THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Little Rock, Arkansas) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 5, 1996
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Convention Center Little Rock, Arkansas
2:58 P.M. CST
MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Happy election day.
Q -- doing the macarena?
MR. MCCURRY: We will do the macarena for you if you so choose.
Let me report one thing to you. As you know, President Boris Yeltsin of the Russian Federation underwent heart bypass surgery earlier today. On behalf of the American people, President Clinton has conveyed the very best wishes of the American people to President Yeltsin for a full and speedy recovery and indicated that the thoughts and prayers of the American people are with Mrs. Yeltsin and the Yeltsin family.
The President sent an official expression of concern on behalf of the American people to President Yeltsin, a "Dear Boris," signed "Bill" message. And then to Mrs. Yeltsin he and the First Lady sent a personal "best wishes" and said that they were thinking of her. Two separate messages.
I should also report to you that about 11:20 a.m. Central Time here this morning the President talked to Prime Minister Victor Chernomyrdin. The Prime Minister had called to report that he had visited President Yeltsin's hospital, had spoken to President Yeltsin's doctors and wanted to report directly to the President that the operation had gone very well and that President Yeltsin was doing well. He also wanted to thank the President for the expression of concern on behalf of the American people by President Clinton.
Beyond that, the President has voted. The First Lady has voted. So we know of at least two votes for the ticket here in Arkansas.
And why don't we turn to see if you have any other subjects that you would like to explore.
Q What time did he get up?
MR. MCCURRY: It's not what time did he get up, it's what time did he go to sleep is a more interesting question. The President, having very much enjoyed his day of campaigning yesterday and enjoying the last stop in Sioux Falls and the energetic welcome he got here from his friends in Arkansas, decided it was time for a little game of hearts. And so I believe he saw the sun rise.
Q Where did he play?
MR. MCCURRY: In the suite of his Chief of Staff, who finished third place in the contest.
Q Who came in second?
Q Who did win?
MR. MCCURRY: The winner, as customarily is the case, who's the Assistant to the President for Political Affairs, Doug Sosnik, the only man in the White House brave enough to beat the President of the United States in hearts, the President's favorite game of cards.
Q Who else played?
MR. MCCURRY: Just the three of them. We are looking a new political affairs director and any of you young people who are here working, we've got a job opening now. And Doug, I believe, was down at the Grayhound Terminal. Sosnik was at the Gray Hound Terminal when we last saw him. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, there's a lot of swirling around today about the possible Cabinet changes --
MR. MCCURRY: Swirling around?
MR. MCCURRY: Where? Which way -- The Chief of Staff -- Mr. Blitzer is often fond of reporting things before they happen. The President has not made a decision about a Chief of Staff, so any reports to that contrary are untrue.
Q When did the President go to bed -- or did he go to bed?
MR. MCCURRY: He went to bed just before sunrise and woke up just before he went to vote.
Q Mike, can you give some idea of how the day is going to unfold, what he'll do this afternoon, and how this evening will work out?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, the President -- a lot of these questions I think imply on your behalf that the President is farther along in discussions in consideration of those issues than properly he should be. The President right now is focused on the decision the American people are making at this very moment. They will render a judgment tonight about the campaigns of the candidates who have run for President. The President is prepared for an orderly transition, either to a second term or to his successor and he awaits with great interest the outcome of the voting. That's a non-answer.
Q Yes. So if he loses, what are you going to do? So what happens tonight in terms of actually seeing him or --
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, the schedule for tonight. The President will watch election returns. He's got a suite at the Excelsior Hotel, the Bill Clinton Suite. And the Vice President of the United States has a suite, the Al Gore Suite. And the two suites will have a lot of election results ebbing and flowing through them and the two principals will watch and ponder and, at the appropriate time, will appear out in front of the State Capitol. That will not happen, in my best guess, until sometime after the polls in California close.
Q Is he going to play golf this afternoon?
MR. MCCURRY: Negative as far as I know. He's attending a brunch sponsored by Senator Pryor and he was going back to the hotel. He planned to have some meetings this afternoon with folks who are in town for this occasion, which we hope will be a joyous one. And then he will do a little work on whatever he plans to say to the American people and he'll get information as it's available to him from those who are following him.
Q Mike, what's he doing -- Christopher?
MR. MCCURRY: Secretary of State Christopher came down to Little Rock this afternoon. The President called and said to Chris that he really wanted him here tonight. If you think back four years, Warren Christopher was the person most responsible for structuring the selection of the Cabinet that has served the President enormously well. We've found an enormous stability in our Cabinet, a group of people who have served the President well, compiled a record that is a very large part of the case the President made to the American people for reelection. So the President felt it appropriate to have the Secretary of State here today to celebrate with him whatever outcome of the election we enjoy tonight.
