THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:00 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. What do you want to know and when did you want to know it? Now, go.
Q Has the President's budget disappeared from the table?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President's budget will be on the table. They're having presentations on the new budget proposals that have emerged, specifically the coalition budget, the Daschle-Exon Senate Democratic budget, and a new proposal that I think is going to be unveiled, or maybe already has been, by Senators Chafee and Breaux.
Q So those three that you have in the sheet, plus the Republican budget and Clinton budget -- so you'll be working from five budgets, is that your understanding?
MR. MCCURRY: Those will all be on the table and be available to the negotiators during the discussions.
Q Yesterday you said that there was not going to be a negotiation until they put the government back to work. Today you're negotiating again. What's going on here?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President wants to get the government open and he wants to balance the budget. And we believe we can pursue both goals simultaneously.
Q So that won't just be a briefing tomorrow, that will be renewal of negotiations, is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the budget advisors are going to meet and discuss the issues that they've outlined. They're going to have staff reviewing some other issues where we believe the budget impact is less consequential and we need to try to narrow our differences. These are second-level issues that are still in contention. They'll move ahead, then make a presentation to the principals tomorrow morning.
Q I know, but, Mike, the question -- to follow up, it says they will meet at the White House in order to be briefed by the budget advisors on today's discussions. Does that constitute either de facto or otherwise a resumption of the high-level talks that were suspended yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think we can really say at this point. It will depend on what is developed out of these discussions today and what type of briefing they get tomorrow.
Q But the White House would be open to that if it would seem possible to do so?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, sure. If the President feels that they've defined some gaps that could be narrowed and there's a way to achieve the goal of a balanced budget, he would certainly want to do that.
Q What's the prospect of a CR?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we hope it will be vastly improved as a result of this work schedule and as a result of the work that's being done today.
Q Well, this is what the Republicans in the House asked for.
MR. MCCURRY: No, what the Republicans asked for in the House was that they insisted on the President presenting a seven-year balanced budget plan scored by the CBO. And you'll note that that's not part of this statement.
Q Mike, can you tell us something about how this all came together, who brought the governors in, and given your statements yesterday about you don't know who to talk to on the Republican House side, who did you talk to and who -- how did this breakdown of a plan come together?
MR. MCCURRY: We made the best assessment as we could as to competent authority in the House of Representatives and dealt accordingly. Mr. Panetta had a good breakfast this morning with Chairman Kasich and Chairman Domenici. They developed this proposal, as I told you, earlier today. The President signed off on it. I presume that the Republican leaders signed off on it as well. And this is how they're going to proceed today.
Q This piece of paper is basically an admission then that the government will not be up and working by Christmas, isn't it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's not.
Q Well, are you saying that the government -- that there is still a chance that the government can be back to work before Christmas?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes it's very important to reopen the government and return the services --
Q But there's no mention of it in here.
MR. MCCURRY: -- of the American -- of the government to the American people by Christmas.
Q We know he thinks it's important, but the question is, are you standing here telling us that there is a chance that the government can be open by Christmas?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, they can pass a CR and open the government.
Q But you don't have any mention of it in this paper.
Q But they said they won't do that.
Q You've totally backed off.
Q They said they won't pass a CR until there's a balanced budget --
MR. MCCURRY: We hope government can be open very quickly.
Q But it's not going to, is it?
Q Just two questions --
Q Why don't you say what the --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't rule out the possibility that they can see fit to restore the services of the American government to the American people and take federal workers and their families out of the crisis that they're in now prior to holidays.
Q But it's not on your agenda at all.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, these are budget discussions, Helen. It's very important. They're not -- our view --
Q But there's no mention --
Q Are you decoupling the issues?
MR. MCCURRY: Our view has been, the President has said all along that we should not be doing budget discussions within the crisis of a shutdown. And we hope that the Congress will move swiftly to end the shutdown --
Q Well, you hope, but what are you doing about it?
Q Yes, we don't see --
MR. MCCURRY: You can easily imagine that the White House continues to urge Congress in the strongest terms to end this shutdown and restore the government services to the American people.
