THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:51 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: A couple of quick items of business. First of all, a statement from Secretary of the Treasury and the Chairman of the CEA Laura Tyson on the Fed's move today.
Q Is this a joint statement?
MS. MYERS: This is a joint statement.
"The administration recognizes and respects the independence of the Federal Reserve to make decisions about the nation's monetary policies. We share a common goal with the Federal Reserve of sustained growth with low inflation. Given the strong gains in output and employment so far this year, we need to be watchful for signs of developing price pressures. So far, the news on inflation has been very good. Based on the most recent available evidence about the economy's growth momentum and price trends, the administration sees no reason to adjust its forecast at this time. We believe the economy will remain healthy, led by continued strong investment spending, which is laying the foundation for future growth and higher living standards."
That's it. Now, just a summary of today's crime activity.
Q Do you think the Fed went too far today, or just about right?
MS. MYERS: Well, I would refer you back to the statement on that. The Fed is an independent agency, which will make those kinds of decisions.
Q Right, but once it makes those decisions you can comment on them.
MS. MYERS: No, I think generally, what we've said is we think the fundamentals in the economy remain sound. What we see is continued growth with modest inflation. We're hopeful that that growth will continue, and we fully expect that it will. Obviously, the Fed makes its decisions as an independent agency, and beyond that --
Q But there is a disappointment, isn't there, Dee Dee, of this increase?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I would just refer you back to the statement. I don't have anything to add, beyond what the Secretary of the Treasury has said on this.
Q But you do believe the Fed has done the right thing in the past since the economy is in such good shape?
MS. MYERS: I think that, again, the Fed and the White House share a common goal here, which is continued economic growth with low inflation.
Q So you wouldn't disagree that their past interest rate increases were --
MS. MYERS: Again, all I'll say about that is it's an independent agency, they'll make decisions based on what they see is in the best interest of the economy.
Q Is this an endorsement of Fed's move today, Dee Dee?
MS. MYERS: This is simply, I think, recognition that the Fed is an independent agency. Our goal is, has been and continues to be strong growth. We've continued to say that we've seen strong growth with very little inflationary pressure in the economy.
Q What are they saying behind the scenes? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: You'll have to go behind the scenes to find that out.
Q Is the fact that they moved 50 basis points and not a quarter of a point, do you see that as sufficient for the rest of the year and that sort of assurances that they stop the Chinese water torture of just a little drip at a time?
MS. MYERS: Well, I would just refer you to Chairman Greenspan's statements on that previously. The Fed is an independent agency; it will make decisions as it sees fit. We continue to -- as the statement says, we don't see any reason to readjust our forecast. We continue to see strong growth with low inflation. And that's certainly our goal.
Q Can you stop this Chinese water torture and let's go on to the next thing? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Thank you. Every now and then pearls of wisdom from the front row.
Now, just to give you a summary of what's --
Q Every now and then?
MS. MYERS: Oh, on a regular basis, pearls of wisdom from the front row.
As you know, the Chief of Staff Leon Panetta is on Capitol Hill where he'll meet with the Democratic leadership from both the House and Senate to discuss the crime bill. Essentially, what they'll do there is evaluate the state of play and I think evaluate their options to move forward as we try to move this crime bill back to vote and ultimately to passage.
Q Under the circumstances, might it not also be sensible for him to meet with Republican leaders?
MS. MYERS: At this point, he's meeting with the Democratic leadership. We've met regularly with Republicans on this. The Democratic and Republican leaders met on Saturday. They didn't have any proposals to pass on to the President or the White House at that time.
Q You had Representative Fields in here this morning --
MS. MYERS: Correct.
Q and he indicated that he might be willing to change his vote at least on the rule. Is it a signal between the two events that you feel you can pick up the votes among the Democrats?
MS. MYERS: I think the President has been making a lot of phone calls on this, as has the Chief of Staff, other members of the Cabinet and the staff. We're certainly looking to both Democrats and Republicans for support on the rule.
Q Has he called any Republicans?
MS. MYERS: I think he has and will continue to.
Q But can you get enough votes from the Democrats?
