THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:03 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I would like to start the remainder of the briefing on a note of personal privilege. Yesterday Helen Thomas accused me of dishing out baloney. So my view is --
MS. THOMAS: The charge stands. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: My view is why should you get something fake when you can get the real McCoy, Helen? (Laughter.) So, for you, catch. (Laughter.) A nice baloney sandwich. This is also to make up for the fact that the press pool in Kiev was not properly fed and nourished during a long day of work.
Q We were? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: You were not. Little did you know. All right, other issues that anyone would like to deal with today?
Terry Hunt of the Associated Press.
Q House and Senate negotiators have passed a $16 billion rescission bill that cuts heavily into education and job programs -- job training programs. Will the President sign that bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is correct, the news that you impart to us. We've said several times on the rescissions bill that we have very deep concerns about, first, the action of the House in passing a bill that was manifestly unacceptable to the President. There were some improvements made in the legislation as it was considered by the Senate. Unfortunately, the work in the Conference Committee of the two Houses of Congress have done nothing to improve the bill -- if anything, probably made it worse.
The President is determined to work with the Congress to meet deficit reduction targets, but he is deeply troubled by the cuts that they have made in education -- nearly $98 million worth of cuts in adult job training; $272 million in youth job training; practically gutting the Summer Youth Employment Program; cutting almost $100 million out of the education reform effort, the Goals 2000 effort. All of these things deeply concern the President.
The Conference Committee has just completed its work within the last hour or so. The President and others here at the White House will be reviewing the work of the Conference Committee very carefully, and the President will advise you of his disposition on the final legislation at the appropriate time.
Q That sounds like a no.
MR. MCCURRY: It sounds like a long answer.
Q Will the President expect Secretary Brown to step aside if the Attorney General recommends the appointment of a special counsel?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate on what he might say or not say until the Attorney General has something further to say herself.
Q Do you have any comments on the binational Mexico- U.S. meeting that's occurring right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The President understands that it has been going very well. This is -- for those of you who are not familiar with the binational commission between the United States and Mexico, it is in our -- in terms of our international diplomacy a rather unique mechanism by which the two countries can do business. This is an annual meeting of a lot of the top Cabinet officials from both the Mexican government and the U.S. government, and an excellent opportunity to explore issues on the bilateral agenda.
The President will be meeting with both sides of the binational commission today. In fact, that's going on now most likely. And he intends to congratulate the administration of President Zedillo on the economic reforms now in place, talk about the importance of Mexico's economic recovery, because it is very directly related to the issue of illegal immigration, which troubles the President very greatly as you know.
But these issues, including immigration, are among those that can be explored within the context of the binational commission. And as always, we hear good reports from all the participating Cabinet agencies from the State Department to the Attorney General, to the Commerce Department to HUD and EPA. This is a broad-ranging exchange of views with the Mexican government. And from the reports we've heard from the Cabinet agencies participating, this has been an especially excellent meeting of the commission, reflecting the very close and warm relationship that the United States enjoys with Mexico.
Q Mike, who's the top-ranking Mexican official?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it's the Foreign Secretary Gurria, probably. I'm pretty sure that's correct. He might actually have equal rank in protocol with Finance Minister Ortiz. I'm not exactly sure of that. Calvin can check that out for you.
Q Mike, is the President aware there have been an ongoing series of demonstrations for the past 10 days in Miami by Cuban exiles and that, in fact, at this hour several thousand Cuban exiles are demonstrating in Miami, holding a work stoppage and protesting the repatriation of Cuban exiles picked up on the high seas?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the President is aware of that.
Q And is there any reconsideration of repatriation of Cuban exiles?
MR. MCCURRY: No -- I mean, the President is aware of the concern being expressed within the Cuban American community. But I'd suggest you take a look at yesterday's Miami Herald to see the diversity of opinion that exists within the Cuban American community itself. They had a very interesting survey yesterday that reflected some of the opinions within the community, and there is a surprising degree of support for the President's point of view related to immigration expressed by the Cuban American community in South Florida.
Obviously, the President is concerned about the situation there. Our Office of Public Liaison here at the White House has been in contact with local officials. So we are monitoring the situation.
Q Mike, on another topic, Senator Specter and other senators are still keen to have -- carry out congressional hearings reexamining the FBI's handling of Waco and Ruby Ridge? Is the administration's position that these hearings would be inappropriate while the Oklahoma investigation is active --
MR. MCCURRY: The administration's view and the President's view is that many of the matters that they wish to address in these hearings have been properly vetted and discussed publicly as a result of the exhaustive analysis that was done of the Waco incident. But the administration has no objection to further hearings as long as they are presented well and given -- as long as the administration has an ample opportunity to reflect its point of view.
