THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:47 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. You all have checked out the White House home page now? Got your government statistics lined up? You've all got that -- Dr. Rivlin announced today the new briefing rooms that reporters can use to get statistics from our federal government. Check it out. You can get output figures, income, employment, GDP demographics, all in the White House home page, all reflecting the strong performance of our economy as a result of the President's economic strategy.
Q And if it didn't have strong statistics would you have one?
MR. MCCURRY: I, myself, prefer that old copy of the Statistical Abstract of the United States -- my favorite book, the kind of book you should keep right next to your dinner table so that when fights break at the dinner table you can always pull the thing out and have facts ready at your fingertips. We have a lot of fun at the McCurry household.
Q The Dole campaign is keeping track and they might charge this to campaign financing.
MR. MCCURRY: He'll try to sell it off as an asset or something. (Laughter.) All right. But that is worth checking out; I hope some of you got that.
Q What does the administration think of the proposal, if there is a proposal, for mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think it's very important for us to see what Mr. Dole says today about drug testing --
Q What does he say here?
MR. MCCURRY: He is apparently -- Mr. Hunt says that he has a copy of the speech. I don't believe he's scheduled to give it until later on. Is that correct?
Q 3:00 p.m.
MR. MCCURRY: 3:00 p.m.
Q It says states should have the option of testing recipients.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, why don't we -- there's been a lot of back-and-forth today in the reporting on his speech. According to various people in his campaign, he is either going to propose mandatory drug testing or some type of state option. I think it's better for us to wait and see what he actually says at 3:00 p.m. today, but given --
Q Why do you have to wait to find out on point of principle?
MR. MCCURRY: Given the agreement -- given the areas of agreement on welfare reform between Mr. Dole and the President on tough work requirements, making sure the kids are protected, making sure that they have access to health care, child care, making sure that states have flexibility to administer these programs effectively, which is the essence of what the President has called for on welfare reform, which is the essence of the Wisconsin model, which presumably Senator Dole will embrace today, given the substantive agreements, most likely the news out of this speech is going to be whatever he does say on drug testing, and we'll have a response to that appropriately after he speaks.
Q Mike, in a prepared text of his speech, the Senator says the White House is already retreating from the President's embrace of a Wisconsin welfare-to-work experiment. And, indeed, there's some comments contributed to Mr. Ickes in The Post today that seemed to suggest --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I can clear that up -- Harold said the same thing I told all of you when we did our little briefing out in St. Louis on Friday night. The state has submitted about half of the waivers necessary to move forward with this experiment. We don't anticipate any problems getting those ironed out. There are some I's to dot and T's to cross, but the fine points of that can be worked out to the satisfaction of the administration. That's certainly the belief of the White House. So we don't anticipate any problems getting approvals for that for a set of waivers, and then they work on a second set.
Q Isn't there a principle involved here, I mean, aside from what Dole says, as to whether you go for mandatory testing of anyone on anything?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I would -- I don't want to react to something -- if I said something on that right now, you would all use it as a reaction to something he may or may not say. So I don't think it's very -- in general, what states can do as part of their waivers under the waivers that we've approved related to drug testing and something we'll tell you a lot more about later on.
Q There is mandatory under the waivers you've approved?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll tell you more about that later on.
Q Speaking of clarifying, you said yesterday that Senator Dole should clarify his remarks on Cuba, whether he meant the use of military force or Helms-Burton. Has he clarified?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen him issue any clarification. I'm not aware of any if he has.
Q Well, Mike, will you come back on camera and talk about this after the Dole speech since there is --
MR. MCCURRY: I can do that, or we can make someone available.
Q Mike, could you just tell us now what the President's feeling? (Laughter.) No, I mean, forget about reacting to Dole. As Helen said, just tell us --
MR. MCCURRY: Generally, on drug testing for welfare recipients? I'll tell you generally when it is part of a state's comprehensive welfare effort, when it's integrated with health care delivery to make sure that there's treatment available to those who have been diagnosed as drug addicts, we have favored providing that as an element of welfare reform. And I'll tell you more about that later.
