THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
2:02 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: I don't have any major announcements. I would just point out that the AARP has endorsed both the Mitchell and Gephardt bills today, which is welcome news. And certainly, we'll continue to fight for both those in each of their respective Houses.
Q Unlike the First Lady, who seemed to be saying that the Mitchell bill is untested and the Gephardt bill at least could be counted on to provide universal coverage -- can you explain her position on this?
MS. MYERS: I think that the First Lady has made her position on this very clear. I would refer you back to the transcript. But the First Lady has consistently said that she supports both the Gephardt and the Mitchell bills. Both bills get you to universal care. They go about it in slightly different ways, but the bottom line is that each achieves universal care. The Mitchell bill includes an insurance policy in the employer mandate that if you don't get to 95 percent coverage by the year 2000 an employer mandate will kick in and guarantee that you get to universal coverage.
I think she's been very consistent on that. She supports both bills, as does the President, and they'll fight for passage of both bills in their respective Houses.
Q Just for the record, Mr. Carville has now joined the ranks of those critical of the Starr appointment. Can you tell us why we should not believe that this has basically day four of Bill Clinton strategy for having it both ways, of saying on the one hand he supports and will cooperate with Mr. Starr, and sending his hatchet men out on the other to attack the guy?
MS. MYERS: Again, the White House position on this is that the President supported the independent counsel statute, he signed it into law. That created a process which has produced a new independent counsel, and as the President said today, he intends to fully cooperate with that and has instructed the entire White House staff to fully comply with that. There are others outside the White House that have a different view; they've expressed those views. But I think the White House and the President have been consistent in this. The President is not calling for Mr. Starr to step aside.
Q Is it imaginable that any realistic person -- that Mr. Carville would be saying such things without the sanction or with the disapproval of the White House or the President?
MS. MYERS: I think Mr. Carville will tell you he's expressing his own opinions. Certainly, there are people outside the White House who have a different view. I think they've made those views clear. At the same time I think the White House has a view and the President has a view and we've tried hard to make those views clear.
Q The President and Mr. Carville disagree on this -- is that a fair statement?
MS. MYERS: The President has a view and Mr. Carville is expressing his own view, and I'll let you distinguish between the two.
Q Dee Dee, has anyone in the White House moved to see what letters Judge Sentelle and the other members of the panel might have received and to get those letters to be published in addition to the ones that we're aware of before the Brown letter and the letter from the 10 members of Congress?
MS. MYERS: Not that I'm aware of. Again, I don't think the White House is involved in that, and I don't know of any other letters. I don't know what other people may be doing outside the White House.
Q Could you just double-check it to make sure for us and let us know if there's any difference on that?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Has the President or Chief of Staff or anyone here talked to Mike Espy about his situation and whether or not the President should retain full confidence in him?
MS. MYERS: Well, I spoke to the President about that this morning. He certainly saw Secretary Espy last week at a Cabinet meeting, speaks to him routinely on business issues, has not spoken to him about the allegations, but, of course, he retains full confidence in him. He believes Secretary Espy has done a terrific job as head of the Agriculture Department. He continues to have full faith in him. There's a process in place for looking into other charges and that process will go forward.
Q He's not at all curious as to whether he has a problem on his hands?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I think there's a process in place. The Justice Department looked into it. They're now referring it to an independent counsel, but I would just point back to what the Attorney General said about it yesterday. She said no evidence has been developed during the investigation that Secretary Espy accepted the gifts as a reward for or in expectation of his performance of official acts. Those are the Attorney General's words.
Q Why did she appoint a --
Q She said there were reasonable grounds, though --
MS. MYERS: Well, under the -- the law is fairly narrowly written. I would refer you back to the longer statement that she put forward yesterday in calling for the three-judge panel to appoint an independent counsel. But I think that's a fairly clear statement.
Q What does it say about this administration that 18 months into it there are two independent counsels probing employees of the President who said this was going to be the most ethical administration in history?
MS. MYERS: I don't think that's what we said. But I think if you look at the Whitewater inquiry, there have been three investigations concluded on that. None of them have found any laws or ethical standards were violated. There is absolutely no evidence that any laws or ethical standards were violated.
