think clearly we'll have to wait and see what Mr. Starr says about this. It is his prerogative to review this and to decide how to proceed. As Mr. Cutler said yesterday, this has all been gone over very carefully.
Certainly, we expect him to review the work that Mr. Fiske has done, but it is not something that we feel needs to be rehashed again and again. The White House Counsel has looked at this. The Inspector General at the Office of Government Ethics has looked at this. Mr. Fiske looked at this. There have been congressional hearings on this. We have cooperated fully with each of these. We will cooperate fully with the new independent counsel. But we hope to be able to move forward on this.
Q What will be the effect if it does have to be reviewed?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we'll just have to wait and see what Mr. Starr decides to do and how he decides to proceed. That's something that has entirely been his prerogative.
Q Dee Dee, is Bennett freelancing? Is Bennett freelancing?
MS. MYERS: I'm just not going to comment on Mr. Bennett.
Q Wait a minute, Dee Dee, you've got to tell us what --
Q There are two conflicting views.
Q This is the President's lawyer saying this.
MS. MYERS: I think I've made very clear what the White House's position is on this, and I just don't have anything more for you on it.
Q Well, Bennett doesn't work for the White House. He works for Bill Clinton, and the question is simply, does the lawyer speak for the client?
MS. MYERS: And I think I've said all I'm going to say which is -- and I think I've been very clear about what the White House's position is on this.
Q What is the President's position?
MS. MYERS: We -- and the President's position is that we intend to cooperate fully with the counsel.
Q How does he feel about it?
MS. MYERS: Again, the President supported the law; he signed the law. The law directed a three-judge panel to appoint a special counsel. They've done that, and the President has made it very clear to all of us that he expects us to cooperate.
Q Does he think it's fair that someone who took the position that Mr. Starr took on the Paula Jones case, someone who was recommended, or a decision that was recommended to the three-judge panel, by ten Republican members and by Floyd Brown, does he think that that is a fair process?
MS. MYERS: Well, those are all things that we hope were considered by the three-judge panel. Those are all questions that they had to answer and that they had to look at. It is up to us now to cooperate with the findings of that panel.
Q Did Janet Reno inform the White House that she was putting Kenneth Starr on the list?
MS. MYERS: What, back in January?
Q Well, whenever.
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I can check. I don't know if she made that clear to us or not who was on her list.
Q Would it be better for the process if Mr. Starr withdrew from this appointment?
MS. MYERS: That is up to the three-judge panel. Again, the President supported the process. The process has now produced --
Q It's up to Mr. Starr.
MS. MYERS: I'm sorry, it's up to Mr. Starr. The process has now produced a new Special Investigator in this, and we will cooperate fully with that.
Q Do you have confidence in him, given his political record?
MS. MYERS: We have confidence in the process and will cooperate fully with it.
Q Do you disagree with Mr. Bennett?
MS. MYERS: I think, again, I am only going to speak for the White House, and our view is that the President supported this process. The process has given us a new independent counsel, and we will cooperate fully. And beyond that I just don't have anything more to say.
Q Does the President want a new independent counsel to investigate the Agriculture Secretary?
MS. MYERS: Again, that is a decision that Attorney General Reno will make. As you know, a referral went from the Inspector General at the Department of Agriculture to the Justice Department. That's where it is now. The Attorney General will have to make a decision about whether or not to refer that to a threejudge panel for the appointment of an independent counsel and we'll let her judgment stand.
Q Does the President support Mr. Espy?
MS. MYERS: Of course. The President has absolute confidence in Secretary Espy. He's done an outstanding job.
Q Has he discussed this issue with him?
MS. MYERS: I don't believe so. No, I don't think that would be appropriate.
Q Given that administration officials have said that there's no reason to believe that Starr won't be impartial, will you say that no matter what he does in the investigation, assuming he keeps going, doing the investigation, that the White House, not Mr. Bennett, but that the White House will never criticize him for conducting the investigation in a partisan way? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to make any -- (laughter) --
Q Do you think a simple "I don't want to comment about that," or "the White House won't comment on that," is enough to straighten this issue out for people who see the White House lawyer saying one thing on Friday, and then the President's lawyer coming around over the weekend and saying something that has all the appearance of being diametrically opposed? Which is the correct position representing the President himself?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think I've been very clear about what the White House's view about this, Brit, and I don't have anything to add.
