THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
2:02 P.M. EDT
MS. MYERS: The President's schedule -- we'll start there. At 3:10 p.m. he will host a conference call with seven mayors who were very helpful in passing the crime bill, all of whom made a number of calls and worked very hard in their respective cities, including Mayor Giuliani of New York, Mayor Daley of Chicago, Mayor Norm Rice of Seattle, Mayor Riordan of Los Angeles, Mayor Rendell of Philadelphia, Mayor Emanuel Cleaver of Kansas City, Missouri, and Mayor Jerry Abramson of Louisville, Kentucky.
Then, at 3:45 p.m., Senator Mitchell will be here. Senator Mitchell and the President will call Congressman Gephardt and Foley again, to congratulate them and thank them for all their help in passing the crime bill. The President will then sign the State and Justice Appropriations bill. Then Senator Mitchell, I believe, will come out to the stakeout.
The President will probably take a couple of questions after the conference call at the 3:10 p.m. event. That is a pooled event in the Oval.
Q We get to see the conference call, but that's it?
MS. MYERS: Yes, you'll get to see the conference call and hear it. We'll pipe it back here for everybody else. At the end of that call, I think he is expecting to take a couple of questions. I'm sure they'll all be on the crime bill.
Q But not the Mitchell.
MS. MYERS: No, the Mitchell thing, we'll release a White House photo, and there will probably be a photo of them walking together at some point. And then I believe Senator Mitchell will come out to the stakeout in the front at roughly 4:15 p.m. and take your questions.
Q Will it be mostly health care that he will be discussing with the President?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think they'll talk a little bit about that. The President wanted to see him and thank him for the tremendous job he did in passing the crime bill. Certainly, they'll talk about health care and the rest of the legislative calendar -- what's going to happen in September and the first weekend in October before Congress adjourns.
And then the President will pretape the radio address this afternoon. At 6:30 p.m., he and the First Lady and Chelsea will leave here en route for Andrews and then on to Martha's Vineyard. And then, once they reach the Vineyard, as you know, they're staying at a private home, as they did last year. And the filing center is at Edgartown Elementary School, as it was last year.
So when we get there, the President has no particular schedule. He plans to relax, read, spend time with his family. He's looking forward to spending a lot of time with Chelsea, which is their annual sort of tradition. And I think he'll probably try to play a little golf and do a little swimming and just stay out of the way.
Q He won't sign the crime bill there or anything like that?
MS. MYERS: No. He'll sign the crime bill when we get back, sometime probably the first or second week -- the second or third week of September.
Q Is he likely to be available to make daily comments on Cuba, for example, or not?
MS. MYERS: Not expecting to. I mean, certainly, if there's some development that he needs to respond to, obviously he'll do that. He'll be kept up to date. We'll have a -- it's a very small contingent of staff going -- myself; Will Itoh from the National Security Council; Wendy Smith, who is the trip director; and a few other people. It's really just a half a dozen people.
Q Can I just follow up on Cuba for a second? How do you feel about punishing poor and elderly Cubans in order to try to punish Castro by eliminating these $50 million in remittances?
MS. MYERS: That's certainly not the objective of our policy. And that is why there is an exception: individuals can apply for licenses to make sure that they can continue to send money to elderly relatives or other relatives in hardship cases. And there will be programs set up in Florida where people can go to get guidance on how to do that or how to obtain the necessary licenses to continue sending money to those who need it.
The objective of the policy is to take away the currency from Fidel Castro which has allowed him to continue to operate his government. And we're going to do everything we can to crack down on the U.S. currency that goes into Cuba.
Q Castro has suggested a dialogue with the United States. Is the President at all considering such a dialogue?
MS. MYERS: The President has said that he'd be willing to continue a dialogue on migration, which was started under President Reagan in 1984. It's something that we've probably met with or talked with the Cubans about twice a year specifically on migration issues. Other than that, Fidel Castro needs to have a dialogue with his own people and talk about ways to transition to democracy and market economics. Certainly that's what his people want; that's what they've been demanding.
The Cuban Democracy Act, which was passed by large bipartisan majorities in Congress in 1992, established an economic embargo. It was supported by President Bush; it was supported by then-candidate Bill Clinton. That establishes an economic embargo and says that we -- essentially two tracks -- one is the embargo; the other says we'll continue a dialogue or continue to reach out in humanitarian ways to the Cuban people.
But Fidel Castro has shown absolutely no inclination to move toward democracy. And until he does, there's no need for dialogue.
Q There was a lot of criticism of George Bush when he would go away in August with foreign policy problems out there. Is it the President's belief that Cuba is sufficiently under control that it's not a problem for him to leave or be seen on the golf course, or anything like that?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think the President has worked extremely hard over the course of the last year, and I think he's looking forward to his vacation. That doesn't mean that he won't be available to manage the foreign policy or domestic policy problems that he needs to manage. He will. He'll have adequate communication and staff with him to make sure that he's informed every day about what's happening. And if he needs to spend time working on those problems he certainly will.
