THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon. This is at NC-17, this particular briefing today. And if I go higher we'll let you know. Let me start with some matter pertaining to Cuba.
I think most of you know that on Saturday, March 2, members of the Cuban American community are planning a wreath-laying ceremony near the site in international territory where the two unarmed civilian aircraft were shot down by Cuban air force on Saturday.
The President has strongly condemned Cuba's action and believes that this is a very appropriate way to commemorate the lives of four victims of this barbarous act by the Cuban regime. He's asked the administration over the past several days to work with those involved in the effort to make sure there can be safe, dignified, peaceful and lawful event on Saturday.
At the same time, the President will today issue orders making absolutely clear that the unauthorized entry by U.S. aircraft and vessels into Cuban territory is prohibited and that firm legal action will face those that violate this prohibition.
Finally, we expect restraint and compliance with international standards from the Cubans so that there is not a repeat of last Saturday's tragic incident.
The President today is taking four specific actions to guard the safety of our citizens and residents and to ensure that they abide by United States international law. First, the President has approved a strong warning to the Cuban government not to violate basic norms of international conduct. We will not tolerate the loss of American lives.
Second, the President has directed the Coast Guard to provide support to participants in the memorial ceremony Saturday in international territory. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft will be on the site to help participants identify and reach the location where the planes were shot down. The Coast Guard will also be on hand to detect and warn against any unauthorized incursions into Cuban waters or air space. Coast Guard and FAA officials will be meeting with organizers of the memorial service today, I believe, in South Florida to offer exactly that type of assistance.
Third, the President is issuing a proclamation directing the Secretary of Transportation to take action to prevent United States vessels from entering Cuban territorial waters without permission. If we have information that a vessel intends to enter Cuban waters without authorization, it will not be permitted to leave and will be subject to immediate seizure. If an unauthorized U.S. vessel does leave and enters Cuban territorial waters, upon its return the vessel will be subject to seizure and its captain, owner and crew subject to fine and imprisonment.
Fourth, the President has asked the Secretary of Transportation to issue an emergency order directed at United States aircraft prohibiting unauthorized entry into Cuban air space and providing for swift and strong enforcement actions upon its return. Any person who violates Cuban air space will be subject to the maximum penalties permitted by law. I believe these include measures like revoking licenses, seizure of the aircraft and other remedies. Anyone who operates an aircraft beyond that, if you operate an aircraft at a time a certificate has been revoked, there are criminal penalties that can also apply.
I want to be very clear about the President's message in announcing these steps. We will not tolerate further any unlawful actions by the Cuban government. We believe that efforts to honor the lives of the victims of Cuba's brutality deserve the support Cuba's brutality deserve the support of all Americans, and we will strongly enforce our laws to prevent incursion into Cuban air space and territorial waters that potentially endanger the lives of Americans.
Q How are we defining Cuban territorial waters -- 12 miles?
MR. MCCURRY: The 12-mile limit we are talking about in this case. That is -- under international law the assertion of the territorial limit is a 12-mile limit. These measures do not apply to the international airs and waters below the 24th Parallel that might be included in the so-called Air Defense Identification Zone that is claimed by the Cuban government.
Q Well, aren't aircraft and vessels already prohibited from going there from the United States?
MR. MCCURRY: It is -- as a matter of law, you are prohibited from transgressing into those international -- I'm sorry, into those territorial waters unless you have an innocent right of passage for transit.
Q Why is the President, after an unlawful act by Cuba, finding it necessary to further crack down on the kinds of aircraft that were apparently the victims of this last attack?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we're making it clear that innocent passageways in international air and water are fully within the rights of American citizens who choose to make that kind of travel. What we cannot tolerate are people who endanger their lives and further endanger the lives of those who would then be required to protect them, rescue them or deal with them. And these steps, the President believes in this case, are necessary to deter the type of incident that might put lives at risk.
