THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to our briefing. It's good that's it's Friday. It's been a long week. A long week coming up.
Q Mike who has access to this gym?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's -- before we get onto the subject I know the Washington Times is dying to discuss, let's do the --
Q I'm just trying to answer the question --
MR. MCCURRY: Let's do the State of the Union. Let's do the State of the Union here.
Q Advance text.
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- Terry --
MR. MCCURRY: -- just because you wrote this story doesn't mean you can -- just because you already did this -- (Laughter.)
Just a couple points on this. The President has been working hard on the State of the Union Address. His preparation is going well. He's had a number of conversations with outside experts, principally political scientists; lots of conversations with people inside; he's talked to various members of the Cabinet, and others about ideas that would go into his report on the State of the Union Tuesday night.
Several points about it -- the speech, I would describe as being much more a thematic discussion of the state America is in as it prepares for the 21st century; as opposed to a compendium of legislative proposals, the President, being realistic enough to understand that with a Republican Congress a laundry list of legislative items are not likely to attract much positive response from the legislators present. He will, though, lay down several specific challenges on ideas that have been part of the debate that the President has participated in over the last three years, but especially when it comes to issues like political reform, minimum wage, other issues that he has talked about.
But I would describe the speech as being much more a discussion of what the President calls the age of possibili
ty as America prepares for the 21st century. He will report to the country that the state of the union is strong; the economy is strong; and we've added 7.7 million jobs to our economy; and we now need to concentrate on doing those things necessary to help Americans raise their incomes. He'll have some specific ideas about that.
He'll also say the state of our communities is strong. Crime is down. Violence is down; but we need to concentrate on some problems that still affect the American people in our communities. And he'll have some specific ideas there as well. America's position in the world is also strong. We are exerting strong leadership, whether it's in Haiti, Bosnia, whether it's in peace processes, attempting to reconcile peoples in the Middle East and Northern Ireland, South Africa, elsewhere in this world. And he will generally report favorably to the American people on the possibilities that exist if we rise to the challenges that America must meet as we head into the 21st century.
And then the nature of challenges. He'll talk about the importance of balancing the budget. He'll talk about continuing to fight crime, especially crime committed by juvenile offenders. He'll talk about children and education in America, and how we can prepare the next generation for brighter economic prospects in the future; how they can fulfill the American dream that so many of their parents and grandparents have been blessed to enjoy.
He'll talk about the economy, obviously -- the considerable progress we've made in the last three years to make the economy strong. But again, those things that we need to do and those tools that we need in order to keep the economy strong and growing into the future. And he will, of course, discuss America's place in this world today and the challenges we face in this world -- the challenges of the 21st century, what we the people need to do to meet those challenges. The President will argue it's not always the government response that's required. It's not always the response that requires spending of taxpayers' money, but it is a challenge --challenges -- that must summons forth the best from the American people as we work together in our communities, in our churches, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, to improve the quality of life for all Americans. So in a sense, the President will lay out a vision of what the 21st century will be if we respond to the enormous possibilities that he sees for the American people in the future.
Q You've been indicating that so far he's been working from, in effect, two scripts dealing with the budget -- one, an optimistic one; one that would be bearing in mind that there won't be an agreement. Has he thrown out one of those now? Is he working on a --
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President continues to be very optimistic that we can reach an historic agreement to balance the budget. I think he will invite the Congress on Tuesday night to celebrate the victory that's already at hand if the Republican majority will just seize the moment. We've achieved an extraordinary breakthrough on deficit reduction. We've assembled the package of savings necessary to balance the budget by the year 2002.
There are outstanding issues, to be sure, and some fundamental differences in philosophical approach as to policies that relate to certain government programs, that as the President has been suggesting to you over and over again, we've saved the amount of money necessary to balance the budget, and we ought to do that, give that to the American people, and then move on to the other policy issues that are still being contested.
The President hopes that the budget deliberations can continue, but this is not going to be a speech that is defined by the current budget deliberations that he has been undergoing with the congressional leadership. This is a speech that will, in a sense, rise above that, talk about the challenges that much more directly affect the daily lives of the American people.
Q Given the public attitude towards both sides of the -- dragged on, is he concerned that the -- I mean, how does he address the budget dispute in a way that gets you above that and keeps people from tuning out and saying he's failed at the budget agreement, they've failed and the rest of this isn't worth listening to?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because I don't think the President believes that the American people, as they think about their own lives and what affects them and their children, believe that the budget debate here in Washington is the defining issue of the day. So don't expect the President to don a green eyeshade and stand up there and attempt to negotiate the budget with the Congress in front of him.
