THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:21 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you, Elaine; thank you, Jack.
Any other topics? Hearing none --
MR. MCCURRY: Iraq.
Q What are we doing lately?
MR. MCCURRY: We are continuing to successfully fly no-fly zone enforcement missions over the newly expanded no-fly zone. Remember that that is now the price that Saddam Hussein pays each and every days for his miscalculations in recent weeks.
Q What is that price?
MR. MCCURRY: A significantly restricted strategic ability to threaten both his own people and his neighbors.
Q Do you have any information on Turkish fighting in the Kurdish area of Northern Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information on fighting. We have had contact with the government of Turkey and they've indicated their desire to establish a security perimeter consistent with our own territorial boundary; and to deal with a problem that has been ongoing one that they have addressed, which is the threat they perceive from terrorist activities based in Northern Iraq.
We have indicated to them that we recognize that they have a terrorism problem, but any steps that they should take should be limited in scope and duration and not call into question the territorial integrity of Iraq.
Q Well, have they given you a time limit? Why do you have a double standard if the Turks can do what the Iraqis cannot do?
MR. MCCURRY: No that's -- the Turks are taking, have taken in the past and are taking steps to combat terrorism. We recognize that they do face a threat from terrorist activity that is based in Northern Iraq. That is in no way, shape or form identical to or parallel to the provocations of Saddam Hussein.
Q How do you know that? How long -- I mean, we haven't been given a time limit on the --
MR. MCCURRY: We've had discussions with the government of Turkey on that subject.
Q Can I change the subject?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Securities bill, apparently it's being held up at OMB right now, because they'd like to lower the transaction cost?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check into it, don't know anything about it.
Q Prime Minister Netanyahu was giving a read out for his traveling press. Is there going to be a White House read out on the meeting with the Prime Minister?
MR. MCCURRY: We will provide a read out here of some fashion after his meeting. The Prime Minister has also met, as you know, already today with the Secretary of State; and I believe he's met with Secretary Perry, as well -- is that correct? So there are some other meetings that he's having. But at the conclusion of his meeting with the President we'll give you some sense of subjects covered.
Q Do you expect any news out of the President's helicopter tour of the flood damage? Will he land back and tell us what kind of --
MR. MCCURRY: He will -- my understanding is upon return here at the White House, he'll make a short statement. He will be briefed as he tours the flood damage by James Lee Witt, the FEMA Director; and also by Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt. So he'll get a sense of what it's like.
Q What states is he --
MR. MCCURRY: If I'm not mistaken -- correct me if anyone knows differently -- they're going to go up to Harper's Ferry so they'll have a chance to see some of the damage along the Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia borders. And then they will also go down and see some of the flood damage here in the Washington metropolitan area, Georgetown, specifically, and Alexandria, Virginia.
Q Is he going to announce any aid package or disaster relief or anything of that sort?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not aware that we have done that. He's made disaster declarations for Virginia and for North Carolina already, as you know, and that entitles those states to certain disaster relief mechanisms and assistance. And we also are working with other states in affected local communities if they submit any additional requests for assistance.
Q Touchy as the subject is and much as you would like to avoid it, did Dick Morris know anything about the files?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what Dick Morris knows or pretends to know. But I know that the First Lady has made it very clear that she had no involvement in the FBI files.
Q The Post says this morning that Mr. Morris is going to tell Mr. Clinger's committee, or give some documents or something. Whatever he gives them, is he going to give you a copy?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any confirmation that he's going to do that. You should ask him.
Q Can you also straighten out, did you or didn't you guys know about the book?
MR. MCCURRY: To my knowledge, no one at the White House was aware that he had a contract for a book, signed with an individual publisher.
Q Also, back to the flood, is the President concerned at all about the C & O Canal and its destruction in the last flood and this one? Is there anything that he might be doing, since that's a federal park, to divert some money there to fix it?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, as you know, they were able, after the January flooding because of the snowstorm damage during the winter, they assembled federal resources to help rebuild the towpath and the park along the towpath. It is really of great concern to the President that those efforts at reconstructing that towpath now may be in jeopardy because of this flood damage. We put together a very impressive federal and local effort to rebuild that C & O Canal towpath in the winter, and the President and the Secretary of the Interior are determined to make sure that they complete that project, regardless of what damage has now been done by this flooding.
