THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Albuquerque, New Mexico)
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY, JOE LOCKHART AND DOUG SOSNIK
Outside the Holiday Inn Pyramid Hotel Albuquerque, New Mexico
10:12 A.M. MDT
MR. MCCURRY: All right, this is just -- by a previous agreement, we are going to do a minimal amount of Q&A.
Q Can we do this on camera?
MR. MCCURRY: No, this is not on camera. Please turn all of these cameras off in the back. It's on the record, not on camera.
Q And why did you decide not to do it on camera, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Because we just had an event with the President on camera, and we're here and we're willing to be available on the record, not on camera.
Q We like you, Mike.
MR. MCCURRY: Any questions you've got about the Air Tanker Wildlife Suppression legislation?
Q Why didn't the President respond to the questions about Lippo and selling off pieces of the country, as Newt Gingrich said?
MR. MCCURRY: He had nothing to add to what the Vice President said yesterday, to what a number of us have said. I think the record is pretty clear; there's nothing much to add. The only thing added to the discussion yesterday by Speaker Gingrich was just politics, and we can choose not to respond to politics.
Q Is there any regret that money was collected?
Q Senator Feingold -- (inaudible) --
MR. MCCURRY: I think you should check back with Senator Feingold today and see exactly what his disposition is on that matter.
Q Mike, what do you make of Dole now in public appearances openly questioning the President's honesty, Bill Bennett raising the specter of possible indictments? What do you make of --
MR. MCCURRY: I think that Jack Kemp was right, all of that's beneath Bob Dole.
Q It's no longer beneath Jack Kemp, though.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Dole either needs to repudiate his running mate, or repudiate Bill Bennett, or try another strategy another day -- which is what they're doing.
Q And if he doesn't repudiate him, what's the message if he does not -- because he hasn't so far.
MR. MCCURRY: That we're in the closing weeks of the campaign and they're getting very desperate. I think that's been pretty obvious for some time.
Q Mike, are questions about Travelgate and Filegate legitimate questions about the conduct of this administration?
MR. MCCURRY: If any of the American citizens who are at the debate on Wednesday want to talk about those matters, as the President just indicated, he's prepared to deal with them.
Q Mike, is there going to be a warning to Saddam Hussein, because of the movement by the other faction to recapture Sulaymaniyah? Are you just watching it, have you warned Saddam Hussein in case he moved into help?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we have very carefully monitored the situation in northern Iraq. You will recall that at the time of the incursion into the north, the reason the President selected the strategic response that was aimed at restricting Saddam's air capacity in the south would be partly because the situation in the north was so confusing -- the two Kurdish factions contesting for ground, fighting each other.
And we've now seen in recent days examples of how complex the situation is in the north and another reason why the President thought it was incumbent to select the response to Saddam Hussein at a place of our own choosing that would advance U.S. strategic interests in the region. Clearly, we would hope that both sides would discontinue the fighting. We have called upon both Kurdish factions to unite so they can advance the cause of the Kurdish people in the north.
Q Have there been any new warnings to Saddam Hussein not to get involved since this renewed fighting and another faction has captured Sulaymaniyah?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've encouraged both sides to resolve their differences through negotiations and working together and not through further bloodshed.
Q Back to Kevin's question -- has there been a new warning to Hussein not to get involved, yes or no?
MR. MCCURRY: We have made clear -- I'd have to check and see if we've sent anything newer than the last warning, which explicitly advised him not to harass, intimidate or threaten his own people in accordance with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolution. That was made some time ago. I'll have to check and see if there's been something that's more recent. Although the State Department would be able to tell you that too.
Q Mike, if Dole really is, indeed, retargeting California, are you likely to see any shifting of the President's resources, schedule, time, anything into California?
MR. SOSNIK: Well, let me answer that and I also want to follow up on a question that the President got -- a little context here. We're three weeks away from an election. Bob Dole has not given anybody a reason to vote for him.
And if you look at the paper today, the Christian Coalition right has said they're staying home now. If you look at the polling across the country, moderate Republicans have fallen off of supporting Dole. If you look at from '84 until now, the decline in the Republican Party nationally in presidential politics -- going back to 59 percent of the vote that Reagan got in '84; 54 percent in '88 for Bush; 38 in '92 for Bush; currently, Dole is down about 34 percent.
