THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:23 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as some of the latecomers gather, we will go ahead and commence today's daily briefing from the White House. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I'm prepared to answer your questions.
Q What did you think of the Republican presidential candidates forum in New Hampshire last night?
MR. MCCURRY: I thought so little of it, I didn't watch it. I was watching Orel Hershiser myself. But from what I hear of the event, the truly illuminating moment was when they were all standing there in the dark. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, I'm confused on the budget rhetoric. Are the Republicans in Congress and the President just talking past each other? Is anybody sitting down with somebody else to actually get something happening, or is this all just talking past each other?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we hope the Republicans are sitting down with each other and kind of working out where they are, because they've been all over the map recently. But we assume at some point they will, and at some point they will recognize that they need to address some of the concerns the President talked about even today, and once that happens then we can begin working seriously on the orderly conduct of this country's business.
Q The President said today that he continues to have weekly phone calls with the Speaker. Is that the kind of -- is that the venue in which this will take root? And I wasn't sure of the President's answer when he was asked about a budget summit. I don't know whether he was answering that question or another one. Is all this eventually going to have to lead to a budget summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, all of it will eventually lead to a more reasonable discussion about how we move on with the nation's business. It's impossible to predict now what format that will take, but the President continues to leave the door -- his door is open. It wouldn't take much for the Republicans to walk through that door. As the President suggested today, there's willingness to balance the budget, to cut taxes, but cut them in the right way for people who need to cut taxes.
The disagreements are pretty clear. You cannot decimate the Medicare program the way the Republican budget would, and you cannot increase taxes on working people. One of the President's fundamental concerns is the $148 billion worth of tax increases on working people that are in this Republican budget. Now, if they could, as a starting, as a starting point, if the Republicans came forward and said, you know, the President is right; we shouldn't be raising taxes on working people in this country -- that is a good place to begin the dialogue. Now, that, by no means, is the only issue that needs to be addressed, but it at least would be a reasonable starting point.
Q Mike, what does the White House think of the article in The Wall Street Journal today which sketched out Senator Roth's changes in the tax bill, including adding money to the child tax credit for those who have kids in college? Do they see that as a step towards the President's position?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, most reasonable analyses of the work the Senate is now doing on the tax bill point to what the President has been saying, that they are disproportionately cutting taxes for the wealthiest Americans while they are simultaneously increasing taxes on working Americans, those who are struggling to be out of poverty, college kids who are trying to work their way through school. That's no way to write a tax bill, and the President's view is that they need to begin addressing the fundamental priorities that he put forward in his budget proposal.
Remember -- and we've walked through this here many times -- the President came a long distance when in June he put forward his plan for a 10-year balanced budget track. And Congress, to my knowledge, has never once seriously looked at that. The Republican majority in Congress has never once seriously looked in that, but they would find in that proposal a way out of the wilderness that they are now in.
Q Well, that being said, they made a step towards you.
Q Yes, they just made a step towards you.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will have to see how far that step goes. But there's a lot of good thinking that you can see in some quarters within the Republican Party on the Hill. In fact, a lot of the tension that exists internally, as the President suggested a few moments ago -- a lot of the tension that exists internally for the Republicans that the Republican leaders are clearly trying to manage is the tension that exists between those who are sort of at the vanguard of the revolution and those who are moderate and who want to find some common ground with the President.
Now, they need to have the conversation with themselves and figure out which direction they want to go, because the path that they suggested that they would be on earlier this week is one that goes right into the train wreck and right into the type of paralysis that the President believes nobody in this country and nobody, really, in Washington wants to see.
Q Do you think it's -- how eager are you for talks to begin? Or do you think it would be just fine if the Republicans went all the way through to votes on the reconciliation --
MR. MCCURRY: It entirely depends on what they really want to do. If they want to get serious, we say, let the discussions begin. If they're going to hold fast to the implausible propositions that they've laid forth in the legislation that they're working on, then there's not going to be any room for that type of dialogue for the time being.
Now, the President will always have an open door, as he said. But you can't walk in that open door with the same old music. You need to come in with some new tunes. And the President suggested today, one way to start is to think about dropping those $148 billion worth of tax increases on working Americans.