MS. MYERS: Again, we're looking at both Democrats and Republicans, and will get votes wherever we can.
Q Has he picked up any votes yet?
MS. MYERS: He had a very good meeting with Representative Fields today. I think you had a chance to speak with him after his meeting. They discussed a number of issues, and I think Congressman Fields had a chance to reiterate his strong support for prevention and for a strong assault weapons ban in the bill, which the President shares. As you know, he didn't make any commitments, but I think they had a very good meeting.
Q The people on the Hill are saying that they won't change their votes without some change in the bill. Have you figured out a mechanism yet to change the bill without reopening the conference and risking losing the whole thing?
MS. MYERS: Again, I think that's all -- those are all questions that are being discussed now between Chief of Staff Panetta and the congressional leadership in both the -- or Democratic leaders in both the House and the Senate. I think there's a number of questions that need to be resolved about how best to move forward, and they're going to address those today.
Q When Congressman Fields came out, he was asked specifically, did the President offer a carrot or a stick. And he said, "Neither. The President just listened." Does Bill Clinton ever get down with -- here you've got a freshman member -- and say, look, this is important to my presidency and do it? Why doesn't he pressure any of these guys?
MS. MYERS: I think Congressman Fields knows very well and good this is important to President Clinton. The President has made that clear again and again and again. He's spoken to this is important to President Clinton. The President's made that clear again and again and again. He's spoken to members of Congress on this again and again and again over a period of time. I think certainly what the President is looking for now is a way to move forward to get this done. Certainly, he will continue to exert pressure, as he has throughout his presidency, for the tough votes, and --
Q Why do these guys think they can roll on this --
MS. MYERS: I don't think they think that. I think the President has taken on the tough issues, and he's gotten the votes for getting those tough issues passed, and he will on this crime bill as well. This is a difficult issue. This is a crime bill that includes a very tough ban on assault weapons and a few other things. I think it was blocked for partisan reasons. The President wants to find a nonpartisan solution to it, because the American people want this bill passed and they need this bill passed.
Q Is he willing to water down the assault weapon ban?
MS. MYERS: The President believes, and is committed, to a strong assault weapons ban in this. I'm not going to negotiate from this podium unless you guys found the eight votes that I asked for yesterday.
Q He might be willing to change it, though?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to rule out, as I said yesterday, any reasonable compromises on this. But, again, the President is committed to four essential principles. One of them is a strong ban on assault weapons, one is 100,000 additional police officers, one is stronger penalties, including three strikes and you're out; and, finally, prevention money to help give kids something to say yes to as well as stopping crime in other ways.
Q Dee Dee, there appears to be some question as to how soon the matter can be brought up again for a vote, and the possibility would appear to exist that it could even leak over until next week. Is there any sense of concern here now that every day that goes by drives a potential nail into the coffin of health care, simply because it can't move in the House until this is out of the way?
MS. MYERS: Well, certainly the President would like to see this resolved quickly. And, again, the timing issue is something that will be discussed today. I think you've all heard Speaker Foley say it could come up this week as early as Thursday. The President would certainly be supportive of that.
Q you simply put this aside and get on to the larger priority, which is health care, if you have to?
MS. MYERS: I think we're going to put this aside when we finish it. I think the President --
Q This will be done before you --
MS. MYERS: The President would truly like to see it done quickly. We'd certainly like to see it done before the House goes home, and he believes that's possible. And I think the leadership in the House believes that's possible.
Q Are you talking about crime or health care?
MS. MYERS: I'm talking about crime right now. Health care, as you know, the House is waiting for CBO to issue its final report on the plans that have been submitted in the House. They expect to take up debate as soon as that's possible and as soon as the CBO reports back.
Q One of the things that Congressman Fields said he specifically wants in exchange for at least a consideration of changing his vote is some directive either from the President or the Attorney General, with whom he is meeting sometime later today, about the implementation of the death penalty -- I guess particularly under old and new death penalty crimes that would be created under this bill. Is the President willing to do such a thing, to issue some directive to the 94 U.S. attorneys about how this should be implemented and what was the --
MS. MYERS: What he said about that is, first of all, of course, he supports the death penalty but is concerned that it be fairly implemented. And he's going to work with the Attorney General to find ways to make sure that it is fairly implemented. He hasn't made any statements beyond that at this point.
