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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release May 6, 1996
                           PRESS BRIEFING
                           BY MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:48 P.M. EDT

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. What's new in the world? What news do we have to report today? None. All right, well --

Q How about the call by Yeltsin's Deputy?

Let's just take a random sample of questions, and then I'll figure out if any of them are interesting enough to answer.

Q -- the Russian elections --

MR. MCCURRY: We remain of the view that the June 16th election in Russia will be an important hallmark of the transformation to democracy in the Russia Federation. We're pleased to see that President Yeltsin has repudiated the remarks by one of his advisors.

Q Guatemala.

Q And before you move on, has the U.S. received any direct word from the Russia government, any assurances that the elections will be held as scheduled?

MR. MCCURRY: We've raised often in our bilateral dialogue with them the importance of free and fair elections to the transformation of democracy in Russia. The issue was raised most recently when the President was in Moscow for our bilateral discussions with the Russia Federation, and we are satisfied at the strong representations by the Russian Federation that they are committed to the election.

Q Was that a no, Mike?

MR. MCCURRY: I can't remember the question, after all that. (Laughter.) It took me a long time to get all that babble out. (Laughter.)

Q The question was, has the Clinton administration gotten any direct reassurances --

MR. MCCURRY: We've had direct assurances. I don't know if they've been in the aftermath of Mr. Korzhakov's remarks, or not, but we have received prior assurances that the Federation is committed to the date of the election.

Q But from the time that Korzhakov made his statement with The Observer, and they had the repudiation of that by Yeltsin in that time period, did the United States get in touch with Yeltsin or his people to say we need a clarification?

MR. MCCURRY: I'd have to check. Leo, I'd have to check with our embassy in Moscow to see if they sought clarification. I haven't seen anything today that would indicate that, but you can either check here or check over at State and see if they have had any contact.

Q It would really sour the relationship, wouldn't it, if the communists won?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President addressed exactly that question when he met with Mr. Zyuganov and others, it is not the United States government position to determine the choice that the Russian people themselves must make in a free and fair election. But as the President suggested, elections do have consequences, and what we would most be interested in in any event would be the policies pursued by any government forum in the Russian Federation.

Q Any response to Senator Dole's criticisms Friday night of the President's leadership in global affairs?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they were patently untrue and so unpersuasive they seemed to make no impact at all on even the audience he addressed. The President is confident that we have asserted the United States leadership position in this world. We have done that effectively. And when you look around the world at how we are advancing America's interests, the foreign policy record of this President is a very strong one.

Q What is the President doing today?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had any report. He has the day off and he has not been seen here.

Q It's nice out. Is he playing golf?

MR. MCCURRY: Not that I know of.

Q Why did the President decide to send the letter up today about adoption, as opposed to just waiting and signing the bill when it got here?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is interested in encouraging adoption. There is legislation that is being worked on on the Hill, and the President thought it was important to communicate the views that he put in his letter.

Q Does he agree with Senator Metzenbaum that his own HHS bureaucrats undermine the intent of the original bill that was passed --

MR. MCCURRY: He does not agree with that assessment, although he does believe that we need to do everything we can to remove administrative barriers, and then also to ease the financial requirements of adoption. And that's the purpose of supporting the tax credit that he endorsed today.

Q How about the documents on Guatemala?

MR. MCCURRY: The State Department has covered much of this already. I don't know that there is much more I can add. They have turned over some 20,000 pages of documents in a variety of cases related to U.S. policy in Guatemala from the period 1984 to 1995. That is part of our ongoing effort in the study that the President directed the Intelligence Oversight Board to conduct to get to the truth about certain well-publicized and, frankly, some cases that have been less publicized but are equally important to the President. That work continues. We expect there will be even fuller release of information, including some declassification of documents that have not been produced today, when the IOB completes its report around mid-year.

Q But the protests keep getting bigger and bigger --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is one case that, of course, we're very aware of because Sister Ortiz has been conducting her vigil outside the White House here. We are very sensitive to that case. The First Lady has met with her, National Security Council staffers have met with her, members of the Intelligence Oversight Board reviewing her case have actually met with her as well. And she has now received a large volume of the documents related to her case so that she can learn more about what U.S. personnel knew back in the 1980s about her situation.

Q Mike, I hear Senator Dole is going to schedule a vote on the gas tax tomorrow. What would the administration like to see in that bill?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would like to see discussion of that issue in the context of a balanced budget agreement. The President wants to see an agreement to balance the budget. And that's the best way to consider tax related issues, is for people to bring their issues for tax relief to the table. The President's got some important proposals of his own related to tax relief. We want to see an education tax cut, child care tax cut, expansion of the IRA all enacted as part of a comprehensive balanced budget agreement. And we believe that consideration of tax repeals ought to be in the context of making sure we're balancing the budget.

