THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
1:20 P.M. EDT
MR. MCCURRY: It's a quiet day at the White House, ladies and gentlemen, as the soft rain falls and the initial chill of autumn, changing leaves, shortening days. The President is relaxing in the residence, enjoying a blissful day of quiet as autumn begins.
The President has done one thing -- two things of note. He has signed --
Q He has signed --
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Uh-oh, I misplaced my paper here. Where's my piece of paper? He has signed the Maritime Security Act of 1996, H.R. 1350. He has signed the County Health Organization Exemption Act, H.R. 3056. There's a statement, at least on the Maritime Security Act, that we've got ready and that we'll pass out as soon as we're done here.
Those are the only two items of business that we had anticipated from the President today.
Q Has he heard from Christopher at all on the Middle East?
MR. MCCURRY: We heard from Secretary Christopher's party as they concluded their meetings in Israel. The Secretary met with both Prime Minister Netanyahu and also Chairman Arafat, had press conferences following both. And much of what the Secretary conveyed was certainly conveyed publicly when he had his press conference.
I'd say, moving forward from that, the talks are continuing at Erez, the crossing point between the West Bank and Gaza. Both the Palestinian and Israeli delegations are working hard. Our understanding is that they have broken into five working groups to address some of the fundamental issues that arise with both security concerns of Israel and issues related to the implementation of the Oslo Accords. Ambassador Dennis Ross is present and encouraging the parties to make progress. And Secretary Christopher, as you know, is by now in Africa, I believe.
Q Mike, what's the White House reaction to Bob Dole saying that he's going to be tougher in the next day and that, Bozo's on his way out?
MR. MCCURRY: That what?
Q Bozo's on his way out.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know who he's referring to.
Q I think he was referring to the President.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he -- I think he gained some ground in front of the American people by being humorous and by being respectful and by conducting himself in a civil manner at the debate on Sunday night. And if he chooses to conduct himself in a different fashion in the next debate, the American people can make some judgment on what they think of that.
Q Did you folks talk internally at all about Dole's two references to the fact that the President did not call George Bush, Mr. President?
MR. MCCURRY: No.
Q It was not discussed?
MR. MCCURRY: Did not discuss that.
Q Does the President regret having done that in 1992?
MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush had a debate a long time ago and that is pretty much ancient history at this point.
Q So what's your reaction to the Bozo crack?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I just gave you one.
Q Let me give you the context of it. Supporters shouted out, please get Bozo out of the White House. And Dole then replied, Bozo's on his way out. After, in his speech --
MR. MCCURRY: No, that's wrong. The President's cat is named Socks, not Bozo. (Laughter.)
Q And that was after the speech where Dole said that he would be hitting harder on Whitewater and the FBI files.
MR. MCCURRY: That's -- as I just said, I think that the American people appreciated the fact that the two candidates addressed themselves in a courteous and in a substantive way at their debate on Sunday night. Now if Bob Dole -- I can easily understand that maybe he wants to try a new strategy. He's got a new strategy every couple of days. So maybe he's going to take a new tack. We'll wait and see what happens.
But the President's view is the tone he had in the debate on Sunday night is the correct one for discussion of serious substantive issue that the American people want to see the candidates address. And you heard the President. I thought he portrayed his own view of the future in a very positive way. He was very respectful of Senator Dole and acknowledged his service to his country. And I think the President will want to continue in that fashion.
Q And this is after a person who pointed out that Clinton did not call Bush by Mr. President?
MR. MCCURRY: Boy I tell you, that -- I don't think -- I think that reference itself went over the heads of most of the 70 million people who watched the debates.
Q Do you think that the tone of the Vice Presidential debates will be more caustic?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe so on the part of the Vice President. I think the Vice President would very much like to have the same kind of serious discussion that the candidates had on Sunday night. And Jack Kemp is a very worthy participant and has many interesting ideas -- some of them a little more interesting than other ideas. But he will -- I'm sure they'll get into some of those issues at their debate Wednesday. We all look forward to that debate.
Q Is the White House concerned that the Vice President is going to appear too wooden next to the animated Mr. Kemp?
MR. MCCURRY: The Vice President himself likes to make references to that and enjoys joking about that. And we'll see how it goes tomorrow night.
Q He's not going to do that Macarena thing, is he? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: Another good reason for 70 million plus Americans to tune in to see the reprise of the Macarena and other highlights from the Al Gore highlight reel.
Q He doesn't think it's an asset to be wooden surely, does he? I mean, how much can you drive that into the ground? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I have been out on that road to the 21st century with Al Gore and his own rendition of his own stiffness is something that delights his audiences. So we'll see what happens.
Q The President taking the day off today, what does that mean in terms of his confidence level, overconfidence?
