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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release January 5, 1995
                       REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT,
                        CHIEF OF STAFF PANETTA

The Briefing Room

1:46 P.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: This is a live event. (Laughter.) Now, listen, you all have to be respectful -- I just saw CNN describe this as a live event. (Laughter.)

To none of your surprise, I am very pleased to announce the appointment of Mike McCurry as the Assistant to the President and the White House Press Secretary.

He has done a very fine job representing our administration at the Department of State since I took office. He has dealt with the wide range of very sensitive, complicated and difficult issues, and he's done it very well.

He has almost two decades of experience here in Washington, but to give you an idea of the kind of person he is in spite of that, the only pictures on his wall are the pictures of his wife and his two children. And they have a third one on the way. Debra said -- Debra and Mike told me on the way out here that they were the embodiment of the family values of this administration. (Laughter.) And let me say I appreciate the personal sacrifice that both of them are making for Mike to do this job.

Before I turn the podium over to Mr. Panetta and officially welcome Mike McCurry, let me say that, as all of you know, I had my first meeting today with the new bipartisan leadership of the Congress. I was very pleased with it in terms of tone and substance. I congratulated them in the House on passing the bill that requires Congress to live under the laws it imposes on the private sector. That bill passed the House last year by a similar margin, but it didn't pass the Senate. I hope it will this time, and I pledge to sign it quickly.

I'd also like to see further movement on political reform in areas where we clearly agree: the line-item veto, the unfunded mandates issue. We can do a lot of business together for the benefit of the country.

The other thing that happened in the meeting today that really impressed me was an acknowledgement by the members of the Congress who have been here for years and years in both parties that they made a mistake back in 1981 to adopt a bidding war in the tax cuts that gave us what became known as "trickle-down economics" and quadrupled the national debt. And they agreed that we ought have a limit to how much we cut revenues, determined by how much we can pay for that with spending cuts -- so that there is going to be, apparently, no attempt to go back to what I call "trickle-down economics," to exploding the deficit, and a ratification of the work of the last two years in reducing the deficit by $700 billion, which is about $11,000 a family in this country. I was happy with that result.

I think there will be a lot of other things we can do, but I hope now that the House has taken one vote in the reform area, they will keep on going with the line-item veto, with the unfunded mandates legislation, and, hopefully, too, with lobby reform and other reforms. I'm sorry the lobby reform legislation didn't pass yesterday, but it can pass on its own merits, and it's a very important part of what we need to do to restore the confidence of the American people in our government here.

Thank you very much.

Q President Clinton, it almost sounds as if you're saying that the country is better off because Republicans won the majority in Congress.

THE PRESIDENT: No. The country is better off because we reduced the deficit, produced five billion jobs, expanded trade by record amounts, and did some things to help ordinary people deal with their lives. But people are living through a time of great uprooting, with great changes in their lives. They voted to give the majority control in control to the Republicans.

My job is not to do what they did. My job is not to stand in the way and be an obstructionist force. My job is not to practice the politics of personal destruction. My job is to work with them to try to help build this country. And that's what I'm going to do.

If they want to keep bringing the deficit down, that's something we started. If they want to reduce the government, that's something we began. If they want to pass welfare reform, if they want to deal with health care reform, if they want to deal with these governmental reform issues that I have supported for years, like the line-item veto, the country can be better off. Yes, the country can be better off if we work together than if we don't.

But that should be taken in no way as a diminishing in my eyes of what happened in the last two years, which was terrific. Even if the voters didn't agree or didn't even know about it, it was good for the country, and the country's better off. So the country's better off today than it was two years ago.

What our moral and legal obligation is, is to make sure that the country will be better off two years from now. I think the people are sick, literally sick of seeing all this partisan infighting up here. I just showed up here two years ago, and I was bewildered by it. I was astonished by it. And I was revolted by it. And I think the American people are, too.

Now, the others who were in that room with me today, starting with Speaker Gingrich and Senator Dole, they've been part of the Washington scene for a lot longer than I have, for decades. And I understand that. But they said they wanted to see an end to the partisan infighting. The Democrats, to their everlasting credit, said that they had learned from the Republicans how to stop things, but they thought that was not their job. Their job was to make things happen. So that's what we're trying to do. And I'm going to do my best to make good things happen for America. I do not want to see a series of partisan battles.

We need first to identify what we can agree on and move this country forward. And we ought to start with lobby reform and these other reforms. Then we ought to move on to responsible tax reform that I hope will focus on the Middle Class Bill of Rights and giving people education deductions because that will build the economy.

