THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:35 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Sorry for that momentary delay and for the larger delay. So much news here at the White House these days, it's just hard to keep track of it all sometimes. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I assume you all have what you need.
Q The fact that so many of the Democratic leadership -- none of the Democratic leadership was -- attended the signing ceremony today, was that a source of embarrassment to the President, especially some of his best friends claim that this is a bad day for the President?
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, as you well know, on this subject Democrats were split right down the middle, some for, some against. We concentrated the invitations to the signing ceremony today to those who largely support the type of bipartisan approach taken in this welfare reform bill and we didn't put any of our leaders or their leaders in the position of extending invitations that we knew would be difficult to accept. We concentrated on those who we worked through during the course of the welfare reform debate, and we're delighted that a bipartisan group was here.
Q Representative Clay Shaw wrote a letter to the President saying that the administration is trying to sneak through some waivers that would dilute the impact of this legislation, this new law. Do you have a response to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the response -- I believe you got a very good response from Secretary Shalala on that. She is the head of the agency that issues the waivers, made it very clear that she is proceeding with those welfare reform experiments that are consistent with this law in which there are not issues that are in conflict or are impeded by passage of this welfare reform law. But the goal in every case is the same -- when we have done welfare reform experiments now in 43 states, the goal has been to make this transition from welfare dependency to work real, to make sure that we protect kids in the process. That's why we've got 1.6 million fewer people on the welfare rolls now than when the President took office.
That's why child support enforcement is up 40 percent. That's why we are saving money for taxpayers because of the success of the experiments that are occurring. And it is all part of the process that the President said begins today as we can watch a major national effort to reform welfare as we know it. So these steps, these waivers are consistent with the intent of this law, consistent with the thrust of what the President has been doing now for three and a half years.
Q What makes the President believe that with the signing of this bill, welfare is no longer a political issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Because the President, if you follow his point -- and I thought he was very eloquent on this point -- for years, we've heard politicians denigrate people who are on welfare and talk about waste, fraud and abuse and talk about abuses in the system.
We have now reformed welfare as we know it, and indeed it was a system that was flawed, and we now have the opportunity, through the structure of the reforms that are put in place and will be put in place as we implement this bill, to lift up those who are poor, give them encouragement to enter into the work situations that are now required of them, to make sure that their kids are protected through the enhancements we've made in child care.
And the President's hope is that Republican and Democrat alike can work together to make the new welfare system that we will have in the 21st century a successful one, being what welfare should be -- a temporary means of supporting those who are indigent and not a permanent condition, with a culture that surrounds that condition of dependency that affects communities, that destroys lives. And that's the reason why we are reforming welfare to begin with.
Q Mike, you heard the President basically challenge business leaders to put people who have been on welfare, to find jobs for them. Other than issuing that challenge, is the President planning any initiatives that would make that easier for them to do?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he has proposed, as you know already, in his FY'97 budget the work opportunity tax credit that would actually provide tax credits to those who take people who are on welfare programs and put them into work situations. So it is an incentive, a positive incentive for individual employers to hire people who are currently receiving some form of income maintenance, whether it's food stamps or AFDC. So we've actually got a proposal already. We're looking at ways in which we can add to not only that proposal, but to other things that would stimulate a response in the private sector, because that's where the response, by and large, has to come from.
This President has now created over 10 million new jobs, but those jobs have to be available in areas where there are high concentrations of welfare dependents if we're to make this welfare reform experiment work. And that, we acknowledge, is an important task and it's one of the things that you could tell from the President today he was excited about doing, and confident that we could achieve.
Q If the President gets reelected, will he propose changes to the nutritional and the legal immigration side of the welfare bill?
MR. MCCURRY: He's already indicated that he will seek the necessary legislative remedies on those two provisions. And, of course, if he is reelected, that would be part of what we would work with Congress to address.
Q Mike, Congressman Shaw was particularly vehement on the subject on the waiver for the District. How does a 10-year extension fit in with the intent of this bill?
MR. MCCURRY: I've got an answer that's been provided to me by the Department of Health and Human Services, but if I'm not mistaken, did not Secretary Shalala address that point directly? I think she was very good on that point. She said it's fully consistent with the law, with the needs of the District and with our goal of reforming welfare to proceed with the waiver that she's approved.
