THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House, and this is the daily briefing. And having no initial pronouncements, I will entertain your questions.
Q What did the President say today? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: On which subject? He's been quite voluble today, so far.
Q Oh, politics.
MR. MCCURRY: Politics. He didn't say anything about -- he said there will be plenty of time for politics in 1996. You might -- the way it works here in the United States of America, Terry, we have -- every four years, we have presidential elections. And according to the calendar I keep on my desk, 1996 will be the presidential election year. That would be next year.
Q So no thinking about politics now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we think about it, but we don't do a lot about it. (Laughter.)
Q What do you do --
Q Do you want to revise that?
MR. MCCURRY: All right, let's try another one. That was a dry hole. (Laughter.)
Q Would you like to revise and extend?
Q If there are no politics in this interview, why are they showing a big chunk of it on "Inside Politics"?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to ask CNN. We just sit there and answer the best -- questions the best we can.
Q Mike, didn't the President address --
MR. MCCURRY: And then they decide what's news.
Q didn't the President address the tax pledge issue?
MR. MCCURRY: He was asked about that, yes. I'm not going to scoop CNN, but his answer was one that you might well imagine he'd give.
Q Mike, are we threatening new tariffs against Japan on trade?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been in discussion for over 18 months with Japan on the subject of imbalances in trade. We've made progress on some issues, but we're very concerned about some of their practices in the auto sector. And we believe that they keep competitive foreign products out of the Japanese market. And we continue to raise that issue with them. We've been negotiating intensely with the Japanese. We will continue to do so. We believe that resolving these imbalances through negotiation is the best route to go. But if that fails, we will have to consider other options, and other options are available.
Q But is this something new? I mean, you've been negotiating for sometime, but are you actually setting some sort of -- I don't want to use the word "ultimatum" -- something along the lines of a demand for specific performance by a certain time?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have to -- as I say, we have to consider other options that would be available, failing a resolution of these matters through negotiation. And you can well expect that the President's economic advisors, looking ahead, do have to begin thinking of other options.
Q Well, have they specifically recommended or come up with a list of options?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have been thinking about options, and those who have been working on this both at USTR, Commerce, Treasury, other economic offices, as well as the NEC here, can tell you more about it. But they are not -- not unpredictable. You're very familiar with the way our trade laws function and what would be required, absent a negotiated agreement.
Q What about a date?
MR. MCCURRY: A date?
Q A date at which -- a point those options would be considered or imposed.
MR. MCCURRY: The deadlines and the schedule for negotiations in the five baskets of the framework I think are fairly well-known.
Q Reports coming out of Russia indicate that the Russians are beginning to conduct what they hope will be a fast and apparently a quite brutal mopping-up operation in Chechnya, an effort to try to get the hostilities over with or died down by the time of the big multi-power visit there in May. Is the administration concerned about this, and is the President giving any thought to withholding his attendance as a result of this campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: The administration is quite concerned about this, and it was raised by the Deputy Secretary of State on his most recent visit to Moscow. You can check in with them. They gave a fairly full report on our expressions of concern and the President's concern about the operations in Chechnya.
Q Does it raise the possibility that it might reach a point where the President would find it intolerable to go and stand shoulder to shoulder with Mr. Yeltsin celebrating an Allied victory over brutality if it there had just been a horrible chapter of it nearby?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is going to Russia with other Western leaders who participated on the coalition that defeated Nazism in World War II and to commemorate the sacrifice of many Russians in World War II.
Q Be a little ironic --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any change in his plans at the moment.
Q And you'd be one of the first to know.
Q Mike, since the situation on auto and auto parts with the Japanese has been so in terms of -- (inaudible) -- does the President believe that the possibility of -- (inaudible) -- would help our relationship to break through, help U.S. interests, or is he concerned about the harm to the relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a broadbased relationship with Japan that deals not only on economic issues and issues important to international commerce, but also reflects our cooperation on security issues, our cooperation on global issues, such as U.N. peacekeeping, environmental protection, the work we do together to support the Middle East peace process. We have a broad agenda with Japan, but it is clear that to enjoy the full benefits of that relationship, there must be progress in the economic sphere, and that's what the trade talks have been aimed to achieve.
Q Mike, what's the President's position on taking away benefits to legal immigrants?
