THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:45 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any good excuse. I'm sorry I'm late. But now that I'm here I'm sure we'll have a very entertaining session here at the White House daily briefing.
Q What's your response to all these -- the 20 subpoenas? And how come we haven't gotten the statement from Jack Quinn or Fabiani yet that you promised -- or you didn't, but it was promised yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can check on Mr. Fabiani's been up to. But, look, Mr. Clinger, I think, saw that it was a slow news day and decided that he'd go to make a headline with some warmed over fish wrappings from three months ago. This White House has produced 26,000 pages worth of documents. They have hashed this, rehashed this, refried it, reboiled it, and there's nothing much new to say. Most of the requests that they've got are for material that has, frankly, already been provided. These mostly are duplicative requests that go back before.
Now, Mr. Fabiani can enlighten you further on it, but it's an attempt, I believe, by Mr. Clinger to keep alive an issue that, frankly, is hard to keep alive.
Q Well, he says, on the other hand, Mike, that he hasn't gotten these and that's why he's subpoenaing these individuals as opposed to the blanket subpoena on the Office of the Executive Office of the President. And that there are 129 on a privileged list that he wants.
MR. MCCURRY: He saw some list and immediately ran out and waved it around and tried to commit news when, in fact, my understanding is, in November most of these documents had been provided. The White House had indicated a willingness to sit down and go through that. So what's happening here is Mr. Clinger is now more interested in making news than in getting at any truth here that would further the public's understanding of these matters.
Q Are you saying he actually has these documents?
MR. MCCURRY: He's had -- my understanding is most of the material has been covered under prior requests and is available to him. In any event, any of these documents that they want they will make available for review to the committee, is my understanding, talking to our legal counsel folks.
Q Mike, the committee says, however, that the Counsel's Office has told them that they don't have all these 129, and the reason that they did the individual search is because when they've done personals to people like Watkins and Thomason, those folks have turned over documents the White House claims didn't exist.
MR. MCCURRY: I know that you follow this matter much more closely than I do, but my understanding is most of the material they are after is available. They can have it, they can go through individually what they need to find. There are some -- any concerns about particular documents a long time ago White House legal counsel indicated to the committee they would sit down and work out any arrangements that they need for these -- review of any documents they have in mind.
Q Did they take advantage of it in terms of seeing the privileged --
MR. MCCURRY: No. They're out running around trying to keep this alive as a political issue. That's what they've been doing for a long time.
Q But Mr. Clinger is retiring, he doesn't --
MR. MCCURRY: I know. He's retiring so he can spend all this time on this and not worry about his constituents. That's his right. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. What else?
Q One final question. Considering the way documents have mysteriously appeared in this White House, why is it not legitimate for them to suspect that they may mysteriously appear again?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, because they know that the White House has gone to extraordinary lengths to cooperate with the committee, turning over documents, answering questions, having people testify voluntarily, and they're more interested in making political hay around these issues than they are in shedding any further light on the truth. That's the bottom line. It's politics. It's a campaign year. That's what this is all about.
Okay, what else?
Q Have you told that to Clinger? I mean, has there been enough time to contact --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, in a very respectful way, our lawyers, who are paid to be respectful, go up to him and say, listen, let's sit down, let's work this out. We have been very cooperative, but at some point you've got to say enough is enough. And what's the purpose of all this at this point?
Q And what does he say in return?
MR. MCCURRY: He just figures out some other news angle and tries to con you guys into writing news stories about it -- (laughter.)
Q The signing of the telecommunications bill -- we've got the ACLU that's planning on filing a suit as soon as it's signed, and you've got Pat Schroeder who's got legislation that she's going to introduce --
MR. MCCURRY: Those are two separate concerns, is my understanding.
Q They are, indeed, but given the problems, why is the President signing this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is an extraordinarily important piece of legislation that will further competition in the telecommunications industry, make a wider choice of information sources available to the American people, cut rates for them, make it cheaper and more efficient for them to get access to information and entertainment programming, and it's basically a good deal for the American people in balance.
Now, there will be specific concerns. I'm not going to comment on suits that haven't been file yet or issues that others might raise on this. But, on balance, I think most of those issues can be addressed in the context of the President signing the bill tomorrow.