MR. MCCURRY: It means that he didn't get a day off this past weekend because he was preparing for the debate.
Q What was the deeper significance of it? What is the deep, deep significance of it?
MR. MCCURRY: No. Our plan all along had been to have the President on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week getting a little bit of time off. The campaign trail can be rigorous. He was working very hard yesterday, he had a schedule that went well beyond midnight last night as you know.
But, more importantly, the focus now we believe should properly be on the candidates for Vice President. They have a very important debate tomorrow night and our view all along had been that this would be the one time in this campaign when we knew for certain that the running mates would get some attention. And we are very proud of the job Al Gore's been doing and want him to get that attention.
Q On Sunday the President seemed to give qualified support to Dole's suggestion of a Medicare commission, but didn't fully embrace it like he did the idea of a bipartisan campaign reform panel. And I wondered why.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President has on previous occasions suggested that these issues of solvency for the Medicare trust fund and the Social Security trust fund are out-year problems that, you know, must be considered in light of the demographic changes that occur in America as you look deep into the next century -- in the case of Social Security, you know, well a quarter century from now. But in the case of Medicare, obviously, sooner.
And we've had some specific proposals for Medicare savings that deal with the solvency issue in the short-term. But there are issues related to both Medicare solvency and Social Security solvency that will need to be addressed. And the President has, on previous occasions, endorsed the concept of a bipartisan commission to examine those.
As far as I know, there's little difference in that proposal between the view of Senator Dole and the view of the President.
Q The President is spending more and more time going to states where he has a 15 to 25 point lead. Is there a shift in strategy now? Is this a new chapter in the campaign?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we had -- our strategic plan has flexibility in it so we can take into account any changes that occur in the race. But the plan had been to work hard, to shore up the sources of strength that the President has. As you look at the electoral map in states that are historically Democratic states, but then really reach out to Republicans and say, look, this is a Democratic President that moderate Republicans and other Republicans could be comfortable with.
And, obviously, yesterday in three states -- Connecticut, New Hampshire and Maine -- that had historically been Republican-leaning in national elections, that was an opportunity for the President to make a good case to those type of Republican voters. We will likely continue doing that, but we reserve the right to be flexible in the closing weeks of the campaign and adjust his schedule accordingly.
But we will be trying to speak directly to independents, to moderates, to those who might want to take a new look at Bill Clinton because he's done a good job for America.
Q But he's obviously up 15, 25 points in those states. Is it more important for him to go in there for the congressional races?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he is in many of these places helping candidates who are down on the ballot -- not only congressional candidates, senate candidates, gubernatorial candidates. In some cases we're working for state legislative candidates, too. So we are trying to help the rest of the ticket in places where we can be helpful. And our strategy is a combination of both helping other candidates who are running for their own office; and then also paying attention to our own electoral strategy.
But nothing is being taken for granted. This President always campaigns in a fashion that would suggest he doesn't believe the polls.
Q Do you think a Medicare commission should be made up of members outside of Congress in the administration, in order not to be politicized?
MR. MCCURRY: Since this is an issue that both Senator Dole and the President suggest should be addressed by the next President, I don't think it would be proper at this point to speculate on the composition of any commission. There have been various types of commissions in the past. They've involved both office holders, members of Congress, outsiders who are experts in the matters under review. But it would be highly speculative at this point to suggest there's any structure foreseen by the President in looking at the question of a bipartisan commission.
Q Just getting back to the Bozo thing. Do you think that it's appropriate for Dole to refer to the President as "Bozo"?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that -- you know, I'm declining the opportunity to say a lot about that. I think if -- you know, maybe some of our campaign people will have more to say on that. But it's not hard to imagine that Senator Dole might be feeling a little desperate at this point.
But the kind of demeanor he had in the debate on Sunday, in the view of this White House, was effective. I think many Americans said so, in talking with many of you. And that is the kind of civil discourse that advances the best causes of the debate we're now in the middle of.
Q Does it occur to you, Mike, that if the Clinton White House thought that Dole did a good job in the debate that maybe that's not exactly the kind of endorsement he wants, and that he couldn't have done anything very effective if the White House liked it.
MR. MCCURRY: Maybe that's a passing thought that glances through my brain at this point.
Q Or under. (Laughter.)
Q You suggested earlier in the day that Dole does not appear to be trying to win in California. What led to the conclusion that he's written it off?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you should ask someone who is a little more expert on political matters than I am. But in the recent history of competitive statewide races, in the recent history of competitive statewide races in California, the close-out -- last three or four weeks of a campaign in which you have to be hotly contesting both in terms of campaign appearances and media advertising -- the rough cost of that is at least at a minimum a million, a million-plus a week. And given that Senator Dole's in a very serious deficit situation in California, one would expect -- if he were seriously contesting that state -- that he would be spending a million, a million-and-a-quarter per week for media advertising in that state.
