THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary (Little Rock, Arkansas) ________________________________________________________________________ For Immediate Release November 5, 1996
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
Convention Center Little Rock, Arkansas
8:45 P.M. CST
MR. MCCURRY: On behalf of Terrance Hunt, the President of the White House Correspondents Association, I bring you greetings. They're very excited to hear from you, Terry.
Let me just tell you a little bit about what the President's been up to tonight. He started watching the returns early in the evening in his suite with daughter, Chelsea, Chelsea's friends of which there are several and they've all been enjoying each other's company. The First Lady was there; close friends, Vernon Jordan, the Chief of Staff, Mr. Stephanopoulos and others early in the evening.
And the President, as you will no doubt be unsurprised at, was very engaged in all of the election returns. He quickly started speed-dialing individual winners as the networks projected winners. He talked early in the evening to Governor Bayh, to Dick Swett in New Hampshire. He, no doubt, by now has been talking to a number of others. Leon -- I saw a short while ago -- he had been in the suite while I was down talking to some of you -- he had said he'd probably had made dozens and dozens of calls by now.
At 9:00 p.m. Eastern, when the networks reported the news they saw fit to report, the President happened to be down in the staff room on the 18th floor. He was -- had gone down just to say hello to the staff and visit with some of them. And that is where he was at the moment that the networks made their projections.
The President, as all of you see at this point, very gratified with the news that we're hearing tonight, but he stressed to all of us that we should keep focused on the get out the vote effort because polls are obviously still open in California. He's very concerned about turnout in California. The party had anticipated the situation we're in right now and so the California party has a GOTV effort that's been running today that focused on getting voters to the polls early. But they are continuing to do a lot of wind-up activity there in trying to get our vote out.
So we are circumspect about saying anything about some of the news that's been reported so far. But obviously the President's in very good spirits seeing what's been reported so far.
Q What did he actually say at the time you saw him, if you did, get the word from the screen?
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't -- I wasn't there. It was -- a cheer that went up obviously from the staff and then the President just worked around the room embracing individual staffers and visiting with them and talking with them.
Q Anything on the Arkansas Senate race?
MR. MCCURRY: Say it again?
Q The Arkansas Senate race?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm sorry -- I didn't --
Q Arkansas Senate race -- was he disappointed?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I'm not even -- I'm not even --I don't even know which way it went. I have an idea, but --
Q At what time do you expect him to make his speech?
MR. MCCURRY: The President -- I don't anticipate the President being here much before 10:30 p.m. or 11:00 p.m. The campaign manager, Peter Knight, has been in touch with -- I believe was getting in touch with Scott Reed just to see what the disposition of the Dole campaign was about any kind of statement that they might want to make. I think some of you have seen that Nelson Warfield has made a statement on the Senator's behalf. And I'll leave it to the Senator and the President to address those types of matters later on.
Q Has he been in contact with the Dole camp and expressing any gratitude over Nelson Warfield's statement?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, I think there will be more official statements most likely from Senator Dole, and obviously the President intends to speak as we said some time after 10:00 p.m. when the polls close in California.
Q Do you foresee the President inviting Dole to the White House at some point for a show of post-election unity?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, you've heard on many occasions the President say how much he respects Senator Dole personally, how much he admires his service to his nation. You also have heard during the course of this campaign the President reference the kind of work the Senator has done, particularly with respect to issues like entitlement reform, the preservation of Social Security. The President, you'll recall, specifically complimented some of the work Senator Dole did on the 1983 commission.
It's premature at this point to talk about how that relationship will develop, but it starts based on one of respect, at least from the view of the President.
Q How is it like to be part of winning campaign, McCurry, for the first time?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know, as I've never been in one before and -- from start to finish. And I don't really know. What are you supposed to do? Look, I've got a lot of friends who -- let me maybe turn it around the other way -- I've got a lot of friends who are working in the Dole campaign and one particularly close friend. And we've been where they are and we know that life goes on and fortunes change. And it's nice to win, but it's also important to do what you think is important and right and true. And a lot of people in that campaign worked their hearts out for Senator Dole and I know that they feel disappointment just as we feel a sense of elation tonight. But the important thing is that people come back together and work together on problems the country faces.