He also felt it appropriate to have some conversations with the Secretary of State about how to plan for this period that we now face. We're going into a period in which the President has got to make some decisions related to personnel, and with the process for structuring a second term, if he is reelected by the American people. And he has always looked to the Secretary of State as someone of enormous patience, wisdom, integrity and grace, as a person who can provide thoughtful counsel on those type of matters. I suspect they might also talk about what the Secretary's own plans are.
Q -- could you tell us what the early exit polls were as relayed to you by the networks, and what the reaction to the early numbers was from top people?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't really have -- someone had them in our midst here, but I haven't looked at them yet, so I don't have any reaction.
Q Christopher's not the only Cabinet member here, right? Aren't they all coming down?
MR. MCCURRY: A number of Cabinet members were planning to come down. There's a charter -- I think a charter aircraft, maybe two aircrafts coming down from Washington that the campaign put together so that folks who work for the campaign, work for the administration who wanted to be here in Little Rock can be with the President to celebrate tonight. There are a number of Cabinet members on that plane.
I want to just -- there will be a lot of interest in the next 24 hours about where we are in various discussions. I can tell you the President has focused on the very hard work that went into making this day what we hope will be a success. I think a lot of you think that he is much more far along in certain types of discussions than in reality he is. He has not had certain discussions that would allow him to make any decisions at this point.
So I would ask and plead with you that you give him some space because he has not wrestled some of these decisions down. I expect that will happen. I think the President, depending on the outcome tonight, wants to move ahead very briskly, but he will do so only after having conversations with people who have been enormously loyal to him and he feels he deserves to show some loyalty to them in return as he has conversations with selected people who may have an interest in discussing their own plans with him. In other words, let's slow down a little bit because I think you're all thinking that things are more advanced than they are.
Q Mike --
MR. MCCURRY: Especially CNN.
Q Yes. In that sense, will there be -- you're saying that Christopher will be providing some of that counsel. But is there a person who will be actually fulfilling that actual function that Christopher fulfilled before in a very hands-on way? Or is it different this time?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you mean, looking back to four years ago? The President will have some -- at a proper time, will talk a little bit more about the process we will use for the transition period, however it will be structured. And he'll identify some people who will play certain roles.
We've already told you that Mr. Panetta is playing a very significant role and has been working on that process, designing it, has had conversations with the President related to personnel. We've already told you that both Erskine Bowles and Vernon Jordan have been a part of those conversations, and Evelyn Lieberman has been doing some of the conversations related to the White House. So, prudently, some of this work has started in a tentative way. But nothing has been presented to the President that would bring him to a point today of making final decisions -- contrary to some news reports.
Q Mike, are Vernon and Erskine both here tonight?
MR. MCCURRY: I know that Vernon was coming down on a plane from Washington and I think Erskine expected to be here, too. I haven't seen them yet. I know, I talked to Vernon, I know he's going to be down. I haven't seen Erskine yet, but I think they do expect to come down.
Q Mike, is the whole Cabinet going to be down here with the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not believe that the Cabinet is down here. The President plans to meet with the whole Cabinet, most likely on Friday.
Q -- will the President be somewhere where he can stop in?
MR. MCCURRY: There will be various people -- I mean, he'll visit with a number of friends and colleagues and Cabinet officials and others tonight in the suite. They won't all be together at one place probably until the State Capitol.
Q Can you describe the suite? Is there anything unusual about it, its decor the screens -- are there multiple TV screens? What's it like where he's going to be watching?
MR. MCCURRY: He just is -- we've got a room set up with some TVs -- just -- and we'd like to have four TVs and with the arrival of FOX, we'll probably soon get five TVs, so we can watch everybody all at once.
Q Secretary Christopher's apparently -- the President asked him to come down. He's coming down. Did you talk about that already, Mike?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I did a whole sequence on that.
Q Mike, at what point -- probably long ago, the President had to decide whether he would stay in Washington for election night or come here to Little Rock. Can you just fill us in on why he made the decision to come back here as opposed to stay at the White House?
MR. MCCURRY: My understanding is he wanted to vote here and so he was going to be here.
MR. LOCKHART: I talked to Bruce about this a little bit. And he approached him, I think it was about six weeks ago, and Bruce said, you know, we have to make a decision on whether it's Little Rock or Washington. And the President looked at Bruce and said, well, of course, it's Little Rock, why would it be anything else. And he just -- he never thought there was a decision to make and expressed a little bit of surprise that we were thinking about Washington as another alternative. And it was at that point the decision was final.
MR. MCCURRY: Having often commented upon Senator Robert Dole during this campaign, it is only appropriate that Mr. Lockhart now sounds like him. (Laughter.) Save your voice, in other words.
Q Joe, do you have any comment, since you're from the campaign, on these polls that are coming out now -- exit polls?