Now you can ask the Dole Campaign, but based on the information we have, we don't think their advertising budget is anywhere near that, suggesting that they're probably keeping a presence in that state to satisfy local Republican officials who would be quite angry at Senator Dole if he suddenly bolted on the state. But I'll leave that to them to address.
Q How does the electoral math look right now?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, if Clinton is blue and Dole is red, it's looking very sky blue to us right now. But it could change. We'll have to see where things happen.
Q Mike, to change the subject just for a second, did the President send a letter to Hashimoto asking for an open skies agreement with Japan? And if so, what are the details of his proposal?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we don't discuss the details of any correspondence that we might have. But we have said publicly that we are looking for progress on these aviation issues in our discussions with the government of Japan. I can say both nations and both leaders have had a regular correspondence on the issues that have arisen in some of our trade deliberations. And I think everyone knows, given our pattern of diplomacy we've had related to open skies, our interest in that type of approach.
Q Mike, apparently the Russians have let go of their environmental ministry -- that cabinet office. What effect might that have and what are we doing about it?
MR. MCCURRY: I'll have to check into that. I have not -- I don't have any independent confirmation of that.
Q Going back for a second to the politics again -- also the Dole Campaign's going to be buying a new ad that is going to be attacking the character issue saying, the problem is not your house, the problem is with the White House.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they talk a lot about the ads that they're going to buy and get you all interested in and then it turns out later that sometimes they don't end up on the air. And so it seems more designed to get what we call free media -- getting you to write about things that really are not probably going to be a serious part of their strategy. So why don't you go check and make sure first if they're talking about an ad that is really going to be part of their strategy before you spend a lot time with it.
Q Following up on that though, I didn't -- they appear, however, to be now looking as though they are going to be attacking more on the character issue with Dole saying he wants to raise Whitewater and the FBI files. What is your response to that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the most -- the way you make headway in any election is talking about issues that relate to the concerns of a majority of Americans. The President did that. I think he did it effectively on Sunday night and we're going to stay aimed on those issues. The Dole Campaign is free to talk about whatever they want to talk about. We'll keep with our strategy.
Q Have you heard anything about the status of the Whitewater investigation? He gave a speech over the weekend saying they were making progress.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have -- I'm not conversant in the status of the investigation. Mr. Starr addressed himself to that when he spoke.
Q How is this town meeting going to -- I mean, how will it go? Just questions from the audience to each candidate, but they don't talk to each other?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding of the format -- and the Presidential Commission could probably tell you more -- is that, like the debate on Sunday night, they would -- there's the option of opening statements for both campaigns. Mr. Lehrer then will call upon people in the audience to ask questions of the candidates and they have, much like Sunday night, 90 seconds to give an initial response, the other candidates gets 60 seconds, then the initial candidate gets 30 seconds of response time. So it'll go in that format.
Q Do you assume that every question is to both candidates then?
MR. MCCURRY: Not necessarily. The individual citizen -- and obviously we're happy that we'll see some people who represent all Americans asking these questions. But they can ask whatever they want and direct the question in any fashion they want. And Mr. Lehrer will have the ability to sort of tighten up the question or focus it a little more if it needs focusing. So he has some --
Q And if there's sort of an even distribution of the tickets?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Well, the agreement on the composition of the audience is that it ought to be reflective of the American electorate and that would be decided by an independent organization that had no affiliation with either campaign.
Q In terms of our planning for tomorrow night, after the Dole -- excuse me, the Kemp --
Q After the VP debate.
Q The debate with Gore. Will the President be available? Will he make a statement? Will he be on the phone? Will there be any coverage of any of this?
MR. MCCURRY: Wolf, I don't know yet. I know, obviously, the Vice President will call -- the President will call the Vice President and congratulate him for what I am sure will be a splendid performance. But how we -- whether we make that available or not, I don't know yet. We can deal with that tomorrow.
Q There was some criticism primarily from African American leaders that -- I think mainly the criticism was directed at Mr. Lehrer, that some race-sensitive issues -- affirmative action in particular -- were not discussed at the debate. Do you know, notwithstanding Mr. Lehrer or the audience's roles, whether the President plans to inject those issues -- affirmative action, especially -- in an opening statement or at any point?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, having come to understand better the complexity of moderating one of those sessions. It is hard to move from subject to subject, particularly given the flow of the dialogue between the candidates. I don't think Mr. Lehrer intended to omit any subject. It's just 90 minutes is 90 minutes. There were a number of subjects, including the environment and other issues that didn't go into greater detail.
