THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
2:31 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: One addition to the President's schedule: Both Minority Leader Gephardt and Minority Leader Daschle are coming down this afternoon. The President wants to take an opportunity to meet with the Democratic leaders of Congress to talk about the schedule that might be underway on the Hill between now and the August recess. I expect them here around 2:45 p.m. for about an hour or so. Just so you'll know that they'll be down here.
Q Photo op?
MR. MCCURRY: No. They're just going to be down -- they come down from time to time, and they may wander by the stakeout afterwards. I'll ask of their staff if they're interested in doing that.
Is that it? Stunned into silence? Dina's question, by the way -- just so people understand, Dina was asking about letters that have gone to companies. Those are applicable to the Title IV elements of Helms Burton that deal with visa restrictions. That's not related to the right of action that accrues under Title III.
Q So there's only one company that's gotten this letter under --
MR. MCCURRY: One company has formally received notice, but I believe the State Department briefed -- and he can correct me if I'm wrong -- that they have a number of other companies that are under inquiry, although the State Department cannot identify those publicly. In some cases, individual companies stepped forward and identified themselves, which is what happened with the Sherrit Group, which is the only company that's been publicly identified.
Q The President's welfare executive order -- who comes -- does this hit a smaller slice of people than would be hit by obviously the federal law?
MR. MCCURRY: It would. The President's executive order today applies to those who are enrolled in the Job Opportunities and Basic Skills training program. That's a federal work skills program that helps ease the transition from welfare dependency to work. That applies to roughly 650,000 out of the estimated -- what -- 4.5 million, 4.6 million welfare dependent individuals in the country.
So it is a fraction of those who are currently enrolled in the welfare system, but a significant element because it brings into a national role in all 50 states the experiments that have been going on with the denial of benefits or time limits in 28 different states.
One thing that's interesting, though, this is by no means the entire universe of those who are currently participating in welfare reform. You've heard the President say very often that because of the 67 different waivers that have been granted in the total of 40 states, in one fashion or another, about three-quarters of the total AFDC population is participating in some form of welfare reform experiment at the local level.
Q Just to clarify something --
MR. MCCURRY: This is -- another way of describing it is this is one of the first efforts the President will make to take some of the results of these experiments at the state level and begin designing a national model, so that we can learn from the experiences we've had at the state level and begin instituting some of these practices nationally.
Now, that would be better done, all would agree, including the President, by federal welfare reform legislation. And as the President indicated today, this is a step he can take absent bipartisan welfare reform legislation. But we remain hopeful that that can be passed.
Q This is only for people who are already in jobs programs?
MR. MCCURRY: People in "the" JOBS program, the J-O-B-S program.
MR. REED: Can I just add one thing in answer to Anne's question. States currently have about 650,000 people in their JOBS programs. If states put everyone who could be eligible for jobs into their JOBS program, it would be about 60 percent of the adult caseload. And as Mike said, there's about 4.5 million adults on welfare.
Q This doesn't put them in, this just --
MR. REED: The states would -- that decision would still rest with the states.
Q Just the definition of the JOBS program again?
MR. REED: The JOBS program was established by the Family Support Act of 1988. It's capital JOBS. To this point it hasn't really been about jobs, it's been about training, education. This executive action today puts the focus clearly on work and requires JOBS participants to sign a personal responsibility contract in which they commit to working within two years of the time that they first receive assistance.
Q I'm just a little confused, but why not make all welfare recipients have to sign that two-year agreement?
MR. REED: Well, when we do executive actions we have to work within the framework of current law, and that is one reason why we've been pushing very hard for a national welfare reform bill that would give states the tools to effect the entire caseload, narrow the exemptions and put as many people as possible to work.
Q Does this take effect right away? What did the President mean when he said that this would not take effect if the Congress passes a national law?
MR. REED: Well, anytime the federal government makes a change like this there's a public comment period. I think in this case it's 60 days, and if welfare reform is enacted into law, that would supercede this action.
Q Mike or Bruce, if this is doable under the President's power and such a good idea, why didn't he do it two years ago or three years ago or the day he took office?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I indicated, Todd, this is beginning to take some of the experience that's developed as a result of these waivers, as a result of welfare reform experiments at the local level and beginning to cum up the national experience now. This is a result of the experiments that have been going on at the state level -- the confidence that we got that we can help make -- begin making that transition and making the requirement in the transition from welfare dependency to work.
Q So he's satisfied that those programs are working sort of effectively enough as pilots that he can now have essentially a national pilot?