The reason why he's setting a new low for the Republican base, historically now declining vote shares, is the fact he hasn't given anybody a reason to vote for him. I think they have basically given up trying to convince people of a positive rationale of why Bob Dole should be President and they've resorted to purely negative politics because basically it hasn't work -- there isn't a rationale that's apparent why Bob Dole should be elected President.
If you look at the map today in the New York Times, which is as accurate electoral college map as any, it shows the President with 325 electoral votes firmly on his side, 101 for Dole, with 112 in play. We're ahead in all of those 112. And it show you how desperate their situation is.
Now, specifically in California, I don't believe --and the nice thing about this at the end of the campaign is that all you have to do is look at the money and where it's spent. That's the real sign. It doesn't matter what we say up here, or the words. They haven't been contesting California since their convention. They've spent $3 million there over six and a half, seven weeks. That's not real money in California.
To their credit, in the paper today, they do cover themselves by saying that they haven't made final decisions and that campaigns do sometimes try to mislead opponents on strategy. We'll see if they're going to play California. There's no evidence so far this morning that they're buying any time there. And I would be very surprised if they are. I think their main intention right now is they have to spend a week in California. I think they want to make sure that they get out of their alive with the locals --
Q What about the question of whether he's going to shift any -- is the President going to shift any strategy or resources?
MR. LOCKHART: Let me come back to one other point there. As Doug was saying at this point, talk is cheap. It's actions that mean something. And they haven't increased the buy, they haven't changed their resources. All they've done is told some reporters they're going to.
But if you put this in a little bit of context, they've spent six out of the last seven days in Ohio and New Jersey campaigning, two two-day bus tours. And now what they want us to believe or want you to believe is that they're going to remove the focus from New Jersey and Ohio and move it to California. This is a meaningless discourse until they actually readjust their resources. And when and if they do that, we will look at the situation and react accordingly.
Q Joe, do your polls show California tightening, too? The field polls said 10 points, do you --
MR. LOCKHART: We're not going to talk about our polls; we have never done that. But, basically, all of the polls that we've seen, public and private, indicate the race isn't a 10. But who cares what the polls are? The election is three weeks from now and we'll see what they do.
The fact is, we have a plan, we're implementing it. If you look at the President's schedule, look at our media buys, it's based on electoral college map strategy, which has consistently been in place from day one. And we do adjust, obviously, if our opponents make a radical shift in their strategy, but basically we're going to continue to do our campaign in terms of getting our 270.
Q You said basically all the polls you've seen do show 10? I couldn't hear what you said.
MR. SOSNIK: I haven't seen evidence of the race is 10 there.
Q You haven't?
MR. SOSNIK: No.
Q Fordham measures the social welfare index -- it's how people are doing. It's the lowest it's been in 25 years. It's young people and kids who are suffering the worst. And they measure things like drug abuse. You guys keep saying you have this positive message, we're on the right track; here's a study, a survey done every year, it says things are continuing down in a negative track.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there have been different studies that have been available in recent weeks. We had a Census Bureau study that showed -- measured the impact of income disparities from different groups. Look, the President has been very clear in saying that progress over the last four years is not a record to sit on, it's a record to build on. And he's committed himself to specific measures that would continue to reduce income disparities, that would continue to lift the poor out of poverty. He's pledged as a major focus of the second term if he's given a second term creating a million new jobs for those who are making the transition away from welfare dependency and into work.
That's hard work, and we would acknowledge that, that it's important work, and that's what the President wants to focus on doing.
Q The critics of the welfare reform say that it's the children that are going to suffer worse, that if the children already are suffering more than other segments of society, as they are according to this index --
MR. MCCURRY: There's a bright side and a dark side. The bright side is, we've lifted millions and millions of this nation's elderly out of poverty. And as the recent Census Bureau showed, we've seen the rate of poverty in America reduced for the first time in a generation over a consistent period of time.
