THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY BARRY TOIV
The Briefing Room
2:35 P.M. EDT
MR. TOIV: On this subject first, if I could just add one point on the idea of so-called dynamic scoring. As I recall, the government was shut down last year over the issue of CBO scoring. I think that if we move beyond that now, I think that would suggest that memories are a little bit short.
Any questions on any other subjects?
Q Can you clear up some confusion, because today the President was talking on this issue of paying for the travel office staff, et cetera, that happened out there. We went back and looked and apparently January 30 of 1996, McCurry did say that the President would sign the bill to cover legal expenses for Billy Dale. What's the real story here?
MR. TOIV: Well, as you know, the President and Mike as well have expressed very serious concern over the past several months about the employees here at the White House, many of whom are secretaries, entry-level people, who have incurred major legal expenses during this -- because of the numerous investigations that have been going on on Capitol Hill. And I think that frustration over that has been growing, frankly.
The President's position as he stated very clearly today is that we need to consider these other people as well if we are going to consider legislation of the kind that is under consideration on the Hill. I think it's fair to say that Mr. McCurry, in saying that the President would sign the bill, was perhaps a little bit forward-leaning in his description of the President's position. The President has said before, as he said today, that he will seriously consider that legislation. However, he believes that, in fairness, we do have to look at the other people who have been affected here. And that is -- when the bill comes to his desk, if and when the bill comes to his desk, he will seriously consider it with all those things in mind.
Q Who are these other people, Barry? Who are these other people that he's talking about that have been --
Q But aren't they political appointees? And why is that the same as the Travel Office staff?
MR. TOIV: There are people who work here at the White House and elsewhere who have come here to serve, who are not wealthy people, many of whom are, as I said, secretaries, entry-level people, who have incurred enormous legal expenses. Every time they have a new hearing, a new investigation, people get called down. And frankly, the bills add up. And the President --
Q Barry, who are these secretaries?
Q What entry-level person are we talking about?
Q Yes, what entry-level people?
Q Who are these secretaries?
Q Aren't they all political appointees?
MR. TOIV: I'm not going to name the people. But there are numerous people in offices here who have been called to testify not necessarily publicly -- sometimes publicly, sometimes not -- to answer questions about one thing or another. These people have not been accused of wrongdoing. And the President is deeply concerned about the costs that they have incurred.
Q Does the President's concern also extend to the senior White House staffers who have been called to testify and who we know about publicly -- people on the level of, say, Harold Ickes or someone like that?
MR. TOIV: His concern extends to everybody who has had to incur very large legal bills and have not been accused of any crime.
Q But the difference is that those people weren't fired, Barry, and the White House Travel Office staffers were fired. Does the White House see a distinction there?
MR. TOIV: Well, the President, as you know, has already expressed his sorrow over the troubles that Billy Dale and his family have experienced during this. He did that, and I think all of you have heard that.
Q Barry, if Mike McCurry was ahead of the President on this legislation, why was nothing ever said about it after he answered that question on January 30? That notion has been repeatedly --
MR. TOIV: That's a good question.
Q -- has been repeatedly asked. It's been the basis of questions asked since then. It has been implicit in answers given from this podium and elsewhere. There's never been any question of this. The President apparently has been nursing this anger about this wrong position all this time. Why didn't somebody fix it?
MR. TOIV: Well, first of all, I spoke with Mr. McCurry today, and, as a matter of fact, he did have a conversation with the President last week, which is, I believe, what the President was referring to today. And I think that had Mr. McCurry had the opportunity, I think that he would have moved back a little bit from the position that he took.
Q The opportunity -- he stands where you stand every day. What do you mean the opportunity?
MR. TOIV: No, I understand that.
Q You mean if he'd been asked again, he would have been prepared to answer it differently?
Q He has been asked again.
Q Wait a minute here --
MR. TOIV: No, no, no, I'm not talking since -- if I could -- let me clarify. I'm not at all certain that the President was aware that Mike expressed that point of view back then so --
Q It was a front-page story.
MR. TOIV: -- so directly, but --
Q Do you know what the occasion of the President's conversation with Mike was last week? Did the President -- did he say, by the way, if it comes up, you should know that I --
MR. TOIV: No, I think that there's been growing frustration over this issue and over the concerns about people here. I do not know if -- I do not know what prompted the President to have that conversation last week.
