THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:22 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. I sort of feel like the father of a bride feels at the wedding -- you know, I lost a Deputy but I gained a boss.
We will be bringing over to the West Wing Press Office, I'm delighted also to announce Lorrie McHugh, who's been Director of the Office of Media Affairs. And she'll be making the transition over to the West Wing Press Office as Deputy Press Secretary for Media Affairs and Operations. She will take her current assignments directing the Office of Media Affairs, which is really, for all practical purposes, for those of you -- for members of the press that are not in this room, that is the Office of the Press Secretary for so many regional and local news organizations around the country. She's done a superb job there.
She'll be coming over because, among other things, we'd like to, for members of the press outside Washington, to know that we want to increase our service to them as well. She's done a good job in that capacity. And she'll be taking on some of the administrative duties. She'll also, I think, continue to do something that Evelyn was so effective at. Evelyn was an advocate for all of you. Within the White House, she was at times patient, at times a bull dog, dealing with the White House staff when it came to the needs of the working press here.
And one thing I am delighted about is that we will now have a friend in much higher places who can continue to work to make sure that this adversarial relationship is an amicable relationship. And she -- Evelyn put a lot of time into that, and I expect that Lorrie, in her new capacity, will continue to work with the White House Correspondents Association and continue to do those things that makes life easier for everyone on our side and your side.
Q -- media job?
MR. MCCURRY: Lorrie? She's had some experience, but she most recently --
Q Does she keep the --
MR. MCCURRY: She keeps the Media Affairs. She will continue to direct the Media Affairs staff, although they are becoming largely self-sufficient over in the Old EOB. But I want to make clear that that operation and what they do in the Old Executive Office Building is an integral part of our whole press operation here at the White House. I think this is a good way to symbolize that.
Q Mike, yesterday Armey and the Speaker made it pretty clear they're going to try to recruit blue dog Democrats to come up with a veto-proof majority on a couple of the issues. How do you perceive holding the blue dogs to the President's priorities in the upcoming week of negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they can speak for themselves. They have been very determined, and I think very creative, in putting forward ideas that have tried to break some of the impasse that has existed at times in this debate. But first and foremost, their concern is about balancing the budget. And they are very concerned about tax cuts that are too large.
I think they appreciate the work the President has done to try to target tax relief on those who need it most. Many of them are concerned that the current budget situation can't allow for any tax increase, and I think they are going to have a lot of trouble with the insistence of the Republican majority on a large, unnecessarily large, tax cut.
Q Can you expand on what Leon said about meetings being scheduled? Do you know when and at what level?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the instructions from the principals -- that is, the President, the Vice President, the Speaker, the Majority Leader, the two Minority Leaders, Mr. Armey and Mr. Panetta -- the instruction they gave to staff was that they continue to work through the issues that arose during their 50 hours or so of negotiations, try to codify as many of those as they can in legislative specifics so that if we're able to achieve the historic savings that have already in a sense been agreed to.
I mean, let's not forget, they've got almost $600 billion worth of deficit reduction in which there is some agreement and some approach in common. The dispute now is over the size of a tax cut. And I think that the President certainly hopes that continued work by the staff can build on that and, in a sense, try to lock in some of that very important work that's been done to date. But we'll have to see how those discussions go and then see where the principals are when they resume.
Q Are we talking about analyst level or are we talking about Leon meeting with the budget chairmen like what's going on in between the principals meetings?
MR. MCCURRY: It wasn't entirely clear as they recessed the talks yesterday how they would do that follow-up work. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some follow-up contacts at Mr. Panetta's level, but I believe the bulk of the work initially will be done by -- staff level.
Q Have any meetings been set up for that?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of. I'll check.
Q What is the latest presidential proposal as far as tax cuts? We know Saturday night it was $87 billion over seven years. Has it gone up significantly since then?
MR. MCCURRY: They've discussed all the elements that are in those critical areas necessary to reach an agreement. There have been different ideas advanced, but the one that -- most recent idea is the one that the President publicly discussed and laid out on Saturday night.
Q So he hasn't -- in the proposal that he left on the table at the end of the meeting last night --
MR. MCCURRY: The President left -- as the President indicated to you yesterday here, he left several ideas, several proposals on the table as the talks recessed.