Q I know, but I'm not asking you to speak for the building, Dee Dee, I'm asking you to speak for the President. Which is the President's view?
MS. MYERS: I think I've said all I'm going to say about this.
Q So you won't give us the presidential view?
MS. MYERS: I think I've been very clear about where the White House is in this, and the President has directed everybody here to cooperate fully. Again, the President supported the statute, he signed it into law, he directed everyone to cooperate fully with Mr. Fiske when he was appointed by the Attorney General. He's directed us to cooperate fully with the new special counselor, Mr. Starr.
Q Can we say, then, that the White House disagrees with Mr. Bennett?
MS. MYERS: I didn't say that.
Q I know you didn't, which is why I'm trying to get you to say it, if you mean it. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Really? I'm just not going to say any more. I've said everything I'm going to say about that.
Q What was the President's reaction when you told him about this?
MS. MYERS: I wasn't present when he was told. What he has said to us subsequently is that he expects us to cooperate fully.
Q What did he say initially?
MS. MYERS: I wasn't there. I'm not going to guess.
Q It figures belief, doesn't it, to think that a high-powered attorney like Bennett would come out and say something like that without permission of his clients?
MS. MYERS: I don't know how you can jump to conclusions like that.
Q Oh, it's easy. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: You all do it for a living.
Q Is Speaker Foley going to become ambassador to Japan, Mondale become Secretary of State, and, let's see, what else -- (laughter.)
MS. MYERS: And I'm going to become the pope.
Q Give us the rest of personnel changes while you're at it.
Q Mondale Secretary of State, Christopher out?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I thought maybe -- no, Secretary Christopher continues to serve as Secretary of State and has the President's full confidence. He is in the Middle East as we speak, where he's done an outstanding job. In fact, yesterday he was present for another first, as a road was opened between Israel and Jordan. So, again, Secretary Christopher has been doing a terrific job, and the President has full confidence in him.
Q Ditto for Altman?
MS. MYERS: Ditto for Altman.
Q Dee Dee, have you found out since this morning when you indicated you weren't sure what the delay is on the sending up of the nomination of Alice Rivlin to be OMB Director and when that might come forward?
MS. MYERS: I don't have a specific time line for it, but it's in process and we expect that to happen shortly.
Q Is it something that you're hoping Congress might try and do before it goes on whatever break it's going to take this summer?
MS. MYERS: Again, I don't have any particular time line on that. But it's something that we're working on.
Q What is the strategy that you've worked out on the crime bill to try to get it -- make the break?
MS. MYERS: I think the President's certainly going to continue to speak out on it. He has a list of phone calls that I expect he'll be making over the coming days. The vote on the rule could happen as early as Wednesday.
In the meantime, certainly administration officials are working very hard on this, as are independent law enforcement officials. And I think the group today is just sort of a representative sample of what those organizations are going to do across the country as they make it clear to members of Congress that this is a bill that they want to see passed. There's been enough delay. Time for making excuses has run out.
Q Will you go up to the Hill?
MS. MYERS: I think they went from here up to the Hill, and had some meetings scheduled up here. So I think you can expect intense work over the next few days from people who support the crime bill, including the administration and the law enforcement community.
Q Are you willing to water down the assault weapon ban in order to get those votes?
MS. MYERS: The assault weapons ban passed the House fair and square. It was a close vote. Many predicted that it was dead. We hope that that will stand.
Q You hope. But are you insisting that it will stand?
MS. MYERS: At this point, it's our position we support the assault weapons ban as passed by the House and Senate. And we expect -- and that's included in the conference and we expect that's what will pass.
Q You're not negotiating some compromise which would change the -- either the enforcement or the --
MS. MYERS: No, we are -- again, the President supports the assault weapons ban as it passed by both Houses, and that's the version we want to see passed in the crime bill.
Q Dee Dee, what about your stance that you weren't going to let any one single issue hold up the crime bill?
MS. MYERS: I think that was our view getting to the conference report. Certainly that was our view throughout this process. We have a conference report now, including assault weapons ban that was passed by both Houses of Congress. We think we can get the votes to pass the rule. It's tough. We're getting closer. We're hopeful that it can happen as early as the middle of this week, but we'll see how it goes. And I think everyone is going to work very hard to see that it gets done.
Q You said that the President hadn't spoken to Espy about the allegations against him. Have others?
