THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:33 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, should we begin today's White House news briefing?
Q We thought it had already begun. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It has now begun, and I'm happy to entertain your questions.
Q Why did the President see Trimble?
MR. MCCURRY: The President saw David Trimble, who is the new leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, so that he could reaffirm the strong interest the United States has in a lasting settlement acceptable to the British-Irish governments and also the people of Northern Ireland. We have reached out to all the parties in an effort to understand better the peace process that is now underway. They exchanged views on the peace process. The President talked a little bit about his upcoming trip to Northern Ireland.
The President dropped by, I should point out, a meeting that the Vice President had arranged that included the President's National Security Advisor Tony Lake, and the Vice President's National Security Advisor Leon Fuerth.
Q Mike, why is that trip being expanded, days are being added to the front end?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that days are being added to the front end. There was a day added -- there was a stop added to the end of the meeting so that we could go to Madrid and participate in the meeting of the E.U. Correct? That's the only change -- that was the only modification --
Q It was a four-day trip and now you're scheduled to be there on Monday through Friday.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that's true, but you might want to check -- these guys have been working on the schedule.
Q Is the White House ready to accept the debt limit extension until November 29th?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is ready to have a meeting shortly with the bipartisan congressional leadership to discuss that subject.
Q Do you think this meeting is only about the debt -- this discussion only about the debt limit, or is this a -- could this be a broader discussion about the budget in general?
MR. MCCURRY: The President intends to talk about the debt limit issue which is the one that Senator Dole suggested we should raise at the conclusion of this meeting about Bosnia. I've heard that others have suggested they might want to get into additional issues, but the President's view remains clear, that in order to have any discussions about the budget, it is now up to the Republican majority in Congress to begin addressing the specific priorities the President has repeatedly laid before the Congress. There's no indication that that's happening, so I can't imagine there's going to be much of a budget discussion at this meeting.
Q Well, they did take a vote on this budget, though, didn't they?
MR. MCCURRY: Not a real one.
Q Well, it was recorded. How do you distinguish a real vote from some other kind of vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have not yet taken the President's budget proposal of June and seriously addressed those priorities reflected in that budget or the President's repeated insistence that they address those issues that he has defined as being central to his willingness to participate in a resolution of the current budget conflict.
Q Has the administration yet reduced that budget proposal to legislative language that could be so considered?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been absolutely no need to because there's been absolutely no willingness on the part of Congress to take up that legislation seriously.
Q Not even by the Democrats -- couldn't they have brought it up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Democrats have offered various amendments. They've tried to deal with the Republican majority using amendments that build on many of the ideas that are suggested in the President's budget proposal.
Q So it has been considered?
MR. MCCURRY: They've -- the Democrats in Congress have shaped various alternative strategies, using in part some of the ideas recommended by the President.
Q If the Republicans come in and say, you know, we understand your concern about these five specific areas and we're ready to talk about them, does that represent addressing his priorities, and could that be the start of a budget discussion?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, look, it depends on what they say. And we could chase around -- spend a lot of time here chasing around talking about a meeting that you're all going to get to think about after it's over.
Q Will we get to cover it?
Q Mike, Leon Panetta seemed to slam the door on a short-term debt limit increase when he was on the Hill today, and yet you were noncommittal in response to Wolf's question. Will the President buy into a November 29th extension, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President addressed himself to that yesterday. We've got to extend this debt ceiling. The President would prefer that they do it until mid-January, which takes it beyond Congress' Christmas recess; it takes it beyond the period presumably needed to resolve these budget issues, and gives us time in which we can conduct the financial business of the United States government in an orderly fashion and also resolve the budget issues that are still on the table.
Q Would he veto a short-term extension?
MR. MCCURRY: There's no sense speculating on what he would sign or veto until we know whether there's even a willingness of the part of the congressional leadership to address that issue. And we'll know more about that later.
Q You haven't had a formal proposal --
MR. MCCURRY: He would veto -- specifically he'd veto -- I mean, he's made it clear that if they tie that to the budget priorities that the President considers unacceptable, he'll veto that.
Q That's not the question. Would he veto a short-term -- I mean, how could he -- a freestanding short-term -- how could he do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Stand alone, free -- stand alone. We'd have to take a look at what it would -- but as the President said yesterday, if it's a reasonable proposal to extend the debt limit, he certainly would look at that and look that as Congress --
Q Was November 29 then proposed formally?
MR. MCCURRY: It has been suggested publicly by one Republican committee chair in the Senate. And we will know more about the disposition of the other Republican leaders following this meeting.
