THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY PRESS SECRETARY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
Q Do you really like two-minute warnings?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't like two-minute warnings. I always thought it was just an excuse for a commercial. Two-minute warning, excuse for a commercial -- more successes from the administration.
Q You're the commercial. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I am a commercial. All right. Everyone is insisting that I start with a commercial; I will. We'll start with the Metro section today. The Attorney General this morning took part in a swearing-in ceremony out in Prince George's County for more community police officers for Prince George's County. Ten of these new officers are being funded through a grant from the administration's police hiring program. And that brings up to a total of 69 the number of new officers that are going to PG County. They are part of nearly 10,000 new officers that have already been funded under this administration, making good on the President's commitment to put 100,000 more cops on the street.
News that you can use. Okay, your questions. My commercial, your questions.
Q Mike, is the President planning any personnel announcements in the next few days?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q When? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's planning right now. I mean, when will he make an announcement? That's up to the President. I told you yesterday that we would be -- I said yesterday, if I'm not mistaken, that within a matter of days he would be addressing some personnel matters, and I believe that that remains true today.
Q Piece of paper, or will he come out with people and say something?
MR. MCCURRY: Brit, I don't know the answer to that. I don't know what form various announcements will take.
Q Is it in the magnitude where you would normally expect him to make an appearance, or do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: There are different positions vacant and different positions to fill, as you know, and they have different profiles.
Q White House staff mostly, or Cabinet as well?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, there are vacancies that include, as you know, Director of Central Intelligence, the Surgeon General, Chair of the National Economic Council, various White House staff positions that are vacant. And so we've got some announcing to do.
Q When do you think the President will sign the Accountability Act?
MR. MCCURRY: Monday, yes, Monday. It will be on the --
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that they have settled on the event yet, but it will be sometime -- sometime to be announced on Monday.
Q Secretary Rubin said that -- I believe he said this -- that the White House had been in touch with the Speaker's office over the issue of the peso this morning and that they were assured that he backs this, or whatever the phraseology was. Did someone in this administration talk to the Speaker?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that.
Q I don't know what the "Speaker's office" means.
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know the answer to that. I got the impression from what the Treasury Secretary said that they had been in contact with the Speaker's staff. But I'll have to doublecheck on that. We have had conversations with the Speaker, but he was referring specifically to an assurance that the Speaker remains committed to the program that was taken.
Q Will you take that?
MR. MCCURRY: I will take that, because it was not clear to me from the Treasury Secretary briefing whether it was a member of staff or the Speaker himself.
Q Two House Republicans are quoted on the wires this morning saying -- one who's in the leadership, but I -- are quoted saying that the peso vote in the House would probably not be -- or would definitely not be until the week of January 30th. Have you been informed of that?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. We've had -- most of our discussions have been about the schedule that's now been set for consideration in the Senate. I'm not aware that they have set any similar schedule for the House. It's the one that Senator Moynihan referred to earlier -- that they've got a deadline now for Tuesday of amendments. They have a number of amendments that will then have to be considered. But the leadership has indicated that it wishes to move to final passage as expeditiously as possible.
Q Mike, what the reason that the President allowed us videotape his address today, and also to immediately broadcast it?
MR. MCCURRY: It was by no means setting a precedent; we're not going to do that on every occasion. But the President, since he was in fact pretaping his Saturday radio address, and because it dealt with a subject that it was very clear many of you are interested in covering today, we felt it would be useful to you to have access to that text.
Q Useful to us as opposed to useful to him?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a favor to and helps you make news; it also helps us to make the news that today is topical and important, and that is the President's very strong commitment to the economic support package for Mexico and the work the administration is doing to generate additional support in the Congress for that measure.
Q If I could just follow up -- I mean, does this have to do with a higher level of anxiety here at the White House about the fact that you're not getting congress in line with you?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it has to do with our determination to make the most persuasive case we can to members of Congress who do have concerns about the package. We think our arguments are getting through, and we think the impressive leadership shown by the congressional leadership, together with the efforts by the President and others, including the Federal Reserve Chairman, will help Congress understand that this support package is manifestly in the interest of the United States.
Q Mike, when Jim Leach was criticizing the President on Whitewater, I don't think the President ever said, "I'm not going to do business with the GOP." Could you comment on the appropriateness of that threat and talk about the Mexico vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, he sent a memorandum to the Chief of Staff. I believe that the important conversation that we've had involving this matter is the one that we've had collectively over time with the Speaker, and the Speaker has indicated that this was a matter that he understands is in the national interest and that must proceed. And this question was addressed earlier, and I don't have a lot more to add to that than to say that I think we see this as being so important for the country, so important for us, so important for the future of the hemisphere and for the economic relations that are undergoing there that it should not be wrapped up in extraneous issues.
