THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Let me start with a couple things. One from Peggy Wilhide -- the Vice President is announcing today that, accompanied by members of Congress, he will travel to Haiti for the day on October 15th to celebrate the first anniversary of the restoration of democracy. During his visit the Vice President intends to meet with President Aristide and members of his Cabinet and to address the men and women of the United States Armed Forces who are currently deployed in Haiti. He also expects to deliver remarks to a Haitian audience in Port-au-Prince.
Q How many American forces are over there?
MR. MCCURRY: We have as part of the multinational force present, I think -- is it 2,000, Jim? I think it's in the neighborhood of 2,000. We'll double-check, or you can check at the NSC on that.
Q Which members of Congress?
Q Who's he taking with him? Just Foreign Relations Committee type --
MR. MCCURRY: -- Vice President's Office for additional --
Q You're off.
MR. MCCURRY: Audio. There we go. Back on. Check with the Vice President's Office; they can tell you who in addition will constitute the Vice President's delegation.
Next, the President today has signed into law H.R. 1817, the Military Construction Appropriations Act, which provides funding for military construction and family housing programs at the Department of Defense. We'll have a written statement on this at the conclusion of the briefing, but in it the President notes that he's pleased that the act provides his full request for the vast majority of military construction projects, military family housing and other quality-of-life facilities for military personnel and their families, and also carries forward some of the work of the Defense Department's base closure and realignment program.
The President's disappointed that the act provides more funding than requested. Most of the unrequested appropriations he notes, though, are for legitimate defense requirements. He is concerned, though, that Congress has chosen to spend $70 million on unneeded projects, and the Defense Department has not identified those projects that were funded as priorities. For that reason, the President indicates that if he had access to the line-item veto, that would have certainly -- those certainly would have been provisions that would have been stricken from this bill. And, again, the President calls on the Congress to follow through on a promise the Congress made to deliver to him the line-item veto as soon as possible.
Q What's the overall --
Q Is this pork? Is that what you're saying? It's $70 million of pork and --
MR. MCCURRY: The President describes them as unneeded projects. You might describe them as pork, and they would oink appropriately.
Q Why doesn't he just veto it then, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Because that is the overall bill, and I can't remember the funding. Do you remember the funding level in the overall bill? It's a multibillion-dollar bill, and we're in dispute here on $70 million out of a bill that is several billion dollars.
Next. The President today is returning without his approval H.R. 1854, the Legislative Branch appropriations bill. The President notes in his veto statement on H.R. 1854 that the bill in fact is a disciplined bill, one that he would sign under different circumstances, but at this point, Congress has completed action on only two of the 13 FY 1996 appropriations bills. The President looks forward to willingness by Congress to work with him to address acceptable resolution of budget issues.
The President notes in his veto statement, however, that he believes it would be inappropriate to provide full-year regular funding for Congress and its offices, while funding for most other activities of government remains incomplete, unresolved and uncertain.
The President, two months ago, you will recall, indicated that if Congress sent to him as its first appropriations bill a measure that took care of its own funding without taking care of the people's business, which is now left hanging as this budget debate drags on, he would have no other choice but to take care of their business.
Q So the only objection is timing, right?
Q So they send the same bill later after other things, that will be fine?
MR. MCCURRY: They send this bill, as the President indicates, after they've completed the people's work, the President will be happy to take care of their business.
Q -- all 11 before he signs this? I mean, how many does he need before this --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we need is to know that -- the people of this country need to know that Congress is working with the President to resolve the overall questions that will lead to an acceptable budget for FY 1996.
Q What does that mean, substantively?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that means a lot of things substantively.
Q How will the President divine when the people know this?
Q Michael, the Republicans on the Hill say what's really at play here is that your funding, the White House funding, is held up in the Treasury-Post Office, and this is just political business as usual by the Clinton White House saying, give us our funding full and we'll give you your funding full and we can all go home.
MR. MCCURRY: That is inaccurate. In fact, the President indicated to me that if this measure, the legislative appropriations bill, had come only with the Treasury-Postal appropriations bill, which includes the funding for the White House, he would have vetoed both of them.
