THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:10 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Hello. Welcome to the White House for our daily briefing tardy because this just in. The President just got off the phone a short while ago with Prime Minister Major and Prime Minister Bruton. And, obviously, they were discussing the announcement today by the British and Irish governments on arrangements for the talks that begin Monday, June 10th.
The President believes that the announcement today by the British and Irish governments marks another historic step towards a brighter future for the people of Northern Ireland. He welcomes the agreement announced today. He believes it will enable the negotiation of a comprehensive and lasting settlement to the conflict that has plagued generations in Northern Ireland.
In his call with both Prime Minister Major and Bruton, he congratulated them, commended them for the perseverance, for the determination that they've shown in pursuing the cause of peace. He complimented the fact that both governments have worked tirelessly to establish the foundation for a very successful talks that will begin on Monday. He also said that he was pleased that former Senator George Mitchell has been asked to play a role in the talks, along with General John DeChastelain and Mr. Harry Holkeri who both participated in the work the international body did last winter on issues that were very important to the process.
The President will have a statement shortly; in it, the President says that with the start of talks on June 10th, the parties have a real chance to set aside the past and negotiate a future of hope, promise, justice and peace. This is something that only they can do, but I want them to know that the United States will continue to stand with them as they work to make that dream a reality.
We have a longer written statement that will be available shortly.
Q It sounds like you want to.
MR. MCCURRY: He's very well pleased with the --
Q How long was the conversation?
MR. MCCURRY: He talked briefly with both. I think both calls lasted about five minutes.
Q Was it a conference call or separate?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he talked to them separately. I believe he talked to Prime Minister Bruton first -- Prime Minster Major first and then Prime Minister Bruton.
Q What about the comment or the statement by Gerry Adams according to which there won't be a cease-fire by the IRA before June 10th?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we continue to hope and pray that there will be a cease-fire. We want to see a cessation of violence that will affect the citizens of Northern Ireland. It's very clear from the President's encounters with the people of Northern Ireland that they're ready for peace.
Q Well, will the President call Gerry Adams to emphasize the point?
MR. MCCURRY: We remain in active contact with the parties. And they are well aware of our views.
Q Can I change the subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely.
Q Senator Dole -- the possible meeting between President Clinton and Senator Dole before Senator Dole steps down --anything happening on that front? Is it likely to occur?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything further on that.
Q Does the President still want to meet with Senator Dole?
MR. MCCURRY: He's -- if he has a chance to. I know he expressed an interest in it, but I haven't heard of anything being set up.
Q What about Senator Lott, assuming he's going to become the Senate Majority Leader? What does the White House think of Senator Lott as a possible Senate Majority Leader and in an effort to get legislation passed?
MR. MCCURRY: We think he'd fit real nicely on the sofa in the Oval Office so that they can begin balance budget discussions and work on reforming welfare and get on with passing the minimum wage and do the work that's necessary to do.
Q Do you think --
MR. MCCURRY: There's a place for him in the Oval Office.
Q And do you think that he's inclined to go forward? Have you had any preliminary discussions with him?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. It would be far from appropriate for the White House to make any arrangements prior to the designation of the next Senate Majority Leader. As you know, the Senate Republican Caucus will have to have deliberations at some point and select someone. Senator Lott is widely reported as the likely person, and we think highly of him. But we would look forward to working with whomever is selected as the next Senator Majority Leader.
Q Can tell us the President's position on the House debate now on speeding up the waivers or maybe bypass. I don't know if it's bypassing him or welfare.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is -- this has nothing to do with speeding up welfare reform. The Wisconsin welfare reform experiment, by request of Governor Thompson, would not affect the lives of anyone currently on welfare in Wisconsin until 1997. What we want -- we have a process that's a very orderly process for considering waiver requests.
In fact, there have been litigation in the past about the way in which waiver requests are considered. During the Bush administration, the consideration of a California waiver request was subject to judicial scrutiny and was effected because of the process used to review. That's why we have a very methodic process underway at the Health and Human Services Department to review it.
But it's clear that we are examining this waiver request with the intent of proceeding with the experiment in Wisconsin. The President looks forward to making sure we can get on with that reform because it's an important one.
Q Well, what do you think of the -- one congressman asked him for a deadline of decision by July 21 or something.
