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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release March 6, 1995
                             PRESS BRIEFING
                            BY MIKE MCCURRY 

The Briefing Room

1:16 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: You were complaining that there was no news. Let me prove you wrong. First of all, from this weekend, Michael Johnson -- how many people know who Michael Johnson is?

Q We know Michael Jackson.

Q The 400 meters.

MR. MCCURRY: All right, good. We have two people who are knowledgeable. Michael Johnson set -- Saturday -- set a world record of 44.63 seconds in the 400 meters down in Atlanta. He will be -- by all accounts, would have been favored for the sprint gold medals in 1992, certainly will be in '96 in Atlanta. Anyhow, The New York Times coverage of his record-breaking performance -- they noted that he has not lost a 400-meter race, indoors or out, since moving vans pulled away from the White House with the remnants of the Reagan administration six years ago. For those of you who follow track and field, that is pretty spectacular.

Q Is there a point to this?

Q Is there a connection? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The point of that is that he runs almost as fast as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros -- (laughter) --

Q Oh, yeah --

MR. MCCURRY: -- who, over the weekend, chased down two suspects in a robbery snatch here.

Q Do you recommend that any American who sees a robbery like this in progress pursue down an alley?

MR. MCCURRY: We would take note that, as the Secretary said, it was a moment where he felt as a public servant he had a public duty, and he responded accordingly.

Q Do you advocate putting 100,000 HUD secretaries -- (laughter and applause.)

MR. MCCURRY: We would, except after all of the work the Secretary is doing to reinvent the Department of Housing and Urban Development, there wouldn't be enough around.

Q Good quality family humor. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Keep going. The Bureau of Prisons Director, Kathy Hawk, teamed up with Senator Joe Biden today and announced that a provision of the 1994 crime bill was going into effect. That's the one that requires the Bureau of Prisons to notify local law enforcement when a prisoner who has been convicted of a violent crime or drug trafficking is freed on supervised release. That's good news. That's part of the President's effort to make the streets of America safer and make sure communities have information they need to protect themselves.

Q Just drug trafficking and not child abuse?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know how those two relate. And then lastly, we had --

Q big issues before the country the last few days -- are we going to let these people get out without anybody knowing about it when they've abused children before.

MR. MCCURRY: No, this is unrelated --

Q Is it drug trafficking only?

MR. MCCURRY: Ms. McClendon, this is unrelated to the judge's ruling in the law case up in New Jersey. That is a separate issue that I believe, if I'm not mistaken, the Attorney General has addressed herself to.

And then, lastly, Dr. Foster, who continues to build an impressive case for his own nomination as surgeon general, had a very good event today at Children's Hospital; took a tour, met with students and residents at the hospital, including a large number of his own former students who came in for the event. In over 20 years as a medical educator, Dr. Foster has literally trained thousands -- or just over 1,000 -- young physicians, and they were there to pay tribute to his own experience and his own commitment as a medical educator.

So, as I was saying, you can find good news that you can use if you just look in the right places.

Q Mike, does the administration have any comment on the dollar, which appears to be in sort of a free fall today?

MR. MCCURRY: The President of the United States taught his press secretary a very good lesson on Friday, which is the answer to that question is no answer. While the markets respond, the markets are aware of the steps that the United States has taken, and I can't make any comment on that while the markets are in response.

Q Does that mean that perhaps sometime later today you might have something to say about it?

MR. MCCURRY: The comments on that issue properly come from the Treasury Secretary.

Q A group of churchmen who are expected to see the President have expressed concern that the President is backing off the question of Jerusalem being still open for a negotiated settlement, the question of the future of Jerusalem. And is the U.S. backing off of that position and on 242? And why has it not protested the continuation of the building of settlements and taking over of Palestinian land?

MR. MCCURRY: The administration's views on the question of Jerusalem remain unchanged. The Secretary of State departs for the region tomorrow, in which he will be able to discuss that subject and others with the parties to the Declaration of Principles, which does address the issue of Jerusalem and its status in the negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis. We have felt that those issues are properly addressed within the context of the Declaration, and those discussions will continue.