Q How realistic is it to expect them to just drop all of them entirely, when you have Senator Roth, a great proponent of the ITC, which is $42 billion right there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is -- we are optimistic enough to see that in some places within the Republican Majority in Congress, there are people who really want to get serious, and we hope the leadership will get serious, and we hope the leadership will lead their caucus and say to some who are much more hard-lined, that we need to get down to the real business of governing this country. That requires leadership on their part. The President offered leadership when he stepped forward, put a balanced budget proposal on the table.
You will recall that we took a lot of criticism from our Democrats on Capitol Hill for doing so. But the President felt it was important to do that and it was the right thing to do. Now, we need a reciprocal response now from the Republican leadership, and they're going to have to say to some of the hard-line members of their caucus, you know, look, we can't get everything that you want, but you've got to get on with the business of this country, and that hasn't happened yet.
Q But the Republicans say that the $148 billion are not tax increases, they are simply spending cuts, and it's outrageous for the White House to call them tax increases.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, go back and read to them everything they said about the Democrats when we had exactly the same argument in the 1980s. You will recall Richard Darman's words. If you're out there in this country and you're going to be paying a lot more for benefits and for services that you used to get, it's sure going to feel like a tax increase. They may want to call it something else, but it's going to be for the average person in this country a tax increase, pure and simple.
Q Next week's trip, particularly Austin, has there been a decision on whether racial --
MR. MCCURRY: There hasn't been a decision. I will tell you a little bit about the way the President sees the event on Monday. He is interested in finding the right way to talk about the subject of race relations in America, as he indicated earlier this week at the press conference with President Zedillo. He is hoping, as you've heard us say often, that those with good intentions who gather for the event here in Washington on Monday will create some momentum for the notion that people need to accept responsibility for their behavior and work together to improve their communities. He believes that there could be genuinely, if people address these issues, a positive outcome as a result of the work of those who are going to gather on Monday.
But finding the right way to talk about that is something he's thinking through now. I would suggest to you, it does not seem likely to me that he will be making some major policy address on the subject of race Monday. He may well address it in some fashion, but it's a subject, remember, that Bill Clinton has talked about throughout his life and throughout his career. And as he said, he will talking about it in coming days, but he'll be talking about it a lot because it's something that's fundamentally important to the political culture and fabric of this nation.
Q I don't understand something. The White House is now looking to the Million Man March to provide some momentum toward an answer to the problems with race relations?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes if those responsible for policymaking try to take the genuine motivations of some of those who will be here on Monday and turn those to the work of healing this country and bringing people together, that might be a positive outcome. We've suggested all along that we recognize that there are a lot of people who are going to be here who do fundamentally believe that we have to change people's attitudes and change the way people behave and get people to think more about their responsibilities to family and community.
Those are subjects dear to the President's heart, things that he's talked about a lot. Our problem has been all along with this march is that there are some, frankly, who have got other agendas and other motivations who are associated with this march. But that doesn't mean, necessarily, that we can't see if we can't get something positive coming out of the event on Monday.
Q If that's your goal, then why -- are you now planning to send, or would you consider sending representatives?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we're not. But we have been -- we have had good liaison contact with those who are involved with the march. We've tried to make sure that responsible officials in the government who are concerned about security and transportation and coordination and what federal workers will be doing that day, that they are all in liaison and in touch with each other. So that's our attitude.
Q Have you had contact with Farrakhan? What kind of contact have you had?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had some contact, I believe, with the national director, with Reverend Chavis, who is the national director of the march, I believe. I would have to double-check that, but I'm pretty sure we have, through the public liaison office here.
Q Because this march is going to be taking place here that day, he wants to see how it goes before he makes a major policy address -- is that what you're --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think he wants to see if you can't take some of the sentiments of those who are here who are genuinely motivated to try to improve their communities, and see if we can't work to direct that towards the types of change in public policy that he's talked about, and see if we can't, frankly, address that to some of the values that he's talked about.
Q His comments the other day about "I may feel the need to say more about this in coming days" then, that need is not going to be fulfilled on Monday.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he may -- I'm not ruling out the notion that he might say something. I think a lot of people have worked themselves into a frenzy, anticipating some major pronouncement on Monday. And I don't see that developing. Now, you all know that the President speaks from the heart on this issue. And he sometimes speaks spontaneously from the heart on this issue, as he did in Memphis several years ago. So I don't want to rule anything out, but I'm trying to give you some sense of where I see things developing, because I know also a lot of you have to make plans.