MR. MCCURRY: We try to examine these waiver requests within a 30-day period. That's our standard procedure.
Q Mike, there was a statement by Jane Sherburne yesterday on how the Billy Dale files came to be requested from the FBI, but it leaves unanswered a number of questions. Who would make a request for these files? Was it part of a broader request? Is there any further explanation on how --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything I can add to the statement that we released last night. Obviously, we will continue to work to develop answers to the inquiries that will arise from this. We have heard, as her statement indicated, last night from the independent counsel. You all know from the Justice Department statement that the FBI will look at this, as well. And you also know from our statement last night that she will continue to -- the White House will continue to cooperate with these inquiries.
Q To follow up, Mike. I'd like to renew Mick's question yesterday which related broadly to the documents as a whole. I wonder what theory the White House felt it could at least initially advance a kind of executive privilege relating to such papers.
MR. MCCURRY: There was never any assertion of constitutional protection for these documents. Quite frankly, the concern was more because they were personnel related documents, and there was a concern about privacy. There was no assertion. There were three categories of documents.
If you go back and look at the materials that Counsel Quinn submitted to the committee, they indicated three categories of documents that were under examination by the counsel. There had been a general -- my understanding, and you can check with Mr. Fabiani further on this -- there had been negotiations back and forth between the committee and between White House legal staff on documents that could be made available. Chairman Clinger suspended those negotiation, I believe, on May 8th or sometime, right about the time he decided to pursue the contempt citation against White House staff.
And at that point, there was no further deliberations on these records. But there was never any assertion of constitutional protection for these documents. The Attorney General looked through the documents and made clear those that could be covered by such a request. And we didn't assert a request related to this document.
Q When you were first asked about them here, you remarked -- in jest, I suppose -- that Clinger was asking for everything including the toilet paper here. Would you, perhaps, be prepared to concede that, indeed, something more than toilet paper was involved in the collection?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I would not at all. I mean this is --
Q This document is toilet paper?
MR. MCCURRY: I think this is the continuation of an effort by Chairman Clinger to manufacture stories pursuant to the goals of the House Republican leadership to manufacture political problems for the President.
Q And that this document --
MR. MCCURRY: It's all part of that same process.
Q The committee investing what happened to the Travel Office employees who did not have a right to obtain a document of this kind. Is that what you're saying?
MR. MCCURRY: We never --
Q A legitimate reason to have --
MR. MCCURRY: We never suggested -- in the documents that they had, we never suggested that they were not entitled to some of these documents. We suggested that some of them were constitutionally protected and we were in negotiations with the committee to amicably resolve the question of provision of documents, but they clearly are more interested in making -- they were more interested in making political hay out of it.
Q Well, do you think this -- that what he said, that his raising the question about this particular document amounts to the making of political hay, or do you think it's a legitimate question?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's a -- you know, rather than get what the facts are, what the circumstances are surrounding this particular standard form and why it was sent to the FBI and under what reasons, which would have been legitimate questions, he immediately went out and began to suggest all kinds of motives without any evidence or facts to back up those statements.
Q I just wondered, Mike, for following up the -- when you say these documents, you didn't assert the constitutional privilege -- you mean the batch that included these personnel requests. There were others that you did a search --
MR. MCCURRY: There were -- you know, there have been 41,000 pages of documents given to the committee and there are a couple of thousand over which there were still negotiations underway between the committee and between legal staff about what could be provided. Some of them are properly, according to the Attorney General, constitutionally protected.
Q You said the Attorney General looked at these documents and presumably White House lawyers. Why did this not -- this particular document -- not stand out to them?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I can't speak for those who reviewed it, so I can't speak for the Attorney General. But it is, as you know from seeing the document, a standard form. And I gather no one noticed the date on it.
Q Mike, how many people in the White House had the authority to request, under the White House Counsel's name, background files on administration employees?
MR. MCCURRY: I think as the -- as the statement from Ms. Sherburne indicated last night, the routine procedure customarily used is for the standardized form to go to the FBI in the name of the current White House counsel.
Q Yes, but the question is how many people have the authority to submit that request under the White House Counsel's name?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not know.
Q Well, can we find out?
MR. MCCURRY: I am going to -- we are in a situation where we have both the FBI and the independent counsel examine matters, and I imagine that they're going to get answers before you do.
