THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:55 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for noting my late arrival, Helen. No, the President just had a scheduling meeting with some of the staff, so I wanted to delay until I could tell you more -- actually, until Mary Ellen could tell you more about the schedule next week, most critical of which that we are not planning any travel on Tuesday. We just decided that a short while ago, so I wanted to wait until we knew that for certain before starting.
And it's a quiet day at the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I can. It's a quiet day at the White House, and Mary Ellen will do the whole schedule next week for you at the proper point. In fact, if you want to just have her do that, we can all go home. And I'm prepared, with the exception at the end of the briefing to announce a full lid with the following provisions: one, we'll be giving you an embargoed text of the President's radio address later today -- probably, what, 6:00 p.m., 7:00 p.m.? Probably about 7:00 p.m. So that will be available to the wires.
MR. MCCURRY: The subject will be the very encouraging developments related to welfare reform this week. In fact, the growing sense that maybe we'll be able to get some work done in this session of Congress. Minimum wage certainly is looking a lot better. Kassebaum-Kennedy discussions on expanding health care affordability continue to go well. And then the very important development yesterday in which congressional Republicans agreed to drop one of the poison pill elements that had delayed consideration of welfare reform by separating the Medicare issue from welfare reform. So we now stand on the verge of having a welfare reform proposal that can get bipartisan support and the President's signature.
Q Does this mean he's leaving earlier tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: No, he's got some work to do. He is actually, tomorrow morning, for those of you who will be around tomorrow, since I hope I won't be -- we've got some of our political film crews that will be in taking various shots of him doing some things that we'll need for later in the fall. So he's going to do that in the morning, and then they'll leave for Camp David immediately after.
Q But it's much too early in the season for politics.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, it is. It's just -- you know, get some stuff in the can now, in case you need it. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, before you turn it over to Mary Ellen, does the President plan to sign the same-sex marriage bill that's been through the House today, as he understands it?
MR. MCCURRY: Our views on that, I think you know. The President -- and they have not, the President's views have not changed. He's personally felt that way for some time. And as we've said before, if it's presented to him in final fashion the way it was advertised he would sign it, yes.
Q Do you think that this is being passed primarily by Republicans in the House as a way of either causing the President to be embarrassed or forcing a wedge between him and the gay community, which has supported him in the past?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't think it necessarily is directed at forcing the President to have a dispute with the gay and lesbian community. I think, in fact, it is gay baiting pure and simple. They're raising an issue that, in fact, doesn't arise anywhere. The Hawaii statute -- the Hawaii issue is a legal issue that had been remanded back to a lower court, so this is not a pending matter. And it's a classic use of wedge politics that are designed to provoke anxieties and fears. That being the case, though, the President has very strong views, personal views, and he has to act consistent with those views.
Q I'm sorry, but it sounds like you want it both ways. You say it's gay-baiting pure and simple, but then you're going to sign it. So in other words --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I just said -- I just said the President believes what he believes. The President believes what he believes and he has to stand firm based on what his convictions are. But the point is, the issue is -- is this a debate or a piece of legislation that's necessary? And it's hard to see how it is. And it clearly going to provoke some animosities.
Q Then why is it necessary to sign it?
MR. MCCURRY: Because Congress passes it -- the way it works under the Constitution, Carl is that if Congress passes an act, they send it down here, we have to do something with it. In this case --
Q He always can veto --
MR. MCCURRY: He can't veto something that he just -- I mean, he can't veto it because he believe, frankly, that the underlying position in the bill is right. That's consistent with his personal views.
Q On Helms-Burton, the Canadians are hoping for a delay implementing the enforcement mechanism of the thing. Are there any talks planned if that were to happen?
MR. MCCURRY: Talks -- I don't get the question.
Q Talks between the White House and the Canadians to perhaps find some sort of alternative.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are trying to work with affected entities and individuals who will be affected by the Helms-Burton statute so that they understand what they're opportunities are under law. The way the law works, they can divest themselves of that expropriated property and then remove any restrictions that arise under the Helms-Burton Act. And we certainly continue to encourage those types of conversations, but we intend to continue to implement the law. We've got a pending question concerning some of the economic provisions of Article 3 that the President will deal with some time before Tuesday, which is the deadline.
Q So he will decide by Tuesday whether to give them a reprieve?