Certainly, the independent counsel will look into Mr. Espy and fully adjudicate those charges. Again, the President continues to have confidence in him. At the same time, I think the President's fighting very hard for the kind of change that he said he would bring to Washington and to this country, beginning with the economy, getting the economy turned around; and we've all seen the results of that, I don't need to go through it again -- and fighting for things that people care about, from crime to health care, to campaign finance reform and ethics reform, which he supported and pushed for and continues to call on Congress to finish.
Q But the questions about Mr. Espy go right to the heart, though, of how the Agriculture Department is working? Are you telling us that the President felt no need to reassure himself and to directly ask Mr. Espy if he had done any of the things that he's been accused of doing, particularly in scuttling some regulations that would have been tough on --
MS. MYERS: Again, I would point you back to what the Attorney General said. No evidence has been developed during the investigation that Secretary Espy accepted the gifts as a reward for or in expectation of his performance of official acts. It is not for the President to adjudicate those things. There is a process in place for looking at that. The Inspector General at the Agriculture Department, referred it to the Justice Department. The Attorney General looked at it and has referred it on.
I do not think it is appropriate for the White House to judge Secretary Espy's acts. Of course, the President expects all of his appointees and employees to comply with all laws and ethical standards. And until there's proof that anybody's done otherwise, the President will stand behind the people that work here.
Q Dee Dee, how does the President feel about David Wilhelm's decision to step down?
MS. MYERS: I think the President regrets that. He has confidence in David Wilhelm. He thinks he's done a terrific job as Chairman of the DNC, and he's glad that Chairman Wilhelm will serve through the midterm elections. We have a lot of work to do, the DNC has a lot of work to do between now and then, and David will be at the helm throughout that period.
Q Was it a lack of confidence that forced him out?
MS. MYERS: No. Again, I would remind you that David chose to resign at the end of the midterm elections. It's something that he's been thinking about for a while. I think he's sort of outlined his family concerns and other things that he's looking at.
I think David Wilhelm and Leon Panetta discussed bringing on Tony Coelho as a way to just strengthen the party as we head into the midterms. That was something that was agreed upon mutually by Panetta and Wilhelm, and I think everyone, including David Wilhelm, believes that Tony Coelho has something to add. He has an experienced strategist, he's an articulate spokesman, he has very strong relationships with members of Congress in both the House and the Senate, and I think he can really be a valuable asset. But, nonetheless, David Wilhelm will continue to serve as chairman of the party until after the elections.
Q Dee Dee, back on Whitewater, do you have any readout or any reaction to Starr's statement today? Do you see any hints in there that he's not going to go redo everything Fiske has already done?
MS. MYERS: I've seen the same statement that you have which says he plans to build on Fiske's work. We'll just have to wait and see what he does. I don't think he has fully decided what he is going to do, and we'll just wait until he tells us.
Q Dee Dee, I understand the point you're making about Reno's judgment in the Espy case, but from the executive and the management point of view, does not the President have an opinion about whether his chief subordinates accept gifts from individuals who the officials oversee and regulate?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I think there's a process for determining whether any laws or ethical standards were violated. That process is underway. It is not for the President to prejudge an investigation by the Justice Department or by independent counsel. It is not for him --
Q But he can make a political judgment, can he not?
MS. MYERS: His judgment is that Secretary Espy's done an excellent job, and he continues to stand behind him. He thinks on a number of fronts that Espy has done everything that the President has asked. He's served well and ably and I think the President has no further view on it.
Q He's never called Espy in and said, excuse me, Secretary Espy, I know there's a separate investigation going on of you. I don't want to get into that, but I would like to be reassured that you have done nothing improper in carrying out your job -- did he ever ask him that?
MS. MYERS: The Secretary's public statements indicate that, and I would refer you back to a statement as early as yesterday that indicate that he has -- I would just refer you back to his lawyer's statement which I'm sure all of you have on that.
Q Are you saying --
MS. MYERS: I'm saying that the President --
Q the President relied on the public statements and he never got any private assurances from Mr. Espy?
MS. MYERS: You asked me if the President has spoken to him and the answer is no.
Q What's your latest count of the rule on the crime bill and what's the President doing with regard to that?