Q Daschle said he would not hold discussions after tomorrow --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware of the Minority Leader --
Q Are you associating the White House with his statement?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware of the Minority Leader's statement, and I think he's saying some fairly obvious and practical things.
Q What was the statement?
Q Well, do you agree with it, or not --
Q What did he say?
Q -- that he would not negotiate after tomorrow if there's no CR?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll take it one day at a time. He said some things about tomorrow, and we'll take it one day at a time.
Q Mike, two questions. Just to clarify -- so this does not include any formal discussions of a CR, this agenda, even though you're still hopeful that something can be worked out? There's nothing in here that --
MR. MCCURRY: This is not the work plan they have designed for today, but I don't rule out the possibility that subject might come up.
Q And just to follow up, could you explain how the governors' group that had fallen apart before after they met with Clinton, how that got put back together?
MR. MCCURRY: That, I do not know. I don't believe that idea originated with the White House or with Mr. Panetta, but it did grow out of their conversation this morning. I'm not sure who put that together.
Q This is the same group that gave up?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure who put that together as a suggestion, but I think they thought it would be useful to have the views of this bipartisan group of governors, and they wanted to get it --
Q It's not bipartisan, is it?
MR. MCCURRY: You can see from the list.
Q Who thought it would be useful? Mike, who thought it would be useful?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Panetta, Mr. Kasich and Mr. Domenici.
Q You don't know who they called or --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know how -- I've asked and no one on our side knew. It was not apparently advanced by Mr. Panetta, but it was easily embraced by Mr. Panetta.
Q Mike, this 4:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. budget advisors receive recommendations meeting -- where will that take place?
Q Dayton? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I believe they will remain in S-207 up in the Capitol for that session. That's my understanding.
Q So all of these sessions basically --
Q Did the White House arrange to have all of these meetings that go far into the night happen on the Hill?
MR. MCCURRY: We will be happy to accommodate the desires of those of you who would like early lids here at the White House, although I have asked Mr. Panetta to try to be available to White House reporters and not deal exclusively with congressional reporters, protecting the interests of --
Q What time will Mr. Panetta be available?
MR. MCCURRY: We can make him available -- we'll make him available.
Q Between 4:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m., right?
Q Mikey --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, Brit, how are you?
Q I'm well. If the President were king --
MR. MCCURRY: That's a majestic thought.
Q -- under last month's CR law, he would be required -- if he were going to write the budget and could write it however he wanted, he would still be required to make it seven years CBO, which means he'd have to change the last thing he wrote. In light of the fact that he'd have to end up there anyway, why not come forward now, do that and take this weapon out of the hands of the Republicans on the Hill that they've been beating him with?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's satisfied that a very good work plan is designed here which can address fundamental budget issues that will achieve the goal of a balanced budget in seven years as estimated by the Congressional Budget Office.
Q Wouldn't it make it harder for them not to pass the continuing resolution if the President had come to the table with the very thing they've been demanding he arrive with? I mean, there have been some lulu plans offered in their eyes that they are now saying they will negotiate.
MR. MCCURRY: Brit, negotiations are negotiations, and I don't think you necessarily open them with your last bid.
Q Can we see Panetta today?
Q Are these, indeed, negotiations? Are they actually trying to settle some issues, or are they just trying to prepare some groundwork, get some information together for the principals tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you can tell from the schedule they've outlined here that staff is going to deal with a variety of issues, just an example -- veterans' retirement benefits, spectrum auction assets, sales, those types of issues, and see if they can narrow some of the differences on those.
I think it is safe to say, based on the President's discussions with the Speaker, Majority Leader, Mr. Panetta's discussions with his counterparts, and staff-level discussions, what they're trying to do now is find the range that exists in the respective sides in some elements of what would have to be in a final budget agreement, and then figure out if there are ways of narrowing that range or how you can compromise the differences that exist between the proposals.
