THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:37 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the White House. After that rousing event I don't know that I have much to add.
Q Would you mind repeating some of your earlier comments about Floyd Brown and what it is you've got against that?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to -- I said far -- more than enough this morning. He -- look, it's an individual who is widely credited with having poisoned our politics in 1988. And he just has no business trying to do it again in 1996. And we certainly hope Senator Dole will tell him to knock it off and to keep out of his campaign or keep out of the periphery of his campaign. Simple.
Q Why did the President think it was necessary to ask Transportation Secretary Federico Pena to come up with additional measures -- recommendations for additional measures on aviation security?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he wants -- obvious because of the incident in Miami, but also generally to do everything he can to scrub our system and make sure it remains the safest air transportation system in the world. We transport I think something like 1.5 million passengers per day in the U.S. air travel system, and the President wants to make sure we do everything, redouble and recheck everything, that it is absolutely the safest system on Earth. And to that end he's asking the Transportation Department and the FAA particularly to look at all of their safety procedures and see if there's more that can be done.
One thing we have suggested, as you know, is that we try to increase the number of inspectors. The FAA has brought on 230 additional inspectors in the current year; we have requested in our FY 1997 budget 150 additional inspectors. And one of the things that the Transportation Department will look at specifically is whether there is some way we can accelerate funding to bring those additional inspectors on line.
Q Does he feel that there may have been something remiss in the events leading up to --
MR. MCCURRY: It would not be wise for any federal official to make judgments about a crash that has just happened until the very qualified and expert investigators complete their work.
Q Does the President have any questions about whether the current state of airline regulation needs readjusting as well, or does he feel that that part is okay? Some people think there have been more accidents since deregulation.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it still remains a very heavily regulated sector. But the Transportation Department and the FAA can look at those types of issues. We wouldn't want to prejudge any conclusions that Secretary Pena or Administrator Hinson might arrive at.
Q What about when the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation says she won't ride on such -- is that the kind of federal official you say should be careful about her words?
MR. MCCURRY: If she has judgments that are relevant to the crash investigation going on in Miami that would -- she suggests more or less a conclusion as a result of her remarks she should refer those conclusions to the NTSB so that they can evaluate them properly.
Q Do you know if there was any reason to suspect that airline was not up to par, safety-wise?
MR. MCCURRY: The Secretary of Transportation, I believe, has addressed that at some length. Clearly, they had an accelerated review underway of the airlines, and the FAA can tell you more about what that was about and how they looked at safety procedures.
Q Mike, there have been other air accidents and other air mishaps since the President took office. Why does he find it necessary at this time to issue this order for the review?
MR. MCCURRY: We have had, here at the White House, an ongoing concern about air safety. There have been lots of conversations back and forth with the FAA. As you know, it's been a subject much in the news. There have been a variety of independent news reports that have looked at the capacity of the system and the safety of the system, and we obviously, for good reason, keep that very foremost in mind, because the President is determined, as he said today, to make sure we keep America's air travel system safe.
Q But why, after a single, isolated crash, to pursue Peter's question, would the President be given to make a public -- to raise public questions about the safety of American aviation?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe he did that. I believe he said that we want to look at additional measures to make sure it remains the safest system on earth.
Q When you say additional measures, does that mean additional inspection measures?
MR. MCCURRY: It would be those things I suggested. One area that we know that we're already looking at because we have concern is the number of inspectors available to do the work of making sure that aircraft and procedures are up to standard.
Q Mike, would the President feel it might be necessary to ask for some sort of a budgetary increase for the FAA, or Transportation?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I indicated, we have, in our FY '97 request, we have requested additional inspectors, and I believe six percent increase in training of inspectors. And one of the issues that the Department of Transportation will look at is, is there a way of accelerating that funding prior to action by Congress so we can bring some of that on line sooner.
Q Do you know how much money is involved?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that I did have a figure, but they might be able to help you out at DOT. Just a percentage is all I have.
Q Earlier today, you talked about the problems the FAA inherited. What has Secretary Pena told President Clinton about where the FAA is now? Have they made a complete recovery from levels that were not satisfactory when you came in?
MR. MCCURRY: The Administrator of the FAA and the Secretary of Transportation have talked about this a lot in their testimony before Congress. They say that through the administrative reforms that they have enacted through some of the efforts they have made at tightening up procedures and looking at the process they use at various air facilities and transport facilities, they feel that they have got the system moving in the right direction. They're repairing some of the concerns that existed when the administration took office.