He's going to say, look, we can do this. We've got a historic opportunity here to balance this budget, and it's something I agree upon and everyone in this audience agrees upon. By and large, the President knows that it's an evening in which he can only legitimately expect somewhat less than half of the audience to be favorably inclined to things that he has to say; that on that subject, balancing the budget and the importance of doing it, it's something that everyone in that hall agrees is necessary. And he will convey that and help the American people understand that it's doable. He will help the American people understand that he as President will do it and will remain committed to the goal of a balanced budget in seven years during the remaining years that he is president.
Q In this age of possibilities as you call it, is it possible the government won't shut down, or partial government shutdown, on Friday? And will he mention that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will, I think, as some of you know, will address that in his radio address tomorrow. And he will certainly suggest to them that we should never shut down the federal government again. The costs are too painful for the American people. And I'd invite all of you to check over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development because Secretary Cisneros suggested yesterday that it indeed had been fatal in some cases.
The Chicago fire in a federally insured building, the Secretary reported yesterday, was in part and might have been in part the result of two federal inspections that were missed on November 13th and December 18th. They were postponed because the inspectors who were supposed to go out on behalf of HUD to see if certain improvements had been made in that facility weren't available to go do the job. Four people lost their lives.
That can't happen again in this country, and the President doesn't believe this Congress wants to make it happen again. And he's fairly optimistic that by January 26th we'll have a measure in place that will continue funding for the government.
Q Mike, in coming up with this theme, has he been meeting with people around the city or having dinner with anyone, and, you know, people who are into this? And does the age of possibility, does it work with the common ground theme? And is there another theme out -- civil societies? Is that part of it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will talk about the way we can come together as a country to address the challenges that he says we face, and that we do need to define the common ground that we can stand upon as we meet those challenges. And I think the President, in some sense because he knows there's common ground that Americans can find together as we meet these challenges, is confident that we can also favorably take advantage of the possibilities that exist.
So those themes, I think, will connect, that under it all is the President's own sense of confidence about America's future and enthusiasm about America's future. He's been reading some things that sort of indicate Americans are somewhat dispirited as they think of their own economic futures. And I think what he wants to convey above all else is, look, this is a time of enormous hope for this country and enormous opportunity, and we ought to take advantage of it and make the kinds of investments in the future that will allow not only the people of today, but our kids and their kids, to take advantage of the opportunities that exist.
Q -- special people who are influencing him --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes --
Q -- like Wattenberg, for example?
MR. MCCURRY: He had -- he's been reading a lot -- Don Baer, who is our Communications Director, who has been coordinating a lot of the work on the speech draft itself, right before the holidays invited about two dozen prominent Americans, ranging from Garrison Keillor, to Francis Fukuyama, to Robert Putnam to a variety of people to contributed small, mini-essays about the State of the Union. I think the President's been entertained by that and has seen that as good food for thought.
He also had two good roundtable dinners with political scientists, ranging from Benjamin Barber up at Rutgers, to Henry Louis Case at Harvard, Amy Gutman at Princeton, others that, you know, contributed who are -- I describe as being more political and moral philosophers than others than -- that's their academic specialties. But I think he's enjoyed those. And he's talked a lot to the people he's seen as he's been out around the country -- down in Nashville the other day, and I think from all of those conversations, has himself drawn a good sense of how he wants to address the State of the Union on Tuesday night.
Q In reelection years, presidents frequently use the State of the Union to sort of begin to lay out a rationale for their campaign and for their reelection. If he's not going to talk about a lot of new programs or new efforts, where does his campaign, where does he fit into this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the President believes that he can summons forth from the American people some sense of confidence and optimism about the future and that he can help them understand what they can do and help them understand what government can and cannot do to meet the challenges that he will describe. He sees this opportunity as really one in which he paints a portrait of what the American life in the 21st century can be. He recognizes, by the way, that it is a very partisan hall, but I would not describe the speech of being partisan in tone, because it's not -- that's not appropriate for the occasion. And he will be there as President of the United States and not as candidate for reelection.
Q Mike, isn't that exactly the kind of speech that the President is going to give during the campaign, though? I mean, values and society and common ground and all that --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes --
Q -- so these aren't --
MR. MCCURRY: The President during the year ahead is going to talk a lot about exactly those things that he thinks really fundamentally affect the lives of the American people.
Q He said won't be a green eyeshades type of speech, but he has talked a lot about Medicare. How specifically is he going to get into that, which is obviously a key issue?
