THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS AND CHRIS EDLEY
The Briefing Room
1:21 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: We're just going to move very quickly and briskly into questions, but not until I say something on behalf of the President. I want to introduce both George Stephanopoulos and Chris Edley, who together did the bulk of the work on the affirmative action review that's been done within the Clinton administration. But on behalf of a grateful White House and especially a grateful President, I'll report something the President said this morning in reference to both George and Chris.
He said, I can't think of anyone else who would have handled such a sensitive and important task so effectively, in paying tribute both to George, who is the lead White House staffer here internally who worked on this, and then Chris, who ran the interagency process. I think both of them earned a great deal of admiration from their colleagues here at the White House. And it's for that reason among many, it's a pleasure to have George Stephanopoulos, who is senior advisor to the President for Policy and Strategy; and Christopher Edley, Special Council to the President, here to do some answers on the report itself.
Q Does the President know that the California Governor called this a tribalization of the country?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, thank you. We really won't say anything -- we want to go straight to questions. As you know, the review started back in March. We will have copies, I think, for you later this afternoon. And it was really the work of dozens of people throughout the administration, the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, Department of Education. A lot of people put in a lot of hours to make sure that we had an honest look at the programs and the facts.
The President ordered us to give this a full look and an honest look, and to go in with an open mind and to follow where the facts led the review. And that's what we did. And as you see in the review, we concluded that affirmative action has been helpful to the country; on the whole, it's been fair; and with the proper reforms it can work even better to strengthen the country and strengthen our commitment to equal opportunity.
Q First, just explain -- he said that any program that is a quota will be eliminated or reformed. Just explain why a set-aside which has a numerical goal in it is not a quota.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The set-asides are numerical goals, as you point out. They are goals throughout the government. There are certain administrative practices which do call for some shelter competition in specific areas. They are not unique to these programs. There is sole-source contracting throughout the federal government. But the goal is flexible in the set-aside program.
Q Just explain the difference between that and a quota.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: A quota is a hard, rigid, inflexible target that must be met in every case at every time. And that is now what the set-aside program calls for.
Q Two Republicans contenders, as soon as the President finished speaking, pounced on his statement and reiterated their belief, and they believe it's the American people's belief, that affirmative action rules the way they are now ought to be rolled back. Is that a politization of this issue? And is there any place where the Republican rollback ideas might have some validity?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We think we need reform, but not rollback. And that's what the President has called for, and that's what the review recommends. We do need significant reforms in the programs, and the President's directive, along with coming into full compliance with the Adarand case, will lead to those significant reforms.
In addition, as you saw, he's called for significant reforms in the set-aside program.
Q George, could you outline for us any programs specifically that haven't worked and that need to be reformed? Can you give us any concrete examples of what hasn't worked?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the review points out that the federal procurement programs have worked to increase opportunities for minorities and women in businesses, to increase the power of minority entrepreneurs. At the same time that hasn't come without some cost. They have been subject to abuse. There has been abuses by the use of fronts. The graduation rates have not worked well enough to move people off of the government programs fast enough. Sometimes the acid tests have been abused, and the President has proposed reforms to meet those specific objections.
He still believes, however, that when you can prove discrimination and when you can narrowly tailor the remedy, set-asides are appropriate.
Q Is any congressional action needed for anything the President proposes to do such as the extension of the set-aside for economically distressed areas? And, two, what do you think is the state of play in Congress on Republican efforts to rollback or eliminate affirmative action? Where do you see that going this year?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think that, clearly, the set-aside for disadvantaged areas without regard to race would probably require legislation. The Vice President will work with that. He will certainly consult with the Congress as he prepares the policy, and my guess is that it probably would require legislation, although we're not going to prejudge that completely right now.
Secondly, my guess is that there are several in Congress who will seek to exploit this issue. There are clearly some divisions in the Republican Party, and I believe that we are going to get significant support for the President's position both in the country and in Congress.
