THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
2:00 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House for our ever-illuminating daily briefing. We start today with news from London. The loud noise of traffic has reduced the breeding rate of birds because they cannot hear a partner's love song, according to scientific research published Monday in Britain. The research said male birds cannot attract females, nor warn intruders to keep off their turf because their songs go unheeded and -- get this -- Chris Meade of the British Trust for Ornithology, says "it is not enough for females to be able to hear the mating call of the males, they must be able to hear it well enough to assess its quality. The louder and longer the birds sing, the more efficient and energetic they are and judged to be, hence, more likely to be better mates.
Q Is this what Shali brought back from London? (Laughter.)
Q Yes. Is there some symbolism here that you would like to explain?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. I just -- on this very hot day, I had this particular subject on --
Q -- from the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: I had this subject on my mind today on the grounds that birds of a feather flock together, or something like that.
Q -- on line one. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: All right. Now, turning to weightier matters of the day, I will entertain a question.
Q Shali -- we want to know what Shali said to the President.
MR. MCCURRY: General Shalikashvili returned from London and met this morning with the President's senior national foreign policy advisors. The President joined them at the conclusion of the meeting to hear a summary of the presentation made by the General. The General reviewed many of the issues that are still outstanding as the senior military experts of the United Kingdom, France, and the United States review the situation in Bosnia, and the eastern enclaves especially.
They agreed that it is very important, one, to strengthen UNPROFOR's presence in Bosnia; two, to assure that the Alliance remains together as we address the urgent challenges that we face in Bosnia; and three, that the planning that needs to take place proceed with a strong reaffirmation of the President's view of the role U.S. ground troops can and cannot play in the ongoing conflict.
I would say there are still unresolved issues and still questions. As you know, General Shalikashvili, as I told some of you Friday afternoon, went to London with questions that need answers as the powers develop an approach to Bosnia. And some of those questions are still unresolved; there will be further discussions in capitals in the next several days as we prepare for what will likely be a meeting Friday, called by the British, of the foreign and defense ministers of the five-nation Contact Group.
Q These were three agreed things that were agreed on in this meeting this morning, not at Shali's meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, these are just the general summary points of the discussion they had this morning. They obviously reviewed in greater detail.
Q How would you strengthen the UNPROFOR? How? Was that decided?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's precisely the subject that was reviewed in the meeting in London, and there will be further conversations on exactly that point in coming days.
Q I mean, equipping them and so forth?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are various ideas, various proposals that have been suggested, some of which have been talked about publicly. I think that you are aware that the French have put some ideas forward; others have as well. And those were all part of the discussion that occurred in London and the ongoing dialogue that will occur in the next several days.
Q You used the word ground troops carefully. Does that mean that the President did not rule out the possible use of American helicopter crews and pilots to ferry in other United Nations peacekeepers or rapid reaction force?
MR. MCCURRY: There are precise questions about any proposal of that nature that we would have to look at very carefully in discussion with other military planners from UNPROFOR countries, NATO countries, and especially the British and the French. Some of those questions are still unresolved. The President has made no decision to provide that type of assistance, but there are active discussions underway about how they will proceed, and I expect that they will be taken up more directly when the foreign ministers and defense ministers meet on Friday.
Q He's not ruling that out, though, at this point? He has not told them, no, we'll give you the helicopters, but we won't give you the crews --
MR. MCCURRY: He has not ruled in or ruled out any particular recommendation, but there's still a lot of thinking going into the development of recommendations that the Alliance itself can agree upon.
Q Mike, when you say helicopters or say that the President has made no decision on providing that type of assistance, aren't you talking about ground forces? Aviation battalions, first of all, are Army units. And secondly, aviation battalions have as an integral part of their makeup ground security forces, as well as maintenance and repair people and all kinds of other people.
MR. MCCURRY: That squares with my understanding, but I'm not the right expert to brief on that particular point or how that type of operational deployment would occur. They'd do that over at the Pentagon. But again, I'd stress, the President has questions; those questions were posed by General Shalikashvili. There are some answers, but there are still some unresolved issues.
Q So you're really not ruling out -- I mean, these are ground forces of one form or another.
MR. MCCURRY: They are principally transport helicopters.
Q Is there a possibility that we would provide helicopters, but not pilots and ground forces?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to -- it's not useful at all while some very sensitive military planning has occurred to speculate on the nature of those plans.