MR. MCCURRY: If the word Part B premium come from his lips, I think we'll all be disappointed. I think he'll talk -- he'll talk about the program. He'll talk about the program. He'll say, look, here's the importance of Medicare and the fundamental commitment we make to our elderly; why this has defined the position I've tried to defend so firmly during the budget deliberations underway. I'm sure he'll reference that in the course of talking about the balanced budget question. But that's not -- again, I'd stress the definition of this speech is not a speech in which he attempts once again to negotiate with Congress or to make clear what he's been trying to make clear about the course of those deliberations.
He'll talk about it, of course, but he understands that there are other issues important to the American people, too.
Q Mike, you touched on the audience he's going to face. How do you expect he's going to respond to the politicized atmosphere in the chamber?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. One of the -- I think he, as I indicated earlier, one of the challenges in this speech is that it is a hotly charged time politically, and the President understands that. But the things that he's talking about, he hopes the Congress can see the importance to all Americans. And this is -- he's not approaching this speech with the sense that it should be a campaign rally for his own reelection or for the positions he's been advocating in these very contested discussions with the Republican majority. It's really an opportunity to, in a sense, try to draw both sides of the aisle together as we think about America's future.
Q How many hours -- (laughter) --
MR. MCCURRY: It has been accurately reported that the White House fully expects him to be concluded by the time Nightline is on. But I guess we shouldn't really promise that.
Q Is it safe to presume that from now until the night of the State of the Union Address there is no concerted effort under way to get the budget agreement in time for that address?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q It is not safe to assume that?
MR. MCCURRY: Not safe to assume that.
Q What is happening?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think the President is -- continues to be very committed to trying to get this agreement together that he's been talking about over and over again. And he will continue to work with folks here and continue to see if we can -- whatever we can do to bring things together.
Q What, if anything, is happening today? I think the question was what, if anything, is happening today now?
MR. MCCURRY: The President continues to work the issue today. He's had Leon in a lot, and Leon's had conversations with folks here and elsewhere to try to continue to clarify how we might move ahead.
Q You said it will not be a partisan speech; but how confrontational, or nonconfrontational, will the overall tone of the speech be?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are -- the President, as you can imagine, doesn't think it's particularly wise to walk into Congress and start calling them names. (Laughter.) Of course, he understands that some in Congress have been calling him names, but I don't think he'll use his time to respond on Tuesday night.
I think what he wants to do, more importantly, is to say look, let's not miss the fact that for all of our differences there are some things that we really can get done here if we just put our minds to it. And chief among them, and first among them, perhaps, will be to say, look, let's get this deficit reduction track moving towards balance, and let's lock in what we know we can do now, which is save the American taxpayers money, but then let's move on to some of the other challenges that exist.
Q Mike, back on the question that opened the press conference, who has access to the gym in the family quarters?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. And I suspect, as our statement from the Special Counsel and the Legal Counsel's office said yesterday, is that's a question that will be fundamentally important to Mr. Starr; and he has the capacity and the tools necessary to get the answer.
Q But to your knowledge does senior staff or others than the Clintons have access?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no knowledge as to who has access. I do not even -- never even been on that floor of the White House myself, personally.
Q Well, Mike, does the First Family feel that given the public discussion about that room and the finding of the documents and so forth, that it's incumbent on them or reasonable for the public to want to know who does have access to that? And do they think they could quickly calm some concerns the public might have by answering that question in advance of any formal posing by Mr. Starr?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I think the President is as anxious as anyone else to get the answers to the very legitimate questions that both Senator D'Amato's committee and, no doubt, Mr. Starr will want to pose. And in the proper way and as quickly as possible, I'm sure he'll want to see that they get answered.
Q Well, wouldn't it be possible for the White House, itself, to ask, you know, who is able to go in that room and look itself? Wouldn't the White House want to do that, the President want to know?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, it is reasonable to assume that we will quickly cooperate in providing the answers to the appropriate questions that we get through the various inquiries that are underway.
Q But is the White House, itself, looking into that? I mean, it seems like it's something the President would want to know.
MR. MCCURRY: That I properly should refer to the Special Counsel's Office, and Mr. Fabiani in particular.
Q The President also raises an ironing board. What is he talking about there? Is he suggesting that someone might have come in and -- what is he suggesting?
MR. MCCURRY: Now, you're talking about a transcript, a portion of the U.S. News transcript?
Q U.S. News --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's pretty clear he's just describing what the physical lay-out of those rooms are and how you get to the gym from the places -- I mean, that's the way I read that. I can go ask and see if he had any other thoughts.
