THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry I'm late, I was down in the unemployment line so -- (laughter.) All right. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You've all received from the White House announcements -- or statements concerning the President's meeting with President Soeharto and the meeting -- good meeting that Tony Lake with the Reverend Ian Paisley, that the Vice President dropped by. Any questions, follow-ups on that?
Q Yes. Ian Paisley said that he'd prefer the White House and the United States to stay out of their business. If that's the case, then what does the President hope to accomplish by going to Ireland?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what we hope to do is to continue to nurture the peace process that the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland have been pursuing. We have long said that it is important for us to hear the different viewpoints that exist in Northern Ireland, and that's the opportunity we had today. We'll continue to do that, and the President continues to hope that the United States can lend support to those who are seeking peace in Northern Ireland. And indeed, even in London today there have been comments from other parties that have suggested that we have played a useful role.
So the important thing to us is to be open to the viewpoints of those who themselves must participate in a process that will lead to peace.
Q Speaking of butting out, the Quebec government has told the President to do that in regards to his comments yesterday about a strong and united Canada.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President spoke on behalf of the United States, reflecting the views that we suggest are important, that our relationship with a strong and united Canada is something of importance to us. Whether that has influence on the people of Canada is up to them to determine. The President was very clear in saying and acknowledging quickly that this is an internal matter that they themselves, of course, must decide at the ballot box.
Q On Soeharto, what if anything was accomplished on APEC, and did he make any promises -- did President Soeharto make any promises on East Timor that there might be any changes?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President did raise the issue of East Timor, continued to reflect our concern. I'll leave it up to the Indonesian government to see if they wish to offer any response.
On the subject of APEC, as the immediate past host and the host prior to that, President Clinton and President Soeharto have a common interest in ensuring that the forthcoming meeting of the APEC leaders in Japan is successful. And they did review in substantial detail the APEC agenda; offered to work together as we seek to make the APEC meeting a success. And in our separate ways we will be pursuing, in advance of that meeting, ways in which we can follow through on the action program that APEC adapted at its meeting last year in Jakarta.
Q In Secretary Rubin's letter to Speaker Gingrich, did the administration make any offers in terms of budget or debt limit compromise?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that -- if there is a letter -- have they made that -- has that letter been made public yet? My understanding was that they were going to make that letter public at some point today. And I'll leave it to the Treasury Department --
Q -- Rubin said it a while ago that --
MR. MCCURRY: He's sending a letter?
Q -- that he's sending a letter, so --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll leave it to the Treasury Department because I believe that they will make that letter public and then be able to tell you more about it.
Q Speaker Gingrich says that your remarks are despicable and shameful and he never wants to be in the same room with you again.
MR. MCCURRY: He never wants to be in the same -- all right, that's fine by me. (Laughter.) What else?
Q Do you have any response to those remarks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's -- I always enjoy his company.
Q Do you have any update on Boris Yeltsin's health?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't. We're just getting mostly the same accounts that you're getting that have been relayed by the Presidential News Service in Moscow that are being reported by our embassy in Moscow. And, of course, we are continuing our own conversations with Russian officials to see if there's anything additional to learn.
Q So far on the budget the most prominent thing out of the President has been his veto threat. Yet, here in the driveway, he appeared to be extending an olive branch. Was that his intent?
MR. MCCURRY: He was not extending an olive branch. He was describing the current state of play, which is that he has, dating back in June in offering his own proposal for a balanced budget, attempted to address those priorities that he feels the Republican majority is advancing -- balancing the budget, providing tax relief to Americans, extending the solvency of Medicare.
He is simply suggesting there are some very firm principles that he brings to the table as well and they involve growing our economy in the long-term, protecting working Americans from tax increases and protecting our environment and making those education and technology investments that will help the economy grow in the 21st century. And he said there's got to be a willingness on the part of the Republican majority to address his principles as well. Because they are not, and because they are doing devastating things to Medicare, to the protection of the environment, taxing the working poor in this country, he has no choice but to veto the legislation that they are now working on on the Hill.
But I think, you know, all along he said once they show some willingness to talk about the things that he thinks are important for the future of this country, we'll be in a better position to get on with the business of resolving this budget impasse.
