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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 2, 1996
                          PRESS BRIEFING BY
                            MIKE MCCURRY

The Briefing Room

1:40 P.M. EST

MR. MCCURRY: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome back to the White House after, I hope, a blissful Thanksgiving weekend. Any subjects you're interested in?

Q Can you tell us if the President is getting close to naming his national security team? (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Blitzer, the President was just having a very good laugh at your most recent report moments ago. The conversation he was having with Mr. Panetta and Mr. Bowles made it manifestly clear that what you reported on the air was not true.

Q Uh-oh.

Q Which part?

Q What did he say?

Q -- being carried live on CNN. (Laughter.)

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Blitzer was ranking the various rumored candidates for Secretary of State and got the latest speculation wrong.

Q What did the President say?

MR. MCCURRY: The President said much of what he told you earlier, that he spent four days with his family. He clearly had gone through the recommendations, the binder that Mr. Bowles had presented to him. This was the first substantive conversation the President has had with his transition leaders since last Wednesday, before Thanksgiving. And I won't change what I said earlier, that his thinking on the national security cluster is fairly well-advanced, but it was fairly clear that there is no final decisions to announce. And as the President indicated, when there are final decisions he will make the announcement accordingly. In the meantime, you're all free to speculate.

Q Do you have more on the President's schedule this week? You said there are going to be more public appearances than were listed in that little skeleton schedule.

MR. MCCURRY: I've got -- the only additions I have to the week in review that we've already put out are two for tomorrow. I expect the President will have a briefing on AIDS research by Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala and by the NIH Director Ramos tomorrow at some point. There also is an interagency conference call concerning the civil disturbances in St. Petersburg, a conference call that Secretary Cisneros will lead, but we expect the President to participate at some point during that call.

Q These are public events?

MR. MCCURRY: Those are public events, yes.

Q Any travel? There has been some speculation of something like next weekend or something? Do you --

MR. MCCURRY: Travel? Haven't we had enough of that this year? I'm not aware of any, no. Do we -- no, I'm not aware of any. No travel plans that I'm aware of.

Q Mike, is President Menem coming in to see the President?

MR. MCCURRY: The President of Argentina, Carlos Menem, will be here at the White House on Thursday for a brief visit with the President. He is here in the United States on a private visit. The President looks forward to an exchange of views with President Menem that will cover hemispheric issues, issues related to the growth of both democracy and market economics in this hemisphere.

Q Mike, how about the letter referenced in today's Wall Street Journal's story from Mr. Riady in 1993?

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Riady's letter -- Mr. Mochtar Riady's letter.

Q Yes. Do you have plans to -- I mean, do you intend to release that letter?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, as the President indicated we will release that letter publicly once we've made it available to Congress. We have been assembling a variety of materials for members of Congress that are interested in such matters. And I understand from the Legal Counsel's Office that they continue to work to assemble things.

One of the things they're doing is looking through presidential records, the group that manages presidential records, looking for any relevant correspondence or data or memoranda so they can make a thorough submission to Congress at the appropriate time.

Q But not today, though?

MR. MCCURRY: No, it will not be today.

Q Will the other materials be released as well to the public -- or to the press when they're submitted to Congress?

MR. MCCURRY: Our intent is to make available publicly what we make available to the Congress. Now, we have simultaneously been entertaining questions from various news organizations looking into these matters as the Journal did. They were interested in correspondence. I told them about a March 1993 letter that Mr. Mochtar Riady sent to the President that congratulated the President on his economic program, on his plans for engagement with Asia, and made some recommendations concerning policy towards Asia, contained in the letter. And as the President indicated today, nothing that was that much different from what we were hearing from others in the business community.

Q Mike, let me follow this question. In 1992 the President criticized George Bush specifically for accepting soft contributions of $100,000 or more, and then doing the bidding -- not the bidding, but then following the policy that these people asked him to do. And he said, at the very least it creates the impression that the White House is for rent, for sale. The President obviously heard a lot of sides on the Vietnam thing. But is the President unaware that this looks exactly like what he criticized Bush for -- big contributions and then the people ask for something and then they get it?

