THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:39 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Well, ladies and gentlemen, I don't have a lot to offer.
Q Mike, do you have any reaction to the Speaker's proposal for a political reform commission?
MR. MCCURRY: We know that the Speaker has testified today and also unveiled a proposal for a commission. If you recall back five months to the New Hampshire handshake and then our follow-up on that handshake in June, the President has suggested that a commission might be one way of advancing campaign reform, political reform and lobbying reform. We still believe that a commission might have utility if there's not legislation that is moving forward to get the job done. The important thing is to get the reform accomplished.
Now, a lot of things have happened in the last five months. Among other things, this week the Chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the Chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed legislation that Senator McCain and Senator Feingold have offered up that does some things that the President believes ought to be part of campaign reform, including spending limits, PAC limits, an end to the soft money system, TV time -- free TV time for candidates, other things that would really achieve campaign finance reform. So the important thing now is to assess how best to get the job of campaign reform done. And a commission should not stand in the way of progress that's being made.
This is much the same thing we said in connection with lobbying reform. When the Senate passed a good lobby reform measure that we, in fact, then later said we would try to incorporate it in an executive order that would cover federal branch employees, that if a commission itself is a tool you can use to create the kind of legislation that would achieve reform.
But we will respectfully and urgently and diligently examine the Speaker's proposal.
Q Well, do you think he's trying to stall? Is that the suggestion here?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't suggest that at all. He's made a -- he promised the President a thoughtful response to the President's suggestion that they create a commission. That was some time ago, and things have happened since then that we may need to take into account. And we will. And we will look at the Speaker's proposal carefully and then judge what prospects there are for success with the current bipartisan legislation that does seem to be gathering some momentum in the Senate.
Q Mike, are you saying there seems to be maybe some prospect that that legislative approach might actually produce a result?
MR. MCCURRY: It has -- for those that have followed the long, tortured history of campaign reform, this measure has more support, more bipartisan support than has ever existed for campaign reform legislation, which is encouraging. Our view is that a commission should not stand in the way of progress towards reform, and we will look at the Speaker's proposal in that light.
Q Just a quick follow-up. Some of the campaign finance reform groups apparently have reacted to the Speaker's proposal by saying that he has so broadened the mandate of a commission and built in requirements, like I think a three-quarters vote to approve its recommendations before they'd ever get to Congress to almost assure its failure. Do you have any threshold concerns about that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will examine the Speaker's proposal very carefully in light of the progress towards bipartisan reform. And, again, if there is momentum behind bipartisan legislation that is going to do the job of getting our campaign system reformed, we ought to encourage that legislation.
Q Does the President endorse the McCain bill? Would he sign --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we first are going to take a very thoughtful and respectful look at what the Speaker has said today.
Q Senator Lott and Representative Armey this morning said that they plan to unveil a debt limit extension bill tomorrow, a plan. You said earlier this morning that you hadn't heard that, as of that minute there hadn't been any meetings scheduled between here and the Hill. Has that changed, and has there been any response?
MR. MCCURRY: That has not changed. We've heard much the same suggestion that there may be some further proposals. But again, the President would stress, as he told the leadership last night, that the question of extending the debt ceiling and avoiding a default by the United States government is an urgent matter, not a b.d. coupled from budget issues that are going to be much more contentious and take more time to resolve.
Q Would the President permit a debt ceiling extension to be coupled to an extension of the CR, particularly if the Republicans tried to -- another CR to cut more deeply?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, at this point, if there is to be an extension of the CR, our view is that it ought to continue under the terms that the current continuing resolution embodies.
Q Would he veto anything different than that?
MR. MCCURRY: It would depend on what it looked like, and there's no pending proposal to veto at this point.
Q Tonight's speech to the Jewish group, will the President at all address Christian or Christian right leaders and their positions, or is he just going to talk about the Middle East?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is, his speech will be about the Middle East peace process. That's what I've been told.
Q Well, is the characterization in the paper today accurate, though, that it is an attack against Christian right, a mobilization against --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that that is what the President intends to address. I think he wants to review the status of the Middle East peace process. He wants to describe some of those changes that he's described in many appearances before largely Democratic audiences. This is a Democratic audience, and he will outline some of the things that he's been saying in speeches before largely Democratic audiences in recent weeks.
