THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY The Briefing Room
1:30 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Secretary Cisneros, and Assistant Attorney General Dellinger. Other questions, other subjects.
Q Anything new on the budget?
MR. MCCURRY: We still don't have one for a large part of the government. As I indicated earlier today to some of you, the Chief of Staff, Mr. Panetta, met with Speaker Gingrich and Majority Leader Dole and Majority Leader Armey late last night, presented the administration's view of reasonable effort to solve some of the differences that remain in our approach on remaining issues associated with Fiscal Year 1996 appropriations. And we expect sometime today to hear back from them with a response to the presentation that the Chief of Staff made. That hasn't happened yet, to my knowledge.
Q Do you have a comment on line-item? And also, there is some talk that the Senate may do debt; House is doing it now. Is it your understanding that that they may go through today?
MR. MCCURRY: It's our understanding that sometime before the recess both houses wanted to deal with the debt ceiling issue and extend it, and we had certainly, very strenuously, called upon Congress to do so. And the President is prepared to act on that when it is -- the minute the legislation is available.
On the other issue, we're getting kind of conflicting signals on appropriations measures. We've had good discussions with the leadership, but we've got committees and subcommittees on the Hill now that are taking actions that seem at variance with some of the discussions we've had with the leadership. So it is a little difficult to figure out what the Republican Congress is up to.
Q There is some discussion on the Hill apparently of attaching the line-item veto to something so it arrives here tomorrow as opposed to after the recess. Do you have any idea?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and coming back on line-item, they are looking -- I mean, there is procedural things going on on the Hill that will send it down here either as a stand-alone measure or incorporated into some other piece of legislation. And I'm not aware that there are any plans to attach it to something that is problematic or that the President has concerns about. We, of course, don't think they should do that, and they shouldn't make it impossible for the President to sign a measure that he clearly wants to sign because he wants to put the line-item veto to good use cutting wasteful and unnecessary spending.
Q Do you care whether it arrives tomorrow or after the recess?
MR. MCCURRY: The effective date in the line-item veto that is under consideration now in Congress is 1997, so it really wouldn't matter whether they sent it before or after the recess.
Q So will the President make a big deal out of signing it? I mean, do you envision it in the --
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. The President strongly supports this, urged passage of a line-item veto, and will be happy to take some of the credit for it.
Q But I mean, are you talking about the Rose Garden -- a Rose Garden ceremony, that type of thing?
MR. MCCURRY: In this weather? I don't think so.
Q We're talking about --
MR. MCCURRY: Whenever we get it, the President will want to sign it and acknowledge the role the Republican leaders played in bringing it to the President, acknowledge the role that Democratic members of Congress played in bringing to the President what the President believes will be a very effective tool in cutting and curbing unnecessary federal spending.
Q Any specific legislation that he has right now to veto, put the line-item veto on? What would he like to snip out right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've from time to time cited -- most recently, a good example was during the whole debate on rescissions -- very specific things the President would have been able to excise from pending spending measures. We also have got in the whole discussion of the FY '96 appropriations process, we've got areas where we would add back certain provisions, where we would delete some funding or veto aspects of certain legislation, which the President's priorities have not been sufficiently addressed.
But there will be a lot of different ways that the President we elect in November will use this tool to the satisfaction of the White House and we believe of the Congress as well. I think more important is the availability of this tool -- will certainly make it much more necessary for the legislative branch to work cooperatively with the executive branch in fashioning appropriations and spending measures. That's one of the positive effects of the legislation in the first place, that it certainly makes the kinds of budget deliberations you've seen take place here and seen take place on the Hill much more reflective of the balance of powers in the Constitution.
Q Do you have anything more specific on the -- you said the examples of rescissions or things --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we'll go back -- we can go back and dig out -- we've from time to time cited specific things here as examples of where the President would have been happy to have the line-item veto because he would use it. And I don't have my head filled with them right now, but there are plenty of examples.
