THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, everyone. I don't have anything, but I was assembling all the latest so I could answer every question of the 10,000 that you have.
Q What do you know about Mr. Yeltsin's condition, and has the President been in touch with anybody in Russia?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has been briefed by his national security advisors on the latest information we have. But, frankly, the latest information we have comes through our embassy in Moscow; embassy officials have been in contact with officials in the President's Office, and their accounts of President Yeltsin's hospitalization are very similar to what they've made available publicly and which are now on the wires.
Q What do you hear about Bosnia in that connection?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the latest is apparently on the wire, Russian officials saying they are unclear about the status of the meeting on Monday. We don't have any information about the status of the meeting. We certainly hope that President Yeltsin will have a very speedy recovery that would allow him, of course, to participate in the meeting, but that will be up to the Russians to decide whether that will proceed. In any event, our plans will move forward to have the delegation begin their talks in Dayton on Wednesday, November 1st.
Q Did President Clinton notice that President Yeltsin was in poor health, or any sign of ill health when they met in Hyde Park? And did the Russian officials express any concern to American officials about having doctors or medical attention in case President Yeltsin needed any assistance?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that they made any but routine advance arrangements for the trip. And the President said he felt President Yeltsin looked well, although he clearly, as everyone saw, had some slight difficulty walking, but nothing that would suggest any real problem.
Q Did anybody remark or notice whether President Yeltsin had been drinking at lunch?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I briefed you all on Monday on the menu, so you're aware of the menu. (Laughter.)
Q For those of us who lack total recall, did the menu include any alcoholic beverages?
Q Three wines.
MR. MCCURRY: I think I briefed you in ample detail on the menu.
Q Has the President received a subpoena yet from the D'Amato committee? And have you seen The New York Times poll on Medicare?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure did. (Laughter.)
Q What do you --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the general information that's in that poll is not a surprise to anyone who is following the debate. The American people are very concerned about the plans of the Republican majority to make very large, and we believe very devastating cuts in Medicare. And now we know that the Republican plans for Medicare reflect a fundamental philosophical difference that the Republican majority has with President Clinton.
We believe in Medicare; they don't. They brag about voting to kill Medicare or to prevent it from being created 30 years ago. We believe it was an enormously important achievement. They suggest that it's time to let Medicare "wither on the vine," a direct quote from the Speaker of the House. We suggest that we need to strengthen, preserve and protect Medicare. And it's clear now that all of the Republican arguments about how they were trying to "preserve Medicare" are hollow promises when, philosophically, they've now made it clear that what they really want to do is destroy the program.
Q Glad I asked. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, under the Republican proposal, Medicare spending actually increases. So how does that square with your contention that they want to kill it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Speaker, as he suggested to an audience of -- a Blue Cross Blue Shield audience he addressed the other day, believes what they really should do is allow the program to sort of wither away, that people should -- we ought to move away from a government program into a program in which individual Americans would fend for themselves. I guess that's what they mean when they say "slow the rate of increase". You can probably slow the rate of increase, in their view, down to zero sooner or later.
The Majority Leader, on the other hand, in front a conservative audience, made the case that he was adamantly against Medicare from the very beginning. So the reason they're trying to slow the rate of increase in the program, I suppose, is because eventually they'd like to see the program just die and go away. You know, that's probably what they'd like to see happen to seniors, too, if you think about it.
MR. MCCURRY: That's too far. That's goes beyond -- (laughter) -- no -- look, they have -- let's think about this. They have -- let's think about --
Q Filing break. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: What they want to do is move this very important program that is a life line for many elderly, which provides them necessary resources to get medical attention. And they want to shift things over to private sector arrangement in the belief that people will fend for themselves better than if they have helping hand from government.
It is a fundamental philosophical difference between Democrats in Congress and between this President and the approach that the Republicans want to take. And it also unmasks somewhat the arguments that they have been making in recent weeks about their own commitment to Medicare. It just shows that they fundamentally disagree with the premise of the program. And that is, in fact, one of the clear differences that exist between the two political parties.
So it's an important debate and you are seeing some measure of what the verdict of the American people is in the poll you asked me about indicating that Americans are very troubled by plans to make that volume a cut in Medicare, because then they worry about the health and solvency of the program, too.
Q You said this morning that you thought the Republicans were using all these hearings on the travel office and on Whitewater as a diversion -- in order to what?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that. I said it doesn't strike me that it's coincidental that those hearings on Whitewater and the travel office issue suddenly resurfaced at the same time they're trying to shift people's attention away from what they're doing to Medicare.
