THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
PRESS BRIEFING BY MIKE MCCURRY
The Briefing Room
3:55 P.M. EST
MR. MCCURRY: All right, here we go, ladies and gentlemen. It's a pleasure to welcome you here to the White House press briefing room, where once again I can hold forth, after our long travels, back at this old familiar podium that feels so good. Some things never change.
Yesterday, outside, I told some of you about the congratulatory calls the President received, but I just want to do that again on the record so there would be a transcript of what I think were fairly important calls.
The first came from King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah from Saudi Arabia. They stressed the longstanding friendship of Saudi Arabia and the United States and congratulated the President on his reelection victory, and noted the close ties that have existed dating -- close ties between Saudi Arabia and the United States that have existed since the time of the last reelection of a Democratic President, President Franklin Roosevelt, obviously.
Prime Minister Chretien also called. Clearly, that was a more personal call -- or a personal call of congratulations, as well as an official expression of congratulations. Both of those calls occurred in Little Rock. Then as the President was winging his way back to Washington aboard Air Force One, he received calls from Chancellor Kohl, from President Chirac, and from Prime Minister Major, all of them expressing congratulations to the President from our very close European allies.
I'd describe all these calls as being calls that obviously congratulated the President, but also congratulated American democracy, which continues to flourish in this post-Cold War era. (Laughter.)
Okay. I see you're real interested in that. Now, the real thing is -- (laughter) -- we also have been getting congratulatory messages from foreign capitals near and far, and David Johnson has got a nice little chart here that doesn't look like it's classified, so if anyone wants to know who's called -- let's check and see if any --
Q Might get more publicity if you classify it.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, we could classify it and then leak it, and then somebody would write about it. That's a great idea. (Laughter.)
Anyhow, so life goes on. What do you want to know about.
Q Officially, is there going to be a news conference tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. I am proud to announce that the President of the United States will hold a news conference tomorrow at 3:00 p.m.
Q Will that be exactly at 3:00 p.m., or is that one of these things that could slip to 3:30 p.m. or 4:00 p.m., or is it going to be 3:01:30 p.m. (Laughter.) That's a serious question.
MR. MCCURRY: You think so. (Laughter.) No, we'll probably -- if your question is, for purposes of live coverage, will he start on the button, I'll try to make that happen. I think some of the networks have that concern, too, so if you're looking at a real hard start at 3:01:30 p.m., let me know.
Q Mike, has a new chief of staff been selected? And if not, do you expect an announcement at the press conference tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what to expect. Is a new chief of staff chosen? The answer is no.
Q Will there be personnel announcements? Is that the plan?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't know what to expect. And let me save some time. Immediately after this briefing, when you call and say, well, what can you say on background, what I will tell you is that the President is working hard on this; there's more than one person under consideration. As with most personnel matters there are obvious personal considerations that go into difficult considerations, and the President has been weighing those with some of the candidates he's talking to, and we'll see what happens. At this point, I don't know; I don't think the President knows. So that's what I would tell you on background, if you want to call.
Q Does he still have a Cabinet meeting tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: He plans to have a Cabinet meeting, I believe at -- I think we decided 1:30 p.m., prior to the press conference.
Q How about the replacement for Christopher? Is it going to be a long time?
MR. MCCURRY: No. The President indicated that he will take some time to find someone worthy as a successor to Secretary Christopher, who clearly had strong desires to return to Los Angeles after his four years of exemplary service to the nation. And the President has already begun the process of considering various candidates, but arriving at the name of someone who would be placed in nomination may take some time. I don't want to speculate about how much time.
Q Mike, what's the purpose of the Cabinet meeting tomorrow? Is it to consider personnel decisions, to announce -- is personnel a factor in the Cabinet meeting tomorrow?
MR. MCCURRY: The President wants to be prepared tomorrow in response to questions to describe somewhat the process we'll use for a transition, but we do want to brief the Cabinet on that first.
Q Has Secretary Pena offered his resignation?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to get into any discussion of individual personnel matters. I was strongly discouraged from doing so by the President. The President would like an opportunity to consider these matters as we go through the coming days, and obviously he wants the opportunity to talk individually with some people.
I think you're seeing, by the way, the natural churning of personnel as administrations go into second terms. Some people just decide they've enjoyed their service, but they want to move on. Other people begin to think about other opportunities. Some people, frankly, still want to talk to the President and ponder their futures, and in some cases, as people prepare to leave, it's perfectly natural, in fact, very gracious that they tell their staffs privately that they're ready to go. And sometimes, as you know, that leaks out and so we've got some stories churning out there about what individual people might be doing. But what we'll try to do is to do things in a very proper and fit way as we did today with Secretary Christopher.
