THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:23 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House.
Some of you will be going to California tomorrow with the President. Among the items on the President's agenda includes his get-acquainted session with the new Japanese Prime Minister, Prime Minister Hashimoto. I thought I'd take a second and put that meeting tomorrow in which the President is very much looking forward to in the context of a lot of what we've been doing to strengthen U.S. relationships throughout Asia, to build on some of the success of this administration's foreign policy as we've dealt with issues like the North Korean nuclear issue; as we've managed a very delicate, the very important relationship with China; as we built trade relations throughout that region that have redounded to the benefit of American families, many of who are involved in exporting goods and services to the Asian Pacific region; and most importantly, as we built the institutions of the post-Cold War era like APEC, like ASEAN, that are so central to economic vitality in that region and so central to our own stake in the success of commerce and bilateral relations throughout the Asian Pacific.
That's the context in which the President will meet the new Prime Minister. They will review not only all of those issues that are significant as we look at our relationship in the Asian Pacific region, but also those issues that define what is arguably the most important relationship that we have in that region, that between the United States government and the government of Japan.
It's often said of our relationship with Japan that it is built around three legs that support a fundamentally sound relationship -- political issues in which we cooperate with the Japanese on a range of global issues from U.N. peacekeeping to the Middle East peace process to advancing environmental protection issues that we work on often in the context of the international community and the United Nations; the economic relations that very often in the past, frankly, have been defined by friction in our trade relationship and happily now defined more positively by the 20 trade agreements that have been put in place between the United States government and the government of Japan since 1993; and then, lastly, the security issues as we address together our security interests in that region, as we keep a very important forward-deployed presence in Japan, and as we work together to defend our mutual strategic interests in that region.
The Santa Monica meeting that the President will have with Prime Minister Hashimoto is really an opportunity to take a broad look at this relationship, to comment with some satisfaction on the recent improvement in the trade aspects of that relationship. As a result of our enforcement of U.S. law, but more importantly, as a result of the agreements amicably reached with the government of Japan, we now have the lowest monthly trade deficit reported in 12 years with Japan.
We also look forward to increasing shares of exports into the Japanese market and look forward to the increasing competitiveness of U.S. manufacturers and providers of goods and services as they enter into that market and enter into markets that in the past have been hard to penetrate. And that is something to be happy about, but it's important to say at the outset that this will likely be one of the first meetings between a President of the United States and a Japanese Prime Minister that is not defined simply by the trade issue. There will be an opportunity for the President and the Prime Minster to really reflect on the broad scope of that relationship; to look at things like the common agenda that we pursue with the Japanese; to look at some of the security issues that are certainly at the core of the relationship; and to, in a sense, set the scene for the very substantive, detailed work that will then occur in April when the President goes to Japan for his formal state visit.
In many ways they will be setting the agenda, making the necessary preparations so that when the President and the U.S. delegation go to Japan in April they have a very successful meeting. They will certainly be, in a sense, celebrating the scope of this alliance that we now have with the government of Japan.
So on all of those issues the President looks forward to what he is sure will be a very warm, a very pleasant meeting with the new Japanese Prime Minister; an opportunity to get to know him in his new capacity as the leader of the Japanese government, not just as its Minister of Trade; an opportunity for President Clinton to forge a personal relationship that will match the very warm and productive bilateral relationship we have with Japan.
Q Are you saying, Mike, that there is not a -- that trade is not a source of friction anymore?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm saying that in the past, the frictions that did exist in the trade relationship defined many meetings that occurred between the American President and the Japanese Prime Minister. Now, happily, because we do have agreements in place and we are working on issues in which there are still some differences and we have good negotiations underway in a variety of sectors -- because of that, we can see the measured improvement in the trade relationship, and we can take more time reflecting on other aspects of the relationship that are even more beneficial to both the people of Japan and the people of the United States.
Q Are you saying that they're going to sort of gloss over the trade frictions and --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying that that is not at the center of the discussion because it's not a moment in which we need particular urgent attention to those issues. They are being handled well by the designated Trade Representatives of the two governments as they work within the framework of these agreements that we have reached with the Japanese government.
Q Can you tell us whether the President will announce his Fed appointment this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't, no.
Q What's the likelihood?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President, as everyone here knows, has been having conversations as he narrows down his choices for the Federal Reserve. The President is very confident that he's identified strong candidates who will be able to deliberate independently on the Federal Reserve Board in the best interests of the American people and the best interests of our national economy.