Q Congressman Burton is asking for an explanation by tonight on whether it is true that Homestead Air Force Base saw the MiGs go up, asked to respond to scrambled aircraft and was denied permission.
MR. MCCURRY: That's a matter the Pentagon will look into and I presume will provide the answer to the Congressman.
Q Beyond the Coast Guard, is there going to be any U.S. military presence in the area? I think there is a guided missile destroyer down there. What will be there?
MR. MCCURRY: There won't be U.S. military forces involved in the planned commemoration on Saturday in international waters. However, the Defense Department has coordinated very closely in the interagency work that has gone into the President's decisions today, and obviously, because of the warning we've issued to the Cuban government, they are very much a part of the planning that's going into Saturday's event.
Q Just to follow up, if there should be some kind of attack, do you feel confident that the U.S. military will be in a position to activate and to help?
MR. MCCURRY: We are always confident in the capacity of the United States military to respond to contingencies pursuant to directive by the President.
Q So, specific to this question, did you say --
MR. MCCURRY: There's a great deal of confidence in the work that they would be capable of doing if necessary.
Q You say you won't tolerate any further action like this, or else what?
MR. MCCURRY: We have made it very clear to the Cuban government that we will not tolerate unacceptable behavior.
Q And what does that mean?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the Cuban government will know exactly what that means.
Q Also, how many ships or planes are going to be involved in this operation?
MR. MCCURRY: The Department of Transportation will have a little briefing session later on in the afternoon, and the Coast Guard can tell you a lot more about what type of vessels and what type of work they're doing. The FAA will also be able to tell you more about the steps they'll take related to civil aircraft.
Q How did this come about? Was there a formal request by the Cubans, or did we get into the act on our own? I mean, "we' meaning the government, per se.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President and his advisors became aware through the public statements of Brothers to the Rescue that they plan the commemoration on Saturday. It struck the President that that was indeed appropriate. They're people who have lost loved ones and they'd like to grieve, and they'd like to do so by placing a commemorative wreath at the site of the incident which is in international waters. That's perfectly appropriate. So we began the work in the past several days, working through the issues associated with that, make it clear that they have a right to do that and to be in those waters. The Cuban government has absolutely no right to violate international law in a way that endangers lives of those participating in such activity, and further, that, at the same time, there is U.S. law that must be followed by those who are going to participate in that type of commemoration.
Q When you talk about these Coast Guard vessels helping the memorial flotilla find the site of the downing, would they effectively act as an escort, a kind of police escort?
MR. MCCURRY: No, my understanding -- they'll be able to tell you more about that -- I believe what they will do is mark the specific site so it will be easier to locate by those who are participating.
Q So how will you formally notify the Cuban government of all of this?
MR. MCCURRY: An appropriate demarche will be delivered through diplomatic channels.
Q Mike, do these orders include any guidelines or restrictions on flying altitude in this area by planes that are registered in the U.S.?
MR. MCCURRY: There is a notice to airmen in effect for the adjacent area because of some of the dangers. This does --nothing about any of the procedures, to my understanding, would affect commercial air traffic that overflies Cuba.
Q But private planes like the ones that were shot down on Saturday.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry, I don't understand the question.
Q Is there some sort of a notice out to pilots of those types of aircraft on altitude guidelines in that -- over those waters?
MR. MCCURRY: You can check with FAA on what their NOTAM says on the specifics of this. I think what they do is they advise of the concerns that have been expressed by the Cuban government related to the area below the 24th Parallel. And, of course, we have warned them repeatedly about the danger of transgressing Cuban territorial air space or waters.
Q Wasn't there some thought being give to having the FAA prohibit flights below a certain height in that area below the 24th Parallel but outside Cuban territorial waters?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the administration looked at a lot of options on how to deal with the situation Saturday and how to make it clear to groups that might want to penetrate Cuban territorial waters that that is a violation of U.S. law and regulations. And the steps we're announcing today make it clear there will be a penalty for doing that type thing.