Q If that's the case, Mike, why didn't the President propose rescissions out of '96 funding other than out of the Pentagon before the add-backs?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the -- you're talking about a very narrow question here, which is how do you pay for the add-backs that we want to see in the FY '96 appropriations process. We identified a series of offsets, and they are not all in the defense area. In fact, the most important one is in the banking regulation area. So we've --
Q That's not a rescission.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no -- you're asking for the offsets for the --
Q Right. I'm just saying if the President is in Fiscal '96 funding, appropriations, the President would have liked to have rescinded, found waste, why didn't he propose that as offsets for the add-backs he wants?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we did propose offsets for the add-backs that we already have under consideration now, and those are areas where we would have addressed budget priorities differently. Some cases, not just lopping off the funding, it's -- the issue is how the President would array federal spending to match what the President believes are the country's priorities.
Q Do you have any response to Dole and Gingrich today talking about the legislative agenda, criticizing the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't hear them talk about a legislative agenda. I thought we were going to get that today, but I think they had a little pep rally on the Hill. It sounded like their legislative agenda was mostly unfinished business, and the President would like to get on with that business and finish it.
Q They had a lot to say about the President vetoing everything that was good and --
MR. MCCURRY: The President's been bending over backwards to try to accommodate some of their concerns so we can get work done. I think they've been having a little trouble getting together on how they want to proceed, quite frankly.
Q Something they did act on, of course, was partial-birth abortions. How are you going to handle that?
MR. MCCURRY: We will handle that consistent with the President's letter, and they are well aware of what the President argued in his letter.
Q So you all stick with the language, the Boxer language on the --
MR. MCCURRY: This is another example of where the President, at great length, gave them the precise language necessary to protect the life and health of a mother, and how we could do so consistent with the Constitution. And we, at great length, engaged in discussion with them about how we could tailor language that would make this a measure that the President could support, because the President doesn't believe in this procedure as an elective procedure, as our letter stated. But there was no seeming interest in trying to deal with a real measure; they simply wanted to send something to the President the President would have to veto.
Q Mike, your letter stated the language that the Senate had already vetoed. Was there anything after the Boxer language --
MR. MCCURRY: That's not correct. The language the President put in his letter was substantially different from the Senate-passed language and substantially different from the prior veto, and it was an effort to in fact bridge some of the differences. It was a good-faith effort to provide constitutionally acceptable language. But the effort by the President was spurned by the Congress.
Q Two questions. First of all, when he does get that bill, do you plan to veto it with a piece of paper or have some kind of ceremony?
MR. MCCURRY: He will veto it in some fashion and we'll let you know. We have not received it and it's not quite clear that we'll get it any time soon.
Q Just to follow up about the pep rally the Republicans had today. It was like a campaign event, and there was a lot of talk about the President there. Does he feel the need to answer some of those charges?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President answers their unfinished business by continuing to work to fashion responses to those measures on their agenda that they've failed to address. This Congress is approaching the abysmal when it comes to establishing any record of competency in dealing with this nation's business. They've failed to write budget measures for important parts of the federal government, they've put a lot of ideas out there and haven't produced much final passed legislation.
In fact, the only things moving toward final passage are things that the President has had to kind of coax out of them and urge them to produce, with the exception of those measures that we clearly have got objections to, and that we object to.
Q I mean, more generally, now that the presidential campaign against him is being waged not very many blocks away, does he feel the need to respond?
MR. MCCURRY: The President hasn't felt the need to do much other than continue to work on the nation's business. The President believes that much later this year in the fall there will be plenty of time for campaigning.
Q When you said that they simply wanted to pass something the President would veto, did you mean to suggest that they were not voting their consciences?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think -- I'm not going to speak for 535 members of Congress, but there did not appear to be a willingness on the part of those responsible for shepherding the legislation through Congress to engage with the White House in a discussion of language that would be acceptable to all sides in this debate so that we could get a measure that would enjoy the support of the Executive and Legislative Branch.
Q In that same vein, can you lay out how you see the White House legislative agenda? What are the priorities?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's legislative agenda is quite clear, and you've seen them talk about it over and over again. We need to get, first and foremost, agreement on a balanced budget. This President is fighting hard to get an agreement with this Congress on something that will balance the budget by a date certain. The President believes that's in the interest of the American people and in the interest of the American economy.