MS. MYERS: The latest count is that we expect to have enough votes to get it passed when the rule comes up tomorrow. I think as of this morning we were still a handful of votes shy. The President is going to spend some time on the phone today which he's done, made some calls already this afternoon and we expect him to spend some more time on the phone today calling members of Congress and ensuring that there are enough votes to pas the rule when it comes up tomorrow.
Q Are you getting closer? Have you made any headway overnight, do you know?
MS. MYERS: We've made headway over the course of the last several days, and I think clearly we're making progress, but again I think that the President and the Vice President and other members of the administration are going to continue to work it until they're sure.
Q Do you have any late word, Dee Dee, as to when the bill might actually be brought up? Is it going to be tomorrow for sure?
MS. MYERS: As of this morning -- actually, as of last night the decision was that they would introduce the bill today and vote on the rule in the House tomorrow.
Q And that's not changed?
MS. MYERS: It has not changed as of now. I think that that -- I think people were fairly confident that that's the way it would actually happen.
Q Dee Dee, what's the White House view of members who are going to vote against the rule but for the bill? Is that on its face going both ways -- that you are first trying to kill the bill via the rule vote and then politically get some cover by voting yes on final passage?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we'll wait and see what the actual vote is. I think the President would like to see people who support the bill vote for the rule. Hopefully, people will not play politics with an issue as important as this. The President feels very strongly that the American people want this bill. It puts 100,000 more police on the street and does a number of other things with which you are all familiar. So we'll wait and see what the final vote count is but the President would like to see people who support the bill vote for the rule.
Q Effectively, you regard a vote on the rule the same as a vote on the bill. Isn't that the bottom line?
MS. MYERS: Well, a vote on the rule is not necessarily -- it could be that there will be people who vote for the rule and for some issue of conscience vote against the bill. But we'll just have to wait and see how that comes out.
Q You believe it's a substantive vote?
MS. MYERS: Oh, absolutely, we believe it's a substantive vote.
Q Is it a vote for the crime bill, the rule vote?
MS. MYERS: In effect, it is, yes. And I think the law enforcement agencies and others have made that clear. That they are going to hold members of Congress accountable. If they vote against the rule, organizations like the attorney generals groups and the other law enforcement groups are going to look at that as a vote against the crime bill. And I think that's something that members of Congress will have to take into account.
Q Does the administration have a position about whether the significant others or friends of government officials can take trips or other gifts and not reimburse companies for them that the government officials or their wives or spouses -- pardon my sexism -- would have to reimburse?
MS. MYERS: I would have to refer you Cutler on that. I'm just not familiar with exactly how spouses are treated under ethics laws.
Q This is a question on how other people --
MS. MYERS: I understand it's a question about that, but I just -- I'm not familiar with what the rules are on that. I'm sure Mr. Cutler could help you out.
Q Back on the vote counting on the crime bill. You said yesterday ballpark was 10 to 15 votes shy, now today a handful. Can you tell us does that mean you gained some votes over the last 24 hours?
MS. MYERS: Absolutely. I think we made progress yesterday and I expect we'll make more progress today. But, again, I don't think anybody's going to declare victory on this until the votes are counted and the rule has actually passed.
Q Dee Dee, what is your reaction to a call by Senator D'Amato for several people at Treasury to step down, including the Assistant Secretary and some of the aides?
MS. MYERS: I think that's a call he's repeated for several days and --
Q He's sending a letter requesting that.
MS. MYERS: We simply don't agree with Senator D'Amato on this point. I think Senator D'Amato has and will continue to try to use the Whitewater hearings and the issue itself for political purposes, and I think that's to be expected.
Q Dee Dee, has the White House been scooped sort of by the way that the contacts in the Whitewater case are now subject to congressional hearings to the point that, where there could be management rebukes or conversations between the President and the Secretary, that you guys just throw up your hands now and say let's get an independent counsel?
MS. MYERS: No, but I think the President signed an Independent Counsel Statute and that puts into place certain processes, and I think they're fairly specifically and narrowly defined.
Q You don't feel at all that your fingers have been singed and that you're more reluctant to --
MS. MYERS: I do think that people are more conscious of contacts and appropriate contacts, particularly, regulatory agencies that they've got something that the Counsel's Office has worked hard to make clear. I think it's something that everybody who works in the White House has tried to become more sensitive to and more familiar with. And I think that that process will continue. But I think, again, the President signed the independent counsel statute which set up a process which I think was played out in Secretary Espy's case, and the President obviously has respect for that process.