Q Mike, presumably you can give the ship and air captains the location so that they can find it on their own. Why is the Coast Guard doing this and who's paying?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President of the United States thinks it would be appropriate for the Coast Guard to be there, and in light of the tragic incident last Saturday, it makes a lot of sense to have the protection of the Coast Guard there should they be necessary. We also anticipate a very large flotilla, from what we hear of the plans of organizers, to be in that region, and the Coast Guard, in any event, would be well aware of civilian vessels working in those waters and would want to keep an eye on it in any event.
But this is, the President believes, a prudent step to take, and it's also one he believes the United States people -- who ultimately will pay for it, to answer your question -- they will support this because these are people who want to grieve the loss of loved ones killed in a brutal act in violation of international law.
Q If the Cubans send jet fighters up in the air, will the United States also?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm just not going to discuss what type of contingencies, planning has occurred and what they will be doing. There are ways that the President is confident the Pentagon can pursue that will make sure that the steps he's outlined today are effective.
Q This was not the State Department. He said that United States has issued a warning. The Cubans know what it means; the United States government, obviously, knows what it means. Why can't you say in plain English so the American people can understand what it means?
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, in plain English, the United States of America will not tolerate unacceptable behavior by the Cuban government. We'll make sure that there will not be loss of innocent lives such as occurred last Saturday.
Q The White House would be aware, sir, that there has been outrage expressed in several capitals of international allies. I speak directly of Mexico, Canada and the European Union. What is the White House doing about that sense of outrage and what are they telling them, given that those governments believe that the administration would stand up to the Helms-Burton bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, first of all, there has also been, in all of those same capitals, a great deal of outrage expressed about what the Cuban government did last Saturday. And it's very important that they are being supportive of our efforts to deplore the incident that occurred last Saturday. They do have concerns about the Helms-Burton bill, and we will have to, in a diplomatic way, work through those issues, understand better what their concerns are about the extraterritoriality provisions that are in Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, but we'll also tell them about the work the President did to make sure that if we make progress towards the democratization of Cuba, there will be a waiver that can be placed in effect. So, to answer the question, there will have to be a lot of consultations with allies on that point.
Q They presume their businessmen are now at risk, and, of course, those capitals believe those businessmen are acting legitimately.
MR. MCCURRY: That is, of course, the intent of Congress.
Q Mike, would the Coast Guard vessels and aircraft be under orders to enforce the President's ruling about no unauthorized entry into Cuban waters or air space?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they will be on the scene. They will be able to respond. The Coast Guard itself has standard rules of engagement which are classified which I can't get into, but they will be prepared to respond to any provocation by the Cuban government. They will also be there operating in the way they normally would to protect civilian vessels.
Q But would they physically stop or forcibly stop U.S. aircraft or civilian aircraft or boats from heading towards Cuban waters or air space?
MR. MCCURRY: They will -- as I said, they will make every effort if they confront that situation, make every effort to advise any vessel that appears to be attempting to transgress the territorial boundary that they are doing so at risk and doing so in violation of the law.
Q But you said that entering Cuba's air space or waters is a violation of U.S. law. It's been determined that Mr. Basulto did enter Cuban air space last weekend. Are you going to lift his license, or what action are you going to take about it?
MR. MCCURRY: There's already an action on the way by the FAA for a prior incident, and they're in the best position to answer the question of how that administrative proceeding will go forward.
Q But there's a new case here. You have a second instance with him.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if they initiate any administrative proceeding against Mr. Basulto it would be up to the FAA to so advise you of that.
Q I know you don't want to deal with hypotheticals, but if the Cubans buzz the flotilla, for example, is that something that the Coast Guard would respond to in some way?
MR. MCCURRY: As I said earlier, they have standard rules of engagement that they will pursue. We believe that the warning to the Cuban government will be sufficient to advise them that they should not interfere with this lawful and legitimate commemoration of a tragic incident that they, after all, were responsible for anyhow.
Q Has it already been delivered?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. It was in the process of being delivered appropriately.