He just happens to have a somewhat different way of doing it than the Republican Congress, because we believe it's important to protect Medicare and Medicaid, to take care of the commitments that we've made to the nation's elderly. We think it's very important to continue to make those priority areas in environment stick, and we will continue to fight for adequate funding to protect this nation's environment at a time the Republicans want to cut that back, and we will continue to press for investments in education and technology that will make this economy grow.
It's a fundamental premise of this President that we've got to make the investments in the work force of the 21st century if we want to see their incomes rise and if we want to see a strong and growing economy. And he'll continue to press for that, and he'll continue to resist efforts by this Republican Congress to shift the burden to the lowest-income working people by raising their taxes; in effect, by taking steps that they have advocated that has that effect.
One thing we are going to press for very hard is to encourage Speaker Gingrich and Senator Dole to live up to the promise they made in 1989 when they raised the minimum wage. They both supported a minimum wage increase in 1989 and the value of that increase has now been lost because of the effects of the economy in the time since, so they need to restore that same value to it and go back and honor the pledge that both of them repeatedly made to the working poor and working people in this country to raise the minimum wage. So we've got a long list of things that we'd like to see get done, and the sooner that we stop giving speeches and the sooner we write legislation, the better off we'll be -- me included. (Laughter.)
Q Why is the Turkish event closed tomorrow to the press?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have to ask the NSC staff. We occasionally receive foreign leaders here and have a variety of ways of doing so. My understanding was there was going to be a photo session with them tomorrow.
Q A photo, but no reporters?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's currently listed as an opportunity for still photos.
Q Is he willing to sign another short-term continuing resolution when some in the Senate don't want it -- some Senate Democrats?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to predict. We gave them yet another effort to bridge the difference. We set out some very specific ideas last night on funding levels and on ways of resolving some of the legislative language issues in which there is a dispute, and we're waiting to hear back from them and I don't want to predict what happens if they remain hard and fast on the position thereon.
Q That's a change from what you said yesterday, or the day before yesterday you said there was no question he would sign a short-term if that's the only way to keep the government going.
MR. MCCURRY: We want to keep the government open. But I'm not going to predict where we will be this time tomorrow night, because we've got a long ways to go.
Q Are you backing off from that now? Is this a new weapon you're using?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm just saying I'm not going to predict what's going to happen between tonight and tomorrow, when we hope the Congress will finish work on these necessary measures. We remain hopeful that they're going to recognize that they can't go through another endless cycle of continuing resolution after continuing resolution. They've had, I think this will be the 12th time that they've passed a continuing resolution, and that's just no way to run a government, and we don't want them to do that again; we'd like to see a full appropriations that will carry us out through the balance of '96.
Q Is there any question that the President will sign it?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure, absolutely. There is a question because -- I mean, there are questions because we don't know what's going to come from the Hill. We can't get a good read on what they're up to up there. They've got committees and subcommittees, they're all over the map; many of them acting contrary to what we hear. You talk to one leader and then you've got a committee doing something differently. I mean, they don't seem to have any command and control right now.
Q Mike, President Bush just returned from a visit to the Middle East where he had meetings with President Assad and others. Was the Bush trip coordinated in any way with the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is that the former President had discussions with senior officials in our government prior to his departure. I don't believe he's been in a position yet to provide any analysis or summary or thoughts based on his own trip that I'm aware of.
Q Do you expect that he will?
MR. MCCURRY: As you know, he has good, close relations with many in our administration, at least one in our administration that is very vital to the Middle East peace process who worked for President Bush, and we do have from time to time good opportunities to have contact with him and to share thoughts with him.
Q Mike, can you outline what investigations may have been set in motion as a result of the information that came out about the Clinton-Yeltsin conversation?
MR. MCCURRY: Cannot, no. You'll have to ask the Justice Department. We properly and in a very precise way referred this matter to the Justice Department, the way we have in the past and the way previous White Houses have, and it's up to them to tell you how they handle the information.
Q Who at the Justice Department has it been referred to?
MR. MCCURRY: It has been referred through the proper channel that we use which is the legal advisor to the National Security Council to the proper official at Justice.
Q Could you tell us why people should not include the President and Yeltsin are talking about a relationship in which they would try to help each other politically, domestically?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, because they didn't have that conversation. I was there.
Q And so that the information that came out about that was, what, misleading, inaccurate, out of context? What was the problem with it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there was a report on a classified cable that represented a summary of the meeting. And as I told a lot of you yesterday up in New York, that was a conversation about how, in a time in which there was a presidential election underway in Russia and a presidential election underway here in the United States, it is important to effectively manage issues that arise in our bilateral relationship so they don't do damage to the bilateral relationship, so they don't have a negative impact.
This is -- as much as I discussed with all of you when we were in Egypt, and I indicated to you at that time, I believe, much of the same substance area of this document that was reported yesterday, but our concern is -- actually, in addition to the story that we're talking about now, there was another story in there, too, that represented the leak of classified information that was sent to a negotiating team in Geneva. And it's just -- these are highly sensitive documents that we can't allow to have in public domain if they're properly classified.
Q What's the propriety of putting poultry in that rarified category of items that need to be discussed?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that was among the issues that could easily become something that, in the context of domestic politics, either there or here, could get blown out of proportion and cause damage to the relationship. This is a half-billion-dollar-a-year industry. You already know, probably, that Chairman Helms is getting ready to cut off all aid to Russia precisely because of that provision. That's not an insignificant matter.
Q Well, I know, but doesn't it raise the question about the President's interest in the domestic industry that's essential to his home state?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, central -- there are a lot of states involved in the poultry industry, and you can ask the U.S. Department of Agriculture more about it. That is an important industry in Arkansas, but it is in quite a number of Southern states. That's why Senator Helms is very interested in it. There are number of members of Congress that are very worried about what the impact of that restriction would be on our exports there. That is a very important source of commerce.
Q Do you expect this will come up again when the President and Yeltsin are sitting down in Moscow and when we're briefed on that you'll run us down on all the poultry considerations?
MR. MCCURRY: It depends on whether we've made progress at that point. I will certainly raise it if comes up in the meeting as I did in Egypt when I told you in Egypt that it had come up in this meeting because it's an important issue.
Now, in the meeting in Egypt, the two Presidents referred this to the Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission for discussion. There have been follow-up meetings. As you know, we announced on Friday that we had reached some accommodation in the short-term, but there are underlying trade issues that are going to have to be debated, and I believe we've got trade -- we have tariff discussions that are ongoing on that. And if they are not resolved by the time of the meeting between President Clinton and President Yeltsin, I strongly suspect the issue will come up again. If so, I'll brief.
Q Mike, since you were at the meeting, is the quote attributed to the President about 40 percent of the poultry industry coming out of Arkansas, is that correct?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recall him in that meeting saying that. I think he indicated that he knew the impact in his home state, but he pointed out that it was a very real source of concern in the very important component part of our domestic agriculture sector.
Q When did the ABM leak occur?
MR. MCCURRY: That was in the same newspaper, same reporter yesterday.
Q Same day?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Mike, you did talk about some of these issues in Sharm el-Sheikh. Why was this memo even classified? Candidate Clinton in '92 decried the government of classifying so many documents because they might be embarrassing or whatever reason --
MR. MCCURRY: Right. And we have followed through on that. We have -- this administration has compiled a record on declassification and on handling of issues like this that I think is extraordinary. We've probably declassified -- I've personally declassified hundreds of documents and put them in the public domain for exactly that reason.
We're talking here about a confidential conversation between the President of the United States of America and the President of the Russian Federation. And that is the kind of document that is sensitive and ought properly be classified. I don't think there's any question about that.
The other document happened to be confidential negotiating instructions to a team in Geneva getting ready to negotiate an arms control issue. That is vital to the protection of the American people.
I've got no fault with your newspaper printing what they get. This administration strongly supports the Constitution and the First Amendment. When we go to work for this government, we put up our hand, we take an oath, and we say that we will protect the Constitution and obey the laws and defend the laws of the United States of America. And giving national security secrets outside the realm of those who are authorized to receive them is a violation of law. And that violation ought to be properly prosecuted.
I'll turn this around a little bit. If this White House knew a law had been broken, and we had not taken any action to deal with that, how many in this room would be quick to accuse us of cover up? That's the issue.
Okay. Other questions? Yes.
Q Can I just clarify, back on appropriations? Did Mr. Panetta last night have an agreement with the leadership about a particular level of funding -- $5.1 billion is enough --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. The President -- as I indicated this morning, we laid out -- we said, look, we'll take the Senate levels in the $3.8 billion, provided that you also include the contingency fund, the 1.3 billion. So you get a total of 5.1 billion. We would array them, in most cases, at the Senate-passed level. And then we also went through the 41 legislative riders that are still at dispute and indicated how we could -- what we were looking for and what we needed in each of those areas to be satisfied.
In short, what we basically said is,Senator Dole got this measure through the Senate; he is now the leader of the Republican Party, so fall in line behind the Republican leader. And we challenged the rest of the Republicans to say, just accept what the Senate Majority Leader has already been able to pass in the Senate. And we will live with that provided that you add in the contingency funds and you deal with these legislative riders.
Q Isn't there an agreement in principle about some additional offsets that would have been needed for that 1.3?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, well, I don't whether they agree or not. They will have to tell you. We gave them very precise ways in which we would pay for the 1.3 billion, so there were good offsets for that whole package. Now, whether or not they will take it or not, I don't know. There was not -- it was not entirely clear to us whether the House leadership would fall in line behind Senator Dole. So you might want to follow up on that.
Q General McCaffrey is ending his meeting -- high-level meeting in Mexico on drugs. When will the President meet with him and his delegation?
MR. MCCURRY: He is going to try to see him. At least we have heard a report back already from the general as he is en route back to the United States. They had a very successful meeting and found some specific areas of cooperation with Mexican law enforcement officials, very encouraging to us, and it looks like we will find may ways to forge a common front in the war against drugs. And he will come back, report further within our government and here at the White House on some of the results in the meeting.
Q To clarify the CR question, under what circumstances would the President veto another extension?
MR. MCCURRY: Under what circumstances -- well, if it's one that is unacceptable to him and, in his judgment, he deems worthy of a veto, obviously.
Q If it's simply a continuation of the current CR, would there be any circumstances under which he would veto it?
MR. MCCURRY: I just don't -- I want to -- at this point we have made a very detailed presentation to the Republican leadership about what we need to to resolve the remaining FY '96 appropriations measures. We need to hear back from them, and we're hopeful that we can resolve these issues and get something the President can sign and support. I think we're not -- at this point have any reason to believe that there would be a need to consider a veto. And the President certainly doesn't want to that, because then that puts everything in a precarious position as we go into the weekend.
Q Beyond the Turkish meeting, what has the President got tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: He has got -- we'll be looking at some issues related to drugs and how they can be used in combating cancer, and we've got the meeting with President Demirel. And the Vice President will be talking at some length about a very exciting new technology that could create 100,000 new jobs in this country by the end of this century.
Q Anything in particular on the agenda --
Q Is that the policy directive on the --
MR. MCCURRY: Bingo. Alexis wins a prize. There will be more on that. This is the use of technology that was initially developed by the U.S. military for global positioning -- 24 global satellites that can tell you wherever you are precisely, and to a meter or two. And that technology is now being used in the private sector and for commercial purposes. It's about a $2-billion a year industry. And as a result of the things the Vice President will tell you about tomorrow, it will probably be about an $8-billion a year industry by the end of the century.
Q We get one of those with our beeper, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Your new White House pager will tell us right where you are. (Laughter.)
Q Could be dangerous.
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe even when you don't want us to know where you be.