Q Well, it's clear that there are problems with this package, and this morning the Speaker said that the problems were with the White House's inability to get Democrats to go along. Do you agree that that is the problem? And if not, what is the problem if this is such an obvious crisis?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it must be clear to you, having had two Democratic members of Congress who were opposed to NAFTA here earlier to indicate their support for this package, that we are working very vigorously to convince Democratic members that this is a very important piece of legislation that deserves their support. So, in a sense, our best answer is the leadership that the President has shown today.
Q If I could follow up, if this is such an obvious crisis, though, such an obvious problem, why are you having such problems pulling together enough support to get this through at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: It is difficult for Americans to understand loan guarantee packages generally. I mean, they are complicated because most people hear large numbers, and they assume that means large numbers going somewhere to a foreign country. In fact, as was made clear earlier here at the briefing, the budget impact and the risk to taxpayers we feel is an acceptable risk. And the cost to taxpayers, if all goes well, is negligible. In fact, we might even make money on this package, so for taxpayers, that represents a good investment. But it's hard for Americans to understand that, I would submit, because they hear a very large number and they think that's money that's going away from us and toward some other place. And for that, I think the members of Congress reflect some of that anxiety. That's why we're doing everything we can to effectively educate members of Congress.
Q From what the White House is hearing from the public, from your comment line, et cetera, and from what people on the Hill are telling you, is this an issue that is resonating with the American people? Is there an outcry or some feeling against this out there?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. I haven't tracked everything that we have available to help us understand better what Americans are feeling, but from those indicators that we do have, this is a complicated matter for most Americans. They don't quite understand it. And I think that's why the President, using his Saturday radio address to help educate the American people about the importance of this measure and the work that he will to continuing in that fashion, that work becomes, in a sense, part of our effort to both educate and persuade people that this is necessary and important.
Q But given the urgency of this issue and the gravity, in the words of Secretary Rubin, of this issue , has the White House urged Democrats in Congress, including the new general chairman of the DNC, Chris Dodd, to cool it in terms of their partisan attacks against Newt Gingrich and other Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're not -- based on the strong support that Speaker Gingrich has shown for this economic package, we're not sure that those are connected issues. We're not sure that that is necessary in order to generate further congressional support on the Hill for the package.
Q So the answer is you have not urged anybody to --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of anyone attempting to enter into issues that are being discussed on the House floor. As you know and as, and as I think we've more or less made obvious, that is a matter that the House is considering. There's always spirited, somewhat partisan debate in the House, and it's not always the place of the White House to enter into the fray when that's occurring.
Q Mike, is the President working the phones on this issue to members of Congress or inviting any over today?
MR. MCCURRY: He has been having some discussions with members of Congress covering, I think, a range of issues including the Mexico package, and he will get recommendations from staff if further contact with individual members is important.
Q Is he making deals like he did over the past couple of years when he had trouble with legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: Making deals is such a ornery phrase. Is he -- I think he's doing -- he's effectively --
Q He's buying votes, is that -- (laughter.)
Q I will yield to my colleague's formulation.
MR. MCCURRY: I would suggest what the President is doing, first and foremost, is using his capacity to communicate using the bully pulpit to help educate and persuade people. That has been principally what he's been doing. If he's going to follow up with individual members I'll let you know as we go into the coming days about that.
Q How do you deal with this? Secretary Rubin was asked, isn't this a classic case for both those who oppose NAFTA on the grounds that you bring the U.S. economy closely tied to one like Mexico, you make us more susceptible to problems there. This is something we'll face elsewhere in the world, too. Isn't this not an argument for some standoffishness?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's -- that's, in a sense, posing the classic question in American history of isolationism versus internationalism. We have made if very clear, and this President has made it clear, that he is committed to free and fair and open trade; and that he sees the advantages of a growing world economy, a market -- in the case of Mexico, an economy growing so that it has the capacity to purchase more good and services from Americans who will make and produce those goods and services. So he sees that as part of an economic future, a 21st century in which, along with our neighbors, all economies are growing and incomes are rising. There are people who see things differently. And that is, as I say, almost a classic debate about the place of America in the world as you look through American history.