Q That one committee chairman, Senator Domenici, said this morning that he would go forward and support a short-term budget extension if the President --
Q You mean debt limit, don't you?
Q I'm sorry -- debt limit extension -- if the President accepted a seven-year balanced budget with CBO estimates.
MR. MCCURRY: The President made it clear that we've got to resolve -- we can't let the United States government default. We've got to extend the debt ceiling. He's made it clear he's not willing to tie that imperative to misbegotten Republican priorities when it comes to the budget.
Q Whether he's going to tie it or not, is he willing to say that -- agree in principle in public to a seven-year budget proposal, balanced budget plan? I know he said those words, but to say -- which are the words specifically the Republicans want to hear, that, okay, now we're talking only about seven years and let's find out how to do it.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to write -- I've said repeatedly here, I'm not going to write a budget for you standing here. The President's got very clear priorities when it comes to the budget. He's laid them out repeatedly. He's put a proposal before the Congress in June that outlines those priorities and makes it clear what he thinks we need to do. And now the question back to the Republicans is are you willing to take up those issues and deal with them in a straightforward, candid manner.
Q Are we going to do this all again after this meeting? And if we are, could we do it then and not now and then?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a very timely suggestion on behalf of The New York Times. There's not much point in chasing it around now because --
Q So you're going to brief after the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll just -- we'll see. We'll see. You're going to, presumably, have some opportunity to talk to the leadership when they're done, and we'll see what they have to say.
Q But you wouldn't want their story to -- you wouldn't want them to get their side out without your last ups, right?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see. We'll see.
Q Would you continue to rule out a photo op at the top of this meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't rule out a camera opportunity, no.
Q What's a camera opportunity?
MR. MCCURRY: Take pictures.
Q You mean stills only?
Q Why? Why, are you afraid of questions?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, Deborah.
Q Mike, on a different subject, would the President veto the so-called partial -- bill that's being passed by the House today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are in discussions with members of Congress about the language. The President's concern here, as always, is making sure that policies that develop in legislative appropriations language are consistent with his view that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. In the case of third trimester abortions, they already are rare, but he is concerned that any legislative language protect both the life and the health of the mother, particularly when the health might face a serious threat. So we'll have further discussions with Congress and see where the language ends up.
Q Mike, wait a minute, I'm not clear. Was that a yes or a no?
MR. MCCURRY: It was a very clear answer.
Q Mike, you only addressed the issue of it being rare. You mentioned two other criteria. Does the President think that these should be allowed or not?
MR. MCCURRY: I said, we are working with the Congress to see if we can develop language that is consistent with the law and consistent with the President's view that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. And in the case of third trimester abortions, we are concerned that serious threats to the health of the mother be taken into account. And there are obviously some concern that the current language doesn't do that.
Q Comments made by the Senate Minority Leader at lunch about the budget, are they consistent with the administration as far as --
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea what he said.
Q Mr. McCurry, the general consensus is that the peace process in Northern Ireland is at a critical phase at this point in time, very critical phase. That's the impression one gets. Is there anything that the President can do at this point in time to move it along?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we can do what we believe we have been doing, which is to use the good offices of the President of the United States as well as our own diplomatic efforts to support a peace process that is critical to the people of Northern Ireland and which also reflects the peace process as initiated between the Republic of Ireland and the U.K.
Q Mike, would it be fair to say -- how would you describe the President's meeting with Trimble -- that he tried to nudge the Unionists towards a more friendly position, that he tried to light a fire under the talks, or that he just said nice things to him?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would concur in the assessment that the talks are at a fairly critical stage. I wouldn't describe in any great substantive detail the type of dialogue that we had other than to say that we have consistently reached out to all the parties because we are interested in a peace process that works, that is lasting, and that reflects the views of all the parties so that there can be a successful resolution of the conflict in Northern Ireland.
Q How does the White House feel about plans by some American families affected by the Lockerbie disaster to boycott Friday's dedication of the Lockerbie -- at Arlington Cemetery?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are aware that this is a very emotional time for the families of those who lost loved ones in this tragic and outrageous attack upon civilians. But the memorial itself is being dedicated in the spirit of trying to heal the wounds of that conflict. It has been offered as a gift from the people of Scotland. The President has been encouraged to participate in the memorial by some of the family members, and he believes it is very right and proper to do so.
But we certainly understand the feelings of those who are dissatisfied that the two suspects who are under indictment have not been brought to justice. And indeed, it is the view of the United States government that we must continue to do everything possible to bring those suspects to justice. We have repeatedly pressed that issue. We have insisted that Libya not be granted any relief from the sanctions Libya now faces until it is in full compliance with the three relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions. And that will be our posture until we are satisfied that justice has been done.