Q On Bosnia, you said yesterday that you were going to try to make a greater effort to reach out to Republicans, and Congress especially. Do you have any idea what is planned for the next week or two and how you might fight this probably Republican vote, Republican-driven vote?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, several things. I think the President will want to communicate in writing with a larger group of members telling them things similar what he told the leadership last night. I think we are looking at the possibility of a larger expanded meeting to go through some of the current issues related to Bosnia that the President addressed with the bipartisan leadership last night. And he will continue publicly, when appropriate, to make the case for U.S. leadership and U.S. involvement in resolving the conflict.
Q Was there any reaction here to the Ben Wattenberg column?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I did a substantial amount of that last night.
Q Yes. But, I mean, today has the President gotten any reaction himself from anybody on that --
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Is there any feeling that comments like that kind of underscore an impression of uncertainty about where he stands?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Next.
Q Did the Speaker ever respond to your personal note?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Not yet, but I just sent it yesterday, so I wouldn't --
Q Senator Hatch made some comments on the Senate floor this morning critical of President Clinton's drug policy, and there have been accusations that he's late getting in the game as far as issues are concerned. Does the President's speech today indicate any change of policy?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President today, I think, gave a very comprehensive review of this administration's extensive efforts to combat drug use, especially drug use among young people at a time when drug use among young people has been increasing. We're very proud of what we've been able to achieve in bringing down crime rates in urban areas, bringing down crimes associated with drug use. But we are simultaneously very concerned about an increase in drug use among young people, and that's why the President spoke on that issue today and also indicated that we will be putting national attention on that exact issue by having a White House conference here in January.
Q Can you tell us a little more about that conference -- who's going to be invited --
MR. MCCURRY: About the conference? I can. I can tell you that he's -- a lot of people that will be included, they'll have a full day of briefings that will include various Cabinet heads, experts, professionals, organization and group representatives, people who work with parents and teenagers to curb drug use. And they'll divide up the discussion around the issues of what is believed to be the current sources of adolescent drug use and the current incentives for adolescent drug use and how they can be reduced. They will include kids and parents, themselves, who have been successful in fighting drug use.
The President's interested in what's been done with federal resources, he's interested in what state and local governments have been able to do and, frankly, he's interested in what private organizations and individuals themselves have done, and the discussion will focus on all of those issues. We're looking at probably a day-long conference sometime in January.
Q Will the President participate, and will you also include kids who haven't been successful in the fight on drug abuse?
MR. MCCURRY: He will participate, and I can't say at this point what type of individuals will participate. But we will certainly have some people who have got compelling stories to tell about their own personal experience.
Q Drug use has been a problem for 30 years; there's no lack of information for what causes drug use. What would the President like to see happen? What can he do? What changes does he want?
MR. MCCURRY: He'd like to see us understand better what works and then how to replicate what works as quickly as possible, using federal resources, using the resources of private organizations and speaking to the issue of what individuals, parents and kids themselves can do to discourage drug use. I think you're correct in saying we know a lot about the problem. What we need to do is better identify those programs and policies that work in curbing drug use. And the focus will be on that and then on how best to replicate the success of those programs that work.
Q But does he have something in mind, a special program or something that he likes?
MR. MCCURRY: He's had -- I think we had an example today at the event of one that he talked about, and there has been a lot of preparation that's gone into the President's announcement today about the conference and a lot of survey work that's been done in looking around at states and the communities that do have successful programs. So they'll be drawing on some of those case studies and experiences as they structure a dialogue that will put more focus on successful programs. And we also believe just in general putting more public attention on the issue itself as a way of discouraging use.
There will be, hopefully, a lot of attention focused on the White House Conference itself, and that is one way we believe of deterring drug use.
Q Mike, at the Whitewater hearings today, Faircloth again called for Mrs. Clinton to testify. What are the prospects for that happening?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't follow the hearings today. Sorry.
Q What are the prospects, whether you did or not?
Q How would the White House feel about --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll ask Mark Fabiani to get you a response.
Q Any further word or sense about when there might be another meeting or discussion with congressional leaders on the budget or the debt ceiling?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have a sense. I think they, clearly, as a result of the conversations last night agreed there would have to be follow-up conversations if there would be any resolution of the differences that are clearly there. They've discussed some ways in which there might be follow-up conversations, but there is nothing planned yet that would call for a meeting between the President and some of the Hill leadership.
Q Mike, is it your sense that the leadership, Gingrich and Dole, are ready for a short-term extension until early December? Would they have to work out their own problems with some more hard-line members of their own party?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I indicated last night what our sense of the meeting was and the disposition of the Republican leadership when it comes to that question. I think I would prefer that they answer that question, because it goes to the heart of what's going on inside their own pockets. They can tell you better than I can what the sentiment is inside the Republican caucus for a short-term, stand-alone debt ceiling extension.