Q But because of that now, he's forced to go into crisis mode and say --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are forced -- if you want to call it crisis mode -- we're forced to act urgently because Mexico is facing a short-term liquidity crisis that could, in fact, become a much larger problem, and that could, in fact, then spill over elsewhere in the hemisphere. And as the President has made clear, we can act now and act swiftly to avert that type of problem, and it seem to be a sensible course of action.
Q How far do you think the Minority Leader in the House is working to round up votes?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he -- in meeting with the President, he certainly indicated to the President, and had, in fact, many good ideas about how together with the White House, the congressional leadership could build support for this measure. So every indicator that we've had since then has been that the Speaker remains committed to this package and in fact,
Q No, the Minority Leader.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I'm sorry.
MR. MCCURRY: That's right -- it takes a little getting used to. (Laughter.)
Q How hard is he working to round up Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: Takes a little getting used to, you're right about that. (Laughter.) No, he has -- the House Minority Leader -- the House Minority Leader -- a tear from my eye dripping as I say that -- Congressman Gephardt has responsibilities that go across the Caucus, and the White House understands that. He has a very large -- somewhat diminished, but very large group of members that he has to account for and has to represent the interests fairly of them. He has made his commitment crystal-clear by agreeing to the statement that we issued here at the White House last week, so his commitment is not in doubt. But we also understand that as the Minority Leader, he has to help protect those other members who have views, concerns that need to be reflected.
So, in some sense, we understand some of the dynamic of the discussions underway in the House. We believe that that will be helpful in the end in generating the kind of support from the Democratic side of the aisle that will be necessary to pass the measure.
Q But just to follow up, this issue -- in its earlier incarnation, NAFTA, was the one place where you got not just no support from the Democratic leadership, but outright opposition.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had, I would submit, had a very powerful indicator to date of how this debate is different from NAFTA and how members who had certain views on NAFTA may not necessarily have those same views as it comes to this support package.
Q Is Gephardt preparing that argument for you up there vigorously enough?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe he's helping make available information to members that will help them resolve concerns, help them ultimately to be with us as we move ahead and get support for the package.
Q What about Bonior?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- look, I'm not in a position where I should be speaking for individual members of Congress.
Q Well, I know. But is he one of the people that has promised support, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to indicate one way or another. I don't think it would be fair to do that without checking with his office.
Q New subject? Can you give us an update on the status of drafting of the State of the Union speech? And would you expect any new initiatives, anything we haven't heard before or heard about before in the speech, or is the Middle Class Bill of Rights still a centerpiece?
MR. MCCURRY: Are you asking me if there's news in the speech, will I make it for you now in advance of the President speaking Tuesday night? I don't think so. Not a good idea.
The President, in fact, was working on it just a short while ago, and has been working on plans to do a considerable work on the speech over the weekend.
Q With whom is he dining this weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: As is the practice of the White House, we do not confirm or deny specific guest lists for the First Lady and the President when they are entertaining.
Q Well, is it the Psychic Friends Network? (Laughter.)
Q No, but if you call them they'll tell you who he's dining with. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you mean, will some people often describe --
Q exercise equipment while he's been channel surfing late at night, do you know? (Laughter.) Is the mailroom piling up with health --
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. I did see a lot of Land's End boxes lying around, but I'm not sure.
No, the work that he is doing on the speech is focused on best advancing the arguments that he'll be making Tuesday night, and he's got a lot of those arguments now firmly in mind. He's, in fact, been using them in front of various audiences that he's been meeting with recently. But I think he's sharpening up both the message and also figuring out the best way to articulate the vision that he has of America in the 21st century.
Q And the purpose of his speech tomorrow morning at the DNC -- could you preview that for us? What's his message to them?
MR. MCCURRY: Rally the troops. This will be the first meeting of the year of the Democratic National Committee. It's an opportunity for him to present his new general chair and national chair to the institutional party. And more important, it's an opportunity for him to enlist the members of the institutional Democratic Party in the fight he is going wage in the year ahead on behalf of working families, in the fight he's going to make to change the way Washington does business, and ultimately, in the fight for a future that reflects the vision and the place that he wants to lead America as he looks ahead to the next century.
Q Mike, what is the status of discussions regarding a possible proposed increase in the minimum wage?
MR. MCCURRY: The status is that economic advisors to the President are concluding a study of various aspects of increasing the minimum wage, making some recommendations to the President about an increase in the minimum wage that the President will then be able to reflect upon.
? Q Will that be before the speech -- Q Did he not give that report already? MR. MCCURRY: He did not get that report. I think
you're probably asking because there was a senior official who indicated -- and I've checked with the senior official -- that said that the report was going. He did not say it had gone. He said the report is going, and I suspect it will go over the weekend to the President.
