THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Ontario, California) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release September 12, 1996
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY AND JOE LOCKHART
The Filing Center Morris E. Dailey Elementary School Fresno, California
10:45 A.M. PDT
MR. MCCURRY: Other subjects.
MR. MCCURRY: Iraq. Just an update. The President got a situation report from Captain Dohse this morning, our NSC representative on the trip. Mr. Panetta also had fairly lengthy conversation with Deputy National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, and briefed the President on that conversation. Other than that, you're aware of what the President had to say last night. Dr. Perry has said some additional things today, and that's all being reported.
Q How do you judge the behavior of the Iraqis this morning? They made some threatening statement about Kuwait and claimed they had fired missiles.
MR. MCCURRY: As has just been said at the State Department moments ago, the statement by Mr. Aziz reflects the danger that Iraq continues to pose in that region and demonstrates the need for determined international presence in that region to curb Saddam Hussein's provocative behavior.
Q Mike, has the President been in touch with any of the allies or any of the international working group in the last day or so on this whole issue?
MR. MCCURRY: We've had extensive contact with our coalition partners. That's occurred in a variety of diplomatic channels. The President has not, himself, had conversations.
Q There's a report quoting administration officials that the U.S. is considering an airlift of the Kurdish dissidents in the north. Can you --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have any information on that.
Q Mike, today Baker and Powell were really critical of the President's policy, once again saying he hasn't defined it, et cetera. You probably saw it -- what do you say?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've seen some of those comments and I would note that in some sense they were supportive of the actions that the President has already taken. The President has been very clear about the strategic objectives we're pursuing through the expanded no-fly zone in the south and the enforcement of the no-fly zone in the north. And beyond that, the President is confident that this is a prudent, measured course of action. And it is incumbent upon those who challenge that course of action to specify what steps they would take. I don't believe either of those two testifying today did that.
Q Mike, do you also see with these statements by the Iraqis, specifically about Kuwait -- I mean, it does seem a little reminiscent of what was going on a few years ago. Is there a perceived increased threat to Kuwait from Iraq?
MR. MCCURRY: The United States has been concerned and remains concerned about the threat that Iraq poses in the region. And Tariq Aziz's statement demonstrates there is ample reason for that concern.
Q Mike, the F-1-17s haven't arrived yet. In fact, I'm not sure they've left the United States. Is it going slow, the getting the military hardware there? Is the President --
MR. MCCURRY: I really have to refer you to the Pentagon on that because they will tell you how they move aircraft around.
Q Mike, can you tell us a little bit about how the diplomatic discussions with the allies have been going and whether some countries such as France that weren't so supportive of the initial action have come a little further now that they've seen the behavior of the Iraqis?
MR. MCCURRY: There have been a variety of discussions including those Secretary Christopher had during his just-concluded trip to Europe. And the important fact to note is that both Britain and France continue to fly enforcement missions for the no-fly zone and we continue to have support and assistance from governments in the region, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Q Last week the President declared mission accomplished. In light of what we're seeing this week was that statement a little hasty?
MR. MCCURRY: That question was asked and answered last night; I refer you to my transcript from last night.
Q What was the answer?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the answer is that the mission that the President defined, which was the expanded no-fly zone, is a success. It's being enforced, it was established, and we are in a position to take action to protect our pilots and to continue enforcement of that zone.
Q Mike, I wonder if you'd elaborate on something you said earlier -- extensive contact with coalition partners -- which partners, what sort of contact, who's doing it, what's being said?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I can't detail all of that, but I'll refer you to the briefing that's underway right now at the State Department where they've walked through some of that. We remain in close contact with those in the region and with our other coalition partners as we address the threat that Saddam Hussein imposes.
Q Support all the way around? Is it uniform?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to speak for other governments. They have to speak publicly for themselves.
Q Can you say today that the level of support is any higher than it was two weeks ago?
MR. MCCURRY: If you measure the public comments by governments with whom we work on this matter, you could note some more positive response to some of the steps we're taking, yes.
Q Mike, after the Secretary's remarks yesterday about the disproportionate response, and the President's later remarks last night about being careful about talking about war, is there an attempt to sort of cool the rhetoric now and to get away from some of the speculation that we're talking about some sort of an all-out bombing campaign, hitting Baghdad --
MR. MCCURRY: You noticed.
Q And I don't know what Secretary Perry said today, but is he -- did he follow some sort of directive to sort of cool his jets?