Now, the one thing that most concerns the President is the suggestion by a senior member of the House Republican leadership that they're going to pay for this repeal by cutting education funding. And the President would like both Senator Dole and Speaker Gingrich to make clear right away whether or not that is their intent. If that's part of this repeal as it is enacted by Congress in the coming days, the President would be very concerned and would want to look very carefully at anything that would cut funding for education at a time where we need to make additional investments in education because that's the source of future economic growth in this country -- make sure people have the skills and the technology necessary.

Q But in the absence of a comprehensive balanced budget agreement, in a stand-alone bill what would we like to see?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I said before, if it comes to us separately, we'll look at it separately. The President is interested, when it comes to addressing the needs of working Americans, first and foremost to make sure that we raise the minimum wage. So we would hope that Congress will give equal priority treatment to raising the minimum wage and do that as soon as possible.

Q Well, what about attaching welfare and Medicare to minimum wage? What if it comes to you in that form?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we would have to look at that if it came to us in that fashion.

Q Would he veto the gas tax repeal?

             MR. MCCURRY:  I haven't heard anything indicating the 
President would veto it.                              I've heard him 

suggest that we need to look at that in the context of what we're doing to balance the budget. The Republican Congress now seems to have walked away from the goal of balancing the budget and doesn't seem to want to sit down with the President and get the deal done that can make sure the American people get a balanced budget, and this is one piece of evidence that they are reacting to some of these measures piecemeal. We would like to see a comprehensive discussion of how we're going to make sure we get the budget balanced.

Q Let me follow. Would you veto it, Mike, if it had education cuts in it?

MR. MCCURRY: If it has education cuts in it, as suggested by Mr. Armey, any enthusiasm that the White House might have for such a repeal would disappear.

Q But politically speaking, it would be pretty difficult for the President to veto a tax repeal at this time.

MR. MCCURRY: You're better at handicapping politics than I am.

Q Could you clarify what you just said? Up until now, your refrain on the minimum wage has been that it had to be clean. And now you're saying if it comes to you with Medicaid and welfare, you would be willing to take a look at that combination.

MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying if they, for example, attached it to the repeal of the gas tax, we would just have to look at it. Maybe I misunderstood your question.

Q There's a plan now to attach minimum wage to a Medicare welfare reform package.

MR. MCCURRY: We hope -- we would -- if the minimum wage increase was attached to the Medicaid welfare reform provisions -- for example, those suggested by the Breaux-Chafee group -- we certainly would look at that. We've already indicated we favor those types of reforms, and that's the best way to make sure that we can get true welfare reform and Medicaid reform enacted quickly. And if it came -- a minimum wage increase came in the context of that type of measure, of course we would look at it very carefully.

Q What if it comes in the form of --

MR. MCCURRY: Some souped-up extreme version that the Republican leadership -- I don't know. We would have to -- again, our enthusiasm would dissipate.

Q Mike, you referred to the adoption review. Does the President support the part of his bill dealing with Indian children? It's not mentioned in this letter.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. Do you know the answer to that? Mary Ellen can get you an answer to that. She has been working the issue. It's on a particular provision of the adoption, related to Native American adoption, right? Yes.

Q Mike, tomorrow, can you tell us a little bit about the antismoking event?

MR. MCCURRY: I know that when the President goes to New Jersey tomorrow, he is going to participate in "Kick Butts" Day.

Q Kick Butts Day?

MR. MCCURRY: That's "Kick Butts" Day, B-u-t-t-s Day.

Q Who thought of that name?

MR. MCCURRY: Mark Green, the consumer advocate up in New York. This is his brainchild, but there are 13 cities around the country, including Woodbridge, New Jersey, but also Buffalo, Denver, Houston, Milwaukee, New York, Santa Ana, California, just to mention the few others, that are organizing events in which students have come together to really put a spotlight on those commercial establishments that make it easy for kids who are underage who shouldn't be buying tobacco products to, in fact, buy them. And they are going to do a little demonstration tomorrow of some of the problems they have had in the Woodbridge community with children who are able to get access to tobacco products, which, as you know, the President is trying to do everything he can to curb.

Q When you say "demonstration" --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, they have got some exhibits of advertisements and things, selling techniques that have been directed towards young people. And as you know, the President is doing everything he can to curb that type of practice.