Q What's the meeting about tomorrow? Is it to lay out the next term?
MR. MCCURRY: Really, to make sure that this administration is prepared to do those things the President said were important as he campaigned for reelection -- to prepare for the budget cycle, which begins very shortly; to make sure we're in a position to move very quickly in 1997 to present our ideas to the Congress; to assure that when the President takes the oath of office for a second time on January 20th he has a strong team in place that is already hard at work at building the bridge to the 21st century.
Q Mike, the rest of the names of the dear departed, will they come out piecemeal or en masse?
MR. MCCURRY: It depends on how hard you guys work on it. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, was the Attorney General out of line today to say that she wants to stay?
MR. MCCURRY: Some Cabinet members are choosing to make more public their own feelings, and certainly not.
Q When there's a change in administrations, sometimes it's simply pro forma, have everybody submit their resignation and have the chief executive decide who stays and who goes. Did the President expect that of his Cabinet members to submit resignations?
MR. MCCURRY: The President thought about that. That can sometimes be kind of a cold process. The President deeply values the work of a very loyal Cabinet and what he wanted was a situation in which he would have flexibility to make changes, and everyone in this Cabinet knows that the President -- we all serve at the pleasure of the President, and they all know that the President needs to have flexibility to make changes if necessary. But at the same time, the President and Mr. Panetta did not see any need for a blanket resignation, that we can, in a more sensitive way, deal issue by issue, case by case, with individual people in the administration or the White House staff or whatever presidential appointees may resign.
Q If Reno wants to stay, then can she? Can we consider that done?
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying anything -- I'm not announcing anything about personnel. It will be the President's prerogative to have discussions individually with people and determine what the plans are. I mean, these are -- everyone here works in news organizations that have personnel questions from time to time, and you know that they are complicated.
Q When you say they are private -- Attorney General Reno made them public and so can we assume that she's been given a green light by the President to stay?
MR. MCCURRY: That's fine, she can talk -- she can say that publicly. There's no problem with that.
Q Mike, did the President express any reaction to Senator D'Amato's cease-fire on Whitewater hearings, and also his reaction to David Brinkley's comments?
MR. MCCURRY: I have not heard him have any particular reaction to Senator D'Amato's remarks. And on Mr. Brinkley's remarks, he's not -- to my knowledge, he has not clarified those remarks, and we -- Mary Ellen gave a good reaction to it yesterday.
Q Is he going to do the interview?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't think we've -- it's still -- what is it, Thursday. I don't think we lock in Sunday shows until Friday, so we'll see.
Q This is for an interview tomorrow.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, it's a Sunday show, so we could do it -- we might pretape it, if we did it. But we'll see.
Q In other words, he's not going to do it. (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: I didn't say that.
Q In other words, you're not going to say.
MR. MCCURRY: In other words, I'm not going to say.
Q What is the administration's reaction then to Senator D'Amato's remarks concerning Whitewater?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we hope that there is a climate after this election in which legitimate oversight investigative work by the Congress will be done in a somewhat less poisonous environment. And we've just gone through an election period in which there's been a lot of negativity. And the President understands the important and the legitimate role the Legislative Branch has as it pursues legitimately matters of concern to the Legislative Branch. We hope that can be done in an atmosphere in which truth is the objective.
Q Mike, can you give us a sense of the other types of things the President's working on in terms of preparing for a second term besides personnel?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, we've got a number of things underway. We've got a very detailed agenda that the President's placed before the country that needs to be codified, put into budget proposals. It needs also to be put in a legislative proposals. So a lot of people working hard on that front.
And the President also will want to articulate these goals in a fashion that's suitable for an inaugural address, for a state of the union address, for a budget message. And all of these things now are the events that we look to for propelling the President's agenda forward and for building momentum for the President's agenda into the second term.
Q With this personnel thing again, is there -- would there be anything wrong with George Stephanopoulos providing advice to Tony Blair in Britain?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, let me -- I've talked a little bit about George to this. A number of us know folks who work for Labor, who have been there from time to time. Mr. Stephanopoulos himself, to my knowledge, has not made public any of his plans other than that he intends to sit and enjoy some time at the beach sometime soon in which he will ponder his blessed future. And at some point, if he makes a decision about what he would like to do or go back to private, there, of course, would be nothing wrong with him sharing a pint at some London pub with some friends of his who work for Tony Blair.
Q But, Mike, seriously, the administration has said if people leave the administration they shouldn't work for foreign governments. How do you slice that?