But let's remember, this is historic legislation that really brings more deregulation, market competition and a better deal for consumers into the provision of telecommunication services at a time when that is one of the most fast-evolving portions of the America economy, or sectors in the American economy, and so, in that sense, an extraordinary piece of legislation that the President, the Vice President, others here in the administration take great pride in having produced working in cooperation with Congress, proving that when the Congress and the White House work together they can do things that help the American people.
Q Is the President aware of Congresswoman Schroeder's legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't asked -- this is the issue of what would be available on the Internet related to the choice that women might want to have for their own reproductive health. I'm not -- I don't know what level of conversations there have been within the White House on that particular issue. I can check on that and we'll get into that tomorrow, I'm sure.
Q In light of Dick Morris's financial disclosure statements, would it be correct to say that the President is still behind him 1,000 percent?
MR. MCCURRY: He's got a financial disclosure that presents information about his private clients and some of his work for Republican candidates. I don't know that the President has studied that in any great detail, but I know that the President obviously was aware that he's worked with Republicans and he's had representation in the private sector in the past. That was not news to the President.
Q What about the question, though; does he still have confidence in him, or not?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, absolutely. He provides very keen insights, and like most of us around here, he has his good days and his bad days and he has his good ideas and his bad ideas, and the President is smart enough to figure out how to take the right kind of advice and act accordingly.
Q He was here at the White House today. Could you tell us what he was doing here?
MR. MCCURRY: He was here today?
MR. MCCURRY: I talked to him a little while earlier and he was not here at the White House.
Q He was here this morning.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's here from time to time for meetings with people at the White House.
Q Is he going to get fired?
MR. MCCURRY: -- meeting with him yesterday about some planning so we can make life easier for all of you and know what's coming down the pike and what kind of news we're going to make.
Q But you don't think he's working for any Republicans now?
MR. MCCURRY: He has indicated to us -- my understanding is that he is not planning to take on an additional client load in this election year with, I think, one or two exceptions that relate more to friendships he has in New York.
Q Republicans or Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: Democrats is my understanding.
Q Has he given up his relationship with Huckabee in Arkansas?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe so. I did not ask him that question.
Q Were you aware that he was actually being paid at the same time -- that money was coming in from Republican clients at the same time he was working for Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he had -- sure, because he was a consultant during the 1994 campaign cycle and some of the payments for his services came in during 1995. We knew who he worked for in 1994, and that those payments were reflected.
Q Mike, what's the White House's strategy in getting the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill voted on before the 15th of April?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our strategy is to continue to press the case for a very important piece of legislation. It will make it easier for Americans to retain access to health insurance when they change jobs, especially because of the portability provisions and the dealing with preexisting conditions; making sure that we don't change the structure of employer-provided health insurance in America at a time when we need to think about how to expand coverage rather than diminish coverage.
The President pressed this very forcefully in the State of the Union address. That clearly had an impact because, for whatever reason, the mysterious holds that were placed on this legislation in the Senate seemed to evaporate. And it's now quite clear that there's more than a majority of senators in support of the legislation. We certainly hope the legislation will be taken up as soon as possible. If it's April, it's April, but passage of that would represent a very important step forward in the effort to reform the health insurance sector, consistent with what the President told the Speaker and the Majority Leader back in December of 1994, that we needed to move ahead on an incremental reform of the health care sector.
Q Will he be making any phone calls here at the White House to try and speed up the schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: We've really been in consultation with staff on the Hill and others on the Hill. We'll see how that develops. There will no doubt be some vigorous opposition raised against the legislation by the same special interests that have fought health care reform in the past, and we're prepared for that, and we will work with the majority of senators who want to see this kind of legislation passed.
Q Has the President decided how he will deliver his testimony in the --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't have anything more on that.
Q How do you feel about Mr. Spring's suggestion about a Dayton-like approach to the Northern Ireland peace process?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's see. Let me go -- I have to review because Tony has been having some meetings in connection with that, and what's new -- he will be here, the Irish Deputy Prime Minister will be here next week. We expect David Trimble to be here this week. That will present an opportunity for the National Security Advisor, who's been closely engaged in conversations with the parties, to pursue that idea.
