THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:04 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, let me -- we'll continue now with our regular daily briefing. And we will continue with the question that was asked by Rita concerning meetings that will be held on the Hill. Just to start with, Pat Griffin from the Legislative Affairs shop and Alice have already been on the Hill earlier today meeting with the House Caucus. I expect that Mr. --
Q Democratic or Republican?
MR. MCCURRY: Democratic Caucus. Mr. Panetta, Alice Rivlin and Pat Griffin will be going to the Hill later this afternoon to meet with both Chairman Kasich and Chairman Domenici. They will then proceed over to the Senate side and meet with Senator Daschle, brief him, and meet with some other ranking members of the budget committee -- budget committees on the Hill. And I suspect there will be in addition to that some -- some additional meetings while they're up there, just of the informational sort.
I'd stress that these are at this point briefings. I believe that on the Hill there's a desire to learn more about the President's proposal and what it covers. And, of course, the administration and the White House is more than happy to provide that kind of detail.
Q Would you consider this a start of negotiations on a compromise?
MR. MCCURRY: We consider this the start of a presentation to the Hill on the President's balanced budget package. And we're hopeful that as members of Congress learn more about the President's proposals, they'll see it as an alternative to the House and Senate passed budget resolutions and a way to proceed so that we achieve, as the President has outlined last night, the goal of significant deficit reduction, balanced budget, and done in a way which protects the interests of the Americans that the President talked about last night.
Q Mike, a lot of -- a lot of Democrats are saying that the President's new, favored political adviser, Dick Morris, had a lot to do with when and how this was launched. Is that right? Did he have a lot to do with it?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe as you could tell from the briefing we had here today, a lot of people had a lot to do with this proposal. It's comprehensive. It covers health care, welfare reform, budget reductions. And the President relies on a lot of advisers from the Vice President to the Chief of Staff to others.
Q Was Mr. Morris one of those who advised that --
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, he was among them.
Q -- this be revealed at this time?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure. He was among them. There were plenty of people that the President talked to in developing this balanced budget approach. But I'd say at the end of the day, as there usually is when you gather groups of people that have discussions, everyone has a different opinion and it's the President's decision that counts.
Q Since the appeal to the television networks to carry the speech, the request for time was premised on a crisis, an emergency. How come there wasn't any mention of a crisis or emergency in his speech?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, if I'm not mistaken, made it clear that he wants something other than vetoes of appropriations bills and that is the premise by which there would be a crisis in October. If you had a -- well, the President feels that and told that to the Cabinet last night in a meeting and, I think, wanted to reflect to the American people the notion that you could head off that train wreck if we move ahead and address a balanced budget now.
Q That's nice, Mike, but the question remains.
MR. MCCURRY: I answered the question as best I could, Brit.
Q When was the Cabinet meeting, before or after?
MR. MCCURRY: He met last night at 5:00 o'clock with the Cabinet just to review with them the details of the proposal he'd present.
Q A lot of congressional Democrats are upset with the White House for -- the President for giving this speech. And some Republicans, sort of -- too little, too late. Is he -- is the President disappointed with the reaction he's gotten?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President is not relying on the sporadic reporting of individual members because, you know, members of news organizations catch some members, they don't catch others. We're relying on the reports back that we're getting from White House folks who have been on the Hill. And there's a range of opinions. You're correct that some people don't like it, other people do like it. I believe -- might be a couple of statements up there today of people who want to endorse the President's approach. So there are different points of view as there usually is when you deal with 435 members of the Congress.
Q Mike, building on Susan's question, Clinton talks about a third way of dealing with a lot of problems -- line-item veto, affirmative action, now the budget, and there are criticisms from both sides. Is there a constituency, do you think, on Capitol Hill for this, quote, unquote "third way"?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe there is a constituency on Capitol Hill and across the country for the type of approach that the President has often described, yes.
Q Well, then why hasn't that constituency been more vocal on a number of these points throughout this year?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe they are starting to become more vocal. I believe you've even heard today from members of the Senate, members of the House, that are giving the President's point of view a strong endorsement.
Q Senator Breaux said that he thought the main budget battle at the moment is actually between Domenici and Kasich as far as whether -- with $350 billion or $178 billion. If they end up compromising on something along the line of a dividend, where you don't cut any taxes until you get deficit reduction, would the White House sign off on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that would be an extraordinary development if that happened. But we'd have to wait and see what the rest of the package looked like. But you're correct in saying that at the moment the Republicans are having a hard time reconciling their two different versions of the resolution. And that's why the President is hoping by coming forward with his ideas he'll at least provide them further grist for the mill that would aim them in a direction that would be more acceptable. But I can't answer the specific question you pose without knowing what the rest of their compromise might look like.