Q And you feel no more can be done at present?
MR. MCCURRY: That is not correct. We are always pressing to find ways in which we can bring additional pressure on the government of Libya to release the two suspects for trial in either Scotland or the United States, as required by U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Q Has the President met or talked with Director Deutch about the latest capers of the CIA?
MR. MCCURRY: He has been briefed on the actions that the Director of Central Intelligence reviewed yesterday publicly. He has also been briefed on the assessment of the Ames damage assessment team, and he is satisfied that the Director of Central Intelligence is putting in place those measures necessary to restore complete confidence in the nation's intelligence community.
Q On the D.C. funding bill, is the elimination of federal abortion funding enough to prompt a veto?
MR. MCCURRY: That could, indeed, be enough to trigger a veto. We will examine the full scope of the legislation, but as Mr. Panetta suggested yesterday in an interview, the Senate-passed version is the only version that is acceptable. The House-passed version is not. And any action in the conference committee to move far away from the Senate language would be a source of great concern to the President.
Q Going into this afternoon's meeting, one of the problems you have is a lot of the Republicans, especially the back-benchers, don't believe that default is a big problem. They met with some fairly heavyweight investors up there this morning who told them that the markets would shrug off a default as simply politically inspired. What does the President say to people this afternoon to counter that argument?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't need to remind the congressional leaders of the facts. But what we are doing is doing what Treasury secretaries in the past have done, including Jim Baker and Nicholas Brady. We are outlining in very concrete detail for those members of Congress who need additional information what the consequences of default would be. And we hope that that will be persuasive.
And we repeatedly -- you all know the repeated efforts by Secretaries of the Treasury to remind members of Congress what the consequences of default would be. And we have sketched those out in some detail now in written correspondence between the Treasury Secretary and the Hill. And we'll clearly do more of that as necessary to help members of Congress understand what their obligation is in addressing the urgency of the debt ceiling matter.
Q You disagree with that analysis then.
MR. MCCURRY: Of course.
Q Mike, has the administration determined how much longer after the drop-dead date, so-called, of November 15th or whatever it is that the administration could continue to operate on a cash basis?
MR. MCCURRY: The Treasury Secretary has outlined what the pathway is, because there are some decisions that have to be made; there's some financing decisions that have to be made. Then, of course, there would become obligations due from -- in the form of Social Security payments and other things. But I believe the Secretary of the Treasury has been clear publicly what that schedule is. It began today with the postponement of an announcement about some auction sales. Next week there would have to be a delay in auction sales themselves. And then you get to the quarterly refinancing on November 15th, which presents a very major obstacle to proceed with the orderly conduct of the government's business, should there not be an extension of the debt limit.
Q Michael, the Treasury Secretary and the White House have been wringing its collective hands for more than a week now on this issue. Wall Street has reacted with an audible yawn. How do you account for that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that most -- I mean, I'm not a financial analyst, so I'm not really qualified to comment on the behavior of the markets, but I would suggest that most people cannot imagine that the Congress of the United States of America would allow this country to go bankrupt.
Q We've come close to it twice in the '80s and nothing happened.
MR. MCCURRY: And -- that's right. But we've been through this before, and everyone thinks this is, as the Speaker said the other day, Kabuki theater and it all works out in the end. There's no guarantee that it's going to work out in the end this time, given the posture that the President is in and the posture that the Congress is in.
Q Do you mean the President of the United States would rather see the country go into default than adopt some budget priorities that would reach a balanced budget that he doesn't care for?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. And that's what he's said. So the devastating impact of that budget on Americans is --
Q Worse than default?
MR. MCCURRY: -- is worse than default. That's correct. And he said so in his radio address on Saturday.
Q Mike, can you give some public assurances that this government is not going to be bugging the rooms of the negotiating parties at Wright-Patterson?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a question in a backhanded way about intelligence gathering, and we don't talk about that here publicly.
Q Democrats on the Hill --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, Claire, I can't hear you.
Q The Democrats on the Hill, in addition to Republicans, are still complaining that the President is not making an adequate case for sending U.S. troops to Bosnia. Does the administration feel that it is, in fact, making a compelling --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The President addressed this in a very straightforward fashion yesterday. We've made it clear he will continue to do so. We understand the importance of laying the facts about our responsibilities before the American people. And the President will do that as often as it takes to help both the Congress and the American people understand what he sees as the obligations we have in addressing the conflict in Bosnia when it comes to specifically implementing the peace.
