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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release February 21, 1995
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

2:05 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Continuing with the remainder of our daily briefing here at the White House, let me start with an announcement first. The President is delighted to announce today that he has named William E. Curry, Jr. as Counselor to the President. Curry will work on a variety of domestic policy and political issues, and because of his experience at the state level, he will focus primarily on issues relating to state and local government, but will be available for a variety of other assignments as well. Curry served as Connecticut State Comptroller from 1991 to 1995, as a state senator from 1979 to 1983, practiced law from 1985 to 1991, and he was the Democratic candidate for governor of Connecticut in 1994.

Q Isn't Mack Counselor to the President?

MR. MCCURRY: Counselor to the President.

Q He's got more than that.

Q One advisor --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have -- it's not an exclusive title. There's no exclusivity to the title Counselor.

Q Curry?

MR. MCCURRY: Curry. And we've got a piece of paper that's available for you -- it's additional biographical details and a nice quote from the Chief of Staff.

Q Anything on Laura Tyson and the NEC today?

MR. MCCURRY: Not at this moment, no.

Q I thought you said that he would veto the team act, which is employee involvement committees -- this week he told the AFL-CIO that he was going to veto the team act and repeal of DavisBacon --

MR. MCCURRY: Is that in the contract services area, or is it a specific aspect of Davis-Bacon?

Q Employee involvement committees, like total --

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I see, this is Section 882 of the NLRA.

Q yes, can you tell me why he's chosen to --

MR. MCCURRY: The President feels that is a disruption in the balance of power that exists within federal law related to collective bargaining that would represent an intrusion on the ability of labor and management to successfully and amicably resolve labor disputes.

Q Mike, can you tell us what the President hopes to accomplish by going to the Hill tomorrow to talk to the House Democrats?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is very much looking forward to an opportunity to meet with Democrats in the House -- one, to review the success we've had so far in the 104th Congress to shape emerging legislation to the President's -- more to the President's liking; two, to continue to press for the successful consideration of the President's own legislative packages, whether they be Middle Class Bill of Rights or other issues; and three, it's a great opportunity for him to rally the troops, which we will increasingly need as we look ahead and attempt to thwart those aspects of the Contract With America that are clearly not in the interest of the American people.

Q Just to follow up, what is the assessment of the first 50 or so days -- I guess that's why he's going up tomorrow -- and what's the outlook for the next 50?

MR. MCCURRY: The President's assessment is that now that the Republican Majority is getting down to the fine print in the Contract For America, they're finding tough going, and they're having a little rendezvous with reality now. It's not easy to govern, and the Republicans now are having a difficult time producing the specifics on how they would do such things as balance the budget by the year 2002.

How they would protect Social Security benefits at a time when increasingly many members of the Republican Majority are saying that Social Security will have to be on the table, how are they going to provide educational opportunities, specifically college educational opportunities, to students in America at a time when many in the Republican Majority are calling upon cuts in the programs that assist those types of students -- how are they going to make good on the pledge that the Congress and the President made to the American people last year to put 100,000 cops in the streets of America fighting crime.

As the Republican Majority begins to face these specific issues at end of the halfway point in the first 100 days of the 104th Congress, they're beginning to confront the reality that it's not so easy to deliver on those things when the American people are beginning to look more carefully at exactly the nature of the promise and what it means.

Q That's a closed event, according to the schedule. Is there some venue in which he's going to make some remarks along the lines that you just did to make his trip up there worthwhile in getting himself involved in the 50th state celebration?

MR. MCCURRY: Are you asking what the press arrangements are tomorrow?

Q I'm asking, is the President going to speak in public at any time about all this, since the event is listed as closed?

MR. MCCURRY: He won't, but we will find appropriate ways for him to deliver.

Q If I could ask a refinement on your answer to Wolf, are we within a matter of days or a matter of hours?

MR. MCCURRY: On the appointment of a chair for the National Economic Council? A matter of hours. Of course, hours can mean --

Q Today?

MR. MCCURRY: I won't rule that out.

Q Have you sent the Foster nomination up yet?

MR. MCCURRY: We have not -- my understanding is, the Office of the Legal Counsel continues to review the background information provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And Dr. Foster, himself, completes some paperwork required of nominees to high office and once appropriately reviewed, that material will be sent forward to the Senate. The Senate, I do not believe, was in session today. So we wouldn't have had an opportunity since receiving the background report to send it up.