MR. MCCURRY: For a policy matter that was as contentious, as hotly debated and as thoroughly public as U.S. relations towards Vietnam, to suggest that any particular individual's views, whether it be a financial contributor or not, would have a disproportionate thinking on the work of the administration is a little bit less than credible.

Q Well, wait a minute. What about the money, Mike? Can't that be seen as making -- he's asking how it looks.

MR. MCCURRY: The question is about what is the impact of contributions, and the point I would make is that there is not any public record that suggests that any financial contributor had a disproportionate influence on policy.

Q Well, what about the Bush case? Where is the public record on that?

MR. MCCURRY: As how it looks, that's up to you to characterize. I think there is a problem --

Q How is it different in terms of how it looks from what he criticized in '92?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not going to characterize how things look. You're in the business of doing that.

Q Well, the President showed no reluctance to do that himself.

Q Let me follow. Mike, in '92, Bill Daniels bundled soft money -- he was the cable television guy, he was a friend of Bush. It was sort of an equivalent relationship. They went back --he wrote this letter saying thanks for your help on the cable bill. Riady had contributed $100,000 to the Inauguration. I think John Huang had done the same thing. Less than two months later, they get this letter. Shortly thereafter, America starts on a brand new policy towards Vietnam. Now, a lot of people think that was right, but John McCain, of course, called for this. There were a lot of voices on that side. But the impression that was created in the President's mind when he was governor by Bill Daniels' big contribution was that, at the very least, an ordinary American would think, gee, if you get $100,000, you get what you want.

MR. MCCURRY: I believe that U.S. policy towards Vietnam throughout the last four years has been one of the most heavily covered and thoroughly accessible subjects on our entire foreign policy agenda. What interpretations you make of an individual letter from a prominent businessperson is up to you to render your own judgments about it. You can characterize that as you see fit. I would just like to stick with the facts as I've just established them.

Q How do we know for sure the $100,000 grand had nothing to do with it? How do you know for sure?

MR. MCCURRY: Because there is a very complete public record about the administration's consideration of normalization of relations with Vietnam, as was very heavily covered --

Q There's always a large public record --

MR. MCCURRY: Very heavily covered, very heavily briefed, numerous discussions that occurred and that were briefed publicly about it. And, frankly, it is up --

Q But at the end of the day the President had to make a decision in his own mind, didn't he?

MR. MCCURRY: The President had to make a judgment based on U.S. national interests, the interests of the American people as we engage in that region.

Q Let me try this a different way. Is the President concerned that there seems to be no way to separate the appearance of possible impropriety here from the fact?

MR. MCCURRY: I think the President is largely concerned about the appearances that arise from soft money donations. You'll recall that during the campaign period he spoke directly to that subject, made a series of proposals, strongly backed legislation which we hope will now be introduced in the 105 Congress that would ban exactly those types of contributions.

Q He hasn't changed his mind about how these things look?

MR. MCCURRY: He's spoken publicly and has not changed his point of view about the perception that exists based on these contributions and the need to eradicate that type of contribution from our system of campaign finance.

Q So he would agree that somebody could draw the same kind of conclusion from his interaction with Riady that Bush --

MR. MCCURRY: He would agree with the expectation that many of you will draw your own conclusions, and so will the American people.

Q Just on the documents, Mike, is your thinking about releasing them that you want to get as many as you can, have a complete set, rather than piecemeal day after day of documents --

MR. MCCURRY: That's exactly right. We've -- not only the President, but we are interested in what other correspondence that exists. We've looked through those records, we've got a substantial amount of that available, and I've been entertaining requests from those news organizations that have pursued some of those questions and telling them what we know about that correspondence.

Q Was this particular letter, though, available and in your hands -- before the election, and shouldn't it have been made public, given that --

MR. MCCURRY: The existence of the letter I believe was largely known because, if I'm not mistaken, I've heard from other reporters that Mr. Riady's representative made reference himself to the letter having been sent. I think we never formally disputed the notion that there was such a piece of correspondence from Mr. Mochtar Riady, but we have not -- we did not elect to make piecemeal disclosures of any correspondence or brief reporters in a piecemeal fashion on correspondence until we had more of the record available. We've been able to do that within the last couple of days, as various news organizations have turned their attention to that specific question.