What the President insisted upon yesterday, and we have made very clear, is we do not believe this should be used as some impediment to passage of our antiterrorism legislation. And it's the view of the White House that Congress ought to first pass that legislation, deliver it to the President by Memorial Day as the leadership of Congress pledged it would do. Then the question of Waco hearings or whatever issues they wish to discuss can properly be dealt with at that time. But those committees with jurisdiction for the antiterrorism legislation ought to concentrate on giving the administration the law enforcement tools necessary to ensure the American people that there won't be any repetition of the tragedy that occurred in Oklahoma City.
Q What, he doesn't think they're going to be able to keep that promise of Memorial Day?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we remain hopeful that the Congress will see the importance of that legislation and understand how deeply the American people expect this government to protect them and protect the safety of the American family from future terrorist incidents by passage of legislation that will give us law enforcement tools that will allow us to deal with international terrorism.
Q And he does feel that all the civil liberties aspects have been taken care of and are not --
MR. MCCURRY: He believes they have been carefully examined and properly addressed in the legislation.
Q come all the way from London, England --
MR. MCCURRY: Hello. Nice to have you here.
Q Thank you very much, indeed. My question is, we're doing a documentary on the Nation of Islam and Louis Farrakhan. And in the course of our discussions with them they've raised some issues which they suggest is a policy of the American government to try and decimate what they say is the black race by introducing AIDS into the community and introducing crack. Because this is a report that's going out to millions of people around the world, it's important to us that we get some sort of response to that from you.
MR. MCCURRY: Those allegations are nonsense. And I'd suggest that perhaps the BBC has better things to do with its time than to promulgate further accusations which are without merit and foundation.
Q The Iraqi Foreign Minister, Mr. Muhammad Said alSahhaf, has just said publicly that if President Saddam Hussein gets an adequate letter from President Clinton asking that the two American prisoners be released on a humanitarian basis, the Iraqi President would be able to practice his constitutional authority and take steps to facilitate that. Would President Clinton be amenable to writing a letter to President Saddam Hussein asking on a humanitarian basis for the release of the two American prisoners?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has on prior occasion asked for the release of the two Americans on humanitarian grounds. I am unaware of that report, but I will look carefully at it. Given that the fate of two Americans being incarcerated is at stake, I don't want to make a response to that without checking a little bit further into it. And we'll get some help with that.
Q Mike, the Russian Defense Minister, General Grachev, has proposed declaration of a system of regional security for the Asia Pacific area which would link the U.S., Russia, the two Koreas, Japan and China. Do you have any comment from the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, the proposal coming from --
Q General Grachev, Pavel Grachev -- for the regional security for the Asia Pacific area. Is there any comment from the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: That is the first I have heard of that. There may be others here within the administration who have worked on it.
Q It was today from Beijing.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll check at Defense and State and see if they've got anything further on it. That's the first I've heard of it.
Q Mike, the House this afternoon is going to be dealing with the wetlands bill, the Clean Water Act amendments. The administration had indicated earlier that they would recommend, or senior advisors would recommend a veto. Does that still apply? And are there any reliefs and regulations in this regard that the administration would accept?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is still the position, as I understand it, of both the EPA, the Secretary of the Interior and the Director of OMB that if Congressman Shuster's bill as it is currently drafted and moving through the House, if it remains in that form, their recommendation would be a veto. The legislation in question would remove about 50 to 80 percent of critical wetlands from protection, including the Florida Everglades, including, I think, if I'm not mistaken, the San Francisco Bay Marshes I used to tromp around in as a kid.
And this action follows -- there was a scientific study done by the National Academy of Sciences to look at the science behind the administration's approach to wetlands protection and found that there was a great deal of support within the scientific community, in fact, unanimous support on this study for the steps that we have taken. So we believe that we have been doing an adequate job and a sensible job using common sense practices in regulating protection of the wetlands, and we fail to see why the House is now embarked on that course.
We will look carefully at the legislation. I'm not waving a veto pen right now since I don't get to use a veto pen anyhow, but we'll look at the legislation as it comes to the President.
Q Two on foreign policy. The question yesterday -- will the President meet with the New Zealand team? Apparently, they'll be here on Friday.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans to have them here.