But no one should ever be satisfied completely with the quality of our protections for air travel. And that's why it's prudent always to go back and look again and look again and look as often as you need to to make sure that our air travel system is the safest on earth.
Q A different topic. A couple of weeks ago, when Yasir Arafat was here, the President praised the PLO for getting rid of the clauses in its Covenant that called for the destruction of Israel. According to more recent Middle East reports, that really was not done at the meeting of the Palestinian National Council. They apparently just instructed one of their committees to look at revising the charter. Was the President aware that the revision of the charter had not been completed? And was it perhaps premature to embrace Arafat on that point?
MR. MCCURRY: Leo, the understanding we have is that they have taken the necessary steps to revoke those provisions of the covenant. You're asking a question that comes right from the heart of an ongoing political debate underway now in Israel. And it's really not proper for us to comment beyond that. The President feels confident that Chairman Arafat is pledged to revoking those elements of the charter, and that they have the necessary procedures underway to make sure that that is done.
But your analysis comes from one side of a very spirited debated going on in Israel at the moment, and not necessarily reflecting the accurate understanding of what the nature of those deliberations were.
Q Let me just follow up. What I'm trying -- regardless of what the debate may be in Israel, my question goes to what the President knew at the time he met here two weeks ago with Arafat. Was the President under the impression that the Covenant had been changed?
MR. MCCURRY: We had a pretty good readout of the meetings of the PNC and the steps that they had taken and the specific clauses that they were revoking in the Covenant itself.
Q So you believe it has been changed?
MR. MCCURRY: We believe it has been changed and there's -- we don't doubt Chairman Arafat's commitment to making sure that that gets done. He did that at some personal risk to himself and it is clear by both his public work and what he told us in our meetings here that he is committed to revoking those elements of the Covenant.
Q But, you see, what's puzzling about your answer is that you're answering in part as if it were past tense and then in the next sentence you're answering as if it's future tense. Which of the two is it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, our understanding is that those elements have been revoked. Now, I can go back and check on what the exact procedures are that they will do, but this is a subject that is -- this is a subject of a highly energetic debate in Israel at the moment, and you can understand my reluctance to get into it any further than that.
Q What is this D.C. event tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: The President, as he indicated back in our meeting in October when we met with some District leaders, wanted to look at what the impact of the work that all the federal Cabinet agencies have been doing on -- in a variety of areas -- education funding, Medicare-Medicaid, health care funding, education assistance, transportation assistance. There are a variety of ways in which the federal government has an impact on the District of Columbia and our Nation's Capital. And he is tomorrow gathering a group of nonprofit community leaders and others, including representatives of some of the elected leaders in the District, to talk about where we are in promoting a better quality of life in the District.
Q -- Mayor Barry there?
MR. MCCURRY: He is not anticipated to attend. It was never designed to be that type of session. It's not a session with elected leaders from the District, it really is with leaders at the community level who have got experience in addressing some of the needs of the District citizens.
Q Why is it only listed as a White House photograph, why can't we have regular photo op?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll check into it. That was our original plan.
Q How much does the United States owe the United Nations, and how many years are we in arrears? Are we making a plan to pay that money?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't have the full workup on our peacekeeping arrears. It's a significant sum. We've been negotiating with both the House and the Senate to try to pay up our bills for our obligations to the international community and to the U.N. specifically, but I don't have the figures here, but they well available, particularly at the State Department.
Q Mike, Speaker Gingrich has said that in the House in the next couple of weeks they'll take up a small business bill to give relief to small business owners and attach minimum wage to that. As far as you understand the provisions that he's talking about, would the President sign that bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, the President is clear, and I'll make it clear for the Speaker. If he needs to be -- just increase the minimum wage, do it cleanly, get it over with. He keeps moving slowly in the right direction, but he's not quite there yet. They're going to raise the minimum wage, they're going to do it sometime soon, and they shouldn't do it by attaching it to legislation the President finds less acceptable.
Q And would you take a look at this if it comes down?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll look at whatever Congress passes; we have an obligation to do that. But it's real simple what we need to do, which is to increase the minimum wage and get on with it, and they ought to do it now.
Q Why are you so confident they'll pass it?
MR. MCCURRY: Because they have indicated they will do it, and now they're just debating about what forum the final legislation will do. As you know, the Speaker indicated over the weekend it was likely that they would do it shortly.
Q Mike, does the President have a position on same-sex marriage, and if Congress passes a bill outlawing it, would he sign it?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's against same-sex marriage. We'll have to look carefully at the legislation that's under consideration in the Congress.