Q May I switch subjects?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q Is there any --
Q Wait a minute, can I have one more question on this? Does the White House know if any other Travel Office employees who had been fired -- and rehired or not rehired -- if any of their files were also pulled at about this same time that Billy Dale's files were pulled?
MR. MCCURRY: They are looking into that question. That's a reasonable assumption, and they're looking into that now because they fully expect to be asked that question by those who will look into it further.
Q We had a briefing earlier about lowering closing costs at FHA. My question is, is there any equivalent effort going on at the VA to try and bring down housing -- the cost of buying a house for veterans under their programs?
MR. MCCURRY: The VA loan program works a little bit differently, and I don't -- I'm not sure how their closing procedures or settlement procedures are structured. We'll have to check on that and maybe we can get an answer for you later. I don't know.
Q Mike, following up on this week, you've got two announcements -- tuition tax credit and then today's closing costs. Can voters look forward to any other tax breaks or gifts in the next few months ahead?
MR. MCCURRY: The President will continue to advance ideas that reflect his desire to bring the American Dream to more American families. Now, whether that will take the form of additional proposals, we'll see.
Q Well, do you think that's likely?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's likely he'll continue to do the kinds of things he did today to build on the efforts of the last three and a half years to make things like homeownership more affordable and college education more available. A lot of this work continues. You know, come of these things, as you heard Secretary Cisneros report today, date back to directives he got a year or so ago from the President.
And there are a lot of things like that working in government in which we try to streamline government, make it more prudent and give benefits to the American people. So, sure, any time we've got good news like the good news the President had today, we're going to share it.
Q Mike, up at that event the Mortgage Bankers Association people told me that if the budget were balanced they would expect perhaps a one percent drop in interest rates. That would translate into about $840 per year for the average $100,000 mortgage. You, this morning, called bringing up the balanced budget amendment an empty gesture. I imagine a lot of Republicans are going to ask you why that would be an empty gesture.
MR. MCCURRY: Because a constitutional amendment, once it's submitted to states to be ratified, once implementing legislation had passed could take months and months, if not years. And the point the President's making and that we all have made is that we could balance the budget right now, if fact, if we would just get on with it and get the Republicans down here working with the President to do it.
As the President has said repeatedly, there are elements in common in both what the Republicans want to do to balance the budget and what the President has proposed to do to balance the budget, which gets the job done. And we get the interest rates down and get it down sooner. So, in fact, this is -- kind of delays the benefits that might derive from a balanced budget by doing something that actually tinkers with the Constitution.
So, instead, the President says let's balance the budget. Let's do it now. There are some issues that are not going to be reconciled between the Republican Congress and the President. Let's set them aside and debate them in the fall. That shouldn't stand in the way of balancing the budget now.
Q But the Republicans don't understand why he wouldn't then support the amendment.
MR. MCCURRY: Because it's -- for all the reasons that he has talked about over and over again. I mean, this is an issue that's an old chestnut in Washington. And the point is it has -- it doesn't -- passing an amendment to the Constitution doesn't get the Congress or the President off the hook of actually making the decisions and getting the job done. And we're already at that point. We could actually do that right now based on the deliberations that have already occurred.
Q Taking that point, what would be bad if the amendment was passed? What would be the harm?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, under some circumstances, depending on how Congress acted pursuant to the amendment, you could conceivably see federal district court judges or appeals court judges sitting there with John Kasich and Pete Domenici writing the budget. You'd have the courts basically making fundamental decisions that the Congress ought to make in cooperation with the President.
Q But one of the things that Senator Dole said on the floor is aren't we willing to trust the states? We should put trust in the states on this. What did you think of Senator Dole's statement today?
MR. MCCURRY: That is a little incomprehensible. I don't understand it. Maybe if you could explain to me further I --
Q Well, he was just saying that, leave it to the states and the people to decide.
MR. MCCURRY: You leave it to the states to ratify the Constitution amendment, take that process and then delay the day of reckoning for Congress to make decisions working with the President to actually balance the budget, I gather is what he's suggesting. Why don't they just balance the budget? Get on with it. Let's do it.
Q Do you think that's there any possibility that between now and the time Dole leaves the Senate some real legislative action can be passed?