Q Isn't that usually traditional to meet with the winning team?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think there's a tradition because I don't think there's a tradition, because I don't think there's a tradition of the America's Cup being won by non-Americans. (Laughter.) It did happen when Australia won the cup; President Reagan had the team here. I'm just not aware that they're going to be able to accommodate that on the schedule. I'd point out, as a note of personal privilege, we haven't even had the San Francisco 49ers here yet, something that irks several of the California- connected people here on the staff. (Laughter.)
Q Yesterday, you said the President was sending congratulations. Was he, personally, or was that through --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that there will be an appropriate congratulations message sent.
Calvin, go send it. (Laughter.)
Q On the trade sanctions with Japan, the President has said in the past that disagreements have consequences, and there's a lot of talk here as well as in Japan that if this thing is not resolved, that it could put at risk other elements of this relationship, including the security aspects. Is there concern in the White House that if this thing goes into effect, with all of those consequences, that eventually, the security relations might be affected?
MR. MCCURRY: I won't belabor everybody with this; I gave a real long treatment of that yesterday, so you may want to get the transcript from yesterday. In a nutshell, I'd say up until now, we have successfully been able to deal with the trade issues, isolate it from the other broad-ranging aspects of our bilateral relationship, and we think it's important to do that.
We have very good cooperation between the United States and the government of Japan on a range of security issues, not only security issues, but global political issues as well, from U.N. peacekeeping to environmental protection to support of the Middle East peace process, where the Japanese have been instrumental in providing resources to nurture the developing peace in the region. All of these things we think are important to proceed with, and we have tried to keep our disagreements on trade isolated, and we have, as you know, found over a dozen cases where we can reach agreement with the government of Japan on some of our trade issues.
The auto and auto parts basket has been not availing of that type of agreement and cooperation, and it does need to be resolved, because, over time, those types of disagreements can have an effect on other aspects of the bilateral relationship. But up to now, they haven't; we would hope that they wouldn't; we would hope that, as the President suggested today, that these issues can be resolved amicably through negotiation.
Q You're not excluding, then, the possibility that there could be adverse consequences beyond trade?
MR. MCCURRY: I sort of explained yesterday that, over time, hypothetically, you can have that type of impact, and that is of concern to us.
Q You may have addressed this in Moscow, but is there a timetable for the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission to take up the reactor sales to Iran issue?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recall that there was a specific timetable. There was a general understanding not between the two presidents, between some discussion at the delegation level, that this issue would be revisited when the delegations had an opportunity to encounter each other in Halifax. I don't know whether it would be revisited at that time by the two Presidents, but there was some sense that we would try to move promptly into an examination of those sales.
Q I thought there was a meeting before Halifax.
MR. MCCURRY: There may be. I think there is some follow-up work of Gore-Chernomyrdin, and I can't remember the exact date, but they were scheduled to -- some time in June, I'm reporting, but we can double-check that.
Q Mike, if Republicans drop their tax cut, will the President be amenable to dropping his?
MR. MCCURRY: The President suggested today -- and I would just restate -- there are several things that the Republican Majority could do to give us more clarity on what direction they intend to move with their budget, and then make more possible the type of negotiation that might lead to a consensus approach on the budget. It's not only dropping the idea of tax cuts, which are large, are contributing to budget deficit pressures and which go disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans, but it's also dealing with the important problem of Medicare in the overall context of health care reform, and preserving at the same time investments that will grow the economy over the long-term.
The fundamental philosophical dispute here is a Republican majority that seems -- at least half of it seems wedded to the idea of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, versus the President, who is determined to see this economy grow and to seeing the incomes of Americans rise.
We would rather put our program of raising the incomes of Americans up against tax cuts, which we think only go to -- it would go disproportionately to the wealthiest Americans with no clear measurable prediction about what would happen to the economy as a result of that action. So we would rather put our program up, encouraging investments in education, the kind of tax relief that the President has offered through the Middle Class Bill of Rights, which is aimed at education and training, and move the Congress in that direction. And we think, over time, that argument will be persuasive. That's what you heard a lot of the members of Congress from the Democratic side saying today with, what we hope, was a fairly -- speaking fairly much in unison.
Q Mike, when the Chief of Staff came out today, he said that the Republican budget would bring about a lot of pain and what you guys were trying to do was to bring about hope. In '92, when the President was running for election, he talked about sacrifices that the American people needed to make. I mean, don't they -- is it your position that there are no more sacrifices that you need to make in order to get -- to deal with the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not at all. The President put forward a program that did require hard choices from the Congress and from the American people in 1993 and it resulted in $600 billion worth of deficit reduction. There were a lot programs that were cut. There were a lot of trims that were made. And more importantly, as you heard today in our discussion of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, we are cutting government by reforming government, by reinventing government. So we are making those hard choices that are reducing expenditures. They do involve some sacrifice on behalf of those who previously benefitted from programs.