MR. REED: And if you'd like, we have a list of the 28 states and a breakdown of which ones have work requirements, which ones have time limits, which are doing both, and so on.
Q Since the Republican leadership made its statement last week, they want to get you -- has there been one single contact with the White House to start working on that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, not one single, there have been several. There have been a lot of conversations back and forth between our legislative staff, our Hill staff. Mr. Panetta's been on the Hill talking to members directly himself. And again, we're doing everything we can as welfare reform legislation goes to both the Senate and the House to encourage those who have sought a sensible bipartisan approach to welfare reform consistent with some of the principles that the President has articulated -- not necessarily identical in every case -- specifically, the Breaux-Chafee group that the President has met with here before working in the Senate, the Castle-Tanner group that the President has met with here that's working in the House. We're encouraging people to kind of search for those bipartisan models that are there and use those to fine-tune and improve further the Republican legislation that's been offered.
Q Mike, Senator Dole, as you know, also spoke about welfare in his speech. And I just wondered -- just trying to figure out how you might define the differences right now between where Bob Dole is and where Bill Clinton is on welfare.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not familiar with Mr. Dole's position that directly because he's not really participating in the discussion anymore. When he was here in the Senate, when he served in the Senate he was very insistent on linking Medicaid reform to welfare reform. And I gather now that's no longer his position. He changed that at the end of last week.
But our work has been with those that are really going to be guiding this legislation through the House and the Senate and with the Republican leadership. I don't know that his views have changed; I don't know that he disputed anything in particular that the President said.
Q So maybe Bob Dole and Bill Clinton as President wouldn't have too different a view of welfare reform?
MR. MCCURRY: As near as I can tell, and you've heard me say this before, that the substantive elements of welfare reform are beginning to kind of coalesce around those things that people know will work: Work requirements, making sure we take care of kids so that the transition is easy on kids, the need for funding for child care opportunities for those who are going to need that and the other types of requirements that are reflected in these bills. I mean, there is a substantive consensus and I think we hope now, based on what we hear from the new Majority Leader, a political consensus as well.
Q May I change the subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Sure.
Q In The Washington Post story this morning on drug tests of employees, it says that some employees -- background checks have shown recent or extensive drug use. So the question is how do you get or retain a White House job with that in your background?
MR. MCCURRY: You have to pass a mandatory drug test before you're employed here, you have to test negative and you have to be subjected from time to time to random drug testing, continue to test negative. And in the case of a small fraction of individuals, you have to submit to a specialized program and continue to test negative. All of the individuals referenced in that article have continued to test negative. And when they've been given a drug test -- in fact, everybody who's been submitted to that test who has been appointed by the President in a political capacity since he came here in 1993 has passed those tests.
Q What's the crime event tomorrow?
Q Stay tuned?
MR. MCCURRY: We're going to look -- the President has found it very exciting working with some high-tech companies to empower neighborhood watch programs around the country. And he'll tell you more about it tomorrow.
Q Which he wants even more, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Of which he wants more and wants new volunteers to go out and help our local law enforcement effort to police communities.
Q -- Sandy with politics, but could you give a more direct response to Dole's criticism that the whole process by which the President came to the decision on Helms-Burton would seem to be kind of last minute and agonizing?
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe the way he does politics, but I can think of an infinitely superior political way to have made this decision. And I think everyone here can, too. If we are trying to curry favor with certain segments of the voters, he would have made a different type of decision. That's not the criteria that the President evaluated -- he evaluated the national interest and what would best promote democracy in Cuba. And he came up with a decision, obviously, that's not going to leave everyone happy. And we would acknowledge that. But I'd suggest that that's the opposite of what you would have done if you were just making the call solely on politics.
Q Mike, are you saying that domestic politics did not come up in the deliberations?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it comes up because -- I mean, it comes up and it, like many things, is often a factor in thinking. But what the President clearly had to do, required by law here, was to evaluate the national interest and what would expedite the transition to democracy in Cuba. That's what he was required to look at by law. Obviously, he's aware of what the political implications of the decision would be in either instance.
We also know that there are political implications for taking the risk of offending allies, which we no doubt have done in some measure through the decision today. But that's, you know, what you have to do if you're trying to make the right decision to try to adhere to the goals that have been set forth by the Congress and that the administration backs and believes in, in short, and if you're trying to do the right thing.
Q To follow up to the drug testing question, The Washington Post says that it was -- that this was set up at the request of the Secret Service which wanted more intensive monitoring of some employees whose background checks showed recent or extensive drug use.