Q Anything in particular on the agenda for the Demirel meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: Do you want me to do a little quick preview on that? I can fake it. We are looking forward to a good bilateral meeting where we review some of the urgent issues on our bilateral agenda. Obviously, it's an opportunity to reaffirm the importance of the U.S.-Turkish strategic cooperation. They are a valued partner and ally in NATO, and we work together with them on many issues of bilateral concern when it affects our security interests.
We will have a discussion about the issues related to the Dodecanese Islands and finding a resolution to some of the disputes that surround the islets in the Aegean that we have discussed earlier this year. We'll be talking about efforts to resolve the question of Cyprus and how we can press forward what has been one of the more intractable problems in global democracy.
We'll also review Turkish efforts to protect itself against terrorist organizations like the PKK, and how we do so of course in a way that's consistent with the political and human rights of the Kurdish population, especially in Southeast Turkey and Northern Iraq.
Q I'm surprised you didn't mention Bosnia.
MR. MCCURRY: Bosnia -- on the traditional bilateral issues that would be on our agenda at a time when we are working through NATO to implement the peace in Bosnia will certainly be addressed. The President I'm sure will want to take the opportunity to thank President Demirel for the excellent reception that the First Lady has just enjoyed in Turkey. I'm sure they will also review other bilateral issues that might arise.
Q Is the President concerned that the Muslim Croat Federation seems to be falling apart and other efforts to get the civilian side of this effort growing apart?
MR. MCCURRY: The Bosnian Muslim Federation is not falling apart. It is a newly-formed entity, and like many efforts at political cooperation between diverse ethnic populations, it's going to require nurturing. But it was a key ingredient of the success in Dayton in getting peace accords put in place in the first place, and it will be a valued part of the future of Bosnia Herzegovina as they reel from the devastating effects of civil war.
Encouraging Croat Muslim cooperation and alliance has been a key part of our strategy for the Balkans. We have to build on the relationships that exist there. By no means is it a failure. Are they encountering some difficulties, if you look at a place like Mostar or elsewhere, of course. But there are other steps that we are taking to try to firm up that alliance and make sure that it's a useful and long-lived one.
Q The House Republican version of health insurance contains a lot of provisions the White House finds objectionable. Would the President veto that bill, if that's the case?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to talk about veto at this time. We're going to challenge Senator Dole to stand with Senator Kassebaum. Senator Kassebaum has done, I think, an heroic job of putting together a measure now that provides us the kind of incremental reform that this Republican leadership of Congress indicated they were interested in, and we can pass that Kassebaum-Kennedy bill now. But if it gets loaded up with a lot of controversial provisions that they know are unacceptable, then we're going to go down the wrong path, which is the path towards a veto.
So the President will encourage the Republican leadership and Senator Dole to take the right path, which is the one that Senator Kassebaum has already outlined, and to resist the efforts of those like Senator Lott and Senator Nickels who seem to be trying to divide the Republicans in the Senate. This is a great opportunity for Senator Dole to lead his own caucus in the direction of health insurance reform for Americans, and we certainly challenge him to do so.
Q So you're making this a litmus test for his leadership?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a lot of great opportunities that open up now for Senator Dole. I heard the Speaker declare him today to be the undisputed legislative champ up on Capitol Hill. So that's good news for us, because it means we can get some work done.
Right now, we look up there, and they all still are somewhat divided on these issues. Today, you've got Senator Lott and Senator Nickels going one direction on health insurance reform when Senator Kassebaum and Senator Dole are going the other direction. So they need to get their act together.
Q What's the cancer drug --
MR. MCCURRY: It will be the news you cover tomorrow.
Q Mike, did you find out if the President is going to attend the Muskie funeral on Saturday?
MR. MCCURRY: I did not get any answer to that, and you can follow up with --
Q Who is he going to the game with on Monday? Do you know?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have an event with Joe Garagiola and some others prior to going to the game. Now, some of the folks who are at that event may go up with him.
Q Garagiola because of his tobacco thing?
MR. MCCURRY: He's been doing some very impressive work to try to discourage spit tobacco use on the part of the ballplayers who obviously are role models for young kids in this country, and the President is going to commend his work.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:02 P.M. EST