Q Just briefly, how hard will the President come down on Jacques Chirac on this nuclear testing? And what is your reaction to the protest by many of --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if they have any discussion of the issue, it will reflect the statement that we made last night. We expressed our regret about that. I believe he will, but I think he'll also express his willingness to work with the government of France to achieve the goal of a comprehensive test ban.
Q Is the United States sympathetic with the protest movement around the world about this --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we -- we stated our views directly and have had direct dialogue with France. And that's the best way to express our feelings.
Q Some wire service reports out of Baghdad are reporting that there is some military turmoil. Do you know anything about that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm aware of the reports, and we've got people who are checking to see what we know and what we don't know.
Q Any evidence of a coup, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: We're checking.
Q Several of the elected officials and staff attending yesterday's White House meeting with gay officials complained that rather than helping build bridges with the Clinton White House, they were insulted by shabby treatment at the gate by being greeted with guards wearing -- or police officers wearing rubber gloves. Is that a practice that the President thinks is appropriate, and do you have anything to say to them?
MR. MCCURRY: The Chief of Staff asked Secretary of the Treasury Rubin to look into that. We had been unaware of that until we were made aware of it by news accounts of the meeting. And, of course, it was raised during the meeting itself. And it's safe to say that the Chief of Staff or others were distressed by that. And it seems to have been an error in judgment. On the other hand, that's not the tone that the meeting established as the leaders of that community were here. They had a very positive meeting, as you could tell from the comments afterwards, there was a great deal of interest in the position of the White House on a range of issues; a lot of interest in the appointment of someone who would be a liaison to the community. The White House view is that the meeting itself was very good in providing a further basis for discussion.
Q You don't think the wearing of the gloves was appropriate?
MR. MCCURRY: We said it was -- I just said it was an error in judgment apparently.
Q Back to budget. You say that the President's proposal was comprehensive. Are you going to give us anything more than the 20 pages? Secretary Shalala said no on the cut package, but what about on all the health care initiatives? I mean --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that the paper that they provided us what they had. We've just -- we've just given some numerical things. There will be more that will be developed as we go to the Hill with specific discussions that flow out of some of the deliberations by individual committees. I think that's what they've got available that they can make available at this point.
Q Just last night -- just what we had last night?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, that package. There was, within that package the White House released last night, there was what we've got available at this point on health care.
Q In regard to the budget process and the -- negotiations with the congressional leadership, would the President be averse to eventually ending up in some kind of budget summit along the lines of what transpired back in, say, 1990?
MR. MCCURRY: We would have to wait and see. We're beginning a discussion with members of Congress now. We'll have to see where those discussions lead. If there is a willingness to look carefully at the President's proposal to accept his good-faith effort to produce a document that represents a consensus view and to move the debate forward, there would surely be, as the Chief of Staff said last night, some give and take in the discussion.
Q Mike, I don't know if you've already talked about this, but what is the President going to do over the next, you know, X number of weeks and months to make sure that the American people really understand about this budget? If he's not going to get help from congressional Democrats and Republicans are going to kind of dismiss him, and he thinks this is what the people want, how is he going to make sure that they understand --
MR. MCCURRY: The way we customarily do when we have a great deal of concern about a major initiative -- we talk about it; we'll highlight individual parts of it. We've certainly been doing a lot of that today. The Vice President has been out publicly talking about it. We'll employ the resources available to the administration to make our case.
Q But what I'm wondering is if you've planned anything out of the ordinary -- you know, whether this is going to be a big push, like --
MR. MCCURRY: Bus trips and things like --
Q No, I mean, do you see this as a big communications job, or just something he should talk about from time to time as he travels around the country?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe -- I believe it reflects -- I don't know that -- I don't know the static -- detailed conversations about the budget itself is what you expect. I mean, the President is not going to put on a green eyeshade and go around the country. But he is going to lay out those priorities that were reflected in this document, and he's going to talk about it often.
Q May we take it from what you've said that the President does not expect that these ideas will be embodied in the budget resolution that emerges from this conference, but that his ideas will come into play later on -- is that a fair reading?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't rule out the possibility that the President's initiative outlined last night may have a significant effect on the current deliberations of the House-Senate Conference Committee. But we don't know -- we will know -- we will know more as we go through the discussions that are now underway.
Q Over the weekend, House Speaker Gingrich said he thought an agreement could be reached on health care reform this summer if all parties come together. And he laid out four or five options in addition to just keeping the current system. Is the White House open to some of these other options, such as medical savings accounts and vouchers?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we hope the Speaker, based on his remarks on Sunday, would find the ideas the President has now presented useful. And we hope a discussion based on those ideas would be productive. That's up for the Speaker to say.