Q China --
MR. MCCURRY: China. I haven't had any report yet from the Deputy Trade Representative Mr. Sands, who is in Beijing now. His deliberations are critical to the schedule we now have, which calls for a trigger list to be published in the Federal Register on May 15th. There's no change in the status of that, and we await a report from our trade negotiator in Beijing.
Q You haven't had any report at all?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen -- I think they were just beginning their meetings today in Beijing and we would get a report coming in at some point.
Q If I can just follow up on a previously asked question. You said the President is against same-sex marriage. Is this a position he's espoused before? Because it seems to me when this has come up in the past, you've tried to kind of finesse it, and I've never heard this kind of -- that I remember, this kind of pronouncement.
MR. MCCURRY: It reflects his views that he's articulated in the past and it reflects his position on the issue.
Q Why does he oppose same-sex marriages?
MR. MCCURRY: He believes this is a time when we need to do things to strengthen the American family, and that's the reason why he's taken this position.
Q He doesn't think that strengthens the --
Q To your knowledge has his position been enunciated before publicly?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
MS. GLYNN: As early as 1992, but after that as well.
MR. MCCURRY: I think -- in 1992, Mary Ellen says.
Q How does he feel about legislation that would outlaw it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there is a piece of legislation that is under consideration on the Hill and we'll look at the legislation.
Q I just want to clarify. This morning when you were saying things like Floyd Brown should go back under the rock where he lives, you said you would check and --
MR. MCCURRY: I can offer --
Q I just want to clarify -- you said you would check with the President to see whether those words reflected his position or whether you were just reflecting --
MR. MCCURRY: I told the President what I had said and he didn't seem to be despondent about my characterization. (Laughter.)
Q What would you like to add, Mike?
Q Any other form of geography you want to --
Q You said you could add.
Q Mike, would you enunciate why you think that same-sex marriage -- or why the President thinks it would weaken the institution of the American family?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't talked to the President at length on it, but I'll talk to him further and amplify that. I just gave you our position.
Q There's a defense bill going through Congress right now. Does the President still intend to veto that?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It's got many things wrong with it, not the least of which is that it commits ourselves to spending tens of billions of dollars for a national ballistic missile defense that may be unnecessary. It doesn't reflect the very prudent investments that we are making in missile defense which protects us from the type of threat from short-range missiles that defense experts feel are the more approximate threat as we look ahead to the next century. And in addition to that provision, which would ultimately -- could ultimately lead to a U.S. abrogation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty itself, there are numerous other provisions that the President feels are infringements on his constitutional prerogatives to conduct foreign policy.
Q Mike, just to follow up briefly on Carl's question about the same-sex marriage, if you could run that down it would be a help I think because there are many people like Andrew Sullivan and others who argue that the inability of gay couples to get married and have legally sanctioned partnerships is what keeps homosexual relationships from taking on stable family-type relationships -- monogamy, et cetera, et cetera. And I wondered how that's anti-family.
MR. MCCURRY: Good. I will. (Laughter.)
Q If you don't want to elaborate on it now for our --
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q Is the Council on Environment Quality going to take up the energy utility regulatory --
MR. MCCURRY: They are going to get -- let's see. We have not received any referral from them, although EPA has indicated they are expected to make a referral. The administration has committed to increasing competition for consumers of electricity. We want to do so in a way that makes sure that they see some reflection in market price coming down so they get some price relief as a result of increased competition. But we also have to be very mindful of our obligations and needs to protect clean air in America.
Q Mike, the Supreme Court today has refused to consider the suit brought by the state of Florida against the federal government for costs incurred by legal immigration. I think a federal judge has dismissed it, an appellate court -- not Supreme Court, but five other states have tried -- Arizona, California, New Jersey, and Texas. Do you believe the states have a right?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen any analysis of that decision from our legal counsel, so we'll have to check with them on it.
Q Mike, is the President disturbed with this -- I'm sorry if I missed this before -- the Supreme Court ruling today which would appear to undermine his --
MR. MCCURRY: On the Rhode Island case on -- we haven't seen the ruling again. We'll have to study it when it comes down, but based on news reports we would suggest there are some differences to what the FDA has undertaken as rulemaking in tobacco. First, we don't suggest that there should be any prohibition across the board on advertising. We're interested in advertising that is aimed at minors, at young people. The President sees smoking by young people as a health issue.