Q In the text of Dole's speech, he says --
MR. MCCURRY: Stop right now. I'm not going to react to a speech that the guy hasn't given yet. That's not fair of you to ask me to do that. Let's wait, see what he says. Based on my experience, delivered text sometimes differ from prepared texts. (Laughter.) So let's just wait. I will make myself available, or someone will be available after --
Q When did you ever see a prepared text? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: State of the Union. The one and only time.
Q A good time to change the subject. Can I ask you about the Northern Ireland peace process? What did Mr. Clinton think about the statement made by Gerry Adams yesterday? Do you think -- on decommissioning -- will it improve his relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it was a significant statement by Mr. Adams because it did embrace the Mitchell principles. It stops short of what the United States government would like to see, which is a pledge by the IRA to recommence the cease-fire. That's clearly the condition now that the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom have placed upon Sinn Fein participation in the June 10 all party talks. We think those talks are very important. We believe Sinn Fein ought to be at the table. That's why it's important for the IRA to reinstitute the cease-fire immediately. But certainly, Mr. Adams' remarks were both significant and encouraging.
Q What about his relationship with Mr. Clinton -- will that improve now?
MR. MCCURRY: What would best improve the relationship -- not that the relationship is anything other than satisfactory -- would be for Sinn Fein to be at the June 10 talks as a participant which, of course, requires that the IRA indicate that it is reinstituting the cease-fire. That's in the best interest of the people of Northern Ireland, and that's what would most please President Clinton.
Q Mike, can you clarify the administration's position again on the repeal of the gas tax? If Congress passes it without a minimum wage increase, will the President sign it?
MR. MCCURRY: Here's how it works: You guys say repeal the gas tax, and I say raise the minimum wage. So we -- it kind of keeps going back and forth like that. We support those Democrats in the Congress that have said that if we really wanted to help working folk in this country who have faced some financial pressure because of rising gas prices, the best thing to do is to take those who are at the lower end of the income scale and raise the minimum wage. And we believe it's correct to try to say, look, these two might go hand in hand because the Republican leadership of Congress is balking and not giving the American people an increase in the minimum wage, and this is a way that we can -- if they want to get that passed, we want to get the minimum wage increase, and they ought to go hand in hand.
Q Just to ask the question a different way, are you confident that the Democrats in Congress can prevent you ever having to deal with just a gas tax bill alone?
MR. MCCURRY: Am I confident? I don't know the answer to that. I think that sooner or later, both of them are probably going to pass, but how they pass and when they pass, they know more about that on the Hill.
Q Mike, can I follow up on welfare reform? Senator Dole has already said that the President has failed to deliver on his promise to reform welfare. Are you frustrated in your efforts?
MR. MCCURRY: Am I frustrated that he keeps getting his facts wrong? Yes. We have said over and over again that, absent a comprehensive federal welfare reform package, we'll go ahead and reform welfare as we know it and do it at the state level. This President has approved 61 waivers in 38 states that is affecting now 75 percent of the welfare caseload in this country. So, in other words, 75 percent of the people in America on welfare are now participating in experiments at the state level that represent reforming welfare as we know it. We are moving in that direction with or without the Republicans who keep sending the President welfare reform legislation that they know is unacceptable. They're doing it to just provoke a veto. That's not the way to reform welfare.
The way is to work together in a bipartisan way, the way the Breaux-Chafee group has been working, to do those things that the President wants to do that most people in Congress want to do, which is to have tough work requirements so that people get off welfare and get into work situations, but that we do so in a way that protects kids who are left behind at home by having child care, by having health care available. The President believes we can do that. If we can get a measure from this Congress that did that, and that did not have in those reform proposals the things that are clearly unacceptable, we'd have welfare reform -- it would have been done by now; it could have been done by now.
