THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
12:22 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon. Welcome to the White House. The President, having already spoken once today and speaking later today, is our newsmaker, and I am not. So I will hear and be pummeled by --
Q What do you think of The Washington Post story on Dick Morris? Is it on target?
MR. MCCURRY: It was on the front page. You know, The Washington Post, as are many journalists in Washington, are preoccupied with political process.
Q Does the President condone the apparently racist tactics that Morris has used in the past?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're characterizing tactics, but I wouldn't characterize them in that fashion. I think the facts are in the article. The President has reviewed in general his past behavior, and I commented on that prior, as you know.
Q Mike, in the President's comments to the Trotter Group, which -- are you going to release those?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a group of columnists who each have to file individual dispatches. And we do not always release transcripts, particularly when we're trying to protect those who have had an interview opportunity and may be writing about it in the future. I'll check and see and see if what the arrangements are.
Q I ask because I was issued a press version of that story -- there's at the end a somewhat confusing passage in which the President is quoted as saying that he thinks sometimes, in response to a question, certain prominent black people have been held to a higher and unfair standard than some prominent white people. And those mentioned include the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Michael Jackson, Louis Farrakhan and there were one or two others. I wondered if the President elaborated in any way, or you could on his behalf, about how he meant they'd been held to an -- or which ones of them, or in what regard?
MR. MCCURRY: You got the gist of that correct. The question that was posed to the President listed a number of prominent African Americans, and the President acknowledged that some of them had been unfairly criticized in the past. Now, the President himself has been critical of Reverend Farrakhan, as you know, and that doesn't change any of the things that he's had to say about Reverend Farrakhan.
Q But do you know if he enumerated which of them he felt had been, or if Michael Jackson was okay, but --
MR. MCCURRY: No. My recollection of the transcript is that he didn't go into any detail, he just acknowledged that sometimes there were unfair criticisms.
Q Could you maybe, if you don't want to release the whole transcript, just release that question?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll see if that's possible to do, yes.
Q Mike is it possible -- I mean, usually in the past you've waited until the columnists' deadlines have been --
MR. MCCURRY: People have filed, correct.
Q Can you just tell us when that would be?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't as I stand here, but I'm happy to see if I can look into that further.
Q Marian Wright Edelman says in her open letter to the President in The Washington Post that this is a defining moral litmus test for your presidency, referring to the President's support for this pending welfare reform legislation which she says will hurt a lot of children and poor people.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think she is a very distinguished and very effective advocate on behalf of children in America, but so is Bill Clinton. And the two of them together have shared many goals over the years related to the condition of children, especially children who live in poverty. And I believe it's accurate to say that on the subject of welfare reform, they share similar goals. They want to see those on welfare make the transition to work. They want that transition to be effective, and they want to make sure that children are not left behind in the exchange.
And that is exactly the premise that the President has used to address welfare reform legislation. And you all know that he is insisting on a very high standard as the House and the Senate deal with that legislation. There need to be improvements in both the Senate bill and the House bill and we've encouraged the conference committee now working on that legislation to make those improvements.
Q Mike, now that the pictures of Yeltsin have been televised and now that we have confirmed word that he's delegating some of the departments in some ministries to Chernomyrdin, what's the assessment of his health and his political future there?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our assessment is very similar to the one that has been provided publicly by Russian authorities, that he is recuperating from a heart episode involving his prior announced condition and involving aschemia. And the Russian government has made some adjustments related to his hospitalization. That's really up to them to do and up to them to discuss.
Q Do you then feel like you have to deal more with Chernomyrdin and less with Russia?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know we already have a very active working partnership with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin through the so-called Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission that the Vice President uses. They work on many issues that are very central to our bilateral relationship.
Q Do you know if the Russian government has communicated any assurances to the U.S. government about continuation of relations or no need for concern, or something --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that this is a situation which that type of diplomatic reassurance would be offered or expected. And I don't have any thing further from our embassy in Moscow. They, of course, continue their routine and very proper contacts with Russian authorities and they are aware of the reports that have been made.
Again, I would go back and stress what I told some of you earlier today, that we certainly do wish President Yeltsin the best for a speedy recovery, and the President, on behalf of the people of the United States, conveyed that message last week.
Q Is it still the case that the Vice President has not spoken to Mr. Chernomyrdin?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't say that with one hundred percent certainty. I don't believe so, Rita, but we can double-check and make sure there's not been a Chernomyrdin-Gore conversation. I haven't seen anything that would indicate there has been.
