THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:24 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start by introducing, for those who have not met our new Deputy Press Secretary, Mary Ellen Glynn. Mary Ellen, please stand up and make yourself known to the assembled masses here. (Applause.) The toughest press corps in Washington, outside of the State Department. And Mary Ellen, who's been serving at the State Department as Assistant Spokesman, joins the White House staff today. I'm pleased that she's here because she and Ginny together are going to make life a lot easier for me and for all of you. So welcome, Mary Ellen Glynn.
The other thing I wanted to draw attention to -- I'm not sure that everyone saw this on Friday, but it's something that I'm going to just put another little tweak on for those of you that follow issues like this. Secretary Christopher, over at the State Department on Friday, released the State Department's report to Congress on land mines, entitled "Hidden Killers, the Global Land Mine Crisis". This is an issue that this administration, this President, has spent a lot of time working on with a variety of people in Congress, especially Senator Pat Leahy, who has been a real committed and stalwart leader on this issue. And it's something the administration points to with pride, that in this new era of global transformations we are doing things to address some of the residue of conflict that has existed in the past.
Some of you may know that there are between 80 to 100 million antipersonnel land mines now scattered around 64 countries around this world. And the United States government is taking the lead in creating an international land mine control regime, working to strengthen the convention on conventional weapons, providing demining assistance to countries that are trying to identify land mines, figure out how to eradicate them and how to dispose of them properly. The victims in most cases of these landmines are not soldiers, they are most often most likely to be children. And I think the administration, with some pride, points to the work we're doing in that area. Just wanted to call it to your attention.
Q Mike, since there have been a number of new revelations about possible questions on Secretary Brown's financial dealings, has the President become more concerned about these activities? Has Mr. Brown been brought into the White House, or has his attorney, Mr. Weingarten, been asked to come in again, beyond the meeting that was held last week?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether Secretary Brown's legal counsel has been here at the White House. I can report to you that the Office of Legal Counsel here at the White House remains in very close contact with Secretary Brown's legal counsel. The President, as he indicated last week, feels that Secretary Brown is a great Commerce Secretary. And appropriately, we are monitoring developments on this matter by being in close contact with the Secretary's legal counsel.
Q If I could just follow up -- does the President have any concerns at this point about whether or not Secretary Brown may have engaged in some kind of wrongdoing, even in terms of reporting his income on this matter?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is relying on his legal counsel to follow closely the developments related to allegations that have appeared. I'm not aware that the President has followed any of these allegations in that kind of detail.
Q At this point, does the White House feel assured that Secretary Brown does not have any serious problems that would make it necessary for him to step down?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House has certainly received assurances that Secretary Brown has complied with his requirements under law. And we will continue to, as I say, have discussions with the Secretary's legal counsel as this matter is aired increasingly publicly, as it appears.
Q Could you fill in the blanks some on what the President was talking about in terms of Mexico? First, in terms of -- he said he hopes a bill will be issued today. Could you give us something on the state of play there? And second, he said time is not our friend, words to that effect. Are you seeing in the weakening of the Mexican market and the peso today that you have run out of time, that something has to be done immediately, or serious problems loom?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we are as breathless as all of that, but I do believe that the President feels that today is a good day to begin bringing to closure the legislative package that will be necessary to weather this temporary crisis in Mexico.
To that end, as he has already reported to you, we had good conversations with several members of the congressional leadership yesterday, and I think he spent most of the afternoon yesterday, as a matter of fact, on the phone, working on this, calling a variety of people to encourage support, and the President is very gratified that today there has been both on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in Washington substantial public support for the economic support measure. It should make it easier, we believe, the kind of support this package is now attracting, to convince a majority of Congress that we need action quickly.
Just to, since some of you may not be aware of the three former presidents -- President Bush, President Carter, President Ford have now announced publicly their support for the economic package, as well as six former Secretaries of State, five former Secretaries of the Treasury, six former Secretaries of Commerce and five former Special Trade Representatives, and a very impressive list of others who are concerned about what a failure to move quickly would mean to our economic interests and to the lives of millions of American families whose livelihood depends on export activity to Mexico.