Q What does the President think about the selection of Governor Whitman to deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had an opportunity to ask the President about his view. She's obviously a popular governor, and is in a position to speak for Republicans -- not necessarily all the Republicans on the Hill -- but she will be in a place to respond on behalf of the party.
Q I'm not sure you can answer this yet -- a question about the welfare meeting next weekend. But what is it that the President is aiming to get out of that, especially since it is apparently now not open to any coverage, not furthering the public debate on it? Is he hoping to walk out of there with some kind of plan or something?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a relatively small group, and they are the people there who are going to be instrumental in achieving the type of reform in the welfare system that the President desires. So this will very much be a working session that is devoted to crafting an approach to welfare reform that can generate support in Congress and help change the way welfare programs in the country are run.
Q Well, why is it not open to any coverage considering the ballyhoo with which it was announced?
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's a working session that's serious and that's going to have to get down to serious business. Now, we will find the right way to describe for you some of the work that's done. I don't know that that's been concluded one way or another how that will happen.
Q But, Mike, you went through the same kind of secret sessions in the health care task force, and you got --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm standing here talking to you about it.
Q No, no, about these meetings being held in secret. Why have these kinds of preliminary meetings in secret if -- it didn't help on health care?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are working sessions held to draft legislative proposals and to look at various questions of policy all of the time. We're not always required to conduct those meetings in your presence. And though it would be helpful to you if we would, we're not always able to do that.
Q The conference will be physically here at the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it's at Blair House.
Q Who solicited the statement from George Bush on the loan guarantees?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that, Mark. I don't want to accept the premise that it was necessarily solicited. The former President feels strongly about that, has spoken out about that. In his statement, he references NAFTA, and as you know, he spoke out about that in the past, too. So I would --
Q The statement was supplied to the White House by Bush for the purpose of being released in his name?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it had already been -- my understanding is that it had already been released publicly when we provided it to you here. We were making available to you as a courtesy.
Q Mike, does the President have any view on whether Roger Clinton should accept the North Korean invitation to perform there?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if he has a view or not. I think as a practical matter it probably is not going to happen, but I will find out whether he has a view --
Q a big fan of Roger Clinton? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It would be -- the President's brother, of course, could not go hold a concert or give a performance in North Korea and derive any income from it because that would violate current sanctions in place on North Korea. So that might, in fact, end the matter right there.
Q the Speaker's comments on women in the military?
MR. MCCURRY: No. (Laughter.) That is -- as often as it is -- as tempting as it is to comment on bizarre statements here, I think I will avoid the temptation to say anything.
Q Speaking of North Korea, are the sanctions going to be lifted today or -- the trade sanctions?
MR. MCCURRY: I would ask you to check later on that, and probably at the State Department. There is a decision moving forward on that, and it was expected either today -- certainly by tomorrow. And it's a decision that I don't -- Why is it supposed to come out of here? I think it's something that we -- we're doing some work on it here, and I would ask you to check over at the State Department later on in the day.
Q On what, Mike? We can't hear back here.
MR. MCCURRY: These are -- I'm sorry, this is on sanctions -- adjustment in the sanctions on North Korea that were agreed to back in the summer, in the agreed framework negotiated in Geneva between the DPRK and the United States.
Q Mike, you have said more than once that the American people may not understand the gravity of this Mexico situation. Why doesn't the President call for open hearings on this matter so that everybody can learn more about the gravity of the situation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry -- you distracted me. What was the last question?
Q Why doesn't the President call for open hearings in Congress since there's not going to be any instant passage this week or next week, apparently?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is confident that this matter is getting a very vigorous airing in Congress and will continue to do so. We fully expect there to be --
Q But not in an open forum.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not our -- it's not the place of the President to instruct the Congress on how to duly consider legislative proposals before congressional bodies. It is the President's view that it is his place to help educate the American people and to do exactly the type of thing he did earlier today.
Q Mike, what's the hangup on a Moscow summit?
MR. MCCURRY: There was a good conversation between the Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister and reflected publicly by the two of them on that subject, and we're satisfied that they have that well entrain at this point.
Q Are you still targeting a mid-May summit?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister indicated otherwise. They talked about the likelihood -- in fact, it has always been likely that the Russian President and the American President would meet together sometime this year, but there have been no decisions on dates. And the additional comments that were made by the Secretary you ought to check, coming out of the meeting that they held in Geneva.
Thank you very much.
END 1:50 P.M. EST