I think the message you'll hear from the President tonight is there is a center in American politics; it can hold, it can govern, and that candidates, whether they're Democrats or Republicans who embrace a view of the common ground, as the President defined it, will be able together to work, beginning in the 105th Congress next year, to tackle the problems that are clearly on the nation's agenda.
Q -- the reelection of President Clinton is going to have on foreign policy?
MR. MCCURRY: The question is what effect the election might have on the foreign policy. The President had a very good discussion with Secretary Christopher this afternoon, reviewing that question among others. Also I told some of you earlier, the President highly values Secretary Christopher's work four years ago in managing the transition process in the selection of a Cabinet and sought Secretary Christopher's very wise counsel on some of the issues we will now face related to personnel, structure of the Cabinet as we look ahead. And it was a very useful meeting.
It's a little premature at this point to project when decisions or announcements might be made about personnel.
Q Has the President tonight yet or will he speak to Dick Morris and have a conversation, congratulations?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know the answer to that. I'll let you know tomorrow if that happens.
Q -- states that the President was especially pleased that he won?
MR. MCCURRY: I think early in the evening the President told me he was especially gratified with the result in Florida. That's a state that, as you know, no Democrat has carried since '64, since President Carter. And we did a lot of hard work there. The President's two brothers-in-law are going to savor that victory especially well since they kept telling the President, even when others had contrary advice, that Florida was winnable. We put a lot of hard work into that state and that so far this evening, although I think the President has savored every state and remembers visiting every state, but that one was especially gratifying to him.
Q Any talk about the President calling Dole tonight? Did the President call Dole?
MR. MCCURRY: We'll alert you later if there has been any contact between the two.
Q -- sense of elation in general. Would you say the President feels a sense of elation?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. I think he feels exactly what he described in Sioux Falls, a sense of satisfaction at having put a very good argument together, but a sense of determination about carrying his work forward. He said last night that -- he described the personal lesson of understanding how important it is to bring Americans together to tackle problems and how for him that has been a lesson that requires a sense of humility. And I believe that that's very much how he feels right now. It's a somewhat humbling experience to be asked to continue to face the daunting challenges this nation faces as it goes into the 21st century. And for that reason, the President knows there is an awful lot of hard work ahead.
Q You mentioned Florida. The President also made -- had an interest in Texas and it appears he did lose Texas. Is he disappointed in that?
MR. MCCURRY: I think the President worked hard in Texas. He, as you know, was a true believer in the ability of his campaign to work hard in that state. We made an investment there, although -- Joe, why don't you help me here. I would describe it as maybe a somewhat modest investment, at least one that was designed to encourage turnout and help some of our candidates there. And we did not contest that state as heavily as we did other key battleground states. But I think we take some satisfaction in having come very close there, and we certainly know that there is an awful lot of support for the President there that we can use to help develop support as we tackle the problems of the next four years.
Q Mike, who are some of the people the President called right after he got the word?
MR. MCCURRY: As some of you already know, the two that I know for certain were Governor Bayh and Senator-elect Dick Swett in New Hampshire. The results, by the way, in New Hampshire I think gave the President a particular thrill as well. That's an extraordinary story. What has always been considered one of the most Republican states in the country not only elected -- voted for the Democratic ticket for President, but elected by an overwhelming margin a new Democratic governor and a Democratic United States senator. That's, for those of you familiar with New Hampshire politics, an extraordinary statement on the breadth of the victory that apparently the President is winning tonight.
It's clear that by the end of this evening, if the current projections hold, the President will have won in every part of the country, in every region, showing signs of strength in places that used to be credited as part of the Republican electoral bloc. And if we do our work effectively and continue to build on this, we might be able to reshape some conventional wisdom about the nature of the electoral map.
Q But, Mike, the polls are showing that Republicans look set to maintain control of the Senate. How does the President feel about that? Is that also a humbling part of the experience?
MR. MCCURRY: The President so far this evening, watching these results, has been impressed by the fact that Republican candidates who did well and who got elected appeared to have been those who put some distance between their own campaigns and the more extreme provisions of some of the Republican efforts in 1994. Those who are sort of moving to the center of the spectrum, embracing a more centrist view of the American future are doing well, whether they're Democrats or Republicans. And that is encouraging to the President because it suggests there could very well be a bipartisan coalition that emerges in the next Congress that would be willing to work closely with this President.