MR. MCCURRY: It was set up, my understanding, in cooperation between the White House Legal Counsel's Office and the Secret Service to address concerns the Secret Service have. They can define for you what those concerns are.
Q Senator Shelby said he would have hearings by August on this issue.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I'm sure he'll have hearings, and we'll have hearings and subpoenas and we'll probably have special prosecutors and we'll do all the other things that they do when they're trying to make politics out of an issue. I think the key thing Senator Shelby should remember is that the drug testing program in place here at the White House is more stringent than the one that he and his staff lives with on Capitol Hill.
Q Is an announcement forthcoming in regards to the Trans-Pacific Cargo action in which Japanese airline service might be restricted?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the civil aviation stuff and they're doing that at USTR? Is that correct, or Commerce? I think you need to check at USTR on this. Our NSC staff will direct you since I'm giving mixed signals.
Q Back on Cuba quickly. Is there an exact date by which the President will have to renew the suspension or decide not to renew the suspension? He said six months. Is there an exact date?
MR. MCCURRY: The waiver provision of Title III allows for effectively the six-month delay. Technically, the right to sue would have opened on November 1st. It now would open, in effect, on February 1, 1997. That's the point at which the President would have to make a decision as to whether or not to leave the suspension in effect, waive it in respect to certain individuals, entities or companies or countries, conceivably. And that would be -- but that's the deadline. The deadline essentially will be February 1, 1997.
Q So until, like, midnight, February 1 -- similar to what we have?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Mike, since some allies, as you have said, are not too happy with this, will the President make some calls?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have, through diplomatic cable, notified people of the decision today. I'm sure our diplomats around the world will be instructed to follow up in our contacts. And we will assess what type of response we get from allies. I believe it would be accurate to say allies are in a preferential situation with this decision than they would have been had the President allowed Title III to go fully into effect. And we hope that they will recognize that fact. At the same time, they also will recognize that their economic entities face legal liability if they don't act now to join us in sending the right message to Fidel Castro. And we hope they will do so and do so promptly.
Q And a follow-up. How soon will he take to name the special envoy to start visiting all these capitals and speak on his behalf?
MR. MCCURRY: We actually added that element to give you an additional element in the story that you could pursue in coming days. So you can check and see. They are -- to my knowledge there is no single candidate, but it is a position the President did believe was warranted because we do want to coordinate the effort to have our allies focus on the question.
Q Is the President worried that the jittery stock market is going to detract from what he'd like to highlight as the progress on the deficit and the economy?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we just have to accept the fact that if the market is volatile, the market is volatile. The President will continue to do what he believes is right to build economic progress. And there's absolutely no question that the strong performance of the economy and then maybe what some investors deduce as the result of that strong performance might factor into the decision.
Look, for most Americans they look at the fundamentals -- 10 million more jobs; a deficit that has been cut well below the target figure the President set out, which is half; low rates of unemployment; low rates of inflation, as you saw today; and lower interest rates. And that is what most Americans encounter when they think about their own place in the economy. The market has to judge factors for itself on balance. As you know, the market -- what -- has gone from about 3,300 to 5,300 since the President has been President.
Q Mike, on Cuba, it was a big issue at the G-7. Was the President unable to win any commitment from the six other countries or Russia that they would play ball? Or did they ask -- did they say that they needed six months or so to comply and get their act together?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe it would be accurate to say the President forcefully delivered his message about our desire to see change in Cuba to his counterparts at the Industrialized Nations Summit. He made it very clear that we were serious about the applicability of Helms-Burton. And I would suggest that in some measure our willingness to now see if we can't work more cooperatively with other members of the world community over the next six months has something to do with the responses we've heard in the wake of some of the President's presentations in Lyon. We hope that this will work, and we wouldn't be taking this step if we didn't believe it would work, to induce others in the world community to join with us to bring about the kind of positive change we seek for Cuba.
Q Has Vice President Gore called President Clinton and told him about his meeting with President Yeltsin, his health --
MR. MCCURRY: I had not heard that he has checked in. Of course, the Vice President has been -- has briefed members of the news media. And we've been following reports about his meeting today closely, and we'll be following a more detailed account of his meeting we expect to receive shortly. I know the Vice President does intend to brief the President upon his return, but I have not heard that they've talked.
MR. JOHNSON: His staff has called in.
MR. MCCURRY: His staff has called in to give a more detailed report of some of the meetings that they've held.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:50 P.M. EDT