MR. MCCURRY: I haven't heard anything that indicates that there is an employment relationship under consideration.
Q Has the President decided when he's going to leave for Hawaii? Do you have any more details on that?
MR. MCCURRY: No, it's sort of -- he's going to adjust that depending on how his work goes next week. But I anticipate it will be late in the week.
Q Mike, when the President today talked about being aware of the vital center when he does this transition, was he signaling that he was interested in bringing Republicans into the Cabinet?
MR. MCCURRY: He was providing all of you a tantalizing, delicious morsel that would send you into a fit of frenzy for the rest of the day as you scurry all over Washington looking for possible Republican appointees in a Cabinet. (Laughter.) And when I advised him so, he said, oh, that's good, then you can go down and they will pelt you with tomatoes for the rest of your briefing. And the Vice President said, yes, McCurry, go down there take the heat. That will be fun for you. (Laughter.)
Q Was that on camera?
MR. MCCURRY: They had quite a good chuckle as he and -- as the President and the Vice President and Mr. Panetta retired to the second floor to ponder these personnel matters all by themselves and leave everyone else who you will talk to today only guessing.
That's why when you call me, again -- save the telephone call. When you call, I will tell you on background, "well, it's going to be," "oh, it could be" -- how are you going to transcribe that? (Laughter.) Well, you know, "it's going to be," a little bit of -- well, you know, it could be this, it could be that. Well, you know, like this and that -- blah, blah, blah. (Laughter.) So, in other words, we ain't got nothing to give on that subject, so you're just going to have to wait.
Q The President isn't under any illusions, is he, that there aren't going to be investigations?
MR. MCCURRY: He already knows for a fact that there are. So, of course, there's no illusory nature to that.
Q Is it fair to say the President would like to make an early decision on the chief of staff, particularly before leaving next week, and that other appointments would then follow before the end of the year?
MR. MCCURRY: If I say yes, then you won't be able to say, according to those familiar with the President's thinking, the analysis is this. So why don't I say that would a very astute speculation. But you should kind of do that on your own hook because if I confirm it on the record, then that takes all the fun out of it. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, at the convention, the day of the Dick Morris story, Gene came out and briefed us about this capital gains plan of the President's about housing. He mentioned it in his speech that night and a few times, but not in every speech during the campaign trail. Will we see that in the form of an actual tax bill?
MR. MCCURRY: Yes. That will be -- I should say -- back up a bit -- we will not -- I'm not aware that we will send a tax bill to the Congress because, of course, tax legislation has to originate in the House under the Constitution. What you can expect is that you will see the President's capital gains proposals reflected in his FY '98 budget submission.
Q Is that something you intend to push for?
MR. MCCURRY: Absolutely. And our guess is, based on the Republican presidential campaign, that it will be of interest to Republican members. And in reaching out to members of the other party in the Congress, we will want to work together to craft tax proposals that will continue the economic progress we've enjoyed for the last four years.
The President himself is strongly in favor of tax relief. The question in the presidential campaign was about how do you structure tax relief. So there will be a point upon which we believe there's common ground around tax proposals. And specifically in the area of capital gains, there may be capital gains aspects to tax relief that could be provided.
Q Could that be broadened beyond home buyers?
MR. MCCURRY: Oh, I knew you would just want to go all over this, Paula. I don't have -- I can't go into any more detail than that.
Q No, no, I'm just saying that's the one thing in their -- I mean, they called for it, too. Obviously, there's --
MR. MCCURRY: Well, they had a different way of doing it. They had a somewhat different way of doing it.
Q But it won't happen unless the President's serious about it.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, he's -- he was serious -- look, drop back a bit -- serious about all those ideas he advanced. And the serious work underway now is to take those ideas he advanced during the course of this campaign, which were really quite specific because the President wanted to campaign for reelection in that fashion, to lay a specific agenda before the American people, to put it into proposals that could then be advanced very quickly when going into a second term for the following reason: He thought if you make your case for reelection based only on your record in the past four years, you'll have absolutely no momentum or no agenda that you can point to as you go to a second term.
That's why he went through a very detailed set of proposals that were sometimes mocked -- I think I can say fairly -- by some in this room. But the advantage now of having all of those proposals that maybe were sometimes described as being "dinky" -- (laughter) -- is that they now add up to some serious work that we can put before the Congress in the form of legislative proposals. And we will begin moving on an agenda.
So we've actually got -- if you think about it, we've got -- we wrote, during this campaign, a fairly specific state of the union address for the President to deliver next year. And you can imagine a lot of the ideas that came from the campaign now go directly for the Congress.
