THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon. Happy reporters all. And shall we have a question or two to begin our daily briefing?
Mr. Blitzer, yes.
Q Colin Powell has decided that he's not going to run. Is that --
MR. MCCURRY: Says who?
Q Says everybody. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Says Wolf Blitzer on CNN?
Q What does the President think about General Powell's decision?
MR. MCCURRY: The President understands the decision to run for President of the United States is one of the most difficult decisions any human being can make. He respects the General and respects the General's right to make that decision and to announce it accordingly.
Q Is the President suggesting that he had a hard time making that decision?
Q Did he call him today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of.
Q No, I mean, Powell call Clinton.
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I'm not aware of any call.
Q Did he offer him the Secretary of State's job recently -- or anything else?
Q Or anything else?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q What was the President's reaction?
Q Would it be right to say that the White House is overjoyed at the decision because he was doing so well in the polls?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House has been working on matters related to the debt ceiling, to the continuing resolution, to the current budget issues that we have in discussion with the Congress. And that has been what has preoccupied most people here today.
Q What about -- among those who have reacted, what has the reaction been?
Q Wasn't that your reaction to the elections in general last night?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry -- Terry?
Q The elections in general last night -- do you have a reaction to --
MR. MCCURRY: They were -- every one of these races had its own dynamic and its own equation. Democrats did pretty well across-the-board. The chairman and the general chairman of the party put out a statement on it, and I think that's about all there is to say.
Q Do you think it means the Republicans -- do you think it's taken the steam out of the Republican revolution?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that you can assess any global impact on a series of races that are important in which voters at the local level looked at the issues, looked at the candidates and did their jobs.
Q Are you triangulating here? Is that what you're doing?
Q Does the White House attach any significance --
Q Are you triangulating again, buddy? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I'm avoiding giving you what you're looking for. (Laughter.)
Q Does it draw any lessons from the way --
MR. MCCURRY: What do you want? Wait, wait, wait. Plante, right here.
Q Does the White House draw any lessons from those places in which the Democrats did win and the way their campaigns were conducted?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that those candidates that won worked hard, took their sense of leadership and direction directly to the voters, and made compelling cases for their candidacies. It's not a bad way to win an election.
Q What about the debt limit? I understand it's not going too well.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not going to well -- you're right. You got that right.
Q Well, in what sense?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as you could tell from the Secretary of the Treasury's statement last night, the current discussion, which is specifically the House Ways and Means Committee mark, is not the type of debt ceiling extension that is going to get the job done. They have basically -- they are fiddling with what needs to be a clean approach to debt ceiling and making it more difficult for us to take an action that, though painful it might be, has to be taken -- extending the debt ceiling, getting on with the nation's business, and resolving some of these fundamental issues that are still at play. So they're going to have to do better.
Q Specific objections include what?
MR. MCCURRY: All of those that were outlined by the Secretary of the Treasury last night. We need to have a permanent increase. Failing a permanent increase, we need a temporary increase that can extend the period in which the Treasury can properly manage the fiscal affairs of the United States government. This measure doesn't do it. It actually -- in candor, the Secretary of the Treasury went to the members of Congress and spelled out in detail, here's how we would wrestle an approaching default by the United States government. He outlined those tools that are available to him. So the House committee turned right around and took away all those tools that are available to him, just making absolutely certain that sometime in the early part of December the United States government would default. It's just a dumb way to do business, and they need to get back to it and do it better.
Q Well, now, wait a minute. If he gives you the extension now, right -- if you get the extension from them, and he signs it, those tools are not required, are they?
MR. MCCURRY: They are not required in that interim period up until December 13th, but they would likely be required immediately thereupon.
Q So then you'd need another -- you need to do it finally -- you're going to need to do it finally anyway. So all this has to do with timetable, right?
MR. MCCURRY: This all has to do with the Congress recognizing that they've just got to get on with passing a clean debt ceiling extension and save the debate over the budget issues for some other vehicle. There's a debate on the budget that is spilling over to a necessary piece of business, which is extending the debt ceiling. And they've just got to divorce those two equations and do it quickly.
Q Can we take it then that this -- what you're saying here about the measure before the Ways and Means Committee is a veto threat?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary of the Treasury made it clear last night he would recommend, based on his expertise as the chief cash-flow officer of the U.S. federal government, that the President veto this bill. And the President is very inclined to accept that recommendation. We certainly hope the Congress will not go down that path, that they will produce for the President a clean extension of the debt ceiling.