Q Mike, doesn't it make sense, though, to do the bills first that are not in contention so that the White House and the Congress --
MR. MCCURRY: The President just feels that it's inappropriate for Congress to take care of Congress and leave everybody else hanging. That's exactly what this bill does. It's provides regular full-year funding while everybody else has to live with 90 percent funding under terms of the continuing resolution. And the President doesn't believe that's appropriate. He said so two months ago. He told the Congress exactly what he would do, and today he made good on that commitment.
Q Why is the country better off for him having vetoed this --
MR. MCCURRY: Because the Congress maybe will get the message it's time to get serious on the budget.
Q Mike, the President -- he understands that this doesn't stop the Congress from getting their salaries, it's just staffs and offices.
MR. MCCURRY: He knows that congressional salaries are covered under a separate statute and he understands that this deals with members' of Congress staff. Maybe when members of Congress face their staffs in the coming days there might be renewed enthusiasm for resolving the budget issues that must be resolved so we can get along with the orderly business of this country.
Q Did the President watch the verdict in the Simpson case, and can you give us his response to it?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he did. He watched it -- as you know, the President does not have a television in the Oval Office. He was in the Oval Office, in fact, working on the statements related to these two actions that I've just announced to you. He took a brief break at 1:58 p.m., went into the anteroom -- I'm sorry -- 12:58 p.m. -- went into the anteroom, watched the verdict, and then wrote out the following statement. This is a statement from the President.
The jury heard the evidence and rendered its verdict. Our system of justice requires respect for their decision. At this moment our thoughts and prayers should be with the families of the victims of this terrible crime.
Q Did he have any comment to you on whether he thought that Johnny Cochran's final closing -- Johnny Cochran's closing argument and the issues that had been raised as -- prosecution came into play in any way?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he did not.
Q Was anybody else -- were you in the room? Was there any immediate reaction from the President?
MR. MCCURRY: There was not any immediate reaction from the President. He watched it --
Q Are you able to say if the President surprised?
Q Wait a minute, excuse me.
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Go ahead, Mike.
Q Was the President surprised by the verdict?
Q Wait a minute. Mike was talking about the President's reaction.
MR. MCCURRY: Was the President surprised? No, the President didn't seem to be surprised.
Q Who else was in the room, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: He was in the anteroom, Betty Currie's office, his personal secretary -- just at the entranceway to the Oval Office.
Q So he didn't say anything, Mike, he just immediately sat down and penned this statement?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. He watched it -- I would describe him as being somber and he wrote out the statement I just read to you.
Q So he expected this verdict?
Q Was he standing when he watched it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q Was he standing when he watched it, or sitting?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he was sitting in one of the chairs there that we use for guests who are awaiting --
Q And he remained standing after hearing the verdict?
Q Who all was there, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry?
Q Who all was there among staff folks?
MR. MCCURRY: Several staff people.
Q Was Leon Panetta there?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Panetta was there, yes.
Q Mike, the anteroom, is that the dining room?
Q Did you have a prepared statement that went the other way?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q Did you have a prepared statement for the other eventuality?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President wrote this statement out by hand, as you can see, after he watched the verdict.
Q When you say the President wasn't surprised, does that mean he expected it to go down this way or was it --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just didn't -- I can't report to you that he seemed surprised. I would describe him as being somber.
Q The O.J. Simpson trial has generated a lot of comments and discussion about race relations in this country and the justice system. I wonder, does the President intend in the coming days to try to address those issues that have been raised in this case?
MR. MCCURRY: The need to bring Americans together and to really try to heal racial divisions in our society has been something this President has devoted nearly a lifetime of public service to, going back to when he was Governor of Arkansas. He has spoken to this quite effectively during his term, and I imagine as he sees the need, he will continue to do so, maybe even in coming days.
Q The polls have clearly shown that black and white Americans have very different views of what justice would be in this trial. Is he concerned at all that the outcome of the trial will inflame the gap between blacks and whites?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's reaction to this verdict is the one that I read to you.