Q Are we going to get that whole spiel in the state of the union address> (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: If it carried us this far -- (laughter) -- we maybe should keep crossing that bridge until --
Q -- we fall off the edge.
MR. MCCURRY: -- until another metaphor comes riding along.
Q One more follow-up on homes. The President's never said anything about changing the income tax deduction -- the interest deduction on home loan mortgages? That's never been part of his plan, has it?
Q What, are you all selling your homes? (Laughter.)
MR. MCCURRY: No. That has not been, to my knowledge -- I don't recall any aspect of that.
Q I'd like to ask about the -- Paul Simon today had a press conference and he's very, very critical of the administration and said that its position on Boutros-Ghali is a gross diplomatic blunder. And he says now, "With the election over, rational thinking, I hope, will return to our handling of this situation." Have you seen it -- had a chance to see it, and what do you think?
MR. MCCURRY: Rational thinking went into the President's decision which the United Nations knows is firm. We had our reasons, as they were articulated very clearly, for believing that the United Nations needs a change of leadership in the role of Secretary General. And we have been advancing that cause in consultations with other members of the Security Council and other members of the United Nations.
Q And what do you say when he says it's domestic political reasons that the U.S. -- the administration has opposed Boutros-Ghali?
MR. MCCURRY: I do not recall Boutros Boutros-Ghali having been a significant factor in the fall presidential debate.
Q Have you made any progress --
MR. MCCURRY: I'm not even -- not really.
Q Have you had any progress in the search of a new replacement for Boutros-Ghali?
MR. MCCURRY: We have continued our consultations. We have encouraged those who might be candidates to come forward.
Q Mike, getting back to the $500,000 capital gains exclusion on home sales, the President has been very, very proud of the '93 tax features as being very progressive, as putting more of a burden on the well-off and reducing the tax burden through the earned income tax credit. How does he justify moving this thing up to $500,000, which would only apply to real fat cats and almost millionaires? I mean, who's making $500,000 gain on the sale of a house?
MR. MCCURRY: Well, no. It applies to everyone up to that amount. And so, everyone -- if you're middle income people who are making less than that certainly would be -- have the advantage of the credit as well.
Q But why is he pushing it?
MR. MCCURRY: And it fits with other tax relief proposals related to education, related to child care, related to the IRA expansion that would be available to Americans of more modest incomes. And the President believes this is good economic policy. It's also, in a way, a tax simplification measure because it eliminates from consideration for capital gains a lot of people who will no longer have to keep a lot of records on home expenses --
Q I realize that. My question pertains to why did he go as high as $500,000. Right now I believe it's $125,000. If you look at the value of houses in terms of profit you make on the home sale, in order to make a gain of $500,000, the house has got to be worth close to a million.
MR. MCCURRY: That is most likely correct. I'll have to consult with my experts, or, as an alternative, propose that we have Gene Sperling give you a call. (Laughter.) Is that okay? I mean, that is a good way -- Gene -- because I remember him briefing at the time on the threshold. I can't remember exactly what he said on the threshold.
Q He won't speak for more than an hour.
MR. MCCURRY: Well, Leo and Gene can have a great conversation on it. (Laughter.)
Q Can you tell us what the is President actually doing as far as the transition? I mean, is he talking to people in person, is he making phone calls or is he leaving that to Vernon? Just give us some sense of how he's actually filling his day.
MR. MCCURRY: A little of all of the above. I mean, I told you just now that he's chatting with the Vice President, with Leon. He has had discussions in the past several days with Vernon, with Erskine, certainly with Evelyn Lieberman. He hinted to you that he's also getting some unsolicited advice, so I imagine he's hearing from people who want to offer some ideas from outside that circle that he's already established for advice. And he's doing exactly as you would expect a reelected President to do, consulting with a wide circle of people about ideas, names.
Q Well, some specific thoughts on how this transition will go better than the other one, which, I think by his own admission, was bungled in some aspects?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't recall him admitting bungling, but I think if you asked him he would say he put such a high premium on the work that Secretary Christopher did in selecting a Cabinet and spent such a large portion of time on the issue of a Cabinet that he spent proportionately less time with some detrimental effects on White House staffing. And what he sees as a need to treat both sets of appointments -- presidential appointments here at the White House as well as agency and Cabinet appointments -- with an equal degree of importance and attention.
Q Does the President want his second Cabinet to "look like America"? Will he pick diverse --
MR. MCCURRY: He continues to believe that diversity is an important element of a successful America and a successful presidential administration. He talked a lot about this country and its diversity during the course of the campaign, so, of course, the Cabinet will reflect the diversity that is America.