Q So what is the stated subject of the speech on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's going to be a continuation of his argument about how we need to move this country's business forward, the issues related to the budget, the technology, the investments we've got to make in a high-wage, high-growth economy for the 21st century -- all things that you would expect him to talk about, and all things that I think would be reflected, even in a speech that would touch on the subject of racial polarization in America and how that is antithetical to what it takes to have a strong and growing economy.
Remember, the President often argues that it's our diversity as the American people that is one of the things that contributes to our strength as we compete in the global marketplace. That's been sort of a resonant theme that he's talked about often.
Q Going back to March, Mike, what are the agendas and other motivations that concern you?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been remarks made in particular by Reverend Farrakhan related to what he would like to see come out of this march that are not related to the values of community and responsibility that the President thinks are genuine motivations for a lot of people who will be here.
Q What things does he want to come out of this march that the President does not agree with?
MR. MCCURRY: You can easily see if you look at some of the recent comments of Reverend Farrakhan exactly what I mean.
Q Let's say it goes as you planned, and it's a good march, and you like what you see. Then what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think that's a good question is, how do you take some of the energy of the people who are involved in that, and then get them involved in work at the community level, and then ultimately things related to the formation of public policy that can make a difference in how we address these questions of family, of responsibility of dependency -- all the things that the President has talked about a lot.
Q But presumably, if it goes well, then wouldn't you have outreach to Chavis or Farrakhan?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't foresee that, no.
Q Mike, is part of this that the President and the White House is concerned that while he wants to address the topic and make it clear that he's got a lot of thoughts on it and people need to address these problems which linger, that absent some set of pretty concrete prescriptive advice to follow up on it, does it get dicey to stand up in Austin and make a big speech without saying we have the following 62 action points we want to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is part of it. But part of it is finding the right tonal quality so that you address these issues in a way that brings people together. And that's difficult to do under any circumstances, but I think he wants to put particular care into making sure he does it in a way that achieves the objectives that he has.
Q Mike, does it concern the President and the administration that women are being precluded from being a part of this?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a source of concern. Now, the sponsors of the march have got a response to that and explained why they don't believe that that represents a concern. But, of course, that's a concern that people, particularly in public places and here on the Mall, should not be in a sense excluded from an event. Now, I believe that the organizers say that there's no intent to exclude.
Q Was the scheduling of this march on Monday a factor in scheduling the President to be out of town on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: No. No, I think there was not -- to my recollection, we have had this event. There's another event that's -- a series of events in Texas that we're working towards that have been on the President's calendar for a long time and even prior to the announcement of the march.
Q In addition to what's already on the schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Those things are already -- mostly the political events that are on the calendar. Those were the events that have been set long ago.
Q Mike, are you making an indirect appeal to Farrakhan to tone down his rhetoric on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm making a direct one. I mean, there are things that he's said that are repugnant. And they need -- there's been a long history of people who have gone through his remarks, and you've all covered that from time to time. And in fact, a lot of those comments, you're well aware of, I'm sure. But those are divisive remarks; those are not things designed to bring people together. And what the President is interested in doing, at a time in which there is great concern about the status of race relations, is to see the best way to bring people together. And surely, being concerned about community and family is one of those things that can bind people of all races in this country together.
Q Do you think it's unreasonable, though, of the American people to expect their leaders -- not just the President, but Newt Gingrich, other leaders on the Hill, Dole -- to come out and make some sort of statement, say something about how they see race relations in the context of the O.J. Simpson trial now? I mean, is it unreasonable for us to expect leaders to come out immediately --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's unreasonable to expect leaders to characterize the status of race relations in this country, a subject with enormous history that has -- with echoes throughout our history as a nation, to expect to characterize that by one snapshot of one extraordinarily highly-publicized trial. I don't believe the President, and I don't believe any of the leaders you just mentioned would believe that that ought to be taken as the verdict on the status of race relations in America. It's not. There is a lot going on in this country, and I would suggest, a lot more positive going on in this country that characterizes the status of race relations than the reaction to this one, highly publicized, divisive trail.