Q Including a higher tax cut number?
MR. MCCURRY: Including adjusting the way you could accomplish a tax cut.
Q It's hard to tell whether this is just -- the suspension, or the recess, is just papering over a true breakdown. Can you tell us if the President has actually invited these guys up next Wednesday, made a formal invitation to get these talks started again, and that they responded? Because they've been saying they don't want to come until --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't say it any more clearly than they said it yesterday. They agreed they would reconvene on Wednesday.
Q Well, that's not what the Republicans are --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's --
Q I'm just wondering, has he actually invited them up here?
MR. MCCURRY: Which Republicans? I mean --
Q Well, they said they didn't want to come up until he put something -- came their way --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I believe it's clear that there are ideas that are available for the budget principals to discuss. And we look forward to a resumption of the discussions Wednesday.
Q So you're saying they are actually resuming next Wednesday?
MR. MCCURRY: That was their intent as they left here yesterday. And I'm not aware of anything that they've said that changes that.
Q Mike, what reason would there be to believe that the ideological differences that separate the two sides and led to the breakdown of talks yesterday might be bridged just, you know, by virtue of waiting seven days?
MR. MCCURRY: Because I believe both sides share a fundamental commitment to balancing the budget in the seven years according to the analysis by the Congressional Budget Office. I think that's a fundamental commitment they have -- that fundamental commitment to balancing the budget. The President shares that. So do the Republican leaders. That at least holds open the possibility they can bridge the philosophical differences that do exist in their position.
Q And the White House position is that you haven't taken it as far as it can go, given those ideological differences, you know, with the coming closer on some of the numbers, but at this point there's just no more give unless one side or the other is willing to abandon their strongly held philosophical point of view?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that Mr. Panetta just stated pretty clearly what the issue is. The issue is if you're going to protect the fundamental assistance that we provide to the elderly; to protect those priorities the President often talks about related to Medicare and Medicaid; to making sure we've got a clean environment; making sure we have a strong educational system; we've got investments for the future and the American people; if you protect those priorities, you can't have as large a tax cut as the Republican majority is currently insisting upon.
Now, I've heard in the last two weeks many House Republican freshmen suggest that it is more important to them to balance the budget than to provide a very large tax cut to the American people -- disproportionately to the wealthiest American families. Now, if that continues to be their position, if support for that position grows within the House Republican Caucus, the goal of balancing the budget may become more important than the goal providing a large tax cut. And if that happens, it's possible to achieve the balanced budget consistent with CBO scoring, because the CBO has certified that you can do it the way the President has suggested, and we can get on with an agreement.
Q Mike, meantime, what is the White House actively doing to keep conservative Democrats from being wooed over by Republicans?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, making sure that they understand exactly what the President has attempted to advance in these negotiations, to let them know that their ideas played a very large part of the discussion from the President's point of view; and that the President continues to believe that we can meet the goals that he's talked about very often; continue to provide a modest sized tax cut within the parameters of a balanced budget. And we will do everything we can to maintain close contact with them.
At the same time, I would think on the Republican side, the Republican side might be worried about defections from their ranks. And for those who see that the President has in good faith attempted to put forward a balanced budget, according to the terms that have been important to the Republican majority -- that is, a seven year time track and scoring using the Congressional Budget Office estimates.
Q Has the President talked to blue dog Democrats himself by phone?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't say for certain that he has. I'll double-check that.
Q Why does Mr. Panetta think that a certain segment on both sides want the talks to collapse?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we've seen comments -- I think I would point to remarks that Mr. DeLay, in particular, made yesterday that very clearly indicate a hostile attitude towards these discussions. So there --
Q You mean they want no budget at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Apparently. Apparently there are those who suggest that they just don't want to offer any more in the spirit of give and take that has existed in these discussions. Mr. DeLay said that. I would even suggest that some of Mr. Armey's remarks bordered on that as well. But they -- in any event, you can point towards comments that have been made that say, look, we don't think that there's any more give that we can give.
Q Well, what do they think will happen, then?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't speak for them. I mean, presumably another government shutdown that costs the American people over a billion dollars because they apparently want to head in that direction.