At the same time, I think management of the immigration situation with respect to Cuba is going well. I think certainly the Navy and Coast Guard and other agencies involved -- INS -- have done an excellent job of trying to bring this under control. And they'll continue to do that.
Q Do you have a list of Latin American countries, Caribbean nations that will be willing to take Cubans?
MS. MYERS: Not yet, but we're working on it and as soon as we have agreements, I think those countries will announce them and we'll announce them as well.
Q Will these new Treasury regulations be lifted if Fidel Castro cuts off the flow of refugees?
MS. MYERS: At this point, we have no plans to lift them. Certainly we'll move forward with this as we see fit. But there's no plans --
Q this is in response to the problem of his own making. So if he unmakes the problem, would you unmake the policy?
MS. MYERS: I'm not going to talk about hypothetical situations. I think at this point what we're trying to do is eliminate the hard cash and currency flow to Cuba. This is another step in that process. And I'm not going to speculate about when those might be lifted. This is our policy.
Q What is a hardship case, because it seems like anyone will go there and say, well, my grandmother needs food or whatever if I don't get that money. How is that defined?
MS. MYERS: Well, I don't have exactly how it's defined, but there will be, it -- first of all, you will have to be able to prove it in some way. But there will be exceptions for people who can prove that there is a hardship. But keep in mind, the packages -- you can continue to send food, clothing, medicine and telecommunications equipment, which means things like radios and batteries to make sure they can receive those Radio MARTI broadcasts. (Laughter.)
Let me point out that there's -- we're also expanding Radio MARTI from 50 watts to 100 hundred watts and expanding the broadcasts of TV MARTI from three hours a day which it is now from 3:00 to 6:00 in the afternoon, adding an additional two hours from, I believe, it's 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. What?
Q Drive time?
MS. MYERS: Yes, it's essentially Radio MARTI drive time.
Q How long is the vacation?
MS. MYERS: He'll be back some time after the first week after Labor Day. They haven't said exactly when they're coming back. They'll stay through Labor Day and some time into that week. And they'll make a decision from there.
Q Dee Dee, on health care, when does the President have to decide whether no bill is better than a partial bill?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that's in many ways up to the Congress. Senator Mitchell -- we'll have to see how progress in Congress goes. At this point, Senator Mitchell is continuing to work and has said he will continue to work through the break with Senators Breaux and Chafee. I think in the current atmosphere that will provide an opportunity for them to talk outside of the contentious nature of the debate on the floor. And we'll see how things go.
Q At what point does he decide whether the pen that he flourished to this speech before Congress -- and I won't sign anything that isn't universal coverage -- when does he decide, well, maybe I'll sign less than that?
MS. MYERS: Well, again, I think that has to do with what kind of progress they're making in Congress at this point. Senator Mitchell believes --
Q So it's now possible?
MS. MYERS: Pardon me?
Q It's now possible that the veto threat is off?
MS. MYERS: The veto threat is not off.
Q Well, wait a minute. Dee Dee, nobody is even talking about the -- the whole context of these questions is about something less.
MS. MYERS: Brit, I think that that is not what Senator Mitchell and others have said. What they say is that they're continuing to work. There are a number of senators that the President has spoken to in the last couple of days who have said, don't give up.
The President's inclination is not to give up. He doesn't give up easily. If he gave up every time you guys said one of his policy initiatives was dead, he would have gone home a long time ago.
The bottom line is that Senator Mitchell, Senator Breaux and Senator Chafee are going to continue to work through the break. We'll see what they produce. The President believes that we ought to let them make progress, see what they can come up with. His bottom line has not changed. But the process is ongoing.
Q But Senator Mitchell said today that comprehensive reform was not possible.
MS. MYERS: Senator Mitchell is coming here today to talk to the President. Senator Mitchell has not given up on this process. They're going to continue their dialogue through the break, and beyond that, the President believes that -- he's still hopeful that they'll get something done.
Q You were asked if the President was going to back off, if there was a date when the President would take less. And you said that's up to Mitchell.
MS. MYERS: I said -- no, I was asked, yes, at what point does he decide and I think that my answer was, it depends on what happens with Congress. Congress is the one hammering out --
Q But then you're saying there's a possibility of a decision, that he could conceivably take less.
MS. MYERS: I think for all of you who attend these briefings every day and attend the morning briefings every day, you know what I've continued to say. The President stands by his bottom line. His focus at this point is and continues to be and will continue to be to allow the Congress to make the progress toward a bill that meets his bottom line -- which is a bill that covers everybody, contains cost, and that, above all, works. That has not changed.