Q Do you maintain it had no more influence on the President than the opinions of somebody who didn't give $100,000, and who also might have written the President about Asia policy or Vietnam policy?

MR. MCCURRY: People from the private sector who are in prominent positions in the business community can speak with some authority as to the value of U.S. engagement towards Asia. And as the President indicated this morning, he said tens of thousands, but certainly hundreds and hundreds of such leaders have written to the President, some contributors, some not contributors, some, frankly, contributors to the other party. But the authority comes from having some knowledge of the operation of U.S. economic interests in that region and the value of promoting a policy of engagement with Asia, which is one that this President actively pursued almost from the first days of the administration.

Q Are you trying to say that the amount of the contribution, certainly sizeable, had absolutely no influence on the way the request was considered?

MR. MCCURRY: I think that --

Q How can you say that?

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not saying that. I'm saying contributions are welcome. For those who have to run political campaigns, you're thankful to your supporters for rendering that kind of support. But the President has made it clear that he has the responsibility to conduct foreign policy consistent with what the interests of the American people are -- all the American people. And that's the way he has conducted his policy towards Asia, on any of the matters that this individual has written about, or, indeed, any of the matters that affect the interests of America around the world.

Q Mike, on another subject --

Q No, can I ask one more?


Q You said you don't want to make piecemeal disclosures, but the impression coming out from you and the White House was that it was a social relationship with Riady.

MR. MCCURRY: I don't believe that's true. I believe that there were some in the White House who characterized meetings that the President had with Mr. Mochtar Riady's son as being social. And the record, I think, stands up pretty well that that's an accurate characterization.

Q An accurate --

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, an accurate characterization. They were largely social visits. The President has spoken publicly on the occasions in which there may have been a policy element to those conversations. But you can't escape the fact that by and large they appear to have been social visits by two individuals who had known each other for some time.

Q You said the full set of letters won't be ready today for release. Do you have a sense of when it is going to be ready? Will it be this week?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, there are questions well beyond correspondence. I mean, we've been briefing news organizations as to the number of visits that Mr. James Riady and some of his associates had here at the White House, the nature of the contact that existed between the President and Mr. Riady -- this would be Mr. James Riady -- other aspects of this. And we're in a position to help news organizations inquiring in this, because the President has directed all of us to be forthcoming and candid in responding. But as to documentation we think it's more appropriate to provide the documentation first to Congress and then to release it publicly.

Q Do you think that's going to be this week, or do you have some sense of the timing?

MR. MCCURRY: I can check for you. First of all, remember that, because Congress is just forming itself for the work it will do in its 105th session, there has been no formal schedule of hearings or formal calling of particular witnesses at this point. We imagine they will be setting about that work very shortly.

Q The Chief of Staff earlier took action with respect to Mark Middleton and questions about the appearance of whether he was trading in on his White House relationship after leaving. The L.A. Times over the weekend had the story about this Chinese American in Los Angeles. Is the White House considering any sort of broader review of its policies about -- to prevent this kind of problem?

MR. MCCURRY: These matters have occasioned that type of review, and have led to very strict admonition by the Chief of Staff to all the department heads of the White House to be very conscious of the admission of outside individuals to the White House who may appear to use their access to the White House for their own private commercial gain. He's cautioned all of us to just know who we are admitting to the White House complex, and for what purpose, and who will accompany them on those occasions.

Q If these people were higher up they'd be covered by the revolving door law, isn't that correct?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, no, we're talking in this case about visitors from the outside. If there are White House officials who are -- or former White House officials who are no longer working here, they are covered by the administration's voluntary ethics guidelines that apply to those with the rank of deputy assistant to the President, or assistant to the President, or who earned in excess of $100,000 a year. Now, that would not cover the individual you mentioned, Mr. Mark Middleton, but there is some sense here that we should look at that issue and make sure that even those who are at more junior levels in the White House staffing structure are not in a position to appear to use their access for any of their own personal private purposes.

Now, as you know, Mr. Middleton has denied that he has done that in a statement that he can make available to you, or he has made available to many of your news organizations.

Q Does the President think it's a good idea for James Carville to be mounting his attacks on Ken Starr?