Q Mike, what is the timetable for the President's reelection -- organizing a reelection campaign?

MR. MCCURRY: By November of 1996, Wolf, the President will be reelected. It's hard to predict at this point what the winning margin will likely be, but that's the timetable. (Laughter.)

Q Does he have to do anything for fundraising, matching funds that would require him to establish some sort of preliminary preparatory committee?

MR. MCCURRY: He will have to take certain steps associated with the candidacy as required by the Federal Elections Commission, and he will take those steps at the proper time.

Q As far as the President's opposition to tort reform, is he actively signaling a veto with a letter to Gingrich which you said would be released but we have not gotten yet?

MR. MCCURRY: No. A couple of things on this. The letter that Judge Mikva and the Attorney General have sent to Speaker Gingrich will be available shortly. It was being delivered a short while ago to the Speaker.

President Clinton approaches the question of legal reform from a pro-consumer perspective. He believes the legal system can and should be improved and the problem is that there are several provisions in the House bill now under consideration which are deeply problematic. First, we oppose loser pay provision. Loser pay provisions generally are alien to our own American system of law. And there's --

Q Excuse me for one second. The committee that is backing that today just announced that they are willing to drop the loser pay provision.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's just one more reflection of just how powerful the President's arguments can be when they're effectively mustered, I suppose. But the loser pay provision addresses -- fails to address in our estimation a real problem that does exist with legal reform, which is that in many cases the slow pace and administrative cost of achieving justice is a problem. There's no evidence that a loser pay provision would address that fundamental problem in any concrete way.

Second, on the issue of product liability, which is still under discussion within the House, we don't believe that the abolition of punitive damages makes sense. We believe states that have been dealing effectively with product liability reform have been the laboratories for experimentation with reform. Indeed, just about every state one way or another has reformed liability laws in the recent past.

We also find it curious that those who argue so often for state's rights and for flexibility to states would seek to impose a federally-mandated structure on these kinds of questions. That's seems to be curious reasoning on the part of some of those advocates. Lastly, we do believe that securities laws need to be addressed and reformed, but we share some of the concerns that the chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission has voiced.

In short, the President believes that we can achieve reforms that will reduce frivolous litigation and improve the efficiency of our legal system, but the bill now pending in the House of Representatives falls short on that mark. We'll be working in the Senate to improve the legislation to achieve the types of reforms that the President advocates as one who is concerned about the role that consumers will have in seeking justice and ultimately in the justice that can be received by middle-income Americans who are very often the plaintiffs who bring these kinds of cases.

Q What reforms does the President advocate besides the security law?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, he believes that there are good discussions that could follow on the path of discussion of reform that has occurred in the past in the Senate. There have been a number of senators -- Senator Dodd, Senator Rockefeller have been active in aspects of legal reform, and we will build on those discussions as the Senate seeks to address this legislation.

The letter that you'll receive shortly from Judge Mikva and the Attorney General will make clear some of our specific concerns about the House bill, and I think in that context you can see the direction that the President would pursue.

Q Would you veto a bill that has those --

Q How long has the President been supporting these proposals you say he now backs? Forgive me, I don't remember. Did he put in bills on this last year or the year before?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure if they've had legislation pending during his term as presidency. He's worked this issue substantially as a governor and has been one of those governors who has had to deal with tort reform and related issues at the state level. There were discussions that occurred around legislation that Senator Rockefeller developed in the last session of Congress. And I believe Senator Dodd -- Senator Dodd carried a number of ideas on securities law reform. And Senator Rockefeller was dealing more with the product liability issues. But there have been discussions back and forth between the administration and Congress on ways in which you could effectively reform our legal system.

Q Is there concern here that again and again on spending issues, on tort reform and perhaps other issues as well -- military spending increases -- that the President seems to be saying time and time again, me, too, but not so much?

MR. MCCURRY: I think there are many occasions which we say to this Congress as they develop proposals the President considers extreme that we've got to find better ways to achieve the ultimate end; that there certainly needs, across a broad array of issues, there needs to be efforts to reinvent government, to improve the way that government does business; that so often you see this Republican majority seeking to cast all programs out the window, in some cases turning them back to the states with no guarantee that funding will be there so that states can carry out responsibilities, and other cases just wanting to winnow away programs altogether. The President takes the view that you can make government more effective, more responsive, more efficient, and you can ultimately provide the benefits and the services that the American people expect.