MR. MCCURRY: That's what -- we're looking at various proposals that come through the Congress for welfare reform. There's a discussion of some proposed or suggested modifications in the House-passed bill today that represent some steps in the right direction. But we'll have to see a lot more. They've made a lot of progress. If you think that they started with the idea of putting poor children in orphanages, they've been moving in the right direction as they consider and deliberate on the bill, but we'll have to see what type of legislation actually emerges in the Senate. There's been no measure introduced yet in the Senate. There have been some suggestions from Republican governors, and we are quite anxious to see what type of measure they fashion.
Q Mike, back on Chechnya for a moment. What does the President think about officials of the -- (inaudible) -- government using his name to justify the -- (inaudible) -- of their attacks on the Chechens?
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing that he has said nor has the administration said that would justify the taking of innocent life or the destruction of private property. We've made very clear our concerns about the operation in Chechnya and have suggested that it would be very wise for the Russians to try to work with the people of Chechnya to build a spirit of reconciliation that can bring this damaging conflict to a conclusion as well.
Q Has he asked or the United States asked that they stop using his name to justify --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not certain that -- I'm not certain that they have done that. We've made our views to them quite clear. And they know of our concern and know how deeply troubling aspects of this conflict have been, not only to the United States but to other Western governments as well.
Q Mike, has the President spoken to Yeltsin on the telephone recently or has he sent any written communication to Yeltsin on this subject?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not, as far as I'm aware, spoken to him by telephone. I have to check on written communications. We've had a series of high-level exchanges with the Russian Federation in preparation for the summit. I believe that's been the venue for our communication with the Russian government, but maybe someone at the NSC can check a little further on whether there's been any correspondence.
Q I'd like to go back to the Japan question for just a second. It was suggested in the stories about it this morning that the U.S. might be using the threat of sanctions as a bluffing tool, an effort to force concessions. Is the President, just for the record, willing to impose sanctions upon Japan if a satisfactory agreement is not reached?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is willing to proceed as required by law and suggested by law to consider other options if there is a failure in negotiation as I indicated earlier.
Q Is he willing to carry out those options?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he's willing to proceed to consideration of other options, and failing a negotiated solution to our concerns and to what must be done to address trade imbalances, he is prepared to act if necessary.
Q Mike, you mentioned the other -- you often talk about the -- of the relationship with Japan, and particularly in this 50th anniversary year there have been all these sensitivities. Has there been any thought given to the fact that this trade dispute, now that you're going to get tough, is going to spill over into some of the other relationships, especially considering it's such a sensitive year?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe I answered earlier by indicating that the full benefits of an expanded portfolio of cooperation with Japan can't be fully appreciated by either government and the peoples of Japan or the United States if there is not progress in those economic issues that remain unresolved.
Q Mike, has there been any change in the situation with the Russians building the two reactors for Iran? Is there any movement on that at all or is that still -- they're going to go ahead with that?
MR. MCCURRY: There continues to be a lot of discussion about that, but I'm not aware of any change in the posture of the Russian Federation on that question.
Q Speaking of Iran, how close are you to announcing any new sanctions on Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't checked on that in the last several days, so I'm not aware of any movement in the last several days. The matter is left where I think we told you it was before -- some options were being considered for review by the President. I'm not aware of him having reviewed those yet, but --
Q Is that a backburner issue, I mean, or is that --
MR. MCCURRY: That is not a backburner issue. Our concern about the behavior of the Iranian government and its activities is a source of deep concern to us and one that prompts us to employ the strategy of containment, which you're familiar with.
Q Mike, a question on AIDS policy. Why did AIDS Czar Fleming stop mandatory AIDS education in the government? And do you have any reaction to the group, ACT-UP, today calling on her resignation for that change?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't have any reaction. And you'll have to check with them on why they changed the policy.
Q Mike, do you have anything to say about The Washington Post story that Secretary of Commerce Brown is both a slum lord and may have misstated the location of his holdings in the --
MR. MCCURRY: A curious question, because I believe they were mining territory that The Los Angeles Times had looked at.
Q I'm trying to share the credit --
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary of Commerce has addressed that question in a statement.
Q Mike, there is a report today that Roberta Achtenberg is going to be leaving the administration to run for Mayor of San Francisco. Do you have anything on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I have just seen some material that her office has developed, so you might want to check with her office.
