THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Other subjects?
Q Mike, was there any discussion between anyone at the White House and Mr. Bennett about changing the brief to not refer to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as this matter has been argued before the court, lower court, and as they've filed the petition for cert in the Supreme Court, there are discussions back and forth between the President's lawyers on the White House Legal Counsel staff and Mr. Bennett. The White House Legal Counsel is involved in the matter because the issues pertain directly to his official duties and constitutional responsibilities.
Q But was there discussion about this particular change in the brief to remove the rest of this --
MR. MCCURRY: They talked -- I don't want to go into the attorney-to-attorney conversations because they are, you know, properly confidential. But the specific reference in today's brief, I am sure, was discussed between the President's attorneys and Mr. Bennett.
Q Mike, since apparently Mr. Bennett, by his description, put this initial claim in there, not adducing it as the claim under which he was making the request, but only saying one could argue this, has anyone from the White House discussed with him why invite such political scrutiny by an argument that he was acknowledging he wasn't depending on on legal grounds?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know that the President's attorneys who are at the Legal Counsel's office and Mr. Bennett have had discussions about the political issue.
Q Well, I was just going to ask, what sort of discussion was there between the President's political advisors -- Harold Ickes, for example -- and any of the attorneys involved?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't presume to know what -- who had conversations with whom. So there's no way for me to answer that.
Q Well, can I ask it in another way? Does the President think, as a matter of common sense, that he wishes perhaps his advocate had not made a throw-away argument that has turned out to damage him politically when the advocate confesses he wasn't counting on the argument's legal force?
MR. MCCURRY: Look, you could tempt me into saying something like that, but you could also make the obvious point that there has been a deliberate and calculated effort by the President's political opponents to misconstrue the brief. You know, would we have predicted that that would have happened? Sure, maybe we should have predicted that Republicans would go out and run ads and misconstrue the nature of the President's brief.
Q Mike, how misconstrued? As recently as Friday, Bennett said that it was a "open question" as to whether that law applied. And he has given no indication that he wouldn't say that it did not apply.
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett, in his statement and, it is my understanding what they will file in the reply brief that they're submitting to the court, made it clear and has consistently made it clear that the President is not relying on a claim of relief based on any piece of legislation, including the 1940 Act, that in fact is basis for relief for constitutional separation of powers. It has been. That's the way the brief reads. You know, there's no way you can read that entire brief and say that it's anything other than a separation of powers argument.
Q But, Mike, the brief also says that the President wishes to seek relief similar to that -- and I don't have it in front of me, so I can't give you the exact words -- but it certainly sounds like he may not have been relying on the Soldiers and Sailor Act, but it was one of many positions that he was willing to take.
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Bennett has consistently said the President is not relying on the 1940 Act for relief and that will now be stated explicitly in a footnote in the reply brief.
Q So, if I could -- so the original brief was incorrect in saying that the President wanted to seek relief similar to the --
MR. MCCURRY: No. Mr. Bennett asserts that the original brief never made a claim for relief under the 1940 Act.
Q Did the President, himself, say he wanted this amended so it didn't include the reference to --
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.
Q Did the President know that the original -- before it was filed, did the President know that the original had this --
MR. MCCURRY: The President long ago when the matter was in the lower court, had a general discussion of the nature of the claim that Mr. Bennett would make in the brief but didn't review the cases or the statutes that would be specifically cited, to my knowledge.
Q Who did in the White House? Who did approve the original Bennett brief?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- when it was filed in lower court, I'll have to check, but the White House Legal Counsel would have the responsibility of working on the filings that were made in the court.
Q In addition to Quinn, did any political advisors to the President sign off on it, as well?
MR. MCCURRY: Not that' I'm aware of.
Q Sir, there's a lot of talk out through the nation about the death of Admiral Boorda and a lot of people are very questioning about it -- raising issues other than medals and other than Annapolis discipline. I wonder if there's going to be any real investigation of his death?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the matter -- you'll have to check with the Pentagon to confirm this -- but I believe the matter is under investigation by the Naval Investigative Services, which would normally be the entity that would investigate something of this nature.
Q Is there going to be closer scrutiny of briefs and legal papers filed in this case, in the future, to avoid the kind of opportunities that this --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, lawyers have to file legal arguments in front of courts, and that happens a lot in our government. It happens from time to time in matters pertaining to the President. And the political merits of those arguments have to be judged by the American people, ultimately. But all we've requested is that people not misconstrue or distort the nature of those filings.
Q But are political advisors, for instance, going to read through the briefs before they're filed in the future?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that that has happened. I don't believe that that happened in the case of the reply brief that was filed today in the court. And I don't believe that's a procedure that's been employed around the White House.