So today, the President has instructed both Secretary of
Treasury Rubin and Chief of Staff Panetta to be available to the
congressional leadership, specifically to Speaker Gingrich and Minority
Leader Gephardt so that the discussions about the legislation necessary
to move through this crisis, in a sense, finalizes or crystallizes on
the Hill. We hope to see that happen later on today or tomorrow, but
certainly to move early this week to
the completion of a package that will then be something that Congress in concrete terms can debate.
Q Was he asking Congress to put aside its other work at this point when he said it's time to get on with it?
MR. MCCURRY: He was not making any recommendations to the congressional leadership about their own calendar. I think he feels the leaders of Congress know best the calendar of the Congress, but he was indicating to them that he feels as an urgent matter we need to bring the debate about the legislation to a close so that the legislation can be finalized and we can move into the debate about the package itself and moving ahead with a program of support.
Q Mike, is there any major difference in the language between what the White House is asking for and what the Congress is trying to --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe there are substantial differences. It was really a question of how do you address the many concerns members of Congress have on a variety of issues and how they can effectively be addressed in constructing the package that would then be presented to both Houses of Congress. And I believe the President feels, based on his discussions yesterday, that we're at a point now where we can draw that conversation to a close, write the bill, move on to final passage so we can do the work that certainly the bipartisan leadership and the President have said publicly will be done.
Q Mike, has this trip to Florida been put on hold, and if so, is it because of the Mexican thing, the possibility --
MR. MCCURRY: There are a variety of factors that cause us now to look at the scheduling of that trip; that is one of several factors. I should be able to report to you the definitive outcome of that Florida trip later on in the week.
Q News conference perhaps Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: What a great idea. (Laughter.) I don't know. We'll see about that.
Q One Japanese paper wrote that the White House really didn't care one way or the other whether the Smithsonian decided to cancel its controversial Enola Gay exhibit. What is the President's reaction to it?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, let me report -- I put that question on hold until today because the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian met today and did take action that some of you may or may not know about at this point. First of all, preface this by saying that the Vice President is an ex officio member of the Board, so his staff has been very involved with other White House staff people in watching this issue develop. But the Board of Regents at their meeting today unanimously agreed that the Enola Gay exhibit should be replaced with a scaled back version of the exhibit, and that additionally, that there should be a management review of the entire Air and Space Museum and their procedures for exhibitions.
The Vice President, in a conversation with Secretary Heyman, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, indicated late Friday to him that both the President and the Vice President support the action that had been proposed and, indeed, the President and Vice President do support the action taken by the Board of Regents today.
Q Mike, absent from what you've said is any sense of whether the President or Vice President or anybody in the administration has any views as to what the exhibit was going to look like and what was going to be said in it, and if so, what those views are.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President and the Vice President are very sensitive to the concerns expressed by veterans' groups and others about the exhibit itself while believing firmly that academic freedom has its place; and, indeed, it does, and indeed, an academic debate about this exhibit has helped, in a sense, take place as a result of the debate over the exhibit. They, nonetheless, felt that some of the concerns expressed by veterans groups and others had merit, and they felt it was appropriate for the Board of Regents to take the step they took today to examine from a management perspective the procedures that the Smithsonian uses when it sponsors, organizes and develops exhibits of this nature.
Q In the sense of which of the veterans' concerns they thought were meritorious, and why? I mean, is there any substance here?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- substantively, what specific concerns they had I didn't have a chance to ask either the President or the Vice President about, but I know that they shared some of the concern expressed by a variety of members of the Board of Regents about the exhibit and the way in which the exhibit was then presented to the public or proposed to be presented to the public.
Q What happens now to the exhibit? I mean, what has actually happened?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding -- I believe at the Smithsonian they have briefed today about how they plan to scale back the original exhibit, but they've talked about that over at the Smithsonian today. They're going to have some version of an exhibit that is a "scaled back" version of the original exhibit.
