THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:03 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Obviously, we're addressing here a specific continue related to this, to the HIV aspects of the bill. And, as you can tell, we can't overstate our objections to that provision. And I simultaneously point out that we're talking here about a $264.7 billion Defense Authorization bill, very critical to the national security of the United States, very important to people in the military around the world.
As we've said before, the President, along with many members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, who strongly objected to this provision, felt, nonetheless, that the bill itself is so critical to our national defense that it deserves support. The Pentagon and the administration, during the course of consideration of this bill, strenuously objected to the HIV provision, but more importantly, if you recall, to other provisions of the bill.
The President's veto on December 28th was occasioned because of objections to numerous aspects of the bill, including the HIV provision. But most onerous in the President's view, and those cited in his veto message of December 28th, was the section that would have mandated 50-state deployment of a missile defense system by the year 2003, and the section that would have curbed some of his constitutional responsibilities as Commander-in-Chief, especially as it related to United States forces attached to United Nations. And then, third, the section that would have mandated supplemental budget requests to fund overseas military contingency operations, which we wanted to have as a nonbinding sense of Congress language.
And those changes, all three of those areas, were dramatically improved -- in fact, fixed -- by Congress as they passed the bill that the President will consider tomorrow.
In addition I would point out the bill itself, by allowing the full military pay and allowances increase that the President had called for, was very, very important to people in our uniformed military around the world. It also contains Secretary Perry's family and troop housing improvement initiative which has been a very key Department of Defense priority. And it also contains substantial improvements on acquisition and procurement reform.
Because of all of these reasons and because this bill continues necessary authorizations for military programs that are so critical to the national defense, the President is favorably inclined towards the bill itself.
Let me tell you that he's expected to take final action on it at 8:00 a.m. tomorrow morning. And we are going to be able to have a background -- or I guess an embargoed briefing after my regular briefing here for those of you who will be writing about the President's decision tomorrow morning so that you can get a little more detail on the overall bill itself.
I'd like to say a couple of things about the bill briefly before you go on to questions. There are a lot of people at OMB and DOD who have worked through the issues that are in the overall bill that are very important to the administration. John Koskinen at OMB has played a leading role with respect to some of the authorization bills, revisions in the way the government acquires and manages information technology. There's a whole portion of this bill related to information technology that's very key.
And I'd also say an unsung hero of that particular provision of the act is Roger Johnson who has got to be considered in all respects one of the most creative leaders of the General Services Administration in its history. He harnessed all the experts in our government on information technology from outside and changed a lot of the provisions in here that relate to information technology. These will make dramatic changes in the way the Defense Department and the Pentagon manages information, the flow of information around the world to U.S. forces and to civilian personnel at DOD.
He's also been able to, in a sense, take us away from a lot of central planning aspects the GSA too often in the past was associated with and has pushed down decision-making to agencies, and I think he deserves a special credit for the provisions of the bill that some members of the administration are going to be in a position to talk to you about later.
A couple of other announcements if you don't mind. Yes?
Q In that directive to DOD and -- et cetera, is that a presidential directive, an executive order? What's exactly
MR. MCCURRY: It is a memorandum to the effect that the Cabinet Secretaries at Defense, Veterans Administration and Transportation, I believe.
Q What's the size of the pay increase in the bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it authorizes the full 3.0 percent increase, if I'm not mistaken. But I'll defer that question, if you don't mind, to some of the people who will be in a position to brief shortly.
Q Mike, what efforts has the administration made on the Kennedy-Cohen Amendment, and what do the prospects look like?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been in very close consultation with those on the Hill who are also outraged by this provision who are seeking its repeal. Remember, the effective date, as you've just heard, is six months from now. We believe that provides ample opportunity for Congress to reverse this decision and repeal that provision and we will, of course, be supportive and be working with supporters of that legislation.
QQ Well, what are the prospects?
MR. MCCURRY: We are very encouraged by what we hear from the Hill about the provision. We think that the attention that has now been drawn to this issue surely is having an impact on members of Congress, and we hope that there will be a speedy repeal of the provision.