Q Mike, we touched on this yesterday briefly -- Pan Am 103 memorial service the President is attending tomorrow. Does he have anything in particular, any particular points he wants to make, either to the families or to Libya?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he wants to tell the families what very pointed things we've been doing to put additional pressure on the government of Libya. I think if you look back over a long series of things that this administration has done to try to compel compliance by the government of Libya with the three relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, it's been an extraordinary effort, and an effort that clearly must continue if the two Libyan suspects are to be delivered to proper justice. And he will review for the families the determination he has and the United States government has to continue that pressure and will also review some of the efforts we've made with our allies and others in the international community to support more pressure. We have been able to tighten the pressure somewhat; there are probably additional ways it could be tightened.
Q Any additional steps expect to be announced tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We do not act alone, and we have taken a significant series of unilateral steps to pressure the government of Libya. And what's needed most is a resolved effort by the international community to keep the press up to force compliance with the U.N. resolutions. And we will review what we have done to pursue that goal. There are, no doubt, additional things that could be done, but we have to work those issues diplomatically and gain support from others for that type of pressure to be effective. I just make clear, he's not expected to announce any new effort, but he will talk about ways in which we can keep the pressure up, keep others from trying to lessen the pressure, which has been a part of our diplomacy, and talk about ways in which in the future we might even seek ways to tighten the pressure.
Q A philosophical question in light of the President's discussion with Wattenberg. A lot of these neo-conservatives and conservatives feel that if the country is to return to basic values you have to put either the entire or the preponderant responsibility on individual citizens to behave better and to be accountable. The President has always taken the position that, yes, you have to do that, but that in equal measure, there's also a collective responsibility on the part of society and government to provide the economic wherewithal and the support for individuals and help them. Does the President still place equal weight on these two factors -- that it's not enough for individuals to assume responsibility, the society also has to weigh in?
THE PRESIDENT: The President, as he has often said, believes there is a reciprocal responsibility that exists, reciprocal responsibilities that exist between the American people as individuals and the American people together acting collectively through their government in an exchange for the opportunity that is often afforded by government and government programs. There is a reciprocal responsibility on the part of the individual to return a sense of spirit, a sense of community service and a sense of purpose to solving problems that we commonly face together. That's been a common theme -- that is the essence of the New Covenant, as the President has often described it in speeches that you've heard. And there's -- he's talked about that often and will continue to talk about it.
Q So he's not tilting away from the dual approach that he's enunciated in the past?
MR. MCCURRY: He is not tilting away from the reciprocal nature of those responsibilities that exist between the American government and the people of America.
Q Can I -- just one other question along these lines. To the extent that the President is trying to either dissociate himself from some of the things he did in his first two years or to kind of distance himself from them -- for instance the '94 national health plan -- is he looking back on these things and saying these were practical mistake, or is he saying that they were policy, philosophical mistakes?
MR. MCCURRY: No, Leo, I think I gave a pretty good answer to that last night, so if you check in the transcript, you'll see the answer.
Q Speaking of going back to past provinces, in 1992 when he was running for election, candidate Clinton said that if he were running for reelection, he would abide by the presidential debate commission determination of debates. Now that they've come out with their recommendations, does that still hold? Does he accept their debate schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: We know that former Chairman Kirk and former Chairman Fahrenkopf announced some tentative plans on behalf of the presidential commission yesterday. President Clinton enjoyed a very good working relationship with that commission in 1992. It is too early at this point to commit to a full schedule that has been outlined by the commission in terms of 1996. But the President is pleased with the work the commission has done. He respects that work and he fully expects to participate in debates against his Republican opponent and other opponents if there are, in fact, other qualified opponents as determined by the commission. And he -- I think you can just count on the certainty, at least from the President's view, that there will be a good series of debates and a variety of formats in 1996.
Q Why not just accept what their recommendation is?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, we haven't even looked at it yet with -- in terms of scheduling whether we've got any conflicts with any of their proposed -- it's just too early for us to do that at this point. But as we move into 1996, I'm sure we'll do that.
Q Mike, the Senate today passed the appropriations bill that provides the funding for Congress. The House has already taken this action. This would be the bill that the President vetoed to send a message to Congress. What will the President do this time around?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's view all along has been they needed to get their work done; they needed to start sending him appropriations bills in a timely way that dealt with the issues that are before the American people and that should be before the President and the Congress and that they ought to do that before they took care of their own business. They should -- will come down to us at a point at which I think, what, four appropriations bills out of 13 that have been passed. We'll see what sequence it comes in. Does it come in either in tandem with or before additional bills and make a judgment accordingly.