Q Why is the President seeing such a repressive leader, dictator tomorrow? We wouldn't even see Castro. And is he going to urge Soeharto to have a referendum? What is the deal?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had consistently in our dialogue with the government of Indonesia, we have very directly raised concerns about East Timor, we've raised our concerns about human rights. And we'll check and see whether that is on their subject for tomorrow. They've got a variety of regional issues that they wish to address. Of course, the President is preparing for his leaders meeting with the other APEC leaders, and, having just hosted APEC last year, President Soeharto has ideas about that.
Q Just a follow-up question on Yeltsin. Given the fact that there is not a lot of information about his condition and a certain volatility that's been present in Russian government in the past few weeks, is there any kind of a military alert for U.S. troops at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I am aware of. And I can't even answer what routine procedure would be under those circumstances, but I'm not aware of any special precautions we've taken other than to inquire about President Yeltsin's health and to express on behalf of the United States government our hopes for a speed recovery.
Q Mike, on the Saudi plane deal, there was at least one phone call from President Clinton to King Fahd to get the ball rolling. Was there any other personal involvement by the President himself to facilitate this deal?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that he has spent a fair amount of time in correspondence and reviewing correspondence, but to maybe get a little more detail I can ask David Johnson to follow up on that. I'm not aware of all the different things, although this dates back, of course, to the time that I personally was over at the State Department and I know that a number of officials in our government, including the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Commerce, I believe also the Secretary of Defense, were involved in making personal appeals on behalf of the President. And as you correctly said,the President himself was directly involved I believe on at least several occasions.
Q Can I just follow up with one other question with regard to this deal? There was a report from the Middle East just within the last few days to the effect that the Saudis, because of cash flow problems, might not be able to meet some of these purchase deadlines. Was anything of the sort discussed this morning along these lines?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe they did get into those issues this morning, the question of financing. I think the President's view was that he was satisfied that they had worked through the financing arrangements and that they had adopted a contract that seemed acceptable both to the companies and to the Saudi Airlines.
Q To follow on that, is there any U.S. government or quasi-government agency involved in any of the financing aspects of this?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I think early on there was some discussion of Ex-Im Bank financing, and they found alternative financing arrangements.
Q As far as you know, it's all internal Saudi financing?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that is correct. David has worked a little bit on that, so you might want to ask him a little bit more.
Q Do you anticipate the President going to bat in a similar way for any other American industries?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has been -- I guess I'd say, he has been and will. Boeing is obviously -- that was a large and extraordinarily important contract. I mean, in a variety of ways, each and every day, the United States, through both the Commerce Department and the State Department, have been working to advance the objectives of U.S. economic enterprises as we deal with foreign governments that are letting contracts, and on many occasions, the United States government is directly involved.
The President, in some of his foreign travels, has made appeals on behalf of particular projects. He has done that routinely, instructed his ambassadors and his diplomats to put the economic interests of Americans forward as they conduct their diplomacy. So this has been, I think, a recurring theme of our diplomacy that it is in our interest to advance the economic interests of Americans as we work around the world.
You're asking if it's a specific sector --
Q But what specific industries, like aircraft, computers, whatever.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I think there have -- I would have to look and see. There is a global trade strategy that we are pursuing and identify some sectors that the administration, administration-wide, is concentrating on, and I think the President's involvement has been, in fact, in some of those sectors. But we'll see if we can work up some additional information on that.
Q Are there any other deals like that pending?
MR. MCCURRY: There were several other major contracts involving in the telecommunications area, there are some in the agricultural area that I'm aware of, and all of them are things that we monitor here, and when it's advisable for the President to be involved, he's available to do that type of work. He's pretty adamant that he likes to help make the pitch when that's the appropriate thing to do.
Q Pat Buchanan is airing some ads in which he says Republicans are cutting Medicare too much, and he suggests instead that they should look for savings out of foreign aid. Do you have any reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is not much left in the foreign aid budget to save from. You think you all know that we are spending just around 1 percent of the federal budget on foreign assistance, and to cut it any more would jeopardize America's place in the world. But I do take some satisfaction in Pat Buchanan's remarks that we have to balance the budget but Congress is going about it the wrong way. Pat Buchanan is --
Q Are you signing on to Pat Buchanan's budget cutting plan?
MR. MCCURRY: Buchanan is clearly repeating something that President Clinton has said repeatedly, which is Congress is going about the budget balancing that they're doing in the wrong way. That's a very frank admission by a Republican presidential candidate.
Q Does he welcome Pat Buchanan's support on this issue, and will the President also have campaign ads running in New Hampshire and Iowa making the point?
MR. MCCURRY: He welcomes -- very much welcomes this statement that reflects the President's own view as well, that Congress is attempting the balance the budget in the wrong way.
Q Is the White House encouraging an independent candidacy by Pat Buchanan? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- let's go find Dick Morris and see if he's been talking to Buchanan. (Laughter.) Oh, I was off the record. (Laughter.)