Q Mike, will this memorandum to these department heads be attached to the signing tomorrow, and will a statement on this provision be part of the package tomorrow morning?
MR. MCCURRY: No. By signing the directive today and by General Shalikashvili and Secretary Perry issuing their joint statement today, both of which you'll receive as soon as we're done here, the President has taken the necessary action with respect to that provision today.
Q So this will just be a straightforward bill signing tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct.
Q And he's going to do -- no coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: That's White House photo prior to departure for Iowa tomorrow.
Q No other coverage than that?
MR. MCCURRY: No other coverage than that planned. Correct? Correct.
I've got two other --
Q Why not? Is there any reason for that? You all are out here giving a list of credits that sounds like the end of a movie and then you say we can't even see it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President -- he will be, as you know, it's a very early departure. Tomorrow we will make a photo available.
Q You don't want to get the crew up too early? Is that the idea?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me move on to other issues.
The President today declared a major disaster exists in the state of Oregon and he ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas struck by high winds, severe storms and flooding on January 26, 1996, and continuing. The President's action makes federal funding available to 17 counties in Oregon and in the Warm Springs Reservation. There is a summary and written statement we've got here of some of the assistance packages that will be available.
The President also today declared a major disaster exists in the state of Washington and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local recovery efforts in the areas struck by high winds, severe storms and floods beginning on January 26 and continuing. His declaration affecting, in the case of Washington, 14 counties. And, again, we've got two written statements on both of those.
The President has talked to some local officials, been in close contact with the Director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, James Lee Witt, who will go to Washington and Oregon tomorrow to survey damage areas on the order of the President. And he has had, I believe, conversations with Senator Wyden and we have also had some conversations with Senator Murray as well. The governors in both states were attempting to reach. The Governor of Oregon is, of course, as you know, was hospitalized overnight.
Q Mike, in seeking reversal or removal of the Dornan provision, might the administration ask Magic Johnson to go up there and testify?
Q Is he a member of the military?
MR. MCCURRY: If I'm not mistaken, he may have some thoughts that he would make available himself in the form of some correspondence, but I'll leave that to others to talk bout.
Q What do you mean by that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll see if I can tell you more.
Q Is he writing a letter to the Hill? Is that --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Thank you.
Q Under normal circumstances, Greek officials here in Washington on February 6 circulated a State Department guide, press guidance, regarding the Greek-Turkish dispute over the Greek Island Imia, over the Aegean. This document presented over in Greece as "a Greek national victory" as a State Department and as a White House official statement. The State Department yesterday rejected this as "supposed understanding --" document. I would like to know your position; more specifically, if you're considering -- as a White House official statement, as was reported in Athens.
Before you make your comment, if you want, I can read the document.
MR. MCCURRY: It would not be necessary to read such a document. That is not the position of the White House. Our position on the issue is clear. We have on numerous occasions reaffirmed our commitment to the principle of respect for international treaties, the territorial integrity of Greece and Turkey, and of internationally recognized borders. We have called on both governments to peacefully resolve their disputes, and we've made it clear with respect to the islet Imia, Kardak as it is also called, we take no position.
Q Why do you take no position?
Q -- the document itself? Any position on the document?
MR. MCCURRY: The document itself I am not aware of, but it does not reflect the official position of the United States government, which I've just conveyed.
Q -- a question of territorial sovereignty, whose was it? Whose is it? How can you be neutral?
MR. MCCURRY: The U.S. takes no position on the islet because there are a number of international agreements relevant to the ownership issue. Some of them date back for decades; some of them involve Italy. There are conflicting international agreements on the question. There are lots of issues related to the Dodecanese Islands, of which the Greeks claim as part -- the particular islet that we're talking about, as part of their territory. And we believe the best venue for addressing those conflicting claims on the question of ownership is the International Court of Justice or some other consensual body.