Q Do you support a provision that would reinsert language in the crime bill that would allow local communities to be notified of repeat sex offenders?
MS. MYERS: Again, we haven't ruled anything in or out at this point. I think we're open to reasonable compromises and I wouldn't rule that out.
Q Is the President going to meet with the leadership of Congress today himself, or is Leon the only one?
MS. MYERS: At this point, only Leon is going to meet with them.
Q Is that one meeting, or two?
MS. MYERS: I believe it's one meeting with both the House and Senate leaders, which is scheduled to start at 2:00 p.m.
Q We were told last week that he was going to do a public event on crime every day until the House voted again. Today he's behind closed doors. If this has been working and he's been getting his message out to the American people, why did he stop?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he hasn't stopped working on this. I think he's done a number of public events. I think he's made his position very clear; certainly, did a very effective event yesterday on it. Today he's focused on making phone calls to members of Congress. I think he's going to do what he feels is most effective to get the crime bill passed, and I think today he feels the best use of his time is to get on the phone and talk to members of the House and get them to support the rule.
Q Any more members coming over here today?
MS. MYERS: Nothing is scheduled, but I think as the day goes on and if it becomes necessary, I certainly wouldn't rule out that somebody might come down.
Q Can we get a photo op of him in the office?
MS. MYERS: We're going to try to do that of him on the phone this afternoon.
Q It's still not clear to me why, if you say the President wants a bipartisan solution to this standoff on the crime bill, he won't meet or have his top people meet with Republican leaders.
MS. MYERS: I certainly -- one, he's calling Republicans. Two, I think we worked on a bipartisan basis throughout the development of this bill. I think it's unfortunate the Republicans killed it for partisan reasons, and the President is certainly searching for a bipartisan solution. I wouldn't rule out that we would meet with Republicans at some point. Nothing is scheduled at this point and we haven't heard any particular solutions from them.
Q One of the things that the President talked about I think in his remarks on Friday and Saturday was urging people to call their members, particularly members who voted on the rule, and kind of convince them that this was not what the constituents wanted them to do. Do you have any sense of what kind of response the President has gotten on that appeal? Do you have any count, for instance, on the calls you've gotten here?
MS. MYERS: We don't. I think that just from talking with people on the Hill and our folks here, I think the NRA is phonebanking a lot of the congressional offices and the White House. Certainly people have been calling up and reading from scripts.
I think, anecdotally, a lot of members have reported that they've gotten overwhelming interest from their constituents. For example, Congresswoman Rosa Delauro said that all throughout her district over the weekend she was -- I just happen to know what happened to Rosa -- (laughter) -- that she was besieged by her constituents who really wanted this crime bill passed.
Congressman Schumer, I think, got on a plane to go up to New York over the weekend and got a round of applause from people on the plane for his tough fight on that. I think you've read in the paper --
Q Was it Air Force One? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I think you've seen in the paper, certainly some of the members who voted no on the rule have received a lot of pressure from their constituents and from editorial writers. And we jut happen to have a number of editorials here from papers around the country that I think are very tough on members of Congress urging them to support the bill.
For example, the Philadelphia Inquirer says, "Congressional cowards on crime -- a cave-in to those special interests who forget that this is America's top concern." And I got that --
Q What about --
MS. MYERS: This is fun, though. The Orlando Sentinel: "Crime Package Can't Wait."
Q The Quad Cities --
MS. MYERS: Okay, I'll go back and give you the Quad Cities. Quad Cities: "1.9 Million Reasons Crime Bill Must Pass. It's not perfect, but the measure before Congress represents the best defense against violent crime."
"Social Pork and a Kid's Death," which you all woke up to this morning in The Washington Post. So I'm sure you will all enjoy reading through some of these editorials today.
Q You didn't read the part about "although the bill is flawed." (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: But it urges passage. I haven't seen a perfect bill coming out of Congress yet, have you?
