THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: No announcements today. The President is continuing to work on the crime bill. As you know, we've picked up a couple of votes and I think a number of members have expressed their willingness to reconsider. So I think things look pretty good today. I think we're picking up momentum, and we're going to continue to work until this gets done.
Q Since Roger Altman appears to be -- have resigned or be on the verge of it, can you give us any statement of the President's feelings and comments about this resignation?
MS. MYERS: Well, the President has spoken to Mr. Altman today. As you know, he is expected to resign today and I believe the President has received the letter, or will receive it shortly. And there will be an exchange of letters which we'll release as soon as they're available. I think I'll wait until the President's letter is finished to give him an opportunity to express his own sentiments on this.
Q But he has resigned?
MS. MYERS: He's in the process and it will certainly be done shortly.
Q What about Hanson?
MS. MYERS: That is something for the Treasury Department to decide; I don't know.
Q Can you tell us how the President feels about his service to the government, whether he thinks that this is something that was one of those Washington events that was driven by things other than Altman's conduct, or whether he thinks that Altman's conduct required a resignation?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think, as the President has repeatedly stated, he thinks that Roger Altman served ably and well throughout his tenure as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. The President repeatedly expressed support for the work that he did. He was a key player in the passage of the President's economic plan last year, and the passage of NAFTA, and in the promotion of other trade and economic initiatives for this administration.
Again, the President will have a letter that will be available shortly, and I think I'll let him speak for himself on the rest of this.
Q Did Altman at one point say when this thing was just beginning that he didn't want to be the fall guy, and is he the fall guy?
MS. MYERS: I think Mr. Altman made the decision to resign, and again, we'll release a letter from him to the President which will give him an opportunity to express his own sentiments on this, and a letter from the President back to Mr. Altman which will certainly thank Roger for his service. Beyond that, I don't really have much to say.
Q You don't doubt that there's been a lot of pressure on him to do so, do you? Did he give any reason that you know of?
MS. MYERS: Again, the letters, I think, will outline Roger's thinking on this. And the President's letter will do the same for the President. This was Roger Altman's decision.
Q Has the President given up on trying to get the crime bill passed as is?
MS. MYERS: I think we're working with members of Congress now to look for ways to secure its passage. There are a number of conversations going on. And again, every day I look for those votes out here in this audience and I don't see them, so I am not going to negotiate from the podium.
Q No, but this morning you said that the strategy has changed.
MS. MYERS: I said I think we're moving in a different direction and I think we're talking to members of the Congress. As you know, the President met last night with 13 Republicans. He met this morning with members of the Black Caucus. There continue to be discussions throughout the day, as there were yesterday and the day before.
I think, clearly, a number of members have indicated that they're looking for ways to support this. There's clearly pressure from the American people to get this bill passed. Both Republicans and Democrats have said they want to get it passed quickly. I think Speaker Foley has indicated that he expects it will get done, and get done soon.
So I think all indicators are that we're moving toward a crime bill, and the President's going to continue to do everything he can in the meantime.
Q Dee Dee, doesn't the meeting that occurred here last night between the President, Gingrich, Hyde and 11 members, Republicans, who voted for the rule signify that, with them wavering in the other direction, that the attacks on Republicans over the weekend at a minimum didn't work and, at a maximum, may have backfired ?
MS. MYERS: I think exactly the opposite. I think that there's been a lot said and written over the course of the last four or five days since the rule failed last week; that there's a lot of pressure from the American people to get this bill passed. I think that members from both parties are feeling pressure and they would like to get this resolved quickly.
Q Well, then why does the President find himself negotiating with people who were on his side to try to keep them on his side?
MS. MYERS: He invited the 11 Republicans who had the courage to vote for the crime bill in the face of a lot of pressure here to thank them and to hear from them about their concerns.
I think he's certainly been willing to listen to members from both parties in order to make sure we get a tough, smart crime bill passed. He's also made it very clear, as he did last night, that he will not drop the ban on assault weapons, and he will not accept massive cuts in the prevention money.
Q Well, if it worked, why is he then "moving in a different direction"?
MS. MYERS: I think that's the direction that he's moving in.
Q I'm trying to figure out what you just said. (Laughter.) If he's moving in a different direction --
Q I got lost.
MS. MYERS: You're quoting an answer to a specific question, and the question -- I'm not going to go back through that -- but the President is working hard to get a crime bill passed. He's working with members of Congress. I'm not going to get into the details of those discussions; it's not appropriate.
