THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome to the White House. Just very briefly at the top of our performance here, I'd like to ask Sally Katzen, who is the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the Office of Management and Budget -- I wrote it down this time so I'd get it right -- I'd like her just to make a couple of points on the bill signing of unfunded mandates today. And then we'll take one or two questions and move on to other topics.
MS. KATZEN: Thank you. The sun was shining on a very happy event. I think the President has been interested in this issue from the minute he got here, and had done what he could. He mentioned this afternoon that he had signed an executive order, 12875, that precluded federal agencies from imposing nonstatutory unfunded mandates on state and local governments unless there had been full cooperation, collaboration with those governmental partners. And he was talking about how this bill now, which he has worked quietly behind the scenes and we've been very supportive of, imposes on Congress the same discipline that the federal agencies have used.
It also codifies a lot of what was in the executive order. And he cast it as an important step in the creating of a new relationship, a new and improved, a better relationship with the state and local governments. This keeps the federal government from giving obligations, imposing requirements on states without giving them the money. We're also looking at areas like waivers, performance partnerships and other ways to enhance a good, cooperative relationship.
I'll be happy to take any questions on the bill itself or what he was talking about.
Q What happens now?
Q The $12 billion, is that an annual figure, the estimate of how much does this will cost local and state governments?
MS. KATZEN: Those were annual figures, yes.
Q Now, I understand that as far as the retrospective mandates -- that is, the existing mandates -- they're going to be examined, too, under a provision of this bill by ACIR and --
MS. KATZEN: ACIR was asked to do three studies, and one of them is to look at the embedded mandates, as we would call them. A lot of those are in statutes which will be coming up for reauthorization. And to the extent that there would be any increase in the mandates, they'd be covered when they're reauthorized. But the hope is, as part of the regulatory reform effort that we're undertaking and as part of what ACIR is doing, is to try to find the ones that can be modified or eliminated as we go.
Q Change of subject. The 45-day layover, has the administration taken a position or is likely to take a position soon on the 45-day --
MS. KATZEN: We haven't taken a position yet. It was dropped yesterday late and we haven't gone through the language, we haven't consulted with the agencies. But it's part of the mix of what is now at least I think 18 bills up there that we're working through.
MR. MCCURRY: Moving on. Any other subjects?
Q Yes. While you're doing economics -- trade comment?
MR. MCCURRY: On the trade statistics, a couple of things. I think you know that they have reported today a record monthly trade deficit. A couple points, generally. The first thing that we looked at are just the trend lines over several months. If you go back and take December, which was a somewhat more favorable report, and then add it together with the January report an average amount, you come up, interestingly, with a trend that's pretty close to where the numbers were moving in November.
Now, there are some individual aspects of the report itself that Commerce has already been talking about today that's important. There's a very sharp drop in exports of civilian aircraft in this report, so they're looking at the internals of some of the numbers. And Commerce might have a little more to say about it, but our general view is that, based again -- a persuasive case that we need to do everything we can to open up markets overseas so there can be stronger commerce involving the sale of U.S. goods and services abroad. What we've got right now is an economic recovery going on in the United States in which our economy is healthy and performing better. Some of our major trading partners haven't quite caught up to that level of recovery, and that works in some degree of imbalance in the trade statistics that you see today.
Q So the major problem is trade barriers and the economies of other countries?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, raising the level of commerce through freer and more open trade around the world, and then also extending the reach of the economic recovery that's now going on in the United States so that other of our trading partners are benefitting from that increase as well.
Q Is the administration concerned that with the dollar so weak that you're going to end up -- because of the trade figures, you're going to end up importing inflation? That Japanese parts, for instance, will be more expensive?
MR. MCCURRY: They are looking at that; they're not quite sure what the effect of currency market fluctuations are on these trade figures. I think there are others who are more knowledgeable than I am that are prepared to comment on that over at Commerce, but they, from what I understand, do not suggest that that is the sole explanation for the numbers we saw today.
Q Mike, what's your assessment of the impact of the Mexican -- crisis on the trade picture?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was -- again, it was not the sole factor in the numbers. There was an evening out of trade. We didn't see the surplus that we saw in some of the previous monthly reports, but again, over time, as the Mexican economy recovers from its current crisis, and as the effects of NAFTA take hold, that will improve and the trade picture with Mexico over time. They've got to weather now a short-term crisis and get through that, and they're going to have to take some hard hits in their economy as President Zedillo has made very clear, but that can, over time, even out and create a more positive balance in that trade relationship.