Q Mike, on Bosnia, you indicated this morning that there was some clarification needed for the rules of picking up, arresting people who were determined to be war criminals. What is the U.S. position? Are you pushing for more clarification or something specific or --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we have -- what we've suggested is that -- I mean, obviously, we continue to believe that war crimes ought to be investigated, they ought to be pursued vigorously by the tribunal.
But based on the experiences that we've seen now in recent days, there needs to be some greater clarity formally set forth as the parties implement aspects of the Dayton Accords. That's why Ambassador Holbrooke, among other reasons, will be going to the region on Sunday. And we believe the parties themselves, working with IFOR and working through the civilian apparatus suggested in the Dayton Accords, can come to agreements on how law enforcement issues will be handled with respect to the investigation of war crimes.
Q So were the Serb soldiers picked up illegally?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States supports the International War Crimes Tribunal and Chief Prosecutor Goldstone has made recommendations with which we've expressed our own assent.
Q What's that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me go back for a second to Leo's question. My understanding is that Magic Johnson has written a letter to Senator Dole and Speaker Gingrich that expresses his own personal views on this issue. And I would say that they are consistent with the view that this provision itself needs to be repealed, and I believe it is available for release, so we can make it available afterwards.
Q Mike, on the HIV provision, is this the sort of thing we're going to see more of in the future, where the President uses legal challenges or legal interpretation to strike down or water down provisions in bills that he otherwise has to accept?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, hopefully not, because the President would want, in all circumstances, to cooperate with Congress and find a way to resolve issue like this so they don't present him in a position where he needs to challenge those provisions legally. This is an extraordinary circumstance in which he has to take that course, but on balance the President wants to work in an amicable spirit with the Republican Congress and write legislation that is to his satisfaction and to the satisfaction of the congressional majorities.
Q There apparently are reports from Irish state radio saying that the IRA has issued a statement, which they believe is authenticated, saying that they have put an end to their 17-month cease-fire as of Friday, 1800 GMT.
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard anything to that effect and haven't had any indication that that would be true, but we'll check.
Q Well, has George Mitchell indicated there were any snags in any of the talks?
MR. MCCURRY: To the contrary, as you know, from the briefings about some of the meetings that have occurred here involving the President, the Vice President, and the National Security Adviser.
Q Mike, can you give us an idea of what is going to be on the agenda for the meeting with Prime Minister Hashimoto, and can you give us an idea how this came together?
MR. MCCURRY: National Security Adviser Tony Lake has just returned from a visit to the Asian region, including a stop in Tokyo where he had the opportunity to see Prime Minister Hashimoto. Out of the conversation that the National Security Adviser had with Prime Minister Hashimoto, there was an agreement that it would be useful for both President Clinton and Prime Minister Hashimoto to have some time together informally so they could get to know each other on a personal basis, and also review those issues that will be dealt with in great detail at the time of President Clinton's state visit to Japan in April.
It seemed to both President Clinton and to Prime Minister Hashimoto very useful for them to have some time to spend together informally in a more relaxed setting prior to the formal state visit that the President will make. And, obviously, it will be an opportunity for them to work on the agenda of the meeting and also to deal with issues that they can handle prior to the formal deliberations that will occur in Tokyo.
Q Was there any sense that you want to try to clear up any economic problems that are coming up along the way so you can simply focus on the security agreements in Tokyo?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've been making very good progress in our economic deliberations with Japan on trade-related issues. Very often in the past, meetings of U.S. presidents and Japanese prime ministers have been dominated by economic issues. But as we've always stressed, we have such a range of interests in common that are important to both our governments, whether it's the cooperation on global issues, the work we do together on everything from the Middle East peace process to environmental protection, in addition to those security issues that are obviously vital in the Asian Pacific Region, especially in these days.
So I think it is safe to say that at a time when the economic relationship is bearing fruit and there is less tension in that aspect of the relationship they would like to be able to make sure they clear the weeds before they get on to the major security issues that they hope to deal with then. But, as always, there will be an expansive review of the issues of mutual concern between both governments.
Q Mike, will the President's trip to Iowa tomorrow and Sunday, should we expect the same kind of tone as we heard in New Hampshire last week?