We credit Senator Mitchell and the international body that dealt with the decommissioning issue of having given the parties a pretty good road map of how to proceed in the goal of reaching all-party talks. We believe all these conversations we're having with the parties now can confer to that. As you know, Mr. Adams was here not too long ago himself, met with the President.
Q Is Spring here tomorrow morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, tomorrow. Okay. I'm looking at something here that says next week. He'll be here tomorrow then. And we do plan to have David do a little readout on that afterwards.
Q But, specifically, Mike, a venue outside of Washington that might get the parties together -- is that something that you would encourage?
MR. MCCURRY: Our view is that something that moves the parties to all-party talks is something that would be encouraged because that's where ultimately all parties would have a venue for raising the issues that they have and concerns, that they can make good on the Downing Street Declaration, the peace process could mean so much to the people of Northern Ireland.
Q How does the President feel the fact that Aristide's last act as President was to renew diplomatic relations with Cuba?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is -- other governments in the region do have their relations with Cuba. It's contrary to our view that it's a government that has not given indication that it wants to move in the direction of democracy and market economics. But it's perfectly in within the right of the Haitian government to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Q Do you have a strategy yet for dealing with the defense bill's treatment of HIV Positive military?
MR. MCCURRY: There has been considerable work on that issue. The President himself has instructed the White House to treat that as a matter of very high priority, and I expect that we'll be able to say in a very short while how we will deal with that issue.
Q Today or --
MR. MCCURRY: I can't guarantee today. I saw Walter Dellinger from the Justice Department earlier working away furiously. And they would all like to try to bring that to a conclusion prior to the President's signing the bill. But I don't have any guarantee that it will be today.
Q That's Friday, right? I mean, the signing is Friday.
MR. MCCURRY: It has to be signed by Friday.
Q What will the President be talking about in Iowa this weekend, and will it be further development of the themes of the State of the Union address?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you want to do a little rundown on Iowa? They're still doing some work on that. It will stress themes that were raised in the State of the Union address -- certainly education, stronger economy. It will also touch on those issues that are very important in a state with a large rural economy. The President's proud of the work we've been doing to promote agricultural exports around the world and the very strong performance of the agriculture sector in the economy. Farm prices have been good. That's why we need to get this farm bill locked in and done, and we hope that happens.
Q Just to follow up, Mike, the President barely -- never mentioned the Republican field on that day in New Hampshire, on Friday at least. Is it likely that he will continue to not talk about them in Iowa as well?
MR. MCCURRY: It's very likely the President will continue to leave the Republicans to their own festivities in the primary season. He's had some concerns about -- I mean, he's been more than happy to contrast his vision of where this country needs to go in the 21st century with that offered by the Republican majority, but at this point the Republicans are in their own process of selecting a candidate and the President has been very reluctant to engage in any particular commentary on any of those seeking the job because, frankly, the Republican party has to decide who they wish to nominate to run against him.
Q So he would not be likely then to contrast his position and the situation within the Democratic Party with the brawl or race, or whatever you want to call it in the other party.
MR. MCCURRY: No. I mean, he enjoys the support of the party. He's gratified that the Democrats have rallied to his candidacy and that he faces no opponent. But the Democratic Party itself has had some fairly bloody primary fights, so we know what it's like to go through the process they're going through now. It's agonizing.
Q Let me just ask one more question on this. Is there some -- is there any quick way to sum up why he's going?
MR. MCCURRY: There is. First of all, Iowa is a state that he carried in 1992, you'll recall. It's a state in which he feels that the benefits of the economic program that he has put forward since 1993 have been felt and have been seen and are real, the investments. And it's a state that puts a very keen focus on education, a high percentage of kids who go to college. That's something the President's talking about this week. He wants to revisit those issues when he sees the people of Iowa. And he thinks -- he is on the ballot there, in a sense. He will be before the caucuses -- will be before Democratic caucuses and he believes he should go and ask for their support.
Q Well, would it be fair to say that this is a chance to do a little work looking ahead to November in a state which at this time, perhaps more than it would be if it weren't for the caucuses, is paying attention?