Q Why didn't the Vice President go to the Board of Regents meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not go today because he had previously scheduled a meeting with the governors today and it was difficult for him to cancel that. The governors were in town and they were meeting at the same time. That's why the Vice President did feel it was important for him to have this conversation with the Secretary of the Smithsonian on Friday, so he understood precisely what action the Secretary was recommending to the Board when they met today.
Q Last Friday the Bipartisan Commission on Entitlements and Tax Reform Commission submitted its final report and sent it down to the White House. Has the President had a chance to look at it, what is he going to do with it, and when is he going to have something to say about the long-term fiscal problems that report outlines?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know whether the President has examined the final report. The President, recently -- I believe just over a week ago -- met with Senator Kerrey to get a better understanding of the final recommendations and analyses within the report. They had a good discussion about the problem of the federal budget, and that thinking will certainly help the administration and the White House as we develop our own budget proposal. But very shortly now, a week from today, our thinking on federal budget issues will be crystal clear and done in great detail when the administration submits its FY'96 budget proposal.
Q A couple of weeks ago you said you would have a CIA announcement soon. Could you elaborate on what you meant when you said that?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. Soon. When is soon? A matter of days. I still believe that that appointment can be expected in a matter of days. But I'm not predicting how many days.
Q Surgeon General?
MR. MCCURRY: Ditto.
Q Ninety days?
MR. MCCURRY: Ninety days? No, not 90 days.
Q The Enola Gay controversy raises the broader issue of how is the White House going to mark the 50th anniversary of Hiroshima and the V-J Day. What is the planning at this point for the President's role in any of those kinds of commemorations?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been planning, but I don't know if there's been any definite schedule set at this point. There have been a variety of proposals about how the President might mark several of these World War II era commemorations as we go through this year, and I don't know that we've set a final schedule on that one.
Q He is going to the U.N. --
MR. MCCURRY: He's got several -- there are several U.N. related events in the coming year -- the commemoration of the Charter, and then there's a meeting of the U.N. Security Council, sort of a 50th anniversary celebration, I believe, scheduled in New York for October. A variety of these things I think the White House is looking at for the President's schedule as we look ahead.
Q On the meeting with the governors this morning. Democratic governors came out afterwards and said that they continue to support at least an option to preserve the federal individual entitlement in welfare. Does the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, when he met with the working group of governors and others on Saturday, and then through his meeting today, too, put less of an emphasis on how you describe the program itself, whether it is a discretionary block grant, whether it is entitlement. He put more of an emphasis on what we're actually trying to achieve. In a sense, if you think about what welfare reform looks like as a consensus begins to build around these issues, one thing that is different is the belief that we need to make changes in benefits that go to those who are in a position to work who won't work. There is now, I think, growing consensus that that is one thing that has to change as we change welfare as we know it today, and that we need to move people from welfare and into work. So in that sense, the nature of entitlement becomes different in the way I think most members of the public would look at it.
So there is agreement that they focus on the issue of making the transition from welfare to work; a lot of agreement on what you do related to the problems of teen pregnancy and fathers who have left the scene; and a lot of agreement on the question of flexibility at the state level. The question now will be properly, how do you best put down some type of standards or federal stipulations as you structure the flexibility that the states seek and that the administration and Congress seems willing to give to the states, and that will be the discussion, I think, as we carry forward here in the coming weeks that will be at the center of the debate itself. But they made a great deal of progress.
Q So he wouldn't necessarily oppose --
MR. MCCURRY: I think he -- it was very clear from the discussions today the President's views were that we needed to have both the requirement that we make this transition in welfare as we know it today away from benefits without some sense of reciprocal responsibility. In other words, people in a position to take responsibility for themselves and to work should work, one. Two, that individuals who needed some type of safety net, there should be a safety net there. Individuals and communities -- that in times of economic distress we needed to make sure that individual communities were not harmed as a result of the way we structured this shift of resources. And that individuals, and especially children, who through no fault of their own, through actions of their parents, would face problems that they needed to have some way to accommodate their concerns.
