THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT IN CONFERENCE CALL WITH ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO AND MAYORS The Oval Office
3:20 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Hello? I'm just listening to your war stories; you sound good. I think they did help -- all those calls you mentioned. They made all the difference.
The Attorney General and I are here on the phone, and we want to begin by just thanking you for everything you have done. I think it's obvious that this was a very tough battle in the House and in the Senate; that the outcome was often in doubt, and you guys hung in there tough, and you made a huge difference, and we are very, very grateful to you.
I know that you know well that among the things that this crime bill does is to create 100,000 new police officers -- a 20 percent increase in police on the beat in the United States and communities all over this country. And in just a few minutes, I'm going to sign an appropriations bill here that make available the first round of resources to make the crime bill a reality next year. We've already put some new police officers on the street through the funds we provided last year as a downpayment on the crime bill.
The bill I'm about to sign will provide funds to train and hire 15,000 more police within the next 12 months. I know that some of you put police officers on the streets with last year's funds, but you probably all know that we received ten times -- ten times -- as many applications for police hiring as we could afford, including many that were well-qualified. That is a real rebuke to those who say that there's no real need for this police funding. In the next two months alone, we're going to give you the resources to hire 2,500 more police officers in cities that were only turned down last year and this year because we didn't have enough money.
Let me emphasize, too, that this appropriations bill, consistent with the crime bill, provides significant money to fight violence against women, to lock up criminal aliens, for prisons, and for boot camps and drug courts and the other prevention programs that we believe so strongly in, and also to help enforce the Brady Bill. This is the downpayment. We're looking forward to seeing you all here when we sign the crime bill and celebrate it, but now I think we all know that the responsibility is on those of us who fought so hard for this to make sure the money is well spent, to make sure the implementation works, and to make sure that we make people safer and more secure on our streets.
General Reno, would you like to say something?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: I really appreciate all your efforts. I've been to most of your cities. You've been there with me, you've shown me what works. You've shown me how much you have needed the resources, both in terms of punishment, policing and prevention that can really make a difference.
Your police chiefs have done such an incredible job with limited resources. And we look forward to working with you, with them to make sure this bill is administered the right way; that it's implemented in the way that can make sure we get resources to you as soon as possible and as effectively as possible.
I leave from here to go to a meeting on the implementation, and we're going to be prepared to form that real partnership that we've been developing to address your needs the way it should be addressed in each of your communities. Thank ever so much for all that you've done.
THE PRESIDENT: Thanks, Mayor. She did. Can you hear them now?
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Now I can hear them.
THE PRESIDENT: Can you hear her now? Say something.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: Hello. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: She can hear you. Mayor Giuliani, are you on? Go ahead, Mayor.
MAYOR GIULIANI: -- GAP IN TAPE -- when they came to Congress last week and really stood up for what they believed in. I think they all deserve a great deal of praise.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mayor, I have to say, I think the fact that you and Mayor Riordan and some of the other Republican mayors were willing to stand up and be counted on this made it easier for the House and the Senate members of your party who wanted to join in this endeavor to stay with it. And I can't thank you enough for that.
I think, you know, we have got to find a way to do the public's business on issues that affect all Americans without regard to their party. And there is nothing more profoundly significant than this. I just -- I can't say enough to thank you. We tried to take this crime bill beyond the debates of the past, beyond what I like to call the false choices that have been imposed too often on political debates.
This bill has got prevention and prisons and punishment and police in it, and I think will help to empower communities to make their streets safer. And as the Attorney General said, that's what, to me, was the compelling attraction of this bill. And as the days and weeks ahead unfold, the American people will learn more and more about what's in this bill, and I think they will like it even better than they do. And you will always, I think, be very proud of what you did.
MAYOR DALEY: I want to congratulate you, Mr. President, on the political leadership you have provided for the nation, and, of course, the Conference of Mayors and the police chiefs working together with you. The mayors did an excellent job in -- grass-roots support across the country, but you had the political leadership to stay with us at the beginning.
And that really says a lot about you. You have the ears to the community. You know what people want in America. Crime is the number one issue, and I want to congratulate you because through the efforts of your staff and everyone else who accomplished in a bipartisan way what the people want. Congratulations.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mayor Rice.
MAYOR RICE: Mr. President, you started your journey out with saying you were going to put people first. I think this crime bill also puts the community first. What we see here in the city of Seattle and gathered around me are representatives from our city council and from Mothers Against Violence in America. We know that prevention and punishment and police and the ban on assault weapons brings about the security that's necessary for our communities.
And this bipartisan effort of mayors working with you and with the Congress has proven that there are people who do put communities above politics and rhetoric. And your commitment and your leadership has really laid a foundation for, I think, a stronger community and a stronger America. And we're just proud to be a part of creating this partnership. This crime bill is comprehensive. And that's what has to be really addressed is the comprehensiveness of law enforcement, and your leadership has done that. Thank you.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Mayor Riordan.