You all here have a capacity to move information instantaneously, but the human brain can only think so fast. And the President has had some conversations with individuals this morning that, frankly, they want to reflect, and the President will certainly give them that chance to do so. And when the President has something more to say on that, we will let you know.
Q Does that mean that the President --
Q Is it not yet so that he's offered jobs and they want to think about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President's had some conversations that he's going to let certain individuals think about.
Q If it doesn't get announced today, does it lay over until Monday or do you do it when you're on the road?
MR. MCCURRY: We will do it when we're good and ready. (Laughter.)
Q OMB has confirmed publicly that Alice Rivlin is being considered. She stood here two weeks ago and said, no, no way would she take a Fed job. Why is she under consideration in that case then? Did he ask her to reconsider?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, without confirming or denying any reports that are circulating, has the highest regard for her, certainly acknowledges that she is at the center of one of the most important discussions that this President is having with the Republican Congress -- how to best balance the budget. She has been indispensable to the President as he has laid forward his balanced budget plan. She's been deeply enmeshed, as you know, in recent days in the preparation of our FY '97 budget submission. And that's very important work in the President's view, and only a calling of a higher nature would take her away from that kind of work.
Now, whether or not that will happen, whether or not that's something the President is considering, I'm not in a position to confirm or deny now.
Q The three individuals that the President would be considering, would he expect them to stimulate the kind of debate on the growth of the economy that he talked about in New York the other night?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is confident that the reputations, experience, background, wisdom of the people that he is considering would allow for that independent discussion of how best to grow the American economy that the President suggests is vital to the future of Americans as we look ahead to what we expect of our economy and its performance in the 21st century. Yes, he's confident that those types of individuals are now on his very short list.
Q Secretary Rubin was quoted this morning over the same place the President spoke later, that the President has selected two strong candidates. Are you suggesting that two people have been offered the job and haven't accepted?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said, the President -- the Secretary of the Treasury said that the President has identified strong candidates for the job. He may have -- did he say two -- he may have said two. And I would suggest that's, as always, accurate information dispensed by our Secretary of the Treasury.
Q Does that mean that they haven't said yes? Is that what you're waiting for?
MR. MCCURRY: It means that the President has had some conversations that he's going to let people think about it and then if he's got more to say, he'll say it.
Q Might it still happen today?
MR. MCCURRY: It could. Might not happen until next week. Might now happen until --
Q Or when you get good and ready. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Whenever we're in a position -- when the President is confident he's in a position to make an announcement he'll make an announcement.
Q Would you expect him to make it in person with the individuals?
MR. MCCURRY: That's up to the President. He likes to make announcement how he best sees fit, but on this one I think he'd probably want to make it in person.
Q Given the gravity of Dr. Rivlin's role in the budget process, what sort of risk would be involved moving her somewhere else?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President's budget team is made up of extraordinarily qualified people who work on a range of budget issues. We've got a lot of bench strength when it comes to the Office of Management and Budget. I'm certainly sure that everyone her has seen some of those people who work with Dr. Rivlin perform here. Even if she is under consideration, even if she were to take some other position, there are a lot of very qualified, very experienced, very capable people at the OMB who can continue the work of drafting the FY '97 budget, who can continue to assist the President as he negotiates with the Congress on a balanced budget. And the President is confident that we would not have any loss of performance when it comes to budget matters.
At the same time, the President has not made an announcement, and the President's only had some conversations and where they might lead it would be wrong for anyone here to speculate.
Q I'm wondering if it isn't a bit naive on the part of the President to suggest this --
MR. MCCURRY: Whatever the question, the answer is no. (Laughter.)
Q But I'll ask it anyway. Isn't it a bit naive to expect this independent debate in the Federal Reserve with these new appointees when the entire history of the Federal Reserve shows that it's a place run by the Chairman and the top bureaucracy and that the other governors, including the Vice Chairman, really don't count for very much in how decisions are reached there? If you look at the reality of the Fed, if you're going to have a debate about growth, isn't that debate really going to have to be stimulated from the outside?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a good question. That's probably in the province of those who are more familiar with the sometimes less than transparent operations of the Federal Reserve Board. There have been academic treatments of that very subject and I don't think I can add anything to the deliberations.