Q Could I just follow up? When you talk about the President's concern of the bills of the other people here, does that extend to wishing to see a private bill on the Hill to do something about those people and that he would hope perhaps to consider the whole thing as part of a nexus or a linkage or --
MR. TOIV: I think he believes that people should be treated fairly, and that these people are in similar circumstances.
Q Has the President asked any Democrats --
Q What about Todd's question? Would he like a private bill to cover all of these affected people, to roll all of this together?
MR. TOIV: I think he would like people to be treated the same.
Q Had the President asked any Democrats to introduce legislation that would reimburse other White House employees who he thinks have been treated similarly?
MR. TOIV: I already answered that.
Q Excuse me, Barry, isn't there already legislation on the books that at some point if, when all the dust is settled, the smoke is cleared, whatever, that these people have an opportunity to come back to the government?
MR. TOIV: I'm going to have to --
Q Only if you're a target.
MR. TOIV: Only if you're a target.
Q Barry, the bill that would reimburse Dale, it's apparently being held up by Senators Biden, Reid, and Levin, all Democrats. Does the President want them to continue to hold this legislation until the White House people can be brought into it as well, or would he -- what is his position?
MR. TOIV: I think what the President -- as I said before, I think the President wants everybody to be treated fairly and equally.
Q Well, what does that mean?
Q That's very ambiguous.
Q What does that mean?
Q That's a nice mantra to keep repeating, but the fact is, what does the President want them to do? What's the concrete action that needs to be taken?
Q Well, why don't you just answer Gene's question --does he want them to hold the bill?
MR. TOIV: I think that if fees are going to be reimbursed for some people in these situations, then the President believes that there should be some consideration of doing the same for others who are in this situation.
Q Does that extend to the President and Mrs. Clinton, who have amassed quite a sizable legal fee?
MR. TOIV: No, it does not.
Q Barry, when you talked with Mike, how did you get -- can you explain how one gets a little bit forward? You folks don't make or up or guess at what the President's position is when you're asked what does the President think. I'm not clear at how one could -- how this mistake could happen.
MR. TOIV: Well, I think that in talking about this, Mike has also discussed the issue of these other employees and their legal fees. And I think that in expressing that he also stated this position of the President. And again, I think that he believes that he leaned too far forward on that.
Q Why would he have leaned too far forward? What would have given him the idea that that was the President's position?
MR. TOIV: I think that that was -- that's something that he did because he thought that that was the right way to state it.
Q But did he have a conversation with the President, where the President said, yes, I'll sign the bill?
MR. TOIV: No, I don't believe so.
Q So he was actually making it up?
MR. TOIV: I believe that -- at least not that I'm aware of. I believe he had a conversation with the President in which the President spoke -- the President has spoken about this issue and spoken of the other employees who have faced these legal costs. And the President said that he would certainly consider this legislation. And again, Mike feels that he leaned a little forward on that, and that's the answer.
Q I just wanted to follow up John's question. Does that mean that at the time, based on the conversations he'd had with the President in the beginning of the year, the tenor of those conversations and the train of the President's thinking, that Mike deduced from that that the President would sign the bill without ever having had the President explicitly say that?
MR. TOIV: I think Mike, in doing this, in part was making an effort to encourage the Hill to provide this kind of assistance to others as well.
Q -- in January, Barry, that's only been now.
MR. TOIV: No, they've been an issue for quite a long time.
Q This is the first time we've ever heard about this linked to this particular bill. We've never heard anybody link --
MR. TOIV: Well, the President has certainly spoken in the past of this concern.
Q Not to us he hasn't.
Q In other words, has the President's thinking on this changed, Barry?
MR. TOIV: I have the President's press conference of January 11th here where he said, "I feel a lot worse about all the innocent people who work here who don't make particularly high salaries and don't have the net worth that they brought here who had to hire lawyers and pay legal fees, too, who are completely innocent of any wrongdoing."
Q Yes, but that's not linked to the question of the Travel Office being reimbursed.
Q But the question had nothing to do -- the question that he was answering had nothing to do with the Travel Office.
MR. TOIV: I understand that, but he has expressed this concern in the past and he's expressed it privately as well.
Q But what you're saying is that Mike's comments were an effort to try to link these two things.
