THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:06 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I probably strategically miscalculated by agreeing to brief today because I don't want to penalize any of those who did, as they properly should, travel with the President to speak. So I will be brief and make no news, and we can be done licketysplit.
Q We'll tell them what's going on.
MR. MCCURRY: Helen, any question you have. We'll start with Helen. Do you have a question, Helen?
Q Have you got a better reading now on whether the U.N. peacekeepers are going to be released?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we don't. We are in contact with the United Nations. The latest information available to the United Nations does not provide any further indication that there will be any release of those being held captive. We obviously insist upon their immediate release; they shouldn't be held in the first place, and we hope that their release is forthcoming.
Q The rescissions bill is supposed to be on the way here by late afternoon.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, do tell?
Q Well, that's the gossip.
MR. MCCURRY: The Republican leadership of the Congress has been able to enroll a bill now and prepare it and send it forward?
Q How would you treat its arrival here?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be awaited anxiously so it can be sent back forthwith with recommendations on how to improve the final product to achieve the type of deficit reduction that the President is committed to achieving.
Q Will there be a statement and a --
Q Will that be done in some public --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll do it at an appropriate time once we receive the bill; we'll see what time it comes down. I would caution you that it most likely would not be today, even if it came in late today. So we'll see how things develop.
Q Have there been meetings between the staff and the Appropriations Committee people? I know Panetta went up initially to talk about the next bill that would come along -- the clean bill -- but does that stop now or are those talks still going on?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there had been some discussions prior to the congressional recess -- excuse me, the nonlegislative work period -- and they will likely resume, I would imagine, after the President dispatches the bill sent to him by the conference committee.
Q Where does he stand on writing his own budget now?
MR. MCCURRY: Where does he stand on writing it? As he indicated last night in his television interview, he's prepared to contribute his ideas to the budget process at an appropriate time.
Q What does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: It means we're ducking the question for now.
Q What did the President tell the Hungarian Prime Minister as far as the timetable for joining NATO?
MR. MCCURRY: He outlined for Prime Minister Horn the concept of a parallel development that I think we've talked about often within NATO on how we would move towards expansion.
What he told, if you can hold on for a second -- he said that, as we'd said often, in NATO that during 1995 we are going to use that year to develop both of these parallel tracks. One involves the evolution of the Partnership for Peace program as it begins to take on the question of expansion of NATO membership. The other track is a closer relationship between Russia and NATO which, as the President said after his bilateral meeting recently with President Yeltsin, would be a separate area of discussion.
NATO is now studying the whole question of NATO expansion. That will be briefed to the various Partners for Peace towards the end of this year, in the fall, I believe. And then consultations based on that study will then commence. Those consultations will not take up the issues of who and when might be added to the ranks of NATO membership, more the question of how and why we will add to it. And those consultations will likely continue for the balance of this year and then into 1996.
The President reviewed that general timing with Prime Minister Horn. I think that was probably familiar to the Prime Minister; that is, the timetable that we've talked about often.
Q Can you tell us any more about the missing pilot or about the deployment of the 4,000 GIs?
MR. MCCURRY: No further information on either.
Q On Steve's question -- the Prime Minister seemed to think that it was quite clear that by '97 he'd be in NATO. Is that kind of timetable out there?
MR. MCCURRY: I outlined for you just now the timetable that exists at this point -- 1995 being the year of studying these questions, as ordered by the ministers of the North Atlantic Council, moving towards consultations with the Partners for Peace and further discussions probably going into the early part of 1996. Beyond that, we haven't speculated as to a timetable. But clearly, the commitments we've seen from Hungary as it has pursued its own individual partnership program have been very encouraging, and I would imagine the Prime Minister's optimism is based on the close relationship that's developing between NATO and Hungary.
Q But just to be clear on this, the President did not give him any assurances of Hungary's membership in NATO, or indicate that it would be likely in '97?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is not in the position to give that type of assurance on behalf of the 16, but he is in a position to outline the commonly-understood timetable that exists, which is the one I just reviewed for you.
Q Mike, I want to go back to the release of the peacekeepers. If, indeed, that does happen following on the release of the others earlier, does that tell you something about the relationship between Milosevic and Karadzic that you can build on? Does it give you renewed hope for any kind of diplomatic solution because he would seem to have some influence?