The President just disagrees with some of those critics that this is not work that will be successful in the end. The President believes it will be successful and that, working with the governors, we can lift those children out of the cycle of dependency they're now trapped in, which has many negative consequences for those children already; lift them out of that culture and into more productive lifestyles in which the mother is at work, in which the family is hopefully together because of our effort to bring families together, and force fathers to take on their responsibility. That's a better climate than the climate we have now, which is -- spiraling downward based on the culture of dependency that exists.
Q A question on the fire suppression act. Do you have any idea how many planes might be sold as a result of this?
MR. MCCURRY: There were -- let's see -- the bill allows the Department of Defense to sell excess military aircraft to private contractors who work with the BLM.
Mary Ellen, if you know the -- the tankers, currently, the Forest Service has got kind of an aging fleet. There are 39 air tankers available to fight fires throughout the country. What this does is allow the Department of Defense to make some of their excess inventory directly available, presumably to BLM and to the Forest Service. Is that right, do you know?
MS. GLYNN: To Forest Service. This is a USDA --
Q Do you know how many planes?
Q How many?
MR. MCCURRY: How many? Do we know how many?
MS. GLYNN: No, there's not a determine as to how many planes will be made available. USDA will make a recommendation to the Department of Defense as to how many they think they need. Once again, this is a sale to private contractors.
Q Are you talking one or two, or 30 or 40, or 100?
MS. GLYNN: I don't want to give a number to it, but I know it's more than two. I mean, the fleet is fairly large.
Q When will they be in operation? I mean, when would we start to see some of these planes fly?
MR. MCCURRY: Why don't we take that question and we'll get a specific answer from the Department of Defense.
Q Mike, how is the President going to spend the rest of the day?
MR. MCCURRY: Let me do a little bit about the rest of the day, because this will be it for us today -- although you have some more on -- you wanted to take --
MR. LOCKHART: Yes. Go through the day and I'll come back.
Q Do you have paper on this?
MR. MCCURRY: We've got some more paper coming out of Washington so there's no paper lid. But this is the end of our activity for the day. The President will do a couple of debate prep sessions today; looking forward to finishing in time to get in 18 holes of golf this afternoon. He plans to play with the Mayor here. And we're doing the same kind of debate preparation that we did up in New York.
Q Do you know where he'll play today?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know yet. The Mayor apparently had a public course in mind and we'd be inclined to take his recommendation.
Q Do you have any details on how this audience was picked and what the procedure will be for how they ask questions? Does Lehrer ask questions?
MR. MCCURRY: The audience -- just in terms of as we understand the format, the two candidates will be in front of an audience that has been picked by an independent research firm. I believe it's Gallup; I'm not certain of that. But it's a firm that both campaigns agreed to that identify uncommitted voters drawn from the San Diego County area who are reflective of national geodemographics. In other words, there would be a representative mix of male, female; ethnic background; religious background; but voters who identify themselves at this point as being uncommitted.
Q I thought a third was going to be Republican, a third Democratic --
MR. MCCURRY: No, there was some discussion about dividing up a third, a third, a third, according to political philosophy, but the two campaigns agreed, and I believe that the firm recommended that they look for a representative mix of geodemographic indicators.
Q How does the format work as far as questioning?
MR. MCCURRY: The format works much as before, with Jim Lehrer designating people in the audience to ask the questions, and then the candidates get the same type of response times as before -- 90 seconds to the person who receives the question, 60 seconds for the other candidate to respond, and then rebuttal time available for the initial candidate.
Q Do they submit their question ahead of time? Do the candidates know what they are?
MR. MCCURRY: No screening of the questions in advance.
Q Even by Lehrer?
MR. MCCURRY: Lehrer can exercise some discretion as moderator to either call for a particular question on a subject or sharpen up a question if he feels like it's been vague, or ask for response to keep some dialogue going. So there's a little more moderator discretion available in this format.
Q Is it still prohibited that they can't actually question each other?
MR. MCCURRY: That is indicated in the agreement, but as you saw in the first debate, there is some opportunity for cross-candidate exchange.
Q Any difference in the debate prep at all this time? I mean, you've got a different format, you must be doing some things differently.