At the same time, the President is confident that people with strong feelings, good background, good know-how and a keen sense of how the economy is likely to perform and how it might perform under different monetary policies, can stimulate that type of dialogue within the Federal Reserve Board and within the staff system. And the President certainly thinks that's important. The Chairman is ultimately responsible for running the Board and the staff, but he does so, I'm sure, with cooperation and consultation with other members.
Q Well, what does the President think of the treatment of his own nominee and earlier Vice Chairman Alan Blinder got. He tried to stimulate a little bit of openness and debate and got put in a corner by the rest of the folks at the Fed.
MR. MCCURRY: You're in a shorthand way summarizing Dr. Blinder's feelings about his experience on the Board. That's something that I would allow him to express himself. He's said some things that are not necessarily consistent with your characterization.
Q Mike, what does the President hope to accomplish with the domestic side of this trip to California, specifically the school uniform event?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President will be in a position on Saturday to say some things further on the subject of school uniforms and how they can help bring a better sense of security and safety to school children in America. I'll leave the announcement for them, but I'll suggest it will be similar to some things the President has done in the past to make it clear to local public school districts what they can allow.
Just as we did with the question of allowing people to express their religious faith, there are things that are certainly within the boundaries of our constitutional system that can be pursued. And we've seen examples around the country, and particularly in Long Beach where the President will visit, of how the use of school uniforms can actually decrease violence on elementary and secondary school campuses and help keep kids safe.
That's one of the President's principal purposes. He's gone often to California, as you know. He wants to go to Washington, in addition, and examine issues related to the performance of that economy in general. This is another opportunity for us to see, interestingly, and, in fact, in tandem with the visit with Prime Minister Hashimoto how those specific Northwest and Pacific Rim states are so dependent on America's involvement in this international economy. It's no coincidence that the meeting with Prime Minister Hashimoto can actually be important to those residents in California up and down the Pacific who really are dependent in so many ways on strong export relations with the countries of Asia.
Q What is the federal role in the school uniform issue?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that the federal government can help local school districts understand what they are constitutionally permitted to do when he comes to the issue of school uniforms.
Q What about this question of school uniforms for poor children who can't afford it. Is the administration considering any sort of federal assistance, subsidies, anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: The President acknowledges that that's a real concern, that local school districts will be addressed on that type of issue. The best solutions as we've seen from the experience of those school districts that have adopted these types of policies -- the best answers are found at the local level. He's not going to suggest there should be some federal uniform policy or some mandatory approach, but that it's important for the federal government to understand it's responsibilities in allowing local school districts to take independent steps.
Q Earlier today at the Empowerment Zone conference, the President laid out fairly substantial list of legislative measures he'd like Congress to pass between now and Easter. Precisely how much of that do you expect will get done? I know you'd like it all and feel it all should be done, but how much do you expect?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President -- you're right, he has a lot of measures that the President would like to see action on -- from the terrorism bill, to the line item veto, to many of the measures that he has put forward. He suggested in the speech, as you know, that there are three that he believes right away we can take action on because the parameters for agreement are so apparent: balancing the budget, reforming welfare as we know it, reforming health care and ensuring health care accessibility along the lines of the Kennedy-Kassebaum bill. He believes there is sufficient support from a majority of the Congress right now to get those three very urgent pieces of legislation done. It's going to require some hard work by leaders in Congress, and certainly the President will be required to work as well and he's prepared to do that work.
Q And he expects that will happen, however, between now and Easter?
MR. MCCURRY: We can't say we expect that because everyone here knows that those are difficult things to get done. But it's also abundantly clear to everyone in this country that there's the willpower to do that if people would set aside partisan differences and get down to the agreement to take what's available, to come to common ground, in some cases, to compromise, and to move forward.
Now, the President would suggest that he's gone a long way towards meeting some of the stipulations of the Republican Congress when it comes to balancing the budget. You all know, they all know the proposal that he has left on the table, that's there, that's available for discussion. And the President hopes that they do do that type of work, do it quickly so the American people can get what they surely deserve, a budget that is balanced within a set period of time.
Q Is he going to make those points in any formal communication to the Republican leadership?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had staff-level discussions that we hope will mature into other types of discussions. There's no indication that that's going to happen yet, but we certainly will pursue the useful staff contacts that we've had. And there have been folks here at the White House involved in that kind of contact ranging from our Legislative Affairs staff under John Hilley, to Leon to some of our budget people. So we hope that type of dialogue will continue.
Q No calls to Dole or Gingrich?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware of any plans to do calls at that level today.