Q The President looks very down. Is he -- what is his mood?
MS. MYERS: Well, that was perfect.
Q The President seemed very downcast today.
MS. MYERS: The President?
Q He did.
MS. MYERS: When he was out jogging? I don't think so.
Q Not jogging. I saw him going to the -- his head was down and --
MS. MYERS: Helen, I think that's sort of scant information to judge his mood. I think he's --
Q Are you hiding in the Colonnade again, Helen? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Sure. He's --
Q Can you enlighten me?
MS. MYERS: I will. He had a very good meeting with Congressman Fields today. He's been on the phone beginning to call members of Congress this afternoon. He's very determined to get this done. I think he certainly understands that there's a lot of work to be done, but he's optimistic that it will get done. He believes this bill is very important to the American people, he's fighting for it hard because he thinks that it's important to people like James Darby's mother and others that you met yesterday. He's going to continue to do all he can. I think he feels very -- he's determined.
Q The President and Panetta both said he was down over the weekend; it's not Helen's judgment, it's theirs. Are you saying that his mood is now upbeat and that he's changed that mood?
MS. MYERS: I'm saying that his mood is determined. And as it was --
Q He said he was down during his sermon.
Q Yes, he said he was down, and Panetta said he was down.
MS. MYERS: Helen said that, unlike yesterday, she thought he was down today. And I think that that's not -- I disagree with that characterization.
Q tell us what his mood is.
Q The Prozac works wonders. (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: That's right. (Laughter.) I would say, again, the President's very determined.
Q Down but not out.
MS. MYERS: But he's -- no, he's fighting back. And I think you've all seen that when the President believes in something, he fights like crazy to get it done; this is no exception.
Q what is he doing this time?
MS. MYERS: I'll come back to you, Frank.
Q I just want to make sure that I understand an answer you gave a couple of minutes ago when you were asked about the assault weapons ban. I think the transcript will show you said something to the effect that we're open to compromise on this. Are you saying that there is some sort of lessening of the assault weapons ban, without detailing what it is, that the President could live with? Or do you want it as it is now?
MS. MYERS: What I said, without being specific to any portion of the bill is that I wouldn't rule out a reasonable compromise. But --
Q You said that when asked about the sex offenders.
MS. MYERS: And about the -- and I'll say it about any of the other questions you want to ask. I wouldn't rule out a reasonable compromise, but the President will insist on a strong assault weapons ban.
Q Dee Dee, basically, throughout the crime bill debate, you have said that the President would not let any single issue stand in the way of passage; I believe that's correct. And now you're saying there are four principles that sound like single issues, each that could stand in the way of passage. Is that a correct inference from what you said yesterday, that there are now these four areas that could block --
MS. MYERS: That's correct. These are four areas that he will insist on in the bill.
Q Two questions. First, you've characterized this before as partisan opposition. The Attorney General today is having a sort of a lobbying effort for the bill in the office of Mary Jo White, the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. Do you consider it appropriate for a U.S. attorney to be involved in what you characterized as a partisan political battle?
MS. MYERS: I think this is bipartisan. I think it's appropriate for all people who are concerned about crime and have an interest in the provisions in this bill to fight for its passage. We've seen Republican mayors and Democratic mayors, Republican governors and Democratic --
Q Well, you called it a partisan matter. That's not -- that's a fair question.
MS. MYERS: I think, certainly the Republicans made it a test of partisan loyalty. The blocking of this bill on Thursday was a partisan affair. The bill itself is, and has been, and will be, bipartisan.
Q But this is a U.S. attorney, not a mayor or a governor. Do you see any difference, or do you think this is appropriate behavior for a U.S. attorney?
MS. MYERS: I think -- if the U.S. attorneys think that this is an important bill, they ought to speak out on it. And I would just point out that tomorrow, there will be a group of bipartisan mayors, at least a dozen, including Mayor Riordan from Los Angeles, Mayor Rice from Seattle, Mayor Cleaver of Kansas City, who will go up to the Hill, meet both with Republicans and with Democrats, and then have a press conference at 1:00 p.m. I think you can expect to see -- I mean, you've seen all kinds of associations of attorneys general and prosecutors and other people who are on the front lines of crime, including U.S. attorneys who think this bill is important and are going to fight to get it passed.