Q Does the President or anyone in the White House have any comment on Susan McDougal being sentenced to jail today?
MR. MCCURRY: No comment.
Q No comment at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes.
Q Does the White House think it's appropriate that Representative Clinger's committee, on the basis of what a supermarket tabloid or two, is reporting, quoting the alleged prostitute, should now call Morris to provide a sworn deposition in connection with the FBI file story?
MR. MCCURRY: Anyone who is of reasonable mind would have had to long ago conclude that the political efforts being made by this chairman and this committee are based more in partisanship than in a desire to seek the truth. I don't know if you seek the truth in supermarket tabloids.
Q Why is the President not going to North Carolina? Was there any thought given to going to North Carolina?
MR. MCCURRY: There was some thought. James Lee Witt was there, met with the Governor, surveyed disaster damage because of the effects of Hurricane Fran, that work is ongoing. The judgment made by the FEMA Director, in consultation with the Governor and the recommendation of the Governor, too, was that they go ahead and work on their disaster and emergency relief efforts now. Obviously, any time the President and a long, large entourage visits, that detracts from local efforts. That's one of the advantages that the President has today in just touring the affected flood damage by helicopter, so he doesn't drain any resources from local efforts that are underway.
The President obviously will continue to follow very carefully the federal efforts related to cleanup in North Carolina, and we wouldn't certainly rule out a trip at some point. There's nothing planned at this point.
Q Earlier this summer, the D.C. Circuit struck down the President's use of executive authority on striker replacement contracting. And I think Justice today is going to petition the Supreme Court for review. Can you say whether if the President is unsuccessful through the Justice Department in this avenue whether, in a second term, he would try to legislate changes in the national labor relations --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you know his strong support of measures that deal with the striker replacement issue. We're not making judgments about what he would pursue in a second term, and he has a consistent record of being very concerned about the use of striker replacements that would very well be a subject that he would pursue, as he did with his executive order in a second term if he is given one by the American people.
Q Is he concerned that the D.C. Circuit was trying to clip his wings with regard to use of executive authority?
MR. MCCURRY: The President is fully confident that his executive order met the test of law. It's an issue that he looked at very carefully.
Q Legislation for expanding family leave, do you have the timing on that, and would the administration like to see that as stand-alone legislation or attached to one of the appropriation bills to get it done?
MR. MCCURRY: When the President and the Vice President unveiled the President's desire to kind of go the next step on Family and Medical Leave, when they met in Nashville in June, he indicated they would like to see legislative action taken by Congress. Now, the political reality, given that the President's opponent in the Presidential campaign is against the Family and Medical Leave act, period, the likelihood is that it would be impossible to get action in this session of Congress. We will have the legislative specifics ready to go by the end of this session. If we detect any momentum for passage we certainly would move very quickly to put that before this session of Congress. But the reality most likely is that we will have to present that to the next session of Congress if the President is reelected, and make it a very high priority.
The President, again, this is a way in which families can balance out their requirements of being successful at work, and at the same time meeting their responsibilities at home as they raise families. And the President considers that general subject one that he would focus on intently in a second term.
Q Mike, let me ask a follow up question to this. The expansion of that would include the federal requirement that employers would have to give parents time off to attend PTA meetings. Well, I don't know anybody --
MR. MCCURRY: Not PTA meeting, parent-teacher conferences. It gives them the option of exercising a leave, taking leave in order to attend parent-teacher conferences at school. Not PTA meetings, that was not the suggestion the President made.
Q Okay. I withdraw my question.
Q If I could follow up on that that. Does the administration have any empirical evidence that parents cannot take off time to attend? I mean, are you setting up a straw man here?
MR. MCCURRY: Parents can -- I mean, look, any parent knows that you're very severely crimped in the amount of time that you get both for a variety a family needs -- for vacation time, for taking care of a medical emergency in the family. What we're trying to do is make it easier for parents to meet their obligations as parents, to take care of not only a situation at school where you're having a conference with a teacher but also if you've got a kid who's sick and who needs treatment.