Q No, I'm asking about the attacks on Republicans. You said that they worked. But you also said, now you're moving in a different direction.
MS. MYERS: Because I think what the President wanted to do -- the Republicans made it a test of loyalty. The President pointed that out. I think the Republicans have felt -- I think members of Congress from both parties have felt a lot of pressure over the last four or five days to get this bill passed. The President does not want this to be a partisan issue. He wants it to be a bipartisan issue; he wants a bipartisan bill. That's the direction that he's moving in. He's talking to both Democrats and Republicans to get this passed.
Q But if there's so much pressure, why does he have to try to make deals, or look for deals?
MS. MYERS: There's pressure that is coming to bear on members to pass a bill that did not pass last week. And by the end of this week, or within the next few days, we hope that there will be a different outcome.
Q working, why did he stop them?
MS. MYERS: I think he did what he thought was the right thing. I think he's certainly gotten the attention of a lot of members on both sides of the aisle. I think there's a lot of pressure out there for this bill to pass. And all of a sudden, if you just look at the wires today, there's a number of members who are expressing sort of their willingness to find a way to support the bill.
That's not me talking. I think if you look at the --
Q Yes, but they're saying, if you make changes we're willing to support the bill.
MS. MYERS: I don't think that should come as a surprise to anybody. But I think they're looking for a way to support the bill. The President has outlined his principles. There's been no change in that. He wants to see the bill include 100,000 police officers, money for prevention to give kids something to say yes to, a tough ban on assault weapons, and prevention measures including --I mean, tougher punishment measures, including three strikes and you're out. All these things must be included in any final version of the bill.
Q Who else is he talking to today?
Q Dee Dee, is what you're saying is these changes are fig leaves?
MS. MYERS: No, I am saying that the President has his principles, that he's talking with members and that it's not appropriate for me to get into exactly what the nature of those discussions are.
Q Are they face-saving devices for the Republicans who are going to have to vote against --
MS. MYERS: No, I think some members have some very genuine concerns about this. They want to be able to support it. Certainly the President wants it to pass. And we're in discussions now to find out where the votes are and how we can get it done as quickly as possible.
Q? Did you say that Jean Hanson was resigning as well?
MS. MYERS: I said I didn't know. That's an issue for Treasury, and you'd have to talk to the Treasury Department.
Q Dee Dee, isn't your message on the crime bill undermined by the fact that the Vice President is going to spend the entire day tomorrow out raising money for Jim Cooper who voted against the crime bill and is also at odds with you on health care?
MS. MYERS: No, I don't think the message on the crime bill is undermined one bit. The President is going to continue to work very hard to get it passed.
Again, he had a good meeting last night, another good meeting today. I think a number of members from around the country are expressing their willingness to move forward on this. They want to support a crime bill. We're hopeful we'll get it done. We'll just have to wait and see what comes out of the discussions going on today up on the Hill and here.
Q Well, was there any discussion about cancelling that trip as a way to punish him, or anything else?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to comment on internal decision-making. But the Vice President will be going to Tennessee.
Q You said the crime bill was -- for Republicans, the Republicans have made this into sort of test of party loyalty.
MS. MYERS: They did, last week.
Q But haven't the Democrats done exactly the same thing, especially now? Isn't --
MS. MYERS: No, because the --
Q putting partisan pressure on these people --
MS. MYERS: There was great bipartisan support for the crime bill throughout the process. There was bipartisan support for the crime bill in the conference. In fact, there were a number of members, as you know, who voted for the ban on assault weapons. There were a number of Republican members who voted for the crime bill with the prevention money. But then they voted against the rule, and they voted against the rule, many of them, because they were pressured by leadership to do that.
But that's the past. And the President wants to move beyond that. He does not want this to be a partisan issue, he wants a bipartisan solution. That's why he met with Republican members last night. That's why he's been calling Republican members, as well as Democrats. And he fully expects he'll get a bill.
Q So you're saying there's been no partisan appeal from the White House for some of these Democrats who voted against the rule to switch their votes on the grounds that this is really going to hurt the President?
MS. MYERS: The President has been talking to a number of members and urging them to support the crime bill because he thinks it's in the best interests of the American people. He thinks they should support it because it puts 100,000 cops on the streets, because it has all this prevention money, it has tougher punishments. That's why people should support it. And people who supported it throughout the process, people who worked on the bill, people who introduced amendments to the bill that were included who then turned around and voted against the rule are playing politics. The President hopes that we can get beyond that. That is what he is working on now.