The President had the courage to go and ask the American people to do that and got not one bit of support from the Republican Party. And the President has this year put forward a proposal that calls for additional sacrifice in the form of additional budget deficit reduction. So we are willing to do that work, but it requires honesty on the other side to come clean about what their plan is and what their program will be.
And right now, we've got a very confused set of mixed signals coming from the Republicans on Capitol Hill about what they're going to do. Half of them in the Senate, they seem to be moving towards a package of cuts that are going to be painful to be sure, and on the House side they seem to be taking those painful cuts and using it as a bank to pay for tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. And the President has made it clear that's not acceptable.
Q Is American rice going to be exempted from the Iranian boycott?
MR. MCCURRY: Second day in a row. Calvin. What's the answer.
MR. MITCHELL: We answered it before -- yes.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- for reasons that Calvin can explain to you.
Q In the long and portentious history of U.S.-Japan trade relations there has never been a spillover. But now you seem to think that there's a risk that it will. What is so different about this time?
MR. MCCURRY: I said that there is not a proximate threat of that type of spillover. In fact, as I've said just a minute ago, we've been able to deal with these trade issues in separate fora and we have, in fact, successfully in other sectors been able to reach agreement with the Japanese. There has been no spillover, and we would hope there would be no spillover. I simply suggest over time, if you don't resolve those, they can have an impact on some other aspects of cooperation.
Q But why talk that way about Japan? I mean, usually, even on Russia, you guys always say, look, we have some problems but the full relationship should not be judged on one problem. Why is there a different tone on Japan now?
MR. MCCURRY: There is not a different tone. That is equally true of Japan. Given the enormous breadth of that relationship, given the very warm relationship that we have the Japanese government in the areas in which we cooperate, we would expect the bilateral relationship to be judged in its totality. It is not defined solely by these trade issues. But these trade issues have persisted for a long time, and the American people expect something to be done about it. And that's what we are now attempting to do, hoping, of course, that we can resolve the differences through negotiation.
Q Just out of curiosity, anticipating the announcement on Japan and the fact that the President will see Murayama in a couple weeks, did the President offer Murayama any kind of letter or any kind of communication to make sure that just what you just articulated is the case, that it remains just an issue about trade?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been exchanges with the government of Japan; I don't know whether any of them have been at highest levels. I'd have to check.
Q Is there any comment from the White House on the capture of the leader of the Aum Shinrikyo or the raids?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we applaud the steps the government of Japan has taken to combat terrorism and we do believe that governments that face terrorism need to act swiftly and sometimes they need to act boldly in order to protect law-abiding citizens. In the United States we are doing exactly that with our own efforts to seek antiterrorism legislation that would give us tools necessary to combat terrorism, and we certainly understand the attitude of the Japanese government to do everything within its power to protect citizens from terrorist attack.
Q What particular point, if any, does the President want to make at this school-to-work event tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've talked a lot about the importance of -- the point that I was just making a minute ago -- that is one avenue by which people meld the world of education with job experience, so they prepare themselves for the challenges they will face as they go out into the workplace. That is a fundamental goal of this President, to prepare this country for the challenges of the 21st century economy. And it's one reason among many why many of the budget cuts that are now being proposed by the Republican majority seem to him to be so ill-founded in concept. They go right at the heart of our ability over time to grow the economy and to see the incomes of Americans rise.
The single most important thing the President would like to do in the coming years is to do something about the stagnation in rise of incomes for most Americans. The economic recovery has been well and good, but many people, as you've heard the President say from time to time, have not felt it. So taking those steps to raise incomes is exactly what the School to Work program is about, and talking about the importance of that program in an environment in which some people would like to come along and cut programs like that is something you can expect for him to address tomorrow.
Q Just to make sure -- I'm sorry to be ignorant -- is that on the list of things to cover tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We covered a little bit earlier some of the things that are in the rescissions package. I'm not -- I'll look specifically on school-to-work and see how that's affected by the rescissions language.
Q How about '96 with the next budget in the House and Senate? Have they mentioned cutting school-to-work?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so, but I don't have a number in front of me.
Q Does the President think the Bosnian war crimes tribunal has been compromised by the --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any prepared answer to that, but I believe they were going to address that over at the State Department.
Q Is there any confirmation that the body of Mr. Cuny has been found?
MR. MCCURRY: No. There is none -- none that I am aware of at this point.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:28 P.M. EDT