Q What is the President going to do tomorrow?
MS. MYERS: The President tomorrow -- I think he'll continue to call and perhaps meet with members of Congress -- and let me see what else is on the schedule. At this point, lunch with the Vice President. You might want to write that down. Oh, and then at 4:00 p.m. he's signing the General Aviation Revitalization Act.
Q Is Gore --
MS. MYERS: I think the Vice President is firmly committed.
Q A photo op on that?
MS. MYERS: It's a White House photo.
Q Who are the three Republican mayors?
MS. MYERS: No, there's only -- one of them will be a Republican. There will be other mayors; we're still nailing down the final list of those who will be there. But Mayor Riordan from Los Angeles; the other two are Mayor Norm Rice of Seattle, and Eldridge Cleaver of Kansas City.
Q There's only one Republican that's going to be there?
MS. MYERS: There's only one Republican in the three I just named. We don't have the final list yet. I think there will be probably at least one and perhaps more Republicans.
Q Roger Altman got back from vacation last night. Has anybody in the White House spoken with him?
MS. MYERS: I don't think he got back last night. I think he was supposed to come back last night, but I think he's coming back today.
Q Is he coming back at all?
MS. MYERS: Yes, as far as I know, he's scheduled to come back.
Q Any changes in his status?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q The last report on new home construction showed the housing industry back in the doldrums. Is the President at all concerned at rising interest rates, even before today's move by the Fed, has had too much of a negative impact on housing?
MS. MYERS: Well, housing starts -- there was a new housing starts report today, which I assume you've seen. Housing starts came back, rising 4.7 percent after falling somewhat in June. Multifamily structures stronger than expected. I think over the -- there's been some ups and downs, but starts have been basically on a high plateau for the past several months; about 14 percent above where they were a year ago.
Q On the broader level, what I don't quite understand, is the President last year in selling his economic program said by having credible deficit reduction he was going to, in effect, make a bargain with the Fed and the Fed was going to lower interest rates and keep interest rates low. Now the Fed has had successive interest rate increases, which one would think might endanger the President's economic growth plan and the President is hiding behind Poly Sci 101, the independence of the Fed. Why doesn't he come out and say this was a wise move, or not a wise move by the Fed?
Q Yeah, yeah.
Q It's his economic program --
MS. MYERS: I think his economic policy is he'd like to see continued growth with low inflation. And I have nothing to add to the statement that I read or the 17 questions that I already answered on this. I just don't have anything more for you, Leo. And the President has said what the President is going to say about this. You may disagree with his answer, but that is his answer.
Q The obvious impression you leave is that the President is unconcerned about the actions of the Fed.
MS. MYERS: I don't think anybody that has covered this President or lives in this country believes that the President is in any way unconcerned about the strength of this economy. That has been his primary concern as President. He's fought his heart out to pass a credible budget that has certainly led to economic growth.
Q That wasn't the question, Dee Dee. The question is the President concerned about the actions of the Fed.
MS. MYERS: The Fed is an independent agency, Leo, and I don't have anything else for you.
Q He doesn't care what they do?
Q Back to the mayors for just a second. Are you saying that the White House is organizing this? I mean, are you flying these people in to lobby or --
MS. MYERS: We're not flying them in. We're certainly keeping in touch with them.
Q So one could safely write that the White House has organized this lobbying trip?
MS. MYERS: I think we're aware of it. It's something that the mayors feel strongly about. I don't think we need to organize these kinds of trips. The mayors want this crime bill passed.
Q You said a minute ago, "we're still putting it together."
MS. MYERS: The list. There are a number of mayors are coming in. I don't know who is organizing it. The mayors -- I mean, certainly we've been in touch with them. But they're coming down, and certainly I think a lot of people who support the crime bill and would like to see it passed have been --
Q Have you specifically asked any of these or any other mayors to come for this effort or to come at all?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we invited Mayor Giuliani to come with the President to Minneapolis on Thursday. We've been in touch with a lot of elected officials around the country urging them to work hard in support of the crime bill to help us get it passed, and they've been more than willing to do that. I don't think it took much urging for us. If you looked last week, mayors all over the country, without any encouragement for us, like Mayor Daley in Chicago, were having press conferences urging Congress to pass this bill and lambasting them for failing to do so.