MR. TOIV: He has over the past several months grown increasingly concerned and increasingly frustrated that as these individuals' legal bills have piled up because of the nonstop hearings and investigations being held on Capitol Hill, there's no sign of them stopping, they seem to want to continue this ad infinitum, as long as they can, and that is clearly a problem that has bothered the President. And I think that his views on that have grown stronger as time has gone on.
Q Can you explain what besides the fact that they owe legal fees is the link between the Travel Office employees and administration employees who owe big legal fees? I mean, besides that, what could possibly link them together?
MR. TOIV: The link is that they're involved in the same investigations that are going on.
Q But the Travel Office people were all fired from their jobs. One was tried and acquitted. The others --
Q Had their reputations ruined.
Q -- had their reputations tarnished. It's not quite the same thing, or it wouldn't appear.
MR. TOIV: I think it's fair to say that many of the people who work here have experienced -- have had to go up and under the TV lights under very difficult circumstances. And I don't believe that their reputations have been tarnished, but some may feel that way. I believe that they have -- again, they have incurred very substantial legal costs.
Q Well, Barry, is it fair to say then that the President's thinking has changed on this?
MR. TOIV: He has grown increasingly concerned about these other employees. I think that has made him more and more inclined to believe that this kind of legislation should treat everybody fairly.
Q But he signed similar legislation before. In '94 he signed legislation which approved $150,000 to go to the other six. So the precedent is there. And these people had paraded up before these various committees, too, and he didn't express this concern.
MR. TOIV: I think I've expressed the growing concern of the President about this issue.
Q Barry, is the President referring to low-level secretarial type employees or is he also referring to people like Maggie Williams and Lisa Caputo?
MR. TOIV: I haven't spoken with him to find out exactly where he would want to focus his attention in that respect, but clearly, his greatest concern is with those who are lower-level employees, but also those whose expenses are well beyond any means they have of paying them.
Q If I could just follow. You've referred now -- made this sound like you're concerned mostly about low-level secretarial type employees and you're refusing to tell us their names. How many people fall in that category that have incurred significant legal expenses?
MR. TOIV: I don't know the number.
Q You won't give us either the names or a number of the people about whom the President has such great concern?
MR. TOIV: I think he's concerned there are a good number of people here. I don't have an exact number for you, Susan.
Q Barry, has he thought about ways that he could help defray some of these costs. I mean, starting a fund, contributing money of his own, agreeing that when he gets out of office he'll pay them. Certainly, there's something other than legislation that could help defray some of these costs.
MR. TOIV: To be perfectly honest with you, I don't know the answer to that question.
Q Barry, one way to deal with legislation is to actually put money on the line, a sort of calculation of how much legal costs are involved here. Have you tried to make an estimate?
MR. TOIV: I haven't and I don't know if we have made that effort at this point.
Q So did the President, I guess, feel he went too far today, though, in the session this morning, because he felt the need to apologize in person to one of the reporters?
MR. TOIV: Well, I think he -- his concern, I think, was that there would be -- that the incorrect impression would be given that his concern and anger about this issue was directed at reporters, and that is not the case.
Q Does he intend to apologize to both reporters who were involved in the questioning?
MR. TOIV: I do not know the answer to that question. I believe an effort was made to contact everybody.
Q Can I get the question of this growing frustration of the President which prompted this discussion on the phone between Mike and the President? If he was so concerned and he wanted Mike to get the word out, then why now a week later, when you were asked the same question this morning twice, twice you said that the President would sign it and you made no linkage between the legal fees of the White House people --
MR. TOIV: I think you can account for that by my being rather new in the Press Office. I did not know.
Q Has the President -- I forget Gene's question, I guess was the President still asking -- did the President want these senators to release their hold on the bill? Has the President asked senators to remonstrate over this issue, or members of Congress, or has he otherwise communicated his feelings about the relative merits of both these cases and his view that they should be linked somehow? In other words has the President communicated with members of Congress that he doesn't want any action taken on this, as has been reported in the press?
MR. TOIV: Yes, I understand what you're asking, and I don't know if he has communicated his views to members of Congress on that.
Q He has now --
MR. TOIV: He certainly has now.
Q What about Leon?
MR. TOIV: Has Leon? I don't know.
Q So this is now the White House position -- you want to see these issues linked in a piece of legislation, and that would be acceptable?
MR. TOIV: Our position that people ought to be treated equally and fairly.
Q Which way do you want it to go? Do you want the White House employees reimbursed, or do you just want to make sure that you've denied Billy Dale?