And there was a -- again, I think you heard today, as you did on Saturday, a great deal of consensus and a feeling within the room that while there are differences that certainly remain in the points of view, there is a sense of momentum about bridging those differences so that we can achieve welfare reform this year.
Q A quick follow-up. The President had a position spelled out in his bill last year that would put people to work after a specified period of time, and people who couldn't find job would have them provided. A number of the governors who -- particularly the ones pushing to have welfare block-granted to the states -- have in place or are contemplating work-fare programs that don't provide a job at the end of two years or whatever the specified period is. Would the President sign legislation that allowed that to happen, in other words, allowed people to be put back to work, forced off the welfare rolls without a government-provided job?
MR. MCCURRY: It is too early to describe for you the exact contours of the legislation that is going to develop here. The President has strong feelings that are reflected in the legislation that he outlined last year. He also has strong feelings that come from over 15 years of experience with the welfare system and efforts to reform that system. But I think that the tenor of the conversation Saturday and today indicates that there ought to be ways to bridge those types of differences as they structure a welfare reform proposal that will begin to move through Congress.
Q The President mentioned several times over the weekend the new partnership with the governors. Does he see this as an opportunity to use the governors as his foot soldiers in dealing with the Congress on issues like the balanced budget amendment and that kind of thing?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be fun to think he might make some progress in the march by using them as your foot soldiers, but the reality is that it has to be a combination of working with the governors and with the majority in Congress to structure the legislation necessary to achieve the President's goals for the nation.
The model that is most accurately the one pointed to over the weekend is the model that was used during the passage of the 1988 Family Support Act in which then-governor Clinton, working with the White House and working with members of Congress, specializing in welfare assistance programs were together able to come up with a model for reform that worked for all the stakeholders in the debate. And that certainly is the environment in which that collection, impressive collection of leaders came together Saturday to address welfare reform.
Q Mike, there isn't a whole lot of public support for the Mexican loan agreement --
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet.
Q Not yet. But I'm wondering if the President is planning any speech or Oval Office address or anything where he's front and center explaining why he thinks it's fair.
MR. MCCURRY: He will continue to address it publicly as he did today, and continue to draw a great deal of attention to the need for the support package. I would not be surprised if he did find additional public opportunities to address the need for the package. I don't want to predict that the Oval Office address format is one that necessarily he will choose, but we will look for additional public opportunities for the President to help educate the American public about the necessity of the package.
I think many Americans are still looking for details and are most likely somewhat confused about why we need to have what they sometimes hear described as a $40-billion bailout. And I think the President will look for every opportunity he can find to make it clear that this is not a bailout, it is not welfare for Mexico; that this is, in a sense, an insurance policy that helps protect our interests as well as the fundamental strength of the Mexican economy.
Q Why is it not a bailout, actually? I mean, what is it about the guaranteed program that does not reimburse investments and put money into the Mexico Treasury?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the device of the guarantee of the loan is necessary only if there is a fundamental failure or collapse in the Mexican economy. In fact, it is far more likely that quick passage of a loan guarantee package and the resulting strengthening effect that will have on the Mexican economy might put us in a position where we would indeed make money on this by having the Mexican government assume the costs for some of the premium.
Q But loan guarantees are -- all these bailouts that have happened before, the Chrysler bailout, for example, are loan guarantees. That's what you do when you bail somebody out, is you guarantee the credit, just as a matter of --
MR. MCCURRY: Guarantee of credit and sometimes, in cases like the Israeli housing loan guarantee package, the United States government ends up over time making money on the package.
Q Right. But that doesn't mean it isn't a bailout. I just think it's a matter of terms. This is exactly the kind of thing that is almost invariably described as a bailout, and sometimes bailouts are a good idea. Why are you so afraid of that term?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I think for most Americans -- you just think about this for a second, and you correct me if I'm wrong -- most Americans will hear "$40 billion bailout "and assume we're writing a big check that's got a 40 and then a whole bunch of zeroes after it and that money goes to Mexico. That's not the way this package works.
Q That wasn't true of Chrysler, either, but I don't remember there being such a case of nerves over the word "bailout."