MR. LOCKHART: There's lots of -- you know, as is customary on election day, there's lot of thing floating around, and we'll just wait until the real numbers come in tonight.
Q What do the polls close in California, 8:00 p.m. Pacific Time?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's 8:00 p.m. Pacific, which would put us 10:00 p.m. here. And I imagine it will be some time after that that the President will speak.
Q Mike, on that question, just for planning purposes, can you give us some guidance -- is it likely that if there is a clear verdict he would try to come down right away once California closes, or might we expect that this could be -- there could be a lingering period?
MR. MCCURRY: It will be probably a lingering period and it depends on other things other than what we're all watching on television.
Q Mike, if the President were to win tonight, but gets less than 50 percent of the popular vote, will he be disappointed?
MR. MCCURRY: Listen, a lot of people -- you know, I'd say a lot of people report on this. For the benefit of some of your readers and viewers that are not familiar with the functioning of the electoral college, maybe you could walk people through some of this. You know where we campaigned the last several days. Where were we? We were in New Hampshire, Maine, Iowa, South Dakota. These are states that are important because they have important congressional contests and the President was interested in looking at an electoral map that maximized his support in various regions around the country.
That's the way our system works. Our Constitution defines an institution called the electoral college that elects the President. The magic number is 270. The magic number is not 50 percent. If we had wanted to put a focus or priority on 50 percent we would have dumped advertising money in New York and California in the last couple of days and run up the popular vote total in those states so that we could reach this mythic number.
The important thing, important numbers are 270 in the electoral college and then creating a center coalition that can govern composed of Republicans, Democrats, independents who share and embrace the President's vision and who are prepared to work with him to do those things he's described as being part of building the bridge to the 21st century.
That is what the President sought in this election, the opportunity to define a future for America that would resemble those things he put before the American people in this campaign. And he went and worked hard for that, seeking to elect people who shared that vision and also simultaneously seeking to see that his own prospects for reelection were enhanced state-by-state and in those states where we were trying to compete actively for electoral college votes.
So I hope you will remind people that. There's been a lot of reporting about the 50 percent number. You know, any President would like to get a large share of popular vote, but throughout our history in this country we have elected President's with less than 50 percent who have simultaneously been able to arrive in office with a consolidated victory based on the electoral college and based on support from around the country, state-by-state, in every region. And that's what the President sought in this election.
Joe, do you want to chime in on that subject? Okay.
Q You may have answered this already, but do we see him at all tomorrow before he leaves here?
MR. MCCURRY: Say again?
Q Do we see the President at all tomorrow before he leaves here? Does he do any of the traditional day-after news conference, answering questions, anything?
MR. MCCURRY: When he leaves here he will go to Washington. He will talk at the South Lawn when he arrives. And then I -- David Mariniss made a good point to me -- I said yesterday, well, he'll have a news conference when there's news. And he pointed out there's some rather unsavory ways that you can interpret that statement. I think he was right.
I mean, the President understands the importance of meeting with all of you and he certainly will do that and do that very soon. But we will do that along the timetable I suggested earlier. He's got some conversations not related to whatever the election result is tonight that are important. Those will be of very prime interest to all of you and he would like to be able to answer some of those questions with specific answers at the time that we are in a position to do that.
And that's going to require him doing some work with people he wants to see over the course of the coming days. So I can't tell you that we're going to be in a position to have a press conference Friday or Monday or any other dates that all of you have asked me several times about. But he understands the importance of doing that and plans to do that soon, certainly prior to departing Washington and we'll see what we can work out in terms of time.
Q But he's not going to be taking questions on the South Lawn tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: He'll be meeting and greeting our supporters in Washington, especially those who hadn't had an opportunity to come down. But he wants to visit with all of you and take your questions and talk abut what lies ahead when he's in a position to do that, based on the conversations he would like to enjoy over the next several day.
Q Mike, what other events, parties, et cetera, is the President likely to attend tonight do you know?
MR. LOCKHART: There are two private receptions here in the hotel tonight; one which is primarily some friends from Arkansas, and then another one which is made primarily of some of the staff that are in town.
Q Both here?
MR. LOCKHART: both here in the hotel, yes. And they're both private receptions.
Q How would you describe the President's mood and spirit today as he goes through the day in your observation?
MR. MCCURRY: He's just -- I don't know. The mood and his general frame of mind was reflected very much in the remarks in Sioux Falls last night, for those of you who saw it.
The President spoke, I think, from the heart in a very personal way at the end of his very last campaign speech last night. And that reflects exactly where he is. He's learned lessons. He is humbled by the prospect of being reelected by the American people. He knows that he will have to work each and every day to do a good job for them and to continue to enjoy their trust and confidence. But he's feeling very excited about that work. And, obviously, he feels that we have run a very good campaign that has put his argument in a very good light in front of the American people. He now will await the verdict of the American people, but he does so with some confidence that he's made a very compelling argument over the period of the last year really in which he's argued about America's future.