Q I understand that, but he seemed to stress the areas of agreement between him and Republicans in these remarks today. Is there a slight change in the tactics?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We have all along said we have substantial agreement with them if you think about it in the broadest sense. Both the Republican Congress and the Democratic President want to balance the budget. They both want to provide tax relief to Americans. They both want to extend the solvency of the Trust Fund; in fact, on that question, the two are identical. They don't do anything to extend Medicare any further than we do, although, as we were talking about yesterday, they certainly have said some things that would lead you to believe that that's not their foremost interest as they look at this debate.
And now the question is are they ever going to get to a point after the President does what he has to do, which is to veto this unwarranted legislation, to come back and talk about those things that the President has repeatedly flagged for their attention as his priorities. They have turned a cold shoulder to the President from the moment that he first offered his balanced budget proposal in June. And sooner or later they're going to have to recognize that this President intends to make sure that his priorities are addressed in the course of this debate.
Q You said many times from that podium that Republicans have not called to offer to negotiate. Republicans have said many times up on the Hill that you have not called them -- Dole said again this morning his phone's not ringing. And Gingrich, perhaps accurately called the whole thing Kabuki theatre. Is it -- would you tell the American people that they should not expect anything at least until you've -- they've had a chance to make their point by passing their bill and you've had a chance to make your point by vetoing it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President couldn't have been clearer on that. The American people will know that we are getting closer to resolution of this impasse when the Republican Congress stops the unwarranted assault that they're making on Medicare, when they begin to talk about how they can make tax relief a real promise to people who need it and not talk about tax relief for those who have not requested it and don't need it, when they begin to look seriously at the question of how you preserve Medicare without doing untold damage to beneficiaries, and when you get serious about all those other things the President has outlined -- how are we going to have a strong economy in the 21st century.
There have been no effort at all by this Republican Congress to take up the President's suggestion that these are the issues that we need to address if we're going to be serious about America's future. They haven't once said to us, all right, there's some good ideas in that June proposal and we're willing to take a look at them and get serious about how we address the problems of this country.
Q The answer then is, no -- we do have to go through this whole thing of their passage and your veto before negotiations begin?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we may have to go through it and go beyond it. We may have to go through a veto and sit here for an awful long time if they're not willing to address those priorities that the President outlined for you today. There is absolutely no certainty at all that we will see any better picture after the President vetoes this bad legislation. We might be sitting here with exactly the same outcome. They're not willing to budget off the very adamant, extreme point of view they have now taken and the legislation they're developing. And then, the clock starts ticking on whether or not the Republican Congress is going to let the United States government default.
Q Mike, you're saying the ball is in their court when --
MR. MCCURRY: The ball -- that's exactly right. They serve the ball down here, we veto and serve it back to them. And then we have to wait and see whether they're going to get serious.
Q Is the President going to sign the sentencing guidelines bill today? If so, did he consider at all last weeks disturbances at federal prisons or the possibility of future disturbances?
MR. MCCURRY: The answer is he fully intends to sign that bill. I don't know whether it will, in fact, be signed today, but it will be signed shortly.
And on the second question, I'd have to refer you to the Justice Department. They are looking at the question of what motivated the disturbances recently at U.S. penal institutions. And I don't believe they have concluded that it is related solely to the sentencing issue.
Q Does he have a view on the issue of whether the penalties for crack cocaine and powder cocaine are too disparate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, yes, that would be the reasons for supporting the bill that we offered up that said that the Sentencing Commission's proposal to equalize the treatment of crack and cocaine was not a good thing to do at a time, among other things, when we're seeing a lot of violence in our streets, and when we're seeing rising drug use among young people.
But he asks -- as he will ask as S-1254 asks, for the Sentencing Commission to go back, examine this issue, look at questions about how you restructure sentencing, and also address the issue of whether or not there is any differentiation in the treatment of races as it relates to sentencing. That's all in the legislation that the President intends to sign.
Q Do you have anything further on Senator Moynihan's complaint that some sort of report on children and welfare is being deliberately withheld by the Clinton administration because it points to a danger to a million children because of this welfare --
MR. MCCURRY: Only that he's wrong. There is an effort underway by the OMB to provide a final analysis of the Senate-passed welfare reform bill, just as we analyze the House-passed reform bill that we'll be happy to send to Congressman Gibbons and to Senator Moynihan and the others who have requested it as soon as it's complete. Now, in the process of making that analysis, various agencies have looked at various versions of the Senate legislation, but to my knowledge, no one has completed an analysis of the final Senate-passed legislation that includes some of the amendments that were adopted that improved the legislation as it went to final passage on the Senate floor.