Q Can you tell us where -- Leon said he didn't know --- where Domenici might be getting his information? He was here yesterday, but it's our understanding he was not part of the talks at all. Was he ever in the Oval Office or did he speak to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: He was not in the Oval Office, that I'm aware of, at any point yesterday with the -- let's see, there was one point during the discussions where Majority Leader Dole asked if Senator Domenici might step in for him briefly while Senator Dole went to the Hill. And I don't -- did that happen yesterday or the day before yesterday? My days got jumbled up a little bit. But not yesterday, to my knowledge.
Q Mike, do you plan a Clinton news conference tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know -- would you all like one?
MR. MCCURRY: A press conference?
Q Nothing else to do.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: What time -- what's a good time -- 4:00 p.m.?
Q Three o'clock?
MR. MCCURRY: How about 4:00 p.m.?
Q No, no -- two, two, two.
Q Two o'clock.
MR. MCCURRY: Let's shoot for around 4:00 p.m. If we do that then we don't -- I want to protect if there's any network that's interested in carrying it, if it doesn't screw up any of their West Coast news hour affiliate time.
Q That's why earlier is better.
Q -- earlier would be a lot better.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll do it at 4:00 p.m. tomorrow.
Q East Room?
MR. MCCURRY: If the East Room is available, and my understand is it might be.
Q Mike, does the President to renominate Alan Greenspan as Fed Chairman when his time expires --
MR. MCCURRY: He has not made a decision on that. And I would take some pains to point out that rumors to the contrary are not correct. People shouldn't act on rumors; they ought to act on fact. And the fact is that the President has made no decision on that now.
Q Are there any other candidates being considered at this point?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of, but I don't believe that the President's thinking has advanced that far on this subject. He indicated that publicly just a short while ago, as you know.
Q Mike, what is the status of any disaster declarations for states hit by this snow?
MR. MCCURRY: We are currently working with states. The Federal Emergency Management Administration is in very close contact with affected states and governors. As you know, the requests for assistance generate from governors. I don't think we've had anything that has come through for a declaration yet, but we work to assess the damage, working with state emergency preparedness officials. FEMA is doing a good job right now of working with affected mayors and also with affected governors, and they will continue to do that work. We'll keep you alerted if there's any disaster declaration.
Q -- no formal request --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any formal disaster requests that have been forwarded. I understand just from hearing Governor Glendening talk myself and on the news media this morning that they are working up a request. We'll act on those promptly, and when we get that -- in fact, we're doing a lot of the initial assessment work already, in anticipation of such requests.
Q Mike, is the President going to announce his candidacy before the Iowa Caucuses?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think so. I think he's got other things he's working on; it's going to be hard to do that.
Q Mike, what about the trip to Nashville and everything? Can you just sort of outline how that's all going to happen for us? I'm not asking for any top secret information, just for planning purposes.
MR. MCCURRY: For planning purposes, I need to alert anyone who is planning to go to Nashville with the President, we might have to change our departure time depending on what the weather is. We're anticipating another snowstorm coming up through the Mid-Atlantic and that might necessitate an earlier departure; perhaps even as early as tomorrow evening.
Q From where?
MR. MCCURRY: from Washington, D.C., to Nashville. Just to put people on notice, we'll let you know as we can let you know.
Now, the events themselves are all pretty well-known. He's got a morning event at the Peterbilt Truck Factory and then he has a luncheon -- a Clinton-Gore campaign luncheon, and then he's expected to depart for Europe after that.
Q But what's the deal, what's the set-up on who is going and who is not?
MR. MCCURRY: You need to work with staff here, and they'll let you know.
Q We've heard that some reporters will be on the plane and others won't.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have an expanded pool. We've expanded the White House travel pool, so the full travel pool will be on Air Force One and then we're accommodating additional press traveling to Europe.
Now, as to the Nashville leg, other people are working on that.
Q On Air Force, the main --
MR. MCCURRY: I think we're able to supplement somewhat the travel pool on Air Force One, and we'll also have some press traveling in the second plane. This is largely -- it affects the travel onward to Europe. I'm not aware of whether that affects any plans for Nashville tomorrow.
Q What about the congressional delegation? Do you have any more on that?
MR. MCCURRY: They've got apparently about eight to 10 members who are confirmed. We expect to put out a list shortly. It is bipartisan and it is people who maintain a very strong interest in U.S. policy in the Balkans and very strong support for U.S. troops who are currently undertaking their mission there.