Q Change of subject? Do you any word whether or not anyone has been allowed to see the two Americans who are being held by the Iraqis?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not. I think the information -- the only information available to us at this point that I am aware of is that that was provided by the Iraqi representative at the United Nations to the United Nations. He indicated that they are being well-treated, and certainly they are aware of the efforts that are being made through intermediaries to secure their release.
Q Has the International Red Cross -- have they been allowed to see these two Americans?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. I do know that there was a representative who protects our interests in Iraq via the Polish Embassy in Baghdad today who was commenting publicly on some of the efforts underway, but I haven't had a full report on what that representative was saying.
Q And what about these reports that Saddam Hussein's oldest son was wounded in some sort of alleged assassination plot, and may be in a hospital in Jordan?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check into that. I'm not familiar with that.
Q As long as we're on the Middle East, Secretary Perry has cautioned the Arab Gulf states about the Iranian buildup in the Strait of Hormuz, saying it could be used to threaten shipping. In that regard, has the administration told Iran that if they do threaten shipping, that we will take steps against them?
MR. MCCURRY: The government of Iran is well aware of the interest that we have placed in commerce, and specifically shipping, through the Strait of Hormuz, and they are also aware of our determination to defend what we declare to be, since the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a vital interest of our own country.
Q Mike, is the Iranian buildup, military buildup, continuing since last month, or did it stop, or how is the situation since you first mentioned it?
MR. MCCURRY: The information that I have that was relayed by the Secretary of Defense today, and he indicated the size of the buildup and some of the capacity that now exists on those islands, but it was not clear what pace that buildup has occurred. He cited some specific munitions and personnel that they're bringing in.
Q Iranian intentions with that buildup?
MR. MCCURRY: No, though Secretary Perry did suggest today could present a potential threat to shipping there. But so far there's no indication that it is other than a defensive deployment. The size of it and the capacity, given some of the hardware that they've positioned there, was of some concern, as the Secretary relayed today.
Q I wonder what gives rise to that assessment when, just a few weeks ago he said that the missile and placement and other things that we had seen there seemed to pose no threat at all.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they were talking specifically in that case about some anti-aircraft batteries, I think. There have been some additional things, as the Secretary of Defense said today, that --
Q Additional things placed there or --
MR. MCCURRY: Additional things that he indicated that we are now aware of being there, and that was a source of some of the concern reflected by the Secretary today.
Q There seems to be back and forth. I think Shali also mentioned them and so forth, and every time we come to the White House with the question, you seem to soften the blow. What is really going on?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I softened any blow. I'm referring you to the remarks made by the Secretary of Defense today, which obviously the White House follows as well.
Q Well, are you trying to find out what their motives are?
MR. MCCURRY: We are -- yes. We take -- we do a lot of different things to determine the purposes and capacities they have for military deployments. That is a source of keen interest on the part of those in our government who gather information on behalf of those who make decisions.
Q What have they decided?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Secretary of Defense I think answered that pretty clearly today.
Q Mike, I've got a political question. The President by his frequent visits to California has made it clear that this is the state -- reelection in '96. With Pete Wilson about to enter the race, does that mean that the President is going to be visiting California more frequently? Is he going to step up various --
MR. MCCURRY: Great question. Come back in about five or six months. I'll talk to you then.
Q Secretary Christopher called the Russian moves in Chechnya over the past few days "foolhardy" and says it makes it difficult to deal with Russia in international organizations, makes their membership in international organizations more difficult. Has it or does it affect planning for the summit?
MR. MCCURRY: He's -- given that the Secretary has probably just concluded meetings with Foreign Minister Kozyrev, I'll let the Secretary comment further on that.
Q On the Pacific, V-J Day or Victory in the Pacific -- I'm not sure what term you're using, first of all.
MR. MCCURRY: V-J Day?
Q Yes, is it still V-J Day or --
MR. MCCURRY: As far as I know, yes. Has been for a long time.
Q Have you been speaking to veterans groups and are you concerned about their criticism of the possible change?
MR. MCCURRY: There's not a possible change, so I'm not aware that we've had that discussion with anyone. There's not any --
Q Well, was there any discussion about possibly softening that by referring to it as the end of the war in the Pacific?
MR. MCCURRY: Not within any part of our government that makes decisions on matters like that.
Q In what part might it have occurred?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Go find out.