Q Is there a special effort to mark the line? After all, this is a body of water and in cases like this, in Libya, in Korea and so on, there have always been a lot of arguments about exactly who was over the line and where the boat was and so on.
MR. MCCURRY: Right. The Coast Guard will be able to tell you more this afternoon about how they will actually warn against any unauthorized incursions into Cuban waters. But I'm sure that they will be working through these issues as they meet with the organizers down in Florida, and they will also, as they do their briefing today, let you know how they intend to deploy so they can carry that mission out.
Q Is the warning being delivered via the U.S. Interest Section in Havana?
MR. MCCURRY: It's being delivered through diplomatic channels, and that's all I'm going to say about that.
Q I'm still a little unclear about what's new here. Is this a case where law was already in place and you're just saying you're going to vigorously enforce it and you're adding these penalties in terms of the ships and the vessels?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has directed the Secretary of Transportation to issue emergency orders both as they relate to the Coast Guard and the FAA that go well beyond normal operating procedures.
Q How would you characterize the level of cooperation the government has gotten from Brothers to the Rescue in the last presumably 48 hours or so?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't comment on that directly. We believe that they -- we hope and believe that they will welcome the steps the President has announced today. It will make possible for them to carry out the memorial service and the commemoration that they plan, and our intent is obviously to work with them to make sure that this legitimate expression of grief can occur.
Let me turn over the podium for the moment to John Emerson and Greg Simon. John, as you all know, is the Deputy Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and very active in coordinating today's media conference. And Greg, on behalf of -- I'll be back after they're done -- Greg, who is Chief Domestic Political Advisor to Vice President Gore has been deeply involved not only in telecommunications issues, the recently passed Telecommunications Act, but has done, I think, a heroic job pulling together what the President described today as one of the best meetings he's had in the entire time that he has served as President.
So, Greg and John, I'm not sure how you want to divide it up, but they're here to answer any follow-up questions you have on the conference with the media executives.
Q Jack Valenti described -- his term sounded like this daunting undertaking of trying to find a way to rate many of hundreds of thousands of hours of programming by innumerable vendors and suppliers. It didn't sound at all clear from his remarks that he knew when this would be ready to go and that he was at all confident that it could happen. Can you comment on that?
MR. SIMON: Yes. The announcement by the industry group officially says that they will have this ready to go by January, 1997. There are a lot of television shows to rate. But all those shows are produced, they're all reviewed already by advertisers and network executives, so both we and the industry feel that it is a possible thing to do. It is a difficult thing to do, but we are very hopeful that they will be able to meet the deadline of January '97 at the latest, and we have urged them to move as quickly as is feasible, and they think they can do it.
Q What about on the V-chip? Do you actually expect the V-chip to be available in TVs by January '97?
MR. SIMON: No. The V-chip, the law requires that new televisions manufactured from now will have the V-chip in them. The rating system will occur before the V-chip, but there's also going to be an effort to have those published in newspapers and magazines and other places where parents can get to them.
Q Greg, can you back up a little bit and talk about exactly what was accomplished today and give a sense of the scene in this meeting here?
MR. SIMON: Yes. Three weeks ago today when the President signed the Telecommunications Act and the V-chip became law, the President invited the leaders of media and the entertainment industry to the White House today. At that time, I don't think you could have found two people in the country who didn't expect a court fight over the V-chip, and instead of rushing to the courthouse, the industry met with itself and met with the White House and decided that they would like to do a voluntary rating system within this year to address the issue of providing families with information to help them control what their children see on television.
The meeting today and the announcement that the industry put out today means that we will have an industry-wide system that will provide a standards that families can rely on channel to channel, and that also it will accelerate the availability of these ratings by having them ready even before the V-chip is in . That is a very important step by the industry.
We also reinforced -- the President reinforced his commitment to the Children's Television Act, specifically said we take it very seriously, and we had a very good discussion about how the industry, both individual companies and as a whole, can address making television work for children both in terms of the number of hours and the quality of those hours that are on television.