MR. MCCURRY: Just adjusting for the different format.
Q How many staff members are there simulating an audience?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we haven't actually done anything like that yet, but there are more than sufficient campaign and White House aides around to simulate an audience.
Q Do you expect to actually do a mock debate with --
MR. MCCURRY: Simulate a village. (Laughter.)
Q -- with TV cameras and tape running?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll see.
Q One local question. Yesterday you cited FBI numbers showing the lowest crime rate in a decade, but here in Albuquerque, we just topped the number of homicides -- gang violence through the roof. What do you --
MR. MCCURRY: That has been a very real concern, particularly in local law enforcement and local elected leaders here. It's another indicator of how you have to work on these problems and address specific local conditions that affect numbers against the national trend. There are a number of things that you've seen specified here in Albuquerque that may account for that. Clearly, the focus that we've placed on anti-gang violence we hope will make a difference because that is one factor in violent crime in this region.
But in areas of large growth -- one thing that Albuquerque has experienced is sufficiently large economic growth that you have a lot of transient population with a lot of people coming in and out, so you don't have the kind of stability within communities and neighborhoods that is one factor that leads to a decrease in crime, as we've seen in New York, as we've seen in other metropolitan areas. So there are some distinguishing traits, depending on the kinds of metropolitan region you're dealing with. All of those have to be attacked with a vigorous effort by both federal authorities and, obviously, working with state and local law enforcement authority.
Q When do we need to be back for the movement?
Q What about poverty -- poverty in New Mexico is the only place where it's gone up. Why isn't the Clinton system working?
MR. MCCURRY: Poverty is a rising indicator here because of transient populations, because of the concerns the President addressed before of poverty on some of the Native American reservation lands, which is a real problem. But all of those things the President believes have to be part of the concentrated effort. As you address the national trends moving favorably, you look for microindicators in local environments and address them specifically with strategies developed at the local level where the federal government can be of assistance, can come in and help work with local people.
That would clearly be -- one of the major challenges that the New Mexico state government will face as it implements welfare reform is how to deal with some of these isolated indicators at the local level that require a different type of tailored local response.
Q One more local question. You know, one side had to close their casino and about 12 or 13 others are waiting in court, federal appeals. Is there anything more or any the administration can do to deal with that, bridge the gap between the casinos and --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm aware of that issue. I saw some of that in the material that we had here. But I wouldn't want -- I'd have to look and get a more specific response because there are a number of federal agencies that have had some involvement in that. Maybe we can get something for you on that later.
Q How does he feel about Indian gaming here in New Mexico -- I mean, about the issue?
MR. MCCURRY: I want to check on that. That's a very controversial issue locally and I'm going to check with a number of people before I give a response. I don't have a response for you right now.
Q Can I ask you one more question on the Iraq situation? Did the United States play any role aiding the PUK in its most recent offensive?
MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.
MR. LOCKHART: Can I jump in and do one more thing.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. Let's do one last thing for Joe and then we'll see you all tomorrow.
Q Could you take that last question, Mike?
Q Does the President have any plans to do any public events tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: We will do -- just like today, we'll have another event tomorrow round about the same time inside. The subject will be television programming --
MS. GLYNN: -- at 1:30 p.m.
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I'm sorry, that's right, it's at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow. It will be -- do that around 1:30 p.m. So we'll have the morning off tomorrow. We'll do an event and then do the same kind of briefing tomorrow and that will be it for the day.
Q Will we see him playing golf today? Will there be any coverage?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I don't think so. We were not having a travel pool for that, were we?
MS. GLYNN: Travel pool lid until, I think, 1:00 p.m. I think he is going to go.
Q And there's a Saxophone Club event tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, there's some kind of event. Is that an open event or a closed event?
MS. GLYNN: A closed event tomorrow night.
MR. MCCURRY: There's a closed Saxophone event tomorrow night.
Q Mike, you mean you're going to have a motorcade and no travel pool in it?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we'll do -- I'm sorry, I was wrong. We'll do a travel -- I mean, we'll do whatever a normal travel gang is.
MR. LOCKHART: Travel pool, but no golf picture.
