THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:46 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everybody. I'd like to start by calling attention to an announcement that Secretary Cisneros made today. This is something -- the White House will occasionally put a spotlight on something that one of our Cabinet agencies happen to be doing.
Secretary Cisneros announced changes in the underwriting criteria for the Federal Housing Administration today. There are a lot of people in this country who need federally-backed mortgages to have homeownership opportunity, and today, they've adjusted some of the criteria for FHA-related lending that will make it easier for a lot of people to qualify for federally-backed housing mortgages, which is good news. And there are about 50,000 people as a result, we estimate, that will be able to become eligible for FHA loans who otherwise would not have been eligible. So I am drawing attention to that important announcement by the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development today. And that's about all I had to start with.
Oh, let me do two other housekeeping things. One, there is -- we're going to drop a piece of paper later on on the transmittal of our annual list of major illicit drug-producing and drug-transit countries. That was sent to Congress today as required by law. It is not the Narcotics Report listing of countries that we register having either helped or not helped us making improvements in the effort to combat international drug trafficking. This is more of a routine thing in which we report on the status of current efforts related to drug trafficking. That will be coming out a little while later. And I think we may have one other interesting piece of paper before the afternoon, but prior to the hour of 6:00 p.m. since we're not going to try to do paper after 6:00 p.m. anymore. Anyhow, just to let you know what's going on.
Q On what subject?
Q In what vein?
Q How do you mean?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, telling you to stay on the lookout for that.
MR. MCCURRY: No, that doesn't relate to personnel. Anyhow, with that, let's go to questions. Anyone have a question?
Q Mike, on this pregnancy thing, number one, with the doctor today, what's the White House say officially to people who do say that he is not very different from Jocelyn Elders in terms of abortion and some of the other issues -- contraceptives, condoms, et cetera?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been discussions with the nominee as well, apprised of the President's and the administration's view on questions related to abortion and reproductive health and the right to choose, and it is fully supportive of the President's position and the position of the administration. And I think, beyond that, the positions that the nominee may or may not have taken is one of the things that the Senate has to address as they look at the nomination and the advise and consent process. So it's really not for us to prejudge questions that might properly be raised by the Senate. And I just don't want to speculate on whether they're going to ask or not. But it's very clear the nominee understands the President's point of view and is supportive of the President's point of view.
Q Mike, did the President meet or talk to the nominee before today? And who brought the nominee to the President's attention?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the nominee will report, as Surgeon General, will report to the Secretary of HHS. So it comes out of that Cabinet agency to the White House. So, obviously, Secretary Shalala, as she indicated today, was very involved in the nomination. The President had met with the nominee prior to today, and I'm not certain when that meeting occurred, but it was within the last month or so.
Q Mike, as a gynecologist, do you know if Dr. Foster has ever himself personally performed abortions?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, but I imagine that question was examined by those who looked at it. And it might, in fact, be a question that would arise during the course of the nominations.
Q Will you take the question?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll take it and see if I can get an answer. That may be, as I say, something -- we very quickly here enter into the confirmation process. And there are some limits into what we can say public --
MR. MCCURRY: There is. I mean, the Senate requests --
Q There may be limits for what he can say, but there are certainly no limits to what, if the White House knows something, it can say.
MR. MCCURRY: We can't prejudge questions that might be raised by the Senate that they consider advise and consent.
Q question about whether he's ever performed abortions, or not.
MR. MCCURRY: We can find -- try to find to the answer to this.
Q Did the First Lady at all have any role in this? Did she meet with him prior to today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that.
Q Conservative groups want to use this nomination to put the Planned Parenthood on trial. Any reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be unfortunate if issues extraneous to the consideration of a nominee to be Surgeon General were raised. But that, again, is the province of the Senate as they exercise their advise and consent function. Nominations frequently present opportunities for other issues to be raised, and it wouldn't be surprising if that happens in this case. But we feel confident that this nominee will be able to address those issues and will be fully supportive of the positions that the President and the administration has taken.
