THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:25 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: That was the spin on SPNFZ. Very good. Any other questions to deal with today? I don't think I have any other announcements.
Q Why did Defense Secretary Perry cancel the visit of the Chinese Defense Minister?
MR. MCCURRY: As the statement issued by the Secretary of Defense indicated, a large-scale official visit was not deemed appropriate at this time.
Q A what?
MR. MCCURRY: A large-scale official visit was not appropriate in the current climate, as Secretary Perry's statement indicated.
Q What would have been large-scale about it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was scheduled to be an official visit by the senior ranking defense official of that government, the Defense Minister. And given the current climate, the view of our administration is that was not an appropriate visit.
Q Don't you want dialogue?
MR. MCCURRY: As the Secretary's statement indicates, he very much wants such a dialogue. I'd reaffirm the White House also views the importance of a broad-based comprehensive dialogue with the People's Republic to be in the interest of the United States government. We certainly would want to include in that dialogue security-related issues. We look forward to continuing that dialogue appropriately at the appropriate time.
Q How does the White House view the current climate?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the current climate, as we have suggested on many occasions, is characterized by broad-scale engagement with the People's Republic on a wide range of issues. But it's a relationship in which there are clearly many differences, differences that we believe have to be effectively managed. There are tensions related to the current issue that we have been dealing with, which is Taiwan. We continue to believe that the peaceful resolution of those tensions is most appropriate.
And then whether it's human rights issues, economic issues related to trade, whether it is other issues that we deal with bilaterally with the People's Republic, we do have those differences that we seek to minimize and seek to manage effectively.
Q Well, what message should China take from this decision?
MR. MCCURRY: That an official visit of this nature, given the current climate, is not appropriate at this time.
Q Could you describe the President's and First Lady's reaction to the entertainment at last night's dinner, and describe your efforts this morning to encourage C-SPAN to not rebroadcast the --
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had an opportunity to talk to the President and the First Lady about last night's entertainment because they fled the scene as quickly as they could. I cannot attest whether that was due to the lack of quality of the entertainment programming, or whether it was more likely due to the basketball game that was televised last evening involving the President's alma mater.
I believe that a large part of that -- I personally believe a large part of that entertainment -- that's what we call it -- offered last night was fairly tasteless and I didn't know whether young children ought to be subjected to it, courtesy of C-SPAN. I raised that issue; it's clearly within their province to decide. I just flagged the issue for them and said, before you automatically replay this, think about the issues. I don't know what they've thought about it.
Q Why should you censor what C-SPAN --
MR. MCCURRY: I have no ability to do so, nor would I intend to do so, but I think it's appropriate for me to raise the issue of whether or not they, themselves, consider that appropriate programming.
Q So what you do is you worried with them about whether children ought to see this? Is that what you said?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I called Susan Swain down at C-SPAN and said, look, before you guys reair this just think about whether you think that's something that ought to be on the air. I have no idea what their reaction to that was.
Q And that was all you said, whether it ought to be on the air? You didn't make any specific objections or site anything specific about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't site anything specifically about the -- I just said look and see if that's something you think you want to have on the air.
Q How do you imagine someone like that would take such a thing?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's up to them to take it. They can disregard it if they so choose.
Q If you can't speak for the family, was there widespread agreement among White House aides that were present that the program was in bad taste?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that there was about 99.9 percent agreement of most of those in attendance that it wasn't a compelling event that reflected well on any of the participants.
Q Mike, have you any comment on the terrorist that escaped from Italy a few weeks ago that was caught today -- the relations between the United States and Italy?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States is deeply gratified at the apprehension of the terrorist, who was a fugitive from justice in Italy. We commend the government of Italy and the government of Spain, which together cooperated in this apprehension. And we fully expect that the terrorist will now be returned appropriately to Italy for incarceration.