Q Were there any specific new proposals or commitments made at this meeting?
MR. SIMON: Well, one of the problems with children's television is getting people to invest in the difficult task, admittedly, of providing educational programming that's also entertaining, that kids want to watch. Rich Frank, the President of the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences, announced at the meeting that the Television Academy is now going to offer an Emmy which they will call the President's Award, for the President of the Academy -- not to be confused -- that will be for a prime-time television show that addresses an educational, social or medical issue in a way that gives a positive message about how to deal with that issue. And that award will be made on the air this September at the Emmy Awards.
Also, one of the networks there reiterated their commitment, the Comcast Cable Network, to begin airing three hours of children's television programming on their network in the near future. And many of the other people there, although they didn't lay out their business plans because their competitors were right next to them, did say that they are investing considerable time and effort in looking at the next generation of children's television.
Q Were there any areas of major disagreement, or was this all just lovey-dovey?
MR. SIMON: Well, let me put it this way -- what I think was the big news was that Ruppert Murdoch started every paragraph with "I agree with Ted." (Laughter.) It was a very congenial meeting.
Q There were no areas where they said, look, you're asking us to give up a lot of profits; if we're going to heavily invest in children's television, how are we going to make up the kind of money that has been traditionally lost on children's television?
MR. EMERSON: I think their biggest concern -- the answer to that is, no. I think their biggest concern is that in this voluntary rating system they don't somehow get on the slippery slope towards government interference with content. That was probably the single greatest concern that was expressed.
Incidentally, one of the things that Ruppert Murdoch and Ted Turner made clear they did agree with one another on was that this would not be happening today were it not for the passage of the Telecom Bill with the V-chip provision in it and the President's call for this meeting.
Q John, that's what I'm curious about because you have used the term "voluntary." They have used the term "voluntary" in their statement, and, yet, with the V-chip legislation, with the spectrum auction, with the Children's Television Act and with FCC license renewal, how can any of this be described as voluntary?
MR. EMERSON: -- and FCC were not at all a part of this meeting or discussion today.
Q You don't think they were connected with this over the last few weeks?
MR. SIMON: Let's get the law straight. The Telecommunications Act does not require networks to rate television shows. It says that you need to have a system in place. You do not have to use it, but if you do rate any show and you put that rating out in any way, you also have to provide it in a way that the V-chip can respond to it. The industry does not have to rate one show under the current law.
Q And if they don't, who does?
MR. SIMON: If the industry didn't rate it, it wouldn't be rated. So this was a voluntary step by the industry not only to rate their shows, but to do it quickly and to do it as in industry standard.
Q But isn't it true that they -- just to clarify -- that they were supposed to develop some type of system to rate?
MR. SIMON: Correct.
Q Otherwise, the FCC --
MR. SIMON: But they didn't have to implement the system.
MR. EMERSON: And the FCC would develop one, but it doesn't have the power under the law to enforce it. So it truly is voluntary.
Q Do you think there will be any change or any impact on content as a result of these ratings, such as might there be some incentive to increase the violent content since they have the cover of a rating?
MR. SIMON: There's a lot of speculation about that both ways. The V-chip is one of the best market response devices you can imagine because it will let families tell the media industry what they're willing to watch and what they're not willing to watch. So in that sense we are very confident it would encourage family programming through the marketplace. If you look at the movie ratings, there's a very healthy market for R-rated movies, but there's a very healthy market for G-rated movies. And I would note that one of the movies nominated for Academy Award has a pig as a leading star.
Q Let me ask you another question on that. What will the mechanics be of applying the ratings to the shows? Will there be one board that reviews all shows, or which each network review its own shows?
MR. SIMON: Mr. Valenti's announced that the distributor of the show would rate the show.
Q According to a standard --
MR. SIMON: According to a standard, and there will be an industry board made up of people within the industry to review any complaints or inconsistencies that are observed or noticed to them.