Q If I could follow up -- the timing you're talking about here with a meeting on Friday would seem to indicate that you feel that Gorazde at least has time, that you don't need to move within the next day or so to protect that safe area.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the U.N. and NATO both can provide their best understanding of the military situation in and around the eastern safe areas. Clearly, the situation around Zepa is quite urgent and much different than the situation around Gorazde.
Q But you're operating on the assumption Gorazde can wait.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we clearly have got a schedule of meetings that I've told you about, and I don't think anyone is adopting the attitude that anything can wait. There is some urgent planning that is underway as a result of the meetings that I've described.
Q Would it be fair to say that the two conditions for the use of U.S. ground troops that the President has previously enunciated, for a complete U.N. evacuation or to help U.N. troops in dire straits or imminent danger -- whatever phrase the President used in Colorado at the U.S. Air Force Academy -- would it be fair to say that the President is now considering broadening the conditions for the use of U. S. ground troops to deal with the dire situation in the eastern enclaves?
MR. MCCURRY: It would not be fair to say that. There's no recommendation to that nature before him at this point.
Q Are our NATO allies insinuating that they'd be happy enough just to get the military equipment that we've been talking about, rather than getting the pilots --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll refer you to the public comments that the British and the French have already made. There has obviously been a more considerable discussion of those issues privately, but they've addressed themselves to that publicly.
Q Has the President had any discussions with members of Congress about this French proposal or contingency planning, whatever it is you're doing right now?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not. As I told some of you earlier today, he does plan a session with congressional leaders -- or congressional members who are important in these areas tomorrow. I have not asked him whether he's had any phone conversations in the last couple of days with members. He might have, but I'll double-check that.
Q Is that a -- are you referring to the affirmative -- there are two different congressional meetings?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got a session tomorrow -- my understanding was that they are going to have a group down here for a discussion of Bosnia tomorrow.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: Do we have a time on that yet?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll check and see -- if you can get a time while we're underway here.
Q On that, House Speaker Gingrich today is being quoted as saying he is calling for a pullout of U.N. forces and NATO forces, and he does not want the U.S. and its allies to consider further strengthening the U.S. presence in Bosnia. He would rather see a U.N. and NATO pullout. How strongly is the U.S. pushing for --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to find out more about this. A NATO pullout out of the Adriatic generally, or discontinuing all enforcement activities of U.N. Security Council resolutions such as the no-fly zone enforcement? That would sound like unilateral U.S. abrogation of a host of U.N. Security Council resolutions. But I'll inquire further on those remarks.
Q My question, though, is how strongly is the U.S. pushing for the strengthening of the U.N. forces in Bosnia rather than a pullout?
MR. MCCURRY: We are pushing very strongly to find a way to keep the U.N. mission in Bosnia in a fashion that can reasonably accomplish some of the purposes that the U.N. has in Bosnia. They are, first and foremost, keeping hundreds of thousands of refugees alive. The presence of the United Nations in Bosnia is absolutely critical to a humanitarian effort now that becomes all the more important given the refugee flows of the last several days. In fact, the Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration is in Tuzla today -- or has been in Tuzla today -- with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees to explore exactly what the humanitarian needs are. And a premature withdrawal of U.N. forces from Bosnia would put in jeopardy all of those humanitarian relief efforts because so many of the nongovernmental organizations won't stay if they don't have the presence of the United Nations there for some measure of protection. So this is a formula for making a bad situation very much worse.
Q If I could follow up on something you said earlier -- you said that today's meeting reaffirmed the role that ground troops can or cannot play. Are you now saying that there is a role for U.S. ground troops there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've had discussions here before of the conditions under which there would be a possible hypothetical use of ground forces. I'm not saying that anything about that has changed. The President has also very clearly ruled out the use of U.S. ground forces to enter the conflict as a combatant on behalf of the Bosnian government. So I was saying that that is a role they cannot play. They could play, conceivably, under some scenario, a role in either extraction or emergency evacuation or, in the chance down the road of a settlement that is being implemented in good faith by both sides.
Q Which category does the helicopter crews fall under? This is what I don't understand.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is a general discussion underway now of how to strengthen and make more effective the U.N. mission in Bosnia. There are various ideas that are being put forward. It has been suggested I think publicly by the French that one of those might involve the use of U.S. transport helicopters to move a force into Gorazde. As I say, all of these things are under active discussion now.