MS. MYERS: No, it would be inappropriate for us to discuss the allegations.
Q Has the President expressed, though, his confidence in Espy?
MS. MYERS: Again, I don't know whether they've spoken directly in the last few weeks, but certainly the President has expressed his confidence and I think that's been made clear to Mr. Espy.
Q How can the President know one way or the other whether to express confidence in someone without checking the facts?
MS. MYERS: Exactly. I think until the facts merit otherwise, the President has every reason to have confidence in Mr. Espy. He's done a very good job as Secretary of the Agriculture for the last 18 months and the President continues to stand beside him. There's a process in place. If there are problems, they will be handled through the process. In the meantime, it's not for the President to --
Q Who did the referral? Was it the Inspector General or --
MS. MYERS: The Inspector General of the Ag Department referred it to Justice.
Q And the President hasn't seen that report?
MS. MYERS: Of course not.
Q And what is the administration's policy on Cabinet officers taking gifts, including rides on corporate jets?
MS. MYERS: There are strict rules against that, and the President expects that they be observed.
Q So if they were not observed, why would he have confidence in someone who didn't observe them?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that's the issue that's being adjudicated by, at the Justice Department. It's not for the President to decide.
Q It's not for him to ask?
MS. MYERS: No, it's not for him to ask about an ongoing investigation. There is a process in place that is established to deal with these things. I think all of you will be the first to recognize that, and that's what the President is -- that's going forward. In the meantime, the President has confidence in Secretary Espy.
Q Dee Dee, is there any concern that if Espy gets in trouble over this situation that the finger's going to be pointed back at the White House again because of the situation with Tyson Foods and its ties to the President?
MS. MYERS: I think we'll let the process work itself out. Again, it's with the Attorney General. The decision is in her hands. The President, of course, has confidence in her judgment and will let the case go forward without commenting on it.
Q confidence in her judgment.
MS. MYERS: Helen, are you offering yourself as a candidate for Attornery General?
Q Let me ask you on Cuba. Anything new there?
MS. MYERS: I'm sorry.
Q On Cuba. Is the situation there more stable?
MS. MYERS: At this point, yes, there don't appear to be any disturbances or mass migrations. Obviously, we're keeping a close eye on and will continue to see plans in place to deal with any eventuality but it seems quiet at this point.
Q What kind of contingency plans --
MS. MYERS: Well, we certainly have contingency plans to deal with a mass migration from Cuba. And I don't want to go into details of those plans, but they certainly exist.
Q Dee Dee, on that, does the U.S. see any validity to Castro's complaint about U.S. immigration policy and that it encourages people to flee by boat, but not go through the regular process?
MS. MYERS: Cuba's one of the four countries in the world that have in-country migration processing centers for refuge in the United States. We also have a very clear policy on boat migrants. It's something that we've had periodic meetings with Cuba about since 1984. So, I think our policy there is very clear. And, no, I don't agree with Fidel Castro on that point. I think we've made our position clear; he will not dictate our immigration policy.
Q What's the President's game plan this week with regard to health care? What's he going to be doing directly? Is that congressional meeting right now about health care or is that meeting about crime?
MS. MYERS: Health care. I think he'll continue to have a number of health care meetings with members of Congress. I think you can expect to see members of Congress in and out of the White House over the course of the next several weeks as we work this through.
Q Is this House or Senate members?
MS. MYERS: I think House today, but I think it will continue to be a mixture. In addition, I think he'll meet this week with CEOs and continue to encourage them to support health legislation. I think he'll speak out on it from time to time over the next couple of weeks. You'll also see, I think, a lot of activity from other members of this administration, including the Vice President and the First Lady and Cabinet officials who have done -- who have done and are continuing to do a very high number of interviews and editorial boards and are traveling and doing events around health care.
So, I think you can expect to see a full administration blitz over the next couple weeks as we work to get these bills through the House and Senate.
Q How do you take this criticism that the White House has just been too late on taking the offensive on health care, that they should have been out there first with the commercials? Now, they're trying to play catch up and it's just not working with the American people.
MS. MYERS: I think this White House has done and this President has done more for health care reform than any president in the last 50 years. He's been out there on a regular basis every week working, fighting, talking to everyone from the media to special interest groups to members of Congress, talking out on the stump across the country, working to pass health care reform.