Q With respect to extending the continuing resolution, Senator Daschle said on the Hill today that he would be prepared to have Democrats filibuster an unsatisfactory Republican CR with chamber of horrors in it, but not if he is convinced that the White House instead would veto it. So would the White House veto a --
Q Well, anything that is acceptable to the President we'll have to kill one way or another, either through a veto or through a filibuster. But we'll be working with Democrats on the Hill to make sure that our concerns and our priorities are protected. Again, the debt ceiling issue is one the President strongly believes ought to be separated from all the budget issues that are being contested right now between the Congress and the President. That's too important to roll into the overall discussion that is related to budget priorities and how we're going to resolve the differences that exist between the President and the Congress.
Therefore, we are calling on the Congress to pass a clean continuing resolution. We were able to do that before. We were able to reach agreement on the type of continuing resolution that we're now operating under. And it doesn't seem to the White House that there's any reason why we shouldn't be able to do that again. We need to do that, and we also need to extend the debt ceiling. We need to extend the debt ceiling rather promptly now.
Q The Republican leadership seems to be having trouble with its back-benchers on the debt ceiling extension --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, do tell. Tell us more.
Q We don't even need to waste our breath, we can stipulate your answers to some of their requests. But the question really is, is there anything that the White House is willing to offer or compromise, or any kind of offer that you could make to help get them on board to help get a debt limit through -- some sort of budget or CR compromise that you would be willing to offer?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the debt ceiling extension is a rather straightforward matter. They need to assure the full faith and credit of the United States government. They need to extend the debt ceiling, and that's a very straightforward measure. There's nothing we can do to make that palatable for members of Congress. It just has to be done, and it has to be done soon.
On the continuing resolution, we worked very closely with the Congress, established the arrangements that were made for the continuing resolution that now is in effect. And the White House believes that that was a good arrangement and it ought to continue. It's pretty straightforward. We have worked very closely with them. We've reached agreement, and we think that was a good agreement.
Q There's a possibility that they'll tie debt and CR together. But if they don't -- if debt comes up but it has some Christmas tree stuff on it, is that automatic veto? The debt has to -- with the possible exception of CR, debt has to be considered separately?
MR. MCCURRY: It depends what the ornaments look like. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, I just wanted to get this straight. The President was asked whether he thought it was unfair than when black leaders say nasty things about Jewish people they are criticized, but that when white people criticize -- say racist things they are not criticized. And he said that some of those black leaders were unfairly criticized?
MR. MCCURRY: Jack, there's no sense in just reconstructing the conversation. We'll get the transcript and see f we can make it available one way or another.
Q The peso has been taking this morning on rumors that Zedillo is in conflict with the army troops in Mexico. Do you have any readout on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our understanding via our embassy in Mexico City is that there is nothing to substantiate those rumors. According to the embassy in Mexico City, they are not aware of any irregularities in the functioning of business in Mexico City or within the government of Mexico. They informed us that their best guidance would be to discount any such rumors.
Q -- this morning indicated he thought that CR would be cranked down and have less spending in it than the original CR. Would the White House endorse a clean CR that is at lower levels than --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to speculate on what a CR might look like when it comes from the Republican Congress. They apparently have not reached any agreement as Chairman Domenici and Chairman Kasich indicated earlier today. So there's no sense guessing what might be in it. But the Congress surely knows from the President's viewpoint what is unacceptable. And the White House would encourage the Congress not to send any continuing resolution to the President that contains items that the Congress knows will be unacceptable to the President. It's not a good way to do business.
Q Mike, getting back to Mexico, the peso has been falling for the past few days. Is the White House worried about the -- of the Mexican economy?
MR. MCCURRY: Given that the markets are open, I'll refrain from any comment on the status of the peso and direct any question of that nature to the Treasury Department which has been in contact with the Mexican Finance Ministry.
Q Mike, what is the U.S. government doing to track down the whereabouts of the Christian Science Monitor reporter missing in Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: We have enormous concern about the status of David Rohde, the journalist from the Christian Science Monitor who is missing. This has been raised now at highest levels with the governments in the region. Secretary Christopher has expressed concern and it has now been raised directly with the Presidents gathered in Dayton. We are making urgent inquiries to see if they could use their offices to determine Mr. Rohde's whereabouts.
Q Does the U.S. government know who abducted him?
MR. MCCURRY: No. We don't have information --
Q Are you saying it is a case of abduction?
MR. MCCURRY: I cannot. He is missing, and we are urgently seeking more information that would allow us to find him and return him to his family.
Q What was the response from the Presidents in Dayton?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is they said they would look into it. But I don't have a -- you might want to check with Mr. Burns over the State Department who is in closer contact with the delegations out in Dayton.