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary Perry today said that we're in a position, just as the President indicated last night, to take necessary and appropriate steps to protect our pilots and to continue enforcement of the no-fly zone.
Q Has the President reacted at all to the perceived criticism of his Iraqi policy -- the Kemp comments and the comments by Baker, Powell?
MR. MCCURRY: No. I made -- I had a comment last night myself on it that reflects the thinking of the White House.
Q Mike, there were some pretty strong statements -- this is not Iraq-connected -- but by Ken Khachigian here in California saying that the President violated public trust, lied to America about tax cuts, affronts the standards of character and integrity, et cetera. Very strong personal comments. Have you had a chance to peruse those?
MR. MCCURRY: He sounded a little unhinged to me, but given that's in the realm of politics I will turn it over to Mr. Lockhart.
Q Were you surprised at the -- I mean, that was a pretty vicious thing.
MR. LOCKHART: I think we indicated last week, probably in Florida, that we expected that the campaign might turn negative and nasty fairly quickly. And I think we saw a good bit of that this morning in the statement. We believe that the contrast between the two campaigns couldn't be clearer today. The President was out there talking about issues, talking about education, the economy. And the Dole representatives were talking about insults, which is exactly what the President has indicated this campaign shouldn't go -- shouldn't go to.
I think the real question is not -- nobody should give much thought to Ken Khachigian or what I say or anything; this comes down to where Bob Dole is. And I think he needs to send a pretty clear message whether he thinks this is an acceptable way to campaign or whether he thinks that his only advisor was out of line. And I think it's an appropriate question for him.
Q Do you say that you're just not going to put out stuff like that?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I think -- our campaign is going to be about the issues, about drawing clear distinctions on issues, whether they be education, the economy, family medical leave. We don't think there's really a place for gratuitous personal attacks.
Q Ken Khachigian's language -- he raises a point that the President's tax cuts expire four or five years legislatively as they're set out, whereas his revenue increases do not. Is it not a valid point to raise, that the revenue increasing measures, revenue enhancements are permanent, whereas the tax cuts have to be renewed by Congress in four or five years? Is that not a valid point to raise?
MR. LOCKHART: To tell you the truth, I haven't seen that study. I just saw a brief mention of it in one of the papers this morning, so I really need to get a look at it.
MR. MCCURRY: Gene Sperling, one of the President's advisors on economic matters, if any of you have got a spare hour of time -- (laughter) -- would be happy to take a call from you.
Q Mike, this is not a hard concept to understand.
MR. MCCURRY: It's not a hard concept to understand the President's fiscal 1987 budget submission or his balanced budget plan, or the fact that the Congressional Budget Office has certified that it reaches balance. And the elements of that plan are well-known. We dispute some of the calculations that have been made by the Republican economists who have looked at this plan, and there are lots of things in that study about assumptions over the overall growth of the economy, the rates of inflation. The important thing is there's ample substance and detail in the President's plan with which the American people can judge for themselves whether it will continue and sustain the strong economic performance we've seen.
The real question is where is Mr. Dole's specifics on his plan? Where is his -- how can he demonstrate that he can simultaneously provide the American people the tax cut that he proposes and still reach the goal of a balanced budget? There's been no demonstration by him that his proposal can accomplish that, where as Mr. Clinton's plan, the President's plan, is in the eyes of the Congressional Budget Office one that would balance the budget.
Q Mike, Dole has ratcheted up the call for the President's medical records by personally calling for them this time, instead of having his surrogates do it. Do you have any new response to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I discussed that issue at some length with all of you in Little Rock some time ago, and we can get that transcript for you. This White House has provided detailed information about the President's annual physical checkup. We've made his doctors available when they have conducted routine medical procedures, as we just did last week. The President, when he ran for office in 1992, released detailed medical summaries which I believe in looking at them are more extensive than the material that Mr. Dole himself has released. And I think it just demonstrates the paucity of ideas in his campaign that he's attempting to raise a non-issue.
Q But still no medical records, right?
MR. MCCURRY: Medical records are -- a qualified physician would tell you medical records include charts, data that come from tests that are conducted. What the American public needs is valid, qualified interpretation of that medical data, and that's what we provide to you in the making doctors available, making detailed information about the President's medical exam available. And we're happy and do take questions related to that, and affirmatively provide you information about the President's medical condition.
He went through a routine, minor surgery just recently, and we trotted out the dermatologist who did the procedure, the President's personal physician to answer your questions. I think that we have been well beyond satisfactory in meeting our obligation to keep the American public informed.