Q Pat Ireland, the head of NOW, was out there with the demonstrators a little while ago, several hundred of them, and she said that she wasn't going to lift a finger to help the reelection of the Clinton-Gore ticket. The reactions like that on the part of organized labor -- is this a temporary kind of a problem, or do you see it as more long-term?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be up to those organizations. But the President needs to move ahead. He campaigned 1992 saying that we would reform welfare as we know it. Today he signed legislation which, while certainly not perfect, is legislation that can achieve that goal if all who care about kids, who care about the poor, work together to make sure that this legislation is a success.
If the President has to live without the support of the National Organization of Women in the coming election, he'll just have to pay that price. What he will certainly do is reach out to everyone who has got commitments to those who are poor, to distressed urban areas, who care about kids, and say to them if he i s indeed reelected, let's set aside our disagreements of the past, let's work now to make sure that we effectively implement the law of the land.
Q Mike, recognizing that the D.C. waiver may well fall under the -- may be allowed by the bill, does it not set the wrong tone, does it not send the wrong message to basically waive the work requirement for 10 years here in the Nation's Capitol?
MR. MCCURRY: We have now done, I think, 70-plus waivers that are all consistent with the goal of reforming welfare, of making sure that states have got some flexibility, since this is now a challenge to the states to help effectively implement this law -- and we consider for this purpose D.C. as a state -- and it is incumbent on all of us who look at the regulatory aspects here to make sure that states, as they face their individual circumstances, as they develop the terms of compliance with this law, and as they pursue the welfare reform experiments that are already underway, make sure that they are following the intent of the law that the President has now signed. And the Secretary's judgment on that point is as she indicated to you earlier.
Q But in previous waivers, in the waivers that you pointed out over the past year or two in defending your position on welfare, those have generally been things that involve perhaps more restrictions, more rigorous attempts to get people to work. This appears to be just the opposite.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, look, I'm not as familiar with the terms of the D.C. waiver as the Secretary who you talked to earlier. But as she said, or I believe she said, taking into account the needs of the District, making sure that they have got a program that will work effectively here in the District to reform welfare is part of the implementation of this act. And they have responsibilities under law to assure that everyone complies.
There are other aspects of this legislation that certainly will have to be complied with. There will certainly have to be the same kind of effort here in the District to create jobs that will be available to welfare dependents as there are in other economically distressed urban areas around the country. But she can authoritatively tell you how legally that waiver fits within the requirements of current law and how it matches the intent of the new law.
Q Is OMB any closer to finishing its review of the tobacco issue, and what can we expect tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: It's getting very close, and don't go home early tomorrow.
Q Do you think there will be some announcement tomorrow on tobacco?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's entirely possible, yes.
Q On what's going to happen tomorrow, how do you respond to Republican charges that this is a well-timed political effort to deflect attention away from the teen drug report that came out this week?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, unlike the previous President who I think made an effort at one point to hide statistics about the rise in drug use among young people, this President very openly disclosed this information. The timing of the release of the HHS statistics -- I believe it's an annual report -- you can ask them about their timing of their report. I can tell you the discussion of the tobacco issue and how the regulatory process would proceed once we got the final rule draft from the FDA has been under discussion here for quite some time, and our thinking about this issue has been set for quite some time.
Q So this is neither delayed nor hurried to coincide with the convention or anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: We can't hurry a regulatory process that has to be meticulous and by the book, and that's what OMB has underway right now.
Q How do you respond to those who are trying to set up this link between the teen drug use report and this thing? Somebody like Senator Faircloth, who said that the President would be better off spending more time working on teen drug use than telling NASCAR drivers how to paint their cars.
MR. MCCURRY: What we do is say, we care about the health of kids, and the health of kids can be ruined by addictive behavior of any number of sorts -- alcohol abuse, illegal substance abuse, tobacco addiction. And the President has worked, I would suggest strenuously, to address all of those, and there are disagreements within the scientific community of how related some of these problems are, but the President sees them as each an individual challenge that require his personal leadership.
He's offered that on drug abuse among young people. He will continue to offer that. We will continue to have at the top of our list of priorities as the National Drug Control Strategy, a determined effort to reduce substance abuse among minors.
Q When you say that OMB's just about done its process, what is it they're doing? Can you describe the mechanism a little bit?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's what OIRA does is they review proposed regulations for many agencies, and they can tell you about it. They do a standard analysis of regulations that are required, fulfilling their mandate as the final executive clearance, final point of clearance within the Executive Branch before a new federal regulation is issued.
Q Have they indicated what might be unfinished because of its difficulty or --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not at liberty, I believe by law, not at liberty to discuss the content of any final rule until it is published in the register, until it's presented to the register for public issue.