MR. MCCURRY: Mike, I'd rather not speculate on that. I'd rather wait and see what happens, and then we can try to interpret based on what actually happens, rather than what we might imagine what we would like to see happen.
Q Do you know of any movement? Because CNN was saying that they were taking reporters to the capital.
MR. MCCURRY: I only know the news accounts that you've seen. No, they have -- there's a news account that some reporters have been transported to a place where they suggest that the release of captives is imminent, and I would just again wait to see what actually happens.
Q You know nothing about it at all?
MR. MCCURRY: We know what we are told by the United Nations and by others with whom we are in contact.
Q Well, what are you told?
MR. MCCURRY: We're told that they've got these news accounts, and we don't have any official confirmation at this point that any of those that are being held captive from the ranks of your personnel have been released.
Q This is high-level wire reading? Is that what seems to be going on?
MR. MCCURRY: There are news accounts, which you're free to report based on your standards of evaluation and voracity, but our standards I would suggest are usually somewhat higher because they have to be higher.
Q Wait a minute. Wait a minute.
Q It depends on whether they're about you.
Q I think we've been insulted. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: We get hung up by a rope when we're wrong; you just go on to the next day.
Q Good point, though. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It's true. Am I right?
Q Changing subjects -- the Vice President say they're not planning on attending Ross Perot's convention in August. Will the administration send Cabinet Secretaries or other emissaries to Dallas?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe as the Vice President indicated last night, the General Chairman of the Democratic National Committee plans to attend.
Q Just -- is he the only person associated with the Democratic Party?
MR. MCCURRY: He's the only one I know of at this point, but the event is a ways away.
Q Nobody that's in the administration -- no Cabinet - - the last time around, there were prospective Cabinet Secretaries, like Lloyd Bentsen and Admiral Crowe and Henry Cisneros who went on behalf of the then-candidate.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't checked the travel schedules of all of the various Cabinet Secretaries, but I'm not aware of any plan to attend that event in August.
Q As it wouldn't be appropriate for the President to attend because of politicking, it wouldn't be appropriate for other Cabinet Secretaries to attend?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. The President didn't say it would be inappropriate to attend, he just said he wasn't going.
Q Well, he said it was also he didn't want to get into politics that early.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. And I can imagine that most of the Cabinet agencies may think that that's probably pretty good guidance.
Q The principals meeting on Bosnia this afternoon -- is that about policy formulation, or is that about --
MR. MCCURRY: The principals meeting that's already occurred this morning on Bosnia?
Q That one, too. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that they gathered just to review some of the developments. I believe --
Q It's over?
MR. MCCURRY: Is it this afternoon? I thought it was this morning.
Q Are you sure there were --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it is -- Calvin, can you do me the -- we'll have someone check on that. I think it already happened. My understanding is they reviewed developments in recent days, reviewed some of the discussions that have occurred that Secretary Perry and General Shalikashvili participated in. It was a chance to update the other principals on the status of some of the conversations and our concern about the fate of the missing pilot and about what we know and do not know at this point.
Q The President attended?
MR. MCCURRY: The President did not attend to my knowledge. I'll double-check that.
Q Anything new on the pilot?
MR. MCCURRY: Nothing new.
Q Mike, with this veto about to happen, presumably tomorrow, how does the White House view this as defining the President's relationship with this Congress? Do you see it as clarifying anything for the public or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's interesting. Let me sort of offer two contrasts here. The President will very likely receive -- and we hear the same thing you hear, maybe as later today or sometime tonight -- the rescissions package from the Congress. The President has made it very clear that that is a piece of legislation he will veto, although he shares with Congress the goal of achieving over $16 billion of deficit reduction in the fiscal 1995 budget. He just believes that there is a different way and a better of way of doing it, and he will suggest to them how to go about getting that work done.
The President, in a very short few moments here, will be talking about welfare reform where we've got a situation where the House has passed a bill the President finds unacceptable and would have to veto it if it came to him in that form. But the Senate is still pursuing the issue. The President will suggest today to the Congress several ways in which we could modify that legislation and produce real welfare reform that would meet his goals and priorities.