Q There is not enough money in those maneuvers that the Secretary of the Treasury would have available to him to deal with a budget debt limit of $4.8 trillion. So, to follow up on Brit's question, there really isn't a practical effect to those restrictions the Republicans are putting on.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that is not the interpretation the Treasury Secretary. And you should inquire further there for any clarification.
Q But would you then not be vetoing something that would give you some breathing room, and the practical effect, which would be to have less breathing room?
MR. MCCURRY: It would -- given the unwillingness of the Congress to make any forward movement on the budget and to link these matters to the budget, we'd be right back in the same position with less ability to manage the crisis in December if this measure were to become law.
Q Why has the Treasury Secretary, Mike, apparently become such a lighting rod for some leaders on Capitol Hill? And why do you think they are sort of personalizing the debate about him?
MR. MCCURRY: You'd have to ask them. That goes to their motive, and I can't help you on that.
Q On the continuing resolution, which is also Monday -- am I to understand that all three of the current add-ons to that are separately veto bait, that is the ISTOOK language, the Medicare stuff, the --
MR. MCCURRY: ISTOOK, those deep cuts in Medicare in the third --
Q -- and the level of funding overall.
MR. MCCURRY: -- and 60-percent funding, all three of those are -- previously the President has indicated are unacceptable. They can't be in a continuing resolution that he would accept.
Q Do you have any indication that they're going to try to meet with Panetta today or try to raise this somehow with the White House more directly today?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not clear. We -- Mr. Panetta indicated to the Speaker and to the Senate Majority Leader that he hoped that before they locked into stone anything that would provoke this type of crisis that they touch base with the White House. And we'll have to see what happens.
Q When did he indicate that, on the plane back?
MR. MCCURRY: On the plane ride on the way back from Israel.
Q They are doing significant complaining that they tried to talk to Panetta and Rivlin about possible -- I mean, Panetta and Rubin, about possible ways out of this, and neither one would talk.
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard either the Speaker or the Majority Leader say those things. I've seen some staff members suggest that, and they ought to check with their bosses and see what the truth is.
Q Just to be clear, you're saying that all three of these add-ons to the CR are --
MR. MCCURRY: Previously -- they are in one shape or another trying to take what has to be an emergency extension of the federal budget through a continuing resolution and trying to load it up with all those things that are fundamentally important to this debate going on between the President and the Congress. There's no back-door way for them to write a budget that's unacceptable for the President. And they just need to recognize that, get on with giving us an extension of time so we can resolve the real issues, which are the budget issues at stake between the Congress and the President, and get on with business. Otherwise, we face default, shutdown of government, or some combination of both.
Q But remove any two of the three and whatever one is left is still enough to merit a veto?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, let's talk about a continuing resolution when the Republicans get it together and produce something that they're sending to the President. They're not even close to doing that themselves. There are strong disagreements, as you know, in the Republican Caucus, both in the Senate and the House. So let's see where they head with it, but we'll look at any continuing resolution they send -- the ones that have been under discussion, the types of riders that they want to attach to that or conditions they want to stipulate in the continuing are just not acceptable to the President. And the sooner that they get over any false optimism they have about trying to take that path the better off the country will be.
Q Is the OMB study on welfare going to be released this week?
MR. MCCURRY: It's nearing completion. Dr. Rivlin said that they've got a version of it that both the Chief of Staff wanted to look to, and then when it is in final form it will be presented or at least summarized for the President. And I expect that to happen very shortly.
Q Does it include, Mike, that HHS assessment that the Senate version of welfare reform would --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, HHS contributed to the final version that OMB will release, sure.
Q Does it include the same conclusions?
Q Well, does it draw the same conclusion that HHS did?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to give you the final results of the study now --
Q Are you going to put it out?
Q Senator Moynihan's office said he's being briefed on this tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m. Can we assume that you're going to do this tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's developed then since 7:30 a.m. this morning, and that would indicate that they -- Dr. Rivlin reported to the Chief of Staff today that they were anxious to try to complete this and get it to Senator Moynihan as quickly as possible. So I take that as a sign that they do feel they can have it complete by tomorrow.
Q What did the President tell David Rohde in a phone call this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: He had a short conversation with him just to say that we're glad that he has been released and that the United States and most people of the United States are very grateful for the courageous reporting he has brought to the subject of atrocities in Bosnia. And he thanked the President for all of the work the United States government did on his behalf to secure his release.
Q Just another question about Powell. Are you saying that there was no reaction on the part of White House staff or the President to Powell's decision today?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, there will be lots of twists and turns in the story of the 1996 campaign, and our job is to continue to do the work we do here on behalf of the President.
Q You're all just so busy you can't even think about that? Come on, Mike, this is the real world. I mean, there's got to have been some reaction by somebody.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I heard 100 different reactions, and they were 100 different opinions and none of them were authoritative.