Q Do you have a commitment from Senator Kassenbaum that no witnesses outside -- no outside witness will be part of the hearing process?

MR. MCCURRY: If we have such a commitment -- and I'm not aware of that. We'll have to check on that. That's the first I've heard of that.

Q I read it in the newspaper.

Q How about Glickman?

MR. MCCURRY: I won't vouch for it in that case.

Q Is this review of this FBI Report, is this strictly a legal scrub or a political scrub?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's just going through the material and making sure that they've got answers to questions. But nothing more than what is customarily done as a background check is reviewed.

Q Did the Glickman nomination go up?

MR. MCCURRY: No, because I don't believe we've been in receipt of the final report yet. We'll be ready to move on that when everything is in order.

Q Mike, Clinton's going up to Ottawa, but Congress has a gun to his head on this lifting the embargo out in Bosnia. Chretien has threatened, obviously, to withdraw Canadian peacekeepers if the embargo is unilaterally lifted by the United States. How does the President plan to use this summit to send a message to the Hill on this subject?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not the Hill that needs to receive the message. It's the Pale Serbs, Mr. Milosevic, who has been a supporter and has been reluctant to accept a formula presented to him by the Contact Group that could successfully result in sanctions relief for Serbia Montenegro.

What they are missing at this point is an agreement on the part of the Pale Serbs to proceed with the Contact Group plan as a basis for a settlement of the conflict in Bosnia, and the Contact Group had been heavily engaged in trying to impress upon those who might have influence with the Pale Serbs, specifically, Mr. Milosevic, that the time has come now for them to turn up the heat on the Pale Serbs and bring the conflict to an end.

Now, the President will have an opportunity with Prime Minister Chretien to review the status of the conflict in Bosnia. Canada has done heroic work in Bosnia as a troop-contributing participant in UNPROFOR, and I'm sure that will be among several items that are on the agenda.

Q What's the next step now after a Milosevic rejection of the plan and -- on Sunday?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, Milosevic has not been forthcoming in accepting the recommendation of the Contact Group to proceed instantly with the recognition of the territorial integrity of both Bosnia and Croatia in its current territorial boundaries. There will be further discussions, we hope, with Mr. Milosevic, perhaps involving some individual participants within the Contact Group grouping --

Q He hasn't formally rejected the --

MR. MCCURRY: He's not indicated much favorable disposition. In his meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister, he did not indicate a favorable disposition to proceeding with territorial recognition of Bosnia. That was part of a formula placed before him by the Contact Group. We continue to believe that his options are few if he desires any sanctions relief for the people of Serbia Montenegro.

Now, the likelihood that sanctions will persist forever if there's not some reasonable effort to draw this conflict to a conclusion, is certainly there.

Q Mike, are we ignoring Serbian overflights in the area and has NATO enforcement of the no-fly zone for all intents and purposes stopped?

MR. MCCURRY: No. NATO continues to effectively do those things called upon -- when it is called upon to do so by the United Nations. It remains vigorously in pursuit of strict enforcement of relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Q Well, has the U.N. then stopped acting, stopped enforcing with all the reports of helicopter flights and now, fixedwing aircraft flights? It appears that it's over.

MR. MCCURRY: The monitoring of those flights has been both by the United Nations and by NATO as effectively as it can do so using the means that are available for monitoring flights.

Q What role, if any, Mike, is the White House Counsel's Office taking in the matter of Secretary Brown now that the Justice Department process is going forward? Are they involved at all in doing independent inquiry of their own?

MR. MCCURRY: Doing exactly as I've indicated before -- careful monitoring of the matter as it proceeds through the variety of inquiries that are underway.

Q But not independent investigative work --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any independent investigation, although they regularly seek to clarify information that is available about the status of various pending allegations.

Q Has the Secretary been asked to come in and speak to White House Counsel again, given the recent revelations?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, although the White House Legal Counsel remains in close contact with Secretary Brown's legal counsel.

Q Mike, any further movement on the may summit issue?

Q They've moved all over the --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, was there a comment you wished to address? No, as the President indicated on Saturday, there has not been a decision made, that we are exploring with the Russian government a variety of possibilities. I would stress that the President has enormous respect for the people of Russia and for the sacrifices they made during World War II. Those sacrifices were acknowledged in September of 1994 when President Yeltsin and President Clinton held a ceremony that some of you might recall in the Rose Garden to honor both Russian and American veterans of the conflict in World War II.

Q When you say they're exploring a number of possibilities or a variety of possibilities, what level is that discussion taking place?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's taken place at a variety of levels, including both embassy contacts through Embassy Moscow, but also contacts that Secretary Christopher has held in the past with Foreign Minister Kozyrev, and I believe we've got some high-ranking visitors from the Russian Foreign Ministry that will be here later this week -- the Deputy Foreign Minister, if I'm not mistaken, will be here in town.

Q Why?

MR. MCCURRY: It's part of -- we have ongoing consultations with them on a variety of matters, but certainly the determination to proceed with some type of meeting between the Presidents during the first half of 1995, as the two Presidents agreed last September, is part of the discussion that you would expect high-ranking diplomats from the Russian Federation to have with their U.S. counterparts.

Q There's no pull-back --

MR. MCCURRY: Happy birthday, Terry.

Q Thank you very much.

MR. MCCURRY: Did everyone know it's Terry's birthday?

Q It was Mark's birthday yesterday.

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Knoller's birthday -- Mr. Knoller's birthday was appropriately acknowledged by the President of the United States, if I'm not mistaken. (Laughter.)

Mr. Hunt, if the President were here, he would so acknowledge your birthday as well. (Laughter.)

Q Senator Biden --

Q Is there still a commitment for the first half of the year? There's no pull-back in that?

MR. MCCURRY: No, there is a practical question of dealing with the calendar as it exists. But that's why, again, the President and his foreign policy team are looking at a variety of possibilities as we examine all the different World War II commemorative events and also the need to have serious substantive dialogue with the President of Russia.

Q? Is it still possible that the President will accept Yeltsin's invitation to visit Moscow on May 9th?

MR. MCCURRY: May 8th.

Q I thought it was May 8th in Western Europe and May 9th in Moscow. They celebrate it on two different days -- V-E Day

MR. MCCURRY: That could be correct.

Q Well, is it still possible?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it is. It's still possible that he will go May 8th, 9th or whatever the proper date is.

Q So that has not been flatly ruled out, as had been widely reported?

MR. MCCURRY: That's correct; there's been no decision made on that point.

Q Well, how do you take these statements by Russian spokesmen that it would be a snub of the Russian people should the President reject this invitation?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's why I pointed out earlier the enormous respect that the President has for the sacrifices made by the Russian people. Russia, as a very close ally of the United States in the Second World War, paid an enormous price for victory against fascism and Nazism, and the appropriate acknowledgement of that sacrifice has been a regular feature of the dialogue between Russian Presidents and U.S. Presidents, including, as I mentioned earlier, just last September when the two Presidents met and held a ceremony in the Rose Garden. They will certainly, in the future, find additional ways to acknowledge appropriately the great sacrifice of the Russian people in the Second World War.

Q Well, they have stepped up the fighting, though, haven't they now in Chechnya?

MR. MCCURRY: The fighting in Chechnya continues. The cease-fire does not appear to have held beyond the initial first 48- hour period in which it looked like there was some subsiding in the conflict. But that's not the only factor that would go into consideration of a summit meeting, as we've indicated all along.

Q Mike, on the Mexico agreements that were just signed over at Treasury -- did the President personally sign off on this? And at this point, are there still some very serious risks to the United States for engaging in this?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the package, as it's structured, the President is confident, minimizes the risk to U.S. taxpayers. We believe that the steps that the Mexican government has pledged to undertake as a result of the agreement today, minimizes the risk of default and, thus, minimizes the exposure of U.S. taxpayers. What we get in exchange is an agreement working with the government of Mexico to put their economy back on track so it will be a strong participant in the trade relationship that is now expected to develop throughout the hemisphere.

Q Can the President promise Americans that they're not going to get stuck with some huge bill when all of this is over? I mean, is this a promise he makes to them?