MR. MCCURRY: The deadline is by Tuesday in which we look at whether or not to invoke the waiver provision of Article 3.
Q Can you explain how that will work? I mean, is he going to get a recommendation from the NAC and then decide based on that?
MR. MCCURRY: There's been fairly extensive interagency work on the issue, examination of the pros and cons. And they will present some options or some recommendations to the President -- at least some options -- and he will be in a position to review them and make a decision next week.
Q You mean there is a possibility he might grant that waiver to Cuba?
MR. MCCURRY: There is a number of possibilities. I don't want to speculate on what he might decide.
Q Have the options been presented to him yet, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: They are being finalized and, of course, people have discussed this issue with the President. It's been one that's been pending for some time and, of course, been raised by foreign leaders that the President met with most recently in France.
Q Besides your printed statement, has there been any effort to get in touch personally with the Cuban-American group so that they don't defy the international borders on Monday?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. You can tell from that statement that we have issued, we have had very extensive and very productive contacts with those who will be organizing the flotilla. And you may not be aware they have just -- they have issued this statement and now it has been made available. They have now issued a statement indicating that the memorial flotilla will not enter Cuban jurisdictional waters or airspace during the ceremonies on July 13th -- obviously, a statement that the White House very much welcomes consistent with our view that a fitting and proper memorial observance can take place.
Q Would the U.S. support the idea of a NAFTA panel to review Helms-Burton, much as it did when the softwood lumber debate came through?
MR. MCCURRY: That's not an issue that I have heard any enthusiasm expressed for here at the White House.
Q Is the President spending any time monitoring Hurricane Bertha today?
MR. MCCURRY: He is, Wolf. He has been getting updates from the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff and others here at the White House have been in direct contact with James Lee Witt. I think a number of you have had the opportunity to hear from him. There is a very extensive federal preparedness effort underway through FEMA; a lot of work being done with state and local law enforcement officials and also state and local disaster relief officials. And the President has been getting regular updates from Mr. Panetta.
Q To quickly go back to the same-sex marriage bill, the President doesn't object to the legislation, does he?
MR. MCCURRY: No. He will -- if it's presented to him in the form that it's been stipulated, which is the definition and the applicability to state actions, he would sign it.
Q I'm intrigued by your depiction of it as gay baiting and gay bashing and --
MR. MCCURRY: Not the legislation itself. It's the use of this issue in a way that clearly provokes hostilities towards gay and lesbian groups in some quarters.
Q By drawing up the legislation, which the President will sign?
MR. MCCURRY: By drawing up the issue, raising an issue in which there's not substantive grounds to believe that there is a concern that should be addressed through federal legislation.
Q Then why is he going to sign it if you don't think it needs to be addressed through federal legislation?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the exact question from Carl.
Q Mike, the President of Colombia has said he intends to address the General Assembly of the United Nations in September. Is there any way the United States can keep him from coming to New York to address the General Assembly?
MR. MCCURRY: The waiver -- or the restrictions on the visa as announced by the State Department yesterday made clear that they cannot prevent him from attending a function at the United Nations, but that is our responsibility as host nation of the United Nations. He certainly is otherwise unwelcome in the United States.
Q Mike, back on Cuba. Has the administration or the U.S. government sent any kind of notice to Cuba itself with respect to tomorrow's commemoration in international waters?
MR. MCCURRY: Have we through the -- we have through the intrasection in Havana discussions with the Cuban government. We've indicated that we would, of course, uphold international law, encourage those participating in the flotilla not to violate international law by illegally entering Cuban airspace or territorial waters. But that is now a moot point, given this very encouraging statement from the organizers of the flotilla.
Q Well, is it a moot point since U.S. claims that the shootdown from last February took place in international airspace?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't claim -- we don't need to make that as a claim. That is now established as a matter of fact by the International Civil Aviation organization.
Q Stipulated, but since it took place in international airspace, might not there be a need -- or is the U.S. going to provide any kind of protection for this flotilla?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be, as there has been in the past, active surveillance and escort from the U.S. Coast Guard. The Department of Transportation will be following this carefully and they'll be in coordination with the Defense Department as necessary.
Q Did you say there was a decision made on travel Tuesday?
MR. MCCURRY: We're not going anywhere on Tuesday, and I'll have Mary Ellen do that.