Q Back on the Hashimoto visit. Does the President expect -- I mean, is he prepared to talk to Hashimoto about the current political process underway in the U.S.? And have the Japanese or any of the other U.S. trading partners sought any kind of reassurances in light of the Pat Buchanan phenomenon in New Hampshire?
MR. MCCURRY: Looking for a Buchanan angle, are we? (Laughter.)
Q Well, if we can get it on television --
Q We'll try.
MR. MCCURRY: If you want a Buchanan angle try Vladimir Zhironovsky. (Laughter.) That's available today.
Q Ohhh --
Q No, that's a serious question.
Q What do you think of that endorsement, Michael?
MR. MCCURRY: We think that it's -- for good reason we decided that it would be best not to accept Mr. Zhironovsky's offer of a debate. Perhaps Mr. Zhironovsky would like to debate Mr. Buchanan; that should be fairly entertaining.
Q Well, he agrees with him, Mike. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, do you think that the Buchanan emergence in this race makes it more difficult to get a compromise with the Republican leadership, in particular with Senator Dole? You suggested here the other day that he's a divisive force. Do you think that carries over into your dealings with -- or do you fear that it may carry over into your dealings with the leadership?
MR. MCCURRY: We have no real way of knowing, Brit. It's hard to always understand the complex dynamic that the Republican leadership in Congress faces as they deal with difficult issues. They've got a range of members that they are concerned about. I'm sure many of them are concerned about the Republican presidential primary process and what environment that creates for further negotiation.
The President hopes and believes that the Republican leaders, as they look at the interests of the American people -- frankly, as they look at the interests of their own members -- will want to get back to the table, will want to move forward on budget discussions that can lead to a balanced budget agreement. And he hopes that there's nothing about the presidential campaign atmosphere that impairs the ability of leaders to lead and agreements to be reached.
The President also faces a political calendar this year, and there are some political risk in doing what the President is doing -- trying to work with this Congress to get a balanced budget agreement. That's just what you have to do sometimes.
Q I would like to get my friend on TV, but he also raises a good point.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes -- Mick, let me come back. I can come back to the question. It is often the case -- I've seen this in my past experience at the State Department where there is keen interest, and particularly keen interest in Asia, in the U.S. election process. I happened to be in Asia at the time of the November 1994 election, and there was very real interest in the governments Secretary Christopher saw at that point in what kind of response there would be, what kind of -- what the impact of domestic politics would mean in our foreign relations and our trade relations.
The President, of course, will stress continuity, will stress the direction that we have been pursuing for three years as we meet because he's confident it's the right, that we have been able to resolve trade and economic issues amicably in the interests of the American people and also in the interests of those people with whom we trade and have commerce.
And I'm sure that the discussion with Prime Minister Hashimoto will be in that nature, that Prime Minister Hashimoto is, of course, the political leader within his own political party and very often political leaders to exchange views on the political process. The President of the United States did exactly that yesterday with the President of the Russian Federation. So it wouldn't be a surprise to have that type of encounter. But I can't predict. It's certainly not part of the formal agenda.
Q Given the fact that these sorts of meetings are advanced, what sort of concerns have the Japanese expressed to U.S. officials already about Pat Buchanan and whatever could be perceived --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I'm not aware that they've expressed any. I haven't heard of any concerns of that nature expressed there. Their concerns are to have a successful and productive meeting between the Prime Minister and the President.
Q Can you preview the speech tomorrow at McDonnell-Douglas?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that is an opportunity for the President to see what a significant contribution the C-17 is making to U.S. force posture around this world as a very successful cargo carrier. The President has flown on that plane. He's going to have an opportunity to see the delivery of the 21st C-17 to the United States and the completion of the 25th -- the roll-out of the 25th C-17. I'm looking at Commander Cullen, he's a Navy guy. (Laughter.) That's right. Do you have anything more on that?
Q How many are we buying?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have more detail tomorrow on the exact procurement. The President's been very supportive of that aircraft. It is an opportunity for him, as he talks to the workers of McDonnell-Douglas about the contribution they are making to our national defense that there are workers in the defense industry around the country that have contributed to the success of the C-17, and the President visiting that installation will be able to celebrate that success.
Q Back to the Fed appointments for just a moment. Has there been any extra groundwork laid this time to get any of the candidates past the likes of Connie Mack and D'Amato, as compared to the last time?