So is that frustrating that they won't give the President the welfare reform legislation that he wants and that we believe the majority of the Congress wants? Of course.
Q You said yesterday you might have some background or guidance on the Coast Guard speech and other foreign policy speeches.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, a little preview here. The President in the commencement address tomorrow to the Coast Guard Academy is going to talk a lot about the challenges that we have addressed in the post-Cold War era and the challenges we will face as we look ahead to a new century of American leadership. He's going to identify the specific challenges we face in the aftermath of the Cold War that require international efforts and require American leadership, specifically combatting terrorism, drug trafficking, environment degradation and the threat of proliferation.
He'll also talk about the importance of managing successfully those major relationship that are critical to U.S. interests in this world, specifically with Russia, China, Europe. He'll also talk about the importance of NATO as a security alliance protecting the future of Europe into the 21st century, which will also be, of course, a good preview for his upcoming visit with Chancellor Kohl of Germany, a subject that will clearly be on their agenda as well.
Q So no news? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't seen any in my brief review.
Q Well, last year --
MR. MCCURRY: In order to make news, we could stick it in at the last minute and then it could be news. But the broad theme is the way in which we can preserve American leadership in the 21st century.
Q At the memorial service for Admiral Boorda, the President referred to his deep sense of honor which no person should ever question. That sounded like a rebuke of news media that had questioned it. Is that how it was meant?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it was not a rebuke for the news media.
Q How was it meant then?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to talk to him and ask him specifically what he had in mind.
Q Mike, back to welfare reform. The two times the President vetoed the Republican versions, he and the White House essentially said that there was not sufficient protection for kids and that the President wanted a safety net for children maintained. You just said with regard to the President's position vis-a-vis Wisconsin's plan that only I's need to be dotted and T's need to be crossed. But critics of the Wisconsin plan feel that a lot of kids potentially are going to suffer or could suffer because, again, there is not enough of a safety net in the Wisconsin plan for children. And I'm just wondering whether you see only petty little administrative details that need to be ironed our or whether there could be some real policy differences there.
MR. MCCURRY: No, our read and our understanding of the Wisconsin proposal -- first of all, the legislature in an important -- has committed to spend $43 million additional in state funding on child care and health care to help protect kids.
Secondly, there is a hardship exemption so that on a case-by-case basis, the state does have flexibility in dealing with emergency situations or situations that don't fit the work requirement so that people are not going to get -- if there is some dire circumstance or a reason why an individual parent is not able to enter the work force, the kids are protected, so we are confident that they've got the right type of safeguards and guarantees built into their proposal that, frankly, make it must different than what the Republican Congress sent to the President.
The real difference here is between the effort that Governor Thompson and the legislature in Wisconsin has made, and the work of the Republican Congress under the leadership of Dole and Gingrich, because they did not satisfy those same concerns that now have been effectively addressed in Wisconsin. And that's why there is a big difference. The big difference here is between the Republican Congress and those who are at the state level who are implementing welfare reform.
Q So, essentially, what you're saying is Dole can't ride two different horses at the same time. He's got to embrace Wisconsin, in which case he can't embrace the Republican --
MR. MCCURRY: That's right. There is a world of difference between the Republican welfare reform proposals in this Congress and what Governor Thompson and the legislature are doing in Wisconsin -- very important differences. And what they're doing in Wisconsin is much closer to what the administration has proposed and much closer to those bipartisan welfare reform models like the Breaux-Chafee proposal than the proposal that came down here from the Congress before.
Why? Most importantly, because the protections for kids aren't there. The funding is not there. The guarantee of access to funding is not there. And there's no guarantee that kids won't be left behind as we make the work requirements stick.
Q In the meeting with President Fujimori this afternoon, besides the Lori Berenson case, what other things are on the agenda?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's got two bilateral meetings with two leaders that were here as part of the Pacific Basin Economic Commission meetings earlier in the week.