MR. MCCURRY: We are, as best we can, in very careful language trying to describe exactly how this package works so that Americans get a better sense of what risks we are assuming as a country in exchange for what we think is an enormous benefit which is a strengthened Mexican economy and all the good possibilities that come as a result of a strengthening economy and a stronger export- import relationship in our trade balance with Mexico. That's the case that you have to make publicly, and that's what we're trying carefully to do.
Q Do you see any connection between the drop in the Brazilian stock market today and the crisis with Mexico?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not enough of an expert on the functioning of the markets to answer that precisely, but we are aware that the impact of market fluctuations in Mexico does have effects elsewhere in the region. Indeed, that's one of the arguments we've advanced in favor of the package.
And we also know that the markets respond to the kinds of arguments that they heard publicly here in the United States and that there's no doubt some market response when there are those in Congress who suggest that the package will not pass. That's why the President and the bipartisan congressional leadership remain confident that we can do the work once we have this package together to persuade members of Congress to rally to its support.
Q Can I follow up specifically on the Republican complaint, including Senator Dole this morning, that the President is not doing enough to get his fellow Democrats on line, that he doesn't want to walk the plank unless more Democrats are willing to walk the plank. What specifically is the President doing to get Bonior and other Democrats in the House and Senate in support of this package?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the first and most important piece of that work is to get a legislative package together that can win the support of those members of Congress and others. The President's spent his time working on this yesterday, focused on putting the final package together. And then that allows us to begin to go to specific members on the Democratic side, but the Republican side as well, to address the concerns that they have raised and encourage them to support the bill as it's written. And that will continue.
But I'd point out once again that the President's leadership has been very, very clear here. On every occasion that the leadership has asked him to do something specific, he has done it. On every occasion that he's had an opportunity to make the case more broadly to the American people, he's made that case. He'll continue to lead in that fashion.
Q Mike, a number of interest groups, including labor unions and the Cuban American National Foundation, have demanded that what you might call non-economic conditions be attached to this package -- various things they'd like Mexico to do. Does the President oppose that kind of condition as a matter of principle?
MR. MCCURRY: Not as a matter of principle, but he feels the length and number of those conditions can become unwieldy and can hurt prospects for passage. And he believes that those concerns, many of which are legitimate, can be addressed properly in a structure way, either within the package, or within the debate surrounding the package as it goes forward in Congress.
Q So he's willing to include -- to talk about some -- all of those concerns and become part of the debate, at least?
MR. MCCURRY: There are some -- some that would make sense including, Doyle, as part of a package. There's some so-called non-economic conditions. There are some that would be wise to address in the context of the debate around the legislation, but that's where they're doing the work today, and trying to hone down those differences and resolve them so they can have a legislative vehicle ready to go very shortly.
Q Are you concerned that there would be further outfalls of money from the Mexican economy if the Fed raises U.S. interest rates this week?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be improper for me to answer that specific question because it speculates about the action that the open market committee might take at its meetings Tuesday and Wednesday.
Q Would that be a setback for the package?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to -- in due course, we'll be in a position to respond to whatever the Fed decides to do on interest rates. But I don't choose to do that now.
Q Are you saying the Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate will back the President on this -- Bonior and others? Are you saying they will commit to it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not committing to individual members, I'm speaking of the four leaders specifically who are already working with the President, who publicly indicated their support for the approach we're taking and who we hope will be in a position very shortly to announce their support for a specific legislative vehicle.
Q Will you be using Alan Greenspan more to promote this? He's been up here supporting it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't think it's accurate to -- I mean, the Chairman of the Fed operates independently, but he feels quite strongly about this and I expect he will continue his strong advocacy of this package. But that's not done at the direction of the White House, suffice to say.
Q Senator Gramm and some others want an independent currency board as part of it. Is that something that's going to be part of the package?
MR. MCCURRY: We think there is some concerns that have been raised by Senator Gramm and others that might conceivably be addressed in the legislation. We'll just have to see how that comes out.
Q Did you have anything on that dairy dumping question I raised the other day?
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet, I'm sorry, and I forgot. Can you follow up with them down here?