The President would be delighted if we could spend some more time beyond the discussion they had of welfare reform, more issues related to urban America, more issues related to diversity, to race, to race relations in America. And these are all subjects I think the President would like to see addressed in greater detail and they are subjects upon which there are some clear differences between the two candidates so it would be appropriate to raise those issues.
Now, we can't suggest topics, but we hope also the diversity of the audience in this town hall might lead to some of those types of questions. But, in fairness to Mr. Lehrer, you know, you've got 90 minutes. He knew he had another debate. I suspect the second debate will get into some subjects that weren't covered in the first debate. One would hope that.
Q Lehrer is not doing the second one, is he?
Q Oh, he's doing that one, too?
Q Doing them all.
Q Joycelyn Elders' book is out. She is on book tour and complaining that she was treated shabbily by the administration when she was asked to leave.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think with the history of her departure here and the reasons why she was dismissed are pretty well known. And if she feels that way, I think there are a lot of people that regret some of the things that she said, too.
Q If I could just follow up one thing. It wasn't so much that she was asked to leave. She felt that people dealt with her rather brusquely and she never got a chance to explain to the President.
MR. MCCURRY: There was a lot of unhappiness about some of the comments that she made.
Q Has the President and his advisors given any thought to a Cabinet for the second term? And what preparations are being made to either ask everyone for their resignation, to start fresh the second time or make a choice, or what?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is very clear on this with all of us, which is anyone who comes to him and starts talking about a second term before the American people have a right to make a decision whether he gets one will get a very -- the President will take a very dim view of that. The President is working very hard to take his case to the American people in advance of the election in November and he thinks if anyone is interested in being in a second term Cabinet, they should do likewise. So he has made it pretty clear that that kind of discussion he is not entertaining.
At the same time, there are some formal things that one must do in any campaign, and those will be delegated to Mr. Panetta in the pro forma manner that they are usually handled.
Q Like what? Give us an example.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I'll check and we can talk about that tomorrow, maybe.
Q Mike, but understanding that and understanding that that's a internal maxim of campaign -- you don't want to, you know, put the cart ahead of the horse, et cetera. Campaigns that have a likelihood of willing also do quietly take some steps to think about how they might staff up once the election is over.
And since the Clinton Administration was quite celebrated early on for having very severe staffing issues, troubles, missteps, mistakes, whatever, it has become almost an article of faith that December and January are going to be disaster-prone because the President is going to go away. He is going to be at APEC. He's going to take a vacation. He's going to go to Ireland. And pretty soon you will have everybody down on your neck just like you did the last time.
MR. MCCURRY: There are always steps that any White House -- this White House, any White House -- must take to assure continuity in government, regardless of the outcome of the election. Those steps will be taken so that the American people can get the service that they should expect. And as to personnel decisions, the election is November 5th. The inauguration, if I'm not mistaken, is January 20th or sometime thereabout. There is time in that period for there to be discussion of personnel-related issues. And we will see what the voters decide November 5th and who should have those decisions.
Q I guess, really, my broader question was he would presumably be determined to, in that window, very actively address those concerns and not let some of the --
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. He would not want to see any slippage in service. The President is proud of the service that he and the White House have delivered to the American people for four years. And if he is reelected he will take steps immediately to make sure that that service can continue with staffing properly.
Q Well, who's going to be in charge of that? Who is going to be in charge of all that?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President is ultimately responsible --
Q Like a transition team?
MR. MCCURRY: But the Chief of Staff, you can well imagine, would be involved in this.
Q So you have two strategies, one of you win and one if you lose? Two plans? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No, you know, there is a process and the process would be the same regardless of the outcome of the election.
Q Mike, is there any sense on where the President will be November 5th? Is he leaning towards going back to Little Rock?
MR. MCCURRY: I believe the Clinton-Gore '96 Campaign has announced that he'll spend election night in Little Rock. That's already been announced.
Q Speaking again of the Vice Presidential debates, can you tell us who been acting as moderator, like you did for the President, for Vice President Gore? And if you know, who has been doing it for Kemp?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I can check, but there are some interests in the debates, obviously. I believe there are some of your news organizations are with the Vice President's preparation team down in Florida. They're spending their time down in Florida, so you might want to check and see if any of you have colleagues down there. If you can't get an answer, Marty, let me know. I'll try to call them down there.
Q Following slightly on the second term, the obvious question is, what's your reaction to a candidate who is going to announce his Cabinet before he is elected?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it makes some sense to get elected first and then name your Cabinet afterwards. That's generally the way it works, but you're free to campaign any way you want to.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
MR. MCCURRY: Thank you
END 1:45 P.M. EDT