MAYOR RIORDAN: Mr. President, thank you for keeping public safety at the top of your priority list. I commend you for your tenacity and perseverance in gaining passage of this vital legislation.
Public safety is the number one issue of the people of Los Angeles. The crime bill will help make Los Angeles and other cities safer. It directly supports the mandate upon which I and the other mayors on this call were elected. In Los Angeles, residents have embraced Project Safety Los Angeles -- a plan to put 4,000 more officers on the streets over five years. With federal support, we will be able to meet the Project Safety Los Angeles goals sooner than planned.
Safe streets give people hope and confidence for the future of our city. Mr. President, on behalf of the people of Los Angeles, congratulations on passing the crime bill. You have increased the hope of all Angelenos in the future of their city. Thank you again.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. Mayor Cleaver, are you there?
MAYOR CLEAVER: Mr. President, I'm here in Kansas City with Police Chief Steve Bishop and on behalf of the citizens of Kansas City, Missouri, we would like to express our appreciation for the fact that you -- pardon the pun -- stuck to your guns and helped eliminate some of the dangerous instruments of death that are on our streets.
More than that, I wanted to thank you for placing crime at the top of your agenda. With the federal -- GAP IN TAPE -- you spoke of earlier, Kansas City was able to hire 26 police. They will start in their academy on the 19th of September of this year. With the crime bill, it is our goal to seek 100 police officers. Many of them will be out on the beat in community policing. The others we will determine later, but we are also going to use a part of dollars that we receive to enhance our 911 calls.
Finally, we experienced almost 1,600 cases of domestic violence in Kansas City and in our county last year. And the prosecutor and I are already in dialogue on ways in which we can bring that issue to the front of our attention in terms of the judicial process.
We also in Kansas City -- at least I think I can speak for the people of Kansas City -- we appreciate the fact that you understand what we need, you understand the number one issue facing us.
And then, finally, Mr. President, I hope that you will go on vacation -- (laughter) -- because when you don't, we end up as mayors having to work overtime. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I'm going to oblige you later today. Are you still running, Mayor?
MAYOR CLEAVER: Yes.
THE PRESIDENT: You've gotten so thin you're making me look bad. (Laughter.) Stay after it.
MAYOR CLEAVER: Alright.
THE PRESIDENT: Mayor Rendell, I just want to say before you speak that I think you and Mayor Daley and Mayor Giuliani and the other mayors who have been former prosecutors, or who are former prosecutors, were able to make a unique contribution to this debate because we tried to keep always in the public mind and in the minds of the members of Congress that the law enforcement concerns were driving this bill and that even the prevention programs, as the Attorney General said repeatedly, were pushed and inserted into the bill with the insistence of people who had been in law enforcement who knew that they were a critical part of this strategy. So I want to thank you for that especially because of your conviction here was rooted in your experience as is the case of the mayors -- the other mayors who are former prosecutors.
MAYOR RENDELL: Thanks, Mr. President, and we all appreciate that. But I want to join what Rudy said earlier. I think we want to thank you for not compromising this bill out of effectiveness. When we were down in Washington, Rudy and I with you on the Friday morning after the rule went down, I know there was a great deal of concern that we might be forced to compromise so much that there wouldn't be any prevention money and compromise on assault weapons, and even compromise on the number of police we were going to put out on the streets. And I think we got through two harrowing votes. I can't imagine what you were feeling because I was in agony as they were taking the roll call.
THE PRESIDENT: Just another day in paradise here. (Laughter.)
MAYOR RENDELL: Well, I've never watched C-SPAN so much in my life as I have in the last two and a half weeks. But we got through, I think, everything that was important to us intact. And even in the prevention money, although there's not as much as there was originally, there's still enough to make a real difference. And I think all of us, particularly those of us who were former prosecutors, we all understand that you can't solely jail your way out of the crime problem. We've got to give young people opportunities so they don't turn to drugs, and they don't turn to crime. And this bill is a giant step in that direction and I can't tell you how proud we are of you and the congressmen and senators from both parties that they didn't compromise this bill to death.
And of the things you said, Mr. President, about how Americans -- the more they find out about this bill, the more they'll love it. Well, as you know, this bill has in it a very tough provision saying that no federal court can cap, put a ceiling on prison population in any local or state court without a finding of cruel and unusual punishment.