Q Is he still making more calls this afternoon? Have there been any other meetings on this?
MS. MYERS: No meetings are scheduled, but I wouldn't rule out if it's deemed necessary that somebody might come down here. But nothing is scheduled. And, yes, he's not on the phone now, he's actually having lunch with the Vice President, but he'll be making more calls today.
Q Is it your judgment or do you know yet whether you can get any agreements you reach with House members through the Senate?
MS. MYERS: We'll certainly be discussing the overall crime bill strategy with I think the leadership in the Senate as well. Certainly that's something that we're going to make sure that we have a bill that we can get through both Houses, or hope to have a bill we can get through both Houses.
Q Has he talked with any senators, or has Leon or --
MS. MYERS: Leon met yesterday with the Democratic leaders from both Houses. Mitchell was there, and Foley, Gephardt and Bonior. And I don't know whether anybody's spoken with the leaders today, but people here talk with the leadership regularly on a number of issues; so I would expect that the Senate leadership will be kept informed.
Q Have they told you there's anything that you can't do in the Senate?
MS. MYERS: I don't know that it's gotten to that point, but I think certainly we want to work with them to find out what we can do and what we can get through both Houses.
Q You said that President Clinton had invited the 11 Republicans who voted with him. Did he also invite Gingrich to come along, or did the 11 Republicans ask --
MS. MYERS: He invited them at, I believe, Congressman Shays' request. But the invitation came from Leon Panetta.
Q Who included Gingrich? Was it the 11 Republicans or the White House?
MS. MYERS: The 11 Republicans, or Congressman Shays on their behalf, asked that Congressman Gingrich be invited, and so Leon Panetta invited him.
Q The initiative came from the Republican members of Congress side?
MS. MYERS: Yes. And we didn't have any objection to that.
Q Earlier in the day there had been indications that the President didn't think it was the time to meet with the Republican leadership on the crime bill. What changed to make that all right with the White House?
MS. MYERS: I think what I said yesterday was that there was no plans to meet with the Republican leadership, which there weren't, but that I certainly wouldn't rule out any meetings with Republicans in the future, which was, I think, pretty explicit.
Yesterday, throughout the day, the Chief of Staff was on the Hill, working with and talking to a variety of members, from both parties, including the Democratic leadership; and he met privately with Congressman Gingrich briefly. And, out of that, I think they decided that it would be helpful to invite the 11 members down here who had supported the President to thank them for their support and to make sure that we continued to get their support on this. And through that process, they asked that Congressman Gingrich be invited. And we had no objections, so Leon asked him to come down.
Q Did they, in fact, assure you that they would continue to support this, and did they indicate that any more than 11 would join them?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't think any -- there were no specific proposals adopted or put forward. I think they had a discussion. Again, the President made clear what he was not willing to do, then he basically wanted to hear from the members of Congress, the 13 Republicans who were there about what their problems were and about what they thought needed to happen so that we could go forward, and they had a discussion. But, again, there were no deals that came out of that meeting.
Q the President's ruling out massive cuts in the crime prevention programs. Can you rule out cuts in the billions?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to put a number to it. But the President has said -- this numbers question -- that he would not accept massive cuts. And this is --
Q Would $2 billion be a massive cut?
MS. MYERS: I just am not going to engage in a numbers debate; but $2 billion is pretty darn big.
Q Ninety-five percent of the -- (laughter.)
Q Dee Dee, has the President made up his mind whether or not he could go to the beach while the Senate is still here in Washington, working on his number one legislative -- (laughter.)
MS. MYERS: I think it is unclear -- it's unclear what the Congress is going to do, and I think the President has urged them to stay in to work on health care. It's unclear when they're going to finish, and I think the President's vacation plans are somewhat in limbo right now, and we'll just have to be patient. As soon as we can make a concrete decision on that, we will.
Q Why don't we take them all to Martha's Vineyard?
Q Does the President have in mind, or has he named, tapped anybody to succeed Altman?
MS. MYERS: There's no announcement on that yet. That's something that Secretary Bentsen, I think, will lead the decisionmaking process in that regard. And as soon as they have an announcement, I'm sure they'll make it.
Q Did he try to talk Altman out of resigning?