Q But that differs from the way movies are done because movies have a different system of -- a more independent board. What does the White House think about --
MR. EMERSON: You also have 600,000 hours of television programming a year, and 1,200 years of movie programming a year.
Q Right, but this is the question. What do you think? Do you think this is justified, this new system?
MR. SIMON: Well, we are not designing the system for the television industry. It was important that there be some way to deal with the issue of consistency. And Mr. Valenti's announcement says that they will create an independent board within the industry to deal with consistency questions.
Q Why did the White House feel it necessary to put out a chronology of all of the interests that the President, the First Lady, the Vice President, Mrs. Gore have had in this issue? Did you think there were doubts? No one asked for a chronology. Did you think there were doubts about whether they had a commitment and that you had to prove that you got there first?
MR. SIMON: We think it's always important if you have a history in the issue for people to know it.
Q Let me just follow up on Brit's question and Mr. Valenti's point about the number of hours. I mean, unlike movies which rate the upcoming movies every year one by one so that there are 1,200 hours a year to deal with, television, particularly cable, broadcasts enormous amounts of pre-existing product -- 30,20, 40, 50 years old. I mean, in the case of movies broadcast on television, is it anticipated, for example, that they would simply make note of the ratings of those movies?
MR. SIMON: We don't know the answer. That's up to the way that they're going to devise their own rating system.
Q But does somebody have to go back and rate Gilligan's Island in syndication and rate --
MR. EMERSON: I think the intention would be ultimately that everything -- I mean, this is what they are talking about -- that everything that's ultimately aired on TV would be rated. So, obviously, that's one of the things they're going to -- presumably be much more work in the first couple of years than in out years as they deal with that. But that's one of the things that they're going to address, one of the problems they're going to address when they develop their process and their system.
Q Was there any discussion of specific kinds of programming that would be put under the V-chip like daytime talk shows, for example, the Jenny Jones Show? Is there any commitments, any specific discussion of that kind of thing?
MR. SIMON: No, that didn't come up. There was a discussion on children's television about whether children want to be educated or entertained. And the consensus -- well, not the consensus because there was a dissenting voice -- but some of the participants made it very clear that children do want to be educated and that there are ways to make it both educational and entertaining. But there was no specific discussions of which shows would be rated one way and which shows would be rated another.
Q Was there any discussion at all of violence in news or news magazine programming of any kind?
MR. SIMON: Yes, there was a recognition that there are violent episodes in the world that the news organizations have an obligation to broadcast. Civil rights was an area which was specifically mentioned in which it is unavoidable in the history of the civil rights movement to show some of the violence associated with it. Sports and news will not be rated under this system.
Q There's apparently some evidence that ratings actually serve as a magnet for at least male teenagers or pre-adolescents. Was there any discussion of advisories at the top of shows to advise us of the content, perhaps in conjunction with the ratings or separate from them?
MR. SIMON: No, there was not a specific discussion about that. And we have to keep in mind, the V-chip and the rating system will not make people be responsible in their homes who don't already want to be responsible. This is a tool to help people act responsibly who choose to. So if people leave their seven-year old unsupervised in front of the TV all day, this is not going to help them a lot. On the other hand, if they do want to be able to program their television, this will allow them to do it.
MR. SIMON: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Brit.
Q This new report out that says the government has found no reason to file a lawsuit on the Rose law firm related to Whitewater -- do you have any reaction to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it is terribly significant that after this long work by the law firm that did this on behalf of the FDIC they have now come to the conclusion that what the President and the First Lady have been saying about Whitewater has been right all along. And we're finally now getting to the end of the road, and the President and the First Lady I think are very delighted that this report ought to make clear to everybody that what they have said about Whitewater is the truth. It's a very significant report, and I hope after months and months and weeks and weeks of extensive press coverage, there will be extensive press coverage of this report which largely exonerates everything that the President and the First Lady have said.