It's a way of giving flexibility both to the employer and the employee so they can more successfully balance the requirements of working and raising a family, which is one of the critical concerns that they have as they try to raise families successfully.
Q I understand that, Mike, but is there any evidence that parents are not now allowed to take off? Has the administration come up with any evidence that they can't do it now?
MR. MCCURRY: Many parents have to work under situations where their ability to get time off for an emergency situation is severely cramped. Sometimes it's difficult to just get leave time automatically from an employer. This makes it easier for the employee and gives flexibility also to the employer.
Q There is legislation out there, I think by Ballenger, that does address this issue to some degree. Why isn't the administration --
MR. MCCURRY: Because we have concerns about other aspects of that legislation as it relates to so-called compensatory time.
Q Mike, how do you enforce it if it ever gets to that stage?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a Fair Labor Standards Act amendment enforceable by the Department of Labor.
Q Bob Dole has put out a two sentence statement on Iraq. I don't know if you've seen it. But if you haven't, I'll be happy to read it to you and wonder if you'd react to it.
"The reports of" -- this is a quote -- "The reports of continued strife and killings in Northern Iraq to include executions of U.S.-backed Iraqi opposition personnel, the apparent entrenchment of Iraqi troops around Irbil, and the lack of evidence of an Iraqi withdrawal from the north raise questions about whether the administration's strategy has advanced U.S. interests in the region. In Iraq, as in Bosnia, the Clinton administration should be careful about making claims of success that events on the ground may not substantiate, and about giving assurances that it is unable or unwilling to fulfill because the credibility of the United States is at stake."
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the former Senator is, unfortunately, attempting to make politics out of an international crisis that the President, as Commander-in-Chief is dealing with and dealing with effectively. What the President indicated is that our punishment for Saddam Hussein's behavior is associated with the establishment of the no-fly zone in the south, and that has been successfully established. There's no question of that. We've been able to fly missions over that expanded no-fly zone. And that is exacting a price from Saddam Hussein for the behavior that he is now responsible for.
The President never suggested that we were directly responding to incursions in the north with action aimed at the north. You all know that. So, Mr. Dole, I think, has misread the situation.
Q But the former Senator Dole is not the only one who has raised this kind of criticism over the weekend. It's been all over the newspapers.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, that's right. There are -- over the weekend, there were various people suggesting that the military response should have been much more severe, even though that would likely have put additional strain on the international coalition that is together in facing this latest provocative behavior by Saddam Hussein. There were some who suggested we should dispatch ground troops to evict the Iraqi forces from northern Iraq.
Those are not options that the President considered as he developed what we believed was a strategic response, punitive response, to Saddam Hussein's behavior consistent with U.S. national security interests in the region.
Q Mike, the President meets the Irish Prime Minister, John Bruton, this evening on the day that the peace talks in Northern Ireland get underway again. What's the White House assessment of the prospects for success or failure of those talks given the pessimistic soundings from Belfast?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we always choose to be optimistic because the President has firmly in mind the wishes of the people of Northern Ireland, who themselves have been so steadfast in their desire for peace and their desire for a process that can bring reconciliation to that very troubled land.
And the President understands that there are a great deal of complexity and difficulty associated with this peace process, but he will do all that he can to encourage all the parties involved to make progress in these talks.
Q Mike, yesterday, the people of Okinawa voted overwhelmingly against the continued U.S. military presence on the island. Does this compromise the U.S. bases on Okinawa and the wider U.S.-Japan security relationship?
MR. MCCURRY: It does not. Remember, we had very effective dialogue with the government of Japan when the President visited Japan in April. And the President at that time pledged to return to the people of Okinawa 20 percent of the land now used by the U.S. military there. We've been working together with the Japanese government to do that, while maintaining our commitment and readiness to ensure the peace and security of both the region and the people of Japan.
The non-binding referendum that was held over the weekend, I think it's safe to say, did not measure up to the expectations of some of those who promoted it. But it did affirm a lot of the work that we have been doing through the Special Action Committee on Okinawa which we established back in November of last year to pursue exactly these sensitivities and concerns related to our basing in Okinawa and the legitimate concerns of the people of Okinawa.