Q Another part of the question. He's not being made available in any way for interviews. Nominees to awfully high posts are always made available to take questions from the press. How is this case different?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I'm not aware how they've handled that type of thing here in the past, but in this case I think the nominee would properly like to prepare for the forthcoming consideration of the nomination by the Senate and address comments about policy matters related to public health in America to members of the Senate who will be considering the nomination. That is the right of the nominee.
Q How does the President's and the administration's position differ from, say, Planned Parenthood?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think a lot of what President has said on the question on choice on reproductive health is fully on the record and I think it's available to all of you. I don't want to pretend to understand each and every position that Planned Parenthood has taken and, thus, can't contrast the positions of the administration. But on this issue, the President and the administration could not have been clearer in describing, both in testimony before Congress and public statements, our views on many of the issues that are central to debate about a very sensitive aspect of health care in America.
Q During the Elders' nomination, in fact, complaints from her advocacy groups that she was not allowed to respond to the attacks that were put on her. Isn't it unfair to the nominee for the White House not to let him respond?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be, in due course, ample opportunity for this nominee to address questions that the Senate would like to place before the nominee. And no doubt, some senators will have questions that reflect the public debate about the issues surrounding reproductive health -- they are very familiar to people in this country. So we believe Dr. Foster will have an ample opportunity to address some of those questions as we go through the confirmation process and, in due course, will be able to express himself eloquently on many of the issues that are being raised by some critics who we hope we'd be able to convert into supporters.
Q Mike, do you see any difference between the nominee's personal views and the President's views?
MR. MCCURRY: Do I see any difference? Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Mike, on the President's comments in the Oval about the impact of interest rates, can you be a little more specific about the impact that the increase will have on his hopes for deficit reduction?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not beyond what the -- I mean, the President stated what is clearly the case, the rise in interest rates, increases the carrying cost of the federal debt as we plan ahead and look at what the impact will be on the federal budget. And that's what the President was referring to. How you calculate that and how you anticipate the interest on the federal debt that will then be added, in a sense, to the federal budget deficit is something that is part of the calculation of the budget and something that we'll be answering questions about a lot next week.
Q Have you had to go back in and come up with some programmatic cuts to try to offset some of the impact of the increase?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether they've had to adjust any of their baseline calculations based on the action of the Fed yesterday. Now, that is a good question, and I'll have to refer that to those who will be briefing next week.
By the way, on the budget, while we're on that, Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. we'll hold a budget briefing in Room 450 of the Old Executive Office Building -- Monday. Monday is budget day, and we expect OMB Director Rivlin, Secretary Rubin, Dr. Tyson. They will brief. We will probably have some statements by the President and Vice President as well.
And Cabinet agencies are going to be conducting their own budget briefings in the afternoon at their respective Cabinet departments. We'll have an advisory with sort of a complete listing of those briefings tomorrow. We expect most of those to be held in early afternoon at the various Cabinet agencies.
Q Is the President meeting with Usery today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, no. There have been some discussions with former Secretary Usery to get a good sense of how he thinks the dialogue between the players and the owners will shape up. And we expect it to be a long weekend.
Q Mike, Congressman Gephardt told reporters today that he expected the White House to have a proposal on minimum wage in a day or two. Can you clarify what it is he's thinking --
MR. MCCURRY: I can just say that, of course, the Minority Leader is true, correct.
Q Do you have a proposed minimum wage?
MR. MCCURRY: We expect to, yes.
Q A couple of days?
Q A matter of days, again?
MR. MCCURRY: A matter of hours. No, it won't be today, but I suspect before the end of the working week we might be able to --
Q By 10:00 a.m. tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: It may be tomorrow, yes. It may be tomorrow.
Q I've got a follow-up on the baseball question. Is the President giving negotiating strategy to Usery, or to what extent is he truly involved in this?
MR. MCCURRY: As the President has indicated, his involvement has been both to be kept apprised of the discussions as they have gone on, as they did yesterday, from those that the federal mediator is in contact with. But we have not put forward any of our own suggestions or ideas. That's something that the President has asked the mediator to do as of Monday if there is no discernible movement and progress towards a settlement.