Q There's a little bit of confusion on whether there's an executive order that we're talking about tomorrow, or we're not talking about an executive order.
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge. This is a standard regulatory process by which OMB then clears back to the agency a proposed final rule, the rule then is submitted to the Federal Register for publication and once it's submitted it becomes available for inspection. Obviously, though, on a matter of this importance and one that affects so many lives, the President would be directly involved in the final decision to move ahead with the rule.
Q That was my other question. Advertising groups and even some tobacco critics say that this rule-making of the FDA, when the FDA comes down with it, it's going to be caught in court for a number of years. Why go this way as opposed to trying to do something more immediate?
MR. MCCURRY: If you remember back to August 10th of 1995 and the discussion we've had of this rule since the time when the President announced the proposed rule, he has said over and over and over again, it would be far preferable in his opinion to move now, instantly, to protect kids from tobacco addiction. He suggested two things. To the Congress he suggested, why don't you pass in statutory language a health care policy that will implement the types of restrictions on access and appeal of this product to minors that I think are necessary to protect the health of children. Then we don't have to go into an FDA regulatory mode because we would have the authority of federal law to do what I think is necessary to protect children.
He suggested to the private sector, to the industry, why don't you voluntarily come forward with a program with the very specific needs that we have now identified and that the FDA has proposed in this rule. And, indeed, at least one company did come forward with a voluntary program which, while insufficient, at least might have been some way in which we could have proceeded without direct federal regulation.
But those efforts didn't pan out, there was not either in legislation or in voluntary efforts by the industry action that met the test the President required when he said we're going to have to reduce tobacco use by 50 percent over the next seven years among young people, among minors, and failing to have either voluntary or statutory achievements like that, the President knew that they would have to go into a regulatory mode, which is where we are now.
Q How does he know that this rule is going to reduce smoking among teens 50 percent?
MR. MCCURRY: In response to his directive and the goal that he announced, the FDA proposed a rule with a series of things that they suggest are going to be sufficient to meet that objective as you recall from the President's remarks last August and from the statements by Dr. Kessler.
Q Mike, the question, though, was, a number of these parts of rules, a number of parts of the rules here are going to be challenged legally. They're going to be in court for a number of years. There are other things that could have been done that -- I mean, they could have raised cigarette taxes, you could have done other things that wouldn't have been open to such a challenge. Why go this approach?
MR. MCCURRY: Because of what I just suggested. The FDA, in its proposed rule, said these are the sets of measures that we believe will best accomplish the health care objective that the President has identified -- reducing tobacco addiction among young people. Did we know, in fact, that they would likely be litigation? Of course. In fact, the President publicly said he would wish for something that would avoid that type of litigation and delay and that could instead lead to immediate implementation of the types of measures he believes are necessary to protect kids.
And he suggested that, he met with members of Congress on that subject. Indeed, there was, I'd say, a fair amount of work to see if they couldn't come up with something sufficient to do the job. But, remember, we have to do the job the President has identified, which is to protect children from the addictive properties of the drug nicotine.
Q Does he think a Democratic Congress would have made any difference -- in other words, if next year he gets a Democratic Congress, would he propose legislation, or does he think that it's not possible either way?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I think it's obvious, given the opposition to the President's action that is emerging from the Republican Party and from the Republican presidential campaign, it is quite obvious that this will be an issue that will be before the American people this fall, and that might, in fact, be instructive to the newly-elected Congress next year; we will see.
Q Are you able to describe what the nature of the President's direct involvement in the OMB review is?
MR. MCCURRY: He's not suggested he is directly involved in the review. The review is talking place, as it always does, with experts at OMB. But, given the importance and the nature of this decision, it will be presented -- the final analysis of the OMB will be presented to the President prior to any final decision to move forward with a final rule.
Q And the mechanics are that once the President indicates his acceptance, or approval of that --
MR. MCCURRY: OMB would forward to the Federal Register for publication the rule and I would expect at that point that we would announce it almost immediately thereafter.
Q And the rule takes effect, theoretically takes effect once it's published in the Register as being a final rule?
MR. MCCURRY: I can't discuss the content of the rule, but it will have an effective date in it.
Q But I mean, mechanically, does whatever provisions are in the final rule take effect as soon as they're published in the Register, or is there a delay?
MR. MCCURRY: The effective date will be identified -- as with any final rule the effective date is specified in the rule itself, and you know what the effective date was in the proposed rule.