He'll meet, of course, first with Malaysian President Mahathir. They're going to focus on economic and security issues. They'll talk a lot about the ASEAN Regional Forum -- the ARF as it's called -- which is a regional grouping that is now addressing security issues in the Pacific region. They will also talk on economic issues about the pledge that leaders made at the APEC -- the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation -- Forum session in Jakarta last year, when they pledged to bring down trade barriers in the 21st century. The President and Mr. Mahathir will talk about the importance of making concrete progress on that objective when the leaders next meet in Manila.
Q Didn't he boycott the last APEC meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he was not able to go because the Republican Congress shut our government down, as you will recall.
Q No, no, the Prime Minister of Malaysia -- the Malaysian guy wasn't there.
MR. MCCURRY: He was not at Seattle. He was -- I think he was at Jakarta. He was at Jakarta, I think. We'll check.
With Fujimori -- with President Fujimori, they are going to do a couple of things: first, review our narcotics efforts and the efforts we've made to combat narcotics trafficking. They'll probably be a brief discussion of the border dispute that's ongoing between Peru and Ecuador. The President will also raise the case of Lory Berenson and ask President Fujimori to reconsider the case and afford her the due process we believe that she is entitled to in a civilian court in Peru.
Those are the subjects and that will suffice as a readout on those two, unless you hear otherwise from Mr. Johnson.
Q Mike, did the President vote in the Arkansas primary today?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he voted by absentee ballot -- that was yesterday -- or today, today. He voted by absentee.
Q Mike, why is he meeting with Kohl in Wisconsin?
MR. MCCURRY: As we've done in at least one previous instance with Prime Minister Major, we wanted to take a leader of one of our closest allies out to some place in America where you get away from the stuffiness that is sometimes Washington.
Q Well, the Major Pittsburgh thing was because there was a family --
MR. MCCURRY: There was a family tie there. In the case of Milwaukee, it's got a very large German American population, very strong interest in the community and close bilateral ties between the United States and the German Federation and very appropriate to meet in a place in which the rich cultural and ethnic contributions of German Americans can be celebrated by both leaders.
Q Besides NATO, what will be on the agenda of this meeting?
MR. MCCURRY: They will be -- they've got an agenda, a broad-ranging agenda that I suspect will concentrate on the following elements: Certainly NATO enlargement, the discussions that are ongoing within NATO to expand the Alliance, to move forward on the plan that's been carefully developed at the ministerial level and by the leaders at the highest level.
Second, they are going to talk about Russia in the midst of a very important presidential election and compare notes on our analysis of what the political dynamic is in Russia -- something that Chancellor Kohl and the President have both talked about often.
There's an issue involving the membership of the Korean Energy Development Organization in the European Union which is an interesting issue that deals with our successful efforts so far to control the North Korean nuclear program, and we believe there could be some assistance coming from Europe for that effort. They will likely talk about that issue. Clearly, they'll talk about Bosnia, the efforts of the international implementation force in Bosnia. I suspect they'll also talk about proliferation issues.
A fairly extensive agenda, good working meeting, a lunch -- no jokes, please -- and then they will have a reception at the grain exchange for the leader.
Q Where are they having lunch?
MR. MCCURRY: At a location to be announced tomorrow.
Q Will they discuss proliferation enlargement at lunch? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: It's not clear whether the working agenda at the lunch will include items other than menu.
Q Is the Clinton administration still concerned about Germany's trade relationship with Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Could you tell us -- (laughter) -- what don't you like about it?
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't seen any evidence that the so-called "critical dialogue" has moderated Iran's behavior in the world. If anything, Iran continues to be the number one proponent of terrorism, and there doesn't seem to be any indication that they've moderated behavior based on their contacts, engagements, trade relationships, commercial discussions with our closest European allies.
Q So will this be on the agenda with Chancellor Kohl?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely.