Q Do you have any results yet of how effective -- I know it has just started, but basically how effective this campaign is going?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, the campaign itself to curb these practices is having some effect. You saw a major corporation announce last week that they were no longer going to put up big billboards that encouraged smoking. That certainly is a step in the right direction. But the promulgation of the rule-making is still under consideration at the FDA, so we haven't really seen the policy itself go into place yet. But just the fact the President's put a spotlight on this issue has had some desirable effect at certainly making parents and kids and the private sector enterprises involved more aware of what their individual responsibilities are.

Q Mike, what's the topic of the President's address at Penn State on Friday?

MR. MCCURRY: It's still under debate. I think he's going to be -- each of these speeches coming up, major commencement addresses -- Penn State May 10th, the Coast Guard Academy May 22nd, Princeton on June 4th, and there may or may not be one additional commencement speech as well -- they are all designed to sort of put together, put a framework out in which the President articulates a strong message about the opportunities that exist for 21st century America.

And in some combination of these speeches he'll be talking about America's leadership position in the world, the changes we have to make here at home together as a community to address the challenges we face, and then the remaining work we need to do to build on the strong economic record of the last three and a half years so that Americans feel more secure about their jobs, more secure about their paychecks, their pensions, their health care arrangements. So in a broad sense, economy, global leadership and standards and values in communities will be the subject of these speeches. We're not quite certain how we're going to mix and match the three speeches with those subjects.

Q Mike, tomorrow night, is that a campaign event, the dinner?

MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow night is, I believe, a fundraiser for Congressman Torricelli, who is seeking the U.S. Senate seat up in New Jersey. Is that correct? Oh, it's for the whole ticket, top to bottom.

Q So the whole trip is considered a campaign trip, then, tomorrow?


Q On the adoption tax credit, what are the funding offset concerns that the President --

MR. MCCURRY: Do you have the funding offsets for that?

Q He said there are some concerns, one is an exclusion for energy conservation.

MS. GLYNN: One of them is the antitrust on the foreign trusts and the other is the energy --

MR. MCCURRY: Mary Ellen has got the answer. You can check with her afterwards.

Q Thursday, it appears the court in Little Rock is going to play the President's videotaped testimony. How would you counteract the inevitable negative political fallout of that?

MR. MCCURRY: It will be covered as have been other developments in that trial. We're fully aware of that.

Q What's the White House strategy to keep the President's poll numbers hot? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Look --

Q You've been hearing it.

MR. MCCURRY: Ain't no way that's going to happen. In the inevitable pendulum swinging back and forth, the pendulum on our side is stretched all the way out here, and you can hear the cable groaning, and it's about to snap back and hit us in the face, because no American election ever, at the presidential level that I can -- well, not in recent memory -- has ever been decided by a margin of 20 points. And it's ridiculous to assume that will remain the margin in this race. And inevitably it will be close because American elections, almost by definition, are close because of the way we've structured our politics. In fact, one of the encouraging things about our system is we have two competitive political parties, and they remain competitive, and that lends a measure of stability to our political culture.

Q By seizing on the -- are you seizing on another Republican theme with the adoption tax credit?

MR. MCCURRY: That's been a President Clinton theme since the beginning of his tenure in office.

Q Adoption tax credit?

MR. MCCURRY: Adoption and promoting adoption and figuring out ways to ease the administrative burdens that American couples face if they want to do something to bring care and love into the lives of kids who might not otherwise have it.

Q What earlier initiatives on that would you cite?

Q Has he ever done an adoption speech or event?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's actually in our fact sheet. There's been a lot of stuff that he has done along the way on that. Someone said earlier he has, in fact, done some events related to that in the past.

Q Can he try to make the argument that this is a way on cutting down abortions?

MR. MCCURRY: He did not make that argument in the letter; you've got the letter and he did not make that. Now, it is generally believed that if you can promote adoptions, that that does become an alternative to abortion, and that is consistent with the President's view that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

Q And to what extent did abortion play into this policy decision?

MR. MCCURRY: It's not referenced in the President's letter.

Q I know it's not referenced in the letter, Mike, but to what extent did it play --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, if it played a large extent in the President's mind, he would have mentioned that in his letter.

Q Mike, why we're you willing to -- this is a tax credit which has a fiscal effect. Why was this settled outside of the budget?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, my understanding is that you can accommodate this within the President's balanced budget proposal submitted recently to Congress. How that's actually done is a question that Mary Ellen is working on for some of you later.