Q -- separate suites for him and Gore, were you suggesting they'd watch it separately?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they both have their own group of friends that are down here that they're going to be entertaining. But I know there will probably be a lot of -- they're right next door to each other, so there's going to be a lot of back-and-forth and milling around and way too many folks there for those of us who enjoy the quieter, contemplative times in life.
Q What floor of the hotel is it on? A little colore here.
MR. MCCURRY: I don't want to identify the specific floor, but it's up closer to the top. It's not like -- I guess it's -- it's, shall we say, highest levels.
Q Is the First Lady going to be spending most of her time also in the suites?
MR. MCCURRY: They both are -- maybe I didn't answer that adequately -- they are both very, very happy. They are very excited about what they believe will be the success of their efforts over the last several weeks. They're looking forward to entertaining all of their friends tonight who are in town and celebrate with them what we hope will be an election victory. And that's a pretty good feeling, all in all.
But, again, we caution all of you that we are waiting to see what the final results might be.
Q There were a number of other ballot initiatives on the ballot here in Arkansas, including a ballot initiative involving gambling in Hot Springs. I was wondering how the President voted on that.
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar with the ballot here; I did not question the President about how he voted on those issues. He refrained during the course of the campaign from taking public positions on many local ballot initiatives around the country. I'm not aware that -- I'm not aware that he took any public position on those Arkansas issues, so I'll choose to make his votes on those issues private at the point. But I will check with him and see if he had any interest in expressing a preference on those items.
Q Mike, you're quoted in some articles about the Riady story. I guess the facts of it are pretty much correct, but do you have a final number of meetings? And again, how justified is it that he should be discussing his personal trade issues and U.S. policy?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not have a final number because I've encouraged -- I've been working with a number of reporters from many of your news organizations on these stories. It is --the number is not as significant as the sequence and the grouping of the numbers. And those who are working on the story, I think, have reflected that in some of the reporting that they've done. But there are a series of meetings. The meetings, as best we can determine from looking at reconstructing what happened, were on matters that they would have every right to raise in conversations they had with the various people they saw at the White House.
Q So you're saying that what he was talking about, which might concern his own business --
MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not -- I did not suggest and don't believe I suggested in any of those reports that he discussed his own personal business ventures. As I said in several places, he described more -- as business executives the President meets with often do -- the importance of remaining fully engaged with Asia as the United States develops trade relations with these emerging economies.
Their conversations tend to be -- they were short. They were one a 15-minute conversation, one a 20-minute conversation -- opportunities to say hello, to visit for a bit. And it was a very general discussion about you're doing the right thing in continuing to be engaged in policies related to the trade and economic issues in the Pacific Rim. Obviously, that would include China and the questions -- include some issues related to Indonesia because Riady obviously had a personal interest in developments in Indonesia.
All right? What should we do here. Do you guys need anything more out of here tonight? I don't know why, because there's not going to be a lot to say. Because we are planning -- I think we're going to be shifting our focus up over to the hotel and the State Capitol.
Q Where is it that campaign officials are receiving these results? Is there a little war room somewhere?
MR. MCCURRY: Doe's Eat Place is where -- Doe's Eat Place is where we just received some of it.
The headquarters in Washington is really doing most of the work on assembling data from around the country, getting the reports from our coordinated campaign directors, looking at our work to get out the vote. Remember, we've got a massive get out the vote effort that is underway right now. We are essentially down here staying out of the way of that. But that's being coordinated and driven by a lot of our political team that is running the headquarters in Washington.
They're feeding reports in down here, so we are not managing the campaign right now from here in Little Rock. That's being done by those who are driving the get out the vote effort who are based in Washington. We're getting reports coming in and feeding stuff in from time to time. But the President, frankly, has been more interested in seeing his friends and seeing his family today than in getting a lot of the entrails of the information that's floating around.
Q Where are the campaign and White House people here who are getting this information? Is there a sort of --
MR. MCCURRY: I mean, they're -- it's like, you know, most Doe's Eat Place -- most of us were over just having a steak. A bunch of people were going to go visit friends this afternoon. I think some folks were going to go up to Hot Springs. I mean, we're just basically trying to kick back a little bit because we'll have a long night, we suspect.
Q Mike, when it does come to the end of the night are you going to do any wrap on details or what the President did behind the scenes, or anything like that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, we'll try to put out some kind of schedule on the day. And then what do we have? Do we have like a -- for transcript purposes, by the way, this has gone on way too long, so the stenos can knock off at this point. Why don't we feed the pool.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 3:25 P.M. CST