Q Does that mean the State Department no longer falls under that rubric? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You know how they are at the State Department. (Laughter.) No. I'm not aware that there was any serious consideration given to changing the name. The name is V-J Day, comma, End of the War in the Pacific, End of World War II Commemoration. How about that -- did I get that right? I'm brilliant, he says. Good. (Laughter.) But it is referred to as shorthand as V-J Day Commemoration. I think -- some of you were earlier today were talking about this and I showed you the documents we use for doing long-term planning around here all refer to this as the V-J Commemoration Day. I don't know that that's a surprise to anybody.
Q Pat Buchanan's very unhappy with some of your comments about his presidential entrance into the race. Do you have any second thoughts about what you said about Pat Buchanan?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I have many second, third, fourth, and fifth thoughts, but I, of course, won't utter them because it wouldn't be proper to do so. I just think -- it's a long ways away from any political season which we will be exchanging brickbats back and forth. So -- of course, now he will accuse me of unilateral disarmament, I'm sure.
Q So you don't do politics, is that it? You don't do politics?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know enough about politics to do politics.
Q Is there any -- with the Republicans on Capitol Hill, some of them, talking about now getting rid of tax cuts, just forgetting about that, going for deficit reduction, is there any serious consideration here at the White House for doing that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as we indicated -- I think the Chief of Staff was here and indicated to you yesterday that we are somewhat encouraged by the apparent shift of almost half of the House Republicans to a position that's a little more sensible. And I'd remind everybody that the benefits that go from even that modified approach, as more and more Republicans begin to come off the Contract for America provisions on tax cuts and move in a more sensible direction, they still wind up in a place where more of the benefits are skewed to the wealthiest in our society.
We hope that as they begin to move and as they begin to sort of shift their position on the Hill, they will be shifting towards the Middle Class Bill of Rights, which is a very good way of targeting middle-income tax relief to those who need it most in our society. You see a lot of shifting going on on the part of the Republicans in the House now, and a lot of controversy amongst themselves and, of course, I wouldn't do anything to exacerbate that here. But as they begin to sort that out, we think that they will end up sensibly in a place that looks a lot more like the proposal that the President has made.
Q I'm trying to understand the evolution of the apparent movement on this Iranian buildup in the mouth of the Gulf. Have other Arab states there expressed concerns? Did they draw our attention to this? Is this perhaps driving the increasing level of concern about the Iranian placement?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they, in many ways, are partners that -- the Gulf Cooperation Council watched these developments almost as closely as we do. But we watch them perhaps even more closely in some respects. So we discuss that from time to time. We share some information about what we know about that. And the Secretary of Defense has been in the region and has had conversations with governments in the region that he's been reporting as he goes along the way. And I think it's pretty clear from that, as you look at what he has been reporting, that there is a high degree of concern about the intents of Iran in the region. And we, of course, ourselves will be monitoring their deployments very, very carefully.
Q Back on tax cuts a moment. A few days ago, House Minority Leader Gephardt indicated that he thought a tax cut bill would emerge from the Democrats, but it would be a hybrid version, most likely emphasizing the education initiatives in the President's plan, but not necessarily the others. Is the White House open to whittling down the President's bill?
MR. MCCURRY: The President spoke today about a cooperative spirit that might lead us to some progress on, specifically, welfare reform and line-item veto, but we hope that there can be progress on other measures, and we hope they will take a serious look, now that they're shifting away from sort of the more extreme view they had on tax cuts initially, within the Contract provisions --
Q This is the Democrats --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Democrats are part of that discussion because, of course, they'll be part of whatever majority emerges to pass tax cuts in the end, we would hope, because we would hope, obviously, there would be a provision that would be close to the President's proposal.
Q Just a point of information -- nobody has introduced the President's proposal in either House, have they?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think that's -- I thought it's been introduced upon requests in both Houses. Has it not been? I believe it has been. It's there as a vehicle, but obviously -- I would be disingenuous to say the action has been elsewhere as the Republican Majority tries to craft a bill, they're having trouble doing that, obviously. So they're increasingly turning to the approach that looks more like the direction the President would like to go, although I would like to say again they're not there yet. They still are skewing the benefits more to the very wealthy. We think it can be much more effectively targeted.
Q Mike, back just for a second on the Iranian arms in the Gulf. My recollection was, when the President was asked about it, was his statement was that it was only equipment and, therefore, not of much concern.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not certain that he -- I'd have to go back and look -- I'm not sure that he addressed it with that specificity.