Q Is the President going to ask the Justice Department to look at any aspect of the case, either Simpson, Furman --
MR. MCCURRY: The Justice Department has already indicated they are looking at certain aspects of this case, and I believe the Attorney General will have a statement today that will recap some of the things I've already indicated publicly, at least to members of Congress.
Q When the verdict was read did Panetta or anyone else who was there say anything?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not that I recall.
Q The Panetta plan doesn't have to go into effect, but it was --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not --
Q Not a Panetta plan, per se, but the contact -- you said, between the White House and federal --
MR. MCCURRY: We will remain in close contact with state and local authorities over the coming hours and days.
Q Can I go back to the legislative thing?
MR. MCCURRY: Appropriations? Sure.
Q Are we done with O.J.? There's -- the CR continues the staffs -- this does not mean --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, the continuing -- my understanding of the continuing resolution, it would continue funding for staffs, but they would face -- 90 percent, they would face the same across-the- board cut that every other program that affects every other American faces.
Q But that's not in the bill? The bill would provide a higher level of funding --
MR. MCCURRY: The legislative appropriations bill, as enacted by Congress, does make certain changes in congressional operations.
Q Overall larger or overall smaller than the CR?
MR. MCCURRY: Overall smaller, and then they've addressed -- the President, in his statement, says in a very disciplined way they've dealt with some of the funding issues that deal with --
Q In other words, they're not going to get less necessarily than the CR, they might get more.
Q Yes, they're getting more.
Q They're going to get more, aren't they, for a period of time?
MR. MCCURRY: They face -- I don't know, however -- you take it from the baseline, and when you cut from the baseline, I don't know whether it's more or less.
Q Mike, Mike, you know. They'll get more in the CR, won't they? For a period of three months, or however long --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- my wife doesn't get to keep her job.
Q He did them a favor.
MR. MCCURRY: All right.
Q How does the President feel about that? I mean, he's making this big point, it turns out they get --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President said two months ago, don't send me the legislative appropriations bill for all the reasons that he indicated. Symbolically, metaphorically, politically, it just is the wrong thing to do to take care of your business before you take care of all of the extraordinary work that is left undone now by not having passed any of the other appropriations bills.
The President made that clear to Congress, and they went ahead against his clear signal that he would veto this, they went ahead and sent them their own bill, taking care of their business first. And the President thinks that's wrong and he vetoed it; end of story.
Q The Republicans repeatedly made the point that they wanted to send this up first as an example of cutting their own house to show that they are setting an example for the rest of the federal government -- executive and legislative branch.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll check with some of our budget -- I think under terms -- the formula that they've worked out for the CR, there's some way in which some of those savings that would be achieved by act of Congress can be incorporated in the CR. We need to check that and find out. Maybe Larry Haas can help you out with that.
Welcome to the White House Press Briefing Room.
Q You can't get rid of me.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, glad to have you.
Q Doesn't this veto make it harder to get the nation's business done? I mean, it seems to me that Congress is not going to take this in the spirit of bipartisanship and work --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, we've had in recent days an example of how Congress can work together with this President. They did achieve agreement on a continuing resolution. They got on with the orderly business of this country, but we've also had some pretty pathetic examples of Congress standing fast and not being willing to compromise, and the President wants to say to them, look, we've got to get down to business here and get serious. And the President intends this veto to send exactly that message.
Q Can you fill us in on what was discussed in the economic meeting this morning with the President ?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't, I haven't had a -- I didn't go. I was working on something else. I didn't have a chance to talk to Dr. Tyson. I think it was a weekly update, among other things, that the President's economic advisers have been looking at recently is how we structure the dialogue with Congress we hope will break the impasse that exists now and get on with resolution of budget issues. That may have been a subject that they were going to look at today, but I'll have to check with Dr. Tyson.