Q Is that a yes?

MR. MCCURRY: That is a long-winded way of saying yes.

Q Mike, you said this morning you would be willing to offer comment on the situation Senator Hatfield finds himself in today.

MR. MCCURRY: That is a matter that the Senate Republican Caucus and the Majority Leader in the Senate will deal with. It seems a sad day when someone who is a moderate within his own party, within the Legislative Branch finds himself almost as an outcast put there by those who have a rather more extreme view.

Q Is that only a sad day when that happens to moderates, or is it a sad day when that happens to conservatives within the Democratic Party, too?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that anything similar has happened to conservatives in the Democratic Party.

Q That's how Phil Gramm became a Republican, isn't it?

Q Are those the President's sentiments, or just yours, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: That's not exactly how that happened.

Q Oh, yes, it is.

Q Are these the President's sentiments as well?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't -- I've talked to the President a little bit about the political dynamic, but not specifically about Senator Hatfield's situation. If you'd like a read from him, I will talk to him.

Q Did the President call him?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.

Q Would you invite him to join the Democratic Party?

MR. MCCURRY: We have a big tent and a wide-open door, and anyone is welcome.

Q Will the affirmative action review be finished this week? And once it is finished, will you be reporting to us, or what happens once it's over?

MR. MCCURRY: I doubt it will be finished this week, and as the President indicated Friday, when it is concluded, he expects to report to people about the general parameters of the review that has been undertaken.

Q Back to tort reform, briefly. One argument already making the rounds this morning on talk radio -- what would the President do by way of reforming that would do something about people who sue McDonald's for coffee that's too hot? I mean, that's the populist part of this equation.

Q It was too hot. It burned her and had her in the hospital two weeks.

MR. MCCURRY: We're having a debate here about fast-food coffee.

Q Two weeks that woman was in the hospital, burned.

MR. MCCURRY: What the President believes you can do within the parameters of this debate is to focus on ways in which you can reduce the costs of litigation. You can look at the question of compensatory awards or judgments, but do that in a context that protects the right of people to bring action that needs remedy. The problem with an arbitrary cutoff or an arbitrary listing of what the damage limits should be is that you find yourself in a peculiar situation sometimes when you might cut off the ability of a plaintiff to receive redress from an enormously wealthy corporation. On the other hand, there are some cases where you might end up with the reverse situation, where you have plaintiffs of substantial needs who are suing a variety of other individuals. In general, common sense and a more moderate approach is called for in reaching the kind of reform that would protect the interests of those who ought to be protected and had been protected in 200 years of jurisprudence in our civil system of justice.

Q Mike, what's the President's goal in talking about welfare reform tomorrow, without giving away all the fun that he hopes to have --

MR. MCCURRY: He's going to make the case as Congress continues to wrestle with the issue of welfare reform, he's going to make a very simple argument that, so far, what we've seen has not gone far enough in being tough on work standards, requiring that those who are on welfare move as quickly as possible into work situations.

Secondly, that it's been too tough on kids. A lot of the thrust of welfare reform as it's beginning to take shape in this Congress has not protected the interests of children who, through no fault of their own, find them in circumstances of indigency. And then, lastly, we think that in some cases, they've been weak on provisions like the deadbeat dad provision, which child support enforcement is a key objective of the President and feels that more needs to be done to encourage child support. But I think all of these measures he'll outline in greater detail tomorrow.

Q Does he support taking away of licenses of the deadbeat dads -- the driver licenses?

MR. MCCURRY: That question has come -- Terry, I will check on that. I believe so, but I need to go back and check that specifically, make a note and come back to that, maybe in terms of doing tomorrow on the speech.

Q Last week, House Speaker Gingrich, in his morning news conference, made the prediction that 60 percent of the Contract will get through the House and Senate. Would the White House care to make a counterprediction?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Our prediction is that at the end of 100 days of the 104th Congress, that the consensus that develops on the role of government and what the American people would like to see its government properly do will look a lot more like Bill Clinton's New Covenant than Newt Gingrich's Contract for America.