Q Mike, on the women going to Iraq to seek the release of their husbands, do you have any indication that their appeal will be more positively responded to than the efforts by the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to hope for the prompt release on humanitarian grounds of two innocent Americans who are in Iraq now through no fault of their own. We believe they should be released promptly through executive clemency, and we hope that will happen as promptly as possible.
Q Would you urge third parties, NGOs and such to provide humanitarian assistance to Iraq in exchange for their release?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe a number of governments and others have spoken out in hopes that these two innocent Americans might soon be released.
Q Mindful of the answer you gave to Mr. Hunt's question at the top of the briefing, have you any comment on the latest entrant into the presidential race on the Republican side?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Well, you do, obviously --
MR. MCCURRY: There's so many of them now I can't keep them all straight.
Q Could we tick them off for you? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Let's play a word association game.
MR. MCCURRY: Nineteen ninety-six. Come back next year. We'll have plenty of time for that.
Q Anything on the security resolutions that you got -- recommendations --
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new. I believe it's still where we left it earlier in the week.
Q Do you have anything? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Look at this. There is so much paper and so few answers, you know? Look at that. (Laughter.)
Q How about this one -- this morning we asked about if the administration has a position on the legislation or the lawsuits being filed on transracial adoption.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we do. Accelerating adoption has been a very real source of interest for this President. He believes that that's important to do. And he believes that the guidelines necessary to implement the legislation passed last year should be brought to him promptly, as I believe they are in the process of doing. And those should be complete by the end of the month. And we believe that consistent with the best interests of the child, they ought to proceed with implementing the legislation as passed.
Q Does the White House worry about the possibility of a new mass exodus from Cuba if relations deteriorate?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we're satisfied that the Cuban migration agreement, which we've reached with the government of Cuba, provides a satisfactory avenue for addressing questions of migration.
Q What's the President doing all day, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: He's mostly been talking to CNN, I think. No, he's been --
Q Well, let's go back --
MR. MCCURRY: -- he worked with his foreign policy advisors earlier in the day on Russia and other subjects, spent some time with his economic staff. He's having lunch with the Vice President. He has an active day in anticipation of a holiday weekend.
Q He has an active day --
Q When is he leaving tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Early, we hope.
Q Could we ask that you put out a list now of his guests at Camp David this weekend -- save us a whole lot of work?
MR. MCCURRY: Consistent with my practice, we don't do lists of the Clinton's social guests.
Q Are they having guests?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know.
Q There's a growing number of flat tax proposals out there, many by presidential contenders. What is the White House view on having just a simple flat tax?
MR. MCCURRY: The concept of a flat tax initially sounds pretty attractive. It sounds like it would be simpler; it would easier for Americans to understand. The problem is, as you begin to do the math on flat tax proposals, you very quickly see that in order to make them revenue neutral, which most proponents call for, you have to do it in a way that could result in substantial, if not massive, tax increases for the middle income and those at the lower end of the economic scale, and massive, and in some senses, unconscionable, tax cuts for the very wealthiest. So we would want to look very, very carefully at any proposal of that nature and see what type of measure is actually advanced.
Q Can I ask a question? Why -- I can understand why --
MR. MCCURRY: Can you? Sure. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Will I give you a straightforward answer? (Laughter.)
Q I understand why you would say that a tax raise would be a hardship on people who didn't make a lot of money. But why would it be unconscionable to give money back to people -- money that they themselves earned?
MR. MCCURRY: Because during the 1980s, as we struggled with the limited resources available to government, huge tax cuts were given to the wealthiest in our society, while the rest of us got left out; and to move first in the process of reforming tax, making it simpler, or trying to provide tax relief through some mechanism to providing it to the wealthiest, who already enjoyed enormous tax relief in the 1980s, is unconscionable. How about some tax relief for the middle income? That's what the President wants. He wants to cut taxes for those who are working hard, who are already struggling to make ends meet. And we'd prefer to do that first. It seems more conscionable to do that first, and then to take care of the rich later on.
Q Mike, isn't it the case though that the reason why these tax cuts seem to affect the rich so much is that the rich's taxes are so much higher --
MR. MCCURRY: They are.
Q that you can't give large tax cuts to people who are not paying large taxes.