MR. MCCURRY: Essentially, what the President promises is that we will do everything we can to strengthen the Mexican economy so that it can participate in the types of trade relationships that are most important to the American people; those that help those who have jobs here in America, generating goods and services that are purchased by Mexican consumers. And we believe that, given the structure of this agreement, the way that very specific conditions have been placed upon it, we believe that U.S. taxpayers will both be well protected and well served by dynamic growth in the Mexican economy in future years.

Q Back to the meeting tomorrow. What part of the Contract has the President been able to block so far in the House? I know that Star Wars in the Senate and -- but what other things does he really stopped?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's not a question of blocking things. He's indicated specifically that he will veto any effort to tamper with the commitment to the American people to put 100,000 cops on the street. I think that's now going to have to be considered very carefully in the Senate, and some Republicans in the Senate have now indicated second thoughts on that point.

We did successfully block billions of what could have potentially been billions of dollars in spending on a 1980s type Star Wars scheme that frankly, most people thought had been dealt with and debated in the last decade. But we will continue -- the President will continue to speak out in order to shape those aspects of the Contract that might better serve the interests of the American people. There are ways in which you can take some of the commitments in that Contract and make them turn out a lot better. In fact, I would predict, with some confidence, that at the end of 100 days, the consensus that develops about the role of government might look much more like the New Covenant that has been proposed by the President than by the Contract For America as proposed by Speaker Gingrich and others.

Q Speaking of the Contract, does the White House have a position on extending the 25 percent deductibility of health care for the self-employed?

MR. MCCURRY: I think we do, and I think it's on this piece of paper somewhere. The administration supports the primary purpose of HR 831, which is to extend permanently the 25 percent tax deduction for health insurance premiums for self-employed individuals. It believes that those costs must be fully offset, however.

The administration opposes one of the bill's offsets, which is the repeal of the current tax treatment for the sale of radio and television broadcast facilities and cable televisions systems for minority-owned businesses. That's an aspect of the legislation that's being debated, I believe, in the House today, if I'm not mistaken.

The administration looks forward to working with Congress on identifying appropriate offsets to extend this important health insurance deduction permanently.

Q Does the administration think that the minority broadcasting provision needs to be examined, looked at, reformed in any way?

MR. MCCURRY: The administration believes it should not be eliminated. Do we need to look at how it is used and under what circumstances it is used? We do believe that, and we will do that.

Q Mike, isn't this Mexico aid plan going to breed resentment in Mexico towards the United States? And what if it doesn't work? How soon is the U.S. going to come up with a contingency plan in the event that the $20 billion doesn't work?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm -- there is a plan, there is a series of things that happen under the agreement announced today if it "does not work." If it "does not work," then the Mexican economy would not recover from the short-term crisis it now faces. But I think that the premise of the package is that the opposite would happen.

But will it breed resentment? The United States would hope not. We believe it's very important, just as the people of Mexico have enormous concern for their own ability to self-govern, we would hope that the people of Mexico would understand that there are legitimate concerns raised by the elected representatives of the American people and that this structure of this agreement is one that, in the view of the administration, adequately serves the interest of the American people, but certainly helps promote the long-term economic interests of the Mexican people as well.

Q Mike, do you know anything about a letter to President Yeltsin that would outline an approach to NATO that could make it easier for the Russians to join the Partnership for Peace?

MR. MCCURRY: I know that there have been close consultations in Brussels at a meeting over the weekend of NATO -- permanent reps, right? At the permanent representative level, in which we consulted with them about the development of the Partnership for Peace program and how it might affect the Russian Federation.

Whether or not that take, eventually, the shape of a letter from President Clinton to President Yeltsin remains to be seen. But I would remind you that decision-making within NATO was done at 16, and done by consensus of all the treaty members.

Q If we were to get an NEC appointment this afternoon, would be also get the President down to announce it, or will it be just a piece of paper?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on that. Anybody else?

Q Timing for the E.O. on -- what does that look like?

MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Reich was going to have a session with the AFL-CIO executive council this afternoon and discuss that further. There are some details that do, as I think I indicated to many of you over the weekend, some details that are still being examined at the interagency level. But the President's determination, after working with the Vice President on this issue over the weekend is that we proceed as promptly as possible to promulgate the Executive Order that he has in mind.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

                                 END 2:26 P.M. EST