Q Mike, you have used in the last week the word "extreme" or the phrase "extreme view," to apply to people who disagree with your administration on the balanced budget amendment, product liability reform, and abortion. That means that at least the Catholic bishops, three former presidents and a majority of the American people on those three issues have extreme views. Are you worried that this kind of rhetoric will backfire and people will think that you're actually over on this side?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I'm worried that anytime that we mischaracterize the views of those who are not extreme that that creates the wrong kind of dialogue. I don't think I've done that. I think I've pointed to specific instances when the results advocated reflect a very extreme viewpoint within those who have influence on the Republican Caucus in the majority of this Congress. And there have been instances where some very extreme points of view have either prevailed or have been reflected in the sentiments by those who are shaping legislation within this Congress. And I think that is a source of a very real concern of this President and what he has spoken on himself very direct.

I would make a very important distinction here -- there can be legitimate differences and different points of view and we acknowledge those. There can be a good, healthy debate on many of the issues that are now before this Congress and this President because they go ultimately to the role of government, to what government can properly do in the name of the American people as the common instrument of the American people. And that is a source of rich, textured debate which people with different points of views can have amicable and civil discourse. Unfortunately, we're very rarely treated to that type of discourse.

Q Do you consider wanting to severely limit product liability lawsuits as an extreme position?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that within the question of legal reform, within the broad scope of legal reform, there has developed in looking at torts, looking at securities law changes, looking at provisions that would cap compensatory awards, there are views at either extreme. And I think the President points to the need for a consensus that reaches toward the center of that debate. But what we're seeing shape up at least in the House today is something that moves us much more towards the extreme point of view in that debate. And that is, I think, a fair characterization of where this debate is.

Q Let me follow that up further with some questions about the school lunch program. When the Republican committee made its vote on that, we had this remarkable performance out here with Leon Panetta and Donna Shalala, and Panetta practically trembling, talking about taking the food out of the mouth -- literally taking food out of the mouths of children.

When the President was finally asked about this, he said it was his understanding that the plan was to flat fund the program for five years. I think it's reasonable to suggest that flat funding something is not what most Americans mean by -- think the word "cut" means, or "cut and gut" as the President wanted to call it. Who is guilty of the extremism, at least in language, on that issue?

MR. MCCURRY: Brit, it's a very simple proposition, that if you take over the out-years, funding for these programs and do not hold it harmless against the effects of inflation in the cost of goods and services or foodstuffs or in the provision -- the administrative provision of that type of assistance to Americans who are in need, you will undeniably at the end of that period end up with fewer people being served. So, in other words, a cut in the number of people who are getting assistance that would otherwise keep them from going hungry. Now, that's a fair characterization.

Q That goes to the core of the argument, though, doesn't it, because that's a program from which 11 states have dropped out because of the severe administrative burdens of it and are doing it on their own without federal money, which argues for the proposition that there would be savings over the period. Now, I'm not saying one side is right or not, but --

MR. MCCURRY: Also argues for exactly the type of administrative reforms that were announced by the Department of Agriculture last week.

Q Mike, all these things are relevant parts of the debate. But what does it say about a trembling Chief of Staff, his jaw set, his eyes blazing up here, talking about taking food out of the mouths of children? That's a little out of control, isn't it?

MR. MCCURRY: What it says is that Democrats -- this Chief of Staff and Democrats and this President are going to be passionate about defending those programs that help Americans most in need when they are under assault by those in this Republican Congress that would seek to curb funding in a way that would limit and cut the number of people who can participate in the program.

You need only to read the newspapers today of how they are shaping up this proposal. In fact, it's not us using the word "assault." You can talk to your colleagues covering this issue on the Congress who point to a "assault" on these programs that is being undertaken by the Republican committees drafting this legislation. That's what this is about. And I think speaking passionately on it is quite warranted, to be honest.

Q I just wondered if you have an update or a current report on the Glickman nomination?