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct, because we have in our country something called progressive taxation, which is still -- represents, in some measure, the majority thinking about the way taxation ought to be done.
Q Well doesn't it also mean though when you talk about giving large tax breaks to the rich, that it's a bit of a illogical problem because it's hard to give large tax breaks to people who don't pay large taxes?
MR. MCCURRY: It is true that the wealthiest pay more in taxes because they earn more, and thus, pay more in taxes. The question is, at what type of rates are you talking about and whether or not those tax cuts or taxation itself is progressive or regressive.
Q And also, how does it get to be that you talk about giving when you speak of tax cuts --
Q Is this a theoretical debate?
Q as a matter of giving -- the government giving something -- when people keep their own money, they're not being given anything -- (laughter) --
Q I want to come back to the original question, which is --
Q I'm not rich. (Laughter.)
Q I want to come back to the original question, which is why is it that somehow it is -- it becomes unconscionable? Are you saying it in the context of taking away more money from poor people --
MR. MCCURRY: No, in the context of massive budget --
Q or are you just saying just the basic idea of giving back money, the people who make it?
MR. MCCURRY: In the context of massive budget deficits -- let's remember that -- we're dealing with, as much as we have done to try to reduce deficits, we are still dealing in an environment in which the government is taking in less than the government is spending. And so to try to provide tax relief to those who already enjoyed enormous sums in tax relief seems less fair than to concentrate on providing within the context of budget deficit reduction tax relief to middle income families who are already facing tough times. That's what the President thinks is fair. That's what the philosophy is that lies behind the Middle Class Bill of Rights. We want Congress to go back to that concept first rather than dreaming up new schemes to cut taxes for the wealthiest in our society.
Q I'd like to go to a less taxing issue. Ann Compton has a presentation to make.
MS. COMPTON: We have brought you a present from Mrs. Clinton's --
MR. MCCURRY: Uh oh!
MS. COMPTON: -- excellent adventure in Asia. This is a sutkeri samagri. We wanted -- on behalf of those who -- of your flock who went -- Gene and Nancy, Todd, Claire and Win -- we wanted you to know that it wasn't all just riding elephants and dancing camels, that we thought of you and Debra all through our trip. And we're hoping that you would not have baby number three while we were gone.
Now, we saw lots of babies. We went to Mother Teresa's orphanages. And we went to the diarrhea hospital in Bangladesh. (Laughter.) And every step of the way we thought of you, especially when we got to Katmandu, where almost all babies are born at home. Now we know that you don't have a lot of time to get away from here. We thought we would bring for you one of these little home delivery kits, home birthing kits from Bangladesh. What this has in it is --
MR. MCCURRY: Whatever this has got in it, it ain't enough. (Laughter.) That much I know already. (Laughter.)
MS. COMPTON: The problem in many of these countries is that they don't have sanitary conditions for birthing the baby at home. And a Nepalese custom is that the --
MR. MCCURRY: Let the record who that Ms. Santos is getting quite nervous down here in the front of the room. (Laughter.)
MS. COMPTON: We brought you one, too. The umbilical cord is cut for good luck up against a coin, which is not clean, and a lot of babies die from tetanus. So this includes -- Mrs. Clinton gave us this -- it includes a mat to put out, soap to wash your hands, and a little plastic button against which you will cut the umbilical cord. And full instructions -- they are all in Nepalese. (Laughter.)
But we missed you, and we're glad you waited for us to come home.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you. Thank you.
Q That's in lieu of universal health care. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Why does this look so -- this looks very dangerous. I don't think -- if that's all it takes to delivery a baby, there's a lot more health care reform that's occurred than President Clinton realizes, that's for sure.
Q Boil water, Mike. Just remember, boil water.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that. And I know that those of you who accompanied the First Lady had a marvelous time, because I've heard about it from several of you.
Q Mike, when are you due?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably at the end of next week. Thank you one and all. Have a happy Easter. We'll see you tomorrow. We've got --
Q Are you briefing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We do -- well, we've got -- well, we've got, among other things, as I think -- as I said -- indicated earlier, we'll be providing the President's tax returns --
Q You said there is a briefing?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I will. I'll do one -- I'll try to do it a 1:00 P.M. and try to make sure that's the last thing of the day that has any news in it.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END1:45 P.M. EST