MR. MCCURRY: We have been in fairly regular discussion, and others have been in discussion, about the question of the Fed appointments so that we can better ascertain the views. The President was concerned about an earlier candidate that he was considering, as you know, and so we have had discussions.
Q Have you run the names by those two people?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I wouldn't want to suggest we've made formal consultations because, of course, we have not. The President hasn't reached the point where he's got an announcement to make.
Q Mike, The Washington Post has a major story today on Mexico and the certification process, and it seems to imply that one group that's in favor of certifying and one groups seems to think it's politically dangerous in an election year. Are there differences --
MR. MCCURRY: I think the -- as usual, when people write about differences in the White House, they vastly overstate differences. I think there are a lot of aspects to the relationship, but Mexico is a very trusted, very important ally of the United States and any issue of that nature would be resolved in that context. I can't add anything beyond that. This is a matter that will be under review until a time that the United States announces the annual certification list some time prior to March 1.
Q Related to the announcement today by the Presidential Legal Trust, we had asked a couple of weeks ago whether the President currently has any liability policies in effect. Were you able to check that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer. I'd have to ask Mr. Kendall that. I do not know.
Q Mike, getting back to the President's domestic legislative agenda over the next few weeks, Dole indicated yesterday he may not spend a lot of time in Washington with all these primaries coming up. If in fact he's out in the field and not available for further bargaining, isn't that going to hurt chances of compromise? In all the earlier phases, you people always pointed at Dole as the guy who was the potential cement for a deal. With him out of Washington, who have you got left?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we enjoy one aspect of our relationship with both the Speaker's office and the Majority Leader's office is excellent contact with their very capable staffs. As any senator does when a senator travels, the staff available in Washington does a lot of the follow up work and keeps the individual senator abreast of developments, and I know that Senator Dole's staff is capable of doing that. We don't believe that would be a barrier to having the kinds of conversations which, after all, at the moment are only at the staff level anyhow, that could work us further along the path towards a balanced budget.
Q Aren't you going to need Dole fully engaged in order to really bring to closure the balanced budget, welfare reform, and the things the President talked about this morning?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. The Senate Majority Leader would have to be an important participant in any agreements that would be reached, and obviously in any action that the Senate would take to codify any agreements reached. But we believe that Senator Dole sees that responsibility and is able to balance that with his other activities as a presidential candidate.
Q Mike, can you tell us what the meeting --
Q Hasn't the primary shown that this balanced budget debate is really not what the American people are interested in? I mean the only candidate who has really been pushing that issue is Phil Gramm, who has become something less than a milligram in his presidential campaign. Doesn't that indicate that there are more important issues like jobs, economic growth --
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- there's a lot you could say or not say about the Republican presidential primary campaign, but you cannot say that it has tested adequately whether or not the American people believe a balanced budget is going to be good for our economy and good for them and good for their kids as we reduce the deficit burden. I think most Americans would suggest to you and to others that that's a good thing for our leadership in Washington to get done.
Now, if there are other issues that have percolated in the primary process on the Republicans' side, that's not unusual. But the President, regardless of what the political impact of that debate is, believes it's the right thing to do for the sake of our economy, for the sake of the American people. So he's going to pursue it, and I believe he thinks that most of the Republican leaders in Congress will want to continue to pursue it too. Many of them, as you know, ran on exactly that proposition.
Q The delegation that fired air traffic controllers for PATCO was here at the White House this morning and met with FAA and White House Officials, and later said that they had a commitment from the White House that at least 50 percent of all rehires of air traffic controllers would come from the PATCO air traffic controllers, and that there would be 500 -- at least 500 hires in the coming year.
MR. MCCURRY: Let me correct a little bit of that. Secretary Pena, by the way, is in the best position to brief on that subject. You may want to direct further inquiries both to Secretary Pena and to the FAA.
What happened earlier today is that the PATCO representatives got a preview of a survey, a review that's been done by Secretary Pena, that examines what hiring patterns are likely to be in the air traffic control system over the next several years. It's a meeting and a study that, frankly, grew out of some concerns that PATCO had about whether or not the President's executive order listing the ban on hiring the PATCO employees that were on strike, whether or not it was effectively working because some were having trouble getting rehired.