Q Well, where do you see that going? Do you expect legislation to be passed this year? I mean do you expect this to be a big fight in Congress this year?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: My guess is that somebody will propose legislation to eliminate affirmative action. And my hope is that we'll defeat it.
Q This year?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes.
Q Why is giving preference to somebody on the basis of gender or ethnic origin or race not reverse discrimination?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, it depends on how you define the question. And affirmative action, when done right, does not give preferences. It says it is a factor that can be taken into account. That is what the Bakke decision set forth by the Supreme Court ordered in education and that's what affirmative action does when it's done right.
It makes sure people can expand the pool of qualified applicants. It makes sure people have a leg up, certainly, have some ability to get into the program but it doesn't allow anything for people who aren't qualified. And that's how I would define preference.
Q If I could just follow up -- how do you account then for widespread cases of people feeling they are the victim of discrimination? Your report found that there was no widespread case in fact on that score.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's legitimate to look at the programs. And it's certainly legitimate to ask if they're fair. I think that there's no question that not every program in the private sector or in the public sector has always been administered as effectively as it could be administered. And it's certainly easier to use a quota then it is to really follow the guidelines set up under an affirmative action program.
But even the executive order set forward 11246 started by Richard Nixon simply requires companies to make good faith efforts, to make sure you do the advertising, to make sure you do the outreach, to make sure you don't leave any stone unturned when you're looking for qualified candidate. But it says you shouldn't pick unqualified candidates and it says if you discriminate against non-minorities than that is wrong, it's illegal and it should be punished. And I would point out that this government has brought cases on reverse discrimination.
Q I have a question on your empowerment zone plan here. Could you please give some kind of a detail of what on Earth you mean on it because it's awfully vague? Would you extend --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have written the full policy yet but I think Chris can go into greater detail.
Q It's just a concept --
MR. EDLEY: It's just a concept.
Q Is it a concept or is it a plan?
MR. EDLEY: Well, I don't know where to draw the line between a concept and a detailed legislative proposal. I think that the notion here is that while we have a set of programs that we want to reform that are directed at the problem of remedying discrimination against minority and women entrepreneurs. What the President is saying is that we need another kind of program that is directed at the goal of creating jobs and economic development in severely distressed communities.
The notion is to take some of the procurement that the government does -- over $200 billion a year -- and target that procurement on firms that either locate in or hire a substantial amount of workers from severely distressed areas.
So what the Vice President will be doing is working with the Department of HUD, the Department of Labor, the Council of Economic Advisors, and so forth, to design the index to select which communities, which regions around the country are indeed most severely economically distressed. And he'll be working in detail with the agencies to make sure that the way in which those contracts are targeted is an administrable one.
Q So the empowerment contracting proposal has nothing to do with cities that already have empowerment zones?
MR. EDLEY: It does not. It is broader than that. There are only nine empowerment zones that are identified. So this could be quite broader, but it will be focused on regions that have severe economic distress.
Q -- do you get extra points, or something? I mean, how --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We're going to work out the -- we simply don't have -- we have not worked out the plan yet. The President wants to make that incentive available to people who locate in those areas, and the Vice President is going to work out the details.
Q Can I follow up on that? Could you just at least say, when you say targeting procurement dollars in distressed communities, are you also talking then about a specific percent of procurement dollars?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One very good possibility is that this would be a set-aside, yes, and that it would be a set-aside for businesspeople who put -- we don't have the number now, but we know that it would be a set-aside for people who place their businesses in these areas.