Q You have not ruled out -- so far, you have not ruled out that request based on the criteria as it was stated in the past?
MR. MCCURRY: We've indicated as of Friday, as a result of the meeting held on Friday, that there are substantial important questions that have to be resolved about these ideas, and that is among the purposes that General Shalikashvili had when he attended his meeting. So we're not necessarily ruling it out, but by no means are we ruling it in either until we have, well, the types of questions, or the same ones that I identified on Friday. They relate to the nature of the mission, the duration, and other aspects of the deployment concerns that we expressed through General Shalikashvili and will continue to express in our bilateral dialogues with others.
And by the way, I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that the new British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, the former Defense Minister, will be here for conversations with Secretary Christopher beginning tomorrow night.
Q When you talk about unresolved issues, are there unresolved issues beyond the extent to which U.S. helicopters would be used? In other words, are there other unresolved issues, and what would they be?
MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of them, and I'm going to decline to get into them because they relate to some of the diplomatic discussions that are very much still underway.
Q Could I follow up one second, and that has to do with the matter of timing. Is the President satisfied that this planning schedule -- Shalikashvili having been in Europe over the weekend and now we've got another round coming up in London this coming weekend -- that the planning schedule may be overtaken by events on the ground, and therefore, that there is a disconnect between this methodical chewing over what everybody's role will be; in the meantime, the Bosnian Serbs are plugging away at one safe area after another?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in the meantime, those existing authorities that are available to the United Nations and to NATO via the decisions of the North Atlantic Council are in place. So there is still nothing that prohibits UNPROFOR commanders on the ground from triggering a request of NATO to provide military support. And nothing has changed about our willingness to provide that type of assistance when that type of request is made.
Q Are we pushing, incidentally, for, again, resumption of air power? Several weeks ago, the President was very desirous of seeing U.N. and NATO expand or use air power, and then we saw what happened as a result of that. Is the U.S. within NATO councils and within U.N. councils actively pushing for a more robust role today, tomorrow, before Friday?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, some of the discussions that have occurred that General Shalikashvili participated in did relate to making any use of air power more effective. But beyond that I decline to get into too many specifics.
Q It's been reported that part of the French proposal is to do away with the dual key system. Is that correct, and where does that stand?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would refer you to the French government, whatever they have or have not said publicly about it. There have been substantial concerns that we've expressed publicly about the dual key, the operational effect of the political dual key.
Q Are you making that a condition for your participation in any of this --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into what's a condition or not. We've told you there are unresolved issues and there are questions, and they might relate to command and control issues, of course.
Q I didn't understand Maura's last -- your answer to Maura's last question which was the helicopters fall into which category -- categories in which we would go in? The helicopters fall into what category?
MR. MCCURRY: The helicopters fly in the air so they're not directly related to ground troops. There was a good question over here earlier about how you deploy helicopter units, and I think I properly referred that over to the Pentagon because I wouldn't be able to give you a detailed understanding of that type of deployment.
Q One question, Mike, on that same point. You said that you can't rule it in and you can't rule it out, and it depends on the scenario. Whatever the scenario, isn't it a clear-cut question whether the U.S. right now considers pilots ground troops or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm a lay person, not a military planner, but I don't think most folks would think of pilots as being ground troops. I think when we think of ground troops we think of infantry deployment, and that's a different issue.
Q Yes, but, Mike, don't you run the risk of losing credibility on this issue if you tried to split these hairs too finely? I think most Americans might agree that when you talk ground troops they're thinking of Americans within some kind of combat danger. Helicopters flying in a hostile area are much more susceptible to that kind of danger than are high-flying airplanes.
MR. MCCURRY: There is absolutely no question that that type of operation would involve risks and most likely casualties; that is correct. And we're not splitting any hairs on that. And that's one of the reasons why the President, as you can well understand, is being very meticulous in thinking through all these questions that I've described to you.
Q Do you expect that there would be a decision at the ministers' meeting at the end of the week, or before that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to project. I think that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has indicated his intent to call this meeting. It's by no means certain that the meeting will occur, as of today. We would certainly participate if the meeting is called and scheduled.