Q It depends on how they're stacked in the envelope, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it depends on how much work they've gotten done. They haven't gotten a lot of work done so far, and they haven't finished the reconciliation bill, and they know that's headed for a veto, too, and they need to start getting a lot more serious about getting their work done.
Q Does that sound like blackmail on whether he'll sign that unless they come through with other appropriations bills?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because their funding is continued on a continuing resolution, so there's no sense that they won't be funded or that they won't get adequate funding to continue their work -- unlike the American people who would, in fact, face that threat if there was a complete shutdown of the government.
Q -- for a quick second. Your remarks about pressure and the pressure weakening -- does the White House see efforts to weaken the pressure on Libya at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been, from time to time within the Security Council some efforts to relax some of the sanctions that apply in connection with the three Security Council resolutions, and we've had to discourage that type of incentive towards weakening.
Q From where does that come?
MR. MCCURRY: It's been thoroughly discussed and reviewed in other quarters, and I don't want to go through the long, tortured history here.
Q Can you explain, perhaps, why the President seems to be spending so much time in introspection and explaining himself? I don't want to know so much about the substance, whether he's shifting, but he had this long conversation on Air Force One with reporters, called Ben Wattenberg, he's tried to at least explain his tax vote to a number of different -- his tax plan to a number of different audiences. Where does this come from? Does he feel frustrated and misunderstood or --
MR. MCCURRY: In part, it comes from you, because many of you have encouraged us to make the President more available to you in a variety of settings where you can collect his thoughts on things.
Q We were real hot to have him talk to Wattenberg.
Q Yes, we really pushed that. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: If it's a bad idea, I guess we shouldn't do it.
Q Whoa, Mike. Come on.
Q The head of the conservative party in Colombia, Mr. Gomez Hurtado, was shot and killed today. He was highly critical of President Samper and his lack of efforts to deal with the drug problem. Does the administration have any comments on this recent act of violence?
MR. MCCURRY: Act of violence? I'm sorry, I'm not --
Q Against the head of the Conservative Party -- he was shot in Colombia today.
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to look into that. They may have handled that at the State Department, but I don't have anything prepared for here.
We have continued a very active dialogue with the government of Colombia on antidrug efforts. We believe we need cooperation from the government and we have been successful in doing some things that have moved our efforts forward. We've had cooperation from Colombian law enforcement officials that made it possible for the President to issue the executive order that he recently issued in connection with his speech at the United Nations, calling for a global effort to combat international drug trafficking. And that kind of support and that type of cooperation is important.
Q Is the administration satisfied that President Samper is doing enough in this respect?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe that we have had cooperation from the Colombia authorities that have helped us make progress in the fight against drugs. That support is appreciated.
Q Did you mean to say in your -- or imply in your answer to Maura that what the President said at a series of fundraisers about taxes and what he said in a telephone interview with Ben Wattenberg was somehow a function of our desire to have him talk to us more frequently?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Her question was where did the idea come from to have the President do more discussions with reporters.
Q No, that really not -- what I asked is --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, would you want to rephrase your question, Maura?
Q He seems to have an urge to do this kind of introspection and self-analysis either in this phone call, on Air Force One, in front of these audiences. I mean it seems like it comes in -- where is this coming from? Is he feeling frustrated and misunderstood?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Why is he indulging in this so much lately?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is a thoughtful person who cares about the future of this country. And he enjoys talking about that with a wide variety of people.
Q Mike, what needs to happen with the debt limit extension in order for the President to go through with his trip to Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry?
Q What needs to happen, how much of a debt limit extension do you need, how long, in order for the President to go through with his trip to Japan.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President plans to go to the APEC leaders meeting in Japan. It's on his calendar. He's very much looking forward to the session and those are his plans. There are no change in those plans.
Q What about the state visit to Tokyo?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a very important bilateral meeting and very important state visit and he intends to keep his schedule. But, obviously, we will have to watch what is going on here at home.
Q Any comments on Senator Wendell Ford's gaff -- racial epitaph?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q I'm sorry, Mike, you're going to go regardless of what happens with the debt limit extension?
MR. MCCURRY: I said we had to be -- we would have to be cognizant of what's happening here at home but he has a schedule, and he intends to keep the schedule and his plans have not changed.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:03 P.M. EST