Q Mike, back on same-sex marriage. If you're criticizing the Republicans for bringing it up now, but yet you're attacking them for trying to separate out the gays and provoke hostilities, aren't you really trying to do it both ways because you say you're going to sign the bill --
MR. MCCURRY: It's hard to understand why the issue arises, unless it's being done to somehow or other cast dispersions on gays and lesbians. That's the point.
Q Yes, but you want it both ways.
MR. MCCURRY: But the point is it is -- in a sense, I acknowledge that, we do have to have it both ways because the President has a personal belief related to marriage and what it is and he has to act consistent with a personal belief. So that's what he's doing.
Q You're alienating all these gay voters that voted for you in '92.
MR. MCCURRY: And we know that this has caused pain in the gay and lesbian community and we've tried to be as accommodating as we can in reaching out to them to discuss the issue. And more importantly, we tried to tell them that our focus will remain on what we think are policy implications, and that we will continue to work as hard as this President has worked to prevent discrimination against gay and lesbians, and more importantly, connected with this issue, because this is the firm belief in the gay and lesbian community that this issue arises because of an effort to cast aspersions on gays and lesbians -- that we speak out when we see examples where people are using legislative proposals or ideas like this to attempt to divide Americans.
Q How do you accommodate them?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we work closely. We have a liaison operation here that talks to them. We meet with them. We try to have a good dialogue with them in which we find areas in which we agree upon and work together and try to move forward.
Q It's been suggested that on the welfare issue, the Republicans are trying to use that as a wedge as well by offering up a deal by the end of next week just before the President has to go to the convention -- a deal that they think some other Democrats wouldn't like the President to sign. Can you refresh our memory -- if the Senate bill went through and the poison pill, as you describe it, of Medicaid isn't in there, were there other elements of the Senate bill that you could not live with?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there has been a very active dialogue between the White House and members of Congress and congressional staffs on welfare reform. And it has -- we've moved well beyond the question of the Senate bill. The vehicles that are most attractive now that I think are going to get the most attention as Congress looks at welfare reform are the so-called Breaux-Chafee proposals in the Senate and then the Castle-Tanner proposal in the House.
Now, a lot of the elements of these measures have a lot in common with the administration's original bill. Most of the elements now are kind of closing in on the same things. You're getting work requirements; you're getting time limits of five-year lifetime limit; tough child support enforcement measures; additional funding for child care; provisions that would require minors who are mothers to stay at home or to stay at school; options on child care funding.
The Republicans have moved a considerable distance towards the President's views in making more money available for child care. They have dropped cuts in school lunch, child welfare, cuts in funding that would have gone to disabled children. They're working on the performance bonus, which is a provision that helps states deal with some of the cost.
So it is converging now around some models that, while not exactly perfect in the White House view, not exactly identical to what the President would have originally proposed, is coming together as a very sensible, very historic, bipartisan approach to reforming welfare as we know it. And the President is concentrating -- intends to concentrate a lot of effort to see if we can't get that passed and get it passed before Congress leaves for recess some time before the conventions begin.
Q And Wisconsin welfare plan?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, in a sense -- I mean, what's so exciting about this development yesterday is it renders the whole waiver process moot. Once we get a federal legislation passed, Wisconsin could go ahead and start implementing welfare reform now. As you know, under this legislation passed and signed by Governor Thompson of Wisconsin, their welfare reform experiment would not begin until October of 1997. If we can federal welfare reform legislation passed and on the books, Wisconsin could proceed with its welfare experiment now.
Now, the work on the Wisconsin waiver continues and the experts continue to work through some of the issues, but, in a sense, that whole question of waiver state by state might be overtaken by passage of welfare reform legislation at the national level. And that could happen quite soon.
Q What do you say to Senator Moynihan who says that if this legislation goes through basically as it is that one out of four children will wind up in poverty?
MR. MCCURRY: What we say is what we said to him when we wrote to him in June, that there are lots of different ways that you measure the income effects of poverty estimates when it relates to welfare reform. And there are a lot of things that we don't know that could change that picture and change some of those calculations.
You know, we don't know now if we get welfare reform what economic growth rates are going to be. We don't know what unemployment levels are going to be. What we do know is that the picture is encouraging and improving with respect to both, and that changes the calculations about what a state can accommodate, what poverty impact there would be on welfare reform. It's an inexact science predicting what is going to happen to indigent populations as you make this transition.