MS. MYERS: I think he made it clear that it was Roger's decision, and the President respects that.
Q Do you expect Hanson and Steiner resignations?
MS. MYERS: Again, that's an issue for Treasury. You'll have to talk to them.
Q When did he have the conversation with the President, Dee Dee?
Q The House has put off -- it looks like they won't have a vote on the health care bill until after Labor Day now.
MS. MYERS: I don't think that Congressman Gephardt has made that decision at all. In fact, I just spoke to his office minutes ago, and they said he's not made a decision, and he may have more to say about it later, just to clarify that. But I think what he said is that as soon as CBO finishes its work, the House will be ready to act.
Q Did the 11 Republicans --
Q When did the President talk to Altman?
Q Is there any concern that you're just running out of time and you're not going to be able to get a bill this year?
MS. MYERS: No, I think we fully expect we'll be able to get a bill this year. It's tough, it's always been tough, but I think the President has urged the Congress to move forward on this. They're debating and even voting in the Senate. As soon as CBO finishes its work, the House will be able to move forward similarly, and so we are going to continue to press for that.
Q You've got the election coming up and, obviously, the politics figures into it on both sides. If the President is committed to a bill this year, is he committed to it this year in the sense that he would call them back if they didn't get work finished?
MS. MYERS: I think that's all pure hypotheticals. At this point, we're going to keep working. Both Houses are in session, both Houses will continue to do what they must. The House is focused on the crime bill this week until CBO finishes and the Senate's making progress. So we'll just see how it goes.
Q Since the President has previously said that this was a Republican House leadership position urging their people to vote against the crime bill rule last week, did the 11 who met with him last night indicate what kind of partisan pressure, if any, they're under, not to vote with him again? Was that discussed at all?
MS. MYERS: No, it was a productive meeting. They were looking at ways -- they supported the rule, they want to continue to support the bill. I mean, this was a productive discussion about how to move forward from here.
Q? Procedurally, how do you -- you want to get this crime bill vote by the end of the week in the House. Procedurally, how do you go about modifying the bill and bringing it to a vote that quickly?
MS. MYERS: That is part of what is being discussed. I mean, both the content and the procedural questions have to be answered.
Q And is it your expectation that once you get it through the House, even when you get it through the House, the Senate will take it up immediately?
MS. MYERS: Yes, I think Senator Mitchell has said that they'll take up the crime bill.
Q Dee Dee, how is the White House making sure it's not losing a vote for every one it wins through compromise?
MS. MYERS: Well, I mean, that's the art of legislation and that's what the leadership in both -- both Republican and Democratic leadership does. I mean, they have to make sure that if there's changes, that you don't lose more votes than you gain. I mean, that's just the legislative process.
Q I mean, if you're making an offer on one side is there some sort of a reciprocal --
MS. MYERS: The same way that that happens every time a bill is proposed and amended and changed and -- I mean, it's part of the routine legislative process.
Q You think that you didn't lose two or three for the two or three that you've picked up in the Caucus in the last couple of days?
MS. MYERS: I don't know of any. Do you? I mean, I don't know of any votes we've lost. I haven't heard anybody say that they've changed --
Q Can we have five or six questions back here in the back from each one of us, please?
MS. MYERS: If you raise your hands I'm happy to call on you.
Q We've been doing that.
MS. MYERS: I don't see any hands raised right now, Greg. Do you have your hand up?
Q Could you tell us when the President and Altman talked?
MS. MYERS: They spoke today.
Q And did Altman call the President, or was the phone call initiated from here?
MS. MYERS: I believe that the President returned Mr. Altman's phone call.
Q And what you're saying, or have you said up there -- I think you said this -- has no one in the administration talked to Altman about resigning? No one urged him, no one from the White House?
MS. MYERS: I don't know what private conversations he may have had with his friends in this White House. He has a number of friends here and I'm not going to comment on it. The decision was his.
Q On behalf of the President.
MS. MYERS: I do not know who he sought counsel from, and I don't think it's appropriate for me to comment on that. The President spoke for the White House, and I think he made the White House's position clear on Mr. Altman's future.
Q Dee Dee, are you expecting there will be a transition phase for Roger? Will he stay a few more weeks?
MS. MYERS: I think that will be addressed in the letters. And as soon as they're ready, we'll release them.
Q Was he offered another position?
MS. MYERS: No.