Q How can you say that, when Christopher is supposed to be on his way on Thursday?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he is supposed to be on his way, but to my knowledge, they have not -- unless that's changed in the last hour or so, the United Kingdom has not formally set a time and a place and an agenda for such a meeting. But we would certainly participate if they did so. And many of these issues would likely be discussed there. It's not at all clear to me that they would be resolved at such a meeting. So I would hesitate to project that there would be any series of decisions or any particular decision at that meeting.
Q A timing question. Does that mean that it is either unlikely or a practical impossibility that a decision will be made before the end of this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the decision that we're looking for is something we would take in concert with the British and the French in particular, and then others. And, hopefully, it would include some deliberations of the Contact Group as to diplomatic measures. So there are a variety of things that are under discussion.
Q That would imply that anything that -- it's a practical impossibility for UNPROFOR to be beefed up in time to prevent anything like the fall of Zepa, if it were to occur over the next five days.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they were -- as I said earlier, in response to an earlier question, there are existing procedures and existing operational authorities that are available to both the U.N. and to NATO to deal with shorter term contingencies.
Q Is it feasible or practical that U.S. helicopters -- Apaches or others -- could be handed over to the French or the British, and that they would use their crews to lift troops into Gorazde, without U.S. pilots?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm just not going to -- it's not useful for me to speculate on a question like that.
Q Richard Holbrooke was quoted this morning as saying the United States would not operate under the dual key operation. Do you dispute that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I thought I was somewhat more tactful and evasive in answering a similar question earlier. I mean, we have expressed some concerns about the operation of the dual key, and it leaves much to be desired. I think I'll just leave it there.
Q -- yesterday that the U.S. would never accept that again, the dual key.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he was thinking, projecting ahead to some future type of operation.
Q You mean anything after Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: We have a dispute between CNN and the Washington Post. Wolf is putting in a plug for his interview.
Q The French are quoted as saying the President or Shali told them that the President couldn't commit to this plan without congressional approval. I am assuming what the position here is, is that congressional consultation is at issue, but not congressional approval. Is that right?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, there's none -- our view of the role of the Commander-in-Chief, under the Constitution, has not changed.
Q To highlight the obvious, if U.S. troops are fired at, they obviously have the right to fire back, right, for self-protection?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a point that General Shalikashvili addressed in his congressional testimony last week. And as you can tell from that testimony, he feels very strongly on that point.
Q One of the points you discussed earlier about the meeting this morning was the goal to keep the alliance together. In light of the fact that the French have come up with a proposal, that there are other proposals on the table, how would you assess the health of that alliance right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's going through a very difficult time on a very, very difficult subject. And the public statements of our two closest European allies reflect that.
Q Mike, I know you've been asked about this before, but the timing thing is still confusing to me. If there's no decision likely until Friday or later, does that mean you either think Gorazde is not in danger of falling before then, or that that is not an important goal anymore, to save Gorazde?
MR. MCCURRY: It's just not at all helpful for me here to speculate on what we think might happen to one of the U.N. safe areas in Eastern Bosnia. Each of these areas has got a different configuration of both Bosnian government troops, U.N. peacekeepers. They've got different refugee situations. They've got different Serb forces readied against them. So I'm just not going to speculate on what each situation should be.
Q How should people interpret the fact that you've set a rather leisurely pace for the next set of decisions?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't -- given the meetings that I've seen around here today, leisurely pace is not an accurate description. And I've told you the timing of the meetings that are going to occur, that I know of.
Q Mike, there are reports that there was a shouting match between Chirac and Major over the weekend, concerning this Bosnia question. Now, obviously --
MR. MCCURRY: You mean besides the one in public that they had?
Q Well, also -- in public is enough that there are really different attitudes on this. And where the United States came down and what side it came down on would pretty much, I think, decide where the situation would go to. Now, why is the United States not prepared to --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't sort out conversations at the highest levels between France and the United Kingdom.
Q Follow-up: If it were a case of intervening to stop the genocide at the sacrifice of the formal Alliance, would this not be preferable, to let this situation continue that's continuing today, the murder and rape of --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the situation occurring today is by no means acceptable to the international community. The international community has said so, and there's urgent planning under way to attempt to address it.
Q Are we able to switch to Iraq?
Q One more. Is the White House aware that Senator Dole has said he plans to bring up his binding embargo lift resolution after regulatory reform? And is the President doing anything to lobby against this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has spoken vigorously about it. And as I indicated, will likely have a session with some members of Congress tomorrow. We've had administration officials publicly explaining what our concerns about Senator Dole's resolution are. As to the timing in the Senate, I think we have a rough sense of when things will come up on the calendar. I'm not sure precisely what that means in terms of this resolution.