Q And will the Clinton administration -- will the President urge Chancellor Kohl tomorrow to cut back on Germany's business dealings with Iran?
MR. MCCURRY: We will continue to discuss that issue in the same way that we've discussed it on previous occasions, and we've made that point in the past.
Q Mike, is the White House supporting this bill in Congress now to issue sanctions against European companies which deal with Iran and Libya, for instance? Is that something that the White House -- the D'Amato --
MR. MCCURRY: I thought that the D'Amato -- that a compromised version of the D'Amato Amendment had already passed and been enacted into law. That's my recollection. Can you check on that? I think that was last year.
Q Mike, are the President and Kohl apt to discuss a contingency plan for the G-7 meeting if the communists, let's say, were to win outright in June?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me back up a little bit. I left that off the initial list. They clearly, since they both will be participating in the G-7 sessions in Lyon and then meeting at 8 with President Yeltsin. They clearly will have that on the agenda, too.
Q Can you shed some light on whether -- it's Yeltsin's seat at the G-7, which it has become in the last two or three years when they deal with the political side, it's really the G-8 -- is this Yeltsin's seat, or is it Russia's seat?
MR. MCCURRY: It is President Yeltsin's place when they meet at 8. He's been the only Russian leader that has participated in the political discussions that accompany the G-7 session. There is a first round of elections, or perhaps a deciding election in Russia on June 16th, but there will not be a newly inaugurated president if that choice of Russia is someone at the first stage of these elections other than Yeltsin. So, in any event, he would be participating.
Q Well, let me ask the question prospectively, then. Suppose the communists were to win in the run-off --
MR. MCCURRY: Supposed hypothetical?
Q Yes, hypothetical. What would be the U.S. position at Lyon looking to the 1997 Group of Seven Summit as to whether the communists would still, then, be invited as leaders of Russia to the next summit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, not just on that question about it, on any question pertaining to the foreign policies pursued by the government of Russia, we would evaluate those policies based on whatever a democratically-elected government put forward. So it would depend on what kind of policies that they put forward. We've said that across the board about how this would affect any number of things and what is a very important relationship that Russia has with the West, with Europe, with the United States.
With the international community broadly defined, it would depend to a very large extent on what type of policies they pursued in the world. We would expect them to remain committed to peaceful, democratic relations with countries that share democratic and market economic values.
Q Is he going to use the Fleet Week opportunity to talk about the Navy and its trauma?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be a lot of Navy folks who will be there and he might touch on that. I don't know that that's going to be a big focus of his speech. It's really more of a community celebration for the Fleet.
Q When do you think the rest of the itinerary for the G-7 trip will be firmed up?
MR. MCCURRY: In coming days. And I had asked -- we already announced the Lyon portion. So that's out already, and if there's any changes in that, we'll update you.
Q You mean there might be some add-ons?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that sounds definite, but --
MR. MCCURRY: People always have ideas here and there. Q Any suggestion that the First Lady might make a tour of
Eastern Europe after the G-7?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I hear stuff like that all the time.
Let's see. D'Amato. It passed the Senate. The House International Relations Committee has reported out a bill. Ways and Means Committee is continuing hearings. They've got a mark-up next week. It's not yet law. That's right. We had worked out the compromise when it was in the Senate. And we supported the Senate compromise version, correct? So that was our position before.
Q Do you expect the President to sign when it becomes law?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if it's the Senate version.
Q And says what?
MR. MCCURRY: Let's see, it's dragging out memory. It is a prohibition on contacts, a prohibition on commercial contacts with countries that are doing business directly with Iran. But I'd have to go back and check and see how it's applied. It's written in a specific fashion -- and it's Iran and Libya.
Q If this bill becomes law, there would be that one plus the Helms-Burton bill -- there seems to be more and more sort of a friction with the EU. How does the White House expect to try to diffuse this?