We now have what is sometimes defined by the people who are working in this process as the box in which all of the different proposals lay, and how is that defined, and they want to keep the discussions within the confines of that box. That's the concept that grew out of the President's discussion with the Speaker and the Majority Leader the other evening. And I'm sure it will prove useful to the budget advisors as they work through these issues. Now, what they're going to do, clearly, is present the best analysis of where the differences are how they might be bridged to the principals when they meet tomorrow morning. And we'll have to see where we go from there. There's no guarantee of where we'll go.
Q -- some further elaboration on a few more of those issues? You ticked off a couple. Can you --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are some banking issues, some transportation issues. If you go through, probably the best thing to look at is that chart that the Republicans conveniently made available the other night that lists some of our issues, but there are others that are out there, too. Those who have been following the budget in great detail will know where some of those differences are that have shaped up in earlier budget discussions.
Q Mike, what, if anything, has changed since the President yesterday made the tail wagging the dog comment? Is the tail still wagging the dog when it comes to Mr. Gingrich and the Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't know. We don't know. It's just one reason why --
Q Well, you knew yesterday.
MR. MCCURRY: -- one reason why the President thought it advisable not to proceed in this fashion today to let the budget advisors do some work, and then he can get together again with the Speaker and the Majority Leader tomorrow and see where we are.
Q Well, then, to follow up, then what gives you any reason for any hope at all that a CR can be passed?
MR. MCCURRY: Because -- that's not the question I had. I didn't say I was either optimistic or pessimistic. Someone said it's not possible to do it before Christmas, and I said that's not necessarily true, that's all.
Q But we don't see anything, any movement there --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, good, then if it happens you'll be surprised.
Q No, no, that's not the way to deal the government workers.
MR. MCCURRY: We want to get it done. Look, there's no question that this President has been adamant in insisting that we open the government and restore the services of the federal government to the American people. He's made that clear. He has stressed that repeatedly in his meetings with the Republican leadership. And he thinks it's appalling that they are using -- attempting to use this shutdown as a lever in budget discussions that ought to be separate from the question of funding the legitimate services of the federal government.
Q If that's not on the table, what is he doing besides complaining about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's working on it. He's working with the Congress, having his budget negotiators raise these points, and we're doing what we can to achieve passage of a continuing resolution. And I was asked about Senator Daschle's comments earlier, so you know that there's work going on on that front.
Q If these discussions don't bear fruit and the impasse continues, is there anyone at the White House examining whether there's any grounds for the President to declare a sort of national emergency and just order all these workers back to work?
MR. MCCURRY: There is every single day an effort by the Office of Management and Budget, directed by John Koskinen, to evaluate the impact of this shutdown on the American people. And in cases where we see that there is an emerging threat to life or property as a result of the shutdown, we'll be in a position to call people back. We have the legal authority to do that, but we have to do that on a legal basis.
On a national security argument, I think that -- because national security is specifically excepted from the statute, most of the personnel that are necessary to protect the nation's strategic security interests are already on the job and required to be on the job.
Q Yes, but there's an economic impact as this continues of workers not receiving paychecks and that sort of thing. I mean, and there's never been a shutdown that's gone on beyond six days. I'm just wondering at what point -- is there an examination at what point you begin to cross the line where --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. As I say, examined day by day are the impacts this will have on the American people, not only economic impacts but the impacts on life, health and property. And we can respond and are authorized by statute to respond, and will respond.
Q Can you characterize this work schedule in any possible way as indicating that there is renewed hope now or optimism, pessimism that this is going to lead to something? Or is this just procedural developments?
MR. MCCURRY: This is a development related to process that now involves some substantive discussions of budget. And whether or not it will lead us closer to a goal the President is urgent to achieve remains oblique.
Q The fact that the governors --
MR. MCCURRY: That's not right. Let's try that again. I can do better than that.
Q Opaque. Try opaque; it fits perfectly.
MR. MCCURRY: Opaque. The answer is, we don't know, Wolf. (Laughter.) It's either going to -- it's hard to know what's going to work. The important thing is the President is determined to try to keep some process together that keeps us focused on these budget issues so we can achieve a balanced budget plan. Whether or not this will do it, whether or not they can sufficiently close any differences that exist in the positions we just don't know.
Q But you must be encouraged that a bipartisan group of governors has now been brought into this process.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know whether that's cause for encouragement or discouragement, or anything but just additional enlightenment.
Q Mike, yesterday the President said that he was not going to give in by demands from, as he characterized them, an extremist group of Republicans that there must be a balanced budget to their liking before the government was put back to work. Yet, it looks like that's exactly what's going to happen. So if that happens are you going to say, oh, well, we didn't give in to them, it just happened to be a little coincidence?
MR. MCCURRY: The clairvoyant Rita Braver has now divined the future.
Q I mean, what are we seeing here?
Q It's all process.
MR. MCCURRY: Can you and I get together so we can do some work on what the stock market is going to do later today?
Q What are we seeing here?
MR. MCCURRY: What we're saying here I think is pretty clear. You see this piece of paper, did you read it?
Q We see the President saying, I'm going to play by the very rules that --
MR. MCCURRY: Did you need to read this again?
Q -- we're seeing the President saying, I'm going to play by the very rules that I --
MR. MCCURRY: This doesn't say this.
Q -- blasted yesterday, but I'm just not going to admit it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President said yesterday that they would not be able to use the threat of a shutdown or the continuation of a government shutdown to force him to accept the unacceptable. There's nothing about this piece of paper that changes any in that.
Q Oh, so they'll force him to accept the acceptable?
MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't accepted anything by doing that. Remember --
Q Yes, he has. He started to negotiate on the balanced budget, and he has forgotten the CR.
MR. MCCURRY: That is not accurate. We hope the reason why that is not accurate will be abundantly clear shortly.
Q Well, the practical matter --
MR. MCCURRY: Now, on top of that -- (laughter) --
Q Okay. That's the question.
MR. MCCURRY: -- on top of that, let's remember what the number one demand -- what is the number one demand of those who were raising the issue of the CR yesterday? They were insisting on the President putting on the table a seven-year balanced budget plan scored by the CBO. That's not on the table and won't be on the table. What will be on the table is the President's --
Q Not necessarily on the table, just that one get passed that --
MR. MCCURRY: No, they were insisting that the President present that plan, and the plan that will be on the table is the plan that you're familiar with and the one the President has already presented.
Q Wouldn't the practical --
Q Mike, as a practical matter, doesn't the President really have to go ahead and try to have these talks in order to get the government open? Because he certainly doesn't see any sign of disunity among the House Republicans. They seem pretty firm on this, and as a practical matter, he really has to go forward and try to talk this through, doesn't he?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's a reasonable assessment. On the other hand, we hear privately increasingly from more common sense members of the Republican majority on the House side some concern about the direction of their leadership.
Q Mike, today there was yet another compromise plan put on the table; this time it's a bipartisan group. Now you're got two.
MR. MCCURRY: You mean Breaux-Chafee?
Q Yes. So now you've got two. Could you react to what's in their plan? And where the President might fall when the time comes for him to have a seven-year -
MR. MCCURRY: I don't really need to, because I think the Vice President did that quite effectively the other night when he described the process. We are aware that these plans were in development. He came before you the other night and said we were trying to design a process that would allow these new proposals to stimulate the discussions that are occurring and that will ultimately resolve these differences, we hope.
Now, this is all -- they are all very useful concepts in the coalition budget, in Senator Daschle's budget advanced by Senate Democrats, certainly Senator Breaux-Senator Chafee's budget. They are all grappling with the same agenda of issues that will have to be resolved in order for their to be an agreement. So putting forward these ideas stimulating the discussion is a very encouraging and positive thing in the White House view, without necessarily endorsing any of these particular points of view. And as to the last part of your question, Mara, of course, I'm not going to announce what we'd settle for right here.
Q What time is the meeting tomorrow morning -- the Gingrich --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe they finalized that, but if everything proceeds according to this schedule and they move ahead with this meeting, I expect it to be in the 9:00-ish range, but that hasn't been formally set.
Q Does the President, just parenthetically, have anything else on his schedule tomorrow? I mean, is he available all day if these things should go on?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe he has a session scheduled with General Shalikashvili, Secretary Perry and other members of the Joint Chiefs over at the Pentagon in the Tank tomorrow, because he wants to get a full briefing on the status of the international force deployment in Bosnia. And in the afternoon, he will do his annual reading of the Christmas Story for the children who will be visiting the White House.
Q What time is the Pentagon meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: The Pentagon is at around 11:00 a.m. -- it's late morning tomorrow. Other than that, he would be available.
Q Could you just talk about his plans to go to Bosnia in January?
MR. MCCURRY: He has no plans to go to Bosnia in January. He has, as I reported to you in the past, a very strong desire to go see our troops, see how they're doing, express solidarity with them. But he would only do so with the recommendation of senior U.S. military commanders that a visit like that would be advisable, especially from a logistical point of view.
He doesn't want to do anything that will interfere with the work that the international force is doing. And they're going to be very heavily occupied between and January, mid-January, just getting the deployment in place. And then, of course, they would be at a very critical period as they go one month, 30 days from this date of the signing in Paris, as they accomplish the separation forces. That is very important work and central to the success of the Dayton Peace Accord. So the President would like to make sure we don't do anything that complicates the work that our forces are going to do, at the same time, wanting very much to be there and to express solidarity with our troops that hopefully will be involved in a very successful mission.
Q Does that apply to Dole as well?
Q -- he wants all dignitaries to hold off -- Dole, the President, et cetera -- until January. Is it the President's intention to go as soon as it is safe and appropriate for him to go?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will go when senior military advisers recommend it's the right thing to do, subject to what the schedule is. He would like to go, but we can't guarantee that that trip will occur, because he's got other things that happen on his schedule.
Q Regarding Bosnia, in the Times interview today, the President assures the people of Southern California more B-2s will be built. Does that change from -- does that represent any kind of change from what you had hoped to reprogram some of that money for Bosnia, but had you always intended to protect all the B-2s --
MR. MCCURRY: No, there are additional B-2s called for. The question was how many. And the President has indicated very strong concern about the number that have commissioned in the Defense Authorization Act by the Republican Congress. But the fact there would be additional B-2s on line, I don't think has been in question.
Q No, but, I mean, are you going to try to use some of that B-2 money, because he objected it as part of your reprogramming for Bosnia?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so. I believe that the agreement that existed at the time the defense appropriations bill was negotiated and signed is that that money would be reprogrammed out of O & M accounts so that it would be available for funding. I don't think there was any question that that would come out of that specific allocation. Or, did they talk about reprogramming some procurement money?
MR. JOHNSON: They talked about reprogramming generally, but not specifically.
MR. MCCURRY: They talked about general reprogramming into O & M accounts, but I don't believe they ever specified that they would necessarily come out of B-2 acquisition as opposed to other procurement programs.
Q But you don't have any plans to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, no.
Q Mike, did the President, in agreeing to this schedule, talk to either Democratic or Republican leaders on the Hill today?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. He has had some conversations with members of the Senate, but that's been in connection with the securities litigation issue. He was briefed on Mr. Panetta's discussions by Mr. Panetta shortly after Leon's return this morning, and he concurred that this schedule made sense and the process that they've outlined here makes sense.
Q This schedule represents what Panetta presented to the President and was worked out with Kasich and Domenici today?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q Just to clarify something, as the discussions proceed, you're going to have four plans on the table: the coalition, the Exon plan, the Chafee-Breaux plan and the Republican plan that all scored --
MR. MCCURRY: And the President's plan.
Q Let me finish -- that are all scored according to CBO numbers and are all apples-to-apples plans.
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President's plan has been scored by the CBO.
Q Well, yes, but not --
Q It doesn't reach zero --
MR. MCCURRY: That is in dispute. The White House disputes whether or not that budget is in balance, as you know --
Q By CBO. It doesn't dispute that it's not in balance by CBO, does it?