Q What time is he announcing it tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know. For guidance purposes, we are holding some time on the President's calendar for 1:30 p.m. tomorrow in case -- (laughter) -- there's something that he has to share with all of you tomorrow.
Q Here's a question you might have to feed through the "way back" machine. Where exactly was Clinton during the August '68 convention? Was he watching it on TV? Was he --
MR. MCCURRY: The President of the United States in the summer of 1968 was a young man, was bound for Oxford. He left, of course, later that fall for Oxford on his Rhodes Scholarship. And he tells me that he was with his future father-in-law, Jeff Dwyer, who was Virginia Kelley's third husband --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, stepfather. Stepfather. And they were -- then young Bill Clinton was actually in a hotel in Shreveport, Louisiana. That summer he was working with Jeff Dwyer, with his future stepfather, doing some work in some kind of housing endeavor that they had. They were doing -- I don't know whether it was construction. I didn't get that. But, anyhow, he was working with his future father-in-law for the summer. They had some business in Shreveport, Louisiana, that week, and he spent the week watching the convention alone in a motel room --
MR. MCCURRY: -- in Shreveport, Louisiana. I guess he was with -- on and off with his future stepfather.
Q Does he remember his --
MR. MCCURRY: He remembers his -- of course, he had a very avid interest in politics, followed the convention pretty closely, as I gather Mr. Dwyer chose not to. And he recalls being very sad about what was happening to the delegates and to the city and to the Democratic Party. A little history there.
Q Mike, can I get back to tobacco for one second? Does the administration have any explicit policy about supporting the export of cigarettes and tobacco products to foreign countries through Commerce and other departments?
MR. MCCURRY: The Commerce Department and USTR have from time to time addressed that issue. We believe two things: one, that a legal product manufactured in the United States should be available in international commerce to those who wish to purchase it, but secondly, we also respect the health care policies of other countries that may wish to -- like we are considering -- restrict in some way the accessibility or the advertisability or somehow or other restrict the commerce of a product based on health care needs. We would respect health care policies of other countries while insisting on free and fair trade for a product that is a legal product.
Q So the government, through the Commerce Department, would still offer export assistance to U.S. tobacco companies to export their product?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I don't know whether in fact they do that now. I'm more familiar with cases in which we have, through trade law, worked to enforce U.S. trade law and assure that foreign markets are open.
Q Will you confirm or respond to a report asserting with the retiring Israeli Ambassador to Washington that Jim Baker took part in a secret round of shuttle diplomacy to try to restart peace talks with Syria?
MR. MCCURRY: Currently?
Q This is something he would have done last year.
MR. MCCURRY: I am now aware of anything of that nature, but I should check on that. And I'd also suggest you check at the State Department.
Q What is the President's response, not getting invited to the big Al Smith Catholic dinner in New York; and will Mr. Gore go instead?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I've only seen a wire service account on that and I don't know that he was not invited. I believe that the Vice President was invited, but I suggest you check it. The annual Al Smith dinner is a political dinner and our campaign may be able to give you more information.
Q Do you know if Mr. Gore is planning on going?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't. I'd suggest you check over at the campaign office.
Q Any response from Yeltsin?
MR. MCCURRY: We have not had a direct response to the President's communication but, of course, he has been active today in Moscow and has now been seen on television pursuing a variety of commentary on issues within Russia.
Q Is the sale of M-16s to Indonesia going to be delayed or cancelled because of the recent human rights --
MR. MCCURRY: We have interest in proceeding with that sale, but I believe the details are still being discussed between the State Department and both affected agencies within the government, and also with the government of Indonesia. And we do not see F-16 as a piece of military equipment directly related to concerns that we have consistently expressed to the government of Indonesia about human rights.
Q This fall a contingent of Marines is going to Haiti, I think 50 or some. Is that going to be a permanent thing, short visit?
MR. MCCURRY: They are there in support of an engineering mission, and the Defense Department has already indicated that is part of a routine rotation of personnel related to the engineering mission that's there.
Q You have not gotten any request from President Preval on --
MR. MCCURRY: None that I'm aware of. And the details on that particular unit -- they've already talked about over at the Pentagon today.
Q Anything more on the plane down off of southern Maryland coast, the F-18 Marine Corp plane?
MR. MCCURRY: I think they've got search and rescue in progress, but the Pentagon is providing details.
Q Do you have any information on FBI files -- on the request by Anthony Marceca's boss to get FBI files from him, eight months after he left the White House? Anything on that?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything on that.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 2:00 P.M. EDT