MR. MCCURRY: Spiritually uplifting, confident and optimistic? Yes.
Q Is he going to mention any of the Republican candidates, or address the issues they've raised? Or does he continue to try and be --
MR. MCCURRY: Who?
Q -- above the fray?
MR. MCCURRY: Who?
Q Will he be able to avoid them?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe the President will comment in any great length on the Republican primary race, except to say --which he will say and has said -- that there are two contrasting visions about what the future of this country looks like if you talk to the President or if you talk to the variety of candidates running for the Republican nomination. Those differences are real and he has contrasted those in the past and not contrasting specifically with any individual Republican candidate, but as a general proposition, he said the two major parties. He, as President of one party, the Democratic Party, has a different view from the predominant view in the Republican Party.
Q Well, Mike, considering that he has no opposition for the nomination, what does he hope to accomplish in terms of the caucuses?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President hopes to accomplish a number of things, and he's suggested some of these in interviews yesterday with Iowa news organizations that we can make available. He said we've come a long way in three years. We have gotten a lot of economic progress. We've made a lot of economic progress. We've certainly improved the life for average American citizens when they think about their future. But we've got a lot more work to do. And the President is excited about that work. He's enthusiastic about where we're going to go, and he wants to go to Iowa to talk about the challenges that face this country and face the citizens of Iowa as we look ahead to the 21st century.
And, of course, also, he wants to make a special appeal to the Democrats of Iowa to support him on Monday night. Even though there's no contest, this is an important part of democracy at the grass roots. The Iowa caucus process is now legendary in its importance and the presidential selection process, and the President thought it right and proper for him to go and ask for the support of those Democrats who will go out on a cold night Monday night to participate in this very important process.
Q Quick question. Is Magic Johnson currently on the President's Commission on AIDS?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that and I don't -- I don't know the answer to that. We can check.
Q Mike, back to Iowa for a second. I know he was asked about the pending farm bill in, I guess, all of those interviews yesterday. How much of an issue does he plan to make of that tomorrow and Sunday?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's a very important issue. It most likely will come up and he will talk to it. The President very much wants a farm bill, especially as we get closer to the start of the 1996 planting season. He wants one that gives farmers flexibility, but also make sure that they have an adequate safety net available when they face hard times. And he believes we can do that. He believes that there are ways in which we can take the legislation now under consideration and improve it.
Secretary of Agriculture Glickman has been working hard with members of Congress to fine-tune that legislation. The President himself has expressed some of his specific concerns about the Senate bill, but that will be important, Iowa being a heavily agriculture-oriented state and one in which the virtues of the rural components of that farm legislation are very evident.
That's one of the things, by the way, that was done to improve the bill. The fund for rural America, which was refunded in the Senate consideration of the improvements is important and you can see a direct impact of that, certainly, in Iowa.
Q Ambassador Mondale was quoted yesterday as saying that 74,000 American troops in Japan might be moved around some and not reduce the number but some would be taken off Okinawa to assuage some of those concerns there. Can you confirm that and will that be taken up with Hashimoto?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't confirm that specifically. I haven't looked at that issue. There have been good, productive discussions about the issue of the U.S. presence in Japan. There have been good discussions about the status of bases and the configuration of the deployment on Okinawa. And we hope there will be considerable progress on those issues prior to the President's state visit to Japan in April.
Q Can you give us any guidance on the Federal Reserve nominations? How close are they?
MR. MCCURRY: Not any different than I did earlier today. I indicated that there is no -- the National Economic Council and Dr. Tyson specifically has not forwarded a formal recommendation on those vacancies or the tenure of the Chairman to the President. There have been discussions about that, certainly, at the White House. The President has had some discussions himself. But there has been no formal recommendation, and I don't want to speculate on when that might come.
Q What's the precedent for an administration filing a friend of the court brief to argue against, to fight a federal --
MR. MCCURRY: You had the two best people in the world to ask that question and I can't cite legal precedent for you, but they are ample, I am told, based on the conversation earlier.
Q Why isn't the administration prepared today to say that they'll fight it in court?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry -- say again.