Q Will you be meeting with Republicans who are meeting with Democrats --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I just -- I just indicated that beginning this afternoon.
Q You said you wouldn't exclude the possibility that the President's idea would affect the House-Senate Conference. What if it doesn't? What's the President's goal, or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our concern is -- I mean, you heard us say yesterday our concern is that the House and Senate, if they proceed with those two versions as the premise for the discussion in the Conference Committee, then can give instructions to the Appropriations Committee that produced the crisis effect that the White House and the President is concerned about, because that gives specific instructions to the Appropriations Committee; we're late in the appropriations cycle; that leads to a reconciliation process in late September that produces a formula for shutting down the government because of the debt ceiling and the funding requirements for government. And that would be a less-than-favorable outcome. And it's precisely the reason why the President has come forward now, offering ideas, hoping that they would be incorporated into the deliberations of the Conference Committee.
Q But it's voluntary, right? I mean, if they choose not to pay any attention to him --
MR. MCCURRY: They -- yes, it is a coequal branch of government, and they can choose to ignore those ideas if they choose so. But I think the President was arguing to the American people last night that this might be the best way to seize the moment. I heard Senator Dole say exactly the same thing -- seize the moment. This is the way to do it. The President in good faith has put down a measure that, as you are all reminding us, has engendered some criticism from Democrats that represents, I think, a testimony to the good-faith effort to reconcile different points of view and to move forward. And that is available now, and I would think in the spirit that the Majority Leader of the Senate spoke last night, we should be able to begin serious work on the ideas as they were outlined by the President last night.
Q Is there any comment from the White House or any position on the telecommunications bill that's now --
MR. MCCURRY: We've been following very carefully, but I haven't looked at -- telecommunications bill in the Senate -- I haven't looked at it myself closely enough to know how they are doing on various amendments. But we are -- got folks here who are following it, and the Vice President's staff has been watching it especially closely. We can maybe check on that and see.
Q Do you have any plans Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, no. I think his return -- plan is he's coming back -- it'll be late in the day when he finishes his activity in Halifax. And if he finishes it later than we imagine, I suspect -- I guess there's a chance he might stay over, but I -- his current plan is to still come back over on Saturday.
Q Is he going to --
Q What? Wait a minute, we might stay an extra day?
Q We were all told yesterday --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm told that there's -- the current plan is to come back Saturday.
MR. MCCURRY: Come back Saturday.
Q Will he make a statement before he leaves tomorrow morning?
MR. MCCURRY: I just -- you remember how late the light stays out in Halifax.
Q -- play golf --
Q -- points with the Japanese Prime Minister --
MR. MCCURRY: Sorry, say again.
Q The President has a one-on-one with the Japanese Prime Minister in Halifax.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. Yes.
Q Is there any intent on the part of the President to bring up the subject of the auto trade talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the subject will more likely come up at, as you've no doubt heard already from Ambassador Kantor, the meetings that will occur I believe the 23rd and 24th between the U.S. side and the Japanese side will become the venue for further discussions on the auto/auto parts issue. So I'm sure that the Prime Minister and the President will review the issue but do so in the context of the broad relationship we have with Japan.
Q So, no negotiations between --
MR. MCCURRY: We've -- it has not been likely for sometime that that would be a negotiating session. Our negotiators are doing the work that they are doing as they describe it, as they --
Q The members of the Women's Caucus up on the Hill yesterday urged a blue ribbon bipartisan commission on affirmative action, specifically in the wake of the Adarand case. Is that idea picking up new momentum here in the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it doesn't -- I mean, I can't comment on how it comes into the review, but remember the issue of review by commission was a central element of the Court's reasoning. And they looked at the utility of commissions at the state and local level and the review of these programs. And that, if I understood correctly what some of the groups were saying yesterday, they said that principle having now been raised by the Court as something of a standard ought to be something that they look at as it pertains to federal affirmative action programs.
Now, those are all among the many issues that have to be looked at by those who are conducting the review of affirmative action programs for the President. But the question arises not so much because it's coming from the political realm but because the Court identified that specifically as a standard, noting the importance of commissions at the state and local level.
Q Are you casting cold water on the idea of diplomatic recognition for Vietnam?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I was just -- we were reacting to some story about the suggestion that there was a proposal to that floating around. And I've simply said that there's no decision pending before the President.
Q Is there a recommendation from Christopher?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no recommendation pending before the President.
Q Is he going to make a formal statement on departure tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. At what time?
Q As to -- here or Andrews --
MR. MCCURRY: He makes a statement at Andrews upon departure.
Q About what?
Q What is he saying?
MR. MCCURRY: Just as he goes to Halifax, a departure statement.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:25 P.M. EDT