I've got Mark Fabiani who is the Special Associate Counsel to the President is here. He has been our spokesman on matters related to Whitewater.
Mark, why don't you come on up in case there's any other questions on this?
Q Is it your view that this is a comprehensive statement that everything the Clintons have been saying about Whitewater is true?
MR. FABIANI: Well, this is the second report. The first came out in late December that dealt with the --
Q I know about that.
MR. FABIANI: and that was a comprehensive report. It took two years, $4 million.
Q What about this?
MR. FABIANI: This is a comprehensive report on the Rose Law Firm and Madison Guaranty, and it took, again, two years and $4 million to prepare. It answers virtually every one of the questions that's been asked, all of the innuendo that's been thrown around in the last months, and the Senate committee, I think, is dealt with fairly extensively in this report.
But again, you don't have to listen to us about this, take the report and read it. It calls the Whitewater conspiracy theories in plausible, it deals with the major allegations that have been made about structure of records and on and on -- deals with every one of the major allegations and disposes of them in a way that supports what the President and the First Lady have said all along.
Q Has Mrs. Clinton answered the 26 or 28 questions to the committee?
MR. FABIANI: On the Travel Office matter, a different matter?
Q That's the Travel Office, okay.
MR. FABIANI: We're working on that now and we expect to answer them in the near future. We're working hard to get that done.
Q The deadline is tomorrow -- today or tomorrow, isn't it? Are you going to meet that?
MR. FABIANI: We will not meet the deadline, although we're working with Mr. Clinger to negotiate an acceptable extension, and we expect to provide him the information he needs in a reasonable period of time. We want to be as thorough and comprehensive as possible.
Q Will this FDIC report have an impact on the special prosecutors?
MR. FABIANI: That's hard to know, but it should have an impact on the debate that's going on right now on the Senate floor. This report blows out of the water the allegations that have been made about the First Lady and the Rose law firm, and it undermines the contention of those who would extend these Whitewater hearings endlessly on into the future. It's very comprehensive, and today is a real turning point in all of this inquiry.
Q Apropos to that point, has the President had discussions with Senators Dodd or Daschle or others about their threat of a filibuster, and does the White House support such an action on the part of the Senate Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: If I'm not mistaken, I think I did that at some length yesterday. No change, and I don't know whether he's had specific conversations with them on that subject. I know he talked to Senator Dodd just in the past several days on the subject of Cuba because he would --
Q But not specifically about this?
MR. MCCURRY: They talked, Todd. That's all I know. And that subject may have come up, but the President reported to me mostly a conversation about Cuba, because he had reached out to notify some people on the steps he was taking related to Helms-Burton and other issues. And as to our general feeling, it's a matter of Senate procedure. They're going to have to decide how they handle the extension of this committee.
But the White House is very sympathetic to those who make the argument, this thing has gone on for way too long, they have spent millions and millions of dollars. This $4 million alone in the subject matter of this report we're talking about today, but I believe, Mark, $30 million total of taxpayers' money have gone into investigating these matters, and now some in the Senate want to spend another $600,000 plus to keep this thing going for what you have to imagine is largely political purpose. And enough's enough at this point. And with this report we would think reasonable people in the Senate would say, well, it's time to wind this up.
Q Mr. Fabiani, could you elaborate on why Mrs. Clinton after this period of time is still not able to answer all those questions?
MR. FABIANI: That's not what I said. We got a request from Mr. Clinger of the House. We received that request several weeks ago. We've been working hard to answer the 26 questions or so that he asked, and he indicated that he would give us some more time if we needed it. And we want to be as thorough, as comprehensive as we can possibly be, and we're working hard to do that. We don't want to leave anything out. We don't want to be accused later of not being thorough, and so we're going to take the kind of time that we need, but give the committee what it needs within a very reasonable period of time.
Q As you might say, let me rephrase. Why -- what are some of the roadblocks to fulfilling what you've just said?