Q Mike, can we get any pictures of him walking in and out of --
MR. MCCURRY: No -- he'll be I think off the reservation, right?
Q But he will not travel around town without a protective travel pool?
MR. MCCURRY: Right, he'll have a protective pool.
Q Can you take the Iraq question for tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I will direct it to the State Department because they actually are going to do more on this; earlier, David Johnson told me earlier today.
Q Mike, was the reason we didn't see him sign the bill because of FEC restrictions about mixing presidential -- election nearing, is that it?
MR. MCCURRY: That's correct. Obviously, our preference would have been to have a signing ceremony, but we're advised by our counsels that we can't mix apples and oranges. So he signed the bill with the group that was with him here inside in a little hotel conference room. They took a picture of that. We will release the picture of that, if anyone's interested in that, because we've got extra copies of it. And then they came out here to talk about it.
Q Mike, what's the difference in releasing a picture of it and doing it out here then?
MR. MCCURRY: Beats me. (Laughter.)
Q I mean, it's in public then. There was coverage of it --
MR. MCCURRY: It beats me. Our preference would have been to do -- we did much the same thing when he signed the executive order on the National Monument for Escalante. He couldn't sign it where he was speaking, but he could sign it elsewhere. Why, I --
MR. LOCKHART: There is a difference. It would take a half an hour to explain.
MR. MCCURRY: Okay. Joe had one more thing.
MR. LOCKHART: On a slightly more political tact, on the Speaker's criticisms. From our point of view. politically, the only thing better than having Newt Gingrich as Bob Dole's chief spokesman is to have New Gingrich speaking on ethics for Bob Dole. He's not credible.
And, more importantly, we've got three weeks left in this election. The time is now to make your case for why you should be elected President. You know, we want to talk about education, we want to talk about protecting the environment, we want to talk about Medicare, talk about the future. They've spent three days talking about this with a spokesman who's not credible on the issue, on ethics issues, due to his own problems. You know, it's another lost opportunity.
Q But are you suggesting -- I don't know if we were asking about the same thing; I was really asking about the Indonesian, that whole thing. And are you suggesting that there isn't an issue there, that the President doesn't need to be concerned about?
MR. LOCKHART: No, I'd refer you to what the Vice President said yesterday, that we followed the letter of the law.
Q I haven't seen it, but I understand there's a report that Huang was still on the Commerce Department payroll at the time he was soliciting these funds. Do you have any response?
MR. LOCKHART: I haven't seen that. I'll check.
Q Is anybody in the administration, is anybody within the campaign been charged at taking a good, hard look at this and just reviewing to make sure that everything was done?
MR. LOCKHART: In the administration? My understanding is that this is a matter having to do with the DNC and that they are happy to take your questions on it.
Q How can you say this is a matter of DNC when you have a White House staffer, Mark Middleton, hand-delivering letters, you've got the President who is friends with these people and is a party to these fundraising activities? You can't just pass this over to the DNC.
Q And someone who came out of the Commerce Department.
Q The guy has been dropped by the White House three times. How does that not have anything to do with the White House?
MR. LOCKHART: I'm not sure I understand the point there.
Q This is an Oval Office matter, is it not?
Q There comes a point when it's indistinguishable, the acts of the President as the President, and the act of the nominee of the Democratic Party. Whatever the legal ramifications are, they're morally and personally and politically indistinguishable.
MR. LOCKHART: I think the Vice President took the questions and answered them very clearly. And the DNC has also answered the questions. I don't know what I have to add.
Q Well, he didn't say anything except that it was all within the letter of the law. That's all he said. He blew it off. He didn't answer it at all.
Q He went on to talk about Newt Gingrich and then he went on to talk about --
MR. LOCKHART: The Vice President was asked several questions on it and answered them.
Q But he didn't answer them. All he said was, it was all within the letter of the law -- boiled down.
Q Isn't this exactly what the President promised would not happen again if he was elected President?
MR. LOCKHART: No.
Q This kind of dirty fundraising?
MR. LOCKHART: Anything else?
Q You guys are attacking Gingrich as not credible, but not offering an explanation of who this guy is, what happened.