MR. MCCURRY: As we indicated at the time, we well understand that our close European allies and trading partners will not like this approach. They have said this about extra-territoriality both in connection with the Helms-Burton Act and also with respect to the D'Amato amendment. But we are pursuing in a way we think is the right way the very strong security concerns that we have related to Iran and, obviously, the very strong objections we have to the communist regime in Cuba.
Q But I'm talking about reprisal from the British government.
MR. MCCURRY: We are aware of that. We are aware that they are talking about that.
Q Are you going to try and clarify for us yesterday whether U.S. companies are going to be allowed to participate in humanitarian aid.
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't decided yet.
Q What is the process for deciding that? Is that a State Department thing?
MR. MCCURRY: Probably do it over at --
MR. JOHNSON: A number of government agencies are meeting to consider the issue and how best to address it.
MR. MCCURRY: They used to have, I guess, an implementation conference that comes off the Security Council resolution.
Q How long of a process is that?
MR. MCCURRY: I suggest you call up to USUN, and our mission up there can help you out, because they'll probably have some discussions up there on it.
Q Mike, last week you got a letter from nine Republican women calling on Clinton to fire Dick Morris. Is he going to answer that letter?
MR. MCCURRY: We responded to that letter last Thursday, when it came out.
Q I mean, is he going to answer it --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll send some type of response to it. It was a political letter, I think it was released to the news media before it arrived here.
Q A Defense Department official this morning said that there are signs that China is preparing for more nuclear tests. Is the President concerned about this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're concerned about the environment in which we can successfully promulgate a comprehensive test ban. And our view of testing, generally, has been that that works against the environment in which nations can come together for the extension of the comprehensive test ban that we seek. And, at the same time, we're not aware of any change in the stated public position of the People's Republic that it supports a comprehensive nuclear test ban.
Q In two minutes Mr. Clinton is going to meet with the Peruvian President Fujimori. However, I see from the schedule of President Clinton, this was not pre-announced, it was not scheduled before. Why is this last-minute change in the agenda in order to accept President Fujimori?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as you know, the President addressed the Pacific base and economic commission just the other day. There are a number of leaders, a number of high-ranking delegations that are attending those sessions. He did want the opportunity to see both Mr. Mahathir and President Fujimori when they were here, and they arranged, I believe just within the last few days, to have this brief drop-by meeting this afternoon.
So it was an add-on. We don't consider this a formal bilateral working visit. It's just taking advantage of the fact that both leaders happen to be here in Washington for these commission meetings.
Q Is there something you're expecting to accomplish from this first bilateral meeting between --
MR. MCCURRY: We believe they will have a good review of issues of bilateral interest, the fight against international narcotics trafficking. There will be review of some our work together on regional issues. Certainly they will have some discussion of issues related to the Asian Pacific region, particularly commerce in that region, and I suspect they will also talk about human rights and some issues that have been of mutual bilateral concern.
Q The higher than expected Treasury receipts for April, do you expect that to change the administration's forecast --
MR. MCCURRY: Any change of our forecast for the year-end deficit will be done when the OMB does its mid-session review which is later this summer.
Q Mike, yesterday in his speech at PBAC, the President was talking about the need for broad engagement with China and so forth. And last week, Secretary Christopher was talking about the idea of high-level meetings between American and Chinese officials. President Clinton seems to be the first President since Johnson not to have ever visited China. Would the President entertain the possibility of a trip to China at some point?
MR. MCCURRY: He certainly would entertain that possibility and would hope that the status of our bilateral relations would make consideration of such a visit more likely.
Q What type of status would make it more likely for him to go?
MR. MCCURRY: A relationship in which, as a result of our work together, we are successfully managing those difficulties that do exist in the bilateral relationship.
Q So things would have to improve before he would visit China?
MR. MCCURRY: I think I said that in much more diplomatic language than that.
Okay. Thank you. Bye.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:19 P.M. EDT