Q Is your rationale invasion of privacy?
MR. MCCURRY: Our rationale is -- if you want to --there's an interesting article in the October 1995 Journal of --New England Medical Journal that talks about the obligation doctors have to protect physician-patient confidentiality, and specifically in the context of what information ought to be provided by the doctors who attend to the President of the United States. And there is a balance between providing accurate qualified analysis of medical tests and fulfilling the public's right to know. I think we've struck the right balance in the case of this President, providing more detailed information than it is my understanding from talking to the medical unit people, more detailed information than was provided about the medical condition of President Clinton's two immediate predecessors.
Q Then why not just release the records so that they can't say that you're trying to hide something?
MR. MCCURRY: Because medical records to an unqualified layperson are virtually meaningless. Bob Dole himself hasn't released his medical records. He's released analyses and summaries of those medical records by his doctors. We've done exactly the same thing. In fact, it is arguable that we've presented more information to the American people about the President's condition than has Mr. Dole. In fact, there's one newspaper here in this room right now that's been trying to get specific test results from Mr. Dole that Mr. Dole is withholding.
Q Mike, the Republicans basically are saying there is something that the President or his staff want to withhold -- there is -- can you say that again?
MR. MCCURRY: There is not. We have provided you information, access to his doctors, test results. But let's be clear what's going on here. This man has nothing else left to base a campaign for President than an issue that he's attempting to manufacture here in the face of facts that speak contrary to the tests that we have met, which is to provide accurate, up-to-date information affirmatively about the President's health condition.
Q So there's nothing in any of these medical records that a normal person might consider embarrassing to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I wouldn't say that. I mean, there are -- if you've had a physical recently you've got -- anyone who gets an annual physical has a variety of tests performed and some of those tests relate to -- I mean, some of those tests need to be summarized by a qualified physician so that they demonstrate accurate information about the condition of the patient.
But there are tests -- all of us undergo tests that I'm not sure that any of us would want to have spread out and printed on the front page of the newspaper.
Q But only a few of us are running for President, Mike.
Q But like what -- what tests?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's why there has to be a balance in the type of information that's provided and it has to be characterized properly by physicians who are in a position to interpret the date for laypeople.
Q But, Mike, can you characterize a test that you think would be embarrassing? I mean, what sort of test result do you think would be embarrassing to release? I can't think of one. I'm asking you to --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'm not going to do that and provide you the satisfaction. But just think for a minute.
Q I don't get it -- sorry.
Q We can imagine a few, but what --
MR. MCCURRY: I'll explain it to you later.
Q Actually, a transmitted disease is --
Q Yes. Does he have a sexually transmitted disease? I mean, what is --
MR. MCCURRY: Good God, do you really want to ask that question?
Q No, I'm just asking what is embarrassing.
MR. MCCURRY: If he had -- we have an obligation to report on the President's medical condition. The President, we reported to you after his May 24th physical exam, is in excellent overall health. That's an astonishing question to have just been posed here at the White House.
Q Well, you're raising the question there's something embarrassing.
Q And, ultimately, Mike, in this confidentiality pact between the patient and the doctor, it's the patient's call. So has the President specifically --
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's not entirely true. There are within the medical profession there are very strict professional ethical rules about the disclosure of information related to a patient and obligations that attend to the physician. They do relate directly to the desire and wishes of the patient to have information made available, that's true.
Q Has the President specifically stated that he does not want his medical records released?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President has said, tell them what they need to know, which is what we have done.
Q But that's not the same thing, Mike. You know that's not the same thing. Has the President said, do not release these medical records?
MR. MCCURRY: No, absolutely not. He said, make sure that you provide accurate, timely information about my health condition because the public has a right to know that information. And that's what we have done. And we've done so in a way that I think meets our obligations to keep the American people informed and also protects the dignity of the office of the President, which I think is also an important concern.
Q The astonishing question, did you answer that, or say that it's inappropriate to be asked?
MR. MCCURRY: I said that if there had been -- if there was anything related to a disease or health condition the President had it would have been accurately and timely reported to you.
Q So you're saying that he's in perfect health and there's nothing that the public --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I did not say that. The President's physician on May 24th after an annual physical exam said he is in excellent overall health. We made that information available, made the test results available that demonstrated that to the satisfaction of the American people.