And there's a contrast. The President will suggest to Congress ways in which they can produce legislation that meets his criteria, addresses some of his priorities, although not in every case being entirely satisfactory to him. We recognize that there is a Republican Congress. But he will suggest to them road maps on how you can move ahead in the future and get things done that the American people expect the Executive Branch and the Legislative Branch to address. So you've got a nice contrast here.
There are cases where we're just not going to be able to work together; the President will have to veto. That will then, hopefully, produce some movement in a direction that will lead to a measure that both the Congress and the President can embrace. And then there will be other cases where we will continue to work closely with Congress, negotiate, cajole, jawbone, and try to get a legislative product that is satisfactory.
That will be, I suggest, a pattern as we go along here. But in each and every case, as with the rescissions bill, you always find the President willing to offer ideas, suggestions for improvements that would, hopefully, lead to progress on these important issues.
Q It's not a return to gridlock from the White House point of view?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because we see so many other examples of where we're making progress and where the President believes we could actually get the work done of the people, welfare reform being the prime example.
Q Where does the antiterrorism bill fit into that if the Senate finishes it tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a great -- a very good example of how the President and the Legislative Branch can work together -- in this case, the Majority Leader and the President working together to clear the underbrush of amendments that maybe were not -- were important, but not necessary to this very important piece of legislation, clearing it so that we could get to final passage quickly. It's a great example of how the President and the Legislative Branch can cooperate.
Q What moved him to change his mind on that, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q What moved him to change his mind on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has always favored reform, habeas corpus reform. He's made that clear from the beginning. Our concern initially was that that issue would slow down consideration of a very important antiterrorism bill. That now appears to be less likely and that the Senate will move to final passage after dispensing of that issue. And the President all along wanted -- he clearly wanted habeas corpus reform. The only issue was whether or not this was the legislative vehicle to achieve that. And --
Q Why does he want to kill the Constitution? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Helen, I think the Constitution is designed to protect the rights of Americans, but also to protect the rights of citizens who want to live in safe communities as well. And the issue that arises is the lengthy delays and appeals for those who face death penalties. And the President has long felt that we need to expedite those unnecessary and extraneous delays that can lead to tying up these issues for a long time in courts and on appeal.
Q How is he going to veto the bill, and what kind of a message does he want to send? Is it just going to be a piece of paper, or a ceremony, or --
MR. MCCURRY: On the rescissions bill?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll let you know when we schedule something.
I was wrong -- I thought the Bosnian discussion was this morning, and it is this afternoon. So you guys were ahead of me on that.
Q The readout you gave us on it, does that still apply -- (laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that readout will stand -- that's good for afterwards. (Laughter.)
Q Did the President attends or not?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's not expected to attend. And it is not -- as you can gather from what I suggested, they were not expected to take any decisions at that meeting. It was more to review things.
Q How do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: I looked at the agenda.
Q You can say authoritatively that the President did not attend the one that did not occur this morning.
MR. MCCURRY: He did not attend the meeting that did not occur this morning, and not expected to attend the meeting that may or may not occur at 2:30 p.m. You got it. (Laughter.)
Q Who says this administration doesn't have any principals -- they meet every afternoon. (Laughter.)
Q Who will attend?
MR. MCCURRY: The principals.
Q Who are they?
MR. MCCURRY: The same ones who were there yesterday.
Q They know who they are.
Q This administration's principals haven't changed. The same ones who were there this morning. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Connie. Connie, do you have a question. You're trying to stall me until the President's speech begins, I know.
Q Is there some sense here that the crisis is abating or that it's just about to begin? What is the general assessment --
MR. MCCURRY: Which subject?
Q Bosnia -- sorry.
MR. MCCURRY: No. The conflict continues. The killing and dying in Bosnia continues. And the urgency in which we have addressed those issues with diplomacy and with our support for the U.N. mission in Bosnia persists. That doesn't change. Now, it is true that some of the shelling and some of the activity of the warring parties has subsided somewhat, but there's no guarantee as we go into the spring and summer that that will necessarily be the case.
Q Mike, General Shalikashvili met with his Russian counterpart, General Kolesnikov, in Vienna, and reports have it that the Russians are not quite as interested in coming to the defense of their Serb brethren as was the case, say, a year ago. Do you have anything concrete --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. I'll refer that over to Ken Bacon at the Pentagon.