Q Before you go to Iraq can I just ask one sort of wrap-up question on this?
Q Okay. Go ahead.
MR. MCCURRY: Please do.
Q There was one description of this week, given the Bosnia and Waco and Whitewater and all of the other -- affirmative action -- as a week from --
MR. MCCURRY: Why do I feel a kitchen sink-type question coming on?
Q -- as a week from hell for the President. Is this a week from hell for the President? The Washington Post had --
Q Then it must be so.
Q -- that description.
Q Can we get some peacekeepers --
MR. MCCURRY: The only thing hellish about this week for the President of the United States is the temperature outside.
Q That's it?
Q Is Feinstein one of the members coming tomorrow to the foreign policy --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. We'll give you a brief on tomorrow.
Q Did Congressman Richardson seek and did he receive the specific permission of the President to engage in the discussions he had with Saddam Hussein?
MR. MCCURRY: He did not go as a representative of the President, nor did he exchange any correspondence, nor did he have any particular set of instructions. He went with the best wishes of the President, who said that anything that he could do to achieve the release of the two Americans, consistent with our view that they should be properly and immediately released, would be helpful. And he did so, and he earned the praise of the President and I think the praise of a grateful nation as a result.
Q Did the President have conversations with Congressman Richardson before his departure for Baghdad?
MR. MCCURRY: He did. The Congressman has been pursuing this matter, as I believe he has now indicated, for some time, and I believe he has, at least on two occasions, talked with the President, and he did talk to the President earlier today. As I am told, some of you, from the Embassy in Amman, Jordan, after his arrival there with Mr. Barloon and Mr. Daliberti.
Q We know that both the White House and Richardson have said that the release was unconditional and there is no quid pro quo. Does the White House have an opinion of what Saddam may have had in mind in agreeing to release these two Americans at this time?
MR. MCCURRY: It's plumbing the depths of Saddam Hussein's mind is a task fraught with some danger. But it's clear that the cost to Saddam Hussein of holding these two Americans, innocent Americans, was much greater than any benefit he thought he would derive from it. And I think the very firm diplomacy engaged in by the United States made that clear to him over time. He understood that there was nothing to be gained by further holding these two Americans, something that the President made clear on numerous occasions, publicly and also through the diplomatic contacts that we've had, and that may have had some effect in his calculation. But it is not a society that is transparent; not being a democracy, so it's hard to know the answer.
Q Did former President Bush and President Clinton have any substantive discussions, like on Bosnia or China --
MR. MCCURRY: They did. The President, after they had a very nice ceremony, after the unveiling of the portrait, invited President Bush to come over to the Oval Office for a discussion that lasted about 20 minutes. They did talk about Bosnia, they talked about China, they talked about some other subjects. They had a very good visit. The President then invited President Bush to join the meeting with CEOs that was about to begin to say hello, and President Bush did, and upon learning the subject of the meeting, left promptly. (Laughter.)
Q Can you shed any light on that --
MR. MCCURRY: No, it was a private conversation between the former President and the current President.
Q Did he seek advice, or did President Bush offer it?
MR. MCCURRY: They had a good discussion that President Clinton found very helpful and useful.
Q A domestic issue. Hearings on the health bill start tomorrow. The health insurance industry has already said that they don't like some of the provisions related to affordability of those who left groups through unemployment. This is one issue that you've already said has meaning -- the White House. Are you prepared to go to the mat on this kind of thing if they get their way on the hill, or accept whatever increment you can get?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a series of incremental steps that we believe would be helpful and we will pursue them diligently. This is not, certainly, the last word on health insurance reform this year. We do believe portability is just one of several reforms that are very, very important to pursue, and the President will continue to work in a climate in which all of those who care about health care reform have to be encouraged by the bipartisanship of Senator Kennedy and Senator Kassebaum in coming forward with the proposal; while not completely satisfactory to the White House, it does represent very good progress and a very important step forward.
