THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Dallas, Texas) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release October 16, 1995
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
University of Texas at Austin Austin, Texas
10:25 A.M. CDT
MR. MCCURRY: Let me just -- I'll speak up loud, since everyone is on a tight time deadline. Just a couple of points. Several people have asked how the speech came together at the last minute for the President. I think you all have heard a lot about the work that he's done on this.
One of the questions we had at the White House was whether, frankly, he would have the time necessary to really think through exactly what he wanted to say, and clearly, the President did. He has spent recent days talking to a wide variety of African Americans to get ideas and to get a sense of how he could best appropriately continue this conversation that he believes America needs to have about race.
Among others I think Ginny had mentioned to you yesterday, he talked to Reverend Jackson. He's also talked to Congressman John Lewis, Secretary Ron Brown, Vernon Jordan, Duval Patrick at the Justice Department, Ernie Green, and then Alexis Herman, who you all know on the White House staff, our Director of Public Liaison, among others -- really having some very substantive and heart-to-heart conversations about the subject of race in America.
His speechwriting team under Don Baer, the two speechwriters who I think worked mostly with the President were David Shipley and Terry Edmunds. There was somewhere a little wire item or something saying that there had been some question of which of the two of them worked on it -- they actually worked on it together with Don Baer and with the President. The President, though, wrote, obviously, large portions of this himself. He was making blue felt-tip changes and rewriting passages until the early hours this morning, and then woke up about 7:00 a.m. this morning, worked on it some more. So obviously is a speech very much from the heart.
Q How much sleep did he get?
MR. MCCURRY: Not much, because his last pass-off of notes to the speechwriters was about 3:00 a.m. and he was up working on it at 7:00 a.m. this morning. But the reason for that, I think it's clearly something he had thought about a lot and wanted to bring together in a speech that reflected in a very personal way some things he felt needed to be said both to black Americans and to white Americans, and he clearly directed those remarks in a personal way at both audiences today.
Q Besides Jesse Jackson, did he talk to any black Americans outside the upper echelon of the administration?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, those that I mentioned -- a number of them are not necessarily in the administration. He may have had some other conversations, too. Those are the ones that he told me about. He has had kind of an ongoing conversation with friends of his about this. In fact, I understand from some of those who attended his anniversary dinner last week that this is a subject that came up as they were just conversing with each other. So it's clearly something he's been talking to a lot of people about.
Q The President mentioned Mark Furman, though not by name; he mentioned Farrakhan, though not by name. It didn't seem that he mentioned by name or not the issue that brought all this into such focus, which was what many people believe by a huge majority was a jury letting a guilty man go free, guilty of a double murder. Is there some reason why the President did not address that issue?
MR. MCCURRY: As the President said in his remarks, he thought it was important to find ways that go beyond and beneath the Simpson trial and its aftermath to really talk about the different perceptions people have. The President has never believed that one sensational trial ought to be the prism through which Americans see the subject of race in America. this subject runs much deeper and has roots that go much deeper into the soil of America and the fabric of our life. And to characterize it all through one jury verdict in a fairly sensational trial would not be appropriate.
But the President -- as he clearly said, the Simpson trial provides some context for the conversation that he wanted to have with the American people today.
Q The trial did raise some issues about whether juries are justified in throwing out prosecution evidence. Why didn't he speak to that question?
MR. MCCURRY: Because this is a subject about the fundamental importance of the human side of race relations in America. This was not a speech about jury reform.
Q Will he do anything after this speech to continue this dialogue or to get Americans to have the conversations he's talked about?
MR. MCCURRY: The President indicated today this is a conversation that we need to have and it needs to be ongoing. And he will look for ways that he personally can keep the conversation going.
Q I noticed that Dr. Rappaport, in his opening introduction, he mentioned the law school case which is going on at the District Court of Appeals right now in New Orleans. And I was wondering if the President had any opinion about that particular --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I can't help you on that. I've not had a chance to talk to him about that.