What Secretary Pena suggested in this review is that we examine what the available job slots will be over the next year -- there are, by the way, 100, we believe, in the current fiscal year that will be hired and approximately 500 over the next 3 years, I believe, or maybe the next year, in 1997. As we look at what that need is going to be and what the requirements will be to fill those positions with qualified individuals, the experience that some former PATCO members have will be very attractive as those positions are filled. And the projection is that at least 50 percent of those available positions will be filled by experienced air traffic controllers. But that was not given as a commitment to do quota-based hiring or anything. It's just the projection of how they fill those slots will lead to that result.
Q Will there be new slots or are those slots open because of attrition or people are retiring or whatever?
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to check on that to be sure. My understanding is that it is additional slots based on increased demand and increased use of the system, but I would need to go back and double check.
Q And as you know, the New York Times a week or so ago reported that there was some sort of shortage of qualified -- of air traffic controllers. There was a critical shortage and as a result maybe a need to hire some more. Is there a shortage of qualified air traffic controllers at work right now?
MR. MCCURRY: There is -- there are experienced air traffic controllers, i.e. the PATCO members who are available as candidates for those openings, and there is a need that will need to be filled as we look ahead. And that's what was measured by the Transportation Department study. And the projection is that many of those who will be filled will have the experience of having served in the system.
Q One final question. Why is it over the past two and a half, almost three years, only some 35 or so fired PATCO air traffic controllers have been rehired?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that was a good question when that concern was expressed to the White House last April by PATCO representatives. And the result was the study which Secretary of Transportation has completed that looks at how we can assure that those with the necessary experience and qualifications are brought back on line into the system. And there was not a good answer for that in April of last year, which is why the President directed that the Transportation Department address the issue.
Q Senate D'Amato complained vociferously today about delays by the White House, for whatever reason, of turning over requested Whitewater documents. In light of these White House delays, what is the White House position on extending the life of that special study?
MR. MCCURRY: The one that was -- well, the President believes and the White House believes that most of the matters related to Whitewater have been reviewed, re-reviewed, quadruple-reviewed. It's hard to see that they're going in any new direction other than, you know, pestering various White House officials. At the same time, Congress will have to make that judgment. Our views on those documents was set forth by the associate legal counsel in her letter to the committee.
Q Mike, some newly disclosed documents in the case of Jennifer Harbury and her Guatemalan rebel leader husband, Efraim Bamaca, show that the White House was informed by CIA in March of 1992 that it knew that Bamaca was taken captive by military -- Guatemalan military. Is this White House -- that was during the Bush years -- is this White House aware of those documents, and even though Jennifer Harbury was not informed of that information, does this White House feel that it was totally forthcoming with her?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this White House can't speak for the last White House. And some of the matters that you referenced just then refer to those two events that occurred during the term of the President's predecessor.
Let me just review what you all know what we have done in regards to this case. We have released significant information to Jennifer Harbury in response to her own Freedom of Information request. But more importantly, in March of last year the President directed the Intelligence Oversight Board to conduct a thorough review, government-wide, of the handling of the case of Efraim Bamaca, Ms. Harbury's husband, and other cases that resulted from alleged human rights abuses in Guatemala during a period dating back to 1984.
Some of you will recall, I briefed here on occasion on the interim report that the Intelligence Oversight Board has made available. They've done an exhaustive review of the documents. They've provided some preliminary information that assesses both the embassy's handling of these events, the agency's handling of the events, other aspects related to how information was reported in a timely way to Washington and made available then to loved ones of those who were deceased.
The President believes that work by the Intelligence Oversight Board is proceeding satisfactorily. The interim report was very thorough in its explanation of what was known, how the information was handled and when it was made available. And the final report, we're sure, will provide additional information on that.
As to the specific information that she had, I'm not aware that it was unavailable to the Intelligence Board, but I'll have to go back and look at the Intelligence Board's assessment of exactly that information that she has now gotten pursuant to her FOIA request and see if there's any discrepancy there. I'm not aware of any.
We have enormous compassion for her. She lost her husband. She was in a position where she didn't know the most basic information about what his circumstances were and how he had lost his life. And this government owed her better answers. The President acknowledged that. This White House has acknowledged that, and we've gone to considerable lengths now to make sure we have an absolutely correct historical record of what happened, how the issue was handled and what information was made available. That's being made available to her, as we believe it is her right to have, and the American public have a right to know exactly how a matter like this was handled, which is the purpose of the Intelligence Oversight Board Review.
Q Do you know when that final review is due?
MR. MCCURRY: They expect to complete the review some time in the early part of this year, but I don't have a final date. We didn't hear a final date on that, but we'll check further on that.