MR. MCCURRY: The President has not rendered any opinion on that. Mr. Carville is certainly someone who speaks for himself and has made it clear he will speak for himself, regardless of what the White House says.

Q Earlier today you said --

Q Does the President believe that if he asks Mr. Carville to desist that Mr. Carville would continue?

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Carville has indicated that, first, he has not discussed the matter with the President, and second, he will pursue the course of action that he thinks he needs to pursue, regardless of what anyone at the White House, including the President, has to say.

Q This morning you were going to ask the President -- you said you asked him and he said he has no opinion, or he has yet to -- you were going to try to find out what he thought about this matter.

MR. MCCURRY: I told you he has not rendered an opinion on the subject.

Q Are you saying here that what Mr. Carville is saying does not represent the President's thinking?

MR. MCCURRY: That does not represent the President's thinking. The President on this matter will speak for himself or instruct those of us who speak on his behalf to indicate whatever he wants said, and he's indicated that the work of the Independent Counsel ought to be treated respectfully and with the proper "no comment."

Q Well, wouldn't it be appropriate if he thinks that to ask one of his dear friends and a man who has been his chief political advisor to knock it off if that's what he thinks?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, as I just said, Mr. Carville is an outspoken individual and has made it clear that he intends to speak out.

Q Regardless of what the President says?

MR. MCCURRY: Regardless of what anyone at the White House says.

Q Do you seriously believe that? Do you expect the public to believe that?

MR. MCCURRY: The public can believe whatever the public wants to believe.

Q Do you believe that?

MR. MCCURRY: Do I believe that?

Q Yes, do you believe that?

MR. MCCURRY: I believe that Mr. Carville would continue to make whatever points he felt compelled to make regardless of what anyone at the White House thought about it.

Q Even if the President asked him to stop? Are you serious?

MR. MCCURRY: I am serious, yes.

Q Did you ask the President about this today? You said you were going to.

MR. MCCURRY: I had a very brief conversation with him.

Q And what was his response?

Q What did he say?

MR. MCCURRY: I think I've just reflected his sentiments.

Q He said, I don't have a response to that?

Q I'm not going to render any --

Q Has the President discussed it with Carville at all?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to -- he has not had a discussion with Mr. Carville about it.

Q About it -- or about Carville's plans? I mean, he knew nothing about it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's been -- Mr. Carville has been very public about his intentions to speak out.

Q If he doesn't like what he's doing, why doesn't he ask him to stop?

MR. MCCURRY: Just he's not in a position to dissuade Mr. Carville from pursuing the course that Mr. Carville has --

Q He's the President of the United States of America.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, Mr. Carville, the most prominent political consultant in America, has made it clear that's what he's going to do.

Q -- this is not helpful to you, or do you think it is helpful to you? What do you think of Carville's --

MR. MCCURRY: I'm not rendering an opinion on it.

Q Has Carville talked to someone other than the President here at the White House about this endeavor?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't asked every individual here at the White House. I don't -- he may have. I just don't know.

Q What about those you have asked?

MR. MCCURRY: Of those that I have, no one, to my knowledge, had any extensive discussion with Mr. Carville about the merits of --

Q Well, wait a minute. What does that mean?

MR. MCCURRY: -- pursuing this course of action.

Q Did they have any discussions, and if so who, and what was said?

MR. MCCURRY: Brit, I don't -- I'm not going to answer a question that I don't have 100 percent information on. I haven't gone around and canvassed every single person who knows --

Q Well, what about those you have canvassed?

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't found anyone --

Q We'll accept your version of those you have talked to about it.

MR. MCCURRY: I haven't found anyone who said that they tried to dissuade James from doing what he's doing.

Q I'll bet. But the question is, has anybody encouraged him, to your knowledge?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.

Q Has anybody in any sense discouraged him?

MR. MCCURRY: Not to my knowledge.

Q It's a remarkable, look-ma-no-hands operation here that Carville is carrying on, isn't it?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you can characterize it as you see fit, and I'm sure you will.

Q Mike, you said that Carville had no extensive discussions with anyone at the White House. Did he have any not extensive discussions with someone at the White House about it?

MR. MCCURRY: Again, Susan, there are a lot of people who work here. There are 1,500 people who work at the White House.