Q But, Mike, in that same interview the President suggested that a number of staff people have access to it. Couldn't you ask him who he was thinking of? I mean, you, yourself have just said you weren't even on the floor, much less in the room.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I did not --
Q Do we know the names of any staff person -- that floor?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't, beyond Carolyn Huber, who testified to that yesterday.
Q Two short ones. Does the President have an opinion on the U.N. possibly taxing or --
MR. MCCURRY: It's an abysmal idea. And I think a variety of people in the U.S. government are testifying on behalf of the administration or providing some indications of why it's a bad idea. The President remains committed to administrative reforms at the United Nations, believes it's very important that we meet our financial obligations there in a timely manner. We will work with our Congress to make sure that happens. We've had good conversations with the House, and we look forward to conversations with the Senate on how to do it. But the notion of a tax is one that is not going to get very far here in the United States. And the United States is, after all, the principal financial -- principal source of financial support for the United Nations.
Q One more on another topic, on partial birth abortion. When is the President planning to veto that--
MR. MCCURRY: I don't even know if it's here. Have we received it yet? Don't know the status of that. I think it hasn't been sent yet.
Q He still plans to veto it when he --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, as our statement prior indicated.
Q Mike, on capital gains, could you review the state of play of discussions with the Republicans, and in particularly, could you confirm if it's true, the AP report, about citing Republican sources as saying the President had offered a cut of up to 20 percent in the top brackets?
MR. MCCURRY: I think one manifestation of how serious the President is about these discussions is that he has attempted to address the issues important to them. The capital gains tax reduction has been a fundamental part of the Republican presentation on the budget. And the President has in these deliberations looked for ways to try to accommodate that idea, to try to do it in a way that he thinks makes sense in terms of overall tax policy and without describing in any specific detail the ideas that he's advanced. He has in the context of the overall tax portion of the bill suggested that there's a way to accommodate their desire to see a reduction --
Q -- discussion in that last Oval Office meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: -- in capital gains reduction. It's been in their last several discussions. It's been an element -- I can't remember if it was part of the January 9th conversation. I believe it has come up as they were in the last phase of the Oval Office discussions. I think it came up several times.
Q Mike, will you take a question on asking the President who he was referring --
MR. MCCURRY: No. I won't because -- for this reason. I will ask him if he has anything further that he would have added if he had been pursued on the question by U.S. News. I suspect that question is one that will be very germaine to things that Mr. Starr is looking at and/or the D'Amato committee. And for that reason, I think the answers will have to be provided in the context of those inquiries that are underway. And I won't take the question because that indicates a promise by me to get an answer, and I just doubt there's going to be an answer that we can give.
I will check certainly with Mr. Fabiani and others if there's a way that we can add any information on that subject, we will. But I doubt that's going to happen.
Q Just to clarify, Mike -- that's because you think there shouldn't be anything like an informal answer to this question; there should be a very formal answer to the legal authorities --
MR. MCCURRY: That is a question that those investigating these matters are going to want very precise and accurate answers to and that's something that we just wing off the top of our head.
Q To follow up on capital gains, if this is a sign of the President's flexibility and his willingness to move toward the Republicans, why is it not built into the latest version of his budget?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a -- in the latest version of our budget, we have a $130 billion tax cut indicated. And there are different ways that you could provide that modest-sized tax relief. We would, of course, want to target it as greatly as possible on middle-income taxpayers. But as you construct it, a final package, final agreement, the President recognizes that a congressional majority would be very interested in getting a capital gains element into the package and if we could accommodate it within the overall numbers that we've shared with you.
Q So the $9 billion could be fitted into the $130 billion?
MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding. I'm not -- how they've handled that particular discussion in these deliberations, I don't know in enough detail to answer.
Q Why would the Treasury Secretary, who outlined all the elements of the tax package, have left that out yesterday? And when I asked the specific question to Leon on the 9th, he said it had not come up and the President had not --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because that's not, again --
Q -- indicated any movement on --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. Again, that's not our idea of how we would do tax relief. And I want to make that real clear. The issue of how will you accommodate what they have insisted upon on their side of the table in the context of these deliberations, and they have shared some ideas on that in these discussions, as I indicated.
Q So it's not correct in the AP story that this is the President's proposal? What you're saying is this is a Republican proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I want to be real clear. The President has had some ideas that I believe the Republicans are characterizing as a proposal on how you could accommodate a capital gains tax cut in the context of an overall agreement. We're not advancing that idea as the proposal that we put forward, as the one that we shared with you yesterday; but we recognize that they've got elements of this that they would like to accomplish. I don't -- I'd have to go back and check. I don't believe, for example, that we advanced the idea of medical savings accounts as something, but we understand that we need to accommodate that concept somewhere, even though it's not reflected in our proposal.
And they've had discussions. It's all by way -- another way of saying this is to say what I've told you already -- that the deliberations have moved well beyond the sort of static exchange of one proposal after another. They're not like, here's a new budget, here's your budget, here's a new budget. They're getting deeply into the details of the agreements and talking about how they could configure a final agreement.
And the President -- that's the type of work they've been doing. It's been done in some detail.
Q Mike, in the U.S. News interview, he also expresses confidence that Russia is continuing to move on a reform path. What's the basis for that optimism, given the events in the government and in Chechnya?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the presidential spokespeople in Moscow for President Yeltsin have indicated that despite personnel changes, they will continue on a path of reform, and continue to be committed towards democracy. We believe that. We don't believe that it will necessarily always be the path that we would encourage. We suspect we will have differences at times with them on how they will proceed on that path. But we think that the fundamental direction of change in Russia is in the direction of market economics and democracy; and that that, regardless of the political philosophies now contesting for political power and political office in Russia, the direction of that change is pretty certain. Now, it can, obviously, take some interesting detours and diversions along the way, but at least the Yeltsin government and the current government of the Russian Federation has made clear that there is continuity both in its economic policy and its foreign policy, even as President Yeltsin restructures his government as he looks ahead to his own challenges in this year ahead.
Q But if the Yeltsin government were not there, are the structures in place to continue this economic --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, one of the things that we have done in our support for democratization and economic liberalization in Russia is to try to make permanent those features of change that will keep Russia moving in that direction. That's why our stabilization program, a lot of our economic support, the kinds of things that we do to provide assistance to Russia, are designed at the grass-roots level to sort of make permanent these changes and encourage market competition and encourage democratic political processes. That's what we, in a sense, nurture and try to sustain with our own help and our own assistance.
So is revanchism possible? Of course. But there are things now in this world about the move towards market economics and democracy that are encouraging because they in a way almost begin to seem innate as totalitarian systems collapse and as the people in totalitarian countries continue to yearn for democracy and market economics and the benefits that come from those systems.
Q The Rohatyn story you shot down this morning about the Fed seemed to have some appeal to people because of the similarity in political philosophy between him and Alan Blinder. Is the President looking for somebody in particular, some sort of political philosophy in particular to fill the spot at the Fed?
MR. MCCURRY: He's looking for someone who will continue economic policies that will contribute to the fundamentally strong aspects and elements of the U.S. economy. Beyond that, I don't think it's wise for us to comment on particular aspects of pending nominations to the Fed. But he will look for very highly qualified candidates for such a central post in our economy.
By the way, I want everyone to know we got -- we are making, I think, over a dozen recess appointments later today. That will be coming out on paper shortly. There's nothing involving the Fed that is part of that, but I wanted to let you know that that would happen. And President Clinton, like other presidents, although he hasn't used this prerogative as much as most recent presidents, he is taking the opportunity to make during this current intra-session recess of Congress several recess appointments.
Q -- particular person or job that you're trying to fill that's controversial?
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, you're the best judge of what's controversial and what's not --
Q Well, is there a surgeon general --
MR. MCCURRY: There's not a surgeon general.
Q Why is he making a recess appointment? What --
MR. MCCURRY: He's, among other reasons, because he has the constitution authority to do that in the recess clause of the Constitution.
Q Well, he could wait until Monday when Congress returns --
Q It's used to get around the Congress.
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's -- it's safe to say that these are appointments necessary to fill vacancies; the President is reasonably well convinced that the vacancies would persist if he didn't act to fill them by recess appointments.
Q Is -- Foster one of them?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Do you have anything more on the --
MR. MCCURRY: Bingo.
Q To what? To the circuit --
MR. MCCURRY: You'll get the paper shortly.
Q Anything more on the city's snow problems?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Nothing new. In fact, I would suggest you check in with FEMA, because they're pulling together this meeting of emergency management officials from the three local jurisdictions to review the response to the snow.
It's not snowing yet. Is it going to snow?
Q Has the President been asked to declare any of the areas now hit by the cold and freezing disaster areas?