Q Dee Dee, did the bill signing you announced yesterday for today take place?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what happened to that. It got postponed.
Q Do you think that --
MS. MYERS: I don't know. I don't know if it was not ready or -- what was the bill again? It was a product safety bill. I will let you know just as --
Q telemarketing bill? H-68. It's got to be the telemarketing bill.
MS. MYERS: We will get back to you on this. I just don't know what bill it was or what happened to it.
Q Dee Dee, there have been some reports that committee chairman who voted against the President on the rule on the crime rule have been threatened that they would be stripped of their chairmanships. Can you comment on that? Is that a strategy the White House has endorsed that the President --
MS. MYERS: I think -- I certainly don't speak for the leadership in the House. What the President has done is tried to work with members to get the crime bill passed. That's been his strategy.
Q So you don't know whether it's true or not?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what conversations members might have had with other members. No, I don't.
Q For the second day the Albanian government has a political trial of five members of the Greek community facing the death penalty under extremely unusual circumstances, in violation of the most fundamental elements of human rights. I'm wondering if the President is aware about that, if he responded to the Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's appeal? And in the meantime, could you please clarify the U.S. position on this?
MS. MYERS: I'm sorry, I'll have to take that question. I just don't have an answer on that particular question.
Q Dee Dee, back to the sexual predators provision, you were saying you wouldn't rule anything in or out. Does the President have a position on this? Does he think it's good to have community notification, that it's bad, or doesn't care one way or the other?
MS. MYERS: He just simply hasn't taken a position. And since he hasn't taken a position, I don't think it's appropriate for me to. He may. I wouldn't rule that out, but he just hasn't yet. It hasn't been a major part of this debate.
Q Could you take that question, whether he has an opinion on that?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q He supported it in the original bill, right?
Q What's the chance of seeing Panetta when he comes back?
Q That's a good question -- did he support it in the original bill?
MS. MYERS: It was in the original bill, but I don't know whether he ever specifically took a position on it specifically. I just don't want to get ahead of him here.
Q He found it acceptable in the original bill?
MS. MYERS: Sure.
Q Any chance of getting a report from Panetta when he comes back from the Hill?
MS. MYERS: We'll have to see. I don't know what his plans are. He didn't have any specific plans to report back.
Q Is the strategy with regard to the crime bill to avoid at all costs reopening the conference? There's been talk obviously and speculation that this provision, that provision might be fine-tuned or changed somehow.
MS. MYERS: Leon Panetta is on the Hill right now meeting with leaders to discuss that strategy. So I think we'll wait and --
Q I understand. Is it the preference of the White House?
MS. MYERS: I think that that is something that's being discussed right now, and we'll have to wait and see what comes out of those conversations.
Q One potential way to avoid reopening the conference is to offer legislation similar to what you all did with NAFTA where you say, vote for us now and we'll come back with some other legislation to cover your --
MS. MYERS: There are an infinite number of options on this. I think you could come up with literally an infinite number of ways that this might happen or compromises that we could imagine. But it's not productive for us to do that. At this point, Leon Panetta is up there meeting with the leaders right now to determine a number of things, including strategy, including vehicles, including all of the questions I think germane to what next steps we'll take on the crime bill. We just don't have anything more for you.
Q Dee Dee, has the President or anybody else asked Brooks to drop his -- for LeMar University?
MS. MYERS: I don't think the President has asked him to do that, and I don't know what other members of the House might think about it?
Q Isn't it a bit of an embarrassing chunk of pork to have sitting out there so prominently? Might it not be a good idea for the White House to say we don't particularly support this?
MS. MYERS: I think I answered that yesterday. It's certainly not one of the principles the President's going to fight for on this.
Q Line-item veto? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: Yes, as soon as we get that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:20 P.M. EDT