Q Back to China for a minute. Can you tell us about that Ex-Im Bank's guarantees to companies operating in China? Is that going to come back on line tomorrow or --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you're aware that Secretary Christopher had requested a delay in the processing of new applications from the Ex-Im Bank. We had suggested a period of a month. There was nothing firm, to my understanding, nothing firm about such a deadline. And because we are still reviewing the issues and are involved at the moment in bilateral dialogue with the People's Republic on the nature of the transaction that triggered our concern in the first place, we would hope that the Ex-Im Bank would continue to keep applications on hold. But that was a request made by the State Department through the Secretary of State, and I understand that they're going to be talking about that further over there this afternoon.
Q Mike, still on China, the cancellation of this visit -- the administration has set up a meeting with the Secretary of State with the Chinese Foreign Minister April 21st, not too far down the line. Doesn't it give contradictory signals to the Chinese that, on the one hand, you're cancelling this visit, but you've just set up another one just a few weeks down the line?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't interpret signals on behalf of the People's Republic. To my knowledge, Qian Qichen's meeting with Secretary Christopher has not been affected by the announcement today. They do plan to meet, I believe, in the Hague. Is that correct?
That is the forum through which we have been managing the differences that do exist in this relationship. The Secretary of State on behalf of the President has been working with the Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister to address some of these differences that do exist. And that, the importance of maintaining that dialogue in what is arguably a fundamentally important bilateral relationship to the United States remains our objective.
So I -- the State Department can tell you more about the Secretary's plans. But Secretary Perry, with respect to a meeting that was planned to deal with security issues and military -- to military cooperation, felt it best at this time to consider postponing this meeting to some future date.
Q Mike, a couple of questions on the Middle East. First, what is the status of the working group sessions that were envisioned at Sharm el-Sheikh?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is the State Department is still scheduled for the follow-up conference March 28, 29. They have been periodically announcing -- March 28th, 29th, I believe -- next week. They have been announcing acceptances from governments that were at Sharm el-Sheikh and intend to send representatives to this follow-up meeting. ANd they will continue to do the work of addressing how the international community together can address the threat of terrorism in that region.
But certainly, as we were just discussing the case of the Achille Lauro apprehension, we see what happens when governments work together and cooperate to combat terrorism. And that is something that I think is a useful reminder that this type of cooperation can pay a dividend.
Q Second question on the Middle East. There is an Israeli newspaper report today that Israel is going to use some military forum to approach the U.S. about contributing troops -- it's not a new idea, but contributing troops to a buffer force in the Golan as part of a deal with Syria. What is the administration's latest view on that kind of thing
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have always said that that is a question that cannot arise until there is a Syrian-Israeli agreement that would define the nature of the peace and the nature of the withdrawal in the Golan. Those are issues that are still very much embedded in the dialogue between Syria and Israel. As you all know, that dialogue has not proceeded in its most recent forum, through the discussions at the Wye Plantation. And, of course, we have suggested we will always play a role, being helpful to the parties, but that is not an issue that arises because of an imminent breakthrough in those talks.
Q What is the President going to talk about in Ohio? MR. MCCURRY: The President in Ohio tomorrow will --
he's got several events, the first and foremost at Xavier University in Cincinnati. He will participate in a roundtable discussion with members of an organization called Cincinnati Youth, which is a collaborative effort between the private sector and corporations in the area that assist high school students in getting job training, skills, learning more about employment, being in the work force. They will have a discussion about things that corporations can do to further the interests of their work force, their employers, and also prepare the workers of the future, those who will be a part of a growing, prosperous economy in the 21st century.
The President will address subjects related to what we sometimes call corporate citizenship or corporate responsibility, suggest that there are several things that corporations can do to help ensure the morale, the productivity, and the effectiveness of their workers as they prepare for the challenges of the global economy in the next century -- a topic that you have heard the President on before and you will hear him on often.
Q Is it a campaign trip?
MR. MCCURRY: The trip itself is a political trip because then later in the day he goes on to -- he goes to a DNC fundraiser in Cincinnati and then, later in the day, in Columbus, he will be addressing a Democratic Party fundraiser that will benefit the state Democratic Party in Ohio. So the trip is deemed political.
Q Is this any different than what he did at Harman? Is he going to break any new ground?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he will address many of the same subjects and he will cast it in a way that some of you might find somewhat newsworthy.