Q So, Mike, what you're saying is if there were --
Q And there's nothing in the records that, if they were to be released, would be considered politically damaging to the President?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's "records," -- quote, unquote -- were released in 1992 when he ran for office. Now, records -- we released summaries of those records by the qualified physicians that attended to then Governor Clinton so that people could have an accurate profile of his health. And we have then annually provided, I think, more than ample information that brings people up to date upon conclusion of his annual exam.
Q Mike, just to clarify then --
Q Mike, you are saying the President does not now have and has not since he entered the White House, been treated for a sexually transmitted disease?
MR. MCCURRY: Boy, I tell you, I'm astonished you're asking that question --
Q I don't want to.
MR. MCCURRY: -- but it's obvious that he has not because that would have been reported at the time that he had his annual medical exam, or alternatively, we would have affirmatively provided you that information.
Q So you're saying, Mike, again just to clarify, that if he had any type of disease it would have been in those reports?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that the White House has an obligation to affirmatively provide information on the President's medical condition.
Q Then what level of privacy are you trying to protect? If you're saying you would have volunteered this kind of information, and yet you're also holding that there is a level of privacy which must be protected, what is the distinction?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't get the question. What's --
Q The question is, you're saying that you would have voluntarily reported something as serious as a sexually transmitted disease if it had --
MR. MCCURRY: We reported to you when the President had an ingrown pimple.
Q Exactly. So what is the distinction between that --
MR. MCCURRY: So, obviously, if the President had some -- if he had a disease or a condition that he was treating we'd have an obligation to report that.
Q So, given that, what level of privacy is it that you are trying to protect?
MR. MCCURRY: There's, frankly, very little left in terms of privacy given the material that we've provided. But there is an obligation on the part of the White House to make available information that the public can use to judge what the President's health condition is. Now, if any of you are familiar with medical data that might be in a chart or a file that a physician would keep you wouldn't be able to make heads or tails out of it. That's why you need a physician to interpret that data, which is what we do.
Q So it would be embarrassing to release those charts?
MR. MCCURRY: It would not be, but it would be meaningless to anyone who saw them.
Q But you said before there's always things embarrassing in a report. Are those things --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm saying that there are certain -- gees, you guys are beating a dead horse here. There are types of tests
that you get conducted on you when you have a routine physical exam that, you know, all you need to know is that the result came out normal. And that's what we've said.
Q Is this a matter of principle, that you think you're doing what's appropriate and you're not going to be stampeded into doing something else because Dole is calling for it?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that's right. Look, we've demonstrated to you that we've found a proper balance between protecting the physician-patient confidentiality and also affirmatively providing information about the President's health. And we' have an obligation to do that. And we've gone well beyond what prior White Houses have done providing that kind of information.
Q Mike, in what form did the President release his medical information in 1992? Did he provide documents, papers and --
MR. MCCURRY: They provided -- some of you may remember if you covered the campaign, they provided from each of the doctors and the specialists who treated him fairly detailed summaries of the medical history they had on then Governor Clinton, based on --
Q Written summaries? And why not do it the same way this time?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, that's -- my point is that's what we have done. We gave you -- when he ran in 1992, they released what amounts to his medical history and they we provided to you in detail the annual updates that come based on his annual physical exam.
Q You keep referring to tests. It seems that what you're saying is that he had tests for something that could come back positive it would have been embarrassing and you would have had to release the information that it was positive. So he's had these tests --
MR. MCCURRY: If any of the President's test results which we reported to you had been something abnormal there would have been, I think, among all of you a desire to have more information about that. But because the President's test results reflected, substantiated Dr. Mariano's statement that he was in excellent overall health, since they all fell within the normal parameters of a person his age with his health characteristics, to my knowledge, no one has raised the specific issue about any of those test results.
Q Mike, you seem to be saying that even taking the test -- let's say an HIV positive -- taking a test for HIV, or some other sexually transmitted disease, just taking the test is in and of itself embarrassing.
MR. MCCURRY: Look, I'm trying to keep some level of dignity here. I'm talking about things like rectal exams, okay. Do you want to have all those things spread out there?
All right, enough's enough on this subject, I think. Do you guys -- what's the time?
Q We really have reached a new low.
MR. MCCURRY: You guys are really bored. It's hard to know that there is a campaign underway here.
Q How are you going to sustain eight more weeks of --
MR. MCCURRY: We'll cover every subject under the sun by then.
Q A rectal exam is the least of it, Mike. I mean, it's very simple.
Q That's what we just gave you, Mike. (Laughter.)
MR. LOCKHART: And I'll have the results later. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I've got to roll out pretty soon. See ya.
END 11:10 A.M. MDT