Q Well, this has, in fact, been faxed around now, this preliminary report, or whatever it was, and it's a document that Moynihan has, but which was not released here.
MR. MCCURRY: There are hundreds of preliminary draft estimates as people work through and analyze legislation. But when we do a final analysis, as we did of the House-passed bill that measured the impact on families of the Republican budget, we complete them, we send them to the Congress, and we generally make them available to you. And that's exactly what we'll do in the case of the Senate-passed bill, and they're working on that now.
The National Economic Council, the OMB, the CEA have all been involved with relevant agencies, including HHS, in developing that analysis. And they'll provide it when it's done. But we're not going to provide estimates or analyses that are less than accurate and less than complete and less than anything that won't hold up methodologically as it's looked at by experts.
Q How long will it take to get it done?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, because he did see some of these preliminary estimates from HHS and is concerned about them, wants to get the facts, instructed that they work expeditiously to complete this study.
Q Mike, on a different subject, the Japanese government was not happy yesterday on the response that it had received on the CIA spying issue. Their response was basically no response. And their spokesman said that this could undermine the relationship and so forth and so on. With an ally with whom we regularly share intelligence freely as we do with the Japanese, why did you feel it was necessary to give them what was basically a no comment?
MR. MCCURRY: Why I personally gave --
Q No, why the administration decided to do that. The Ambassador was called in apparently and said that the U.S. --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll have to look at that. My understanding was that there had been some meetings between U.S. diplomats and their Japanese counterparts some time ago in Tokyo so that those concerns could be addressed. I wasn't aware that there had been --
Q Ambassador Kuriyama says that he and Winston Lord met yesterday.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. I'll just have to refer you to the State Department. I was not aware of that.
Q Mike, APEC for just a moment. You mentioned how recent individual efforts to ensure success of the upcoming meeting. Does the U.S. plan any special effort with Japan to get their economy going and improve the trade picture at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not the -- we do work with Japan on the status of the economies through the G-7 format. That's what all the industrialized nations do. That's not specifically the focus of the APEC agenda, although in a broad sense, trade liberalization, the steps we're taking for more openness and transparency in trade markets, can lead to that type of improvement. And certainly we make that case both in our bilateral discussions with the Japanese government. But it is part of the general discussion within APEC.
I believe it would be correct to say that the United States believes that the coming meeting in Osaka ought to talk about the broadest possible range of trade liberalization efforts that match the comprehensive agenda and action plan that the leaders adopted last year when they met in Jakarta.
Q Since we're on Japan, you, a few minutes ago said that this could go on past a veto and well beyond. Is the President likely to be able to go to Osaka?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he certainly plans to. But given the importance of the meeting -- he just spent a substantial part of this morning reviewing the importance of the APEC meeting with President Soeharto, so the United States attaches great importance to the leaders discussion. In fact, as you recall, it was President Clinton who helped suggest that they meet in that format on a regular basis. So it would be, for him, a great disappointment if there had to be any change in his schedule. But, of course, we have to be cognizant of what situations we're facing at any point he plans to travel.
Q Well, Mike, what would keep him going?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to speculate, but default of the United States government would probably rank pretty close to the top. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, do you have anything more on when the President and the Majority Leader might sit down for popcorn and a movie?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any -- anything more on that? We were looking at ways to try to make it happen.
Q He's still thinking about it or has decided?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I believe it is. I think that people were going to examine a way that we might be able to do that.
Q When the President singles out the working family tax, does he have in mind only that they limit an adjustment to targeting fraud as a program, or is there some willingness to adjust the income threshold as long as a family doesn't end up paying more in taxes than --
MR. MCCURRY: When we identified that $148 billion in what we feel are tax increases on working families and poor families in America, we did not specify specifically how the tax incident arises in each and every case. But the broad point remains, as the President said today, they ought to at least start turning back this bad step that they're taking by rolling back the tax increases that they've now passed on working Americans.
Q Mike, do you have anything further to report on the Russian participation in the peacekeeping force -- any progress on that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't have anything beyond the readout that has already been provided on Dr. Perry's meeting with Defense Minister Grachev. As the Defense Department has indicated, they intend to continue their meetings probably into early next week. And we'll have to see where it goes.
Q Mike, concerning the comments coming out of Capitol Hill about you, have you and the President had a conversation on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President would have answered that question if you had asked him, but you didn't.