MR. TOIV: I think that I'll repeat the answer, that whatever the Congress decides, people ought to be treated fairly and equally.
Q Barry, twice this morning the President suggested that Billy Dale had offered to plead guilty. In that same famous January 30th briefing, Mike said repeatedly that the President thought it was improper for people like Bennett and Ann Lewis to have suggested that Billy Dale had offered to plead. He said, the President finds some statements that have been made objectionable and things that are not proper to be discussed. I am referring specifically to comments on plea bargaining. Can you explain why the President twice today did something that he considers objectionable and inappropriate in regard to Billy Dale?
MR. TOIV: I would say that his continuing concern and frustration about this issue led him to express his views in a tone that, again, he would not have wanted to be misunderstood as expressing that anger towards you. And as far as the specifics of what he said, I have not had a conversation with him as far as that goes.
Q Wait a minute, Barry. Excuse me, if I could just follow up. I mean, the very things the President said today are what Mike said in January the President found objectionable. Does the President now consider it acceptable to improperly suggest that Billy Dale offered a plea bargain?
MR. TOIV: I don't know how the President feels about that.
Q Barry, correct me -- did you indicate that this concern came to a head sometime last week? Is that what you said?
MR. TOIV: No. Well, the President had a conversation with Mike last week.
Q Okay. What prompted that conversation?
MR. TOIV: I don't know.
Q Well, I mean, have people been coming to the President or other White House aides, saying, look, I can't pay my bills, I have to quit, I have to do something else?
MS. GLYNN: There was a Jack Anderson column last week.
Q Oh, okay.
MR. TOIV: Mary Ellen reminds me that there was a Jack Anderson column last week in which this issue was discussed.
Q And so then the two of them got together based on --
MR. TOIV: That's right.
Q Barry, do you know, finally, when you talk about the President's growing frustration over this and his regret expressed at the tone he took this morning, was he frustrated about any other things in the last 24 hours? Did he have other things on his mind?
MR. TOIV: Not that I'm aware of.
Q Barry, could you take the question as to whether or not the President or senior White House staffers have been encouraging Democrats in the Senate to block this bill from going forward?
MR. TOIV: Sure.
Q Thank you.
Q Barry, could you also take the question -- if there were to be a private bill, it would have to, like this bill, include names and amounts. Could you also take the question of whether the White House is prepared to supply names and amounts of other people who would have to be reimbursed?
MR. TOIV: I'd be happy to take that question.
Q Anything on the District, the call by Norton again yesterday and Kemp and Gingrich to provide the District a special tax rate?
MR. TOIV: Well, you're not changing the subject, are you, Paul?
Q To local issues.
MR. TOIV: The administration has been very concerned about the issues and problems in the District, and we have gone -- a number of federal agencies have gone out of their way to try and help with those specific problems. And that -- so this is an ongoing concern. We are looking at specific measures that can be taken to address the District's problems. We're not prepared to move forward on those at this point. But it is certainly --
Q -- tax proposals or the flat tax or something like that?
MR. TOIV: Well, as the Chief of Staff expressed last weekend, we don't think that that's the best approach. But, as he also said, we are willing to consider targeted approaches, and that's what's being looked at.
Q On another subject, Senator Moynihan said on the floor today, on the welfare reform bill, arguing against it, he said, "The current batch in the White House, now visibly assuring us that they were against this legislation all along, are simply lying, albeit they probably don't know when they are lying. They have only the flimsiest grasp of social reality, anything doable and equally undoable, as, for example, the horror of this legislation." Any comment on this blast at the White House?
MR. TOIV: I think the President expressed his feelings yesterday about Senator Moynihan better than certainly I could. He respects his views a great deal; does not agree with him on this issue.
Q Barry, what's happening on the terrorism legislation talks?
MR. TOIV: The Chief of Staff was on the Hill earlier today. They're making very good progress on a legislative package that could be passed by the end of this week. I think you all have some of the elements of that package. The two issues that need to be worked on a little bit more and are being worked on right now by a smaller group have to do with taggants and roving wiretaps. The roving wiretap issue there is an effort to provide privacy protections but at the same time, in doing that, not to intimidate law enforcement into not being able to make use of the provision. And, so, that's something that's going on now.