MR. MCCURRY: It's nothing new -- it is where it was.

Q It's still at the FBI?

MR. MCCURRY: No. I believe it's under review here, and we are proceeding as soon as we are ready.

Q You mean the FBI has now finished, because the last time you talked, the FBI had not --

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check and see if they have thoroughly completed their background investigation on that. But the matter has not gone forward yet. We expect it to go forward as soon as we are ready to, and that should be very shortly.

Q Mike, did the administration slide into an extreme form of political correctness by caving to Japan and agreeing not to use the term "V-J Day"?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar enough with that issue to know -- I read the article about it, but I haven't checked into that today. I'll have to defer to my State Department friends.

Q Could you check that and give us the rationale?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll see if it came up at the State Department today. I imagine it probably did.

Q Also, on V-E Day, do you have anything further on the President's --

MR. MCCURRY: On his travel schedule? I don't have anything further, no.

Q You had acknowledged earlier that the administration hadn't done that much until recently on legal reform. Do people who support moderate legal reform by all rights they should applaud these more extreme proposals, right, because at least they've caused the administration to do something that hadn't been done before. What's wrong with extremism if at least it forces you guys to do something? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's a tortured argument, and you'll have to ask those who would make it.

Q You've done nothing on legal reform, right, and so now it's an issue?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it's an issue that has been under consideration by this Congress. And as Congress moves towards more definitive consideration of it, the administration has been working to shape the outcome of the debate within the Congress -- not unlike other issues.

Q The President on Friday offered -- said he was going to offer a new round of health care proposals. Will that include the necessary set of changes in Medicare to prevent its solvency, and what's the timetable for that?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, as he has indicated both in the State of the Union and more recently, believes that a step-by-step approach to health care reform can result in reform of the insurance market, making coverage affordable and more available to children, helping workers who lose their jobs keep health insurance, level the playing field so that the self-employed have the same tax treatment that is often given to other businesses, help families provide long-term care to a sick parent or disabled child -- those are the types of measures in a step-by-step way that the President believes.

Q When are we going to see a proposal about that?

Q He's not going to do anything about Medicare?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President -- we've testified on these issues before Congress and the President indicated that we would be developing the right type of legislative approach in the near future.

Q What are the latest on the arrest at the Newark Airport of the ex Mexican official?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything newer than what customs officials had already indicated, and I believe he was being arraigned in federal court today, if I'm not mistaken. Is that correct?

Q Is Mexico asking for his extradition, do you know?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether we have received an extradition request from Mexico, or not.

Q Back to the product liability bill. Is any of the deeply problematic things are in it, will the President veto it?

MR. MCCURRY: The President hopes to see the Senate modify those objectionable provisions. It would be too early in the consideration of the legislation to indicate a veto would be likely because we've got the opportunity to work with the Senate to get an outcome more to the President's liking.

Q When the President took aim at the Republican rescission package on Friday he also said that there were some elements on it that he wanted to support. Specifically, what elements of it is he interested in supporting?

MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check to see which he was referring to particularly. There are some provisions in the rescission package that seem to make some sense and that the administration has been supportive of. But I'll go back and see if he had specific items in mind.

Q Could you post that today? Could you get an answer today?

MR. MCCURRY: If I can get it -- I'll either get an answer today and post it if I can, or otherwise I'll come back to it tomorrow.

Q Mike, the veterans up there at the VFW Conference were very taken with the President's pledge to protect their benefits programs, including the two that he cited in his speech. How far is he willing or able to go in protecting those programs, for example, on the appropriations bill that's coming through? Will he veto it if those programs are not back up to where he wants them? Or what other steps will he take?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we believe -- the President believes by putting a public spotlight on those benefit programs and making the case publicly for them we can generate sufficient support in the Congress that a veto would not be necessary. But he made it very clear today he is willing to stand firm against any effort to take on those specific provisions. We'll see how the legislation develops as it moves through.

Q Are there any cuts possible in veterans entitlements?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are ways in which you can adjust programs and make them more efficient. But the core promise that is there for our veterans is one that this President has been very successful in defending and protecting.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 1:43 P.M. EST