Q -- speech, he said, it's therefore wrong for white Americans to do what they've done often, which is to move further away from the problems and support policies that will only make them worse. Page four toward the bottom. What are these policies that will only make them worse?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President feels strongly that efforts to neglect the importance of programs that seek to provide opportunity and to encourage opportunity for Americans who have face discrimination, face prejudice, and very often face poverty will work against the effort to bring Americans together. And I believe the President sees a fair amount of that going on now on Capitol Hill.
This was not a speech, however, I hasten to say, in which he was trying to score any political points on the Republican majority in Congress because it clearly was something that was dealing in a much more personal way with the subject of race. But there are echoes of this debate in some of the discussions about policy and programs that are now occurring on Capitol Hill, to be sure.
Q Mike, if the President didn't want to pull any punches in his speech why did he deliberately avoid mentioning the names of Lewis Farrakhan and Mark Furman, even though he specifically discussed their behavior?
MR. MCCURRY: Because this was not a speech about Lewis Farrakhan or Mark Furman. He very clearly was referring to them, but I think he thinks the importance of the event today in Washington, the importance of the speech he was trying to give here was to transcend those personalities who are divisive so that we could find ways which Americans can come together on these issues. There was no need for him -- you all will specifically draw the connection of those two individuals, and that's correct to do so. But this was a speech that transcended the type of hate that you see often in the comments of both Lewis Farrakhan and you certainly saw in the Furman tapes.
Q Is the Farrakhan march perceived as directly related in some way to the Simpson trial or two independent events?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You'll have to ask those who have organized it.
Q Mike, one of Farrakhan's chief lieutenants, after the President finished, said, best speech the President had ever made, but said that was because of Farrakhan because if he hadn't thrown the march there would have been the speech.
MR. MCCURRY: We're delighted that we will get, we hope, favorable comment from a variety of audiences. I think we've already heard from a number of people in Washington that saw the speech that they thought it was a very good speech.
MR. MCCURRY: People -- I just talked back to Leon and George and they apparently -- (laughter.) They thought it was great. No, no they had heard -- they had both gotten a couple of calls from the Hill and from Democrats on the Hill and others around town who thought -- were very pleased with the speech.
Q The President did make a very specific thing at the end about I hope all those men there today will pledge they'll never raise their hand in domestic violence against anybody. I mean, again, the topic that prompted a great deal of this discussion --
MR. MCCURRY: And the topic, as you know, he talked about Saturday in his radio address. He believes that is a very important element of the discussion that needs to happen in the country in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson trial. It's not directly related to the subject of race relations which he was speaking to today, but he was very concerned that many American women might feel at this point that they are alone as they try to combat the tragedy of domestic violence. That is why he has spoken to that subject often in the last couple of weeks.
Q He believes such abuse occurred in that case?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not commenting on that case, but he knows that in the aftermath of that case there has been a great deal of public discussion about the subject of spouse abuse, domestic violence, and particularly the concerns of women who feel they have nowhere to turn in combatting domestic violence. And the point the President wants to make is that as a result of the crime bill last year we do have in place an important federal effort that elevates that within the law enforcement community.
Q Mike, did the President's preparations for the speech include any discussions with police officials about his comments on racism in police departments?
MR. MCCURRY: Mark, I don't know. I know that he has had some discussions about the subject of racism in law enforcement. That is, by the way, a subject that also was addressed in the crime bill last year because the ability of the Justice Department and the Office of Civil Rights to look at that question of civil rights violations with law enforcement -- local law enforcement entities was something that was specifically addressed in the bill. And he has talked to people about that. There have been others at the White House that have had some conversations with people who know more about LAPD.
We've got to get going? Okay, yes. You guys need to file, Ginny points out correctly. You've got about four minutes left. (Laughter.) We, by the way, gave you longer from the conclusion of the speech than we indicated we would.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:35 A.M. CDT