At the same time, there's been more than $50 million spent by opponents of reform who have tried to, I think, confuse the issue, who have lobbied for their own particular interests. This is not an easy fight; the President knew that when he took it on. But I think that anybody who has watched this would acknowledge that this President has done more and worked harder for health care reform than any president in memory.
I would just remind you that the ads on CNN at 7:50 p.m. are continuing to run.
Q Shelby and Gramm's filibuster?
MS. MYERS: I think that's something they'll have to answer to the American people for. People want health care reform, they support it, they know it's necessary, they know from their own lives that they live, many of them in fear of losing their coverage should their child gets sick or they change jobs or move. I think they'll have the American people to answer to if they hold this up for political reasons.
Q But Newsweek's poll says two-thirds of the people say wait until next year.
MS. MYERS: I think we have an historic opportunity now, and I think it depends on how you ask people various questions how they respond. Three-quarters of the people say they want universal health care. Three-quarters of the people say the Congress ought to act now. If you look at previous polls, I think, including most recently in The Wall Street Journal, clearly people think something should be done about this. Clearly, they think this is a problem and one that they think government can solve or should take a stronger hand in solving. So the President's going to continue to fight for it. This is a rare opportunity. This is the first time in 60 years you've had bills on the Floor of the House and on the Floor of the Senate with a real chance of passing, so the President does not believe we should let this opportunity pass.
Q Dee Dee, since this debate has been going on for two years now, what can the President tell members of Congress that they haven't heard before? And if he can't tell them anything, how is he going to swing the votes?
MS. MYERS: I think there's plenty of things he can tell him. I think he's spent more time on this than a lot of members particularly in the last couple of years. It was something that he's worked on, as you know, for several years before he even ran for President. And I think that there's a number of issues that, depending on individual members' concerns that he can help assuage.
Q Which is what?
MS. MYERS: It depends on what the members' concerns are -- about the importance of universal coverage, about the importance of cost containment, about whether or not these new -- the various bills will preserve choice and quality in the system, about -- again, I think the most important argument I think the President makes is why universal coverage is so important. And I think he is more persuasive on that because he understands the consequences so well than just about anybody.
Q Dee Dee, on these one-on-ones with the President, are these lawmakers that had discussions with the President confined to their concerns about health care and his concerns about universal coverage, or are there other issues that come into this where the President might persuade them to consider health care in a different context?
Q What about the pork?
MS. MYERS: I think that they're talking -- certainly, I cannot speak for members of Congress and what they may bring up in any given meeting, but I think the President is working very hard to convince members on the merits of this issue.
Q How much did you say the opposition spent --
Q Are you thinking of doing any more traveling on health care matters and making speeches, or is that part over?
MS. MYERS: Nothing is scheduled this week, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out. I think he'll do, he'll continue to make, to travel when he feels it's helpful and appropriate and to make speeches when he thinks it will be helpful.
Q Generally his speeches will be in general. He's not going to get into the specifics, right?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think at this point he's going to continue to emphasize -- I mean, the legislative process is still unfolding. And there certainly will be amendments and changes to both the Gephardt bill and the Mitchell bill.
I think the President is going to continue to emphasize the points that he's made recently, which is that these are bills that will achieve his objectives which are: universal coverage, cost controls, preservation of quality and choice. So I think you can expect -- and I think he'll continue to talk about, again, in terms of the universal, why it's so important and who has the most at stake, which is the middle class, in this fight.
Q Can I go back to Fiske and Starr and Whitewater? Over the past year you've been asked several questions about various aspects or reactions to the investigation. Because it's now in the hands of a special counsel, you've not been able to talk. Can you address the frustration in not being able to make your case clear or the White House case clear from the podium because of being tied up in the counsel's hands?
MS. MYERS: I think that we all understand that that's a fact of life. We are cooperating with the investigations, and I think at the end of the day each of the investigations or inquiries that's been completed has, I think, been much more credible than any statement from this podium.
And if you look at what Fiske's original report said, and if you look at what the OGE report said, and if you look at what the White House Counsel's review said, and if you look at what came out of the congressional inquiries, I think they speak much more eloquently to it and much more definitively to it than I can. And each of them has found that there have been no laws broken and no ethical standards violated, and no impediments to the process. And I think that is much more important than anything that I can say.