The process in the Senate is ongoing. Most of the senators are going home, but those who are staying and the staffs who are staying are going to continue to work on this, and we'll see what they come up with. I think it's premature to prejudge that process. The President is not willing to do that. He's not willing to give up on this.
Q But Dee Dee, if Congress sends the President some incremental reforms like health insurance reform or subsidies for the elderly or poor, certainly he's not going to veto that because it doesn't contain universal coverage.
MS. MYERS: Well, I'm glad you made that decision for him. (Laughter.)
Q You mean he would? If he was presented some incremental progress on health care reform, he would veto it?
MS. MYERS: At this point he's continuing to press the Congress to provide a bill that meets his bottom line. He has not given up on that process. I would remind you that for the first time in history we have bills on the floor of the House and bills on the floor of the Senate that meet the President's bottom line. There's ongoing negotiations. This is not an easy process. No one ever said it would be easy or simple.
The President has not given up that Congress will produce a bill that provides comprehensive reform this year. That continues to be his objective. Anything else is hypothetical. What is he doing? He's working toward helping the Congress to toward, encouraging the Congress to work toward a health care bill that will cover everybody, control costs, work --
Q I didn't dispute that that's still his objective. I said, in the interim --
MS. MYERS: Well, anything else is hypothetical. Anything else is hypothetical. The Congress is not -- the Congress is still working under the leadership of Senator Mitchell and others toward a comprehensive health reform bill. We'll see what they produce.
Q So he does not --
Q Can you give us an idea of what the President thinks will happen over this break? Will it hamper or help his objectives for this health care plan when the congressmen go home and talk to their districts?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think he's hopeful that it will help. The American people continue to want health reform. They want something that works. They'd like to see it done in an effective way. That's what -- what they certainly don't want to see is the kind of partisan bickering that we saw during much of the crime bill debate. And I think the members of Congress are going to hear a lot from unhappy constituents who really were subjected to that spectacle.
I mean, the crime bill was a bill that had broad bipartisan support. Every phase of it had been passed in both the House and Senate with bipartisan support, and yet it was held up for weeks over partisan wrangling. That is not what the American people sent their representatives there to do. And I think that that's not what they want to see on health care. They'd like to see a genuinely bipartisan effort, something that the President has supported from the beginning. And I think they're going to send their members back with a mission to get it done.
Q About how many people does TV MARTI reach?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the answer, I'll have to take that question.
Q Do you know if the signal is getting through? Is Castro no longer jamming that signal?
MS. MYERS: He does -- Radio MARTI is not jammed, TV MARTI is jammed; there are certain windows when it is not jammed. Obviously, we are trying to reach into those windows. So I think we're working hard to get that signal through.
Q Just judging, though, from the comments the President has made in the last few days on the health care bill, wouldn't it be accurate to say that the Chafee plan is an approach that he considers one that does more harm that good, and unless it is somehow melded with some form of trigger in the Mitchell bill that it would be unacceptable to the President?
MS. MYERS: I think the President and everybody involved in the process assumes that what this dialogue between Mitchell, Chafee, Breaux and others will produce is a bill that is not exactly any of the ones now being looked at. So I think we'll wait and see what that process produces.
Q Dee Dee, the fiscal year is coming to a close, as you know. Is the President doing anything special to prevent agencies from spending money that they might have left over, rather than turning it back to the Congress?
MS. MYERS: I don't know the answer to that question. I'll have to take it and see what restrictions might be in place.
Q Dee Dee, does the President believe at this stage that it is useful, regardless of what bill is produced, to actually press for the vote? Or does he believe that there might be a better option to let this year go by if it comes to that -- if Congress wants to recommend that -- and then take it up again next year?
MS. MYERS: Again, those are all hypotheticals about what he would do if. The bottom line is that the President is going to continue to press for comprehensive reform this year. Senator Mitchell's coming in today; they have a process they're going to continue with throughout the break, and we'll see what happens.
Q Is it important to him to get a vote recorded on mandates, or get a vote recorded on his principles?
MS. MYERS: It's important to him to get a bill this year that meets his objectives. It's up to -- he's not a legislator, he's not going to tell them exactly how they should go about it and on what pieces they should take votes. I think what he'd like to do is see them begin and end a process that will provide comprehensive health reform.
Q Based on what you've said, is it fair to say that this is the session at which you're telling us the President has no longer pledged to veto any bill that doesn't meet his standards? -- the process instead of what he wants ?
MS. MYERS: There has been no change in the President's bottom line. The President wants a bill that will cover everybody, control costs, and work. There's been no change in that.
Q Would he sign a bill that did less than that?
Q Well, he may want a bill, but what if he doesn't get it? Will he veto?