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, the President hopes so. The President certainly hopes that between now and Tuesday -- he had gathered from Senator Dole that it was going to be possible to at least raise the minimum wage and pass the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill that would expand health insurance coverage. He was delighted to hear that that was probably going to be something he could do. In fact, he was looking forward to celebrating passage of both those measures with Senator Dole here at the White House.
Q But now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there hasn't been any progress. I mean, there is some progress being made in deliberations on that, but both of those could be done and done rather quickly. And the President would be delighted to have an opportunity to share that achievement with Senator Dole.
Q Has the President extended a formal invitation to Senator Dole to come here and appear, or is it all nebulous in the --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I mean -- I got asked earlier whether they planned to see each other, and the President would like to do that. But there's nothing scheduled. On the other hand, the opportunity to sit down and talk about these issues and make progress on things like balanced budget -- the door has been open to that for quite some time now.
Q But if the President opposed the amendment and he vetoed the balanced budget bill last year, why isn't he vulnerable in this campaign year to charges that he stood in the way of a balanced budget?
MR. MCCURRY: That's your question for the American people, not for us. We believe that the American people understand why the President stood in the way of what Jack Kemp today called reactionary conservatism. And they know why he took that stand. And they know that he saw excess in what the Republican Congress was trying to do. You don't need to do the things they wanted to do to tamper with Medicare, to ruin environmental protection, or at least impair our ability to protect the environment, to cut back on all those things that will help our economy grow, to raise taxes on the lowest income workers in this country. You didn't need to do that in order to balance the budget.
Now, the President has proved that by making his own budget submission to Congress, which the Congress's own budget office says gets the job done without doing those things. I think the American people pretty well understand that argument.
Q On the Travel Office situation. Is it possible that a request by the General Accounting Office for the personnel files of the people in the Travel Office may have triggered the White House request for Billy Dale's file?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a very good question. There was an ongoing GAO audit or inquiry at about the same time, but we haven't established that as fact.
Q Mike, this administration has a very impressive record of response operation on political issues laying out matters of fact very specifically. Why is it difficult in this instance to find out how this happened and when it happened?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the court of public opinion is different from a court of law.
Q I know. But surely the White House --
MR. MCCURRY: These are the legal proceedings underway in which the answers that are provided are held to the scrupulous standards of courts.
Q I know. But the answers you give from this podium certainly are not.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the answers that I give here are held to your standards, and I hope that those are scrupulous, too. They usually are.
Q So are you saying it takes a while because our standards are so high? You can't answer these questions because you're afraid it won't meet our standards?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that everyone in this room knows what happens when you get half an answer. And we're not inclined to give half-answers when we're, you know, we've got questions where we clearly are going to have to have very detailed, thorough examinations of issues. We also have two investigative bodies which are going to be looking at these issues.
Q Just to make sure that I understand who the other half of this earlier answer of yours was -- you said that "they" are looking to see if files on the rest of the travel office employees requested at the same time, who are "they"?
MR. MCCURRY: The White House legal counsel's staff will be charged with responding to inquiries for information from the independent counsel and from the FBI -- we presumably work with the FBI. We'll work to make sure that these answers are given.
Q -- if you answer the question here, as well, when the answer is no?
MR. MCCURRY: When it's appropriate for us to provide information outside the context of these inquiries, I certainly will do so.
Q Mike, are they going through the group of files from which Billy Dale's came, or they're making a broader search?
MR. MCCURRY: They're trying to determine what were the circumstances initially of the requests that went to the FBI.
Q How and who determines when it's appropriate for you to provide that information?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's done in the course of these inquiries. When they can be made public, it's usually something that happens from the other side.
Q Billy Dale is a guy who was so wronged, the President felt compelled to apologize to him publicly. Who now, in the White House from the President on down, is asking about this, and how could this have happened?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, this is clearly -- something like this, you want to know the circumstances from the President on down.
Q Mike, what kind of safeguards are in place right now on requesting FBI checks?
MR. MCCURRY: The same policy that was articulated in the memo of -- let me get the date of it. The procedures that are in place are those that cover this. And as the Justice Department indicated yesterday, the type of -- the form in which this request came is the form in which it is routinely made.
Q So is that memo being reinforced in any way now?
MR. MCCURRY: There's nothing that indicates that those procedures weren't followed here, as near as I can tell.