MR. MCCURRY: The President going throughout this year to states where he believes he wants to make the argument about where this country needs to go, what he needs to do, and whether it's in a primary context or a general election context, his vision is something he cares about deeply and he wants to put before the voters.
Q Just about the timing is all I'm asking.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the timing is obviously related to the caucus Monday night.
Q He's unopposed, so --
MR. MCCURRY: He's unopposed, but Democrats will be gathering all across Iowa, probably not in the same percentages or numbers since it's an uncontested caucus. But that is important. It's an important element of the party's effort in that state every year to build up to the national convention. And the President wants to go thank the people, the Democrats in Iowa for their support; frankly, thank the people of Iowa for the support they've given him, and then also ask those Democrats going to caucuses to support him. He thinks it's his right to ask for their support.
Q Mike, I just wanted to follow up on what is the White House reaction to the Pat Buchanan win in Louisiana over Senator Phil Gramm?
MR. MCCURRY: We didn't have any reaction.
Q Could you make up one?
MR. MCCURRY: Could I make one up? (Laughter.)
Q Somebody's dead, you said.
MR. MCCURRY: If Inside Politics at 4:00 p.m. is so hard up that they have to have me comment on the Buchanan race -- you must have more than enough Republicans commenting on that list.
Q I'm interested in the White House comment.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think we've spent a lot of time on it. Our political director --
Q Once you say hi to Judy -- (laughter).
MR. MCCURRY: I am sure that on Inside Politics today at 4:00 p.m. on CNN this issue will be thoroughly reviewed and you'll see more than you want to see on the Louisiana caucus. As near as I can tell, most people in Louisiana didn't even know they had a caucus. Amongst a certain portion of the Republican Party, way on the far right they had a little contest and skirmish way on the far right, and one guy won and one guy lost and one guy finished nowhere.
Q How far right were they? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: They were way on out there -- way on out there.
Q I want to clarify something you said earlier this morning. You said that you didn't expect budget talks to start again until after the primaries. Specifically, you meant New Hampshire and Iowa, or do you mean after the primary season?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has been looking for ways to move forward on a balanced budget agreement has indicated that his door is open. But we detect right now a certain hiatus in the ability to have those types of negotiations while certain things happen in places like Louisiana and Iowa and New Hampshire. Perhaps after those events have happened, there will be a little more clarity and that those that we have been dealing with will be in a better position to move forward and work hard on a balanced budget agreement; the President hopes so. He certainly would be available sooner than that, but I imagine that's fairly unlikely.
Now, if Senator Dole would like to come and spend 50 hours here this week, next week, we welcome him here and would look forward to that occasion. I rather suspect he'll be otherwise occupied.
Q Did Aristide inform the U.S. before he recognized Cuba? I mean, as a courtesy?
MR. MCCURRY: We're saying we don't believe so, but we should really check on that. The President will be calling President Preval later today, and maybe in the context of handling that call later we can get the answer to that.
Q But did you get any more information on the Serbian soldiers who have been arrested on suspicion of war crimes?
MR. MCCURRY: The information I got, which I would direct you to is a statement that Richard Goldstone, the chief prosecutor of the International War Crimes Tribunal has issued, and then also the statement that the commanders of the International Implementation Force have now put out related to that issue. Judge Goldstone is suggesting that those two military officers should be delivered to the War Crimes Tribunal. That's been reflected now in the comments of the IFOR commanders have made. So there's been a breaking development on that in the theater.
Q Mike, do you have a date for the President's next trip to California?
MR. MCCURRY: We do.
Q Twenty-third and twenty-fourth.
MS. TERZANO: It's the end of the month. I don't know the date.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll try to handle some schedule stuff at the end as best as we know it.