Q The key issue is whether the White House realized the implications of it, especially the time --
MR. MCCURRY: I just forgot to get -- I forgot to look into that, and we will.
Q Don't you anticipate, though, any change in the substance of the President's appeal on this Mexico issue? He's now repeated the no-bailout line a number of times. Is it falling on deaf ears, and should you consider a new --
MR. MCCURRY: The American people have an awful lot going on in their lives the last couple of days, not the least of which was the Super Bowl. And I think for us to really make that argument and drive it home, the President will have to use every opportunity he can find to argue the case. The substance will change --
Q Why didn't he mention it when he was talking to the 49ers' coach? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He felt bad. Given the proximity of San Diego and Mexico, there may have been a relationship there -- (laughter.) It would be -- I think that the substance of the argument he makes will change when we have a discreet piece of legislation we're talking about, because that, hopefully and most likely, will address specific concerns that are raised by those who are skeptical about the package. And in a sense the substantive argument and the challenge of persuading people to support the package will become easier, we believe, when there's a specific vehicle we can point to that addresses some of the concerns people have raised.
Who wants to ask me about my reaction to the 49ers' victory? (Laughter.)
Q Is the White House investigating or --
Q Did the President watch the Super Bowl?
MR. MCCURRY: He watched the first half, he told me.
Q That's because he had to go to the dinner, right?
MR. MCCURRY: He had to go the dinner.
Q Who scheduled the dinner at such at time that it would be --
MR. MCCURRY: He reported the Chargers were --
Q They do it every year.
MR. MCCURRY: -- the Chargers were in the game right up to the opening kickoff. (Laughter.)
Q Did he see the Cuomo and Ann Richards commercial?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. You couldn't miss it because it was showed on -- aired on all the shows that we in the political world like to watch on our weekends. So I think you had to see it one way or another. Actually, I don't know whether the President saw it or not, but it was a cute commercial.
Q Mike, is the White House investigating or does it have any comment on reports that Iran is close to completion on a secret poison gas complex?
MR. MCCURRY: We have -- there's some reaction to that that's being developed that will be used over at the State Department today.
Q That's going to come out today?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so, yes.
Q Does the White House have any reaction to the published report today about the scope of the Whitewater investigation widening and reexamining the circumstances of Vince Foster's death?
MR. MCCURRY: No -- I mean, I don't here, in the name of the White House, have that. But there are those at the White House, particularly in the legal counsel's office who follow those developments. You might want to check with them.
Q Why is Florida being reconsidered?
MR. MCCURRY: There are, as I said earlier, there are a couple of reasons and a couple of possibilities that things that might have to be added to the President's schedule for Friday, not related to Mexico.
Q Like what?
MR. MCCURRY: When I'm in a position to tell you, I will, the soonest I can. I've tried to do us all a favor by at least indicating that that might be necessary for the President to have a surrogate or a substitute representing him on Friday.
Q Is the White House braced for another increase in interest rates by the Fed?
MR. MCCURRY: Seems it would be wise to do that, but I don't want to speculate about what the Federal Reserve might do prior to --
Q You mean brace or to raise?
MR. MCCURRY: It might be wise to brace and prepare oneself given --
Q Is that a prediction?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not a prediction. The White House Press Secretary never, ever -- that's in the manual, you know. When you become White House Press Secretary they give you this little manual, says, rules to follow: Never predict anything about currency markets --
Q What else does it say? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Always answer Helen Thomas's questions truthfully and accurately and first and foremost.
Q On that point, does the White House stand by its longstanding position that an increase in interest rates would not be warranted?
MR. MCCURRY: That is -- our longstanding view, as set forth by the President, is very clear that the economy continues to expand with low rates of inflation, protecting our ability to stimulate the creation of new jobs. And our attitude -- and the President's attitude about it on interest rates is pretty clear, stemming from that analysis. I don't want to, by saying that, prejudge any reaction we might have to decisions that are taken Tuesday and Wednesday.
Q Your reaction to the 49ers?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that was a great game.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:56 P.M. EST