Q If you end up getting a crime bill through by the end of the week, what do you think the real impact has been on this intervening week between the defeat and passage? Do you think there is an effect or impact?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think it's certainly elevated the profile of the crime bill. The House has been waiting for CBO to finish on health care, so they've had time to focus on this. But I think it's certainly elevated the debate about crime. And I think the American people are concerned about it, and it's helpful for them to know that the President and this administration take this issue very seriously. But beyond that, I don't know.
Q Dee Dee, can you confirm that the President spoke with the President of Korea last night and give us a read-out on that?
MS. MYERS: He did speak to him last night about 7:45 p.m., after he met with the Republicans. And I'm sorry, I don't have a read-out on it.
Q Was that South or North? (Laughter.)
MS. MYERS: South.
Q Dee Dee, did the White House know that Janice Payne was violating her parole when you all invited her to Washington this week?
MS. MYERS: I think what was said about that was her name and information was run through the NCIC computer, as are all guests at the White House. Nothing came up that would have prohibited her from coming here. We are prohibited from discussing the content of those files that come up, and essentially it's the Secret Service that handles security procedures here, so if you have questions about procedure, I would just refer you to them.
Q So you didn't know?
MS. MYERS: You're speculating. That's not what I said.
Q Did the White House have access to those files? That's unusual. Usually only law enforcement agencies do that.
MS. MYERS: I've said what I'm going to say about that, that there was nothing that came up --
Q Does the White House see those files or --
MS. MYERS: -- there was nothing that came up that prohibited her from being admitted.
Q It was the Secret Service who ran her name through the computers?
MS. MYERS: The Secret Service -- yes, the names go to the Secret Service, through the WAVES system, like anybody else, like somebody who doesn't have a regular credential. And then that information is evaluated through the security system.
Q On another subject, how long did it take before the Pentagon notified the White House about the rioting in Guantanamo last weekend?
MS. MYERS: I don't know when the first -- I think as soon as the Pentagon found out they notified us. But I'm not sure exactly when that was.
Q They didn't tell the Defense Secretary until Monday. Did they tell the White House before Monday?
MS. MYERS: I don't think so, but I'll take that. I think that was when the Pentagon public affairs shop and other people over there found out.
Q Is anything going to be done about the Cuban exodus?
MS. MYERS: Well, we're certainly continuing to watch that. It's an issue of concern. It's too soon to say whether it's a trend or simply a temporary elevation in refugees. But we do have contingency plans in place to deal with that.
Q Have you beefed up any --
Q On Espy, what would be the implications for him if the OGE were to find that in fact there was a violation of the ethical rules?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think we'll wait and see what they find. It will depend on what they find.
Q Did you take a question once, which I don't think we got to the answer to, though, of what OGE's -- what happens when OGE makes a finding?
MS. MYERS: They report back to whoever asked for the report, which, in this case, is the White House. And then it is up to the White House to make a decision about what to do with the information. So they do not -- there is no disciplinary process or anything through OGE. They simply make a finding and pass it on.
Q Dee Dee, we heard a lot over the last couple of weeks about the importance of OGE having found that there was no ethical misconduct by any of the officials involved in the Treasury Department-White House contacts. Given that heavy reliance on OGE as a sort of clean bill of health, are you saying it's possible that if they don't provide a clean bill of health, that you guys just shrug and go on from there?
MS. MYERS: No, I'm just not going to speculate about a process that is underway and that I don't have any access to their -- it's way too soon to know what their conclusions are. I think it will depend on what they find. And then certainly, depending on what it is, the White House will take a look at that, I expect at the direction of the Counsel's Office, and make a conclusion about how to proceed. I wouldn't suggest by any means that we'll shrug it off and say, no big deal. I mean, but at the same time, I'm not ready to pass judgement on information that's being evaluated by the OGE.
Q If OGE found Altman not in violation and you thought he did a good job, did Clinton beg him to stay or say he wouldn't accept his resignation?
MS. MYERS: Again, it was Mr. Altman's decision, and the President respects that.
Q How are you going to get the Haitians you've granted asylum out of Haiti? And how long is it going to take?
MS. MYERS: We're pressing to get that done as quickly as possible. There's a plan in place to move them over land from Haiti to the Dominican Republic. And we've gotten clearance from the Dominican government to proceed with that and then allow them to be transported to the United States. We are pressing Haitian authorities to allow us to move them as quickly as possible. But I don't have a date certain on that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:20 P.M. EDT