Q Change the subject to the Pope's visit tomorrow, what's on the President's agenda for his discussions with the Pope?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, again, as I indicated yesterday, has got a number of things that he would like the opportunity to talk about. How much time they will have together and whether or not they get an opportunity to visit all these subjects remains to be seen, but chief among them is for the President to brief the Holy Father on the work that the United States is dong to bring peace in many troubled parts of this world, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland to Bosnia.
Assertive U.S. diplomacy is at this moment is engaged at trying to help bring about a reconciliation where there is conflict. And I think the President knows of the Pope's interest in that discussion generally. He will certainly talk about that, and I think they are turning to more domestic matters, will want to talk about the American family and those steps this President is taking both to protect the American family by ensuring their economic security over the long term by making sure people see their incomes rise in a growing economy. And then secondly, to deal with aberrations in our society in which the family is threatened. We were talking about one of them yesterday -- domestic violence; to be sure, crime and all those types of issues.
Q It sounds like abortion will come up.
MR. MCCURRY: I doubt the President intends to raise that, but we'll certainly be prepared to talk about that if the subject arises.
Q I don't really want to get back to the O.J. thing, but you said something a minute ago about how the President might be speaking out in coming days. Is anything planned like, for example, in L.A, or somewhere, any kind of speech or anything?
MR. MCCURRY: No. There's nothing planned. This is a subject that, as you know, this President has talked about often. And I imagine that he will talk about it again, and he might even choose to talk about it in coming days. If he feels that it would be appropriate for him as President to do so.
Q I know this is extremely early to ask, but is he in fact going to talk about Bosnia in his Friday speech?
MR. MCCURRY: He will certainly talk about Bosnia. I'm not certain that he will necessarily go into the detail that some people have anticipated. But I think he will make a case for why U.S. leadership there is important, and he will say, as he has already said several times, make the case why the United States must be involved in implementing the peace if we are in the happy circumstance of implementing a peace.
Q Mike, on the victims of the radiation, are only 30 people or families going to be getting reparations?
MR. MCCURRY: No. There are 30 identified now who have got compensation settlements, and then part of the recommendations of this report structure a way in which other people who have got valid claims for compensation can present their case. And the report outlines criteria by which those claims for compensation can be evaluated. Ms. Terzano here is an expert.
Q Why was the President somber when he heard the verdict?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't ask him. You asked for me to characterize what his appearance was, and I did as best I could.
Q On the biogenetic advisory panel, how many government agencies actually do testing on humans?
MR. MCCURRY: Ginny, do you know? It may be covered in some of the materials that were out publicly. You didn't find it in there?
MR. MCCURRY: They may have --
MS. TERZANO: It's like HHS, DOD --
MR. MCCURRY: HHS, DOD, DOE had an involvement, the predecessor agencies. You may want to check in the report, or else Ginny can work with you and help you out.
Q Did the President, considering he's having these routine chats with the Speaker these days, call him up and tell him he was going to veto -- or have any conversation with him on it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he made himself very clear two months ago, when he said -- stood right here and said that. They didn't need to call up and chat.
Q That's sort of not my question, Mike. He didn't chat about it --
MR. MCCURRY: Didn't need to chat. The Congress just needed to take the President at his word.
Q Didn't need to, or didn't, right? Didn't need to, or didn't?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- as I indicated yesterday, I'm not going to pry into all the details of the President's conversations with the Speaker. So I can't --
Q So he didn't need to and maybe didn't?
MR. MCCURRY: So I can't authoritatively say he did not tell him.
Q Didn't need to and don't know.
MR. MCCURRY: But we have been sending a variety of signals at the staff level to the Congress that made it pretty clear what the President's intent was.
Q There's nothing in there that he substantively opposes. It's just a matter of the timing that once they've sent him some other appropriations bills and they send him the exact same version, he'll sign it into law.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President says in other circumstances he would have signed this bill, under a different set of circumstances. And he indicates that -- he describes it as being a disciplined bill, but he doesn't review in detail every provision.
Q Anything else on his desk?
MR. MCCURRY: Any other pending measures from Congress? No, he has these two conference reports were the only completed before Congress went into recess.
Okay, thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you, sir.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT