THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
10:50 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know about Carville, but with two days of good economic news there is one piece of bad news, and it has to do with one of Senator Dole's strategists who tells The New York Times today that these good numbers and good figures on the economy will force the campaign to focus on issues of character. So it's really clear now that the economy is performing so strongly, Senator Dole's advisors -- and they're all over your newspapers today suggesting that Senator Dole will have to resort to very negative campaign tactics in order to make any headway in his campaign.
So the unfortunate bad news that goes with this good economic news is we're about to see the return of the old Bob Dole, the nasty, negative Bob Dole. And his advisors are making that very clear, very openly today.
Q Maybe you will campaign on his character, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would like to campaign on character because it took an awful lot of character for this President to stand before the Congress and to make the difficult choices on deficit reduction that he made in 1993, without a single vote from the Republican side helping him. He stood firm to his principles throughout the deliberations on the budget, and that's the true test of character.
Any other subjects today? This is it for the day.
Q What's the readout on the General's meeting?
Q That was good. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, let me do -- I was just trying to help you get this good economic news on the air.
The President will be leaving shortly for his outing I told you about earlier. Let me tell you a little bit about the 90-minute meeting that he had today with his senior military advisors, with the commander-in-chiefs of the various military theaters in the U.S. military and also the service chiefs, the chairman -- vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs' staff there, and of course along with the Secretary of Defense, the chiefs of staff of each of the Armed Services branches, and the commander-in-chiefs of the unified and specific commands from both logistics and regional theaters.
The President has obviously worked with this group before, met with this group before. Their conversations are frequently free-flowing across a range of issues related to America's force posture in the world. On this occasion they had an opportunity to review the deployment of military forces from the United States as part of the international force in Bosnia, and the Supreme Allied Commander for Europe General George Joulwan will be addressing that issue later today at the Pentagon. So he'll have more to say about that part of the conversation over at the Pentagon today.
The IFOR deployment has been going exceedingly well. The military tasks associated with that mission have been performed very ably by all the combined international forces present in the region. They are now doing some work on civilian military projects that's very encouraging, and General Joulwan will be describing that later. They did review that in the meeting today.
The President thanked the commanders from the Pacific and the Southern Command for the very good receptions that he had both on the USS Independence and also recently when he went to Ft. Polk to visit with some of our troops that have returned from Haiti, where we had a very successful deployment of U.S. forces in the name of restoring democracy to Haiti.
They talked about both Haiti, the President's recent trip to the Asian theater. They then talked a lot about budget issues, things that affect America's military readiness and force posture in the world; dealt with other issues related to arms control proliferation. In all, a very good meeting by the President with his senior military commanders.
Q Mike, was there anything on land mines?
MR. MCCURRY: This was not a decision meeting on land mines. They did review that issue. That's one that continues to be under active discussion within the administration and also with Capital Hill, and the President continues to work through the issues that we hope can lead to an eventual elimination of antipersonnel land mines.
Q Does the President have a view on that?
MR. MCCURRY: We -- very clearly, the President has indicated his support for an effort to achieve international agreements that would lead to the elimination of antipersonnel land mines.
Q When do you expect a decision on that, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: That's a work in progress, and I can't give you any sense of what the final destination will be.
Q Mike, back to the first thing you said about Senator Dole. The Republicans had talked about the Clinton crunch in the economy, where the numbers looked good, but workers still feel squeezed. Do you think that that argument, in light of these new statistics, no longer works for the GOP?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure that their notion of a crunch ever had much merit to begin with. But we did see in these statistics and numbers the last several days the type of growth in the economy that we hope will be more encouraging to the American people and will lend us some sense of optimism about the future direction and course of the economy. Now, that is a good environment for the President to make his arguments later this year about what we need to do to prepare America for the economic challenges we face in the 21st century. And the President intends to stay very focused on those issues.
As I said earlier, what's discouraging is we now have a lot of Dole strategists and advisors indicating that Senator Dole can't fight the campaign on those issues, so he has to turn to extraneous or negative issues.
Q Do you think it is no longer possible to make an economic argument against the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that -- I am sure that people will try, I am sure that the Republican campaign will try to make that argument. But the President has a very strong economic record that he can stand on. As the President says often, though, it's a record that you don't just sit on, you need to build on. And, as you heard from Secretary Reich, as you have heard from many of us, the challenge now is to address the question of wage growth so that Americans get more money in their pockets as the result of the strength the economy is showing.