Q Why isn't the President talking about that? I mean, in the past, he's never seems to have hesitated. He went straight to L.A. after the riots.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President will talk about it. He's already told you this week he intends to talk about and he will talk about it. We're also -- we started this conversation today talking about the budget. There's been a serious piece of working going on here this week on that subject. I think he wants to say the right thing. He want to try to bring this country together when he talks about it. And to do that, he wants to think about it and he'll do that on his timeline, not on yours.
Q Mike, some critics of the march, like the Anti-Defamation League, say you can't have it both ways, that it's ridiculous to say that you support some of the good motivations behind the march while disliking Farrakhan, that that's just the same as saying, oh, we support the good people who are marching with the Ku Klux Klan, that there ought to be a forthright denunciation because Farrakhan is leading it. Could you respond to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that we've made our views on Reverend Farrakhan quite clear and I believe that the rationale that you suggest is wrong.
Q How about Sunday's speech commemorating 50 years after Nuremburg, human rights and rule of law -- what is this topic --
THE PRESIDENT: He will -- let me check further with him. It's a dedication event, he'll be there in the company of Senator Dodd and paying tribute to Senator Dodd's father. So there will be some of that. But I think it's also a speech that will talk a little bit about some of the challenges that exist in this world as we think about the divisions that existed in the world prior to World War II.
Q Do we know what we're doing in San Antonio and Houston?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I don't. Maybe someone else here does.
Q The speech on Nuremburg, will he relate to the Bosnia --
MR. MCCURRY: I just told you everything I can tell you on that.
Q Well, let me follow up on that. How do you think the cease-fire in Bosnia is being implemented?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are in close contact with the United Nations, watching implementation of the cease-fire as the parties carry through the commitments that they've made. It seems to be quieter and things seem to be better, especially in Sarajevo, than they have been recently in Bosnia, but this is -- by no means will we pronounce this a 100 percent success until we see in the coming days how the parties honor their obligations.
Again, -- but it does create an opportunity for our diplomacy to continue, and the State Department will be briefing shortly about Ambassador Holbrooke's plans in coming days, but that we need to use this moment in which we have got a cease-fire, however tenuous, to continue to build on the diplomatic effort the United States is leading to bring these parties to an agreement that will end the war once and for all.
Q I notice on the schedule that the fundraisers in Texas, as has often been the case, are pool coverage. Is there any reason why those are not available for open coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: Mostly when we make them pool coverage, it's usually so that we can get those media representatives who are there in and out of the room quickly, because usually the entire event is not open for coverage. We open up the President's remarks and we think it's important to you on large occasions like these to have access to the event and to get a chance to witness part of it, but it's generally part of the program in which the President speaks. And to get people in and out of a room like that, we usually use the device of having a pool. I'll check -- these folks can check with what opportunities exist to expand the pool or to make the pool as large as possible.
Q Did you find a location for the Bosnian negotiators to meet?
MR. MCCURRY: The State Department is working on that.
Q Mike, on Bosnia, the Chief of Staff said over the weekend that he understood Congress had some power over the purse to influence the use of U.S. peacekeepers. If Congress passes a resolution saying no money can be spent or whatever, would the President still feel he had the power unilaterally to send peacekeepers in or not?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President feels he has the power under the Constitution to protect American interests around the world. And he is the Commander in Chief. If Congress took that position and defunded something that the Commander in Chief had ordered the military to do, we would be in the middle of a pretty serious war powers constitutional issue. But we're not there now, and the President doesn't believe we will be there because the President believes, as he indicated to them when he met with congressional leaders recently on the subject of Bosnia, that we have a very persuasive case about the need for U.S. leadership helping to implement the peace if we can achieve the peace.
We are right now working diplomatically to achieve that peace. We're doing the military planning that would be sufficient to help implement that peace if we get to that happy point.
Q Mike, does that mean you're not ruling out the possibility that he might ignore the power of --
MR. MCCURRY: Say again.
Q Does what you're saying add up to the fact that the President might feel he can ignore the power of the purse?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has to obey the law, but he also has to be true to his constitutional responsibilities. And those happily have rarely come in conflict in this country. We would hope that they wouldn't.
Q Do you have a site for the proximity talks as yet?
MR. MCCURRY: I said the State Department is working on that.
Thank you, Terry.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:45 P.M. EDT