Q Dee Dee, through your many answers here, I think you've given an impression the only behavior that concerns the administration is that which violates the law or the government regulations on ethics. And many of us are wondering if that's a true impression or if there may be some behavior of just personal conduct of other people that is below that level, but that would still make a person not be acting like a government official ought to act.
MS. MYERS: I think we've said that. I think, clearly, I think the President expects everybody who works in this administration to comport themselves with the highest integrity, with the understanding that they are representatives of the government and of the President. I think in the case of Whitewater, certainly Mr. Cutler and many others have admitted that mistakes of judgment were made. The President would like to see those kinds of mistakes corrected. I think we've bent over backwards to say that while --but also to be clear, which I think is important, is important to the American people, that no laws have been broken and no ethical standards have been violated. Those are two very important standards, and two that the President takes very seriously.
Now, in addition to that, of course, the President expects everybody who works here to comport themselves with the utmost respect for appearances and other things, and I think again that's why the Counsel's gone back and tried to make clear what is and is not acceptable. I think people have worked hard to familiarize themselves with those kinds of rules and expected standards of behavior. At the same time, I think people here do work very hard to comport themselves as representatives of the President.
Q And most of them do. But the question here is when a person shows poor judgment, if it falls below that level, what is the President doing about it, as in some of the many things that have come across this podium in the last year, that we never see any action that follows. If you don't get indicted, you're home free.
MS. MYERS: I don't think that's true. I would point you back to a couple of instances where people have been reprimanded and other things have happened. People have been fired for things that weren't a breach of any law or ethical standard per se. I don't think you can make that claim.
And again, I think certainly the people -- not every single disciplinary act needs to be public to be effective. I think the President has worked, and others here have worked very hard to make sure that people are comporting themselves beyond even the appearance of a conflict or of something improper.
Q Dee Dee, at the same time, a number of times when there have been allegations of either public or private wrongdoing by administration officials -- for example, Webb Hubbell and now Secretary Espy -- your position from this podium has been, we're not even going to look into that, we have full confidence, we're not going to check into it. Why are you sending this message of we don't see any evil and we're not going to check into it?
MS. MYERS: No, the White House is not -- wait a second. You guys cannot have this both ways. You cannot say that we're incapable of having a thorough and independent review and then ask us why we, the White House, does not conduct some kind of an independent review when the Justice Department or special prosecutor is looking into it.
Certainly, none of these charges have been ignored. Certainly none of them have been swept under the rug. Certainly, no one has ever tried to interfere with an ongoing investigation --ever. So I think what the President has done is said that there are procedures in place which are independent, which are above any questions about whether or not they're objective, such as an investigation by the Justice Department. I don't understand why it is necessary for the White House to do something that is being done by an independent Justice Department.
Q Because of issues that are separate from criminal law, as Frank has suggested, that might be of concern to the President. Are you saying it would be improper for the President or somebody else in the White House to determine what it is that Secretary Espy may have done while there is an investigation going on?
MS. MYERS: I'm saying that it is proper for the Justice -- if there are allegations of breaking the law, then it is proper for the Justice Department, not the White House, to look into it. If there are allegations of breaking ethics laws, and it's proper for the Office of Government Ethics or some other body to look into it. If there are other things that require an independent management review, then those kinds of steps have been taken in the past.
But I don't think that you can say that somehow the President should be asking Secretary Espy about an issue that is being investigated by the Justice Department. I don't think that that's appropriate.
Q Dee Dee, you're saying that it's sort of been the current climate where there are lot of ways that investigations, official investigations can be triggered, that as a practical matter, once an issue of conduct raised about a member of the administration rises to the level of being an allegation of unethical conduct or even an allegation of illegal conduct, as a practical matter, the White House cannot make its own inquiry at that point because it would appear to be interfering with other inquiries, or it's just the way the world works, or what are you saying?
MS. MYERS: I think, basically, that it is important that we not even create the appearance that we're interfering with an ongoing investigation. That is something that, again,we've bent over backwards not to do. And I think that that is appropriate, and I think that all of you would, I would hope, think that that is appropriate.
Q There were many allegations long before the Attorney General acted and --
MS. MYERS: On what?
Q About Espy.
MS. MYERS: That's why it was looked into by the Inspector General at USDA.
Q I think what we really are driving at is, when these stories come up or when reports come through, isn't the President curious at all as to whether they have validity? Doesn't he ever talk to these people? I mean, this is before interference. Doesn't he try to find out what's going on?
MS. MYERS: I think depending on the charges, depending on the evidence, of course, we try to find out to a certain degree what's going on. We try to know what's going on to the degree that -- I mean, the President, of course, is concerned that people live up to the standards that he thinks government officials should live up to. At the same time, it is not appropriate for the President to interfere with some kind of ongoing -- or anyone in the White House to interfere with any kind of an ongoing investigation. That is why independent investigate -- processes were established to make sure that there weren't questions about the independence of these inquiries.
Q But those investigations were not established to prevent the White House from conducting parallel inquiries to see whether its standards of conduct were violated or not. Are you not saying really that as a practical matter that in this atmosphere, with independent counsel laws and so on, that it really is now not possible and practicable for the White House to conduct its own?
MS. MYERS: I can't speak to -- I don't know how investigations of potential breaks of the law were investigated in previous administrations. I can't speak to that. All I can --
Q I'm not asking you to.
MS. MYERS: Yes, you are, because you're saying, is this atmosphere different than a previous atmosphere.
Q No, no, in this atmosphere, is it not --
MS. MYERS: I don't know if it ever was.
Q Well, I'm not asking you that. I'm just asking --
MS. MYERS: All I can tell you is --
Q as a practical matter, is it now not feasible?
MS. MYERS: I think that in this atmosphere we are very careful, as we should be.
Q Well, wait, during the Travelgate --
Q the President not speaking to Secretary Espy. Has anybody in the White House Counsel's Office or elsewhere in the White House spoken to the Secretary or to his lawyer to get an assessment of what the scope of the issues might be here?
MS. MYERS: I would expect that has happened, but I don't have any specifics on it.
Q Let me follow that. During the Travel Office affair, while the FBI was investigating alleged wrongdoings by the folks in that office, the Chief of Staff had an internal investigation done to see if there was anything improper done.
MS. MYERS: To review the activities of the White House staff. It did not -- did not -- focus on the behavior that was being investigated by the FBI. It was separate.
Q Is there anything that would preclude the Chief of Staff's Office or Lloyd Cutler to conduct a parallel investigation?
MS. MYERS: Again, the White House Counsel looked into for example, the contacts between the White House and the Treasury Department. That was an appropriate inquiry for the White House Counsel to look at, and he concluded that no ethical standards were violated.
Q But could you check to see if Lloyd Cutler or anybody else --
MS. MYERS: But it is not appropriate for the White House Counsel to look into somebody at the Department of Agriculture.
Q We're not asking about the White House Counsel. We're asking about whether the President of the United States --
MS. MYERS: I thought I answered it, and I'm not going to -- we're not going to continue to beat this dead horse. If anybody has a topic different than that, I'm happy to answer it.
Q Dee Dee --
Q A Cuba question, and that is in the wake of the ship that was discovered yesterday whether there have been any, whether the administration has any new information about what's going on in Cuba and what is the intention that was expressed and then seemed to go away of a new influx of refugees, where we are with that.
MS. MYERS: A couple of things -- the refugees from the boat were taken to Key West. The boat itself actually sank as it was damaged in the incident. And those folks -- the 26 or 27 people that were on board are being interviewed by employees from the Department of Justice in Key West. As for the broader question, there is -- we've made our position very clear through our intersections both in Washington and in Havana. And at this point we have no evidence to suggest that there is any kind of boatlift, that there's any kind of activity on the ground that would lead us to believe that that's imminent.
Again, I think Mr. Castro understands our position on this and we have no evidence to suggest that anything is building.
Q Dee Dee, if I could just follow up. What is the intent of the United States in terms of dealing with these people who may or may not have participated in killing someone?
MS. MYERS: I think that -- they are being talked to by these employees from the Department of Justice and they will make a determination based on the facts. At this point we don't have all the facts.
Q Today the President's private lawyer filed a formal request in federal court in Little Rock to dismiss the sexual harassment suit against the President on grounds that he's immune from such lawsuits. Can you tell us why the White House thinks the President is immune from lawsuits involving alleged activities that occurred while he was not President of the United States?
MS. MYERS: As you know, the President's private counsel is handling this issue and I have no comment. I would refer you to Mr. Bennett.
Q You're not saying he's speaking for himself in this instance?
MS. MYERS: I'm saying that he's the President's lawyer and any comment on this case which he's handling, unlike White House activity, should be directed to him.
Q This goes farther beyond this individual lawsuit.
MS. MYERS: It does not. This is something that is being handled by Mr. Bennett and I'm just not going to comment on it. The White House has no comment.
Q Lloyd Cutler has touched on whether or not the -- what the White House's position on the idea of presidential immunity.
MS. MYERS: I can refer you to him, but I'm not going to comment on it.
Q Okay then, fine. Separate and apart from this lawsuit, what is the White House position on presidential immunity regarding lawsuits for alleged activities that occurred while he was not President of the United States?
MS. MYERS: You can talk to Mr. Cutler about that.
Q Dee Dee, is there any concern or any apprehension by the White House that Coelho may have a perceived problem because of his past activities in using campaign funds to link him to Michael Milken junk bond --
MS. MYERS: I think that those charges against Mr. Coelho have been thoroughly investigated by the Bush Justice Department, and they closed that case without any reason to take additional action.
Q appropriate for Republicans to raise this in the context of --
MS. MYERS: I don't think it matters what I think. I suspect they'll raise it but I think Mr. Coelho continues a strong record of public service. As you know, he was instrumental in lobbying to pass, in working to pass the Americans with Disabilities Act. He serves as Chairman of the President's Council on Disabilities. He's active in causes from epilepsy to Boys Nation. He's been a very dedicated public servant. And again, I would just refer you back to the Justice Department's inquiry into the other charges.
Q In the same vein, there are some quotes in the morning paper by Coelho that are quite critical of the White House. Have you read those? Do you have any response to what he said?
MS. MYERS: He will be a senior advisor to the DNC.
Q Doesn't it kind of concern you that --
MS. MYERS: I don't know specifically what you're referring to. I've seen many of his comments.
Q I think it's more criticism about the White House beats up on people like David Wilhelm and people who don't work out.
MS. MYERS: I have no comment on that.
Q The First Lady was talking about the fact that there's too much hatred on the air and in the mails in one of her radio interviews today. Have the President and Mrs. Clinton been getting in inordinate amount of hate mail in connection with the health care debate, and can you characterize --
MS. MYERS: As you know, the President and First Lady get an inordinate amount of mail with reference generally -- particularly with reference to health care. And I don't know how it breaks down positive to negative. It has consistently been overwhelmingly positive, but I think certainly there has been an element of very negative pieces in that. And I think the First Lady spoke to that a bit today in her radio interviews.
I think one of the things that has concerned both the President and the First Lady is that the level of debate has, at times, deteriorated into distortion and name-calling and other things that are not productive. They don't deal with the issues at hand. The President really would like this to focus on what's in the best interest of the country, and it doesn't always work out that way. And I think that's something that he has, at times, expressed concern about, and the First Lady has expressed concern about.
Q Is she bothered by it --
MS. MYERS: Again, I think she is concerned about it, and I do think both the President and the First Lady take it seriously. It was something the President talked about as far back as the campaign, that too often people are talking past each other and not working toward common solutions, but rather toward bitter, partisan and often angry name-calling and shouting. And one of the things that he sought to do was to recreate the bonds of community in this country, and I think he's going to continue to work at that throughout his presidency.
Q Dee Dee, the First Lady is also singling out for criticism Dole and Gramm. Does that signal the President's throwing up his hands, assuming there is no opportunity for a bipartisan health care reform bill?
MS. MYERS: No. I think particularly in the case of Senator Gramm, I think he's trying to attach descriptions to both health care bills that aren't appropriate. Neither the Gephardt bill or the Mitchell bill is socialized medicine. Those are the same kinds of hyperbolic labels people tried to attach to Medicare. And I think it's interesting that Senator Gramm won't say that he's for abolishing Medicare 30 years after the fact, when the same kinds of language, the same kinds of charges or used to describe what possible effects Medicare would be, that it was socialized medicine. It's not. I think that's the point the First Lady has made.