Q Mike, what is the genesis of the Netanyahu meeting today? Was this long-scheduled? Did he ask for it? Did you guys ask for it?
MR. MCCURRY: The Prime Minister is here for a scheduled visit with the Conference of Presidents -- that is the conference of major Jewish organization presidents. And as Israeli Prime Ministers often do when they're here in the United States on a private visit and they take the opportunity to have a working visit with the President of the United States to exchange views and to review issues of bilateral concern. Certainly the President looks forward to that opportunity with the Prime Minister.
Q Does the President have any theme for this coming campaign trip to the West?
MR. MCCURRY: A number of them.
Q Anything he's going to focus on?
MR. MCCURRY: He will be -- he will continue to build that bridge to the future as he launches off over the next several days. We're going to be talking specifically about the future of the welfare system in America tomorrow. As he travels to Kansas City he has an opportunity to address the Southern Governors Association. He'll be talking in some detail on welfare reform and how we can make welfare reform a reality and a success.
Q By changing it, amending it?
MR. MCCURRY: On Wednesday he will be out in Colorado and will be talking about ways in which we can improve the effectiveness of drug treatment, especially for those who are currently in incarceration. And then on Thursday we'll be talking about education.
So, again, major themes that the President identified in his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention: how do we reform welfare as we know it and move to the next level of activity, how do we invest in education to grow our economy for the 21st century, how do we protect our kids and our communities from the ravages of drugs -- three central issues that he will be bringing before the American people this fall.
Q Is he going to try to make news on any of these ingredients policy-wise?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Q Like Florida? No, seriously.
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. We'll try to have a nugget of news each day to keep you interested.
Q On welfare? He's going to have --
MR. MCCURRY: On welfare, on education and on combatting drugs.
Q Mike, with regard to President Yeltsin's upcoming surgery, do you know if any U.S. specialists are going to be involved in that, or has any offer been made by the U.S. side to have --
MR. MCCURRY: The Russian government and President Yeltsin himself have expressed a great deal of confidence in the medical care available to President Yeltsin. Obviously, the United States government, if we were in a position to help and had any request for help, we'd be more than willing to do what we can to lend assistance. But that would be a request that the Russian Federation and/or the Office of the President of Russia would make to us.
Q Last week, the President announced that some health care quality commission -- do you anticipate him somewhere between now and November announcing some sort of commission to look into the long-term solvency problems of Medicare?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't suspect that, because the President has addressed that repeatedly. He suggests that on Medicare solvency and pushing out the solvency of the Medicare Trust Fund, the best thing that we can do immediately is to pass his FY '97 budget proposal that would create the savings within Medicare that would enhance the long-term or the near-term solvency of the Fund.
With respect to both the Social Security and Medicare trust funds, the President has said that the issue of entitlement spending is one that the next president, whoever the next president is, will have to wrestle with; but in the context of a political campaign and the super-charged environment that we are in now, it's not likely to be a subject upon which you could make a great deal of progress.
The President has suggested that's going to require a bipartisan common sense discussion, and that's one that the next president will most likely lead.
Q Mike, can I come back to Fran's flooding? Glickman is in Carolina talking about crop damage and payments to farmers. Do you think that will happen in Maryland or Virginia and West Virginia?
MR. MCCURRY: I would need to check with some others around here. I think we will be sensitive to the requests that we get from local jurisdictions and from governors as we assess the damage from the storm and from the flooding that's resulted from the storm.
Q That's standard stuff, right?
Q Mike, on drugs, the Washington Post reported yesterday that the Mexicanization of the war on drugs has been a mistake of the Clinton administration. My question is, if some U.S. officials are concerned with the Mexican politics and drugs, why in every public event would the Mexican official, the Clinton administration support the war on drugs that President Zedillo never says we have concerns on this issue?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have expressed our satisfaction that we are enjoying good bilateral cooperation from the government of President Zedillo in combating drug trafficking.