Q Why is that? What is he going to do that is newsworthy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, see you tomorrow.
Q What is the status of planning for a White House conference on corporate responsibility? And what would the agenda of that be?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that idea is still under active consideration.
Q Senator Hatfield, the Appropriations Committee Chairman, is saying that the administration has got to realize that Congress won't accede to its every request, and saying that you're being inflexible in this effort to get an appropriations bill.
MR. MCCURRY: Senator Hatfield, who I believe is meeting with Mr. Panetta today, is he not? -- I think Mr. Panetta is going to be on the Hill to talk to him about that today. But Senator Hatfield, above all others, knows that this Congress has already trimmed by over $30 billion the appropriate budget request that the President made for Fiscal Year 1996. We are only asking that they add back in some $8 billion worth of funding to address the President's very firmly held priorities. That's not by any means asking too much in the President's viewpoint. It's asking, frankly, necessary to try to make progress in these areas the President has identified.
Now, we're in active negotiations with them. As you know, the Congress had been working to address some of the President's priorities in education and the environment and other areas. The President appreciates that and we want them to continue making work to at least move these appropriation measures in the direction that will help ensure a growing economy, will help us continue to protect the environment for the America people, and make sure we have exactly the kinds of investments the President will talk about tomorrow that will keep the economy growing into the next century.
Q On this very piece of legislation, is the 100,000 cops non-negotiable as far as the President is concerned?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has very often said that is a very high priority, and cutting that program, zeroing it out, which, of course, the Republicans wanted to do at one point, was unacceptable to the President. We want to see an investment in community policing because it works. We've been all around the country -- you've come with us -- where we've heard local cops tell us that this effort to instill community principles in local law enforcement is producing a real difference in protecting people from crime. So we, of course, would consider that a very high priority, and we can't accept any zeroing out or terminating of that program.
Q So you're saying it would be vetoed?
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- Mr. Panetta made that clear yesterday.
Q Are you going to get a CR you can sign today? Do you expect that to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: We expect to receive it. It has not arrived yet. We will get it at some point because the expiration of the current continuing resolution is midnight tonight and we do expect to receive from Congress sometime this afternoon a short-term one-week continuing resolution, which we hope, of course, will be the last such one-week continuing resolution because we can't go week by week on continuing; that's just no way to run the government. But the President will get one, he will sign it appropriately and we'll put out a short written statement and say let's get on with business next week.
Q Did the President urge Mrs. Clinton to go to Bosnia? And is she carrying any messages on this trip?
MR. MCCURRY: The President encouraged her to go, but remember that Mrs. Clinton, at the time she visited our troops in Germany just prior to their deployment in Bosnia, said that she would return to visit our troops in Bosnia and said that she would remain very concerned about both their deployment and their loved ones back in their home base or here in the United States who would be naturally concerned about them while they were stationed in Bosnia, doing the very important work of implementing the Dayton Peace Accords.
So the President is delighted that she'll be able to go and see some of our troops there and participate in the other scheduled stops she has in Turkey and Greece.
Q Mike, just looking ahead to the President's trip to Japan, you've said in past weeks that luckily this time -- well, when the U.S. President meets with the Japanese Prime Minister, their talks will not be dominated by trade. But in the past few days, senior congressional leaders have sent the President a couple of letters urging him to address insurance and photo products trade issues outstanding with Japan. As a response, does the White House plan to bring up those issues at the highest level?
MR. MCCURRY: We not only intend to raise those issues, address them at highest levels, but we have an active dialogue with the government of Japan on those issues. The President shares the views of the bipartisan congressional group on the need for full implementation of the obligations that exist under the U.S.-Japan agreement. We believe that Japan is trying to rewrite that agreement in a way that would curtail market access for U.S. insurance providers in Japan, and that is unacceptable to the United States. We have raised this in bilateral dialogue with the government of Japan because we expect the government of Japan to live up to the commitments its made under all of our bilateral trade agreements.