Q On May 13, the Supreme Court had a ruling on Agent Orange that said it wouldn't second guess the D.A., can you explain?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I thought you were going to ask that question of Secretary Brown when he was here. He tells me that is -- that the action taken today is not related at all to that case, but maybe you can contact V.A. and get more on that.
Q When Senator Dole resigned, the President was very gracious and praised him --
MR. MCCURRY: And he continues to applaud the Senator's service and doesn't take any of that back.
Q Does he feel uncomfortable at all about the ad that his campaign is running basically attacking Senator Dole for quitting the Senate?
MR. MCCURRY: The President feels uncomfortable about the very harshly negative and personal attacks that Mr. Dole has launched against him.
Q We know, yes, but what about the --
MR. MCCURRY: As to the President's comments to Mr. Dole on the phone when he decided to retire --
Q The letter?
MR. MCCURRY: He has -- and the letter that he wrote him that same day, doesn't take a word of that back. He knows that Americans are proud of the service that he rendered and that Senator Dole ought rightfully be proud of the service he did render.
But he made a choice. He could have stayed there and continued to do work on bipartisan legislation that would balance the budget, that would reform welfare, that would do the kinds of the things the President has been fighting for, or he could go to the campaign trail and launch negative personal attacks. And he made his choice. And I think that the White House feels that it's proper to comment on it.
Q Mike, wait a second. Does the President feel that Senator Dole, for instance, in introducing his welfare reform plan as -- the one that the President -- does the President think that since he announced he was going to resign that Senator Dole has ceased to do that kind of good bipartisan work?
MR. MCCURRY: There has not been movement to final passage. And time is still available between now and June 11th --
Q But that's because the Democrats wouldn't give unanimous consent --
MR. MCCURRY: -- that there hasn't been time -- there hasn't been forward movement on a balanced budget agreement or on reforming welfare or on raising the minimum wage or on passing Kennedy-Kassebaum. We hope those things can get done. And we had some indication from the Majority Leader that he wanted to get some of those things done prior to his departure. It looks like he's taken a new path now.
Q Mike, for several months you have said and the President has said that he would like the campaign to be conducted on a different tenor than previous presidential campaigns. You've also said that if you're hit, you'll hit back. My question is that when the Republicans aired this attack that you considered a cheap shot on this issue we've been talking about -- the Sailor's Act -- why didn't the President rise above it and say, well, we're not going to talk that way? Why, do you think, if that's a cheap shot, it's legitimate to then call Senator Dole a quitter on the eve of Memorial Day -- who still has the wounds from his service?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe anybody called Mr. Dole a quitter.
Q Well, that's the word that's used in the ad, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: It is not. It said he's quitting.
Q Oh, oh. Are you going to split that kind of hair? I mean, come on, Mike, answer the question.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Anything else?
Q Do the Clintons feel that they've seen the last of the tax obligation issue on Whitewater, following the payment --
MR. MCCURRY: I have not had an opportunity to review that with them. I know that they feel that they've satisfied some of the concerns raised in the Leach report.
Q The President always boasts about the '93 deficit reduction law and then this later embrace of balanced budget, seven-year CBO numbers. It looks like more and more Republicans are walking away from the balanced budget goal and deficit reduction and switching over to supply-side tax cuts. Senator Dole, himself, apparently is looking at that prospect.
The question that I had is if Senator Dole were to propose some fairly substantial tax cuts, will the President engage in a bidding war to try to trump him, or will the President remain true to deficit reduction and a balanced budget?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has spent an enormous amount of his own personal political capital at getting deficit reduction passed into law in 1993. We've successfully reduced the federal budget deficit by half, as the President pledged he would do in 1992. The President understands that a balanced budget agreement requires a lot of difficult decisions.
The President is able to accommodate tax relief for middle income taxpayers, targeted tax relief in his own balanced budget plan, which he submitted to Congress -- that large-scale, across-the-board tax cuts are even providing some incentives for people to give to charities can put additional strain on the effort to balance the budget. In the case of the charitable deduction that was proposed, there is a charitable credit that was proposed by Senator Dole, maybe $150 billion to $300 billion, I guess. I've seen different figures on that.
Those ideas, however worthy, have to be placed in the context of efforts to balance the budget. If you're going to do a large, across-the-board tax relief under the assumptions that the Congressional Budget Office has made -- and remember, the Republican leadership were the ones waving around the CBO benchmark for most of last year and through the winter -- you've got to really begin looking at where you're going to do offsetting spending cuts.
Senator Dole, from 1992 forward, always took the position that tax cuts had to be offset by spending reductions. And so it will be interesting to see if he does propose large-scale tax cuts, how he proposes to cut spending to pay for those cuts.