This is Mike McCurry's press conference, and I've already said enough. (Laughter.) Thank you.

MR. PANETTA: Back to Mike McCurry, for the moment. (Laughter.) What I want to do is basically see if I can add to the introduction, some of Mike's background, and then introduce Mike to you.

As the President stated, Mike has obviously done excellent work as the principal spokesman for the Department of State. But Mike, more importantly I think, really holds a credential in this town as being one of Washington's most experienced press secretaries for a number of reasons.

He has served as the spokesman for three candidates for president of the United States, one candidate for vice president of the United States, four United States senators, a governor, the Democratic National Committee and one of the busiest committees on Capitol Hill. We're fairly certain that he's probably the only person who has been a spokesman for four Cabinet members -- four different members of the President's Cabinet at one time or another in their political careers, all of which, as I said, makes him, I think, without question one of Washington's most experienced press secretaries or one hell of a glutton for punishment -- probably both. (Laughter.)

Any press secretary, obviously, must be extremely careful in walking this balance that every press secretary has to face between being able to keep both the press as well as his fellow government officials happy at the same time. But Mike has done that very well in the position that he's been in at the Department of State. He respects the institution of the press, and he enjoys the company of reporters. But I think more importantly, he believes that he must be fully briefed in order to properly brief all of you, and he will be that here at the White House.

Q in all meetings?

MR. PANETTA: At the State -- that's correct. He will have full access to all meetings and will be part of those meetings in order to properly brief all of you.

At the State Department, he demonstrated, I think without question, a command of very complex subjects while being a full participant in policy development. And he's never lost his sound judgment or his good sense of humor.

So the President is looking forward to the same kind of excellence in his performance here. And he will have a very close working relationship with Mike, as I will have. And I think all of us look forward to being able to work together.

He's going to be attending tomorrow morning the 7:30 a.m. meetings in the morning, and one of the first questions he asked was whether we have that on Saturday mornings. (Laughter.) We haven't totally lost our minds here. (Laughter.)

I want to welcome Mike. I want to welcome Mike. Mike, all of us here, and press secretaries in particular, have to be wellequipped at dodging bullets. And here at the White House, that has taken on a whole new meaning. (Laughter.) So I want to welcome you, Mike, to the White House.

MR. MCCURRY: All right. Not for the last time will I start by saying, "What the President really meant to say --" (laughter) -- what he really meant to say, Debra, is that he's promised us at least one conjugal visit a month, but probably no more than that. (Laughter.) We won't need one for a while, as you can tell. (Laughter.)

I want to be -- I want to thank the President for giving me what I think is the best job in Washington, and more importantly, for giving me the tools that I think you need to do this job and do it well. I appreciate the confidence that he's shown in me.

Second, I want to thank Secretary Christopher. He gave his blessing for me to depart a place where I've enjoyed myself and enjoyed working with some of the finest and ablest public servants anywhere in the world.

And I do want to thank you, Debra, for letting us take this adventure together. You've got graceful patience, and I appreciate that.

Look, I don't have a lot to say today. I'll be saying a lot from this podium, but I've got three goals that I set out for myself in doing this job. One, I want to serve the President well. He's got an extraordinary record that he has compiled already. I think that story needs to be told and be told effectively. He's laid out a very ambitious and challenging program for the country, and I want to tell that story and help him tell that story well.

Second, I want to serve all of you. It's an honor to serve the President of the United States, but I work for you, too. And I mean that very sincerely. I think at least since Thomas Jefferson said it, the press has been an indispensable element of our form of self-government, and I take that responsibility very, very seriously.

And third, lastly, I want to have some fun around here. I've talked to a lot of you; I've talked to the staff here. I don't detect a high degree of happiness on every occasion, and I think we ought to say, look, this is the White House and it is one of the most interesting places on the face of the Earth to work. It is for all of you, I think, arguably the most prestigious beat in American journalism. And I think working here every day ought to be a joyful experience and not endless drudgery.

So those are my goals. And I think if I do those three things well I know I will be satisfied. I hope you will be satisfied, and I hope the President will be, too.

Thanks, Leon.

MR. PANETTA: You'll also become Chief of Staff. (Laughter.)

MR. McCURRY: Since we soaked up the President, knowing that there was not much news value otherwise in this appointment, I don't know that we have anything else to say.

Q Could you, Mr. Panetta, brief us on the meeting? How did it go, and what were the areas where the President was prepared to draw a line in the sand and say he would veto certain pieces of legislation?

MR. PANETTA: Well, I think -- everyone who participated