MR. FABIANI: Well, they're a very extensive list of questions. They're very complex. They're inter-related. Takes a lot of time to go through them and a lot of time to make sure that we've gotten all the documents that we need, all the information that we need. And that's what we're doing now. We want to be as thorough as we can be.
Q Does the House still plan to support this markup today, the Billy Dale payment?
MR. MCCURRY: Haven't heard of any change, no. Anything else?
Q Mike, budget. What's the outlook for getting a call from Republicans this afternoon on their initiatives on the debt bill? Are you expecting to get a call from Gingrich? Have they done any outreach at the White House about what they want to do on debt?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they've outreached to us in the pages of The Washington Post and elsewhere saying that there is some plans to do a shorter-term extension of the debt limit. That's kind of a strange way to do business. We need to extend the debt limit and get on with the work of the government. But they are, as you can tell, having a little bit of a hard time deciding how they want to approach some of these budget issues, and the President will respectfully give them time to straighten out their affairs so that they can engage with him in efforts that will lead to a balanced budget, an extension of the debt ceiling and, most importantly, passage of measures that will finance the government for the balance of the fiscal year.
Q Can you say exactly why the White House objects to the Daschle-Bingaman proposal? I know you gave it very cool reception yesterday --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I didn't say we objected to it, I said that the President's got his own agenda that responds to many of the same concerns and we're fighting for that agenda. And then you can go back and look yesterday -- what I said yesterday about some of the measures that we're pursuing: the minimum wage increase, pension portability, health care portability, the kinds of measures that will encourage people to get skills and training so they can be higher wage earners in a growing economy. That's the President's economic strategy, and all these other things might contribute to it, but we're going to keep focused on the things the President has been talking about and been advocating in his work with the Congress.
Q Is he going to Camp David tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: That's my understanding, yes, for the weekend.
Q Does he have anything else on the schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I'm aware of.
MS. TERZANO: There's one event tomorrow morning and then the weekend off.
MR. MCCURRY: There's one event tomorrow morning and then we're off. So we'll have an early lid tomorrow.
Q When does he come back, do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: Sometime Sunday.
Q In Leon's meeting with the Democrats today, what did he want -- in what subjects, and what did he want to accomplish?
MR. MCCURRY: He was doing welfare reform, I believe, with Senate Democrats -- Senate Democrats was Medicaid; welfare reform was some of the House Democrats.
Q Are they governors' proposals or some just general -- the state of the lay of the land?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, general lay of the land. You know we desperately want to get welfare reform done sooner rather than later and we are looking at ways that we can address some of the questions that arise out of the proposal by the governors, but also the work that had been done by the conference committee and also the ideas we had put forward in the discussions that we had with the Republican leadership. All of these things we want to try to move forward.
Q Do you have anything on the beginning of the changing of Pennsylvania Avenue today or this weekend?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I haven't heard anything about that. I haven't. We can check on that. I wasn't aware of any planned changes.
Q There's a summit meeting between European and Asian leaders that will be opening shortly in Bangkok. Does the U.S. feel excluded from this summit, particularly given that the President was unable to make it to the APEC meeting last year, the problems with China?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a caucus within the grouping of countries that are within ASEAN that we have not been participants in. We are well aware of the ECAC's program, of their format. We have had dialogue with each of those countries individually -- or most of those countries individually. And we understand their desire to participate in regional discussions that will contribute to balance within the Pacific itself.
Our bilateral dialogue is aimed at strengthening the ties between the United States and the Asian region, and we pursue those in a variety of fora, including APEC, ASEAN, and others. And we feel very comfortable with the way that we pursue our relations in those settings.
Q Has the President gotten a list yet of the countries that will be certified?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that the Secretary of State has not forwarded his recommendations to the President. So they're not here yet. The President will obviously review them quickly when they arrive.
Q When do you expect them to arrive?
MR. MCCURRY: I expect the announcements related to this matter will not occur anytime prior to tomorrow and as it does every year the announcement will come from the State Department.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you.
END 2:35 P.M. EST