Q Could I just ask, following up on Bill's question, I understand that you both today and the President's speech have described the kinds of problem areas that you think might need restructuring, reform, revision. But the President didn't adduce a single example in his speech of a program that should be stopped, changed, explained in detail. Given all that -- and I understand it took a long time to look through this and you got delayed by Oklahoma -- what took so long? If today he chose not to say in a concrete way, here's a problem that has given x amount of stuff to these people and it's distorted because a bunch of good white contractors have been forbidden from competing on a good level.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Those are really two separate questions. Number one, the President made the policy judgment -- I think it was the right judgment -- that to do away with any program in the wake of the Adarand decision before doing the constitutional analysis required by the Adarand decision would be irresponsible. To go beyond the Supreme Court at this time would be wrong. He's --
Q That basically is what Justice is doing now pursuant to Adarand --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Justice is going to make sure they do all the analysis. Secondly -- and I think Chris can go into greater detail on the process -- but a lot of this information has not been gathered before. A lot of the questions have not been asked. And it was, actually, quite difficult to get -- to compile the data from the agencies. But I think Chris can go into that in more detail.
MR. EDLEY: One of the interesting things that we found was that for many of these programs -- some of them are quite tiny -- the agencies have simply been implementing what Congress put on the books. No one has ever required of the agencies that they think carefully about what the justification is, much less that they go out and try to collect data about the benefits, the costs, the direct and the indirect effects. So it was a detailed process.
But the other thing I want to underscore is simply because at the end of this detailed process of trying to examine the facts, not the politics, as the President said this morning, the fact that we have not toted up on the board a number of programs to eliminate does not mean that the review was not careful. Not at all. If you examine the report what you will see is that we did make a careful effort to examine the facts. At the end of it, on balance, we have recommended, and the President has agreed, that the vast majority of these programs do seem to be working, they do seem to be accomplishing a lot.
Now there is the further Adarand test that most of these programs have to run through, administered by the Justice Department. But at this point, what you see is a strong endorsement of the programs on the whole.
Q George, the President was quite strong when he got to discussion of colleges and universities and the importance of diversity in the makeup of faculties. As he put it, this is a benefit not only to colleges, but also society at large. In view of the meeting tomorrow of the UC Board of Regions with the proposal to do away with any kind of affirmative action and their policies -- from what the President said today, can we gather that he would oppose such a move?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: If there's a proposal to eliminate -- I mean, I haven't seen the detailed proposal, I don't have them in front of me -- if there's a proposal to simply wipe away the affirmative action program, the President would oppose that. He believes that's wrong simply to eliminate those kinds of programs.
Q George, as the President said, don't play politics with this, but with so many of the major Republican contenders already trashing so many affirmative action programs, how much of a campaign issue do you think this is going to be?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think there is no question that the President's opponents will seek to politicize this issue. For Governor Wilson to use a word like "tribalism" is the kind of code word politics that Republicans engage in for generations. You saw it in 1988 with Willy Horton; you saw it with Jesse Helms in the past as well. And now we're seeing it again. And those kinds of -- that is a symptom of precisely the problem that the President was trying to speak out against today.
I have no question that they are going to be pushing that. But the President was trying today, as he did in his speeches on religion last week and at Georgetown the week before, was to reach beyond that kind of politization, seek the common ground and try to be a healing voice instead of a divisive voice. And I think it was unfortunate that those kinds of words and those kinds of terms are being put into the debate. And I would make a second point that many of these opponents are recent converts to this position.
Governor Wilson himself signed a piece of affirmative action legislation dealing with education into law on September 27, 1994. It was on September 27, 1994 affirmative action is good but now that he's running for president it seems to have different kinds of problems. I think you can look at the records of a lot of Republican candidates and see a similar pattern. But that kind of politics is just wrong.
MR. EDLEY: What is politicization, to get back to the earlier question. Let me suggest that one test of that is to ask whether a political leader is stating a position on affirmative action in conclusory terms or whether in fact they're willing to describe their reasons and they're willing to cite evidence, to talk about the evidence in support of the conclusions that they offer. If they are interested in having a conversation, if they're interested in a kind of civil conversation that the President's been trying to talk about then they will be more forthcoming than speaking in bumperstickers and slogans.
Q Does the President believe that all beneficiaries of set-aside programs should be subject to a graduation period? I think that's how SBA set-asides work, but I'm not sure how they work elsewhere.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the things you want to look at is putting a graduation requirement across the board. Absolutely, yes.