On the taggant issue, there are some on the Hill who want to, as you know -- what they agreed to yesterday was a study, a separate study on taggants specifically for black powder and smokeless powder. There are some on the Hill who would like to go further in this legislation and move to the possibility of promulgating regulations to require the use of taggants in those substances.
Obviously, that's a position that the administration has supported, but in terms of this legislation, what they had agreed to last night was the study. And so they're trying to work that all out right now on the Hill.
Q It's already in law?
Q Is this a new study?
MR. TOIV: This is a separate study. What they agreed to last night was a study that would not lead to directly to, or in any way, at least in the legislation, to regulations, whereas the other could lead to regulations, although, let me remind people that the regulations would have to be reviewed by the Congress and could not go into effect without them having a substantial review period.
Q But the other study has not even been funded. How about funding this one? Has funding of this new one been agreed to?
MR. TOIV: I think that's it's unclear whether the specific funding will be in this legislation. However, the administration is confident that we can carry out -- that we will be able to carry out that study, assuming the legislation does authorize it.
Q So it could also be six months, the new one, the black powder one?
MR. TOIV: I don't know the length of it. I don't know if that's been resolved.
Q So what is the next step on this now? If they're meeting in these smaller groups, how long do they meet, will there be --
MR. TOIV: Mr. Panetta plans on returning to the Hill this afternoon. The time I heard was 3:30 p.m. And he hopes that it can be resolved so they can move this legislation forward, time being short.
Q Barry, the President's vacation is quickly approaching. What bills does he actually plan to sign into law before he leaves for California and then Wyoming?
MR. TOIV: Well, I'm not sure I can give you a complete list, but certainly he is looking forward to -- and to tell you the truth, I don't have specific dates for most of these bill signings. And I suppose I can't promise it they'll be before he heads to California or where or when they'll take place. However, there is welfare reform, obviously. And also, he's very much looking forward to the Congress passing the Kassebaum-Kennedy health reform bill, which is long overdue and which he's especially proud of because that legislation wouldn't be where it is today if he had not prodded action on it in his State of the Union. Another one is obviously the minimum wage legislation, which we have worked very hard on, and we're very pleased that the Congress is going to move it forward. We also -- before the end of the week probably, he will sign into law the pesticide reform legislation, the bipartisan bill on that. And presumably, there will be others as well.
Q So when these bills that you just name hit his desk before he goes on vacation, he'll knock them all out and sign them all?
MR. TOIV: Well, he will sign them within the appropriate time. Where and when I don't want to -- I don't know that we have scheduled it per se. But I doubt that he's going to want to be signing bills while he's on vacation.
Q Barry, what's up for tomorrow? You talked earlier about a possible event.
MR. TOIV: Yes, I don't have any more on that for you. I don't have any more yet.
Q Barry, on English only, he will veto it?
MR. TOIV: Yes. As you're probably aware, numerous Cabinet officers have already said in the statement that we sent up to the Hill that they would recommend to the President that he veto that bill. And I think it's fair to say that he would be inclined to accept that recommendation.
Q Barry, back to welfare for a second. The Reverend Jesse Jackson and NOW President Patricia Ireland protested or they led a small protest outside the White House today. The Reverend Jackson suggested there could be some kind of recourse at the Convention, but he also demanded a meeting with the President before he signs the legislation. Is there any chance of that happening?
MR. TOIV: I don't know. I had not heard of Reverend Jackson's statement. I think the President said yesterday that he knew that a number of Democrats would disagree with his decision, for a long time had disagreed with him on this issue. And he understands their views. He does disagree though.
QQ Just to follow up to that, is it now known whether or not he consulted with the First Lady who has allies like --
MR. TOIV: I don't know.
Q I would just like to follow up on the question that was asked earlier which we didn't get an answer to. That is in 1992 President Clinton said his administration would create 8.5 million new jobs. Ten million new jobs were created. Do you have a forecast if he's reelected? And if you don't, why not? (Laughter.)
MR. TOIV: I think that the previous speakers have spoken in the past about our projections for the economy over the next several years. Whether those projections provide for a specific number of jobs, I don't know. We do have projections as far as economic growth, the rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation et cetera. I have not seen any projections of -- it's a dangerous task, anyway, predicting -- 1992 we predicted 8 million new jobs and we were way off. (Laughter.)
Any other questions?
Q Yes. How do you like your new job so far? (Laughter.)
MR. TOIV: I appreciate your concern, Mark.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:06 P.M. EDT