Q Mike, on the C-17, assuming today's announcement is affirmative, what is the White House justification of the aircraft and why should it not be viewed as political, given the thousands of jobs in Southern California?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the United States has been long looking for better and more effective airlift capacity. This is a question that has been looked at very carefully at the Defense Department. And it is, indeed, proper than any announcement on that subject come from the Defense Department which my understanding is it will today. This is a decision driven by the nation's national security interests. It obviously has substantial economic benefits for communities around the United States, not just in California. But I'll let those who are more expert on that describe those to you.
Q Mike, on welfare, what's the status of the final report, the report on the final analysis of the Senate bill? I think you promised us last week --
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is from Dr. Rivlin this morning is that they are working extra hard to complete that as fast as possible so they can give it to Senator Moynihan and others who have directly asked for it. My understanding from Dr. Rivlin is it should be complete by around midweek next week.
Q This is the interagency --
Q This is the draft?
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no, no. There was some preliminary analyses that had done over at HHS, which is one of only several agencies that would participate in a comprehensive OMB review of the effects of that legislation, similar to the study that OMB did about the House-passed welfare reform bill. And the OMB is now completing that study and they will be in a position to provide a final report, as I say, sometime middle of next week.
Q Hasn't the President thrown in a towel, though, on the guarantees for children?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely not. I mean, we are fighting hard to maintain the effort that currently exists for those who are in poverty. We want a welfare reform bill that works, that ensures that those adults on welfare make the transition to work situations or job training situations. And we want to make sure their kids have the proper care and don't get left behind. And we are fighting hard on that and will fight on that, and the President has been fighting hard on that.
Q What will President Clinton do from this point forward to see that those responsible for the Lockerbie crash will be brought to justice?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will pledge today that we will not give up the effort to bring those responsible for this barbaric crime to justice. There are two suspects who are now under indictment. They need to be delivered either to Scotland or to the United States so they can be properly tried. We have a U.N. sanctions regime in place on Libya that the United States insists remain in place. In fact, we have sought at various times in recent months to intensify the pressure. We continue regular diplomatic contact with some of our closest allies on ways in which we might even further tighten that pressure, because Libya cannot get away with various schemes that Mr. Gadafi has tried to avoid turning these two suspects over to justice. The United States will insist that they be turned over, that they be tried, they be punished as they properly should be.
Q Mike, does the President have any reaction to the rather biting editorials in The Washington Post and New York Times this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Mike, what can the President do, what does he intend to do to move the Northern Ireland peace process forward --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're aware that we've had some meetings with representatives of the parties here. He has remained in contact with the Republic of Ireland and the U.K. about it. He obviously will go there. We hope that when we go there that there has been progress, because we've encouraged the parties themselves to make progress along the lines of the Downing Street Declaration. But one of the things that we have done is to encourage all the parties to remain committed to the goals that were very courageously put forward in the declaration of principles. And we believe that they can achieve that progress. We believe that it is there, based on our own contacts with the parties.
Q One of the survivors, family members of the Lockerbie victims, a woman -- says that the problem is not just -- it's no just Libyans who were involved, maybe not even Libyans at all, but the administration is covering up the involvement of Palestinians, Iranians or others for political reasons.
MR. MCCURRY: It is easy for us to understand the heartache of those who are themselves the victims of this tragedy, too, because they have lost loved ones. And it's easy to understand people who believe that there are other things that they could possibly learn or know about this. But every time allegations or suggestions of this nature have been raised, we have done everything possible as a government to check them out. Every time there has been something suggested as a lead, we make inquiries of foreign governments. And just none of these suggestions have ever borne up, as they have been examined and as we have pursued them through our diplomacy. We have two suspects who we believe have been properly indicted. And I've just told you there are a range of things that we have done, including working through the United Nations and through the relevant sanctions regimes that are now in place on Libya to force Libya to turn these suspects over so that they can be properly tried.
Q Mike, how does the White House feel, if you've had a chance to look into it more then, about the call from this family's organizations to release the criminal evidence in the case as a way of generating more pressure on Libya?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the believe that this criminal evidence will be released. It will be released in a court of law when we try the two suspects and convict them. But as you all know from rules of evidence, it would not be proper for us to release the evidence prior to presenting it in a court of law when these suspects are tried and brought to justice. That's our reason for saying it's not timely at this point to present that evidence publicly but it will be presented publicly when these suspects are eventually tried, as they must be.
Q As you're aware, the families yesterday, and Lawrence Eagleburger as well, who joined them, both said that they're convinced that there never will be a trial.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we just dispute that. And we believe we will -- the pressure that we will continue to bring to bear on the government of Libya will eventually result in the two suspects being delivered for trial, as they are required to be delivered by trial, by the United Nations. And when that happens, then we will be able to present the evidence properly in a court of law. And the families can get some satisfaction of knowing that justice is being done and also knowing more about the facts that are available at that time to the court.