Q Mike, aside from your comment that the temperature is the only hellish thing this week, what are your views about these Waco and Whitewater hearings? What do you think the stakes are for the White House, and what do you make of the Republicans' motivation and approach?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't put the two of them together, as some of you do. I think in the case of the hearings on Waco, there is an exhaustive public record available on Waco that, if it is to be reviewed, should be reviewed with an eye towards helping the American people understand the truth about what happened. But that is subverted when a very extreme organization, like the National Rifle Association, comes in and basically hijacks these hearings by paying for investigators, placing them right in the center of the fact-finding process. And that would seem to jeopardize any sense that these hearings are going to be fair and they're going to be aimed at getting at the truth.
It is astonishing that the Republican majority in Congress would allow the NRA to purchase outside assistance from an organization that is using these hearings for its own agenda, quite clearly. And we have, several times now, suggested to the Republican majority they ought to clear this up and make it very clear what was going on with the use of these outside paid informants.
Q What is it the outside, paid people could do that this administration would have any reason to fear?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they can clearly use their own -- this is an organization that has an agenda, has very determined views on issues related to gun ownership. And they could use the presence of their own investigators to advance their own cause through what is supposed to be an impartial fact-finding -- it's unprecedented to my knowledge.
Q How are they going to do that unless they find something in a factual basis that is in someway embarrassing or damaging to the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: They write memos. They create understanding by members of Congress. They presumably brief member of Congress. They can tilt any type of fact evidence that they gather in the field. I mean there are any number of ways. I would go ask them what they're doing to protect themselves from that type of influence. That's a legitimate question to pose to the chairman of the committee.
Q And on the Whitewater hearings?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Miklaszewski.
Q On Whitewater -- (laughter) --
MR. MCCURRY: Nice try.
Q The focus of the Senate hearings appears to be shifted off of the Whitewater investment to the Vince Foster suicide and the events that occurred that night here at the White House. Does the White House feel that the President is in the clear now?
MR. MCCURRY: Mick, the President has been cooperating with various Whitewater efforts. I have not been following that hearing particularly closely. It has not come up at some of our regular sessions here. So I would ask that you would check with the legal counsel staff and the person that's helping.
Q Okay, let me ask -- does the White House feel that having not found sufficient evidence to pursue the President and Mrs. Clinton on the Whitewater investigation that the Senate has shifted their focus?
MR. MCCURRY: Whether or not the Senate has shifted its focus is something that you really should ask senators. Certainly, there is nothing that I'm aware of or I believe that the President and Mrs. Clinton are aware of that would challenge the assertions that they've made in connection with this matter.
Q May I follow that up. Is there no concern that the hearings that are going to be opening tomorrow might be politically motivated in some regard?
MR. MCCURRY: We hope not. You will be able to determine quickly enough based on the performance of those who are conducting the hearings and those who are chairing the hearings. So, you can judge that for yourself I think.
Q But unlike the Waco hearings where you've already laid out a position in terms of criticizing Republicans, at this point --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in fairness -- have found something particularly extraordinary about that that deserved a comment on it.
Q Is there nothing about D'Amato you want to say? (Laughter.)
Q Do you have any comment about how the Republicans so far have dealt with Whitewater in terms of how these hearings have been structured?
MR. MCCURRY: We will see shortly what type of hearing they will have. To my knowledge the people who they believe have got material information to provide have been called to serve as witnesses and they will proceed. I don't think there's been a lot of discussion of the hearings or the way the hearings have been structured here. In fact, I would suggest that there's been -- outside of those whose job it is to cooperate with the committee and to work through some of the issues that need to be testified upon, there has not been much discussion of these hearings here. Whether or not they will attract attention is up to you.
Q May I just follow up on that. That's a pretty startling contrast to the way these Whitewater matters were handled previously. Are you saying that Whitewater doesn't even show up on the gauge here?
MR. MCCURRY: We go through morning meetings here to kind of map out what's going on today. And the subjects we've been working on are budget, Bosnia, some of the domestic issues the President's going to be dealing with, the upcoming affirmative action report. And I haven't heard an extensive discussion of Whitewater.
Q Is that because people on the White House staff are potentially involved in the Whitewater chapters we are talking about, so it wouldn't be right for you to be --
MR. MCCURRY: No. People are very careful -- they comport themselves as you would expect they would when it relates to something in which there might be an issue that they're involved in.
Q I thought you weren't supposed or had internally agreed not to have group discussions of this because of the subject matter?
MR. MCCURRY: Even in passing -- what I'm suggesting is that even in passing it has not preoccupied a lot of people here who think through what the President's day is going to be about and so on and so forth.