Q That they will fight the provision in court. When they were asked, when Quinn was asked, he said they hadn't decided whether they would file a friend of the court --
MR. MCCURRY: No, no, no. He made it very clear that we will -- the legal position that we've taken is very, very clear. What he had indicated was that we hope that issue doesn't arise. We hope either, first, that Congress repeals this onerous provision before it becomes effective in June, or, alternatively, second, that Congress indicated itself that it would not attempt to defend the statute if it were to go into court.
Now, in the best of all circumstances, nobody faces the condition suggested by the bill because there would be -- it would not go into effect and there would be no need for a discharge. But that's the only issue is what happens and who finds standing in court. Our position, I think, as the two lawyers made clear earlier would be quite clear if it went into court.
Q Who is the President taking with him to Iowa? And what do your polls show on the Republicans, who is going to win?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we have an polling data on who would win. There is such an ample availability of polling data on that question from news organizations and from the spin of various Republican candidates that I'm sure you can find all the information you need on that subject.
As to who is going with the President, I don't know the answer to that.
Q On the political side, I mean.
MR. MCCURRY: You mean from the White House staff? I believe Mr. Ickes is going; Mr. Sosnik, our Political Director, is going. If I'm not mistaken, Anne Lewis, who is our Deputy campaign Manager, will be going. The Press Secretary will not.
Q How do you think that your HIV decision today is going to play in Iowa?
MR. MCCURRY: I have no way of predicting, but I know that around the country there has been a great deal of outrage about the provision, a great deal of opposition.
Q On the farm bill, you mentioned the President's concerns with the Senate-passed version. Are they serious enough to warrant threat of a veto?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President has made it clear he does not want to veto a farm bill. We've got to get a farm bill one way or another, and we think we can make the improvements necessary in the legislation now moving on the Hill that he will be satisfied.
Q Absent those improvements --
MR. MCCURRY: Don't want to speculate. We're thinking optimistically today.
Q Is the President aware of the irregularities in the mayoral campaign finance report of Ambassador Raymond Flynn and, if so, has he talked to the Ambassador or does he plan to talk to him?
MR. MCCURRY: The President understands there have been news reports to that question. I don't believe he's had an opportunity nor, is my understanding, has the State Department had an opportunity to review any official findings by an investigative bodies in Massachusetts.
Q You said in Iowa the President won't single out any particular Republican candidates. Is he likely, though, to go there and "dis" the flat tax, as he has done in the past?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is very interested in tax reform and very keen on making sure Americans understand that real tax reform means tax simplification and tax cuts for those who need them, particularly the hard pressed middle class.
The flat tax proposals the President is familiar with, including most of those that seem to dominate the conversation in the Republican presidential primary, are budget-busting ideas that would result in tax increases on middle income families and that's not the President's idea of tax reform and he will make that abundantly clear to anyone who asks. But he does not do so in an effort to anyhow in one way or another affect the debate in the Republican party. The President is perfectly satisfied allowing the Republicans to debate among themselves how they will raise taxes on middle income families in order to pay for the tax proposals that one candidate described as a nutty idea.
Q Mike, did the White House try to contact the Republican leadership to get them on board today as well, in terms of this effort to repeal the Dornan amendment --
MR. MCCURRY: We will -- we have, the Pentagon, during the course of consideration of this bill on numerous occasions did convey the views of the administration. We did seek to overturn this one provision, that was not successful during consideration of the bill and the conference report on the bill, itself; and we will now advise the congressional leadership of the decision of the President not to defend the constitutionality of this provision because it now becomes the responsibility of the Republican leadership to direct that that be done if that arises as a matter of law in a court.
Q Because I gather ahead of today's decision by the President there was no attempt to turn it into a bipartisan --
MR. MCCURRY: There has not been yet, but it may very well be because of the concern that this provision is generating around the country that, voluntarily, the Republican leadership might wish to join with the President in his expression of concern on this issue. It would not surprise me in the least if that happens and, of course, that would be welcome.