Q That you know of.

MR. MCCURRY: There are a lot of people who know James. I haven't gone and talked to each individual who knows James and said, what was the nature of your conversation with Mr. Carville on a given date. So I want to be very careful --

Q What about those you have talked to?

MR. MCCURRY: I just -- you just asked and answered those questions.

Q Asked and not answered.

Q Do you think anybody has made it clear to him how wretchedly miserable it's made your lot here today? (Laughter).

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Carville is aware of how wretchedly miserable my pitiful life is, I'm sure. (Laughter.)

Q The President has to make some decisions on cutting back Social Security for disabled children. Do you know when he's going to make that decision? Certain categories of disabled kids.

MR. MCCURRY: You mean related to welfare reform fixes? There's no change in what we told you last week. That's an issue that's got budgetary impact for FY98. It is being looked at very carefully by the President and his economic and budget advisers. The President is interested in addressing those shortcomings that he found in the welfare reform bill -- significant discussions underway about how best to do that and what the likely budget impact will be.

Q Are you going to change your mind on that after what Moynihan had to say about potential -- a likelihood of changes in welfare reform?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, Senator Moynihan is a distinguished member of the Senate, particularly on this subject, but it doesn't necessarily reflect the sentiments of all 100 senators.

Q But you have essentially the Democratic leadership on that issue, in Moynihan and Nickles, up there saying, it's done, nothing is going to be considered.

MR. MCCURRY: Of who and who?

Q Nickles and Moynihan, both of them.

MR. MCCURRY: I think there are a lot of sentiments within the Democratic Caucus in the Senate that shortcomings in the welfare reform bill ought to be addressed. Senator Moynihan's view is that that was not likely to occur, but that is not necessarily the only view that exists within the Senator Caucus or here at the White House.

Q And those shortcomings will be addressed within the context of a budget proposal on the legal --

MR. MCCURRY: There's budgetary impact on those issues and we continue to assess how best to address those issues.

Q Is the White House still discussing 25 percent replenishment of the funds that were already designated --

MR. MCCURRY: We are taking steps. I'll have to look into that. We are looking at some specific steps on addressing those more emergency type situations and that can be done within current budget authority. I think there has been some reporting on that already.

Q He's talking about the Times story.

MR. MCCURRY: Oh, you mean the differential that exists between the President's balanced budget proposals and the impact of the welfare reform bill? They made a -- there is sort of a rough calculation for initial policy discussion purposes that was made and the figure I think is in the neighborhood of $13 billion. That does not necessarily equate to the price tag of those things that would be recommended by the President. Again, those discussions are still underway.

Q What is your view that legal immigrants could receive benefits simply by becoming U.S. citizens?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, those legal immigrants who go through the process of naturalization are entitled as U.S. citizens to a different range of benefits. I mean, that's the law.

Q No, but I mean as an answer rather than trying to make changes --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that seems to be occurring. I mean, there are -- it seems in practice that that process is speeding up because there are some cases where people have had legal residence status are attempting to convert to legal citizenship status, in part, it is believed by some experts, because of the impact of this law.

Q Mike, over the weekend Secretary Perry signed a series of agreements in Japan designed to reduce the impact of the U.S. military presence on Okinawa, including what is most important in the eyes of the Japanese of moving a Marine helicopter base off-shore. How does the White House feel about the accords, and will these issues related to the military presence on Okinawa continue to get White House attention?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, we are obviously pleased that we have been able to work with the government of Japan to reduce the burden on Okinawa in ways that do not fundamentally alter the U.S.-Japan security relationship or affect the readiness of our forward-deployed troops in that region.

The satisfactory arrangement that was concluded by the Secretary of Defense really works through a lot of those recommendations from the Special Advisory Committee on Okinawa which looked at the question, particularly the Futenma facility. They've arrived at what the Secretary believes is an adequate conclusion, an agreement that satisfies our own security interests and also our strong force posture in the region, a commitment that the United States has made and will continue to make to the security of that region.

Q Mike, will the President endorse the recommendation of the panel looking at the CPI and will he implement them?