But what all the statistics sometimes fail to account for, too, is that the quality of life that is available for people is infinitely better and superior if you are in a community setting in which you are working, in which you're in a family setting that is dependent on going to work, having the value of work recorded in your family versus being in a welfare dependent family. And that's something that the statistics don't calculate.
So we say to Senator Moynihan, this nation will be better off if we reform welfare as we know it. And we believe the lives of the children, the lives of those who have been welfare-dependent, will be vastly improved if we can help them make that necessary transition away from welfare dependency and into work settings. That is part of what America is about, this President believes, and it's clear that a growing majority in Congress believes that as well. And we think we can do that, and we can do that and still protect the kids who we acknowledge are going to need child care. We can protect the guarantee for health care that has to be there for the poorest populations.
So, look, this is an historic opportunity and the President believes we can get this done, and the President is fully satisfied in sharing the credit with the Republican Congress, even with Mr. Dole. Bob Dole really hasn't, frankly, been part of any of these conversations, but he put out a statement yesterday and encouraged the Congress to step forward and pass welfare reform.
Q But what are the last sticking points? I mean, we're trying to get down to what are the differences now.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the sticking points are the ones that -- they're not impossible to overcome, but they have to do -- there is still some discussions left on benefits that would be available to legal immigrants, and there are some adjustments in food stamp issues and other things that need to be addressed. They are not the central elements of welfare reform. They are important, they need to be addressed. We need to figure out how we overcome those, but they are not insurmountable hurdles, the White House believes.
Q Two questions, Mike. First, do you mean to say that the benefits of work, the benefits of solid families in this case would outweigh perhaps a slight difference in money -- the quality of life would be better if they had -- despite the fact that they have fewer dollars to spend?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no. What I'm saying that -- you might have a family that in a poverty impact analysis looks better in cash income if its got welfare benefits flowing to it, but there is something that impoverishes that family by being welfare dependent. You lose the value of work, you lose the ethic of work and being part of a community in which you're contributing, in which you're paying your own freight and pulling your own load. There's something that's intangible about that that is important. And it doesn't get measured in raw statistics.
Q I'm sorry, how does that differ from what I asked?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe that's what you said.
Q Okay. The second question is, are you comfortable with the child care provisions in Breaux-Chafee and Castle-Tanner? And do they not, in combination with other things, raise the cost of welfare at least in the short run over what we're paying today?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they -- you do have to make the investment in child care spending, that's true. That's something that, by the way, in the case of Wisconsin was acknowledged by the legislature and the Governor, because they project, I think, something like $100 million additional spending in the course of that experiment for child care.
So there are short-term costs. In fact, frankly, it's been -- that's been part of the challenge, has been convincing the Republican majority in the Congress that you do need to make these investments to make this historic change in the welfare system, because you have to guarantee the health care is available and the spending through Medicaid has to be there. And you also have to acknowledge that there are going to be requirements on child care.
And then, of course, we face at the local level, as you did in Wisconsin and other states have faced, what are the job requirements going to be and what are job opportunities going to be. In the state of Wisconsin's plan they've made provisions for local contractors and local entities that will work with the state in providing job opportunities, because that has to be real. But remember, we're talking about an economy now that has provided 10 million new jobs over the last four years and very clear signs of robust economic growth. So we believe the jobs are going to be there because we're in an economy that is producing jobs and making those jobs available.
Q On the Wisconsin plan, without disputing the fact that families and the country and the government would be better off if everybody went to work rather than being on welfare, what about the children of these parents who don't abide by the rules? They're punished if their parents don't abide by the rules. What about those children?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, from the get-go the President has said welfare reform has to be about being tough on work requirements and being easy on the kids who are going to be left behind.
Q How do you do that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, by increasing funding for child care opportunities, by making sure that health care opportunities are available. And then, states have got -- there are hardships --
Q But if the parents aren't working -- do you know what I'm saying? I'm saying if the parents don't go along with the governor's -- the Wisconsin plan to work, if they just don't do it, what about these children?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are hardship exemptions that are available in those unusual cases on any plan. On a lot of these state experiments where there have been waivers, they can allow for something. If you got, for some reason, a parent that just cannot participate within the experiment or cannot meet the requirements of law, they have provisions for taking care of kids.