In our look at the budget, it's hard to do that without going after Medicare, without going after defense -- presumably, some of those things that they take off the table -- but it's hard to do that, so we will have to wait --
Q Mike, may we infer from that answer the President would not --
Q Let me just follow up. Are you saying that the President would not -- you've made the point about Dole; my question was, would the President be tempted to head down that same road, or would he hold fast against messing around with deficit reduction?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has submitted a proposal to Congress that balances the budget by a date certain, protects Medicare, protects the environment, makes necessary investments in education, protects the lower-income working folks from a tax hike, but at the same dime does provide a measure of tax relief to middle income taxpayers.
Now, we were able to do that and also to meet simultaneously the judgment of the Congressional Budget Office that that was, in fact, a balanced budget plan that got to the goal of a balanced budget by a date certain. It requires some tough choices by the President, but he made them, and we'd like to stick with that budget before we get into some kind of bidding war on tax cuts. The President has got a very good, sensible, prudent and measured tax relief proposal for middle-income taxpayers. We'd like to see that enacted.
Q Is it then fair to infer, as Leo asks, that the President would not be drawn into a bidding war on tax cuts with Mr. Dole unless and until he can see a way that he can support to pay for such tax cuts?
MR. MCCURRY: The President believes that you've got to have sensible budget policies that reach the goal of a balanced budget. He can accommodate tax relief within the proposals that he has made to the Congress. We'd like to stick with them. We'd like to work with Mr. Dole's successor to enact that kind of balanced budget plan. That will be the work that is in front of us one way or another.
To my knowledge, I haven't heard anything that suggests that Mr. Dole will be proposing any of these measures for enactment prior to his departure June 11th.
Q Mike, can you elaborate in any way on the possibility of discussion of -- by either the President or the First Lady of adopting a child or such discussion as they might have had around that issue?
MR. MCCURRY: I cannot. That's obviously a personal matter between the two of them. The First Lady talked about it in a magazine interview, and her spokesman followed up on it over the weekend. I don't have anything that I can add.
Q The President doesn't have anything to say on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't had an opportunity to talk with the President about it.
Q In answering your question in there, the President said the election tomorrow in Israel is about the peace process. Is he -- by implication, is he saying one candidate is for peace and the other is not?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I think he made it very clear that's a decision that has to be made by the people of Israel and those issues have been debated in the context of their election.
Q But didn't he frame it, Mike, by saying if they decide to vote, or to go down the road of peace, as if that is one of the election options and the other is to go somewhere else in such a way that it's hard not to believe that's what he meant?
MR. MCCURRY: The President reiterated what he said at the Coast Guard Academy last week, that as Israel takes further risks for peace towards the goal of a just and comprehensive lasting peace in the region, the United States will stand with Israel as it takes those further risks.
Q Does this election entail such a risk in the eyes of the President?
MR. MCCURRY: One of the issues that has been debated within this debate is the nature of the peace and the nature of the security required by Israel.
Q Is there one candidate who is more likely to further the peace process than the other?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to endorse any candidate and neither did the President.
Q But did the President have some tangible notion of what such support would mean or what it would be translated into if Israel continues down the road to peace?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have some, as they relate to the peace process itself, we have some ideas and you've heard as recently as Prime Minister Peres' visit here to the United States a commitment to a certain type of defensive technologies that would be made available. And we, certainly, as we think about the long-term strategic interests of Israel as it continues its discussion with Syria and issues related there know that there will be substantial security risks that Israel would need to look at carefully, and we are prepared to be there.
Q Does that mean you'll send troops over there, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: No, the President, as you will recall, Sarah, in his Coast Guard speech, explicitly ruled out that option.
Q But did he mean to suggest such kinds of aid were contingent on certain --
Q -- if you don't know what the risk of peace will be, how can you say it's ruled out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you have to prudently guard against those risks and plan against those risks.
Q Did he mean to suggest that such tangible help and certain kinds of things like that would be contingent on certain outcomes in Israel tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he did not say that and did not mean to imply that.
Q But did he mean that one choice in the election was better for the peace process than another?
MR. MCCURRY: He -- look, I'm not going to -- he addressed that question pretty directly, and I think you're going to have to interpret what he said on your own.
Q Well, why did he go out of his way to say something if he didn't mean anything by it, and what did he mean and what should we fairly infer from it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think he meant to say to the people of the United States of America that there's a very important election tomorrow in Israel. He believes that firmly, and he believes that election will have a lot to say about the future of the peace process.
Q Is he going to be relying on regular news media reports or have you all set something special up for him to follow the returns --
MR. MCCURRY: No, we will get information as it's available to us relayed through our embassy in Israel. The polls don't close, as you know, until, I think, 3:00 p.m. our time tomorrow afternoon. Is that right?
Q In that vein, how are you planning on reacting? Will you be doing some --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we won't react until we know that there is an outcome that we can react to, and it's not clear when that will be.
Q Well, let's say the polls are closed, I think it's in the afternoon now --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let's wait and see. The polls will close at 3:00 p.m. and we'll see what kind of results we have.
Q The Republicans here aired a tough personal ad, and then the Clinton campaign responded in kind. Was this a message as much to the Dole campaign as to the American people about the dangers of going down this road?
MR. MCCURRY: Hopefully, it will deter the kind of personal attacks that we saw last week, and good if it does.
Q The National Archives apparently now has a copy of this videotape of the Kennedy films, some newly-unearthed Kennedy films, but says through the Assassinations Records Review Board they cannot release it before 7:00 p.m. tonight unless the White House tells them to. Would you entertain a request to look into that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know a thing about it, but I will look into it.
Q The rapid response of the Clinton campaign was at first subject to a great deal of praise, but now is the subject of some criticism and also criticism of the other side's rapid response. In view of that, will some pullback be made on the rapidity of the response?
MR. MCCURRY: I can predict with certainty that your endless fascination with process will continue at the expense of substance.
Q What about rapidity at the expense of accuracy? I mean, there have been a couple of --
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's always important to be accurate and I strive to be accurate.
Q Mike, on substance, what is the White House -- how does the White House view the agreement between the Russians and the Chechnyans for a cease-fire and what are you predictions on that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we were very encouraged by the news that President Yeltsin in his meeting with the rebel leader Yandarbiyev had reached some agreements related to a cease-fire on Friday. I think it's very important now that implementation take place. The OSCE monitoring group in place will be prepared to monitor both sides as they implement any agreements. We think that more serious talks about both deepening the peace, ending the conflict and providing political stability to Chechnya in the future are very important and ought also to be considered by the parties and carried out.
Q Mike, back to Leo's question for second. There are two ways to get offsetting revenue when you cut taxes, and one is to have a rosier scenario in the future. If the Senator went that direction, what would the President say, since he's always supported --
MR. MCCURRY: We rely on the economists who advise the administration; and we also then submit our budget proposals to the Congress; and Congress has its own economists who make projections about the future. We were heavily criticized for some of the assumptions that we made at the OMB, even though I would add parenthetically we ended up being closer to right than the people who are doing the criticism, projections related to various economic assumptions.
But the important thing would be whether or not in the judgment of economists and those who model the economy, you're reaching towards the goal of a balanced budget. I mean, the first question -- let's put first things first, if the Republican nominee for President and the Republican Party no longer worships at the shrine of the balanced budget, they should stand up and say so and just say, well, we're going back to the Laffer Curve. And we'll go back to scratching out economics on the back of an envelope and see what we come up with.
That's an option that some people say is under consideration. Frankly, given Senator Dole's record on deficit reduction and his commitment over the years to prudence and fiscal conservatism, I find it hard to believe that he will go down that road. But we'll have to wait and see.
Q Mike, has Yassir Arafat sent the President yet a copy of the new Palestinian covenant?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that he was asked to, nor do I believe he has, but I can check.
Q Has anybody else from the PLO -- in other words, has the administration in its possession this revised covenant?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. You can check with the NSC later.
Q You folks seem to be going along with Senator Dole's proposed rollback in the 1993 gas tax increase. What kind of offsetting revenues are you going to -- what else -- what are you going to propose to offset those lost revenues?
MR. MCCURRY: There's only one offset that matters, if you want to call it that, and that's a commitment by the Congress to expeditiously pass the increase in the minimum wage. The President indicated he would allow the Republicans to repeal the gas tax, providing that they simultaneously raise the minimum wage, which they promised to do.
Q But what about the budgetary offsets?
Q -- that Dole has to be coming up with offsetting revenues --
MR. MCCURRY: We, as suggested here, you will recall in my briefing a couple weeks ago I said we thought a reasonable way to offset was through the BIF-SAIF proposal that's already been negotiated out with the Republican staff. That would compensate -- my understanding is it would compensate the repeal of the gas tax. But the Congress is considering other options.
Q You're not saying he wouldn't sign it without such an offset, are you?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying the President said he would sign it accompanied by an increase in the minimum wage. I haven't --
Q Offset-no offset, right?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's -- we indicated it should be offset, and we've proposed how we would offset it, or we've made suggestions on how we would offset it.
Q But you're not saying you won't sign it if it comes to you without an offset, are you?
MR. MCCURRY: We haven't said whether -- the President, to my knowledge, has not said whether or not he would sign it if it came to him without the minimum wage increase that he --
Q I know that, Mike, but that's not quite the question; and if you can't answer it, you can't,
because you don't know. But the question is if it came --
MR. MCCURRY: Would he sign it without an offset?
Q -- to you without the budgetary offset, would you sign it, with the minimum wage that --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe the administration has taken a position on that. It's a moot point, though, Brit, because all of the discussions of this in Congress have included an offset. They're talking about spectrum allocation fees now; they've got other ideas on how they would offset it; that's kind of a moot point.
END 2:31 P.M. EDT