MR. MCCURRY: The Boskin Group has made a recommendation or is about to make a recommendation on CPI calculations. There are a number of people in the area of labor, economics and economists looking at the question of how best to measure inflationary impacts across the economy. The Boskin Group has certainly been impaneled to do that by a congressional committee. BLS has been looking at much the same issue with respect to how best to take into account inflationary pressures when you calculate things like benefits to individual Americans under entitlement programs. All of these expert opinions will be very carefully considered by the administration because the President believes this is a decision that ultimately is one best based on scientific economic expert calculation as opposed to some political measurement with respect to the budget.

Q Isn't this a scientific panel? Isn't this what this is? And doesn't he have --

MR. MCCURRY: Well, that group is -- was asked by I believe the Senate Finance Committee, right, to look at CPI calculations. BLS has been doing much the same thing. There are others. It's been a very vibrant debate in the academic community about how best to calculate and measure the impact of inflation, and we are going to consider all those views as we look at their work.

Q Is it accurate to say the administration is willing to consider the Boskin Group's recommendations as far as they might call for changes in the technical procedures made by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but that something along the line of what Moynihan wants to do legislatively is something you would oppose?

MR. MCCURRY: That's a technical question beyond my ability to answer. There is a variety of ways which you go about calculating that. I think we're going to look at the whole question of how best to measure inflationary impacts, what that suggests with respect to the CPI, how you apply the CPI to the calculation of benefit increases and then make some judgments accordingly.

Q But in their interim report, this group suggested that the CPI is inflated by about one percent and --

MR. MCCURRY: There have been different measurements of what the over-estimation of the inflationary effect have been. And Senator Moynihan's got a different view. The BLS economists are looking at much the same question. I'm not going to speculate on where the number will come out.

Q Mike, bipartisan commission on Medicare reform -- how's the President going to make that happen?

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's -- a couple of different stages in the process. There's health care -- the provision of health care commission, which he's pledged to appoint and which we have not yet named -- correct? -- that is under consideration. The President has also suggested in the short-term we need to proceed with Medicare savings by slowing the rate of increase in spending for those programs consistent with what he's put forward in his balanced budget proposal. Now, that would extend the solvency of the trust fund into the next century by a number of years.

And then the longer-terms questions related to Medicare solvency are ones which during the campaign period the President suggested might be amenable to consideration by a bipartisan panel. Now we are much farther down the road in looking at the quality of health care, looking at what the short-term budgetary impacts are going to be on the solvency of the Medicare fund and then the longer range issues that kick in. The President will address at a later date on how you begin to structure a bipartisan commission if, in fact, we continue to see sentiment for doing that as we work with Congress.

Q Well, are you seeing any sentiment? It didn't sound like there was a whole lot.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, it's been mixed. There are some leaders in Congress who said they don't think that's an idea that's worth exploring at this point. There are others that have said that's the only practical way we're ever going to get at the issue of entitlements. And I'm sure the President will consider these views and it will be a subject that will certainly be a part of our economic decision-making in the coming term.

Q Mike, there's growing concern among many arms control analysts about the fate of START II in the Russian Parliament. And in that connection, there's a proposal floating around to have the President and Yeltsin take an initiative to get it off dead center and spell out what a START III treaty might look like in terms of lower limits so that the Russians don't have big expense on the START II of reconfiguring their land-based -- is there anything along these lines under consideration, or is the President merely waiting for the Russians to do their thing in the Duma?

MR. MCCURRY: No, we have had a very active dialogue with the Russian Federation on the question of START II ratification by the Duma. I would not suggest that we've been waiting for some plan to try to get it off dead center. The President has actively encouraged President Yeltsin to do so. We have engaged a number of diplomats at a high level from the Russian Federation on that subject and stressed the importance of ratification by the Duma of START II.

But there have also been discussions among arms control experts on both sides about how to structure further arms reductions and limitations consistent with a START III approach. The momentum that would be created by a START II ratification would lend itself to further arms control efforts. But I'm not aware of any specific plan to structure that one-two step as you said, other than to say that there have been a very consistent effort on the part of our side to stress the importance of Duma ratification.

Q Mike, many women's groups are eager that a woman fill one of the upcoming vacancies on the President's national security team. As he looks at the candidates, is that a factor at all, or is it not a factor compared to experience and whatever other qualities he's looking for?