Q Are you specifically inviting them to do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will advise them of the President's decision and allow them to make a decision as to whether they wish to join with the President. As I say, if they did join so that there would be a bipartisan consensus between the executive branch and the White House on the need to repeal this legislation, that would be a very welcome, very encouraging development.
Q Is the radio tomorrow still on V-chip or are you going to throw a little defense bill in there?
MR. MCCURRY: Still the violence chip we'll talk about; maybe other subjects, as well.
Q Mike, let me read you a wire story out of London and see if you can --
MR. MCCURRY: I already said I don't know anything about it.
Q This is about -- hear about the explosion?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I haven't heard about that.
Q Large explosion rocked -- area in London's East End Friday night. Several witnesses said -- described it as an almighty blast by wire service employee. And coinciding with a report about what you were asked earlier --
MR. MCCURRY: Right. Right.
Q Would you try to get us some guidance on that?
MR. MCCURRY: We're aware of the reports. We're making an assessment of the reports that are available to us at this time. We'll have further contact with the embassy in London and we'll comment appropriately when we can.
Q The President talked quite, not just optimistically, but affirmatively, about getting a budget deal in some period of time today. Has he had any other discussions that lead him to feel that confidently, or just -- is this just more of his optimistic outlook?
MR. MCCURRY: He has not had any specific conversations, himself, that I am aware of that lead him to be optimistic. He's aware, of course, that Speaker Gingrich has said some things that express his own optimism. The Speaker at one point having sort of walked from the discussions that the President was conducting and now indicates an interest in having a balanced budget agreement reached maybe even next month. And that is encouraging to the White House, and we hope that will reflect further discussions to come to achieve a balanced budget agreement that the President of the United States very much wants for the people of the United States.
Q Did the congressional Republican leadership support the Dornan Amendment at the time it was pending and brought up? Do you happen to know what the votes were on the Dornan Amendment per se?
MR. MCCURRY: Do I know what the votes were?
Q It obviously passed both Houses, or at least --
MR. MCCURRY: It passed. And again, as I said earlier, there were Republicans and Democrats who strongly objected to the Dornan Amendment who nonetheless voted for the bill because this is the FY '96 Defense Authorization bill. This is one of the major pieces of national security legislation to move through Congress every year. The President had vetoed it once, had outlined numerous concerns about the bill, but had identified very large objections to provisions of this bill that related to Star Wars and related to constitutional infringements on his rights as Commander-in-Chief.
And the Congress, in fairness, responded to those concerns and addressed the bulk of them in the bill. They did not address all of the President's concerns about the Dornan Amendment. They substantially modified it and made it less egregious than it already is, but that, the President on balance felt, could not justify a second veto. Instead he's taken the course he's outlined today, which makes it very clear that he finds this abhorrent and he will seek its immediate repeal and, in any event, be prepared to deal with any adverse consequences.
Q Would it take a vote of Congress, of the full Congress, to defend it in court? Or could the leadership just say, let's do it?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. That's an issue of constitutional procedure -- or congressional procedure. I don't know the answer.
Q Mike, one last question on Bosnia. This morning you said with regard -- on the civilian side, the reason for Holbrooke going over is to do some more work on that. Can you kind of outline what Holbrooke's strategy is and what his plans are to help maintain the peace and the Dayton Accord?
MR. MCCURRY: I am very reluctant to do that. I'm sure that issue has arisen at the State Department briefing today, and I'll bet if you check with folks over there, they'll probably have a lot on it.
Q You don't expect his path to cross with any of the Republicans in Iowa?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. The place is crawling with Republican candidates, so --
Q I know. They're running all over.
MR. MCCURRY: -- it wouldn't be out of the realm of the possible, but he'll say howdy if he does and move on.
Q Is this briefing on the rest of the defense bill right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me just keep rolling here. All right. I just want to alert everyone in the back and those who were -- maybe we're just going to get this on the record. This is now.
I want to establish some ground rules before we proceed here at this time. We are now going in -- we've ended the daily briefing.
END 2:35 P.M. EST