More broadly, I think the President still hopes to get a bipartisan bill. He has continually reached out and tried to address the concerns of both Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate. And every time he's moved toward them by moving from mandatory to voluntary alliances, by making the bill less bureaucratic, by starting with market reforms, they've moved away from him. That concerns him. That concerns the First Lady. That concerns the members of Congress who really want to see health reform passed this year.
But that doesn't mean the President is going to stop trying. He thinks a bipartisan bill would be in the best interest of this country. At the same time, if the Republicans are going to continue to play politics, he'll try any other way to get the bill passed.
Q Dee Dee, Senator Danforth, speaking for himself and several others who have tried to work with the White House, said that he hadn't moved an inch on this and that the charge that he and other Republicans have moved away is not true, and that it's the White House that is going to have to come to them. What do you say to that?
MS. MYERS: I think I just answered that. I think the President has moved toward them --
Q You answered it in regards to Senator Gramm.
MS. MYERS: No, it wasn't toward Gramm. It's toward Republicans generally. The President has continually made changes in his bill. He's continually tried to address the concerns of all the parties involved. He's continually tried to find a bill that could have broad bipartisan support. But the -- and the President started this debate by putting forward a very specific bill.
Senator Mitchell has put forward a very specific bill. Congressman Gephardt has put forward a very specific bill, and I think we're still waiting for the Republican alternatives in bill form. Where are they? Where are their plans? I think it would be helpful to the debate if they would put up reasonable alternatives, not just on health care, but on a number of other issues.
Q Do you know what Senator Packwood said on the floor about that today?
MS. MYERS: It did not.
Q That they submitted the Republican alternative in June --
MS. MYERS: I don't think it was --
Q to get it into bill form in June and that had to be delayed because, first -- well, most recently, the Majority Leader's bill was inserted and taken ahead of it. And, in fact, the less recent bill was converted by the staff up there into bill form first. He suggested that to the accusation that you made, which had been made before by Senator Mitchell, was hypocrisy.
MS. MYERS: I think this debate has been going on for 18 months. The Republicans across the spectrum have to continually criticize all the Democratic efforts and have continually failed to produce their own alternatives in bill form.
Q I'd like to revisit Cuba for a moment if we can. Today another 14 Cubans arrived in, I believe it was Miami. They came in on a -
MS. MYERS: I think it was somewhere in the Keys.
Q What can you tell us about reports that there are plans to throw up a blockade between Key West and Cuba if an excess of boat people begins?
MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, I just reiterated that there's no evidence to suggest that's happening. I think ever since the Mariel boat lift in 1980, the United States government -- DOD and others -- have had a plan, contingency plans in place which are continually updated to deal with a similar crisis should it occur. I'm not going to go into the details of that contingency planning, but suffice it to say that we would be prepared to deal with any eventuality although at this point we don't think that the threat is imminent.
Q You have tended to play down reports that Mrs. Clinton was somehow off the reservation by expressing a preference for the Gephardt bill over the Mitchell bill, said this morning that she supports both as does the President. But on page five of the transcript that you've provided here, she was asked why should Democrats in the House from marginal districts or Southern districts who are being hammered on the employer mandate question be for the Gephardt bill when the Mitchell phase-in bill is also acceptable.
She says in her response according to the transcript that if the health care debate is conveyed in understandable terms to people and they really know what's at stake, there will be increasing support for doing something sooner instead of later and for doing the hard decisions now and not postponing them. Why should we not read that as her preference for doing just that -- doing the hard decisions now meaning putting the employer mandate up front?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think she's repeatedly said that she supports both bills, one. Two, CBO took a look at Senator Mitchell's bill and said they expect that he would get to 95 percent by 1997 which is very quickly moving on the right track, moving toward universal coverage. Again, should that fail to happen there are insurance policies in place in the form of an employer mandate.
I think the First Lady believes that it is incredibly important to get to universal and that the House and the Senate should guarantee that their versions of the bill include a means for getting to universal. But again, I think she's gone out of her way not to express a preference but to say that either bill is acceptable. They provide two different routes to getting to the same destination and that the House and Senate should work to pass some version of each.