MR. MCCURRY: There are a number of factors that go into the consideration, and the President, as he has said publicly, is stressing how the team works together. Obviously, there is rampant speculation at least one of the candidates under serious consideration is of the female gender, so we'll have to wait and see.

Q Is that a positive attribute for that candidate in addition to the other things, as far as being --

MR. MCCURRY: It is an attribute, and how people work together is driven I think more by personality than by gender. And we just happen to have someone who is a very highly qualified, successful candidate for one of those positions, or at least we have rumors to that effect, and I wouldn't dissuade you from thinking that.

Q As the President adds up the pluses and minuses, is gender considered a plus, or is it not a factor?

MR. MCCURRY: I think diversity has always been considered a plus as the President considers appointments. But I don't want to apply that to any specific consideration.

Q Speaking of diversity, is the President going to meet with the rest of the Cabinet that has not resigned, and specifically when is he meeting with Janet Reno?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes. He will continue his one-by-one discussions with members of the Cabinet, those that he has not yet seen -- I think he's seen about half the Cabinet so far, and we'll let you know when he sees individual members. I'm not aware of any schedule for the remainder of those consultations at this point.

Q Getting back to this Social Security thing, this is a question that I've been asked to ask. Apparently --

Q Whoa!!!

Q My editors made me do it. (Laughter.)

Q Give the disclaimer. (Laughter.)

Q What are the families of those disabled kids --

MR. MCCURRY: Leo put you up to this question, didn't he?

Q When are the families of the disabled kids who are no longer going to receive certain Social Security benefits for their disabilities going to be notified that they're no longer going to get a Social Security supplemental check?

MR. MCCURRY: I have no idea. We'll have to look into that. Do you know? It's all part of the review of how you address the welfare reform legislation.

Q They're certainly reviewing -- whether to tell them.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, you have to know what to tell them before you --

MR. TOIV: The Social Security Administration is reviewing individual cases.

MR. MCCURRY: Mr. Toiv tells me that the Social Security Administration is looking at individual cases on a case by case basis.

Q That will keep them busy for a long time, won't it?

MR. MCCURRY: Why don't we come back to that, Wolf, when I can get more information.

Q Just to follow John's question about diversity. I mean, is having a Cabinet that looks like America as important this time as it was last time, or has it somehow shifted and --

MR. MCCURRY: It's important to the President to have a Cabinet that looks like America and to have diversity reflected in his appointments.

Q So last time he spent an inordinate amount of effort making sure that that happens.

MR. MCCURRY: Well, last time it was a new administration after a period in which Democrats had not occupied the White House and there had to be more effort to reach out to people who are not instantly on the radar screen for appointment. We've now had four years, four successful years in office in which a number of candidates present themselves having served in the administration in various capacities. It's a different equation this time because it's an incumbent administration. I think you have to take into account it's a different situation.

Now, that said, the transition team that the President empaneled has -- one of the results of their work, reaching out around the country and generating new names, was to really present the President with some options for Cabinet appointment that he's now in the process of considering that do reflect considerable gender, racial, ethnic diversity.

Q Is that less a consideration than it was four years ago?

MR. MCCURRY: It's a consideration, but we're four years later, it's an incumbent administration. There are people that now have had experience serving in the first term that, you know, because of that experience, rise to the top of those who might be considered, clearly. So it's a different -- somewhat different kind of equation, but not any more or less important than it was four years ago.

Q You're suggesting that that could push gender or racial considerations out of the picture.

MR. MCCURRY: No, I'm not at all. I said that diversity continues to be a very important guidepost for the President as he considers these appointments.

Q Mike, can we go back to Starr for a minute? He's kind of gone on a counteroffensive. He sat down with Newsweek for three hours. I believe his deputy in Little Rock, Hickman Ewing, said an attack like Carville's is a sign of guilt. Do you think it's helpful to have Carville out attacking?

MR. MCCURRY: I've repeatedly refused to render a judgment on that and I won't do it again. Mr. Starr has to speak for himself. Mr. Carville has to speak for himself. And all of their debate will be judged in the court of public opinion, no doubt.

THE PRESS: Thank you.

END 2:15 P.M. EST