Q Mike, 31 people got themselves arrested this morning an hour and a half ago. They were backing Sister Diana Ortiz's protest. Is the timetable still the same, by the middle of the year? What is holding up the final --
MR. MCCURRY: No change in our review. And if I am not mistaken, the State Department will be releasing some documents about Guatemala later today. We continue to sympathize enormously with her case. We understand the very strong emotions, and that is why we are being very persistent in searching for the truth not only about her case, but the other cases involving American citizens in Guatemala.
Q Is the theme for the Penn State commencement address mainly economic?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to ask later. I just got a memo and I haven't read yet. We're working through some ideas. The President has some ideas on what he would like to address in each of the three upcoming commencement speeches that he will undertake. And maybe we can tell you a little bit more about that later.
Q Was there any discussion in this morning's meeting on strategic issues on Asia coming off of last month's summits in Korea and Japan?
MR. MCCURRY: They talked briefly about some of those issues, but they have been well-reviewed by the President during his recent trip. And they did not spend as much time on the Asian theater simply because the President had been there recently and had had a good opportunity to talk to some of our senior commanders in the region during that trip.
Q Mike, can you give us an update on this Chinese dissident, and, particularly, when were you informed that he was on his way to the U.S.?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry. Say again.
Q When was the administration informed that he was in fact on his way to the U.S. and about to leave China?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, what I told you earlier is the information that's been communicated to us from the State Department, and they'll be prepared to go into greater depth about his case later today.
Q Can you give us an advance about next week?
MR. MCCURRY: I can tell you a little bit about that. Anything else before we do the week ahead?
Q In terms of -- getting back to China for a second -- the decision to admit this dissident, how does that fit into the bigger picture of U.S.-Chinese relations right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a very active dialogue with the People's Republic. The People's Republic is well aware of our concerns about human rights, political freedom and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Our actions in this case or any of the cases that we pursue in our bilateral dialogue with them comes as no surprise to the People's Republic; they are aware of our views. But they are in the context of a broad, strategic engagement with China.
The President of the United States has chosen a policy of engagement with the People's Republic as against a policy of isolation. And we continue to believe that by direct engagement through our Commerce -- the extension of the Most Favored Nation status question is part of that equation -- but through that engagement, that we can continue to press the issues that are important to us and continue to reflect our values in our bilateral dialogue with China.
There has been no change in our view on that, and we would hope there would be no change in the views of the People's Republic. They've acknowledged or strong concerns on those issues. They are aware of them, and we would hope nothing about the handling of this case would cause any change in the views that both sides express frequently when they meet to exchange views on these or related issues.
Q Mike, was the Chinese government informed of your decision?
MR. MCCURRY: You'll have to ask the State Department.
Q Is the President prepared to support congressional efforts to raise the Defense budget by $12 billion?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have our budget. We have submitted it as part of our FY '97 budget request. It does not call for that additional spending, but it's clear that within some of the committees in Congress, they intend to proceed with those requests. And we'll have to see what the overall shape of the budget is as it develops in Congress.
As you know, the committees that ask each of these -- each of the branches of the Armed Services to indicate how they would address some of that many, and many of them have responded to that, but we think we've put together a prudent, sensible Defense budget request that meets America's military and strategic needs as we think about the post-Cold War environment we are now in.
Q One more on the generals meeting. Is the administration any closer to fixing a date of withdrawal for IFOR?
MR. MCCURRY: We have fixed the date in the sense that the President as Commander in Chief has indicated the mission will be about a year. General Joulwan has talked about the type of significant force he would like to see in theater as we go through that timetable and approach the middle of December. The key thing right now that we are looking at is the prospect for elections in the fall in Bosnia. That is a very critical date. We will assess what the force posture is after the elections and what the needs are.
But General Joulwan has made clear, and I think it's the consensus of the President and his foreign policy advisors, that we should listen carefully to what the military commanders assess as the needs on the ground as we look for the balance of the year.
Q About next week?
MR. MCCURRY: Next week.
Q What is the radio address on tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will be talking about teenage Americans. We will just leave it at that. You'll see more later. Is he doing it live tomorrow? Teenage Americans, and he will do that live. Tomorrow he is doing -- as you know, he is -- he will be taping his cameo appearance in this made-for-television movie dealing with the Family Medical Leave Act, and I believe will have some things to say tomorrow about the success of the implementation of that act over the last year.
There was a very encouraging report this last week about how successfully the private sector is taking on some of the aspects of that legislation and how smoothly the administration of those -- of that act within private sector benefit plans has gone. The President, tomorrow, will be a great opportunity -- since his very small, two-sentence part in this production has to do with his role in getting the act passed, it will a good opportunity to talk a little bit more about that.
And then, of course, he is looking forward to the White House Correspondents Association Dinner tomorrow night, although, as you probably know, he will be arriving late because he is going to be with Mrs. Clinton at a function for Chelsea's school earlier in the evening.
Q What sort of assurances did the White House or the First Family seek or were given by the White House Correspondents Association that Mr. Franken's routine might be a little more appropriate?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that we received any assurances, but the head of the Association, Mr. Leubsdorf, indicated he thought it would be an enjoyable evening. We are sure it will be.
Q Have you seen the script of Mr. Franken's?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not, no.
Q Has anybody at the White House seen it?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe anyone here has.
Q Has it been scrubbed?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe anyone here has. To my knowledge, no one has.
Let me go through the rest of next week --
Q How much does the President hope to raise at this auction with his golf -- proffer of a golf match?
MR. MCCURRY: He might even have something to say about that tomorrow night at the dinner. So why don't you stay tuned, listen in. But he was happy to participate in this. Many of the parents of kids at the school are participating and offering things to be auctioned as part of the fundraising effort for the school that Chelsea attends. And he has no idea what a round of golf might bring at the auction, but he was happy to participate.
Q But if the high bidder for that is some lobbyist, would the White House rule out accepting the golf date?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is not accepting anything. The donations and proceeds from this event go to Sidwell Friends, not to him.
Listen, the rest of the week: Monday will be -- the President will have Sunday and Monday off. There is this production Monday evening that some of you know about that he will be doing on the South Lawn. That is the annual In Performance at the White House series that, I believe, is taped for PBS, right?
MS. TERZANO: Yes.
MR. MCCURRY: And Tuesday the President will go to New Jersey for a variety of events. Wednesday -- we have a schedule available, so you can pick it up -- he's got the big DNC fundraiser on Wednesday night. Thursday, we are looking forward to the state visit of President Stephanopoulos of Greece. I am sure that that will produce some predictable commentary. And on Friday, the President will go to University Park, Pennsylvania, to deliver the commencement address at Penn State University.
That what we have got on the week. We expect, of course, action or at least deliberations on the gas tax issue in Congress next week. We will be prepared to deal with that and we will continue to press for action on a balanced budget agreement. We look forward to the meeting of the group that was here to meet with the President yesterday, with Senator Dole on Tuesday -- the so-called Breaux-Chafee group. We hope their ideas will be as interesting to Senator Dole as they were to President Clinton and that Senator Dole will then be interested in renewing the discussions with President Clinton about achieving agreement on a balanced budget.
Q If the final immigration bill contains legislation that we cannot give education to children of illegal, will the White House veto it?
MR. MCCURRY: The Senate yesterday, in passing this measure with a strong bipartisan vote of 97 to 3, ratified with the President's immigration strategy -- the strategy we have pursued for the past three years -- because much of what is in that legislation codifies and embraces the approach we have taken to protect our borders. So the President is very encouraged by the Senate vote. We continue to believe that that legislation and not the House-passed bill is the basis on which we can get an acceptable immigration reform measure. And we would certainly hope Congress does not stray far from the Senate passed version as they commence the conference deliberations.
Q What he feels specifically that contains --
MR. MCCURRY: We have already indicated that that provision on public education would cause the President to very strongly consider a veto. It has been recommended by those working on it and we don't anticipate at this point that that measure would be included in a final version of the legislation.
Q Are you concerned that Dole is being advised to focus on character issues? And how likely is it that he would engage in any substitute budget promises?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know. I mean that is going to be up to Senator Dole. Our concern is that there is an option available to him recommended by his advisors now to return to the nasty negative ways of the past. And we hope that he rejects that advice from his advisors. He is alleged to be about to start a new tact in his campaign. We are very fearful that it is going to be a nasty one, a negative one and reflect some of the old Bob Dole instead of the Bob Dole that the President has worked with in the Oval Office.
Q Monday, if he's taking off, you're still going to brief and have a usual press --
MR. MCCURRY: It will depend on -- we will see.
Q Or are you just going to tell us to take a flying leap? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: We will see. We will see what the flow of news suggests on Monday morning. But maybe we can all have a down day here.
Q You anticipate that he would have no schedule, but you would still be here?
MR. MCCURRY: He has no public schedule on Monday and we'll be around here.
Q And you'll still gaggle at 9:15 a.m.?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, maybe we should reconsider doing that, give everyone a late morning.
Q Let's call it a holiday.
Q Put it on the recording?
MR. MCCURRY: We will put it on the recording and let you know, but maybe we can do things later in the day.
Have a good weekend everybody. We are going to try to get a lid on by around noon today.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 11:10 A.M. EDT