Q I'm not quite sure about the empowerment zone proposal. You're saying only a percentage of businesses will have to be in the empowerment zone. What happens to the rest of those businesses? I mean would all businesses have to be -- to get a set-aside program, not all businesses would have to be in the empowerment zone though, right?
MR. EDLEY: The details have to be worked out because obviously in running this process we couldn't reach out very broadly to get help or it wouldn't have been the President's proposal. But the notion is that the zones will be designated and then businesses either located in the zone or, perhaps, businesses that simply hire a lot of their employees, a percentage we have to figure out, from those zones, from those designated areas, would be entitled to some kind of targeted procurement effort. Whether it works through a set-aside or through some sort of a bid preference or some form of sheltered competition. There are lots of different options that ought to be examined to see which will be most effective.
Q Are you talking about all kinds of companies? I mean, if you could just give us any more of an idea -- a 7-11 in that area, would you be --
MR. EDLEY: No, these are government contracts. These are --
Q -- would you be able to look for government contracts --
MR. EDLEY: I'm not aware that 7-11 gets any government contracts.
Q What would you be looking for to create some kind of business or incubators that would just exist because of --
MR. EDLEY: The contracts would be advertised and firms doing business in distressed areas would receive -- there would be a special effort to make sure that they get the benefit of winning those contracts.
Q Is the idea here to get firms to relocate from a suburb, let's say, to a city?
MR. EDLEY: That would be --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Or start new.
MR. EDLEY: Or start new ones or expand their operations.
Q If you can't find any contractors for a specific contract in the zone, then you would just fall back on current practices with the set-aside?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: The preference would fall to the person, the businessowner, you wouldn't designate the zone. But if the zone were designated and the person went there, they get the preference.
QQ And it wouldn't matter about ownership or anything? It's just a --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Absolutely not. Why don't we take one more.
Q How many of these zones would you have throughout the country?
MR. EDLEY: It would not work the way the empowerment zones programs worked where you had a limited number of zones because it involved tax credits and whatever Congress would approve.
The notion here is that you would pick something just to make up a number, areas in which the unemployment rate runs twice the national average for a certain number of quarters. So, persistent high unemployment, concentrated areas of economic disadvantage, that zone would be designated and companies that do business, that area would receive a leg up in winning government contracts.
Q So areas that don't have a lot of government contracts or defense contracts really when you get much out of this then? I mean, you have to be in an area where you can benefit, where you would have --
MR. EDLEY: Look, a lot of contracts move around. It depends. You know, there are government contracts for pencils, there are government contracts for staplers, there are government contracts for accounting services, for janitorial services, for construction --over $200 billion a year in government contracting.
Q It's not clear from the report what your intentions are on the FCC tax certificate program that was repealed this year. You seemed to make a strong defense for that in here yet -- is there any way of reforming something that's already repealed?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think it's highly unlikely. I can't imagine how it would be able to come back up this year, no.
Q Well, I'm not asking about this year, but --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I don't think it's realistic that it's going to -- I mean, the Congress voted it down.
Q In general, this idea of minority -- of getting diversity in minority --
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: I think the President believes that that goal is not unreasonable. Clearly, this program could not survive in the Congress and the President did choose, with some reluctance, to sign it. But he doesn't want to rule out the possibility that you could be doing more to make sure you get a diversity of voices in the broadcasting area.
Q There is no planned initiative to try to redress this?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Not right now.
Q A quick politics question. There's been a lot of concern that some of the key constituencies of Clinton that helped him win in '92 have been somewhat lethargic, women activists and blacks in particular. Do you think his defense of affirmative action today in the face of these GOP challenges will strengthen his support among those groups?
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: We have to see what the reaction is, but I think what people will be impressed by was the President's commitment to his principles, to his personal history and to moving forward. And I think that can help create some energy.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:41 P.M. EDT