Q while he was here, and in my recollection, he said it was old equipment and not of very much -- nothing to be concerned about. What I'm trying to figure out is --
MR. MCCURRY: My recollection is, he said that he was not aware that it posed an immediate threat, and I think that that statement probably stands today. The Secretary of Defense has been more precise on that today, and --
Q Well, the question I'm trying to understand -- are you all saying that what's changed is in the nature of the hardware, or the nature of the intent?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that anything has changed, there's just a little more available to you, publicly, now about what is deployed.
Q Mike, on affirmative action, some of the public polls show two very different answers from the public. It seems that a majority wants a repeal of affirmative action programs; at the same time, the majority says that they favor what affirmative action has done. How closely is the White House looking at polling numbers and going through this review of affirmative action?
MR. MCCURRY: We are aware of that because so many news organizations have been doing polling, and it's hard not to miss all the polling that's going on. But, again, I think that's --certainly, they're aware of that information, they're aware of public opinion and public sentiment on these issues, but the review the President is conducting is premised from the point that you've got to start the review of the programs that exist, determine how you fine-tune or perfect those that do exist in order to defend them properly. In a sense, what you do is you get the policy and the substance right, and then you figure out how to talk about it publicly and communicate it effectively later on in the process.
Q Do you have any thoughts, though, on this split view that the public seems to be coming at affirmative action?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that it's a split view; I think it's a fairly common-sense view. They believe in equal opportunity and justice, they believe that there have been instances of discrimination based on race and gender, they believe in some respects discrimination and barriers still exist. They think it's proper for the government affirmatively to address that, and they need -- but they think that some things could represent an excess. I mean, it's not hard to understand where the public comes up because it seems in some ways to be a very common-sense approach. But the application of those sentiments, then, to specific programs is a lot more difficult. But that's the difficult work you get hired to do if you run for political office.
Q Do you think the Republicans are pushing this issue solely because of polling data? Do you think the polling data has had a significant impact on how this issue is playing politically?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing. All I do know, having spent some time working in campaigns and politics is that the Republicans have favored the use of so-called "wedge issues" that help divide the electorate, very often using matters that have a race element to them. That is just the history of our recent politics in America. So they could probably explain why they do that better than I can.
Q Is Patrick going to testify on --
MR. MCCURRY: As far as I know, yes.
Q And take no position --
MR. MCCURRY: No, he'll give -- my understanding is give probably an update on where things stand, and address some of the issues. But as I suggested before, I don't anticipate -- the President will be the one giving the major policy address on this subject, and that'll happen when the President is ready.
Q The committee had indicated yesterday that he might not even appear, that he might send up written testimony. Do you know what the case is?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not my understanding. I think he's going to be there -- what I've heard we're working under the assumption that he will appear in person.
Q You stipulate the line-item veto and recognize the President's objections to the Republican versions of the tax cut bill and the welfare reform proposal now on the Hill. Is there anything left in the Republican's contract that he is likely to support?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to go through and look at it line by line. I mean, we've said -- in some aspects of legal reform, we would be willing to do.
Q But other than that --
MR. MCCURRY: They're having a hard time with some elements of the contract, and I -- we will review those things, and the President suggested today, when we can cooperate in addressing that the problems that Americans want to see some solutions for, we can work with them and move ahead.
Q But you can't really see anything that --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- they're working on an awful lot of legislation on the Hill right now, and we'll have to see how some of that comes out.
Q In declining to answer Leo's question about politics, presidential politics, in California a minute ago, I'm not clear, are you blowing off all political questions for five or six months or just ones about California?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just -- I mean, we could get -- if I started -- sooner or later I hope to introduce to you someone who will be a campaign press secretary and can handle all kinds of questions like that on the President's behalf. But for right now, the President has got -- when he travels, got a lot of different things he's working. He's got different -- he's about the business of being President. That's what he's doing. And obviously there is always a political element to that, but it's a little early to be calculating what role is California going to play in electoral strategy for 1996. I mean, if we -- even if we had a completely defined electoral strategy now, it would change a million times between now and November of 1996.
Q Isn't it a little early to start to rip from this platform at people like Gramm and Buchanan also?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it is. That was a probably a mistake. That was probably a mistake.
Q Well, when can we expect a campaign press secretary to be named? What month?
MR. MCCURRY: When we get closer to a time when we've got a formal mistake -- or formal -- (laughter) -- I got mistakes on the mind.