Here in Philadelphia, we have a federal court that has capped our prison population for over a half a decade now, and a drug dealer is arrested at 8:00 p.m. by the police and they're back out on the street at 1:00 a.m. The day after you sign this bill, we'll be in court removing that prison cap under the authority of this bill and getting control of our justice system again. And the people of Philadelphia hate this cap more than anything else. And when they found out, a week or 10 days ago, that the cap would come off because of this bill, the outpouring of support for what we have done even increased. So thanks for everything, and thanks for hanging in there.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I can tell you, as a former governor, that's one provision I wanted in there in the worst way; because I went through all those lawsuits as an attorney general and governor -- I know what it's like. I spent millions and millions of dollars of our taxpayers' money at home building prisons. I didn't begrudge that, but I also thought a lot of those requirements on spacing and population were excessive. And this is a very good piece of legislation on that. I thank you for that.
Mayor Abramson, I think you get the prize for making the most telephone calls. You must have cauliflower ear; they tell me you made over 200 calls on this bill.
MAYOR ABRAMSON: Well, we all made a lot of calls, Mr. President. And let me just say that it's tough to be a clean-up batter with the guys who just went before me -- all articulating heartfelt appreciation for your support, your guidance and most importantly your leadership.
But let me say one thing if I may, and that's the focus of thank you for allowing us to be at the table. The fact that you involved the mayors and the police chiefs -- and I have my assistant police chief sitting here with me -- the fact that you involved the mayors and the police chiefs from the get go -- over a year ago we were talking about these issues. Last September and October we were sitting in Chicago with 35 mayors and police chiefs trying to develop a game plan.
You met with us. You had the Attorney General, the Vice President, your drug czar, your head of FBI meet with us and review the kinds of things that were truly happening on the streets of our communities. And you listened. And that to me, not only listening, but then developing and arguing and -- GAP IN TAPE -- for a bill that had both strong security measures for today: more police, more jail cells, things that will give people a feeling of security today; as well as what you heard, especially from the police chiefs of this country, and that was the issue of we need to have funding in the bill for prevention so that, as the chiefs said, especially Rich Daley's chief from Chicago, the head of the large city chiefs, when he said, I'd rather work with a child as an eight-year-old or a nineyear -old than have to fight that child who becomes an 18- or 19-yearold 10 years from now with a gun in the alley of our cities. That prevention money is very helpful and very supportive.
So we thank you for allowing us to be a participant in the process, and thank you for your advocacy of a balanced approach to ensure security for today but to also ensure hope for tomorrow for the kids of our communities.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you very much. General, do you want to say anything? I think they can all hear you now.
ATTORNEY GENERAL RENO: They just did a wonderful job from the very beginning, and I think the bill is strong because of them.
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much.
THE MAYORS: Thank you, Mr. President. Have a good vacation.
THE PRESIDENT: Let's go to work on this thing now and implement it right.
THE MAYORS: Alright, we'll do that.
THE PRESIDENT: Goodbye.
Q Mr. President, Senator Mitchell all but said today that he's not going to be able to get comprehensive health care reform through and that he'll spend the recess looking for ways to make progress on health care. Is that acceptable to you? Is there any point at which you would accept, or which you would take off your veto threat?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, he's coming over here to see me today, and I think I better talk to him. I have talked to, oh, four or five other senators in the last day or so since the crime bill passed last night. And a number of them who are strong supporters of health reform think that we ought to give this break a few days to occur and give Senator Mitchell and Senator Chafee and a couple of others a chance to talk before we make any decision.
I certainly don't want to embrace an approach that will do more harm than good and that won't achieve our objectives. But let's see what they're doing; let's see what people are feeling like after they get a night's sleep or two. These folks went through an awful lot here the last couple of weeks, and it may be that the long road they had to walk through -- crime -- was in part made longer by people who were working the timetable.
But they did it, and they deserve a lot of credit. And one of the things that this crime bill shows -- this is a big, sweeping, complex piece of legislation that's really good for America. And it shows that it is possible to do something like this in what has been too often a too-partisan environment. So I'm not prepared to make a final judgement on that at this time.
Q Mr. President, you said just a moment ago that you didn't want to embrace an approach that would do more harm than good. That sounds like you'd be willing to wait.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think the less I say right now, the better. Let me talk to Senator Mitchell. This debate is now going on in the Congress. It depends on what Congress is capable of producing. And I think we need to wait on that. That's the counsel I've been given by a number of senators who do want health care reform, and want it as quickly as we can get it. They think we ought to let the dust settle a couple of days and give Senator Mitchell a change to do a little talking with some others for a couple of days, and then we'll see where we are.
Q Mr. President, do you think you've stemmed the tide of the Cuban refugees?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we're working at it, that's all I can tell you. I'm encouraged that the numbers are down. The weather may or may not have something to do with that. We have made it clear that we're willing to discuss, through the appropriate channels, the whole issue of immigration. And we do have laws on the books which will permit us to do some more on legal immigration than we have done. So we're working at this.
And I just want to say what I said yesterday, the Attorney General's doing a great job; the Immigration and Naturalization Service folks are doing a good job. We just need to be calm, steady and firm, and I think we'll work through it just fine.
END 3:41 P.M. EDT