THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
11:35 A.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: I want to thank Dr. Stiglitz, in particular for being in something other than a holding pattern for me to -- nice to have you here under different circumstances. Thank you.
Q What you did to him in Chicago shouldn't happen. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I agree 100 percent. (Laughter.) Several of you have asked about the Middle East. I expect the President, upon departure here from the White House to go up to the Hill to have a statement out on the South Lawn on that subject.
Q Is that open coverage, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: We're working out the details right now on that. The President obviously regrets the loss of life and the injuries that have occurred over the last two days. We've been in almost constant contact in the last 48 hours with the parties. As I told you yesterday, the President got a briefing from Secretary Christopher on the Secretary's telephone discussion with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Secretary Christopher also would be meeting with Foreign Minister Moussa of Egypt and Foreign Minister Levi of Israel I believe later today, and then he's meeting with foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council states tomorrow, I believe, in New York as part of the --
Q State Department?
MR. MCCURRY: -- no, up in New York as part of the U.N. General Assembly meetings that are underway there. Correct.
The President will obviously encourage the leaders to use their influence to return calm to Israel, to the West Bank, to the territories, to Gaza. He will obviously call on everyone to use their influence to return to the types of negotiations that can help the parties amicably resolve their differences. The violence in the last two days stands out in such marked contrast to the very hopeful signs of peace that we've seen as a result of the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, and it's time for the parties now to concentrate their energies on implementing the agreements they've reached, resolving the differences that remain, and continuing to raise the hope of peaceful coexistence in that land.
Q What's your information about the situation there today?
MR. MCCURRY: It's almost exactly as you see it reported on television from the pictures that are coming. There is sporadic violence there, there have been exchanges of gunfire and it's all cause for great concern.
Q So far, the President has not gotten on the telephone with either.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has been following very closely the very intense diplomatic efforts that we have underway. We've had our Middle East peace team fully engaged, the Secretary of State has been in direct contact with leaders in the region and I expect that that will remain the case. The President obviously will be following it and doing what he needs to do in order to encourage calm.
Q Has either one asked for any help?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not sure that they've asked for help. I think they both understand the United States is willing to be available to play the role that we often play there, as a facilitator of the discussions that we believe need to occur between the parties directly.
Q Does the administration consider the Israeli government's decision to open that tunnel a provocative act?
MR. MCCURRY: The administration believes that the parties should concentrate on implementing the agreements that they have reached, dealing with the issues that are outstanding between them, and that the parties should take no steps that raise new issues that cause complications in the very difficult, complicated discussions they already have underway.
Q Is this -- a new issue?
MR. MCCURRY: This is clearly a new issue.
Q Has that been communicated, Mike -- has that been communicated directly to the Israeli government?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to get into the nature of the discussions we've had, but our views have been clearly communicated.
Q Can we just request adequate coverage out there, just the travel pool itself isn't enough?
MR. MCCURRY: Whenever adequate is adequately defined, we will try to be adequate, exceedingly adequate.
Q Up on the Hill, will the President, standing with Daschle and Gephardt on the Hill, will he be calling for a Democratic Congress?
MR. MCCURRY: The President and the Vice President both will have an opportunity to meet with the Democratic Caucuses in both the Senate and the House in a short while. They tend, I think, first of all to celebrate the type of achievements that we just witnessed today in the Rose Garden -- the opportunity to work with the Republican Majority, to do some very important things for the American people. Despite some of the problems that this President has had with this Congress, they have been able to achieve a number of things in this session of Congress that are important to the American people -- the increase in the minimum wage that's about to occur, the protections for health care, the expansion of pension coverage, the health care measures the President referenced in his remarks today, and those have been signs of progress for the American people, and that isn't due in no small measure to the Democrats in both the House and Senate, continuing to press the Republican Majority for that type of progress.
So it's a chance to celebrate what they've accomplished in this session, to review a little bit of the work that remains on the congressional agenda between now and the end of the year, and to talk about how significant those achievements have been in the eyes of the American people.
Q The President, even in this interview with Jim Lehrer, doesn't seem so passionate about getting a Democratic Congress. In fact, he has seemed very lukewarm. And he hasn't really gone out on the stump to really call for a Democratic House and Senate.
MR. MCCURRY: I take strong issue at that and, Helen, if you had been out there on the stump with us, you would see how often the President campaigns with directly with members. Virtually every stop along the way, he makes a very passionate appeal for support for those who are running on his ticket. But I'd say at the same time, the President does not make this appeal solely on partisanship. He says we need to have these types of folks in this Congress -- in the next Congress -- to carry out the work he has defined as part of his agenda for the next term, if he is given a next term.
He believes you don't make an appeal to the American people solely on the basis of partisanship; you make it based on what you intend to do. And that's why he has been working with Democratic candidates to articulate the very precise agenda he's put before the country. He believes that agenda is the compelling reason to elect not only him for a second term,
Q Well, then, he doesn't want to elect Democrats who don't agree with him?
MR. MCCURRY: -- but then also to elect those Democratic candidates who are running on the ticket with him.
The best way to make that appeal is not to say, vote for Democrats just because they're Democrats; vote for them because they share this exciting agenda for the 21st century that the President is laying before the American people.
And that's exactly what the President has done over and over.
Q Not to be argumentative, but carrying it one more point. If he has a Democratic Congress, wouldn't he be able to get his program through better?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we had a Democratic Congress in 1993 and 1994 and a very large part of the President's program did get through -- specifically the economic program that was passed without any help from the Republicans in the Congress. And the results of that we're celebrating today with the very extraordinary report we've seen on money, income and poverty and with the economic results across the board.