Q So everything had to go through the Justice Department, isn't that what happened? And then they're supposed to go through the Attorney General and not directed to the FBI? Isn't that what the whole thing was about?
MR. MCCURRY: This, as the Justice Department said yesterday, the form in which this request was made was the form in which it was routinely made.
Q I understand that, Mike, but didn't the White House, Justice Department aside, institute a policy following the early monkey-shines with the FBI in the Travel Office firings, whereby any FBI request had to go through the AG or at least through the Justice Department, and not directly to the FBI?
MR. MCCURRY: There is no indication here that there was anything contrary to the stipulations in that policy.
Q Except that this was a document that appeared to go directly to the FBI, did it not?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the process by which these are made was spoken to you yesterday by the Justice Department.
Q Do you know when the White House expects to get the Pentagon report on the Ron Brown crash?
MR. MCCURRY: The President expects to get a briefing on that later today. He has asked before it be made public that the families receive a briefing. I believe Secretary Perry may have discussed a little bit of it in summary fashion today. And the President will be interested in the outcome of the report.
Q Mike, who will brief the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Pentagon officials.
Q And when will we find out the findings of this report?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be done by the Defense Department.
Q When would that be?
MR. MCCURRY: Tomorrow. They plan to brief on that tomorrow.
Q The meeting that never took place yesterday with Senator Dole -- was it the President's intention to press him on Kennedy-Kassebaum?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I mean, he mostly wanted to, as a courtesy, say farewell as he leaves the Senate, where he has served ably. But it is also an opportunity to say, look, is there any chance that we can get some of these things done or is there any chance you can pass on to your successor some sense that we can really move some of these issues and set aside political debates for the fall.
Q Well, has he extended that kind of an invitation?
MR. MCCURRY: I told you what I know on that already, Helen.
Q And once the new Senate leadership is elected, will the White House extend an invitation for them to come down and resume budget negotiations?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we will let you know when -- that will be a good story for next week, give us something to talk about next week.
Q Does the President have a replacement for Admiral Layton Smith?
MR. MCCURRY: We have already nominated Admiral Lopez, correct? He was nominated some time ago. That is a relief in command, change of command, that had been projected for some time.
By the way, just so you know, Admiral Jay Johnson, who is the President's nominee for Chief of Naval Operations, will be coming by later this afternoon -- some of you had asked yesterday --he is going to come by around 4:15 p.m. just to visit with the President. The President wants to chat with him about the future of the Navy, assure Admiral Johnson that the world's finest Navy will continue to be that and that the American people appreciate the contributions the Navy makes to our national defense. And he will probably wish Admiral Johnson a happy 50th birthday a day late, also the 20th anniversary of his commission -- 28th anniversary of his commissioning.
Q Any coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not -- won't be any coverage.
Q Will Admiral Johnson come to the stakeout?
MR. MCCURRY: I suspect not, because now that he is formally nominated, most nominees refrain from commenting until they have an opportunity to address the Senate.
Q Well, they usually make an opening statement after the nomination, how happy they are and all that.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the Admiral did. Yesterday at the Pentagon they had a --
Q Not on CNN.
Q Can't you get something else on today? (Laughter.)
Q Take this question about the meeting with Senator Dole to the President, because it's my understanding the President travels starting Sunday and he is gone until Tuesday and by that day the Senator will have retired from the Senate. And either the President wishes to see the Senator here in the White House and can extend an invitation -- it's within his power -- or he doesn't. And you keep jawboning to make it sound like he wants to be nice, and he is taking no steps so to be.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, this was -- to my knowledge, no question about this was raised publicly until the Senator happened to mention it yesterday. This was not -- we initially -- his initial plan was he was going to be on the Hill yesterday, as you know, and he wanted to drop by and say hello. It didn't work out, it didn't happen. I don't think it's going to happen now because of our travel schedule. But if we get something, we'll let you know.
Q Why didn't it work out yesterday?
MR. MCCURRY: It just -- for a bunch of different reasons it didn't fit into the schedule yesterday.
Q General McCaffrey is apparently getting some questions on the Hill today about the increasing frequency with which drug interdiction efforts are being frustrated by drug runners who go into Cuban waters to avoid either detection or pursuit. He is being asked if the administration has any plan to deal with this.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sure he is giving good answers. (Laughter.)
Okay. See you all tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:33 P.M. EDT