Q Mike, speaking of the CIA, does the President have a viewpoint on using journalists or members of the clergy in clandestine operations?
MR. MCCURRY: The President doesn't have a viewpoint, the President has a policy. It is the policy of our government to prohibit the use of journalistic cover for the CIA, and that's the CIA's policy as well. That is a regulation that dates back to November of 1977. Journalists accredited by a U.S. news service, newspaper, periodical, radio or television station or network don't conduct intelligence activities and the agency is not allowed to use the name or facilities of any U.S. news media organization to provide cover for employees or activities. That's the policy of the United States government.
Q But it's apparent that every once in a while, under great circumstances of concern, it was allowed.
MR. MCCURRY: There is a waiver provision that's available to the Director of Central Intelligence. The Director of Central Intelligence, John Deutch, has testified to this matter today and made it quite clear that there are cases where -- extremely rare, exceptional cases -- where the lives of U.S. citizens or the threat of weapons of mass destruction may be involved, as Director of Intelligence Deutch testified today. But I would suggest that we look at what the policy is and what the practice is and not at the exceedingly rare exception.
Q When Buchanan attacks NAFTA and says that it's responsible for the loss of 300,000 jobs in this country and his responsible for the conversion of a trade surplus with Mexico into a trade deficit, is he correct?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Buchanan, I'm sure, will say many things during the course of the coming weeks and months. I'm not going to make it a practice of responding to what he says. I think there's a dialogue going in the Republican party and we'll let that dialogue proceed.
Q Has there been --
MR. MCCURRY: That's wrong, the information about NAFTA, but I'm not going to try to worry about everything that he says.
Q On the prospects of getting a budget deal, do you think that the reality is as long as the Republican race is as active as it is right now that it's unlikely you can get down to business -- you're going to face some delay until the Republican race sorts itself out?
MR. MCCURRY: We don't believe necessarily that that's the reality. We believe that even members of Congress seeking the presidency understand that the work of the nation has to proceed. And, certainly, the important piece of work that the nation expects the Congress and the President to complete is a balanced budget. And if we can make progress on that I am certain that even within the calendar of a presidential election year it will be possible to codify that agreement and see that it's passed by Congress and signed by the President.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Two more. You know, you turn 50 and you can't sit through a briefing. What's with you? (Laughter.) You're only half way to the century mark. By the way, you know, yesterday you should all know Jeremy Gaines made it one-quarter of the way to the century mark. You're twice as old as the press officer here at the White House that cares and tends for you every single day. Imagine that. It makes you feel very old, doesn't it? Does that make him the senior statesman of the press corps now?
Q No. Helen is still --
Q Has Jeremy gotten his Ensure?
MR. MCCURRY: He needs one of those ties -- (laughter.)
Q The White House conference on TV violence, which the President mentioned in his State of the Union, which is scheduled --
MR. MCCURRY: It's next week.
Q It's scheduled for next week. Do you know what the coverage will be on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I have absolutely no idea.
Q Next weekend, the President has been on the road every weekend this month.
MR. MCCURRY: You're suggesting we shouldn't travel so much?
Q I'm just wondering if he might be home next weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: You want him to stay at home so you can have a weekend with your loved ones?
Q He's staying home this weekend anyway, don't worry about it.
MR. MCCURRY: I would suggest that the President is in a fairly extraordinary position of not having to travel as much as you normally would expect an incumbent President seeking re-election to travel in an election year, and we should be somewhat thankful for that.
Q I know, but has he got --
MR. MCCURRY: Is that right? Devroy is disputing it.
Q Back to tomorrow's meeting with Hashimoto, you said that a decline in trade friction happily will allow wider discussion on security issues. There's been some shaking of that pillar over the past several months. The sentiment in Okinawa has turned against the U.S. military there. Will the President be discussing measures to ease the problems involved with U.S. military present?
MR. MCCURRY: I am relatively confident that the subject will arise, but I believe what is more likely going to happen is that the President and the Prime Minister will fairly briefly review the work of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa. The U.S. has participated in those deliberations. It's not the purpose of the meeting in Santa Monica to resolve that type of issue because we believe it is being well handled through the Defense Ministry, through the Department of Defense, but the issue is surely likely arises -- one of those things that needs to be addressed in a thoughtful and careful way.
Q Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: You're very welcome.
END 2:03 P.M. EST