Q She also talked in the same transcript in the line just above about it being a very compelling political argument for House members in particular who have to run every two years to pass something that they can go home and say, I voted for something that takes effect right away. And, in fact, I think that's her term -- "a very strong and compelling political argument, particularly for House members. So results are important."
MS. MYERS: I think that that's a good argument -- that if you're a House member and you vote for a bill that moves more quickly, you can certainly make that case when you go home. That is not a case against the Mitchell, and it's not a case that says one bill is acceptable and the other is not.
Q It is not a case for the Gephardt bill?
MS. MYERS: It's not a case against -- it's not a case against the Mitchell bill. There are things in the Mitchell bill that the First Lady would certainly advocate. I do not think that that is grounds to say that the First Lady expressed one bill was acceptable and one wasn't. She has repeatedly, if you read that whole transcript, she goes out of her way to say that both bills are acceptable. They have different components in them. She discussed some of the components of one bill that perhaps are not in the other bill. She's, as you know, intimately familiar with the details of these. And I think she'll continue to talk about it in detail.
Q Dee Dee, there's a young man protestor who's been outside the Northwest Gate of the White House mostly day in and day out for about nine months. His preoccupation is POWs and MIAs. He's nonviolent. He was arrested once when he wanted to remain there on a day when the President was going to come by. I understand that Tony Lake received some of his materials yesterday. Do you know whether his vigil has been called to the attention of the President, or if the President's aware of it? And has the President reacted to it in any way?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I don't know.
Q Can you take the question?
MS. MYERS: Sure. I would just point out that we continue to work very hard, the President has made it very high priority to resolve POW-MIA issues. And there have been a number of delegations that have gone to Vietnam to continue to work through that. A lot of the cases are being resolved, and I think progress is being made. And the President feels very strongly that it ought to continue.
Q The reason I mentioned it is, the President has, from time to time, indicated his admiration of people who, in personal sacrifice, devote themselves to a particular cause, particularly if it's in a nonviolent way.
MS. MYERS: Is this man a relative of yours?
Q No, Dee Dee, he's not. And he says he does not have any relatives of his own who are involved in Vietnam in any way. So it's a somewhat unusual case. That was the reason I asked.
MS. MYERS: I'll check into it.
Q Dee Dee, is Mr. Malval still running the Military Office?
MS. MYERS: Yes.
MS. MYERS: I think Mr. Panetta said that he would review the circumstances and act appropriately. And I just don't have any update on that.
Q Has he reconsidered McLarty's decision to get a replacement?
MS. MYERS: You would have to check with Leon on what his range of options includes. I just don't know.
Q Do you have anything on Taiwan -- on the story published in The New York Times and the fact that President Clinton was going to strengthen the diplomatic status of Taiwan?
MS. MYERS: I don't think any final decisions have been made on that. We're certainly reviewing it at this point, but we don't have anything to report.
Q Dee Dee, do you expect we'll see the President any more than we have in the last few days the next week or so? Or are we going to see him once a day --
MS. MYERS: I think it will depend on circumstances. I think some days you may see him more, some days you may see him less. But I think, as I have said earlier today, that there will be fewer photo opportunities, and over the long run, more formal news conferences and other opportunities for, I think, more sustained dialogue.
I think today he sat down with some reporters from business news organizations and had a sort of more lengthy conversation about health care and its effect on business. I think you can look for more forums like that.
Q You talked about a possible health care event tomorrow, which you had not yet announced. Are you there yet?
MS. MYERS: No. I think the one was for today and we ended up talking with the business reporters. I don't think there are any public events for tomorrow.
Q Is there a date for the next news conference?
MS. MYERS: None scheduled. Tomorrow, no public events scheduled. I take that back -- he's meeting with President Meles of Ethiopia. There will be a pool spray. That is at 4:45 p.m.
And Friday, Judge Breyer's swearing in at 2:30 p.m. in the East Room, and that's it. He'll pretape the radio address. And there's nothing scheduled for the weekend at this point.
Q Is he staying in town?
MS. MYERS: He may go to Camp David.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:40 P.M. EDT