Q If they were all so busy how did they have time to react -- how did 100 of them have time to react?
Q Were they positive?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to characterize those.
Q What is the position of the United States government on the deployment of U.S. troops as part of a NATO force in Bosnia and the continued presence of --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry -- say again.
Q What is the position of the U.S. government on the possible deployment of U.S. troops in Bosnia, part of a NATO force, and the continued involvement in the Bosnian Serb government of Radovan Karadic and Ratko Miladic?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the first question is one --
Q In other words, must they leave before U.S. troops are there?
MR. MCCURRY: The first question is one that I believe I've answered no less than a dozen times here, and you're well aware of it, that there will be no peace unless the United States is involved in the implementation force in Bosnia, and likewise, there will be no U.S. participation in the implementation force unless we successfully negotiate a peace agreement in Dayton. As to the second question, that had been addressed by the State Department and others, and as a practical matter, post-agreement, it's hard to see how indicted war criminals would be part of the command structure of the newly-constituted Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Q So, Christopher's statements to that effect are, in fact, policy, and reports that they aren't are wrong?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary is authoritative on most subjects, but on the other hand, there is a discussion underway now in Dayton in which --
Q On most subjects?
MR. MCCURRY: On most subjects -- on every subject he comments on. (Laughter.)
Q Could you repeat that, what you were saying?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q You didn't finish the sentence.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the problem here, just to be utterly candid, which is always a good thing to be, how you constitute the constitutional arrangements and how you incorporate whatever leadership is proposed by the Bosnian Serbs for their participation in the entity under discussion is, in fact, a central issue that the parties are wrestling with in Dayton; and consistent with our view that we now talk about what the parties themselves are addressing privately in Dayton -- that's the only reason why there is any discussion of this matter.
I've told you as a practical point what the view of the United States government is, and that's the one that the Secretary shared that's been confirmed by others who have discussed this point in the last couple of days.
Q Just to be clear, could the continued presence of Karadic and Miladic prevent U.S. troops from taking part in a peace agreement implementation force?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the condition upon which U.S. ground troops would participate in an implementation force are clear: an agreement between the parties that they are implementing in good faith.
Q Did the President talk to Holbrooke this morning, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: He did. He talked for 15 minutes to Assistant Secretary Holbrooke, both to get a briefing on the status of the discussions that occurred over the weekend so that he can share some of that information with members of Congress later this afternoon; also to press the Assistant Secretary to do everything he can to focus the parties on the need for an agreement now as quickly as possible.
Q When the President was informed that General Powell was not going to run, did he say, "oh, that's good, I'm relieved," or, "oh, that's too bad"?
Q Or eureka?
Q Or bring me more budget numbers? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Whatever reaction the President had was a private one.
Q Tonight's Bosnia discussion -- you're trying to indicate that it won't involve the budget at all?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't intend to get into that subject, and the members of Congress who are there are not likely to be the people who would most likely want to have a discussion directly with the President on the subject of the budget. But if someone raises that in the course in passing or something, he wouldn't be reluctant to talk about.
Q Is the President talking one-on-one with anyone in Congress today about this?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Gerry Adams and John Hume put out the declaration today that they would be willing to have an international panel to decide the decommissioning issue at the same time there would be a fixed date for all party talks. Do you see that as a positive development ahead of the President's trip?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't want to comment on the dialogue between the parties themselves, but in a rough sense, they were saying that the concept of a twin-track approach is something that would make sense and that they need to move forward along the lines that have been suggested, the twin-track approach, and that's, as you know, the view of our government as well.
Q George Mitchell would be prepared to play that role if everybody --
MR. MCCURRY: As we've always said, he would only play a role if he were invited to do so by the parties, and there's no indication that they're at the point of extending such an invitation.
Q If the Senate passes the abortion bill language, which is the same as the House, will the President veto it?
MR. MCCURRY: As our statement of administration policy made clear, we would, if it fails to protect the life and health of the mother consistent with Roe v. Wade.
Q Going back to Rohde, do we know when he's going to return to the United States and did the President invite him to the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to those questions.
MR. JOHNSON: At that time he hadn't made a determination. We believe he now has plans to return to the United States, but that didn't come up in the President's conversation.
MR. MCCURRY: At the time the President talked to him at 11:30 a.m. today, Mr. Rohde was just happy to be free, and had not finalized his plans. I believe he's staying at the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo* tonight and he will then make his onward travel plans known. But I believe he does intend to come here to the United States. I'm not aware that he has any plans to be here, but we'll keep you apprised if he does plan to be here.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:36 P.M. EST