Q Mike, on affirmative action --
Q Can I just ask one more on that?
Q No, I was recognized earlier.
Q Oh, Leo.
Q Oh, come on.
Q On the affirmative action meeting that the President had with the CEOs, what did the President tell them and what feedback did he get?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have a complete readout on all the discussions that he had. He told them, much as he told the Congressional Black Caucus and some of the civil rights and women's groups that he met with last week, in general the thrust of what his review has found and how he intends to address the issue on Wednesday. I think he then solicited from them their own thinking and their views, and I believe they had a good discussion in which a lot of the practices in the private sector and the challenges that many private sector employers face in administering their own affirmative action and non-discrimination programs, how do they run, how have they been working and what useful lessons are there from the private sector as we attempt to address the issue of federal affirmative action programs. They had a good discussion of that; I didn't get a point-by-point readout of what different companies said.
Q Was there some general common ground between the President and the CEOs on affirmative action at that meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would say it's hard to judge, because I think people have their own views, but these are, by and large, corporations that feel it's important to break down barriers that exist to gender and race discrimination, who maintain their own programs for doing so for employment practices, hiring practices and promotion, and by and large, corporations that have got a commitment to advancing minorities and women higher in the ranks of the corporations who were represented at this meeting. So in that sense, that they share with the President some determination to keep moving forward on equal opportunity and justice in the workplace, I think there was some broad agreement, yes.
Q Just one more on Whitewater. Is the White House confident Senator D'Amato will be fair and impartial?
MR. MCCURRY: He has said he would be, and that will be judged I think by both the American public, by those who report on the proceedings in the Senate and their judgments are ultimately the ones that count. Our views on that would be less important than what the American people think.
Q There's currently only two commissioners on the SEC and three vacancies, and some suggestion that there's been a lot of delay here, including some people on the SEC. How soon do you think the White House will be in a position to --
MR. MCCURRY: I believe -- I'm looking for a wink and a nod here -- I think that we have some candidates for those two vacancies that are in the final stages of being properly reviewed by the administration so they can be put forward as nominees by the President, and I just was nodded and told that was the correct answer.
Q The portability issue in health care reform have bipartisan support, but one of the biggest, stickiest issues is Medicare and Medicaid.
MR. MCCURRY: Right.
Q Is the White House intending to do anything on its own rather than wait for the Republicans to wait until the fall to ram something through the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have been looking very carefully at that issue. Senator Kassebaum and Senator Kennedy, of course, were silent on those issues because I believe it's fair to say because of jurisdictional concerns in the Senate, but that has not stopped the White House from reviewing the component parts of health care reform that would relate to Medicare and Medicaid, and we do intend to press forward with our discussions. What form our own ideas would take as we move forward we will have to see, as the congressional deliberations become clearer. It's not clear at this point which committees may or may not take up those issues in the Senate, and for that matter, in the House.
Q What can you tell us about the speech Wednesday? And are you going to release the report?
MR. MCCURRY: Most of the discussions I've heard indicate that we will provide some type of briefing on the report itself and some type of summary of it, if not the report. That issue is still being discussed internally. I gave a little snapshot preview last week of the speech itself, and it remains the same. I haven't seen any departure of that over the weekend. It still is a broadly thematic speech that helps the President make a case in which the American people understand the importance of these programs in the life of our country and moving forward on our commitments to equal opportunity and social and economic justice. And it does address very specifically the performance of some of these programs that have existed and where they're working and where they might need to be improved.
Q Mike, has there been any action flowing from the speech, any kind of presidential directive, any specifics?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be some aspects of the review itself that will lead to the implementation of some policy directives. But I would caution against anticipating any sweeping policy changes here.
Q When the President unveiled his balanced budget plan mid-June he didn't go into the health care details in his speech. But we had separate briefings and material on that. Is there a possibility that even though his speech might be broad-sweeping, that we could be getting separate briefings on detailed information on changes on some programs?
MR. MCCURRY: We will do on Wednesday some type of briefing -- my guess is -- the President is speaking, what, at 11:00 a.m. in the morning, and I look to doing some type of briefing in the afternoon after my own briefing; some type of briefing on the review itself and the substantive content of the review by those who know the most about the content of the review.
Helen is getting ready to leave. Thank you, Helen.
END 2:49 P.M. EDT