Q Is it possible then we might see more moves to the right like this with some of the agreements to the pieces of the Contract?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know if it's a move to the right, to the center or whatever. But it's a -- it represents good, common-sense policy that represents the President's view that a lot of these issues that if people stop and use common sense can be resolved amicably with support on both sides of the aisle.

Q Is he trying to preempt all of Dole's initiatives?

MR. MCCURRY: I didn't know that Senator Dole had any issues that needed to be preempted, but --

Q Ooooo.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, did he? Hard to tell.

Q Do you have any statement on Colby?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we do. The President was very sad to learn of the death of former CIA Director William Colby. We've got a written statement that the President refers to Mr. Colby as " a dedicated public servant who ably led the agency through troubled times. He made tough decisions when necessary, always guided by the core values of the country he loved." There's a longer written statement that's available.

Q Did the President know Mr. Colby personally?

MR. MCCURRY: I would have to ask him. I'm not aware that he did, but if I see him later I can ask him.

Q Mike, back on abortion. You're not trying to imply here that there was no political calculation on this adoption?

MR. MCCURRY: No, I have said here often that we're in a season now in which one way or another either you will read into anything that we do as some element of political calculation, and there's, generally when you work on any issue in Washington, some element of politics that attaches to decisions.

But, look, we're talking about helping parents adopt kids who might not otherwise have a family life they can go into. And this President, you know, because you have heard him talk about it a lot, cares very much about the strength of the American family and ways that we can nurture and support it. He has been doing a lot of work on that for three and a half years, so it should come as no surprise that we would take some steps that ease and facilitate adoption.

Q But the timing is curious. I mean, why would it take three and a half years to come up with this proposal?

MR. MCCURRY: This is a measure pending in Congress and due for action shortly. I don't think it's curious at all.

Q Can you highlight some of the things -- you say he has been doing a lot of work --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, and since you're interested it sounds like it would be good for us to do a little fact sheet on some of the things that we have done in the past. So we will make that available.

Q Mike, does the President still occasionally smoke a cigar?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge, no.

Q He gave it up?

MR. MCCURRY: He chews on them, from time to time.

Q He never lights them anymore -- not inhale again?

MR. MCCURRY: Not in quite some time.

Q He did with Tony Lake on the Truman Balcony?

MR. MCCURRY: Anything else.

Q How about his press secretary?

MR. MCCURRY: No comment.

Q Did he make a formal decision, a personal decision to swear off any sort of smoking of any kind, including cigars?

MR. MCCURRY: He has said and said recently in an MTV interview, I think, that his daughter has gotten on his case about chewing on cigars, so he is very discreet about doing it when he does it.

Q Are you saying he never lights them?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen him smoke a cigar or heard of him smoking a cigar for quite some time.

Q But to your knowledge he didn't formally forswear them, did he -- or personally or ever make a decision to do that?

MR. MCCURRY: I have not asked him that, so I don't want to --

Q So he still may smoke them, for all you know?

MR. MCCURRY: As I say, I haven't seen him do it or heard him do it, and I know that his daughter and his wife have admonished him not to.

Q There was the incident, Mike, with Tony Lake on the balcony -- wasn't he smoking one then?

Q Yes, O'Grady --

MR. MCCURRY: They had it on the O'Grady thing. That was last year.

Q How concerned is the White House about overconfidence?

MR. MCCURRY: The President is very concerned about it and admonishes his staff all the time to remember that fortunes change with lightening speed in politics, and anytime someone says the word poll to him, he says Greg Norman.

Are we done?

Q Do you have any information on this fellow that works for the customs service and made a successful bid for the golf game?

MR. MCCURRY: We do not, and it would not be our place to get information on someone at a private charity event who bid on something at an auction. The Sidwell Friends School will notify the President when they certify that someone has successfully bid on the donation he made to their auction. He has not been notified yet.

Q But when he is notified, you will let us know?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, if we make the arrangements to have that game of golf, we will let you know.

Q I'm sorry. When they determine there is a successful bid, do they have to make sure he has the money?

MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. You should ask the organizers of the event at Sidwell Friends.

Q And, presumably, that person would then undergo some sort of Secret Service security check?

MR. MCCURRY: People generally have -- whether it is me or you or anybody, we normally go through a check if you have a scheduled appointment with the President, yes.

Q But you have been give the name already, have you not?

MR. MCCURRY: I have seen it in the newspapers as reported, but we have not been given the name by Sidwell Friends School, no.

Okay, thank you.

END 2:10 P.M. EDT #218-05/06