Q Have you been taken the woodshed --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q for your remarks on politics?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I have not. I have not.
Q Could we have lights while we ask --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, turn them back on.
Q Mike, to please give us a bite for use --
MR. MCCURRY: Turn them back on. We had too many people encouraging me to do more.
Q On what?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no, no.
Q Could you give us something on tomorrow's event that we might use -- (laughter) -- spots, to be blatant about it. (Laughter.) What's the President doing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: The President finds a lot of the work that we are doing really will help prepare this next generation for both positions in a stronger economy and for America's leadership position as we look out into the world of the 21st century. So tomorrow he's got a good opportunity to communicate with college-age Americans by meeting with a group of college newspapers and newspaper editors, many of whom aspire to sit in this very room someday. I will, of course, discourage them and disabuse them of that notion.
Q Just show them around.
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. I'll let them spend a little time with you tomorrow. They will quickly adjust their career aspirations accordingly.
But anyhow, the President will have an opportunity to talk to college students and really make the case that a lot of what he is working on is going to be central to their lives as we move this nation into the 21st century. He'll be talking about Middle Class Bill of Rights, talk about national service, talk about a lot of the things that matter. And they are going to have a full day of briefings here from White House folks.
Q Can we get in on that or is it --
MS. TERZANO: It's a pool. It's a pooled event. It will be fed live to the briefing room
MR. MCCURRY: These guys will do schedule for you afterwards.
Q Mike, you suggested this morning that you were ready to talk about the Atlanta economic summit. Do you have some more details?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, let me -- I'll tell you -- we're going to do a -- tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. Dr. Tyson and John Emerson, who have been working closely with the President on this will be here to do sort of a little advancer briefing for all of you doing detailed Sunday stories to set up the coverage of the conference.
Let me tell you just what I can now -- a couple of things about it. It's the Southern Regional Economic Conference. It's the first of the four regional conferences we'll have during the course of the year. The overall theme is making the economy work better for working families. It will build on the Little Rock Economic Conference that was held prior to the President's inauguration, bringing together experts, business folks, administration officials, workers from difference sectors of the economy to discuss firsthand how economic policies are affecting them in their lives and what we can do to enhance economic growth and produce better, higher-paying jobs.
The President, the Vice President, various Cabinet officials, business leaders and others will be participating. The day-long conference will have an introductory session and four issue sessions. And the four issue sessions are overview of the Southern regional economy; second, strains on working families; third, education and training; and, fourth, better jobs and sustained growth.
Q Any kind of policy decision or joint action or anything going to come out of this or is it just going to be a confab?
MR. MCCURRY: There could very well be coming out of this some specific strategies on how to target the work we're doing to improve the economy in areas that make sense regionally given the differences that exist in regional economies. There are different aspects to the economy of each region of the country, different impacts of trade imbalances of specific sectors that are important -- for example, the Southeast -- and there might be coming out of this some fine-tuning of specific economic strategies that could be fed into a variety of Cabinet-level departments from Labor to Commerce.
Q Are those things likely to be announced at the conclusion of this or are they simply things that will be thought through and worked through and gone through and disappear off the face of the Earth, basically?
MR. MCCURRY: There may be some things that come together in the context of the conference and there may be some things that feed into policymaking down the road.
Q Has it been announced where the other regional conferences will be? California, for example?
MR. MCCURRY: It has not been announced.
Q When will there be a list of participants?
MR. MCCURRY: They're working on that -- trying to work it up by the weekend, I think,
Q Is the House Speaker invited?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The entire Georgia delegation was invited, including the Speaker. I don't believe the Speaker is planning to attend. I don't believe he is.
Q When you say you're going to hire a campaign press secretary -- when is that going to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: You know, at whatever point we have a campaign, whatever point they open the doors and get rocking and rolling for 1996.
Q When will that --
MR. MCCURRY: Not yet.
Q Have you declared a moratorium on political --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q You will continue to respond?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. When I feel like it.
Q What are Tony Lake and the leader of Kazakhstan going to talk about later today? And can we expect a readout?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be up to Mr. Mitchell.
Q Is Nazarbayev in the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: Nazarbayev is not here is he? We'll have to check and see -- President Nazarbayev is not here to my knowledge.
Q It's not the President.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Someone.
Q Some other leader.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll find out who it is. We'll provide an appropriate readout if that is in fact the appropriate, proper thing to do.
Thank you very much. Good-bye.
END 2:10 P.M. EST