Q Is it woodshed variety?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President -- I explained the incident to the President, and the President thought my response yesterday was the correct one.
Q Which response?
Q Which one?
MR. MCCURRY: -- response and then the response I made here when I quickly indicated that I had not said the right thing; and then what I said later when several people had a field day, as they probably predictably would have with what I said.
Q You would not characterize it as being chewed out?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q When the President identified a shared principle today as being giving more authority back to the state and local governments as something that he shares with Republicans, what did he have in mind?
MR. MCCURRY: Welfare reform, in particular. There's a great deal of work giving states more flexibility as they seek to reform welfare as we know it. That specifically is what he had in mind.
Q Did he mean ending the entitlement and moving it int a block grant? Is that what he meant?
MR. MCCURRY: He was talking about the kind of cooperation the federal government and state governments have had as we've designed together welfare reform experiments by giving states more flexibility.
Q Mike, does the administration has any comment about the yesterday fall of the Mexican peso on the Mexican market?
MR. MCCURRY: I will not comment on that here, but I will direct that question to the Treasury Department because the Treasury Department has been in contact with the Mexican Finance Ministry.
Q Is the President going to use his radio address tomorrow to talk some more about the budget? And is he going to tape that this afternoon, and is he going to be specific or general or --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, yes, and specific. (Laughter.)
Q If the Bosnian peace force is going to be a NATO operation, why are the troops wearing U.N. patches?
MR. MCCURRY: There are no -- there is not a Bosnia IFOR that's now deployed in Bosnia.
Q Will they wear U.N. patches when they go?
MR. MCCURRY: That will be an operational detail that will have to be part of the final mission plan. I don't believe that's been settled.
Q Can you give us a rundown on the schedule this weekend and next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I can. What I've got so far is the President addressing the White House Conference on Travel and Tourism on Monday. I suspect on Tuesday he's going to be doing --
Q What will that speech be about? What is the subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's been a lot -- as we advance U.S. economic interests and attract more visitors here to the United States, we've actually done a fair amount of reinventing government in those federal agencies that are involved with tourism and tourism promotion. And it's contributing to a stronger U.S. economy, as we saw today.
Q And he's certainly been traveling.
Q Is that a daytime event?
MR. MCCURRY: We then do, on Tuesday -- I suspect Tuesday will be the day that the President has an opportunity to meet with Secretary Christopher and Assistant Secretary Holbrooke before their departure for Dayton. On Wednesday --
Q Is he going to make a speech on Bosnia in connection with that meeting? I mean, is he going to do anything to kind of set up these talks?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we actually have got diplomatic work to do first and foremost. What he's going to do with them is look at the negotiating instructions that they're carrying with them to date and do sort of a final review before they depart. He's had a lot of conversations already with Assistant Secretary Holbrooke's team and has worked with the principals, his principal national security advisers, on how they address certain issues that are likely going to be on the agenda when they meet in Dayton. But he will go beyond that on Tuesday and really sort of fine-tune and shape the presentations that will be made.
Q No, I mean is he going to use it as an opportunity to once again make his case --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think this venue -- he's been doing that almost daily. As you know, he did it at the Truman dinner Wednesday night. He will do it again when the opportunity arises, probably not in this format. He will restate again, I'm sure, the need for U.S. leadership when it comes to bringing this conflict to an end through success in Dayton or what we hope will be success in Dayton and he'll again say that that calls upon the United States certain responsibilities for helping implement the peace. But there will be other opportunities and venues for him to make the case why the United States has to be involved, and he will be taking advantage of those opportunities.
Q Wednesday's schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: Wednesday schedule. We just put this out, right?
MS. TERZANO: We're doing it after your briefing.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Then on Wednesday we have no public schedule. Thursday the President will address a community antidrug coalition conference here in town, and they'll be talking about some work that's been done to address further efforts to combat drugs. He has a political dinner that night. Friday he will be dedicating -- participating in the dedication of the memorial to the victims of the PanAm 103 bombing. We'll have a piece of paper out on that later today, I believe.
Q Is the Queen of Norway here one day?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so. I saw that on one schedule. It's not on this schedule. That's what I've got so far. Maybe Ginny and Mary Ellen can get some more.
Q Have you been wasting any time speculating about Colin Powell over the past 24 hours?
MR. MCCURRY: No. No, I just -- you know, it's one man's decision. A lonely decision it is.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:58 P.M. EDT