Q Is there any frustration due to the fact that at least the Congress, the Republicans, certainly, but some of the Democratic Party, continue to hammer hard on Whitewater and whatever concerns they have and it continues to kind of drown out whatever message is coming out of the White House?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think clearly there are those who seek to use this issue for partisan reasons. I think that's been clear from the beginning. But I think if you look at what people are concerned about out in the country, it is not Whitewater. They want us, legitimately and understandably, to focus on things that matter to them: health care, crime, getting other things done which this president has worked very hard to do.
And so most of us get up every day and get to work on things that people are concerned about. I just don't think Whitewater is at the top of anybody's list. And the further you get from the Beltway, the clearer that becomes.
Q Do you think it's hurt at all?
Q You don't think it's at the top of anybody's list?
Q You don't think it's hurt the White House?
MS. MYERS: Outside the Beltway? Just about. I think it's pretty hard to find people. I think it's a real minority.
Q You don't think that it's hurt the presidency?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that's for others to judge. I don't think it's hurt his ability to get things done if you look at the legislative accomplishments over this year. And I think, give us a few more months and they'll be even more substantial. I think it will be clear that it did not.
Q In terms of his popularity?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think, you know, he's in the middle of a lot of tough fights. I guess there's a lot of things that contribute to polls that will go up and down. I think at the end of the day, if the President is successful in completing his legislative agenda for the year which includes passage of the crime bill and the passage of health care reform and finishing work on GATT and a few other things, that people will judge him by his accomplishments. And I think that will speak much more loudly than a lot of partisan hot air on other issues.
Q As a practical matter, are the people who are involved in this issue, the Treasury and White House contacts, still prohibited from discussing things and working on things with each other? Or is that matter considered closed by the White House?
MS. MYERS: Well, that's a good question. I think that with the appointment of a new special counsel, I don't know if Mr. Cutler has issued any specific instructions, but I think everybody here is continuing to observe restrictions on discussing the specific incidents. It doesn't restrict us from working together on other issues, but it does restrict us from discussing specific incidents which are under investigation by the Special Counsel. And, again, I will check and see if Mr. Cutler has issued any new guidelines --
Q Can you see if he's issued any guidelines or --
MS. MYERS: He hasn't to my knowledge, but I think everybody is continuing to observe those restrictions.
Q Last week you were asked about the baseball strike and said that Secretary Reich had met with the two sides and had decided there was no more he could do. The President was asked the same question I think the following day at the press conference and he said the same answer. Is there anything new at all?
MS. MYERS: Nothing. No change.
Q Dee Dee, despite their varying positions, all the president's lawyers showed a willingness to give Mr. Starr advice over the weekend. Was that designed to send him a message that you were watching his actions to make sure he's nonpartisan?
MS. MYERS: I don't know if anybody was giving him advice, but I think certainly we expect a fair and professional inquiry into these issues. And he's going to do -- Mr. Starr's going to do what he sees fit. He's going to proceed as he sees best.
Q What -- the North Korean issue?
MS. MYERS: When last I checked a little while ago, discussions were still ongoing. And the expectation was that Mr. Gallucci might have some comments when the meeting broke up, although I think it is his position that he will not comment in any detail until the talks are over. But I think he'll give a general readout on the day's negotiations; we didn't have anything in progress.
Q On North Korea, was the President consulted with over the weekend on the status of those talks?
MS. MYERS: I think he's been kept up to date about what's happened, sure.
Q The President still has confidence in Mr. Bennett?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
Q He's not planning on getting rid of him or anything?
MS. MYERS: No, not that I know of.
Q I mean, he's lost one high profile client already, it's -- (Laughter.)
Q Have you discussed this issue with the President?
MS. MYERS: No, not directly with the President.
Q Have you discussed it with someone who speaks with him?
MS. MYERS: I've discussed it with others. Yes, absolutely.
Q And did they relay to you that the President has confidence in Mr. Bennett?
MS. MYERS: There was no discussion of any plans to change lawyers at this point.
Q I understand that; but how about the question?
MS. MYERS: There's no -- there is no discussion of any plans to change lawyers.
Q Does the President, however --
MS. MYERS: I have not spoken directly to him, but I can say that there are no, he has no plans at this point to make a change in that department.
Q You were able to ascertain whether the President is sympathetic to or agrees with comments Mr. Bennett made over the weekend?
MS. MYERS: You can ask this question, you know, six ways to Sunday. I've given you all I'm going to give you on that topic.
Q I see. (Laughter.)
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:11 P.M. EDT