Q You said that the President, in vetoing the rescissions bill, is going to send it back to Congress for suggestions about what he'd like. Is it going to come back the same $16.5 billion that he put forward on paper?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he put forward some rough parameters of a measure that he thought would make sense, that would represent improvements in the legislation passed by the House and Senate. And I believe that the suggestions will take general form.
Q So he'll stare again with the same alternative?
MR. MCCURRY: He's made it very clear the improvements that he think would be sufficient to get a package that he would support.
Q So subsequent discussions that he's had with Gingrich or Dole are not going to perhaps compel him to reshape that in some form?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The congressional leadership does not get to pocket prior conversations.
Q Two questions. One, is he going to say anything about rescissions in the welfare speech?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe he's expected to. In reading his prepared remarks, I didn't see any reference to that, no.
Q Second, stipulating your standard answer to questions of this type, the President is going to New Hampshire this weekend; there is a political component to the trip. Can you tell us with a straight face if possible where he is in the political time line in terms of beginning the campaign, in terms of moving towards any kind of announcements, since he is making a trip to the first primary state?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he -- I mean, he's going to New Hampshire and giving, among other things, giving a commencement address. But he was pretty clear last night when he was discussing this recent invitation from Mr. Perot's group that he really sees a lot of work ahead that doesn't suggest to him it's a good time any time soon to become thoroughly preoccupied with reelection politics.
And he still is thinking ahead to 1996 -- we're not denying that there are political aspects to some of his work and some of his activities and some of the activities of those who work for him, but at the same time, I don't see him overly preoccupied on presidential politics, and he doesn't feel that it is warranted at this point. There is a long ways to November of 1996. Some people in here have actually covered presidential campaigns, and you know the truth of that statement. And I think the President is looking at a time line that begins much later in the year, but obviously is sufficient for him to pursue the reelection campaign that he's made clear he intends to pursue.
Q Anything new on Dr. Foster?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of, no.
Q What else is he doing --
Q the meeting between Dole and Foster been arranged by the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I checked with Podesta last night. He didn't say. They're attempting to schedule that meeting. It has not been scheduled yet.
Q What else is he doing in New Hampshire? There's another stop besides the Dartmouth --
MR. MCCURRY: He's going to see friends and folks and talk issues and --
Q in a diner, a town meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: -- raise a little money, do a little event.
Q Is there a fundraiser?
Q There's a schedule out there.
Q Yes, but that's not for broadcasting and you can't say that --
MR. MCCURRY: That's right.
Q Fundraiser for Kerry?
MR. MCCURRY: That's what I had heard, but I don't know. You can check -- the folks have got the schedule here. They can brief you on the schedule.
Q Mike, back on rescissions, you say you have the votes to sustain a veto.
MR. MCCURRY: We feel pretty good about that, yes. But more importantly, I think we feel that the debate over the package and the President's very firm stance on the bill and his intent to veto has generated within the Congress some sense of the importance of discussing alternatives, new approaches so we can get the work done of reducing the deficit, making those specific cuts. We believe that the dynamic is working in favor of getting a deficit reduction package. And, obviously, we will get our shoulder to that wheel as soon as the veto occurs.
Q Can you cut a deal rather than go to an override vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't get to decide that. That will be up to Congress.
Q Mike, will the President be taking a position on the gay rights issue which activists tell me is more important than even gays in the military issue and that is a pending Supreme Court case on a Colorado voter initiative which sought to repeal the right of local cities and towns to pass gay civil rights laws?
MR. MCCURRY: I am familiar with the case, having heard it discussed during the President's recent trip there, but I am not familiar with the administration's point of view or whether we filed on that case. I'll have to look into that. We can check on it.
Q There's been some reports that have surfaced that there's a debate within the administration on whether to file a brief on that.
MR. MCCURRY: I just am not familiar with it. I'll have to look into it.
Q Is the President running on time?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, we hope, is on time, so it's a good time for me to quit. And thanks to all the White House press that travel with the President to hear his remarks rather than the White House briefing. I don't think I will do this again. So I won't put them in that position.
Q Or us.
MR. MCCURRY: Or you, for that matter.
END 1:27 P.M. EDT