Q Speaking about presidential politics, are people here at the White House now convinced that Colin Powell is going to run for the presidency?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't been in any meetings here at the White House where anyone's wasted time trying to speculate on that.
Q Mike, producers of a Hollywood movie ran a full-page ad today challenging the President and Senator Dole to join in seeing their movie and promising to make a charitable contribution if they do. Dole, apparently, has accepted the invitation. How does the President feel about that?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not asked the President, but several of us have talked about it here. And there's high regard at the White House for the Make A Wish Foundation and it sounds like a good thing to do. We'll see if we can make it happen.
Q Speaking of Colin Powell --
Q Does that mean he's going to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I said I haven't had an opportunity to talk to the President -- or I believe the invitation will also involve the First Lady. So I haven't had a chance to do it. But several of us looked and saw the ad here and thought that it did sound like a good idea.
Q What movie was that?
Q It's called "Three Wishes."
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. They're promoting a new movie of some sort.
Q Various conservative groups have been in recent days trying to weed Colin Powell out of the Republican Party and steer him away from seeking the presidency as a Republican. Does that confirm something you were saying or intimating here just a few weeks ago that Colin Powell sounds quite a bit like President Clinton in many ways and perhaps might be better off running as an independent or a third-party candidate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to suggest what he should do politically. He'll have to make his own judgments on that. But it does reflect the fact that someone with those mainstream views on critical issues -- he's addressed several social policy issues, but by no means has he addressed all the difference issues that a presidential candidate would address -- but on those things that he has chosen to speak out on in which he has some thinking that is similar to President Clinton's thinking, the Republican Party and some in the Republican Party have been very quick to suggest there's no place for that type of mainstream, common-sense thinking in the Republican Party.
Why? Because they tend to veer towards the extreme. And that has been the pattern of the debate they have had so far in their party as they go through their primaries. And we'll have to watch that and see what happens on their side of the equation. But it is somewhat alarming that someone has views that I think are shared by many, many Americans would automatically be declared persona non grata in the Republican Party.
Q The Canadians are up in arms over the President's statement that he'd like to see continued a strong and united Canada.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that perhaps some Canadians are, and what portion of Canadians might be concerned about those remarks we'll know Monday after the referendum.
Q What's the administration's reaction to comments by Unionist leaders in Northern Ireland that when they meet the President they intend to instruct him on how he should conduct his policy on the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President of the United States of America is quite used to having people feel that they can instruct him on various matters. But he has a deep commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland. He does have some ideas on how that process might be advanced, and he'll be interested in sharing his thoughts with them via those that they will meet when they are here in Washington.
Q And how important is it -- how important is it that he develops a closer working relationship with the Unionists?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we believe that the peace process itself, if is to advance, needs to include all the parties. And we have reached out to all the parties, in fact, in urging them to try to make the process along the lines of the Declaration.
Q Mike, just to follow up on that, the Unionist -- new Unionist leader also said that President Clinton just wants to get this nailed down before the primary season begins for domestic political reasons. Is there any urgency for the President to get some Irish peace agreement --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, there's --
Q -- or could it well wait --
MR. MCCURRY: -- there's a good deal of urgency to bringing about peace and reconciliation among people who have been killing each other in Northern Ireland, but has nothing to do with domestic politics.
Q Can you give us some idea of what the security talks with the Saudis were about this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that they focused mostly on Iraq and regional issues. But I don't have a full readout on that. You might ask David afterwards.
Q How is he celebrating his wife's birthday?
MR. MCCURRY: He is -- they -- as I mentioned to somebody earlier today, we gave the President of the United States the afternoon off so he could enjoy Mrs. Clinton's birthday. I think they plan to spend some time together as a family this afternoon, and then they're having a -- is Hillary listening?
MS. TERZANO: She may be. She likes you. (Laughter.)
Q This is live --
MR. MCCURRY: They're having a little surprise farewell for her before she leaves for New York this afternoon out in the Rose Garden.
Q -- surprise.
Q Is that open for coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: Sorry --
Q Are we invited to that, too?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't think so.
Q Why? Come on.
Q She likes us --
Q Free food --
Q Can we request coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: -- you know, it's for them. Anyhow, they plan to do that. By the way, the First Lady had wanted -- she's going up to look at and tour a facility that does breast cancer research, I believe, this afternoon, and had specifically wanted to do an event on that nature on that subject on her birthday. So that was why she had planned to do this trip today.
Q How old is she?
MR. MCCURRY: She is, I believe, 48, but you might want to call her press office and double-check that.
Q Is she expecting a subpoena for her birthday?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea.
Q Any comments on the latest Vince Foster allegations --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not -- you know, there's so many -- only so much patience that I have for conspiracy nuts.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:43 P.M. EDT