Another example of this -- Secretary Pena yesterday, when it came to air cargo rights, indicated that he has written to his Japanese counterpart, the Transport Minister, to express some very strong concerns about reports that have surfaced in the Japanese press that there may be some review of existing agreements on air cargo rights for U.S. air carriers. This affects Federal Express and a number of other carriers.
So going into the summit between now and the time the President departs, there likely will be a very strenuous effort by the administration to address some of these issues where we're still working out differences that do exist to clear the way for what we look forward to as a very successful, very productive summit meeting that will deal, first and foremost, with security issues and reaffirming the importance of our security alliance with Japan, but then also deal with the other aspects of our relationship that are also critical.
Q On the subject of air cargo rights, would the President raise the issue of, or push for open skies agreement with Japan at the summit or raise that issue?
MR. MCCURRY: First and foremost, we want to make sure that existing agreements are adhered to, and that's why we've got a State Department and Transportation Department delegation that will be going out to Japan next week. They will be able to report back to us on the climate that exists for the resolution of the air cargo rights issues. And then other issues -- open skies and others -- that are transportation-related will have a much better understanding of it based on this delegation, how it's received and what progress they make in their discussions.
Q Back on the Imus thing, I'm still kind of confused. Are you offended -- are you afraid that children will find offensive the --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, look, that was an off-hand -- look, C-SPAN puts a lot of stuff on every day. I think they even put
this thing on for whatever reason they choose to deem that something --
Q Some people find that offensive.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure there are many people, especially on certain parts of Capitol Hill that do find it offensive. But I don't -- if anyone wants to compare that to the program last night, go ahead and try.
Q I'm not doing that, I was just joking. But, seriously, what is it that you find offensive, the White House finds offensive, or that --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to define community standards for indecency. How many of you were here? Show your hands -- how many were there last night? Okay. Just talk to your colleagues and find out how they regarded that. I had plenty of people there last night come up to me and not only apologize and ask me to express to the President their sense of regret at the nature of that performance, but I had a lot of people sort of indicate to me that they didn't think the President should have to sit through that kind of thing again.
Q But how does not being reaired on C-SPAN make up for what might be --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, this is very simple. I called them and said, you guys reair stuff over and over again -- sometimes I think they just put it on so that different people can see it at different times. I said, just think about whether you want to put it in the air, or not. I don't think -- if that was inappropriate, I'm sorry. But I just thought it was so bad that they ought to just think about it before they automatically reaired it, they ought to think about whether they wanted to do that, or not. And if they do it, they do it. I mean, there is not much we can do about it.
Q Absent asking him his personal views, do you know enough to be able to characterize the President's view of last night?
MR. MCCURRY: No. He left and went home. He watched the basketball game, and I think he was probably a lot happier doing that than he was sitting there.
Q Were you encouraged by anyone else in the White House to see what you could do about C-SPAN?
MR. MCCURRY: I did that on my own. I just felt strongly personally about it.
Q Did you think about leaving?
MR. MCCURRY: Say it again?
Q Did you think about leaving in the middle of it?
MR. MCCURRY: I did. In fact, the reporter I was sitting next to suggested that we all ought to get up and walk out, and it was not a bad idea, and I was getting prepared to send a note down the table saying, "let's go," when, mercifully, it came to an end.
Q But he likes Imus, doesn't he? He's been on his program.
MR. MCCURRY: Not in quite a while.
Q Wait a minute, is that a matter taste, or is that just a matter of circumstance?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Is that because --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, Brit. I was not here when he -- he apparently was a long time ago on it, but I wasn't here then.
Q The President has another similar such dinner coming up, the White House Correspondents Association dinner. Got any worries?
MS. THOMAS: We're not having like that. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: United Press International has indicated that the quality of the entertainment will be rather different at the White House Correspondents Association -- (laughter.)
MS. THOMAS: All in good taste.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I've already today heard from the Association, and they suggested that the performance that night -- I think Al Franken is going to speak that night -- will be of a much different nature, to reassure the White House.
Q Mike, did you talk to Mrs. Clinton?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't talk to either. They left pretty quickly.
Q What about the basketball game? What's his reaction to that? Did he call Richardson or --
Q That was offensive.