Q -- aboard Air Force --
MR. MCCURRY: Not the Republican leadership. They were invited, but --
Q They were invited?
Q -- were invited?
MR. MCCURRY: Some will be, yes.
Q Mike, you were saying -- wait, you just said Dole and Gingrich were invited and refused? Is that what --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think they refused. I think we made the invitation available to them, and they've got other plans or were satisfied that a strong bipartisan delegation would go.
Q Mike, would you go over the reasons why Clinton is going to Bosnia and what, diplomatically, he hopes to achieve?
MR. MCCURRY: He's going principally, first and foremost, to express support for U.S. troops participating in the international force now helping the parties implement their peace agreement. Diplomatically, the most important objective for the President is to stress support for the Dayton-Paris Accords, to show that we remain committed to our role that we're playing within NATO to help those parties implement the peace, but also simultaneously to encourage the parties to continue their compliance. The level of compliance with the Dayton-Paris Accord so far has been satisfactory, and we want that progress to continue.
Obviously, the level of violence has considerably subsided in Bosnia, but there remain isolated incidents that are some source of concern. And we want to encourage the leaders and encourage the parties themselves to fully comply with all aspects of the peace accord. They have very meticulously drawn up schedules for separation, for enforcement of the separation zones, obviously to continue the cease-fire, and the President hopes his presence there will encourage those parties to continue that progress. But above all else, the President wants to thank the very brave, the very courageous and very heroic U.S. forces participating, along with elements from other NATO countries, in doing the important work of keeping the peace.
Q Mike, what is the White House's reaction to the grenade attack in Sarajevo yesterday? And can you tell us how the NATO response differs from the UNPROFOR response? It seems like they're getting in the same trap --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think that's been briefed pretty thoroughly already by the military, but the response -- I believe it was French units that responded yesterday in the case of the RPG attack in Sarajevo, and it was much swifter and much more certain than was the case during UNPROFOR, even though some of the same French elements were involved. They were operating under NATO ROE and they had a much different understanding of their -- both their command instructions and also what their operational deployment would allow in the situation. But I believe, if I'm not mistaken, that military briefers, both in Sarajevo and I think even in Tuzla, have gone through that episode in some detail.
Q Mike, to follow up on the Greenspan question, has the President actually received a formal recommendation from the staff or had a sit-down discussion of the appointment?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that the consideration of that issue has advanced to that point.
Q Is the President going to spend the night in Europe somewhere?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
Q What about Monday in Atlanta?
MR. MCCURRY: The question that we're all night owls; we like to travel all the time, all night long, so --
Q -- tax adjustments the President is considering include -- (inaudible) --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't get in that level of detail about the substance of their discussions. The parties have agreed that for any chance for an agreement to move forward they've got to avoid characterizing or briefing in too great of detail on the nature of their deliberations. And that would go right to the heart of some of the critical aspects they dealt with in the Oval Office yesterday.
But suffice to say that the President understands the strong Republican desire to have a tax credit. He, too, wants to see a targeted tax credit that provides relief to middle income Americans. And he's been trying to offer to them ways that they can get what they want in a way that's satisfactory to him. That's what you do in a negotiation, and that's what he's been doing.
Q Mike, just to clarify on this travel tomorrow, when do you think you all will know if we're going to leave tomorrow night?
MR. MCCURRY: As soon as we get a final weather report, and we expect one in the next couple hours.
Q So you'll let us know today, then?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, we will.
Q Speaker Gingrich is now being quoted out in Wyoming as saying that he's, for the first time, pessimistic about the prospects for a deal might be --
MR. MCCURRY: I would think the fresh air would make him more optimistic.
Q The other thing is, what are you going to do with the '97 budget proposal, which should be out --
MR. MCCURRY: I have not had a chance to ask Dr. Rivlin how that is delaying their submission of a request. But it is necessarily delaying the finalization of a budget submission by the President. You can't write a FY '97 budget proposal if you have no idea what the FY '96 budget is or looks like.
Q -- neutral budget?
MR. MCCURRY: You can try a lot of different things, but it would be a lot better --
Q That isn't what Tyson said. She said you can write a --
MR. MCCURRY: -- a lot better -- you can write a budget, but you've got a lot of questions hanging, though, about off of the baseline.