MR. MCCURRY: I think that the Vice President answered very clearly yesterday, and the DNC has put out a very complete explanation of their fund-raising activities.
Q But do you have any concerns --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know of any new issue that has arisen that is not been responded to effectively by the Vice President and by the DNC through their spokespeople.
Q And you don't have any concerns that someone who was actually within the --
Q The only answer was that the President followed the letter of the law.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't --
Q You don't have any concerns that somebody who was in the administration and then moves out and does fundraising, that doesn't -- that's not the kind of thing the President is troubled about?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are people who have worked in the administration and then move over and take a political capacity. That's not unusual in an election.
Q -- still on the Commerce Department payroll.
MR. MCCURRY: I can't address that question because that's one that the DNC, if I understand correctly, is looking into.
Q Wait a minute. Why would you pass that off on the DNC? Isn't that a question for the President's spokesman, whether or not a federal employee, a presidential staff member, was --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have an answer on that question.
Q Will you take that for tomorrow, though?
MR. MCCURRY: I've got people looking into it back in Washington.
Q In terms of appearances, though, is this the kind of appearance that the President would like to have?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the appearance here is desperation politics on the part of those running against the President. They've got no other issues to raise, so they are fanning the flames on this issue because they've lost the capacity to talk about things that might excite the American people and motivate people to support their team.
Q Yes, but she wasn't asking about what the Republicans were doing, she's asking about the appearance of things.
MR. MCCURRY: I gave the answer. It appears to be politics on behalf of the President's opponent.
Q The DNC gave the money back, right, I mean the disputed contribution?
MR. MCCURRY: They did in one case, and they've addressed all the specifics of those transactions.
Q Mike, shouldn't the American people be concerned that these folks apparently bought access? I mean, this person was invited three or four times -- that's a legitimate issue.
MR. MCCURRY: That's not the case. I mean, what is the allegation? Is there any change in U.S. policy towards Indonesia? Is that the allegation? I mean, you can go through chapter and verse on that. There was not. That's is one of the most extensively rehearsed bilateral relationships that the United States has anymore in Asia. Those --
Q That has nothing to do with the government of Indonesia, Mike. It has to do with the fact that this guy made money.
MR. MCCURRY: That was the allegation of Speaker Gingrich yesterday.
Q No. The allegation was that he helped to facilitate deals with China that were benefitting this Indonesian company.
Q That's right. It's not about Indonesia, it's about this company.
MR. MCCURRY: And that company -- and we've specifically denied that there was any alteration in our policy based on any of those contexts.
Q Do you have people looking into that? Is that what Fabiani is looking into?
MR. MCCURRY: No, I just want to get a better response to this one specific question that was asked here earlier.
Q Has the President been briefed on this? Is he concerned? Has he asked the DNC to change any rules or change anything?
MR. MCCURRY: The President's focused on the matters that he has already addressed here today.
Q So he's not concerned about it at all?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's focused on the matters that he's addressed here today.
Q You guys made campaign finance reform the top priority in '92. And then you said, well, but we've got to play by the rules, we're not going to unilaterally disarm. Well, in terms of -- are you going to make that a priority? Are you guys going to --
MR. MCCURRY: The President's --
Q It's easy to say that, but in terms of --
MR. MCCURRY: I refer you to transcript of the last debate. When that question came up, the President addressed it directly.
Q Yes. Joe, did you really mean to say that this was not the kind of fundraising that Clinton campaigned against in '92? I mean that was a glib response, but you can't tell me that this is not exactly what Clinton --
MR. LOCKHART: No. But what we've talked about all along is the President made a strong effort to reform the campaign finance laws, and the problem was when it came up to the Senate floor, the McCain-Feingold bill, Bob Dole wouldn't let it come on the floor. Bob Dole was against it. What can we do?
Q Well, of course, the critics would say what little Clinton did to reform campaign financing.
MR. LOCKHART: Well, you can make your own measurement, but --
Q That's a better answer than just standing up there and saying no.
MR. LOCKHART: But supporting McCain-Feingold and not supporting it I think is a clear contrast.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 10:38 A.M. MDT