Q But the other plans all achieve zero according to the criteria that Republicans have set down, and they all have a wide range from one end of no tax cuts to $245 billion in tax cuts. So isn't the practical effect that as the discussions go on that the President's plan kind of fades into the background of the negotiating off of these other plans that are all apples-to-apples plans?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it depends on how effective negotiators representing the White House are and how effective the President is in his discussions with his counterparts. That's why we'll determine what's in the final agreement.
Q Mike, to follow up on that, does the President remain committed to a seven-year balanced budget scored by CBO, or does he not?
MR. MCCURRY: He does, and he said so yesterday.
Q Well, then why won't he offer one?
MR. MCCURRY: We're in the middle of a negotiation, and the important thing is agreeing to a seven-year balanced budget plan that, as estimated by the CBO, reaches zero. The issue is not how do you get there, the issue is --
Q Of course it is. That is exactly the issue.
MR. MCCURRY: That's the point of the negotiation is how you get there.
Q Just to follow up, why do you come out here and coyly at the beginning of the press conference point out that that's no longer on paper? You're suggesting that the old agreement is supplanted by a new, broader agreement for more freer discussions.
MR. MCCURRY: No, no. I said that -- you missed the point I made. Up until now, the Republicans had insisted that as a condition for negotiation, the President offer such a plan. And as I just made obvious, that plan has not been offered, the President's plan as offered is the one that will be on the table.
Q Mike, the governors are meeting on the issue of Medicaid. If they come back and say, look, we've talked about it, we've really thought about it and we can now agree that Medicaid does not have to be an entitlement anymore, will the President go along with that?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q On the securities litigation, can you tell me who the President called, and does he expect to sustain a veto?
MR. MCCURRY: He called members of the Senate that he thought would be interested in hearing his views on the legislation and how it might be repaired. I decline to be more specific on that.
Q Any developments on resolving the Whitewater document dispute?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been some good discussions that I believe -- we covered those in Mr. Fabiani's statement. We hope -- the President, as you know, is, as he would say, dying to give up those notes. And he just wishes they would take yes as the answer.
Q Have you put it out here?
Q What is the White House reaction to being lumped in with the Nixon Watergate White House --
MR. MCCURRY: It's -- our assessment is that's a -- it's the views of those who have a rather less than sophisticated view of history.
Q Mike, there's some gray areas, obviously, involved, but is there not some concern here that the White House lawyers on the government payroll were used to deal with business that was not government business, but was Clinton's personal business, and that part of the material in question here was material that they handled and he's now claiming privilege that in effect would annex them as his personal lawyers?
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's not -- that's not the issue, because if you look at the brief submitted to the committee, you can see the exact explanation of why they got in the position where they had the President's official attorneys and his private attorneys in the room together. It was exactly the concern that official attorneys could not be representing him in his private capacity. But up until the time when the President retained a private attorney, of course, the government attorneys had to handle questions related to Whitewater, as they have testified. So it was passing that --
Q Why is it ever necessary for government lawyers to do personal business for the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because when these matters first came -- I mean, look I can't do any better than they did in the brief, and I would prefer that you go back and look at the explanation of exactly that point in the brief that we filed.
Q No, I think question really is whether the President is saying -- what the President is saying here is that he's asserting a lawyer-client privilege, when in effect what it is he's asserting executive privilege because these are not his personal lawyers, but they're his advisers.
MR. MCCURRY: That's an incorrect reading of the very meticulously argued brief that's available here at the press office.
Q But, Mike, I think -- if I could follow up on that -- I think the question extends beyond that November 5th meeting, because it's quite evident that Vince Foster, for example, was doing quite a bit of private work for the Clintons.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar enough with that to answer that question.
Q Has the President been briefed on the American Airlines crash --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q -- in Colombia? And what, if anything, can you tell us about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't provide anything further than I did earlier -- that he's just been advised of the status of the U.S. personnel that are participating in the investigation of the crash. He's been advised of the steps that American Airlines and other private entities are taking to notify victims and make that information public, and see what other information that we can develop during the course of the day. He's been briefed on the conversations the NSC and the State Department have now had with Embassy Bogota.