Q The dollar falling sharply against the yen in the last 24 hours --
MR. MCCURRY: I don't comment on market currency fluctuations.
Q Will the President actually, in tomorrow's news conference, talk about the formal institution of the transition team and the inaugural committee, and things of that nature?
MR. MCCURRY: He might have some things to say about the process. I wouldn't -- let's not set off a wave of speculation on personnel. I mean, the issue that he clearly is focused on right now -- well, the two appointments -- focused on most urgently right now, clearly, chief of staff and then also Secretary of State, since we've just announced a vacancy. I cannot guarantee that there would be announcements on the former tomorrow, and I don't even expect announcements on the latter for some time.
Q Does he have a deadline by which he hopes to wrap up all the personnel stuff?
MR. MCCURRY: January 20th.
Q Really? So it's going to go on?
Q Surely, you have to have an inaugural chairman.
MR. MCCURRY: Yes, well, there are some things like the inaugural process and people who will be helping the President on that sort of thing will be in motion very shortly.
Q Mike, election night you hinted around that Dole might be offered something on a Medicare commission.
MR. MCCURRY: No, I didn't. No. I got asked about it and I said -- I responded by saying the President obviously, publicly, has acknowledged the very fine work that Senator Dole did on the 1983 commission. I think a lot of people have carried that into frenzied speculation on a commission and how that would work. Look, let's give us all a little bit of time, especially Senator Dole, to take some time after the election.
I'm not aware of any discussions here at the White House that have advanced that commission concept to the point where we're considering actual names for appointment. We're actually -- we're doing work about how you structure the issues that will be under consideration and what -- this is the Medicare commission, but then there are other entitlement-related issues that the President has suggested should be under consideration as well, too, and there's a lot of thought going into how you structure that. But we're not at a point that I'm aware of at this point that we've actually thought about individual names.
Q Is there any concern that this commission could prove to be a distraction for trying to find a short-term solution to the Medicare solvency problem?
MR. MCCURRY: No, because they're two entirely separate issues. Short-term solvency is addressed in the budget proposals that we've had before the Congress. We could extend the short-term solvency of the Medicare trust fund by enacting the savings proposals the President has already recommended, and it certainly will be reflected in the FY'98 budget.
The larger issue is the long-term issue, which is a problem the country will face well into the 21st century if we don't act today. And the President does believe that a careful review of those issues should be part of the work of the second term.
Q Mike, there's also been talk about a commission for Social Security. If that's in the cards, would that be sequential to the Medicare commission or parallel?
MR. MCCURRY: That's the type of issue that I believe is under examination now by the President's policy experts that will have to make some recommendations on that subject to the President. And I don't have anything specific that I can tell you about that at this point.
Q But given Senator Dole's involvement of the Social Security commission in '83, would you factor that in to any decision in making him a member of Social Security --
MR. MCCURRY: Look, it's not fair to Senator Dole for you write a lot of things speculating that he's going to go be on some commission. The President has said he valued the service he had in 1983 and wants to have a commission. Anyone who thinks about this knows that people like Senator Dole, people like Senator Moynihan, people who have served in this capacities at other times would be naturally the type of person you'd want to consider.
But it's not fair to Senator Dole to even suggest that he'd want to do that kind of thing right now. He's got a right to take some time and then address his own likely involvement in the life of our nation. He said he wants to be involved in the life of our nation. But I don't think it's fair to sort of thrust him into some role before anyone has had a chance to develop that formally.
Q Just to clarify some of your earlier remarks --
MR. MCCURRY: Helen, we need you to put me out of my misery. (Laughter.)
Q I'm trying. I'm trying.
Q -- President Clinton could announce the White House Chief of Staff as early as tomorrow during the press conference?
MR. MCCURRY: I don't have anything at this point in my head, mind, either on the record or on background that would guarantee there would be an announcement of that type tomorrow.
Q But it could?
MR. MCCURRY: You know. (Laughter.)
Q Mike, will you shut down the office on Monday for Veterans Day?
MR. MCCURRY: I think, based on how little information I have, we're going to shut it down right now because there's nothing -- what's the big guy doing? Is he going --
MS. GLYNN: Skeletal coverage.
MR. MCCURRY: We'll have some type of --
Q Will he be down, or possibly going to Camp David?
MR. MCCURRY: The President has Veterans Day activities on Monday that he's participating in. And we'll have a crew here.
Q But he won't go to Camp David?
MR. MCCURRY: I think it's more likely he'll probably stay in town this weekend. If that changes, we'll let everyone know tomorrow.
THE PRESS: Thank you.
END 4:08 P.M. EST