So, what we want is progress. We want progress towards that vision of the 21st century that the President has defined.
Q Mike, you mentioned parts of the unfinished agenda and immigration reform is on that list. What would it take in that bill to get the President's signature?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, it just has to be a good bill. It has to address some of the concerns we have identified on enforcement. And obviously, it's taken a step in the right direction by the removal of a provision that the President considered onerous -- the Gallegly Amendment.
Q But what's left to do, in enforcement specifically what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are a number of things related to illegal immigration that are very important that we need to press forward on, particularly enforcement, border protection, some of the issues that we have already publicly identified. And we have got discussions under way and we're making progress towards that end.
Q Can the Senate still separate any of the legal immigration issues?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we're in a period now as we go into the closing hours of this session of Congress when there will be a lot of discussion about how best to advance those goals, and we have good conversations under way with leaders in Congress.
Q Senator Dole this week has been contending that if the President is re-elected universal health coverage could come back up on the agenda. How does the White House respond to that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has identified his health care goals dating back to December of 1994 when he said we would work in an incremental basis, step by step, to advance health care coverage and health care protections for the American people. We did that with the Kassebaum-Kennedy bill, which provided some measure of portability in health care coverage. We took another very important step today, as the President identified it. The President will continue making this progress towards a better health care environment for the American people.
Q Will universal coverage of children at least be part of that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, coverage will remain a very important issue. The President has fought hard to ensure that there is a federal guarantee of coverage for indigent children. We will continue to work hard to expand coverage for those who are uninsured. But we will have to do it in the way that the President has outlined, working as we have, as we demonstrated today, to expand health care coverage opportunities for those who deserve that type of coverage.
Thank you. And we probably won't have another briefing. I'm not going to do another briefing later today. We'll be available after -- the President and the Vice President, Senator Daschle and Congressman Gephardt will make a brief statement after the President's meeting on the Hill, and I'll be around to flesh out any details if you need them.
Q Are there going to be debates?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. The President indicated last night there would be.
Q Just to relate to the bill that was signed earlier today, the mental health provision particularly, does that address at all that premiums may go up?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have worked to satisfy some of the concerns of private employers who provide employee benefit coverage to their employees. We believe that the studies indicate you can provide this type of parity for mental health coverage and do so in a way that is consistent with the excellent health care coverage that's available in the private sector.
There is a lot of disagreement about how best that coverage can be expanded, but we think we can work with the private sector and make sure that the implementation of this act does not degrade any quality of coverage that the American work force now enjoys.
Q -- emphasized that this is just the first step. Do you see in a second term, if that happens, parity in the areas of deductibles and copayments as well?
MR. MCCURRY: I'd just say that the President has identified health care coverage, health care insurance, the quality of health care delivery as one of his major priorities. He'll continue to work on that if he is given a second term by the American people.
Q Do you have any comment on yesterday's Washington Post's story alleging that the Texas border is wide open and that drug runners are terrorizing residents there?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that's exactly what the article said, but we've got a very strong interdiction program. The President announced some steps to the United Nations to help us continue our cooperation with the government of Mexico in addressing drug flows across our southern border. And the President will continue to treat as a very high priority both immigration matters and drug-trafficking matters that have long been a source of concern to him.
Q They were asking for additional federal troops. Would that be considered at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we already have got engaged, as you've heard from General McCaffrey here before, got engaged National Guard units and elements of U.S. military in helping fight the war on drugs. That will continue. That's already been part of our drug control strategy.
Q Would you recommend that Governor Bush call out the National Guard in Texas?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't give advice to governors of other states.
Q As we will see on the trip coming up in the next two days, the President is starting to go into districts where Democrats supposedly have tough races in states where there Senate races that are interesting to the White House. But in Rhode Island, for example, where you're going, the Democrat candidate is up by 17 points in the polls. By what criteria do you decide where to go?
MR. MCCURRY: It's a good question to ask the campaign.
Q Mike, just to follow somewhat on Al's question -- the thrust of yesterday's report was that in southwest Texas drug smugglers are able to operate virtually with impunity and that ranchers in the area are afraid to discuss the matter for fear of reprisals and things of that sort. As the President goes in to Texas, does he plan to raise the issue at all -- to discuss it -- or will he remain silent?
MR. MCCURRY: He intends to -- as he works with the local officials he encounters -- review our very strong efforts when it comes to protecting our borders both from illegal immigration and from drug flows. The President's taken steps in recent days to directly address that. We know that there's a lot that we can do in working with the government of Mexico to tighten that border. And obviously he will be very directly concerned about the results there.
Q Will he have something to say specifically about this?
THE PRESIDENT: I'll have to review with him what he plans to talk about while he's in Texas.
Q Mike, you said earlier that there were going to be debates, but there seems to be a letter battle between the Dole-Kemp Campaign and the Clinton-Gore Campaigns over a writing platform and Dole-Kemp calling Secretary Kantor arrogant and deceitful over his portrayal of their meetings and accommodations for Major League Baseball. How are you going to work through these rhetorical and real -- and somewhat real comments?
MR. MCCURRY: I think this is kind of a quadrennial exercise and we'll get through it and there'll be debates. And I don't imagine it'll be hard to resolve these matters. The President wants to debate; as near as I can tell, Senator Dole wants to debate. I suspect there'll be a debate -- at least two.
Q Any more information about next week?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't. I'll do that tomorrow for people. Okay, thanks.
THE PRESS: Thank you.