Q Were there any threats in advance of this crash that the President was told about?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to go back and review with the FAA whether they received any threats they regarded as being credible.
Q Mike, just back to the budget real briefly. You said earlier in the briefing that you still believe that it is possible for a CR to be passed and the government would open by Christmas.
MR. MCCURRY: Congress is still in session. They're meeting, they could vote.
Q How would you assess the likelihood of that?
MR. MCCURRY: We hope as these proceedings develop today, the likelihood will increase.
Q But at the moment, how much likelihood is there?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to assess it one or the other right now. We hope that as these discussions continue, the likelihood will increase the Congress will want to restore the services of the American government to the American people prior to Christmas.
Q Mike, when you consider this whole mix on this schedule here, what do you envision will be on the table when the President sits down with these guys tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that depends entirely on the discussions -- we just went through a fairly lengthy discussion of what's going to be before these budget advisors as they deliberate today and we've gone through what the parameters are. There may be exactly the same range of options, there may be a range of options defined by the scope of these proposals as they're evaluated by the advisors. There may, in fact, be some narrowing of the differences between some of these proposals as a result of the work they to today. Any of those outcomes would represent some progress and would be welcome by the White House, but we can't predict as we -- now -- what's going on in a meeting that Mr. Panetta commenced just 25 minutes ago.
Q I just want to clarify, Mike -- based on what happened yesterday, whose idea was it to bring Armey to the table tomorrow morning? And does he represent a faction that Gingrich --
MR. MCCURRY: It surely was not ours. (Laughter.)
Q Did Gingrich want Armey there?
MR. MCCURRY: That is internal politics within the House Republican Caucus, and I advise you to check with whoever you consider competent authority.
Q What about Zach Womp, is he going to be there?
MR. MCCURRY: Zach's not on the list. But who knows, he may be sooner or later.
Q They have a news conference with their families at 4:30 p.m. near the Christmas tree to claim victory.
MR. MCCURRY: I hope they will just be gathering to wish the President a Merry Christmas.
Q Looking ahead to the weekend, do you expect that there will be heavy-duty meetings going on Saturday and possibly Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't -- for obvious reasons, we are not predicting beyond what we've got contained in this statement. We have know way of knowing, to be truthful about it.
Q Has the President decided whether to keep his pay during the shutdown? What's the status of that?
MR. MCCURRY: They've looked at that, and I - he just feels uncomfortable being in any better position than a federal employee who has been furloughed. So they have looked at how he might just ask that his paycheck be withheld until such time as the continuing resolution --
Q How long does that take? I mean, this thing has been going on for six days. It will be over by the time he figures out how to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there hasn't -- the issue has not arose because there has not been a pay day scheduled in that period of time.
Q He has asked that his pay be held until they get theirs?
Q How often does he get paid?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is he will, but let me confirm that, and I'll try to get the answer.
Q Does he get paid weekly? Or biweekly?
Q When is the next pay day?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it's next week, but I don't know for certain. I'd have to go check. I'm not -- my problem is I don't know -- I don't know if the big guy gets paid the same way we do. That's the problem.
Q Some members are saying that their going to forfeit their salaries anyway. That's not an option for him? He's not considering that?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't believe he can legally do that. He cannot lower his own salary. That is a statutory requirement. The President has given away -- he has most recently given away some money to keep the Christmas tree lit.
Q Did he really do that, because last time you talked about it --
MR. MCCURRY: He wrote a check.
Q He wrote a check?
MR. MCCURRY: He wrote a check to the Park Service for $200 on the account that he maintains with his bride.
Q Can private citizens do that, too?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe they can. In fact --
Q Like if we wanted to volunteer for a night we could each take a night?
MR. MCCURRY: If you and your husband wish to, yes, you may.
Q All right, I think we're on.
MR. MCCURRY: And you can pick a night, and you can contact the National Park Service. And in fact, because this issue arose publicly, they have had a number of private citizens and members of Congress and others approaching them to ask.
Q Can we light up other things, too, if we want?
MR. MCCURRY: My goal would be that you send money to turn off these lights right now.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:30 P.M. EST