I'd make one point about this, remember there was a lot of criticism of the President in January of 1995 when he launched an economic assistance package for Mexico. Now, not only has that package worked, in that the government of Mexico has been able to recover stability, it has repaid the amounts borrowed -- in fact, U.S. taxpayers made money on that economic assistance package -- but it's also created a better working environment between our governments as we deal with other problems -- whether it's immigration, whether it's environmental protection, whether it's combating drugs coming into the United States -- we enjoy a great deal of cooperation, bilaterally, from the government of Mexico as we address our common concerns.
Q One more question on Morris. You said that you didn't know about the book. Does the President have any concerns about it? I mean, does he feel a sense of betrayal?
MR. MCCURRY: The book, to my knowledge, has not been written, nor does anyone here at the White House know what is in it.
Q Is anyone in contact with him?
MR. MCCURRY: He has some contact with officials from our campaign that he is in the process of, you know, ending up his relationship. He's had some contact with officials over there. But, again, I'd stress we don't know and nor do I believe that you know what kind of book it's going to be.
Q But we do know from experience that it's rare that people get $2 million promised for a book on political theory?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, maybe it will be an exceptionally good book on political theory. (Laughter.)
Q Has anybody from the campaign or the White House sought some kind of assurances from Morris as to what may or may not be in the book, specifically --
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard of any conversations of that nature, but I'd want to check with each and every one of my colleagues before I answer that categorically. Nothing has been brought to my attention that would indicate there had been any conversation of that nature.
Q Has the President asked other members of the staff, or has Leon, for assurances that they are not writing kiss-and-tell books during this --
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard the President make that request or ask that question, no.
Q Generally, Mike, on the Morris issue, it seems like his attempt now to turn his folly into fortune has made him something of a loose cannon. Isn't there a concern about Morris's very public activity during the course of the election campaign? He seems to have loyalty to his own agenda rather than --
MR. MCCURRY: I really don't have any comment I would want to make on that.
Q Despite what you say is the partisan nature of Clinger's request to reopen this FBI file matter, do you think Morris should cooperate with Clinger?
MR. MCCURRY: We have always taken the view that people ought to cooperate.
Q Mike, can't you tell us what the President feels about all of this?
MR. MCCURRY: I've answered that question I think last week several times. I don't have any reason to change the answer.
Q Mike, is the White House confident that the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty will be approved at the UN and is the President planning on making a speech at the General Assembly on the 24th?
MR. MCCURRY: Have we announced that we're going up to New York for the General Assembly session on the 24th? We haven't announced that yet. No, we haven't announced that yet. (Laughter.)
The President applauds the government of Australia, which intends, if our understanding is correct, to bring before the General Assembly issues related to a Comprehensive Test Ban. It is a key foreign policy goal of this administration, working with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council, to achieve a Comprehensive Test Ban. And we will be working, without revealing our strategy, within the United Nations to achieve our goals.
Q Mike, how does that unannounced trip impact the potential for a 25th debate in St. Louis?
MR. MCCURRY: It makes that complicated, I would imagine. But to my knowledge, the Presidential Commission on Debates has not yet met to finalize the schedule. My understanding from our campaign associates is that Mr. Kantor will be having a meeting with Governor Campbell -- former Governor Campbell on Thursday at the Commission headquarters so they can begin to start working through some of the issues related to the debates and the scheduling of the debates.
Q So you would like to put it off a week or however it would work? You don't want to have them back to back?
MR. MCCURRY: I won't be doing the negotiating, but I imagine there will be a fair amount of negotiating that will go into questions like that.
Q Who is going to play Dole?
MR. MCCURRY: Who is going to be -- play Dole? Ichabod Crane. I don't know. We'll see. (Laughter.)
Q Are you saying that the candidate is headless? (Laughter.)
Q You're blushing.
MR. MCCURRY: Having once played Dan Quayle in one of these things, it's not an honor one would actively seek.
Q Did you win or lose?
MR. MCCURRY: I did better than the real thing.
Q Did you raise the Kennedy question?
Q I knew Dan Quayle, and you're no Dan Quayle.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay, thank you. See you all. See you all next week.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 1:47 P.M. EDT