Q Not to drag it out but you've said -- any more than absolutely possible -- you've said that you dispute the idea that there will never be a trial and you think there will be. I don't think you actually said at any point what it is that makes you think there will be. After seven years at this point, Libya shows no signs of giving in.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's not exactly true. If you followed this over the years, you'll know that from time to time, there are various -- I'd describe them as operatives -- that come forward claiming to have had some conversation with Mr. Gadafi indicating some willingness to exchange these two suspects. We've insisted that they be delivered simply and promptly as they are required to be. And we believe in the end that pressure that we're bringing to bear will be successful and they will be brought to justice. And the President today will pledge that while he is President of the United States there will be no letting up on that pressure.
Q Mike, the Dutch government announced today that Ruud Lubbers was now officially candidate in the job of NATO Secretary General. Does that mean that Lubbers got a nod from the White House yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: No. It means that they take some satisfaction that the support that he has now received from other NATO allies -- he has been here to the United States. He's met with Secretary Christopher and National Security Advisor Lake. Former Danish Foreign Minister Elleman-Jensen has also been here in the United States and has met with high ranking officials. And we believe, as it must be, that the North Atlantic Council should be able to arrive at consensus at 16 and designate a successor to Vaclav Klaus.
Q But why would they wait for these meetings here in Washington to announce his candidacy? There seems to be some kind of a link.
MR. MCCURRY: You should ask either the Dutch government or the former Dutch Prime Minister.
Q Well, do we have a preference?
MR. MCCURRY: We have discussions underway and when we have a preference we will share it in reaching consensus with our allies.
Q The Wall Street Journal today says in a long report on the President that Chief of Staff Panetta is thinking about quitting after the budget is resolved because he's still upset over the Dick Morris introduction into the team.
MR. MCCURRY: There have absolutely nothing about my exchanges with Leon that would indicate that that is the case. And I believe he has publicly said fairly recently that he is determined to see that President Clinton is reelected next November.
Q Speaking of Panetta, you said that he was away today. Who's carrying the water for the White House in these discussions between staff back and forth on the debt ceiling?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again?
Q You said this morning that Mr. Panetta is out of town. Who is handling negotiations or discussions between the Hill and the White House on the debt ceiling?
MR. MCCURRY: They have been principally underway through Pat Griffin, our Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs.
Q Will he continue over the weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect they will, but it will depend. They may go into a weekend break, because if I'm not mistaken, both Chairman Kasich and Chairman Domenici indicated that they were going to have more to say on Monday, or that they were going to work more on it Monday. I gather that's what they've said on the Hill.
Q Does the President regret his interview with Wattenberg, and does he think it's hurt him politically --
MR. MCCURRY: No, and no.
Q -- with the Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: No, and no.
Q Why do you say that?
MR. MCCURRY: Why do I say that? Because that's the way he feels.
Q You mean he's very happy with what was reported?
MR. MCCURRY: He feels that -- I think I went through this at some great length the other night, and you can go back and look at the transcript -- he feels that there was -- he had a good conversation with Ben Wattenberg and about half of it got into his column.
Q What is the White House reaction to the vote on --
MR. MCCURRY: I couldn't hear the last part.
Q The United Nations vote on Cuba -- why do you think most countries voted against --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we were disappointed in the vote. It was not an unpredictable outcome, but we would have hoped that the General Assembly in passing that resolution would have also acknowledged that it would be a pretty idea for Cuba to get on the right side of history and give up totalitarian communist rule. And that's the purpose of our policy, the policy that has now criticized by the General Assembly. But it's the right policy, and it is the requirement of the Cuban Democracy Act, supported by both our Congress and our President, to take those steps that the General Assembly discussed in this resolution.
Q Do you feel more isolated or isolated at all?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The United States doesn't feel isolated from anything in the world, because we lead it. (Laughter.)
Q You're not exactly against dictators.
Q Transcripts --
MR. MCCURRY: -- take the time to try to figure it out, but we'll go back and read it and maybe we'll -- release that portion of it that you've asked about.
Q A quick clarification. Your first answer on welfare, you said that the President has tried to make improvements in both the Senate and the House bill and now in conference. You don't mean that he wants improvements on the Senate bill that he's already endorsed?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, he had said -- we have said, in particular when it comes to something like maintenance of effort, that the conference committee could improve --
Q Could improve, but he would still --
MR. MCCURRY: -- that has been done.
Q -- sign the Senate bill if it came to him as is?
MR. MCCURRY: If that's the only version that comes, and if there are no changes that move that in a direction that the President considers unacceptable. What the President prefers is that the conference committee work to improve the legislation, particularly when it comes to maintenance of effort.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 12:46 P.M. EST