But, again, remember the talks today in Dayton are focused on achieving a peace agreement that then can be enforced by the international community through NATO, and we are not there yet. The President asked yesterday that we do everything we can to encourage and hope for success the parties now gathering in Dayton, so that their talks can be successful. Because deployment of U.S. forces to support that peace can only happen and will only happen if there is a peace that is achieved at Dayton.
Q Is there something the President's going to do in the Bosnia portion of this meeting beyond what he said publicly yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, much of the discussion will reflect some of the things he said publicly yesterday, but he will review our strategy for the peace talks in Dayton. Two, he will review the current status of NATO military planning as it relates to an implementation force and, three, most likely will have some discussion about how best to seek and achieve the expression of support from Congress that he believes his policy will merit.
Q You mean, they're going to talk about what -- can you pass a non-binding resolution and what would be the right time to do it?
MR. MCCURRY: That seems to me a likely area of discussion, but we'll have to see whether that occurs.
Q What can you tell us, if anything, about the drug speech tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: It's undergoing some revisions right now. I really can't tell you much, but we'll see if we can follow up on that later.
Q Did the President brief you on his lengthy conversation with Ben Wattenberg, and what can you tell us about that?
MR. MCCURRY: He told me about it. He discussed it with me, but not at any great length. And if I'm not mistaken, Mr. Wattenberg has written a column about it that might be available.
Q Well, does the President --
Q Is this in connection with his book or --
MR. MCCURRY: It's about his -- the President had read his book.
Q Did he confirm those quotes, he's a new Democrat, and he's sorry for everything he did since he's been President, and he's going to change and --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't asked him about any of it.
Q I kid you not. I'm summarizing it.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't asked him about any of the specifics in the piece.
Q Could you explain what he meant by the President feels he was a cardboard cutout?
MR. MCCURRY: The President said that publicly before.
Q Some Republicans on the Hill are talking about moving to the next step on Bosnia with a cutoff of funds for deployment of any U.S. troops there. I assume --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, Leo -- start that again.
MR. MCCURRY: Some Republicans on the Hill are proposing a rider to some appropriations bill that would cut off any money for use to deploy U.S. troops in Bosnia. I assume that if that were to happen, the President would veto such legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: It sounds -- I'm not aware of the specific rider you're talking about, but in the past, generally, we've taken the view that that type of unwarranted intrusion on the President's authority to conduct this nation's foreign policy does raise the likelihood of a veto.
Q So we will get a briefing here after the meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't commit to that. I said that we're going to just see what happens. You know, you're going to be able to talk, presumably, to some of those participating in the meeting, and that may cover it. We'll see.
Q Is the meeting over here? Is it over in Jackson Square?
MR. MCCURRY: It's at the Oval Office, in the Oval Office.
Q It's still not clear to me if you're giving us a photo op at the top of this, in-house pool photo op.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's because it's still not clear to me.
Q Then you were clear. (Laughter.)
Q What time does it start?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q What time does it start?
MR. MCCURRY: At 2:30 p.m.
Q How big a group, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that it's -- the invited are the Speaker, the House Minority Leader, the Senate Majority Leader, and the Senate Minority Leader. And then for the discussion of the debt ceiling issue, the Speaker has asked that Congressman Armey also be present.
Q Will Secretary Rubin --
MR. MCCURRY: And Secretary Rubin will join that discussion and Mr. Lake presumably will leave at that point.
Q What about other administration officials? Will Panetta, Rivlin --
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Panetta will be there. Perhaps Pat Griffin as well.
Q Logistically -- you probably have no idea of the answer to this question, but do you have any idea about how long they're scheduled to go on each topic, when we might look for them outside?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of knowing.
Q What will be the purpose of his meetings next week with members of Congress? Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: He wants to continue that very good -- we had a very good session over at Jackson Place not long ago that just sort of described where we are initially. He had expressed an interest in continuing that format. He thought it was very useful. Many members of Congress who participated appreciated having an opportunity to hear from the President and the national security team outlining where we are, and the President expressed at that time some desire to keep that going.
Now, I imagine that they'll discuss today how best to continue consultations, but we might have a larger session like that Jackson Place meeting sometime next week.
Q Why did the President think that was successful if just Monday, then, a House majority voted to restrain his ability to exercise force --
MR. MCCURRY: That House vote, as I said yesterday, was about process, not policy. They're asking questions, and as they came out of the session, they all indicated --
Q But your process is your policy.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not true. We're working towards a peace agreement. We believe we have responsibility to enforce that peace, and that hasn't happened yet.
What news. This just in. Okay. I think we're going to be able to do at least stills.
Q Boo, hiss.
MR. MCCURRY: Good-bye.
END 1:52 P.M. EST #128-11/01