We've already seen that when that type of bipartisanship occurs we can reform welfare, we can raise the minimum wage, we can expand health insurance coverage. And that's exactly the fashion in which the President would address the Congress when he suggests his own priorities if these results hold up.
Again, I put a condition on everything that I'm saying right now because the President's true focus at the moment is encouraging all of us to do everything we can to build turnout in the West and encourage those in the West who can vote to get out the vote. And I say that to the particular attention of the wire services, because most of our statements right now are geared towards stepping back from any acknowledgement of what some of the news organizations are reporting.
Q What about the Senate race here in Arkansas? A Republican has captured a Senate seat for the first time
in over 100 years. Is that an embarrassment for the President?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not familiar enough with the situation in that race to comment on it. I'll see if I can get -- some of our folks who really follow Arkansas politics more closely can maybe help you out on that.
Q Mike, from your standpoint, were there any surprises in the election at all?
MR. MCCURRY: The greatest surprise to me -- and let me let Joe take that question, too, because he may have a different perspective -- I think the greatest surprise to me is the extraordinary stability of this race back to last spring. These results are almost literally identical to where we started the race back in the spring when Senator Dole emerged as the likely Republican contender. And the dynamic of that race changing for that length of time is, I think, unprecedented in recent national election contests. It suggests that the President had very strong ground to start on as he started the campaign, and it suggests that his ability to address the center of the American political spectrum throughout this long campaign year was very key to keeping him in good stead with the American people during that time.
Q To follow up on Terry's question, why should we not just simply write the Arkansas race is an embarrassment since the President campaigned for him and --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't -- I just don't know enough about the dynamic of that race, Ron. There are people around the country that the President campaigned for who won tonight. There are some that we worked hard for that lost. Each state has its own dynamic. I'm just not familiar enough with the Arkansas dynamic.
MR. LOCKHART: On the previous question of the surprise, I think, to echo what Mike said, the great surprise in the race was that there wasn't one. There were a few moments in the race that seemed to affect the race for a couple of days. But there was never anything from the day that Bob Dole wrapped up the nomination to election day that fundamentally altered either the nature or the dialogue of the race.
And I think that was a reflection of, from our point of view, a campaign that had a well-thought-out strategy, stuck to it. And we believed from early on if we could stick to what we were doing that we could come to tonight and have the kind of result we had tonight.
MR. MCCURRY: We've got a lot of other people who will kind of mix and mingle over the coming days as you read the entrails of the race. All right. We will -- we will alert you if we expect any change in the President's plan. But I, at this point, don't expect to see him for at least another hour and a half. And that may slip depending on what kind of interplay there is later in the evening between the two campaigns.
All right. Yes, sir?
Q Has the President made plans for a vacation or taking the next few days off?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, just in terms of schedule -- the President's plans for departure -- have you guys, Mary Ellen, have you guys put out a schedule for tomorrow? My understanding is that Chelsea needs to get back to Washington for something that she's doing. They plan to leave around 11:15 a.m., head back to Washington. So they'll get back around 2:30 p.m. or 3:00 p.m., I guess. They will hold in the White House and then come out on the South Lawn and address some of our Washington supporters who have not been able to come down here this evening at approximately 4:00 p.m.
The President's got a down day tomorrow and then he's got a series of meetings that he will commence beginning Friday as we look ahead. And we'll keep you apprised as to what other kind of public occasion we might have in which you'll be there to talk to him.
Q Is the President doing anything tomorrow night?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, they're doing -- they've got a big thank-you dinner for a lot of our supporters in Washington that he's going to be going to.
Q It's at the Pension Building?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, it's a big event at the Pension Building. It's some kind of big gala dinner he'll be going to.
Q Where is it?
MR. MCCURRY: The Pension Building -- the National Building Museum which is the Pension Building.
Okay. Thank you. It's been a great evening. Mr. Lockhart is going to buy me a beer -- right? As usual, I'll buy him a beer.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 9:00 P.M. CST