I mean, I think if we wrote a budget off an OMB baseline now -- which is, I imagine, one thing that -- I mean, we have to use our own OMB calculations, but what the starting point is, is a critical part of drafting any budget, as you all know. And it's a little hard to know where you start when you're in the midst of a discussion that we still hope will result in an agreement that will be central in defining what the FY '97 budget proposal ought to look like.
You know, we have not given up on this process, even if there are some Republicans who have, we don't believe that the Speaker of the House and the Majority Leader have given up on this process. If -- you know, there was nothing about the discussion yesterday would indicate that they had.
Q The Chief of Staff talked about forces who would like to see -- outside the negotiations, who would like to see the budget talks collapse for their own purposes. You pointed to Tom DeLay and Dick Armey as possible examples of that on the Republican side. Who could you point to on the Democratic side --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I want to be clear on that. I pointed to statements that they are reported as having made that certainly seem to suggest that might be their thinking. But I can't -- you know, I can't describe their motive. You need to ask them their motive.
Q Since the Chief of Staff, though, said that there are such things on both sides, can you point to similar statements on the Democratic side?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, sure. There have been -- you know, I think brother Carville, in particular, he's been quoted some place as saying he thinks it would be good to have a discussion of these issues as we go throughout this year. And if I understand him correctly, and I'm pretty confident I do, he's suggesting that there are some fundamental issues here that ought to be before the American people in November -- and they will be.
But those fundamental issues ought to be what do we have a federal government for? And what responsibility does it have to address the concerns of those who are in need in this country. And how much do we, the people, want to pay for that government? Those are good, honest issues upon which there can be good, honest disagreements discussed in the context of a national election.
But that does not mean that those responsible for the welfare of this nation should not continue the work and the effort to write a balanced budget agreement. Both sides of this dispute agree that a balanced budget would be good for the country and good for our economy. And to my knowledge there is no one who advises the President, who suggests that you shouldn't attempt to get an agreement that balances the budget.
There is considerable disagreement about how much you ought to be willing to do in order to get that agreement, and that's good and healthy and we have those discussions around here all the time. But no one suggests that it's not a good idea to balance the budget or it's not good for the economy in the long run in order to achieve that goal. And I think that -- in a sense, the question is do you look for a way to really help the American people understand the issue better and render some verdict on it November? And I think the answer is they will one way or another. Even if we get an agreement, I think a large part of this debate will still be before this country, and it should be.
Q Back to the Fed once more.
MR. MCCURRY: Bravo. Try again.
Q Vice Chairman Alan Blinder's term expires at the end of this month. Has staff made a recommendation to renominate him? Has the President made --
MR. MCCURRY: I have the same answer as before. The discussion of that issue and consideration of that issue has not advanced to that point, to my knowledge. We'll continue to check, and we do check on a fairly regular basis on what the status is. The only reason it's arisen today is because there was a rumor that was -- as most rumors are, an incorrect rumor.
Q Why is the President ignoring these issues? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: He's not ignoring the issues, but the term of the current chairman doesn't expire until later this year, and there have been things that are much more urgent and much more front and center.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Last question in the back.
Q By our time tonight, Japan will have a new prime minister. What is the White House view of Mr. Hashimoto, and does it expect any changes in relations with Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we expect continuity in our relationships with Japan. We've heard from a variety of people, including Mr. Hashimoto, that our close working relationship would continue. We continue to enjoy cooperation, whether it comes to economic discussions, political matters that affect our work together across the globe, or in the security era so vital to the national security of both the United States and Japan. We hope that that relationship will continue. We expect it to continue. If Mr. Hashimoto is, indeed, designated we would, of course, extend to him our congratulations. But that's a decision that has to be made first and foremost by the Japanese people.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, say again.
Q -- was there communication between Hashimoto and the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. I said -- he has not been formally designated. I was putting something in the can for our friend back here.
Q Still has the Cabinet meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, he has at 2:00.
Q And the pool at 2:00 p.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: And this is final now, so the President will be departing tomorrow evening and overnighting in Nashville.
Q What time?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll give you details. I don't have them. I got this one slip of paper, we'll let you know when we can.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:47 P.M. EST