MS. MYERS: He's said all along -- there's been no change in that -- he said he'd veto a bill that didn't meet his bottom line.
Q Dee Dee, given the President's emphasis now on bipartisanship, his working with the Republicans on some version of health care reform, does he regret now not having brought the Republicans into the process last year when the bill was being formulated? And might you not be a little bit closer to a resolution if you'd done that?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think that the process that produced the original Clinton health plan was broad, it brought in people from all kinds of -- certainly considered the perspective of all kinds of people, including Republicans, including private sector organizations, health providers, doctors; it was a very broad process.
I think the President has continually tried to reach out to Republicans throughout this process. And every time he's moved toward them, they've backed away from him. I think he regrets that. I think he'd like to see a bipartisan bill. He's continued to say that that is an objective. He's continued to work hard to meet some of their concerns and doing things like going from mandatory to voluntary alliances and focusing more on insurance reforms and the kinds of objections that were raised by Republicans. And I think in many ways, he believes that helped make the bill stronger in different portions of this debate. I think he hopes that the lessons of the crime bill will produce a better bipartisan process for health reform.
Q Dee Dee, has the White House actually spent a great deal of public money preparing Martha's Vineyard for a vacation that didn't happen this quick? Did a lot of money get wasted this week?
MS. MYERS: No, I think very little money was spent this week. There are, of course, advance staff up there who are preparing the trip; many of whom are staying at private residences.
There is only a half a dozen staff who are going, including a doctor and a military aide. So there hasn't been a lot of money spent on houses that would be rented for staff. There is, of course, Secret Service and WHCA staff that have to go, and we don't discuss how many of them there are and what the costs are associated with them.
Certainly, delaying his vacation by a week meant that there was plans made that weren't necessary, and some money was spent. But I don't have specific figures on it, and I think the President believes that it was important that he be here this week to get the crime bill done.
Q Is he going to do anything on Labor Day?
MS. MYERS: I don't know yet, maybe.
Q Dee Dee, on Cuba, much of the money that the Cuban Americans send to Cuba is for humanitarian reasons, so Castro is still going to get a lot of cash. And also, there are many countries helping Castro with hard currency, so where is the punishment in these additional steps?
MS. MYERS: That's certainly true. The United States is the -- this is a unilateral embargo. And Cuba does continue to trade with other countries around the world; and nonetheless, the economy is collapsing. I think nonetheless, it is our objective to take away hard currency from him without punishing people who are legitimately hardship cases. So we think that these steps will have the effect of further tightening the U.S. embargo against Castro. At the same time, it will make allowances for people who are genuinely in need.
Certainly there are other pressures on that economy. His economy is continuing to deteriorate, which is a big part of the reason that we've seen all the outflow of migrants over the last few weeks.
Q But you are punishing the Cuban Americans because they go through a painful process to get a case-by-case, humanitarian -- for money.
MS. MYERS: Well, I think generally there is broad support for the Cuban Democracy Act in the Cuban American community, which allow for some remittances. But they have generally been, in many ways, supportive of the President's policy on this.
So, certainly it is an imposition for some people who will have to get licenses. But we believe that the important longterm policy objective here is to eliminate more currency for Castro, and force him to have a dialogue about democracy with his own people.
Q I have a question on the Cubans who have actually reached the United States' shores and will be presumably sent to this Port Isabel facility. Will they be treated the same way as those who have reached Guantanamo? In other words, they will not be eligible for green cards at all within a year? Or if the rafts can make it as far as the United States, are they home free?
MS. MYERS: Well, they are home free, but they're treated like any other illegal immigrant who reaches the United States. And there is a process in place for determining whether or not they're eligible to apply for --
Q And they won't be sent to Guantanamo?
MS. MYERS: They will not be sent to Guantanamo, no.
Q And they can apply for status?
MS. MYERS: Yes, there's a screening process to determine whether or not they're eligible to apply for temporary resident status, which after a year could become permanent resident status for Cubans. But there are very few of them that are reaching the U.S. shores, compared to those that are being picked up by the Coast Guard. It is still --
Q But not the ones who --
MS. MYERS: But that is consistent with -- they are treated the same way as any other illegal immigrant who reaches the United States.
Q Do you have any information as to whether -- indication whether the number of Cubans taking to the sea will increase when the weather improves? And is your message getting through to them?
MS. MYERS: There's no way to know this at this point. The numbers yesterday were considerably less than they had been over the previous few days. The numbers today are, again, lower than they had been over the previous few days, due in part to weather. But it normally takes about two to two and a half days was the average period that the people were out at sea before they were rescued. So there is some lag time there, which suggests that there may have been a drop-off before the weather turned bad. We'll just have to wait and see; it's too soon to determine whether or not there are any trends here.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:30 P.M. EDT #203-8/26