Q It's at the end?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q To get back to Bill's question on the telecommunications bill -- the concern among this coalition is not just abortion, they fear they can be prosecuted if they put on the Internet information about how to avoid AIDS, if they write about the Holocaust, if they quote in detail contemporary political prisoners who have been tortured. Is there any concern here about the impact --
MR. MCCURRY: As with any major rewrite of an important piece of legislation as you accustom yourself to a new environment in which some aspects of regulation are disappearing and a new environment persists, there will be a transition period as these things are implemented. We would hope that common sense prevails. Those types of concerns, if people allow common sense to rule and the 1st Amendment and an environment in which Americans are going to have greater access to information and ideas and technology, we believe that could -- those concerns could be resolved. But we will certainly address as necessary any particular features of the legislation as we go into the implementation of the act itself.
Q Beyond the rhetoric, will we get something more definitive on the response to the Clinger on the 20 subpoenas?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I just gave you a more than satisfactory response. We will continue to cooperate and individuals who are no longer at the White House have to speak for themselves, but they have cooperated.
Q How many are there who have --
MR. MCCURRY: The committee has indicated that it's 128. But it's their subpoena, so you really should as the committee.
Q I mean, how many are still at the White House? Do you know that?
MR. MCCURRY: You should really ask the committee who they direct subpoenas to.
Q But you're saying -- just to make sure, you're saying all of these things that Mr. Clinger has on his list of 128, 129 documents have been turned over, or are you --
MR. MCCURRY: I said -- it is our judgment, based on what we have learned from his request, that most of the material that he wants is available and has been available, and there's no reason it wouldn't be available. But he's not interested in working with us to kind of get at the documents; he's interested in grandstanding. That's what I'm saying.
Q And what about the remainder of the stuff beyond "most"? You say most of the --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there's some stuff -- there are apparently some work product issues that they need to look at. But they a long time ago indicated a willingness to sit down and work through those issues, and they have not had that opportunity.
Q So what's a work product issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Questions about what is -- not final work product, but preparation work for other documents that may have been produced under other requires.
Look, I'm not -- I would readily admit that I'm not the person who has gone through this file by file, but you can talk to Mr. Fabiani and get more on that. But they're pretty clear that most of what they've pronounced with great fanfare today is duplicative of the requests that have already been either satisfied or have been discussed with the committee. So they're basically rehashing things.
Q Mike, I wonder whether the President is still concerned about the continuing tensions between Greece and Turkey, and whether he plans any new initiative in -- Cyprus now that the Holbrooke mission has been cancelled.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President, by communicating his own concern directly to leaders in both countries, certainly indicated it was a matter that he would follow. These are two very important and close allies of the United States, two valued members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and we will do everything we can, and continue to do everything we can to encourage them to resolve any difficulties or disagreements they have in a peaceful fashion. I'm sure there will be opportunities to do that through our diplomacy. And I'm sure that even though Assistant Secretary Holbrooke's mission has not gone forward, they'll be other opportunities in which we can have that type of positive exchange with two countries with whom we enjoy very close and very beneficial relations.
Q Mike, back on Haiti, one more question. Are you satisfied with the role that Aristide is playing -- the high profile political role he's playing there? Would you like to see more background behind the scenes?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be better to say that we're very encouraged by the performance of President-elect and soon-to-be President Preval. He has clearly moved into this very important role and shows every indication of wanting to govern Haiti, take up the mantle of leadership and continue the progress toward democracy and economic restoration of Haiti, which is obviously key to the long-term success of this very important effort that has been launched by the international community to support democracy in Haiti.
On the other hand, President Aristide is clearly a beloved figure within his own political movement, indeed within the country. There are many who are reluctant to see him go because of what he's been able to accomplish for the people. And he will continue to be on the scene, no doubt, as a senior statesman. I believe Deputy National Security Advisor Berger addressed that issue just yesterday and gave our views. He's someone who has meant an enormous amount in the political life of that nation, and that will not likely be eroded any time soon. At the same time, President Preval will now assume the duties and the responsibilities and he gives every indication he intends to govern effectively.
Q Do we have any reason to believe that President Preval will reverse or not go ahead with establishing of relations with Cuba?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe it's been an issue that's been raised, and we will check with our delegation after they return to see if it's an issue that arises.
Q Do you have a time for the telecommunications signing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Do we have a time yet on telecom? No? It won't be here, I think as many of you know. It's probably going to be on Capitol Hill. We'll check. You can check back here.
END 2:12 P.M. EST