Q Is he broken-hearted or --
MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of. The President, as you know, has the day off, so we haven't had him over here in the West Wing so far today. But I'll talk to him later.
Q Day off?
Q Day off? The President gets a day off.
Q Mike, is the President going to veto another CR? The one he's going to sign is for another week, and then they're supposed to go on Easter recess for a couple of weeks. In the last couple of days, you people have made very strong statements that you really want this to be the last CR. But how do you --
MR. MCCURRY: He's prepared to veto a continuing resolution that is not to his satisfaction, or that he believes unacceptably makes cuts in programs that he has repeatedly told Congress are critical to this country's future. And we're hoping to try to work it out.
Q My question is not going to riders on CRs, my question goes to the generic point you made earlier, that you're sick and tired of CRs, period, and that they ought to proceed with an omnibus appropriations bill covering the rest of the fiscal year. Did they give you, even on policy matters, a satisfactory CR, another week or another two weeks, would the President then still veto it just to make the point that he's reached -- his patience has reached the limit and he now wants a bill for the rest of the budget year?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Panetta indicated on the Hill yesterday that this government cannot go on functioning by week after week continuing measures. Particularly because of the reduced funding levels, you begin to, in effect, shut down those aspects of government services covered by those bills by slow motion once you do that, and he did indicate yesterday that there was a limit to our patience.
Now, we'll see how we do next week.
Q Mike, how does the White House feel about the fact that the House of Representatives separated legal from illegal immigration and stuck to the illegal?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as we indicated yesterday, we had favored that separation so that we could address these issues. Our view of the illegal immigration reform measure is that it codifies much of what the administration is already doing to protect our borders and to enforce U.S. immigration law, and we see those measures as a sense, a vote of confidence in what the administration had been doing.
On the question of legal immigration reform, this administration supports a comprehensive approach to legal immigration reform. We embraced many of the recommendations that came from the Jordan Commission. What we don't like is sort of a piecemeal approach, which is that that was presented in the draft of the legislation that was under consideration. Now, they beat back several provisions yesterday that we thought were particularly unattractive, but we will continue to work with the Congress to achieve the goal of comprehensive legal immigration reform.
Q Mike, how much of an issue will downsizing be in the remarks tomorrow? Will that be any part of what he has to say?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, generically, what the President has been talking about a lot are the changes this economy is going through. The economy, itself, is upsizing, not downsizing. We've added 8.4 million new jobs in the last three years, so there are more jobs out there, and a large percentage of them are high-paying jobs, many of them in the manufacturing sector, so there are job opportunities out there.
We are concerned, though, about the anxiety many Americans feel as they see all the turbulent change taking place in our economy as a result of changes in the global economy. And a large part of what the President will address tomorrow ways in which we can address that sense of anxiety by making sure that workers have got a safety net available to them. You've heard us talk a lot about pension protections for workers as they face questions about their own retirement income security, their health care needs as we address the issue of health insurance reform, and the need to grow the economy in a way that produces growing incomes.
This President is committed to doing those things necessary to see paychecks get fatter. That is one way, a very good way, to address anxiety, because people will think as they see a more prosperous future for themselves that they can pass on to their kids, that these changes taking place in the economy are not unbeneficial changes, that there are things that are going to improve their quality of life and help their children in the future.
So all of these things -- these are things that you're familiar with; the President has addressed them repeatedly, and will address them repeatedly and will put them together in ways, hopefully, that will attract your attention from time to time.
Q Is he afraid to lay a glove on corporate greed and the unconscionable salaries of the CEOs?
MR. MCCURRY: Not at all. He's addressed the need to raise the incomes of workers. That's what he's concentrated on. There are all different ways that you can measure the effectiveness of corporations, but one good way, in the President's view, is how well do they take care of their workers and what kind of income can workers generate from the jobs that they're provided. That's what we're concentrating on, because that's the important --
Q Does the President think he knows how much workers ought to be paid?
MR. MCCURRY: No, but he knows that we need to have a growing economy in which they're earning more, saving more and passing on a better life to their kids.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:55 P.M. EST