MR. MCCURRY: The regional office of the Federal Emergency Management Administration has been working with state emergency officials to assess damage. Remember that weather itself doesn't constitute a disaster; and in the case of snow emergencies or winter emergencies, what we've been looking at more is the provision of assistance to help emergency equipment arrive at its destination. That's what we did for the areas of the Northeast that were hit by the last storm. They're now assessing what kind of needs there are for those services in the Midwest, and we will act promptly on any request that's generated by any of the state governments involved.
Q Mike, back on Rohatyn, what did you say this morning about him, that he's not under consideration at all, or just that he's not a leading --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. I just said that he -- the President has received no recommendation from the National Economic Council, which will be reviewing candidates, and has no name before him at this point, contradicting The Wall Street Journal that he has under consideration Felix Rohatyn at this time.
Q Going back to the budget earlier --
MR. MCCURRY: -- very complimentary things about Rohatyn being -- everyone understands he's got a magnificent reputation and he's highly thought of in the financial community.
Q You said Leon had talked to some people about the budget. Did he talk to any Republicans? Was there any substance? And was there anything that you found out that would lead you to believe there would be any negotiations over the weekend consistent with Dole's remark about Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that leads me to be certain there will be negotiations over the weekend, and he's been talking to a lot of folks.
Q I mean, is there any substantive talks or is this just --
MR. MCCURRY: He hasn't been doing any negotiating that I'm aware of.
Q Why won't you just tell us what Peter Edelman is going to be --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, he's got -- it's an assistant -- I didn't have it in front of me. That's the only reason I didn't say. Is he on the -- Edelman? He'll be named Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services.
Q But no --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: But the others, by the way, they're just appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, the Assistant Secretary for Elementary and Secondary Education. There are -- the bulk of the appointments are naming members of the Civil Liberties Public Education Fund. And one can well imagine that with this current Congress, probably no consideration would be given the nominations of that nature. So those are the types of appointments the President is filling. That's a good question, and I will study this material in greater detail to know answer.
Q The Speaker today referred to the President as a do-nothing liberal --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I'm not into calling the Speaker names these days and neither is the --
Q Since when?
MR. MCCURRY: I used to be in that occupation, but -- no, look, he's --
MR. MCCURRY: One can well imagine reading the newspapers over the last days that he's a pretty frustrated person. I don't know that we need to respond to that, and in fact, the President, I think, believes that the Speaker will continue to see that we've got the opportunity to do something very important, which is to achieve an historic balanced budget agreement. And I think the Speaker, if he stopped and reflected upon the last three years, would agree that this President has accomplished a great deal since he came to office in 1993. Now, it's true that our economic program that we launched in 1993 required only Democratic votes because we couldn't get any Republican votes, but the dire predictions that they had at the time certainly haven't borne out.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Wait, wait, wait. Terry, we've got a lot more back here.
Q Let's clarify Sunday. There's been no staff discussions today about a meeting Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: We've been on the phone a lot within the last couple of days just touching base. And you all remember -- I mean we want -- I don't want to completely rule out the possibility because Senator Dole, as you know, said publicly a couple days ago that he would be back in town Sunday afternoon.
Q Mike, I wonder, in his brief meeting with the Japanese Foreign Minister this morning, did the President touch on any specific subjects? U.S.-Japan relations?
MR. MCCURRY: David Johnson, your moment has arrived. (Laughter.) Let me ask -- if you don't mind, David's got a good read-out on that.
MR. JOHNSON: The Japanese Foreign Minister had two meetings this morning. He had one of some length a little over a half an hour ago with Tony Lake. And he had a briefer meeting with the President.
The discussion focused exclusively on two issues with the President, and that is the meeting this forthcoming April, the President's State Visit to Japan, and also the need for both the United States and Japan to continue the work that they've been doing to ensure that we keep a very strong and stable security relationship.
In the meeting with Tony there was a little more time and there were some -- a broader discussion of both of those topics and, in addition, there was an opportunity to talk a little bit about some things that went beyond the direct bilateral relationship and into other issues, including the need and the appreciation we have for Japan's engagement aborad, and issues beyond its direct bilateral interest.
MR. MCCURRY: You want the simultaneous translation? (Laughter.) They talked about, you know, the U.N. peacekeeping and stuff like that. The last question in the back, yes.
Q Did they discuss how to help North Koreans with the -- crisis?
MR. JOHNSON: During the meetings here there was not a discussion on North Korea. But as you know, the Foreign Minister is having lunch with the Secretary of State, and I think he's meeting later this afternoon the Secretary of Defense, and I'm sure there will be a lot of time to discuss that issue there.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:22 P.M. EST