Q What did your consultations on Capitol Hill produce about the minimum wage? Did you find a bipartisan --
MR. MCCURRY: Let me -- I'll go back for a second. I was maybe a little too cute in answering an earlier question. You recall that the President made it very clear in the State of the Union address that he intended to propose an increase in the minimum wage. We then indicated to you following the speech that we would consult with Congress because we wanted there to be a vehicle that had some strong possibility of passage, so that we, in fact, will achieve our goal which is to increase the minimum wage in a way that raises the value of that wage, rewards those who work, but does that increase in a way that does not result in any macroeconomic effect that results in job loss -- or total net job loss.
Those consultations have been going on for the last several days, they have been very, very successful, and as the Minority Leader indicated today, they are moving very quickly now towards a proposal that the administration will be able to present to Congress with very strong, and we hope, bipartisan support from Congress.
Q Those consultations have been bipartisan?
MR. MCCURRY: Those consultations have been bipartisan. There have been discussions not only with Democrats, but with Republicans in -- and with others outside Congress to shape a proposal that we think will do exactly what the President proposed.
Q This is a proposal that is being presented in concert with any Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: We will have to see at any point -- at that point at which we can publicly unveil the proposal. We'll see.
Q When you say that you have consultations including Republicans, and you say that you're acting in the hope that you'll have bipartisan support, may we take that to mean that the consultations with the Republicans have yielded interest in supporting this idea, which as you know some Republican leaders --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I think, Brit, consultations with Congress have indicated an interest in supporting this. I can't say that there are pledges at this point; we'll see how we do tomorrow.
Q In House and Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it has been House and Senate, yes.
Q Anybody to the right of Mark Hatfield in these consultations?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not for me to address, it would be for individual members of Congress to express themselves.
Q The leadership of the House and Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been consulting with a variety of members.
Q The President himself has said that it's no secret he like it to be $5 an hour. Do you expect it to be at least that?
MR. MCCURRY: I am going to try to preserve for right now some small shred of news that we might be able to commit tomorrow.
Q How will you commit this? I mean, at what point will the President come out and say something about this?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we've -- we have not determined exactly how we will do that tomorrow. Perhaps we will do that with some type of statement.
Q In person?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see.
Q Mike, I think the President's legal expense trust is set tomorrow, or planning tomorrow, to release its six months report. Has the President been briefed at all on what the status of all that is?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know the answer to that. I'd have to check with the trustees of the fund, but I understand that they will be available tomorrow to answer questions on the release of the report that they are preparing. It might be a good opportunity to ask them that question.
Q Well, you could ask the President if he's been briefed on how much has been collected.
MR. MCCURRY: That is the business of the legal expense trust fund, and not -- there are people properly designated to answer questions on that.
Q You're probably designated to answer questions --
MR. MCCURRY: They will do that tomorrow.
Q But aren't you the one designated to speak to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I am indeed, Brit.
Q Well, then the question of whether or not he's been briefed on something or not is a proper for you, isn't it?
MR. MCCURRY: I can -- it is, but what I'm just pointing out as a matter of fact, is that the people who work on that are going to be available tomorrow.
Q On camera?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any idea. It is up to them to decide how they want to conduct that.
Q They are going to tell us whether the President has been briefed on this, or are they going to refer it to you?
MR. MCCURRY: You mean are they -- are we going to do one of these ones where we go like this? No, we'll have an answer Brit and Bill, one way or the other on that. I don't believe he has been, but again, I can't -- I'd like to check on that before I -- and I'll check and one way or another we'll have an answer on that.
Q Do you have anything on the meeting this weekend in Washington calling out the conference of Cairo?
MR. MCCURRY: I do -- actually, that is -- for those who are interested in the Middle East peace process, there will be some announcements coming out of the State Department later in the afternoon about a follow-up to the Cairo conference that involves foreign ministers. We do expect, based on everything that we've heard, that there will be a ministerial level follow up meeting here in Washington next week.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:02 P.M. EST