But the parents have fundamental obligations to their children. So if they want to sit back and just not accept the responsibilities they have to try to care for kids, that says something about the quality of the parenting that they're doing. And in that case, the state has -- states have the right, through child custody proceedings, to take action. That's what would happen in a case like that.
Q So you'd take the kids away?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't take kids away. That is stuff that's done in child custody cases and done in local jurisdictions. You know that. But the point is those are, we hope, unusual situations. The message here goes out, you're going to be part of a work process, you're going to get job training, you're going to have job search opportunities, you're going to be part of a new ethic which says you can't continue welfare dependency forever. Welfare dependency is designed to be a short-term transition for people who face --
Q That's true, and nobody is arguing that. I'm just saying that there is more than a handful of parents out there, and I think you'll agree, that just are like deadbeat parents. They're like deadbeat dads.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's right. And we --
Q What do you do with all those children? MR. MCCURRY: We do all these things that we have been
doing. We chase them down. We track down the deadbeats. We get their -- we garnish their wages. We withhold their income tax refunds, if that's what they are getting, so that the money goes to the kids who need the help. We have been -- had a fairly vigorous effort in this administration to deal with exactly that problem. And more importantly, you do have provisions in law that can take care of those what we hope are very rare exceptions where you just -- you can't find any other way to take care of a kid who would otherwise be abandoned by a parent. There are ways that you can accommodate that situation.
Q Are you familiar with this case of an IRA member in San Francisco, who is being -- may be extradited unless President Clinton personally, or Secretary of State Christopher intervenes on his behalf?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, Jimmy Smith's case. Familiar with it enough to just tell you a little bit about where we are. He has -- the Supreme Court just recently -- I believe one of the last of its round of decisions -- refused to grant a cert to his case. So it was remanded to the court for a certification of extraditability, which has now been granted by the court. That then under our law gives the Secretary of State 60 days to review it.
Now, it may very well be that Mr. Smith's counsel will pursue additional avenues. She apparently does have other legal options that might be available. In any event, my understanding is this is not -- it's in the process of being referred by the Justice Department to the State Department. It then has to go through a review at the State Department and would have to be duly considered by the Secretary of State. That's where it stands.
Q On Kennedy-Kassebaum, Senator Breaux is circulating another proposal on MSAs. Has the White House had a chance to review this?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have a very vigorous, active dialogue with a number of senators and a number of Senate staffs on Kassebaum-Kennedy and we are working very hard to see if we can't get an acceptable provision that would lead to passage of that measure, as well.
Again -- to say again -- minimum wage, welfare reform and the Kassebaum-Kennedy health care measure are all pretty close to the five yard line now. And we'd like to get them across the goal line sometime before summer.
Q -- metaphor.
MR. MCCURRY: I should have used a baseball metaphor.
Q Do you still expect a Wisconsin waiver approval early next week?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think -- look, a lot of the same people who are working the Wisconsin questions are now training their sights on this new opportunity we've got related to the federal legislation. And I would imagine that the President, himself, will want to see what the possibilities are on the federal legislation because that would have a very direct impact on the Wisconsin case.
But the Wisconsin -- they continue to work through some of the Wisconsin issues and the President, in fact, earlier today, got an update from some of our welfare reform experts on where they are on considering the various waiver requests. This is a very technical set of issues because they have to look at the exact law and how it applies and it was all too complicated for me --
Q Is that why it took longer than 30 days?
MR. MCCURRY: It's taken some time because there are some thorny issues there and there was a lot of back and forth between the state. The state came in and modified some of its original labor requests. And this is, frankly, what frequently happens in these discussions because the welfare reform experts at Health and Human Services deal with the state officials and they negotiate back and forth and there are very often changes made. There were some changes in the combinations made in the states requests and they will continue to work through those issues.
Q Can we get a schedule?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Any other last things before I turn the podium over?
Q Just one thing please on the Helms-Burton that's due Tuesday. Where is the President right now and others? He's not ruling out the possible waiver, he's not saying --
MR. MCCURRY: I was pretty clear in saying he's got until Tuesday to act and he's got a number of options and I didn't suggest one or the other.
One last one, Paula.
Q The taxpayer bill of rights has been cleared for the President. Does he intend to sign that as soon as it's received?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with that. We'll have to check on that. I don't know.
You're on, Mary Ellen.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:30 P.M. EDT