This is less a question of commerce or less a question of regulation of advertising because there are steps the President suggests could be targeted just at young people that prevent them from becoming hooked on tobacco.
Q The initiatives that the President announced today about youth violence and gangs, are they already before Congress being considered anywhere, or are they --
MR. MCCURRY: No, the initiatives the President announced today will be put in legislative form and then transmitted to Congress we hope sometime shortly. So they will take the form of a bill that the administration will submit to Congress.
Q Aren't the center of them, including the ability to have juveniles tried as adults, part of legislation already introduced and pending by Congressman Schumer? That's his office's position.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are -- we have talked to both Congressman Schumer and Senator Biden in developing this proposal. There are elements of this legislation that have been offered by many people who are concerned, as is the President, about the rise in violent crime involving young people. So we certainly will build on the work that Congressman Schumer, and I'd credit Senator Biden as well who's been very helpful as the administration drafted this.
Q How is this different then from what they have proposed?
MR. MCCURRY: I would have to -- you've got our fact sheet on it. I'd have to go and compare what they have introduced. I'm not sure how many provisions in our bill are addressed in other pieces of legislation pending, but it adds to, amplifies and puts together in one place some of the things that have been suggested by members of Congress.
Q Can I follow up on that? Is this legislation actually asking for federal mandates on sentencing across the board?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's asking in very -- in different ways it addresses some of the sentencing enhancements that we have been concerned about and talked about here and in the past, particularly in light of the Supreme Court's rulings in Bailey and in Lopez which we've seen some ways in which we can address that both through this legislation, and there are new ventures here that the President suggests can increase penalties for those who commit violent crimes.
So there are different aspects to it. It's not necessarily across the board, but the general thrust of it, of course, is to toughen penalties and sentences for those who commit these crimes.
Q But not necessarily mandate what those sentences will be, so it could be different in California than in Arizona?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it gives some sentencing flexibility to judges in the federal system. But it does -- it suggests some enhancements, particularly the five-year sentencing enhancement on use of firearms and issues like that.
Q Mike, you said before that the defense bill would spend megabucks on missile defense that may be unnecessary. Could you clarify -- do you think it is unnecessary, you don't know? Because if you don't know, arguably, you should have the defense --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the question of what threats the United States would face from ballistic missiles is a subject of very keen interest to our defense experts. It's something that they examine all the time, and because of that, prudently, the administration has in place a limited research program without committing ourselves to a technology of one type or another because that's where, as we saw in Star Wars in the 1980s, you can make some dreadfully bad mistakes and billions of dollars of taxpayers money.
So what we've done is assess the threat. Our defense experts suggest that the more proximate threat is that that comes from short-range missiles and intermediate-range missiles, which is why the administration has put more of its money proportionately into theater missile defenses and, at the same time, guarding against some prospect into the next century that there may be a greater need, or a greater threat from ballistic missiles that would require a national missile defense.
So we've looked at that, concluded that the best investment of resources is in short-term defense. In fact, even you just saw recently when the government of Israel was here, they were very interested in technologies related to protecting Israel from the Katyusha threat --technology which, by the way, lagged in the 1980s because we were spending billions on Star Wars when we might have been spending on a more highly effective theater missile defense.
So the administration, I think, is fully committed to missile defense broadly without the expenditure now for Star Wars systems that might prove utterly incapable of dealing with the real threat that could conceivably arise in the next century.
Q Mike, Alan Greenspan's confirmation in the Senate is being held up by Democratic senators, including Senator Harkin, which in turn has held up Alice Rivlin and Larry Meyer? Has the President spoken personally to Harkin or any of the others to try to get them to come up with some sort of resolve?
MR. MCCURRY: Alexis, I'll have to check and see whether the President has spoken. Some in the administration and the White House have spoken to see what the concerns are, to see if there is a way we can move forward on these nominations, because the President does believe that a full complement in the Federal Reserve is necessary for them to continue to do their work.
Q Mike, back on defense -- in defense of the defense bill with the House Republicans last Friday, a lot of them claim that they have brought in some of the Pentagon chiefs, and they asked them what their wish list was, and they claim that that's what's in this bill and that's why they need the billions more.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, don't garble what they did. They brought the defense chiefs in and said if we give you extra billions of dollars, what would you like to spend it on, and they answered the request. It was proper for them to serve as chiefs, to respond to the direct inquiries they had from the Congress, particularly from the appropriating committees. But distinguish that from suggesting that the Defense chiefs said they needed this now. They are committed to the President's procurement plans that have been submitted via the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Okay. Thank you.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT