THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEE DEE MYERS
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EST
MS. MYERS: A couple of quick announcements. First of all, today Secretary Riley, over at the Department of Education, announced that the new direct lending program has reached the congressionally mandated benchmark of 40 percent in new loan value for the next academic year. That basically means that a total --this is important -- a total of -- he's announcing that today -- a total of 1,495 schools will participate in the program, providing some $8 billion in loans to two million students.
I think this was something that the President talked about; it's a program that's highly effective and that once fully implemented -- it's being phased in over a couple of years -- will save taxpayers $4.3 billion a year. So this, again, is one of those programs reinventing government to make it work better for ordinary Americans.
Q Good news?
MS. MYERS: This is good news. (Laughter.) I'm going to go out on a limb here and say this is good news.
Tomorrow at 1:00 p.m. we'll have a briefing on CSCE and START I. It will be a background briefing featuring Nick Burns on nuclear issues, Sandy Vershbow and Bob Bell. And on Friday we will do the first briefing on the summit, which will be mostly logistics and some, depending on how much we're able to talk about, about the rest of it. That will also be at 1:00 p.m.
And then, at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon, for those of you who don't know, Tony Lake is giving a speech at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University which sort of takes a broad look at foreign policy, and he will talk about Bosnia, I think sort of reiterating some of the things that he's been saying and Secretary Christopher and Secretary Perry have been saying over the last few days. We will release transcripts as soon as we -- I mean excerpts as soon as we can, and a full transcript will be available later.
Q On Bosnia, the NATO allies are saying that they're asking the United States to help secure the safe withdrawal of U.N. troops if it should come to that, if they have to be withdrawn. Would U.S. troops be used for the safe withdrawal, let's say, under hostile conditions of U.N. troops? And how does that square with what seems to be the administration's position of using U.S. troops only if there is a peace agreement?
MS. MYERS: Well, first of all, NATO is doing a lot of contingency planning, including looking at what may need to be done should UNPROFOR forces have to withdraw under hostile circumstances. I think you can certainly expect that the U.S. will participate in some fashion in that. I don't think -- I think Secretary Perry said earlier today that we would look at any request that came from NATO, but no decisions have been made yet about whether or not that would include U.S. ground forces.
Q But again, how does that square with what the President has said, because he has been pretty adamant, saying the U.S. would not have troops in there unless there had been some type of peace agreement among the parties.
MS. MYERS: Right. I think, clearly, there will be no U.S. commitment of forces as a combatant in the war to try to secure an outcome to the war one way or another. I think, again, nobody has called for the withdrawal of UNPROFOR forces. There are no plans to withdraw UNPROFOR forces by any of the participating countries. Should UNPROFOR have to withdraw under hostile circumstances, again NATO will have contingency plans for that. The U.S. will certainly participate in some fashion.
And again, I think it's -- we haven't made any decisions -- the President hasn't made a decision yet one way or another about what -- how we would participate, what nature that participation would take. But I think protecting allied troops under hostile circumstances is a particular situation, and something that we are certainly committed to doing.
Q That would definitely place them in a position of having to fire back to protect both themselves and the people they're taking out.
MS. MYERS: Again, no decision has been made on this. I just emphasize that there are -- nobody has called for withdrawing UNPROFOR troops; none of the participating countries have said they're going to withdraw their troops. This is all speculative. The President has not made a decision on it.
Q When will he make a decision --
MS. MYERS: When it's appropriate.
Q In either case, Dee Dee, he's only talking --you're only talking about the situation where troops would be withdrawn, not where some troops would be needed to be rescued? In other words, the U.N. mission there has to be considered at an end?
MS. MYERS: Well, I think there are certainly a number of scenarios that you could envision where UNPROFOR forces might have to withdraw. As you know, there are currently 2,000 Marines in the region, part of the MARG, that are prepared to rescue allied pilots, NATO pilots, should that be necessary. If UNPROFOR is forced to withdraw under hostile circumstances, obviously there will be contingency plans in place for that.
Q But they have to be withdrawing -- in other words, leaving Bosnia?
MS. MYERS: Right. That's what we're talking about here.
Q No military rescues of an ongoing operation?
MS. MYERS: I think what we're talking about here is withdrawing under hostile circumstances. I don't know what other contingency plans NATO might have for scenarios you're talking about. But certainly that's what's being discussed at this point.
Q If there are contingency plans, as you said, in case of a withdrawal, it's hard to believe that no provision was made for the use of U.S. troops or at least a decision was not made in principle to use U.S. troops or not.
MS. MYERS: The President hasn't made a decision. Now, I'm certainly not about to discuss what recommendations he might have gotten from his advisors. But the President has not made a decision on that yet.
Q But is it politically considerable that you could refuse the use of U.S. troops for such a rescue mission?
MS. MYERS: I don't think politics plays a role in this. I think it will be a decision based on what it best and what is necessary and what is doable.
Q Do you have any comment on a report today that the independent council in Whitewater is focusing on Bruce Lindsey and Betsey Wright, and have you had a chance to ask Mr. Lindsey about this?
MS. MYERS: I think, aside from some new factual inaccuracies, there's not much new, and the stories are similar. Things have been reported over the course of the last several months. As you know, a broad inquiry is ongoing. And I don't think it's appropriate for us to comment on the specifics of that.
Q It would be new, though, Dee Dee, if they became a major focus of the case.
MS. MYERS: I'd be happy -- I don't want to go through them from here.
Q That many?
MS. MYERS: Surprise, surprise.
Q It would be new if they were a major focus of the case, however. Do you have any evidence that that's the case? Have you been asked -- have people here been asked for supporting information involving their behavior in recent days?
MS. MYERS: I don't know. Again, I would refer you to Mr. Lindsey's and Ms. Wright's attorneys for specifics about that. I would say that, as you know, we have been -- members of the White House staff have been instructed to cooperate fully with the ongoing inquiries. We have done so. I think we've been fairly forthcoming about the nature of broad subpoenas and information that has been requested. So certainly there has been some, but I think nothing that -- sort of the broad scope of that story was not new. I think it's been previously reported over the course of the last several months.
Q Getting back to Bosnia, Dee Dee, has the administration gotten any word from the U.N. that Boutros-Ghali is ready to call it quits in terms of U.N. troops if there is not within a short period of time a durable cease-fire?
MS. MYERS: No. And I think there was some sort of confusion in the way some of Mr. Boutros-Ghali's comments were reported. What he said yesterday, if you go back and look at some of the transcripts, was something along the lines that if the UNPROFOR forces were not allowed to carried out their mandate that it would be difficult for him to persuade the U.N. Security Council that the troops ought to remain in Bosnia, that the UNPROFOR forces ought to remain on the ground. He did not say that he was recommending or calling for the withdrawal of UNPROFOR forces. And I have seen no reports that anybody is calling for the withdrawal of UNPROFOR forces.
I think the President's view and the White House's view is that the UNPROFOR forces have done a very good job providing humanitarian assistance under very, very difficult circumstances, and they ought to continue in that effort.
Q Does the President then agree with the assessment you've just spelled out that if UNPROFOR forces are not permitted to carry out their work, that the time may well come where they're going to have to be pulled out?
MS. MYERS: I think what the Secretary General said was that under those circumstances, it would be difficult for him to convince the U.N. Security Council that the troops ought to remain there. That is ultimately a decision for the Security Council to make as to when the UNPROFOR forces are no longer fulfilling their mandate.
Q To follow up one more time here, the Security Council is also us; we're a permanent member. Again, do we share the view as a member of the Security Council --
MS. MYERS: Well, that's hypothetical. It would depend on circumstances. I think at this point the President believes that the UNPROFOR forces should remain, and as long as they're able to carry out their mandate, they should remain. And I think -- I'm not going to predict --
Q Even under these circumstances? I mean, they're being held hostage --
MS. MYERS: Yes. At this point, the President's view is that they should remain. Now, if circumstances change, obviously there may be some reassessment. But at this point, again he believes that they have provided -- done a tremendous humanitarian service under very difficult circumstances have, in fact, kept the war from spreading in the region and helped to minimize violence under extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
Q What you're saying is the President believes that they're carrying out their mandate when they're being held hostage.
MS. MYERS: Some of them are being held hostage, and that's obviously something that we're concerned about. We have seen no reports that indicate that they might be in danger, although they are under something that's akin to house arrest. General Rose is negotiating now and trying to secure their release. Obviously, we would like to see the 400 or so that are being detained released. But they are not, via any reports that we have seen in any physical danger.
Q Is the President and/or is the Chief of Staff contemplating a further White House staff shake-up in the near future?
MS. MYERS: I know of no staff shake-up underway.
Q Or Cabinet shake-up?
MS. MYERS: Not that I know of. But I would refer you to the Chief of Staff on that.
Q How is the GATT count looking?
MS. MYERS: Good. Coming along. There will be about 20 members of the Senate here tomorrow morning at 9:15 a.m. They will be either undecided, meaning yes, or yes. Senator Dole has been invited, but as you know is in Europe, and I believe he returns very late tonight or early tomorrow morning, and he'll come if he can. But I think we do expect that by the time the vote is cast tomorrow, we will have the votes on both the budget waiver and the bill itself.
Q Do you know what the count is at this point?
MS. MYERS: No, and if I did I wouldn't tell you.
Q Also, just a brief update -- what is the President doing? Is he still phoning, nothing else?
MS. MYERS: Yes. All day today, really, internal meetings on a number of policy issues. He is in the office now, and I think he's been -- we'll begin to make some calls to members of the Senate on GATT. That's scheduled for today, this afternoon.
Q To follow up on Brit's question, has anybody at the Assistant to the President level submitted resignations, talked about submitting their resignation?
MS. MYERS: Well, as you know, Joan Baggett, who was Political Assistant to the President and Political Director, submitted her resignation and will go on to become President of the Masonry Foundation. In fact, she and the President exchanged letters yesterday. He thanked her for her service, and she will be missed. That position will have to be filled. Other than that, I know of no other resignations that have been submitted.
Q Any pending that you know of?
MS. MYERS: I don't know.
Q Dee Dee, does the President share the First Lady's view that it would be absurd to put the children of welfare mothers into orphanages as Newt Gingrich has suggested?
MS. MYERS: I think that the President has a comprehensive welfare reform plan, which he introduced into the Congress last year, sent up to the Congress last year, which takes a very different approach. And I think that he believes that the approach outlined in that plan is certainly the way to go as opposed to putting their children into orphanages. That's not something he supports.
Q Does he think that it would be absurd and unbelievable that that --
MS. MYERS: I don't know whether he would chose those words; those are Mrs. Clinton's. But certainly that's not a proposal that he supports.
Q Are you saying that he intends to stick with that very welfare proposal and that he isn't going to change that coming in the next year?
MS. MYERS: Obviously, we'll work with Congress as we did in developing that proposal. We'll work with the new congressional leaders as this goes forward. This is something that has support on both sides of the aisle. But I think just in terms of the general direction, the President has made clear what he prefers. That doesn't mean that he's not open to discussions about it, he's not open to finding better ideas or better solutions. I don't think he's believes that that's one of them.
Q Can we get a picture of the President today on the phone?
MS. MYERS: We can check. We tried to do that yesterday, and it didn't work out because he made a lot of calls from home, from the residence. (Laughter.) It's kind of a long commute. He didn't want to have to come back in. But we'll check and get back to you.
Q The First Lady also indicated that the administration might take a more incremental approach to health care reform. Does that mean that the White House will be limiting itself next year to such things as insurance reform, cost containment, and that universal coverage will just be a long-term goal?
MS. MYERS: I think that's among a list of proposals that has yet to be resolved. I think clearly, we -- as the President and others have said, we will work with members of Congress and others to continue to move forward on health care reform. Exactly what form that will take is yet to be seen. But I think we learned a lot of lessons over the course of the last year, and we'll try not to repeat some of the mistakes that we made and an approach that was not successful.
Q Will it be more than just simply a broad --
MS. MYERS: I think that all remains to be seen. And when we have final answers and decisions on that, we will be able to talk about them.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EST